Did you know there is YARN based on Mary’s books? Firefly Fibers and their friends at Why Knot Fibers created two custom gradient colorways, one for The Calculating Stars and one for The Fated Sky. You can preorder these beautiful fibers here, in different weights.
Rebecca Roanhorse is joining us today to talk about her novel Trail of Lightning. Here’s the publisher’s description:
While most of the world has drowned beneath the sudden rising waters of a climate apocalypse, Dinétah (formerly the Navajo reservation) has been reborn. The gods and heroes of legend walk the land, but so do monsters.
Maggie Hoskie is a Dinétah monster hunter, a supernaturally gifted killer. When a small town needs help finding a missing girl, Maggie is their last best hope. But what Maggie uncovers about the monster is much more terrifying than anything she could imagine.
Maggie reluctantly enlists the aid of Kai Arviso, an unconventional medicine man, and together they travel the rez, unraveling clues from ancient legends, trading favors with tricksters, and battling dark witchcraft in a patchwork world of deteriorating technology.
As Maggie discovers the truth behind the killings, she will have to confront her past if she wants to survive.
Welcome to the Sixth World.
What’s Rebecca’s favorite bit?
My favorite bit about “Trail of Lightning” isn’t something you can read. It’s something you listen to. It’s the book soundtrack.
Music plays a huge role in my creative process. I put together a soundtrack for my novels as I’m outlining, and for the rest of the drafting and editing process, the soundtrack serves to keep me focused. I try to pick songs I don’t already have an association with, and then I don’t listen to those songs outside of working on the novel.
My book soundtrack functions in a couple of ways. First, as a sort of Pavlovian bell to get me into the headspace I need to be in to write, very quickly and without a lot of atmosphere required. A cup of strong coffee, a set of headphones and Spotify is enough to transport me to the apocalyptic future of the Navajo reservation, even when sitting in some featureless airport or hiding in the car at my kid’s soccer practice. But the primary function of the soundtrack is what I eluded to earlier. It embodies the mood and the themes of the novel. A song can come to represent a scene, like “Short Change Hero” or “Warm Shadow”. Or it can keep me focused on a character’s personality, like “The Difference Between Us”. Sometimes a song simply functions as zeitgeist, like “Why Did Love Put a Gun in My Hand”. So here are five songs from the “Trail of Lightning” book soundtrack and the reasons they are part of my favorite bit.
Short Change Hero by The Heavy
Trail of Lightning is set on a post-Apocalyptic Navajo reservation, but I wanted to capture a lot of the pathos of the classic Western and then play with the tropes by letting a Native woman be our hero, or anti-hero, as it were. The opening scene has our MC, Maggie Hoskie, enter a room of hostile townspeople that need her help. The scene unrolls from her POV as she pushes open the door and people turn to stare, judging her. She walks through the crowd, her moccasins silent against the tile floor. The townspeople offer her money for her help, and at first she balks because of the low pay. But when they promise her more, she takes the job. The whole scene is meant to evoke the classic Western opening of a mysterious stranger riding into down, boot heels sharp against the floor as he enters a saloon and the crowd falls silent. And this song is perfect for this mood. Plus, it let’s you know right away, as does the MC, that this might not be a hero story after all.
“This ain’t no place for no hero
This ain’t no place for no better man
This ain’t no place for no hero
To call home.”
Warm Shadow by Fink
This is one of those songs that sets just the right mood. The lyrics are not as important as the broody tension of the song. It’s the perfect backdrop for monster-hunting. In Chapter 2, Maggie heads up a mountain alone, looking for a monster that has kidnapped a little girl. It’s her job to rescue her, but Maggie knows that might be impossible.
“I follow the easy tracks, broken branches and grass shine, up the mountain for over an hour with no visual on my prey. I keep moving anyway, sure of my path. And for a moment, lost in the beauty of the waning sunlight and the steady rhythm of my breath, I forget I am here to kill something.”
The Difference Between Us by The Dead Weather
I always think of this song as Maggie’s theme song. It’s discordant and jangly, a little unpleasant to the ears. It’s raw and honest and runs hot and cold. Tough, textured, and a little badass. Yeah, that’s my girl.
“I’m not the way that you found me
I’m never here or there
One day I’m happy and healthy
Next I ain’t doing so well.”
Tricksters and Fools by Lynx
One of the key players in my novel world is Coyote, the infamous trickster. I’m quite fond of him in this novel, and he’s a scene stealer, so he definitely needed his own theme song.
“He wore a dapper gentlemen’s suit right out of the Old West. His shirt was a white high-collared affair, tucked into trousers that were striped an outrageous crimson and olive and gold. Over the shirt was a double-breasted vest of the deepest red velvet. It was topped off with a golden puff of a silk cravat, embroidered with delicate rose-colored thread. A gold watch hung from a chain tucked in his vest pocket, and over his shoulders spread a camel-colored topcoat with a thick gray fur collar. The coat flared out around him when he walked, like the mantle of a rogue king. He carried an engraved mahogany walking stick with a golden handle, and greeted me with a wide mocking smile and a tip of his top hat. He was every inch the gentlemen scoundrel from some old Hollywood Western.”
Gun in My Hand by Dorothy
This last song sort of sums up a lot of elements of the story and is just plain fun. Plus, it’s got a post-apocalyptic rock’n’roll sensibility. I can see this playing on the jukebox at Grace’s All-American. Maggie sits at the bar, a whiskey in hand, and questions how the fuck she got herself into this mess.
“Why did love put a gun in my hand?
In my bed, in my head, in my hand
Was it for redemption?
Was it for revenge?
Was it for the bottle?
Was it for the ledge?
Was it for the thrill of pushing my hope to the edge?
Rebecca Roanhorse is speculative fiction writer and Nebula, Hugo, and Sturgeon Award Finalist. She is also a 2017 Campbell Award Finalist for Best New Science Fiction and Fantasy writer. Her novel TRAIL OF LIGHTNING is the first book in the SIXTH WORLD series, followed by STORM OF LOCUSTS in 2019.
Jeremy Finley is joining us today with his novel The Darkest Time of Night. Here’s the publisher’s description:
“The lights took him.”
When the seven-year-old grandson of U.S. Senator vanishes in the woods behind his home, the only witness is his older brother who whispers, “The lights took him,” and then never speaks again.
As the FBI and National Guard launch a massive search, the boys’ grandmother Lynn Roseworth fears only she knows the truth. But coming forward would ruin her family and her husband’s political career.
In the late 1960s, before she became the quiet wife of a politician, Lynn was a secretary in the astronomy department at the University of Illinois. It was there where she began taking mysterious messages for one of the professors; messages from people desperate to find their missing loved ones who vanished into beams of light.
Determined to find her beloved grandson and expose the truth, she must return to the work she once abandoned to unravel the existence of a place long forgotten by the world. It is there, buried deep beneath the bitter snow and the absent memories of its inhabitants, where her grandson may finally be found.
But there are forces that wish to silence her. And Lynn will find how far they will go to stop her, and how the truth about her own forgotten childhood could reveal the greatest mystery of all time.
The Darkest Time of Night is a fast-paced debut full of suspense and government cover-ups, perfect for thriller and supernatural fans alike.
What’s Jeremy’s favorite bit?
I wrote it, so it shouldn’t give me chills.
I’m severely critical of my own work. Blame it on a career in broadcast journalism where there’s always a critic waiting, ready to pounce in a Facebook comment about the way you pronounced “nuclear” or that your haircut is too short for a guy with your ears.
But I like it, this quote from Chapter 11.
It raises the hair on my arms — not because it’s comprised of two sentences that will one day be debated and analyzed in AP English classes — but rather because it comes from a father writing a letter about his beloved daughter. I am completely wrapped up with my own two girls, and I could watch military fathers surprising their daughters on a loop 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and never grow weary of it.
It’s a quote of a father’s fear.
So here it is:
“I wish I could go back to the beliefs I had before this, where the only purpose of the stars was to bring us light in the dark. Now I cannot look too long into the heavens for fear of what I might see.”
The quote serves several purposes in my upcoming novel, The Darkest Time of Night. I won’t spoil what it means or what he is referring to. But it is a significant development in the book, one that changes everything for Lynn, the man’s now grown daughter.
It was a tough section to write for a couple of reasons. Not only because of what it means for Lynn, but that it encapsulates her father’s fears that she was never aware of.
Fathers always want to protect their daughters. It’s what we do. We joke about getting shotguns when they turn sixteen. When my youngest, my true daddy’s girl, went to kindergarten, I hid outside the gym so I could make sure she had stopped crying. After a week of this, one of the teachers said it wasn’t helping because my daughter could see me peering around the door.
It’s a feeling that is both joyous and terrible, when you love someone so much that you feel physical pain when they are hurt or sad. My oldest daughter, who bravely lives with a deadly peanut allergy, gets that flicker of fear in her eyes when our food arrives at a restaurant. She overcomes that doubt, only after my wife and I remind her that we’ve checked with the kitchen and all is well. But secretly, I want to sneak into the kitchen and do a full-on inspection for any trace of a peanut.
That is what the quote is truly about. What happened, what prompted this father to write it, was born from fears for his daughter.
I mentioned that the quote was difficult to write for two reasons. The other is that it truly, in two sentences, hints of the plot of the story. Who doesn’t love the night sky, whether it is a brilliant winter evening with your breath lifting into the air, or a steamy summer darkening, with crickets in the grass and preening stars?
The characters in my novel learn, however, that the sky is black for a reason, and there is much hidden there in the dark.
JEREMY FINLEY is the chief investigative reporter for WSMV-TV, the NBC-affiliated station in Nashville. Jeremy Finley’s investigative reporting has resulted in some of the highest honors in journalism, including more than a dozen Emmys, Edward R. Murrow awards and a national certificate from Investigative Reporters and Editors. He lives with his wife and daughters in Nashville, TN. The Darkest Time of Night is his first novel.
Laura Anne Gilman is joining us today with her novel Red Waters Rising. Here’s the publisher’s description:
In the last novel of The Devil’s West trilogy, Isobel, the Devil’s Left Hand, and Gabriel ride through the magical land of the Territory to root out evil by the way of mad magicians, ghosts, and twisted animal spirits.
As Isobel and Gabriel travel to the southern edge of the Territory, they arrive in the free city of Red Stick. Tensions are running high as the homesteading population grows, crowding the native lands, and suspicions rise across the river from an American fort.
But there is a sickness running through Red Stick and Isobel begins to find her authority challenged. She’ll be abandoned, betrayed, and forced to stand her ground as the Devil’s left hand in this thrilling conclusion to The Devil’s West Trilogy.
What’s Laura Anne’s favorite bit?
LAURA ANNE GILMAN
Last time I picked a “favorite bit,” it was a scene in THE COLD EYE, one that reminded me why – and how – I get satisfaction from writing.
Now, as we’re closing out the Devil’s West trilogy with RED WATERS RISING, I can look back over the three books and say, without hesitation, that my favorite bit isn’t a scene, but a relationship.
Isobel née Lacoyo Távora and Gabriel Kasun.One of them is only just coming into her own, her entire life ahead of her, while the other’s already seen maybe too much of the world, and the people in it.
It was inevitable that they’d bond – but it wasn’t until RED WATERS RISING that I realized what that bond had become.
When Isobel first encounters Gabriel, she’s not much impressed.
She had his measure now: likely a professional gambling man, or maybe a law’s advocate, someone who held things close. A sharp man, either way. The charm was on the surface; she couldn’t tell yet what was underneath.(from SILVER ON THE ROAD)
At this point, Isobel herself is barely more than a child, for all that she’s being asked to take up adult responsibilities.She’s a mix of arrogance and ignorance, her innocence barely tempered by growing up in the devil’s household.
But when her boss – the devil of the series title – tasks Gabriel with teaching Isobel what she needs to know, to survive out in the Territory – they are thrown together in a relationship that’s about as unglamorously intimate as possible: riding the dust roads together, just them, their horses, and a pack mule. She’s stubborn, but teachable.He’s broken and pragmatic, but resigned to the deal he’s unexpectedly made.
So there’s the set-up: a young girl, full of ambition and power, and a grown man, dragging a life’s worth of mistakes and regret, spending a year riding through the Territory together.
Over the course of three books, they face dangers both mortal and magical.They also see things of wonder and beauty, share a lot of “oh my god what just happened?” moments, and not a few incredibly awkward ones (because what’s a character for but to torture a little?).
As they travel, Isobel begins to see beyond that façade Gabriel puts up.And Gabriel, who at first saw only a young girl with handsome looks and a sharp wit, learns firsthand why the devil chose her to be his Left Hand, the voice of brutal justice in the Territory.
Readers following their adventures have seen how they interact, the trust, respect, and friendship that grows.But when I was re-reading all three books (preparing to write the novella that follows), the full arc of their relationship – how it grew and what it became – took my breath away.
They are no longer teacher and student, but neither are they peers: Gabriel is aware of the fact that Isobel holds far more power than he, and he does not envy her it.And they are not romantic – if there was ever a moment they thought of each other like that, it came and went.
That’s incredibly important – that it’s not romantic – because what they have is love.Pragmatic love, asking and expecting nothing of the other save that they be themselves.They’ve seen what the other is capable of, good and ill, and accepted it entirely.
Laura Anne Gilman is the Nebula- and Endeavor-award nominated author of The Devil’s West, the Locus-bestselling weird western series (SILVER ON THE ROAD, THE COLD EYE, and RED WATERS RISING), as well as the short story collection DARKLY HUMAN, the long-running Cosa Nostradamus urban fantasy series, and the “Vineart War”trilogy. Her short fiction has recently appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Lightspeed, and THE UNDERWATER BALLROOM SOCIETY.Her work has been hailed as “a true American myth being found.” by NPR, and praised for her “deft plotting and first-class characters” by Publisher Weekly, among others.
A former New Yorker, she currently lives outside of Seattle with two cats and many deadlines.More information and updates can be found at www.lauraannegilman.net.
The Seminar at 4th Street Fantasy is an opportunity for aspiring, neo-pro, and intermediate writers to hear about aspects of the speculative fiction industry from professionals who work in it. Ask questions, eat lunch with our panelists, and meet other emerging writers! This year our Seminar theme is The Business of Authoring. Discussion may include (amongst other possibilities) issues around contracts; being a debut author; self-publishing, Patreon/Drip, and being a ‘hybrid author’; games writing, freelancing, and tie-in writing; and all the other ways people make this business work (or fail to).
In addition to Mary, this year’s Seminar leaders include Max Gladstone, Kelly McCullough, and Patrick Nielsen Hayden.
All the Things We Do That Aren’t Smashing Things 4:00-5:00pm
A discussion of all the ways we tell stories about building lives, civilizations, and legacies using anything but the edge of the sword. Why do we so often truncate our experience/expectations of fiction to revolve so firmly around the linked concepts of heroism and violence when there are so many other crucial aspects to being human? How has the fantasy genre dealt with this conundrum, and how have specific fantasists tried to approach it? How do we keep the discussion from degenerating into a prudish or performative rejection of the abstract concept of “violence” altogether, while affirming that there are other common and crucial ways of getting things done?
Saturday, June 23rd
The Craft of Cutting Out: Using Reductive and Restrictive Tools 11:00am-12:00pm
“The difference between life and art is that art has a frame,” someone once said. All art comes from some manner of limitation, and this will be a craft-centered discussion on the use of limitation as a deliberate creative tool— whether it means using minimalist typing programs like Writeroom, or a typewriter, or a notebook and pen, or a simple instrument rather than a complex one, or a limited and controlled environment (Maya Angelou famously maintained a hotel room in which she would write every day sans distraction) to channel creativity. What happens when we go unplugged rather than electrified? Where do we draw the line between healthy asceticism and punitive measures?
C.L. Polk is joining us today to talk about her novel Witchmark. Here is the publisher’s description:
C. L. Polk arrives on the scene with Witchmark, a stunning, addictive fantasy that combines intrigue, magic, betrayal, and romance.
One of Publishers Weekly‘s Most Anticipated Books of Spring 2018!
In an original world reminiscent of Edwardian England in the shadow of a World War, cabals of noble families use their unique magical gifts to control the fates of nations, while one young man seeks only to live a life of his own.
Magic marked Miles Singer for suffering the day he was born, doomed either to be enslaved to his family’s interest or to be committed to a witches’ asylum. He went to war to escape his destiny and came home a different man, but he couldn’t leave his past behind. The war between Aeland and Laneer leaves men changed, strangers to their friends and family, but even after faking his own death and reinventing himself as a doctor at a cash-strapped veterans’ hospital, Miles can’t hide what he truly is.
When a fatally poisoned patient exposes Miles’ healing gift and his witchmark, he must put his anonymity and freedom at risk to investigate his patient’s murder. To find the truth he’ll need to rely on the family he despises, and on the kindness of the most gorgeous man he’s ever seen.
What’s C.L.’s favorite bit?
C. L. POLK
Stories change a lot between revisions. You’d never recognize the story I first wrote for Witchmark. I added thirty thousand words, cut two subplots, and discovered Grace Hensley, Miles Singer’s younger sister.
Grace was the favorite child. Gifted with a strong talent for Storm-Singing, Grace grew up as her father’s daughter, trained to take his place as the leader of the secret circle of mages who hold back the storms that would ruin Aeland’s agricultural prosperity. And she’s a failure, because her brother successfully escaped his fate as a lackey and magical battery. The subsequent loss of reputation has put the Hensley name in freefall, and she’ll do anything to claw her way back to the top.
I sense the enlightened nods. Ah. An antagonist.
Except it’s not quite so clear. Grace refuses to force her brother into the subservient position that would repair the damage to the family name. Faced with a choice between power and love, Grace promises the one thing she absolutely shouldn’t–she swears a blood oath not to bind her brother’s magical power without his consent:
She had a blade out of her pocket in a heartbeat. I shut the door but kept my hand on the lever. She drew the white-handled blade across her skin. “I bind my power to this promise: I will not bind your power to mine without your consent.”
Blood welled up in her palm, and she drew a stylized G that carried the suggestion of a bolt of lightning. “By my oath, my mark, and my blood, this is true.”
She used the strictest of vows. A tripled oath was impossible to break. It was old magic, older than Link Circles, older than storm-singing, and she’d done it without hesitation.
She held her hand out. The blood seeped back into her skin, the spell a part of her forever.
With this vow, she wins enough trust to start interfering in Miles’ life…and she’s every bit as abrasive as an opinionated sister can get. Love for her brother or not, Grace Hensley is still a bit of a snob, and is scandalized to discover where her brother lives:
“Birdland? You live in a single room in a boarding house in Birdland?”
She was as I remembered her, making an awful face at a supper she didn’t like or a notion she wouldn’t abide. The years melted away as I winked at her. “You’re sounding better. Cold cleared up?”
“After I nearly burned to death with your cure. I’m perfectly well.” She glanced around at the kitchen. I was glad Mrs. Bass’s enameled iron pots were free of stains and she’d never let a speck of dust settle anywhere. But Grace looked as if this kitchen were a pathetic hovel. “How much are they paying you?”
“Enough.” The meat had surrendered to hours on the simmer. “I could afford a flat, if I could find one.”
“Leave it to me. Birdland. Indeed.”
And where he works:
“So you donated a hill of money to the hospital.”
“I should have offered more. You really don’t have a lift?”
“We really don’t.”
“The least I could do for them. A parting gift.”
I put my spoon down. “A what?”
“I know what to do.” Grace leaned over her bowl, elbows firmly on the desk. “Your own practice.”
“Hear me out. You can have privileges at every hospital in the city—”
“I wouldn’t need privileges unless I was doing surgery—”
“You can,” she said. “You’d never have to worry about being discovered.”
Oh, of course. I leaned back. “Because my patients would be from the Hundred Families. An exclusive clientele, getting their maladies treated with magic.”
And the company Miles keeps:
I settled back into my place between my sister and Tristan, who regarded each other with narrow- eyed dislike. “Miles, who is this?”
I winced. “Grace, this is my . . . friend, Mr. Tristan Hunter.”
Her hand tightened on the crook of my elbow and I blundered on. “Mr. Hunter, this is Dame Grace Hensley, Her Majesty’s Royal Knight.”
Tristan swept off his hat and bowed. “How do you do?” The gesture was perfectly correct, but it was no courtesy.
Grace stood with her feet and shoulders squared up to face him. She bristled with hostility. What on Earth— ?
Of course. She could see Tristan’s veiling magic.
“Grace,” I said, gently. “Mr. Hunter is my friend.”
She continued staring at him. “Indeed.”
Protective, loyal, and ambitious, or judgy, controlling, and arrogant? People don’t seem to stay neutral in their opinions on Miles’ sister. But I can’t help but speculate that Grace probably would be considered driven, responsible, passionate, and in a difficult position if her name was Gary. I love Grace because she defies the narrow strip of ground fictional women are allowed to occupy. She’s not nice enough. She doesn’t do emotional support. She’s opinionated, openly ambitious, sure of her own abilities and talents. She has flaws and weaknesses that make me facepalm, but her love for her brother shines through, creating all kinds of obstacles in what ought to be a clear path to her destiny as the leader of Aeland’s magicians.
C.L. Polk writes fiction and spots butterflies in Southern Alberta. She has an unreasonable fondness for knitting, single estate coffee, and the history of fashion. Her debut series beginning with the novel Witchmark is available from Tor.com.
I have a post at the Tor/Forge site today about The Calculating Stars and Hidden Figures and internalized bias, go check it out!
Here’s a teaser:
As mainstream culture becomes increasingly vocal about the politics of gender, it makes me aware of all of the damaging narrative that I’ve internalized and which has created internal biases in myself. Those show up in my fiction. So when I sit down to write, I now assume that I have a bias.
J.S. Fields is here today with the final book in the Ardulum series, Ardulum: Third Don. Here’s the publisher’s description:
The planet wakes.
Atalant is torn between two worlds. In uncharted space, head of a sentient planet, the new eld of Ardulum now leads the religion she once rejected. Emn is by her side but the Mmnnuggl war brewing in the Charted Systems, threatening her homeworld of Neek, cannot be ignored. Atalant must return to the planet that exiled her in order to lead the resistance. She must return home a god, a hypocrite, a liar in gold robes, and decide whether to thrust her unwilling people into the truth of Ardulum, or play the role she has been handed and never see her family, or her world, again.
What’s J.S. favorite bit?
I’m a scientist.
And I’m back.
Although I spend a lot of time in real life, and in the ARDULUM series, talking about wood science (or the science of cellulose, specifically), I never really get a chance to talk about the other side of my job, which is…
Wait for it…
Not the kind that grow on your bread, or in your shower, or the black kind that everyone gets super bent out of shape about for no good reason (can someone please make one of those friendly spider memes for mold? Please?). I work with wood-decaying fungi which, as you might imagine, is sort of perfect since all the tech in ARDULUM is cellulose-based. So what better plot device, what better mass-panic-inducing organism, than a fungus that can literally eat the galaxy?
Fungi have always been a part of the Charted Systems and the Alliance, if somewhat subtly. The menagerie of genders presented in the series are each modeled after a species of fungus. Conveniently fungi present practically limitless options for gender and sexual reproduction, and aliens should be at least as diverse as fungi (our closest evolutionary friends, in terms of kingdom). But I didn’t just want to model gender in THIRD DON, I actually wanted to imagine what fungi, as sentient beings (that can communicate with us. I’m not saying current fungi aren’t sentient. Don’t come after me, mycophiles!) would look like, how they might move, and how they might communicate.
Unfortunately there wasn’t a lot of space to get into the minutiae of sentient fungal mechanics, but I’m really pleased with the parts I did get to play with. How do fungi emote? If we give them more ‘understandable’ traits, a big one would be a large spore expulsion. Although not all fungi release spores in such a manner on Earth, it seems like a reasonable evolutionary trait to be able to aggressively shoot spores (especially foul smelling ones) at someone who is bothering you. The spores could be sticky, smelly, or rapidly come to life and continue attacking. What fun! And what a mess to clean up. One can imagine if extended negotiations were needed with sentient fungi, one would try to make sure tempers stayed cool.
Another big issue would be communication. Fungi communicate chemically, as do most living things, and also, in theory, through their extensive hyphal networks. For THIRD DON I tried to combine the two methods, by indicating that the sentient fungi used chemical signals, but in order to communicate in ‘Common’ with Atalant, rubbed their hyphae together to mimic speaking sounds. I assume the chitin content of fungal hyphae would need to be drastically increased to make the kind of noises needed to ‘talk,’ but hey, this is science fiction. You can take some things on spec, surely.
Finally, movement. Fungi capable of running a planet and interacting with bipeds need a way to locomote. And since this is an entire kingdom we’re talking about here, not just a species (like, say, Homo sapien), there needed to be some variation. So I selected across a broad group of fruiting forms, from the very recognizable stinkhorn fungi (specifically the ‘veiled lady,’ Phallus indusiatus), to the ascomycetes cup fungus elf’s cup (Chlorociboria spp.), to a fungus that has no known fruiting body nor common name: Scytalidium cuboideum.
Dragging seemed the easiest way to get around, and most fungi make hyphae, so across the board the fungi pull themselves along with braided hyphae. But to denote species differences, I got into the mechanics of each type. The veiled lady can detach their ‘veil’ and wave it around (or smack other beings with it) in anger, using hyphal ‘hands.’ Scytalidium cuboideum moves both through its mycelium, and through expulsion of pigment from its hyphae (in real life, the fungus makes a beautiful red pigment which is used in textile dyeing). The final fungus, elf’s cup, doesn’t do much unique with their movement, but since this fungus has been used for hundreds of years in Western Europe for dyeing wood intarsia and marquetry pieces, I wanted to make sure there was a nod to its expansive pigment production. Hence, every time the fungus is on something woody in THIRD DON (which is basically all the time), it injects a blue-green color into the wood, as well as leaves a trail of blue-green pigment in its wake. Like a car leaking oil, but prettier.
The sentient fungi of THIRD DON are mostly limited to one chapter, and play a very small role in the overall plot, but in many ways they were the most fun to write. A biped is a biped, especially in sci-fi, and especially if we want people to be able to relate to the character, but fungi…ah, we have such creative freedom with fungi! Genders and digestion and habitat and communication…really it’s a wonder there aren’t more sci-fi stories dedicated to their biology.
And maybe if there were, people wouldn’t be so terrified of the mold in their shower.
J.S Fields is a scientist who has perhaps spent too much time around organic solvents. Fields enjoys roller derby, woodturning, making chainmail by hand, and cultivating fungi in the backs of minivans. Nonbinary, and pronoun indifferent. Always up for a Twitter chat.
Marie Brennan is joining us today with the serial fiction Born to the Blade, written with Michael R. Underwood, Malka Older, and Cassandra Khaw. Here is the description:
Youth. Ambition. Power. Oda no Michiko and Kris Denn have much of the first two, and crave the last. To get it, all they must do is survive.
For centuries, the Warder’s Circle on the neutral islands of Twaa-Fei has given the nations of the sky a way to avoid war, as their chosen warders settle disputes through magical duels of blade and sigil. But that peace is on the edge of crumbling, crushed between the aggression of the Mertikan Empire and the determination of the still-free nations to not be consumed. Twaa-Fei may be neutral, but it is also home to a million intrigues, schemes, and deadly intentions.
Michiko and Kris arrive in this treacherous world together, bladecrafters eager to serve their countries — Michiko as a junior warder for Katuke, a vassal of the empire, Kris as an upstart challenging to win a seat for his home, Rumika, in the Circle. But before the young bladecrafters have even settled in, a power struggle erupts, a man’s head is parted from his shoulders, and every good thing Michiko thinks she knows about the empire comes into question. A storm is coming, and Kris and Michiko stand at its eye. Will it bind the nations of the sky together… or tear it apart?
This is going to sound weird . . . but my favorite bit in Born to the Blade, the collaborative novel I wrote with Michael R. Underwood, Malka Older, and Cassandra Khaw, might just be Bellona.
Bellona? The arrogant, high-handed character everybody loves to hate? How can I name her, when I could choose from Michiko, Kris, Ojo, Adechike (officially nicknamed “Beautiful Cinnamon Roll” by the writing team)?
I don’t like Bellona. It’s no accident that she’s named after the Roman goddess of war: she spreads strife wherever she goes, sometimes on purpose, sometimes just by being who she is. She’s utterly invested in the ideology of the Mertikan Empire, which is best described as “rabid meritocracy.” It’s a land where every person is . . . not encouraged, that’s too gentle; more like required . . . to pursue excellence in whatever it is they do, whether that’s being a bladecrafter representing the Empire on the neutral islands of Twaa-Fei, or a street sweeper in the capital city.
In Mertika, if you can prove you’re good at a thing, then the job is yours. Other islands in the sky use formal confrontations with swords to settle political treaties or points of dispute, but in Mertika, you can challenge for any position, attempting to prove your worth through a suitable kind of duel. Want to become a cook? Think Iron Chef. Barber? Time to see who can produce the fastest, cleanest shave. Anybody can become Emperor or Empress . . . if they can defeat the current ruler in a test of combined swordplay and magic.
Of course, there are consequences if you challenge and fail. Then you tumble all the way to the bottom of the hierarchy, not only in this lifetime but the next.
Because that’s the other thing: Mertikans remember their previous lives.
Every island in the sky bestows a magical birthright on people born there (regardless of their ancestry). For Mertikans, it’s past-life recall. Combine that with their ideology, and you have a recipe for the “tiger mom” stereotype on steroids: a constant drumbeat telling them to achieve, achieve, achieve, and the awareness of whether they’re surpassing their previous incarnation or failing to live up to it.
I don’t like Bellona, but I love the window she gives us into the Mertikan Empire. She did great things when she was Aelia Tullius, and now she’s ambitious to do more. She has to be excellent at everything she sets her hand to, whether that’s dueling, lying (an excellence she’s never really possessed), or throwing a baby shower for a pregnant Warder. When her superior, Lavinia, tells her she should recognize the limits of her reach, Bellona rejects that outright:
Only an idiot concluded that, because the peach was high in the tree, she would never be able to pluck it. Someone, sometime in the distant past, had faced the same problem . . . and invented the ladder.
Bellona will invent whatever ladders she has to in order to achieve her goals. Even when I detest those goals, even when I want to smack her upside the head with proof that just because Mertika pursues excellence doesn’t mean it’s good, I find her mindset compelling. So while I love many of the characters in our story — nerdy Takeshi, long-suffering Yochno, noble Penelope, flamboyant Shun — Bellona might just be my favorite, because she’s so determined to be the best.
If what she winds up being best at is making readers loathe her, then we’ve done our job.
Marie Brennan is a former anthropologist and folklorist who shamelessly pillages her academic fields for material. She most recently misapplied her professors’ hard work to the Hugo Award-nominated Victorian adventure series The Memoirs of Lady Trent; the first book of that series, A Natural History of Dragons, was a finalist for the World Fantasy Award and won the Prix Imaginales for Best Translated Novel. Her collaborative novel Born to the Blade, written with Michael R. Underwood, Malka Older, and Cassandra Khaw, is out this spring from Serial Box. She is also the author of the Doppelganger duology of Warrior and Witch, the urban fantasies Lies and Prophecy and Chains and Memory, the Onyx Court historical fantasy series, the Varekai novellas, and more than fifty short stories. For more information, visit www.swantower.com.
Warren Hammond is joining us today with his novella Denver Moon:The Minds of Mars, co-authored with Joshua Viola. Here’s the description:
Once considered humanity’s future home, Mars hasn’t worked out like anybody hoped. Plagued by crime and a terraforming project that’s centuries from completion, Mars is a red hell.
Denver Moon, P.I., works the dark underbelly of Mars City. While investigating a series of violent crimes linked to red fever—a Martian disorder that turns its victims into bloodthirsty killers—Denver discovers a cryptic message left by Tatsuo Moon, Mars City co-founder and Denver’s grandfather. The same grandfather who died two decades ago.
Twenty-year-old revelations force Denver on a quest for truth, but Tatsuo’s former friend, Cole Hennessy, leader of the Church of Mars, has other plans and will stop at nothing to keep Denver from disclosing Tatsuo’s secrets to the world.
Hell-bent on reclaiming her grandfather’s legacy, Denver—along with her AI implant, Smith, companion android, Nigel, and shuttle pilot, Navya—set out on a quest to find the answers they hope will shed light on the church’s true agenda, the origin of red fever, and the mysteries surrounding Tatsuo’s tragic death.
What’s Warren’s favorite bit?
My favorite bit of Denver Moon: The Minds of Mars wasn’t my idea. It was my co-author, Joshua Viola, who came up with the idea of using a gun as Denver Moon’s sidekick. “The gun has been installed with an AI,” he said. “And Denver talks to it when she does her PI work.”
The thought of a talking gun made me smile. From the very beginning, Josh and I wanted to have fun with this project, and making a gun into a primary character sounded like…well, fun. I suggested we name our AI-in-a-gun sidekick Smith, because the gun is a Smith and Wesson. That elicited a grin, and we were off to the races, running with a good idea like all writers do.
That’s the exciting part of a collaborative project. Josh and I both bring good ideas, but those ideas become so much more special when we bounce them off each other, and they morph, and shift, and inspire unexpected turns that far exceed our original thoughts.
The next idea was this: the AI-in-a-gun sidekick carries the memories of Denver’s dead grandfather, the founder of Mars colony. Thanks to this addition, Smith began to grow a personality. Unable to keep himself separate from the memories he carries, he now had his own thoughts and feelings. He was no longer a smoother-talking version of an Amazon Echo or Apple Siri. He was now a fully-realized character who, we decided, would often have an agenda all his own.
And what if Denver gets annoyed when Smith acts too much like her grandfather? What if, among her grandfather’s memories, Smith finds a message implying Denver’s grandfather might not be dead?
Ideas work like that sometimes. One leads to the next, which leads to the next, until they seem to take on a life all their own. Adding layer after layer to Denver and Smith’s world, we built the foundation for Denver Moon: The Minds of Mars as well as a three-issue comic book series named Denver Moon: Metamorphosis. We debuted the comics recently at the Denver Independent Comic & Arts Expo, where we received an unexpected gift.
It was during a quiet period at the Hex Publisher’s booth that a young man picked up the first issue of the comic book series. Silently, he read a few pages as both Josh and I—tired from a long day— sat quietly behind the table. But then the young man started to chuckle. Speaking to himself, he said, “She’s talking to her gun.”
Hearing those words, I smiled, too, just like the first time I heard it.
Warren Hammond grew up in the Hudson River Valley of New York State. Upon obtaining his teaching degree from the University at Albany, he moved to Colorado, and settled in Denver where he can often be found typing away at one of the local coffee shops. He is known for his gritty, futuristic KOP series from TOR Books. By taking the best of classic detective noir, and reinventing it on a destitute colony world, Warren has created these uniquely dark tales of murder, corruption and redemption. KOP Killer won the 2012 Colorado Book Award for best mystery. Always eager to see new places, Warren has traveled extensively. Whether it’s wildlife viewing in exotic locales like Botswana and the Galapagos Islands, or trekking in the Himalayas, he’s always up for a new adventure.
Joshua Viola is an author, artist, and former video game developer (Pirates of the Caribbean, Smurfs, TARGET: Terror). In addition to creating a transmedia franchise around The Bane of Yoto, honored with more than a dozen awards, he is the author of Blackstar, a tie-in novel based on the discography of Celldweller. His debut horror anthology, Nightmares Unhinged, was a Denver Post and Amazon bestseller and named one of the Best Books of 2016 by Kirkus Reviews. His second anthology, Cyber World (co-edited by Jason Heller), was an Independent Publisher Book Awards winner and Colorado Book Award finalist and named one of the Best Books of 2016 by Barnes & Noble. His short fiction has appeared in The Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Found anthology (RMFW Press), D.O.A. III – Extreme Horror Collection (Blood Bound Books), and The Literary Hatchet (PearTree Press). He lives in Denver, Colorado, where he is chief editor and owner of Hex Publishers.
Cat Rambo is joining us today to talk about her novel Hearts of Tabat. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Fireworks, riots, and rousing speeches all mark the vast societal upheavals taking place in the city of Tabat. But personal upheavals reflect the chaos. Adelina Nettlepurse, noted historian and secret owner of Spinner Press, watches the politics and intrigue with interest, only to find herself drawn into its heart by a dangerous text and a wholly unsuitable love affair with a man well below her station.
The match offered by Merchant Mage Sebastiano Silvercloth would be much more acceptable, but Sebastiano is hampered by his own troubles at the College of Mages, where the dwindling of magical resources threatens Tabat itself. And worse, his father demands he marry as soon as possible.
When Adelina’s best friend, glamorous and charming gladiator Bella Kanto, is convicted of sorcery and exiled, the city of Tabat undergoes increasing turmoil as even the weather changes to reflect the confusion and loss of one of its most beloved heroes.
Meanwhile the Beasts of Tabat — magical creatures such as dryads, minotaurs, and centaurs — are experiencing a revolution of their own, questioning a social order that holds them at its lowest level. But who is helping the Beasts in their subversive uprising?
In the second book of the Tabat Quartet, award-winning author Cat Rambo expands the breathtaking story from Beasts of Tabat with new points of view as Adelina, Sebastiano, and others add their voices. Tabat is a world, a society, and a cast of characters unlike any you have read before.
What’s Cat’s favorite bit?
One of my favorite pieces of the most recent fantasy novel, Hearts of Tabat, didn’t actually get into the final version, which was a set of chapter headers defining which Trade God each chapter belonged to. The Trade Gods of the city of Tabat embody various economic forces of one size or another, ranging from the large Anbo and Enba (Supply & Demand) to the more particular, like Zampri, who oversees Advertising, or Uhkephelmi, God of Small Mistakes.
I ended up removing these headers because I was afraid readers might take them to be more meaningful than they are, but they were great fun to figure out and many still made their way into the book itself or other Tabat works, such as the novelette I just finished, “God of the Balanced Ledger,” which talks at great lengths about some of the practices of merchants of Tabat.
I love complicated mythologies, and I’ve tried to create one in the Trade Gods, though I’ve also tried to make their names make sense by making a list of the more important morphemes as well as creating suffixes that identify gender: female, male, neuter, multi, and other. I know that if a god’s name starts out with “Dom,” for instance, they have something to do with communication, such as Dompkepko, God of Negotiation, or their sibling Domkepthka, God of Persuasion. “Aril” on the other hand usually signals some sort of tie or alliance.
In creating the mythology, I’ve tried to show how the merchants living within it see the world, as something that is made up of economic forces, with a sense of a mythology that is as much a textbook of basic economic theory as it is a scripture, but still captures the flavor of a lively, energetic pantheon. Some of them got quite complicated, such as Rilriliworhaomu, Trade God of Hypothetical Marital Alliances.
The sequel, Exiles of Tabat, is dedicated to another specific trade god, Uhcoemo, Trade God of Exiles. Where this book has explored some of the events of the first from different points of view, the third returns to Bella Kanto and Teo, this time far away from Tabat, struggling with the immense changes that have happened in their lives.
Some folks have said nice things about the worldbuilding in both Hearts of Tabat as well as its predecessor, Beasts, and I think it’s pieces like this, which provide both underlying structure and new directions for stories to go in, that help create an immersive, interesting world, along with all the fantastic talking gryphons, magic fountains, and other details of the seaport of Tabat. By now I’ve written not just two and a half novels in its world, but over two dozen stories, and I know I’ll keep coming back and finding new details, perhaps overseen in that endeavour by Marbu, Trade God of Chance and Domkepdepru, Trade God of Books.
Here’s some of those other Gods for your amusement:
Abkerdomma, Trade God of Full Disclosure
Abvioti, Trade God of First Impressions
Angrajekna, Trade God of Beasts
Angrato, Trade God of Cargo
Arilkepgioti, Trade God of Apprenticeship
Arilkepyaotu, Trade God of Mentorship
Arilworyaomi, Trade God of Future Marital Alliances
Chalwoarma, Trade God of Lustful Influence
Chayanyata, Trade God of Medicines
Diahmo, God of the Balanced Ledger
Domkepku, Trade God of Publishing
Ehworhaoti, Trade God of Negotiating Marital Alliances
Enbi, Trade God of Need
Erilgioma, Trade God of Influence Through Childhood Friendship
Fayapprima, Goddess of Prevented Losses
Giobi, Trade God of Friendship
Hazba, Trade God of Mortality
Ihobvioki, Trade God of Public Display
Keppro, Trade God of Work
Kepterto, Trade God of Tailors
Kepverma, Trade God of Tanners
Mompru, Trade God of Food
Plarworki, Trade God of Political Connection
Rupru, Trade God of Ritual
Uhfawyanbi, Trade God of Danger, Loss, and Gambles
Uhkephelmi, Trade God of Small Mistakes
Uhmarko, Trade God of Unlucky Finds and Unfortunate Meetings
Cat Rambo lives, writes, and teaches atop a hill in the Pacific Northwest. Her 200+ fiction publications include stories in Asimov’s, Clarkesworld Magazine, and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. She is an Endeavour, Nebula, and World Fantasy Award nominee. Her 2018 works include Hearts of Tabat (novel, WordFire Press) and the updated 3rd edition of Creating an Online Presence for Writers. For more about her, as well as links to her fiction and her popular online school, The Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers, see http://www.kittywumpus.net. She is the current President of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. (SFWA.org)
Brenda W. Clough is joining us today to talk about her serial fiction A Most Dangerous Woman, a standalone sequel to Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White. Here’s the description:
Marian Halcombe never believed she’d fall in love, let alone marry. That is, until she meets Theo Camlet. But when Theo’s first wife, who everyone believed to be dead, reappears, Marian’s happy-ever-after might just slip away. Marian and her brother in law, Walter, must delve into the darkest and most dangerous corners of London to save Theo from accusations of bigamy and murder, as well as the hangman’s noose.
What’s Brenda’s favorite bit?
BRENDA W. CLOUGH
Content Warning: description of genital mutilation as outdated medical procedure
A MOST DANGROUS WOMAN is solidly set in the mid-Victorian period, an era full of research nuggets. It was before antibiotics, before the germ theory, but in a period where everyone wrote everything down. So you have masses of thrilling and blood-curdling medical disaster stories. I am trying to wedge as many of the most wince-worthy ones into these novels! But some of the ones that didn’t make it into the current book include:
The period pharmacopoeia. The favorite Victorian drug was an opiate; opium or its more powerful derivatives were added to everything. Tonics. Baby supplements. Cough syrups. Malaria medicines. It’s a wonder anyone got anything done, they all must have been higher than Timothy Leary. Another beloved chemical enhancement was arsenic. It was like corn sugar for us, a useful additive to anything you can imagine. Lotions, foodstuffs, hair products – everything went down a little better with arsenic. There were no food purity regulations, no drug laws that precluded you from buying half a pound of the stuff at the local store so that you could add arsenic, or opiates, to the food you were selling or cooking for the hubby and kids.
Things to do to sick people. When Emily Bronte (author of WUTHERING HEIGHTS) was bitten by her dog, she staved off rabies by cauterizing the wound with a poker heated red-hot. She did this with her own hands, not even allowing Charlotte and Anne to help. Thank God, there were no cell phone cameras so the incident is not viewable on YouTube. The things to feed to sick people will make you feel ill just reading the recipes. The idea was that sick people were not strong enough to digest anything. So they got dishes like bread jelly (put the bread in a bowl, pour boiling water on, and after it cools take the bread out. Spoon the water left in the bowl into the invalid’s mouth). Or gruel, the bane of Oliver Twist. You could have sago gruel, oatmeal gruel or rice gruel. All of these to be served quite plain, and any leftovers could be used to glue wallpaper to the walls. If you read JANE EYRE it is clear that Bertha, the crazy wife hidden in the attic, is fed on nothing but gruel. After a year or two on this diet you would go berserk and burn the hose down too!
Creative treatment trends. There was a fashion for hydropathy, which means taking baths. Cold baths, hot baths, water poured in a steady stream onto the top of your head – all these things were supposed to help cure a variety of ailments. Charles Darwin spent years treating his digestive issues with sitz baths, sitting in a shallow basin of water. You can still view the bowl at his house in Sussex – he kept it hanging behind his office door, handy for use. Another horrific notion, mainly pushed by a single nutty doctor, was clitoridectomy. Yes, using a scissors on a woman’s most personal organ would cure her of nearly anything from toothache to infertility. That doctor got disbarred, but another, whose idea that all your health problems were caused by your teeth, was not. He prescribed extractions for everything from colds to heart trouble to gout, and did a good business. Then he got sick himself, and had all his own teeth pulled out. He was horrified when it didn’t help, and you will not be surprised to hear that after that he went into a decline.
And finally, the one medical issue that you find very little written about: STDs. Sexually transmitted illnesses were rampant, in an era when London teemed with prostitutes and there were no cures or cheap protections. There was of course no birth control, and even condoms had to be expensively and painstakingly hand-made (from lamb intestine, tied on with ribbon). Every man who strayed sooner or later picked up some horrible disease, and if they were unlucky they were infected with the most feared germ of all: syphilis, the Great Pox. It was highly infectious, and incurable. The treatments (mercury) were at best partially effective and at worst killed you outright. But you couldn’t talk about it. Because if you had an STD you, by definition, had been sleeping around. Doctors would diagnose and treat men, but carefully not tell their wives even if the lady became infected. Because it was the mister who paid the bill, and the knowledge would only upset the poor little woman, right? In any case there was no cure until the advent of penicillin, and if you were really unfortunate the disease would pop back out after years of making you ill, and drive you insane. A vast field of literary analysis is out there, exploring how the fear of VD haunts fiction and poetry of the period. As syphilis warped men’s sexuality, infected women (Isak Dinesen caught syphilis from her husband) people wrote about it in coded or veiled terms that we are only just starting to perceive.
Although I had not intended this, you can look up from the world of A MOST DANGEROUS WOMAN and be really, really glad that you live in an era with modern medicine!
Brenda W. Clough spent much of her childhood overseas, courtesy of the U.S. government. She writes novels and short stories. Her first fantasy, The Crystal Crown, was published by DAW in 1984. She has also written The Dragon of Mishbil (1985), The Realm Beneath (1986), and The Name of the Sun (1988). Her children’s novel, An Impossumble Summer (1992), is set in her own house in Virginia, cottage at the edge of a forest.
This is a short story set in the Lady Astronaut Universe. It is does not contain any real spoilers for the novels — or at least nothing you couldn’t glean from a blurb about the books. Although it takes place between books 1 and 2, you don’t need to have read anything in the LAU to follow this.
Here’s the teaser
by Mary Robinette Kowal
MOON COLONY EXPANDS TO 100 COLONISTS
Sep. 26, 1960 (AP) — The International Aerospace Coalition announced today that the lunar colony, established last year, was ready to expand to hold 100 colonists. This is the next step in preparing to colonize Mars, but although many still question the necessity of such an endeavor.
Patches of orange light from the sodium vapor lamps fractured the dark parking lot at the IAC’s Neutral Buoyancy Lab. Six-thirty in the morning was a brutal time to start work and Ruby was already sore and exhausted, which was she tried to tell herself was good practise as an astronaut.
All she wanted was to do the NBL training run and then collapse in bed, but somehow she’d agreed to another lindy-hop dance rehearsal tonight. It was just hard to disappoint a friend that you’d been dancing with since before the Meteor struck. She didn’t have that many pieces of Before left in her life.
I’m looking for 5-10 new readers. Just raise your hand in the comments below.
What will happen then is that I’ll email you with the link and instructions on what sort of feedback I’m looking for.
(Tor Books — August 21, 2018) Continuing the grand sweep of alternate history laid out 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, […]