Happy March! Hopefully, spring will be here…someday. Here’s where Mary will be this month:
Reading at Deep Dish at Volumes Bookcafe – Chicago, Illinois
Or find her online here
Happy March! Hopefully, spring will be here…someday. Here’s where Mary will be this month:
Reading at Deep Dish at Volumes Bookcafe – Chicago, Illinois
Or find her online here
Past fiction in a new format!
Tor.com will be 10 years old this year and to celebrate, they are releasing a hardcover anthology of stories from the past decade. My story, “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” will be included in it!
The timing of this is excellent – it will be released right after The Lady Astronaut prequel novels come out.
Tina LeCount Myers is joining us today with her novel The Song of All. Here’s the publisher’s description:
On the forbidding fringes of the tundra, where years are marked by seasons of snow, humans war with immortals in the name of their shared gods. Irjan, a human warrior, is ruthless and lethal, a legend among the Brethren of Hunters. But even legends grow tired and disillusioned.
Scarred and weary of bloodshed, Irjan turns his back on his oath and his calling to hide away and live a peaceful life as a farmer, husband, and father. But his past is not so easily left behind. When an ambitious village priest conspires with the vengeful comrades Irjan has forsaken, the fragile peace in the Northlands of Davvieana is at stake.
His bloody past revealed, Irjan’s present unravels as he faces an ultimatum: return to hunt the immortals or lose his child. But with his son’s life hanging in the balance, as Irjan follows the tracks through the dark and desolate snow-covered forests, it is not death he searches for, but life.
What’s Tina’s favorite bit?
TINA LECOUNT MYERS
One of my favorite parts of my fantasy novel is the science behind it. In fact, I started writing The Song of All after a debate with my husband about what distinguishes science fiction from fantasy. Let’s just say it was a robust discussion in which my husband made the point that science fiction presents what is possible based on science, while fantasy presents magic and the supernatural and is not based on science, a distinction I took umbrage with.
“What about quantum physics?” I asked. “What about dark matter and dark energy? Couldn’t they explain magic and metaphysical elements?”
“Fine,” he conceded, knowing I had watched more TedX and Neil deGrasse Tyson talks on YouTube than he had. “But there are no such things as elves.”
“But there could be,” I said.
Human evolution, even starting as late as Homo erectus, reflects substantial differences in morphology. Comparing Homo sapiens to the Neanderthals, Homo sapiens have keener eyesight, hearing, and sense of smell. Through natural selection, any number of potential phenotypes might evolve if those individuals are successful at surviving and passing on their genetics. Nothing precludes the evolution of an “elf.”
Later, as I rehashed the argument, I thought about how many cultures have elves as part of their mythology. I recalled the Finnish folktales my own grandparents told me as a child about spirits that lived in the far north, in Saamiland. I began to imagine just how these magical creatures might have evolved. And what started as research to prove my point unexpectedly ended up as a fantasy novel.
In The Song of All, the Jápmemeahttun (pronounced yahp.meh.mehah.toon) are my “elves.” They are distinct from the human Olmmoš (pronounced ol.mow.sh), having evolved over millennia of prehistory in isolation. While the two species have similar morphology, the Jápmemeahttun have developed some distinctive characteristics due to environmental and social pressures. One such characteristic is their unusual reproductive system. The Jápmemeahttun are protogyny sequential hermaphrodites, meaning they change sexes, in this case from female to male, a model that I borrowed from real life biological sciences.
Researchers suggest that sequential hermaphroditism occurs in nature when an individual animal reproduces most efficiently as one sex when younger, but as the other sex when older. Among invertebrates and vertebrates, there are many examples of sequential hermaphroditism, both protogyny (female to male) and protandry (male to female). The Clownfish switches from male to female. The Blackfin Goby fish can go both ways depending on need. The European common brown frog sometimes switches from female to male when the females are older, prolonging their lifetime reproductive success. But my favorite example is the wrasse because of the impassioned lecture my college biology professor gave on this fish.
After weeks of stunningly dry lectures, my introductory biology course had finally evolved from the cellular level to the topic of reproduction. My professor, who for those proceeding weeks had shown little enthusiasm for the material, began to explain with surprising animation the mating rituals of this small fish-the wrasse. With gusto, she described how when the dominant male of a school dies or as she put it “goes out for a cup of coffee”, the largest female will begin seducing the other females and develop male organs to become dominant in the school. She concluded with a cackle that, “There’s a reason why they’re called Sneaky Suckers.” Only she did not say Suckers.
Struck by my professor’s unexpected liveliness, I stopped taking notes and saw for the first time just how mind-blowing biological adaptations can be. Two decades later, when I started to write The Song of All, I remembered that moment of wonder and saw in evolution the possibility to write about magical creatures, using not only imagination, but also science to shape them.
As a species, the Jápmemeahttun are far more honorable in their courtship than the wrasse. They do not rely on duplicity to ensure that dominant genes are passed on. But like the wrasse, the Jápmemeahttun, as I envisioned them, are the result of natural selection. They adapted in response to their imagined world, just as species have on this planet. Evolution has created some pretty magical creatures in the Earth’s 4.5 billion years of existence: Pterodactyls, Duck-billed Platypuses, Human Beings. And numerous cultures acknowledge the existence of unseen supernatural beings. So, while I am willing to concede to the point that there is no scientific evidence of elves, I add the caveat, “Not yet.”
Tina LeCount Myers is a writer, artist, independent historian, and surfer. Born in Mexico to expat-bohemian parents, she grew up on Southern California tennis courts with a prophecy hanging over her head; her parents hoped she’d one day be an author. The Song of All is her debut novel.
Rachel A. Marks is joining us today with her novel Fire and Bone. Here is the publisher’s description:
In Hollywood’s underworld of demigods, druids, and ancient bonds, one girl has a dangerous future.
Sage is eighteen, down on her luck, and struggling to survive on the streets of Los Angeles. Everything changes the night she’s invited to a party—one that turns out to be a trap.
Thrust into a magical world hidden within the City of Angels, Sage discovers that she’s the daughter of a Celtic goddess, with powers that are only in their infancy. Now that she is of age, she’s asked to pledge her service to one of the five deities, all keen on winning her favor by any means possible. She has to admit that she’s tempted—especially when this new life comes with spells, Hollywood glam, and a bodyguard with secrets of his own. Not to mention a prince whose proposal could boost her rank in the Otherworld.
As loyalties shift, and as the two men vie for her attention, Sage tries to figure out whom to trust in a realm she doesn’t understand. One thing is for sure: the trap she’s in has bigger claws than she thought. And it’s going to take a lot more than magic for this Celtic demigoddess to make it out alive.
What’s Rachel’s favorite bit?
RACHEL A. MARKS
So much of creating Fire and Bone was one big ball of fun; the lore research, the world-building, the character dynamics. But my favorite bit to write was most definitely the banter. I admit, I love writing banter. But something about the way these characters bounced off of each other, the oddity of ancient gods meshing with the shallow nature of Hollywood glam, six-hundred-year-old demigods competing for power in the ancient order, as teen druids, with a weakness for label-wear, consider who to invite to the next gala.
All the while a dark legend is stirring beneath the surface.
As I wrote, the banter bubbled to the surface easily. Whenever the character views conflicted, or the irony of a situation presented itself, it turned into a crash of sass. Like Sage, our snarky heroine, who uses her wit to protect herself as she’s confronted for the first time with the truth of her goddess heritage by Faelan (whose POV we’re in).
“I’m going to take you to a safe place where there’s a man who wants to help you,” I say. “He’s rich, very powerful. Under his protection, you’ll learn where you come from and discover where you belong. The dark prince won’t be able to control you and—”
She barks out a laugh, interrupting me.
“What’s so funny?” I ask.
“Dark prince? Seriously?” She laughs again. “Can you even hear yourself?”
I study her and wonder if the potion that Star gave her was too strong. That pixie is so flighty.
The demi stands from the bed and folds her arms across her chest, looking guarded but determined. “Look, muscleman, I can buy this whole you’re-not-who-you-think-you-are thing, since my life has basically sucked ass from the start and I’d love to believe that it was all some huge cosmic error. But you’re trying to tell me I’m going to meet Daddy Warbucks, who will explain to me that I’m a weird alien or something? And he’ll protect me from a dark prince? Pardon me if I don’t leap to join your cult so I can get a chance at cushy digs. That’s not my style.”
“You’re not an alien.”
Sage has a way of taking everything that comes at her with a grain of salt, always keeping others at arms’ length, and using the bite of her unaffected words to take people by surprise. And so, when she finally meets with the “dark prince” and his terrifying wraiths it’s pretty well established that a little fear isn’t going to knock her off her game right away.
“You shouldn’t fear me,” he says, way too close now. “I can give you your heart’s desire.”
“Right now I’d like a one-way ticket to Tahiti.”
Confusion fills his features. “We don’t rule in the south.”
But my favorite points really come to the surface once Sage and Faelan have developed their rhythm. They’ve had a lot of tense moments with frustration and danger, and it’s bonded them in a short time, allowing for an unlikely friendship.
“Wow, some warrior you are. Can’t even stand up to a tiny teen girl.”
“Aelia?” he asks. “That wee thing is terrifying.”
“I bet you don’t call her wee to her face.”
When a book is full of looming danger and dark story threads, it’s that much more refreshing when a little humor breaks through, letting us smile. The stark contrast of fear and wit in one space allow us to feel each emotion that much more. It’s my favorite bit to read. And, most definitely, my favorite bit to write.
Rachel A. Marks is an author, a professional artist, keeper of faerie secrets, and a cancer survivor. If her love of the ocean is any indication, she may have been a selkie in another life. But now she’s a boring human and the author of the Dark Cycle series, which includes Darkness Brutal, Darkness Fair, and Darkness Savage. Her art can be found on the covers of several New York Times and USA Today bestselling novels. She lives in Southern California with her husband, four teens, three chickens, two precocious pups, two rats, and a kitty.
In 2006, we were staying with my parents in Chattanooga for a couple of months. My husband went for a walk to the library and when he came back, Buster had followed him home.
We tried to find his owners. He had a collar, but the d-ring was open and no tags. He hadn’t been chipped. We put notices in the paper, at shelters and vets. And then we noticed that if we picked up a newspaper or a stick to throw it, he would shy away.
We stopped looking for whoever had had him before us.
The plan was that my parents would keep him while we were in Iceland and then we’d take him back to Portland. That’s not what happened. My parents fell in love with him.
Buster was named after Buster Keaton, because he always looked a little worried. He loved catching squirrels. He loved belly rubs. When we had writing retreats he was the Muse Dog and he took his job very seriously.
Our guess is that he was somewhere between one and two years old when he found us. So he lived to be about fourteen years old, which is a venerable age for a dog of his stature. He was loving and kept us protected from squirrels.
Gwendolyn Clare is joining us today with her novel Ink, Iron, and Glass. Here is the publisher’s description:
Can she write a world gone wrong?
A certain pen, a certain book, and a certain person can craft entirely new worlds through a branch of science called scriptology. Elsa comes from one such world that was written into creation by her mother―a noted scriptologist.
But when her home is attacked and her mother kidnapped, Elsa is forced to cross into the real world and use her own scriptology gifts to find her. In an alternative Victorian Italy, Elsa finds a secret society of pazzerellones―young people with a gift for mechanics, alchemy, or scriptology―and meets Leo, a gorgeous mechanist with a smart mouth and tragic past. She recruits the help of these fellow geniuses just as an assassin arrives on their doorstep.
In this thrilling debut, worlds collide as Elsa unveils a deep political conspiracy seeking to unlock the most dangerous weapon ever created―and only she can stop it.
What’s Gwendolyn’s favorite bit?
My favorite bit was breaking history.
I have an abiding love for 19th-century mad science that can probably be traced back to my teenage obsession with Shelley’s Frankenstein. So I knew my take on steampunk — Ink, Iron, and Glass — would have to put the mad scientists on center stage. But the question remained, which stage?
I was tired of London. Not that Victorian London didn’t have a lot to recommend it: industrial smog so thick it no longer mattered if the weather was overcast, the Thames functioning more as an open-air sewer than as a river, and the ramrod-straight social mores, of course. What’s not to love?
Despite these alluring features, I wanted to explore a somewhat less-well-trod setting in Ink, Iron, and Glass. Elsewhere in the world, interesting things were afoot in the latter half of the 1800’s. While the British were still basking comfortably in the tail-end of their imperial era, the Continent was already struggling to redefine itself politically and socially. Italy, trapped between France and the Austrian Empire, was literally in pieces. Cultural identity was still deeply tied to the old city-states of the Renaissance, and the idea of a unifying Italian identity was nothing but a philosophical concept.
Enter Giuseppe Garibaldi. A general for the King of Sardinia, Garibaldi combined battle prowess and tactical knowledge with a passion for the idea of a unified Italy. He personally conducted key military operations during the period of Italian unification, and is best known for taking Sicily in 1860 with an eclectic army composed of local rebels and his own troops combined. Effectively, Garibaldi served as a revolutionary, even though he was technically an outside invader. To this day he’s considered a forefather of the country.
Here was one of those curious places in history where the actions of a single man changed the future for millions. So, naturally, Garibaldi had to go. I set fire to his tall ships in 1860 with Archimedes mirrors, putting a halt to the Italian Resurgence before it ever really began. Ink, Iron, and Glass takes place thirty years later, in a divided Italy that still yearns for freedom.
My protagonist, Elsa, is a young genius from a foreign land, stranded in Europe and seeking refuge with the mad scientists of Pisa. To protect the integrity of their work, the mad scientists’ society has one rule: you never get involved in politics. But Elsa’s mother is missing, and as she investigates her mother’s abduction, the signs point to a political motivation. Certain revolutionaries are still determined to unify the Italian states — at any cost.
Scientists can’t get involved. Or can they?
Ink, Iron, and Glass is an exploration of what happens to history when you add a bit of mad science.
Gwendolyn Clare teaches college biology in central Pennsylvania, where she lives with too many cats and never enough books. Her short stories can be found in Fantasy & Science Fiction, Asimov’s, Analog, Clarkesworld, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Ink, Iron, and Glass is her debut novel.
John Kessel is joining us today with his novel Pride and Prometheus. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Pride and Prejudice meets Frankenstein as Mary Bennet falls for the enigmatic Victor Frankenstein and befriends his monstrous Creature in this clever fusion of two popular classics.
Threatened with destruction unless he fashions a wife for his Creature, Victor Frankenstein travels to England where he meets Mary and Kitty Bennet, the remaining unmarried sisters of the Bennet family from Pride and Prejudice. As Mary and Victor become increasingly attracted to each other, the Creature looks on impatiently, waiting for his bride. But where will Victor find a female body from which to create the monster’s mate?
Meanwhile, the awkward Mary hopes that Victor will save her from approaching spinsterhood while wondering what dark secret he is keeping from her.
Pride and Prometheus fuses the gothic horror of Mary Shelley with the Regency romance of Jane Austen in an exciting novel that combines two age-old stories in a fresh and startling way.
What’s John Kessel’s favorite bit?
I have a couple of moments in Pride and Prometheus that I like a lot. One of them I think I will leave for you to experience when you read the book, but my other favorite is chapter five. This was one of the last chapters I finished in the twenty-one-chapter novel, mostly because it was a pain in the neck to write.
Pride and Prometheus is an expansion of my novelette from 2008, which won the Nebula Award and the Shirley Jackson Award. That story is told from the point of view of Mary Bennet, the sententious, bookish, unattractive middle sister of the Bennet sisters of Pride and Prejudice, who in my tale meets Victor Frankenstein, and ultimately his Creature. Victor is in England on his way to Scotland to create a bride for the monster, who threatens to kill all those Victor loves unless he makes him a companion.
I did not plan to make a novel out of the story and spent ten years resisting the idea until I realized that there was indeed a novel to be told. I did not want simply to tack on an unrelated sequel or pad out a narrative that already existed. The way I solved this problem was to start earlier and end later. The first four chapters introduce the viewpoint characters—Mary, Victor and the Creature—establish their motivations and set their stories in motion. Chapters six through ten cover the events that originally appeared in the novelette, and then eleven through twenty-one carry on from there.
Chapter five was my transition from the new beginning to the events of the old story.
It started life as a brief grab bag of a chapter in which I needed to move characters from one place to someplace else to prepare for the more dramatic events to come. In any novel, I think, a writer runs into these moments that can’t be avoided but which seem at best like carpentry and at worst drudgery. As such, I had trouble making chapter five work. I rewrote it many times.
Mary and Kitty are at home and chafing under the attentions of their difficult mother Mrs. Bennet. Not a lot happens here besides Kitty getting permission to visit Elizabeth and Darcy at Darcy’s estate Pemberley, and, to everyone’s surprise, Mary asking to go with her. After a lot of thinking and rewriting it ended up being like so many chapters in Austen novels, essentially two conversations: the first between Mary and her sister Kitty and the second between Mary and her father.
The scene between Kitty and Mary used a classic Austen setting: a sunny afternoon when the two sisters walk home from church, talking privately, away from their parents. Mary and Kitty are very different people, thirteen years older than they were in Pride and Prejudice. They have both been struggling with the notion of ending up spinsters; Kitty is not happy at the prospect and is desperate to find a husband. Mary has until recently resigned herself to being alone, but now she has two prospects, one realistic and dull, and the other Victor Frankenstein.
This is the most intimate scene between the sisters, where they talk about their hopes and fears, and despite their differences of temperament, show a real bond. One purpose here was to make Kitty, who earlier might have seemed shallow, sympathetic, another to show the sisters’ love for each other. I managed to get out of this scene alive; I’m sure my sigh of relief must have been audible from Derbyshire.
Then I had to write the scene between Mary and Mr. Bennet. Its purpose was to have Mary (who heretofore has spent most of her time stuck at home entertaining her mother) ask for permission to visit Pemberley with Kitty. Besides this I had no idea what else they might discuss. Once I got them talking, they fell into a conversation about Mary’s prospects, about marriage in general, and about why Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, two people who could not be more incompatible in temperament, ended up together—a question that readers of Pride and Prejudice have been asking for 200 years. It’s a moment of intimacy, an extrapolation that I expect many Austen readers or critics must have made about the Bennets, but that I had not seen written about anywhere. I was genuinely surprised at Mary’s forcefulness in demanding what she wants here, and even more so at how Mr. Bennet reacts, and how he confides in her.
My mental conception of the novel was “A Jane Austen heroine falls into a gothic novel.” For the most part my novel follows Frankenstein in all its melodrama—murder, animated corpses, body snatching. But chapter five is all Austen, and that’s why I like it so much. I can’t claim to match Jane in her wit and subtle delineation of character, her deconstruction of the manners and morals of well bred English families, but here is where I enter the most fully into her world.
No action, just two people sitting in a room talking. No faustian over-reaching, no histrionics. But the glimpse it gives of Mr. Bennet as more than a sardonic critic of other family members, and of Mrs. Bennet as more than an exasperating trial for everyone around her, and of Mary as more than a figure of fun, makes me happy that I wrote it.
Dan Koboldt is joining us today with his novel The World Awakening. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Quinn Bradley has learned to use the magic of another world. And that world is in danger. Having decided to betray CASE Global, he can finally reveal his origins to the Enclave and warn them about the company’s imminent invasion. Even if it means alienating Jillaine…and allying with someone he’s always considered his adversary.
But war makes for strange bedfellows, and uniting Alissians against such a powerful enemy will require ancient enmities-as well as more recent antagonisms-to be set aside. The future of their pristine world depends on it. As Quinn searches for a way to turn the tide, his former CASE Global squad-mates face difficult decisions of their own. For some, it’s a matter of what they’re willing to do to get home. For others, it’s deciding whether they want to go home at all.
Continuing the exciting adventures from The Rogue Retrieval and The Island Deception, The World Awakening is the spellbinding conclusion to the Gateways to Alissia fantasy series from Dan Koboldt.
What’s Dan’s favorite bit?
When I started writing this series, I asked a simple question: if you sent a modern illusionist into a medieval world, how well could he pass himself off as a real magician? I imagined that he could probably pull it off, especially if he leveraged modern technologies and materials that a pre-industrial society has never seen.
When I started the story, I figured that arming my character with geeky modern tech – LEDs, lasers, and maybe a small flamethrower – would be the most fun. But I was wrong. My magician’s favorite thing about entering a pristine medieval world isn’t his technological advantage: it’s access to a naïve audience.
This not only helps with his tricks, but puts all of our world’s history and pop culture at his disposal. It came in handy in the first book, when he had to talk his way past a security checkpoint:
Then the lyric just popped into his head. “So now we’ve come to you, with open arms. Nothing to hide.” He held out his arms, palms open, imploring him. “Believe what I say.”
That’s from a Journey song, which the natives in the other world have obviously never heard. Later, in book two, he finds himself turning down a job offer with a little help from Robert Frost:
The captain gave him a serious look. “Somethin’ tells me you’re destined for bigger things. But if they don’t pan out, I’d be happy to take you on.”
“I appreciate that,” Quinn said. “But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.”
Knowledge of our pop culture also provides a wealth of ideas for handling sticky situations. Like this one in The World Awakening, when Quinn and Jillaine need to approach a dangerous man about a ransom:
“Well, what do you want to do?” she asked.
“I’m thinking we go with the fake bounty hunter routine,” Quinn said.
“Never heard of it.”
“Oh, it’s a classic. And you get to be the bounty hunter, which will be more fun.”
She cringed a little. “I’m not sure I can pull that off. What do I even do?”
“And there’s costumes, too,” he said, pretending not to hear. He leaned back and gave her the up-and-down survey. “For you, I’m thinking leathers. Maybe a little chain mail to really sell it.”
“What about you?” she asked.
“I’m the prisoner, so I don’t need much. Just for you to tie me up.”
Her eyebrows shot up, and she put on a pensive expression. “This begins to offer some appeal.”
Of course she’s never heard of the fake bounty hunter routine. She hasn’t seen Return of the Jedi.
When I began this series, I thought that my magician would rely on his hard-won skills and state-of-the-art technology to get by in the other world. But his knowledge of pop culture proved surprisingly valuable as well, and that’s what makes it my favorite bit.
Dan Koboldt is a genetics researcher and fantasy/science fiction author from the Midwest. He is the author of the Gateway to Alissia series (Harper Voyager) about a Las Vegas magician who infiltrates a medieval world. He is currently editing Putting the Science in Fiction, (Writers Digest), a reference for writers slated for release in Fall 2018.
By day, Dan is a genetics researcher at a major children’s hospital. He has co-authored more than 70 publications in Nature, Science, The New England Journal of Medicine, and other scientific journals. He lives with his wife, daughter, and twin boys in Ohio
Mary will be GOHing with aplomb at Boskone this weekend, Feb 16-18. Will she see you there?
Here’s where to find Mary:
Star Wars Mad Libs
Who doesn’t love a good session of Mad Libs, Boskone style? Join us for a special edition of Star Wars Mad Libs — in which the audience provides the nouns, adverbs, and adjectives for a raucous reading performed by our panel of program participants.
Boskone’s Regency Dance with Guest of Honor Mary Robinette Kowal
Calling all dancers! Join our Guest of Honor, Mary Robinette Kowal, as we travel back in time to Britain’s Regency period, when dancing was all the craze. Antonia Pugliese from Commonwealth Vintage Dancers, a Boston-area nonprofit that reconstructs, performs, and teaches dances of the 19th and early 20th century, will lead us through Boskone’s special set of Regency dances. So put on your 19th Century duds or keep your modern wardrobe to represent your favorite era — as we genre-happy gentlefolk join together to dance, Regency-style!
Opening Ceremony: Meet the Guests
Galleria – Stage
Welcome to Boskone, New England’s longest-running convention for science fiction, fantasy, and horror! Whether you are attending for the first time or the fifty-fifth, we invite you to join us in the Galleria to meet this year’s guests.
Boskone 55 Reception
Galleria – Art Show
Connoisseurs and philistines alike: welcome to the Boskone Art Show! Join us in the Galleria for an upscale social mixer. Meet our program participants while enjoying refreshments, stimulating conversation, and exceptional art that’s a feast for the eyes. Experience the music and the festivities as Boskone celebrates another year of science fiction, fantasy, and horror in Boston.
Boskone Book Club: Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal
The Boskone Book Club continues! Join us for a conversation that brings con-goers together to consider one noteworthy work at length. This year we are reading Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal (our Guest of Honor). Boskone’s own Bob Kuhn will lead the discussion; Mary Robinette Kowal will join the group halfway through for a Q&A. To participate, please read the book and come ready with your thoughts and questions.
Galleria – Autographing
Guest of Honor Interview Featuring Mary Robinette Kowal
Professional puppeteer; costumer; voice actor — Mary Robinette Kowal is a multitalented marvel. But she’s here mostly as a Hugo-Award-winning SF/F author with a delightful gift for storytelling. Join us for Boskone’s Guest of Honor hour, conducted by Mary’s good friend (and former astronaut!) Cady Coleman.
The Magic of Historical Fantasies
Fantasies set in the past are growing ever more popular. Why do we love stepping back in time and sprinkling a little magic into the past? Could these same stories be told in modern times, or would some of that magic be lost? And when changing the workings of the known world by adding magic, is it still important to keep historical details correct?
Clothing That Create Character
Characters don’t wear costumes; they wear clothing. What’s the right raiment for the right person? Think about the style statements made by James Bond, Brienne, Doctor Manhattan, Gandalf, Kip Russell, Josephus Miller, Offred, Diana Prince, Alexia Tarabotti, or Jane Vincent. Our fashionistas discuss some of spec fic’s fashion faux pas, as well as some truly ingenious choices of garments for our favorite fictional characters.
Life In Space
What does it take to become an astronaut? What’s it like to live in space? These questions and more are just a few of the queries that will get answered by astronaut Cady Coleman as she sits with science fiction authors Mary Robinette Kowal and Stacey Berg who ask her everything you ever wanted to know about life in space.
Reading by Mary Robinette Kowal
Tea with Mary
Galleria – Con Suite
Join Boskone’s Guest of Honor for tea in the Con Suite. (Requires Kaffeeklatsch sign-up at Program Ops in the Harbor Foyer.)
Hurrah! I became a Level 49 Human today and I’m in Chattanooga to celebrate my birthday with my parents. Mom is leveling up to 80 this weekend so we have a shindig planned.
Meanwhile! I have a party favor for you. There’s a short story, “The Worshipful Society of Glovers” that came out last year in Uncanny Magazine. It’s free!
But that’s only a little bit of the party favor. What I really have for you is how I developed the story. Now, you can do this one of two ways. You can go read the story first, and then come back and read the process OR you can read the process and then the story that came from it. There are going to be some spoilers, but not as many as you might think.
To begin… When I was writing Without a Summer I was looking at historical guilds as models for the Coldmongers. In the process, I ran across the Worshipful Company of Glovers, which is a real livery company that has been in existence since 1349. Kinda awesome, right?
Make sure you check out their gallery of gloves which are goooooorgeous.
Anyway, of all of the livery companies I looked at, this one stuck in the back of my head. And at some point, I was on an airplane — shocking I know — and started noodling with the idea of magic worked into gloves.
Glove maker. Magic in the gloves? No Antidote to magic? Or maybe just not connected except peripherally.
Wants to make a bargain with brownie to take business to the next level.
What is at stake?
The shop? His health? Expensive?
Wants to get married. Needs to be more successful to do it.
So – glovemaker in love, makes a deal with a witch to learn how to attract brownies to his business. Difficulties ensue. Succeeds.
For those of you who’ve read the story, you’ll note, as you take a look at this, that aside from “magic gloves” and “brownies” there’s basically no resemblance to the final story.
With that sort of rough sketch of an idea, I was still on a plane, so I started writing an opening scene.
Of the ladies at the reception, Ash saw only four wearing gloves that he had made. The rest were hastily constructed things from Matled’s Glove Emporium. Though Ash’s gloves were of undeniably superior craftsmanship, they were also more expensive.
He had been aware of the difference but it had not struck home until he arrived at the home of his cousin to celebrate the birth of their first child.
He had expected a more intimate affair, but his cousin’s wife, after her long confinement, was evidently all too anxious for company and had invited half of polite society
I didn’t like it, although I don’t remember why… looking at it now, I would guess that it was more Austeny than I wanted to be for this. I was writing short fiction to take a break from the novels. Also, this is fairly distancing and taking too long to get to the point. Anyway, I was still on a plane, so I wrote a different opening.
Ash laid the fine burgundy kid leather on the counter beside a spool of waxed thread. He marked a fine ladies glove on the leather, then stretched, trying to remember the words the witch had taught him.
“Oh…I am so very tired. I don’t know if I can finish these gloves tonight.”
He felt a right fool talking to an empty shop, but with luck there were brownies about who would take the bait.
“Perhaps if I eat something I will feel better.” His voice echoed off the glass front display cabinets.
Ash picked up the parcel he’d acquired at the Kalred butcher on his way back from the witch’s. She’d been very specific about what he must do to attract brownies to his shop. If he had any real hope of expanding his business then he needed brownies to keep up with the other craftsmen.
Though he had gone for a time advertising his wares as “human made” the fact was that ladies didn’t care about an elfin really, when it came to prices. He unwrapped the brown waxed paper and stopped as the stench of raw onion rose from the parcel, overwhelming the peppery tang of the corned beef.
“No, no, no…” Ash crumpled the paper around the sandwich and ran it outside, hoping the stench wouldn’t linger. The witch had been very clear in her instructions.
At this point, my plane either landed or I fell asleep and then lost the notebook for a couple of years. The idea though was still in the back of my head. So in February 2016, I used “Magic glovemakers” as the gee whiz idea in one of my Short Story Intensives. In this class, one of the things I do is to demonstrate how to go from random idea to an outline.
For the class, I brainstorm in real time for the students, and bold my final choices. (By the way, here’s a clean copy of my worksheet if you want it.)
From that, I write a 3 sentence summary and identify which MICE quotient element is at play.
[event] An apprentice glovemaker wants his sister to come live with him, but she has palsy and is in an institution. He makes a deal with guild brownies to make the best quality gloves which he sells, unlicensed on the side. If he’s caught, he’ll lose his apprenticeship and wind up on the street.
So knowing that it is an Event thread, because it’s a disruption of the status quo, that tells me where the story needs to start and end. So I add the opening and closing to my thumbnail.
An apprentice glovemaker learns that the institution that his sister is in is mistreating her. He wants her to come live with him, but she has palsy and he needs help caring for her. He makes a deal with guild brownies to make the best quality gloves which he sells, unlicensed on the side. If he’s caught, he’ll lose his apprenticeship and wind up on the street. He successfully impresses the faerie queen and she invites them both to live in her court and work for her.
Next… Single thread stories tend to be fairly dull, so I need a secondary conflict. Here, I look at the other available MICE elements. In this case, I went with Inquiry.
Apprentice wants to figure out how to contract a guild brownie. Listens outside a journeyman’s lecture hall to get instructions.
Start: Hears about brownies.
Ends manages to contract a brownie.
I’m going to pause here to note that this was a mistake, because I know that I’m naturally drawn to character stories and should have looked for a character thread. BUT I was doing this as a demonstration for class and rushed it a bit.
What I do after I’ve figured out what the two threads are is that I nest them to create a “thumbnail sketch.”
Nested: [Event] An apprentice glovemaker learns that the institution that his sister is in is mistreating her. He wants her to come live with him, but she has palsy and he needs help caring for her. His master keeps complaining that a guild brownie would be a better glovemaker. [Inquiry]This gives him an idea. He listens outside a journeyman’s lecture hall to get instructions on how to contact a brownie. When it shows up, he makes a deal with guild brownies[/inquiry] to make the best quality gloves which he sells, unlicensed on the side. If he’s caught, he’ll lose his apprenticeship and wind up on the street. He successfully impresses the faerie queen and she invites them both to live in her court and work for her.[/event]
For purposes of exercise, I will flip the nesting to see which one is stronger.
Flipped: An apprentice glovemaker’s has to figure out how to summon a brownie in order to pass the test to be a journeyman. Screwing up would put him on the street. Worse, his sister has palsy and is in an institution. When he visits her to try to make sense of the assignment, it becomes clear that she’s being mistreated, and he resolves to get her out. He listens outside a journeyman’s lecture hall to get instructions on how to contact a brownie. During the negotiations, something something, and the brownie says that his sister can stay in the Faerie Queen’s court. The apprentice decides that this is a better deal, and takes him up on the offer. Knowing that his sister will be safe, he signs the contract.
Still with me? Great. Then I take the thumbnail and break it apart into a list. This is totally mechanical based on the sentences and phrases in the thumbnail. My goal here is to identify the pieces of information that I need to convey to the reader, or which the story will break.
From there, I expand it into a linear timeline, looking for plot holes or emotional beats that I might be missing.
(At this point, I also want to pause and say that while this method works to produce a story, it is not the only way to create a story and that there are many amazing stories that would never come into existence following this path. Sometimes I just pants stuff. But when I don’t have traction on a story, this process can help me find my way.)
So, I expand, which looks like this.
From there, I contract again to eliminate redundancies and begin to think about actual scenes. Just because something is on the linear timeline doesn’t mean that it needs to happen onstage. And the things that are onstage don’t necessarily have to be presented to the reader in the order in which they happen linearly. Although, this story is linear. But you can see how I trimmed this down to three scenes.
And now…. I unpack it again. One of the things that often stops me when I’m writing is figuring out the stupid mudane stuff like “What time of day is it?” So I use this little checklist that I got from Laurel Amberdine.
[Event] A journeyman glovemaker sister has seizures and he needs help caring for her.
At this point I had an outline!
[Oh! The seizures are linked to brownies coming and the Master totally bargained her away.]
I also had a problem. Because I had a character with a disability that I was about to magically cure. She had no agency, was being entirely defined by her disability, and was simply a problem for my main character to solve.
I knew that I had a problem, so I chatted with Michael Damian Thomas, who is not only the editor at Uncanny but is also the caregiver for his daughter, who has Aicardi syndrome. This is before I’d started writing the story — well… actually I had written the first scene as a demonstration for my class, but I hadn’t done more that.
The first scene looked like this.
Heading for the door of their garrett, Vaughn grabbed last night’s project with one hand and a slice of pastry with the other. His sister laughed, “Are you going to be late again?”
“Was trying to finish this for Master [glovemaker]”
“Someday, maybe you’ll make gloves for me.”
“Yeah… Likely won’t happen until this damn journeyman period is over.”
Behind him, Sarah made a coughing grunt. Vaughn’s heart jumped sideways in his chest. Not again. He dropped the pastry and the gloves and spun, but not in time to catch her.
Her chin cracked against the wood floor as she hit. Every muscle in her body had tightened and she shook, grunting with another seizure. Vaughn dropped to his knees beside her and rolled Sarah onto her side, brushing her hair back from her face.
She couldn’t hear him when one of the fits came over her but he sang to her anyway, just because that’s what their mum had done.
He was going to be late again, and damn it if Master [name] would be understanding about the reason why, but there was no way in Hell Vaughn was going to leave Sarah alone.
You’ll note that I’m telegraphing the ending REALLY strongly there, by having Sarah flat out state what it is that she needs as a solution. This was part of what was reducing her to a single-issue character.
Michael suggested some ways to address the problematic structural stuff. And he also pointed out that part of the problem was that “seizure” was a symptom, not a cause. Most of the things that cause seizures come with an expansion pack of other neurological things ranging from depression to migraines to synesthesia. Not only did I need to be more specific, I also needed to remember that no disability was simple. These weren’t single problems that could be fixed with a single solution.
Theoretically, I know this. Mom has Parkinson’s. People think about it as just shaking. Did you know that Parkinson’s often comes with depression, paranoia, and eventually dementia? The number of medications a patient has to take in order to address the cornucopia of symptoms is truly staggering.
That conversation was what unlocked the rest of the story for me. What I wound up writing is wildly different from where the story idea started.
At this point, for those of you who are still deeeeply fascinated by this stuff and are somehow still with me… I am sharing the dropbox link to the Scrivener files in which I wrote the story, so you can look at the various iterations of scenes and see the stuff that I cut and threw away. (This will only work if you have the Scrivener program, sorry.)
The final version of “The Worshipful Society of Glovers” is at Uncanny Magazine.
And if you’ve made it this far… I’m doing the Birthday Fundraiser thing on Facebook, to raise money for Parkinson’s.
Rachel H. Stavis is joining us today with her memoir Sister of Darkness: The Chronicles of a Modern Exorcist. Here’s the publisher’s description:
The world’s only non-denominational exorcist tells her astonishing true story: a riveting chronicle of wrestling entities from infected souls, showing how pain and trauma opens us to attachment from forces that drain our energy . . . and can even destroy our humanity.
As a secular exorcist, Rachel H. Stavis has cleansed thousands of tormented people, from small children and Hollywood moguls to stay-at-home moms and politicians. But for many years, the horror screenwriter and novelist denied her gift. As a little girl, she began to see “monsters” floating around her bedroom or attached to other children. Told it was only her imagination, Rachel learned to ignore the things she saw.
But a series of events in adulthood forced her to acknowledge her unique ability and embrace her power to heal. Since then, Rachel has dedicated her life to helping others cast off the forces feeding off of us. Performing her services pro-bono, she quietly worked in the shadows, until she unknowingly revealed her work to a journalist, who told her story to NPR.
A unique look at demonology removed from religious dogma, Sister of Darkness recounts Rachel’s journey to becoming an exorcist and chronicles some of her most extreme cleansings cases, including those that put her and her clients in peril. Going deep into her world, we meet the diverse range of people she has helped—young, old, famous and not—in gripping stories of danger and sometimes sadness, that are ultimately about redemption. Rachel teaches us that there are a diverse range of “entities” surrounding us—some of these are playful or misguided, while some are dangerous and harmful. She introduces each of them and explains their power, helping us understand what is attacking and hurting us, and what we can do to protect ourselves.
Frightening, eye-opening, and utterly enthralling, Sister of Darkness brings to light a world ruled by destruction, chaos and fear, and the woman who bravely fights to protect those who seeks her out.
What’s Rachel’s favorite bit?
When writing a memoir, it’s very odd to try and find a favorite part – mainly because it’s a portrait of your life, and it’s so personal, and full of ups and downs (as life surely is). But if I had to choose what I think is one of my favorite things – both in the book and as an experience – it is the opportunity to teach people the truth about Entity.
For so long, people have been taught to believe that exorcism and possession is “the devil,” or specific named demons, and it has been heavily steeped in religion. And they have been taught that possession is exceedingly rare.
In my worldview, it’s actually very different: there are all kinds of Entities that vary on a scale from least harmful to incredibly malignant. There are Entities who don’t interact with humans at all. There are Entities who I call “High Beings” which actually give help to us (like Spirit Guides, Master Teachers, Angels, etc.). And possession is actually not rare at all. Most people have had an Entity, or are carrying an Entity now, and don’t even realize it!
In fact, there is an entire world of Entity – right below the surface of our world. It exists along with us, and affects us. Unfortunately, we are very susceptible to it. But it’s with this knowledge and understanding that we can begin to help ourselves. Each day we have a choice: be conscious about what we think, what we say, and how we affect others, or remain unconscious of it, and let ourselves simply go through the motions.
If we choose to be conscious, we become more aware of our energy – what I call “baseline frequency.” Are we happy? Sad? Does everything bother us? What about our internal dialogue? Is it positive? Are we helping others? Putting others down? So many choices, and believe it or not, these choices can either put you in harm’s way (toward possession and attachment), or away from it (high vibrational existence). How so? Because Entity is seeking low vibration, and it is seeking to attach to someone with an energy signature it can feed off of. That is how possession actually works.
What I love to do, as I say to people, is to remind everyone how incredibly powerful they are. You know those times when you go through your day, and someone says or does something negative (perhaps they cut you off in traffic, for example), and it can affect you for hours? That’s how powerful your actions, thoughts, and words can be. Imagine if we all spent time creating a place of loving kindness, how amazing the world would be!
Though we can’t control others, we can certainly start with ourselves. We can change the negative self-talk to something positive. We can be benevolent and loving to those around us. And we can do simple acts of kindness in our own ways. By doing this, we raise our frequency, and in doing that, we protect ourselves from attachment.
A screenwriter for film, television and video games, R.H. Stavis created the backstory for Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, and has published four horror novels. A professional exorcist, she lives in Van Nuys, California.
Sue Burke is joining us today with her novel Semiosis. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Colonists from Earth wanted the perfect home, but they’ll have to survive on the one they found. They don’t realize another life form watches…and waits…
Only mutual communication can forge an alliance with the planet’s sentient species and prove that humans are more than tools.
What’s Sue’s favorite bit?
Let’s design a big, scary alien. As a first step, let’s consider Earth beings.
What’s the biggest living thing on Earth? Pando, a clonal colony of a single quaking aspen tree, covering 106 acres of ground in Utah.
What’s the oldest? Pando, again, whose roots are an estimated 80,000 years old. As for the oldest individuals, there’s a bristlecone pine in California, a cypress in Chile, and a sacred fig in Sri Lanka, among many other trees, all more than 2,000 years old.
You can see where this is headed. And you’re already skeptical. Let me try to convince you.
What are the most essential beings on Earth? Possibly the members of the family in the vegetable kingdom called Poaceae – that is, grasses – which includes rice, wheat, maize, sugarcane, oats, barley, and many other grains. Without them, we’d starve.
What’s the nastiest creature on Earth? There’s lots of competition, but I’ll argue that this category can and should include plants. For example, rose bushes have thorns so they can climb over other plants, anchoring their prickles in their flesh, and very possibly starving them of sunshine and killing them – but roses don’t care. (Why would you ever give a rose to your beloved again, knowing that?)
Trees fight among themselves, too. Softwood trees grow fast to capture sunshine, which all plants covet, while hardwoods grow more slowly. Their branches are stirred by the wind against softwoods, grinding through them. Hardwoods rise up to become dominant in the forest canopy by amputating other trees’ limbs one by one. (I told you. Nasty.)
Fine, you say, but plants mostly just sit there. Well, yes and no. They’re actively involved with their environment, including you. When it serves their purpose, they can even communicate with you. When a tomato in your garden turns red, what has that plant just told you? (Bear in mind that the tomato plant wants you to eat the tomato, since its uncooked seeds travel safely through your digestion to arrive at a new, potentially ideal growing site, along with fertilizer.)
Plants also communicate with each other quite a bit through air-borne chemicals and through their roots. They produce pesticides when they’re warned by their companions of a coming attack by insects. They can also produce a wide range of chemicals for all sorts of purposes, from perfumes to psychoactive viagra samples drugs to poisons.
Plants aren’t passive. They’re busy, aggressive, and they have weapons.
They can see, too, in a way. You’ve noticed plants leaning toward sunshine, and some of them keep track of how long sunshine lasts during the day to bloom in certain seasons. They also seem to count. Some bamboos live for a specified number of years before they flower, as many as 120 years, and they know exactly when time is up.
I could go on with what plants can do, but the conclusion is clear. We share Earth with beings who are big, old, nasty, communicative, very aware of their surroundings, armed and deadly, and who are absolutely essential to us, so we have to keep them around.
Let’s use that to create a science fictional protagonist. You immediately have an objection. This big scary being is literally rooted in place. You’re right. This is going to be tough.
And that’s where the fun starts: with an artistic challenge. Stories often deal with something the protagonist wants and can’t get. What would a specific plant want? How would its desire conflict with other beings, maybe with ourselves? How far would a plant go to get what it wants? (We already know that plants are murderous.) Remember, we might depend on this alien to survive as much as we fear it.
Cue the drama. We’ve never faced an enemy as big and bad as this, or had an ally with such extensive resources. We’re going to face dire, unexpected choices.
Have I convinced you? I hope so. I had fun, at any rate. I built a planet and seeded it (literally) with aliens who look harmless at first glance. But now maybe you’ll believe that looks can be deceiving, and an alien who is green and leafy can also be big and scary.
Sue Burke is a literary translator, and has worked as a journalist and editor for a variety of newspapers and magazines. She has also published more than 30 short stories. She used to live in Madrid, Spain (hence the literary translator work), and now lives in Chicago. Semiosis is her debut novel. You can learn more about it at its website, https://semiosispax.com/
Diana Renn joins us today to talk about Season 1 of the serial fiction False Idols. Here’s the series description:
FBI Linguist Layla el-Deeb is deep undercover posing as an heiress in the Middle East. She must infiltrate the highest echelons of society in order to trace priceless relics from their millionaire owners back to illegal digs and the terrorist groups profiting from their sale.
But Layla’s troubled past and growing feelings for an art dealer’s son begin to complicate her judgment, and when she uncovers a terrorist plot that threatens American and Egyptian lives she must decide where her loyalties truly lie.
What’s Diana’s favorite bit?
As a collaboratively written, serialized story spanning eleven “episodes,” False Idols features a formidable cast of characters. Our heroine, Egyptian-born FBI agent Layla el-Deeb, along with her mentor, Special Agent Ellen Pierce (head of the FBI Art Crimes unit) follow the money trail in Cairo, Egypt, to investigate how illicitly sold antiquities finance terrorism, and to protect the U.S. from an imminent attack.
The scale of the crime required a large group of suspects. So on the character front, False Idols has it all – more than enough to fill the stage of a Broadway musical! Going undercover as an art-collecting heiress in Cairo, the city she once called home, Layla meets eccentric international art collectors, shady antiquities dealers, shadowy middlemen, and terrorist insiders. She becomes entangled with a brilliant American art restorer who steals her heart. She befriends an Italian journalist who is desperate to keep stories about archaeological lootings from being buried in the news, and who shares her values of truth and justice. She plays a high-stakes cat and mouse game with a high-ranking Egyptian government official. She reports to Agent Pierce, a seasoned FBI agent who has a chip on her shoulder and a dark secret. She reconnects with her estranged family, putting the entire operation at risk. And she interacts with a rousing chorus of other FBI agents, Egyptian and American embassy workers, political activists, protestors, organized crime thugs, and a slick crowd of jet-setting twenty-something party kids, whom she somehow manages to convince to accept her into their circle.
Out of this enormous cast, though, I am most proud of Layla – both her unconventional story, and the unique way she came into being.
Writing Layla marked a departure for me as a mystery writer. My previous novels were written for young adults. My globetrotting, mystery-solving teens were amateur sleuths, by virtue of their age. They encountered everything for the first time – not just crimes, but different cultures, love and loss, and their own hidden reservoirs of strengths. Teen sleuths were fun, but I felt ready to flex my mystery-writing muscles and try my hand at a different type of detective.
Layla is no starry-eyed ingénue. She’s pushing thirty and asking herself questions about what the next chapter of her life might look like. She’s led a completely unconventional life so far; will she find someone who will accept the complexities of her identity? Can she trust anyone? And while this is her first undercover gig, she is a trained FBI agent who’s kicked down a few doors. Layla also grew up in one of Cairo’s poorest neighborhoods -within a stone’s throw of the penthouse apartment where she resides in her undercover role. She’s worked incredibly hard to leave her family, get an education, and become a U.S. citizen and an FBI agent.
The other layer of complexity to Layla is her undercover life. As she tries to penetrate deeper into the world of antiquities collectors and dealers, she must be cautious about what she reveals to people. Yet even her “true” identity – competent, self-sufficient FBI agent- is another type of cover, layered over the vulnerable girl who grew up in a Cairo slum. Complicating matters are her growing feelings for James, the son of an art dealer she’s investigating, and her affection for the dealer himself, who comes to see her as family. It’s exhausting work, keeping the lies in check and not revealing too much – even as Layla tries to deepen connections with people she’s come to care for.
Part of Layla’s work involves looking closely at the provenance of valuable artifacts, trying to determine their authenticity, their point of origin, and the times that they have changed owners. Her radar is always up for fakes and flaws, the story of a relic that doesn’t make sense or that might point to illicit deals. In the process, she becomes more aware of her own provenance, and the fact that her story is not without cracks.
The creation of any fictional character is always a little mysterious, yet with characters in my other books, I can always point to a point of origin, the original inspiration. A stranger’s face, an overheard conversation, a figure from my own past. Over subsequent drafts, I round characters out, plumb their psychological depths, and come to know them -ideally, to inhabit them.
Layla was different. Who dreamed her up originally? Who or what inspired her? I do not actually know. When our author team signed on for this project back in 2016, we were handed a great gift from Adaptive Studios and Serial Box: the beginning of a character named Layla, and the premise for an exciting story. Our showrunner, Lisa Klink, fleshed out Layla further when she wrote the Story Bible. Then Lisa, our other co-author Patrick Lohier, and I – in consultation with the creative folks at Serial Box and Adaptive – brainstormed further. At our story summit meeting in Los Angeles in November 2016, our team spent three days in a writer’s room to plan the False Idols characters, episodes, and overall plot. In the writer’s room, Layla began to have a life, a back story, and a character arc, which we traced on numerous sticky notes that eventually filled a wall.
Over the ensuing months, we wrote our individual episodes, critiqued each other’s work, brainstormed again, and – with the aid of our amazing editors Molly Barton and Lydia Shamah – we endlessly revised. It was through that collaborative process, Layla came to life. Not from one individual writer.
I marvel at how we all agreed on her motives, her goals, and her character arc. I do not think the team every debated, at least not for long, what Layla would or would not do in any given situation. Her voice and personality are consistent across episodes. In writing Layla, handing her off from one episode to the next, it felt less like we were creating her than we were learning even more about her. I’m proud to have been one of many people who helped bring Layla to life and to tell her story.
Diana Renn is the author of three young adult mysteries featuring international intrigue and globetrotting teens: Tokyo Heist, Latitude Zero, and Blue Voyage, all published by Viking/Penguin. Blue Voyage was honored as a 2016 “must-read” by the Massachusetts Book Awards, and Latitude Zero was a Junior Library Guild selection. Her latest project is False Idols, a collaboratively-written, episodically-released thriller published in a partnership with Serial Box and Adaptive Books. Her essays and short fiction have appeared in Publisher’s Weekly, The Huffington Post, Brain Child, Literary Mama, The Writer, YARN (Young Adult Review Network), and others. Diana grew up in Seattle and now lives outside of Boston, Massachusetts with her husband, her son, and a moody black cat. Visit her online at www.dianarennbooks.com or @dianarenn on Twitter.
May your February be filled with warmth and excellent food. Here’s where to find Mary in February.
Or find her online here
David Mack is joining us today with his novel The Midnight Front. Here’s the publisher’s description:
On the eve of World War Two, Nazi sorcerers come gunning for Cade but kill his family instead. His one path of vengeance is to become an apprentice of The Midnight Front―the Allies’ top-secret magickal warfare program―and become a sorcerer himself.
Unsure who will kill him first―his allies, his enemies, or the demons he has to use to wield magick―Cade fights his way through occupied Europe and enemy lines. But he learns too late the true price of revenge will be more terrible than just the loss of his soul―and there’s no task harder than doing good with a power born of ultimate evil.
What’s David’s favorite bit?
*Note: The following essay includes a depiction of suicide. If you are thinking about suicide, are worried about a loved one, or would like emotional support, talk to someone here.*
It can be easy to forget that even great sagas are constituted of mere moments, and that sometimes the smallest, most personal of scenes can carry a story’s greatest emotional weight.
The Midnight Front is many things at once: it’s a sweeping World War II epic; it’s a dark fantasy that chronicles a bitter secret war between rival groups of sorcerers who wield black magick; but at its heart, it is about a small cadre of magicians who grow to care for one another like family.
Underscoring that theme is the fact that several of my magic-using characters are orphans, have been cast out of their families, or have otherwise found themselves alone in the world. This is true of my main character, Cade, who loses his parents early in the story; my female lead Anja is cast out of her home as a teen and de facto adopted by the Allies’ master magician, Adair. Last but not least, one of Adair’s senior apprentices, Niko, has long since lost his parents, and over the course of the novel he, too, loses what few kin he has left, in a debacle that leads to the death of fellow apprentice Stefan and causes a bitter rift between Niko and Adair.
Such is the state of play when, late in the book, Niko must risk his life to escape a “dead zone” in which magick will not work, so that he can use an enchanted mirror to pass military secrets back to Adair. With their sorcerous archenemy Kein only seconds behind him, Niko crashes his stolen car into a forest and flees. Then:
Drenched in his own blood, Niko propped himself against a tree and pulled his enchanted mirror from a coat pocket with a quaking hand. “Fenestra, Adair.” He was shaken by a hacking cough full of blood while he awaited the master’s reply. Searchlights slashed through the trees as the Germans followed his swath of destruction through the woods.
Adair’s face replaced Niko’s reflection. “Christ, lad, what—”
“No time, Master.” He propped the mirror on his leg, then used his good hand to pull the map and camera from inside his coat. He pushed them one at a time through the mirror to Adair. “Kein . . . built a trap. . . . In a bunker. At Pointe du Hoc.”
“They will cover it with wax and cement. It will be hidden. But destroy it you must.” Tears fell from his eyes. He croaked out his last words. “Bonne chance, Père.”
Shadows converged upon Niko. Kein shouted, “Take him alive!”
Niko put the barrel of his pistol into his mouth.
I will not be used against my friends, as Stefan was.
SS troops surrounded him, submachine guns at the ready.
In the name of love, Niko pulled his trigger.
One scene later we pick up that moment from the perspective of his master, Adair:
As the remote image vanished from Adair’s mirror, the master expected to confront his reflection — but like the Fool gazing upon Lear, he saw only his shadow.
He pounded the floor with the sides of his fists. How could I have doubted that lad? Loyal to the end. Braver than I knew.
Tears streamed from Adair’s shut-tight eyes. Niko’s last words haunted him.
Bonne chance, Père.
Adair’s chest heaved with painful sobs for which he had no breath, so his body shook in near silence as he surrendered to his heartbreak.
He called me Father.
I love these related moments. Though Adair and Niko are just supporting characters in the novel, this moment speaks to one of the truths of the narrative. What bonds my heroes through all of their struggles and setbacks is genuine affection.
By comparison, the concerns that drive their foes, the Thule-Gesellschaft (which was a real occult society that helped spawn the Nazi Party) and its leaders (Kein, Briet, and Siegmar) seem to be self-interest, fear, and a desire to see the world burn. If the villains of my story represent a family unit, it is a dysfunctional one at best.
But Adair’s last moment with Niko … it breaks my heart every time I read it. Niko still feels guilty for having set in motion the events that killed Stefan, who he loved like a brother. Just as poignantly, up until the moment of Niko’s sacrifice, Adair still carries anger and resentment toward Niko over that error.
But when Niko refers to Adair as Père — that heartfelt moment, that simple choice of words, expresses a lifetime of love and respect. And then it’s followed by a devastating act of self-sacrifice.
Without those words, it would still have stung Adair to see Niko die. But after that valediction, the moment becomes more profound: for the second time, Adair loses a man who is like a son to him.
It is a tragedy in a novel replete with loss, death, and destruction. But in its sorrow there is also hope: the belief that love will win the day. Even as Niko faces his own end, he urges his surrogate father to look toward the light. He believes in him.
Perhaps it’s a romantic delusion to think that love and hope alone are enough to win a war — but without them, there’s really nothing left worth winning.
David Mack is the award-winning and New York Times bestselling author of more than thirty novels of science fiction, fantasy, and adventure, including the Star Trek Destiny and Cold Equations trilogies. His new novel The Midnight Front is available now from Tor Books. Mack’s writing credits span several media, including television (for episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), film, short fiction, and comic books. He resides in New York City.