Journal

My Favorite Bit: Richard Baker talks about VALIANT DUST

Favorite Bit iconRichard Baker is joining us today with his novel Valiant Dust. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Sikander Singh North has always had it easy―until he joined the crew of the Aquilan Commonwealth starship CSS Hector. As the ship’s new gunnery officer and only Kashmiri, he must constantly prove himself better than his Aquilan crewmates, even if he has to use his fists. When the Hector is called to help with a planetary uprising, he’ll have to earn his unit’s respect, find who’s arming the rebels, and deal with the headstrong daughter of the colonial ruler―all while dodging bullets.

Sikander’s military career is off to an explosive start―but only if he and CSS Hector can survive his first mission.

What’s Richard’s favorite bit?

Valiant Dust cover

RICHARD BAKER

My favorite bit of Valiant Dust is the Torpedo Mystery. It’s a secondary plot and it’s a little technical, but it’s the sort of problem that officers serving on ships “really” run across, and it drives some of the most personally challenging interactions Lieutenant Sikander North (my protagonist) faces during the story.

Let me provide a bit of non-spoilerish background: Sikander is the new gunnery officer of the Commonwealth star cruiser CSS Hector. As the gunnery officer, he’s the department head in charge of the ship’s weapons personnel. He answers to the ship’s XO, Commander Peter Chatburn, and the ship’s CO, Captain Elise Markham; he supervises three junior officers, each of whom leads a team of gunner’s mates or torpedo mates. One of these subordinates is Sublieutenant Angela Larkin, the ship’s torpedo officer. (This is pretty typical warship organization; the ships of the U.S. Navy today have similar personnel structures.)

Hector is armed with a mix of kinetic cannons (heavy railguns) and warp torpedoes—missiles that protect themselves from defensive fire by exiting normal space during their attack runs. Shortly after reporting aboard Hector, Sikander and his new team get the opportunity to conduct some live-fire exercises on the target range, during the course of which Hector loses a practice torpedo. It disappears into its warp bubble for its attack run and never returns to normal space.

That’s a serious problem for Sikander. It’s just not acceptable for a ship to lose a multi-million-dollar weapon, and his superiors want answers.

Figuring out why the torpedo failed becomes a significant headache for Sikander, because the torpedo itself is no longer available for inspection. Investigating the cause of the failure puts Sikander between Chatburn, an unforgiving XO who isn’t interested in “we don’t know” as an answer, and Larkin, a difficult subordinate who doesn’t seem to appreciate the seriousness of the situation. Worse yet, Sikander’s captain and his peers are watching to see how he responds to the challenge. It’s not his fault, but it is his problem.

The reason I’m so proud of the Torpedo Mystery is that it’s a great device for showing the reader what it’s like to be a mid-level officer on a warship. In the “real” world, officers are more than a battlestation; they lead teams of enlisted personnel that you don’t see on the bridge set. They’re managers and administrators as well as warfighters. One of the things I hoped to bring to Valiant Dust was a certain sense of, well, authenticity about what sort of things a lieutenant worried about in between furious battles and exotic adventures. There aren’t many SF stories that touch on things like maintenance records or logistics chains or an XO asking you why you’re taking weekends off when you haven’t yet solved a problem no one reasonably could be expected to solve. For just a few short scenes in Valiant Dust, you get to experience a less-than-glamorous but absolutely honest part of being a shipboard officer.

(A true story from my own service: One day while standing watch as officer of the deck, I was surprised to hear the pop-pop-pop of gunshots from the bridge wing. I stepped outside and discovered the captain with a .45, taking potshots at seagulls. Well, okay, it’s his ship, and if he wanted to sign out a pistol from the armory and give himself a few rounds for “training” I figured it wasn’t my place to protest. But shortly after I got off watch, I encountered my ship’s gunnery officer in a passageway. “Hey, Kurt,” I said. “Just so you know, the captain fired off a couple dozen pistol rounds on the bridge wing this morning.”

“You’re kidding,” Kurt said, gaping in astonishment. “Son of a —!”

You see, any time you expend ammunition on board a ship, you have to file something called an ATR, or ammo transaction report. It’s a form that requires several hours of painstaking work, even for something as minor as a few rounds of pistol ammo, and it’s up to the gunnery officer to fill it out. Oh, and it must be turned in within 24 hours. The captain’s idle interest in a little target practice had just wrecked the rest of Kurt’s day—and I’m sure the seagulls didn’t appreciate it either, although I didn’t see any get hit. ATRs are the sort of thing we like to gloss over when we’re writing stories about roaming the stars and meeting the enemy in furious battle. Sometimes, though, that’s what the job is.)

Okay, back to Sikander North and Valiant Dust. The Torpedo Mystery is a lot more interesting than filling out some timely paperwork, I promise. It’s a key obstacle in the path of Sikander’s success on board his new ship and a serious point of contention between him and his new team. Plus, the details of the mystery say some important things about the technology of the setting, military routine, and the readiness level of a star navy that hasn’t had to fight a war in a long time.

The process of solving the Torpedo Mystery winds up being pretty important to cementing Sikander’s place in Hector’s wardroom, and it even comes up again in the desperate space battle at the climax of the story. But it’s not the sort of problem I see in other military SF stories, which is why it’s my favorite bit of the story—or one of them, anyway.

LINKS:

Amazon

Powell’s

Website

BIO:

A former United States Navy officer and a well-known game designer, Richard Baker is the author of thirteen novels, including the New York Times bestseller Condemnation and the highly acclaimed The Last Mythal trilogy. Valiant Dust marks his first original military sci-fi novel. Rich is a lifelong devotee of science fiction and fantasy, a history enthusiast (particularly military history), and an avid fan of games of all kinds. He lives in the Seattle area with his wife, Kim, and their daughters Alex and Hannah.

Raising the Stakes

Raise the stakes. You don't have to make it flashier, you have to give people a reason to care. Specific and personal - Their house being robbed sounds big. Their grandfather’s pocket watch being stolen is worse,  Reaction - What are the character's physical reactions to this emotion? What thoughts do they have?

When people ask you to “raise the stakes” for a character, they aren’t asking for more explosions. They are asking for a reason to care.

My Favorite Bit: James Alan Gardner talks about ALL THOSE EXPLOSIONS WERE SOMEONE ELSE’S FAULT

My Favorite BitJames Alan Gardner is joining us today with his novel All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Monsters are real.
But so are heroes.

Sparks are champions of weird science. Boasting capes and costumes and amazing super-powers that only make sense if you don’t think about them too hard, they fight an eternal battle for truth and justice . . . mostly.

Darklings are creatures of myth and magic: ghosts, vampires, were-beasts, and the like. Their very presence warps reality. Doors creak at their approach. Cobwebs gather where they linger.

Kim Lam is an ordinary college student until a freak scientific accident (what else?) transforms Kim and three housemates into Sparks―and drafts them into the never-ending war between the Light and Dark. They struggle to master their new abilities―and (of course) to design cool costumes and come up with great hero-names.

Turns out that “accident” was just the first salvo in a Mad Genius’s latest diabolical scheme. Now it’s up to four newbie heroes to save the day, before they even have a chance to figure out what their team’s name should be!

What’s Jim’s favorite bit?

All Those Explosions Were Someone Else's Fault cover image

JAMES ALAN GARDNER

SPOILER WARNING: This write-up discusses a pivotal moment in All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault. If you’re the sort of person who hates spoilers, buy the book and read it before continuing. (Better yet, buy two copies of the book. Or ten.)

While writing, I sometimes reach a point when I realize a character might do something unexpected. It often takes place when I’m writing a conversation; the chance phrasing of a line almost begs another character to reply with a big revelation or to take the action someplace I never imagined. Simple example: a character says, “We’re arguing like an old married couple,” and suddenly there’s a real possibility of the other person saying, “Well then why don’t we get married?” even though that’s far far away from anything in the story outline.

It’s a lovely scary moment. You sit on the cusp of blasting the story open with a single line, heading off into an unknown future…and all because an accidental turn of phrase.

This happened to me while writing All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault, and now I think it’s my favorite bit.

To understand the moment, you’ll need some background. The narrator of All Those Explosions is Kim Lam, a university student majoring in geology. Back in high school, Kim was the girlfriend of a boy named Nicholas. Nicholas came from a wealthy family, and in the book’s version of Earth, most wealthy people pay millions to be changed into “Darklings” when they come of age. Darklings can be vampires, were-beasts, or the like…so basically, all the rich and powerful people in this world are semi-immortal monsters with supernatural powers.

Nicholas had to choose between staying with Kim or becoming a Darkling himself. He chose the Dark and ended up as a powerful ghost. Kim was devastated; even though several years have passed, the wounds haven’t totally healed.

In this version of Earth, Darklings aren’t the only people with inhuman powers. There are also superheroes, perhaps created by Fate as a counterbalance to the Dark. Four years after being dumped by Nicholas, Kim acquires superpowers thanks to a lab accident…and almost immediately, Kim encounters Nicholas again.

Like any good superhero, Kim wears a costume and a mask. There’s actually a reason for that—it turns out that if someone super puts on a special outfit and adopts a codename, the universe guarantees anonymity. Your fingerprints literally change when you put on the mask. So does your DNA, your voice, and anything else that might make you identifiable. It’s essentially magic: you absolutely can’t be recognized, even if your mask is a ridiculous little thing that shouldn’t disguise you at all.

But there’s a caveat. You can ruin your guaranteed anonymity if you’re careless or if you deliberately reveal your civilian identity to someone.

So that’s the set-up, established early in the book. Kim takes the hero-name Zircon (because to geology students, zircons are awesome!) and she wears a spiffy white costume. (By the way, for someone as fashion-challenged as I am, being forced to invent costumes for a whole bunch of superheroes is one of the hardest parts of the series.) As Zircon, Kim encounters Nicholas several times, but because of the mask he never recognizes her.

Then, about two-thirds through the book, they meet again while investigating an up-scale B&B built by Darklings. Unbeknownst to either Kim or Nicholas, the rooms are protected by magical privacy spells designed to prevent spying and theft. Nicholas, with his ghostly abilities, accidentally backs up through a wall and triggers the enchantment. It temporarily nullifies his powers and blasts him across the room into Kim. Kim isn’t hurt—when she’s Zircon, she’s as hard as a rock—but she’s bowled over and they both go down in a heap.

So far, this was all part of my plan: a “lying on top of each other” moment that would awaken Kim’s memories and feelings about Nicholas. I started to write the ensuing conversation as they lay nose to nose, and liked how the banter developed:

Nicholas: Ouch! You’re hard.

Kim: Isn’t that supposed to be my line?

But after a brief interlude, during which Kim struggles with her emotions at being in close contact with Nicholas again, he heaves himself off her and complains about being bruised because she’s “as hard as marble”.

I wrote this as a casual toss-off line. But Kim is a geology student and a long-time rockhound. Throughout the book, she’s constantly correcting people about details of mineralogy. And so, hardly even thinking about it, I had Kim retort,

“Don’t be insulting! Marble is only Hardness 3. Zircon is over 7.”

It was such a Kim thing to say: a dead giveaway that Zircon was actually Kim…as if the character wanted Nicholas to recognize her.

But did I really want Nicholas to know the truth? It would cause me a ton of headaches to handle the repercussions. In fact, for reasons I won’t go into, Kim’s life would be in serious danger if Nicholas realized she was Zircon. The rest of the book and the series would go much more smoothly and painlessly if I backspaced a few lines and stuck to my original plan.

I sat at the keyboard and stared at what I had written. I asked, “Am I really going to go there?” Into spontaneous terra incognita?

It’s exciting to be taken by surprise. And for a writer, it’s unwise to flee from excitement. So I kept that serendipitous upheaval, even though it’s sure to come back and haunt Kim and everyone else around her. It immediately necessitated changes to the plot, and it will have major repercussions for the series.

But that’s why I love what happens by chance. Sometimes you kill your darlings, and sometimes you let them kill you.

LINKS:

Buy All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault

Website

BIO:

James Alan Gardner is a writer and editor who has published nine novels and numerous short stories. His work has won the Asimov’s Readers Choice Award, the Aurora award, and the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, as well as being on the final ballot for the Hugo and Nebula. In his spare time, he teaches kung fu to six-year-olds.

 

Where to find Mary in November

 

One black cat and one patchy cat in a sunbeam

We are all thankful for cats and sunbeams. Here’s where to find Mary this month:

November 3

Online Class: Short Story Intensive Class

November 14

Online Patreon Writing Date

November 19-22

Writing Excuses records at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston

November 26

Online Patreon Writing Class: Diagnosing Story Problems

November 28

Online Class: Methods of Worldbuilding

 

Or find her online here

Patreon • Twitter • Facebook • Instagram

THE DRAGON QUESTION and my annual call for NaNoWriMo beta readers

It’s that time of year, when I once again participate in NaNoWriMo. For those of you who don’t know this, I’ve written all of my novels either during NaNo or using the NaNoWriMo model in another month.

This year, I’m writing a project for fun. It’s called The Dragon Question, and I’ve been describing it as “Alfred Hitchcock presents the Dragonriders of Pern.” I like having people read along as I go. Think of it like running clinical trials on a new drug. I’m testing to see if the story is producing the effect on my readers that I want it to. As such, I like having beta-readers who report their symptoms as they go along. Specifically:

  • Awesome! (Important, so I don’t ‘fix’ it accidentally)
  • Bored
  • Confused
  • Disbelief

That’s all I need, a report of your symptoms. You don’t have to try to diagnose the problem or provide a prescription to fix it. Just tell me how the story is playing.

Here’s the teaser of the first chapter.

The Dragon Question

Chapter One

A scream cut through the university Dracoviation Center. It echoed through the locker room and drowned out the tinny swing band playing on the transistor radio. Nelanie spun the direction of the sound, one riding boot still in her hand. The arena? Who else would be doing a late night practice ride?
A second scream ripped the air as if a woman were being murdered. Or someone had lost control of their dragon.

“Hellfire.” Nelanie snatched the first aid kit off the wall and sprinted toward the door to the arena. Her bobby sock slipped on the tile of the locker room floor. She slapped her hand against the locker to steady herself as a third wrenching scream echoed. Dropping her boot, Nelanie hurtled out the door onto the sawdust-covered main hall.

Up and down the hall, dragon snouts poked over their stalls, nostrils flared wide. What did they smell? Blood?

Nelanie ran down the hall. One of the fluorescent lights flickered in time with her pulse. Another scream.

A woman shouted, “Stop! Please stop plea–“

#

To sign up to be a beta-reader for The Dragon Question, just click on this handy link. 

Thanks! I have enough readers now.

My Favorite Bit: R. E. Stearns talks about BARBARY STATION

My Favorite BitR.E. Stearns is joining us today with her book Barbary Station. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Two engineers hijack a spaceship to join some space pirates—only to discover the pirates are hiding from a malevolent AI. Now they have to outwit the AI if they want to join the pirate crew—and survive long enough to enjoy it.

Adda and Iridian are newly minted engineers, but aren’t able to find any work in a solar system ruined by economic collapse after an interplanetary war. Desperate for employment, they hijack a colony ship and plan to join a famed pirate crew living in luxury at Barbary Station, an abandoned shipbreaking station in deep space. But when they arrive there, nothing is as expected. The pirates aren’t living in luxury—they’re hiding in a makeshift base welded onto the station’s exterior hull. The artificial intelligence controlling the station’s security system has gone mad, trying to kill all station residents and shooting down any ship that attempts to leave—so there’s no way out. Adda and Iridian have one chance to earn a place on the pirate crew: destroy the artificial intelligence. The last engineer who went up against the AI met an untimely end, and the pirates are taking bets on how the newcomers will die. But Adda and Iridian plan to beat the odds.

There’s a glorious future in piracy…if only they can survive long enough.

What’s R.E. Stearns favorite bit?

Barbary Station cover image

R. E. STEARNS

Some questions are never answered. This is true in real life and in fiction. Living and working in the unknown, and solving the mysteries you can and documenting the details of those you can’t yet, makes the world an endlessly exciting place. That’s why I filled Barbary Station with mysteries.

Our heroines, Adda and Iridian, solve the first mystery they encounter within the first few chapters. Why didn’t the pirates react with more enthusiasm to the news that an entire hijacked colony ship was on its way to Barbary Station with Adda and Iridian at the helm? The answer: They had much bigger problems than where their next target ship was coming from.

The problem personified, after a fashion, is an artificial intelligence which has taken over the abandoned space station’s defense system. To escape, they’ll have to stop the AI from killing every human who meets its definition of a threat. Adda and Iridian have a lot of minor mysteries to solve if they want to survive: How is the AI choosing its targets? What weapons and drones are at its disposal? Is any place on the station truly safe?

The AI isn’t the only mysterious figure on Barbary Station. An emergency medical team who’ve been trapped there for years appear and disappear on biosensors for reasons understood only by them. The pirate crew our heroines came to the station to join might, or might not, have enemies among the refugee village in the docking bay. The AI has scared the remaining ship pilots so badly that they won’t help anybody else get away. Not letting the pirates onboard seems practical, but they don’t help the refugees either.

And then there’s the method that Adda uses to speak to the AIs. In this universe AIs are raised, not coded. Their learning algorithms are too complex to interact with on the level programmers today do. Instead, interaction is abstracted into a hallucinographic digital space, which makes interacting with the AI more like a lucid dream. Adda is constantly interpreting symbols her mind has constructed through a software bridge between herself and the AI, asking “What does it all mean?” Lives depend upon the answer.

Throughout the novel, Adda and Iridian are fighting to differentiate friend from foe, safety from illusion, conscious intention from thoughtless logic trees. I love the many mysteries entwined in this story, and I hope you do to.

LINKS:

Amazon

Simon and Schuster

Goodreads

Website

Twitter

Facebook

Instagram

Blog

BIO:

R.E. Stearns wrote her first story on an Apple IIe computer and still kind of misses green text on a black screen. She went on to annoy all of her teachers by reading books while they lectured. Eventually she read and wrote enough to earn a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from the University of Central Florida. She is hoping for an honorary doctorate. When not writing or working, R.E. Stearns reads, plays PC games, and references Internet memes in meatspace. She lives near Orlando, FL with her husband/computer engineer and a cat.

My Favorite Bit: J. R. R. R. Hardison talks about DEMON FREAKS

Favorite Bit iconJ.R.R.R. Hardison is joining us today with his novel Demon Freaks. Here’s the publisher’s description:

It’s the night before the SAT test. The forces of darkness are stirring.

Twin brothers, Bing and Ron Slaughter, know they’ve got to cram like their lives depend on it because their college plans sure do. If they don’t ace the test, they’ll be doomed to spend the rest of their days flipping burgers at the McDonald’s their parents run. That’s why they hatch a plan to meet up with the members of their punk band, the Ephits, spend the night studying at a secluded cabin in the woods, and maybe squeeze in a little jamming. What could go wrong with a brilliant plan like that?

Ancient evil. That’s what.

As a cataclysmic lightning storm rolls in, Bing, Ron and the rest of the Ephits find themselves tangled in a sinister plot to summon a demon. Yes, demons are real. To survive the night, the band must find a malevolent artifact, battle bloodthirsty monsters and stand against the most dangerous and powerful foe humanity has ever faced…the Golfer’s Association.

What’s Jim’s favorite bit?

Demon Freaks Cover

J.R.R.R. HARDISON

My favorite bit of writing Demon Freaks was working on the mechanics of psychic powers. The story features psychic communication, thought control and even physical possession. I’ve been fascinated by mechanics that could plausibly drive paranormal phenomena for a long time, all the way back to when I was little.

A few months after I turned eight, my oldest brother, Bill, came home from studying psychology in college for Christmas Break. It was the early 1970’s, and I gather that academia was in a kind of hippy-influenced phase, so part of his course load included several classes on extrasensory phenomena—ESP. On a day it was snowing too hard to play outside, he proceeded to run an experiment on the only subjects he had ready to hand—his siblings. He assembled the three youngest—one of my older sisters, myself and my younger brother—and asked us to play a game. He’d draw a playing card from a deck, hold it up so that only he could see the face, and we’d guess which one he’d drawn. A right answer was worth a point.

Though it was fun, none of us got any of them right.

Then he changed things up. He announced that three points would earn a prize, and he pulled out some giant-sized Milky Way Bars. A hush fell over the room. You see, in my family we weren’t allowed to buy candy until we were twelve, a magic threshold none of us younger kids had crossed. Bill said he thought we could probably guess the right answer if we just wanted too enough.

He resumed the game. Despite the tantalizing promise of the candy bars, my older sister and I both guessed wrong again, but on his very next card, my four-year-old brother got it right. As my sister and I continued to fail in mounting frustration, my little brother got another two of the next three cards right and won himself a gigantic, fluffy nougat filled loaf of heaven. Being a little jerk, he immediately tore it open and started eating it right in front of us. We both wanted to strangle him.

That was when Bill informed us that anyone who got to six points would get two candy bars. Now we were bound and determined to guess right—not just to win for ourselves, but to stop the possibility of our little brother getting three candy bars when we had none. I concentrated so hard on the back of the next playing card that I thought it would explode. I still guessed wrong. Same with my sister. My little brother, on the other hand, effortlessly got the next one right. We demanded to know how he was doing it. Face smeared with chocolate, he said he wasn’t doing anything—just making his brain so empty he had “room to let the card in”. After that, I tried to make my mind empty, but I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t stop thinking. I was working on that when my sister sabotaged me. When it was my turn to guess, she said, “Don’t think of a zebra!” So, of course, I thought of a zebra. I couldn’t stop myself forming the picture.

But, amazingly, on that turn, I guessed right.

I never guessed right again, and after four more wrong guesses from my sister and me, and one more right guess from my little brother, we older two quit the game and stormed off. It was a strategic move, the only way to stop my little brother getting the additional candy. My one right guess, however, got me obsessed with psychic phenomena, how it would work and why—an obsession that stuck with me until, decades later, it made writing the paranormal mechanics of Demon Freaks my favorite bit. 

P.S. After finishing the book, I mentioned the psychic experiment to my sister and how much it had influenced my thinking. She laughed and said that my older brother wasn’t testing psychic ability at all. She pointed out that he never showed us the cards he’d drawn—just told us if we had been right or wrong. I protested until she revealed that years after the experiment, going through boxes of stuff my mother had saved, she’d come across a college paper Bill had written. It was about how relational dynamics break down when people believe an unfair advantage, like psychic ability, is being used for personal gain. Hmmm. There’s a book idea in that.

LINKS:

Amazon

Book website

Author website

BIO:

J.R.R.R. Hardison has worked as a writer, screen writer, animator and director in entertainment and commercials since graduating from Columbia College of Chicago in 1988.

Jim is the author of The Helm, which YALSA praised as one of 2010’s best graphic novels for young readers, and has directed animated commercial and entertainment projects, including spots for M&M’s, AT&T, and Kellogg’s.

He co-founded Character LLC in 2000 and has given story advice to many of the world’s largest brands, such as Target, Verizon, Samsung, McDonalds and Walmart, and has even appeared on NBC’s “The Apprentice” as an expert adviser on brand characters. Jim lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife, two kids and two dogs. Fish Wielder,  Jim’s debut novel, was released in 2016 and Demon Freaks, his second novel, was released in October 2017.

Where to find Mary at SiWC

Surrey International Writers Conference imageMary will be at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference in Surrey, British Columbia from Oct 20 – Oct 22, 2017. Get tickets here.

Here’s where to find her:

Friday, October 20

Workshop – Diagnosing Story Problems
11:30am-12:45pm
Tynehead 1

In this workshop, we look at tools to help you figure out where a story has gone wrong, and likely angles of attack to fix the problems. Plot structure, beta readers, and the dreaded writer’s block can all help narrow down the weakness in a story and ultimately fix it.

Panel – Worldbuilding (as moderator)
2:15-3:30pm
Tynehead 2

How do you bring an imaginary world to life? How do you layer the strange and fantastic on the real world in a believable way? Join our panel for a look at building cohesive, immersive worlds for characters to inhabit.

Blue Pencil Cafe Session
3:45-5pm
Fraser Room

Blue Pencil Cafe is an opportunity for you to have your work reviewed by Mary or other professional writers. Chat one-on-one about your work, or ask questions about the knottiest problems you’re facing. Appointments are 15 mins each, signups outside the Fraser Room door daily as available.

 

Saturday, Oct 21

Blue Pencil Cafe Session
10:00-11:15am
Fraser Room

Blue Pencil Cafe is an opportunity for you to have your work reviewed by Mary or other professional writers. Chat one-on-one about your work, or ask questions about the knottiest problems you’re facing. Appointments are 15 mins each, signups outside the Fraser Room door daily as available.

Workshop – Short Stories: A Proportional Understanding of Pacing
2:15-3:30pm
Tynehead 3

There are a lot of theories out there about how to handle pacing for novels, but how do you do it when you’re constrained by length? It turns out that many of the same rules-of-thumb apply, but in a proportionally smaller space they look very different. Learn how to structure your beginnings, ends, and of course, those pesky middles.

Signing
5:30-7pm
Fraser Room

Book signing and cocktail social.

 

Sunday, Oct 22

Opening Session – Keynote
9:00-9:55am
Guildford Ballroom

Mary will be giving the keynote address during this session that opens the last day of the conference.

Panel – No Write Way: Talking Process with the Whisky Chicks
10:00-11:15am
Tynehead 2

From idea generation to final draft, writing a novel consists of many stages, and every writer has their own approach to the process. Hang out with Elizabeth Boyle, Susanna Kearsley, and Mary Robinette Kowal, and learn how they each come up with their ideas, create characters, delve into research, and sit down to get those drafts written. Their methods may inspire you to try something new, but they will also prove that there is no one way to write a book.

Blue Pencil Cafe Session
11:30am-12:45pm
Fraser Room

Blue Pencil Cafe is an opportunity for you to have your work reviewed by Mary or other professional writers. Chat one-on-one about your work, or ask questions about the knottiest problems you’re facing. Appointments are 15 mins each, signups outside the Fraser Room door daily as available.

My Favorite Bit: Elizabeth Bonesteel talks about BREACH OF CONTAINMENT

My Favorite BitElizabeth Bonesteel is joining us today with her novel Breach of Containment. Here’s the publisher’s description:

A reluctant hero must prevent war in space and on Earth in this fast-paced military science fiction thriller from the author of The Cold Between and Remnants of Trust—a page-turning hybrid combining the gritty, high-octane thrills of James S. A. Corey and the sociopolitical drama of Ann Leckie.

Space is full of the unknown . . . most of it ready to kill you.

When hostilities between factions threaten to explode into a shooting war on the moon of Yakutsk, the two major galactic military powers, Central Corps and PSI, send ships to defuse the situation. But when a strange artifact is discovered, events are set in motion that threaten the entire colonized galaxy—including former Central Corps Commander Elena Shaw.

Now an engineer on a commercial shipping vessel, Elena finds herself drawn into the conflict when she picks up the artifact on Yakutsk—and investigation of it uncovers ties to the massive, corrupt corporation Ellis Systems, whom she’s opposed before. Her safety is further compromised by her former ties to Central Corps—Elena can’t separate herself from her past life and her old ship, the CCSS Galileo.

Before Elena can pursue the artifact’s purpose further, disaster strikes: all communication with the First Sector—including Earth—is lost. The reason becomes apparent when news reaches Elena of a battle fleet, intent on destruction, rapidly approaching Earth. And with communications at sublight levels, there is no way to warn the planet in time.

Armed with crucial intel from a shadowy source and the strange artifact, Elena may be the only one who can stop the fleet, and Ellis, and save Earth. But for this mission there will be no second chances—and no return.

What’s Liz’s favorite bit?

Breach of Containment cover image

ELIZABETH BONESTEEL

Mysteries have made me a prologue addict.

Despite writing science fiction, I spent a lot of the 90s and 00s reading mysteries. Prologues aren’t an unusual ingredient in the mystery genre: a brief scene at the start, maybe from the killer’s perspective, maybe of some significant event that happened weeks or years or centuries earlier. A good mystery prologue provides intrigue you can’t ignore, and makes you keep reading to find out how the events of the prologue illuminate the rest of the story.

I tend to use prologues for inciting incidents that don’t look like inciting incidents. The prologue isn’t the Big Bang that kicks the story into gear. It’s an event, sometimes small, sometimes large, that renders the remainder of the story inevitable. It’s the point when the safety bar comes down on the roller coaster, and even though the riders can’t see the track ahead, they’re stuck following it to the end.

In the first book, I wrote about a catastrophic accident that rippled for decades. In the second, I wrote about a young soldier’s first experience with failure and death.

In BREACH OF CONTAINMENT, I write about a box.

Not just a box, of course. I also write about Yakutsk, a small, cold moon, where much of the story’s action takes place. I write about Dallas, a seasoned parts scavenger, who is mostly contented with life on Yakutsk, but can’t ignore their nagging unease about the small, nondescript, not-quite-inert box found on the surface. I write about Jamyung, a scrap dealer, who recognizes the monetary value in the oddity but is deeply incurious about the oddity itself.

(Spoiler: Jamyung should have been less incurious.)

My first two books had elements of traditional whodunnits (although my villains are villainous enough I don’t think the reveal is ever much of a surprise). BREACH OF CONTAINMENT has a central mystery, but it’s not about who’s behind the various events of the story. We know who’s doing what. The mystery is what’s actually going on: why these events are happening now, how they’re related, why some characters are making the choices they’re making.

All of this makes it really, really hard to talk spoiler-free about the plot, which is kind of an important thing to be able to do when you’re trying to do promotion. I’m sure I’m not the first author who’s discovered that their real Favorite Bit is a massive spoiler and they can’t talk about it at all. I can’t even tell you what the deal is with Jamyung’s box.

(Here’s a non-spoiler part of the deal: I have a thing about squares, and that weird little box is designed to be exactly the kind of knick-knack I like to have around my house. My family, on the other hand, would stare at it, puzzled, wondering what charms I was seeing that they were missing. Beauty is subjective.)

I can say that this prologue is a microcosm of the whole story: Dallas’s affection for Yakutsk, Martine’s instant attraction to the Box of Doom, Jamyung’s eye for profit over aesthetics (and also safety).

And the cold. There’s a lot of cold in this book. I am fascinated by cold but I wouldn’t choose to live in it (insert New England winter joke here). I didn’t realize until the story was finished how much cold plays into everything in this book.

But so does warmth, in all its forms. The box is warm, even after sitting exposed on the sunless surface of a nearly airless moon. Martine’s attraction to the object makes her carry it inside the domed city. Empathy for Martine draws Dallas out of a comfortably solitary existence to investigate why life on Yakutsk is changing in so many unsettling ways. Yakutsk’s people are insular, businesslike, and often violent; but despite living in a culture that’s always one bar fight away from civil war, they share deep affection for their icy little moon.

And that matters. Soon enough? Depends on your perspective. But it matters.

Prologues engender a tremendous amount of hate. We all know why; I won’t regurgitate the usual schools of thought on the subject. My own inclusion of prologues may have as much to do with my love of film as my wide reading of mysteries; they often work well on screen. (Best prologue anywhere, ever: RAISING ARIZONA. Eleven minutes, riveting, and absolutely critical to the story.)

As with many aspects of my writing, I don’t always see the significance until the whole story is finished. For whatever reason, everything important always seems to end up in the prologue. Not the plot details, of course, or the whodunit or even the whydunnit, but the theme, the motivation, the moral center. (Be fair, my moral centers are generally some variant of “be kind to each other” because really, what else is there?)

So I should stop worrying about including spoilers when promoting BREACH OF CONTAINMENT. It’s all there, in the prologue, everything you need to know. (But do, if you like the prologue, consider reading the rest as well. Because a box is never just a box, is it?)

LINKS:

Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk / Amazon.ca

Barnes & Noble

IndieBound

Powell’s

Google Play

iBookstore US / iBookstore UK / iBookstore Canada

Kobo

Elizabeth Bonesteel’s website

Blog

Twitter

Facebook

BIO:

Liz Bonesteel lives in Central Massachusetts with her husband, daughter, various cats, and a lovely woodburning soapstone stove.

My Favorite Bit: J.S. Fields talks about ARDULUM: SECOND DON

My Favorite BitJ.S. Fields is joining us today with her novel Ardulum: Second Don. Here’s the publisher’s description:

The Charted Systems are in pieces. Mercy’s Pledge is destroyed, and her captain dead. With no homes to return to, the remaining crew sets off on a journey to find the mythical planet of Ardulum—a planet where Emn might find her people, and Neek the answers she’s long sought. Finding the planet, however, brings a host of uncomfortable truths about Ardulum’s vision for the galaxy and Neek’s role in a religion that refuses to release her. Neek must balance her planet’s past and the unchecked power of the Ardulans with a budding relationship and a surprising revelation about her own genealogy.

Ardulum: Second Don blends space opera elements and hard science into a story about two women persistently bound to their past and a sentient planet determined to shape their future.

What’s J.S.’s favorite bit?

Ardulum: Second Don cover image

J.S. FIELDS

I’m a scientist.

A wood scientist.

It’s a thing, I swear. You can get PhDs in it and everything. Sometimes they even make you a professor, and then you get to spend your life explaining to people why they don’t really need to replace their deck, the grey wood is still sound, and would you please put a coaster under your drink on my Indian rosewood table before you swell the microfibrils? K thanks.

I also write books, because telling people they use cutting boards all wrong doesn’t really fulfill my creative needs. ARDULUM: SECOND DON is the second in my wood science space opera series. I wove a fair amount of hard science into the books, but not the normal kind, mostly because physics and I have a long history of not getting along. Instead, I envisioned a galaxy where wood, specifically, wood cellulose, was the backbone of the technology (as it is quickly becoming here on Earth).

You don’t get very many chances to geek out over hard science in space opera—it’s meant to be more of a fun ride with at least one decent sized ship explosion more than an academic treatise. Still, I wanted the cellulose science in the ARDULUM series to be strong enough to hold its own should any of my unsuspecting graduate students get their hands on it (which has already happened, I’ve been told, and there is some horrifying plan to dress up as my characters for Halloween…during the school day). So I spent a fair amount of time in FIRST DON laying out the hows and whys of cellulose integration and manipulation: how it was layered into electronics and spaceships, how it reinforced lasers, etc.

But book two, oh, book two. With all the pesky hard science out of the way, the explanations already done, in SECOND DON, I finally got to play. It also meant that I got to dream bigger, since the groundwork for cellulose tech was already well defined in the series. So what does a wood science PhD do with such freedom? Well, I can’t speak for the twenty or so others on the planet, but I decided it was time to start playing with hemicelluloses.

In the Ardulum series, the various systems and galaxies all share a common technological core—their spaceships, weapons, and propulsion systems are all cellulose based. Communication, both on world and off, requires cellulose fibers. Nothing is untouched by cellulose, no matter how primitive or advanced a civilization. The main driver of tension across the series is the existence of a species that has a very specific form of telekinesis—they can manipulate cellulose to the point of seeing its crystalline forms, rearranging bonds, and generating huge amounts of energy from screwing around with hydrogen bonding.

How, then, does one defeat such a species while still maintain some basis of technology? The nerdiest answer is hemicellulose. Hemicellulose is still a sugar polymer, but unlike cellulose (basically a long chain of glucose), hemicellulose is branched and made of up several different sugars (and the specifics of those sugars varies by tree type). Some examples are xylan and galactoglucomannon (my Twitter handle is @galactoglucoman, which I think is hysterical). Even in current tech and engineering today, hemicellulose just doesn’t have the same capacity as cellulose, but it’s better than nothing.

With that in mind, I wrote the use of hemicellulose into the backstory of the Charted Systems. There is a scene in SECOND DON where the crew are in a shipyard, looking to purchase a used spacecraft. Nicholas, our POV character for the chapter, runs his hands across a number of old model ships, and gets to have a very geeky internal monologue about early lightspeed history, the use of xylans in Earth’s first deep space shuttles, and how the technology evolved into fully integrated cellulose use. This sets the groundwork for THIRD DON, coming out in 2018, for when some species are forced to reverse engineer their spaceships back to old hemicellulose technology, in order to protect themselves from an increasingly aggressive group of telekinetic cellulose users.

Personally, one of the best parts of writing the ARDULUM series has been integrating these small, super nerdy cellulose snippets into the world building. I’m sure plenty of readers skip over them, since it isn’t pivotal for understanding the plot, but I love getting the chance to see the tech that I work with every day, or that is just a few decades out from being in consumer hands, be realized in an otherwise fun little space opera.

Plus, it apparently gives my graduate students something to dress up as for Halloween.

LINKS

Amazon

Website

Twitter

Goodreads

BIO

J.S Fields is a scientist who has perhaps spent too much time around organic solvents. She enjoys roller derby, woodturning, making chainmail by hand, and cultivating fungi in the backs of minivans. Nonbinary, but prefers female pronouns. Always up for a Twitter chat.

 

My Favorite Bit: Liz Duffy Adams and Delia Sherman talk about TREMONTAINE Season 3

My Favorite BitLiz Duffy Adams and Delia Sherman join us today to talk about Season 3 of the serial fiction Tremontaine. Here’s the series description:

Welcome to Tremontaine, where ambition, love affairs, and rivalries dance with deadly results.  In this serial, Ellen Kushner and a team of writers return readers to the world of scandal and swordplay introduced in her cult-classic novel Swordspoint. Readers familiar with the series will find a welcome homecoming while new fans will learn what makes Riverside a place they will want to visit again and again. Tremontaine follows Diane, Duchess Tremontaine, whose beauty is matched only by her cunning; Rafe Fenton, a handsome young scholar with more passion than sense; Ixkaab Balam, a tradeswoman from afar with skill for swords and secrets; and Micah, a gentle genius whose discoveries herald revolution. Sparks fly as these four lives intersect in a world where politics is everything, and outcasts are the tastemakers. Tread carefully, dear reader, and keep your wit as sharp as your steel.

What’s Liz and Delia’s favorite part?

Tremontaine Season 3 image

LIZ DUFFY ADAMS AND DELIA SHERMAN

When Ellen Kushner asked us to guest write an episode for Season Three of Tremontaine, we were delighted. After co-writing The Fall of the Kings with Ellen and editing Tremontaine’s first season, Delia missed playing in that world with those characters. And the episode we ended up with—not entirely by accident—gave us an opportunity to call up echoes of the mystical nature/sex/sacrifice religion that had been a feature of The Fall of the Kings, and that was particularly exciting to Liz as well.

But most of all, we missed writing with each other. We’d worked together last year on the Serial Box series Whitehall, creating not only three novella-length episodes about the early years of Catherine of Braganza’s marriage to Charles II of England, but also a creative partnership.

Collaboration is a lot of fun. Oh, you need ground rules and agreements on how you’re going to go about it and some skill in negotiation and not getting too invested in a favorite scene or sentence. Like every other kind of writing, it’s hard work. But it’s also play.

Liz is a playwright, and creating Whitehall and co-writing those episode with Delia was her introduction to the world of not only serial fiction, but of fiction full-stop. Everybody knows that theater is a collaborative art, but it’s also true that the writing part is almost always a solitary endeavor. However, Liz had her roots in the world of experimental theater, where her work was collaborative in every sense. That sort of experimental theater requires great trust, flexibility, and love of the process itself, in which everyone is writer/actor/director/designer, conceiving, creating, and performing the work as a creative cooperative. The idea of creating a collaborative piece of fiction, though a different proposition in a lot of ways, struck a chord for her.

So we each had some experience with the collaborative process. The question was, could we collaborate? We were friends; we loved each other’s work: the odds were good. But really, we got awfully lucky. Because no matter how much you like and admire someone, you have no idea whether you can successfully or happily create together until you’re in the thick of it. But we found ourselves working very well in harness. Our strengths were complementary; as for our weaknesses, well, two heads are genuinely better than one when trying to come up with a solution to a sticky plot problem.

The process of brainstorming story and structure, divvying up the drafting, and passing it all back and forth to edit and polish, turned out to be like the best sort of game: absorbing and tremendous fun. Liz’s ear for dialogue brought our characters to life and her sense of dramatic structure provided the arc of the story. Delia’s knack for physical description grounded the action. We divvied up the drafting: Because she’d been the editor for Season 1, Delia tackled the Kaab scene that begins the episode; because Liz fell in love with the drama and action of the hunting party, she fell headlong into the first draft there. Together we found our way through the subtle politics of the emotionally and technically complex card-playing scene that provides the episode’s climax.

Even with both of us working together, however, we would have been lost without the expertise of the entire Tremontaine writing team. Whenever we had a question (and we had lots) we could fling out a question and be sure of a helpful answer. Both of us are used to writing real-world historical fiction, where facts must be checked through extensive Googling or trips to the library. With Tremontaine, all we had to do was go on Slack and the other writers would supply us with links to martial-arts videos, lists of Kinwiinik names, discussions of card games and character interactions and plot lines of which we, as guest writers, couldn’t always remember the intricacies. Not to mention that details of plot and character changed as everyone worked on his or her own episode and had to be picked up and reflected both up and down the time stream.

It was complicated. It was, occasionally, frustrating. But finally, it was exhilarating and freeing to know that we were all, artistically, watching each other’s backs, providing feedback, support, suggestions, corrections, and, most important of all, encouragement. The Tremontaine writing team in their glorious third season have developed a well-honed, hard-won, beautifully functioning collaborative process, and we reaped the benefits of it.

And that, without doubt, was our favorite bit in Season 3 of Tremontaine.

LINKS:

Tremontaine Season 3

How Serial Box works

Liz Duffy Adams

Delia Sherman

Delia on Twitter

Delia on Facebook

BIOS:

Liz Duffy Adams is a playwright whose work has been produced Off Broadway at Women’s Project Theater, and at Magic Theater, Seattle Rep, and Humana Festival among other places. Publications include Dog Act in “Geek Theater: Anthology of Science Fiction and Fantasy Plays” (Underwords Press 2014) and Or, in “Best Plays of 2010” (Smith & Kraus); honors include a Lillian Hellman Award, Will Glickman Awardand New Dramatists residency. She created and co-wrote the historical serial fiction Whitehall for Serial Box. More at www.lizduffyadams.com.

Delia Sherman is the author of numerous short stories and novels for both adults and younger readers, situated somewhere along the spectrum of historical-fantastical-comical-romantic-feminist-sexually-diverse fiction. Her most recent projects—episodes of Whitehall and Tremontaine–have both been for Serial Box, in collaboration with Liz Duffy Adams.  She is or has been a teacher, an editor, a judge of literary awards, a member of literary foundation boards, a book store clerk, a gardener, a knitter, a cook, a traveler, and a flaming liberal.

Where to find Mary at Con*Stellation

horologium constellation

Mary will be at ConStellation in Huntsville, Alabama from Oct 13-Oct 15. Get tickets here.

Here’s where to find her during the convention!

Friday, Oct 13

Opening Ceremonies
6-7pm
Madison-Decatur (2nd floor) Main

Panel: Schmoozing 101
7-8pm
Madison-Decatur (2nd floor) Main

Meet Guests
8-9pm
Redstone (1st floor)

Panel: Fashion and Science Fiction
11pm-12am
Twickenham (2nd floor)

 

Saturday, Oct 14

Reading
11am-12pm
Marshall (1st floor)

Guest of Honor Speeches
2:30-4pm
Madison-Decatur (2nd floor) Main

Panel: History Influences in SF
4-5pm
Madison-Decatur (2nd floor) Main

Kowal KandyKlatch
5-6pm
Executive Parlor

 

Sunday, Oct 15

Roundtable: Favorite Endings
11-1pm Roundtable
Madison-Decatur (2nd floor) Main

Mass Autographs
1-2pm
Twickenham (2nd floor)

Closing Ceremonies
2-3pm
Madison-Decatur (2nd floor)

Where to find Mary in October

writing excuses peach pie

Happy Fall! Here’s all the places to find Mary this month:

October 7

Deep Dish SF/F Reading – Chicago, Illinois

October 8

Online Class: The Progression of Character Arcs

October 10

Online Patreon Writing Date

October 11

The Carl Sandburg Literary Awards Dinner – Chicago, Illinois

October 13-15

ConStellation – Guest of Honor – Huntsville, Alabama

October 20-22

Surrey International Writers’ Conference – Surrey, British Columbia, Canada

October 29

Online Patreon Writing Class: Final Prep for NaNoWriMo

 

Or find her online here

Patreon • Twitter • Facebook • Instagram

My Favorite Bit: Alethea Kontis talks about WHEN TINKER MET BELL

Favorite Bit iconAlethea Kontis is joining us today with her novel When Tinker Met Bell. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Everybody knows that goblins and fairies can’t be friends. But that never stopped Tinker and Bell.

Bellamy Merriweather Larousse isn’t like the other fairies at Harmswood Academy, with her giant wings and their magical dust. “Southern Bell” works as a barista at The Hallowed Bean to help pay her tuition and remains active on the cheering squad, despite her insistence on associating with the unpopular crowd. Every day is sunny in Bellamy’s world and every cloud has a silver lining. The only way to upset Bell’s stalwart optimism is to threaten one of her misfit friends…or try to take one of them from her.

Unbeknownst to everyone—including him—outcast Ranulf “Tinker” Tinkerton is about to be named heir to the throne of the Goblin King, making him ruler of his fellow Lost Boys and the labyrinthine city they inhabit. Now that the time has come for Tinker to leave Harmswood behind, will he be brave enough to share his feelings for Bellamy? It’s no secret that he’s held a torch for her since the fourth grade, but no matter how long they’ve been friends, goblins will always be allergic to fairies.

Or will they?

What’s Alethea’s favorite bit?

When Tinker Met Bell cover image

ALETHEA KONTIS

When I tell people “I grew up at the movies,” what I mean is that my much older sister dated (and then married) a guy whose family owned all the movie theaters in Burlington, Vermont. I spent many a summer as a kid tearing tickets, sweeping up popcorn, and watching pretty much every major motion picture that got released.

In 1984, Romancing the Stone gave me my raison d’être. I wanted to be Joan Wilder, receiving that box of my own books like George McFly did at the end of 1985’s Back to the Future. And then, in 1986, David Bowie danced with Jennifer Connelly for about thirty seconds in a dreamlike masquerade-bubble sequence. I wanted that, too. I wanted that dress, that masque. I wanted some beautiful, mischievous imp of a man to look at me the way the Goblin King looked at Sarah, with so much said between us, even though neither of us spoke a word.

Yeah…I never got that.

But you know the great thing about being a writer? All those magical, amazing moments we are denied in life, we can someday write into a novel.

Contrary to just about everything I’ve ever penned, the title of When Tinker Met Bell came first. I had an optimistic, cheerleader fairy barista in The Truth About Cats and Wolves named Bellamy Larousse. She became my heroine. Tinker was…Ranulf Tinkerton, a goblin. But goblins and fairies can’t be friends. Why? Because goblins are allergic to fairies. Great. Now I’ve gone from Harry and Sally to Romeo and Juliet. How am I supposed to make a romantic comedy out of that? Well, I’ll…crown Tinker heir to the throne of the Goblin King! The Goblin King is immune to fairies. But before all that happens, Tinker promises Bell a dance. Once dance. At a masquerade. A Midwinter masquerade, so everything’s white. Bellamy will have a ridiculously huge, silver-white ballgown. Tinker will get a similarly ridiculous suit and a goblin mask. And then I’ll stick the two of them in a snow globe!

Some authors play God with their characters. I prefer the role of Fairy Godmother.

The thing I love most about the masquerade scene in When Tinker Met Bell is that it’s not just a three-minute montage set to David Bowie crooning “As the World Falls Down.” (Though you’re welcome to imagine the DJ is playing that in the background while you read.) There are longing looks, but there’s also dialogue. There is a war of emotions, laughter and tears, a discussion about wishes and treasures and the issue of consent…all made as romantic as humanly possible and covered in glitter snow.

There’s even an Easter egg for my fellow Shakespeare lovers! Mentions of Romeo and Juliet are un-subtly sprinkled here and there throughout When Tinker Met Bell, no surprise in a story about star-crossed lovers. But in that snow globe, keep an eye out for the moment when “palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss.” Oh yeah. I went there. And then, dear saint, lips totally do what hands do. Because that’s what should have happened in the movie, right?

Maybe. Maybe not. But that’s what happens in my snow globe, and it is just as beautiful and perfect and meaningful a moment as I could have wished for. That scene is—quite literally—my dream come true.

And that is why it is my favorite bit.

LINKS:

Amazon

Nook

Kobo

Patreon

Facebook

Twitter

BIO:

Alethea Kontis is a princess, author, fairy godmother, and geek. Author of over seventeen books and contributor to over twenty-five more, her award-winning writing has been published for multiple age groups across all genres. Host of “Princess Alethea’s Fairy Tale Rants” and Princess Alethea’s Traveling Sideshow every year at Dragon Con, Alethea also narrates for ACX, IGMS, Escape Pod, Pseudopod, and Cast of Wonders. Alethea currently resides on the Space Coast of Florida with her teddy bear, Charlie. Find out more about Princess Alethea and the magic, wonderful world in which she lives here: https://www.patreon.com/princessalethea

My Favorite Bit: Tom Doyle talks about WAR AND CRAFT

My Favorite BitTom Doyle is joining us today with his novel War and Craft. Here’s the book’s description:

America, land of the free… and home of the warlocks. America’s occult defenders are the secret families who have sworn to use their power to protect our republic. But there are those who reject America’s dream and have chosen the Left-Hand way.

In this triumphant conclusion to Tom Doyle’s imaginative alternate historical America, we start with a bloody wedding-night brawl with assassins in Tokyo. Our American magical shock troops go to India, where a descendant of legendary heroes has the supernatural mission for which they’ve been waiting.

Preparing for that mission, powerful exorcist Scherie Rezvani searches for secret knowledge with a craft agent of the Vatican and tries to cope with the strange new magics resulting from her pregnancy. To save her unborn child from the Left Hand, she will risk damnation and the Furies themselves.

It all comes to a head in a valley hidden high in the mountains of Kashmir. Our craftspeople will battle against their fellow countrymen, some of the vilest monsters of the Left Hand Path. It’s Armageddon in Shangri-La, and the end of the world as we know it.

What’s Tom’s favorite bit?

War Craft cover image

TOM DOYLE

Sometimes I don’t know what I’m going to value in a story until well after I’ve finished it. For instance, Lieutenant Scherezade Rezvani, or Scherie (pronounced like Sherry in Springsteen’s “Sherry Darling”) is the heroine of the conclusion of my trilogy. She’s also the Islamic-American daughter of Iranian immigrants. When I first introduced her in American Craftsmen, or even while I was writing War and Craft, these aspects of her background didn’t seem like a big deal to me. Times have changed.

I didn’t make an initial fuss about these character elements because, structurally, this was an unoriginal move on my part. Tales of the military heroism of American newcomers are as old as the country. Despite pervasive and cruel discrimination, Catholic immigrant soldiers from Ireland and Germany in the Civil War and Japanese-American soldiers in World War Two were noted for their self-sacrifice. Action films frequently highlight the different backgrounds of American fighters. This is a very well-worn trope.

This familiar story had a harsh, implicit moral: exceptional sacrifice bought the newcomers their place at the American table. This standard wasn’t fair or ethically correct. It was often unevenly applied, and it was completely ignored in war after war for African-American soldiers. But it was a real cultural assumption, and it was basically optimistic about the openness of American society to immigrants and different religions.

Again, it’s an old story, but one we seem to be forgetting. Often it appears that we aren’t paying attention anymore to such sacrifice.

But what about my character, Scherie? She’s a science fiction and fantasy fan, a loving person, and (it turns out) a stone-cold killer for her country. Her parents are exiles from Iran. Her mother suspects something about Scherie’s magician-soldier friends, and her father had a troubled past in Iran’s secret police. At the beginning of the series, Scherie and her family are still caught up in the politics of exile in the manner of many immigrants (e.g., the Irish, Cubans).

Scherie is the first person point-of-view character for War and Craft, so we find out more about her faith. She’s not particularly devout; for example, she yells a continuous string of profanity along with her exorcisms. But she is proud of her heritage–when threatened with Dante’s version of hell, she thinks, “Yeah, Christian hell–so what? If I had to spend eternity with Saladin, so be it.” Besides fighting her powerful enemies, Scherie must personally face some of the big religious and philosophical questions: sin, damnation, redemption, predestination, choice. The fate of the world hinges on how she answers these questions. She meets her bitterest trials with the jihad of the spirit and the words “God is great.”

One of the odder relationships that emerged as I wrote the trilogy was the friendship between Scherie and the oft-times evil spirit of Madeline Morton (the smaller figure in white on the cover). Beginning in book 2, The Left-Hand Way, Madeline is unusually protective of Scherie, though she offers this protection in a manner peppered with rage, sarcasm, and mockery. Much to my own surprise, this friendship between a nineteenth century New England ghost and a twenty-first century soldier became the central bond of War and Craft, and what these two characters are willing to do for each other is an important hinge of the story.

Due to some accidents of Ukrainian history that took place while I was writing The Left-Hand Way, my trilogy concludes with events in 2014. Looking around at the world of 2017, I wonder what Scherie would think of this country that she served so well. So I’m mostly glad that I finished War and Craft before the election, as a marker of what I then considered the American norm–even an American cliché. Writing Scherie then was natural narrative; writing her now would have to be a bigger, angrier statement.

It seems to be a curse of speculative fiction that we continue to have to make the same narrative arguments–e.g., that slavery is evil even when it’s sentient robots or replicants. It would be nice to be able to move on to some higher level problems; then, those could be my favorite bits.

LINKS:

War and Craft: Amazon Barnes & Noble Powell’s

The Left-Hand Way: Amazon Barnes & Noble Powell’s

American Craftsmen: Amazon Barnes & Noble Powell’s

Tom Doyle: Website Facebook Twitter

BIO:

Tom Doyle is the author of a contemporary fantasy trilogy from Tor Books. In the first book, American Craftsmen, two modern magician-soldiers fight their way through the legacies of Poe and Hawthorne as they attempt to destroy an undying evil–and not kill each other first. In the sequel, The Left-Hand Way, the craftsmen are hunters and hunted in a global race to save humanity from a new occult threat out of America’s past. The final book of the trilogy (and the subject of this Favorite Bit), War and Craft, was just released September 26th.

Some of Tom’s award-winning short fiction is collected in The Wizard of Macatawa and Other Stories. He writes in a spooky turret in Washington, DC. You can find the text and audio of many of his stories on his website.