Biantera stabbed the hat on its stand with a needle as if it were a dead body. Outside the canals of Geveno resounded with the cheerful cries of gondoliers, in sharp contrast to the complaints of her mother.
“You are going to ruin your fingers doing this work. Millinery! Blessed Menos on Her Hearth!” Her mother dabbed at her eyes with a ridiculous scrap of lace. “Rough hands! How will you get the marriage you deserve — or would have deserved. Curse your father!”
Biantera’s needle stabbed into the hat again. Not her mother. She should get an amaretto for that restraint. Biantera took a slow breath and tried to let the tension out of her shoulders. Some of it was from her mother’s constant harping, and some was from scaling that blasted wall last night. She kept her voice low and sweet as her governess had taught her, once upon a time. “I don’t mind, Mama.”
She made damn good money as an assassin, but if her mother was upset about the supposed millinery business Biantera could only imagine what she’d do about the Other job. Once she received the payment for killing the Maestro of Umbele, it would be more than enough to buy back their family estate.
If you want to read, just comment on my site and I’ll send the story to the first five to ten folks. Okay! I’m set for the moment, but am likely to be making a hefty change to this, based on initial feedback, so if you want to read a second draft… Raise your hand in the comments.
Dan Koboldt is joining us today with his novel The Island Deception. Here’s the publisher’s description:
What happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas. But what happens after you step through a portal to another world, well…
For stage magician Quinn Bradley, he thought his time in Alissia was over. He’d done his job for the mysterious company CASE Global Enterprises, and now his name is finally on the marquee of one of the biggest Vegas casinos. And yet, for all the accolades, he definitely feels something is missing. He can create the most amazing illusions on Earth, but he’s also tasted true power. Real magic.
He misses it.
Luckily–or not–CASE Global is not done with him, and they want him to go back. The first time, he was tasked with finding a missing researcher. Now, though, he has another task: Help take Richard Holt down.
It’s impossible to be in Vegas and not be a gambler. And while Quinn might not like his odds–a wyvern nearly ate him the last time he was in Alissia–if he plays his cards right, he might be able to aid his friends.
He also might learn how to use real magic himself.
Continuing the exciting adventures from The Rogue Retrieval, The Island Deception blends fun and mystery into a brilliant new fantasy from Dan Koboldt.
What’s Dan’ favorite bit?
Quinn Bradley, the protagonist of my series, is a stage magician from Las Vegas who’s hired to infiltrate a secret medieval world. He has access to holograms, electronics, and other modern technologies that the other world hasn’t seen before. Even so, my favorite bit in THE ISLAND DECEPTION is Quinn’s ability to use simple sleight of hand.
In the real world, our world, stage magic is among the oldest performing arts on record. One of the earliest books on the subject, Gantziony’s Natural and Unnatural Magic, was published in 1489. Stage magicians were a common form of public entertainment before the 18th century. Quick-fingered deception, in other words, is hardly a novel concept.
My protagonist just happens to be really good at it.
Is there any natural ability involved? Probably. The inherently dextrous tend to be drawn to performance magic, just as the inherently clumsy tend to avoid glassblowing. Yet what sets Quinn apart — what sets most successful illusionists apart — is a willingness to put in the work. He masters tricks with cards, coins, ropes, and other everyday objects. He practices every trick for countless hours, until he can execute it perfectly every time. Even better, he’s already gone through the training montage when the story starts.
A medieval world offers many opportunities to use such skills. Quinn is not the kind of person to pass them up, either. Sometimes he uses illusions to get out of a jam, or to obtain something the mission requires. Other times, he does it simply because he can. Here’s an example from The Island Deception:
The pocket on his jacket yawned open to reveal one of the fat Alissian gold coins the lab had minted for this mission.
Quinn plucked it out between two fingers, light-touch, and palmed it. “Can’t you help me out? I’ll make it worth your while.” He grinned and held up the coin.
Mendez frowned. “Where’d you get that? I just had one of those.”
“I know.” Quinn flipped it to him so that it spun in the air with that high-pitched metallic ring. I never get tired of that sound.
Mendez caught it one-handed. But when he opened his hand, it was a crude penny. “Hey!”
Quinn still had the gold coin, and now he danced it across all ten fingers. “I can do this all day.”
Sharp wits and quick fingers are certainly advantageous when posing as a magician in a medieval world. But they also have the tendency to get Quinn into trouble, because he just can’t help himself. In the first book, his inclination to show off came with a price: the world has real magicians of its own, and the penalty for impersonating one is death.
Then again, the existence of true magic is what motivates Quinn to return to Alissia in The Island Deception. He’s tasted real magic, and now he misses it. More than that, he can’t help but wonder if it would be possible to bring some of that power back into our world. Real magic would certainly put him “one ahead” (as magicians say), and that’s exactly where Quinn Bradley wants to be.
Dan Koboldt is a genetics researcher and fantasy/science fiction author. He has co-authored more than 70 publications in Nature, Science, The New England Journal of Medicine, and other scientific journals. Dan is also an avid deer hunter and outdoorsman. He lives with his wife and children in Ohio, where the deer take their revenge by eating the flowers in his backyard.
Renee Patrick is joining us today with their novel Dangerous to Know. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Los Angeles, 1938. Former aspiring actress Lillian Frost is adjusting to a new life of boldfaced names as social secretary to a movie-mad millionaire. Costume designer Edith Head is running Paramount Pictures’ wardrobe department, but only until a suitable replacement comes along. The two friends again become partners thanks to an international scandal, a real-life incident in which the war clouds gathering over Europe cast a shadow on Hollywood.
Lillian attended the Manhattan dinner party at which well-heeled guests insulted Adolf Hitler within earshot of a maid with Nazi sympathies. Now, secrets the maid vengefully spilled have all New York society running for cover – and two Paramount stars, Jack Benny and George Burns, facing smuggling charges.
Edith also seeks Lillian’s help on a related matter. The émigré pianist in Marlene Dietrich’s budding nightclub act has vanished. Lillian reluctantly agrees to look for him. When Lillian finds him dead, Dietrich blames agents of the Reich. As Lillian and Edith unravel intrigue extending from Paramount’s Bronson Gate to FDR’s Oval Office, only one thing is certain: they’ll do it in style.
Renee Patrick’s Dangerous to Know beguilingly blends forgotten fact and fanciful fiction, while keeping Hollywood glamour front and center
What’s Renee’s favorite bit?
It’s probably poor form to say our favorite bit is the one that fell into our laps. But that’s where we have to start.
When you write historical mysteries, you’re always researching. Poring over vintage magazines and newspapers, soaking up period atmosphere. (We went so far as to purchase copies of the 1937 Los Angeles telephone directories—Yellow and White Pages—and lost hours paging through them. Once upon a time, the highest compliment you could pay an actor was to say, “I’d listen to her/him read the phone book.” We staged such performances for one another. There were no curtain calls.) You remain eternally on the hunt for that useful forgotten nugget from yesteryear.
And then, on occasion, you strike the motherlode.
Reading a December 1938 newspaper, we happened on a reference to a budding scandal. Jack Benny and George Burns, comic titans of radio and motion pictures, were brought up on federal charges as smugglers. The details were extraordinary, involving a vengeful maid with Nazi sympathies, a bogus diplomat, and trunks full of haute couture gowns.
Understand this: Jack Benny and George Burns were enormous stars at the time, so much so that when we tried to think of comparable contemporary performers for this post we came up empty. The concentrated nature of entertainment in the 1930s gave both men such outsized presences that their indiscretion nudged Germany’s aggression below the fold of the nation’s front pages for a while.
Understand also this: we both grew up obsessed with show business, and had never heard tell of this contretemps before. How, we wondered, was that possible?
Finally, understand this: both men were stars at Paramount Pictures, the studio where Edith Head, the legendary costume designer who is one-half of our sleuthing duo, worked her magic. The universe had just handed us a gift.
The Benny/Burns imbroglio gave us the seed for what would become Dangerous to Know, the second of our mysteries set during the Golden Age of Hollywood pairing Edith with her partner in crime-solving, former aspiring actress Lillian Frost. It was the ideal jumping off point, if not the engine driving the plot.
Building that engine would prove easier thanks to all that research we’d been doing. We’d become familiar with what was happening in Los Angeles and the wider world in the waning days of 1938. Sometimes it was broad cultural issues, like the influx of emigres and refugees from Europe into Southern California, a mass migration that would transform the City of Angels into a world capital of modern music and give rise to film noir. Sometimes it was specific to the region, such as David O. Selznick’s decision to stage the burning of Atlanta in Gone with the Wind despite the fact that he had yet to cast his Scarlett O’Hara, or a screening of Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia in one of L.A.’s fanciest clubs with Fraulein Director herself in attendance. And sometimes it was a fascinating story still being excavated by historians decades later, like the secret plan of studio moguls to combat the Nazi presence in Hollywood in the years before World War II.
Real life consistently outstrips the imagination. It does now. It did then. So basically our favorite bit is collecting all of those other bits and weaving them together, combining fact with fiction in the hope of coming up with something that feels true.
Renee Patrick is the pseudonym of married authors Rosemarie and Vince Keenan. Rosemarie is a research administrator and a poet. Vince is a screenwriter and a journalist. Both native New Yorkers, they currently live in Seattle, Washington.
Ahem. Here is where I take off my gloves, set down my fan, and jab someone with my parasol.
Odyssey Con. What the fuck are you doing?
When your Guest of Honor comes to you and tells you that a member of your concom has made them uncomfortable in the past and that she feels unsafe, you do not tell her that she’s wrong. When she decides that this reaction, coupled with the presence of the person in question is enough to withdraw, you certainly do not then post her emails without her permission.
Let me explain.
The problem here is not, actually, with the harasser. I actually believe that there is a path for redemption for people who are willing to take it. This fellow… who knows. Maybe he can, maybe he can’t.
But you. What you have done is the problem. You have demonstrated that the safety of your guests is not your concern. No, wait. More specifically, you have demonstrated that the safety of your female guests is not important. You have done this by telling them that their complaints don’t exist or are exaggerated.
Maybe you don’t realize this, but women’s concerns are always dismissed as being a product of hysteria. You know what the root of that word is, right? You see what you’re doing? You are saying that we are unreliable witnesses. THIS is the problem. This is the environment that you are creating at your con.
Why the hell would any woman go there, when you have just demonstrated exactly how you will treat someone who expresses a problem? You will dismiss their concerns as an over-reaction. You will publicly castigate them. You will share their personal details.
The fellow who has a history of harassment isn’t the problem here. Not by himself. You are.
Ruthanna Emrys is joining us today with her novel Winter Tide. Here’s the publisher’s description:
“Winter Tide is a weird, lyrical mystery — truly strange and compellingly grim. It’s an innovative gem that turns Lovecraft on his head with cleverness and heart” —Cherie Priest
After attacking Devil’s Reef in 1928, the U.S. government rounded up the people of Innsmouth and took them to the desert, far from their ocean, their Deep One ancestors, and their sleeping god Cthulhu. Only Aphra and Caleb Marsh survived the camps, and they emerged without a past or a future.
The government that stole Aphra’s life now needs her help. FBI agent Ron Spector believes that Communist spies have stolen dangerous magical secrets from Miskatonic University, secrets that could turn the Cold War hot in an instant, and hasten the end of the human race.
Aphra must return to the ruins of her home, gather scraps of her stolen history, and assemble a new family to face the darkness of human nature.
Winter Tide is the debut novel from Ruthanna Emrys.
What’s Ruthanna’s favorite bit?
Ron Spector is among the core supporting characters in Winter Tide. One of the few FBI agents to specialize in matters eldritch, he kicks off the plot by asking Aphra to help him out with an investigation… that just happens to coincide with her own desire to retrieve her family’s stolen books from Miskatonic University… that just happens to coincide with his own desire to prove Aphra’s worth to his bosses. I never intended to base him on my great-uncle.
Ron is a gay Jewish man, working for the US government in a time when closets are mandatory and unthinking antisemitism rampant. This all seemed perfectly organic to a book about the intersection of real and fantasaic oppression. My Cthulhu-worshipping Deep Ones were never intended to stand in for any real-world race or religion, but to hold up a funhouse mirror to real-world prejudices. In a world (ours) where any minority will be treated ill and subject to assumptions, what’s universal? How will a bunch of long-lived aquatic humanoids be treated just like Jews or African Americans or Nikkei or QUILTBAG folk, and how will their experiences be unique? And what happens when they start interacting with those other groups and comparing notes?
Spector, who willingly serves a state in which he’s only marginally accepted, felt like a natural foil to Aphra, who reviles that same state for destroying her family. I didn’t notice from what corner of my subconscious he’d arisen until I was trying to figure out hats. The late 40s fall on the boundary of modern propriety, you see, one aspect of which is that some men still wore hats everywhere, and others had set that bit of fashion aside. Hats are great, offering all sorts of little character moments. You can doff your fedora to show respect, or leave it on inside when distracted. But would Spector wear one? Well, says my wife, why don’t you look at pictures of your Great Uncle Monroe?
Right. My great-uncle, a New York Jew of about Spector’s vintage, who spent time as a diplomatic aide. The one who traveled the world with his “business partner” years after their retirement, lived with him his whole adult life, and left him all his worldly possessions. “But we don’t know that he was gay by modern standards,” my mother said, in her letter accompanying the packet of photos, along with the revelation that Great-Uncle’s hubby was responsible for my family’s obsession with fondue. Uh-huh. It’s true; according to the tenets of cosmic horror, nothing about this world is truly knowable.
So Spector wasn’t based directly on Monroe, but he gained an extra dimension from his real-world equivalent. And that became important as I got further into the book, and saw more ways that he could be a foil for Aphra. One of the things I had fun with, while I wrote, was how all the characters are experiencing their own book—all slightly different genres. Aphra’s book is the one in the blurb, a historical fantasy about building community and trying to put off human extinction for a century or two. Her foster sister Neko is having a bildungsroman about growing into your freedom and figuring out what you really want.
And Ron Spector? He’s stuck in a Lovecraftian cosmic horror story. He’s learning that the universe is larger and stranger and more dangerous than he thought, and trying to come to terms with forces so large and inhuman that merely brushing against them risks life and sanity. But he isn’t Lovecraft’s standard narrator, and that changes his story. He’s strange enough himself that he willingly acknowledges the humanity of anyone he can talk to, and is willing to push that boundary outward even when it’s a struggle. At the same time, the awe-inspiring, brain-breaking scope of a Mythosian universe is a direct challenge to his mostly-assimilated, semi-secular Judaism. He’s fine with the idea that his own religious canons are really just stories written by people, meant as allegorical guidance. He’s less fine when Aeonist texts turn out to be pretty accurate descriptions of what’s out there…
The best cosmic horror is psychological study, a close-up look at what happens when someone’s worldview is turned completely upside down. Winter Tide is about how many ways there are to up-end a worldview. For some people, that upheaval takes horror from beyond the stars. For others, all it requires is a closer look at humanity itself. The whole cast of Winter Tide, whatever kind of book they think they’re in, are right in the thick of both.
Ruthanna Emrys lives in a mysterious manor house on the outskirts of Washington, DC with her wife and their large, strange family. She makes home-made vanilla, obsesses about game design, gives unsolicited advice, and occasionally attempts to save the world. Her stories have appeared in a number of venues, including Strange Horizons, Analog, and Tor.com. Winter Tide is her first novel.
K. Bird Lincoln is joining us today with her novel Dream Eater. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Koi Pierce dreams other peoples’ dreams.
Her whole life she’s avoided other people. Any skin-to-skin contact—a hug from her sister, the hand of a barista at Stumptown coffee—transfers flashes of that person’s most intense dreams. It’s enough to make anyone a hermit.
But Koi’s getting her act together. No matter what, this time she’s going to finish her degree at Portland Community College and get a real life. Of course it’s not going to be that easy. Her father, increasingly disturbed from Alzheimer’s disease, a dream fragment of a dead girl from the casual brush of a creepy PCC professor’s hand, and a mysterious stranger who speaks the same rare Northern Japanese dialect as Koi’s father will force Koi to learn to trust in the help of others, as well as face the truth about herself.
What’s K. Bird’s favorite bit?
K. BIRD LINCOLN
When Joseph Campbell Isn’t Enough: Or why I hunger for Baku
There’s this memory I have of being in my elementary school library during lunch hour, running my fingers over the spines of books in the 398.2 area of nonfiction (folktales and myths) and being thrilled with the cornucopia of Red Riding Hood tales, Changelings, Greek Heroes, Baba Yaga, and Babe the Blue Ox.
Through them I discovered a hunger for the stories we tell ourselves as a people.
In high school I discovered Joseph Campbell and delved into those tales. Stories which evoked the psychic unity of mankind as manifested in the Hero’s Journey or Creation Myths.
For a while, that satisfied my hunger.
But I was hungry again by college—just when I had to choose a language to study to meet graduation requirements—and met a boy. A very, very cute boy who was also a Japanese Studies major. So I started to study Japanese language, history, and psychology. It began to dawn on me that Joseph Campbell, while certainly including myths from Asian countries in his writing, was as bound by the same white, Euro-centric cultural upbringing in the interpretation and focus on myths as I was.
And I realized that my hunger for making sense of the stories meant I had to not only unify and categorize, but also delve into the weird, obscure (this was before Neil Gaiman’s American Gods or the TV show Grimm) and not-oft-mentioned stories.
If you’re a manga or anime fan, you probably know about Kitsune. Kij Johnson’s The Fox Woman, Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman: The Dream Hunters, MTV’s Teen Wolf, Pokemon, Disney’s Robin Hood—the trickster fox is one of those easy-to-plug-into Euro-centric culture myths. What really fed my hunger to find meaning in a true diversity of human experience and thought, were the other kinds of myths: the dream-eating baku, the turtle-esque kappa with their polite fanaticism, bowls of water embedded in their heads, and propensity for rape or murder, and the avian-demon tengu that evolved from fierce and violent protectors of the forest to amiable bumpkins easily duped by humans.
Reading tales of the kappa and the tengu challenged me to wrap my mind around the interaction and seeding of religion and culture that occurred from India to China through Korean and into Japan. They forced me to realize a broader view of what civilization was (476-800 BCE was by no means “dark ages” for India, China, and Japan) and understand my own cultural viewpoint was quite narrow. Kappa and Tengu were exotic, they tickled my fancy for far-off flavors and stories of people I could easily label “other”, “different”, “strange”.
But then I married a Tokyo boy and had daughters—and all of a sudden I became hungry again to seek that which unifies rather than that which makes of us “the other.” (Because my daughters’ future psychotherapy bills depended upon it.) How could these freaky tales, these monsters, from the very primitive depths/hindbrains of such different cultural minds be incorporated into a psychically whole being?
Baku are ungainly. Awkward chimaeras of tiger and elephant, possibly inspired by sightings of ancient tapir.
Commonly known from 18th and 19th century Japanese netsuke (a miniature sculpture originally developed as a closure for small sacks used as pockets in yukata and kimono ) carvings like these.
Baku eat bad dreams. Although, if they are called upon too often and remain hungry after digging into a nightmare, they may stay to eat your hopes, aspirations, and ambitions as well. A chancy helper. But it was to baku I was drawn. Baku are just strange enough to have no real parallel in European culture that I could easily identify, yet they tap into a universal human vulnerability—our psyche as we sleep, the most primitive and meaningful images of our dreaming, and the ways our brains organize and incorporate information.
What would it mean to have one foot in the waking and one foot in the dream world? What does it mean to come from two very distinct cultures like Japan and America? Baku appeal to me because of their very disjointedness, the chimerical nature that attempts to incorporate disparate pieces into a whole. (Here’s where my daughters would roll their teenage eyes and tell me they are not chimaeras but people, and stop drawing parallels between bicultural identity and myths).
But it’s too late. My hunger for the obscure tales, coupled with my desire to find unity in diversity, have already lead to making Koi, my Dream Eater protagonist, both half-baku and half-Japanese. I can’t promise Koi discovers any Joseph Campbell- style universal truths in her journey, but she does get to wrestle with trickster kitsune, Armenian dragons, and Pacific Northwest ice hags and trickster bluejays.
K. Bird Lincoln is an ESL professional and writer living on the windswept Minnesota Prairie with family and a huge addiction to frou-frou coffee. Also dark chocolate– without which, the world is a howling void. Originally from Cleveland, she has spent more years living on the edges of the Pacific Ocean than in the Midwest. Her speculative short stories are published in various online & paper publications such as Strange Horizons. Her medieval Japanese fantasy series, Tiger Lily, is available from Amazon. She also writes tasty speculative and YA fiction reviews under the name K. Bird at Goodreads.com. Sign up for her sporadic newsletter, The Mossy Glen from her facebook page and get access to free goodies– both readable and edible.
Aliette de Bodard is joining us today with her novel The House of Binding Thorns. Here’s the publisher’s description:
The multi-award-winning author of The House of Shattered Wings continues her Dominion of the Fallen saga as Paris endures the aftermath of a devastating arcane war….
As the city rebuilds from the onslaught of sorcery that nearly destroyed it, the great Houses of Paris, ruled by Fallen angels, still contest one another for control over the capital.
House Silverspires was once the most powerful, but just as it sought to rise again, an ancient evil brought it low. Phillippe, an immortal who escaped the carnage, has a singular goal—to resurrect someone he lost. But the cost of such magic might be more than he can bear.
In House Hawthorn, Madeleine the alchemist has had her addiction to angel essence savagely broken. Struggling to live on, she is forced on a perilous diplomatic mission to the underwater dragon kingdom—and finds herself in the midst of intrigues that have already caused one previous emissary to mysteriously disappear….
As the Houses seek a peace more devastating than war, those caught between new fears and old hatreds must find strength—or fall prey to a magic that seeks to bind all to its will.
What’s Aliette’s favorite bit?
ALIETTE DE BODARD
My favourite bit of writing The House of Binding Thorns was re-imagining the geography of my alternate Paris.
The Dominion of the Fallen series, which comprises The House of Shattered Wings and The House of Binding Thorns, is set in an alternate 20th Century where a huge magical war between factions devastated Paris and much of Europe–and where the survivors are still fighting a Cold War of attrition in the ruins, with political intrigue and covert use of magic.
I wanted to take familiar tourist (or local) sights and give them an eerie twist. The dome of the great department store Les Galeries Lafayette is now broken, and gang-members scavenge in the ruined counters; the Seine is black with magical pollution and pulls people from bridges and quays; the grand mansions of the powerful, the hôtels particuliers, have floral wallpaper flecked with mould and gravel flecked with dirt in their gardens, …
I based the geography of my post-magical-war Paris in the turn-of-the-century Parisian one: a very important (but excessively geeky one) was whether I took into account Baron Haussman’s extensive modifications to the geography of the city: I decided to do so, partly because this would result in a map that wasn’t too unfamiliar to the reader (and I was already juggling a lot of unfamiliarity!).
It’s pretty easy today to find amazingly detailed maps of Paris from this time period (I used this one ).
I’ve lived in Paris for decades, so it was a bit of a weird experience imagining what a magical war would have done to the streets. I would walk in front of a particularly distinctive building, and think, “Ah-ha, I could use this, how would it have changed?”. This occurred a lot when writing The House of Binding Thorns: the titular House, Hawthorn, had a decayed hôtel particulier vibe, and as it happened I would run a lot of errands in the vicinity of these.
One problem I hadn’t anticipated was making sure I was not committing huge anachronisms: because I know Paris very well, I would write a bridge or a street and not always check that they did exist back then. The most embarrassing mistake I made was having two characters cross the Bir-Hakeim Bridge, in the south west of Paris: I was very slow to realise it had been named for a famous WWII battle that hadn’t happened in my alternate chronology!
I also had a lot of fun with the different magical factions: all the Houses have names that are pertinent to their location. House Astragale is in the suburb of Saint-Ouen, which once was the headquarters for the military order of the Star: I picked “astragale” because it was close to “astral” but is actually the name of a bone (it *is* creepy Paris, after all!). House Silverspires is on Ile de la Cité, which had the most churches in Paris in the mid-19th Century and would therefore have looked like a sea of white spires from afar.
Lest this make me look very serious, I’ll also admit to terrible bilingual word play: House Hawthorn, the aforementioned decadent hotel particulier, is a fast-and-loose transcription of “Auteuil”, the wealthy southwestern suburb of Paris where it’s based. It’s also a tree with beautiful flowers, prickly thorns and a very invasive tendency, which happens to describe the House to a tee!
I’ll leave you with a passage that describes the inside of House Hawthorn:
The House was silent: it was still dark and freezing cold outside, with another hour or so to go to dawn, when the kitchen and laundry rooms would come alive, and the drudges would take their mops and brooms into the corridors, and light, one by one, the big chandeliers with candles on poles, to signal the beginning of the day.
Thuan had wandered it, at night, when only the bakers in the kitchens were up, kneading dough for the massive stone ovens: the main, cavernous edifice; the small, winding streets spreading out from beyond the gardens, their buildings cracked limestone confections with rusted wrought-iron balconies, and dependents in embroidered dresses and top hats leaning, languidly, against the pillars of blackened porches and patios. The broken ruins in the corners of the gardens: the abandoned buildings, with the trails of water running down glass panes like tears; the melted, pitted limestone overgrown with ivy and other creepers; the black debris mixed in with the gravel; and the broken-off hands on the statues in the fountains. All the traces of the war, in a House that hadn’t been spared by it.
He wandered corridor after corridor, losing himself in the labyrinth of the West Wing, running a hand on the wainscot of cracked wooden panels, his fingers brushing the engraved figures of game animals and trees. There was something addictive, alluring about standing outside the bedrooms of the House’s elite, the leaders of each court, and their being none the wiser as to the danger he represented.
He stopped at a crossroads between two corridors, to look at a striking piece, a stag whose antlers blurred and merged into the thorns of a tree. Dogs were harrying it, yet the beast held itself tall and proud, as if it didn’t even deign to notice them. The detail had chipped away, and there was dust around the design, a thickening layer like a gray outline.
On the right, the corridor curved sharply, flaring into something very much like an antechamber, at the end of which was a huge set of wooden doors. They were strangely plain: painted with a scattering of faded silver stars against a dark gray background. Two of those stars were falling from the firmament; their silver tinged with the scarlet of blood, a shade that never quite seemed to hold as the viewer moved.
It smelled, faintly, of bergamot and citrus, and Thuan had no business being there.
Aliette de Bodard writes speculative fiction: her short stories have garnered her two Nebula Awards, a Locus Award and two British Science Fiction Association Awards. She is the author of The House of Shattered Wings, a novel set in a turn-of-the-century Paris devastated by a magical war, which won the 2015 British Science Fiction Association Award, and its standalone sequel The House of Binding Thorns (Ace/Gollancz). She lives in Paris.
Been awhile, eh? I wrote two novels in the last year and let short fiction slip to the side. Or back. Or under… or whatever. POINT BEING that I just finished a short story and could use some fresh eyes on it. Here’s the teaser.
THE WORSHIPFUL SOCIETY OF GLOVERS
Outside the window of their garrett, the cockle-seller hollered, “Cockles an’ mussels! Cockles an’ mussels!” Her voice blended with the other London morning street sounds to mean that Vaughn was going to be late.
“Botheration.” He tied off the thread in the fine blue leather of the gloves he was stitching and snipped it with the little pair of silver sheers he’d snuck out of the master’s shop. Be his hide if he were caught taking them home, but worse if he bit the thread off instead of snipping it neat. No telling what his saliva would do when the guild brownie added the beauty spell to it.
Shoving back his chair, Vaughn tucked the shears into the pocket of his waistcoat. He grabbed the gloves with one hand and a slice of rye bread with the other.
His sister laughed, “Are you going to be late again?”
“Was trying to finish these gloves for Master Martin.” He slid the gloves into the pocket of his coat, heading for the door. “I’ll be glad when 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 bread and the gloves and spun, but not in time to catch her.
If you want to read, just comment on my site and I’ll send the story to the first five to ten folks.
Thanks all! I think I’m set now. There’s a chance that I’ll do a second pass with this one, so feel free to raise your virtual hand. For the moment though, I’ve got enough readers.
This is disappointing, because I had done some early groundwork for this year, which I’m not going to get to use. I tweeted a thing that looked like something Chuck Tingle might write, left it up for five minutes, and then deleted it. This is a screen shot that someone sent to ask if I were, in fact, Chuck Tingle.
I even wrote to him to ask if it were okay for me to pretend to be him. (Because otherwise, I would be taking credit for someone else’s work, which is something only devilmen would do.) He said, “hello TRUE BUCKAROO name of mary, you make books real you make books kiss the sky! this is a good way for all who like to read and i am happy that you write with love. this funny prank (HAHAHAHAHA) is a WAY of love and that is okay”
So there you go. Groundwork laid. Time non-existent. I guess you could say that my plans were pounded in the butt by my own scheduling conflicts.
On the other hand, this is potentially the most Schrodinger of possible posts to make today: Am I really Chuck Tingle and using this to convince you that I’m not, OR am I not remotely Chuck Tingle and using this to make you think I am?
Whichever version of reality you choose to live in, just be assured that LOVE IS REAL.
Mary here, keeping you in the loop about what I’ll be doing and the places I’ll be going in April.
Friday 31 March to Sunday 2 April: Short Story Intensive (online)
Sunday 23 April: Patron class on contracts for Patreon Supporters
Monday 24 April to Thursday 27 April: FutureScapes Writers’ Workshop (Sundance Resort, Utah)
Friday 28 April to Sunday 30 April: Short Story Intensive (online)
In case you didn’t get my last newsletter, or if you’re new (welcome!), I recently started a Patreon so that I can create fiction, puppets, and the things that you, my dear fans, are here for with greater reliability and ease. What do patrons get from this, pray tell? Well, aside from the obligatory pictures of my cats and their antics (honestly, what would the internet be without cat pictures?), there are online classes, novel excerpts, and other exclusive goodies. (For example, I just posted a giant list of the rejected titles for the Lady Astronaut novels, because titles are hard.)
And why is this important for me? It gives a bit more of a stable foundation to the freelancer lifestyle, which means I won’t have to take gigs that don’t interest me, and helps me focus on the projects I’m more passionate about.
P.S. In other news, I recently completed a novel. Have a drink!
P.P.S You can sign up for my newsletter and or event notifications on the right sidebar of the website.
Rosalyn Eves is joining us today to talk about her novel Blood Rose Rebellion. Here’s the publisher’s description:
The thrilling first book in a YA fantasy trilogy for fans of Red Queen. In a world where social prestige derives from a trifecta of blood, money, and magic, one girl has the ability to break the spell that holds the social order in place.
Sixteen-year-old Anna Arden is barred from society by a defect of blood. Though her family is part of the Luminate, powerful users of magic, she is Barren, unable to perform the simplest spells. Anna would do anything to belong. But her fate takes another course when, after inadvertently breaking her sister’s debutante spell—an important chance for a highborn young woman to show her prowess with magic—Anna finds herself exiled to her family’s once powerful but now crumbling native Hungary.
Her life might well be over.
In Hungary, Anna discovers that nothing is quite as it seems. Not the people around her, from her aloof cousin Noémi to the fierce and handsome Romani Gábor. Not the society she’s known all her life, for discontent with the Luminate is sweeping the land. And not her lack of magic. Isolated from the only world she cares about, Anna still can’t seem to stop herself from breaking spells.
As rebellion spreads across the region, Anna’s unique ability becomes the catalyst everyone is seeking. In the company of nobles, revolutionaries, and Romani, Anna must choose: deny her unique power and cling to the life she’s always wanted, or embrace her ability and change that world forever.
What’s Rosalyn’s favorite bit?
As a debut novelist, being asked to choose my favorite part of the story is a bit like being asked to choose my favorite child (the correct answer, for those interested, is that it depends on the day).
But one of the things I loved about writing Blood Rose Rebellion was the research—specifically, finding little details that made the setting come alive. The novel is set primarily in an alternate nineteenth-century Hungary that closely resembles our world, with the addition of magic.
When our intrepid heroine, Anna, first arrives in Hungary—having been sent from Britain in disgrace—she’s not disposed to like it. She’s been forced to give up a familiar world for one she only knows through her grandmother’s stories. Instead of the glamour of the London season, she finds herself at Eszterháza, a run-down estate surrounded by farms and fields and miles from any kind of society.
When I first started researching Hungarian noble estates, I picked Eszterháza because it belonged to a preeminent 19th century Hungarian noble family, and the location was good for the story I wanted to tell. But as I dove into the research, I was thrilled by the ways the estate mirrored some of the themes and even the tonal quality I wanted in the book.
In the mid 18th-century, an Esterhazy prince decided to expand the existing hunting lodge into an estate to rival Versailles—and poured an insane amount of money into what was essentially swamp land to do so. Joseph Haydn lived at the estate for months, composing music: his baryton trios, multiple operas, and Opus 33, among others. Empress Maria Theresa visited the palace with the entire Viennese court.
But seventy-five years later, this estate had been virtually abandoned. A 19th century British visitor reported that bats were lodging in the magnificent opera house; a guidebook to the estate claims that sheep were kept in the ornate Sala Terrena.
I loved both details—the crumbling aristocratic estate made a perfect visual metaphor for the diseased society Anna comes to resist. But my very favorite detail was this:
Two separate travel narratives reported the existence of a fey child in the swamps near Eszterháza in the 18th century. The boy was perhaps ten, with webbed feet and long, dagger-like nails, living off fish and frogs. Some kind-hearted individual living on the estate tried to rescue the child by bringing him into the palace, but he escaped weeks later and eventually disappeared.
I wondered about this child, how he came to be in the swamp, how his existence persisted in urban legends surrounding a baroque estate. Somehow, the presence of the uncanny in combination with an otherwise mundane (if expensive) palace made both seem more otherworldly. In my story, the child exists only as a statue in the hallways, but the existence of that other-world only a breath away from a manufactured reality manifests in various ways throughout the book—though you’ll have to read the book to find out how.
In many ways, this book is my love letter to Hungary—and I hope that details like these help readers fall in love with Hungary too.
Rosalyn Eves grew up in the Rocky Mountains, dividing her time between reading books and bossing her siblings into performing her dramatic scripts. As an adult, the telling and reading of stories is still one of her favorite things to do. When she’s not reading or writing, she enjoys spending time with her chemistry professor husband and three children, watching British period pieces, or hiking through the splendid landscape of southern Utah, where she lives. She dislikes housework on principle.
She has a PhD in English from Penn State, which means she also endeavors to inspire college students with a love for the English language. Sometimes it even works.
Her first novel, BLOOD ROSE REBELLION, first in a YA historical fantasy trilogy, debuts March 28, 2017 from Knopf/Random House.
Stacey Berg is joining us today with her novel Regeneration. Here’s the publisher’s description:
The world is ready to be reborn…
Protected by the Church for four hundred years, the people of the City are the last of humanity—or so they thought. Echo Hunter 367, made to be faithful to the Church and its Saint at all costs, embarks on what she’s sure is a suicide mission into the harsh desert beyond the City. Then, at the end of all hope, she stumbles on a miracle: another enclave of survivors, a lush, peaceful sanctuary completely opposite of anything Echo has ever known.
But the Preserve has dark secrets of its own, and uncovering them may cost Echo more than just her life. She fears her discoveries will trigger a final, disastrous war. But if Echo can stop the Church and Preservers from destroying each other, she might have a chance to achieve her most impossible dream—saving the woman she loves.
What’s Stacey’s favorite bit?
My favorite bit of Regeneration is a scene between the main character, Echo Hunter 367, and the younger hunter Gem. In the run-up to this exchange, Gem has been standing guard in the Church’s sanctuary, watching over the Saint on whom their lives depend. Echo, who would normally claim that assignment for herself, instead has made up an excuse to stay away. Now Gem calls her on it:
Gem appeared at the door from within. “You have been avoiding the sanctuary.”
“My services have been required for storm preparations.”
“If your other duties permit, perhaps you could assist here as well.”
The request sounded strange to Echo, coming from the girl who had been so arrogant. “You have always performed adequately without my assistance.”
A pause, then: “Perhaps you are right. One can watch as well as two; there is no sense wasting a resource.”
“Is that all it is to you? A matter of resources?”
Gem cocked her head. “What else should a hunter consider?”
Friendship. That we matter to one another. But hunters did not speak of such things. Then Echo saw in Gem’s face that that was what she offered, like a handhold for a slipping grip, if one dared to reach for it . . . Echo couldn’t find her voice.
I love this bit because when I started the book, I knew that romantic love was at its heart, but I had no idea that other relationships would be nearly as important. Yet friendship became a key theme throughout the story. Echo and Gem are hunters, women created to guard the Church and fulfill their duty without question; their personal needs and desires are of no consequence. In Dissension, the first Echo Hunter 367 book, Echo started as Gem’s teacher, but the younger woman quickly grew into a rival who first challenged, then ultimately defeated Echo. By the end of that story, Echo regarded Gem as the perfect hunter Echo never could be—but Gem gained a kind of admiration for Echo, too. In Regeneration, the two women appear to be working towards a common goal on behalf of the Church, yet it’s not clear to Echo what Gem really feels—or if she cares for anything at all beyond her duty.
This uncertainty gave me a great opportunity to explore the ways in which Echo has and hasn’t overcome her own limitations. For example, in the scene above, she is able to recognize her desire to mean something to Gem. She is even brave enough to challenge Gem to admit what Echo already has learned: that hunters care about each other deeply. And perhaps alone of all hunters, Echo can glimpse what Gem, once so hard and cold, is trying to offer her.
And yet—and yet. At this point in the story, Echo is not quite able to speak such words out loud. She doesn’t know how to accept the hand that Gem is holding out to her. The moment that passes here is for me one of the most poignant in the book.
But we know Echo, and we know that she’ll keep after it, right until the end. Her friendship with Gem is a subplot, not the main event, but Echo has to figure it out before she can resolve the major events in the rest of the story. So this scene matters, the way friends matter to one another. It feels real to me. This bit isn’t a conversation between characters who understand themselves perfectly because they’ve spent years examining their own lives and psyches. Instead, it’s a snatched intimate moment between two people who are just discovering themselves, just learning to be human, and doing it on the fly in the middle of the end, or the beginning, of the world. That’s why it’s my favorite bit.
Stacey Berg is a medical researcher who writes speculative fiction. Her work as a physician-scientist provides the inspiration for many of her stories. She lives with her wife in Houston and is a member of the Writers’ League of Texas. When she’s not writing, she practices kung fu and runs half marathons. She is represented by Mary C. Moore of Kimberley Cameron & Associates. You can visit her at www.staceyberg.com.
Sherri Smith is joining us today to talk about her novel Follow Me Down. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Mia Haas has built her life far from the North Dakota town where she grew up, but when she receives word that her twin brother is missing, she is forced to return home. Back to the people she left behind, the person she used to be, and the secrets she thought she’d buried.
Once hailed as the golden boy of their town, and now a popular high school teacher, Lucas Haas disappears the same day the body of one of his students is pulled from the river. Trying to wrap her head around the rumors of Lucas’s affair with the teen, and unable to reconcile the media’s portrayal of Lucas as a murderer with her own memories of him, Mia is desperate to find another suspect.
All the while, she wonders: If he’s innocent, why did he run?
As Mia reevaluates their difficult, shared history and launches her own investigation into the grisly murder, she uncovers secrets that could exonerate Lucas—or seal his fate. In a small town where everyone’s lives are intertwined, Mia must confront her own demons if she wants to get out alive.
What’s Sherri’s favorite bit?
My favorite bit from FOLLOW ME DOWN is a scene that happens after Mia goes to visit her toxic mother who lives in a care home (pages 52-55). Mia has run back to her car, and in an emotional frenzy, rips into a make-up bag full of pills she brought for this trip back to her hometown.
It’s that teetering moment when Mia breaks her recent recovery from a pill addiction. What I specifically like about this scene is how it connects bad parenting to a certain level of adult misery and self-hatred. Pills (or other addictive substances) tend to take the edge off of this and seeing her mother, confronting their tangled history, provides her with just the right excuse to cave.
In this scene, Mia gives her account of how she started using in college as a social crutch or study buddy, and progressed to stealing from a hospital dispensary where she worked as a pharmacist. She likes to maintain an image of success but inwardly struggles to keep her addiction a secret. Even during her shaky bouts of sobriety, she tends to isolate herself because she feels a controlled environment gives her the best shot at self-restraint. But now that she’s been forced to return to home to the mother she left behind, to look for a missing brother who might be a killer, everything has come crashing down.
The pills win out.
“Why not? Why don’t you have a husband?” Her voice went high into a schoolyard taunt, but was too rough to pull it off, so she sounded like a seven- year- old with bronchitis.
“Haven’t met the right one yet.”
She turned away from her canvas and faced me.
“Maybe if you dressed nicer.” She started jabbing her paintbrush hard into the Styrofoam plate and walked toward me. The plate balanced on her fingertips. “I think you would look good in ruby red.”
She bent in close, poised over me, so that I was nose to nose with her. Cracker dust dotted her lower lip. For a second I thought she was going to kiss me, and I tried hard not to shrink back. Her eyes narrowed, she made an uh- huh sound like she’d answered some question she’d posed in her mind, and reflexively my lips curled up. She knows. She knows that I did this to her. The truth was somewhere in her mind, scurrying around inside one of her brain’s many hollows, and one day she’d catch it. I was sure of it.
Then Mimi’s hand snapped back fast, her eyes went dark, and she wielded the paintbrush like a maestro’s baton, bringing it down in a spatter of rusty-red slashes. Running the brush all over the front of my white V- neck.
“Mimi, stop.” I stood up, forcing her to step back.
“But you look so much better in red.” I caught her by the wrist as gently as I could, but this turned out to be wrong thing to do. She dropped her plate of paint upside down in the grass, pulled free, shrieked loud enough the birds scattered, and started to stab her brush over and over into her painting, tearing up the canvas. “Look at what you’ve made me do.”
The nurse came running out. “Are you hurt?” She looked at my chest in horror. “I’m fine. I’m fine. It’s just paint.”
The nurse turned her focus to Mimi, trying to calm her as I made a run for it back to my car.
Before I could even slip the key into the ignition, I ripped the red makeup bag out of the glove compartment. Unzipped it, turned it upside down, scattered the orange pill bottles on the passenger seat, and read the labels, quick as a savant. There was a little of everything, Xanax, Ativan, Valium, Adderall, Ambien, Percocet. Don’t think about it! Don’t think! My mouth watering, I uncapped the bottle that would best blur the edges. Closed my eyes and enjoyed the chalky, bitter taste rolling down my throat.
I was a pill popper. Lately, a recovered pill popper. Though maybe “recovered” was a little too hopeful; I did bring the stash I could never force myself to flush. It started in college. A BZP at a party, and I was smooth- talking my way into a crowd much cooler than myself. A social crutch that self- perpetuated, and soon I needed an Adderall study buddy or an Ambien for a much-needed marathon sleep. More BZP.
I became fluent in doctor shopping, knew all the symptoms for whatever ailment would get me my desired prescription. I pillaged medicine cabinets at parties. From there, it seemed a natural progression to a degree in pharmaceuticals.
My first job was a residency at Northwestern Memorial (one of the top-ten highest-ranking hospitals in the US—impressed yet?). I did rounds, taking medication lists from patients. Tried to soothe them in their worst moments. I loved elderly patients the most. I was their purveyor of goods that had, up to this point, kept them alive. “You’ll get your heart medication right here at the hospital, OK? Be right back.” I had to think under pressure. Use my degree. Analyze dosage and interactions. I made recommendations to the physicians! I was trained in Code Blue!
But of course a busy, overworked hospital dispensary was too tempting. A pill popper’s Shangri-la. I started double- dipping, just a pill here and there. The chief pharmacist, a cheery woman with big hair and a troubled son (code for drug addict), who referred to herself as my mentor, began to suspect what I was up to. She called me into her office one after noon, a cubby of a room wallpapered with order forms, and asked me point-blank if I was stealing.
“No, of course not!”
“Can I check your pockets?”
We spent a few minutes playing stare- down. If she checked my lab pocket, she’d find two tablets of Oxycontin. If she didn’t, she wouldn’t have a scandal on her hands. She wouldn’t be questioned on her own ability to run things. “Why, Mia? You have so much promise. Why are you doing this to yourself?”
The way she looked at me, with such stinging parental disappointment, I could feel myself shrink down to figurine size. I couldn’t answer. How did I describe the gnawing feeling that thrummed underneath everything I did? How pills made it easier to live with myself, with the secret I was keeping? An offer was made that we both pretended was born solely out of her goodwill: if I went into a program and got help, she wouldn’t report me to the state licensing board. I agreed, and she shuffled me out of the hospital like a broken IV pole.
I finished the program. Moved into my new apartment. Found a new job as a glorified cashier with relentless, terrible hours. I started jogging, a hamster-wheel endeavor for that runner’s high that kept eluding me beyond a few fleeting gasps of well-being.
So it had been two years since I’d pulled out my little red makeup bag. Two long years that I’d fought against my plentiful triggers.
I should really throw the pill up before it starts to dissolve in my hungry stomach acid and works its way into my bloodstream. Before it makes my neurons fizz. I should zip the bag back up and toss it in the next Dumpster. I eyed the bag like it was a baited animal trap. Like the bag itself was the bad influence. I stuffed the pill bottles back inside. Ordered myself again to throw up.
But I didn’t. I was looking forward to the fizz too much. Instead I put the makeup bag back inside the glove compartment. Flopped back against the headrest, closed my eyes for a second or two, then started to drive.
Two long years.
And now there I was.
It’s quite a pivotal moment because from here Mia goes forward in her search for her brother under the jumbled influence of pills. She tells herself she knows what she’s doing (she’s a pharmacist after all,) and her misuse leads to all kinds of havoc, and pushes her deeper into her psychological hell.
But it’s not ALL bad. The pills also give her an advantage she wouldn’t otherwise have to find the brother she’s fiercely loyal to. She’s tenacious, independent and funny because it’s how she negotiated her troubled past, and she uses the pills to power up all of her strengths. She takes risks. She’s able to stay awake longer, numb herself to the mounting dread and keep herself sharp on stimulates. She blazes through the town in her cherry red PT cruiser, popping pills, willing to do whatever it takes to get to the truth and it all starts here, at my favorite bit!
When not writing SHERRI SMITH spends time with her family and two rescue dogs, and restores vintage furniture that would otherwise be destined for the dump. She lives in Winnipeg, Canada, where the long, cold winters nurture her dark side. FOLLOW ME DOWN is her first thriller. Visit her online at http://www.sherri-smith.com/, and on Twitter, @SL_Smith_.
Randy Henderson is joining us today with his novel Smells Like Finn Spirit. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Finn Gramaraye is back in the final installment of Randy Henderson’s Familia Arcana series, which began in Finn Fancy Necromancy, and Bigfootloose and Finn Fancy Free.
Finn’s re-adaptation to the human world is not going so well. He’s got a great girlfriend, and is figuring out how things like the internet work, but he is still carrying the disembodied personality of Alynon, Prince of the Silver Demesne, the fae who had occupied his body during his imprisonment. And he’s not getting along at all with his older brother. And oh, by the way, an enemy from his past is still trying to possess him in order to bring about Armageddon.
What’s Randy’s favorite bit?
Well Finn, we did it. A trilogy. Quite a ride, eh?
“Sure, like riding a drunk porcupine set on fire! So much fun, oh creator of mine.”
Uh … right. So what’s your favorite bit about Smells Like Finn Spirit?
“Oh, I don’t know … the bit where no crazy magical creatures try to kill me or acrana supremacists try to conquer the world, and I get to just snuggle down with my true love to eat pizza and watch Valley Girl together?”
So pretty much the opposite of everything that actually happens?
“Pretty much. What is your favorite bit?”
Seeing how you and your story evolved over the three books. You’re in a trilogy! So many of the fantasy series and movie franchises that I’ve loved were trilogies.
“Like the increasingly inaccurately named Hitchhiker’s trilogy?”
Right. Point being, I am pretty dang happy right now. I mean, I know you are the one who had to do all the fighting –
“Yeah, thanks for that! Sasquatches? Jor?gumo? Freaking racist vampires? What were you thinking?”
Yes, well, I mean, I wrote you some fun times too though, right? The romance, the humor –
“Romance and humor? Yeah. Thanks for constantly talk blocking me! All the dorky or dumb things you made me say to my girlfriend that caused problems? Not to mention the smart-ass quips that get me into trouble with everyone I meet.”
Well, yes, but –
“And my family! I know you were going for comedic family dysfunction, but I mean, poor Petey! He’s such a sweetie! Why make him think he was a waerwolf for most his life? Or make Sammy allergic to magic? And what I really don’t get is Mort. Why would you stick anyone with him as a brother? Or –”
Yes, okay! I get it. I put you all through heckfire. But I went through it all with you, you know. I lived it as I wrote it, the joys and the pains. I grew as a writer and a person over these same years. And these were the first books I’d ever written on deadline, that was quite a challenge.
“So you think standing around in your boxers sipping chai doing the noble work of thinking up Point Break jokes really compares to facing down an angry gnome mob or seeing a waer-collie flirt with your girlfriend?”
Okay, okay! All I am trying to say is this journey together has been my favorite bit, and with the trilogy arc complete, I feel kind of like I too saved the world, or at least I feel much of what I imagine you felt, that sense of happiness, and Mission Accomplished!
“Clearly you have already forgotten what actually happens at the climax of the book, when you –”
Hey! Why don’t we share an excerpt now? Something non-spoilery and silly, huh?
“Sure. Hi, lovely readers. Here is just one example of the kind of creatures that my bonkos creator makes me face in Smells Like Finn Spirit. I suspect thinking these things up to torture me is really his favorite bit. What a super swell guy he is. You should totally buy his books.”
It rose up, a massive armored body of rusted iron and tarnished brass, seven feet tall at least, like a four-armed ogre sculpted by a mad welder as the stage prop for a death metal band.
An autozombaton. Oh gods.
These horrific automatons had been banned since the Fey-Arcana War of the Civil War era that spawned them, for much the same reason civilized countries tried banning chemical weapons, human cloning, or tabloid journalism — the cost to our humanity was just too great.
How they came to exist in the first place had been a series of desperate solutions to problems that should have been dropped into a dark hole and forgotten to begin with.
First, you have to understand that zombies tend to move slower than a frozen slug past a traffic cop, and are dumber than a Biff Tannen book report. Part of that is that their brains and bodies are rotting away of course, and part of it is that they lack a real spirit to give them true will. Zombies are just meat puppets animated with life force stolen from other living beings.
Which is why, even in the most desperate times of war when the ban on dark necromancy and zombies had been given a blind eye, there were no zombie armies, and certainly no zombie apocalypse. All you had to do to escape a zombie was be able to move. At all. And failing that, just hit them hard — rotting corpses tended to fall apart pretty easily.
Then it was discovered that, for some weird reason, the slowness problem goes away when you re-animate a hardcore bigot.
Before banning experimentation on arcana prisoners, researchers learned that some people were severely lacking in will, the force that not only helps us get up in the morning but allows us to make the difficult choices and changes. These people were instead partly animated by a kind of small nuclear power source in their lizard brain, as if a small bit of their spirit been mutated by the primitive, unreasoning emotional energy there: a kind of spiritual cancer.
Nobody truly understood how or why it happened, but on further research it was found that all of these people were serious, scary bigots in some way.
The point being, even after death the bigot had a brain capable of driving action. And after death their hatred and self-loathing could be manipulated by necromancers like spiritual energy, in much the same way they had been easily manipulated by the worst politicians and religious leaders in life.
But there remained the problem of a rotting body. A rage zombie was still a stiff, disintegrating-sack-of-decay zombie.
And that’s where the thaumaturges came in.
These inventors of magical artifacts had created automatons as weapons, but with similar problems to the zombies. While thaumaturges could animate the machines and enspell basic instructions into them, the automatons were useless for doing complex tasks or fighting wars. And simply sticking someone inside to operate the suit had proven too difficult — the sheer bulk and convolution of controls and gears needed to manually operate such a beast reduced its speed down to that of a zombie.
But animate a ragey hate brain with necromancy, and transplant it into a mobile suit gundoom, and you got an autozombaton. Or as they were later called, robigots.
Yet even then, there remained a problem. Using a robigot as a weapon was a bit like unleashing a pack of rabid lions in your studio apartment to deal with a mouse problem. It wasn’t likely to end well for anyone, especially yourself.
Gena Showalter is joining us today with her novel Lifeblood. Here’s the publisher’s description:
“My Firstlife is over, but my Everlife is only now beginning.”
With her last living breath, Tenley “Ten” Lockwood made her choice and picked her realm in the Everlife. Now, as the war between Troika and Myriad rages, she must face the consequences.
Because Ten possesses a rare supernatural ability to absorb and share light, the Powers That Be have the highest expectations for her future—and the enemy wants her neutralized. Fighting to save her Secondlife, she must learn about her realm from the ground up while launching her first mission: convincing a select group of humans to join her side before they die. No pressure, right?
But Ten’s competition is Killian, the boy she can’t forget—the one who gave up everything for her happiness. He has only one shot at redemption: beating Ten at a game she’s never even played. As their throw-downs heat up, so do their undeniable feelings, and soon, Ten will have to make another choice. Love…or victory.
What’s Gena’s favorite bit?
In the Everlife series, the heroine—Ten Lockwood—is obsessed with numbers. So, when I assigned every character in the after life realms (Troika and Myriad) an “email” address, I wanted every number to mean something—like a code within the book—even if no one understood what those numbers meant. First up, I had to select a key.
Since scripture inspired the entire series—there are numerous scriptures about kingdoms not of this earth, kingdom vs. kingdom, a war between spiritual forces, the power of choice, life and death, blessing and cursing, light and dark, good and evil—I decided to use the Bible as the key.
T_L is her name: Tenley Lockwood. 2 is her rank within the realm (Conduit). 23 is the 23rd book in the Bible (Isaiah), 43 is the 43rd chapter, and 2 is the 2nd verse. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.”
K_F: Killian Flynn. 5 is his rank (5 = Laborer). Just as for Ten, 23 is for Isaiah, the 23rd book in the Bible. 53rd chapter, 6th verse. “All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all.” I selected this verse for Killian because, in the beginning, he is so lost. His choices have hurt so many, and yet deep down, he wants to do better—to be better. He wants to be loved.
A_P: Archer Prince. I selected the same verse for Archer that I selected for Tenley. Because, in book one –MAJOR SPOILER ALERT…STOP HERE IF YOU HAVEN’T READ FIRSTLIFE—
–NOW IS THE TIME TO STOP–
He dies. Ten loved him and claimed the address for herself.
Levi Nanne. 3 is his rank (General). The 19th book of the Bible is Psalms. Chapter 1, verse 1. “Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked…” I selected this passage for Levi because, to Ten, he offers the wise counsel she has so needed—the counsel she never received from her own parents.
Every numbered address has a meaning specific to the character, and I totally geeked out as I selected the right scripture for each and every one.
Gena Showalter is the New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author of the Intertwined Novels, the White Rabbit Chronicles, and the Everlife Novels, among numerous novels for an adult audience as well. Her stories have been praised as “unputdownable.” Gena lives in Oklahoma with her family and a menagerie of dogs. Follow her on twitter @genashowalter and visit her website at genashowalter.com.
(Tor Books — August 21, 2018) Continuing the grand sweep of alternate history laid out in The Calculating Stars, The Fated Sky looks forward to 1961, when mankind is well-established on the moon and looking forward to its next step: journeying to, and eventually colonizing, Mars. Of course, the noted Lady Astronaut Elma York would like to go, […]