RIP Peggy Rae Sapienza

Peggy Rae SapienzaBack when I was secretary at SFWA, we had a Nebula Awards Weekend in which the con chair’s house burned down. Peggy Rae Sapienza stepped in to help and was amazing. From the front of house, that weekend looked very smooth, and that’s largely because she was good at spotting problems before they became problems.

This was my first encounter with her. Over the years, we became friends. She was one of those people that you could rely on to make things better, regardless of the situation. Either personal or professional, you could count on her. And when she asked you for a favor, it was never one that you minded doing. She had a way of matching people with tasks that suited them.

One of my favorite things she asked me to do was to interview her when she was Fan Guest of Honour at ChiCon. This is the big official interview that happens in front of a live audience for a GoH. She asked me to interview her with a puppet. Her sense of whimsy was infectious.

I don’t think it would be inaccurate to say that Peggy Rae was a Queen SMOFS. For those who don’t know, a SMOF is a Secret Master of Fandom. These are the tireless, dedicated volunteers who run conventions. It’s one of those acronyms that started a joke, until people realized that it was accurate; there really was a secret unofficial group that made fandom happen. Peggy Rae? She was one of the best. If she was involved in a convention, you knew it would be a good one. In fact, I actually went to some cons simply because I knew she was running them. Well, and she asked me and one did not say no to Peggy Rae. One didn’t want to say no.

I am deeply, deeply saddened to learn that she has passed away. I will miss her.

My Favorite Bit: Alan Smale talks about CLASH OF EAGLES

My Favorite Bit iconAlan Smale is joining us today with his novel Clash of Eagles. Here’s the publisher’s description:

 Perfect for fans of military and historical fiction—including novels by such authors as Bernard Cornwell, Naomi Novik, and Harry Turtledove—this stunning work of alternate history imagines a world in which the Roman Empire has not fallen and the North American continent has just been discovered. In the year 1218 AD, transported by Norse longboats, a Roman legion crosses the great ocean, enters an endless wilderness, and faces a cataclysmic clash of warriors, worlds, and gods.

Ever hungry for land and gold, the Emperor has sent Praetor Gaius Marcellinus and the 33rd Roman Legion into the newly discovered lands of North America. Marcellinus and his men expect easy victory over the native inhabitants, but on the shores of a vast river the Legion clashes with a unique civilization armed with weapons and strategies no Roman has ever imagined.

Forced to watch his vaunted force massacred by a surprisingly tenacious enemy, Marcellinus is spared by his captors and kept alive for his military knowledge. As he recovers and learns more about these proud people, he can’t help but be drawn into their society, forming an uneasy friendship with the denizens of the city-state of Cahokia. But threats—both Roman and Native—promise to assail his newfound kin, and Marcellinus will struggle to keep the peace while the rest of the continent surges toward certain conflict.

What’s Alan’s favorite bit?



I’m happy to say that it took me a while to decide. After all, I’ve had my head in the world of Clash for many years now: Clash of Eagles was a novella before it was a novel, and then it became a trilogy, and then it sold to Del Rey, and today it finally gets its coming-out party. My favorite location is easy: it’s the ancient city of Cahokia, the great pre-Columbian metropolis on the banks of the Mississippi, close to where St. Louis stands today. Cahokia covered over five square miles and contained at least 120 mounds of packed earth and clay, some of them colossal. Some 20,000 people lived there, meaning that in our world in thirteenth century Cahokia was larger than London, and no city in northern America would be larger until the 1800s. It was a major hub of the Mississippian culture for several hundred years. Trying to bring Cahokia to life as a vibrant setting, as true to the archeological evidence as possible but inhabited by realistic, down-to-earth people, was one of the great joys of writing the book.

I also got a kick out of writing the battle scenes. When I’m reading history or SF novels I sometimes feel distanced by set piece battle scenes – and action scenes in general – because suddenly the narrative is all about the action and the tactics instead of the characters. I’ve skimmed many a battle scene in my reading life. I didn’t want anyone to skim mine, so I’ve done my level best to keep the conflicts intimately connected to the characters in the thick of them.

Ultimately, though, the scene that means the most to me is a calmer moment. After much blood and thunder and character-infused derring-do, my hero Gaius Marcellinus finds himself stranded in Cahokia. He is wounded, confused, isolated, guilty at the deaths he is responsible for, and – of course – speaks no Cahokian. The paramount chief, Great Sun Man, assigns three children to learn his language; in Nova Hesperia – my version of North America – children often help translate between the multitudes of tongues and dialects. This does not immediately go well, because

Marcellinus had no particular affinity for children; he had stopped talking to them at roughly the time he had stopped being one himself. He had treated his own daughter, Vestilia, like an adult from the time she was six.

The children are Tahtay, eleven winters old; Kimimela, eight winters; and my sneaking favorite–

The smallest of the three was called Enopay, which meant “bold” or “brave” or “defiant” or some other idea synonymous with standing up straight and strutting around with his fists up, and none of the three knew how old Enopay might be.

And away they go:

After that the work began in earnest, with Tahtay miming an action or an idea, saying a word, and then inviting Marcellinus to say the word in his own tongue. Their young brains soaked up his Latin like sponges.

Their efforts to teach him spoken Cahokian in return were an abject failure. Marcellinus could hold a Cahokian word in his mind only until Tahtay said something else, and then the first word slid out of his head as if it had never been there. He did much better with the gestural language, the hand-talk as Kimimela called it, because the gestures had their own logic; the sign for water involved pretending to drink from your cupped hand, sleep had him resting his cheek against his hands, and the sign for question—the most useful gesture of all and one he used constantly—required him to hold up his hand with his fingers open and waggle it at the wrist.

Even so, by noon Marcellinus was wearying of the effort, and the weight of his guilt was growing inside him once again. He swallowed the last of the chewy hazelnut cakes they had brought him, raised his hands in surrender, and stood.

“Hand-talk,” Tahtay said sternly in barely comprehensible Latin. “Sit, hand-talk hand-talk.”

Marcellinus swung his hand back and forth in the gesture for No and then  gestured Walk, graves.

“Walk to river,” Enopay counteroffered in Latin.

Walk graves, then walk river, signed Marcellinus.

Kimimela grimaced and gestured No. “Kimi hit food,” she said aloud.

“What?” Marcellinus said, and knocked twice on his right forearm with his left fist, which was the sign they had developed for when someone needed a definition.

Enopay mimed it. Kimimela, seeing what he was doing, mimed the same thing faster, as if competing or trying to catch up. “Huh,” said Tahtay, a grunt he had picked up from Marcellinus.

Marcellinus thought he understood. He pointed to Enopay’s arms. “Grind?” He pointed to the space beneath. “Corn?” He mimed eating to try to confirm it.

“Kimimela grind corn. No walk graves, grind corn,” said the girl.

“That’s quite a lot of Latin for one day,” Marcellinus said.


Marcellinus stood. The inactivity had rendered his leg muscles almost immobile. He tried not to let the children see how stiff and weary he was, wondering what the word for pride was. “Enopay,” probably.

For obvious reasons, speculative fiction writers tend to take short-cuts with language; in many books and movies the lead characters magically become fluent within weeks of their arrival in a new land. I wanted to try something more believable, and enjoyed the challenge of doing so without bogging the story down. I think it also helps to make Marcellinus’s isolation and lack of understanding of Cahokian culture more interesting and credible.

Tahtay, Kimimela, and Enopay guide Marcellinus’s path into Cahokian culture, and play significant roles in the plot – much more significant than I’d originally intended. Their growth as human beings and, eventually, co-protagonists continues to be a fun part of writing the second and third books in the series.

And that’s my favorite bit. Thanks, Mary, for letting me talk about it!



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Alan Smale grew up in Yorkshire, England, and now lives in the Washington, D.C., area. By day he works at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center as a professional astronomer, studying black holes, neutron stars, and other bizarre celestial objects. However, too many family vacations at Hadrian’s Wall in his formative years plus a couple of degrees from Oxford took their toll, steering his writing toward alternate, secret, and generally twisted history. He has sold numerous short stories to magazines including Asimov’s and Realms of Fantasy, and the novella version of Clash of Eagles won the 2010 Sidewise Award for Alternate History.

My Favorite Bit: Gabriel Squailia talks about DEAD BOYS

GMy Favorite Bit iconabriel Squailia is joining us today with his novel Dead Boys. Here’s the publisher’s description.

A decade dead, Jacob Campbell is a preservationist, providing a kind of taxidermy to keep his clients looking lifelike for as long as the forces of entropy will allow. But in the Land of the Dead, where the currency is time itself and there is little for corpses to do but drink, thieve, and gamble eternity away, Jacob abandons his home and his fortune for an opportunity to meet the man who cheated the rules of life and death entirely.

According to legend, the Living Man is the only adventurer to ever cross into the underworld without dying first. It’s rumored he met his end somewhere in the labyrinth of pubs beneath Dead City’s streets, disappearing without a trace. Now Jacob’s vow to find the Living Man and follow him back to the land of the living sends him on a perilous journey through an underworld where the only certainty is decay.

Accompanying him are the boy Remington, an innocent with mysterious powers over the bones of the dead, and the hanged man Leopold l’Eclair, a flamboyant rogue whose criminal ambitions spark the undesired attention of the shadowy ruler known as the Magnate.

An ambitious debut that mingles the fantastic with the philosophical, Dead Boys twists the well-worn epic quest into a compelling, one-of-a-kind work of weird fiction that transcends genre, recalling the novels of China Miéville and Neil Gaiman.

What’s Gabriel’s favorite bit?



Have you ever met someone who makes your life easier just by existing? Whose faith fits your doubt as if the two were cut from a single piece of wood? Who solves your thorniest problems just by showing up?

I have, or I wouldn’t be asking all these leading questions. And so, by the end of his quest, has the hero of Dead Boys, the fastidious corpse known as Jacob Campbell.

Jacob has enough drive to get his quest through the underworld started, but he is, if anything, too detail-oriented to pull off his plans alone. It’s a conundrum I’m familiar with: I’d been working on my first book for almost a decade before I met my wife, and while I could build cities, societies, and backstories with endless enthusiasm, I couldn’t seem to build up the steam I needed to get to the end of a hundred pages, let alone an entire novel. But my wife and I had a long, epistolary courtship, and as soon as we started talking about my process, something clicked. I decided to send her the chapters of the book as I finished them, like it was a serial with an audience of one.

Just like that, after years of preparation, I was on my way. And the shape of that transformation slid neatly into the book itself: a long, private struggle leading to an  interpersonal connection that made everything possible.

In Dead Boys, it’s not a romance, because these are corpses, and that would be gross. The book takes place in an underworld where the departed float into the muck on the banks of the River Lethe and learn, over the course of days, to move with their minds instead of their muscles. The process is known as quickening, and some never master it, floating downriver instead of entering the afterlife. But those who manage to stagger into Dead City learn that they’ll be rotting, in slow motion, for the rest of eternity.

It’s a cheerless scenario, which is why Jacob has decided to make a better story for himself. Inspired by urban myths of the Living Man, an Orphic figure who came to the Land of the Dead while he was still alive, Jacob is determined to find his way back to the land of the living, or fall to bits trying.

It’s a classic quest full of trials and setbacks, and while it’s made easier, in a way, by the nature of these characters’ bodies — they can’t feel pain, or die again — they’re also struggling against their own substance. Every step they take is hampered by the grip of rotting muscle on bone. In an early chase scene, the Boys notice they’re not gaining any speed by trying to outrun their pursuers, since haste only causes them to jostle and stumble against one another.

It’s a light-hearted scenario, but while I built my characters out of imaginary plasticine, like their spiritual brethren in A Nightmare Before Christmas, I also strove to make every step of their journey a struggle. In setting up the tale, I was careful in my descriptions of motion and the passage of time. I wanted the reader, by and by, to take moving with painstaking deliberation for granted, to assume that every minute passed differently in death than it would in life.  My aim was to build a cage of time and space for Jacob and his compatriots — then invite Siham in to smash it.

I can’t tell you much about her, because I hear spoilers are a thing. I can tell you that she took on some of my wife’s history. That I smiled through every scene she graced. That she’s one of very few characters in this crowded cast who arrived with her voice fully formed.

That’s because I’d been waiting so long to bring her in.

My favorite bit in Dead Boys is when Siham arrives.

After all that shambling, she spins. After all that staggering, she laughs. After all that struggle, she gives Jacob a weapon he didn’t know he needed.

Siham takes the stage — and dances.




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Gabriel Squailia is a professional DJ from Rochester, NY. An alumnus of the Friends World Program, he studied storytelling and literature in India, Europe, and the Middle East before settling in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts, where he lives with his wife and daughter.


A self-interested post about my Hugo eligible works AND some work that I really, really, really liked.

Hello! It’s that time of year again, where the Hugo nominations are about to close and all of your author friends are saying “Look! I wrote stuff!” I am right there with them, because it’s hard to remember what comes out in a given year. So… if you are nominating for the Hugos and have an empty slot on your ballot, here are some things I hope you might consider nominating.


  • Valour and Vanity – Written by me! Jane Austen writes Ocean Eleven, with magic.
  • Lock In – John Scalzi. I loved this and thought that it did really interesting things with disability, gender, all in the guise of a good tech thriller.
  • The Goblin Emperor – Katherine Addison – Wow. This blew me away. It’s a political intrigue novel mashed up with a coming-of-age novel, but set in a fully realized secondary world that’s intricate and lovely/horrible. It deals with class expectations, prejudice, bigotry, and grief. It’s just lovely.

Best Dramatic Presentation Short Form

  • “A Matter of Endurance” — Defense Grid 2 (audio play) – Written by me! Did I mention Alan Tudyk is one of the actors? (I have copies of this that I can offer to nominating members, just ask for it.)
  • Space Janitors Season 3 – This is a webcast that I love. A lot. Go watch it and nominate it.


Best Related Work

  • Shadows Beneath, The Writing Excuses Anthology – by Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Howard Tayler, and Dan Wells – We are really, really proud of this. It’s an anthology of short stories in which we also show our work, so you can see how a story develops. As a writing textbook, we think it’s doing something new. If you are eligible to nominate for the Hugo Awards, we will happily send you a copy for review. Please send Brandon an email through his website, and we will get one to you ASAP.

My Favorite Bit: Carrie Patel talks about THE BURIED LIFE

CarMy Favorite Bit iconrie Patel is joining us today with her novel The Buried Life. Here’s the publisher’s description.

The gaslight and shadows of the underground city of Recoletta hide secrets and lies. When Inspector Liesl Malone investigates the murder of a renowned historian, she finds herself stonewalled by the all-powerful Directorate of Preservation – Recoletta’s top-secret historical research facility.

When a second high-profile murder threatens the very fabric of city society, Malone and her rookie partner Rafe Sundar must tread carefully, lest they fall victim to not only the criminals they seek, but the government which purports to protect them. Knowledge is power, and power must be preserved at all costs…

What’s Carrie’s favorite bit?



The director of my school theater program once said that the best way to build tension is to begin with two characters on opposite ends of the stage. As the scene unfolds, it’s watching them come together—and seeing all the missteps and breakthroughs along the way—that creates drama.

Recoletta is what social scientists would call a high power distance society—rank and prestige figure into a person’s job, living arrangements, and personal relationships. So while the characters of The Buried Life are trying to solve a mystery, they’re also digging their claws into whatever precarious niche they’ve carved out for themselves. When they cross paths, they reach across wide gulfs of status and experience.

One of my favorite scenes is the initial meeting between Jane Lin, a mild-mannered laundress, and Roman Arnault, an iconoclast and confidante to Recoletta’s ruling councilors. Prior to this exchange, Jane overheard a suspicious conversation between Arnault and one of the councilors, and she isn’t sure yet if he noticed. Now, she must humor his presumptions of familiarity without actually offending him:

He said her name slowly, as if trying it out. Jane flicked her gaze downward, noticing his hands and their clean but trimmed nails. After a few moments, he followed her eyes to the cigarette between his fingers. “Cloves,” he said, holding it up for her inspection. “Care for one?”

“Oh, I wasn’t… No, thank you, Mr Arnault.”

“A lady of modest habits.”

Jane had found that when whitenails and their ilk chose to make pronouncements on her station, bearing, or character, it was best to offer nothing but the tacit confirmation of a small smile, which she did now.

Arnault’s mild tone kept what came next from sounding like a rebuke. “Miss Lin, do I look like a man who enlists the services of specialty laundresses? Or whose recommendations on the same would be trusted?”

Arnault paused, and Jane, whose repertoire of etiquette offered no guidance for this kind of conversation, listened hopefully for Lena’s footsteps. “You can disagree with me, especially if I’m so pompous as to make sweeping generalizations about you, someone I have known for all of two minutes.” He took a deep breath, and Jane felt herself do the same. “So, Jane Lin, are you ready to tell me what you really think?”

Jane heard the words come out of her mouth before she knew what she was saying. “It’s easy for you to say so when you can get away with visiting a councilor dressed like that.”

Arnault’s expression changed slowly, his eyebrows lifting and his lips drawing back.

“I’m sorry,” Jane said. “I shouldn’t have said that.”

But he looked amused. “Speaking your mind is nothing to be sorry for, Miss Lin. I find a little honesty refreshing, especially in this neighborhood. So, how does a nice girl like you end up in it?”

“Everybody has dirty laundry, Mr Arnault.”

He chuckled, but in a way that suggested a private joke. “How right you are.”

“And you, sir? What kind of business are you in?”

“There’s no need to ‘sir’ me, Miss Lin. As for the business… I suppose you could say that I’m in the same line of work that you are.” He took another drag on his cigarette.

Jane looked him up and down, taking in his outfit again. “If we’re being candid, Mr Arnault, I find that hard to believe.”

“It’s a metaphor, Miss Lin.”

“Should I be honest again?”


“It sounds like a bad one.”

Arnault considered the clove cigarette between his fingers. “To return to your modest habits,” he said, holding the cigarette in the air between them, “you avoid these because…?”

Jane blinked. She didn’t want to mention that a habit like that was absurd for someone on her income. “They kill. From the inside.”

“So do a lot of things,” Arnault said. “And people. And just like your dirty laundry, some things are best kept private.”

He said it with a twinkle in his eye, but the memory of the overheard conversation sent flutters through Jane’s stomach. “Are you always this friendly with the domestic help, Mr Arnault?”

“I’m not friendly with anyone.”

“Then I have grossly misinterpreted our brief encounter.”

“That’s because you’re a good influence, Miss Lin, and you should stay for tea.”

Jane could not begin to fathom the reaction were she to have tea in Councilor Hollens’s home at Arnault’s invitation. “I thought you’d already enjoyed some with the councilor.”

“We shared a stronger beverage. But with a nice young lady like yourself, I’d have tea.”

As a reader, I love banter scenes for the way they bring out the goals, fears, and relative positions of two characters. They let you see each character through the eyes of the other, and they tend to bring a snappy sense of playfulness to a chapter.

This scene contrasts Jane’s attempts to fly under the radar with Arnault’s efforts to draw her out of her shell. They each test the other’s boundaries while playing their own cards close to the vest. Furthermore, the arch flirtation and the tension between them set the tone for the rest of their relationship. That’s why this passage is my favorite bit!


Angry Robot
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Carrie Patel is an author and narrative designer from Houston, Texas. Her first novel, The Buried Life, debuts with Angry Robot on March 3. It’s a steampunk-flavored science fantasy filled with murder and intrigue. The sequel, Cities and Thrones, comes out this summer. She also works as a narrative designer for Obsidian Entertainment and writes for their CRPG Pillars of Eternity. Her short story “Here Be Monsters” recently appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Exchange hellos and high fives with her on Twitter at @Carrie_Patel or check out her ramblings at