Journal

My Favorite Bit: C.J. Lavigne talks about In Veritas

My Favorite BitC.J. Lavigne is joining us today with In Veritas. Here’s the publisher’s description:

In this fantastic and fantastical debut, C.J. Lavigne concocts a wondrous realm overlaying a city that brims with civic workers and pigeons. Led by her synesthesia, Verity Richards discovers a hidden world inside an old Ottawa theatre. Within the timeworn walls live people who should not exist—people whose very survival is threatened by science, technology, and natural law. Verity must submerge herself in this impossible reality to help save the last traces of their broken community. Her guides: a magician, his shadow-dog, a dying angel, and a knife-edged woman who is more than half ghost.

With great empathy and imagination, In Veritas explores the nature of truth and the complexities of human communication.

What’s C.J. Lavigne’s favorite part?

In Veritas cover art

My favorite parts of In Veritas are the ones that aren’t there.

I don’t mean that I deleted them, or that some cruel editor killed my darlings; it’s just that some details are missing. They were meant to be missing.

I utterly flail when people ask me what In Veritas is about. I’ve described it as “a weird brick” and, more verbosely, “like urban fantasy and magic realism had a child, and that child was a jigsaw puzzle that wanted to be a poem.” That puzzle has lost pieces; there’s enough to put it together, but you need to work around the gaps, or maybe carve your own pieces, and fit them in for yourself.

Wait, don’t run! It makes sense. I promise.

In Veritas is a standalone novel about a woman who perceives multiple realities at once, and whose body processes all of that conflicting information as a form of synaesthesia. She sees sound; she tastes things she touches. Her world is a cactus dripping in the scent of lilac and coal, and the salt-brittle of cracking seashells. On one level ― the most important one — In Veritas is a story about Verity Richards looking for truth, and trying to help her friends. It has a magician! And an angel. And a dog.

On another level, though — the one in which I take quiet pleasure — it’s a story about our own inability to tell stories. It’s about the limitations of language, and how no matter how much we try, we can never completely communicate the depths of our own thoughts and experiences to other people.

This is expressed in a lot of ways in the book: it’s a pastiche of clippings and transcripts and images, and little conversations between Verity and the narrator where they try so hard to get it right, just for you.

They really can’t, though. It’s all in the title. My thought process is something like this:

IN VINO, VERITAS – This is a phrase that a lot of people know: “in wine, there is truth” (or variants thereof). It’s the notion that the truth will out when someone’s been drinking. It’s a starting point: a common reference that many readers will get. But it’s not actually the title.

IN VERITAS – Take out “vino” and this is what’s left. Of course, it’s a reference to Verity; the novel is a window into her life. But presumably, the new phrase also translates as “in truth”: a promise that the story will be honest and reliable. The Latin may have gotten a little mangled, though? Maybe it means “in reality,” or maybe it should be something like “in veritate.” The premise is already flawed; the structure doesn’t quite work.

That’s because there’s a word missing. There’s nothing substituting for “vino.” So the title can also be read as IN _____, VERITAS — which is to say, “in [some hidden, ineffable concept], there is truth.”  There’s no knowing where such truth is actually to be found, because the fullness of our realities can’t be expressed through anything as limited as a single human language. It doesn’t mean that we can’t communicate anything; it just means that we can’t communicate everything. And that’s it: my secret favourite part. That’s what the book is about.

To be clear, though, In Veritas isn’t just me pontificating about semantics. It’s the story of a woman who hears rainbows and tastes music. And don’t forget about the dog.

LINKS:

In Veritas Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

Facebook

BIO:

C.J. Lavigne is a Canadian speculative fiction writer. Since 2007, she has divided her time between Ottawa, ON, and Red Deer, AB, where she currently resides and works as a professional communications scholar who writes on television, gaming, and popular culture; at other points in her life, she’s been a barista, tech support supervisor, marketing manager, freelance editor, and — briefly — radio DJ. In Veritas is her first novel.

My Favorite Bit: Octavia Cade talks about The Stone Weta

My Favorite BitOctavia Cade is joining us to talk about her novel The Stone Wētā. Here’s the publisher’s description:

We talk about the tyranny of distance a lot in this country. That distance will not save us. With governments denying climate science, scientists from affected countries and organisations are forced to traffic data to ensure the preservation of research that could in turn preserve the world. From Antarctica, to the Chihuahuan Desert, to the International Space Station, a fragile network forms. A web of knowledge. Secret. But not secret enough.

When the cold war of data preservation turns bloody – and then explosive – an underground network of scientists, all working in isolation, must decide how much they are willing to risk for the truth. For themselves, their colleagues, and their future.

Murder on Antarctic ice. A university lecturer’s car, found abandoned on a desert road. And the first crewed mission to colonise Mars, isolated and vulnerable in the depths of space.

How far would you go to save the world?

What’s Ocatvia Cade’s favorite bit?

The Stone Wētā

My favourite bit is science. It’s an idealist’s vocation, resting as it does on the belief that if you investigate something as honestly and thoroughly as possible, then sooner or later you’ll understand it, and can help others understand it too, so that they may go forth into the future and spread that understanding even further. It’s exploration, it’s innovation… and it’s also, too frequently, ignored.

You’re living through pandemic at the moment, just the same as I am. So I’m sure you’ve seen, just as I have, examples of science denial, and of information being given out that’s incomplete, biased, or just flat-out wrong. (Here in New Zealand, there’s a small subset of people who think Covid-19 is being passed on by a 5G network beaming viral infection into our houses as if it were a Star Trek transporter and our biofilters were on the blink.) There’s no escaping it.

I’d like to say that this sort of science communication is a single, isolated failure. It isn’t. What worries me most, however, is the compromise of climate science, because all too often that shit is deliberate. The Stone Wētā developed because of stuff I was seeing in headlines, on news cycles, and in science journals. Data that was disappearing, scientists that were being muzzled. Other scientists, trained in observation as scientists tend to be, noting these things and trying to preserve information across borders, getting data sets to safe places so that access to it could
be protected, no matter who was in power.

It sounds ridiculous. Paranoid. Yet it’s happening. Over in Australia, the Great Barrier Reef, arguably the biodiversity wonder of the world, an ecosystem seen from space, has just had another major bleaching event. It’s dying. The Australian government knows it’s dying – didn’t stop them pulling strings to keep the impacts of climate change on the Reef out of a major UN report. We can’t have other people know that it’s dying. Tourism might be affected.

The horror.

Look. There’s no sense trying to pretend that the present and future impacts of climate change on our world have not and will not lead to a virulent bastard child born of science and politics both. Spectres of that particular mating have been lurking for generations, and they don’t seem to die. The climate version certainly will not, and I’ll tell you why. It’s because the fusion of science and politics is a necessary one. Science might be able to model, for instance, the potential outcomes of sea level rise. What science cannot do is use that information to decide how local and regional councils, not to mention national organisations, will do about coastal infrastructure. Science won’t tell you who pays for that, or what changes in zoning might have to occur. That is the realm of politics, of communities coming together to decide their social and economic future. But, crucially, they can’t do that successfully if their information isn’t accurate.

Well, they can. But if their decisions are based on sub-optimal data then their decisions will be also be flawed. Is this the future we want for ourselves? Crappy decisions based on crappy data?

If we don’t start booting people up the arse, those are the decisions we’ll be getting. The future of our planet depends on accurate, accessible climate data. The scientists of The Stone Wētā know this. They know that idealism is no longer enough, because although their vocation requires it, the vocations of others do not. A Scientific American article from 2015 makes this clear: Big Oil knows about climate change. It has known for four decades, and has been suppressing research and promoting misinformation for nearly that long. I think we all know why. For some people, the Great Barrier Reef is worth less than stock dividends.

It isn’t to me. And it isn’t to the scientists of The Stone Wētā, whose work is in danger from the same deliberate suppression, the same malicious undermining. For some of them, it’s not only
their work that’s in danger. If the ultimate goal of power is to control the conversation, after all, sometimes it’s just easier to get rid of the speakers.

But they are observers, and aware, and they are idealists still. So the scientists of The Stone Wētā form an underground network, funnelling data to safe places, keeping their work alive when sometimes they can’t keep themselves that way. They’re women, all of them, because women – especially women of colour – are routinely overlooked. They are used to conversations that mean more than one thing. They are used to subtlety, and to survival. And they are – especially those women of colour – from communities likely to be far more affected by climate change than others.

There is a creature in New Zealand called the stone wētā. It’s a spiky, ugly insect, and it has the wonderful characteristic of freezing solid in winter. Central Otago, where the wētā lives, is cold in winter. Freezing is a way of surviving to better times, to dragging the genetic information of its body into another breeding season under sunlight. It’s a creature of survival in a hostile climate, and I know all this because science, my favourite bit, found out about it and told me so.

It can tell you things too, if it’s allowed to do so.

LINKS:

The Stone Wētā Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

BIO:

Octavia Cade is a New Zealand writer with a PhD in science communication. She has sold close to 50 stories to markets such as Clarkesworld, Asimov’s, and Shimmer. Several novellas, two poetry collections, and a non-fiction essay collection on food and horror have also been published, and her first short fiction collection, The Mythology of Salt, is due out in July from Lethe Press. She attended Clarion West 2016, is a three time Sir Julius Vogel award winner, and has recently been nominated for a Bram Stoker award. Currently she is the writer-in-residence at Square Edge/Massey University in N.Z.

 

 

My Favorite Bit: AJ Fitzwater talks about THE VOYAGES OF CINRAK THE DAPPER

My Favorite BitAJ Fitzwater is joining us to talk about their novel The Voyages of Cinrack the Dapper. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Dapper. Lesbian. Capybara. Pirate.

Cinrak the Dapper is a keeper of secrets, a righter of wrongs, the saltiest capybara on the sea and a rider of both falling stars and a great glass whale. Join her, her beloveds, the rat Queen Orvilia and the marmot diva Loquolchi, lead soprano of the Theatre Rat-oyal, her loyal cabin kit, Benj the chinchilla, and Agnes, last of the great krakens, as they hunt for treasures of all kinds and find adventures beyond their wildest dreams. Let Sir Julius Vogel Award-winning storyteller A.J. Fitzwater take you on a glorious journey about finding yourself, discovering true love and exploring the greatest secrets of the deep. Also, dapperness.

The Voyages of Cinrak the Dapper includes seven stories about Cinrak and her crew:

“Young Cinrak”
“Perfidy at the Felidae Isles
“The Wild Ride of the Untamed Stars”
“Search for the Heart of the Ocean”
“The Hirsute Pursuit”
“Cetaceous Secrets of the Jewelled Nadit”
“Flight of the Hydro Chorus”

What’s AJ’s favorite bit?

The Voyages of Cinrack the Dapper cover image

AJ FITZWATER

I can tell a decent joke about once a decade.

That’s my dry, self deprecating kiwi humour right there.

Seriously though, I thought writing humour was not one of my strong points. Neither historical fantasy and romance. Yet my first books being published this year are humour (“The Voyages of Cinrak the Dapper”, Queen of Swords Press) and historical fantasy romance (“No Man’s Land”, Paper Road Press)!

I wrote “The Voyages of Cinrak the Dapper”, about a lesbian capybara pirate and her found family of delightful misfits, completely by accident. The original story that kicked off Cinrak’s journey, “The Wild Ride of the Untamed Stars”, was a whimsical piece written for my natcon’s short story competition. Having no expectations of the piece, I made it as silly as possible. The first major pun was basing the character of soprano marmot diva Loquolchi on the marmot Queen of the Night meme. Cinrak has a magical “Alice” pocket in her snappy vest. The rat queen Orvillia offers her hand (paw) in marriage as a prize; literally, she cuts it off! The famous jewel in “Search for the Heart of the Ocean” is named after the necklace in Titanic. The pirate union is called IRATE – the International Rodent Aquatic Trade Entente; I’m especially proud of that one.

The silliness struck a chord. The story won second prize, then went on to be published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

Cinrak wouldn’t let me go. I had too much fun with her and her charming crew. It was like writing Captain Jack Sparrow, but without the drunkenness and sexism. And way WAY more queer.  Nearly everyone is some kind of queer or gender variant in Cinrak’s world. So much so it’s unremarkable and they just get on with their adventures, like a lesbian squid searching for her cetaceous soulmate, or a chinchilla trans boy finding their beard (I went easy on that pun, it’s too cute a story).

I’m happy to admit I underestimated the audience for these stories, the need for their sweet and silly joy. In being completely free of expectations, I wrote the humour for myself, pulling on my favourite memes, sayings, and images. You could say part of Cinrak is Tumblr sourced. Part of Cinrak’s character creation came from the stories and pictures of capybara chilling out with other animals. The Nopetapus, escape artist octopus stories, and golden retriever videos influenced Agnes the kraken. Columbia the mer is a nod to modern drag queens and Rocky Horror. And I couldn’t have anthropomorphic winds without a few fart jokes.

Some of the humour comes from breaking writing rules (which I love to do). I went especially hard with the alliteration, spending an inordinate amount of time giggling over a thesaurus looking for outlandish words to match each other aesthetically. I deliberately messed up the pirate dialect, keeping barely any consistency, to show it was a living language the pirates used as affectation and social bonding, all with a twinkle in their eye. And Cinrak has many elaborate exclamations; my favourite is “Peeing Sea Cucumbers!” because I have been squirted on by a sea cucumber, and it’s not something I’ve forgotten even thirty years later.

When I discovered the Latin name for capybara was hydrochoerus hydrochaeris I spent a good five minutes shrieking with delight. There was no way I could pass up the opportunity for Excellent Pun Usage. And so the last story in the collection emerged directly from the title “Flight of the Hydro Chorus”. Cinrak, Benj, Loquolchi, and Agnes – hydrochoerus, her pirate apprentice, an opera diva, and a squid – all go on a magical flight serenading the stars; the true hydro chorus, bringing the story arc begun in “Wild Ride” almost into a circle. The sheer perfection gives me such glee everyone thinks I’m bananas. And I’m perfectly fine with that.

Writing ridiculous puns and happy queer pirates, I realize in hindsight, was one way of dealing with the tumultuous last few years. It’s taught me a lot about finding joy amongst the chaos. I hope readers find something in the Cinrak stories that sparks their joy during this time of upheaval.

LINKS:

The Voyages of Cinrack the Dapper Universal Book Link

Queen of Swords Publisher Link

Twitter

Website

BIO:

AJ Fitzwater lives between the cracks of Christchurch, New Zealand. A Sir Julius Vogel Award winner and graduate of Clarion 2014, their work has appeared in Clarkesworld, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Shimmer, Giganotosaurus, and various anthologies of repute. A unicorn disguised in a snappy blazer, they tweet @AJFitzwater

My Favorite Bit: Rysa Walker talks about NOW, THEN, AND EVERYWHEN

Favorite Bit iconRysa Walker is joining us today to talk about her novel Now, Then, and Everywhen. Here’s the publisher’s description:

When two time-traveling historians cross paths during one of the most tumultuous decades of the twentieth century, history goes helter-skelter. But which one broke the timeline?

In 2136 Madison Grace uncovers a key to the origins of CHRONOS, a time-travel agency with ties to her family’s mysterious past. Just as she is starting to jump through history, she returns to her timeline to find millions of lives erased—and only the people inside her house realize anything has changed.

In 2304 CHRONOS historian Tyson Reyes is assigned to observe the crucial events that played out in America’s civil rights movement. But a massive time shift occurs while he’s in 1965, and suddenly the history he sees isn’t the history he knows.

As Madi’s and Tyson’s journeys collide, they must prevent the past from being erased forever. But strange forces are at work. Are Madi and Tyson in control or merely pawns in someone else’s game?

What’s Rysa’s favorite bit?

Now, Then, and Everywhen cover image

RYSA WALKER

Selecting a favorite bit from Now, Then & Everywhen wasn’t easy. My first inclination was the music—any book that required me to listen to the Beatles as legitimate research gets a thumbs up. Digging into obscure history from the mid-1960s South was also a high (and occasionally, low) point of writing this book, since my previous time-travel forays focused primarily on earlier historical eras.

But in the end, I picked a character we never meet directly in this book—James Lawrence Coleman, an extraordinarily prolific and eclectic author from the late 21st century. I’m pretty sure the reason this character sticks with me is that he caused me to question one of my core beliefs.

I am descended from several generations of police officers. In most respects, the law enforcement gene skipped me. This was evidenced not just by my academic career, but also by the Question Authority bumper-sticker on my car. Shortly after I began teaching, however, I discovered that on the issue of plagiarism, I possessed a zero-tolerance, Just-Say-No fervor. If I suspected a paper was lifted, in whole or in part, from another source, I went into forensic mode, determined to track down the evidence.

Having worked my way through graduate school as a single mom, I was far from authoritarian about due dates and forgiving when students needed some leniency. Ask for an extension, I told them. Turn it in late, and deal with a few points off. There was no excuse, however, for plagiarism. None. I posted a picture of the Klingon devil in my online syllabus, noting that any hint of plagiarism caused me to morph into that creature. Many failed to heed my warning and faced the wrath of Fek’lhr.

When writing this first book in the CHRONOS Origins series, however, I was confronted with a plagiarist I couldn’t fault. In fact, I had to admit that in his place, I’d almost certainly have done the same thing.

Imagine your favorite book by your favorite author. The book that had the greatest impact on your life. The one you curl up inside when the real world sucks.

Now imagine you are the only person in possession of that book. In the universe where you now find yourself, it was never written. Maybe the author was never born. Maybe the manuscript landed on a different agent or publisher’s desk, and the author, despondent at a stack of rejections, stashed the manuscript in a desk drawer or torched it in the fireplace, and never looked back.

Add to this the fact that you have, in your possession, hundreds of these books in a library that contains not just works from your own corner of the multiverse, but those from several other timelines. You also have history books in this library showing the way things might have gone—and in some cases, might still go, if leaders chose a wiser path. Science books, too, with discoveries that might be delayed or never made at all without the core component in that volume.

James Lawrence Coleman inherited just such a library from his mother, who salvaged a thumb drive with many of the books her own grandmother collected from a half-dozen timelines. All those stories, all those histories, all that knowledge…and since he couldn’t acknowledge the works were from other timelines, the only way to share was to publish them.

I hope that I’d be able to resist the temptation to publish them under my own name. My inclination would be to spin off a few dozen pen names rather than straining credulity by claiming to write thousands of books. I’d definitely be more diligent in determining whether the real author might still exist. But like Coleman, I’m certain I wouldn’t be able to resist sharing the works of Shirley Jackson, Ray Bradbury, or J. K. Rowling, to name but a few. The Princess Bride, A People’s History of the United States, The Stand, and Flowers for Algernon would not be restricted to my shelves alone—even if I had to resort to a little plagiarism in order to share them with the world.

But my dreams would probably be haunted by Fek’lhr.

LINKS:

Now, Then, and Everywhen Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

BIO:

Rysa Walker is the author of the bestselling CHRONOS Files series. Timebound, the first book in the series, was the Young Adult and Grand Prize winner in the 2013 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards. The CHRONOS Files has sold nearly half a million copies since 2013 and has been translated into fourteen languages. In addition to speculative fiction, Walker writes mysteries as C. Rysa Walker, occasionally in collaboration with author Caleb Amsel. Rysa currently resides in North Carolina with her husband, two youngest sons, and a hyperactive golden retriever. When not working on the next installment in her CHRONOS Files universe, she watches shows where travelers boldly go to galaxies far away, or reads about magical creatures and superheroes from alternate timelines.

**For news and updates, subscribe to the newsletter at rysa.com/contact.**

My Favorite Bit: Ilana C. Myer talks about THE POET KING

My Favorite BitIlana C. Myer is joining us today with her novel The Poet King, the final book in The Harp and the Ring Sequence. Here’s the publisher’s description:

After a surprising upheaval, the nation of Tamryllin has a new ruler: Elissan Diar, who proclaims himself the first Poet King. Not all in court is happy with this regime change, as Rianna secretly schemes against him while she investigates a mysterious weapon he hides in the bowels of the palace.

Meanwhile, a civil war rages in a distant land, and former Court Poet Lin Amaristoth gathers allies old and new to return to Tamryllin in time to stop the coronation. For the Poet King’s ascension is connected with a darker, more sinister prophecy which threatens to unleash a battle out of legend unless Lin and her friends can stop it.

What’s Ilana’s favorite bit?

The Poet King cover image

ILANA C. MYER

I’m a character-driven writer. This was true from the start of this trilogy, when the first image that came to me was of a woman fleeing through a dark wood. I knew she was injured, but determined. She moved with purpose.

Last Song Before Night was born of a fascination with the Celtic Poets, and the idea of poets holding magical and political power; but that image of the woman’s flight was the true beginning. Somehow I knew even then that she was a poet; but being a woman, would not be accepted in the political mainstream. (That’s right—my invented world is sexist, because I write in order to grapple with lived experience.) And, too, I knew what she ran from was as significant, in its own way, as where she was going.

It’s because I’m a character-driven writer that the second book, Fire Dance, took years to write. I needed time to get to know the new characters, their layers and motivations. Or maybe it’s that they needed time, to grow inside my mind. Otherwise the seductive queen, the weak king, and the sinister vizier would never have transcended cliché to become what they did.

So it was crucial that the final book of the trilogy, the last time each character gets a turn on the stage, would get to the heart of who they are. An ancient magic awakens in The Poet King, and the conventional methods won’t turn it back. Swords won’t work against it. Something else will be required—a different kind of courage.

For as someone well-versed in these matters will note, later on:

“In a pinch—when you find yourself amidst enchantments—the most powerful weapon is truth. The one nearest your heart most of all. A thing poets knew from the world’s beginning, until they lost their lore, and they forgot.”

When swords will not avail, when each character is called upon to confront their deepest desires and fears, nothing goes quite as you expect. No one will end the journey the way they began—if they reach the end at all.

This was my favorite bit about writing The Poet King, and the books that came before. I reveled in the opportunity afforded by fantasy for character discovery and transformation. When it comes to peeling back the layers of deceit to see ourselves, there is nothing like enchantment.

LINKS:

The Poet King Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

BIO:

Ilana C. Myer has worked as a journalist in Jerusalem and a cultural critic for various publications. As Ilana Teitelbaum she has written book reviews and critical essays for The Globe and Mail, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Salon, and the Huffington Post. Last Song Before Night was her first novel, followed by Fire Dance and The Poet King. A native New Yorker and longtime Jerusalem resident, she now lives in the mountains of Pennsylvania.

My Favorite Bit: TJ Klune talks about THE HOUSE IN THE CERULEAN SEA

My Favorite BitTJ Klune is joining us today with his novel The House in the Cerulean Sea. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Linus Baker is a by-the-book case worker in the Department in Charge of Magical Youth. He’s tasked with determining whether six dangerous magical children are likely to bring about the end of the world.

Arthur Parnassus is the master of the orphanage. He would do anything to keep the children safe, even if it means the world will burn. And his secrets will come to light.

The House in the Cerulean Sea is an enchanting love story, masterfully told, about the profound experience of discovering an unlikely family in an unexpected place―and realizing that family is yours.

What’s TJ’s favorite bit?

The House in the Cerulean Sea cover image

TJ KLUNE

In the fantastical world of The House in the Cerulean Sea, the lead character, Linus Baker—a fussy, portly man in his forties with an extreme appreciation for following the rules—is sent by his employer, the Department in Charge of Magical Youth (DICOMY), on a top secret assignment to investigate a mysterious orphanage that houses what he’s told are the most dangerous children in the world. Unsure of what he’ll witness when he arrives at said orphanage makes Linus extremely nervous, but it doesn’t stop him from doing what he was sent to do. By god, he’ll follow the rules to the letter, and no one will stop him.

Or so he thinks.

An early section of the novel contains what is perhaps my favorite scene in the entire book. Linus, having been summarily welcomed by the orphanage’s inhabitants one by one, joins this funny little family for dinner, all the major players joined together for the first time. There’s Talia, the fierce garden gnome. Theodore, the small wyvern. Phee, a forest sprite. Sal, the shy and nervous were-pomeranian. Chauncey, who is something (no one is quite sure what beyond that he’s a green blob with tentacles). And last—but certainly not least—the Antichrist himself, a six-year old boy named Lucy.

They are joined by the peculiar Zoe Chapelwhite, whose role at the orphanage is unknown to Linus, and Arthur Parnassus, the master of the orphanage and the children’s greatest protector, rounds out those seated at the table with Linus.

The intended purpose of this scene is to introduce the dynamic of the people at this orphanage, through the eyes of Linus, who begins to realize almost immediately that he’s in over his head. The conversation flies fast and quick, Linus is barely able to keep up as the children question him to the point of interrogation, all while some of them display their impossible powers, much to Linus’s dismay.

But it turned into so much more than that, from a writerly perspective.

Long-time readers of mine know that I have a fascination with gatherings such as this, where dynamics between people are on full display, characters showing their true selves, whether it’s asked for or not. The aim is for the reader—and Linus—to feel like they’re in the middle of a ferocious tornado, swept up and unable to do much but go along for the ride and hope for the best.

Linus has preconceptions about what he was to see during these investigations. He’s good at what he does and has been to more than a few orphanages during his employ as a caseworker with DICOMY. But nothing he’s seen can prepare him for this first dinner, and it starts his journey where everything he thought he knew will turn out to be…not quite a lie, but not exactly as he was led to believe.

Everyone has something to say, and they talk over each other, laugh loudly, whispering excitedly. Though Linus doesn’t quite realize it at that point, the children are also nervous, wary of who Linus is and what he represents. They may be young, but they know what he’s there for, and the power he wields.

But at the same time, they’re still children, and they act as such. They ask questions to a flummoxed Linus, who barely gets a chance to answer before Lucy—in his infinite wisdom—decides he would like to look like Linus, a rotund fellow. And so Lucy does, expanding his body until he too is round, ribs cracking, body inflating. It’s not meant to mock Linus, but Lucy—the scion of the Devil—is only six, and has a six year old’s imagination.

It’s played for comedic effect, but Linus doesn’t see it as that, at least not at first. All he sees are children with tremendous power, enough that it could potentially lead to the end of the world. And while it all scares Linus, it opens his eyes that the world isn’t quite how it should be, and that he played a part as a cog in a bureaucratic machine that feeds on fear of the unknown. That cracked-open door, the one Linus thought (and most likely prayed) would never be opened, begins to do just that. On the other side of this door is Linus’s exploration into the truth, and I know that Linus will one day—and one day soon—walk through that door with his head held high.

But what I love most about this scene, and why I keep coming back to it, is because while the children do have strange and wonderful powers, they’re innocent. They’ve known pain and suffering but have found safety in the walls of their home. They’re allowed to express themselves however they wish, something they’d been missing before Arthur took them in. Linus may be a perceived threat, but this is their home, and they won’t let it be taken from them without a fight. And while we always see them through Linus’s eyes, I love to think that before he arrived, these meals played out the exact same way: loud and boisterous and more than a little chaotic.

Hope, Linus learns, is a weapon, and one that when wielded by deft hands, can bring about the change so desperately needed. All it takes is a little kindness, more than a little luck, and the strength of conviction and family. That’s what this scene entails: hope and love and the power of the people we care about more than anything.

LINKS:

The House in the Cerulean Sea Universal Buy Link

Excerpt

Website

Twitter

BIO:

TJ KLUNE is a Lambda Literary Award-winning author (Into This River I Drown) and an ex-claims examiner for an insurance company. His novels include The House in the Cerulean Sea and The Extraordinaries. Being queer himself, TJ believes it’s important—now more than ever—to have accurate, positive, queer representation in stories.

My Favorite Bit: Ed Ruggero talks about BLAME THE DEAD

Ed Ruggero is joining us today with his novel Blame the Dead. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Set against the heroism and heartbreak of World War II, former Army officer Ed Ruggero brilliantly captures, with grace and authenticity, the evocative and timeless stories of ordinary people swept up in extraordinary times.

Sicily, 1943. Eddie Harkins, former Philadelphia beat cop turned Military Police lieutenant, reluctantly finds himself first at the scene of a murder at the US Army’s 11th Field Hospital. There the nurses contend with heat, dirt, short-handed staffs, the threat of German counterattack, an ever-present flood of horribly wounded GIs, and the threat of assault by one of their own—at least until someone shoots Dr. Myers Stephenson in the head.

With help from nurse Kathleen Donnelly, once a childhood friend and now perhaps something more, it soon becomes clear to Harkins that the unit is rotten to its core. As the battle lines push forward, Harkins is running out of time to find one killer before he can strike again.

What’s Ed’s favorite bit?

 

Blame the Dead cover image

ED RUGGERO

He thought about Kathleen Donnelly, her tired eyes and blood-splattered uniform, her dazzling competence and the way her mouth tasted.

That’s how the protagonist of my novel, Blame the Dead, remembers an Army nurse who is a major character in the book. What surprised me, as I looked back at early drafts, was that Kathleen didn’t even exist in original versions.  As it turned out, I thoroughly enjoyed researching and then writing about the US Army nurses who are part of the backbone of this tale. I learned that those women who volunteered for the Nurse Corps defied 1940s stereotypes of what women were capable of—surprising themselves in the bargain—all in service of their patients.

For starters, nursing was not a universally respected profession at the beginning of the war.  Some women were accused of volunteering in order to find a husband (though one can imagine safer places to look than a war zone). Public perception shifted a bit when First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt—who had four sons serving in the military—penned a bit of a guilt-trip editorial for the American Journal of Nursing, part of an appeal for 40,000 volunteer nurses. “I just want my boys to have the best care.  Won’t you do that for them?”

Once the women reached the war zone, they impressed commanders by quickly adjusting to harsh conditions with minimum complaint, which made the women an essential part of the team. The nurses’ presence helped reassure wounded soldiers that they’d be well-cared for.

Speaking of the war zone, I learned that nurses went ashore with the first waves of Allied assault troops in North Africa in November 1942.  You read that correctly: the first wave.

We’ve all seen iconic newsreel footage of heavily laden soldiers clinging to cargo nets on the rolling cliff-face that was a ship’s side, timing their final jump into a bobbing landing craft.  In that first major invasion, Operation Torch, some of those GIs were women, with medical bags on their backs, and only their Red Cross arm bands and lack of personal weapons to distinguish them from the combat soldiers.  The women dug foxholes on the rocky beach for protection from enemy fire and immediately began caring for the wounded. Since it took several days for their equipment to make it ashore, the nurses had to rely on the medical supplies they carried on their backs.  And because it was critical that medical care be available close to the front (to shorten the distance the wounded had to travel), the nurses worked snug up against the battle lines.

Four American nurses showed particular courage under fire at the claustrophobic Anzio beachhead, where the Allied landing force was surrounded by Germans in what the GIs called “Hell’s Half Acre.”

In February 1943, enemy artillery and aerial bombs struck a field hospital in the tight beachhead, killing a number of patients and medical personnel, including two nurses.  During the bombardment, four other nurses, working only by flashlight, evacuated 42 patients to a safer location. The four were awarded the Silver Star, America’s third highest award for valor in combat. Sadly, one of the four women, Second Lieutenant Ellen Ainsworth of Wisconsin, had been mortally wounded in the attack and received her award posthumously.  She was 24 years old.

In every theater of the war, military nurses served admirably, often under brutal conditions. In Sicily, where Blame the Dead is set, hospital staffs contended with heat, dirt and flies, with a steady flow of broken bodies streaming back from the front. They lived and worked in difficult conditions, including the threat of sudden, violent death.  And while they may have volunteered initially out of a sense of duty to the country, they shouldered those daily burdens because their patients needed them.

LINKS:

Blame the Dead Universal Book Link

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Author’s Website

Excerpt

BIO:

ED RUGGERO is a West Point graduate and former Army officer who has studied, practiced, and taught leadership for more than twenty-five years. His client list includes the FBI, the New York City Police Department, CEO Conference Europe, the CIA, the Young Presidents Organization, Forbes, among many others. He has appeared on CNN, The History Channel, the Discovery Channel, and CNBC and has spoken to audiences around the world on leadership, leader development and ethics. He lives in Philadelphia.

My Favorite Bit: Jeff Wheeler talks about THE KILLING FOG

Favorite Bit iconJeff Wheeler is joining us today to talk about his novel The Killing Fog. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Survivor of a combat school, the orphaned Bingmei belongs to a band of mercenaries employed by a local ruler. Now the nobleman, and collector of rare artifacts, has entrusted Bingmei and the skilled team with a treacherous assignment: brave the wilderness’s dangers to retrieve the treasures of a lost palace buried in a glacier valley. But upsetting its tombs has a price.

Echion, emperor of the Grave Kingdom, ruler of darkness, Dragon of Night, has long been entombed. Now Bingmei has unwittingly awakened him and is answerable to a legendary prophecy. Destroying the dark lord before he reclaims the kingdoms of the living is her inherited mission. Killing Bingmei before she fulfills it is Echion’s.

Thrust unprepared into the role of savior, urged on by a renegade prince, and possessing a magic that is her destiny, Bingmei knows what she must do. But what must she risk to honor her ancestors? Bingmei’s fateful choice is one that neither her friends nor her enemies can foretell, as Echion’s dark war for control unfolds.

What is Jeff’s favorite bit?

The Killing Fog cover image

JEFF WHEELER

When I was young, I used to watch the TV show Kung Fu with David Carradine. I respected the loner monk wandering through America’s Wild West and taking out the bad guys. During high school, one of my favorite films was Big Trouble in Little China,  just for the great martial art medley of different styles they demonstrated. What many don’t know about me is that I’ve been a practitioner of many forms of Kung Fu for almost thirty years, starting at Wing Lam Kung Fu school in Silicon Valley after my missionary service.

When I was inspired to write The Killing Fog after a month-long trip to China, I chose to set it in a world with the geography of Alaska and the culture of medieval China. Instead of palaces and royalty, I wanted to focus on the martial artists. The protagonist of the story, Bingmei (a name which means ‘ice rose’ in Chinese), is the granddaughter and daughter of a family who owns a fighting school, which are called “ensigns” (based on the flag or standard they use, relating to the school).

One of the interesting things to me about Chinese martial arts is how the movements are named after different birds and animals—like the set Tiger-Crane in the Hung Gar tradition. In the northern part of China, where Kwai Chang Caine studied at the Shaolin temple in the TV show Kung Fu, that style of kung fu is very flowing and has magnificent twirling kicks and speedy maneuvers. That’s the first variety of kung fu I studied. Your opponent could be a distance from you and through leaps and flying kicks, you close the distance to deliver a blow. In the southern part of China, a different kind of kung fu was taught called Hung Gar. It’s a more aggressive, close-quarter kind of style with animal grunts that are incorporated into it, as well as blocks that can break an opponent’s arm. A friend of mine from Intel studied Hung Gar at the same school and we ended up cross-training each other in all the sets we’d learned, including the weapon sets.

In The Killing Fog, Bingmei practices forms with staves, unarmed, as well as with various kinds of swords. I’ve practiced with these weapons myself, but I didn’t want the descriptions to be so technical that it would confuse readers. Instead, I tried to capture the feelings of performing these sets and not just recite a blow-by-blow narrative of what happens. If you’ve ever seen the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, you know that a fast-paced fight scene takes a lot of choreography to perfect. That movie was based on a series of Wuxia novels, which are stories about generations of Chinese warriors who wander the world looking for honor and enemies to defeat. It’s one of my all-time favorite films but not just for the display of martial arts. The character building and relationships in the movie are so subtle, but when you know what to look for, you can see the deepest tenderness in just a glance of the eye and the unspoken words between two characters who love each other. I read books like this to immerse myself in the genre while keeping an eye on how they described the fighting styles.

While my imagination comes up with a lot of interesting things, writing this book and the Grave Kingdom series, which are independent from my other novels, it was so fun making a fresh start and weaving in a part of my life that has been there for so long. My oldest daughter gets home from her mission when The Killing Fog comes out and I can’t wait to share it with her. Before she left, we spent our last summer training in kung fu and teaching her some of the sets that I learned so long ago. It was a great bonding moment between the two of us, and she’s told me that she has continued to practice while she’s been away and looks forward to learning more when she returns.

Bingmei’s world is a lot harsher than the one we live in. While ancient forms of fighting have been passed down within families, history has not. There is no written language, no knowledge of where the ancient buildings and palaces came from. No understanding of why the Death Wall was built and why no one is allowed to cross it. Most importantly, no one knows who left behind magical relics carved from meiwood and imbued with magical power. People collect these relics to hide them away because if their power is invoked, the presence of magic summons a deadly fog which kills any creature caught within it. And no one knows why.

It’s Bingmei’s destiny to find out.

LINKS:

The Killing Fog Universal Book Link

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Website

BIO:

Jeff Wheeler took an early retirement from his career at Intel in 2014 to write full-time. He is a husband, father of five, and a devout member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Jeff lives in the Rocky Mountains. His books have been on the Wall Street Journal Bestseller list 5 times (for The Thief’s Daughter, The King’s Traitor, The Hollow Crown, The Silent Shield, and Prism Cloud) and have sold more than 4 million copies. His novels have also been published or will be published in many languages: Italian, Chinese, Hungarian, Turkish, Polish, Spanish, Russian, and German.

He is also the founder of Deep Magic: the E-zine of Clean Fantasy and Science Fiction (www.deepmagic.co), a quarterly e-zine featuring amazing short stories, novellas, and sample chapters.

You can usually find Jeff at Emerald City Comic Con, New York Comic Con or at writers conferences.

My Favorite Bit: Anne Charnock talks about BRIDGE 108

My Favorite BitAnne Charnock is joining us today with her novel Bridge 108. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Late in the twenty-first century, drought and wildfires prompt an exodus from southern Europe. When twelve-year-old Caleb is separated from his mother during their trek north, he soon falls prey to traffickers. Enslaved in an enclave outside Manchester, the resourceful and determined Caleb never loses hope of bettering himself.

After Caleb is befriended by a fellow victim of trafficking, another road opens. Hiding in the woodlands by day, guided by the stars at night, he begins a new journey—to escape to a better life, to meet someone he can trust, and to find his family. For Caleb, only one thing is certain: making his way in the world will be far more difficult than his mother imagined.

Told through multiple voices and set against the backdrop of a haunting and frighteningly believable future, Bridge 108 charts the passage of a young boy into adulthood amid oppressive circumstances that are increasingly relevant to our present day.

What’s Anne’s favorite bit?

Bridge 108 cover image

ANNE CHARNOCK

Odd as it may seem for a science fiction writer, I’d written three novels before I turned my mind to writing a truly villainous character. Readers of my first three novels had occasionally described one or two of my characters as despicable or heartless. But I must admit that I felt surprised that readers reacted so strongly. The more unpleasant characters in those novels, as I saw them, revealed distinctly unlikeable traits, but they always exhibited a redeeming quality. In other words, just like real people. I suppose I’m a little bit in love with them, even when their flaws are in plain sight.

But with Bridge 108, my fourth novel, the subject matter is so dark—young climate migrants being trafficked into servitude—that I knew I’d be creating multiple characters who are offensive and downright villainous. They display an exploitative and careless attitude to other people, young and old alike. As it turned out, creating these repugnant people became my favourite bit of Bridge 108.

The novel is structured with six point-of-view characters, and I soon realised during the drafting process that I most looked forward to writing in the voice of the villains — the principal villain being Jaspar, the head a recycling clan, who presses trafficked migrants into forced labour at his recycling yard and in spin-off operations. He deals with a trafficker, Skylark, who is constantly on the look-out for young unaccompanied migrants, such as twelve-year-old Caleb, who are easier to manipulate and control. Jaspar farms out Caleb to help his sister-in-law, Ma Lexie, in her upcycled fashion business operating from  a makeshift workshop on the top of her housing block. Both Skylark and Ma Lexie are full players in a cycle of misery, though they each seek a way-out.

Though Jaspar is a seriously wicked man, I still wanted him to more than that, to give the reader a glimpse of what he might have been in vastly different circumstances. Indeed, Jaspar has redeeming qualities if you look closely. He can be seen as both victim and persecutor like several other characters in Bridge 108. He’s in survival mode too and though his actions are unforgivable, in his own mind he is providing as best he can for his large extended family in a world that treats them as disposable.

I’m aware I sound as though I’m making excuses for his abhorrent behaviour, but I’m not. As the writer, I’m simply seeing the world through his eyes. He is distressed over the violent death of his younger brother and he makes sure his brother’s widow, Ma Lexie, stays protected within the clan. Inevitably, Jaspar’s acts of extreme violence nullify any sympathy the reader might have felt for his predicament.

What surprised me most was my willingness to push Jaspar to mete out punishments and commit evermore gruesome acts of senseless violence. So my favourite bit in Bridge 108 has probably altered me as a writer.

LINKS:

Bridge 108 Universal Book Link

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BIO:

Anne Charnock is the author of Arthur C. Clarke Award-winning Dreams Before the Start of Time. Her debut novel, A Calculated Life, was shortlisted for the Kitschies and Philip K. Dick Awards. Sleeping Embers of an Ordinary Mind was included in The Guardian’s Best SFF novels of 2015.

Anne began her writing career in journalism and her articles appeared in The GuardianFinancial Times and International Herald Tribune, among others. She lives on the Isle of Bute in Scotland.

My Favorite Bit: Kelly Braffet talks about THE UNWILLING

My Favorite BitKelly Braffet is joining us today to talk about her novel The Unwilling. Here’s the publisher’s description:

A penetrating tale of magic, faith and pride…

The Unwilling is the story of Judah, a foundling born with a special gift and raised inside Highfall castle along with Gavin, the son and heir to Lord Elban’s vast empire. Judah and Gavin share an unnatural bond that is both the key to her survival…and possibly her undoing.

As Gavin is groomed for his future role, Judah comes to realize that she has no real position within the kingdom, in fact, no hope at all of ever traveling beyond its castle walls. Elban—a lord as mighty as he is cruel—has his own plans for her, for all of them. She is a mere pawn to him, and he will stop at nothing to get what he wants.

But outside the walls, in the starving, desperate city, a magus, a healer with his own secret power unlike anything Highfall has seen in years, is newly arrived from the provinces. He, too, has plans for the empire, and at the heart of those plans lies Judah… The girl who started life with no name and no history will soon uncover more to her story than she ever imagined.

An epic tale of greed and ambition, cruelty and love, this deeply immersive novel is about bowing to traditions and burning them down.

What’s Kelly’s favorite bit?

The Unwilling Cover image

KELLY BRAFFET

In both my last book, Save Yourself, and my new book, The Unwilling, there are moments where I break away from my primary point-of-view and jump into that of another character. Both times, I did it because there was part of the story that could only be told by a side character, and both times they’ve ended up some of my favorite parts of the book. Why? I think partially it’s because writing an entire novel from inside one – or even two – characters can get a little claustrophobic, and breaking out of that character can feel like a breath of air. It’s something different and refreshing, like a salad in the middle of a week-long fried-shrimp binge.* In Save Yourself, that salad was the two scenes told by Caro, a waitress who I swear is going to get her own book one day. The Unwilling is a fantasy novel, and this time around the salad scene is a hunt scene, which we see through the eyes of the heir’s younger brother, Theron. You know the phrase “the heir and the spare?” Theron is the spare. He’s supposed to command the army, but he’s nearsighted and uncoordinated and better suited to his tinkering workshop. The hunt is the first time he’s directly interacted with his father in years. The object of the hunt is a deer; to say that the deer dies is not much of a spoiler, but there are aspects of that scene that really would be spoilers, so I won’t say much more except that the hunt is not what Theron thinks it will be. It is, however one of the most gruesome scenes in the book. It’s also one of my favorites.

*My husband: Don’t you mean “a fried shrimp in the middle of a salad binge?”
Me: Um, no.
My husband: You and I are very different people.

Why? Well, for one thing, I love Theron. His mind works completely differently than everybody else in the book. He’s logical, but almost naïve; going into the hunt, he thinks of the hunt more in terms of the mechanics of the arrow than in terms of the death of the deer. (This illusion is thoroughly dispelled, by the way.) There’s this old writing school bit about how your characters need to change over the course of the story, which I mostly don’t think about – but if you’re looking for the moment in The Unwilling when Theron changes, it’s the hunt. Going into the scene, just as he thinks he knows what the hunt will be, he thinks he knows who his brother and father are, and he thinks he knows how the kingdom operates. He’s wrong about all of these things. The deer dies, and Theron survives, but it’s Theron who ends up with blood on his glasses.

Without a doubt, that scene is hard to read. The truths about his world that Theron is forced to reckon with are hard, too. The violence isn’t meant to be gleeful or gratuitous; the scene would literally not work without the death of the deer. If we don’t see what Theron sees, we don’t feel what he feels, and his response doesn’t feel true. I absolutely understand that some people will find that scene difficult or off-putting. Every reader brings their own history and experience to the table when they’re sitting down to read a book; there are definitely books that I’ve put down because a specific scene was too much for me. But that scene, while grim, accomplishes exactly what I wanted it to, and in a relatively short span of pages. I love the bit where Theron thinks about the mechanics of the arrows, and I love the bit where he thinks about his brother, the messy way his envy, admiration and love are tangled together. I love Theron, and I think that I tried to capture what was surely the most difficult day of his life with empathy and clarity.

LINKS:

The Unwilling Universal link

Website

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Excerpt

BIO:

Kelly Braffet is the author of three novels, and her writing has been published in The Fairy Tale Review, Post Road, as well as several anthologies. She attended Sarah Lawrence College and received her MFA in Creative Writing at Columbia University. She currently lives in upstate New York with her family. Her new novel, THE UNWILLING, will be out February 11th from Mira Books.

My Favorite Bit: K.S. Villoso talks about THE WOLF OF OREN-YARO

Favorite Bit iconK.S. Villoso is joining us today to talk about her novel The Wolf of Oren-Yaro. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Born under the crumbling towers of her kingdom, Queen Talyien was the shining jewel and legacy of the bloody War of the Wolves. It nearly tore her nation apart. But her arranged marriage to the son of a rival clan heralds peace.

However, he suddenly disappears before their reign can begin, and the kingdom is fractured beyond repair.

Years later, he sends a mysterious invitation to meet. Talyien journeys across the sea in hopes of reconciling their past. An assassination attempt quickly dashes those dreams. Stranded in a land she doesn’t know, with no idea whom she can trust, Talyien will have to embrace her namesake.

A Wolf of Oren-yaro is not tamed.

What is Villoso’s favorite bit?

Wolf of Oren-Yaro Cover image

K.S. VILLOSO

One of my most favourite bits in THE WOLF OF OREN-YARO is this piece of interaction between Queen Talyien and her estranged husband, Rayyel:

“Our special for today is pork bone stew,” the manager said.

“Pork bone stew sounds excellent,” I said. “Rayyel could use a spine.”

“Is heartless shrew on the menu?” Rai asked without batting an eye.

Their meeting, after years of separation, is actually the first thing I ever wrote for this book. It doesn’t show up until a few chapters into the final, published version, but it perfectly encapsulates the essence of it: a story beginning from the trenches of a failed marriage.

The perspective of the characters telling a story is often everything to me. I want to know, from the very beginning, what matters to them—their dreams and goals and how they’re going to go about getting it. Queen Talyien’s story begins where many other characters’ stories end…right after “happily ever after.” What she wants is for that happily ever after to still exist.

It is a sentiment that is familiar to many of us: the desire to continue seeing the world as we were led to believe, to chase after the promises once given to us. Queen Talyien’s whole world is bigger than her husband, but the process of discovering the lies and facade begins with him. They were betrothed as children, and their marriage was meant to signify a joint rule that would cease all hostilities in their war-torn land. She is a “chosen one”—chosen by her father and nation to be the answer to years of chaos, at least. She learns, as we all do, that awakening to reality is uncomfortable, distressing, and maybe even world-shattering. Sometimes the narratives we tell ourselves bear little resemblance to the truth.

And so her story is one that is almost familiar, until it isn’t anymore. Her handsome Prince Charming is cold and cruel, and their supposed fairy tale, happily ever after lives are complicated simply by the mere fact that they are human. Their petty, tension-filled argument in this scene brings the point home—here they are, two supposed diplomats trying to work out an agreement that will benefit their land once and for all, and their emotions take the forefront. Hiding under the barrage of insults momentarily distracts them from the fact that our lives are messy, relationships can’t be reduced to sheer logic, and things can’t be just because we want them to be, even if we’ve all but convinced ourselves we deserve everything to work out in our favour. And it’s just the tip of the iceberg for the main cast of the CHRONICLES OF THE BITCH QUEEN—the epic fantasy trilogy that begins and ends with character.

LINKS:

The Wolf of Oren-Yaro Universal Book Link

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BIO:

K.S. Villoso writes speculative fiction with a focus on deeply personal themes and character-driven narratives. Much of her work is inspired by her childhood in the slums of Taguig, Philippines. She is now living amidst the forest and mountains with her husband, children, and dogs in Anmore, BC.

My Favorite Bit: J.R.H. Lawless talks about ALWAYS GREENER

My Favorite BitJ.R.H. Lawless is joining us today to talk about his novel Always Greener. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Life’s biggest victim, please step up and claim your prize!

A smash-hit reality show is offering a lifetime of luxury to the one person living the world’s worst life, and now everyone is out to prove just how bad they’ve got it.

Want in? All you’ve got to do is accept ocular implants that let the whole world see life through your eyes, twenty-four hour a day, seven days a week.

Fortunately, there’s still one person who hasn’t lost faith in all humanity. The show’s ever-smiling host is determined to wring some tiny bit of meaning out of this twisted competition and your unhappy existence.

There has to be a purpose behind all this misery.

…doesn’t there?

What’s his favorite bit?

Always Greener Cover Image

J.R.H. LAWLESS

My debut, ALWAYS GREENER, is like an onion plucked from a field by a cantankerous green ogre — it’s a layered book.

It is a dark comedy Science Fiction story about reality entertainment and the even more jaded society we’re heading towards, in the not-so-distant future, if we don’t do something about it. Beneath the humour and the glitzy plot, it is therefore also a deeply political book. It is a book about the battle between an individual’s fundamental optimism, their faith in humanity, and the part society pushes them to play in an uncaring, dehumanising machine. It is the first book in a series that will explore all these themes in greater depth.

But my favourite bit is probably the layer at the core of the Shrekian onion that is ALWAYS GREENER: The etymological footnotes.

At the bottom of many pages — and in fact, right from the book’s tiny « Fun Fact » prologue-style quip — ALWAYS GREENER uses footnotes to touch briefly on the origins and connotations of some of the story’s most interesting words.

It might be my favourite bit — but, more importantly, does it work? Every reader will have to judge that for themselves, and I was only too aware when writing and editing that every single footnote needs to carry enough weight and value to justify the risk of pulling the reader out of the natural flow of the story.

Here are a few of the juicy etymology bits you’ll find between the covers — hopefully enough to give you a taste, and maybe even want to pick up the book to see the rest for yourself!

The words entertainment and religion share the exact same etymological meaning: “that which minds together”

Conspirator — “breathing together”. Ultimately, we are all conspirators.

Education — To educate is “to lead out of”. It says nothing about “into what or where,” “by whom,” or “to what end.” 

Enema — “throwing in”, though techniques may have evolved somewhat since Proto Indo-European times.

Perk — Diminutive of “perquisite” or, in Latin, that which is “thoroughly sought after.” Perks aren’t some sort of side benefit; they are the main event.

The words we use, in speech and in fiction, often carry their own, inner meaning that can illuminate their use — or, at the very least, provide a bit of a chuckle. My wager, throughout the series that starts with ALWAYS GREENER and carries on with THE RUDE EYE OF REBELLION, also coming out from Uproar Books in Fall 2020, is that enough readers will enjoy the word-play and the odd glimpse of revelation to make it worthwhile.

But even if nobody else ends up liking my little etymology footnotes, they will remain my own favourite bit.

LINKS:

Always Greener Universal Book Link

Website

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BIO:

J.R.H. Lawless is an SF author from Atlantic Canada who blends comedy with political themes — drawing heavily, in both cases, on his experience as a lawyer and as Secretary General of a Parliamentary group at the French National Assembly. A member of SFWA and Codex Writers, his short fiction has been published in many professional venues, including foreign sales. He is also a craft article contributor to the SFWA blog, the SFWA Bulletin, and Tor.com. His debut novel, Always Greener, is now available from Uproar Books, and the sequel, The Rude Eye of Rebellion, comes out in Fall 2020. He is represented by Marisa Corvisiero at the Corvisiero Literary Agency, and would love to hear from you on Twitter, over at @SpaceLawyerSF!

My Favorite Bit: Valentine Wheeler talks about NO PARKING

My Favorite BitValentine Wheeler is joining us today with her novel No Parking. Here’s the publisher’s description:

When Marianne Windmere’s bakery customers begin complaining that her parking lot is always full, she assumes it must be customers for the new restaurant next door. She’s never met her neighbor, and with the parking lot situation, she has no interest in doing so. But when a snowstorm knocks out the power and traps both women in the building overnight, sparks fly—until the next morning, when the buried argument comes to a head.

Can they find a way to reclaim the magic of that night? And as decades-old secrets about the history of the town and Marianne’s family come to light, can they work together to save both their businesses?

What’s Valentine’s favorite bit?

No Parking cover image

VALENTINE WHEELER

I loved writing NO PARKING for a lot of reasons, but especially the research portion. I ate so many baked goods and so much shawarma and basturma at our local restaurants. I interrogated my lawyer customers at my post office about the finer points of real estate law. And I made so many spreadsheets. NO PARKING is a story about community. It’s about love, and change, and how some things stay the same and some things don’t and how that’s okay. And it’s a story about how people come together in a meaningful, purposeful way.

But my favorite part of the process? That had to be making the town of Swanley.

NO PARKING is set in a fictional Massachusetts town halfway between Boston and Worcester, south of I-90. It’s an area I know well; I live just a dozen miles north of where I’ve set Swanley, work ten miles to the east, and have friends scattered around the region.

Everybody knows everybody in a town like Swanley. One of my favorite bits of the novel takes place in a restaurant, where Marianne is describing how interconnected the community is:

In this room right now, I see two of my kids’ teachers, three customers, and somebody who was a Boy Scout with my ex-husband. My second cousin was eating at PJ’s next door with his girlfriend, whose ex-wife is the sister of our mail carrier. Everybody knows everybody’s business.

I love worldbuilding. It’s the element of a story crucial to drawing me into a narrative, and its lack can knock me out of a story instantly. It’s not about the amount of worldbuilding, really; it’s more about cohesion, the way characters move through the world in a way that feels whole. Really good worldbuilding isn’t conveyed through infodumps (although I must admit, I do love a good infodump), but through the assumptions characters make and the glimpses we get of how they interact with each other and the world around them. It’s easiest to see the complexity and consistency of a coherent world in speculative fiction–Phillip Pullman or N. K. Jemisin, for example–for obvious reasons. But contemporary fiction has similar challenges.

A community is a Venn diagram of relationships. My best friend might be your neighbor, and your kid’s soccer coach could be my best friend’s cousin. Your doctor’s married to my mechanic and they all go to the same synagogue as my favorite high school teacher. When you’re working with a small place–a bottle episode of a novel, almost–it’s townbuilding, not worldbuilding. You’re not changing the laws of physics: you’re carving out a little piece of the world and populating it with people who love each other, or hate each other, but above all think they know each other.

Marianne has lived in Swanley for nearly sixty years. It’s where her parents met, where her great-grandfather’s family settled after the Civil War. It’s where she was married and where her kids were born, and she knows the people in it maybe a little too well. There’s Kevin, her ex-husband who retired from local politics but still knows everything that’s going on in town; Zeke, her one employee, who lives with his great-grandfather and goes to college online when he’s not working at the bakery; Tori and Lila, librarian and lawyer; Ray and Fatima, acquaintances who’ve been around so long they’re basically family; Doris, mail carrier and her wife Natasha, Zeke’s old math teacher.

We all think we’re the hero of our own story, and we sometimes forget that everyone else feels the same way. It boggles Marianne to realize that Rana, the owner of the restaurant next door and a new face in a tight-knit community, knows some of the people she knows, and that she has her own stories and relationships with them.

What Marianne ultimately realizes is that she herself is one thread in the fabric of Swanley, one tied to a hundred others, and each is crucial to this world they’ve built in the hills and valleys of central Massachusetts. Zeke’s boss, Kevin’s ex-wife, Rana’s neighbor, Ray’s friend: Marianne’s life is interwoven with all of theirs, and now Rana’s is, too.

This book is a love letter to the small towns and cities in Massachusetts I’ve come to know over the last decade. I wrote it for the customers who I see finding new friends and old in the lobby of my post office, and for the ones who nearly come to blows over long-held slights or fresh anger over line-cutting or snide remarks. And I wrote it for all the people who’ve ever sat in a traffic commission meeting and thought, hey, this would be the perfect place to find love.

LINKS:

No Parking Universal Book Link

Website 

Twitter

BIO:

Valentine lives in Boston, where she goes by Lis and spends her time citing obscure postal regulations and arguing with a preschooler. She serves as Fiction Editor and Logistics Wizard at Wizards in Space Literary Magazine and as a first reader at various SFF publications. Her short fiction can be found at Ninestar Press.

 

My Favorite Bit: R.W.W. Greene talks about THE LIGHT YEARS

Favorite Bit iconR.W.W. Greene is joining us to talk about his novel The Light Years. Here’s the publisher’s description:

The captain of a family-owned starship arranges a marriage for her son in hopes of achieving faster-than-light travel and maybe, just maybe, marital bliss.

Before Hisako Saski is even born, her parents make a deal on her behalf. In exchange for a first-class education and a boost out of poverty, Hisako will marry Adem Sadiq, a maintenance engineer and self-styled musician who works the trade lanes aboard his family’s sub-light starship, the Hajj.

Hisako is not happy when she finds out about the plan. She has little interest in the broken branch of physics the deal requires her to study, and is not keen on the idea of giving up her home and everything she knows to marry a stranger.

Sparks fly when Adem and Hisako meet, but their personal issues are overshadowed by the discovery of long-held secrets and a chance at faster-than-light travel.

What’s Greene’s favorite bit?

The Light Years cover image

R.W.W. GREENE

It was hard to pin down a single Favorite Bit from The Light Years, my debut SF novel coming out from Angry Robot Books this month. The word “debut” has a lovely ring all on its own, and I really like the fact that the poetry in the book – written from the perspective of a teenage girl – was written by actual-factual teenage girls.

However, My Absolute Favorite Bit has to be the fact that I finally practiced what I preach and wrote the first draft of the book on a manual typewriter (or four). The machines were, depending on where I was whilst writing, an Olympia SG-1, an Olympia SM-9, an Olivetti Lettera 32, and a Hermes Rocket.

Olympia SM9 image

Olympia SM9

That list of names may mean little to the average reader, but a typewriter-phile might offer a respectful nod, and I get a geeky little zing that two German machines, an Italian, and one from Switzerland were used on a book that, in the writing at least, predicted Brexit.

Hermes Rocket

Hermes Rocket

I had a couple that I’d been toting around for several years as part of a half-baked idea to open a journalism-themed bar, but I started collecting typewriters in earnest because I taught high-school creative writing, and I didn’t have enough computers in my classroom for my students to work with. Typewriters were cheap in those heady days. Making the rounds of thrift shops and lawn sales, I could usually pick up three or four a month at $5 to $10 a pop. Soon, I had forty in various states of functionality and sat down to learn to repair and maintain them.

I became a bit of a typewriter evangelist. I ran type-ins and began giving typewriters as gifts to graduating members of the high-school creative-writing club I advised. I showed bits of my collection at the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester, NH. When one of my students received his fourth concussion and was unable to use anything with a screen, I sent him home with a 1990s electronic typewriter, complete with spell check and a delete key, so he could keep up with his schoolwork. I did workshops on writing with typewriters, talking about how eco-friendly they were, how distraction-free they were, how much kids with ADHD liked them, how pure the experience was, how very zen…

Kezar on a dock

Rob with the Kezar

In the late spring of 2015, I bent to write a book loosely based on a short story that I debuted (there’s that word again!) at the Boskone Three-Minute Flash Fiction Contest. For previous novels, my T60 ThinkPad had done just fine, but I decided to put my time where my mouth had been. I lifted the 43-pound SG1 onto the writing desk and began.

The Judge

The Judge

I had been so right! The ritual of rolling the paper in, the sounds of the keys and bells … it was so easy to get into “the zone”! Sans Internet access, it was even easier to stay there. I wrote every day, my progress not marked by word count but by page after page after page of text piling on the desk beside me. I wrote only forward, not stopping to look left, right, or behind. At home, I used the mighty SG1 or its smaller cousin the SM9. When I wrote with my students, I used the Olivetti, a model favored by Vietnam War correspondents and Cormac McCarthy. On the road, I toted the Swiss Rocket, a portable marvel. When I told my spouse I was going upstairs to write, I actually had to write, lest she hear – hear, I say! – that I was not.

Lettera 32

Lettera 32

In three months, I had a first draft – whew! – and my years of evangelism were vindicated.

Full confession time: I am a terrible typist. Past hunt-and-peck to be sure, but my fingers are not classically trained, and I am absolutely rubbish when it comes to retyping. So, I scanned all those pages, opened them up through Google Documents OCR function, and did all the subsequent drafts electronically. Mama Greene didn’t raise no fool.

Olympia SM9

But that was only the beginning of my adventures in typewriting. For all the reasons above, these beautiful machines remain my go-to for marathon first-draft work. I’ve now written three novel drafts that way, and a host of partials.

There’s a reason so many writing groups and conventions use the typewriter as their symbol. The pen is too much of a multi-tasker, not well-suited for the long haul. The laptop, well, there’s no guarantee that writerly-looking person in the coffeeshop isn’t playing World of Warcraft or editing a video on tiny houses. But a typewriter… It’s a bit of a one-trick pony maybe, but what a trick it is. That’s my favorite bit.

LINKS:

The Light Years Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

Instagram

BIO:

R.W.W. Greene is a New Hampshire USA writer with an MA in Fine Arts, which he exorcises in dive bars and coffee shops. He is a frequent panelist at the Boskone Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention in Boston, and his work has been in Stupefying Stories, Daily Science Fiction, New Myths, and Jersey Devil Press, among others. Greene is a past board member of the New Hampshire Writers’ Project. He keeps bees, collects typewriters, and lives with writer/artist spouse Brenda and two cats.

It’s my 51st birthday! Have a party favor!

Today, I reached Level 51 Human and am spending it at my parents’ surrounded by writers on a mini-retreat. I’m going to do some serious cooking tonight, but meanwhile, I have a party favor to share with you.

I thought I’d show you the evolution of a story, from initial seed to published product. A lot of times, people compare their work in progress with someone else’s finished product. Don’t do that, even if the finished product is your own.

The story is Articulated Restraint, which came out last year.

Now, I’m going to suggest that you start this by reading the finished story and then we’ll jump back to the beginning. Why? Because I want you to see how many really cool ideas didn’t make it into the final version and how you totally don’t miss them at all.

Ready?

All right, let’s talk about the way this developed.

The idea started after I got to watch an entire dev run (dress rehearsal for a spacewalk) at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Lab.

I took a ton of notes by hand when I was there, shadowing Kjell Lindgren (Thank you, Kjell!) as he prepped. Once I was settled in good spot to observe, I took some atmospheric notes, and then captured a bunch of pieces of dialog. You can see pieces that wound in the final story.

Things like:

“The answer is definitely APFR. I can pitch back. I can grab the door. Close it. I can maneuver my body and not have to pitch or roll the handrail.”

“The settings are 11 poppa poppa julia 3

I knew that there was a story there, but it took me a while to find it. Here… Here is my brainstorming dump.

 I like the idea of doing a story with Ruby Donaldson and touching on her meeting Elma. The question is if that is the beginning of the story or a midpoint or just an element. I guess the questions to ask about Ruby meeting Elma is when in her lifecycle that happens. She’s clearly already an astronaut since she’s on the moon. Is she a candidate for Mars?

Maybe that’s a possible goal is to get selected for the team? Or possibly she’s already assigned when they meet. No… the way Elma talks about her, I think they met before Ruby was Mars material. Interesting… I need to consider why they did NOT meet until they were on the moon and Ruby was learning to drive the rover. Or maybe… maybe they did and Elma just didn’t remember. That’s also fair play.

So what does Ruby want?

  1. Write down gee-whiz idea. – Ruby Donaldson meets Elma York
  2. Where does it happen? – The moon
  3. Characters who would be there (general list).
  4. Ruby
  5. Elma
  6. Parker
  7. Administrator
  8. Other students
  9. Colonists
  10. Support “divers”
  11. Mars Mission candidates
  12. Journalist
  13. Asshole classmate
  14. Rival
  15. Geologist
  16. Miner
  17. Engineer
  18. Mechanic
  19. Cook
  20. Nicole
  1. From the list, pick three you want to focus on.
  1. Ruby Donaldson
  2. Elma York
  3. Asshole classmate
  1. You’ve picked the three you want to spend time with. What do they want out of life?  Go for the deep wants (i.e. to look good, not to diet).  One technique: write down a want, then ask why the character wants that.  Repeat until you’ve reached a deep desire.

Ruby –

  1. Medic – wants to help people
  2. Lindy hop – daredevil
  3. Ruby Donaldson was a fine medic and a wicked hand at bridge. She could dance the lindy hop and make it look like she was in zero gravity, even on Earth. We were in the same class of astronauts, and I will never forget the first day we met. She had those pigtails that make her look like she’s twelve years old, and when some guy asked if she’d gotten lost from a school tour, she looked up at him and said, ‘Yeah. I’m from the fucking school of hard knocks and I’m here to teach you not to make assumptions.’
  4. Ruby Donaldson was a dedicated astronaut and a compassionate doctor. She took every part of her job seriously, even when it wasn’t glamorous. I never heard her complain about long hours, and she even offered to stay later if a teammate needed help. The first time I met Ruby, she was on the moon to learn how to drive a Rover. I will never forget her yelling ‘Yee-haw.’ I wanted to buy her a lasso
  5. Competative
  6. Desire to prove herself
  7. Tired of being underestimated.
  8. Wants to be pushed.
  9. Chip on shoulder because she’s so used to being undervalued because of stature and gender.
  10. Wants to be seen as herself
  11. Wants to be valued
  12. Wants a partner. Lindy-hop. Bridge. Surgery. These all involve teams of people or at least partnering. She enjoys them because skill matters there and also the connection.
  13. She’s exhausted and just wants to be accepted without having to push. She knows she looks young. She wants her abilities to be valued, not her surface attributes.
  14. Aspect of self that she wants to change?
    1. Role – she was a flight surgeon and wants to push the boundaries of space medicene. Maybe there weren’t that many flight surgeons who became astronauts. Oh… What if she and Kamilah were in the same class because it was a medical class of astronauts. Oh, yes… And she’s always had to prove herself as a doctor, too. She wants to be on the Mars mission.
    2. Relationship – Who’s her family? Parents alive? Or no– Oh… what if she was in the girl scout troop that was in the Crystal cave? I like that. Family dead so she’s an orphan. Wants family. She wants connection. So she has a dance partner. She plays bridge with a group of girlfriends. She wants a family. She wants to date and get married and have children.
    3. Status/hierarchy – She was born middle class and is comfortable being there, but having been an orphan after the Meteor is used to privation. She wants to achieve security for herself and family, which means getting to the highest status she can.
    4. Capability – Ruby is short. She’s constantly assumed to be less than she is. She doesn’t want to change her abilities or even herself, but she wants people to give her the credit she deserves.
  1. Note to self: This is a MUCH clearer way to come up with what your character wants than the random lists I’ve been doing. Whoa. So much clearer.
  1. Pick the deep want that is most compelling to you. That character who has it is your main character. – Ruby

List what MC character has at stake.

“Stake” is a word a lot of people misunderstand — it is what will happen to them if they fail at what they are trying to do.  For instance, Captain of sailing ship, every time he takes a risk is to get a fleet of ships, but what he has at stake is that if he takes a risky route to earn more money, his ship could sink and he could lose everything.  Can write down a couple of things down as you’re trying to sort this out.

What is the failure state for each of her aspects of self?

  1. Role – Losing her license. Killing someone. Every time someone dies.
  2. Relationship  – Skipping a dance tournament. Leaving her chosen family in the lurch. Getting kicked out of the bridge group.
  3. Status – Going back to being entirely dependant on others.
  4. Capability – Eyesight and hands. She can handle almost anything else, but the permanent loss of her vision or her dexterity will strip her Role away as well.
  5. Choose the primary stake for your MC character.

Go back to what the MC character wants.  What is stopping the character from achieving their desires?  Why can’t they have what they want?

  1. Role – she was a flight surgeon and wants to push the boundaries of space medic.Maybe there weren’t that many flight surgeons who became astronauts. Oh… What if she and Kamilah were in the same class because it was a medical class of astronauts. Oh, yes… And she’s always had to prove herself as a doctor, too. She wants to be on the Mars mission.
    1. Her height is an issue.
    2. The competition is really fierce

Relationship – Who’s her family? Parents alive? Or no– Oh… what if she was in the girl scout troop that was in the Crystal cave? I like that. Family dead so she’s an orphan. Wants family. She wants connection. So she has a dance partner. She plays bridge with a group of girlfriends. She wants a family. She wants to date and get married and have children.

  1. Trying to be at her best for pursuing Mars means that she struggling to find time for social activities.
  2. Her dance partner needs more rehearsal time than she can give him.
  3. She can’t play bridge regularly anymore.

Status/hierarchy – She was born middle class and is comfortable being there, but having been an orphan after the Meteor is used to privation. She wants to achieve security for herself and family, which means getting to the highest status she can.

  1. The best jobs go to men.
  2. She looks younger than she is.

Capability – Ruby is short. She’s constantly assumed to be less than she is. She doesn’t want to change her abilities or even herself, but she wants people to give her the credit she deserves.

  1. Height.
  2. Round face
  1. What is the most interesting thing standing in the way of your POV character?
  2. What is your MC’s plan to get what they want?
  1. Role – Study harder. Say yes to everything
  2. Relationship – Try to get a bridge game going among fellow AsCans. Promise her partner that she’s try Lindyhop on the moon. Help him find a new partner.
  3. Status – Try to change her role.
  4. Capability – Lean into the physical stereotypes of youth, letting them underestimate her, and then puts people in their place. Takes risks.
  1. Write up 1-3 sentences summing up the decision you have made for your POV character.

Ruby Donaldson will take outrageous risks rather than admit that she can’t do something. She wants to secure a role on the First Mars Expedition because it is adventure and also because being part of that expedition means she’ll be able to write her own ticket when she gets back. The only problem is that she’ll risk cutting ties in order to go.

  1. Identify the MICE quotient element based on the conflict you’ve most connect with. Looking at the MICE quotient, use that to determine where the story begins and ends and explicitly add both to the 1-3 sentence summary.

<Character> – Ruby Donaldson hates the idea of letting down her lindy-hop partner, especially with a dance contest coming up. At the NBL, she’s trying to get onto the Mars Expedition, which means she’d be able to write her own ticket when she gets back and that will allow her to take care of her family. She finally accepts that she has to prioritize and that she’s not a terrible person for following her dream.

Event – What disrupts status quo? Getting assigned to go to the moon to study low-g medicine? New roommate? — Oooo… if her previous roommate fails out or something that would make her resent the new one. Maybe that’s Kam? Medical emergency. Maybe she’s doing a residency on the moon? Something goes wrong? That’s interesting, but it requires more medical knowledge than you probably have. On the other hand… you do know a flight surgeon/astronaut. You could ask Kjell for Things That Go Wrong. Or Sheyna. On the third hand, this is also the plot of what happens to her in Fated Sky. Let’s find something that is a different status quo disruption.

  • Change in plans about the NBL.
  • Someone else is injured
  • Bumped from being shadow to being prime crew
  • A lindy-hop contest comes up with a lot of money attached to it
  • She injures herself in a dance rehearsal
  • hurricane
  • Partner’s suit has a leak during check and she has to begin run solo
  • her suit has a leak during check
  • adopts a dog
  • Testing a new configuration
  • Lunetta is damaged
  • Gun threat
  • power failure
  • Unexpected guests

A Earth Firster arrives at the NBL as part of a tourist group and managed to get a gun into the building.

Start: When a tourist group arrives, it means Ruby has to pause for photos. She understands, it’s the only way to get this close to an astronaut in an EVA suit, but it still makes a long day longer. One of them turns out to be an Earth Firster and pulls out a gun.

End: Threat is contained.

Ruby injured her foot when she was practising Lindy-hop. When she arrives at the NBL for a training session, she learns that Lunetta has been damaged and that they are doing a run to figure out how to make the repair. She does not mention the injury and successfully completes the run.

Inquiry – How do you drive a moon rover? <– this is easiest.

Milieu – arrival on Moon <–Navigating being shorter than average.

5 1 1/2

<event> When her lindy-hop partner’s friends arrive at the NBL as a tourist group, it splits Ruby’s focus. <Character> – She’s trying to get onto the Mars team but doesn’t want to let down her partner, especially since she’s been having to cut back on rehearsals and competitions. So she agreed to the tourist group because she understands the desire to be close to an astronaut. But one of the tourists turns out to be an Earth Firster and pulls out a gun. She feels like her desire to be accommodating has caused this problem.  She’s responsible for keeping her IAC family safe. Eventually realizes that she doesn’t have to be responsible for everyone. </character> Working as a team </event>the threat is contained.

<Character> – Ruby Donaldson hates the idea of letting down her lindy-hop partner, especially with a dance contest coming up. At the NBL, she’s trying to get onto the Mars Expedition but it’s hard balancing both. <event>When her dance partner asks if he can bring some out-of-town friends to watch her NBL run it causes her some stress but she said yes. It derails Ruby’s attempts to focus on the run. She understands, it’s the only way to get this close to an astronaut in an EVA suit, but it still stressful. When one of them turns out to be an Earth Firster and pulls a gun, Ruby uses her mad Lindy-Hop skills to defeat the bad guy. </event> In the end, Ruby remembers why that the mission is the most important thing for Earth, and for her. She finally accepts that she has to prioritize and that she’s not a terrible person for following her dream.  </character>

<Character> – Ruby Donaldson hates the idea of letting down her lindy-hop partner, especially with a dance contest coming up. Ruby injured her foot when she was practising Lindy-hop. At the NBL, she’s trying to

get onto the Mars Expedition, which

means she’d be able to write her own ticket when she gets back and that will allow her to take care of her family. Ruby injured her foot when she was practising Lindy-hop. When she arrives at the NBL for a training session, she learns that Lunetta has been damaged and that they are doing a run to figure out how to make the repair. She does not mention the injury and successfully completes the run.

She finally accepts that she has to prioritize and that she’s not a terrible person for following her dream.

Ruby injured her foot when she was practising Lindy-hop. When she arrives at the NBL for a training session, she learns that Lunetta has been damaged and that they are doing a run to figure out how to make the repair. She does not mention the injury and successfully completes the run.

#

So next, I started in the first scene.

The smell of chlorine met Ruby at the door to the Neutral Buoyancy Lab’s pool.She bounded up the stairs to the third floor, braids bouncing against her shoulders on each carpeted step. Coming out on the pool level, she waved at the techs sitting poolside with their cups of coffee. Six-thirty a.m. was a cruel time to be at work.

In the pool, Kamilah Shamoun was doing laps across the short end. The actual pool was bigger than three football fields so pretty much no one swam the length. Ruby walked past the rows of oxygen tanks and rebreathing gear for the support divers and headed around to the steel table where her tools waited.

As she did, Jason Tsao turned from where he was talking with a wiry Indian man. He had a sheaf of papers and beckoned her over. “Ruby, morning. Change of plans.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah…” He gestured to the other man who she suddenly recognized as Halim “Hotdog” Malouf, one of the original Artemis seven astronauts. “Snyder broke his leg last night, so Halim has offered to step in for the run.”

She managed not to freak out. She had met the man, sort of, at the welcome reception for her astronaut class but that included shaking his hand and nothing else.

I stopped, because I realized that I had two many characters already and that the “OMG celebrities” aspect was a whole nother story line. I backed up and tried again.

Here’s take two on the opening scene.

Patches of orange light from the sodium vapor lamps fractured the dark parking lot at the Neutral Buoyancy Lab. Six-thirty in the morning was a brutal time to start work and Ruby was already exhausted, which she tried to tell herself was good training as an astronaut.

What she wanted was to do the training run and then go home and collapse in bed, but somehow she’d agreed to another lindy-hop rehearsal tonight. It was just so hard to turn someone down that you’d been dancing with since before the Meteor struck. She didn’t have that many pieces of Before left in her life.

And that meant that she hadn’t let her dance partner see how badly she’d actually twisted her ankle in rehearsal last night. The benefit of being a doctor was that she wouldn’t have to admit to a flight surgeon that she’d hurt herself practicing a Charleston Flip. It was hard enough balancing work and life without people questioning her choices.

As she limped from the bus stop, Ruby glanced across the parking lot. There were more cars that normal. She frowned. Was she late? The call time had been six-thirty, hadn’t it?

Ruby glanced across the parking lot. There were more cars that normal. Ruby frowned. Was she late? The call time had been six-thirty, hadn’t it?

She headed for the building as fast as she could without the limp being obvious. The smell of chlorine met Ruby at the door. She headed up the stairs to the third floor, grateful that no one else was in the stairwell and she could lean against the metal rail. Coming out on the pool level, she waved at the suit techs poolside with her EVA suit. As bad as six-thirty was, they’d been there since four.

Wait. There were four suits by the pool. Her run had only been scheduled with one other astronaut.

Across the pool, Jason Tsao turned from where he was talking with a tall blond man and just a look at him confirmed that something was terribly wrong. Jason’s tie was undone and his cuffs were rolled up past his elbows. She had never seen the [run director] look even marginally rumpled. He beckoned her over with his sheaf of papers. “Ruby, morning. Change of plans, as I’m sure you probably expected.”

She had missed something — a message left with her roommate, a briefing update, something — and whatever it was did not look good. All of her medical training snapped her into focus. “What sort of change?”

“I think you’ve met Dr. York?” He gestured to the other man who she suddenly recognized as Dr. Nathaniel York, the lead engineer of the entire International Aerospace Coalition. She managed not to freak out. She had met the man, sort of, at the welcome reception for her astronaut class but that included shaking his hand and nothing else. “He’s familiar with the class of ship that hit Lunetta.”

“Wait– Hit the space station?” Her chest tightened. She had friends up there.

Jason’s shoulders slumped. “Sorry. I assumed you had seen the news.”

She shook her head. “I– I was out last night.”

He took a slow breath. “A ship returning from the moon had a retrorocket that misfired and they impacted Lunetta’s main hanger yesterday evening.”

“Oh God.”  Eugene Lindholm, her partner for today’s run — his wife would have been on that shuttle. She turned, looking for the tall black man among the people working by the pool. He was at the stainless steel bench, running through his checklist with tight, controlled motions. “How bad?”

Dr. York stepped forward and held up his hands. “No one is dead.” He glanced up as if he could see past the tall roof of the NBL to the space station. “They could see coming in that they had a problem, so the hangar crew evacuated and the ship’s hull is intact. We’re incredibly lucky.”

Ruby wiped her hand over her face, still stunned. “And so we’re working on a repair today?”

Shaking his head, Jason handed her the paperwork for the day’s run, which was the only thing that seemed normal. “Rescue and recovery. The impact warped the airlock and coupling mechanism so the ship is locked to the station and the airlock is jammed. We’ve got another crew working on getting it open, but want all possible solutions, because…The crew doesn’t have EVA suits. We have sixteen hours to get them out.”

You can see that this is closer to what the final story wound up as. It’s also really long. It has characters in it that I don’t need. So I took another pass, through, looking at what characters I could eliminate or roll together. Also, I cut the parking lot, because every scenic location makes a story longer.

If you want to hop back over to look at the opening scene of the finished story, you can see the pieces that I kept and how unnecessary the ones I cut were. Did I cut some good stuff? Yes. But honestly, they didn’t need to be there for the finished story. Those bits were making it bloated and slow.

This is a lesson that I have to keep learning. I’m a level 51 human and a level 15 author. Every time I level up, the monsters get trickier, but that’s what makes it fun.

#

P.S. If you wanted to get me a present…would you consider preordering The Relentless Moon? If you order from my local indie bookstore, say “Birthday” in the notes and I’ll include a small gift. Also, you can use the notes field to request personalization. I’ll sign and number the first 100.

Hardcover The Relentless Moon

Paperback The Relentless Moon