And, in fact, I’ve been planning this joke for weeks.
Sorry about that.
This year, I decided that I would, for my April Fool’s joke, tell you something that was absolutely true and see who I could trick into thinking I was pulling a prank. Meta, I know. The fact of the matter is that I am going to be on Sesame Street.
Just remember, on April Fool’s day, do not trust me. Even when I’m telling the truth, I’m lying.
It was an amazing experience, but I figured my chances were slim of getting to do more. Still, getting to do a high level masterclass like that was worth the experience, even if I never got to step foot on Sesame Street.
That was when I got an email checking on my availability for two days of work to assist on Season 46 of Sesame Street.
The urge was to just say YES without checking my calendar, because OMG Sesame Street– But. I did check annnnnd…. some of the dates conflicted with book launch and tour. The agony. THE AGONY. So I told Tor what was going on, and they said, “Go! It’s [appropriate cursing] Sesame Street!” So I let them know that I was available.
Cat Rambo is joining us today with her novel Beasts of Tabat. Here’s the publisher’s description.
When countryboy Teo arrives in the coastal city of Tabat, he finds it a hostile place, particularly to a boy hiding an enormous secret. It’s also a city in turmoil, thanks to an ancient accord to change governments and the rising demands of Beasts, the Unicorns, Dryads, Minotaurs and other magical creature on whose labor and bodies Tabat depends. And worst of all, it’s a city dedicated to killing Shifters, the race whose blood Teo bears.
When his fate becomes woven with that of Tabat’s most famous gladiator, Bella Kanto, his existence becomes even more imperiled. Kanto’s magical battle determines the weather each year, and the wealthy merchants are tired of the long winters she’s brought. Can Teo and Bella save each other from the plots that are closing in on them from all sides?
What’s Cat’s favorite bit?
I’m still a little dazed that Beasts of Tabat is appearing in print; it’s been a long time in the works, and now it’s going from acceptance to print copy in under three months. I’m halfway through finishing book two, Hearts of Tabat, and finding that knowing that the books will be in people’s hands makes an enormous difference in terms of motivation and speed. I’m revelling in Hearts when I get a chance to dive in and write, and I’m so happy with the book at the moment.
What’s my favorite bit about Beasts of Tabat, though? It’s related to that second book, in that I love the structure that’s emerged. Book one follows two characters: Teo, a boy who has just come to Tabat, and Bella Kanto, the foremost Gladiator of the city, who is about to face the biggest challenge of her life. Teo has come to the city with a secret that can kill him. When he’s taken under the wing of Bella, a heroic figure he’s worshipped for most of his brief life, he thinks all his problems solved, but they’ve only just begun.
They’re both in Tabat, a city in which I’ve placed numerous stories, including “I’ll Gnaw Your Bones, the Manticore Said” from Clarkesworld Magazine, “The Dead Girl’s Wedding March” (though technically that takes place under the city) from Fantasy Magazine, and “The Ghost-Eater” (in XIII from Resurrection Press). It’s a world where the human economy depends on both the labor and sometimes even physical bodies of what they call “Beasts,” intelligent magical creatures such as centaurs, dryads, manticores, and minotaurs. At this point in time, those creatures are questioning the system, and political upheaval fills the city.
Book two starts at a chronological point halfway through Beasts, and follows three different characters: Bella’s best friend and former lover, Adelina, and the two men who are wooing her, one a mage and the other a riverboat pilot. Book three (Exiles of Tabat) will pick up with Bella and Teo again, jumping back in time to point where the first book ends, and then it’ll be a glorious medley of povs in the final book, Gods of Tabat.
That’s a structure that grew out of an earlier version with an unmanageable number of points of view, and it’s made me think a lot about the series’ overall arc and how to create that out of the stories I have at hands.
It’s also a weird and experimental structure that I’m not convinced a traditional genre publisher would have let me get away with, and that’s among the many reasons I’m excited to be working with Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta’s excellent Wordfire Press. And it lets me play around with point of view in a way that I really enjoy. Workshopping an early draft of the book, Walter Jon Williams said, “Suddenly I realized I was in the point of view of a pigeon, and not just that, a hypothetical pigeon,” and though that early pigeon went away in later drafts, I think it’ll be back before the last page of Exiles of Tabat.
I go about in a happy glow that I’ve finally got a chance to put Beasts and its accompanying books in front of the world. While I’m starting to approach two hundred short stories published, I’ve always been a bit self-conscious about the fact that though I’ve written several novels, I didn’t have any actually published ones. Now I can put that little insecurity aside, and find some new thing to obsess over.
World Fantasy and Nebula-nominated writer/editor Cat Rambo lives, writes, and teaches by the shores of an eagle-haunted lake in the Pacific Northwest. Her fiction publications include stories in Asimov’s, Clarkesworld Magazine, and Tor.com as well as three collections and her latest work, the novel Beasts of Tabat. A fourth collection, Neither Here Nor There, appears this fall from Hydra House. She is the current Vice President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.
My dears, I have just typed the most glorious word in the history of novel writing, “END” on the first draft of Ghost Talkers. This is my WWI novel. It is rough. Really rough. But it has a shape and lo! it wants polish but is not full of suck. I think you’ll like Ginger Stuyvesant when you meet her next year.
Meanwhile, for those of you who’ve been reading along on the beta– really, the alpha read — Chapter 23 is up along with the rest of the novel. Shocking. No waiting.
And I? I am going to go pour myself a celebratory Scotch.
Sadie and Marlowe are desperately finding the slim beams of sunshine that find their way into the apartment. It snowed again today and I’m totally with them about the whole cabin fever sort of thing. Yes, I went outside, but the sidewalks were slick with ice and the wind was the very definition of bitingly cold.
Comparatively speaking, it wasn’t that bad. A mere 20 degrees.
But my heavens. I am ready for Spring. Oh, so ready.
It’s been way too long since I last had a chapter for you. Waaaaay too long.
But– for those of you reading along, I have finished Chapter 22. I’m actually one scene from the end of the novel as I post this, which means that, hopefully, in the not too distant future, you will have the rest of the book to eat in a single gulp. Meanwhile, since it’s been so long, here’s a link to Chapter 21 if you want to skim it to remember what’s happening.
Laura Liddell Nolen is joining us today with her young adult novel The Ark. Here is the publisher’s description:
It’s the final days of earth, and sixteen-year-old Char is right where she belongs: in prison. With her criminal record, she doesn’t qualify for a place on an Ark, one of the five massive bioships designed to protect earth’s survivors during the meteor strike that looks set to destroy the planet. Only a select few will be saved – like her mom, dad, and brother – all of whom have long since turned their backs on Char.
If she ever wants to redeem herself, Char must use all the tricks of the trade to swindle her way into outer space, where she hopes to reunite with her family, regardless of whether they actually ever want to see her again, or not . . .
What’s Laura’s favorite bit?
LAURA LIDDELL NOLEN
The Ark is about a girl who can’t seem to get it right. Charlotte Turner has been behind bars, off and on, since she was twelve. Even before that, she felt trapped– hemmed in at every angle by her parents’ relentless drive toward status and achievement. But at least in juvy, people seem to get her. They call her by her chosen name, Char, and they even pronounce it correctly: with a hard ch, as in charred. Something that got burned.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one: world-weary criminal seeks out redemption and a better life, only to find that, given his status as a convict, his past will follow him wherever he goes. For some, there is no out.
Only in my book, the hardened criminal is a little girl. And instead of a life of crime and prison, she’s looking at a violent end in an oncoming meteor strike.
Even if she could break out of prison and steal a spot on an Off-Planet Transport, she’d still be an outlaw for the rest of her life. The Arks are populated by the best and brightest Earth had to offer. Its most upstanding citizens. The lives that mattered enough to save.
None of which applies to Char. She’s not welcome on board an Ark, and attempting to steal someone else’s place is a crime punishable by death. Char will never have a home there. There’s no bed for her in her family’s bunk, and she’s pretty sure they’ve long since closed their hearts to her as well, leaving her without even the chance to apologize.
It’s a book about starting over. Earth has just wrapped up World War III, and with the ink barely dry on the Treaty of Phoenix, humanity has one last shot at peace. We either cooperate long enough to escape to space together, or we die.
The idea that any one group of people is responsible for our planet’s ills seems crazy, but if we could hand-pick only the smartest and most personable among us, leaving everyone else behind, could we eradicate injustice? If there were no more land or oil to fight over, could we be done with war forever?
Or is the past not so easily left behind?
Here’s my favorite bit from the book. In this scene, a flashback, Char meets with her lawyer one last time. If she pleads guilty, she can still hope to be released from prison before the age cutoff that would render her ineligible for an Ark on moral grounds. If she fights the charges, she stands to lose everything: her family, her eligibility for a place on an Ark, and by extension, her life.
The felony charges are nothing new to Char. She’s been down that road and served her time. She’s clung to the hope of a new life, of redemption, and starting over.
Much good it did her. She’s back in court, and only one thing has changed:
This time, she’s innocent.
I am in a holding room, sitting on an iron folding chair. The walls are darker gray than the usual steel blue of juvy, and my lawyer asks me to stop looking at them, to look at her. My parents are on their way, she says, and we have a lot to do before the end of the visit.
“For example, we need to go over a viable defense strategy.” I get the impression that she uses words like “viable” to impress me, so that I’ll do what she wants.
I look at her. “You don’t understand. I really didn’t do it.”
She bites her lip, an exaggerated gesture reserved for people like me, half her age, none of her potential. She’s the best that money can buy, so I really should be grateful that she’s here. Kip and Cassa could never afford an attorney like this.
“Charlotte, we’ll get so much further if you just tell me what really happened. You’re not the one they want. It’s this James Kingston, the ringleader. Or those other two. The other kids you work with.”
“We’ll get farther if you believe me. I don’t work for Jimmy anymore.”
“It’s fur-ther,” she pronounces carefully. I raise an eyebrow; she returns my gaze in silence. Like I’m really going to talk about grammar right now.
I continue to stare, nonplussed, and eventually she looks down at her legal pad with a world-weary sigh.
I decide to start over. “Ms. Liston, I left him. I swear.”
“You had six calls from Kip Carston the day before the robbery.”
“That’s… that’s not related.”
“Then what was he calling you about?”
“He never mentioned a job. We were just talking. Really.”
She leans forward. “If you don’t plead out of this, you’ll be ineligible for the Ark. You realize that. This is your third offense, and the victim isn’t going to make it through the trial. You’ll go away until you’re twenty-one, at least, and the meteor hits in one year. You’ll miss the final lottery. It’s the end of the line, Charlotte.”
I know better than to explain myself to people like her. People who only hear the worst. No matter what you say, they think you’re lying. And everything in your head, everything that you want to believe about yourself, feels thin, dirty.
“I’ll tell them everything I know about Kingston, but I can’t plead out. Not this time.”
Laura Liddell Nolen grew up in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, where she spent lots of time playing make-believe with her two younger brothers. They supplemented their own stories with a steady diet of space- and superhero-themed movies, books, and television. Laura loves coffee, dogs, and making lists. She lives in Texas with her husband and children. The Ark is her first novel.
Tex Thompson is joining us today with her novel Medicine for the Dead. Here’s the publisher’s description.
The story of Appaloosa Elim continues.
Two years ago, the crow-god Marhuk sent his grandson to Sixes.
Two nights ago, a stranger picked up his gun and shot him.
Two hours ago, the funeral party set out for the holy city of Atali’Krah, braving the wastelands to bring home the body of Dulei Marhuk.
Out in the wastes, one more corpse should hardly make a difference. But the blighted landscape has been ravaged by drought, twisted by violence, and warped by magic – and no-one is immune. Vuchak struggles to keep the party safe from monsters, marauders, and his own troubled mind. Weisei is being eaten alive by a strange illness. And fearful, guilt-wracked Elim hopes he’s only imagining the sounds coming from Dulei’s coffin.
As their supplies dwindle and tensions mount, the desert exacts a terrible price from its pilgrims – one that will be paid with the blood of the living, and the peace of the dead.
What’s Tex’s favorite bit?
It’s one of those great unspoken rules of fantasy: you can’t have a quest without a journey, and you can’t have a journey without a map. Well, YOU can (of course you can!), but I couldn’t. Medicine for the Dead is basically Lord of the Rings, if Frodo and Sam were a couple of Native Americans, and the One Ring was a corpse getting riper by the day, and the quest involved getting said corpse through Mordor and home for burial without getting killed by demons, drought, or a vicious case of magical dysentery. You definitely don’t want to tackle a thing like that without an up-to-date Fantasy Fodor’s in your back pocket.
The thing is, we couldn’t do a traditional Tolkienesque fantasy map, because this really isn’t a traditional Tolkienesque fantasy world. It’s based on the American Southwest, for one thing, and for another, it’s not a stable place: within the space of a generation, borders have been drawn and redrawn, towns have changed names or been burnt to the ground, and even ‘static’ features like rivers have been poisoned, dammed, diverted, or just dried up – all of which have direct, occasionally dire plot-consequences. After much agonizing and some brilliant advice from my Facebook posse, I realized that this would need to be a map in two layers: a prettier, nicely-drawn “then” and a rough, improvised “now”.
Here’s the funny thing about maps, though: somebody has to make them. I don’t mean in the real world – I have my world-famous Swedish cartographer on tap for that – but there in fantasyland. Fictionally speaking, who drew that conveniently paperback-sized thing at the front of the book, and why?
In this case, the top layer was easy enough: we just gave a piece of charcoal to Our Heroes and let them modernize the map. But who would have drawn the original? In order to make it visually distinct from those sharp charcoal marks, we wanted a delicate, flowing ink-pen style – but whose hand would have been holding the pen? What kind of old-world artist would have had access to all this disputed territory?
I mused. I meditated. I despaired. And then it hit me as suddenly as if I’d been slapped with a mackerel: fishmen.
Or mereaux, as they call themselves. They share water rights to everything that drains into the secondary-world Gulf of Mexico, so if we can imagine that the original version was sketched into something more waterproof than paper, they could have been doing land surveys even while those inscrutable earth-persons were busy killing each other.
And y’all, I can’t even tell you what a blast I had. Have you ever thought about what the world would look like from a freshwater perspective? Let me tell you: it is ridiculous, amphibious, toe-curling fun (and in this case, it also involved a fair bit of French.)
After all, if you spend most or all of your life in rivers, you probably think of them as something more nuanced than ‘rivers’. Maybe you have a natural navigation system somewhere in your vocabulary. Maybe river systems are kind of like families, which – in your matriarchal society – might mean that ‘grandmothers’ are rivers that drain directly to the sea, ‘mothers’ drain to grandmothers (‘aunties’ do too, but unlike mothers, they have no tributaries), ‘daughters’ drain to mothers, and so on, until you get to ‘babies’ too shallow to swim in. And if ‘in-laws’ are those to the north or east, then you can distinguish them from others to the south or west – so if somebody tells you that Belle-Mère Froide is Grand-Mère Étourdie’s second daughter-in-law, you’ll know that you can get there by swimming upstream and taking the second fork to the east. (Naturally, you will orient your map labels accordingly, because everyone who’s not an illiterate earthbound clown reads from upstream to downstream.)
And of course, hardly any of this navigational navelgazing made it into the printed map, because you can only fit so much fabulosity into an 8″ x 7″ square. But I’ve had tremendous fun imagining a web-fingered cartographer detailing every bend in those rivers, happily drawing in little decorative cacti to fill in those mysterious inland bits. And we did manage to sneak one bit of gratuitous geekery into the final product. After all, there are indigenous humans to the west and settler humans to the east, but what does one call this disputed desert, this vast dry stretch of no-man’s-land in between?
‘Il On Échappe': a fanciful old phrase that might have once meant ‘it escapes us’ or ‘one doesn’t know’, but is now a calligraphic shrug – a timid river-dweller’s ‘Here There Be Dragons’. And as Our Heroes will discover in brutally short order, that’s not the half of it…!
Arianne “Tex” Thompson is a home-grown Texas success story. A relentless fantasy enthusiast dual-wielding a bachelor’s degree in history and a master’s in literature, Tex has since channeled her interests into an epic fantasy Western series that kicked off in 2014 with the release of ONE NIGHT IN SIXES and its forthcoming sequel, MEDICINE FOR THE DEAD. In her spare time, she works as a writing instructor, editor for the DFW Writers Conference, and professional comma placement specialist. Find her online at www.thetexfiles.com and on Twitter as @tex_maam!
Back when I was secretary at SFWA, we had a Nebula Awards Weekend in which the con chair’s house burned down. Peggy Rae Sapienza stepped in to help and was amazing. From the front of house, that weekend looked very smooth, and that’s largely because she was good at spotting problems before they became problems.
This was my first encounter with her. Over the years, we became friends. She was one of those people that you could rely on to make things better, regardless of the situation. Either personal or professional, you could count on her. And when she asked you for a favor, it was never one that you minded doing. She had a way of matching people with tasks that suited them.
One of my favorite things she asked me to do was to interview her when she was Fan Guest of Honour at ChiCon. This is the big official interview that happens in front of a live audience for a GoH. She asked me to interview her with a puppet. Her sense of whimsy was infectious.
I don’t think it would be inaccurate to say that Peggy Rae was a Queen SMOFS. For those who don’t know, a SMOF is a Secret Master of Fandom. These are the tireless, dedicated volunteers who run conventions. It’s one of those acronyms that started a joke, until people realized that it was accurate; there really was a secret unofficial group that made fandom happen. Peggy Rae? She was one of the best. If she was involved in a convention, you knew it would be a good one. In fact, I actually went to some cons simply because I knew she was running them. Well, and she asked me and one did not say no to Peggy Rae. One didn’t want to say no.
Alan Smale is joining us today with his novel Clash of Eagles. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Perfect for fans of military and historical fiction—including novels by such authors as Bernard Cornwell, Naomi Novik, and Harry Turtledove—this stunning work of alternate history imagines a world in which the Roman Empire has not fallen and the North American continent has just been discovered. In the year 1218 AD, transported by Norse longboats, a Roman legion crosses the great ocean, enters an endless wilderness, and faces a cataclysmic clash of warriors, worlds, and gods.
Ever hungry for land and gold, the Emperor has sent Praetor Gaius Marcellinus and the 33rd Roman Legion into the newly discovered lands of North America. Marcellinus and his men expect easy victory over the native inhabitants, but on the shores of a vast river the Legion clashes with a unique civilization armed with weapons and strategies no Roman has ever imagined.
Forced to watch his vaunted force massacred by a surprisingly tenacious enemy, Marcellinus is spared by his captors and kept alive for his military knowledge. As he recovers and learns more about these proud people, he can’t help but be drawn into their society, forming an uneasy friendship with the denizens of the city-state of Cahokia. But threats—both Roman and Native—promise to assail his newfound kin, and Marcellinus will struggle to keep the peace while the rest of the continent surges toward certain conflict.
What’s Alan’s favorite bit?
I’m happy to say that it took me a while to decide. After all, I’ve had my head in the world of Clash for many years now: Clash of Eagles was a novella before it was a novel, and then it became a trilogy, and then it sold to Del Rey, and today it finally gets its coming-out party. My favorite location is easy: it’s the ancient city of Cahokia, the great pre-Columbian metropolis on the banks of the Mississippi, close to where St. Louis stands today. Cahokia covered over five square miles and contained at least 120 mounds of packed earth and clay, some of them colossal. Some 20,000 people lived there, meaning that in our world in thirteenth century Cahokia was larger than London, and no city in northern America would be larger until the 1800s. It was a major hub of the Mississippian culture for several hundred years. Trying to bring Cahokia to life as a vibrant setting, as true to the archeological evidence as possible but inhabited by realistic, down-to-earth people, was one of the great joys of writing the book.
I also got a kick out of writing the battle scenes. When I’m reading history or SF novels I sometimes feel distanced by set piece battle scenes – and action scenes in general – because suddenly the narrative is all about the action and the tactics instead of the characters. I’ve skimmed many a battle scene in my reading life. I didn’t want anyone to skim mine, so I’ve done my level best to keep the conflicts intimately connected to the characters in the thick of them.
Ultimately, though, the scene that means the most to me is a calmer moment. After much blood and thunder and character-infused derring-do, my hero Gaius Marcellinus finds himself stranded in Cahokia. He is wounded, confused, isolated, guilty at the deaths he is responsible for, and – of course – speaks no Cahokian. The paramount chief, Great Sun Man, assigns three children to learn his language; in Nova Hesperia – my version of North America – children often help translate between the multitudes of tongues and dialects. This does not immediately go well, because
Marcellinus had no particular affinity for children; he had stopped talking to them at roughly the time he had stopped being one himself. He had treated his own daughter, Vestilia, like an adult from the time she was six.
The children are Tahtay, eleven winters old; Kimimela, eight winters; and my sneaking favorite–
The smallest of the three was called Enopay, which meant “bold” or “brave” or “defiant” or some other idea synonymous with standing up straight and strutting around with his fists up, and none of the three knew how old Enopay might be.
And away they go:
After that the work began in earnest, with Tahtay miming an action or an idea, saying a word, and then inviting Marcellinus to say the word in his own tongue. Their young brains soaked up his Latin like sponges.
Their efforts to teach him spoken Cahokian in return were an abject failure. Marcellinus could hold a Cahokian word in his mind only until Tahtay said something else, and then the first word slid out of his head as if it had never been there. He did much better with the gestural language, the hand-talk as Kimimela called it, because the gestures had their own logic; the sign for water involved pretending to drink from your cupped hand, sleep had him resting his cheek against his hands, and the sign for question—the most useful gesture of all and one he used constantly—required him to hold up his hand with his fingers open and waggle it at the wrist.
Even so, by noon Marcellinus was wearying of the effort, and the weight of his guilt was growing inside him once again. He swallowed the last of the chewy hazelnut cakes they had brought him, raised his hands in surrender, and stood.
“Hand-talk,” Tahtay said sternly in barely comprehensible Latin. “Sit, hand-talk hand-talk.”
Marcellinus swung his hand back and forth in the gesture for No and then gestured Walk, graves.
“Walk to river,” Enopay counteroffered in Latin.
Walk graves, then walk river, signed Marcellinus.
Kimimela grimaced and gestured No. “Kimi hit food,” she said aloud.
“What?” Marcellinus said, and knocked twice on his right forearm with his left fist, which was the sign they had developed for when someone needed a definition.
Enopay mimed it. Kimimela, seeing what he was doing, mimed the same thing faster, as if competing or trying to catch up. “Huh,” said Tahtay, a grunt he had picked up from Marcellinus.
Marcellinus thought he understood. He pointed to Enopay’s arms. “Grind?” He pointed to the space beneath. “Corn?” He mimed eating to try to confirm it.
“Kimimela grind corn. No walk graves, grind corn,” said the girl.
“That’s quite a lot of Latin for one day,” Marcellinus said.
Marcellinus stood. The inactivity had rendered his leg muscles almost immobile. He tried not to let the children see how stiff and weary he was, wondering what the word for pride was. “Enopay,” probably.
For obvious reasons, speculative fiction writers tend to take short-cuts with language; in many books and movies the lead characters magically become fluent within weeks of their arrival in a new land. I wanted to try something more believable, and enjoyed the challenge of doing so without bogging the story down. I think it also helps to make Marcellinus’s isolation and lack of understanding of Cahokian culture more interesting and credible.
Tahtay, Kimimela, and Enopay guide Marcellinus’s path into Cahokian culture, and play significant roles in the plot – much more significant than I’d originally intended. Their growth as human beings and, eventually, co-protagonists continues to be a fun part of writing the second and third books in the series.
And that’s my favorite bit. Thanks, Mary, for letting me talk about it!
Alan Smale grew up in Yorkshire, England, and now lives in the Washington, D.C., area. By day he works at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center as a professional astronomer, studying black holes, neutron stars, and other bizarre celestial objects. However, too many family vacations at Hadrian’s Wall in his formative years plus a couple of degrees from Oxford took their toll, steering his writing toward alternate, secret, and generally twisted history. He has sold numerous short stories to magazines including Asimov’s and Realms of Fantasy, and the novella version of Clash of Eagles won the 2010 Sidewise Award for Alternate History.
Gabriel Squailia is joining us today with his novel Dead Boys. Here’s the publisher’s description.
A decade dead, Jacob Campbell is a preservationist, providing a kind of taxidermy to keep his clients looking lifelike for as long as the forces of entropy will allow. But in the Land of the Dead, where the currency is time itself and there is little for corpses to do but drink, thieve, and gamble eternity away, Jacob abandons his home and his fortune for an opportunity to meet the man who cheated the rules of life and death entirely.
According to legend, the Living Man is the only adventurer to ever cross into the underworld without dying first. It’s rumored he met his end somewhere in the labyrinth of pubs beneath Dead City’s streets, disappearing without a trace. Now Jacob’s vow to find the Living Man and follow him back to the land of the living sends him on a perilous journey through an underworld where the only certainty is decay.
Accompanying him are the boy Remington, an innocent with mysterious powers over the bones of the dead, and the hanged man Leopold l’Eclair, a flamboyant rogue whose criminal ambitions spark the undesired attention of the shadowy ruler known as the Magnate.
An ambitious debut that mingles the fantastic with the philosophical, Dead Boys twists the well-worn epic quest into a compelling, one-of-a-kind work of weird fiction that transcends genre, recalling the novels of China Miéville and Neil Gaiman.
What’s Gabriel’s favorite bit?
Have you ever met someone who makes your life easier just by existing? Whose faith fits your doubt as if the two were cut from a single piece of wood? Who solves your thorniest problems just by showing up?
I have, or I wouldn’t be asking all these leading questions. And so, by the end of his quest, has the hero of Dead Boys, the fastidious corpse known as Jacob Campbell.
Jacob has enough drive to get his quest through the underworld started, but he is, if anything, too detail-oriented to pull off his plans alone. It’s a conundrum I’m familiar with: I’d been working on my first book for almost a decade before I met my wife, and while I could build cities, societies, and backstories with endless enthusiasm, I couldn’t seem to build up the steam I needed to get to the end of a hundred pages, let alone an entire novel. But my wife and I had a long, epistolary courtship, and as soon as we started talking about my process, something clicked. I decided to send her the chapters of the book as I finished them, like it was a serial with an audience of one.
Just like that, after years of preparation, I was on my way. And the shape of that transformation slid neatly into the book itself: a long, private struggle leading to an interpersonal connection that made everything possible.
In Dead Boys, it’s not a romance, because these are corpses, and that would be gross. The book takes place in an underworld where the departed float into the muck on the banks of the River Lethe and learn, over the course of days, to move with their minds instead of their muscles. The process is known as quickening, and some never master it, floating downriver instead of entering the afterlife. But those who manage to stagger into Dead City learn that they’ll be rotting, in slow motion, for the rest of eternity.
It’s a cheerless scenario, which is why Jacob has decided to make a better story for himself. Inspired by urban myths of the Living Man, an Orphic figure who came to the Land of the Dead while he was still alive, Jacob is determined to find his way back to the land of the living, or fall to bits trying.
It’s a classic quest full of trials and setbacks, and while it’s made easier, in a way, by the nature of these characters’ bodies — they can’t feel pain, or die again — they’re also struggling against their own substance. Every step they take is hampered by the grip of rotting muscle on bone. In an early chase scene, the Boys notice they’re not gaining any speed by trying to outrun their pursuers, since haste only causes them to jostle and stumble against one another.
It’s a light-hearted scenario, but while I built my characters out of imaginary plasticine, like their spiritual brethren in A Nightmare Before Christmas, I also strove to make every step of their journey a struggle. In setting up the tale, I was careful in my descriptions of motion and the passage of time. I wanted the reader, by and by, to take moving with painstaking deliberation for granted, to assume that every minute passed differently in death than it would in life. My aim was to build a cage of time and space for Jacob and his compatriots — then invite Siham in to smash it.
I can’t tell you much about her, because I hear spoilers are a thing. I can tell you that she took on some of my wife’s history. That I smiled through every scene she graced. That she’s one of very few characters in this crowded cast who arrived with her voice fully formed.
That’s because I’d been waiting so long to bring her in.
My favorite bit in Dead Boys is when Siham arrives.
After all that shambling, she spins. After all that staggering, she laughs. After all that struggle, she gives Jacob a weapon he didn’t know he needed.
Gabriel Squailia is a professional DJ from Rochester, NY. An alumnus of the Friends World Program, he studied storytelling and literature in India, Europe, and the Middle East before settling in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts, where he lives with his wife and daughter.
Hello! It’s that time of year again, where the Hugo nominations are about to close and all of your author friends are saying “Look! I wrote stuff!” I am right there with them, because it’s hard to remember what comes out in a given year. So… if you are nominating for the Hugos and have an empty slot on your ballot, here are some things I hope you might consider nominating.
Lock In – John Scalzi. I loved this and thought that it did really interesting things with disability, gender, all in the guise of a good tech thriller.
The Goblin Emperor – Katherine Addison – Wow. This blew me away. It’s a political intrigue novel mashed up with a coming-of-age novel, but set in a fully realized secondary world that’s intricate and lovely/horrible. It deals with class expectations, prejudice, bigotry, and grief. It’s just lovely.
Best Dramatic Presentation Short Form
“A Matter of Endurance” — Defense Grid 2 (audio play) – Written by me! Did I mention Alan Tudyk is one of the actors? (I have copies of this that I can offer to nominating members, just ask for it.)
Space Janitors Season 3 – This is a webcast that I love. A lot. Go watch it and nominate it.
Sleepwalking Now and Then — by Richard Bowes – I’m a sucker for all things theatrical and this is a fascinating look at theater in the future. And like all theater, you’re just waiting for something to go horribly, horribly wrong.
Best Related Work
Shadows Beneath, The Writing Excuses Anthology – by Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Howard Tayler, and Dan Wells – We are really, really proud of this. It’s an anthology of short stories in which we also show our work, so you can see how a story develops. As a writing textbook, we think it’s doing something new. If you are eligible to nominate for the Hugo Awards, we will happily send you a copy for review. Please send Brandon an email through his website, and we will get one to you ASAP.
Carrie Patel is joining us today with her novel The Buried Life. Here’s the publisher’s description.
The gaslight and shadows of the underground city of Recoletta hide secrets and lies. When Inspector Liesl Malone investigates the murder of a renowned historian, she finds herself stonewalled by the all-powerful Directorate of Preservation – Recoletta’s top-secret historical research facility.
When a second high-profile murder threatens the very fabric of city society, Malone and her rookie partner Rafe Sundar must tread carefully, lest they fall victim to not only the criminals they seek, but the government which purports to protect them. Knowledge is power, and power must be preserved at all costs…
What’s Carrie’s favorite bit?
The director of my school theater program once said that the best way to build tension is to begin with two characters on opposite ends of the stage. As the scene unfolds, it’s watching them come together—and seeing all the missteps and breakthroughs along the way—that creates drama.
Recoletta is what social scientists would call a high power distance society—rank and prestige figure into a person’s job, living arrangements, and personal relationships. So while the characters of The Buried Life are trying to solve a mystery, they’re also digging their claws into whatever precarious niche they’ve carved out for themselves. When they cross paths, they reach across wide gulfs of status and experience.
One of my favorite scenes is the initial meeting between Jane Lin, a mild-mannered laundress, and Roman Arnault, an iconoclast and confidante to Recoletta’s ruling councilors. Prior to this exchange, Jane overheard a suspicious conversation between Arnault and one of the councilors, and she isn’t sure yet if he noticed. Now, she must humor his presumptions of familiarity without actually offending him:
He said her name slowly, as if trying it out. Jane flicked her gaze downward, noticing his hands and their clean but trimmed nails. After a few moments, he followed her eyes to the cigarette between his fingers. “Cloves,” he said, holding it up for her inspection. “Care for one?”
“Oh, I wasn’t… No, thank you, Mr Arnault.”
“A lady of modest habits.”
Jane had found that when whitenails and their ilk chose to make pronouncements on her station, bearing, or character, it was best to offer nothing but the tacit confirmation of a small smile, which she did now.
Arnault’s mild tone kept what came next from sounding like a rebuke. “Miss Lin, do I look like a man who enlists the services of specialty laundresses? Or whose recommendations on the same would be trusted?”
Arnault paused, and Jane, whose repertoire of etiquette offered no guidance for this kind of conversation, listened hopefully for Lena’s footsteps. “You can disagree with me, especially if I’m so pompous as to make sweeping generalizations about you, someone I have known for all of two minutes.” He took a deep breath, and Jane felt herself do the same. “So, Jane Lin, are you ready to tell me what you really think?”
Jane heard the words come out of her mouth before she knew what she was saying. “It’s easy for you to say so when you can get away with visiting a councilor dressed like that.”
Arnault’s expression changed slowly, his eyebrows lifting and his lips drawing back.
“I’m sorry,” Jane said. “I shouldn’t have said that.”
But he looked amused. “Speaking your mind is nothing to be sorry for, Miss Lin. I find a little honesty refreshing, especially in this neighborhood. So, how does a nice girl like you end up in it?”
“Everybody has dirty laundry, Mr Arnault.”
He chuckled, but in a way that suggested a private joke. “How right you are.”
“And you, sir? What kind of business are you in?”
“There’s no need to ‘sir’ me, Miss Lin. As for the business… I suppose you could say that I’m in the same line of work that you are.” He took another drag on his cigarette.
Jane looked him up and down, taking in his outfit again. “If we’re being candid, Mr Arnault, I find that hard to believe.”
“It’s a metaphor, Miss Lin.”
“Should I be honest again?”
“It sounds like a bad one.”
Arnault considered the clove cigarette between his fingers. “To return to your modest habits,” he said, holding the cigarette in the air between them, “you avoid these because…?”
Jane blinked. She didn’t want to mention that a habit like that was absurd for someone on her income. “They kill. From the inside.”
“So do a lot of things,” Arnault said. “And people. And just like your dirty laundry, some things are best kept private.”
He said it with a twinkle in his eye, but the memory of the overheard conversation sent flutters through Jane’s stomach. “Are you always this friendly with the domestic help, Mr Arnault?”
“I’m not friendly with anyone.”
“Then I have grossly misinterpreted our brief encounter.”
“That’s because you’re a good influence, Miss Lin, and you should stay for tea.”
Jane could not begin to fathom the reaction were she to have tea in Councilor Hollens’s home at Arnault’s invitation. “I thought you’d already enjoyed some with the councilor.”
“We shared a stronger beverage. But with a nice young lady like yourself, I’d have tea.”
As a reader, I love banter scenes for the way they bring out the goals, fears, and relative positions of two characters. They let you see each character through the eyes of the other, and they tend to bring a snappy sense of playfulness to a chapter.
This scene contrasts Jane’s attempts to fly under the radar with Arnault’s efforts to draw her out of her shell. They each test the other’s boundaries while playing their own cards close to the vest. Furthermore, the arch flirtation and the tension between them set the tone for the rest of their relationship. That’s why this passage is my favorite bit!
Carrie Patel is an author and narrative designer from Houston, Texas. Her first novel, The Buried Life, debuts with Angry Robot on March 3. It’s a steampunk-flavored science fantasy filled with murder and intrigue. The sequel, Cities and Thrones, comes out this summer. She also works as a narrative designer for Obsidian Entertainment and writes for their CRPG Pillars of Eternity. Her short story “Here Be Monsters” recently appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Exchange hellos and high fives with her on Twitter at @Carrie_Patel or check out her ramblings at www.electronicinkblog.com.
Ferrett Steinmetz is joining us today with his novel Flex. Here’s the publisher’s description.
FLEX: Distilled magic in crystal form. The most dangerous drug in the world. Snort it, and you can create incredible coincidences to live the life of your dreams.
FLUX: The backlash from snorting Flex. The universe hates magic and tries to rebalance the odds; maybe you survive the horrendous accidents the Flex inflicts, maybe you don’t.
PAUL TSABO: The obsessed bureaucromancer who’s turned paperwork into a magical Beast that can rewrite rental agreements, conjure rented cars from nowhere, track down anyone who’s ever filled out a form.
But when all of his formulaic magic can’t save his burned daughter, Paul must enter the dangerous world of Flex dealers to heal her. Except he’s never done this before – and the punishment for brewing Flex is army conscription and a total brain-wipe.
What’s Ferrett’s favorite bit?
Let’s talk about the word “fat.” Or “chubby.” Or “plump,” or “chunky,” or any number of other words that describe a woman who’s packing more pounds than what society considers acceptable.
As I discovered writing my book Flex, they’re all insults.
They shouldn’t be insults. Those words are merely describing a type of person, like “skinny” or “blonde” or “tall.” But Western society has such a cultural revulsion to being overweight that no matter how innocuous a “fat” term is when it’s created, someone will inevitably weaponize it into an insult.
Which saddens me, because as a white middle-aged dude, I see people like myself pretty much everywhere I look in fiction.
What I do not see are people like my wife.
My wife is, as they say in the dating trade, a Big Beautiful Woman – she’s carrying some extra pounds, which she totes along cheerfully when she’s finishing a triathlon. She’s smartly bawdy, loves to flirt with anyone who comes near her, and is never ashamed of it.
Yet for years, whenever I read a fantasy story, it might as well have been that fat women didn’t exist.
Oh, they existed as wallpaper. They were the unattractive innkeeper’s wife, or the slovenly Queen of a country that deserved better rulership, or the sassy friend who got murdered by a werewolf to show just how serious things were getting for the real people in this novel.
And when fat women existed, they were largely sexless. You could have a lusty fat dude – that extra weight was proof of bold appetites! – but in the fantasy books I read, only the thin ones got the romance, while the chubby girls either lost weight or showed up to toss flowers at the thin girl’s wedding.
That bothered me.
Thing is, I didn’t want to have a female character defined by their sexuality, because that’s the other terrible way to do things – if a woman wants sex she’s gotta be slinking around like Jennifer Aniston in Horrible Bosses, because women can’t enjoy sex and triathlons and watching Lord of the Rings, no. Women can have one interest at most and if that interest happens to be sex, well, she’s gotta be a nymphomaniac.
Me? I wanted to see a fat woman who could be boldly aggressive towards getting what she wanted, and had other interests, and not have those desires be laughable.
All that lack of representation bubbled to the fore when I set out to make a foil for my protagonist. My central character Paul was an uptight middle-aged dude so in love with paperwork that he literally became a bureaucromancer, able to conjure up rental agreements out of thin air. He was compassionate, using his powers to subvert a greedy insurance company who was denying people claims… but he didn’t get out much.
Now, I could forge a plot that would get him out of the house and making the sorts of bad decisions that any good novel is made of – but I needed a character who would bring out Paul’s other instincts.
And Valentine DiGriz fell into my lap.
She’s pudgy, but she dresses like the hottest goth girl at the club because she knows she’s beautiful. She loves her magic, channeling the power of videogames to go all Grand Theft Auto on people. She loves sex, refusing to be ashamed of her kinky habits.
She gets all the best one-liners.
Yet for all that, she’s not the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Unlike Paul, who is incredibly naïve about how wonderful his power is, Valentine is excruciatingly aware of what happens when you do magic in a universe that actively despises people who break the laws of physics. Cast enough spells, and the universe rains down horrific coincidences upon you to balance out all the weird stuff you did – and that bad luck is custom-tailored to hit you in all your worst fears. She’s lost jobs, boyfriends, her family to magic. She’s a sliver of caring, encrusted in a deep layer of sarcasm, afraid to trust anyone because her magic can kill.
In other words, she likes sex, and she likes videogames, and she has Issues, and she’s fat. Merely one other descriptor in a long line of them, I hope.
So when an early review of Flex had the reaction of “This book has a female character who gets to be described as pudgy AND pretty with no BUT in between the two?!,” I teared up a little, because that was precisely what I was going for.
Ferrett Steinmetz’s debut urban fantasy FLEX, described as “A desperate father will do anything to heal his daughter in a novel where Breaking Bad meets Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files,” is something he is inhumanly capable of shutting up about. He’s published over 30 short stories since his Clarion graduation in 2008, including the Nebula-nominated Sauerkraut Station. He also went viral with his essay “Dear Daughter: I Hope You Have Awesome Sex,” which over a million (!) people read. He Tweeters at @ferretthimself, and blogs entirely too much about puns, politics, and polyamory atwww.theferrett.com.
Forthcoming – April 28, 2015 The final book of the acclaimed Glamourist Histories is the magical adventure that might result if Jane Austen walked on the grimmer side of the Regency Jane and Vincent have finally gotten some much-needed rest after their adventures in Italy when Vincent receives word that his estranged father has passed away on […]
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