Recipe: Grits with gouda, thyme, and white wine

So that I can remember what I did with the grits, because they were pretty magical, here is my best approximation of how I made them. We were cooking for a crowd, so be aware that this makes a giant mess of grits.

  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 cups white wine
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme
  • 2 cups coarse ground grits
  • 3/4 cup grated goat gouda
  • 1/2 cup grated manchego
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream

Combine first five ingredients in a large pot and bring to a boil. Whisk in grits to avoid clumping. Stir constantly for ten – fifteen minutes, until thick and creamy. Add cheeses and butter, stir to combine. Add heavy cream to desired consistency.

Mikki did some magic with the shrimp that involved lemon juice, spices, white wine, the magic bark of the bacon tree, and a cast iron skillet. MAGIC EVERYWHERE.


May your New Year be lovely

Having a quiet New Year's Eve with Rob and homemade sushi.Rob and I stayed in and had a quiet New Year’s Eve. When we got married, we wound up combining our various cultural traditions into an odd conglomeration of Hawaii and Tennessee. So on New Year’s Eve, we clean from the back of the house to the front, in order to sweep the bad luck out the door.

Then we make sushi.

And on New Year’s Day we have black-eyed peas, collards, cornbread, and ozoni.

When we moved to Chicago, we had to suspend parts of that because we couldn’t find sushi grade fish in the markets. Now there’s a new fishmonger in our neighborhood and, yes, they have fish for sushi. We still need to source fresh mochi for the ozoni, but I’m trying my hand at making it for the first time (rice flour, not doing the whole pounding thing) so we’re getting closer to having our platonic ideal of New Year’s back.

We have friends coming over to join us today, so the New Year looks like it is starting out right. May yours be lovely and bright.

P.S. Turns out Thai rice flour behaves very differently from Japanese rice flour.

My Favorite Bit: Lawrence M. Schoen talks about BARSK: THE ELEPHANTS’ GRAVEYARD

My Favorite BitLawrence M. Schoen is joining us today with his novel Barsk: The Elephants’ graveyard. Here’s the publisher’s description:

The Sixth Sense meets Planet of the Apes in a moving science fiction novel set so far in the future, humanity is gone and forgotten in Lawrence M. Schoen’s Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard

An historian who speaks with the dead is ensnared by the past. A child who feels no pain and who should not exist sees the future. Between them are truths that will shake worlds.

In a distant future, no remnants of human beings remain, but their successors thrive throughout the galaxy. These are the offspring of humanity’s genius-animals uplifted into walking, talking, sentient beings. The Fant are one such species: anthropomorphic elephants ostracized by other races, and long ago exiled to the rainy ghetto world of Barsk. There, they develop medicines upon which all species now depend. The most coveted of these drugs is koph, which allows a small number of users to interact with the recently deceased and learn their secrets.

To break the Fant’s control of koph, an offworld shadow group attempts to force the Fant to surrender their knowledge. Jorl, a Fant Speaker with the dead, is compelled to question his deceased best friend, who years ago mysteriously committed suicide. In so doing, Jorl unearths a secret the powers that be would prefer to keep buried forever. Meanwhile, his dead friend’s son, a physically challenged young Fant named Pizlo, is driven by disturbing visions to take his first unsteady steps toward an uncertain future.

What’s Lawrence’s favorite bit?



My favorite bit is probably the epilogue, which is almost unchanged from when I wrote it more than twenty years ago. But I can’t tell you why it’s my favorite bit because… Spoilers. So, I’ll share one of my other, still-very-cool-but-not-quite-as-favorite bits for purposes of this blog visit. But trust me, you will thank me for that epilogue when you get to it.

One of the main tropes in Barsk is that a life-long friendship can transcend even death. This is made considerably easier (and more plausible) by the presence of a drug that permits users to manipulate something I call nefshons, which are subatomic particles of memory and personality. The drug allows the user to summon the collected memories of people who have died and converse with them much as they would have in life, to effectively speak with the dead. That detail is a major feature of the book, and as such is more of a given than a spoiler. And it’s a critical thing for you to know if you’re to follow the (penultimate) favorite bit that follows.

You also need to know that my protagonist, Jorl, has been marked by his people with a bioluminescent tattoo of an aleph on his forehead. It’s a cultural thing, and it grants him a single perk: passage. No doors are closed to him, no queries barred from his asking. He can go anywhere he chooses. There may be consequences, but those will come later. In the moment, no one can bar his way.

Early in the book, Jorl realizes that to unravel an ancient prophecy (he’s an historian) he has to travel to the place all Fant go when they learn their death is at hand. One morning, typically in old age, each of them just wakes up to the certain knowledge that life is coming to its conclusion and a destination pops into their mind, and off they go. The Fant call this “sailing away.”

The only Fant who know where this “Elephants’ Graveyard” is are the people who are traveling there to die. It’s not on any map, and there’s no one around that Jorl can ask for directions because anyone who knows has already left and wouldn’t tell him anyway. The Fant are funny like that. When it’s your time, you’ll know, otherwise, sorry.

Jorl’s solution is to use his ability to speak with the dead. He summons his own father, Tral, and explains that he needs information to find the destination, the last place his father traveled to. Tral is less than helpful:

“It’s not for you to know. It’s not the sort of thing you know until it’s your time. And if it was your time, you’d know.”

“You said you’d share what you know. Happily.”

“Ask me something else. Something I can tell you.”

“You can tell me, you’re choosing not to.”

Tral crossed his arms over his chest. His ears dropped defiantly. “You have a clear understanding of the situation. That’s good.”

“Dad, I didn’t want to do this, but, you know I have an aleph.”

“I’m dead, not blind. What of it?”

“So you have to tell me.”

“I don’t believe I do.”

“Being dead doesn’t relieve you of your culture. The bearer’s mark grants him passage. No doors can be closed to him. He’s free to go wheresoever he wills. That’s the law of Barsk!”

“I’m not disagreeing, Son.”

“Well, I choose to follow where you and other dying Fant have gone.”

Tral relaxed in the guest chair. The smile returned to his lips but his eyes had lost that joyous gleam. “Then go, boy. I’m not stopping you. Go ahead, sail off .”

“Then you’ll tell me where it is?”

“Of course not. I already told you I wouldn’t. You’re not stupid. You’ve never been stupid. Pay attention.”

Jorl slapped at his own forehead, the aleph’s glow faint, but steady. “You just said you weren’t stopping me!”

“And I’m not. But I’m not going to enable you either. That mark means you can go where you please and no one can hinder you. It doesn’t mean anyone else has to help you though. And I won’t.”

Maybe I’m projecting (and it wouldn’t be the first time), but there’s something quintessential about all father/son relationships that can be found in this scene. There’s a father’s pride in his child’s achievements, a son’s need to show that he’s an accomplished adult, a reminder that regardless of age or education or even death, a man is always his father’s son.

I never quite had this conversation with my own father, but I can remember plenty of others that were close enough and which surely inspired this one. When I wrote it, and now every time when I re-read it, I feel like I’m speaking with him again. It’s the closest I can come to manipulating nefshons and experiencing the joy and inevitable loving frustration of speaking with my father. He’s been gone sixteen years, but in writing up this blog piece, I’d swear he’s sitting across the table from me, smiling softly.






Barnes and Noble





Lawrence M. Schoen holds a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology and psycholinguistics. He’s also one of the world’s foremost authorities on the Klingon language, and the publisher of a speculative fiction small press, Paper Golem. He’s been a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award, the Hugo Award, and the Nebula Award. Lawrence lives near Philadelphia. You can find him online at and @KlingonGuy.

Puppets! Video! A Fruitcake Carol

Put together by puppeteers in three different cities, including Chicago, we’ve got this holiday video for you. Now you get to play a guessing game about which puppet is mine.

So you want to give Habitica a try…

8-bit graphic of avatar riding a fox in a snowy fieldIf you’ve seen me talking about Habitica, and thought that it sounded useful but intimidating… We just opened my private guild to the public. It’s called “Ink Slingers.” The description is:

For science-fiction and fantasy writers and editors who are actively working in the field and trying to improve craft. But who also need peer pressure to be productive.

We have some challenges with habits and dallies that you might find helpful.

The way Habitica works is that you break the things you ought to be doing into three types of things.

  1. Habits: which are things you ought to do, but not necessarily on a regular basis. Like “3 minute stretch break.”
  2. Dailies: which you do regularly. Like “Write three sentences.”
  3. To-Dos: which are one time things. Like “Complete revisions for episode 2.”

It’s super-handy. BUT when you are first getting into it, figuring out what will be useful is tricky. Like, I had “2000 words per day” as a Daily. That’s a nice goal, but not something that I can actually achieve every day. So what I’ve done in Ink Slingers is set up some challenges based on things I find useful, that are specifically aimed at writers and editors.

If you want to give it a try, you have to create a Habitica account first, and then hop on over to join Ink Slingers.

A Pakistani fashion question — reading story from the 1960s

I’m reading a short story by a Pakistani author (“Grandma’s Tale” by Amtul Rahman Khatun) and have hit a sentence I need help with. I know all of the words, but I’m having trouble building a picture in my head. For context, the story was written in the early 1960s and she’s describing a wealthy woman who moved to Pakistan at the Partition.

“Black Lady Hamilton burqa, white crepe shalwar, sprigged blue and white chiffon scarf, gold tops in her ears, heavy gold locket around her neck, eight sparkling bangles around each wrist.”

My google-fu is failing me because I can’t tell it context. Part of what I’m struggling with is that I thought a burqa was floor length. So how would the shalwar be visible? And is the scarf a head scarf in this context or likely to be decorative like with a salwar chemise?

My Favorite Bit: Holly Messinger talks about THE CURSE OF JACOB TRACY

My Favorite Bit iconHolly Messinger is joining us today with her novel The Curse of Jacob Tracy. Here’s the publisher’s description:

St. Louis in 1880 is full of ghosts—mangled soldiers, tortured slaves, the innocent victims of war—and Jacob Tracy can see them all. Ever since Antietam, when he lay delirious among the dead and dying, Trace has been haunted by the country’s restless spirits. The curse cost him his family, his calling to the church, and damn near his sanity.

He stays out of ghost-populated cities as much as possible these days, guiding wagon trains West with his pragmatic and skeptical partner, Boz. Then, just before the spring rush, Trace gets a letter from the wealthy and reclusive Sabine Fairweather. Sickly, sharp tongued, and far too clever for her own good, Miss Fairweather needs a worthy man to retrieve a dead friend’s legacy from a nearby town—or so she says. When the errand proves far more sinister than advertised, Miss Fairweather admits to knowing about Trace’s curse and suggests she might be able to help him—in exchange for a few more odd jobs. Trace has no interest in being her pet psychic, but he’s been searching 18 years for a way to curb his unruly curse, and Miss Fairweather’s knowledge of the spirit world is too tempting to ignore. As she steers him into one macabre situation after another, his powers flourish, and Trace begins to realize some good might be done with this curse of his. But Miss Fairweather is harboring some dark secrets of her own, and her meddling has brought Trace to the attention of something much older and more dangerous than any ghost.

Rich in historical detail and emotional depth, The Curse of Jacob Tracy is a fast-paced and inventive debut, an intriguing introduction to a bold new hero.

What’s Holly’s favorite bit?



There’s a scene almost dead smack in the middle of The Curse of Jacob Tracy where Trace, Boz, and a trainful of Baptist missionaries are trapped in a cattle car, on a lonely dark mountain slope of the Rockies, while a pack of feral bloodsuckers slaughter the steers that had previously occupied the car and then throw a carcass at the car in an attempt to break it open and get at the people inside.

The image of a steer’s head breaking through the upper slats of a cattle car was one of the earliest visions that swam up from my fervid imagination, back when Trace and I were getting acquainted and I was brainstorming horrific situations to put him in. By writer-logic it was a fairly simple equation of cowboy + monster hunter + old west setting = train beset by vampires = cattle car is the best place to take cover on a train during a vampire attack.

When I was a kid my mom had the complete set of those “Old West” books from Time Life. (You may have seen their distinctive faux-leather covers in used bookstores.) So when I stared writing the Trace stories almost the first thing I did was call my mom and wheedle those books out of her. I still have them and they are a wonderful general reference, but for the day-to-day grit of life in the American 19th century, I needed more specifics. For instance, in the book “The Ranchers,” there were illustrations of 19th-century cattle cars, but the details were vague—when, exactly, did those cars with the upper ventilation slats come into use? I knew if I described such a car in a story set in 1880 and I was wrong, some wiseacre would gleefully broadcast to the internet what an idiot I was.

That’s the danger of writing historical fiction: no matter how diligently you research, you’re going to miss something. And even if you find a verifiable source, there’s another, dissenting source that’s going to claim the opposite is true.

I obsessed over the question for weeks. Back in 2005 it wasn’t easy to lay hands on accurate 19th century references. The upsurgence of steampunk, the popularity of shows like Deadwood, and a general interest in more sustainable ways of living had made a lot of people look backwards. That, plus the advent of Google Books, have resulted in a wealth of 19th century materials being available on the internet, both original sources (medical journals before about 1890 are a hoot) and enthusiasts’ compilations.

But back in 2005, as I was contemplating the type of curmudgeon who’d be likely to call me on putting the wrong cattle car in 1880, it dawned on me: model railroad enthusiasts. They were notoriously obsessed and detail-oriented, and consequently they’d have the resources I needed.

There was a very good hobby store a half-mile from my workplace. At lunchtime I went over and stood gazing in delight at the 1/12 scale replica cars, each neatly packaged and labeled with the dates of its time in use. And there was my cattle car, with the practical-yet-vulnerable-from-a-defensive-point-of-view ventilation slats occupying the upper third of the walls.

“Can I help you?’ said a friendly shopgeek.

“Oh, I found what I needed,” I said happily.

“You a collector?”

“No, I’m a writer,” I said. “I needed an example of an 1880s cattle car because I’m going to have some people take shelter in it during a vampire attack, and I need to know where the access points are for logistical reasons.”

He nodded as if this made perfect sense, and pulled out a catalog to show me a spread full of more pictures of Gilded Age cars. I may or may not have squee’d in glee.

“Always fun the help somebody with an interesting project,” said the shopgeek.





Barnes and Noble





Holly Messinger grew up a tomboy in a Bible-thumping household, where she learned how to cook, sew, dig a post hole, cut up a chicken, and shuck corn. She got her English degree from a Baptist college and spent the next 15 years studying Chinese martial arts. She enjoys silk dresses, well-balanced weapons, and chocolate cake. Holly lives in Lawrence, Kansas (scene of the Quantrill massacre) with her woodworking husband and a spoiled gray cat. They keep firewood stacked on the front porch.

My Favorite Bit: Michael Livingston talks about THE SHARDS OF HEAVEN

My Favorite Bit iconMichael Livingston is joining us today with his novel The Shards of Heaven.  For those of you who have read Shades of Milk and Honey, Captain Livingston is named after Michael. He is one of my oldest writing friends, and has helped me work out fight sequences on more than one occasion. I read The Shards of Heaven in an early draft and it was fantastic. It’s even better now.

Here’s the publisher’s description:

Julius Caesar is dead, assassinated on the senate floor, and the glory that is Rome has been torn in two. Octavian, Caesar’s ambitious great-nephew and adopted son, vies with Marc Antony and Cleopatra for control of Caesar’s legacy.

But as civil war rages from Rome to Alexandria, and vast armies and navies battle for supremacy, a secret conflict may truly shape the course of history: two sons of Caesar have set out on a ruthless quest to find and control the Shards of Heaven, legendary artifacts said to possess the very power of the gods — or of the one God.

Caught up in these cataclysmic events, and the hunt for the Shards, are a pair of exiled Roman legionnaires, a Greek librarian of uncertain loyalties, assassins, spies, slaves . . . and the ten-year-old daughter of Cleopatra herself.

The Shards of Heaven reveals the hidden magic behind the history we know, and commences a war greater than any mere mortal battle.

What’s Michael’s favorite bit?

Shards Cover 2


To read my favorite bit of The Shards of Heaven, you don’t even need to open the book. But you do need to have the book.

So go ahead and pick yours up.  I’ll wait.


Okay. Got it?

Good. Now turn it over. Look at the back. It’s really swell cover copy, I think, but that’s not what I’m after. Nope. See that blurb from Mary Robinette Kowal?

The Shards of Heaven has everything I want. Accurate history, magic, a diverse cast, intrigue and action, all set in ancient Rome. And Egypt. And did I mention the legionnaires?” – Mary Robinette Kowal

Yep. That’s it right there. That is my favorite bit.

I’m not saying that I don’t like what’s in the book, because nothing could be further from the truth. I love this book. I’m deeply proud of it. There are moments in it that still have the power to take my breath away even though I wrote them — and that’s a really phenomenal feeling. Like the early scene when Juba, realizing he now possesses the Trident of Poseidon, looks out over the sea and perhaps for the first time in his life ponders the existence of the gods. Or that moment that one of my characters, falling unconscious after a brutal fight, is aware that his friend is reaching out to catch him. Or maybe that really big Roman battle scene in the middle, where I can’t wait to see the next action, the next quip, though of course I know what’s going to happen.

I know I’m biased, but I think the adventure in Shards makes for a really good book.

Yet I don’t think it would be this good of a book — and it very certainly wouldn’t be the one you’re holding in your hands — if it wasn’t for Mary. She has, you see, been with this book for a long time indeed.

And that makes her blurb my favorite bit of the whole thing.

Mary’s ancestral home in Tennessee is a place of charm and touching beauty. And her parents are two of the most wonderful and amazing people I’ve met. They’re also incredibly patient: on many occasions they’ve opened their home to a band of writers who’ve come on Mary’s invitation for a writer’s retreat. I first met her (and them) at one of these retreats. And it was there that she first read The Shards of Heaven.

I remember sitting in the warm country comfort of her living room while she retreated downstairs to read my pages. I remember how I tried working on my laptop like the other writers in attendance. Truth was I could only manage to flail blindly at the words because, well, Mary is reading my book right now and what if she hates it?

Mary was already Somebody at that point, you see, and I deeply admired her formidable skills as a writer. I knew she was one of the best — still today I teach several of her stories in my creative writing classes — and this was one of the first times I’d let someone read this book I was writing. I really wanted her to like it.

Eventually she came up the stairs. She was in the middle of chapter four, I think. She looked me dead in the eye. She smiled. “This is good,” she said. “This is really, really good.”

Harlan Ellison once said that you know you’re a writer when a writer says you’re a writer. If so, that was my moment of truth. Mary Robinette Kowal, a terrifically talented writer, said I was a writer.

She went on to read the whole thing. She made some very wise suggestions for improvement, but more than anything she told me she loved it. She encouraged me not to give up.

Fast forward a few years, and I found myself attending JordanCon as a special guest lecturer — the very same year that Mary was the Guest of Honor. It was a great time. Mary and I shared several meals and laughs. On the last night there was a dance, which was lovely, and partway through it I received a urgent email from a student traveling abroad who was contemplating self-harm. I immediately retreated to the lobby and sat down to compose several emergency emails. Just after I had hit “send” on the last one I looked up to see Mary, smiling, introducing me to Paul Stevens, the fiction editor at Tor who a couple years later would — because of a chain of events initiated in that moment — buy my book.

And then those years later, after the ink on the deal was dry, Paul said we really ought to send the book to Mary, to see if she would blurb it. He asked me if I wanted to do it or if I wanted him to do it. Not wanting her to feel the pressure of our friendship in the decision, I suggested that he do it.

Less than one hour later, Mary had sent in her marvelous blurb.

And now she has given me this: an opportunity to use her sizable social media presence to boost the awareness of that book.

I’m sure somewhere a publicist is cringing that I spent that opportunity talking about my friend rather than my novel, but the truth is that they do not exist apart from one another. Write what you know, the old adage goes, and of course that only goes so far. I’ve never been the nine-year-old daughter of Cleopatra, smuggling the asp that will end her mother’s life. I’ve never stood on the heaving deck of a Roman trireme and commanded the sea to rise. I’ve never done so many of the things my characters do in The Shards of Heaven. But that’s not really what “write what you know” means to me.

For me it means instead the deeper truths of our lives, the deeper connections that make up who we are. Even apart from her encouragement and kindness in helping me get to this point, Mary’s friendship is a part of who I am. It’s a part of this book.

So it is a special kind of symbol to me that this fact is cemented — branded, one might say — onto the cover itself.

And that, dear readers, is why it is My Favorite Bit.




Read an excerpt


Barnes & Noble



An award-winning writer and professor, Michael Livingston holds degrees in History, Medieval Studies, and English. Shards of Heaven, the first in a trilogy of historical fantasy novels, will be published by Tor Books in November 2015. In his academic life, he teaches at The Citadel, specializing in the Middle Ages.

My Favorite Bit: Michael R. Underwood talks about THE SHOOTOUT SOLUTION

My Favorite Bit iconMichael R. Underwood is joining us today with his novella The Shootout Solution. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Leah Tang just died on stage. Well, not literally. Not yet.

Leah’s stand-up career isn’t going well. But she understands the power of fiction, and when she’s offered employment with the mysterious Genrenauts Foundation, she soon discovers that literally dying on stage is a hazard of the job!

Her first assignment takes her to a Western world. When a cowboy tale slips off its rails, and the outlaws start to win, it’s up to Leah – and the Genrenauts team – to nudge the story back on track and prevent a catastrophe on Earth.

But the story’s hero isn’t interested in winning, and the safety of Earth hangs in the balance…

What’s Michael’s favorite bit?



It’s almost inevitable that I’d end up writing something like Genrenauts. Starting my career with the Ree Reyes books, where fandom and love of SF/F culture is its own magic system, making the jump from that to a more general series about genre and storytelling was a natural extension. Genrenauts is a more general idea, letting me apply my love of self-aware genre-mashing to a broader canvas.

Genrenauts started the same way as many of my projects – with a question I asked myself: What if you threw a genre-aware character directly into the world of a story? That seed of an idea quickly grew as I added in influences and fleshed out the idea so that it was something new, something specific, more than just a Frankenstein-pastiche of Planetary, Leverage, and The Last Action Hero.

Now fully-developed, Genrenauts is a science fiction series in novellas, where a group of storytellers (the titular Genrenauts) travel between dimensions – each the home of a narrative genre, from Crime to Westerns to Romance and so on, where tale types play out again and again – to find and fix broken stories. If they don’t, those broken stories will ripple back to the Genrenauts’ home world and re-write reality to disastrous results. In The Shootout Solution, the first episode, the head of the Genrenauts recruits struggling stand-up comic Leah Tang to join the team as they try to fix a broken story in the Western world.

And there, My Favorite Bit was getting to lampshade the heck out of the Western genre. The tropes and archetypes of Westerns are very well established, to the point that for many, they’ve gone past Archetype into Stereotype, become rigid and inflexible. There are new Westerns playing with the genre and creating new interpretations, and I hope The Shootout Solution will be one of them.

Early in Act Two of The Shootout Solution, Leah and the Genrenauts walk into a town straight out of a movie studio back-lot, with a saloon, a bank, and a half-dozen other stores. It’s a one-street town plagued by bandits, with saloon girls, a friendly but firm madam, and a chatty bartender. Leah marvels in the generic excess of the world, the energetic oddity of stepping into a situation where everything is in place, where you know exactly what to expect.

Except she doesn’t. Because the story there is broken, and beyond that, even in the midst of the most stereotypical Western setting, there are elements reacting against stereotype. The characters we meet in this town aren’t all who they appear to be, and much of the story focuses on what it takes to be a hero in the Western genre, and who gets to put on the gun belt and rise to the occasion. I’ll leave it there to avoid spoilers, but rest assured that The Shootout Solution doesn’t just present Western stereotypes to celebrate them, doesn’t leave questions unasked. And if there are some Blazing Saddles shout-outs and self-aware jokes about the Western genre along the way? Even better.

My Favorite Bit in Genrenauts is getting to re-examine the ways that genre sets expectations and frames stories, to poke fun but also send out some love for the stories which brought me to where I am today, telling stories about stories to a readership which has spent years surfing the waters of narrative. If you liked the Ree Reyes books (often narrated by our marvelous hostess herself), then I think you’ll like Genrenauts, as well, especially if you’ve ever wanted to jump into a story and push it toward your own version of a happily ever after.


Genrenauts series

Author website



Michael R. Underwood is the author the several series: the comedic fantasy Ree Reyes series (GEEKOMANCY, CELEBROMANCY, ATTACK THE GEEK, HEXOMANCY), fantasy superhero novel SHIELD AND CROCUS, supernatural thriller THE YOUNGER GODS, and Genrenauts, a science fiction series in novellas. By day, he’s the North American Sales & Marketing Manager for Angry Robot Books.

Mike lives in Baltimore with his wife and their ever-growing library. In his rapidly-vanishing free time, he plays video games, geeks out on TV, and makes pizzas from scratch. He is a co-host on the Hugo-nominated Skiffy and Fanty Show.

SF/F Convention Accessibility Pledge

Over the last few years, there have been numerous instances of SF/F conventions failing to provide an accessible experience for their members with disabilities. Though accessibility is the right thing to do, and there are legal reasons for providing it in the US thanks to the 25-year-old Americans with Disabilities Act, many conventions continue to have no trained accessibility staff, policies, contact information, or procedures for accommodating their members with disabilities. As Congress said in the opening of the ADA, these “forms of discrimination against individuals with disabilities continue to be a serious and pervasive social problem.”

All members of a convention should be treated with dignity. These are people– friends, fans, and colleagues– who have the same right to an inclusive experience at these events as any of the other paying members, volunteers, or guests. If conventions build this into their planning and budgeting from day one, this can and should happen. Though many conrunners have been working towards this, others have not– and even have resisted making these changes.

We the undersigned are making a pledge. Starting in 2017, to give conventions time to fit this into their planning, the following will be required for us to be participants, panelists, or Guests of Honor at a convention:

  1. The convention has an accessibility statement posted on the website and in the written programs offering specifics about the convention’s disability access.
  2. The convention has at least one trained accessibility staff member with easy to find contact information. (There are numerous local and national organizations that will help with training.)
  3. The convention is willing and able to make accommodations for its members as it tries to be as accessible as possible. (We recommend that the convention uses the Accessibility Checklist for SFWA Spaces as a beginning guideline. Other resources include Fans for Accessible Cons, A Guide for Accessible Conferences, and the ADA rules for places of public accommodation, which apply to US conventions.)

(Thanks to Michael Damian Thomas, Lynne M Thomas, and others for crafting the language for this. And here are my own thoughts about why accessibility is important.)

Edited to add: There’s a twitter hashtag for discussions about this. #AccessibleCons

If you want to pledge with us, you can just respond below with “co-sign.”

My Favorite Bit: Karina Sumner-Smith about TOWERS FALL

My Favorite Bit iconKarina Sumner-Smith is joining us today with her novel Towers Fall. Here’s the publisher’s description:

War. Fire. Destruction. Xhea believed that the Lower City had weathered the worst of its troubles—that their only remaining fight would be the struggle to rebuild before winter. She was wrong.

Now her home is under attack from an unexpected source. The Central Spire, the City’s greatest power, is intent on destroying the heart of the magical entity that resides beneath the Lower City’s streets. The people on the ground have three days to evacuate—or else.

With nowhere to go and time running out, Xhea and the Radiant ghost Shai attempt to rally a defense. Yet with the Spire’s wrath upon them, nothing—not their combined magic, nor their unexpected allies—may be strong enough to protect them from the power of the City.

From Nebula Award–nominated author Karina Sumner-Smith, Towers Fall is a fantastic climax to this amazing and thought-provoking trilogy.

What’s Karina’s favorite bit?

Towers Fall Cover FINAL-small


There is so much riding on the third book in a trilogy. It’s a book that has to be a whole story in and of itself, while simultaneously connecting to and creating resonances from the earlier books. It has to tie up all those loose ends. It has to justify all the words that have come before.

Writing Towers Fall, the third and final book in my Towers Trilogy, was an exhilarating, stressful, chaotic experience, one that I loved and loathed in equal measure. I was in love with the story, with finally reaching the conclusion that I’d been working toward for so very long—and was absolutely terrified that I was going to mess it up.

And yet my favorite moment in that whole writing process wasn’t actually finishing the story (glorious as that was), nor turning it in, but a moment of sudden understanding that occurred when I was in the middle of writing the first draft. Obvious as it seems in retrospect, there was a moment where I suddenly realized: I had been wrong about these books from the start. For all my protestations that the Towers Trilogy books do not, will not include a romance … they do. It was there the whole time.

While these books aren’t about a romantic relationship in the traditional sense, they are very much a love story.

No one questions the sacrifices one would make for a lover or spouse; it does not seem strange for a character to fight and struggle to the ends of the earth to help or save their child or a sibling. But to go to such lengths for someone who is “only” a friend? Hardly.

It seems to me that relationships that are not bound by blood or sex are seen as somehow lesser. We say that someone is “only” a friend; there is the (frustrating, awful) talk of the “friend zone,” as if a friendship is an undesirable consolation prize. And the idea that friendship alone would be enough to motivate someone to great and terrible lengths seems foreign to some individuals.

Yet that mindset is so opposite to my own life experience, feelings, and understanding of friendship. I have friends who are best described as my family-of-choice; my spouse is also my dearest friend. (And yes, my strange, prickly main character takes after me more than some realize. If one of my close friends needs the world burned down? Darling, hand me the matches.)

So it’s no wonder that the heart of these books for me has always been the relationship between Xhea and Shai, two young women from opposite ends of their society who develop a deep connection despite their many differences. Yet, even knowing that their friendship was the heart of the story, only in writing Towers Fall was it clear that, though there is no traditional romantic plotline, no sex or even kissing, these two women love each other.

That love, that connection, that devotion, not only drives the books, but it changes their world around them. Everything that happens, good and bad, is because they found each other. Because they save each other, time and again.

There is one scene in Towers Fall that dives right into the core of their relationship, and is perhaps my favorite scene in the whole trilogy. As it comes in the book’s last third, I hesitate to say too much lest I ruin the scene for new readers; but it’s about the worst thing that could happen to these two characters, both physically and emotionally—and it leads to a moment of perfect joy and catharsis.

Writing that scene felt like tearing my heart open and healing the same wound in the span of a chapter. For those readers who have joined me on this journey—three whole books!—I think you’ll know the scene when you reach it.

For these characters to find joy and togetherness after everything they’ve been through—all the sacrifices they made, all the trust they’ve built, all the things they’ve lost, all the love they found—well, I’ll admit it. Writing it, I cried, and they were tears of joy.





Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Indiebound


Karina Sumner-Smith is the author of the Towers Trilogy from Talos Press: Radiant (Sept 2014), Defiant (May 2015), and Towers Fall (Nov 2015). In addition to novel-length work, Karina has published a range of science fiction, fantasy, and horror short stories that have been nominated for the Nebula Award, reprinted in several Year’s Best anthologies, and translated into Spanish and Czech. She lives in Ontario near the shores of Lake Huron with her husband, a small dog, and a large cat. Visit her online at

Paris, Beirut, and thinking how to responsibly signal boost

I am painfully aware that until the Paris attacks happened, I was unaware of the bombing in Beirut a mere two days prior. It didn’t trend on twitter. No one on Facebook mentioned it. There wasn’t an option to set my avatar to the colors of the Lebanese flag. And yet the same group organized both attacks, with the same goals.

I want you to take a moment to watch this video, which has nothing to do with Paris or Beirut, and then think about the pictures you see and the coverage each tragedy receives.

The way in which we present things to the world matters. When you think about what you can do, one of the things is to make sure that you are being responsible with how you share information. Don’t blindly retweet things. Actually read the articles, not just the headlines. Look at the pictures. And, most importantly, look for the stories from people who are being marginalized.

What can you do? You can boost the signal. You can be part of making sure the full story is heard.

Please feel free to share good sources in the comments below.

In which I break Patrick Rothfuss with a story about Catherine the Great and Anubis

At NerdCon (which was fantastic and you should go), Patrick Rothfuss invited me, Hank Green, Maureen Johnson, Paul Sabourin, and Joseph Fink to play The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen. I have learned that when Pat invites me to do something, I should just say yes, because it will be fun.

Edited to add: I’ve since learned that this was based on an actual published game, by James Wallis, that is available for purchase.

So — here is the introduction and my story. If you want to skip the set-up, which is funny, I start talking around 5:30.