Alethea Kontis is joining us today with her novel When Tinker Met Bell. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Everybody knows that goblins and fairies can’t be friends. But that never stopped Tinker and Bell.
Bellamy Merriweather Larousse isn’t like the other fairies at Harmswood Academy, with her giant wings and their magical dust. “Southern Bell” works as a barista at The Hallowed Bean to help pay her tuition and remains active on the cheering squad, despite her insistence on associating with the unpopular crowd. Every day is sunny in Bellamy’s world and every cloud has a silver lining. The only way to upset Bell’s stalwart optimism is to threaten one of her misfit friends…or try to take one of them from her.
Unbeknownst to everyone—including him—outcast Ranulf “Tinker” Tinkerton is about to be named heir to the throne of the Goblin King, making him ruler of his fellow Lost Boys and the labyrinthine city they inhabit. Now that the time has come for Tinker to leave Harmswood behind, will he be brave enough to share his feelings for Bellamy? It’s no secret that he’s held a torch for her since the fourth grade, but no matter how long they’ve been friends, goblins will always be allergic to fairies.
Or will they?
What’s Alethea’s favorite bit?
When I tell people “I grew up at the movies,” what I mean is that my much older sister dated (and then married) a guy whose family owned all the movie theaters in Burlington, Vermont. I spent many a summer as a kid tearing tickets, sweeping up popcorn, and watching pretty much every major motion picture that got released.
In 1984, Romancing the Stone gave me my raison d’être. I wanted to be Joan Wilder, receiving that box of my own books like George McFly did at the end of 1985’s Back to the Future. And then, in 1986, David Bowie danced with Jennifer Connelly for about thirty seconds in a dreamlike masquerade-bubble sequence. I wanted that, too. I wanted that dress, that masque. I wanted some beautiful, mischievous imp of a man to look at me the way the Goblin King looked at Sarah, with so much said between us, even though neither of us spoke a word.
Yeah…I never got that.
But you know the great thing about being a writer? All those magical, amazing moments we are denied in life, we can someday write into a novel.
Contrary to just about everything I’ve ever penned, the title of When Tinker Met Bell came first. I had an optimistic, cheerleader fairy barista in The Truth About Cats and Wolves named Bellamy Larousse. She became my heroine. Tinker was…Ranulf Tinkerton, a goblin. But goblins and fairies can’t be friends. Why? Because goblins are allergic to fairies. Great. Now I’ve gone from Harry and Sally to Romeo and Juliet. How am I supposed to make a romantic comedy out of that? Well, I’ll…crown Tinker heir to the throne of the Goblin King! The Goblin King is immune to fairies. But before all that happens, Tinker promises Bell a dance. Once dance. At a masquerade. A Midwinter masquerade, so everything’s white. Bellamy will have a ridiculously huge, silver-white ballgown. Tinker will get a similarly ridiculous suit and a goblin mask. And then I’ll stick the two of them in a snow globe!
Some authors play God with their characters. I prefer the role of Fairy Godmother.
The thing I love most about the masquerade scene in When Tinker Met Bell is that it’s not just a three-minute montage set to David Bowie crooning “As the World Falls Down.” (Though you’re welcome to imagine the DJ is playing that in the background while you read.) There are longing looks, but there’s also dialogue. There is a war of emotions, laughter and tears, a discussion about wishes and treasures and the issue of consent…all made as romantic as humanly possible and covered in glitter snow.
There’s even an Easter egg for my fellow Shakespeare lovers! Mentions of Romeo and Juliet are un-subtly sprinkled here and there throughout When Tinker Met Bell, no surprise in a story about star-crossed lovers. But in that snow globe, keep an eye out for the moment when “palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss.” Oh yeah. I went there. And then, dear saint, lips totally do what hands do. Because that’s what should have happened in the movie, right?
Maybe. Maybe not. But that’s what happens in my snow globe, and it is just as beautiful and perfect and meaningful a moment as I could have wished for. That scene is—quite literally—my dream come true.
Alethea Kontis is a princess, author, fairy godmother, and geek. Author of over seventeen books and contributor to over twenty-five more, her award-winning writing has been published for multiple age groups across all genres. Host of “Princess Alethea’s Fairy Tale Rants” and Princess Alethea’s Traveling Sideshow every year at Dragon Con, Alethea also narrates for ACX, IGMS, Escape Pod, Pseudopod, and Cast of Wonders. Alethea currently resides on the Space Coast of Florida with her teddy bear, Charlie. Find out more about Princess Alethea and the magic, wonderful world in which she lives here: https://www.patreon.com/princessalethea
Tom Doyle is joining us today with his novel War and Craft. Here’s the book’s description:
America, land of the free… and home of the warlocks. America’s occult defenders are the secret families who have sworn to use their power to protect our republic. But there are those who reject America’s dream and have chosen the Left-Hand way.
In this triumphant conclusion to Tom Doyle’s imaginative alternate historical America, we start with a bloody wedding-night brawl with assassins in Tokyo. Our American magical shock troops go to India, where a descendant of legendary heroes has the supernatural mission for which they’ve been waiting.
Preparing for that mission, powerful exorcist Scherie Rezvani searches for secret knowledge with a craft agent of the Vatican and tries to cope with the strange new magics resulting from her pregnancy. To save her unborn child from the Left Hand, she will risk damnation and the Furies themselves.
It all comes to a head in a valley hidden high in the mountains of Kashmir. Our craftspeople will battle against their fellow countrymen, some of the vilest monsters of the Left Hand Path. It’s Armageddon in Shangri-La, and the end of the world as we know it.
What’s Tom’s favorite bit?
Sometimes I don’t know what I’m going to value in a story until well after I’ve finished it. For instance, Lieutenant Scherezade Rezvani, or Scherie (pronounced like Sherry in Springsteen’s “Sherry Darling”) is the heroine of the conclusion of my trilogy. She’s also the Islamic-American daughter of Iranian immigrants. When I first introduced her in American Craftsmen, or even while I was writing War and Craft, these aspects of her background didn’t seem like a big deal to me. Times have changed.
I didn’t make an initial fuss about these character elements because, structurally, this was an unoriginal move on my part. Tales of the military heroism of American newcomers are as old as the country. Despite pervasive and cruel discrimination, Catholic immigrant soldiers from Ireland and Germany in the Civil War and Japanese-American soldiers in World War Two were noted for their self-sacrifice. Action films frequently highlight the different backgrounds of American fighters. This is a very well-worn trope.
This familiar story had a harsh, implicit moral: exceptional sacrifice bought the newcomers their place at the American table. This standard wasn’t fair or ethically correct. It was often unevenly applied, and it was completely ignored in war after war for African-American soldiers. But it was a real cultural assumption, and it was basically optimistic about the openness of American society to immigrants and different religions.
Again, it’s an old story, but one we seem to be forgetting. Often it appears that we aren’t paying attention anymore to such sacrifice.
But what about my character, Scherie? She’s a science fiction and fantasy fan, a loving person, and (it turns out) a stone-cold killer for her country. Her parents are exiles from Iran. Her mother suspects something about Scherie’s magician-soldier friends, and her father had a troubled past in Iran’s secret police. At the beginning of the series, Scherie and her family are still caught up in the politics of exile in the manner of many immigrants (e.g., the Irish, Cubans).
Scherie is the first person point-of-view character for War and Craft, so we find out more about her faith. She’s not particularly devout; for example, she yells a continuous string of profanity along with her exorcisms. But she is proud of her heritage–when threatened with Dante’s version of hell, she thinks, “Yeah, Christian hell–so what? If I had to spend eternity with Saladin, so be it.” Besides fighting her powerful enemies, Scherie must personally face some of the big religious and philosophical questions: sin, damnation, redemption, predestination, choice. The fate of the world hinges on how she answers these questions. She meets her bitterest trials with the jihad of the spirit and the words “God is great.”
One of the odder relationships that emerged as I wrote the trilogy was the friendship between Scherie and the oft-times evil spirit of Madeline Morton (the smaller figure in white on the cover). Beginning in book 2, The Left-Hand Way, Madeline is unusually protective of Scherie, though she offers this protection in a manner peppered with rage, sarcasm, and mockery. Much to my own surprise, this friendship between a nineteenth century New England ghost and a twenty-first century soldier became the central bond of War and Craft, and what these two characters are willing to do for each other is an important hinge of the story.
Due to some accidents of Ukrainian history that took place while I was writing The Left-Hand Way, my trilogy concludes with events in 2014. Looking around at the world of 2017, I wonder what Scherie would think of this country that she served so well. So I’m mostly glad that I finished War and Craft before the election, as a marker of what I then considered the American norm–even an American cliché. Writing Scherie then was natural narrative; writing her now would have to be a bigger, angrier statement.
It seems to be a curse of speculative fiction that we continue to have to make the same narrative arguments–e.g., that slavery is evil even when it’s sentient robots or replicants. It would be nice to be able to move on to some higher level problems; then, those could be my favorite bits.
Tom Doyle is the author of a contemporary fantasy trilogy from Tor Books. In the first book, American Craftsmen, two modern magician-soldiers fight their way through the legacies of Poe and Hawthorne as they attempt to destroy an undying evil–and not kill each other first. In the sequel, The Left-Hand Way, the craftsmen are hunters and hunted in a global race to save humanity from a new occult threat out of America’s past. The final book of the trilogy (and the subject of this Favorite Bit), War and Craft, was just released September 26th.
Some of Tom’s award-winning short fiction is collected in The Wizard of Macatawa and Other Stories. He writes in a spooky turret in Washington, DC. You can find the text and audio of many of his stories on his website.
Fran Wilde is here today to talk to us about her novel Horizon. Here’s the description:
In the Bone Universe trilogy finale, the living sky-city of bone towers is on the brink of destruction. Rebellion roils the skies. And almost-siblings, always friends Kirit Skyshouter and Nat Brokenwings seem to have lost everything, including each other. As the city crumbles, Kirit, Nat, Ceil, Moc, and others must learn how to trust each other in order to save their families, friends, and community from destruction.
What’s Fran’s favorite part?
… In which the author gives away a line from the final chapter of her trilogy. Muahaha.
When I sat down to write Updraft, a single sentence started me down a particular path.
I’d already written two short stories set within the world of the Bone Universe. Both would go on to become part of Updraft and Cloudbound. But this one sentence hit my heart and my ear fully wrought and I put it on an otherwise white page and let it sit there for a while.
On a morning like this, fear was a blue sky emptied of birds.
Craftwise, the sentence captured in one quick glance time of day and setting. Also mood. Something had happened. Was happening. There had been birds at some point recently, but these were gone. The sky was blue. It was morning. And the speaker, she knew what fear was.
The speaker was Kirit. Her community’s fear: a terrible predator. The first monster to appear in the Bone Universe, in fact: skymouths. And by the time this sentence happens, the birds have rightly cleared the air to make room for my monsters.
But all that was to come. For a few days, that sentence was all that existed of Updraft while I brainstormed sensory details and overheard Kirit bargaining with her mother about whether she could fly with her through the dangerous skies.
“On a morning like this…” was my way into the book. It was a thread I tied for myself as I walked the maze of that first novel draft, and all those that came after. The sentence moved down a bit in the chapter as Kirit and Ezarit prepared to face the day, but it stayed through all of the drafts, fully intact.
In Cloudbound, the line only echoed slightly — “expeditions like this,” “in a situation like this” “[Dix] would not get away like this,” as my characters descended into a place where there was no blue sky, no distinction between morning and evening except a slight shift in filtered light. That was the right decision, as the phrase is Kirit’s, and Cloudbound’s narrator, Nat, has other verbal tics.
But the thread was still there, the thematic line still pointing to fear of the unknown, and also to the known. The moment of fear and the startled birds of Updraft became birds used to attack and deceive the community in Cloudbound, the sky filled with something sudden.
In the Bone Universe, day turns to half-light and night, and fear becomes danger. In Horizon, where the three narrators span the height of the Bone Universe — from (yes) the ground, to the top of the bone towers, but that first line remains — fear and danger are tied together by the sky, and the lack of things, the birds and all that threatens this community. Danger becomes nightmares.
The birds are few and far between now. The sky is filled with strangers’ dark wings and the space left by missing friends.
In Horizon, three voices pick up the narrative — Kirit, Nat, and an old friend — Wik’s brother, Macal. That first line echoes further now. From Macal’s first words, “Each night our city dreamed of danger, crying out for help I could not give,” to Kirit’s last words…
…. wait, I’m not going to give you those yet because I need to finish this essay and that phrase always makes me choke up.
One thing I love about trilogies is that they allow for the expansion of a single thematic thread across multiple plot arcs and many different experiences. They allow the point of view characters to grow and change. Mary has kindly hosted me as I’ve written about several of those themes over the past three years – from craft issues like writing the middle of Updraft first to thematic threads like disability representation in the Bone Universe. (Thank you so much, Mary!)
Craft and theme go hand-in-hand. There are many lines and themes that weave themselves through Horizon – my unconscious singing to me, perhaps. There are many more that I developed on purpose. These include the theme of community, of using songs to influence change, not just control. The idea that no single community is truly alone. The idea of omission, of what is not said, out of fear, and how that transforms. And the understanding that a community needs all kinds of people in order to survive.
Moreover, third books in trilogies have to tie up a lot of threads, while remaining their own complete piece. As I wove Horizon’s three voices together, I found those threads made interesting patterns. I was never sure which character would get the final chapter either, not until the end of the second draft.
But when I wrote one particular line towards the end of Horizon, I knew the minute I set it down on the blank page of a new chapter that it was the right line, for the book, and for the trilogy.
And that’s why a few of Kirit’s last lines in Horizon are my favorite bit, and I’m going to do a possibly odd thing and share them with you here. Ready?
On a morning like this, joy is a sky filled with birds.
It is the sound of laughter, of wind ruffling a patchwork wing…
So now you know my favorite bit. I hope you find your favorite bit in Horizon, and in the Bone Universe. Hey, maybe drop me a line and tell me what it is!
Fran Wilde’s novels and short stories have been nominated for two Nebula awards and a Hugo, and include her Andre Norton- and Compton-Crook-winning debut novel, Updraft (Tor 2015), its sequels, Cloudbound (2016) and Horizon (2017), and the novelette “The Jewel and Her Lapidary” (Tor.com Publishing 2016). Her short stories appear in Asimov’s, Tor.com, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Shimmer, Nature, and the 2017 Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror. She writes for publications including The Washington Post, Tor.com, Clarkesworld, iO9.com, and GeekMom.com. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook, and at franwilde.net.
Catherine Schaff-Stump is joining us today with her novel The Vessel of Ra. Here’s the publisher’s description:
While traveling in Venice in 1837, Lucy Klaereon, in order to save her family’s honor and her immortal soul, decides to commit suicide by drowning herself in the Grand Canal. Unfortunately for Lucy, she is rescued. Her rescuers believe they can separate her from the demon Ra, whom she is destined to fight because of an ancient family pact.
What Lucy does not know is that her rescuers have their own agenda. Paolo Borgia, head of a deposed magical family, wants to use Ra for his own purposes. Lucy is given an alternative, to separate herself from her demon and family, which she gladly welcomes. When she finds out the truth about Ra, Lucy’s purpose changes from not only freedom, but to righting an ancient wrong.
Octavia, Lucy’s older sister, is in pursuit. She has been trained since birth to kill Lucy when Lucy loses her battle with Ra. At the ritual to free Ra, the two sisters clash with surprising results. Octavia is possessed by Ra and Lucy is determined to free her sister and keep Ra from reshaping the world in his image.
There is one small problem. Lucy has been murdered. However, she’s not about to let a small detail like that keep her from correcting her mistakes. Lucy will save Octavia, even if it kills her again.
What’s Cath’s favorite bit?
The Klaereon family has haunted me since 2002. Inspired by another author’s work, in search of an explanation for one character’s machinations, a voice in my head told me that he would tell me a story. Tell me a story he did. The Vessel of Ra is the beginning a 90-year ascent from Gothic darkness, spanning four generations.
The Vessel of Ra begins in 1837 Venice, a decaying city that has been buffeted back and forth between the French and the Austrians a couple of times. In this setting, Lucy Klaereon decides she will kill herself to avoid her family’s dark fate. For good and for ill, she is rescued by alchemist Carlo Borgia, and sets about changing her destiny. The odds are against her because she is in a Gothic novel.
Gothic tales are multi-faceted. The Klaereon ancestral home, Mistraldol, has been merged with the Abyss, so you never know what you will find in its rooms. Like the characters in Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, Octavia Klaereon and her father Caius typify the Gothic at its worst—broken people who spiral into their own insecurities and excess. Like Jane Eyre in her titular novel, Lucy Klaereon takes it upon herself to be the salvation of the morally ambiguous. All of these characters, including the settings, have light and dark in them. I loved writing this book, discovering gradations of morality as characters are presented with increasingly complicated elements of the supernatural and increasingly complicated relationships among themselves. All of these people are broken, but they’re doing the best they can.
Because The Vessel of Ra is Gothic, gloom coats this novel like a rainy November day, and yet there are elements of hope and heroism. Drusus Claudian, Octavia’s newlywed husband, shines like a Noblebright hero who got off the plot bus at the wrong novel stop. Carlo Borgia assumes responsibility for his family’s crimes and becomes a man who jury-rigs his way out of magical situation after magical situation with virtually no magic at all. Lucy will stop at nothing to save her sister. The dark curse itself came about for the best of reasons. Can these characters overcome their baser natures, or will their efforts be thwarted by manipulative Egyptian gods, whispering shadows, and the specter of life on the outside of conventional morality? Will the sinister nature of the Gothic win?
For me, the answers to these questions are not clear, even though The Vessel of Ra is finished. I hope you’ll read this book and discuss what you think these answers are with me. Morality is complicated in the landscape of the Gothic.
Catherine Schaff-Stump writes speculative fiction for children and adults, everything from humor to horror. Her young adult Gothic historical fantasy The Vessel of Ra is available from Curiosity Quills. Cath lives and works in Iowa with her husband. During the day, she teaches English to non-native speakers at a local community college. Her most recent fiction has been published by Paper Golem Press, Daydreams Dandelion Press, and in The Mammoth Book of Dieselpunk. Cath is a co-host on the writing and geek-life fan podcast Unreliable Narrators.
Okay. Amazing, right? Irene Gallo, art director at Tor, has knocked this out of the park. Those cover designs by Jamie Stafford-Hill, with silhouettes by Greg Manchess is so perfect for the tone of the books that I squealed when I saw them. Followed by tearing up a little and doing some happy dancing.
And then being intensely frustrated because I couldn’t show them to you. But now you can see the covers, and they are amazing!
Here are the reasons I love them.
That group on the cover of The Calculating Stars represents an ensemble cast, centered on the women in the early space program.
It reminds me of Hidden Figures., Funny thing, Calculating Stars was already turned in when the first trailer for Hidden Figures came out. When I saw it, I jumped in the air because it was like watching my book. Except, you know, with 100% less asteroid strike and global catastrophe. But ladies! Doing science! In taffeta! And pearls! And slide rules!
Jamie Stafford-Hill included vehicle names from the book in the diagrams.
The diagrams match up when you put the books side by side!
Mars. Oh my God. Could The Fated Sky say Mars more clearly?
It’s a space suit, not a “lady space suit.”
Then there’s the font, which straddles the line between History! and Science!
I could probably go on for a couple of days. Suffice to say, I’m incredibly pleased with these covers.
Susan Forest and Lucas K. Law are joining us today with their anthology The Sum of Us: Tales of the Bonded and Bound. Here is the publisher’s description:
The world of caregivers and unsung heroes, the province of ghosts . . .
If we believe that we are the protagonists of our lives, then caregivers— our pillars—are ghosts, the bit players, the stock characters, the secondary supports, living lives of quiet trust and toil in the shadows. Summoned to us by the profound magic of great emotional, physical, or psychological need, they play their roles, and when our need diminishes . . .
These are their stories.
Children giving care. Dogs and cats giving care. Sidekicks, military, monks, ghosts, robots. Even aliens. Care given by lovers, family, professionals. Caregivers who can no longer give. Caregivers who make the decision not to give, and the costs and the consequences that follow. Bound to us by invisible bonds, but with lives, dreams, and passions of their own. Twenty-three science fiction and fantasy authors explore the depth and breadth of caring and of giving. They find insight, joy, devastation, and heroism in grand sweeps and in tiny niches. And, like wasps made of stinging words, there is pain in giving, and in working one’s way through to the light. Our lives and relationships are complex. But in the end, there is hope, and there is love.
Colleen Anderson, Charlotte Ashley, Brenda Cooper, Ian Creasey, A.M. Dellamonica, Bev Geddes, Claire Humphrey, Sandra Kasturi, Tyler Keevil, Juliet Marillier, Matt Moore, Heather Osborne, Nisi Shawl, Alex Shvartsman, Kate Story, Karina Sumner-Smith, Amanda Sun, Hayden Trenholm, James Van Pelt, Liz Westbrook-Trenholm, Edward Willett, Christie Yant, Caroline M. Yoachim, and Dominik Parisien (Introduction).
What are Susan’s and Lucas’s favorite bits?
As a mother, a wife, a daughter and a friend, I know some things about what it means to be a caregiver. I’ve changed diapers and dried tears, held someone close, waited, and listened. I’ve weighed my own needs against the needs of those near to me. I held my mother’s hand as she passed on to whatever undiscovered country lies beyond.
But despite the commonalities between my experiences and those of other caregivers—and we are all caregivers—as a human being isolated in my own skin, my own mind, I can never know, truly and intimately, another person’s experiences of those same relationships.
Stories, though. Ah, stories! Stories bring me as close as I can come to understanding my fellow humans on this earth. That is my favorite bit.
I can—and I did—list the insights into caregiving that I found in The Sum of Us: Tales of the Bonded and Bound (Laksa Media). That deserving care doesn’t depend on the receiver’s worth. That caregiving can involve deep sacrifice and many can’t bear that cost—and, choosing not to give care has its costs as well. That, as draining as caregiving can be, it can be joyous, too, and give purpose to a life. Most of us know, if not from personal experience then from the zeitgeist, that the relationship between the caregiver and care-given can be mutual and interchangeable; that caregivers may have to suffer anger and resentment from their loved ones.
We understand that sometimes people who seem not to care, do; and we know that caregivers can be desperate to save the ones they love. That caregivers are aging and becoming fragile; that caring can be an escape from one’s own life; and that witnessing death can also be a kind of caregiving. Caregivers are persistent. Despite setbacks, they continue to give, again and again.
Yet these understandings—intellectual, listed—are only words, dead on the page. They have no vibrancy, no resonance. They give no access to the deep felt meanings they represent. Only the act of reading the story—of living the life of the character within the pages, his feelings and thoughts and interactions, his experiences of giving and receiving care—gives these insights vitality. Significance. It is in how the authors have brought their ideas to life in story that makes their ideas—simple or profound—resonate, rattle around in my brain, stick to me. Change me.
My favorite bit is reading the stories for The Sum of Us.
LUCAS K. LAW:
My favorite bit is not only just reading the stories but the anticipation of seeing the stories in publication, hoping they will show up inside the public and academic libraries across the world. When I was little, my mother often took me to our village library. What a joy it was to flip through those picture books from the shelves! The smell. The touch. The words.
One of the earliest picture books that captured my imagination was “Harold and the Purple Canyon.” Whenever Harold encounters a problem, he shows his resourcefulness and imagination by finding a way to solve it.
When Susan and I solicited the stories for The Sum of Us, our concern was receiving too many stories containing similar characters. When we think of caregiving, we often think of the old, frail, and disabled. Someone who is helpless. Someone who is at the end of life. Someone who is taking our time and energy.
Like Harold, the authors surprised me with their staggering range of caregivers and concepts of caregiving—a henchman looks after a supervillain, the soldier in charge of the governor’s children, a cat helps his patients pass on, an android tends to a terminally ill patient, a service dog looks after an ice hockey player, a young apprentice guides a blind welder, an old couple with diminished capabilities depend on each other to survive an earthquake, an aging tutor overcomes the reservation of her pupil to build a submersible vessel, a hospice director trying to do the right thing, a pious monk makes the final decision, and many more.
Their stories open my eyes about the vast opportunities in caregiving. Caregiving is everywhere, directly and indirectly. And caregivers can be anyone. Sometimes it is us in ways we don’t consider. How about when we recycle? How about when we volunteer for a non-profit organization? How about when we say kind words to a stranger?
Dominik Parisien said it best in his Introduction:
“Caregiving can feel like the province of ghosts . . . They were there all along—caregivers surround us—but it is mainly in those moments of terrible need that we notice them. Many of us think of caregivers as individuals on the periphery. As a result, it is easy to let caregivers fade. It is not necessary that we do not appreciate their support . . . Rather, in our focus on ourselves we often fail to recognize the needs of the person fulfilling our needs.”
Stories are meant to be shared and reflected upon; especially stories that capture the breadth and depth of caring and of giving, and delve into the complex world of caregivers—a segment of our population that is often taken for granted.
We ask you to join us and place “caregivers” and “caregiving” on the forefront. The best gift, my favorite bit, is for you to suggest The Sum of Us: Tales of the Bonded and Bound to your local public and school libraries. Get the stories into as many hands as you can, just like that little Malaysian boy who came home with a knapsack of library books each week to discover a world beyond his own environment.
So let’s inspire the world to recognize those who care. One person at a time.
Susan Forest is a four-time Prix Aurora Award finalist and a writer of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Her novel (Bursts of Fire), the first in a seven-volume YA fantasy epic series, Addicted to Heaven Saga, will be out Fall 2018 from Laksa Media and followed by Flights of Marigold (2019). Her collection of short fiction, Immunity to Strange Tales, was published by Five Rivers Publishing. Her short stories have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies such as Asimov’s Science Fiction, Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and OnSPEC Magazine. Susan has co-edited two anthologies on social issue-related themes with Lucas K. Law and they are working on their third, Shades Within Us: Tales of Migrations and Fractured Borders (Fall 2018). Susan is the past Secretary for the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA).
Stephanie Burgis is joining us today with her book Snowspelled. Here’s the publisher’s description:
In nineteenth-century Angland, magic is reserved for gentlemen while ladies attend to the more practical business of politics. But Cassandra Harwood has never followed the rules…
Four months ago, Cassandra Harwood was the first woman magician in Angland, and she was betrothed to the brilliant, intense love of her life.
Now Cassandra is trapped in a snowbound house party deep in the elven dales, surrounded by bickering gentleman magicians, manipulative lady politicians, her own interfering family members, and, worst of all, her infuriatingly stubborn ex-fiancé, who refuses to understand that she’s given him up for his own good.
But the greatest danger of all lies outside the manor in the falling snow, where a powerful and malevolent elf-lord lurks…and Cassandra lost all of her own magic four months ago.
To save herself, Cassandra will have to discover exactly what inner powers she still possesses – and risk everything to win a new kind of happiness.
What’s Stephanie’s favorite bit?
I’ve always been a driven, ambitious person; I know how to push through challenges with strict discipline. So when I got my first “career” job in my late twenties, just after getting my first literary agent, I was certain that from then on I would be set. I planned to jog every morning and work every day. I’d write novels during my lunch breaks, prove myself at my dayjob, enjoy the fact that I’d finally (after years of grad school) hit a professional income level – and I would achieve and achieve and achieve, forever after.
It felt like a fairy’s curse descending out of nowhere when I got sick in 2005 and never got better again. I was a healthy 28-year-old who loved to hike and jog and travel, but suddenly my head swam whenever I walked for even half a block. When I spent twenty minutes upright in my kitchen, cooking muffins, I had to collapse afterwards as my teeth chattered with exertion. Worse yet, the doctors couldn’t work out what was wrong with me…so week after week, I had to call in sick to work with no explanation and no prospect of any cure.
I kept throwing myself back into motion each time I began to feel slightly better, only to collapse worse than ever before, every time. Because, it turned out when the diagnosis finally arrived, pushing through was no longer a recipe for success for me.
I had M.E./CFS, an illness that leeched away 95% of my physical and mental energy without taking away a single percent of my drive and ambition. By the time it was diagnosed, I had had it for two years, which meant that it was almost certainly a permanent condition.
So I found out at age 30 that I could never go back to that day job – or to any other job that required working outside my home – because I would never be physically independent again.
Suddenly, I had no job and no income. I couldn’t even walk to the local store. I had prided myself all of my life on my independence, my strength, and my essential competence. But suddenly I had none of those things anymore.
The rest of my life felt like a yawning black pit opening before my feet, with everything I had planned and hoped for suddenly gone.
I saved myself, in the end, by writing. I threw myself (while lying on a couch and moving as little as possible) into a frothy MG Regency-era fantasy adventure, Kat, Incorrigible, which was full of highwaymen, loving but bickering sisters, magic and hilarity, and it absolutely saved me emotionally. Then it saved our family financially, too, when it sold as the first book in a high-paying trilogy.
But people kept asking me over the next few years: when would I ever write about a heroine like me? That is, someone dealing with chronic illness, because that kind of experience isn’t represented nearly often enough in fiction – especially not from the perspective of a person who has it, rather than just (as almost always) their long-suffering family members.
And I tried, over the years. I really did. But here’s the problem: my writing is my escape from M.E. I don’t want to stay trapped in my illness even in my fictional worlds. So every attempt fell flat…until 2016, just after the November election.
I was furious and scared by the results of that election. So I started writing a romantic fantasy novella, Snowspelled, just for fun as a comfort project, an escape project, full of sparkling humor, magic, romance and adventure – and it became the most personal project I’ve ever written. In my heroine, Cassandra Harwood, I finally found myself writing about that life-shattering transition I’d experienced in my twenties…but this time, with a twist.
Unlike me, Cassandra doesn’t have M.E.; unlike Cassandra, I’ve never been able to cast magic. Our stories (and personalities) are very different in many ways.
But like me, Cassandra spent her life working towards an ambitious goal – in her case, to change her society’s rules and become the first lady magician in Angland (where ladies, being the more practical sex, are meant to stick to politics while men see to the more emotional and tempestuous magic) – only to find herself derailed in her mid-twenties by a horrible, life-changing incident that takes away her ability to cast magic…and with it, not only her goals and dreams for the future but also her entire definition of herself.
Snowspelled is not about that moment of shattering loss. Set four months afterward, it’s light and frothy and was deliciously fun to write, as Cassandra finally emerges from her grief to find herself snowbound in the most awkward house party of her life, along with an assortment of scheming lady politicians, bickering gentleman magicians, an enchanted snowstorm, interfering family members, and – worst of all – her infuriatingly appealing ex-fiancé, who refuses to understand that she’s given him up for his own good. But when she is confronted in the whirling snow by a menacing elf-lord, she has to find out what inner powers she does still possess after all…
And I can’t even express how cathartic it felt to write from the perspective of a strong, determined heroine who’d experienced that kind of earthquake exploding in her carefully-planned life – and then to show her finding a shining new future after all, replete with unexpected happiness, satisfaction and adventure.
…With, of course, a lot of flirting, banter, and fun along the way!
I lost my first definition of myself in my twenties. But I love the person that I’ve grown into, and I loved writing Cassandra toward happiness, too. I laughed so much as I wrote this novella. I hope you guys will laugh when you read it, too – and I hope it’ll be a comforting escape-read.
It hurts to lose our first adult dreams. But sometimes our new ones are even better.
Stephanie Burgis lives in Wales, surrounded by castles and coffee shops, with her husband (fellow writer Patrick Samphire), their two sons, and their very vocal tabby cat. Her first historical fantasy novel for adults, Masks and Shadows, was included in the Locus Recommended Reading List 2016; Romantic Times Book Reviews called her second novel for adults, Congress of Secrets, “a perfect combination of romance, historical fiction and fantasy.” To find out more (and read the first two chapters of Snowspelled), please visit her website: www.stephanieburgis.com
This is draft five of this @#$!! story. I’d forgotten what it was like to not outline first. Blargh. Anyway, I’ve done a heavy rewrite of Ina’s Spark, which involves a new scene and a totally different ending.
IF you were in one of the earlier rounds of readers and are curious, it is at the same link as before. Please don’t comment on it though, because, sadly, you’ll be comparing it to the previous draft and/or have information that’s not on the page.
If you haven’t read it yet, I could use some help seeing if this version is more coherent. It feels better, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything.
by Mary Robinette Kowal
If Evina waited much longer it would be full dark, and the tavern would almost certainly have a godforsaken bard by then. As if that weren’t bad enough, by the pricking of the hair along her arms, there had to be at least five other mages in easy walking distance. No surprise, really, given King Redinado’s annual quest. That’s what forced her to the capital, after all.
A pair of drunk men staggered out of the door, golden oil light spilling out onto the rutted city street. They wandered away, singing a ditty about a wench with hair the color of the moon. But not that song, thank the Savior Mother.
She swallowed trying to dislodge the knot in her throat. If she couldn’t even walk into a tavern, how the hell did she think she was going to survive the quest to become a King’s Wizard? Savior Mother and the Multitudes… all she wanted to do was survive. She could give a rotten fig about working for the King.
I’m looking for 5-10 new readers. Just raise your hand in the comments below.
Mary will be in Utah at Salt Lake Comic Con from Thursday, Sep 21 to Saturday, Sep 23. Get tickets here.
Thursday, September 21
Puppetry 101: Bringing Inanimate Objects to Life 7:00-8:00 pm
Non verbal cues are a major part of communication. In the world of puppetry you have to convey these cues and bring to life inanimate objects that do not carry emotion but must still deliver a captivating story. Join professional puppeteer, Mary Robinette Kowal, as she teaches the fundamental techniques of the art of puppetry. This is part lecture and part play time.
Writing Excuses is a podcast with the goal of helping listeners become better writers. Whether they write for fun or for profit, whether they’re new to the domain or old hands, Writing Excuses has something to offer. Join a live taping of this lively, instructive, and just plain fun podcast.
With Brandon Sanderson, Howard Tayler, Mary Robinette Kowal and Dan Wells.
Signing 4:30-5:30 pm
Shadow Mountain Booth #1807
Creating Characters with Character: A Guide for Creators 6:00-7:00 pm
Talk with many authors about how to make characters feel lifelike.
With Courtney Alameda, Bree Despain, Peggy Eddleman, David Farland, Brandon Mull (as moderator) and Eric James Stone
Okay, but How?! Turning Ideas Into Novels 7:00-8:00 pm
Have you ever had a great idea, but didn’t know the steps to take to make it into something more? Join these authors for an in-depth workshop centering premise, characters and craftsmanship. Stretch your creative muscles during timed exercises, explore different ways to layer character arcs, and uncover the beginning of the book you’ve always wanted to write.
With Taylor Brook, Nicole Castroman, CB Lee (as moderator) and Illima Todd
Saturday, September 23
The Brandon and Dan and Brandon and Mary and Howard Show 3:00-4:00 pm
The yearly Brandon and Dan and Brandon Show grows by two! Mary Robinette Kowal and Howard Tayler join Brandon Mull, Brandon Sanderson and Dan Wells to talk about…well, anything they want!
Shadow Mountain Booth #1807
Plot and Character and Scene and Setting: A Guide to Story 8:00-9:00pm
Join bestselling authors as they discuss all the parts that make up a story.
With Jim Butcher (as moderator), Michaelbrent Collings, Tyler Jolley, Jody Lynn Nye, and J. Scott Savage
This dough was shockingly pliable. It was also tender, flaky and tasted like a damn fine pie crust.
1 cup gluten free flour (I used Bob’s Red Mill 1 to 1)
4 tablespoons butter (frozen. I just keep butter in the freezer for this.)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon xanthum gum*
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
3 tablespoons liquor (I used 2 of brandy and 1 of triple sec)
1 tablespoon sour cream**
1 egg yolk
Mix dry ingredients together. Grate the frozen butter into the mix and stir it with your fingers to coat. Add wet ingredients and gently knead together in the bowl until it forms a ball. (Note: you might want to back off on the liquor depending on the humidity of your home. Or you might need to add more. A neutral spirit, like vodka, won’t add any flavor. Here’s the science behind this.)
Dust a surface with cornstarch and put the ball on it. Dust more cornstarch on top and cover with a sheet of parchment paper. Roll out into a rough rectangle. Fold the long sides in toward the middle. Fold the ends in towards the middle and then fold the whole thing in half like a book. Fold in half again to make a little squarish block. (Credit for this step to Stella Parks)
Dust with cornstarch again and put the parchment paper back on. Roll it out to the size of your pieplate. As you start this the pieces will slide around a lot. Don’t worry about it, they’ll come together in the end. Also, I highly, highly recommend a pastry scrapper to ease the crust up off the bottom sheet.
Now… in theory, it will stick a little to the parchment paper on top, and you can use that to transfer it to the pie plate. In practise, it’ll depend on how much you dusted it, your horoscope sign, and the favor of the Gods.
*What’s with the xanthum gum? It adds elasticity, which normally comes from gluten. Don’t go overboard though, because it can also turn things into gummy awful servings of sadness.
Michael J. Martinez is joining us today with his novel MJ-12: Shadows. Here’s the publisher’s description:
It’s 1949, and the Cold War is heating up across the world. For the United States, the key to winning might be Variants―once ordinary US citizens, now imbued with strange paranormal abilities and corralled into covert service by the government’s top secret MAJESTIC-12 program. Some Variants are testing the murky international waters in Syria, while others are back at home, fighting to stay ahead of a political power struggle in Washington. And back at Area 51, the operation’s headquarters, the next wave of recruits is anxiously awaiting their first mission. All the while, dangerous figures flit among the shadows and it’s unclear whether they are threatening to expose the Variants for what they are . . . or to completely destroy them. Are they working for the Soviet Union, or something far worse?
What’s Mike’s favorite bit?
MICHAEL J. MARTINEZ
As my ever-gracious host is no doubt aware, one of the benefits of writing historical fiction is leveraging actual history for one’s work. And sometimes, there’s just a piece of history that seems too good to be true.
There’s a very real series of historical events in MJ-12: Shadows – the CIA’s ham-handed efforts to install a strongman in Syria in 1949 so that, yes, the new government would agree to extend an oil pipeline through Syria to the Mediterranean coast. (Sadly, things never seem to change.) One incident during this CIA campaign stood out.
The CIA efforts were led by an officer named Miles Copeland. Up until the records of his activities were declassified, Copeland was known largely as an intelligence policy commentator and author – and the father of Stewart Copeland, drummer for the Police. Small world indeed.
But now the cat’s out of the bag and we’re starting to get details about early intelligence efforts during the Cold War. Most of it is stranger than fiction to some degree or another, and Copeland’s Syria activities are no exception.
Copeland and his partner, Stephen Meade, spearheaded the CIA’s efforts in Syria to destabilize Syria’s democratically elected government and install Hosni al-Za’im, America’s preferred military strongman. And by spearheaded, I mean they were basically the only agents there, and had more petty cash and bad ideas than common sense. Honestly, it’s kind of amazing they came out alive.
One of the key’s to Copeland’s efforts was to sway international opinion of the democratic government, and Copeland thought that if the government was seen violating diplomatic norms, that would do the trick. So he let slip that he was keeping super-secret, critical information about the Syrian government at his house.
Copeland thought that the government would then send a burglar to retrieve the documents, and Copeland could catch said burglar in the act and give the government a black eye.
To say things didn’t work out as planned is a monumental understatement. I almost didn’t put the incident into MJ-12: Shadows because it seemed too far-fetched…for a novel about super-powered covert agents, no less.
But I did, so I won’t spoil it here. It’s my favorite bit in MJ-12: Shadows and the MAJESTIC-12 series thus far. I hope you’ll check it out.
Michael J. Martinez is the author of the Daedalus trilogy of Napoleonic era space opera adventures as well as the MAJESTIC-12 series of superpowered spy-fi thrillers. He likes mashing genres together, obviously. His short fiction has appeared in Unidentified Funny Objects 4, Cthulhu Fhtagn!, Geeky Giving and The Endless Ages Anthology for Vampire: The Masquerade. He lives with his very understanding wife and amazing daughter in the New Jersey suburbs, which are neither understanding nor amazing. He can be found online at michaeljmartinez.net and on Twitter at @mikemartinez72.
Ferrett Steinmetz is joining us today with his novel The Uploaded. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Life sucks and then you die… a cyberpunk family drama from the ingenious author of Flex.
In the near future, the elderly have moved online and now live within the computer network. But that doesn’t stop them interfering in the lives of the living, whose sole real purpose now is to maintain the vast servers which support digital Heaven. For one orphan that just isn’t enough – he wants more for himself and his sister than a life slaving away for the dead. It turns out that he’s not the only one who wants to reset the world…
What’s Ferrett’s favorite bit?
As a Christian, I generally see two types of Christians in science fiction books. Neither reflects my reality.
The first is what I call the “smash and crash” Christian – whatever scientific wonder has been devised to make everyone’s lives better, these Christians hate it as though it were emitted straight from Satan’s bowels. They’re greedy for power, preaching to vacuous congregations without a single neuron to share between them, raising crowds of wrench-wielding Luddites to show up in the third act and wreck whatever miracle machinery is improving the world.
Why do these stone-throwing zealots despise the miraculous? It’s never really explained. In these books it’s taken as a given that a Christian is not only diametrically opposed to science, but unable to wield it. So they’re book-dumb, though if they’re lucky they may be possessed of a crude cunning, not unlike a stoat or a weasel.
Ah, but what if the author’s sympathetic to religion? Then you get the “hugs and mugs” Christian, who wraps you in a warm embrace before bringing you a mug of decaffeinated herbal tea. This Christian wears cool sweater-vests and serves as a faith-flavored psychiatrist, never judging anyone except when they’ve done something so bad the plot requires the protagonist the be course-corrected back on the road to heroism. They may even flirt a little, just enough to provide fan-shipping possibilities. Their faith is diffuse, their beliefs never so firm as to inconvenience anyone.
What I rarely see in novels is Christianity’s morality in justifiable opposition to the main characters’ goals. A faith with teeth, if you will. A faith where yes, perhaps their beliefs start with the Bible but grows to object to this so-called wonder technology for both pragmatic and compassionate reasons.
Which wasn’t too hard to create in my novel The Uploaded, given it’s all about what happens 500 years after humanity’s perfected its computerized Heaven. Digitally preserving people’s brains is the big social change that’s transformed humanity as we know it. Nobody worries about meat-deaths any more – when your body kicks off, the last saved copy of your consciousness gets uploaded to the Upterlife’s game servers, where you can choose to check in on Earth or play in the most vividly imagined MMORPGs for all eternity.
Which sounds good, but… like most world-changing technologies, it’s had long-term, unforeseen consequences.
Because when you know for-sure there is a palpable, verifiable Heaven, you let the rest of the world slide. Your view shifts myopically to focus on the reward; society has to place laws against suicide to ensure you stick around to keep the servers running. Cruelty gets written off; why should someone care how cruel they are to you in life when you’ve got an eternity of pleasure awaiting you when you die? The living are sold into slavery, kept in line through venal promises of unlocking bonus treasures in the Upterlife. The sick are cut down with a laugh.
And if you’re a Christian with serious beliefs, not only is this new technology corrupting the world and encouraging callous evil, but people are confusing souls with programs. Yes, it’s very nice that there’s a simulation of your dead Mom talking to you, and it’s certainly a beautiful replication, but… that set of computerized emotions can vote. It can own property. It can decide who gets access to vital, life-saving technology and who doesn’t – and because the dead’s priorities are always dead-first, the best and brightest tech goes to upgrading the Upterlife servers.
It’s bad enough when people are following false prophets, but these prophets aren’t even real. They’re just… simulated echoes of what someone used to be. With each passing year inside the servers, these replicas forget what it was like to be human. Yet they’re in charge.
Worst of all, the Upterlife is popular. A lot of so-called Christians, when a virtual Heaven is dangled before them, forget immediately about the real thing and accept this rampant cruelty.
And if you’re a Christian – a true Christian – do you have any choice but to oppose this? You can’t hope for political change; there are twenty generations of dead, and even if every living person voted for something they’d never get their agenda through if the dead opposed it. You can’t persuade people; the dead sift through the saved brain-scans of potential Upterlife applicants, and if the applicant’s too rebellious they’re condemned to die an ugly meat-death.
Your only choice is to rebel through physical force. To take up the sword.
They call it crime. You call it your only choice.
And so my favorite bit in The Uploaded is Evangeline, the young NeoChristian who’s spent her entire life training for the moment she can take down the servers. The other characters in The Uploaded, who were raised in the post-Upterlife society, think she’s dumb; she’s not. She uses technology just fine, can field-strip a rifle and hijack a spirocopter better than any of them. They think she’s thuggishly violent. They think she’s deluded by her sky-beard.
She’s not. She sees the pain the Upterlife has created clearly, simply because her faith has not numbed her to suffering but attuned her to it. She knows that God offered Adam and Eve stewardship of the Earth, and so there’s a better world to be created from the ruins of this one. And she knows the cost of fighting this new and monstrous society, because she’s watched her fellow NeoChristians get abducted and tortured – but she’s loathe to kill not because she believes it’s a sin, but because she’s unwilling to condemn the ignorant to Hell without giving them a chance.
She’s afraid. But she knows who also died to save mankind, and He gives her strength. Which is why she’s willing to risk having her brains ripped apart by the brainwashed servants of the servers.
Ferrett Steinmetz’s debut urban fantasy trilogy FLEX (and THE FLUX and FIX) features a bureaucracy-obsessed magician who is in love with the DMV, a goth videogamemancer who tries not to go all Grand Theft Auto on people, and one of the weirder magic systems yet devised. His latest book THE UPLOADED, well, you just read about it, didn’t you? He was nominated for the Nebula in 2012 and for the Compton Crook Award in 2015, for which he remains moderately stoked, and lives in Cleveland with his very clever wife, a small black dog of indeterminate origin, and a friendly ghost.
He Tweeters at @ferretthimself, and blogs entirely too much about puns, politics, and polyamory at www.theferrett.com.
Ginger Stuyvesant, an American heiress living in London during World War I, is engaged to Captain Benjamin Harford, an intelligence officer. Ginger is a medium for the Spirit Corps, a special Spiritualist force. Each soldier heading for the front is conditioned to report to the mediums of the Spirit Corps when they die so the Corps […]