Journal

My Favorite Bit: Cat Rambo talks about ALTERED AMERICA

Favorite Bit iconCat Rambo is joining us today with her book Altered America. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Steampunk fans will rejoice in the appearance of Altered America: Steampunk Stories, collecting Nebula and World Fantasy Award-nominated author Cat Rambo’s steampunk fantasies, including “Clockwork Fairies,” “Snakes on a A Train,” and “Her Windowed Eyes, Her Chambered Heart,” into a single book. Rambo’s wry humor, precise and evocative descriptions, and ability to create a world with a few deft touches are showcased in these ten tales.

Rambo has a gift for immersing her reader into a vivid universe full of adventure, sensuality, wit, and poignant observation. -Jody Lynn Nye

“Cat Rambo is endlessly innovative, ingenious, and just plain entertaining. Read her stories.” -Kevin J. Anderson, New York Times bestselling author of The Dark Between the Stars.

Highly recommended for anyone who enjoyed “The Wild, Wild West” and other steampunk stories. -Galaxy’s Edge Magazine

“A sparkling collection from one of the brightest talents in the field.” -Ursula Vernon

“Each one of Cat Rambo’s steampunk stories stands solidly on its own, but as a collection, these stories click together like cogs to depict a complicated, curious alternate Earth filled with magic, technology, and mayhem.” -Beth Cato, author of The Clockwork Dagger

Includes “Clockwork Fairies,” “Rare Pears and Greengages,” “Laurel Finch, Laurel Finch, Where Do You Wander?”, Darrell Award nominated “Memphis BBQ,” “Rappacini’s Crow,” “Her Windowed Eyes, Her Chambered Heart,” “Snakes On a Train,” “Web of Blood and Iron,” “Ticktock Girl” and “Seven Clockwork Angels.”

What’s Cat’s favorite bit?

Altered America cover

CAT RAMBO

My favorite thing about Altered America is that it let me go back to one of those places of wonder that we inhabit as children, which was the television show Wild Wild West, starring Robert Conrad as James T. West and Ross Martin as his sidekick, Artemus Gordon. Set in the frontier era, the show featured the two special agents serving President Grant by traveling around troubleshooting a variety of issues, including Dr. Miguelito Loveless, a genius dwarf given to constructing all manner of diabolical devices.

I was a solitary child, but I had plenty of imaginary playmates. West and Gordon often accompanied me in my explorations of the neighborhood; while I appreciated West, Gordon seemed the more approachable to me, and we had a number of conversations, though I cannot remember much of the content. Artemus West, the mechanical Pinkerton agent who appears in several of these stories (as well as at least one forthcoming one), is my tribute to those companions. I miss you guys.

I loved the texture of the show, the brassy glitter and touches of Art Nouveau, and the world they inhabited, which managed to also be the West that I knew from visits to my cattle-raising grandparents in Kansas. The show was steampunk before anyone knew what steampunk was, and decades later when I encountered the label, I knew instantly that it was a familiar landscape.

There’s a combination of machinery and magic in steampunk that fascinates me, that reminds me of those days of early reading when anything was quite possible because you hadn’t learned yet how many impossibilities the world presents. Why shouldn’t clockwork people think or guns shoot purple sparks and fire that turn you into animals? It’s a more malleable, interesting world than this one seems at times.

And it’s an era of exploration, of new doors constantly opening, and in steampunk those doors can lead in so many directions and collide with so many sub genres, opening onto the roiling depths of Lovecraftian horror or wandering into a beautifully ornate version of space. The stories in Altered America often differ from each other in flavor, whether it’s the fairytale tinged retelling of Sleeping Beauty or the more eerie realism of “Her Windowed Eyes, Her Chambered Heart,” but they’ve all got the crunch of gears and cogs down among the base notes.

“Her Windowed Eyes” is a return to one of the episodes that has stuck with me all my life, “The Night of the Living House,” in which West and Gordon track a fugitive to his ancestral home, which is haunted by the ghost of his mother. There’s a moment where every window in the room slams shut, refusing to let them out, that was — and remains — one of the scariest moments I’ve ever seen on film, and so when I wanted to work with a steampunk piece, that story was my inspiration — although I like to think what emerged is very different from the television episode.

I’ll leave it to you to judge.

LINKS:

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Amazon

BIO:

Cat Rambo lives and writes primarily in the state of Washington, with occasional peregrinations elsewhere. A prolific short story writer, she has had work published in such places as Asimov’s, Clarkesworld Magazine, Weird Tales, and Tor.com. Her first novel, Beasts of Tabat, appeared in early 2015 from Wordfire Press and will be followed by its sequel, Hearts of Tabat, in late 2016. Also appearing this fall is Neither Here Nor There, Rambo’s fourth story collection.

Award nominations have included the Nebula and World Fantasy Awards, the latter for Rambo’s editorial work with Fantasy Magazine. She is a frequent volunteer with the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) and is currently its President. She teaches a series of online writing classes, details of which can be found at her website. Her most recent nonfiction work is Ad Astra: the SFWA 50th Anniversary Cookbook, co-edited with Fran Wilde.

Seeking beta readers for 1400 word interstitial short story

Looking for readers for a 1400 word interstitial short story. Here’s an excerpt to get you started.

 

Your Mama’s Adventures in Parenting

Your mama adjusted her face mask and checked the chronometer on her eyepiece. Darn it. The filter would only be good for another fifteen minutes. She was nowhere near finished with the job. And this particular theft would fetch a good price on the energy market, what with the price of methane.

She slid the siphon tube across to the capture valve and turned on the vacuum suction. If your mama could get most of the gas into the tank…

The filter failed. A rank, heavy scent, filled with sulfur and dead moss, burned into her sinuses. Your mama’s eyes watered. She pressed the filter, trying to snug it up or eke out a few more minutes. The smell just grew stronger, moving past eggs, and into the bowels of hell itself.

Just raise your hand in the comments below if you want to read. I’ll update when I have enough.  Okay! I’m all set, thank you.

My Favorite Bit: SL Huang talks about PLASTIC SMILE

Favorite Bit iconSL Huang is joining us today with her novel Plastic Smile. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Cas Russell, antisocial mercenary, has decided to Fight Crime. With capital letters, like in one of her friend’s comic books.

After all, she has a real-life superpower: with her instantaneous mathematical ability, she can neuter bombs or out-shoot an army. And it’s Cas’s own fault violence has been spiking in the world’s cities lately — she’s the one who crushed the organization of telepaths that had been keeping the world’s worst offenders under control. Now every drive-by or gang shooting reminds Cas how she’s failed, and taking out these scumbags one at a time is never going to be enough.

She needs to find a way to stop all the violence. At once.

But Cas’s own power has a history, one she can’t remember — or control. A history that’s creeping into the cracks in her mind and fracturing her sanity . . . just when she’s gotten herself on the hit list of every crime lord on the West Coast.

Cas isn’t going to be able to save the world. She might not even be able to save herself.

What’s SL’s favorite bit?

Plastic Smile cover

SL HUANG

A Real-Life Story

I have horrible gaydar. I’m really, truly terrible at identifying other queer people. Only twice in my life have I suspected someone’s sexual orientation without being told.

One of these was N. When I walked into the first meeting of one of the many theatre groups I belonged to in college, N. was sprawled on the floor sporting a tiara and a pink feather boa, waxing boisterously on some entertaining story for the room. A few minutes later, I thought, “Hmm — I think he might be gay.”

He was — proudly and openly so. He was also a charming and talented fellow who was a tentpole of the college theatre community. He deservedly snagged leads in everything he auditioned for, and was funny, vivacious, and very well-liked.

One show, a post-rehearsal tradition was to go out for beers at a local campus-adjacent watering hole.  They served only cheap beer at $3 a pitcher.  That show had a small cast and crew, and all eight of us would cram around one of the tables and joke and tell stories until the wee hours of the morning. As a freshman, I was the young ’un of the bunch, and though I couldn’t share in the beer, I felt awed to be included in the company.

During a very normal such night, N. got up to use the bathroom. He was sitting against the wall, so had to squeeze past everyone else to get out. One of the people who was scooting his chair in for N. to pass was R., another pleasant, friendly fellow in the cast.

As N. squeezed past R.’s chair, he touched R.’s shoulder with his hand.

R flinched.

He flinched loudly. I don’t know how else to describe it. It was huge, it was obvious, and the entire table went from uproarious chatter to dead quiet. Everyone stared.

N.’s face went red.

So did R.’s. He started stammering an apology. To his credit, he didn’t try to make it out to be anything it hadn’t been. “I’m so sorry,” he kept saying. “I never would have thought I was homophobic, that I would ever do something like that. I’m so sorry.”

The incident etched itself into my memory forever.

Plastic Smile

The real-life memory informed the writing of a similar instance in Plastic Smile, the fourth book of my Russell’s Attic series. It’s a minor character note that some readers may not even notice — one person flinching from another after connecting that he’s gay.

In the book, the difference — a major difference — from what I saw in real life is that the person flinching is someone framed as bigoted and a buffoon.  Which is not the same thing, not as powerful, because to me, what made the real-life incident so visceral was that the person perpetrating homophobia was a good person. An accepting person. Someone who considered himself a non-homophobic person, but who still had a reflexive reaction that was drastically homophobic.

Having a character who’s written as bigoted do such a thing is not, to my mind, nearly as affecting. We expect it of such people. We don’t expect it of our friends and allies.

So maybe I’ll be writing about this again, and again, in other contexts. Especially as an author who is (mostly) out and openly queer myself now, and who wonders sometimes —

Who would flinch from me?

Who would pull their children away from me?

Who would vote for my civil rights but still not want to touch my hand?

I don’t know. I go through life, I meet people, wonderful people, accepting people.  And I don’t know.

Who will flinch?

LINKS:

Amazon

Amazon UK

Kobo

Apple

Barnes & Noble

BIO:

SL Huang justifies her MIT degree by using it to write eccentric mathematical superhero fiction, starting with her debut novel, Zero Sum Game. Her short fiction has appeared or is upcoming in Strange Horizons, The Book Smugglers, and Daily Science Fiction, and she’s unhealthily opinionated at www.slhuang.com or on Twitter as @sl_huang.

My Favorite Bit: David D. Levine talks about ARABELLA OF MARS

My Favorite BitDavid D. Levine is joining us today with his novel Arabella of Mars. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Since Newton witnessed a bubble rising from his bathtub, mankind has sought the stars. When William III of England commissioned Capt. William Kidd to command the first expedition to Mars in the late 1600s, he proved that space travel was both possible and profitable.

Now, one century later, a plantation in a flourishing British colony on Mars is home to Arabella Ashby, a young woman who is perfectly content growing up in the untamed frontier. But days spent working on complex automata with her father or stalking her brother Michael with her Martian nanny is not the proper behavior of an English lady. That is something her mother plans to remedy with a move to an exotic world Arabella has never seen: London, England.

However, when events transpire that threaten her home on Mars, Arabella decides that sometimes doing the right thing is far more important than behaving as expected. She disguises herself as a boy and joins the crew of the Diana, a ship serving the Mars Trading Company, where she meets a mysterious captain who is intrigued by her knack with clockwork creations. Now Arabella just has to weather the naval war currently raging between Britain and France, learn how to sail, and deal with a mutinous crew…if she hopes to save her family remaining on Mars.

Arabella of Mars, the debut novel by Hugo-winning author David D. Levine, offers adventure, romance, political intrigue, and Napoleon in space!

What’s David’s favorite bit?

Arabella of Mars cover

DAVID D. LEVINE

There’s no question what my favorite bit of this book is. It’s the scene I had in mind from the very beginning, the one I was writing toward during the whole first hundred pages, and the one (other than the opening) that I pick most often when I’m reading for an audience: the scene where Arabella takes off from Earth aboard the airship Diana.

Up to this point Arabella has been a Patrick O’Brian girl stuck in a Jane Austen world. Born and raised on Mars, she grew up as an adventurous tomboy on a wild colonial frontier, running around the desert with her brother (in leather pants, no less!). So her mother, fearing she would turn out completely unmarriageable, has hauled her back to England to bring her up as a proper lady. But she hates it, and chafes against England’s climate, gravity, and especially the limited role to which she, as an English female of the gentry, is restricted. Then she learns that her evil cousin plans to kill her brother, back on Mars, and inherit the family fortune — and Arabella is the only person who can stop him. This presents her with a horrible responsibility… and a fantastic opportunity to escape the boring, constricted life of an English lady.

This scene is the place where all of my research and thinking about achieving space travel using Regency-era technology (with a few small changes in physics, such as filling the solar system with air) hits the page where the first time, and it’s also a critical hinge point in Arabella’s physical and emotional journey. It’s the moment when she commits, beyond recall, to a life in male clothing as a crew member of an aerial clipper, and it’s also the first time she sees London, then England, and finally the whole planet Earth from above. This is where she sees how far she has already come, and where it’s clear just how far she has to go.

After this scene she has duties to perform, shoveling coal and swaying-out the masts and suchlike, and a whole new vocabulary of aerial gibberish to learn. Her life from this moment on will never be the same. But what will happen to her? You’ll have to read the book to find out.

LINKS:

Powell’s

University Book Store

Indiebound

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Kobo

iBooks

Goodreads

Website

Twitter

Facebook

BIO:

David D. Levine is the author of novel Arabella of Mars (Tor 2016) and over fifty SF and fantasy stories. His story “Tk’Tk’Tk” won the Hugo Award, and he has been shortlisted for awards including the Hugo, Nebula, Campbell, and Sturgeon. Stories have appeared in Asimov’s, Analog, F&SF, Tor.com, and multiple Year’s Best anthologies as well as award-winning collection Space Magic from Wheatland Press.

David is a contributor to George R. R. Martin’s bestselling shared-world series Wild Cards. He is also a member of publishing cooperative Book View Cafe and of nonprofit organization Oregon Science Fiction Conventions Inc. He has narrated podcasts for Escape Pod, PodCastle, and StarShipSofa, and his video “Dr. Talon’s Letter to the Editor” was a finalist for the Parsec Award. In 2010 he spent two weeks at a simulated Mars base in the Utah desert.

David lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife Kate Yule. His web site is www.daviddlevine.com.

My Favorite Bit: Sarah Kuhn talks about HEROINE COMPLEX

Favorite Bit iconSarah Kuhn is joining us today with her novel Heroine Complex. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Being a superheroine is hard. Working for one is even harder.

Evie Tanaka is the put-upon personal assistant to Aveda Jupiter, her childhood best friend and San Francisco’s most beloved superheroine. She’s great at her job—blending into the background, handling her boss’s epic diva tantrums, and getting demon blood out of leather pants.

Unfortunately, she’s not nearly as together when it comes to running her own life, standing up for herself, or raising her tempestuous teenage sister, Bea.

But everything changes when Evie’s forced to pose as her glamorous boss for one night, and her darkest secret comes out: she has powers, too. Now it’s up to her to contend with murderous cupcakes, nosy gossip bloggers, and supernatural karaoke battles—all while juggling unexpected romance and Aveda’s increasingly outrageous demands. And when a larger threat emerges, Evie must finally take charge and become a superheroine in her own right…or see her city fall to a full-on demonic invasion.

What’s Sarah’s favorite bit?

Heroine Complex cover

SARAH KUHN

I love karaoke.

Please note: this does not mean I am a good singer. Anyone who has ever been forced to listen to me try to harmonize with myself during a stirring rendition of TLC’s “No Scrubs” will tell you the exact opposite is true. Thankfully, enthusiasm counts for a lot in karaoke and I am really good at enthusiasm. I’ve rallied crowds through totally off-key Britney Spears covers using nothing more than a few well-placed hand claps and a heaping serving of bravado. And I’ve seen other musically challenged performers do the same. To me, that’s the key to karaoke’s appeal: for a brief, shining moment—those three minutes of perfect pop—anyone can be a star.

When I was writing Heroine Complex, I knew I wanted my fabulous Asian American superheroine protagonists to have big, colorful fight scenes that were outrageous, funny, and a ton of fun. One of the climactic fights features Evie Tanaka—a former sidekick coming into her own as a bona fide heroine—facing off against her foe in a supernaturally enhanced karaoke battle.

I loved this idea for a few reasons. First of all, it’s the kind of challenge that’s horrifying to someone like Evie, who’s comfortable staying in the background and on the sidelines. As she’s forced to rally and find her inner karaoke star bravado, her heroic side starts to come out and she finally begins to find the confidence to stand up for herself and fight for what she believes in.

Second, while “karaoke battle against demonic forces” obviously has an element of the ridiculous, the stakes involved mean our heroes must treat karaoke very seriously. And while I believe karaoke should be fun above all else, I also believe it should be done earnestly rather than ironically—when I sing Britney, I mean every word. And when Evie takes on some of pop music’s other great masters, she does too.

Finally, writing this kind of battle is just pure fun. I love sing-offs, dance-offs (hmm, maybe a dance-off in the sequel?), and pretty much any kind of “-off” involving the creative arts. Writing a fight scene where superheroes have to use killer dance moves, stage presence, and vocal range—rather than punches, kicks, or actual superpowers—to vanquish evil puts a big, stupid grin on my face and allows me to let my imagination go to some truly weird places.

The resulting scene in question is too spoilery for me to share, so I’ll just tell you some of the key songs involved.

*“Single Ladies” by Beyoncé: Beyoncé’s songs are really some of the ultimates when it comes to aspirational karaoke jams. This one has the added bonus of being accompanied by well-known dance moves for Evie to utilize. Somewhere there exists a terrible iPhone video of me and a friend attempting these dance moves during our own (drunk) karaoke attempt. Do not try to find it.

*“I Want It That Way” by Backstreet Boys: You can put some real high school prom slow dance soul into this jam. I have also performed this one with a friend, to great acclaim—the karaoke place we were at didn’t have both parts cued up during the “tell me why” section and we sang them anyway.

*“Eternal Flame” by The Bangles: Shockingly, I have never performed this one, but I totally recommend looking up the clip from The Vampire Diaries where Caroline Forbes uses her vampire powers to compel a band to play it for her so she can have a big rock star moment and woo the guy she likes. It’s every beautiful karaoke fantasy in one amazing scene. In Heroine Complex, Evie has a special connection to this song—it  recurs a few times throughout the book. And in the end, it’s the song that helps her finally shed the assistant mantle and find her true karaoke stardom.

LINKS:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

IndieBound

Goodreads

Website

Twitter

BIO:

Sarah Kuhn is the author of Heroine Complex—the first in a series starring Asian American superheroines—for DAW Books. She also wrote The Ruby Equation for the Eisner-nominated comics anthology Fresh Romance and the romantic comedy novella One Con Glory, which earned praise from io9 and USA Today and is in development as a feature film. Her articles and essays on such topics as geek girl culture, Asian American representation, and Sailor Moon cosplay have appeared in The ToastUncanny MagazineApex MagazineAngryAsianMan.comIGN.comBack StageGeek Monthly, The Hollywood ReporterStarTrek.comCreative Screenwriting, and the Hugo-nominated anthology Chicks Dig Comics. In 2011, she was selected as a finalist for the CAPE (Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment) New Writers Award. You can visit her at heroinecomplex.com or on Twitter: @sarahkuhn.

My Favorite Bit: Alyc Helms talks about THE CONCLAVE OF SHADOW

Favorite Bit iconAlyc Helms is joining us today with her novel The Conclave of Shadow. Here’s the publisher’s description:

The line between enemy and ally is thinner than a shadow’s edge.

Ever since she saved the spirit guardians of China by selling out to her worst enemy, Missy Masters – a.k.a. the pulp hero Mr. Mystic – has been laying low. But when knights serving the Conclave of Shadow steal secret technology from a museum exhibit on the Argent Aces, everyone looks to Mr. Mystic for help. If Missy doesn’t want her masquerade blown, she’d better track down the thieves, and fast.

But stolen tech turns out to be the least of her problems. Recent events have upset the balance of power in the Shadow Realms, removing the barriers that once held the ravenous Voidlands in check. Their spread threatens destruction in the mortal realm as well… and only the Conclave stands ready to push them back.

In a world of shadow, telling friends from enemies is easier said than done. But if she wants to save San Francisco, Missy will have to decide who to trust. Including her own instincts, which tell her that something is stalking her with murder in mind…

What’s Alyc’s favorite bit?

Conclave of Shadow cover

ALYC HELMS

Recently, as part of another blog interview, I talked about a pilgrimage that I once made to Cape Wrath, which was often considered to be Ultima Thule—the end of the earth. To get there, I had to take a plane (to London), a train (to Inverness), a bus (to Thurso), another bus and then a POSTAL TRUCK (to the Village of Smoo), a bike (to the Cape Wrath tour meeting point), a jeep, a boat (across the Kyle of Durness), and then another jeep. When I got to Cape Wrath, I walked right past the lighthouse, climbed as far as I could down the sloping edge of the cliff, and ate my lunch while I watched the birds and waves below my feet.

San Francisco has its own sort of Ultima Thule: Lands End. The surf-pounded rocks of Cape Wrath represent (if only imaginatively) the border space between the European continent and the cold, empty expanse of the North Atlantic. Similarly, Lands End is the last outpost, beyond even the Golden Gate, where San Francisco gives way to the vast Pacific. The ocean is constantly eating away at the cliffs. The winds blast at the breaks of California cypress, twisting their limbs like taffy. Fogs regularly blanket the land, drifting through the trees like winding sheets. Just south sits the crumbled ruins of the Sutro Baths, and just east looms the Presidio.

And on a tiny shelf thrusting out toward Pyramid Rock, is the Lands End Labyrinth.

The Lands End Labyrinth was conceived and constructed by local artist Eduardo Aguilera in 2004. It has been vandalized a few times, and each time locals came together to rebuild it. It’s not the sort of destination that’s marked by signage or listed in most official literature. It’s just something you learn about if you live in San Francisco long enough, almost by osmosis. You find it by turning off one of the coastal hiking trails in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. On weekend days, there may be a dozen or so people there, some taking pictures, many waiting their turn to walk the path between the stones.

Lands End Labyrinth

I have a thing for border zones and the liminality they represent. Border zones are beautiful, but they can also be painful places, what Gloria Anzaldúa called in Borderlands/La Frontera, “this thin edge of barbwire.” They scrape, they cut, they erode a landscape, a culture, a people, an identity. In a place like Lands End, where the ocean and wind are constantly devouring the land, the labyrinth is intended as a monument to peace and meditation. It’s like a metaphysical shunt for all that turbulent energy. It is easy enough to tear down the physical structure of the labyrinth—it’s only a bunch of fist-sized rocks, after all—but the imaginative hold it has on the community means we rebuild it again and again.

In my writing, I often return to this metaphysical idea of borders as wounds that need to be treated before they can start to heal. This is built into the mythology of the Mr. Mystic series in the form of the boundaries between the real world and the nightmarish Shadow Realms that Missy Masters has control over.

I expand that idea in The Conclave of Shadow when Missy learns that the Shadow Realms are the kinder, gentler buffer zone to the cosmic horror that is the Voidlands. The boundaries between these realms are decaying, and Missy has to find a way to reinforce them and redirect the Voidlands energy before it reaches catastrophic proportions. Much like the community effort to rebuild the Lands End Labyrinth, she cannot do it alone.

On a personal level, the Lands End Labyrinth becomes a centering point for Missy when desperation drives her to wonder if the ends can justify the means. Later, she uses it—along with the Golden Gate Bridge, the Alcatraz lighthouse, and the seven hills—in the ritual she and her allies have created to protect the city against the Voidlands threat.

Missy never considers that other metaphysical association common to labyrinths: There’s always a monster in the center.

LINKS:

The Conclave of Shadow, out July 5, 2016
Available in print and ebook
Angry Robot | Powell’s | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Amazon UK | Waterstones | Goodreads

The Dragons of Heaven, out now!
Available in print, ebook, and audibook
Angry Robot | Powell’s | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Amazon UK | Waterstones | Goodreads

BIO:

Alyc Helms fled her doctoral program in anthropology and folklore when she realized she preferred fiction to academic writing. She dabbles in corsetry and costuming, dances Scottish Highland and Irish Ceili at Renaissance and Dickens fairs, gets her dander up about social justice issues, and games in all forms of media. She sometimes refers to her work as “critical theory fanfic,” which is a fancy way to say that she is obsessed with liminality, gender identity, and foxes. She has published stories in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Daily Science Fiction, Crossed Genres, and Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, and she has published monsters in Green Ronin’s Chronicle Creatures splatbook series. The Conclave of Shadow is the second novel in her Adventures of Mr. Mystic series from Angry Robot. She can be found on twitter @alychelms or at www.alychelms.com.

My Favorite Bit: D. Lieber talks about CONJURING ZEPHYR

My Favorite BitD. Lieber is joining us today with her novel Conjuring Zephyr. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Retreating underground to escape a devastating ice age, humans build a new society. When magic is discovered and harnessed for survival, the citizens of Terrenus establish theories and principles of how to use it.

Kai Stephenson is determined to prove magical principles aren’t set in stone. Having lost her younger brother in a tragic accident, she will ensure such accidents never harm anyone else. She enrolls at the most elite university to gain the knowledge she needs to achieve her goal. Overconfident that living as a boy at an all-boys university will only be a minor inconvenience, Kai is convinced her classmates will never discover that she’s a woman. After all, women aren’t capable of higher forms of magic, and her boyish figure certainly doesn’t hurt her disguise.

Hiding her true identity becomes a problem when her new friends start to awaken her repressed sexuality.

What’s D.’s favorite bit?

Conjuring Zephyr cover

D. LIEBER

I have many favorite bits about Conjuring Zephyr. I spent a lot of time developing the magic and building the subterranean society in which Kai and her friends live. I’m pleased I was able to weave social commentary into the story without bashing my readers over the head with it. I think my readers will find they can ignore it completely, if they choose, and just enjoy the story.

I had fun satirizing why I think modern science is stuck, western views on female sexuality, as well as male and female gender roles. But my favorite bit was simply love finding Kai even when she was preoccupied and didn’t have time. Because, isn’t that how it happens to us all?

What I was really excited about while writing Conjuring Zephyr was who Kai would choose from all of her potential love interests.

I spend a lot of my free time watching anime and Korean television, and I absolutely love reverse harem stories. But what makes me really squee like a fangirl are the stories where female characters disguise themselves as men to accomplish their goals.

I get really into it, and I binge watch until I know the ending. I’m usually disappointed. The protagonist always chooses the guy who was a complete jerk to her through most of the show.

Watching any foreign television certainly takes some getting used to. I will even go so far as to say that it takes dedication. Because, let’s face it. At first exposure, some of that stuff just seems downright weird. I wanted to introduce this genre to western audiences in a way they could understand without so much effort.

When I was in the audience of an authors’ panel at C2E2 in 2014, one of the panelists said she writes stories she wants to read. It seemed like such an obvious thing to say afterward, but it really gave me the push I needed to put pen to paper.

I set out to write a story in the genre I love and end it the way I wanted. But as I was writing, I began to understand exactly why the protagonist always picks the jerk.

Now, I’m not going to tell you who Kai chooses, because that would spoil it. I will say that, not only will it surprise the reader, but it surprised me as I was writing it.

Once I set my characters up and let them go, they took me to places I never would have predicted. They became alive, tormented by past tragedies, fighting desires they couldn’t understand or express in their repressed society, and chasing a goal that was accepted as impossible from the beginning.

LINKS:

Website

Amazon (paperback)

Amazon (ebook)

Barnes & Noble

Facebook

Goodreads

Publisher

BIO:

D. writes stories she wants to read. Her love of the worlds of fiction led her to earn a Bachelor’s in English from Wright State University.

When she isn’t reading or writing, she’s probably hiking, crafting, watching anime, Korean television or old movies. She may also be getting her geek on while planning her next steampunk cosplay with friends.

She lives in Wisconsin with her husband (John), retired guide dog (Samwise) and cat (Yin).

My Favorite Bit: E. Catherine Tobler talks about THE KRAKEN SEA

My Favorite BitE. Catherine Tobler is joining us today with her novel The Kraken Sea. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Fifteen-year-old Jackson is different from the other children at the foundling hospital. Scales sometimes cover his arms. Tentacles coil just below his skin. Despite this Jackson tries to fit in with the other children. He tries to be normal for Sister Jerome Grace and the priests. But when a woman asks for a boy like him, all that changes. His name is pinned to his jacket and an orphan train whisks him across the country to Macquarie’s.

At Macquarie’s, Jackson finds a home unlike any he could have imagined. The bronze lions outside the doors eat whomever they deem unfit to enter, the hallways and rooms shift and change at will, and Cressida – the woman who adopted him – assures him he no longer has to hide what he is. But new freedoms hide dark secrets. There are territories, allegiances, and a kraken in the basement that eats shadows.

As Jackson learns more about the new world he’s living in and about who he is, he has to decide who he will stand with: Cressida, the woman who gave him a home and a purpose, or Mae, the black-eyed lion tamer with a past as enigmatic as his own. The Kraken Sea is a fast paced adventure full of mystery, Fates, and writhing tentacles just below the surface, and in the middle of it all is a boy searching for himself.

What’s E. Catherine’s favorite bit?

The Kraken Sea cover

E. CATHERINE TOBLER

My favorite bit in The Kraken Sea is the fact that everything I want to talk about is a spoiler. I’ve been writing circus stories since 2004, but have never before written the story of the man who made the circus, Jackson himself.

Every time I approach this piece, I think, “Oh, I can talk about X!” Then, the more in depth I think about X, the more I realize that no, if I really talk about X, everything unravels.

I keep thinking I would tell you about the bakery–because if you know me, you know I love all manner of baked goods. Cakes, and croissants, and cookies, meringues, and macarons. In this book, I included palmiers, because they look like hearts. Jackson’s Unreal Circus and Mobile Marmalade has always had a food element to it: Beth makes marmalades that are magically infused with specific times and places, and one can travel there with just a bite. This is either a blessing or a curse for the person eating the marmalade.

Having the opportunity to include a bakery was a delight–it fits the story universe perfectly. But if I go deeper and tell you that the bakery is part of a territorial dispute between two ancient, warring factions…we get closer to spoiler territory. Because that leads to telling you about the thing in the basement, and if I tell you about the thing in the basement–

Yeah, we can’t go there.

I also thought I’d talk about the girl on the fire escape–Mae. Mae’s path crosses with Jackson’s accidentally at first (or is it?), and then later with deliberation when she waits for him on the fire escape outside his room. Mae accuses Jackson of being no ordinary boy, but of course she’s no ordinary girl, either. Though Mae seems to work as a lion tamer within a genderbent burlesque show (hey, it’s a circus!), Mae is also an aspect of Fate.

This is probably also a spoiler, but maybe it’s the right kind–the kind that gets the reader excited for the work at hand? Mae is Lachesis, she who does not spin or cut the threads of life, but she who decides how long a thing will endure. She is not creation or destruction, but the calm between. She tends to infuriate people with her calm certainty, especially her sisters, who are all about making or unmaking a thing.

So…are her sisters also in this book?

They absolutely are. Fates! The threads of life! The beginning, the middle, the end, within Jackson’s own genesis story!

And are the Fates  involved with the thing in the bakery basement?

Well, that’s a spoiler.

LINKS:

B&N

Amazon (paperback)

Amazon (ebook)

Excerpt

Apex

Goodreads

Author’s website

Author’s blog

Author’s twitter

BIO:

E. Catherine Tobler was born on the other side of the International Dateline, which either gives her an extra day in her life or an extraordinary affinity when it comes to inter-dimensional gateways. She is the senior editor of Shimmer Magazine and lives in Colorado, which has a distinct lack of inter-dimensional gateways, but an abundance of mountains, which may prove mad indeed.

Starred review for GHOST TALKERS in Publisher’s Weekly!

The cover of Ghost TalkersWhen starting a new project, there’s always that concern that it’ll fail. So, getting a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly is huge. Here’s my favorite part of the review of Ghost Talkers:

 Kowal’s depiction of spiritualism is richly imagined, and its complications and consequences are thoughtfully considered. Her depiction of the Western Front includes diverse characters often neglected in wartime stories: the many people who help Ginger include women young and old, people of color, and disabled veterans, all of whom are dismissed by the British men in charge. The well-drawn characters and the story’s gripping action and deep emotion will captivate readers. (

Read the full review (spoiler free) of Ghost Talkers at Publisher’s Weekly.

Ask a Puppet: Episode 3

After a hiatus, Lee the Puppet is back to answer your questions. In Episode Three, Lee answers these questions.

  • Josh Storey – When an audio book is being recorded, how much does the author collaborate with the director and/or narrator on the way dialog is read?
  • Jonathan Boynton – How do you figure out character motivations? Do you stop at something simple like ‘greed’ or ‘loyalty’, or do you continue on to the reasons behind those words? And does it change depending on whether you’re dealing with a short story or a novel?
  • Alexander Verbeek – What are your opinions on the author Mary Robinette Kowal?
  • Branson Roskelley – Is academic writing (e.g. writing with award nominations) something that one should put in their query letter, or are agents/publishers just looking for fiction?

Many thanks to Alex Cox, who filmed this for me, and the Cards Against Humanities offices for the use of the space.

Got questions? Ask here in the comments. I might see them on other platforms, but not for certain.

What do I sound like after surgery? Like this…

It’s now two weeks after my nasal airway surgery and most of the healing has happened at this point. So far? Breathing is amazing. AMAZING. I’ve still got some swelling and stitches (inside my nose!) It’ll apparently take about two months for everything to finish settling, but from here on the changes will be subtle.

Recovery has been smooth but I’ve been grateful for having twenty years of live theater experience, which I deployed for this week for the covering of bruises. Here’s me one week after surgery, without and with makeup.

I’ve been very pleased that I still look like myself. The swelling will keep going down, albeit more slowly. The big qqestion though is… what do I sound like? As an audiobook narrator, this was one of the things I was worried about since mucking about with the nose and sinuses can change resonance.

So, here, for your amusement, are four recordings of me reading the same piece of text.

Before surgery, as a baseline.

While I’m the hospital with the “rhino rockets” completely clogging my nose.

The day after surgery. In this one, my voice is significantly higher. I think this is from two things.

  1. My throat was still a little sore from the breathing tube they used during surgery. I think I pitched higher to get out of that range.
  2. I recorded this earlier in the day than the others, and the voice is typically higher at the start of the day.

Three days after surgery. I’m back to pretty much normal, with maybe a tiny, tiny bit more of a rounded sound.

Two weeks later, where I notice it most is at the extremes of my range. For instance, the deep chest voice that I use for Tybalt in Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series is significantly easier. I usually have to fight a certain nasality there. Likewise, my upper end is way clearer and stupidly high. Blending is easier as I go from chest to head, which is a nice bonus.

Adding nasality back in for character voices might a little bit more work, but that might also be my imagination. It’s still totally there.

So, my overall verdict is:

  • Medically, the surgery was fantastic. I love breathing. It’s really neat. (oh, and smells are more vivid, too.)
  • Aesthetically, there’s been no change.
  • Vocally, I seem to have a better instrument than I did before.

My Favorite Bit: Christopher Husberg talks about DUSKFALL

My Favorite BitChristopher Husberg is joining us today with his novel Duskfall. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Pulled from a frozen sea, pierced by arrows and close to death, Knot has no memory of who he was. But his dreams are dark, filled with violence and unknown faces. Winter, a tiellan woman whose people have long been oppressed by humans, is married to and abandoned by Knot on the same day. In her search for him, she will discover her control of magic, but risk losing herself utterly. And Cinzia, priestess and true believer, returns home to discover her family at the heart of a heretical rebellion. A rebellion that only the Inquisition can crush…

Their fates and those of others will intertwine, in a land where magic and daemons are believed dead, but dark forces still vie for power.

What’s Christopher’s favorite bit?

Duskfall cover

CHRISTOPHER HUSBERG

It’s a both an exciting and somewhat terrifying thing when a side character comes out of nowhere and threatens to take over your novel. When that happens to me, I generally see myself having a few options: (1) remove the character entirely and refocus on the central characters, (2) let the character’s magnetism do its thing and see where she takes the novel, or (3) seek a balance in the hopes of keeping the awesomeness that drew me to the side character in the first place while still maintaining the integrity and structure of the story. I think that last option is the hardest one, but one of my favorite characters (and favorite bits of Duskfall in general)—Astrid—developed from my attempt to achieve that balance.

Astrid is a 300-year-old vampire in the body of a nine-year-old girl, and she is awesome. She’s sarcastic, she’s horrifyingly fun in a fight, and from her first appearance in the novel her deep, complicated backstory bled onto the page, gushing to be told. I was tempted to just keep writing about her and see where she took me, but as much as part of me wanted to do that, I knew it wasn’t the right decision for the story. It would’ve created a very different novel from the one I was trying to write with Duskfall, and while Astrid came in as a fresh, exciting character, I was still very attached to and invested in the stories of Winter, Knot, and Cinzia (the three central characters of the novel).

But I really didn’t want to remove her from the story, either. Astrid had a role to play, and I wanted her, and no one else, to play it—and I’m glad I let her! Now that Duskfall is a finished product, I can’t imagine the story without her.

So why do I like Astrid so much? I think her status as a child vampire was the source of a lot of her initial appeal. The child-vampire trope isn’t a new thing, of course; Anne Rice did it brilliantly with Claudia, but I think my favorite iteration is Eli from John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Let The Right One In. A child with access to immortality and all of the horrifying traits of a classic vampire—while still retaining a childlike disposition and sense of wonder as much as possible—was too interesting an idea to pass up. Astrid is physically a child, but she never quite develops into a normal adult mentally, either. Her views of what we might term “adult” concepts—sex and romantic love, among others—has a sarcastic overtone that masks her confusion, jealousy, and general cluelessness about those topics.

She was a breath of fresh air, too, mainly through that sarcasm and her sense of humor. The other main characters, especially in the first draft, were pretty serious. And rightly so; they had some pretty serious things going on, after all. But from her first appearance on the page, Astrid was immediately sarcastic, embracing a childishly sardonic view of the world. After hundreds of years of living in it, she had to start finding the humor in things!

And, of course, I love her fight scenes. It was so fun to write Astrid’s fight scenes. Having a nine-year-old go to town on a dozen or so warriors twice her size was a blast. I took influence from Hit-Girl’s scenes in Kick-Ass, as well as the film version of Let the Right One In. And while Tomorrowland came out after I’d written the first few drafts of Duskfall, I loved Athena’s fight scenes too because they reminded me very much of Astrid’s.

But sarcasm, humor, and her propensity towards violence aside, what drew me most to Astrid’s character was what draws me to any character—sympathy, and a strong back story. Astrid’s back-story (which I unfortunately can’t talk much about here as it’s still being revealed in the books) was one of those things that seemed to sort of write itself—and having 300 years to work with meant Astrid had a lot of room for development. I think that’s the ultimate key to Astrid’s appeal, at least to me—she was fun to read, fun to write, fun to develop, because I felt for her. For brief periods of time she became real to me, and that’s one of the best parts of being a writer, that schizophrenic state in which my characters slowly become real, where I start having conversations with them in my head. It’s delightful, and Astrid represented the epitome of that for Duskfall.

In book 2 of the Chaos Queen Quintet, which I’m currently revising, Astrid has already seized a larger role in the story, and almost more than any other character, I see her arc clearly in my mind over the remaining four books. I can’t wait to take her through all that, and to take some of you with us.

LINKS:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Kobo

IndieBound

Website

Facebook

BIO:

Christopher Husberg grew up in Eagle River, Alaska. He now lives in Utah, and spends his time writing, reading, hiking, and playing video games, but mostly hanging out with his wife, Rachel, and daughter, Buffy. He received an MFA in creative writing from Brigham Young University, and an honorary PhD in Buffy the Vampire Slayer from himself. Duskfall is his first novel. The next installment in the Chaos Queen Quintet, Dark Immolation, will be published by Titan Books in June 2017.

My Favorite Bit: Curtis C. Chen talks about WAYPOINT KANGAROO

My Favorite BitCurtis C. Chen is joining us today with his novel Waypoint Kangaroo. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Kangaroo isn’t your typical spy. Sure, he has extensive agency training, access to bleeding-edge technology, and a ready supply of clever (to him) quips and retorts. But what sets him apart is “the pocket.” It’s a portal that opens into an empty, seemingly infinite, parallel universe, and Kangaroo is the only person in the world who can use it. But he’s pretty sure the agency only keeps him around to exploit his superpower.

After he bungles yet another mission, Kangaroo gets sent away on a mandatory “vacation:” an interplanetary cruise to Mars. While he tries to make the most of his exile, two passengers are found dead, and Kangaroo has to risk blowing his cover. It turns out he isn’t the only spy on the ship–and he’s just starting to unravel a massive conspiracy which threatens the entire Solar System.

Now, Kangaroo has to stop a disaster which would shatter the delicate peace that’s existed between Earth and Mars ever since the brutal Martian Independence War. A new interplanetary conflict would be devastating for both sides. Millions of lives are at stake.

Weren’t vacations supposed to be relaxing?

With Waypoint Kangaroo, Chen makes his debut with this outer space thriller. Chen has an extensive network of connections to prominent science fiction authors, and has studied under John Scalzi, James Patrick Kelly, and Ursula K. LeGuin.

What’s Curtis’s favorite bit?

WaypointKangarooCover

CURTIS C. CHEN

My favorite bit in Waypoint Kangaroo is a dumb joke. (I know what you’re thinking: “Which one? There are so many dumb jokes in your novel!” Thanks, Mom.)

Dumb jokes and bad puns are especially apt for my protagonist, KANGAROO. That’s his spy agency code name, because he has a superpower: the ability to open portals into a pocket universe that only he can access. The pocket allows Kangaroo to smuggle pretty much anything anywhere, and it makes him both special and useful, but he’s otherwise not terribly well suited to be a secret agent. I had fun playing with that dichotomy.

Kangaroo is an American, and at some point I decided that English would be the only language he was fluent in, because it went against the fiction trope of a hyper-competent super-spy–see if you can spot other James Bond 007 references in the book!–and that setup also gave me the opportunity to reproduce a bit that my wife and I improv every so often:

  • She’ll ask me how to say a word in Mandarin.
  • I’ll tell her.
  • She’ll say the word back to me but not get the precise sound right.
  • I’ll say the word again.
  • She’ll say it again but still not quite right.
  • Lather, rinse, repeat.

(Basically imagine Abbott and Costello doing “Who’s on First?” Sort of. And I’m Lou, just to be clear.)

This comedy gold is possible because Mandarin is a tone language, and non-native speakers often have difficulty distinguishing the tones that affect the meaning of spoken words. It’s like music: you can train yourself to hear different pitches and tell when a note is “sharp” or “flat,” but it doesn’t come naturally to most people.

In Waypoint Kangaroo, our hero gets tripped up when reading a stranger’s name tag. My publisher is producing an audiobook edition of the novel, and I included these notes for the narrator:

  • There is a comedy bit at the start of Chapter 18 involving the Chinese name “Xiao”…
    • If you do NOT speak Mandarin, just ensure the two characters are making different sounds when they each say “Xiao” in the back-and-forth dialogue.
    • If you DO speak Mandarin, the correct inflection of “xiao” is a homophone for “small”; Kangaroo’s mispronunciations should be all of the three other inflections (with the homophone for “laugh” being last, if you please).

And here’s the bit in question:

“Thank you . . . Xiao?” I’m not quite sure how to pronounce that name.
“Xiao,” he says.
“Xiao,” I do my best to repeat.
“Xiao.”
“Xiao?”
“Close enough, sir.” His expression tells me I should just drop it. “How may I help you?”

Trust me, this would kill in Taiwan.

My obsessive stage direction for what is an inconsequential throwaway joke is just one symptom of a long-running fascination with the craft of writing for performance–especially television–but that, as they say, is another story. I hope my dumb jokes will not interfere with anyone’s enjoyment of Waypoint Kangaroo. Especially you, Mom.

LINKS:

WAYPOINT KANGAROO dot com

Abbott and Costello perform “Who’s on First?” (YouTube video)

“Tone language” (Simple English Wikipedia article)

Barnes & Noble

Powell’s Books

Amazon.com

Twitter

Facebook

Goodreads

Newsletter

Blog

BIO:

Once a software engineer in Silicon Valley, CURTIS C. CHEN now writes speculative fiction and runs puzzle games near Portland, Oregon. His debut novel WAYPOINT KANGAROO, a science fiction spy thriller, is forthcoming from Thomas Dunne Books on June 21st, 2016.

Curtis’ short stories have appeared in Daily Science Fiction, the Baen anthology MISSION: TOMORROW, and THE 2016 YOUNG EXPLORER’S ADVENTURE GUIDE. He is a graduate of the Clarion West and Viable Paradise writers’ workshops.

You can find Curtis at Puzzled Pint Portland on the second Tuesday of most months. Visit him online at: http://curtiscchen.com

My Favorite Bit: Laura Lam talks about FALSE HEARTS

My Favorite BitLaura Lam is joining us today with her novel False Hearts. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Laura Lam’s adult sci-fi debut False Hearts: Two formerly conjoined sisters are ensnared in a murderous plot involving psychoactive drugs, shared dreaming, organized crime, and a sinister cult.

Raised in the closed cult of Mana’s Hearth and denied access to modern technology, conjoined sisters Taema and Tila dream of a life beyond the walls of the compound. When the heart they share begins to fail, the twins escape to San Francisco, where they are surgically separated and given new artificial hearts. From then on they pursue lives beyond anything they could have previously imagined.

Ten years later, Tila returns one night to the twins’ home in the city, terrified and covered in blood, just before the police arrive and arrest her for murder–the first homicide by a civilian in decades. Tila is suspected of involvement with the Ratel, a powerful crime syndicate that deals in the flow of Zeal, a drug that allows violent minds to enact their darkest desires in a terrifying dreamscape. Taema is given a proposition: go undercover as her sister and perhaps save her twin’s life. But during her investigation Taema discovers disturbing links between the twins’ past and their present. Once unable to keep anything from each other, the sisters now discover the true cost of secrets.

What’s Laura’s favorite bit?

False Hearts US cover

False Hearts UK cover

LAURA LAM

So far my process in writing books seems to be smooshing together my favorite things and seeing what comes out. In my Micah Grey gaslight fantasy series (Pantomime, Shadowplay & Masquerade), I mashed together gender and sexuality, the circus, Victorian magic, court intrigue, long-vanished civilisations, and the line between magic and technology. False Hearts, on the other hand, swirls together conjoined twins, cults, the mob, near-future San Fransisco, brain hacking, and dream drugs.

The setup of False Hearts is this: Taema and Tila were born as conjoined twins, joined at the chest, in a reclusive cult in the redwoods across the San Francisco bay known as Mana’s Hearth. There, everything is frozen in 1969 technology, and to change yourself in any way is considered sacrilege. When the twins’ shared heart starts to fail, it’s expected they’ll bow to the will of the Creator and let nature takes its course. Instead, they escape, but it’s not as easy as they’d hoped. Once they’re in San Francisco, the twins are separated and fitted with mechanical hearts. Ten years later, Tila is accused of murder in a world where crime is almost eradicated. SFPD give Taema a chance to save her sister: go undercover and assume her sister’s identity, and help break up the underground mob called the Ratel and their distribution of a new, dangerous dream drug called Verve.

These dream drug sequences are some of my favourite bits of the book, as I can end up bending reality and adding in some very creepy visuals. There are two strains of drugs: Zeal, which is licensed by the government and anyone can take. You plug in, work out your darkest nightmares, and it’s cathartic. When you come out, it has a soporific effect and makes you less violent in reality. Those that society think are high risk of becoming chronic criminals find the drug addictive. Verve is what the Ratel have created, and it makes you more violent after you take it, which is understandably going to be a problem for Pacifica if it becomes widespread. I’ll leave you with a small snippet of Taema going into a Zealscape dream sequence to ask a woman named Mia about what her sister might have been up to:

I hear the screams first.

The door opens for me into a barren room as long as the building. The concrete floor is cracked, the paint on the walls peeling off in layers. Exposed wires hang from the ceiling, and flickering overhead light casts a harsh light on the two figures before me.

One is Mia. She’s strong here as she no longer is in real life. Her bare arms ripple with muscle, the fitted jumpsuit hugging her full breasts and thighs. Her hair is long, like it was in Mana’s Hearth before she left when Tila and I were eight. But she is a long way away from the gentle woman in soft dresses that I recall. This Mia’s face is twisted in rage and bloodlust, and she’s wielding a scalpel stained with blood.

I shudder, my hand involuntarily going to the scar beneath my dress. Mia’s tool falls, and she bends over. My eyes finally rest on the other figure.

It’s Mana-ma.

Our former leader has collapsed to the ground. She’s alive, breathing hoarsely. The black robe she wears is heavy with blood. On her back, she gapes at the cracked ceiling, her mouth opening and closing. Mia has cut out her tongue.  It lies next to her like a dead fish.

I cry out, stumbling away.

Mia pauses in her terrible work, her eyes meeting mine. Her face goes slack in surprise.

‘Taema.’

I’m dressed as Tila. I have her face, and her tattoo snaking down my thigh. Despite this, Mia still recognizes me.

‘Why are you here?’ she asks. ‘You’ve never been in my dreams before.’

That’s a comfort, I guess. She’s never wanted to kill me. Mia’s covered in blood, and the broken shell of a replica of the woman who leads Mana’s Hearth cowers beneath her.

‘Mia. Something’s happened to Tila. I need your help.’

‘You’re…not part of the dream?’ Mia seems confused.

Mana-ma gives a strangled gasp, more of a high wheeze. Without batting an eyelid, Mia brings down the scalpel into Mana-ma’s neck. The colors of the warehouse grow brighter, sharper, until they’re hypersaturated. I step back, horrified.

Without realizing what I’m doing, I focus on that mental state I found while in Mediation at the Hearth. The clear, calm stillness. ‘Stop,’ I say. Mia’s eyes widen, but her hand jerks back, taking the scalpel with her.

‘You don’t tell me what to do! Don’t make me do what I don’t want to!’ she shrieks.

Did I make her do that?

Blood spurts out of Mana-ma, and once the blood—the reddest blood I’ve ever seen—leaves her body, it turns from scarlet to black. The dark oil rises, covering Mana-ma’s corpse, and then the figure collapses into a puddle. It reminds me uncomfortably of the spread of blood of the crime scene recreation.

The scalpel is still in Mia’s hands. I hold up my own, spread wide, to look unthreatening. ‘No, I’m not part of the Zeal,’ I say. ‘They couldn’t pull you out, so I took a small dose and came in.’

Mia shakes her head.  ‘I don’t know if I can believe that. They all say they’re real when they’re not. Either way, you shouldn’t have come. You’re too innocent for the Zealscape. Especially mine.’ Her face creases in a grin, and I take another step away. She is utterly transformed from the woman who took us in just after the surgery, when we were weak as kittens and just as innocent in the ways of the world. I remember the way she pushed my hair back from my face, kissed my forehead goodnight. She took us to museums on weekends, patiently explaining so many things to us that we didn’t understand. Mia, my second mother in many ways, is looking at me like she wants nothing more than to stick the scalpel in my eye.

She shakes her head again, mystified. ‘Can’t believe a girl who escaped the Hearth would ever step foot somewhere where they mess with your brain. Didn’t you have enough?’

‘Didn’t you?’ I counter.

That same sly grin. A gesture at Mana-ma. ‘Do you really think I actually escaped the Hearth? It’s always here.’ She taps her temple, and then considers me. ‘Maybe it’s still in you, too.’

LINKS:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Goodreads

Website

Twitter

BIO:

Laura Lam was raised near San Francisco, California, by two former Haight-Ashbury hippies. Both of them encouraged to finger-paint to her heart’s desire, colour outside the lines, and consider the library a second home. This led to an overabundance of daydreams. She relocated to Scotland to be with her husband, whom she met on the internet when he insulted her taste in books. She almost blocked him but is glad she didn’t. At times she misses the sunshine.

If you are looking for an action to take, about Orlando, write a letter.

This is a small thing. You can write a letter.

It’s also a huge thing. You can write a letter.

See, our government representatives still respond more to letters than the do to emails, Facebook, or Twitter hashtags. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t do those, too, but there’s this other thing you can do. You can write a letter.

Over at Month of Letters, I’ve put together a set of resources to make it easy for you to do this. There’s stationery, a template, a list of addresses… heck, I’ve even got a discount on postage for you. Just please… please write a letter.

Your thoughts and prayers aren’t enough. We have work to do. Can you write a letter?