I have this theory when I teach writing, that it’s easier to learn things if you break them into separate techniques. One of the things a writer needs to learn is how to edit. It can be totally overwhelming, which is why you’ll hear the advice about “Turn off your Internal Editor” when writing.
I think that having an active internal editor can actually make writing faster and smoother but trying to train yourself to edit and write simultaneously is a bad plan. SO here is a lecture from my “Writing on the Fast Track” class about how being in a critique group can help you train your internal editor.
I inherited three things from Grandma: two cast iron skillets, and her mother’s cookbook. This morning, I made the eggless corn muffins.
1 1/8 cup flour
1 1/8 cups yellow corn meal
1/2 teaspoon soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 cups sour milk
1 tablespoon melted shorting.
Sift dry ingredients, add milk, and shortening. Beat thoroughly. Fill greased muffin rings half full and cook on a hot griddle.
Time in cooking, 25 minutes. Servings, 14.
Now, having no muffin rings, I cooked these in muffin tins. It was early and I was too drowsy to read about muffin rings, which I hadn’t encountered before. Now, I suspect I did the muffins a diservice. The flavour was lovely and light. The texture was a little tough. For muffins… But for English muffins, it would have been perfect with the lovely crispness that the outer edges hinted at.
Next time, I’m going to try muffin rings and a griddle.
Matthew Johnson is joining us today with his book Irregular Verbs and Other Stories. Here’s the publisher’s description.
keluarga: to move to a new village
lunak: to search for something without finding it
mencintai: to love for the last time
Meet a guilt-ridden nurse who atones for her sins by joining her zombified patients in exile; a lone soldier standing guard on a desolate Arctic island against an invasion that may be all in his mind; a folksinger who tries to unionize Hell; and a private eye who only takes your case after you die. Visit a resettlement centre for refugees from ancient Rome; a lost country recreated by its last citizen on the Internet; and a restaurant where the owner’s ghost lingers for one final party. Discover the inflationary effects of a dragon’s hoard, the secret connection between Mark Twain and Frankenstein, and the magic power of blackberry jam—all in this debut collection of strange, funny, and bittersweet tales.
What’s Matthew’s favorite bit?
It was hard for me to think of a favorite bit from Irregular Verbs and Other Stories. Partly that’s because it’s a collection of short stories, rather than a novel: each story has favorite bits in it, images or characters or even just words that I loved enough to get me to write the story down and submit it (and, more often than not, to resubmit it, and resubmit, and resubmit…) But as I thought about it, I realized that there was another reason as well: in most of the stories, my favourite bits were the things I didn’t write.
To explain that, I have to talk about the iceberg.
I’m a firm believer in the “iceberg” theory of writing: that what the reader sees should only be a tiny sliver of the whole world of the story, the tip of the iceberg. I think this is true of all fiction, but it’s especially true of fantasy and SF because these genres depend so heavily on engaging the reader’s imagination. It’s a paradox: the more details you provide about the world of your story, the smaller it becomes in the reader’s mind. But the more you give hints, rumors, offhand remarks and unexplained allusions… Think of all those wonderful lines in the original Star Wars: It’s the ship that made the Kessel Spice run in less than twelve parsecs. The Jedi are extinct, their fire gone out of the universe. You served with my father in the Clone Wars. How much more intriguing were they for not being explained, for raising questions that went unanswered? Did any of the answers we eventually did get compare with what the ones we imagined by ourselves?
To make that iceberg, a writer has to do two things. The first is to actually create most of the underwater part: I could, for example, explain to you exactly the series of events that led to the alternate version of New Orleans in “Public Safety” – a story actually originated from a morning spent explaining some of the more absurd aspects of the French Revolution to a high school history class – but I restrained myself to hints: a statue of the Goddess of Reason, a bust of Jacques Hebert, and hours and months divided into tens instead of twelves. “The Dragon’s Lesson” portrays two cultures, that of the story’s teller and that of the story being told, but both are largely implied by the proverbs the characters use: “Even a lion feels the bite of a fly”; “Passed water is good as beer in the desert”; “Better to be a fox in the grass than a dog by the fire, as our men say.”
The flip side of that is that you have to leave some of the iceberg unmade, leave blank spots on the map whose contents even you don’t know. Sometimes, as in the title story in the collection, that means describing a marriage in just a few words: “An afternoon spent in a palm-tree shadow is long enough for two people to fall in love, a few moments enough to die at sea.” That’s nearly all we ever learn – and all I know — about Sendiri Ang’s wife Kesepi, and their life together that inspired the language they alone shared; but it’s enough to understand why Sendiri is so determined to preserve that language, to keep it alive even after she dies. As John M. Ford put it in From the End of the Twentieth Century, “If I told you, you would know less than you do now.”
And so it goes. The stories I like best in Irregular Verbs are the irregular ones, the unfinished ones: those whose characters go unnamed; those that take place in focus on the bit players in a vast, vaguely-glimpsed epic; those that narrow down to two possible endings but refuse to settle on one. The ones that invite you, even when the story is over, to keep dreaming.
Matthew Johnson has published stories in places such as Asimov’s Science Fiction, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction and Strange Horizons and has published one novel, Fall From Earth, from Bundoran Press. His work has been collected in several Year’s Best anthologies and has been translated into Danish, Czech and Russian. While not writing or engaged in full-contact parenting he works as the Director of Education for MediaSmarts, an internationally known non-profit source of digital and media literacy resources where he writes lessons and blogs, designs award-winning educational games and occasionally does pirate voices in both English and French.
Michael R. Underwood is joining us today with his novel Shield and Crocus. Here’s the publisher’s description.
In a city built among the bones of a fallen giant, a small group of heroes looks to reclaim their home from the five criminal tyrants who control it.
The city of Audec-Hal sits among the bones of a Titan. For decades it has suffered under the dominance of five tyrants, all with their own agendas. Their infighting is nothing, though, compared to the mysterious “Spark-storms” that alternate between razing the land and bestowing the citizens with wild, unpredictable abilities. It was one of these storms that gave First Sentinel, leader of the revolutionaries known as the Shields of Audec-Hal, power to control the emotional connections between people—a power that cost him the love of his life.
Now, with nothing left to lose, First Sentinel and the Shields are the only resistance against the city’s overlords as they strive to free themselves from the clutches of evil. The only thing they have going for them is that the crime lords are fighting each other as well—that is, until the tyrants agree to a summit that will permanently divide the city and cement their rule of Audec-Hal.
It’s one thing to take a stand against oppression, but with the odds stacked against the Shields, it’s another thing to actually triumph.
In this stunning, original tale of magic and revolution, Michael R. Underwood creates a cityscape that rivals Ambergris and New Crobuzon in its depth and populates it with heroes and villains that will stay with you forever.
What’s Michael’s favorite bit?
MICHAEL R. UNDERWOOD
My favorite bit of Shield and Crocus is that I got to write a superhero novel. I could stop there, wrap up the email, and send it off. It’s that important to me. But it’s probably more fun to give some context.
When I was six, my family moved to Brooklyn from Texas, upending my entire world. But in that weird, noisy, dirty new world, there was a comics shop. And there, I found Spider-Man, the X-Men, and the Justice League. My parents came upon an ingenious arrangement. We’d take our recycling to the grocery store, feed all of the cans and bottles into the machine, and then I got to keep the deposit we got back.
And where did I spend it? Comics. My love of superheroes was born out of that relationship, turning a chore into access to wondrous stories filled with heroes who were a world apart but accessible. Peter Parker lived in Queens, I lived in Brooklyn. The X-Men lived upstate. We were practically neighbors.
I’ve loved superheroes nearly my entire life, and so when I set myself the task of combining the superhero genre with the new weird, I brought decades of love, appreciation, and critical response to superheroes to the world of Audec-Hal.
Shield and Crocus takes place in a secondary world, in a city built among the bones of a titan, twenty miles from end to end. The heroes of the novel are men and women, no ultimately no more extraordinary than their neighbors, save for their will to fight and their commitment to putting their lives on the line. For me, that’s what being a superhero is about. You’re super because you’re a hero, and your extraordinary powers are put the service of the common good, not for personal gain.
My heroes do have extraordinary powers: First Sentinel can make wondrous objects with his skills of alchemy, Aegis bears a magical artifact that gives him speed and strength, and Sapphire is the mightiest of a race of bruisers – eight feet tall, muscled from head to toe, a juggernaut on the field of battle. But they are super more because they are heroes than they are heroes because they’re super. That, for me, is the greatest appeal of the genre, and the thing I most wanted to instill into Shield and Crocus.
The other delight writing a superhero book gave me was the freedom to embrace the kinetic action and genre-mashing inventiveness of the genre. Supers is as much a setting or a mode as it is a sub-genre, with many supers worlds embracing fantasy, science fiction, horror, sometimes all in one comic. And that cross-genre openness melded perfectly with the cross-genre aspects of the new weird, which frequently combines genres. For Shield and Crocus, I could merrily feature alchemy, sorcery, cyborgs, and super-gadgetry all under one story umbrella.
All of it adds up to a novel that seeks to combine high heroism and superhero action with a rich setting and the conceptual inventiveness of the new weird. I got to write about heroes swinging through a transmogrified city built among the bones of a titan to punch evil robots in the face. I couldn’t be happier.
Michael R. Underwood is the author of GEEKOMANCY, CELEBROMANCY, ATTACK THE GEEK, as well as the forthcoming SHIELD AND CROCUS and THE YOUNGER GODS. By day, he’s the North American Sales & Marketing Manager for Angry Robot Books. Mike grew up devouring stories in all forms, from comics to video games, tabletop RPGs, movies, and books. Always books.
Mike lives in Baltimore with his fiance, an ever-growing library, and a super-team of dinosaur figurines & stuffed animals. In his rapidly-vanishing free time, he studies historical martial arts and makes pizzas from scratch. He is a co-host on the Hugo-nominated Skiffy and Fanty Show.
We had to say goodbye to our cat Harriet today. She was fine last week, but then lethargic over the weekend and when we took her in to the vet… The decline was very fast. Rob and I spent last night cuddling with her. She was such a lap cat, that it was easy to think that things were normal. She even purred. But when she tried to stand, the wavering and motor issues made it clear that keeping her was selfish. So… one last night and we took her in this morning.
I’m driving to Tennessee today, and had put it off while we were figuring out what was happening. Harriet is going on one last car trip (sorry, lady, I know you hated those) and will have a spot in the sun at my parents.
Josh Crute is joining us today to talk about his new web series WebCamelot, created in collaboration with David Rice and Matthew Barnette. Here’s the show’s description.
In a recent discovery that rocked the historical community, archaeologists uncovered an ancient hard drive filled with video blogs dating from the reign of ARTHUR PENDRAGON, KING OF CAMELOT.
Hardworking interns have edited these vlogs together to create a behind-the-scenes account of life during that time. Looks like we’re going to have to rewrite the history books… or at least, the interns will.
WebCamelot is a rambunctious independent comedy web seriesthat gives modern viewers a glimpse of life in Camelot, exclusively through the webcams of its citizens.
What’s Josh’s favorite bit?
Mixing the mythic and the mundane has always been funny to me.
There’s a favorite scene of mine in Terry Gilliam’s Jabberwocky where King Bruno holds a tournament to find a suitable champion to slay the Jabberwock. Unfortunately, mortal combat is…well…mortal, and the lists become so encrusted with the blood of jousting knights that they decide to find a less lethal elimination process. So they do the only sensible thing.
They play hide and seek for it.
I grew up on stories of heroes and dragons, kings and knights. As a kid, I made helmets out of trash cans and forged swords out of tree branches. The only Steinbeck I’ve ever attempted is The Acts of King Arthur and his Noble Knights. If asked, I could probably act out the entire The Fellowship of the Ring movie for you.
What tickles me about putting a medieval person on a webcam, is that it divorces my brain from the distant, archaic, romantic lens that I tend to view the Middle Ages through. When viewed through the lens of a video blog, the era transforms into something that’s arguably more valuable: a place that’s personal, contemporary, and comical. In a word:relatable.
Even in King Arthur’s fabled day, I would imagine that most men and women were not out gallivanting after the Grail. Like many of us, they probably spent the majority of their time at home, facing the perils and adventures of everyday life with the rest of their community.
As isolated and personal as a blog may seem, the internet blogosphere of today is as much a community of people as any medieval kingdom. They have individual voices yet similar desires: to speak and be heard, to listen and to learn, to create. And though they hail from the farthest corners of the world, the internet provides a shared space, a kingdom, a community for them to interact with one another.
The most exciting part of writing WebCamelot for me was discovering these voices. Who in Camelot would be online? And why? By smashing two existing worlds together (medieval Europe and the internet blogosphere), we created a third, yet uncharted, world for us to explore. Our quest took us to every hovel and abbey of the kingdom (at least, the ones with WiFi in them). We were looking for characters who were (1) funny, of course! (2) could turn a medieval archetype on its head, (3) and most importantly, had a reason for blogging.
We found a damsel in a tower, logging on because she was so freaking bored with being grounded and had no other creative outlet. We peeked under a bridge to discover a pedantic troll, blogging art reviews because he felt that someone with taste needed to speak up. We stumbled upon a priest in a confessional booth, hosting the hottest gossip blog in town. One by one, we discovered their channels, and, more importantly, we found the voices behind them.
And that’s my favorite bit about the show. It isn’t the story of a king, a hero, or really any single person. It’s a collage. A motley. A modern day, splatter paint Canterbury Tales bursting with people, events, tales, issues, jokes, locations, and tones.
Josh Crute was once a little kid with a big imagination. Now he’s got a movie camera! Josh graduated with a B.A. in English from Samford University before receiving his M.F.A. in Film Production from Florida State University. In 2012, his short film “Knights of the Playground” was a Blue Ribbon Finalist in the Children’s Entertainment Category of the Student Emmys. He currently lives in Los Angeles, CA.
What you are about to see is not brilliant dancing. It is, instead, an example of the ways in which my husband loves me. Before we got married, I had the standard checklist that people develop on things that their partner must have. One of those, for me, was ballroom dancing. My parents met in a dance class. I was in the Raleigh Junior Cotillion Club in high school. Ballroom dance was very much a part of my social world.
Rob does not dance.
I love him more than that checklist.
He agreed to learn a slow foxtrot for our wedding, because he knew it was important to me, but emphasized that it would be the only time that we would dance together. It would have been easier to come to terms with, if he had not been good at it.
Periodically, during our twelve years of marriage, I would make jokes like, “You know… dance lessons would be a great 40th birthday present.” They were not really jokes, but I also knew that dancing confounds him. I did not expect him to ever, ever dance with me.
Then in January, he asked if we could make a change in the way we handled our accounting. Yes, of course. And then he said, “I know that accounting and finances are an area that you are uncomfortable, but this change is important to me. So I want to offer to do something I find equally uncomfortable. Would you like to take dance lessons with me?”
He does not enjoy it. Dance still confounds him. He is dancing because it makes me happy. And I’m splitting expenses into… well there’s accounting and blech and it confounds me and I’m doing it because it makes him happy.
C. Robert Cargill is joining us today with his novel Queen of the Dark Things. Here’s the publisher’s description.
Screenwriter and noted film critic C. Robert Cargill continues the story begun in his acclaimed debut Dreams and Shadows in this bold and brilliantly crafted tale involving fairies and humans, magic and monsters—a vivid phantasmagoria that combines the imaginative wonders of Neil Gaiman, the visual inventiveness of Guillermo del Toro, and the shocking miasma of William S. Burroughs.
Six months have passed since the wizard Colby lost his best friend to an army of fairies from the Limestone Kingdom, a realm of mystery and darkness beyond our own. But in vanquishing these creatures and banning them from Austin, Colby sacrificed the anonymity that protected him. Now word of his deeds has spread, and powerful enemies from the past—including one Colby considered a friend—have resurfaced to exact their revenge.
As darkness gathers around the city and time runs out, Colby has to turn to forces even darker than those he once battled for aid.
Following such masters as Lev Grossman, Erin Morgenstern, and Kim Harrison, C. Robert Cargill takes us deeper into an extraordinary universe of darkness and wonder, despair and hope to reveal the magic and monsters around us . . . and inside us.
What’s Cargill’s favorite bit?
C. ROBERT CARGILL
There are two very important moments in the development of a character that ultimately defines who they are to an audience. The first is as important in storytelling as it is in life. You never really know who a person is until the chips are down, when they have nowhere left to turn –when they can choose to sacrifice who they are and what they believe in to stave off some suffering or an unfortunate end, or they can suffer, and maybe even die, with dignity. Think of Han Solo at the end of STAR WARS or Ned Stark in A SONG OF FIRE AND ICE or Rick at the end of CASABLANCA or Mr. Darcy throughout PRIDE AND PREDJUDICE. There was an easy way out for all of them, but they took the hard road, which made us forgive oh so much baggage beforehand. They defined themselves not through their cunning or trickery or arrogance or position, but by their sacrifice.
But there’s a second kind of moment, one in which a character surprises you by doing something so unexpected that it changes them in your eyes and makes you fall in love with them. Sometimes it’s a simple choice – a moment of kindness from someone brutish or a ribald joke from someone who is otherwise at all times the wearer of a stiff upper lip. Then there’s the kind when a character flings themselves headlong into something dangerous and stupid, but does so in a manner from which you can’t look away.
My favorite bit from QUEEN OF THE DARK THINGS is just such a moment.
Each of my Colby Stevens books details not only Colby’s adventures, but those of the children he grew up with, touched deeply and, ultimately, helped damn. In this, the second book, we meet Kaycee, a young Aboriginal girl who possesses the ability to Dreamwalk – loosing her soul from her body to walk freely among the spirits of Dreamtime. Early on we discover that she’s searching for the mythical Bunyip, a terrifying creature of legend, a misshapen monster with eyes as big as saucers and teeth as long as a man’s arm. She’s been told that once she sees it she’ll never be the same again.
And it’s true, she isn’t. She just doesn’t understand how.
When she finally does find it and she stands on the shore of a small billabong, gaping out at it as it slinks in from the dark waters, she doesn’t run, she doesn’t fret. Instead, she decides she’s going to ride it.
The moment I realized that was what she was going to do, I knew exactly who she was. That one moment informed every other decision she makes throughout the rest of the book. I won’t tell you what happens when she does, but what comes next, and the adventure that follows after that, all blossoms out of that one, crazy, impetuous moment, when a little girl, all of eleven and clad her yellow-star-speckled purple pajamas, tries to mount, and break, one of the most horrifying things to haunt the Australian Outback.
It’s the kind of moment you’re always searching for as a writer. The sacrifices seem self-evident; it’s the surprises that are hard. This one made me quite proud.
C. Robert Cargill began his career with Ain’t it Cool News under the pseudonym Massawyrm, writing there for over a decade, subsequently becoming a staff writer for film.com, hollywood.com and co-founding the animated movie review site Spill.com. In the meantime he has appeared on countless podcasts, webshows and in the occasional local film. During a fateful drunken night in Vegas, Cargill pitched the idea for the film SINISTER to friend and director Scott Derrickson, resulting in both the film and a screenwriting partnership between the two. When not writing films like SINISTER 2 and DEUS EX with Derrickson, Cargill spends his time writing novels and painting miniatures. QUEEN OF THE DARK THINGS is his second novel.
Last year, I got a package in the mail that is the very definition of bitter-sweet. It was from Jay Lake.
I say that it was bitter-sweet because I knew what it was. I’d heard Jay talk about this project. This is his genome, woven by Astrid Bear. More specifically, it’s the base pair sequence of my Chromosome 18, the one most likely implicated in his colon cancer, and Astrid translated it into a weaving sequence.
Interestingly, the sequencing only shows one half of the genetic makeup. C only bonds with G and A only bonds with T. On the readout, you’ll often see more than one of the same letter in a row – this doesn’t indicate that, say, A has bonded with A across the chromosome, but that two base pairs of A and T are next to each other. The scarf reflects only the half of the data that is represented on the readout. To read the scarf from the beginning of Chromosome 18, align it so that the side with wider green stripes is to the left.
It’s odd, I went to a wedding this weekend and my niece asked me if it was okay to wear a black dress. I grew up in a time when the answer was “no” because black was a color of mourning. Times have changed and it’s now totally acceptable to wear at any event.
So what does one wear to mourn? I’ll be wearing this.
And I’ll be wearing it to celebrate Jay as well. It is soft and beautiful and vibrant and, as Jay said, “A celebration of my life and a poke in the eye of my cancer via the medium of fabric art.”
I have a 2300 word short story, that I’d love to have a few beta-readers on. It’s been ages, but this is actually one I wrote just for fun so there’s no rush on feedback. Here’s a teaser.
Watching his mother kneel awkwardly in her rented space suit, Aaron worried his lower lip inside his own helmet. She did not touch the firecrackers, but her arm twitched like she wanted to. Or was that twitch for other reasons? God. When had Mom gotten so small?
Over the speaker, her voice crackled, “You adjusted the perchlorate balance?”
She threw her arms into the air like an Olympic gymnast. “Triumph! I– Oh!”
Off-balance with unfamiliarity in the light Martian gravity, the sudden movement tipped her to the side. Aaron hopped forward and caught her before she could pitch over onto the firework.
“Sorry.” She patted his hand clumsily. “I was just so excited that I remembered my chemistry.”
Just leave a note in the comments below if you’d like to read and I’ll send you the link and the password.
Edited to add: I’m totally covered. Thank you all.
I have three doctor’s appointments within the space of a week. Not because I am drastically ill, but because my insurance will not allow my doctor to bill for more than one thing at a time. All of this could have been done at one appointment, but I can’t even book them on the same day.
If I were not self-employed, that would have meant taking from work on three different days.
And I’m a reasonably healthy person. Imagine what this is like for someone with serious medical issues.
Jodi McIsaac is joining us today with her novel Among the Unseen. Here’s the publisher’s description.
Life just keeps getting more complicated for Cedar McLeod. As the recently crowned queen of Tír na nÓg, she’s trying to understand her magical new kingdom, even as she misses her life back on Earth. It doesn’t help that a dear friend has just betrayed her—a betrayal that almost cost Cedar and her family their lives. And things aren’t easy at home, either, as Cedar’s seven-year-old daughter, Eden, lost and lonely in Tír na nÓg despite her special powers, has become painfully distant.
Cedar vows to do whatever it takes to protect her family once and for all, and starts rounding up those who plotted against her. But then a new disaster breaks out: a mysterious sickness is plaguing the Unseen, Ireland’s magical creatures, including those Cedar knows and loves. With enemies still on the loose and not knowing whom she can trust, Cedar must race against time to reverse an ancient curse, in a journey that will take her from Tír na nÓg to Earth…and beyond.
Brimming with page-turning adventure, Among the Unseen—the exciting conclusion to Jodi McIsaac’s Thin Veil trilogy—weaves an enchanting, captivating spell.
What’s Jodi’s favorite bit?
My favourite bit about any book I write always turns out to be the obscure piece of research that I find completely fascinating, so much so that I feel compelled to tell everyone about it, even if they just stare at me blankly.
Among the Unseenwas no different. In fact, I think this bit of obscure knowledge is my personal favourite.
Did you know that Dracula was an Irishman?
Most of us associate Bram Stoker’s Dracula with Vlad the Impaler of Transylvania. But new research has emerged that points to another possible source of inspiration for Stoker’s iconic vampire: a blood-drinking dwarf called Abhartach, whose story is the first recorded mention of a vampire in Western Europe.
The tale of Abhartach is an old Irish legend, which tells of a cruel dwarf chieftain who drank the blood of his people. So the villagers hired a great warrior to come and slay Abhartach and rid them of his tyranny. The warrior slew Abhartach, but the next day the chieftain was back, demanding more sacrifices of blood. This happened three times, and then the people consulted a druid, who told them that the dwarf must be killed with a sword of yew and buried upside down (Gaelic chieftains were traditionally buried standing up and facing their enemies), with a circle of thorns around the grave and a dolmen (standing stones) on top. Once the people killed Abhartach in this way, he stayed dead. If you’re so inclinded, you can still visit Abhartach’s grave in a place called the Slaghtaverty Dolmen, or Leacht Abhartach (Abhartach’s Sepulchre), in Derry. He might even acknowledge your presence. According to Irish historian Bob Curran, “In 1997, attempts were made to clear the land and if local tradition is to be believed workmen who attempted to cut down the tree found that their brand-new chain-saw stopped without reason on three occasions. When attempting to lift the great stone, a steel chain suddenly snapped, cutting the hand of one of the labourers and, significantly, allowing blood to soak into the ground.”
So given that Bram Stoker was an Irishman, there’s a fair chance he was familiar with the tale of Abhartach and other stories of the undead in Irish folklore. But wait, there’s more. Stoker was also good friends with the writer Oscar Wilde, and Wilde’s parents, William and Jane. Both William and Jane were noted folklorists and archeologists, fascinated with Ireland’s ancient past. The Wilde family was from County Kerry, where there were stories about blood-drinking fairies living in a mountain range called the Magillycuddy Reeks. The name of the fortress of these blood-drinking fairies was Dún Dreach-Fhoula (pronounced—wait for it—droc’ola), which translates as “The Castle of the Blood Visage” or “The Fort of Evil Blood.”Seeing as Stoker would have likely heard about this tale from the Wildes of Kerry, and his own sister-in-law was a Magillycuddy, one can’t help but wonder if old Abhartach and the blood-drinking fairies of Dún Dreach-Fhoula inspired his famous creation.
It’s an intriguing theory, to be sure, but what does all of this have to do with Among the Unseen? It just so happens that our favourite vampire dwarf Abhartach plays a role in the latest novel in the Thin Veil series. In the previous book, our protagonist Cedar raised Abhartach from his upside-down grave to help her search for the Stone of Destiny. In Among the Unseen, she needs his help again to locate seven magic stones, which were stolen from the cover of the Book of Kells in the 12th century. But in order to find him, Cedar and her friends have to track down the elusive Dún Dreach-Fhoula somewhere in the Magillycuddy Reeks. They find him hiding here with his fellow blood-drinkers, but also discover that he—along with all the other magical creatures of Ireland—are suffering from a mysterious illness that is killing them off one by one.
So there you have it. My favorite bit is an obscure piece of folklore that may have influenced one of the most popular fictional characters of all time—and played a wee role in saving Ireland’s magical beings from a terrible fate.
Jodi McIsaac is the author of the Thin Veil contemporary fantasy series, as well as the sci-fi short story A CURE FOR MADNESS. The third and final book in the Thin Veil series, AMONG THE UNSEEN, was just released on May 20. Jodi grew up in New Brunswick, Canada. After stints as a short track speed skater, a speechwriter, and fundraising and marketing executive in the nonprofit sector, she started a boutique copywriting agency and began writing novels in the wee hours of the morning. She currently lives with her husband and two feisty daughters in Calgary.
Howard Tayler is joining us today with his book Longshoreman of the Apocalpyse. Here’s the publisher’s description.
The Longshoreman of the Apocalypse follows the crew of the mercenary ship Touch-and-Go through what should have been a routine food delivery to the Credomar habitat, a human space colony that’s having some—a lot—of political problems. The contract didn’t mention the political problems. Through various stages of combat and comical mishaps, the Touch-and-Go crew tries to stay alive and deliver the food to somebody, without being sued into oblivion.
What’s Howard’s favorite bit?
The First Law of the Schlock Mercenary universe is “There must always be a punch line.”
You, fair reader, are probably well enough traveled to not be surprised at the amount of trouble this causes me. You may, however, be amused to learn that this ever-dropped wrench, this open manhole cover on the darkened sidewalk of my creative process is, in point of fact, my favorite bit.
Of course, given the title of this feature, maybe that doesn’t surprise you at all. You saw that coming. It’s a promise made up front, so you’re waiting for it to be fulfilled. More on that in a moment…
I’m much more of a discovery writer than an outliner. I dream up a few awesome bits like “walking artillery shots across a cityscape” or “flying a spaceship indoors” ahead of time, and then I aim the story at them as best I can while creating day after day of comics.
The fun hijinks I’d planned for the tenth Schlock Mercenary book, set in a rotating space-city of thirty-ish million people, required quite a bit of setup. I knew where the conflicts would be, and I had a pretty good idea of how the end would shake out, and while my process may seem frighteningly loose to the hard-core outliners, it really was just business as usual for me.
And then, mid-book, I crafted a punchline.
PARA (the young roboticist) “I bet I can turn this tank into a longshoreman with no fabber cycles at all. Just stuff off your shelves.”
KEVYN (the mad scientist) “No bet. Off my shelves you could build the Longshoreman of the Apocalypse.”
That joke resonated. People loved it. Unfortunately it suggested–no, PROMISED–levels of violence and disaster that I had not really planned, and in a rotating space-city there aren’t many apocalypse-level disasters that don’t result in everybody dying.
Part of me was aware of this at the moment I wrote that scene, but my other parts only came around to facing the issue when, during my writing group, I bemoaned the promise I seemed to have made. The loud and immediate consensus was that I didn’t SEEM to make a promise. I ABSOLUTELY made a promise, and if I did not keep that promise I was a bad writer and a horrible person and the Internet might fire me.
And that, right there? That’s my favorite bit: that point at which I’ve published something delightful, and I can’t change it, but it’s raised a bar that I already thought might be a little high for me to clear.
All the awesome moments I had planned for the tenth book, all the hijinks for which I’d carefully laid groundwork? Those pieces all now had to stand in support of the book’s new title, LONGSHOREMAN OF THE APOCALYPSE.
I don’t actually jump over bars, or jump out of airplanes, or really do anything much more dangerous than driving my own automobile. I take great pains to never personally experience favorite bits that involve adrenaline and life-or-death. But I do get a rush out of not being able to back down from a story challenge.
I don’t know what your favorite bit of this book might be, but it’s possible you’ll find it in the pages of explosive justification surrounding this line of narration from Act III:
“This is the Longshoreman of the Apocalypse. He now has an apocalypse to preside over.”
That’s not a spoiler. Now that the book has a proper title the Apocalypse Promise is right up front. The Internet has not yet fired me, and from my association with fine citizens like Mary you can assume that I am not a horrible person. You know I’m going to keep that promise.
How I got myself into the mess was my favorite bit. How the characters get themselves out of the mess might be yours.
Howard Tayler is the writer and illustrator behind Schlock Mercenary, the Hugo-nominated science fiction comic strip. Howard co-hosts the Hugo and Parsec award-winning “Writing Excuses” podcast, a weekly ‘cast for genre-fiction writers, with Mary Robinette Kowal, Brandon Sanderson, and Dan Wells. His most recent printed work is Schlock Mercenary: Longshoreman of the Apocalypse which was on the 2010 Hugo ballot.
Several years ago, I was talking with a puppeteer friend of mine who had helped me land an audition. I thanked him for that. He said, “But you helped me get the part on Avenue Q. That’s what we do. You gave me a boost up the ladder. Now I’m in a better place to pull you up with me.”
This came to mind because I think there are some people who aren’t clear on what a landscape of equality and diversity looks like. People who are looking for equality aren’t looking to see some people cast down off the ladder into the muck of oppression. No one should be oppressed.
Likewise, with diversity. It’s really, honestly not about making sure that white men never get another opportunity. It’s about correcting centuries of imbalance that have favored white men and instead representing the diverse people who make up our society.
The reason that diversity in SFF is so selfishly important is really all about survival of the species. And by species, I mean science-fiction and fantasy itself. We know the danger of a small gene pool. It affects ideas and stories as thoroughly as it does anything else. If you want more interesting and original material, you need diversity.
A person’s background absolutely affects their writing. Absolutely. It affects the way they communicate, even if they aren’t a writer. Even if you think that your background doesn’t, you are wrong. It influences your expectations in ways that are absolutely invisible to you, until you travel outside of your area.
I say this from experience. The thing about being a professional puppeteer is that I traveled a lot. I mean… I’ve performed in all but six of the contiguous United States, and even within the continent the way people communicate is different. In the same town, class differences will change communication. Gender. Family life. Ethnicity. Racial identification. Ability. All of it changes the way a person perceives the world. Things that I thought were universal, were regionally specific.
So if I want to read more interesting and engaging SFF, it behooves me to use my position on the ladder to try to help other people up. This doesn’t mean that I have to cast white men under the bus. It doesn’t even involve anything heroic beyond pointing out “Hey! This is some good writing.”
Our community has been working on that for the past couple of years and the efforts to make room for other people on the ladder are working. That’s exciting. That’s what a community is for.
And we’ll get to read better fiction for it, because of the people. And because of the experience they bring up the ladder with them.
Acclaimed fantasist Mary Robinette Kowal has enchanted many fans with her beloved novels featuring a Regency setting in which magic–known here as glamour–is real. In Valour and Vanity, master glamourists Jane and Vincent find themselves in the sort of a magical adventure that might result if Jane Austen wrote Ocean’s Eleven. After Melody’s wedding, the […]
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