Journal

Paying the artist is important for supporting marginalized voices.

One of the ways that my privilege shows is that my parents paid for my college education. They also were able to fill in the financial gaps when I started working as a puppeteer so that I didn’t have to get a day job. While I tried not to lean on them, there were months that I wouldn’t have been able to keep going if not for them. I mean, even with them, there were the days of the discount Jiffy and day-old bread.

(Ask me why I won’t eat creamy peanut butter.)

The thing is that when I was breaking in, a lot of the reason that I was broke was that I had to take gigs that were paying “in-kind” or with “publicity.” You want to build a resume, right? So you take what you can get. But those don’t pay the rent.

(Ask me why I buy new writers meals at cons)

But if my parents hadn’t been there as a backup, I wouldn’t have been able to work for free. I had the privilege of not getting paid. As gross as that is to say, it’s true. Being able to work for free is a demonstration of privilege.

(Ask me why I never request the “friend rate.”)

Many people in marginalized communities are dealing with lower wages and, hence, have a more fragile support network. They often don’t have the privilege of working for free. Which means that they can’t take unpaid internships, or in-kind payment, or publicity, because they have to pay the rent. So it becomes even harder to break in, which means the pool of voices gets narrower.

(Ask me about living with a broken tooth.)

I think it’s always important to pay artists. If you have any interest in supporting marginalized voices, then understand that many don’t have the privilege of working for free.

I did. It still sucked. But it was a choice that I had the privilege to make.

Pay. The. Artists.

MRK’s very strong feelings about the WFC award specs and paying artists

I was an art major in college. It’s been on my bucket list to design an award, though I’d been thinking of the Hugo base. So when World Fantasy announced that they were going to replace the existing award, I asked for more information.

Today I got it. And it is bullshit.

I say this with some pain. A couple of the people on the committee are friends and I feel like they should know better. So I sent back a letter saying that I would not be submitting a design and asking them to change their award criteria.

Here are the points I made, in a slightly edited for in order to provide more information for anyone who is considering submitting a design.

  1. “there will be no monetary remuneration”– World Fantasy is “not a financial body and does not hold funds of any kind.” Okay, fair enough, but if you can require conventions to give away memberships, then you can require them to compensate the artist for their time. There’s also this thing called crowdfunding that would allow payment of an artist and could be done in cooperation with another organization.
  2. “The copyright of the piece must remain with the WFA for the lifetime of the award.” — While a buyout is not uncommon for work-for-hire, it usually comes at a higher price to represent the value of the copyright. There are multiple legal options to allow the artist to maintain the copyright, while at the same time protecting World Fantasy’s right to use and control the use of the image. An unpaid copyright grab is unnecessary and inappropriate.
  3. Time to create the award — Okay… “Design proposals must be submitted by midnight US Eastern Standard Time on Friday, September 30, 2016.” and “the awards are announced on Sunday 30th October 2016” You are asking someone to make 10-20 awards in less than a month. Significantly less than a month, since that entry date is for the first round, and they would have to be finished by mid-October in order to be shipped on time. This is not reasonable. Edited to add: Ellen Datlow has clarified that they are seeking a design that can be commercially produced by an independent manufacturer. Also that they are not planning on presenting the physical award in Columbus, just unveiling it. The winners will receive the award later.

None of this would be appropriate if we were discussing fiction and it isn’t appropriate for art either.

There are times and places when working for exposure is warranted. It is very rare and very specific to the artist. There might be some folks who want to design this and can see how it would benefit them. I won’t shame anyone for making that choice.

But I am ashamed of World Fantasy for creating a situation where that’s a choice an artist has to make.

Edited to add: I should point out that John Picacio talked about the problem with not paying artists for award design in November of last year.

My Favorite Bit: Ainy Rainwater talks about IF WISHES WERE SPACESHIPS

Favorite Bit iconAiny Rainwater is joining us today with her novel If Wishes Were Spaceships. Here’s the publisher’s description:

When Jazlyn is forced to make an emergency landing on a quarantine planet, the worst she expects to find are a bunch of irate scientists complaining because she messed up the pristine conditions of some experiment. But the buildings look like works of art and the inhabitants are a wealthy scion of a galactic dynasty and an anxious techie. While the compound has all the comforts of home, it has none of the basic hospitality she expects. Cut off from all communication, surrounded by a thicket of dangerous carnivorous plants, Jazlyn must find a way to repair her ship — if possible — or hope that her friends find her distress beacon before Sterneworth, the planet’s resident tyrant, does something drastic. Can she trust Blaine, the techie who is completely under Sterneworth’s thumb, and who desperately wants off the planet by any means? Jazlyn has never been one to knuckle under or buckle under pressure. Nor is finesse is one of her skills. She will tackle the problems — the ship repair, the bizarre plants, and the duplicitous inhabitants of the planet — head on. Has the sassy spacer who’s used to getting her way met her match in the power and might of the Sterneworth dynasty? Everyone on the planet has a secret agenda. She has a ship to repair…

What’s Ainy’s favorite bit?

If Wishes Were Spaceships cover

AINY RAINWATER

It was tough to choose a favorite bit because this novel was so much fun to write. I wanted to do a fun novel for friends and fans who have been waiting so patiently while I work on a fantasy series. My idea was an ol’ fashioned adventure tale of someone stranded on a planet with giant carnivorous plants, but I didn’t want to do a book with a heavily retro feel. I wanted a confident female protagonist who pushed back when she was pushed. Enter Jazlyn….

I love a lot of things about this book, but I keep coming back to the characters, especially Jazlyn. She’s who we want to be when things go wrong. She’s competent and confident. She absolutely will not let anyone step on her for any reason. Whatever happens she just keeps moving forward. No matter what’s thrown at her, she thinks she can handle it. It doesn’t mean that she doesn’t get angry or frustrated, but she has a wry sense of humor and isn’t easily deflected from her objectives.

Up to this point, she’s had a fairly good life. She’s used to things going her way because she has the confidence and skill set — as well as business partners who are friends — to ensure that her life is as good as she can make it. That, as it turns out, is something of a problem. She’s not used to facing situations that are totally out of her control. She’s used to getting her way.

The problem is that Sterneworth, who owns the planet she had to ditch on, is the scion of a wealthy dynastic family and he, too, is used to getting his own way. Neither he nor Jazlyn have the best “people skills”. Jazlyn tends to push rather than negotiate. She has partners with different personal styles; one of her partners is a good negotiator, and the other “skates by on charm”. But she can’t call on their skill set in this situation. In fact, she can’t call at all since Sterneworth controls the comms.

“Let me ask you something,” she began. “Do you want me to stay on this planet, right here, annoying you day and night and disrupting the routine of your life, or do you want me gone, the sooner the better? Because if you regard me as a problem or a nuisance, as I have every reason to think you do, then the absolute best thing you can do to return to the status quo — whatever that is around here — is to let Blaine give me a hand running diagnostics and helping with repairs. Unless you want to let me use your comm system to contact my people to come and pick me up. For some reason Blaine is under the impression that this perfectly reasonable action — using the general comm — is impossible. I’d like to know why. I’d also like to get just a tiny bit of help, no more than any reasonable human being would expect to be given. No more than any reasonable human being would give. Now, are you going to be reasonable or am I going to have to shanghai Blaine and hijack the comm?”

I needed the language in that paragraph to be blunt and inflammatory. I do use some 20th century idioms in the book to give some bits of dialogue a brash colloquial feel. Idiomatic English many centuries in the future would be largely incomprehensible to readers today, so I chose to use a limited amount of future-speak, mixed with more contemporary language for maximum impact.

The book is very much a battle of wills between two people with opposing agendas, who really can’t understand each other. Caught between Sterneworth and Jazlyn is the frightened techie, Blaine. Like Jazlyn, I sort of despised Blaine at the beginning of the book, but he grew on me. Blaine makes Jazlyn stop and think of someone other than herself and her own problems. Jazlyn gives Blaine perspective on the trajectory of his life. Unfortunately Blaine needs more than just a fresh perspective. He needs Jazlyn’s ship.

Sometimes life is complicated and bad things happen. We all want to be confident and unflappable when things in our life spin out of control. We want to be like Jazlyn. Sometimes, though, people’s lives gradually slip away from what they had envisioned for themselves and, like Blaine, they realize that as scary as it is to take risks, nothing will change unless they do.

What of Sterneworth, the resident tyrant? I can’t say that I like him, but he was an interesting character to write. Sterneworth is a bundle of contradictory desires, a volatile mix of power and vulnerability, and driven as much by fear as arrogance. The skill set of a galactic bully is not helpful in this situation, and when things go wrong he has only himself to blame.

My favorite bit? The way the characters interact and react to their individual circumstances on this unusual and challenging planet. Jazlyn is a catalyst. She upsets the status quo. Both Sterneworth and Blaine are forced to reevaluate their positions simply because she landed there. Jazlyn’s ship is at the center of everything; all that the characters want — or don’t want — is tied up in that ship. If wishes were spaceships, then beggars might ride…

LINKS:

If Wishes Were Spaceships is available from: Amazon US, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Smashwords, Kobo

Connect with the author on social media:  Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Instagram

Websites: Gymshoes Music, her official musician website; The Usual Suspects, a group food blog she contributes to; The Mighty Microblog, a miscellany, and A Truant Disposition, which is Ainy Rainwater’s official author site.

BIO:

Ainy Rainwater has been writing and publishing short stories, essays, and novels in various genres for about 30 years. She lives in the greater Houston area with her husband and rescue dogs. She enjoys reading, writing, playing guitar and percussion, gardening, knitting, tea, baking and other kitchen improvisations, daydreaming, and wasting time online.

She is also known for the digital pop which she makes under the name Gymshoes. “Everest Sunrise” was featured in the documentary What It Takes. After hurricanes Katrina and Rita she released the EP, A Tropical Depression, the profits of which go to benefit the American Red Cross. Gymshoes albums are available from online stores.

Currently she’s working on a chick lit fantasy series as well as a sequel to If Wishes Were Spaceships.

My Favorite Bit: Rachel Swirsky talks about LOVE IS NEVER STILL

Favorite Bit iconRachel Swirsky is joining us today with her short story “Love Is Never Still” in Uncanny Magazine Issue Nine.

Featuring all–new short fiction by Rachel Swirsky, Shveta Thakrar, Max Gladstone, Kelly Sandoval, and Simon Guerrier, classic fiction by Daryl Gregory, nonfiction by Jim C. Hines, Kyell Gold, Javier Grillo–Marxuach, and Mark Oshiro, poems by C. S. E. Cooney, Jennifer Crow, and Brandon O’Brien, interviews with Rachel Swirsky and Simon Guerrier, and Katy Shuttleworth’s “Strange Companions” on the cover.

What’s Rachel’s favorite bit?

Uncanny Magazine Issue Nine cover

RACHEL SWIRSKY

When I was very young, my parents bought me D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths. I dearly loved it. In fact, I tried to proselytize it on the preschool playground. Well, by proselytize, I mean “I made them play make believe about Greek myths,” but I had a brief period of believing they were true. What? Greek gods were neat. The end of the book indicated that all the Greek gods had died, but having been raised in a culture where gods are known to die and later live again, that didn’t seem like a huge barrier.

In high school, I got the usual Edith Hamilton, and a good dose of Greek plays, from Antigone to Lysistrata. In college, I studied playwriting and acting, and discovered a new range of theatrical adaptations. There were new interpretations, like the production of Iphigenia at Aulis rewritten from Clytemnestra’s perspective, and like Zimmerman’s take on Ovid, Metamorphoses, which is partially staged in a pool.

Something I really like about the way many theaters perform Greek myths is that time and anachronisms are often allowed to slip freely. The props and dialogue are frequently at a disjunct. After thousands of years, Greek myths are meta-fiction of themselves. Every version owes its existence to stories told and told and told again. New generations bring their tools for understanding. Plays can feature both old-fashioned choruses and cell phones, or be significantly more daring than that.

While I was in graduate school, one of my fellow students wrote a novel based on Antigone that aimed to do the same things as those plays. Time, props, dialogue—all slipped between time frames according to an underlying logic the author knew, but the reader had to learn. It’s trickier in prose because theater relies on visuals to emphasize what they’re doing, but the results in my classmates’ novel were extremely striking.

All of these experiences helped me learn that working with Greek myths gives you an enormous toolbox in terms of style and content. So when I began writing my version of the Galatea myth, “Love Is Never Still,” my mind was already full of possibilities for alternate structures and ways to play with the story.

“Love Is Never Still” retells two myths simultaneously. One: the sculptor who fell in love with his statue, Galatea, and wished her to life. Two: Aphrodite’s love triangle with Hades and Hephaestus.

My favorite bit about “Love Is Never Still” is probably also my least favorite bit: the complex layers I built in over the course of four months of intense revision.

First, there are the points of view. The story begins with the sculptor, and moves on to Galatea—fair enough. Later, we hear from Aphrodite, Hephaestus, Ares, Zeus, the Fates, death, weather phenomena and some inanimate objects, for a total of about fifteen different perspectives. I actually tried writing some of the sections in the format of a traditional Greek chorus, in iambic pentameter and everything, but thank goodness I dropped that before it got too far.

It’s a little unusual to give a point of view section to a pedestal, but as I said in my interview for Uncanny Magazine, it felt intuitively right—if I was giving speaking roles to forces like death and love, it made sense to look at the mundane end of the spectrum, too.

 Pedestal

Where there were feet upon me, there are divots, and I am cold.

The text is also heavily layered, which took me a lot of time. There are a number of passages that are meant to be read two ways. It was difficult to hit the right pacing for that, so that both readings seem well-crafted and seamless.

Mortals—even sometimes gods—forget the finesse required for working gold… They forget those fingers must know the delicacy of repoussé. They must, with great precision, caress gold’s most tender places with surpassing gentleness until it molds to his will.

I tried to make the text as specific and evocative as possible with research details. I spent some afternoons chasing down things like the ingredients of ancient perfumes (“balsam and cinnamon, hyacinth and lily, styrax and sweet rush”), or the color of ancient apples (pink). The most beautiful descriptions I found were from books on ancient ivory trading where I read about “silver and electrum and carnelian and malachite. [Hephaestus] embosses jewelry with trees and horses and dancers, and adorns the hilts of his weapons with granulated gold. He ornaments gods’ palaces with panels of open work ivory, and oak–carved furniture inlaid with ebony.”

Where possible, I also layered in elements from the original myths. Several details are from Ovid. At other times, when describing the gods, I used theoi.com to find more about their estates and sacred creatures, for instance Ares’ iron palace, and Aphrodite’s cockle shells and myrrh.

Some pieces of the text are crafted to act as call and response to each other. Summer and Winter speak at opposite ends of the story, and use the same sentence structures to describe events. Aphrodite’s understanding of love is constantly in flux, but always stated with the same determination. She loves both Ares and Hephaestus, although they are opposites, and the sentences with which she declares that love are mirrored.

Of Ares, she says:

Love is a spark, a winging bird, a waterfall splash. It is immediate; it is urgent; it is spontaneous. Like Ares, it moves with perfect, bold unity. It is a fully embodied moment, experienced with every incendiary, saturated sense. It is the smell of a lover and the bite of a provocative glance. I am love, and I am all these things.

And of Hephaestus:

Love is a mountain that swallows ages. It endures a thousand winters, and a million storms, and never erodes. It is steady; it is patient; it is sheltering. Like Hephaestus, it wields its hammer boldly, but also remembers the value of gentleness. It is waking to your lover’s dreamy morning murmur, and the smell of his skin that lingers in his linen. I am love, and I am all these things.

I used to write poetry (who knows—maybe I will again someday) and its great pleasure was the attention I could pore over every word. With a story like this, which I worked on intensely at the line level for about four months, I was almost able to approximate that level of control. I’m immensely proud of how much complexity there is going on in this story—immensely proud, but also ready to make some time for writing simply.

LINKS:

Read “Love Is Never Still”

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BIO:

Rachel Swirsky is a short story writer living in Bakersfield, California. Her short fiction has been nominated for the Hugo Award, the Locus Award, the World Fantasy Award, and the Sturgeon Award. She’s twice won the Nebula Award: in 2010 for her novella, “The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers Beneath the Queen’s Window” and in 2014 for her short story, “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love.” She graduated from the Iowa Writers Workshop in 2008 and Clarion West in 2005.

My Favorite Bit: Stacey Berg talks about DISSENSION

Favorite Bit iconStacey Berg is joining us today with her novel Dissension. Here’s the publisher’s description:

For four hundred years, the Church has led the remnants of humanity as they struggle for survival in the last inhabited city. Echo Hunter 367 is exactly what the Church created her to be: loyal, obedient, lethal. A clone who shouldn’t care about anything but her duty. Who shouldn’t be able to.

When rebellious citizens challenge the Church’s authority, it is Echo’s duty to hunt them down before civil war can tumble the city back into the dark. But Echo hides a deadly secret: doubt. And when Echo’s mission leads her to Lia, a rebel leader who has a secret of her own, Echo is forced to face that doubt. For Lia holds the key to the city’s survival, and Echo must choose between the woman she loves and the purpose she was born to fulfill.

What’s Stacey’s favorite bit?

Dissension cover

STACEY BERG

My favorite bit of Dissension is a look characters exchange at the end of the climactic scene when—no, wait. That is my favorite bit, but I can’t explain why without spoiling the story. But I love the end of the opening scene almost as much, and that I can talk about. There are only two characters, alone in a wasteland; one is lost, and the other has come to find her. We know the lost girl has been hurt in a fall from a cliff; we think the searcher has come to her rescue.

[The girl’s] eyes came back to Hunter’s. “It doesn’t hurt. I don’t feel anything.”

“I know.” Hunter edged around a little. “Here, let me help you sit up.” The girl was a boneless weight against her, arms dangling, a handful of sand trickling between limp fingers as Hunter knelt behind her, holding her close. “It’s all right, Ela. You did well.” The lie wouldn’t hurt anything now.

The girl’s head lolled back against Hunter’s shoulder, eyes searching her face as if trying to focus across a great distance. Her whisper was barely audible. “Which one are you?”

“Echo.”

“Number five, like me.”

“Yes, Ela.” She eased one palm around to cup the back of the girl’s head, the other gently cradling her chin. “Ready?”

The girl’s nod was only the barest motion between her hands. Hunter let her lips rest against the girl’s dusty hair for a short moment. She felt the girl’s mouth move in a smile against her fingers.

Then, with a swift and practiced motion, Hunter snapped her neck.

I love this bit because of the way it subverts the reader’s expectations. It sets up the tone of the whole rest of the book, without seeming to work too hard. The page or two before has introduced my main character, Hunter, and showed her embodying her name, calmly tracking a student lost in a desert training exercise. Now, as the dangers of night time close in, she’s finally found her. At first Hunter seems almost gentle; not only in the way she physically handles the hurt girl, but also in her attempts to comfort her, even lying to her to make her feel better. Then there’s the passing mystery in the exchange of names: why does the girl ask “which one”; what does it mean to be “number five”? And finally, we feel the intimacy of the dusty kiss, and then gut-punch that follows. The conflict between these two actions is a physical manifestation of the internal conflict that tortures Hunter from here right to the end of the book.

This is just the set-up I wanted to pull my readers right into the story, and I think it works. That’s why it’s my favorite bit.

LINKS:

Author Website

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BIO:

Stacey Berg is a medical researcher who writes speculative fiction. Her work as a physician-scientist provides the inspiration for many of her stories. She lives with her wife in Houston and is a member of the Writers’ League of Texas. When she’s not writing, she practices kung fu and runs half marathons.

My Favorite Bit: Alan Smale talks about EAGLE IN EXILE

Favorite Bit iconAlan Smale is joining us today with his novel Eagle in Exile. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Perfect for fans of Bernard Cornwell, Steve Berry, Naomi Novik, and Harry Turtledove, Alan Smale’s gripping alternate history series imagines a world in which the Roman Empire has survived long enough to invade North America in 1218. Now the stunning story carries hero Gaius Marcellinus deeper into the culture of an extraordinary people—whose humanity, bravery, love, and ingenuity forever change his life and destiny.

In A.D. 1218, Praetor Gaius Marcellinus is ordered to conquer North America and turning it into a Roman province. But outside the walls of the great city of Cahokia, his legion is destroyed outright; Marcellinus is the only one spared. In the months and years that follow, Marcellinus comes to see North America as his home and the Cahokians as his kin. He vows to defend these proud people from any threat, Roman or native.

After successfully repelling an invasion by the fearsome Iroqua tribes, Marcellinus realizes that a weak and fractured North America won’t stand a chance against the returning Roman army. Worse, rival factions from within threaten to tear Cahokia apart just when it needs to be most united and strong. Marcellinus is determined to save the civilization that has come to mean more to him than the empire he once served. But to survive the swords of Roma, he first must avert another Iroqua attack and bring the Cahokia together. Only with the hearts and souls of a nation at his back can Marcellinus hope to know triumph.

What’s Alan’s favorite bit?

Eagle in Exile cover

ALAN SMALE

We begin Eagle in Exile deep in the heart of the North American continent in an alternate universe where Rome never fell and Columbus will never sail. The Land – Nova Hesperia – is huge and wild, and populated by a great diversity of tribes and nations that often bewilders my Roman hero, Gaius Marcellinus. The people he currently knows the best belong to the Mississippian Culture, centered in Cahokia, but his world is about to grow even larger.

Given the book’s title, it might not be giving too much away to reveal that in Eagle in Exile Gaius Marcellinus is forced to leave Cahokia for a while. In the pre-historical era, and in fact well into the historical era, the rivers of North America were often more efficient thoroughfares than the extensive land trails, and it’s onto the river he goes: the great and glorious Mississippi, to be precise, in a beat-up and seriously under-crewed Viking longship.

The focus in the Clash of Eagles books is on action and adventure rather than a scrupulous dissection of my alternate timeline (although I could write a detailed essay on the millennium since my point of departure, if anyone wants it). Likewise, Marcellinus’s Mississippi journey is hardly a gentle travelogue. There’s not much jolly Twaining around, though I did strive for occasional flashes of wit. But even in Samuel Clemens’ day the Mississippi was a ruthless adversary. The course of the river was ever-shifting, its banks were treacherously muddy, the current was strong and unforgiving, and its smooth surface obscured the perils that lurked beneath. From Eagle in Exile:

The blue waters of the Oyo, still swollen by snowmelt, entwined with the greenish murk of the Mizipi to produce a broader river with water of a deep golden brown. Relatively straight as it passed the hills and forests north of the confluence, the Mizipi now twisted sinuously through an endless procession of broad curves and oxbows, arcs of water that almost looped back on themselves. Sailing was difficult on a river that could not stay remotely straight for even a few miles at a time, and they relied on the oars to keep them in the deepest part of the channel, where the current could carry them; left to its own devices the Concordia would spin off into eddies and end up in the shallow waters on the outer edges of the curves. The crew also had to stay constantly alert for floating tree trunks, submerged snags, and the endless sandbars that would rise beneath them and threaten to ground them even when they were far from the bank.

From the written accounts in our own history it’s evident that most of the people who lived on the river – the riverboat captains and crew, Native Americans, free peoples and slaves, townsfolk and traders and wanderers – hated the river, or at least treated it with a respect so profound that it differed little from hatred. And not just the Mississippi, either. Lewis and Clarke had a hell of a time beating their way up the Missouri River (also featured in Exile), even with a crew of tough-assed soldiers and mountain men. Their journals are soaked in blood, pain, sweat, sickness, and uh, blisters.

It’s on the Mississippi that Gaius Marcellinus faces some of his biggest challenges. Desperate battles with malevolent bad guys, certainly, but also the challenges of attempting to understand and communicate with cultures that appear even more alien to him than the Cahokians, Iroquois, and Algonquians he already knows. The challenge of reaching an accommodation with his nemesis and love interest who, for better or worse, is also aboard the Viking ship. The challenge of keeping his crew together against overwhelming odds, with the threat of a new Roman invasion just over the horizon. Marcellinus may be pretty good at war, but it’s on this dangerous river voyage that he learns the most about family and community.

And as a backdrop to all that, I got a lot of joy out of trying to evoke the sheer scale, danger, and unpredictability of the mighty, muddy, greasy Mizipi, Nova Hesperia’s greatest river. And that was my favorite bit.

LINKS:

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BIO:

Alan Smale grew up in Yorkshire, England, and now lives in the Washington, D.C., area. By day he works at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center as a professional astronomer, studying black holes, neutron stars, and other bizarre celestial objects. However, too many family vacations at Hadrian’s Wall in his formative years plus a couple of degrees from Oxford took their toll, steering his writing toward alternate, secret, and generally twisted history. He has sold numerous short stories to magazines including Asimov’s and Realms of Fantasy, and the novella version of Clash of Eagles won the 2010 Sidewise Award for Alternate History.

My Favorite Bit: Gillian Murray Kendall talks about THE BOOK OF FORBIDDEN WISDOM

My Favorite BitGillian Murray Kendall is joining us today with her novel The Book of Forbidden Wisdom. Here’s the publisher’s description:

In a world of blood and betrayal, love is the only redemption…

But that knowledge can only be reached by means of magic and a journey, by way of a confrontation with feelings that are hard to understand—or bear.

On Angel’s sixteenth birthday, her younger sister, Silky, wakes her to prepare her for a marriage to Leth, a man she likes but does not love. Trey, her oldest childhood friend who is secretly in love with her, watches helplessly.

But Angel’s brother, Kalo, interrupts the wedding ceremony. He wants her dowry, and he also believes Angel can lead him to The Book of Forbidden Wisdom. In a world where land is everything, this book promises him wealth. In the night, Kalo goes to Angel’s room to threaten her, but Trey has rescued both Angel and Silky, and the three of them—joined by an itinerant singer—themselves seek The Book of Forbidden Wisdom. While Kalo believes the book contains land deeds, they believe it harbors great power.

Always just a step ahead of Kalo, Angel, Silky, Trey, and the Bard finally arrive at the place of The Book.But things have changed now:  Angel knows her own heart at last.  Confronted by evil, at the end of the known world, Angel and her companions turn and fight. Together. And in so doing, they find that love contains a power of its own.

What’s Gillian’s favorite bit?

The Book of Forbidden Wisdom

GILLIAN MURRAY KENDALL

Sixteen-year-old Angel and her younger sister Silky—with their two male companions—are desperate to escape the troops behind them by passing on horseback into the country of Shibbeth.  This land lies just beyond huge monolithic Cairns constructed in ages past to mark the border.  I had one heck of a time getting the pace right on this, as well as subtly conveying what is all too true:  they have left danger behind only to confront ever greater dangers ahead.  But I love the characters here because, under pressure, they remain so very much themselves:  Angel watches out for Silky, who is watching out for her horse, and the relief of both at the end of the scene is palpable. And we know who the villain is:  after all, he calls our heroine, Angel, names.

The Cairns looked closer now.

But maybe not close enough.

We were really going all out now.  For a moment Silky fell no further behind, and we rode as one.  And then Silky’s pony, Squab, lost more momentum.  I turned my head and screamed at her.

“Hit him,” I yelled.  Silky shook her head.  I was frantic.  “Hit him!  Now.”

And Silky, her face as pale as milk, pulled her crop from her boot and smacked Squab on the rump.  In a second, he was up with us again.

And then the Cairns were no longer a shimmer in the distance; they were in front of us.  We galloped without looking behind; my breathing was labored, and Jasmine was slathered with foam.

At last we surged forward between two of the great standing Cairns of Shibbeth.

Leth and his men had to pull up hard not to cross the boundary—so hard that two of the horses went down.  I felt elated, but I knew that this was not the end.  He would find another way to get at me.  But for now Leth didn’t dare enter.  He didn’t have enough at stake to risk being taken there.

We did.

“Harlot!” Leth screamed at me.  “Harlot!  Whore!”

We kept riding hard until we could no longer make out what he was saying, and the Cairns were well to our backs.

And I thought, So this is Shibbeth.  This is the forbidden country.

LINKS:

Author Website

Twitter

Facebook

Book Website

Goodreads

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Google Play

iTunes

BIO:

When Gillian Murray Kendall was a child, she spent some years in England while her father researched his biography of Richard III, and her mother wrote children’s books.  She had stumbled into a wardrobe, and her enchanted world was England.  That sense of belonging-in-the-strange shaped Gillian’s life. In the 1980s, the months and months she spent in Africa waiting in lines for kerosene and milk and rice was a new normal, while Gillian found the once-familiar Harvard, with its well-stocked grocery stores, alien. Recently Gillian spent two years in Paris, where learning a new culture, a new strangeness, resulted in the writing of her first book and the beginning of The Book of Forbidden Wisdom.

Gillian is a Professor of English Language and Literature at Smith College, where her specialty is Shakespeare and Renaissance Drama.  She is married to biologist Robert Dorit and has two sons, Sasha and Gabriel.

My Favorite Bit: Elizabeth Bonesteel talks about THE COLD BETWEEN

My Favorite Bit Elizabeth Bonesteel is joining us today with her novel The Cold Between. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Deep in the stars, a young officer and her lover are plunged into a murder mystery and a deadly conspiracy in this first entry in a stellar military science-fiction series in the tradition of Lois McMaster Bujold.

When her crewmate, Danny, is murdered on the colony of Volhynia, Central Corps chief engineer, Commander Elena Shaw, is shocked to learn the main suspect is her lover, Treiko Zajec. She knows Trey is innocent—he was with her when Danny was killed. So who is the real killer and why are the cops framing an innocent man?

Retracing Danny’s last hours, they discover that his death may be tied to a mystery from the past: the explosion of a Central Corps starship at a wormhole near Volhynia. For twenty-five years, the Central Gov has been lying about the tragedy, even willing to go to war with the outlaw PSI to protect their secrets.

With the authorities closing in, Elena and Trey head to the wormhole, certain they’ll find answers on the other side. But the truth that awaits them is far more terrifying than they ever imagined . . . a conspiracy deep within Central Gov that threatens all of human civilization throughout the inhabited reaches of the galaxy—and beyond.

What’s Elizabeth’s favorite bit?

The Cold Between

ELIZABETH BONESTEEL

My favorite bit of The Cold Between is the huge, explosive mess that is Greg and Elena.

These are two people who know each other extremely well, yet manage to miss each other completely. They are also, despite Greg’s big mopey eyes, loyal friends. For-real friends. Family. No matter how often that gets tested, no matter how much they claw at each other, the bond remains.

By the time they have their first scene together, all we have of their relationship is Elena’s brief thoughts heading home the morning after shore leave:

Their friendship had been strained for half a year, and the public argument they’d had two weeks ago had undone the last of her equanimity.[…]Losing Danny should have hurt more than losing Greg, but she had so few true friends in her life. Lovers were easy; she felt she had left Danny behind already.

Greg was not so easily replaced.

Greg, for his part, has spent the night being chewed out by his superior officer, and chewing out one of his own people in return. He’s got it in his head that despite their estrangement, he can notify Elena of Danny’s murder professionally and compassionately.

Except that he’s forgotten that he has no real ability to deal with her at all. And when he trots out all of his practiced, military strategies for breaking bad news, she takes the conversation sideways, and he’s immediately off-balance.

This, of course, is what’s always attracted him to her. Greg’s had his life mapped out since he was a kid. He might have resented that in his youth, but as an adult he’s continued the trend. A place for everything, and everything in its place, personal and professional alike.

And Elena blows through his neat categories like she’s made of smoke. To everyone else, he’s the captain, the officer, the boss. To her – that’s his job, not who he is. She’s the only one who sees him as a whole person. He doesn’t even properly see himself.

Of course…Elena’s missed a few things along the way.

I’ve had some readers say “Come on, she must know how he feels!” And the answer to that is…she doesn’t, really. Apart from being her superior officer, he’s been married as long as she’s known him, and she’s seen nothing to suggest he’d wander afield from that. Why would she assume there was more to it than that when he has said and done nothing to suggest it?

Elena is clueless in her own way She’s a mechanic: something breaks, and she fixes it. Her talent is breaking down a problem into soluble component puzzles. The possibility that a particular puzzle might not be soluble does not compute for her. All she needs to do is bash at it from another angle. The trouble with her relationship with Greg is that she’s not in on what all the puzzle pieces are.

Despite all of this, it was important to me to keep Greg from being passive and miserable. He’s made an active choice to say nothing to Elena of his romantic feelings. He’s not going to cheat on his wife, so what’s the point of saying anything? And despite his recent bad behavior, their relationship – just as it is – is everything to him. Predominately, it’s a source of strength for him, not weakness. He feels like she’s the only person in his life who doesn’t really care if he keeps following his carefully-laid-out map. What’s romance in the face of that?

There’s an interdependency between Greg and Elena that neither of them fully understands, and they each seem hellbent on doing everything they possibly can to shatter it. But when it’s backs against the wall, there’s never any doubt: they’re fighting together. It’s when they’re not sure they’re against the same wall that the problems arise.

LINKS:

Website

Blog

Twitter

HarperCollins.com / HarperCollins.co.uk / HarperCollins.ca

Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk / Amazon.ca

BarnesandNoble.com

IndieBound

Powell’s

Google Play

iBookstore US / iBookstore UK / iBookstore Canada

Kobo

BIO:

Elizabeth Bonesteel began making up stories at the age of five, in an attempt to battle insomnia. Thanks to a family connection to the space program, she has been reading science fiction since she was a child. She currently lives in central Massachusetts with her husband, her daughter, and various cats.

Up and Coming: Stories by the 2016 Campbell-Eligible Authors is now available for FREE download!

Over a million words of fiction from the 2016 Campbell-eligible writers, FREE until March 31, 2016.

Up and Coming cover

This anthology includes 120 authors—who contributed 230 works totaling approximately 1.1 MILLION words of fiction. These pieces all originally appeared in 2014, 2015, or 2016 from writers who are new professionals to the science fiction and fantasy field, and they represent a breathtaking range of work from the next generation of speculative storytelling.

All of these authors are eligible for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 2016. We hope you’ll use this anthology as a guide in nominating for that award as well as a way of exploring many vibrant new voices in the genre.

This anthology is free to download and will cease to be available on March 31, 2016.

Up and Coming: Stories by the 2016 Campbell-Eligible Authors

My Favorite Bit: Peter Tieryas talks about UNITED STATES OF JAPAN

My Favorite Bit iconPeter Tieryas is joining us today with his novel United States of Japan. Here’s the publisher’s description:

A spiritual sequel to The Man In The High Castle, focusing on the New Japanese Empire, from an acclaimed author and essayist.

The Axis won WWII and now, in the late 1980s, the Japanese Empire rules over the western US states, their power assured by technological superiority (giant mecha, etc.) But when a video game emerges that posits a world where the allies won, a game censor and an Imperial Government agent discover truths about the empire that make them question their loyalty.

What’s Peter’s favorite bit?

United States of Japan cover

PETER TIERYAS

United States of Japan began as an exploration of the tragedies that took place among Asians during WWII. Many of the important scenes involve re-examining historical events from a non-American centric perspective. That includes the decision to use the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In USJ, the Japanese Empire nukes San Jose, Sausalito, and Sacramento, feeling that doing so would shorten what might otherwise be a deadly land war. Decades later, Japanese scholars question whether it was necessary when they had already broken the American ciphers and knew they were going to surrender. Even if the bombing was done primarily as a political move to deter the Nazis on the east coast, it’s horrifying that the question of the justification for the death of hundreds of thousands of Americans has become academic.

My favorite bit was a scene that mixes history and the ethical dilemmas the soldiers face, but ultimately ended up on the cutting board. It was one of those cases where you realize you have to cut your favorite scene in order to better serve the story. In USJ, mechas are mostly part of the background, being such a lethal force that they’re only unleashed in the most extreme cases. One of my favorite characters is a mecha pilot named Kujira. She suffered injuries at a young age that caused her to work with augmented legs. This was in part inspired by a basketball injury where I tore a muscle and couldn’t walk. I used braces to help me to limp in pain for almost half a year. For Kujira, her early setback, which ended up leading to a severe leg condition, gave her a strong familiarity with machines. This has helped her to become one of the most distinguished pilots in the Empire, especially because she’s used to the neural interface that other pilots take longer to get accustomed to. Unlike her compatriots though, she is irreverent, disrespectful of the cadre, and a total maverick.

I loved her character as a stark contrast to the other officers who follow the stratified structure of the imperial army. Because she’s such a brilliant fighter, her superiors tolerate her. But she never tires of sticking it to them, as in the beginnings of a civil conflict in San Diego that will have repercussions for decades. Her immediate reaction in finding out everything is going to hell is: “How’d you guys screw it all up again?” where the “guys” isn’t gender neutral.

But it points to a bigger question. When you exist in an authoritarian system, is it possible to defy its evils and still stay alive? “I’m tired of having to choose between doing the horrible and more horrible,” Kujira says, and her statement in many ways forms one of the most important themes in the book

In my research of the WWII tragedies, I read many personal accounts from people and soldiers who were ordered to perpetrate war crimes. They’d often say they had no choice, doing what was required of them because they would have been executed if they hadn’t. But there were others who resisted in every way they could manage, putting their own lives at risk, standing by what they felt was right. That included Japanese civilians who protected those of other races while the soldiers carried out atrocities.

As an outsider, Kujira has no qualms about defying orders she considers stupid in line with her understanding of bushido and honor.

In San Diego, as the civil conflict with the American rebels called the George Washingtons breaks out, they unleash a monstrous set of super tanks based on the various German Landkreuzer prototypes of WWII.

For the original draft, it was actually a massive German monster the Japanese call a “Golem,” a defiant description because of its mythologically Jewish origins. These monsters are genetically modified since birth and their cells are induced into massive growth. They are “biomorphed” into creatures that are both amorphous and powerful, a countermeasure to the mechas which the Germans cannot defeat. Subjected to a lifetime of experimentation and psychological scarring, these Golems could never be controlled. During the test phase, they wreaked havoc on the Germans, destroying several cities. So the whole project was shelved and the hundreds who were experimented on were either terminated or discarded to the Italian black market, who in turn sold it to various resistance groups the Germans felt would undermine Japanese dominance.

Unleashed by the Americans, the Golem starts destroying everything in its wake. The American rebels, having no idea, are overwhelmed. It’s up to Kujira to defeat it. But just as she’s about to engage the Golem, she’s told by her superior officers to leave it alone so it can destroy the Americans. She refuses the order, commences a long strategic battle throughout the city, trying to save as many civilians as she can. I had a blast describing the battle as well as diving into Kujira’s prowess, skill, and fury. In the Golem, she sees an externalized representation of soldiers in war. Even after she is victorious against the monster, she gives a respectful bow to her adversary, knowing it too is a victim.

Ultimately, this scene was heavily modified to become the super tanks I mentioned above. This was mainly because the scene felt at odds with the grittier reality of the rest in light of it being the late 1970s. It was something straight out of an anime, kaiju versus mecha, rather than the more science based speculation of the rest of the book. Even though a part of me wished it stayed, I knew it was the right decision to cut it.

It’s that fusing of history, science fiction, strange speculations, ethical dilemmas, and clashing personalities that, I feel, makes USJ the story it is. I loved that scene for giving Kujira a truly dangerous opponent who brings out the gamut of emotions that all the soldiers face. Their battle exemplifies the internal struggle that is at the heart of each of the characters and even as a deleted scene, helped set the tone in writing the other sequences.

LINKS:

Amazon

Blog

BIO:

Peter Tieryas is the author of United States of Japan and Bald New World. His writing has been published in places like Kotaku, Tor.com, and ZYZZYVA. He’s worked as a VFX artist on films likeGuardians of the Galaxy and Alice in Wonderland. He likes tweeting about alternate histories at @TieryasXu.

My Favorite Bit: Mark Tompkins talks about THE LAST DAYS OF MAGIC

My Favorite Bit iconMark Tompkins is joining us today to with his novel The Last days of Magic. Here is the publisher’s description:

An epic novel of magic and mysticism, Celts and faeries, mad kings and druids, and the goddess struggling to reign over magic’s last outpost on the Earth.

What became of magic in the world? Who needed to do away with it, and for what reasons? Drawing on myth, legend, fairy tales, and Biblical mysteries, The Last Days of Magic brilliantly imagines answers to these questions, sweeping us back to a world where humans and magical beings co-exist as they had for centuries.

The Last Days of Magic introduces us to unforgettable characters who grapple with quests for power, human frailty, and the longing for knowledge that has been made taboo. Mark Tompkins has crafted a remarkable tale; a feat of world-building that poses astonishing and resonant answers to epic questions.

What’s Mark’s favorite bit?

Org LDM Tompkins Cover

MARK TOMPKINS

Villains! Much to my surprise my favorite bit about The Last Days of Magic was writing the villains. Characters who at least tried to be honorable felt more constrained by the story arc, whereas the antiheroes freely wrought havoc across the page. I always looked forward to a new one making an appearance. They ran amuck, stayed longer than I had planned, and generally did as they pleased.

Their voices were strong and vibrant. I never really knew what they were going to say until I put ink to page (I am old fashioned in my writing tools). And they lent themselves to being killed, or otherwise subdued, in such exotic ways.

Happily, an abundance of human and inhuman villains presented themselves: Orsini, the psychotic head exorcist; a nameless deranged Imp; Richard, the sadistic king; and plenty of violent faeries. Witches, it should be noted, came in both flavors, nefarious and virtuous. The wicked ones turned out to be concentrated in France due to the dominance of the High Coven, which did not tolerate challenges within its territory.

The most compelling antiheroes to write were those who were psychologically complex and had compelling backstories that hinted at why they became evil. Unlike the out of control Imp, they had plans and a code. My favorite was Isabeau, Queen of France and Grande Sorcière of the High Coven. We see her history through a kind of past life regression to renew her magical blood:

A small clock on the mantel chimed 2:00 A.M., the time for her witches to gather. Before she could join them tonight, she must renew her bond—a bond through blood and time—to the founder of their coven, as she did after each solstice. Though still exhausted from her most recent trip to Norway, she climbed out of her canopy bed and pulled a silk robe over her nightgown. Gliding across her moonlit bedroom, she approached the wall and pressed a piece of molding. With a click a panel swung open.

The Grande Sorcière entered into a perfectly square, windowless room. In the center, on a small gilded table, a single golden candle burned, filling the room with liquid yellow light. The Grande Sorcière knew that as long as she performed the rite, this candle, first lit by her kinswoman Taddea de la Barthe 121 years ago, would not go out and would not burn down. She sat on a plain wooden chair, gazed into the flame, and began the ritual of remembering.

She was rowing a boat up a river of blood under a dark purple sky, where a sun and a moon spun in a tight arc. Along the black sand bank, row upon row of women, thousands of them, each of them on fire, turned their heads to watch her pass.

She tied the boat to a stone wharf and stepped out onto a staircase, which led down farther than she could see.

She walked down the staircase and entered one of the many doors along its edge.

She was in the body of eight-year-old Taddea, standing at a familiar second-story window at the edge of a large square in a town she knew to be Toulouse in 1275.

She could feel the man’s rough hand under her chin, squeezing her face, smell the ale and sausage on his breath as he bent down to her. “You must watch,” he growled. The Grande Sorcière and her predecessors did not care enough about him to remember the man’s name. “See what happens to your kind, what we’ve done to your mother.”

He thought he was forcing her to watch. He was not; she would have watched anyway.

The Grande Sorcière, Isabeau, was thrust into darkness by the persecution of her forbearers. Knowing that, how could I possibly resist giving her a chance for revenge, for more wickedness? What is it about writing from darkness that is so… delightful? Or is it just me?

LINKS:

Visit the author’s website, or connect with him on Facebook, or Twitter.

Buy the book on: Barnes&Noble, Indiebound, iBooks, Audible, Amazon

BIO:

The Last days of Magic, published by Viking, is Mark Tompkins’s debut novel. He founded the Aspen Writers’ Network and serves on the board of Aspen Words, a program of the Aspen Institute. He is a published poet and international award-winning photographer whose work is held in the permanent collections of museums in the United States and abroad. Born in Texas of Irish ancestry, Tompkins lives in Colorado with his family.

Theodore Beale is the Donald Trump of Science Fiction

Last year, during the lead up to the Hugos, I wrote a post about how this was more important than just a rocketship. Here, read a bit of it for context.

One of the things about fiction in general, and even more so with SFF, is that it tends to reflect the zeitgeist of the culture. For instance, during the “golden age” of SF, the United States, and much of the world, was focused on space. When you look at fiction of that era, it tends to be dominated by space exploration. During the Cold War, we saw a lot of post-apocalyptic worlds that were nuclear wastelands. Now? When we see post-apocalyptic worlds it’s because of a climate disaster.In addition to reflecting environmental concerns, the awards also reflect what is important to the voters. Not just in the books that they vote for, but also in the books that they choose to read. In recent years, people have become aware of the imbalance in representation in SFF and are seeking to address it.

This is happening in other fields as well — science, gaming, film, politics… but we are always most aware of an issue in our own community. So when people are seeking out books by underrepresented populations they are doing so because it’s important to their close community and also in the larger society.

Historically, every time there’s an advance in the rights of a disenfranchised group, whether that’s women’s lib or desegregation, there’s a corresponding pushback by the dominant group because it feels like it is losing power.

 

"If Americans can find the courage to consciously reject the myth of the melting pot and expel the Mexicans from the American Southwest, the Arabs from Detroit and the Somalis from Minneapolis, they can reclaim their traditional white Anglo-Saxon Protestant culture. This is highly improbable because so many descendants of that culture have rejected it in favor of the vibrancy of diversity..." Theodore BealeAt the time, the idea that Donald Trump would be a serious front-runner for the Republican party was the fodder for jokes. It would never happen. But… if anyone was paying attention to what was happening in SFF, it should have been clear that the Rabid Puppies represented the same xenophobic, white supremacist drive that is giving Trump power.

Let me tell you, I’m terrified of the elections this year.

We’ve been writing dystopian novels as warnings for years. The Hunger Games? Reality Television as politics… not so far fetched right now, is it?

So let me be clear. The fight that is going on in SFF for inclusion is not small. It is not petty. It is a reflection of a much bigger problem, and if we, as a community, don’t start paying attention and trying to change the larger culture then we know how this will end.

The first place to start making those changes is in our own house. So what I want you to do is to think about what you can do to make SFF a more inclusive place and then do it.

Impostor Syndrome – an analogy and pep talk

I’ve just given the same pep talk to three different writers, so I figure you probably need it to.

Let me speak to you about impostor syndrome. That thing where you are sure everyone knows you’re faking it and they are going to find out any minute and then you will be cast down and they will laugh and OMG EVERYONE WILL KNOW YOU SUCK!!!!11!!1!!!!

Years ago, when I was nominated for the Campbell Award I was having serious, serious impostor syndrome. And Nancy Kress — multiple Hugo/Nebula/Everything award winner with a bajillion books, told me that she still had impostor syndrome. That is at once tremendously heartening — because it means I’m not alone — and terribly sad, because it means that there’s not a point where I will have “made it.”

True. But…

You know how, when you’re playing a video game, you get to see this beautiful loading screen when you level up?

What happens with impostor syndrome to you is that you leveled up while you looking away from the computer. You didn’t see the loading screen, all you see are monsters that are bigger than they were.

But you DID level up and you can totally handle it.

It’s much, much worse to never experience Impostor Syndrome, because that means that you are staying on the easy level. Things will just keep coming that you know how to handle and that, eventually, gets boring.

So next time you feel the Imposter Syndrome hitting, recognize that it’s a symptom of the fact that you levelled up without noticing. It’s a crappy feature and the UI is totally borked, but you are can handle it.

Impostor Syndrome means that you are winning.

My Favorite Bit: Jason LaPier talks about UNCLEAR SKIES

My Favorite Bit iconJason LaPier is joining us today with his novel Unclear Skies. Here’s the publisher’s description:

The second book in Jason LaPier’s thrilling sci-fi trilogy

Justice isn’t what it used to be

Rogue cop Stanford Runstom blew open a botched murder case and was given a promotion – of sorts. But doing PR work for ModPol, the security-firm-for-hire, is not the detective position Runstom had in mind, particularly when his orders become questionable.

Freedom always comes at a price

Despite being cleared of false murder charges, Jax is still a fugitive from justice. When ModPol catches up with him, keeping his freedom now means staying alive at any cost, even if that means joining Space Waste, the notorious criminal gang.

Security can be deadly

When ModPol and Space Waste go head to head, old friends Runstom and Jax find themselves caught between two bloodthirsty armies, and this time they might not escape with their lives.

What’s Jason’s favorite bit?

Unclear Skies cover

JASON LAPIER

My favorite bit about Unclear Skies? That would be the character arcs. Taking these characters into the second book of The Dome Trilogy really gave me an opportunity to deepen their backstories and broaden their growth by forcing challenges on them with higher stakes.

Jax was once a life support operator in a 27th century dome on a planet orbiting Barnard’s Star, with an easy job and an apathetic life. He’s forced out of his shell when he’s wrongfully accused of killing a block of residents. In the first book of the series, Unexpected Rain, this event was enough of a shock to compel some character growth out of Jax: he found himself in many “adapt or die” situations (or in some cases, “adapt or go to prison for life”). In the second book he remains a fugitive and is essentially homeless – to the point where his sense of humanity is in danger. He doesn’t have the most basic needs: shelter and food. He’s alone. He’s depressed and feeling hopeless. He has to pull himself back into the world as someone else, take on a new identity, and in a place so different from the domes he grew up in. When the opportunity presents itself for Jax to make himself useful, to allow himself become more than a shadow, he takes it. He saves lives with his knowledge, but at the risk of exposing himself – both to the authorities he’s eluding and to the people who he’s grown close to.

In Unexpected Rain, Stanford Runstom is a police officer who longs to become a detective. In the follow-up, Unclear Skies, he’s been “promoted” into the public relations department. He still believes in the vision of the interstellar organization that employs him, Modern Policing and Peacekeeping: to provide justice and defense services to civilizations that have evolved to eras of peace, but still in need of protection on occasion. He’s uncomfortable with the semi-celebrity status he’s acquired for his role in solving the mass murder that Jax was accused of, and even more uncomfortable that his new job is not police-work, but instead marketing-work. Runstom has always felt out of place – a rare birth anomaly has given his skin a green tinge and marks him as an outsider in any habitat he visits – but being forced to do work he doesn’t understand exacerbates that feeling. When he can’t be a cop in the face of danger, he finds a new quality in himself: the ability to stand up and lead. Ultimately – without giving too much away – Runstom reconnects with his past in unexpected ways. This allows us to learn much more about the man who clings to a sense of justice like it’s the only anchor in a chaos-filled life.

Dava was kind of a secondary main character in the first book of the trilogy. Now in Unclear Skies, she becomes a true central character. She starts as an assassin who prefers to work alone; as an Earthling who was orphaned during the ride from Earth to the domes, she’s always felt outcast. Due to the effect that dome filtration systems have on pigmentation, Earthlings like Dava are the only humans around that still have dark skin, and thus her heritage is unmistakable. One of the few black-skinned people she knows is Moses Down, the man who “rescued” her from her dome life, albeit into a life of organized crime. He is like a father to her: a connection she struggles with, is confounded by. She even once toyed with the notion that she was in love with him. These are all the convoluted thoughts and emotions of someone who was plucked from her home and lost her family and forced to live as an outsider in a new world.

Now Moses wants Dava to become a leader, and through the course of Unclear Skies, she struggles to learn how to meet his expectations. She thinks what’s blocking her is her inability to trust others. But what is really holding her back is not her inability to connect with her fellow gangbangers – it’s her fear of connecting to them. It’s a fear of caring, because they can be so easily taken away. A fear of allowing them to become her family; though she doesn’t yet understand that, the concept being so foreign to her.

Together, these three very different characters share similarities in their arcs. In their own ways, each is struggling with a lack of home. The old saying “home is where the heart is” only goes so far. In the Maslow’s pyramid sense of “needs”, a human being needs shelter at the most basic level. A human being also needs family and companionship. And higher up, a human being seeks a sense of belonging. That’s what home is: a shelter, a family, and a place where you belong, and each of these characters is missing some part of that equation. They are driven unconsciously by the desire to correct their imbalances and find their true homes.

So my favorite bit about Unclear Skies is that I get to watch these characters continue to grow, continue to broaden and deepen, and that I get to set them on a path toward what it is they truly seek, even if they don’t yet know what that end-goal is.

LINKS:

Website/Blog

Twitter

Amazon

B&N

Kobo

Google Play

iTunes

BIO:

Born and raised in upstate New York, Jason now lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife and their long-haired dachshund. In past lives he has been a guitar player for a metal band, a drum-n-bass DJ, a record store owner, a game developer, and an IT consultant. These days he divides his time between writing fiction and developing software, and doing Oregonian things like gardening, hiking, and drinking microbrew.