So… hey. I went on book tour for Ghost Talkers in November, specifically, the week of the election. It was…difficult. Audiences were way, way down as in — places where I’d previously had standing room only were half-empty. At this point, it’s not likely to hurt me because, honestly, the book itself came out in August.
For any author, having a book come out when people aren’t buying books or when it’s difficult to self-promote because the national conversation is focused on other topics… that’s going to be hard.
A debut author though?
Oh, man… You work so hard and then your book finally, finally comes out. And it’s this month? Oh, sweetie… I’m so sorry. It’s not usually like this. Usually, you can trumpet about it, and people are super-excited for you and it feels really celebratory, and scary, but mostly filled with squee.
I know you’re feeling like your book came out, and that no one noticed. I know it feels like if you promote it, people are going to look at you funny.
So, hey– I’m looking for something new to read. Did you have a book come out in November?
Tell me about it.
(And if you’re a debut author write in all caps I AM A DEBUT AUTHOR.) (Also, congratulations!)
Stephanie A. Cain is joining us today with her novel Shades of Circle City. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Chloe is Catholic, a cop, and conventional, not necessarily in that order. But when a run-of-the-mill burglary arrest goes bad, she ends up dead. Turns out there are worse things than having a bra that doesn’t fit right.
When she wakes up alive–yeah, she’s as surprised as you are–she keeps seeing people her friends can’t see. She can’t get those people to talk to her, though, and one of them looks hauntingly familiar, even though it’s no one Chloe actually knows.
A handsome Indiana State Trooper with secrets of his own tells her that her would-be killer is tied to an open robbery case. While they work together to bring a relentless killer to justice, Chloe has increasingly disturbing encounters with the shades only she can see.
She finally realizes her death (and subsequent resurrection) has given her a connection to the restless dead of Indianapolis, and with a recent homicide rate over a hundred a year, there are a lot of restless dead in Indianapolis. What’s a conventional, Catholic cop to do?
Catch the crook, get the guy, and say a few Hail Marys just to be safe.
What’s Stephanie’s favorite bit?
STEPHANIE A. CAIN
My favorite bit of Shades of Circle City is an accident–or, really, a series of accidents.
I’m a member of a fantastic writing group called IndyScribes, and when I came to them with Shades of Circle City, I had already completed one revision. A member of my writing group took one look at the name Braxton Wolfe and commented, “He’s a werewolf, right?”
“Sure!” I decided, and frantically scribbled an entirely new set of scenes to work in that subplot.
When I introduced the rest of the wolfpack, I threw in a skinny, angry guy named Murphy O’Hare who had been bitten, unlike the rest of the members of the pack, who are hereditary wolves.
Another member of my writing group said, “Oooh, there’s a lot of backstory to that, isn’t there?”
“Sure!” I decided, and frantically scribbled an entirely new set of scenes to work in that subplot.
When I explained in a later scene that Braxton’s father had dealt with the werewolf who turned Murphy, yet another member of my writing group said, “I bet that’s what really killed Braxton’s father, isn’t it?”
“Sure!” I decided, and…you know the drill, right?
To be completely honest, if I didn’t have the IndyScribes, this book wouldn’t be half the novel it is today, and I mean that both literally and figuratively (it was a lot shorter before the werewolves jumped in).
As much as I love my main characters, I have to confess, I’m a sidekick girl. I’m a minor characters girl. I love Samwise and Boromir more than Frodo and Aragorn. I love Robin more than Batman. And… I love Murphy more than Braxton.
Not as a romantic partner for Chloe, and I imagine I’d actually enjoy hanging out with Braxton more than I would Murphy. Murphy isn’t a comfortable guy to be around. He’s snarky and angry and he’s dealing with a dozen changes in his life as well as struggling against poverty as a high-school dropout, and despite all that, he’s strong and brave and loyal, in his own prickly, Murphy kind of way.
My favorite bit of Shades of Circle City is when Murphy finally gets it through his head that one good thing about being bitten is the pack he acquired with it. The family he acquired. Because pack, as Braxton points out more than once in the novel, is family.
As he worked, Braxton considered what should be done. There were plenty of magic-users in Indianapolis, and he didn’t have a problem with most of them. The vast majority were benevolent types, or at the very least, petty in their selfish use of magic. People using their talent to make ends meet didn’t bother him, as long as they weren’t hurting anyone else. But now there was a magic-user who had hurt one of his pack. And not only that, but she had helped turn someone. It was inexcusable. Something would have to be done.
Finally he rocked back on his heels and rubbed a hand over his face. “Murphy,” he said, trying to make his voice gentle but firm. “You aren’t a lone wolf anymore. I appreciate what you were trying to do, but that isn’t how we operate. We’re creatures of the pack. We work better together.”
Murphy met his gaze for half a second and then looked down. “I just…I owe you. I couldn’t—”
“Yes,” Braxton interrupted, “you could. We don’t keep score. Not in this pack.”
“Which is what I’ve been trying to tell you,” Tara put in, her voice sardonic. Murphy’s scowl deepened, but his shoulders relaxed.
This happens late in the book, because Murphy has a lot of anger and guilt and confusion to overcome. He’s on a journey that’s a little different from the others, but when he finally gets it, it feels incredibly satisfying to me.
Of course, things go to hell right after that, but it’s still a little moment of, “Hey, Murphy’s gonna be all right, after all.”
Stephanie A. Cain writes epic & urban fantasy. She is the author of the Storms in Amethir epic fantasy series. Shades of Circle City is the first in her new urban fantasy series. A native Hoosier, she writes urban fantasy set in the Midwest in addition to her epic fantasy. She spends her work time at a small museum doing historical research, giving tours of a Victorian man-cave, and serving as a one-woman IT department.
A proud crazy cat lady, she is happily owned by Eowyn, Strider, and Eustace Clarence Scrubb. In her free time, she enjoys hiking (except for the spiders), bird-watching, and reading. She enjoys organizing things and visits office supply stores for fun. She owns way more movie scores and fountain pens than she can actually afford.
Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had a number of people tell me that they had made their first appointment with a therapist. They told me because they didn’t feel safe telling their family. Let that sink in for a minute.
A complete stranger was safer than their family.
Are you one of those family members? I know you don’t mean to be, but it’s easy to slip and make people feel like depression or anxiety or a host of other mental health issues are a weakness. They aren’t. Don’t tell someone to tough it out, or “man up,” or to get their act together.
You think they want to be in this state? No. So support them in getting the help they need.
And if you do have family like this? I just want to tell you that I am proud of you for taking care of yourself. You are awesome. Get the help you need and don’t let anyone shame you for seeing a therapist. You wouldn’t try to heal a broken arm on your own and the mind is a helluva lot trickier.
Rob and I have been married for fifteen years now and I remain as happily in love as ever. The nature of the way that love expresses itself changes over the years. Our first anniversary was spent at a resort where we met up during the middle of a puppet theater tour I was on.
This year, we’re taking the cat to the vet. Romantic, I know. But the beautiful thing about a marriage is that even the mundane details of life can be acts that reaffirm commitment and love. We’re taking Marlowe to the vet (he’s 17, this is just a check-up) because we knew that it was a day when we were both available. In the evening, after apologies to the cat for indignities suffered, we’re going out for cocktails at Violet Hour.
I had to ask Rob to order his own present this year (martini glasses, because it’s the crystal anniversary) because I couldn’t find glasses that weren’t the size of your head, and we wanted 4 oz. ones. He works for a winery and they have access to amazing stemware catalogs. The fact that he has to do the work to procure them? Not important. He wouldn’t have thought of it on his own, and is pleased that I did.
Jeremiah Reinmiller is joining us today to talk about his novel Gearspire: Advent. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Out on the frontier, where the Directorate’s law fades, and invasions from beyond the Cinderveil are a constant threat, life is hard. Ryle knows this better than most. With a grifter for a mother, and a bandit for a father, he spent his childhood picking pockets and slitting throats to survive. And that was before Kilgren, Ryle’s unstable and vicious father, betrayed his family and the realm.
For five years, Ryle has run from that legacy. He’s earned a swordmark, fought to make a new life for himself, but never escaped. Until now.
Rumors are swirling that Lastrahn, lost Champion of the House of Reckoning, has returned to hunt down Kilgren and end his mad schemes. If Ryle can find the Champion, he might get the shot he desperately seeks to bring his father to justice and close the door on his bloody past.
Hanging in the balance? An impending war. A forsaken love. And the secret of a mysterious tower in the west that may hold the key to it all.
A place known as Gearspire.
Gearspire: Advent is the first book in the Gearspire dark fantasy trilogy.
What’s Jeremiah’s favorite bit?
When I set out to write this post I thought about several bits from the novel I could discuss. About twisting tropes, or dropping readers into the action and letting them catch up. About how origin stories are often boring, which is why I skipped one. Or why this novel is definitely not about a farm boy, an orphan, or anyone who is chosen to do anything.
They’re all interesting enough topics, but then, like the late, great Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight, I asked, “Why so serious?” I mean, really, that’s all heady stuff, but where’s the fun? This is a favorite bit post, after all.
It was then I realized this novel is really about a few of my favorite things (no, I’m not busting into a Julie Andrews solo, you really wouldn’t want that). So, for Gearspire: Advent, my favorite bit is the mixed up, mashed up story I wound up with when I threw in everything I love. It was me on a page.
Now, let’s be clear. It didn’t start out that way. I began with a fantasy tale, and all the trappings that entails, but the more I thought about what should be in such a story, the more trapped and constrained I felt. It was only when I decided to fill the story with what I wanted that I began to enjoy it.
So, I started with some pretty standard dark fantasy elements: sword fights, magic, gritty choices, and a few monsters for seasoning. All things I’m fond of. But you know what else I like? Steampunk. All those wooden mechanics, crazy inventions, and severe outfits. Yeah definitely on the favorites list, so I threw them in. It needed some adventure of course, and some scares. I’ve been known to enjoy horror from time to time, and I added a few bits like that.
By that time, it was getting pretty good, but we weren’t there yet. It needed a touch of romance, and then to balance that, of course the obvious choice, ninjas. I mean really, it’s hard to craft a good love story without some ninjas involved.
I was feeling it then, but it wasn’t quite there. The book still needed some betrayal for contrast, some apocalypse for gravitas, and some psychics, because, well . . . why not?
At that point I thought, have I gone too far? Should I trim some of this out? But of course, the answer was simple, no way. Because all of these favorites bits were why I loved the story and what made it mine. Without them it might just be any other story, but with them, they formed my story.
So yeah, it’s a crazy, gritty, dark fantasy / steampunk mash-up with monsters, and ninjas, and sword fights galore. It’s different, and it’s mine, and I’m happy to share it with all of you. If you want to check it out, I hope you enjoy it.
Gearspire: Advent is available in both eBook and physical formats on Amazon.com. Or, if you’d like a couple free stories, head over to www.jqpdx.com, sign-up for Jeremiah’s mailing list and receive two stories set in the Gearspire universe.
Jeremiah Reinmiller is a lifelong computer geek, martial artist, and native of the Pacific Northwest. When he’s not building clouds (the computing kind, not the rainy ones) he’s probably hunched over a keyboard hammering out words in a semi-organized fashion. His stories have received the 2014 Sledgehammer Writing Award, and been published by Subtopian Press, Abyss & Apex Magazine, and Cantina Publishing. He resides in Vancouver (the one in Washington, not Canada) with his wife and their two cats. Information on what he’s up to, and more of his stories can be found at www.jqpdx.com.
Jon Del Arroz is joining us today with his novel Star Realms: Rescue Run. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Since being court-martialed by the Star Empire, smuggler and thief Joan Shengtu has done what she needed to do in order to survive—gaining a reputation along the way. When a new client’s mission goes sideways, Joan finds herself caught in the middle of dueling gambits between the Star Empire and the Trade Federation. Recruited to perform the heist of a lifetime, the fate of the Star Empire rests in her hands.
On the opposite side of the galaxy, Regency BioTech manager Dario Anazao sees an unsustainable situation brewing that promises a full-scale revolution. The megacorporations of the Trade Federation have kept the population in horrible working conditions, violating their human rights. With no one else to help, Dario must take it upon himself to rescue the workers of Mars.
Can two heroes from warring factions come together to make a difference in the galaxy?
Star Realms: Rescue Run is the first novelization of the critically acclaimed Star Realms spaceship combat deckbuilding game. You can check out the game here: http://www.starrealms.com.
What’s Jon’s favorite bit?
JON DEL ARROZ
The balcony had a holoprojected view of the Martian landscape, including the Arsia Mons mountain. The oxygen level must have been pumped in higher in that receptacle, a closed room despite the open-air appearance. None of that surprised Dario. What did was the woman he saw standing there, gazing out over the balcony. With dinner about to be served, he’d expected to have some time alone here.
She turned to look at him, big brown eyes piercing through him, making him shiver. She wore an expensive dress. Dario didn’t know too much about fashion design, sticking to more conservative business attire, but color-changing fabric like she had on couldn’t come cheap. This woman was here to make a show. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to disturb,” Dario said, carefully taking a step back.
The woman smiled at him, pearly teeth exposed from her red lips. “No, you’re not interrupting. I just needed some fresh—” she stopped herself, shaking her head with a laugh. “It almost feels real, until you think about it. You know?” – Star Realms: Rescue Run
Star Realms at its core is a game about bases and battleships, massive fleets endlessly propelling at each other in an attempt to dominate galactic authority. When I wrote Rescue Run, the first novel in the Star Realms universe, I kept myself aware of that, but I wanted to focus on what it meant to be a human in such a chaotic universe.
My favorite bit of this book doesn’t come in the fight scenes, or even the gambits or missions that the various factions within the universe, but from the excerpt here, in which the two protagonists from two very different walks of life meet for the first time, and realize that they have something in common as people. These human moments are what matter most in our lives, and so the human moments are also what have the most impact in my story.
Another sub-theme that I layered into Rescue Run is one that technology presents illusions that give us comfort, but not substance. The Star Empire and Trade Federation are manipulating people’s psyches as much as they’re pushing for control of different areas of the galaxies. Characters are decked out with body modifications that control aspects of their lives down to their hearing and vision. They’re trapped in bases and starships, never seeing reality beyond what’s been constructed for them by their empires or corporations. This scene highlights the doctored perception of reality, as the main protagonists of the story are staring at a phony landscape of Mars that’s projected in front of them on a wall. The real landscape of Mars is just below the station where they’re at, but the powers that be don’t want people looking in at the desperate lives of the helpless and poor that they’ve built their fortunes on: they want to create a space where people are comfortable enough that they wouldn’t dare upset the careful balance the corporations had created.
It’s my opinion that in our own lives in 2016, we’re falling down a slippery slope of a path similar to what’s presented in Rescue Run. We’re connected to the internet all the time, staring down at our smart phones, never looking up at reality anymore. We’re outraged about what we’re told to be outraged about in less than 140 characters. We’re similarly content and safe in not taking active roles in the real world because we never have to look up and see another person. It creates a dangerous environment in a lot of ways, because when we forget that there are real people on the other side of screens or even on the other side of the street, we lose compassion, which I believe to be a cardinal virtue.
Though analyzing this section of Star Realms: Rescue Run shows some heavy concepts, I did try to keep the book in the spirit of the fact that it’s based on a game. For the most part, the novel is fast-paced. There’s plenty of action, adventure, and intrigue, with a healthy bit of romance sprinkled in for good measure.
For those who aren’t familiar with the Star Realms Deckbuilding Game, it’s a free app, and it’s very easy to learn. I did my best to make the book so you don’t have to have played the game to understand the story, so it should be enjoyable to those who like space opera or a good adventure book. There are plenty of fun references to the game layered in for those who are familiar, but to me, it’s the people who matter. That includes my characters Joan and Dario, Star Realms opponents on the app, or anyone I come across in life. It pays to remember we’re not the only souls in the vastness of space.
Jon Del Arroz began his writing career in high school, providing book reviews and the occasional article for the local news magazine, The Valley Citizen. From there, he went on to write a weekly web comic, Flying Sparks, which has been hailed by Comic Book Resources as “the kind of stuff that made me fall in love with early Marvel comics.” He has several published short stories, most recently providing flash fiction for AEG’s weird west card game, Doomtown: Reloaded, and a micro-setting for the Tiny Frontiers RPG. Star Realms: Rescue Run is his debut novel. You can find him during baseball season with his family at about half of the Oakland A’s home games in section 124.
Lesley Conner is joining us today to talk about Apex Magazine. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Apex Magazine is a monthly digital e-zine of professional-level science fiction, fantasy, and horror short fiction. The e-zine is edited by Jason Sizemore and is a multiple Hugo Award nominee. Apex Magazine has published many genre luminaries (Theodora Goss, Jeff VanderMeer, Gemma Files, Mary Robinette Kowal, Saladin Ahmed, etc.) as well as bright new talents (Onu-Okpara Chiamaka, Tade Thompson, Iori Kusano, and more). Visit http://www.apex-magazine.com for some fine speculative fiction!
What’s Lesley’s favorite bit?
Jason Sizemore and I have been going back forth about who should write this post. We both wanted to write it, but it was coming down to who had the time and who’s to-do pile was more likely to crush them. Between the Apex Magazine subscription drive, our annual flash fiction contest, getting ready to release Rosewater by Tade Thompson in November and Upside Down edited by Monica Valentinelli and Jaym Gates in December, and everything else Apex, schedules are tight! Finally Jason said he’d read slush if I wrote it, and with that he knew he had me, because Jason reading the stories that have been pushed up to his desk from the Apex Magazine slush pile is my favorite bit.
I know that sounds weird. Let me explain. When Jason reads slush, he’s reading stories that I’ve already read. Stories that were recommended by our slush readers and that I fell in love with and kept moving up the chain. So while he’s reading, if he comes across a story that he’s not sure about or that he’s questioning the ending or a character’s motivation, he asks me my thoughts on it. Aha! This is the moment that I look forward to most as managing editor of Apex Magazine. I whip my English degree off the wall, prop it on the couch beside me, and Jason and I start pulling the story apart.*
I cannot speak for every English program in every university, but my experience at WVU in the early-2000s was one of dissecting poetry and short stories and novels. I wrote countless papers defending my opinions about author intent, discussing pacing and diction in class, picking sentences apart bit by bit, all while knowing there was no way I could be sure I was correct because I couldn’t ask the author, but I would build a damn good argument for my case. And I loved it. Sadly, in the world we live in, spending half an hour discussing the meaning behind one particular word or phrase in a book is not a skill you often have the need for in day to day life – even when a big portion of your life revolves around editing and writing – so when the chance comes up, I grab it!
There’s something about having an intellectual discussion about fiction: discussing how it makes you feel, whether you find it believable, if the pacing works that I find satisfying on so many levels. And when Jason and I get into these discussions over stories in the slush pile, that feeling of satisfaction is even greater.
Several of my personal favorite Apex Magazine stories are ones that Jason and I have discussed. “Blood on Beacon Hill” by Russell Nichols, “Anabaptist” by Daniel Rosen, “1957” by Stephen Cox, and “Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys: The Elephant’s Tale” by Damien Angelica Walters immediately come to mind. “The Love it Bears Fair Maidens” by K.T. Bryski coming out in the December issue is another one we chatted a long while about. And I’m not saying that Jason didn’t like those stories. The opposite in fact. These were stories that he did like, but that there was something about them that he needed to work out with another person before accepting. I feel like Apex Magazine is stronger because there is an open dialogue between us, allowing us both to see stories from other perspectives.
While Jason ultimately makes the final decision of whether or not to publish a particular story, being able to champion for my favorites is amazing. I feel like a gallant knight brandishing my sword and beating back the dreaded rejection letter. Even though I don’t always win the battle against rejection, these discussions leave me feeling invigorated. They are a good reminder of why I love reading and everything about the written word, and they are definitely my favorite bit of Apex Magazine.
*I don’t actually whip my degree off the wall. It isn’t even on a wall. It’s in an envelope in the back of my closet.
Lesley Conner is a writer/editor, managing editor of Apex Publications and Apex Magazine, and a Girl Scout leader. When she isn’t handling her editorial or Girl Scout leader responsibilities, she’s researching fascinating historical figures, rare demons, and new ways to dispose of bodies, interweaving the three into strange and horrifying tales. Her short fiction can be found in Mountain Dead, Dark Tales of Terror, A Hacked-Up Holiday Massacre, as well as other places. Her first novel The Weight of Chains was published by Sinister Grin Press in September, 2015. Best of Apex Magazine: Volume 1 marks her debut experience in anthology editing. She lives in Maryland with her husband and two daughters, and is currently working on a new novel. To find out all her secrets, you can follow her on Twitter at @LesleyConner.
Elizabeth Bonesteel is joining us today with her novel Remnants of Trust. Here’s the publisher’s description:
In this follow-up to the acclaimed military science fiction thriller The Cold Between, a young soldier finds herself caught in the crosshairs of a deadly conspiracy in deep space.
Six weeks ago, Commander Elena Shaw and Captain Greg Foster were court-martialed for their role in an event Central Gov denies ever happened. Yet instead of a dishonorable discharge or time in a military prison, Shaw and Foster and are now back together on Galileo. As punishment, they’ve been assigned to patrol the nearly empty space of the Third Sector.
But their mundane mission quickly turns treacherous when the Galileo picks up a distress call: Exeter, a sister ship, is under attack from raiders. A PSI generation ship—the same one that recently broke off negotiations with Foster—is also in the sector and joins in the desperate battle that leaves ninety-seven of Exeter’s crew dead.
An investigation of the disaster points to sabotage. And Exeter is only the beginning. When the PSI ship and Galileo suffer their own “accidents,” it becomes clear that someone is willing to set off a war in the Third Sector to keep their secrets, and the clues point to the highest echelons of power . . . and deep into Shaw’s past.
What’s Elizabeth’s favorite bit?
When I was 8-1/2 months pregnant, my husband and I moved into a hotel.
We hadn’t planned it that way. We had expected our house to take longer to sell. We had not expected to have to seek temporary housing for my mammoth self. But while babies are relatively predictable—give or take a few weeks—real estate is not. And so, at nearly 9 months, I was packing up our kitchen.
My husband assembled the packing boxes and put all our dishes and spices out on the countertops. I sat in a chair and packed what I could reach. Realistically, I wasn’t much help. At this point I was both exhausted and uncomfortable, all the time. But I did something, which, for some insane pregnant-woman pride reason, was very important to me.
As I was writing REMNANTS OF TRUST, I remembered the move, and thought: If I can pack up a house right before I give birth, a pregnant woman can run a starship. And so Guanyin was born.
In the US, the cultural images we get of pregnancy are…odd. As with most stereotypes, there are grains of truth—morning sickness, hormonal surges, odd food cravings—but it’s all two-dimensional. Pregnancy is treated as this extreme condition, but at any one point on our little planet, there are a lot of pregnant women.
And for most of us, that pregnancy is an addition to an already crowded life. We don’t have the luxury of putting that life on hold. More than that, often we don’t want to. Perhaps the oddest cultural myth about pregnancy is that everything else should somehow suspend operations and get out of the way.
Guanyin can’t suspend anything. She is the captain of a generation ship, a ship most of the inhabitants call home for their entire lives. Officially her position is elected, but as a practical matter she’s something between president and dictator. She has an extensive staff, and the help of the whole population if necessary; but it is with her that the buck stops. Not only does she have a job she can’t ignore, in her culture it’s literally the most important job there is.
She’s also really, really good at being pregnant. When the book opens, she’s carrying her sixth child, after five uncomplicated births. And on this generation ship, where she has grown up seeing other women have children, she knows it doesn’t always work out that way. Above all other things, Guanyin is pragmatic. She knows she has benefited from good genetics and good luck, and that’s all the excuse she needs to keep having children.
Because on a generation ship, children are important—not so much as individuals, not any more than anyone else, but as tools of survival. In a future where populations tend to be small and isolated, reproduction and genetic diversity are critical issues. Not everyone has the desire or the ability to bear children. It makes sense that a woman like Guanyin, who has both, would choose to do it.
“But Liz,” I hear you ask, “it’s a thousand years in the future. What about technology? Surely they could just use artificial wombs.” Indeed. And in many places they do exactly that. It makes sense to have multiple resources for something as important as propagating the species.
But here’s the authorial insertion bit: I liked being pregnant. The whole experience fascinated me. And part of what fascinated me was that I could go through such a radical physiological change and still be entirely myself.
There’s a complaint, sometimes, that women in literature are too often written in relation to their families. I have a lot of sympathy for that, because women’s lives—like everyone’s lives—are full of stories that don’t have anything to do with their families. More often, though, I see women portrayed as either mothers or heroes, but not both—or at least not both at the same time. And that’s entirely counter to my experience in the real world.
Guanyin is, like many women, dealing with her pregnancy as a normal part of her life. It’s in the background hum, from her interludes with her children to the metaphors she chooses. She is a practical, thoughtful, strong-minded professional who never loses sight of her responsibilities. She’s also, for the duration of the tale, a big, clumsy, pregnant lady.
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.
Thursday November 10 – 7:30 PM Mysterious Galaxy 5943 Balboa Ave #100
San Diego, CA 92111
Sunday November 13 – 3:00 PM Borderlands 866 Valencia St
San Francisco, CA 94110
What if I’m not coming to your town? If you still want a signed book, you can contact any of these stops and I’ll sign and personalize it for you. This is true for most authors and most bookstores, by the way. Handy.
The thing some people want to know is what happens at one of these book tour things. Here’s how it works. Each stop, I’ll show up in a replica of the Spirit Corps uniform.
Literature happens! Or, in other words, I read and answer questions. Naturally, on this tour, there’s some code-breaking. Do you know the passphrase? Often it’s easier to find than you’d think. Not that I’m hinting or anything…
Besides all that, you’ll be supporting an independent bookstore. Really, it’s is your patriotic duty. Although voting comes first… Now that you know what’s entailed, will I see you there? ‘Cause that would be awesome. Hope so.
Sarah Smith is joining us today to talk about Whitehall: Complete First Season. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Whitehall is set in the 17th century court of King Charles II and focuses on his queen, Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza. Her journey to find her place as the foreign wife in a court riddled with political and religious intrigue – not to mention the many mistresses of Charles the “Merry Monarch” – is a tale of perseverance only a true queen could endure. Love mingles with betrayal before a sensual renaissance of art, culture, and sex in this lush historical serial.
What’s Sarah’s favorite bit?
Years ago, in a fit of giggling, Ellen Kushner (she of Tremontaine) and I made up a genre. In Big House Romance the love interest isn’t a hero; it’s a house. “Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again.” “Maria…lived in an enormous house in the wilds of Northamptonshire, which was about four times longer than Buckingham Palace, but was falling down.” From Beauty amazed by the Beast’s library, to Hogwarts, to the snow falling on the conjoined maze of houses that is Riverside, the Big House is a world, peopled by its own denizens, rich with its own possibilities.
Whitehall is the Biggest House of all.
It really existed. It was the largest building in Europe, possibly the largest building that has ever existed in Europe. It covered the whole of London between Trafalgar Square and the Houses of Parliament. Whitehall was larger than Versailles, larger than the Vatican. If you discovered a new room in Whitehall every day, it would have taken you five years to find them all; Whitehall had somewhere between 1500 and 2000 rooms.
The government was centered there; the Queen and King (and the King’s mistresses) lived there, and so did most of the rest of the nobility, in tiny apartments viciously fought over. It was as changeable as a fairy castle, rooms created and torn down, mutating purpose and ownership according to the latest dictates of favoritism and need. Policy and wars were made at Whitehall; the future of England was plotted in its twisting corridors; fashion came from Whitehall too, and no actor, or especially actress, flourished unless they succeeded in Whitehall’s eyes.
Here it is. One building, a huge maze built higgledy-piggledy over half a thousand years, spreading over acres and acres: ancient stone married to new white granite, wrought iron springing from old wood, and brick filling in everything. A small town on the outside; a Fabergé Easter egg inside, glittering with fabulous paintings, jewels, gold, and statues. Gardens, a tiltyard, a cock-fighting pit, a laundry, the Queen’s aviary …
And the most delicious part of Whitehall? Just when Charles and his Queen Cat were living there, somebody described the whole thing. Drew a plan of it, wrote down where everybody lived, what the rooms looked like, even what some of them smelled like. “In the Guard Chamber [let] there be noe Tobacco taken in Smoake, … no ill Savour of Beere … in the Morninge [let] the Dores and Windowes be sett open, and something burnt in the room to take away the Scent of ye Watch of ye Night”–you can smell the wet wool, the fusty air, the farts and dog breath and illicit tobacco and beer.
Read the descriptions of Whitehall, look at the pictures, and here’s a world. We know these people through their rooms. A driven ex-soldier king making a country out of glitter and theater; his grasping mistresses trying to get what they can, his politicians trying to control him; the shy foreign queen who, perhaps alone of all of them, loves him. There is no mercy in crowded Whitehall: King Charles’s Catherine and his demanding mistress have apartments just around the corner from each other, so Catherine has to avert her eyes not to see Barbara, has to stop her ears not to hear her rival’s laughter. King Charles’s council chamber has been taken over for someone’s apartments, so he has taken over Cat’s audience chamber; while Catherine lies near death from a fever, his Privy Council is deciding her future almost outside her bedroom door. The King and his awkward Queen have separate apartments, but Jenny discovers the secret passage between Catherine’s bedchamber and Charles’s rooms, the expression of their secret love. When Clarendon pleads with Charles to betray Catherine and his country, they choose the Matted Corridor, where steps are muffled and statues provide hiding places to whisper secrets.
Even religion has its rooms in Whitehall. The Chapel Royal is just by the Great Hall, Whitehall’s theater; churchmen and actors put on their robes in the same rooms. Catherine’s private oratory, like her religion, is a far more hidden space.
Such a gift! Such a place to live, and such people in it! Jenny the maid sees it: “all Whitehall, the grand gilded places and the famous people, the suitors crowding the presence chamber and the eating hall, the pages like Edmund who wanted to be knights—precious little use, any of them—and, skittering like mice, the servants, hordes of servants, Meg and Tamsin, Mavis and herself, bearing pails and mops and linen, dishes and food and clothes. Making everything run. Without us there would be nothing.” Catherine sees “Whitehall of schemes, Whitehall of enemies, Whitehall of lies.” Charles sees Whitehall as a place of fools and whores, but illuminated by love and unexpected honesty.
It’s the biggest house of all, and I love it.
Welcome to Whitehall.
Originally presented in 13 episodes by Serial Box, the Whitehall:Complete First Season has been gathered together and is available at your favorite eBook retailer. Whitehall was team written by Liz Duffy Adams, Delia Sherman, Barbara Samuel, Sarah Smith, Madeleine Robins, and Mary Robinette Kowal. Learn more at SerialBox.com.
Sarah Smith is one of the writers of WHITEHALL, the Restoration drama about one man, two women, and a palace, now available as a complete first season at www.SerialBox.com. Sarah is sarahwriter on Facebook and Twitter; read all about her books at www.sarahsmith.com.
I participate in NaNoWriMo every year, but it’s not for everyone, and that’s okay. The thing I want you to know, as we go through the month, is that you don’t have to feel pressured into writing. So I want to talk a little about some commonly passed around advice that can make you feel like a failure.
You must write every day. Well… no. You can actually have a successful career and be a binge writer. You can write most days, but have a structured day off. You can write randomly. You can write on a strict schedule. Ultimately, it doesn’t actually matter what your writing process is, because the reader will never see that. Now, writing every day does some useful things. During NaNoWriMo, I do, in fact, write every day BUT during the rest of the year I just write most days. The thing that is useful about “write every day” is that it forces you into the chair on days when the story is difficult or you’d otherwise make an excuse.
The problem with “write every day” is that it can make you feel like a failure if you aren’t writing because of travel, or depression, or exhaustion, or just because you need time to sort out a plot point. You aren’t a failure if you don’t write every day.
A writer, writes. Okay… sure. That’s true. But it’s easy to misconstrue those three words into thinking that if you don’t write, you’re not a writer. Know what? A plumber is still a plumber even when not plumbing… or whatever it is they do. Point being, that if you need to take a break the universe won’t reach out and take your writer badge away from you.
You must submit your fiction. This is true, if it is fiction you want to sell. But it’s totally okay to write things just for the fun of it, with no intention of ever having a career as a writer. We allow that with every other art form, but there’s a societal pressure to publish that I think is really harmful to a lot of early career writers, or people who simply enjoy it as a hobby. You’re still a writer, even if you never publish a thing. You may not be an author, which does require publication by dictionary definition, but you’re still a writer.
You must… Any teacher, including me, who starts a sentence that way is about to utter some bullshit. What they mean is “this works for me and I’m telling you hoping that it will work for you, too.” Name any rule, and I’ll be able to find you an example of published fiction which breaks it. Also? Blind adherence to rules is a good way to watch fiction stagnate. The rules might help you with things that you struggle with, but all of them can be broken.
The bottom line is that as a writer, you need to figure out what works for you. If that’s NaNoWriMo, awesome! If it’s not? Also awesome! If you don’t know what works? Try stuff. Maybe even use November to experiment. If you don’t? Still not a failure.
What’s some writing advice that you’ve struggled with?
Stephanie Burgis is joining us today with her novel Congress of Secrets. Here’s the publisher’s description:
In 1814, the Congress of Vienna has just begun. Diplomats battle over a new map of Europe, actors vie for a chance at glory, and aristocrats and royals from across the continent come together to celebrate the downfall of Napoleon…among them Lady Caroline Wyndham, a wealthy English widow. But Caroline has a secret: she was born Karolina Vogl, daughter of a radical Viennese printer. When her father was arrested by the secret police, Caroline’s childhood was stolen from her by dark alchemy.
Under a new name and nationality, she returns to Vienna determined to save her father even if she has to resort to the same alchemy that nearly broke her before. But she isn’t expecting to meet her father’s old apprentice, Michael Steinhüller, now a charming con man in the middle of his riskiest scheme ever.
The sinister forces that shattered Caroline’s childhood still rule Vienna behind a glittering façade of balls and salons, Michael’s plan is fraught with danger, and both of their disguises are more fragile than they realize. What price will they pay to the darkness if either of them is to survive?
What’s Stephanie’s favorite bit?
Vienna has had a hold on my family’s imagination for a very, very long time.
Over a hundred years ago, my Croatian great-grandfather traveled to Vienna as a teenager to be a tailor’s apprentice. He wandered around the city in awe of its beauty and culture. He attended Mass in the Stefansdom cathedral, where Mozart had been married. He went back to Croatia to be with his family once his apprenticeship was finished…but then World War I broke out, and he fled to America, never to see Vienna again.
Still, he never forgot that city. Living in Youngstown, Ohio, he raised his children on stories of Vienna’s beauty. The best of everything was in Vienna, he told them! My grandfather, his youngest son, learned German at home before he learned English in kindergarten, and needless to say my mother and I both ended up studying German too at various points, drawn by the romance of all those family memories. When I announced, at nineteen, that I’d be studying in Vienna as part of a college exchange program, my grandfather was delighted.
Still, I had no idea just how hard I would fall in love with Vienna when I got there. It didn’t hurt, of course, that I was already obsessed with eighteenth-century music history – and Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven all lived and performed there at various points. Vienna was the center of musical culture in the Classic era.
But then you add in the gorgeous palaces, the cobblestoned streets, and oh, yes, the amazing cakes and coffee…yeah, I was a goner.
As soon as I got back to America, I scrambled to find an excuse – any excuse! – to return to Vienna. I ended up applying for and winning a Fulbright scholarship to study at the University of Vienna for a year and teach at a Viennese secondary school. And when I met my British husband a few years later, it only made sense for us to spend 6 months living in Vienna before we moved together to the UK.
Finally, a few years later, I made it back once again, this time funded by an academic grant to research my PhD thesis (on opera and politics in eighteenth-century Vienna) by studying original eighteenth-century manuscripts at the Austrian National Library…which just happens to be located in the magnificent Hofburg palace in Vienna.
Every day for two weeks, I sat at one of the long wooden tables in the music library, poring over delicate eighteenth-century operatic scores, while the smell of blooming lilacs drifted in through the open windows…
…But every afternoon when the library closed, everything changed. I stopped thinking about music or about my PhD thesis. Instead I wandered through the narrow cobblestoned streets of Vienna’s first district with a very different book in mind.
I was already plotting out Congress of Secrets, my historical fantasy novel set at the Congress of Vienna in 1814. And it was an incredible historical moment for the city.
Aristocrats and royals from all across Europe gathered in Vienna that year to celebrate the downfall of Napoleon with glittering fêtes, ceremonies, balls and gossip. At the same time, behind that glittering round of social festivities, diplomats from all of those countries were hard at work fighting their own metaphorically bloody political battles, negotiating to re-divide the continent after decades of war.
Meanwhile, the Austrian emperor’s paranoia had led to the development of a terrifyingly powerful Viennese secret police force that spied on everyone. Vienna had once been famous for coffee houses where everything and everyone could be freely debated; by 1814, no one dared discuss politics in public anymore, for fear of being turned in by one of the secret police’s many informants. It wasn’t only the local Viennese who were under inspection, either. During the Congress, the secret police kept an eye on everyone. Local servants went through the fireplaces of important visitors, pulling out letters to be turned into the secret police, and Emperor Francis received regular reports.
That would be an incredibly rich and fascinating historical setting for any writer to play with, even without any magical component. But of course, in my version of events, Francis isn’t just getting his strength from information. He’s also been secretly resorting to dark alchemy for years…
…as my heroine knows all too well. Her childhood was destroyed by the dark alchemy hidden behind Vienna’s glamorous façade. Now she’s back under a new identity, using the Congress as her excuse to return to her first home and finally save her father from imprisonment…
…But only if the secret police don’t find out her true identity – and if she isn’t tripped up by the competing schemes of her father’s old apprentice, now a charming conman working on his biggest gamble yet.
All of those disguises, deceptions and schemes are tied inescapably to the narrow streets and palace corridors of Vienna, my favorite city in the world. There’s darkness, there’s intrigue, there’s the kind of magic that can kill your soul, and there’s even unexpected romance…
…But none of it could take place anywhere but in Vienna.
The truth is, I agree with my great-grandfather. I’m still in love with that city, too!
Stephanie Burgis grew up in East Lansing, Michigan and now lives in Wales, surrounded by castles and coffeeshops. She is the author of two historical fantasy novels for adults, MASKS AND SHADOWS and CONGRESS OF SECRETS, both published in 2016 by Pyr Books. She also writes MG fantasy novels, and her MG Regency fantasy trilogy, KAT, INCORRIGIBLE, was published by Atheneum Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. To find out more and read excerpts from her novels, please visit her website: www.stephanieburgis.com
Ariela Housman is joining us today to talk about her art print Fuck You, Pay Me. Here’s the description:
Sometimes profanity is required. When someone asks you to work “for exposure,” for example. Or for “portfolio development.” Or tries to haggle you down from your stated prices by trying to convince you that you’re not actually that good.
Remind yourself to stand firm and insist on being paid what you are worth with this print. Beautiful letters and graceful flourishes deliver a blunt message with class.
The print comes with a dark blue mat and is available in three sizes:
8″ x 10″
9″ x 14″
16″ x 20″
What’s Ariela’s favorite bit?
This art print is outside of my comfort zone. The departure from my usual artistic style wasn’t what made it hard; I am uncomfortable with the content. I was always taught to use profanity sparingly and never in a professional setting. Yet here I am, not just using it but writing it in brightly-colored, super fancy lettering, stamping my brand name on it, and selling it.
A good dose of encouragement from friends helped me overcome my squeamishness about swearing “on the job.” I didn’t realize until afterward how much my uneasiness over making this print, and the process of defeating it, mirrored my discomfort over asking to get paid and my gradual journey to confidence in the worth of my work.
I’m not comfortable talking about money. Even in non-monetary terms, I frequently find it difficult to assert my own worth and to ask for what I want instead of just what I need. I have internalized the idea that these are not polite things to do, just like swearing, and that doing so would have negative consequences. When I started selling my art, I worried that if I set my prices as high as I thought I deserved, I would never make any sales. Even now I revisit that concern briefly whenever I price a new product. Each time I send a quote in response to an inquiry about custom work, I take a deep breath and remind myself not to brace for conflict; after all, only sometimes do they result in an angry email from the not-to-be-client who is incensed I have the gall to price my work above the value of a mass-produced movie poster. Frankly, sometimes I wonder whether my business will implode if I say “Fuck your expectations of self-sacrifice For The Art, your impression that you can bully me into accepting less money than I know my work is worth, and my own Imposter Syndrome in the bargain! I’m pursuing my art on my own terms.”
The support of my friends and colleagues and the mentorship of senior calligraphers gave me the confidence to start charging in the first place. Over the years it has gotten easier for me to state my prices without flinching, but I still experience moments of self-doubt. When I do, I turn to fellow creators for reassurance and inspiration. So, too, with this print. I chewed on the idea privately for at least a month before getting up the courage to ask a group of friends over happy hour drinks if they thought a print like this would sell. The chorus of “YES!” was loud and immediate. So I put it on the production calendar. (Then followed a surprised IM from my manager, Terri, who was puzzled by the appearance of “Fuck You Pay Me” on the production calendar with no further explanatory notes. Once I explained, she was enthusiastic.)
I love the result. I’ve always been tickled by theater of the absurd, so the juxtaposition of style and content makes me grin. It’s an utterly serious message delivered in the cheerful colors of a Crayola marker set; pompous illuminated letters form a word sometimes decried as the crudest one English has to offer; delicate flourishes and curlicues dress up a bluntly utilitarian sentiment. It’s something that shouldn’t have to exist and yet is oh so necessary.
I am still working on being comfortable with setting my prices as I should and sticking to my boundaries. But until we get to the perfect world where I don’t need to worry about my work being adequately respected and valued, I can practice polite ways saying “Fuck you, pay me.”
Ariela Housman has been working as a professional calligrapher for 13 years. Together with her best friend and proofreader Terri Ash, she founded Geek Calligraphy in 2015. A geek of many flavors, Ariela consumes SFF in most media, including novels, comics, TV, and movies. She also enjoys tabletop games, costuming, swing dancing, smashing the kyriarchy, and drinking tea.
Navah Wolfe and Dominik Parisien are joining us today to talk about their book The Starlit Wood. Here’s the publisher’s description:
An all-new anthology of cross-genre fairy tale retellings, featuring an all-star lineup of award-winning and critically acclaimed writers co-edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe. Once upon a time. It’s how so many of our most beloved stories start. Fairy tales have dominated our cultural imagination for centuries. From the Brothers Grimm to the Countess d’Aulnoy, from Charles Perrault to Hans Christian Anderson, storytellers have crafted all sorts of tales that have always found a place in our hearts. Now a new generation of storytellers have taken up the mantle that the masters created and shaped their stories into something startling and electrifying. Packed with award-winning authors including Naomi Novik, Garth Nix, Marjorie Liu, Charlie Jane Anders, Aliette de Bodard, Amal El-Mohtar, Sofia Samatar, Theodora Goss, Genevieve Valentine, Max Gladstone, Catherynne M. Valente, Jeffrey Ford and Seanan McGuire, this anthology explores an array of fairy tales in startling and innovative ways, in genres and settings both traditional and unusual, including science fiction, western, and post-apocalyptic as well as traditional fantasy and contemporary horror. From the woods to the stars, The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales takes readers on a journey at once unexpected and familiar, as a diverse group of writers explore some of our most beloved tales in new ways across genres and styles.
What are Navah’s and Dominik’s favorite bits? NAVAH WOLFE and DOMINIK PARISIEN It’s nearly impossible for us to pick a favorite bit in The Starlit Wood. The stories are just so good. Each of the authors did a phenomenal job finding new ways to retell these fairy tales– beautiful sentences, awesome characters we want to follow around, and emotional punches that stuck with us for days. There are scenes in every story we wanted to talk about here. So instead of trying to narrow it down to a single favorite bit, we both decided to talk about our most personal bits. Navah We all know that representation is important. We discuss it constantly, how critical it is for kids to see themselves in fiction, for people to have a window into different viewpoints, to open their eyes and teach them empathy. It was rare for me, as a kid, to see myself represented in the books I read. Sure, there were Jewish characters like Kitty Pryde in X-Men, but they were few and far between. Science fiction and fantasy stories weren’t exactly overflowing with young Jewish women. Even though the stories I loved felt universal in their emotions, I felt invisible within them. But I grew up, and I went out into the world, and I found my space, and it didn’t even occur to me how powerfully representation would still resonate for me until I read Naomi Novik’s “Spinning Silver.” “Spinning Silver” is a retelling of Rumpelstiltskin, and it’s one that turns tropes and expectations on their head. It’s hard to not see at least a whiff of anti-Semitism in the origin story, which famously features a long-nosed villain who wickedly values gold above all. Naomi’s version is a decidedly Jewish fairy tale—but in an entirely different way. In her story, the miller’s daughter becomes Miryem, who is not only from a family of moneylenders, but becomes one herself. It’s a story of family, and the wonderful world-building is filled with Jewish culture, history, and traditions. And most satisfyingly, “Spinning Silver” is a fairy tale where the power and choices are all in the female protagonist’s hands. This story sang for me. It was familiar, it was electric. I saw my own beautiful traditions, religion and culture within the skin stretched over the old offensive bones, and it felt like coming home. My one regret about this story is that I can’t send it to Past Navah. I am so thrilled to have it in The Starlit Wood, and even more thrilled that Naomi is planning on expanding it into her next novel. I can’t wait for readers to discover it and Miryem. # Dominik As far as I can remember I’ve loved shadow and doppelganger stories. They lend themselves particularly well to psychological and uncanny narratives, explorations of the duality of good and evil, and the overall investigation of issues relating to identity. My favourite book of this type is James Hogg’s 1824 novel, The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, and I’m always eager to read new stories in this vein. When Navah and I started approaching authors for The Starlit Wood we encouraged them to retell both classic and lesser-known fairy tales, indicating some of the classic stories we would like to have in the book. Amongst the stories singled out was Hans Christian Andersen’s The Shadow, a story we don’t often see retold. Theodora Goss expressed interest and surprise in The Shadow’s inclusion, and I admitted that I had selfishly included it as it is one of my favourite fairy tales. I’ve always been surprised that The Shadow isn’t better-known, especially in this day and age where individuals can exist as almost entirely different entities or personas online and in person. Theodora jumped at the opportunity to retell it – she’s taught the story several times – which pleased me to no end. The result was “The Other Thea”, one of the longest stories in The Starlit Wood. The fact that she focused on a female doppleganger was particularly exciting as – as she points out in her author notes – female dopplegangers don’t frequently appear in classic stories. I’ve long admired Theodora’s fiction, and to have her retell one of my favourite fairy tales in our book made her already wonderful story resonate with me on a whole other level. LINKS: AmazonB&NIndieboundPowell’sSimon & SchusterSaga PressNavah’s TwitterDominik’s TwitterDominik’s blog BIOS: Dominik Parisien is an editor, poet, and writer. He is the co–editor, along with Navah Wolfe, of several anthologies for Saga Press, including The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales. He is also the editor of the first anthology of Canadian steampunk, Clockwork Canada (Exile Editions). He has worked with Ann and Jeff VanderMeer on various anthologies, including The Time Traveler’s Almanac, Sisters of the Revolution , and The Bestiary. Dominik’s essays, fiction, and poetry have appeared in Uncanny Magazine, Strange Horizons,Shock Totem, and several anthologies, including Imaginarium 2013: The Best Canadian Speculative Writing, The Playground of Lost Toys, Those Who Make Us: Canadian Creature, Myth, and Monsters, and other venues. His fiction has twice been nominated for the Sunburst Award. Find him on Twitter @domparisien. Navah Wolfe is an editor at Saga Press, Simon & Schuster’s science fiction and fantasy imprint, where she has edited critically-acclaimed novels such, Borderline by Mishell Baker, Persona by Genevieve Valentine, The Mountain of Kept Memory by Rachel Neumeier, and A Green and Ancient Light by Frederic S. Durbin. She was previously an editor at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, where she worked on many bestselling books, including some that have won awards such as the Printz Honor, The Pura Belpré Award, The Pen/Faulkner Award, The Stonewall Award, the Lambda Literary Award, and the Schneider Family Award. Find her on Twitter @navahw.
Kait Heacock is joining us today with her short story collection Siblings and Other Disappointments. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Kait Heacock delves into the vulnerability of relationships and the various ways families fight, forgive, or fall apart. Her debut collection of twelve short stories follows a long-haul truck driver, a mother waiting for the rapture, newlyweds on a trip to the mountains, a father who competes in food-eating competitions, and an array of other characters scattered throughout Central Washington, down to Nevada, and up to Alaska. Each story explores themes of loneliness and isolation and how those exist both apart from our families and within them. Siblings and Other Disappointments unpacks the myriad meanings of the word family and the ways in which the bonds of those units are forged, dissolved, or simply maintained.
What’s Kait’s favorite bit?
My Favorite Bit: Setting the Scene in “Sirens”
Siblings and Other Disappointments, my debut collection, is a book about place as much as it is about the people who inhabit these places. Its twelve stories trace the small towns of my youth: Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, where I was born; Ellensburg, Toppenish, and Zillah, Washington, towns that constellate around Yakima, where I grew up; Seattle’s neighboring Enumclaw, Kingston, and Shoreline, Washington; and in one story, a truck driver hauls lumber from Marysville to Eugene, passing through a dozen towns on his trip down I-5. Even the Cascades, where I’ve gone all my life to pick huckleberries and swim in mountain creeks, set the scene for a story. I’ve known firsthand ten of the twelve settings included in this book. All but Whitney, Nevada (a suburb of Las Vegas, where I traveled often as a kid to visit relatives but never ventured quite as far as Whitney) and Valdez, Alaska. My favorite bit of writing Siblings and Other Disappointments was creating a visual of a landscape I do not know firsthand.
I know Central Washington: its apple orchards, dusty hills, and visual scarcity. Writing Central Washington is writing what I know. Writing Alaska was the biggest creative stretch of this book, not only because it involved the most research but because it forced me to envision the place where my brother died three years ago. Many of the stories and characters contained within this collection are inspired by my late brother, from the son in “Closing Joe’s Bar” to the brother in the titular story. When I set out to write “Sirens,” about a boy shipped off by his strict dad to Alaska to spend the summer working as a commercial fisherman, I had no real concept of the setting or the gillnetting industry. I started writing the story because at the time that’s where my older brother was, spending the winters working at restaurants in Anchorage and the summers fishing off the coast of the small port town of Valdez. I wanted to grasp at the water, mountains, and land that my brother saw. A tenuous connection, but all I had at the time–more than I have now that he’s gone.
The protagonist Kevin, a closeted Korean teenager, and supporting cast Captain and Marco were borne out of my imagination, characters created to fill a landscape I desperately needed to explore. Short of traveling to Alaska to see for myself the scenery my brother last saw, writing about Valdez and the waters where he fished is the closest I’ll come. A sorry consolation.
In my research I learned about the structure of gillnet boats, that the Chugach Mountains receive the most snowfall in the world, and the most common causes of death on commercial fishing boats. In my life as a writer in Seattle, I have no necessity for knowing these facts. But the gift that writing brings you is the opportunity to research and learn about parts unknown. I will never be a commercial fisherman in Alaska, but for a few weeks while researching this story I could tell you a lot about it. After you lose someone, it’s the stories that keep their memory alive.
The title “Sirens” refers to the mythological creatures who lured sailors to their deaths. To the sailors, they were beautiful women; they represent what we want to see. I want to see my brother still alive on that gillnet boat, hauling in a load of salmon. His first night on the boat, Kevin can’t sleep. He sneaks outside and stares at the water: “In the darkness I watched the still water, not looking for anything but wondering if there was any wildlife to see at night. If you stare long enough at the water, your eyes play tricks on you and make shapes out of the moonlight on the waves. You could go crazy staring at the water long enough, hoping to find something in it.”
This book is like that water, something for me to stare at, hoping to will a vision of my brother.
Kait Heacock grew up in Yakima, Washington, and now works as a feminist writer and book publicist. She studied creative writing at Seattle Pacific University and earned her master’s degree from Portland State University, where she worked for Ooligan Press. Her work has appeared in literary journals, magazines, and online outlets such as Bustle, DAME Magazine, Esquire, KGB Bar & Lit Mag, Portland Review, tNY.Press, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, and the Washington Post. Siblings and Other Disappointments is her first book.
(Tor Books — August 21, 2018) Continuing the grand sweep of alternate history laid out in The Calculating Stars, The Fated Sky looks forward to 1961, when mankind is well-established on the moon and looking forward to its next step: journeying to, and eventually colonizing, Mars. Of course, the noted Lady Astronaut Elma York would like to go, […]