Journal

My Favorite Bit: Lauren C. Teffeau talks about IMPLANTED

My Favorite BitLauren C. Teffeau is joining us today to talks about her novel Implanted. Here’s the publisher’s description:

The data stored in her blood can save a city on the brink… or destroy it, in this gripping cyberpunk thriller

When college student Emery Driscoll is blackmailed into being a courier for a clandestine organisation, she’s cut off from the neural implant community which binds the domed city of New Worth together. Her new employers exploit her rare condition which allows her to carry encoded data in her blood, and train her to transport secrets throughout the troubled city. New Worth is on the brink of Emergence – freedom from the dome – but not everyone wants to leave. Then a data drop goes bad, and Emery is caught between factions: those who want her blood, and those who just want her dead.

What’s Lauren’s favorite bit?

Implanted cover image

LAUREN C. TEFFEAU

Let’s kitchen sink this shit.

That was my mantra when writing Implanted, my debut from Angry Robot this August and my “first” in so many ways. I’d been writing for years with some painfully close calls under my belt, and I decided to mash up as many things I unabashedly loved as I could, including high-tech gadgets, light espionage, romance, and hard questions about the future.

I’m not saying I was completely out of fucks, but the marketability of such a story was certainly secondary to the fun I had in writing it, where I threw in everything but the kitchen sink. Perhaps even more amazingly, it worked. I still have to occasionally pinch myself that it’s a real book now, and there’s no looking back.

Every project of mine has had at least one aspect that warmed the cockles of my geeky little heart, but Implanted has them by the truckload. It started out with me wanting to write a love story without any physical contact between the main characters but in a way that would not compromise their emotional closeness. I’m a romantic at heart, and I liked the technical constraints such a story posed. I also had to think hard about the kind of storyworld where a relationship like that would be possible.

That led me to cyberpunk, one of my favorite subgenres, but I wanted to give it my own twist. The result is a Blade Runner –meets-solarpunk aesthetic with an added focus on sustainability and hyperconnectivity. The former I believe in passionately, and the later feeds in my academic background. I hold a master’s degree in mass communication and worked as a university researcher examining different populations’ use of internet resources. As a result, I have opinions thanks to those experiences, and they informed a lot of the book’s underlying assumptions when it comes to connectivity.

But the plot engine is all espionage. I loved James Bond growing up and have devoured a lot of spy-tinged stuff over the years, from Person of Interest to Jason Bourne to even Archer. And I like to think this project really benefited from all the action tips and tricks I’ve absorbed through osmosis.

I read Rachel Aaron’s 2,000 to 10,000 recently, and she talks about how important enthusiasm is to the writing process. She basically will reconfigure or cut out wholesale scenes she can’t get excited about. I think that’s partially why the “Let’s kitchen sink this shit” mindset was so useful when I was writing Implanted, blending together all the things I love in a way only I could do. An alchemy you can only find in writing.

And I hope you’ll love it too, with or without the kitchen sink.

LINKS:

Implanted Universal Book Link

Twitter

Angry Robot Book’s Website

BIO:

Lauren C. Teffeau lives and dreams in the southwestern United States. When she was younger, she poked around in the back of wardrobes, tried to walk through mirrors, and always kept an eye out for secret passages, fairy rings, and messages from aliens. Now, she writes to cope with her ordinary existence. Implanted is her first novel.

My Favorite Bit: Drew Williams talks about THE STARS NOW UNCLAIMED

My Favorite BitDrew Williams is joining us today with his novel The Stars Now Unclaimed. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Jane Kamali is an agent for the Justified. Her mission: to recruit children with miraculous gifts in the hope that they might prevent the Pulse from once again sending countless worlds back to the dark ages.

Hot on her trail is the Pax–a collection of fascist zealots who believe they are the rightful rulers of the galaxy and who remain untouched by the Pulse.

Now Jane, a handful of comrades from her past, and a telekinetic girl called Esa must fight their way through a galaxy full of dangerous conflicts, remnants of ancient technology, and other hidden dangers.

And that’s just the beginning . . .

What’s Drew’s favorite bit?

Stars Now Unclaimed cover image

DREW WILLIAMS

“Fuck you,” she murmured, the words gentle, almost astonished. “Fuck your sorry.”

That’s it; that’s my favorite line from The Stars Now Unclaimed. As far as I’m concerned, if a character is funny, that means the reader likes them more and cares more about what happens to them – so my characters have a tendency to converse in rapid-fire bursts of wordplay and sarcasm. Every once in a while, though, those defenses get stripped away, and you’re left with the true nature of the characters, and in this particular case, that true nature was ‘in pain’.

The line comes at almost the exact midpoint of the novel, where Jane Kamali, our protagonist, has just revealed her own culpability in the great catastrophe that has befallen the universe. It was kind of a ‘live or die’ moment as I was writing the novel: I had to find a way to let these disparate characters react naturally to this new, horrible information, to react in a way that fit with who they’d been before they learned this, while at the same time not alienating them from each other so much that they wouldn’t be able to come together and stop the threat the entire novel was focused around.

The initial genesis of The Stars Now Unclaimed was my lifelong obsession with the atomic bomb, an obsession more with the decision to drop it, rather than the ramifications – both purposeful and unexpected – of its use. My favorite quote in the world is the (possibly apocryphal) exchange between Robert J. Oppenheimer and Kenneth Bainbridge, immediately after the first successful test of the Manhattan Project:

Oppenheimer (quoting from the Baghavad Gita): ‘I have become Death, destroyer of worlds’.

Bainbridge: ‘Yeah, we’re all sons of bitches now’.

Both men knew the force they were about to unleash upon the world might ultimately have more destructive repercussions than the entire war it had been built to stop, but they – and General Eisenhower, and President Truman, whose quote ‘the buck stops here’ is given entirely new meaning in the context of the bomb – decided to move forward anyway, and the rest, as they say, is history.

I decided to set The Stars Now Unclaimed in a sort of post-apocalyptic space opera setting – I got to play with fancy toys like spaceships and sarcastic AI, whilst also getting down into the dirt and the ruin of post-apocalyptic desperation – but that conversation between Oppenheimer and Bainbridge was always in the back of my mind: an apocalypse starts somewhere, after all. Someone made the decision to do this to the galaxy, even if this wasn’t their intention. And the things we don’t intend sometimes have significantly more far-reaching consequences than those we do; none of us can see all ends.

One of my characters, in particular – an AI called ‘Preacher’, who speaks the above quote – was given reason to be especially bitter about the apocalypse: it had doomed her people to a kind of slow-motion genocide, no technology was left to create more of her species. So when she learns of Jane’s role in the unintended destruction of her entire species – when Jane, somewhat fumblingly, tries to justify what she did, why the decision was made, how it was carried out – the above line is her response. She doesn’t care why it happened, why her people are slowly vanishing from the universe: it truly doesn’t matter. There’s nothing at all Jane could say, to defend what the Preacher sees as the indefensible.

I didn’t expect the Preacher to say those words. I went into the scene with the mentality of ‘let’s just see how she reacts’; I’d expected rage, maybe, a kind of fury that would test the other characters. Instead, I got grief, and despair. The Preacher had been looking for an answer as to why her people were dying, and when she found it, it was no universal truth, no ‘there was a reason after all’: it was just people, trying to do something good, and fucking up despite it. Jane apologizes, and she means it, because she never intended for the apocalypse to happen – to go back to the metaphor of the atomic bomb, she meant to detonate a single weapon over Hiroshima (still a difficult moral decision in and of itself), not to set the entire planet’s atmosphere on fire.

The Preacher hears that apology, acknowledges it, and doesn’t care. Because she has her own pain to deal with, her own shock to process, and that’s too big for her to move beyond in that moment, and who can blame her? ‘Fuck you. Fuck your sorry.’ That doesn’t mean Jane was wrong to attempt to apologize, and it doesn’t mean the Preacher was wrong to reject it. Like I said about unintended consequences above: sometimes the things we try to do, and fail in, say more about who we are than where we succeed.

So anyway: that’s my favorite bit. Two people, trying to find a way around the wrong one of them has done, and in that moment, failing. It just feels more honest, somehow.

LINKS:

The Stars Now Unclaimed Universal Book Link

Twitter

Facebook

Instagram

BIO:

DREW WILLIAMS has been a bookseller in Birmingham, Alabama since he was sixteen years old, when he got the job because he came in looking for work on a day when someone else had just quit. Outside of arguing with his coworkers about whether Moby Dick is brilliant (nope) or terrible (that one), his favorite part of the job is discovering new authors and sharing them with his customers.

My Favorite Bit: Michael J. Martinez talks about MJ-12: ENDGAME

My Favorite BitMichael J. Martinez is joining us today to talk about his novel MJ-12: Endgame. Here’s the publisher’s description:

A Cold War fought by superhuman agents reaches a boiling point in the thrilling finale to the MAJESTIC-12 historical thriller/superhero mash-up series from Michael J. Martinez.

Josef Stalin is dead. In the aftermath, the Soviet Union is thrown into crisis, giving former secret police chief Laverentiy Beria exactly the opening he needs. Beria’s plan is to secretly place his country’s Variants―ordinary people mysteriously embued with strange, superhuman powers―into the very highest levels of leadership, where he can use them to stage a government coup and seize control of the USSR.

America’s response comes from its intelligence communities, including the American Variants recruited for the top-secret MAJESTIC-12 program, who are suddenly thrown into their most dangerous and important assignment yet. From the halls of the Kremlin to the battlefields of Korea, superpowered covert agents face off to determine the future of the planet―a future their very existence may ultimately threaten.

What’s Michael’s favorite bit?

MJ-12: Endgame Cover Image

MICHAEL J. MARTINEZ

Three novels into a series, one ends up racking up quite a few favorite bits. It’s my work, after all, so I should hope I like it! And there’s a lot I really like about MJ-12: Endgame, from the way the characters have grown and developed, how things unfolded to bring the series to a satisfying…wait for it…endgame.

But one of the running themes in the story is how these characters – normal people suddenly gifted with extraordinary abilities and pressed into service as covert agents – deal with the “gifts” they’ve been given. In this book, superpowers come with trade-offs, and some of them are pretty severe.

Frank Lodge has the ability to absorb the skills and knowledge from people at the moment of their deaths – but must also contend with memory and personalities. Maggie Dubinsky can manipulate emotions, but at the cost of her own stability. Only technological “null-generators” can interfere with their abilities, and also cut them off from the side effects.

How they deal with all this has evolved differently for each person. For example, take this conversation between Frank and Maggie as they walk through a Moscow park undercover:

“Don’t you shut it off now and then? I do. If the voices are particularly rambunctious, I’ll flip on a generator for a few hours just to get some peace and quiet,” Frank said.

“You do that?” Maggie asked, eyebrows raised. “Don’t you feel strange without them?”

Frank just shrugged. “It’s nice. There’s no running commentary in my head. No analysis of every little thing I do. No opinions on how to cook a goddamned egg, or whether I’m doing enough weights at the gym, or arguments between voices on what’s the most authentic way to eat caviar with tea.”

“That happened?”

“Yeah, just now at the hotel. Apparently, you can either serve it on half a boiled egg, or on bread with butter. If they weren’t just disembodied voices attached to random memories, I’d swear the people in my head would’ve ended up in a fist fight.”

Frank thought that would make Maggie laugh, but she just shook her head. “All that company with you, all the time. You’re never lonely. That’s something.”

“Wish I were sometimes,” Frank said. “That’s why I use the null generator, just to get some alone time. You don’t ever use one?”

“Hell, no,” she said, looking alarmed. “I’d feel . . . blind. Scared. I wouldn’t know how people were feeling, what they’d be likely to do.”

“You mean exactly how the rest of us live our lives?” Frank asked. “I have no idea how people are feeling except for what they say or how they look.”

“Most people hide it well,” Maggie replied, clutching Frank’s hand a little tighter as they walked, part of their married couple ruse, an old tradecraft habit. Their Russian tails likely already had a brief on them anyway. “But under the surface, they carry around so much anger. Disappointment. Lust. Sadness. All of it. That shit builds up and you never know when one of ’em is just gonna pop. The average person is just a stupid, instinctual, emotional powder keg ready to blow. All they need is the right push. And I don’t wanna be around when that happens.”

“You sound like you really don’t like people anymore,” Frank said quietly.

“People are shit, Frank. They really are. In the end, they’re just fight or flight, pleasure and pain. Everything else is just window-dressing to cover up the fact that they’re animals.”

So that’s my favorite bit in MJ-12: Endgame, and perhaps in the entire series. I like that as these powers have grown to be part of these characters, their attitudes and perspectives have changed dramatically – and maybe not necessarily for the better.

LINKS:

MJ-12: Endgame Universal Buy Link

Website

Twitter

BIO:

Michael J. Martinez is the author of the Daedalus trilogy of Napoleonic era space opera adventures as well as the MAJESTIC-12 series of superpowered spy-fi thrillers. He likes mashing genres together, obviously. His short fiction has appeared in Unidentified Funny Objects 4, Cthulhu Fhtagn!, Geeky Giving and The Endless Ages Anthology for Vampire: The Masquerade. He recently moved to Los Angeles and already misses rain and cold weather, but is otherwise thriving. He can be found online at michaeljmartinez.net and on Twitter at @mikemartinez72.

 

Where to Find Mary Robinette in September

Here’s where to find Mary Robinette in September:

September 3

Online Drip Class

September 4

American Writers Museum’s #FearlessWomen in Science Fiction – Chicago, Illinois

September 6

Deep Dish SFF Reading – Chicago, Illinois

September 9

Kerrytown BookFest – Ann Arbor, Michigan

September 10

Chicago Nerd Social Club Book Club – Chicago, Illinois

September 11

Online Patreon Writing Date

September 16

Online Patreon Writing Class

September 22-30

Writing Excuses Retreat and Cruise – Houston, Honduras, Belize, and Mexico

 

Or find her online here
Patreon • Drip • Twitter • Facebook • Instagram

My Favorite Bit: Andrea Phillips talks about Bookburners Season 4

My Favorite BitAndrea Phillips is joining us today to talk about Season 4 of the serial fiction Bookburners, written with Max Gladstone, Margaret Dunlap, Brian Francis Slattery, and Mur Lafferty. Here’s a description:

Everything in the Bookburners’ lives falls into two categories: Before London and After London. Before London, things were strange, sure, but After London . . . “strange” doesn’t even begin to describe it. Magic is everywhere—and the Bookburners can only be in one place at a time.

What’s Andrea’s favorite bit?

Bookburners Season 4 cover image

ANDREA PHILLIPS

Love is wonderful, isn’t it? It’s wonderful unless you’re a main character in a story. But when you are in a story, if you and your beloved get together any time before the last act… that’s pretty bad news for you and your chance things are going to go well and smoothly. Odds are strong that tragedy is coming your way, self-inflicted or otherwise.

That’s because you just don’t see healthy long-term romantic relationships in media very often (though it bears noting that our hostess Mary Robinette Kowal does write them, and brilliantly!) In large part, healthy relationships are inherently less dramatically exciting. Calm adults rationally talking through their problems and coming to a reasonable compromise makes a great world to live in, but it’s pretty boring to read about.

So in order to make a relationship feel exciting, all of the writer’s focus is often on getting the couple together — how many TV shows have had near-infinite seasons of will-they-or-won’t-they? And then, if the story doesn’t end at a first kiss or a wedding, we tend to fixate on the kinds of stories where it’s easiest to find continuing dramatic tension: external events that come between our lovers. Fights and breakups. Pasts coming back to haunt them, misplaced jealousy and trust issues, cheating, betrayal, ignoring each other’s needs or priorities. It’s high drama, and it’s exciting to read, to be sure. But it’s not… healthy.

Unfortunately, this can have a detrimental effect on the real world, too. There’s strong evidence that the way the world is portrayed in media has a strong effect on our own behaviors. Think about how the Hollywood smoking ban affected smoking rates, and how looking at Photoshop-thin fashion models makes girls more likely to fall into body dysmorphia and disordered eating. And so modeling how a healthy relationship should work is important, simply to maintain and reinforce our cultural understanding that such a thing even exists.

With that in mind, the Bookburners team was dead set on writing the Sal/Grace romance as a solid, healthy relationship going into Season 4. Sal is a veteran police detective, and Grace is a woman cursed in 1920s Shanghai to only live when the candle bound to her life force is burning. They’ve worked together on the Vatican’s black ops magic suppression team for years, and now their partnership has grown deeper.

The strength of this partnership was important to all of the writing team, not least because we love these characters and we want them to be happy. They were always meant to be together. But nobody’s interested a boring story. So what do you do? Introduce external complications that test the strength of the relationship? Just cut off that thread so the dynamic between those two characters remains static and dull for the rest of the series, however long that might be?

Ugh. Terrible options all around.

The good news, though, is that this is a false choice. In reality, a healthy relationship is like a symphony, with tension constantly arising and resolving. And on the Bookburners team, we pass the thread from one writer to another, like a melody passing through each instrument in turn.

The Grace/Sal relationship has been a slow burn, even if it was destined from page 1. Now that we’ve arrived at that moment, we planned extensively for how to move ahead with this relationship, because we did want it to be healthy. But we also wanted it to be dynamic and compelling.

That brings me to my favorite part of this season. At the end of episode 7, Wax, there’s a moment where Sal is worried because Grace has been unhappy lately — not with her; there’s no fear for the relationship there. But Grace has been frustrated with some of the unromantic parts of life, like doing the laundry. Unlike most of us, Grace hasn’t had to deal with the tedium of maintaining a life for years; she’s been a weapon, woken only when it’s time for her to punch something.

Now, though, she’s choosing to live like a person again, at the cost of shortening the amount of life she has left. And Sal is worried for her, wondering if Grace shouldn’t go back to sleeping through the boring parts.

But Grace has a speech that I’m tremendously proud of: she tells a story about a bottle of perfume she’d once had, that she kept saving for a special occasion that ultimately never arrived. And she doesn’t want to do that with Sal. Grace wants to be there all the time, even for the boring parts, because what they have is too precious to miss out on any moment of it.

It’s easy to be in love in the quick, flame-hot days of limerence. But a healthy relationship is what blossoms after that, on every day that you do laundry, or agree to have what your partner wants for dinner even though you don’t like it very much; every discussion about a thermostat or a difficult relative or a misbehaving pet or child. Love is what happens on every day that you choose to be together. Even — especially — on the days when it’s not very exciting.

LINKS:

Bookburners Season 4 (10% off with this link!)

Bookburners Season 1 (for only $1.99!)

Bookburners (ep 1 is free)

How Serial Box works

Andrea Phillips Twitter

BIO:

Andrea Phillips co-writes the serials Bookburners and ReMade for Serial Box, with more on the way. Her solo work includes the novel Revision, about a wiki where your edits come true, the pirate romp The Daring Adventures of Captain Lucy Smokeheart, and the nonfiction A Creator’s Guide to Transmedia Storytelling. Andrea has also written for numerous interactive projects such as the iOS fitness game The WalkThe Maester’s Path for HBO’s Game of Thrones, human rights game America 2049, and the independent commercial ARG Perplex City.

My Favorite Bit: Shannon Eichorn talks about RIGHTS OF USE

My Favorite BitShannon Eichorn is joining us today with her novel Rights of Use. Here is the description:

In the 1960s, Project Blue Book assured America that no aliens visited its amber waves or shining seas.

Thirty years later, Project Black Book knows better and has the flying saucers to prove it, but they still can’t stop the body-possessing Kemtewet from scooping their pick of young women from Earth to host an alien queen.

Sarah Anderson yearned for an escape from her new life in Pennsylvania, but not for this: being kidnapped by aliens and faced with a choice between having a Kemtewet queen erase her brain or sharing her body with a Gertewet insurgent. Unless the Air Force can rescue her in time, it’s either death or a chance to make a difference in the galaxy. With Sarah, the Gertewet have one last shot to end the Kemtewet Empire and free billions of humans subject to their body markets.

In a war over consent, only some things are black and white.

What’s Shannon’s favorite bit?

Rights of Use cover image

SHANNON EICHORN

I have an obsession with alien symbionts.

It started with Stargate. Or maybe it started when I was growing up as an only child. Or maybe it started when I was bullied.

I love the idea of having that constant companion, that implicit ally in every bit of pettiness in daily life. “No, you’re not overreacting. This is a problem.” I like the idea of being paired up with someone older and wiser who can take a step back from the emotions of the moment and call me out. “You can lay off the road rage, Shannon. Tailgating them is unsafe and not going to help anything.” I daydream about having a second perspective available the instant I need it. “You have to make this snap decision for the first time. Here are the implications you don’t know about yet.”

I’ve been writing about body-possessing aliens for fifteen years. As I’ve been revising and polishing the first book in a series, my favorite bit, hands down, is the implantation scene. When I started revising, this was the core thing that kept me from skipping the series beginning: when Vinnet and her host first meet. I especially love it after all the revisions. I love how immediate the host’s fear comes across, and how it shines in the last draft. Even more, I love the situation. Vinnet is a sentient, intelligent, compassionate creature desperate to get her potential host’s permission before implanting herself, but she has no ears and no mouth. She can’t speak or listen. This whole scene is how to be responsible and seek consent when all the odds are against you. Because that’s what good guys do, even when they’re body-possessing aliens and taking over hosts is a fact of day-to-day life.

I love this scene for how it fits in the overall book. This is the end of the world for the new host. It’s been one trauma after another, and to her, this is surely how she’ll die. But because she meets Vinnet and takes on this symbiont, she gets empowered to fight the oppression that brought her here, both as an individual and in conjunction with her entire planet. As a side effect, it even assuages the loneliness she dealt with before she was kidnapped.

Every time I read it, this scene and this book are a touchstone for me to remember that a lot of good can come out of “end of the world” crises. It just takes a long time to see it.

LINKS:

Rights of Use Universal Book Link

Twitter

Facebook 

Website

BIO:

Shannon Eichorn is a scifi writer and aerospace engineer in Cleveland, Ohio. She received her Bachelor of Science in Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering from Case Western Reserve University in 2012. During the day, she works in aerospace testing but has also written service instructions for turbofan engines, taught horseback riding at a summer camp, and supported supersonic wind tunnel testing. She is a 2005 graduate of the Alpha Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Workshop for Young Writers.

My Favorite Bit: James Patrick Kelly talks about THE PROMISE OF SPACE AND OTHER STORIES

My Favorite BitJames Patrick Kelly is joining us today with his short story collection The Promise of Space and Other Stories. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Hugo and Nebula Award-winner James Patrick Kelly may offer the “Promise of Space,” but he delivers so much more. The sixteen stories included in this collection demonstrate the versatility of the author as a visionary and science fiction as a genre. Exploring Directed Intelligence, space opera, and shared sensory perception, he paints vivid pictures of startling futures and fantastic landscapes. And while Kelly pushes the boundaries of technology, his focus remains always on character, giving these speculative tales of loyalty and betrayal, love and desire, the human touch . . .

What’s James’s favorite bit?

The Promise of Space cover image

JAMES PATRICK KELLY

My favorite bit of my new short story collection, The Promise of Space, is actually a statistic.  Of the sixteen stories in the table of contents, all published in the last decade, thirteen are narrated from a woman’s point of view.  So?  Compare that to my first collection, Think Like A Dinosaur, which came out in 1990.  Just six of the fourteen stories in that book are in the point of view of a woman.  Am I proud of this statistic?  Well, sort of, although I’m not looking for a medal or claiming any kind of literary breakthrough.  I’m well aware that when a woman publishes a persuasive male point of view, nobody is standing by with a microphone and videocam to document it.  Women have been writing men since science fiction was invented.  Hello, Mary Shelley!

Of course, back in sf’s so-called Golden Age, when sf was run as a boys’ club, some particularly ignorant chauvinists in our genre insisted that women couldn’t create convincing male characters.  Period.  End of discussion.  But those were the Bad Old Days.  When I first started publishing, I believed that we’d moved on from the debate about whether men can write women or whether women can write men.  Now my mind has changed.  I don’t think we’re there yet and maybe we shouldn’t be. I’ve observed recently that the heat of the debate has cooled and has shifted into an interesting and more nuanced conversation.  One that I believe is worth pursuing.

Whether or not my thirteen women are convincing is for you to judge.   All I can say is that I try my hardest to get them right.  I confess that it is the externals that often flummox me.  Like clothes.  Shoes.  Hairstyles.  I remember once taking the better part of a day to figure out how to describe a manicure, having never experienced what seemed to me, as I wrote, to be a particularly gratifying experience.

For the more essential and serious aspects of characterization, I can only draw upon my own experience.  I was a stay-at-home dad before that become commonplace and was usually the only dad in the company of moms.  The years of my daughter’s childhood helped me redefine who I was and how I related to the world.  In 1989, when Maura was nine, I wrote this in an introduction to a chapbook, “Feminism may well be remembered as the most important contribution of the Twentieth Century.  Yes, more important than all the high tech: cybernetics, space exploration, nuclear physics, or biotechnology.  In the next few decades, it has the potential to transform the fundamental structure of human culture.”  And so it has, even as the transformations continue.  With the arrogance of youth, I thought myself a feminist back then, but now I realize that I can only aspire to be a feminist.  These days, I feel the weight of my examined and as yet unexamined prejudices about sex and gender, baggage from growing up male in the Fifties and early Sixties.   So I worry about what you think of my thirteen women.  I worry a lot.

Which brings me back to my collection and the conversation about men writing women.  I needed to write an original story for The Promise of Space and for reasons that remain mysterious to me, I decided to write about a highly intelligent fembot programmed to serve the sexual needs of a rich man.  Not a particularly original idea, but the twist was that her master wasn’t interested in her and she was thus sexually frustrated.  In the opening sections of “Yukui!” we see how enthusiastic she is about her skeevy role as a dependent intelligence and sexual plaything.  I’d hoped that the intent of the author was made plain when her antagonist, a woman, tells her:

“’Intelligent servitude is a terrible institution,’ the lifeguide said. ‘You don’t realize it, but your sidekick programming is a kind of insanity.’”

The story’s ending, in my opinion, is upbeat and feminist.  You can judge for yourself, since it was just reprinted in Clarkesworld.  But when I workshopped it before sending it off to my editor, Sean Wallace, at Prime, the women in my group had some hard words for me.  I realized that I had not made my intent plain enough.  Okay, that’s what rewrite is for.  But one workshop comment has been spinning in my mind ever since.  A very smart woman said, “This story wouldn’t be so hard to take if a woman had written it.”

Flash forward a few months.  I did a reading at the monthly Fantastic Fiction series at the renowned KGB literary bar in New York, hosted by Ellen Datlow and Matt Kressel.  The final version of “Yukui!” is just 3500 words long, the perfect length for KGB.  So I read it.  The book wasn’t out then and this was the first time anyone had ever read or heard the rewrite.  I was a little nervous, but apparently the revised ending worked and the audience seemed happy enough.  But as I read those opening sections, I picked out a couple of women, strangers to me, who were listening intently with what I took to be troubled looks on their faces.  After the reading, there was some time for mingling.  I worked the room toward the two women, finally plopping down at their table.  “Did I pull it off?” I asked.  They knew exactly what I was talking about and one of those very interesting conversations ensued.   They allowed as how I won them over at the end but that they were very uncomfortable for most of the story.   And then one of them said, “It would have been different if you were a woman.”

And, you know, I think she was right.  I absolutely get it.

Should it have made a difference?  I don’t know, but that’s a conversation I’d really like to start. However, if you don’t mind, I think it best if I just listen to what other people have to say.

LINKS:

The Promise of Space and Other Stories Universal Book Link

Twitter

Facebook

Website

Title story

BIO:

James Patrick Kelly has won the Hugo, Nebula and Locus awards; his fiction has been translated into twenty-one languages.  His most recent story collections were this year’s The Promise of Space from Prime Books and Masters of Science Fiction: James Patrick Kelly published by Centipede Press in 2016.  His most recent novel, Mother Go, was published in 2017 as an Audible original audiobook on Audible.com. He writes a column on the internet for Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine and is on the faculty of the Stonecoast Creative Writing MFA Program at the University of Southern Maine.

My Favorite Bit: Matt Mikalatos talks about THE CRESCENT STONE

My Favorite BitMatt Mikalatos is joining us today to talk about his novel The Crescent Stone. Here’s the publisher’s description:

A young woman with a deadly lung disease . . .
A young man with a tragic past . . .
A land where the sun never sets but darkness still creeps in . . .

Madeline Oliver has never wanted for anything, but now she would give anything just to breathe. Jason Wu skates through life on jokes, but when a tragedy leaves him guilt-stricken, he promises to tell only the truth, no matter the price. When a mysterious stranger name Hanali appears to Madeline and offers to heal her in exchange for one year of service to his people, Madeline and Jason are swept into a strange land where they don’t know the rules and where their decisions carry consequences that reach farther than they could ever guess.

What’s Matt’s Favorite Bit?

Crescent Stone cover image

MATT MIKALATOS

I have some favorite bits I can’t share because of spoilers, like a twist that comes late in the book but that I already set out in plain sight from early in the novel, or the secret world of unicorns that’s revealed in a battle scene. But I can share about a favorite bit that became a central part of the book, and that’s the oath taken by Jason Wu to tell the truth no matter what.

Jason has a terrible trauma in his recent past that he feels responsible for… something he lied about contributed to what happened. So he makes a decision to never lie again.

A character who never lies and is also a seventeen year old, it turns out, brings a lot of humor to the story as well as constantly complicating the plot. Jason can’t stop himself, whether it’s telling everyone about his high school principal’s toupee or explaining his plans in detail to the bad guys.

Here’s a scene where we see Jason’s truth-telling causing some future problems. Jason’s friend, David, sneaks him into the dungeons to meet one of the Scim — a captured warrior in a centuries old war:

“I’m Wu Song,” Jason said. “That’s my real name.”

The Scim chortled. “Truth teller, are you?” Its voice was like gravel spilt on concrete.

Jason’s eyebrows rose. “Yes.”

“We Scim say only three tell the truth: prophets, story-tellers, and fools. Which are you?”

Jason considered this question. “Probably fool.”

“Ha!” The Scim straightened, seeming suddenly interested. “I will trade you, truth for truth. I am called Break Bones.”

Hmmm. Interesting. “I am called Jason.”

Break Bones smiled, opening his wide, frog-like mouth to reveal jagged and uneven teeth that were each the size of Jason’s pinky. “Why do you come to the Sunlit Lands?”

“To protect my friend,” Jason said. He thought about his answer for a moment. “And to lay to rest old ghosts. And you?”

The Scim stood and shook its chains. “To shatter the sun and bring five hundred years of darkness and terror to the Elenil and all who befriend them. To crush skulls and break necks. To build a temple of bleached bones that reaches to the great dome of the heavens. To humiliate every Elenil before their death, then tear down the works of their hands, stone by stone, beam by beam, brick by brick. Only then shall I rest.”

“Huh,” Jason said. “I guess that’s why they call you Break Bones.”

“The fountains will run with blood. The city walls will be shelves for their heads.”

“Better make a priority list, because if you tear down all their bricks and then try to use the walls as shelves, you’re going to have to rebuild the walls again. It’s a lot of work.”

“You mock me,” Break Bones said, his voice low. “The Scim are not fond of mockery, Wu Song.”

Jason cocked his head. “Is anyone fond of mockery?”

“I think you’re ticking him off,” David said.

“It’s a legitimate question,” Jason replied, watching the Scim.

Break Bone’s chest was heaving, his breath coming in staccato pants. “Humans. Are you even allowed in this prison?”

“We should go,” Kekoa said. “I think you get the point. The Scim are terrible monsters.”

“No,” Jason said, answering the Scim. “We snuck in.”

Break Bone laughed, and the horrible sound of it filled the dungeon. “I like you, Wu Song. When I am free from this place I will honor you with a violent death. I will not humiliate you with captivity.”

“That’s nice,” Jason said. “Though I might prefer humiliation.”

Break Bones grunted, flashing his broken yellow smile. “What is the name of your friend? The one who is under your protection?”

“Don’t tell him,” David said.

Kekoa grabbed Jason’s arm and pulled him toward the door.

“Madeline,” Jason said. “Madeline Oliver.”

Break Bones wrapped his right arm into the chains holding him fast. “On the night I bring the darkness to you, I will come with her lifeless body, so you will know.” He slammed his arm forward, and dust puffed out of the wall where the chain was anchored. He yanked again, and the chain rattled, coming free. “So you will know you failed!” Break Bones roared, pulling the chain nearly all the way out. A distant trumpet sounded, and there was the sound of feet on the stone stairway.

As you might imagine, Madeline isn’t pleased to learn that Jason shared her name with a violent prisoner hidden beneath the city. Of course he tells her, because he always tells the truth.

Jason is part prophet and part comic relief. He ignores social niceties and his own safety to say what he thinks no matter what comes, and it creates a character who becomes equal parts charming and exasperating.

So there’s my favorite bit! Jason Wu, truth teller! I know you’ll love him, too.

LINKS:

The Crescent Stone Universal Buy Link

The Sunlit Lands Website

Matt Mikalatos on Twitter

The Sunlit Lands on Facebook

BIO:

Matt Mikalatos lives in the Portland, Oregon, area with his wife and three daughters.

A Lady Astronaut fan art contest

A papercraft flower made of punchcards atop The Fated Sky novelI like fan art. A lot. Like, really, a lot.

I was an art major in college and one of the things that I love most is seeing how people interpret work in another medium. In a lot of ways, that was my job when I was designing puppet theater.

And…I want Lady Astronaut fan art.

So, we’re going to run a little contest with some prizes ranging from mission patches to audiobooks.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Make fan art!
  2. Leave a link in the comments here. Include a name, the place you want us to link to, and anything else you think I should know.
  3. We’ll add it to the Pinterest page and credit you.
  4. Submissions close at midnight on September 21st, which is one mission month into The Fated Sky‘s voyage.
  5. Judging is… me.

Third prize – An IAC mission patch

Second prize – An IAC mission patch, plus become a character in the next Lady Astronaut story or novel

Grand Prize – An IAC mission patch, tuckerization, plus audiobooks of The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky

FAQ

What counts fan art?

I’m pretty liberal in my definition. It could be a drawing or painting. Cosplay. Needlepoint. Sculpture. Knitting. Music. Dance…

Can it be a story?

Not for this contest. I love fan fiction, but what I want to see for this is the Lady Astronaut universe interpreted in another medium.

When will you announce the winners?

My plan is to announce on October 1, but I will have been out of the country for the week before that so might be late.

My Favorite Bit: Mary Robinette Kowal and Alyshondra Meacham talk about THE FATED SKY

My Favorite BitYay! New book! The Fated Sky released today and while normally on My Favorite Bit, we have the author talk, I decided to invite my assistant and first reader, Alyshondra, to talk about her favorite bit. My thinking is that it will give you a little bit of an insight into how a first reader can shape a novel. Also… honestly, it’s one of my favorite bits, too.

Here’s the traditional publisher’s description:

Mary Robinette Kowal continues the grand sweep of alternate history begun 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, but there’s a lot riding on whoever the International Aerospace Coalition decides to send on this historic—but potentially very dangerous—mission. Could Elma really leave behind her husband and the chance to start a family to spend several years traveling to Mars? With the Civil Rights movement taking hold all over Earth, will the astronaut pool ever be allowed to catch up, and will these brave men and women of all races be treated equitably when they get there? This gripping look at the real conflicts behind a fantastical space race will put a new spin on our visions of what might have been.

What’s Alyshondra’s favorite bit?

ALYSHONDRA MEACHAM

I did a lot of beta reading for Mary Robinette before we got to know each other in person. I had already done The Calculating Stars and half of The Fated Sky before we met up at LTUE in Utah. We were talking in a small group, and I was working on a Star Wars/Hamilton cross stitch to keep my hands busy and my anxiety at bay. As part of the conversation, she asked me a lot of questions: How did I design them? What materials were usually required? How long did it normally take? I thought that she was just being Good Hostess Mary Robinette, interested in her guests.

A few weeks later, Mary Robinette sent out a new chapter for The Fated Sky, and I read this:

She had her needlepoint out, and it was far enough along now that you could recognize Orion in the star field. Florence tucked the needle into a corner. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

“I brought you some pie.” I sent the baggie spinning across the mod to her.

Florence snatched it out of the air with a grin. “You are my favorite person.”

I snorted.

“Right now.” She winked. “Keep plying me with your pie . . .”

The Fated Sky cross stitch, closeup

It turned out that I had been talking to Researching Writer Mary Robinette, looking for a hobby for one of her astronauts. When you are on a long journey–whether by car, plane or rocket ship–it helps to have something to do. You need something to (sorry not sorry) ground you, something that you do for your own joy. On a rocket, every ounce of cargo counts, so it’s important that it be something lightweight. Elma bakes, Terrazas does radio plays, and after Mary met me, Florence does needlework. Later, Mary Robinette asked me to design the actual pattern.

“In my head, what she’s doing is a star chart. It’s a gift for Elma, because she had such trouble with stars during training.  It’d be on the same blue fabric as the flight suits, because there is a lot of extra floating (ha) around.” 

I decided that the star chart Florence used is what the sky looked like from Kansas City on October 19, 1962. That’s the day that the Mars mission launched, ten and a half years after the Meteor strikes DC. No one in Kansas City would have seen the sky, though – the clouds from the Meteor would still have been ever-present. To Florence, that makes this view of the stars even more precious.

Here’s one of the charts I used:

Star Chart from Heavens Above

And here’s the final result:

Florence cares about details, so most stars are represented with their correct colors, the background stars are relatively accurate, and the quarter moon from that night is shown as well. The visual binary of Mizar and Alcor (in the asterism of the Big Dipper) is one of my favorite things to tell people about, so she included that too. She does indulge in a little artist’s prerogative: the Moon (in Gemini), Mars, and the North Star are all in their proper places, but are larger than life. Mars is circled – here’s where we’re going! As a little dig at Elma, Alkaid (the last star in the Big Dipper) is circled too. You’ll see why when you read The Fated Sky.

Look, when I read that first line about needlepoint, I actually flailed. Think Kermit the Frog-style squealing and flapping my hands–the whole nine yards. The Lady Astronaut Universe is so precisely what I want out of my fiction. It sometimes feels like Mary Robinette is writing them *specifically for me*, and I can’t believe that I’ve gotten to influence some small part of the final product.

#

MRK again! So, this is one of my favorite bits, too and it exists because I know Alyshondra. There are lots of little touches throughout the books that come directly from interacting with other people. Writers often get asked, “where do your ideas come from” and they come from moments like this. They come from being curious and interested in other people. The writer is a filter, but the ideas are all around us.

Also, the cross-stitch is beautiful, right?

UPDATE! Want to make your own cross stitch? Kits and patterns are now on sale at Worldbuilders Market!

The Fated Sky cross stitch kit

LINKS:

The Fated Sky Universal Book Link

The Fated Sky Audiobook (read by me)

The Fated Sky Cross stitch pattern or kit

Twitter

Instagram

Patreon

Drip

My Favorite Bit: Michael Mammay talks about PLANETSIDE

My Favorite BitMichael Mammay is joining us today to talk about his novel Planetside. Here is the publisher’s description:

A seasoned military officer uncovers a deadly conspiracy on a distant, war-torn planet…

War heroes aren’t usually called out of semi-retirement and sent to the far reaches of the galaxy for a routine investigation. So when Colonel Carl Butler answers the call from an old and powerful friend, he knows it’s something big—and he’s not being told the whole story. A high councilor’s son has gone MIA out of Cappa Base, the space station orbiting a battle-ravaged planet. The young lieutenant had been wounded and evacuated—but there’s no record of him having ever arrived at hospital command.

The colonel quickly finds Cappa Base to be a labyrinth of dead ends and sabotage: the hospital commander stonewalls him, the Special Ops leader won’t come off the planet, witnesses go missing, radar data disappears, and that’s before he encounters the alien enemy. Butler has no choice but to drop down onto a hostile planet—because someone is using the war zone as a cover. The answers are there—Butler just has to make it back alive…

What’s Michael’s favorite bit?

Planetside cover image

MICHAEL MAMMAY

My favorite bit of PLANETSIDE is a scene that cracked open the story for me. This might come as a shock (or not), but sometimes authors start writing novels without really knowing where they’re going. Or is that just me? I’m going to pretend that it’s a lot of us, so that I can continue to function, okay? Thanks. So there I was, cranking along and not completely sure where I was going with the story, and I sent the protagonist, Colonel Carl Butler, to meet with the commander of the hospital, Colonel Mary Elliot. Going into the scene, my intent was that Butler would go in, pull some macho BS, roll over the medical person and get the next piece of information he needed to continue his investigation.

A funny thing happened when I put them in a room together. Elliot wouldn’t have it. As the person who created her, nobody was more surprised than me.

Here’s how that imaginary conversation went:

Me: Okay, Elliot, Butler’s going to show up, you’re going to give him some trouble, then you’re going to give him a key piece of information about his investigation. Okay?

Elliot: It’s Doctor Elliot.

Me: Huh?

Elliot: You should refer to me as Doctor. Or Colonel, if you prefer.

Me: Yeah, sure. So about the scene…

Dr. Elliot: Yeah. About that. I don’t think so.

Me: Wait…what?

Dr. Elliot: I didn’t spend 25 years working my butt off to reach the highest levels of my profession just so that some asshole grunt could come in and push me around.

Me: But he needs that information…

Dr. Elliot: Guess he’s got a problem, then.

Me: Wait a damned minute. This is my book. I make the decisions.

Dr. Elliot: Do you?

Me: Okay. I hear you. What if you put him in his place, dress him down, and once he understands that it’s your scene, you give him the information?

Dr. Elliot: Counteroffer. What if I put him in his place, dress him down, and throw him out of my hospital?

And that’s what she did. She was supposed to be a bit character with one or two scenes, and instead she became a key piece of the story, all because she refused to be run over. The thing is, it made the story better, because it made things harder on Butler. Instead of giving him the information he needed, she thwarted him, and he had to search for another way. Any time you can make things harder on the protagonist, you’re probably making the story better.

But it had impact beyond just Butler. It informed the entire plot, because while I didn’t know it at the time, once she refused to give answers, she had to have a reason for not giving those answers. Clearly she had to be hiding something. Or not. But her confrontational manner certainly made it possible that she had something she wasn’t sharing. Or maybe she just didn’t care for Butler and his bull-in-a-china-shop antics. It didn’t really matter. Instead of closing her role with her passing information, it kept it open for future scenes. For me, the scenes with Butler and Elliot are some of my favorite in the book, and they never would have happened if she’d just done what I initially wanted her to do.

One of the most exciting parts about writing a book is when I figure out something about the plot that I didn’t know. At the time that scene happened, I really had no idea why Elliot was doing what she was doing. It just didn’t fit her character to roll over, so when I started writing the dialogue, she didn’t. I did figure it out later, and when I did, it changed the book into what it is today. If it sounds like I’m being a bit vague, that’s intentional. PLANETSIDE is a twisty book, and I don’t want to give too much away. I might have already told you too much!

LINKS:

Planetside Universal Book Link

Planetside at Michael Mammay’s local indie bookstore

Twitter

Website

BIO:

Michael Mammay is a retired army officer and a graduate of the United States Military Academy. He has a masters degree in military history, and he is a veteran of Desert Storm, Somalia, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He lives with his family in Georgia, where he teaches English to high school boys, which is at least as challenging as combat.

My Favorite Bit: Claire O’Dell talks about A STUDY IN HONOR

My Favorite BitClaire O’Dell is joining us today to talk about her novel A Study In Honor. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Set in a near future Washington, D.C., a clever, incisive, and fresh feminist twist on a classic literary icon—Sherlock Holmes—in which Dr. Janet Watson and covert agent Sara Holmes will use espionage, advanced technology, and the power of deduction to unmask a murderer targeting Civil War veterans.

Dr. Janet Watson knows firsthand the horrifying cost of a divided nation. While treating broken soldiers on the battlefields of the New Civil War, a sniper’s bullet shattered her arm and ended her career. Honorably discharged and struggling with the semi-functional mechanical arm that replaced the limb she lost, she returns to the nation’s capital, a bleak, edgy city in the throes of a fraught presidential election. Homeless and jobless, Watson is uncertain of the future when she meets another black and queer woman, Sara Holmes, a mysterious yet playfully challenging covert agent who offers the doctor a place to stay.

Watson’s readjustment to civilian life is complicated by the infuriating antics of her strange new roommate. But the tensions between them dissolve when Watson discovers that soldiers from the New Civil War have begun dying one by one—and that the deaths may be the tip of something far more dangerous, involving the pharmaceutical industry and even the looming election. Joining forces, Watson and Holmes embark on a thrilling investigation to solve the mystery—and secure justice for these fallen soldiers.

What’s Claire’s favorite bit?

A Study In Honor Cover Image

CLAIRE O’DELL

When I was nine years old, my Aunt Marianne gave me a collection of stories about Sherlock Holmes. (Please note, my Aunt Marianne was an English teacher and had served in the Women’s Marine Corps during WWII. She was mighty. I miss her very much.)

It goes without saying that I read the book, as I read all the other books she gave me. And as many others have done, I imprinted on the mythos of the brilliant detective and his more ordinary friend. Fast forward to years later, when I decided to write a story about Watson and Holmes.

My Holmes is Sara Holmes, an independent agent for the FBI. My Watson is Dr. Janet Watson, a newly discharged army surgeon, wounded in America’s New Civil War. Their lives are nothing like two men in the Victorian Age, but I knew that a story about Watson and Holmes had to include that iconic scene when they first meet.

Instead of a chemistry lab, Janet meets Sara in the National Gallery of Art, in front of Dali’s Sacrament of the Last Supper:

I was no Christian, not these days. But, oh, those luminous colors. The images upon images. The small trickeries my teachers had pointed out that added layers of story to the most obvious and outermost one. It almost didn’t matter that the Son of Man, a child of Israel and the King of the Jews, was portrayed as a pale-skinned man with yellow hair.

Fuck it, I’m lying. It did matter, the same way it rankled when people–mostly white people–stared when I said I was a doctor, a surgeon, and a veteran of the wars. But I could still look beyond the unthinking bigotry of this particular artist, and the assumptions of his age, to the moment he portrayed, when Christ drank the wine and spoke of his body and his blood.

Then she catches sight of Sara herself:

She was tall and lean. Her complexion was the darkest brown I had ever seen, the angles of her face were sharp enough to cut, and she wore her hair in locs, arranged in a careless, complicated fashion wound around her head, then plaited and pinned, so they fell in a thick cascade down her back. The cant of her cheekbones, the almost imperceptible folds next to her eyes, spoke of East Asia, or certain nations in Africa. Of a world outside my own.

Janet’s friend makes the introductions:

We closed the distance between us, then both of us hesitated. I sensed a Rubicon before me, an array of choices wise or foolish. Gaius Julius Caesar had made his own choice in that matter and died. Or perhaps I was being fanciful.

Then Holmes reached out to me with a hand covered in lace. “You’ve come from the war in Oklahoma,” she said and clasped my hand in hers.

LINKS:

A Study in Honor Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

BIO:

Claire O’Dell grew up in the suburbs of Washington, DC, in the years of the Vietnam War and the Watergate Scandal. She attended high school just a few miles from the house where Mary Surratt once lived and where John Wilkes Booth conspired for Lincoln to die. All this might explain why she spent so much time in the history and political science departments at college. Claire currently lives in Manchester, CT with her family and two idiosyncratic cats.

Where to Find Mary at WorldCon 76

Mary will be at Worldcon 76 in San Jose, CA from August 16-20, 2018. Register here.

Here’s where to find her there:

Friday, Aug 17

The Myth of the Astronaut – Who are the Space Cadets of Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow?
11:00am-12:00pm
San Jose Convention Center – 210 E

 

Saturday, Aug 18

Kaffeeklatsch: Kjell Lindgren with Mary Robinette Kowal
11:00am-12:00pm
San Jose Convention Center – 211B1

Autographs with Writing Excuses
3:00pm-4:00pm
San Jose Convention Center – Autographing

The Fated Sky Pre-Launch Party!
4:30pm-6:00pm
Fairmont (room TBD)

 

Sunday, Aug 19

Stroll with the Stars
9:00am-10:00am
San Jose Convention Center – Lower Level Plaza

Reading: Hugo Finalist Uncanny Magazine
1:00pm-2:00pm
San Jose Convention Center – 221A

Women in Science and Space Exploration: Are Women Finding Equity?
2:00pm-3:00pm
San Jose Convention Center – 210DH

Audiobooks in Genre Fiction
3:00pm-4:00pm
San Jose Convention Center – 210F

Hugo Ceremony
8:00pm-11:00pm
San Jose Convention Center – Grand Ballroom

 

My Favorite Bit: Kate Alice Marshall talks about I AM STILL ALIVE

My Favorite BitKate Alice Marshall is joining us today with her novel I Am Still Alive. Here’s the publisher’s description:

After: Jess is alone. Her cabin has burned to the ground. She knows if she doesn’t act fast, the cold will kill her before she has time to worry about food. But she is still alive—for now.

Before: Jess hadn’t seen her survivalist, off-the-grid dad in over a decade. But after a car crash killed her mother and left her injured, she was forced to move to his cabin in the remote Canadian wilderness. Just as Jess was beginning to get to know him, a secret from his past paid them a visit, leaving her father dead and Jess stranded.

After: With only her father’s dog for company, Jess must forage and hunt for food, build shelter, and keep herself warm. Some days it feels like the wild is out to destroy her, but she’s stronger than she ever imagined.

Jess will survive. She has to. She knows who killed her father…and she wants revenge

What’s Kate’s favorite bit?

I Am Still Alive cover image

KATE ALICE MARSHALL

The first challenge in writing I AM STILL ALIVE was putting Jess in ever-increasing danger, designing setbacks and disasters to threaten her at every turn.

The second challenge was making sure I didn’t actually kill her.

The first half of the manuscript was written on a writing retreat in the mountains, surrounded by people with a talent for mayhem and more survival know-how than I will ever possess. Together we came up with obstacles and twists of fate, escalating and escalating until I had to call “definitely dead” and back up a few steps or provide some extra bit of advantage so Jess could squeak through our latest devilry still breathing.

This give and take led to one of my favorite scenes, one that I wrote toward with relish, knowing it was coming.

Jess, you see, has a rifle. In the few seconds she has to grab whatever she can find before her father’s cabin burns down, she also manages to secure a box of ammunition. So, though she isn’t very good at hunting, she can hunt, and she sets out to make good use of that gun and that ammunition. Bullet by bullet, she uses up what’s already in the rifle. And then she goes to reload it and realizes that she’s grabbed the wrong type of ammo. The other boxes are gone, destroyed in the fire that destroyed the cabin. Back to square one.

But, starving and desperate, she realizes those weren’t the only bullets. The day he was killed, she saw her father put a handful of ammunition in his jacket pocket.

And she knows where he’s buried.

When writing a survival story, the most important question to answer is: what is the character surviving for? The easy answer to that for Jess is revenge. Her father has been murdered. She wants to get back at the men responsible. But revenge and survival are at odds with each other—revenge is a self-destructive act, one that you don’t expect to emerge from whole. I knew that I needed something else to drive Jess—but I’d taken everything from her. Her parents, her home, any semblance of a normal life. That drive had to come purely from within. So the core of Jess’s character is this: she believes she is worthy of survival. She doesn’t fight for someone else, or for something outside of herself; she fights because she wants to stay alive and knows that is a righteous cause.

Jess’s journey to her father’s grave is the closest she ever comes to despair—to deciding that survival isn’t worth it, and that she isn’t strong enough to do what she needs to do. It comes at her lowest point, when every meager scrap of progress that she’s made has been taken from her.

In this scene, she gives up.

And she keeps going anyway.

That contradiction is at the heart of her success. And as dark as the scene is—and yes, it gets pretty gruesome—it’s also the heart of the story. The moment when she is forced to face in vivid, horrifying detail all she’s lost and all she’s suffered, unable to leave it buried any longer, and admit just how far she’s fallen, and just how close to failure she is.

And then she has to dig.

LINKS:

I Am Still Alive Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

BIO:

Kate Alice Marshall started writing before she could hold a pen properly, and never stopped. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with a chaotic menagerie of pets and family members and ventures out in the summer to kayak and camp along the Puget Sound. Visit her online at katemarshallbooks.com and follow her on Twitter @kmarshallarts.

My Favorite Bit: Michi Trota and Matt Peters talk about UNCANNY MAGAZINE Year Five

My Favorite BitMichi Trota and Matt Peters are joining us today to talk about the Uncanny Magazine Year Five Kickstarter, running until Aug 24, 2018. Here’s a description:

Over the last few years, Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas ran Kickstarters for the two-time Hugo Award-winning Uncanny Magazine Years One, Two, Three, and Four. We promised to bring you stunning cover art, passionate science fiction and fantasy fiction and poetry, gorgeous prose, and provocative nonfiction by writers from every conceivable background. Not to mention a fantastic Parsec Award-winning podcast featuring exclusive content. Through the hard work of our exceptional staff and contributors, Uncanny Magazine delivered on that promise. Stories from Uncanny Magazine have been finalists or winners of Hugo, Nebula, Locus, and World Fantasy Awards!

This year, we’re also back with a new mission for the ranger corps: UNCANNY TV

Hosted and produced by Michi Trota and Matt Peters, Uncanny TV will be the launch of our community-based vid channel, featuring exclusive geeky content related to Uncanny and the Space Unicorn Ranger Corps community!

Matt Peters & Michi Trota will host a short (20-30 min) variety talk show, Uncanny Magazine-style: highlighting creators in SF/F working in a variety of art forms and projects, focusing on people building and nurturing their communities, particularly highlighting marginalized creators. They’ll talk about topics that can be serious, but the overall tone of the show will be to celebrate the things we enjoy and the people who make our communities good places to be in SF/F.

We at Uncanny think we’re doing important work, and we’d like to continue. Please consider supporting Uncanny Magazine Year Five!

What’s Matt and Michi’s favorite bits?

Uncanny kickstarter year 5

MATT PETERS

When I came onboard as a reader for Uncanny, I was concerned that I wouldn’t be a good fit. Obviously, that wasn’t my favorite bit.

I grew up loving sci-fi. My dad and I bonded over classic Star Trek and Star Wars and when he told me I could actually read books that furthered the story past what was on screen I was hooked. I read as much as I could by whomever I could. I’ve read so much sci-fi and fantasy growing up, I can’t even begin to tell you who all the authors were. At one point, if a book had a rocket ship on the cover and it was in stock at the library, that was good enough for me.

When Michi invited me to be a submissions editor for Uncanny, I was excited to begin. Suddenly, there was so much content flying at me at one time, I was overwhelmed. I panicked. I loved sci-fi, so this should be right up my alley, right? After talking to my wife, we came up with a great solution: we’d take turns reading submissions to each other as we played Tetris (Dolores joined Uncanny as a submissions editor soon after).

That’s where it finally clicked for me. A big part of the allure of Uncanny is the camaraderie. There’s a communal aspect. People just like me who grew up reading the same stories I love feel so passionate about them that they came up with their own. Maybe it was because they wanted to honor it. Maybe it was because they felt they could do it better. Maybe they just had something on their mind and staging it in a fantasy realm was just disconnected enough to be honest about their private dreams and desires.

Our true nature reveals itself when we think no one is watching. How incredibly brave to put that story to paper or keyboard and share it with the world on the off chance someone might find a kinship in what you created. Have you ever looked into someone’s eyes as they retell a story that they truly connect with? That driving, nervous energy… That is my favorite bit of Uncanny: the passion.

MICHI TROTA

After four years as Uncanny Magazine’s Managing Editor, I thought it would be a lot harder to pick what my favorite bit about Uncanny is, but in fact, the answer was pretty easy: What I love the most about Uncanny is how its community shows me every day why stories, and who tells them, matters. The people I’ve met through Uncanny have made an incredible difference in my life, and collaborating with them in different ways has brought me so much joy, and has helped me to hone my own craft as a writer. The creativity, willingness to test boundaries, and passion for craft among creators and fans that I’ve encountered has been endlessly surprising. There are so many writers whose work I became introduced to because of Uncanny, and if all their stories, poems, and global working essay that I’ve added to my “to read” list physically manifested into an actual pile, I’d probably have been buried under it by now.

But what’s impressed and inspired me more than anything is the vibrant network of mutual support and admiration I’ve seen being continually built among creators and fans. The outpouring of joy and signal boosting whenever there’s a new release, whether it’s for an Uncanny issue or a novel or anthology, is one of the best things to see taking over my feeds on social media. And what really gets me, every time, is when someone shares a cool story about how something they made inspired someone else to create something completely unexpected. I have a friend who’s written songs based on stories and novels she’s fallen in love with. I know acrobats who craft their acts to tell superhero stories. I’ve seen fans honor creators with beautiful pieces of fanart, and who’ve taken a page from their favorite stories to build charity and activist organizations. These are people who are taking a deep and abiding love for SF/F and using it to enrich their lives and the lives of others, often for no other reason beyond just wanting to make a positive difference, no matter the scale.

Seeing just how varied and thriving the greater ecosystem of geeky creators actually can be has been a necessary balm, especially since the election. Finding a reason for joy and inspiration to create new stories, new kinds of art, new connections among strangers, is especially important in the face of oppression and rising fascism. When we can see others being creative rather than complacent, building bridges rather than walls, it makes a difference. It’s why I’m excited by the prospect of being able to take Uncanny’s mission of supporting gorgeous, experimental, passionate storytelling even further with Uncanny TV, and dive even deeper into more stories about why SF/F matters. And getting to do this with Matt Peters, a friend and colleague I enjoy collaborating with, and who has inspired me to do better in my own work? That’s definitely one of my favorite bits!

LINKS:

Uncanny Magazine Year 5 Kickstarter

Uncanny Magazine

Uncanny Twitter

Uncanny Instagram

Uncanny Facebook

BIOS:

Matt Peters

Uncanny TV Presenter Matt Peters is an enthusiast of all things nerdy. Matt has been a voice in the industry for several years through his website and podcast Since Last We Spoke. He’s contributed to various media outlets both print and digital and has been invited to speak on panels regarding diversity in geek spaces at C2E2 and Wizard World. Matt is also founder of Core/Demo, a belly dance charity event that supports cancer research. You can find him on Twitter @MightyInkMatt where he frequently geeks out over comics, video games, and pro-wrestling. His favorite color is orange and he’s fond of the number “13.”

Michi Trota

Managing Editor/Uncanny TV Presenter Michi Trota is a two-time Hugo Award winner, and the first Filipina to win a Hugo Award. Michi is an essayist who has been published in The Book Smugglers, The Establishment, The Learned Fangirl, Invisible: An Anthology of Representation in SF/F, and Uncanny. She’s spoken at C2E2, the Chicago Humanities Festival, on NPR, and at universities and other organizations. Michi is a firespinner with the Raks Geek Fire+Bellydance troupe. She serves as president of the Chicago Nerd Social Club Board of Organizers and lives with her spouse and their two cats. Her secret mutant superpower is to make anyone hungry just by talking about food. Find her on Twitter @GeekMelange.