Journal

My Favorite Bit: Meg Elison talks about THE BOOK OF FLORA

My Favorite BitMeg Elison is joining us today to talk about her novel The Book of Flora, the last of the Road to Nowhere trilogy. Here’s the publisher’s description:

In this Philip K. Dick Award–winning series, one woman’s unknowable destiny depends on a bold new step in human evolution.

In the wake of the apocalypse, Flora has come of age in a highly gendered post-plague society where females have become a precious, coveted, hunted, and endangered commodity. But Flora does not participate in the economy that trades in bodies. An anathema in a world that prizes procreation above all else, she is an outsider everywhere she goes, including the thriving all-female city of Shy.

Now navigating a blighted landscape, Flora, her friends, and a sullen young slave she adopts as her own child leave their oppressive pasts behind to find their place in the world. They seek refuge aboard a ship where gender is fluid, where the dynamic is uneasy, and where rumors flow of a bold new reproductive strategy.

When the promise of a miraculous hope for humanity’s future tears Flora’s makeshift family asunder, she must choose: protect the safe haven she’s built or risk everything to defy oppression, whatever its provenance.

What’s Meg’s favorite bit?

The Book of Flora cover image

MEG ELISON

I’ve never written myself into a main character.

Writers are always accused (or at least suspected) of pulling this trick. Women authors in particular are expected to project themselves in fiction, and are far more likely to be painted as wish-fulfilling fluffmakers (j’accuse, Mary Sue!). But I’ve never put myself into my stories. The worlds I’ve written are too grim and I didn’t see a place for anyone like me in them.

Until now.

There is a character in The Book of Flora who is a blatant self-insert. It’s so obvious that my entire writing group and almost every single beta reader roasted me for it, and they were right. Her name is Max, she’s the mayor of a city that used to be called Chicago, and she’s me. She’s so me that I want to play her if there’s ever a movie made of this story. Mayor Max is my favorite bit.

The city of Chicago underwent the same plague-reckoning as every other major city in the Road to Nowhere series. Almost everyone died of a hemorrhagic fever, and women died at a greater rate than men. The resulting population distribution left one woman (or AFAB person) for every ten men on earth. The particular kind of chaos caused by that imbalance facilitates brutality, chattel slavery, and human trafficking with a horrifying speed. Chicago was no different than any other city up to this point.

The city didn’t burn, and after things calmed down, control came into the hands of an unlikely pair. This didn’t make it into the finished novel, but the founders who shaped the city that was Chicago and gradually became Shy were a football coach and a cheerleading coach. They were a couple, they were organized, and they were visionaries.

The resulting civilization is multilingual and multicultural. It values art and music and sport. The people expect spectacle and a lot of opportunities to gather and celebrate their superiority to other cities. Imagine if sports rivalries became the guiding principle of civic character. Imagine if an entire city dedicated to that kind of intensity elected to become a city of women only. That’s Shy.

Now imagine who would get elected mayor in such a place.

Mayor Max is expansive and florid. She loves attention, command, and control. She favors dresses and wouldn’t dream of wearing anything without pockets. She’s unabashedly fat, reveling in the luxury of a city that produces enough rich food to keep its people far from starvation or even boredom. Max is never bored. She has a private table at every venue in town, and she sits up front and cheers the loudest.

Max is also queer, but in a city where everyone is a woman it hardly bears mentioning. She is accompanied everywhere by at least two of her many partners, and she is not shy about her affections. I wrote her enjoying excellent fresh hummus, locally-produced wine and spirits, and (oh yes my fellow anime dweebs) hitting the hot springs for an episode. After writing a series about power-mad warlords hoarding childbearing bodies and queerphobic town elders pressuring people into breeding cycles, Max was fun to create. She is fun to picture and fun to dream about.

Writing Max was my favorite bit because I’ve never really seen a character like her. Fat characters are commonly villainous and slovenly. Their bodies are used as a shorthand for avarice, for stupidity, and for a fortress of loneliness that no lover would dare to storm. In the midst of a difficult book, Max was a joyous moment of writing the fat, queer, freewheeling slick politician and shrewd manager I knew could rule a city like Shy. I wanted to breeze through a dystopia with tickets to the opera and a full-throated laugh at the concept of scarcity. So I did.

And damn it felt good.

Flora is an immensely complex character. It took me a long time to get to know her, but only a single scene to fall in love with her. I wrote her story in an ache to deliver her from an embattled life into a peaceful ending, and finishing this series was like pulling out my own permanent tooth. It had to happen, and I am proud of the way I came through.

Max was one of the sweets I enjoyed on my way to the death of that tooth. I hope you find her sweet, too.

LINKS:

The Book of Flora Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

Facebook

BIO:

Meg Elison is a Bay Area author and essayist. Her debut novel, THE BOOK OF THE UNNAMED MIDWIFE won the 2014 Philip K. Dick Award and was listed as a Tiptree Committee recommendation. She is the first college graduate in her family, after finishing her BA in English at UC Berkeley in 2014. She spoke at her graduation. She writes like she’s running out of time and lives in Oakland.

My Favorite Bit: Kay Kenyon talks about NEST OF THE MONARCH

My Favorite BitKay Kenyon is joining us today to talk about the final book in her Dark Talents trilogy, Nest of the Monarch. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Kim Tavistock, undercover in Berlin as the wife of a British diplomat, uncovers a massive conspiracy that could change the course of the war—and she’s the only one in position to stop it in the electrifying conclusion to the Dark Talents series. 

November, 1936. Kim Tavistock is in Berlin on her first Continental mission for SIS, the British intelligence service. Her cover: a sham marriage to a handsome, ambitious British consul. Kim makes the diplomatic party circuit with him, hobnobbing with Nazi officials, hoping for a spill that will unlock a secret operation called Monarch. Berlin is a glittering city celebrating Germany’s resurgence, but Nazi brutality darkens the lives of many. When Kim befriends Hannah Linz, a member of the Jewish resistance, she sets in motion events that will bring her into the center of a vast conspiracy.

Forging an alliance with Hannah and her partisans, Kim discovers the alarming purpose of Monarch: the creation of a company of enforcers with augmented Talents and strange appetites. Called the Progeny, they have begun to compel citizen obedience with physical and spiritual terror. Soon Kim is swept up in a race to stop the coming deployment of the Progeny into Europe. Aligned against her are forces she could never have foreseen, including the very intelligence service she loves; a Russian woman, the queen of all Talents, who fled the Bolsheviks in 1917; and the ruthless SS officer whose dominance and rare charisma may lead to Kim’s downfall. To stop Monarch and the subversion of Europe, she must do more than use her Talent, wits, and courage. She must step into the abyss of unbounded power, even to the point of annihilation. Does the human race have limits? Kim does not want to know the answer. But it is coming.

What’s Kay’s favorite bit?

Nest of the Monarch cover image

KAY KENYON

In my career as a fantasy and science fiction author, I’ve never had the chance to write a caper scene. You know, one of those break-in-steal-the-jewels sequences where everything goes like clockwork–until all hell breaks loose.

What’s fun about caper scenes is the slow, methodical build-up, when the reader knows from experience that things will go wrong, but nevertheless really hopes they don’t. For a while everything looks golden. Then comes the turning point, the moment when the whole plan goes south, fast.

In my favorite bit, secret agent Kim Tavistock has broken into a Nazi-run sanatorium in the middle of the night to get photo evidence of human experimentation. She’s working with a German resistance group which provided her a nurse’s uniform and the keys to a secret ward where the subjects are kept. In this scene, they have executed an elaborate hoax to draw attention away from Kim’s break-in.

After entering the storied place known as “the fourth floor,” Kim is in a ward of comatose patients. Using a miniature camera, she photographs the unnatural-looking (and heavily sedated) patients who are restrained because sometimes the treatments they are undergoing lead to madness.

In the alternative history milieu of this trilogy, some people have psi-abilities. One comes into play in this scene, and that is the turning point.

“Nurse,” came a man’s voice. Kim froze. One of the patients was awake in a bed across the room. “Nurse.” More insistently.

So as not to cause him to call her more loudly, she approached.

A sign hung from the foot of the bed, displaying a word she couldn’t translate, and below that a clipboard on a chain.

“I know I should sleep,” the patient said with a modulated, deep voice. “But I cannot.”

She felt a pang of sympathy for him, knowing that his condition was fatal, and imagining the misery of ending it in this place.

His voice was wistful. “Do you ever try to sleep and fail?”

She hesitated to answer him. It would be best to leave now, but something about him gave her pause.

“I’m sure you know what I mean. But for us—” he looked around the room—“we prefer to sleep at different hours than others.”

He moved his body a few inches under the covers. “The straps hurt. I have sores. You could check if you don’t believe me.”

“I believe you,” she said. Why had she spoken? A trickle of sweat fell down the side of her rib cage.

“You aren’t like the others. I knew that when you first came in and started to take pictures.”

Time to leave. No one would hear him if he cried an alarm.

“Just loosen the strap around my hips one notch. The bruises, they hurt me so.”

She glanced down at the end of a leather strap dangling below the covers.

His eyes flickered with pain. Well, just a notch, then. She bent down and unbuckled the strap, slipping it into holes further down.

“What does the sign say?” She gestured to the end of his bed.

“Ah,” he said, nodding. “It is my condition. You know it, ja? You are a nurse.”

“No,” she said, sweat now pouring from her face. She folded the cape away from her shoulders.

“The sign says compulsion.” A long, flat smile carved across his face. “But we do not need to worry about that. This is a hospital.”

“We don’t need to worry,” she agreed.

“And perhaps the other straps? I know it is a great deal of trouble.” His voice was soft and even, like snow falling on a river and disappearing.

She fumbled with the buckles on his ankles. The straps were very tight and hard to unfasten, but she finally managed.

“Why not just take them all off?” he asked, reasonably enough. “Now that we have started, that is what we should do.”

In her dream-like state, Kim obeys. From here, things go very wrong. All the stealth, elegant planning, and misdirection go out the window as chaos erupts, terror descends, and even the SS guards are a welcome sight compared to what’s chasing Kim.

While I think the entire scene is very scary, it is also fun in a way that perhaps you have to be a little twisted to enjoy. Which I certainly did, in the writing, anyway!

LINKS:

Nest of the Monarch Universal link

Nest of the Monarch PW review

All Kay Kenyon books

Website

Twitter

BIO:

Kay Kenyon is the author of fifteen science fiction and fantasy novels. Her work has been shortlisted for the Philip K. Dick and the John W. Campbell Memorial awards. Her trilogy, the Dark Talents novels (Nest of the Monarch is book three) has been called “Supremely entertaining” by Kirkus Reviews and “Riveting” by Publishers Weekly. Some of her short stories are gathered into a collection, Dystopia: Seven Dark and Hopeful Tales, available in eBook and paperback.

Where to find Mary Robinette at NorWesCon

Mary Robinette is a Guest of Honor at NorWesCon in Seattle, Washington from April 18 to April 21st 2019. You can register at the door.

Here’s where to find her while she’s there!

April 18, 2019

Guest of Honor Banquet
5:00pm – 6:30pm
Grand 2

Enjoy a buffet of great food and great company as you rub elbows with our guests of honor. Photo ops and preferred seating for the opening ceremonies abound. Ticket sales are limited, so get them while they are hot!

 

Opening Ceremonies
7:00pm – 8:00pm
Grand 2 & 3

Enjoy an official kickoff to your Norwescon 42 at the opening ceremonies! Enjoy interviews with our guests of honor, get a preview of events and essential information, and enjoy general shenanigans and merrymaking.

 

April 19, 2019

NASA’s Unsung Heroes
10:00am – 11:00am
Cascade 10

Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, the NASA mathematicians whose stories were dramatized in the 2016 film Hidden Figures, weren’t the only women and people of color who delivered distinguished service during NASA’s early decades. Come hear about the “Mercury 13,” Margaret Hamilton, Maj. Robert H. Lawrence Jr., and others who crossed the gender and color lines.

 

Interview and Q&A with Mary Robinette Kowal
11:00am – 12:00pm
Grand 2

Come meet our writer guest of honor, Mary Robinette Kowal, and learn about her work and process.

 

Science Fiction/Future Now
4:00pm – 5:00pm
Cascade 7 & 8

Science fiction has always been the inspiration of technological advances, but now ideas can be achieved almost as soon as they are thought up. So how do writers stay a step ahead? How do writers handle the truth of real science and the fiction that is needed for writing their stories? Is it a crisis for the writer’s imagination, or does it serve to inspire?

 

April 20

Autograph Session 1
10:00am – 11:00am
Grand 2

Our guests of honor and attending professionals are available to sign autographs. Please note: so that as many fans as possible can participate, we will be enforcing a three-items-at-a-time (or single-sketch) autograph limit.

 

Autograph Session 2
11:00am – 12:00pm
Grand 2

Our guests of honor and attending professionals are available to sign autographs. Please note: so that as many fans as possible can participate, we will be enforcing a three-items-at-a-time (or single-sketch) autograph limit.

 

Fifty Years After Apollo 11
2:00pm – 3:00pm
Evergreen 3 & 4

If you were alive in 1969, you were probably watching. If you weren’t, you might be wondering why everyone keeps talking about it. Come hear our panel explain why the Apollo program was such a big deal.

 

Sci-Fi and Fantasy in Audio Fiction Storytelling
5:00pm – 6:00pm
Cascade 11

Audio fiction podcasts are an increasingly popular medium that is capturing more and more people’s attention every day. A lot of the stories being told are based in science fiction and fantasy. What is audio fiction? Why does it lend itself so well to speculative fiction? What are some of the highlights of the medium? How can I make my own audio fiction podcast? All this and more will be covered in this talk.

 

Reading: Mary Robinette Kowal
6:00pm – 7:00pm
Evergreen 3 & 4

The Relentless MoonThe Relentless Moon takes place while the first Mars expedition is underway, as a parallel novel to The Fated Sky. It focuses on Nicole Wargin and Myrtle Lindholm in the lunar colony. You can expect everything from church services to bridge parties, which all become more complicated in low gravity. And then a saboteur strikes…

 

April 21, 2019

Closing Ceremonies
4:00pm – 5:00pm
Evergreen 3 & 4

Come send off Norwescon 42’s guests of honor with fanfare. We’ve made it through another year, and we want to celebrate the good times we’ve had.

My Favorite Bit: Ashok K. Banker talks about UPON A BURNING THRONE

My Favorite BitAshok K. Banker is joining us today with his novel Upon a Burning Throne. Here’s the publisher’s description:

From international sensation Ashok K. Banker, pioneer of the fantasy genre in India, comes the first book in a ground-breaking, epic fantasy series inspired by the ancient Indian classic, The Mahabharata

In a world where demigods and demons walk among mortals, the Emperor of the vast Burnt Empire has died, leaving a turbulent realm without an emperor. Two young princes, Adri and Shvate, are in line to rule, but birthright does not guarantee inheritance: For any successor must sit upon the legendary Burning Throne and pass The Test of Fire. Imbued with dark sorceries, the throne is a crucible—one that incinerates the unworthy.

Adri and Shvate pass The Test and are declared heirs to the empire… but there is another with a claim to power, another who also survives: a girl from an outlying kingdom. When this girl, whose father is the powerful demonlord Jarsun, is denied her claim by the interim leaders, Jarsun declares war, vowing to tear the Burnt Empire apart—leaving the young princes Adri and Shvate to rule a shattered realm embroiled in rebellion and chaos….

Welcome to the Burnt Empire Saga.

What is Ashok’s favorite bit?

Upon a burning throne cover image

ASHOK K. BANKER

Upon a Burning Throne is a fairly short book. Almost a novella. Barely a morsel. Only 246,000 words. Why, I’d call it a short story. Or a flash. A fragment, really.

Heh.

It gets worse.

It’s only the first of a nine book series called The Burnt Empire Saga. And the later books in the series are considerably longer than the first. So much longer that, depending on the publishers, paper costs and binding technology at the time they’re published, they might even be split into two parts apiece. Which is what the Indian publishers of Upon a Burning Throne have done for their edition.

Honestly, I think the length is nothing at all, especially if you love exciting, immersive epic fantasies.

It’s such a teensy weensy thing, a pupper of a story, a wee kitten.

In fact, my favorite bit in the book is what I left out.

Not out-takes, or the short stories, novelettes, and novellas I excised from the original draft and which have been published on Lightspeed Magazine as Legends of the Burnt Empire.

Those are more on the order of important backstory as well as origin stories of key characters and relationships that impact the main plot of Upon a Burning Throne. In a sense, they are part of the Burnt Empire Saga as a whole.

I don’t mean those parts.

I mean the parts that literally don’t exist anywhere in print or pixels. They only have a life in my mind.

I’m talking about the things I’ve left unsaid in the book.

Like the two key chapters at the very end of the book where two minor characters suddenly do or say things that are wholly unexpected. In one case, it’s even arguably out of character – though that particular person has shown himself capable of being uncharacteristically earlier in the book as well, so even that’s arguable. (They’re both male-appearing characters so I’m not giving away any spoilers here.)

Those two chapters and characters and what they do in one case, and say in the other instance, change everything that is to follow, turning the whole book on its head, so to speak, or pulling the rug out from under everyone’s foot – the other characters’ feet, and, if I’ve done my job right, the readers as well.

But it’s what I don’t say in those chapters that is the part that makes it work. The part that will (again, if I’ve done my part correctly) make the reader go “WTF? OMG!”

Similarly, in the beginning of the book, the main opening sequence, the long set-piece broken into several smaller chapterlets, the main “hero” or chief protagonist of the entire series and story is introduced, but this person is only just a baby at that point.

And I mean that literally, by the way. A baby as in a diaper-wearing milk-suckling babe, although of course they didn’t have diapers in the Burnt Empire or anywhere else in the world of Arthaloka, which is probably why said character is wrapped in a blankie. (There are always blankies in every world, just as there are always babies; any high fantasy world without babies and blankies is not a world worth contemplating leave alone writing about and I refuse to entertain the very idea of such a blankie-less, babe-less wasteland. Pshaw!)

That baby in a blankie will turn out to be the main protagonist of the Burnt Empire Series, or hero, if you will.

But I never say so openly in Upon a Burning Throne. I’m only saying it here, on Ms Kowal’s lovely online soap box, because it’s my favorite bit in the whole book.

I introduced the hero of the entire series as a baby in a blankie in a single brief scene in Book 1, and then never said a word more about that person in the rest of the 246,000-word book!

Again, this isn’t a spoiler. Anyone reading about Upon a Burning Throne will soon learn that the sequel A Dark Queen Rises follows lickety split on its heels. Just a year later. And as that second book’s title so blatantly and shamelessly reveals (major spoiler now) that protagonist is, of course, the eponymous dark queen.

The same one whom you were introduced to briefly but memorably as a baby in a blankie in Book 1. Yes, the very one. Gadzooks.

And I never told you that when she first came on the scene. Or at any point thereafter. In fact, I never even hinted throughout that entire 688-page hardcover volume (beautifully designed, bound, with a delicious cover and a simply sumptuous map, by the way) that she was even going to be the protagonist!

Like I said before, I left that bit out.

Deliberately, wilfully, knowingly, with full knowledge and intent.

I wrote an entire BFF (Big Fat Fantasy, not to be confused with Best Female Friend, though those are awesome too) without letting on that the main protagonist doesn’t even take center stage until book 2!

Because all heads turn when the hunt goes by. And the Queen, especially the Dark Queen, never leads the hunt.

She arrives in style, heralded and ushered, the path well beaten and cleared, the crowds assembled, the trumpets echoing across the vale.

And that’s it.

My Favorite Bit.

LINKS:

Upon a Burning Throne Universal Book Link

Twitter

Instagram

Facebook

LinkedIn

Pinterest

BIO:

Ashok K. Banker is the pioneer of the speculative fiction genre in India and the author of 60+ books, including the internationally acclaimed Ramayana series. His works have all been best-sellers in India, and have sold around the world.

My Favorite Bit: Lara Elena Donnelly talks about AMNESTY

Favorite Bit iconLara Elena Donnelly is joining us today to talk about her novel Amnesty, the conclusion of the Amberlough Dossier. Here’s the publisher’s description:

In Amberlough City, out of the ASHES of revolution, a TRAITOR returns, a political CAMPAIGN comes to a roaring head, and the people demand JUSTICE for crimes past.

As a nation struggles to rebuild, who can escape retribution?

Amnesty is a smart, decadent, heart-pounding conclusion to Lara Elena Donnelly’s widely-praised glam spy trilogy that will have readers enthralled until the very end.

What’s Lara’s favorite bit?

Amnesty cover image

LARA ELENA DONNELLY

There are a lot of satisfying things about wrapping up a trilogy. And there are a lot of satisfying things about Amnesty in particular. I could talk to you about my calculating neo-liberal lesbian power couple. I could talk to you about designing severe, sexy, pseudo-Balenciaga gowns for Lillian DePaul, or about the power politics of sex scenes. I could mention the delight of writing a disaffected thirteen-year-old, and how useful it is to have a character who can play adult or child as necessary (read: as inconvenient and emotionally taxing for his parents as possible).

I put a lot of what I loved and wanted into this book. But I’m going to talk to you now about one tiny scene, insignificant to the plot, that demonstrates a huge truth about writing I try to impart during every panel I’m on, in every class I teach. I’m going to talk to you about verisimilitude. And also, about shooting skeet.

Okay, you got me: I said skeet for comic effect. I’m actually going to talk about shooting trap. And now we’re already getting into the details of how to write with deeply-developed verisimilitude.

There is a scene in Amnesty, during the Most Awkward Holiday House Party of All Time, in which a few of our heroes(?) are outside in the snow, wearing their tweeds, shooting at clay pigeons. I love this scene. Nothing happens except some very subtle character relationship development, but. I. Love. It.

It was a chance for me to flex my descriptive muscles to the max, and also meant a lot of texting with my mom to double-check details. She shot trap and skeet as a kid. And that’s one of the details I had to confirm: what’s the difference?

Not like it would matter to most people. And in fact, the differentiation didn’t make it into the book, because it’s a very informal set up we’ve got going on here: just one guy throwing targets by hand, a couple of other guys shooting. No houses, no proper slingin’ machine. Another detail: is throwing these things by hand feasible? Yes. But your character’s arm will be sore later.

When I first wrote this scene, I mined my own memories of my brief stint shooting as a kid. I mostly used a rifle, for shooting at static targets. The one time I tried to shoot trap, I remember the shotgun was so heavy I could hardly lift it twice, let alone track the target. I also remembered watching my cousin and grandfather out the window of the front room in my grandparents’ farmhouse, shooting clay pigeons over the front pasture. The one-two of the double barrels discharging, echoing in waves.

But I wanted to make sure I had nailed the sport as neatly as possible, so I sent the scene to my mom, who had a lot more experience than I did, and she helped me clean it up: A shooter with weak arms doesn’t struggle beneath the weight of the gun; their body bows around the stock so they can’t lift the muzzle high enough to shoot the pigeon. The pigeons don’t shatter when they’re hit dead on: they disappear in a trailing puff of smoke. The pigeons come in twos, because that’s how many shots you get in a double-barrel shotgun. In trap they come from the same house. In skeet they come from different houses, so it’s more challenging to aim.

And so on. And so on.

Like I said: do I think a lot of people reading this book will have shot trap before? Not particularly. But it was deeply pleasurable to write this scene knowing I had gotten as close to real life as possible, leaning into the sensory details. And also knowing if anyone who has shot trap before reads this scene, they will feel a spark of recognition.

Verisimilitude in writing is important because otherwise it can become derivative, stale, rote, other words that mean boring and bad. In her craft book Storyteller, Kate Wilhelm cautions that writers should never use fiction for research, because it results in a distorting game of telephone. I have a dead horse I often beat about writers drawing on things they’ve seen before in other books, in movies, in TV, and getting everything about everything wrong: how long it takes to drown, what happens when you get knocked out, what it’s like to live with a particular marginalized identity.

When you write things you have seen, experienced, researched, and know, it comes through in a way that’s hard for readers to put a finger on, but that they feel in their bones. It is, as my mom says: “The detail that makes it real beyond imagination.”

LINKS:

Amnesty Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

Facebook

BIO:

Lara Elena Donnelly is the author of the vintage-glam spy thriller trilogy The Amberlough Dossier (Tor), as well as short fiction and poetry appearing in venues including Strange Horizons, Escape Pod, Nightmare, and Uncanny.

A graduate of the Clarion and Alpha writers’ workshops, Lara has also served as on-site staff at the latter, mentoring amazing teens who will someday take over the world of SFF. Lara is currently a guest lecturer in the MFA program at Sarah Lawrence College and a teacher at the Catapult classes in New York City.

My Favorite Bit: Jaine Fenn talks about BROKEN SHADOW

My Favorite BitJaine Fenn is joining us today with her conclusion to the Shadowlands duology, Broken Shadow. Here’s the publisher’s description:

The sky is falling, and only one dilettante scientist can save the world, in the startling finale of the Shadowlands duology

Rhia Harlyn risks death for science. Accused of heresy for promoting an unorthodox cosmology, she must defend herself, her work and her House alone. If only she could rely on her feckless brother Etyan, transformed through the combination of an occult scientist’s experiments and the harsh rays of the skyland sun. But she knows she cannot.

When Dej, Etyan’s half-alien lover, finally uncovers Etyan’s dark secret she runs off into the perilous skyland. She is looking for peace in a world that has rejected her; what she discovers instead will change everyone’s lives.

Meanwhile, overhead, the very stars themselves are shifting. Rhia is about to find herself proved disastrously right…

What’s Jaine’s favorite bit?

Broken Shadow cover image

JAINE FENN

It probably comes as no surprise that I found it hard to pick a favourite bit from my latest book. Most authors have several – ideally many – moments they love in their novels; we spend a lot of time shaping these stories, so if we aren’t loving what we do – at least some of the time – then that’s a sad state of affairs.

In this case, there is also a higher-than-average risk of spoilers. Broken Shadow is the second of two books in a science fantasy duology and although I’ve done my best to make it stand alone, there are certain plot-threads set up in the first Shadowlands book, Hidden Sun, which pay off here.

My first choice favourite bit would probably be when Rhia, my enquiring and unorthodox  protagonist, wakes up about two thirds of the way through the book to find that overnight the world has… yeah, that’s a massive spoiler, so whilst I loved writing that scene of realisation and reaction feeding into action only she would take, I can’t really share it here.

The bits I love most in Broken Shadow most are character moments – again, probably true for most authors – when these people we’ve spent so much time with implement their cunning plan or find out what’s really go on or pull off the seemingly impossible. And if I have to pick a non-spoilery favourite bit for Rhia it would be her heresy trial.

In Hidden Sun, Rhia discovered something about the universe that the reader already knows to be true but which no one else in her world believes. Now, the Church is challenging her over it.

In writing Rhia’s trial I took a lot from the real world. Firstly, as straight plunder: I shamelessly copied details from the real-life trial of Galileo, though I upped the stakes for Rhia. Rather than house arrest and having her book banned, she faces a brutal execution and the suppression of her ideas before they’ve even been made public. Secondly, explorations of what truth is versus what people choose to believe have been at the forefront of my mind for a while. They say you can date any SFF book to within a decade regardless of when and where it is set and this book is definitely a product of a ‘post-truth’ world.

Rhia values knowledge above else, and wants to believe that if you can prove a truth, it will be accepted. This refreshing if somewhat naïve view already puts her in a minority, as this exchange early on shows:

“Calculations produce proofs that cannot be argued with!”

Francin’s response was gentle, “Or, sadly, understood. Not by most people anyway.”

At her trial she rests her defense on trying to prove her theory, whilst also demonstrating that it doesn’t challenge the extant religious teachings. And she’s right of course. However, I took a perverse pleasure in sharing her slowly dawning realisation that too many people see ‘truth’ not as a provable concept with objective reality but merely as a tool to further their own ends. The irony for Rhia is that if her theory is ruled not to be ‘true’ then it can hardly be considered heretical, an argument which unfortunately only works when dealing with rational people.

Having finally been forced to acknowledge the truth about ‘the truth’, and to face the consequences of daring to challenge it, for Rhia to then wake up and find that the world has…done what it has done…well, that goes beyond irony.

LINKS:

Broken Shadow Universal Book Link

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BIO:

Jaine Fenn studied linguistics and astronomy before becoming a full time writer. Her first book, Principles of Angels, started the Hidden Empire series of character-driven space opera novels. She won the British Science Fiction Association’s Shorter Fiction Award in 2016 for Hidden Empire, and now divides her time between original fiction, teaching creative writing, and writing for tabletop and video games. She lives in Devon.

My Favorite Bit: Caitlin Starling talks about THE LUMINOUS DEAD

Favorite Bit iconCaitlin Starling is joining us today with her debut novel The Luminous Dead. Here’s the publisher’s description:

A thrilling, atmospheric debut with the intensive drive of The Martian and Gravity and the creeping dread of Annihilation, in which a caver on a foreign planet finds herself on a terrifying psychological and emotional journey for survival.

When Gyre Price lied her way into this expedition, she thought she’d be mapping mineral deposits, and that her biggest problems would be cave collapses and gear malfunctions. She also thought that the fat paycheck—enough to get her off-planet and on the trail of her mother—meant she’d get a skilled surface team, monitoring her suit and environment, keeping her safe. Keeping her sane.

Instead, she got Em.

Em sees nothing wrong with controlling Gyre’s body with drugs or withholding critical information to “ensure the smooth operation” of her expedition. Em knows all about Gyre’s falsified credentials, and has no qualms using them as a leash—and a lash. And Em has secrets, too . . .

As Gyre descends, little inconsistencies—missing supplies, unexpected changes in the route, and, worst of all, shifts in Em’s motivations—drive her out of her depths. Lost and disoriented, Gyre finds her sense of control giving way to paranoia and anger. On her own in this mysterious, deadly place, surrounded by darkness and the unknown, Gyre must overcome more than just the dangerous terrain and the Tunneler which calls underground its home if she wants to make it out alive—she must confront the ghosts in her own head.

But how come she can’t shake the feeling she’s being followed?

What’s Caitlin’s favorite bit?

The Luminous Dead cover image

CAITLIN STARLING

I grew up (as I suspect many of us born in the late 80s and onwards) on my computer. AIM, MSN, Skype, MMOs, BBSes– I grew up forming relationships with people I’d never seen, many of whom I only knew through text. I told stories with them, honing my writing skills without consciously noticing it, until I was co-writing epics hundreds of thousands of words long. I was also falling in love, having my heart broken, learning that not everybody was kind or trustworthy, and practicing how to read between the lines of what was written to suss out somebody else’s heart.

So of course my first book is that, writ large.

The two characters in The Luminous Dead are strongly opinionated, twisty, aggressive women with very different approaches to getting things done. They don’t trust each other. They don’t like each other. But these two women, diametrically opposed, are dependent on one another and, most importantly, they aren’t even in the same physical location. Gyre is alone in a massive cave system, and Em is only a voice on her radio.

My favorite bit is how I got to take that complication – that cornerstone plot piece – and play with exactly how they communicate.

Gyre and Em’s relationship begins with a contract, negotiated through an intermediary. It grudgingly moves on to verbal communication, stop and go conversations as they begin to feel each other out. When Em is willing to talk to Gyre becomes almost as important as what she says—  and when she’s able to talk to Gyre becomes terrifyingly relevant as Gyre descends farther and farther away from the surface and any other chance of human contact.

Keeping dialogue fresh when there aren’t any physical cues for one of the participants was a definite challenge, as was keeping the content from feeling repetitive as they go back and forth over many of the same disagreements from different angles. I had to create a distinct voice for Em, as well as find ways to drop subtle cues as to what she might be doing while speaking. Pauses, dead air, are as important as the words spoken. So many of us have had the experience of waiting, anxiously, desperately, for the next text, email, DM. Not knowing when our companion will respond, or if they ever will. Watching the “…” blink for minutes, hours, days as we wonder what their response will be. Where does Em trail off? Where does she keep talking, when somebody else might have let Gyre get a word in edge wise?

Em also has more at her disposal than just her voice. The contract gives her control over the suit that keeps Gyre alive, and granted me another suite of tools— tools that are powerful, but also risky. Em can move Gyre’s body without asking permission, freeze her in place, or even end a conversation with a well-timed dose of narcotics. I couldn’t use those actions often, or they’d lose their efficacy, but I had to balance that against ensuring that when I did use them that their meaning was clear and concise. I couldn’t afford a break in rhythm to explain how an interaction physically functions; it had to feel as natural as breathing, as indisputable as a punch. It had to feel as instantly, naturally devastating as your brand new ex-girlfriend blocking you before you can respond to her break-up message.

All this carefully balanced back and forth, the constant shifts of power and understanding and vulnerability leaves Gyre and Em in very different situations than they began. But to see just where the obsession their limited communication produces takes them, you’ll have to climb down into the cave yourself.

LINKS:

The Luminous Dead Universal Book Link

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BIO:

Caitlin Starling is a writer of horror-tinged speculative fiction of all flavors. Her first novel, The Luminous Dead, comes out from HarperVoyager on April 2, 2019. It tells the story of a caver on a foreign planet who finds herself trapped, with only her wits and the unreliable voice on her radio to help her back to the surface. Caitlin also works in narrative design for interactive theater and games, and is always on the lookout for new ways to inflict insomnia. Find more of her work at www.caitlinstarling.com and follow her at @see_starling on Twitter.

The Calculating Stars has been nominated for a Hugo!

As I write this, I know that I’m going to have to sit on this news for two weeks.

TWO WEEKS. Don’t get me wrong, I deeply appreciate having time to prepare and to be ready for the formal announcement.  I wrote a blog post about how to handle having secret good news, which I’m pretty sure fooled no one. My problem is that before I was a writer, I was a fan. Heck. I’m still a fan, it’s just that I also do this writing thing. So being nominated for a Hugo is like seeing my book on a library shelf. It feels… magic.

This particular Hugo nomination is especially delightful, because it is for Calculating Stars, which began life as The Lady Astronaut of Mars. To have created a character who has made it to the ballot twice? Y’all… I’m a writer and I’ve got no words.

It’s killing me that, I don’t know who the other nominees are yet. Every year, I get excited to read new work and since I was a teen I would pick up books that were on the Hugo finalists list. I can’t wait to read this year’s selection.

And all the other categories, too!

Meanwhile, I have to sit on the news. I’ll shop for an evening gown. I’ll keep working on book three. I’ll try to ignore the fact that you have honored my novel with this nomination.  Thank you.

My Favorite Bit: Timothy Jay Smith talks about THE FOURTH COURIER

Favorite Bit iconTimothy Jay Smith is joining us today to talk about his novel The Fourth Courier. Here’s the publisher’s description:

It is 1992 in Warsaw, Poland, and the communist era has just ended. A series of grisly murders suddenly becomes an international case when it’s feared that the victims may have been couriers smuggling nuclear material out of the defunct Soviet Union. The FBI sends an agent to help with the investigation. When he learns that a Russian physicist who designed a portable atomic bomb has disappeared, the race is on to find him—and the bomb—before it ends up in the wrong hands.

Smith’s depiction of post-cold war Poland is gloomily atmospheric and murky in a world where nothing is quite as it seems. Suspenseful, thrilling, and smart, The Fourth Courier brings together a straight white FBI agent and gay black CIA officer as they team up to uncover a gruesome plot involving murder, radioactive contraband, narcissistic government leaders, and unconscionable greed.

What’s Tim’s favorite bit?

The Fourth Courier cover image

TIMOTHY JAY SMITH

The minute I learned that my challenge for this blog was to select my favorite bit in my new novel, I knew what it would be. The Emma scene. Chapter Six. Rarely has a scene been so much fun to write—and relive, because it’s based on a journey I took some forty years ago.

Two strangers—Dr. Sergej Ustinov, a genius Russian physicist, and Emma, a plump and lustful Russian-American on her way to visit relatives—by lucky chance have a first-class compartment to themselves in a train crossing Russia. While my real-life journey and scene in the book end differently, most elements are exactly the same: the cans of soup falling out of Emma’s duffel; a greasy bag of dried fish that they share; and finally, complaining about her feet hurting, she drops a foot over Sergej’s thigh urging him to massage it. There’s a lot of humor in the whole scene, and pathos, too. (Lina Wertmuller-ish for those who know her movies.) Here’s a taste of it:

Of course he couldn’t exactly ignore her foot resting on his leg, nor entirely block her squirming toes from view. Her nails were painted cherry red, which he realized did make her feet attractive, certainly more attractive than the coarse yellow nails his wife hadn’t painted since their first anniversary. Oh, why not massage her foot? he decided. It might be fun, and he couldn’t remember the last time he’d touched someone’s foot other than his own. Tentatively he wrapped his fingers around her arch and squeezed. “Is that where it hurts?” he asked.

“Oh yes . . . but harder . . .”

He gripped her foot tighter and massaged it with his thumbs. He found he rather enjoyed it; there was an unfamiliar sensuality to it, and as a bonus, from this angle he could peek up her skirt to where her heavy legs disappeared in a dark shadow. Gradually his fingers migrated to her toes, which they worked vigorously, rooting down between them, and bending them to crack them. For the first time he understood why some people sucked toes for sexual pleasure, and if his back had been more limber, he might have dared to bite hers.

Emma sighed. “I can tell you are professional. Yes . . . oh yes . . .”

Suddenly the situation, and certainly his fantasies, seemed ludicrous to Sergej. He released her foot and said rather coldly, “I hope it feels better.”

The sense of scene is crucial to my writing. It’s how I think about a story. Before I start new work, I always have the opening and closing scenes in my head, and then I fill in everything else. I think it comes from growing up in a house where the television was never turned off. We kids were even allowed to watch TV while doing homework if our grades were good. Later in life I’d joke that canned laughter was the soundtrack of my childhood.

I haven’t owned a television for many years, but growing up with it exposed me to scene-driven notions of how to tell a story and be efficient with dialogue. When I completed my first novel, by chance I took a workshop with Sebastian Junger who had just sold the film rights to The Perfect Storm. When he said he would have nothing to do with writing its adaptation, I immediately decided to study screenwriting. I wanted to be knowledgeable enough to have some artistic input into that process, should I ever be fortunate enough to have the chance. That training reinforced my natural inclination to visualize my stories in scenes, which is also why my readers say they can see my stories as they read them.

I worried about selecting Emma’s scene as my favorite bit because of “Chekhov’s Gun”— the notion that every element in a story should contribute to the whole. I knew Emma would only be in one scene. Was that sufficient? Did she deserve so much space on those few pages? Could I make her appear again? Ultimately I decided she didn’t need to. It’s Emma’s scene only because it’s her only scene. It’s even more Sergej’s scene, especially because it’s the first time readers have the chance to begin to understand his psychology.

LINKS:

The Fourth Courier Universal Book Link

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BIO:

Raised crisscrossing America pulling a small green trailer behind the family car, Timothy Jay Smith developed a ceaseless wanderlust that has taken him around the world many times. Polish cops and Greek fishermen, mercenaries and arms dealers, child prostitutes and wannabe terrorists, Indian Chiefs and Indian tailors: he hung with them all in an unparalleled international career that saw him smuggle banned plays from behind the Iron Curtain, maneuver through Occupied Territories, represent the U.S. at the highest levels of foreign governments, and stowaway aboard a ‘devil’s barge’ for a three-days crossing from Cape Verde that landed him in an African jail.

These experiences explain the unique breadth and sensibility of Tim’s work, for which he’s won top honors. Fire on the Island won the Gold Medal in the 2017 Faulkner-Wisdom Competition for the Novel. He won the Paris Prize for Fiction (now the Paris Literary Prize) for his novel, A Vision of Angels. Kirkus Reviews called Cooper’s Promise “literary dynamite” and selected it as one of the Best Books of 2012. Tim was nominated for the 2018 Pushcart Prize. His screenplays have won numerous competitions. His first stage play, How High the Moon, won the prestigious Stanley Drama Award. He is the founder of the Smith Prize for Political Theater.

My Favorite Bit: Arkady Martine talks about A MEMORY CALLED EMPIRE

Favorite Bit iconArkady Martine is joining us today to talk about her novel A Memory Called Empire. Here is the publisher’s description:

Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn’t an accident—or that Mahit might be next to die, during a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court.

Now, Mahit must discover who is behind the murder, rescue herself, and save her Station from Teixcalaan’s unceasing expansion—all while navigating an alien culture that is all too seductive, engaging in intrigues of her own, and hiding a deadly technological secret—one that might spell the end of her Station and her way of life—or rescue it from annihilation.

A fascinating space opera debut novel, Arkady Martine’s A Memory Called Empireis an interstellar mystery adventure.

What’s Arkady’s favorite bit?

A Memory Called Empire cover image

ARKADY MARTINE

Building a world large enough to be the host for a space opera universe, a world full of multiple interplanetary systems, an empire, several religions, a couple of sorts of aliens, and a few radically different cultural choices – and then conveying that enormity, that lushness and detail, to the reader in a way that neither bores nor confuses them – well, that was the hardest part of doing revisions on A Memory Called Empire. But, when I finally came up with a way to do it, it also ended up being my favorite bit of the finished book.

Here’s the amusing and/or horrifying secret about my writing process that I genuinely didn’t know about until I wrote a novel: I underwrite by about 30%. The book my agent and I sold to Devi Pillai at Tor was maybe 95,000 words long, if you squinted and gave it the benefit of the doubt. My edit letter – the first one – consisted of around five bullet points and the instruction go write the other 40k of the book, Arkady. This was both exactly the edit letter I needed, and utterly terrifying. Because, well – how do you put in all the worldbuilding and richness and complexity of a giant space opera universe, while still keeping the pacing and tension of your political thriller spy novel?

What I came up with, eventually, was epigrams. Chapter epigrams, which were quotes from in-universe texts I’d created for just this purpose. A customs form, a tourist guide, a pilot’s manual, portions of contradictory histories written about the same event from different cultures’ points of view, a transcript of a news program, a propaganda poster (and what it was defaced with), a request for supply requisition, a bunch of different poems, an instruction sheet on how to apply for a particular job training scheme, a flyer for an intramural handball game … anything and everything, the ephemera of a real world that produces real texts. And half of the texts were from Teixcalaan – my space empire – and half of them were from Lsel Station, my protagonist’s home, which is in constant danger of being absorbed into said space empire.

I’m pretty sure I stole this trick from Dune. Thanks, Princess Irulan. You fixed my worldbuilding, and made my editor like me.

But my favorite bit – my favorite set of epigrams to write – was the set which ended up being a pair of contrasting scripts. The Teixcalaanli one is basically a shooting script for a soap opera; the Lsel one is a script for a graphic novel. I loved these specifically because popular culture tells you so much about what a society values, and I got to write some really popular popular-culture bits … and because it was an opportunity to briefly write in formats I don’t usually write in. Here they  – they open Chapter 14, which is a chapter about loyalty and making dangerous choices, like whether you’re going to risk back-alley neurosurgery.

28. EXT. DAY: chaos and smoke of the BATTLEFIELD of GIENAH-9. Track in past TANGLED BODIES marked with carbon scoring, churned mud, to find THIRTEEN QUARTZ lying half-conscious in the shelter of an overturned groundcar. HOLD on THIRTEEN QUARTZ before cutting to

29. EXT. DAY: same as before only POV of NINETY ALLOY. Pull back past NINETY ALLOY’s shoulder to watch as they FALL TO THEIR KNEES beside THIRTEEN QUARTZ — who OPENS THEIR EYES and SMILES FAINTLY.

THIRTEEN QUARTZ (weak)

You came back for me. I always…knew you would. Even now.

(Track around to see NINETY ALLOY’s face.)

NINETY ALLOY

Of course I came back. I need you. Where else am I going to find a second-in-command who can win half a war on their own before breakfast? (sobers) And I need you. You’ve always been my luck. Stand down, now. I’ve got you. We’re going home.

— shooting script for Ninety Alloy season 15 finale

 

Panel Three: long shot of Captain Cameron on the bridge of his shuttle. All eyes are on him; the rest of the crew look terrified, eager, impatient. Cameron’s consulting his imago, so have the colorist emphasize the white glow around his hands and his head. He is looking at the enemy ship, floating in black space, super ominous and spiky – the ship’s the focus of the panel.

CAMERON: I learned to talk to Ebrekti, back when I was Chadra Mav. This isn’t even going to be hard.

— graphic-story script for THE PERILOUS FRONTIER! vol. 3, distributed from local small printer ADVENTURE/BLEAK on Tier Nine, Lsel Station

… there’s also a small easter egg in the latter one of these, which is one of my favorite tiny things I put in just for me: Captain Cameron, the hero of the Lsel Station graphic novel series The Perilous Frontier!, shares a name with CJ Cherryh’s protagonist of the Foreigner series, Bren Cameron, for extremely deliberate reasons.

Those reasons being that a lot of A Memory Called Empire is a love-letter to Foreigner and that whole universe, anyway. So getting to put in a tiny tribute was definitely one of the reasons this epigram-set is one of my favorite bits.

LINKS:

A Memory Called Empire Universal Book Link

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BIO:

Arkady Martine is a speculative fiction writer and, as Dr. AnnaLinden Weller, a historian of the Byzantine Empire and a city planner. Under both names she writes about border politics, rhetoric, propaganda, and the edges of the world. Arkady grew up in New York City and, after some time in Turkey, Canada, and Sweden, lives in Baltimore with her wife, the author Vivian Shaw. Her debut novel, A Memory Called Empire, comes out in March 2019 from Tor Books, and is available here. Find Arkady online at arkadymartine.net or on Twitter as @ArkadyMartine.

 

My Favorite Bit: Marshall Ryan Maresca talks about A PARLIAMENT OF BODIES

Favorite Bit iconMarshall Ryan Maresca is joining us today to talk about his novel A Parliament of Bodies. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Mixing high fantasy and mystery, the third book in the Maradaine Constabulary series follows Inspectors Satrine Rainey and Minox Welling as they track down a dangerous murderer.

The city of Maradaine is vexed by the Gearbox Murders: a series of gruesome deaths orchestrated by a twisted mechanical genius. With no motive and no pattern, Inspectors Satrine Rainey and Minox Welling–the retired spy and untrained mage–are at a loss to find a meaningful lead in the case. At least, until the killer makes his most audacious exhibit yet: over a dozen victims in a clockwork deathtrap on the floor of the Druth Parliament.

The crime scene is a madhouse, and political forces conspire to grind their investigation to a halt. The King’s Marshals claim jurisdiction of the case, corruption in the Constabulary thwarts their efforts, and a special Inquest threatens to end Minox’s career completely. Their only ally is Dayne Heldrin, a provisional member of the Tarian Order, elite warriors trained in the art of protection. But Dayne’s connection to the Gearbox Murders casts suspicion on his motives, as he might be obsessed with a phantom figure he believes is responsible.

While Satrine and Minox struggle to stop the Gearbox from claiming even more victims, the grinding gears of injustice might keep them from ever solving these murders, and threaten to dismantle their partnership forever.

What’s Marshall’s favorite bit?

Parliament of Bodies cover image

MARSHALL RYAN MARESCA

Let’s not mince words: The Maradaine Saga is epic. The latest book, A Parliament of Bodies, is the third book of the Maradaine Constabulary series, but it’s also the ninth book set in the city of Maradaine, and the Maradaine Constabulary is one of four series telling the wider, grander story of that fantastical city. This means I have four sets of protagonists and the secondary characters in their respective orbits, which translates to hundreds of characters that populate the city.

You can’t do that without some favorites emerging.

It’s funny, because two of my favorites were not originally part of my plan, when I wrote the outlines and rough drafts of the first books of their respective series. For example, in the rough draft of A Murder of Mages, Inspector Minox Welling was a loner in all regards, living in a boarding house and largely keeping to himself in all matters outside of his vocation. But I had also implied that he had come from a family with long, deep roots in the Constabulary. In my editing process, I asked myself, “Where is that family?”, and made Minox’s home life radically different, where he now lived in a large house with three generations of extended family.

From that came Corrie Welling, Minox’s devoted, salty-mouthed sister, who served in the constabulary horsepatrol on the night shift. She would be there to ground him when he was pushing too hard, and give him perspective of how he’s seen by the rest of the constabulary, all while still loving him as only a sister can.

Writing her was so much fun that she became an integral part of the cast, and her role expanded in An Import of Intrigue and A Parliament of Bodies.

Similarly, in the first draft of The Way of the Shield, the first book in the Maradaine Elite series, the focus was almost entirely on Dayne, and it wasn’t working. I knew I needed another voice, one with less experience than Dayne who could also serve as a foil, and that’s where Jerinne Fendall, Initiate in the Tarian Order came from. She brought a new energy to that story, and she quickly became another favorite for me to write.

And since A Parliament of Bodies is not only a Maradaine Constabulary novel, but also crosses over with the Maradaine Elite, that meant I got to write scenes where Jerinne and Corrie are working together.

Corrie drew out her crossbow, looking up to those top floor windows. Arrows were raining down on her, but she might still get one shot off before they took her down.

Sorry, Mama.

Then a shadow passed over her, and those arrows became a series of metallic drumbeats.

Nothing had hit her.

Instead she was pulled to her feet. That Tarian girl was in front her, shield high. “Can you run?”

Corrie didn’t even realize what had happened. “Blazes, yes,” she said.

“Then stay with me.” Jerinne drew out her sword and tore forward to the tenement, keeping her shield overhead. The storm of arrows didn’t touch her, didn’t slow her down as they pummeled her shield. Corrie stayed right with her—under that shield was the only safe spot on the street. They got to the front of the tenement, and Corrie and Jerinne pressed flat against the brick wall.

“At least nine shooters, third and fourth floors,” Jerinne said.

“And Tricky’s on her own in there.”

“Probably on the fourth floor. The lieutenant and his folks aren’t going to make it in until we stop that barrage of arrows,” Jerinne said. She noted Jace and Saitle, behind their cart fifty feet away. “They might make a dash if I cover them.”

“That’s still only four of us,” Corrie said.

“They won’t stand a chance,” Jerinne sent back with a wink.

That, dear reader, was an absolute delight to write.

Of course, I have so many other characters who are also “my favorite”—each in their own unique way. Part of the fun of this epic story, deconstructed into easily consumable pieces, is how I can combine discrete elements of the different series into new permutations. The Corrie/Jerinne team up is just one of them, and each new one I get to do as the saga progresses is another expression of joy.

LINKS:

A Parliament of Bodies Universal Book Link

Website

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BIO:

Marshall Ryan Maresca’s work has appeared in Norton Anthology of Hint Fiction and Rick Klaw’s anthology Rayguns Over Texas. His novels The Thorn of DentonhillA Murder of MagesThe Holver Alley Crew, and The Way of the Shield each begin their own fantasy series, all set in the port city of Maradaine.

My Favorite Bit: K. A. Doore talks about THE PERFECT ASSASSIN

Favorite Bit iconK. A. Doore is joining us today to talk about her novel The Perfect Assassin. Here’s the publisher’s description:

A novice assassin is on the hunt for someone killing their own in K. A. Doore’s The Perfect Assassin, a breakout high fantasy beginning the Chronicles of Ghadid series.

Divine justice is written in blood.

Or so Amastan has been taught. As a new assassin in the Basbowen family, he’s already having second thoughts about taking a life. A scarcity of contracts ends up being just what he needs.

Until, unexpectedly, Amastan finds the body of a very important drum chief. Until, impossibly, Basbowen’s finest start showing up dead, with their murderous jaan running wild in the dusty streets of Ghadid. Until, inevitably, Amastan is ordered to solve these murders, before the family gets blamed.

Every life has its price, but when the tables are turned, Amastan must find this perfect assassin or be their next target.

What’s K. A. Doore’s favorite bit?

The Perfect Assassin cover image

K. A. DOORE

Between all the intrigue, mystery, rooftop fights, quiet contemplation among stacks of scrolls, my favorite bit in writing the Perfect Assassin is:

The weather.

Okay before you run for the doors, please at least take a sip of water and hear me out. I lived in Tucson, Arizona for six years and it was the quintessential enemies to lovers relationship. We arrived in August, at the height of monsoon season, and it was muggy and awful and hot. August in Tucson is all the sticky, exhausting heat of Florida without a single spot of shade.

Needless to say, I was not impressed.

My second August in Tucson, however, was much improved. And by the August we moved again, I had a newfound appreciation for the dreariest of summer months that I’d never had in all my growing-up years in Florida.

You see, in Arizona there’s this saying: it’s a dry heat. The saying’s been ridiculed and parodied to all out because anything above 90 without a/c is gonna suck, that’s just the truth of it, but there’s a warning embedded in the saying. As if the heat being dry is supposed to make it any easier to bear. As if you should be thankful for that heat. As if it could, in fact, be worse.

Yeah I don’t think anything can really make 120 degrees bearable.

Anything… except knowing it’s gonna break. Anything, except seeing those storm clouds building on the horizon. Anything, except those gorgeous clear and wide skies, stars shimmering like mirages. Anything, except the smell of rain-touched dust on the wind.

May and June are a long, indrawn breath before the exhalation that is July and monsoon season. But you can’t have one without the other. So I learned to appreciate June’s impressive heat – and I also learned not to go outside after 6am. But that didn’t mean June was dead; far from it. You just had to look for life at night. Then you’d see the bats bursting from beneath the bridges, the coyotes stalking the wash, the javelina nosing their territories, the tarantulas claiming their rocks.

I knew from the very beginning that The Perfect Assassin would be set in a place just as hot and just as dry and just as full of life. I knew I wanted to explore the implications of that heat, the way it’d shift daily life indoors and at night. The way a whole year might be structured around those few weeks when it finally – finally ­– rained. The way a people might distrust, even fear, the water that came from the sky and rely instead on their wells.

I wanted to wrap up everything I’d learned to love about those endlessly dry and hopelessly hot months before monsoon and shove it into a story. And when you’ve got a murderer to apprehend, what better deadline than the very physical and incontrovertible arrival of the storms?

After all, the storms always come.

Throughout the story, the heat has been building along with the tension until finally, both break, leading to one of my favorite bits – both in the story, and in the desert:

The downpour had thinned to a drizzle. Amastan walked slick streets, his wrap growing sodden and heavy once more. Torches glowed like lonely outposts in the gloom, their light dimmed by haze, their glass smeared with condensation. The streets were empty, save for bits of roof and broken glass, but he could hear laughter and loud conversations bursting from homes as he walked by. Occasionally, a child darted out from a door, screaming in delight at the illicit sensation of wet skin, hair, clothes.

But it wasn’t safe to be out in a storm, even its tail end, and so inevitably an adult would run after the child and drag them back inside. Lightning could still strike. A gust of wind could finish the job of tearing a roof apart that the storm had started.

So Amastan walked alone.

The rain stopped all at once, there one moment, gone the next. The stars blinked through a gap in the thick blanket of clouds. A gentle breeze cooled his skin and closed the opening. For the first time in months, the city didn’t smell like dust. Instead, it smelled alive.

LINKS:

The Perfect Assassin Universal Book Link

The Perfect Assassin Excerpt

Website

Twitter

BIO:

K.A. Doore grew up in Florida, but has since lived in lush Washington, arid Arizona, and cherry-infused Michigan. While recovering from climate whiplash, she’s raised chickens, learned entirely too much about property assessment, photographed cacti, and now develops online trainings. The Perfect Assassin is her debut novel.

Where to find Mary Robinette at C2E2

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Mary Robinette will be at C2E2 in Chicago on Saturday, March 23rd. You can get tickets here.

Here’s where to find Mary Robinette at the con:

Saturday, March 23

The Future is Now
12:30pm-1:30pm
S405A

Top science fiction and fantasy authors discuss the predictions of near-future SF– what has come true, and what might be coming to pass?  They’ll also share their predictions for what Chicago will look like 50 years (or more!) from now.  Featuring: Sue Burke (Semiosis), Cory Doctorow (Radicalized), Mary Robinette Kowal (The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky), and Alison Wilgus (Chronin) This panel will be followed by an author signing in the C2E2 Autographing Area.

Signing
1:45pm-2:45pm
Tables 41 and 42

This is a free autographing session to meet Sue Burke, Cory Doctorow, Mary Robinette Kowal, Alison Wilgus and Mirah Boelender. Books will be available at the signing for purchase.

Magic and Mayhem in Science Fiction and Fantasy 
3:00pm-4:00pm
S405A

Join some of your favorite Tor authors as they discuss how fantasy and science fiction overlap and inform one another and what constitutes magic and mayhem in both genres. How are authors breaking traditional rules of the genres and finding new ways to explore other worlds– or putting some extra magic in our own world?  Featuring: Sue Burke (Semiosis), Cory Doctorow (Radicalized), Mary Robinette Kowal (The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky), and Alison Wilgus (Chronin) This panel will be followed by an author signing in the C2E2 Autographing Area.

Signing
4:15pm-5:15pm
Tables 41 and 42

This is a free autographing session to meet S.A Chakraborty, Sue Burke, Cory Doctorow, Mary Robinette Kowal, Alison Wilgus and Mirah Boelender. Books will be available at the signing for purchase.

My Favorite Bit: Kameron Hurley talks about THE LIGHT BRIGADE

Favorite Bit iconKameron Hurley is joining us today to talk about her novel The Light Brigade. Here’s the publisher’s description:

They said the war would turn us into light… 

The Light Brigade: it’s what soldiers fighting the war against Mars call the ones who come back…different. Grunts in the corporate corps get busted down into light to travel to and from interplanetary battlefronts. Everyone is changed by what the corps must do in order to break them down into light. Those who survive learn to stick to the mission brief–no matter what actually happens during combat.

Dietz, a fresh recruit in the infantry, begins to experience combat drops that don’t sync up with the platoon’s. And Dietz’s bad drops tell a story of the war that’s not at all what the corporate brass want the soldiers to think it is.

Is Dietz really experiencing the war differently, or is it combat madness? Trying to untangle memory from mission brief and survive with sanity intact, Dietz is ready to become a hero–or maybe a villain; in war it’s hard to tell the difference.

A worthy successor to classic stories like Downbelow StationStarship Troopers, and The Forever War, The Light Brigade is award-winning author Kameron Hurley’s gritty time-bending take on the future of war.

What’s Kameron’s favorite bit?

The Light Brigade cover image

KAMERON HURLEY

When I was very young, my grandmother admonished me for complaining about how long it was taking to make lunch. “You’re very lucky, you know,” she said. “Your grandfather grew up during the Depression. And me, I was in France during the war! There was never enough to eat. When your grandfather found an injured seagull at the beach, they took it home and ate it for dinner.”

I would remember this story again when I rescued a bird from my grandmother’s cat not long after. Were we going to eat it? What would happen to it? I hid it in a shoebox for a while, until my cousin discovered it, and then we showed it to my grandmother. She made us keep it outside. It didn’t recover. But at least we didn’t eat it.

It’s interesting to me what types of stories stick with us from our childhood, which impressions. My novel The Light Brigade has a lot of big ideas: time travel, interplanetary war, dangerous tech, propaganda and psychological manipulation and a lot more. But while those big ideas may draw one to dive into a story, the beating heart of many books isn’t the big idea, but the smaller, emotional ones. The ordinary people caught up in something extraordinary.

My memory, and the emotions attached to it, became my protagonist Dietz’s memory. It’s the memory that haunts Dietz all through military training, hungry, exhausted, and missing a family taken too soon by war. It became this:

I remember scavenging on the beach of a sludgy river called the Tajo Luz, me and my cousins. My brother was too young, still slung across my mother’s back. She walked ahead of us, scraping at the beach with a homemade rake, uncovering bits of discarded junk.

Farther up the beach, where the sand turned to scrub, a flash of movement caught my eye. I climbed the shallow dunes. Nestled at the top was a twisted mat of plastic ties, broken twigs, aluminum shavings, and synthetic fibers. A baby pigeon rested there, half in and half out of the nest. One wing lay outstretched, flapping uselessly. I took the poor little creature into my hands.

“It’s all right,” I murmured. I ran my finger over its quivering head. Its heart fluttered against my palm.

I slid down the dune and ran to catch up with my mother. I was barefoot, but the rough ruins of the beach hardly bothered me anymore. My feet were dirty, calloused things, hunks of sturdy meat.

“Mama!” I called. She turned, her dark hair blowing back over her shoulder. The sun rose behind her, thick and runny as fresh egg yolk.

“Mama,” I said, holding up the injured bird. “It’s hurt. Can we help it?”

“Let’s get that home,” she said, and she smoothed the hair from my face. It reminded me of how I had stroked the bird’s tiny head.

I beamed at her.

We took the baby bird home along with six mollusks, some copper wire, and a meter-long metal hunk that bore the faded gray circles of the NorRus logo.

I slept that night next to the baby bird. In the morning, my mother boiled off the bird’s feathers and cooked it whole. I’d like to tell you I had no stomach for it. But if you think for a minute I didn’t want to shove that weary bird down my gullet despite having sung it to sleep the night before, then you have never been hungry.

My mother ate the bird herself, to ensure she made enough milk for my brother. I sat across from her on the floor and watched her consume the entire fledgling in three crunchy bites.

I didn’t cry until she left to greet my father, just home from an expedition to the dumps of medical waste outside the nearby military training academy. Until Teni needed more pilots for the war with Mars, years later, we were nobodies. Ghouls. Just like everyone else there.

I clutched my knees to my chest and cried because I was so hungry. I cried because I wanted the pain to end.

I had a realization about my mom and how she relates events to us. She often tells exaggerated, inaccurate tales of encounters and experiences. I wouldn’t say she is intentionally lying. As my father put it: she is conveying the emotion of the experience as it feels to her, not the blow-by-blow of the events. The “logical” truth of a thing is not her emotional truth.

This is what many writers do. We take moments from our lives and the lives of others, and we ferret out the core emotion of those moments, those stories. Then we retell them, we fictionalize them, but because the emotion itself is true, the story feels real as well. It’s a bit of a magic trick.

The Light Brigade is the best book I’ve written to date, and I can’t wait for others to dive into this world: big ideas, small ideas, messy emotions, real truths, and all.

LINKS:

The Light Brigade Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

BIO:

Kameron Hurley is the author of The Light Brigade (March 2019), The Stars are Legion and the essay collection The Geek Feminist Revolution, as well as the award-winning God’s War Trilogy and The Worldbreaker Saga. Hurley has won the Hugo Award, Locus Award, Kitschy Award, and Sydney J. Bounds Award for Best Newcomer. She was also a finalist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, the Nebula Award, and the Gemmell Morningstar Award. Her short fiction has appeared in Popular Science MagazineLightspeed and numerous anthologies. Hurley has also written for The Atlantic, Writers Digest, Entertainment Weekly, The Village Voice, LA Weekly, Bitch Magazine,and Locus Magazine. She posts regularly at KameronHurley.com