Journal

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

Twitter

Facebook

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

c2e2 logo

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

 

We’re moving to Nashville! In April!

Oh, hey. Robert and I are relocating to Nashville.

In April.

It’s like this. I go to my parents’ home in Chattanooga about once a month, which combines with my other travel schedule to mean a lot of time away from Robert. We’ve been experimenting with having him travel with me a little, but it’s tricky because he’s got a day job. A day job which is very time-sensitive and not easy to delegate.

He’s been the winemaker of City Winery Chicago since it opened in 2012. These are not easy jobs to find and we figured that a move to Tennessee was out of the question. And then… the City Winery Nashville winemaker decided to move on. The company knows how much time I spend in Tennessee, so they asked Robert if he wanted to transfer.

Y’all. This is such a good thing.

It’ll put us closer to my parents, which will cut down on travel. Plus, it’ll make it easy for Robert to go with me, so we get to spend more time together.

But, to make this work the timing is such that we’re moving in April. Wish us luck!

PS Apologies to everyone at Futurescapes that I can’t make it this year. SO MUCH PACKING.

Debut Author Lessons: Status and Hierarchy shifts

This entry is part 22 of 22 in the series Debut Author Lessons

One of the unexpected side effects of publishing a book or a story is a shift in your status. Now, I know you’re thinking, “but I’ve only published one thing, I’m not a REAL author.”  I’ve talked elsewhere about imposter syndrome, so I want to talk about the unintentional side effects of ignoring the fact that you no longer occupy the same place in the hierarchy

You and Ursula K Le Guin are the same. Bear with me on this one… Occasionally, I talk to an SFF fan who has never read anything by Ursula K. Le Guin. Sometimes, they’ve never even heard of her.

We’ll pause for a moment to experience shock.

Also to sorrow for that reader’s upbringing.

Okay. So, here’s the thing. To that reader, picking up a book by this new author they’ve discovered named Ursula K. Le Guin carries with it exactly the same weight and expectation as picking up a book by you. Which means that to a new reader, you have the same social power as Ursula K. Le Guin.

In fact, if they’ve read and loved your book, and not read anything by her, you have more social power.

What is social power? Have you ever been talking to someone and then suddenly realized Who They Were. Then frantically reviewed everything you’d just said in case it was something was stupid?

Here’s me, experiencing that moment:

I’m standing in the cafeteria line at a puppetry festival. The older woman behind me points to one of the innumerable orange dishes behind the glass. “Do you have any idea what that is?”

“Macaroni and cheese?” I mean, it’s orange and lumpy in that sort of way. I point to a different vat of orange. “Do you have guesses about that one?”

“Scalloped potatoes, I think…” She points at another. “That?”

“Sweet potatoes, maybe. It has marshmallows.” I point to more orange. “Thoughts on that one?”

“Cauliflower with cheese.” She points to something virulently orange. “What about that?”

I’m stumped. I turn to face her more fully, enjoying this game and I see her name badge for the first time. Jane Henson.

JANE HENSON

JANE

HENSON

My brain is now filled with don’t lose your cool. don’t lose your cool don’t lose your cool. What comes out of my mouth is, “Um… orange?”

Up until the moment when I realized who she was, she was just a pleasant older woman and fellow puppeteer. After that moment, she was Jane F*cking Henson and I’d been talking to her about orange food. Strangely, she is exactly the same person before and after that moment. Her internal status doesn’t shift. Her external status does.

And that is what happens with you, when someone realizes that you wrote a book that they liked. Everything you say suddenly carries more weight to them.

This is a sudden hierarchy shift. When you publish a book, or heavens, win an award, you don’t just jump one level, you jump a couple in terms of people’s view of your external status. Inside, you’re still exactly the same person but people respond to you differently and it is weird. It is tricky to navigate the change, because it literally happens overnight.

Beware of accidental abuse. Let’s take it as given that you are a good person and would never knowingly hurt someone. When you’ve had a hierarchy shift, by publishing a book, or winning an award, you take up more space than you’re used to but you feel the same.

So imagine if your idol is coming into town and says, “Want to have lunch?”

You drop everything, try not to hyperventilate, and say, “Yes.”

A random stranger comes to town, you say, “No.”

So, when you publish a book, you feel like a random stranger, but you are someone’s idol. It’s very easy to do something that would be innocuous if you were talking to an old friend, but in this new context your words and actions carry more weight. It’s not fair, on multiple levels, but that’s the way it is.

It means that people will have a harder time telling you “no.” It means that your opinion will carry more weight. It is easy to take advantage of people without realizing it.

Treat people like third graders. Wait– let me explain. I used to tour to elementary schools with puppet theater. I met a ton of third graders. They are great. They are hyper-intelligent people and everything is still new. They are excited to meet you.

At the schools, they wanted my autograph because I was The Puppet Lady. Now the thing is, I cleaned out my childhood room with that collection of show posters from community theater. I know exactly how much those pieces of paper are worth. Monetarily, nothing.

What they represent is a day that was out of the ordinary. These kids are excited because they had a day that was out of the ordinary. To me, it was just another day. I did puppet shows every day, literally. It took conscious thought to remember that this was the first time that they had seen a show.

Now, it’s easy to confuse out-of-the-ordinary with extraordinary. I can’t live up to extraordinary — I’m just doing my job — but I can be out of the ordinary.

With third graders, it takes so little effort to tip an out of the ordinary day into a fantastic one or a terrible one. It’s the difference between saying, “Sure! I’ll sign your poster. Did you have a favorite part of the show?” and “Kid, I don’t have time for this.”

I’ve realized that it is the same thing with readers. Autographs are proof of an out-of-the ordinary day, a memory that you can show to people.

Have boundaries. Just because you’re trying to be a good person and remember the size of your new footprint doesn’t mean that you can’t also take care of yourself. Don’t want to hang out with someone? Don’t. Need down time? Take it. Someone makes you feel gross? They’re an asshole and it’s okay to treat them accordingly.

Act with intention. All of this can sound terrifying, which… okay, is a little bit my goal. But only in the same way that fire can be terrifying. It is beautiful and keeps us warm, but if we aren’t aware and use it without conscious intention, it can burn everything down.

So you’ve published a book. Maybe most people have no idea who you are, but to the person who read it and loved it?

You’re out-of-the-ordinary.

You are Jane Henson and Ursula K. Le Guin wrapped up in one.

You’re on fire.

Enjoy the warmth and try not to burn anything down.

My Favorite Bit: Jack Skillingstead talks about THE CHAOS FUNCTION

My Favorite BitJack Skillingstead is joining us today with his novel The Chaos Function. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Olivia Nikitas, a hardened journalist whose specialty is war zones, has been reporting from the front lines of the civil war in Aleppo, Syria. When Brian, an aid worker she reluctantly fell in love with, dies while following her into danger, she’ll do anything to bring him back. In a makeshift death chamber beneath an ancient, sacred site, a strange technology is revealed to Olivia: the power to remake the future by changing the past.

Following her heart and not her head, Olivia brings Brian back, accidentally shifting the world to the brink of nuclear and biological disaster. Now she must stay steps ahead of the guardians of this technology, who will kill her to reclaim it, in order to save not just herself and her love, but the whole world.

What’s Jack’s favorite bit?

The Chaos Function cover image

JACK SKILLINGSTEAD

I’m not a fan of intentional literary symbolism, but if I stumble over some juicy examples in my own work I might (or might not) play with them. Usually I don’t. These kinds of games are fun for writers, but readers tend to ignore them. That’s cool. Anything that distracts from Story counts as a misstep in the design. So, for me, the rules for symbols are that they should be unobtrusive and accidental. Once the accident happens, it’s okay to tweak it, if the desire moves you.

Save the cat.

Everybody’s heard of this, right? It’s a Hollywood thing. Your character is rough around the edges, so you show her being nice to an innocent creature in trouble. Voila! Your character has a soft heart, even if she keeps it hidden behind a granite exterior. My protagonist in The Chaos Function, war reporter Olivia Nikitas, saves a cat in the first scene. However, it’s not really a Hollywood style save-the-cat moment, because we’ve just been introduced to Olivia, and there’s nothing about her yet that needs softening or redeeming. Also, Olivia is only saving the cat because she is trying to save a little girl who has put herself in a dangerous position as a consequence of her efforts to save the cat. If anything, Olivia is cranky about the cat. I like the scene because it riffs on save-the-cat without really being save-the-cat.

Anyway, that’s Cat Number One.

Cat Number Two turns up at almost exactly the midway point of the novel. Actually it’s the same cat, only slipped into a dream of blood and chaos. In this novel, sometimes, dreams are more significant than simple mind movies. When I wrote this brief dream sequence, all I wanted to do was call back to a few images from earlier in the book and place those images in a different context. I didn’t give it a lot of extra thought. Intuitively it seemed right, so I went with it.

Cat Number Three makes her appearance at the very end of The Chaos Function. This time the little beastie is lounging on the back of a sofa in the window of a house in Jaipur. You could say the house represents Home with a capital H, which is what Olivia has spent much of her life both avoiding and longing for. I won’t tell you whether Olivia is actually in the scene—that would spoil the journey.

So…

Cat Number One explores the wreckage of a world barely entering reconstruction after years of war. The same can be said of Olivia.

Cat Number Two slops around in a dream chamber of blood and chaos, which is what the world has become as a result of Olivia’s trying to restore the timeline she has unintentionally warped.

Cat Number Three, finally, appears when the world, to the extent that it can be, is restored.

I didn’t plan this sequence of feline appearances representing the state of Olivia’s interior world—at least, I didn’t plan them consciously. But in the rewrite I noticed them, and they delighted me. If you write enough fiction you develop an instinct for recognizing lucky coincidences. What you do with those coincidences is up to you.

By the way, why cats? I’ll tell you. There is a significant cat I haven’t yet mentioned: Schrodinger’s Cat. This is a novel of about the power to choose different superpositional end points. My theory is that the unconscious does a significant amount of writing. While I’ve spent weeks, months, or years thinking about and then typing a novel, I’ve also been feeding my unconscious collaborator, and it’s the collaborator who comes up with some of the best stuff. Images, character detail, it’s even pretty good at untying plot knots. And sometimes it gets cute and provides a few cats to act as narrative and thematic sign posts. So my Three Cats of the Apocalypse(s) are my favorite bit. Today, anyway.

LINKS:

The Chaos Function Universal Book Link

Website

Facebook

Twitter

BIO:

Jack Skillingstead’s Harbinger was nominated for a Locus Award for best first novel. His second, Life on the Preservation, was a finalist for the Philip K. Dick Award. He has published more than forty short stories to critical acclaim and was short‑listed for the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award. His writing has been translated internationally. He lives in Seattle with his wife, writer Nancy Kress.

 

Debut Author Lessons: So you’ve been nominated for an award…

I will grant that this particular thing will not happen for everyone, but it will happen for some of you and award nominations come with no instructions. Over the years, I’ve learned a few things and so here’s the stuff that I’ve told new Nebula, Hugo, and Campbell finalists.

When they say confidential… What they mean is that they don’t want the news to get out into the wider world. There are two reasons for this.

  1. They want to get as much traction with the news as possible. If it trickles out into the world a little at a time, it’s less good for everyone, including you.
  2. People are notified at different times. Sometimes this is because of categories and sometimes it is because a nominee declines and they go to the next person on the list.

Try to avoid subtweeting Look. I’ve done it. I will do it again. BUT I try not to now because it is not even remotely subtle. Everyone knows when nominations start rolling out, so if you announce Secret Good News during that window, people know. I get that you’ll explode if you don’t tell someone and that you’re really excited so find another venue through which to express that excitement. For instance…

  • Tell your agent and editor. Your publicist, too, if you have one. They need time to get things set up so that when the news stops being embargoed, they are ready to go with announcements. Make sure they know the embargo date!
  • Tell your family. Look, you didn’t sign an NDA. As long as you respect the need for the organization to control when the news is released into the wider world, it’s okay to tell your family. Obviously, don’t do it on your cousin’s livestream but as long as you are clear about the embargo date and that they can’t tell anyone, you’re fine.
  • Write an announcement and have it ready to go. When that list of finalists goes live, people will want to congratulate you. It’s easiest if they have a place to do it. Plus there’s a chance some of them will repost it and that’s a good thing.
  • Write a speech. It doesn’t matter if you are sure you don’t have a chance and feel like an imposter. Writing a speech is a chance to think about everyone who helped you get to the place where your work has been nominated. None of us do it alone. Taking some time to think about who you want to thank and why is very centering. In the event that you win, it saves you from getting up there and forgetting to thank someone super important.

Once the announcement is public…

Tell everyone. Boom — your announcement is ready. Post it in all the places. Tell your family that they can talk about it now. Tell random strangers on the bus. (I may or may not have done that once.)

Congratulate and celebrate your fellow nominees. Look, your fellow nominees are your peers. They are not your competition. The book/story/radio play/whatever already exists in the world and there’s nothing you can do to change the quality of your work or anyone else’s. That truth will do nothing to reduce your anxiety. The only other people who completely and totally get what you are going through, right now, are the people you are nominated with. Even people who have been nominated in the past will have forgotten the crispness of the excitement. The frisson of the moment when you get the call or email. But your peers will grok the weirdness completely.

Plus, a rising tide raises all boats. Celebrating your peers raises the awareness of the award, which encompasses all the nominees, including you. Only one of you will take the award home, but all of you can benefit and enjoy being nominated.

You will get a lot of interview requests. Answer all that you can without breaking yourself. A nomination offers visibility. Start a spreadsheet with questions and your answers to them, because people will ask the same ones over and over. You can cut and paste a stock answer, tweaking it so it looks fresh where necessary.

Update your bio.  It will feel odd and self-aggrandizing. It only feels that way. But it serves the function of raising the visibility of the award, which will help you and the other nominees. Especially remember to mention this when you are on panels at a convention. It doesn’t have to be hard. Just something like, “My name is Mary Robinette Kowal, I’m a professional puppeteer, an audiobook narrator and I write SFF novels and short fiction. Currently, my novel “Calculating Stars” is a finalist for the Nebula award.'”

Finally… you will probably completely freak out about being a finalist and have difficulty writing, because you will feel pressure to prove that you deserved the nomination. You deserve it. Know that.

Also recognize that the freak out is a perfectly valid response. It’s a desire to keep leveling up, but it’s misfiring slightly. The way past it is to set an external deadline on your next project and to keep writing. If you don’t have a deadline already, ask a friend to set one for you.

Above all, enjoy the glow. As previously mentioned, there’s not really anything you can do to improve your chances of winning. The work is the work. So focus on what you can control. How that manifests will differ from person to person. I like ballgowns, so I use the opportunity to track down a perfect gown. I get a facial. On the day of, I have my hair done. None of it matters, but it is stuff that is in my control and allows me to feel special.

Treat yourself like a goddess of fiction and buy something cool that represents all the hard work that got you here. Go to the spa. Throw a party. Whatever makes you happy, do it.

And congratulations!

My Favorite Bit: Michael R. Johnston talks about THE WIDENING GYRE

My Favorite BitMichael R. Johnston is joining us today to talk about his novel The Widening Gyre. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Eight hundred years ago, the Zhen Empire discovered a broken human colony ship drifting in the fringes of their space. The Zhen gave the humans a place to live and folded them into their Empire as a client state. But it hasn’t been easy. Not all Zhen were eager to welcome another species into their Empire, and humans have faced persecution. For hundreds of years, human languages and history were outlawed subjects, as the Zhen tried to mold humans into their image. Earth and the cultures it nourished for millennia are forgotten, little more than legends.

One of the first humans to be allowed to serve in the Zhen military, Tajen Hunt became a war hero at the Battle of Elkari, the only human to be named an official Hero of the Empire. He was given command of a task force, and sent to do the Empire’s bidding in their war with the enigmatic Tabrans. But when he failed in a crucial mission, causing the deaths of millions of people, he resigned in disgrace and faded into life on the fringes as a lone independent pilot.

When Tajen discovers his brother, Daav, has been killed by agents of the Empire, he, his niece, and their newly-hired crew set out to finish his brother’s quest: to find Earth, the legendary homeworld of humanity. What they discover will shatter 800 years of peace in the Empire, and start a war that could be the end of the human race.

What’s Michael’s favorite bit?

The Widening Gyre cover image

MICHAEL R. JOHNSTON

Writing is hard.  Some days, it’s only as bad as pulling twice your weight across the room.  Other days, it’s like trying to juggle fifteen balls while singing Mozart’s “Queen of the Night” aria. But sometimes you get lucky. Sometimes the fates smile on you, the heavens open up, Calliope wipes her soothing hands across your brow, and the words flow like perfectly clear and cold water, and for a little while, you feel like this writing thing is easy.

When I was writing The Widening Gyre, one scene flowed that perfectly.  It is, in the current draft, almost exactly as I wrote it the first time. One of my beta readers called the scene “beat perfect.” My editor had little to say about it beyond some of my weird writer tics that had to be squashed flat.

It’s a heist, and while it goes very quickly, that was intentional.  I didn’t want to bog the characters down in a long subquest; I wanted them to get in, get screwed, find out they were screwed, and then calmly shoot their way out in style while cracking wise at each other and, for a brief moment, having fun.

The secret about Tajen and Liam is that they love their lives. They’d never admit it, but being deep in the shit, outgunned and outflanked, is when they feel most alive.  When things go south, they’re in their element, a smoothly operating team of grade-A smartasses. Meeting each other has only made them embrace that part of themselves. So, when they get captured and subjected to their captor’s ranting, neither of them can take it entirely seriously, even though they’re well aware of the danger:

Liam glanced sidelong at me and sighed. “You know, I’d pay good money for you to shut him up.”

“Why me?” I asked.  “You’re the infantryman. I’m just a pilot.” I shrugged.  “You do it.”

“Excuse me,” Simms said. “I’m standing right here, asshole.”

“He is,” I said.

“True,” Liam said. “I can fix that, though.”

Simms pulled a blaster pistol from his jacket and shoved it into Liam’s face, the muzzle pressing into his cheek. “Do you want to know why you’re not dead yet?”

Liam tsked. “Because the safety’s on?” he asked.

The one complaint I got about this chapter from every reader was that a character introduced in the chapter is never seen again; she remains behind when the characters leave. So here’s a secret, something only my editor knows so far—Seeker will be back in book 2, and she’ll be far, far more important than you’d think.  I’m not done with her yet.   But in the meantime, Tajen and Liam will be snarking their way into and out of danger, one quip—and a well-aimed blaster—away from destruction all the way.

LINKS:

The Widening Gyre Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

Instagram

BIO:

Michael R. Johnston is a high school English teacher and writer living in Sacramento, California with his wife, daughter, and more cats than strictly necessary. He is a member of the 2017 Viable Paradise class.  The Widening Gyre is his debut novel.

My Favorite Bit: Dan Stout talks about TITANSHADE

My Favorite BitDan Stout is joining us today to talk about his novel Titanshade. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Carter’s a homicide cop in Titanshade, an oil boomtown where 8-tracks are state of the art, disco rules the radio, and all the best sorcerers wear designer labels. It’s also a metropolis teetering on the edge of disaster. As its oil reserves run dry, the city’s future hangs on a possible investment from the reclusive amphibians known as Squibs.

But now negotiations have been derailed by the horrific murder of a Squib diplomat. The pressure’s never been higher to make a quick arrest, even as Carter’s investigation leads him into conflict with the city’s elite. Undermined by corrupt coworkers and falsified evidence, and with a suspect list that includes power-hungry politicians, oil magnates, and mad scientists, Carter must find the killer before the investigation turns into a witch-hunt and those closest to him pay the ultimate price on the filthy streets of Titanshade.

What’s Dan’s favorite bit?

Titanshade cover image

DAN STOUT

My debut novel TITANSHADE is a noir fantasy thriller set in an oil boomtown where magic is real, disco tops the charts, and good cops are hard to find. This combination of secondary-world fantasy with 1970s police procedural results in over 400 pages of fights, explosions, false accusations, and murders. It’s massively fun and massively over the top. But in all that chaos, my favorite bit is a single paragraph where one of the characters decides not to change the radio station.

This simple act occurs near the end of the book, and is the payoff of countless early arguments between a pair of detectives over what music gets played in their car. These conflicts may have been about a radio, but they’re also about two different people with two very different ways of viewing the world. As these partners ride into a life-or-death final showdown, seeing one defer to the other’s taste in music shows how close they’ve grown in a way that pages of exposition could never have captured.

As a writer, it can be tempting to confuse “upping the stakes” with making things flashy and explosive. Don’t get me wrong: I love a good explosion! But sometimes it’s small details and quiet moments that have the most power. In this case, a simple gesture provides closure to a long-running argument while also giving a glimpse of emotional vulnerability between two fairly hard-nosed characters. And that makes the danger they’re headed toward even more meaningful.

It was an extremely satisfying section to write and — I hope! — just as satisfying to read. If I did my job, the book is a series of ‘loops’ such as this, each of them opening and pulling in the reader before closing in a satisfying fashion.

Sometimes closing these loops involves big dramas, like explosive fight scenes, or explosive love scenes, or explosive… explosions.

But not all loops are best resolved with big set pieces. Some are quiet acts, almost tiny. Like letting the radio dial sit where it is, even if you hate the music.

If I did my job right, the climax at the end of TITANSHADE is the closing of many loops of different size and intensity, the prose version of the grand finale at a fireworks display. It’s a climatic round of violent beauty that leaves the reader stunned and satisfied, with an ache in their chest and a smile that won’t go away. But it all starts with a moment of calm, and a radio that isn’t touched.

And hey…  if that doesn’t work, I can always add in another explosion.

LINKS:

Titanshade Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

Goodreads

BIO:

Dan Stout lives in Columbus, Ohio, where he writes about fever dreams and half-glimpsed shapes in the shadows. His prize-winning fiction draws on travels throughout Europe, Asia, and the Pacific Rim as well as an employment history spanning everything from subpoena server to assistant well driller. Dan’s stories have appeared in publications such as The Saturday Evening Post, Nature, and Intergalactic Medicine Show.

Welcome Elsie!

After we lost Marlowe in January, Sadie was clearly lonely. At night she would wander around crying and during the day she was extremely needy. So we went to the Critical Animal Relief Foundation, whence we had adopted Sadie, and told them we were looking for a new cat.

We wanted someone who was affectionate and very much a lap cat. Someone who would play with Sadie. We didn’t care about age or coloration, or gender. CARF suggested that we might like this six-month old calico, but she had some digestive issues so it would be a little while before she was ready to go home with someone but that we could meet her.

Calico kitten staring at the camera

While we were setting up a meeting time, we got another email explaining that, for reasons, they needed to move her to a new foster home and that we could foster-to-adopt. Which means that they help with vet bills. We figured that even if she turned out to be not the right cat, we could at least help her get healthy.

She is very much the right cat.

This has been the smoothest new cat introduction we’ve had. Sadie had to do a little explanation about boundaries, but very little. They’ve had some honest games of tag. Nose sniffing. They aren’t BFFs and Sadie is very much Queen of the Hill when it comes to getting onto the bed, but tolerates the child if she’s up there first.

Adult floofy cat lounging in background behind calico kitten

(If you will allow me to do an aside about bi-color cats… The mechanism by which a cat has white markings is related to the speed with which the color genes migrate through the kitten in the womb. So the effect is visible on both Sadie and Elsie. The more white, the slower the migration. What’s super interesting is that a calico is a tortoiseshell with white BUT the more white the cat has, the more discrete the orange and black patches are.  So a tortie with no white gets that pile of leaves look, and one with lots of white winds up with very clear orange and black patches. And THAT happens because the genes for orange and black are carried on the X chromosome. You have to have one of each to get a tortie or calico and that’s why there are almost never males except in rare XXY cats. (Hi. I wanted to be a vet (specializing in cats (had a subscription to Cat Fancy)) until my senior year of high school.))

So… her name was not quite right. We toyed with some and then I went off on a cruise for a week (my life is hard) when I got back, I asked Robert if she had acquired a name.

Elsie.

Granted, he actually said, L.C. for Little Cat, but I heard Elsie and…

Allow me to tell you about Elsie MacGill, Queen of the Hurricanes. Born in 1905, she was the first women in the world to receive a degree in aeronautical engineering. She was the chief engineer, in charge of producing Hurricane airplanes for WW2. She owned her own aeronautic consulting company. She was the first woman to chair a committee for the UN. She was an advocate for women and children rights and worked to have abortion stricken from the Canadian criminal code and for paid maternity leave. She was a polio survivor and walked with canes.

Queen of the Hurricanes comic book page

Our little girl has a funky hind leg that doesn’t tuck under when she sits. As you see, it doesn’t slow her down and Queen of the Hurricanes is the correct name for her.

 

Welcome home, Elsie.

(If you want to give her a welcome home present, please consider donating to CARF.)

My Favorite Bit: Amber Royer talks about PURE CHOCOLATE

My Favorite BitAmber Royer is joining us today with her novel Pure Chocolate. Here is the publisher’s description:

In a galaxy where chocolate is literally addictive, one celebrity chef is fighting back, in the delicious sequel to Free Chocolate

To save everyone she loves, Bo Bonitez is touring Zant, home of the murderous, shark-toothed aliens who so recently tried to eat her. In the midst of her stint as Galactic paparazzi princess, she discovers that Earth has been exporting tainted chocolate to the galaxy, and getting aliens hooked on cocoa. Bo must choose whether to go public, or just smile for the cameras and make it home alive. She’s already struggling with her withdrawal from the Invincible Heart, and her love life has a life of its own, but when insidious mind worms intervene, things start to get complicated!

What’s Amber’s favorite bit?

Pure Chocolate cover image

AMBER ROYER

Pure Chocolate is, in many ways, a telenovela laid out on the page.  I write comedy, so I’m playing with the genre’s overdone tropes.  You need someone who’s presumed dead but really isn’t?  Check.  You need an evil twin?  Check . . . sort of.  A character who doesn’t know her own true identity?  An over the top conversation that gets taken entirely out of context?  A tense courtroom drama?  A touch and go operation?  Check, check, check and check.

But at the same time, the Chocoverse is solidly space opera.  Structurally and thematically, telenovelas are a whole different world, sometimes in ways that are going to surprise a reader of more traditional space opera.  Bad guys don’t get destroyed.  Mostly, they get redeemed.  In fact, telenovela heroes sometimes look like space opera villains.

Many novelas run on two very specific character arcs.  You have a strong heroine who is marked in some way – poverty, personal shame, disfigurement – and thus endures many trials, learns from them to turn that drawback into a strength and is then rewarded with both plot triumph and true love.  And the hero is often a rich businessman, ruthless and cold, who learns from the heroine that people are more important than things and arcs hard to become worthy of her.

In the first book, I subverted that expectation.  Brill’s character type in a novela usually provides contrast to the actual hero, and conflict as a romantic rival, before (sometimes) dying nobly so the happy couple can be together guilt free.  Obviously, since Brill’s alive and well and standing with Bo on the cover of Book 2, we’re off script.  Only . . . are we?

Look at Bo’s relationship to her home world, that out-of-balance Earth determined to hold onto an economic place in the galaxy no matter who gets hurt.  Do you start to see a familiar character?  This series is in first person because Bo’s the only one with enough unselfish love and inner strength to potentially change the heart of an entire planet.  If she can only manage not to die in a very space-opera-ish way first.  And if said planet isn’t destroyed by a Zantite invasion fleet.  And if she can learn a number of specific lessons about the nature of love along the way.

One of my favorite bits in Pure Chocolate is near the beginning.  Bo was taken off the beach as a prank on/dig at one of the other characters.  Now, being confronted by the cops, she faces a dilemma: should she tell the truth, even though the context of the situation will be ignored?  Or should she lie and show mercy?  Keep in mind while reading it that the Zantites are giant, somewhat shark-like aliens.

I lean in towards Murry and ask, “What’s the penalty for kidnapping here?”

“If the victim was put in physical danger – as Tawny is insisting happened — it could be death.  Or maybe just assignment to a warship.”  Which is a life sentence. . .

I’ve said so much to Tawny about how horrible it is to lie.  Pero, this time, if I tell the truth, my abductor might not leave this room.  Who’d have to kill him?  On the warship, that honor had gone to the highest-ranking officer.  Dghax seems to be in charge here, so it’s probably him.

Dent Head swallows visibly and goes a bit greener.  His hands ball into fists at his sides.  And yet, he’s not trying to escape this.  There’s a hint of hero to him after all.

Dghax holds out a voice recorder.  “Did you see the face of or speak with your abductor?”

. . . He takes a step forward, about to confess.  My heart lurches, as I picture his neck meeting Dghax’s teeth.  I don’t want to see Dent Head die for one drunken mistake.

“No!” I say, mostly to him.  Pero I smile at Dghax and repeat more calmly.  “No y no.  I remember being on the path, then I remember being in the tree.”

LINKS:

Pure Chocolate Universal Book Link

Pure Chocolate Excerpt

Pure Chocolate Book Trailer

Website

Instagram

Facebook

Twitter

BIO:

Amber Royer writes fun science fiction involving chocolate, aliens, lovesick AIs, time travel, VR, and more. She’s the author of the CHOCOVERSE comic space opera series (FREE CHOCOLATE available now, Book 2, PURE CHOCOLATE, coming March 5, 2019 from Angry Robot Books). She and her husband have also co-authored two cookbooks, one of which is all about chocolate). She teaches creative writing in North Texas for both UT Arlington Continuing Education and Writing Workshops Dallas. If you are very nice to her, she might make you cupcakes.

 

My Favorite Bit: Dan Moren talks about THE BAYERN AGENDA

My Favorite BitDan Moren is joining us today to talk about his upcoming novel The Bayern Agenda. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Simon Kovalic, top intelligence operative for the Commonwealth of Independent Systems, is on the frontline of the burgeoning Cold War with the aggressive Illyrican Empire. He barely escapes his latest mission with a broken arm, and vital intel which points to the Empire cozying up to the Bayern Corporation: a planet-sized bank. There’s no time to waste, but with Kovalic out of action, his undercover team is handed over to his ex-wife, Lt Commander Natalie Taylor. When Kovalic’s boss is tipped off that the Imperium are ready and waiting, it’s up to the wounded spy to rescue his team and complete the mission before they’re all caught and executed.

What’s Dan’s favorite bit?

The Bayern Agenda cover image

DAN MOREN

Ask any writer: beginnings and endings are easy. At the beginning of a story, everything’s fresh and new, brimming with potential and passion. Likewise, the end is often a roller coaster plunge as you tie together all the threads you’ve been laying for the story, wrapping it up in a hopefully satisfying conclusion.

Middles, though…middles are tough. That’s where the hard work happens, the careful intertwining of those threads you laid out in the beginning as they progress towards that inevitable end. (If you’ve ever watched The Great British Bake-Off and seen somebody mess up braiding a loaf of bread, you’ll appreciate the challenge of weaving all your plot points and character arcs into an attractive whole.)

So it’s as much a surprise to me as to anyone that my favorite bit of my latest novel, the sci-fi spy adventure The Bayern Agenda, is right smack in the middle of the book.

While on a mission on the planet Bayern, accidental Commonwealth agent Eli Brody has found himself roped into attending a black-tie soirée at the embassy of the Illyrican Empire, the Commonwealth’s rival superpower—and, as it happens, the very government that he himself deserted some six months prior.

My love for this whole sequence runs deep. Embassies are, of course, a staple of espionage stories, because they provide a space that is tantalizingly liminal in a number of ways. First, physically: you’re in the domain of the enemy, even though that domain is itself on foreign ground. Then, emotionally: this kind of professional environment requires a veneer of civility between rivals, of conflict blurred into fake camaraderie. Or is it real camaraderie? After all, the foot soldiers of a galactic conflict may have more in common with one another than with those calling the shots. Finally, politically. There’s a dichotomy of the overt and the covert at play here: an embassy is ostensibly all about diplomacy and good relations, even as hidden agendas lurk beneath. In short, it’s a setting ripe for subtext and tension.

Plus, of course, it’s dangerous.

Especially for Eli, a novice spy who’s been forced to learn the dos-and-don’ts of espionage in a hurry. Who can he trust? Is that pleasant civil servant he meets really all that he seems? What happens when the mission he’s been sent on takes a sudden and dire left turn? Throw in Eli’s fraught relationship with the Illyricans—who will not hesitate to arrest and perhaps even execute him if they discover who he really is—and it makes for (I hope) a tense scene that gets readers’ blood pumping.

As a writer, I have fond memories of putting this scene together, because I found myself rejoicing in the time-honored tradition of dunking your character deeper and deeper into hot water. Needless to say, Eli Brody’s situation gets only more dire as the lavish party progresses. Then, just when you think he’s in as deep as he can get, he makes a truly inspired—and truly ridiculous—choice: the kind of move that only an amateur spy would think is a good idea, since it leaves him with that hot water firmly over his head. And, as a bonus, it’s the kind of thing that makes even a reserved writer cackle in glee as everything clicks into place.

All in all, it makes for the kind of high-stakes cocktail party that you won’t soon forget.

LINKS:

The Bayern Agenda Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

BIO:

Dan Moren is the author of the sci-fi espionage thrillers The Bayern Agenda and The Caledonian Gambit. By day, he works as a freelance writer, hosts technology podcasts Clockwise and The Rebound, and talks pop culture on The Incomparable podcast network. By night, he fights crime while dressed as a bat. He could use some sleep.

My Favorite Bit: Keith R.A. DeCandido talks about A FURNACE SEALED

My Favorite BitKeith R.A. DeCandido is joining us today with his novel A Furnace Sealed. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Bram Gold is a Courser, a hunter-for-hire who deals with supernatural creatures, mystical happenings, and things that go booga-booga in the night. Under the supervision of the Wardein—his childhood friend Miriam Zerelli, who is in charge of all magical activity in the Bronx, New York—he’s who you hire if you need a crazed unicorn wrangled, some werewolves guarded while they gallivant around under the full moon, or an ill-advised attempt to bind a god stopped.

The Bronx is the home to several immortals, who are notoriously hard to kill—so it comes as rather a surprise when one of them turns up murdered, seemingly by a vampire. In addition, binding spells all across New York are either coming undone, failing to work, or are difficult to restore. As Bram investigates, more immortals turn up dead, and a strange woman keeps appearing long enough to give cryptic advice and then disappear. Soon, he uncovers a nasty sequence of events that could lead to the destruction of New York!

What’s Keith’s favorite bit?

A Furnace Sealed Universal Book Link

KEITH R.A. DeCANDIDO

The trick with A Furnace Sealed, the first in The Adventures of Bram Gold, is that I don’t have a single favorite bit, but rather the whole notion of writing about my home town of New York City in general and my home borough of the Bronx in particular is one that appeals to me. I rarely pass up an opportunity to write a story set in the Big Apple, whether original or tie-in.

To be more specific, though, I love writing about the people here. The Bronx is one of the most fascinatingly diverse places you’ll find. In 2009 and 2010, I worked for the U.S. Census Bureau, and I got to see so many different places and things and people.

My favorite was going to a Buddhist monastery, located in an old two-story house on a side street near Kingsbridge Road. From the outside, it looked like just another house, but inside I was greeted by a wizened old monk and his acolyte. They gave me tea, and for half an hour, I felt like I’d been transported to a secluded region of Asia rather than the middle of the Bronx.

The team I supervised for the main Census operation included people who were from (or whose ancestry traced back to) western Africa, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Korea, Cambodia, Trinidad, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Poland, Russia, Italy, and Ireland.

It was a joy and a privilege to be exposed to so many different cultures and points of view. And when I sat down to write A Furnace Sealed, I tried very hard to reflect that. The people in this book include the Jewish main character (Bram Gold), his Italian-American best friend (Miriam Zerelli), and lots of people from a variety of ethnicities and skin tones, including a wizard named José Velez, a magic shop run by someone named Ahondjon, with his nephew Medawe, and several of Bram’s fellow Coursers: Bernabe Iturralde, Hugues Baptiste, Sal Antonelli, Dahlia Rhys-Markham, and more. The four werewolves living in the Bronx spend the other 27 days of the month as humans named Anna-Maria Weintraub, Katie Gonzalez, Tyrone Morris, and Mark McAvoy.

While there are some neighborhoods in New York that default toward a particular ethnicity, even those have plenty of other folks living there—I myself am an Italian living in a mostly Irish neighborhood that also has a hefty number of dark-skinned folk from Central America and India—and most neighborhoods aren’t nearly that segregated. You’ve got folks all living mushed together ’round these parts, and it’s glorious. (It also occasionally results in culinary weirdness, like a Japanese-Cuban restaurant that I have yet to have had the courage to try.)

Variety, so the cliché goes, is the spice of life, and I for one prefer my life to be spicy. I tried to reflect that aspect of my home borough in this novel that takes place there.

None of that is really a favorite bit, so I’m just gonna close with this little bit of dialogue from Medawe, who helps his uncle Ahondjon run a magic shop on Jerome Avenue, talking with someone on the phone:

“Nah, he ain’t here,” Medawe was saying. Unlike his uncle, he was born in the Bronx, so he didn’t have Ahondjon’s thick West African accent. “It’s Sunday, he’s in church.… Nah, I ain’t telling you what church.… What, you telling me you found Jesus now? Bullshit. Just gimme the message, I’ll let him know when he gets back.… I don’t know when, I ain’t found no Jesus, neither. ’Sides, you know how he likes talking to folks. Could be hours.… Yeah, well, fuck you too.”

Shaking his head, Medawe pressed the end button on the phone.

“Another satisfied customer?”

Medawe snorted. “Yeah, somethin’ like that. What’cha need, Gold?”

“I need to talk to Ahondjon. He really in church?”

“Hell, no. Only time his ass goes into a church is to deliver their holy water.”

I blinked. “Wait, churches buy holy water from him?”

“They do if they want the shit that works.”

 

LINKS:

A Furnace Sealed Universal Book Link

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BIO:

Keith R.A. DeCandido has written a ridiculous amount of fiction, or an amount of ridiculous fiction depending on your POV, for 25 years. His bibliography includes a metric buttload of media tie-in fiction in 35 different licensed universes from Alien to Zorro, as well as original novels and short stories set in the fictional cities of Cliff’s End and Super City and the somewhat real cities of New York and Key West. Recent and upcoming work, besides A Furnace Sealed, includes the Alien novel Isolation (which is partly a novelization of the same-named videogame, partly Ripley family backstory), Mermaid Precinct (the fifth novel in his acclaimed fantasy/police procedure series), four Super City Cops novellas (about cops in a city filled with superheroes), a graphic novel adaptation of Gregory A. Wilson’s Icarus, and short stories in the anthologies Unearthed, Brave New Girls: Adventures of Gals & Gizmos, Mine!: A Celebration of Freedom and Liberty For All Benefitting Planned Parenthood, They Keep Killing Glenn, Thrilling Adventure Yarns, Joe Ledger: Unstoppable, Nights of the Living Dead, both volumes of Baker Street Irregulars, and Release the Virgins!