Journal

My Favorite Bit: Fonda Lee talks about EXO

Favorite Bit iconFonda Lee is joining us today with her novel Exo. Here’s the publisher’s description:

It’s been a century of peace since Earth became a colony of an alien race with far reaches into the galaxy. Some die-hard extremists still oppose alien rule on Earth, but Donovan Reyes isn’t one of them. His dad holds the prestigious position of Prime Liaison in the collaborationist government, and Donovan’s high social standing along with his exocel (a remarkable alien technology fused to his body) guarantee him a bright future in the security forces. That is, until a routine patrol goes awry and Donovan’s abducted by the human revolutionary group Sapience, determined to end alien control.
When Sapience realizes whose son Donovan is, they think they’ve found the ultimate bargaining chip . But the Prime Liaison doesn’t negotiate with terrorists, not even for his own son.  Left in the hands of terrorists who have more uses for him dead than alive, the fate of Earth rests on Donovan’s survival. Because if Sapience kills him, it could spark another galactic war. And Earth didn’t win the last one . . .

What’s Fonda’s favorite bit?

Exo cover image

FONDA LEE

One of the things I enjoy the most about writing science fiction and fantasy is inventing words for things that don’t exist in real life. My YA sci-fi novel, Exo releases from Scholastic Press this week and my favorite word in the entire book is one that I made up: panotin.

In the world of Exo, certain humans have adopted alien biotechnology that gives them an organic body armor that they can manipulate at will. I imagined this super tough but pliable alien material would have a woven texture made out of many threads of some substance stronger than spider silk. I needed to give a name to this stuff that made it sound like a pseudo-natural part of the human body and evoked the image and ideas I was going for.

I took inspiration from an existing word: keratin. Keratin is the fibrous structural protein found widely in many living creatures. It makes up the outer layer of human skin and is the key component of hair and nails. It forms the horns, claws, and hooves of mammals, the scales and shells of reptiles, the beaks and claws of birds. The word keratin is derived from the Greek word kéras meaning horn, and the –in suffix, denoting a chemical compound.

From there, it wasn’t a far leap for me to come up with my own Greek-derived word to serve my story needs. The special substance I’d imagined would function as built-in body armor, so I turned to Google Translate and found that the Greek word for armor is panoplía. A little more Internet searching told me that the Greek name Panos means ‘rock.’ Perfect!

“Panotin” was exactly the made-up term I needed for my story. There was one final thing I had to do: Google it make sure it wasn’t already a real word in another language or the brand name of some company or product I’d never heard of. Thankfully, a Google search turned up only a few Facebook and Tumblr accounts from people with unusual surnames. I was good to go!

Like most SFF writers, I’ve made up plenty of words and names for my futuristic and fantasy worlds, and it’s a part of the process that seems small in the grand scheme of storytelling but that I find both vital and incredibly fun. In Exo, the actual armor system (comprised of panotin) is called an “exocel,” a word that sounds like “exoskeleton” but also “cellular.” I imagined the alien race in my story having a musical language with many strumming and whistling sounds, so I named them the “zhree,” and their key unit of social structure is the “erze.” I wanted to create more distinguishing differences between the humans who collaborate with the zhree and those that don’t, so I decided the aliens would prefer unique human names that they could translate into longer, more easily remembered strings of notes in their own language, hence: Donovan, Thaddus, Tamaravick, Leonidas, and my favorite, Vercingetorix. The humans who weren’t part of this system, the ones who oppose alien governance, had names like Saul, Kevin, and Max.

(I must pause to mention my favorite word from my first novel, Zeroboxer. It’s “brandhelm.” I love this word. It conveys the precise meaning I intended, and is so much more elegant a title than something like, “personal marketing manager.” In fact, why isn’t it a word already?)

Creating words is a creative exercise that must nevertheless grounded in logic. Words and names have origins and their sounds evoke connotations. When done properly, the reader accepts these skillfully invented words into story usage with barely a second thought and little reflection upon the work and deliberation the author invested in their creation. I’m quite certain that no one (or very few people) will ever question me about the origin or logic behind the “panotin” but the word makes me smile every time I see it in the pages of my book.

LINKS:

Website

Twitter

Facebook

Book Excerpt

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Indiebound

Powell’s

BIO:

Fonda Lee is the award-winning author of young adult science fiction novels Zeroboxer (Flux), which was an Andre Norton finalist, and Exo (Scholastic), a 2017 Junior Library Guild Selection. She is a recovering corporate strategist, a black belt martial artist, and an action movie aficionado. She loves a good Eggs Benedict. Born and raised in Calgary, Fonda now lives in Portland, Oregon with her family. She can be found online at www.fondalee.com and on Twitter @fondajlee.

My Favorite Bit: Watts Martin talks about KISMET

Favorite Bit iconWatts Martin is joining us today with his novel Kismet. Here’s the publisher’s description:

The River: a hodgepodge of arcologies and platforms in a band around Ceres full of dreamers, utopians, corporatists and transformed humans, from those with simple biomods to the exotic alien xenos and the totemics, remade with animal aspects. Gail Simmons, an itinerant salvor living aboard her ship Kismet, has docked everywhere totemics like her are welcome…and a few places they’re not.

But when she’s accused of stealing a databox from a mysterious wreck, Gail lands in the crosshairs of corporations, governments and anti-totemic terrorists. Finding the real thieves is the easy part. To get her life back, Gail will have to face her past and what’s at stake may be more than just her future.

What’s Watts’s favorite bit?

Kismet cover image

WATTS MARTIN

A few years back, I didn’t have a novel. I had a muddle of ideas, a main character I was in love with, and a disjointed plot that could maybe stretch into a novella. Even so, it got me into an intensive SF novel writing workshop at the University of Kansas.

Among the notes I scribbled during sessions was this suggestion: one of my story’s motifs was “embodiment.” It wasn’t until I got home that I stopped, read that a few times, and thought: wait, what the hell does that mean?

In the future of Kismet, some humans are “transform,” visibly bioengineered in some fashion. A subset are “totemics,” adapting animal aspects ranging from (relatively) subtle tweaks like ears and tails to full-body makeovers. Totemics are a minority even on “The River,” a section of frontier space around Ceres. But in a solar system with a population of ten or eleven billion, that’s still in the millions.

Okay: so what do totemics embody? Animal and human. Technology and nature. A radical, extreme statement that the future lies in unification rather than dominion. At least, that’s the answer Mara, the original totemic, would give. But someone else might have a different answer: spiritual belief, xenophiliac aesthetics, a sense you’re more you when your nature isn’t the one you came into the world with. Gail, the book’s protagonist, would wryly add, “Because your transform parents wanted a transform kid.” She’s comfortable looking like a rat, but it’s not like she aspired to it.

There’s a scene near the middle of Kismet when two side characters discuss Mara’s dream—and the dream of many totemics, including Gail’s mother and sister—of transformations becoming inheritable, a goal that’s always stayed just out of reach. Gail’s adopted (and estranged) sister Sky, like their mother, remains deeply committed to that hope. But her friend Ansel, another totemic, shocks Sky by taking a fierce stand against it. On the surface, their disagreement is political, the more libertarian Ansel offended by Sky’s socialism. But there’s more to it than that. “Totemics have gotten along fine since before The River existed,” he argues. “We’ll keep getting along just fine choosing whether to transform ourselves or our children.”

What I love about this exchange is that their debate is both universal and unique to a science fiction context. There are parallels to our world and time, but transform and cisform don’t quite map to transgender and cisgender, let alone race, orientation or religion. Yet that debate in their society hinges on what makes identity so complicated. It’s a mix of what we’re assigned through the circumstances of our birth and what we choose. We embrace parts of the identity we came into the world with and reject others. We choose new elements for our identity, adding new bits, filling holes, and when we must, making drastic changes. If the goal of inheritable transformation arrives for the totemics, they’ll gain something immeasurable—at the cost of shifting a core part of their identity from choice to assignment.

I hadn’t realized their exchange was about the story’s underlying theme until well after I’d written it. But your characters often know more about your story than you do, don’t they? I didn’t know what “embodiment” meant at first. Ansel and Sky—and Gail—got it immediately.

A small confession: it’s tough to point to this one exchange and say it’s my absolute favorite bit from the story. The novel is, after all, about Gail, not Ansel or Sky. But this moment turns out not to only be a reflection of the story’s theme, but a signpost for Gail’s own journey. Until the morning this conversation takes place, her real interest had been getting back to a life of minimal responsibility. But as she comes to terms with her mother’s death—and her complicated relationship with Sky—she’s realizing she has big choices to make. And, even though she doesn’t see it yet, she’s already started making them.

LINKS:

Kismet on Amazon

Kismet on publisher’s site

Author’s website

Watts on Goodreads

BIO:

Watts Martin is the author of several fantasy novellas including Cóyotl Award winner Indigo Rain and nominee Going Concerns, and a host of short stories in small press anthologies including Inhuman Acts, Five Fortunes and The Furry Future. Watts grew up around Tampa Bay, Florida, and now lives in Silicon Valley, primarily working as a technical writer.

My Favorite Bit: Tim Lees talks about STEAL THE LIGHTNING

Favorite Bit iconTim Lees is joining us today with his novel Steal the Lightning. Here’s the publisher’s description:

In the newest Field Ops adventure, god hunter Chris Copeland must track down an enigmatic figure distributing shards of deities to unwitting citizens across the country

Chris Copeland has a bizarre job, seeking out gods to convert into energy, but when he’s tasked with retrieving a deity from an elderly woman in New York, he’s truly out of his element. Before he can learn who sold her the dangerous object, she swallows a piece of it and goes into painful convulsions in front of his eyes.

Calling himself Johnny Appleseed, an elusive man has stolen fragments of gods and is traversing the country, peddling the contraband as a miracle cure to anyone desperate enough to believe him. With the help of his colleague, Angel, and a documentary filmmaker intent on exposing the Registry’s secrets, Chris must chase down the culprit and recover the stolen gods before all hell breaks loose.

What’s Tim’s favorite bit?

Steal the Lightning cover image

TIM LEES

I have a new book out from HarperVoyager. It’s called Steal the Lightning, and it’s set in a world a lot like this one, except that there, the ancient gods remain, buried at sacred sites around the globe. Given the right equipment, you can dig them up, break them down, and use their energy to power anything from heavy industry to a household toaster. Chances are, in that world, you’d be reading this on a god-powered screen – which means that maybe, just maybe, the gods would be reading you, in turn.

To most people, they’re a fuel resource, a substitute for coal, oil, and nuclear power. But gods are gods, and in their raw form, have a powerful pull upon the human mind. They’re dangerous. They change the way we see the world. Sometimes, they change the world itself. So when someone starts dispensing chunks of pure god-stuff in towns across the USA, professional god hunter Chris Copeland is called in to track down the perpetrator – and try, if he can, to minimize the damage.

Now, I’m a Brit, and the prospect of an American odyssey has always excited me. I never fully recovered from reading On the Road, and even a trip to the shops can assume an almost Kerouacian dimension when I’m in the mood. In this novel, I’m mostly taking back roads, from New York, through the Midwest, ending up in Vegas. Which is where my problems really began – as a writer, anyway.

The gods make places strange. Simply the presence of a god will generate all kinds of bizarre phenomena – and how do you make a place like Vegas any weirder?

Well, it took a while, but I did it. (Let’s just say, if you’re ever on the Strip and somebody suggests a spot named Second Eden, you should walk very, very quickly in the opposite direction, OK?)

So there, amid ghosts, gods, and a gambling hall that, win or lose, will literally suck you dry, I came to my favorite bit. The hero meets the bad guy. I love these scenes, and I don’t do them as confrontations. I think I’ve met a few genuinely bad people in my time, and there’s a common theme running through all of them: the bad guy doesn’t think that he’s the bad guy. Forget the trail of casualties lying in his wake. He’ll tell you, that’s not his fault. They deserved it. Or they knew the risks. Or even, he tried to warn them. He’ll tell you how he’s the victim here, not them. He’ll tell you how he’s suffered, but he had to take control, since no-one else would do it. He might be sad, self-pitying. He might be boastful, describe himself as “strong”, “entrepreneurial”, or whatever current buzz-word fits the bill, when actually he’s ruthless, self-centered, solipsistic and destructive. If he’s socially respectable, he’ll cast himself as a philanthropist, a wolf in saints’ clothing, furiously staking out the moral high ground while chasing his own gains. There’s a tremendous sense of privilege about it all, an exceptionalism that justifies whatever he does: “I’m allowed to act like this because…” Picture a small boy trying to talk his way out of trouble, then age him by twenty, thirty, forty years. That’s our guy.

In this instance, his name is Johnny Appleseed, and for a notion what he’s up to, imagine your local crack dealer telling you he’s really doing vital scientific work, for which he expects great acclaim and reward in the near future. And yes, true, there might have been a few deaths here and there – he doesn’t quite remember who, but he’s sure they knew what they were getting into, and it was nobody important, anyway. And the benefits are going to be amazing. And it’s his achievement! Far from being the villain, he’s actually a pretty great guy, isn’t he?

Well, my job as a writer is to get inside this man’s head, give him some really good arguments, make him sympathetic, plausible – even likeable, for a while. Then show that, despite all that, he’s still a scumbag, through and through.

So I wrote the scenes. I liked them. It’s probably some horrible, perverse streak in my character, but I enjoy trying to see the world through the bad guy’s eyes, a world in which he’s invariably the center, the only person anywhere who really counts.

Then I realized: I had a problem.

There needs to be a rhythm to a book like this. It’s a thriller, after all, and quiet scenes have to be broken up with action, and plenty of it. Here, though, I’d let myself get carried away: chapter after chapter of dialog, argument, and just a few small, creepy things going on around the edges.

That wasn’t going to work.

So I went back, to the point where the hero is sitting in a casino bar, waiting for the bad guy to appear.

I’ve had times like this before, when I know where a story has to go but not how to get it there; when the present scene feels flat and ordinary, and needs a good kick to get it moving. And I always ask myself, “What’s the last thing you’d expect to happen here?”

And that, I think, is my second favorite bit: throwing in a wild card, sending the whole book off in a completely unanticipated direction, so that even I don’t know where we’re going to end up.

In my view, that’s where the fun really starts.

LINKS:

HarperCollins (US)

Amazon US author’s page

Amazon UK author’s page

Barnes & Noble (US)

Booksamillion (US)

iTunes (US)

iTunes (UK)

BIO:

Tim Lees is a British author living in Chicago. His short fiction has appeared in Interzone, Black Static, Great Jones Street and elsewhere. He is the author of Frankenstein’s Prescription (Tartarus Press), and the Field Ops novels, The God Hunter and Devil in the Wires (HarperVoyager). All books can be read as stand-alones. When not writing, he has held a variety of jobs, including film extra, teacher, conference organizer, and worker in a psychiatric hospital. He has a website at www.timlees.wordpress.com (when he has time to update it), tweets as @TimLees2, and holds an Instagram account as tim.c.lees.

 

My Favorite Bit: Laura Anne Gilman talks about THE COLD EYE

Favorite Bit iconLaura Anne Gilman is joining us today with her novel The Cold Eye. Here’s the publisher’s description:

In the anticipated sequel to Silver on the Road, Isobel is riding circuit through the Territory as the Devil’s Left Hand. But when she responds to a natural disaster, she learns the limits of her power and the growing danger of something mysterious that is threatening not just her life, but the whole Territory.

Isobel is the left hand of the old man of the Territory, the Boss—better known as the Devil. Along with her mentor, Gabriel, she is traveling circuit through Flood to represent the power of the Devil and uphold the agreement he made with the people to protect them. Here in the Territory, magic exists—sometimes wild and perilous.

But there is a growing danger in the bones of the land that is killing livestock, threatening souls, and weakening the power of magic. In the next installment of the Devil’s West series, Isobel and Gabriel are in over their heads as they find what’s happening and try to stop the people behind it before it unravels the Territory.

What’s Laura Anne’s favorite bit?

The Cold Eye cover image

LAURA ANNE GILMAN

Trying to choose a single ‘favorite’ bit from the Devil’s West books is a bit like trying to remember your favorite moment from summer camp: after a while, it’s all tied up in multiple strands of memory and experience.  Trying to separate it out and explain it is…well, it can get messy.  But in the case of THE COLD EYE, there was one moment that, every time I look back at it, my breath catches and I’m filled with the reminder of this is it, this is why I write.

 

The setting is this:  Isobel – one of our protagonists- unexpectedly encounters a slaughter of buffalo, left to rot on the plains.

She’s horrified – not because they were killed, but because it was done wastefully.  Whoever did it took trophies, but left the meat behind.  Clearly, whoever killed them was not doing it for survival, but some darker motive.

Researching this particular scene was painful, because it involved taking a long, careful look at what actually happened when these beasts became trophy kills, including incredibly depressing photos.  They were killed for ego, yes, but also to take them away from those who did hunt them for survival.

And, having spent some time observing the herds of buffalo (okay, American Bison for the nitpickers) in Yellowstone, trying to imagine what it was like when herds far larger than that ranged freely, and knowing I will never see that sight, is infuriating.

And yet, this was my favorite bit to write.

Because I did get to spend time observing buffalo, who – like moose – are amazing, majestic, massive beasts.  Seriously, watch a buffalo cow and her calf pass barely two feet in front of your car, and you will reconsider everything you ever thought about size, power, and the superiority of standing on two legs.  I can see where for some people that might be terrifying, but I actually found it quite freeing.

And I was able to bring that emotion into the scene with Isobel, that sense of what buffalo mean in context of the Territory.  It’s a painfully gorgeous scene, because it invokes the weight of both that moment for Isobel and the echo of what they meant in our own history.  And, the writer says shamelessly, I think I did it really well.

But that wasn’t  quite enough to bump it up to “favorite over all” status.  It’s what happens in that scene that made gave it that extra push.  Because while Isobel is dealing with the slaughter, the payment that she makes to settle their ghosts, a decision has to be made about what she will do about it.  And the decision happens in such a seemingly inevitable way, Isobel herself doesn’t realize the significance of it, even as it establishes who – and what – she has become, and who she may have to become, later in the book.

That decision?  Hadn’t been in the outline.  It rose strictly from the emotion of the scene, the sense of inevitability and pain evoked by the description.  And just as there was no marker around the spot, no warnings for her, or for the reader, it came as just as much a surprise for the writer, who didn’t realize until many chapters later what I had done.

Well-played, lizard brain.  Well-played.

And that’s why it’s my favorite bit.  Because I wrote my heart out – and my writing-heart gave back twofold.

LINKS:

Author’s website

Of Nature, Respect, and The Stupid (Writing about bison. And bears)

Amazon

B&N

University Bookstore (signed books)

Mysterious Galaxy: (signed books)

BIO:

Laura Anne Gilman is the Nebula- and Endeavor-award nominated author of two novels of the Devil’s West,  SILVER ON THE ROAD and THE COLD EYE (January 2017), and the short story collection DARKLY HUMAN, as well as the long-running Cosa Nostradamus urban fantasy multi-series (Retrievers, PSI, and Sylvan Investigations), and the “Vineart War” epic fantasy trilogy.

Under the name L.A. Kornetsky, she also wrote the Seattle-based “Gin & Tonic” mysteries.

A former New Yorker, she currently lives outside of Seattle, WA with two cats and many deadlines.  More information and updates can be found at www.lauraannegilman.net, or follower her on Twitter as @LAGilman

 

Whoops…I’m not running for SFWA president after all.

Well, this is awkward… But here’s the thing. When I decided to throw my hat into the ring for SFWA president, I thought Cat Rambo wasn’t running again. I think contested elections are good, because it allows members to make decisions about the direction an organization is headed. Cat and I?

The fact is that she and I are politically aligned on where SFWA should be heading.  We’re both interested in keeping things moving in a more inclusive and supportive direction. She’d already created a committee to start looking at getting health insurance for SFWA members, headed by board member Sarah Pinsker.

She’s the one who has been driving the changes to the Nebula Conference.

So… After a good deal of conversation, I realized that if I signed up to be on the health insurance committee and keep doing the programming for the Nebula Conference, that it allows me to focus my full attention on both of those things, while leaving Cat to handle the board and all the minutiae of making the organization run.

I say after a good deal of conversation, but in reality, I knew this the moment that I realized Cat was running again. It was just the week of Christmas and I knew no one was online, so I waited.

For me, this is already a win because — dang — I’ve been on the board and know how hard those folks work. And knowing that the board is already committed to the things that I want to see happen? Knowing that Cat is there advocating and managing? Best of both worlds.

So, I will not be running for president of SFWA, although I will get to work on all my platform objectives. But in 2019?

See you then…

I’m running for SFWA president in 2017

I’ve withdrawn from the race, because I didn’t realize Cat Rambo was running again. Whoops!

#

Dear SFWA members:

I’m running for the position of President. For four years, I was privileged to work with an extremely active and committed board, first as Secretary of SFWA and then as Vice President. I stepped down because I believe that new voices are vital to a service organization such as SFWA. But there are still things that I want to see accomplished, particularly trying to find affordable health care for our members.  I feel that after five years off the board, the time is right to run again.

I believe that SFWA is an important organization and that volunteering for it is a way that we can each help to pay it forward by making the field stronger.  As a group we can improve things within the industry in ways that individuals cannot, but we are dependent on our volunteers. We are dependent on you. I would very much like to help SFWA move forward so that it can continue to inform, support, promote, defend and advocate for our members.

Besides health insurance, what else am I interested in accomplishing?

  • New opportunities to help our members diversify their income streams
  • Strengthening the Nebula Conference as a professional development conference
  • Protecting our rights for free speech
  • Outreach to underserved and underrepresented writers in the SFF community
  • Taking full advantage of our 501c3 status to apply for grants that will allow SFWA to be a more active and useful organization for our members

For those of you that I have not yet met, here is a little about me personally.

  • I have been an Active member of SFWA since 2007 and served on the board from 2008-2012
  • In addition to my Board duties, I also supervised the team which built your new website, sourced the membership management software, and researched options for health insurance.
  • I was the 2008 Campbell Award Winner for Best New Writer, won three Hugo awards, and the RT award for Best Fantasy Novel.
  • Besides writing, I am a professional puppeteer and voice actor and have worked in the arts for the last twenty-five years. I served on the Board of Directors and as the Vice President of UNIMA-USA, the American branch of the international puppetry organization.
  • I’ve had a 25 year career in the arts, which has given me experience in how effective non-profits function, as well as grant-writing and volunteer management.

Thank you for your consideration.

Mary Robinette Kowal

Hypothetically: If I were going to adapt one of my short work for stage…

This really is hypothetical and not in the “secretly I have a deal” way we often use it. I’ve just been thinking about stage and theater and the adaptation of work to different media. The scripts I’ve written have largely been adaptations. All of them are a good fifteen+ years in my past, and before I started writing fiction seriously.

I was thinking about playing around with adapting one of my shorter works for stage mostly as a way to experiment. A lot of what I know about dialogue and pacing comes from translating my experience on stage to the written page. I’m curious to see what I’d learn if I go the other direction.

So… of my non-novel work, what would you like to see on stage. And why? <–What I really mean here, is what images/moments stick with you?

(Trivia: Shades of Milk and Honey started as a piece of flash fiction, that I then began expanding for a radio serial, before finally deciding that a visually based magic system was a poor choice for an audio medium)

My Favorite Bit: Jaym Gates talks about UPSIDE DOWN

Favorite Bit iconJaym Gates is joining us today with her anthology Upside Down. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling is an anthology of short stories, poetry, and essays edited by Monica Valentinelli and Jaym Gates. Over two dozen authors, ranging from NYT-bestsellers and award winners to debut writers, chose a tired trope or cliche to challenge and surprise readers through their work.

Read stories inspired by tropes such as the Chainmaille Bikini, Love at First Sight, Damsels in Distress, Yellow Peril, The Black Man Dies First, The Villain Had a Crappy Childhood, The Singularity Will Cause the Apocalypse, and many more…then discover what these tropes mean to each author to find out what inspired them.

Join Maurice Broaddus, Adam Troy-Castro, Delilah S. Dawson, Shanna Germain, Sara M. Harvey, John Hornor Jacobs, Rahul Kanakia, Alethea Kontis, Valya Dudycz Lupescu, Haralmbi Markov, Sunil Patel, Kat Richardson, Nisi Shawl, Ferrett Steinmetz, Anton Strout, Michael Underwood, Alyssa Wong and many other authors as they take well-worn tropes and cliches and flip them upside down.

What’s Jaym’s favorite bit?

Upside Down cover image

JAYM GATES

Anthologies, and more specifically the editing of anthologies, are my catnip. I got my start completely by accident, and found myself addicted after that first one. They’ve treated me well in turn, for the most part, but every now and again I wonder why anthologies, and why do I keep coming back? It’s certainly not for the money or the fame!

Instead, I think my favorite bit is the thrill of discovery. I’ve done anthologies where everything was from the slush pile, and anthologies where everyone was invited, and everything in between. I love my invited authors, and the slush pile certainly has its horrors, but there’s nothing like the feeling of opening up a submission and realizing that you’ve hit pay dirt.

Some of my all-time favorite stories have come from the slush pile. Many were from first-time authors who were afraid to submit because they didn’t think they were ready yet. Others were from authors I hadn’t encountered before, and some I didn’t think would be interested in that particular genre but who’d had a great idea. Some of the stories required heavy editing, others, almost no editing at all.

Slush piles are intimidating. For a recent anthology, Genius Loci, I had over 900,000 words of submissions. War Stories was at about 700,000 words of submissions. Sometimes, in the depths of the slush pile, reading through something that is the complete opposite of all my project guidelines, I think maybe I should just do invite-only from here on out. But those stories that jump out of the slush and latch on keep me excited. We could only take 90,000-110,000 for those books, and we invariably ended up putting two to three times that number on the “But I Really Want This” list. That’s a pretty good ratio. There’s a lot of amazing talent out there.

It’s validating, too. Sometimes being an editor feels futile. All I’m doing is putting together stories that other people have written. It can feel invisible, and sometimes frustrating, because I’ll never do an anthology that pleases everyone. When I find a story in the slush that’s made the rounds elsewhere, or that’s special to the author in some way, it helps me reconnect to my own passion for the task and the project.

It’s even more fun when we start editing a story that’s aaaaaalmost there, but not quite. I love figuring out what the author’s ideal version of a story is, and helping them polish the story until it reaches that ideal. It helps me with my own writing, too, because I have to be able to put away the rose-colored glasses and cut away everything that isn’t essential to this particular story.

Okay, maybe I have more than one favorite bit, and maybe neither of those things is really small enough to be called a ‘bit’…but I think that’s forgivable. But seriously, be a slush reader for a while, if you have the time. I think you’ll see what I’m talking about the first time you see a story you found in slush go out into the wide world.

LINKS:

Amazon

Website

BIO:

Jaym Gates got her start in editing by making a joke on Twitter six years ago. At the time of writing this bio, she’s working on her 15th anthology. The titles include RIGOR AMORTIS, BROKEN TIME BLUES, WAR STORIES, GEEK LOVE, GENIUS LOCI, STRANGE CALIFORNIA, UPSIDE DOWN, INVISIBLE WOMEN, LEGENDS OF STRATEGY: HOW STAR WARS EXPLAINS FUTURE STRATEGY, ECLIPSE PHASE: AFTER THE FALL, EXALTED: TALES FROM THE AGE OF SORROWS, and VAMPIRE: ENDLESS AGES. She is also a developmental editor for Falstaff Books, and lead editor for the BROKEN CITIES shared-world setting.

In her spare time, Jaym trains and rides horses, collects tea, practices a martial art called Systema, and writes. You can find her on Twitter at @JaymGates. Her website is www.jaymgates.com

My Favorite Bit: Michele Fogal talks about ROOT OF THE SPARK

Favorite Bit iconMichele Fogal is joining us today with her novel Root of the Spark. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Dell has an unexpected spark that masculine and feminine energies create when swirled and fused inside a single person. But will this be enough to stop the age-old tide of fear and violence as it rises again?

Born in the midst of the oldest human war, the war of the sexes, Dell is the first true hermaphrodite on the planet of Ameliaura. Dell has used the anonymity of the Fatherlander cities to survive, and the tight community of the Motherlander villages to manage, but reaching maturity means that neither of those are enough to thrive on anymore. After a vicious attack, and an unexpected love interest, Dell must step into the light to fight for a real home.

Warning: this book contains a child who is actually an ancient dragon made of fungus, a lovely villain imprisoned inside the creature’s body, a hasty clan gathering in the collective subconscious, a hermaphrodite orphanage on the brink, and some very naughty acts on a staircase.

What is Michele’s favorite bit?

Root of the Spark cover image

MICHELE FOGAL

Years ago, I stumbled upon the concept of WILDs, Waking Initiated Lucid Dreams (WILDs) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucid_dream#Wake-initiated_lucid_dreams_.28WILD.29 and this idea sparked many stories and is now an essential part of the universe of my Wild Seed series of SF novels.

The strange thing is that I never expected to experience a WILD myself.

A large part of the universe that I’d been exploring and writing about had to do with a collective subconscious place, a dream landscape. In the story, talented Dreamers could go into this place and interact with each other, and really talented Dreamers could go there while they were awake.

How the Magic Started

My writers’ group at the time had a tradition of using guided meditation to start our sessions. So, I went over to my writing pal Paolo’s house and we did our meditation thing and… something happened. It felt as though I had a muscle twitch in both of my eyeballs.

You know when a muscle moves a small amount over and over but you can’t control it? Just like that, but not in the skin of my face, but rather in the eyes themselves. My eyeballs moved fast back and forth while my eyes were closed, and I was definitely not in control of it. This had never happened before, but I’d just done the relaxation exercise, so I was sublimely mellow, and didn’t worry too much about it. I thought it was odd, but not enough to mention it to Paolo.

REM State

EMDR is a type of therapy, developed for trauma survivors, that is particularly useful in improving self image issues. When I’d tried it, it seemed like the idea was to get the two sides of the brain to communicate with each other, quit arguing and reach an understanding. When I spoke to my counsellor friend about WILDs and how cool I thought the idea was, she said, “Well you know that that’s what EMDR is based on right?” My friend explained that the whole principal behind EMDR was to put the client into a waking dream, an REM state.

When I told her about my eye twitching, she explained that not only had I accidently incorporated WILDs into my writing practice, I’d already done it before in EMDR sessions. Twice. I found this convergence of ideas creepy in the loveliest of ways. This kind of serendipity makes me feel like I’m on the right track, and well… that there IS a track.

Now as if this isn’t lovely-creepy enough, it gets lovely-creepier.

Tapping into the Hive

Rapid Eye Movement is usually something that you have only while you’re asleep and dreaming, but I had accidentally figured out how to get myself into a waking REM state. As I explored the idea further, again and again, I could get into this Lucid Dream space and… witness things. I don’t really know how else to describe it. I would do my meditation, which was about getting into an imaginary sanctuary, and then when I was deeply relaxed, I would call out to a character.

The main character of that story (Root of the Spark) is named Dell, and when I called, Dell would appear. I could see this person’s eyes, face and hair very vividly, and then I would jump from my sanctuary place into Dell’s body. I’d look out of the character’s eyes, hear their thoughts, feel the textures and temperatures of their environment. It all felt very real and very magical.

Science vs Woo-woo

From a scientific point of view, I believe what’s happening is that the right and left hemispheres of my brain were “communicating” in ways that normally happens while we sleep, a subconscious form of thought. From a more woo-woo perspective, I felt that I was tapping into the dreamscape that I’d been writing about, and that there were stories there that wanted me to tell them.

How it Helped

Part way through the first draft, I sheepishly realized I didn’t know what Dell did for work. After berating myself for being a bad writer, and sitting down to try to logically figure it out, I stopped dead and had a new idea. Instead of trying to “logic it out”, ie: use my left brain, why not use my right brain and simply ask Dell from inside the REM state? So I did just that. I meditated my way into my “sanctuary” and then called Dell to me, jumped into Dell’s body and whispered, “Let’s go to work.”

Dell simply walked outside, got into a trike-vehicle I’d never seen before, drove to a location I’d never imagined and opened the door of a restaurant/club that I hadn’t invented yet. It was very clear from Dell’s thoughts and the reactions of the staff that Dell was the owner. I still get goose bumps when I think about it.

Ever-Evolving

This process doesn’t work for every story, and certainly not for every writer. My favourite bit is to realize that creative process can be as diverse as our stories. It can change and evolve, no matter how much you’ve written. And the stories themselves have so much to teach us, if we can just quiet our monkey minds and listen. I think that in itself is pure, sparkling magic.

Your Own Process

If the idea of using guided meditation in your writing warm-up interests you, I have a series of them to share on Soundcloud. https://soundcloud.com/user-221571352

Wishing you a pinch of SF magic,

Michele

LINKS:

I’ve set up a bunch of ways for you to enter inside Rafflecopter. The more times you enter, the better chance you have of winning 1 of the 5 free ebooks!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Amazon.com

Amazon.ca

Loose Id

All Romance Ebooks

Barnes & Noble

Google Play

Indigo / Kobo

Ibooks

Facebook

Twitter

Instagram

Goodreads

Pinterest

BIO:

Michele has always felt a sense of kinship with quirky and diverse people. As a bisexual author, writing love stories that explore the rainbow of human experience is both a pleasure and a calling. Her work celebrates the divine nature of diversity, and the sacred, messy work of intimacy.

If you’d like to know when Michele releases new books, bonus content, book club questions, and sneak peeks, you can sign up for her newsletter at  michelefogal.com. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Goodreads, and nudge her to get off there and write more.

My Favorite Bit: Ruth Vincent talks about UNVEILED

Favorite Bit iconRuth Vincent is joining us today with her novel Unveiled. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Following the events of Elixir, Mabily “Mab” Jones’ life has returned to normal. Or as normal as life can be for a changeling, who also happens to be a private detective working her first independent case, and dating a half-fey.

But then a summons to return to the fairy world arrives in the form of a knife on her pillow. And in the process of investigating her case, Mab discovers the fairies are stealing joy-producing chemicals directly from the minds of humans in order to manufacture their magic Elixir, the dwindling source of their powers. Worst of all, Mab’s boyfriend Obadiah vows to abstain from Elixir, believing the benefits are not worth the cost in human suffering—even though he knows fairies can’t long survive without their magic.

Mab soon realizes she has no choice but to answer the summons and return to the Vale. But the deeper she is drawn into the machinations of the realm, the more she becomes ensnared by promises she made in the past. And in trying to do the right thing, Mab will face her most devastating betrayal yet, one that threatens everything and everyone she holds most dear.

What’s Ruth’s favorite bit?

Unveiled cover image

RUTH VINCENT

It seems such a cliché to say that the inspiration for your novel came to you in a dream; I’d certainly never thought I was that type of writer. Yet oddly enough for UNVEILED it did. And not just any dream, but a nightmare.  This was a strange occurrence because the CHANGELING P.I series is largely a happy, feel-good urban fantasy.  Yet darkness lurks in this world – not gory, in-your-face horror, but a more subtle, psychological foreboding – hence the dream.

It wasn’t some monster dogging me in my sleep that night; it was one of my old high school math teachers. Now I was lucky to have had excellent teachers for the most part growing up, teachers to whom I will forever be grateful – but there were few exceptions. This gentleman, who I will leave nameless, was known for his patronizing sneer, his snide remarks upon any wrong answer, and the way his attitude made us all feel smaller, less confident, less capable. I’d always struggled in Mathematics but I’d never felt stupid – not till his class.  All these years later, I recall his face and I grimace.

At the time of the nightmare I had recently met a man I thought was “the one.” He turned out to be a complete jerk and broke up with me – thankfully freeing me up to meet the wonderful man to whom I am now married. But at the time I was devastated, not so much angry with him as with myself. I had always taken pride in being a good judge of character, and now I had to admit that I could be utterly wrong about someone’s intentions. I felt like I couldn’t even trust myself.

With these ingredients simmering in my subconscious, I had the following dream: I dreamed I was lying in the arms of the man I’d been seeing, talking as unselfconsciously as if we were old lovers, when suddenly, his face began to melt. This would have been disturbing enough, but as his face shifted before my eyes, it began to take on another form – the cruel, hardened scorn of my old math teacher. What was worse was he began to speak, repeating things I had said to him in moments of intimacy and mocking them now in his cruel, derisive way, torturing me with my own most vulnerable admissions. “Didn’t you realize?” he sneered, “It’s been me this whole time.”

Years later when I found myself tasked with trying to write a truly villainous villain for my series, I realized that having a bad guy who simply tries to kill my heroine would be too easy a way out. A truly terrifying villain’s violence is psychological. That’s more believable to the reader than any apocalyptic scenario. Most of us have (hopefully) never had someone out to murder us, but we have had people who’ve gotten in our heads, maybe even into our beds, who left us feeling smaller, more helpless, who tried to make us ashamed of our selves.  If my protagonist, Mabily Jones, could stand up to a villain like that, I’d think her more of a badass than the toughest, gun-toting action heroine in all of urban fantasy.

I’m not sure what it says about me as a writer that the most disturbing aspects of my book are always my “favorite bit.”  And yet, while the lighter, more comic relief elements of UNVEILED gave me great joy to write (and there are many of those – it’s mostly a happy, hopeful book, I swear!) it’s the villains that loom large in my memory long after the manuscript is complete.  Villains should play on our own deepest fears. Perhaps I’m not afraid of the fight-scene villain, but I do fear the villain who pretends he’s in a love scene, the villain who manipulates trust and shatters consent. Those are the villains that haunt us, like a bad dream that refuses to fade upon waking.

LINKS:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Google Play

iBooks

BIO:

Ruth Vincent spent a nomadic childhood moving across the USA, culminating in a hop across the pond to attend Oxford. But wherever she wanders, she remains ensconced within the fairy ring of her imagination. Ruth recently traded the gritty urban fantasy of NYC for the pastoral suburbs of Long Island, where she resides with her roguishly clever husband and a cockatoo who thinks she’s a dog.

She is the author of the CHANGELING P.I urban fantasy series with HarperCollins Voyager Impulse, beginning with her debut novel ELIXIR. The second book in the series, UNVEILED, releases 12/6/16.

Ruth always loves to hear from readers. Get in touch at www.ruthvincent.com, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/RuthVincentAuthor, or on Twitter at @ByRVincent.

For a chance to win a free signed and personalized copy of Ruth Vincent’s latest release, sign up at http://eepurl.com/bMwMrn

I’m teaching two different January Short Fiction Workshops

I’ve got two different short fiction workshops scheduled for January.

The first is my Writing on the Fast Track, which is a seven-week course that meets once a week for two-hours. It starts on Tuesday, January 10th. This covers the same material as my weekend intensives, but is for folks who find time pressure the opposite of helpful.

There’s only one seat left, so if it’s sold out when you get there, just sign up for the waiting list.

Eventbrite - Writing on the Fast Track - January 2017

The second is my Short Stories Explained (for novelists). This is for writers who are having trouble with structure and with keeping their short stories actually short. It’s one day, but aaaaaall day on Sunday, January 29th.

Eventbrite - Short Stories Explained (for novelists) - January 2017

(I’ll be teaching another short story intensive in March, but since my schedule goes sideways sometimes, I’m not opening it for registration until we get closer.)

Woot! GHOST TALKERS is one of AudioFile’s best audiobooks of 2016!

Best 2016 Audiobooks - Hamilton, Underground Railroad, Ghost Talkers, A Great Reckoning, The Gene, Leonard, The Mothers

I am so incredibly pleased and honored that AudioFile has picked Ghost Talkers as one of the best audiobooks of 2016. Also floored.

Just to put this into perspective for folks who aren’t in the audiobook industry… The AudioFile Magazine editors maintain an archive of more than 40,000 reviews and pick the 2016 books from the list of work that they reviewed that year. So… kinda neat. You know, if you’re into that stuff.

Huge congratulations as well to the other folks in the SFF section of the list.

  • AGE OF MYTH Michael J. Sullivan Read by Tim Gerard Reynolds (Recorded Books)
  • ALIEN: OUT OF THE SHADOWS Tim Lebbon, Dirk Maggs Read by Rutger Hauer, Corey Johnson, Matthew Lewis, and a Full Cast (Audible, Inc.)
  • ALL THE BIRDS IN THE SKY Charlie Jane Anders Read by Alyssa Bresnahan (Recorded Books)
  • BATTLEFIELD EARTH L. Ron Hubbard Read by Josh Clark, Charlie Davis, Scott Menville, Jim Meskimen, Stefan Rudnicki, and a Full Cast (Galaxy Audio)
  • CAPTAIN TO CAPTAIN Greg Cox Read by Robert Petkoff (Simon & Schuster Audio)
  • CITY OF MIRRORS Justin Cronin Read by Scott Brick (Random House Audio/Books on Tape)
  • THE CITY ON THE EDGE OF FOREVER Harlan Ellison Read by Harlan Ellison, Scott Brick, LeVar Burton, and a Full Cast (Skyboat Media/Blackstone Audio)
  • THE FIREMAN Joe Hill Read by Kate Mulgrew (Harper Audio)
  • GHOST TALKERS Mary Robinette Kowal Read by Mary Robinette Kowal (Audible, Inc.)
  • JERUSALEM Alan Moore Read by Simon Vance (Recorded Books)
  • MARVEL: DAREDEVIL Kevin Smith, Joe Quesada, Richard Rohan [Adapt.] Read by a Full Cast (GraphicAudio)
  • THE OBELISK GATE N.K. Jemisin Read by Robin Miles (Hachette Audio)
  • SERENGETI J.B. Rockwell Read by Elizabeth Wiley (Tantor Media)
  • THE SUDDEN APPEARANCE OF HOPE Claire North Read by Gillian Burke (Hachette Audio/Blackstone Audio)
  • VERSION CONTROL Dexter Palmer Read by January LaVoy (Random House Audio/Books on Tape)

Did you have a novel come out in November? Oh honey…

So… hey. I went on book tour for Ghost Talkers in November, specifically, the week of the election. It was…difficult. Audiences were way, way down as in — places where I’d previously had standing room only were half-empty. At this point, it’s not likely to hurt me because, honestly, the book itself came out in August.

For any author, having a book come out when people aren’t buying books or when it’s difficult to self-promote because the national conversation is focused on other topics… that’s going to be hard.

A debut author though?

Oh, man… You work so hard and then your book finally, finally comes out. And it’s this month? Oh, sweetie… I’m so sorry. It’s not usually like this. Usually, you can trumpet about it, and people are super-excited for you and it feels really celebratory, and scary, but mostly filled with squee.

I know you’re feeling like your book came out, and that no one noticed. I know it feels like if you promote it, people are going to look at you funny.

So, hey– I’m looking for something new to read. Did you have a book come out in November?

Tell me about it.

(And if you’re a debut author write in all caps I AM A DEBUT AUTHOR.) (Also, congratulations!)

Edited to add: Or a short story!

My Favorite Bit: Stephanie A. Cain talks about SHADES OF CIRCLE CITY

Favorite Bit iconStephanie A. Cain is joining us today with her novel Shades of Circle City. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Chloe is Catholic, a cop, and conventional, not necessarily in that order. But when a run-of-the-mill burglary arrest goes bad, she ends up dead. Turns out there are worse things than having a bra that doesn’t fit right.

When she wakes up alive–yeah, she’s as surprised as you are–she keeps seeing people her friends can’t see. She can’t get those people to talk to her, though, and one of them looks hauntingly familiar, even though it’s no one Chloe actually knows.

A handsome Indiana State Trooper with secrets of his own tells her that her would-be killer is tied to an open robbery case. While they work together to bring a relentless killer to justice, Chloe has increasingly disturbing encounters with the shades only she can see.

She finally realizes her death (and subsequent resurrection) has given her a connection to the restless dead of Indianapolis, and with a recent homicide rate over a hundred a year, there are a lot of restless dead in Indianapolis. What’s a conventional, Catholic cop to do?

Catch the crook, get the guy, and say a few Hail Marys just to be safe.

What’s Stephanie’s favorite bit?

Shades of Circle City cover image

STEPHANIE A. CAIN

My favorite bit of Shades of Circle City is an accident–or, really, a series of accidents.

I’m a member of a fantastic writing group called IndyScribes, and when I came to them with Shades of Circle City, I had already completed one revision. A member of my writing group took one look at the name Braxton Wolfe and commented, “He’s a werewolf, right?”

Uh.

“Sure!” I decided, and frantically scribbled an entirely new set of scenes to work in that subplot.

When I introduced the rest of the wolfpack, I threw in a skinny, angry guy named Murphy O’Hare who had been bitten, unlike the rest of the members of the pack, who are hereditary wolves.

Another member of my writing group said, “Oooh, there’s a lot of backstory to that, isn’t there?”

Uh.

“Sure!” I decided, and frantically scribbled an entirely new set of scenes to work in that subplot.

When I explained in a later scene that Braxton’s father had dealt with the werewolf who turned Murphy, yet another member of my writing group said, “I bet that’s what really killed Braxton’s father, isn’t it?”

Uh.

“Sure!” I decided, and…you know the drill, right?

To be completely honest, if I didn’t have the IndyScribes, this book wouldn’t be half the novel it is today, and I mean that both literally and figuratively (it was a lot shorter before the werewolves jumped in).

As much as I love my main characters, I have to confess, I’m a sidekick girl. I’m a minor characters girl. I love Samwise and Boromir more than Frodo and Aragorn. I love Robin more than Batman. And… I love Murphy more than Braxton.

Not as a romantic partner for Chloe, and I imagine I’d actually enjoy hanging out with Braxton more than I would Murphy. Murphy isn’t a comfortable guy to be around. He’s snarky and angry and he’s dealing with a dozen changes in his life as well as struggling against poverty as a high-school dropout, and despite all that, he’s strong and brave and loyal, in his own prickly, Murphy kind of way.

My favorite bit of Shades of Circle City is when Murphy finally gets it through his head that one good thing about being bitten is the pack he acquired with it. The family he acquired. Because pack, as Braxton points out more than once in the novel, is family.

As he worked, Braxton considered what should be done. There were plenty of magic-users in Indianapolis, and he didn’t have a problem with most of them. The vast majority were benevolent types, or at the very least, petty in their selfish use of magic. People using their talent to make ends meet didn’t bother him, as long as they weren’t hurting anyone else. But now there was a magic-user who had hurt one of his pack. And not only that, but she had helped turn someone. It was inexcusable. Something would have to be done.

Finally he rocked back on his heels and rubbed a hand over his face. “Murphy,” he said, trying to make his voice gentle but firm. “You aren’t a lone wolf anymore. I appreciate what you were trying to do, but that isn’t how we operate. We’re creatures of the pack. We work better together.”

Murphy met his gaze for half a second and then looked down. “I just…I owe you. I couldn’t—”

“Yes,” Braxton interrupted, “you could. We don’t keep score. Not in this pack.”

“Which is what I’ve been trying to tell you,” Tara put in, her voice sardonic. Murphy’s scowl deepened, but his shoulders relaxed.

This happens late in the book, because Murphy has a lot of anger and guilt and confusion to overcome. He’s on a journey that’s a little different from the others, but when he finally gets it, it feels incredibly satisfying to me.

Of course, things go to hell right after that, but it’s still a little moment of, “Hey, Murphy’s gonna be all right, after all.”

And that’s my favorite bit.

LINKS:

Shades of Circle City is available as a print or ebook from Amazon, as well as an ebook from Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iBooks, and Smashwords. Purchase links for all distributors are available here: http://www.stephaniecainonline.com/books/shades-circle-city/

BIO:

Stephanie A. Cain writes epic & urban fantasy. She is the author of the Storms in Amethir epic fantasy series. Shades of Circle City is the first in her new urban fantasy series. A native Hoosier, she writes urban fantasy set in the Midwest in addition to her epic fantasy. She spends her work time at a small museum doing historical research, giving tours of a Victorian man-cave, and serving as a one-woman IT department.

A proud crazy cat lady, she is happily owned by Eowyn, Strider, and Eustace Clarence Scrubb. In her free time, she enjoys hiking (except for the spiders), bird-watching, and reading. She enjoys organizing things and visits office supply stores for fun. She owns way more movie scores and fountain pens than she can actually afford.

She can be found online at www.StephanieCainOnline.com.

Thoughts on first appointments with a therapist.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had a number of people tell me that they had made their first appointment with a therapist. They told me because they didn’t feel safe telling their family. Let that sink in for a minute.

A complete stranger was safer than their family.

Are you one of those family members? I know you don’t mean to be, but it’s easy to slip and make people feel like depression or anxiety or a host of other mental health issues are a weakness. They aren’t. Don’t tell someone to tough it out, or “man up,” or to get their act together.

You think they want to be in this state? No. So support them in getting the help they need.

And if you do have family like this? I just want to tell you that am proud of you for taking care of yourself. You are awesome. Get the help you need and don’t let anyone shame you for seeing a therapist. You wouldn’t try to heal a broken arm on your own and the mind is a helluva lot trickier.

Oh. Here. I made this for you.