Journal

My Favorite Bit: Wendy Nikel talks about THE CONTINUUM

My Favorite BitWendy Nikel is joining us today to talk about her novel The Continuum. Here’s the publisher’s description:

For years, Elise has been donning corsets, sneaking into castles, and lying through her teeth to enforce the Place in Time Travel Agency’s ten essential rules of time travel. Someone has to ensure that travel to the past isn’t abused, and most days she welcomes the challenge of tracking down and retrieving clients who have run into trouble on their historical vacations.

But when a dangerous secret organization kidnaps her and coerces her into jumping to the future on a high-stakes assignment, she’s got more to worry about than just the time-space continuum. For the first time ever, she’s the one out-of-date, out of place, and quickly running out of time.

What’s Wendy’s favorite bit?

Continuum cover

WENDY NIKEL

It’s probably tough for an author to choose a favorite part of any book they’ve written — much like choosing a favorite child — but a favorite part of an author’s first book seems particularly difficult to pinpoint. With your first book, you tend to throw all your favorite things in with a reckless abandon: your favorite characters, favorite settings, favorite jokes, favorite tropes and plot twists. And though not all of the “favorites” I infused into THE CONTINUUM have survived its many iterations since the first draft, it’s still safe to say that this story is overflowing with my favorite elements of time travel, science fiction, and books in general.

But my absolute favorite bit — the bit without which the book wouldn’t exist — is the Place in Time Travel Agency.

“Of Missing Persons” is a short story by time travel author Jack Finney, which tells about a man who comes across a travel agency that deals in more than just trips around the globe. In Finney’s story, the agency can also send travelers to a different dimension. I loved this idea of time travel hidden in plain sight so much that, when I set out to write my own story, I drew inspiration from Finney’s to create my own time travel agency.

People who walk into the front reception often assume the Place in Time Travel Agency is just another overpriced rip-off, but our actual customers—all personal referrals—know to request a trip to Richmond, Surrey when they come in. Only then are they directed back to the real travel agency. (from THE CONTINUUM)

Even the travel agency’s “code word” is a reference to the setting of H.G. Wells’ “The Time Machine.” And that’s not the only homage I pay to that story; the founder of my travel agency goes by the pseudonym Dr. Wells.

In my story, this specialized travel agency helps clients can take a break from the pressures and stresses of the present by facilitating their vacations in the past — whether it’s an adventure in ancient Egypt, a pilgrimage to medieval Scotland, a study of now-extinct baiji dolphins on the Yangzee River, or just a few weeks relaxing in a simpler time before cell phones and computers and social media.

The only catch is that there’s rules to follow. Ten, to be precise, that detail things like where and when you can travel, and what needs to be done to keep the agency’s exclusive technology a secret. After all, it’d cause chaos if everyone knew the truth — that time travel was possible.

But just in case… Next time you’re walking down a city street and happen across a travel agency that seems just a little too shabby to afford the rent in that area, where the prices for cruises and overseas excursions seem a little too high, maybe try asking for a trip to Richmond, Surrey, and see what happens…

LINKS:

THE CONTINUUM Universal Book Link

Website

Facebook

Twitter

BIO:

Wendy Nikel is a speculative fiction author with a degree in elementary education, a fondness for road trips, and a terrible habit of forgetting where she’s left her cup of tea. Her short fiction has been published by Fantastic Stories of the ImaginationDaily Science FictionNature: Futures, and elsewhere. Her time travel novella, The Continuum, is forthcoming from World Weaver Press in spring 2018. For more info, visit wendynikel.com

Where to Find Mary at Boskone

Mary is the Guest of Honor at Boskone!

Boskone logo

Join her in Boston, MA from February 16-18, 2018 for New England’s longest running science fiction and fantasy convention. It’s going to be a fun weekend filled with discussions of books, film, art, music, games, and more. For more information about Boskone, visit The Boskone BlogTwitter, and Facebook as well as by going to the Boskone website to register at http://www.boskone.org/register/

Here’s where to find Mary while you are there:

Friday, February 16

Boskone’s Regency Dance with Guest of Honor Mary Robinette Kowal
5:30-7:30pm
Harbor II

Calling all dancers! Join our Guest of Honor, Mary Robinette Kowal, as we travel back in time to Britain’s Regency period, when dancing was all the craze. Antonia Pugliese from Commonwealth Vintage Dancers, a Boston-area nonprofit that reconstructs, performs, and teaches dances of the 19th and early 20th century, will lead us through Boskone’s special set of Regency dances. So put on your 19th Century duds or keep your modern wardrobe to represent your favorite era — as we genre-happy gentlefolk join together to dance, Regency-style!

Opening Ceremony: Meet the Guests
8:45-9:00pm
Galleria – Stage

Welcome to Boskone, New England’s longest-running convention for science fiction, fantasy, and horror! Whether you are attending for the first time or the fifty-fifth, we invite you to join us in the Galleria to meet this year’s guests.

Boskone 55 Reception
9:00-11:00pm
Galleria – Art Show

Connoisseurs and philistines alike: welcome to the Boskone Art Show! Join us in the Galleria for an upscale social mixer. Meet our program participants while enjoying refreshments, stimulating conversation, and exceptional art that’s a feast for the eyes. Experience the music and the festivities as Boskone celebrates another year of science fiction, fantasy, and horror in Boston.

 

Saturday, February 17

Boskone Book Club: Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal
10:00-11:00am
Marina 3

The Boskone Book Club continues! Join us for a conversation that brings con-goers together to consider one noteworthy work at length. This year we are reading Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal (our Guest of Honor). Boskone’s own Bob Kuhn will lead the discussion; Mary Robinette Kowal will join the group halfway through for a Q&A. To participate, please read the book and come ready with your thoughts and questions.

Autographing
11:00am-12:00pm
Galleria – Autographing

Guest of Honor Interview Featuring Mary Robinette Kowal
1:00-2:00pm
Harbor III

Professional puppeteer; costumer; voice actor — Mary Robinette Kowal is a multitalented marvel. But she’s here mostly as a Hugo-Award-winning SF/F author with a delightful gift for storytelling. Join us for Boskone’s Guest of Honor hour, conducted by Mary’s good friend (and former astronaut!) Cady Coleman.

The Magic of Historical Fantasies
3:00-4:00pm
Harbor III

Fantasies set in the past are growing ever more popular. Why do we love stepping back in time and sprinkling a little magic into the past? Could these same stories be told in modern times, or would some of that magic be lost? And when changing the workings of the known world by adding magic, is it still important to keep historical details correct?

Clothing That Create Character
4:00-5:00pm
Marina 3

Characters don’t wear costumes; they wear clothing. What’s the right raiment for the right person? Think about the style statements made by James Bond, Brienne, Doctor Manhattan, Gandalf, Kip Russell, Josephus Miller, Offred, Diana Prince, Alexia Tarabotti, or Jane Vincent. Our fashionistas discuss some of spec fic’s fashion faux pas, as well as some truly ingenious choices of garments for our favorite fictional characters.

 

Sunday, February 18

Life In Space
10:00-11:00am
Harbor II

What does it take to become an astronaut? What’s it like to live in space? These questions and more are just a few of the queries that will get answered by astronaut Cady Coleman as she sits with science fiction authors Mary Robinette Kowal and Stacey Berg who ask her everything you ever wanted to know about life in space.

Reading by Mary Robinette Kowal
11:00-11:30am
Griffin

Tea with Mary
2:00-3:00pm
Galleria – Con Suite

Join Boskone’s Guest of Honor for tea in the Con Suite. (Requires Kaffeeklatsch sign-up at Program Ops in the Harbor Foyer.)

 

Writing Excuses Retreat 2018

2018 will be our sixth Writing Excuses Retreat:

Join us for a cruise in the Caribbean, September 22-30th 2018!

Liberty of the Seas ship

Registration is now open!

The full details are available on the registration page, but here’s a quick overview:

  1. We will board in Galveston, TX, and spend a week at sea, stopping for excursions in Honduras, Belize, and Mexico. The event actually begins the day before we board, in a Houston hotel, where we’ll register and get to know each other.
  2. Prices are Double Occupancy, which means you’ll share your room with another person. If you bring your own roommate, awesome! If not, we’ll put you with another writer from our group. Spouses and significant others who want to come with you but are not writers will get a discounted rate. Children get a hugely discounted rate. Imaginary friends are FREE.
  3. If you’ve never done one of our cruises before, they’re a kind of magical mix of class time, writing time, and screwing-around-in-a-cool-place time. We don’t know how it works, but it does, and you’ll love it.
  4. We’ll have one or two classes a day, taught by our amazing guest instructors, as well as live Writing Excuses episodes with the hosts of the show. Brandon won’t be joining us this year, but we’ll be joined by Amal El-Mohtar, Piper Drake, Maurice Broaddus, Kathy Chung, K Tempest Bradford, Valynne E Maetani, and more. And of course you’ll still have Mary, Dan, and Howard.
  5. For each stop, we’ll pick three “official” Writing Excuses shore excursions and announce them this Spring. You can sign up with us for one of those and know that you’ll be with our same group of awesome writers and instructors. If you want to do an excursion that’s not one of our official picks, you can arrange it directly with the cruise.
  6. As before, we will have a number of scholarships available. This year that number is “5.” The application process will be announced in January at Writing Excuses.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Q: I have a registration question. Should I leave a comment here?

A: The best way to contact us for WXR 2018 purposes is to use the “Contact Writing Excuses” link at the bottom of the Registration page. Scroll all the way down to “Contact the Organizer”. We’d have linked it directly here, but it’s an embedded thingy. You can also email questions to assist@maryrobinettekowal.com with the subject line “WXR: Registration Question”.

Q: Brandon’s not going to be there? Does he not love us anymore?

A: Brandon is already spending a few weeks this year on tour, and there was no way for him to do both. In future years, there might be other hosts who can’t make it. You’ll still get an amazing writing conference with a ton of amazing instructors and classes and experiences. Plus, as all of our alumni will tell you, the single biggest benefit of the cruise are the connections you make with the other attendees, and this promises to be one of the best years ever for that. And yes, Brandon loves you with all his heart.

Q: I’m an introvert who doesn’t do well in big groups of people. Will I survive an event like this?

A: One Of Us! One Of Us! Honestly, most of our attendees are introverts too, including all of the hosts and most of the guest instructors. Some of us are better at faking it than others, but we know where you’re coming from, and we feel your pain. We’ll make sure to have lots of quiet little hidey-holes all over the ship where you can go when it all gets too much. It’s not called a “retreat” for nothing.

Q: You keep saying it, but will I really have time to actually write while on this cruise?

A: You will definitely have time, but it’s up to you how to use it. We give prizes every year for the Most Words Written, and last year the winner had more than 40,000. We also have a proud history of boardgame nights, dancing, karaoke, and impromptu martial arts demonstrations. Whatever you want to do with your free time, you can probably do it at this event.

Q: What level of writing expertise should I have attained prior to attending?

A: “Level of expertise” is far less important than your desire to improve. The workshop is structured to be accessible and useful for new writers with a passion for learning, and to be challenging and rewarding for seasoned professionals looking for refinement, or additional perspectives. Different classes will be designed for different levels of experience.

Come join us!

My Favorite Bit: KJ Kabza talks about THE RAMSHEAD ALGORITHM AND OTHER STORIES

My Favorite BitKJ Kabza is joining us today with his short story collection The Ramshead Algorithm and Other Stories. Here is the publisher’s description:

In The Ramshead Algorithm and Other Stories, sand cats speak, ghost bikes roll, corpses disappear, and hedge mazes are more bewildering than you’ve ever imagined. These 11 fantasy and science fiction stories from KJ Kabza have been dubbed “Sublime” (Tangent), “Rich” (SFRevu), and “Ethereal” (Quick Sip Reviews) and will take you deep into other astonishing realities.

What’s KJ’s favorite bit?

The Ramshead Algorithm cover image

KJ KABZA

Wonder.

For me, that’s the sine qua non of powerful speculative fiction: that feeling of awe and majesty, glimpsed when we turn a page and see a vista that’s both thrilling in its possibility and humbling in its scope.

Ironically, though, the real world itself is already overflowing with it.

Lake picture

Risen lake waters make for striking scenes. Photo taken at Parker Canyon Lake in southern Arizona (2017).

My first collection of print fiction, THE RAMSHEAD ALGORITHM AND OTHER STORIES, contains “strong world building” (Booklist) within stories that are “quirky and original hybrids” (Publishers Weekly) of various subgenres—near-future SF, dark fantasy, fabulism, fables, steampunk, science fantasy, and whatever dusting of whatever other subgenre you care to name perceive. I like to exercise my range and write things I haven’t written before.

Integral to writing things I haven’t written before is seeing things that I haven’t before. Visiting new places, especially places outdoors, can be an almost religious experience for me. I once spent a year intentionally homeless, couch-surfing among friends and family across the USA. I have a specific monthly savings goal that I set aside to put into a travel fund. I’ll even go on record saying that trespassing is my favorite crime (but further anecdotes about that are a blog post for another time).

I don’t have the patience to livestream my travels, and even if I did, I still couldn’t make everyone feel the frisson that I do when I see something astonishing. But, while I can’t control what you see with your own eyes, within my writing I can control (to an extent) what you see with your mind’s eye. I can hold up a lens of wonder.

Blade of grass made a circle in the sand

A broken blade of dune grass, tossed around in the wind, has traced a circle over undisturbed sand. Photo taken in North Cape May, New Jersey (2012), where I wrote “The Color of Sand.”

The anchoring novella “You Can Take It With You” that appears at the end of THE RAMSHEAD ALGORITHM AND OTHER STORIES plays out as a journey across a long, strange, sometimes physics-defying land. I wrote it in 2016–2017, during the winter, the season in my home city of Tucson, Arizona wherein the weather cools down enough for me to go hiking. During that winter, I carefully explored the collection of trails that meet at the northern end of Camino Loma Alta. The Rincon Mountains begin there. There are cacti, and vivid yellows in the hills when the brittle bushes flower, and hidden streams with long-abandoned homesteads. “WELCOME TO CHUPACABRA COUNTRY,” someone has written, on the side of a rusted-out water tank.

Welcome to Chupacabra country

See what you find, when you trespass?

As I hiked along the Hope Camp trail, sharp rocks under my soles and the sky a near-space blue, I felt the place’s rawness and isolation. In such a space is where the sense of self dissolves, and there is only rock and heat, cutting surprising beauty into hidden canyons that no one will ever see.

This is the true meaning of a wilderness.

Look for a passage in “You Can Take It With You” that begins:

“The Wilderness is lakes. And rivers. And plains and mountains. Jungles thick and green, shivering with wind and alighting birds. Rumpled, empty sand dunes. Stony moors with craggy tors, sheep grazing on heather and grasses, and glaciers that glimmer in the sun. Volcanic cones, even, that steam and spit threads of lava, and cooling fields of rock, as desolate as the surface of the moon…”

There, you will come back to the Hope Camp trail with me, as seen through a lens of wonder.

In “The Color of Sand,” look for the line, “Where the sea, sand, and sky come together and kiss, there once lived a boy named Catch,” and you will come with me to the sandy beach of North Cape May, New Jersey, between Franklin Ave. and Emerson Ave., where I scoured the shoreline every afternoon one bright November in search of sea glass. In “The Ramshead Algorithm,” as you tread The Maze that connects all planes of reality, you will also come with me to Cornwall, England, where narrow, rural roads wind between walls of earth, covered in shadow and shifting ivy. When you read “All Souls Proceed,” you will find yourself caught up in Tucson’s annual All Souls procession, marching along night-dark streets at my side, bewildered at the crush of surrounding bodies and the many ragged ways we all express anger and loss.

You don’t need to read my work to experience strong world building. Not really.

It’s all already out there.

LINKS:

THE RAMSHEAD ALGORITHM AND OTHER STORIES Universal Book Link

Excerpt from THE RAMSHEAD ALGORITHM AND OTHER STORIES (“The Color of Sand”)

Website

Twitter

BIO:

KJ Kabza has written and sold over 70 short stories to places such as F&SFStrange HorizonsBeneath Ceaseless Skies, and others. Though his work prior to 2014 can be found in two self-published ebook omnibus collections, IN PIECES and UNDER STARS, THE RAMSHEAD ALGORITHM AND OTHER STORIES is his first foray into traditional print publishing. When not writing, he likes to be outside, which is a tough break if you’ve been raised in the northeastern United States (where it’s deliciously cold) but now live in the southwestern United States (where it feels like death in an oven for several months out of the year). Come say hi on Twitter @KJKabza or learn more at kjkabza.com.

My 2017 year-end wrap up

It’s time for the wrap-up of what I’ve accomplished in 2017!

Publications!

Short Story
Best Related Work

This looks like low output, which, well, it is. BUT, that’s because publishing schedules mean that most of what I wrote will come out next year. According to 4thewords.com*, I wrote nearly 500,000 words this year. That represents a VR game (Brass Tactics), a half dozen short stories, and close to three novels, including The Fated Skywhich is the sequel to The Calculating Stars. (I’m taking a break from copy-edits on those, as I type.)

I also wrote two novels for fun, because I’m apparently odd. Or a writer, which is much the same thing. Apprehension (SF thriller) and The Dragon Question (Hitchcockian Fantasy).

Coming up in 2018, you can look for my short stories in F&SF (“Milliner’s Assassin” and “The Phobos Experience”) and “Artisanal Trucking” in Asimov’s.

While I’m at it… may I mention that Steal the Stars or Black Girl in a Big Dress can both be nominated for the Hugo and Bradbury Awards? I had nothing to do with either, but I love them a lot.

Oh! And I also discovered that I like making infographics.

*PS, I also like 4thewords.com a bunch, and I think it is might be eligible for SFWA’s new Nebula game writing award, but even if it isn’t, you should still check it out if you’re a writer. (And this is my referral code BUCGG84743)

Gift my books – personalization deadline is 12/16!

Image from Volumes

If you’d like to gift my books this holiday season (perhaps even to yourself!) you can order signed copies from Volumes Bookcafe and they will be shipped right to you! This is actually true all year long, this is just a reminder for the holidays.

I’m also happy to personalize them, but you’ll need to order personalized copies by midnight, Dec 16 for them to get to you by Christmas.

THE CALCULATING STARS and THE FATED SKY available for pre-order!

The Lady Astronaut books are now available for pre-order!

The Calculating Stars

The Fated Sky

Paired covers for The Calculating Stars, showing a group of women on a blue field, and The Fated Sky, which has a lone astronaut against a red sky.

If you pre-order through these links, which will take you to Mary’s favorite local bookstore, a SIGNED and personalized copy will arrive at your house on release day!

These books are prequels to Mary’s Hugo-award winning story The Lady Astronaut of Mars. You can read the story at that link as you wait for liftoff.

The Calculating Stars – July 3, 2018

A meteor decimates the U.S. government and paves the way for a climate cataclysm that will eventually render the earth inhospitable to humanity. This looming threat calls for a radically accelerated timeline in the earth’s efforts to colonize space, as well as an unprecedented opportunity for a much larger share of humanity to take part.

One of these new entrants in the space race is Elma York, whose experience as a WASP pilot and mathematician earns her a place in the International Aerospace Coalition’s attempts to put man on the moon. But with so many skilled and experienced women pilots and scientists involved with the program, it doesn’t take long before Elma begins to wonder why they can’t go into space, too—aside from some pesky barriers like thousands of years of history and a host of expectations about the proper place of the fairer sex. And yet, Elma’s drive to become the first Lady Astronaut is so strong that even the most dearly held conventions may not stand a chance.

The Fated Sky – August 21, 2018

Continuing the grand sweep of alternate history laid out in The Calculating StarsThe Fated Sky looks forward to 1961, when mankind is well-established on the moon and looking forward to its next step: journeying to, and eventually colonizing, Mars.

Of course, the noted Lady Astronaut Elma York would like to go, but could the International Aerospace Coalition ever stand the thought of putting a woman on such a potentially dangerous mission? Could Elma knowingly take the place of other astronauts who have been overlooked because of their race? And could she really leave behind her husband and the chance to start a family? This gripping look at the real conflicts behind a fantastical space race will put a new spin on our visions of what might have been.

 

My Favorite Bit: Carrie Ann DiRisio talks about BROODING YA HERO

Favorite Bit iconCarrie Ann DiRisio is joining us today with her novel Brooding YA Hero: Becoming a Main Character (Almost) as Awesome as Me. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Have you ever wished you could receive a little guidance from your favorite book boyfriend? Ever dreamed of being the Chosen One in a YA novel? Want to know all the secrets of surviving the dreaded plot twist?

Or maybe you’re just really confused about what “opal-tinted, luminous cerulean orbs” actually are?

Well, popular Twitter personality @broodingYAhero is here to help as he tackles the final frontier in his media dominance: writing a book. Join Broody McHottiepants as he attempts to pen Brooding YA Hero: Becoming a Main Character (Almost) as Awesome as Me, a “self-help” guide (with activities–you always need activities) that lovingly pokes fun at the YA tropes that we roll our eyes at, but secretly love.

As his nefarious ex, Blondie DeMeani, attempts to thwart him at every turn, Broody overcomes to detail, among other topics, how to choose your genre, how to keep your love interest engaged (while maintaining lead character status), his secret formula for guaranteed love triangle success, and how to make sure you secure that sequel, all while keeping his hair perfectly coiffed and never breaking a sweat.

What’s Carrie’s favorite bit?

Brooding YA Hero Cover Image

CARRIE ANN DiRISIO

One of my favorite things about being an aunt is getting to shop for picture books. I adore their lush, vivid way of storytelling, and often end up with a stack for myself too. Of course, since I write young adult fiction, I never thought I’d have a chance to work with an illustrator.
That all changed with one very quirky book. My debut, BROODING YA HERO: Becoming a Main Character (Almost) as Awesome as Me is equal parts fourth-wall-breaking satire, tongue in cheek narrative, and illustrated activity book.

Which means… PICTURES!

The main character is Broody McHottiepants, the archetype character you’ve seen in a thousand works (and in his personal, viral, twitter, @BroodingYAhero). Broody has been told by his author that he’s been in too many books, and needs to take a break. Instead, Broody decides to… star in his own book!

The illustrator of the book is Linnea Gear, who is also the creator of the popular fantasy webcomic, DISSENT.

My favorite bit of the whole book is Broody’s family tree, which shows off all the fictional characters, archetypes, and role models both he, the fictional character, and the literary device, developed from. That may sound pretty meta, but trust me, Linnea’s art makes it all beautifully clear.

Linnea’s ability to capture emotions and personality has always entranced me, and I think in the family tree, it’s really highlighted. I sent her simple one word notes, such as “a supermodel” and she spun those into beautiful images. Each character has so much personality that they leap off the page, (or in the case of the clumsy ancestor, stumble.)

Broody's Family tree

The process of creating this was fun too, I brainstormed types of characters/famous public domain characters who might be said to be in Broody’s “bloodline” and then, Linnea sent some sample sketches. We pingponged ideas to end up with this awesome final product.

The image also works to help me demonstrate just what a Brooding Hero is. People might not follow the Twitter account, but they know of Gatsby or Heathcliff. Showing a literary family tree allows the funny concept to be more accessible by readers of all genres.

If the illustrations intrigue you, or you’re looking for a laugh, trust me, there’s a lot more in the book, which is available now wherever books are sold!

LINKS:

Brooding YA Hero Universal Book Link

Goodreads

Broody’s Twitter

Carrie’s Twitter

Carrie’s Website

BIO:

Carrie Ann DiRisio is a YA writer and creator of @BroodingYAHero. She lives in Pittsburgh, PA with one large fluffy cat, and is currently pursuing her masters in Digital Marketing, although her true dream is to become a Disney Villainess, complete with a really snazzy gown.

In addition to writing and plans for world domination, she also enjoys running, coffee, Krav Maga, and knitting.

Mom’s Sour Cream Poundcake recipe

Since I was little, this is the cake I request for my birthday. Mom mails one to me every year. We requested it for our wedding cake. This is the ur cake. This is the platonic ideal of cake.

  • 2 sticks butter
  • 3 c. sugar
  • 3 c. plain flour
  • 1 c. sour cream
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 6 eggs separated
  • 2 tsp. orange extract
  • 2 tsp. lemon extract

Cream butter and sugar lightly. Add sour cream; mix soda, 1/2 c. flour and add; mix thoroughly. Add unbeaten egg yolks and remaining flour alternately. Lastly, beat whites light and fold them into other mixture — never beat them in.

Pour into funnel cake pan. Have bottom of pan covered with waxed paper and sides well greased. Bake in 325-degree oven for 1 1/4 hours. Never open door before this amount of time is up — then look. If cake needs more baking, do so.

My Favorite Bit: Fonda Lee talks about JADE CITY

Favorite Bit iconFonda Lee is joining us today to talk about her novel Jade City. Here’s the publisher’s description:

FAMILY IS DUTY. MAGIC IS POWER. HONOR IS EVERYTHING.

Jade is the lifeblood of the island of Kekon. It has been mined, traded, stolen, and killed for — and for centuries, honorable Green Bone warriors like the Kaul family have used it to enhance their magical abilities and defend the island from foreign invasion.

Now, the war is over and a new generation of Kauls vies for control of Kekon’s bustling capital city. They care about nothing but protecting their own, cornering the jade market, and defending the districts under their protection. Ancient tradition has little place in this rapidly changing nation.

When a powerful new drug emerges that lets anyone — even foreigners — wield jade, the simmering tension between the Kauls and the rival Ayt family erupts into open violence. The outcome of this clan war will determine the fate of all Green Bones — from their grandest patriarch to the lowliest motorcycle runner on the streets — and of Kekon itself.

What’s Fonda’s favorite bit?

Jade City cover image

FONDA LEE

There’s a quote I saw on the Internet once, of someone complaining, “Yoga is such bullshit. I’ve been doing it for six months and I can’t even breathe fire yet.” (You’re either a child of the ‘80s who played video games and is chuckling right now, or I just lost you in the opening paragraph.)

Image of buff cartoon man breathing fire

Don’t go yet! The point is, that sentiment is remarkably similar to what drove me, in part, to write Jade City. You see, I’m a martial artist who’s been practicing pretty regularly since I was a teenager. I’m also a big fan of martial arts movies. Granted, I’m no professional fighter—but even after years of training, I’ve never come close to being able to fly, run up walls, punch through concrete, or fight blindfolded. My instructors are far more accomplished than I am, but I haven’t seen them bust out any of those special abilities either. I understand that Superman has superpowers because he’s from Krypton and Iron Man has his suit, but the heroes of my favorite kung fu films were apparently ordinary human beings who simply trained really, really hard.

There are, indeed, people who are able to achieve incredible, seemingly impossible physical feats with extreme conditioning. Here’s a picture of a Shaolin monk balancing on two fingers. (Ouch!)

Shaolin monk balancing on pointer finger of each hand

Even so, as a fantasy writer, I wanted a more codified explanation for the even more exceptional abilities in the wuxia movies, books, and comics I devoured. So I created one. I imagined a world in which a rare magic substance could grant incredible martial powers. It could’ve been anything—a potion, a metal, a plant—but I settled quickly on jade. Jade has been prized throughout thousands of years of Chinese history; referred to as the “Stone of Heaven,” it was a symbol of power and status and considered to be a substance that connected the earthly and divine realms. It was already figuratively magical—in my fictional world, I made it literally so.

However, just because I established the existence of magic jade, I wasn’t about to repudiate the reality that being an accomplished martial artist is first and foremost about dedication to hard practice. So the jade-adorned warriors in my story have to begin their training from a young age, not only to learn how to wield jade, but to withstand its harmful effects—which can, unfortunately, eventually make a person go insane and die.

So while I have so many favorite bits in Jade City, I am especially fond of the disciplines of jade magic martial arts—Lightness, Perception, Deflection, Strength, Steel, and Channeling. Pick up the book (it’s out now from Orbit) if you want to know more about what they are and witness them unleashed in bloody magic jade powered battles between rival family clans.

A still from a kung fu movie with two men in the air with swords

LINKS:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Indiebound

Powell’s

Jade City Excerpt

Website

Facebook

Twitter

BIO:

Fonda Lee is the author of the gangster fantasy saga Jade City (Orbit) and the award-winning young adult science fiction novels Zeroboxer (Flux) and Exo (Scholastic). Cross Fire, the sequel to Exo, releases in May 2018. Fonda 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 Canada, she now lives in Portland, Oregon. You can find Fonda online at www.fondalee.com and on Twitter @fondajlee.

 

My Favorite Bit: Tracy Townsend talks about THE NINE

My Favorite BitTracy Townsend is joining us today with her novel The Nine. Here’s the publisher’s description:

In the dark streets of Corma exists a book that writes itself, a book that some would kill for…

Black market courier Rowena Downshire is just trying to pay her mother’s freedom from debtor’s prison when an urgent and unexpected delivery leads her face to face with a creature out of nightmares.  Rowena escapes with her life, but the strange book she was ordered to deliver is stolen.

The Alchemist knows things few men have lived to tell about, and when Rowena shows up on his doorstep, frightened and empty-handed, he knows better than to turn her away. What he discovers leads him to ask for help from the last man he wants to see—the former mercenary, Anselm Meteron.

Across town, Reverend Phillip Chalmers awakes in a cell, bloodied and bruised, facing a creature twice his size. Translating the stolen book may be his only hope for survival; however, he soon realizes the book may be a fabled text written by the Creator Himself, tracking the nine human subjects of His Grand Experiment. In the wrong hands, it could mean the end of humanity.

Rowena and her companions become the target of conspirators who seek to use the book for their own ends.  But how can this unlikely team be sure who the enemy is when they can barely trust each other? And what will happen when the book reveals a secret no human was meant to know?

What’s Tracy’s favorite bit?

The Nine cover image

 

TRACY TOWNSEND

The Bulwer-Lytton version of how I started my debut fantasy, The Nine, would have me writing on a dark and stormy night. After all, it is a dark gaslamp fantasy, replete with corruption, conspiracy, and monstrous creatures of the night. But the truth is, I wrote the first scene of it on an unseasonably warm afternoon in March 2009, racing along in a burst of excitement that struck entirely without warning in between grading papers for an American literature class. (Muses are rude that way: untimely, even in their best moments.) I hacked away at the vision I’d had — a girl racing away from some dangerous scene, empty-handed, though she ought to have been carrying something, and bursting into an alchemist’s shop after dark. After a while, I sat back and stared at the pages I’d written. Who were these people, meeting by chance in a dusty old dispensary? What had the girl been running from, and what had she lost? Why had the man let her in after the shingle was turned, and why the wariness in his baritone voice? Not sure what I’d made — or if I’d made anything at all — I tucked the pages deep in my hard drive and before long forgot all about them.

Years later, I found that file by accident as I readied myself (on a properly cold and blustery October evening) for my first NaNoWriMo. I poked at the scene like a newly-discovered bruise, seemingly sprung from nothing. There was an ache somewhere inside it, an old, invisible pain throbbing toward its bones. I read the scene once. Twice. By the third time, I knew I was in love.

That first-written scene of The Nine is still in the book today, virtually unchanged. It’s in chapter ten, and it will always be my favorite bit.

Let’s set the scene.

Guttersnipe courier Rowena Downshire has just been robbed of an urgent, mysterious delivery and now faces with defiance and dread the man to whom the package was bound — the inscrutable Alchemist of Westgate Bridge. She’s battered and bloodied. There’s every reason to believe this failure will see her fired, thrown back out on the street or, even worse, back behind the bars of Oldtemple debtors’ prison.

She tries to apologize, but of course, it’s not that simple.

“What’s your name, girl?”

“Rowena.”

He grunted. “Family name?”

She considers, and finally answers. “Downshire, if it please you.”

“I can’t imagine what your name has to do with my pleasure, Rowena Downshire.”

I love this exchange because it’s where the characters taught me to see them for who they really are. Here I had two cagey, thick-skinned souls brought together by chance, their conversation a prowling, circling, wary engagement. They were wild animals crossing paths, taking only the most halting steps toward one another. They would probe each other’s wounds, bind them up, tear a few new ones, and maybe, just maybe, their scars would heal over properly. Just this once, as they never had before.

Every writer has certain pet subjects. There’s value in knowing when to lean in close to the story with them, letting your breath fog the windows of the edifice your words have built. I love unspoken things, and awkward beginnings, and unhealable wounds, and found families, and redemption arcs, and morally gray protagonists, and deadly, dark, competent people waiting for you to underestimate them. So of course I fell in love with these two. I could see where they were headed. I hoped they would let me come along. I longed to see what would happen to their glimmer of hope in an otherwise sooty setting.

The trouble with dark stories — with their twisty plots and crapsack universes and anti-heroism and all of that — is how many of them trade everything else away to make the darkness happen. Too many of them miss the point. Human beings tell stories because, sometimes, they are the only places where it feels safe to believe anymore. The world has taken something from each of us. A story is a writer’s promise to give something essential back. So are the people they give us in them.

“I can’t imagine what your name has to do with my pleasure,” the Alchemist tells Rowena. He’s not wrong. They find precious little pleasure in the journey that lies before them. But they do find each other.

And that’s a start, isn’t it?

LINKS:

The Nine Universal Book Link

Twitter

Website

BIO:

Tracy Townsend holds a master’s degree in writing and rhetoric from DePaul University and a bachelor’s degree in creative writing from DePauw University, a source of regular consternation when proofreading her credentials. She is a past chair of the English Department at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, an elite public boarding school, where she currently teaches creative writing and science fiction and fantasy literature. She has been a martial arts instructor, a stage combat and accent coach, and a short-order cook for houses full of tired gamers. Now she lives in Bolingbrook, Illinois with two bumptious hounds, two remarkable children, and one very patient husband. Her debut novel, The Nine, is the first in the Thieves of Fate series, published by Pyr November 14, 2017. You can find her on Twitter at @TheStorymatic and on the web at www.tracytownsend.net.

My Favorite Bit: Jim C. Hines talks about TERMINAL ALLIANCE

My Favorite BitJim C. Hines is joining us today with his novel Terminal Alliance. Here’s the publisher’s description:

In his hilarious new sci-fi series, Jim C. Hines introduces the unlikely heroes that may just save the galaxy: a crew of space janitors.

The Krakau came to Earth to invite humanity into a growing alliance of sentient species. However, they happened to arrive after a mutated plague wiped out half the planet, turned the rest into shambling, near-unstoppable animals, and basically destroyed human civilization. You know—your standard apocalypse.

The Krakau’s first impulse was to turn around and go home. (After all, it’s hard to have diplomatic relations with mindless savages who eat your diplomats.) Their second impulse was to try to fix us. Now, a century later, human beings might not be what they once were, but at least they’re no longer trying to eat everyone. Mostly.

Marion “Mops” Adamopoulos is surprisingly bright (for a human). As a Lieutenant on the Earth Mercenary Corps Ship Pufferfish, she’s in charge of the Shipboard Hygiene and Sanitation team. When a bioweapon attack wipes out the Krakau command crew and reverts the rest of the humans to their feral state, only Mops and her team are left with their minds intact.

Escaping the attacking aliens—not to mention her shambling crewmates—is only the beginning. Sure, Mops and her team of space janitors and plumbers can clean the ship as well as anyone, but flying the damn thing is another matter.

As they struggle to keep the Pufferfish functioning and find a cure for their crew, they stumble onto a conspiracy that could threaten the entire alliance… a conspiracy born from the truth of what happened on Earth all those years ago.

What’s Jim’s favorite bit?

Terminal Alliance cover image

JIM C. HINES

Humans had pretty well wiped themselves out when the alien Krakau arrived on our planet. The Krakau took it upon themselves to rebuild the shambling, feral remnants of humanity the best they could.

At the time of Terminal Alliance, roughly ten thousand humans have been “restored,” meaning their intelligence is close to pre-apocalypse levels. But they’re not quite human like we are today. Their bodies have been changed both by the plague and by the Krakau cure, and…well, they’re just not the brightest species in the Alliance.

Marion “Mops” Adamopoulos and her Shipboard Hygiene and Sanitation team end up in command of their ship, the EMCS Pufferfish. In between learning how to fly the damn thing and fighting off alien attacks, they stop to grab a quick lunch. Or maybe dinner. They don’t really make a distinction. During this brief interlude, they end up talking about what it means to be human:

“They fixed us,” Kumar continued. “They give us jobs, purpose, even our culture. We call ourselves human, but are we? Or are we Krakau? Maybe we’re something in between. Krakuman?”

“I am not calling myself Krakuman,” snarled Wolf.

“Kumar has a point,” Mops said, before this could escalate further. “Intellect, creativity, reasoning…we consistently score lower on every test than pre-plague humans. Whatever humanity was before the plague, we’ve changed. But we are human.”

“How do you figure?” asked Kumar.

“Because we have to be.” Mops studied her team. They were exhausted. Anxious. Scared, though she doubted any of them would admit it Her team was trained to eradicate mold and fix clogged water filters, not battle Prodryan fighters. “Because we’re what’s left. Ten thousand or so reborn humans, with maybe a half billion surviving ferals back on Earth.”

Kumar frowned. “I’m not sure I follow your logic.”

“It’s not about logic.” Mops removed her empty food tube and used her thumb to wipe a single drop of gray sludge from the edge of her port. Her stomach felt bloated and hard, but the pressure would ease within an hour. “We were born of Earth. ‘Human’ is our word. Our history. Our connection to each other. Nobody gets to tell me I’m not human.” Her eyes sought Kumar’s. “Nobody else gets to tell us what that word means.”

I love this exchange. I love how the chaos of alien attacks and conspiracies forces them to reexamine their assumptions about everything, including who and what they are.

It’s not a question any of them have ever really faced. They were cured as adults, and have little memory of their life before. Their conversation here is reminiscent of a kid discovering their independence from their parents for the first time.

You know, if their parents were a bunch of alien squid.

The rest of the galaxy looks at humans as little better than animals, and they’re not entirely wrong. Our civilization pretty much destroyed itself, and now we’re mostly serving as soldiers for the Krakau Alliance. Savages who are one minuscule step up from beasts.

Mops and her team aren’t perfect. They’re not remotely qualified to fly a ship or fight hostile aliens or investigate a conspiracy. Everyone else in the galaxy would expect them to fail, and to fail catastrophically. Basically, they’re the underdogs, and they’ve always known it.

In Mops’ world, the word “human” has always carried an implicit sneer. To be human is to be inferior. But in this moment, their sense of who they are begins to shift. It’s not a Very Special Episode of Space Janitors where they discover they’re so much smarter and stronger than they thought, and all they had to do was Believe In Themselves. They’re still underdogs. They’re still completely in over their heads.

This is a moment of reclamation. Mops and the rest know they’re inferior in many ways. Now, for the first time, “human” is also a source of pride and strength. In some ways, that change is at the heart of the entire trilogy.

Well, that and jokes about alien plumbing.

If there’s one defining trait about humanity that holds true both now and in the future of the Janitors of the Post-Apocalypse trilogy, it’s that we just don’t know when to quit.

God help the rest of the galaxy.

LINKS:

About the book

Read the first chapter (PDF EPUB MOBI)

Amazon

B&N

BAM

Mysterious Galaxy

Schuler Books

Indiebound

BIO:

Jim C. Hines is the author of the Magic ex Libris series, the Princess series of fairy tale retellings, the humorous Goblin Quest trilogy, and the Fable Legends tie-in Blood of Heroes. His latest novel is Terminal Alliance, book one in the humorous science fiction Janitors of the Post-Apocalypse trilogy. His short fiction has appeared in more than 50 magazines and anthologies. He’s an active blogger, and won the 2012 Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer. He lives in mid-Michigan with his family. You can find him at www.jimchines.com or on Twitter as @jimchines.

Character and Self-Definition

CHARACTER & SELF-DEFINITON: We self-define in multiple ways. A flat character exists on only one axis. Role — Career. (puppeteer, a voice actor, an author.) Relationship — Duty (wife, daughter, mentor.) Status —Class/hierarchy (Middle class, poverty, rockstar) Competence — Abilities. (intelligence, skill, prowess) The places where the disparate aspects of self-identity come into conflict are natural stress points. For character-based conflict, pry on those cracks.

Character driven stories are a journey of self-discovery. They begin when a character is dissatisfied with an aspect of self and end when the character solidifies their self-definition. This can end in a positive or negative state. Either the character achieves the self-definition they were going for, or they recognize that they never will. Basically, they either like themselves at the end, or they don’t. Happy ending or tragedy.

Now, a lot of people think that, in order to have a character arc, you must have a deeply flawed character in order to give them room to grow. That is an option. But this is often really heavy-handed and can lead to fiction that feels flat or contrived.

My Favorite Bit: Richard Baker talks about VALIANT DUST

Favorite Bit iconRichard Baker is joining us today with his novel Valiant Dust. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Sikander Singh North has always had it easy―until he joined the crew of the Aquilan Commonwealth starship CSS Hector. As the ship’s new gunnery officer and only Kashmiri, he must constantly prove himself better than his Aquilan crewmates, even if he has to use his fists. When the Hector is called to help with a planetary uprising, he’ll have to earn his unit’s respect, find who’s arming the rebels, and deal with the headstrong daughter of the colonial ruler―all while dodging bullets.

Sikander’s military career is off to an explosive start―but only if he and CSS Hector can survive his first mission.

What’s Richard’s favorite bit?

Valiant Dust cover

RICHARD BAKER

My favorite bit of Valiant Dust is the Torpedo Mystery. It’s a secondary plot and it’s a little technical, but it’s the sort of problem that officers serving on ships “really” run across, and it drives some of the most personally challenging interactions Lieutenant Sikander North (my protagonist) faces during the story.

Let me provide a bit of non-spoilerish background: Sikander is the new gunnery officer of the Commonwealth star cruiser CSS Hector. As the gunnery officer, he’s the department head in charge of the ship’s weapons personnel. He answers to the ship’s XO, Commander Peter Chatburn, and the ship’s CO, Captain Elise Markham; he supervises three junior officers, each of whom leads a team of gunner’s mates or torpedo mates. One of these subordinates is Sublieutenant Angela Larkin, the ship’s torpedo officer. (This is pretty typical warship organization; the ships of the U.S. Navy today have similar personnel structures.)

Hector is armed with a mix of kinetic cannons (heavy railguns) and warp torpedoes—missiles that protect themselves from defensive fire by exiting normal space during their attack runs. Shortly after reporting aboard Hector, Sikander and his new team get the opportunity to conduct some live-fire exercises on the target range, during the course of which Hector loses a practice torpedo. It disappears into its warp bubble for its attack run and never returns to normal space.

That’s a serious problem for Sikander. It’s just not acceptable for a ship to lose a multi-million-dollar weapon, and his superiors want answers.

Figuring out why the torpedo failed becomes a significant headache for Sikander, because the torpedo itself is no longer available for inspection. Investigating the cause of the failure puts Sikander between Chatburn, an unforgiving XO who isn’t interested in “we don’t know” as an answer, and Larkin, a difficult subordinate who doesn’t seem to appreciate the seriousness of the situation. Worse yet, Sikander’s captain and his peers are watching to see how he responds to the challenge. It’s not his fault, but it is his problem.

The reason I’m so proud of the Torpedo Mystery is that it’s a great device for showing the reader what it’s like to be a mid-level officer on a warship. In the “real” world, officers are more than a battlestation; they lead teams of enlisted personnel that you don’t see on the bridge set. They’re managers and administrators as well as warfighters. One of the things I hoped to bring to Valiant Dust was a certain sense of, well, authenticity about what sort of things a lieutenant worried about in between furious battles and exotic adventures. There aren’t many SF stories that touch on things like maintenance records or logistics chains or an XO asking you why you’re taking weekends off when you haven’t yet solved a problem no one reasonably could be expected to solve. For just a few short scenes in Valiant Dust, you get to experience a less-than-glamorous but absolutely honest part of being a shipboard officer.

(A true story from my own service: One day while standing watch as officer of the deck, I was surprised to hear the pop-pop-pop of gunshots from the bridge wing. I stepped outside and discovered the captain with a .45, taking potshots at seagulls. Well, okay, it’s his ship, and if he wanted to sign out a pistol from the armory and give himself a few rounds for “training” I figured it wasn’t my place to protest. But shortly after I got off watch, I encountered my ship’s gunnery officer in a passageway. “Hey, Kurt,” I said. “Just so you know, the captain fired off a couple dozen pistol rounds on the bridge wing this morning.”

“You’re kidding,” Kurt said, gaping in astonishment. “Son of a —!”

You see, any time you expend ammunition on board a ship, you have to file something called an ATR, or ammo transaction report. It’s a form that requires several hours of painstaking work, even for something as minor as a few rounds of pistol ammo, and it’s up to the gunnery officer to fill it out. Oh, and it must be turned in within 24 hours. The captain’s idle interest in a little target practice had just wrecked the rest of Kurt’s day—and I’m sure the seagulls didn’t appreciate it either, although I didn’t see any get hit. ATRs are the sort of thing we like to gloss over when we’re writing stories about roaming the stars and meeting the enemy in furious battle. Sometimes, though, that’s what the job is.)

Okay, back to Sikander North and Valiant Dust. The Torpedo Mystery is a lot more interesting than filling out some timely paperwork, I promise. It’s a key obstacle in the path of Sikander’s success on board his new ship and a serious point of contention between him and his new team. Plus, the details of the mystery say some important things about the technology of the setting, military routine, and the readiness level of a star navy that hasn’t had to fight a war in a long time.

The process of solving the Torpedo Mystery winds up being pretty important to cementing Sikander’s place in Hector’s wardroom, and it even comes up again in the desperate space battle at the climax of the story. But it’s not the sort of problem I see in other military SF stories, which is why it’s my favorite bit of the story—or one of them, anyway.

LINKS:

Amazon

Powell’s

Website

BIO:

A former United States Navy officer and a well-known game designer, Richard Baker is the author of thirteen novels, including the New York Times bestseller Condemnation and the highly acclaimed The Last Mythal trilogy. Valiant Dust marks his first original military sci-fi novel. Rich is a lifelong devotee of science fiction and fantasy, a history enthusiast (particularly military history), and an avid fan of games of all kinds. He lives in the Seattle area with his wife, Kim, and their daughters Alex and Hannah.