Kent Davis is joining us today to talk about his novel A Riddle in Ruby: The Changer’s Key. Here’s the publisher’s description:
The Riddle in Ruby trilogy takes readers on a rip-roaring adventure through an alternate version of colonial America, where magic and science meet, and where one young thief carries a secret everyone wants. In this second volume, Ruby Teach has become the enemy’s prisoner. She bargained with her freedom to protect her friends—but her friends aren’t about to abandon her, either. That’s not what friends do.
Ruby’s blood holds a secret, one that could turn the tides of the looming war for whomever unlocks it first. Ruby’s father, former pirate Captain Teach, and her friends—a motley crew made up of a young aristocrat, a servant, and an apprentice alchemist—must race against time to locate the hidden fortress where she’s being held. But the one person who could help them is Ruby’s mysterious and powerful mother, and no one has seen her since Ruby’s birth.
Kent Davis sweeps our heroes through cities and the deepest wilderness with imagination, humor, and magic that fans of Jonathan Stroud and Terry Pratchett will devour.
What’s Kent’s favorite bit?
Imprisoned in a mountaintop fortress, surrounded by ninja-warriors that are smarter, faster, and better than you at everything, experimented upon for the secrets hidden in your blood, torn in loyalty, blasted in confidence, hopeless in all of your prospects.
Isn’t that how you would describe your first day in middle school?
That’s how it felt for me anyway. And I’m pretty sure it feels like that for one Aruba (Ruby) Teach, the central character in A Riddle in Ruby 2: The Changer’s Key. My favorite bit of this second of three books is thirteen year-old Ruby’s wrestling match with that most potent of challenges: recognizing the who that you are, and then choosing the who that you want to be.
One of the things I treasure about fantasy, and steampunk-alt-historical-Colonial-America-with-a-side-of-alchemy-adventure-fantasy—let’s be specific—is how we can employ its wondrous, terrifying, and just plain weird elements to explore deeply personal challenges of the heart and mind.
And Ruby certainly has those. The one-time apprentice thief and fake pirate has discovered that she is a Changer, gifted with the power to alter her form. But there’s no one at the mountaintop prison called Fort Scoria that can teach her to change, so she has to try to figure it out on the fly. Worse, that changing gift is one of the keys to the secret that she carries in her blood, so if she reveals it, she is lost. At the same time, the lord commander of the fort has charged her to engage in a dangerous dance of double-agent deception (delicious!) with the creepy alchemyst who is poking about in her veins.
But hopefully the little nugget for readers at the crux of this hearty helping of torturous, thrilling, no-win, Kobayashi Maru choices is this: the only way for Ruby to navigate her way to freedom is through deciding the type of person she wants to be. Will she choose to be loyal? Will she choose to be traitorous? Will she choose to be brave? Will she even choose to sacrifice others in her quest to free herself? It’s the core of this book and also the sneaky spine of the entire trilogy.
My favorite stories when I was a kid and even more so now have always revolved around characters that weren’t Chosen Ones. They weren’t prophesied to be queens or kings or to save the multiverse. The stories that I love featured imperfect, uncertain kids (and adults!) who, at the moment of truth, had to plant the flag of their values, often only moments after they figured it out for themselves.
“Who will you choose to be?” I hope that’s a valuable question to offer to girls and boys aged 10-100: the opportunity to witness a character forging the core of themselves in conscious action.
Fran Wilde is joining us today with her novel Cloudbound. Here’s the publisher’s description:
After the dust settles, the City of living bones begins to die, and more trouble brews beneath the clouds in this stirring companion to Fran Wilde’s Updraft.
When Kirit Densira left her home tower for the skies, she gave up many things: her beloved family, her known way of life, her dreams of flying as a trader for her tower, her dreams. Kirit set her City upside down, and fomented a massive rebellion at the Spire, to the good of the towers–but months later, everything has fallen to pieces.
With the Towers in disarray, without a governing body or any defense against the dangers lurking in the clouds, daily life is full of terror and strife. Nat, Kirit’s wing-brother, sets out to be a hero in his own way–sitting on the new Council to cast votes protecting Tower-born, and exploring lower tiers to find more materials to repair the struggling City.
But what he finds down-tier is more secrets–and now Nat will have to decide who to trust, and how to trust himself without losing those he holds most dear, before a dangerous myth raises a surprisingly realistic threat to the crippled City, in Cloudbound.
What’s Fran’s favorite bit?
When people ask me about my debut novel, Updraft, their questions usually center around worldbuilding or influences. Online, there’s a lot of speculation about what’s down below the clouds. (I promise, you’ll find that out with Cloudbound, out September 27, 2016 from Tor — hey, that’s today!). We talk about monsters a lot too, and man-made wings, multigenerationality, and occasionally about echolocation.
What I don’t get asked about a lot is the disabilities represented in the series. There are three characters in Updraft with physical and/or neurological disabilities, as well as others with additional fall- and battle-related injuries throughout the book. Moreover, there are no magic cures – characters who get injured deal with the repercussions of those injuries throughout the series. How various communities treat each of these characters is part of Updraft’s world.
But each of these characters also has their own story arc and agency within the Bone Universe. As one mostly spoiler-free example, Elna Densira has altitude and cataract-related skyblindness. She is a force in the book, as well as in Cloudbound. When we first meet her, she’s climbing a ladder to the top of her tower with Nat close behind. She still gets around well, she works to support her family, she’s capable — an excellent seamstress — and she interacts with the other characters about things other than her vision impairment. So it goes mostly unmarked. With other characters, disability is a consequence of living and fighting at high altitude, and if the injury does interfere with intra-character communication, part of the story is the importance of finding ways to listen and hear those characters, on their own terms. Disability in Updraft and Cloudbound isn’t a checkbox or a layer added in order to make a character more sympathetic or anything else.
We like to put characters in boxes sometimes, and, when added as a layer to create some problem for the narrative or character, disability can become a literary box that a reader can’t see past. That occasionally happens in real life too — when only a person’s disability and not their competences, their excellences, their passions, are how they are perceived.
Earlier this year, I fell and did some damage to an old injury that had me flat on my back for days. In frustration, I cut loose on Twitter, admitting something I’ve been keeping mostly to myself for years: I live with pain — not just the migraines, which most people know about — but regular, pretty extreme pain. I’d written about some of the external stuff (like identifying more with Helva from The Ship Who Sang than with Deenie) now and then, and about various braces, but I’d kept quiet about the rest. Afterward I met so many people who deal with similar issues and making those connections helped me see truths about my experience — especially some parts of me that I hated, because I’d written my sensitivity to pain off as proof that I was weak and not good enough. pfffft.
What happened after sharing that information, though, was a bit more troubling. People occasionally began to introduce me as having chronic pain, without my permission. One indicated that they hadn’t invited me to do something because they were worried about my pain impacting my ability to do it, and hadn’t wanted me to feel awkward. That was annoying, because the only thing that had changed for me was that I was public about something I’ve been dealing with, without letting people down, for decades. I like to make my own decisions about what I’m able to do — everyone does. And if that happened to me from one twitter rant (plus a couple blog posts in the way-back-when), imagine then how people with visible disabilities are treated every day. As a culture, we like to put people into boxes, constraining them to labels, instead of seeing them for who they are.
At this year’s Worldcon, I was on a panel called “Unlikely Heroes.” A lot of great discussion happened there, but one thing was said — I can’t remember by whom — about how if you wanted to create an unlikely hero, you could give the character a disability, as if that would somehow render them less likely to be heroic. I disagreed vehemently then, and the conversation moved along. (The moderator was excellent and this was not her fault.) But as the weekend wore on, and then the months after, I kept coming back to this issue of disability defining characters, instead of disability being a component of a character’s life, with their character, backstory, competencies, and goals being dominant and primary. It’s something I think I’ve always consciously written against and will continue to do.
When it came to writing Cloudbound, I’d selected a character from an earlier story set a decade earlier in the Bone Universe, called “A Moment of Gravity Circumscribed.” In that story, a young character, Djonn, is viewed as clumsy by his family — and he is, but not for the reasons they think. Djonn’s in the very early stages of a skeletal degeneration that translates to extreme late-onset idiopathic scoliosis. This curvature of the spine is something I share with my character (and something that affects, to varying levels, about 2-3% of the United States population). As a kid, my curves (there’s either one or two – I got the double) were pretty extreme, and I wore an experimental brace that caused more damage than expected. Even now, I’m not straight, though it’s hard to see. As an adult, this results in pain, overcompensation, and sometimes joint slips that cause additional pain.
For Djonn, there are no real treatments. Left untreated, spinal curves can sometimes go past 70 degrees (think King Richard III), and that’s what’s happening to him. Such curves would make flying (which requires a pretty straight body plane) progressively harder, and even breathing sometimes very difficult. Djonn’s an inventor and artifex, so he’s created his own solutions for this over time. But his backstory and his role in Cloudbound are much more about the rest of his life — the things he’s invented and his interactions with other characters — than about his physical disability. Djonn is extremely good at what he does.
Djonn’s limitations and imperfections are part of the story too. But he’s in no way an unlikely anything. Nor is he a hero through and through. He’s a complex character.
So I guess what I’m saying is that one of my favorite bits about both Updraft and Cloudbound is that the disabilities (and hey, not just one flagship disability because no) in this narrative are represented by full-fledged characters first and foremost. So much so, in fact, that those disabilities have gone mostly unremarked in later discussion.
Fran Wilde is the author of the Andre Norton-, and Compton Crook Award-winning and Nebula-nominated novel Updraft (Tor 2015), its sequel,Cloudbound, publishing from Tor in September 2016, and the novella The Jewel and Her Lapidary (Tor.com Publishing). Her short stories appear in Asimov’s, Tor.com, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Nature. She writes for publications including The Washington Post, Tor.com, Clarkesworld, iO9.com, and GeekMom.com. You can find her on twitter @fran_wilde, Facebook @franwildewrites and at franwilde.net.
Marie Brennan is joining us today with her novella Cold-Forged Flame. Here’s the publisher’s description:
The sound of the horn pierces the apeiron, shattering the stillness of that realm. Its clarion call creates ripples, substance, something more. It is a summons, a command. There is will. There is need. And so, in reply, there is a woman.
At the beginning?no?at the end?she appears, full of fury and bound by chains of prophecy.
Setting off on an unexplained quest from which she is compelled to complete, and facing unnatural challenges in a land that doesn’t seem to exist, she will discover the secrets of herself, or die trying. But along the way, the obstacles will grow to a seemingly insurmountable point, and the final choice will be the biggest sacrifice yet.
This is the story of a woman’s struggle against her very existence, an epic tale of the adventure and emotional upheaval on the way to face an ancient enigmatic foe. This could only spun from the imagination of Marie Brennan, award-winning author and beloved fantasist, beginning a new series about the consequences of war?and of fate.
Cold-Forged Flame is the first in a new series by Marie Brennan.
What’s Marie’s favorite bit?
I haven’t made any secret of the fact that the protagonist of Cold-Forged Flame, my new Tor.com novella, is based on a character I played for four years in a LARP. But actually, her roots go back even further than that — to a tent on a hillside in a rural corner of Wales, where Alyc Helms (future author of The Dragons of Heaven and The Conclave of Shadow) and I were working on an archaeological dig together. There’s not a lot to do at night when you’re living in tents on a hillside in a rural corner of Wales, so Alyc and I decided to combine her knowledge of the RPG Changeling: The Dreaming with my recollection of the tabletop mechanics for World of Darkness games and play a mini-campaign, roping in a couple of our friends on the dig. The whole thing was held together with chewing gum and string — Alyc didn’t really remember the Changeling magic system, and we had to use packs of cards in place of dice — but the character I created for that little ad-hoc game stayed with me, and wound up being ported into the LARP Alyc co-ran a few years later in grad school.
The skeleton of the game itself stayed with me, too. Cold-Forged Flame is substantially changed from what we played on that dig; the novella isn’t set in the real world, my protagonist isn’t a faerie, she isn’t part of a whole group on a quest, there’s no prophecy about what they’re doing, and so on and so forth. The character you’ll meet in the novella comes from a different place, fights different battles, meets someone who was never in the game. But if you excavate very carefully, the bones are still there, buried underneath: a journey across a strange island to a cave and a cauldron full of blood.
And that’s where you’ll find my favorite bit. We never actually finished the game, not properly; the dig was a field school, a place where baby archaeologists go to learn how to dig, and in the last two weeks we had to write papers, which takes up a lot of time when you have to do it all with pen and paper. But I hate leaving a story incomplete. So one night — our one night a week where we got bused into the nearest town — Alyc and I sat in the corner of one of the town’s three pubs and talked through the ending of the tale. That’s where we came up with the seven steps that are the climax of this story: a journey so small as to be insignificant, and so huge as to change my character’s life forever.
Those seven steps are where I figured out who she really was. The character who grew out of that moment has a powerful enough hold on my memory that, fourteen years later, when I went to work on this novella, I wrote seven thousand words in a single evening. Because once we were inside that cave, there was no stopping short of the end.
The end of the novella, that is. It isn’t the end of the story. That continues next spring, with Lightning in the Blood — and, sneak peek, my favorite bit of that one is front and center in the cover art!
Marie Brennan is the World Fantasy Award-nominated author of several fantasy series, including the Memoirs of Lady Trent, the Onyx Court, the Wilders series, and the Doppelganger duology, as well as more than forty short stories. More information can be found at www.swantower.com.
For Of Noble Family, I made the dress on the cover of the novel from a sari. I’m extremely proud of my work on that, because it’s historically accurate and also that entire thing is handsewn.
It also is an excellent metaphor for cultural appropriation.
I took a perfectly good, and beautiful Indian garment, cut it apart, and made it into a British dress. I literally took one culture and remade it into another. The thing that makes this dress special is all the beading and embroidery that some unknown, and probably underpaid, Indian artist did but I get the credit for it.
Without that embroidery, it’s just a basic little white dress.
Now, I did a ton of work deciding how to incorporate the patterns. I did some hand beading to try to link the Indian work more fully into the British aesthetic. I’m proud of the work that I did.
And that doesn’t change the fact that what makes this dress special is still someone else’s work.
So then the question becomes… should I make the dress?
If the sari were a historic museum item? Absolutely not. Cutting it up would be a tragedy.
If it were a factory produced sari and one of thousands? Of course! Cutting it up is no big deal.
The sari in question was somewhere in the middle. Hand-beaded, but contemporary.
Should I make the dress?
The reason that cultural appropriation is so confusing is because there’s a giant spectrum of ways in which we interact with other cultures.
Ultimately, I decided to do it, and to make sure that when I’m complimented I always point to the existence of the artist who did the beading, even if I don’t know their name. I try very hard not to take credit for work I didn’t do. But… I still destroyed the sari.
Now, if I could talk to the artist, they might very well be thrilled with what I did. They might also be devastated by what I’d done to their work. With a culture, we’re not just talking about a single person’s reaction. Culture is not monolithic, so what one person might see as appropriate, another might see as appropriative.
Someone is likely to say, “But Mary! When you write a story, you aren’t cutting up anything material!”
First of all… this is why it’s called a metaphor.
Second… Are you still taking credit for someone else’s work? Or are you acknowledging the original culture?
Third… It is completely possible for cultural appropriation to supplant an original culture. If the re-imagined narrative becomes the dominant narrative in people’s minds, then that can ultimately erase the originating culture. The more marginalized a culture is, the more likely it is that this damage can happen. I mean… just think about the pagan origins of various Christmas traditions.
The point of all of this is, that when you are sitting down to work on something and you are incorporating elements from cultures that are not your own, think about what damage you might be doing . Are you looking at a cultural element that is sacred? Is there anything special about your idea, beyond the originating culture? Are you giving credit to the original culture?
Happy book release day to Seanan McGuire and Once Broken Faith. I’m the narrator for the audiobooks for her October Daye series and these are some of my favorite books to narrate. Compelling characters? Oh yes. But I think that Seanan doesn’t get nearly enough credit for the quality of her prose. It’s really easy to read aloud.
Until it isn’t.
Here, with her permission, are some bloopers from my narration of her novel.
Honestly, sometimes I don’t know why I’m tripping over something. The first blooper on this? That’s me tripping over the very first line for no discernible reason.
Michael J. Martinez joins us today to talk about his novel MJ-12: Inception. Here’s the publisher’s description:
It is a new world, stunned by the horrors that linger in the aftermath of total war. The United States and Soviet Union are squaring off in a different kind of conflict, one that’s fought in the shadows, where there are whispers of strange and mysterious developments. . .
Normal people across the United States have inexplicably gained paranormal abilities. A factory worker can heal the sick and injured. A schoolteacher bends emotions to her will. A car salesman alters matter with a simple touch. A former soldier speaks to the dying and gains their memories as they pass on.
They are the Variants, controlled by a secret government program called MAJESTIC-12 to open a new front in the Cold War.
From the deserts of Nevada to the palaces of Istanbul, the halls of power in Washington to the dark, oppressive streets of Prague, the Variants are thrown into a deadly game of shifting alliances. Amidst the seedy underbelly of nations, these once-ordinary Americans dropped in extraordinary circumstances will struggle to come to terms with their abilities as they fight to carve out a place for themselves in a world that may ultimately turn against them.
And as the MAJESTIC-12 program will soon discover, there are others out there like them, some with far more malevolent goals. . .
What’s Mike’s favorite bit?
MICHAEL J. MARTINEZ
This may be terribly un-American of me to say, but one of my least favorite comic-book characters is Superman. The vast majority of the problems Superman faced in the comics – especially as I was growing up in the ‘70s and ‘80s – could be boiled down to two things: a moral dilemma and Kryptonite. Pretty much everything else could be handled neatly because, well, his superpowers are pretty super.
I still think Superman is pretty boring, sad to say. His superpowers are immense, and they don’t actually cost him anything. Most of the time, he doesn’t even break a sweat.
So when I came up with the central idea behind the MAJESTIC-12 series – superpowered spies battling in the shadows of the Cold War on behalf of a shadowy government conspiracy – I knew I wanted characters to pay a price. I wanted there to be consequences to having these strange abilities. I wanted superpowers to be difficult.
An African-American factory worker gains the ability to heal – but at the cost of his own health. A car salesman in the South can alter matter, but can’t always control his manifestations. A former soldier can read minds, but only at the moment of the other person’s death – and he ends up carrying around far more of their memories than he’d like.
One of my very favorite bits in MJ-12: Inception is when Maggie is introduced. She’s a schoolteacher out in California who gains the ability to manipulate emotions – but at the cost of her own emotional stability and wellbeing. Not only is the ability rather difficult to control, but it’s also changing her in very scary ways.
Think about it: If you can manipulate emotion with a thought, how real is emotion to you? How can you trust your own emotions, or those of the people close to you?
We all think having superpowers would be awesome, but we never consider the downside. Yes, there are moral quandaries as well – it wouldn’t be a good superhero story, or a good spy thriller for that matter, without those. There are limits to those superpowers, and ways to counteract them.
But in MJ-12: Inception, powers come with risks. They aren’t easy to use, and it doesn’t always go well. That’s the kind of superhero story I wanted to see.
Michael J. Martinez is a husband, father and writer living the dream in the Garden State. He’s been a professional writer and journalist for more than 20 years, including stints at The Associated Press and ABCNEWS.com, and recently got it in his head that he could write fiction, too. He’s the author of the Daedalus trilogy of Napoleonic Era space opera novels, as well as the new MAJESTIC-12 series of paranormal Cold War spy thrillers. Mike is a member of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America and International Thriller Writers.
I’m teaching a class in September about deaf and blind characters, and how to write them. I’m doing this, because I’m deafblind (by the medical classification, we’ll get into that in a second) and I believe that portrayals of disability are both vital to the world of speculative fiction, and also done wrong most of the time.
Cyberpunk tends to erase it.
High Fantasy tends to make disability inconvenient and/or a punchline.
Space? Shrug. Yes, there’s Geordie, but he can see using his VISOR. Yes, there’s Chirrut Imwe in Rogue One, but I’m pretty sure he’s doing the same thing Daredevil does. “See” with his senses.
Don’t get me started on time travel (you can read about how I feel about that at Fireside Fiction Company.)
But disabled people belong in all of these worlds, all the genres, all the places. Disabled people can be more than just villains, or angels. We are real, fully articulated humans, and we deserve to be part of Story. We also deserve to be part of a story without our disabilities being rendered not actually disabilities, but transformed comfortably into a unique characteristic.
When I was little, I only had one book with a disabled character in it. I read and re-read it, but I never could actually identify with him, because he lost his sight due to an accident, because he had a guide dog, and because he was a he. I’m not saying one must identify with same gendered characters, but I remember in those days it was a sticking point.
When I was 17 years old, my now ex boyfriend pressed a book into my hands and told me he thought I’d like it. He said it was really great space opera, and it was a fun read.
And inside those pages, I found Miles Vorkosigan.
Miles was like me.
Adventurous. Unwilling to change his goals to satisfy the body he was born in. Unable to stop being who he was. And disabled.
Hell, Miles’ disabilities are even the result of external influences, just like mine.
The trouble is, almost all disabled characters come out as tropes, the Magical Blind Person trope, the Blind Seer trope, the Deaf Composer, Throwing Off the Disability.
That last one is my favorite, because inevitably, someone will write a disabled character who was never really disabled to begin with, and in fact, often that’s how we talk about many disabled heroes. Frequently, Daredevil is defended with “but he’s not really blind.” Which raises the question: if he’s not really blind, then why is he using blindness as a cover?
There so many tropes, and wrong turns, but the point is simple: I want more from disabled characters in science fiction and fantasy. I want more than what we have now.
I don’t want to see timid blind women hiding from murderers anymore, I want to see blind warriors who can fight for themselves.
I don’t want to see evil blind men lurking in the dark waiting to kill their prey – I want to see blind villains capable of everything that a sighted villain is, without all the tropes.
I want a blind woman who is interacting with ghosts without the tropes of her sight being restored when it comes to auras or the dead.
Miles is the only disabled character I know of who makes me feel like I might fit between the pages of a book, and he’s why I’m teaching a class about how to write deaf and blind characters carefully and accurately – because as a disabled reader, I want to see more people like me between the covers of a book. I want to be able to read a story and not be afraid that I’ll be disappointed by the representation.
When I teach, I encourage people to look past the tropes and the boundaries they’ve been taught by society and by the fiction that exists, to look far beyond what they’ve been told is the way to write blind and deaf characters and push them into the realm of reality and truth.
William C. Tracy is joining us today to talk about his book Merchants and Maji: Two Tales of the Dissolutionverse. Here’s the publisher’s description:
An old war machine and a revolutionary space capsule will change relations among the ten species forever
Prot, Amra, and crew sell goods across the ten homeworlds in a refitted war transport, saving up to buy a shop. But after fees to travel between worlds, their profits always fall short. Their newest customers are the xenophobic Sureriaj. But when a protest over offworlder trading shuts down all business, the crew’s only hope is to leave the planet delivering emergency medical supplies. The contract is for too much money, the seller is using a false name, and the cargo is magically sealed. Nothing could go wrong.
The First Majus in Space
The ten species are in awe of the first space capsule. But when the majus piloting it is assassinated, Origon Cyrysi is the only one able to complete the mission. Too late, he finds the spacecraft may cost him his abilities. And even if Origon returns from space, the escaped assassin might still trigger an interstellar war. Either way, the fuel is burning.
What’s William’s favorite bit?
WILLIAM C. TRACY
Hopefully I may be forgiven having two favorite things since there are two stories in this novella. The first occurred in editing “Last Delivery.” I happened to listen to an episode of a podcast many of us are familiar with, which discussed unconscious biases, specifically with respect to women. I, as a male writer, often find myself writing male characters, especially side characters. But lately I’ve started challenging my character gender choices. In this particular case, “Last Delivery” had a cross species couple, consisting of a fiery female gun toting Festuour (large bear-like creature) and a very tall and dark male Methiemum (basically a human) doctor. Though their relationship is not a major part of the book, I have a whole convoluted and star-crossed background to the relationship floating through my mind.
The writing prompt at the end of the episode was to take something you’ve written and gender-swap it. So on a whim, I applied it to my story. Boom. Kamuli (the Methiemum doctor) was now a very large and dark woman who liked carrying knives. And her relationship with Bhon (her Festuour mate) suddenly took off for me. It finally worked, Kamuli’s actions became more certain, and the story became stronger. On top of that, a certain head-cannon (which I suppose is actual cannon, since I wrote it…) became fixed in my mind. Like many others, Kamuli had not been comfortable as a man. She was not only a female character, she was a trans woman. It isn’t mentioned or even hinted at in the story, as it’s not important to the tale, but you, dear readers, know the truth. There may be a story in the future of how Kamuli and Bhon’s romance began, and now you have a sneak peek…
I also challenged myself to scrutinize the heroic, over-the-top female lead. You’ve read the type before—Conan the Barbarian in a bikini. Instead, Amra, the main character’s girlfriend, is not a badass. She’s not very good with weapons. She’s an accountant. She wouldn’t mind settling down somewhere. I worked very hard on her character, with some great feedback from critiquers to tell me when I had crossed too far into “subservient and passive.” But in the end, I feel she becomes the heart of the story. Certain events could not happen the way they do if her character had been more intense. Amra also became a stronger, more real character for me, and I hope, for my readers.
My favorite bit for the second story, “The First Majus in Space” is pretty much what it says on the tin. I get to put a wizard in a spaceship. If you’ve ever watched Babylon 5, you can probably guess my favorite characters—the technomages, of course. I liked this idea so much it even became my imprint: Space Wizard Science Fantasy. The interaction between magic and technology is always a fascinating place to explore, but since the magic system in the Dissolutionverse uses reversible and non-reversible energy transfer, I got to play with how the technology effectively would suck away a majus’ magic, defined by their “song,” even if the end product still had the desired effect:
There was a pattern to the relentless beat of the fuel. He didn’t have to catch the notes to change them. He instead saw their pattern, made the new musical phrase, crafted from his own song, ready to insert it…there.
The ship righted abruptly, but Origon felt his invested song ripped out of his grip, flying out far beneath them. The ship began to list to the other side.
Gasping, his stomach threatening to jump out of his throat, he realized what he should have before. He no longer envied Teju his place here. There was no chance to reverse any of the changes he made. Every change to the Symphonies on this trip would be permanent. The shuttle was flying so fast that the surrounding music was in constant flux, notes changing. It would strip each application of his song from his being. If he was not efficient, the flight would drain him to something insubstantial, his song stripped of its notes.
But this unfortunate development will become a defining aspect for the titular majus, Origon. Because I’m a big fan of connected stories and larger universes, it becomes part of the arc started in my first novella, Tuning the Symphony, set almost twenty years in the past, and continued in a full novel coming in 2017.
So there you have it: gender studies and technowizards, my favorite bits of Merchants and Maji. As the story of the Dissolutionverse grows, I’m looking forward to writing more adventures and finding many more favorite bits in the years to come.
William C. Tracy is a North Carolina native and a lifelong fan of science fiction and fantasy. In no particular order, he is a mechanical engineer, a Wado-Ryu Karate instructor, a video and board gamer, a gardener, a reader, and a writer. In his spare time, he wrangles three cats and a bald guinea pig, and his wife wrangles him (not an easy task). Both of them both enjoy putting their pets in cute little costumes and then taking pictures of them repeatedly.
He is the author of Tuning the Symphony, another novella in the Dissolutionverse.
I’m teaching a short story workshop that’s specifically for people who are having trouble control length and structure.
When people are struggling to write short fiction, the problem usually begins with the idea. It often leads to a story that is too long, really the beginning of a novel, or is so simplistic that it is dull.
In this workshop, we’ll walk through how to create and structure a short story idea. At the end of the class you will have story seeds for multiple stories and an outline for a 3000-4000 word short story.
Classes will be taught via Zoom and Google Drive
Classwork will be uploaded to a shared Google Drive folder visible only to you and your classmates. The class will be divided between lecture and exercise. The class is capped at eight full-participation students, to create a class size that allows the most interaction, feedback and personal attention for each of you.
In addition to the full-participation students, the class also has seats for 40 lecture-only students. These students can ask questions during class, but will not be turning in homework or having their work critiqued.
Class requirements: You need an interest in writing short stories, but you do not need to have written or published anything yet. You also must be able to use Zoom on a computer. (Note: This is a free program. You don’t need a web camera, although they’re useful, but you do need a working microphone, the internet and some speakers so you can hear us. Tablets, unfortunately, have limited function in hangouts and will not work for the purposes of the workshop).
This is an intensive workshop, so do not plan anything else. I also recommend preparing your meals in advance.
Schedule (all times are Central time)
10am – 12pm
Plot structure. Plot homework
Post homework/meal break
Discuss plot exercise, unpacking, and outlining for short fiction. Outline homework
Post homework/meal break
Discuss outlines. Recap of plot structure. Final exercise.
Drinks and Giant Q&A
Q: What is Zoom? A: Sort of like Skype but specifically geared for meetings. It is free to use and students will be given a login URL for the class. You will need to download the app. Though it does have a dial-in option, you will need to be able to see the screen for some exercises. https://zoom.us
Q: What is the difference between a full-participation student and a lecture-only student?
A: A Full-participation student will be handing in homework, and participating in critiques with their classmates and the instructor. A lecture-only student attends the lectures and does not hand in homework or participate in critiques. They will be able to ask questions in class though.
Q: Will the lecture-only students be able to read the homework that the full-participation students are doing?
A: Yes. In order for parts of the lectures to make sense, they’ll need to be able to follow-along as we work. They will not be able to comment or critique however.
Q: What if I want to do full-participation, but don’t want anyone except the other full-participation students to see my work?
A: It is probably best to wait until I teach another small group intensive.
Q: Why are you doing this format?
A: This is an attempt to make the lectures accessible to a larger number of students for whom the pressure of the intensive might not be a good fit, or who are financially constrained from participating.
Lauren Zurchin came through Chicago and we had some fun doing a photo shoot. There are more photos, so this is just a teaser.
One of the interesting things about a lot of the volunteer groups in WWI was that they had to wear a uniform, but they also had to supply it. This meant that there was some variation in what people wore within certain parameters. The hat that I’ve got on? Someone who didn’t have Ginger’s means wouldn’t have trimmed it and she likely wouldn’t have worn it to the London Branch, but might have worn it to a hospitality tent.
Incidentally, the requirement to provide one’s own uniform was a not-so-subtle way of enforcing class lines. It meant that only a woman of means could join the Women’s Auxiliary Corps and kept out shop girls and the like. If they wanted to help with the war effort, they wound up in ammunition packing plants or doing heavy labor on the home front because they couldn’t afford to a) have a custom suit made and b) take unpaid time off work.
The WAC wanted only nice girls from good families. This kind of barrier still exists today as a way of keeping out undesirables while still being able to claim, on the face of things, that opportunities are open to all.
This was recorded in 1930 and is fascinating. He relies on personal experiments to prove that it worked and sees Spiritualism as something that can exist side-by-side with other belief systems. He also talks about the “fraud and folly” that occurs in Spiritualism, too.
There are two recordings and its worth listening to both. Or at least I thought it was.
Bishop O’Connell is joining us today to talk about his novel The Returned. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Almost a year after their wedding, and two since their daughter Fiona was rescued from a kidnapping by dark faeries, life has finally settled down for Caitlin and Edward. They maintain a façade of normalcy, but a family being watched over by the fae’s Rogue Court is far from ordinary. Still, it seems the perfect time to go on their long-awaited honeymoon, so they head to New Orleans.
Little do they know, New Orleans is at the center of a territory their Rogue Court guardians hold no sway in, so the Court sends in Wraith, a teenage spell slinger, to watch over them. It’s not long before they discover an otherworldly force is overtaking the city, raising the dead, and they’re drawn into a web of dark magic. At the same time, a secret government agency tasked with protecting the mortal world against the supernatural begins their own investigation of the case. But the culprit may not be the villain everyone expects. Can Wraith, Caitlin, and Edward stop whoever is bringing the vengeful dead back to life before another massacre, and before an innocent is punished for crimes beyond her control?
What’s Bishop’s favorite bit?
I love magic, adore it. I don’t mean stage magic, though that can be cool too. No, I mean the “real” kind of magic: Harry Dresden, Gandalf, Merlin, Jane Ellsworth, to name a few. I’m also an old-school computer geek. Not quite punch cards old, but just barely. My first computer was a Commodore Vic-20, which I received despite asking for an Atari (my parents said I could make my own games on the Commodore, which in fairness I did). While my computer skills provided me a future means of steady employment, it also was the start of my fascination with tech and gadgets. It might seem that these two loves are at opposite sides of the spectrum, and never shall the twain meet. Sure, there is urban fantasy in books, a few different RPGs—Shadow Run, Rifts—but none of them really blended the two. The game Mage did with a specific group players could use, but I wanted more.
So in my second novel, The Forgotten, I introduced Wraith; a homeless teen, a genius at math and science, and her magic is based on quantum theory. Though I didn’t know the term at the time, she’s also a synesthete (from synesthesia). While other wizards in my world “feel” magic and control it through sheer mental focus, Wraith literally sees it all around her. Because of her scientific inclinations, she deduces that the symbols, numbers, and equations drifting around her are in fact the quantum information of reality. This lets her hack and modify that information with equations (spells) and cause all kinds of cool things to happen. She’s sort of a mashup of Neo, Will Hunting, and Scarlet Witch. I also introduced some basic level magical technology. It was mostly cobbled together bits—the kind of thing a homeless kid could collect—and looked very steampunk.
When I was writing The Returned, Wraith has had a year of mental stability and is more confident in her abilities. I wanted her to start using various bits of tech and modifying them. The most obvious choice was to give her a smartphone. I remember how important music was to me as a teen, so that would give her the chance to get into music (she’s a big Doubleclicks fan), but again, I wanted more. So I decided to have her modify the phone. As much as I’d love to give it all kinds of awesome tricks, I knew it needed to be practical and believable. When you’re a homeless kid, you don’t have extended periods of access to electricity; not reliably anyway. So she modified her phone to absorb energy in a myriad of forms: thermal, kinetic, radiation, and even dark energy. As such, her phone never runs out of juice. A smartphone also means apps, and it made sense that she would design her own, and that they’d have magical aspects to them. After all, her magic dealt in pure information, and what’s computer code but information? Why couldn’t spells in fact, be stored as apps? If she could see the quantum information of reality, there was no reason she couldn’t see the “information” behind the code. And since modifying one would naturally change the other, why couldn’t she work it from the other direction; change/create a program by altering the quantum information? Answer: there was no reason.
Holy crap, I blended magic and advanced tech!
That was when the computer geek in me make the next logical connection: magic based computer hacking. Yeah, I admit it, I had a little bit of a nerd-gasm at this point. Then I started figuring it all out. She wouldn’t even need a keyboard, a monitor, or any interface. She saw the information around her and could interact with it directly. Things like code protections and encryption would be useless against her as a quantum hacker. Since she could see the information that defined them, she would know what solution was needed to solve the algorithm and gain access, or decrypt the data she was after. This idea even altered the idea of data storage. She wasn’t limited to traditional media. She could copy the relevant information to quite literally, anything, modifying the destination’s information to match the source’s. And since this would be on a quantum level, storage capacity was no longer an issue, assuming each particle could be translated as one bit of data.
With the how and why it would work completed, I set out to writing the relevant scenes, and I loved it! I borrowed inspiration from my experiences playing Cyberpunk 2020, Shadowrun, reading William Gibson novels, even some TV shows—anyone remember Wild Palms?—and movies. Chuck Wendig said that writing is a job, which means sometimes its work; ditch digging he called it. Well, other times, it’s freaking magic, with a little tech thrown in.
Bishop O’Connell is the author of the American Faerie Tale series, a consultant, writer, blogger, and lover of kilts and beer, as well as a member of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. Born in Naples Italy while his father was stationed in Sardinia, Bishop grew up in San Diego, California where he fell in love with the ocean and fish tacos. After wandering the country for work and school (absolutely not because he was in hiding from mind controlling bunnies), he settled in Richmond VA, where he writes, collects swords, revels in his immortality as a critically acclaimed “visionary” of the urban fantasy genre, and is regularly chastised for making up things for his bio. He can also be found online at A Quiet Pint, where he muses philosophical on life, the universe, and everything, as well as various aspects of writing and the road to getting published.
At WorldCon, as part of my roving book launch party, I had people solving ciphers and passing secret messages. After the Tor party, someone found this notebook, filled with a serious hardcore effort to decipher stuff.
Since there are things in the notebook besides the ciphers, I’d like to get it back to its original owner. If that’s you… use the contact form tell me about the highlighted list.
Beth Cato is joining us today with her novel Breath of Earth. Here’s the publisher’s description:
In an alternate 1906, the United States and Japan have forged a powerful confederation—the Unified Pacific—in an attempt to dominate the world. Their first target is a vulnerable China. In San Francisco, headstrong Ingrid Carmichael is assisting a group of powerful geomancer wardens who have no idea of the depth of her power—or that she is the only woman to possess such skills.
When assassins kill the wardens, Ingrid and her mentor are protected by her incredible magic. But the pair is far from safe. Without its full force of guardian geomancers, the city is on the brink of a cataclysmic earthquake that will expose Earth’s powers to masterminds determined to control the energy for their own dark ends. The danger escalates when Chinese refugees, preparing to fight the encroaching American and Japanese, fracture the uneasy alliance between the Pacific allies, transforming the city into a veritable powder keg. And the slightest tremor will set it off. . . .
Forced on the run, Ingrid makes some shocking discoveries about herself. Her powerful magic has grown even more fearsome . . . and she may be the fulcrum on which the balance of world power rests.
What’s Beth’s favorite bit?
My new novel, Breath of Earth, is alt history steampunk fantasy set in 1906 San Francisco. I like to joke “Spoiler alert: there’s a big earthquake,” because the date and place (and the very cover) give away that plot point in a major way. That’s fine by me. The earthquake happens, yes, but the circumstances are a bit more complicated than a mere tectonic shift.
My heroine, Ingrid Carmichael, is a geomancer. I drew on history, science, and mythology to create my own magic system and unique earthquake. I’m a research geek, so this was absolutely my favorite bit.
For me, earthquakes are personal. I’m a native Californian. One of my earliest memories is being three years old and in the bathtub when the devastating Coalinga earthquake occurred nearby. We practiced earthquake drills in schools. Family trips to the coast meant crossing the very visible ridged line of the infamous San Andreas Fault.
As part of my worldbuilding, I had to figure out how to cause earthquakes–and more importantly, how to stop them.
My version of 1906 features technology that is powered by crystals called kermanite that store the earth’s energy like batteries. Geomancers like Ingrid are conduits. During an earthquake, geomancers don’t simply feel the rumbling–they siphon the magic of the earth and actually stop tremblors. This isn’t without risks. Earth energy causes a spike in body temperature that can kill them quickly unless they break direct contact with the ground or grab kermanite, which will pull the energy out of their bodies. Ingrid, being the heroine, is especially gifted–and cursed–by her incredible ability to hold and use energy.
Kermanite and geomancy are my fabrications, but when it came to the actual earthquake, I relied heavily on historical fact. There are tons of books on the subject, fiction and non, and movies as well. The data was overwhelming, really. I had to pick and choose what would reinforce my new version of history.
For example, Enrico Caruso is famous for singing in Carmen the night before the real disaster; in my world, there is a highly controversial performance of the opera Lincoln, which celebrates the president’s Emancipation Proclamation as well as his late life work on behalf of Chinese refugees. That’s because the Civil War ended early because of an alliance between the American Union and Imperial Japan–and in 1906, the two are still partnered in their efforts to dominate mainland Asia.
Plate tectonics–the genuine science–play a role in my novel, but there are also more fantastical elements. Mythologies around the world attribute earthquakes to entities like massive two-headed snakes or shifting turtles or a giant namazu (catfish) twitching in the sea. Ingrid’s mentor is obsessed with researching semi-mythical geomantic Hidden Ones. Unlike everyday magical creatures like unicorns or pixies, these Hidden Ones are so extraordinary, so deific, that people question if they still exist at all. Hint: there might be something to the old stories.
For all the media ballyhoo about when the next “Big One” will happen, no one knows. There is something terrifying, something magical, about that. Breath of Earth gave me the chance to explore a subject that has fascinated me ever since I was a scared three-year-old asking, “What happened?”
Beth Cato hails from Hanford, California, but currently writes and bakes cookies in a lair west of Phoenix, Arizona. She shares the household with a hockey-loving husband, a numbers-obsessed son, and a cat the size of a canned ham.
She’s the author of THE CLOCKWORK DAGGER (a 2015 Locus Award finalist for First Novel) and THE CLOCKWORK CROWN (an RT Reviewers’ Choice Finalist) from Harper Voyager. Her novella WINGS OF SORROW AND BONE was a 2016 Nebula nominee. BREATH OF EARTH begins a new steampunk series set in an alternate history 1906 San Francisco.
Ginger Stuyvesant, an American heiress living in London during World War I, is engaged to Captain Benjamin Harford, an intelligence officer. Ginger is a medium for the Spirit Corps, a special Spiritualist force. Each soldier heading for the front is conditioned to report to the mediums of the Spirit Corps when they die so the Corps […]