Journal

My Favorite Bit: Jeremiah Reinmiller talks about GEARSPIRE: ADVENT

Favorite Bit iconJeremiah Reinmiller is joining us today to talk about his novel Gearspire: Advent. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Out on the frontier, where the Directorate’s law fades, and invasions from beyond the Cinderveil are a constant threat, life is hard. Ryle knows this better than most. With a grifter for a mother, and a bandit for a father, he spent his childhood picking pockets and slitting throats to survive. And that was before Kilgren, Ryle’s unstable and vicious father, betrayed his family and the realm.

For five years, Ryle has run from that legacy. He’s earned a swordmark, fought to make a new life for himself, but never escaped. Until now.

Rumors are swirling that Lastrahn, lost Champion of the House of Reckoning, has returned to hunt down Kilgren and end his mad schemes. If Ryle can find the Champion, he might get the shot he desperately seeks to bring his father to justice and close the door on his bloody past.
Hanging in the balance? An impending war. A forsaken love. And the secret of a mysterious tower in the west that may hold the key to it all.

A place known as Gearspire.

Gearspire: Advent is the first book in the Gearspire dark fantasy trilogy.

What’s Jeremiah’s favorite bit?

Gearspire Advent cover image

JEREMIAH REINMILLER

When I set out to write this post I thought about several bits from the novel I could discuss. About twisting tropes, or dropping readers into the action and letting them catch up. About how origin stories are often boring, which is why I skipped one. Or why this novel is definitely not about a farm boy, an orphan, or anyone who is chosen to do anything.

They’re all interesting enough topics, but then, like the late, great Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight, I asked, “Why so serious?” I mean, really, that’s all heady stuff, but where’s the fun? This is a favorite bit post, after all.

It was then I realized this novel is really about a few of my favorite things (no, I’m not busting into a Julie Andrews solo, you really wouldn’t want that). So, for Gearspire: Advent, my favorite bit is the mixed up, mashed up story I wound up with when I threw in everything I love. It was me on a page.

Now, let’s be clear. It didn’t start out that way. I began with a fantasy tale, and all the trappings that entails, but the more I thought about what should be in such a story, the more trapped and constrained I felt. It was only when I decided to fill the story with what I wanted that I began to enjoy it.

So, I started with some pretty standard dark fantasy elements: sword fights, magic, gritty choices, and a few monsters for seasoning. All things I’m fond of. But you know what else I like? Steampunk. All those wooden mechanics, crazy inventions, and severe outfits. Yeah definitely on the favorites list, so I threw them in. It needed some adventure of course, and some scares. I’ve been known to enjoy horror from time to time, and I added a few bits like that.

By that time, it was getting pretty good, but we weren’t there yet. It needed a touch of romance, and then to balance that, of course the obvious choice, ninjas. I mean really, it’s hard to craft a good love story without some ninjas involved.

I was feeling it then, but it wasn’t quite there. The book still needed some betrayal for contrast, some apocalypse for gravitas, and some psychics, because, well . . . why not?

At that point I thought, have I gone too far? Should I trim some of this out? But of course, the answer was simple, no way. Because all of these favorites bits were why I loved the story and what made it mine. Without them it might just be any other story, but with them, they formed my story.

So yeah, it’s a crazy, gritty, dark fantasy / steampunk mash-up with monsters, and ninjas, and sword fights galore. It’s different, and it’s mine, and I’m happy to share it with all of you. If you want to check it out, I hope you enjoy it.

LINKS:

Gearspire: Advent is available in both eBook and physical formats on Amazon.com. Or, if you’d like a couple free stories, head over to www.jqpdx.com, sign-up for Jeremiah’s mailing list and receive two stories set in the Gearspire universe.

BIO:

Jeremiah Reinmiller is a lifelong computer geek, martial artist, and native of the Pacific Northwest. When he’s not building clouds (the computing kind, not the rainy ones) he’s probably hunched over a keyboard hammering out words in a semi-organized fashion. His stories have received the 2014 Sledgehammer Writing Award, and been published by Subtopian Press, Abyss & Apex Magazine, and Cantina Publishing. He resides in Vancouver (the one in Washington, not Canada) with his wife and their two cats. Information on what he’s up to, and more of his stories can be found at www.jqpdx.com.

My Favorite Bit: Jon Del Arroz talks about STAR REALMS: RESCUE RUN

Favorite Bit iconJon Del Arroz is joining us today with his novel Star Realms: Rescue Run. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Since being court-martialed by the Star Empire, smuggler and thief Joan Shengtu has done what she needed to do in order to survive—gaining a reputation along the way. When a new client’s mission goes sideways, Joan finds herself caught in the middle of dueling gambits between the Star Empire and the Trade Federation. Recruited to perform the heist of a lifetime, the fate of the Star Empire rests in her hands.

On the opposite side of the galaxy, Regency BioTech manager Dario Anazao sees an unsustainable situation brewing that promises a full-scale revolution. The megacorporations of the Trade Federation have kept the population in horrible working conditions, violating their human rights. With no one else to help, Dario must take it upon himself to rescue the workers of Mars.

Can two heroes from warring factions come together to make a difference in the galaxy?

Star Realms: Rescue Run is the first novelization of the critically acclaimed Star Realms spaceship combat deckbuilding game. You can check out the game here: http://www.starrealms.com.

What’s Jon’s favorite bit?

Rescue Run cover image

JON DEL ARROZ

The balcony had a holoprojected view of the Martian landscape, including the Arsia Mons mountain. The oxygen level must have been pumped in higher in that receptacle, a closed room despite the open-air appearance. None of that surprised Dario. What did was the woman he saw standing there, gazing out over the balcony. With dinner about to be served, he’d expected to have some time alone here.

She turned to look at him, big brown eyes piercing through him, making him shiver. She wore an expensive dress. Dario didn’t know too much about fashion design, sticking to more conservative business attire, but color-changing fabric like she had on couldn’t come cheap. This woman was here to make a show. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to disturb,” Dario said, carefully taking a step back.

The woman smiled at him, pearly teeth exposed from her red lips. “No, you’re not interrupting. I just needed some fresh—” she stopped herself, shaking her head with a laugh. “It almost feels real, until you think about it. You know?” – Star Realms: Rescue Run

Star Realms at its core is a game about bases and battleships, massive fleets endlessly propelling at each other in an attempt to dominate galactic authority. When I wrote Rescue Run, the first novel in the Star Realms universe, I kept myself aware of that, but I wanted to focus on what it meant to be a human in such a chaotic universe.

My favorite bit of this book doesn’t come in the fight scenes, or even the gambits or missions that the various factions within the universe, but from the excerpt here, in which the two protagonists from two very different walks of life meet for the first time, and realize that they have something in common as people. These human moments are what matter most in our lives, and so the human moments are also what have the most impact in my story.

Another sub-theme that I layered into Rescue Run is one that technology presents illusions that give us comfort, but not substance. The Star Empire and Trade Federation are manipulating people’s psyches as much as they’re pushing for control of different areas of the galaxies. Characters are decked out with body modifications that control aspects of their lives down to their hearing and vision. They’re trapped in bases and starships, never seeing reality beyond what’s been constructed for them by their empires or corporations. This scene highlights the doctored perception of reality, as the main protagonists of the story are staring at a phony landscape of Mars that’s projected in front of them on a wall. The real landscape of Mars is just below the station where they’re at, but the powers that be don’t want people looking in at the desperate lives of the helpless and poor that they’ve built their fortunes on: they want to create a space where people are comfortable enough that they wouldn’t dare upset the careful balance the corporations had created.

It’s my opinion that in our own lives in 2016, we’re falling down a slippery slope of a path similar to what’s presented in Rescue Run. We’re connected to the internet all the time, staring down at our smart phones, never looking up at reality anymore. We’re outraged about what we’re told to be outraged about in less than 140 characters. We’re similarly content and safe in not taking active roles in the real world because we never have to look up and see another person.  It creates a dangerous environment in a lot of ways, because when we forget that there are real people on the other side of screens or even on the other side of the street, we lose compassion, which I believe to be a cardinal virtue.

Though analyzing this section of Star Realms: Rescue Run shows some heavy concepts, I did try to keep the book in the spirit of the fact that it’s based on a game. For the most part, the novel is fast-paced. There’s plenty of action, adventure, and intrigue, with a healthy bit of romance sprinkled in for good measure.

For those who aren’t familiar with the Star Realms Deckbuilding Game, it’s a free app, and it’s very easy to learn. I did my best to make the book so you don’t have to have played the game to understand the story, so it should be enjoyable to those who like space opera or a good adventure book. There are plenty of fun references to the game layered in for those who are familiar, but to me, it’s the people who matter. That includes my characters Joan and Dario, Star Realms opponents on the app, or anyone I come across in life. It pays to remember we’re not the only souls in the vastness of space.

LINKS:

Rescue Run launch page

Amazon

Jon Del Arroz webpage

BIO:

Jon Del Arroz began his writing career in high school, providing book reviews and the occasional article for the local news magazine, The Valley Citizen. From there, he went on to write a weekly web comic, Flying Sparks, which has been hailed by Comic Book Resources as “the kind of stuff that made me fall in love with early Marvel comics.” He has several published short stories, most recently providing flash fiction for AEG’s weird west card game, DoomtownReloaded, and a micro-setting for the Tiny Frontiers RPG. Star Realms: Rescue Run is his debut novel. You can find him during baseball season with his family at about half of the Oakland A’s home games in section 124.

My Favorite Bit: Lesley Conner talks about APEX MAGAZINE

Favorite Bit iconLesley Conner is joining us today to talk about Apex Magazine. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Apex Magazine is a monthly digital e-zine of professional-level science fiction, fantasy, and horror short fiction. The e-zine is edited by Jason Sizemore and is a multiple Hugo Award nominee. Apex Magazine has published many genre luminaries (Theodora Goss, Jeff VanderMeer, Gemma Files, Mary Robinette Kowal, Saladin Ahmed, etc.) as well as bright new talents (Onu-Okpara Chiamaka, Tade Thompson, Iori Kusano, and more). Visit http://www.apex-magazine.com for some fine speculative fiction!

What’s Lesley’s favorite bit?

Apex Magazine Nov 2016 cover image

LESLEY CONNER

Jason Sizemore and I have been going back forth about who should write this post. We both wanted to write it, but it was coming down to who had the time and who’s to-do pile was more likely to crush them. Between the Apex Magazine subscription drive, our annual flash fiction contest, getting ready to release Rosewater by Tade Thompson in November and Upside Down edited by Monica Valentinelli and Jaym Gates in December, and everything else Apex, schedules are tight! Finally Jason said he’d read slush if I wrote it, and with that he knew he had me, because Jason reading the stories that have been pushed up to his desk from the Apex Magazine slush pile is my favorite bit.

I know that sounds weird. Let me explain. When Jason reads slush, he’s reading stories that I’ve already read. Stories that were recommended by our slush readers and that I fell in love with and kept moving up the chain. So while he’s reading, if he comes across a story that he’s not sure about or that he’s questioning the ending or a character’s motivation, he asks me my thoughts on it. Aha! This is the moment that I look forward to most as managing editor of Apex Magazine. I whip my English degree off the wall, prop it on the couch beside me, and Jason and I start pulling the story apart.*

I cannot speak for every English program in every university, but my experience at WVU in the early-2000s was one of dissecting poetry and short stories and novels. I wrote countless papers defending my opinions about author intent, discussing pacing  and diction in class, picking sentences apart bit by bit, all while knowing there was no way I could be sure I was correct because I couldn’t ask the author, but I would build a damn good argument for my case. And I loved it. Sadly, in the world we live in, spending half an hour discussing the meaning behind one particular word or phrase in a book is not a skill you often have the need for in day to day life – even when a big portion of your life revolves around editing and writing – so when the chance comes up, I grab it!

There’s something about having an intellectual discussion about fiction: discussing how it makes you feel, whether you find it believable, if the pacing works that I find satisfying on so many levels. And when Jason and I get into these discussions over stories in the slush pile, that feeling of satisfaction is even greater.

Several of my personal favorite Apex Magazine stories are ones that Jason and I have discussed. “Blood on Beacon Hill” by Russell Nichols, “Anabaptist” by Daniel Rosen, “1957” by Stephen Cox, and “Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys: The Elephant’s Tale” by Damien Angelica Walters immediately come to mind. “The Love it Bears Fair Maidens” by K.T. Bryski coming out in the December issue is another one we chatted a long while about. And I’m not saying that Jason didn’t like those stories. The opposite in fact. These were stories that he did like, but that there was something about them that he needed to work out with another person before accepting. I feel like Apex Magazine is stronger because there is an open dialogue between us, allowing us both to see stories from other perspectives.

While Jason ultimately makes the final decision of whether or not to publish a particular story, being able to champion for my favorites is amazing. I feel like a gallant knight brandishing my sword and beating back the dreaded rejection letter. Even though I don’t always win the battle against rejection, these discussions leave me feeling invigorated. They are a good reminder of why I love reading and everything about the written word, and they are definitely my favorite bit of Apex Magazine.

*I don’t actually whip my degree off the wall. It isn’t even on a wall. It’s in an envelope in the back of my closet.

LINK:

Subscription Drive Page

BIO:

Lesley Conner is a writer/editor, managing editor of Apex Publications and Apex Magazine, and a Girl Scout leader. When she isn’t handling her editorial or Girl Scout leader responsibilities, she’s researching fascinating historical figures, rare demons, and new ways to dispose of bodies, interweaving the three into strange and horrifying tales. Her short fiction can be found in Mountain Dead, Dark Tales of Terror, A Hacked-Up Holiday Massacre, as well as other places. Her first novel The Weight of Chains was published by Sinister Grin Press in September, 2015. Best of Apex Magazine: Volume 1 marks her debut experience in anthology editing. She lives in Maryland with her husband and two daughters, and is currently working on a new novel. To find out all her secrets, you can follow her on Twitter at @LesleyConner.

My Favorite Bit: Elizabeth Bonesteel talks about REMNANTS OF TRUST

Favorite Bit iconElizabeth Bonesteel is joining us today with her novel Remnants of Trust. Here’s the publisher’s description:

In this follow-up to the acclaimed military science fiction thriller The Cold Between, a young soldier finds herself caught in the crosshairs of a deadly conspiracy in deep space.

Six weeks ago, Commander Elena Shaw and Captain Greg Foster were court-martialed for their role in an event Central Gov denies ever happened. Yet instead of a dishonorable discharge or time in a military prison, Shaw and Foster and are now back together on Galileo. As punishment, they’ve been assigned to patrol the nearly empty space of the Third Sector.

But their mundane mission quickly turns treacherous when the Galileo picks up a distress call: Exeter, a sister ship, is under attack from raiders. A PSI generation ship—the same one that recently broke off negotiations with Foster—is also in the sector and joins in the desperate battle that leaves ninety-seven of Exeter’s crew dead.

An investigation of the disaster points to sabotage. And Exeter is only the beginning. When the PSI ship and Galileo suffer their own “accidents,” it becomes clear that someone is willing to set off a war in the Third Sector to keep their secrets, and the clues point to the highest echelons of power . . . and deep into Shaw’s past.

What’s Elizabeth’s favorite bit?

Remnants of Trust cover image

ELIZABETH BONESTEEL

When I was 8-1/2 months pregnant, my husband and I moved into a hotel.

We hadn’t planned it that way. We had expected our house to take longer to sell. We had not expected to have to seek temporary housing for my mammoth self. But while babies are relatively predictable—give or take a few weeks—real estate is not. And so, at nearly 9 months, I was packing up our kitchen.

My husband assembled the packing boxes and put all our dishes and spices out on the countertops. I sat in a chair and packed what I could reach. Realistically, I wasn’t much help. At this point I was both exhausted and uncomfortable, all the time. But I did something, which, for some insane pregnant-woman pride reason, was very important to me.

As I was writing REMNANTS OF TRUST, I remembered the move, and thought: If I can pack up a house right before I give birth, a pregnant woman can run a starship. And so Guanyin was born.

In the US, the cultural images we get of pregnancy are…odd. As with most stereotypes, there are grains of truth—morning sickness, hormonal surges, odd food cravings—but it’s all two-dimensional. Pregnancy is treated as this extreme condition, but at any one point on our little planet, there are a lot of pregnant women.

And for most of us, that pregnancy is an addition to an already crowded life. We don’t have the luxury of putting that life on hold. More than that, often we don’t want to. Perhaps the oddest cultural myth about pregnancy is that everything else should somehow suspend operations and get out of the way.

Guanyin can’t suspend anything. She is the captain of a generation ship, a ship most of the inhabitants call home for their entire lives. Officially her position is elected, but as a practical matter she’s something between president and dictator. She has an extensive staff, and the help of the whole population if necessary; but it is with her that the buck stops. Not only does she have a job she can’t ignore, in her culture it’s literally the most important job there is.

She’s also really, really good at being pregnant. When the book opens, she’s carrying her sixth child, after five uncomplicated births. And on this generation ship, where she has grown up seeing other women have children, she knows it doesn’t always work out that way. Above all other things, Guanyin is pragmatic. She knows she has benefited from good genetics and good luck, and that’s all the excuse she needs to keep having children.

Because on a generation ship, children are important—not so much as individuals, not any more than anyone else, but as tools of survival. In a future where populations tend to be small and isolated, reproduction and genetic diversity are critical issues. Not everyone has the desire or the ability to bear children. It makes sense that a woman like Guanyin, who has both, would choose to do it.

“But Liz,” I hear you ask, “it’s a thousand years in the future. What about technology? Surely they could just use artificial wombs.” Indeed. And in many places they do exactly that. It makes sense to have multiple resources for something as important as propagating the species.

But here’s the authorial insertion bit: I liked being pregnant. The whole experience fascinated me. And part of what fascinated me was that I could go through such a radical physiological change and still be entirely myself.

There’s a complaint, sometimes, that women in literature are too often written in relation to their families. I have a lot of sympathy for that, because women’s lives—like everyone’s lives—are full of stories that don’t have anything to do with their families. More often, though, I see women portrayed as either mothers or heroes, but not both—or at least not both at the same time. And that’s entirely counter to my experience in the real world.

Guanyin is, like many women, dealing with her pregnancy as a normal part of her life. It’s in the background hum, from her interludes with her children to the metaphors she chooses. She is a practical, thoughtful, strong-minded professional who never loses sight of her responsibilities. She’s also, for the duration of the tale, a big, clumsy, pregnant lady.

I could have used her help packing my kitchen.

LINKS:

HarperCollins.com / HarperCollins.co.ukHarperCollins.ca
Amazon.com / Amazon.co.ukAmazon.ca
BarnesandNoble.com
IndieBound
Powell’s
Google Play
iBookstore US / iBookstore Canada
Kobo

BIO:

Elizabeth Bonesteel began making up stories at the age of five, in an attempt to battle insomnia. Thanks to a family connection to the space program, she has been reading science fiction since she was a child. She currently lives in central Massachusetts with her husband, her daughter, and various cats.

Ghost Talkers booktour!

I’m heading out on book tour this week. Maybe I’m coming to your town?

Tuesday November 8 – 7:00 PM
University Bookstore
4326 University Way NE
Seattle, WA 98105

Wednesday November 9 – 6:30 PM
Murder by the Book
2342 Bissonnet St
Houston, TX 77005

Thursday November 10 – 7:30 PM
Mysterious Galaxy
5943 Balboa Ave #100
San Diego, CA 92111

Sunday November 13 – 3:00 PM
Borderlands
866 Valencia St
San Francisco, CA 94110

What if I’m not coming to your town? If you still want a signed book, you can contact any of these stops and I’ll sign and personalize it for you. This is true for most authors and most bookstores, by the way. Handy.

The thing some people want to know is what happens at one of these book tour things. Here’s how it works. Each stop, I’ll show up in a replica of the Spirit Corps uniform.

Literature happens! Or, in other words, I read and answer questions. Naturally, on this tour, there’s some code-breaking. Do you know the passphrase? Often it’s easier to find than you’d think. Not that I’m hinting or anything…

Besides all that, you’ll be supporting an independent bookstore. Really, it’s is your patriotic duty. Although voting comes first… Now that you know what’s entailed, will I see you there? ‘Cause that would be awesome. Hope so.

My Favorite Bit: Sarah Smith talks about WHITEHALL: COMPLETE FIRST SEASON

Favorite Bit iconSarah Smith is joining us today to talk about Whitehall: Complete First Season. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Whitehall is set in the 17th century court of King Charles II and focuses on his queen, Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza. Her journey to find her place as the foreign wife in a court riddled with political and religious intrigue – not to mention the many mistresses of Charles the “Merry Monarch” – is a tale of perseverance only a true queen could endure. Love mingles with betrayal before a sensual renaissance of art, culture, and sex in this lush historical serial.

What’s Sarah’s favorite bit?

Whitehall cover image

 

SARAH SMITH

Palace Romance

Years ago, in a fit of giggling, Ellen Kushner (she of Tremontaine) and I made up a genre. In Big House Romance the love interest isn’t a hero; it’s a house. “Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again.” “Maria…lived in an enormous house in the wilds of Northamptonshire, which was about four times longer than Buckingham Palace, but was falling down.” From Beauty amazed by the Beast’s library, to Hogwarts, to the snow falling on the conjoined maze of houses that is Riverside, the Big House is a world, peopled by its own denizens, rich with its own possibilities.

Whitehall is the Biggest House of all.

It really existed. It was the largest building in Europe, possibly the largest building that has ever existed in Europe. It covered the whole of London between Trafalgar Square and the Houses of Parliament. Whitehall was larger than Versailles, larger than the Vatican. If you discovered a new room in Whitehall every day, it would have taken you five years to find them all; Whitehall had somewhere between 1500 and 2000 rooms.

The government was centered there; the Queen and King (and the King’s mistresses) lived there, and so did most of the rest of the nobility, in tiny apartments viciously fought over. It was as changeable as a fairy castle, rooms created and torn down, mutating purpose and ownership according to the latest dictates of favoritism and need. Policy and wars were made at Whitehall; the future of England was plotted in its twisting corridors; fashion came from Whitehall too, and no actor, or especially actress, flourished unless they succeeded in Whitehall’s eyes.

Here it is.  One building, a huge maze built higgledy-piggledy over half a thousand years, spreading over acres and acres: ancient stone married to new white granite, wrought iron springing from old wood, and brick filling in everything. A small town on the outside; a Fabergé Easter egg inside, glittering with fabulous paintings, jewels, gold, and statues. Gardens, a tiltyard, a cock-fighting pit, a laundry, the Queen’s aviary …

Image: The Old Palace of Whitehall by Hendrik Danckerts

And the most delicious part of Whitehall? Just when Charles and his Queen Cat were living there, somebody described the whole thing. Drew a plan of it, wrote down where everybody lived, what the rooms looked like, even what some of them smelled like. “In the Guard Chamber [let] there be noe Tobacco taken in Smoake, … no ill Savour of Beere … in the Morninge [let] the Dores and Windowes be sett open, and something burnt in the room to take away the Scent of ye Watch of ye Night”–you can smell the wet wool, the fusty air, the farts and dog breath and illicit tobacco and beer.

Read the descriptions of Whitehall, look at the pictures, and here’s a world. We know these people through their rooms. A driven ex-soldier king making a country out of glitter and theater; his grasping mistresses trying to get what they can, his politicians trying to control him; the shy foreign queen who, perhaps alone of all of them, loves him. There is no mercy in crowded Whitehall: King Charles’s Catherine and his demanding mistress have apartments just around the corner from each other, so Catherine has to avert her eyes not to see Barbara, has to stop her ears not to hear her rival’s laughter.  King Charles’s council chamber has been taken over for someone’s apartments, so he has taken over Cat’s audience chamber; while Catherine lies near death from a fever, his Privy Council is deciding her future almost outside her bedroom door. The King and his awkward Queen have separate apartments, but Jenny discovers the secret passage between Catherine’s bedchamber and Charles’s rooms, the expression of their secret love.  When Clarendon pleads with Charles to betray Catherine and his country, they choose the Matted Corridor, where steps are muffled and statues provide hiding places to whisper secrets.

Even religion has its rooms in Whitehall. The Chapel Royal is just by the Great Hall, Whitehall’s theater; churchmen and actors put on their robes in the same rooms. Catherine’s private oratory, like her religion, is a far more hidden space.

Image: map of Whitehall

Such a gift! Such a place to live, and such people in it! Jenny the maid sees it: “all Whitehall, the grand gilded places and the famous people, the suitors crowding the presence chamber and the eating hall, the pages like Edmund who wanted to be knights—precious little use, any of them—and, skittering like mice, the servants, hordes of servants, Meg and Tamsin, Mavis and herself, bearing pails and mops and linen, dishes and food and clothes. Making everything run. Without us there would be nothing.” Catherine sees “Whitehall of schemes, Whitehall of enemies, Whitehall of lies.” Charles sees Whitehall as a place of fools and whores, but illuminated by love and unexpected honesty.

It’s the biggest house of all, and I love it.

Welcome to Whitehall.

LINKS:

Originally presented in 13 episodes by Serial Box, the Whitehall: Complete First Season has been gathered together and is available at your favorite eBook retailer. Whitehall was team written by Liz Duffy Adams, Delia Sherman, Barbara Samuel, Sarah Smith, Madeleine Robins, and Mary Robinette Kowal. Learn more at SerialBox.com.

BIO:

Sarah Smith is one of the writers of WHITEHALL, the Restoration drama about one man, two women, and a palace, now available as a complete first season at www.SerialBox.com. Sarah is sarahwriter on Facebook and Twitter; read all about her books at www.sarahsmith.com.

NaNoWriMo and looking at some terrible advice.

I participate in NaNoWriMo every year, but it’s not for everyone, and that’s okay. The thing I want you to know, as we go through the month, is that you don’t have to feel pressured into writing. So I want to talk a little about some commonly passed around advice that can make you feel like a failure.

You must write every day. Well… no. You can actually have a successful career and be a binge writer. You can write most days, but have a structured day off.  You can write randomly. You can write on a strict schedule. Ultimately, it doesn’t actually matter what your writing process is, because the reader will never see that. Now, writing every day does some useful things. During NaNoWriMo, I do, in fact, write every day BUT during the rest of the year I just write most days. The thing that is useful about “write every day” is that it forces you into the chair on days when the story is difficult or you’d otherwise make an excuse.

The problem with “write every day” is that it can make you feel like a failure if you aren’t writing because of travel, or depression, or exhaustion, or just because you need time to sort out a plot point. You aren’t a failure if you don’t write every day.

A writer, writes. Okay… sure. That’s true. But it’s easy to misconstrue those three words into thinking that if you don’t write, you’re not a writer.  Know what? A plumber is still a plumber even when not plumbing… or whatever it is they do. Point being, that if you need to take a break the universe won’t reach out and take your writer badge away from you.

You must submit your fiction. This is true, if it is fiction you want to sell. But it’s totally okay to write things just for the fun of it, with no intention of ever having a career as a writer. We allow that with every other art form, but there’s a societal pressure to publish that I think is really harmful to a lot of early career writers, or people who simply enjoy it as a hobby. You’re still a writer, even if you never publish a thing. You may not be an author, which does require publication by dictionary definition, but you’re still a writer.

You must… Any teacher, including me, who starts a sentence that way is about to utter some bullshit. What they mean is “this works for me and I’m telling you hoping that it will work for you, too.” Name any rule, and I’ll be able to find you an example of published fiction which breaks it. Also? Blind adherence to rules is a good way to watch fiction stagnate. The rules might help you with things that you struggle with, but all of them can be broken.

The bottom line is that as a writer, you need to figure out what works for you. If that’s NaNoWriMo, awesome! If it’s not? Also awesome! If you don’t know what works? Try stuff. Maybe even use November to experiment. If you don’t? Still not a failure.

What’s some writing advice that you’ve struggled with?

My Favorite Bit: Stephanie Burgis talks about CONGRESS OF SECRETS

Favorite Bit iconStephanie Burgis is joining us today with her novel Congress of Secrets. Here’s the publisher’s description:

In 1814, the Congress of Vienna has just begun. Diplomats battle over a new map of Europe, actors vie for a chance at glory, and aristocrats and royals from across the continent come together to celebrate the downfall of Napoleon…among them Lady Caroline Wyndham, a wealthy English widow. But Caroline has a secret: she was born Karolina Vogl, daughter of a radical Viennese printer. When her father was arrested by the secret police, Caroline’s childhood was stolen from her by dark alchemy.

Under a new name and nationality, she returns to Vienna determined to save her father even if she has to resort to the same alchemy that nearly broke her before. But she isn’t expecting to meet her father’s old apprentice, Michael Steinhüller, now a charming con man in the middle of his riskiest scheme ever.

The sinister forces that shattered Caroline’s childhood still rule Vienna behind a glittering façade of balls and salons, Michael’s plan is fraught with danger, and both of their disguises are more fragile than they realize. What price will they pay to the darkness if either of them is to survive?

What’s Stephanie’s favorite bit?

Congress of Secrets cover image

STEPHANIE BURGIS

Vienna has had a hold on my family’s imagination for a very, very long time.

Over a hundred years ago, my Croatian great-grandfather traveled to Vienna as a teenager to be a tailor’s apprentice. He wandered around the city in awe of its beauty and culture. He attended Mass in the Stefansdom cathedral, where Mozart had been married. He went back to Croatia to be with his family once his apprenticeship was finished…but then World War I broke out, and he fled to America, never to see Vienna again.

Still, he never forgot that city. Living in Youngstown, Ohio, he raised his children on stories of Vienna’s beauty. The best of everything was in Vienna, he told them! My grandfather, his youngest son, learned German at home before he learned English in kindergarten, and needless to say my mother and I both ended up studying German too at various points, drawn by the romance of all those family memories. When I announced, at nineteen, that I’d be studying in Vienna as part of a college exchange program, my grandfather was delighted.

Still, I had no idea just how hard I would fall in love with Vienna when I got there. It didn’t hurt, of course, that I was already obsessed with eighteenth-century music history – and Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven all lived and performed there at various points. Vienna was the center of musical culture in the Classic era.

But then you add in the gorgeous palaces, the cobblestoned streets, and oh, yes, the amazing cakes and coffee…yeah, I was a goner.

As soon as I got back to America, I scrambled to find an excuse – any excuse! – to return to Vienna. I ended up applying for and winning a Fulbright scholarship to study at the University of Vienna for a year and teach at a Viennese secondary school. And when I met my British husband a few years later, it only made sense for us to spend 6 months living in Vienna before we moved together to the UK.

Finally, a few years later, I made it back once again, this time funded by an academic grant to research my PhD thesis (on opera and politics in eighteenth-century Vienna) by studying original eighteenth-century manuscripts at the Austrian National Library…which just happens to be located in the magnificent Hofburg palace in Vienna.

Every day for two weeks, I sat at one of the long wooden tables in the music library, poring over delicate eighteenth-century operatic scores, while the smell of blooming lilacs drifted in through the open windows…

…But every afternoon when the library closed, everything changed. I stopped thinking about music or about my PhD thesis. Instead I wandered through the narrow cobblestoned streets of Vienna’s first district with a very different book in mind.

I was already plotting out Congress of Secrets, my historical fantasy novel set at the Congress of Vienna in 1814. And it was an incredible historical moment for the city.

Aristocrats and royals from all across Europe gathered in Vienna that year to celebrate the downfall of Napoleon with glittering fêtes, ceremonies, balls and gossip. At the same time, behind that glittering round of social festivities, diplomats from all of those countries were hard at work fighting their own metaphorically bloody political battles, negotiating to re-divide the continent after decades of war.

Meanwhile, the Austrian emperor’s paranoia had led to the development of a terrifyingly powerful Viennese secret police force that spied on everyone. Vienna had once been famous for coffee houses where everything and everyone could be freely debated; by 1814, no one dared discuss politics in public anymore, for fear of being turned in by one of the secret police’s many informants. It wasn’t only the local Viennese who were under inspection, either. During the Congress, the secret police kept an eye on everyone. Local servants went through the fireplaces of important visitors, pulling out letters to be turned into the secret police, and Emperor Francis received regular reports.

That would be an incredibly rich and fascinating historical setting for any writer to play with, even without any magical component. But of course, in my version of events, Francis isn’t just getting his strength from information. He’s also been secretly resorting to dark alchemy for years…

…as my heroine knows all too well. Her childhood was destroyed by the dark alchemy hidden behind Vienna’s glamorous façade. Now she’s back under a new identity, using the Congress as her excuse to return to her first home and finally save her father from imprisonment…

…But only if the secret police don’t find out her true identity – and if she isn’t tripped up by the competing schemes of her father’s old apprentice, now a charming conman working on his biggest gamble yet.

All of those disguises, deceptions and schemes are tied inescapably to the narrow streets and palace corridors of Vienna, my favorite city in the world. There’s darkness, there’s intrigue, there’s the kind of magic that can kill your soul, and there’s even unexpected romance…

…But none of it could take place anywhere but in Vienna.

The truth is, I agree with my great-grandfather. I’m still in love with that city, too!

LINKS:

Website

Twitter

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Goodreads

BIO:

Stephanie Burgis grew up in East Lansing, Michigan and now lives in Wales, surrounded by castles and coffeeshops. She is the author of two historical fantasy novels for adults, MASKS AND SHADOWS and CONGRESS OF SECRETS, both published in 2016 by Pyr Books. She also writes MG fantasy novels, and her MG Regency fantasy trilogy, KAT, INCORRIGIBLE, was published by Atheneum Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. To find out more and read excerpts from her novels, please visit her website: www.stephanieburgis.com

My Favorite Bit: Ariela Housman talks about FUCK YOU, PAY ME

My Favorite BitAriela Housman is joining us today to talk about her art print Fuck You, Pay Me. Here’s the description:

Sometimes profanity is required. When someone asks you to work “for exposure,” for example. Or for “portfolio development.” Or tries to haggle you down from your stated prices by trying to convince you that you’re not actually that good.
Remind yourself to stand firm and insist on being paid what you are worth with this print. Beautiful letters and graceful flourishes deliver a blunt message with class.
The print comes with a dark blue mat and is available in three sizes:
8″ x 10″
9″ x 14″
16″ x 20″

What’s Ariela’s favorite bit?

Watermarked image of matted print Fuck You, Pay Me

ARIELA HOUSMAN

This art print is outside of my comfort zone. The departure from my usual artistic style wasn’t what made it hard; I am uncomfortable with the content. I was always taught to use profanity sparingly and never in a professional setting. Yet here I am, not just using it but writing it in brightly-colored, super fancy lettering, stamping my brand name on it, and selling it.

A good dose of encouragement from friends helped me overcome my squeamishness about swearing “on the job.” I didn’t realize until afterward how much my uneasiness over making this print, and the process of defeating it, mirrored my discomfort over asking to get paid and my gradual journey to confidence in the worth of my work.

I’m not comfortable talking about money. Even in non-monetary terms, I frequently find it difficult to assert my own worth and to ask for what I want instead of just what I need. I have internalized the idea that these are not polite things to do, just like swearing, and that doing so would have negative consequences. When I started selling my art, I worried that if I set my prices as high as I thought I deserved, I would never make any sales. Even now I revisit that concern briefly whenever I price a new product. Each time I send a quote in response to an inquiry about custom work, I take a deep breath and remind myself not to brace for conflict; after all, only sometimes do they result in an angry email from the not-to-be-client who is incensed I have the gall to price my work above the value of a mass-produced movie poster. Frankly, sometimes I wonder whether my business will implode if I say “Fuck your expectations of self-sacrifice For The Art, your impression that you can bully me into accepting less money than I know my work is worth, and my own Imposter Syndrome in the bargain! I’m pursuing my art on my own terms.”

The support of my friends and colleagues and the mentorship of senior calligraphers gave me the confidence to start charging in the first place. Over the years it has gotten easier for me to state my prices without flinching, but I still experience moments of self-doubt. When I do, I turn to fellow creators for reassurance and inspiration. So, too, with this print. I chewed on the idea privately for at least a month before getting up the courage to ask a group of friends over happy hour drinks if they thought a print like this would sell. The chorus of “YES!” was loud and immediate. So I put it on the production calendar. (Then followed a surprised IM from my manager, Terri, who was puzzled by the appearance of “Fuck You Pay Me” on the production calendar with no further explanatory notes. Once I explained, she was enthusiastic.)

I love the result. I’ve always been tickled by theater of the absurd, so the juxtaposition of style and content makes me grin. It’s an utterly serious message delivered in the cheerful colors of a Crayola marker set; pompous illuminated letters form a word sometimes decried as the crudest one English has to offer; delicate flourishes and curlicues dress up a bluntly utilitarian sentiment. It’s something that shouldn’t have to exist and yet is oh so necessary.

I am still working on being comfortable with setting my prices as I should and sticking to my boundaries. But until we get to the perfect world where I don’t need to worry about my work being adequately respected and valued, I can practice polite ways saying “Fuck you, pay me.”

Links:

Buy the print

Website

Twitter

Facebook

Tumblr

Pinterest

Bio:

Ariela Housman has been working as a professional calligrapher for 13 years. Together with her best friend and proofreader Terri Ash, she founded Geek Calligraphy in 2015. A geek of many flavors, Ariela consumes SFF in most media, including novels, comics, TV, and movies. She also enjoys tabletop games, costuming, swing dancing, smashing the kyriarchy, and drinking tea.

My Favorite Bit: Navah Wolfe and Dominik Parisien talk about THE STARLIT WOOD

Favorite Bit iconNavah Wolfe and Dominik Parisien are joining us today to talk about their book The Starlit Wood. Here’s the publisher’s description:

An all-new anthology of cross-genre fairy tale retellings, featuring an all-star lineup of award-winning and critically acclaimed writers co-edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe. Once upon a time. It’s how so many of our most beloved stories start. Fairy tales have dominated our cultural imagination for centuries. From the Brothers Grimm to the Countess d’Aulnoy, from Charles Perrault to Hans Christian Anderson, storytellers have crafted all sorts of tales that have always found a place in our hearts. Now a new generation of storytellers have taken up the mantle that the masters created and shaped their stories into something startling and electrifying. Packed with award-winning authors including Naomi Novik, Garth Nix, Marjorie Liu, Charlie Jane Anders, Aliette de Bodard, Amal El-Mohtar, Sofia Samatar, Theodora Goss, Genevieve Valentine, Max Gladstone, Catherynne M. Valente, Jeffrey Ford and Seanan McGuire, this anthology explores an array of fairy tales in startling and innovative ways, in genres and settings both traditional and unusual, including science fiction, western, and post-apocalyptic as well as traditional fantasy and contemporary horror. From the woods to the stars, The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales takes readers on a journey at once unexpected and familiar, as a diverse group of writers explore some of our most beloved tales in new ways across genres and styles.

What are Navah’s and Dominik’s favorite bits? The Starlit Wood cover image NAVAH WOLFE and DOMINIK PARISIEN It’s nearly impossible for us to pick a favorite bit in The Starlit Wood. The stories are just so good. Each of the authors did a phenomenal job finding new ways to retell these fairy tales– beautiful sentences, awesome characters we want to follow around, and emotional punches that stuck with us for days. There are scenes in every story we wanted to talk about here. So instead of trying to narrow it down to a single favorite bit, we both decided to talk about our most personal bits. Navah We all know that representation is important. We discuss it constantly, how critical it is for kids to see themselves in fiction, for people to have a window into different viewpoints, to open their eyes and teach them empathy. It was rare for me, as a kid, to see myself represented in the books I read. Sure, there were Jewish characters like Kitty Pryde in X-Men, but they were few and far between. Science fiction and fantasy stories weren’t exactly overflowing with young Jewish women. Even though the stories I loved felt universal in their emotions, I felt invisible within them. But I grew up, and I went out into the world, and I found my space, and it didn’t even occur to me how powerfully representation would still resonate for me until I read Naomi Novik’s “Spinning Silver.” “Spinning Silver” is a retelling of Rumpelstiltskin, and it’s one that turns tropes and expectations on their head. It’s hard to not see at least a whiff of anti-Semitism in the origin story, which famously features a long-nosed villain who wickedly values gold above all. Naomi’s version is a decidedly Jewish fairy tale—but in an entirely different way. In her story, the miller’s daughter becomes Miryem, who is not only from a family of moneylenders, but becomes one herself. It’s a story of family, and the wonderful world-building is filled with Jewish culture, history, and traditions. And most satisfyingly, “Spinning Silver” is a fairy tale where the power and choices are all in the female protagonist’s hands. This story sang for me. It was familiar, it was electric. I saw my own beautiful traditions, religion and culture within the skin stretched over the old offensive bones, and it felt like coming home. My one regret about this story is that I can’t send it to Past Navah.  I am so thrilled to have it in The Starlit Wood, and even more thrilled that Naomi is planning on expanding it into her next novel. I can’t wait for readers to discover it and Miryem. # Dominik As far as I can remember I’ve loved shadow and doppelganger stories. They lend themselves particularly well to psychological and uncanny narratives, explorations of the duality of good and evil, and the overall investigation of issues relating to identity. My favourite book of this type is James Hogg’s 1824 novel, The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, and I’m always eager to read new stories in this vein. When Navah and I started approaching authors for The Starlit Wood we encouraged them to retell both classic and lesser-known fairy tales, indicating some of the classic stories we would like to have in the book. Amongst the stories singled out was Hans Christian Andersen’s The Shadow, a story we don’t often see retold. Theodora Goss expressed interest and surprise in The Shadow’s inclusion, and I admitted that I had selfishly included it as it is one of my favourite fairy tales. I’ve always been surprised that The Shadow isn’t better-known, especially in this day and age where individuals can exist as almost entirely different entities or personas online and in person. Theodora jumped at the opportunity to retell it – she’s taught the story several times – which pleased me to no end. The result was “The Other Thea”, one of the longest stories in The Starlit Wood. The fact that she focused on a female doppleganger was particularly exciting as – as she points out in her author notes – female dopplegangers don’t frequently appear in classic stories. I’ve long admired Theodora’s fiction, and to have her retell one of my favourite fairy tales in our book made her already wonderful story resonate with me on a whole other level. LINKS: Amazon B&N Indiebound Powell’s Simon & Schuster Saga Press Navah’s Twitter Dominik’s Twitter Dominik’s blog BIOS: Dominik Parisien is an editor, poet, and writer. He is the co–editor, along with Navah Wolfe, of several anthologies for Saga Press, including The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales. He is also the editor of the first anthology of Canadian steampunk, Clockwork Canada (Exile Editions). He has worked with Ann and Jeff VanderMeer on various anthologies, including The Time Traveler’s AlmanacSisters of the Revolution , and The Bestiary. Dominik’s essays,  fiction, and poetry have appeared in Uncanny Magazine, Strange Horizons, Shock Totem, and several anthologies, including Imaginarium 2013: The Best Canadian Speculative WritingThe Playground of Lost ToysThose Who Make Us: Canadian Creature, Myth, and Monsters, and other venues. His fiction has twice been nominated for the Sunburst Award. Find him on Twitter @domparisien. Navah Wolfe is an editor at Saga Press, Simon & Schuster’s science fiction and fantasy imprint, where she has edited critically-acclaimed novels such, Borderline by Mishell Baker, Persona by Genevieve Valentine, The Mountain of Kept Memory by Rachel Neumeier, and A Green and Ancient Light by Frederic S. Durbin. She was previously an editor at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, where she worked on many bestselling books, including some that have won awards such as the Printz Honor, The Pura Belpré Award, The Pen/Faulkner Award, The Stonewall Award, the Lambda Literary Award, and the Schneider Family Award. Find her on Twitter @navahw.

My Favorite Bit: Kait Heacock talks about SIBLINGS AND OTHER DISAPPOINTMENTS

Favorite Bit iconKait Heacock is joining us today with her short story collection Siblings and Other Disappointments. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Kait Heacock delves into the vulnerability of relationships and the various ways families fight, forgive, or fall apart. Her debut collection of twelve short stories follows a long-haul truck driver, a mother waiting for the rapture, newlyweds on a trip to the mountains, a father who competes in food-eating competitions, and an array of other characters scattered throughout Central Washington, down to Nevada, and up to Alaska. Each story explores themes of loneliness and isolation and how those exist both apart from our families and within them. Siblings and Other Disappointments unpacks the myriad meanings of the word family and the ways in which the bonds of those units are forged, dissolved, or simply maintained.

What’s Kait’s favorite bit?

Siblings and Other Disappointments cover image

KAIT HEACOCK

My Favorite Bit: Setting the Scene in “Sirens”

Siblings and Other Disappointments, my debut collection, is a book about place as much as it is about the people who inhabit these places. Its twelve stories trace the small towns of my youth: Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, where I was born; Ellensburg, Toppenish, and Zillah, Washington, towns that constellate around Yakima, where I grew up; Seattle’s neighboring Enumclaw, Kingston, and Shoreline, Washington; and in one story, a truck driver hauls lumber from Marysville to Eugene, passing through a dozen towns on his trip down I-5. Even the Cascades, where I’ve gone all my life to pick huckleberries and swim in mountain creeks, set the scene for a story. I’ve known firsthand ten of the twelve settings included in this book. All but Whitney, Nevada (a suburb of Las Vegas, where I traveled often as a kid to visit relatives but never ventured quite as far as Whitney) and Valdez, Alaska. My favorite bit of writing Siblings and Other Disappointments was creating a visual of a landscape I do not know firsthand.

I know Central Washington: its apple orchards, dusty hills, and visual scarcity. Writing Central Washington is writing what I know. Writing Alaska was the biggest creative stretch of this book, not only because it involved the most research but because it forced me to envision the place where my brother died three years ago. Many of the stories and characters contained within this collection are inspired by my late brother, from the son in “Closing Joe’s Bar” to the brother in the titular story. When I set out to write “Sirens,” about a boy shipped off by his strict dad to Alaska to spend the summer working as a commercial fisherman, I had no real concept of the setting or the gillnetting industry. I started writing the story because at the time that’s where my older brother was, spending the winters working at restaurants in Anchorage and the summers fishing off the coast of the small port town of Valdez. I wanted to grasp at the water, mountains, and land that my brother saw. A tenuous connection, but all I had at the time–more than I have now that he’s gone.

The protagonist Kevin, a closeted Korean teenager, and supporting cast Captain and Marco were borne out of my imagination, characters created to fill a landscape I desperately needed to explore. Short of traveling to Alaska to see for myself the scenery my brother last saw, writing about Valdez and the waters where he fished is the closest I’ll come. A sorry consolation.

In my research I learned about the structure of gillnet boats, that the Chugach Mountains receive the most snowfall in the world, and the most common causes of death on commercial fishing boats. In my life as a writer in Seattle, I have no necessity for knowing these facts. But the gift that writing brings you is the opportunity to research and learn about parts unknown. I will never be a commercial fisherman in Alaska, but for a few weeks while researching this story I could tell you a lot about it. After you lose someone, it’s the stories that keep their memory alive.

The title “Sirens” refers to the mythological creatures who lured sailors to their deaths. To the sailors, they were beautiful women; they represent what we want to see. I want to see my brother still alive on that gillnet boat, hauling in a load of salmon. His first night on the boat, Kevin can’t sleep. He sneaks outside and stares at the water: “In the darkness I watched the still water, not looking for anything but wondering if there was any wildlife to see at night. If you stare long enough at the water, your eyes play tricks on you and make shapes out of the moonlight on the waves. You could go crazy staring at the water long enough, hoping to find something in it.”

This book is like that water, something for me to stare at, hoping to will a vision of my brother.

LINKS:

Twitter

Instagram

Website

Amazon

Ooligan Press

Powell’s

Indiebound

BIO:

Kait Heacock grew up in Yakima, Washington, and now works as a feminist writer and book publicist. She studied creative writing at Seattle Pacific University and earned her master’s degree from Portland State University, where she worked for Ooligan Press. Her work has appeared in literary journals, magazines, and online outlets such as Bustle, DAME Magazine, Esquire, KGB Bar & Lit Mag, Portland Review, tNY.Press, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, and the Washington Post. Siblings and Other Disappointments is her first book.

My Favorite Bit: Gabriel Squailia talks about VISCERA

Favorite Bit iconGabriel Squailia is joining us today with their novel Viscera. Here’s the publisher’s description:

The Gone-Away gods were real, once, and taller than towers.

But they’re long dead now, buried in the catacombs beneath the city of Eth, where their calcified organs radiate an eldritch power that calls out to anyone hardy enough to live in this cutthroat, war-torn land. Some survivors are human, while others are close enough, but all are struggling to carve out their lives in a world both unforgiving and wondrous. Darkly comic and viciously original, Viscera is an unforgettable journey through swords-and-sorcery fantasy where strangeness gleams from every nook and cranny.

What’s Gabriel’s favorite bit?

Viscera cover image

GABRIEL SQUAILIA

Rafe Davin wasn’t supposed to be in this book. In the first draft of the first scene, he was CULTIST #2, and I gave him a short, grisly role with a few muttered lines of dialogue.

Then my editor asked me to pull a particular trick on the reader, which you can ask me about once you’ve read it, and suddenly—thanks to certain necessary changes in the lighting and camera angles—Rafe had a name and a personality.

The moment he opened his mouth I fell in love with him. Yes, he was irritable, prone to flashes of anger at the slightest provocation. Sure, he was dastardly, and did things within the first thirty pages that ought to have damned him to some sort of narrative retribution well before the third act. Worse, he was an addict, which, so far as my neighbors were concerned, meant he would deserve whatever came his way.

Hadn’t he stolen? Hadn’t he spilled the blood of innocents?

Wasn’t all of it within his own control?

Then what was I doing making half of this book about him?

Love is a funny thing that way. In the case of my imaginary romance with Rafe Davin, it led me to dig deeper into his past. I knew he was worthy of my love; now I’d find out why. I knew that he’d joined the cult of Fortune-worshipers known as the Assemblage out of pure desperation. Now I discovered what had caused him to fall so deep in such a short period of time.

My favorite bit was hidden, at first—a few scattered references to his past, which Rafe fought viciously to avoid remembering. Then, during a decidedly bizarre medical procedure, these glimpses of the life he’d once lived bobbed to the surface.

Again, my editor wanted more, and so I turned up the lights, took the plunge, and rewrote the scene.

What emerged was something between a fever-dream and a flashback. Having spent a hundred-odd pages with Rafe the Cultist, I was brought face-to-face with another version of him—a Rafe who was loved and cherished, in community with other queers like himself.

They had a place to live, in Mrs. Dallow’s Cut-Rate Boarding House. They had a tiny society, with its own laws and customs. They had each other, however briefly, and they made the mistake—so common, so understandable—of imagining that this warmth was safety.

For the first time, I understood the true horror that underlies all the splatter and squish of Viscera. I’m transgender, and it’s rare for me to feel like I’ve been fully understood. Most every close relationship I have is the result of painstaking work, exhausting explanation, and the constant, nagging fear of rejection.

What I fear is that the loves that sustain me will be torn away.

What I fear is our fragility—this tenuous connection we have to a world that makes it clear we’re not welcome here.

What I fear is the violence that so often hangs over our lives, threatening us from within as well as without. What I fear are the words that are shouted at me from the windows of passing cars, the glares that follow me through stores and streets, the hands that grope me in crowded bars at night—hands that curl so easily into fists.

Those fears, knotted together, form the tragedy that put a blade in Rafe Davin’s hand. Now it was plain. I knew why I’d forgiven him.

His character wasn’t a part of my plan, and even once he’d taken over, this hallucinatory scene wasn’t something I outlined. But it immediately became the dark, beating heart of Viscera.

It was, to me, the most terrifying thing I’d ever written. As soon as it was done, I came out of the closet.

I had nothing left to hide.

LINKS:

Amazon

Website

Twitter

Facebook

BIO:

Gabriel Squailia is an author and professional DJ from Rochester, New York. An alum of the Friends World Program, they studied storytelling and literature in India, Europe, and the Middle East before settling in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts with their partner and daughter. Squailia’s first novel, Dead Boys, was published by Talos Press in 2015.

On being friends with someone who turns out to be an asshole

Sometimes, someone you’re fond of turns out to be an asshole. Holding them accountable is part of being a friend. It helps them be better. I have a colleague/student/friend who has been awful to other people. Not to me, and that isn’t a defense. Ever.

Their behavior is inexcusable.

Defending my asshole friend’s behavior would make me complicit in it, because then I would be condoning the problematic behavior. The question then becomes… do I remain their friend?

Let me use a more extreme example. I’m penpals with a convicted murderer who found me during the Month of Letters. Most of his friends dropped him and that leaves him isolated in prison except for his mom. He has to reach out to complete strangers to have human interaction. There’s a reason that solitary confinement is reserved as a severe punishment. Do I write back to him? Absolutely. Would I invite him to hang out with my friends? All the nope.

So… am I going to remain friends with this person? Probably, although in a very modified form because I recognize that my asshole friend is potentially dangerous and harmful. It’s on me not to put other friends or colleagues in harm’s way.

But I also believe that even assholes are allowed to have friends.

There have been other bad actors in SF that I go out of my way to avoid, but I don’t expect their friends to drop them. That does nothing to make the world a better place.

This doesn’t mean that I’ll fight my asshole friend’s battles for them, but I’ll help them parse what’s gone wrong.  Or maybe I’ll just model better behavior and hope they learn by example. It involves the person wanting to change. I would like that the case, even while knowing that the person in my head is not the person that other people met. It’s deeply disappointing.

I’m not convinced that dropping them will improve anything. Nor would excusing them. If they want to retain my friendship, they’ll have to accept my anger and disappointment. They’ll have to accept that I don’t include them in things.

And I’ll have to accept that I’m not a good judge of their character. It’s not a comfortable place to be. I think that’s why so many people come out to defend their own asshole friends, because no one ever likes being wrong. No one likes feeling as if they stay friends with the asshole that people will think less of them. (That, by the way, is the grossest of reasons to drop someone.)

It’s possible, I think, to both maintain the friendship while also not contributing to the asshole’s damage.

So, yeah… someone I’m fond of is an asshole. Holding them accountable is part of being their friend. And goddammit, I want them to be a better person. I don’t want to be friends with an asshole.

But I am.

(Note: We are NOT going to talk about the specific person because this isn’t about them. It’s about the moral conundrum of remaining friends with a problematic person.)

My Favorite Bit: Amy S. Foster talks about THE RIFT UPRISING

Favorite Bit iconAmy S. Foster is joining us today with her novel The Rift Uprising. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Normal seventeen-year-old girls go to high school, binge watch TV shows all weekend, and flirt with everyone on the face of the Earth. But Ryn Whitaker is trying to save it.

Ryn is a Citadel. A soldier. A liar. Ryn and her fellow Citadels were specially chosen and trained to guard a Rift—one of fourteen unpredictable tears in the fabric of the universe that serve as doorways to alternate Earths. Unbeknownst to her family, Ryn leaves for school each day and then reports for duty as an elite, cybernetically-altered soldier who can run faster, jump farther, and fight better than a Navy SEAL—which comes in handy when she’s not sure if axe-wielding Vikings or any number of other scared and often dangerous beings come through the Rift. A fine-tuned weapon, Ryn is a picture-perfect Citadel.

But that’s all about to change.

When a young man named Ezra is pulled through the Rift, Ryn finds herself immediately drawn to him, despite her training. What starts as a physical attraction quickly grows deeper, and Ezra’s curiosity throws Ryn off balance when he starts questioning the Rifts, the mysterious organization that oversees them, and the Citadels themselves—questions that lead Ryn to wonder if the lies she’s been telling her family are just the surface of a much bigger lie told to her. As Ryn and Ezra desperately try to get to that truth, they discover that each revelation blurs the line between the villains and the heroes even more.

What’s Amy’s favorite bit?

The Rift Uprising cover image

AMY S. FOSTER

“Alright. Imagine, that each version of Earth is a musical note. ARC is looking for an Earth, just the same way a musician would look to tune a string on their guitar pitch perfect. Most people don’t have perfect pitch. They need help to make sure the note is 100% in tune, so they use a tuner. You pluck a string and then you turn the machine head, the silver nobs at the top of the guitar, until you get to the right note. That’s basically what this system ARC is using does. If each unique quantum signature is a note, their technology basically wobbles with the pitch–or the signature–until it gets close enough to open a Rift. If it’s looking for a b-flat, it can eliminate all the other Earths that don’t resonate to a b-flat. Then it begins to eliminate the Earths that aren’t a perfect b-flat.

“Now, in order to really get this concept, you have to imagine that there aren’t just twelve notes, but an infinite number of notes–each one distinct–and you’re trying tune the thing in a room full of other music. That’s why they can’t get exactly to the Earth they want to go. There is too much noise. They have to narrow it down. Each little tweak of the machine head would be a jump into another Rift. They have to go through multiple Rifts to get where they are going. Maybe it’s ten maybe it’s 100–I don’t know.”

Here’s the strange thing about me: I love science. Really, I am a total geek when it comes to physics and to some degree chemistry. What’s weird though, is that I have an actual math learning disability called Dyscalculia- which is a really fancy way of saying I’m crap at math. Like, I have a problem adding double digit numbers together. So, I can understand really complex theories about science, like string theory for example but the way I interpret them is not as a mathematician but rather on a visual level- I can see in my mind, the subatomic particles doing their thing (kind of hilarious because obviously, no one sees subatomic particles in real life)  I use my imagination to tell the story of the big bang, or black holes or relativity. I understand it as a story but not as a math equation. Make sense? No? It doesn’t make much sense to me either! I don’t know how I understand the things that I do.

When I was writing The Rift Uprising, I knew that I was going to have to come up with a way of explaining an entry to the Multiverse that not only I could understand, but that readers, particularly young readers could also grasp. Math was out of the question. A simple visualization of how it might work in my mind’s eye was also out, because it would be near impossible to explain it in actual words that made sense to anyone but myself.  Light was an option, but it’s so intangible. I needed a device that was visceral, that would make sense without the need for a ton of equations.

This left me with the one thing that I knew that I could not only explain but actually draw on from personal experience. Sound. I’m a songwriter, and both my parents are musicians. I believe the right song at the right time can be transportive, just on an emotional level. On a scientific level, sound wave particles can do amazing things like levitate objects, detect bombs and convert to heat and then energy. I then had to imagine a device that could take sound and use it like a key to open a very complex door. I know, even without being math-y, that there are an infinite amount of numbers between numbers like 1, 2 and 3 etc. I translated this notion to pitch. When I’m tuning my guitar and I want to get to a particular note there are seemingly endless variations of pitch till I get to that ‘perfect’ note. Using this theory, I had to imagine that each Earth in the Multiverse would pitch to a different sound or vibration. In effect, our bodies are all singing a tune to the Earth we are on. If we visit a different Earth, and we could hear that tune, it would sound different, we would sound different than everything and everyone around us.  In practical terms though, this would need to happen on a quantum level which is handy for me, because in The Rift Uprising, I am using technology humans haven’t mastered yet and are borrowing from a more technologically advanced race. I’m especially proud of the way I conceived an entry and eventual navigation through the Multiverse that while highly improbable at least makes a kind of sense. I did discuss all this with a physicist who assured me that it wasn’t impossible. So, I can say that the science isn’t wrong, just a little farfetched. The best part of all is that I was able to use this theory and turn it into a major plot device throughout the trilogies. It becomes, at the end of the day, at least in my world, practical.

LINKS:

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BIO:

Amy S. Foster is a celebrated songwriter, best known as Michael Bublé’s writing partner. You might recognize her work in his four hit singles, including “Home” and “Haven’t Met You Yet.”  She has also collaborated with Destiny’s Child, Diana Krall, Andrea Bocelli, Josh Groban and a host of other artists. She is also the author of the novel When Autumn Leaves. When she’s not in a studio in Nashville, Amy lives in the Pacific Northwest with her family. Amy is the daughter of singer B.J. Cook and the legendary music producer, David Foster. Fun fact about Amy: Her extended family tree includes Bella and Gigi Hadid, Sara and Erin Foster and Brody and Brandon Jenner, and Clay Aiken! The Rift Uprising, her YA debut, will be released on October 4, 2016.

My Favorite Bit: Becky Allen talks about BOUND BY BLOOD AND SAND

Favorite Bit iconBecky Allen is joining us today to talk about her novel Bound by Blood and Sand. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Jae is a slave in a dying desert world.

Once verdant with water from a magical Well, the land is drying up, and no one remembers the magic needed to keep the water flowing. If a new source isn’t found soon, the people will perish. Jae doesn’t mind, in a way. By law, she is bound by a curse to obey every order given her, no matter how vile. At least in death, she’ll be free.

Elan’s family rules the fading realm. He comes to the estate where Jae works, searching for the hidden magic needed to replenish the Well, but it’s Jae who finds it, and she who must wield it. Desperate to save his realm, Elan begs her to use it to locate the Well.

But why would a slave—abused, beaten, and treated as less than human—want to save the system that shackles her? Jae would rather see the world burn.

Though revenge clouds her vision, she agrees to help if the realm’s slaves are freed. Then Elan’s father arrives. The ruler’s cruelty knows no limits. He is determined that the class system will not change—and that Jae will remain a slave forever.

What’s Becky’s favorite bit?

Bound by Blood and Sand cover image

BECKY ALLEN

If you were to meet me in person, maybe to chat over a cup of coffee or something, and then pick a word to describe me — other than “short” — I could make some guesses about what that word would be. Probably cheerful or friendly, or perhaps optimistic. If I were a TV trope, I’d be the plucky girl.

So if you were to meet me for a cup of coffee, and find out that I write YA fantasy, and then pick up my book, you miiiiight be a little surprised. Because Bound by Blood and Sand isn’t friendly or cheerful. My protagonist, Jae, is definitely not plucky. In fact, she’s really, really angry — and that’s my favorite bit.

But she wasn’t always that way.

I wrote Bound by Blood and Sand from the ground up three times. It came from two vague ideas, initially very poorly stitched together: one was about a desert world that needed magic to keep its water from drying up, and the other was about a curse that magically compelled a whole class of people to follow any order they were given. The first version was really just trying to figure out how those two ideas could be tied together. I knew it was awful and needed a full rewrite. But the with second version, I thought I had something. I just knew something was still missing.

The thing about that second version is that it was actually mostly okay. The stakes weren’t personal enough — lots of saving the world, not a ton of emotional resonance. And I got some feedback that it was confusing and people didn’t really understand the way the curse worked, because it didn’t actually have much of an impact on the characters. Sure, it was something that Jae, the protagonist, needed to work around — but it was pretty much just an obstacle, an annoyance she wanted to be rid of. That version of Jae was actually a lot more like me, plucky and deeply pragmatic. The world needed to be saved, so she saved it.

Like I said, it wasn’t terrible. Just… flat.

There was a scene in the middle where a guy who’d harassed Jae was badly injured, and she used her newfound magic to heal him. It was emblematic of who Jae was, in that draft, and it felt right to me. Probably because I’d like to think I’m the sort of person who’d use my newfound powers for good, so having a character do the same felt correct.

Then, when I was discussing how something wasn’t quite gelling with one of my critique partners, she called that scene out and asked, “What if instead of healing that guy, Jae kills him? What if instead of doing the right thing, she just wants revenge?”

My first instinct was a big ol’ no, because that wasn’t what the character would do. It wasn’t really that kind of book. There was an adventure and a love story and a mostly-happy ending. The characters all pretty much liked each other and got along, except for the villain, who had no particular motivation. But the idea was intriguing.

I sat down and really thought about it. If Jae was going to be out for blood, she needed a reason, and suddenly it was obvious where I’d gone wrong. The curse I’d laid out had always had some consequences, but I hadn’t wanted to delve into it too deeply, because I knew that the implications of anyone being as literally powerless as the cursed characters would be really dark. The kind of dark that I really wasn’t comfortable with.

We see the consequences of unbalanced power structures all the time in real life. Violence is committed towards marginalized people with terrifying frequency — and too often, it’s ignored or worse.  Victims are made responsible for the crimes committed against them. Women are told they shouldn’t drink at parties or walk home alone. Black people are told they shouldn’t wear hoodies. And the end of every terrible news story seems to be a criminal getting a slap on the wrist, or getting off scot-free, because of who holds power and who doesn’t.

If I was going to write about systematic powerlessness, I had to write about its consequences. And I had to make it personal for Jae. I stopped pulling punches and let some truly awful things happen around her, and to her, because she didn’t have the power to fight back and no one who had power noticed or cared. I wrote her desert world as brutal, and the way the people in power behaved was just as brutal. Which meant Jae herself became a character who was a survivor of abuse, of starvation and dehydration, and of rape.

So when Jae acquired her magic abilities, she no longer looked around for the quickest way to save the world. Instead, she saw a world that wasn’t worth saving, and a system she’d rather die than take part in. And when she’s assaulted again, partway through the book, but this time has access to power she’s never felt before, she has no interest in mercy or forgiveness.

Writing about sexual assault made me deeply uncomfortable. I hesitated to do it, because, frankly, it’s not something I like reading about, and because it’s so common in fantasy novels — and too often only used to up the drama or demonstrate how evil a villain is. But in the end I decided that if I was going to write about a system that would leave everyone within it vulnerable to abuse, it would undermine the whole story to pretend rape and assault just didn’t happen. And if I was going to include it, I wanted it to be important. Jae’s trauma and her rage are both part of her character from the first page, and she never apologizes for them.

And that’s why Jae’s anger is my favorite bit. I’d never written a character like Jae before, one whose world view was so different from mine. But centering the book around her anger brought the whole story into focus and it forced me to look not just at the darkness in the book I wrote, but in the world around me, too. And that’s the part that made it so powerful for me. Like I said at the beginning, I’m generally a cheerful, optimistic person. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be angry, too.

LINKS:

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BIO:

Becky Allen grew up in a tiny town outside Ithaca, New York, and graduated from Brandeis University with a major in American studies and a minor in journalism. She is the website director of TheBody.com, an online HIV resource, and loves New York, brunch, and feminism. Becky lives in New York City.