Journal

My Favorite Bit: R. H. Stavis talks about SISTER OF DARKNESS

My Favorite BitRachel H. Stavis is joining us today with her memoir Sister of Darkness: The Chronicles of a Modern Exorcist. Here’s the publisher’s description:

The world’s only non-denominational exorcist tells her astonishing true story: a riveting chronicle of wrestling entities from infected souls, showing how pain and trauma opens us to attachment from forces that drain our energy . . . and can even destroy our humanity.

As a secular exorcist, Rachel H. Stavis has cleansed thousands of tormented people, from small children and Hollywood moguls to stay-at-home moms and politicians. But for many years, the horror screenwriter and novelist denied her gift. As a little girl, she began to see “monsters” floating around her bedroom or attached to other children. Told it was only her imagination, Rachel learned to ignore the things she saw.

But a series of events in adulthood forced her to acknowledge her unique ability and embrace her power to heal. Since then, Rachel has dedicated her life to helping others cast off the forces feeding off of us. Performing her services pro-bono, she quietly worked in the shadows, until she unknowingly revealed her work to a journalist, who told her story to NPR.

A unique look at demonology removed from religious dogma, Sister of Darkness recounts Rachel’s journey to becoming an exorcist and chronicles some of her most extreme cleansings cases, including those that put her and her clients in peril. Going deep into her world, we meet the diverse range of people she has helped—young, old, famous and not—in gripping stories of danger and sometimes sadness, that are ultimately about redemption. Rachel teaches us that there are a diverse range of “entities” surrounding us—some of these are playful or misguided, while some are dangerous and harmful. She introduces each of them and explains their power, helping us understand what is attacking and hurting us, and what we can do to protect ourselves.

Frightening, eye-opening, and utterly enthralling, Sister of Darkness brings to light a world ruled by destruction, chaos and fear, and the woman who bravely fights to protect those who seeks her out.

What’s Rachel’s favorite bit?

Sister of Darkness cover

R.H. STAVIS

When writing a memoir, it’s very odd to try and find a favorite part – mainly because it’s a portrait of your life, and it’s so personal, and full of ups and downs (as life surely is). But if I had to choose what I think is one of my favorite things – both in the book and as an experience – it is the opportunity to teach people the truth about Entity.

For so long, people have been taught to believe that exorcism and possession is “the devil,” or specific named demons, and it has been heavily steeped in religion. And they have been taught that possession is exceedingly rare.

In my worldview, it’s actually very different: there are all kinds of Entities that vary on a scale from least harmful to incredibly malignant. There are Entities who don’t interact with humans at all. There are Entities who I call “High Beings” which actually give help to us (like Spirit Guides, Master Teachers, Angels, etc.). And possession is actually not rare at all. Most people have had an Entity, or are carrying an Entity now, and don’t even realize it!

In fact, there is an entire world of Entity – right below the surface of our world. It exists along with us, and affects us. Unfortunately, we are very susceptible to it. But it’s with this knowledge and understanding that we can begin to help ourselves. Each day we have a choice: be conscious about what we think, what we say, and how we affect others, or remain unconscious of it, and let ourselves simply go through the motions.

If we choose to be conscious, we become more aware of our energy – what I call “baseline frequency.” Are we happy? Sad? Does everything bother us? What about our internal dialogue? Is it positive? Are we helping others? Putting others down? So many choices, and believe it or not, these choices can either put you in harm’s way (toward possession and attachment), or away from it (high vibrational existence). How so? Because Entity is seeking low vibration, and it is seeking to attach to someone with an energy signature it can feed off of. That is how possession actually works.

What I love to do, as I say to people, is to remind everyone how incredibly powerful they are. You know those times when you go through your day, and someone says or does something negative (perhaps they cut you off in traffic, for example), and it can affect you for hours? That’s how powerful your actions, thoughts, and words can be. Imagine if we all spent time creating a place of loving kindness, how amazing the world would be!

Though we can’t control others, we can certainly start with ourselves. We can change the negative self-talk to something positive. We can be benevolent and loving to those around us. And we can do simple acts of kindness in our own ways. By doing this, we raise our frequency, and in doing that, we protect ourselves from attachment.

LINKS:

Sister of Darkness Universal Book Link

Twitter

BIO:

A screenwriter for film, television and video games, R.H. Stavis created the backstory for Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, and has published four horror novels. A professional exorcist, she lives in Van Nuys, California.

My Favorite Bit: Sue Burke talks about SEMIOSIS

My Favorite BitSue Burke is joining us today with her novel Semiosis. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Colonists from Earth wanted the perfect home, but they’ll have to survive on the one they found. They don’t realize another life form watches…and waits…

Only mutual communication can forge an alliance with the planet’s sentient species and prove that humans are more than tools.

What’s Sue’s favorite bit?

Semiosis cover

SUE BURKE

Let’s design a big, scary alien. As a first step, let’s consider Earth beings.

What’s the biggest living thing on Earth? Pando, a clonal colony of a single quaking aspen tree, covering 106 acres of ground in Utah.

What’s the oldest? Pando, again, whose roots are an estimated 80,000 years old. As for the oldest individuals, there’s a bristlecone pine in California, a cypress in Chile, and a sacred fig in Sri Lanka, among many other trees, all more than 2,000 years old.

You can see where this is headed. And you’re already skeptical. Let me try to convince you.

What are the most essential beings on Earth? Possibly the members of the family in the vegetable kingdom called Poaceae – that is, grasses – which includes rice, wheat, maize, sugarcane, oats, barley, and many other grains. Without them, we’d starve.

What’s the nastiest creature on Earth? There’s lots of competition, but I’ll argue that this category can and should include plants. For example, rose bushes have thorns so they can climb over other plants, anchoring their prickles in their flesh, and very possibly starving them of sunshine and killing them – but roses don’t care. (Why would you ever give a rose to your beloved again, knowing that?)

Trees fight among themselves, too. Softwood trees grow fast to capture sunshine, which all plants covet, while hardwoods grow more slowly. Their branches are stirred by the wind against softwoods, grinding through them. Hardwoods rise up to become dominant in the forest canopy by amputating other trees’ limbs one by one. (I told you. Nasty.)

Fine, you say, but plants mostly just sit there. Well, yes and no. They’re actively involved with their environment, including you. When it serves their purpose, they can even communicate with you. When a tomato in your garden turns red, what has that plant just told you? (Bear in mind that the tomato plant wants you to eat the tomato, since its uncooked seeds travel safely through your digestion to arrive at a new, potentially ideal growing site, along with fertilizer.)

Plants also communicate with each other quite a bit through air-borne chemicals and through their roots. They produce pesticides when they’re warned by their companions of a coming attack by insects. They can also produce a wide range of chemicals for all sorts of purposes, from perfumes to psychoactive drugs to poisons.

Plants aren’t passive. They’re busy, aggressive, and they have weapons.

They can see, too, in a way. You’ve noticed plants leaning toward sunshine, and some of them keep track of how long sunshine lasts during the day to bloom in certain seasons. They also seem to count. Some bamboos live for a specified number of years before they flower, as many as 120 years, and they know exactly when time is up.

I could go on with what plants can do, but the conclusion is clear. We share Earth with beings who are big, old, nasty, communicative, very aware of their surroundings, armed and deadly, and who are absolutely essential to us, so we have to keep them around.

Let’s use that to create a science fictional protagonist. You immediately have an objection. This big scary being is literally rooted in place. You’re right. This is going to be tough.

And that’s where the fun starts: with an artistic challenge. Stories often deal with something the protagonist wants and can’t get. What would a specific plant want? How would its desire conflict with other beings, maybe with ourselves? How far would a plant go to get what it wants? (We already know that plants are murderous.) Remember, we might depend on this alien to survive as much as we fear it.

Cue the drama. We’ve never faced an enemy as big and bad as this, or had an ally with such extensive resources. We’re going to face dire, unexpected choices.

Have I convinced you? I hope so. I had fun, at any rate. I built a planet and seeded it (literally) with aliens who look harmless at first glance. But now maybe you’ll believe that looks can be deceiving, and an alien who is green and leafy can also be big and scary.

LINKS:

Semiosis Universal Book Link

Semiosis website

Sue Burke’s website

Goodreads

Blog

Facebook

Twitter

BIO:

Sue Burke is a literary translator, and has worked as a journalist and editor for a variety of newspapers and magazines. She has also published more than 30 short stories. She used to live in Madrid, Spain (hence the literary translator work), and now lives in Chicago. Semiosis is her debut novel. You can learn more about it at its website, https://semiosispax.com/

 

My Favorite Bit: Diana Renn talks about FALSE IDOLS Season 1

Favorite Bit iconDiana Renn joins us today to talk about Season 1 of the serial fiction False Idols. Here’s the series description:

FBI Linguist Layla el-Deeb is deep undercover posing as an heiress in the Middle East. She must infiltrate the highest echelons of society in order to trace priceless relics from their millionaire owners back to illegal digs and the terrorist groups profiting from their sale.

But Layla’s troubled past and growing feelings for an art dealer’s son begin to complicate her judgment, and when she uncovers a terrorist plot that threatens American and Egyptian lives she must decide where her loyalties truly lie.

What’s Diana’s favorite bit?

False Idols image

DIANA RENN

As a collaboratively written, serialized story spanning eleven “episodes,” False Idols features a formidable cast of characters. Our heroine, Egyptian-born FBI agent Layla el-Deeb, along with her mentor, Special Agent Ellen Pierce (head of the FBI Art Crimes unit) follow the money trail in Cairo, Egypt, to investigate how illicitly sold antiquities finance terrorism, and to protect the U.S. from an imminent attack.

The scale of the crime required a large group of suspects. So on the character front, False Idols has it all – more than enough to fill the stage of a Broadway musical! Going undercover as an art-collecting heiress in Cairo, the city she once called home, Layla meets eccentric international art collectors, shady antiquities dealers, shadowy middlemen, and terrorist insiders. She becomes entangled with a brilliant American art restorer who steals her heart. She befriends an Italian journalist who is desperate to keep stories about archaeological lootings from being buried in the news, and who shares her values of truth and justice. She plays a high-stakes cat and mouse game with a high-ranking Egyptian government official. She reports to Agent Pierce, a seasoned FBI agent who has a chip on her shoulder and a dark secret. She reconnects with her estranged family, putting the entire operation at risk. And she interacts with a rousing chorus of other FBI agents, Egyptian and American embassy workers, political activists, protestors, organized crime thugs, and a slick crowd of jet-setting twenty-something party kids, whom she somehow manages to convince to accept her into their circle.

Out of this enormous cast, though, I am most proud of Layla – both her unconventional story, and the unique way she came into being.

Writing Layla marked a departure for me as a mystery writer. My previous novels were written for young adults. My globetrotting, mystery-solving teens were amateur sleuths, by virtue of their age. They encountered everything for the first time – not just crimes, but different cultures, love and loss, and their own hidden reservoirs of strengths. Teen sleuths were fun, but I felt ready to flex my mystery-writing muscles and try my hand at a different type of detective.

Layla is no starry-eyed ingénue. She’s pushing thirty and asking herself questions about what the next chapter of her life might look like. She’s led a completely unconventional life so far; will she find someone who will accept the complexities of her identity? Can she trust anyone? And while this is her first undercover gig, she is a trained FBI agent who’s kicked down a few doors. Layla also grew up in one of Cairo’s poorest neighborhoods -within a stone’s throw of the penthouse apartment where she resides in her undercover role. She’s worked incredibly hard to leave her family, get an education, and become a U.S. citizen and an FBI agent.

The other layer of complexity to Layla is her undercover life. As she tries to penetrate deeper into the world of antiquities collectors and dealers, she must be cautious about what she reveals to people. Yet even her “true” identity – competent, self-sufficient FBI agent- is another type of cover, layered over the vulnerable girl who grew up in a Cairo slum. Complicating matters are her growing feelings for James, the son of an art dealer she’s investigating, and her affection for the dealer himself, who comes to see her as family. It’s exhausting work, keeping the lies in check and not revealing too much – even as Layla tries to deepen connections with people she’s come to care for.

Part of Layla’s work involves looking closely at the provenance of valuable artifacts, trying to determine their authenticity, their point of origin, and the times that they have changed owners. Her radar is always up for fakes and flaws, the story of a relic that doesn’t make sense or that might point to illicit deals. In the process, she becomes more aware of her own provenance, and the fact that her story is not without cracks.

The creation of any fictional character is always a little mysterious, yet with characters in my other books, I can always point to a point of origin, the original inspiration. A stranger’s face, an overheard conversation, a figure from my own past. Over subsequent drafts, I round characters out, plumb their psychological depths, and come to know them -ideally, to inhabit them.

Layla was different. Who dreamed her up originally? Who or what inspired her? I do not actually know. When our author team signed on for this project back in 2016, we were handed a great gift from Adaptive Studios and Serial Box: the beginning of a character named Layla, and the premise for an exciting story. Our showrunner, Lisa Klink, fleshed out Layla further when she wrote the Story Bible. Then Lisa, our other co-author Patrick Lohier, and I – in consultation with the creative folks at Serial Box and Adaptive – brainstormed further. At our story summit meeting in Los Angeles in November 2016, our team spent three days in a writer’s room to plan the False Idols characters, episodes, and overall plot. In the writer’s room, Layla began to have a life, a back story, and a character arc, which we traced on numerous sticky notes that eventually filled a wall.

Layla's development

Over the ensuing months, we wrote our individual episodes, critiqued each other’s work, brainstormed again, and – with the aid of our amazing editors Molly Barton and Lydia Shamah – we endlessly revised. It was through that collaborative process, Layla came to life. Not from one individual writer.

I marvel at how we all agreed on her motives, her goals, and her character arc. I do not think the team every debated, at least not for long, what Layla would or would not do in any given situation. Her voice and personality are consistent across episodes. In writing Layla, handing her off from one episode to the next, it felt less like we were creating her than we were learning even more about her. I’m proud to have been one of many people who helped bring Layla to life and to tell her story.

LINKS:

False Idols Season 1

How Serial Box works

Diana Renn’s website

Diana Renn’s Twitter

BIO:

Diana Renn is the author of three young adult mysteries featuring international intrigue and globetrotting teens: Tokyo Heist, Latitude Zero, and Blue Voyage, all published by Viking/Penguin. Blue Voyage was honored as a 2016 “must-read” by the Massachusetts Book Awards, and Latitude Zero was a Junior Library Guild selection. Her latest project is False Idols, a collaboratively-written, episodically-released thriller published in a partnership with Serial Box and Adaptive Books. Her essays and short fiction have appeared in Publisher’s Weekly, The Huffington Post, Brain Child, Literary Mama, The Writer, YARN (Young Adult Review Network), and others. Diana grew up in Seattle and now lives outside of Boston, Massachusetts with her husband, her son, and a moody black cat. Visit her online at www.dianarennbooks.com or @dianarenn on Twitter.

My Favorite Bit: David Mack talks about THE MIDNIGHT FRONT

Favorite Bit iconDavid Mack is joining us today with his novel The Midnight Front. Here’s the publisher’s description:

On the eve of World War Two, Nazi sorcerers come gunning for Cade but kill his family instead. His one path of vengeance is to become an apprentice of The Midnight Front―the Allies’ top-secret magickal warfare program―and become a sorcerer himself.

Unsure who will kill him first―his allies, his enemies, or the demons he has to use to wield magick―Cade fights his way through occupied Europe and enemy lines. But he learns too late the true price of revenge will be more terrible than just the loss of his soul―and there’s no task harder than doing good with a power born of ultimate evil.

What’s David’s favorite bit?

The Midnight Front cover image

DAVID MACK

*Note: The following essay includes a depiction of suicide. If you are thinking about suicide, are worried about a loved one, or would like emotional support, talk to someone here.*

It can be easy to forget that even great sagas are constituted of mere moments, and that sometimes the smallest, most personal of scenes can carry a story’s greatest emotional weight.

The Midnight Front is many things at once: it’s a sweeping World War II epic; it’s a dark fantasy that chronicles a bitter secret war between rival groups of sorcerers who wield black magick; but at its heart, it is about a small cadre of magicians who grow to care for one another like family.

Underscoring that theme is the fact that several of my magic-using characters are orphans, have been cast out of their families, or have otherwise found themselves alone in the world. This is true of my main character, Cade, who loses his parents early in the story; my female lead Anja is cast out of her home as a teen and de facto adopted by the Allies’ master magician, Adair. Last but not least, one of Adair’s senior apprentices, Niko, has long since lost his parents, and over the course of the novel he, too, loses what few kin he has left, in a debacle that leads to the death of fellow apprentice Stefan and causes a bitter rift between Niko and Adair.

Such is the state of play when, late in the book, Niko must risk his life to escape a “dead zone” in which magick will not work, so that he can use an enchanted mirror to pass military secrets back to Adair. With their sorcerous archenemy Kein only seconds behind him, Niko crashes his stolen car into a forest and flees. Then:

Drenched in his own blood, Niko propped himself against a tree and pulled his enchanted mirror from a coat pocket with a quaking hand. “Fenestra, Adair.” He was shaken by a hacking cough full of blood while he awaited the master’s reply. Searchlights slashed through the trees as the Germans followed his swath of destruction through the woods.

Adair’s face replaced Niko’s reflection. “Christ, lad, what—”


“No time, Master.” He propped the mirror on his leg, then used his good hand to pull the map and camera from inside his coat. He pushed them one at a time through the mirror to Adair. “Kein . . . built a trap. . . . In a bunker. At Pointe du Hoc.”

“Niko, I—”

“They will cover it with wax and cement. It will be hidden. But destroy it you must.” Tears fell from his eyes. He croaked out his last words. “Bonne chance, Père.

Shadows converged upon Niko. Kein shouted, “Take him alive!”

Niko put the barrel of his pistol into his mouth.

I will not be used against my friends, as Stefan was.

SS troops surrounded him, submachine guns at the ready.

In the name of love, Niko pulled his trigger.

One scene later we pick up that moment from the perspective of his master, Adair:

As the remote image vanished from Adair’s mirror, the master expected to confront his reflection — but like the Fool gazing upon Lear, he saw only his shadow.

He pounded the floor with the sides of his fists. How could I have doubted that lad? Loyal to the end. Braver than I knew.

Tears streamed from Adair’s shut-tight eyes. Niko’s last words haunted him.

Bonne chance, Père.

Adair’s chest heaved with painful sobs for which he had no breath, so his body shook in near silence as he surrendered to his heartbreak.

He called me Father.

I love these related moments. Though Adair and Niko are just supporting characters in the novel, this moment speaks to one of the truths of the narrative. What bonds my heroes through all of their struggles and setbacks is genuine affection.

By comparison, the concerns that drive their foes, the Thule-Gesellschaft (which was a real occult society that helped spawn the Nazi Party) and its leaders (Kein, Briet, and Siegmar) seem to be self-interest, fear, and a desire to see the world burn. If the villains of my story represent a family unit, it is a dysfunctional one at best.

But Adair’s last moment with Niko … it breaks my heart every time I read it. Niko still feels guilty for having set in motion the events that killed Stefan, who he loved like a brother. Just as poignantly, up until the moment of Niko’s sacrifice, Adair still carries anger and resentment toward Niko over that error.

But when Niko refers to Adair as Père — that heartfelt moment, that simple choice of words, expresses a lifetime of love and respect. And then it’s followed by a devastating act of self-sacrifice.

Without those words, it would still have stung Adair to see Niko die. But after that valediction, the moment becomes more profound: for the second time, Adair loses a man who is like a son to him.

It is a tragedy in a novel replete with loss, death, and destruction. But in its sorrow there is also hope: the belief that love will win the day. Even as Niko faces his own end, he urges his surrogate father to look toward the light. He believes in him.

Bonne chance.

Perhaps it’s a romantic delusion to think that love and hope alone are enough to win a war — but without them, there’s really nothing left worth winning.

LINKS

The Midnight Front Universal Book Link

Read an excerpt

David Mack’s website

Facebook

Twitter.

BIO

David Mack is the award-winning and New York Times bestselling author of more than thirty novels of science fiction, fantasy, and adventure, including the Star Trek Destiny and Cold Equations trilogies. His new novel The Midnight Front is available now from Tor Books. Mack’s writing credits span several media, including television (for episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), film, short fiction, and comic books. He resides in New York City.

Ursula K. Le Guin

I’m sitting in an airport. Ursula Le Guin is dead.

Several years ago, I recorded some memories to be banked by NPR in case they needed an obituary. This is apparently standard and the way such things are done with Notable Figures. I was assured that she was in good health. That it was just a policy when people reached a certain age.

Sometimes, the reporter said, these were never used.

I am sitting in an airport. My phone buzzes. The reporter has texted me. She wants to give me a heads-up so that I’m not caught by surprise. They will be using the interview. Today.

Ursula Le Guin is dead.

I am caught by surprise. I am sitting in an airport crying and I don’t honestly care that it is making the people around me uncomfortable. Ursula Le Guin is dead.

She’s been a part of my life since before I began writing. I ate the Wizard of Earthsea books. I still have my dogeared copy from when I was a teen. I’ve lost track of how many times I read it. It’s such a slender volume and yet it shaped my world. Words. She understood the power of words.

The first time I met her, I was not yet a writer. I lived in Portland, Oregon and was working full-time in puppet theater. Tears of Joy was getting ready to stage her children’s book A Ride on the Red Mare’s Back. I worked every angle I could to get assigned to the show as the set designer.

Nancy Aldrich, the artistic director of ToJ, and I went to Ursula’s house. It was a beautiful craftsman style home set on a hill nestled in a garden. It’s in a neighborhood, mind you, but when you’re in the garden, all you feel are the trees. She met us at the door looking just like her photos. Small, silver-haired, and powerful.

The back of my head filled with EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE. She brought us in. Offered us tea. We sat in her kitchen and went through my designs. She liked them. She was pleased.

Fast forward five or more years. We’ve corresponded via my role in SFWA. I’m a Writer now, but I haven’t seen her since the show and then had cause to go to her house again with some other people. She remembered me. We’d only met once before, in a different context, but she remembered.

From that point forward, I would see her a couple of times socially or around writing. I remember sitting in her living room and hearing her explain what she got wrong about Wizard of Earthsea. The fact that this icon– this book that had shaped me — that she could still examine her work and see errors was astonishing. (Example: With one exception, none of the female characters have names. And most of their dialogue is reported rather than direct.) Seeing her be unafraid of the mistakes, or embarrassed by them was empowering. Realizing that she saw those problems as a way to better understand herself and an opportunity to improve even decades after the book’s publication, continues to shape me.

I love that she continues to interrogate fiction and society. That she is unafraid to admit error. That she doesn’t see it as a weakness but as a way to grow. I love her power.

I find myself unable to speak of her in the past tense. This was the problem when I recorded the interview for her obituary. Ursula Le Guin was alive when I did that.

Today, I have been told that she is dead. There is a low wall between us, but not enough, I think to keep her from shaping my life or yours.

My Favorite Bit: Wendy Nikel talks about THE CONTINUUM

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

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

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

What’s Wendy’s favorite bit?

Continuum cover

WENDY NIKEL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LINKS:

THE CONTINUUM Universal Book Link

Website

Facebook

Twitter

BIO:

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

Where to Find Mary at Boskone

Mary is the Guest of Honor at Boskone!

Boskone logo

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

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

Friday, February 16

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Saturday, February 17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sunday, February 18

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

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

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

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

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

 

Writing Excuses Retreat 2018

2018 will be our sixth Writing Excuses Retreat:

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

Liberty of the Seas ship

Registration is now open!

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

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

Frequently Asked Questions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Come join us!

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

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

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

What’s KJ’s favorite bit?

The Ramshead Algorithm cover image

KJ KABZA

Wonder.

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

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

Lake picture

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

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

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

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

Blade of grass made a circle in the sand

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

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

Welcome to Chupacabra country

See what you find, when you trespass?

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

This is the true meaning of a wilderness.

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

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

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

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

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

It’s all already out there.

LINKS:

THE RAMSHEAD ALGORITHM AND OTHER STORIES Universal Book Link

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

Website

Twitter

BIO:

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

My 2017 year-end wrap up

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

Publications!

Short Story
Best Related Work

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gift my books – personalization deadline is 12/16!

Image from Volumes

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

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

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

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

The Calculating Stars

The Fated Sky

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

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

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

The Calculating Stars – July 3, 2018

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

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

The Fated Sky – August 21, 2018

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s Carrie’s favorite bit?

Brooding YA Hero Cover Image

CARRIE ANN DiRISIO

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

Which means… PICTURES!

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

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

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

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

Broody's Family tree

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

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

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

LINKS:

Brooding YA Hero Universal Book Link

Goodreads

Broody’s Twitter

Carrie’s Twitter

Carrie’s Website

BIO:

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

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