Journal

My Favorite Bit: Jaine Fenn talks about BROKEN SHADOW

My Favorite BitJaine Fenn is joining us today with her conclusion to the Shadowlands duology, Broken Shadow. Here’s the publisher’s description:

The sky is falling, and only one dilettante scientist can save the world, in the startling finale of the Shadowlands duology

Rhia Harlyn risks death for science. Accused of heresy for promoting an unorthodox cosmology, she must defend herself, her work and her House alone. If only she could rely on her feckless brother Etyan, transformed through the combination of an occult scientist’s experiments and the harsh rays of the skyland sun. But she knows she cannot.

When Dej, Etyan’s half-alien lover, finally uncovers Etyan’s dark secret she runs off into the perilous skyland. She is looking for peace in a world that has rejected her; what she discovers instead will change everyone’s lives.

Meanwhile, overhead, the very stars themselves are shifting. Rhia is about to find herself proved disastrously right…

What’s Jaine’s favorite bit?

Broken Shadow cover image

JAINE FENN

It probably comes as no surprise that I found it hard to pick a favourite bit from my latest book. Most authors have several – ideally many – moments they love in their novels; we spend a lot of time shaping these stories, so if we aren’t loving what we do – at least some of the time – then that’s a sad state of affairs.

In this case, there is also a higher-than-average risk of spoilers. Broken Shadow is the second of two books in a science fantasy duology and although I’ve done my best to make it stand alone, there are certain plot-threads set up in the first Shadowlands book, Hidden Sun, which pay off here.

My first choice favourite bit would probably be when Rhia, my enquiring and unorthodox  protagonist, wakes up about two thirds of the way through the book to find that overnight the world has… yeah, that’s a massive spoiler, so whilst I loved writing that scene of realisation and reaction feeding into action only she would take, I can’t really share it here.

The bits I love most in Broken Shadow most are character moments – again, probably true for most authors – when these people we’ve spent so much time with implement their cunning plan or find out what’s really go on or pull off the seemingly impossible. And if I have to pick a non-spoilery favourite bit for Rhia it would be her heresy trial.

In Hidden Sun, Rhia discovered something about the universe that the reader already knows to be true but which no one else in her world believes. Now, the Church is challenging her over it.

In writing Rhia’s trial I took a lot from the real world. Firstly, as straight plunder: I shamelessly copied details from the real-life trial of Galileo, though I upped the stakes for Rhia. Rather than house arrest and having her book banned, she faces a brutal execution and the suppression of her ideas before they’ve even been made public. Secondly, explorations of what truth is versus what people choose to believe have been at the forefront of my mind for a while. They say you can date any SFF book to within a decade regardless of when and where it is set and this book is definitely a product of a ‘post-truth’ world.

Rhia values knowledge above else, and wants to believe that if you can prove a truth, it will be accepted. This refreshing if somewhat naïve view already puts her in a minority, as this exchange early on shows:

“Calculations produce proofs that cannot be argued with!”

Francin’s response was gentle, “Or, sadly, understood. Not by most people anyway.”

At her trial she rests her defense on trying to prove her theory, whilst also demonstrating that it doesn’t challenge the extant religious teachings. And she’s right of course. However, I took a perverse pleasure in sharing her slowly dawning realisation that too many people see ‘truth’ not as a provable concept with objective reality but merely as a tool to further their own ends. The irony for Rhia is that if her theory is ruled not to be ‘true’ then it can hardly be considered heretical, an argument which unfortunately only works when dealing with rational people.

Having finally been forced to acknowledge the truth about ‘the truth’, and to face the consequences of daring to challenge it, for Rhia to then wake up and find that the world has…done what it has done…well, that goes beyond irony.

LINKS:

Broken Shadow Universal Book Link

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BIO:

Jaine Fenn studied linguistics and astronomy before becoming a full time writer. Her first book, Principles of Angels, started the Hidden Empire series of character-driven space opera novels. She won the British Science Fiction Association’s Shorter Fiction Award in 2016 for Hidden Empire, and now divides her time between original fiction, teaching creative writing, and writing for tabletop and video games. She lives in Devon.

My Favorite Bit: Caitlin Starling talks about THE LUMINOUS DEAD

Favorite Bit iconCaitlin Starling is joining us today with her debut novel The Luminous Dead. Here’s the publisher’s description:

A thrilling, atmospheric debut with the intensive drive of The Martian and Gravity and the creeping dread of Annihilation, in which a caver on a foreign planet finds herself on a terrifying psychological and emotional journey for survival.

When Gyre Price lied her way into this expedition, she thought she’d be mapping mineral deposits, and that her biggest problems would be cave collapses and gear malfunctions. She also thought that the fat paycheck—enough to get her off-planet and on the trail of her mother—meant she’d get a skilled surface team, monitoring her suit and environment, keeping her safe. Keeping her sane.

Instead, she got Em.

Em sees nothing wrong with controlling Gyre’s body with drugs or withholding critical information to “ensure the smooth operation” of her expedition. Em knows all about Gyre’s falsified credentials, and has no qualms using them as a leash—and a lash. And Em has secrets, too . . .

As Gyre descends, little inconsistencies—missing supplies, unexpected changes in the route, and, worst of all, shifts in Em’s motivations—drive her out of her depths. Lost and disoriented, Gyre finds her sense of control giving way to paranoia and anger. On her own in this mysterious, deadly place, surrounded by darkness and the unknown, Gyre must overcome more than just the dangerous terrain and the Tunneler which calls underground its home if she wants to make it out alive—she must confront the ghosts in her own head.

But how come she can’t shake the feeling she’s being followed?

What’s Caitlin’s favorite bit?

The Luminous Dead cover image

CAITLIN STARLING

I grew up (as I suspect many of us born in the late 80s and onwards) on my computer. AIM, MSN, Skype, MMOs, BBSes– I grew up forming relationships with people I’d never seen, many of whom I only knew through text. I told stories with them, honing my writing skills without consciously noticing it, until I was co-writing epics hundreds of thousands of words long. I was also falling in love, having my heart broken, learning that not everybody was kind or trustworthy, and practicing how to read between the lines of what was written to suss out somebody else’s heart.

So of course my first book is that, writ large.

The two characters in The Luminous Dead are strongly opinionated, twisty, aggressive women with very different approaches to getting things done. They don’t trust each other. They don’t like each other. But these two women, diametrically opposed, are dependent on one another and, most importantly, they aren’t even in the same physical location. Gyre is alone in a massive cave system, and Em is only a voice on her radio.

My favorite bit is how I got to take that complication – that cornerstone plot piece – and play with exactly how they communicate.

Gyre and Em’s relationship begins with a contract, negotiated through an intermediary. It grudgingly moves on to verbal communication, stop and go conversations as they begin to feel each other out. When Em is willing to talk to Gyre becomes almost as important as what she says—  and when she’s able to talk to Gyre becomes terrifyingly relevant as Gyre descends farther and farther away from the surface and any other chance of human contact.

Keeping dialogue fresh when there aren’t any physical cues for one of the participants was a definite challenge, as was keeping the content from feeling repetitive as they go back and forth over many of the same disagreements from different angles. I had to create a distinct voice for Em, as well as find ways to drop subtle cues as to what she might be doing while speaking. Pauses, dead air, are as important as the words spoken. So many of us have had the experience of waiting, anxiously, desperately, for the next text, email, DM. Not knowing when our companion will respond, or if they ever will. Watching the “…” blink for minutes, hours, days as we wonder what their response will be. Where does Em trail off? Where does she keep talking, when somebody else might have let Gyre get a word in edge wise?

Em also has more at her disposal than just her voice. The contract gives her control over the suit that keeps Gyre alive, and granted me another suite of tools— tools that are powerful, but also risky. Em can move Gyre’s body without asking permission, freeze her in place, or even end a conversation with a well-timed dose of narcotics. I couldn’t use those actions often, or they’d lose their efficacy, but I had to balance that against ensuring that when I did use them that their meaning was clear and concise. I couldn’t afford a break in rhythm to explain how an interaction physically functions; it had to feel as natural as breathing, as indisputable as a punch. It had to feel as instantly, naturally devastating as your brand new ex-girlfriend blocking you before you can respond to her break-up message.

All this carefully balanced back and forth, the constant shifts of power and understanding and vulnerability leaves Gyre and Em in very different situations than they began. But to see just where the obsession their limited communication produces takes them, you’ll have to climb down into the cave yourself.

LINKS:

The Luminous Dead Universal Book Link

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BIO:

Caitlin Starling is a writer of horror-tinged speculative fiction of all flavors. Her first novel, The Luminous Dead, comes out from HarperVoyager on April 2, 2019. It tells the story of a caver on a foreign planet who finds herself trapped, with only her wits and the unreliable voice on her radio to help her back to the surface. Caitlin also works in narrative design for interactive theater and games, and is always on the lookout for new ways to inflict insomnia. Find more of her work at www.caitlinstarling.com and follow her at @see_starling on Twitter.

The Calculating Stars has been nominated for a Hugo!

As I write this, I know that I’m going to have to sit on this news for two weeks.

TWO WEEKS. Don’t get me wrong, I deeply appreciate having time to prepare and to be ready for the formal announcement.  I wrote a blog post about how to handle having secret good news, which I’m pretty sure fooled no one. My problem is that before I was a writer, I was a fan. Heck. I’m still a fan, it’s just that I also do this writing thing. So being nominated for a Hugo is like seeing my book on a library shelf. It feels… magic.

This particular Hugo nomination is especially delightful, because it is for Calculating Stars, which began life as The Lady Astronaut of Mars. To have created a character who has made it to the ballot twice? Y’all… I’m a writer and I’ve got no words.

It’s killing me that, I don’t know who the other nominees are yet. Every year, I get excited to read new work and since I was a teen I would pick up books that were on the Hugo finalists list. I can’t wait to read this year’s selection.

And all the other categories, too!

Meanwhile, I have to sit on the news. I’ll shop for an evening gown. I’ll keep working on book three. I’ll try to ignore the fact that you have honored my novel with this nomination.  Thank you.

My Favorite Bit: Timothy Jay Smith talks about THE FOURTH COURIER

Favorite Bit iconTimothy Jay Smith is joining us today to talk about his novel The Fourth Courier. Here’s the publisher’s description:

It is 1992 in Warsaw, Poland, and the communist era has just ended. A series of grisly murders suddenly becomes an international case when it’s feared that the victims may have been couriers smuggling nuclear material out of the defunct Soviet Union. The FBI sends an agent to help with the investigation. When he learns that a Russian physicist who designed a portable atomic bomb has disappeared, the race is on to find him—and the bomb—before it ends up in the wrong hands.

Smith’s depiction of post-cold war Poland is gloomily atmospheric and murky in a world where nothing is quite as it seems. Suspenseful, thrilling, and smart, The Fourth Courier brings together a straight white FBI agent and gay black CIA officer as they team up to uncover a gruesome plot involving murder, radioactive contraband, narcissistic government leaders, and unconscionable greed.

What’s Tim’s favorite bit?

The Fourth Courier cover image

TIMOTHY JAY SMITH

The minute I learned that my challenge for this blog was to select my favorite bit in my new novel, I knew what it would be. The Emma scene. Chapter Six. Rarely has a scene been so much fun to write—and relive, because it’s based on a journey I took some forty years ago.

Two strangers—Dr. Sergej Ustinov, a genius Russian physicist, and Emma, a plump and lustful Russian-American on her way to visit relatives—by lucky chance have a first-class compartment to themselves in a train crossing Russia. While my real-life journey and scene in the book end differently, most elements are exactly the same: the cans of soup falling out of Emma’s duffel; a greasy bag of dried fish that they share; and finally, complaining about her feet hurting, she drops a foot over Sergej’s thigh urging him to massage it. There’s a lot of humor in the whole scene, and pathos, too. (Lina Wertmuller-ish for those who know her movies.) Here’s a taste of it:

Of course he couldn’t exactly ignore her foot resting on his leg, nor entirely block her squirming toes from view. Her nails were painted cherry red, which he realized did make her feet attractive, certainly more attractive than the coarse yellow nails his wife hadn’t painted since their first anniversary. Oh, why not massage her foot? he decided. It might be fun, and he couldn’t remember the last time he’d touched someone’s foot other than his own. Tentatively he wrapped his fingers around her arch and squeezed. “Is that where it hurts?” he asked.

“Oh yes . . . but harder . . .”

He gripped her foot tighter and massaged it with his thumbs. He found he rather enjoyed it; there was an unfamiliar sensuality to it, and as a bonus, from this angle he could peek up her skirt to where her heavy legs disappeared in a dark shadow. Gradually his fingers migrated to her toes, which they worked vigorously, rooting down between them, and bending them to crack them. For the first time he understood why some people sucked toes for sexual pleasure, and if his back had been more limber, he might have dared to bite hers.

Emma sighed. “I can tell you are professional. Yes . . . oh yes . . .”

Suddenly the situation, and certainly his fantasies, seemed ludicrous to Sergej. He released her foot and said rather coldly, “I hope it feels better.”

The sense of scene is crucial to my writing. It’s how I think about a story. Before I start new work, I always have the opening and closing scenes in my head, and then I fill in everything else. I think it comes from growing up in a house where the television was never turned off. We kids were even allowed to watch TV while doing homework if our grades were good. Later in life I’d joke that canned laughter was the soundtrack of my childhood.

I haven’t owned a television for many years, but growing up with it exposed me to scene-driven notions of how to tell a story and be efficient with dialogue. When I completed my first novel, by chance I took a workshop with Sebastian Junger who had just sold the film rights to The Perfect Storm. When he said he would have nothing to do with writing its adaptation, I immediately decided to study screenwriting. I wanted to be knowledgeable enough to have some artistic input into that process, should I ever be fortunate enough to have the chance. That training reinforced my natural inclination to visualize my stories in scenes, which is also why my readers say they can see my stories as they read them.

I worried about selecting Emma’s scene as my favorite bit because of “Chekhov’s Gun”— the notion that every element in a story should contribute to the whole. I knew Emma would only be in one scene. Was that sufficient? Did she deserve so much space on those few pages? Could I make her appear again? Ultimately I decided she didn’t need to. It’s Emma’s scene only because it’s her only scene. It’s even more Sergej’s scene, especially because it’s the first time readers have the chance to begin to understand his psychology.

LINKS:

The Fourth Courier Universal Book Link

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BIO:

Raised crisscrossing America pulling a small green trailer behind the family car, Timothy Jay Smith developed a ceaseless wanderlust that has taken him around the world many times. Polish cops and Greek fishermen, mercenaries and arms dealers, child prostitutes and wannabe terrorists, Indian Chiefs and Indian tailors: he hung with them all in an unparalleled international career that saw him smuggle banned plays from behind the Iron Curtain, maneuver through Occupied Territories, represent the U.S. at the highest levels of foreign governments, and stowaway aboard a ‘devil’s barge’ for a three-days crossing from Cape Verde that landed him in an African jail.

These experiences explain the unique breadth and sensibility of Tim’s work, for which he’s won top honors. Fire on the Island won the Gold Medal in the 2017 Faulkner-Wisdom Competition for the Novel. He won the Paris Prize for Fiction (now the Paris Literary Prize) for his novel, A Vision of Angels. Kirkus Reviews called Cooper’s Promise “literary dynamite” and selected it as one of the Best Books of 2012. Tim was nominated for the 2018 Pushcart Prize. His screenplays have won numerous competitions. His first stage play, How High the Moon, won the prestigious Stanley Drama Award. He is the founder of the Smith Prize for Political Theater.

My Favorite Bit: Arkady Martine talks about A MEMORY CALLED EMPIRE

Favorite Bit iconArkady Martine is joining us today to talk about her novel A Memory Called Empire. Here is the publisher’s description:

Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn’t an accident—or that Mahit might be next to die, during a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court.

Now, Mahit must discover who is behind the murder, rescue herself, and save her Station from Teixcalaan’s unceasing expansion—all while navigating an alien culture that is all too seductive, engaging in intrigues of her own, and hiding a deadly technological secret—one that might spell the end of her Station and her way of life—or rescue it from annihilation.

A fascinating space opera debut novel, Arkady Martine’s A Memory Called Empireis an interstellar mystery adventure.

What’s Arkady’s favorite bit?

A Memory Called Empire cover image

ARKADY MARTINE

Building a world large enough to be the host for a space opera universe, a world full of multiple interplanetary systems, an empire, several religions, a couple of sorts of aliens, and a few radically different cultural choices – and then conveying that enormity, that lushness and detail, to the reader in a way that neither bores nor confuses them – well, that was the hardest part of doing revisions on A Memory Called Empire. But, when I finally came up with a way to do it, it also ended up being my favorite bit of the finished book.

Here’s the amusing and/or horrifying secret about my writing process that I genuinely didn’t know about until I wrote a novel: I underwrite by about 30%. The book my agent and I sold to Devi Pillai at Tor was maybe 95,000 words long, if you squinted and gave it the benefit of the doubt. My edit letter – the first one – consisted of around five bullet points and the instruction go write the other 40k of the book, Arkady. This was both exactly the edit letter I needed, and utterly terrifying. Because, well – how do you put in all the worldbuilding and richness and complexity of a giant space opera universe, while still keeping the pacing and tension of your political thriller spy novel?

What I came up with, eventually, was epigrams. Chapter epigrams, which were quotes from in-universe texts I’d created for just this purpose. A customs form, a tourist guide, a pilot’s manual, portions of contradictory histories written about the same event from different cultures’ points of view, a transcript of a news program, a propaganda poster (and what it was defaced with), a request for supply requisition, a bunch of different poems, an instruction sheet on how to apply for a particular job training scheme, a flyer for an intramural handball game … anything and everything, the ephemera of a real world that produces real texts. And half of the texts were from Teixcalaan – my space empire – and half of them were from Lsel Station, my protagonist’s home, which is in constant danger of being absorbed into said space empire.

I’m pretty sure I stole this trick from Dune. Thanks, Princess Irulan. You fixed my worldbuilding, and made my editor like me.

But my favorite bit – my favorite set of epigrams to write – was the set which ended up being a pair of contrasting scripts. The Teixcalaanli one is basically a shooting script for a soap opera; the Lsel one is a script for a graphic novel. I loved these specifically because popular culture tells you so much about what a society values, and I got to write some really popular popular-culture bits … and because it was an opportunity to briefly write in formats I don’t usually write in. Here they  – they open Chapter 14, which is a chapter about loyalty and making dangerous choices, like whether you’re going to risk back-alley neurosurgery.

28. EXT. DAY: chaos and smoke of the BATTLEFIELD of GIENAH-9. Track in past TANGLED BODIES marked with carbon scoring, churned mud, to find THIRTEEN QUARTZ lying half-conscious in the shelter of an overturned groundcar. HOLD on THIRTEEN QUARTZ before cutting to

29. EXT. DAY: same as before only POV of NINETY ALLOY. Pull back past NINETY ALLOY’s shoulder to watch as they FALL TO THEIR KNEES beside THIRTEEN QUARTZ — who OPENS THEIR EYES and SMILES FAINTLY.

THIRTEEN QUARTZ (weak)

You came back for me. I always…knew you would. Even now.

(Track around to see NINETY ALLOY’s face.)

NINETY ALLOY

Of course I came back. I need you. Where else am I going to find a second-in-command who can win half a war on their own before breakfast? (sobers) And I need you. You’ve always been my luck. Stand down, now. I’ve got you. We’re going home.

— shooting script for Ninety Alloy season 15 finale

 

Panel Three: long shot of Captain Cameron on the bridge of his shuttle. All eyes are on him; the rest of the crew look terrified, eager, impatient. Cameron’s consulting his imago, so have the colorist emphasize the white glow around his hands and his head. He is looking at the enemy ship, floating in black space, super ominous and spiky – the ship’s the focus of the panel.

CAMERON: I learned to talk to Ebrekti, back when I was Chadra Mav. This isn’t even going to be hard.

— graphic-story script for THE PERILOUS FRONTIER! vol. 3, distributed from local small printer ADVENTURE/BLEAK on Tier Nine, Lsel Station

… there’s also a small easter egg in the latter one of these, which is one of my favorite tiny things I put in just for me: Captain Cameron, the hero of the Lsel Station graphic novel series The Perilous Frontier!, shares a name with CJ Cherryh’s protagonist of the Foreigner series, Bren Cameron, for extremely deliberate reasons.

Those reasons being that a lot of A Memory Called Empire is a love-letter to Foreigner and that whole universe, anyway. So getting to put in a tiny tribute was definitely one of the reasons this epigram-set is one of my favorite bits.

LINKS:

A Memory Called Empire Universal Book Link

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BIO:

Arkady Martine is a speculative fiction writer and, as Dr. AnnaLinden Weller, a historian of the Byzantine Empire and a city planner. Under both names she writes about border politics, rhetoric, propaganda, and the edges of the world. Arkady grew up in New York City and, after some time in Turkey, Canada, and Sweden, lives in Baltimore with her wife, the author Vivian Shaw. Her debut novel, A Memory Called Empire, comes out in March 2019 from Tor Books, and is available here. Find Arkady online at arkadymartine.net or on Twitter as @ArkadyMartine.

 

My Favorite Bit: Marshall Ryan Maresca talks about A PARLIAMENT OF BODIES

Favorite Bit iconMarshall Ryan Maresca is joining us today to talk about his novel A Parliament of Bodies. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Mixing high fantasy and mystery, the third book in the Maradaine Constabulary series follows Inspectors Satrine Rainey and Minox Welling as they track down a dangerous murderer.

The city of Maradaine is vexed by the Gearbox Murders: a series of gruesome deaths orchestrated by a twisted mechanical genius. With no motive and no pattern, Inspectors Satrine Rainey and Minox Welling–the retired spy and untrained mage–are at a loss to find a meaningful lead in the case. At least, until the killer makes his most audacious exhibit yet: over a dozen victims in a clockwork deathtrap on the floor of the Druth Parliament.

The crime scene is a madhouse, and political forces conspire to grind their investigation to a halt. The King’s Marshals claim jurisdiction of the case, corruption in the Constabulary thwarts their efforts, and a special Inquest threatens to end Minox’s career completely. Their only ally is Dayne Heldrin, a provisional member of the Tarian Order, elite warriors trained in the art of protection. But Dayne’s connection to the Gearbox Murders casts suspicion on his motives, as he might be obsessed with a phantom figure he believes is responsible.

While Satrine and Minox struggle to stop the Gearbox from claiming even more victims, the grinding gears of injustice might keep them from ever solving these murders, and threaten to dismantle their partnership forever.

What’s Marshall’s favorite bit?

Parliament of Bodies cover image

MARSHALL RYAN MARESCA

Let’s not mince words: The Maradaine Saga is epic. The latest book, A Parliament of Bodies, is the third book of the Maradaine Constabulary series, but it’s also the ninth book set in the city of Maradaine, and the Maradaine Constabulary is one of four series telling the wider, grander story of that fantastical city. This means I have four sets of protagonists and the secondary characters in their respective orbits, which translates to hundreds of characters that populate the city.

You can’t do that without some favorites emerging.

It’s funny, because two of my favorites were not originally part of my plan, when I wrote the outlines and rough drafts of the first books of their respective series. For example, in the rough draft of A Murder of Mages, Inspector Minox Welling was a loner in all regards, living in a boarding house and largely keeping to himself in all matters outside of his vocation. But I had also implied that he had come from a family with long, deep roots in the Constabulary. In my editing process, I asked myself, “Where is that family?”, and made Minox’s home life radically different, where he now lived in a large house with three generations of extended family.

From that came Corrie Welling, Minox’s devoted, salty-mouthed sister, who served in the constabulary horsepatrol on the night shift. She would be there to ground him when he was pushing too hard, and give him perspective of how he’s seen by the rest of the constabulary, all while still loving him as only a sister can.

Writing her was so much fun that she became an integral part of the cast, and her role expanded in An Import of Intrigue and A Parliament of Bodies.

Similarly, in the first draft of The Way of the Shield, the first book in the Maradaine Elite series, the focus was almost entirely on Dayne, and it wasn’t working. I knew I needed another voice, one with less experience than Dayne who could also serve as a foil, and that’s where Jerinne Fendall, Initiate in the Tarian Order came from. She brought a new energy to that story, and she quickly became another favorite for me to write.

And since A Parliament of Bodies is not only a Maradaine Constabulary novel, but also crosses over with the Maradaine Elite, that meant I got to write scenes where Jerinne and Corrie are working together.

Corrie drew out her crossbow, looking up to those top floor windows. Arrows were raining down on her, but she might still get one shot off before they took her down.

Sorry, Mama.

Then a shadow passed over her, and those arrows became a series of metallic drumbeats.

Nothing had hit her.

Instead she was pulled to her feet. That Tarian girl was in front her, shield high. “Can you run?”

Corrie didn’t even realize what had happened. “Blazes, yes,” she said.

“Then stay with me.” Jerinne drew out her sword and tore forward to the tenement, keeping her shield overhead. The storm of arrows didn’t touch her, didn’t slow her down as they pummeled her shield. Corrie stayed right with her—under that shield was the only safe spot on the street. They got to the front of the tenement, and Corrie and Jerinne pressed flat against the brick wall.

“At least nine shooters, third and fourth floors,” Jerinne said.

“And Tricky’s on her own in there.”

“Probably on the fourth floor. The lieutenant and his folks aren’t going to make it in until we stop that barrage of arrows,” Jerinne said. She noted Jace and Saitle, behind their cart fifty feet away. “They might make a dash if I cover them.”

“That’s still only four of us,” Corrie said.

“They won’t stand a chance,” Jerinne sent back with a wink.

That, dear reader, was an absolute delight to write.

Of course, I have so many other characters who are also “my favorite”—each in their own unique way. Part of the fun of this epic story, deconstructed into easily consumable pieces, is how I can combine discrete elements of the different series into new permutations. The Corrie/Jerinne team up is just one of them, and each new one I get to do as the saga progresses is another expression of joy.

LINKS:

A Parliament of Bodies Universal Book Link

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BIO:

Marshall Ryan Maresca’s work has appeared in Norton Anthology of Hint Fiction and Rick Klaw’s anthology Rayguns Over Texas. His novels The Thorn of DentonhillA Murder of MagesThe Holver Alley Crew, and The Way of the Shield each begin their own fantasy series, all set in the port city of Maradaine.

My Favorite Bit: K. A. Doore talks about THE PERFECT ASSASSIN

Favorite Bit iconK. A. Doore is joining us today to talk about her novel The Perfect Assassin. Here’s the publisher’s description:

A novice assassin is on the hunt for someone killing their own in K. A. Doore’s The Perfect Assassin, a breakout high fantasy beginning the Chronicles of Ghadid series.

Divine justice is written in blood.

Or so Amastan has been taught. As a new assassin in the Basbowen family, he’s already having second thoughts about taking a life. A scarcity of contracts ends up being just what he needs.

Until, unexpectedly, Amastan finds the body of a very important drum chief. Until, impossibly, Basbowen’s finest start showing up dead, with their murderous jaan running wild in the dusty streets of Ghadid. Until, inevitably, Amastan is ordered to solve these murders, before the family gets blamed.

Every life has its price, but when the tables are turned, Amastan must find this perfect assassin or be their next target.

What’s K. A. Doore’s favorite bit?

The Perfect Assassin cover image

K. A. DOORE

Between all the intrigue, mystery, rooftop fights, quiet contemplation among stacks of scrolls, my favorite bit in writing the Perfect Assassin is:

The weather.

Okay before you run for the doors, please at least take a sip of water and hear me out. I lived in Tucson, Arizona for six years and it was the quintessential enemies to lovers relationship. We arrived in August, at the height of monsoon season, and it was muggy and awful and hot. August in Tucson is all the sticky, exhausting heat of Florida without a single spot of shade.

Needless to say, I was not impressed.

My second August in Tucson, however, was much improved. And by the August we moved again, I had a newfound appreciation for the dreariest of summer months that I’d never had in all my growing-up years in Florida.

You see, in Arizona there’s this saying: it’s a dry heat. The saying’s been ridiculed and parodied to all out because anything above 90 without a/c is gonna suck, that’s just the truth of it, but there’s a warning embedded in the saying. As if the heat being dry is supposed to make it any easier to bear. As if you should be thankful for that heat. As if it could, in fact, be worse.

Yeah I don’t think anything can really make 120 degrees bearable.

Anything… except knowing it’s gonna break. Anything, except seeing those storm clouds building on the horizon. Anything, except those gorgeous clear and wide skies, stars shimmering like mirages. Anything, except the smell of rain-touched dust on the wind.

May and June are a long, indrawn breath before the exhalation that is July and monsoon season. But you can’t have one without the other. So I learned to appreciate June’s impressive heat – and I also learned not to go outside after 6am. But that didn’t mean June was dead; far from it. You just had to look for life at night. Then you’d see the bats bursting from beneath the bridges, the coyotes stalking the wash, the javelina nosing their territories, the tarantulas claiming their rocks.

I knew from the very beginning that The Perfect Assassin would be set in a place just as hot and just as dry and just as full of life. I knew I wanted to explore the implications of that heat, the way it’d shift daily life indoors and at night. The way a whole year might be structured around those few weeks when it finally – finally ­– rained. The way a people might distrust, even fear, the water that came from the sky and rely instead on their wells.

I wanted to wrap up everything I’d learned to love about those endlessly dry and hopelessly hot months before monsoon and shove it into a story. And when you’ve got a murderer to apprehend, what better deadline than the very physical and incontrovertible arrival of the storms?

After all, the storms always come.

Throughout the story, the heat has been building along with the tension until finally, both break, leading to one of my favorite bits – both in the story, and in the desert:

The downpour had thinned to a drizzle. Amastan walked slick streets, his wrap growing sodden and heavy once more. Torches glowed like lonely outposts in the gloom, their light dimmed by haze, their glass smeared with condensation. The streets were empty, save for bits of roof and broken glass, but he could hear laughter and loud conversations bursting from homes as he walked by. Occasionally, a child darted out from a door, screaming in delight at the illicit sensation of wet skin, hair, clothes.

But it wasn’t safe to be out in a storm, even its tail end, and so inevitably an adult would run after the child and drag them back inside. Lightning could still strike. A gust of wind could finish the job of tearing a roof apart that the storm had started.

So Amastan walked alone.

The rain stopped all at once, there one moment, gone the next. The stars blinked through a gap in the thick blanket of clouds. A gentle breeze cooled his skin and closed the opening. For the first time in months, the city didn’t smell like dust. Instead, it smelled alive.

LINKS:

The Perfect Assassin Universal Book Link

The Perfect Assassin Excerpt

Website

Twitter

BIO:

K.A. Doore grew up in Florida, but has since lived in lush Washington, arid Arizona, and cherry-infused Michigan. While recovering from climate whiplash, she’s raised chickens, learned entirely too much about property assessment, photographed cacti, and now develops online trainings. The Perfect Assassin is her debut novel.

Where to find Mary Robinette at C2E2

c2e2 logo

Mary Robinette will be at C2E2 in Chicago on Saturday, March 23rd. You can get tickets here.

Here’s where to find Mary Robinette at the con:

Saturday, March 23

The Future is Now
12:30pm-1:30pm
S405A

Top science fiction and fantasy authors discuss the predictions of near-future SF– what has come true, and what might be coming to pass?  They’ll also share their predictions for what Chicago will look like 50 years (or more!) from now.  Featuring: Sue Burke (Semiosis), Cory Doctorow (Radicalized), Mary Robinette Kowal (The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky), and Alison Wilgus (Chronin) This panel will be followed by an author signing in the C2E2 Autographing Area.

Signing
1:45pm-2:45pm
Tables 41 and 42

This is a free autographing session to meet Sue Burke, Cory Doctorow, Mary Robinette Kowal, Alison Wilgus and Mirah Boelender. Books will be available at the signing for purchase.

Magic and Mayhem in Science Fiction and Fantasy 
3:00pm-4:00pm
S405A

Join some of your favorite Tor authors as they discuss how fantasy and science fiction overlap and inform one another and what constitutes magic and mayhem in both genres. How are authors breaking traditional rules of the genres and finding new ways to explore other worlds– or putting some extra magic in our own world?  Featuring: Sue Burke (Semiosis), Cory Doctorow (Radicalized), Mary Robinette Kowal (The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky), and Alison Wilgus (Chronin) This panel will be followed by an author signing in the C2E2 Autographing Area.

Signing
4:15pm-5:15pm
Tables 41 and 42

This is a free autographing session to meet S.A Chakraborty, Sue Burke, Cory Doctorow, Mary Robinette Kowal, Alison Wilgus and Mirah Boelender. Books will be available at the signing for purchase.

My Favorite Bit: Kameron Hurley talks about THE LIGHT BRIGADE

Favorite Bit iconKameron Hurley is joining us today to talk about her novel The Light Brigade. Here’s the publisher’s description:

They said the war would turn us into light… 

The Light Brigade: it’s what soldiers fighting the war against Mars call the ones who come back…different. Grunts in the corporate corps get busted down into light to travel to and from interplanetary battlefronts. Everyone is changed by what the corps must do in order to break them down into light. Those who survive learn to stick to the mission brief–no matter what actually happens during combat.

Dietz, a fresh recruit in the infantry, begins to experience combat drops that don’t sync up with the platoon’s. And Dietz’s bad drops tell a story of the war that’s not at all what the corporate brass want the soldiers to think it is.

Is Dietz really experiencing the war differently, or is it combat madness? Trying to untangle memory from mission brief and survive with sanity intact, Dietz is ready to become a hero–or maybe a villain; in war it’s hard to tell the difference.

A worthy successor to classic stories like Downbelow StationStarship Troopers, and The Forever War, The Light Brigade is award-winning author Kameron Hurley’s gritty time-bending take on the future of war.

What’s Kameron’s favorite bit?

The Light Brigade cover image

KAMERON HURLEY

When I was very young, my grandmother admonished me for complaining about how long it was taking to make lunch. “You’re very lucky, you know,” she said. “Your grandfather grew up during the Depression. And me, I was in France during the war! There was never enough to eat. When your grandfather found an injured seagull at the beach, they took it home and ate it for dinner.”

I would remember this story again when I rescued a bird from my grandmother’s cat not long after. Were we going to eat it? What would happen to it? I hid it in a shoebox for a while, until my cousin discovered it, and then we showed it to my grandmother. She made us keep it outside. It didn’t recover. But at least we didn’t eat it.

It’s interesting to me what types of stories stick with us from our childhood, which impressions. My novel The Light Brigade has a lot of big ideas: time travel, interplanetary war, dangerous tech, propaganda and psychological manipulation and a lot more. But while those big ideas may draw one to dive into a story, the beating heart of many books isn’t the big idea, but the smaller, emotional ones. The ordinary people caught up in something extraordinary.

My memory, and the emotions attached to it, became my protagonist Dietz’s memory. It’s the memory that haunts Dietz all through military training, hungry, exhausted, and missing a family taken too soon by war. It became this:

I remember scavenging on the beach of a sludgy river called the Tajo Luz, me and my cousins. My brother was too young, still slung across my mother’s back. She walked ahead of us, scraping at the beach with a homemade rake, uncovering bits of discarded junk.

Farther up the beach, where the sand turned to scrub, a flash of movement caught my eye. I climbed the shallow dunes. Nestled at the top was a twisted mat of plastic ties, broken twigs, aluminum shavings, and synthetic fibers. A baby pigeon rested there, half in and half out of the nest. One wing lay outstretched, flapping uselessly. I took the poor little creature into my hands.

“It’s all right,” I murmured. I ran my finger over its quivering head. Its heart fluttered against my palm.

I slid down the dune and ran to catch up with my mother. I was barefoot, but the rough ruins of the beach hardly bothered me anymore. My feet were dirty, calloused things, hunks of sturdy meat.

“Mama!” I called. She turned, her dark hair blowing back over her shoulder. The sun rose behind her, thick and runny as fresh egg yolk.

“Mama,” I said, holding up the injured bird. “It’s hurt. Can we help it?”

“Let’s get that home,” she said, and she smoothed the hair from my face. It reminded me of how I had stroked the bird’s tiny head.

I beamed at her.

We took the baby bird home along with six mollusks, some copper wire, and a meter-long metal hunk that bore the faded gray circles of the NorRus logo.

I slept that night next to the baby bird. In the morning, my mother boiled off the bird’s feathers and cooked it whole. I’d like to tell you I had no stomach for it. But if you think for a minute I didn’t want to shove that weary bird down my gullet despite having sung it to sleep the night before, then you have never been hungry.

My mother ate the bird herself, to ensure she made enough milk for my brother. I sat across from her on the floor and watched her consume the entire fledgling in three crunchy bites.

I didn’t cry until she left to greet my father, just home from an expedition to the dumps of medical waste outside the nearby military training academy. Until Teni needed more pilots for the war with Mars, years later, we were nobodies. Ghouls. Just like everyone else there.

I clutched my knees to my chest and cried because I was so hungry. I cried because I wanted the pain to end.

I had a realization about my mom and how she relates events to us. She often tells exaggerated, inaccurate tales of encounters and experiences. I wouldn’t say she is intentionally lying. As my father put it: she is conveying the emotion of the experience as it feels to her, not the blow-by-blow of the events. The “logical” truth of a thing is not her emotional truth.

This is what many writers do. We take moments from our lives and the lives of others, and we ferret out the core emotion of those moments, those stories. Then we retell them, we fictionalize them, but because the emotion itself is true, the story feels real as well. It’s a bit of a magic trick.

The Light Brigade is the best book I’ve written to date, and I can’t wait for others to dive into this world: big ideas, small ideas, messy emotions, real truths, and all.

LINKS:

The Light Brigade Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

BIO:

Kameron Hurley is the author of The Light Brigade (March 2019), The Stars are Legion and the essay collection The Geek Feminist Revolution, as well as the award-winning God’s War Trilogy and The Worldbreaker Saga. Hurley has won the Hugo Award, Locus Award, Kitschy Award, and Sydney J. Bounds Award for Best Newcomer. She was also a finalist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, the Nebula Award, and the Gemmell Morningstar Award. Her short fiction has appeared in Popular Science MagazineLightspeed and numerous anthologies. Hurley has also written for The Atlantic, Writers Digest, Entertainment Weekly, The Village Voice, LA Weekly, Bitch Magazine,and Locus Magazine. She posts regularly at KameronHurley.com

 

We’re moving to Nashville! In April!

Oh, hey. Robert and I are relocating to Nashville.

In April.

It’s like this. I go to my parents’ home in Chattanooga about once a month, which combines with my other travel schedule to mean a lot of time away from Robert. We’ve been experimenting with having him travel with me a little, but it’s tricky because he’s got a day job. A day job which is very time-sensitive and not easy to delegate.

He’s been the winemaker of City Winery Chicago since it opened in 2012. These are not easy jobs to find and we figured that a move to Tennessee was out of the question. And then… the City Winery Nashville winemaker decided to move on. The company knows how much time I spend in Tennessee, so they asked Robert if he wanted to transfer.

Y’all. This is such a good thing.

It’ll put us closer to my parents, which will cut down on travel. Plus, it’ll make it easy for Robert to go with me, so we get to spend more time together.

But, to make this work the timing is such that we’re moving in April. Wish us luck!

PS Apologies to everyone at Futurescapes that I can’t make it this year. SO MUCH PACKING.

Debut Author Lessons: Status and Hierarchy shifts

This entry is part 22 of 22 in the series Debut Author Lessons

One of the unexpected side effects of publishing a book or a story is a shift in your status. Now, I know you’re thinking, “but I’ve only published one thing, I’m not a REAL author.”  I’ve talked elsewhere about imposter syndrome, so I want to talk about the unintentional side effects of ignoring the fact that you no longer occupy the same place in the hierarchy

You and Ursula K Le Guin are the same. Bear with me on this one… Occasionally, I talk to an SFF fan who has never read anything by Ursula K. Le Guin. Sometimes, they’ve never even heard of her.

We’ll pause for a moment to experience shock.

Also to sorrow for that reader’s upbringing.

Okay. So, here’s the thing. To that reader, picking up a book by this new author they’ve discovered named Ursula K. Le Guin carries with it exactly the same weight and expectation as picking up a book by you. Which means that to a new reader, you have the same social power as Ursula K. Le Guin.

In fact, if they’ve read and loved your book, and not read anything by her, you have more social power.

What is social power? Have you ever been talking to someone and then suddenly realized Who They Were. Then frantically reviewed everything you’d just said in case it was something was stupid?

Here’s me, experiencing that moment:

I’m standing in the cafeteria line at a puppetry festival. The older woman behind me points to one of the innumerable orange dishes behind the glass. “Do you have any idea what that is?”

“Macaroni and cheese?” I mean, it’s orange and lumpy in that sort of way. I point to a different vat of orange. “Do you have guesses about that one?”

“Scalloped potatoes, I think…” She points at another. “That?”

“Sweet potatoes, maybe. It has marshmallows.” I point to more orange. “Thoughts on that one?”

“Cauliflower with cheese.” She points to something virulently orange. “What about that?”

I’m stumped. I turn to face her more fully, enjoying this game and I see her name badge for the first time. Jane Henson.

JANE HENSON

JANE

HENSON

My brain is now filled with don’t lose your cool. don’t lose your cool don’t lose your cool. What comes out of my mouth is, “Um… orange?”

Up until the moment when I realized who she was, she was just a pleasant older woman and fellow puppeteer. After that moment, she was Jane F*cking Henson and I’d been talking to her about orange food. Strangely, she is exactly the same person before and after that moment. Her internal status doesn’t shift. Her external status does.

And that is what happens with you, when someone realizes that you wrote a book that they liked. Everything you say suddenly carries more weight to them.

This is a sudden hierarchy shift. When you publish a book, or heavens, win an award, you don’t just jump one level, you jump a couple in terms of people’s view of your external status. Inside, you’re still exactly the same person but people respond to you differently and it is weird. It is tricky to navigate the change, because it literally happens overnight.

Beware of accidental abuse. Let’s take it as given that you are a good person and would never knowingly hurt someone. When you’ve had a hierarchy shift, by publishing a book, or winning an award, you take up more space than you’re used to but you feel the same.

So imagine if your idol is coming into town and says, “Want to have lunch?”

You drop everything, try not to hyperventilate, and say, “Yes.”

A random stranger comes to town, you say, “No.”

So, when you publish a book, you feel like a random stranger, but you are someone’s idol. It’s very easy to do something that would be innocuous if you were talking to an old friend, but in this new context your words and actions carry more weight. It’s not fair, on multiple levels, but that’s the way it is.

It means that people will have a harder time telling you “no.” It means that your opinion will carry more weight. It is easy to take advantage of people without realizing it.

Treat people like third graders. Wait– let me explain. I used to tour to elementary schools with puppet theater. I met a ton of third graders. They are great. They are hyper-intelligent people and everything is still new. They are excited to meet you.

At the schools, they wanted my autograph because I was The Puppet Lady. Now the thing is, I cleaned out my childhood room with that collection of show posters from community theater. I know exactly how much those pieces of paper are worth. Monetarily, nothing.

What they represent is a day that was out of the ordinary. These kids are excited because they had a day that was out of the ordinary. To me, it was just another day. I did puppet shows every day, literally. It took conscious thought to remember that this was the first time that they had seen a show.

Now, it’s easy to confuse out-of-the-ordinary with extraordinary. I can’t live up to extraordinary — I’m just doing my job — but I can be out of the ordinary.

With third graders, it takes so little effort to tip an out of the ordinary day into a fantastic one or a terrible one. It’s the difference between saying, “Sure! I’ll sign your poster. Did you have a favorite part of the show?” and “Kid, I don’t have time for this.”

I’ve realized that it is the same thing with readers. Autographs are proof of an out-of-the ordinary day, a memory that you can show to people.

Have boundaries. Just because you’re trying to be a good person and remember the size of your new footprint doesn’t mean that you can’t also take care of yourself. Don’t want to hang out with someone? Don’t. Need down time? Take it. Someone makes you feel gross? They’re an asshole and it’s okay to treat them accordingly.

Act with intention. All of this can sound terrifying, which… okay, is a little bit my goal. But only in the same way that fire can be terrifying. It is beautiful and keeps us warm, but if we aren’t aware and use it without conscious intention, it can burn everything down.

So you’ve published a book. Maybe most people have no idea who you are, but to the person who read it and loved it?

You’re out-of-the-ordinary.

You are Jane Henson and Ursula K. Le Guin wrapped up in one.

You’re on fire.

Enjoy the warmth and try not to burn anything down.

My Favorite Bit: Jack Skillingstead talks about THE CHAOS FUNCTION

My Favorite BitJack Skillingstead is joining us today with his novel The Chaos Function. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Olivia Nikitas, a hardened journalist whose specialty is war zones, has been reporting from the front lines of the civil war in Aleppo, Syria. When Brian, an aid worker she reluctantly fell in love with, dies while following her into danger, she’ll do anything to bring him back. In a makeshift death chamber beneath an ancient, sacred site, a strange technology is revealed to Olivia: the power to remake the future by changing the past.

Following her heart and not her head, Olivia brings Brian back, accidentally shifting the world to the brink of nuclear and biological disaster. Now she must stay steps ahead of the guardians of this technology, who will kill her to reclaim it, in order to save not just herself and her love, but the whole world.

What’s Jack’s favorite bit?

The Chaos Function cover image

JACK SKILLINGSTEAD

I’m not a fan of intentional literary symbolism, but if I stumble over some juicy examples in my own work I might (or might not) play with them. Usually I don’t. These kinds of games are fun for writers, but readers tend to ignore them. That’s cool. Anything that distracts from Story counts as a misstep in the design. So, for me, the rules for symbols are that they should be unobtrusive and accidental. Once the accident happens, it’s okay to tweak it, if the desire moves you.

Save the cat.

Everybody’s heard of this, right? It’s a Hollywood thing. Your character is rough around the edges, so you show her being nice to an innocent creature in trouble. Voila! Your character has a soft heart, even if she keeps it hidden behind a granite exterior. My protagonist in The Chaos Function, war reporter Olivia Nikitas, saves a cat in the first scene. However, it’s not really a Hollywood style save-the-cat moment, because we’ve just been introduced to Olivia, and there’s nothing about her yet that needs softening or redeeming. Also, Olivia is only saving the cat because she is trying to save a little girl who has put herself in a dangerous position as a consequence of her efforts to save the cat. If anything, Olivia is cranky about the cat. I like the scene because it riffs on save-the-cat without really being save-the-cat.

Anyway, that’s Cat Number One.

Cat Number Two turns up at almost exactly the midway point of the novel. Actually it’s the same cat, only slipped into a dream of blood and chaos. In this novel, sometimes, dreams are more significant than simple mind movies. When I wrote this brief dream sequence, all I wanted to do was call back to a few images from earlier in the book and place those images in a different context. I didn’t give it a lot of extra thought. Intuitively it seemed right, so I went with it.

Cat Number Three makes her appearance at the very end of The Chaos Function. This time the little beastie is lounging on the back of a sofa in the window of a house in Jaipur. You could say the house represents Home with a capital H, which is what Olivia has spent much of her life both avoiding and longing for. I won’t tell you whether Olivia is actually in the scene—that would spoil the journey.

So…

Cat Number One explores the wreckage of a world barely entering reconstruction after years of war. The same can be said of Olivia.

Cat Number Two slops around in a dream chamber of blood and chaos, which is what the world has become as a result of Olivia’s trying to restore the timeline she has unintentionally warped.

Cat Number Three, finally, appears when the world, to the extent that it can be, is restored.

I didn’t plan this sequence of feline appearances representing the state of Olivia’s interior world—at least, I didn’t plan them consciously. But in the rewrite I noticed them, and they delighted me. If you write enough fiction you develop an instinct for recognizing lucky coincidences. What you do with those coincidences is up to you.

By the way, why cats? I’ll tell you. There is a significant cat I haven’t yet mentioned: Schrodinger’s Cat. This is a novel of about the power to choose different superpositional end points. My theory is that the unconscious does a significant amount of writing. While I’ve spent weeks, months, or years thinking about and then typing a novel, I’ve also been feeding my unconscious collaborator, and it’s the collaborator who comes up with some of the best stuff. Images, character detail, it’s even pretty good at untying plot knots. And sometimes it gets cute and provides a few cats to act as narrative and thematic sign posts. So my Three Cats of the Apocalypse(s) are my favorite bit. Today, anyway.

LINKS:

The Chaos Function Universal Book Link

Website

Facebook

Twitter

BIO:

Jack Skillingstead’s Harbinger was nominated for a Locus Award for best first novel. His second, Life on the Preservation, was a finalist for the Philip K. Dick Award. He has published more than forty short stories to critical acclaim and was short‑listed for the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award. His writing has been translated internationally. He lives in Seattle with his wife, writer Nancy Kress.

 

Debut Author Lessons: So you’ve been nominated for an award…

I will grant that this particular thing will not happen for everyone, but it will happen for some of you and award nominations come with no instructions. Over the years, I’ve learned a few things and so here’s the stuff that I’ve told new Nebula, Hugo, and Campbell finalists.

When they say confidential… What they mean is that they don’t want the news to get out into the wider world. There are two reasons for this.

  1. They want to get as much traction with the news as possible. If it trickles out into the world a little at a time, it’s less good for everyone, including you.
  2. People are notified at different times. Sometimes this is because of categories and sometimes it is because a nominee declines and they go to the next person on the list.

Try to avoid subtweeting Look. I’ve done it. I will do it again. BUT I try not to now because it is not even remotely subtle. Everyone knows when nominations start rolling out, so if you announce Secret Good News during that window, people know. I get that you’ll explode if you don’t tell someone and that you’re really excited so find another venue through which to express that excitement. For instance…

  • Tell your agent and editor. Your publicist, too, if you have one. They need time to get things set up so that when the news stops being embargoed, they are ready to go with announcements. Make sure they know the embargo date!
  • Tell your family. Look, you didn’t sign an NDA. As long as you respect the need for the organization to control when the news is released into the wider world, it’s okay to tell your family. Obviously, don’t do it on your cousin’s livestream but as long as you are clear about the embargo date and that they can’t tell anyone, you’re fine.
  • Write an announcement and have it ready to go. When that list of finalists goes live, people will want to congratulate you. It’s easiest if they have a place to do it. Plus there’s a chance some of them will repost it and that’s a good thing.
  • Write a speech. It doesn’t matter if you are sure you don’t have a chance and feel like an imposter. Writing a speech is a chance to think about everyone who helped you get to the place where your work has been nominated. None of us do it alone. Taking some time to think about who you want to thank and why is very centering. In the event that you win, it saves you from getting up there and forgetting to thank someone super important.

Once the announcement is public…

Tell everyone. Boom — your announcement is ready. Post it in all the places. Tell your family that they can talk about it now. Tell random strangers on the bus. (I may or may not have done that once.)

Congratulate and celebrate your fellow nominees. Look, your fellow nominees are your peers. They are not your competition. The book/story/radio play/whatever already exists in the world and there’s nothing you can do to change the quality of your work or anyone else’s. That truth will do nothing to reduce your anxiety. The only other people who completely and totally get what you are going through, right now, are the people you are nominated with. Even people who have been nominated in the past will have forgotten the crispness of the excitement. The frisson of the moment when you get the call or email. But your peers will grok the weirdness completely.

Plus, a rising tide raises all boats. Celebrating your peers raises the awareness of the award, which encompasses all the nominees, including you. Only one of you will take the award home, but all of you can benefit and enjoy being nominated.

You will get a lot of interview requests. Answer all that you can without breaking yourself. A nomination offers visibility. Start a spreadsheet with questions and your answers to them, because people will ask the same ones over and over. You can cut and paste a stock answer, tweaking it so it looks fresh where necessary.

Update your bio.  It will feel odd and self-aggrandizing. It only feels that way. But it serves the function of raising the visibility of the award, which will help you and the other nominees. Especially remember to mention this when you are on panels at a convention. It doesn’t have to be hard. Just something like, “My name is Mary Robinette Kowal, I’m a professional puppeteer, an audiobook narrator and I write SFF novels and short fiction. Currently, my novel “Calculating Stars” is a finalist for the Nebula award.'”

Finally… you will probably completely freak out about being a finalist and have difficulty writing, because you will feel pressure to prove that you deserved the nomination. You deserve it. Know that.

Also recognize that the freak out is a perfectly valid response. It’s a desire to keep leveling up, but it’s misfiring slightly. The way past it is to set an external deadline on your next project and to keep writing. If you don’t have a deadline already, ask a friend to set one for you.

Above all, enjoy the glow. As previously mentioned, there’s not really anything you can do to improve your chances of winning. The work is the work. So focus on what you can control. How that manifests will differ from person to person. I like ballgowns, so I use the opportunity to track down a perfect gown. I get a facial. On the day of, I have my hair done. None of it matters, but it is stuff that is in my control and allows me to feel special.

Treat yourself like a goddess of fiction and buy something cool that represents all the hard work that got you here. Go to the spa. Throw a party. Whatever makes you happy, do it.

And congratulations!

My Favorite Bit: Michael R. Johnston talks about THE WIDENING GYRE

My Favorite BitMichael R. Johnston is joining us today to talk about his novel The Widening Gyre. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Eight hundred years ago, the Zhen Empire discovered a broken human colony ship drifting in the fringes of their space. The Zhen gave the humans a place to live and folded them into their Empire as a client state. But it hasn’t been easy. Not all Zhen were eager to welcome another species into their Empire, and humans have faced persecution. For hundreds of years, human languages and history were outlawed subjects, as the Zhen tried to mold humans into their image. Earth and the cultures it nourished for millennia are forgotten, little more than legends.

One of the first humans to be allowed to serve in the Zhen military, Tajen Hunt became a war hero at the Battle of Elkari, the only human to be named an official Hero of the Empire. He was given command of a task force, and sent to do the Empire’s bidding in their war with the enigmatic Tabrans. But when he failed in a crucial mission, causing the deaths of millions of people, he resigned in disgrace and faded into life on the fringes as a lone independent pilot.

When Tajen discovers his brother, Daav, has been killed by agents of the Empire, he, his niece, and their newly-hired crew set out to finish his brother’s quest: to find Earth, the legendary homeworld of humanity. What they discover will shatter 800 years of peace in the Empire, and start a war that could be the end of the human race.

What’s Michael’s favorite bit?

The Widening Gyre cover image

MICHAEL R. JOHNSTON

Writing is hard.  Some days, it’s only as bad as pulling twice your weight across the room.  Other days, it’s like trying to juggle fifteen balls while singing Mozart’s “Queen of the Night” aria. But sometimes you get lucky. Sometimes the fates smile on you, the heavens open up, Calliope wipes her soothing hands across your brow, and the words flow like perfectly clear and cold water, and for a little while, you feel like this writing thing is easy.

When I was writing The Widening Gyre, one scene flowed that perfectly.  It is, in the current draft, almost exactly as I wrote it the first time. One of my beta readers called the scene “beat perfect.” My editor had little to say about it beyond some of my weird writer tics that had to be squashed flat.

It’s a heist, and while it goes very quickly, that was intentional.  I didn’t want to bog the characters down in a long subquest; I wanted them to get in, get screwed, find out they were screwed, and then calmly shoot their way out in style while cracking wise at each other and, for a brief moment, having fun.

The secret about Tajen and Liam is that they love their lives. They’d never admit it, but being deep in the shit, outgunned and outflanked, is when they feel most alive.  When things go south, they’re in their element, a smoothly operating team of grade-A smartasses. Meeting each other has only made them embrace that part of themselves. So, when they get captured and subjected to their captor’s ranting, neither of them can take it entirely seriously, even though they’re well aware of the danger:

Liam glanced sidelong at me and sighed. “You know, I’d pay good money for you to shut him up.”

“Why me?” I asked.  “You’re the infantryman. I’m just a pilot.” I shrugged.  “You do it.”

“Excuse me,” Simms said. “I’m standing right here, asshole.”

“He is,” I said.

“True,” Liam said. “I can fix that, though.”

Simms pulled a blaster pistol from his jacket and shoved it into Liam’s face, the muzzle pressing into his cheek. “Do you want to know why you’re not dead yet?”

Liam tsked. “Because the safety’s on?” he asked.

The one complaint I got about this chapter from every reader was that a character introduced in the chapter is never seen again; she remains behind when the characters leave. So here’s a secret, something only my editor knows so far—Seeker will be back in book 2, and she’ll be far, far more important than you’d think.  I’m not done with her yet.   But in the meantime, Tajen and Liam will be snarking their way into and out of danger, one quip—and a well-aimed blaster—away from destruction all the way.

LINKS:

The Widening Gyre Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

Instagram

BIO:

Michael R. Johnston is a high school English teacher and writer living in Sacramento, California with his wife, daughter, and more cats than strictly necessary. He is a member of the 2017 Viable Paradise class.  The Widening Gyre is his debut novel.

My Favorite Bit: Dan Stout talks about TITANSHADE

My Favorite BitDan Stout is joining us today to talk about his novel Titanshade. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Carter’s a homicide cop in Titanshade, an oil boomtown where 8-tracks are state of the art, disco rules the radio, and all the best sorcerers wear designer labels. It’s also a metropolis teetering on the edge of disaster. As its oil reserves run dry, the city’s future hangs on a possible investment from the reclusive amphibians known as Squibs.

But now negotiations have been derailed by the horrific murder of a Squib diplomat. The pressure’s never been higher to make a quick arrest, even as Carter’s investigation leads him into conflict with the city’s elite. Undermined by corrupt coworkers and falsified evidence, and with a suspect list that includes power-hungry politicians, oil magnates, and mad scientists, Carter must find the killer before the investigation turns into a witch-hunt and those closest to him pay the ultimate price on the filthy streets of Titanshade.

What’s Dan’s favorite bit?

Titanshade cover image

DAN STOUT

My debut novel TITANSHADE is a noir fantasy thriller set in an oil boomtown where magic is real, disco tops the charts, and good cops are hard to find. This combination of secondary-world fantasy with 1970s police procedural results in over 400 pages of fights, explosions, false accusations, and murders. It’s massively fun and massively over the top. But in all that chaos, my favorite bit is a single paragraph where one of the characters decides not to change the radio station.

This simple act occurs near the end of the book, and is the payoff of countless early arguments between a pair of detectives over what music gets played in their car. These conflicts may have been about a radio, but they’re also about two different people with two very different ways of viewing the world. As these partners ride into a life-or-death final showdown, seeing one defer to the other’s taste in music shows how close they’ve grown in a way that pages of exposition could never have captured.

As a writer, it can be tempting to confuse “upping the stakes” with making things flashy and explosive. Don’t get me wrong: I love a good explosion! But sometimes it’s small details and quiet moments that have the most power. In this case, a simple gesture provides closure to a long-running argument while also giving a glimpse of emotional vulnerability between two fairly hard-nosed characters. And that makes the danger they’re headed toward even more meaningful.

It was an extremely satisfying section to write and — I hope! — just as satisfying to read. If I did my job, the book is a series of ‘loops’ such as this, each of them opening and pulling in the reader before closing in a satisfying fashion.

Sometimes closing these loops involves big dramas, like explosive fight scenes, or explosive love scenes, or explosive… explosions.

But not all loops are best resolved with big set pieces. Some are quiet acts, almost tiny. Like letting the radio dial sit where it is, even if you hate the music.

If I did my job right, the climax at the end of TITANSHADE is the closing of many loops of different size and intensity, the prose version of the grand finale at a fireworks display. It’s a climatic round of violent beauty that leaves the reader stunned and satisfied, with an ache in their chest and a smile that won’t go away. But it all starts with a moment of calm, and a radio that isn’t touched.

And hey…  if that doesn’t work, I can always add in another explosion.

LINKS:

Titanshade Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

Goodreads

BIO:

Dan Stout lives in Columbus, Ohio, where he writes about fever dreams and half-glimpsed shapes in the shadows. His prize-winning fiction draws on travels throughout Europe, Asia, and the Pacific Rim as well as an employment history spanning everything from subpoena server to assistant well driller. Dan’s stories have appeared in publications such as The Saturday Evening Post, Nature, and Intergalactic Medicine Show.