My Favorite Bit: D. Lieber talks about CONJURING ZEPHYR

My Favorite BitD. Lieber is joining us today with her novel Conjuring Zephyr. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Retreating underground to escape a devastating ice age, humans build a new society. When magic is discovered and harnessed for survival, the citizens of Terrenus establish theories and principles of how to use it.

Kai Stephenson is determined to prove magical principles aren’t set in stone. Having lost her younger brother in a tragic accident, she will ensure such accidents never harm anyone else. She enrolls at the most elite university to gain the knowledge she needs to achieve her goal. Overconfident that living as a boy at an all-boys university will only be a minor inconvenience, Kai is convinced her classmates will never discover that she’s a woman. After all, women aren’t capable of higher forms of magic, and her boyish figure certainly doesn’t hurt her disguise.

Hiding her true identity becomes a problem when her new friends start to awaken her repressed sexuality.

What’s D.’s favorite bit?

Conjuring Zephyr cover


I have many favorite bits about Conjuring Zephyr. I spent a lot of time developing the magic and building the subterranean society in which Kai and her friends live. I’m pleased I was able to weave social commentary into the story without bashing my readers over the head with it. I think my readers will find they can ignore it completely, if they choose, and just enjoy the story.

I had fun satirizing why I think modern science is stuck, western views on female sexuality, as well as male and female gender roles. But my favorite bit was simply love finding Kai even when she was preoccupied and didn’t have time. Because, isn’t that how it happens to us all?

What I was really excited about while writing Conjuring Zephyr was who Kai would choose from all of her potential love interests.

I spend a lot of my free time watching anime and Korean television, and I absolutely love reverse harem stories. But what makes me really squee like a fangirl are the stories where female characters disguise themselves as men to accomplish their goals.

I get really into it, and I binge watch until I know the ending. I’m usually disappointed. The protagonist always chooses the guy who was a complete jerk to her through most of the show.

Watching any foreign television certainly takes some getting used to. I will even go so far as to say that it takes dedication. Because, let’s face it. At first exposure, some of that stuff just seems downright weird. I wanted to introduce this genre to western audiences in a way they could understand without so much effort.

When I was in the audience of an authors’ panel at C2E2 in 2014, one of the panelists said she writes stories she wants to read. It seemed like such an obvious thing to say afterward, but it really gave me the push I needed to put pen to paper.

I set out to write a story in the genre I love and end it the way I wanted. But as I was writing, I began to understand exactly why the protagonist always picks the jerk.

Now, I’m not going to tell you who Kai chooses, because that would spoil it. I will say that, not only will it surprise the reader, but it surprised me as I was writing it.

Once I set my characters up and let them go, they took me to places I never would have predicted. They became alive, tormented by past tragedies, fighting desires they couldn’t understand or express in their repressed society, and chasing a goal that was accepted as impossible from the beginning.



Amazon (paperback)

Amazon (ebook)

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D. writes stories she wants to read. Her love of the worlds of fiction led her to earn a Bachelor’s in English from Wright State University.

When she isn’t reading or writing, she’s probably hiking, crafting, watching anime, Korean television or old movies. She may also be getting her geek on while planning her next steampunk cosplay with friends.

She lives in Wisconsin with her husband (John), retired guide dog (Samwise) and cat (Yin).

My Favorite Bit: E. Catherine Tobler talks about THE KRAKEN SEA

My Favorite BitE. Catherine Tobler is joining us today with her novel The Kraken Sea. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Fifteen-year-old Jackson is different from the other children at the foundling hospital. Scales sometimes cover his arms. Tentacles coil just below his skin. Despite this Jackson tries to fit in with the other children. He tries to be normal for Sister Jerome Grace and the priests. But when a woman asks for a boy like him, all that changes. His name is pinned to his jacket and an orphan train whisks him across the country to Macquarie’s.

At Macquarie’s, Jackson finds a home unlike any he could have imagined. The bronze lions outside the doors eat whomever they deem unfit to enter, the hallways and rooms shift and change at will, and Cressida – the woman who adopted him – assures him he no longer has to hide what he is. But new freedoms hide dark secrets. There are territories, allegiances, and a kraken in the basement that eats shadows.

As Jackson learns more about the new world he’s living in and about who he is, he has to decide who he will stand with: Cressida, the woman who gave him a home and a purpose, or Mae, the black-eyed lion tamer with a past as enigmatic as his own. The Kraken Sea is a fast paced adventure full of mystery, Fates, and writhing tentacles just below the surface, and in the middle of it all is a boy searching for himself.

What’s E. Catherine’s favorite bit?

The Kraken Sea cover


My favorite bit in The Kraken Sea is the fact that everything I want to talk about is a spoiler. I’ve been writing circus stories since 2004, but have never before written the story of the man who made the circus, Jackson himself.

Every time I approach this piece, I think, “Oh, I can talk about X!” Then, the more in depth I think about X, the more I realize that no, if I really talk about X, everything unravels.

I keep thinking I would tell you about the bakery–because if you know me, you know I love all manner of baked goods. Cakes, and croissants, and cookies, meringues, and macarons. In this book, I included palmiers, because they look like hearts. Jackson’s Unreal Circus and Mobile Marmalade has always had a food element to it: Beth makes marmalades that are magically infused with specific times and places, and one can travel there with just a bite. This is either a blessing or a curse for the person eating the marmalade.

Having the opportunity to include a bakery was a delight–it fits the story universe perfectly. But if I go deeper and tell you that the bakery is part of a territorial dispute between two ancient, warring factions…we get closer to spoiler territory. Because that leads to telling you about the thing in the basement, and if I tell you about the thing in the basement–

Yeah, we can’t go there.

I also thought I’d talk about the girl on the fire escape–Mae. Mae’s path crosses with Jackson’s accidentally at first (or is it?), and then later with deliberation when she waits for him on the fire escape outside his room. Mae accuses Jackson of being no ordinary boy, but of course she’s no ordinary girl, either. Though Mae seems to work as a lion tamer within a genderbent burlesque show (hey, it’s a circus!), Mae is also an aspect of Fate.

This is probably also a spoiler, but maybe it’s the right kind–the kind that gets the reader excited for the work at hand? Mae is Lachesis, she who does not spin or cut the threads of life, but she who decides how long a thing will endure. She is not creation or destruction, but the calm between. She tends to infuriate people with her calm certainty, especially her sisters, who are all about making or unmaking a thing.

So…are her sisters also in this book?

They absolutely are. Fates! The threads of life! The beginning, the middle, the end, within Jackson’s own genesis story!

And are the Fates  involved with the thing in the bakery basement?

Well, that’s a spoiler.



Amazon (paperback)

Amazon (ebook)




Author’s website

Author’s blog

Author’s twitter


E. Catherine Tobler was born on the other side of the International Dateline, which either gives her an extra day in her life or an extraordinary affinity when it comes to inter-dimensional gateways. She is the senior editor of Shimmer Magazine and lives in Colorado, which has a distinct lack of inter-dimensional gateways, but an abundance of mountains, which may prove mad indeed.

Starred review for GHOST TALKERS in Publisher’s Weekly!

The cover of Ghost TalkersWhen starting a new project, there’s always that concern that it’ll fail. So, getting a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly is huge. Here’s my favorite part of the review of Ghost Talkers:

 Kowal’s depiction of spiritualism is richly imagined, and its complications and consequences are thoughtfully considered. Her depiction of the Western Front includes diverse characters often neglected in wartime stories: the many people who help Ginger include women young and old, people of color, and disabled veterans, all of whom are dismissed by the British men in charge. The well-drawn characters and the story’s gripping action and deep emotion will captivate readers. (

Read the full review (spoiler free) of Ghost Talkers at Publisher’s Weekly.

Ask a Puppet: Episode 3

After a hiatus, Lee the Puppet is back to answer your questions. In Episode Three, Lee answers these questions.

  • Josh Storey – When an audio book is being recorded, how much does the author collaborate with the director and/or narrator on the way dialog is read?
  • Jonathan Boynton – How do you figure out character motivations? Do you stop at something simple like ‘greed’ or ‘loyalty’, or do you continue on to the reasons behind those words? And does it change depending on whether you’re dealing with a short story or a novel?
  • Alexander Verbeek – What are your opinions on the author Mary Robinette Kowal?
  • Branson Roskelley – Is academic writing (e.g. writing with award nominations) something that one should put in their query letter, or are agents/publishers just looking for fiction?

Many thanks to Alex Cox, who filmed this for me, and the Cards Against Humanities offices for the use of the space.

Got questions? Ask here in the comments. I might see them on other platforms, but not for certain.

What do I sound like after surgery? Like this…

It’s now two weeks after my nasal airway surgery and most of the healing has happened at this point. So far? Breathing is amazing. AMAZING. I’ve still got some swelling and stitches (inside my nose!) It’ll apparently take about two months for everything to finish settling, but from here on the changes will be subtle.

Recovery has been smooth but I’ve been grateful for having twenty years of live theater experience, which I deployed for this week for the covering of bruises. Here’s me one week after surgery, without and with makeup.

I’ve been very pleased that I still look like myself. The swelling will keep going down, albeit more slowly. The big qqestion though is… what do I sound like? As an audiobook narrator, this was one of the things I was worried about since mucking about with the nose and sinuses can change resonance.

So, here, for your amusement, are four recordings of me reading the same piece of text.

Before surgery, as a baseline.

While I’m the hospital with the “rhino rockets” completely clogging my nose.

The day after surgery. In this one, my voice is significantly higher. I think this is from two things.

  1. My throat was still a little sore from the breathing tube they used during surgery. I think I pitched higher to get out of that range.
  2. I recorded this earlier in the day than the others, and the voice is typically higher at the start of the day.

Three days after surgery. I’m back to pretty much normal, with maybe a tiny, tiny bit more of a rounded sound.

Two weeks later, where I notice it most is at the extremes of my range. For instance, the deep chest voice that I use for Tybalt in Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series is significantly easier. I usually have to fight a certain nasality there. Likewise, my upper end is way clearer and stupidly high. Blending is easier as I go from chest to head, which is a nice bonus.

Adding nasality back in for character voices might a little bit more work, but that might also be my imagination. It’s still totally there.

So, my overall verdict is:

  • Medically, the surgery was fantastic. I love breathing. It’s really neat. (oh, and smells are more vivid, too.)
  • Aesthetically, there’s been no change.
  • Vocally, I seem to have a better instrument than I did before.

My Favorite Bit: Christopher Husberg talks about DUSKFALL

My Favorite BitChristopher Husberg is joining us today with his novel Duskfall. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Pulled from a frozen sea, pierced by arrows and close to death, Knot has no memory of who he was. But his dreams are dark, filled with violence and unknown faces. Winter, a tiellan woman whose people have long been oppressed by humans, is married to and abandoned by Knot on the same day. In her search for him, she will discover her control of magic, but risk losing herself utterly. And Cinzia, priestess and true believer, returns home to discover her family at the heart of a heretical rebellion. A rebellion that only the Inquisition can crush…

Their fates and those of others will intertwine, in a land where magic and daemons are believed dead, but dark forces still vie for power.

What’s Christopher’s favorite bit?

Duskfall cover


It’s a both an exciting and somewhat terrifying thing when a side character comes out of nowhere and threatens to take over your novel. When that happens to me, I generally see myself having a few options: (1) remove the character entirely and refocus on the central characters, (2) let the character’s magnetism do its thing and see where she takes the novel, or (3) seek a balance in the hopes of keeping the awesomeness that drew me to the side character in the first place while still maintaining the integrity and structure of the story. I think that last option is the hardest one, but one of my favorite characters (and favorite bits of Duskfall in general)—Astrid—developed from my attempt to achieve that balance.

Astrid is a 300-year-old vampire in the body of a nine-year-old girl, and she is awesome. She’s sarcastic, she’s horrifyingly fun in a fight, and from her first appearance in the novel her deep, complicated backstory bled onto the page, gushing to be told. I was tempted to just keep writing about her and see where she took me, but as much as part of me wanted to do that, I knew it wasn’t the right decision for the story. It would’ve created a very different novel from the one I was trying to write with Duskfall, and while Astrid came in as a fresh, exciting character, I was still very attached to and invested in the stories of Winter, Knot, and Cinzia (the three central characters of the novel).

But I really didn’t want to remove her from the story, either. Astrid had a role to play, and I wanted her, and no one else, to play it—and I’m glad I let her! Now that Duskfall is a finished product, I can’t imagine the story without her.

So why do I like Astrid so much? I think her status as a child vampire was the source of a lot of her initial appeal. The child-vampire trope isn’t a new thing, of course; Anne Rice did it brilliantly with Claudia, but I think my favorite iteration is Eli from John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Let The Right One In. A child with access to immortality and all of the horrifying traits of a classic vampire—while still retaining a childlike disposition and sense of wonder as much as possible—was too interesting an idea to pass up. Astrid is physically a child, but she never quite develops into a normal adult mentally, either. Her views of what we might term “adult” concepts—sex and romantic love, among others—has a sarcastic overtone that masks her confusion, jealousy, and general cluelessness about those topics.

She was a breath of fresh air, too, mainly through that sarcasm and her sense of humor. The other main characters, especially in the first draft, were pretty serious. And rightly so; they had some pretty serious things going on, after all. But from her first appearance on the page, Astrid was immediately sarcastic, embracing a childishly sardonic view of the world. After hundreds of years of living in it, she had to start finding the humor in things!

And, of course, I love her fight scenes. It was so fun to write Astrid’s fight scenes. Having a nine-year-old go to town on a dozen or so warriors twice her size was a blast. I took influence from Hit-Girl’s scenes in Kick-Ass, as well as the film version of Let the Right One In. And while Tomorrowland came out after I’d written the first few drafts of Duskfall, I loved Athena’s fight scenes too because they reminded me very much of Astrid’s.

But sarcasm, humor, and her propensity towards violence aside, what drew me most to Astrid’s character was what draws me to any character—sympathy, and a strong back story. Astrid’s back-story (which I unfortunately can’t talk much about here as it’s still being revealed in the books) was one of those things that seemed to sort of write itself—and having 300 years to work with meant Astrid had a lot of room for development. I think that’s the ultimate key to Astrid’s appeal, at least to me—she was fun to read, fun to write, fun to develop, because I felt for her. For brief periods of time she became real to me, and that’s one of the best parts of being a writer, that schizophrenic state in which my characters slowly become real, where I start having conversations with them in my head. It’s delightful, and Astrid represented the epitome of that for Duskfall.

In book 2 of the Chaos Queen Quintet, which I’m currently revising, Astrid has already seized a larger role in the story, and almost more than any other character, I see her arc clearly in my mind over the remaining four books. I can’t wait to take her through all that, and to take some of you with us.



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Christopher Husberg grew up in Eagle River, Alaska. He now lives in Utah, and spends his time writing, reading, hiking, and playing video games, but mostly hanging out with his wife, Rachel, and daughter, Buffy. He received an MFA in creative writing from Brigham Young University, and an honorary PhD in Buffy the Vampire Slayer from himself. Duskfall is his first novel. The next installment in the Chaos Queen Quintet, Dark Immolation, will be published by Titan Books in June 2017.

My Favorite Bit: Curtis C. Chen talks about WAYPOINT KANGAROO

My Favorite BitCurtis C. Chen is joining us today with his novel Waypoint Kangaroo. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Kangaroo isn’t your typical spy. Sure, he has extensive agency training, access to bleeding-edge technology, and a ready supply of clever (to him) quips and retorts. But what sets him apart is “the pocket.” It’s a portal that opens into an empty, seemingly infinite, parallel universe, and Kangaroo is the only person in the world who can use it. But he’s pretty sure the agency only keeps him around to exploit his superpower.

After he bungles yet another mission, Kangaroo gets sent away on a mandatory “vacation:” an interplanetary cruise to Mars. While he tries to make the most of his exile, two passengers are found dead, and Kangaroo has to risk blowing his cover. It turns out he isn’t the only spy on the ship–and he’s just starting to unravel a massive conspiracy which threatens the entire Solar System.

Now, Kangaroo has to stop a disaster which would shatter the delicate peace that’s existed between Earth and Mars ever since the brutal Martian Independence War. A new interplanetary conflict would be devastating for both sides. Millions of lives are at stake.

Weren’t vacations supposed to be relaxing?

With Waypoint Kangaroo, Chen makes his debut with this outer space thriller. Chen has an extensive network of connections to prominent science fiction authors, and has studied under John Scalzi, James Patrick Kelly, and Ursula K. LeGuin.

What’s Curtis’s favorite bit?



My favorite bit in Waypoint Kangaroo is a dumb joke. (I know what you’re thinking: “Which one? There are so many dumb jokes in your novel!” Thanks, Mom.)

Dumb jokes and bad puns are especially apt for my protagonist, KANGAROO. That’s his spy agency code name, because he has a superpower: the ability to open portals into a pocket universe that only he can access. The pocket allows Kangaroo to smuggle pretty much anything anywhere, and it makes him both special and useful, but he’s otherwise not terribly well suited to be a secret agent. I had fun playing with that dichotomy.

Kangaroo is an American, and at some point I decided that English would be the only language he was fluent in, because it went against the fiction trope of a hyper-competent super-spy–see if you can spot other James Bond 007 references in the book!–and that setup also gave me the opportunity to reproduce a bit that my wife and I improv every so often:

  • She’ll ask me how to say a word in Mandarin.
  • I’ll tell her.
  • She’ll say the word back to me but not get the precise sound right.
  • I’ll say the word again.
  • She’ll say it again but still not quite right.
  • Lather, rinse, repeat.

(Basically imagine Abbott and Costello doing “Who’s on First?” Sort of. And I’m Lou, just to be clear.)

This comedy gold is possible because Mandarin is a tone language, and non-native speakers often have difficulty distinguishing the tones that affect the meaning of spoken words. It’s like music: you can train yourself to hear different pitches and tell when a note is “sharp” or “flat,” but it doesn’t come naturally to most people.

In Waypoint Kangaroo, our hero gets tripped up when reading a stranger’s name tag. My publisher is producing an audiobook edition of the novel, and I included these notes for the narrator:

  • There is a comedy bit at the start of Chapter 18 involving the Chinese name “Xiao”…
    • If you do NOT speak Mandarin, just ensure the two characters are making different sounds when they each say “Xiao” in the back-and-forth dialogue.
    • If you DO speak Mandarin, the correct inflection of “xiao” is a homophone for “small”; Kangaroo’s mispronunciations should be all of the three other inflections (with the homophone for “laugh” being last, if you please).

And here’s the bit in question:

“Thank you . . . Xiao?” I’m not quite sure how to pronounce that name.
“Xiao,” he says.
“Xiao,” I do my best to repeat.
“Close enough, sir.” His expression tells me I should just drop it. “How may I help you?”

Trust me, this would kill in Taiwan.

My obsessive stage direction for what is an inconsequential throwaway joke is just one symptom of a long-running fascination with the craft of writing for performance–especially television–but that, as they say, is another story. I hope my dumb jokes will not interfere with anyone’s enjoyment of Waypoint Kangaroo. Especially you, Mom.



Abbott and Costello perform “Who’s on First?” (YouTube video)

“Tone language” (Simple English Wikipedia article)

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Powell’s Books







Once a software engineer in Silicon Valley, CURTIS C. CHEN now writes speculative fiction and runs puzzle games near Portland, Oregon. His debut novel WAYPOINT KANGAROO, a science fiction spy thriller, is forthcoming from Thomas Dunne Books on June 21st, 2016.

Curtis’ short stories have appeared in Daily Science Fiction, the Baen anthology MISSION: TOMORROW, and THE 2016 YOUNG EXPLORER’S ADVENTURE GUIDE. He is a graduate of the Clarion West and Viable Paradise writers’ workshops.

You can find Curtis at Puzzled Pint Portland on the second Tuesday of most months. Visit him online at:

My Favorite Bit: Laura Lam talks about FALSE HEARTS

My Favorite BitLaura Lam is joining us today with her novel False Hearts. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Laura Lam’s adult sci-fi debut False Hearts: Two formerly conjoined sisters are ensnared in a murderous plot involving psychoactive drugs, shared dreaming, organized crime, and a sinister cult.

Raised in the closed cult of Mana’s Hearth and denied access to modern technology, conjoined sisters Taema and Tila dream of a life beyond the walls of the compound. When the heart they share begins to fail, the twins escape to San Francisco, where they are surgically separated and given new artificial hearts. From then on they pursue lives beyond anything they could have previously imagined.

Ten years later, Tila returns one night to the twins’ home in the city, terrified and covered in blood, just before the police arrive and arrest her for murder–the first homicide by a civilian in decades. Tila is suspected of involvement with the Ratel, a powerful crime syndicate that deals in the flow of Zeal, a drug that allows violent minds to enact their darkest desires in a terrifying dreamscape. Taema is given a proposition: go undercover as her sister and perhaps save her twin’s life. But during her investigation Taema discovers disturbing links between the twins’ past and their present. Once unable to keep anything from each other, the sisters now discover the true cost of secrets.

What’s Laura’s favorite bit?

False Hearts US cover

False Hearts UK cover


So far my process in writing books seems to be smooshing together my favorite things and seeing what comes out. In my Micah Grey gaslight fantasy series (Pantomime, Shadowplay & Masquerade), I mashed together gender and sexuality, the circus, Victorian magic, court intrigue, long-vanished civilisations, and the line between magic and technology. False Hearts, on the other hand, swirls together conjoined twins, cults, the mob, near-future San Fransisco, brain hacking, and dream drugs.

The setup of False Hearts is this: Taema and Tila were born as conjoined twins, joined at the chest, in a reclusive cult in the redwoods across the San Francisco bay known as Mana’s Hearth. There, everything is frozen in 1969 technology, and to change yourself in any way is considered sacrilege. When the twins’ shared heart starts to fail, it’s expected they’ll bow to the will of the Creator and let nature takes its course. Instead, they escape, but it’s not as easy as they’d hoped. Once they’re in San Francisco, the twins are separated and fitted with mechanical hearts. Ten years later, Tila is accused of murder in a world where crime is almost eradicated. SFPD give Taema a chance to save her sister: go undercover and assume her sister’s identity, and help break up the underground mob called the Ratel and their distribution of a new, dangerous dream drug called Verve.

These dream drug sequences are some of my favourite bits of the book, as I can end up bending reality and adding in some very creepy visuals. There are two strains of drugs: Zeal, which is licensed by the government and anyone can take. You plug in, work out your darkest nightmares, and it’s cathartic. When you come out, it has a soporific effect and makes you less violent in reality. Those that society think are high risk of becoming chronic criminals find the drug addictive. Verve is what the Ratel have created, and it makes you more violent after you take it, which is understandably going to be a problem for Pacifica if it becomes widespread. I’ll leave you with a small snippet of Taema going into a Zealscape dream sequence to ask a woman named Mia about what her sister might have been up to:

I hear the screams first.

The door opens for me into a barren room as long as the building. The concrete floor is cracked, the paint on the walls peeling off in layers. Exposed wires hang from the ceiling, and flickering overhead light casts a harsh light on the two figures before me.

One is Mia. She’s strong here as she no longer is in real life. Her bare arms ripple with muscle, the fitted jumpsuit hugging her full breasts and thighs. Her hair is long, like it was in Mana’s Hearth before she left when Tila and I were eight. But she is a long way away from the gentle woman in soft dresses that I recall. This Mia’s face is twisted in rage and bloodlust, and she’s wielding a scalpel stained with blood.

I shudder, my hand involuntarily going to the scar beneath my dress. Mia’s tool falls, and she bends over. My eyes finally rest on the other figure.

It’s Mana-ma.

Our former leader has collapsed to the ground. She’s alive, breathing hoarsely. The black robe she wears is heavy with blood. On her back, she gapes at the cracked ceiling, her mouth opening and closing. Mia has cut out her tongue.  It lies next to her like a dead fish.

I cry out, stumbling away.

Mia pauses in her terrible work, her eyes meeting mine. Her face goes slack in surprise.


I’m dressed as Tila. I have her face, and her tattoo snaking down my thigh. Despite this, Mia still recognizes me.

‘Why are you here?’ she asks. ‘You’ve never been in my dreams before.’

That’s a comfort, I guess. She’s never wanted to kill me. Mia’s covered in blood, and the broken shell of a replica of the woman who leads Mana’s Hearth cowers beneath her.

‘Mia. Something’s happened to Tila. I need your help.’

‘You’re…not part of the dream?’ Mia seems confused.

Mana-ma gives a strangled gasp, more of a high wheeze. Without batting an eyelid, Mia brings down the scalpel into Mana-ma’s neck. The colors of the warehouse grow brighter, sharper, until they’re hypersaturated. I step back, horrified.

Without realizing what I’m doing, I focus on that mental state I found while in Mediation at the Hearth. The clear, calm stillness. ‘Stop,’ I say. Mia’s eyes widen, but her hand jerks back, taking the scalpel with her.

‘You don’t tell me what to do! Don’t make me do what I don’t want to!’ she shrieks.

Did I make her do that?

Blood spurts out of Mana-ma, and once the blood—the reddest blood I’ve ever seen—leaves her body, it turns from scarlet to black. The dark oil rises, covering Mana-ma’s corpse, and then the figure collapses into a puddle. It reminds me uncomfortably of the spread of blood of the crime scene recreation.

The scalpel is still in Mia’s hands. I hold up my own, spread wide, to look unthreatening. ‘No, I’m not part of the Zeal,’ I say. ‘They couldn’t pull you out, so I took a small dose and came in.’

Mia shakes her head.  ‘I don’t know if I can believe that. They all say they’re real when they’re not. Either way, you shouldn’t have come. You’re too innocent for the Zealscape. Especially mine.’ Her face creases in a grin, and I take another step away. She is utterly transformed from the woman who took us in just after the surgery, when we were weak as kittens and just as innocent in the ways of the world. I remember the way she pushed my hair back from my face, kissed my forehead goodnight. She took us to museums on weekends, patiently explaining so many things to us that we didn’t understand. Mia, my second mother in many ways, is looking at me like she wants nothing more than to stick the scalpel in my eye.

She shakes her head again, mystified. ‘Can’t believe a girl who escaped the Hearth would ever step foot somewhere where they mess with your brain. Didn’t you have enough?’

‘Didn’t you?’ I counter.

That same sly grin. A gesture at Mana-ma. ‘Do you really think I actually escaped the Hearth? It’s always here.’ She taps her temple, and then considers me. ‘Maybe it’s still in you, too.’



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Laura Lam was raised near San Francisco, California, by two former Haight-Ashbury hippies. Both of them encouraged to finger-paint to her heart’s desire, colour outside the lines, and consider the library a second home. This led to an overabundance of daydreams. She relocated to Scotland to be with her husband, whom she met on the internet when he insulted her taste in books. She almost blocked him but is glad she didn’t. At times she misses the sunshine.

If you are looking for an action to take, about Orlando, write a letter.

This is a small thing. You can write a letter.

It’s also a huge thing. You can write a letter.

See, our government representatives still respond more to letters than the do to emails, Facebook, or Twitter hashtags. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t do those, too, but there’s this other thing you can do. You can write a letter.

Over at Month of Letters, I’ve put together a set of resources to make it easy for you to do this. There’s stationery, a template, a list of addresses… heck, I’ve even got a discount on postage for you. Just please… please write a letter.

Your thoughts and prayers aren’t enough. We have work to do. Can you write a letter?

My Favorite Bit: Shannon Page talks about THE USUAL PATH TO PUBLICATION

Favorite Bit iconShannon Page is joining us today with her book The Usual Path to Publication. Here’s the publisher’s description:

A collection of essays about the UNusual, amusing, heartbreaking, random, and quite perfectly crazy ways writers got their words out there.

Cherie Priest, “How I Skidded Sideways Into Publishing”
Alma Alexander, “Don’t Try This At Home”
Mark Teppo, “Mapping Uncharted Terrain”
Laura Anne Gilman, “Two Paths”
Jim C. Hines, “The Goblin’s Curse”
Katharine Kerr, “That Long Winding Road”
David D. Levine, “How to Sell a Novel in Only Fifteen Years”
K. Tempest Bradford, “It All Happened Because of Netscape Navigator”
Ada Palmer, “The Key to the Kingdom”
Ken Scholes, “My Path to Publication, and My Other Path to Publication”
Nancy Jane Moore, “The Meandering Path”
Jennifer Brozek, “No One True Way”
Rhiannon Held, “Timeline Key Points”
Jo Walton, “Not Deluded: How I Sold My First Novel”
Chris Dolley, “First Sale”
Brenda Cooper, “With a Little Help from a Poet”
Chaz Brenchley, “My First Book”
Tina Connolly, “Going from Short Stories to Novels in 60,000 Easy Words”
Randy Henderson, “My Finn Fancy Adventure in Publishing”
Elizabeth Bourne, “The Gypsy Curse”
John A. Pitts, “My Path to Publication”
Mindy Klasky, “April Is the Cruelest Month”
Amy Sterling Casil, “I Was Rejected, Then Sold the Same Story to the Same Editor!”
Deborah J. Ross, “The Magic Phone Call”
Phyllis Irene Radford, “My Road to Publishing, or, Tiptoeing Through Mine Fields”
Sara Stamey, “How I Became a ‘Real Author'”
Trisha Leigh/Lyla Payne, “Making It”
Afterword (Your Editor’s Story)

What’s Shannon’s favorite bit?

Usual Path to Publication cover


Now I understand what’s so hard about that “Who is your favorite child” question. I don’t have children, but I do have a couple of brothers, so I always thought the answer was obvious: me, naturally. (Sorry, bros.)

Being an editor is not at all like having children. Of course not. Except for the tender affection I feel for each and every one of my authors, for each and every one of their stories. And except for the fierce protectiveness I feel for my edited books. The desire to see them succeed out there in the world. The fear that they will be misunderstood, or ignored, or bullied on the playground. But other than that: nope, not at all.

Preparing to write this piece, I have just read through The Usual Path to Publication once again, looking for that one special, favorite quote, the one I can point to and say, “This, this! Here are the words that epitomize this little book. This is my favorite bit.”

I found one in every essay.

It would be cheating to say that my favorite bit about this book is the entire book. So I won’t say that. No, after much consideration, I’ve realized that my favorite bit about this book is the commonality it so wonderfully illustrates. Each author’s story is different in its particulars; yet every author in this book tells a tale of flexibility, of patience, of not giving up. There are moments of despair, frustrating reversals, much random accident. But every author believed that their words mattered. And so they kept at it. For as long as it took.

This, I think, is what binds all authors together—along with anyone else in this crazy industry we call publishing. Every time I opened my email last winter to find another submission for this book, I felt that touch of community, and took joy in it. Writing can feel like such a lonely endeavor. Who knows if your words are ever going to reach an audience, ever going to touch someone? Who knows if you are ever going to “succeed”—whatever you take that to mean?

Twenty-seven authors generously shared their stories of how they broke in—and, often, what happened next. These tales are filled with coincidence and luck and timing and the random forces of nature; of those who helped along the way, lessons learned, mistakes to be avoided. And, most of all, a rugged persistence. A belief that they had words and thoughts and emotions to share with the world at large, despite the many barriers that world tosses in the path.

Because there is no “usual path to publication.” Every writer finds their own way. And then, so very often, those authors then turn back to shine a flashlight on their particular pathway—to light the way for others, to inspire them, or maybe just to amuse them.

Okay, I’ll admit it: my favorite bit about this book is that it exists at all. So sue me.






Book View Café

Barnes & Noble



Shannon Page is a Portland, Oregon-based author and editor. Her work has appeared in Clarkesworld, Interzone, Fantasy, Black Static,, and many anthologies, including the Australian Shadows Award-winning Grants Pass, and The Mammoth Book of Dieselpunk. Books include Eel River; the collection Eastlick and Other Stories; and Our Lady of the Islands, co-written with the late Jay Lake. Our Lady was named one of the Best Books of 2014 by Publishers Weekly and was a finalist for the Endeavour Award. Edited books include the anthology Witches, Stitches & Bitches and the essay collection The Usual Path to Publication. She is a longtime yoga practitioner and an avid gardener, and has no tattoos. Visit her at

Surgery recovery continues well

Mary in an armchair with two cats on herRob took this photo.

a) I had no idea he was in the room.

b) I had no idea that both cats were on me.

I’m losing most of my saving throws against napping, and I’m fine with that. Smells are more vivid, which will be great when I’m cooking, but less exciting around the cats’ litter box.

That chair, by the way, is what I’ll be sleeping in for most of this week as I recover from surgery. I’m supposed to keep my head elevated. Pillows would do that but… the chair keeps me from accidentally rolling over during the night. When I’m just sitting around, there’s no pain at all. I’ve gone out with Rob for walks around the block, and my footfalls send up a dull ache.

One of the fascinating things about the walks is that at a certain point, I’ll have the urge to open my mouth, even though I can breathe adequately through my nose now. I guess that I had to do that for so long, that it’s become an automatic response to a certain heartrate. It’ll be interesting to see how much that changes when I acclimate to the restructured airway.

Laughing, smiling, and yawning are all no fun. I’ve also learned how often I wrinkle my nose in response to things.

Other than that, healing continues.

This isn’t funny — stop it.

I had surgery on Friday to correct a deviated septum, turbinate hypertrophy, and collapsed nasal valves. I’ve been posting pictures of myself in the recovery process, because I think medicine is neat.

But you — you decided that it would be funny to make a joke that I had black eyes because my husband hit me. Or the milder form, that people would think he’d hit me. This is more than one of you. Some of you know me. Some of you are strangers. I want you to stop and think about thatThe bump remains intact! Huzzah. Also, food had flavor! And I'm not weeping blood anymore! “joke.”

  • Why did you think it was funny?
  • Why did a picture of a woman with black eyes immediately make you think of domestic violence?
  • Why did you think domestic violence would be a good subject for a joke?
  • Because clearly my husband would never do it, so it’s obviously meant to be funny, right?
  • Why the hell did you think domestic violence was funny?
  • And why did I laugh the first time I heard it?

That’s the thing that really kills me. I was laughing because Rob would so obviously not hit me that the juxtaposition was funny. But… but, that juxtaposition exists because of how common domestic violence is that we all have the image in our head of the battered woman. I’ve internalized domestic violence as such a part of our culture, that it didn’t even occur to me that I was laughing at something horrible until I’d already done it.

I want you to think about that.

I want you to think about what context the picture of a woman with black eyes is linked to in our society.

It’s not funny.

Stop it.

Not just the jokes. We need to stop the context that sets the jokes up.

Home! I’m discharged from the hospital and have sorbet

I am home! There is grapefruit-peppercorn sorbet.

My surgeon pulled the nasal tampons out and that is so much more accurate a name that rocket. Like… wow. I could immediately breathe better than I could before I went in and that was while I still have swelling and a brief nosebleed. (Totally normal.)

Seriously. I really did not understand how much my airflow was restricted.

Meanwhile, on the audio front, I’ve recorded a Before, After Surgery, and Day After Surgery snippet using the same piece of text. I’m going to do one more in a week, after some of the swelling goes down, but my initial reaction is that I have more instrument to use.  Plus, I called Mom and Dad and they say I sound like me.

I will do more in-depth stuff about the recordings when I do that post.

The big thing to know though is that I’m home, I’m not in any pain, and I have sorbet.

Bi-lateral rhino-rockets — still not an SF story

Yesterday’s surgery seems to have gone well. I still have bi-lateral rhino-rockets in my nose and am really, really looking forward to having them removed. I’ve been told that they are called nose-tampons. Having googled, yes. Yes, that’s a really good description of them.

That is, in fact, exactly what they are.

And I’m really looking forward to having them out of my nose. That sensation you’re imagining right now? Yeah. That’s pretty much exactly what it’s like. And if you’re not able to imagine that, just take the world’s worst sinus infection, blow up a balloon inside your nose, and then eat ice cream too fast. Now… try not to cough or sneeze.

The staff here has been fantastic. They are all fascinated by the audiobook narrator thing, so I played a bit of Glamour in Glass for them, because I figure that the ENT nurses never hear the “before” voice. Indeed, one of them said, “I would never have guessed, listening to this that it was you.”

Because, hello, rockets in my nose.

BUT that’s not a permanent state, so I’m not too worried. Also! The bump on my nose is still present. This pleases me. Food had flavor yesterday, which means that, even with the rockets in my nose, my sense of taste is intact.

So right now, I’m just waiting for the doctors. Rob is on his way back, to be a second set of ears listening to instructions and to take me home.

AND…I actually wrote fiction while I was here. Only 300 words, but I’m still darn proud of that. Well… of the effort. We’ll see how coherent it is later.


Turbinate hypertrophy and other woes

It sounds like a rocket part. It’s actually a thing that’s happening in my nose. Nose rocketry! Well… no.

It’s like this. My husband noticed that I was getting out of breath when we were walking. My heart rate wasn’t elevated, but I was breathing through my mouth. The right side of my nose just felt permanently stuffed up.

So I finally went to the doctor and she said, “Hm… I can’t see to the back of your nose. You probably have a polyp. Here’s a specialist. It’s easy to snip out and he’ll probably do it while you wait.”

So I went to the specialist and he stuck a probe up my nose, with a tiny little camera on the end, which was gross and cool all at the same time. He said, “It’s not a polyp, but you appear to have a collapsed nasal valve. This is an easy thing to fix, and we can do it in the office. Let’s do a CT scan just to be sure.”

So the CT scan comes back, and he sits me down and says. “Well… it is a collapsed nasal valve. And a deviated septum, that doesn’t look bad from the outside, but inside, it’s narrowing the channel quite a bit.” Even to my eye, that was painfully clear on the CT scan. “And you also have turbinate hypertrophy.”

“That sounds like part of a rocket ship.”

He laughed, thank heavens. “You have structures in the nose called turbinates, which cause the air to hit different surfaces to help with allergies and smells. Yours are enlarged, so instead of causing the air to swirl around, they’re blocking things.”

“I’m sensing this is no longer out patient surgery.”

Technically, it is. But just for insurance reasons. You’ll be in the hospital for 23 hours.” And then he proceeded to detail what they were going to do to me. I’ll spare you that bit. “You can expect to need about a week of recovery time. What do you do for a living?”

“I’m an audiobook narrator.”

“Ah–” He swiveled toward me, and I could tell that we’d just gone off script. “Then let’s talk about resonance.”

Tomorrow’s surgery will fix the breathing problems. I’m apparently down to about 40% airflow on the right side of my nose. It may also change the way I sound.

It may not. He can’t tell me definitely either way, only warn me that it might be a consequence. The only thing that he can assure me of is that I won’t sound more nasal.

This will be the first time I’ve had surgery (not counting wisdom teeth). Being a writer, I’m strangely excited about it, because there’s so much good material and it is a mostly elective surgery. I mean, I could continue on with mouth-breathing when I walk and things would be fine. So there’s no pressure or stress about that.

As a narrator, I’m a little terrified. Again, it’ll be fine, and I know that, but I am about to change my instrument. I’ve recorded a sample text of “before” and I’m going to record the same thing again in the “after” stage to see how much it changes. It might not be perceptible at all.

And then, as just me, I’m worried that when they straighten out the septum they’ll “fix” my nose and get rid of the bump. When I was a teen, I would have loooooooved that. But 47 year old me really likes my nose now. It took me a long time to be comfortable with it and it’s mine. I know it will look somewhat different, because, well, they are breaking it and moving things. But still… I don’t want to look like someone else. The doctor knows that.

All of which is to say that tomorrow will be fine, and yet I’m still a bundle of anxiety. So, if you have a funny story to share, or something adorable, tomorrow would be an excellent time.