Journal

My Favorite Bit: Adam Rakunas talks about LIKE A BOSS

My Favorite BitAdam Rakunas is joining us today with his novel Like A Boss. Here’s the publisher’s description:

In this breathless and hilarious followup to Windswept, former labor organiser Padma Mehta’s worst nightmare comes true: she gets yanked out of early retirement.

After buying her favourite rum distillery and settling down, she thought she’d heard the last of her arch nemesis, Evanrute Saarien. But Saarien, fresh out of prison for his misdeeds in Windswept, has just fabricated a new religion, positioning himself as its holy leader. He’s telling his congregation to go on strike, to fight the system. And unfortunately, they’re listening to him.

Now Padma’s summoned by the Union president to help stop this strike from happening. The problem is, she’s out of practice. And, the more she digs, the more she realises this whole strike business is more complicated than the Union president let on…

What’s Adam’s favorite bit?

Like A Boss cover

ADAM RAKUNAS

I hate PowerPoint.

This is not a radical statement. Its user interface is opaque, its effects are cloying, and its prevalence as the go-to tool for making dull, bloodless presentations even more soul-deadening means it’s inescapable. If anything, you might be nodding your head right now and saying, “Yeah, I hate PowerPoint, too!”

Which is why my favorite bit in Like A Boss is a PowerPoint presentation.

Well, kinda. Padma Mehta, the two-fisted labor organizer and heroine of the Occupied Space books, is a former executive go-getter. Once upon a time, she lived and breathed presentations about budgets, corporate governance, and entertainment logistics (ie making sure there are enough straws and napkins for every football stadium in the world). She walked away from all that to join the Union and make people’s lives better. No more PowerPoint (or its futuristic equivalent) ever again.

Until she has to talk a planet-wide angry mob into stopping its strike and getting back to work. Normally, she’d just go on the Public, the vast network that’s beamed right into everyone’s eyeballs. But when that gets shut down, what does she do? She grabs a bunch of markers, finds the nearest wall, and gets to drawing. She lays out all the connections between her planet’s stalled economy, the Union’s corrupt leadership, and what everyone watching can do. If she can turn one crowd to her side, then people can copy what they saw and tell a new bunch of people what’s going on. It’s file sharing the old-fashioned way: writing on the wall from memory.

As she talks, the crowd talks back to her. Some of them aren’t buying her argument. A few kids have hijacked the markers and are adding their own embellishments. Getting a bunch of angry people to listen is hard. Getting them to change their minds and come over to your side? That’s a heroine’s task. Padma is tough and fair-minded enough to listen, to challenge, to change her tactics while maintaining her course. Plus, she knows everything is riding on her getting this right.

The fact that she’s giving a presentation with lots of pretty graphics and bullet points is not lost on her. Granted, she’s scribbling boxes and lines on the side of a market stall, but it’s still a bloody presentation. The difference, both for her as the heroine and me as the writer, is that this slow-motion slide show means something. If she can’t make her case to this crowd, the strike will continue, people will get hurt, and the bad guys will win. Engaging in (or writing about) a pitched battle in the streets may be fun, but making a compelling presentation that will get people’s attention and motivate them? That’s a challenge.

I’ve joked how this is the closest I will get to a John Galt speech. Ayn Rand’s infamous seventy-page-long rambler is one of those hallmarks of speculative fiction that anyone who writes about politics has to measure up to at some point. Its sheer cultural weight is massive, and the speech’s word count only adds to its gravitational density. I’m glad Rand wasn’t alive in the era of PowerPoint, because turning the whole thing into a presentation would have created a literary singularity that would have crushed anything that got near it. The whole of Atlas Shrugged leads up to that point, just as most of Like A Boss leads up to Padma writing on a wall. The difference that is that Padma’s trying to get people to work together so they can make their lives better, and Galt wants to justify why it’s perfectly to be such a selfish dick. I like to think Padma would kick little Johnny’s ass even on her worst day.

Padma’s case to her fellow Union members might as well be mine for How To Make A Fair And Just Society. She and her compatriots have gotten complacent and inattentive. Running a Fair And Just society takes work, and work can be a pain in the ass. However, the alternative — chaos and bloodshed and near starvation — are much worse. Better to attend a weekly meeting, pester representatives to do a better job, and do the occasional gruntwork. Oh, and sit through presentations.

Granted, Padma gets to loosen up her audience first with tacos and rum punch. Maybe we all need more of that.

LINKS:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Powell’s

Mysterious Galaxy

Elliott Bay Book Company

Kobo

Website

Twitter

Facebook

Goodreads

BIO:

Adam Rakunas is the author of the Philip K. Dick Award-nominated WINDSWEPT and the forthcoming LIKE A BOSS. His short fiction has appeared in Futurismic.com and the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. He has had a long and varied career as a video game engineer, a triathlon race director, a parking lot attendant, an IT consultant, and a theater usher. He splits his copious spare time between writing, political rabble-rousing, and being a stay-at-home dad. A former Southern Californian, he and his family now live in the Pacific Northwest. Find him online at giro.org.

My Favorite Bit: Anna Kashina talks about ASSASSIN QUEEN

My Favorite BitAnna Kashina is joining us today with her novel Assassin Queen. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Defeated by the Majat forces, Nimos and the other Kaddim Brothers retreat to their secret fortress in the southern mountains. Nimos knows that the Majat’s victory is only temporary: during the flight, he managed to place a mark on Kara, one of the top-ranked Diamond Majat. His mind magic would now allow him to use this mark to confer her fighting skill to the Kaddim warriors and turn her loyalties to their side.

The new Majat Guildmaster, Mai, is planning a march against the Kaddim. His key ally, Prince Kyth Dorn, is instrumental in these plans: Kyth’s magic gift can protect the Majat against the Kaddim mind control powers. But Mai and Kyth are having trouble getting over their rivalry for Kara’s affections–even after they realize that this rivalry is the least of their worries, at least for the moment. Something about Kara is not right…

What’s Anna’s favorite bit?

Assassin Queen cover

ANNA KASHINA

My favorite bit in writing “Assassin Queen” – and the whole “Majat Code” series — is the main character, Mai. It felt almost like a guilty pleasure to write about it. Is this even legitimate?

Mai is a Diamond-ranked warrior, so highly skilled that despite his young age he has become a legend in the Majat Guild. He first appeared in book 1 of the series, “Blades of the Old Empire”, where he was intended to appear only briefly, not that it ever worked out as planned. In that book, Kara, another Diamond-ranked Majat, violates her orders, triggering the Guild to send an assassin after her. Since up until that point Kara seems pretty much undefeatable, I needed this assassin to be dangerous enough to make the readers worry about the outcome. On the heels of that came the realization that this danger cannot be fully evoked unless this character is developed far beyond an ominous shadow figure wielding a blade. It took me a long time to come up with a person who would fit the bill.

Once I worked out the big picture, everything else started clicking into place, including his looks, personality – even his name. Opposite to the stereotypes, he looks slim and delicate, boyish. When he first appears, he is described as more fit to carry a lyre than a sword. Yet, he also emanates subtle threat, and the reason for it becomes obvious as soon as he starts fighting and we see both his competency and the brutal force he is capable of.

Mai is built through contrasts, and when all these contrasts formed in my head, his image popped out and immediately became dimensional. I could always see him in my mind, beyond the details I chose to describe. It became even more exciting when he started talking – and saying things I absolutely did not expect him to say. Any time a character wanted to have a conversation with Mai, all I needed to do was set up the situation and the topic and then let Mai do all the talking. Literally. By Book 2 in the series, “The Guild of Assassins” I began to think of writing as “watching” and I could not wait to get back to it. Now, having written the conclusion of the series, I think back on it with a mix of enjoyment and regret. I love the way the series turned out. And, I am sad I am not writing it any more.

In Book 1 Mai remained a secondary character, even if with a much bigger role in the story than I originally planned. By Book 2 he stepped decisively to the front – can you imagine my thrill when my publisher chose to feature him on the cover? Book 3 all revolves around him, and the choices he must make to save the world. I credit Mai with the way the story stayed so seamlessly together, integrating several major point of view characters into one fast-moving plot line. I also credit him for the fact book 2 won two Prism Awards last year, both the “Best in Fantasy” and the “Best of the Best” grand prize, both given for speculative fiction with elements of romance.

I found it curious that despite how focused on Mai I was, how much I was looking forward to seeing him every time I wrote the Majat Code series, I still found it unnatural to use his point of view. He is shown entirely through the eyes of others, who love and admire him–or on occasions hate him and find him annoying. This blend was fun too, reflecting all the contrasts and dimensions of his personality in a way that also makes perfect sense all around.

But the most rewarding of all was to see the same reaction to Mai in many of my readers and fans. Evoking this response, finding the like-minded people who enjoy the same things about my books that I do – this is really my favorite bit!

LINKS:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

IndieBound

Powell’s

Angry Robot

Blog

Facebook

Twitter

BIO:

Anna Kashina grew up in Russia and moved to the United States after receiving her Ph.D. in cell biology from the Russian Academy of Sciences. She works as a biomedical researcher and combines career in science with her passion for writing.

Anna’s interests in ballroom dancing, world mythologies and folklore feed her high-level interest in martial arts of the Majat warriors. She lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Tonight, at Authors with Drinks, I’ll type a story for you. For charity.

Kids Need to Read is a great charity started by Nathan Fillion. Tonight, at Phoenix Comicon, I’m participating in a fundraiser for them. Other authors are raffling off ARCs and things like that. Me? I’ll write a story for you, on demand.

Tonight, at Drinks with Authors, I'll write a story for you.

A post shared by Mary Robinette Kowal (@maryrobinettekowal) on

Here’s how it works. You donate $40 to the charity, and then you get to pick three cards: Object, Character, Genre. I take those cards and on a vintage 1920s Royal typewriter, I will write a story for you in about fifteen minutes. I keep a carbon copy for myself — yes, using actual carbon paper — and you get to take the signed original, and the cards. The story even comes with a Creative Commons License.

If you really want to be generous, you can also add cards to your story. So, if you want a Science-Fiction/Mystery, you can buy an additional card for $5.

Even more generous? Throw down another $10 for a blank card, so you can write your own to seriously challenge me.

FAQ:

Are the cards unique?
The character and object cards are unique. The genre cards have some unique cards, like “erotica” but cards like “science-fiction” are duplicated. What this means is that once you chose a card, no one else can pick one.

Ever?
Well… not until I reorder the cards, but that doesn’t happen often.

What if I want to publish your story?
Totally fair game. The Creative Commons License is a share-alike, so publish away.

Can I sell it?
You can’t publish it for money, but you could sell it to a collector. I’d like to suggest that, since this is for charity, if you’re paid more for it than you donated, it would be a classy move to donate at least part of that to the charity.

How long is the story?
One page. Every now and then, I’ll go over onto another page. That likelihood increases when cards get added.

What kind of typewriter are you using?
It’s an oxblood red 1920s Royal with the rare Royal Deco type.

What if I can’t make it to the event, but want a story?
You can ask a friend to pick for you, but this is something that I only do in person.

Will you do other events?
Yes. If you have a charity event, and I’m going to be nearby, feel free to ask if I’ll do this. I won’t promise I’ll say yes, because it has to be a charity I believe in, but yes.

My Favorite Bit: Micah Joel talks about BROKEN TABLET

Favorite Bit iconMicah Joel is joining us today to talk about his novel Broken Tablet. Here’s the publisher’s description:

What happens when a Silicon Valley engineer gets trapped in the ancient Sumerian city of Ur?

When a senior engineer at Ixion, Silicon Valley’s hottest company, gets frustrated with the gadget lifestyle, he gives it all up for a pastoral life. But when pulled 4,000 years back to the bronze age, his only choice is to re-invent technology and save the future.

If you liked Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, or time travel classics like L. Sprague de Camp’s Lest Darkness Fall, join the adventure and read this exciting debut novel from Micah Joel.

What’s Micah’s favorite bit?

Broken Tablet cover

MICAH JOEL

When it comes to time travel, there’s a huge problem. Actually there’s quite a few, but the one I’m thinking about is language. To keep a time travel tale from devolving into a boring (or terrifying, depending on your High School experience!) lesson in a forgotten language, a handful of tropes have become commonplace. Protagonists with deep expertise in dead languages are conveniently over-represented. Universal translators are often mentioned once before moving on. Sometimes the whole language barrier just gets kind of glossed over.

In my novel Broken Tablet, I wanted to dispense with the language problem before it got tedious, but in a way that connected with bigger themes. One thread running through the whole book is an examination of conflicting ways of thinking, so I let my inner linguist geek-out over the use of language. How much does your language affect the way you think? If you woke up one morning and found the voice in your head speaking Swahili, or Somali, or Sindhi, or even American Sign Language, how much would that affect your outlook on other things in your life?

It’s not too much of a spoiler to mention that in Broken Tablet, our modern-day protagonist, Shiloh, finds himself stuck in Bronze Age Sumer. After grappling with language for just long enough to realize how truly lost he is, he meets the priestess in charge of the city, who gives him a stone that lets him understand her language. Except this isn’t a throwaway Universal Translator. Hearing another language in his head affects how he thinks, and ends up influencing his perception of the world around him. After finishing the novel I found that this is a field of study called linguistic relativism; it falls under the umbrella of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, in case you’d like something to google later.

An example: In the presence of the powerful priestess, Shiloh’s every attempt to use the word “I” comes out of his mouth as “your servant,” a reflection of the way both the language and the society viewed honorifics and relative status. It helps emphasize Shiloh’s powerlessness shortly after he’s plunged into an unfamiliar world.

Another example, which sadly didn’t make the novel’s final cut: The Sumerians were incredible astronomers, capable of making detailed measurements and predictions of the heavenly bodies. But their language didn’t have a word for astronomy distinct from astrology, whereas in our modern world, it’s common for people to draw a sharper line between scientific thought and unscientific horoscopes.

The Sumerians attributed nearly every imaginable circumstance to some kind of divine intervention, so for them there wasn’t any meaningful distinction between developing mathematics to predict the motion of Jupiter, and, say, performing a complex incantation to predict when they needed to make the next sacrifice at the temple. Shiloh tries to explain this difference, but his explanation (as he hears it) makes no sense: “I see that you’re talking about astrology, as in divination, but I’m talking about astrology, as in observing the heavens.”

As the story progresses, Shiloh gradually figures out the secrets behind the translation stone and asserts himself more forcefully, which causes more of the same effect, but this time in the other direction. He changes the Sumerians’ language and introduces new terms to them, like repeatable experimentation (“a devising”) and the forming of hypotheses (“a devising whose merit begs evaluation”).

Nudging their language in a new direction changes their outlook accordingly until finally… (the remainder of this sentence has been omitted citing spoiler etiquette).

For Shiloh, everything all comes back to Silicon Valley, a place that features both a distinctive corruption of language, and a distinctive culture to match. So if you get a chance to read Broken Tablet, I hope you’ll keep an eye out for the use of language, and think about how much or how little language affects how you see your world.

LINKS:

Amazon

Website

Mailing list

Twitter

Goodreads

BIO:

Micah Joel’s books combine geeky characters with cutting-edge technology, whether modern or ancient. Micah works as a professional geek in Silicon Valley. If you use the internet, chances are, you’ve run some of the code Micah’s written. Micah graduated the Viable Paradise writing workshop; an intense week on Martha’s Vineyard, where he worked on a story that later became Broken Tablet, his debut novel.

Come see me at Phoenix Comicon this weekend!

where I’ll be:

 

My Favorite Bit: LJ Cohen talks about DREADNOUGHT AND SHUTTLE

My Favorite BitLJ Cohen is joining us today with her novel Dreadnought and Shuttle. Here’s the publisher’s description:

When a reckless young computer programmer resurrects the damaged AI on a long dormant freighter, she and her accidental crew expose explosive secrets from a war they were taught ended decades ago.

Welcome to the universe of Halcyone Space.

Charged with protecting Ithaka and its covert rebellion from discovery, Ro and the members of Halcyone’s crew learn to lead double lives within the Commonwealth. Their plans to hide in plain sight disintegrate when Alain Maldonado — Ro’s father — returns seeking revenge and takes a hostage to ensure their cooperation. As the former shipmates track Maldonado down, each course they plot endangers the life of his hostage, threatens to reveal Ithaka, and uncovers conspiracies that could brand them all traitors.

DREADNOUGHT AND SHUTTLE is book 3 of the Halcyone Space series of science fiction space opera adventures that began with DERELICT and continued with ITHAKA RISING.

What’s LJ’s favorite bit?

Dreadnought and Shuttle cover

LJ COHEN

My favorite bit in writing DREADNOUGHT AND SHUTTLE was creating Dev. Devorah Martingale Morningstar, to be precise. The character and her name were a gift from the muses. Dev simply showed up in the first chapter of the novel and steadfastly refused to be a minor player.

When your subconscious is that stubborn, you’d be a fool not to listen.

The Halcyone Space books already had a large cast of main characters and I certainly didn’t plan on adding another point of view to my ensemble. Initially, Dev was just meant to be the college roommate of one of my main characters, Micah Rotherwood. In the middle of book 2 of the series, Micah finally gets what he wants – a place at University. Book 3 starts with him arriving there. Since he would be cut off from his former crewmates aboard Halcyone, I knew he’d need some characters to interact with. Hence, Dev.

She is everything Micah is not: brash where he is controlled, garrulous where he is reserved, open where he is secretive. And her upbringing in the rough-and-tumble settlements – permanent refugee cities that sprung up on Earth after the rising seas took most of the coastlines – stands in sharp contrast to his privileged life off planet as the son of a career diplomat.

It is her fierce will to survive and her creativity that I most love about Dev. Aside from her tough childhood in the settlement and the skills she has from it, she is a materials science student. Being trapped on a ship is her equivalent of a kid in a candy store and she totally takes advantage of what’s around her. There’s a reason why I describe her scenes as MacGuyver meets The Ransom of Red Chief.

Part of the fun of writing her scenes was in exploring the world of materials science and I completely lucked out in finding a large materials science community on G+. The people there enjoyed helping me come up with realistic scenarios of materials and what could be done with them. Materials science is utterly fascinating – the intersection of physics, chemistry, and engineering. I’m so glad I got to discover it through Dev.

Here’s a bit from her point of view:

She released the pressure on the tool and pulled it free. Her forehead beaded sweat. Her hands were trembling. Moving quietly, she repositioned to the opposite corner and tried again. Again, the screwdriver started to warp before there was any sense of movement from the plug. With deliberate care, Dev set it down and wiped her hands on the bottom of her shirt. Then she picked up the tool and went to the third corner.

In her mind, she was uncovering a precious relic, and this was a dig site, not a prison. Slowly, carefully, she could loosen the plugs. She had to.

It was just going to take time. Dev had plenty of that.

She lost track of how long she circled the small area of floor, applying minute amounts of pressure to each of the four plugs in turn, before one shifted. At first Dev thought she’d cracked the screwdriver, but when she looked down, the pattern of the flooring had been disrupted and the tiny disk was now ever so slightly raised up above the level of the tile.

“Fuck, yeah,” she whispered, before attacking the remaining three with a new energy.

While her captor believes she is trapped and helpless, locked in the ruined galley of a spaceship in the midst of a refit, she has spent her day making tools from the polymer water containers and finds a way to break into the access shafts below her. Yes, she’s afraid. Yes, she feels overwhelmed, but she is no one’s passive victim. Dev isn’t a kick-ass warrior or a computer hacker. It is her quiet strength, creative problem-solving skills, and determination that make Dev one of my favorite things about DREADNOUGHT AND SHUTTLE.

LINKS:

Amazon

Google Play books

Goodreads

Website

Blog

Twitter

FB

G+

BIO:

LJ Cohen is a novelist, poet, blogger, ceramics artist, and relentless optimist. After almost twenty-five years as a physical therapist, LJ now uses her anatomical knowledge and myriad clinical skills to injure characters in her science fiction and fantasy novels. She lives in the Boston area with her family, two dogs, and the occasional international student. DREADNOUGHT AND SHUTTLE (book 3 of the SF/Space Opera series Halcyone Space), is her sixth novel. LJ is a member of SFWA, Broad Universe, and the Independent Publishers of New England.

Guest Post by Rachel Swirsky

Thank you! to Mary Robinette Kowal for letting me visit her blog. I’m Rachel Swirsky, and I wrote a short story called “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love,” which upset some folks enough that they’ve been kicking up a fuss for a few years now. I believe in the transformational power of humor so I’m running a Making Lemons Into Jokes fundraiser. To raise money for LGBTQ health care, I’m going to write a Chuck Tingle-esque parody of myself, called “If You Were a Butt, My Butt.”

If you were a butt, my butt

Fans of Mary’s might want to help us reach the $700 stretch goal. If we do, she will narrate the audio book version of “If You Were a Butt, My Butt” in her sexy tweet voice.

If you want the whole story behind the fundraiser, you can read it here– https://www.patreon.com/posts/posteriors-for-5477113.

I was sitting down to write something about the fundraiser when my brain turned this up. It’s sort of quasi-memoir, quasi-poetry, quasi-free association, and thematically related to the fundraiser, more than literally.  My mind went someplace dark, as might make sense, considering the reasons why stories like “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” resonate with people. These are the reasons why we stand together.

*

I remember the first time I learned that one of my friends had been raped. She didn’t know what to call it. There was just an older boy and a thing she was too frozen to speak up against.

I remember the first time I learned that one of my friends was trans. I didn’t understand. My framework of gender hadn’t been made for her. Why be a woman? What does woman mean? Be one if you like, I thought, but please don’t hurt yourself. She didn’t hurt herself.

What does woman mean? I still don’t know.

I remember being ten and sitting with a twenty-two year old man at a party I’d gone to with my parents. His name was Walter and he was kind and we played drawing games together. He died that year. Him, and so many other gay men who should have been entering the fullness of their lives when the clock rang 1990.

He should be 45. I’m older than he’ll ever be.

I remember being four or five, and watching the television and seeing a black man kiss a white woman on WKRP in Cincinnati, and telling my mom that was wrong because blacks and whites don’t kiss each other. My mom, who had been engaged to two black men in Georgia, only a sliver of time after interracial marriage was nationally recognized.

Where did I learn that? Everywhere.

On television, Bill Huxtable the obstetrician gave medical advice to interracial couples. I watched that, and I learned differently. But damn it, why did it have to be Bill Cosby.

I was very young, and I asked my parents who they’d let starve first, me or the cat, if they ran out of money. They said the cat. I was surprised.

I remember walking through museums and stores with my friend Dawna, me sixteen and her fourteen, her wearing baggy pants strung with chains, her hair bleached and cut to a fine half-inch, so that you could rub it back and forth, and it would prickle like cat’s fur. Security guards followed us. They thought she was a dyke; they thought she was a druggie.

They were right. She was both. Hard to know whether the untreatable depression wouldn’t have been so bad if she hadn’t been the kind of girl people yelled “Queer!” at out of the window. She was, though.

I remember the boy I went to high school with, who never wore shoes when he could get away with it, who probably should have known better than to go to a play audition on acid, who wore knee-length shorts with flames on them. His parents kicked him out of the house for being gay.

I thought he had a fifty percent chance of dying. Maybe I was right. He lived, but Dawna was the other fifty percent.

I wrote a young adult book. Some of the characters are gay. They live in a world of battened doors, of sheltering against a relentless hail of hate.

But that was my childhood. The storms are still there, but they’re different now.

I remember being told in the lunch line that I was going to hell.

I remember saying I wasn’t a lesbian. I remember believing I wasn’t a lesbian. I remember telling myself that when I looked at women on magazine pages in swimsuits, it was because I wanted to be like them.

I remember my friend Anita’s brow piercing, and daring sexuality, and lithe strength as she danced ballet.

I remember being like so many other people—somehow investing in a binary, when the word “bisexual” should have been easy to find.

I remember there are things I’ve never known, and voices I’ve never heard, and experiences that will never be part of my skin the way childhood is.

I sat in the car with my mother. I asked, “Would you rather I was a lesbian or straight?” I don’t know how old I was. Maybe sixteen. She had her hands on the wheel. She said, “Straight, because being a lesbian is a hard life.”

That’s true.

I remember the man who hit my cousin when he was a child, and I have nothing to say to that man, and when he sends texts on Christmas, I delete them from my cousin’s phone, unread.

I remember sitting with my cousin on Christmas night. The texts weren’t on his phone anymore. We hadn’t discussed it. “I have so much trouble trusting people,” he said. Then: “I wonder what I would have been like.”

So do I.

 

My Favorite Bit: Alberto Bieri talks about THE DRAGON KING (CHRONICLES OF CALIBRAN)

My Favorite BitAlberto Bieri is joining us today with The Dragon King, the first episode of his epic fantasy The Chronicles of Calibran. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Marked from birth, King Hesleof Obella has sat on the Dragon Throne ruling the land of Calibran for over two decades. A meeting with Lyrroth, an ancient dragon, brings forth surprising news to the wise king.

Hesleof’s ultimate goal of uniting the varied races of Calibran is now altered to keeping the Realm safe from an upcoming threat, potentially more deadly than the dragons of old. Twisted creatures, racial tensions, a disgruntled race of Dragons wanting back the land stolen from them by the mortals, and the emergence of a never before seen power rising from the forbidden Chaos Lands are about to change the face of Calibran forever.

But Hesleof is not alone: the fierce minotaurs of Calibran as well as, Noble elves, Wood elves, Dark elves, Dwarves and even Orcs could be allies in dealing with these new threats.

Hesleof will look for answers: can the legendary Noble elf, Almorwen, provide answers to his doubts? Is the Realm really in danger? Does Hesleof needs to no longer just unite the races, but hold them together to survive?

Join Chronicles of Calibran epic fantasy series now! A brand new amazing fantasy world is waiting for you!

What’s Alberto’s favorite bit?

The Dragon King cover

ALBERTO BIERI

There are plenty of epic battles and intimate struggles in The Chronicles of Calibran, but when thinking about a moment from The Dragon King that I really love, it’s actually a minor incident that comes to mind.

On his way to consult with Lyrroth the Benevolent, a wise dragon who carries a dire warning, King Hesleof comes across a murder. Two barbarians have killed a goblin, seemingly as part of a robbery, and are about to set upon more:

“Our business does not concern the throne,” growled one of the barbarians.

“Does it concern the goblins?” Hesleof motioned to the two cowering creatures. “For the goblins, like the barbarians, are under the protection of the throne.”

Ruric dismounted and took his place beside Hesleof. He began to unlash his battle axe, but stood back as the thalagring let out a screech, unsettled by the building tension. Ruric patted the creature’s shoulder before lifting his weapon free. The king still mounted, their heads were level, and Ruric said, “It appears that your protection might be in question for the one over there.” He pointed with his axe to the goblin corpse, then to the severed head. “…and there.”

“Barbarians do not answer to minotaurs,” said the barbarian holding the sword. Hesleof assumed he was the leader. “We talk to men, not beasts.”

“You will address my sergeant-at-arms when spoken to,” Hesleof said. “Now state your name and business, barbarian.”

The reader might assume that it’s about to be the worst day of the barbarians’ lives, but there’s actually no easy resolution. Both sides expect the king’s protection, and there’s the constant possibility of the situation tipping over into violence. Hesleof behaves wisely, preventing bloodshed, but the murderers go free. There’s little justice to be found, and no-one walks away happy – even Hesleof’s closest friend, the minotaur Ruric, asks if they’re now rewarding the murder of their citizens.

Perhaps it’s a stark moment, but it encapsulates so much about the world of The Dragon King, and about what that titular position entails. In Calibran, potential rulers are ‘Marked’ from birth by a unique symbol. The symbol is ancient magic, but it doesn’t ‘choose’ the next ruler. Instead, it merely marks those who might one day possess the necessary qualities.

In myth, legend, and even our own history, there’s always been this idea that rulers are chosen by divine providence – that they’re selected or supported by otherworldly forces. If you look at Arthurian legend, the bedrock on which a lot of fantasy writing is based, you have that pivotal image of the Lady of the Lake presenting Arthur with the sword Excalibur. In our world, you have the Egyptian Pharaohs, considered Gods on Earth, and even the concept of the ‘divine right of kings’ with relatively recent figures such as King Louis XIV and King James I. Clearly, it’s a concept that strikes a chord with us, and it’s something that The Dragon King, and The Chronicles of Calibran as a whole, is designed to play with.

King Hesleof is a good man and a fair ruler, he lived up to his potential, but that’s not the only way it can go. As the series unfolds, the reader encounters other Marked who are in a different position. Some aren’t ready yet, some don’t want the job, and some have been corrupted by a sense of entitlement.

When Hesleof encounters the barbarians and the goblins, the reader sees that this is a world where, even with the wisdom of Solomon, there’s often no perfect solution. Rulers are successful because being Marked sets them a challenge; it’s the first step in a baptism of fire that can have amazing results, but it is only that first step. It’s an intricate, impressive mechanism, but it’s not the finger of God pointing at one person.

This idea that nothing is guaranteed – that even those who are ‘chosen’ can stumble, fall, and fail – is everywhere in The Chronicles of Calibran. As the goblins lament their murdered brother and the barbarians escape with stolen gold and the king’s blessing, a seed is planted in the reader’s mind. This was a situation that was perfectly mediated by a good king, one who values the safety and happiness of his people, and yet there’s only tragedy. If that’s the case, then what happens when war and terror descend on the land, and that good king is forced to make hard decisions? What happens when ruthless contenders covet his throne and challenge his power? What happens when the very magic that binds the kingdom together threatens to burn it to ash? The Dragon King begins to answer those questions and, while there’s always hope, the minor scene I’ve chosen as my favorite suggests there may be some very dark days on the horizon.

LINKS:

Amazon

Website

Twitter

Facebook

Goodreads

BIO:

Alberto, a fantasy enthusiast since childhood, is the driving force behind the Chronicles of Calibran. His is inspired by the Dragonlance novellas and Tolkien books. Alberto is a big fan of the creations of fantasy artists like Larry Elmore, Angus McBride and Boris Vallejo.

Together with his friends he still enjoys long sessions of RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons, Middle Earth Role Playing and tabletop games.

My Favorite Bit: Ruth Vincent talks about ELIXIR

My Favorite BitRuth Vincent is joining us today with her novel Elixir. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Mabily “Mab” Jones is just a twenty-something, over-educated, under-employed New Yorker trying to survive as a private eye’s unpaid intern . . . or is she? Once a powerful fairy, but tricked by the Fairy Queen into human form, Mab is forced to face her changeling past when investigating a missing person case at a modern speakeasy.

Obadiah Savage bootlegs fairy Elixir to human customers thirsting for a magical fix. But when Mab and Obadiah become joint suspects in a crime they didn’t commit, the only way to prove their innocence is to travel back to the fairy realm. And when Mab confronts the Fairy Queen and learns the depth of her betrayal, she must decide if the fate of the fey world is worth destroying the lives of the humans she’s come to love.

What’s Ruth’s favorite bit?

Elixir cover

RUTH VINCENT

When world-building my urban fantasy novel, ELIXIR, my maxim as a writer was always, can I make it cooler? This became my rubric for designing a magic system. A portal to fairyland in New York City was cool. But using the Times Square New Year’s Eve ball drop as a portal to fairyland, with a magic bootlegger harnessing the energy of the millions of people counting down to power his spell? Cooler.

It was important to me to give the urban part of my story the same tender attention to detail as I gave to the fantasy element; I wanted my fictional NYC to be just as enchanting as the fairy realm that runs parallel to it (in my experience, the real New York City is both more brutal and more magical than it’s commonly portrayed by Hollywood.) The idea for the Times Square ball drop scene occurred to me as a short story back in 2008, before I’d even written the manuscript of ELIXIR.

Like any self-respecting New Yorker, I have never and would never spend New Year’s Eve in Times Square. However, on the eve of 2009, as I watched the ball drop from the relatively safe distance of Columbus Circle, it occurred to me how primal these New Year’s Eve festivities are. Take away the computerized LED lighting system, and it’s not so different than the way people have been celebrating this season for thousands of years: clamoring for the return of a ball of light in the cold, dark, midwinter night. What a perfect setting for a portal to fairyland?

A modicum of internet research yielded some surprising facts: the ball is actually twelve feet in diameter (in other words, I could theoretically fit a character or two inside.) It would be pretty cozy, sure, but that would be good for building tension. And so I wrote a scene where my protagonist, Mab Jones, and her love interest, Obadiah Savage, manage to get inside the ball and use it to travel to the fairy realm.

While some authors dread ‘middles’ as a place where stories can easily sag, I’ve always appreciated this quieter point in a book as an opportunity to explore the complexity of my characters’ inner lives, which can get overshowed in the flash-bam action of a fast-paced opening. One of the delightful consequences of squeezing my heroine and hero into a geodesic sphere together for hours was that they would be forced to talk to each other. Many uncomfortable truths and tender intimacies are revealed in the conversation they have in the ball while waiting for the drop – because they literally can’t get away from each other anymore. (I wish I could share this conversation with you, but that would lead to spoilers!) At the end of this quietly emotional scene, however, comes the ball drop itself – a wild joy ride that was a pleasure to write, and definitely one of my ‘favorite bits.’ Enjoy an excerpt:

….The cacophony of voices became one voice.

“Ten!” they shouted.

What was it going to be like when they got to “one”?

I was scared.

I grabbed Obadiah’s hand. But he took a tiny streamer whistle out of his pocket and blew on it, making an obnoxious noise. Clearly he was having a grand time.

“Nine . . . !”

“When we transition to the next world, what’s it going to be like?” I asked nervously.

“Relax, Mab, you’ll be fine . . .”

“Seven . . . !”

How the hell was I supposed to relax? We were getting closer and closer to the bottom of the pole!

“Six . . . !” the crowd bellowed.

The giant ramen noodle sign slid past us. Lights flashed all around; the sound of the crowd was deafening.

“Five!” they roared.

My ears popped.

“Four!” they chanted in unison. Their voices were getting louder.

“Three . . .”

I looked down at the crystal between my feet. We were almost there.

“Two . . . !”

“One . . . !”

Light exploded around us. Booming blasts shook the ball. And there was smoke—wait, why was there smoke?

“Obadiah—something’s wrong—the ball is on fire!”

He was saying something—I could see his lips moving, but I couldn’t hear him—the sound had deafened me. Each blast shook me inside, vibrating in my bones. I screamed, but I didn’t think he could hear me. In the strobes of glaring light that illuminated Obadiah’s face, I could see that he was smiling. Why was he smiling? The ball was exploding!

“Relax, Mab, it’s the fireworks . . .”

But then suddenly it wasn’t the fireworks. A flash of white light like an atom bomb blinded me—and the bottom of the ball disappeared out from under our feet. We were falling, falling into nothingness.

“Oh shiiiiii—!”

I never finished my expletive. I never heard the crowd yell, “Happy New Year!” I only felt the jolt of impact as my body slammed into something cold and hard. Vaguely, as if underwater, I heard voices singing “Auld Lang Syne,” and then everything went black.

LINKS:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

iBooks

Google Play

Facebook

Twitter

Goodreads

Website

BIO:

Ruth Vincent spent a nomadic childhood moving across the USA, culminating in a hop across the pond to attend Oxford. But wherever she wanders, she remains ensconced within the fairy ring of her imagination. Ruth recently traded the gritty urban fantasy of NYC for the pastoral suburbs of Long Island, where she resides with her roguishly clever husband and a cockatoo who thinks she’s a dog.

Ruth Vincent is the author of the CHANGELING P.I series with HarperCollins Voyager Impulse, beginning with her debut novel, ELIXIR.

My Favorite Bit: Katrina Archer talks about THE TREE OF SOULS

My Favorite BitKatrina Archer is joining us today to talk about her novel The Tree of Souls. Here’s the publisher’s description:

A murky past. A forbidden love. A deathly power.

When the river spits Umbra onto its bank, naked and shivering, the only clue to her identity is the arcane brand seared into her skin. A brand hunted by both a murderous necromancer and a handsome stranger. A brand that thrusts Umbra into a simmering conflict between the ascendant Clans and the nomadic Gherza. A brand that may make her the key to averting all-out war.

The Tree of Souls weaves an intimate tale of dark sorcery, doomed love, and implacable revenge, amid an age-old clash of nations, with all the souls of the living hanging in the balance.

What’s Katrina’s favorite bit?

Tree of Souls cover

KATRINA ARCHER

“That came out of your head?”

I think every writer must get a variation on this comment from a non-writer at some point in their career. I most often receive it from my husband. Coming from him, it’s not meant to imply I’m a freak. It originates from a genuine puzzlement, even awe, that anyone can create stories from whole cloth.

I, on the other hand, don’t understand how people can’t. I’ve always been a daydreamer. As a kid, when lights out denied me my books after bedtime, I’d tell myself my own stories. The only difference between now and then is that now I write those bedtime imaginings down. I probably shouldn’t call them stories—they’re more like little scenes or vignettes. Never enough for a whole plot, but both of my books, including The Tree of Souls, have at least one of these vignettes still in them, fundamentally unchanged from when they saw me off to dreamland.

The vignettes are easy, but creating a whole story that then hangs off one of them is the hard part. I rigidly outlined my first novel just to ensure I could finish it at all. Which left me little room for improvisation and serendipity. With The Tree of Souls, I outlined to a point, wrote, saw where it took me, and then outlined again. With the constraints loosened, I’d sometimes surface from a writing session dazed and blinking, not fully aware of what I’d just written.

I’d been in the zone, a state of working in which you’re not really conscious of working at all. I’m a software engineer, and I’ve experienced the zone before while coding. Some people call the phenomenon flow. The world around you ceases to exist and there’s nothing but the task before you. If you sneak up on me while I’m in the zone, you’ll startle me so badly I’ll jump.

The snippet below comes from one of those episodes of flow. My protagonist, Umbra, and her companion, Fayne, have just been ambushed and are battling for their lives.

Time billowed and expanded, and I saw Fayne, blood dripping from a cut to his cheek, turn to come to my aid. Behind him, a dagger glinted in its inexorable arc toward his heart. I gazed up into the eyes of my executioner, the sword poised over his head for the killing blow.

I cried out, smelled clover and blood. So much life.

I felt the air part as the blade sliced downward.

To end.

Like this.

No.

The brand at my throat scythed icy cold.

No.

Umbra’s on a big voyage of personal discovery in this story, and this fight and how she gets out of it show her that she’s really not the person she thought she was. I love this part of the story not just because it’s critical to Umbra’s journey, but because when I reread these scenes the day after writing them, I said to myself “This came out of my head?!”

My favourite bit is the one that surprised even me.

(My second-favourite is the bit with a horse (see what I did there?) that everyone tells me breaks them out of the story because it’s just too implausible. It also happens to be the only bit I have actually witnessed in real life.)

LINKS:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Powell’s

iBooks

Google Play

Kobo

 

Website

Facebook

Twitter

Goodreads

BIO:

Katrina Archer is the author of dark fantasy The Tree of Souls, YA fantasy Untalented, and nature photography book Shorescapes of Southern British Columbia. A professional engineer, she lives on her sailboat in Vancouver, BC, Canada, and has worked in aerospace, video games, and film. Connect with her online at www.katrinaarcher.com.

Debut Author lessons: Sensitivity readers and why I pulled a project.

This entry is part 21 of 21 in the series Debut Author Lessons

There are some things you need to understand about yourself and about how community works, before you approach a reader and truly, before you even start the project in which you plan to represent a marginalized community. It’s good, and important, to want to represent people who are outside your experience, but it’s hard work.

  1. You have to be willing to kill the project. If you aren’t, then you’re just asking for a stamp of approval or someone to blame. It is neither easy, nor pleasant to kill a project. I’ve done it. I’m still upset about it, but that means only one person is upset. Being willing to kill the project doesn’t mean you have to be happy about it.  But… if you are going to prioritize your own feelings on a subject, as someone outside a community, over the feelings of people inside the community, then maybe that’s not something you should be writing in the first place.
  2. Culture is not a monolith. You need a variety of people from within that community. One person alone won’t do it. This is like asking me to be a sensitivity reader for white culture. If it’s set in the South, sure. But a book that is set in North Dakota? Not a chance. I’ve driven through the state.
  3. Internalized oppression is very real. People in positions of privilege tend to not understand how someone who is demographically part of a group, might have views that are consistent with the dominant group. Let me give you an example that is not emotionally loaded. England used to be a colony of the Roman Empire. There’s Latin on our money. Greco-Roman inspired architecture is still highly valued. Roman numerals are still taught in school. The classics. And you don’t notice any of it because it is such an ingrained part of society now. That’s the lingering touch of colonialism. That’s how firmly embedded internalized oppression can be that it can last for generations. So when you’re asking your sensitivity readers to look at your work, it’s important to choose people who are conversant with controversies in their community.
  4. Kindness is deadly. If you’re in a good mood, you’re more likely to enjoy something, right? So friends who like you might give you a pass for something, that they’d call out someone else on. Try to get readers who don’t know you, in addition to ones who do.
  5. It is exhausting. If I’m asking someone to just beta-read, that’s one thing. But if I’m asking them to work with me to understand a culture that I don’t belong to, what I’m asking for is tutoring. I pay $3 per page when I hire someone. So if someone turns me down, that’s because $3 a page isn’t worth it the headache that I’m going to bring. That’s on me, not on them. I may not like it, but it’s still not their responsibility. ETA: I use a ton of beta-readers before I sell it. After it’s sold, part of my advance goes to hiring someone to do a deep-focus read.
  6. You are in a position of power. I know it doesn’t feel like that, but see line item 7 again. Everyone exists on multiple axes of power. On the race axis, I’m white and at the dominant end. On the gender axis, I’m on the feminine end, which is towards the subordinate end, but not as far along the axis as if I were a trans woman. As a writer, you shape the world. This is a position of power. For your reader to tell you that you’ve screwed up, is not easy, particularly if they occupy the subordinate end of multiple axes. A single voice that is telling you “no” probably represents a larger number of voices who just weren’t didn’t have the energy to spend reading in the first place.
  7. Own your mistakes. When you screw up, and you will, you have to own the mistake. It’s on you. It’s no one else’s fault for not catching it, or not having the energy to educate you. Apologize. Correct. Make amends.
  8. The controversy won’t hit just you. This was the one that was hardest for me to grasp. It’s easy to worry about “What if I get it wrong?!?!” and “What if people get angry at me!?!” What is harder goes back to bullet point #2. Culture is not a monolith. If you are writing about something that is outside your community and controversial, that controversy and the conversation surrounding it will hit all the people in that community. Worse than that, the things you got wrong are probably things that you inherited from a systemic system of oppression, which means that you are reinforcing that oppression in the public consciousness. And that doesn’t hit you. That hits only the community you’re writing about.
  9. It’s not fair. No. It’s not. That’s what systemic oppression is. The tiny little piece that you have to deal with, by putting in extra work, or money? Compare that to living in a marginalized community for your entire life. It’s not fair, but you aren’t the one being marginalized or oppressed.
  10. You have to be willing to kill the project. You’ve done all that. You’ve done everything “right” and then you still get someone who says that the project is a problem. I’ve had this happen. I had 20+ readers on a project and one of the last four, in the final pass, said that the project was problematic. I pulled it. I was not, by any measure, happy about this. I was angry and bitter and grieving. Truly, I still am. But I still pulled it, because ultimately it’s not my community and any damage that occurs is going to hurt more people than just me.

All of this is hard. It is work. It is tempting to look at that giant list and think that it’s not worth it to even try. If you take that lesson from this, you’ve learned the wrong thing. It is better to try, to fail, and to pull the project, than to continue on in ignorance. I learned a ton writing the project that I pulled and that, honestly, is worth it. I may be upset, but the time and money was not wasted. What you need to know about yourself is if you can handle it. Can you handle the work? Can you handle deciding not to publish something? And if you’re willing to do the research for spaceships, why not for people? If you’re willing to not publish something because there’s a structural flaw, why not for people?

It’s hard. It’s worth it. Regardless of the outcome. You’re a writer. Writers have power. Use your power for good.

Resources:

Commenting ground rules.

  • NO ONE TELL ME THAT I SHOULDN’T HAVE PULLED THE PROJECT.
  • I will not discuss the project, so don’t ask or speculate.
  • If you have resources, please let me know and I’ll add them to the list.

My Favorite Bit: Renee Patrick talks about DESIGN FOR DYING

My Favorite BitRenee Patrick is joining us today with their novel Design for Dying. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Los Angeles, 1937. Lillian Frost has traded dreams of stardom for security as a department store salesgirl . . . until she discovers she’s a suspect in the murder of her former roommate, Ruby Carroll. Party girl Ruby died wearing a gown she stole from the wardrobe department at Paramount Pictures, domain of Edith Head.

Edith has yet to win the first of her eight Academy Awards; right now she’s barely hanging on to her job, and a scandal is the last thing she needs. To clear Lillian’s name and save Edith’s career, the two women join forces.

Unraveling the mystery pits them against a Hungarian princess on the lam, a hotshot director on the make, and a private investigator who’s not on the level. All they have going for them are dogged determination, assists from the likes of Bob Hope and Barbara Stanwyck, and a killer sense of style. In show business, that just might be enough.

The first in a series of riveting behind-the-scenes mysteries, Renee Patrick’s Design for Dying is a delightful romp through Hollywood’s Golden Age.

What’s Renee’s favorite bit?

Design for Dying cover

RENEE PATRICK

One half of the detective duo in Design for Dying, our mystery set during Hollywood’s Golden Age, is Edith Head. The real-life costume designer had a remarkable career spanning six decades, over five hundred films, and thirty-five Academy Award nominations. She inspired Edna Mode in Pixar’s The Incredibles. She was on a postage stamp.

The other half? Lillian Frost, a good Catholic girl from Queens, New York, who ventured west to become a star, quickly realized fame wasn’t in the cards, and settled for security as a clerk in Los Angeles’ second-best department store.

What these unlikely allies have in common is our favorite bit. Namely, they understand that each movie has a secret history, hidden in plain sight.

Edith came by this knowledge through her position at Paramount Pictures. Lillian learned it through family. Here, she describes what she brought with her to California:

What I did have was a love of the movies and an appreciation for the labor it took to make them. Both came courtesy of my uncle Danny, who toiled for years as a set painter at the Paramount Studios in Astoria. He’d bring me to work with him occasionally, telling me to church mouse in a corner. I’d drink in the hubbub behind the scenes then marvel at the transformation that occurred when the cameras rolled. Actors would take their places, and the flats that Uncle Danny and his boisterous pals had erected and painted would become a banker’s office or a police station before my eyes. In the soft flicker of light at the Prospect Theater in Flushing, I’d thrill whenever Danny leaned over and whispered, I did that bit there, pet. Thanks to Danny, hard work and magic were indistinguishable for me.

The stories told by people who work on films are seldom about the finished product. They’re about punching the clock. The day we shot that scene, it was only seventeen degrees. The dog in that movie hated me for some reason. I could hardly breathe in that dress. Their experiences, understandably, will be colored by purely practical concerns. They were doing a job.

Creating timeless glamour takes true effort. Edith Head knew this all too well. She collaborated with scores of directors and producers to render their visions in fabric and thread. Actors speak of “going from the outside in,” using external signifiers like wardrobe to help them discover their characters. Edith would be at their side when these performers were at their most vulnerable: stripped of their handlers and retainers, before they’d selected the necessary tools, fearful of how their decisions would play out on towering silver screens around the world.

There are no secrets in a dressing room. What better place for an amateur sleuth?

The story being told onscreen isn’t the only one. It may not even be the best one. That conundrum lies at the heart of every backstage drama from 42nd Street to The Larry Sanders Show. Critic Gene Siskel would apply a simple yardstick: “I always ask myself, ‘Is the movie that I am watching as interesting as a documentary of the same actors having lunch together?’”

We were intrigued by the notion of spinning new stories from these secret histories, of isolating elements from movies and constructing a fictional narrative around them. A gown from a forgotten 1936 crime drama, The Return of Sophie Lang. A set built for College Swing, a gossamer 1938 musical-comedy. Even famous faces like actress Barbara Stanwyck and Edith herself. We wanted to fold reality in on itself and produce something familiar, but different.

With a lot of jokes in it.

LINKS:

Website

Read an excerpt

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

IndieBound

Goodreads

Twitter

Facebook

Edith Head’s postage stamp

BIO:

Renee Patrick is the pseudonym of married authors Rosemarie and Vince Keenan. Rosemarie is a research administrator and a poet. Vince is a screenwriter and a journalist. Both native New Yorkers, they currently live in Seattle, Washington.

Want to take a writing workshop? In the Caribbean? With me?

So, last year, the Writing Excuses gang put together this writing workshop and we held it on a cruise ship. Why? Because it turns out that when we were pricing venues this was the best deal. No, seriously. We’d been doing them at my parents’ house and people were staying at a Best Western a half mile away. For the same price as staying in a roadside motel, we could take them to the Caribbean AND all the food was included.

Yeah…The meeting to decide to do the cruise instead of Mom and Dad’s was really, really short.

What’s also great about it is that, previously, we had to cap it at 24 people. Last year, we had a 110 students. In order to keep the student/teacher ratio small, we bring guest instructors with us. This year, we’ve gone from 4 teachers to 10.

So in addition to Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Howard Taylor, and me, you also get writers Steven Barnes, Desiree Burch, Tananarive Due, Claudia Gray, agent DongWon Song, and editors Lynne M. Thomas, Michael Damian Thomas, and Navah Wolfe.

We have lectures, critique sessions, small group breakouts, and writing exercises.

And it’s in the Caribbean. Bahamas, St. Maarten, and St. Thomas.

The other thing that we’re doing is we have a family track. One of the hardest things about being a writer is balancing your art and your family. We try to make that easier by having a family rate and also teaching classes like, “So…You Have a Writer in the Family.”

Oh… the ship we’re on? It has child care.

And it’s accessible. Which is the other reason we moved to the ship. My parents’ place? Built by my grandfather so it is seriously not handicap accessible.

The cruise is September 17-24. For more information, hop on over to the registration site.

Eventbrite - The 2016 Out of Excuses Writing Workshop and Retreat

My Favorite Bit: Deborah Biancotti talks about WAKING IN WINTER

Favorite Bit iconDeborah Biancotti is joining us today to talk about her novella Waking in Winter. Here’s the publisher’s description:

On a far, frozen desert world, Muir the pilot discovers an ancient artefact in the ice. She sees a mermaid at first, but later comes to wonder if it is Ningyo, a fish god from her homeland in Japan. A god that brings misfortune and storm. A god that—by all means possible—should be returned to the sea. The rest of Base Station Un see something else. Bayoumi the lab rat sees Sekhmet the lioness goddess, daughter of the sun god. Partholon the creep finds in its shape a ‘good, old-fashioned cruxifix’. But all of them want to possess it. All of them want it for themselves.

What’s Deborah’s favorite bit?

Waking in Winter cover

DEBORAH BIANCOTTI

The thing I geeked out about most when I was writing Waking in Winter was ice.

Yeah, I know. Doesn’t sound fascinating. But for many of us in the Southern Hemisphere, ice is pretty exotic. That’s partly why I’ve had such an obsession with stories set in icy, snowy landscapes. From John W. Campbell’s 1938 novella Who Goes There? to Alistair Maclean’s 1963 novel Ice Station Zebra. From John Carpenter’s 1982 movie The Thing to . . . well, how do you follow up The Thing?

So when I wrote my own ice-loving story, I read up on polar exploration. I discovered that in 1897, three Swedish men died after trying to circumnavigate the Arctic—in a balloon. I found out that in 2008, NASA dropped ninety rubber ducks into a glacier in Greenland. They’re still looking for them. (Ninety! That’s like the number of Tupperware lids I’ve lost.)

I learned that scientists in the Antarctic carry pee bottles, and transport frozen human waste back with them to their own countries for sewerage treatment. (Solids are burned, in case you were wondering, and the ash is also taken home.) Waste management was so out of control on our initial forays into the Antarctic that countries are still undertaking remediation treatments of sites where oil drums and old vehicles have been dumped, contaminating the ice.

I read a fabulously cynical cult classic called Big Dead Place by Nicholas Johnson. The London Times called it “M*A*S*H on ice”. Johnson was a contract worker at McMurdo Station, an American Antarctic research station. From drunk clowns to frozen stalagmites of excrement, Johnson had seen it all, done it all and described it all “to a repetitious soundtrack of Foreigner and The Eagles”.

From Johnson’s book I borrowed the idea of expedition classism and station decoration. Johnson reported on plastic trees and fake houseplants. I used a deflating palm tree. Either way, there’s something stubbornly human about the desire to decorate the icy landscape like the world ‘back home’.

Turning to other ice research, I read about Frederick Tudor, the young nineteenth century entrepreneur who invented the ice trade and became a millionaire. I learned that Antarctica is a desert, because so little rain or snow falls there. I looked into the frozen underground ocean on Mars. I realized my main character, Fuyuko Muir, has been trying to get by with a frozen sea inside her, a kind of emotional desert that she thinks she skim across in her twin-seater plane.

I barely scraped the surface of life in polar climates. But it all helped to shape the world of my story: an icy, unnamed planet with remote scientific outposts and an unknowable alien presence. Sometimes the research helped in very small ways, and sometimes in bigger ways (like the ducks. I used the ducks).

I admit some sadness came from writing this article, though. As I searched for updates to my research, I discovered that Alberto Behar—the NASA scientist who created the rubber duck experiment—died in a light plane crash in LA in 2015. I found that Nicholas Johnson’s book Big Dead Place was set to be made into an HBO series by James Gandolfini—until the actor/producer died in 2013. (The TV show is potentially still moving towards development.)

And Nicholas Johnson himself died by his own hand in 2012, after having been blacklisted from returning to the Antarctic outpost he’d described with such unabashed bittersweetness. I tried to visit his Big Dead Place website and found a server error that rendered the whole thing a pure, blank, white space.

There’s something about those icy, dangerous landscapes, some kind of longing or awe, that keeps us coming back for more. I raise my glass and tip my hat to those explorers and storytellers who have gone before me, the ones who have shared my fascination. And all the explorers and storytellers to come.

LINKS:

PS Publishing Waking in Winter order page

Blog

Amazon

Read an excerpt

Learn more at these links:

S. A. Andrée’s Arctic Balloon Expedition of 1897

The Sober Science of Migrating Rubber Duckies

Waste Handling in the Antarctic:

http://www.usap.gov/travelAndDeployment/documents/FieldManual-Chapt15WasteHandling.pdf

http://classroom.antarctica.gov.au/stewardship/waste-management-in-antarctica

http://icestories.exploratorium.edu/dispatches/greywater-and-waste/

Human impacts: prevention, mitigation and remediation (in Antarctica)

The Man Who Shipped New England Ice Around the World

Water on Mars: Exploration & Evidence

What Is Antarctica?

Alberto Behar, Who Used Robots and Rubber Ducks to Probe Icy Secrets

James Gandolfini’s ‘Big Dead Place’ Revived at HBO with ‘Sopranos’ Alum Timothy Van Patten Attached

The Fascinating Life and Death of Nick Johnson

Big Dead Place website

List of suicide crisis lines

BIO:

Deborah Biancotti is the author of A Book of Endings and BadPower, and co-author of the New York Times bestselling novel, Zeroes. She has been shortlisted for the Shirley Jackson Award and the William L. Crawford Award for Best First Fantasy Book. Her new novella, Waking in Winter, is available from PS Publishing. Deborah lives in Sydney, Australia. You can find her online at deborahbiancotti.com and on Twitter @deborah_b.

 

Submission opportunity: FutureScapes Writing Contest

I’m judging the FutureScapes Writing contest, which has a goal that I’m really excited about.  It’s the idea that art can change the world, and so it invites submissions for stories with the goal of changing the future.

“Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.”          -Oscar Wilde

Looking at his words from across a century, we might as well declare Mr. Wilde a prophet. Since his time our lives have been fundamentally changed by a long sequence of technologies that were first envisioned in fiction. We can thank (at least in part) Star Trek for our mobile phones, tablets, and, yes, even transparent aluminum. We should tip our hat to H.G. Wells for the invention of liquid-fueled rockets, lasers, and myriad other inventions (sadly, no time machine yet with which to thank him in person). And it appears that, along with so much else of the future, Arthur C. Clarke had the internet growing in some corner of his capacious brain (note, Al Gore was studying for a law school midterm at the time).

Yes, fiction has paved the way for the life we now know, but it has also, likely, prevented us from suffering through futures we’d rather not experience.

Don’t believe me? Then start listening. Listen to the news. Listen for the sound of a news pundit asking her guest, “Tell me professor, should we be worried? Are we headed towards 1984?” When they ask that sort of question they’re not wondering whether  Walter Mondale will run for president again. They’re highlighting a cultural touchstone we all share thanks to the genius of George Orwell. We even named these specters of possible dystopia after him, these Orwelian Futures.

FutureScapes is about both of these things. It’s about futures we want and don’t want. Things to be pursued and things to be avoided like the plague. FutureScapes is about harnessing the genius of art to chart a better life for humanity.

FutureScapes is an annual writing competition that asks writers to envision a particular sort of world, and tell us a story about it. We could run projections and publish reports, but there’s a reason why Wilde didn’t say, “Life imitates empirical studies.” We want to help writers of excellent potential find their voice while shaping  tomorrow.

You can read the full details of the contest at FutureScapes Writing Contest – Write your story, change the world