I participate in NaNoWriMo every year, but it’s not for everyone, and that’s okay. The thing I want you to know, as we go through the month, is that you don’t have to feel pressured into writing. So I want to talk a little about some commonly passed around advice that can make you feel like a failure.
You must write every day. Well… no. You can actually have a successful career and be a binge writer. You can write most days, but have a structured day off. You can write randomly. You can write on a strict schedule. Ultimately, it doesn’t actually matter what your writing process is, because the reader will never see that. Now, writing every day does some useful things. During NaNoWriMo, I do, in fact, write every day BUT during the rest of the year I just write most days. The thing that is useful about “write every day” is that it forces you into the chair on days when the story is difficult or you’d otherwise make an excuse.
The problem with “write every day” is that it can make you feel like a failure if you aren’t writing because of travel, or depression, or exhaustion, or just because you need time to sort out a plot point. You aren’t a failure if you don’t write every day.
A writer, writes. Okay… sure. That’s true. But it’s easy to misconstrue those three words into thinking that if you don’t write, you’re not a writer. Know what? A plumber is still a plumber even when not plumbing… or whatever it is they do. Point being, that if you need to take a break the universe won’t reach out and take your writer badge away from you.
You must submit your fiction. This is true, if it is fiction you want to sell. But it’s totally okay to write things just for the fun of it, with no intention of ever having a career as a writer. We allow that with every other art form, but there’s a societal pressure to publish that I think is really harmful to a lot of early career writers, or people who simply enjoy it as a hobby. You’re still a writer, even if you never publish a thing. You may not be an author, which does require publication by dictionary definition, but you’re still a writer.
You must… Any teacher, including me, who starts a sentence that way is about to utter some bullshit. What they mean is “this works for me and I’m telling you hoping that it will work for you, too.” Name any rule, and I’ll be able to find you an example of published fiction which breaks it. Also? Blind adherence to rules is a good way to watch fiction stagnate. The rules might help you with things that you struggle with, but all of them can be broken.
The bottom line is that as a writer, you need to figure out what works for you. If that’s NaNoWriMo, awesome! If it’s not? Also awesome! If you don’t know what works? Try stuff. Maybe even use November to experiment. If you don’t? Still not a failure.
What’s some writing advice that you’ve struggled with?
Stephanie Burgis is joining us today with her novel Congress of Secrets. Here’s the publisher’s description:
In 1814, the Congress of Vienna has just begun. Diplomats battle over a new map of Europe, actors vie for a chance at glory, and aristocrats and royals from across the continent come together to celebrate the downfall of Napoleon…among them Lady Caroline Wyndham, a wealthy English widow. But Caroline has a secret: she was born Karolina Vogl, daughter of a radical Viennese printer. When her father was arrested by the secret police, Caroline’s childhood was stolen from her by dark alchemy.
Under a new name and nationality, she returns to Vienna determined to save her father even if she has to resort to the same alchemy that nearly broke her before. But she isn’t expecting to meet her father’s old apprentice, Michael Steinhüller, now a charming con man in the middle of his riskiest scheme ever.
The sinister forces that shattered Caroline’s childhood still rule Vienna behind a glittering façade of balls and salons, Michael’s plan is fraught with danger, and both of their disguises are more fragile than they realize. What price will they pay to the darkness if either of them is to survive?
What’s Stephanie’s favorite bit?
Vienna has had a hold on my family’s imagination for a very, very long time.
Over a hundred years ago, my Croatian great-grandfather traveled to Vienna as a teenager to be a tailor’s apprentice. He wandered around the city in awe of its beauty and culture. He attended Mass in the Stefansdom cathedral, where Mozart had been married. He went back to Croatia to be with his family once his apprenticeship was finished…but then World War I broke out, and he fled to America, never to see Vienna again.
Still, he never forgot that city. Living in Youngstown, Ohio, he raised his children on stories of Vienna’s beauty. The best of everything was in Vienna, he told them! My grandfather, his youngest son, learned German at home before he learned English in kindergarten, and needless to say my mother and I both ended up studying German too at various points, drawn by the romance of all those family memories. When I announced, at nineteen, that I’d be studying in Vienna as part of a college exchange program, my grandfather was delighted.
Still, I had no idea just how hard I would fall in love with Vienna when I got there. It didn’t hurt, of course, that I was already obsessed with eighteenth-century music history – and Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven all lived and performed there at various points. Vienna was the center of musical culture in the Classic era.
But then you add in the gorgeous palaces, the cobblestoned streets, and oh, yes, the amazing cakes and coffee…yeah, I was a goner.
As soon as I got back to America, I scrambled to find an excuse – any excuse! – to return to Vienna. I ended up applying for and winning a Fulbright scholarship to study at the University of Vienna for a year and teach at a Viennese secondary school. And when I met my British husband a few years later, it only made sense for us to spend 6 months living in Vienna before we moved together to the UK.
Finally, a few years later, I made it back once again, this time funded by an academic grant to research my PhD thesis (on opera and politics in eighteenth-century Vienna) by studying original eighteenth-century manuscripts at the Austrian National Library…which just happens to be located in the magnificent Hofburg palace in Vienna.
Every day for two weeks, I sat at one of the long wooden tables in the music library, poring over delicate eighteenth-century operatic scores, while the smell of blooming lilacs drifted in through the open windows…
…But every afternoon when the library closed, everything changed. I stopped thinking about music or about my PhD thesis. Instead I wandered through the narrow cobblestoned streets of Vienna’s first district with a very different book in mind.
I was already plotting out Congress of Secrets, my historical fantasy novel set at the Congress of Vienna in 1814. And it was an incredible historical moment for the city.
Aristocrats and royals from all across Europe gathered in Vienna that year to celebrate the downfall of Napoleon with glittering fêtes, ceremonies, balls and gossip. At the same time, behind that glittering round of social festivities, diplomats from all of those countries were hard at work fighting their own metaphorically bloody political battles, negotiating to re-divide the continent after decades of war.
Meanwhile, the Austrian emperor’s paranoia had led to the development of a terrifyingly powerful Viennese secret police force that spied on everyone. Vienna had once been famous for coffee houses where everything and everyone could be freely debated; by 1814, no one dared discuss politics in public anymore, for fear of being turned in by one of the secret police’s many informants. It wasn’t only the local Viennese who were under inspection, either. During the Congress, the secret police kept an eye on everyone. Local servants went through the fireplaces of important visitors, pulling out letters to be turned into the secret police, and Emperor Francis received regular reports.
That would be an incredibly rich and fascinating historical setting for any writer to play with, even without any magical component. But of course, in my version of events, Francis isn’t just getting his strength from information. He’s also been secretly resorting to dark alchemy for years…
…as my heroine knows all too well. Her childhood was destroyed by the dark alchemy hidden behind Vienna’s glamorous façade. Now she’s back under a new identity, using the Congress as her excuse to return to her first home and finally save her father from imprisonment…
…But only if the secret police don’t find out her true identity – and if she isn’t tripped up by the competing schemes of her father’s old apprentice, now a charming conman working on his biggest gamble yet.
All of those disguises, deceptions and schemes are tied inescapably to the narrow streets and palace corridors of Vienna, my favorite city in the world. There’s darkness, there’s intrigue, there’s the kind of magic that can kill your soul, and there’s even unexpected romance…
…But none of it could take place anywhere but in Vienna.
The truth is, I agree with my great-grandfather. I’m still in love with that city, too!
Stephanie Burgis grew up in East Lansing, Michigan and now lives in Wales, surrounded by castles and coffeeshops. She is the author of two historical fantasy novels for adults, MASKS AND SHADOWS and CONGRESS OF SECRETS, both published in 2016 by Pyr Books. She also writes MG fantasy novels, and her MG Regency fantasy trilogy, KAT, INCORRIGIBLE, was published by Atheneum Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. To find out more and read excerpts from her novels, please visit her website: www.stephanieburgis.com
Ariela Housman is joining us today to talk about her art print Fuck You, Pay Me. Here’s the description:
Sometimes profanity is required. When someone asks you to work “for exposure,” for example. Or for “portfolio development.” Or tries to haggle you down from your stated prices by trying to convince you that you’re not actually that good.
Remind yourself to stand firm and insist on being paid what you are worth with this print. Beautiful letters and graceful flourishes deliver a blunt message with class.
The print comes with a dark blue mat and is available in three sizes:
8″ x 10″
9″ x 14″
16″ x 20″
What’s Ariela’s favorite bit?
This art print is outside of my comfort zone. The departure from my usual artistic style wasn’t what made it hard; I am uncomfortable with the content. I was always taught to use profanity sparingly and never in a professional setting. Yet here I am, not just using it but writing it in brightly-colored, super fancy lettering, stamping my brand name on it, and selling it.
A good dose of encouragement from friends helped me overcome my squeamishness about swearing “on the job.” I didn’t realize until afterward how much my uneasiness over making this print, and the process of defeating it, mirrored my discomfort over asking to get paid and my gradual journey to confidence in the worth of my work.
I’m not comfortable talking about money. Even in non-monetary terms, I frequently find it difficult to assert my own worth and to ask for what I want instead of just what I need. I have internalized the idea that these are not polite things to do, just like swearing, and that doing so would have negative consequences. When I started selling my art, I worried that if I set my prices as high as I thought I deserved, I would never make any sales. Even now I revisit that concern briefly whenever I price a new product. Each time I send a quote in response to an inquiry about custom work, I take a deep breath and remind myself not to brace for conflict; after all, only sometimes do they result in an angry email from the not-to-be-client who is incensed I have the gall to price my work above the value of a mass-produced movie poster. Frankly, sometimes I wonder whether my business will implode if I say “Fuck your expectations of self-sacrifice For The Art, your impression that you can bully me into accepting less money than I know my work is worth, and my own Imposter Syndrome in the bargain! I’m pursuing my art on my own terms.”
The support of my friends and colleagues and the mentorship of senior calligraphers gave me the confidence to start charging in the first place. Over the years it has gotten easier for me to state my prices without flinching, but I still experience moments of self-doubt. When I do, I turn to fellow creators for reassurance and inspiration. So, too, with this print. I chewed on the idea privately for at least a month before getting up the courage to ask a group of friends over happy hour drinks if they thought a print like this would sell. The chorus of “YES!” was loud and immediate. So I put it on the production calendar. (Then followed a surprised IM from my manager, Terri, who was puzzled by the appearance of “Fuck You Pay Me” on the production calendar with no further explanatory notes. Once I explained, she was enthusiastic.)
I love the result. I’ve always been tickled by theater of the absurd, so the juxtaposition of style and content makes me grin. It’s an utterly serious message delivered in the cheerful colors of a Crayola marker set; pompous illuminated letters form a word sometimes decried as the crudest one English has to offer; delicate flourishes and curlicues dress up a bluntly utilitarian sentiment. It’s something that shouldn’t have to exist and yet is oh so necessary.
I am still working on being comfortable with setting my prices as I should and sticking to my boundaries. But until we get to the perfect world where I don’t need to worry about my work being adequately respected and valued, I can practice polite ways saying “Fuck you, pay me.”
Ariela Housman has been working as a professional calligrapher for 13 years. Together with her best friend and proofreader Terri Ash, she founded Geek Calligraphy in 2015. A geek of many flavors, Ariela consumes SFF in most media, including novels, comics, TV, and movies. She also enjoys tabletop games, costuming, swing dancing, smashing the kyriarchy, and drinking tea.
Navah Wolfe and Dominik Parisien are joining us today to talk about their book The Starlit Wood. Here’s the publisher’s description:
An all-new anthology of cross-genre fairy tale retellings, featuring an all-star lineup of award-winning and critically acclaimed writers co-edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe. Once upon a time. It’s how so many of our most beloved stories start. Fairy tales have dominated our cultural imagination for centuries. From the Brothers Grimm to the Countess d’Aulnoy, from Charles Perrault to Hans Christian Anderson, storytellers have crafted all sorts of tales that have always found a place in our hearts. Now a new generation of storytellers have taken up the mantle that the masters created and shaped their stories into something startling and electrifying. Packed with award-winning authors including Naomi Novik, Garth Nix, Marjorie Liu, Charlie Jane Anders, Aliette de Bodard, Amal El-Mohtar, Sofia Samatar, Theodora Goss, Genevieve Valentine, Max Gladstone, Catherynne M. Valente, Jeffrey Ford and Seanan McGuire, this anthology explores an array of fairy tales in startling and innovative ways, in genres and settings both traditional and unusual, including science fiction, western, and post-apocalyptic as well as traditional fantasy and contemporary horror. From the woods to the stars, The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales takes readers on a journey at once unexpected and familiar, as a diverse group of writers explore some of our most beloved tales in new ways across genres and styles.
What are Navah’s and Dominik’s favorite bits? NAVAH WOLFE and DOMINIK PARISIEN It’s nearly impossible for us to pick a favorite bit in The Starlit Wood. The stories are just so good. Each of the authors did a phenomenal job finding new ways to retell these fairy tales– beautiful sentences, awesome characters we want to follow around, and emotional punches that stuck with us for days. There are scenes in every story we wanted to talk about here. So instead of trying to narrow it down to a single favorite bit, we both decided to talk about our most personal bits. Navah We all know that representation is important. We discuss it constantly, how critical it is for kids to see themselves in fiction, for people to have a window into different viewpoints, to open their eyes and teach them empathy. It was rare for me, as a kid, to see myself represented in the books I read. Sure, there were Jewish characters like Kitty Pryde in X-Men, but they were few and far between. Science fiction and fantasy stories weren’t exactly overflowing with young Jewish women. Even though the stories I loved felt universal in their emotions, I felt invisible within them. But I grew up, and I went out into the world, and I found my space, and it didn’t even occur to me how powerfully representation would still resonate for me until I read Naomi Novik’s “Spinning Silver.” “Spinning Silver” is a retelling of Rumpelstiltskin, and it’s one that turns tropes and expectations on their head. It’s hard to not see at least a whiff of anti-Semitism in the origin story, which famously features a long-nosed villain who wickedly values gold above all. Naomi’s version is a decidedly Jewish fairy tale—but in an entirely different way. In her story, the miller’s daughter becomes Miryem, who is not only from a family of moneylenders, but becomes one herself. It’s a story of family, and the wonderful world-building is filled with Jewish culture, history, and traditions. And most satisfyingly, “Spinning Silver” is a fairy tale where the power and choices are all in the female protagonist’s hands. This story sang for me. It was familiar, it was electric. I saw my own beautiful traditions, religion and culture within the skin stretched over the old offensive bones, and it felt like coming home. My one regret about this story is that I can’t send it to Past Navah. I am so thrilled to have it in The Starlit Wood, and even more thrilled that Naomi is planning on expanding it into her next novel. I can’t wait for readers to discover it and Miryem. # Dominik As far as I can remember I’ve loved shadow and doppelganger stories. They lend themselves particularly well to psychological and uncanny narratives, explorations of the duality of good and evil, and the overall investigation of issues relating to identity. My favourite book of this type is James Hogg’s 1824 novel, The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, and I’m always eager to read new stories in this vein. When Navah and I started approaching authors for The Starlit Wood we encouraged them to retell both classic and lesser-known fairy tales, indicating some of the classic stories we would like to have in the book. Amongst the stories singled out was Hans Christian Andersen’s The Shadow, a story we don’t often see retold. Theodora Goss expressed interest and surprise in The Shadow’s inclusion, and I admitted that I had selfishly included it as it is one of my favourite fairy tales. I’ve always been surprised that The Shadow isn’t better-known, especially in this day and age where individuals can exist as almost entirely different entities or personas online and in person. Theodora jumped at the opportunity to retell it – she’s taught the story several times – which pleased me to no end. The result was “The Other Thea”, one of the longest stories in The Starlit Wood. The fact that she focused on a female doppleganger was particularly exciting as – as she points out in her author notes – female dopplegangers don’t frequently appear in classic stories. I’ve long admired Theodora’s fiction, and to have her retell one of my favourite fairy tales in our book made her already wonderful story resonate with me on a whole other level. LINKS: AmazonB&NIndieboundPowell’sSimon & SchusterSaga PressNavah’s TwitterDominik’s TwitterDominik’s blog BIOS: Dominik Parisien is an editor, poet, and writer. He is the co–editor, along with Navah Wolfe, of several anthologies for Saga Press, including The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales. He is also the editor of the first anthology of Canadian steampunk, Clockwork Canada (Exile Editions). He has worked with Ann and Jeff VanderMeer on various anthologies, including The Time Traveler’s Almanac, Sisters of the Revolution , and The Bestiary. Dominik’s essays, fiction, and poetry have appeared in Uncanny Magazine, Strange Horizons,Shock Totem, and several anthologies, including Imaginarium 2013: The Best Canadian Speculative Writing, The Playground of Lost Toys, Those Who Make Us: Canadian Creature, Myth, and Monsters, and other venues. His fiction has twice been nominated for the Sunburst Award. Find him on Twitter @domparisien. Navah Wolfe is an editor at Saga Press, Simon & Schuster’s science fiction and fantasy imprint, where she has edited critically-acclaimed novels such, Borderline by Mishell Baker, Persona by Genevieve Valentine, The Mountain of Kept Memory by Rachel Neumeier, and A Green and Ancient Light by Frederic S. Durbin. She was previously an editor at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, where she worked on many bestselling books, including some that have won awards such as the Printz Honor, The Pura Belpré Award, The Pen/Faulkner Award, The Stonewall Award, the Lambda Literary Award, and the Schneider Family Award. Find her on Twitter @navahw.
Kait Heacock is joining us today with her short story collection Siblings and Other Disappointments. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Kait Heacock delves into the vulnerability of relationships and the various ways families fight, forgive, or fall apart. Her debut collection of twelve short stories follows a long-haul truck driver, a mother waiting for the rapture, newlyweds on a trip to the mountains, a father who competes in food-eating competitions, and an array of other characters scattered throughout Central Washington, down to Nevada, and up to Alaska. Each story explores themes of loneliness and isolation and how those exist both apart from our families and within them. Siblings and Other Disappointments unpacks the myriad meanings of the word family and the ways in which the bonds of those units are forged, dissolved, or simply maintained.
What’s Kait’s favorite bit?
My Favorite Bit: Setting the Scene in “Sirens”
Siblings and Other Disappointments, my debut collection, is a book about place as much as it is about the people who inhabit these places. Its twelve stories trace the small towns of my youth: Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, where I was born; Ellensburg, Toppenish, and Zillah, Washington, towns that constellate around Yakima, where I grew up; Seattle’s neighboring Enumclaw, Kingston, and Shoreline, Washington; and in one story, a truck driver hauls lumber from Marysville to Eugene, passing through a dozen towns on his trip down I-5. Even the Cascades, where I’ve gone all my life to pick huckleberries and swim in mountain creeks, set the scene for a story. I’ve known firsthand ten of the twelve settings included in this book. All but Whitney, Nevada (a suburb of Las Vegas, where I traveled often as a kid to visit relatives but never ventured quite as far as Whitney) and Valdez, Alaska. My favorite bit of writing Siblings and Other Disappointments was creating a visual of a landscape I do not know firsthand.
I know Central Washington: its apple orchards, dusty hills, and visual scarcity. Writing Central Washington is writing what I know. Writing Alaska was the biggest creative stretch of this book, not only because it involved the most research but because it forced me to envision the place where my brother died three years ago. Many of the stories and characters contained within this collection are inspired by my late brother, from the son in “Closing Joe’s Bar” to the brother in the titular story. When I set out to write “Sirens,” about a boy shipped off by his strict dad to Alaska to spend the summer working as a commercial fisherman, I had no real concept of the setting or the gillnetting industry. I started writing the story because at the time that’s where my older brother was, spending the winters working at restaurants in Anchorage and the summers fishing off the coast of the small port town of Valdez. I wanted to grasp at the water, mountains, and land that my brother saw. A tenuous connection, but all I had at the time–more than I have now that he’s gone.
The protagonist Kevin, a closeted Korean teenager, and supporting cast Captain and Marco were borne out of my imagination, characters created to fill a landscape I desperately needed to explore. Short of traveling to Alaska to see for myself the scenery my brother last saw, writing about Valdez and the waters where he fished is the closest I’ll come. A sorry consolation.
In my research I learned about the structure of gillnet boats, that the Chugach Mountains receive the most snowfall in the world, and the most common causes of death on commercial fishing boats. In my life as a writer in Seattle, I have no necessity for knowing these facts. But the gift that writing brings you is the opportunity to research and learn about parts unknown. I will never be a commercial fisherman in Alaska, but for a few weeks while researching this story I could tell you a lot about it. After you lose someone, it’s the stories that keep their memory alive.
The title “Sirens” refers to the mythological creatures who lured sailors to their deaths. To the sailors, they were beautiful women; they represent what we want to see. I want to see my brother still alive on that gillnet boat, hauling in a load of salmon. His first night on the boat, Kevin can’t sleep. He sneaks outside and stares at the water: “In the darkness I watched the still water, not looking for anything but wondering if there was any wildlife to see at night. If you stare long enough at the water, your eyes play tricks on you and make shapes out of the moonlight on the waves. You could go crazy staring at the water long enough, hoping to find something in it.”
This book is like that water, something for me to stare at, hoping to will a vision of my brother.
Kait Heacock grew up in Yakima, Washington, and now works as a feminist writer and book publicist. She studied creative writing at Seattle Pacific University and earned her master’s degree from Portland State University, where she worked for Ooligan Press. Her work has appeared in literary journals, magazines, and online outlets such as Bustle, DAME Magazine, Esquire, KGB Bar & Lit Mag, Portland Review, tNY.Press, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, and the Washington Post. Siblings and Other Disappointments is her first book.
Gabriel Squailia is joining us today with their novel Viscera. Here’s the publisher’s description:
The Gone-Away gods were real, once, and taller than towers.
But they’re long dead now, buried in the catacombs beneath the city of Eth, where their calcified organs radiate an eldritch power that calls out to anyone hardy enough to live in this cutthroat, war-torn land. Some survivors are human, while others are close enough, but all are struggling to carve out their lives in a world both unforgiving and wondrous. Darkly comic and viciously original, Viscera is an unforgettable journey through swords-and-sorcery fantasy where strangeness gleams from every nook and cranny.
What’s Gabriel’s favorite bit?
Rafe Davin wasn’t supposed to be in this book. In the first draft of the first scene, he was CULTIST #2, and I gave him a short, grisly role with a few muttered lines of dialogue.
Then my editor asked me to pull a particular trick on the reader, which you can ask me about once you’ve read it, and suddenly—thanks to certain necessary changes in the lighting and camera angles—Rafe had a name and a personality.
The moment he opened his mouth I fell in love with him. Yes, he was irritable, prone to flashes of anger at the slightest provocation. Sure, he was dastardly, and did things within the first thirty pages that ought to have damned him to some sort of narrative retribution well before the third act. Worse, he was an addict, which, so far as my neighbors were concerned, meant he would deserve whatever came his way.
Hadn’t he stolen? Hadn’t he spilled the blood of innocents?
Wasn’t all of it within his own control?
Then what was I doing making half of this book about him?
Love is a funny thing that way. In the case of my imaginary romance with Rafe Davin, it led me to dig deeper into his past. I knew he was worthy of my love; now I’d find out why. I knew that he’d joined the cult of Fortune-worshipers known as the Assemblage out of pure desperation. Now I discovered what had caused him to fall so deep in such a short period of time.
My favorite bit was hidden, at first—a few scattered references to his past, which Rafe fought viciously to avoid remembering. Then, during a decidedly bizarre medical procedure, these glimpses of the life he’d once lived bobbed to the surface.
Again, my editor wanted more, and so I turned up the lights, took the plunge, and rewrote the scene.
What emerged was something between a fever-dream and a flashback. Having spent a hundred-odd pages with Rafe the Cultist, I was brought face-to-face with another version of him—a Rafe who was loved and cherished, in community with other queers like himself.
They had a place to live, in Mrs. Dallow’s Cut-Rate Boarding House. They had a tiny society, with its own laws and customs. They had each other, however briefly, and they made the mistake—so common, so understandable—of imagining that this warmth was safety.
For the first time, I understood the true horror that underlies all the splatter and squish of Viscera. I’m transgender, and it’s rare for me to feel like I’ve been fully understood. Most every close relationship I have is the result of painstaking work, exhausting explanation, and the constant, nagging fear of rejection.
What I fear is that the loves that sustain me will be torn away.
What I fear is our fragility—this tenuous connection we have to a world that makes it clear we’re not welcome here.
What I fear is the violence that so often hangs over our lives, threatening us from within as well as without. What I fear are the words that are shouted at me from the windows of passing cars, the glares that follow me through stores and streets, the hands that grope me in crowded bars at night—hands that curl so easily into fists.
Those fears, knotted together, form the tragedy that put a blade in Rafe Davin’s hand. Now it was plain. I knew why I’d forgiven him.
His character wasn’t a part of my plan, and even once he’d taken over, this hallucinatory scene wasn’t something I outlined. But it immediately became the dark, beating heart of Viscera.
It was, to me, the most terrifying thing I’d ever written. As soon as it was done, I came out of the closet.
Gabriel Squailia is an author and professional DJfrom Rochester, New York. An alum of the Friends World Program, they studied storytelling and literature in India, Europe, and the Middle East before settling in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts with their partner and daughter. Squailia’s first novel, Dead Boys, was published by Talos Press in 2015.
Sometimes, someone you’re fond of turns out to be an asshole. Holding them accountable is part of being a friend. It helps them be better. I have a colleague/student/friend who has been awful to other people. Not to me, and that isn’t a defense. Ever.
Their behavior is inexcusable.
Defending my asshole friend’s behavior would make me complicit in it, because then I would be condoning the problematic behavior. The question then becomes… do I remain their friend?
Let me use a more extreme example. I’m penpals with a convicted murderer who found me during the Month of Letters. Most of his friends dropped him and that leaves him isolated in prison except for his mom. He has to reach out to complete strangers to have human interaction. There’s a reason that solitary confinement is reserved as a severe punishment. Do I write back to him? Absolutely. Would I invite him to hang out with my friends? All the nope.
So… am I going to remain friends with this person? Probably, although in a very modified form because I recognize that my asshole friend is potentially dangerous and harmful. It’s on me not to put other friends or colleagues in harm’s way.
But I also believe that even assholes are allowed to have friends.
There have been other bad actors in SF that I go out of my way to avoid, but I don’t expect their friends to drop them. That does nothing to make the world a better place.
This doesn’t mean that I’ll fight my asshole friend’s battles for them, but I’ll help them parse what’s gone wrong. Or maybe I’ll just model better behavior and hope they learn by example. It involves the person wanting to change. I would like that the case, even while knowing that the person in my head is not the person that other people met. It’s deeply disappointing.
I’m not convinced that dropping them will improve anything. Nor would excusing them. If they want to retain my friendship, they’ll have to accept my anger and disappointment. They’ll have to accept that I don’t include them in things.
And I’ll have to accept that I’m not a good judge of their character. It’s not a comfortable place to be. I think that’s why so many people come out to defend their own asshole friends, because no one ever likes being wrong. No one likes feeling as if they stay friends with the asshole that people will think less of them. (That, by the way, is the grossest of reasons to drop someone.)
It’s possible, I think, to both maintain the friendship while also not contributing to the asshole’s damage.
So, yeah… someone I’m fond of is an asshole. Holding them accountable is part of being their friend. And goddammit, I want them to be a better person. I don’t want to be friends with an asshole.
But I am.
(Note: We are NOT going to talk about the specific person because this isn’t about them. It’s about the moral conundrum of remaining friends with a problematic person.)
Amy S. Foster is joining us today with her novel The Rift Uprising. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Normal seventeen-year-old girls go to high school, binge watch TV shows all weekend, and flirt with everyone on the face of the Earth. But Ryn Whitaker is trying to save it.
Ryn is a Citadel. A soldier. A liar. Ryn and her fellow Citadels were specially chosen and trained to guard a Rift—one of fourteen unpredictable tears in the fabric of the universe that serve as doorways to alternate Earths. Unbeknownst to her family, Ryn leaves for school each day and then reports for duty as an elite, cybernetically-altered soldier who can run faster, jump farther, and fight better than a Navy SEAL—which comes in handy when she’s not sure if axe-wielding Vikings or any number of other scared and often dangerous beings come through the Rift. A fine-tuned weapon, Ryn is a picture-perfect Citadel.
But that’s all about to change.
When a young man named Ezra is pulled through the Rift, Ryn finds herself immediately drawn to him, despite her training. What starts as a physical attraction quickly grows deeper, and Ezra’s curiosity throws Ryn off balance when he starts questioning the Rifts, the mysterious organization that oversees them, and the Citadels themselves—questions that lead Ryn to wonder if the lies she’s been telling her family are just the surface of a much bigger lie told to her. As Ryn and Ezra desperately try to get to that truth, they discover that each revelation blurs the line between the villains and the heroes even more.
What’s Amy’s favorite bit?
AMY S. FOSTER
“Alright. Imagine, that each version of Earth is a musical note. ARC is looking for an Earth, just the same way a musician would look to tune a string on their guitar pitch perfect. Most people don’t have perfect pitch. They need help to make sure the note is 100% in tune, so they use a tuner. You pluck a string and then you turn the machine head, the silver nobs at the top of the guitar, until you get to the right note. That’s basically what this system ARC is using does. If each unique quantum signature is a note, their technology basically wobbles with the pitch–or the signature–until it gets close enough to open a Rift. If it’s looking for a b-flat, it can eliminate all the other Earths that don’t resonate to a b-flat. Then it begins to eliminate the Earths that aren’t a perfect b-flat.
“Now, in order to really get this concept, you have to imagine that there aren’t just twelve notes, but an infinite number of notes–each one distinct–and you’re trying tune the thing in a room full of other music. That’s why they can’t get exactly to the Earth they want to go. There is too much noise. They have to narrow it down. Each little tweak of the machine head would be a jump into another Rift. They have to go through multiple Rifts to get where they are going. Maybe it’s ten maybe it’s 100–I don’t know.”
Here’s the strange thing about me: I love science. Really, I am a total geek when it comes to physics and to some degree chemistry. What’s weird though, is that I have an actual math learning disability called Dyscalculia- which is a really fancy way of saying I’m crap at math. Like, I have a problem adding double digit numbers together. So, I can understand really complex theories about science, like string theory for example but the way I interpret them is not as a mathematician but rather on a visual level- I can see in my mind, the subatomic particles doing their thing (kind of hilarious because obviously, no one sees subatomic particles in real life) I use my imagination to tell the story of the big bang, or black holes or relativity. I understand it as a story but not as a math equation. Make sense? No? It doesn’t make much sense to me either! I don’t know how I understand the things that I do.
When I was writing The Rift Uprising, I knew that I was going to have to come up with a way of explaining an entry to the Multiverse that not only I could understand, but that readers, particularly young readers could also grasp. Math was out of the question. A simple visualization of how it might work in my mind’s eye was also out, because it would be near impossible to explain it in actual words that made sense to anyone but myself. Light was an option, but it’s so intangible. I needed a device that was visceral, that would make sense without the need for a ton of equations.
This left me with the one thing that I knew that I could not only explain but actually draw on from personal experience. Sound. I’m a songwriter, and both my parents are musicians. I believe the right song at the right time can be transportive, just on an emotional level. On a scientific level, sound wave particles can do amazing things like levitate objects, detect bombs and convert to heat and then energy. I then had to imagine a device that could take sound and use it like a key to open a very complex door. I know, even without being math-y, that there are an infinite amount of numbers between numbers like 1, 2 and 3 etc. I translated this notion to pitch. When I’m tuning my guitar and I want to get to a particular note there are seemingly endless variations of pitch till I get to that ‘perfect’ note. Using this theory, I had to imagine that each Earth in the Multiverse would pitch to a different sound or vibration. In effect, our bodies are all singing a tune to the Earth we are on. If we visit a different Earth, and we could hear that tune, it would sound different, we would sound different than everything and everyone around us. In practical terms though, this would need to happen on a quantum level which is handy for me, because in The Rift Uprising, I am using technology humans haven’t mastered yet and are borrowing from a more technologically advanced race. I’m especially proud of the way I conceived an entry and eventual navigation through the Multiverse that while highly improbable at least makes a kind of sense. I did discuss all this with a physicist who assured me that it wasn’t impossible. So, I can say that the science isn’t wrong, just a little farfetched. The best part of all is that I was able to use this theory and turn it into a major plot device throughout the trilogies. It becomes, at the end of the day, at least in my world, practical.
Amy S. Foster is a celebrated songwriter, best known as Michael Bublé’s writing partner. You might recognize her work in his four hit singles, including “Home” and “Haven’t Met You Yet.” She has also collaborated with Destiny’s Child, Diana Krall, Andrea Bocelli, Josh Groban and a host of other artists. She is also the author of the novel When Autumn Leaves. When she’s not in a studio in Nashville, Amy lives in the Pacific Northwest with her family. Amy is the daughter of singer B.J. Cook and the legendary music producer, David Foster. Fun fact about Amy: Her extended family tree includes Bella and Gigi Hadid, Sara and Erin Foster and Brody and Brandon Jenner, and Clay Aiken! The Rift Uprising, her YA debut, will be released on October 4, 2016.
Becky Allen is joining us today to talk about her novel Bound by Blood and Sand. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Jae is a slave in a dying desert world.
Once verdant with water from a magical Well, the land is drying up, and no one remembers the magic needed to keep the water flowing. If a new source isn’t found soon, the people will perish. Jae doesn’t mind, in a way. By law, she is bound by a curse to obey every order given her, no matter how vile. At least in death, she’ll be free.
Elan’s family rules the fading realm. He comes to the estate where Jae works, searching for the hidden magic needed to replenish the Well, but it’s Jae who finds it, and she who must wield it. Desperate to save his realm, Elan begs her to use it to locate the Well.
But why would a slave—abused, beaten, and treated as less than human—want to save the system that shackles her? Jae would rather see the world burn.
Though revenge clouds her vision, she agrees to help if the realm’s slaves are freed. Then Elan’s father arrives. The ruler’s cruelty knows no limits. He is determined that the class system will not change—and that Jae will remain a slave forever.
What’s Becky’s favorite bit?
If you were to meet me in person, maybe to chat over a cup of coffee or something, and then pick a word to describe me — other than “short” — I could make some guesses about what that word would be. Probably cheerful or friendly, or perhaps optimistic. If I were a TV trope, I’d be the plucky girl.
So if you were to meet me for a cup of coffee, and find out that I write YA fantasy, and then pick up my book, you miiiiight be a little surprised. Because Bound by Blood and Sand isn’t friendly or cheerful. My protagonist, Jae, is definitely not plucky. In fact, she’s really, really angry — and that’s my favorite bit.
But she wasn’t always that way.
I wrote Bound by Blood and Sand from the ground up three times. It came from two vague ideas, initially very poorly stitched together: one was about a desert world that needed magic to keep its water from drying up, and the other was about a curse that magically compelled a whole class of people to follow any order they were given. The first version was really just trying to figure out how those two ideas could be tied together. I knew it was awful and needed a full rewrite. But the with second version, I thought I had something. I just knew something was still missing.
The thing about that second version is that it was actually mostly okay. The stakes weren’t personal enough — lots of saving the world, not a ton of emotional resonance. And I got some feedback that it was confusing and people didn’t really understand the way the curse worked, because it didn’t actually have much of an impact on the characters. Sure, it was something that Jae, the protagonist, needed to work around — but it was pretty much just an obstacle, an annoyance she wanted to be rid of. That version of Jae was actually a lot more like me, plucky and deeply pragmatic. The world needed to be saved, so she saved it.
Like I said, it wasn’t terrible. Just… flat.
There was a scene in the middle where a guy who’d harassed Jae was badly injured, and she used her newfound magic to heal him. It was emblematic of who Jae was, in that draft, and it felt right to me. Probably because I’d like to think I’m the sort of person who’d use my newfound powers for good, so having a character do the same felt correct.
Then, when I was discussing how something wasn’t quite gelling with one of my critique partners, she called that scene out and asked, “What if instead of healing that guy, Jae kills him? What if instead of doing the right thing, she just wants revenge?”
My first instinct was a big ol’ no, because that wasn’t what the character would do. It wasn’t really that kind of book. There was an adventure and a love story and a mostly-happy ending. The characters all pretty much liked each other and got along, except for the villain, who had no particular motivation. But the idea was intriguing.
I sat down and really thought about it. If Jae was going to be out for blood, she needed a reason, and suddenly it was obvious where I’d gone wrong. The curse I’d laid out had always had some consequences, but I hadn’t wanted to delve into it too deeply, because I knew that the implications of anyone being as literally powerless as the cursed characters would be really dark. The kind of dark that I really wasn’t comfortable with.
We see the consequences of unbalanced power structures all the time in real life. Violence is committed towards marginalized people with terrifying frequency — and too often, it’s ignored or worse. Victims are made responsible for the crimes committed against them. Women are told they shouldn’t drink at parties or walk home alone. Black people are told they shouldn’t wear hoodies. And the end of every terrible news story seems to be a criminal getting a slap on the wrist, or getting off scot-free, because of who holds power and who doesn’t.
If I was going to write about systematic powerlessness, I had to write about its consequences. And I had to make it personal for Jae. I stopped pulling punches and let some truly awful things happen around her, and to her, because she didn’t have the power to fight back and no one who had power noticed or cared. I wrote her desert world as brutal, and the way the people in power behaved was just as brutal. Which meant Jae herself became a character who was a survivor of abuse, of starvation and dehydration, and of rape.
So when Jae acquired her magic abilities, she no longer looked around for the quickest way to save the world. Instead, she saw a world that wasn’t worth saving, and a system she’d rather die than take part in. And when she’s assaulted again, partway through the book, but this time has access to power she’s never felt before, she has no interest in mercy or forgiveness.
Writing about sexual assault made me deeply uncomfortable. I hesitated to do it, because, frankly, it’s not something I like reading about, and because it’s so common in fantasy novels — and too often only used to up the drama or demonstrate how evil a villain is. But in the end I decided that if I was going to write about a system that would leave everyone within it vulnerable to abuse, it would undermine the whole story to pretend rape and assault just didn’t happen. And if I was going to include it, I wanted it to be important. Jae’s trauma and her rage are both part of her character from the first page, and she never apologizes for them.
And that’s why Jae’s anger is my favorite bit. I’d never written a character like Jae before, one whose world view was so different from mine. But centering the book around her anger brought the whole story into focus and it forced me to look not just at the darkness in the book I wrote, but in the world around me, too. And that’s the part that made it so powerful for me. Like I said at the beginning, I’m generally a cheerful, optimistic person. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be angry, too.
Becky Allen grew up in a tiny town outside Ithaca, New York, and graduated from Brandeis University with a major in American studies and a minor in journalism. She is the website director of TheBody.com, an online HIV resource, and loves New York, brunch, and feminism. Becky lives in New York City.
She would be sitting, quietly knitting on something, and you might be fooled into thinking that she wasn’t paying attention, but then she would come out with a zinger. Her sense of play expressed itself in words.
The cruelest thing about the cancer she fought was that it stole her words from her. Aphasia. A single word to describe a range of effects — and for Kate, it took her ability to find the right word. She was a polyglot and picked up languages for fun. She read, voraciously, and oh– the conversations.
She has left an enormous hole.
For other people, we talk about having a moment of silence. For Kate… cancer did that already. Let’s have a moment of laughter.
Find something today that delights you and laugh, and describe it in words, and remember Kate.
Megan E. O’Keefe is joining us today with her novel Break the Chains. Here’s the publisher’s description:
As the city that produces the most selium – that precious gas that elevates airships and powers strange magic – Hond Steading is a jewel worth stealing. To shore up the city’s defenses, Detan promises his aunt that he’ll recover Nouli, the infamous engineer who built the century gates that protect the imperial capital of Valathea. But Nouli is imprisoned on the Remnant Isles, an impervious island prison run by the empire, and it’s Detan’s fault.
Detan doesn’t dare approach Nouli himself, so his companions volunteer to get themselves locked up to make contact with Nouli and convince him to help. Now Detan has to break them all out of prison, and he’s going to need the help of a half-mad doppel to do it.
What’s Megan’s favorite bit?
MEGAN E. O’KEEFE
In my first novel, Steal the Sky, friendship was a key part of my conman protagonist’s life, and this theme extends into the sequel, Break the Chains. But this time around, with the second book in the series, I was able to dig deeper into the friendships growing up around the other characters. I found an unexpected joy in examining the friendships of my female protagonist, Ripka. The relationships she forms with other women, tenuous as some may be, quickly became my favorite bit.
For me, that exploration brought back memories of my first forays into fantasy as a genre. Not literature per se, but the creative abandon of my first encounters with Dungeons and Dragons.
You see, at the age of ten my dear friend Arwen (yes, that truly was her name), sat me down in front of a split-spine edition of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons and said, “You can pretend to be anything.”
With that first character I chose to be a different child, just slightly older than I was, who carried magic in her hands and had a cat familiar (because of course she did) and handled swords as well as stitchery.
And it was fun and exciting and new. For a girl who devoured Laura Ingalls Wilder and wore her copy of Island of the Blue Dolphin to rags, the idea of making something without constraint – even the whole world – was addicting. I made characters wrought of stars, created worlds of thread, and used the loose framework of those early D&D rules to craft my own fables. In the beginning, I did this mostly with other women.
And then I grew older. Friends drifted apart over time, and through some trick of fate and culture my D&D group became primarily male. I do not mean this as a censure of that eventuality. I adored my male friends, and still do. At the time I was not even aware of the shift. After all, it seemed only natural. As I drifted into my teens and discovered the fantasy and science fiction section of the bookstore, most of what I was greeted with was a mirror of my own reality. Each story featured one or two women, maybe, in the primary cast of characters. They rarely knew each other well, or at all, while the men were tent poles of the companion group.
Stories can push us. Stories can make us reexamine our world, our everyday realities, and urge us, maybe, to change. They can also confirm biases, and leave us comfortably in the shadows of our self-built caves.
And so, back to my favorite bit. When writing Break the Chains I knew I was going to put my watch-captain, Ripka, in prison. She was desperate to set right the wrongs she could not stop in Steal the Sky, and saw an opportunity in rescuing a man she believed to be wrongly incarcerated.
But in prison, one needs allies to survive. The group who reaches out to Ripka is a ragtag ensemble of women. And though they are decidedly incarcerated for reasons that would have made Ripka, as a watch-captain, shudder, she comes to care for them as individuals, and see the world through their eyes. One woman, who might just be the most dangerous person Ripka’s ever crossed, might yet become her greatest friend.
It is through these budding relationships that I hoped to illustrate an often overlooked, and often pivotal, slice of everyday life for women in all cultures: friendships between women, in all their treasured variety.
Megan E. O’Keefe was raised amongst journalists, and as soon as she was able joined them by crafting a newsletter which chronicled the daily adventures of the local cat population. She has worked in both arts management and graphic design, and spends her free time tinkering with anything she can get her hands on.
Megan lives in the Bay Area of California and makes soap for a living. It’s only a little like Fight Club. She is a first place winner in the Writers of the Future competition and her second novel, Break the Chains, is out now from Angry Robot Books.
Kent Davis is joining us today to talk about his novel A Riddle in Ruby: The Changer’s Key. Here’s the publisher’s description:
The Riddle in Ruby trilogy takes readers on a rip-roaring adventure through an alternate version of colonial America, where magic and science meet, and where one young thief carries a secret everyone wants. In this second volume, Ruby Teach has become the enemy’s prisoner. She bargained with her freedom to protect her friends—but her friends aren’t about to abandon her, either. That’s not what friends do.
Ruby’s blood holds a secret, one that could turn the tides of the looming war for whomever unlocks it first. Ruby’s father, former pirate Captain Teach, and her friends—a motley crew made up of a young aristocrat, a servant, and an apprentice alchemist—must race against time to locate the hidden fortress where she’s being held. But the one person who could help them is Ruby’s mysterious and powerful mother, and no one has seen her since Ruby’s birth.
Kent Davis sweeps our heroes through cities and the deepest wilderness with imagination, humor, and magic that fans of Jonathan Stroud and Terry Pratchett will devour.
What’s Kent’s favorite bit?
Imprisoned in a mountaintop fortress, surrounded by ninja-warriors that are smarter, faster, and better than you at everything, experimented upon for the secrets hidden in your blood, torn in loyalty, blasted in confidence, hopeless in all of your prospects.
Isn’t that how you would describe your first day in middle school?
That’s how it felt for me anyway. And I’m pretty sure it feels like that for one Aruba (Ruby) Teach, the central character in A Riddle in Ruby 2: The Changer’s Key. My favorite bit of this second of three books is thirteen year-old Ruby’s wrestling match with that most potent of challenges: recognizing the who that you are, and then choosing the who that you want to be.
One of the things I treasure about fantasy, and steampunk-alt-historical-Colonial-America-with-a-side-of-alchemy-adventure-fantasy—let’s be specific—is how we can employ its wondrous, terrifying, and just plain weird elements to explore deeply personal challenges of the heart and mind.
And Ruby certainly has those. The one-time apprentice thief and fake pirate has discovered that she is a Changer, gifted with the power to alter her form. But there’s no one at the mountaintop prison called Fort Scoria that can teach her to change, so she has to try to figure it out on the fly. Worse, that changing gift is one of the keys to the secret that she carries in her blood, so if she reveals it, she is lost. At the same time, the lord commander of the fort has charged her to engage in a dangerous dance of double-agent deception (delicious!) with the creepy alchemyst who is poking about in her veins.
But hopefully the little nugget for readers at the crux of this hearty helping of torturous, thrilling, no-win, Kobayashi Maru choices is this: the only way for Ruby to navigate her way to freedom is through deciding the type of person she wants to be. Will she choose to be loyal? Will she choose to be traitorous? Will she choose to be brave? Will she even choose to sacrifice others in her quest to free herself? It’s the core of this book and also the sneaky spine of the entire trilogy.
My favorite stories when I was a kid and even more so now have always revolved around characters that weren’t Chosen Ones. They weren’t prophesied to be queens or kings or to save the multiverse. The stories that I love featured imperfect, uncertain kids (and adults!) who, at the moment of truth, had to plant the flag of their values, often only moments after they figured it out for themselves.
“Who will you choose to be?” I hope that’s a valuable question to offer to girls and boys aged 10-100: the opportunity to witness a character forging the core of themselves in conscious action.
Fran Wilde is joining us today with her novel Cloudbound. Here’s the publisher’s description:
After the dust settles, the City of living bones begins to die, and more trouble brews beneath the clouds in this stirring companion to Fran Wilde’s Updraft.
When Kirit Densira left her home tower for the skies, she gave up many things: her beloved family, her known way of life, her dreams of flying as a trader for her tower, her dreams. Kirit set her City upside down, and fomented a massive rebellion at the Spire, to the good of the towers–but months later, everything has fallen to pieces.
With the Towers in disarray, without a governing body or any defense against the dangers lurking in the clouds, daily life is full of terror and strife. Nat, Kirit’s wing-brother, sets out to be a hero in his own way–sitting on the new Council to cast votes protecting Tower-born, and exploring lower tiers to find more materials to repair the struggling City.
But what he finds down-tier is more secrets–and now Nat will have to decide who to trust, and how to trust himself without losing those he holds most dear, before a dangerous myth raises a surprisingly realistic threat to the crippled City, in Cloudbound.
What’s Fran’s favorite bit?
When people ask me about my debut novel, Updraft, their questions usually center around worldbuilding or influences. Online, there’s a lot of speculation about what’s down below the clouds. (I promise, you’ll find that out with Cloudbound, out September 27, 2016 from Tor — hey, that’s today!). We talk about monsters a lot too, and man-made wings, multigenerationality, and occasionally about echolocation.
What I don’t get asked about a lot is the disabilities represented in the series. There are three characters in Updraft with physical and/or neurological disabilities, as well as others with additional fall- and battle-related injuries throughout the book. Moreover, there are no magic cures – characters who get injured deal with the repercussions of those injuries throughout the series. How various communities treat each of these characters is part of Updraft’s world.
But each of these characters also has their own story arc and agency within the Bone Universe. As one mostly spoiler-free example, Elna Densira has altitude and cataract-related skyblindness. She is a force in the book, as well as in Cloudbound. When we first meet her, she’s climbing a ladder to the top of her tower with Nat close behind. She still gets around well, she works to support her family, she’s capable — an excellent seamstress — and she interacts with the other characters about things other than her vision impairment. So it goes mostly unmarked. With other characters, disability is a consequence of living and fighting at high altitude, and if the injury does interfere with intra-character communication, part of the story is the importance of finding ways to listen and hear those characters, on their own terms. Disability in Updraft and Cloudbound isn’t a checkbox or a layer added in order to make a character more sympathetic or anything else.
We like to put characters in boxes sometimes, and, when added as a layer to create some problem for the narrative or character, disability can become a literary box that a reader can’t see past. That occasionally happens in real life too — when only a person’s disability and not their competences, their excellences, their passions, are how they are perceived.
Earlier this year, I fell and did some damage to an old injury that had me flat on my back for days. In frustration, I cut loose on Twitter, admitting something I’ve been keeping mostly to myself for years: I live with pain — not just the migraines, which most people know about — but regular, pretty extreme pain. I’d written about some of the external stuff (like identifying more with Helva from The Ship Who Sang than with Deenie) now and then, and about various braces, but I’d kept quiet about the rest. Afterward I met so many people who deal with similar issues and making those connections helped me see truths about my experience — especially some parts of me that I hated, because I’d written my sensitivity to pain off as proof that I was weak and not good enough. pfffft.
What happened after sharing that information, though, was a bit more troubling. People occasionally began to introduce me as having chronic pain, without my permission. One indicated that they hadn’t invited me to do something because they were worried about my pain impacting my ability to do it, and hadn’t wanted me to feel awkward. That was annoying, because the only thing that had changed for me was that I was public about something I’ve been dealing with, without letting people down, for decades. I like to make my own decisions about what I’m able to do — everyone does. And if that happened to me from one twitter rant (plus a couple blog posts in the way-back-when), imagine then how people with visible disabilities are treated every day. As a culture, we like to put people into boxes, constraining them to labels, instead of seeing them for who they are.
At this year’s Worldcon, I was on a panel called “Unlikely Heroes.” A lot of great discussion happened there, but one thing was said — I can’t remember by whom — about how if you wanted to create an unlikely hero, you could give the character a disability, as if that would somehow render them less likely to be heroic. I disagreed vehemently then, and the conversation moved along. (The moderator was excellent and this was not her fault.) But as the weekend wore on, and then the months after, I kept coming back to this issue of disability defining characters, instead of disability being a component of a character’s life, with their character, backstory, competencies, and goals being dominant and primary. It’s something I think I’ve always consciously written against and will continue to do.
When it came to writing Cloudbound, I’d selected a character from an earlier story set a decade earlier in the Bone Universe, called “A Moment of Gravity Circumscribed.” In that story, a young character, Djonn, is viewed as clumsy by his family — and he is, but not for the reasons they think. Djonn’s in the very early stages of a skeletal degeneration that translates to extreme late-onset idiopathic scoliosis. This curvature of the spine is something I share with my character (and something that affects, to varying levels, about 2-3% of the United States population). As a kid, my curves (there’s either one or two – I got the double) were pretty extreme, and I wore an experimental brace that caused more damage than expected. Even now, I’m not straight, though it’s hard to see. As an adult, this results in pain, overcompensation, and sometimes joint slips that cause additional pain.
For Djonn, there are no real treatments. Left untreated, spinal curves can sometimes go past 70 degrees (think King Richard III), and that’s what’s happening to him. Such curves would make flying (which requires a pretty straight body plane) progressively harder, and even breathing sometimes very difficult. Djonn’s an inventor and artifex, so he’s created his own solutions for this over time. But his backstory and his role in Cloudbound are much more about the rest of his life — the things he’s invented and his interactions with other characters — than about his physical disability. Djonn is extremely good at what he does.
Djonn’s limitations and imperfections are part of the story too. But he’s in no way an unlikely anything. Nor is he a hero through and through. He’s a complex character.
So I guess what I’m saying is that one of my favorite bits about both Updraft and Cloudbound is that the disabilities (and hey, not just one flagship disability because no) in this narrative are represented by full-fledged characters first and foremost. So much so, in fact, that those disabilities have gone mostly unremarked in later discussion.
Fran Wilde is the author of the Andre Norton-, and Compton Crook Award-winning and Nebula-nominated novel Updraft (Tor 2015), its sequel,Cloudbound, publishing from Tor in September 2016, and the novella The Jewel and Her Lapidary (Tor.com Publishing). Her short stories appear in Asimov’s, Tor.com, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Nature. She writes for publications including The Washington Post, Tor.com, Clarkesworld, iO9.com, and GeekMom.com. You can find her on twitter @fran_wilde, Facebook @franwildewrites and at franwilde.net.
Marie Brennan is joining us today with her novella Cold-Forged Flame. Here’s the publisher’s description:
The sound of the horn pierces the apeiron, shattering the stillness of that realm. Its clarion call creates ripples, substance, something more. It is a summons, a command. There is will. There is need. And so, in reply, there is a woman.
At the beginning?no?at the end?she appears, full of fury and bound by chains of prophecy.
Setting off on an unexplained quest from which she is compelled to complete, and facing unnatural challenges in a land that doesn’t seem to exist, she will discover the secrets of herself, or die trying. But along the way, the obstacles will grow to a seemingly insurmountable point, and the final choice will be the biggest sacrifice yet.
This is the story of a woman’s struggle against her very existence, an epic tale of the adventure and emotional upheaval on the way to face an ancient enigmatic foe. This could only spun from the imagination of Marie Brennan, award-winning author and beloved fantasist, beginning a new series about the consequences of war?and of fate.
Cold-Forged Flame is the first in a new series by Marie Brennan.
What’s Marie’s favorite bit?
I haven’t made any secret of the fact that the protagonist of Cold-Forged Flame, my new Tor.com novella, is based on a character I played for four years in a LARP. But actually, her roots go back even further than that — to a tent on a hillside in a rural corner of Wales, where Alyc Helms (future author of The Dragons of Heaven and The Conclave of Shadow) and I were working on an archaeological dig together. There’s not a lot to do at night when you’re living in tents on a hillside in a rural corner of Wales, so Alyc and I decided to combine her knowledge of the RPG Changeling: The Dreaming with my recollection of the tabletop mechanics for World of Darkness games and play a mini-campaign, roping in a couple of our friends on the dig. The whole thing was held together with chewing gum and string — Alyc didn’t really remember the Changeling magic system, and we had to use packs of cards in place of dice — but the character I created for that little ad-hoc game stayed with me, and wound up being ported into the LARP Alyc co-ran a few years later in grad school.
The skeleton of the game itself stayed with me, too. Cold-Forged Flame is substantially changed from what we played on that dig; the novella isn’t set in the real world, my protagonist isn’t a faerie, she isn’t part of a whole group on a quest, there’s no prophecy about what they’re doing, and so on and so forth. The character you’ll meet in the novella comes from a different place, fights different battles, meets someone who was never in the game. But if you excavate very carefully, the bones are still there, buried underneath: a journey across a strange island to a cave and a cauldron full of blood.
And that’s where you’ll find my favorite bit. We never actually finished the game, not properly; the dig was a field school, a place where baby archaeologists go to learn how to dig, and in the last two weeks we had to write papers, which takes up a lot of time when you have to do it all with pen and paper. But I hate leaving a story incomplete. So one night — our one night a week where we got bused into the nearest town — Alyc and I sat in the corner of one of the town’s three pubs and talked through the ending of the tale. That’s where we came up with the seven steps that are the climax of this story: a journey so small as to be insignificant, and so huge as to change my character’s life forever.
Those seven steps are where I figured out who she really was. The character who grew out of that moment has a powerful enough hold on my memory that, fourteen years later, when I went to work on this novella, I wrote seven thousand words in a single evening. Because once we were inside that cave, there was no stopping short of the end.
The end of the novella, that is. It isn’t the end of the story. That continues next spring, with Lightning in the Blood — and, sneak peek, my favorite bit of that one is front and center in the cover art!
Marie Brennan is the World Fantasy Award-nominated author of several fantasy series, including the Memoirs of Lady Trent, the Onyx Court, the Wilders series, and the Doppelganger duology, as well as more than forty short stories. More information can be found at www.swantower.com.
For Of Noble Family, I made the dress on the cover of the novel from a sari. I’m extremely proud of my work on that, because it’s historically accurate and also that entire thing is handsewn.
It also is an excellent metaphor for cultural appropriation.
I took a perfectly good, and beautiful Indian garment, cut it apart, and made it into a British dress. I literally took one culture and remade it into another. The thing that makes this dress special is all the beading and embroidery that some unknown, and probably underpaid, Indian artist did but I get the credit for it.
Without that embroidery, it’s just a basic little white dress.
Now, I did a ton of work deciding how to incorporate the patterns. I did some hand beading to try to link the Indian work more fully into the British aesthetic. I’m proud of the work that I did.
And that doesn’t change the fact that what makes this dress special is still someone else’s work.
So then the question becomes… should I make the dress?
If the sari were a historic museum item? Absolutely not. Cutting it up would be a tragedy.
If it were a factory produced sari and one of thousands? Of course! Cutting it up is no big deal.
The sari in question was somewhere in the middle. Hand-beaded, but contemporary.
Should I make the dress?
The reason that cultural appropriation is so confusing is because there’s a giant spectrum of ways in which we interact with other cultures.
Ultimately, I decided to do it, and to make sure that when I’m complimented I always point to the existence of the artist who did the beading, even if I don’t know their name. I try very hard not to take credit for work I didn’t do. But… I still destroyed the sari.
Now, if I could talk to the artist, they might very well be thrilled with what I did. They might also be devastated by what I’d done to their work. With a culture, we’re not just talking about a single person’s reaction. Culture is not monolithic, so what one person might see as appropriate, another might see as appropriative.
Someone is likely to say, “But Mary! When you write a story, you aren’t cutting up anything material!”
First of all… this is why it’s called a metaphor.
Second… Are you still taking credit for someone else’s work? Or are you acknowledging the original culture?
Third… It is completely possible for cultural appropriation to supplant an original culture. If the re-imagined narrative becomes the dominant narrative in people’s minds, then that can ultimately erase the originating culture. The more marginalized a culture is, the more likely it is that this damage can happen. I mean… just think about the pagan origins of various Christmas traditions.
The point of all of this is, that when you are sitting down to work on something and you are incorporating elements from cultures that are not your own, think about what damage you might be doing . Are you looking at a cultural element that is sacred? Is there anything special about your idea, beyond the originating culture? Are you giving credit to the original culture?
Ginger Stuyvesant, an American heiress living in London during World War I, is engaged to Captain Benjamin Harford, an intelligence officer. Ginger is a medium for the Spirit Corps, a special Spiritualist force. Each soldier heading for the front is conditioned to report to the mediums of the Spirit Corps when they die so the Corps […]