I’m losing most of my saving throws against napping, and I’m fine with that. Smells are more vivid, which will be great when I’m cooking, but less exciting around the cats’ litter box.
That chair, by the way, is what I’ll be sleeping in for most of this week as I recover from surgery. I’m supposed to keep my head elevated. Pillows would do that but… the chair keeps me from accidentally rolling over during the night. When I’m just sitting around, there’s no pain at all. I’ve gone out with Rob for walks around the block, and my footfalls send up a dull ache.
One of the fascinating things about the walks is that at a certain point, I’ll have the urge to open my mouth, even though I can breathe adequately through my nose now. I guess that I had to do that for so long, that it’s become an automatic response to a certain heartrate. It’ll be interesting to see how much that changes when I acclimate to the restructured airway.
Laughing, smiling, and yawning are all no fun. I’ve also learned how often I wrinkle my nose in response to things.
I had surgery on Friday to correct a deviated septum, turbinate hypertrophy, and collapsed nasal valves. I’ve been posting pictures of myself in the recovery process, because I think medicine is neat.
But you — you decided that it would be funny to make a joke that I had black eyes because my husband hit me. Or the milder form, that people would think he’d hit me. This is more than one of you. Some of you know me. Some of you are strangers. I want you to stop and think about that “joke.”
Why did you think it was funny?
Why did a picture of a woman with black eyes immediately make you think of domestic violence?
Why did you think domestic violence would be a good subject for a joke?
Because clearly my husband would never do it, so it’s obviously meant to be funny, right?
Why the hell did you think domestic violence was funny?
And why did I laugh the first time I heard it?
That’s the thing that really kills me. I was laughing because Rob would so obviously not hit me that the juxtaposition was funny. But… but, that juxtaposition exists because of how common domestic violence is that we all have the image in our head of the battered woman. I’ve internalized domestic violence as such a part of our culture, that it didn’t even occur to me that I was laughing at something horrible until I’d already done it.
I want you to think about that.
I want you to think about what context the picture of a woman with black eyes is linked to in our society.
It’s not funny.
Not just the jokes. We need to stop the context that sets the jokes up.
My surgeon pulled the nasal tampons out and that is so much more accurate a name that rocket. Like… wow. I could immediately breathe better than I could before I went in and that was while I still have swelling and a brief nosebleed. (Totally normal.)
Meanwhile, on the audio front, I’ve recorded a Before, After Surgery, and Day After Surgery snippet using the same piece of text. I’m going to do one more in a week, after some of the swelling goes down, but my initial reaction is that I have more instrument to use. Plus, I called Mom and Dad and they say I sound like me.
I will do more in-depth stuff about the recordings when I do that post.
The big thing to know though is that I’m home, I’m not in any pain, and I have sorbet.
Yesterday’s surgery seems to have gone well. I still have bi-lateral rhino-rockets in my nose and am really, really looking forward to having them removed. I’ve been told that they are called nose-tampons. Having googled, yes. Yes, that’s a really good description of them.
That is, in fact, exactly what they are.
And I’m really looking forward to having them out of my nose. That sensation you’re imagining right now? Yeah. That’s pretty much exactly what it’s like. And if you’re not able to imagine that, just take the world’s worst sinus infection, blow up a balloon inside your nose, and then eat ice cream too fast. Now… try not to cough or sneeze.
The staff here has been fantastic. They are all fascinated by the audiobook narrator thing, so I played a bit of Glamour in Glass for them, because I figure that the ENT nurses never hear the “before” voice. Indeed, one of them said, “I would never have guessed, listening to this that it was you.”
Because, hello, rockets in my nose.
BUT that’s not a permanent state, so I’m not too worried. Also! The bump on my nose is still present. This pleases me. Food had flavor yesterday, which means that, even with the rockets in my nose, my sense of taste is intact.
So right now, I’m just waiting for the doctors. Rob is on his way back, to be a second set of ears listening to instructions and to take me home.
AND…I actually wrote fiction while I was here. Only 300 words, but I’m still darn proud of that. Well… of the effort. We’ll see how coherent it is later.
It sounds like a rocket part. It’s actually a thing that’s happening in my nose. Nose rocketry! Well… no.
It’s like this. My husband noticed that I was getting out of breath when we were walking. My heart rate wasn’t elevated, but I was breathing through my mouth. The right side of my nose just felt permanently stuffed up.
So I finally went to the doctor and she said, “Hm… I can’t see to the back of your nose. You probably have a polyp. Here’s a specialist. It’s easy to snip out and he’ll probably do it while you wait.”
So I went to the specialist and he stuck a probe up my nose, with a tiny little camera on the end, which was gross and cool all at the same time. He said, “It’s not a polyp, but you appear to have a collapsed nasal valve. This is an easy thing to fix, and we can do it in the office. Let’s do a CT scan just to be sure.”
So the CT scan comes back, and he sits me down and says. “Well… it is a collapsed nasal valve. And a deviated septum, that doesn’t look bad from the outside, but inside, it’s narrowing the channel quite a bit.” Even to my eye, that was painfully clear on the CT scan. “And you also have turbinate hypertrophy.”
“That sounds like part of a rocket ship.”
He laughed, thank heavens. “You have structures in the nose called turbinates, which cause the air to hit different surfaces to help with allergies and smells. Yours are enlarged, so instead of causing the air to swirl around, they’re blocking things.”
“I’m sensing this is no longer out patient surgery.”
“Technically, it is. But just for insurance reasons. You’ll be in the hospital for 23 hours.” And then he proceeded to detail what they were going to do to me. I’ll spare you that bit. “You can expect to need about a week of recovery time. What do you do for a living?”
“I’m an audiobook narrator.”
“Ah–” He swiveled toward me, and I could tell that we’d just gone off script. “Then let’s talk about resonance.”
Tomorrow’s surgery will fix the breathing problems. I’m apparently down to about 40% airflow on the right side of my nose. It may also change the way I sound.
It may not. He can’t tell me definitely either way, only warn me that it might be a consequence. The only thing that he can assure me of is that I won’t sound more nasal.
This will be the first time I’ve had surgery (not counting wisdom teeth). Being a writer, I’m strangely excited about it, because there’s so much good material and it is a mostly elective surgery. I mean, I could continue on with mouth-breathing when I walk and things would be fine. So there’s no pressure or stress about that.
As a narrator, I’m a little terrified. Again, it’ll be fine, and I know that, but I am about to change my instrument. I’ve recorded a sample text of “before” and I’m going to record the same thing again in the “after” stage to see how much it changes. It might not be perceptible at all.
And then, as just me, I’m worried that when they straighten out the septum they’ll “fix” my nose and get rid of the bump. When I was a teen, I would have loooooooved that. But 47 year old me really likes my nose now. It took me a long time to be comfortable with it and it’s mine. I know it will look somewhat different, because, well, they are breaking it and moving things. But still… I don’t want to look like someone else. The doctor knows that.
All of which is to say that tomorrow will be fine, and yet I’m still a bundle of anxiety. So, if you have a funny story to share, or something adorable, tomorrow would be an excellent time.
Adam 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?
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.
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.
Anna 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?
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Micah 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?
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.
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.
LJ 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?
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
Alberto 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?
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.
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.
Ruth 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?
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.
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.
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.
Katrina 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?
“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.
The brand at my throat scythed icy cold.
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.)
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.
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 […]