Jason Denzel is joining us today to talk about his novel Mystic Dragon. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Seven years have passed since lowborn Pomella AnDone became an unlikely Mystic’s apprentice.
Though she has achieved much in a short time, as a rare celestial event approaches, Pomella feels the burden of being a Mystic more than ever. The Mystical realm of Fayün is threatening to overtake the mortal world, and as the two worlds slowly blend together, the land is thrown into chaos. People begin to vanish or are killed outright, and Mystics from across the world gather to protect them. Among them is Shevia, a haunted and brilliant prodigy whose mastery of the Myst is unlike anything Pomella has ever seen.
Shevia will challenge Pomella in every possible way, from her mastery of the Myst to her emotional connection with Pomella’s own friends―and as Shevia’s dark intentions become more clear, Pomella fears she may be unstoppable.
What’s Jason’s favorite bit?
My Favorite Bit about my new novel, Mystic Dragon, or its publication at least, is that I’m lucky enough to have Mary as the book’s audiobook narrator.
Like she did for my debut novel, Mystic, Mary helped elevate the storytelling found within Mystic Dragon by breathing life to a wide variety of colorful characters. In the first book, Mystic, the main character was a young woman who defies tradition and law by leaving her home to enter the Mystwood, where she seeks to become an apprentice to a reclusive Mystic living in the woods. In the new sequel, seven years have passed and a rare celestial event threatens to throw both the human realm and Fayün, the land of the fay, into chaos.
Mary is, in my view, a world-class narrator and performer. Not only does she bring a level of cool professionalism to the performance, but she also provides a spark of youthful enthusiasm to go along with a profound sense of experienced wisdom. These are the exact traits that I want Pomella, the series protagonist, to have in this second volume. Because I’m aging the characters by several years since the events of the first book, Pomella has shed a lot of her gullible teenage youthfulness. Mary skillfully navigates that, and still provides an arc to the character’s “voice”.
What do I mean by voice arc? To explain, let me talk about Shevia, a complicated new character to the series. My goal with Shevia was to examine the mind of somebody who has been routinely oppressed her entire life and then suddenly given an immense amount of magical power. Shevia learns early in her story that power does not always equal freedom. Her story begins when she’s nine years old, and Mary does a great job of making her sound young and full of energy. As Shevia grows up, Mary naturally matures her voice so that she not only sounds older, but she sounds more powerful. It’s a tricky line to walk with this character because Shevia is trying at times to hide her power and appear docile. I was very impressed with how Mary depicted Shevia as having power, but hiding it from those that would seek to exploit her.
Mary, however, wasn’t too thrilled after having to channel Shevia for nine hours in the booth. I’m pretty sure my face often looked like that after writing her chapters.
Another awesome reason why I’m delighted Mary contributed to Mystic Dragon’s audiobook is that I always learn a tremendous amount from working with her. Leading up to the recording, I prepared a Google document with some name pronunciations. I’m not an expert in this field, but I’m making a noble attempt to have my characters’ dialect seem real and consistent, and Mary has always been a big help with that. During our pre-recording phone call she talked a little about the various ways people speak, and I found myself scribbling notes about dialect, pacing, and breathing. We spoke about accents, and how to approach representing characters of different cultures who struggle to speak a native language.
Overall, I’m delighted with how Mystic Dragon turned out, and I’m overjoyed that somebody with Mary’s talent and experience could further uplift the story through her narration expertise.
JASON DENZEL is the founder of Dragonmount.com, the leading online community for Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time saga and the Web’s top destination for Wheel of Time-related news, features, and discussion. Dragonmount.com has been featured in USA Today, Wired, the Los Angeles Times, and on CNN and ABC. Denzel lives in Northern California with his two young boys, and owns a lot of swords. He is the author of the Mystic Trilogy (Mystic, Mystic Dragon, and Mystic Skies).
With the challenges surrounding WorldCon 2018’s programming, I offered to bring in a small team to help reimagine the schedule. That team was chosen to address a range of identities, marginalizations, and key stakeholders. Together, we’ve spent the past 48 hours diving into this huge, complicated beast.
One note we would like to add here is that there was an enormous amount of good work done by the existing programming team. We are not diminishing or dismissing the errors that were made or the harm that was caused and we are focused on building a stronger program that addresses those concerns.
We have evaluated the existing programming into three categories: Keep, Repair, Replace.
Keep is self-explanatory. We like them. Good job!
Repair – The core idea was good, but the panel description, staffing, or title needed attention. Most of our effort was here.
Replace – These are getting swapped out for another panel for a variety of reasons.
We have finished Repairing and Replacing.
Our next task is to contact the finalists and Guests of Honor to offer them first dibs on panels. We recognize that, while efforts were made by the committee to reach out to the finalists, communication was a major issue. We are working within the time constraints to make this as seamless a process as possible while ensuring we don’t accidentally miss anyone who should be included.
At 2:45 Central today, I have emailed the finalists. We’ve received a number of bouncebacks. We are working on getting in touch with these individuals but given the extreme time pressure we are operating under, we ask you to please get in touch with us. If you are part of a group nomination and think that one of your co-nominees may not have received this e-mail, please feel free to forward it to that nominee and let us know the nominee’s name and e-mail if you can.
If you are a finalist and did not receive an email with the subject line “[WorldCon76] Hugo finalist programming query”, please contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This weekend, we’ll begin rebalancing panels where necessary with a goal of finishing that by Wednesday.
Readings and Kaffeeklatches will follow after whisk– I mean, after we’ve got the main program back online.
Many thanks to the concom for listening.
And thanks as well to my team. The full team is able to advocate for a wide and intersectional range of lived experience and perspectives. These are the ones who have chosen to be public.
Jason Stevan Hill
K Tempest Bradford
Steven H Silver
We look forward to seeing you in San Jose for the Hugo awards and a wonderful, diverse celebration of science fiction and fantasy.
Jay Schiffman is joining us today to talk about his debut novel Game of the Gods. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Max Cone wants to be an ordinary citizen of the Federacy and leave war and politics behind. He wants the leaders of the world to leave him alone. But he’s too good a military commander, and too powerful a judge, to be left alone. War breaks out, and Max becomes the ultimate prize for the nation that can convince him to fight again.
When one leader gives the Judge a powerful device that predicts the future, the Judge doesn’t want to believe its chilling prophecy: The world will soon end, and he’s to blame. But bad things start to happen. His wife and children are taken. His friends are falsely imprisoned. His closest allies are killed. Worst of all, the world descends into a cataclysmic global war.
In order to find his family, free his friends, and save the world, the Judge must become a lethal killer willing to destroy anyone who stands in his way. He leads a ragtag band of warriors—a 13-year old girl with special powers, a mathematical genius, a religious zealot blinded by faith, and a former revolutionary turned drug addict. Together, they are the only hope of saving the world.
What’s Jay’s favorite bit?
My favorite bit about my novel was finishing. Bittersweet, for sure. But when a writer, especially one with control issues, hands in those final edits, there’s nothing better. It’s one of those rare feelings of accomplishment that the process of writing has to offer.
Well, that’s it. I’ve finished with My Favorite Bit and that elusive high of finishing a piece is at hand. But . . . since I’m only a paragraph in, I guess I should share another one of my favorite bits. It’s a scene from early on in the book, so I won’t be revealing too much.
The main character in Game of the Gods is Max Cone, a former military commander who is now his nation’s Highest Judge. Max has the unenviable task of deciding which teenage candidates will be granted citizenship in the Federacy, the most powerful nation in the world. Only a lucky few will be granted citizenship and a life of peace and prosperity. The rest will be sent out to miserable existences where their chances of survival are limited. Max hates being responsible for deciding which teenagers will live and which will die.
The citizenship process begins with an elaborate ceremony that is described in the novel as “something like the Old Christians’ Confirmation.” This ceremony is followed by a formal interview called the First Interview. The judge begins a five-year process of determining whether the candidate is worthy of citizenship. Each year, from the ages of thirteen to eighteen, the candidate appears before the judge for a comprehensive evaluation, and by eighteen a final decision is rendered.
One of my favorite scenes in the book is when Max first meets a citizen candidate named Pique Rollins. (She just so happens to be my favorite character in Game of the Gods.) Pique is a thirteen-year-old girl with special abilities, but I can’t say more than that.
I will let Max, who narrates Game of the Gods and loves Pique as much as I do, tell you about the first time he meets her.
I begin most First Interviews the same way. I say nothing. I wait for the candidate to speak first. I usually will remain silent for up to ten minutes. Most candidates will say something before the ten minutes pass. Of those candidates, more than half will say something that immediately demonstrates they are unworthy of citizenship. The other half eventually demonstrate their unworthiness in the next few minutes of the interview. I then proceed to waste the next five years trying to prove to myself that my initial instincts were wrong.
Pique is that rare candidate who says nothing. She politely makes eye contact with me, and after a few minutes takes out a pad and begins sketching. There is no specific rule forbidding this, but it seems wrong to me, perhaps even rude. After a minute or two of silence, I point to the pad and shake my head in disapproval. But I don’t say anything. She ignores me and continues to sketch. We both sit in silence for about ten minutes before I give up and ask her what she’s drawing.
“Your chambers,” Pique says.
“It was the most useful thing I could think of doing. I was getting kind of bored just sitting here.”
I ask her if I can see her work, and she hands it to me. I look at her sketch. It’s a meticulous drawing of the room we’re sitting in by someone who appears to be schooled in the high science of interior engineering, which of course she cannot be, because she is too young and comes from the Anterior Region. “Why are you sketching my chambers?”
“I don’t know,” she says. “Maybe one day I’ll be a judge and I’ll need to know how to decorate this place.”
I want to laugh, but I don’t. It’s too early in the process to have that kind of familiarity. “Well . . . you will need to become a citizen first.”
“Oh, I’m pretty confident you’ll want to make me a citizen.”
“And why are you so confident.”
“Because I’m a talented fighter and I don’t lie.” Pique stands up. She is no more than 150 centimeters tall. She looks nothing like a fighter and her boast about being a talented one seems like a lie. She sits back down on her chair with her legs crossed. She looks tiny. She repeats herself. “All you need to know about me is that I’m a talented fighter and I don’t lie. That’s what you Federates are looking for, right?”
Max soon finds out whether Pique is in fact a talented fighter and whether she lies. But before he does, Pique wants Max to understand that she is not like other thirteen-year-olds.
What I love most about Pique is the childlike playfulness she exhibits even when she is imparting her wisdom to an adult. In developing Pique’s voice, I was influenced by strong teenage characters like The Hunger Games’ Katniss Everdeen, Divergent’s Tris Prior, and Ready Player One’s Art3mis.
Again, Max tells the story best.
“So,” I say before taking in a long breath. “You’re a talented fighter and you don’t lie. Presumably you have some weaknesses?”
“Sure, I already told you them. I’m a talented fighter and I don’t lie.”
“You said those were your strengths.”
Pique smiles. She then rests her chin on her closed fist and schools me with her eyes. She doesn’t say anything, but I know what that looks means. Come on now, Judge, my strengths are my weaknesses. This is true with anyone. You should know that.
Maybe it’s because I’m a father of a bunch of children ranging from 15 to 3, but I love how Pique schools Max. My favorite bit about Game of the Gods isn’t just this scene. It’s the entire relationship between this accomplished middle-aged man and the teenage girl who teaches him to be more than his accomplishments.
Done. Another piece finished. My favorite bit about writing!
Jay Schiffman is a writer and entrepreneur committed to creating socially responsible businesses. He has started a number of successful companies in entertainment, education, and technology, including an entertainment studio dedicated to developing unique digital content for the public sector. His studio creates award-winning apps, games, digital stories, and animations for public interest organizations, educational institutions, and governmental bodies. Prior to starting his businesses, he was a practicing attorney, taught political science at N.Y.U., and worked in the public and private sectors. He lives in New Jersey with his wife and children. Game of the Gods is his debut novel.
Wendy Nikel is joining us today to talk about her novel The Grandmother Paradox. Here’s the publisher’s description:
When Dr. Wells, the head of the Place in Time Travel Agency, learns that someone’s trying to track down the ancestors of his star employee, there are few people he can turn to without revealing her secrets. But who better to jump down the timeline and rescue Elise from being snuffed out of existence generations before she’s born than the very person whose life she saved a hundred years in the future?
But Juliette Argent isn’t an easy woman to protect. The assistant to a traveling magician, she’s bold, fearless, and has a fascination with time travel, of all things. Can the former secret agent Chandler, with his knowledge of what’s to come, keep her safe from harm and keep his purpose there a secret? Or will his presence there only entangle the timeline more?
What’s Wendy’s favorite bit?
THE GRANDMOTHER PARADOX is the second book in the Place in Time novella series, which is based around a travel agency that specializes in time travel vacations in the past. Although I still love the travel agency itself, which I blogged about for the release of book one, in this book, my favorite part is one of the settings: the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.
I first read about the fair in Erik Larson’s 2004 book, The Devil in the White City, and instantly, I was hooked. I tried to get my hands on anything I could read about this fascinating event. As the city recovered from the Great Fire of 1871, Chicago put in its bid for the World’s Fair, right at a time of global change and innovation, which would make this one of the most memorable fairs in history. Electric lights illuminated the fairgrounds. Products such as Quaker Oats, Cracker Jack, and Juicy Fruit gum were first introduced to the public. Countries from around the world and individual states hosted pavilions that showcased their best qualities.
It was an exciting place to be at a pivotal point in United States history, where technological developments were beginning to put the world within the common person’s reach and anything seemed possible. If I had access to a time machine, this would definitely be on my list of places to visit.
I initially used this setting in a now-trunked manuscript. In it, a boy and his family journeyed down to the fair from Wisconsin, and there he met up with a traveling magician who gave him some important advice and a gift. The Midway Plaisance of the fair – which also featured carnival rides such as a balloon drop and the world’s first Ferris Wheel – was filled with performers like this, including one who would become quite well-known for his escape acts: Harry Houdini. So when I decided to set part of this novella at the fair, the idea of traveling magicians came along with it.
In THE GRANDMOTHER PARADOX, the head of the Place in Time Travel Agency, suspects that someone is plotting to kill the great-great-grandmother of his star employee (to prevent the events of the previous book), so he calls upon the man whose life she saved to jump to the year 1893 and protect the young woman, who’s working as a magician’s assistant in a traveling show.
Together, they make their way to the World’s Fair, where he hopes they’ll be able to blend in among the sights and crowds, but he quickly discovers that when you’re being stalked by a man with a time machine, nowhere – and no time – is really safe.
Wendy Nikel is a speculative fiction author with a degree in elementary education, a fondness for road trips, and a terrible habit of forgetting where she’s left her cup of tea. Her short fiction has been published by Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, Daily Science Fiction, Nature: Futures, and elsewhere. Her time travel novella, The Continuum, was published by World Weaver Press in January 2018, with a sequel, The Grandmother Paradox, out now. For more info, visit wendynikel.com
A friend of mine was listening to the audiobook of Calculating Starsand said that usually when he listens to audiobooks narrated by friends, he’s like, “Oh good, my friend is going to tell me a story.” Listening to Calculating Stars, he said, “There’s this other woman, Elma, and I’m totally invested in her and there was nothing of my friend Mary in there.”
I have a complicated reaction to this.
Professionally, I’m delighted. This means that the character is working as are my voicing choices.
And then this knife stab… “nothing of my friend Mary in there.” See, I narrated that audiobook with a Southern accent. With my Southern accent. Or rather, with what is the closest we’ll likely come to my natural accent.
I don’t know. It was trained out of me. I trained it out of me. I was complicit in erasing that part of my identity from my voice.
I was raised in Raleigh, North Carolina — in the Piedmont of the state. The Piedmont North Carolina accent is one of the softer Southern accents to outside ears. We have the diphthong on our vowels, but it’s not a nasal accent and doesn’t twang as much as other parts of the South. We have the soft “r” which sounds more British than the rest of America.
Raleigh is part of the Research Triangle Park, so growing up, I was surrounded by transplants. My parents are from East Tennessee, so have a totally different Southern accent and my mom code-switches like her accent is on a rheostat remote controlled by circumstance. I wasn’t exposed to a great deal of the local Southern accent.
That said, I can’t hear the Piedmont N.C. accent because it just sounds right to me. I still pronounce pin and pen as if they are the same word. But otherwise…
Most of the rest of it is gone. It began as a child. I had a speech impediment, so did speech therapy, which erased one of my accent markers. The soft R. My diction became very precise, with crisp final Ts and final Gs. Sometimes people would ask where I was from in my hometown.
I remember being proud of that.
I remember being in college at East Carolina and hearing myself begin to pick up the local twang. I remember the horror. I remember reading street signs as I drove to make sure everything was crisp and that there was no Southern in my voice.
Now. As an adult, I know what was happening. I know the role that policing “correct” speech has in reinforcing hierarchies. In the South, each region has at least four distinct accents. Educated white, educated Black, country white, country black. Only one of those is acceptable in a business environment. I’ll let you guess which one.
If you want to leave the South, you’d better have no accent at all.
To do Elma’s voice in Calculating Stars, I basically let my mouth relax. I’ll do it for interviews or on panels and there’s always a laugh. People don’t mean to be laughing at me, I know that. I know it’s the juxtaposition. But the comedy of that juxtaposition is based on this media representation of Southerners as stupid, yokel, rubes… So people laugh. And then I switch back to my “neutral” American accent because some part of me is still embarrased to sound like that. Oh, and just so we’re clear– “neutral” is really a white Midland American accent.
Elma? Elma is what I might have sounded like, if I hadn’t learned to be ashamed of my voice.
So when my friend says, “there’s nothing of my friend Mary in there…” a part of me wants to weep. Because I’m there. I’m right there. It’s just in the rest of my life that there’s a part of me missing.
TJ Berry is joining us today with her book Space Unicorn Blues. Here’s the publisher’s description:
A misfit crew race across the galaxy to prevent the genocide of magical creatures, in this unique science fiction debut.
Having magical powers makes you less than human, a resource to be exploited. Half-unicorn Gary Cobalt is sick of slavery, captivity, and his horn being ground down to power faster-than-light travel. When he’s finally free, all he wants is to run away in his ancestors’ stone ship. Instead, Captain Jenny Perata steals the ship out from under him, so she can make an urgent delivery. But Jenny held him captive for a decade, and then Gary murdered her best friend… who was also the wife of her co-pilot, Cowboy Jim. What could possibly go right?
What’s TJ’s favorite bit?
My favorite bit about Space Unicorn Blues is a single word deep in the book about a quarter of the way from the end. Part-unicorn Gary Cobalt reminisces about his human mother teaching him how to read and write languages from her home planet of Earth:
His mother, on the other hand, had taught him only two human languages: English and Kannada. She showed him how to assemble sticks and balls to make English letters and how to glide his pen through the undulating contortions of the Kannada alphabet.
The single word is the name of an Indian language, Kannada, and it’s my favorite because it was a reminder to me of a wonderful dinner spent with friends discussing their home city.
My zero drafts are sprawling things in which logic, reason, and story arcs don’t exist. Anything from an underwater helicopter chase to a love story between an octopus and an assassin can end up on the page. I write recklessly and rapidly, daring myself to visit every unexpected possibility before settling down to find the heart of the story. It gets the pantsing urge largely out of my system so that I can hew close to my outline in subsequent drafts.
But this fast and furious approach means that I don’t slow down for research during a zero draft. I toss in hundreds of brackets full of placeholder text like [insert saucy jokes here] and [look up the flag of New Zealand]. It also means that some of what I write is flat-out wrong. I originally dashed off the two lines above using Hindi as the language that Gary’s mother would have taught him. It wasn’t until nearly two years later that I discovered my mistake.
You see, Gary Cobalt is the descendent of aerospace engineers who live and work in Bangalore. They board a generation ship to escape a dying Earth, and decades later their granddaughter Anjali falls in love with a space unicorn. (I know. Just trust me.) It wasn’t until I passed the manuscript to a group of sensitivity readers and expert advisors that my error was pointed out to me. Friends who had offered to fact check the parts of the book influenced by Indian culture asked me, “Why is she teaching him Hindi? We only speak Kannada at home and that’s what we’d teach our children.”
Reader, I am ashamed to admit that even though I consider myself moderately well-versed in the basics of Indian culture—okay, maybe we’ll just call it a semester of grad school Hindi and eating more baingan bharta than I care to admit—I had never encountered Kannada. Luckily, my friends were quite eager to fill me in about their beloved home city over a long and delicious curry dinner.
They patiently and cheerfully answered all of my questions about Bangalorean family life. I learned what spices and seeds would be vital to bring onto a generation ship destined for an unfamiliar planet. They helped me brainstorm names for space stations and ships based on important figures in Indian history. At one point, we got into a deep dive about mango pickle. This is, I have learned, a Very Important Condiment in Indian cuisine. Every family has their own mango pickle recipe, which is always better than any other family’s recipe. The instructions are passed down through the generations with such reverence that I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume that Indian families on a deep-space generation ship will someday have a minor civil unrest that begins with a slight to one person’s mango pickle.
A mango pickle, which is clearly far inferior to everyone else’s mango pickle.
They ordered a dish of it and urged me to add it to everything on the table. As a person from a culture where the primary condiment is sugared tomatoes boiled down to a paste, I felt that I might be on familiar ground with a condiment with “mango” in the name, but it was not sweet at all. The pickle I tried was not particularly spicy, but it was astringent—vinegary and tart with hint of licorice whenever I hit a fennel seed. The mango is meant to be green and have an al dente bite. It’s absolutely lovely and I want to eat it with everything, which is precisely the point of a mango pickle.
After all was said and done (and eaten), a dozen plates of food and hours of discussion distilled down to a single word in the actual book. That’s often how research works, but this time I also came away from the table with two dozen pages of notes for a different book about a generation ship full of Bangalorean engineers and the strife caused by a jar of mango pickle.
TJ Berry grew up living between Repulse Bay, Hong Kong and the New Jersey shore. Her favorite pizza is a plain slice from Three Brothers in Seaside Heights. She can be coaxed into a trap using any type of cheese.
TJ has been a political blogger, bakery owner, and she spent a disastrous two weeks on the assembly line in a razor blade factory. She now writes science fiction, fantasy, and horror from Seattle with considerably fewer on-the-job injuries.
She also co-hosts the weekly Warp Drives Podcast with her husband, in which they explore science fiction, fantasy, and horror via pop culture and literary lenses. Find her on Twitter @TJaneBerry and online at http://tjberrywrites.com.
Theodora Goss is joining us today with her novel European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman. Here’s the publisher’s description:
In the sequel to the critically acclaimed The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, Mary Jekyll and the rest of the daughters of literature’s mad scientists embark on a madcap adventure across Europe to rescue another monstrous girl and stop the Alchemical Society’s nefarious plans once and for all.
Mary Jekyll’s life has been peaceful since she helped Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson solve the Whitechapel Murders. Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherine Moreau, Justine Frankenstein, and Mary’s sister Diana Hyde have settled into the Jekyll household in London, and although they sometimes quarrel, the members of the Athena Club get along as well as any five young women with very different personalities. At least they can always rely on Mrs. Poole.
But when Mary receives a telegram that Lucinda Van Helsing has been kidnapped, the Athena Club must travel to the Austro-Hungarian Empire to rescue yet another young woman who has been subjected to horrific experimentation. Where is Lucinda, and what has Professor Van Helsing been doing to his daughter? Can Mary, Diana, Beatrice, and Justine reach her in time?
Racing against the clock to save Lucinda from certain doom, the Athena Club embarks on a madcap journey across Europe. From Paris to Vienna to Budapest, Mary and her friends must make new allies, face old enemies, and finally confront the fearsome, secretive Alchemical Society. It’s time for these monstrous gentlewomen to overcome the past and create their own destinies.
What’s Theodora’s favorite bit?
I hope you’re not offended if I assert that Hungarian pastries are the best in the world.
Oh, I know, the French tarte tatin is world-famous, as is the Italian tiramisu. And who can pass up a piece of bakhlavah? Pavlova, dulce de leche, halva, flan, panettone . . . Every culture has wonderful sweets to share. But my favorites are the traditional Hungarian ones, because they are not too sweet, and often combine contrasting flavors in interesting ways: chocolate and apricots, poppy seed and sour cherries. If you want to disagree with me, go right ahead, but not before you travel to Budapest yourself, sit down at one of the traditional old cafés like Gerbeaud or the Centrál Kávéház, and try some of them for yourself. I’ll gladly share a tarte tatin with you, if you’ll take a bite of my Eszterházy torte.
Why am I talking to you about Hungarian pastries? Because one of my favorite moments in European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman happens when Mina Murray, Mary Jekyll’s former governess, welcomes Mary and her friends to Budapest by taking them shopping on Váci utca, and then suggests they stop at Gerbeaud. She buys them a selection of traditional Hungarian pastries, including Eszterházy torte, Dobos torte, krémes, and Rigó Jancsi. My favorite of these is the Eszterházy torte, which is layers of buttercream between layers of a flourless cake made with walnuts, egg whites, and sugar. Lots of layers, like five or six or seven, so you get plenty of buttercream and walnuts. Dobos torte is probably the most famous Hungarian cake for its shining caramel top. Rigó Jancsi, which you seldom find outside Hungary and Austria, is the most romantic: it’s supposedly named after a Romani violinist who fell in love with a Belgian princess. She left her husband for him, they were married, and he created the pastry for her. Krémes is like a Napoleon, only better.
So there they are, Mina and Mary and other members of the Athena Club, sitting in a café in Budapest eating pastries. Why is this one of my favorite bits of the book? When I was writing the first and second Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club, I wanted my characters to have adventures, of course—they would overcome obstacles, fight adversaries, and have revelations of various sorts. All the things characters do in books. After all, Vladimir Nabokov said a writer is someone who puts his characters up a tree and throws stones at them. I’ve thrown all sorts of things—murder and mayhem—at mine. But life is never all adventure. I also wanted my novels to contain moments that are more realistic. Moments when the characters are just sitting round drinking tea, or when they get bored, or have to go to the bathroom. (Even characters have to go to the bathroom sometimes.) There they are in Budapest, trying to fight the dastardly Société des Alchimistes, but they have to eat, right? So for about an hour, they stop and sit down and have cake. Not just any cake, but some of my favorite cakes.
There’s another reason this particular bit matters to me. In this novel, it makes sense for my characters to go to Budapest because the villains they’re dealing with are in Budapest—that’s where they were in the original texts I was drawing on. The plot requires a trip to that part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. However, I was born in Budapest and it’s my favorite city in the world. In this book, I wanted to show you a bit of the city I love, as it would have looked in the late nineteenth century. Sure, I populated it with monsters—that’s what I do. But I also wanted to make sure you knew there were cakes. Really good cakes. The monsters may not be there anymore, but Gerbeaud and the Centrál Kávéház are, and they still have all those pastries, right in the pastry cases, close to the front. You can order them, just as Mina did for Mary and her friends. I guarantee that they will fortify you for whatever obstacles you need to face, whether fighting monsters or just finding your way to the art museum.
Theodora Goss is the World Fantasy and Locus Award-winning author of the short story collection In the Forest of Forgetting (2006); Interfictions (2007), a short story anthology coedited with Delia Sherman; Voices from Fairyland (2008), a poetry anthology with critical essays and a selection of her own poems; The Thorn and the Blossom (2012), a novella in a two-sided accordion format; the poetry collection Songs for Ophelia (2014); debut novel The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter (2017), and sequel European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman(2018). She has been a finalist for the Nebula, Crawford, Seiun, and Mythopoeic Awards, as well as on the Tiptree Award Honor List. Her work has been translated into twelve languages. She teaches literature and writing at Boston University and in the Stonecoast MFA Program. Visit her at theodoragoss.com.
You might have missed this post on Tor.com about my research trip to NASA. Come check it out (there is much squeeing)!
Here’s a teaser:
It’s like this… An astronaut asks if you want to spend the day at work with him. You say, “Yes.”
More specifically, it was like this. Kjell Lindgren, a NASA astronaut who spent 142 days in space, was a consultant when I was writing The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky. So by “Would you like to spend the day with me at work?” what he meant was “Do you want to come to the NBL and watch a full dev run?”
Now, if you’re like me, you say, “Yes.”
Let me explain. He invited me to go to the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory, which is a swimming pool the size of a football field and three stories deep, containing a full-scale replica of the International Space Station. A “dev run” is a developmental run of a spacewalk—basically, they simulate a spacewalk in 6.2 million gallons of water.
To which, my basic response was, “Hey Kjell… Know how I’m a professional puppeteer? If you’re in NYC and want to visit Sesame Street, let me know. but you probably won’t want to stay for the whole day because it will be really boring.”But what he actually said was, “Do you want to watch me do a dev run at the NBL? But you probably won’t want to stay for the whole day because it will be really boring.”
Lauren James is joining us today to discuss her novel The Loneliest Girl in the Universe. Here’s the publisher’s description:
The daughter of two astronauts, Romy Silvers is no stranger to life in space. But she never knew how isolating the universe could be until her parents’ tragic deaths left her alone on theInfinity, a spaceship speeding away from Earth.
Romy tries to make the best of her lonely situation, but with only brief messages from her therapist on Earth to keep her company, she can’t help but feel like something is missing. It seems like a dream come true when NASA alerts her that another ship, the Eternity, will be joining the Infinity.
Romy begins exchanging messages with J, the captain of theEternity, and their friendship breathes new life into her world. But as the Eternity gets closer, Romy learns there’s more to J’s mission than she could have imagined. And suddenly, there are worse things than being alone….
What’s Lauren’s favorite bit?
When you write realistic science fiction, it takes a lot of research. I always try to make the science in my books as accurate as possible, – the time machine in one of my other books, The Last Beginning, is based on real life research into sub-atomic particles at CERN, like the Large Hadron Collider.
This book is set on a spaceship a few decades into the future, so I did a lot of research into space travel and the theory of space travel behind NASA’s equipment. I read a lot of non-fiction about space travel – NASA does a series of free eBooks explaining their science for beginners, so I had a great time diving into them.
I think there’s a danger of crossing over into Fantasy instead of Science Fiction if you don’t base your technology in solid scientific concepts, and there’s never been as much appeal in writing Fantasy for me. As long as there’s some seed of truth, it’s very easy to make readers believe anything else.
I wanted to write about the fear and confinement and constant stress of being alone on a small spaceship, where you’re completely responsibility for running the ship. I read up on the experiments NASA did where they made people live in a pseudo-spaceship for a year on Earth, to see how that affected them mentally. I read a lot of therapy and mental health books about post-traumatic stress disorder, stress and young carers.
I watched lots of sci-fi films like Moon,Gravity and Interstellar – and that really
helped with capturing the aesthetics and design of the ship. I tried to explain it in a series of terrible sketches:
I also had to calculate the time it would take for laser beam messages to travel to and from Earth to my spaceships on every single day of narrative, something which ended up needing an Excel spreadsheet this big:
The dark side of writing a book set in space: the calculations. Luckily I have a Masters degree in Chemistry and Physics, which helped with this. And it was all worth it in the end.
Lauren James’ books have sold over fifty thousand copies in the UK alone. The Loneliest Girl in the Universe was inspired by a Physics calculation she was assigned at university. Lauren is a passionate advocate of STEM further education, and all of her books feature female scientists in prominent roles.
Lauren is published in the UK by Walker Books, in the US by HarperCollins and in translation in five other countries around the world. She lives in the West Midlands and is an Arts Council grant recipient. She has written articles for the Guardian, Buzzfeed and The Toast, and wrote an article for the Children’s Writers and Artist’s Yearbook 2019.
You can find her on Twitter at @Lauren_E_James, Tumblr at @laurenjames or her website http://www.laurenejames.co.uk, where you can subscribe to her newsletter to be kept up to date with her new releases and receive bonus content.
BRADBURY BASE, Sep 19, 1973 — WITH fireworks and music, with games and speeches, the success of humanity’s settlement on Mars is scheduled to be celebrated at Bradbury Base tonight. Bradbury Base, which was established in 1953 with an initial population of four, is now a thriving city.
Watching his mother kneel awkwardly in her rented space suit, Aaron worried his lower lip inside his own helmet. She did not touch the fireworks, but her arm twitched as if she wanted to. Or was that twitch because of the Parkinson’s? He should have told her to stay on Earth, but she was so damn excited that he landed the Mars gig for Parkhill Pyrotechnics.
God. When had Mom gotten so small?
He turned away and scanned the horizon of Mars as if it were business as usual to be working here. The stars were amazing. He had dim memories of seeing them on Earth when he was a kid, before the asteroid hit. They sparkled like a silver peony aerial shell, with the dome of Landing a steady glow against the sky. The streets of the colony had been packed with people celebrating the tenth anniversary of Arrival Day. Hard to believe it was 1973 already.
Over the speaker, Mom’s voice crackled, “You adjusted the perchlorate balance?”
She threw her arms into the air like an Olympic gymnast. “Triumph! I—Oh!”
Off-balance with unfamiliarity in the light Martian gravity, the sudden movement tipped her to the side. Aaron hopped forward and caught her before she could pitch over onto the small array of pyrotechnic devices.
“Sorry.” She patted his hand clumsily. “I was just so pleased I remembered my chemistry.”
“It was always second nature for you.”
“On Earth. The mix has to be different up here.” She nodded to the firework. “Did you think about using an oxygen chamber around the fuse instead?”
He rolled his eyes, grateful that his helmet kept his expression from being too obvious. Clearly, some things hadn’t changed. “Mom—The show is in an hour and a half. If I’ve screwed up, you aren’t going to fix it by quizzing me.”
“Well. Well… I’m proud of you. Your great-granddaddy would have split a side if he’d have known Parkhill Pyrotechnics would have a show on Mars someday.”
“Thanks. I—” He shouldn’t have taken the time to walk her past the fireworks staging area. He knew how she got. Always wanting to help out, despite being retired. “Listen, we should get a move on so I can load the program.”
She clambered to her feet. Aaron caught her arm and helped steady her. Even in the bulky suit she was tiny. “You and your punch cards. It seems so lonely.”
“It’s safer. If you’re in a bunker, there’s darn little that can go wrong.”
“I’m just saying—”
“Can we not have this argument again?” He thumped the bag of punch cards slung over his shoulder. “There was no way I could have brought a team of twenty up to Mars. If I still did things the old-fashioned way, I’d never have landed the contract.”
“You’re right. Of course, you’re right.”
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have snapped.”
“No, no. It’s good for me to remember that I’m only a tourist these days.” She turned away from the town to face the dome of the Bradbury Space Center. “Let’s go watch your show.”
In Landing, the city lights reflected off the interior of the dome and would have made the fireworks nearly invisible. The Bradbury Space Center, on the other hand, with its vast space for interplanetary rockets, could hold the whole town but, more importantly, it was easier to darken. Turn off the work lights and you had an unobstructed view of the sky.
Through the thick glass of the air lock’s window, Aaron spied banners proclaiming “1953-1973” inside the hangar. The interior of the space center had been swathed with red, green, and blue bunting for the celebration.
He held the door for his mother as she ducked into the chamber after him, kicking the ubiquitous red dust off her boots. Aaron shifted the satchel over his shoulder while he waited for the air to cycle.
With a hiss, the door finally opened and they stepped onto the hangar floor.
People were already filling the hangar with a cheerful buzz of conversation. Some folks had even brought blankets and carried sacks with picnics like everyone was trying to recreate a holiday from Earth. Heck… the mayor had gone so far as to erect a bandstand and rounded up a horn section from somewhere. Darn good thing they’d have music, too, given that between the dome and the thin atmosphere, the fireworks made more of a snap than a bang.
People thought fireworks were about the flash and bang, but if his mom had taught him anything it was that they were about building community. For one night, everyone breathed with the same breath, with the intake of Oh and the exhale of Ah.
Aaron popped the seal on his helmet and pulled it off, switching from the steely recycled funk of suit air to the steely recycled burnt-hydrocarbon funk of the hangar. Burning things, at least, smelled comfortably familiar if you mixed in a little sulfur stink.
His mother’s hands fumbled with the latch on her helmet. The suit’s heavy gloves made her normally nimble fingers clumsy. No… No, it wasn’t just the suit. He’d never get used to thinking of her as fragile.
“Here.” He handed her the satchel with the punch cards in it. “Let me help.”
Her mouth quirked to the side in a sheepish grin. The external speaker on the suit crackled. “I’ll blame it on the suit instead of getting old.”
“Fair assessment—” He tugged on the latch and grunted. “Darn thing’s stuck.”
“Triumph! It’s not me!” His mom again flung her arms up in celebration.
With the movement, the catch on his satchel released and the bundle of punch cards came out, flying in a high inertial arc in the light gravity.
“Shit!” His mother jerked away, reaching for the punch cards.
For a moment, Aaron was more stunned that she had cursed than about the cards.
The cards—Shit. He turned and jumped, to try to catch them, but his gloved hand only batted at the bundle. The rubber band holding them slipped and the cards sprayed around them like a Waterfall Shell expanding. Each individual card tumbled free and fluttered to the ground. They dropped so slowly, it almost seemed as if he could catch them.
Not that it would do any good. They were already hopelessly out of sequence.
“Oh, sweetie. I’m so sorry.” His mother stared at the cards, still falling to the blackened hangar floor.
He took a breath, trying to not completely lose it in front of his mother. There was nothing that could be done and she would already be feeling bad enough. He had to keep it together.
But the show was in an hour.
A barrage of curses ran rapid-fire through his mind, but he just took another breath of the recycled air and turned to his mom. “Let’s get you out of that suit first, okay?”
He held up a finger to silence her and turned the corners of his mouth up in a smile. “No way we can pick things up in the gloves, so let’s get that sorted.”
Pick things up? There were two hundred and fifty individual cards. Forget about picking them up, how was he going to re-sequence them fast enough? His sequencer was back in Landing proper and that was a good quarter-hour away from the hangar by train. Then he’d have to get to his hotel and back and… Shit. Aaron put his hand on the latch of his mother’s helmet and gave it a quick tug. The darn thing popped free immediately as if it had never been stuck.
“Well, turtle feathers.” His mother scowled and pulled the helmet off. “If it had done that in the first place…” Her voice trailed away as she stared at the cards.
Behind them, the airlock cycled open, and a family of five stepped into the hangar.
“Careful—” Aaron held up his hand to direct them around the pile of cards, but the smallest of the suited figures bolted away from the group, running toward the bandstand. The little booted feet kicked up the punch cards like dried leaves. “Turtle feathers” was not a sufficient level of expletive. Aaron compressed his lips to hold everything else in. Instead, he gestured to the cards and asked the rest of the family to go around.
When he turned back, his mother was on her knees, gloves discarded, gathering cards.
He yanked his own off and dropped to the hangar floor beside her. Picking up a card, he pointed to the notched corner. “These should all be facing the same way to load them into the computer.”
“How do we know what order they go in?” She rifled through the ones she’d already picked up and reoriented the cards that were upside down.
“See these last three columns of holes? That’s the sequence number.” A jump in numbers would cause the computer to throw an error. Damn it. He sagged on his knees. There was no way he could run the program out of sequence.
And what if one went missing? Or was folded?
God. That would jam the machine. If it choked on an early card, the entire sequence would sit there in the middle of a field of red, without detonating. His claims that he could actually get fireworks to go off on Mars, with the thin atmosphere and the complications of the gravity—all of that was about to look like shameless boasting. His professional reputation would be ruined.
And the deposit. All that money to haul stuff up here. He’d have to eat the expenses and give them the deposit back. It would be the end of Parkhill Pyrotechnics.
Aaron’s hands shook as he snatched cards off the floor.
“Can we do it the old-fashioned way?”
“What? Run across the airless plains of Mars and light fuses?” He grimaced an apology for letting the sarcasm slip out. She looked miserable and that wasn’t what she’d meant anyway. “Sorry. No. There’s no way to manually drive the electronic initiator without the computer.”
“I am so sorry.” His mother glanced down at the cards in her hands and shook her head. “It takes me five minutes just to count the holes to figure out where they are in sequence.”
“I know.” He snorted. “If we had a team like Grandpa’s then maybe we could sequence them faster.”
His mother’s head snapped up. “You are brilliant.”
“Mom…” She’d always had faith in him, and this time he was going to fail, and she’d feel responsible. “It’s not your fault.”
“It is. And I’ll fix it.” She jumped to her feet and ran to the bandstand.
She took long, bounding strides and in a moment was talking to the mayor. Even from where Aaron was, he could see Mom turn on the charm. A moment later, the mayor handed her the microphone.
“Ladies and gentlemen!” Her Southern twang sounded more apparent over the hangar loudspeakers. “Do y’all want to see some fireworks tonight?”
They cheered. God. How many times had he heard Mom pump up a crowd before they started a show on Earth? The roar went up from their bellies, full of enthusiasm for this new life.
And he didn’t have a show to give them.
“Then we need your help! My son, Aaron Parkhill, has programmed a brilliant show for you, but…” She let her voice drop to a conspiratorial whisper and held the microphone closer so it sounded like she was sharing a secret with each person individually. “But… I dropped the cards. What I need y’all to do is to help us get them back in order so the show can go on.” She held a card over her head. “On the right side, there’s a line of holes. That’s the number of the card. Go over there to where Aaron is—Wave, honey.”
Sheepishly, feeling like he was twelve again, Aaron got to his feet and waved.
“Go over there, grab a card, and sort yourselves into a line. Remember when you were in school and had to sort yourself by height? Just like that.” She gave a wink. “I used to be the tallest girl in my class. Wouldn’t know it to look at me now. Oh… And y’all know that rhyme? ‘Here he lies molding
his dying was hard,
they shot him for folding,
an IBM card.”
A wave of laughter went up. Aaron turned in a circle, watching the scattered individuals join together.
“So, careful with those cards. Now… can y’all help us out?”
They gave another cheer and the band struck up a march.
In moments, people were coming over and grabbing cards. They were laughing and sliding into line, trading places with their neighbor as someone with a higher number joined them. Good lord—he’d just handed a card to Elma York, one of the first astronauts to land on Mars. And there was the mayor snatching up a card. Was everyone helping?
Aaron handed out the cards till he only had one left. Number 92. He walked down the line full of people laughing and chatting as if this was the best game they’d ever played. His mother stood at position 67, giggling with a little girl who held her card in both hands.
Just like that—the cards were sorted. He’d been worried that this was the end of Parkhill Pyrotechnics. It hadn’t been the end when his mom retired and it wouldn’t be the end now. His mother had managed to turn a disaster into a success. He’d thought she’d gotten small with age, but he was wrong. His mother was still a giant.
She built something better than fireworks. She built community.
Laughing, Aaron threw his hands into the air like an Olympic gymnast. Like his mom. “Triumph!”
I’m joining you today to talk about my novel The Calculating Stars. Here’s the publisher’s description:
On a cold spring night in 1952, a huge meteorite fell to earth and obliterated much of the east coast of the United States, including Washington D.C. The ensuing climate cataclysm will soon render the earth inhospitable for humanity, as the last such meteorite did for the dinosaurs. This looming threat calls for a radically accelerated effort to colonize space, and requires a much larger share of humanity to take part in the process.
Elma York’s experience as a WASP pilot and mathematician earns her a place in the International Aerospace Coalition’s attempts to put man on the moon, as a calculator. But with so many skilled and experienced women pilots and scientists involved with the program, it doesn’t take long before Elma begins to wonder why they can’t go into space, too.
Elma’s drive to become the first Lady Astronaut is so strong that even the most dearly held conventions of society may not stand a chance against her.
MARY ROBINETTE KOWAL
Given the frequency with which I ask other authors to talk about their favorite parts of their new novels, you might be wondering what my favorite bit of Calculating Stars is. Honestly, it’s the stuff I didn’t write.
See, it goes like this… I looked at all the things that I would need to know in order to write convincingly about orbital mechanics and said, “screw it! I’m hiring an expert.” Several experts, actually. But I’ll use this one as an example.
Stephen Grenade was my main science expert. He’s an ACTUAL rocket scientist. He also, luckily for me, got a degree in chemistry which came in really when Elma and her brother were trying to calculate how hot the meteorite was in order to make the Chesapeake steam. I’d found a website [http://www.chemteam.info/Thermochem/Thermochem-Example-Probs1.html] that had the equations for how to do it but I couldn’t even understand the math. All I had was that the total mass of water was 18 trillion gallons and an average depth of 21 feet.
Stephen wrote back this…
Anyway, for a 10 km wide asteroid, I get around 270 °C.
I made a couple of assumptions. First, that the asteroid is around 10 km wide. Second, that all of the water stays around, instead of a lot of it getting thrown up into the air or turned into steam pretty much immediately. Third, that the asteroid dumps all of its heat energy into the water instead of any going into the air or ground.
For the record, below is how I got that number. If you want to run it past someone else, please feel free. I’m also laying it out so I can double-check it later if needed.
The first thing we need to do is raise the bay’s temperature to 100°C. That’ll take an amount of energy given by (water’s mass)*(change in temperature)*(specific heat of water).
If the Chesapeake bay is 18 trillion gallons, that’s about 6.8E16 grams of water.
During March, the Chesapeake bay is around 7°C. So we need a temperature change of 93 °C.
The specific heat of water is 4.184 J/g/°C.
Multiplying all of those together gives me 3.05E19 Joules of energy.
Now we need to boil that water to make it into steam. That’ll take more energy equal to (water’s mass)*(water’s heat of vaporization)/(water’s molar mass).
From above, the water’s mass is 6.8E16 grams of water.
Water’s heat of vaporization is 40.7 kJ/mol.
Water’s molar mass is 18.0 g/mol.
From the equation, that gives me 1.54E20 J of energy.
Adding the two energies together, I get 1.84E20 J of energy.
To figure out how hot the asteroid would be, I use the equation delta T = (T2 – T1) = (total energy)/(mass of the asteroid)/(specific heat of the asteroid).
T1 is 100 °C, assuming the asteroid would dump all of its energy into the water and end up at the same temperature as the water/steam, 100 °C.
So solving for T2 and plugging everything in, I get 100°C + 170°C, for 270 °C.
All of this is makes me so geekily happy because I can follow it. I wouldn’t be able to generate any of that, but what I looooooved about working with him is that he wouldn’t just give me the answer, he would give me the thought process behind the answer. That, in turn, was something that I could gift to my characters.
So in the book, Stephen’s email became this…
I picked up the receiver and dialed my brother’s work number.
“United States Weather Bureau, Hershel Wexler speaking.”
“Hey, it’s Elma. Got a minute for a weather question?”
“That is the literal definition of my job. What’s up?” Paper rustled on the other end of the line. “Planning a picnic?”
“Heh. No.” I pulled the equations I’d been working on closer. “I’m helping Nathaniel figure out how big the meteorite was, and composition and . . . The Chesapeake was steaming for three days. I could sort it out on my own, but . . . I thought there might be an existing equation for figuring out what temperature it would take to make a body of water that big steam.”
“Interesting. . . Give me a sec.” Beyond him, I could hear the Teletype bringing in reports from weather stations around the world. “You’ve got the depth and volume of water, I assume?”
“Okay. So . . . during March, the Chesapeake Bay is around forty-four degrees. So we’d need a temperature change of 199.4 . . .” A drawer opened, and the timbre of his voice changed as he pressed the phone to his shoulder.
I could picture him with the phone pressed between cheek and shoulder, brows creased as he worked the slide rule. His crutches would be leaning against the edge of his desk. His glasses would be down at the tip of his nose to help him focus better, and he’d have the corner of his lower lip tucked between his teeth, humming between muttered phrases. “. . . divided by water’s molar mass . . . and that gives me 1.54E20 J of energy . . . hm-hmmm . . . Adding the two energies together . . . hmmm . . . 1.84E20 J of energy. You’d need . . . It would need to be approximately 518 degrees.”
“Thanks.” I swallowed at the number and tried not to betray how much it frightened me. “You could’ve just given me the formula.”
“What? And admit that my kid sister is better at math than I am?” He snorted. “Please. I have an ego.”
There’s more stuff like that in the book, which makes it richer than I could possibly have done on my own. Besides Stephen, I also had two astronauts, two fighter pilots — one active duty and the other a Vietnam vet — a flight surgeon, an astronomer, and a ton of other people lending me their science knowledge.
Every time we had an email exchange, I would bounce up and down with giddy glee. It was fun. It was SO. Much. Fun.
Sometimes I would just send them passages that said things like, “[More pilot jargon here]” and they would turn it into, “Wright Patterson tower this is Cessna four one six fox at one two thousand five hundred direct to the field.” (That one is from Derek “Wizard” Benkoski, by the way)
So there you have it. My favorite bit of Calculating Stars are the things I didn’t write.
Did you know there is YARN based on Mary’s books? Firefly Fibers and their friends at Why Knot Fibers created two custom gradient colorways, one for The Calculating Stars and one for The Fated Sky. You can preorder these beautiful fibers here, in different weights.
Rebecca Roanhorse is joining us today to talk about her novel Trail of Lightning. Here’s the publisher’s description:
While most of the world has drowned beneath the sudden rising waters of a climate apocalypse, Dinétah (formerly the Navajo reservation) has been reborn. The gods and heroes of legend walk the land, but so do monsters.
Maggie Hoskie is a Dinétah monster hunter, a supernaturally gifted killer. When a small town needs help finding a missing girl, Maggie is their last best hope. But what Maggie uncovers about the monster is much more terrifying than anything she could imagine.
Maggie reluctantly enlists the aid of Kai Arviso, an unconventional medicine man, and together they travel the rez, unraveling clues from ancient legends, trading favors with tricksters, and battling dark witchcraft in a patchwork world of deteriorating technology.
As Maggie discovers the truth behind the killings, she will have to confront her past if she wants to survive.
Welcome to the Sixth World.
What’s Rebecca’s favorite bit?
My favorite bit about “Trail of Lightning” isn’t something you can read. It’s something you listen to. It’s the book soundtrack.
Music plays a huge role in my creative process. I put together a soundtrack for my novels as I’m outlining, and for the rest of the drafting and editing process, the soundtrack serves to keep me focused. I try to pick songs I don’t already have an association with, and then I don’t listen to those songs outside of working on the novel.
My book soundtrack functions in a couple of ways. First, as a sort of Pavlovian bell to get me into the headspace I need to be in to write, very quickly and without a lot of atmosphere required. A cup of strong coffee, a set of headphones and Spotify is enough to transport me to the apocalyptic future of the Navajo reservation, even when sitting in some featureless airport or hiding in the car at my kid’s soccer practice. But the primary function of the soundtrack is what I eluded to earlier. It embodies the mood and the themes of the novel. A song can come to represent a scene, like “Short Change Hero” or “Warm Shadow”. Or it can keep me focused on a character’s personality, like “The Difference Between Us”. Sometimes a song simply functions as zeitgeist, like “Why Did Love Put a Gun in My Hand”. So here are five songs from the “Trail of Lightning” book soundtrack and the reasons they are part of my favorite bit.
Short Change Hero by The Heavy
Trail of Lightning is set on a post-Apocalyptic Navajo reservation, but I wanted to capture a lot of the pathos of the classic Western and then play with the tropes by letting a Native woman be our hero, or anti-hero, as it were. The opening scene has our MC, Maggie Hoskie, enter a room of hostile townspeople that need her help. The scene unrolls from her POV as she pushes open the door and people turn to stare, judging her. She walks through the crowd, her moccasins silent against the tile floor. The townspeople offer her money for her help, and at first she balks because of the low pay. But when they promise her more, she takes the job. The whole scene is meant to evoke the classic Western opening of a mysterious stranger riding into down, boot heels sharp against the floor as he enters a saloon and the crowd falls silent. And this song is perfect for this mood. Plus, it let’s you know right away, as does the MC, that this might not be a hero story after all.
“This ain’t no place for no hero
This ain’t no place for no better man
This ain’t no place for no hero
To call home.”
Warm Shadow by Fink
This is one of those songs that sets just the right mood. The lyrics are not as important as the broody tension of the song. It’s the perfect backdrop for monster-hunting. In Chapter 2, Maggie heads up a mountain alone, looking for a monster that has kidnapped a little girl. It’s her job to rescue her, but Maggie knows that might be impossible.
“I follow the easy tracks, broken branches and grass shine, up the mountain for over an hour with no visual on my prey. I keep moving anyway, sure of my path. And for a moment, lost in the beauty of the waning sunlight and the steady rhythm of my breath, I forget I am here to kill something.”
The Difference Between Us by The Dead Weather
I always think of this song as Maggie’s theme song. It’s discordant and jangly, a little unpleasant to the ears. It’s raw and honest and runs hot and cold. Tough, textured, and a little badass. Yeah, that’s my girl.
“I’m not the way that you found me
I’m never here or there
One day I’m happy and healthy
Next I ain’t doing so well.”
Tricksters and Fools by Lynx
One of the key players in my novel world is Coyote, the infamous trickster. I’m quite fond of him in this novel, and he’s a scene stealer, so he definitely needed his own theme song.
“He wore a dapper gentlemen’s suit right out of the Old West. His shirt was a white high-collared affair, tucked into trousers that were striped an outrageous crimson and olive and gold. Over the shirt was a double-breasted vest of the deepest red velvet. It was topped off with a golden puff of a silk cravat, embroidered with delicate rose-colored thread. A gold watch hung from a chain tucked in his vest pocket, and over his shoulders spread a camel-colored topcoat with a thick gray fur collar. The coat flared out around him when he walked, like the mantle of a rogue king. He carried an engraved mahogany walking stick with a golden handle, and greeted me with a wide mocking smile and a tip of his top hat. He was every inch the gentlemen scoundrel from some old Hollywood Western.”
Gun in My Hand by Dorothy
This last song sort of sums up a lot of elements of the story and is just plain fun. Plus, it’s got a post-apocalyptic rock’n’roll sensibility. I can see this playing on the jukebox at Grace’s All-American. Maggie sits at the bar, a whiskey in hand, and questions how the fuck she got herself into this mess.
“Why did love put a gun in my hand?
In my bed, in my head, in my hand
Was it for redemption?
Was it for revenge?
Was it for the bottle?
Was it for the ledge?
Was it for the thrill of pushing my hope to the edge?
Rebecca Roanhorse is speculative fiction writer and Nebula, Hugo, and Sturgeon Award Finalist. She is also a 2017 Campbell Award Finalist for Best New Science Fiction and Fantasy writer. Her novel TRAIL OF LIGHTNING is the first book in the SIXTH WORLD series, followed by STORM OF LOCUSTS in 2019.
(Tor Books — August 21, 2018) Continuing the grand sweep of alternate history laid out in The Calculating Stars, The Fated Sky looks forward to 1961, when mankind is well-established on the moon and looking forward to its next step: journeying to, and eventually colonizing, Mars. Of course, the noted Lady Astronaut Elma York would like to go, […]