Journal

My Favorite Bit: William C. Tracy talks about TUNING THE SYMPHONY

Favorite Bit iconWilliam C. Tracy is joining us today with his novella Tuning the Symphony. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Change one note and the universe changes with the Symphony.

One apprentice will become a full majus today. The other will wait months for another suitable challenger. Rilan Ayama is skilled in using her song to change the Grand Symphony of the universe, but her opponent, Vethis, is crafty, and not above a little simple bribery. Though Rilan is counting on the support of her closest friend Origon, he remains absent. She has only a cryptic note saying important matters of his family take precedence, and he needs her help. The mystery pulls Rilan’s attention away from the most important test of her life.

Maji create portals between the far flung planets of the Great Assembly of Species, but many places still remain out of easy reach. A search for Origon’s brother leads Rilan and her friend across the wilds of one of the ten homeworlds. There, Rilan’s fledgling skills are pushed to their limits as they investigate a secret that could bring down all six houses of the maji.

What’s William’s favorite bit?

Tuning the Symphony cover

WILLIAM C. TRACY

I’ll get right to the point.  I love the potential of Tuning the Symphony.  Oh, there are a lot of little moments in the story I adore, from bears in fancy hats, to a magical sparring match, to walls higher than you can see, to a few surprises I won’t spoil.  But my favorite bit is being able to lay this universe before you.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the characters, too.  Rilan and Origon will feature in at least five other works that are partially written or bouncing around in my brain.  But that’s the point.  This story can spiral off into so many more possibilities.  I have been writing in this universe for about twenty years now, from the first noodlings when I was a teenager.  This novella, the first published, is actually a story I started wondering about when writing a longer work: what was Rilan and Origon’s first adventure?

So I explored the idea, and had a lot of fun rolling back the characters I was familiar with to when Rilan was just beginning her career.  The chance to strip out a lot of her confidence and roughen up the edges smoothed by time made her almost a new character.  Origon is less changed in this novella, because he’s a bit older than Rilan, but the dynamic between them is raw here, more fragile and quite different than in later times.

Then my mind began to wander off on different paths.  How does this society—made of ten planets hopelessly separated by vast swaths of space, yet tied to each other economically and physically by magical portals—deal with interspecies attraction?  You’ll see a few hints of that question in Tuning the Symphony, but I also have plans for a story between star (heh) crossed lovers.  Next, there is that pesky question of how these worlds interact with each other politically.  Do they war?  Can they, when they only touch through person-sized portals?  I have two shorter stories coming out later this year, dealing with parts of that question from both the maji’s point of view, as well as from the regular inhabitants making up the Great Assembly of Species.

Oh, and that longer work I mentioned?  It ties in bits and pieces of all these ideas, and gives me a chance to explore the larger, universe-endangering questions.  I hope to put that novel out sometime next year.  It features Rilan and Origon, older and wiser, as well as some of the other characters later on in life.  And since I already know what’s coming, I could write my own little jokes and foreshadowing in this novella that no one will get until the later works come out…

I have always loved huge series that happen in different times and places, where friendly faces pop up all over.  Stories like Moorcock’s Eternal Champion Saga, Feist’s Riftwar Cycle, Sanderson’s Cosmere, Niven’s Known Space, and Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga.  Comic books have been doing this for ages, and I’m in awe of the fantastic connected stories taking place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Even one of the main questions this story addresses got me thinking of another story I plan to write.  Here is a quote from later in the book, discussing how the six houses of the maji work:

“You’ve never heard of someone belonging to three houses, have you?” Rilan asked. It was a silly question. Everyone knew the answer.

But Origon took it seriously, pacing through shavings on the forest floor. “There are schools of thought among the houses—especially with those who are members of more than one—postulating why there are to be maji who can hear two Symphonies. There has never been any recorded case where a majus has heard more than two. The prevailing thought is to be that the strain on the mind is too great. Those who would hear more than two aspects of the Grand Symphony die before they are born.”

Visions of secret societies and meetings in the dark flitted through Rilan’s imagination. She was only beginning her path to become a majus, and there were still many secrets to unlock in the houses.

Those secret societies and dark meetings begged me to be realized.  It’s further down the stack of stories in my head, but not too far, especially because it will feature one of my favorite characters when he was a lot younger.  The potential for more adventures, cool characters, and intriguing ideas means my favorite bit of Tuning the Symphony is being able to continue writing about all those other awesome concepts hiding in the background of this story.

LINKS:

Tuning the Symphony is available in book form from Amazon US, Barnes & Noble, and the author’s website.  It is also available as an ebook from Kindle, Smashwords, and Kobo.  You can follow the author on Goodreads.

BIO:

William C. Tracy is a North Carolina native and a lifelong fan of science fiction and fantasy. In no particular order, he is a mechanical engineer for a large construction equipment company, a Wado-Ryu Karate instructor, a video and board gamer, a gardener, a reader, and a writer. In his spare time, he wrangles three cats and somewhere between one and six guinea pigs, and his wife wrangles him (not an easy task). Both of them both enjoy putting their pets in cute little costumes and then taking pictures of them repeatedly.

My Favorite Bit: Josh Vogt talks about THE MAIDS OF WRATH

My Favorite BitJosh Vogt is joining us today with his novel The Maids of Wrath. Here’s the publisher’s description:

After surviving employee orientation without destroying the city with her new powers, Dani is finally a bonafide Cleaner. Raring to get to work and save the world from Corruption, she’s given the critical assignment of…full-time tools training. After all, what good are magic mops or squeegees if she doesn’t know how to properly wield them against Scum? For now, she’s stuck in sparring matches where her pride is getting as bruised as her body.

Ben, her janitor friend and mentor, is also struggling with being sidelined as a “consultant” after the loss of his powers. His only consolation is having gained information that could help solve the mystery of his wife’s death on a Sewer run gone horribly wrong—the same event that temporarily trashed his sanity.

But when a maid goes berserk during a training session and tries to slaughter everyone with a feather duster, something is clearly afoul within the ranks of the Cleaners themselves.

Company procedure brooks no compromise: Identify and quarantine the source of the Corruption at all costs. But who cleans the Cleaners? Especially when further enraged outbreaks seem to occur at random?

As bodies begin to create quite the messy heap, it’s only a matter of time before the whole company is consumed by the madness—taking Dani and Ben down the drain with it.

What’s Josh’s favorite bit?

Maids of Wrath cover

JOSH VOGT

Maintaining a Clean Image…

When I first came up with the idea of a corporation dedicated to upholding the virtues of Purity while defying Corruption, I tried to imagine just how far the company managers would take that policy.

If your company employs magically empowered janitors, maids, plumbers, and other sorts of sanitation workers, exactly how do you enforce a clean image? After all, they’re already devoted to cleaning up the messes nobody else wants to touch. What else can you do to ensure they don’t give the company a bad name? If their cleanliness is supernatural, what could they possibly do to befoul the corporate image?

Well, there’s a difference between having a clean body and a dirty mind. So what keeps a Cleaner from expressing themselves in ways that wouldn’t quite be agreeable to company policy?

A foul-filter.

That is the term I came up with for how the Cleaners censors its employees. Whenever anyone tries to say a “dirty” word, they are bleeped. They open their mouth and nothing comes out but static, in essence. And that list of dirty words is being updated on a daily basis. For instance, “picklehead” got added in Enter the Janitor, merely because it was used with ill intent. Hint: Never call your boss a picklehead.

The fun part is when new readers flip through the books (either Enter the Janitor or The Maids of Wrath) and point out the gobbledygook when someone tries to curse. I get to explain it’s on purpose and, for some reason, their eyes invariably light up. At the same time, several characters within the story aren’t exactly pleased by their inability to curse. So they are forever trying to find loopholes in order to properly express themselves.

And as a bit of a tease, in the third novel (The Dustpan Cometh) one main character, Ben, resorts to Shakespeare. When he is unable to use even the most common curses in the modern day, why not go back a bit? And wow, was Shakespeare creative with his insults and cures. Want a few examples?

Onion-eyed moldwarp?

Fool-born measle?

Earth-vexing flap-dragon?

There are whole websites devoted to Shakespeare’s curses. I would never have guessed, but am quite glad I found out. So one of my favorite elements in continuing this series is figuring out unique ways for characters to curse.

It’s just their way of asserting a bit of free will despite management oversight.

LINKS:

Website

Amazon

Goodreads

BIO:

Author and editor Josh Vogt’s work covers fantasy, science fiction, horror, humor, pulp, and more. His debut fantasy novel is Pathfinder Tales: Forge of Ashes, published alongside his urban fantasy series, The Cleaners, with Enter the Janitor and The Maids of Wrath. He’s an editor at Paizo, a Scribe Award finalist, and a member of both SFWA and the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers. Find him at JRVogt.com or on Twitter @JRVogt.

Typewritten stories for fundraisers. A pricing conundrum.

typewritten story I’d like your opinion. I do this thing, sometimes, where I take a typewriter and write one page flash fiction on demand. At the opening of Volumes BookCafe, I wrote five during the course of the evening. They’re fun, light, and take me about fifteen minutes. That’s a photo of one of them. (I’ll post a transcript down below, minus the typos.)

Here’s how it works.

  1. I ask the person to give me a genre. Like SF, or romance, or murder mystery
  2. I ask for a character job/role.  For instance “IT guy” or “piano student”
  3. I ask for a location like, kitchen, the Philippines, or the boudoir.
  4. If they want to give me a character name, then I’ll use it, but no pressure.
  5. Fifteen minutes later, I give them an original typewritten story. (I keep the carbon copy. And yes, actual carbon paper.)

So… if I were to offer this as a fundraiser at a convention, what seems like a reasonable suggested price per story?

On the one hand, it’s 250-ish words, so at minimum pro-rates, that’d be $15. On the other hand, it’s a one-of-a-kind thing AND for charity.

Which good cause? Depends. I just figured this might be more fun than offering an ARC or a manuscript critique. You know, watch Mary sweat as she tries to make your suggestion into a story and all that. Anyway, point being, I have no idea at all what to suggest for pricing.

And, as promised, here’s the transcription of this goofy little story.

The cable for his BrainBuddy had jammed in the socket. Normally, Tom just used the wireless to upload content to his in-brain interface, but he hadn’t wanted to wait. He was already running late and a wired upload always went faster with big files. His own damn fault for wanting to impress his date with French.

He pulled on the cable, trying to wiggle it free from the socket. The skin around it twinged with the movement. He accessed the time. Damn it. He should have left five minutes ago. Okay. He could tuck it into his shirt. Or something. Tom pulled the collar of his shirt away, and threaded the cable down. He glanced in the mirror. The bright red cable gleamed like a thread of blood. Perfect.  Okay. A turtleneck. But even as he reached for it, he knew that the cable would still show. Tom licked his lips, thinking. Okay. His dad always said that if force didn’t work, you weren’t using enough.

He went into the kitchen and pulled a pair of pliers from the drawer. Setting his jaw, he placed the jaws of the pliers around the socket and yanked.

Light flared in his eyes, across his brain and seemed to pour out his ears. He dropped to his knees, pliers clattering to the floor. A drop of blood spattered on the linoleum next to his hand.

“Shit.”

Well. At least he had a damn good reason to be late.

PS You should click on the photo to look at the type. It’s a sans serif from the 1930s and is really gorgeous and Deco.

My Favorite Bit: Stephanie Burgis talks about MASKS AND SHADOWS

My Favorite BitStephanie Buris is joining us today to talk about her novel Masks and Shadows. Here’s the publisher’s description:

The year is 1779, and Carlo Morelli, the most renowned castrato singer in Europe, has been invited as an honored guest to Eszterháza Palace. With Carlo in Prince Nikolaus Esterházy’s carriage, ride a Prussian spy and one of the most notorious alchemists in the Habsburg Empire. Already at Eszterháza is Charlotte von Steinbeck, the very proper sister of Prince Nikolaus’s mistress. Charlotte has retreated to the countryside to mourn her husband’s death. Now, she must overcome the ingrained rules of her society in order to uncover the dangerous secrets lurking within the palace’s golden walls. Music, magic, and blackmail mingle in a plot to assassinate the Habsburg Emperor and Empress–a plot that can only be stopped if Carlo and Charlotte can see through the masks worn by everyone they meet.

What’s Stephanie’s favorite bit?

Masks and Shadows cover

STEPHANIE BURGIS

I still remember the first opera I ever saw. I was a teenager, and I was a musician-in-training, so when a touring opera company came to town to perform Tosca, my mom thought it would be a good experience for me to attend. She warned me that while some people love opera, others really hate it, but she thought I probably ought to give it a try.

I was curious, and a little bit skeptical, but I thought it might be fun…and I hoped at least it wouldn’t be too boring. I sat in the rustling, waiting audience as people took off their coats, chatted and read their programs, and the orchestral musicians in the opera pit tuned their instruments. As usual, I craned my neck to see whether there were any women musicians in the brass section (because I was a French horn player, getting ready to head off to music conservatory in a few years).

Then the lights went out. The overture began. The singers came onstage…

And ohhhhhh. I didn’t just love opera. I LOVED opera! As I sat there, unmoving, barely breathing for the next few hours, I was swept out of myself into a heightened state of sensation.

I had found a new obsession!

The drama. The wildly over-the-top romance. The heartbreakingly gorgeous music that intensified every single moment of the story. The whole concept of music AND story, so seamlessly joined together, without a single break for spoken words!

I was someone who’d known ever since I was seven that I wanted to be a writer, but I’d also been planning since I was thirteen to be an orchestral musician as my day job. (I never claimed to be a practical person!)

Opera took everything I loved most and put it all together into something bigger. Something amazing.

I came home from that first performance feeling as if I were floating. If I had had a decent singing voice, I would have dreamed of being an opera singer, but that wasn’t an option for me. Instead, I went on to music conservatory to study French horn performance and music history, and I was happy whenever I got the chance to play in the orchestra pit for any opera. Then – because I’d figured out that an orchestral job wasn’t my dream after all – I went to grad school to study opera history, which felt at least closer to what might really make me happy…and then, three years into my PhD degree, I saw a job opening at my local opera company.

Perfect!

Well…as it turned out, it wasn’t a perfect job. Not really. But for those couple of years, I got to live and breathe opera as a living, creative force, as part of the company that made it.

And every single one of those experiences came together as I was writing Masks and Shadows.

There’s dark alchemy in Masks and Shadows. Forbidden romance. Political scheming. An assassination plot. Masquerades of all types.

But every single plot is centered around the famous opera house in the glittering, luxuriant eighteenth-century palace of Eszterháza, where Joseph Haydn was busily creating his own operas (which I’d studied in detail, all those years ago, in my PhD work on the opera and politics of eighteenth-century Vienna and Eszterháza).

And I wrote this novel itself as an opera. It’s divided into acts, not into parts. The characters’ plots weave together in just the same way that they would in an eighteenth-century opera, complete with dramatic finales at the end of the different acts. The romantic hero is a castrato, one of the superstar singers of the century. The romantic heroine’s maid, in a moment of crisis, gets transplanted from her former working life to become a professional singer in Haydn’s opera troupe – and finds that shift exactly as hard and as transformative as you might imagine!

Villains come up with ruthless schemes; people fall in love when they absolutely shouldn’t; dark magic swirls through the shadows of the palace; and betrayals and redemption take place while the most astonishingly beautiful music is created behind it all…

And that is my very favorite bit of the novel: my own attempt, using words alone, to summon that shimmering sense of something bigger – something amazing – that I experienced for the first time when I was a teenager, at my very first opera performance.

LINKS:

Author Website

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Goodreads

Twitter

BIO:

Stephanie Burgis grew up in East Lansing, Michigan, but now lives in Wales, surrounded by castles and coffee shops. She has published over thirty short stories in various f/sf magazines and anthologies, including Strange Horizons, Daily Science Fiction, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies. She is also the author of the Kat, Incorrigible trilogy of MG Regency fantasy adventures (known in the UK as The Unladylike Adventures of Kat Stephenson), and is a graduate of the Clarion West writing workshop.

So, what’s deductible as an author?

So, I know the answer to this, but my husband, who is doing our taxes*, would like a second opinion.

  • As a writer, the books that I buy are a business expense because they are necessary for staying current with my field.
  • As an audiobook narrator, the audiobooks I listen to are a business expense because they are necessary for staying current in my field.

Anyone want to flash their credentials and explain that it’s totally okay?

For early-career writers who might not be thinking about this stuff yet, remember that writing is a business. You can deduct office supplies, research tools, home electronics, website creation and maintenance costs, promotional materials, travel, food, gifts, fees for services, self-publishing and print-on-demand costs, trademarks and copyrights, domain name expenses, costs of book-launch or book-signing events, advertising, marketing and promotion, vehicle expenses, postage, bank charges and outside services.

I mean, definitely talk to an accountant, instead of just asking for advice on the internet, the way I’m doing. Just don’t assume that because you enjoy something, it is somehow not part of your job.

*Best part of marital agreement. I don’t have to touch the taxes.

My Favorite Bit: Patrick S. Tomlinson talks about TRIDENT’S FORGE

My Favorite BitPatrick S. Tomlinson is joining us today to talk about his novel Trident’s Forge. Here’s the publisher’s description:

They’ve made it this far. If only that increased humanity’s chances on this new planet…

Against all odds, the Ark and her thirty-thousand survivors have reached Tau Ceti G to begin the long, arduous task of rebuilding human civilization. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world,
Tau Ceti G’s natives, the G’tel, are coming to grips with the sudden appearance of what many believe are their long-lost Gods.

But first contact between humans and g’tel goes catastrophically wrong, visiting death on both sides. Rumors swirl that the massacre was no accident. The Ark’s greatest hero, Bryan Benson, takes on the mystery.

Partnered with native ‘truth-digger’ Kexx, against both of their better judgment, Benson is thrust into the heart of an alien culture with no idea how to tell who wants to worship him from who wants him dead.

Together, Benson and Kexx will have to find enough common ground and trust to uncover a plot that threatens to plunge both of their peoples into an apocalyptic war that neither side can afford to fight.

What’s Patrick’s favorite bit?

Trident's Forge cover

PATRICK S. TOMLINSON

TRIDENT’S FORGE came as a surprise. I’d written the first book in the series, THE ARK, as a stand-alone, self-contained novel. There had been no plans at the time for a sequel, much less a series. But when your agent emails you and says “I need a précis for the next two book by Friday so we can pitch it as a trilogy,” well, you don’t argue. A hurried rewrite of the closing chapters of the THE ARK and some furious brainstorming later, and boom, we have a trilogy. Or more, depending on how many copies y’all buy.

So my favorite bit about TRIDENT’S FORGE might be the fact I was given the opportunity to write it at all. But, that’s not a very compelling blog post, so if you’re really going to twist my arm about it, my favorite bit about the book has definitely got to be designing and writing the Atlantians.

For me as a reader, one of the most satisfying experiences I have while digging through a new book is discovering a new alien species. And not just “Nose-job of the week,” type of aliens like we used to get in Star Trek, but realistic, fully-realized aliens who work not only from an evolutionary standpoint and fit into their environment, but live within a culture and system of morality that is equally alien, yet believable.

Some of my favorites over the years have included the Pierson’s Puppeteers of Larry Niven’s RINGWORLD series, the Pequeninos of Orson Scott Card’s SPEAKER FOR THE DEAD, the Tines of Vernor Vinges A FIRE UPON THE DEEP and CHILDREN OF THE SKY, and, most recently and perhaps most impressively, the double whammy of the Ilmatarans and Sholen in James L. Cambias’s excellent debut, A DARKLING SEA.

So, when the time came for me to build my own alien race from the ground up, I jumped in with both feet. The Atlantians, and their civilization, are a product of the world on which they developed. Tau Ceti G, their fictional homeworld set in a very real star system, is an old planet of rolling hills, prairies, an deep canyons carved from an extra billion and a half years of erosion. It’s also located in the middle of a shooting gallery. In the real world, the Tau Ceti system has ten times the planetary dust density of our own solar system. Ten times the leftover protoplanetary matter means ten times the comets, asteroids, and meteorites flying around the system looking for a nice juicy planet to impact.

It was assumed by the human colonists that, with a dinosaur-ending-impact happening every six or eight million years on average, that nothing much more complex than plankton would be floating around the planet, to say nothing about an entire stone-aged civilization. So to make them plausible, I had to find ways to make the Atlantians tough, smart, and immensely resilient, without crossing into hand-waving territory.

As a result, I picked cuttlefish as the model for their ancient ancestors, instead of bony fish. Smarter than most any fish, and with impressive regenerative powers, they seemed an ideal starting point for the sort of rugged and adaptable creatures that could plausibly flourish on such a violent planet. Being of cooler blood than their human counterparts meant they burned fewer calories and could survive on the scraps of food to be found in between periods of bombardment.

However, it was a further realization of what an old, worn down world would really look like that really cemented not only their physiology, but their culture and myths for me. Tau Ceti G has few mountains. They’ve all been worn down by many hundreds of millions of years of wind, rain, and freeze/thaw cycles. But what it lacks in vertical spectacles is more than made up for in its river valleys, canyons, and most especially, cave systems. The limestone areas of the planet’s crust are simply lousy with cave networks which themselves sport complex ecosystems fueled by fungus and anaerobic bacterial colonies feeding on vented gasses, hot springs, and even on the rocks themselves.

A whole separate underground biome existed, ready made for the Atlantians to retreat into during the worst periods of nuclear winter on the surface. Here, in the dark and damp caves, their society could limp along, hibernating in the safety of the deep, until things returned to normal above ground.

This thought informed much about them, from their bioluminescence, to their inverted spiritual views of the sky being home to fire and death, and salvation awaiting far below. I had an immense amount of fun building not only their bodies, but their minds. And while I’m not going to claim that the Atlantians are destined for inclusion in future conversations among sci-fi fans alongside the great examples listed above, I do hope readers enjoy my first shot at crafting a race. Hopefully enough to keep reading. I have big plans for the Atlantians and their human partners in the coming years.

LINKS:

Website

Facebook

Twitter

Goodreads

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

BIO:

Patrick S. Tomlinson lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with a menagerie of houseplants in varying levels of health, a Mustang, and a Triumph motorcycle bought specifically to embarrass and infuriate Harley riders. When not writing sci-fi and fantasy novels and short stories, Patrick is busy developing his other passion for writing and performing stand-up comedy in the Madison, Milwaukee, and Chicago scenes.

My Favorite Bit: Martha Wells talks about THE EDGE OF WORLDS

Favorite Bit iconMartha Wells is joining us today with her novel The Edge of Worlds. Here’s the publisher’s description:

An expedition of groundlings from the Empire of Kish have traveled through the Three Worlds to the Indigo Cloud court of the Raksura, shape-shifting creatures of flight that live in large family groups. The groundlings have found a sealed ancient city at the edge of the shallow seas, near the deeps of the impassable Ocean. They believe it to be the last home of their ancestors and ask for help getting inside. But the Raksura fear it was built by their own distant ancestors, the Forerunners, and the last sealed Forerunner city they encountered was a prison for an unstoppable evil.

Prior to the groundlings’ arrival, the Indigo Cloud court had been plagued by visions of a disaster that could destroy all the courts in the Reaches. Now, the court’s mentors believe the ancient city is connected to the foretold danger. A small group of warriors, including consort Moon, an orphan new to the colony and the Raksura’s idea of family, and sister queen Jade, agree to go with the groundling expedition to investigate. But the predatory Fell have found the city too, and in the race to keep the danger contained, the Raksura may be the ones who inadvertently release it.

The Edge of Worlds, from celebrated fantasy author Martha Wells, returns to the fascinating world of The Cloud Roads for the first book in a new series of strange lands, uncanny beings, dead cities, and ancient danger.

What’s Martha’s favorite bit?

The Edge of Worlds cover

MARTHA WELLS

I have a lot of favorite bits in the Books of the Raksura series.  I like writing non-human characters, and I love writing my matriarchal bisexual shapeshifting flying lizard people. But my favorite bit of The Edge of Worlds is what I call the Moon and Stone Show Goes on the Road.

The two characters have a close relationship despite their circumstances. Moon has been a loner and a survivor, and has trouble conforming and fitting into a society where he’s supposed to be a consort to a queen, where his only job in the court is not to fight or hunt, but to support the queen and be the social glue that holds all the different factions and castes together.  He has no idea how to do that.

Stone is a consort who has outlived his queen and become a line-grandfather.  He’s stepped outside the society he has lived in all his life, and is in danger of losing his ties to it.  Having to help Moon and the others in the court stay alive keeps him connected.

The Books of the Raksura have always been about what happens after you find what you think you’re looking for, after you find your family and place in the world, and how you deal with trying to fit in, and trying to keep that family together and survive.  Moon and Stone have more in common than not, though their relationship tends to be irascible.  All Moon’s relationships within the court are important, especially his relationship with Jade, his queen.  But Stone is the first one who felt like family.

And writing Moon and Stone is especially fun for me when the story takes the characters out of the Raksuran territory of the Reaches and out into the wider landscapes of the Three Worlds, so they can encounter lots of strange situations and other non-human people.

Excerpt:

Moon made his way through the sparse crowd, aware Kalam was sticking obediently close.  He sat next to Stone as the Coastal and the other groundlings left.  Kalam took a seat on the opposite side of the pool.

The sealing, a young female, stared at Moon in what was probably supposed to be a provocative way.  Moon was still irritated from the encounter with the maybe-Aventeran, and it just made him want to bite through someone’s neck artery.

Apparently this was obvious.  The sealing turned to Stone and said in Altanic, “What’s wrong with him?”

“He’s in a bad mood,” Stone explained, “he was born that way.  Does the one who’s down there with you want to talk too?”

The sealing sank into the water a little, swishing her fins in exasperation.  “I take it you’re not here for the usual.”

Stone said, “I don’t know what that is.  I want to know if you’ve had any news from the waters in the direction of the place the groundlings call sel-Selatra.”

Scaled brows drew down in thought.  “Towards the wind passage?  The land of the sea-mounts?”

“That’s it.”

“There was some–”  The sealing’s whole body jerked, as if something had grabbed her from below and tugged.  Moon’s instinct said predator and he almost shifted, catching himself just in time.  The sealing said, “Ah, someone else wants to talk to you,” and sank below the surface and out of sight.

Stone gritted his teeth and gazed up at the damp ceiling.  He said in Raksuran, “I hate talking to sealings.  Everything’s a damn bargain.”

“You hate talking to everybody,” Moon said, in the same language.  It didn’t help, but Moon felt he had to point it out.

“Shut up.  Why is he here?” Stone jerked his head toward Kalam.

Moon said, through gritted teeth, “So I don’t have to shift and kill everybody in this stupid stinking place.”

Stone sighed.  Another sealing broke the surface, and water lapped up over the edge of the pool. She studied them both thoughtfully, with an edge of contempt in her expression, then said in Altanic, “We sell isteen.  If you want to buy that, stay.  If you don’t, get out before you regret it.”  She bared fangs.  “We don’t sell information.”

Moon didn’t know what isteen was and he didn’t care.  Considering the other groundlings in here, it was probably a simple that made you stupid.  Stone just said, “That’s good, because I wasn’t planning to pay you.”

She swayed in the water, as if considering.  “Buy isteen, and perhaps I’ll give you the information you want.”

Stone said, “I don’t want isteen, and I’m not giving you anything.”

“If I give you information, I need to be paid.”  She nodded toward Moon.  “I’ll take that one.”

After having to rescue Kalam from drunken groundlings who couldn’t control their own genitals, this was too much.  Moon said, “Try.”

The sealing focused on him, really looking at him for the first time.  Whatever she saw made her scales ripple.  Whether it was aggressive or defensive, Moon didn’t know, but it nearly set off his prey reflex.  Stone tilted a sideways look at him and made a noise in his throat, just a faint growl, not enough to vibrate through the floor.  “Moon.  No.”

The message was clear.  Moon hissed at him, and laid down on the damp floor, head propped on his hand, as if prepared to wait as long as it took.

LINKS:

Web Site

Blog

Twitter

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

Powell’s

Indiebound

BIO:

Martha Wells has written many fantasy novels, including The Wizard Hunters, Wheel of the Infinite, the Books of the Raksura series (beginning with The Cloud Roads), and the nebula-nominated The Death of the Necromancer, as well as YA fantasies, short stories, and non-fiction. She has had stories in Black Gate, Realms of Fantasy, Stargate Magazine, Lightspeed Magazine, and in the anthologies Elemental, The Other Half of the Sky, The Gods of Lovecraft, and Mech: Age of Steel. She has also written the media-tie-ins, including Stargate Atlantis: Entanglement and Star Wars: Razor’s Edge.

The Anatomy of an April Fool’s Prank

I tend to think of April Fool’s Day as Alternate Reality Day. A well-constructed April Fool’s joke is one, which creates, for a moment, a really cool world to live in. But, there are rules. So, I thought I would post my rules for what makes a good prank and then walk you through my most recent one.

  1. It doesn’t scare anyone.
  2. It doesn’t raise false hopes.
  3. It doesn’t hurt.
  4. You have to fess up.

#1 It doesn’t scare anyone. An example that someone I know actually pulled. He faked his own death so that his girlfriend would come in to find him. That is seriously, seriously twisted. Not funny. Not even a little funny.

#2. It doesn’t raise false hopes. Calling someone to tell them their novel was going to be published would be evil.

#3. It doesn’t hurt. Hand buzzers, Kick Me signs, making people feel like an idiot. Physical and emotional pain are right out.

#4. You have to fess up. Oh come on… if I let you believe that I a prank and you told other people, that would just be mean.

My favorite ones are the ones that come with slow, dawning understanding. Do I get serious enjoyment from pulling the wool over your eyes until you get it? Yes, yes I do. I am twelve years old. However, I also enjoy it when you get me, too. A beautifully crafted prank can be as lovely as a beautifully crafted story, or at least for me it is. I told you a story and just for a moment, my fantasy existed in the real world.

So… Let’s look at this year’s prank in action in which I will now confess that I did not get cast in Farscape (see! Fessing up), in part because it gives you an understanding of how to build trust with an audience for fiction. With speculative fiction, in specific, you have to convince them that something obviously false is real. Glamour? Sorry. Not real.

Step one — Pick something grounded in reality. Like, the fact that I really am a professional puppeteer and really did audition for a speaking role on Sesame Street.

That’s plausible and sets people up to trust you. In fiction, this often takes the form of specific concrete details about environment or a character’s internal life. Now, you can start with the unreal thing and then build backwards, but it’s harder and has a different effect.

Step two — Raise a question. For this year’s prank, I raised the question of “Why was Mary Kermit-flailing?” What this does is create a sense of curiosity in your reader. More importantly, it sets them up for step 3.

Step three — Answer the question. Before you can get someone to swallow something unbelievable, you have to get them to trust you. And the easiest way to do that is to answer the question. It’s a question you created, sure, but still they now know that when they have a question, you’ll answer it. So with this one, I linked to an article about a reboot of Farscape.

Step four — Repeat two to three times. Building trust doesn’t come instantly. If you give your readers truth, followed by questions, then answers, then more truth they will come to believe that you are reliable. I referenced going to Australia. The fact that I have puppeteer friends. The fact that you have to keep secrets. All of which are true.

Step five — Lie to them. Because you’ve built a pattern of answering things, when you give them false information, they’ve got a pattern of believing the things you’ve said. In this case, it was that I had been asked to audition for Farscape. Nope. As far as I know, they haven’t gotten past the script phase. With fiction, it will be something like, “Jane pulled glamour out of the ether.”

So… With all that in mind, can you detail the steps that I took to make you believe that I did not write The Escapement of Blackledge?

 

Since people are asking about the Glamourist Histories erotic fanfic

Cover for the Escapement of BlackledgeSo if it were April 1 and a friend “noticed” that there was erotic Glamourist Histories fanfic on Amazon. And said friend had a history of writing fast and writing fan-fic, would you give them the side eye?

Yes.

Or if another friend has apparently been working on a secret project.

Would you also buy it and read the heck out of it?

Yes, you would.

On a more practical note:

  1. I love fanfiction
  2. This is actually really good. Whoever it is has nailed my voice, although — ahem– not used the Jane Austen spellchecker.
  3. Thank you “Melody Ellsworth” for the paypal infusion and holy crap, have that many copies sold? Already?
  4. And yes, I’m totally fine if you pick up a copy, just know that she doesn’t fade to black.

Edited to add: Since it is no longer April Fool’s Day, it only seems fair to tell you that this was a prank. Many thanks to Seanan McGuire, Elizabeth Bear, Scott Lynch, the Uncanny Magazine team, Annalee Flower Horne and a ton of other people for helping with the gag.

Hypothetically, I might be in Australia for two months.

Some of you noticed that I was doing some Kermit flailing on Twitter a while back. That’s usually a good sign of secret good news.

And while I did get an invitation to audition for a speaking role on Sesame Street. I didn’t get the part, so that’s not what the flailing was about.

The flailing would be about this.

Weirdly, I hadn’t seen the show until this past summer. I know. I know. It baffles me, too. Suffice to say that I totally fell in love with it and had been eating it like candy. So when I was in Australia for GenreCon, which is where it was filmed, I took the opportunity to visit an old friend, who had worked on the original show and we talked shop.

My friend casually mentioned auditions.

I casually mentioned that I loved Australia.

The weird thing that happens with film and tv work is that there’s a TON of stuff that’s secret. But it’s also a tiny community.  Tiiiiiiny. So there’s a lot of chatter, with the understanding that all of it stays off the internet and away from the press. But everyone knows and there are a lot of hypothetical conversations. Like, my friend — who I’m keeping nameless just in case — never actually said the name of the show. And very definitely didn’t accidentally leave a box open.

So when you hear something like,  “Hypothetically… would you be willing to relocate to Australia for two months?”

Hypothetically, yes. Completely. 100%.

You may have also noticed a recent trip to NYC.

And…oddly, it looks like I need to research some Australian SF conventions. Just because. Hypothetically.

And you know, no one would believe me if I mentioned it today. Right? I mean, hypothetically speaking.

Edited to add: Since it is no longer April Fool’s Day, it only seems fair to tell you that this was a prank.

Paying the artist is important for supporting marginalized voices.

One of the ways that my privilege shows is that my parents paid for my college education. They also were able to fill in the financial gaps when I started working as a puppeteer so that I didn’t have to get a day job. While I tried not to lean on them, there were months that I wouldn’t have been able to keep going if not for them. I mean, even with them, there were the days of the discount Jiffy and day-old bread.

(Ask me why I won’t eat creamy peanut butter.)

The thing is that when I was breaking in, a lot of the reason that I was broke was that I had to take gigs that were paying “in-kind” or with “publicity.” You want to build a resume, right? So you take what you can get. But those don’t pay the rent.

(Ask me why I buy new writers meals at cons)

But if my parents hadn’t been there as a backup, I wouldn’t have been able to work for free. I had the privilege of not getting paid. As gross as that is to say, it’s true. Being able to work for free is a demonstration of privilege.

(Ask me why I never request the “friend rate.”)

Many people in marginalized communities are dealing with lower wages and, hence, have a more fragile support network. They often don’t have the privilege of working for free. Which means that they can’t take unpaid internships, or in-kind payment, or publicity, because they have to pay the rent. So it becomes even harder to break in, which means the pool of voices gets narrower.

(Ask me about living with a broken tooth.)

I think it’s always important to pay artists. If you have any interest in supporting marginalized voices, then understand that many don’t have the privilege of working for free.

I did. It still sucked. But it was a choice that I had the privilege to make.

Pay. The. Artists.

MRK’s very strong feelings about the WFC award specs and paying artists

I was an art major in college. It’s been on my bucket list to design an award, though I’d been thinking of the Hugo base. So when World Fantasy announced that they were going to replace the existing award, I asked for more information.

Today I got it. And it is bullshit.

I say this with some pain. A couple of the people on the committee are friends and I feel like they should know better. So I sent back a letter saying that I would not be submitting a design and asking them to change their award criteria.

Here are the points I made, in a slightly edited for in order to provide more information for anyone who is considering submitting a design.

  1. “there will be no monetary remuneration”– World Fantasy is “not a financial body and does not hold funds of any kind.” Okay, fair enough, but if you can require conventions to give away memberships, then you can require them to compensate the artist for their time. There’s also this thing called crowdfunding that would allow payment of an artist and could be done in cooperation with another organization.
  2. “The copyright of the piece must remain with the WFA for the lifetime of the award.” — While a buyout is not uncommon for work-for-hire, it usually comes at a higher price to represent the value of the copyright. There are multiple legal options to allow the artist to maintain the copyright, while at the same time protecting World Fantasy’s right to use and control the use of the image. An unpaid copyright grab is unnecessary and inappropriate.
  3. Time to create the award — Okay… “Design proposals must be submitted by midnight US Eastern Standard Time on Friday, September 30, 2016.” and “the awards are announced on Sunday 30th October 2016” You are asking someone to make 10-20 awards in less than a month. Significantly less than a month, since that entry date is for the first round, and they would have to be finished by mid-October in order to be shipped on time. This is not reasonable. Edited to add: Ellen Datlow has clarified that they are seeking a design that can be commercially produced by an independent manufacturer. Also that they are not planning on presenting the physical award in Columbus, just unveiling it. The winners will receive the award later.

None of this would be appropriate if we were discussing fiction and it isn’t appropriate for art either.

There are times and places when working for exposure is warranted. It is very rare and very specific to the artist. There might be some folks who want to design this and can see how it would benefit them. I won’t shame anyone for making that choice.

But I am ashamed of World Fantasy for creating a situation where that’s a choice an artist has to make.

Edited to add: I should point out that John Picacio talked about the problem with not paying artists for award design in November of last year.

My Favorite Bit: Ainy Rainwater talks about IF WISHES WERE SPACESHIPS

Favorite Bit iconAiny Rainwater is joining us today with her novel If Wishes Were Spaceships. Here’s the publisher’s description:

When Jazlyn is forced to make an emergency landing on a quarantine planet, the worst she expects to find are a bunch of irate scientists complaining because she messed up the pristine conditions of some experiment. But the buildings look like works of art and the inhabitants are a wealthy scion of a galactic dynasty and an anxious techie. While the compound has all the comforts of home, it has none of the basic hospitality she expects. Cut off from all communication, surrounded by a thicket of dangerous carnivorous plants, Jazlyn must find a way to repair her ship — if possible — or hope that her friends find her distress beacon before Sterneworth, the planet’s resident tyrant, does something drastic. Can she trust Blaine, the techie who is completely under Sterneworth’s thumb, and who desperately wants off the planet by any means? Jazlyn has never been one to knuckle under or buckle under pressure. Nor is finesse is one of her skills. She will tackle the problems — the ship repair, the bizarre plants, and the duplicitous inhabitants of the planet — head on. Has the sassy spacer who’s used to getting her way met her match in the power and might of the Sterneworth dynasty? Everyone on the planet has a secret agenda. She has a ship to repair…

What’s Ainy’s favorite bit?

If Wishes Were Spaceships cover

AINY RAINWATER

It was tough to choose a favorite bit because this novel was so much fun to write. I wanted to do a fun novel for friends and fans who have been waiting so patiently while I work on a fantasy series. My idea was an ol’ fashioned adventure tale of someone stranded on a planet with giant carnivorous plants, but I didn’t want to do a book with a heavily retro feel. I wanted a confident female protagonist who pushed back when she was pushed. Enter Jazlyn….

I love a lot of things about this book, but I keep coming back to the characters, especially Jazlyn. She’s who we want to be when things go wrong. She’s competent and confident. She absolutely will not let anyone step on her for any reason. Whatever happens she just keeps moving forward. No matter what’s thrown at her, she thinks she can handle it. It doesn’t mean that she doesn’t get angry or frustrated, but she has a wry sense of humor and isn’t easily deflected from her objectives.

Up to this point, she’s had a fairly good life. She’s used to things going her way because she has the confidence and skill set — as well as business partners who are friends — to ensure that her life is as good as she can make it. That, as it turns out, is something of a problem. She’s not used to facing situations that are totally out of her control. She’s used to getting her way.

The problem is that Sterneworth, who owns the planet she had to ditch on, is the scion of a wealthy dynastic family and he, too, is used to getting his own way. Neither he nor Jazlyn have the best “people skills”. Jazlyn tends to push rather than negotiate. She has partners with different personal styles; one of her partners is a good negotiator, and the other “skates by on charm”. But she can’t call on their skill set in this situation. In fact, she can’t call at all since Sterneworth controls the comms.

“Let me ask you something,” she began. “Do you want me to stay on this planet, right here, annoying you day and night and disrupting the routine of your life, or do you want me gone, the sooner the better? Because if you regard me as a problem or a nuisance, as I have every reason to think you do, then the absolute best thing you can do to return to the status quo — whatever that is around here — is to let Blaine give me a hand running diagnostics and helping with repairs. Unless you want to let me use your comm system to contact my people to come and pick me up. For some reason Blaine is under the impression that this perfectly reasonable action — using the general comm — is impossible. I’d like to know why. I’d also like to get just a tiny bit of help, no more than any reasonable human being would expect to be given. No more than any reasonable human being would give. Now, are you going to be reasonable or am I going to have to shanghai Blaine and hijack the comm?”

I needed the language in that paragraph to be blunt and inflammatory. I do use some 20th century idioms in the book to give some bits of dialogue a brash colloquial feel. Idiomatic English many centuries in the future would be largely incomprehensible to readers today, so I chose to use a limited amount of future-speak, mixed with more contemporary language for maximum impact.

The book is very much a battle of wills between two people with opposing agendas, who really can’t understand each other. Caught between Sterneworth and Jazlyn is the frightened techie, Blaine. Like Jazlyn, I sort of despised Blaine at the beginning of the book, but he grew on me. Blaine makes Jazlyn stop and think of someone other than herself and her own problems. Jazlyn gives Blaine perspective on the trajectory of his life. Unfortunately Blaine needs more than just a fresh perspective. He needs Jazlyn’s ship.

Sometimes life is complicated and bad things happen. We all want to be confident and unflappable when things in our life spin out of control. We want to be like Jazlyn. Sometimes, though, people’s lives gradually slip away from what they had envisioned for themselves and, like Blaine, they realize that as scary as it is to take risks, nothing will change unless they do.

What of Sterneworth, the resident tyrant? I can’t say that I like him, but he was an interesting character to write. Sterneworth is a bundle of contradictory desires, a volatile mix of power and vulnerability, and driven as much by fear as arrogance. The skill set of a galactic bully is not helpful in this situation, and when things go wrong he has only himself to blame.

My favorite bit? The way the characters interact and react to their individual circumstances on this unusual and challenging planet. Jazlyn is a catalyst. She upsets the status quo. Both Sterneworth and Blaine are forced to reevaluate their positions simply because she landed there. Jazlyn’s ship is at the center of everything; all that the characters want — or don’t want — is tied up in that ship. If wishes were spaceships, then beggars might ride…

LINKS:

If Wishes Were Spaceships is available from: Amazon US, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Smashwords, Kobo

Connect with the author on social media:  Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Instagram

Websites: Gymshoes Music, her official musician website; The Usual Suspects, a group food blog she contributes to; The Mighty Microblog, a miscellany, and A Truant Disposition, which is Ainy Rainwater’s official author site.

BIO:

Ainy Rainwater has been writing and publishing short stories, essays, and novels in various genres for about 30 years. She lives in the greater Houston area with her husband and rescue dogs. She enjoys reading, writing, playing guitar and percussion, gardening, knitting, tea, baking and other kitchen improvisations, daydreaming, and wasting time online.

She is also known for the digital pop which she makes under the name Gymshoes. “Everest Sunrise” was featured in the documentary What It Takes. After hurricanes Katrina and Rita she released the EP, A Tropical Depression, the profits of which go to benefit the American Red Cross. Gymshoes albums are available from online stores.

Currently she’s working on a chick lit fantasy series as well as a sequel to If Wishes Were Spaceships.

My Favorite Bit: Rachel Swirsky talks about LOVE IS NEVER STILL

Favorite Bit iconRachel Swirsky is joining us today with her short story “Love Is Never Still” in Uncanny Magazine Issue Nine.

Featuring all–new short fiction by Rachel Swirsky, Shveta Thakrar, Max Gladstone, Kelly Sandoval, and Simon Guerrier, classic fiction by Daryl Gregory, nonfiction by Jim C. Hines, Kyell Gold, Javier Grillo–Marxuach, and Mark Oshiro, poems by C. S. E. Cooney, Jennifer Crow, and Brandon O’Brien, interviews with Rachel Swirsky and Simon Guerrier, and Katy Shuttleworth’s “Strange Companions” on the cover.

What’s Rachel’s favorite bit?

Uncanny Magazine Issue Nine cover

RACHEL SWIRSKY

When I was very young, my parents bought me D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths. I dearly loved it. In fact, I tried to proselytize it on the preschool playground. Well, by proselytize, I mean “I made them play make believe about Greek myths,” but I had a brief period of believing they were true. What? Greek gods were neat. The end of the book indicated that all the Greek gods had died, but having been raised in a culture where gods are known to die and later live again, that didn’t seem like a huge barrier.

In high school, I got the usual Edith Hamilton, and a good dose of Greek plays, from Antigone to Lysistrata. In college, I studied playwriting and acting, and discovered a new range of theatrical adaptations. There were new interpretations, like the production of Iphigenia at Aulis rewritten from Clytemnestra’s perspective, and like Zimmerman’s take on Ovid, Metamorphoses, which is partially staged in a pool.

Something I really like about the way many theaters perform Greek myths is that time and anachronisms are often allowed to slip freely. The props and dialogue are frequently at a disjunct. After thousands of years, Greek myths are meta-fiction of themselves. Every version owes its existence to stories told and told and told again. New generations bring their tools for understanding. Plays can feature both old-fashioned choruses and cell phones, or be significantly more daring than that.

While I was in graduate school, one of my fellow students wrote a novel based on Antigone that aimed to do the same things as those plays. Time, props, dialogue—all slipped between time frames according to an underlying logic the author knew, but the reader had to learn. It’s trickier in prose because theater relies on visuals to emphasize what they’re doing, but the results in my classmates’ novel were extremely striking.

All of these experiences helped me learn that working with Greek myths gives you an enormous toolbox in terms of style and content. So when I began writing my version of the Galatea myth, “Love Is Never Still,” my mind was already full of possibilities for alternate structures and ways to play with the story.

“Love Is Never Still” retells two myths simultaneously. One: the sculptor who fell in love with his statue, Galatea, and wished her to life. Two: Aphrodite’s love triangle with Hades and Hephaestus.

My favorite bit about “Love Is Never Still” is probably also my least favorite bit: the complex layers I built in over the course of four months of intense revision.

First, there are the points of view. The story begins with the sculptor, and moves on to Galatea—fair enough. Later, we hear from Aphrodite, Hephaestus, Ares, Zeus, the Fates, death, weather phenomena and some inanimate objects, for a total of about fifteen different perspectives. I actually tried writing some of the sections in the format of a traditional Greek chorus, in iambic pentameter and everything, but thank goodness I dropped that before it got too far.

It’s a little unusual to give a point of view section to a pedestal, but as I said in my interview for Uncanny Magazine, it felt intuitively right—if I was giving speaking roles to forces like death and love, it made sense to look at the mundane end of the spectrum, too.

 Pedestal

Where there were feet upon me, there are divots, and I am cold.

The text is also heavily layered, which took me a lot of time. There are a number of passages that are meant to be read two ways. It was difficult to hit the right pacing for that, so that both readings seem well-crafted and seamless.

Mortals—even sometimes gods—forget the finesse required for working gold… They forget those fingers must know the delicacy of repoussé. They must, with great precision, caress gold’s most tender places with surpassing gentleness until it molds to his will.

I tried to make the text as specific and evocative as possible with research details. I spent some afternoons chasing down things like the ingredients of ancient perfumes (“balsam and cinnamon, hyacinth and lily, styrax and sweet rush”), or the color of ancient apples (pink). The most beautiful descriptions I found were from books on ancient ivory trading where I read about “silver and electrum and carnelian and malachite. [Hephaestus] embosses jewelry with trees and horses and dancers, and adorns the hilts of his weapons with granulated gold. He ornaments gods’ palaces with panels of open work ivory, and oak–carved furniture inlaid with ebony.”

Where possible, I also layered in elements from the original myths. Several details are from Ovid. At other times, when describing the gods, I used theoi.com to find more about their estates and sacred creatures, for instance Ares’ iron palace, and Aphrodite’s cockle shells and myrrh.

Some pieces of the text are crafted to act as call and response to each other. Summer and Winter speak at opposite ends of the story, and use the same sentence structures to describe events. Aphrodite’s understanding of love is constantly in flux, but always stated with the same determination. She loves both Ares and Hephaestus, although they are opposites, and the sentences with which she declares that love are mirrored.

Of Ares, she says:

Love is a spark, a winging bird, a waterfall splash. It is immediate; it is urgent; it is spontaneous. Like Ares, it moves with perfect, bold unity. It is a fully embodied moment, experienced with every incendiary, saturated sense. It is the smell of a lover and the bite of a provocative glance. I am love, and I am all these things.

And of Hephaestus:

Love is a mountain that swallows ages. It endures a thousand winters, and a million storms, and never erodes. It is steady; it is patient; it is sheltering. Like Hephaestus, it wields its hammer boldly, but also remembers the value of gentleness. It is waking to your lover’s dreamy morning murmur, and the smell of his skin that lingers in his linen. I am love, and I am all these things.

I used to write poetry (who knows—maybe I will again someday) and its great pleasure was the attention I could pore over every word. With a story like this, which I worked on intensely at the line level for about four months, I was almost able to approximate that level of control. I’m immensely proud of how much complexity there is going on in this story—immensely proud, but also ready to make some time for writing simply.

LINKS:

Read “Love Is Never Still”

Author Website

Patreon

Newsletter

Twitter

Facebook

Tumblr

Pinterest

BIO:

Rachel Swirsky is a short story writer living in Bakersfield, California. Her short fiction has been nominated for the Hugo Award, the Locus Award, the World Fantasy Award, and the Sturgeon Award. She’s twice won the Nebula Award: in 2010 for her novella, “The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers Beneath the Queen’s Window” and in 2014 for her short story, “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love.” She graduated from the Iowa Writers Workshop in 2008 and Clarion West in 2005.

My Favorite Bit: Stacey Berg talks about DISSENSION

Favorite Bit iconStacey Berg is joining us today with her novel Dissension. Here’s the publisher’s description:

For four hundred years, the Church has led the remnants of humanity as they struggle for survival in the last inhabited city. Echo Hunter 367 is exactly what the Church created her to be: loyal, obedient, lethal. A clone who shouldn’t care about anything but her duty. Who shouldn’t be able to.

When rebellious citizens challenge the Church’s authority, it is Echo’s duty to hunt them down before civil war can tumble the city back into the dark. But Echo hides a deadly secret: doubt. And when Echo’s mission leads her to Lia, a rebel leader who has a secret of her own, Echo is forced to face that doubt. For Lia holds the key to the city’s survival, and Echo must choose between the woman she loves and the purpose she was born to fulfill.

What’s Stacey’s favorite bit?

Dissension cover

STACEY BERG

My favorite bit of Dissension is a look characters exchange at the end of the climactic scene when—no, wait. That is my favorite bit, but I can’t explain why without spoiling the story. But I love the end of the opening scene almost as much, and that I can talk about. There are only two characters, alone in a wasteland; one is lost, and the other has come to find her. We know the lost girl has been hurt in a fall from a cliff; we think the searcher has come to her rescue.

[The girl’s] eyes came back to Hunter’s. “It doesn’t hurt. I don’t feel anything.”

“I know.” Hunter edged around a little. “Here, let me help you sit up.” The girl was a boneless weight against her, arms dangling, a handful of sand trickling between limp fingers as Hunter knelt behind her, holding her close. “It’s all right, Ela. You did well.” The lie wouldn’t hurt anything now.

The girl’s head lolled back against Hunter’s shoulder, eyes searching her face as if trying to focus across a great distance. Her whisper was barely audible. “Which one are you?”

“Echo.”

“Number five, like me.”

“Yes, Ela.” She eased one palm around to cup the back of the girl’s head, the other gently cradling her chin. “Ready?”

The girl’s nod was only the barest motion between her hands. Hunter let her lips rest against the girl’s dusty hair for a short moment. She felt the girl’s mouth move in a smile against her fingers.

Then, with a swift and practiced motion, Hunter snapped her neck.

I love this bit because of the way it subverts the reader’s expectations. It sets up the tone of the whole rest of the book, without seeming to work too hard. The page or two before has introduced my main character, Hunter, and showed her embodying her name, calmly tracking a student lost in a desert training exercise. Now, as the dangers of night time close in, she’s finally found her. At first Hunter seems almost gentle; not only in the way she physically handles the hurt girl, but also in her attempts to comfort her, even lying to her to make her feel better. Then there’s the passing mystery in the exchange of names: why does the girl ask “which one”; what does it mean to be “number five”? And finally, we feel the intimacy of the dusty kiss, and then gut-punch that follows. The conflict between these two actions is a physical manifestation of the internal conflict that tortures Hunter from here right to the end of the book.

This is just the set-up I wanted to pull my readers right into the story, and I think it works. That’s why it’s my favorite bit.

LINKS:

Author Website

Twitter

Book Website

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

iTunes

BIO:

Stacey Berg is a medical researcher who writes speculative fiction. Her work as a physician-scientist provides the inspiration for many of her stories. She lives with her wife in Houston and is a member of the Writers’ League of Texas. When she’s not writing, she practices kung fu and runs half marathons.