Journal

My Favorite Bit: Alan Smale talks about EAGLE IN EXILE

Favorite Bit iconAlan Smale is joining us today with his novel Eagle in Exile. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Perfect for fans of Bernard Cornwell, Steve Berry, Naomi Novik, and Harry Turtledove, Alan Smale’s gripping alternate history series imagines a world in which the Roman Empire has survived long enough to invade North America in 1218. Now the stunning story carries hero Gaius Marcellinus deeper into the culture of an extraordinary people—whose humanity, bravery, love, and ingenuity forever change his life and destiny.

In A.D. 1218, Praetor Gaius Marcellinus is ordered to conquer North America and turning it into a Roman province. But outside the walls of the great city of Cahokia, his legion is destroyed outright; Marcellinus is the only one spared. In the months and years that follow, Marcellinus comes to see North America as his home and the Cahokians as his kin. He vows to defend these proud people from any threat, Roman or native.

After successfully repelling an invasion by the fearsome Iroqua tribes, Marcellinus realizes that a weak and fractured North America won’t stand a chance against the returning Roman army. Worse, rival factions from within threaten to tear Cahokia apart just when it needs to be most united and strong. Marcellinus is determined to save the civilization that has come to mean more to him than the empire he once served. But to survive the swords of Roma, he first must avert another Iroqua attack and bring the Cahokia together. Only with the hearts and souls of a nation at his back can Marcellinus hope to know triumph.

What’s Alan’s favorite bit?

Eagle in Exile cover

ALAN SMALE

We begin Eagle in Exile deep in the heart of the North American continent in an alternate universe where Rome never fell and Columbus will never sail. The Land – Nova Hesperia – is huge and wild, and populated by a great diversity of tribes and nations that often bewilders my Roman hero, Gaius Marcellinus. The people he currently knows the best belong to the Mississippian Culture, centered in Cahokia, but his world is about to grow even larger.

Given the book’s title, it might not be giving too much away to reveal that in Eagle in Exile Gaius Marcellinus is forced to leave Cahokia for a while. In the pre-historical era, and in fact well into the historical era, the rivers of North America were often more efficient thoroughfares than the extensive land trails, and it’s onto the river he goes: the great and glorious Mississippi, to be precise, in a beat-up and seriously under-crewed Viking longship.

The focus in the Clash of Eagles books is on action and adventure rather than a scrupulous dissection of my alternate timeline (although I could write a detailed essay on the millennium since my point of departure, if anyone wants it). Likewise, Marcellinus’s Mississippi journey is hardly a gentle travelogue. There’s not much jolly Twaining around, though I did strive for occasional flashes of wit. But even in Samuel Clemens’ day the Mississippi was a ruthless adversary. The course of the river was ever-shifting, its banks were treacherously muddy, the current was strong and unforgiving, and its smooth surface obscured the perils that lurked beneath. From Eagle in Exile:

The blue waters of the Oyo, still swollen by snowmelt, entwined with the greenish murk of the Mizipi to produce a broader river with water of a deep golden brown. Relatively straight as it passed the hills and forests north of the confluence, the Mizipi now twisted sinuously through an endless procession of broad curves and oxbows, arcs of water that almost looped back on themselves. Sailing was difficult on a river that could not stay remotely straight for even a few miles at a time, and they relied on the oars to keep them in the deepest part of the channel, where the current could carry them; left to its own devices the Concordia would spin off into eddies and end up in the shallow waters on the outer edges of the curves. The crew also had to stay constantly alert for floating tree trunks, submerged snags, and the endless sandbars that would rise beneath them and threaten to ground them even when they were far from the bank.

From the written accounts in our own history it’s evident that most of the people who lived on the river – the riverboat captains and crew, Native Americans, free peoples and slaves, townsfolk and traders and wanderers – hated the river, or at least treated it with a respect so profound that it differed little from hatred. And not just the Mississippi, either. Lewis and Clarke had a hell of a time beating their way up the Missouri River (also featured in Exile), even with a crew of tough-assed soldiers and mountain men. Their journals are soaked in blood, pain, sweat, sickness, and uh, blisters.

It’s on the Mississippi that Gaius Marcellinus faces some of his biggest challenges. Desperate battles with malevolent bad guys, certainly, but also the challenges of attempting to understand and communicate with cultures that appear even more alien to him than the Cahokians, Iroquois, and Algonquians he already knows. The challenge of reaching an accommodation with his nemesis and love interest who, for better or worse, is also aboard the Viking ship. The challenge of keeping his crew together against overwhelming odds, with the threat of a new Roman invasion just over the horizon. Marcellinus may be pretty good at war, but it’s on this dangerous river voyage that he learns the most about family and community.

And as a backdrop to all that, I got a lot of joy out of trying to evoke the sheer scale, danger, and unpredictability of the mighty, muddy, greasy Mizipi, Nova Hesperia’s greatest river. And that was my favorite bit.

LINKS:

Amazon

B&N

iTunes

Kobo

Google Play

Goodreads

Website

Twitter

Facebook

BIO:

Alan Smale grew up in Yorkshire, England, and now lives in the Washington, D.C., area. By day he works at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center as a professional astronomer, studying black holes, neutron stars, and other bizarre celestial objects. However, too many family vacations at Hadrian’s Wall in his formative years plus a couple of degrees from Oxford took their toll, steering his writing toward alternate, secret, and generally twisted history. He has sold numerous short stories to magazines including Asimov’s and Realms of Fantasy, and the novella version of Clash of Eagles won the 2010 Sidewise Award for Alternate History.

My Favorite Bit: Gillian Murray Kendall talks about THE BOOK OF FORBIDDEN WISDOM

My Favorite BitGillian Murray Kendall is joining us today with her novel The Book of Forbidden Wisdom. Here’s the publisher’s description:

In a world of blood and betrayal, love is the only redemption…

But that knowledge can only be reached by means of magic and a journey, by way of a confrontation with feelings that are hard to understand—or bear.

On Angel’s sixteenth birthday, her younger sister, Silky, wakes her to prepare her for a marriage to Leth, a man she likes but does not love. Trey, her oldest childhood friend who is secretly in love with her, watches helplessly.

But Angel’s brother, Kalo, interrupts the wedding ceremony. He wants her dowry, and he also believes Angel can lead him to The Book of Forbidden Wisdom. In a world where land is everything, this book promises him wealth. In the night, Kalo goes to Angel’s room to threaten her, but Trey has rescued both Angel and Silky, and the three of them—joined by an itinerant singer—themselves seek The Book of Forbidden Wisdom. While Kalo believes the book contains land deeds, they believe it harbors great power.

Always just a step ahead of Kalo, Angel, Silky, Trey, and the Bard finally arrive at the place of The Book.But things have changed now:  Angel knows her own heart at last.  Confronted by evil, at the end of the known world, Angel and her companions turn and fight. Together. And in so doing, they find that love contains a power of its own.

What’s Gillian’s favorite bit?

The Book of Forbidden Wisdom

GILLIAN MURRAY KENDALL

Sixteen-year-old Angel and her younger sister Silky—with their two male companions—are desperate to escape the troops behind them by passing on horseback into the country of Shibbeth.  This land lies just beyond huge monolithic Cairns constructed in ages past to mark the border.  I had one heck of a time getting the pace right on this, as well as subtly conveying what is all too true:  they have left danger behind only to confront ever greater dangers ahead.  But I love the characters here because, under pressure, they remain so very much themselves:  Angel watches out for Silky, who is watching out for her horse, and the relief of both at the end of the scene is palpable. And we know who the villain is:  after all, he calls our heroine, Angel, names.

The Cairns looked closer now.

But maybe not close enough.

We were really going all out now.  For a moment Silky fell no further behind, and we rode as one.  And then Silky’s pony, Squab, lost more momentum.  I turned my head and screamed at her.

“Hit him,” I yelled.  Silky shook her head.  I was frantic.  “Hit him!  Now.”

And Silky, her face as pale as milk, pulled her crop from her boot and smacked Squab on the rump.  In a second, he was up with us again.

And then the Cairns were no longer a shimmer in the distance; they were in front of us.  We galloped without looking behind; my breathing was labored, and Jasmine was slathered with foam.

At last we surged forward between two of the great standing Cairns of Shibbeth.

Leth and his men had to pull up hard not to cross the boundary—so hard that two of the horses went down.  I felt elated, but I knew that this was not the end.  He would find another way to get at me.  But for now Leth didn’t dare enter.  He didn’t have enough at stake to risk being taken there.

We did.

“Harlot!” Leth screamed at me.  “Harlot!  Whore!”

We kept riding hard until we could no longer make out what he was saying, and the Cairns were well to our backs.

And I thought, So this is Shibbeth.  This is the forbidden country.

LINKS:

Author Website

Twitter

Facebook

Book Website

Goodreads

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Google Play

iTunes

BIO:

When Gillian Murray Kendall was a child, she spent some years in England while her father researched his biography of Richard III, and her mother wrote children’s books.  She had stumbled into a wardrobe, and her enchanted world was England.  That sense of belonging-in-the-strange shaped Gillian’s life. In the 1980s, the months and months she spent in Africa waiting in lines for kerosene and milk and rice was a new normal, while Gillian found the once-familiar Harvard, with its well-stocked grocery stores, alien. Recently Gillian spent two years in Paris, where learning a new culture, a new strangeness, resulted in the writing of her first book and the beginning of The Book of Forbidden Wisdom.

Gillian is a Professor of English Language and Literature at Smith College, where her specialty is Shakespeare and Renaissance Drama.  She is married to biologist Robert Dorit and has two sons, Sasha and Gabriel.

My Favorite Bit: Elizabeth Bonesteel talks about THE COLD BETWEEN

My Favorite Bit Elizabeth Bonesteel is joining us today with her novel The Cold Between. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Deep in the stars, a young officer and her lover are plunged into a murder mystery and a deadly conspiracy in this first entry in a stellar military science-fiction series in the tradition of Lois McMaster Bujold.

When her crewmate, Danny, is murdered on the colony of Volhynia, Central Corps chief engineer, Commander Elena Shaw, is shocked to learn the main suspect is her lover, Treiko Zajec. She knows Trey is innocent—he was with her when Danny was killed. So who is the real killer and why are the cops framing an innocent man?

Retracing Danny’s last hours, they discover that his death may be tied to a mystery from the past: the explosion of a Central Corps starship at a wormhole near Volhynia. For twenty-five years, the Central Gov has been lying about the tragedy, even willing to go to war with the outlaw PSI to protect their secrets.

With the authorities closing in, Elena and Trey head to the wormhole, certain they’ll find answers on the other side. But the truth that awaits them is far more terrifying than they ever imagined . . . a conspiracy deep within Central Gov that threatens all of human civilization throughout the inhabited reaches of the galaxy—and beyond.

What’s Elizabeth’s favorite bit?

The Cold Between

ELIZABETH BONESTEEL

My favorite bit of The Cold Between is the huge, explosive mess that is Greg and Elena.

These are two people who know each other extremely well, yet manage to miss each other completely. They are also, despite Greg’s big mopey eyes, loyal friends. For-real friends. Family. No matter how often that gets tested, no matter how much they claw at each other, the bond remains.

By the time they have their first scene together, all we have of their relationship is Elena’s brief thoughts heading home the morning after shore leave:

Their friendship had been strained for half a year, and the public argument they’d had two weeks ago had undone the last of her equanimity.[…]Losing Danny should have hurt more than losing Greg, but she had so few true friends in her life. Lovers were easy; she felt she had left Danny behind already.

Greg was not so easily replaced.

Greg, for his part, has spent the night being chewed out by his superior officer, and chewing out one of his own people in return. He’s got it in his head that despite their estrangement, he can notify Elena of Danny’s murder professionally and compassionately.

Except that he’s forgotten that he has no real ability to deal with her at all. And when he trots out all of his practiced, military strategies for breaking bad news, she takes the conversation sideways, and he’s immediately off-balance.

This, of course, is what’s always attracted him to her. Greg’s had his life mapped out since he was a kid. He might have resented that in his youth, but as an adult he’s continued the trend. A place for everything, and everything in its place, personal and professional alike.

And Elena blows through his neat categories like she’s made of smoke. To everyone else, he’s the captain, the officer, the boss. To her – that’s his job, not who he is. She’s the only one who sees him as a whole person. He doesn’t even properly see himself.

Of course…Elena’s missed a few things along the way.

I’ve had some readers say “Come on, she must know how he feels!” And the answer to that is…she doesn’t, really. Apart from being her superior officer, he’s been married as long as she’s known him, and she’s seen nothing to suggest he’d wander afield from that. Why would she assume there was more to it than that when he has said and done nothing to suggest it?

Elena is clueless in her own way She’s a mechanic: something breaks, and she fixes it. Her talent is breaking down a problem into soluble component puzzles. The possibility that a particular puzzle might not be soluble does not compute for her. All she needs to do is bash at it from another angle. The trouble with her relationship with Greg is that she’s not in on what all the puzzle pieces are.

Despite all of this, it was important to me to keep Greg from being passive and miserable. He’s made an active choice to say nothing to Elena of his romantic feelings. He’s not going to cheat on his wife, so what’s the point of saying anything? And despite his recent bad behavior, their relationship – just as it is – is everything to him. Predominately, it’s a source of strength for him, not weakness. He feels like she’s the only person in his life who doesn’t really care if he keeps following his carefully-laid-out map. What’s romance in the face of that?

There’s an interdependency between Greg and Elena that neither of them fully understands, and they each seem hellbent on doing everything they possibly can to shatter it. But when it’s backs against the wall, there’s never any doubt: they’re fighting together. It’s when they’re not sure they’re against the same wall that the problems arise.

LINKS:

Website

Blog

Twitter

HarperCollins.com / HarperCollins.co.uk / HarperCollins.ca

Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk / Amazon.ca

BarnesandNoble.com

IndieBound

Powell’s

Google Play

iBookstore US / iBookstore UK / iBookstore Canada

Kobo

BIO:

Elizabeth Bonesteel began making up stories at the age of five, in an attempt to battle insomnia. Thanks to a family connection to the space program, she has been reading science fiction since she was a child. She currently lives in central Massachusetts with her husband, her daughter, and various cats.

Up and Coming: Stories by the 2016 Campbell-Eligible Authors is now available for FREE download!

Over a million words of fiction from the 2016 Campbell-eligible writers, FREE until March 31, 2016.

Up and Coming cover

This anthology includes 120 authors—who contributed 230 works totaling approximately 1.1 MILLION words of fiction. These pieces all originally appeared in 2014, 2015, or 2016 from writers who are new professionals to the science fiction and fantasy field, and they represent a breathtaking range of work from the next generation of speculative storytelling.

All of these authors are eligible for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 2016. We hope you’ll use this anthology as a guide in nominating for that award as well as a way of exploring many vibrant new voices in the genre.

This anthology is free to download and will cease to be available on March 31, 2016.

Up and Coming: Stories by the 2016 Campbell-Eligible Authors

My Favorite Bit: Peter Tieryas talks about UNITED STATES OF JAPAN

My Favorite Bit iconPeter Tieryas is joining us today with his novel United States of Japan. Here’s the publisher’s description:

A spiritual sequel to The Man In The High Castle, focusing on the New Japanese Empire, from an acclaimed author and essayist.

The Axis won WWII and now, in the late 1980s, the Japanese Empire rules over the western US states, their power assured by technological superiority (giant mecha, etc.) But when a video game emerges that posits a world where the allies won, a game censor and an Imperial Government agent discover truths about the empire that make them question their loyalty.

What’s Peter’s favorite bit?

United States of Japan cover

PETER TIERYAS

United States of Japan began as an exploration of the tragedies that took place among Asians during WWII. Many of the important scenes involve re-examining historical events from a non-American centric perspective. That includes the decision to use the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In USJ, the Japanese Empire nukes San Jose, Sausalito, and Sacramento, feeling that doing so would shorten what might otherwise be a deadly land war. Decades later, Japanese scholars question whether it was necessary when they had already broken the American ciphers and knew they were going to surrender. Even if the bombing was done primarily as a political move to deter the Nazis on the east coast, it’s horrifying that the question of the justification for the death of hundreds of thousands of Americans has become academic.

My favorite bit was a scene that mixes history and the ethical dilemmas the soldiers face, but ultimately ended up on the cutting board. It was one of those cases where you realize you have to cut your favorite scene in order to better serve the story. In USJ, mechas are mostly part of the background, being such a lethal force that they’re only unleashed in the most extreme cases. One of my favorite characters is a mecha pilot named Kujira. She suffered injuries at a young age that caused her to work with augmented legs. This was in part inspired by a basketball injury where I tore a muscle and couldn’t walk. I used braces to help me to limp in pain for almost half a year. For Kujira, her early setback, which ended up leading to a severe leg condition, gave her a strong familiarity with machines. This has helped her to become one of the most distinguished pilots in the Empire, especially because she’s used to the neural interface that other pilots take longer to get accustomed to. Unlike her compatriots though, she is irreverent, disrespectful of the cadre, and a total maverick.

I loved her character as a stark contrast to the other officers who follow the stratified structure of the imperial army. Because she’s such a brilliant fighter, her superiors tolerate her. But she never tires of sticking it to them, as in the beginnings of a civil conflict in San Diego that will have repercussions for decades. Her immediate reaction in finding out everything is going to hell is: “How’d you guys screw it all up again?” where the “guys” isn’t gender neutral.

But it points to a bigger question. When you exist in an authoritarian system, is it possible to defy its evils and still stay alive? “I’m tired of having to choose between doing the horrible and more horrible,” Kujira says, and her statement in many ways forms one of the most important themes in the book

In my research of the WWII tragedies, I read many personal accounts from people and soldiers who were ordered to perpetrate war crimes. They’d often say they had no choice, doing what was required of them because they would have been executed if they hadn’t. But there were others who resisted in every way they could manage, putting their own lives at risk, standing by what they felt was right. That included Japanese civilians who protected those of other races while the soldiers carried out atrocities.

As an outsider, Kujira has no qualms about defying orders she considers stupid in line with her understanding of bushido and honor.

In San Diego, as the civil conflict with the American rebels called the George Washingtons breaks out, they unleash a monstrous set of super tanks based on the various German Landkreuzer prototypes of WWII.

For the original draft, it was actually a massive German monster the Japanese call a “Golem,” a defiant description because of its mythologically Jewish origins. These monsters are genetically modified since birth and their cells are induced into massive growth. They are “biomorphed” into creatures that are both amorphous and powerful, a countermeasure to the mechas which the Germans cannot defeat. Subjected to a lifetime of experimentation and psychological scarring, these Golems could never be controlled. During the test phase, they wreaked havoc on the Germans, destroying several cities. So the whole project was shelved and the hundreds who were experimented on were either terminated or discarded to the Italian black market, who in turn sold it to various resistance groups the Germans felt would undermine Japanese dominance.

Unleashed by the Americans, the Golem starts destroying everything in its wake. The American rebels, having no idea, are overwhelmed. It’s up to Kujira to defeat it. But just as she’s about to engage the Golem, she’s told by her superior officers to leave it alone so it can destroy the Americans. She refuses the order, commences a long strategic battle throughout the city, trying to save as many civilians as she can. I had a blast describing the battle as well as diving into Kujira’s prowess, skill, and fury. In the Golem, she sees an externalized representation of soldiers in war. Even after she is victorious against the monster, she gives a respectful bow to her adversary, knowing it too is a victim.

Ultimately, this scene was heavily modified to become the super tanks I mentioned above. This was mainly because the scene felt at odds with the grittier reality of the rest in light of it being the late 1970s. It was something straight out of an anime, kaiju versus mecha, rather than the more science based speculation of the rest of the book. Even though a part of me wished it stayed, I knew it was the right decision to cut it.

It’s that fusing of history, science fiction, strange speculations, ethical dilemmas, and clashing personalities that, I feel, makes USJ the story it is. I loved that scene for giving Kujira a truly dangerous opponent who brings out the gamut of emotions that all the soldiers face. Their battle exemplifies the internal struggle that is at the heart of each of the characters and even as a deleted scene, helped set the tone in writing the other sequences.

LINKS:

Amazon

Blog

BIO:

Peter Tieryas is the author of United States of Japan and Bald New World. His writing has been published in places like Kotaku, Tor.com, and ZYZZYVA. He’s worked as a VFX artist on films likeGuardians of the Galaxy and Alice in Wonderland. He likes tweeting about alternate histories at @TieryasXu.

My Favorite Bit: Mark Tompkins talks about THE LAST DAYS OF MAGIC

My Favorite Bit iconMark Tompkins is joining us today to with his novel The Last days of Magic. Here is the publisher’s description:

An epic novel of magic and mysticism, Celts and faeries, mad kings and druids, and the goddess struggling to reign over magic’s last outpost on the Earth.

What became of magic in the world? Who needed to do away with it, and for what reasons? Drawing on myth, legend, fairy tales, and Biblical mysteries, The Last Days of Magic brilliantly imagines answers to these questions, sweeping us back to a world where humans and magical beings co-exist as they had for centuries.

The Last Days of Magic introduces us to unforgettable characters who grapple with quests for power, human frailty, and the longing for knowledge that has been made taboo. Mark Tompkins has crafted a remarkable tale; a feat of world-building that poses astonishing and resonant answers to epic questions.

What’s Mark’s favorite bit?

Org LDM Tompkins Cover

MARK TOMPKINS

Villains! Much to my surprise my favorite bit about The Last Days of Magic was writing the villains. Characters who at least tried to be honorable felt more constrained by the story arc, whereas the antiheroes freely wrought havoc across the page. I always looked forward to a new one making an appearance. They ran amuck, stayed longer than I had planned, and generally did as they pleased.

Their voices were strong and vibrant. I never really knew what they were going to say until I put ink to page (I am old fashioned in my writing tools). And they lent themselves to being killed, or otherwise subdued, in such exotic ways.

Happily, an abundance of human and inhuman villains presented themselves: Orsini, the psychotic head exorcist; a nameless deranged Imp; Richard, the sadistic king; and plenty of violent faeries. Witches, it should be noted, came in both flavors, nefarious and virtuous. The wicked ones turned out to be concentrated in France due to the dominance of the High Coven, which did not tolerate challenges within its territory.

The most compelling antiheroes to write were those who were psychologically complex and had compelling backstories that hinted at why they became evil. Unlike the out of control Imp, they had plans and a code. My favorite was Isabeau, Queen of France and Grande Sorcière of the High Coven. We see her history through a kind of past life regression to renew her magical blood:

A small clock on the mantel chimed 2:00 A.M., the time for her witches to gather. Before she could join them tonight, she must renew her bond—a bond through blood and time—to the founder of their coven, as she did after each solstice. Though still exhausted from her most recent trip to Norway, she climbed out of her canopy bed and pulled a silk robe over her nightgown. Gliding across her moonlit bedroom, she approached the wall and pressed a piece of molding. With a click a panel swung open.

The Grande Sorcière entered into a perfectly square, windowless room. In the center, on a small gilded table, a single golden candle burned, filling the room with liquid yellow light. The Grande Sorcière knew that as long as she performed the rite, this candle, first lit by her kinswoman Taddea de la Barthe 121 years ago, would not go out and would not burn down. She sat on a plain wooden chair, gazed into the flame, and began the ritual of remembering.

She was rowing a boat up a river of blood under a dark purple sky, where a sun and a moon spun in a tight arc. Along the black sand bank, row upon row of women, thousands of them, each of them on fire, turned their heads to watch her pass.

She tied the boat to a stone wharf and stepped out onto a staircase, which led down farther than she could see.

She walked down the staircase and entered one of the many doors along its edge.

She was in the body of eight-year-old Taddea, standing at a familiar second-story window at the edge of a large square in a town she knew to be Toulouse in 1275.

She could feel the man’s rough hand under her chin, squeezing her face, smell the ale and sausage on his breath as he bent down to her. “You must watch,” he growled. The Grande Sorcière and her predecessors did not care enough about him to remember the man’s name. “See what happens to your kind, what we’ve done to your mother.”

He thought he was forcing her to watch. He was not; she would have watched anyway.

The Grande Sorcière, Isabeau, was thrust into darkness by the persecution of her forbearers. Knowing that, how could I possibly resist giving her a chance for revenge, for more wickedness? What is it about writing from darkness that is so… delightful? Or is it just me?

LINKS:

Visit the author’s website, or connect with him on Facebook, or Twitter.

Buy the book on: Barnes&Noble, Indiebound, iBooks, Audible, Amazon

BIO:

The Last days of Magic, published by Viking, is Mark Tompkins’s debut novel. He founded the Aspen Writers’ Network and serves on the board of Aspen Words, a program of the Aspen Institute. He is a published poet and international award-winning photographer whose work is held in the permanent collections of museums in the United States and abroad. Born in Texas of Irish ancestry, Tompkins lives in Colorado with his family.

Theodore Beale is the Donald Trump of Science Fiction

Last year, during the lead up to the Hugos, I wrote a post about how this was more important than just a rocketship. Here, read a bit of it for context.

One of the things about fiction in general, and even more so with SFF, is that it tends to reflect the zeitgeist of the culture. For instance, during the “golden age” of SF, the United States, and much of the world, was focused on space. When you look at fiction of that era, it tends to be dominated by space exploration. During the Cold War, we saw a lot of post-apocalyptic worlds that were nuclear wastelands. Now? When we see post-apocalyptic worlds it’s because of a climate disaster.In addition to reflecting environmental concerns, the awards also reflect what is important to the voters. Not just in the books that they vote for, but also in the books that they choose to read. In recent years, people have become aware of the imbalance in representation in SFF and are seeking to address it.

This is happening in other fields as well — science, gaming, film, politics… but we are always most aware of an issue in our own community. So when people are seeking out books by underrepresented populations they are doing so because it’s important to their close community and also in the larger society.

Historically, every time there’s an advance in the rights of a disenfranchised group, whether that’s women’s lib or desegregation, there’s a corresponding pushback by the dominant group because it feels like it is losing power.

 

"If Americans can find the courage to consciously reject the myth of the melting pot and expel the Mexicans from the American Southwest, the Arabs from Detroit and the Somalis from Minneapolis, they can reclaim their traditional white Anglo-Saxon Protestant culture. This is highly improbable because so many descendants of that culture have rejected it in favor of the vibrancy of diversity..." Theodore BealeAt the time, the idea that Donald Trump would be a serious front-runner for the Republican party was the fodder for jokes. It would never happen. But… if anyone was paying attention to what was happening in SFF, it should have been clear that the Rabid Puppies represented the same xenophobic, white supremacist drive that is giving Trump power.

Let me tell you, I’m terrified of the elections this year.

We’ve been writing dystopian novels as warnings for years. The Hunger Games? Reality Television as politics… not so far fetched right now, is it?

So let me be clear. The fight that is going on in SFF for inclusion is not small. It is not petty. It is a reflection of a much bigger problem, and if we, as a community, don’t start paying attention and trying to change the larger culture then we know how this will end.

The first place to start making those changes is in our own house. So what I want you to do is to think about what you can do to make SFF a more inclusive place and then do it.

Impostor Syndrome – an analogy and pep talk

I’ve just given the same pep talk to three different writers, so I figure you probably need it to.

Let me speak to you about impostor syndrome. That thing where you are sure everyone knows you’re faking it and they are going to find out any minute and then you will be cast down and they will laugh and OMG EVERYONE WILL KNOW YOU SUCK!!!!11!!1!!!!

Years ago, when I was nominated for the Campbell Award I was having serious, serious impostor syndrome. And Nancy Kress — multiple Hugo/Nebula/Everything award winner with a bajillion books, told me that she still had impostor syndrome. That is at once tremendously heartening — because it means I’m not alone — and terribly sad, because it means that there’s not a point where I will have “made it.”

True. But…

You know how, when you’re playing a video game, you get to see this beautiful loading screen when you level up?

What happens with impostor syndrome to you is that you leveled up while you looking away from the computer. You didn’t see the loading screen, all you see are monsters that are bigger than they were.

But you DID level up and you can totally handle it.

It’s much, much worse to never experience Impostor Syndrome, because that means that you are staying on the easy level. Things will just keep coming that you know how to handle and that, eventually, gets boring.

So next time you feel the Imposter Syndrome hitting, recognize that it’s a symptom of the fact that you levelled up without noticing. It’s a crappy feature and the UI is totally borked, but you are can handle it.

Impostor Syndrome means that you are winning.

My Favorite Bit: Jason LaPier talks about UNCLEAR SKIES

My Favorite Bit iconJason LaPier is joining us today with his novel Unclear Skies. Here’s the publisher’s description:

The second book in Jason LaPier’s thrilling sci-fi trilogy

Justice isn’t what it used to be

Rogue cop Stanford Runstom blew open a botched murder case and was given a promotion – of sorts. But doing PR work for ModPol, the security-firm-for-hire, is not the detective position Runstom had in mind, particularly when his orders become questionable.

Freedom always comes at a price

Despite being cleared of false murder charges, Jax is still a fugitive from justice. When ModPol catches up with him, keeping his freedom now means staying alive at any cost, even if that means joining Space Waste, the notorious criminal gang.

Security can be deadly

When ModPol and Space Waste go head to head, old friends Runstom and Jax find themselves caught between two bloodthirsty armies, and this time they might not escape with their lives.

What’s Jason’s favorite bit?

Unclear Skies cover

JASON LAPIER

My favorite bit about Unclear Skies? That would be the character arcs. Taking these characters into the second book of The Dome Trilogy really gave me an opportunity to deepen their backstories and broaden their growth by forcing challenges on them with higher stakes.

Jax was once a life support operator in a 27th century dome on a planet orbiting Barnard’s Star, with an easy job and an apathetic life. He’s forced out of his shell when he’s wrongfully accused of killing a block of residents. In the first book of the series, Unexpected Rain, this event was enough of a shock to compel some character growth out of Jax: he found himself in many “adapt or die” situations (or in some cases, “adapt or go to prison for life”). In the second book he remains a fugitive and is essentially homeless – to the point where his sense of humanity is in danger. He doesn’t have the most basic needs: shelter and food. He’s alone. He’s depressed and feeling hopeless. He has to pull himself back into the world as someone else, take on a new identity, and in a place so different from the domes he grew up in. When the opportunity presents itself for Jax to make himself useful, to allow himself become more than a shadow, he takes it. He saves lives with his knowledge, but at the risk of exposing himself – both to the authorities he’s eluding and to the people who he’s grown close to.

In Unexpected Rain, Stanford Runstom is a police officer who longs to become a detective. In the follow-up, Unclear Skies, he’s been “promoted” into the public relations department. He still believes in the vision of the interstellar organization that employs him, Modern Policing and Peacekeeping: to provide justice and defense services to civilizations that have evolved to eras of peace, but still in need of protection on occasion. He’s uncomfortable with the semi-celebrity status he’s acquired for his role in solving the mass murder that Jax was accused of, and even more uncomfortable that his new job is not police-work, but instead marketing-work. Runstom has always felt out of place – a rare birth anomaly has given his skin a green tinge and marks him as an outsider in any habitat he visits – but being forced to do work he doesn’t understand exacerbates that feeling. When he can’t be a cop in the face of danger, he finds a new quality in himself: the ability to stand up and lead. Ultimately – without giving too much away – Runstom reconnects with his past in unexpected ways. This allows us to learn much more about the man who clings to a sense of justice like it’s the only anchor in a chaos-filled life.

Dava was kind of a secondary main character in the first book of the trilogy. Now in Unclear Skies, she becomes a true central character. She starts as an assassin who prefers to work alone; as an Earthling who was orphaned during the ride from Earth to the domes, she’s always felt outcast. Due to the effect that dome filtration systems have on pigmentation, Earthlings like Dava are the only humans around that still have dark skin, and thus her heritage is unmistakable. One of the few black-skinned people she knows is Moses Down, the man who “rescued” her from her dome life, albeit into a life of organized crime. He is like a father to her: a connection she struggles with, is confounded by. She even once toyed with the notion that she was in love with him. These are all the convoluted thoughts and emotions of someone who was plucked from her home and lost her family and forced to live as an outsider in a new world.

Now Moses wants Dava to become a leader, and through the course of Unclear Skies, she struggles to learn how to meet his expectations. She thinks what’s blocking her is her inability to trust others. But what is really holding her back is not her inability to connect with her fellow gangbangers – it’s her fear of connecting to them. It’s a fear of caring, because they can be so easily taken away. A fear of allowing them to become her family; though she doesn’t yet understand that, the concept being so foreign to her.

Together, these three very different characters share similarities in their arcs. In their own ways, each is struggling with a lack of home. The old saying “home is where the heart is” only goes so far. In the Maslow’s pyramid sense of “needs”, a human being needs shelter at the most basic level. A human being also needs family and companionship. And higher up, a human being seeks a sense of belonging. That’s what home is: a shelter, a family, and a place where you belong, and each of these characters is missing some part of that equation. They are driven unconsciously by the desire to correct their imbalances and find their true homes.

So my favorite bit about Unclear Skies is that I get to watch these characters continue to grow, continue to broaden and deepen, and that I get to set them on a path toward what it is they truly seek, even if they don’t yet know what that end-goal is.

LINKS:

Website/Blog

Twitter

Amazon

B&N

Kobo

Google Play

iTunes

BIO:

Born and raised in upstate New York, Jason now lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife and their long-haired dachshund. In past lives he has been a guitar player for a metal band, a drum-n-bass DJ, a record store owner, a game developer, and an IT consultant. These days he divides his time between writing fiction and developing software, and doing Oregonian things like gardening, hiking, and drinking microbrew.

Watch Lee the Puppet answer questions about writing and publishing

So I was in a mood tonight and invited Lee the Puppet to answer questions.

Questions asked:

  1. What in your life prompted you to be an advocate of diversity, on social media, and in your writing? (besides having a brain, that is!)
  2. Where do you get your ideas?
  3. How do you balance the rabbit hole of endless research on worldbuilding and actually sitting down to actually write?
  4. How do you restart an old story if you’ve forgotten where it was going?
  5. Editing: Besides simple things like editing spelling and the like, when do you sit down to editing the manuscript for a short story? Do you edit it in progress? at particular break points? After a draft is done?
  6. Do you find any prejudice against puppets from the publishing industry?

My Favorite Bit: S. K. Dunstall talks about ALLIANCE

My Favorite Bit iconS. K. Dunstall is joining us today with their novel Alliance. Here’s the publisher’s description:

As the Linesman series continues, linesman Ean Lambert finds himself facing an alien ship he doesn’t understand—and a terrifying political threat he cannot fight…
 
The lines. The soul of every ship. It was once thought there were only ten, but that was before an alien vessel appeared at the edge of space—before Ean Lambert heard more lines singing. Ean’s ways of communicating with lines is strange. But his abilities make him a valuable tool—or weapon—to command.

Captain Selma Kari Wang has lost everything—her ship, her crew, her legs. But the New Alliance of Worlds is not done with her yet. After they rebuild her broken body, they send her to captain one of the new alien ships, teaming her up with Ean, the only one who can understand the alien lines.

Kari Wang and Ean are poised on the threshold of discoveries that could change the world. But not everyone wants the New Alliance to control the secrets they uncover—and those who oppose won’t hesitate to do whatever it takes to stop them…

What’s S. K.’s favorite bit?

cover image, Alliance

S. K. DUNSTALL

Hmm. How do we talk about this one without spoilers?

Because this favorite bit is right in the middle of the final action scene.

Each of us has our own favorite bits in the stories we write. They’re not generally the same.  Sherylyn tends to like the scenes with big emotional impact, while Karen goes for the scenes with clever banter.

For example, a passage like:

Fitch’s grin stretched almost ear to ear.  “Congratulations, Captain. You have a new pair of legs.”

She stared at the bright white ceiling and ignored them.

The light dimmed with the night. Brightened again with the new day. Over and over.

They should have let her die along with the rest of her crew.

Is something Sherylyn would pick out as a personal favorite, while Karen’s might be:

“Will you look at that,” Mael said to Tinatin. “Captain Legless.”

But with Alliance we had the same favorite bit, and it’s right in the middle of the finale.

The best space operas have the following in common.  Characters you care about. Fights, action. High stakes.  It’s often served with a dose of humour or repartee that makes you quote lines to your friends for ever after.

They’re action adventure stories, and like any action adventure, the stakes keep rising until everything comes together in one final major scene, good guys against bad guys. All the plot points come together at that time too.

We’re what they call ‘pantsers’, writers who find out the story as they go along rather than plotting it all out at the start and writing to the plot. With two of us writing, there is a little bit of planning in that we will often talk out a scene just before we write it, so that we agree on what’s going to happen. Just-in-time plotting, if you like, but that’s all.

In this book our major storyline is how Ean Lambert, who is now the New Alliance’s leading linesman, teams up with Captain Selma Kari Wang, who has just lost her ship, as they learn how to work with the alien line ships. There’s the enemy, of course, who are trying the prevent them doing that.  There’s also a secondary story happening.  The mystery of the destruction of Kari Wang’s first ship.

Naturally, as the story progresses, the stakes get higher in each storyline.  Until it all comes together in the finale.

So even though we don’t plan our story, in Alliance we were always writing to this one scene. We didn’t know how it would happen, we just knew the two stories would come together here. So that of course, right when Kari Wang needs him most, Ean’s got big problems of his own.

Which is why his first answer, when she demands his help, is,

“We’re kind of busy, right now.”

When we started we didn’t know how we were going to get there, or what happened when we did get there, but it all came together for us.  It worked, and it was a fun journey.

That’s why it’s our favorite bit.

LINKS:

Website

Twitter (@skdunstall)

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

BIO:

S. K. Dunstall is the pen name for Sherylyn and Karen Dunstall, sisters who have been telling stories—and sharing them with each other—all their lives. Some years ago, they realised the stories they worked on together were much better than the stories they worked on alone. A co-writing partnership was born.

They live in Melbourne, Australia.

Using puppetry to explain what writers mean by Voice

When we talk about voice in writing, it can get confusing because people use the word to mean different things. Let me offer “style of puppetry” as a metaphor to talk about the different forms of voice.

Mechanical

In puppetry one of the first things you have to do when designing a new show is decide what style of puppet you are going to use. By this, we mean the mechanical style. Are you using marionettes? Rod puppets? Glove puppets?

For writers, this mechanical voice relates to Person and Tense. 1st person? 3rd person? 2nd person plural, future tense?Puppets for "Between Two Worlds" painted in the style of Chagall

Aesthetic 

The aesthetic style of a puppet relates to the design elements. Are you trying to look like the puppets are in the style of Chagal or fuzzy like a Muppet?

For writers, this aesthetic voice relates to the narrative tone. You might go for sounding like Jane Austen, or rural Appalachian, or 21st century Anglo-American.

Personal

This relates to the small personal idiosyncrasies of the performer. You can hand the same puppet to two different puppeteers and you can totally tell who is working it even if the performer can do an aesthetic match of the original puppeteers voice. The differences are minute details of timing, choice, and movement that all relate to the puppeteer’s background and personality.

Take a look at these two clips of Sam the Eagle, starting with original Sam, performed by Frank Oz.

And now modern Sam, performed by Eric Jacobson.

Eric is a phenomenally good puppeteer, but you can tell that it’s two different people even though most of you reading this aren’t puppeteers. I can point to the use of the eye mechanism, differences in fluidity of neck movement, and other dynamics, all of which relate to individual performer choices.

For writers, those individual choices come from your background, your lived experience, your taste and interests. I can teach mechanical and aesthetic voice, but I can’t teach personal voice. That personal voice though, that thing that is absolutely unique to you as a writer is why you must write.

No one else can write the things you will write in the way that you write them. You have a voice. Use it.

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS – Up and Coming: Stories by the 2016 Campbell-Eligible Authors

URGENT PRESS RELEASE

Call for Submissions!

Contact: SL Huang & Kurt Hunt (campbellreading2016@gmail.com)

Feb. 20, 2016:  Submissions are now being accepted for Up and Coming: Stories by the 2016 Campbell-Eligible Authors. Authors eligible for the 2016 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer include writers who published their first qualifying professional science fiction or fantasy fiction in 2014 or 2015. This free e-anthology will collect stories by these award-eligible authors in one place, showcasing the work of exciting new talent for award nominators and for a general audience.

Up and Coming will be available in early March! Please consider sharing a link or blurb on your site as soon as possible: http://www.badmenagerie.com/campbellbook2016/ (submission link and writer guidelines).

Submissions are due by 8:00 a.m. Tokyo time on Feb. 28 (Feb. 27 in Western timezones).