Journal

My Favorite Bit: Carrie Patel talks about THE SONG OF THE DEAD

Favorite Bit iconCarrie Patel is joining us today with her novel The Song of the Dead. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Finally, the lost histories of the Catastrophe will be revealed and with them the ultimate fate of the buried city of Recoletta in the dramatic conclusion to Carrie Patel’s trilogy.

With Ruthers dead and the Library Accord signed by Recoletta, its neighbours, and its farming communes, Inspector Malone and laundress Jane Lin are in limbo as the city leaders around them vie for power.

A desperate attempt to save Arnault from execution leads to Malone’s arrest and Jane’s escape. They must pursue each other across the sea to discover a civilization that has held together over the centuries. There they will finally learn the truths about the Catastrophe that drove their own civilization underground.

What’s Carrie’s favorite bit?

The Song of the Dead cover image

CARRIE PATEL

The Song of the Dead is the final book in the Recoletta trilogy, which follows the adventures of Inspector Liesl Malone and laundress Jane Lin as they navigate the political intrigues of rival underground city-states. Each book approaches their story in a slightly different way, and The Song of the Dead is primarily a journey novel about their escape from the city of Recoletta and their search for distant lands and difficult answers.

My favorite part of this book is the execution scene at the very beginning in which Malone is led to the gallows by the leaders of Recoletta.

Once upon a time, in an earlier draft, this scene appeared at the end of the first third. My critique partners were giving me feedback, and one of them remarked, “You know, this would make a great opening for a short story.” We all got to talking about what that would mean for the structure of the first third and how it might work, and I realized that was a completely feasible adjustment.

Not only was it feasible, it was better.

First, it’s one of the more urgent scenes in the early story. One of the two series protagonists is being marched to her death by representatives of the city she’s spent two books defending. The scene introduces stakes, tension, and questions right off the bat. How better to begin?

Secondly, it does a better job of establishing the story than a purely chronological sequence would have. The early events of The Song of the Dead take place in Recoletta, and yet most of the story is about the wider world beyond the city. It’s about the intervention of forces larger than Jane or Malone imagined, and it’s about seeking answers to questions that have been raised from the first book—what catastrophe drove these cities underground? Did anything else survive?

What interrupts Malone’s hanging is the harbinger of a distant civilization, a man with many questions of his own. The journey they undertake together—each seeking answers as well as salvation for their own particular civilizations—is what the story is really about.

The beginning of the novel, on the other hand, shows how Malone’s careful plans for peace fall apart. It follows the series of conflicts and dilemmas that send her to the gallows, that exile Jane, and that trigger a transcontinental chase between the two women. These events are critical to the development of the story and the characters, but the execution scene presents a clearer image of where the rest of the novel is headed.

Of course, this restructuring created a quandary. How do you tell the story of the beginning when you’re opening with the middle?

In the end, resolving this led to what is, in my opinion, one of the greater strengths of this approach: the framing narrative.

Ultimately, The Song of the Dead is about the stories people tell one another and the way those stories take on a lives of their own. The first third of the novel unfolds in two parallel retellings, with Malone recounting the story of the events that led to her (aborted) execution to her mysterious rescuer and Jane explaining how she became a traitor and exile to someone else. There’s some careful calculation in what the two women choose to tell their interlocuters, and there’s some obvious miscalculation in what they’ve assumed about each other.

This sets them up for two parallel journeys and two searches for answers that call into question what they think they knew about themselves and their world.

Why save the best for last? Start with the good stuff.

LINKS

Website

@Carrie_Patel on Twitter

Amazon  

B&N

Indiebound

Goodreads

BIO

Carrie Patel is a novelist, game designer, and expatriate Texan. She is the author of the Recoletta trilogy, which includes the science fantasy murder mystery The Buried Life (2015), the political thriller Cities and Thrones (2015), and the upcoming The Song of the Dead (May 2017), published by Angry Robot. Her short fiction has appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies and PodCastle

As narrative designer and game writer, she works for Obsidian Entertainment, an award-winning development studio known for story-driven RPGs. She worked on Pillars of Eternity, which was nominated nominated by the Writers Guild of America for Outstanding Achievement in Videogame Writing, and its expansions, The White March Part I and II. She is currently writing for Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire.

My Favorite Bit: Robyn Bennis talks about THE GUNS ABOVE

Favorite Bit iconRobyn Bennis is joining us today with her novel The Guns Above. Here’s the publisher’s description:

In the tradition of Honor Harrington and the high-flying Temeraire series, Bennis’s THE GUNS ABOVE is an adventurous military fantasy debut about a nation’s first female airship captain.

They say it’s not the fall that kills you.

For Josette Dupre, the Corps’ first female airship captain, it might just be a bullet in the back.

On top of patrolling the front lines, she must also contend with a crew who doubts her expertise, a new airship that is an untested deathtrap, and the foppish aristocrat Lord Bernat, a gambler and shameless flirt with the military know-how of a thimble. Bernat’s own secret assignment is to catalog her every moment of weakness and indecision.

So when the enemy makes an unprecedented move that could turn the tide of the war, can Josette deal with Bernat, rally her crew, and survive long enough to prove herself?

What’s Robyn’s favorite bit?

The Guns Above cover image

ROBYN BENNIS

I thought long and hard about whether I wanted to admit this, but my favorite bit of The Guns Above is the loveable sexist, Bernat. If you’re hearing an odd sort of whirring right now, that’s the sound of every previous reader of this article rolling their eyes so hard they’ve left a psychic imprint in the HTML. But perhaps we should first take a look at Bernat at his best:

She said in a quiet hiss, “I swear, if that isn’t a roll of coins in your trousers, I will throw you overboard and tell everyone it was a tragic accident.”

The object in his pants was, in fact, a roll of coins—part of his first week’s payment from Uncle Fieren. “My dear captain,” he said, loud enough for the entire work party to hear, “take it as a compliment.”

She tensed even more. “Are all aristocrats such uncouth animals?”

“If I have given any offence,” he said, “you need only call me out, and I will happily offer satisfaction.”

This elicited some snickers from the crew, which Dupre silenced with a glance. “I take that to mean a duel,” she said, “and I am sorely tempted by the thought.”

“Would you prefer pistols at dawn, or shall I visit you in the night with my longsword?”

Many of Bernat’s most sexist moments are based on experiences I’ve actually had, courtesy of people I now despise. Even so, he’s not only my favorite character, but my favorite achievement, because I succeeded in making him loveable in spite of his sexism (not to mention his many other flaws.) I stress the “in spite of,” as Bernat is not meant to be loveable because of his sexism, which is the direction the lovable sexist trope usually goes in.

The entire world of The Guns Above is filled with rampant sexism, which blunts the trope a bit, but what really sells it is that he pays for it in a way that isn’t just the punchline of a joke. He pays with the sort of emotional turmoil and self-doubt that accompanies personal growth. Bernat becomes a slightly better person, but it’s a painful journey. He doesn’t come to an epiphany, nor do the women in his life come to see his sexism as harmless—and they certainly don’t escape harm from it. To put it bluntly, Bernat’s playful sexism threatens to destroy careers and even lives, not unlike playful sexism in the real world.

Yet readers love him. It certainly helps that every major character in the book is some sort of monster or another, so Bernat doesn’t look quite as bad by comparison. Plus, he and Josette share a quick and biting wit. Their verbal sparring matches are delightful, if I do say so myself, and I’ve found that readers are willing to forgive almost anything in a character who can deliver a really killer burn.

“I do apologize for the intrusion, but I simply had to know what put you in such a state of dread at the thought of coming to Durum. Now I see that you were afraid I’d steal your dear mother away and take her home with me. Well, you may put your mind at ease, Captain. It’s such a lovely town, I think the two of us will live here.”

The captain rolled her eyes. “If it would get you off my goddamn ship, I would happily give you my mother, and throw a couple of aunts into the bargain.”

“Your generosity is admirable, Captain. But really, it’s not such a large house. One aunt will do, I think.”

She leaned toward the stairs and shouted up, “Mother! Does Aunt Yvette still live in town?”

Elise’s voice was strangely muffled when she called back, “Why do you want to know?”

The captain’s eyes shifted to Bernat, and back to the stairs. “Just wanted to catch up.”

When early readers expressed their undying love for Bernat, but still saw him as the colossal jerk he is, I breathed a big sigh of relief. I wasn’t sure I had the writing chops to pull that off, but I’d really done it. I’d done it for that small and friendly audience, anyway. We’ll have to see what happens when my little book goes out into the wider world.

Provisionally, however, Bernat is that rare, loveable sexist who doesn’t normalize loveable sexism, making him my favorite bit of The Guns Above.

LINKS:

Author Homepage

Read Chapters 1 & 2

Additional Excerpts at Tor.com

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

IndieBound

Goodreads

Twitter

Facebook

BIO:

Robyn Bennis is an author and scientist living in Mountain View, California, where she consults in biotech but dreams of airships. Her apartment lies within blocks of Moffett Airfield’s historic Hanger One, which once sheltered America’s largest flying machines. The sight of it rising above its surroundings served as daily inspiration while she wrote her debut novel, The Guns Above.

MRK May 2017 Tour Schedule and Newsletter

Hello, Mary here with the latest news about my goings-on during the month of May.

  • Saturday 6 May: How to Fail Gracefully with K. Tempest Bradford (online)
  • Friday 12 May to Sunday 14 May: Short Story Intensive (online)
  • Thursday 18 May to Sunday 21 May: Nebula Conference (Pittsburgh Marriott City Center, Pittsburg, PA)

“How to Fail Gracefully” is a Master Class I teach with K. Tempest Bradford over at Writing the Other, which is dedicated to helping writers learn how to write characters different from themselves in a way that is both sensitive and convincing.

My Short Story Intensive course is sold out, and usually sells out pretty quickly, so keep an eye out for future sessions of this class!

The Nebula Conference is the annual SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) conference, and has panels and workshops in three tracks: career management, professional development, and expert knowledge. Registration for the conference is available to writers of all levels. The Nebula Awards are also hosted that weekend on Saturday evening, and the ballot is full of talented writers and some excellent fiction. Finally, there is a mass autograph session on Friday at the Pittsburgh Marriott City Center, which is open to the public. So, if you’re in the area but unable to attend the conference this is a good opportunity to say hello to some great writers and get your copies of their work signed by them.

Yours,

Mary

P.S. Just a reminder that I am now on Patreon, so if you’re interested in supporting me and my work in that way, you can click here.

On reading fees, and why they are Not Done.

The short form: Reading fees. Don’t pay them.

“What?!” You’re saying, “But… but I paid for a critique at a conference.”

I know. It’s that ambiguity I want to address. Doing critiques is exhausting, but it’s also really valuable to attendees. So as a compromise, some writing conferences offer them with a fee attached. That way the agent/editor/author gets paid for their extra effort and the student gets the individual attention they need. Also, the conference makes money for providing a space, etc.

Personally, I would ONLY do this if if there were a problem with a piece of fiction that I couldn’t identify and thought that this specific agent/editor/author could help me puzzle it out.

Yog's Law says, "Money flows to the writer."I would never, ever do it if I were hoping to sign with that person. Why? Because I know I’m giving them something flawed. AND the ethical ones are super-careful about misusing their positions.

Outside of a conference, you should never pay a fee to an agent or editor for a critique.

(An exception is if you are hiring a freelance editor to actually edit your manuscript. That’s a whole different business arrangement.)

But if you’re looking to sell your work to an agent or editor and they tell you that they’ll look at it for a fee… Don’t. Run. That person is unethical and is taking advantage of you.

It’s like this… everyone knows how desperate writers are to sell their work. It’s super-easy to tap into that and add a little income stream by charging a “reading fee.” What early-career writers don’t grok is how equally desperate agents and editors are for good work. Selling your fiction is how they make their living. So anything that you have to pay them to read? That’s not a thing they’re likely to be able to sell. Right? But the unethical agents assume you won’t know the difference. They’ll use your hunger as a tool and their position as bait to prey upon you.

Never. Ever. Pay a reading fee.

Money flows to the writer.

Beta readers for 5k short SF story?

Apparently, when I’m not under a crushing novel deadline I write a lot of short fiction. Who knew? Anyway, I’m looking for five to ten beta readers for a 5000 word short SF story. Just comment on my site to raise your hand.  I think I’m set on readers. Thanks!

Here’s the teaser.

ARTISANAL TRUCKING, LLC

by Mary Robinette Kowal

The road hummed under the wheels of the reproduction semi-truck and beneath Dude’s hands the steering wheel vibrated with life. He had the diesel engine environment soundscape turned up high so that his ears hummed along with the road.

Why the hell had people given up driving? Sure, automated cars were useful, but there was nothing like the freedom of the open road. Ahead of him, a self-driving car was going exactly the speed-limit.

With a grin, Dude put on his turn signal and sped up. Past the speed limit. He pulled out a piece of beef jerky — processed and vegan, but it looked real — and tore a hunk off. It was like chewing chaw. Except tastier and not going to give him cancer. Yeah, baby. This was life. This was what he was meant to do. Artisanal Trucking LLC. Human hands, door to door.  He wasn’t governed by algorithms or satellites or any of that bullshit. Dude was one with the road and the road was one with him. Like meditation. One with the road and–

A dog darted out in front of him.

Dude had time to see that it was yellow.

My Favorite Bit: Marie Brennan talks about WITHIN THE SANCTUARY OF WINGS

Favorite Bit iconMarie Brennan is joining us today with her novel Within the Sanctuary of Wings. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Within the Sanctuary of Wings is the conclusion to Marie Brennan’s thrilling Lady Trent Memoirs

After nearly five decades (and, indeed, the same number of volumes), one might think they were well-acquainted with the Lady Isabella Trent–dragon naturalist, scandalous explorer, and perhaps as infamous for her company and feats of daring as she is famous for her discoveries and additions to the scientific field.

And yet–after her initial adventure in the mountains of Vystrana, and her exploits in the depths of war-torn Eriga, to the high seas aboard The Basilisk, and then to the inhospitable deserts of Akhia–the Lady Trent has captivated hearts along with fierce minds. This concluding volume will finally reveal the truths behind her most notorious adventure–scaling the tallest peak in the world, buried behind the territory of Scirland’s enemies–and what she discovered there, within the Sanctuary of Wings.

What’s Marie’s favorite bit?

Within the Sanctuary of Wings cover image

MARIE BRENNAN

My favorite bit of Within the Sanctuary of Wings in specific, and the Memoirs of Lady Trent as a whole, is the ending.

And I mean the very ending. Not the climax of the story, but literally the last 120 words of the book.

Which surprises me, because man, those last few sentences? They’re usually one of the hardest parts for me. It’s tough to end a short story, tougher to end a novel, and a whole series? Yeeks. The weight there is enormous. Five books about Lady Trent, taking her from childhood to her status as one of the most famous and respected people in the world — how do you end that? What knot do you use to tie off the ends when the pattern is done?

I expected it to be incredibly hard. I made my way through the Afterword, handling the usual tasks of denouement, and all the while a little voice in the back of my head was asking, what note are we going end on? What flavor do I want to leave in the reader’s mind when they close the book?

And then it came to me. The instant I thought of it, I knew it was right, and those last 120 words flowed out of me like . . . well, like a couple of tears might have done, had I not sniffled them back.

I could quote the passage to you right now, because it isn’t a spoiler. It’s the inevitable consequence of what the story has been about this entire time — the energy at its heart. But I don’t think it will have quite the same impact when taken out of context, so instead I’ll tell you that Lady Trent’s final words to her readers are about science and the ever-changing face of what we know about the world around us. Isaac Newton once said, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” There are no dragons in our world, and so no one can quite stand on Lady Trent’s metaphorical shoulders; but nonetheless it’s an invitation to do exactly that, to carry forward the work of discovery for generations to come.

Damn it. Now I’m sniffling again.

I hope that when you get there, you do, too.

LINKS:

Website

Blog

Author Newsletter

Patreon

Twitter

Amazon Author Page

Bookbub

Goodreads

BIO:

Marie Brennan is a former anthropologist and folklorist who shamelessly pillages her academic fields for material. She is currently misapplying her professors’ hard work to the Victorian adventure series The Memoirs of Lady Trent; the first book of that series, A Natural History of Dragons, was nominated for a World Fantasy Award. Cold-Forged Flame, the first novella in the Varekai series, came out in September 2016. She is also the author of the Doppelganger duology of Warrior and Witch, the urban fantasies Lies and Prophecy and Chains and Memory, the Onyx Court historical fantasy series, and more than forty short stories. For more information, visit www.swantower.com.

Beta readers wanted: 4200 word fantasy short story

For those of you who are Writing Excuses listeners, you might recall in season 10 that I demonstrated some ideas using a Milliner Assassin. I have actually written that story and am looking for a couple of beta readers.

Here’s the teaser.

A Feather in Her Cap

Biantera stabbed the hat on its stand with a needle as if it were a dead body. Outside the canals of Geveno resounded with the cheerful cries of gondoliers, in sharp contrast to the complaints of her mother.

“You are going to ruin your fingers doing this work. Millinery! Blessed Menos on Her Hearth!” Her mother dabbed at her eyes with a ridiculous scrap of lace. “Rough hands! How will you get the marriage you deserve — or would have deserved. Curse your father!”

Biantera’s needle stabbed into the hat again. Not her mother. She should get an amaretto for that restraint. Biantera took a slow breath and tried to let the tension out of her shoulders. Some of it was from her mother’s constant harping, and some was from scaling that blasted wall last night.  She kept her voice low and sweet as her governess had taught her, once upon a time. “I don’t mind, Mama.”

She made damn good money as an assassin, but if her mother was upset about the supposed millinery business Biantera could only imagine what she’d do about the Other job. Once she received the payment for killing the Maestro of Umbele, it would be more than enough to buy back their family estate.

If you want to read, just comment on my site and I’ll send the story to the first five to ten folks. Okay! I’m set for the moment, but am likely to be making a hefty change to this, based on initial feedback, so if you want to read a second draft… Raise your hand in the comments.

My Favorite Bit: Dan Koboldt talks about THE ISLAND DECEPTION

Favorite Bit iconDan Koboldt is joining us today with his novel The Island Deception. Here’s the publisher’s description:

What happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas. But what happens after you step through a portal to another world, well…

For stage magician Quinn Bradley, he thought his time in Alissia was over. He’d done his job for the mysterious company CASE Global Enterprises, and now his name is finally on the marquee of one of the biggest Vegas casinos. And yet, for all the accolades, he definitely feels something is missing. He can create the most amazing illusions on Earth, but he’s also tasted true power. Real magic.

He misses it.

Luckily–or not–CASE Global is not done with him, and they want him to go back. The first time, he was tasked with finding a missing researcher. Now, though, he has another task: Help take Richard Holt down.

It’s impossible to be in Vegas and not be a gambler. And while Quinn might not like his odds–a wyvern nearly ate him the last time he was in Alissia–if he plays his cards right, he might be able to aid his friends.

He also might learn how to use real magic himself.

Continuing the exciting adventures from The Rogue Retrieval, The Island Deception blends fun and mystery into a brilliant new fantasy from Dan Koboldt.

What’s Dan’ favorite bit?

The Island Deception cover image

DAN KOBOLDT

Quinn Bradley, the protagonist of my series, is a stage magician from Las Vegas who’s hired to infiltrate a secret medieval world. He has access to holograms, electronics, and other modern technologies that the other world hasn’t seen before. Even so, my favorite bit in THE ISLAND DECEPTION is Quinn’s ability to use simple sleight of hand.

In the real world, our world, stage magic is among the oldest performing arts on record. One of the earliest books on the subject, Gantziony’s Natural and Unnatural Magic, was published in 1489. Stage magicians were a common form of public entertainment before the 18th century. Quick-fingered deception, in other words, is hardly a novel concept.

My protagonist just happens to be really good at it.

Is there any natural ability involved? Probably. The inherently dextrous tend to be drawn to performance magic, just as the inherently clumsy tend to avoid glassblowing. Yet what sets Quinn apart — what sets most successful illusionists apart — is a willingness to put in the work. He masters tricks with cards, coins, ropes, and other everyday objects. He practices every trick for countless hours, until he can execute it perfectly every time. Even better, he’s already gone through the training montage when the story starts.

A medieval world offers many opportunities to use such skills. Quinn is not the kind of person to pass them up, either. Sometimes he uses illusions to get out of a jam, or to obtain something the mission requires. Other times, he does it simply because he can. Here’s an example from The Island Deception:

The pocket on his jacket yawned open to reveal one of the fat Alissian gold coins the lab had minted for this mission.
Quinn plucked it out between two fingers, light-touch, and palmed it. “Can’t you help me out? I’ll make it worth your while.” He grinned and held up the coin.
Mendez frowned. “Where’d you get that? I just had one of those.”
“I know.” Quinn flipped it to him so that it spun in the air with that high-pitched metallic ring. I never get tired of that sound.
Mendez caught it one-handed. But when he opened his hand, it was a crude penny. “Hey!”
Quinn still had the gold coin, and now he danced it across all ten fingers. “I can do this all day.”

Sharp wits and quick fingers are certainly advantageous when posing as a magician in a medieval world. But they also have the tendency to get Quinn into trouble, because he just can’t help himself. In the first book, his inclination to show off came with a price: the world has real magicians of its own, and the penalty for impersonating one is death.

Then again, the existence of true magic is what motivates Quinn to return to Alissia in The Island Deception. He’s tasted real magic, and now he misses it. More than that, he can’t help but wonder if it would be possible to bring some of that power back into our world. Real magic would certainly put him “one ahead” (as magicians say), and that’s exactly where Quinn Bradley wants to be.

LINKS:

Author Website

Publisher Website

Universal Buy Link

Amazon

Kobo

iBooks

Goodreads

Barnes & Noble

BIO:

Dan Koboldt is a genetics researcher and fantasy/science fiction author. He has co-authored more than 70 publications in Nature, Science, The New England Journal of Medicine, and other scientific journals. Dan is also an avid deer hunter and outdoorsman. He lives with his wife and children in Ohio, where the deer take their revenge by eating the flowers in his backyard.

My Favorite Bit: Renee Patrick talks about DANGEROUS TO KNOW

Favorite Bit iconRenee Patrick is joining us today with their novel Dangerous to Know. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Los Angeles, 1938. Former aspiring actress Lillian Frost is adjusting to a new life of boldfaced names as social secretary to a movie-mad millionaire. Costume designer Edith Head is running Paramount Pictures’ wardrobe department, but only until a suitable replacement comes along. The two friends again become partners thanks to an international scandal, a real-life incident in which the war clouds gathering over Europe cast a shadow on Hollywood.

Lillian attended the Manhattan dinner party at which well-heeled guests insulted Adolf Hitler within earshot of a maid with Nazi sympathies. Now, secrets the maid vengefully spilled have all New York society running for cover – and two Paramount stars, Jack Benny and George Burns, facing smuggling charges.

Edith also seeks Lillian’s help on a related matter. The émigré pianist in Marlene Dietrich’s budding nightclub act has vanished. Lillian reluctantly agrees to look for him. When Lillian finds him dead, Dietrich blames agents of the Reich. As Lillian and Edith unravel intrigue extending from Paramount’s Bronson Gate to FDR’s Oval Office, only one thing is certain: they’ll do it in style.

Renee Patrick’s Dangerous to Know beguilingly blends forgotten fact and fanciful fiction, while keeping Hollywood glamour front and center

What’s Renee’s favorite bit?

Dangerous to Know cover image

RENEE PATRICK

It’s probably poor form to say our favorite bit is the one that fell into our laps. But that’s where we have to start.

When you write historical mysteries, you’re always researching. Poring over vintage magazines and newspapers, soaking up period atmosphere. (We went so far as to purchase copies of the 1937 Los Angeles telephone directories—Yellow and White Pages—and lost hours paging through them. Once upon a time, the highest compliment you could pay an actor was to say, “I’d listen to her/him read the phone book.” We staged such performances for one another. There were no curtain calls.) You remain eternally on the hunt for that useful forgotten nugget from yesteryear.

And then, on occasion, you strike the motherlode.

Reading a December 1938 newspaper, we happened on a reference to a budding scandal. Jack Benny and George Burns, comic titans of radio and motion pictures, were brought up on federal charges as smugglers. The details were extraordinary, involving a vengeful maid with Nazi sympathies, a bogus diplomat, and trunks full of haute couture gowns.

Understand this: Jack Benny and George Burns were enormous stars at the time, so much so that when we tried to think of comparable contemporary performers for this post we came up empty. The concentrated nature of entertainment in the 1930s gave both men such outsized presences that their indiscretion nudged Germany’s aggression below the fold of the nation’s front pages for a while.

Understand also this: we both grew up obsessed with show business, and had never heard tell of this contretemps before. How, we wondered, was that possible?

Finally, understand this: both men were stars at Paramount Pictures, the studio where Edith Head, the legendary costume designer who is one-half of our sleuthing duo, worked her magic. The universe had just handed us a gift.

The Benny/Burns imbroglio gave us the seed for what would become Dangerous to Know, the second of our mysteries set during the Golden Age of Hollywood pairing Edith with her partner in crime-solving, former aspiring actress Lillian Frost. It was the ideal jumping off point, if not the engine driving the plot.

Building that engine would prove easier thanks to all that research we’d been doing. We’d become familiar with what was happening in Los Angeles and the wider world in the waning days of 1938. Sometimes it was broad cultural issues, like the influx of emigres and refugees from Europe into Southern California, a mass migration that would transform the City of Angels into a world capital of modern music and give rise to film noir. Sometimes it was specific to the region, such as David O. Selznick’s decision to stage the burning of Atlanta in Gone with the Wind despite the fact that he had yet to cast his Scarlett O’Hara, or a screening of Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia in one of L.A.’s fanciest clubs with Fraulein Director herself in attendance. And sometimes it was a fascinating story still being excavated by historians decades later, like the secret plan of studio moguls to combat the Nazi presence in Hollywood in the years before World War II.

Real life consistently outstrips the imagination. It does now. It did then. So basically our favorite bit is collecting all of those other bits and weaving them together, combining fact with fiction in the hope of coming up with something that feels true.

LINKS:

Website

Read an excerpt

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

IndieBound

Goodreads

Twitter

Facebook

BIO:

Renee Patrick is the pseudonym of married authors Rosemarie and Vince Keenan. Rosemarie is a research administrator and a poet. Vince is a screenwriter and a journalist. Both native New Yorkers, they currently live in Seattle, Washington.

In which Mary takes off her gloves and discusses the OdysseyCon fuck-up.

Ahem. Here is where I take off my gloves, set down my fan, and jab someone with my parasol.

Odyssey Con. What the fuck are you doing?

When your Guest of Honor comes to you and tells you that a member of your concom has made them uncomfortable in the past and that she feels unsafe, you do not tell her that she’s wrong. When she decides that this reaction, coupled with the presence of the person in question is enough to withdraw, you certainly do not then post her emails without her permission.

Let me explain.

The problem here is not, actually, with the harasser. I actually believe that there is a path for redemption for people who are willing to take it. This fellow… who knows. Maybe he can, maybe he can’t.

But you. What you have done is the problem. You have demonstrated that the safety of your guests is not your concern. No, wait. More specifically, you have demonstrated that the safety of your female guests is not important. You have done this by telling them that their complaints don’t exist or are exaggerated.

Maybe you don’t realize this, but women’s concerns are always dismissed as being a product of hysteria. You know what the root of that word is, right? You see what you’re doing? You are saying that we are unreliable witnesses. THIS is the problem. This is the environment that you are creating at your con.

Why the hell would any woman go there, when you have just demonstrated exactly how you will treat someone who expresses a problem? You will dismiss their concerns as an over-reaction. You will publicly castigate them. You will share their personal details.

The fellow who has a history of harassment isn’t the problem here. Not by himself. You are.

And you are much, much worse.

My Favorite Bit: Ruthanna Emrys talks about WINTER TIDE

Favorite Bit iconRuthanna Emrys is joining us today with her novel Winter Tide. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Winter Tide is a weird, lyrical mystery — truly strange and compellingly grim. It’s an innovative gem that turns Lovecraft on his head with cleverness and heart” —Cherie Priest

After attacking Devil’s Reef in 1928, the U.S. government rounded up the people of Innsmouth and took them to the desert, far from their ocean, their Deep One ancestors, and their sleeping god Cthulhu. Only Aphra and Caleb Marsh survived the camps, and they emerged without a past or a future.

The government that stole Aphra’s life now needs her help. FBI agent Ron Spector believes that Communist spies have stolen dangerous magical secrets from Miskatonic University, secrets that could turn the Cold War hot in an instant, and hasten the end of the human race.

Aphra must return to the ruins of her home, gather scraps of her stolen history, and assemble a new family to face the darkness of human nature.

Winter Tide is the debut novel from Ruthanna Emrys.

What’s Ruthanna’s favorite bit?

Winter Tide cover image

RUTHANNA EMRYS

Ron Spector is among the core supporting characters in Winter Tide. One of the few FBI agents to specialize in matters eldritch, he kicks off the plot by asking Aphra to help him out with an investigation… that just happens to coincide with her own desire to retrieve her family’s stolen books from Miskatonic University… that just happens to coincide with his own desire to prove Aphra’s worth to his bosses. I never intended to base him on my great-uncle.

Ron is a gay Jewish man, working for the US government in a time when closets are mandatory and unthinking antisemitism rampant. This all seemed perfectly organic to a book about the intersection of real and fantasaic oppression. My Cthulhu-worshipping Deep Ones were never intended to stand in for any real-world race or religion, but to hold up a funhouse mirror to real-world prejudices. In a world (ours) where any minority will be treated ill and subject to assumptions, what’s universal? How will a bunch of long-lived aquatic humanoids be treated just like Jews or African Americans or Nikkei or QUILTBAG folk, and how will their experiences be unique? And what happens when they start interacting with those other groups and comparing notes?

Spector, who willingly serves a state in which he’s only marginally accepted, felt like a natural foil to Aphra, who reviles that same state for destroying her family. I didn’t notice from what corner of my subconscious he’d arisen until I was trying to figure out hats. The late 40s fall on the boundary of modern propriety, you see, one aspect of which is that some men still wore hats everywhere, and others had set that bit of fashion aside. Hats are great, offering all sorts of little character moments. You can doff your fedora to show respect, or leave it on inside when distracted. But would Spector wear one? Well, says my wife, why don’t you look at pictures of your Great Uncle Monroe?

Right. My great-uncle, a New York Jew of about Spector’s vintage, who spent time as a diplomatic aide. The one who traveled the world with his “business partner” years after their retirement, lived with him his whole adult life, and left him all his worldly possessions. “But we don’t know that he was gay by modern standards,” my mother said, in her letter accompanying the packet of photos, along with the revelation that Great-Uncle’s hubby was responsible for my family’s obsession with fondue. Uh-huh. It’s true; according to the tenets of cosmic horror, nothing about this world is truly knowable.

So Spector wasn’t based directly on Monroe, but he gained an extra dimension from his real-world equivalent. And that became important as I got further into the book, and saw more ways that he could be a foil for Aphra. One of the things I had fun with, while I wrote, was how all the characters are experiencing their own book—all slightly different genres. Aphra’s book is the one in the blurb, a historical fantasy about building community and trying to put off human extinction for a century or two. Her foster sister Neko is having a bildungsroman about growing into your freedom and figuring out what you really want.

And Ron Spector? He’s stuck in a Lovecraftian cosmic horror story. He’s learning that the universe is larger and stranger and more dangerous than he thought, and trying to come to terms with forces so large and inhuman that merely brushing against them risks life and sanity. But he isn’t Lovecraft’s standard narrator, and that changes his story. He’s strange enough himself that he willingly acknowledges the humanity of anyone he can talk to, and is willing to push that boundary outward even when it’s a struggle. At the same time, the awe-inspiring, brain-breaking scope of a Mythosian universe is a direct challenge to his mostly-assimilated, semi-secular Judaism. He’s fine with the idea that his own religious canons are really just stories written by people, meant as allegorical guidance. He’s less fine when Aeonist texts turn out to be pretty accurate descriptions of what’s out there…

The best cosmic horror is psychological study, a close-up look at what happens when someone’s worldview is turned completely upside down. Winter Tide is about how many ways there are to up-end a worldview. For some people, that upheaval takes horror from beyond the stars. For others, all it requires is a closer look at humanity itself. The whole cast of Winter Tide, whatever kind of book they think they’re in, are right in the thick of both.

LINKS:

Book page

Author website

Twitter

BIO:

Ruthanna Emrys lives in a mysterious manor house on the outskirts of Washington, DC with her wife and their large, strange family. She makes home-made vanilla, obsesses about game design, gives unsolicited advice, and occasionally attempts to save the world. Her stories have appeared in a number of venues, including Strange HorizonsAnalog, and Tor.com. Winter Tide is her first novel.

My Favorite Bit: K. Bird Lincoln talks about DREAM EATER

Favorite Bit iconK. Bird Lincoln is joining us today with her novel Dream Eater. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Koi Pierce dreams other peoples’ dreams.

Her whole life she’s avoided other people. Any skin-to-skin contact—a hug from her sister, the hand of a barista at Stumptown coffee—transfers flashes of that person’s most intense dreams. It’s enough to make anyone a hermit.

But Koi’s getting her act together. No matter what, this time she’s going to finish her degree at Portland Community College and get a real life. Of course it’s not going to be that easy. Her father, increasingly disturbed from Alzheimer’s disease, a dream fragment of a dead girl from the casual brush of a creepy PCC professor’s hand, and a mysterious stranger who speaks the same rare Northern Japanese dialect as Koi’s father will force Koi to learn to trust in the help of others, as well as face the truth about herself.

What’s K. Bird’s favorite bit?

Dream Eater cover image

K. BIRD LINCOLN

When Joseph Campbell Isn’t Enough: Or why I hunger for Baku

There’s this memory I have of being in my elementary school library during lunch hour, running my fingers over the spines of books in the 398.2 area of nonfiction (folktales and myths) and being thrilled with the cornucopia of Red Riding Hood tales, Changelings, Greek Heroes, Baba Yaga, and Babe the Blue Ox.

Through them I discovered a hunger for the stories we tell ourselves as a people.

In high school I discovered Joseph Campbell and delved into those tales. Stories which evoked the psychic unity of mankind as manifested in the Hero’s Journey or Creation Myths.

For a while, that satisfied my hunger.

But I was hungry again by college—just when I had to choose a language to study to meet graduation requirements—and met a boy. A very, very cute boy who was also a Japanese Studies major. So I started to study Japanese language, history, and psychology. It began to dawn on me that Joseph Campbell, while certainly including myths from Asian countries in his writing, was as bound by the same white, Euro-centric cultural upbringing in the interpretation and focus on myths as I was.

And I realized that my hunger for making sense of the stories meant I had to not only unify and categorize, but also delve into the weird, obscure (this was before Neil Gaiman’s American Gods or the TV show Grimm) and not-oft-mentioned stories.

If you’re a manga or anime fan, you probably know about Kitsune. Kij Johnson’s The Fox Woman, Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman: The Dream Hunters, MTV’s Teen Wolf, Pokemon, Disney’s Robin Hood—the trickster fox is one of those easy-to-plug-into Euro-centric culture myths. What really fed my hunger to find meaning in a true diversity of human experience and thought, were the other kinds of myths: the dream-eating baku, the turtle-esque kappa with their polite fanaticism, bowls of water embedded in their heads, and propensity for rape or murder, and the avian-demon tengu that evolved from fierce and violent protectors of the forest to amiable bumpkins easily duped by humans.

Reading tales of the kappa and the tengu challenged me to wrap my mind around the interaction and seeding of religion and culture that occurred from India to China through Korean and into Japan. They forced me to realize a broader view of what civilization was (476-800 BCE was by no means “dark ages” for India, China, and Japan) and understand my own cultural viewpoint was quite narrow. Kappa and Tengu were exotic, they tickled my fancy for far-off flavors and stories of people I could easily label “other”, “different”, “strange”.

But then I married a Tokyo boy and had daughters—and all of a sudden I became hungry again to seek that which unifies rather than that which makes of us “the other.” (Because my daughters’ future psychotherapy bills depended upon it.) How could these freaky tales, these monsters, from the very primitive depths/hindbrains of such different cultural minds be incorporated into a psychically whole being?

Baku are ungainly. Awkward chimaeras of tiger and elephant, possibly inspired by sightings of ancient tapir.

baku image 1 baku image 2

Commonly known from 18th and 19th century Japanese netsuke (a miniature sculpture originally developed as a closure for small sacks used as pockets in yukata and kimono ) carvings like these.

netsuke image 1 netsuke image 2

Baku eat bad dreams. Although, if they are called upon too often and remain hungry after digging into a nightmare, they may stay to eat your hopes, aspirations, and ambitions as well. A chancy helper. But it was to baku I was drawn. Baku are just strange enough to have no real parallel in European culture that I could easily identify, yet they tap into a universal human vulnerability—our psyche as we sleep, the most primitive and meaningful images of our dreaming, and the ways our brains organize and incorporate information.

What would it mean to have one foot in the waking and one foot in the dream world? What does it mean to come from two very distinct cultures like Japan and America? Baku appeal to me because of their very disjointedness, the chimerical nature that attempts to incorporate disparate pieces into a whole. (Here’s where my daughters would roll their teenage eyes and tell me they are not chimaeras but people, and stop drawing parallels between bicultural identity and myths).

But it’s too late. My hunger for the obscure tales, coupled with my desire to find unity in diversity, have already lead to making Koi, my Dream Eater protagonist, both half-baku and half-Japanese. I can’t promise Koi discovers any Joseph Campbell- style universal truths in her journey, but she does get to wrestle with trickster kitsune, Armenian dragons, and Pacific Northwest ice hags and trickster bluejays.

LINKS:

Official page

Goodreads

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Kobo

iBookstore

Kblincoln.com

Facebook

BIO:

K. Bird Lincoln is an ESL professional and writer living on the windswept Minnesota Prairie with family and a huge addiction to frou-frou coffee. Also dark chocolate– without which, the world is a howling void. Originally from Cleveland, she has spent more years living on the edges of the Pacific Ocean than in the Midwest. Her speculative short stories are published in various online & paper publications such as Strange Horizons. Her medieval Japanese fantasy series, Tiger Lily, is available from Amazon. She also writes tasty speculative and YA fiction reviews under the name K. Bird at Goodreads.com. Sign up for her sporadic newsletter, The Mossy Glen from her facebook page and get access to free goodies– both readable and edible.

My Favorite Bit: Aliette de Bodard talks about THE HOUSE OF BINDING THORNS

Favorite Bit iconAliette de Bodard is joining us today with her novel The House of Binding Thorns. Here’s the publisher’s description:

The multi-award-winning author of The House of Shattered Wings continues her Dominion of the Fallen saga as Paris endures the aftermath of a devastating arcane war….

As the city rebuilds from the onslaught of sorcery that nearly destroyed it, the great Houses of Paris, ruled by Fallen angels, still contest one another for control over the capital.

House Silverspires was once the most powerful, but just as it sought to rise again, an ancient evil brought it low. Phillippe, an immortal who escaped the carnage, has a singular goal—to resurrect someone he lost. But the cost of such magic might be more than he can bear.

In House Hawthorn, Madeleine the alchemist has had her addiction to angel essence savagely broken. Struggling to live on, she is forced on a perilous diplomatic mission to the underwater dragon kingdom—and finds herself in the midst of intrigues that have already caused one previous emissary to mysteriously disappear….

As the Houses seek a peace more devastating than war, those caught between new fears and old hatreds must find strength—or fall prey to a magic that seeks to bind all to its will.

What’s Aliette’s favorite bit?

House of Binding Thorns cover image

ALIETTE DE BODARD

My favourite bit of writing The House of Binding Thorns was re-imagining the geography of my alternate Paris.

The Dominion of the Fallen series, which comprises The House of Shattered Wings and The House of Binding Thorns, is set in an alternate 20th Century where a huge magical war between factions devastated Paris and much of Europe–and where the survivors are still fighting a Cold War of attrition in the ruins, with political intrigue and covert use of magic.

I wanted to take familiar tourist (or local) sights and give them an eerie twist. The dome of the great department store Les Galeries Lafayette is now broken, and gang-members scavenge in the ruined counters; the Seine is black with magical pollution and pulls people from bridges and quays; the grand mansions of the powerful, the hôtels particuliers, have floral wallpaper flecked with mould and gravel flecked with dirt in their gardens, …

I based the geography of my post-magical-war Paris in the turn-of-the-century Parisian one: a very important (but excessively geeky one) was whether I took into account Baron Haussman’s extensive modifications to the geography of the city: I decided to do so, partly because this would result in a map that wasn’t too unfamiliar to the reader (and I was already juggling a lot of unfamiliarity!).

It’s pretty easy today to find amazingly detailed maps of Paris from this time period (I used this one ).

I’ve lived in Paris for decades, so it was a bit of a weird experience imagining what a magical war would have done to the streets. I would walk in front of a particularly distinctive building, and think, “Ah-ha, I could use this, how would it have changed?”. This occurred a lot when writing The House of Binding Thorns: the titular House, Hawthorn, had a decayed hôtel particulier vibe, and as it happened I would run a lot of errands in the vicinity of these.

One problem I hadn’t anticipated was making sure I was not committing huge anachronisms: because I know Paris very well, I would write a bridge or a street and not always check that they did exist back then. The most embarrassing mistake I made was having two characters cross the Bir-Hakeim Bridge, in the south west of Paris: I was very slow to realise it had been named for a famous WWII battle that hadn’t happened in my alternate chronology!

I also had a lot of fun with the different magical factions: all the Houses have names that are pertinent to their location. House Astragale is in the suburb of Saint-Ouen, which once was the headquarters for the military order of the Star: I picked “astragale” because it was close to “astral” but is actually the name of a bone (it *is* creepy Paris, after all!). House Silverspires is on Ile de la Cité, which had the most churches in Paris in the mid-19th Century and would therefore have looked like a sea of white spires from afar.

Lest this make me look very serious, I’ll also admit to terrible bilingual word play: House Hawthorn, the aforementioned decadent hotel particulier, is a fast-and-loose transcription of “Auteuil”, the wealthy southwestern suburb of Paris where it’s based. It’s also a tree with beautiful flowers, prickly thorns and a very invasive tendency, which happens to describe the House to a tee!

I’ll leave you with a passage that describes the inside of House Hawthorn:

The House was silent: it was still dark and freezing cold outside, with another hour or so to go to dawn, when the kitchen and laundry rooms would come alive, and the drudges would take their mops and brooms into the corridors, and light, one by one, the big chandeliers with candles on poles, to signal the beginning of the day.

Thuan had wandered it, at night, when only the bakers in the kitchens were up, kneading dough for the massive stone ovens: the main, cavernous edifice; the small, winding streets spreading out from beyond the gardens, their buildings cracked limestone confections with rusted wrought-iron balconies, and dependents in embroidered dresses and top hats leaning, languidly, against the pillars of blackened porches and patios. The broken ruins in the corners of the gardens: the abandoned buildings, with the trails of water running down glass panes like tears; the melted, pitted limestone overgrown with ivy and other creepers; the black debris mixed in with the gravel; and the broken-off hands on the statues in the fountains. All the traces of the war, in a House that hadn’t been spared by it.

(…)

He wandered corridor after corridor, losing himself in the labyrinth of the West Wing, running a hand on the wainscot of cracked wooden panels, his fingers brushing the engraved figures of game animals and trees. There was something addictive, alluring about standing outside the bedrooms of the House’s elite, the leaders of each court, and their being none the wiser as to the danger he represented.

He stopped at a crossroads between two corridors, to look at a striking piece, a stag whose antlers blurred and merged into the thorns of a tree. Dogs were harrying it, yet the beast held itself tall and proud, as if it didn’t even deign to notice them. The detail had chipped away, and there was dust around the design, a thickening layer like a gray outline.

On the right, the corridor curved sharply, flaring into something very much like an antechamber, at the end of which was a huge set of wooden doors. They were strangely plain: painted with a scattering of faded silver stars against a dark gray background. Two of those stars were falling from the firmament; their silver tinged with the scarlet of blood, a shade that never quite seemed to hold as the viewer moved.

It smelled, faintly, of bergamot and citrus, and Thuan had no business being there.

LINKS:

My website

My twitter

Amazon

B&N

Powell’s

Indiebound

BIO:

Aliette de Bodard writes speculative fiction: her short stories have garnered her two Nebula Awards, a Locus Award and two British Science Fiction Association Awards. She is the author of The House of Shattered Wings, a novel set in a turn-of-the-century Paris devastated by a magical war, which won the 2015 British Science Fiction Association Award, and its standalone sequel The House of Binding Thorns (Ace/Gollancz). She lives in Paris.

Beta readers wanted for 9600 word fantasy short story

Been awhile, eh? I wrote two novels in the last year and let short fiction slip to the side. Or back. Or under… or whatever. POINT BEING that I just finished a short story and could use some fresh eyes on it. Here’s the teaser.

THE WORSHIPFUL SOCIETY OF GLOVERS

Outside the window of their garrett, the cockle-seller hollered, “Cockles an’ mussels! Cockles an’ mussels!” Her voice blended with the other London morning street sounds to mean that Vaughn was going to be late.

“Botheration.” He tied off the thread in the fine blue leather of the gloves he was stitching and snipped it with the little pair of silver sheers he’d snuck out of the master’s shop. Be his hide if he were caught taking them home, but worse if he bit the thread off instead of snipping it neat. No telling what his saliva would do when the guild brownie added the beauty spell to it.

Shoving back his chair, Vaughn tucked the shears into the pocket of his waistcoat. He grabbed the gloves with one hand and a slice of rye bread with the other.

His sister laughed, “Are you going to be late again?”

“Was trying to finish these gloves for Master Martin.” He slid the gloves into the pocket of his coat, heading for the door. “I’ll be glad when this damn journeyman period is over.”

Behind him, Sarah made a coughing grunt. Vaughn’s heart jumped sideways in his chest. Not again. He dropped the bread and the gloves and spun, but not in time to catch her.

If you want to read, just comment on my site and I’ll send the story to the first five to ten folks.

Thanks all! I think I’m set now. There’s a chance that I’ll do a second pass with this one, so feel free to raise your virtual hand. For the moment though, I’ve got enough readers.

A moment of truth

In the midst of finishing my most recent novel, I managed to forget that this weekend was April Fool’s Day, or as I like to call it, Alternate Reality Day. It’s my favorite holiday, but this time I’m actually teaching all weekend.

This is disappointing, because I had done some early groundwork for this year, which I’m not going to get to use. I tweeted a thing that looked like something Chuck Tingle might write, left it up for five minutes, and then deleted it. This is a screen shot that someone sent to ask if I were, in fact, Chuck Tingle.Tweet reading, "yes, i am retiring as a holistic doctor but not as a Tae Kwon Do grandmaster. i continue to fight devilmen to prove LOVE IS REAL."

I even wrote to him to ask if it were okay for me to pretend to be him. (Because otherwise, I would be taking credit for someone else’s work, which is something only devilmen would do.) He said, “hello TRUE BUCKAROO name of mary, you make books real you make books kiss the sky! this is a good way for all who like to read and i am happy that you write with love. this funny prank (HAHAHAHAHA) is a WAY of love and that is okay”

So there you go. Groundwork laid. Time non-existent. I guess you could say that my plans were pounded in the butt by my own scheduling conflicts.

On the other hand, this is potentially the most Schrodinger of possible posts to make today: Am I really Chuck Tingle and using this to convince you that I’m not, OR am I not remotely Chuck Tingle and using this to make you think I am?

Whichever version of reality you choose to live in, just be assured that LOVE IS REAL.