Journal

My Favorite Bit: R.F. Kuang talks about THE POPPY WAR

Favorite Bit iconRebecca F. Kuang is joining us today with her novel The Poppy War. Here is the publisher’s description:

A brilliantly imaginative talent makes her exciting debut with this epic historical military fantasy, inspired by the bloody history of China’s twentieth century and filled with treachery and magic, in the tradition of Ken Liu’s Grace of Kings and N.K. Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy.

When Rin aced the Keju—the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies—it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard—the most elite military school in Nikan—was even more surprising.

But surprises aren’t always good.

Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Targeted from the outset by rival classmates for her color, poverty, and gender, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power—an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive—and that mastering control over those powers could mean more than just surviving school.

For while the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still lurks across a narrow sea. The militarily advanced Federation occupied Nikan for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most of the people are complacent to go about their lives, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away . . .

Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. But as she finds out more about the god that has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her humanity . . . and that it may already be too late.

What is Rebecca’s favorite bit?

The Poppy War cover

R.F. KUANG

Let’s talk about blood.

Specifically, let’s talk about menstruation.

Halfway through the first act of The Poppy War, there’s a scene where the protagonist–Rin–gets her period for the first time. The cramps are awful. She’s living in a secondary world that mirrors Song Dynasty China, so she doesn’t have access to anything so convenient as tampons or diva cups. And she has some brutal martial arts exams coming up that she needs to pass if she wants to stay at the academy, so she really doesn’t have time for this shit.

Rin’s reaction, if you’ve met her, is predictably wild.

Here’s an excerpt:

Rin reached the infirmary in a sweaty, bloody mess, halfway to a nervous breakdown. The physician on call took one look at her and called his female assistant over. “One of those situations,” he said.

“Of course.” The assistant looked like she was trying hard not to laugh. Rin did not see anything remotely funny about the situation.

The assistant took Rin behind a curtain, handed her a change of clothes and a towel, and then sat her down with a detailed diagram of the female body.

It was a testament, perhaps, to the lack of sexual education in Tikany that Rin didn’t learn about menstruation until that morning. Over the next fifteen minutes, the physician’s assistant explained in detail the changes going on in Rin’s body, pointing to various places on the diagram and making some very vivid gestures with her hands.

“So you’re not dying, sweetheart, your body is just shedding your uterine lining.”

Rin’s jaw had been hanging open for a solid minute. “What the fuck?”

I’ve always been a bit frustrated about how my favorite fantasy novels, most of them written by men, tended to hand-wave away the idea that a lot of the characters had uteruses, and that a lot of them were probably going through a monthly ritual of cramps, pain, and waves of blood. How the fork did they deal? Did they wear girdles? Did they stick some wadded-up leaves in there? You can’t exactly take period time off when you’re travelling the dirt road with your mercenary party, so do you just shut up and deal?

And what about fighting battles on your period? Period fatigue is a thing; every twenty-eight days, I’m barely able to crawl out of my bed. But the Lord of the Underworld doesn’t care about my  menstruation cycle. What’s a girl to do?

Here’s what Rin decides to do:

“There’s no way to just stop it forever?”

“Not unless you cut out your womb,” Kureel scoffed, then paused at the look on Rin’s face. “I was kidding. That’s not actually possible.”

“It’s possible.” Arda, who was a Medicine apprentice, interrupted them quietly. “There’s a procedure they offer at the infirmary. At your age, it wouldn’t even require open surgery. They’ll give you a concoction. It’ll stop the process pretty much indefinitely.”

“Seriously?” Hope flared in Rin’s chest. She looked between the two apprentices. “Well, what’s stopping you from taking it?”

They both looked at her incredulously.

“It destroys your womb,” Arda said finally. “Basically kills one of your inner organs. You won’t be able to have children after.”

“And it hurts like a bitch,” Kureel said. “It’s not worth it.” But I don’t want children, Rin thought. I want to stay here.
If that procedure could stop her menstruating, if it could help her remain at Sinegard, it was worth it.

Hysterectomies are at tricky subject in popular culture. Often they reduce characters to their abilities to produce children. (“Oh, my god! I can’t have kids! My life is over.) And yes–for some people, infertility is devastating. For others, getting rid of your uterus can also be empowering. It’s a personal choice. Granted, it’s an extreme choice, but Rin is nothing if not extreme.

So there’s my favorite bit. I became a fantasy author solely to gripe about how much I hate getting my period, and how much I don’t want kids. Raise your diva cups and have a drink.

LINKS:

The Poppy War Universal Book Link

Goodreads

Website

Twitter

BIO:

Rebecca F. Kuang studies modern Chinese history at Georgetown University, and will be pursuing her graduate studies at the University of Cambridge as a Marshall Scholar. She graduated from the Odyssey Writing Workshop in 2016 and the CSSF Novel Writers Workshop in 2017. She tweets at @kuangrf and blogs at www.rfkuang.com.

My Favorite Bit: Stephanie Burgis and Tiffany Trent talk about THE UNDERWATER BALLROOM SOCIETY

My Favorite BitStephanie Burgis and Tiffany Trent are joining us today to talk about the anthology they co-edited, The Underwater Ballroom Society. Here is the publisher’s description:

Would you rather dance beneath the waves or hide your smuggled magic there? Welcome to a world of sparkling adult fantasy and science fiction stories edited by Stephanie Burgis and Tiffany Trent and featuring underwater ballrooms of one sort or another, from a 1930s ballroom to a Martian hotel to a grand rock ‘n roll ball held in the heart of Faery itself.

Stories in this anthology:

Ysabeau S. Wilce, “The Queen of Life”
Y.S. Lee, “Twelve Sisters”
Iona Datt Sharma, “Penhallow Amid Passing Things”
Tiffany Trent, “Mermaids, Singing”
Jenny Moss, “A Brand New Thing”
Cassandra Khaw, “Four Revelations from the Rusalka Ball”
Stephanie Burgis, “Spellswept”
Laura Anne Gilman, “The River Always Wins”
Shveta Thakrar, “The Amethyst Deceiver”
Patrick Samphire, “A Spy in the Deep”

What are Stephanie’s and Tiffany’s favorite bits?

The Underwater Ballroom Society cover image

STEPHANIE BURGIS

With stories featuring rock ‘n roll showdowns, underwater heists, mosasaur attacks, kissing stories and kiss-off stories, magical circuses, fairy tales, and more, I find it unbearably difficult to choose any favorite part of this anthology – so I’m going to cheat by talking about the joy of creating the anthology itself.

As a pro writer, there’s a real imperative to focus only on our “sensible” projects, the ones that will move our careers forward and can be contracted for a smart price. But very few of us started writing for those reasons. I’m pretty sure that most of us started just for fun – for the intense creative delight and freedom of escaping into different worlds and characters through our words. Unfortunately, when you turn your fun writing hobby into your serious profession (which is, of course, the dream for many of us!), it can be all too easy to lose that joy along the wayside – which isn’t good for our writing or our lives.

So in the last few years, I’ve made a new rule for myself: every single year, I have to take on at least one passion project, something that I do just for the joy of it, purely to stretch myself in new and different ways and feel like writing is a game again. And what could possibly be more fun than playing a writing game with friends?

I’d never co-edited an anthology before. So it was genuinely shocking to realize how magical that could feel – to say to some of your favorite writers in the world, “Wouldn’t it be fun to write stories with underwater ballrooms?” and then actually WATCH THEM DO IT. Talk about the most amazing gift!

Writing my own novella for the anthology was simply fun, but getting all those fabulous new stories in my email inbox felt like a true miracle. Every single time a new story was sent to me, I would open it up, start reading and just be amazed all over again that this was really happening.

Every story in this anthology brought me joy. I hope they’ll bring our readers joy as well. We all need more fun in our lives, after all. And what better place for that to happen than an underwater ballroom?

I hope you’ll join our Underwater Ballroom Society! We’d love to see you there.

****

TIFFANY TRENT

I echo Steph here. I honestly tried to choose a favorite bit and couldn’t in all good conscience just choose any one particular story, because every story offers up some sparkling magic worthy of praise. When the idea for the anthology came up, I tried (not very hard) to tell myself I really didn’t have time for this right now. I had a novel to finish. But when so many fabulous authors (and there really were more than we could take on) jumped in our swimming pool (or our ballroom, if you will), I couldn’t resist saying yes.

I’m so glad I did. These days, fun really seems to come at a premium. But what’s struck me most about this anthology with its heists, punk memories, rock n’ roll balls, and romantic encounters beneath the ballroom dome is how much joy it’s given those who have read it. More than ever, I think people are longing for stories that transport them, and every single one of these stories does that. I am so grateful to our authors who not only said yes with us, but also turned things around when we needed them, worked with us through the copy-editing stage, and have supported the anthology every step of the way.

But truly if I had to choose my most favorite bit of all of this, it’s been working in this capacity with Steph. The process was so smooth and enjoyable that it sometimes barely felt like work. Steph always knows how to hit the right note with her feedback, is always punctual and professional, and is just an absolute joy to work with. I hope at some future time we can do it again, but even if we can’t, I’ll always take joy and pride in the fact that we managed this project together and opened the doors of the underwater ballroom to the adventures within.

LINKS:

The Underwater Ballroom Society Universal Book Link

Tiffany Trent:

Website

Twitter

Facebook

Stephanie Burgis:

Website

Twitter

Instagram

BIOS:
Tiffany Trent is the author of eight science fiction and fantasy novels for young adults, including the dark historical Hallowmere series and the steampunk Unnaturalists duology. The Unnaturalists was named a Green Earth Book Award Honor in 2012. She’s also published many short stories in various venues, including Clockwork Cairo, Corsets & Clockwork, Wilful Impropriety, and Subterranean magazine. The Underwater Ballroom Society is her second co-editing adventure. When not writing, she’s out playing with her children (known on the Internet as Doomlet and Jupiter), keeping bees, or rummaging in her garden. Visit her at www.tiffanytrent.com, on Twitter @tiffanytrent, or Facebook at /tiffanytrentbooks.

Stephanie Burgis grew up in East Lansing, Michigan but now lives in Wales, surrounded by castles and coffee shops. She is the author of several MG fantasy novels, including The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart (Bloomsbury 2017), which won the Cybils Award for Best Elementary Speculative Fiction novel of 2017, and the Kat, Incorrigible trilogy. She is also the author of various romantic historical fantasies for adults, most recently Snowspelled (Volume I of The Harwood Spellbook), and has published nearly 40 short stories in various magazines and anthologies. To find out more and read excerpts from all of her novels and novellas, visit her website – www.stephanieburgis.com – or find her on Twitter @stephanieburgis. You can also find more cat photos than you ever thought you needed on her Instagram account, @stephanieburgisinwales!

My Favorite Bit: Emily Devenport talks about MEDUSA UPLOADED

My Favorite BitEmily Devenport is joining us today with her novel Medusa Uploaded. Here’s a publisher’s description:

Medusa Uploaded by Emily Devenport offers readers a fast-paced science fiction thriller on the limits of power and control, and the knife-edge between killing for revenge or a greater good.

My name is Oichi Angelis, and I am a worm.

They see me every day. They consider me harmless. And that’s the trick, isn’t it?

A generation starship can hide many secrets. When an Executive clan suspects Oichi of insurgency and discreetly shoves her out an airlock, one of those secrets finds and rescues her.

Officially dead, Oichi begins to rebalance power one assassination at a time and uncovers the shocking truth behind the generation starship and the Executive clans.

What’s Emily’s favorite bit?

Medusa Uploaded cover image

EMILY DEVENPORT

I’d like to tell you that my favorite bit of Medusa Uploaded was the science.  A generation ship called Olympia!  A colossal habitat that spins to simulate gravity, with an airy sector inside for growing crops!  Shazam!

And now that you mention it, that’s pretty cool.  Imagining that gigantic inner space, with a horizon that curves up instead of down, is the sort of thing that used to inspire a sense of wonder in me when I was a kid.  It reminds me of that scene in Forbidden Planet, when you get the first glimpse of the vast, underground city of the Krell, still working after untold millennia.

A grand canvas like Olympia inspires Default Majesty Music.  For me, that’s “Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age” by Gustav Holst, a piece played by full orchestra, with a relentless tempo that suggests the marching of a grim procession.  That music evokes the passage of Olympia through the vast gulf between the stars.

I love that stuff, but it’s people that make a story.  To be more specific, it’s people’s talents, and flaws, and grand schemes, and what goes wrong.  And in a lot of my favorite novels (by other writers), it’s murder.  The powerful ruling class on Olympia are fond of using airlocks to solve conflicts with uncooperative underlings.  They believe that keeps everyone in line.

But the people of Olympia are not what they seem.  Especially Oichi Angelis.  She was trained by her parents to be an insurgent against the brutal class society that dictates every step she takes, what she see and hears, even what voice she uses to speak.  And in Lucifer Tower, an unpressurized research center on the leading edge of Olympia, Medusa, a powerful AI born of ancient, alien technology, waits to wake her sisters and join the insurgents.  The intersection of Medusa and Oichi is my version of the Dream Team.  Together, they are deadly.  And that’s pretty damn cool.

But that’s not my favorite bit either.  As much as I love to see my own grand schemes come to life in a story, it’s the unexpected things that I love best, the characters who show up unannounced.  In Medusa Uploaded, those unplanned characters are the Minis.  Because as fast, and clever, and deadly as Medusa and Oichi are, they can’t control everything that happens on Olympia.  And even they have a soft spot for children.  Give those talented children the right tools, instruct them to build their own version of the Medusa units, and what do they come up with?  Dragonette, Kitten, Teddy and Rocket.  AI creatures made out of biometal, by children who may have gotten the wrong idea about what those units are for.

Or maybe it was the right idea.  The Minis are smart, brave, and able to navigate the inner and outer landscape of Olympia with ease.  They can climb the rafters in the House of Clans and spy on leaders without being noticed.  And they can sing show tunes.  Sometimes they come off like the children who made them; sometimes they’re as clever as elves.  Sometimes they sound like your wise-ass grandma.

The Minis are my favorite bit.  They’re not the only monkey wrench thrown into the plans of the good guys and the bad guys, but they’re definitely the most fun complication that arises.  They’re so much fun, they made it into the sequel.

Despite my intentions, the science, the murder, the Dream Team, and the Default Majesty Music all conspired to create the Minis.  I can’t argue with their logic.  I can only wait to see what they’ll come up with next.

LINKS:

Medusa Uploaded Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

Facebook

BIO:

Nine of my novels were published in the U.S. under three pen names. I’ve also been published in the U.K., Italy, and Israel. I have two new novels forthcoming from Tor: Medusa Uploaded (May 1, 2018) and an untitled sequel.

My short stories were published in ASIMOV’S SF MAGAZINE, the Full Spectrum anthology, The Mammoth Book of Kaiju, UNCANNY, CICADA , SCIENCE FICTION WORLD, ALFRED HITCHCOCK MYSTERY MAGAZINE, CLARKESWORLD, and ABORIGINAL SF, whose readers voted me a Boomerang Award. I’m married to artist/writer Ernest Hogan.

I’m a buyer for the Heard Museum book store in Phoenix. I’m studying geology, and I volunteer at the Desert Botanical Garden.

My Favorite Bit: George Beahm talks about THE MILITARY SCIENCE OF STAR WARS

My Favorite BitGeorge Beahm is joining us today to talk about his book The Military Science of Star Wars. Here is the publisher’s description:

George Beahm, a former U.S. Army major, draws on his experience to discuss the military science of the sprawling Star Wars universe: its personnel, weapons, technology, tactics and strategy, including an analysis of its key battles to explain how the outmanned and outgunned rebels ultimately prevailed against overwhelming forces.

Contrasting the military doctrine of the real world with the fictional world of Star Wars, the author constructively criticizes the military strengths and weaknesses of Darth Vader’s Galactic Empire and Kylo Ren’s First Order…

From Star Wars: A New Hope (1977) to Rogue One (2016), this timely book demystifies the operational arts in an accessible and entertaining way for military personnel and civilians.

Replete with a glossary of military terms, this book is supplemented with an annotated bibliography.

What’s George’s favorite bit?

The Military Science of Star Wars cover

GEORGE BEAHM

Forty-one years ago, Star Wars (its original title) hit movie screens nationwide. Its creator, George Lucas, had hoped his little movie would do well, but he wasn’t convinced himself, because it was a science fiction movie, and those kinds of movies made a big splash and then disappeared.

“I don’t want to count my chickens before they’re hatched….I expect it to all fall apart next week,” said Lucas (The Making of Star Wars: The Definitive Story Behind the Original Film).

As we all know, Lucas’s pessimistic viewpoint was proven wrong: his space fantasy was the proverbial goose that laid the golden egg–many of them, in fact–and Lucas, Hollywood, and the film industry would never again be the same.

***

That was forty-one years ago.

Lucas has moved on to enjoy retirement, and Disney now helms the Star Wars franchise because its appeal has not diminished over the years: the Force is strong with the franchise.

During all that time, though, I wondered why no one had attempted to discuss at book length Star Wars in terms of its military underpinnings. After all, discussions about the military science of Star Wars could easily be found online, so why this glaring omission? And what could I do about it?

In The Military Science of Star Wars, I wanted to make the world of the military accessible to the lay reader, as opposed to appealing to readers of war porn: hardcore male readers who typically read Tom Clancy novels festooned with confusing military terminology, mind-numbing acronyms, and military culture as seen from an insider’s perspective.[1] A private brotherhood, so to speak, in which only those who know the secret handshake can join.

As a former army officer, I’ve always enjoy dissecting the conduct of military operations, to the point where, when my wife and I are watching the news, and there’s a U.S. military strike in (usually) the Middle East, I explain it in layman’s terms, though I’m sure she’d just as soon I keep my mouth shut: it ain’t her cup of tea.

When I thought about writing my book, I wanted to give readers a broad picture of military culture as framed by the Star Wars universe. I also wanted to discuss the tactics, strategies, and successes (or failures) of specific battles, because that’s what war always comes down to: who wins—and who loses.

The Star Wars universe, it seemed to me, was a perfect subject in which to explore military science because millions of people worldwide have seen its movies, and some of them have read the novelizations and other official books. So when I talk about the “Battle of Hoth” from The Empire Strikes Back (1980), it rings a bell because people remember the large AT-ATs plodding their way across the winter landscape of the planet Hoth, as the Galactic Empire attacks the dug-in rebel forces.

For those of us who have served in the military, especially in the combat arms—my own branch was field artillery—such discussions are made all the more fun because the movies bring them alive, in a way that a dry recitation of history from textbooks cannot. Thus, Star Wars allows us to easily visualize the battles for dissection, allowing us to pose questions like: If you were the general in charge of the rebel force, or the ground force that attacked the rebels, how would you have conducted the mission?

If you think such exercises are merely diversions, think again: the U.S. military employs such battlefield analyses as a matter of course, in the classroom and in the field: It’s exactly the kind of intellectual exercise that can be found in one of the classes I took as a senior lieutenant in my Tactics and Combined Arms class, at the U.S. Army’s Field Artillery Advance Course, in Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

One exercise postulated that the student was in command of an artillery firing battery in direct support of an infantry unit taking heavy fire and suffering casualties. They’re requesting more fire support, but your own unit is taking counterbattery fire: incoming artillery rounds from the enemy.

Your dilemma: Do you stay in place to support the infantry, knowing full well you may take casualties that will soon render your unit combat ineffective? Or do you displace to an alternate position, set up, and resume firing? You, as the commander, must make that call—and do so immediately. “Captain, what are your orders?” your men ask.

Lives—theirs, yours, and those of the frantic infantrymen requesting immediate fire—hang in the balance. Again: “Captain, what are your orders?” There’s a reason the U.S. Army chooses its commanders at every echelon with great care: it’s the most difficult, challenging, and riskiest job in the world.

If that scenario sounds familiar, it’s because that’s the premise of a well-known Star Trek engagement depicted in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, a Starfleet training exercise for cadets called “The Kobayashi Maru,” in which a no-win scenario is played out: you, as a starship’s captain in Starfleet, respond to a distress call from a freighter named Kobayashi Maru, for which there are no viable military options. The point of the exercise is to put a cadet in a pressure situation, a simulation that one that may in fact play out later in real life, to test his or her mettle.

That is why the U.S. Army’s training doctrine is simply stated: “train as you fight, fight as you train.” The bottom line: realistic training will save lives when the bullets start to fly.

My point, of course, is that the military is a crucible unlike any other: you, as a commander, are tasked to make life or death decisions. It’s why your senior officers chose you over others to do the job—because they believe in you to accomplish the mission while taking care of your men . . . and bringing as many as you can back home alive.

It’s all about training in peace to prepare for war, and that’s why postulating fictional scenarios in Star Wars is no mere mental exercise but, in fact, is serious business—the timeless business of war.

[1] Though Tom Clancy died in 2013, books bearing his name are still being published because he’s a brand name. This explains why his name is writ large on the cover of his thick novels, and name of the actual writer is in smaller text size. In essence, other writers are coming up with tales inspired by the Clancy universe.

LINKS:

The Military Science of Star Wars Universal Book Link

Website

BIO:

George Beahm is a former U.S. Army major in the field artillery. He served on active duty, in the National Guard, and in the Army Reserve. He has commanded both line and support units, and at battalion level as a staff officer. His last assignment, in a Lieutenant Colonel’s slot, was to serve as a Ground Liaison Officer to an active duty F-16 Fighter Wing. He is an inductee in the Order of Saint Barbara, a military honor society; Saint Barbara is the patron saint of field artillerymen.

Where to find Mary in May

Apple treeHappy May! Happy bloomings and growing and hopefully some warmth!

Here’s where to find Mary this May:

May 4-6

Guest of Honor at Penguicon – Southfield, Michigan

May 8

Online Patreon Writing Date

May 17-20

SFWA Nebula Conference – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

May 21

Online Drip Class – Worldbuilding Methods

May 23

Bookstore Erotica Reading – Chicago, Illinois

May 27

Online Patreon Class

 

Or find her online here

Patreon • Drip • Twitter • Facebook • Instagram

Where to Find Mary at Penguicon

Mary will be a Guest of Honor at Penguicon this weekend, from May 4-6, at the Westing in Southfield, Michigan. Tickets are available at the door, information here.

Here’s where to find her!

Friday, May 4th

Opening Ceremonies
6:00-6:50pm
Algonquin C/D

Join our con chair, Cassy Sinke, the Con Committee, and our Guests of Honor as we open this bad boy up for the weekend. You never know what surprises might be in store!

Setting as Character
7:00-7:50pm
EMC IV

Character In Science Fiction and Fantasy settings can literally come alive–be it via the talking flowers of Through The Looking Glass or the rage of Peter Quill’s creepy dad-planet in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2. In Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch universe where ships have minds, main characters can be both people and places at the same time. Are living settings a science fiction/fantasy extension of the classic “Hero Vs. Nature” story? How do they exist in conversation with real-world beliefs about whether the world around us has a will of its own?

 

Saturday, May 5th

Writing Excuses Podcast Panel
1:00-1:50pm
Charlevoix B

The team that is Writing Excuses talks about their podcast and, if we’re very lucky, they might even record one! Come hang out with them, be entertained, and talk podcasts, writing, and how the two work together.

Practical Regency
3:00-3:50pm
Charlevoix A

Historical accuracy isn’t just the stuff of academics. It can open up whole new plot complications and what author doesn’t enjoy those? Come and handle Regency underwear, learn how to use a quill, and why your nobleman should never, ever buy a bottle of wine.

Cosplay Contest
4:00-4:50pm
Algonquin C/D

Penguicon always has a wide variety of really incredible cosplayers. Join us in appreciating the talent that goes into each of the creations that our cosplayers bring to the table…. or the stage.

Writing Productivity
6:00-6:50pm
Algonquin B

Some writers crank out ten books a year. Others of us struggle for one every two years. How do high-productivity writers get the words out? What techniques do they use?

 

Sunday, May 6th

Puppetry 101
10:00-10:50am
Charlevoix A

Nonverbal cues are a major part of communication. In the world of puppetry, you have to convey these cues and bring to life inanimate objects that not carry emotion but deliver a captivating story. Join professional puppeteer, Mary Robinette Kowal, as she teaches the fundamental techniques of the art of puppetry through lecture and play time.

Sometimes Writer’s Block is Really Depression
11:00-11:50pm
Algonquin A

Sometimes these two things are closely intertwined. Being able to identify why you have trouble writing can often help you find strategies to start writing again and to know when to ask for help.

Writing Excuses Reading
12:00-12:50pm
EMC III

The team that is the Writing Excuses Podcast will read from various books and pieces they’ve written, as only an author can.

Closing Ceremonies
3:00-3:50pm
Algonquin C/D

As we officially shut down another amazing, exciting year for Penguicon, come hear about how it went, and what we’ve got our eye on for next year.

Signal Boost: WICOMICON April 28 in Baltimore

WIComicon guests

WICOMICON 2018, a one-day pop-up arts and comics convention is coming to Baltimore this Saturday, April 28.This brand new festival, housed at the historic building at 1100 Wicomico Street, will feature an all-star roster of guests from the worlds of television, comic books, and entertainment!

Just days after the announcement of WICOMICON 2018, Black Heroes Matter, The Nerds of Color, Carbon-Fibre Media, New Release Wednesday, theblerdgurl, and the Be A Boss App are pleased to announce the following guests:

CHEO HODARI COKER, creator and showrunner of Netflix’s Luke CageAPRIL REIGN, creator of #OscarsSoWhite and founder of AKUAREL; GREG PAK, writer of Mech Cadet Yu (BOOM!) and Totally Awesome Hulk (Marvel); LEAH WILLIAMS, author of The Alchemy of Being Fourteen and writer of X-Men: Gold (Marvel)BRYAN TILLMAN, artist of Creative Character Design; JADE TAILOR, RIZWAN MANJISERGIO OSUNA, and HANNAH LEVIEN from SYFY’s THE MAGICIANS; and TAMSEN MCDONOUGH and SEAN BAEK from SYFY’s KILLJOYS.

Come meet your favorite celebrity guests for signings, panels, and photo opportunities on Saturday, April 28, beginning at 10:00 am. Visit WICOMICON’s exhibit hall to peruse artwork and merchandise from over 50 vendors; experience cosplay conteststabletop gamingmusic performanceskid’s entertainmentprizes, and more! See the constantly updated list of exhibitors online at hardnocmedia.com/exhibitors.

Visit wicomicon.com for more information, or contact Keith Chow at keith@hardnocmedia.com  for press inquiries.

 

ABOUT WICOMICON

Featuring some of the most acclaimed names in the comic book, arts, and entertainment industries, WICOMICON 2018 will open its doors starting at 10:00 am on Saturday, April 28 and run until 7:00 pm. In addition to dozens of exhibitors, this unique pop-up convention will also feature panels, cosplay contests, special guests, and a wide variety of food options. Admission at the door will be only $10 for everyone ($5 for FanCon ticket holders) and free for children under 12 years old.

Find out more at wicomicon.com. Follow on Twitter (@WICOMICON2018 ), Instagram (@wicomicon_ig), and RSVP on Facebook.

Coming to WICOMICON? Click here and let us know!

My Favorite Bit: William C. Tracy talks about THE SOCIETY OF TWO HOUSES and JOURNEY TO THE TOP OF THE NETHER

My Favorite BitWilliam C. Tracy is joining us today to talk about his two novellas currently in KickstarterThe Society of Two Houses and Journey to the Top of the Nether. As of April 24, the Kickstarter is 107% funded, and going toward stretch goals! Here is the description of each:

The Society of Two Houses:

Mandamon Feldo is scheduled to meet with a high-profile diplomat to present his newest invention, but he finds the diplomat dead in a pool of blood on the floor of his office. Even worse, the diplomat, until recently, was holding a list of all the members of The Society of Two Houses—a secret organization existing inside the maji, and one to which Mandamon belongs.

If the list gets out, the Society—which brings innovation and new technology to the Nether—may crumble under the weight of the secrets it holds. Often, the ends are seen to justify the means when developing new ideas, and the Society has done its share of cleaning up ‘accidents.’ Before the murderer can release the information, Mandamon must figure out who would kill the diplomat and betray The Society of Two Houses.

Journey to the Top of the Nether:

Natina grew up studying the artifacts found by her mother, the famous explorer Morvu Francita Januti. Now, her mother has discovered an ancient machine able to drill into the impenetrable mineral of the Nether, and is leading an expedition to climb its incredibly high walls for the very first time. She wants Natina to be part of the expedition, but Natina is more comfortable helping her parents research at home—if only her mother were home more often.

The Nether’s walls are smooth like crystal, any fall will mean certain death, and no one knows what, or who, may lurk above the clouds. There are even rumors of another team of explorers following them, trying to steal their glory. It could be the chance of a lifetime for Natina, and a good way to learn how her mother became the most famous explorer of the ten species—if they survive.

What’s William’s favorite bit?

The Society of Two Houses cover image

WILLIAM C. TRACY

Before I get to my actual favorite bit, here is my next favorite: this is my second Kickstarter, and this time I’m putting out two novellas, instead of one novel. The first novella is a mystery, and the other is a mid-grade adventure. I’m hoping the diverse genres will attract more readers, including parents who want to share a book series with their children.

I’ve always loved the steampunk genre, as well as books from when science fiction and fantasy were just beginning to take off.  With these two novellas, I decided to incorporate the adventure stories from the Victorian era into my Dissolutionverse. Thus, The Society of Two Houses emulates a Sherlock Holmes story, and Journey to the Top of the Nether hearkens back to the adventure and discovery one sees in a Jules Verne novel. The mix of these two things—steampunk and old adventure stories—led to my favorite bit about both these books: the mechanical companions.

The Society of Two Houses is partially concerned with the main character’s new inventions, called System Beasts. They are magically assisted automatons, created to be nearly self-aware, or at least with animal intelligence. They exist in my novel too—set about fifty years later—but as mechanical beasts. One of the little side mysteries is why this happens. It’s not a big part of the plot, but something I really enjoy because it ties into the Dissolutionverse as a whole.

In Journey to the Top of the Nether, I get to turn one of my worldbuilding cornerstones on its head. The unbreakable crystal that makes up the surroundings of the Nether (a planet-sized box that serves as the nexus for ten alien species) has kept anyone from climbing all the way to the ceiling. It’s sort of a “here there be dragons” place, because no one knows what’s up that far. Enter the Crystal Beetle Drill, as Natina has dubbed it. This is a relic of long past, not quite a System Beast, but a very old machine able to drill into the crystal of the Nether. It allows the party to begin their climb.

Here are both mechanical companions in action:

The Society of Two Houses:

Kratitha held the lenses in front of her multifaceted eyes once more, then gave them absently to the Festuour before peering into the interior of our one life-size prototype System Beast, created in the shape of a proud Kirian Ethulina pullbeast. The mane of crested feathers were slivers of crystal that reflected light, and the claw-hooves were of solid steel, etched with filigree. Kratitha and Gompt had spent a good ten-day attaching and painting wooden representations of the scales along its body, covering the places where we had installed service hatches—one of which the Pixie had open now.

The creature was starting to look as impressive as we first imagined, and its mannerisms were almost entirely lifelike, with the latest adjustments to the gearing ratios. The model I was to show the Speaker was a toy compared with our masterpiece.

Journey to the Top of the Nether:

“I still like ‘crystal beetle thing’ better,” I muttered and crossed my arms. It does look like a beetle, all hunched over like that. Especially with the black shell and those jointed legs. It even has crystal mandibles. I took in the two shimmering spikes that stuck out of the ‘head’ attached to the metal shell. They look like melted glass. The device was pretty amazing, even if I thought the plan to kill ourselves climbing a sheer, slippery, indestructible wall was kind of terrible.

“Come on,” my mother said again. “We can debate all you want on the balloon ride, while you still have the energy to do it.”

And sometime later, when they have to depend on the Beetle to keep them from falling…

The beetle shifted, tipping out from the wall. I yelled, and Wailimani yelled with me. We’re going to fall!

But then she pulled herself back straight, putting her jointed legs in different holes. She reached out to drill the next set of holes, and her legs creaked forward, pulling us along, each step tipping us out over nothingness until the jointed leg found a hole and gripped it. We hung there while she began to drill, and walk, drill and walk.

Like last time, the Kickstarter is meant to bring in more art to make the experience better for readers. I love finding illustrations in the novels I read, and I like to do the same with my books. I’m really excited to show off both the System Beast and the Beetle. This time, I am working with three different artists, and I hope to have full-page interior illustrations in the mystery, and small section header illustrations in the mid-grade novella.

So if you like steampunk, or mystery, or adventure, or just want to get a book for you along with one for your kids, check out the Kickstarter for Mystery, Magic, and Adventure: Two Dissolutionverse Novellas. There are a lot of great backer rewards, and an extra short story. There are also chances to buy original artwork or even become a part of the story! See you around the Dissolutionverse!

LINKS:

Kickstarter

Website

Facebook

Twitter

Goodreads

BIO:

William C. Tracy is a North Carolina native and a lifelong fan of science fiction and fantasy. He has two novellas and one novel in his Dissolutionverse: Tuning the Symphony, Merchants and Maji, and the newest addition, The Seeds of Dissolution.

He also has a master’s in mechanical engineering, and has both designed and operated heavy construction machinery. He has trained in Wado-Ryu karate since 2003, and runs his own dojo. He is an avid video and board gamer, a reader, and of course, a writer. He and his wife also cosplay, and he has appeared as Tenzin, Jafar, and in several steampunk outfits. They both enjoy putting their three cats in cute little costumes and making them cosplay for the annual Christmas card.

My Favorite Bit: Patrice Sarath talks about THE SISTERS MEDEROS

My Favorite BitPatrice Sarath is joining us today with her novel The Sisters Mederos. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Two sisters fight with manners, magic, and mayhem to reclaim their family’s name, in this captivating historical fantasy adventure.

House Mederos was once the wealthiest merchant family in Port Saint Frey. Now the family is disgraced, impoverished, and humbled by the powerful Merchants Guild. Daughters Yvienne and Tesara Mederos are determined to uncover who was behind their family’s downfall and get revenge. But Tesara has a secret – could it have been her wild magic that caused the storm that destroyed the family’s merchant fleet? The sisters’ schemes quickly get out of hand – gambling is one thing, but robbing people is another…

Together the sisters must trust each another to keep their secrets and save their family.

What’s Patrice’s favorite bit?

The Sister Mederos cover image

PATRICE SARATH

At its heart, The Sisters Mederos is about family relationships and about the roles that everyone in a family gets assigned, whether they want to or not. My favorite parts are those scenes where the family interacts, each according to their own interests. Many of these scenes take place during mealtimes. I loved writing the repartee, including (and maybe especially) the bickering that even the happiest families fall into.

Here is a snippet of one of these breakfast table scenes:

“Well?” Alinesse, Brevart, and Samwell demanded. Yvienne took a breath. The moment of truth had come.

“[The letter’s] from Mastrini’s. I didn’t tell you in case nothing came of it, but I gave them my vitae to see if they could find a governess position for me.”

“WHAT?!” It seemed her family was to be surprised by everything that morning. She waited for them to calm down. She could hardly shout over their demands for an explanation.

“It makes the most sense, you all know that. I am well able to teach, especially older girls. It would be foolish for my education to go unused.”

Especially the actual education, the one before she wasted six years at Madam Callier’s.

“Yvienne, my dear — you can’t be serious,” Brevart said. Her father set down the paper and peered at her, his spectacles perched on the top of his head as usual. His eyes were unblinking and wet. She felt a pang. Where was the long-range thinking merchant of her youth? Her father had grown old.

“I am serious, Father. It’s the best way to help the family. I can earn a wage and add it to our small annuity. It’s not much, but we can begin to get ahead at last.”

Such a poor ambition. And her plan to trade information with Treacher had turned to cold ashes. But that doesn’t matter, she thought. Because a governess is in a position to hear things and see things, and she fully intended to take advantage of her new position.

Uncle Samwell grunted. “Not sure that I approve. Governesses have a reputation.”

“Nonsense. No one would treat Yvienne that way,” Brevart said. Samwell just raised his eyebrows at his brother-in-law’s naiveté and went back to his coffee.

“Which House is it?” Mother asked.

“It’s the TreMondis. They have two daughters, ages twelve and eight, and a son, age six.” Butterflies fluttered in her stomach. Even as a cover, she would have to take care to do a respectable job as a governess.

“The TreMondis,” Alinesse said. She tsked. “Small, but I suppose it could be worse.” Yvienne hid her exasperation. So like Alinesse, first to take umbrage at Yvienne’s position, and then look down her nose at the House that hired her. She glanced at Brevart.

He grunted. “Not very steady, is he? Married that foreign woman? A bit more money than business sense; not sure what they’re doing with expeditions East across the Chahoki wastelands.”

“Word at AEther’s is they did quite well with the last one,” Samwell pointed out, grabbing the last biscuit and slathering on butter. “Maybe this is a good thing. The girl can get us in on the next venture. Do your best, Vivi. Talk business with Alve TreMondi. Impress him. Men like a smart girl.”

“The sea I understand,” Brevart objected. “The desert — no. Chahoki horse soldiers, for one thing. Bandits, for another. Don’t listen to him, Yvienne. Your Uncle’s head is full of dreams.”

Samwell rolled his eyes and Yvienne gave him a rueful look. Too bad her parents never listened to Uncle. He was impulsive, a liar, and completely full of himself, but he thought like a merchant. They underestimated him, just the way they did Tesara. She glanced over at her sister, who had opened her letter and was reading it with a curious expression. Interesting, she thought. What was Tesara up to? With no expression, Tesara laid the letter down next to her plate, as if to draw no attention to it.

“What’s that there?” Uncle Samwell demanded, loud and intrusively. “What do you have, Monkey?”

Alinesse and Brevart turned their attention to their second daughter. With all eyes on her, Tesara said,  “It’s quite amusing, actually. It’s an invitation to a salon, for Saint Gerare’s Day. From the Idercis.”

This time the parents and Samwell were struck dumb with astonishment. Alinesse leaned over and snatched the letter from her daughter.

“Let me see that.” She scanned the letter, a wrinkle appearing between her eyebrows. “What on earth? Why on earth? The Idercis! You don’t even know the Idercis! We don’t even know the Idercis! This must be some kind of joke.”

“Maybe it’s an olive branch,” Tesara suggested. “I can’t remember if Mrs Iderci gave me the cut direct on the Mile, but if she did, perhaps she’s feeling bad about it.”

“Well, you can’t go. That’s final. That’s absurd. They must have you mistaken for someone else. You aren’t even out, not that that is a possibility right now, but…”

“Mama,” Tesara interrupted. “It’s all right. I don’t intend to go.”

Alinesse settled her ruffled feathers. “Of course you won’t.”

Uncle reached for the invitation, snapping his thick fingers. “Well, if she won’t have it, I’ll take it, Alinesse. I keep telling you two, business isn’t anything except relationships. And the Idercis’ salon will be full of beautiful, profitable relationships. Hiding in here won’t get you back in the game.”

LINKS:

The Sister Mederos Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

Facebook

BIO:

Patrice Sarath is an author and editor living in Austin, Texas. Her novels include the fantasy books The Sisters Mederos (Book I of the Tales of Port Saint Frey), the Books of the Gordath (Gordath Wood, Red Gold Bridge, and The Crow God’s Girl) and the romance The Unexpected Miss Bennet. Her short stories have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Weird Tales, Black Gate, Realms of Fantasy, and many other magazines and anthologies.

My Favorite Bit: Jerry Gordon talks about BREAKING THE WORLD

Favorite Bit iconJerry Gordon is joining us today to talk about his novel Breaking the World. Here’s the publisher’s description:

In 1993, David Koresh predicted the end of the world.

What if he was right?

Cyrus doesn’t believe in David’s predictions, and he’s not interested in being part of a cult. But after the sudden death of his brother, his parents split up and his mom drags him to Waco, Texas against his will. At least he’s not alone. His friends, Marshal and Rachel, have equally sad stories that end with them being dumped at the Branch Davidian Church.

Together, they’re the trinity of nonbelievers, atheist teens caught between a soon to be infamous cult leader, an erratic FBI, and an epidemic that may confirm the worst of the church’s apocalyptic prophecies. With tanks surrounding the Branch Davidians and tear gas in the air, Cyrus and his friends know one thing for certain: They can’t count on the adults to save them.

In his debut novel, Jerry Gordon takes readers deep inside the longest standoff in law enforcement history for an apocalyptic thriller that challenges the news media’s reporting of the event, the wisdom of militarizing domestic law enforcement, and the blurry line between religion and cult.

What’s Jerry’s favorite bit?

Breaking the World cover image

JERRY GORDON

I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder when it comes to how women are portrayed in genre fiction. My parents divorced young. So I didn’t get a lot of time around my dad. The women in my family raised me, and it definitely affected my relationship with books.

Early on, I noticed a distinct lack of strong women in the stories I read. The few I did find were always supercharged in some way, as if they needed an extra boost to hold their own in the story. I remember wondering why all the women in my books needed superpowers, noble backgrounds, or ancient prophecies to compete.

Admittedly, I didn’t spend my childhood seeking out books written from the perspective of determined young women. I just picked up the science fiction, fantasy, and horror novels that looked cool to me. I didn’t have the self-awareness to recognize that the female characters fell flat because they were poorly written props or trophies, and I certainly didn’t understand the concept of a story trope or a manic pixie dream girl. To me, they just felt like hollow placeholders, pale caricatures of the women in my life.

So when I sat down to write Breaking the World, a dark survival story about three atheist teenagers trapped in an apocalyptic standoff, I knew exactly the type of female I wanted to write.

Rachel isn’t the main character of this story, but she doesn’t know that. She’s a pissed off teenager that’s been dragged halfway around the world by her born-again father. She traded her native Scotland for India and then Jerusalem–all before being forced to live in the armpit of Texas.

One of my favorite bits comes about forty pages into the novel. Trapped in a life threatening situation, the main character, Cyrus, has devised a risky escape plan. He meets Rachel in secret to convince her to join his plot (and maybe reveal his hidden feelings for her).

Much to his surprise, she hasn’t been waiting for him to save her. She’s been putting her own plan in motion, and it’s better than his. By the end of their conversation, she’s not only convinced Cyrus to follow her lead, she’s initiated the relationship he’s too scared to start.

Throughout the novel, Rachel asserts herself in this way, unwilling to accept the idea that she needs to play a secondary role in someone else’s story. When even the adults are tenuous and uncertain, she musters the courage to act. She’s as likely to save her friends as be saved by them, and her relationships and goals are not adjacent to or in service of another character’s development.

Looking back on the novel, I see her imprint on every major character. She not only dictated her independence in the story, she insisted I carve out a similar space for the rest of her found family. She’s not a princess, superhero, or chosen one. She’s a capable young woman trapped in a terrifying situation and wrestling with the first steps of adulthood.

Rachel is brash, awkward, courageous, scared, and in my experience, all too real. I didn’t write her as a role model or to satisfy some empowerment argument. I wrote her as an honest reflection of the women in my life, the ones I know and love that are still too few and far between in genre fiction.

LINKS:

Breaking the World Universal Book Link

Breaking the World Publisher’s Buy Link

Website

Twitter

Facebook

Amazon Author Page

Goodreads Author Page

BIO:

Jerry Gordon is the author of the apocalyptic thriller, Breaking the World. He is also the Bram Stoker and Black Quill Award-nominated co-editor of the Dark Faith, Invocations, and Streets of Shadows anthologies. His short fiction and essays have appeared in numerous venues, including Apex Magazine and Shroud. When he’s not writing and editing, he runs a software company, teaches, and longs for a good night’s sleep.

My Favorite Bit: Bryan Camp talks about THE CITY OF LOST FORTUNES

My Favorite BitBryan Camp is joining us today to talk about his novel The City of Lost Fortunes. Here’s the publisher’s description:

The fate of New Orleans rests in the hands of a wayward grifter in this novel of gods, games, and monsters.

The post–Katrina New Orleans of The City of Lost Fortunes is a place haunted by its history and by the hurricane’s destruction, a place that is hoping to survive the rebuilding of its present long enough to ensure that it has a future. Street magician Jude Dubuisson is likewise burdened by his past and by the consequences of the storm, because he has a secret: the magical ability to find lost things, a gift passed down to him by the father he has never known—a father who just happens to be more than human.

Jude has been lying low since the storm, which caused so many things to be lost that it played havoc with his magic, and he is hiding from his own power, his divine former employer, and a debt owed to the Fortune god of New Orleans. But his six-year retirement ends abruptly when the Fortune god is murdered and Jude is drawn back into the world he tried so desperately to leave behind. A world full of magic, monsters, and miracles. A world where he must find out who is responsible for the Fortune god’s death, uncover the plot that threatens the city’s soul, and discover what his talent for lost things has always been trying to show him: what it means to be his father’s son.

What’s Bryan’s favorite bit?

The City of Lost Fortunes cover image

BRYAN CAMP

There’s a scene toward the end of THE CITY OF LOST FORTUNES, where the main characters need to regroup and figure out their next step, and so they stop in at a greasy spoon style diner named The Camelia Grill for a meal. This place is a New Orleans landmark; sometimes it’s empty except for you and a couple of locals, sometimes there’s a line of tourists stretching out the door and onto the sidewalk outside. There’s not a whole lot of seating, just a line of stools in front of a counter that contorts itself to fill as much of the space as possible, but whether you can walk right in or have to wait, the food is worth the trip: breakfast no matter what time of day or night it is, thick, dark chicory coffee, giant sandwiches, chili cheese fries that contain your caloric intake for the week, “freezes” which are like the Platonic ideal of milkshakes, and slices of pie that the cooks will griddle for you on the flat top right before you eat it.

I’ve, uhh, I’ve been there a time or two.

When my main characters first walk in to the diner, I take about a page to describe the place and the cooks behind the counter and the other patrons. In that description, there’s a throw-away line that most readers will likely skim right past, but which is, in its own small way, my favorite bit of the whole book. It says: “The only other customers were a handful of tourists—who advertised themselves by wearing Mardi Gras beads in the middle of summer—and a younger white couple sharing an order of fries and laughing over whatever they were showing each other on their phones.”

That line is my favorite bit because, quietly, secretly, and without fanfare, I snuck myself and my wife into the magical, deity-filled version of New Orleans in my novel.

My delight is two-fold, the inclusion part and the secret part. In terms of the inclusion, knowing that the world I was writing was the world that I lived in (even if no one else did) made it easier for me to do that writerly thing of stealing those bizarre moments and snippets of conversation and random connections from my own life. After all, if you’ve already shared your favorite diner with a demigod, a psychopomp, and a girl fresh from her own resurrection, why not your favorite bar, or the park, or the grocery store around the corner?

In terms of it being secret, I found a surprising amount of pleasure in this single line. Nothing about that handful of words would identify us, not even to our closest friends or family. It was a connection that existed from draft to draft and revision to revision only in my own mind. In fact, I didn’t even tell my wife that it was us until I was sure that the line or the scene wouldn’t get edited out of the final book (as one of her favorite scenes was, sadly, lost to the Island of Forgotten Pages). I never pointed it out to my agent, never explained to any of the editors why I wanted to keep that scene, that line. It was as though I had buried treasure without making a map or marking the spot with an X. Just left the jewels there, hidden and precious and secret. To keep a little smoldering ember of that secret joy, I vow that this will be the only time I share this little detail about the novel, online or in person or in writing, unless I’m specifically asked about it.

So that’s my favorite bit, a brief and subtle cameo appearance known only to me, and to my wife, and now you, reader of this blog. If you read my novel, I hope you get a little spark of joy when you find yourself in this scene. For just a moment, the three of us will be there together along with Jude and his supernatural friends and problems. And if you don’t tell anyone else, they’ll never know.

LINKS:

The City of Lost Fortunes Universal Book Link

The City of Lost Fortunes Audiobook

Website

Twitter

Facebook

Instagram

BIO:

Bryan Camp is a graduate of the Clarion West Writer’s Workshop and the University of New Orleans’ Low-Residency MFA program. He started his first novel, The City of Lost Fortunes, in the backseat of his parents’ car as they evacuated for Hurricane Katrina. He has been, at various points in his life: a security guard at a stockcar race track, a printer in a flag factory, an office worker in an oil refinery, and a high school English teacher.  He lives in New Orleans with his wife and their three cats, one of whom is named after a superhero

 

My Favorite Bit: Ilana C. Myer talks about FIRE DANCE

My Favorite BitIlana C. Myer is joining us today to talk about her novel Fire Dance. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Palace intrigue, dark magic, and terrifying secrets drive the beautifully written standalone novel Fire Dance, set in the world of Last Song Before Night.

Espionage, diplomacy, conspiracy, passion, and power are the sensuously choreographed steps of the soaring new high fantasy novel by Ilana C. Myer, one woman’s epic mission to stop a magical conflagration.

Lin, newly initiated in the art of otherwordly enchantments, is sent to aid her homeland’s allies against vicious attacks from the Fire Dancers: mysterious practitioners of strange and deadly magic. Forced to step into a dangerous waltz of tradition, treachery, and palace secrets, Lin must also race the ticking clock of her own rapidly dwindling life to learn the truth of the Fire Dancers’ war, and how she might prevent death on a scale too terrifying to contemplate.

Myer’s novel is a symphony of secret towers, desert winds, burning sands, blood and dust. Her prose soars, and fluid movements of the politically charged plot carry the reader toward a shocking crescendo.

What’s Ilana’s favorite bit?

FIRE DANCE cover image

ILANA C. MYER

The title of a book can evolve in a variety of ways. The title for Fire Dance works on multiple levels—in terms of a mysterious form of magic, revealed in the course of the plot; in terms of the passions that fuel the protagonists. And there is another way.

Two settings, extremely different from one another, are the focal points of Fire Dance. One is the court of the Zahra, a place of luxury, political sophistication, and lush imperial gardens. The sort of place visited by ambassadors, scholars, and physicians from around the world. It is a mix of inspirations, from Andalusia to medieval Baghdad; in constructing it, I had immersed myself in historical sources, Middle Eastern mythology and cosmology of the period, and Andalusian poetry.

Magic in the Zahra is integral to royal politics: The palace houses a magical observatory, tended by seven court Magicians who see prophecies in the stars.

The other major stage of Fire Dance is Academy Isle, a lonely, windy place on the edge of things. A place where for centuries, people study to become poets; where mysterious enchantments have been lately introduced. My previous novel set in this world, Last Song Before Night, is infused with Celtic myth and geographic similarities to the British Isles; these are the elements that permeate the Academy Isle.

Unlike the Zahra, the Academy is not accustomed to magic; how the poets handle their new powers—for good or evil—is one of the emerging conflicts in Fire Dance.

These two settings could hardly be more different, but are very much connected by means which are revealed with time. Weaving together these two settings, moving back and forth between them, came to feel like a delicate dance; their inevitable, complex intertwining, its culmination. Sometimes, to get in the mood for a certain scene, I would read poems with the kind of atmosphere I was looking to convey. For scenes in the Academy, I often found myself reaching for Seamus Heaney’s Sweeney Astray; for the Zahra, I read a range of Andalusian poetry.

In my first novel, Last Song Before Night, the characters move from the elegance of the capital to the deep woods, where they discover horrors and—at times—themselves. In contrast, Fire Dance follows a spiral structure, from grandeur to the lonely dark and back, again and again until they meet. Such a meeting can only have explosive consequences—for the characters, for the places they love.

My book is out now, so—come dance with me.

LINKS:

Fire Dance Universal Book Link

Twitter

BIO:

Ilana C. Myer has worked as a journalist in Jerusalem and a cultural critic for various publications. As Ilana Teitelbaum she has written book reviews and critical essays for The Globe and Mail, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Salon, and the Huffington Post. Last Song Before Night was her first novel, followed by Fire Dance. She lives in New York.

My Favorite Bit: Kay Kenyon talks about SERPENT IN THE HEATHER

My Favorite BitKay Kenyon is joining us today to talk about her novel Serpent in the Heather. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Now officially working for the Secret Intelligence Service, Kim Tavistock is back to solve another mystery—this time a serial killer with deep Nazi ties—in the sequel to At the Table of Wolves.

Summer, 1936. In England, an assassin is loose. Someone is killing young people who possess Talents. As terror overtakes Britain, Kim Tavistock, now officially employed by England’s Secret Intelligence Service, is sent on her first mission: to the remote Sulcliffe Castle in Wales, to use her cover as a journalist to infiltrate a spiritualist cult that may have ties to the murders. Meanwhile, Kim’s father, trained spy Julian Tavistock runs his own parallel investigation—and discovers the terrifying Nazi plot behind the serial killings.

Cut off from civilization, Sulcliffe Castle is perched on a forbidding headland above a circle of standing stones only visible at low tide. There, Kim shadows a ruthless baroness and her enigmatic son, plying her skills of deception and hearing the truths people most wish to hide. But as her cover disguise unravels, Kim learns that the serial killer is closing in on a person she has grown to love. Now, Kim must race against the clock not just to prevent the final ritual killing—but to turn the tide of the looming war.

What’s Kay’s favorite bit?

Serpent in the Heather Cover

KAY KENYON

When I started writing my Dark Talents series, I knew that my protagonist, Kim Tavistock, at age 10 had experienced a traumatic event that shattered her family. Thus, “She had seen how easily the world could spin out of control.” So when Kim is shaken or gripped with excitement, she has a telling mannerism: she straightens things or turns to lists. In other words, she attempts to put things in order.

Living in England, where she is a stranger, notable among her possessions is a train timetable, a little orange tract.

She couldn’t make sense of it right now. Adjourning to her room, she took out her well-worn copy of the London and North Eastern Railway timetable and traced the columns of arrivals and departures. The stops and connections to other lines. There was no secret to the British railway system. In fact, it embodied an elegant, systematic plan. She had always found the little LNER booklet a comfort, framing the world in an orderly way, which was very important, given the sorts of things that could happen.

In the following snippet, Kim is traveling from Yorkshire to Wales, and as usual she has her London and Northeastern Railway timetable with her. But it’s not the one she needs for this trip.

“I say, you’ve got the wrong timetable there, you know.”

In the first-class compartment, a rotund, amiable man sitting next to Kim and wearing ill-fitting tweeds offered her the timetable to Chester.

Kim smiled at him. “Oh, yes, I know. But I do prefer this one.”

He blinked in confusion and, murmuring an apology, tucked the timetable into a breast pocket.

At some level, Kim is aware that it’s a talisman. At other times she believes she’s just being practical. As she says,

“One could hardly get lost in England if one knew the railway system, and as a kind of newcomer—born in England, yet a stranger—she had long depended on the railway system maps to make sense of things.”

In this next moment, Kim has just heard of another murder of a teenager, the latest in a string of murders.

Kim wandered over to the mantel, adjusting the spacing of the Royal Dalton figurines, and then the four candlesticks, all in a row. That done, she turned to the architectural drawings and began aligning the sheets.

Kim carries a gun, and hopes she never has to use it. In this scene she realizes it is likely to come to that, and soon.

At the tea table in her room, Kim sat before the box of cartridges and her snub-nosed Colt revolver. She could hardly remember the drive across the headland to the castle, so hard had she been concentrating on acting naturally. . . . She removed six cartridges from the ammunition box and lined them up in a row.

At the castle, she has been served her supper in her room. She is shaken by the surmise that she had come to a few hours ago: the identity of the assassin.

Kim’s dinner sat on a tray at the table: squab and mash, the servant had declared. There would be no formal dinner tonight. She tried to remember what squab was and feared it was dove. She gazed at the food, straightening the tableware just so, lining up the fork with the knife, the napkin, and plate.

As an author, I find it so interesting that it’s not just the big decisions and actions we take that reflect our deeper selves. Small moments, showing surface tendencies and habits can help to frame the character’s world. I loved reminding myself of Kim’s need for order with habitual mannerisms and patterns of thought. These examples from Serpent in the Heather illustrate how small things can have big import, and that’s why it’s my favorite bit.

LINKS:

Serpent in the Heather Universal Book Link

Amazon Author Page

Blog/Website

Goodreads

Twitter

BIO:

Kay Kenyon is the author of fourteen science fiction and fantasy novels, including The Entire and The Rose quartet. Her latest work is the Dark Talents trilogy from Saga Press, historical fantasies of dark powers, Nazi conspiracies, and espionage set in 1936 England. It began with At the Table of Wolves, praised by Publishers Weekly in a starred review as “A superb adventure, worthy to launch a distinguished historical fantasy series.” Book two, Serpent in the Heather, garnered a Kirkus Review that called the book, “A unique concept that is superbly executed.” The final book of the trilogy, Nest of the Monarch, will be published in 2019.

My Favorite Bit: Elizabeth Forest talks about THE THIRD KIND OF MAGIC

My Favorite BitElizabeth Forest is joining us today to talk about her novel The Third Kind of Magic. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Can one twelve-year-old girl fight a witch?

Exiled from her village for accidentally using advanced magic, Suli must either become a wise woman or be shunned as a witch.

She’s apprenticed to the wise woman Tala, but Suli’s magical education is cut short when a witch kidnaps her teacher to learn the secret of shape-shifting.

Suli discovers she too has inherited the shape-shifting ability. and even without her teacher, learns to fly and to talk to animals.

Then the witch asks Suli to make a terrible choice: Suli must live with the witch as her apprentice, or she’ll never see Tala again.

But if she agrees, she’ll be called a witch for the rest of her life.

What’s Elizabeth’s favorite bit?

The Third Kind of Magic cover image

ELIZABETH FOREST

I am going to use a quote from another writer to talk about what I love most about my middle-grade fantasy novel, The Third Kind of Magic, for two reasons. The first is that Ms. LeGuin’s essays, in an anthology called Cheek by Jowl, had a direct influence on my ability to revise and finish the book. The second is that her words are more eloquent than mine, and I need to hear her voice again after losing her so recently.

The quote is from an essay entitled “The Critics, the Monsters and the Fantasists”:

Animals were once more to us than meat, pests or pets: they were fellow-creatures, colleagues, dangerous equals. We might eat them: but then, they might eat us. That is at least part of the truth of my dragons. They remind us that the human is not universal.

What fantasy does that the realistic novel generally cannot do is include the nonhuman as essential.

The vigilant reader will recognize the title of Le Guin’s essay is based on Tolkien’s essay “The Monster and the Critics,” and she amplifies his ideas in “explaining” fantasy to those who need such explanations. Reading these essays, I recognized that “the human is not universal” is the most important theme in my book. I suspect it’s a basic insight of childhood too – that the culture we are being socialized into is not the only reality, or even the best way to organize life. That’s probably one reason why books with animal characters are so appealing to us when we’re younger; children, like animals, are outside of civilization.

In The Third Kind of Magic, there are talking animals. Predictably, agents rolled their eyes hearing that. But I wanted to directly convey that the animal characters are interested in, but detached from, human definitions and uses of magic. The animal communities have their own opinions and lore about it, and although they make alliances with humans sometimes, they are not subordinate to them. The one exception is when a rogue human’s use of magic endangers everyone: when dealing with a witch, in fact. Then it’s up to the humans to solve the problem they caused.

Suli, the main character, is an untried apprentice in magic. She loses her human teacher early on, and is mentored in magic by a crow teacher. His guidance is vitally important when Suli finally decides how she will deal with the witch who not only kidnapped her teacher, but turned her in to the witch-hunting authorities.

In the end, Suli is able to restore the human and animal communities, and to set right what the witch has damaged, without killing her opponent, or “defeating” some essentialist evil. The witch herself is recognized as still being part of the wider community. Killing the offender is not the way this culture solves its problems. Those are the ways of the Outsiders, who have witch trials and hangings. That’s my second favorite thing about the book: There is no final battle between good and evil – rather a family secret that is finally addressed and resolved.

So if you’re willing to give up your anthropocentrism for a while, and imagine yourself part of the animal community, you might enjoy The Third Kind of Magic.

LINKS:

The Third Kind of Magic Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

Newsletter

BIO:

Elizabeth Forest writes historical and speculative fiction for readers of all ages. She’s drawn to other cultures, alternate worlds, and the lives of those outside the mainstream.  She blogs at https://www.elizabethsforest.com/blog, and can be found on twitter @elizasforest. Join her VIP Readers’ group athttps://www.elizabethsforest.com/newsletter to hear about new books and special bonus features for members.