Journal

My Favorite Bit: David Mack talks about THE MIDNIGHT FRONT

Favorite Bit iconDavid Mack is joining us today with his novel The Midnight Front. Here’s the publisher’s description:

On the eve of World War Two, Nazi sorcerers come gunning for Cade but kill his family instead. His one path of vengeance is to become an apprentice of The Midnight Front―the Allies’ top-secret magickal warfare program―and become a sorcerer himself.

Unsure who will kill him first―his allies, his enemies, or the demons he has to use to wield magick―Cade fights his way through occupied Europe and enemy lines. But he learns too late the true price of revenge will be more terrible than just the loss of his soul―and there’s no task harder than doing good with a power born of ultimate evil.

What’s David’s favorite bit?

The Midnight Front cover image

DAVID MACK

*Note: The following essay includes a depiction of suicide. If you are thinking about suicide, are worried about a loved one, or would like emotional support, talk to someone here.*

It can be easy to forget that even great sagas are constituted of mere moments, and that sometimes the smallest, most personal of scenes can carry a story’s greatest emotional weight.

The Midnight Front is many things at once: it’s a sweeping World War II epic; it’s a dark fantasy that chronicles a bitter secret war between rival groups of sorcerers who wield black magick; but at its heart, it is about a small cadre of magicians who grow to care for one another like family.

Underscoring that theme is the fact that several of my magic-using characters are orphans, have been cast out of their families, or have otherwise found themselves alone in the world. This is true of my main character, Cade, who loses his parents early in the story; my female lead Anja is cast out of her home as a teen and de facto adopted by the Allies’ master magician, Adair. Last but not least, one of Adair’s senior apprentices, Niko, has long since lost his parents, and over the course of the novel he, too, loses what few kin he has left, in a debacle that leads to the death of fellow apprentice Stefan and causes a bitter rift between Niko and Adair.

Such is the state of play when, late in the book, Niko must risk his life to escape a “dead zone” in which magick will not work, so that he can use an enchanted mirror to pass military secrets back to Adair. With their sorcerous archenemy Kein only seconds behind him, Niko crashes his stolen car into a forest and flees. Then:

Drenched in his own blood, Niko propped himself against a tree and pulled his enchanted mirror from a coat pocket with a quaking hand. “Fenestra, Adair.” He was shaken by a hacking cough full of blood while he awaited the master’s reply. Searchlights slashed through the trees as the Germans followed his swath of destruction through the woods.

Adair’s face replaced Niko’s reflection. “Christ, lad, what—”


“No time, Master.” He propped the mirror on his leg, then used his good hand to pull the map and camera from inside his coat. He pushed them one at a time through the mirror to Adair. “Kein . . . built a trap. . . . In a bunker. At Pointe du Hoc.”

“Niko, I—”

“They will cover it with wax and cement. It will be hidden. But destroy it you must.” Tears fell from his eyes. He croaked out his last words. “Bonne chance, Père.

Shadows converged upon Niko. Kein shouted, “Take him alive!”

Niko put the barrel of his pistol into his mouth.

I will not be used against my friends, as Stefan was.

SS troops surrounded him, submachine guns at the ready.

In the name of love, Niko pulled his trigger.

One scene later we pick up that moment from the perspective of his master, Adair:

As the remote image vanished from Adair’s mirror, the master expected to confront his reflection — but like the Fool gazing upon Lear, he saw only his shadow.

He pounded the floor with the sides of his fists. How could I have doubted that lad? Loyal to the end. Braver than I knew.

Tears streamed from Adair’s shut-tight eyes. Niko’s last words haunted him.

Bonne chance, Père.

Adair’s chest heaved with painful sobs for which he had no breath, so his body shook in near silence as he surrendered to his heartbreak.

He called me Father.

I love these related moments. Though Adair and Niko are just supporting characters in the novel, this moment speaks to one of the truths of the narrative. What bonds my heroes through all of their struggles and setbacks is genuine affection.

By comparison, the concerns that drive their foes, the Thule-Gesellschaft (which was a real occult society that helped spawn the Nazi Party) and its leaders (Kein, Briet, and Siegmar) seem to be self-interest, fear, and a desire to see the world burn. If the villains of my story represent a family unit, it is a dysfunctional one at best.

But Adair’s last moment with Niko … it breaks my heart every time I read it. Niko still feels guilty for having set in motion the events that killed Stefan, who he loved like a brother. Just as poignantly, up until the moment of Niko’s sacrifice, Adair still carries anger and resentment toward Niko over that error.

But when Niko refers to Adair as Père — that heartfelt moment, that simple choice of words, expresses a lifetime of love and respect. And then it’s followed by a devastating act of self-sacrifice.

Without those words, it would still have stung Adair to see Niko die. But after that valediction, the moment becomes more profound: for the second time, Adair loses a man who is like a son to him.

It is a tragedy in a novel replete with loss, death, and destruction. But in its sorrow there is also hope: the belief that love will win the day. Even as Niko faces his own end, he urges his surrogate father to look toward the light. He believes in him.

Bonne chance.

Perhaps it’s a romantic delusion to think that love and hope alone are enough to win a war — but without them, there’s really nothing left worth winning.

LINKS

The Midnight Front Universal Book Link

Read an excerpt

David Mack’s website

Facebook

Twitter.

BIO

David Mack is the award-winning and New York Times bestselling author of more than thirty novels of science fiction, fantasy, and adventure, including the Star Trek Destiny and Cold Equations trilogies. His new novel The Midnight Front is available now from Tor Books. Mack’s writing credits span several media, including television (for episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), film, short fiction, and comic books. He resides in New York City.

Ursula K. Le Guin

I’m sitting in an airport. Ursula Le Guin is dead.

Several years ago, I recorded some memories to be banked by NPR in case they needed an obituary. This is apparently standard and the way such things are done with Notable Figures. I was assured that she was in good health. That it was just a policy when people reached a certain age.

Sometimes, the reporter said, these were never used.

I am sitting in an airport. My phone buzzes. The reporter has texted me. She wants to give me a heads-up so that I’m not caught by surprise. They will be using the interview. Today.

Ursula Le Guin is dead.

I am caught by surprise. I am sitting in an airport crying and I don’t honestly care that it is making the people around me uncomfortable. Ursula Le Guin is dead.

She’s been a part of my life since before I began writing. I ate the Wizard of Earthsea books. I still have my dogeared copy from when I was a teen. I’ve lost track of how many times I read it. It’s such a slender volume and yet it shaped my world. Words. She understood the power of words.

The first time I met her, I was not yet a writer. I lived in Portland, Oregon and was working full-time in puppet theater. Tears of Joy was getting ready to stage her children’s book A Ride on the Red Mare’s Back. I worked every angle I could to get assigned to the show as the set designer.

Nancy Aldrich, the artistic director of ToJ, and I went to Ursula’s house. It was a beautiful craftsman style home set on a hill nestled in a garden. It’s in a neighborhood, mind you, but when you’re in the garden, all you feel are the trees. She met us at the door looking just like her photos. Small, silver-haired, and powerful.

The back of my head filled with EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE. She brought us in. Offered us tea. We sat in her kitchen and went through my designs. She liked them. She was pleased.

Fast forward five or more years. We’ve corresponded via my role in SFWA. I’m a Writer now, but I haven’t seen her since the show and then had cause to go to her house again with some other people. She remembered me. We’d only met once before, in a different context, but she remembered.

From that point forward, I would see her a couple of times socially or around writing. I remember sitting in her living room and hearing her explain what she got wrong about Wizard of Earthsea. The fact that this icon– this book that had shaped me — that she could still examine her work and see errors was astonishing. (Example: With one exception, none of the female characters have names. And most of their dialogue is reported rather than direct.) Seeing her be unafraid of the mistakes, or embarrassed by them was empowering. Realizing that she saw those problems as a way to better understand herself and an opportunity to improve even decades after the book’s publication, continues to shape me.

I love that she continues to interrogate fiction and society. That she is unafraid to admit error. That she doesn’t see it as a weakness but as a way to grow. I love her power.

I find myself unable to speak of her in the past tense. This was the problem when I recorded the interview for her obituary. Ursula Le Guin was alive when I did that.

Today, I have been told that she is dead. There is a low wall between us, but not enough, I think to keep her from shaping my life or yours.

My Favorite Bit: Wendy Nikel talks about THE CONTINUUM

My Favorite BitWendy Nikel is joining us today to talk about her novel The Continuum. Here’s the publisher’s description:

For years, Elise has been donning corsets, sneaking into castles, and lying through her teeth to enforce the Place in Time Travel Agency’s ten essential rules of time travel. Someone has to ensure that travel to the past isn’t abused, and most days she welcomes the challenge of tracking down and retrieving clients who have run into trouble on their historical vacations.

But when a dangerous secret organization kidnaps her and coerces her into jumping to the future on a high-stakes assignment, she’s got more to worry about than just the time-space continuum. For the first time ever, she’s the one out-of-date, out of place, and quickly running out of time.

What’s Wendy’s favorite bit?

Continuum cover

WENDY NIKEL

It’s probably tough for an author to choose a favorite part of any book they’ve written — much like choosing a favorite child — but a favorite part of an author’s first book seems particularly difficult to pinpoint. With your first book, you tend to throw all your favorite things in with a reckless abandon: your favorite characters, favorite settings, favorite jokes, favorite tropes and plot twists. And though not all of the “favorites” I infused into THE CONTINUUM have survived its many iterations since the first draft, it’s still safe to say that this story is overflowing with my favorite elements of time travel, science fiction, and books in general.

But my absolute favorite bit — the bit without which the book wouldn’t exist — is the Place in Time Travel Agency.

“Of Missing Persons” is a short story by time travel author Jack Finney, which tells about a man who comes across a travel agency that deals in more than just trips around the globe. In Finney’s story, the agency can also send travelers to a different dimension. I loved this idea of time travel hidden in plain sight so much that, when I set out to write my own story, I drew inspiration from Finney’s to create my own time travel agency.

People who walk into the front reception often assume the Place in Time Travel Agency is just another overpriced rip-off, but our actual customers—all personal referrals—know to request a trip to Richmond, Surrey when they come in. Only then are they directed back to the real travel agency. (from THE CONTINUUM)

Even the travel agency’s “code word” is a reference to the setting of H.G. Wells’ “The Time Machine.” And that’s not the only homage I pay to that story; the founder of my travel agency goes by the pseudonym Dr. Wells.

In my story, this specialized travel agency helps clients can take a break from the pressures and stresses of the present by facilitating their vacations in the past — whether it’s an adventure in ancient Egypt, a pilgrimage to medieval Scotland, a study of now-extinct baiji dolphins on the Yangzee River, or just a few weeks relaxing in a simpler time before cell phones and computers and social media.

The only catch is that there’s rules to follow. Ten, to be precise, that detail things like where and when you can travel, and what needs to be done to keep the agency’s exclusive technology a secret. After all, it’d cause chaos if everyone knew the truth — that time travel was possible.

But just in case… Next time you’re walking down a city street and happen across a travel agency that seems just a little too shabby to afford the rent in that area, where the prices for cruises and overseas excursions seem a little too high, maybe try asking for a trip to Richmond, Surrey, and see what happens…

LINKS:

THE CONTINUUM Universal Book Link

Website

Facebook

Twitter

BIO:

Wendy Nikel is a speculative fiction author with a degree in elementary education, a fondness for road trips, and a terrible habit of forgetting where she’s left her cup of tea. Her short fiction has been published by Fantastic Stories of the ImaginationDaily Science FictionNature: Futures, and elsewhere. Her time travel novella, The Continuum, is forthcoming from World Weaver Press in spring 2018. For more info, visit wendynikel.com

Where to Find Mary at Boskone

Mary is the Guest of Honor at Boskone!

Boskone logo

Join her in Boston, MA from February 16-18, 2018 for New England’s longest running science fiction and fantasy convention. It’s going to be a fun weekend filled with discussions of books, film, art, music, games, and more. For more information about Boskone, visit The Boskone BlogTwitter, and Facebook as well as by going to the Boskone website to register at http://www.boskone.org/register/

Here’s where to find Mary while you are there:

Friday, February 16

Boskone’s Regency Dance with Guest of Honor Mary Robinette Kowal
5:30-7:30pm
Harbor II

Calling all dancers! Join our Guest of Honor, Mary Robinette Kowal, as we travel back in time to Britain’s Regency period, when dancing was all the craze. Antonia Pugliese from Commonwealth Vintage Dancers, a Boston-area nonprofit that reconstructs, performs, and teaches dances of the 19th and early 20th century, will lead us through Boskone’s special set of Regency dances. So put on your 19th Century duds or keep your modern wardrobe to represent your favorite era — as we genre-happy gentlefolk join together to dance, Regency-style!

Opening Ceremony: Meet the Guests
8:45-9:00pm
Galleria – Stage

Welcome to Boskone, New England’s longest-running convention for science fiction, fantasy, and horror! Whether you are attending for the first time or the fifty-fifth, we invite you to join us in the Galleria to meet this year’s guests.

Boskone 55 Reception
9:00-11:00pm
Galleria – Art Show

Connoisseurs and philistines alike: welcome to the Boskone Art Show! Join us in the Galleria for an upscale social mixer. Meet our program participants while enjoying refreshments, stimulating conversation, and exceptional art that’s a feast for the eyes. Experience the music and the festivities as Boskone celebrates another year of science fiction, fantasy, and horror in Boston.

 

Saturday, February 17

Boskone Book Club: Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal
10:00-11:00am
Marina 3

The Boskone Book Club continues! Join us for a conversation that brings con-goers together to consider one noteworthy work at length. This year we are reading Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal (our Guest of Honor). Boskone’s own Bob Kuhn will lead the discussion; Mary Robinette Kowal will join the group halfway through for a Q&A. To participate, please read the book and come ready with your thoughts and questions.

Autographing
11:00am-12:00pm
Galleria – Autographing

Guest of Honor Interview Featuring Mary Robinette Kowal
1:00-2:00pm
Harbor III

Professional puppeteer; costumer; voice actor — Mary Robinette Kowal is a multitalented marvel. But she’s here mostly as a Hugo-Award-winning SF/F author with a delightful gift for storytelling. Join us for Boskone’s Guest of Honor hour, conducted by Mary’s good friend (and former astronaut!) Cady Coleman.

The Magic of Historical Fantasies
3:00-4:00pm
Harbor III

Fantasies set in the past are growing ever more popular. Why do we love stepping back in time and sprinkling a little magic into the past? Could these same stories be told in modern times, or would some of that magic be lost? And when changing the workings of the known world by adding magic, is it still important to keep historical details correct?

Clothing That Create Character
4:00-5:00pm
Marina 3

Characters don’t wear costumes; they wear clothing. What’s the right raiment for the right person? Think about the style statements made by James Bond, Brienne, Doctor Manhattan, Gandalf, Kip Russell, Josephus Miller, Offred, Diana Prince, Alexia Tarabotti, or Jane Vincent. Our fashionistas discuss some of spec fic’s fashion faux pas, as well as some truly ingenious choices of garments for our favorite fictional characters.

 

Sunday, February 18

Life In Space
10:00-11:00am
Harbor II

What does it take to become an astronaut? What’s it like to live in space? These questions and more are just a few of the queries that will get answered by astronaut Cady Coleman as she sits with science fiction authors Mary Robinette Kowal and Stacey Berg who ask her everything you ever wanted to know about life in space.

Reading by Mary Robinette Kowal
11:00-11:30am
Griffin

Tea with Mary
2:00-3:00pm
Galleria – Con Suite

Join Boskone’s Guest of Honor for tea in the Con Suite. (Requires Kaffeeklatsch sign-up at Program Ops in the Harbor Foyer.)

 

Writing Excuses Retreat 2018

2018 will be our sixth Writing Excuses Retreat:

Join us for a cruise in the Caribbean, September 22-30th 2018!

Liberty of the Seas ship

Registration is now open!

The full details are available on the registration page, but here’s a quick overview:

  1. We will board in Galveston, TX, and spend a week at sea, stopping for excursions in Honduras, Belize, and Mexico. The event actually begins the day before we board, in a Houston hotel, where we’ll register and get to know each other.
  2. Prices are Double Occupancy, which means you’ll share your room with another person. If you bring your own roommate, awesome! If not, we’ll put you with another writer from our group. Spouses and significant others who want to come with you but are not writers will get a discounted rate. Children get a hugely discounted rate. Imaginary friends are FREE.
  3. If you’ve never done one of our cruises before, they’re a kind of magical mix of class time, writing time, and screwing-around-in-a-cool-place time. We don’t know how it works, but it does, and you’ll love it.
  4. We’ll have one or two classes a day, taught by our amazing guest instructors, as well as live Writing Excuses episodes with the hosts of the show. Brandon won’t be joining us this year, but we’ll be joined by Amal El-Mohtar, Piper Drake, Maurice Broaddus, Kathy Chung, K Tempest Bradford, Valynne E Maetani, and more. And of course you’ll still have Mary, Dan, and Howard.
  5. For each stop, we’ll pick three “official” Writing Excuses shore excursions and announce them this Spring. You can sign up with us for one of those and know that you’ll be with our same group of awesome writers and instructors. If you want to do an excursion that’s not one of our official picks, you can arrange it directly with the cruise.
  6. As before, we will have a number of scholarships available. This year that number is “5.” The application process will be announced in January at Writing Excuses.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Q: I have a registration question. Should I leave a comment here?

A: The best way to contact us for WXR 2018 purposes is to use the “Contact Writing Excuses” link at the bottom of the Registration page. Scroll all the way down to “Contact the Organizer”. We’d have linked it directly here, but it’s an embedded thingy. You can also email questions to assist@maryrobinettekowal.com with the subject line “WXR: Registration Question”.

Q: Brandon’s not going to be there? Does he not love us anymore?

A: Brandon is already spending a few weeks this year on tour, and there was no way for him to do both. In future years, there might be other hosts who can’t make it. You’ll still get an amazing writing conference with a ton of amazing instructors and classes and experiences. Plus, as all of our alumni will tell you, the single biggest benefit of the cruise are the connections you make with the other attendees, and this promises to be one of the best years ever for that. And yes, Brandon loves you with all his heart.

Q: I’m an introvert who doesn’t do well in big groups of people. Will I survive an event like this?

A: One Of Us! One Of Us! Honestly, most of our attendees are introverts too, including all of the hosts and most of the guest instructors. Some of us are better at faking it than others, but we know where you’re coming from, and we feel your pain. We’ll make sure to have lots of quiet little hidey-holes all over the ship where you can go when it all gets too much. It’s not called a “retreat” for nothing.

Q: You keep saying it, but will I really have time to actually write while on this cruise?

A: You will definitely have time, but it’s up to you how to use it. We give prizes every year for the Most Words Written, and last year the winner had more than 40,000. We also have a proud history of boardgame nights, dancing, karaoke, and impromptu martial arts demonstrations. Whatever you want to do with your free time, you can probably do it at this event.

Q: What level of writing expertise should I have attained prior to attending?

A: “Level of expertise” is far less important than your desire to improve. The workshop is structured to be accessible and useful for new writers with a passion for learning, and to be challenging and rewarding for seasoned professionals looking for refinement, or additional perspectives. Different classes will be designed for different levels of experience.

Come join us!

My Favorite Bit: KJ Kabza talks about THE RAMSHEAD ALGORITHM AND OTHER STORIES

My Favorite BitKJ Kabza is joining us today with his short story collection The Ramshead Algorithm and Other Stories. Here is the publisher’s description:

In The Ramshead Algorithm and Other Stories, sand cats speak, ghost bikes roll, corpses disappear, and hedge mazes are more bewildering than you’ve ever imagined. These 11 fantasy and science fiction stories from KJ Kabza have been dubbed “Sublime” (Tangent), “Rich” (SFRevu), and “Ethereal” (Quick Sip Reviews) and will take you deep into other astonishing realities.

What’s KJ’s favorite bit?

The Ramshead Algorithm cover image

KJ KABZA

Wonder.

For me, that’s the sine qua non of powerful speculative fiction: that feeling of awe and majesty, glimpsed when we turn a page and see a vista that’s both thrilling in its possibility and humbling in its scope.

Ironically, though, the real world itself is already overflowing with it.

Lake picture

Risen lake waters make for striking scenes. Photo taken at Parker Canyon Lake in southern Arizona (2017).

My first collection of print fiction, THE RAMSHEAD ALGORITHM AND OTHER STORIES, contains “strong world building” (Booklist) within stories that are “quirky and original hybrids” (Publishers Weekly) of various subgenres—near-future SF, dark fantasy, fabulism, fables, steampunk, science fantasy, and whatever dusting of whatever other subgenre you care to name perceive. I like to exercise my range and write things I haven’t written before.

Integral to writing things I haven’t written before is seeing things that I haven’t before. Visiting new places, especially places outdoors, can be an almost religious experience for me. I once spent a year intentionally homeless, couch-surfing among friends and family across the USA. I have a specific monthly savings goal that I set aside to put into a travel fund. I’ll even go on record saying that trespassing is my favorite crime (but further anecdotes about that are a blog post for another time).

I don’t have the patience to livestream my travels, and even if I did, I still couldn’t make everyone feel the frisson that I do when I see something astonishing. But, while I can’t control what you see with your own eyes, within my writing I can control (to an extent) what you see with your mind’s eye. I can hold up a lens of wonder.

Blade of grass made a circle in the sand

A broken blade of dune grass, tossed around in the wind, has traced a circle over undisturbed sand. Photo taken in North Cape May, New Jersey (2012), where I wrote “The Color of Sand.”

The anchoring novella “You Can Take It With You” that appears at the end of THE RAMSHEAD ALGORITHM AND OTHER STORIES plays out as a journey across a long, strange, sometimes physics-defying land. I wrote it in 2016–2017, during the winter, the season in my home city of Tucson, Arizona wherein the weather cools down enough for me to go hiking. During that winter, I carefully explored the collection of trails that meet at the northern end of Camino Loma Alta. The Rincon Mountains begin there. There are cacti, and vivid yellows in the hills when the brittle bushes flower, and hidden streams with long-abandoned homesteads. “WELCOME TO CHUPACABRA COUNTRY,” someone has written, on the side of a rusted-out water tank.

Welcome to Chupacabra country

See what you find, when you trespass?

As I hiked along the Hope Camp trail, sharp rocks under my soles and the sky a near-space blue, I felt the place’s rawness and isolation. In such a space is where the sense of self dissolves, and there is only rock and heat, cutting surprising beauty into hidden canyons that no one will ever see.

This is the true meaning of a wilderness.

Look for a passage in “You Can Take It With You” that begins:

“The Wilderness is lakes. And rivers. And plains and mountains. Jungles thick and green, shivering with wind and alighting birds. Rumpled, empty sand dunes. Stony moors with craggy tors, sheep grazing on heather and grasses, and glaciers that glimmer in the sun. Volcanic cones, even, that steam and spit threads of lava, and cooling fields of rock, as desolate as the surface of the moon…”

There, you will come back to the Hope Camp trail with me, as seen through a lens of wonder.

In “The Color of Sand,” look for the line, “Where the sea, sand, and sky come together and kiss, there once lived a boy named Catch,” and you will come with me to the sandy beach of North Cape May, New Jersey, between Franklin Ave. and Emerson Ave., where I scoured the shoreline every afternoon one bright November in search of sea glass. In “The Ramshead Algorithm,” as you tread The Maze that connects all planes of reality, you will also come with me to Cornwall, England, where narrow, rural roads wind between walls of earth, covered in shadow and shifting ivy. When you read “All Souls Proceed,” you will find yourself caught up in Tucson’s annual All Souls procession, marching along night-dark streets at my side, bewildered at the crush of surrounding bodies and the many ragged ways we all express anger and loss.

You don’t need to read my work to experience strong world building. Not really.

It’s all already out there.

LINKS:

THE RAMSHEAD ALGORITHM AND OTHER STORIES Universal Book Link

Excerpt from THE RAMSHEAD ALGORITHM AND OTHER STORIES (“The Color of Sand”)

Website

Twitter

BIO:

KJ Kabza has written and sold over 70 short stories to places such as F&SFStrange HorizonsBeneath Ceaseless Skies, and others. Though his work prior to 2014 can be found in two self-published ebook omnibus collections, IN PIECES and UNDER STARS, THE RAMSHEAD ALGORITHM AND OTHER STORIES is his first foray into traditional print publishing. When not writing, he likes to be outside, which is a tough break if you’ve been raised in the northeastern United States (where it’s deliciously cold) but now live in the southwestern United States (where it feels like death in an oven for several months out of the year). Come say hi on Twitter @KJKabza or learn more at kjkabza.com.

My 2017 year-end wrap up

It’s time for the wrap-up of what I’ve accomplished in 2017!

Publications!

Short Story
Best Related Work

This looks like low output, which, well, it is. BUT, that’s because publishing schedules mean that most of what I wrote will come out next year. According to 4thewords.com*, I wrote nearly 500,000 words this year. That represents a VR game (Brass Tactics), a half dozen short stories, and close to three novels, including The Fated Skywhich is the sequel to The Calculating Stars. (I’m taking a break from copy-edits on those, as I type.)

I also wrote two novels for fun, because I’m apparently odd. Or a writer, which is much the same thing. Apprehension (SF thriller) and The Dragon Question (Hitchcockian Fantasy).

Coming up in 2018, you can look for my short stories in F&SF (“Milliner’s Assassin” and “The Phobos Experience”) and “Artisanal Trucking” in Asimov’s.

While I’m at it… may I mention that Steal the Stars or Black Girl in a Big Dress can both be nominated for the Hugo and Bradbury Awards? I had nothing to do with either, but I love them a lot.

Oh! And I also discovered that I like making infographics.

*PS, I also like 4thewords.com a bunch, and I think it is might be eligible for SFWA’s new Nebula game writing award, but even if it isn’t, you should still check it out if you’re a writer. (And this is my referral code BUCGG84743)

Gift my books – personalization deadline is 12/16!

Image from Volumes

If you’d like to gift my books this holiday season (perhaps even to yourself!) you can order signed copies from Volumes Bookcafe and they will be shipped right to you! This is actually true all year long, this is just a reminder for the holidays.

I’m also happy to personalize them, but you’ll need to order personalized copies by midnight, Dec 16 for them to get to you by Christmas.

THE CALCULATING STARS and THE FATED SKY available for pre-order!

The Lady Astronaut books are now available for pre-order!

The Calculating Stars

The Fated Sky

Paired covers for The Calculating Stars, showing a group of women on a blue field, and The Fated Sky, which has a lone astronaut against a red sky.

If you pre-order through these links, which will take you to Mary’s favorite local bookstore, a SIGNED and personalized copy will arrive at your house on release day!

These books are prequels to Mary’s Hugo-award winning story The Lady Astronaut of Mars. You can read the story at that link as you wait for liftoff.

The Calculating Stars – July 3, 2018

A meteor decimates the U.S. government and paves the way for a climate cataclysm that will eventually render the earth inhospitable to humanity. This looming threat calls for a radically accelerated timeline in the earth’s efforts to colonize space, as well as an unprecedented opportunity for a much larger share of humanity to take part.

One of these new entrants in the space race is Elma York, whose experience as a WASP pilot and mathematician earns her a place in the International Aerospace Coalition’s attempts to put man on the moon. But with so many skilled and experienced women pilots and scientists involved with the program, it doesn’t take long before Elma begins to wonder why they can’t go into space, too—aside from some pesky barriers like thousands of years of history and a host of expectations about the proper place of the fairer sex. And yet, Elma’s drive to become the first Lady Astronaut is so strong that even the most dearly held conventions may not stand a chance.

The Fated Sky – August 21, 2018

Continuing the grand sweep of alternate history laid out in The Calculating StarsThe Fated Sky looks forward to 1961, when mankind is well-established on the moon and looking forward to its next step: journeying to, and eventually colonizing, Mars.

Of course, the noted Lady Astronaut Elma York would like to go, but could the International Aerospace Coalition ever stand the thought of putting a woman on such a potentially dangerous mission? Could Elma knowingly take the place of other astronauts who have been overlooked because of their race? And could she really leave behind her husband and the chance to start a family? This gripping look at the real conflicts behind a fantastical space race will put a new spin on our visions of what might have been.

 

My Favorite Bit: Carrie Ann DiRisio talks about BROODING YA HERO

Favorite Bit iconCarrie Ann DiRisio is joining us today with her novel Brooding YA Hero: Becoming a Main Character (Almost) as Awesome as Me. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Have you ever wished you could receive a little guidance from your favorite book boyfriend? Ever dreamed of being the Chosen One in a YA novel? Want to know all the secrets of surviving the dreaded plot twist?

Or maybe you’re just really confused about what “opal-tinted, luminous cerulean orbs” actually are?

Well, popular Twitter personality @broodingYAhero is here to help as he tackles the final frontier in his media dominance: writing a book. Join Broody McHottiepants as he attempts to pen Brooding YA Hero: Becoming a Main Character (Almost) as Awesome as Me, a “self-help” guide (with activities–you always need activities) that lovingly pokes fun at the YA tropes that we roll our eyes at, but secretly love.

As his nefarious ex, Blondie DeMeani, attempts to thwart him at every turn, Broody overcomes to detail, among other topics, how to choose your genre, how to keep your love interest engaged (while maintaining lead character status), his secret formula for guaranteed love triangle success, and how to make sure you secure that sequel, all while keeping his hair perfectly coiffed and never breaking a sweat.

What’s Carrie’s favorite bit?

Brooding YA Hero Cover Image

CARRIE ANN DiRISIO

One of my favorite things about being an aunt is getting to shop for picture books. I adore their lush, vivid way of storytelling, and often end up with a stack for myself too. Of course, since I write young adult fiction, I never thought I’d have a chance to work with an illustrator.
That all changed with one very quirky book. My debut, BROODING YA HERO: Becoming a Main Character (Almost) as Awesome as Me is equal parts fourth-wall-breaking satire, tongue in cheek narrative, and illustrated activity book.

Which means… PICTURES!

The main character is Broody McHottiepants, the archetype character you’ve seen in a thousand works (and in his personal, viral, twitter, @BroodingYAhero). Broody has been told by his author that he’s been in too many books, and needs to take a break. Instead, Broody decides to… star in his own book!

The illustrator of the book is Linnea Gear, who is also the creator of the popular fantasy webcomic, DISSENT.

My favorite bit of the whole book is Broody’s family tree, which shows off all the fictional characters, archetypes, and role models both he, the fictional character, and the literary device, developed from. That may sound pretty meta, but trust me, Linnea’s art makes it all beautifully clear.

Linnea’s ability to capture emotions and personality has always entranced me, and I think in the family tree, it’s really highlighted. I sent her simple one word notes, such as “a supermodel” and she spun those into beautiful images. Each character has so much personality that they leap off the page, (or in the case of the clumsy ancestor, stumble.)

Broody's Family tree

The process of creating this was fun too, I brainstormed types of characters/famous public domain characters who might be said to be in Broody’s “bloodline” and then, Linnea sent some sample sketches. We pingponged ideas to end up with this awesome final product.

The image also works to help me demonstrate just what a Brooding Hero is. People might not follow the Twitter account, but they know of Gatsby or Heathcliff. Showing a literary family tree allows the funny concept to be more accessible by readers of all genres.

If the illustrations intrigue you, or you’re looking for a laugh, trust me, there’s a lot more in the book, which is available now wherever books are sold!

LINKS:

Brooding YA Hero Universal Book Link

Goodreads

Broody’s Twitter

Carrie’s Twitter

Carrie’s Website

BIO:

Carrie Ann DiRisio is a YA writer and creator of @BroodingYAHero. She lives in Pittsburgh, PA with one large fluffy cat, and is currently pursuing her masters in Digital Marketing, although her true dream is to become a Disney Villainess, complete with a really snazzy gown.

In addition to writing and plans for world domination, she also enjoys running, coffee, Krav Maga, and knitting.

Mom’s Sour Cream Poundcake recipe

Since I was little, this is the cake I request for my birthday. Mom mails one to me every year. We requested it for our wedding cake. This is the ur cake. This is the platonic ideal of cake.

  • 2 sticks butter
  • 3 c. sugar
  • 3 c. plain flour
  • 1 c. sour cream
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 6 eggs separated
  • 2 tsp. orange extract
  • 2 tsp. lemon extract

Cream butter and sugar lightly. Add sour cream; mix soda, 1/2 c. flour and add; mix thoroughly. Add unbeaten egg yolks and remaining flour alternately. Lastly, beat whites light and fold them into other mixture — never beat them in.

Pour into funnel cake pan. Have bottom of pan covered with waxed paper and sides well greased. Bake in 325-degree oven for 1 1/4 hours. Never open door before this amount of time is up — then look. If cake needs more baking, do so.

My Favorite Bit: Fonda Lee talks about JADE CITY

Favorite Bit iconFonda Lee is joining us today to talk about her novel Jade City. Here’s the publisher’s description:

FAMILY IS DUTY. MAGIC IS POWER. HONOR IS EVERYTHING.

Jade is the lifeblood of the island of Kekon. It has been mined, traded, stolen, and killed for — and for centuries, honorable Green Bone warriors like the Kaul family have used it to enhance their magical abilities and defend the island from foreign invasion.

Now, the war is over and a new generation of Kauls vies for control of Kekon’s bustling capital city. They care about nothing but protecting their own, cornering the jade market, and defending the districts under their protection. Ancient tradition has little place in this rapidly changing nation.

When a powerful new drug emerges that lets anyone — even foreigners — wield jade, the simmering tension between the Kauls and the rival Ayt family erupts into open violence. The outcome of this clan war will determine the fate of all Green Bones — from their grandest patriarch to the lowliest motorcycle runner on the streets — and of Kekon itself.

What’s Fonda’s favorite bit?

Jade City cover image

FONDA LEE

There’s a quote I saw on the Internet once, of someone complaining, “Yoga is such bullshit. I’ve been doing it for six months and I can’t even breathe fire yet.” (You’re either a child of the ‘80s who played video games and is chuckling right now, or I just lost you in the opening paragraph.)

Image of buff cartoon man breathing fire

Don’t go yet! The point is, that sentiment is remarkably similar to what drove me, in part, to write Jade City. You see, I’m a martial artist who’s been practicing pretty regularly since I was a teenager. I’m also a big fan of martial arts movies. Granted, I’m no professional fighter—but even after years of training, I’ve never come close to being able to fly, run up walls, punch through concrete, or fight blindfolded. My instructors are far more accomplished than I am, but I haven’t seen them bust out any of those special abilities either. I understand that Superman has superpowers because he’s from Krypton and Iron Man has his suit, but the heroes of my favorite kung fu films were apparently ordinary human beings who simply trained really, really hard.

There are, indeed, people who are able to achieve incredible, seemingly impossible physical feats with extreme conditioning. Here’s a picture of a Shaolin monk balancing on two fingers. (Ouch!)

Shaolin monk balancing on pointer finger of each hand

Even so, as a fantasy writer, I wanted a more codified explanation for the even more exceptional abilities in the wuxia movies, books, and comics I devoured. So I created one. I imagined a world in which a rare magic substance could grant incredible martial powers. It could’ve been anything—a potion, a metal, a plant—but I settled quickly on jade. Jade has been prized throughout thousands of years of Chinese history; referred to as the “Stone of Heaven,” it was a symbol of power and status and considered to be a substance that connected the earthly and divine realms. It was already figuratively magical—in my fictional world, I made it literally so.

However, just because I established the existence of magic jade, I wasn’t about to repudiate the reality that being an accomplished martial artist is first and foremost about dedication to hard practice. So the jade-adorned warriors in my story have to begin their training from a young age, not only to learn how to wield jade, but to withstand its harmful effects—which can, unfortunately, eventually make a person go insane and die.

So while I have so many favorite bits in Jade City, I am especially fond of the disciplines of jade magic martial arts—Lightness, Perception, Deflection, Strength, Steel, and Channeling. Pick up the book (it’s out now from Orbit) if you want to know more about what they are and witness them unleashed in bloody magic jade powered battles between rival family clans.

A still from a kung fu movie with two men in the air with swords

LINKS:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Indiebound

Powell’s

Jade City Excerpt

Website

Facebook

Twitter

BIO:

Fonda Lee is the author of the gangster fantasy saga Jade City (Orbit) and the award-winning young adult science fiction novels Zeroboxer (Flux) and Exo (Scholastic). Cross Fire, the sequel to Exo, releases in May 2018. Fonda is a recovering corporate strategist, a black belt martial artist, and an action movie aficionado. She loves a good Eggs Benedict. Born and raised in Canada, she now lives in Portland, Oregon. You can find Fonda online at www.fondalee.com and on Twitter @fondajlee.

 

My Favorite Bit: Tracy Townsend talks about THE NINE

My Favorite BitTracy Townsend is joining us today with her novel The Nine. Here’s the publisher’s description:

In the dark streets of Corma exists a book that writes itself, a book that some would kill for…

Black market courier Rowena Downshire is just trying to pay her mother’s freedom from debtor’s prison when an urgent and unexpected delivery leads her face to face with a creature out of nightmares.  Rowena escapes with her life, but the strange book she was ordered to deliver is stolen.

The Alchemist knows things few men have lived to tell about, and when Rowena shows up on his doorstep, frightened and empty-handed, he knows better than to turn her away. What he discovers leads him to ask for help from the last man he wants to see—the former mercenary, Anselm Meteron.

Across town, Reverend Phillip Chalmers awakes in a cell, bloodied and bruised, facing a creature twice his size. Translating the stolen book may be his only hope for survival; however, he soon realizes the book may be a fabled text written by the Creator Himself, tracking the nine human subjects of His Grand Experiment. In the wrong hands, it could mean the end of humanity.

Rowena and her companions become the target of conspirators who seek to use the book for their own ends.  But how can this unlikely team be sure who the enemy is when they can barely trust each other? And what will happen when the book reveals a secret no human was meant to know?

What’s Tracy’s favorite bit?

The Nine cover image

 

TRACY TOWNSEND

The Bulwer-Lytton version of how I started my debut fantasy, The Nine, would have me writing on a dark and stormy night. After all, it is a dark gaslamp fantasy, replete with corruption, conspiracy, and monstrous creatures of the night. But the truth is, I wrote the first scene of it on an unseasonably warm afternoon in March 2009, racing along in a burst of excitement that struck entirely without warning in between grading papers for an American literature class. (Muses are rude that way: untimely, even in their best moments.) I hacked away at the vision I’d had — a girl racing away from some dangerous scene, empty-handed, though she ought to have been carrying something, and bursting into an alchemist’s shop after dark. After a while, I sat back and stared at the pages I’d written. Who were these people, meeting by chance in a dusty old dispensary? What had the girl been running from, and what had she lost? Why had the man let her in after the shingle was turned, and why the wariness in his baritone voice? Not sure what I’d made — or if I’d made anything at all — I tucked the pages deep in my hard drive and before long forgot all about them.

Years later, I found that file by accident as I readied myself (on a properly cold and blustery October evening) for my first NaNoWriMo. I poked at the scene like a newly-discovered bruise, seemingly sprung from nothing. There was an ache somewhere inside it, an old, invisible pain throbbing toward its bones. I read the scene once. Twice. By the third time, I knew I was in love.

That first-written scene of The Nine is still in the book today, virtually unchanged. It’s in chapter ten, and it will always be my favorite bit.

Let’s set the scene.

Guttersnipe courier Rowena Downshire has just been robbed of an urgent, mysterious delivery and now faces with defiance and dread the man to whom the package was bound — the inscrutable Alchemist of Westgate Bridge. She’s battered and bloodied. There’s every reason to believe this failure will see her fired, thrown back out on the street or, even worse, back behind the bars of Oldtemple debtors’ prison.

She tries to apologize, but of course, it’s not that simple.

“What’s your name, girl?”

“Rowena.”

He grunted. “Family name?”

She considers, and finally answers. “Downshire, if it please you.”

“I can’t imagine what your name has to do with my pleasure, Rowena Downshire.”

I love this exchange because it’s where the characters taught me to see them for who they really are. Here I had two cagey, thick-skinned souls brought together by chance, their conversation a prowling, circling, wary engagement. They were wild animals crossing paths, taking only the most halting steps toward one another. They would probe each other’s wounds, bind them up, tear a few new ones, and maybe, just maybe, their scars would heal over properly. Just this once, as they never had before.

Every writer has certain pet subjects. There’s value in knowing when to lean in close to the story with them, letting your breath fog the windows of the edifice your words have built. I love unspoken things, and awkward beginnings, and unhealable wounds, and found families, and redemption arcs, and morally gray protagonists, and deadly, dark, competent people waiting for you to underestimate them. So of course I fell in love with these two. I could see where they were headed. I hoped they would let me come along. I longed to see what would happen to their glimmer of hope in an otherwise sooty setting.

The trouble with dark stories — with their twisty plots and crapsack universes and anti-heroism and all of that — is how many of them trade everything else away to make the darkness happen. Too many of them miss the point. Human beings tell stories because, sometimes, they are the only places where it feels safe to believe anymore. The world has taken something from each of us. A story is a writer’s promise to give something essential back. So are the people they give us in them.

“I can’t imagine what your name has to do with my pleasure,” the Alchemist tells Rowena. He’s not wrong. They find precious little pleasure in the journey that lies before them. But they do find each other.

And that’s a start, isn’t it?

LINKS:

The Nine Universal Book Link

Twitter

Website

BIO:

Tracy Townsend holds a master’s degree in writing and rhetoric from DePaul University and a bachelor’s degree in creative writing from DePauw University, a source of regular consternation when proofreading her credentials. She is a past chair of the English Department at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, an elite public boarding school, where she currently teaches creative writing and science fiction and fantasy literature. She has been a martial arts instructor, a stage combat and accent coach, and a short-order cook for houses full of tired gamers. Now she lives in Bolingbrook, Illinois with two bumptious hounds, two remarkable children, and one very patient husband. Her debut novel, The Nine, is the first in the Thieves of Fate series, published by Pyr November 14, 2017. You can find her on Twitter at @TheStorymatic and on the web at www.tracytownsend.net.