Archive for the ‘My Favorite Bit’ Category

My Favorite Bit: Nancy Kress talks about Sea Change

My Favorite BitNancy Kress is joining us today with Sea Change. Here’s the publisher’s description:

New from the Nebula Award winning author of Beggars in Spain: A riveting climate-change technothriller of espionage, conspiracy, and stakes so high they could lead to the destruction of humanity itself. In this environmental page-turner, activist lawyer Renata Black―covert member of the Org―must go deep underground to unravel the truth behind the ecological disaster that has paralyzed the food industry and destroyed her family.

Operative Renata Black has a serious problem: an ordinary self-driving house. But this house, causing a traffic snarl, also has the Org’s teal paint on the windowsill.

In 2022, GMOs were banned. A biopharmaceutical caused the Catastrophe: worldwide economic and agricultural collapse, and personal tragedy for lawyer Caroline Denton and her son. Ten years later, as Renata Black, she is a member of the Org, an underground group of scientists hunted by the feds. But the Org’s illegal food-research might just hold the key to rebuilding the worlds’ food supply.

Now there’s a mole in the Org, and Renata is the only one who can find out who it is. At risk is the possibility of an even more devastating climate collapse. For answers, she will go to her legal clients from the Quinault Nation. Will there be time to reveal the solutions that the world has not been willing to face?

What’s Nancy Kress’s favorite bit?

Sea Change cover art

It probably doesn’t sound good for an author to say that her favorite bit is a story’s opening: What, you mean it’s all downhill from there?  I sincerely hope not.  However, it is nonetheless true that my very favorite bit of my new stand-alone novella from Tachyon, Sea Change, is the opening few paragraphs:

The house was clearly lost.

I watched from my seat on the second-story balcony of the Cinnamon Café as the tiny house, a ten-by-fifteen imitation Cape Cod with a single dormer, wavered in the middle of the intersection below. It turned to the left, to the right, back to the left, ending up crosswise to the intersection. Traffic honked and stopped. The house didn’t budge, probably recalibrating. An ancient Lexus with an ancient driver tried to swerve around the house, but there wasn’t enough room. The driver leaned out and shouted at the house—as if that would do any good. Whoever was inside had the shutters closed.

Several homeless, who were not supposed to be in this historic-preservation neighborhood, jeered and laughed.

The robo-server wheeled up to my table. “Can I bring you something else, ma’am?” I waved it away; my beer was only half drunk. And the show below was too entertaining to gulp the rest, even though I would be late to meet the new recruit. Let him wait. From now on, his life would include a lot of waiting.

The old man in the Lexus, surprisingly spry, jumped out of the car and pounded on the door of the house. Nothing. People in cars, both drivies and manual, leaned out of their windows, looking impatient. One of the homeless threw a plastic cup at the house’s back wall. It missed. A few pedestrians stopped to watch, smiling, probably gloating that they weren’t the ones whose important rushing was being interrupted by an edifice with confused GPS.

Still the house didn’t move. Mobile conveyances this large weren’t permitted on city streets unless occupied, although that didn’t guarantee that the occupants weren’t asleep or drunk or too busy having sex to notice that their dwelling wasn’t moving. At the very least, by now the mandatory pull-to-curbside auxiliary engine should have engaged. Somewhere in the distance, a siren sounded, probably cops trying to get through the increasingly snarled traffic.  Grinning, I leaned forward for a better view.

Why is this my favorite bit?  After all, the novella is about more serious stuff (ocean toxins, genetically modified crops), more dramatic stuff (an underground resistance organization), more emotional stuff (I wish now that I’d titled the novella Sea Change: A Love Story, but I didn’t think of it in time).  But this lost house is my favorite bit.  Maybe because:

  • I am a lousy driver and would greatly enjoy anything that would move itself—car, truck, house.
  • I really enjoyed fitting in a lot of different reactions to this stalled house: amusement, frustration, anger, schadenfreude.
  • It gave me a chance to write “an edifice with confused GPS.” Not a phrase I’ve ever written before.
  • There are several things in this opening that will prove significant later on in the story but don’t seem so now, which allows for that authorial chuckle of suppressed glee: Guess what I’m going to do with this later!
  • The setting was copied from a real-life one in the Bahamas, a second-story balcony café from which my husband and I, sipping exotic touristy drinks with umbrellas in them, watched an completely unexpected parade proceed down the street. (That one did not get stalled).  A good memory.

The larger point here—if there is one—is that what matters to the writer may not be the same thing that matters to the reader—at least, not at the beginning of the story.  Hopefully, those two will have converged by the story’s end.  For Sea Change, you will have to decide for yourself if I made that happen.

Meanwhile, watch out for lost Cape Cods.

LINKS:

Sea Change Universal Book Link

Website

Facebook

BIO:

Nancy Kress is the author of thirty-six books, including twenty-nine novels, four collections of short stories, and three books on writing.  Her work has won six Nebulas, two Hugos, a Sturgeon, and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award.  Much of her fiction concerns genetic engineering, including Sea Change (although not her forthcoming space opera from Baen, The Eleventh Gate).   Kress’s fiction has been translated into two dozen languages, including Klingon, none of which she can read.  In addition to writing, Kress often teaches at various venues around the country and abroad, including a visiting lectureship at the University of Leipzig, a 2017 writing class in Beijing, and the annual intensive workshop Tao Toolbox, which she teaches every summer with Walter Jon Williams.  She lives in Seattle with her husband, writer Jack Skillingstead.

My Favorite Bit: Laura Lam talks about Goldilocks

My Favorite BitLaura Lam is joining us today with Goldilocks. Here’s the publisher’s description:

A gripping science fiction thriller where five women task themselves with ensuring the survival of the human race; perfect for readers of The MartianThe Power, and Station Eleven.

Despite increasing restrictions on the freedoms of women on Earth, Valerie Black is spearheading the first all-female mission to a planet in the Goldilocks Zone, where conditions are just right for human habitation.

It’s humanity’s last hope for survival, and Naomi, Valerie’s surrogate daughter and the ship’s botanist, has been waiting her whole life for an opportunity like this – to step out of Valerie’s shadow and really make a difference.

But when things start going wrong on the ship, Naomi begins to suspect that someone on board is concealing a terrible secret – and realizes time for life on Earth may be running out faster than they feared . . .

What’s Laura Lam’s favorite bit?
Goldilocks cover artOn the day we were meant to have the first all-female space walk, March 29th, I wrote chapter three of Goldilocks in righteous annoyance. It’s one of my favourite bits of the book.

Chapter 3 is just after 5 women have stolen the spaceship that was meant to be theirs before they were kicked off my mission to be replaced by men. The brand new shiny spaceship is still bolted onto the construction hub, and so two women have to go out on a spacewalk to manually release it so they can take off. This was something no one on the ground thought through, and a little loophole Valerie Black, captain of the mission, built into the design in case they pulled something like this.

To write it, I listened to the Houston We Have a Podcast episode on space walks, which was very illuminating. I did some other googling, a few astronaut memoirs mention what space walks are like, and I also watched a few NASA streams of them too. I didn’t go into the minutiae of the NASA acronyms and such, though I used a few. I tried to keep the chapter pacy and full of tension but also give a sense of scope and what was at risk if the Atalanta 5, as they’d come to be called, didn’t achieve their mission.

Here’s a wee excerpt from that chapter:

“Earth spread below them, sunset deepening back to night. They were over Asia – there was the little finger of Japan and Korea, the sprawl of China. Shocks of light from Tokyo, Beijing, Seoul. The cities were bigger, buildings for accommodation and business, but also vertical farms. Sea walls protected the changed coastline as best they could, and more walls bisected landmasses in a futile attempt to stop the next wave of climate change refugees who had nowhere else to go. So many millions of people far below them. If the Atalanta didn’t make it, all those lights would darken.

Naomi braced herself, using a rail as a foothold so the torque wouldn’t twist her around with the wrench. Each connection had a dozen smaller bolts in turn, and each took at least a hundred turns to loosen. They pocketed each bolt in an empty container so they wouldn’t be floating within the vicinity of the craft when they left. Before long, her hands hurt despite the padding of the gloves. Sunset brought back the night and she cooled again despite the suit’s protection. She adjusted the temperature of her suit, using the mirrors at her wrists to read the backward-printed controls. Her elbow joints grew stiff.”

I’d been so excited to tune into that space walk at the end of March—it was making history! And then when they didn’t have two suits that would fit them, since men usually wore large, it was disappointing. I’d been looking forward to it for weeks. So, writing this chapter in a corner of a coffee shop (remember when we could go to coffee shops? I miss them so much) was cathartic. I was able to imagine women up there, doing their job. From researching this book, I know I unequivocally do not have the right stuff, so writing about it is as close to space as I’ll ever get.

We did end up getting our all-female space walk in October. I had just finished the book by then. I watched the space walk on the train, heading down to London for an event. Though it kept buffering due to a poor connection, I slyly wiped my eyes and hoped no one saw me crying. So many women in the history of spaceflight aren’t as well known as they should be, and it’s nice to see contemporary astronauts getting the visibility they so deserve.

Everything has changed the last few months, with some of the astronauts who went up to the ISS returning to a world that’s very different. This is definitely not how I expected my book launch to go, and it’s hard not to mourn what it could have been in the alternate 2020 timeline. I still really loved writing about these women in space and imagining what it must be like up there among the stars.

LINKS:

Goldilocks Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

BIO:

Originally from sunny California, Laura Lam now lives in cloudy Scotland. She is the author of the feminist space opera Seven Devils (co-written with Elizabeth May), BBC Radio 2 Book Club section False Hearts, the companion novel Shattered Minds, and the award-winning Micah Grey series: PantomimeShadowplay, and Masquerade. Her short fiction and essays have appeared in anthologies such as Nasty WomenSolaris Rising 3, Cranky Ladies of HistoryScotland in Space, and more. Her romance alter ego is Laura Ambrose. She lectures part-time at Edinburgh Napier University on the Creative Writing MA.

My Favorite Bit: Dan Moren talks about THE ALEPH EXTRACTION

My Favorite BitDan Moren is joining us today to talk about his novel The Aleph Extraction. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Aboard a notorious criminal syndicate’s luxurious starliner, Commonwealth operative Simon Kovalic and his crew race to steal a mysterious artifact that could shift the balance of war…

Still reeling from a former teammate’s betrayal, Commonwealth operative Simon Kovalic and his band of misfit spies have no time to catch their breath before being sent on another impossible mission: to pull off the daring heist of a quasi-mythical alien artifact, right out from under the nose of the galaxy’s most ruthless crime lord.

But their cold war rivals, the Illyrican Empire, want the artifact for themselves. And Kovalic’s newest recruit, Specialist Addy Sayers, is a volatile ex-con with a mean hair-trigger who might put the whole mission at risk. Can Kovalic hold it all together, or will the team tear themselves apart before they can finish the job?

What’s Dan’s favorite bit?

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DAN MOREN

Ask any of my friends what crime I would commit if I thought I could get away with it, and to a one they would give you the same answer: a heist.

I love heists of all shapes and sizes: from the small, low-tech robbery of a Logan Lucky to the huge Mission: Impossible-style caper with masks, gadgets, and split-second escapes. So, it was only a matter of time before I wrote a story that prominently featured an elaborate heist as a centerpiece. Thus, my latest novel, The Aleph Extraction.

In Aleph, the heist in question involves our heroes, Simon Kovalic and his team of covert operatives, stealing a legendary artifact said to contain secrets which could alter the balance of the galaxy’s ongoing cold war. The problem—or, perhaps, chief among many problems—is that the artifact is somewhere on a spacefaring cruiseliner run by a ruthless crime lord. Oh, and their rival superpower, the Illyrican Empire, wants the artifact for itself, and will do anything to get it. No pressure.

The reason I love this heist so much is that it features one of my very favorite things, in fiction or the real world: a competent team of professionals who are each working to do their part of the job. That meant I got to relate events from a variety of different characters’ perspectives, each of whom—like the reader themselves—can only see one small part of the overarching plan.

But I also love the heist because the act of writing it was a bear. It turns out carrying out a heist actually has a lot in common with writing: they both have a lot of moving pieces, they’re meticulously planned, and ultimately something always goes wrong—but, of course that was part of the plan all along! Or was it?

Writing a heist means a lot of balls to juggle: Which character is where, at what time, and how much do they know at this point about what’s going on elsewhere? That’s true in any story, but it’s even more so in the case of heist, which requires a higher degree of precision that may be down to the very second. You have to balance unfolding events in a logical fashion while still maintaining elements of surprise for the reader.

Challenges are what help us keep improving, and putting together this heist meant leveling up as a writer. I tried a number of different ways to organize events, including spreadsheets and timeline apps, none of which really worked for me. Ultimately, I determined it made the most sense if the characters themselves had a “mission clock,” which let me set different goal markers—i.e. by this time, this event should be happening to one of the characters—and thus line up what was going on in different places. When I was editing, I made sure to highlight and note every place in the manuscript that a reference to time appeared, just to make sure everything lined up.

And, of course, as much joy as there is in everything going smoothly, one of the things that I realized while sketching out the idea of the heist was that things had to go wrong. While there is tension in watching to see if our heroes can pull it off, no plan survives contact with the enemy—and sometimes with your allies too. So every time I asked myself what should happen next, the answer was always the same: how can I make this harder for our protagonists? Sure, it’s cruel, but I do it all for you, reader.

What’s fun—and alternately terrifying—about constantly raising those stakes is that when the characters need to figure out how to get out of a particularly tricky jam, I need to figure it out first. It’s writing by the seat of your pants, and while sometimes it works, you can all too often write yourself into a corner, as I very nearly did more than once.

But, when it’s finally done and you’ve put it through the wringer, ironing out each and every little detail, you can step back, admire what you’ve constructed, light a cigar, and utter that time-honored phrase: “I love it when a plan comes toge—oh crap, did I remember to explain that?”

LINKS:

The Aleph Extraction Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

Instagram

BIO:

DAN MOREN is the author of sci-fi espionage capers The Aleph Extraction and The Bayern Agenda, both from Angry Robot Books, as well as The Caledonian Gambit from Talos Press. A prolific podcaster and freelance tech journalist, he writes for a number of sites including Macworld and Six Colors, and hosts shows on The Incomparable and Relay FM networks. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts with his wife, where he is never far from a set of polyhedral dice.

My Favorite Bit: Ilze Hugo talks about THE DOWN DAYS

Ilze Hugo is joining us to talk about her novel The Down Days. Here’s the publisher’s description:

In the aftermath of a deadly outbreak—reminiscent of the 1962 event of mass hysteria that was the Tanganyika Laughter Epidemic—a city at the tip of Africa is losing its mind, with residents experiencing hallucinations and paranoia. Is it simply another episode of mass hysteria, or something more sinister? In a quarantined city in which the inexplicable has already occurred, rumors, superstitions, and conspiracy theories abound.

During these strange days, Faith works as a fulltime corpse collector and a freelance “truthologist,” putting together disparate pieces of information to solve problems. But after Faith agrees to help an orphaned girl find her abducted baby brother, she begins to wonder whether the boy is even real. Meanwhile, a young man named Sans who trades in illicit goods is so distracted by a glimpse of his dream woman that he lets a bag of money he owes his gang partners go missing-leaving him desperately searching for both and soon questioning his own sanity.

Over the course of a single week, the paths of Faith, Sans, and a cast of other hustlers—including a data dealer, a drug addict, a sin eater, and a hyena man—will cross and intertwine as they move about the city, looking for lost souls, uncertain absolution, and answers that may not exist.

What’s Ilze’s favorite bit?

Down Days cover image

Ilze Hugo is joining us to talk about her novel The Down Days. Here’s the publisher’s description:

In the aftermath of a deadly outbreak—reminiscent of the 1962 event of mass hysteria that was the Tanganyika Laughter Epidemic—a city at the tip of Africa is losing its mind, with residents experiencing hallucinations and paranoia. Is it simply another episode of mass hysteria, or something more sinister? In a quarantined city in which the inexplicable has already occurred, rumors, superstitions, and conspiracy theories abound.

During these strange days, Faith works as a fulltime corpse collector and a freelance “truthologist,” putting together disparate pieces of information to solve problems. But after Faith agrees to help an orphaned girl find her abducted baby brother, she begins to wonder whether the boy is even real. Meanwhile, a young man named Sans who trades in illicit goods is so distracted by a glimpse of his dream woman that he lets a bag of money he owes his gang partners go missing-leaving him desperately searching for both and soon questioning his own sanity.

Over the course of a single week, the paths of Faith, Sans, and a cast of other hustlers—including a data dealer, a drug addict, a sin eater, and a hyena man—will cross and intertwine as they move about the city, looking for lost souls, uncertain absolution, and answers that may not exist.

What’s Ilze’s favorite bit?

Down Days cover image

MY FAVORITE BIT:

My debut novel, The Down Days, is set in a quarantined Cape Town, where a mysterious laughter epidemic has ravaged the city. Bodies are piling up and laughter has been proclaimed illegal.

I got the idea of a fictional laughter epidemic from the real life Tanganyika Laughter Epidemic that occurred in in Tanzania (then called Tanganyika) in 1962. It started with one school girl who couldn’t stop laughing and soon spread through the school and across the region. At the time, authorities didn’t know what was causing the epidemic and were worried that it might be viral. Scientists now believe the epidemic was a form of mass hysteria or mass psychogenic illness. 

Sounds unreal, right? Maybe. But it’s not at all unusual. Instances of mass psychogenic illness have occurred across the world throughout history and are thought today to be caused by chronic stress. Another famous and bizarre example is the Dancing Plague of 1518, when a woman in France started dancing in a street and soon up to 400 people joined in and danced manically for days until, as the story goes, dancers started dropping dead from exhaustion. More recent examples include a suspected case among school girls in Leroy, New York in 2011 (with the girls exhibiting muscle twitches, garbled speech and facial tics). 

Much like in today’s Cape Town (in fact, eerily so) the epidemic in my novel sees borders closed, police patrolling the streets and everyone wearing masks. It’s a novel about the impact of disease on culture. About fake news (with myths, misinformation and rumors spreading like wildfire). About masks. About the resilience of the human spirit. But it’s also a story about ghosts. 

American journalist Colin Dickey wrote in his book, Ghostland, that ‘ghost stories are about how we face, or fail to face, the past – how we process information, how we narrate our past, and how we make sense of the gaps in that history.’ Cape Town is a city with a very real history of racial segregation and displacement. And many of its citizens are still reeling from the traumas inflicted during Apartheid. Along with the idea of a laughter epidemic, ghost stories were one way to deal with this very real history or trauma, and mass ghost sightings seemed like an apt response to the trauma of a fictional epidemic. 

In fact, it didn’t seem that far-fetched, considering that after the 2005 tsunami in Thailand the dead lingered on throughout the country in the form of mass ghost sightings. The local newspapers were running stories on all sorts of spirit sightings and some experts believe the sightings were a way for the country to deal with the trauma of the event. American neurologist, Oliver Sacks, also wrote in his book, Hallucinations, that between 30 and 60 percent of elderly widowed people are visited by visions of the ghost of their loved ones after they’ve passed on and that these kinds of hallucinations are a natural way of processing grief. 

Enter my favorite character in the novel, Fred Mostert, ghostbuster, sin eater, comic relief, and then some. Fred was dreamt up for a short story I wrote for an anthology of South African short stories compiled by SA author, Diane Awerbuck. I loved him so much that he snuck his way into The Down Days as a side character. In the novel, Fred is an ex member of the occult unit of the South African Police Service – a real unit created in the 80’s during South Africa’s satanic panic era, when even The Simpsons and ThunderCats were cause for alarm. The unit was formed to fight Satanism, along with investigating everything from muti murders to “spectral evidence, including spiritual intimidation and astral coercion; curses intended to cause harm; voodoo; vampirism; harmful cult behavior; animal mutilation and sacrifice where evidence of occult involvement was believed to be indicated, human sacrifice, and the interpretation of alleged occult signatures.” When I started writing the novel I thought, along with a lot of other people, that the unit had been disbanded after Apartheid had ended, but it turns out it’s still a very real part of the South African police force today.

Truth is often so much stranger than fiction and I’ve always had a love of arcane, weird bits of history. Weaving all these real, uncanny facts into my fiction was one of my favorite bits about writing the book. 

LINKS:

The Down Days Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

BIO:

Ilze Hugo is a South African freelance journalist with degrees in fine arts and English studies, along with a Masters in creative writing from the University of Cape Town. She lives by the ocean in Muizenberg, Cape Town. The Down Days is her first novel.

My Favorite Bit: C.J. Lavigne talks about In Veritas

My Favorite BitC.J. Lavigne is joining us today with In Veritas. Here’s the publisher’s description:

In this fantastic and fantastical debut, C.J. Lavigne concocts a wondrous realm overlaying a city that brims with civic workers and pigeons. Led by her synesthesia, Verity Richards discovers a hidden world inside an old Ottawa theatre. Within the timeworn walls live people who should not exist—people whose very survival is threatened by science, technology, and natural law. Verity must submerge herself in this impossible reality to help save the last traces of their broken community. Her guides: a magician, his shadow-dog, a dying angel, and a knife-edged woman who is more than half ghost.

With great empathy and imagination, In Veritas explores the nature of truth and the complexities of human communication.

What’s C.J. Lavigne’s favorite part?

In Veritas cover art

My favorite parts of In Veritas are the ones that aren’t there.

I don’t mean that I deleted them, or that some cruel editor killed my darlings; it’s just that some details are missing. They were meant to be missing.

I utterly flail when people ask me what In Veritas is about. I’ve described it as “a weird brick” and, more verbosely, “like urban fantasy and magic realism had a child, and that child was a jigsaw puzzle that wanted to be a poem.” That puzzle has lost pieces; there’s enough to put it together, but you need to work around the gaps, or maybe carve your own pieces, and fit them in for yourself.

Wait, don’t run! It makes sense. I promise.

In Veritas is a standalone novel about a woman who perceives multiple realities at once, and whose body processes all of that conflicting information as a form of synaesthesia. She sees sound; she tastes things she touches. Her world is a cactus dripping in the scent of lilac and coal, and the salt-brittle of cracking seashells. On one level ― the most important one — In Veritas is a story about Verity Richards looking for truth, and trying to help her friends. It has a magician! And an angel. And a dog.

On another level, though — the one in which I take quiet pleasure — it’s a story about our own inability to tell stories. It’s about the limitations of language, and how no matter how much we try, we can never completely communicate the depths of our own thoughts and experiences to other people.

This is expressed in a lot of ways in the book: it’s a pastiche of clippings and transcripts and images, and little conversations between Verity and the narrator where they try so hard to get it right, just for you.

They really can’t, though. It’s all in the title. My thought process is something like this:

IN VINO, VERITAS – This is a phrase that a lot of people know: “in wine, there is truth” (or variants thereof). It’s the notion that the truth will out when someone’s been drinking. It’s a starting point: a common reference that many readers will get. But it’s not actually the title.

IN VERITAS – Take out “vino” and this is what’s left. Of course, it’s a reference to Verity; the novel is a window into her life. But presumably, the new phrase also translates as “in truth”: a promise that the story will be honest and reliable. The Latin may have gotten a little mangled, though? Maybe it means “in reality,” or maybe it should be something like “in veritate.” The premise is already flawed; the structure doesn’t quite work.

That’s because there’s a word missing. There’s nothing substituting for “vino.” So the title can also be read as IN _____, VERITAS — which is to say, “in [some hidden, ineffable concept], there is truth.”  There’s no knowing where such truth is actually to be found, because the fullness of our realities can’t be expressed through anything as limited as a single human language. It doesn’t mean that we can’t communicate anything; it just means that we can’t communicate everything. And that’s it: my secret favourite part. That’s what the book is about.

To be clear, though, In Veritas isn’t just me pontificating about semantics. It’s the story of a woman who hears rainbows and tastes music. And don’t forget about the dog.

LINKS:

In Veritas Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

Facebook

BIO:

C.J. Lavigne is a Canadian speculative fiction writer. Since 2007, she has divided her time between Ottawa, ON, and Red Deer, AB, where she currently resides and works as a professional communications scholar who writes on television, gaming, and popular culture; at other points in her life, she’s been a barista, tech support supervisor, marketing manager, freelance editor, and — briefly — radio DJ. In Veritas is her first novel.

My Favorite Bit: Octavia Cade talks about The Stone Weta

My Favorite BitOctavia Cade is joining us to talk about her novel The Stone Wētā. Here’s the publisher’s description:

We talk about the tyranny of distance a lot in this country. That distance will not save us. With governments denying climate science, scientists from affected countries and organisations are forced to traffic data to ensure the preservation of research that could in turn preserve the world. From Antarctica, to the Chihuahuan Desert, to the International Space Station, a fragile network forms. A web of knowledge. Secret. But not secret enough.

When the cold war of data preservation turns bloody – and then explosive – an underground network of scientists, all working in isolation, must decide how much they are willing to risk for the truth. For themselves, their colleagues, and their future.

Murder on Antarctic ice. A university lecturer’s car, found abandoned on a desert road. And the first crewed mission to colonise Mars, isolated and vulnerable in the depths of space.

How far would you go to save the world?

What’s Ocatvia Cade’s favorite bit?

The Stone Wētā

My favourite bit is science. It’s an idealist’s vocation, resting as it does on the belief that if you investigate something as honestly and thoroughly as possible, then sooner or later you’ll understand it, and can help others understand it too, so that they may go forth into the future and spread that understanding even further. It’s exploration, it’s innovation… and it’s also, too frequently, ignored.

You’re living through pandemic at the moment, just the same as I am. So I’m sure you’ve seen, just as I have, examples of science denial, and of information being given out that’s incomplete, biased, or just flat-out wrong. (Here in New Zealand, there’s a small subset of people who think Covid-19 is being passed on by a 5G network beaming viral infection into our houses as if it were a Star Trek transporter and our biofilters were on the blink.) There’s no escaping it.

I’d like to say that this sort of science communication is a single, isolated failure. It isn’t. What worries me most, however, is the compromise of climate science, because all too often that shit is deliberate. The Stone Wētā developed because of stuff I was seeing in headlines, on news cycles, and in science journals. Data that was disappearing, scientists that were being muzzled. Other scientists, trained in observation as scientists tend to be, noting these things and trying to preserve information across borders, getting data sets to safe places so that access to it could
be protected, no matter who was in power.

It sounds ridiculous. Paranoid. Yet it’s happening. Over in Australia, the Great Barrier Reef, arguably the biodiversity wonder of the world, an ecosystem seen from space, has just had another major bleaching event. It’s dying. The Australian government knows it’s dying – didn’t stop them pulling strings to keep the impacts of climate change on the Reef out of a major UN report. We can’t have other people know that it’s dying. Tourism might be affected.

The horror.

Look. There’s no sense trying to pretend that the present and future impacts of climate change on our world have not and will not lead to a virulent bastard child born of science and politics both. Spectres of that particular mating have been lurking for generations, and they don’t seem to die. The climate version certainly will not, and I’ll tell you why. It’s because the fusion of science and politics is a necessary one. Science might be able to model, for instance, the potential outcomes of sea level rise. What science cannot do is use that information to decide how local and regional councils, not to mention national organisations, will do about coastal infrastructure. Science won’t tell you who pays for that, or what changes in zoning might have to occur. That is the realm of politics, of communities coming together to decide their social and economic future. But, crucially, they can’t do that successfully if their information isn’t accurate.

Well, they can. But if their decisions are based on sub-optimal data then their decisions will be also be flawed. Is this the future we want for ourselves? Crappy decisions based on crappy data?

If we don’t start booting people up the arse, those are the decisions we’ll be getting. The future of our planet depends on accurate, accessible climate data. The scientists of The Stone Wētā know this. They know that idealism is no longer enough, because although their vocation requires it, the vocations of others do not. A Scientific American article from 2015 makes this clear: Big Oil knows about climate change. It has known for four decades, and has been suppressing research and promoting misinformation for nearly that long. I think we all know why. For some people, the Great Barrier Reef is worth less than stock dividends.

It isn’t to me. And it isn’t to the scientists of The Stone Wētā, whose work is in danger from the same deliberate suppression, the same malicious undermining. For some of them, it’s not only
their work that’s in danger. If the ultimate goal of power is to control the conversation, after all, sometimes it’s just easier to get rid of the speakers.

But they are observers, and aware, and they are idealists still. So the scientists of The Stone Wētā form an underground network, funnelling data to safe places, keeping their work alive when sometimes they can’t keep themselves that way. They’re women, all of them, because women – especially women of colour – are routinely overlooked. They are used to conversations that mean more than one thing. They are used to subtlety, and to survival. And they are – especially those women of colour – from communities likely to be far more affected by climate change than others.

There is a creature in New Zealand called the stone wētā. It’s a spiky, ugly insect, and it has the wonderful characteristic of freezing solid in winter. Central Otago, where the wētā lives, is cold in winter. Freezing is a way of surviving to better times, to dragging the genetic information of its body into another breeding season under sunlight. It’s a creature of survival in a hostile climate, and I know all this because science, my favourite bit, found out about it and told me so.

It can tell you things too, if it’s allowed to do so.

LINKS:

The Stone Wētā Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

BIO:

Octavia Cade is a New Zealand writer with a PhD in science communication. She has sold close to 50 stories to markets such as Clarkesworld, Asimov’s, and Shimmer. Several novellas, two poetry collections, and a non-fiction essay collection on food and horror have also been published, and her first short fiction collection, The Mythology of Salt, is due out in July from Lethe Press. She attended Clarion West 2016, is a three time Sir Julius Vogel award winner, and has recently been nominated for a Bram Stoker award. Currently she is the writer-in-residence at Square Edge/Massey University in N.Z.

 

 

My Favorite Bit: AJ Fitzwater talks about THE VOYAGES OF CINRAK THE DAPPER

My Favorite BitAJ Fitzwater is joining us to talk about their novel The Voyages of Cinrack the Dapper. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Dapper. Lesbian. Capybara. Pirate.

Cinrak the Dapper is a keeper of secrets, a righter of wrongs, the saltiest capybara on the sea and a rider of both falling stars and a great glass whale. Join her, her beloveds, the rat Queen Orvilia and the marmot diva Loquolchi, lead soprano of the Theatre Rat-oyal, her loyal cabin kit, Benj the chinchilla, and Agnes, last of the great krakens, as they hunt for treasures of all kinds and find adventures beyond their wildest dreams. Let Sir Julius Vogel Award-winning storyteller A.J. Fitzwater take you on a glorious journey about finding yourself, discovering true love and exploring the greatest secrets of the deep. Also, dapperness.

The Voyages of Cinrak the Dapper includes seven stories about Cinrak and her crew:

“Young Cinrak”
“Perfidy at the Felidae Isles
“The Wild Ride of the Untamed Stars”
“Search for the Heart of the Ocean”
“The Hirsute Pursuit”
“Cetaceous Secrets of the Jewelled Nadit”
“Flight of the Hydro Chorus”

What’s AJ’s favorite bit?

The Voyages of Cinrack the Dapper cover image

AJ FITZWATER

I can tell a decent joke about once a decade.

That’s my dry, self deprecating kiwi humour right there.

Seriously though, I thought writing humour was not one of my strong points. Neither historical fantasy and romance. Yet my first books being published this year are humour (“The Voyages of Cinrak the Dapper”, Queen of Swords Press) and historical fantasy romance (“No Man’s Land”, Paper Road Press)!

I wrote “The Voyages of Cinrak the Dapper”, about a lesbian capybara pirate and her found family of delightful misfits, completely by accident. The original story that kicked off Cinrak’s journey, “The Wild Ride of the Untamed Stars”, was a whimsical piece written for my natcon’s short story competition. Having no expectations of the piece, I made it as silly as possible. The first major pun was basing the character of soprano marmot diva Loquolchi on the marmot Queen of the Night meme. Cinrak has a magical “Alice” pocket in her snappy vest. The rat queen Orvillia offers her hand (paw) in marriage as a prize; literally, she cuts it off! The famous jewel in “Search for the Heart of the Ocean” is named after the necklace in Titanic. The pirate union is called IRATE – the International Rodent Aquatic Trade Entente; I’m especially proud of that one.

The silliness struck a chord. The story won second prize, then went on to be published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

Cinrak wouldn’t let me go. I had too much fun with her and her charming crew. It was like writing Captain Jack Sparrow, but without the drunkenness and sexism. And way WAY more queer.  Nearly everyone is some kind of queer or gender variant in Cinrak’s world. So much so it’s unremarkable and they just get on with their adventures, like a lesbian squid searching for her cetaceous soulmate, or a chinchilla trans boy finding their beard (I went easy on that pun, it’s too cute a story).

I’m happy to admit I underestimated the audience for these stories, the need for their sweet and silly joy. In being completely free of expectations, I wrote the humour for myself, pulling on my favourite memes, sayings, and images. You could say part of Cinrak is Tumblr sourced. Part of Cinrak’s character creation came from the stories and pictures of capybara chilling out with other animals. The Nopetapus, escape artist octopus stories, and golden retriever videos influenced Agnes the kraken. Columbia the mer is a nod to modern drag queens and Rocky Horror. And I couldn’t have anthropomorphic winds without a few fart jokes.

Some of the humour comes from breaking writing rules (which I love to do). I went especially hard with the alliteration, spending an inordinate amount of time giggling over a thesaurus looking for outlandish words to match each other aesthetically. I deliberately messed up the pirate dialect, keeping barely any consistency, to show it was a living language the pirates used as affectation and social bonding, all with a twinkle in their eye. And Cinrak has many elaborate exclamations; my favourite is “Peeing Sea Cucumbers!” because I have been squirted on by a sea cucumber, and it’s not something I’ve forgotten even thirty years later.

When I discovered the Latin name for capybara was hydrochoerus hydrochaeris I spent a good five minutes shrieking with delight. There was no way I could pass up the opportunity for Excellent Pun Usage. And so the last story in the collection emerged directly from the title “Flight of the Hydro Chorus”. Cinrak, Benj, Loquolchi, and Agnes – hydrochoerus, her pirate apprentice, an opera diva, and a squid – all go on a magical flight serenading the stars; the true hydro chorus, bringing the story arc begun in “Wild Ride” almost into a circle. The sheer perfection gives me such glee everyone thinks I’m bananas. And I’m perfectly fine with that.

Writing ridiculous puns and happy queer pirates, I realize in hindsight, was one way of dealing with the tumultuous last few years. It’s taught me a lot about finding joy amongst the chaos. I hope readers find something in the Cinrak stories that sparks their joy during this time of upheaval.

LINKS:

The Voyages of Cinrack the Dapper Universal Book Link

Queen of Swords Publisher Link

Twitter

Website

BIO:

AJ Fitzwater lives between the cracks of Christchurch, New Zealand. A Sir Julius Vogel Award winner and graduate of Clarion 2014, their work has appeared in Clarkesworld, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Shimmer, Giganotosaurus, and various anthologies of repute. A unicorn disguised in a snappy blazer, they tweet @AJFitzwater

My Favorite Bit: Rysa Walker talks about NOW, THEN, AND EVERYWHEN

Favorite Bit iconRysa Walker is joining us today to talk about her novel Now, Then, and Everywhen. Here’s the publisher’s description:

When two time-traveling historians cross paths during one of the most tumultuous decades of the twentieth century, history goes helter-skelter. But which one broke the timeline?

In 2136 Madison Grace uncovers a key to the origins of CHRONOS, a time-travel agency with ties to her family’s mysterious past. Just as she is starting to jump through history, she returns to her timeline to find millions of lives erased—and only the people inside her house realize anything has changed.

In 2304 CHRONOS historian Tyson Reyes is assigned to observe the crucial events that played out in America’s civil rights movement. But a massive time shift occurs while he’s in 1965, and suddenly the history he sees isn’t the history he knows.

As Madi’s and Tyson’s journeys collide, they must prevent the past from being erased forever. But strange forces are at work. Are Madi and Tyson in control or merely pawns in someone else’s game?

What’s Rysa’s favorite bit?

Now, Then, and Everywhen cover image

RYSA WALKER

Selecting a favorite bit from Now, Then & Everywhen wasn’t easy. My first inclination was the music—any book that required me to listen to the Beatles as legitimate research gets a thumbs up. Digging into obscure history from the mid-1960s South was also a high (and occasionally, low) point of writing this book, since my previous time-travel forays focused primarily on earlier historical eras.

But in the end, I picked a character we never meet directly in this book—James Lawrence Coleman, an extraordinarily prolific and eclectic author from the late 21st century. I’m pretty sure the reason this character sticks with me is that he caused me to question one of my core beliefs.

I am descended from several generations of police officers. In most respects, the law enforcement gene skipped me. This was evidenced not just by my academic career, but also by the Question Authority bumper-sticker on my car. Shortly after I began teaching, however, I discovered that on the issue of plagiarism, I possessed a zero-tolerance, Just-Say-No fervor. If I suspected a paper was lifted, in whole or in part, from another source, I went into forensic mode, determined to track down the evidence.

Having worked my way through graduate school as a single mom, I was far from authoritarian about due dates and forgiving when students needed some leniency. Ask for an extension, I told them. Turn it in late, and deal with a few points off. There was no excuse, however, for plagiarism. None. I posted a picture of the Klingon devil in my online syllabus, noting that any hint of plagiarism caused me to morph into that creature. Many failed to heed my warning and faced the wrath of Fek’lhr.

When writing this first book in the CHRONOS Origins series, however, I was confronted with a plagiarist I couldn’t fault. In fact, I had to admit that in his place, I’d almost certainly have done the same thing.

Imagine your favorite book by your favorite author. The book that had the greatest impact on your life. The one you curl up inside when the real world sucks.

Now imagine you are the only person in possession of that book. In the universe where you now find yourself, it was never written. Maybe the author was never born. Maybe the manuscript landed on a different agent or publisher’s desk, and the author, despondent at a stack of rejections, stashed the manuscript in a desk drawer or torched it in the fireplace, and never looked back.

Add to this the fact that you have, in your possession, hundreds of these books in a library that contains not just works from your own corner of the multiverse, but those from several other timelines. You also have history books in this library showing the way things might have gone—and in some cases, might still go, if leaders chose a wiser path. Science books, too, with discoveries that might be delayed or never made at all without the core component in that volume.

James Lawrence Coleman inherited just such a library from his mother, who salvaged a thumb drive with many of the books her own grandmother collected from a half-dozen timelines. All those stories, all those histories, all that knowledge…and since he couldn’t acknowledge the works were from other timelines, the only way to share was to publish them.

I hope that I’d be able to resist the temptation to publish them under my own name. My inclination would be to spin off a few dozen pen names rather than straining credulity by claiming to write thousands of books. I’d definitely be more diligent in determining whether the real author might still exist. But like Coleman, I’m certain I wouldn’t be able to resist sharing the works of Shirley Jackson, Ray Bradbury, or J. K. Rowling, to name but a few. The Princess Bride, A People’s History of the United States, The Stand, and Flowers for Algernon would not be restricted to my shelves alone—even if I had to resort to a little plagiarism in order to share them with the world.

But my dreams would probably be haunted by Fek’lhr.

LINKS:

Now, Then, and Everywhen Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

BIO:

Rysa Walker is the author of the bestselling CHRONOS Files series. Timebound, the first book in the series, was the Young Adult and Grand Prize winner in the 2013 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards. The CHRONOS Files has sold nearly half a million copies since 2013 and has been translated into fourteen languages. In addition to speculative fiction, Walker writes mysteries as C. Rysa Walker, occasionally in collaboration with author Caleb Amsel. Rysa currently resides in North Carolina with her husband, two youngest sons, and a hyperactive golden retriever. When not working on the next installment in her CHRONOS Files universe, she watches shows where travelers boldly go to galaxies far away, or reads about magical creatures and superheroes from alternate timelines.

**For news and updates, subscribe to the newsletter at rysa.com/contact.**

My Favorite Bit: Ilana C. Myer talks about THE POET KING

My Favorite BitIlana C. Myer is joining us today with her novel The Poet King, the final book in The Harp and the Ring Sequence. Here’s the publisher’s description:

After a surprising upheaval, the nation of Tamryllin has a new ruler: Elissan Diar, who proclaims himself the first Poet King. Not all in court is happy with this regime change, as Rianna secretly schemes against him while she investigates a mysterious weapon he hides in the bowels of the palace.

Meanwhile, a civil war rages in a distant land, and former Court Poet Lin Amaristoth gathers allies old and new to return to Tamryllin in time to stop the coronation. For the Poet King’s ascension is connected with a darker, more sinister prophecy which threatens to unleash a battle out of legend unless Lin and her friends can stop it.

What’s Ilana’s favorite bit?

The Poet King cover image

ILANA C. MYER

I’m a character-driven writer. This was true from the start of this trilogy, when the first image that came to me was of a woman fleeing through a dark wood. I knew she was injured, but determined. She moved with purpose.

Last Song Before Night was born of a fascination with the Celtic Poets, and the idea of poets holding magical and political power; but that image of the woman’s flight was the true beginning. Somehow I knew even then that she was a poet; but being a woman, would not be accepted in the political mainstream. (That’s right—my invented world is sexist, because I write in order to grapple with lived experience.) And, too, I knew what she ran from was as significant, in its own way, as where she was going.

It’s because I’m a character-driven writer that the second book, Fire Dance, took years to write. I needed time to get to know the new characters, their layers and motivations. Or maybe it’s that they needed time, to grow inside my mind. Otherwise the seductive queen, the weak king, and the sinister vizier would never have transcended cliché to become what they did.

So it was crucial that the final book of the trilogy, the last time each character gets a turn on the stage, would get to the heart of who they are. An ancient magic awakens in The Poet King, and the conventional methods won’t turn it back. Swords won’t work against it. Something else will be required—a different kind of courage.

For as someone well-versed in these matters will note, later on:

“In a pinch—when you find yourself amidst enchantments—the most powerful weapon is truth. The one nearest your heart most of all. A thing poets knew from the world’s beginning, until they lost their lore, and they forgot.”

When swords will not avail, when each character is called upon to confront their deepest desires and fears, nothing goes quite as you expect. No one will end the journey the way they began—if they reach the end at all.

This was my favorite bit about writing The Poet King, and the books that came before. I reveled in the opportunity afforded by fantasy for character discovery and transformation. When it comes to peeling back the layers of deceit to see ourselves, there is nothing like enchantment.

LINKS:

The Poet King Universal Book Link

Website

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 and The Poet King. A native New Yorker and longtime Jerusalem resident, she now lives in the mountains of Pennsylvania.

My Favorite Bit: TJ Klune talks about THE HOUSE IN THE CERULEAN SEA

My Favorite BitTJ Klune is joining us today with his novel The House in the Cerulean Sea. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Linus Baker is a by-the-book case worker in the Department in Charge of Magical Youth. He’s tasked with determining whether six dangerous magical children are likely to bring about the end of the world.

Arthur Parnassus is the master of the orphanage. He would do anything to keep the children safe, even if it means the world will burn. And his secrets will come to light.

The House in the Cerulean Sea is an enchanting love story, masterfully told, about the profound experience of discovering an unlikely family in an unexpected place―and realizing that family is yours.

What’s TJ’s favorite bit?

The House in the Cerulean Sea cover image

TJ KLUNE

In the fantastical world of The House in the Cerulean Sea, the lead character, Linus Baker—a fussy, portly man in his forties with an extreme appreciation for following the rules—is sent by his employer, the Department in Charge of Magical Youth (DICOMY), on a top secret assignment to investigate a mysterious orphanage that houses what he’s told are the most dangerous children in the world. Unsure of what he’ll witness when he arrives at said orphanage makes Linus extremely nervous, but it doesn’t stop him from doing what he was sent to do. By god, he’ll follow the rules to the letter, and no one will stop him.

Or so he thinks.

An early section of the novel contains what is perhaps my favorite scene in the entire book. Linus, having been summarily welcomed by the orphanage’s inhabitants one by one, joins this funny little family for dinner, all the major players joined together for the first time. There’s Talia, the fierce garden gnome. Theodore, the small wyvern. Phee, a forest sprite. Sal, the shy and nervous were-pomeranian. Chauncey, who is something (no one is quite sure what beyond that he’s a green blob with tentacles). And last—but certainly not least—the Antichrist himself, a six-year old boy named Lucy.

They are joined by the peculiar Zoe Chapelwhite, whose role at the orphanage is unknown to Linus, and Arthur Parnassus, the master of the orphanage and the children’s greatest protector, rounds out those seated at the table with Linus.

The intended purpose of this scene is to introduce the dynamic of the people at this orphanage, through the eyes of Linus, who begins to realize almost immediately that he’s in over his head. The conversation flies fast and quick, Linus is barely able to keep up as the children question him to the point of interrogation, all while some of them display their impossible powers, much to Linus’s dismay.

But it turned into so much more than that, from a writerly perspective.

Long-time readers of mine know that I have a fascination with gatherings such as this, where dynamics between people are on full display, characters showing their true selves, whether it’s asked for or not. The aim is for the reader—and Linus—to feel like they’re in the middle of a ferocious tornado, swept up and unable to do much but go along for the ride and hope for the best.

Linus has preconceptions about what he was to see during these investigations. He’s good at what he does and has been to more than a few orphanages during his employ as a caseworker with DICOMY. But nothing he’s seen can prepare him for this first dinner, and it starts his journey where everything he thought he knew will turn out to be…not quite a lie, but not exactly as he was led to believe.

Everyone has something to say, and they talk over each other, laugh loudly, whispering excitedly. Though Linus doesn’t quite realize it at that point, the children are also nervous, wary of who Linus is and what he represents. They may be young, but they know what he’s there for, and the power he wields.

But at the same time, they’re still children, and they act as such. They ask questions to a flummoxed Linus, who barely gets a chance to answer before Lucy—in his infinite wisdom—decides he would like to look like Linus, a rotund fellow. And so Lucy does, expanding his body until he too is round, ribs cracking, body inflating. It’s not meant to mock Linus, but Lucy—the scion of the Devil—is only six, and has a six year old’s imagination.

It’s played for comedic effect, but Linus doesn’t see it as that, at least not at first. All he sees are children with tremendous power, enough that it could potentially lead to the end of the world. And while it all scares Linus, it opens his eyes that the world isn’t quite how it should be, and that he played a part as a cog in a bureaucratic machine that feeds on fear of the unknown. That cracked-open door, the one Linus thought (and most likely prayed) would never be opened, begins to do just that. On the other side of this door is Linus’s exploration into the truth, and I know that Linus will one day—and one day soon—walk through that door with his head held high.

But what I love most about this scene, and why I keep coming back to it, is because while the children do have strange and wonderful powers, they’re innocent. They’ve known pain and suffering but have found safety in the walls of their home. They’re allowed to express themselves however they wish, something they’d been missing before Arthur took them in. Linus may be a perceived threat, but this is their home, and they won’t let it be taken from them without a fight. And while we always see them through Linus’s eyes, I love to think that before he arrived, these meals played out the exact same way: loud and boisterous and more than a little chaotic.

Hope, Linus learns, is a weapon, and one that when wielded by deft hands, can bring about the change so desperately needed. All it takes is a little kindness, more than a little luck, and the strength of conviction and family. That’s what this scene entails: hope and love and the power of the people we care about more than anything.

LINKS:

The House in the Cerulean Sea Universal Buy Link

Excerpt

Website

Twitter

BIO:

TJ KLUNE is a Lambda Literary Award-winning author (Into This River I Drown) and an ex-claims examiner for an insurance company. His novels include The House in the Cerulean Sea and The Extraordinaries. Being queer himself, TJ believes it’s important—now more than ever—to have accurate, positive, queer representation in stories.

My Favorite Bit: Ed Ruggero talks about BLAME THE DEAD

Ed Ruggero is joining us today with his novel Blame the Dead. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Set against the heroism and heartbreak of World War II, former Army officer Ed Ruggero brilliantly captures, with grace and authenticity, the evocative and timeless stories of ordinary people swept up in extraordinary times.

Sicily, 1943. Eddie Harkins, former Philadelphia beat cop turned Military Police lieutenant, reluctantly finds himself first at the scene of a murder at the US Army’s 11th Field Hospital. There the nurses contend with heat, dirt, short-handed staffs, the threat of German counterattack, an ever-present flood of horribly wounded GIs, and the threat of assault by one of their own—at least until someone shoots Dr. Myers Stephenson in the head.

With help from nurse Kathleen Donnelly, once a childhood friend and now perhaps something more, it soon becomes clear to Harkins that the unit is rotten to its core. As the battle lines push forward, Harkins is running out of time to find one killer before he can strike again.

What’s Ed’s favorite bit?

 

Blame the Dead cover image

ED RUGGERO

He thought about Kathleen Donnelly, her tired eyes and blood-splattered uniform, her dazzling competence and the way her mouth tasted.

That’s how the protagonist of my novel, Blame the Dead, remembers an Army nurse who is a major character in the book. What surprised me, as I looked back at early drafts, was that Kathleen didn’t even exist in original versions.  As it turned out, I thoroughly enjoyed researching and then writing about the US Army nurses who are part of the backbone of this tale. I learned that those women who volunteered for the Nurse Corps defied 1940s stereotypes of what women were capable of—surprising themselves in the bargain—all in service of their patients.

For starters, nursing was not a universally respected profession at the beginning of the war.  Some women were accused of volunteering in order to find a husband (though one can imagine safer places to look than a war zone). Public perception shifted a bit when First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt—who had four sons serving in the military—penned a bit of a guilt-trip editorial for the American Journal of Nursing, part of an appeal for 40,000 volunteer nurses. “I just want my boys to have the best care.  Won’t you do that for them?”

Once the women reached the war zone, they impressed commanders by quickly adjusting to harsh conditions with minimum complaint, which made the women an essential part of the team. The nurses’ presence helped reassure wounded soldiers that they’d be well-cared for.

Speaking of the war zone, I learned that nurses went ashore with the first waves of Allied assault troops in North Africa in November 1942.  You read that correctly: the first wave.

We’ve all seen iconic newsreel footage of heavily laden soldiers clinging to cargo nets on the rolling cliff-face that was a ship’s side, timing their final jump into a bobbing landing craft.  In that first major invasion, Operation Torch, some of those GIs were women, with medical bags on their backs, and only their Red Cross arm bands and lack of personal weapons to distinguish them from the combat soldiers.  The women dug foxholes on the rocky beach for protection from enemy fire and immediately began caring for the wounded. Since it took several days for their equipment to make it ashore, the nurses had to rely on the medical supplies they carried on their backs.  And because it was critical that medical care be available close to the front (to shorten the distance the wounded had to travel), the nurses worked snug up against the battle lines.

Four American nurses showed particular courage under fire at the claustrophobic Anzio beachhead, where the Allied landing force was surrounded by Germans in what the GIs called “Hell’s Half Acre.”

In February 1943, enemy artillery and aerial bombs struck a field hospital in the tight beachhead, killing a number of patients and medical personnel, including two nurses.  During the bombardment, four other nurses, working only by flashlight, evacuated 42 patients to a safer location. The four were awarded the Silver Star, America’s third highest award for valor in combat. Sadly, one of the four women, Second Lieutenant Ellen Ainsworth of Wisconsin, had been mortally wounded in the attack and received her award posthumously.  She was 24 years old.

In every theater of the war, military nurses served admirably, often under brutal conditions. In Sicily, where Blame the Dead is set, hospital staffs contended with heat, dirt and flies, with a steady flow of broken bodies streaming back from the front. They lived and worked in difficult conditions, including the threat of sudden, violent death.  And while they may have volunteered initially out of a sense of duty to the country, they shouldered those daily burdens because their patients needed them.

LINKS:

Blame the Dead Universal Book Link

Facebook

Instagram

Author’s Website

Excerpt

BIO:

ED RUGGERO is a West Point graduate and former Army officer who has studied, practiced, and taught leadership for more than twenty-five years. His client list includes the FBI, the New York City Police Department, CEO Conference Europe, the CIA, the Young Presidents Organization, Forbes, among many others. He has appeared on CNN, The History Channel, the Discovery Channel, and CNBC and has spoken to audiences around the world on leadership, leader development and ethics. He lives in Philadelphia.

My Favorite Bit: Jeff Wheeler talks about THE KILLING FOG

Favorite Bit iconJeff Wheeler is joining us today to talk about his novel The Killing Fog. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Survivor of a combat school, the orphaned Bingmei belongs to a band of mercenaries employed by a local ruler. Now the nobleman, and collector of rare artifacts, has entrusted Bingmei and the skilled team with a treacherous assignment: brave the wilderness’s dangers to retrieve the treasures of a lost palace buried in a glacier valley. But upsetting its tombs has a price.

Echion, emperor of the Grave Kingdom, ruler of darkness, Dragon of Night, has long been entombed. Now Bingmei has unwittingly awakened him and is answerable to a legendary prophecy. Destroying the dark lord before he reclaims the kingdoms of the living is her inherited mission. Killing Bingmei before she fulfills it is Echion’s.

Thrust unprepared into the role of savior, urged on by a renegade prince, and possessing a magic that is her destiny, Bingmei knows what she must do. But what must she risk to honor her ancestors? Bingmei’s fateful choice is one that neither her friends nor her enemies can foretell, as Echion’s dark war for control unfolds.

What is Jeff’s favorite bit?

The Killing Fog cover image

JEFF WHEELER

When I was young, I used to watch the TV show Kung Fu with David Carradine. I respected the loner monk wandering through America’s Wild West and taking out the bad guys. During high school, one of my favorite films was Big Trouble in Little China,  just for the great martial art medley of different styles they demonstrated. What many don’t know about me is that I’ve been a practitioner of many forms of Kung Fu for almost thirty years, starting at Wing Lam Kung Fu school in Silicon Valley after my missionary service.

When I was inspired to write The Killing Fog after a month-long trip to China, I chose to set it in a world with the geography of Alaska and the culture of medieval China. Instead of palaces and royalty, I wanted to focus on the martial artists. The protagonist of the story, Bingmei (a name which means ‘ice rose’ in Chinese), is the granddaughter and daughter of a family who owns a fighting school, which are called “ensigns” (based on the flag or standard they use, relating to the school).

One of the interesting things to me about Chinese martial arts is how the movements are named after different birds and animals—like the set Tiger-Crane in the Hung Gar tradition. In the northern part of China, where Kwai Chang Caine studied at the Shaolin temple in the TV show Kung Fu, that style of kung fu is very flowing and has magnificent twirling kicks and speedy maneuvers. That’s the first variety of kung fu I studied. Your opponent could be a distance from you and through leaps and flying kicks, you close the distance to deliver a blow. In the southern part of China, a different kind of kung fu was taught called Hung Gar. It’s a more aggressive, close-quarter kind of style with animal grunts that are incorporated into it, as well as blocks that can break an opponent’s arm. A friend of mine from Intel studied Hung Gar at the same school and we ended up cross-training each other in all the sets we’d learned, including the weapon sets.

In The Killing Fog, Bingmei practices forms with staves, unarmed, as well as with various kinds of swords. I’ve practiced with these weapons myself, but I didn’t want the descriptions to be so technical that it would confuse readers. Instead, I tried to capture the feelings of performing these sets and not just recite a blow-by-blow narrative of what happens. If you’ve ever seen the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, you know that a fast-paced fight scene takes a lot of choreography to perfect. That movie was based on a series of Wuxia novels, which are stories about generations of Chinese warriors who wander the world looking for honor and enemies to defeat. It’s one of my all-time favorite films but not just for the display of martial arts. The character building and relationships in the movie are so subtle, but when you know what to look for, you can see the deepest tenderness in just a glance of the eye and the unspoken words between two characters who love each other. I read books like this to immerse myself in the genre while keeping an eye on how they described the fighting styles.

While my imagination comes up with a lot of interesting things, writing this book and the Grave Kingdom series, which are independent from my other novels, it was so fun making a fresh start and weaving in a part of my life that has been there for so long. My oldest daughter gets home from her mission when The Killing Fog comes out and I can’t wait to share it with her. Before she left, we spent our last summer training in kung fu and teaching her some of the sets that I learned so long ago. It was a great bonding moment between the two of us, and she’s told me that she has continued to practice while she’s been away and looks forward to learning more when she returns.

Bingmei’s world is a lot harsher than the one we live in. While ancient forms of fighting have been passed down within families, history has not. There is no written language, no knowledge of where the ancient buildings and palaces came from. No understanding of why the Death Wall was built and why no one is allowed to cross it. Most importantly, no one knows who left behind magical relics carved from meiwood and imbued with magical power. People collect these relics to hide them away because if their power is invoked, the presence of magic summons a deadly fog which kills any creature caught within it. And no one knows why.

It’s Bingmei’s destiny to find out.

LINKS:

The Killing Fog Universal Book Link

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Website

BIO:

Jeff Wheeler took an early retirement from his career at Intel in 2014 to write full-time. He is a husband, father of five, and a devout member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Jeff lives in the Rocky Mountains. His books have been on the Wall Street Journal Bestseller list 5 times (for The Thief’s Daughter, The King’s Traitor, The Hollow Crown, The Silent Shield, and Prism Cloud) and have sold more than 4 million copies. His novels have also been published or will be published in many languages: Italian, Chinese, Hungarian, Turkish, Polish, Spanish, Russian, and German.

He is also the founder of Deep Magic: the E-zine of Clean Fantasy and Science Fiction (www.deepmagic.co), a quarterly e-zine featuring amazing short stories, novellas, and sample chapters.

You can usually find Jeff at Emerald City Comic Con, New York Comic Con or at writers conferences.

My Favorite Bit: Anne Charnock talks about BRIDGE 108

My Favorite BitAnne Charnock is joining us today with her novel Bridge 108. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Late in the twenty-first century, drought and wildfires prompt an exodus from southern Europe. When twelve-year-old Caleb is separated from his mother during their trek north, he soon falls prey to traffickers. Enslaved in an enclave outside Manchester, the resourceful and determined Caleb never loses hope of bettering himself.

After Caleb is befriended by a fellow victim of trafficking, another road opens. Hiding in the woodlands by day, guided by the stars at night, he begins a new journey—to escape to a better life, to meet someone he can trust, and to find his family. For Caleb, only one thing is certain: making his way in the world will be far more difficult than his mother imagined.

Told through multiple voices and set against the backdrop of a haunting and frighteningly believable future, Bridge 108 charts the passage of a young boy into adulthood amid oppressive circumstances that are increasingly relevant to our present day.

What’s Anne’s favorite bit?

Bridge 108 cover image

ANNE CHARNOCK

Odd as it may seem for a science fiction writer, I’d written three novels before I turned my mind to writing a truly villainous character. Readers of my first three novels had occasionally described one or two of my characters as despicable or heartless. But I must admit that I felt surprised that readers reacted so strongly. The more unpleasant characters in those novels, as I saw them, revealed distinctly unlikeable traits, but they always exhibited a redeeming quality. In other words, just like real people. I suppose I’m a little bit in love with them, even when their flaws are in plain sight.

But with Bridge 108, my fourth novel, the subject matter is so dark—young climate migrants being trafficked into servitude—that I knew I’d be creating multiple characters who are offensive and downright villainous. They display an exploitative and careless attitude to other people, young and old alike. As it turned out, creating these repugnant people became my favourite bit of Bridge 108.

The novel is structured with six point-of-view characters, and I soon realised during the drafting process that I most looked forward to writing in the voice of the villains — the principal villain being Jaspar, the head a recycling clan, who presses trafficked migrants into forced labour at his recycling yard and in spin-off operations. He deals with a trafficker, Skylark, who is constantly on the look-out for young unaccompanied migrants, such as twelve-year-old Caleb, who are easier to manipulate and control. Jaspar farms out Caleb to help his sister-in-law, Ma Lexie, in her upcycled fashion business operating from  a makeshift workshop on the top of her housing block. Both Skylark and Ma Lexie are full players in a cycle of misery, though they each seek a way-out.

Though Jaspar is a seriously wicked man, I still wanted him to more than that, to give the reader a glimpse of what he might have been in vastly different circumstances. Indeed, Jaspar has redeeming qualities if you look closely. He can be seen as both victim and persecutor like several other characters in Bridge 108. He’s in survival mode too and though his actions are unforgivable, in his own mind he is providing as best he can for his large extended family in a world that treats them as disposable.

I’m aware I sound as though I’m making excuses for his abhorrent behaviour, but I’m not. As the writer, I’m simply seeing the world through his eyes. He is distressed over the violent death of his younger brother and he makes sure his brother’s widow, Ma Lexie, stays protected within the clan. Inevitably, Jaspar’s acts of extreme violence nullify any sympathy the reader might have felt for his predicament.

What surprised me most was my willingness to push Jaspar to mete out punishments and commit evermore gruesome acts of senseless violence. So my favourite bit in Bridge 108 has probably altered me as a writer.

LINKS:

Bridge 108 Universal Book Link

Website

Blog

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BIO:

Anne Charnock is the author of Arthur C. Clarke Award-winning Dreams Before the Start of Time. Her debut novel, A Calculated Life, was shortlisted for the Kitschies and Philip K. Dick Awards. Sleeping Embers of an Ordinary Mind was included in The Guardian’s Best SFF novels of 2015.

Anne began her writing career in journalism and her articles appeared in The GuardianFinancial Times and International Herald Tribune, among others. She lives on the Isle of Bute in Scotland.

My Favorite Bit: Kelly Braffet talks about THE UNWILLING

My Favorite BitKelly Braffet is joining us today to talk about her novel The Unwilling. Here’s the publisher’s description:

A penetrating tale of magic, faith and pride…

The Unwilling is the story of Judah, a foundling born with a special gift and raised inside Highfall castle along with Gavin, the son and heir to Lord Elban’s vast empire. Judah and Gavin share an unnatural bond that is both the key to her survival…and possibly her undoing.

As Gavin is groomed for his future role, Judah comes to realize that she has no real position within the kingdom, in fact, no hope at all of ever traveling beyond its castle walls. Elban—a lord as mighty as he is cruel—has his own plans for her, for all of them. She is a mere pawn to him, and he will stop at nothing to get what he wants.

But outside the walls, in the starving, desperate city, a magus, a healer with his own secret power unlike anything Highfall has seen in years, is newly arrived from the provinces. He, too, has plans for the empire, and at the heart of those plans lies Judah… The girl who started life with no name and no history will soon uncover more to her story than she ever imagined.

An epic tale of greed and ambition, cruelty and love, this deeply immersive novel is about bowing to traditions and burning them down.

What’s Kelly’s favorite bit?

The Unwilling Cover image

KELLY BRAFFET

In both my last book, Save Yourself, and my new book, The Unwilling, there are moments where I break away from my primary point-of-view and jump into that of another character. Both times, I did it because there was part of the story that could only be told by a side character, and both times they’ve ended up some of my favorite parts of the book. Why? I think partially it’s because writing an entire novel from inside one – or even two – characters can get a little claustrophobic, and breaking out of that character can feel like a breath of air. It’s something different and refreshing, like a salad in the middle of a week-long fried-shrimp binge.* In Save Yourself, that salad was the two scenes told by Caro, a waitress who I swear is going to get her own book one day. The Unwilling is a fantasy novel, and this time around the salad scene is a hunt scene, which we see through the eyes of the heir’s younger brother, Theron. You know the phrase “the heir and the spare?” Theron is the spare. He’s supposed to command the army, but he’s nearsighted and uncoordinated and better suited to his tinkering workshop. The hunt is the first time he’s directly interacted with his father in years. The object of the hunt is a deer; to say that the deer dies is not much of a spoiler, but there are aspects of that scene that really would be spoilers, so I won’t say much more except that the hunt is not what Theron thinks it will be. It is, however one of the most gruesome scenes in the book. It’s also one of my favorites.

*My husband: Don’t you mean “a fried shrimp in the middle of a salad binge?”
Me: Um, no.
My husband: You and I are very different people.

Why? Well, for one thing, I love Theron. His mind works completely differently than everybody else in the book. He’s logical, but almost naïve; going into the hunt, he thinks of the hunt more in terms of the mechanics of the arrow than in terms of the death of the deer. (This illusion is thoroughly dispelled, by the way.) There’s this old writing school bit about how your characters need to change over the course of the story, which I mostly don’t think about – but if you’re looking for the moment in The Unwilling when Theron changes, it’s the hunt. Going into the scene, just as he thinks he knows what the hunt will be, he thinks he knows who his brother and father are, and he thinks he knows how the kingdom operates. He’s wrong about all of these things. The deer dies, and Theron survives, but it’s Theron who ends up with blood on his glasses.

Without a doubt, that scene is hard to read. The truths about his world that Theron is forced to reckon with are hard, too. The violence isn’t meant to be gleeful or gratuitous; the scene would literally not work without the death of the deer. If we don’t see what Theron sees, we don’t feel what he feels, and his response doesn’t feel true. I absolutely understand that some people will find that scene difficult or off-putting. Every reader brings their own history and experience to the table when they’re sitting down to read a book; there are definitely books that I’ve put down because a specific scene was too much for me. But that scene, while grim, accomplishes exactly what I wanted it to, and in a relatively short span of pages. I love the bit where Theron thinks about the mechanics of the arrows, and I love the bit where he thinks about his brother, the messy way his envy, admiration and love are tangled together. I love Theron, and I think that I tried to capture what was surely the most difficult day of his life with empathy and clarity.

LINKS:

The Unwilling Universal link

Website

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Excerpt

BIO:

Kelly Braffet is the author of three novels, and her writing has been published in The Fairy Tale Review, Post Road, as well as several anthologies. She attended Sarah Lawrence College and received her MFA in Creative Writing at Columbia University. She currently lives in upstate New York with her family. Her new novel, THE UNWILLING, will be out February 11th from Mira Books.

My Favorite Bit: K.S. Villoso talks about THE WOLF OF OREN-YARO

Favorite Bit iconK.S. Villoso is joining us today to talk about her novel The Wolf of Oren-Yaro. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Born under the crumbling towers of her kingdom, Queen Talyien was the shining jewel and legacy of the bloody War of the Wolves. It nearly tore her nation apart. But her arranged marriage to the son of a rival clan heralds peace.

However, he suddenly disappears before their reign can begin, and the kingdom is fractured beyond repair.

Years later, he sends a mysterious invitation to meet. Talyien journeys across the sea in hopes of reconciling their past. An assassination attempt quickly dashes those dreams. Stranded in a land she doesn’t know, with no idea whom she can trust, Talyien will have to embrace her namesake.

A Wolf of Oren-yaro is not tamed.

What is Villoso’s favorite bit?

Wolf of Oren-Yaro Cover image

K.S. VILLOSO

One of my most favourite bits in THE WOLF OF OREN-YARO is this piece of interaction between Queen Talyien and her estranged husband, Rayyel:

“Our special for today is pork bone stew,” the manager said.

“Pork bone stew sounds excellent,” I said. “Rayyel could use a spine.”

“Is heartless shrew on the menu?” Rai asked without batting an eye.

Their meeting, after years of separation, is actually the first thing I ever wrote for this book. It doesn’t show up until a few chapters into the final, published version, but it perfectly encapsulates the essence of it: a story beginning from the trenches of a failed marriage.

The perspective of the characters telling a story is often everything to me. I want to know, from the very beginning, what matters to them—their dreams and goals and how they’re going to go about getting it. Queen Talyien’s story begins where many other characters’ stories end…right after “happily ever after.” What she wants is for that happily ever after to still exist.

It is a sentiment that is familiar to many of us: the desire to continue seeing the world as we were led to believe, to chase after the promises once given to us. Queen Talyien’s whole world is bigger than her husband, but the process of discovering the lies and facade begins with him. They were betrothed as children, and their marriage was meant to signify a joint rule that would cease all hostilities in their war-torn land. She is a “chosen one”—chosen by her father and nation to be the answer to years of chaos, at least. She learns, as we all do, that awakening to reality is uncomfortable, distressing, and maybe even world-shattering. Sometimes the narratives we tell ourselves bear little resemblance to the truth.

And so her story is one that is almost familiar, until it isn’t anymore. Her handsome Prince Charming is cold and cruel, and their supposed fairy tale, happily ever after lives are complicated simply by the mere fact that they are human. Their petty, tension-filled argument in this scene brings the point home—here they are, two supposed diplomats trying to work out an agreement that will benefit their land once and for all, and their emotions take the forefront. Hiding under the barrage of insults momentarily distracts them from the fact that our lives are messy, relationships can’t be reduced to sheer logic, and things can’t be just because we want them to be, even if we’ve all but convinced ourselves we deserve everything to work out in our favour. And it’s just the tip of the iceberg for the main cast of the CHRONICLES OF THE BITCH QUEEN—the epic fantasy trilogy that begins and ends with character.

LINKS:

The Wolf of Oren-Yaro Universal Book Link

Website

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BIO:

K.S. Villoso writes speculative fiction with a focus on deeply personal themes and character-driven narratives. Much of her work is inspired by her childhood in the slums of Taguig, Philippines. She is now living amidst the forest and mountains with her husband, children, and dogs in Anmore, BC.