Archive for the ‘My Favorite Bit’ Category

MY FAVORITE BIT: J.S. Fields talks about ARDULUM: THIRD DON

My Favorite BitJ.S. Fields is here today with the final book in the Ardulum series, Ardulum: Third Don. Here’s the publisher’s description:

The planet wakes.

Atalant is torn between two worlds. In uncharted space, head of a sentient planet, the new eld of Ardulum now leads the religion she once rejected. Emn is by her side but the Mmnnuggl war brewing in the Charted Systems, threatening her homeworld of Neek, cannot be ignored. Atalant must return to the planet that exiled her in order to lead the resistance. She must return home a god, a hypocrite, a liar in gold robes, and decide whether to thrust her unwilling people into the truth of Ardulum, or play the role she has been handed and never see her family, or her world, again.

What’s J.S. favorite bit?

Ardulum Third Don cover image

J.S. FIELDS

I’m a scientist.

And I’m back.

Although I spend a lot of time in real life, and in the ARDULUM series, talking about wood science (or the science of cellulose, specifically), I never really get a chance to talk about the other side of my job, which is…

Wait for it…

Fungi.

Not the kind that grow on your bread, or in your shower, or the black kind that everyone gets super bent out of shape about for no good reason (can someone please make one of those friendly spider memes for mold? Please?). I work with wood-decaying fungi which, as you might imagine, is sort of perfect since all the tech in ARDULUM is cellulose-based. So what better plot device, what better mass-panic-inducing organism, than a fungus that can literally eat the galaxy?

Fungi have always been a part of the Charted Systems and the Alliance, if somewhat subtly. The menagerie of genders presented in the series are each modeled after a species of fungus. Conveniently fungi present practically limitless options for gender and sexual reproduction, and aliens should be at least as diverse as fungi (our closest evolutionary friends, in terms of kingdom). But I didn’t just want to model gender in THIRD DON, I actually wanted to imagine what fungi, as sentient beings (that can communicate with us. I’m not saying current fungi aren’t sentient. Don’t come after me, mycophiles!) would look like, how they might move, and how they might communicate.

Unfortunately there wasn’t a lot of space to get into the minutiae of sentient fungal mechanics, but I’m really pleased with the parts I did get to play with. How do fungi emote? If we give them more ‘understandable’ traits, a big one would be a large spore expulsion. Although not all fungi release spores in such a manner on Earth, it seems like a reasonable evolutionary trait to be able to aggressively shoot spores (especially foul smelling ones) at someone who is bothering you. The spores could be sticky, smelly, or rapidly come to life and continue attacking. What fun! And what a mess to clean up. One can imagine if extended negotiations were needed with sentient fungi, one would try to make sure tempers stayed cool.

Another big issue would be communication. Fungi communicate chemically, as do most living things, and also, in theory, through their extensive hyphal networks. For THIRD DON I tried to combine the two methods, by indicating that the sentient fungi used chemical signals, but in order to communicate in ‘Common’ with Atalant, rubbed their hyphae together to mimic speaking sounds. I assume the chitin content of fungal hyphae would need to be drastically increased to make the kind of noises needed to ‘talk,’ but hey, this is science fiction. You can take some things on spec, surely.

Finally, movement. Fungi capable of running a planet and interacting with bipeds need a way to locomote. And since this is an entire kingdom we’re talking about here, not just a species (like, say, Homo sapien), there needed to be some variation. So I selected across a broad group of fruiting forms, from the very recognizable stinkhorn fungi (specifically the ‘veiled lady,’ Phallus indusiatus), to the ascomycetes cup fungus elf’s cup (Chlorociboria spp.), to a fungus that has no known fruiting body nor common name: Scytalidium cuboideum.

Dragging seemed the easiest way to get around, and most fungi make hyphae, so across the board the fungi pull themselves along with braided hyphae. But to denote species differences, I got into the mechanics of each type. The veiled lady can detach their ‘veil’ and wave it around (or smack other beings with it) in anger, using hyphal ‘hands.’ Scytalidium cuboideum moves both through its mycelium, and through expulsion of pigment from its hyphae (in real life, the fungus makes a beautiful red pigment which is used in textile dyeing). The final fungus, elf’s cup, doesn’t do much unique with their movement, but since this fungus has been used for hundreds of years in Western Europe for dyeing wood intarsia and marquetry pieces, I wanted to make sure there was a nod to its expansive pigment production. Hence, every time the fungus is on something woody in THIRD DON (which is basically all the time), it injects a blue-green color into the wood, as well as leaves a trail of blue-green pigment in its wake. Like a car leaking oil, but prettier.

The sentient fungi of THIRD DON are mostly limited to one chapter, and play a very small role in the overall plot, but in many ways they were the most fun to write. A biped is a biped, especially in sci-fi, and especially if we want people to be able to relate to the character, but fungi…ah, we have such creative freedom with fungi! Genders and digestion and habitat and communication…really it’s a wonder there aren’t more sci-fi stories dedicated to their biology.

And maybe if there were, people wouldn’t be so terrified of the mold in their shower.

LINKS:

Ardulum:Third Don Universal Book Link

Website

Goodreads

Twitter

BIO:

J.S Fields is a scientist who has perhaps spent too much time around organic solvents. Fields enjoys roller derby, woodturning, making chainmail by hand, and cultivating fungi in the backs of minivans. Nonbinary, and pronoun indifferent. Always up for a Twitter chat.

My Favorite Bit: Marie Brennan talks about BORN TO THE BLADE Season 1

My Favorite BitMarie Brennan is joining us today with the serial fiction Born to the Blade, written with Michael R. Underwood, Malka Older, and Cassandra Khaw. Here is the description:

Youth. Ambition. Power. Oda no Michiko and Kris Denn have much of the first two, and crave the last. To get it, all they must do is survive.

For centuries, the Warder’s Circle on the neutral islands of Twaa-Fei has given the nations of the sky a way to avoid war, as their chosen warders settle disputes through magical duels of blade and sigil. But that peace is on the edge of crumbling, crushed between the aggression of the Mertikan Empire and the determination of the still-free nations to not be consumed. Twaa-Fei may be neutral, but it is also home to a million intrigues, schemes, and deadly intentions.

Michiko and Kris arrive in this treacherous world together, bladecrafters eager to serve their countries — Michiko as a junior warder for Katuke, a vassal of the empire, Kris as an upstart challenging to win a seat for his home, Rumika, in the Circle. But before the young bladecrafters have even settled in, a power struggle erupts, a man’s head is parted from his shoulders, and every good thing Michiko thinks she knows about the empire comes into question. A storm is coming, and Kris and Michiko stand at its eye. Will it bind the nations of the sky together… or tear it apart?

Born to the Blade season 1 cover image

MARIE BRENNAN

This is going to sound weird . . . but my favorite bit in Born to the Blade, the collaborative novel I wrote with Michael R. Underwood, Malka Older, and Cassandra Khaw, might just be Bellona.

Bellona? The arrogant, high-handed character everybody loves to hate? How can I name her, when I could choose from Michiko, Kris, Ojo, Adechike (officially nicknamed “Beautiful Cinnamon Roll” by the writing team)?

I don’t like Bellona. It’s no accident that she’s named after the Roman goddess of war: she spreads strife wherever she goes, sometimes on purpose, sometimes just by being who she is. She’s utterly invested in the ideology of the Mertikan Empire, which is best described as “rabid meritocracy.” It’s a land where every person is . . . not encouraged, that’s too gentle; more like required . . . to pursue excellence in whatever it is they do, whether that’s being a bladecrafter representing the Empire on the neutral islands of Twaa-Fei, or a street sweeper in the capital city.

In Mertika, if you can prove you’re good at a thing, then the job is yours. Other islands in the sky use formal confrontations with swords to settle political treaties or points of dispute, but in Mertika, you can challenge for any position, attempting to prove your worth through a suitable kind of duel. Want to become a cook? Think Iron Chef. Barber? Time to see who can produce the fastest, cleanest shave. Anybody can become Emperor or Empress . . . if they can defeat the current ruler in a test of combined swordplay and magic.

Of course, there are consequences if you challenge and fail. Then you tumble all the way to the bottom of the hierarchy, not only in this lifetime but the next.

Because that’s the other thing: Mertikans remember their previous lives.

Every island in the sky bestows a magical birthright on people born there (regardless of their ancestry). For Mertikans, it’s past-life recall. Combine that with their ideology, and you have a recipe for the “tiger mom” stereotype on steroids: a constant drumbeat telling them to achieve, achieve, achieve, and the awareness of whether they’re surpassing their previous incarnation or failing to live up to it.

I don’t like Bellona, but I love the window she gives us into the Mertikan Empire. She did great things when she was Aelia Tullius, and now she’s ambitious to do more. She has to be excellent at everything she sets her hand to, whether that’s dueling, lying (an excellence she’s never really possessed), or throwing a baby shower for a pregnant Warder. When her superior, Lavinia, tells her she should recognize the limits of her reach, Bellona rejects that outright:

Only an idiot concluded that, because the peach was high in the tree, she would never be able to pluck it. Someone, sometime in the distant past, had faced the same problem . . . and invented the ladder.

Bellona will invent whatever ladders she has to in order to achieve her goals. Even when I detest those goals, even when I want to smack her upside the head with proof that just because Mertika pursues excellence doesn’t mean it’s good, I find her mindset compelling. So while I love many of the characters in our story — nerdy Takeshi, long-suffering Yochno, noble Penelope, flamboyant Shun — Bellona might just be my favorite, because she’s so determined to be the best.

If what she winds up being best at is making readers loathe her, then we’ve done our job.

LINKS:

Born to the Blade

How Serial Box works

Marie Brennan Twitter

BIO:

Marie Brennan is a former anthropologist and folklorist who shamelessly pillages her academic fields for material. She most recently misapplied her professors’ hard work to the Hugo Award-nominated Victorian adventure series The Memoirs of Lady Trent; the first book of that series, A Natural History of Dragons, was a finalist for the World Fantasy Award and won the Prix Imaginales for Best Translated Novel. Her collaborative novel Born to the Blade, written with Michael R. Underwood, Malka Older, and Cassandra Khaw, is out this spring from Serial Box. She is also the author of the Doppelganger duology of Warrior and Witch, the urban fantasies Lies and Prophecy and Chains and Memory, the Onyx Court historical fantasy series, the Varekai novellas, and more than fifty short stories. For more information, visit www.swantower.com.

My Favorite Bit: Warren Hammond talks about DENVER MOON: THE MINDS OF MARS

Favorite Bit iconWarren Hammond is joining us today with his novella Denver Moon:The Minds of Mars, co-authored with Joshua Viola. Here’s the description:

Once considered humanity’s future home, Mars hasn’t worked out like anybody hoped. Plagued by crime and a terraforming project that’s centuries from completion, Mars is a red hell.

Denver Moon, P.I., works the dark underbelly of Mars City. While investigating a series of violent crimes linked to red fever—a Martian disorder that turns its victims into bloodthirsty killers—Denver discovers a cryptic message left by Tatsuo Moon, Mars City co-founder and Denver’s grandfather. The same grandfather who died two decades ago.

Twenty-year-old revelations force Denver on a quest for truth, but Tatsuo’s former friend, Cole Hennessy, leader of the Church of Mars, has other plans and will stop at nothing to keep Denver from disclosing Tatsuo’s secrets to the world.

Hell-bent on reclaiming her grandfather’s legacy, Denver—along with her AI implant, Smith, companion android, Nigel, and shuttle pilot, Navya—set out on a quest to find the answers they hope will shed light on the church’s true agenda, the origin of red fever, and the mysteries surrounding Tatsuo’s tragic death.

What’s Warren’s favorite bit?

Denver Moon

WARREN HAMMOND

My favorite bit of Denver Moon: The Minds of Mars wasn’t my idea. It was my co-author, Joshua Viola, who came up with the idea of using a gun as Denver Moon’s sidekick. “The gun has been installed with an AI,” he said. “And Denver talks to it when she does her PI work.”

The thought of a talking gun made me smile. From the very beginning, Josh and I wanted to have fun with this project, and making a gun into a primary character sounded like…well, fun. I suggested we name our AI-in-a-gun sidekick Smith, because the gun is a Smith and Wesson. That elicited a grin, and we were off to the races, running with a good idea like all writers do.

That’s the exciting part of a collaborative project. Josh and I both bring good ideas, but those ideas become so much more special when we bounce them off each other, and they morph, and shift, and inspire unexpected turns that far exceed our original thoughts.

The next idea was this: the AI-in-a-gun sidekick carries the memories of Denver’s dead grandfather, the founder of Mars colony. Thanks to this addition, Smith began to grow a personality. Unable to keep himself separate from the memories he carries, he now had his own thoughts and feelings. He was no longer a smoother-talking version of an Amazon Echo or Apple Siri. He was now a fully-realized character who, we decided, would often have an agenda all his own.

And what if Denver gets annoyed when Smith acts too much like her grandfather? What if, among her grandfather’s memories, Smith finds a message implying Denver’s grandfather might not be dead?

Ideas work like that sometimes. One leads to the next, which leads to the next, until they seem to take on a life all their own. Adding layer after layer to Denver and Smith’s world, we built the foundation for Denver Moon: The Minds of Mars as well as a three-issue comic book series named Denver Moon: Metamorphosis. We debuted the comics recently at the Denver Independent Comic & Arts Expo, where we received an unexpected gift.

It was during a quiet period at the Hex Publisher’s booth that a young man picked up the first issue of the comic book series. Silently, he read a few pages as both Josh and I—tired from a long day— sat quietly behind the table. But then the young man started to chuckle. Speaking to himself, he said, “She’s talking to her gun.”

Hearing those words, I smiled, too, just like the first time I heard it.

LINKS:

Denver Moon: The Minds of Mars Universal Book Link

Denver Moon Website

Hex Publishers

BIOS:

Warren Hammond grew up in the Hudson River Valley of New York State. Upon obtaining his teaching degree from the University at Albany, he moved to Colorado, and settled in Denver where he can often be found typing away at one of the local coffee shops. He is known for his gritty, futuristic KOP series from TOR Books. By taking the best of classic detective noir, and reinventing it on a destitute colony world, Warren has created these uniquely dark tales of murder, corruption and redemption. KOP Killer won the 2012 Colorado Book Award for best mystery. Always eager to see new places, Warren has traveled extensively. Whether it’s wildlife viewing in exotic locales like Botswana and the Galapagos Islands, or trekking in the Himalayas, he’s always up for a new adventure.

Joshua Viola is an author, artist, and former video game developer (Pirates of the Caribbean, Smurfs, TARGET: Terror). In addition to creating a transmedia franchise around The Bane of Yoto, honored with more than a dozen awards, he is the author of Blackstar, a tie-in novel based on the discography of Celldweller. His debut horror anthology, Nightmares Unhinged, was a Denver Post and Amazon bestseller and named one of the Best Books of 2016 by Kirkus Reviews. His second anthology, Cyber World (co-edited by Jason Heller), was an Independent Publisher Book Awards winner and Colorado Book Award finalist and named one of the Best Books of 2016 by Barnes & Noble. His short fiction has appeared in The Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Found anthology (RMFW Press), D.O.A. III – Extreme Horror Collection (Blood Bound Books), and The Literary Hatchet (PearTree Press). He lives in Denver, Colorado, where he is chief editor and owner of Hex Publishers.

My Favorite Bit: Cat Rambo talks about HEARTS OF TABAT

My Favorite BitCat Rambo is joining us today to talk about her novel Hearts of Tabat. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Fireworks, riots, and rousing speeches all mark the vast societal upheavals taking place in the city of Tabat. But personal upheavals reflect the chaos. Adelina Nettlepurse, noted historian and secret owner of Spinner Press, watches the politics and intrigue with interest, only to find herself drawn into its heart by a dangerous text and a wholly unsuitable love affair with a man well below her station.

The match offered by Merchant Mage Sebastiano Silvercloth would be much more acceptable, but Sebastiano is hampered by his own troubles at the College of Mages, where the dwindling of magical resources threatens Tabat itself. And worse, his father demands he marry as soon as possible.

When Adelina’s best friend, glamorous and charming gladiator Bella Kanto, is convicted of sorcery and exiled, the city of Tabat undergoes increasing turmoil as even the weather changes to reflect the confusion and loss of one of its most beloved heroes.

Meanwhile the Beasts of Tabat — magical creatures such as dryads, minotaurs, and centaurs — are experiencing a revolution of their own, questioning a social order that holds them at its lowest level. But who is helping the Beasts in their subversive uprising?

In the second book of the Tabat Quartet, award-winning author Cat Rambo expands the breathtaking story from Beasts of Tabat with new points of view as Adelina, Sebastiano, and others add their voices. Tabat is a world, a society, and a cast of characters unlike any you have read before.

What’s Cat’s favorite bit?

Hearts of Tabat Cover Image

CAT RAMBO

One of my favorite pieces of the most recent fantasy novel, Hearts of Tabat, didn’t actually get into the final version, which was a set of chapter headers defining which Trade God each chapter belonged to. The Trade Gods of the city of Tabat embody various economic forces of one size or another, ranging from the large Anbo and Enba (Supply & Demand) to the more particular, like Zampri, who oversees Advertising, or Uhkephelmi, God of Small Mistakes.

I ended up removing these headers because I was afraid readers might take them to be more meaningful than they are, but they were great fun to figure out and many still made their way into the book itself or other Tabat works, such as the novelette I just finished, “God of the Balanced Ledger,” which talks at great lengths about some of the practices of merchants of Tabat.

I love complicated mythologies, and I’ve tried to create one in the Trade Gods, though I’ve also tried to make their names make sense by making a list of the more important morphemes as well as creating suffixes that identify gender: female, male, neuter, multi, and other. I know that if a god’s name starts out with “Dom,” for instance, they have something to do with communication, such as Dompkepko, God of Negotiation, or their sibling Domkepthka, God of Persuasion. “Aril” on the other hand usually signals some sort of tie or alliance.

In creating the mythology, I’ve tried to show how the merchants living within it see the world, as something that is made up of economic forces, with a sense of a mythology that is as much a textbook of basic economic theory as it is a scripture, but still captures the flavor of a lively, energetic pantheon. Some of them got quite complicated, such as Rilriliworhaomu, Trade God of Hypothetical Marital Alliances.

The sequel, Exiles of Tabat, is dedicated to another specific trade god, Uhcoemo, Trade God of Exiles. Where this book has explored some of the events of the first from different points of view, the third returns to Bella Kanto and Teo, this time far away from Tabat, struggling with the immense changes that have happened in their lives.

Some folks have said nice things about the worldbuilding in both Hearts of Tabat as well as its predecessor, Beasts, and I think it’s pieces like this, which provide both underlying structure and new directions for stories to go in, that help create an immersive, interesting world, along with all the fantastic talking gryphons, magic fountains, and other details of the seaport of Tabat. By now I’ve written not just two and a half novels in its world, but over two dozen stories, and I know I’ll keep coming back and finding new details, perhaps overseen in that endeavour by Marbu, Trade God of Chance and Domkepdepru, Trade God of Books.

Here’s some of those other Gods for your amusement:

Abkerdomma, Trade God of Full Disclosure

Abvioti, Trade God of First Impressions

Angrajekna, Trade God of Beasts

Angrato, Trade God of Cargo

Arilkepgioti, Trade God of Apprenticeship

Arilkepyaotu, Trade God of Mentorship

Arilworyaomi, Trade God of Future Marital Alliances

Chalwoarma, Trade God of Lustful Influence

Chayanyata, Trade God of Medicines

Diahmo, God of the Balanced Ledger

Domkepku, Trade God of Publishing

Ehworhaoti, Trade God of Negotiating Marital Alliances

Enbi, Trade God of Need

Erilgioma, Trade God of Influence Through Childhood Friendship

Fayapprima, Goddess of Prevented Losses

Giobi, Trade God of Friendship

Hazba, Trade God of Mortality

Ihobvioki, Trade God of Public Display

Keppro, Trade God of Work

Kepterto, Trade God of Tailors

Kepverma, Trade God of Tanners

Mompru, Trade God of Food

Plarworki, Trade God of Political Connection

Rupru, Trade God of Ritual

Uhfawyanbi, Trade God of Danger, Loss, and Gambles

Uhkephelmi, Trade God of Small Mistakes

Uhmarko, Trade God of Unlucky Finds and Unfortunate Meetings

Uhyanyapri, Trade God of Rot

Uhviodommu, God of Bad Reputation and Taint

Vioyaovi, the God of Filial Display

Woryaoto, Trade God of Filial Ties

Yalunkwanko, Lady of Nighttime Doings

Zamhruku, Trade God of Entertainments

Zampri, Trade God of Advertising

Zimjekma, Trade God of Magical Knowledge

LINKS:

Hearts of Tabat Universal Book Link

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BIO:

Cat Rambo lives, writes, and teaches atop a hill in the Pacific Northwest. Her 200+ fiction publications include stories in Asimov’s, Clarkesworld Magazine, and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. She is an Endeavour, Nebula, and World Fantasy Award nominee. Her 2018 works include Hearts of Tabat (novel, WordFire Press) and the updated 3rd edition of Creating an Online Presence for Writers. For more about her, as well as links to her fiction and her popular online school, The Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers, see http://www.kittywumpus.net. She is the current President of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. (SFWA.org)

My Favorite Bit: Brenda W. Clough talks about A MOST DANGEROUS WOMAN

Favorite Bit iconBrenda W. Clough is joining us today to talk about her serial fiction A Most Dangerous Woman, a standalone sequel to Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White. Here’s the description:

Marian Halcombe never believed she’d fall in love, let alone marry. That is, until she meets Theo Camlet. But when Theo’s first wife, who everyone believed to be dead, reappears, Marian’s happy-ever-after might just slip away. Marian and her brother in law, Walter, must delve into the darkest and most dangerous corners of London to save Theo from accusations of bigamy and murder, as well as the hangman’s noose.

What’s Brenda’s favorite bit?

A Most Dangerous Woman cover image

BRENDA W. CLOUGH

Content Warning: description of genital mutilation as outdated medical procedure

A MOST DANGROUS WOMAN is solidly set in the mid-Victorian period, an era full of research nuggets. It was before antibiotics, before the germ theory, but in a period where everyone wrote everything down. So you have masses of thrilling and blood-curdling medical disaster stories. I am trying to wedge as many of the most wince-worthy ones into these novels! But some of the ones that didn’t make it into the current book include:

The period pharmacopoeia. The favorite Victorian drug was an opiate; opium or its more powerful derivatives were added to everything. Tonics. Baby supplements. Cough syrups. Malaria medicines. It’s a wonder anyone got anything done, they all must have been higher than Timothy Leary. Another beloved chemical enhancement was arsenic. It was like corn sugar for us, a useful additive to anything you can imagine. Lotions, foodstuffs, hair products – everything went down a little better with arsenic. There were no food purity regulations, no drug laws that precluded you from buying half a pound of the stuff at the local store so that you could add arsenic, or opiates, to the food you were selling or cooking for the hubby and kids.

Things to do to sick people. When Emily Bronte (author of WUTHERING HEIGHTS) was bitten by her dog, she staved off rabies by cauterizing the wound with a poker heated red-hot. She did this with her own hands, not even allowing Charlotte and Anne to help. Thank God, there were no cell phone cameras so the incident is not viewable on YouTube. The things to feed to sick people will make you feel ill just reading the recipes. The idea was that sick people were not strong enough to digest anything. So they got dishes like bread jelly (put the bread in a bowl, pour boiling water on, and after it cools take the bread out. Spoon the water left in the bowl into the invalid’s mouth). Or gruel, the bane of Oliver Twist. You could have sago gruel, oatmeal gruel or rice gruel. All of these to be served quite plain, and any leftovers could be used to glue wallpaper to the walls. If you read JANE EYRE it is clear that Bertha, the crazy wife hidden in the attic, is fed on nothing but gruel. After a year or two on this diet you would go berserk and burn the hose down too!

Creative treatment trends. There was a fashion for hydropathy, which means taking baths. Cold baths, hot baths, water poured in a steady stream onto the top of your head – all these things were supposed to help cure a variety of ailments. Charles Darwin spent years treating his digestive issues with sitz baths, sitting in a shallow basin of water. You can still view the bowl at his house in Sussex – he kept it hanging behind his office door, handy for use. Another horrific notion, mainly pushed by a single nutty doctor, was clitoridectomy. Yes, using a scissors on a woman’s most personal organ would cure her of nearly anything from toothache to infertility. That doctor got disbarred, but another, whose idea that all your health problems were caused by your teeth, was not. He prescribed extractions for everything from colds to heart trouble to gout, and did a good business. Then he got sick himself, and had all his own teeth pulled out. He was horrified when it didn’t help, and you will not be surprised to hear that after that he went into a decline.

And finally, the one medical issue that you find very little written about: STDs. Sexually transmitted illnesses were rampant, in an era when London teemed with prostitutes and there were no cures or cheap protections. There was of course no birth control, and even condoms had to be expensively and painstakingly hand-made (from lamb intestine, tied on with ribbon). Every man who strayed sooner or later picked up some horrible disease, and if they were unlucky they were infected with the most feared germ of all: syphilis, the Great Pox. It was highly infectious, and incurable. The treatments (mercury) were at best partially effective and at worst killed you outright. But you couldn’t talk about it. Because if you had an STD you, by definition, had been sleeping around. Doctors would diagnose and treat men, but carefully not tell their wives even if the lady became infected. Because it was the mister who paid the bill, and the knowledge would only upset the poor little woman, right? In any case there was no cure until the advent of penicillin, and if you were really unfortunate the disease would pop back out after years of making you ill, and drive you insane. A vast field of literary analysis is out there, exploring how the fear of VD haunts fiction and poetry of the period. As syphilis warped men’s sexuality, infected women (Isak Dinesen caught syphilis from her husband) people wrote about it in coded or veiled terms that we are only just starting to perceive.

Although I had not intended this, you can look up from the world of A MOST DANGEROUS WOMAN and be really, really glad that you live in an era with modern medicine!

LINKS:

A Most Dangerous Woman

How Serial Box Works

Brenda W. Clough Website

BIO:
Brenda W. Clough spent much of her childhood overseas, courtesy of the U.S. government. She writes novels and short stories. Her first fantasy, The Crystal Crown, was published by DAW in 1984. She has also written The Dragon of Mishbil (1985), The Realm Beneath (1986), and The Name of the Sun (1988). Her children’s novel, An Impossumble Summer (1992), is set in her own house in Virginia, cottage at the edge of a forest.

Her novel How Like a God was published by Tor Books in 1997, and a sequel, Doors of Death and Life, was published in May 2000. Her latest novels from Book View Cafe include Revise the World (2009) and Speak to Our Desires.

She has been a finalist for both the Hugo and the Nebula awards.

My Favorite Bit: Chris Cutler talks about UNSPUN

My Favorite BitChris Cutler is joining us today to talk about his anthology Unspun. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Whatever happened to “happily ever after”?

Heroes search for happiness, villains plot revenge, and nothing is as easy as it once seemed. Gretel suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, an orphan girl questions Rumpelstiltskin’s legacy, a monster cat searches for a child to eat, and the pied piper realizes stealing a hundred and thirty children may not have been his smartest idea.

Fairy tales have endured for centuries even though—or perhaps because—their conclusions are often more unsettling than satisfying. In Unspun, eleven storytellers come together to challenge and explore a few of those classic tales. Unexpected twists are sure to provoke both thought and laughter.

What’s Chris’ favorite bit?

Unspun Cover Image

CHRIS CUTLER

Fairy tales are wonderfully flawed, and we love them for it. They are morality tales whose morals have changed. They are cautionary tales repurposed as entertainment. They are improbable tales built out of incongruities and logic holes. They are escapist tales in which love at first sight relationships and rags-to-riches success fade to “Happily Ever After” before the heroine has time to confront the lasting consequences of her adventure. And I am convinced that we love fairy tales precisely because of these flaws, because each dissonant quality compels us to tell the story over again in a new way. Without those rough edges to catch our imagination, they couldn’t have embedded themselves so deeply into our social consciousness.

If you can’t tell, I happen to really love fairy tale adaptations. Several of my all-time favorite books fall into that category, as do many of the bedtime stories I tell my children. There is something inescapably fun about unpacking motivations to make the characters feel genuine. There is something incredibly satisfying about rearranging background events and people to justify the narrative thread of a story. And, at heart, there is something simply wonderful about telling a familiar story in a new and exciting way. I was thrilled by the experience of participating in this anthology because it not only allowed me to join some great authors in doing exactly this sort of unpacking, rearranging, and retelling, but it also let each of us explore the wonderful realm of “What happens next?”

For example, I absolutely adore Jeanna Stay’s story “Breadcrumbs,” which follows Gretel after she escapes the horrors of the gingerbread house. How do you return to your family after betrayal and abandonment? How do you escape the nightmares that remind you of what you had to do to survive? Gretel’s struggle to find hope and direction after the trauma of her fairy tale is intensely personal and beautifully told.

Another personal favorite from the anthology is Katherine Cowley’s novella “Tatterhood and the Prince’s Hand.” In the original fairy tale, Tatterhood is an ugly princess who rides a goat and wields a magic spoon. After rescuing her sister from trolls, she finds herself happily-ever-aftered to a foreign prince. In Cowley’s continuation of the story, Tatterhood is happy with herself and her abilities, but she is not entirely confident in the affection of her new husband (or in her affection for him). When he is captured by a magical creature, Tatterhood has to decide how much she wants him back. Underneath the action scenes and the search for clues, the story is an insightful and touching exploration of loyalty and confidence and acceptance.

When I approached writing “Heart of a Thief,” my continuation of Jack and the Beanstalk, the flaw that captured my attention was the cow. Recall that Jack’s whole adventure starts off when he sells the family cow to an old man in exchange for a handful of magic beans. If someone has genuine magic beans, why on earth would they trade them for a cow that can no longer help Jack and his mother subsist?

As it happens, there are a whole slew of possible ulterior motives. Here is a glimpse into my brainstorming session:

  • The man is Jack’s estranged father in disguise, coming back to make amends by giving Jack something valuable.
  • It’s the giant’s wife in disguise, hoping to get rid of her good-for-nothing husband. That explains why she keeps hiding Jack in the house on repeated visits despite Jack’s habit of running off with their valuables.
  • No disguise, he’s just a con man. Buying the cow is step one of a heist. It’s easier to rob a farmhouse than a giant’s stronghold, and he’s planning to steal the treasure from Jack.
  • He is a pickpocket who stole the beans from a passing wizard, not knowing their value. Now he’s being pursued and needs to offload them quick.
  • Maybe it’s a fair trade, even knowing all the treasure that Jack stands to gain, because the cow is magic, too! When fed the right diet, this cow’s milk is like the fountain of youth!
  • No wait, the cow is his true love, a princess enchanted years ago by an evil witch. (This might be the most plausible yet. Princesses, witches, and true love are hardly in short supply in these stories.)

Settling on a reason for the trade (none of the above, actually) was crucial in establishing the old man’s character, but once I had done so I mistakenly assumed that the cow’s part in this was over. After all, the story is about the bean-seller, not the the cow he bought. To my surprise, the cow continued to impact the story from start to finish. Her presence altered the direction of the plot, constrained the choices available to the protagonist, and illuminated the motivations of those around her. When the old man sits on a hill watching villagers steal from the giant’s corpse, the cow is grazing in the background. When he leaves the village, his interaction with the cow is a primary lens into his personality. When he seeks a path to the giant’s house, he finds himself severely limited by the need to bring the cow with him. And in the climax when he discovers more obstacles in his way, the cow gets to play a role yet again.

I set out to tell the story of the bean-seller, a background character from the original fairy tale. I found that in order to do his story justice I needed to include another background story, the story of the cow he bought. Letting the two of them interact ended up driving the creative process of almost every scene, and I love that a loose end I almost overlooked in the original fairy tale turned out to have such an immense impact. She doesn’t get to play much of a role in Jack’s story, but she forced herself onto the stage for the sequel. That’s why she’s my favorite bit.

LINKS:

Unspun Universal Book Link

Goodreads

Website

BIO:

Chris is an immunologist who, instead of songs, often gets words stuck in his head. He loves stories of all types, especially speculative fiction. He enjoys writing both poetry and prose, but despite living a mere thirty minutes from Walden Pond, Chris has yet to embrace a solitary life in the woods. (He does like to go there on walks with his two kids.)

My Favorite Bit: Charles Soule talks about THE ORACLE YEAR

Favorite Bit iconCharles Soule is joining us today to talk about his novel The Oracle Year. Here’s the publisher’s description:

From bestselling comic-book franchise writer Charles Soule comes a clever and witty first novel of a twentysomething New Yorker who wakes up one morning with the power to predict the future — perfect for fans of Joe Hill and Brad Meltzer, or books like This Book Is Full of Spiders and Welcome to Night Vale.

Knowledge is power. So when an unassuming Manhattan bassist named Will Dando awakens from a dream one morning with 108 predictions about the future in his head, he rapidly finds himself the most powerful man in the world. Protecting his anonymity by calling himself the Oracle, he sets up a heavily guarded website with the help of his friend Hamza to selectively announce his revelations. In no time, global corporations are offering him millions for exclusive access, eager to profit from his prophecies.

He’s also making a lot of high-powered enemies, from the President of the United States and a nationally prominent televangelist to a warlord with a nuclear missile and an assassin grandmother. Legions of cyber spies are unleashed to hack the Site — as it’s come to be called — and the best manhunters money can buy are deployed not only to unmask the Oracle but to take him out of the game entirely. With only a handful of people he can trust — including a beautiful journalist — it’s all Will can do to simply survive, elude exposure, and protect those he loves long enough to use his knowledge to save the world.

Delivering fast-paced adventure on a global scale as well as sharp-witted satire on our concepts of power and faith, Marvel writer Charles Soule’s audacious debut novel takes readers on a rollicking ride where it’s impossible to predict what will happen next.

What’s Charles’s favorite bit?

Oracle Year Cover Image

CHARLES SOULE

Well, first and foremost – spoilers. It’s hard to talk about my favorite part of my debut novel The Oracle Year without giving away some of the plot… but I’ll do my best. The book is about the appearance of a real-deal prophet in the world, a New Yorker in his late twenties named Will Dando. This otherwise ordinary guy has one hundred and eight specific future events revealed to him, all set to happen over roughly the next year. When the first few come true, he has to try to understand why he was given such an incredible gift/curse and, more importantly, what he’s supposed to do with them.

The book follows Will’s story as the Oracle, but also the way the Oracle’s presence affects the world – and it does, massively. Every aspect of human society is changed in one way or another, from politics to religion to economics to pop culture. I think we all want to know what’s going to happen next, and if someone were out there who could actually tell us… well. It’d flip the whole world on its ear – and so it does, in The Oracle Year.

There are a lot of parts I love about the story, which is a good thing, because in order to live with a book for the years it takes to bring it into being, you better love a lot of it – if not the whole dang thing. Some of the parts I love are the parts you’ll never get to see, in fact, the bits I cut to get the novel down to a publishable length. There are a number of alternate versions of the big “Interview with the Oracle” scene, including one set on a boat floating off the Long Island coast. There’s a fully written chapter set at the Lucky Corner Massacre. There’s an interlude built around the reaction of a young woman who was the subject of an Oracle prediction stating she’d win the lottery, and what she does with her winnings. There’s a scene when the Oracle first realizes he’s the Oracle. More than that, too, “deleted scenes” of all types, not to mention the cut lines, cut words… in a way, they’re all my favorite bits, because I love the whole book, in all its incarnations.

But none of that’s really fair to you, the person reading this right now, since you’ll probably never seen any of that. So, I’ll select a section from the finished book, something you can actually read, if you’re kind enough to pick up my novel. One of Will Dando’s predictions is just a set of three numbers: 23-12-4. He doesn’t know what they mean, and the reveal is a big plot point from the ending, so I won’t spoil it here. What I will say is that Will spends a bunch of time and money trying to figure it out for himself. He hires a bunch of consultants from all disciplines – mathematicians, codebreakers, numerologists, astronomers, you name it. (He gets very rich at one point in the book, which is how he’s able to afford all of that.) One of the consultants, a numerologist/kabbalist, tells him that the numbers might refer to a certain Bible verse. When the first letters of each line in that verse are lined up, they form an anagram which, when unscrambled, reads ‘God quit the sad task,’ with two letters left over: W and D.

Now, remember that the prophet’s real name is Will Dando. W and D. Will didn’t tell the numerologist his actual name when he commissioned the report, so to the analyst, the W and D are just two random letters. To Will, though, they read like a sign that the message was created especially for him – in an ancient religious text. He’s not sure what it means, if anything, but it freaks him right out. This ends up being a red herring in the story, just a coincidence, but it gives that part of the book a very cool frisson of “oooh, what does that mean?” possibility that I think is a lot of fun.

The Oracle Year is full of a bunch of things like that – so why is this my favorite bit? Because it’s true. When I was trying to think of fun things to do for alternate explanations of the 23-12-4 numbers, I did a bunch of research. I found that verse, figured out the anagram, and then saw that it ended up with two leftover letters that just happened to be the initials of my main character. An incredibly fortunate coincidence, just a happy accident, but the kind of thing I knew I could really run with – and I did.

For me, writing a novel generally starts in one place and ends somewhere very different, and that journey is fueled by amazing, unexpected connections you make between your ideas as you go. Something you never could have seen coming until you were deep into the story ends up pushing everything in a new direction. Makes for quite a ride, and it’s often one of the best parts of writing something big. For me, 23-12-4 is representative of that concept as a whole, and that is why it’s my favorite bit.

LINKS:

The Oracle Year Universal Book Link

Website

Blog

Twitter

BIO:

Charles Soule is a musician, attorney and the New York Times bestselling author of numerous comics titles for Marvel, DC, Image and other publishers, with over 2.2 million individual comics sold in 2017 alone. He is best known for writing Daredevil, She-Hulk, Death of Wolverine, and various Star Wars comics from Marvel Comics, as well as his creator-owned series Curse Words from Image Comics and the award-winning political sci-fi epic Letter 44 from Oni Press. Letter 44 was an official selection of the 2016 Festival International de la Bande Dessinée in Angoulême, France, which recognizes the finest graphic titles published in the French language. Soule also received the 2015 Stan Lee Excelsior Award for Superman/Wonder Woman Vol.1: Power Couple. His series Twenty-Seven (with Renzo Podesta) and She-Hulk (with Javier Pulido and Ronald Wimberly) were included on the “Great Graphic Novels for Teens” list from the Young Adult Library Services Association in 2012 and 2016, respectively.

My Favorite Bit: Kate Heartfield talks about ARMED IN HER FASHION

My Favorite BitKate Heartfield is joining us today to talk about her novel Armed in Her Fashion. Here is the publisher’s description:

In 1328, Bruges is under siege by the Chatelaine of Hell and her army of chimeras—humans mixed with animals or armour, forged in the deep fires of the Hellbeast. At night, revenants crawl over the walls and bring plague and grief to this city of widows.

Margriet de Vos learns she’s a widow herself when her good-for-nothing husband comes home dead from the war. He didn’t come back for her. The revenant who was her husband pulls a secret treasure of coins and weapons from under his floorboards and goes back through the mouth of the beast called Hell.

Margriet killed her first soldier when she was 11. She’s buried six of her seven children. She’ll do anything for her daughter, even if it means raiding Hell itself to get her inheritance back.

Margriet’s daughter is haunted by a dead husband of her own, and blessed, or cursed, with an enchanted distaff that allows her to control the revenants and see the future. Together with a transgender man-at-arms who has unfinished business with the Chatelaine, a traumatized widow with a giant waterpowered forgehammer at her disposal, and a wealthy alderman’s wife who escapes Bruges with her children, Margriet and Beatrix forge a raiding party like Hell has never seen.

What’s Kate’s favorite bit?

Armed in Her Fashion cover image

KATE HEARTFIELD

Let me tell you a secret. All along, as I was writing my novel Armed in Her Fashion, I was rooting for the villain.

The thing is, the Chatelaine of Hell has reasons to be pissed off. Long ago, her husband abducted her. He imprisoned her inside a chthonic beast for centuries. When the novel begins, in 1328 CE, she’s driven the beast called Hell up to the surface of the Earth, having locked said husband in an oubliette within. All she wants now is what any medieval ruler wants: some land, some alliances, and an army when she needs it. Is that so much to ask?

Sure, she’s ruthless, manipulative, downright cruel. But no more so than her ally, Philip VI of France. Philip promised to make her a countess, with land and vassals of her own, in exchange for her help in his wars. But he’s not eager to fulfill that promise. The Chatelaine has Hell at her disposal, with its revenants and its furnaces. Giving her more authority and legitimacy doesn’t strike the French king as a very good idea.

Philip—who happens to owe his crown to the opinions of Very Learned Men when it comes to gender and inheritance law—has an interest in drawing the Chatelaine into legal disputes about the property rights of women.

So does a much less powerful figure marching across Europe, armed with nothing but a frying pan, to demand her own inheritance. The widow Margriet de Vos comes from Flanders, which has some of the most enlightened laws in medieval Europe when it comes to widows’ rights. She wants something that belonged to her dead husband, a weapon that the Chatelaine is desperate not to lose.

This is my favorite bit: The villain who is a mirror of the protagonist. They’re both stubborn, they both have (literally and figuratively) rotten husbands, and they are both ready to use any means necessary to get their due.

From the vantage point of 2018, the progress of women’s rights—and human rights in general—tends to get smoothed into a global narrative that looks natural, even inevitable. Progress doesn’t work that neatly. The rights of widows in 14th-century Bruges, for example, were completely different from the rights of widows at precisely that time in Florence. It’s far from inevitable, and it can always go backward. The only way justice has ever happened is by ordinary people fighting for it, with pots and pans if need be.

I’ve always been drawn to villains who make a pretty good point, even when they’re getting in the hero’s way; Marvel’s Erik Killmonger is a great example. I’ve also always been fascinated by villains whose identity and backstory is obscure. Maybe it’s a taste I picked up as a kid reading J.R.R. Tolkien; I still remember the chill that went through me the first time I read about the Mouth of Sauron, whose “name is remembered in no tale, for he himself had forgotten it.”

The Chatelaine makes a similar appearance:

“The woman told Giovanni Saranzo, the Doge of Venice, that she had been so long in the belly of that Beast that she had forgotten her birth name.

‘Was it Persephone? Was it Hel? Was it Lilith?’ The scholars asked her. She shook her head, and said it might have been, but then again it might not.

‘We thought Hell was a place,’ they said.

‘It is,’ she said. ‘It is also a Beast. A capacious Beast; it carries multitudes within it.’

‘Are you the Queen of Hell?’ they asked her.

She shook her head. ‘I have no right to that kingdom as it had no right to me,’ she said. ‘But I am, for now, its mistress and manager. I hold the keys. You may call me, perhaps, its Chatelaine.’”

I wrote that passage very early in my first draft of the novel, and I knew right away that this woman was my favorite bit.

LINKS:

Armed in Her Fashion Universal Book Link

ChiZine Publications

Website

Goodreads

Twitter

BIO:

Kate Heartfield is the author of Armed in Her Fashion, a historical fantasy novel from ChiZine Publications, and The Road to Canterbury, an interactive novel from Choice of Games. Tor.com Publishing will publish two time-travel novellas by Kate, beginning with Alice Payne Arrives in late 2018. Her fiction has appeared in magazines and anthologies including Strange Horizons, Lackington’s, and Monstrous Little Voices: New Tales from Shakespeare’s Fantasy World. A former journalist, Kate lives in Ottawa, Canada.

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

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

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

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

But surprises aren’t always good.

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

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

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

What is Rebecca’s favorite bit?

The Poppy War cover

R.F. KUANG

Let’s talk about blood.

Specifically, let’s talk about menstruation.

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

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

Here’s an excerpt:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s what Rin decides to do:

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

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

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

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

They both looked at her incredulously.

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

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

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

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

LINKS:

The Poppy War Universal Book Link

Goodreads

Website

Twitter

BIO:

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

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

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

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

Stories in this anthology:

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

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

The Underwater Ballroom Society cover image

STEPHANIE BURGIS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

****

TIFFANY TRENT

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

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

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

LINKS:

The Underwater Ballroom Society Universal Book Link

Tiffany Trent:

Website

Twitter

Facebook

Stephanie Burgis:

Website

Twitter

Instagram

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

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

My Favorite Bit: Emily Devenport talks about MEDUSA UPLOADED

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s Emily’s favorite bit?

Medusa Uploaded cover image

EMILY DEVENPORT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LINKS:

Medusa Uploaded Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

Facebook

BIO:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s George’s favorite bit?

The Military Science of Star Wars cover

GEORGE BEAHM

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

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

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

***

That was forty-one years ago.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LINKS:

The Military Science of Star Wars Universal Book Link

Website

BIO:

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

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

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

The Society of Two Houses:

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

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

Journey to the Top of the Nether:

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

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

What’s William’s favorite bit?

The Society of Two Houses cover image

WILLIAM C. TRACY

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

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

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

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

Here are both mechanical companions in action:

The Society of Two Houses:

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

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

Journey to the Top of the Nether:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LINKS:

Kickstarter

Website

Facebook

Twitter

Goodreads

BIO:

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

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

My Favorite Bit: Patrice Sarath talks about THE SISTERS MEDEROS

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

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

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

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

What’s Patrice’s favorite bit?

The Sister Mederos cover image

PATRICE SARATH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Which House is it?” Mother asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LINKS:

The Sister Mederos Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

Facebook

BIO:

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

My Favorite Bit: Jerry Gordon talks about BREAKING THE WORLD

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

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

What if he was right?

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

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

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

What’s Jerry’s favorite bit?

Breaking the World cover image

JERRY GORDON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LINKS:

Breaking the World Universal Book Link

Breaking the World Publisher’s Buy Link

Website

Twitter

Facebook

Amazon Author Page

Goodreads Author Page

BIO:

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