Archive for the ‘My Favorite Bit’ Category

My Favorite Bit: John Kessel talks about PRIDE AND PROMETHEUS

Favorite Bit iconJohn Kessel is joining us today with his novel Pride and Prometheus. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Pride and Prejudice meets Frankenstein as Mary Bennet falls for the enigmatic Victor Frankenstein and befriends his monstrous Creature in this clever fusion of two popular classics.

Threatened with destruction unless he fashions a wife for his Creature, Victor Frankenstein travels to England where he meets Mary and Kitty Bennet, the remaining unmarried sisters of the Bennet family from Pride and Prejudice. As Mary and Victor become increasingly attracted to each other, the Creature looks on impatiently, waiting for his bride. But where will Victor find a female body from which to create the monster’s mate?

Meanwhile, the awkward Mary hopes that Victor will save her from approaching spinsterhood while wondering what dark secret he is keeping from her.

Pride and Prometheus fuses the gothic horror of Mary Shelley with the Regency romance of Jane Austen in an exciting novel that combines two age-old stories in a fresh and startling way.

What’s John Kessel’s favorite bit?

Pride and Prometheus cover image

JOHN KESSEL

I have a couple of moments in Pride and Prometheus that I like a lot. One of them I think I will leave for you to experience when you read the book, but my other favorite is chapter five. This was one of the last chapters I finished in the twenty-one-chapter novel, mostly because it was a pain in the neck to write.

Pride and Prometheus is an expansion of my novelette from 2008, which won the Nebula Award and the Shirley Jackson Award. That story is told from the point of view of Mary Bennet, the sententious, bookish, unattractive middle sister of the Bennet sisters of Pride and Prejudice, who in my tale meets Victor Frankenstein, and ultimately his Creature. Victor is in England on his way to Scotland to create a bride for the monster, who threatens to kill all those Victor loves unless he makes him a companion.

I did not plan to make a novel out of the story and spent ten years resisting the idea until I realized that there was indeed a novel to be told. I did not want simply to tack on an unrelated sequel or pad out a narrative that already existed. The way I solved this problem was to start earlier and end later. The first four chapters introduce the viewpoint characters—Mary, Victor and the Creature—establish their motivations and set their stories in motion. Chapters six through ten cover the events that originally appeared in the novelette, and then eleven through twenty-one carry on from there.

Chapter five was my transition from the new beginning to the events of the old story.

It started life as a brief grab bag of a chapter in which I needed to move characters from one place to someplace else to prepare for the more dramatic events to come. In any novel, I think, a writer runs into these moments that can’t be avoided but which seem at best like carpentry and at worst drudgery. As such, I had trouble making chapter five work. I rewrote it many times.

Mary and Kitty are at home and chafing under the attentions of their difficult mother Mrs. Bennet. Not a lot happens here besides Kitty getting permission to visit Elizabeth and Darcy at Darcy’s estate Pemberley, and, to everyone’s surprise, Mary asking to go with her. After a lot of thinking and rewriting it ended up being like so many chapters in Austen novels, essentially two conversations: the first between Mary and her sister Kitty and the second between Mary and her father.

The scene between Kitty and Mary used a classic Austen setting: a sunny afternoon when the two sisters walk home from church, talking privately, away from their parents. Mary and Kitty are very different people, thirteen years older than they were in Pride and Prejudice. They have both been struggling with the notion of ending up spinsters; Kitty is not happy at the prospect and is desperate to find a husband. Mary has until recently resigned herself to being alone, but now she has two prospects, one realistic and dull, and the other Victor Frankenstein.

This is the most intimate scene between the sisters, where they talk about their hopes and fears, and despite their differences of temperament, show a real bond. One purpose here was to make Kitty, who earlier might have seemed shallow, sympathetic, another to show the sisters’ love for each other. I managed to get out of this scene alive; I’m sure my sigh of relief must have been audible from Derbyshire.

Then I had to write the scene between Mary and Mr. Bennet. Its purpose was to have Mary (who heretofore has spent most of her time stuck at home entertaining her mother) ask for permission to visit Pemberley with Kitty. Besides this I had no idea what else they might discuss. Once I got them talking, they fell into a conversation about Mary’s prospects, about marriage in general, and about why Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, two people who could not be more incompatible in temperament, ended up together—a question that readers of Pride and Prejudice have been asking for 200 years. It’s a moment of intimacy, an extrapolation that I expect many Austen readers or critics must have made about the Bennets, but that I had not seen written about anywhere. I was genuinely surprised at Mary’s forcefulness in demanding what she wants here, and even more so at how Mr. Bennet reacts, and how he confides in her.

My mental conception of the novel was “A Jane Austen heroine falls into a gothic novel.” For the most part my novel follows Frankenstein in all its melodrama—murder, animated corpses, body snatching. But chapter five is all Austen, and that’s why I like it so much. I can’t claim to match Jane in her wit and subtle delineation of character, her deconstruction of the manners and morals of well bred English families, but here is where I enter the most fully into her world.

No action, just two people sitting in a room talking. No faustian over-reaching, no histrionics. But the glimpse it gives of Mr. Bennet as more than a sardonic critic of other family members, and of Mrs. Bennet as more than an exasperating trial for everyone around her, and of Mary as more than a figure of fun, makes me happy that I wrote it.

LINKS:

Pride and Prometheus Universal Book Link

Website

Facebook

BIO:

Born in Buffalo, New York, John Kessel’s most recent book is the new novel Pride and Prometheus.  He is the author of the earlier novels The Moon and the Other, Good News from Outer Space and Corrupting Dr. Nice and in collaboration with James Patrick Kelly, Freedom Beach. His short story collections are Meeting in Infinity (a New York Times Notable Book), The Pure Product, and The Baum Plan for Financial Independence.
Kessel’s stories have twice received the Nebula Award given by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, in addition to the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, the Locus Poll, and the James Tiptree Jr. Award. His play “Faustfeathers’” won the Paul Green Playwright’s Prize, and his story “A Clean Escape” was adapted as an episode of the ABC TV series Masters of Science Fiction. In 2009 his story “Pride and Prometheus” received both the Nebula Award and the Shirley Jackson Award. With Jim Kelly, he has edited five anthologies of stories re-visioning contemporary short sf, most recently Digital Rapture: The Singularity Anthology.
Kessel holds a B.A. in Physics and English and a Ph.D. in American Literature. He helped found and served as the first director of the MFA program in creative writing at North Carolina State University, where he has taught since 1982. He and his wife, the novelist Therese Anne Fowler, live and work in Raleigh, NC.

My Favorite Bit: Dan Koboldt talks about THE WORLD AWAKENING

My Favorite BitDan Koboldt is joining us today with his novel The World Awakening. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Quinn Bradley has learned to use the magic of another world. And that world is in danger. Having decided to betray CASE Global, he can finally reveal his origins to the Enclave and warn them about the company’s imminent invasion. Even if it means alienating Jillaine…and allying with someone he’s always considered his adversary.

But war makes for strange bedfellows, and uniting Alissians against such a powerful enemy will require ancient enmities-as well as more recent antagonisms-to be set aside. The future of their pristine world depends on it. As Quinn searches for a way to turn the tide, his former CASE Global squad-mates face difficult decisions of their own. For some, it’s a matter of what they’re willing to do to get home. For others, it’s deciding whether they want to go home at all.

Continuing the exciting adventures from The Rogue Retrieval and The Island Deception, The World Awakening is the spellbinding conclusion to the Gateways to Alissia fantasy series from Dan Koboldt.

What’s Dan’s favorite bit?

The World Awakening

DAN KOBOLDT

When I started writing this series, I asked a simple question: if you sent a modern illusionist into a medieval world, how well could he pass himself off as a real magician? I imagined that he could probably pull it off, especially if he leveraged modern technologies and materials that a pre-industrial society has never seen.

When I started the story, I figured that arming my character with geeky modern tech – LEDs, lasers, and maybe a small flamethrower – would be the most fun. But I was wrong. My magician’s favorite thing about entering a pristine medieval world isn’t his technological advantage: it’s access to a naïve audience.

This not only helps with his tricks, but puts all of our world’s history and pop culture at his disposal. It came in handy in the first book, when he had to talk his way past a security checkpoint:

Then the lyric just popped into his head. “So now we’ve come to you, with open arms. Nothing to hide.” He held out his arms, palms open, imploring him. “Believe what I say.”

That’s from a Journey song, which the natives in the other world have obviously never heard. Later, in book two, he finds himself turning down a job offer with a little help from Robert Frost:

The captain gave him a serious look. “Somethin’ tells me you’re destined for bigger things. But if they don’t pan out, I’d be happy to take you on.”

“I appreciate that,” Quinn said. “But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.”

Knowledge of our pop culture also provides a wealth of ideas for handling sticky situations. Like this one in The World Awakening, when Quinn and Jillaine need to approach a dangerous man about a ransom:

“Well, what do you want to do?” she asked.

“I’m thinking we go with the fake bounty hunter routine,” Quinn said.

“Never heard of it.”

“Oh, it’s a classic. And you get to be the bounty hunter, which will be more fun.”

She cringed a little. “I’m not sure I can pull that off. What do I even do?”

“And there’s costumes, too,” he said, pretending not to hear. He leaned back and gave her the up-and-down survey. “For you, I’m thinking leathers. Maybe a little chain mail to really sell it.”

“What about you?” she asked.

“I’m the prisoner, so I don’t need much. Just for you to tie me up.”

Her eyebrows shot up, and she put on a pensive expression. “This begins to offer some appeal.”

Of course she’s never heard of the fake bounty hunter routine. She hasn’t seen Return of the Jedi.

When I began this series, I thought that my magician would rely on his hard-won skills and state-of-the-art technology to get by in the other world. But his knowledge of pop culture proved surprisingly valuable as well, and that’s what makes it my favorite bit.

LINKS:

The World Awakening Universal Book Link

The Rogue Retrieval (book 1) Universal Book Link

The Island Deception (book 2) Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

BIO:

Dan Koboldt is a genetics researcher and fantasy/science fiction author from the Midwest. He is the author of the Gateway to Alissia series (Harper Voyager) about a Las Vegas magician who infiltrates a medieval world. He is currently editing Putting the Science in Fiction, (Writers Digest), a reference for writers slated for release in Fall 2018.

By day, Dan is a genetics researcher at a major children’s hospital. He has co-authored more than 70 publications in NatureScience, The New England Journal of Medicine, and other scientific journals. He lives with his wife, daughter, and twin boys in Ohio

 

My Favorite Bit: R. H. Stavis talks about SISTER OF DARKNESS

My Favorite BitRachel H. Stavis is joining us today with her memoir Sister of Darkness: The Chronicles of a Modern Exorcist. Here’s the publisher’s description:

The world’s only non-denominational exorcist tells her astonishing true story: a riveting chronicle of wrestling entities from infected souls, showing how pain and trauma opens us to attachment from forces that drain our energy . . . and can even destroy our humanity.

As a secular exorcist, Rachel H. Stavis has cleansed thousands of tormented people, from small children and Hollywood moguls to stay-at-home moms and politicians. But for many years, the horror screenwriter and novelist denied her gift. As a little girl, she began to see “monsters” floating around her bedroom or attached to other children. Told it was only her imagination, Rachel learned to ignore the things she saw.

But a series of events in adulthood forced her to acknowledge her unique ability and embrace her power to heal. Since then, Rachel has dedicated her life to helping others cast off the forces feeding off of us. Performing her services pro-bono, she quietly worked in the shadows, until she unknowingly revealed her work to a journalist, who told her story to NPR.

A unique look at demonology removed from religious dogma, Sister of Darkness recounts Rachel’s journey to becoming an exorcist and chronicles some of her most extreme cleansings cases, including those that put her and her clients in peril. Going deep into her world, we meet the diverse range of people she has helped—young, old, famous and not—in gripping stories of danger and sometimes sadness, that are ultimately about redemption. Rachel teaches us that there are a diverse range of “entities” surrounding us—some of these are playful or misguided, while some are dangerous and harmful. She introduces each of them and explains their power, helping us understand what is attacking and hurting us, and what we can do to protect ourselves.

Frightening, eye-opening, and utterly enthralling, Sister of Darkness brings to light a world ruled by destruction, chaos and fear, and the woman who bravely fights to protect those who seeks her out.

What’s Rachel’s favorite bit?

Sister of Darkness cover

R.H. STAVIS

When writing a memoir, it’s very odd to try and find a favorite part – mainly because it’s a portrait of your life, and it’s so personal, and full of ups and downs (as life surely is). But if I had to choose what I think is one of my favorite things – both in the book and as an experience – it is the opportunity to teach people the truth about Entity.

For so long, people have been taught to believe that exorcism and possession is “the devil,” or specific named demons, and it has been heavily steeped in religion. And they have been taught that possession is exceedingly rare.

In my worldview, it’s actually very different: there are all kinds of Entities that vary on a scale from least harmful to incredibly malignant. There are Entities who don’t interact with humans at all. There are Entities who I call “High Beings” which actually give help to us (like Spirit Guides, Master Teachers, Angels, etc.). And possession is actually not rare at all. Most people have had an Entity, or are carrying an Entity now, and don’t even realize it!

In fact, there is an entire world of Entity – right below the surface of our world. It exists along with us, and affects us. Unfortunately, we are very susceptible to it. But it’s with this knowledge and understanding that we can begin to help ourselves. Each day we have a choice: be conscious about what we think, what we say, and how we affect others, or remain unconscious of it, and let ourselves simply go through the motions.

If we choose to be conscious, we become more aware of our energy – what I call “baseline frequency.” Are we happy? Sad? Does everything bother us? What about our internal dialogue? Is it positive? Are we helping others? Putting others down? So many choices, and believe it or not, these choices can either put you in harm’s way (toward possession and attachment), or away from it (high vibrational existence). How so? Because Entity is seeking low vibration, and it is seeking to attach to someone with an energy signature it can feed off of. That is how possession actually works.

What I love to do, as I say to people, is to remind everyone how incredibly powerful they are. You know those times when you go through your day, and someone says or does something negative (perhaps they cut you off in traffic, for example), and it can affect you for hours? That’s how powerful your actions, thoughts, and words can be. Imagine if we all spent time creating a place of loving kindness, how amazing the world would be!

Though we can’t control others, we can certainly start with ourselves. We can change the negative self-talk to something positive. We can be benevolent and loving to those around us. And we can do simple acts of kindness in our own ways. By doing this, we raise our frequency, and in doing that, we protect ourselves from attachment.

LINKS:

Sister of Darkness Universal Book Link

Twitter

BIO:

A screenwriter for film, television and video games, R.H. Stavis created the backstory for Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, and has published four horror novels. A professional exorcist, she lives in Van Nuys, California.

My Favorite Bit: Sue Burke talks about SEMIOSIS

My Favorite BitSue Burke is joining us today with her novel Semiosis. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Colonists from Earth wanted the perfect home, but they’ll have to survive on the one they found. They don’t realize another life form watches…and waits…

Only mutual communication can forge an alliance with the planet’s sentient species and prove that humans are more than tools.

What’s Sue’s favorite bit?

Semiosis cover

SUE BURKE

Let’s design a big, scary alien. As a first step, let’s consider Earth beings.

What’s the biggest living thing on Earth? Pando, a clonal colony of a single quaking aspen tree, covering 106 acres of ground in Utah.

What’s the oldest? Pando, again, whose roots are an estimated 80,000 years old. As for the oldest individuals, there’s a bristlecone pine in California, a cypress in Chile, and a sacred fig in Sri Lanka, among many other trees, all more than 2,000 years old.

You can see where this is headed. And you’re already skeptical. Let me try to convince you.

What are the most essential beings on Earth? Possibly the members of the family in the vegetable kingdom called Poaceae – that is, grasses – which includes rice, wheat, maize, sugarcane, oats, barley, and many other grains. Without them, we’d starve.

What’s the nastiest creature on Earth? There’s lots of competition, but I’ll argue that this category can and should include plants. For example, rose bushes have thorns so they can climb over other plants, anchoring their prickles in their flesh, and very possibly starving them of sunshine and killing them – but roses don’t care. (Why would you ever give a rose to your beloved again, knowing that?)

Trees fight among themselves, too. Softwood trees grow fast to capture sunshine, which all plants covet, while hardwoods grow more slowly. Their branches are stirred by the wind against softwoods, grinding through them. Hardwoods rise up to become dominant in the forest canopy by amputating other trees’ limbs one by one. (I told you. Nasty.)

Fine, you say, but plants mostly just sit there. Well, yes and no. They’re actively involved with their environment, including you. When it serves their purpose, they can even communicate with you. When a tomato in your garden turns red, what has that plant just told you? (Bear in mind that the tomato plant wants you to eat the tomato, since its uncooked seeds travel safely through your digestion to arrive at a new, potentially ideal growing site, along with fertilizer.)

Plants also communicate with each other quite a bit through air-borne chemicals and through their roots. They produce pesticides when they’re warned by their companions of a coming attack by insects. They can also produce a wide range of chemicals for all sorts of purposes, from perfumes to psychoactive drugs to poisons.

Plants aren’t passive. They’re busy, aggressive, and they have weapons.

They can see, too, in a way. You’ve noticed plants leaning toward sunshine, and some of them keep track of how long sunshine lasts during the day to bloom in certain seasons. They also seem to count. Some bamboos live for a specified number of years before they flower, as many as 120 years, and they know exactly when time is up.

I could go on with what plants can do, but the conclusion is clear. We share Earth with beings who are big, old, nasty, communicative, very aware of their surroundings, armed and deadly, and who are absolutely essential to us, so we have to keep them around.

Let’s use that to create a science fictional protagonist. You immediately have an objection. This big scary being is literally rooted in place. You’re right. This is going to be tough.

And that’s where the fun starts: with an artistic challenge. Stories often deal with something the protagonist wants and can’t get. What would a specific plant want? How would its desire conflict with other beings, maybe with ourselves? How far would a plant go to get what it wants? (We already know that plants are murderous.) Remember, we might depend on this alien to survive as much as we fear it.

Cue the drama. We’ve never faced an enemy as big and bad as this, or had an ally with such extensive resources. We’re going to face dire, unexpected choices.

Have I convinced you? I hope so. I had fun, at any rate. I built a planet and seeded it (literally) with aliens who look harmless at first glance. But now maybe you’ll believe that looks can be deceiving, and an alien who is green and leafy can also be big and scary.

LINKS:

Semiosis Universal Book Link

Semiosis website

Sue Burke’s website

Goodreads

Blog

Facebook

Twitter

BIO:

Sue Burke is a literary translator, and has worked as a journalist and editor for a variety of newspapers and magazines. She has also published more than 30 short stories. She used to live in Madrid, Spain (hence the literary translator work), and now lives in Chicago. Semiosis is her debut novel. You can learn more about it at its website, https://semiosispax.com/

 

My Favorite Bit: Diana Renn talks about FALSE IDOLS Season 1

Favorite Bit iconDiana Renn joins us today to talk about Season 1 of the serial fiction False Idols. Here’s the series description:

FBI Linguist Layla el-Deeb is deep undercover posing as an heiress in the Middle East. She must infiltrate the highest echelons of society in order to trace priceless relics from their millionaire owners back to illegal digs and the terrorist groups profiting from their sale.

But Layla’s troubled past and growing feelings for an art dealer’s son begin to complicate her judgment, and when she uncovers a terrorist plot that threatens American and Egyptian lives she must decide where her loyalties truly lie.

What’s Diana’s favorite bit?

False Idols image

DIANA RENN

As a collaboratively written, serialized story spanning eleven “episodes,” False Idols features a formidable cast of characters. Our heroine, Egyptian-born FBI agent Layla el-Deeb, along with her mentor, Special Agent Ellen Pierce (head of the FBI Art Crimes unit) follow the money trail in Cairo, Egypt, to investigate how illicitly sold antiquities finance terrorism, and to protect the U.S. from an imminent attack.

The scale of the crime required a large group of suspects. So on the character front, False Idols has it all – more than enough to fill the stage of a Broadway musical! Going undercover as an art-collecting heiress in Cairo, the city she once called home, Layla meets eccentric international art collectors, shady antiquities dealers, shadowy middlemen, and terrorist insiders. She becomes entangled with a brilliant American art restorer who steals her heart. She befriends an Italian journalist who is desperate to keep stories about archaeological lootings from being buried in the news, and who shares her values of truth and justice. She plays a high-stakes cat and mouse game with a high-ranking Egyptian government official. She reports to Agent Pierce, a seasoned FBI agent who has a chip on her shoulder and a dark secret. She reconnects with her estranged family, putting the entire operation at risk. And she interacts with a rousing chorus of other FBI agents, Egyptian and American embassy workers, political activists, protestors, organized crime thugs, and a slick crowd of jet-setting twenty-something party kids, whom she somehow manages to convince to accept her into their circle.

Out of this enormous cast, though, I am most proud of Layla – both her unconventional story, and the unique way she came into being.

Writing Layla marked a departure for me as a mystery writer. My previous novels were written for young adults. My globetrotting, mystery-solving teens were amateur sleuths, by virtue of their age. They encountered everything for the first time – not just crimes, but different cultures, love and loss, and their own hidden reservoirs of strengths. Teen sleuths were fun, but I felt ready to flex my mystery-writing muscles and try my hand at a different type of detective.

Layla is no starry-eyed ingénue. She’s pushing thirty and asking herself questions about what the next chapter of her life might look like. She’s led a completely unconventional life so far; will she find someone who will accept the complexities of her identity? Can she trust anyone? And while this is her first undercover gig, she is a trained FBI agent who’s kicked down a few doors. Layla also grew up in one of Cairo’s poorest neighborhoods -within a stone’s throw of the penthouse apartment where she resides in her undercover role. She’s worked incredibly hard to leave her family, get an education, and become a U.S. citizen and an FBI agent.

The other layer of complexity to Layla is her undercover life. As she tries to penetrate deeper into the world of antiquities collectors and dealers, she must be cautious about what she reveals to people. Yet even her “true” identity – competent, self-sufficient FBI agent- is another type of cover, layered over the vulnerable girl who grew up in a Cairo slum. Complicating matters are her growing feelings for James, the son of an art dealer she’s investigating, and her affection for the dealer himself, who comes to see her as family. It’s exhausting work, keeping the lies in check and not revealing too much – even as Layla tries to deepen connections with people she’s come to care for.

Part of Layla’s work involves looking closely at the provenance of valuable artifacts, trying to determine their authenticity, their point of origin, and the times that they have changed owners. Her radar is always up for fakes and flaws, the story of a relic that doesn’t make sense or that might point to illicit deals. In the process, she becomes more aware of her own provenance, and the fact that her story is not without cracks.

The creation of any fictional character is always a little mysterious, yet with characters in my other books, I can always point to a point of origin, the original inspiration. A stranger’s face, an overheard conversation, a figure from my own past. Over subsequent drafts, I round characters out, plumb their psychological depths, and come to know them -ideally, to inhabit them.

Layla was different. Who dreamed her up originally? Who or what inspired her? I do not actually know. When our author team signed on for this project back in 2016, we were handed a great gift from Adaptive Studios and Serial Box: the beginning of a character named Layla, and the premise for an exciting story. Our showrunner, Lisa Klink, fleshed out Layla further when she wrote the Story Bible. Then Lisa, our other co-author Patrick Lohier, and I – in consultation with the creative folks at Serial Box and Adaptive – brainstormed further. At our story summit meeting in Los Angeles in November 2016, our team spent three days in a writer’s room to plan the False Idols characters, episodes, and overall plot. In the writer’s room, Layla began to have a life, a back story, and a character arc, which we traced on numerous sticky notes that eventually filled a wall.

Layla's development

Over the ensuing months, we wrote our individual episodes, critiqued each other’s work, brainstormed again, and – with the aid of our amazing editors Molly Barton and Lydia Shamah – we endlessly revised. It was through that collaborative process, Layla came to life. Not from one individual writer.

I marvel at how we all agreed on her motives, her goals, and her character arc. I do not think the team every debated, at least not for long, what Layla would or would not do in any given situation. Her voice and personality are consistent across episodes. In writing Layla, handing her off from one episode to the next, it felt less like we were creating her than we were learning even more about her. I’m proud to have been one of many people who helped bring Layla to life and to tell her story.

LINKS:

False Idols Season 1

How Serial Box works

Diana Renn’s website

Diana Renn’s Twitter

BIO:

Diana Renn is the author of three young adult mysteries featuring international intrigue and globetrotting teens: Tokyo Heist, Latitude Zero, and Blue Voyage, all published by Viking/Penguin. Blue Voyage was honored as a 2016 “must-read” by the Massachusetts Book Awards, and Latitude Zero was a Junior Library Guild selection. Her latest project is False Idols, a collaboratively-written, episodically-released thriller published in a partnership with Serial Box and Adaptive Books. Her essays and short fiction have appeared in Publisher’s Weekly, The Huffington Post, Brain Child, Literary Mama, The Writer, YARN (Young Adult Review Network), and others. Diana grew up in Seattle and now lives outside of Boston, Massachusetts with her husband, her son, and a moody black cat. Visit her online at www.dianarennbooks.com or @dianarenn on Twitter.

My Favorite Bit: David Mack talks about THE MIDNIGHT FRONT

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

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

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

What’s David’s favorite bit?

The Midnight Front cover image

DAVID MACK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

“Niko, I—”

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

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

Niko put the barrel of his pistol into his mouth.

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

SS troops surrounded him, submachine guns at the ready.

In the name of love, Niko pulled his trigger.

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

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

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

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

Bonne chance, Père.

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

He called me Father.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bonne chance.

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

LINKS

The Midnight Front Universal Book Link

Read an excerpt

David Mack’s website

Facebook

Twitter.

BIO

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

My Favorite Bit: Wendy Nikel talks about THE CONTINUUM

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

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

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

What’s Wendy’s favorite bit?

Continuum cover

WENDY NIKEL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LINKS:

THE CONTINUUM Universal Book Link

Website

Facebook

Twitter

BIO:

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

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

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

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

What’s KJ’s favorite bit?

The Ramshead Algorithm cover image

KJ KABZA

Wonder.

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

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

Lake picture

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

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

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

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

Blade of grass made a circle in the sand

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

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

Welcome to Chupacabra country

See what you find, when you trespass?

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

This is the true meaning of a wilderness.

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

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

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

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

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

It’s all already out there.

LINKS:

THE RAMSHEAD ALGORITHM AND OTHER STORIES Universal Book Link

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

Website

Twitter

BIO:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s Carrie’s favorite bit?

Brooding YA Hero Cover Image

CARRIE ANN DiRISIO

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

Which means… PICTURES!

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

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

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

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

Broody's Family tree

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

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

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

LINKS:

Brooding YA Hero Universal Book Link

Goodreads

Broody’s Twitter

Carrie’s Twitter

Carrie’s Website

BIO:

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

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

My Favorite Bit: Fonda Lee talks about JADE CITY

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

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

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

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

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

What’s Fonda’s favorite bit?

Jade City cover image

FONDA LEE

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

Image of buff cartoon man breathing fire

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

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

Shaolin monk balancing on pointer finger of each hand

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

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

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

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

LINKS:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Indiebound

Powell’s

Jade City Excerpt

Website

Facebook

Twitter

BIO:

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

 

My Favorite Bit: Tracy Townsend talks about THE NINE

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s Tracy’s favorite bit?

The Nine cover image

 

TRACY TOWNSEND

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

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

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

Let’s set the scene.

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

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

“What’s your name, girl?”

“Rowena.”

He grunted. “Family name?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that’s a start, isn’t it?

LINKS:

The Nine Universal Book Link

Twitter

Website

BIO:

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

My Favorite Bit: Jim C. Hines talks about TERMINAL ALLIANCE

My Favorite BitJim C. Hines is joining us today with his novel Terminal Alliance. Here’s the publisher’s description:

In his hilarious new sci-fi series, Jim C. Hines introduces the unlikely heroes that may just save the galaxy: a crew of space janitors.

The Krakau came to Earth to invite humanity into a growing alliance of sentient species. However, they happened to arrive after a mutated plague wiped out half the planet, turned the rest into shambling, near-unstoppable animals, and basically destroyed human civilization. You know—your standard apocalypse.

The Krakau’s first impulse was to turn around and go home. (After all, it’s hard to have diplomatic relations with mindless savages who eat your diplomats.) Their second impulse was to try to fix us. Now, a century later, human beings might not be what they once were, but at least they’re no longer trying to eat everyone. Mostly.

Marion “Mops” Adamopoulos is surprisingly bright (for a human). As a Lieutenant on the Earth Mercenary Corps Ship Pufferfish, she’s in charge of the Shipboard Hygiene and Sanitation team. When a bioweapon attack wipes out the Krakau command crew and reverts the rest of the humans to their feral state, only Mops and her team are left with their minds intact.

Escaping the attacking aliens—not to mention her shambling crewmates—is only the beginning. Sure, Mops and her team of space janitors and plumbers can clean the ship as well as anyone, but flying the damn thing is another matter.

As they struggle to keep the Pufferfish functioning and find a cure for their crew, they stumble onto a conspiracy that could threaten the entire alliance… a conspiracy born from the truth of what happened on Earth all those years ago.

What’s Jim’s favorite bit?

Terminal Alliance cover image

JIM C. HINES

Humans had pretty well wiped themselves out when the alien Krakau arrived on our planet. The Krakau took it upon themselves to rebuild the shambling, feral remnants of humanity the best they could.

At the time of Terminal Alliance, roughly ten thousand humans have been “restored,” meaning their intelligence is close to pre-apocalypse levels. But they’re not quite human like we are today. Their bodies have been changed both by the plague and by the Krakau cure, and…well, they’re just not the brightest species in the Alliance.

Marion “Mops” Adamopoulos and her Shipboard Hygiene and Sanitation team end up in command of their ship, the EMCS Pufferfish. In between learning how to fly the damn thing and fighting off alien attacks, they stop to grab a quick lunch. Or maybe dinner. They don’t really make a distinction. During this brief interlude, they end up talking about what it means to be human:

“They fixed us,” Kumar continued. “They give us jobs, purpose, even our culture. We call ourselves human, but are we? Or are we Krakau? Maybe we’re something in between. Krakuman?”

“I am not calling myself Krakuman,” snarled Wolf.

“Kumar has a point,” Mops said, before this could escalate further. “Intellect, creativity, reasoning…we consistently score lower on every test than pre-plague humans. Whatever humanity was before the plague, we’ve changed. But we are human.”

“How do you figure?” asked Kumar.

“Because we have to be.” Mops studied her team. They were exhausted. Anxious. Scared, though she doubted any of them would admit it Her team was trained to eradicate mold and fix clogged water filters, not battle Prodryan fighters. “Because we’re what’s left. Ten thousand or so reborn humans, with maybe a half billion surviving ferals back on Earth.”

Kumar frowned. “I’m not sure I follow your logic.”

“It’s not about logic.” Mops removed her empty food tube and used her thumb to wipe a single drop of gray sludge from the edge of her port. Her stomach felt bloated and hard, but the pressure would ease within an hour. “We were born of Earth. ‘Human’ is our word. Our history. Our connection to each other. Nobody gets to tell me I’m not human.” Her eyes sought Kumar’s. “Nobody else gets to tell us what that word means.”

I love this exchange. I love how the chaos of alien attacks and conspiracies forces them to reexamine their assumptions about everything, including who and what they are.

It’s not a question any of them have ever really faced. They were cured as adults, and have little memory of their life before. Their conversation here is reminiscent of a kid discovering their independence from their parents for the first time.

You know, if their parents were a bunch of alien squid.

The rest of the galaxy looks at humans as little better than animals, and they’re not entirely wrong. Our civilization pretty much destroyed itself, and now we’re mostly serving as soldiers for the Krakau Alliance. Savages who are one minuscule step up from beasts.

Mops and her team aren’t perfect. They’re not remotely qualified to fly a ship or fight hostile aliens or investigate a conspiracy. Everyone else in the galaxy would expect them to fail, and to fail catastrophically. Basically, they’re the underdogs, and they’ve always known it.

In Mops’ world, the word “human” has always carried an implicit sneer. To be human is to be inferior. But in this moment, their sense of who they are begins to shift. It’s not a Very Special Episode of Space Janitors where they discover they’re so much smarter and stronger than they thought, and all they had to do was Believe In Themselves. They’re still underdogs. They’re still completely in over their heads.

This is a moment of reclamation. Mops and the rest know they’re inferior in many ways. Now, for the first time, “human” is also a source of pride and strength. In some ways, that change is at the heart of the entire trilogy.

Well, that and jokes about alien plumbing.

If there’s one defining trait about humanity that holds true both now and in the future of the Janitors of the Post-Apocalypse trilogy, it’s that we just don’t know when to quit.

God help the rest of the galaxy.

LINKS:

About the book

Read the first chapter (PDF EPUB MOBI)

Amazon

B&N

BAM

Mysterious Galaxy

Schuler Books

Indiebound

BIO:

Jim C. Hines is the author of the Magic ex Libris series, the Princess series of fairy tale retellings, the humorous Goblin Quest trilogy, and the Fable Legends tie-in Blood of Heroes. His latest novel is Terminal Alliance, book one in the humorous science fiction Janitors of the Post-Apocalypse trilogy. His short fiction has appeared in more than 50 magazines and anthologies. He’s an active blogger, and won the 2012 Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer. He lives in mid-Michigan with his family. You can find him at www.jimchines.com or on Twitter as @jimchines.

My Favorite Bit: Richard Baker talks about VALIANT DUST

Favorite Bit iconRichard Baker is joining us today with his novel Valiant Dust. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Sikander Singh North has always had it easy―until he joined the crew of the Aquilan Commonwealth starship CSS Hector. As the ship’s new gunnery officer and only Kashmiri, he must constantly prove himself better than his Aquilan crewmates, even if he has to use his fists. When the Hector is called to help with a planetary uprising, he’ll have to earn his unit’s respect, find who’s arming the rebels, and deal with the headstrong daughter of the colonial ruler―all while dodging bullets.

Sikander’s military career is off to an explosive start―but only if he and CSS Hector can survive his first mission.

What’s Richard’s favorite bit?

Valiant Dust cover

RICHARD BAKER

My favorite bit of Valiant Dust is the Torpedo Mystery. It’s a secondary plot and it’s a little technical, but it’s the sort of problem that officers serving on ships “really” run across, and it drives some of the most personally challenging interactions Lieutenant Sikander North (my protagonist) faces during the story.

Let me provide a bit of non-spoilerish background: Sikander is the new gunnery officer of the Commonwealth star cruiser CSS Hector. As the gunnery officer, he’s the department head in charge of the ship’s weapons personnel. He answers to the ship’s XO, Commander Peter Chatburn, and the ship’s CO, Captain Elise Markham; he supervises three junior officers, each of whom leads a team of gunner’s mates or torpedo mates. One of these subordinates is Sublieutenant Angela Larkin, the ship’s torpedo officer. (This is pretty typical warship organization; the ships of the U.S. Navy today have similar personnel structures.)

Hector is armed with a mix of kinetic cannons (heavy railguns) and warp torpedoes—missiles that protect themselves from defensive fire by exiting normal space during their attack runs. Shortly after reporting aboard Hector, Sikander and his new team get the opportunity to conduct some live-fire exercises on the target range, during the course of which Hector loses a practice torpedo. It disappears into its warp bubble for its attack run and never returns to normal space.

That’s a serious problem for Sikander. It’s just not acceptable for a ship to lose a multi-million-dollar weapon, and his superiors want answers.

Figuring out why the torpedo failed becomes a significant headache for Sikander, because the torpedo itself is no longer available for inspection. Investigating the cause of the failure puts Sikander between Chatburn, an unforgiving XO who isn’t interested in “we don’t know” as an answer, and Larkin, a difficult subordinate who doesn’t seem to appreciate the seriousness of the situation. Worse yet, Sikander’s captain and his peers are watching to see how he responds to the challenge. It’s not his fault, but it is his problem.

The reason I’m so proud of the Torpedo Mystery is that it’s a great device for showing the reader what it’s like to be a mid-level officer on a warship. In the “real” world, officers are more than a battlestation; they lead teams of enlisted personnel that you don’t see on the bridge set. They’re managers and administrators as well as warfighters. One of the things I hoped to bring to Valiant Dust was a certain sense of, well, authenticity about what sort of things a lieutenant worried about in between furious battles and exotic adventures. There aren’t many SF stories that touch on things like maintenance records or logistics chains or an XO asking you why you’re taking weekends off when you haven’t yet solved a problem no one reasonably could be expected to solve. For just a few short scenes in Valiant Dust, you get to experience a less-than-glamorous but absolutely honest part of being a shipboard officer.

(A true story from my own service: One day while standing watch as officer of the deck, I was surprised to hear the pop-pop-pop of gunshots from the bridge wing. I stepped outside and discovered the captain with a .45, taking potshots at seagulls. Well, okay, it’s his ship, and if he wanted to sign out a pistol from the armory and give himself a few rounds for “training” I figured it wasn’t my place to protest. But shortly after I got off watch, I encountered my ship’s gunnery officer in a passageway. “Hey, Kurt,” I said. “Just so you know, the captain fired off a couple dozen pistol rounds on the bridge wing this morning.”

“You’re kidding,” Kurt said, gaping in astonishment. “Son of a —!”

You see, any time you expend ammunition on board a ship, you have to file something called an ATR, or ammo transaction report. It’s a form that requires several hours of painstaking work, even for something as minor as a few rounds of pistol ammo, and it’s up to the gunnery officer to fill it out. Oh, and it must be turned in within 24 hours. The captain’s idle interest in a little target practice had just wrecked the rest of Kurt’s day—and I’m sure the seagulls didn’t appreciate it either, although I didn’t see any get hit. ATRs are the sort of thing we like to gloss over when we’re writing stories about roaming the stars and meeting the enemy in furious battle. Sometimes, though, that’s what the job is.)

Okay, back to Sikander North and Valiant Dust. The Torpedo Mystery is a lot more interesting than filling out some timely paperwork, I promise. It’s a key obstacle in the path of Sikander’s success on board his new ship and a serious point of contention between him and his new team. Plus, the details of the mystery say some important things about the technology of the setting, military routine, and the readiness level of a star navy that hasn’t had to fight a war in a long time.

The process of solving the Torpedo Mystery winds up being pretty important to cementing Sikander’s place in Hector’s wardroom, and it even comes up again in the desperate space battle at the climax of the story. But it’s not the sort of problem I see in other military SF stories, which is why it’s my favorite bit of the story—or one of them, anyway.

LINKS:

Amazon

Powell’s

Website

BIO:

A former United States Navy officer and a well-known game designer, Richard Baker is the author of thirteen novels, including the New York Times bestseller Condemnation and the highly acclaimed The Last Mythal trilogy. Valiant Dust marks his first original military sci-fi novel. Rich is a lifelong devotee of science fiction and fantasy, a history enthusiast (particularly military history), and an avid fan of games of all kinds. He lives in the Seattle area with his wife, Kim, and their daughters Alex and Hannah.

My Favorite Bit: James Alan Gardner talks about ALL THOSE EXPLOSIONS WERE SOMEONE ELSE’S FAULT

My Favorite BitJames Alan Gardner is joining us today with his novel All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Monsters are real.
But so are heroes.

Sparks are champions of weird science. Boasting capes and costumes and amazing super-powers that only make sense if you don’t think about them too hard, they fight an eternal battle for truth and justice . . . mostly.

Darklings are creatures of myth and magic: ghosts, vampires, were-beasts, and the like. Their very presence warps reality. Doors creak at their approach. Cobwebs gather where they linger.

Kim Lam is an ordinary college student until a freak scientific accident (what else?) transforms Kim and three housemates into Sparks―and drafts them into the never-ending war between the Light and Dark. They struggle to master their new abilities―and (of course) to design cool costumes and come up with great hero-names.

Turns out that “accident” was just the first salvo in a Mad Genius’s latest diabolical scheme. Now it’s up to four newbie heroes to save the day, before they even have a chance to figure out what their team’s name should be!

What’s Jim’s favorite bit?

All Those Explosions Were Someone Else's Fault cover image

JAMES ALAN GARDNER

SPOILER WARNING: This write-up discusses a pivotal moment in All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault. If you’re the sort of person who hates spoilers, buy the book and read it before continuing. (Better yet, buy two copies of the book. Or ten.)

While writing, I sometimes reach a point when I realize a character might do something unexpected. It often takes place when I’m writing a conversation; the chance phrasing of a line almost begs another character to reply with a big revelation or to take the action someplace I never imagined. Simple example: a character says, “We’re arguing like an old married couple,” and suddenly there’s a real possibility of the other person saying, “Well then why don’t we get married?” even though that’s far far away from anything in the story outline.

It’s a lovely scary moment. You sit on the cusp of blasting the story open with a single line, heading off into an unknown future…and all because an accidental turn of phrase.

This happened to me while writing All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault, and now I think it’s my favorite bit.

To understand the moment, you’ll need some background. The narrator of All Those Explosions is Kim Lam, a university student majoring in geology. Back in high school, Kim was the girlfriend of a boy named Nicholas. Nicholas came from a wealthy family, and in the book’s version of Earth, most wealthy people pay millions to be changed into “Darklings” when they come of age. Darklings can be vampires, were-beasts, or the like…so basically, all the rich and powerful people in this world are semi-immortal monsters with supernatural powers.

Nicholas had to choose between staying with Kim or becoming a Darkling himself. He chose the Dark and ended up as a powerful ghost. Kim was devastated; even though several years have passed, the wounds haven’t totally healed.

In this version of Earth, Darklings aren’t the only people with inhuman powers. There are also superheroes, perhaps created by Fate as a counterbalance to the Dark. Four years after being dumped by Nicholas, Kim acquires superpowers thanks to a lab accident…and almost immediately, Kim encounters Nicholas again.

Like any good superhero, Kim wears a costume and a mask. There’s actually a reason for that—it turns out that if someone super puts on a special outfit and adopts a codename, the universe guarantees anonymity. Your fingerprints literally change when you put on the mask. So does your DNA, your voice, and anything else that might make you identifiable. It’s essentially magic: you absolutely can’t be recognized, even if your mask is a ridiculous little thing that shouldn’t disguise you at all.

But there’s a caveat. You can ruin your guaranteed anonymity if you’re careless or if you deliberately reveal your civilian identity to someone.

So that’s the set-up, established early in the book. Kim takes the hero-name Zircon (because to geology students, zircons are awesome!) and she wears a spiffy white costume. (By the way, for someone as fashion-challenged as I am, being forced to invent costumes for a whole bunch of superheroes is one of the hardest parts of the series.) As Zircon, Kim encounters Nicholas several times, but because of the mask he never recognizes her.

Then, about two-thirds through the book, they meet again while investigating an up-scale B&B built by Darklings. Unbeknownst to either Kim or Nicholas, the rooms are protected by magical privacy spells designed to prevent spying and theft. Nicholas, with his ghostly abilities, accidentally backs up through a wall and triggers the enchantment. It temporarily nullifies his powers and blasts him across the room into Kim. Kim isn’t hurt—when she’s Zircon, she’s as hard as a rock—but she’s bowled over and they both go down in a heap.

So far, this was all part of my plan: a “lying on top of each other” moment that would awaken Kim’s memories and feelings about Nicholas. I started to write the ensuing conversation as they lay nose to nose, and liked how the banter developed:

Nicholas: Ouch! You’re hard.

Kim: Isn’t that supposed to be my line?

But after a brief interlude, during which Kim struggles with her emotions at being in close contact with Nicholas again, he heaves himself off her and complains about being bruised because she’s “as hard as marble”.

I wrote this as a casual toss-off line. But Kim is a geology student and a long-time rockhound. Throughout the book, she’s constantly correcting people about details of mineralogy. And so, hardly even thinking about it, I had Kim retort,

“Don’t be insulting! Marble is only Hardness 3. Zircon is over 7.”

It was such a Kim thing to say: a dead giveaway that Zircon was actually Kim…as if the character wanted Nicholas to recognize her.

But did I really want Nicholas to know the truth? It would cause me a ton of headaches to handle the repercussions. In fact, for reasons I won’t go into, Kim’s life would be in serious danger if Nicholas realized she was Zircon. The rest of the book and the series would go much more smoothly and painlessly if I backspaced a few lines and stuck to my original plan.

I sat at the keyboard and stared at what I had written. I asked, “Am I really going to go there?” Into spontaneous terra incognita?

It’s exciting to be taken by surprise. And for a writer, it’s unwise to flee from excitement. So I kept that serendipitous upheaval, even though it’s sure to come back and haunt Kim and everyone else around her. It immediately necessitated changes to the plot, and it will have major repercussions for the series.

But that’s why I love what happens by chance. Sometimes you kill your darlings, and sometimes you let them kill you.

LINKS:

Buy All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault

Website

BIO:

James Alan Gardner is a writer and editor who has published nine novels and numerous short stories. His work has won the Asimov’s Readers Choice Award, the Aurora award, and the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, as well as being on the final ballot for the Hugo and Nebula. In his spare time, he teaches kung fu to six-year-olds.

 

My Favorite Bit: R. E. Stearns talks about BARBARY STATION

My Favorite BitR.E. Stearns is joining us today with her book Barbary Station. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Two engineers hijack a spaceship to join some space pirates—only to discover the pirates are hiding from a malevolent AI. Now they have to outwit the AI if they want to join the pirate crew—and survive long enough to enjoy it.

Adda and Iridian are newly minted engineers, but aren’t able to find any work in a solar system ruined by economic collapse after an interplanetary war. Desperate for employment, they hijack a colony ship and plan to join a famed pirate crew living in luxury at Barbary Station, an abandoned shipbreaking station in deep space. But when they arrive there, nothing is as expected. The pirates aren’t living in luxury—they’re hiding in a makeshift base welded onto the station’s exterior hull. The artificial intelligence controlling the station’s security system has gone mad, trying to kill all station residents and shooting down any ship that attempts to leave—so there’s no way out. Adda and Iridian have one chance to earn a place on the pirate crew: destroy the artificial intelligence. The last engineer who went up against the AI met an untimely end, and the pirates are taking bets on how the newcomers will die. But Adda and Iridian plan to beat the odds.

There’s a glorious future in piracy…if only they can survive long enough.

What’s R.E. Stearns favorite bit?

Barbary Station cover image

R. E. STEARNS

Some questions are never answered. This is true in real life and in fiction. Living and working in the unknown, and solving the mysteries you can and documenting the details of those you can’t yet, makes the world an endlessly exciting place. That’s why I filled Barbary Station with mysteries.

Our heroines, Adda and Iridian, solve the first mystery they encounter within the first few chapters. Why didn’t the pirates react with more enthusiasm to the news that an entire hijacked colony ship was on its way to Barbary Station with Adda and Iridian at the helm? The answer: They had much bigger problems than where their next target ship was coming from.

The problem personified, after a fashion, is an artificial intelligence which has taken over the abandoned space station’s defense system. To escape, they’ll have to stop the AI from killing every human who meets its definition of a threat. Adda and Iridian have a lot of minor mysteries to solve if they want to survive: How is the AI choosing its targets? What weapons and drones are at its disposal? Is any place on the station truly safe?

The AI isn’t the only mysterious figure on Barbary Station. An emergency medical team who’ve been trapped there for years appear and disappear on biosensors for reasons understood only by them. The pirate crew our heroines came to the station to join might, or might not, have enemies among the refugee village in the docking bay. The AI has scared the remaining ship pilots so badly that they won’t help anybody else get away. Not letting the pirates onboard seems practical, but they don’t help the refugees either.

And then there’s the method that Adda uses to speak to the AIs. In this universe AIs are raised, not coded. Their learning algorithms are too complex to interact with on the level programmers today do. Instead, interaction is abstracted into a hallucinographic digital space, which makes interacting with the AI more like a lucid dream. Adda is constantly interpreting symbols her mind has constructed through a software bridge between herself and the AI, asking “What does it all mean?” Lives depend upon the answer.

Throughout the novel, Adda and Iridian are fighting to differentiate friend from foe, safety from illusion, conscious intention from thoughtless logic trees. I love the many mysteries entwined in this story, and I hope you do to.

LINKS:

Amazon

Simon and Schuster

Goodreads

Website

Twitter

Facebook

Instagram

Blog

BIO:

R.E. Stearns wrote her first story on an Apple IIe computer and still kind of misses green text on a black screen. She went on to annoy all of her teachers by reading books while they lectured. Eventually she read and wrote enough to earn a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from the University of Central Florida. She is hoping for an honorary doctorate. When not writing or working, R.E. Stearns reads, plays PC games, and references Internet memes in meatspace. She lives near Orlando, FL with her husband/computer engineer and a cat.