Archive for the ‘My Favorite Bit’ Category

My Favorite Bit: K. Bird Lincoln talks about DREAM EATER

Favorite Bit iconK. Bird Lincoln is joining us today with her novel Dream Eater. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Koi Pierce dreams other peoples’ dreams.

Her whole life she’s avoided other people. Any skin-to-skin contact—a hug from her sister, the hand of a barista at Stumptown coffee—transfers flashes of that person’s most intense dreams. It’s enough to make anyone a hermit.

But Koi’s getting her act together. No matter what, this time she’s going to finish her degree at Portland Community College and get a real life. Of course it’s not going to be that easy. Her father, increasingly disturbed from Alzheimer’s disease, a dream fragment of a dead girl from the casual brush of a creepy PCC professor’s hand, and a mysterious stranger who speaks the same rare Northern Japanese dialect as Koi’s father will force Koi to learn to trust in the help of others, as well as face the truth about herself.

What’s K. Bird’s favorite bit?

Dream Eater cover image

K. BIRD LINCOLN

When Joseph Campbell Isn’t Enough: Or why I hunger for Baku

There’s this memory I have of being in my elementary school library during lunch hour, running my fingers over the spines of books in the 398.2 area of nonfiction (folktales and myths) and being thrilled with the cornucopia of Red Riding Hood tales, Changelings, Greek Heroes, Baba Yaga, and Babe the Blue Ox.

Through them I discovered a hunger for the stories we tell ourselves as a people.

In high school I discovered Joseph Campbell and delved into those tales. Stories which evoked the psychic unity of mankind as manifested in the Hero’s Journey or Creation Myths.

For a while, that satisfied my hunger.

But I was hungry again by college—just when I had to choose a language to study to meet graduation requirements—and met a boy. A very, very cute boy who was also a Japanese Studies major. So I started to study Japanese language, history, and psychology. It began to dawn on me that Joseph Campbell, while certainly including myths from Asian countries in his writing, was as bound by the same white, Euro-centric cultural upbringing in the interpretation and focus on myths as I was.

And I realized that my hunger for making sense of the stories meant I had to not only unify and categorize, but also delve into the weird, obscure (this was before Neil Gaiman’s American Gods or the TV show Grimm) and not-oft-mentioned stories.

If you’re a manga or anime fan, you probably know about Kitsune. Kij Johnson’s The Fox Woman, Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman: The Dream Hunters, MTV’s Teen Wolf, Pokemon, Disney’s Robin Hood—the trickster fox is one of those easy-to-plug-into Euro-centric culture myths. What really fed my hunger to find meaning in a true diversity of human experience and thought, were the other kinds of myths: the dream-eating baku, the turtle-esque kappa with their polite fanaticism, bowls of water embedded in their heads, and propensity for rape or murder, and the avian-demon tengu that evolved from fierce and violent protectors of the forest to amiable bumpkins easily duped by humans.

Reading tales of the kappa and the tengu challenged me to wrap my mind around the interaction and seeding of religion and culture that occurred from India to China through Korean and into Japan. They forced me to realize a broader view of what civilization was (476-800 BCE was by no means “dark ages” for India, China, and Japan) and understand my own cultural viewpoint was quite narrow. Kappa and Tengu were exotic, they tickled my fancy for far-off flavors and stories of people I could easily label “other”, “different”, “strange”.

But then I married a Tokyo boy and had daughters—and all of a sudden I became hungry again to seek that which unifies rather than that which makes of us “the other.” (Because my daughters’ future psychotherapy bills depended upon it.) How could these freaky tales, these monsters, from the very primitive depths/hindbrains of such different cultural minds be incorporated into a psychically whole being?

Baku are ungainly. Awkward chimaeras of tiger and elephant, possibly inspired by sightings of ancient tapir.

baku image 1 baku image 2

Commonly known from 18th and 19th century Japanese netsuke (a miniature sculpture originally developed as a closure for small sacks used as pockets in yukata and kimono ) carvings like these.

netsuke image 1 netsuke image 2

Baku eat bad dreams. Although, if they are called upon too often and remain hungry after digging into a nightmare, they may stay to eat your hopes, aspirations, and ambitions as well. A chancy helper. But it was to baku I was drawn. Baku are just strange enough to have no real parallel in European culture that I could easily identify, yet they tap into a universal human vulnerability—our psyche as we sleep, the most primitive and meaningful images of our dreaming, and the ways our brains organize and incorporate information.

What would it mean to have one foot in the waking and one foot in the dream world? What does it mean to come from two very distinct cultures like Japan and America? Baku appeal to me because of their very disjointedness, the chimerical nature that attempts to incorporate disparate pieces into a whole. (Here’s where my daughters would roll their teenage eyes and tell me they are not chimaeras but people, and stop drawing parallels between bicultural identity and myths).

But it’s too late. My hunger for the obscure tales, coupled with my desire to find unity in diversity, have already lead to making Koi, my Dream Eater protagonist, both half-baku and half-Japanese. I can’t promise Koi discovers any Joseph Campbell- style universal truths in her journey, but she does get to wrestle with trickster kitsune, Armenian dragons, and Pacific Northwest ice hags and trickster bluejays.

LINKS:

Official page

Goodreads

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Kobo

iBookstore

Kblincoln.com

Facebook

BIO:

K. Bird Lincoln is an ESL professional and writer living on the windswept Minnesota Prairie with family and a huge addiction to frou-frou coffee. Also dark chocolate– without which, the world is a howling void. Originally from Cleveland, she has spent more years living on the edges of the Pacific Ocean than in the Midwest. Her speculative short stories are published in various online & paper publications such as Strange Horizons. Her medieval Japanese fantasy series, Tiger Lily, is available from Amazon. She also writes tasty speculative and YA fiction reviews under the name K. Bird at Goodreads.com. Sign up for her sporadic newsletter, The Mossy Glen from her facebook page and get access to free goodies– both readable and edible.

My Favorite Bit: Aliette de Bodard talks about THE HOUSE OF BINDING THORNS

Favorite Bit iconAliette de Bodard is joining us today with her novel The House of Binding Thorns. Here’s the publisher’s description:

The multi-award-winning author of The House of Shattered Wings continues her Dominion of the Fallen saga as Paris endures the aftermath of a devastating arcane war….

As the city rebuilds from the onslaught of sorcery that nearly destroyed it, the great Houses of Paris, ruled by Fallen angels, still contest one another for control over the capital.

House Silverspires was once the most powerful, but just as it sought to rise again, an ancient evil brought it low. Phillippe, an immortal who escaped the carnage, has a singular goal—to resurrect someone he lost. But the cost of such magic might be more than he can bear.

In House Hawthorn, Madeleine the alchemist has had her addiction to angel essence savagely broken. Struggling to live on, she is forced on a perilous diplomatic mission to the underwater dragon kingdom—and finds herself in the midst of intrigues that have already caused one previous emissary to mysteriously disappear….

As the Houses seek a peace more devastating than war, those caught between new fears and old hatreds must find strength—or fall prey to a magic that seeks to bind all to its will.

What’s Aliette’s favorite bit?

House of Binding Thorns cover image

ALIETTE DE BODARD

My favourite bit of writing The House of Binding Thorns was re-imagining the geography of my alternate Paris.

The Dominion of the Fallen series, which comprises The House of Shattered Wings and The House of Binding Thorns, is set in an alternate 20th Century where a huge magical war between factions devastated Paris and much of Europe–and where the survivors are still fighting a Cold War of attrition in the ruins, with political intrigue and covert use of magic.

I wanted to take familiar tourist (or local) sights and give them an eerie twist. The dome of the great department store Les Galeries Lafayette is now broken, and gang-members scavenge in the ruined counters; the Seine is black with magical pollution and pulls people from bridges and quays; the grand mansions of the powerful, the hôtels particuliers, have floral wallpaper flecked with mould and gravel flecked with dirt in their gardens, …

I based the geography of my post-magical-war Paris in the turn-of-the-century Parisian one: a very important (but excessively geeky one) was whether I took into account Baron Haussman’s extensive modifications to the geography of the city: I decided to do so, partly because this would result in a map that wasn’t too unfamiliar to the reader (and I was already juggling a lot of unfamiliarity!).

It’s pretty easy today to find amazingly detailed maps of Paris from this time period (I used this one ).

I’ve lived in Paris for decades, so it was a bit of a weird experience imagining what a magical war would have done to the streets. I would walk in front of a particularly distinctive building, and think, “Ah-ha, I could use this, how would it have changed?”. This occurred a lot when writing The House of Binding Thorns: the titular House, Hawthorn, had a decayed hôtel particulier vibe, and as it happened I would run a lot of errands in the vicinity of these.

One problem I hadn’t anticipated was making sure I was not committing huge anachronisms: because I know Paris very well, I would write a bridge or a street and not always check that they did exist back then. The most embarrassing mistake I made was having two characters cross the Bir-Hakeim Bridge, in the south west of Paris: I was very slow to realise it had been named for a famous WWII battle that hadn’t happened in my alternate chronology!

I also had a lot of fun with the different magical factions: all the Houses have names that are pertinent to their location. House Astragale is in the suburb of Saint-Ouen, which once was the headquarters for the military order of the Star: I picked “astragale” because it was close to “astral” but is actually the name of a bone (it *is* creepy Paris, after all!). House Silverspires is on Ile de la Cité, which had the most churches in Paris in the mid-19th Century and would therefore have looked like a sea of white spires from afar.

Lest this make me look very serious, I’ll also admit to terrible bilingual word play: House Hawthorn, the aforementioned decadent hotel particulier, is a fast-and-loose transcription of “Auteuil”, the wealthy southwestern suburb of Paris where it’s based. It’s also a tree with beautiful flowers, prickly thorns and a very invasive tendency, which happens to describe the House to a tee!

I’ll leave you with a passage that describes the inside of House Hawthorn:

The House was silent: it was still dark and freezing cold outside, with another hour or so to go to dawn, when the kitchen and laundry rooms would come alive, and the drudges would take their mops and brooms into the corridors, and light, one by one, the big chandeliers with candles on poles, to signal the beginning of the day.

Thuan had wandered it, at night, when only the bakers in the kitchens were up, kneading dough for the massive stone ovens: the main, cavernous edifice; the small, winding streets spreading out from beyond the gardens, their buildings cracked limestone confections with rusted wrought-iron balconies, and dependents in embroidered dresses and top hats leaning, languidly, against the pillars of blackened porches and patios. The broken ruins in the corners of the gardens: the abandoned buildings, with the trails of water running down glass panes like tears; the melted, pitted limestone overgrown with ivy and other creepers; the black debris mixed in with the gravel; and the broken-off hands on the statues in the fountains. All the traces of the war, in a House that hadn’t been spared by it.

(…)

He wandered corridor after corridor, losing himself in the labyrinth of the West Wing, running a hand on the wainscot of cracked wooden panels, his fingers brushing the engraved figures of game animals and trees. There was something addictive, alluring about standing outside the bedrooms of the House’s elite, the leaders of each court, and their being none the wiser as to the danger he represented.

He stopped at a crossroads between two corridors, to look at a striking piece, a stag whose antlers blurred and merged into the thorns of a tree. Dogs were harrying it, yet the beast held itself tall and proud, as if it didn’t even deign to notice them. The detail had chipped away, and there was dust around the design, a thickening layer like a gray outline.

On the right, the corridor curved sharply, flaring into something very much like an antechamber, at the end of which was a huge set of wooden doors. They were strangely plain: painted with a scattering of faded silver stars against a dark gray background. Two of those stars were falling from the firmament; their silver tinged with the scarlet of blood, a shade that never quite seemed to hold as the viewer moved.

It smelled, faintly, of bergamot and citrus, and Thuan had no business being there.

LINKS:

My website

My twitter

Amazon

B&N

Powell’s

Indiebound

BIO:

Aliette de Bodard writes speculative fiction: her short stories have garnered her two Nebula Awards, a Locus Award and two British Science Fiction Association Awards. She is the author of The House of Shattered Wings, a novel set in a turn-of-the-century Paris devastated by a magical war, which won the 2015 British Science Fiction Association Award, and its standalone sequel The House of Binding Thorns (Ace/Gollancz). She lives in Paris.

My Favorite Bit: Rosalyn Eves talks about BLOOD ROSE REBELLION

Favorite Bit iconRosalyn Eves is joining us today to talk about her novel Blood Rose Rebellion. Here’s the publisher’s description:

The thrilling first book in a YA fantasy trilogy for fans of Red Queen. In a world where social prestige derives from a trifecta of blood, money, and magic, one girl has the ability to break the spell that holds the social order in place.

Sixteen-year-old Anna Arden is barred from society by a defect of blood. Though her family is part of the Luminate, powerful users of magic, she is Barren, unable to perform the simplest spells. Anna would do anything to belong. But her fate takes another course when, after inadvertently breaking her sister’s debutante spell—an important chance for a highborn young woman to show her prowess with magic—Anna finds herself exiled to her family’s once powerful but now crumbling native Hungary.

Her life might well be over.

In Hungary, Anna discovers that nothing is quite as it seems. Not the people around her, from her aloof cousin Noémi to the fierce and handsome Romani Gábor. Not the society she’s known all her life, for discontent with the Luminate is sweeping the land. And not her lack of magic. Isolated from the only world she cares about, Anna still can’t seem to stop herself from breaking spells.

As rebellion spreads across the region, Anna’s unique ability becomes the catalyst everyone is seeking. In the company of nobles, revolutionaries, and Romani, Anna must choose: deny her unique power and cling to the life she’s always wanted, or embrace her ability and change that world forever.

What’s Rosalyn’s favorite bit?

Blood Rose Rebellion cover image

ROSALYN EVES

As a debut novelist, being asked to choose my favorite part of the story is a bit like being asked to choose my favorite child (the correct answer, for those interested, is that it depends on the day).

But one of the things I loved about writing Blood Rose Rebellion was the research—specifically, finding little details that made the setting come alive. The novel is set primarily in an alternate nineteenth-century Hungary that closely resembles our world, with the addition of magic.

When our intrepid heroine, Anna, first arrives in Hungary—having been sent from Britain in disgrace—she’s not disposed to like it. She’s been forced to give up a familiar world for one she only knows through her grandmother’s stories. Instead of the glamour of the London season, she finds herself at Eszterháza, a run-down estate surrounded by farms and fields and miles from any kind of society.

When I first started researching Hungarian noble estates, I picked Eszterháza because it belonged to a preeminent 19th century Hungarian noble family, and the location was good for the story I wanted to tell. But as I dove into the research, I was thrilled by the ways the estate mirrored some of the themes and even the tonal quality I wanted in the book.

In the mid 18th-century, an Esterhazy prince decided to expand the existing hunting lodge into an estate to rival Versailles—and poured an insane amount of money into what was essentially swamp land to do so. Joseph Haydn lived at the estate for months, composing music: his baryton trios, multiple operas, and Opus 33, among others. Empress Maria Theresa visited the palace with the entire Viennese court.

But seventy-five years later, this estate had been virtually abandoned. A 19th century British visitor reported that bats were lodging in the magnificent opera house; a guidebook to the estate claims that sheep were kept in the ornate Sala Terrena.

I loved both details—the crumbling aristocratic estate made a perfect visual metaphor for the diseased society Anna comes to resist. But my very favorite detail was this:

Two separate travel narratives reported the existence of a fey child in the swamps near Eszterháza in the 18th century. The boy was perhaps ten, with webbed feet and long, dagger-like nails, living off fish and frogs. Some kind-hearted individual living on the estate tried to rescue the child by bringing him into the palace, but he escaped weeks later and eventually disappeared.

I wondered about this child, how he came to be in the swamp, how his existence persisted in urban legends surrounding a baroque estate. Somehow, the presence of the uncanny in combination with an otherwise mundane (if expensive) palace made both seem more otherworldly. In my story, the child exists only as a statue in the hallways, but the existence of that other-world only a breath away from a manufactured reality manifests in various ways throughout the book—though you’ll have to read the book to find out how.

In many ways, this book is my love letter to Hungary—and I hope that details like these help readers fall in love with Hungary too.

LINKS:

Website

Facebook

Twitter

Instagram

Amazon

BIO:

Rosalyn Eves grew up in the Rocky Mountains, dividing her time between reading books and bossing her siblings into performing her dramatic scripts. As an adult, the telling and reading of stories is still one of her favorite things to do. When she’s not reading or writing, she enjoys spending time with her chemistry professor husband and three children, watching British period pieces, or hiking through the splendid landscape of southern Utah, where she lives. She dislikes housework on principle.

She has a PhD in English from Penn State, which means she also endeavors to inspire college students with a love for the English language. Sometimes it even works.

Her first novel, BLOOD ROSE REBELLION, first in a YA historical fantasy trilogy, debuts March 28, 2017 from Knopf/Random House.

My Favorite Bit: Stacey Berg talks about REGENERATION

Favorite Bit iconStacey Berg is joining us today with her novel Regeneration. Here’s the publisher’s description:

The world is ready to be reborn…

Protected by the Church for four hundred years, the people of the City are the last of humanity—or so they thought. Echo Hunter 367, made to be faithful to the Church and its Saint at all costs, embarks on what she’s sure is a suicide mission into the harsh desert beyond the City. Then, at the end of all hope, she stumbles on a miracle: another enclave of survivors, a lush, peaceful sanctuary completely opposite of anything Echo has ever known.

But the Preserve has dark secrets of its own, and uncovering them may cost Echo more than just her life. She fears her discoveries will trigger a final, disastrous war. But if Echo can stop the Church and Preservers from destroying each other, she might have a chance to achieve her most impossible dream—saving the woman she loves.

What’s Stacey’s favorite bit?

Regeneration cover image

STACEY BERG

My favorite bit of Regeneration is a scene between the main character, Echo Hunter 367, and the younger hunter Gem. In the run-up to this exchange, Gem has been standing guard in the Church’s sanctuary, watching over the Saint on whom their lives depend. Echo, who would normally claim that assignment for herself, instead has made up an excuse to stay away. Now Gem calls her on it:

Gem appeared at the door from within. “You have been avoiding the sanctuary.”

“My services have been required for storm preparations.”

“If your other duties permit, perhaps you could assist here as well.”

The request sounded strange to Echo, coming from the girl who had been so arrogant. “You have always performed adequately without my assistance.”

A pause, then: “Perhaps you are right. One can watch as well as two; there is no sense wasting a resource.”

“Is that all it is to you? A matter of resources?”

Gem cocked her head. “What else should a hunter consider?”

Friendship. That we matter to one another. But hunters did not speak of such things. Then Echo saw in Gem’s face that that was what she offered, like a handhold for a slipping grip, if one dared to reach for it . . . Echo couldn’t find her voice.

I love this bit because when I started the book, I knew that romantic love was at its heart, but I had no idea that other relationships would be nearly as important. Yet friendship became a key theme throughout the story. Echo and Gem are hunters, women created to guard the Church and fulfill their duty without question; their personal needs and desires are of no consequence. In Dissension, the first Echo Hunter 367 book, Echo started as Gem’s teacher, but the younger woman quickly grew into a rival who first challenged, then ultimately defeated Echo. By the end of that story, Echo regarded Gem as the perfect hunter Echo never could be—but Gem gained a kind of admiration for Echo, too. In Regeneration, the two women appear to be working towards a common goal on behalf of the Church, yet it’s not clear to Echo what Gem really feels—or if she cares for anything at all beyond her duty.

This uncertainty gave me a great opportunity to explore the ways in which Echo has and hasn’t overcome her own limitations. For example, in the scene above, she is able to recognize her desire to mean something to Gem. She is even brave enough to challenge Gem to admit what Echo already has learned: that hunters care about each other deeply. And perhaps alone of all hunters, Echo can glimpse what Gem, once so hard and cold, is trying to offer her.

And yet—and yet. At this point in the story, Echo is not quite able to speak such words out loud. She doesn’t know how to accept the hand that Gem is holding out to her. The moment that passes here is for me one of the most poignant in the book.

But we know Echo, and we know that she’ll keep after it, right until the end. Her friendship with Gem is a subplot, not the main event, but Echo has to figure it out before she can resolve the major events in the rest of the story. So this scene matters, the way friends matter to one another. It feels real to me. This bit isn’t a conversation between characters who understand themselves perfectly because they’ve spent years examining their own lives and psyches. Instead, it’s a snatched intimate moment between two people who are just discovering themselves, just learning to be human, and doing it on the fly in the middle of the end, or the beginning, of the world. That’s why it’s my favorite bit.

LINKS:

Website

Harper Collins

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Goodreads

Twitter

BIO:

Stacey Berg is a medical researcher who writes speculative fiction. Her work as a physician-scientist provides the inspiration for many of her stories. She lives with her wife in Houston and is a member of the Writers’ League of Texas. When she’s not writing, she practices kung fu and runs half marathons. She is represented by Mary C. Moore of Kimberley Cameron & Associates. You can visit her at www.staceyberg.com.

My Favorite Bit: Sherri Smith talks about FOLLOW ME DOWN

Favorite Bit iconSherri Smith is joining us today to talk about her novel Follow Me Down. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Mia Haas has built her life far from the North Dakota town where she grew up, but when she receives word that her twin brother is missing, she is forced to return home. Back to the people she left behind, the person she used to be, and the secrets she thought she’d buried.

Once hailed as the golden boy of their town, and now a popular high school teacher, Lucas Haas disappears the same day the body of one of his students is pulled from the river. Trying to wrap her head around the rumors of Lucas’s affair with the teen, and unable to reconcile the media’s portrayal of Lucas as a murderer with her own memories of him, Mia is desperate to find another suspect.

All the while, she wonders: If he’s innocent, why did he run?

As Mia reevaluates their difficult, shared history and launches her own investigation into the grisly murder, she uncovers secrets that could exonerate Lucas—or seal his fate. In a small town where everyone’s lives are intertwined, Mia must confront her own demons if she wants to get out alive.

What’s Sherri’s favorite bit?

Follow Me Down cover image

SHERRI SMITH

My favorite bit from FOLLOW ME DOWN is a scene that happens after Mia goes to visit her toxic mother who lives in a care home (pages 52-55). Mia has run back to her car, and in an emotional frenzy, rips into a make-up bag full of pills she brought for this trip back to her hometown.

It’s that teetering moment when Mia breaks her recent recovery from a pill addiction. What I specifically like about this scene is how it connects bad parenting to a certain level of adult misery and self-hatred. Pills (or other addictive substances) tend to take the edge off of this and seeing her mother, confronting their tangled history, provides her with just the right excuse to cave.

In this scene, Mia gives her account of how she started using in college as a social crutch or study buddy, and progressed to stealing from a hospital dispensary where she worked as a pharmacist. She likes to maintain an image of success but inwardly struggles to keep her addiction a secret.  Even during her shaky bouts of sobriety, she tends to isolate herself because she feels a controlled environment gives her the best shot at self-restraint.  But now that she’s been forced to return to home to the mother she left behind, to look for a missing brother who might be a killer, everything has come crashing down.

The pills win out.

“Why not? Why don’t you have a husband?” Her voice went high into a schoolyard taunt, but was too rough to pull it off, so she sounded like a seven- year- old with bronchitis.

“Haven’t met the right one yet.”

She turned away from her canvas and faced me.

“Maybe if you dressed nicer.” She started jabbing her paintbrush hard into the Styrofoam plate and walked toward me. The plate balanced on her fingertips. “I think you would look good in ruby red.”

She bent in close, poised over me, so that I was nose to nose with her. Cracker dust dotted her lower lip. For a second I thought she was going to kiss me, and I tried hard not to shrink back. Her eyes narrowed, she made an uh- huh sound like she’d answered some question she’d posed in her mind, and reflexively my lips curled up. She knows. She knows that I did this to her. The truth was somewhere in her mind, scurrying around inside one of her brain’s many hollows, and one day she’d catch it. I was sure of it.

Then Mimi’s hand snapped back fast, her eyes went dark, and she wielded the paintbrush like a maestro’s baton, bringing it down in a spatter of rusty-red slashes. Running the brush all over the front of my white V- neck.

“Mimi, stop.” I stood up, forcing her to step back.

“But you look so much better in red.” I caught her by the wrist as gently as I could, but this turned out to be wrong thing to do. She dropped her plate of paint upside down in the grass, pulled free, shrieked loud enough the birds scattered, and started to stab her brush over and over into her painting, tearing up the canvas. “Look at what you’ve made me do.”

The nurse came running out. “Are you hurt?” She looked at my chest in horror. “I’m fine. I’m fine. It’s just paint.”

The nurse turned her focus to Mimi, trying to calm her as I made a run for it back to my car.

 

Before I could even slip the key into the ignition, I ripped the red makeup bag out of the glove compartment. Unzipped it, turned it upside down, scattered the orange pill bottles on the passenger seat, and read the labels, quick as a savant. There was a little of everything, Xanax, Ativan, Valium, Adderall, Ambien, Percocet. Don’t think about it! Don’t think! My mouth watering, I uncapped the bottle that would best blur the edges. Closed my eyes and enjoyed the chalky, bitter taste rolling down my throat.

I was a pill popper. Lately, a recovered pill popper. Though maybe “recovered” was a little too hopeful; I did bring the stash I could never force myself to flush. It started in college. A BZP at a party, and I was smooth- talking my way into a crowd much cooler than myself. A social crutch that self- perpetuated, and soon I needed an Adderall study buddy or an Ambien for a much-needed marathon sleep. More BZP.

I became fluent in doctor shopping, knew all the symptoms for whatever ailment would get me my desired prescription. I pillaged medicine cabinets at parties. From there, it seemed a natural progression to a degree in pharmaceuticals.

My first job was a residency at Northwestern Memorial (one of the top-ten highest-ranking hospitals in the US—impressed yet?). I did rounds, taking medication lists from patients. Tried to soothe them in their worst moments. I loved elderly patients the most. I was their purveyor of goods that had, up to this point, kept them alive. “You’ll get your heart medication right here at the hospital, OK? Be right back.” I had to think under pressure. Use my degree. Analyze dosage and interactions. I made recommendations to the physicians! I was trained in Code Blue!

But of course a busy, overworked hospital dispensary was too tempting. A pill popper’s Shangri-la. I started double- dipping, just a pill here and there. The chief pharmacist, a cheery woman with big hair and a troubled son (code for drug addict), who referred to herself as my mentor, began to suspect what I was up to. She called me into her office one after noon, a cubby of a room wallpapered with order forms, and asked me point-blank if I was stealing.

“No, of course not!”

“Can I check your pockets?”

“No.”

We spent a few minutes playing stare- down. If she checked my lab pocket, she’d find two tablets of Oxycontin. If she didn’t, she wouldn’t have a scandal on her hands. She wouldn’t be questioned on her own ability to run things. “Why, Mia? You have so much promise. Why are you doing this to yourself?”

The way she looked at me, with such stinging parental disappointment, I could feel myself shrink down to figurine size. I couldn’t answer. How did I describe the gnawing feeling that thrummed underneath everything I did? How pills made it easier to live with myself, with the secret I was keeping? An offer was made that we both pretended was born solely out of her goodwill: if I went into a program and got help, she wouldn’t report me to the state licensing board. I agreed, and she shuffled me out of the hospital like a broken IV pole.

 

I finished the program. Moved into my new apartment. Found a new job as a glorified cashier with relentless, terrible hours. I started jogging, a hamster-wheel endeavor for that runner’s high that kept eluding me beyond a few fleeting gasps of well-being.

So it had been two years since I’d pulled out my little red makeup bag. Two long years that I’d fought against my plentiful triggers.

I should really throw the pill up before it starts to dissolve in my hungry stomach acid and works its way into my bloodstream. Before it makes my neurons fizz. I should zip the bag back up and toss it in the next Dumpster. I eyed the bag like it was a baited animal trap. Like the bag itself was the bad influence. I stuffed the pill bottles back inside. Ordered myself again to throw up.

But I didn’t. I was looking forward to the fizz too much. Instead I put the makeup bag back inside the glove compartment. Flopped back against the headrest, closed my eyes for a second or two, then started to drive.

Two long years.

And now there I was.

It’s quite a pivotal moment because from here Mia goes forward in her search for her brother under the jumbled influence of pills. She tells herself she knows what she’s doing (she’s a pharmacist after all,) and her misuse leads to all kinds of havoc, and pushes her deeper into her psychological hell.

But it’s not ALL bad. The pills also give her an advantage she wouldn’t otherwise have to find the brother she’s fiercely loyal to. She’s tenacious, independent and funny because it’s how she negotiated her troubled past, and she uses the pills to power up all of her strengths. She takes risks. She’s able to stay awake longer, numb herself to the mounting dread and keep herself sharp on stimulates. She blazes through the town in her cherry red PT cruiser, popping pills, willing to do whatever it takes to get to the truth and it all starts here, at my favorite bit!

LINKS:

Website

Goodreads

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Indiebound

BIO:

When not writing SHERRI SMITH spends time with her family and two rescue dogs, and restores vintage furniture that would otherwise be destined for the dump. She lives in Winnipeg, Canada, where the long, cold winters nurture her dark side. FOLLOW ME DOWN is her first thriller. Visit her online at http://www.sherri-smith.com/, and on Twitter, @SL_Smith_.

My Favorite Bit: Randy Henderson talks about SMELLS LIKE FINN SPIRIT

Favorite Bit iconRandy Henderson is joining us today with his novel Smells Like Finn Spirit. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Finn Gramaraye is back in the final installment of Randy Henderson’s Familia Arcana series, which began in Finn Fancy Necromancy, and Bigfootloose and Finn Fancy Free.

Finn’s re-adaptation to the human world is not going so well. He’s got a great girlfriend, and is figuring out how things like the internet work, but he is still carrying the disembodied personality of Alynon, Prince of the Silver Demesne, the fae who had occupied his body during his imprisonment. And he’s not getting along at all with his older brother. And oh, by the way, an enemy from his past is still trying to possess him in order to bring about Armageddon.

What’s Randy’s favorite bit?

Smells Like Finn Spirit cover image

RANDY HENDERSON

Well Finn, we did it.  A trilogy.  Quite a ride, eh?

“Sure, like riding a drunk porcupine set on fire!  So much fun, oh creator of mine.”

Uh … right.  So what’s your favorite bit about Smells Like Finn Spirit?

“Oh, I don’t know … the bit where no crazy magical creatures try to kill me or acrana supremacists try to conquer the world, and I get to just snuggle down with my true love to eat pizza and watch Valley Girl together?”

So pretty much the opposite of everything that actually happens?

“Pretty much.  What is your favorite bit?”

Seeing how you and your story evolved over the three books.  You’re in a trilogy!  So many of the fantasy series and movie franchises that I’ve loved were trilogies.

“Like the increasingly inaccurately named Hitchhiker’s trilogy?”

Right.  Point being, I am pretty dang happy right now.  I mean, I know you are the one who had to do all the fighting –

“Yeah, thanks for that!  Sasquatches?  Jor?gumo?  Freaking racist vampires?  What were you thinking?”

Yes, well, I mean, I wrote you some fun times too though, right?  The romance, the humor –

“Romance and humor?  Yeah.  Thanks for constantly talk blocking me!  All the dorky or dumb things you made me say to my girlfriend that caused problems?  Not to mention the smart-ass quips that get me into trouble with everyone I meet.”

Well, yes, but –

“And my family!  I know you were going for comedic family dysfunction, but I mean, poor Petey! He’s such a sweetie!  Why make him think he was a waerwolf for most his life?  Or make Sammy allergic to magic?  And what I really don’t get is Mort.  Why would you stick anyone with him as a brother?  Or –”

Yes, okay! I get it.  I put you all through heckfire.  But I went through it all with you, you know.  I lived it as I wrote it, the joys and the pains.  I grew as a writer and a person over these same years.  And these were the first books I’d ever written on deadline, that was quite a challenge.

“So you think standing around in your boxers sipping chai doing the noble work of thinking up Point Break jokes really compares to facing down an angry gnome mob or seeing a waer-collie flirt with your girlfriend?”

Okay, okay!  All I am trying to say is this journey together has been my favorite bit, and with the trilogy arc complete, I feel kind of like I too saved the world, or at least I feel much of what I imagine you felt, that sense of happiness, and Mission Accomplished!

“Clearly you have already forgotten what actually happens at the climax of the book, when you  –”

Hey!  Why don’t we share an excerpt now?  Something non-spoilery and silly, huh?

“Sure.  Hi, lovely readers.  Here is just one example of the kind of creatures that my bonkos creator makes me face in Smells Like Finn Spirit.  I suspect thinking these things up to torture me is really his favorite bit.  What a super swell guy he is.  You should totally buy his books.”

It rose up, a massive armored body of rusted iron and tarnished brass, seven feet tall at least, like a four-armed ogre sculpted by a mad welder as the stage prop for a death metal band.

An autozombaton.  Oh gods.

These horrific automatons had been banned since the Fey-Arcana War of the Civil War era that spawned them, for much the same reason civilized countries tried banning chemical weapons, human cloning, or tabloid journalism — the cost to our humanity was just too great.

How they came to exist in the first place had been a series of desperate solutions to problems that should have been dropped into a dark hole and forgotten to begin with.

First, you have to understand that zombies tend to move slower than a frozen slug past a traffic cop, and are dumber than a Biff Tannen book report.  Part of that is that their brains and bodies are rotting away of course, and part of it is that they lack a real spirit to give them true will.  Zombies are just meat puppets animated with life force stolen from other living beings.

Which is why, even in the most desperate times of war when the ban on dark necromancy and zombies had been given a blind eye, there were no zombie armies, and certainly no zombie apocalypse.  All you had to do to escape a zombie was be able to move.  At all.  And failing that, just hit them hard — rotting corpses tended to fall apart pretty easily.

Then it was discovered that, for some weird reason, the slowness problem goes away when you re-animate a hardcore bigot.

Before banning experimentation on arcana prisoners, researchers learned that some people were severely lacking in will, the force that not only helps us get up in the morning but allows us to make the difficult choices and changes.  These people were instead partly animated by a kind of small nuclear power source in their lizard brain, as if a small bit of their spirit been mutated by the primitive, unreasoning emotional energy there: a kind of spiritual cancer.

Nobody truly understood how or why it happened, but on further research it was found that all of these people were serious, scary bigots in some way.

The point being, even after death the bigot had a brain capable of driving action.  And after death their hatred and self-loathing could be manipulated by necromancers like spiritual energy, in much the same way they had been easily manipulated by the worst politicians and religious leaders in life.

But there remained the problem of a rotting body.  A rage zombie was still a stiff, disintegrating-sack-of-decay zombie.

And that’s where the thaumaturges came in.

These inventors of magical artifacts had created automatons as weapons, but with similar problems to the zombies.  While thaumaturges could animate the machines and enspell basic instructions into them, the automatons were useless for doing complex tasks or fighting wars.  And simply sticking someone inside to operate the suit had proven too difficult — the sheer bulk and convolution of controls and gears needed to manually operate such a beast reduced its speed down to that of a zombie.

But animate a ragey hate brain with necromancy, and transplant it into a mobile suit gundoom, and you got an autozombaton.  Or as they were later called, robigots.

Yet even then, there remained a problem.  Using a robigot as a weapon was a bit like unleashing a pack of rabid lions in your studio apartment to deal with a mouse problem.  It wasn’t likely to end well for anyone, especially yourself.

LINKS:

Read the First Three Chapters

Goodreads

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Indiebound

Randy’s Website

Facebook

Twitter

BIO:

Randy Henderson is an author, milkshake connoisseur, Writers of the Future grand prize winner, relapsed sarcasm addict, and Clarion West graduate.

His “dark and quirky” contemporary fantasy series from TOR (US) and Titan (UK) includes Finn Fancy Necromancy, Bigfootloose and Finn Fancy Free, and Smells Like Finn Spirithttp://www.randy-henderson.com

 

My Favorite Bit: Gena Showalter talks about LIFEBLOOD

Favorite Bit iconGena Showalter is joining us today with her novel Lifeblood. Here’s the publisher’s description:

“My Firstlife is over, but my Everlife is only now beginning.” 

With her last living breath, Tenley “Ten” Lockwood made her choice and picked her realm in the Everlife. Now, as the war between Troika and Myriad rages, she must face the consequences.

Because Ten possesses a rare supernatural ability to absorb and share light, the Powers That Be have the highest expectations for her future—and the enemy wants her neutralized. Fighting to save her Secondlife, she must learn about her realm from the ground up while launching her first mission: convincing a select group of humans to join her side before they die. No pressure, right?

But Ten’s competition is Killian, the boy she can’t forget—the one who gave up everything for her happiness. He has only one shot at redemption: beating Ten at a game she’s never even played. As their throw-downs heat up, so do their undeniable feelings, and soon, Ten will have to make another choice. Love…or victory.

What’s Gena’s favorite bit?

Lifeblood cover image

GENA SHOWALTER

In the Everlife series, the heroine—Ten Lockwood—is obsessed with numbers.  So, when I assigned every character in the after life realms (Troika and Myriad) an “email” address, I wanted every number to mean something—like a code within the book—even if no one understood what those numbers meant.  First up, I had to select a key.

Since scripture inspired the entire series—there are numerous scriptures about kingdoms not of this earth, kingdom vs. kingdom, a war between spiritual forces, the power of choice, life and death, blessing and cursing, light and dark, good and evil—I decided to use the Bible as the key.

T_L_2/23.43.2

T_L is her name: Tenley Lockwood.  2 is her rank within the realm (Conduit).  23 is the 23rd book in the Bible (Isaiah), 43 is the 43rd chapter, and 2 is the 2nd verse.  “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.”

K_F_5/23.53/6

K_F: Killian Flynn.  5 is his rank (5 = Laborer).  Just as for Ten, 23 is for Isaiah, the 23rd book in the Bible.  53rd chapter, 6th verse.  “All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.  We have left God’s paths to follow our own.  Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all.”  I selected this verse for Killian because, in the beginning, he is so lost.  His choices have hurt so many, and yet deep down, he wants to do better—to be better.  He wants to be loved.

A_P_5/23.43.2

A_P: Archer Prince.  I selected the same verse for Archer that I selected for Tenley.  Because, in book one –MAJOR SPOILER ALERT…STOP HERE IF YOU HAVEN’T  READ FIRSTLIFE—

–SERIOUSLY!—

–NOW IS THE TIME TO STOP–

He dies.  Ten loved him and claimed the address for herself.

L_N_3/19.1.1

Levi Nanne.  3 is his rank (General).  The 19th book of the Bible is Psalms.  Chapter 1, verse 1.  “Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked…”  I selected this passage for Levi because, to Ten, he offers the wise counsel she has so needed—the counsel she never received from her own parents.

Every numbered address has a meaning specific to the character, and I totally geeked out as I selected the right scripture for each and every one.

LINKS:

Twitter

Website

Amazon

IndieBound

Barnes & Noble

BIO:

Gena Showalter is the New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author of the Intertwined Novels, the White Rabbit Chronicles, and the Everlife Novels, among numerous novels for an adult audience as well. Her stories have been praised as “unputdownable.” Gena lives in Oklahoma with her family and a menagerie of dogs. Follow her on twitter @genashowalter and visit her website at genashowalter.com.

My Favorite Bit: Mishell Baker talks about PHANTOM PAINS

Favorite Bit iconMishell Baker is joining us today with her novel Phantom Pains. Here’s the publisher’s description:

In the second book to the “exciting, inventive, and brilliantly plotted” (Seanan McGuire, New York Times bestselling author) Borderline, Millie unwillingly returns to the Arcadia Project when an impossible and deadly situation pulls her back in.

Four months ago, Millie left the Arcadia Project after losing her partner Teo to the lethal magic of an Unseelie fey countess. Now, in a final visit to the scene of the crime, Millie and her former boss Caryl encounter Teo’s tormented ghost. But there’s one problem: according to Caryl, ghosts don’t exist.

Millie has a new life, a stressful job, and no time to get pulled back into the Project, but she agrees to tell her side of the ghost story to the agents from the Project’s National Headquarters. During her visit though, tragedy strikes when one of the agents is gruesomely murdered in a way only Caryl could have achieved. Millie knows Caryl is innocent, but the only way to save her from the Project’s severe, off-the-books justice is to find the mysterious culprits that can only be seen when they want to be seen. Millie must solve the mystery not only to save Caryl, but also to foil an insidious, arcane terrorist plot that would leave two worlds in ruins.

What’s Mishell’s favorite bit?

Phantom Pains cover image

MISHELL BAKER

It’s hard to talk about my favorite bit of Phantom Pains, as my true favorite bits are those lovely little twists that are only fun if you get there the hard way.  Since the first twist happens pretty early on, it’s almost impossible to find a section of Phantom Pains other than transition scenes that are safe to quote without spoilers!

In a more general sense, my favorite bit about writing Phantom Pains was getting to finally explore at least a little of the history, politics, and culture of Arcadia: the alternate universe that is the secret source of all human inspiration.  In particular, the story behind what the Arcadia Project has named the Unseelie and Seelie Courts—why the “Unseelie Court” has only a King, and the “Seelie Court” only a Queen—is fascinating to me, particularly because different versions of it have filtered down through the different factions.  I wasn’t able to explore it as deeply as I wanted to, because priority goes to things that move the story along, but I’ve always been fascinated by revisionist history and the way that the victors always get to decide how the story goes.

The Arcadia Project is very much a case of “history written by those in power,” and Phantom Pains is the first book in the series where we even start to ask these questions, where we start to realize that the way everything is named, the way all the rules have been set up, are based on the mental filters of the people who do the educating and policy-making.

Arcadia is populated by what the Project calls “fey,” sometimes colloquially referred to by the London-centered organization as faeries, but more literally an entire ecosystem of aliens in a parallel world that operates by different laws of logic and physics.  The most human-like race of fey have been dubbed the sidhe by the Project, and the relationship between the sidhe and humans has been the reason for profound growth and development in both worlds.  Both the Unseelie King and the Seelie Queen are sidhe, the two “Courts” separated by a binary system of emotion-based magic, with the Unseelie representing emotions like fear and anger, the Seelie emotions like joy and love.  In Arcadia, never the twain shall meet; they’re polar forces in a sense, and both are necessary to the ecosystem.

But of course from a human perspective, the Unseelie are the “bad guys” and the Seelie are the “good guys.”  And of course the sidhe, being human analogues, are obviously head and shoulders above the other species of Arcadia.  But are they really?  How have human perspectives and baggage shaped the policy in Arcadia, and could both worlds benefit from reexamining the situation?

Phantom Pains is the first book in the series to open up this line of questioning, and that’s my favorite thing about it.  I can’t wait to find out what readers think, and what sort of theories they start to come up with as the tip of the iceberg finally starts to suggest more beneath the surface.

LINKS:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Indiebound

BIO:

Mishell Baker is a 2009 graduate of the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop, and her short stories have appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Redstone Science Fiction, and Electric Velocipede. She has a website at MishellBaker.com and frequently tweets about writing, parenthood, mental health, and assorted geekery at @MishellBaker. When she’s not attending conventions or going on wild research adventures, she lives in Los Angeles with her husband and children. Her debut novel, Borderline is currently a Nebula award finalist. Its sequel, Phantom Pains, will be available on March 21.

My Favorite Bit: Erika Lewis talks about GAME OF SHADOWS

Favorite Bit iconErika Lewis is joining us today with her novel Game of Shadows. Here’s the publisher’s description:

A young man plagued by the ability to see ghosts races to save the mythological land of Tara from a terrible fate in Erika Lewis’s stunning debut, Game of Shadows.

Thousands of years ago in Ireland, an ancient race fought a world-changing battle—and lost. Their land overrun, the Celtic gods and goddesses fled, while the mythical races and magical druids sailed to an uncharted continent, cloaked so mankind could never find it. This new homeland was named Tara.

In modern day Los Angeles, Ethan Makkai struggles with an overprotective mother who never lets him out of her sight, and a terrifying secret: he can see ghosts. Desperate for a taste of freedom, he leaves his apartment by himself for the first time—only to find his life changed forever. After being attacked by dive-bombing birds, he races home to find the place trashed and his mother gone.

With the help of a captain from Tara who has been secretly watching the Makkais for a long time, Ethan sets out to save his mother; a journey that leads him to the hidden lands, and straight into the arms of a vicious sorcerer who will stop at nothing until he controls Tara.With new-found allies including Christian, the cousin he never knew he had, and Lily, the sword-slinging healer who’d rather fight than mend bones, Ethan travels an arduous road—dodging imprisonment, battling beasts he thought only existed in nightmares, and accepting help from the beings he’s always sought to avoid: ghosts. This L.A. teen must garner strength from his gift and embrace his destiny if he’s going to save his mother, the fearless girl he’s fallen for, and all the people of Tara.

What’s Erika’s favorite bit?

Game of Shadows cover image

ERIKA LEWIS

Writing a fantasy novel set in a hidden continent filled with mythical Celtic races and magical Druids means world building. A lot of world building. But it also means putting my “real world” protagonist through some fantastically cruel, yet sadistically funny paces. Tempting fate every time Ethan has to get on a horse. He doesn’t like them, and they don’t like him. Stuck in the middle ages, Tara doesn’t have a single modern amenity. Tarisian’s seems to have ignored the technological march forward the rest of the world has taken. Although Ethan’s accommodations are more luxurious, the fact that so many are trying to kill him pretty much negates that positive.  He doesn’t spend a single night in his room until the end of the book.

They’re many new faces, some human, some not. Some courageous and loyal, others scheming and dangerous, not that Ethan hadn’t experienced those personality types in Los Angeles. On the contrary, his high school classmates could’ve been the stars of a highly rated reality show without having the producers having to feed them a single line! But then he meets Lily Niles, a gal best described in Ethan’s own words, “fatally attractive.”

From the moment they meet, she’s literally trying to lop his head off with her sword. Ethan doesn’t understand why she hates him so much. It usually takes a while for someone to build up that kind of animosity toward him, at least a few days! But is it animosity? Or something else?

You know that thing that happens when young adults realize that men and women speak different languages (for some of us it takes way much longer than that—raising hand.) A shocking truth that dawns on us as we find “the one,” and try to date “the one.” From the second Ethan and Lily accidently touch, tensions rise. Insults swing back and forth, but the attraction is there, and growing.

Writing the glorious battle scenes, sword lessons for Ethan when he realizes his heart and compassion get in the way of using it, and the reunion between folks I can’t mention without spoilers…I loved writing all that. But it’s these little moments, like the one below that make me smile.

Set up, Ethan and Lily are locked in the dungeon:

“Let’s scour the cell. You go left. I’ll go right.

They split up, venturing into the darkness in the rear. It was impossible to see anything. Ethan ran his hands along the wall, using it as a guide, touching everything he could reach, but the place was sealed shut. There wasn’t so much as a loose brick.

“Lily?” Ethan called in the darkness.

“Right here,” she answered, then whacked him in the face.

“Ooh,” Ethan moaned. She’d hit him in the nose in the exact same place Alastair had head-butted him.

“I’m so sorry!” She reached out again, nearly poking him in the eye.

“Ow! I know you hate me, but honestly, there are better ways to finish me off!”

Without a word, Lily made her way back to the front of the cell, setting her back against the bars. Ethan came next to her, pinching his nose, hoping it wasn’t bleeding.

“Why do you think I hate you?” Lily asked with a furrowed brow.

“The first time you saw me, you waved your sword in my face,” Ethan said, “even after your father told you who I was.”

Lily tried hard not to smile. “My father embarrassed me. To have him speak to me the way he did in front of you…of all people. I wanted to kill him for that. I took it out on you. I’m sorry.”

The apology was completely unexpected, and Ethan wasn’t sure what to say. His eyes met her, then his gaze drifted to her soft lips and his mouth watered. God, she’s beautiful…Here they were, caged like animals in an abandoned zoo, and all he could think about was kissing her.

His eyes drifted back to hers and he found her staring at him with the same intensity he was at her. He contemplated giving in to the impulse. His mouth hovered mere inches from hers. His head dipped, her breath warming his cheeks, when a sharp warning chill ran up his spine, distracting him.

Oh yeah, smoochus-interruptus… ghosts have a very “chilling” effect after all. Don’t worry, there’s much more in store for Ethan and Lily than this. Will they kiss? Won’t they kiss? Well, Lily is one strong-willed female who is used to taking what she wants!

LINKS:

Website

Twitter

Facebook

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Goodreads

BIO:

ERIKA LEWIS graduated from Vanderbilt University, and went on to earn an Advanced Certificate in Creative Writing from Stony Brook University. She has had a successful career in television production for the past fifteen years, working with Sony (V.I.PStrong Medicine), with Fireworks Television (La Femme NikitaAndromedaMutant XStrange Days at Blake Holsey High), with Fox (On Air with Ryan SeacrestAmbush Makeover) and with G4 (Attack of the ShowX-Play). Erika is the author of The 49th Key, currently running in Heavy Metal Magazine, with the trade out soon, and the recently released Firebrand with Legendary Comics. Game of Shadows is Erika’s debut novel. Find out more at: http://www.erikalewis.com/

My Favorite Bit: Maurice Broaddus talks about THE VOICES OF MARTYRS

Favorite Bit iconMaurice Broaddus is joining us today with his collection The Voices of Martyrs. Here’s the publisher’s description:

We are a collection of voices, the assembled history of the many voices that have spoken into our lives and shaped us. Voices of the past, voices of the present, and voices of the future. There is an African proverb, “Se wo were fi na wosankofa a yenkyi,” which translates as “It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten.” This is why we continue to remember the tales of struggle and tales of perseverance, even as we look to tales of hope. What a people choose to remember about its past, the stories they pass down, informs who they are and sets the boundaries of their identity. We remember the pain of our past to mourn, to heal, and to learn. Only in that way can we ensure the same mistakes are not repeated. The voices make up our stories. The stories make up who we are. A collected voice.

What’s Maurice’s favorite bit?

The Voices of Martyrs cover image

MAURICE BROADDUS

My collection, The Voices of Martyrs, represents nearly a ten year span of my writing career. I wanted to wait until I had enough stories published before I began to choose stories for a collection. I noticed that my stories could be very easily grouped into tales from the Past, tales from the Present, and tales from the Future. It opens with a story set in ancient Africa and closes with one set on a colony in the far reaches of space. It’s a little known fact that for a long time my working title for this collection was “Black to the Future.”

But my absolute favorite bit is the inclusion of two “orphaned” stories: “Shadow Boxing” and “The Volunteer.” These two stories were previously unpublished, orphaned because they were originally written for hyper-specific anthologies that either never came out or had to be cut after solicitation. This is the “Cockroach Vampires” lesson all over again: once there was a call for stories for an anthology about cockroach vampires *don’t ask: it started as a joke on a message board and then a publisher jumped in) that a lot of writers ended up writing for. The anthology (shocker!) never came out, so a lot of writers were left with stories about, well, you know, which they then flooded all of the markets with. And oddly enough, not a lot of editors were looking for such stories.

This actually happens quite a bit. There’s an open call for a theme anthology or writers get invited to submit to some niche project. Those invitations, much less the submissions, aren’t guaranteed acceptances. The story may not fit with the others or for some reason out of everyone’s control has to be cut. It’s the chance you take when choosing to write for them. You learn to either make the story not so specific that you can’t sell it elsewhere or say to yourself early on, should you get rejected, “I guess I’ll save it for my collection.” And these are two of them, a fact that tickles me to no end.

Orphaned stories included, Publishers Weekly says of The Voices of Martyrs that “the lush, descriptive prose tantalizes all the senses, drawing the reader into a rich world spanning both miles and centuries. Hints of magic in both the past and present, as well as the science fiction elements of the future stories, make this an exciting exploration of genre as well as culture.” Writing short stories is my first love and finding them good homes is always my favorite bit.

LINKS:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Powell’s

IndieBound

Website

Twitter

Facebook

BIO:

With nearly one hundred stories published, Maurice Broaddus’ work has appeared in Lightspeed Magazine, Weird Tales, Apex Magazine, Asimov’s, Cemetery Dance, Black Static, and many more. Some of his stories have been collected in The Voices of Martyrs. He is the author of the urban fantasy trilogy, The Knights of Breton Court trilogy. He co-authored the play Finding Home: Indiana at 200. His novellas include Buffalo Soldier, I Can Transform You, Orgy of Souls, Bleed with Me, and Devil’s Marionette. He is the co-editor of Dark Faith, Dark Faith: Invocations, Streets of Shadows, and People of Colo(u)r Destroy Horror. Learn more about him at MauriceBroaddus.com.

My Favorite Bit: Meg Elison talks about THE BOOK OF ETTA

Favorite Bit iconMeg Elison is joining us today with her novel The Book of Etta. Here’s the publisher’s description:

In the gripping sequel to the Philip K. Dick Award-winning novel The Book of the Unnamed Midwife, one woman undertakes a desperate journey to rescue the future.

Etta comes from Nowhere, a village of survivors of the great plague that wiped away the world that was. In the world that is, women are scarce and childbearing is dangerous…yet desperately necessary for humankind’s future. Mothers and midwives are sacred, but Etta has a different calling. As a scavenger. Loyal to the village but living on her own terms, Etta roams the desolate territory beyond: salvaging useful relics of the ruined past and braving the threat of brutal slave traders, who are seeking women and girls to sell and subjugate.

When slavers seize those she loves, Etta vows to release and avenge them. But her mission will lead her to the stronghold of the Lion—a tyrant who dominates the innocent with terror and violence. There, with no allies and few weapons besides her wits and will, she will risk both body and spirit not only to save lives but also to liberate a new world’s destiny.

What’s Meg’s favorite bit?

The Book of Etta cover image

 

MEG ELISON

Most dualities are garbage. They’re an imposed system that people use to separate and order things that are neither separate nor orderly. We try to make order out of chaos because we want some control in a capricious universe that offers us precious little relief from confusion and terror.

My favorite bits in The Book of Etta are the ones where the characters and the world blur the binary.

This is a bit of a reveal, but Etta is a protagonist of fluid and changeable gender. They were assigned female at birth by a civilization that values female-bodied people for their ability to bear children. Etta is a descendant of our own world, a century after a plague has wiped out most of the women on earth and made childbirth a deadly dangerous undertaking. Although their life is privileged and protected because of their physical sex, they struggle to fit in. They don’t want to be a Mother or a Midwife: the duality presented to them as the only possible choices in how to live as a woman. Etta chooses neither.

Raised in a tradition that venerates a traveler who was a woman but passed as a man on the dangerous roads between the few strongholds of safety in a world decayed almost beyond repair, Etta takes to the road in the same fashion as their hero. They become Eddy: a young man with breast bound and head shaved who is free to go wherever he likes. Eddy is free and safe where Etta was stuck choosing in one of those false dualities. Eddy is not outside of that binary, but he is outside of hers.

Etta/Eddy confronts endless dualities in the other cities they visit. A world with such a stark lack of gender parity encourages the construction of unusual rules and roles. In some towns, hunting is viewed as strictly women’s work, since it takes patience and endurance. Sewing needs a sharp eye and a strong hand, which puts quilting in the laps of men. Superstitions about pregnancy and childbirth abound, and in some places a sexual lottery decides who will father and who will not. There are all-white towns that Etta/Eddy has marked on a map, but as a black person cannot enter. There are religions that bar the door against nonbelievers and towns that have something no one else does: a little electricity, weapons, drugs, crops.

Etta takes all of this in, just as we do. They have a chance to evaluate the binaries of life within first: are they Etta or Eddy? Male or female? Mother or Midwife? Once these are rejected as false dilemmas, they are capable of looking outside themselves and rejecting the dualities life has to offer. Life is messy. Death is messier. And the mess between the two defies any kind of description or categorization.

That mess is the central dilemma that Etta/Eddy must confront. In a world where living means killing, where slavers come to the gates of the city every day with mutilated slave children and ask them to buy, Etta/Eddy has to decide whether killing is the only way to live, or the only way to be free. They have to live every day with the question of whether or not people can change. Can they be just Eddy or just Etta? Can they forgive a slaver, or help them to become something else? Can they change a world run by tinpot dictators with harems full of children with anything but a bullet?

In most stories, there is a choice, there is a road that diverges in a wood and the main character must choose one and take it without knowing where it will lead.

Etta/Eddy realizes that the two paths in the wood are an illusion. People say there are two paths, but there is just the woods. Just trees to find their way through, and occasionally some footsteps to follow from someone who came this way before.

Sometimes, a person has to blaze their own trail. My favorite bit is setting up a character to go where no one has gone before.

LINKS:

Indiebound

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

BIO:

Meg Elison is a high school dropout and a graduate of UC Berkeley. Her debut novel, The Book of the Unnamed Midwife, won the 2014 Philip K. Dick Award. Its companion, The Book of Etta, will be released on February 21. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and writes like she’s running out of time.

My Favorite Bit: Patricia Burroughs talks about DEBRIS & DETRITUS: THE LESSER GREEK GODS RUNNING AMOK

Favorite Bit iconPatricia Burroughs is joining us today with her short story anthology Debris & Detritus: The Lesser Greek Gods Running Amok. Here’s the publisher’s description:

“Debris and Detritus, the lesser-known Greek gods…*

These words launched over a dozen alternate realities and histories, invaded existing universes, and even inspired a book or two with Debris and Detritus running amok through every world they touch.

With nothing else to go on, writers from various genres created deities that might or might not actually be Greek, might or might not be of any particular gender, might or might not be of this Earth but they always wreak havoc in ways that range from darkly horrific to brightly comedic.

Join in the fun, but be forewarned about reading at night. Some of these compulsively readable tales will give you nightmares, while others will have you startling the parakeet by hooting with laughter.

Debris & Detritus Unpredictable, Unbelievable, Un-put-down-able

*Writer Rhonda Eudaly cannot be held responsible for the results of those blithely spoken words. Editor Patricia Burroughs, however, might.

What’s Patricia’s favorite bit?

Debris & Detritus cover image

PATRICIA BURROUGHS

In retrospect, it’s as if I was in Charlie Brown’s world.

“Wah wah wah Debris and Detritus, the lesser known Greek gods wah wah wah.”

Rhonda Eudaly was reading her short story with Debris and Detritus serving as “Queer Eye for the Dead Guy” decorators who have been assigned Hades—both god and domain—to make over.

But even though I listened to her reading that night in Dallas and laughed along with everyone else in the room, I was assaulted by images of D&D, my own personal gods of rubble and refuse.  The pair had taken up a somewhat malevolent residence in my office, moving boxes or flinging books into my path as I’m carefully traversing the minefield otherwise known as The Floor.

It was divinely instigated, the way the idea sizzled through the air from her lips to my brain.

“This ought to be an anthology,” I enthused. “With lots of writers, each writing their own version of Debris and Detritus.”

She seemed startled.

I got more enthusiastic. “Seriously! It could be amazing! You should do this!”

Smart woman that she is, she said “I’m not doing it, but if you want it, it’s yours. As long as my story is in the book.”

And that, dear friends, is how it began.

I, who had never published a short story, who am the least likely person to actually plan, organize, and perpetrate just about anything and have it actually happen … I had a “Mickey and Judy, let’s put on a show!” moment.

I was going to edit an anthology.

I was going to handpick writers — my mind was already gleefully building a list—and then sit back while they did all the work!

What could possibly go wrong?

Fortunately, I did enlist Diane Tarbuck of Story Spring Publishing via a quick call to her from the corridor outside the room, and she said okay, if I put it together, she’d publish it. So I knew I had ‘real editors’ who would, you know, edit.

Wait. I haven’t told you my favorite thing, you say?

This is it.

Choosing the writers to invite.

Some were screenwriters and comedy writers. Others were multi-published, newly published or never published.

The gods they created were male, female, twins, not related at all, youngsters or even made of stone. But whether they were set in London or New Orleans, on Mt. Olympus or on a faraway planet named Celta, the stories amused me, entertained me, and gave me chills.

Max Adams is a professional screenwriter and not an obvious choice to invite, some might say. But her story leads off the havoc, just so her first page will be the one to show up in the sample.

People don’t suspect sweet, blond Michelle Muenzler of hiding such darkness within. It only took her 700 words to tell her chilling tale.

Antioch Grey brings a British wit, edge, and attitude that I could wallow in all day.

I anticipated a mystery from Claire M. Johnson. The only mystery was this other side of herself she’d hidden; she gave us wretched little brats as Debris and Detritus.

Robin D. Owens has been writing romances set in her SFF Celta universe for a couple of decades. Here, she wrote a tale of rebirth and redemption (not a romance) from the point of view of a house. Yes, a house. And a guy who will end up being the hero of one of her fantasy romances down the line.

ChandaElaine Spurlock delivered exactly what I’d hoped—another London setting and more British snark. I thought this would be her first published credit. But then she turned in her bio. She’s been ghostwriting fiction for years. This is her first credit under her own name, though, and it’s clearly time to keep going.

I absolutely knew that Toni McGee Causey’s story would involve Bobbie Faye Summrall, Cajun beauty queen and walking Natural Disaster. A match made in heaven for these gods! No. Toni’s tale is set in the French Quarter and just might have… a dragon?

Irene Radford, one of my Book View Café colleagues who is multi-published in short stories and novels, gave me a downtrodden brother and sister, used and abused by their father and siblings in the pantheon. But oh, how things change…

Mark Finn returned to San Cibola, the magical city in California he co-invented in the 90s. All you fans who have been waiting for more San Cibola tales for years? You’re welcome.

MJ Butler is an award-winning comedy writer but had never been published in fiction. And yet I was certain that with his trademark humor—sometimes-absurdist, sometimes logical in the most illogical ways—he’d write a story I wanted to read. I said, “Will you?” He said, “Yes.” And he did.  There are cows.

Jeanne Lyet Gassman is known for her literary novel and short stories. Wait. Romance? Romance! She wrote romance! I did not see that one coming, and what a delight it is!

Melanie Fletcher writes erotic romance with Greek gods under the pen name Nicola Cameron [Yes, really.] I might be excused for thinking I knew what to expect. Wrong! But her story in an old folk’s home in Florida was oh, so right.

I hoped that Weyodi, an enrolled member of the Comanche Nation, would fling Debris and Detritus into the middle of her. Her mind boggled. It boggled off in an entirely different direction. Her vision of deity past, present, and future is not only is provocative but also suggested a sequel, Debris & Detritus, The Lesser Greek Gods Provoking Jesus. [Well, you never know; it could happen.]

And finally… what can I say about Beth Teliho’s story that wraps up the anthology? Rhonda Eudaly quotes Ice-T, who said, “Women writers write the sickest stuff.” I’m thinking the blonder and more innocent looking the woman, the darker the story.

You know, this is where I should say something elevated like, “I strove for eclecticism in voice and idea.” But I didn’t.

I handpicked some writers who would take the concept and go in unexpected directions, the likes of which promised to amuse me.

And these writers whose voices, backgrounds, and off-kilter way of looking at the world rewarded me—and you–with an array of different tellings with nothing more than the seven simple words I gave them to work with:

Debris and Detritus, The Lesser Greek Gods.

They nailed it.

And I’m very proud.

LINKS:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

iTunes

Kobo

BIO:

Award-winning screenwriter & novelist Patricia Burroughs loves Pratchett, Aaronovitch, Dunnett, and Heyer. Continuing her epic YA fantasy, The Dead Shall Live, Volume Two of The Fury Triad will come out later this year. She and her husband live in Dallas, Texas.

My Favorite Bit: Jacqueline Carey talks about MIRANDA AND CALIBAN

My Favorite BitJacqueline Carey is joining us today with her novel Miranda and Caliban. Here’s the publisher’s description:

A lovely girl grows up in isolation where her father, a powerful magus, has spirited them to in order to keep them safe.

We all know the tale of Prospero’s quest for revenge, but what of Miranda? Or Caliban, the so-called savage Prospero chained to his will?

In this incredible retelling of the fantastical tale, Jacqueline Carey shows readers the other side of the coin—the dutiful and tenderhearted Miranda, who loves her father but is terribly lonely. And Caliban, the strange and feral boy Prospero has bewitched to serve him. The two find solace and companionship in each other as Prospero weaves his magic and dreams of revenge.

Always under Prospero’s jealous eye, Miranda and Caliban battle the dark, unknowable forces that bind them to the island even as the pangs of adolescence create a new awareness of each other and their doomed relationship.

Miranda and Caliban is bestselling fantasy author Jacqueline Carey’s gorgeous retelling of The Tempest. With hypnotic prose and a wild imagination, Carey explores the themes of twisted love and unchecked power that lie at the heart of Shakespeare’s masterpiece, while serving up a fresh take on the play’s iconic characters.

What’s Jacqueline’s favorite bit?

Miranda and Caliban cover image

JACQUELINE CAREY

How do you describe the presence of absence? Because that’s my favorite bit in this book.

I’m a big art aficionado, and one of my favorite paintings is Caravaggio’s “Conversion of St. Paul.” It depicts St. Paul’s revelation on the road to Damascus, a moment of intense and profound personal transformation; and yet, the image of Paul is confined to the lowest third of the canvas. The sturdy horse from which the apostle has fallen occupies the majority of the canvas, a looming visual element that first confronts the viewer, a depiction at once beautiful, homely and mundane.

It’s an image that never ceases to inspire me, this juxtaposition of the transcendent and the commonplace.

In Shakespeare’s The Tempest, all of the magician Prospero’s plans, twelve long years in the making, lead to a moment of confrontation with the brother and liege lord who betrayed him long ago.

I chose not to depict it.

I chose not to do so because the story I’m telling isn’t Prospero’s. It’s the story of his daughter Miranda, kept in ignorance; it’s the story of Caliban, pressed into reluctant servitude.  And in Shakespeare’s play, neither character has the slightest bit of agency in this situation, nor ability to affect the outcome, nor any true understanding of the circumstances that have shaped their lives.

Choosing not to portray that moment felt like a bold and risky decision to me, but the longer I considered it, the more right it felt. It happens off-stage, as it were. It exerts an inexorable pull on the fates of my protagonists; but I wanted to work within the confines of the structure of the play, and the fact of the matter is that they weren’t there. At the moment their destinies were defined, they were elsewhere.

Absent.

By virtue of the medium, juxtapositions in a text narrative have to play out in a different way than in the visual arts. Time is involved, for while a viewer may take in a painting at a single glance, a reader must process what is written in a linear sequence.

The presence of absence is implied, made concrete by the contrast between what is and isn’t described.

And so while Prospero’s deep-laid plans are coming to their apotheosis, in my book, our focus is on Miranda and Caliban; the latter desperately seeking to entice allies born of happenstance to his cause, the former immersed in the mundane logistics that her father’s complicated plans engender.

Elsewhere, fates hang in the balance and are decided. Here, in the presence of a strange spell-bound prince, a dead goat sizzles and roasts on a spit, a skeptical live goat cocks its head and scratches its ear with one rear hoof, while nameless chickens mutter and peck in the dirt.

It’s my favorite bit.

LINKS:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Indiebound

Powell’s

BIO:

Jacqueline Carey is the author of the New York Times bestselling Kushiel’s Legacy series of historical fantasy novels, The Sundering epic fantasy duology, postmodern fables “Santa Olivia” and “Saints Astray,” and the Agent of Hel contemporary fantasy series. Carey lives in western Michigan. Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s page. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook. View the book trailer here.

My Favorite Bit: Kameron Hurley talks about THE STARS ARE LEGION

Favorite Bit iconKameron Hurley is joining us today with her novel The Stars are Legion. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Somewhere on the outer rim of the universe, a mass of decaying world-ships known as the Legion is traveling in the seams between the stars. For generations, a war for control of the Legion has been waged, with no clear resolution.  As worlds continue to die, a desperate plan is put into motion.

Zan wakes with no memory, prisoner of a people who say they are her family. She is told she is their salvation – the only person capable of boarding the Mokshi, a world-ship with the power to leave the Legion. But Zan’s new family is not the only one desperate to gain control of the prized ship. Zan finds that she must choose sides in a genocidal campaign that will take her from the edges of the Legion’s gravity well to the very belly of the world.

Zan will soon learn that she carries the seeds of the Legion’s destruction – and its possible salvation. But can she and her ragtag band of followers survive the horrors of the Legion and its people long enough to deliver it?

In the tradition of The Fall of Hyperion and DuneThe Stars are Legion is an epic and thrilling tale about tragic love, revenge, and war as imagined by one of the genre’s most celebrated new writers.

What’s Kameron’s favorite bit?

The Stars are Legion cover image

KAMERON HURLEY

I’ve always been a sucker for old-school science fiction “sense of wonder” stories. I love both Golden Age and New Wave science fiction that throws caution to the wind and takes you to gooey, gory, wondrous, mad, incredible new places tucked into the furthest corners of the universe. I love science fiction that is so imaginatively far in the future that it swings back around to fantasy again. The future I’m living is certainly fantastic to someone a thousand years ago. I better be similarly wowed when reading about a world set a thousand years in the future.

In my space opera, The Stars are Legion, I created a legion full of organic starships as large as worlds that lived and reproduced. I envisioned them as great creatures, and the humans inside of them – with their petty wars and civil strife and personal betrayals and love affairs and politics – were simply one part of a larger ecosystem, battling it out there the same way we do here. They are as blinded to their original purpose as humanity is here on earth, scrounging about seeking purpose while we cruise through the universe on our own world ship.

For me, the most exciting part of writing this epic standalone novel was writing the middle section, when everything we know about the worldships flips upside down, and we get to the gory and glorious part where we find out what’s been living beneath its skin. My agent initially wanted the opening to be longer. She wanted more politics from the families on the surface of the world. But for me, all that existed primarily so I could explore what was happening beneath those levels, and how different societies were battling it out for survival while the ship itself literally rotted around them.  How would they survive? What would these cultures be like? And what about the vistas of the rotting ship itself?

Readers so far seem to agree that you get to the middle section of The Stars are Legion, which is when one of our characters finds themselves in the belly of the world, and you either go, “Wow! What the hell is this! It’s AMAZING!” or “What? What the hell is this? This is so weird.” I look forward to finding out how the book works for various readers, and how many get as psyched as I did to explore an organic world on the verge of revolution.

The worldbuilding in many of my novels tends to get a lot of attention. Folks wonder how it is I come up with these wild places. But for me, creating new and different environments, and seeing what parts of us are different and what parts are the same, is intensely satisfying. It’s the wonder of discovery that keeps me writing, and reading. I want to write about places I’ve never seen before, with a wild cast of characters who are both relatable and wholly alien.

I write to discover new worlds. I hope you’ll all come along for the ride.

LINKS:

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

Indiebound

Powell’s

Excerpt

Website

Twitter

BIO:

Kameron Hurley is the author of The Stars are Legion and the essay collection The Geek Feminist Revolution, as well as the award-winning God’s War Trilogy and The Worldbreaker Saga. Hurley has won the Hugo Award, Kitschy Award, and Sydney J. Bounds Award for Best Newcomer. She was also a finalist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, the Nebula Award, and the Gemmell Morningstar Award. Her short fiction has appeared in Popular Science MagazineLightspeed Magazine, and many anthologies. Hurley has also written for The Atlantic, Entertainment Weekly, The Village Voice, Bitch Magazine, and Locus Magazine. She posts regularly at KameronHurley.com.

My Favorite Bit: Lara Elena Donnelly talks about AMBERLOUGH

Favorite Bit iconLara Elena Donnelly is joining us today with her novel Amberlough. Here’s the publisher’s description:

From author Lara Elena Donnelly, a debut spy thriller as a gay double-agent schemes to protect his smuggler lover during the rise of a fascist government coup

Trust no one with anything – especially in Amberlough City.

Covert agent Cyril DePaul thinks he’s good at keeping secrets, especially from Aristide Makricosta. They suit each other: Aristide turns a blind eye to Cyril’s clandestine affairs, and Cyril keeps his lover’s moonlighting job as a smuggler under wraps.

Cyril participates on a mission that leads to disastrous results, leaving smoke from various political fires smoldering throughout the city. Shielding Aristide from the expected fallout isn’t easy, though, for he refuses to let anything – not the crooked city police or the mounting rage from radical conservatives – dictate his life.

Enter streetwise Cordelia Lehane, a top dancer at the Bumble Bee Cabaret and Aristide’s runner, who could be the key to Cyril’s plans—if she can be trusted. As the twinkling lights of nightclub marquees yield to the rising flames of a fascist revolution, these three will struggle to survive using whatever means — and people — necessary. Including each other.

Combining the espionage thrills of le Carré with the allure of an alternate vintage era, Amberlough will thoroughly seduce and enthrall you.

“James Bond by way of Oscar Wilde.” —Holly Black

“Sparkling with slang, full of riotous characters, and dripping with intrigue, Amberlough is a dazzling romp through a tumultuous, ravishing world.” —Robert Jackson Bennett, winner of the Shirley Jackson Award and the Edgar Award

“An astonishing first novel!” —World Fantasy Award-winning author Ellen Kushner

What’s Lara’s favorite bit?

Amberlough cover image

LARA ELENA DONNELLY

A lot of early reviews of Amberlough are calling it “shockingly timely,” pointing out the unfortunate resemblance to our current political climate, drawing comparisons to 1930s Germany. And yes, it is a political novel. It is about the dangers of fascism. It is tense and violent and dangerous, filled with amoral people making desperate decisions.

It’s also really hot.

I’m not here to talk to you about the scary parallels between my novel and the rising global influence of xenophobic populism. I’m here to talk to you about sex.

Or rather, the subtleties of writing explicit sex. Too often, these scenes reduce sex to two particular sets of parts in a straightforward mechanical act. But that’s boring, and good sex is anything but. Good sex is the whole mind and body engaged in something—anything—that brings intense pleasure. Whether that’s the whisper of breath on skin, the anticipation of a tryst or a touch, the sting of knotted hair tangled in a fist, the confidence imparted by a partner’s regard…it’s so much more than a rote specific physical act. And it’s more fun to write, the further you move from the prescribed.

I first started forming my sex scene philosophy at a Galentine’s Day party during which guests read aloud the steamy scenes from dollar store paperback romances. After a few of these, I started to notice the pacing was nearly identical. The same three acts of the same sexual encounter. The language varied (barely), but the step-by-step process and the body parts involved were exactly the same from book to book.

Ugh, mix it up! Am I right?

In reality, sex can mean and be so many different things between all kinds of different people, and still be really hot. In fiction, it should be the same. There’s the oft-repeated aphorism that sex scenes should move the story forward. People often interpret this literally–if there is fellatio, it must be plot-relevant!—but making the pivotal act of your five-act structure a carnal one isn’t quite how I interpret this advice.

Given all the things that sex can be—a power play, a drunk mistake, an expression of intense emotion, an act of desperation, a bonding experience, something to do when you’re bored, or when you think that you’re going to die—it’s almost impossible to write sex that doesn’t move the story forward. When the characters are lying there afterward, sweaty and satisfied—or not, because do not get me started on the simultaneous orgasm trope—the readers should understand something new about them and their situation.

I hope I manage that with Amberlough. There’s even plot-relevant fellatio, to satisfy the pedants.

LINKS:

Amazon

Goodreads

BIO:

The all-singing, all-dancing Lara Elena Donnelly is a graduate of the Alpha and Clarion writers’ workshops. Her work has appeared in venues including Strange Horizons, Escape Pod, Nightmare, and Mythic Delirium. Her debut novel, vintage-glam spy thriller Amberlough, drops on February 7, 2017 from Tor Books. A veteran of small town Ohio and the Derby City, Lara now lives in Manhattan. You can also find her online at @larazontally or laradonnelly.com.