Megan E. O’Keefe is joining us today to talk about her novel Velocity Weapon. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Dazzling space battles, intergalactic politics, and rogue AI collide in Velocity Weapon, the first book in this epic space opera by award-winning author Megan O’Keefe.
Sanda and Biran Greeve were siblings destined for greatness. A high-flying sergeant, Sanda has the skills to take down any enemy combatant. Biran is a savvy politician who aims to use his new political position to prevent conflict from escalating to total destruction.
However, on a routine maneuver, Sanda loses consciousness when her gunship is blown out of the sky. Instead of finding herself in friendly hands, she awakens 230 years later on a deserted enemy warship controlled by an AI who calls himself Bero. The war is lost. The star system is dead. Ada Prime and its rival Icarion have wiped each other from the universe.
Now, separated by time and space, Sanda and Biran must fight to put things right.
What’s Megan’s favorite bit?
MEGAN E. O’KEEFE
Picking the favorite bit of any story is usually tough but, in the instance of Velocity Weapon, I confess the answer came to me right away: Grippy the robot.
When Sanda finds herself marooned on a state-of-the-art, AI piloted ship thousands of light years from rescue, she also finds the smartship’s maintenance bot, who she quickly renames Grippy due to his sturdy, grasping “hands.” He’s about the size of a large dog, if a dog had tank treads for paws and cameras for eyes. I imagined him as a hybrid of Boston Dynamic’s Big Dog and Number 5 from Short Circuit, with a few more grasping hands thrown in for maintenance purposes.
Grippy quickly makes himself useful by helping Sanda get around. She has recently had part of her leg traumatically amputated, and while the medical facilities on the ship saved her life, there’re no doctors around to help her get accustomed to her new mobility – just Grippy and her own sense of determination to figure things out.
She’s no engineer, though, and when her attempts at fashioning prosthetics don’t always work, Grippy is ready to lend a metallic hand. He even plays a small role at the end. When everything’s gone sideways and Sanda is overwhelmed, he helps her see what she needs to do. Because his job, his programming, is to fix things. To help.
He also helps me, the writer, out a little as he shows us just how quickly Sanda can anthropomorphize, and serves as an interesting thematic parallel to Sanda’s relationship with the smartship, Bero.
Grippy isn’t the AI spaceship that drives the narrative, he’s not even really a central character. He’s got a tiny little brain when compared to the other intelligences in the universe and is pretty limited in what he can understand and do. But while things are steadily advancing toward chaos (hello, narrative entropy) Grippy is always there to help. Also, he’s just plain adorable.
Megan E. O’Keefe was raised amongst journalists, and as soon as she was able joined them by crafting a newsletter which chronicled the daily adventures of the local cat population. She has worked in both arts management and graphic design, and has won Writers of the Future and the Gemmell Morningstar Award. Megan lives in the Bay Area of California.
Ferrett Steinmetz is joining us today to talk about his novel The Sol Majestic. Here’s the publisher’s description:
The Sol Majestic is a big-hearted and delightful intergalactic adventure for fans of Becky Chambers and The Good Place
Kenna, an aspirational teen guru, wanders destitute across the stars as he tries to achieve his parents’ ambition to advise the celestial elite.
Everything changes when Kenna wins a free dinner at The Sol Majestic, the galaxy’s most renowned restaurant, giving him access to the cosmos’s one-percent. His dream is jeopardized, however, when he learns his highly-publicized “free meal” risks putting The Sol Majestic into financial ruin. Kenna and a motley gang of newfound friends—including a teleporting celebrity chef, a trust-fund adrenaline junkie, an inept apprentice, and a brilliant mistress of disguise—must concoct an extravagant scheme to save everything they cherish. In doing so, Kenna may sacrifice his ideals—or learn even greater lessons about wisdom, friendship, and love.
Utterly charming and out of this world, Ferrett Steinmetz’s The Sol Majestic will satisfy the appetites of sci-fi aficionados and newcomers alike.
What’s Ferrett’s favorite bit?
When I was seventeen, my Uncle Tommy was my only relative who was brave enough to take me into New York City. Which was strange, given that his doctors advised him not to leave the house.
My Uncle Tommy was a hemophiliac, you see. If you’re not familiar with the disease, it means your blood takes much longer to clot than baseline people – so my Uncle Tommy could bleed to death from injuries that other people might have fixed with a few stitches. His skin was continually bruised, because he never fully healed, and the blood leaked into his joints and eroded his cartilage. By the time he was in his mid-thirties, he walked unsteadily with a cane.
But my Uncle Tommy was unstoppable.
He had decided that yes, he was mortal, and maybe he only had eight months to live – the doctors had expected that he’d perish within a year since the day he’d been born – but he would live his life as fully as possible.
And if that involved driving into New York so his metalhead nephew could spend the day with his girlfriend from Canada, then by God he’d drive me in. Because he loved the city, and he loved adventures, and he loved me.
He loved me even though I was trying far too hard for a teenager, and everybody knew it but me. See, I had latched on to the identity of “metalhead” despite the fact that I didn’t quite understand the concept. So I had big poofy hair and wore a jean jacket emblazoned with an album cover featuring a demon hurling a chain-wrapped priest into a lake, and wore pleather stompy boots because I could not afford leather. My girlfriend was also a gum-chewin’ metal girl in a cut-off T-shirt and ripped jeans.
We looked like extras in a movie about heavy metal that hadn’t quite bothered to get the details right.
But it was time for dinner, and though New York City was filled with restaurants, we had three picky eaters. Tommy refused to eat at crappy restaurants when he was in a nice place like New York. I did not eat vegetables. And my girlfriend loathed seafood.
So we ambled down the streets of New York for two straight hours, stopping and perusing, one of us vetoing every menu. Which was not, I should add, an inconsequential expenditure of effort for Tommy – with his bad hip and his eroded knees, walking must have been like treading on knives. So when Tommy finally exploded with, “All right! This! Is! It! I don’t care what the next restaurant is, we are eating there! If they serve fried cockroaches, we are chowing down on insects! Got it?”
We got it. So when we saw the next restaurant, we pushed past the menu posted by the door to walk in without looking.
Which is why we were all taken aback by the maitre’d in a spotless tuxedo, standing behind a podium.
The restaurant was all gold and white – gold chandeliers, snow-white tableclothes, set off by the blurs of busboys in crisp gold-and-red uniforms. We could peer around the maitre’d to see New York’s finest ordering bottles of champage – fatcat bankers supping $200 bottles of wine, beautiful socialites in gowns perusing menus, old men in tailor-made suits cozily eating richly marbled steaks.
And there I was.
In my jean jacket.
With a demon throwing a priest into a lake of fire.
The heads turned to stare at us – my girlfriend chewing her gum, my Uncle in his worn jeans and button-down plaid workshirt. I’d already taken a step back towards the door when the maitre’d took a peremptory glance down into his reservation book before fixing Tommy with his cold eyes and asked, “…does sir have a reservation?”
And Tommy – God bless Tommy – cracked his neck, retreating for no man, and said three words that transformed my life:
“No. Whatcha got?”
They had, unbelievably, a table for three. A table far at the back where nobody could see us, a table right by the kitchen door, but a legitimate table. And as we settled in, I began to panic: how much money would this place cost? We weren’t that rich. And we were out of place, we were poor trash, we didn’t even dress up for this, how could we –
My Uncle Tommy gripped my shoulder:
“Hey,” he said. “I said we’d do the next restaurant no matter what, and I don’t lie. And yeah, it woulda been nice if we’d dressed up, but a place like this is about the food; if you appreciate, truly appreciate, what they give you, you’ll be all right. So settle in. And enjoy.”
Enjoy we did.
I do not remember what we ate at that meal. But I remember how it felt; I remember how kind the waiters were, how they never once judged us once they realized how excited we were to eat here. I remember how thrilling it was when they came by to sweep the crumbs off between courses with little brass sticks. I remember being delighted when they brought us tiny dishes of sherbert between courses – “To cleanse your palates,” the waiter said.
I remember feeling like there was a higher society, and that I was part of it, and that Tommy was the most wonderful man alive.
And in the end, my uncle demanded that we try the sweetness of amaretto coffee. They served it to all three of us, possibly because they assumed if we were bold enough to set foot here then we must have been of drinking age – or possibly because the waiters saw how our faces lit up at every course and decided to bend the rules just this once.
“Every fine meal,” Tommy told me, tipping the cup towards me, “Ends with a good coffee.”
The meal was, I later found out, the cost of a month’s rent. Tommy tossed his credit card on the table with nonchalance.
A nice story, you say. But how does this story relate to my book?
Well, the answer is that The Sol Majestic is about a beautiful restaurant in space. It’s light-years from nowhere, a hidden jewel where only those with the love of cuisine make the journey to it. It has miraculous meals made possible by science-fictional technologies, and a kindness to strangers, and it is a haven to anyone who truly learns to love food.
It is that restaurant, as best I can remember it. And it might well be where that restaurant’s moved to, for all we know; despite hunting through New York for years afterwards, we never found that restaurant again. But in my book, I moved it into a space station, preserving all the best bits.
And the owner of the Sol Majestic, Paulius, is my Uncle Tommy.
Tommy’s dead now; ironically, he survived the hemophilia, survived getting HIV from a bad blood transfusion, survived getting hepatitis from another bad blood transfusion, but pancreatic cancer took him from me over a decade ago.
But he’s in this book – an old man with a cane, a wounded man who creates a paradise for you to come on wild adventures, a man of indeterminate temper but loving nonetheless. And I recreated an imaginary place to bring you all to, and put the best of my Uncle in there to show you.
The Sol Majestic is about food. But it’s also about love. And it’s about my Uncle Tommy, and how understanding that food helps you know when you’re home.
That’s my favorite bit. That I exhumed a little part of my Uncle Tommy’s glorious magic to share with you.
And I hope my novel nourishes you half as much as he nourished me.
Ferrett Steinmetz is a graduate of both the Clarion Writers’ Workshop and Viable Paradise. He was nominated for the Nebula Award in 2012 for his novelette Sauerkraut Station, and for the Compton Crook Award in 2015. He is the author of The Sol Majestic for Tor Books, as well as the ‘Mancer trilogy and The Uploaded. He has written for Asimov’s Science Fiction, Uncanny Magazine, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Apex, and Shimmer, among many others. Ferrett lives in Cleveland with his very clever wife, a small black dog of indeterminate origin, and a friendly ghost.
Elizabeth Crowens is joining us today to talk about her novel The Time Traveler Professor, Book One: Silent Meridian. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is obsessed with a legendary red book. Its peculiar stories have come to life, and rumors claim that it has rewritten its own endings. Convinced that possessing this book will help him write his ever-popular Sherlock Holmes stories, he takes on an unlikely partner, John Patrick Scott, known to most as a concert pianist, but a paranormal investigator and a time traveler professor to a select few.
Like Holmes and Watson trying to solve a mystery, together they explore lost worlds and their friendship is tested to the limits when they go back in time to find it. Both discover that karmic ties and unconscionable crimes have followed them like ghosts from the past, wreaking havoc on the present and possibly the future.
The Time Traveler Professor, Book One: SILENT MERIDIAN reveals the alternate histories of Conan Doyle, H.G. Wells, Houdini, Jung and other luminaries in the secret diaries of John Patrick Scott, in an X Files for the 19th century.
What’s Elizabeth’s favorite bit?
Hands down, my favorite bit about creating The Time Traveler Professor, Book One: Silent Meridian was the research which entailed several trips overseas from my home base in New York to Edinburgh, Scotland, London, Vienna, Prague and six cities in Germany. When it comes to writing, despite the ease of having so much information available on the internet, I tend to be more like a method actor in the way that I have to be physically somewhere to glean the full, immersive experience of it.
Case in point, in Book One I visualized the University of Edinburgh Library completely wrong and was lucky that the original library from the nineteenth century still existed as an event hall, and I was allowed to go up there and take a look. Most photos on the internet pictured the current library which, by its architectural design, appears to have been built during the 1960s.
Another “happy accident” I stumbled upon also happened in Edinburgh. I knew it was unlikely that I’d find a Victorian Scottish slang or dialect dictionary in the U.S. or on Amazon and something that niche would probably turn up somewhere in Scotland. Since I’m an antiquarian book collector, it’s impossible for me to resist going into used and collectibles bookstores, and one day while I was in an antique store I discovered they had books in the basement. Most were junk, but I managed to find what I was looking for from 1878 costing only £30.00. At first when I noticed the penciled in cost, I thought I had misinterpreted it and it was really £300.00. The shopkeeper said they were fairly hard to find, but the price was correct and it was my lucky day.
Once again being in the right place at the right time, I had another occurrence where I stumbled upon a tiny blue door that had a plaque for a Scottish Genealogical Society. Although they were only open to the public two or three days a week, I happened to pick one of the days they were open and walked in. I introduced myself and told them I was trying to find more information on some of the real people my characters were based upon. Somehow the conversation steered in the direction that my protagonist’s real person inspiration had served in British intelligence during WWI, but I couldn’t seem to find any war records. Then one of the volunteers told me about a British intelligence museum in England that also had a library. With all the research I had done online, I had never come across this and wouldn’t have if I hadn’t discovered this other place in Edinburgh. Overall, everyone was very helpful and enjoyed assisting a writer, not caring whether it was for fiction or non-fiction.
Elizabeth Crowens has worked in the film and television for over twenty years and as a journalist and a photographer. She’s a regular contributor of author interviews to an award-winning online speculative fiction magazine, Black Gate. Short stories of hers have been published in the Bram Stoker Awards nominated anthology, A New York State of Fright and Hell’s Heart. She’s a member of Mystery Writers of America, The Horror Writers Association, Romance Writers of America, the Authors Guild, Broad Universe, Sisters in Crime and a member of several Sherlockian societies. She is also writing a Hollywood suspense series.
Kendra Merritt is joining us today to talk about her novel Skin Deep. Here’s the publisher’s description:
The only one who can free him is the girl he’s hurt the most.
Cursed for a youthful accident which maimed a young woman, Léon Beauregard roams his mountain as a bear, clinging to the scraps of his humanity. Too bad it’s not working. Every day he loses a little more of himself to the bear and his stupid fuzzy tail. But when Léon comes across Anwen, an enchanter scarred from an accident she doesn’t remember, she promises to free him, because she believes no one deserves this sort of punishment, no matter their crime.
As the graceful enchanter tries to free him, Léon begins to realize Anwen is much more than just a passing enchanter. She’s the one he’s falling in love with. And she is the one whose life he ruined. He knows he must hide his part in Anwen’s past if he wants to keep her, but when bodies show up mauled by a large animal, even she begins to doubt his ability to be redeemed. With his heart, soul, and humanity in the balance, Léon has more to hide and everything to lose if Anwen ever learns the truth about the monster inside him.
NOTE: The Mark of the Least is a series of related stories designed to be read in any order.
What’s Kendra’s favorite bit?
I consider it a good sign when I finish writing a book and it’s still one I’ll enjoy reading again. Especially when it has those moments that make me laugh or get my heart going even though I know what’s going to happen. Luckily, Skin Deep is full of those moments.
So, I had a hard time deciding what my favorite bit actually is. Surely it had to be that really awful poem I—I mean Léon—wrote for Fanny. Or maybe it was the snarky snow leopard with a penchant for poking the bear.
Normally, I write fairytales featuring main characters with disabilities; Maid Marion kicks butt from a wheelchair, Cinderella has Polio, Little Red Riding Hood lives with Lupus.
And in Skin Deep, Beauty is scarred.
I really wanted to talk about writing a Beauty who isn’t in fact beautiful. But while I was agonizing over how to do that, I realized the part that I go back to over-and-over again, the part that I still love to read as if I didn’t write the whole dang thing, is the worst part of the book.
We all know it. There’s one in every story. It’s that moment where everything falls apart.
Skin Deep starts with a secret, a lie between two people that changes everything.
Léon is cursed for his involvement in an accident that leaves Anwen disfigured and disabled. But when she shows up on his doorstep offering to free him, he realizes she doesn’t recognize him. And in that moment of realization he makes a choice not to tell her.
Of course, you know this is going to come back to bite him.
Because by the time he wants to tell her, the truth will destroy them. And meanwhile all the awkward flirting and cutesy romantic gestures are all built atop that festering untruth, waiting for the moment it blows up in Léon’s face.
That’s the moment I love. Because you know it’s coming. You know it’s going to be horrible. But there’s no way forward without it.
As I tell my three-year-old, who keeps ruining movie night with the refrain, “I don’t like this part,” you have to get through the bad in order for the good to mean anything. (At least it’s better than saying “conflict is part of life, deal with it.”)
The secret is out. The consequences are inescapable. I love this moment because Léon chooses his redemption and destruction in one go, balancing his original mistake with the glorious ruination of truth. And it was Anwen’s grace and mercy all wrapped up in scars and pain that got him to that decision.
I choose my characters’ disabilities very carefully based on their backstory and personality but also based on the fairytale they’re living out. What could possibly make the story mean something deeper? For Maid Marion I really wanted to see an active heroine not only navigate but dominate the adventure in a wheelchair. Cinderella has a hard time walking and as a result has very interesting shoes.
So, I chose my Beauty to be scarred. She’s disfigured. She walks with a limp. And in no way can she be called a conventional beauty.
She’s exactly the way I imagined her from the beginning. I wanted to tell a story about a girl who is gracious and patient and strong on the inside and is perfect for someone who struggles with only seeing the outside. Léon, who is a little obsessed with physical beauty, takes a while to see Anwen for everything she is instead of everything she’s not. But therein lies his redemption.
And that’s my favorite bit. The moment he loses it all in order to gain what he doesn’t deserve. Cause I’m a glutton for punishment.
Books have been Kendra Merritt’s escape for as long as she can remember. She used to hide fantasy novels behind her government textbook in high school, and she wrote most of her first novel during a semester of college algebra.
Older and wiser now (but just as nerdy) Kendra writes retellings of fairytales with main characters who have disabilities. If she isn’t writing, she’s reading, and if she isn’t reading, she’s playing video games. Her first book, By Wingéd Chair, is a retelling of Robin Hood where Maid Marion kicks butt from a wheelchair.
Kendra lives in Denver with her very tall husband, their book loving progeny, and a lazy black monster masquerading as a service dog.
Tracy Townsend is joining us today to talk about her novel The Fall, sequel to The Nine. Here’s the publisher’s description:
An apothecary clerk and her ex-mercenary allies travel across the world to discover a computing engine that leads to secrets she wasn’t meant to know–secrets that could destroy humanity.
Eight months ago, Rowena Downshire was a half-starved black market courier darting through the shadows of Corma’s underside. Today, she’s a (mostly) respectable clerk in the Alchemist’s infamous apothecary shop, the Stone Scales, and certainly the last girl one would think qualified to carry the weight of the world on her shoulders a second time. Looks can be deceiving.
When Anselm Meteron and the Alchemist receive an invitation to an old acquaintance’s ball–the Greatduke who financed their final, disastrous mercenary mission fourteen years earlier–they’re expecting blackmail, graft, or veiled threats related to the plot to steal the secrets of the Creator’s Grand Experiment. They aren’t expecting a job offer they can’t refuse or a trip halfway across the world to rendezvous with the scholar whose research threw their lives into tumult: the Reverend Doctor Phillip Chalmers.
Escorting Chalmers to the Grand Library of Nippon with her mismatched mercenary family is just a grand adventure to Rowena until she discovers a powerful algebraic engine called the Aggregator. The Aggregator leads Rowena to questions about the Grand Experiment she was never meant to ask and answers she cannot be allowed to possess. With her reunited friends, Rowena must find a way to use the truths hidden in the Grand Library to disarm those who would hunt down the nine subjects of the Creator’s Grand Experiment, threatening to close the book on this world.
What’s Tracy’s favorite bit?
When I was small, my parents went on vacation to Mexico. They brought back a hand-crafted wooden top as one of my many souvenirs. It came in three pieces: the top itself, some kind of handle-thing I don’t know the name of into which it slotted, and a length of string. Once you spindled the top’s mast through the handle-thing, you’d thread the string through a hole in the mast, wrap it tight, grab the free end, and hold the whole contraption just barely touching the floor.
And then, you’d pull. It looked a lot like this:
There was a lot that could go wrong before you’d ever get the top whirling away in a blur of color. You could pull the cord too fast or too slow. You could drop it from too great a height and send it caroming off uselessly. And inevitably, no matter how perfectly you set it up, it would always, eventually, fall.
In the language of physics, a top at the end of its journey doesn’t fall. It precesses. Precession is what happens when, unable to fall straight down (gravity has already forced its tip into contact with the ground vertically), the top falls sideways, collapsing in a way unique to how the object itself once moved.
Tops precess. So do stories.
Every story is acted upon by the forces its author puts in motion. Those forces are designed to reach this point of precession, the narrative torque collapsing the characters and their actions toward some calamity they have to face.
Stories are about what happens when things fall down.
That’s my favorite bit about The Fall: being the sequel to my debut novel, it has the benefit of building on narrative forces already in play, compounding its momentum. My trio of character — Rowena, the Alchemist, and Anselm — are off making trouble again, though in different places, and finding themselves more out of their depth than they’d ever imagined. On the other side of the world, another trio of forces, human, lanyani (sentient, murderous tree-beings), and aigamuxa (ogres with eyes in their feet), vie for control of a dying city and the power it represents. And all at once, the right things are discovered at the wrong time — or the wrong things at the right time — and you can see the story tilt toward its inevitable precession.
Authors are architects, true, but at least half the time, we are architects of destruction. We have to build things up knowing they will be broken, torn, imploded. Defeated, at least for a time. And as much as I love my characters (you have to love these people to spend so much time with them), my favorite work is the subtle physics of making a system hurtle along, all its forces acting together just so, knowing that I’ve already applied the torque that will make it inevitably fall. It’s like a magic trick. Now-you-see-it, now-it’s-gone.
I recall writing The Fall’s climax, angling characters’ choices toward the calamities that would consume the rest of their story. It was very much like staring at that little wooden top my parents gave me, watching the blur of colors slow and slip into separate bands, feeling the certainty of collapse edging ever closer.
Dreading it. Loving it. Knowing that, once it happened, it was up to me to pick up the three pieces I had started with and wind them together again.
Tracy Townsend is the author of The Nine andThe Fall (books 1 and 2 in the Thieves of Fate series), a monthly columnist for the feminist sf magazine Luna Station Quarterly, and an essayist for Uncanny Magazine. She 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 the former chair of the English department at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, an elite public boarding school, where she 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. You can find her at Twitter @TracyATownsend, and online at www.tracytownsend.net.
Fran Wilde is joining us today to talk about her novella The Fire Opal Mechanism. Here’s the publisher’s description:
The Fire Opal Mechanism is the fast-paced and lively sequel to Fran Wilde’s The Jewel and Her Lapidary
Jewels and their lapidaries and have all but passed into myth.
Jorit, broke and branded a thief, just wants to escape the Far Reaches for something better. Ania, a rumpled librarian, is trying to protect her books from the Pressmen, who value knowledge but none of the humanity that generates it.
When they stumble upon a mysterious clock powered by an ancient jewel, they may discover secrets in the past that will change the future forever.
What’s Fran’s favorite bit?
On Permanence and Evolution in Text
“Books are measures of time. They are made to grow old. To grow, occasionally, wrong.”
– Ania Dem, Librarian, The Fire Opal Mechanism
Books have always been my refuge. I disappear into them when reading. I built fortresses of them as a child. And what room full of books isn’t, when you think about it, basically a shelter constructed of words?
So when I set out to write Ania, my librarian, and Xachar, a handler of the very particular printing press in The Fire Opal Mechanism, I gave a lot of thought to the books within the story, those characters who loved them, and those characters who thought that certain kinds of books were a way of hoarding knowledge, and were out of date.
And so, many of my favorite bits of The Fire Opal Mechansim are when Ania, the time-traveling librarian, is thinking about her relationship to books. Her wish to save them all. Her fear that if books are lost, then debate will also be forfeit. And her understanding that books are snapshots in time.
Books feel permanent. The act of committing word to page, especially in print, feels eternal in some ways (especially if one finds a typo — don’t get me started). But they pass in and out of the world in so many ways: they become old, moth eaten, out of date. They are superseded by later knowledge. They are read in the bathtub until they are twice their size and have lost their back cover — ok, that’s probably too much information.
Meantime, digital texts can be overwritten without anyone the wiser. Wikipedia changes constantly; our inboxes seem to have a mind of their own. And while many more pieces of information are at our fingertips, this information feels gossamer-made, fleeting, and sometimes completely insubstantial.
Ania loves books, like I do. She likes their spines, their sturdiness and uniqueness, and all the stories they contain.
She’d loved books since she was a child… loved how each volume felt different in the hand… loved that they had to be handled carefully, like people. But, that they were constant, finished — unlike people.
And one more thing. Ania loves the independence of books. That they span time as individual objects, and objects in conversation. That they can contain and refer to one another. Perhaps most of all, she values that that they do not have a central source. I think Ania imagines, as I do, that in the darkness of a sleeping library, books mutter and argue together like old scholars.
Books aren’t perfect, any more than anything else is. But collected together, they allow us to do a magic thing: we can travel through time to see snapshots of ourselves and how we (or the portion of us that has lasted) once thought, in comparison to all other ways of thinking.
As Ania says to her inquisitors at one point: “All Librarians travel in time, Commissioner. Some more thoroughly than others.”
Anna Kashina is joining us today to talk about her novel Shadowblade. Here’s the publisher’s description:
A young sword prodigy must impersonate a lost princess and throw her life into a deadly political game, in this kinetic epic fantasy novel by the author of the award-winning Majat Code series
Naia dreams of becoming a Jaihar Blademaster, but after assaulting a teacher, her future seems ruined. The timely intervention of a powerful stranger suddenly elevates her into elite Upper Grounds training. She has no idea that the stranger is Dal Gassan, head of the Daljeer Circle. Seventeen years ago he witnessed the massacre of Challimar’s court and rescued its sole survivor, a baby girl. Gassan plans to thrust a blade into the machinations of imperial succession: Naia. Disguised as the legendary Princess Xarimet of Challimar, Naia must challenge the imperial family, and win. Naia is no princess, but with her desert-kissed eyes and sword skills she might be close enough…
What’s Anna’s favorite bit?
My favorite fantasy always comes with romantic elements and fancy blade fights. Highly competent warriors, whose sword skill is so breathtaking one can only gape when seeing them in action, make irresistible characters. Such warriors have been central to several of my recent books, and have definitely been my favorite bit in writing Shadowblade.
In Shadowblade, a lot of the story centers around the elite Jaihar Order that trains the best blademasters in the empire. The top-ranked Jaihar warriors are Shadowblades, deadly fighters whose ranking regalia – shadow-gray cloaks and black blades — help them blend into the background and make them even more dangerous. Unmatched in battle, they move like no other, graceful, fluid and fast, are highly technical with their weapons, and are also very controlled. In other words, they’re the whole package, aren’t they?
Before Shadowblade, I’ve tended to focus on the weapon skill itself, rather than delving deeply into the kind of training it takes to develop this kind of a warrior. What sort of talents and traits are needed to achieve the top Jaihar rank, or even to convince your superiors to set you on a path that can lead you to this possibility? What happens at every step of the training? How are the decisions driven to discount a trainee as a failure, or to allow them to go all the way to the top? And, importantly for my main character, Naia – how can a young girl, hard-working and talented, but too headstrong for her own good, go about achieving it?
Naia starts off as an outcast among the Jaihar. Despite her exceptional promise with weapons, she is about to be expelled for a carefully hushed-up case of insubordination. A timely interference of a powerful stranger, an outsider to the Jaihar but a highly influential official in the empire, plunges her into a series of tests of increasing difficulty that would enable her superiors to decide on her true potential. She doesn’t learn until much later that her mysterious benefactor, who’s very likely prevented her from being expelled, has done this because of a serious ulterior motive.
Developing a story centered around Naia’s training has been a fully immersive experience, where I had to submerge pretty deeply into the behind-the-scene world of elite blademaster training. It was so much fun to work out the blade and staff techniques, approaches to a variety of street weapons, and complex combination fights which I had to work through firsthand. A lot of this background work has been about technique, but applying this knowledge to my character enabled me to also understand the depth of the character development that must go into raising a warrior. The self-control, discipline, and balance that comes with the top Jaihar ranking isn’t easy to achieve. This aspect of the training tends to take far more work than weapon technique. Throughout the book, peeking into the mysteries of the Jaihar elite training has been my favorite bit.
Since Shadowblade pre-publication copies went out for reviews, I’ve seen a lot of comments out there that made me feel so good about choosing to write the book this way. One reviewer (clearly a kindred spirit) mentioned that they would have liked to have seen more of this behind-the-scene training, that glimpsing the challenges Naia has gone through made them want to see a whole book devoted entirely to that. This comment hit the spot for me. Writing about Naia’s Jaihar training, and then sending her into action to apply everything she’s learned, not only felt like the right balance for Shadowblade, but it also made me realize that I have so much more to tell. I’ve learned a lot while writing this novel. Stemming from my own experience and all the background research, the Jaihar have become a new class of warriors that combine the best of many cultures and many techniques into a truly enjoyable and wholesome blend.
Anna Kashina writes historical adventure fantasy, featuring exotic settings, martial arts, assassins, and elements of romance. Her “Majat Code” series, published by Angry Robot Books, UK, received two Prism Awards in 2015. She is a Russian by origin, and a scientist in her day job, and she freely draws on these backgrounds in her writing. Her newest novel, Shadowblade, is upcoming from Angry Robot Books on May 7, 2019.
You can learn more about Anna at her blog: https://annakashinablog.wordpress.com/
T.D. Walker is joining us today to talk about Small Waiting Objects, her collection of science fiction poems. Here’s the publisher’s description:
In the near future, kitchen appliances question, console, and bewilder their owners. Extraterrestrials leave behind sub-dermal implants and complicated daughters. A second moon settles into orbit around Earth, a moon which challenges those beneath it to see it, to name it, to explore it. And crew members aboard starships turn to fine and pulp art as consolation. The lyric poems in Small Waiting Objects reach back to feminist utopias and onward toward possible futures in which we find ourselves resisting the technologies—and their human implications—that we most desire.
What is T.D.’s favorite bit?
Catherine Helen Spence’s A Week in the Future (1889) spans both a week and a century: for Emily Bethel, a middle-aged, active, inquisitive woman who never married, who is struck ill, it’s a waking week. Her doctor tells her that she must live quietly from now on or else her heart will become too weak to sustain her. But she refuses to live as such:
“I know what that means,” said I, bitterly. “I must give up all the things that make life worth living, all the outside interests that are the very bread of life to a solitary spinster, all the larger objects which the best and noblest of my brothers and sisters are striving to accomplish and absorb myself in the one idea of self-preservation.”
Refusing the entreaties of her doctor and of her beloved niece Florrie, she puts forth her own proposition:
“I would give the year or two of life you promise me for ONE WEEK IN THE FUTURE. A solid week I mean. Not a glance like a momentary vision, but one week — seven days and nights to live with the generations who are to come, to see all their doings, and to breathe in their atmosphere, so as to imbibe their real spirit.”
Her doctor obliges, and he gives her a drink that will allow her to sleep for a hundred years so that she can live for a single week in 1988.
Emily Bethel wakes in London, still clutching her valise, and her relatives’ descendants show her the fruits that the social reformers in her own time had sown a century before. She is pleased with what she has seen, and she passes away on that final day of the week happy to have traded the years of forced tranquility for a week of excitement and knowledge of the future.
As a reader almost 130 years in the future, I allowed myself to believe the utopia Spence imagined for the duration of the book, but given what I know about how events unfolded in the now past–achievements, yes, but also atrocities–I wondered what might happen if Emily Bethel could see into multiple instances of 1988?
I explored such questions through the poems in Small Waiting Objects (CW Books 2019). Several of the poems expand on questions raised by various feminist utopias, including those from Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland and With Her in Ourland. My favorite of these is a response to Spence’s A Week in the Future: “In Which Miss Emily Bethel Wakes a Hundred Years Later in Every Possible Future,” a poem which was originally published in The Cascadia Subduction Zone.
A girl in suburban Houston and her sister witness the arrival of Emily Bethel, the great-great-aunt of their grandmother, a painter, into their present. As I imagine her, Emily Bethel has become circumspect but still deeply curious after her visits to thousands of futures from her point in 1888. She chooses to embrace joy, embrace what she can from each visit:
She’d dropped her coat on the floor and asked
whether my grandmother had a sprinkler and a swimsuit
she could borrow. Aunt Emily ran outside with us
girls, gripping the paper snowcone cups that leaked blue
raspberry syrup onto the sidewalk in front of our grandparents’
suburban home. Too far back again, she’d said, but we
didn’t ask what she meant, only pulled the dog and sprinkler
farther into the lawn. Later we’d see her pull
a small cracked mirror from the valise. She half
closed her eyes and slightly opened her blued mouth
and looked at herself. We’d spent the afternoon
running, she’d run harder than either of us girls,
and all of us, hair still damp and fingers sticky
sat on the porch swing watching the August sun
setting or resisting setting.
Emily leaves the valise and the journals in which she’d kept notes about each future with the girls’ grandmother. The grandmother later passes the valise to the girls, who, much older now, read the final entry in the journal:
She’d stopped writing down the future
after a year had passed, after she realized that she’d never
escape these possible futures. The houses, after all, were houses,
full of people or not. The schools taught what they taught.
Couples married, had children, grew apart. Some died
from diseases cured long ago in alternate worlds. The last
page of the diary recorded us:
Week 5,738: Suburban Houston.
This time, it’s Elizabeth again, or this instance of her, and her landscapes,
that little square of gray longing. Where is this home
she repeats? Her granddaughters staying with her for the summer.
I’ll leave the valise again. When I meet Elizabeth again,
a dozen or two dozen weeks from this one, I’ll tell her,
the her I find there, that the light is never true:
rising over the village, reflecting in those vast pools, catching
itself in the spray of fountains whose sources we
lose in the process of desire.
Poems, for me, are a way of breaking situations open to find deeper and more complex questions about them. Would Emily Bethel, driven as she is to know what happens next, ever tire of moving through possible worlds? I don’t know. But I do think she’d find a way to situate herself in each so that she could learn as much as she could before passing to the next. Sometimes that learning involves interviews and tours. And sometimes it involves writing poems. But I think it also involves sometimes leaving room to experience the world through joy. At least the kid I was in suburban Houston in 1988 certainly hopes that’s the case.
T.D. Walker is the author of Small Waiting Objects (CW Books, 2019). Her poems and stories have appeared in Strange Horizons, Web Conjunctions, The Cascadia Subduction Zone, Luna Station Quarterly, and elsewhere. She draws on both her grounding in literary studies and her experience as a computer programmer in writing her poetry and fiction.
Maurice Broaddus is joining us today to talk about his novel Pimp My Airship. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Warning: Don’t Believe the Hype!
All the poet called Sleepy wants to do is spit his verses, smoke chiba, and stay off the COP’s radar—all of which becomes impossible once he encounters a professional protestor known as (120 Degrees of) Knowledge Allah. They soon find themselves on the wrong side of local authorities and have to elude the powers that be.
When young heiress Sophine Jefferson’s father is murdered, the careful life she’d been constructing for herself tumbles around her. She’s quickly drawn into a web of intrigue, politics and airships, joining with Sleepy and Knowledge Allah in a fight for their freedom. Chased from one end of a retro-fitted Indianapolis to the other, they encounter outlaws, the occasional circus, possibly a medium, and more outlaws. They find themselves in a battle much larger than they imagined: a battle for control of the country and the soul of their people.
The revolution will not be televised!
What’s Maurice’s favorite bit?
Narrowing down my favorite bit of Pimp My Airship was more of a struggle than I thought it would be. Even the project coming to life was fun. I was on Writing Excuses talking about the Hero’s Journey of one of the main characters in the story, forgetting that I write for me and this book wasn’t out. Or due to be published. Or even submitted anywhere. Well, WRX fans started reaching out to me about it. Since the book only existed as a draft, I wanted a second opinion on it. So I sent it to Jason Sizemore of Apex Books since he bought the original “Pimp My Airship” short story and was a huge fan. As a friend and a fellow writer, I asked for him to take a look at a sample of the manuscript. He got through the first three chapters and wrote back, “I’ll take it.” I told him that I wasn’t submitting it, I just wanted to know if I had something. He said “you do and I’ll take it.” Thus, how Pimp My Airship came to be.
“Pimp My Airship” is the reason I have a steamfunk (think “steampunk” except through a black cultural lens) universe. It’s the world of Buffalo Soldier, “Steppin’ Razor,” and nearly a dozen short stories. It’s a world where America lost the Revolutionary War, Albion still rules the world, and details the impact of all of this on the lives of black people in this society. Most importantly, Pimp My Airship is an assemblage of my favorite collection of characters.
So, back to the Hero’s Journey. One way to look at a character’s story arc is to give them a goal and then throw as many obstacles in front of them to keep them from attaining it. With that in mind…
Meet Sleepy. He’s a poet. He’s had a long, hard day at work scrubbing steam pipes. At the end of his shift, he sheds his work clothes for his evening wear as he hits his favorite club to spit a few verses. After his set, all he wants to do is smoke a little “chiba” and get high.
That’s it. My dude just wants to get high. #heroicgoals
Meet (120 Degrees of) Knowledge Allah. Now astute readers of my work may remember him as a “throwaway” character from my debut novel, Kingmaker. He was in the book for one page but chewed the scenery so thoroughly he moved through space and time to this alternate reality. He’s a former member of the sect the Lost Nation. He sees something in Sleepy. A voice. A kindred spirit. A partner. He wants Sleepy to join him in The Cause. Knowledge Allah is what we’ll call the “prime obstacle.”
Subsequent obstacles include: the COPs, the criminal underworld, a(n accidental) riot, more COPs, and … you get the idea. The lengths I go through to keep Sleepy from attaining his goal is my penultimate favorite bit which builds to my ultimate favorite bit, the moment he … reaches his goal. The scene is a tribute to a classic issue of Grant Morrison’s run on the comic book, Animal Man, called “The Coyote Gospel.” Sure, only comic books geeks will get it, but I start smiling every time I think about it. #beepbeep.
The thing about the Hero’s Journey is that many times, once the hero reaches the goal they think they wanted, it opens up new goals and purpose for them. It reveals desires they never thought they wanted. That’s the rest of the story for Pimp My Airship. A romp through a retrofuture version of Indianapolis, a place that I love, with characters that I love. I’m just glad readers pushed me to release it into the world. I’d call my readers my true favorite bit … but that would just sound weird.
Maurice Broaddus is a community organizer and teacher. His work has appeared in magazines like Lightspeed Magazine, Weird Tales, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Asimov’s, Cemetery Dance, Uncanny Magazine, with some of his stories having been collected in The Voices of Martyrs. His books include the urban fantasy trilogy, The Knights of Breton Court, the steampunk novella, Buffalo Soldier, the steampunk novel, Pimp My Airship, and the middle grade detective novel, The Usual Suspects. As an editor, he’s worked on Dark Faith, Dark Faith: Invocations, Streets of Shadows, People of Colo(u)r Destroy Horror, and Apex Magazine. Learn more at MauriceBroaddus.com.
Danielle L. Jensen is joining us today to talk about her new novel Dark Shores. Here’s the publisher’s description:
High seas adventure, blackmail, and meddling gods meet in Dark Shores, a thrilling first novel in a fast-paced new YA fantasy series by USA Today bestselling author Danielle L. Jensen.
In a world divided by meddlesome gods and treacherous oceans, only the Maarin possess the knowledge to cross the Endless Seas. But they have one mandate: East must never meet West.
A PIRATE WITH A WILL OF IRON
Teriana is the second mate of the Quincense and heir to the Maarin Triumvirate. Her people are born of the seas and the keepers of its secrets, but when her closest friend is forced into an unwanted betrothal, Teriana breaks her people’s mandate so her friend might escape―a choice with devastating consequences.
A SOLDIER WITH A SECRET
Marcus is the commander of the Thirty-Seventh, the notorious legion that has led the Celendor Empire to conquer the entire East. The legion is his family, but even they don’t know the truth he’s been hiding since childhood. It’s a secret he’ll do anything to protect, no matter how much it costs him – and the world.
A DANGEROUS QUEST
When an Empire senator discovers the existence of the Dark Shores, he captures Teriana’s crew and threatens to reveal Marcus’s secret unless they sail in pursuit of conquest, forcing the two into an unlikely―and unwilling―alliance. They unite for the sake of their families, but both must decide how far they are willing to go, and how much they are willing to sacrifice.
What’s Danielle’s favorite bit?
DANIELLE L. JENSEN
There are fewer worldbuilding tropes more common to YA fantasy than kingdoms with evil kings or queens, their position and power granted to them by birthright. It’s a trope I’ve used more than once, and will definitely use again, but when it comes to evil rulers, Dark Shores is a significant departure from my other work. The novel begins in an Empire inspired by Ancient Rome, complete with soaring columns, senate houses, deadly legions, and democracy, albeit a flawed version of it. The antagonist is not a villainous king, but rather Lucius Cassius, a power-hungry senator running for the position of consul – the most influential elected position in the Celendor Empire.
The hero of Dark Shores is Marcus, a young legion commander who is being blackmailed into supporting Cassius by having his entire legion vote for him in the elections. There is a rather dramatic scene where Marcus, in full regalia, marches into the Forum at the head of the most feared legion in the Empire in the final hours of the election, knowing that he’s about to turn the vote in Cassius’s favor. Marcus is the first of them to vote and there are a couple paragraphs where he stands alone in the voting pavilion, still not quite committed to what he intends to do, that I absolutely love.
Marcus understands better than anyone that Cassius is a villain. That the Empire won’t thrive under Cassius’s leadership. But Marcus also understands that Cassius’s victory is better for him and for his legion. There are thousands of young men, plus most of the Senate, standing outside in the Forum waiting for him to exit the pavilion, but Marcus hesitates, token gripped in his sweating hand and his stomach in ropes, before casting his vote. For readers, it might seem like a small moment, but it’s actually the crossroads point where the plot of the novel either begins or is stopped in its tracks.
I love moments where characters must make choices, but I love this one in particular not just because the consequences are so catastrophic, but because it’s a moment readers can see themselves experiencing. None of us are likely to ascend a throne, but nearly all of us will have the opportunity to vote for a political leader, knowing that we have a hand in who comes out victorious. We understand the feeling of grappling with the choice we must make, weighing and measuring the options. A vote is a powerful thing, and like Marcus, we are all culpable for the actions of those we cast our vote for.
Danielle L. Jensen is the USA Today bestselling author of The Malediction Novels: Stolen Songbird, Hidden Huntress, Warrior Witch, and The Broken Ones, as well as The Bridge Kingdom (Audible Originals). Her latest novel, Dark Shores, was released by Tor Teen on May 7. She lives with her family in Calgary, Alberta.
Wendy Nikel is joining us today to talk about The Cassandra Complex, the third novella in the Place In Time series. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Cass is a 22nd century university student who – like most young adults – has always believed her parents were a bit stuck in the past. But on her eighteenth birthday she learns exactly how true this is: not only are her parents time travelers, living in an era different than either was born in, but now, to ensure that history plays out as it’s supposed to, she must travel to the year 1914 to live out her adult life.
Cass isn’t the type, though, to just sit back and watch while all the tragic events she’s learned about in her history courses play out in front of her. Not when she’s the only one in the world with the foreknowledge – and determination – to change it.
What’s Wendy’s favorite bit?
The Cassandra Complex is the third book in my Place in Time novella series. Throughout the first two books, The Continuum and The Grandmother Paradox, I’ve enjoyed sending my characters on adventures to various points in history through a time travel agency that specializes in vacations to the past. From the Titanic to the 1893 World’s Fair, this series has allowed me to spend a lot of time exploring the way people lived and things that were unique to those times. One particular piece of history I researched for this story were the thousands of young women who followed the railroad lines westward to take on positions of waitresses in the Fred Harvey Company.
With the rise of train travel in the late 19th century, Fred Harvey worked to fill a need for quality food and hospitality for travelers in the west. He opened his first roadhouse in Topeka, Kansas in 1876 and soon had a thriving franchise along the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway, providing travelers with fresh, wholesome meals, served within the time frame of a single train stop.
Harvey initially hired young men as waiters but found them too prone to drinking and fighting, so in 1883, he began hiring “white, young women, 18-30 years of age, of good character, attractive and intelligent.” Thousands left their homes in the East and Midwest to answer his ads. The salary of $18.50 a month, plus room and board, was generous at the time, and many of these women were eager for adventure and a steady income.
The Harvey Girls were held to high standards to protect their reputations and that of the company. They wore uniforms of modest black dresses, tidy white aprons, and black stockings, and wore their hair in nets and white ribbons. Rules prohibited smoking, gum-chewing, or drinking.
In the 1890s, Fred Harvey was contracted to serve food in the dining cars of the Santa Fe Railway trains, and the Harvey Girls took to the rails. One of the trains they served on was the California Limited, which is featured in The Cassandra Complex.
I hadn’t initially intended to put Cass, my main character, on a westbound train, but when I began researching what jobs would have been available to single, young women in the year 1914, this quickly rose to the top of the list. It was truly a unique opportunity for women during that era, when the choices of young women (especially from poorer backgrounds) were extremely limited. Many women used their earnings to attend schooling which they wouldn’t have been able to afford otherwise. Others went on to marry ranchers, miners, and other frontiersmen they met in West, thus playing an important role in the settlement and development of communities.
With the decline of railroad travel in the 20th century, the Fred Harvey Company also faded from existence, but even years later, many of the 100,000 women who served as Harvey Girls considered their years of service as an important part of their identity. And after her adventures on the rail line, I’m sure my main character, Cass, would agree.
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 Daily Science Fiction, Nature: Futures, and is forthcoming from Analog and Beneath Ceaseless Skies. For more info, visit wendynikel.com
William C. Tracy is joining us today to talk about his novel Fruits of the Gods. Here’s the publishers description:
Sisters Kisare and Belili uproot an ancient box in their owner’s orchard and find a miracle inside: a fifth godfruit in a society that knows only four. It is punishable by death for non-nobles to eat godfruit, so the sisters hide the discovery and plot to escape servitude for good. With the power represented in the box, they could live as nobles themselves.
But Kisare finds her new freedom more difficult than she imagined, and Belili has many secrets she strives to keep hidden. With the help of a people slowly losing their culture and technology to the powerful nobles, the sisters lead an infiltration of the highest levels of noble society.
While Kisare finds she cares for the captured leader of the people helping them, Belili comes to love her noble suitor’s guard—a fierce woman with a similar past to her own. In the end, the fifth godfruit may bring harmony to the world, but the sisters’ only hope of succeeding lies in deciphering ancient mythologies surrounding the gods’ original plan for their people.
What’s William’s favorite bit?
WILLIAM C. TRACY
This was by far the easiest “Favorite Bit” to decide on out of my books. Three words: Seasonal Fruit Magic. Pop a juicy slice of godfruit in your mouth and you have a magical ability! That is, if you have the right color hair. The magic varies depending on what season it is, and which magical tree is fruiting. All this leads to a magic system simple in context, but powerful for storytelling. Fruit type + hair color = magic power.
Planning out the magic in this book was lots of fun, especially since I grew up with a huge garden every year, courtesy of my mother and father. Mom used to joke that she got 110% germination on her tomato plants, and it was hard to check, because she routinely planted more than a hundred a year! Keep in mind I didn’t grow up on a farm. I lived in south central Charlotte, NC.
Back to the fruit. When I got my own place, I planted fruit trees, and over the years, I’ve had a plum, a peach, a cherry, a pear, blueberries, avocados, pineapples, lemons, kiwis, blackberries, and raspberries. They became one of the inspirations for this book. What kind of fruit would gods pick to bless? If you read carefully, you’ll notice I picked completely different genera for each season, so they wouldn’t be easy to cross-pollinate. In fact, I worked very hard to make the fruit a scarce commodity. The trees won’t bear if they’re too close to another of the same species. They only bear in one season. They have to be fertilized by the bodies of dead magic-users (probably my second-place favorite bit).
Now add in hair color. Not just anyone can use magic. Only the people blessed by the gods can use the godfruit. This is shown by five different colors of magical locks, as well as the non-magical blond hair. Each different hair color creates a different cross with a fruit, and you end up with twenty magical powers. As an engineer, I love seeing how systems fall into patterns and categorizations. So, after figuring out my basis for the magic, I got to play around with the powers and how to group them by fruit and by season. It won’t spoil things much to tell you the categories of magical powers: Mental, Sense, Elemental, and Body. I even created an in-world children’s verse that teaches how the gods bestowed their powers:
Dumzi, the trickster, put his guile in the morus. Our minds gain unearthly powers to serve us.
Geshtna’s passions are always intense. Her prunae increase all five of the senses.
Kigal can call all the elements to her. The malus’ juice gives them out to the user.
Enta, old man winter, is hard as leather. His citrons make our bodies fitter, stronger, deadlier.
But how does the magic work? Here’s one of the first confrontations where we see the power of the godfruit, in this case the malus of autumn and the citron of winter:
All six elders behind Hbelu had malae to mouths, and Kisare heard the crack of teeth biting into crisp godfruit. From the ground at their feet rose the ghostly forms of past Asha-Urmana, their hair a pallid shade of purple. The shades stalked forward, pushing back the nobles and their guards. The hounds skittered away in fear.
When she turned back to Hbelu, he was facing Aricaba-Ata, already passed through the ghosts’ line. She realized the prince towered over her former master. Hbelu’s leather clothes stretched to their limits to cover him, making him look like a man wearing boy’s garments.
But Aricaba-Ata had already bit into his own citron. She could see the juice running into his fingers. Hbelu swept into Aricaba-Ata with a roar, his voice deeper than usual. Aricaba-Ata resisted the charge. Kisare had seen him rip a tree from the ground with the strength the citron gave those with red hair. Little stabs of lightning trailed down the two magic users’ arms and legs, and Kisare stepped back, wincing as the two crashed together with a smack. They were like two slabs of rock, one twice as tall as normal, the other with strength to raise boulders above his head. Hbelu slowly pushed the noble away, large hands clasped on arms.
Enti-Ilzi was steady again, wiping blood from his face with one hand, his nose straight once more. His arm was still around Bel’s neck, and her face was going pale. She struggled weakly for a moment longer and went limp. The noble guided her to the ground, then drew his sword. He grasped in his pouch with his other bloody hand and produced a slice of malus.
The Asha-Urmana sentries stalked toward him. Enti-Ilzi saw this and bit down, standing over Bel’s unconscious body. As the sentries came close, Enti-Ilzi’s sword grew a band of frost, and then ice, white contrasting with the black lock of his hair. The ice lengthened, and he whipped it forward into the nearest sentry. A wicked shard of ice flew toward him, stabbing into his leg. The sentry stumbled backwards. Enti-Ilzi followed with several more slashes of his sword, each dislodging a spike of ice at a sentry. Kisare ran toward him, but Enti-Ilzi stood his ground, his sword wavering in Kisare’s direction.
Fruits of the Gods is my first book with a publishing house, as opposed to the five I’ve self-published so far. I have to say, I’ve loved working with NineStar Press. It takes a lot of the burden off me in coordinating the release. So if you’d like to go on a journey based on my experience with fruit trees and nature, why not take a big bite of Fruits of the Gods?
William C. Tracy writes tales of the Dissolutionverse: a science-fantasy series about planets connected by music-based magic instead of spaceflight. He currently has five books out, including the first book of an epic space opera, The Seeds of Dissolution, which includes LGBT-friendly elements.
William is a North Carolina native and a lifelong fan of science fiction and fantasy. He has a master’s in mechanical engineering, and has both designed and operated heavy construction machinery. He has also trained in Wado-Ryu karate since 2003, and runs his own dojo. He is an avid video and board gamer and reader.
In his spare time, he cosplays with his wife as Steampunk Agent Carter and Jarvis, Jafar and Maleficent, and Doctor Strange and the Ancient One. They enjoy putting their pets in cute little costumes for the annual Christmas card.
Follow him on Twitter for writing updates, cat pictures, and martial arts.
Meg Elison is joining us today to talk about her novel The Book of Flora, the last of the Road to Nowhere trilogy. Here’s the publisher’s description:
In this Philip K. Dick Award–winning series, one woman’s unknowable destiny depends on a bold new step in human evolution.
In the wake of the apocalypse, Flora has come of age in a highly gendered post-plague society where females have become a precious, coveted, hunted, and endangered commodity. But Flora does not participate in the economy that trades in bodies. An anathema in a world that prizes procreation above all else, she is an outsider everywhere she goes, including the thriving all-female city of Shy.
Now navigating a blighted landscape, Flora, her friends, and a sullen young slave she adopts as her own child leave their oppressive pasts behind to find their place in the world. They seek refuge aboard a ship where gender is fluid, where the dynamic is uneasy, and where rumors flow of a bold new reproductive strategy.
When the promise of a miraculous hope for humanity’s future tears Flora’s makeshift family asunder, she must choose: protect the safe haven she’s built or risk everything to defy oppression, whatever its provenance.
What’s Meg’s favorite bit?
I’ve never written myself into a main character.
Writers are always accused (or at least suspected) of pulling this trick. Women authors in particular are expected to project themselves in fiction, and are far more likely to be painted as wish-fulfilling fluffmakers (j’accuse, Mary Sue!). But I’ve never put myself into my stories. The worlds I’ve written are too grim and I didn’t see a place for anyone like me in them.
There is a character in The Book of Flora who is a blatant self-insert. It’s so obvious that my entire writing group and almost every single beta reader roasted me for it, and they were right. Her name is Max, she’s the mayor of a city that used to be called Chicago, and she’s me. She’s so me that I want to play her if there’s ever a movie made of this story. Mayor Max is my favorite bit.
The city of Chicago underwent the same plague-reckoning as every other major city in the Road to Nowhere series. Almost everyone died of a hemorrhagic fever, and women died at a greater rate than men. The resulting population distribution left one woman (or AFAB person) for every ten men on earth. The particular kind of chaos caused by that imbalance facilitates brutality, chattel slavery, and human trafficking with a horrifying speed. Chicago was no different than any other city up to this point.
The city didn’t burn, and after things calmed down, control came into the hands of an unlikely pair. This didn’t make it into the finished novel, but the founders who shaped the city that was Chicago and gradually became Shy were a football coach and a cheerleading coach. They were a couple, they were organized, and they were visionaries.
The resulting civilization is multilingual and multicultural. It values art and music and sport. The people expect spectacle and a lot of opportunities to gather and celebrate their superiority to other cities. Imagine if sports rivalries became the guiding principle of civic character. Imagine if an entire city dedicated to that kind of intensity elected to become a city of women only. That’s Shy.
Now imagine who would get elected mayor in such a place.
Mayor Max is expansive and florid. She loves attention, command, and control. She favors dresses and wouldn’t dream of wearing anything without pockets. She’s unabashedly fat, reveling in the luxury of a city that produces enough rich food to keep its people far from starvation or even boredom. Max is never bored. She has a private table at every venue in town, and she sits up front and cheers the loudest.
Max is also queer, but in a city where everyone is a woman it hardly bears mentioning. She is accompanied everywhere by at least two of her many partners, and she is not shy about her affections. I wrote her enjoying excellent fresh hummus, locally-produced wine and spirits, and (oh yes my fellow anime dweebs) hitting the hot springs for an episode. After writing a series about power-mad warlords hoarding childbearing bodies and queerphobic town elders pressuring people into breeding cycles, Max was fun to create. She is fun to picture and fun to dream about.
Writing Max was my favorite bit because I’ve never really seen a character like her. Fat characters are commonly villainous and slovenly. Their bodies are used as a shorthand for avarice, for stupidity, and for a fortress of loneliness that no lover would dare to storm. In the midst of a difficult book, Max was a joyous moment of writing the fat, queer, freewheeling slick politician and shrewd manager I knew could rule a city like Shy. I wanted to breeze through a dystopia with tickets to the opera and a full-throated laugh at the concept of scarcity. So I did.
And damn it felt good.
Flora is an immensely complex character. It took me a long time to get to know her, but only a single scene to fall in love with her. I wrote her story in an ache to deliver her from an embattled life into a peaceful ending, and finishing this series was like pulling out my own permanent tooth. It had to happen, and I am proud of the way I came through.
Max was one of the sweets I enjoyed on my way to the death of that tooth. I hope you find her sweet, too.
Meg Elison is a Bay Area author and essayist. Her debut novel, THE BOOK OF THE UNNAMED MIDWIFE won the 2014 Philip K. Dick Award and was listed as a Tiptree Committee recommendation. She is the first college graduate in her family, after finishing her BA in English at UC Berkeley in 2014. She spoke at her graduation. She writes like she’s running out of time and lives in Oakland.
Kay Kenyon is joining us today to talk about the final book in her Dark Talents trilogy, Nest of the Monarch. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Kim Tavistock, undercover in Berlin as the wife of a British diplomat, uncovers a massive conspiracy that could change the course of the war—and she’s the only one in position to stop it in the electrifying conclusion to the Dark Talents series.
November, 1936. Kim Tavistock is in Berlin on her first Continental mission for SIS, the British intelligence service. Her cover: a sham marriage to a handsome, ambitious British consul. Kim makes the diplomatic party circuit with him, hobnobbing with Nazi officials, hoping for a spill that will unlock a secret operation called Monarch. Berlin is a glittering city celebrating Germany’s resurgence, but Nazi brutality darkens the lives of many. When Kim befriends Hannah Linz, a member of the Jewish resistance, she sets in motion events that will bring her into the center of a vast conspiracy.
Forging an alliance with Hannah and her partisans, Kim discovers the alarming purpose of Monarch: the creation of a company of enforcers with augmented Talents and strange appetites. Called the Progeny, they have begun to compel citizen obedience with physical and spiritual terror. Soon Kim is swept up in a race to stop the coming deployment of the Progeny into Europe. Aligned against her are forces she could never have foreseen, including the very intelligence service she loves; a Russian woman, the queen of all Talents, who fled the Bolsheviks in 1917; and the ruthless SS officer whose dominance and rare charisma may lead to Kim’s downfall. To stop Monarch and the subversion of Europe, she must do more than use her Talent, wits, and courage. She must step into the abyss of unbounded power, even to the point of annihilation. Does the human race have limits? Kim does not want to know the answer. But it is coming.
What’s Kay’s favorite bit?
In my career as a fantasy and science fiction author, I’ve never had the chance to write a caper scene. You know, one of those break-in-steal-the-jewels sequences where everything goes like clockwork–until all hell breaks loose.
What’s fun about caper scenes is the slow, methodical build-up, when the reader knows from experience that things will go wrong, but nevertheless really hopes they don’t. For a while everything looks golden. Then comes the turning point, the moment when the whole plan goes south, fast.
In my favorite bit, secret agent Kim Tavistock has broken into a Nazi-run sanatorium in the middle of the night to get photo evidence of human experimentation. She’s working with a German resistance group which provided her a nurse’s uniform and the keys to a secret ward where the subjects are kept. In this scene, they have executed an elaborate hoax to draw attention away from Kim’s break-in.
After entering the storied place known as “the fourth floor,” Kim is in a ward of comatose patients. Using a miniature camera, she photographs the unnatural-looking (and heavily sedated) patients who are restrained because sometimes the treatments they are undergoing lead to madness.
In the alternative history milieu of this trilogy, some people have psi-abilities. One comes into play in this scene, and that is the turning point.
“Nurse,” came a man’s voice. Kim froze. One of the patients was awake in a bed across the room. “Nurse.” More insistently.
So as not to cause him to call her more loudly, she approached.
A sign hung from the foot of the bed, displaying a word she couldn’t translate, and below that a clipboard on a chain.
“I know I should sleep,” the patient said with a modulated, deep voice. “But I cannot.”
She felt a pang of sympathy for him, knowing that his condition was fatal, and imagining the misery of ending it in this place.
His voice was wistful. “Do you ever try to sleep and fail?”
She hesitated to answer him. It would be best to leave now, but something about him gave her pause.
“I’m sure you know what I mean. But for us—” he looked around the room—“we prefer to sleep at different hours than others.”
He moved his body a few inches under the covers. “The straps hurt. I have sores. You could check if you don’t believe me.”
“I believe you,” she said. Why had she spoken? A trickle of sweat fell down the side of her rib cage.
“You aren’t like the others. I knew that when you first came in and started to take pictures.”
Time to leave. No one would hear him if he cried an alarm.
“Just loosen the strap around my hips one notch. The bruises, they hurt me so.”
She glanced down at the end of a leather strap dangling below the covers.
His eyes flickered with pain. Well, just a notch, then. She bent down and unbuckled the strap, slipping it into holes further down.
“What does the sign say?” She gestured to the end of his bed.
“Ah,” he said, nodding. “It is my condition. You know it, ja? You are a nurse.”
“No,” she said, sweat now pouring from her face. She folded the cape away from her shoulders.
“The sign says compulsion.” A long, flat smile carved across his face. “But we do not need to worry about that. This is a hospital.”
“We don’t need to worry,” she agreed.
“And perhaps the other straps? I know it is a great deal of trouble.” His voice was soft and even, like snow falling on a river and disappearing.
She fumbled with the buckles on his ankles. The straps were very tight and hard to unfasten, but she finally managed.
“Why not just take them all off?” he asked, reasonably enough. “Now that we have started, that is what we should do.”
In her dream-like state, Kim obeys. From here, things go very wrong. All the stealth, elegant planning, and misdirection go out the window as chaos erupts, terror descends, and even the SS guards are a welcome sight compared to what’s chasing Kim.
While I think the entire scene is very scary, it is also fun in a way that perhaps you have to be a little twisted to enjoy. Which I certainly did, in the writing, anyway!
Kay Kenyon is the author of fifteen science fiction and fantasy novels. Her work has been shortlisted for the Philip K. Dick and the John W. Campbell Memorial awards. Her trilogy, the Dark Talents novels (Nest of the Monarch is book three) has been called “Supremely entertaining” by Kirkus Reviews and “Riveting” by Publishers Weekly. Some of her short stories are gathered into a collection, Dystopia: Seven Dark and Hopeful Tales, available in eBook and paperback.
Ashok K. Banker is joining us today with his novel Upon a Burning Throne. Here’s the publisher’s description:
From international sensation Ashok K. Banker, pioneer of the fantasy genre in India, comes the first book in a ground-breaking, epic fantasy series inspired by the ancient Indian classic, The Mahabharata
In a world where demigods and demons walk among mortals, the Emperor of the vast Burnt Empire has died, leaving a turbulent realm without an emperor. Two young princes, Adri and Shvate, are in line to rule, but birthright does not guarantee inheritance: For any successor must sit upon the legendary Burning Throne and pass The Test of Fire. Imbued with dark sorceries, the throne is a crucible—one that incinerates the unworthy.
Adri and Shvate pass The Test and are declared heirs to the empire… but there is another with a claim to power, another who also survives: a girl from an outlying kingdom. When this girl, whose father is the powerful demonlord Jarsun, is denied her claim by the interim leaders, Jarsun declares war, vowing to tear the Burnt Empire apart—leaving the young princes Adri and Shvate to rule a shattered realm embroiled in rebellion and chaos….
Welcome to the Burnt Empire Saga.
What is Ashok’s favorite bit?
ASHOK K. BANKER
Upon a Burning Throne is a fairly short book. Almost a novella. Barely a morsel. Only 246,000 words. Why, I’d call it a short story. Or a flash. A fragment, really.
It gets worse.
It’s only the first of a nine book series called The Burnt Empire Saga. And the later books in the series are considerably longer than the first. So much longer that, depending on the publishers, paper costs and binding technology at the time they’re published, they might even be split into two parts apiece. Which is what the Indian publishers of Upon a Burning Throne have done for their edition.
Honestly, I think the length is nothing at all, especially if you love exciting, immersive epic fantasies.
It’s such a teensy weensy thing, a pupper of a story, a wee kitten.
In fact, my favorite bit in the book is what I left out.
Not out-takes, or the short stories, novelettes, and novellas I excised from the original draft and which have been published on Lightspeed Magazine as Legends of the Burnt Empire.
Those are more on the order of important backstory as well as origin stories of key characters and relationships that impact the main plot of Upon a Burning Throne. In a sense, they are part of the Burnt Empire Saga as a whole.
I don’t mean those parts.
I mean the parts that literally don’t exist anywhere in print or pixels. They only have a life in my mind.
I’m talking about the things I’ve left unsaid in the book.
Like the two key chapters at the very end of the book where two minor characters suddenly do or say things that are wholly unexpected. In one case, it’s even arguably out of character – though that particular person has shown himself capable of being uncharacteristically earlier in the book as well, so even that’s arguable. (They’re both male-appearing characters so I’m not giving away any spoilers here.)
Those two chapters and characters and what they do in one case, and say in the other instance, change everything that is to follow, turning the whole book on its head, so to speak, or pulling the rug out from under everyone’s foot – the other characters’ feet, and, if I’ve done my job right, the readers as well.
But it’s what I don’t say in those chapters that is the part that makes it work. The part that will (again, if I’ve done my part correctly) make the reader go “WTF? OMG!”
Similarly, in the beginning of the book, the main opening sequence, the long set-piece broken into several smaller chapterlets, the main “hero” or chief protagonist of the entire series and story is introduced, but this person is only just a baby at that point.
And I mean that literally, by the way. A baby as in a diaper-wearing milk-suckling babe, although of course they didn’t have diapers in the Burnt Empire or anywhere else in the world of Arthaloka, which is probably why said character is wrapped in a blankie. (There are always blankies in every world, just as there are always babies; any high fantasy world without babies and blankies is not a world worth contemplating leave alone writing about and I refuse to entertain the very idea of such a blankie-less, babe-less wasteland. Pshaw!)
That baby in a blankie will turn out to be the main protagonist of the Burnt Empire Series, or hero, if you will.
But I never say so openly in Upon a Burning Throne. I’m only saying it here, on Ms Kowal’s lovely online soap box, because it’s my favorite bit in the whole book.
I introduced the hero of the entire series as a baby in a blankie in a single brief scene in Book 1, and then never said a word more about that person in the rest of the 246,000-word book!
Again, this isn’t a spoiler. Anyone reading about Upon a Burning Throne will soon learn that the sequel A Dark Queen Rises follows lickety split on its heels. Just a year later. And as that second book’s title so blatantly and shamelessly reveals (major spoiler now) that protagonist is, of course, the eponymous dark queen.
The same one whom you were introduced to briefly but memorably as a baby in a blankie in Book 1. Yes, the very one. Gadzooks.
And I never told you that when she first came on the scene. Or at any point thereafter. In fact, I never even hinted throughout that entire 688-page hardcover volume (beautifully designed, bound, with a delicious cover and a simply sumptuous map, by the way) that she was even going to be the protagonist!
Like I said before, I left that bit out.
Deliberately, wilfully, knowingly, with full knowledge and intent.
I wrote an entire BFF (Big Fat Fantasy, not to be confused with Best Female Friend, though those are awesome too) without letting on that the main protagonist doesn’t even take center stage until book 2!
Because all heads turn when the hunt goes by. And the Queen, especially the Dark Queen, never leads the hunt.
She arrives in style, heralded and ushered, the path well beaten and cleared, the crowds assembled, the trumpets echoing across the vale.
Ashok K. Banker is the pioneer of the speculative fiction genre in India and the author of 60+ books, including the internationally acclaimed Ramayana series. His works have all been best-sellers in India, and have sold around the world.
(Tor Books — August 21, 2018) Continuing the grand sweep of alternate history laid out in The Calculating Stars, The Fated Sky looks forward to 1961, when mankind is well-established on the moon and looking forward to its next step: journeying to, and eventually colonizing, Mars. Of course, the noted Lady Astronaut Elma York would like to go, […]