Sometimes I feel like I’m introducing you to My Favorite People, as is the case with Monte Cook. His writing reflects all the things that I like about him as a person, smart, sly, and makes you think. He is an amazing worldbuilder and creates landscapes and cultures that seem real. Best of all he is a storyteller and thinks about the way that stories intersect with our everyday lives and shape us as people. So the fact that he has a short fiction collection out? So much excitement.
And what’s his Favorite Bit?
Small Matters is a brand-new collection of some of my short fiction. A few stories saw publication elsewhere, but most of them are brand new. I like them all the way a father loves all his children, so it’s difficult to choose a favorite bit. I’m sure that’s likely true for all writers. But since Mary’s going to force me to make a choice, I will.
My favorite bit is the protagonist of the first story in the collection, Familiar Things. The story is fantasy tale about a wizard duel, but the entire thing is told from the point of view of the familiar of one of the duelists. Our point of view character, then, is a raven–or at least, that’s the form that she has chosen to take this go-around, for she’s been the familiar of many spell casters. Our raven has been saddled with the embarrassing name, Maven, by her kind but uncreative wizard. This is how Familiar Things begins:
I’m not a bird. I know, I look like a bird. Yellow beak. Black feathers. The wings, it might seem, are a dead giveaway. I understand. Still, you have to trust me. I’m not a bird.
For one thing, I’m telling you a story. Have any in-depth conversations with a sparrow lately? Hear the latest gossip from a duck?
I didn’t think so.
So let’s just accept that I’m not a bird, and move on.
Maven then relates the events of the story, but as she does we encounter a surprisingly deep conflict. The conflict–the real conflict–lies not in the magic battle that the wizards fight, but within Maven. Being a magical creature, she has many rules she must follow, but as events unfold, she must also make choices that may change the outcome of the duel–and what she wants to do lies in direct conflict with what she must do. To explain the seeds of this inner turmoil, or its outcome, would be to spoil the story, so let me just say that I’m extremely happy with how it was able to resolve itself. Many of the stories in this collection are the result of me painting myself into corners with dilemmas that I (and the characters involved) had to think their way out of. Small Matters also provides a number of experiments that I made with points of view and in particular narrative voice. Of all the voices, I think Maven’s voice is perhaps my favorite bit.
Monte Cook is an award-winning author and game designer who has written two novels, a comic book series, and hundreds of roleplaying game products as well as numerous short stories. He attended the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Workshop in 1999, and the Launchpad Workshop in 2010. He recently published a collection of short fiction called Small Matters, from Stone Box Press. He is currently at work on a new roleplaying game, Numenera, to be released in 2013.
When I was living in New York, I was invited to join the writing group Altered Fluid. E.C. Myers is one of the members and is smart, articulate, and just a nice guy. He’s also a darn fine writer. Today he’s going to tell you about his Favorite Bit of his new novel, Quantum Coin.
There were plenty of good reasons not to write Quantum Coin when I did. I figured it wasn’t practical to write a sequel to a book that might never get published, let alone encourage representation from an agent. And I had always planned Fair Coin as a standalone novel, so I didn’t need to extend the story.
But once I had the idea for another adventure with my characters, I was far too excited about the possibilities to ignore it for long. Besides, I needed a distraction during the long wait for responses from agents. So as soon as I sent Fair Coin off to them, I began writing Quantum Coin, knowing there was a good chance it would never leave my hard drive.
With the fate of the first book still in question, I felt free to simply play around and have fun with the next one. There was less pressure to prove that I could finish a novel and less concern about getting it published, and I had done most of the heavy lifting in developing the world and characters already. It was even easier to write; while it had been challenging to blur the lines between fantasy and science fiction in Fair Coin, Quantum Coin is a straight-up SF adventure involving two of my favorite topics—parallel universes and time travel.
Quantum Coin revolves around a major threat to the multiverse and how Ephraim and his friends from multiple realities work together once again (and sometimes against each other) to save it. To prevent the end of the multiverse, I decided I had to go back to its beginning.
When people think of alternate realities, many will remember Spock with a goatee or the TV show Sliders. Stories like these are increasingly popular these days, notably in the television show Fringe and films like Looper. But where did it all originate? Who came up with the idea that there could be other worlds out there just like ours?
The SFnal premise appeared as early as the late 1930s, but the scientific basis for parallel universes dates back to 1956, when a graduate student in physics at Princeton University, Hugh Everett III, wrote a thesis titled Wave Mechanics Without Probability. His paper was tweaked and published a year later as The Theory of the Universal Wave Function, commonly referred to as the “many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics.” It was not well received.
I first encountered Everett’s name while researching parallel universes for Fair Coin. He was sometimes credited in fiction, but not as often as you’d think. Why is a scientist that made a discovery so important to quantum physics, and even more influential on SF and popular culture, virtually unknown to most people?
It turns out that when Everett proposed his thesis on “relative states,” it was almost universally derided by the scientific community. Most physicists supported the so-called Copenhagen interpretation of quantum wave functions, in which there is only one universe, defined by an observer a la Schrödinger’s famed feline—as opposed to splitting the observer and his universe into many universes every time an event can have more than one outcome, as Everett proposed.
It wasn’t until the late sixties and seventies that Everett’s theories were dusted off, embraced by a few young physicists, and built on. His work was even highlighted in Analog. But it was too little too late. Discouraged, he had abandoned his work in physics and become an accomplished applied mathematician and computer specialist, doing contract work for the Pentagon and eventually creating his own consulting company. He made important contributions in weapons data analysis—in fact, in some ways, his theories may have helped avert a worldwide nuclear holocaust—but he had lived with disappointment for too long.
He was also in poor health, due to his vices of drinking, smoking, and eating extravagantly; he died in 1982 of a heart attack at the age of 51. His daughter committed suicide in 1996 with the hope of joining him in a parallel universe. His wife succumbed to cancer a short while later. Everett is survived only by a son who barely knew him, Mark Oliver Everett of the band the Eels.
Fair Coin owes much to Everett’s work and that of the colleagues who followed him, so I wanted to honor the father of the many worlds theory in Quantum Coin. I wanted to give him and his family a better, happier ending—and doing it through parallel literary universes seemed only appropriate. So early on I decided not to simply acknowledge his genius, but to make him one of the book’s main characters, enjoying some of the success and adulation he never achieved in life.
I had some reservations about fictionalizing a historical figure, particularly one who was alive not too long ago. My first stumbling block was a lack of information about him outside of a few Scientific American articles, a PBS special, and brief biographical sketches online, requiring me to just make up most of his character.
But happily, two years after completing the first, rough draft of Quantum Coin, I discovered that Peter Byrne had recently published a comprehensive biography of Everett, The Many Worlds of Hugh Everett III, which offered a wealth of information about his life and work. It was an essential resource in revising Quantum Coin for publication… but in the end I made up most of it anyway. I’m a fiction writer, after all, and who knows what Everett would have been like if his life had gone another way?
I did my best to come up with the answer, as respectfully as possible. I have many favorite bits in Quantum Coin—including nods to Star Trek and Back to the Future, epic time travel to the 1950s, complicated relationships and awkward romance—but near the heart of it all is the rarely-told story of one person. I hope I succeeded in doing his memory justice.
E.C. Myers was assembled in the U.S. from Korean and German parts and raised by a single mother and a public library in Yonkers, New York. He has published short fiction in a variety of print and online magazines and anthologies, and his young adult novels, Fair Coin and Quantum Coin, are available now from Pyr Books. He currently lives with his wife and a doofy cat in Philadelphia and shares way too much information about his personal life at ecmyers.net and on Twitter @ecmyers.
This week, we have Maurice Broaddus to talk about his series The Knights of Breton Court, which is sort of “The Wire meets Excalibur.” So much love for these. Now, for full disclosure, Maurice is a friend and has edited my short fiction, which means that it was a relief that the man can write. Oh, boy, can he.
Here’s Maurice to tell you about his Favorite Bit:
There are two things you need to know about me:
1) I love crime novels. They’re what I read when I’m not doing research or keeping up with what’s going on in spec fic. They’re my literary comfort food. The Knights of Breton Court series in a lot of ways are crime novels masquerading as a fantasy trilogy (my love letter to George Pelecanos). The pacing of my books have more in common with a crime novel than they do typical urban fantasy, which frustrates some readers (but that’s part of my quiet squee-ing, writing for my own amusement).
2) I’m a huge nerd. No, seriously. I consume more television in a month than entire families do in a year. I had to quit collecting comics when I hit the 20,000 mark because my wife refused to dedicate rooms of the house to piles of funny books. If you read my series, you’ll find nods to all sorts of things:
–Mage. One of my favorite comics of all time, I’m still waiting for Matt Wagner to pen the final installment series, The Hero Denied. If I could have squeezed in a reference to a magic bat, I would have (instead, I have my twin Caliburns as modern day stand in for Excalibur). On the other hand, it explains the appearance of red caps in book two.
–Camelot 3000. FTR, I never read the series when it debuted in the 80s, but finally got around to it while working on King’s War. This deflated my writerly balloon that I’d done something new with Tristan and Isoude, thinking I was doing something new by making them a lesbian couple.
–The Wire. I pitched the Knights of Breton Court series as “The Wire meets Excalibur” so you can imagine how happy the cover of my omnibus makes me. And, yes, I did a not very subtle tribute to one of the characters in The Wire (Omar says what?), making her my lady of the lake.
–Excalibur. I would have said Merlin (aka, Smallville in King Arthur’s Court), but I wasn’t a fan of the series. However, my brother and I were huge fans of the movie Excalibur. My brother enjoyed befuddling teachers, Sunday School as well as high school ones, by answering questions by reciting Merlin’s spell from the movie. It was the inspiration of the “dragon’s breath” sequence in King Maker.
But my truly favorite bit comes down to the characters. When people ask me who my favorite character is, folks expect me to cop to a love of my “magical redneck” Merle (and his non-stop argument with his squirrel companion, Sir Rupert). But I’d have to say Green and then Lott. Each of the books features a key knight: The Green Knight (King Maker), the Red Knight (King’s Justice), and the Black Knight (King’s War). Green is my variation on the tale of the Green Knight, except here he’s a street soldier. He’s not interested in rising in the ranks or leading his own crew, he simply loves “the game.” I have no idea why I loved writing him so much, only that he made me smile whenever I wrote him (even during “the razor blade” scene).
But the character at the heart of the book is Lott. Starting in Book II, King’s Justice, he became the character I punished the most and rooted for the most. Ultimately, that’s my favorite bit: re-creating the folks and life in my neighborhood. Each page of the book is soaked with characters and lives and situations I know. Tragic and funny and hopeful, that’s what the Knights of Breton Court is for me.
Maurice Broaddus has written hundreds of short stories, essays, novellas, and articles. His dark fiction has been published in numerous magazines, anthologies, and web sites, including Cemetery Dance, Apex Magazine, Black Static, and Weird Tales Magazine. He is the co-editor of the Dark Faith anthology series (Apex Books) and the author of the urban fantasy trilogy, Knights of Breton Court (Angry Robot Books). He has been a teaching artist for over five years, teaching creative writing to elementary, middle, and high school students, as well as adults. Visit his site at www.MauriceBroaddus.com.
This week my guest is Erec Stebbins to talk about his debut novel from Seventh Street Books. The publisher’s description is:
An American bin Laden. An FBI agent. Connected by a terrible loss on 9/11, they now confront each other over acts of vengeance so horrific, the world is brought to the brink of war.
As Muslims around the world are being targeted in a series of devastating attacks, Agent John Savas is drawn into a web of international intrigue. He must put aside his personal pain and work with a man who symbolizes all he has come to hate. Both are drawn into a race against time to prevent a plot so terrible that it could shatter civilization itself.
In a thriller that spans the globe in an ever-widening arc of intrigue, violence, and personal conflict, the stability of the world hangs in the balance. Only by transcending his own devastating loss can Savas hope to prevent the ultimate calamity unleashed by the Ragnarök conspiracy.
And now here is Erec to talk about his Favorite Bit
“Thriller Homage: The Hobo Hitman”
I’m a child of the 80’s. Literally, and literarily.
As a young man I grew up reading a wide variety of books. There were the obligatory classics in school, science fiction as a deep love for someone who would himself become a scientist, and my own personal obsession with Tolkien and his mad genius legendarium. But it wasn’t all deep past or far future for me. One of the genres I enjoyed the most was very contemporary: I devoured many a book from the golden age of global thrillers.
Robert Ludlum – the REAL Robert Ludlum and not this Ghost Industry they now having using his name – was for me the high point of the period’s thrillers. He brought together several narrative and stylistic approaches that resonated with me, not the least of which was a liberal leaning in a genre dominated by more politically conservative writers.
Second only to Jason Bourne, one of the most memorable characters from this thriller golden age was one created by Tom Clancy: Agent Clark from the Jack Ryan universe of novels. And nothing beat the 1993 Clark prequel “Without Remorse.” For me, some of the most enjoyable scenes in the novel involve the main character’s disguising himself as a drunken bum and wreaking havoc in that form on the bad guys. There was just something disturbingly satisfying about a drunk derelict springing to life and gutting a nasty criminal with a K-BAR knife, or unloading a shotgun from his tramp-coat and eviscerating cruel members of the underworld.
Fast-forward twenty years, and my first thriller, “The Ragnarök Conspiracy”, is published, complete with an homage to the (definitely) underused archetype of “killer hobo”. It’s a reference that only the most die-hard thriller fan is likely to pick up on. I’m not sure if this is my “favorite bit”, but no other favored-bit beats it for an idiosyncratic enjoyment while writing.
“Pants” is a character partly inspired by a local vagrant in my NYC neighborhood, but given a life in words as a tribute to the wonderful Wino-of-Death scenes in Clancy’s book. While writing “The Ragnarök Conspiracy”, I was planning a scene which leads to a major terrorist attack, the first of many devastating events that drive the narrative forward. Without giving away too much, there is a chapter foreshadowing the bombing that involves an unusual terrorist organization setting up the attack.
Enter the hitman hobo.
As his nefarious colleagues are planting explosives, he is one of several lookouts, stationed in a strategic location (a small New York City park). He has taken on the identity of a well-known local, “Pants Henry”, an alcoholic beggar who is distinguished by his unique choice of wardrobe: every day, without fail, he sports a different pair of pants with one pants leg missing. In the novel, this false Pants Henry lies on a bench, seemingly inebriated, but all the while watchful and in radio communications with the terrorists.
Unknowingly, members of a hardened gang blunder into the operation that is underway, and “Pants” must act to prevent them from interfering with their plans or drawing the attention of law enforcement. Mirroring some of the deadly interactions in Clancy’s novel, it was a blast (literally) to have my bum surprise the gang and kick some hoodlum ass, even as his actions set the stage for crimes far more horrible than any his victims could have imagined committing.
It’s a short scene, primarily setting the stage for what is to come and to give a sense of the ruthlessness of the antagonists in the story. It really could have been written in many different ways. But the disguise was apropos for the location. Before I knew it, my memory reached back two decades to a similar image of the most powerless, uncoordinated, and dependent citizens of our society – those broken souls that we at best ignore, but often scorn and abuse – suddenly transforming into the most deadly of assassins.
It’s no rival to Clancy’s epic imagery, but I did my best to give the “vengeful vagabond” a tribute with a bang!”
Erec Stebbins (New York, NY) is associate professor and head of the Laboratory of Structural Microbiology at the Rockefeller University in New York. The Ragnarök Conspiracy is his first novel. For more about the book and Erec Stebbins, visit www.ragnarokconspiracy.com andwww.erecstebbins.com.
Sandra Tayler is one of my favorite people. She has an utterly charming children’s book out called Hold on to Your Horses. I’m not going to say too much, because when Sandra explains why she wrote the book, you’ll understand why I think it is so wonderful.
Here’s her Favorite Bit.
The moment which inspired me to write Hold on to Your Horses was the antithesis of a favorite bit, yet out of that hard moment the best bits were born. It began as my five-year-old daughter curled into a little ball in my lap and wailed, “Why am I always the problem?” She seemed so small, different from her normal blur of energy. She lived her life on the run, no time to stop or snuggle, but when she was sad, she huddled in my lap. Sadness happened a lot during the fall when she collided with kindergarten. She loved kindergarten with a passion that knew no boundaries. Unfortunately boundaries exist for reasons and my enthusiastic girl had to be disciplined. Often. As the months progressed I watched her beginning to draw the conclusion that perhaps she was just a bad person, doomed forever to visit in the principal’s office. I hugged her tight and knew that she needed a story, one that would give her an option other than being a bad person. I decided to write one.
That decision launched me into a marathon self-publishing adventure. In an effort to give my daughter the story she needed, with pictures, I contracted with an artist I’d never met, learned how to use professional design tools, and scrambled to figure out a publishing process that fit the project. It was terrifying. Then there was the day when my artist, Angela, mailed me the original artwork to be scanned. I’d seen the images before via electronic means. Her images were so evocative that I’d been able to pare away some of my words, letting the pictures carry extra depth and meaning. I knew I was lucky to have found Angela. Yet holding the papers in my hands was entirely different. Colored pencil has iridescence in person that can’t be replicated in a scan or a print. The pages caught the light and refracted it at me as I carefully leafed through, touching only the corners of the pages. Angela had given me thirty gorgeous pictures to illustrate my words. I was awed by the gift. Holding those pictures would be my favorite bit of Hold on to Your Horses, except for the bit that came later.
I watched as the truck backed into my driveway to drop off two pallets of books, weighing just over a ton. Two thousand books were coming into my house and I’d only pre-sold one hundred of them. I felt the weight of all those books as is if they were pressing on my shoulders. So many hours of my work and Angela’s were represented there, and it was now my job to figure out how to sell enough to pay Angela for the three months she gave to the project. It was overwhelming. But I cut open the first pallet and pulled a book out of the box. It was real and solid in my hands. I carried it to my kitchen and signed it to my daughter. Then I presented it to her. By that time it was a full year and a half since the day she’d cried in my lap. She’d survived kindergarten and gone on to have a much better first grade. She’d listened to the story, revision after revision. She’d seen the pictures as they arrived in my email. The basic metaphor of the story helped her to picture her ideas and impulses as separate from herself, things to be managed. The story, which had already helped her, was finally a book in her hands. My eyes leaked a little bit as I handed it over. Whatever else Hold on to Your Horse smanaged to do out in the world, it had accomplished its first purpose, and that was my favorite bit.
Although it is also possible that my favorite bit came years later when I watched my eleven-year-old daughter carefully shelve her copy of Hold on to Your Horses among her most precious things, saying reverently “This is the book you made for me.” Or maybe my favorite bit is when someone whom I’ve never met tells me that Hold on to Your Horses was exactly what they needed. Maybe the best bit is taking that hard moment and transforming it into something that makes the world better, which is why the writing of stories is so powerful. A good story keeps adding favorite bits to the world for as long as it exists. I’m looking forward to the favorite bits that Hold on to Your Horses has yet to bring me.
Sandra Tayler is a writer of essays, speculative fiction, children’s books and blog entries. She has sold stories to anthology markets, including DAW. In February 2009 her blog, onecobble.com, won an AML award for online writing. A sampler of blog entries is now available in printed format under the title Cobble Stones. Sandra spends much of her time as the publication and distribution half of the Schlock Mercenary comic business. Sandra’s publication work and her writing are frequently pre-empted by the needs of her four kids, who alternate between being incredibly helpful and incredibly distracting. Some day in the future Sandra hopes to experience this free time that she has heard so much about.
My guest this week is Steve Bein to talk about his debut novel, Daughter of the Sword. The publisher’s description of the novel is:
Mariko Oshiro is not your average Tokyo cop. As the only female detective in the city’s most elite police unit, she has to fight for every ounce of respect, especially from her new boss. While she wants to track down a rumored cocaine shipment, he gives her the least promising case possible. But the case—the attempted theft of an old samurai sword—proves more dangerous than anyone on the force could have imagined.
The owner of the sword, Professor Yasuo Yamada, says it was crafted by the legendary Master Inazuma, a sword smith whose blades are rumored to have magical qualities. The man trying to steal it already owns another Inazuma—one whose deadly power eventually comes to control all who wield it. Or so says Yamada, and though he has studied swords and swordsmanship all his life, Mariko isn’t convinced.
But Mariko’s skepticism hardly matters. Her investigation has put her on a collision course with a curse centuries old and as bloodthirsty as ever. She is only the latest in a long line of warriors and soldiers to confront this power, and even the sword she learns to wield could turn against her.
So what’s his Favorite Bit?
First, many thanks to Mary for having me as a guest! I’m a recent arrival in the blogosphere, so it’s incredibly cool to be included in a series that has included so many terrific authors already.
My Favorite Bit in Daughter of the Sword is one that only a small cult fandom of classic samurai flicks is likely to pick up on, and it centers on Daigoro Okuma. He’s my favorite character to write because his moral compass is so strong, and because in following it he’s frustrated at every turn. Daigoro is the youngest son of House Okuma, a samurai clan clinging on to its dominance in a region soon to be swept up and swallowed by warfare. The year is 1587 and the warlords fighting to rule Japan would never notice little House Okuma were it not for Daigoro’s father, a warrior and statesman par excellence, the very epitome of the bushido code that defines the samurai.
Daigoro never really had a shot at living up to his father. He was born a runt with a lame right leg, which makes it all but impossible for him to be a good samurai. The right leg is the lead leg in Japanese swordsmanship. In archery it is the root leg, the source of stability. In horsemanship if one leg outweighs the other it’s a challenge just to stay in the saddle. His physical shortcomings are metaphorical too: literally and figuratively, he cannot fill his father’s shoes.
This, of course, is exactly what he needs to do. That’s his whole story: attempting the impossible, trying to be everything people expect him to be.
There’s this classic series of samurai movies called Lone Wolf and Cub, which follows the exploits of Ogami Itt? and his little son, Daigoro. The Daigoro of the films is only a baby when his father, the greatest of swordsmen and the most honorable of samurai, sees his wife murdered and his honor torn to shreds. Ogami Itt? swears vengeance and goes on an ultraviolent rampage, and he takes little Daigoro with him. (Yes, this does require the baddest samurai in the land to walk around pushing a stroller. One of the films is called Baby Cart to Hades.)
I won’t say Lone Wolf and Cub is great art, but few cult classics are, and in any case we don’t need great art to inspire provocative philosophical questions. On one of my (many) viewings of the films, I found myself wondering what it would be like to grow up in a stroller that was perpetually swamped in bloodshed. Here are the facts of baby Daigoro’s existence: 1) Dad runs around killing hundreds of people. 2) Dad is universally held in awe for his dedication to the bushido code. If this is your moral role model, what happens to you when you grow up?
The name Ogami sounds like ookami, the Japanese word for “wolf.” (Hence Lone Wolf, Daigoro being the Cub.) So I chose Okuma, which evokes both Ogami and kumo, or “bear.” I named my Daigoro after the one from the series, which makes him the Bear Cub. His father, the Red Bear of Izu, is an even higher paragon of samurai virtue than Ogami Itt?. The Lone Wolf is a bloodthirsty killer hell-bent on revenge. The Red Bear is just as fearsome, but he also knows the merits of forethought and restraint. In his most famous victory no swords were drawn; he is such a master tactician that the enemy surrendered without a fight.
Now how can my Daigoro, an undersized boy of fifteen with a withered leg, possibly live up to that? A grown man’s wisdom and an able-bodied man’s strength? He can’t, and that’s why I love him. He’s got his father’s strong moral compass. He triesso hard to go where it leads him, to walk his father’s path, but he can only stumble along the way. To make his life worse, I give him his father’s signature weapon, an enormous cavalry sword far too big for Daigoro to wield. (Ogami Itt? had a trademark sword as well.) Burdened by his oversized sword and hobbled by his emaciated leg, Daigoro still tries—and never forgives himself for failing—to live up to his father’s name.
Like I said, the Lone Wolf and Cub films aren’t high art, and they certainly don’t explore the question of what it means for a boy to measure himself by his father’s image. But I don’t think meaningful questions care what inspires them, so long as we ask the questions. Daigoro’s whole life is a series of tough questions. I give him a couple of kick-ass fight scenes too—what can I say? I’m a fan of the source material—but My Favorite Secret Bit of Daughter of the Sword is that a crazy, campy, ultraviolent cult classic from the 70s can inspire a tough-yet-scared young boy who tests his mettle against his own morality, his duty and honor, his disability, and his sense of self.
Steve Bein (pronounced “Bine”) is an author, philosophy professor and world traveler. His short fiction has appeared inAsimov’s, Interzone, Writers of the Future, and in international translation. Daughter of the Sword, his first novel, has met with critical acclaim and was released last week.
I’m reading Tina Connolly’s debut novel Ironskinand loving it. It’s been described as Jane Eyre with fairies, and I can see why, but that doesn’t do justice to the fascinating world building that she’s done in creating a world where the Great War was fought against the Fae.
Here’s Tina to talk about her Favorite Bit.
The great thing about “My Favorite Bit” is that you always have these sentences where you stop halfway through writing them, and gaze out into space for twenty minutes, coming up with the entire corner of the world necessary to finish the thought. (Or is that just me? I wouldn’t mind having a slightly quicker writing process. . . .)
Ironskin is a secondary-world fantasy, although I read lots of books about post WWI Britain to aid me in giving it a solid sense of place. It takes place five years after a devasting human-fey war—and worse, humans have become largely reliant on clean, cheap fey technology—which is now gone. So, many things loosely parallel our world, but the technological levels end up being quite different—both better and worse.
One of my spin-out-and-ponder moments was over fashion. I wanted to cue the reader that though this is a gothic novel with elements of Jane Eyre, we are not in an alternate 1840’s. I focused on late interwar styling to try to evoke the more modernish times that Jane is living through. There’s a scene where she finds a bunch of stored dresses in the attic, and again, I used dress styles that would hopefully be familiar to the readers to give a sense of history to the novel. For example, Jane puts a “cream muslin with green flowers and an empire waist” at about 150 years old. I spent a long time thinking over what to use for “pre-war” styling and ended up describing dresses with more of a flapper feel—handkerchief hems and dropped waists.
Another favorite worldbuilding bit was thinking over the history of the dwarvven. They are engineers and designers—but they are also poets, readers, and writers (particularly things of the blood-soaked gothic variety). They used to be more-closely allied with the humans, but 200 years ago, after the sudden death of Queen Maud, her nephew declared them “immoral and possibly regicidal” and connections were severed. Jane bonds with one of them over books—which meant I got to come up with a synopsis for a dramatic tale of adventure that involves alchemy, sea dragons, and pirates. I’ve been working on the sequel to Ironskin this year and I suddenly realized that one of the key dwarvven locations was clearly going to have to be a used bookshop.
I said Ironskin was a secondary world fantasy, but it’s also in many ways a world that parallels ours. So I did tweak some things from our world—turn them at right angles and slip them in. Mostly the literature. Twelfth Night becomes Thirteenth Night when Jane quotes it, for example, and then I realized that if Shakespeare wrote A Midsummer Night’s Dream in this world, it would certainly not be one of his comedies, or even his romances. . .but one of the tragedies.
Oh yeah, and one last favorite bit that has nothing to do with worldbuilding. . .but I have to mention it here because it’s something I had to delete. There’s a character (Martha, the maid), who is described as speaking in words of one syllable. (This was fun to write, as you can imagine—a nice challenge to make this factually true and yet not sound contrived.) Well, at one point Martha leads Jane into the attic, and she mentions to watch out for the mousetraps. Except, when I looked down at my screen, what I had subconsciously written was “mouse traps”. Naturally, Jane (and I) immediately said to Martha, “Mousetraps is one word with two syllables.” Of course this was highly distracting, and although Ironskin engages with the Jane Eyre text, it doesn’t do so on any meta level where Jane should be copyediting Martha’s speech. But it was greatly amusing to me, and I was sorry to axe it.
But really, the great thing about worldbuilding is that nothing’s wasted, even if it’s never seen. It’s like the iceberg, you know? To get the top 10% to act like an iceberg, you have to at least sketch out the 90% that’s beneath the ocean. . . .
Tina Connolly lives with her family in Portland, Oregon. Her stories have appeared in places including Strange Horizons, Lightspeed, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and she reads stories for Podcastle, BCS, and her flash fiction podcast Toasted Cake. She works seasonally as a face painter, and she kind of wants to write that book about the pirate who kidnaps the Court Alchemist’s daughter.
I got to talk to Janci Patterson about her new YA novel Chasing the Skip when we recorded a Writing Excuses episode with her. The way she approached writing this book was completely fascinating and I so much enjoyed talking to her. While that episode isn’t up yet, you can listen to her talk to the guys back in Season 4 when she had just signed the deal. I’m delighted to be able to host her today so that you can hear about her Favorite Bit.
I once was talking to a friend who worked as a programmer. He was telling me about how he loved his job, because of the thrill he got when all the pieces of code he wrote came together and actually worked. Another friend of ours said that was a lot like writing–when all the words and sentences and pages of a story actually work together to create the intended effect, it’s a beautiful and thrilling thing.
For me, this is what the mid-novel blues are all about, because for most of the process of writing a novel, things don’t work together. Drafts, in fact, do the opposite of working together to achieve of cohesive effect. When I was a kid, we had a box of iron ore and a strong magnet, and my sister and I used to run the magnet over the top of the box, and watch all the unruly little ore shavings line themselves up like hairs on a cat. My first drafts always look like that unruly box, and it takes more than one (or two or seven) passes with the revision magnet to get all the disparate pieces to line up and work.
Every book has its own challenges, and for me the most challenging thing about writing Chasing the Skip was my main character Ricki. The beginning of the novel finds her in a tough situation–her mom has walked out on her, leaving her to live in a travel trailer with a Dad she barely knows, far from her boyfriend and her friends. Yes, Dad is a bounty hunter and she’s riding along as he chases fugitives, which can be exciting, but it can also involve long stretches of driving in which Ricki has nothing to do but worry about her mom. In short, Ricki’s life kind of sucks.
But while it might not be fun to live, my job as the writer is to make sure it’s fun to read.–that Ricki’s misery (and then hope! And then triumph!) are always engaging. Ricki is allowed to be confused, but the reader must never be. Ricki can be miserable, but the reader must never be. Ricki can make stupid decisions, but the reader must never think she is stupid.
It was a balancing act. And 90% of the revision I did on the novel focused on getting that balancing act to work. I tweaked dialogue. I deleted interior monologue. I rewrote scenes. And the result of all that work is a character I’m proud of more than anything else in that book. By the time I was done, I really loved Ricki, in all her imperfection. Her journey to figure out her life mirrored my own journey to figure her out, and we grew together.
I know not everyone will love Ricki the way that I do. In fact, probably no one will love her quite the way that I do after spending so many hours getting to know her, and dealing with so many versions of her that didn’t work. I’m sure her character won’t work for everyone. But I got her to the place where she works for me, and for my editor, and for some early reviewers at least. The highest compliment I’ve had on the book is from people who say that they don’t always like Ricki’s decisions, but that they were right there with her as she made them. As it goes out to more readers, I hope that you’re right there with her, too. Because when you can really be in the head of a character and follow their decisions through to the conclusion in your own heart–that’s when the magic of reading happens. That’s what happens when fiction works. I hope with Chasing the Skip that magic happens for you.
Janci Patterson writes fantasy, science fiction, and contemporary young adult novels. Her first book, CHASING THE SKIP will be released from Henry Holt on October 2nd. Janci lives in Orem, Utah, with her husband. When she’s not writing, she manages Drew’s painting business and plays geek games of all kinds.
This week, we have Chris Holm talking about his newest book from Angry Robot, The Wrong Goodbye. It is described as recasting the battle between heaven and hell as Golden Era crime pulp. Sounds cool, eh?
So what is Chris Holm’s Favorite Bit?
My main character, Sam Thornton, is a Collector – a reaper of sorts, damned by a devil’s bargain he struck to save his dying wife to an eternity of ferrying the souls of the condemned to hell. In my second Collector novel, THE WRONG GOODBYE, Sam’s forced to dive down the rabbit-hole of the demon drug-trade when the soul he’s tasked with collecting is stolen – destined to be processed into skim.
Which leads me to my favorite bit: namely, world-building a demon drug culture. I didn’t want to go the cheap, tacky route of “it’s like heroin, but, you know, for demons!” I wanted something at once plausible, horrific, and intriguing. Something I hadn’t seen done before. And so I cooked up skim:
The skim-trade is big business in the demon world. It’s sort of a black market for happy memories. Demons like to play all big and scary and superior, but the truth is, when it comes to humankind, the Fallen are jealous as all get-out. See, when they fell, they were removed from the light of God’s grace, and doomed to an eternity of darkness and despair. Skimming’s their way of reversing that – for a time, anyway. If a demon with the proper set of skills can get his hands on a human soul before it’s interred, he can shave off tiny fragments of life experience. This process is, of course, forbidden in the underworld, and it’s dangerous as hell – word is, one slip of the hand and the soul could crack, releasing enough raw energy to level a city block. But done properly, those skimmed fragments provide a high no demon could attain on their own: the high of love, of life; the warm embrace of a moment in God’s grace.
But where on earth could a demon go to imbibe in such a substance? In my world, demons are capable of passing among us, but maintaining human form requires great effort on their part. So a skim-joint would have to be remote enough for them to let their guard down without attracting undue attention. Say, for example, the ruins of an abandoned sanitarium nestled deep in the wilds of New Mexico. It’s past midnight when Sam arrives, hoping to retrieve the stolen soul. He enters through the basement under the cover of a rare desert storm, and after tangling with its somewhat Lovecraftian tenant – all beak and tentacles – he emerges into the skim-joint proper:
Upstairs, a quiet cacophony, like a nightmare cocktail party heard through a shared wall. Myriad drips, drops, and plinks as the torrent outside found its way into the decrepit structure – pooling in depressions, leaking through cracks, pouring off of jagged ledges where the first-floor ceiling had caved in. Dozens of voices, some raised, some quiet, talking all at once in tongues both foreign and familiar. The thud of heavy footsteps above – shuffling, skipping about, and unless I was mistaken, dancing. The crackle of a warped and timeworn record from somewhere far away, playing Patsy Cline at half the speed and twice the warble. And the snap and hiss of candles in the damp.
Navigating the structure he encounters demons of all shapes and sizes – some nearly human:
His shirt-sleeve was rolled up to the elbow, and the tender flesh of his forearm was pocked with track marks – though no needle could mark a demon’s flesh for long; the injury would heal itself before any scarring could occur. And indeed, these marks weren’t from a needle at all, but from countless shards of skim. One such shard was in there now, like a jagged bit of colored glass inserted just beneath the skin – I could see it flickering below the surface like lightning contained within a cloud.
And some pretty far from:
The demon was maybe ten feet across, and standing no doubt would’ve been twice that high. Its skin was the sickly, glistening white of a creature raised belowground; its body was segmented and striated, like that of a grub. Thick horns of yellow-white protruded from its head on either side, stretching for several feet before curving slightly downward and terminating in two nasty-looking points that scratched the rain-soaked walls. Two rows of six eyes each, milky white in the absence of that trademark demon fire, were wet from rain and tears both. The creature sat with its legs hugged to its chest, rocking back and forth like a child. Its ropy neck flickered like the man-demon’s arm had flickered, indicating skim. In one hand it held a wildflower, brilliant purple in the candlelight.
As it turned its gaze toward me, its awful face broke into a smile.
It extended an arm toward me – an arm that nearly spanned the length of the room – and offered me the flower.
And with a voice as terrible as damnation itself, it said, “Daddy?”
To me – and to Sam – the most chilling aspect of skim is that I can understand its appeal, and even empathize with those seduced by it:
I couldn’t help but wonder what it was like: these fallen angels, these creatures of the Depths, subjecting themselves to human experiences, sensations, emotions, all in the name of feeling closer for a moment to the God that had forsaken them. And I wondered what it must feel like to come down from that, and realize you were once more removed from the light of God’s grace. It must be horrible – a shock akin to their initial fall. It wasn’t hard to see why they – or for that matter, Danny – might get hooked. Why they might keep on coming back.
Call it sympathy for the devil, if you like. I call it my favorite bit.
Chris F. Holm’s work has appeared in such publications as Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, and THE BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES 2011. He’s been an Anthony Award nominee, a Derringer Award finalist, and a Spinetingler Award winner. HisCollector novels, DEAD HARVEST and THE WRONG GOODBYE, recast the battle between heaven and hell as Golden Era crime pulp. You can visit him on the web at www.chrisfholm.com.
Michael Cassutt and David Goyer’s first collaboration Heaven’s Shadow was a combination of a mystery and an action thriller set in space, but with our current levels of technology. Thanks to Michael’s work in non-fiction dealing spaceflight, there is a gritty reality to these books. The new one, Heaven’s Warpromises to do that boldly going thing we are so fond of.
So what’s his Favorite Bit?
When David Goyer approached me about working with him on an SF project that would involve human spaceflight, he thought he was getting a partner who was familiar with NASA vehicles, methods, personalities and jargon. Well, yes. But he was also getting a partner who was fascinated by the grim realities of travel in space. What does it feel like? What do you see and here? What does it do to your body?
(If you have any interest in the subject, please find Mary Roach’s fascinating 2010 book PACKING FOR MARS.)
We had very few disagreements in writing HEAVEN’S SHADOW and its sequel, HEAVEN’S WAR, but those we had clustered in these moments, with me wanting to push the envelope a bit, and David offering a more tempered and nuanced perspective frequently found in the phrase, “That’s gross and I don’t think we want to say that in those words.”
For those of you who came in late, HEAVEN’S SHADOW is a near-future SF thriller in which two teams of competing astronauts land on a Near-Earth Object named “Keanu” and discover that this 100-kilometer wide planetoid is actually a starship that is inhabited by at least two alien races – and by a third set of creatures.
Now the obligatory SPOILER ALERT – avert your eyes, if necessary: these other creatures are re-born human beings who had ties to one or more of the visiting astronauts. How? Why? Check out HEAVEN’S SHADOW.
At the end of that book, some of our astronauts have escaped back to Earth, while one has been left to his fate.
But he is not alone. The great minds behind Keanu have launched space probes of their own targeting the Houston and Bangalore control centers for the competing exploration craft.
These probes, like NASA sample-returns, have scooped up soil, atmosphere AND DOZENS OF PEOPLE, returning them to Keanu.
In the early chapters of HEAVEN’S WAR, we see this voyage through the eyes of Xavier Toutant, a teenaged fry cook and pot dealer from Houston.
(One of My Other Favorite Bits about these books is the chance to populate a spacecraft with people who aren’t astronauts.)
For me, My Favorite Bit of HEAVEN’S WAR was living with Xavier as, terrified and ill, he flew from Earth to NEO in a giant bubble filled with unhappy people from Houston. Eventually he learned to make use of this time, looting the wreckage of an R.V. that was also scooped up, discovering a new life for himself as a scrounger.
Xavier Toutant was startled by the harsh voice behind him. After an hour of tugging and sweating, he had managed to pry open one of the jammed cabinets inside the back two-thirds of the big diesel Fleetwood Freightliner 2020 – not that he would have known the name, but it was plastered on the side of the recreational vehicle.
Now there was some other fool floating in here . . . white, thin, balding, midthirties, wearing a pair of slacks and a dress shirt that suffered some major distressing. Even in the shadowy interior, Xavier could see that this guy’s face was red and his eyes small and mean. “Ass eyes” was what his uncle Clare would have called them.
“I said, what are you doing in here?”
There were several possible responses, ranging from None of your fucking business to his usual noncommittal shrug. But Xavier had been upside down and dizzy and hungry for two days.
And he had watched this particular cracker lurking the RV for the better part of a day. So he said, “Same thing you are.”
“Oh, really. And what’s that?”
“Checking things out.”
“Like, what, you’re in a goddamned library?”
A 19-tear-old wheeler-dealer goes to space and behaves badly. That’s my kind of SF.
In addition to considerable numbers of scripts for such television series as THE TWILIGHT ZONE, MAX HEADROOM, EERIE, INDIANA, THE DEAD ZONE and others, Michael Cassutt is the author of three dozen SF short stories and five solo novels: THE STAR COUNTRY (1986), DRAGON SEASON (1991), MISSING MAN (1998), RED MOON (2001) and TANGO MIDNIGHT (2003). He has also published several works of non-fiction dealing with human spaceflight, including the astronaut autobiographies DEKE! (Mercury astronaut Deke Slayton) and WE HAVE CAPTURE (with Gemini and Apollo astronaut Tom Stafford).
David S. Goyer is a screenwriter and director whose primary credits include the BLADE movies (1998-2004), DARK CITY (1998), BATMAN BEGINS (2005), JUMPER (2008), THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS (2008) and DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012), the forthcoming MAN OF STEEL (2013), among many others. His new Starz TV series is DA VINCI’S DEMONS. He has also written for comics, notably DC’s JSA.
He and Michael Cassutt are collaborating on HEAVEN’S SHADOW (2011), HEAVEN’S WAR (2012) and the forthcoming HEAVEN’S FALL (2013). All three books have been sold to Warner as possible feature films, with Goyer scripting.
Today we have a middle reader for your consideration, The Sword of Six Worlds, by Matt Mikalatos. Here’s how the book is described.
Validus Smith has three goals. Stay alive. Save the world. Finish her homework.
For centuries the paladins protected the Earth from a creeping darkness known as the Blight. That all changed when a new enemy destroyed the paladins, plunging the free worlds into danger. Validus Smith—an ordinary girl in an ordinary town—is next in line to become the paladin. Untrained, unsure of her destiny, and hunted by monstrous forces, she must recover the fabled Sword of Six Worlds, the only weapon capable of defeating the Blight. But in an unfamiliar world of monsters, talking animals and living rocks, can an ordinary girl like Validus survive?
And what is Matt’s Favorite Bit?
I love the moral simplicity of many fantasy novels, especially children’s novels. Heroes on white horses battle villains in black armor, and though there are frightening moments when all appears lost, the hero triumphs and justice prevails. All of my favorite childhood stories, from Tolkien to Star Wars, happily drew a line between good and evil and I never questioned who was on which side.
As I started writing my own children’s fantasy novel, I drew similar lines. On one side I had a normal human girl named Validus Smith who was chosen to protect the Six Worlds, an alliance of fantasy realms. Validus is only a middle schooler, but she is kind, brave and honest. On the other side I had Silverback, a violent, power-hungry creature bent on destroying the entire world. In my first draft, however, as Validus moved toward her final confrontation with Silverback, I felt increasingly uncomfortable with setting her up as as judge, jury and executioner. The message of violence as a solution to violence didn’t sit right in the context of the greater story.
The solution to this problem, which came in the second draft, is my favorite bit. Validus has a magic sword (of course!) called the Sword of Six Worlds. The sword has a variety of magical properties, but I added a new one in the second draft. If the Sword of Six Worlds is used in anger, or to get revenge or even out of necessity, it will break into a thousand pieces. It can only be used on a living being in a moment of compassion.
By compassion, I mean the ancient Greek concept. The Greek word (which sounds like someone sneezing and is σπλαγχν?ζομαι for the curious among you) means, “I feel compassion” but could be literally translated as “I am moved in my inward parts.” Let’s say, for instance, that you see an orphaned child. The Greeks would have said that compassion is when you see that child, alone and destitute, and you feel a sudden pain in your guts, the sort of pain that won’t go away until you do something to help. It’s not just sadness or pity, it’s a compelling desire to solve other people’s problems, to take care of them when they can’t take care of themselves.
This means that Validus can’t just find Silverback, break into his camp and murder him. To be victorious she needs to understand him. She might even need to learn to care for him. It doesn’t alter the moral simplicity: Validus is still the good guy, and Silverback is still evil. Validus still needs to stop him if she’s going to save the world. But she can only use the sword on Silverback if she uses it with compassion. That’s a little twist in the writing that pleased me.
It brought in new emotional weight, as well: here’s Validus, face-to-face with her enemy, and she knows that she needs to have compassion for him. But he has hurt her friends and has every intention of killing her family and destroying her world. How is that possible? How can she have compassion for someone like that?
I won’t give away the ending, but I will say this: Validus is a better person than I am. And that was one of my favorite bits as well.
For full disclosure, Brent is a friend of mine and I beta-read The Blinding Knife. I liked it so much that I’m re-reading the published version. This, my friends, is what epic fantasy can be when a writer is on. You’ve heard me geek about The Black Prism which was book 1. It has a moment that is so astounding that my brother called me to say, “I can’t believe he just did that.”
The Blinding Knife is better. So, if you haven’t read book 1, start there but go ahead and order Book 2. Trust me on this.
Meanwhile, let’s see what Brent’s Favorite Bit is.
Every writer reaches a point where writing isn’t fun anymore. Often, it’s in the 23rd edit or during a creative dry spell. Sometimes, we can get caught up in worrying about what an–often imaginary!–critic is going to say. When I made the transition from wannabe writer to pro, I thought maybe I would never write with the innocent joy I had when I wrote my Night Angel trilogy in obscurity.
I’m so glad I was wrong! The first thing my editor said when I turned in The Blinding Knife (Book 2 of the Lightbringer Series) was that she could tell I was having fun again. Don’t get me wrong, writing The Black Prism (Book 1) was still better than working at a real job. But when writing that book, I was cognizant of fan and critic expectations for the first time, and I was trying harder things than I’d ever tried before. There is a pleasure in acquiring new skills, and The Black Prism was the best thing I’d written to that point in my life. But satisfaction isn’t the same as joy.
So my favorite bit of writing The Blinding Knife is actually hard to nail down. I’ve talked elsewhere about how cool it’s been to use real science regarding light and perception as the basis for the magic system of The Lightbringer Series, so today I want to talk about games-within-novels.
Warning: Here be geekery.
In The Blinding Knife I needed a reason for the outcast, bastard son Kip to meet his shut-in grandfather repeatedly. That grandfather thinks Kip’s mere existence shames the family, so these meetings weren’t something Kip would choose to endure, and given that his grandfather was a shut-in, they couldn’t be random crossings-of-paths. The idea for a game immediately appealed to me: a shut-in needs to pass the time, and he simply wouldn’t give Kip the option of not playing. A game puts two characters in direct conflict, and can easily be used to show sides of that character that are illustrative. Does someone curse and swear when they experience bad luck? Do they bet recklessly? Are they smarter than you realized? Will they cheat when vexed? And over the course of a series of games, you easily show a characters’ growth. When you add in the ability to gamble–which I did–you add another level of tension, especially when you opt for stakes that are more interesting than money. Money is interesting in the real world, but not in fiction. Instead, I had a character who desperately wants to learn, so one of the games is played over whether he gets to practice magic. He desperately wants friends, so another game is played over whether a new friend will be expelled.
I thought of chess, but it’s been done. I thought of poker, but nothing says This World in 2005 like Texas Hold ’em.
So then I did something really dumb. I decided to make up my own game. Now, I like games, especially the subset sometimes referred as the German Games (so many of the great designers are German): Carcassonne and all five expansions, Catan and two or three expansions, and even games made or ported to iOS like Ticket To Ride, Shadow Era, and the Risk-inspired Lux DLX 2. After Black Prism with its color magic came out, I had a math professor friend introduce me to Magic the Gathering, which–while at the height of geekery–is a game of superb mathematical balance. It’s really a thing of beauty if you can get past the steep learning curve and your own bias.
Upon beginning to make up my own game, I quickly realized that a reasonably good game player designing a game is like someone reading a few books and deciding they could do better, or a poet deciding that they’ve pretty much mastered words, so why not write for Hollywood and get rich? It’s so simple, right? Good thing writers don’t have to be good at stuff–we just have to be good at making it seem we’re good at stuff: I didn’t need to make a real game, I just had to draw the outlines. Now, I still did the best I could to make a game that makes sense. I don’t like to think about writer-as-brand, but when I have to bust my brain, I like to hold out little hopes to myself. In this case, I held a hope that someday I would make a real game out of this. (Partly because sure, it would be nice to make money from something I’ve spent a ton of time working on–while trying to also write a book. But also partly just because it would be so cool!)
Because one of the principle problems of writing a secondary world fantasy is that there’s just so much exposition necessary to flesh out the world, I had the idea to kill two birds with one stone: the characters on the cards would be historical figures. As Kip was learning to play the game, he’d also be learning about his world–and we would be, too.
Of course, part of good world building is giving readers a sense that the world is bigger than what they see directly on the page, so I called the game Nine Kings. Kings? This world doesn’t have kings, it has satraps and satrapahs. And why Nine? There are only seven satrapies. (This will tie in to later world building that I’ll do in following books, and leave me with nice foundations to build on, while giving readers fun things to wonder about.)
My last innovation took me a while to figure out: What if the cards are true? What if, rather than the card maker arbitrarily saying, “Abraham Lincoln, clearly a 10 in rhetoric and a -2 in Luck”, what if instead the cards were completely accurate? What if, instead of learning about the character, you lived as the character? Limits were necessary: most cards in the world are non-magical copies, but the originals are true. Also, only people who can use magic can use those original cards. Further, each color of magic is tied to a sense. So, if like most magic users, you can only use one color, you only see part of the truth of the card. Blue? You can touch that card and see what the character saw at some pivotal moment in her life. This allows some fun trickery where someone might get a partial truth and think they know the whole truth: You see a woman’s husband attacking her, and you think he’s the monster. But if you can use two colors, maybe you hear her husband asking her how she could murder both of their children, and then attack her. Who’s the monster now?
If the cards are true, then they become not just fascinating, they become frighteningly powerful. Maybe some cards are banned, because what they show isn’t what those in power want shown. This could be from good motives (think gun control) or from bad (think censorship). Or maybe how good those motives are depend on where you’re standing.
Then I thought, what if someone is making cards now? What person in power would be comfortable with someone finding out their darkest secret? Even if they didn’t know the card would be unflattering, they would fear that it would be. And if they couldn’t use the right colors, they would never know. What would they do? Ask someone else to look at it and tell them if it was dangerous? Who would they trust to do that?
Further, what wouldn’t they give to learn the darkest secrets of their enemies? Suddenly, the old cards control the past, and the new cards could control the future.
Ah, these cards have become very, very dangerous indeed.
Especially in the hands of a sixteen year old boy who just wants to win a damn card game.
Brent Weeks is the New York Times Bestselling author of The Night Angel Trilogy and The Lightbringer Series. Lightbringer #2, The Blinding Knife is out today. The exciting new trading card game Nine Kings will be out… someday. He hopes.
Today we have Chuck Wendig with his new horror novel Mockingbird from Angry Robot. From page one, he gives you vivid dialogue and a view into someone who is deeply unhappy. She can, after all, see when and how someone is going to die if she touches them. Being a horror novel, her life goes downhill from there. That’s not a spoiler.
So what’s his favorite bit?
I don’t get freaked out easily with fiction.
I’ve been reading horror and its relative ilk for the last 20 years. From gore-caked atrocities to sneaky-subtle creep, it’s hard to get under my skin.
It’s doubly difficult for me to get under my own skin. In part because, hey, as it turns out, I own my brain. I know what it’s thinking because it is me and I am it. It’s like tickling yourself: it just doesn’t work right.
And yet, there exists a chapter in my new Miriam Black book, Mockingbird, that crawled up under my skin when I wrote it, and still makes me twitch and shift in my seat when I read it. It’s like it got under there and laid eggs. Then hatched a hundred little freak-babies that squirm there still.
In this scene, Miriam’s on-again off-again nice-but-damaged-boyfriend-dude Louis is driving his truck when he spies a “broken crayon” – slang for a car wreck or abandoned vehicle.
Now, all along in both Blackbirds and Mockingbird I treat the audience to sequences that are dreams or hallucinations and seem to very plainly be that—sometimes they may appear to be something else at the fore but then by the end, we know that “Okay, this was just a dream. Maybe a psychic dream, maybe a dream with meaning, but a dream just the same.”
But this scene with Louis violates that. It shifts uncomfortably between what seems to be reality and what seems to be a dream and never quite settles on either.
Louis gets out of his truck and sees—
The whole road, blanketed with birds. Blackbirds. Starlings. Grackles. Crows. Shifting uneasily. Claws clicking on asphalt. Click click. Click click
Beaks pointed away from him.
Eyes pointedtoward him.
Some of them murmur. Or caw. Or make a low chirrup in the backs of their throats. He thinks, any minute, any one of these birds could come at him. Or hell, all of them at once—wings and beaks and talons. A fear runs through him, a fear in which the birds swarm and come for his face and he loses his last remaining eye, leaving him blind and in the dark forever.
Oh, did I mention Louis has only one eye? Louis has only one eye. In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed-man is king, until that king gets his one good eye plucked out by an angry bird.
These birds teach Louis something. They warn him, quite literally, with a human voice. And then he’s suddenly back in his truck as if it never happened—again a signal that the dream is over, that reality has once more resumed, thank you very much.
But! Is it done? Because—
It’s then he feels it: an itching sensation.
Behind the eyepatch. Normal itching, he thinks. Like whenever he thinks about Miriam. He lifts the patch. Scratches beneath it.
But the itching gets worse. It burns.
Five miles later he pulls off at an exit, finds a gas station, and parks the truck.
He flips the patch like a mailbox lid and starts going to town on the fleshy eyeless pucker—scratch scratch scratch—until suddenly his index finger brushes against something sharp. Something sticking out of the hole.
A sick feeling shoots through him.
He pinches his fingers. Feels for whatever it is.
Begins pulling it out.
He feels something wet brush against the sides of his sockets, and then he feels a horrible feeling like a thing moving through him, out of him—
It’s a feather. A wet, blood-slick feather.
But he’s not done. He keeps pulling because there’s more, more, more.
Hair. Wet hair. Wound around the far end of the feather. It smells strong, fetid, like—
Like river water.
Did I mention that Louis’ wife drowned in a river? Louis’ wife drowned in a river.
He pulls out the feather and the hair and then throws up.
But that doesn’t seem to be real, either. So, what is it? What’s happening? A continued hallucination? A shared dream? A shifting, unstable reality? I don’t know. I still don’t know. And I think maybe that’s the secret to scaring ourselves or affecting ourselves at all with our fiction:
Chuck Wendig is a novelist, screenwriter, and game designer. He’s the author of BLACKBIRDS, MOCKINGBIRD and DINOCALYPSE NOW, and is co-writer of the short film PANDEMIC, the feature film HiM, and the Emmy-nominated digital narrative COLLAPSUS. He lives in Pennsylvania with wife, taco terrier, and tiny human.”
This week, we have Gwenda Bond talking about her YA novel, Blackwood. It’s a September 2012 launch title for Strange Chemistry, the brand-new YA imprint from Angry Robot Books.
On Roanoke Island, the legend of the 114 people who mysteriously vanished from the Lost Colony hundreds of years ago is just an outdoor drama for the tourists, a story people tell. But when the island faces the sudden disappearance of 114 people now, an unlikely pair of 17-year-olds may be the only hope of bringing them back.
Miranda Blackwood, a misfit girl from the island’s most infamous family, and Phillips Rawlings, an exiled teen criminal who hears the voices of the dead, must dodge everyone from federal agents to long-dead alchemists as they work to uncover the secrets of the new Lost Colony. The one thing they can’t dodge is each other.
Let’s see what her Favorite Bit is.
So ‘my favorite bit’ was hard to decide on, because Blackwood is a mash up of so many of my favorite things—creepy islands, the Lost Colony story, alchemy, small town culture and people who don’t quite fit into it, smart teenagers… There’s even a golden retriever.
But I think my absolute favorite thing to write, the thing that made me happiest, were the scenes between my main characters, Miranda Blackwood and Phillips Rawling.
Often, I find what I miss most in YA romantic threads that don’t quite work for me as a reader is the conversations. Those talks where you watch two characters develop a relationship—where they become friends, too. Where they make each other laugh, even while dealing with serious situations. The book ended up as much a thriller/mystery as a romance, but I always held on to the developing relationship between the two main characters while I was writing the book. It provided some light to balance out the darker elements, though it’s not without its own stumbling blocks, of course.
Here’s a bit of one of those conversations between Miranda and Phillips I picked out to share, which I don’t think is spoilery. It begins with Miranda’s dialogue, and is in Phillips’ point-of-view:
“The voices you hear—they’re the voices of dead people?” She gave him a suspicious look. “How did you know about the funeral home stuff? About Marlon’s TV?”
“You think that was…” He squinted at her. “Not a bad guess. But no, the spirits aren’t helpful at crime that I can tell. Don’t you remember the Bela prank?”
She shook her head, curious instead of looking so lost, which made him feel better. He released her hand to put his over his heart as if she’d mortally wounded him. “You weren’t a fan? Not even a little bit?”
“Of what?” A slight smile edged her lips up on one side.
“My masterpieces—the things that got me sent away? During my brief Bauhaus-wannabe goth phase at thirteen I broke in here and then lettered the sign with the viewing times for Bela Lugosi.”
“You are the weirdest person I’ve ever met.”
He made a little bow. “Finally, you’re beginning to appreciate my genius.”
Swoon, right? I hope so, anyway.
And, that said, I hope other people who read and enjoy the book have different favorite bits entirely —though I’ll admit it makes me happy when people talk about the relationship between Miranda and Phillips. I do so love a nerdy romance.
Bio: Gwenda Bond’s debut novel, Blackwood, is a September 2012 launch title for Strange Chemistry, the new YA imprint of Angry Robot Books. She is also a contributing writer for Publishers Weekly, regularly reviews for Locus, and guest-edited a special YA issue of Subterranean Online. She lives in a hundred-year-old house in Lexington, Kentucky, with her husband, author Christopher Rowe, and their menagerie. Find her online at www.gwendabond.com or on twitter (@gwenda).
I had the pleasure of meeting Adam Christopher at WorldCon this week, where we were on a panel about Alternate Histories. He’s smart and funny, and also flexible about weirdness. The room we were supposed to have the panel in was locked, so we wound up having the panel in the hall. In a way, that’s very much like his books. There’s a sense of familiarity, but twisted way, way to the side.
His newest book, Seven Wonders, is just out. Want to know what his favorite bit is?
There are a lot of sequences and scenes in Seven Wonders that I love – bits that were fun to write, the bits that just came together, that really worked how I wanted them to. You remember those in bits in every book you write.
But my favourite part of this book is actually something larger – the world of the Seven Wonders themselves.
Worldbuilding is important to any book, obviously – if you create your own, you have the opportunity to fill it with the weird and wonderful, crafting a unique vision that, before you started typing, just didn’t exist. That kind of freedom is a rare thing – and that’s why writing is such a fun job! But even if you’re using a real-world setting, it’s your version of it – your view of a real place which can be just as original and creative as a planet in a galaxy far, far away.
With Seven Wonders, I actually did a bit of both. The novel is set in a fictional city in Southern California, San Ventura, which is the home to the world’s last team of superheroes, the Seven Wonders. These seven heroes are locked in an endless game of cat-and-mouse with the last supervillain standing, the Cowl, a stalemate that has been going on for a long, long time. And then one day a regular guy, Tony, wakes up with superpowers, and decides that maybe he can take out the Cowl once and for all and save his city, only to discover that the Seven Wonders aren’t too pleased to have a new superhero in their town.
Superheroes in prose form are difficult – they belong to comics and film/television, visual mediums, and superheroes are the most visual characters we have in our modern mythology; getting that sensory splendour into a written page requires a few tricks. But as important as the capes and crazy names is the world in which these larger-than-life characters exist. For Seven Wonders, I wanted the setting to reflect the grandeur of the cast, so I built San Ventura.
San Ventura is an entirely fictional city which resembles, in some ways, San Diego, California. My first trip to the United States was ten years ago, almost exactly, and it was a work trip to San Diego. As this was my first trip to the US, I took a few days beforehand to have a look around, staying in a hotel right by San Diego’s famous Gaslamp Quarter – and I fell in love with the place, immediately. Over the years, I travelled across the US a fair amount and fell in love with the whole country. So, years later, when it came to write my big fat superhero epic, setting it in America (where modern superheroes were born in the 1930s) in an analogue of San Diego was an obvious choice (with the added bonus of San Diego hosting the world’s largest comics convention being a neat little coincidence).
But that’s just a part of it. San Ventura is part of a much larger world, one where, once upon a time, every country had superheroes, every city had a superteam. The Seven Wonders may be the only group still in business, but throughout the book we get hints about the history of this other Earth – about the team who used to protect Chicago after dark, about which superhero and her group of robots were based under Mount Rushmore, about the superheroes created after the 1989 San Francisco earthquake, about the superteam who defended the islands of Japan.
As a comics fan – as a superhero comics fanatic – I was in heaven. I could create an entire pantheon of heroes, each with their own powers and costumes and names. Kid in a toy store doesn’t even begin to describe it.
That’s why I write, and that’s why I love it, and that’s my favourite bit of Seven Wonders.
Adam Christopher is the author of Empire State and Seven Wonders from Angry Robot, and the forthcoming Shadow’s Call from Tor Books. Born in Auckland, New Zealand, Adam grew up watching Pertwee-era Doctor Who and listening to The Beatles, which isn’t a bad start for a child of the 80s. In 2006, Adam moved to the North West of England.
Adam’s fiction has appeared in Pantechnicon, Hub, and Dark Fiction Magazine, and in 2010 he won a Sir Julius Vogel award, New Zealand’s highest science fiction honour.
When not writing Adam can be found drinking tea and obsessing over superhero comics and The Cure.
(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, […]