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.
Today we have Morgan Keyes, who is doing a givewaway of her new YA novel to commenters on my blog.
DARKBEAST is the story of Keara, an eleven-year-old girl facing the biggest decision of her life. In Keara’s world, every child has a darkbeast—a creature that takes dark deeds and emotions like anger, pride, and rebellion. Keara’s darkbeast is Caw, a raven. Caw is her constant companion, and they are magically bound to each other until Keara’s twelfth birthday. On that day, Keara is required by law to kill her darkbeast. In fact, refusing to do so is an offense to the gods, heresy to be punished by the feared Inquisitors.
Although Keara struggles to follow the rules, she cannot imagine life without Caw. And she finds herself drawn to the Travelers, actors who tour the country performing revels. Keara is fascinated by the Travelers’ mysterious plays, with their hints of a grand life beyond her tiny village. As her birthday approaches, Keara readies herself to leave childhood—and Caw—behind forever. But when the time comes for the sacrifice, will she be able to kill the creature that is so close to her? And if she cannot, where will she turn, how can she hide from the Inquisitors?
So what’s her Favorite Bit?
Many, many thanks to Mary, for allowing me to visit her blog today, to tell you all about My Favorite Bit from my middle grade fantasy novel, Darkbeast! Due to the generosity of my publisher, Simon & Schuster, I will give away a copy of Darkbeast to one commenter, chosen at random from all the comments to this post.
In Darkbeast, twelve-year-old Keara runs away from home rather than sacrifice Caw, the raven darkbeast that she has been magically bound to all her life. Pursued by Inquisitors who would punish her for heresy, Keara joins a performing troupe of Travelers.
I loved everything about creating this book – Keara’s bravery, the herblore that she learns at her mother’s knee, the twelve gods who rule over every aspect of daily life in Keara’s world. But most of all, I loved creating Caw. And my very favorite bit about creating Caw is his constant, indefatigable hunger.
When I first decided to give Keara a raven darkbeast, I did a lot of research about corvids. I learned about what they ate, where they nested, how they flew, when they slept – on and on and on.
Of course, Caw isn’t an ordinary raven, living in our ordinary world, so those details weren’t enough to make him spring off the page. Caw speaks directly to Keara, mind-to-mind. He understands her deepest fears. He absorbs her worst impulses. Like a parent, best friend, and religious instructor all rolled into one, he pushes her to be the best twelve-year-old girl she can be.
But Caw isn’t perfect himself. In fact, Caw is rather gluttonous. He’s never met a treat he didn’t like, and he absolutely refuses to believe that “less is more” wherever food is concerned.
Caw’s attitude toward eating was originally inspired by one of my cats, Christina, a five-pound dilute tortoiseshell who could easily eat half a rotisserie chicken. (Yes, I know that for sure. I learned it when she recruited our other cat to tangle himself in computer cables so that Christina could clean our dinner plates when we ran to the rescue.)
As I got to know Caw better, he took on some aspects of hobbits (second breakfast, anyone?) And he owes more than a little to a friend’s blind Labrador retriever, who never had any problem finding retreats, even in a crowded room, when surrounded by very vocal children.
At times, Keara’s story is dark. She is challenged by many things in her world – religious hierarchy, civil government, social expectations about just what a girl is supposed to say and think and do. But even when Keara is caught in the most dire of circumstances, she has her darkbeast at hand, ready with a quip and advice – all in exchange for a treat.
Morgan Keyes grew up in California, Texas, Georgia, and Minnesota, accompanied by parents, a brother, a dog, and a cat. Also, there were books. Lots and lots of books. Morgan now lives near Washington, D.C. In between trips to the Natural History Museum and the National Gallery of Art, she reads, travels, reads, writes, reads, cooks, reads, wrestles with cats, and reads. Because there are still books. Lots and lots of books.
Rachel Swirsky is one of the best short story writers working in speculative fiction. At least, that’s my feeling about her. Her work has a beautiful use of language and is thought-provoking. I’m very happy that she’s joining us today to talk about her novelette “Portrait of Lisane da Patagnia,” which is available on Tor.com
So let’s hear about her Favorite Bit.
When I was a kid, I took art classes. My teacher lived in the neighborhood. She ran the classes for local children who met once a week to learn how to use a scatter of media: colored pencils, watercolors, pen & ink, acrylic, and so on. Of course, we also had to learn how to sketch.
My teacher was a Jewish woman about my parents’ age who had grown up in Queens. I started taking lessons from her at age eight and stopped at age eighteen. She had initially specialized in commercial and fashion illustration, and later become one of the pioneers of digital art.
At least once a semester, we had a class on composition, and one on perspective, and one on rendering light. In the summers, she taught figure drawing to students thirteen and up. We learned to draw and we learned to model.
From sketching still lifes of simple objects—you don’t even need a bowl of fruit—you can learn the basic principles of composition, the ways in which you as an artist can coax the viewer’s eye to where you want it. A painting isn’t actually a passive object. If the painter knows what he or she is doing, they can pull you in to the point where they want you and then guide you through the image. They create an experience—sometimes, a narrative.
As a painter, I never really knew what I was doing. I could fake it a bit. My interest was always in creating stories. My old work is littered with illlustrations of stories that I never ended up writing. Drawing and painting weren’t the best media for my expression.
Still, I love paintings.
“Portrait of Lisane da Patagnia” takes place in a fictional world with different politics than our own (as well as magic), but the story largely reflects the Italian artistic Renaissance. Since one of my characters is a student, the story gave me a chance to revisit the lessons I’d learned on color and composition.
While I researched the Italian Renaissance so that I could lay down a vague sketch for the story’s setting, I couldn’t get the paintings of the Renaissance out of my mind. I saw the settings and characters posed as if they were in Renaissance paintings. I pictured brushstrokes. I imagined careful renderings of light and shadow. I imagined the way the artist would guide the viewer’s eye.
I tried to replicate that feel in the text—not just by describing what the paintings looked like, but also the ways in which they create a viewing experience.
It’s amazing fun to create fictional paintings. I was never very good with a brush, but I fancy myself to be decent with words, and a story like this one allows me to create in prose things that are much more complex than what I could do on canvas.
Another pleasure was discovering the ways in which the material culture of the Renaissance wove recursively through the paintings. The more I read about architecture, cuisine, and clothing, the more I saw them as essential to the texture of Renaissance paintings. Rich, shining fabrics create the emphasis on wet drapery. Intricate cathedrals inspire epiphanies about perspective.
I’ve been working on some collaborations with other writers recently, and as we’ve laid down our outlines, I’ve often found myself trying to
explain my instincts for structuring stories with the language of artistic composition. A scene goes in this place in order to counterbalance one that’s over here; using this pattern of alternating points of view will create a sense of pleasing asymmetry; the way that an ending is shaped guides the reader out of the story or back in, much in the way that a painted figure’s gaze can lead away from the canvas or back onto it.
My early art lessons inform the way I see the world. My characters experience this to a much higher degree. Their inner lives are revealed by the way they see the world, how they break it down into light and shadow.
My favorite bit of this story was exploring those revealing, intimate visuals.
I’ll close with a couple of paragraphs from the story that I think sum up what I mean:
It was summer when I first came to Lisane’s house. The sun shone brightly, casting rose and gold across squared stone rooftops, glimmering through circular leaded windows, emboldening the trumpet-shaped blooms that peaked out of alleys and window boxes. Women sat at upper storey windows, watching events in the streets, their heads and shoulders forming intriguing triangles. Shadows fell everywhere, rounding curves, criss-crossing cobbles, shading secretive recesses.
That wasn’t how I saw it as I walked to Lisane’s house that morning, holding the hand of the journeywoman who’d met my boat. It was Lisane who would teach me how to dissect the world into shapes and shadows.
Rachel Swirsky holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers Workshop. Her fiction has appeared in numerous magazines, anthologies, and year’s best collections. She’s been nominated for the Hugo Award, the Locus Award, the Sturgeon Award, and the World Fantasy Award, and in 2011, her novella “The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers Beneath the Queen’s Window” won the Nebula Award. Her first collection is THROUGH THE DROWSY DARK, a slim volume of feminist short stories and poetry.
For full disclosure, Shanna Germain is one of my best friends. This is, in part, because she is a writer who thinks deeply about her craft and can articulate what it is that she does. In fact, we just had her on a live recording of Writing Excuses at Gencon, so you can look forward to her talking about how to write Love Scenes later this year.
For now though, here’s Shanna talking about her Favorite Bit of her newest sort story collection, The Lure of Dangerous Women. As a bonus, she gives us an excerpt. Woot!
When people ask me what I write about, my usual answer is “sex and death.” It’s mostly true. I write a lot of erotica and a lot of horror/fantasy, so it seems like my characters are always getting naked – if not in the bedroom, then in the morgue.
But here’s my deep dark secret: What I really write about is love. Not just romantic, starry-eyed love, but love as a human condition, love as a complicated emotional and physical response to the people in our lives. Difficult love that surmounts all odds. Love that is broken with sharp talons and mended with the breath of the mountains and broken again by small dark creatures with teeth. Love that limps into town, bleeding but still believing in the beauty of its own power.
Take The Lure of Dangerous Women, my recent collection of dark fantasy and horror. At first glance, it’s a book of sex and death, full of beckoning sirens, girls who beguile you into dangerous places, psychopomps ready to take you to the other side, auto-asphyxiation, and women who sling guns and songs and knives.
Yet, it’s also a book full of love. My favorite love story in the book is “Animal Instincts,” which seems to be about (wait for it) sex and death, but is really about two women bound by a love so deep it transcends their respective obstacles. Mags, the narrator of the story, is a highly functioning autistic who connects best with animals, while her partner Joan struggles with severe OCD. They’ve found a way to make their life work through compromise and understanding, but their safe world is about to be broken apart in unexpected ways.
There’s something Joan wants to tell me at dinner, but doesn’t. I wait for her to say what it is. It’s no use asking and I don’t have the right words anyway. After dinner, she cleans in that ordered way that she has and I shower again.
Almost always, we sleep in separate rooms – she can’t bear the filth that falls from us when we sleep; I can’t sleep with the noise of her breath – but usually we meet in her bed for a bit in the evenings.
“Joan?” I say it soft, my clean feet still on the bottom of the tub.
“Come into bed!” Joan yells from her bedroom. I am smiling even as I dry off. It makes me happy when she calls me like that, when I’ve been given permission to enter. It’s like our love has conquered something unconquerable, if only for a little while.
I step from the shower, dry off, and then walk carefully across the towels she’s laid down. Six steps from bathroom to bed, each of them centered squarely on the terry cloth squares.
From there, I can get into bed with her and she doesn’t have to worry about germs or dirt. When I slide beneath the covers, she turns on her side, puts one hand on the side of my cheek. Her skin is cool, like outdoor water.
“Kiss me,” she says. This is our ritual: she lets me know what she can handle by asking for it, and I comply. Her lips taste like soap and the mint of toothpaste and, beneath that, her mouth, the length of her tongue, tastes of butter, salty and rich.
While we’re kissing, she takes my hand and puts it on her bare, round belly. Beneath the skin, the child, our child, ripples and wriggles. I laugh against her lips and then pull away, just to watch the movement beneath her skin.
“The baby likes that,” I say.
“Yes,” Joan says. “Me too. Do it again.”
So I do, and I lean into her so that our bellies are together, and the baby’s wiggling makes me laugh, like tickling.
“The doctor came today,” Joan says when she has her mouth back. Our OGBYN comes to our house because Joan can’t bear the hospital, all the germs, all the dirty tiles, all the sick people. It was one of the things we asked her before we got pregnant, if she would come and see Joan here, in her own bed.
I lean up on my elbow. “She did?”
Her blue eyes are shiny as she puts her hand over mine. “It’s a girl,” Joan says. “A girl. One more girl in our family.”
“I knew that,” I say. I did know that, somehow. I have pictured the baby a hundred times, with Joan’s blonde curls and her blue eyes, in a pink and blue dress. Ten short fingers. Dimples when she smiles, and soft, small teeth, even though I know she won’t have them yet.
“Of course you did,” Joan says with a quiet laugh. My hand caught between hers looks like a skin sandwich; her pulse above and below. “Our little Seed.”
I curve my palm around the bottom of her belly, imagining a tiny red seed inside her, growing bigger and bigger. “Our little Apple,” I say.
“Macintosh?” she says. Her laugh is curls bouncing and wrinkles like love lines at the corners of her eyes.
“Mac’s a boy’s name,” I say. We haven’t talked about names before. We don’t want to jinx anything. Not too early. Not getting our hopes up.
“Could be either,” she says.
“True,” I say. I slip my fingers down, let one play around the indent of her belly button, which is disappearing day by day as the baby, as our daughter, grows inside her. “How about Ida Red?” I say.
“Oh, yes,” Joan says.
And Ida Red she is.
“Hello, Ida Red,” I say with my hand on Joan’s belly. I can see her already.
Of course, this is early in the story, when love still walks unbroken and unscathed. Will their love survive, even if they don’t? You probably know the answer to that. I am a hopeless romantic, after all.
Shanna Germain claims the titles of writer, editor, leximaven, vorpal blonde and Schrodinger’s brat. Her award-winning stories, essays, poems, novellas and more have been widely published in places like Absinthe Literary Review, Best American Erotica, Best Erotic Romance, Freerange Nonfiction, McSweeney’s, and Salon. Visit her wild world of words at www.shannagermain.com
The Grass King’s Concubine caught me on the first page with the language. Kari Sperring has managed to create this… epic fantasy is not right. It’s a mythic fantasy, in that it feels like I was reading a story much, much older than it was, but it’s all original. It’s a novel that is very much about the power of language to shape things and in a book like that you need prose that is strong. Here you get strong, lyrical, and, at times, playful.
As it happens, her favorite bit is mine too.
“Sharp teeth gleamed in the low light. Then they were afoot and scrambling, tumbling from the tabletop to helter-skelter across the stone floor. Julana’s teeth snipped at her sister’s tail. Hooping in mid-air, Yelena twisted. Her claws snatched in Julana’s fur as she landed, and they rolled, locked about each other, over and over, tails lashing and teeth locked, until they came to a halt against a wall. Using her sister as her springboard, Julana leapt for a window-sill. Her front feet snagged its edge to hang in sudden slow time. Yelena jumped for her tail, and Julana dug in her claws. One effort of shoulders, and she was up, out of reach.”
It’s hard to decide on my favourite bit of The Grass King’s Concubine. I’ve lived with this book so long that its woven itself into me. There are passages I love, because writing them was such fun, images that have haunted me for years, things I researched and discovered along the way that made me clap my hands in delight – the history of printing, the astronomical water clock, the trees made of mica. But if I had to settle on just one thing, it would be my ferret woman, the shape-shifting twins Yelena and Julana. They were the first piece of the book to come to me, one afternoon back in, I think, 2002, when I found myself reaching for the nearest scrap of paper and scribbling down, “They were not witches.”
For a long time, that was the first line of the book (it’s now the first line of chapter 2, for various reasons). It made me smile every time I opened the file, because, to me, it said so much about who Yelena and Julana are. They sprang into life with that phrase, short and sharp and, sadly, very smelly, all teeth and noses and curiosity. At the beginning of the book, they are living in exile in a place called the Stone House, to which they have been banished by their overlord, the Grass King. The Stone House is a gateway to his domain, WorldBelow and they are supposed to protect it.
They aren’t very good at this. As they would say, it’s not what they were designed for. They were designed to find out, to steal, to bite and hunt and play and wreak havoc. All they want is to return to WorldBelow and find Marcellan, the human they protected against the Grass King’s anger. So they work a piece of sympathetic magic, to draw help to them.
Except, of course, that they aren’t witches. They don’t really know what they’ve done or the effects it might have. That spell has consequences that they could not have imagined (and, to be fair, that they probably don’t care about. They don’t have the longest attention span), both for WorldBelow and for the human realm of WorldAbove.
The novel’s heroine, Aude, is kidnapped by the Grass King’s bodyguard, who believe she is responsible for what the twins have done. Jehan, Aude’s husband, follows her, with the twins as his companions. It’s a little like trying to climb a strange mountain with somebody else’s badly trained dog. You have company and a guide, of sorts, but you can never be quite sure what might happen next or what trouble you might find yourself into – or how you’ll get out of it again. It was a little like that for the writer, too, as they filled out my landscapes and notions with their own particular approach to reality.
By nature, the twins are ferrets, though they learn to take on human shape so they can talk to Marcellan. They bite, they steal, they get into everything, and they take over every scene they’re in. Their voices were loud in my head – questioning, rhythmic, prone to repeating to each other their favourite pastimes and memories. I learned to count in ferret (it has to do with feet) and to see what they saw – not the colours and facilities first, but the corners that need to be investigated, the things that can be played with or stolen, the things that are good to eat or chase, the things that are sharp or hot or smell bad. I even got to write a water fight.
They’re the thread that binds the book together. It’s told in two strands – the story of Marcellan what happens to him in WorldBelow, and the story of Jehan and Aude trying to work out what has gone wrong in both worlds and how to set it right. The twins wind through both stories, watching, plotting, guiding, frustrating and, yes, biting. They break things and reshape them, create problems and hold clues. They play and prod and push the other characters along. I love them. I hope readers will enjoy them too.
Kari Sperring grew up dreaming of joining the musketeers and saving France, only to find they’d been disbanded in 1776. Disappointed, she became a historian and as Kari Maund published six books and many articles on Celtic and Viking history, plus one on the background to favourite novel, The Three Musketeers (with Phil Nanson). She started writing fantasy in her teens, inspired by Tolkien, Dumas and Mallory. The Grass King’s Concubine (DAW 2012) is her second novel. Her first, Living with Ghosts, was published by DAW in 2009.
She’s been a barmaid, a tax officer, a P.A. and a university lecturer, and finds that her fascinations of all kinds feed and expand into her fiction. She’s currently at work on two novels at once, because she needs more complications in her life.
In the interests of full disclosure, I love Kat Richardson’s Greywalker series that when I heard she was working on a new one I begged to be one of her beta readers. I lovethe series, in part, because Kat never repeats a trick. Harper Blaine, her protagonist, is constantly growing as are the characters she interacts with. Kat also pulls off the near miracle of writing a series that you can jump into late and still enjoy. It helps if you’ve read the earlier books, of course, but she somehow manages to ground all the paranormal mystery.
So what’s her favorite bit? Let’s see…
Seawitch is the seventh in my Greywalker paranormal detective series featuring Seattle-base P.I. Harper Blaine. More than a quarter century ago, the Seawitch cruised away from her dock and disappeared with everyone on board. Now, the boat has mysteriously returned to her old berth in Seattle and the insurance company has hired Harper to find out what happened.
Harper is not the only one investigating, however. Seattle Police Detective Rey Solis is a good cop, albeit one who isn’t comfortable with the creepy cases that always seem to end up in Harper’s lap. But the search for these answers leads to a mysterious suicide and monstrous creatures with an ax to grind. To understand the disappearance of the Seawitch’s passengers and crew, Harper and Solis will need to put aside their differences and solve a deadly mystery more than a hundred years in the making….
My favorite bit
This book has a lot of bits I really enjoyed, like: Ghost ships! Phantoms! Shipwrecks! Sea monsters! Magical storms! Mermaids! Talking otters! Crazy grandmothers! Secret island lairs! But the best bit was something that came about because I was stuck. You see, the first thrid of the first draft was getting kind of boring—lots of walking and talking and not enough action. It’s a problem with mystery novels: they can get a little too cerebral if you’re not careful. So I was mooning around whingeing about what I should do to fix it when my husband said “Throw in a pirate!”
“A pirate?” says I. “But this is about a modern boat, how am I supposed to get a pirate onto a yacht in Seattle?”
“I don’t know,” says he. “You’re the wordy-girl. You figure it out. ‘Cause everyone likes pirates! Or ninjas! Or pirate-ninjas!”
And so I went back to my computer and the next character who appeared became a pirate. And here he is:
Solis knocked again and called out, “Mr. Zantree?”
“Are we supposed to say ‘ahoy’ or something?” I asked.
Solis started to reply but was cut off by a pirate coming around the edge of the cabin from the rear. The buccaneer was a dark, grizzled man with a broad chest showing a few gray hairs through the opening of his billowing cotton shirt. His hair was covered in a red bandana that sported a skull and crossbones on the front, but a few bits that stuck out were as gray as the rest and matched the scruffy whiskers on his jaw that weren’t quite long enough to be called a beard and were too pronounced to be five o’clock shadow. Black trousers bloused into knee-length brown boots and a bright red sash tied around his waist completed the bizarre outfit. The man himself was just as odd, his brown skin and mixed-up features defying racial typing.
“Avast! What be the cause o’ this bangin’ and hallooin’?” the pirate demanded, squinting at us with a snarl.
I always wanted to be a pirate, myself, so it was way too much fun letting Paul Zantree run around waving a cutlass and saying things like “… there’ll be fillet of freakfish all over the place!” “Damn and blast you all!” and “Arrr! They’ll never take us alive.”
Wheee! I think I may actually have had too much fun with my pirate….
Next time: Ninjas!
Kat Richardson is a bestselling novelist who lives aboard a classic yacht in the Seattle area. She shares her space with a husband, a pit bull, toy bats, paper clockwork mechanisms, and the ghosts of ferrets. Sometimes she dances, sings, makes bullet holes in paper targets, and rides a motorcycle—but not at the same time. You can learn more about her books at http://greywalker.com/ or visit her FaceBook page: http://www.facebook.com/Kat.Richardson.Writer
Jim is one of those very smart people who not only writes good books, but also understands how the industry works. He looks at the larger picture around him and that shows up in his fiction, too. I should tell you that I basically read Libriomancer in one sitting and came away with feeling three things.
I am jealous of libriomancy as a magic system.
I want to be a libriomancer
Failing that, I want one of my books to get used for libriomancy.
And now, here’s Jim to talk about what his favorite thing in the book is. Mine would involve a spoiler.
JIM C. HINES:
I would love to talk about my favorite bit from Libriomancer. Unfortunately, my very favorite part of the book starts on page 267, toward the climax of the story, and I’m not smart enough to figure out how to describe it without spoiling various plot points.
This particular scene encapsulates everything I love about the book and the protagonist: magic-wielding librarian Isaac Vainio. It shows his love of magic, his need to explore and push the boundaries, and his sense of wonder and discovery … even as nigh-invulnerable bad guys are busy trying to crush his head.
It’s a scene I almost didn’t include, because it’s not “normal” for a quasi-urban fantasy novel. I fully expect it to bump a few readers out of the story. My editor even asked if I was sure about keeping the scene. (She also gave me some suggestions for making it fit a little better. Gotta love a good editor!)
But I think for many of us, for those of us who share Isaac’s insatiable desire to ask “What if…?” and to seek out the answers no matter where they might take us, it will be a lot of fun.
Since I can’t get into the details, I’ll just say I hope you love it as much as I did, and talk about one of my runner-up favorites instead.
Libriomancy is the magic of pulling things from books, everything from laser pistols to magical spiders. As long as enough people have read and loved the book for their collective belief to make things “real,” you can create anything that fits through the pages.
This can create problems, of course. Untrained or careless libriomancers can reach into a book and accidentally (or deliberately) get themselves bitten by various species of vampire, for example, thus bringing the monsters into the real world.
Yes, even the sparkling ones.
In the early part of the book, Isaac is pursuing a vampire through the steam tunnels of Michigan State University. The vampire has been stealing books from the magical archives hidden beneath the library. Unfortunately, the vamp in question turns out to be unlike any Isaac recognizes – and he’s read a lot of vampire books.
They fight, and at first Isaac’s magically-created pistols give him the advantage. But the vampire dissolves into mist and surrounds Isaac. A hand materializes from the cloud, twisting the gun away. The vampire solidifies and slams Isaac into the wall, pulling a knife with his other hand. Isaac reaches for another book, but the vampire isn’t about to let him read it.
Fortunately, there are a few books whose magic Isaac can touch without rereading the text. Books he’s loved for so long, and read so many times, he can see the pages in his mind. Stories that shaped his play and his dreams as a child:
My fingers sank through the paper into hot desert air. The fingers of my hand closed around the end of a metal tube. I shifted my grip, allowing the book to drop away. I flipped a switch, and a glowing blade thrummed magically to life.
My first swing severed the vampire’s arm at the elbow. His knife clanged against the ground. I ducked low, taking his legs off with the backswing. He hissed and began to dissolve into mist.
I stepped to the side, studied the pipes for a moment, and slashed through the lower one. Hot steam blasted down, directly onto the mist. He reformed a few seconds later, dragging himself out of the steam with his remaining arm.
Like the scene I can’t talk about, this one also touches on love. Love of story, of imagination, and of magic. Not to mention giving Isaac a moment to act out the kind of fantasy most of us have had ever since we first saw a set of films set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
I can’t wait to share the book – and that love – with my readers.
Jim C. Hines is a level 6 geek, multiclassed as a writer and customer support person. He generally wears leather thieves’ armor (with 39 hidden pockets for everything from bookmarks to a sonic screwdriver) that gives him a +2 armor class bonus. He took blogging as a bonus feat and recently spent some skill points in Sanchin-Ryu karate, earning a black belt that gives +3 to roughhousing with his two children. He also put points into juggling and yo-yo tricks, because juggling and yo-yos are cool. He gets an automatic penalty to all encounters with goblins, who still haven’t forgiven him for everything he put them through in his GOBLIN QUEST trilogy. Jim is worth 350 XP. Roll on Treasure Chart F to determine what he will be carrying. For complete character stats or to read the first chapter of LIBRIOMANCER, please check out www.jimchines.com.
Amy Peterson is a self-replicating humanoid robot known as a VonNeumann.
For the past five years, she has been grown slowly as part of a mixed organic/synthetic family. She knows very little about her android mother’s past, so when her grandmother arrives and attacks her mother, Amy wastes no time: she eats her alive.
Now she carries her malfunctioning granny as a partition on her memory drive, and she’s learning impossible things about her clade’s history – like the fact that she alone can kill humans without failsafing…
Let’s see what Madeleine’s Favorite Bit is.
Before I was ever paid anything for what I wrote — be it science fiction or strategic foresight — I worked a lot of retail. My first job was at a Value Village in the town where I grew up, outside Seattle. I worked after school and on weekends to afford my first computer. Before that I’d written stories on my family PC, a Gateway my boyfriend nicknamed “Bessie,” because she chewed code like cud. My shifts at Value Village often proceeded at a similarly sluggish pace.
I drew from my experiences there while writing what is my favourite bit of vN, a middle chapter called “Amy Alone.” vN is the story of Amy Peterson, a self-replicating humanoid who eats her grandmother, Portia, alive when Portia attacks Amy’s mother at kindergarten graduation. Thereafter, Portia lives on as a partition of of Amy’s consciousness, and they fight for control of the same body. Being the only vN whose failsafes are broken — allowing them to hurt humans without blowing a gasket — they’re on the run.
Being on the run is expensive, though, so in “Amy Alone,” she takes a job as a hostess at an Electric Sheep outside the Olympic National Forest. The Sheep is a franchise chain of themed diners that serve both humans and robots. You and your android husband can each order a Ziggurat (a tower of chicken and waffles), but his meal will be printed out of trace metals and catalytic chemicals to beef up his repair modules. (Don’t let him eat too much, though, otherwise he’ll self-replicate.)
This chapter is my favourite bit because it’s a turning point in Amy’s character. Until that chapter the pace is relentless, and Amy has no real time to see how other humanoids live alongside humans. But now she can slow down and open her eyes to the world that her synthetic mother and organic father once sheltered her from. And it’s not pretty.
First jobs are like that. They’re a glimpse at how the world really works when your parents and teachers aren’t looking. And I don’t just mean how money works, or how responsibility works. I mean how your feet hurt after eight hours and how nobody cares. I mean finding lost children and old vibrators and even pools of blood among the dust bunnies. I mean taking vintage issues of Playboy from a display case so some guy can leaf through them slowly, his gaze alternating between your carefully blank face to Patricia Farinelli’s enormous nipples and back again. He never buys anything because he already got what he came for. That’s how the world really works. They pay you minimum wage to figure that out.
For Amy, figuring that out means observing synthetic/organic relationships from outside the safe confines of the home she had to flee, while also being truly alone for the first time in her life. She sleeps in a storage unit with only Portia’s commentary for company. She can’t share her secrets with anybody at work. She has to pretend that she’s just like any other robot, and that she enjoys getting her ass grabbed when she bends to pick up abandoned cutlery. She’s doing this because she needs the money and the free food. That’s a deeply human experience that I wanted Amy to have as a non-human being. We treat the people who serve us like they’re machines; I wanted to know how an actual machine would handle it.
BIO Madeline Ashby is a science fiction writer and strategic foresight consultant living in Toronto. Her fiction has been published in Nature, Escape Pod, FLURB, Tesseracts, and elsewhere. Her non-fiction has appeared at BoingBoing, Creators Project, WorldChanging, Tor.com and io9.com. She tweets about futurism, anime, and what she’s making for dinner @MadelineAshby.
(Tor Books – July 14 2020) Mary Robinette Kowal continues her Hugo and Nebula award-winning Lady Astronaut series, following The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky, with The Relentless Moon. The Earth is coming to the boiling point as the climate disaster of the Meteor strike becomes more and more clear, but the political situation is already overheated. Riots and […]