Archive for the ‘My Favorite Bit’ Category

My Favorite Bit: Ariela Housman talks about FUCK YOU, PAY ME

My Favorite BitAriela Housman is joining us today to talk about her art print Fuck You, Pay Me. Here’s the description:

Sometimes profanity is required. When someone asks you to work “for exposure,” for example. Or for “portfolio development.” Or tries to haggle you down from your stated prices by trying to convince you that you’re not actually that good.
Remind yourself to stand firm and insist on being paid what you are worth with this print. Beautiful letters and graceful flourishes deliver a blunt message with class.
The print comes with a dark blue mat and is available in three sizes:
8″ x 10″
9″ x 14″
16″ x 20″

What’s Ariela’s favorite bit?

Watermarked image of matted print Fuck You, Pay Me

ARIELA HOUSMAN

This art print is outside of my comfort zone. The departure from my usual artistic style wasn’t what made it hard; I am uncomfortable with the content. I was always taught to use profanity sparingly and never in a professional setting. Yet here I am, not just using it but writing it in brightly-colored, super fancy lettering, stamping my brand name on it, and selling it.

A good dose of encouragement from friends helped me overcome my squeamishness about swearing “on the job.” I didn’t realize until afterward how much my uneasiness over making this print, and the process of defeating it, mirrored my discomfort over asking to get paid and my gradual journey to confidence in the worth of my work.

I’m not comfortable talking about money. Even in non-monetary terms, I frequently find it difficult to assert my own worth and to ask for what I want instead of just what I need. I have internalized the idea that these are not polite things to do, just like swearing, and that doing so would have negative consequences. When I started selling my art, I worried that if I set my prices as high as I thought I deserved, I would never make any sales. Even now I revisit that concern briefly whenever I price a new product. Each time I send a quote in response to an inquiry about custom work, I take a deep breath and remind myself not to brace for conflict; after all, only sometimes do they result in an angry email from the not-to-be-client who is incensed I have the gall to price my work above the value of a mass-produced movie poster. Frankly, sometimes I wonder whether my business will implode if I say “Fuck your expectations of self-sacrifice For The Art, your impression that you can bully me into accepting less money than I know my work is worth, and my own Imposter Syndrome in the bargain! I’m pursuing my art on my own terms.”

The support of my friends and colleagues and the mentorship of senior calligraphers gave me the confidence to start charging in the first place. Over the years it has gotten easier for me to state my prices without flinching, but I still experience moments of self-doubt. When I do, I turn to fellow creators for reassurance and inspiration. So, too, with this print. I chewed on the idea privately for at least a month before getting up the courage to ask a group of friends over happy hour drinks if they thought a print like this would sell. The chorus of “YES!” was loud and immediate. So I put it on the production calendar. (Then followed a surprised IM from my manager, Terri, who was puzzled by the appearance of “Fuck You Pay Me” on the production calendar with no further explanatory notes. Once I explained, she was enthusiastic.)

I love the result. I’ve always been tickled by theater of the absurd, so the juxtaposition of style and content makes me grin. It’s an utterly serious message delivered in the cheerful colors of a Crayola marker set; pompous illuminated letters form a word sometimes decried as the crudest one English has to offer; delicate flourishes and curlicues dress up a bluntly utilitarian sentiment. It’s something that shouldn’t have to exist and yet is oh so necessary.

I am still working on being comfortable with setting my prices as I should and sticking to my boundaries. But until we get to the perfect world where I don’t need to worry about my work being adequately respected and valued, I can practice polite ways saying “Fuck you, pay me.”

Links:

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Bio:

Ariela Housman has been working as a professional calligrapher for 13 years. Together with her best friend and proofreader Terri Ash, she founded Geek Calligraphy in 2015. A geek of many flavors, Ariela consumes SFF in most media, including novels, comics, TV, and movies. She also enjoys tabletop games, costuming, swing dancing, smashing the kyriarchy, and drinking tea.

My Favorite Bit: Navah Wolfe and Dominik Parisien talk about THE STARLIT WOOD

Favorite Bit iconNavah Wolfe and Dominik Parisien are joining us today to talk about their book The Starlit Wood. Here’s the publisher’s description:

An all-new anthology of cross-genre fairy tale retellings, featuring an all-star lineup of award-winning and critically acclaimed writers co-edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe. Once upon a time. It’s how so many of our most beloved stories start. Fairy tales have dominated our cultural imagination for centuries. From the Brothers Grimm to the Countess d’Aulnoy, from Charles Perrault to Hans Christian Anderson, storytellers have crafted all sorts of tales that have always found a place in our hearts. Now a new generation of storytellers have taken up the mantle that the masters created and shaped their stories into something startling and electrifying. Packed with award-winning authors including Naomi Novik, Garth Nix, Marjorie Liu, Charlie Jane Anders, Aliette de Bodard, Amal El-Mohtar, Sofia Samatar, Theodora Goss, Genevieve Valentine, Max Gladstone, Catherynne M. Valente, Jeffrey Ford and Seanan McGuire, this anthology explores an array of fairy tales in startling and innovative ways, in genres and settings both traditional and unusual, including science fiction, western, and post-apocalyptic as well as traditional fantasy and contemporary horror. From the woods to the stars, The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales takes readers on a journey at once unexpected and familiar, as a diverse group of writers explore some of our most beloved tales in new ways across genres and styles.

What are Navah’s and Dominik’s favorite bits? The Starlit Wood cover image NAVAH WOLFE and DOMINIK PARISIEN It’s nearly impossible for us to pick a favorite bit in The Starlit Wood. The stories are just so good. Each of the authors did a phenomenal job finding new ways to retell these fairy tales– beautiful sentences, awesome characters we want to follow around, and emotional punches that stuck with us for days. There are scenes in every story we wanted to talk about here. So instead of trying to narrow it down to a single favorite bit, we both decided to talk about our most personal bits. Navah We all know that representation is important. We discuss it constantly, how critical it is for kids to see themselves in fiction, for people to have a window into different viewpoints, to open their eyes and teach them empathy. It was rare for me, as a kid, to see myself represented in the books I read. Sure, there were Jewish characters like Kitty Pryde in X-Men, but they were few and far between. Science fiction and fantasy stories weren’t exactly overflowing with young Jewish women. Even though the stories I loved felt universal in their emotions, I felt invisible within them. But I grew up, and I went out into the world, and I found my space, and it didn’t even occur to me how powerfully representation would still resonate for me until I read Naomi Novik’s “Spinning Silver.” “Spinning Silver” is a retelling of Rumpelstiltskin, and it’s one that turns tropes and expectations on their head. It’s hard to not see at least a whiff of anti-Semitism in the origin story, which famously features a long-nosed villain who wickedly values gold above all. Naomi’s version is a decidedly Jewish fairy tale—but in an entirely different way. In her story, the miller’s daughter becomes Miryem, who is not only from a family of moneylenders, but becomes one herself. It’s a story of family, and the wonderful world-building is filled with Jewish culture, history, and traditions. And most satisfyingly, “Spinning Silver” is a fairy tale where the power and choices are all in the female protagonist’s hands. This story sang for me. It was familiar, it was electric. I saw my own beautiful traditions, religion and culture within the skin stretched over the old offensive bones, and it felt like coming home. My one regret about this story is that I can’t send it to Past Navah.  I am so thrilled to have it in The Starlit Wood, and even more thrilled that Naomi is planning on expanding it into her next novel. I can’t wait for readers to discover it and Miryem. # Dominik As far as I can remember I’ve loved shadow and doppelganger stories. They lend themselves particularly well to psychological and uncanny narratives, explorations of the duality of good and evil, and the overall investigation of issues relating to identity. My favourite book of this type is James Hogg’s 1824 novel, The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, and I’m always eager to read new stories in this vein. When Navah and I started approaching authors for The Starlit Wood we encouraged them to retell both classic and lesser-known fairy tales, indicating some of the classic stories we would like to have in the book. Amongst the stories singled out was Hans Christian Andersen’s The Shadow, a story we don’t often see retold. Theodora Goss expressed interest and surprise in The Shadow’s inclusion, and I admitted that I had selfishly included it as it is one of my favourite fairy tales. I’ve always been surprised that The Shadow isn’t better-known, especially in this day and age where individuals can exist as almost entirely different entities or personas online and in person. Theodora jumped at the opportunity to retell it – she’s taught the story several times – which pleased me to no end. The result was “The Other Thea”, one of the longest stories in The Starlit Wood. The fact that she focused on a female doppleganger was particularly exciting as – as she points out in her author notes – female dopplegangers don’t frequently appear in classic stories. I’ve long admired Theodora’s fiction, and to have her retell one of my favourite fairy tales in our book made her already wonderful story resonate with me on a whole other level. LINKS: Amazon B&N Indiebound Powell’s Simon & Schuster Saga Press Navah’s Twitter Dominik’s Twitter Dominik’s blog BIOS: Dominik Parisien is an editor, poet, and writer. He is the co–editor, along with Navah Wolfe, of several anthologies for Saga Press, including The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales. He is also the editor of the first anthology of Canadian steampunk, Clockwork Canada (Exile Editions). He has worked with Ann and Jeff VanderMeer on various anthologies, including The Time Traveler’s AlmanacSisters of the Revolution , and The Bestiary. Dominik’s essays,  fiction, and poetry have appeared in Uncanny Magazine, Strange Horizons, Shock Totem, and several anthologies, including Imaginarium 2013: The Best Canadian Speculative WritingThe Playground of Lost ToysThose Who Make Us: Canadian Creature, Myth, and Monsters, and other venues. His fiction has twice been nominated for the Sunburst Award. Find him on Twitter @domparisien. Navah Wolfe is an editor at Saga Press, Simon & Schuster’s science fiction and fantasy imprint, where she has edited critically-acclaimed novels such, Borderline by Mishell Baker, Persona by Genevieve Valentine, The Mountain of Kept Memory by Rachel Neumeier, and A Green and Ancient Light by Frederic S. Durbin. She was previously an editor at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, where she worked on many bestselling books, including some that have won awards such as the Printz Honor, The Pura Belpré Award, The Pen/Faulkner Award, The Stonewall Award, the Lambda Literary Award, and the Schneider Family Award. Find her on Twitter @navahw.

My Favorite Bit: Kait Heacock talks about SIBLINGS AND OTHER DISAPPOINTMENTS

Favorite Bit iconKait Heacock is joining us today with her short story collection Siblings and Other Disappointments. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Kait Heacock delves into the vulnerability of relationships and the various ways families fight, forgive, or fall apart. Her debut collection of twelve short stories follows a long-haul truck driver, a mother waiting for the rapture, newlyweds on a trip to the mountains, a father who competes in food-eating competitions, and an array of other characters scattered throughout Central Washington, down to Nevada, and up to Alaska. Each story explores themes of loneliness and isolation and how those exist both apart from our families and within them. Siblings and Other Disappointments unpacks the myriad meanings of the word family and the ways in which the bonds of those units are forged, dissolved, or simply maintained.

What’s Kait’s favorite bit?

Siblings and Other Disappointments cover image

KAIT HEACOCK

My Favorite Bit: Setting the Scene in “Sirens”

Siblings and Other Disappointments, my debut collection, is a book about place as much as it is about the people who inhabit these places. Its twelve stories trace the small towns of my youth: Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, where I was born; Ellensburg, Toppenish, and Zillah, Washington, towns that constellate around Yakima, where I grew up; Seattle’s neighboring Enumclaw, Kingston, and Shoreline, Washington; and in one story, a truck driver hauls lumber from Marysville to Eugene, passing through a dozen towns on his trip down I-5. Even the Cascades, where I’ve gone all my life to pick huckleberries and swim in mountain creeks, set the scene for a story. I’ve known firsthand ten of the twelve settings included in this book. All but Whitney, Nevada (a suburb of Las Vegas, where I traveled often as a kid to visit relatives but never ventured quite as far as Whitney) and Valdez, Alaska. My favorite bit of writing Siblings and Other Disappointments was creating a visual of a landscape I do not know firsthand.

I know Central Washington: its apple orchards, dusty hills, and visual scarcity. Writing Central Washington is writing what I know. Writing Alaska was the biggest creative stretch of this book, not only because it involved the most research but because it forced me to envision the place where my brother died three years ago. Many of the stories and characters contained within this collection are inspired by my late brother, from the son in “Closing Joe’s Bar” to the brother in the titular story. When I set out to write “Sirens,” about a boy shipped off by his strict dad to Alaska to spend the summer working as a commercial fisherman, I had no real concept of the setting or the gillnetting industry. I started writing the story because at the time that’s where my older brother was, spending the winters working at restaurants in Anchorage and the summers fishing off the coast of the small port town of Valdez. I wanted to grasp at the water, mountains, and land that my brother saw. A tenuous connection, but all I had at the time–more than I have now that he’s gone.

The protagonist Kevin, a closeted Korean teenager, and supporting cast Captain and Marco were borne out of my imagination, characters created to fill a landscape I desperately needed to explore. Short of traveling to Alaska to see for myself the scenery my brother last saw, writing about Valdez and the waters where he fished is the closest I’ll come. A sorry consolation.

In my research I learned about the structure of gillnet boats, that the Chugach Mountains receive the most snowfall in the world, and the most common causes of death on commercial fishing boats. In my life as a writer in Seattle, I have no necessity for knowing these facts. But the gift that writing brings you is the opportunity to research and learn about parts unknown. I will never be a commercial fisherman in Alaska, but for a few weeks while researching this story I could tell you a lot about it. After you lose someone, it’s the stories that keep their memory alive.

The title “Sirens” refers to the mythological creatures who lured sailors to their deaths. To the sailors, they were beautiful women; they represent what we want to see. I want to see my brother still alive on that gillnet boat, hauling in a load of salmon. His first night on the boat, Kevin can’t sleep. He sneaks outside and stares at the water: “In the darkness I watched the still water, not looking for anything but wondering if there was any wildlife to see at night. If you stare long enough at the water, your eyes play tricks on you and make shapes out of the moonlight on the waves. You could go crazy staring at the water long enough, hoping to find something in it.”

This book is like that water, something for me to stare at, hoping to will a vision of my brother.

LINKS:

Twitter

Instagram

Website

Amazon

Ooligan Press

Powell’s

Indiebound

BIO:

Kait Heacock grew up in Yakima, Washington, and now works as a feminist writer and book publicist. She studied creative writing at Seattle Pacific University and earned her master’s degree from Portland State University, where she worked for Ooligan Press. Her work has appeared in literary journals, magazines, and online outlets such as Bustle, DAME Magazine, Esquire, KGB Bar & Lit Mag, Portland Review, tNY.Press, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, and the Washington Post. Siblings and Other Disappointments is her first book.

My Favorite Bit: Gabriel Squailia talks about VISCERA

Favorite Bit iconGabriel Squailia is joining us today with their novel Viscera. Here’s the publisher’s description:

The Gone-Away gods were real, once, and taller than towers.

But they’re long dead now, buried in the catacombs beneath the city of Eth, where their calcified organs radiate an eldritch power that calls out to anyone hardy enough to live in this cutthroat, war-torn land. Some survivors are human, while others are close enough, but all are struggling to carve out their lives in a world both unforgiving and wondrous. Darkly comic and viciously original, Viscera is an unforgettable journey through swords-and-sorcery fantasy where strangeness gleams from every nook and cranny.

What’s Gabriel’s favorite bit?

Viscera cover image

GABRIEL SQUAILIA

Rafe Davin wasn’t supposed to be in this book. In the first draft of the first scene, he was CULTIST #2, and I gave him a short, grisly role with a few muttered lines of dialogue.

Then my editor asked me to pull a particular trick on the reader, which you can ask me about once you’ve read it, and suddenly—thanks to certain necessary changes in the lighting and camera angles—Rafe had a name and a personality.

The moment he opened his mouth I fell in love with him. Yes, he was irritable, prone to flashes of anger at the slightest provocation. Sure, he was dastardly, and did things within the first thirty pages that ought to have damned him to some sort of narrative retribution well before the third act. Worse, he was an addict, which, so far as my neighbors were concerned, meant he would deserve whatever came his way.

Hadn’t he stolen? Hadn’t he spilled the blood of innocents?

Wasn’t all of it within his own control?

Then what was I doing making half of this book about him?

Love is a funny thing that way. In the case of my imaginary romance with Rafe Davin, it led me to dig deeper into his past. I knew he was worthy of my love; now I’d find out why. I knew that he’d joined the cult of Fortune-worshipers known as the Assemblage out of pure desperation. Now I discovered what had caused him to fall so deep in such a short period of time.

My favorite bit was hidden, at first—a few scattered references to his past, which Rafe fought viciously to avoid remembering. Then, during a decidedly bizarre medical procedure, these glimpses of the life he’d once lived bobbed to the surface.

Again, my editor wanted more, and so I turned up the lights, took the plunge, and rewrote the scene.

What emerged was something between a fever-dream and a flashback. Having spent a hundred-odd pages with Rafe the Cultist, I was brought face-to-face with another version of him—a Rafe who was loved and cherished, in community with other queers like himself.

They had a place to live, in Mrs. Dallow’s Cut-Rate Boarding House. They had a tiny society, with its own laws and customs. They had each other, however briefly, and they made the mistake—so common, so understandable—of imagining that this warmth was safety.

For the first time, I understood the true horror that underlies all the splatter and squish of Viscera. I’m transgender, and it’s rare for me to feel like I’ve been fully understood. Most every close relationship I have is the result of painstaking work, exhausting explanation, and the constant, nagging fear of rejection.

What I fear is that the loves that sustain me will be torn away.

What I fear is our fragility—this tenuous connection we have to a world that makes it clear we’re not welcome here.

What I fear is the violence that so often hangs over our lives, threatening us from within as well as without. What I fear are the words that are shouted at me from the windows of passing cars, the glares that follow me through stores and streets, the hands that grope me in crowded bars at night—hands that curl so easily into fists.

Those fears, knotted together, form the tragedy that put a blade in Rafe Davin’s hand. Now it was plain. I knew why I’d forgiven him.

His character wasn’t a part of my plan, and even once he’d taken over, this hallucinatory scene wasn’t something I outlined. But it immediately became the dark, beating heart of Viscera.

It was, to me, the most terrifying thing I’d ever written. As soon as it was done, I came out of the closet.

I had nothing left to hide.

LINKS:

Amazon

Website

Twitter

Facebook

BIO:

Gabriel Squailia is an author and professional DJ from Rochester, New York. An alum of the Friends World Program, they studied storytelling and literature in India, Europe, and the Middle East before settling in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts with their partner and daughter. Squailia’s first novel, Dead Boys, was published by Talos Press in 2015.

My Favorite Bit: Amy S. Foster talks about THE RIFT UPRISING

Favorite Bit iconAmy S. Foster is joining us today with her novel The Rift Uprising. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Normal seventeen-year-old girls go to high school, binge watch TV shows all weekend, and flirt with everyone on the face of the Earth. But Ryn Whitaker is trying to save it.

Ryn is a Citadel. A soldier. A liar. Ryn and her fellow Citadels were specially chosen and trained to guard a Rift—one of fourteen unpredictable tears in the fabric of the universe that serve as doorways to alternate Earths. Unbeknownst to her family, Ryn leaves for school each day and then reports for duty as an elite, cybernetically-altered soldier who can run faster, jump farther, and fight better than a Navy SEAL—which comes in handy when she’s not sure if axe-wielding Vikings or any number of other scared and often dangerous beings come through the Rift. A fine-tuned weapon, Ryn is a picture-perfect Citadel.

But that’s all about to change.

When a young man named Ezra is pulled through the Rift, Ryn finds herself immediately drawn to him, despite her training. What starts as a physical attraction quickly grows deeper, and Ezra’s curiosity throws Ryn off balance when he starts questioning the Rifts, the mysterious organization that oversees them, and the Citadels themselves—questions that lead Ryn to wonder if the lies she’s been telling her family are just the surface of a much bigger lie told to her. As Ryn and Ezra desperately try to get to that truth, they discover that each revelation blurs the line between the villains and the heroes even more.

What’s Amy’s favorite bit?

The Rift Uprising cover image

AMY S. FOSTER

“Alright. Imagine, that each version of Earth is a musical note. ARC is looking for an Earth, just the same way a musician would look to tune a string on their guitar pitch perfect. Most people don’t have perfect pitch. They need help to make sure the note is 100% in tune, so they use a tuner. You pluck a string and then you turn the machine head, the silver nobs at the top of the guitar, until you get to the right note. That’s basically what this system ARC is using does. If each unique quantum signature is a note, their technology basically wobbles with the pitch–or the signature–until it gets close enough to open a Rift. If it’s looking for a b-flat, it can eliminate all the other Earths that don’t resonate to a b-flat. Then it begins to eliminate the Earths that aren’t a perfect b-flat.

“Now, in order to really get this concept, you have to imagine that there aren’t just twelve notes, but an infinite number of notes–each one distinct–and you’re trying tune the thing in a room full of other music. That’s why they can’t get exactly to the Earth they want to go. There is too much noise. They have to narrow it down. Each little tweak of the machine head would be a jump into another Rift. They have to go through multiple Rifts to get where they are going. Maybe it’s ten maybe it’s 100–I don’t know.”

Here’s the strange thing about me: I love science. Really, I am a total geek when it comes to physics and to some degree chemistry. What’s weird though, is that I have an actual math learning disability called Dyscalculia- which is a really fancy way of saying I’m crap at math. Like, I have a problem adding double digit numbers together. So, I can understand really complex theories about science, like string theory for example but the way I interpret them is not as a mathematician but rather on a visual level- I can see in my mind, the subatomic particles doing their thing (kind of hilarious because obviously, no one sees subatomic particles in real life)  I use my imagination to tell the story of the big bang, or black holes or relativity. I understand it as a story but not as a math equation. Make sense? No? It doesn’t make much sense to me either! I don’t know how I understand the things that I do.

When I was writing The Rift Uprising, I knew that I was going to have to come up with a way of explaining an entry to the Multiverse that not only I could understand, but that readers, particularly young readers could also grasp. Math was out of the question. A simple visualization of how it might work in my mind’s eye was also out, because it would be near impossible to explain it in actual words that made sense to anyone but myself.  Light was an option, but it’s so intangible. I needed a device that was visceral, that would make sense without the need for a ton of equations.

This left me with the one thing that I knew that I could not only explain but actually draw on from personal experience. Sound. I’m a songwriter, and both my parents are musicians. I believe the right song at the right time can be transportive, just on an emotional level. On a scientific level, sound wave particles can do amazing things like levitate objects, detect bombs and convert to heat and then energy. I then had to imagine a device that could take sound and use it like a key to open a very complex door. I know, even without being math-y, that there are an infinite amount of numbers between numbers like 1, 2 and 3 etc. I translated this notion to pitch. When I’m tuning my guitar and I want to get to a particular note there are seemingly endless variations of pitch till I get to that ‘perfect’ note. Using this theory, I had to imagine that each Earth in the Multiverse would pitch to a different sound or vibration. In effect, our bodies are all singing a tune to the Earth we are on. If we visit a different Earth, and we could hear that tune, it would sound different, we would sound different than everything and everyone around us.  In practical terms though, this would need to happen on a quantum level which is handy for me, because in The Rift Uprising, I am using technology humans haven’t mastered yet and are borrowing from a more technologically advanced race. I’m especially proud of the way I conceived an entry and eventual navigation through the Multiverse that while highly improbable at least makes a kind of sense. I did discuss all this with a physicist who assured me that it wasn’t impossible. So, I can say that the science isn’t wrong, just a little farfetched. The best part of all is that I was able to use this theory and turn it into a major plot device throughout the trilogies. It becomes, at the end of the day, at least in my world, practical.

LINKS:

Website

Twitter

Goodreads

Amazon (US)

Barnes & Noble

IndieBound

Powell’s

BIO:

Amy S. Foster is a celebrated songwriter, best known as Michael Bublé’s writing partner. You might recognize her work in his four hit singles, including “Home” and “Haven’t Met You Yet.”  She has also collaborated with Destiny’s Child, Diana Krall, Andrea Bocelli, Josh Groban and a host of other artists. She is also the author of the novel When Autumn Leaves. When she’s not in a studio in Nashville, Amy lives in the Pacific Northwest with her family. Amy is the daughter of singer B.J. Cook and the legendary music producer, David Foster. Fun fact about Amy: Her extended family tree includes Bella and Gigi Hadid, Sara and Erin Foster and Brody and Brandon Jenner, and Clay Aiken! The Rift Uprising, her YA debut, will be released on October 4, 2016.

My Favorite Bit: Becky Allen talks about BOUND BY BLOOD AND SAND

Favorite Bit iconBecky Allen is joining us today to talk about her novel Bound by Blood and Sand. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Jae is a slave in a dying desert world.

Once verdant with water from a magical Well, the land is drying up, and no one remembers the magic needed to keep the water flowing. If a new source isn’t found soon, the people will perish. Jae doesn’t mind, in a way. By law, she is bound by a curse to obey every order given her, no matter how vile. At least in death, she’ll be free.

Elan’s family rules the fading realm. He comes to the estate where Jae works, searching for the hidden magic needed to replenish the Well, but it’s Jae who finds it, and she who must wield it. Desperate to save his realm, Elan begs her to use it to locate the Well.

But why would a slave—abused, beaten, and treated as less than human—want to save the system that shackles her? Jae would rather see the world burn.

Though revenge clouds her vision, she agrees to help if the realm’s slaves are freed. Then Elan’s father arrives. The ruler’s cruelty knows no limits. He is determined that the class system will not change—and that Jae will remain a slave forever.

What’s Becky’s favorite bit?

Bound by Blood and Sand cover image

BECKY ALLEN

If you were to meet me in person, maybe to chat over a cup of coffee or something, and then pick a word to describe me — other than “short” — I could make some guesses about what that word would be. Probably cheerful or friendly, or perhaps optimistic. If I were a TV trope, I’d be the plucky girl.

So if you were to meet me for a cup of coffee, and find out that I write YA fantasy, and then pick up my book, you miiiiight be a little surprised. Because Bound by Blood and Sand isn’t friendly or cheerful. My protagonist, Jae, is definitely not plucky. In fact, she’s really, really angry — and that’s my favorite bit.

But she wasn’t always that way.

I wrote Bound by Blood and Sand from the ground up three times. It came from two vague ideas, initially very poorly stitched together: one was about a desert world that needed magic to keep its water from drying up, and the other was about a curse that magically compelled a whole class of people to follow any order they were given. The first version was really just trying to figure out how those two ideas could be tied together. I knew it was awful and needed a full rewrite. But the with second version, I thought I had something. I just knew something was still missing.

The thing about that second version is that it was actually mostly okay. The stakes weren’t personal enough — lots of saving the world, not a ton of emotional resonance. And I got some feedback that it was confusing and people didn’t really understand the way the curse worked, because it didn’t actually have much of an impact on the characters. Sure, it was something that Jae, the protagonist, needed to work around — but it was pretty much just an obstacle, an annoyance she wanted to be rid of. That version of Jae was actually a lot more like me, plucky and deeply pragmatic. The world needed to be saved, so she saved it.

Like I said, it wasn’t terrible. Just… flat.

There was a scene in the middle where a guy who’d harassed Jae was badly injured, and she used her newfound magic to heal him. It was emblematic of who Jae was, in that draft, and it felt right to me. Probably because I’d like to think I’m the sort of person who’d use my newfound powers for good, so having a character do the same felt correct.

Then, when I was discussing how something wasn’t quite gelling with one of my critique partners, she called that scene out and asked, “What if instead of healing that guy, Jae kills him? What if instead of doing the right thing, she just wants revenge?”

My first instinct was a big ol’ no, because that wasn’t what the character would do. It wasn’t really that kind of book. There was an adventure and a love story and a mostly-happy ending. The characters all pretty much liked each other and got along, except for the villain, who had no particular motivation. But the idea was intriguing.

I sat down and really thought about it. If Jae was going to be out for blood, she needed a reason, and suddenly it was obvious where I’d gone wrong. The curse I’d laid out had always had some consequences, but I hadn’t wanted to delve into it too deeply, because I knew that the implications of anyone being as literally powerless as the cursed characters would be really dark. The kind of dark that I really wasn’t comfortable with.

We see the consequences of unbalanced power structures all the time in real life. Violence is committed towards marginalized people with terrifying frequency — and too often, it’s ignored or worse.  Victims are made responsible for the crimes committed against them. Women are told they shouldn’t drink at parties or walk home alone. Black people are told they shouldn’t wear hoodies. And the end of every terrible news story seems to be a criminal getting a slap on the wrist, or getting off scot-free, because of who holds power and who doesn’t.

If I was going to write about systematic powerlessness, I had to write about its consequences. And I had to make it personal for Jae. I stopped pulling punches and let some truly awful things happen around her, and to her, because she didn’t have the power to fight back and no one who had power noticed or cared. I wrote her desert world as brutal, and the way the people in power behaved was just as brutal. Which meant Jae herself became a character who was a survivor of abuse, of starvation and dehydration, and of rape.

So when Jae acquired her magic abilities, she no longer looked around for the quickest way to save the world. Instead, she saw a world that wasn’t worth saving, and a system she’d rather die than take part in. And when she’s assaulted again, partway through the book, but this time has access to power she’s never felt before, she has no interest in mercy or forgiveness.

Writing about sexual assault made me deeply uncomfortable. I hesitated to do it, because, frankly, it’s not something I like reading about, and because it’s so common in fantasy novels — and too often only used to up the drama or demonstrate how evil a villain is. But in the end I decided that if I was going to write about a system that would leave everyone within it vulnerable to abuse, it would undermine the whole story to pretend rape and assault just didn’t happen. And if I was going to include it, I wanted it to be important. Jae’s trauma and her rage are both part of her character from the first page, and she never apologizes for them.

And that’s why Jae’s anger is my favorite bit. I’d never written a character like Jae before, one whose world view was so different from mine. But centering the book around her anger brought the whole story into focus and it forced me to look not just at the darkness in the book I wrote, but in the world around me, too. And that’s the part that made it so powerful for me. Like I said at the beginning, I’m generally a cheerful, optimistic person. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be angry, too.

LINKS:

Goodreads

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

IndieBound

Website

Twitter

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BIO:

Becky Allen grew up in a tiny town outside Ithaca, New York, and graduated from Brandeis University with a major in American studies and a minor in journalism. She is the website director of TheBody.com, an online HIV resource, and loves New York, brunch, and feminism. Becky lives in New York City.

My Favorite Bit: Megan E. O’Keefe talks about BREAK THE CHAINS

Favorite Bit iconMegan E. O’Keefe is joining us today with her novel Break the Chains. Here’s the publisher’s description:

As the city that produces the most selium – that precious gas that elevates airships and powers strange magic – Hond Steading is a jewel worth stealing. To shore up the city’s defenses, Detan promises his aunt that he’ll recover Nouli, the infamous engineer who built the century gates that protect the imperial capital of Valathea. But Nouli is imprisoned on the Remnant Isles, an impervious island prison run by the empire, and it’s Detan’s fault.

Detan doesn’t dare approach Nouli himself, so his companions volunteer to get themselves locked up to make contact with Nouli and convince him to help. Now Detan has to break them all out of prison, and he’s going to need the help of a half-mad doppel to do it.

What’s Megan’s favorite bit?

Break the Chains cover image

MEGAN E. O’KEEFE

In my first novel, Steal the Sky, friendship was a key part of my conman protagonist’s life, and this theme extends into the sequel, Break the Chains. But this time around, with the second book in the series, I was able to dig deeper into the friendships growing up around the other characters. I found an unexpected joy in examining the friendships of my female protagonist, Ripka. The relationships she forms with other women, tenuous as some may be, quickly became my favorite bit.

For me, that exploration brought back memories of my first forays into fantasy as a genre. Not literature per se, but the creative abandon of my first encounters with Dungeons and Dragons.

You see, at the age of ten my dear friend Arwen (yes, that truly was her name), sat me down in front of a split-spine edition of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons and said, “You can pretend to be anything.”

With that first character I chose to be a different child, just slightly older than I was, who carried magic in her hands and had a cat familiar (because of course she did) and handled swords as well as stitchery.

And it was fun and exciting and new. For a girl who devoured Laura Ingalls Wilder and wore her copy of Island of the Blue Dolphin to rags, the idea of making something without constraint – even the whole world – was addicting. I made characters wrought of stars, created worlds of thread, and used the loose framework of those early D&D rules to craft my own fables. In the beginning, I did this mostly with other women.

And then I grew older. Friends drifted apart over time, and through some trick of fate and culture my D&D group became primarily male. I do not mean this as a censure of that eventuality. I adored my male friends, and still do. At the time I was not even aware of the shift. After all, it seemed only natural. As I drifted into my teens and discovered the fantasy and science fiction section of the bookstore, most of what I was greeted with was a mirror of my own reality. Each story featured one or two women, maybe, in the primary cast of characters. They rarely knew each other well, or at all, while the men were tent poles of the companion group.

Stories can push us. Stories can make us reexamine our world, our everyday realities, and urge us, maybe, to change. They can also confirm biases, and leave us comfortably in the shadows of our self-built caves.

And so, back to my favorite bit. When writing Break the Chains I knew I was going to put my watch-captain, Ripka, in prison. She was desperate to set right the wrongs she could not stop in Steal the Sky, and saw an opportunity in rescuing a man she believed to be wrongly incarcerated.

But in prison, one needs allies to survive. The group who reaches out to Ripka is a ragtag ensemble of women. And though they are decidedly incarcerated for reasons that would have made Ripka, as a watch-captain, shudder, she comes to care for them as individuals, and see the world through their eyes. One woman, who might just be the most dangerous person Ripka’s ever crossed, might yet become her greatest friend.

It is through these budding relationships that I hoped to illustrate an often overlooked, and often pivotal, slice of everyday life for women in all cultures: friendships between women, in all their treasured variety.

LINKS:

Website

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Twitter

BIO:

Megan E. O’Keefe was raised amongst journalists, and as soon as she was able joined them by crafting a newsletter which chronicled the daily adventures of the local cat population. She has worked in both arts management and graphic design, and spends her free time tinkering with anything she can get her hands on.

Megan lives in the Bay Area of California and makes soap for a living. It’s only a little like Fight Club. She is a first place winner in the Writers of the Future competition and her second  novel, Break the Chains, is out now from Angry Robot Books.

My Favorite Bit: Kent Davis talks about A RIDDLE IN RUBY: THE CHANGER’S KEY

Favorite Bit iconKent Davis is joining us today to talk about his novel A Riddle in Ruby: The Changer’s Key. Here’s the publisher’s description:

The Riddle in Ruby trilogy takes readers on a rip-roaring adventure through an alternate version of colonial America, where magic and science meet, and where one young thief carries a secret everyone wants. In this second volume, Ruby Teach has become the enemy’s prisoner. She bargained with her freedom to protect her friends—but her friends aren’t about to abandon her, either. That’s not what friends do.

Ruby’s blood holds a secret, one that could turn the tides of the looming war for whomever unlocks it first. Ruby’s father, former pirate Captain Teach, and her friends—a motley crew made up of a young aristocrat, a servant, and an apprentice alchemist—must race against time to locate the hidden fortress where she’s being held. But the one person who could help them is Ruby’s mysterious and powerful mother, and no one has seen her since Ruby’s birth.

Kent Davis sweeps our heroes through cities and the deepest wilderness with imagination, humor, and magic that fans of Jonathan Stroud and Terry Pratchett will devour.

What’s Kent’s favorite bit?

A Riddle in Ruby cover image

KENT DAVIS

Imprisoned in a mountaintop fortress, surrounded by ninja-warriors that are smarter, faster, and better than you at everything, experimented upon for the secrets hidden in your blood, torn in loyalty, blasted in confidence, hopeless in all of your prospects.

Isn’t that how you would describe your first day in middle school?

That’s how it felt for me anyway. And I’m pretty sure it feels like that for one Aruba (Ruby) Teach, the central character in A Riddle in Ruby 2: The Changer’s Key. My favorite bit of this second of three books is thirteen year-old Ruby’s wrestling match with that most potent of challenges: recognizing the who that you are, and then choosing the who that you want to be.

One of the things I treasure about fantasy, and steampunk-alt-historical-Colonial-America-with-a-side-of-alchemy-adventure-fantasy—let’s be specific—is how we can employ its wondrous, terrifying, and just plain weird elements to explore deeply personal challenges of the heart and mind.

And Ruby certainly has those. The one-time apprentice thief and fake pirate has discovered that she is a Changer, gifted with the power to alter her form. But there’s no one at the mountaintop prison called Fort Scoria that can teach her to change, so she has to try to figure it out on the fly. Worse, that changing gift is one of the keys to the secret that she carries in her blood, so if she reveals it, she is lost. At the same time, the lord commander of the fort has charged her to engage in a dangerous dance of double-agent deception (delicious!) with the creepy alchemyst who is poking about in her veins.

But hopefully the little nugget for readers at the crux of this hearty helping of torturous, thrilling, no-win, Kobayashi Maru choices is this: the only way for Ruby to navigate her way to freedom is through deciding the type of person she wants to be. Will she choose to be loyal? Will she choose to be traitorous? Will she choose to be brave? Will she even choose to sacrifice others in her quest to free herself? It’s the core of this book and also the sneaky spine of the entire trilogy.

My favorite stories when I was a kid and even more so now have always revolved around characters that weren’t Chosen Ones. They weren’t prophesied to be queens or kings or to save the multiverse. The stories that I love featured imperfect, uncertain kids (and adults!) who, at the moment of truth, had to plant the flag of their values, often only moments after they figured it out for themselves.

“Who will you choose to be?” I hope that’s a valuable question to offer to girls and boys aged 10-100: the opportunity to witness a character forging the core of themselves in conscious action.

That’s My Favorite Bit.

LINKS:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Indiebound

Powell’s

Read an excerpt.

Visit the author’s site.

Follow him on Twitter.

BIO:

Kent Davis has spent most of his life making stories. He is an author, game designer, and actor. He lives with his wife and a wily dog?ninja named Bobo in Bozeman, Montana.

My Favorite Bit: Fran Wilde talks about CLOUDBOUND

Favorite Bit iconFran Wilde is joining us today with her novel Cloudbound. Here’s the publisher’s description:

After the dust settles, the City of living bones begins to die, and more trouble brews beneath the clouds in this stirring companion to Fran Wilde’s Updraft.

When Kirit Densira left her home tower for the skies, she gave up many things: her beloved family, her known way of life, her dreams of flying as a trader for her tower, her dreams. Kirit set her City upside down, and fomented a massive rebellion at the Spire, to the good of the towers–but months later, everything has fallen to pieces.

With the Towers in disarray, without a governing body or any defense against the dangers lurking in the clouds, daily life is full of terror and strife. Nat, Kirit’s wing-brother, sets out to be a hero in his own way–sitting on the new Council to cast votes protecting Tower-born, and exploring lower tiers to find more materials to repair the struggling City.

But what he finds down-tier is more secrets–and now Nat will have to decide who to trust, and how to trust himself without losing those he holds most dear, before a dangerous myth raises a surprisingly realistic threat to the crippled City, in Cloudbound.

What’s Fran’s favorite bit?

Cloudbound cover image

FRAN WILDE

When people ask me about my debut novel, Updraft, their questions usually center around worldbuilding or influences. Online, there’s a lot of speculation about what’s down below the clouds. (I promise, you’ll find that out with Cloudbound, out September 27, 2016 from Tor — hey, that’s today!). We talk about monsters a lot too, and man-made wings, multigenerationality, and occasionally about echolocation.

What I don’t get asked about a lot is the disabilities represented in the series. There are three characters in Updraft with physical and/or neurological disabilities, as well as others with additional fall- and battle-related injuries throughout the book. Moreover, there are no magic cures – characters who get injured deal with the repercussions of those injuries throughout the series. How various communities treat each of these characters is part of Updraft’s world.

But each of these characters also has their own story arc and agency within the Bone Universe. As one mostly spoiler-free example, Elna Densira has altitude and cataract-related skyblindness. She is a force in the book, as well as in Cloudbound.  When we first meet her, she’s climbing a ladder to the top of her tower with Nat close behind. She still gets around well,  she works to support her family, she’s capable — an excellent seamstress — and she interacts with the other characters about things other than her vision impairment. So it goes mostly unmarked. With other characters, disability is a consequence of living and fighting at high altitude, and if the injury does interfere with intra-character communication, part of the story is the importance of finding ways to listen and hear those characters, on their own terms. Disability in Updraft and Cloudbound isn’t a checkbox or a layer added in order to make a character more sympathetic or anything else.

We like to put characters in boxes sometimes, and, when added as a layer to create some problem for the narrative or character, disability can become a literary box that a reader can’t see past. That occasionally happens in real life too — when only a person’s disability and not their competences, their excellences, their passions, are how they are perceived.

Earlier this year, I fell and did some damage to an old injury that had me flat on my back for days. In frustration, I cut loose on Twitter, admitting something I’ve been keeping mostly to myself for years: I live with pain — not just the migraines, which most people know about — but regular, pretty extreme pain. I’d written about some of the external stuff (like identifying more with Helva from The Ship Who Sang than with Deenie) now and then, and about various braces, but I’d kept quiet about the rest. Afterward I met so many people who deal with similar issues and making those connections helped me see truths about my experience — especially some parts of me that I hated, because I’d written my sensitivity to pain off as proof that I was weak and not good enough. pfffft.

What happened after sharing that information, though, was a bit more troubling. People occasionally began to introduce me as having chronic pain, without my permission. One indicated that they hadn’t invited me to do something because they were worried about my pain impacting my ability to do it, and hadn’t wanted me to feel awkward. That was annoying, because the only thing that had changed for me was that I was public about something I’ve been dealing with, without letting people down, for decades. I like to make my own decisions about what I’m able to do — everyone does. And if that happened to me from one twitter rant (plus a couple blog posts in the way-back-when), imagine then how people with visible disabilities are treated every day. As a culture, we like to put people into boxes, constraining them to labels, instead of seeing them for who they are.

At this year’s Worldcon, I was on a panel called “Unlikely Heroes.” A lot of great discussion happened there, but one thing was said — I can’t remember by whom — about how if you wanted to create an unlikely hero, you could give the character a disability, as if that would somehow render them less likely to be heroic. I disagreed vehemently then, and the conversation moved along. (The moderator was excellent and this was not her fault.) But as the weekend wore on, and then the months after, I kept coming back to this issue of disability defining characters, instead of disability being a component of a character’s life, with their character, backstory, competencies, and goals being dominant and primary. It’s something I think I’ve always consciously written against and will continue to do.

When it came to writing Cloudbound, I’d selected a character from an earlier story set a decade earlier in the Bone Universe, called “A Moment of Gravity Circumscribed.” In that story, a young character, Djonn, is viewed as clumsy by his family — and he is, but not for the reasons they think. Djonn’s in the very early stages of a skeletal degeneration that translates to extreme late-onset idiopathic scoliosis. This curvature of the spine is something I share with my character (and something that affects, to varying levels, about 2-3% of the United States population). As a kid, my curves (there’s either one or two – I got the double) were pretty extreme, and I wore an experimental brace that caused more damage than expected. Even now, I’m not straight, though it’s hard to see. As an adult, this results in pain, overcompensation, and sometimes joint slips that cause additional pain.

For Djonn, there are no real treatments. Left untreated, spinal curves can sometimes go past 70 degrees (think King Richard III), and that’s what’s happening to him. Such curves would make flying (which requires a pretty straight body plane) progressively harder, and even breathing sometimes very difficult. Djonn’s an inventor and artifex, so he’s created his own solutions for this over time. But his backstory and his role in Cloudbound are much more about the rest of his life — the things he’s invented and his interactions with other characters — than about his physical disability. Djonn is extremely good at what he does.

Djonn’s limitations and imperfections are part of the story too. But he’s in no way an unlikely anything. Nor is he a hero through and through. He’s a complex character.

So I guess what I’m saying is that one of my favorite bits about both Updraft and Cloudbound is that the disabilities (and hey, not just one flagship disability because no) in this narrative are represented by full-fledged characters first and foremost. So much so, in fact, that those disabilities have gone mostly unremarked in later discussion.

LINKS:

Website

Blog

Twitter

Amazon (US)

Barnes & Noble

IndieBound

Powell’s

BIO:

Fran Wilde is the author of the Andre Norton-, and Compton Crook Award-winning and Nebula-nominated novel Updraft (Tor 2015), its sequel,Cloudbound, publishing from Tor in September 2016, and the novella The Jewel and Her Lapidary (Tor.com Publishing). Her short stories appear in Asimov’s, Tor.com, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Nature. She writes for publications including The Washington Post, Tor.com, Clarkesworld, iO9.com, and GeekMom.com. You can find her on twitter @fran_wilde, Facebook @franwildewrites and at franwilde.net.

My Favorite Bit: Marie Brennan talks about COLD-FORGED FLAME

My Favorite BitMarie Brennan is joining us today with her novella Cold-Forged Flame. Here’s the publisher’s description:

The sound of the horn pierces the apeiron, shattering the stillness of that realm. Its clarion call creates ripples, substance, something more. It is a summons, a command. There is will. There is need.
And so, in reply, there is a woman.

At the beginning?no?at the end?she appears, full of fury and bound by chains of prophecy.

Setting off on an unexplained quest from which she is compelled to complete, and facing unnatural challenges in a land that doesn’t seem to exist, she will discover the secrets of herself, or die trying. But along the way, the obstacles will grow to a seemingly insurmountable point, and the final choice will be the biggest sacrifice yet.

This is the story of a woman’s struggle against her very existence, an epic tale of the adventure and emotional upheaval on the way to face an ancient enigmatic foe. This could only spun from the imagination of Marie Brennan, award-winning author and beloved fantasist, beginning a new series about the consequences of war?and of fate.

Cold-Forged Flame is the first in a new series by Marie Brennan.

What’s Marie’s favorite bit?

Cold-Forged Flame cover image

MARIE BRENNAN

I haven’t made any secret of the fact that the protagonist of Cold-Forged Flame, my new Tor.com novella, is based on a character I played for four years in a LARP. But actually, her roots go back even further than that — to a tent on a hillside in a rural corner of Wales, where Alyc Helms (future author of The Dragons of Heaven and The Conclave of Shadow) and I were working on an archaeological dig together. There’s not a lot to do at night when you’re living in tents on a hillside in a rural corner of Wales, so Alyc and I decided to combine her knowledge of the RPG Changeling: The Dreaming with my recollection of the tabletop mechanics for World of Darkness games and play a mini-campaign, roping in a couple of our friends on the dig. The whole thing was held together with chewing gum and string — Alyc didn’t really remember the Changeling magic system, and we had to use packs of cards in place of dice — but the character I created for that little ad-hoc game stayed with me, and wound up being ported into the LARP Alyc co-ran a few years later in grad school.

The skeleton of the game itself stayed with me, too. Cold-Forged Flame is substantially changed from what we played on that dig; the novella isn’t set in the real world, my protagonist isn’t a faerie, she isn’t part of a whole group on a quest, there’s no prophecy about what they’re doing, and so on and so forth. The character you’ll meet in the novella comes from a different place, fights different battles, meets someone who was never in the game. But if you excavate very carefully, the bones are still there, buried underneath: a journey across a strange island to a cave and a cauldron full of blood.

And that’s where you’ll find my favorite bit. We never actually finished the game, not properly; the dig was a field school, a place where baby archaeologists go to learn how to dig, and in the last two weeks we had to write papers, which takes up a lot of time when you have to do it all with pen and paper. But I hate leaving a story incomplete. So one night — our one night a week where we got bused into the nearest town — Alyc and I sat in the corner of one of the town’s three pubs and talked through the ending of the tale. That’s where we came up with the seven steps that are the climax of this story: a journey so small as to be insignificant, and so huge as to change my character’s life forever.

Those seven steps are where I figured out who she really was. The character who grew out of that moment has a powerful enough hold on my memory that, fourteen years later, when I went to work on this novella, I wrote seven thousand words in a single evening. Because once we were inside that cave, there was no stopping short of the end.

The end of the novella, that is. It isn’t the end of the story. That continues next spring, with Lightning in the Blood — and, sneak peek, my favorite bit of that one is front and center in the cover art!

LINKS:

Kobo: https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/cold-forged-flame

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/cold-forged-flame/id1114474263?mt=11

BIO:

Marie Brennan is the World Fantasy Award-nominated author of several fantasy series, including the Memoirs of Lady Trent, the Onyx Court, the Wilders series, and the Doppelganger duology, as well as more than forty short stories. More information can be found at www.swantower.com.

My Favorite Bit: Michael J. Martinez talks about MJ-12: INCEPTION

Favorite Bit iconMichael J. Martinez joins us today to talk about his novel MJ-12: Inception. Here’s the publisher’s description:

It is a new world, stunned by the horrors that linger in the aftermath of total war. The United States and Soviet Union are squaring off in a different kind of conflict, one that’s fought in the shadows, where there are whispers of strange and mysterious developments. . .

Normal people across the United States have inexplicably gained paranormal abilities. A factory worker can heal the sick and injured. A schoolteacher bends emotions to her will. A car salesman alters matter with a simple touch. A former soldier speaks to the dying and gains their memories as they pass on.

They are the Variants, controlled by a secret government program called MAJESTIC-12 to open a new front in the Cold War.

From the deserts of Nevada to the palaces of Istanbul, the halls of power in Washington to the dark, oppressive streets of Prague, the Variants are thrown into a deadly game of shifting alliances. Amidst the seedy underbelly of nations, these once-ordinary Americans dropped in extraordinary circumstances will struggle to come to terms with their abilities as they fight to carve out a place for themselves in a world that may ultimately turn against them.

And as the MAJESTIC-12 program will soon discover, there are others out there like them, some with far more malevolent goals. . .

What’s Mike’s favorite bit?

MJ-12 cover image

MICHAEL J. MARTINEZ

This may be terribly un-American of me to say, but one of my least favorite comic-book characters is Superman. The vast majority of the problems Superman faced in the comics – especially as I was growing up in the ‘70s and ‘80s – could be boiled down to two things: a moral dilemma and Kryptonite. Pretty much everything else could be handled neatly because, well, his superpowers are pretty super.

I still think Superman is pretty boring, sad to say. His superpowers are immense, and they don’t actually cost him anything. Most of the time, he doesn’t even break a sweat.

So when I came up with the central idea behind the MAJESTIC-12 series – superpowered spies battling in the shadows of the Cold War on behalf of a shadowy government conspiracy – I knew I wanted characters to pay a price. I wanted there to be consequences to having these strange abilities. I wanted superpowers to be difficult.

An African-American factory worker gains the ability to heal – but at the cost of his own health. A car salesman in the South can alter matter, but can’t always control his manifestations. A former soldier can read minds, but only at the moment of the other person’s death – and he ends up carrying around far more of their memories than he’d like.

One of my very favorite bits in MJ-12: Inception is when Maggie is introduced. She’s a schoolteacher out in California who gains the ability to manipulate emotions – but at the cost of her own emotional stability and wellbeing. Not only is the ability rather difficult to control, but it’s also changing her in very scary ways.

Think about it: If you can manipulate emotion with a thought, how real is emotion to you? How can you trust your own emotions, or those of the people close to you?

We all think having superpowers would be awesome, but we never consider the downside. Yes, there are moral quandaries as well – it wouldn’t be a good superhero story, or a good spy thriller for that matter, without those. There are limits to those superpowers, and ways to counteract them.

But in MJ-12: Inception, powers come with risks. They aren’t easy to use, and it doesn’t always go well. That’s the kind of superhero story I wanted to see.

LINKS:

Website

Twitter

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Kobo

Goodreads

BIO:

Michael J. Martinez is a husband, father and writer living the dream in the Garden State. He’s been a professional writer and journalist for more than 20 years, including stints at The Associated Press and ABCNEWS.com, and recently got it in his head that he could write fiction, too. He’s the author of the Daedalus trilogy of Napoleonic Era space opera novels, as well as the new MAJESTIC-12 series of paranormal Cold War spy thrillers. Mike is a member of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America and International Thriller Writers.

My Favorite Bit: William C. Tracy talks about MERCHANTS AND MAJI

Favorite Bit iconWilliam C. Tracy is joining us today to talk about his book Merchants and Maji: Two Tales of the Dissolutionverse. Here’s the publisher’s description:

An old war machine and a revolutionary space capsule will change relations among the ten species forever

Last Delivery
Prot, Amra, and crew sell goods across the ten homeworlds in a refitted war transport, saving up to buy a shop. But after fees to travel between worlds, their profits always fall short. Their newest customers are the xenophobic Sureriaj. But when a protest over offworlder trading shuts down all business, the crew’s only hope is to leave the planet delivering emergency medical supplies. The contract is for too much money, the seller is using a false name, and the cargo is magically sealed. Nothing could go wrong.

The First Majus in Space
The ten species are in awe of the first space capsule. But when the majus piloting it is assassinated, Origon Cyrysi is the only one able to complete the mission. Too late, he finds the spacecraft may cost him his abilities. And even if Origon returns from space, the escaped assassin might still trigger an interstellar war. Either way, the fuel is burning.

What’s William’s favorite bit?

Merchants and Maji cover image

WILLIAM C. TRACY

Hopefully I may be forgiven having two favorite things since there are two stories in this novella. The first occurred in editing “Last Delivery.” I happened to listen to an episode of a podcast many of us are familiar with, which discussed unconscious biases, specifically with respect to women. I, as a male writer, often find myself writing male characters, especially side characters. But lately I’ve started challenging my character gender choices. In this particular case, “Last Delivery” had a cross species couple, consisting of a fiery female gun toting Festuour (large bear-like creature) and a very tall and dark male Methiemum (basically a human) doctor. Though their relationship is not a major part of the book, I have a whole convoluted and star-crossed background to the relationship floating through my mind.

The writing prompt at the end of the episode was to take something you’ve written and gender-swap it. So on a whim, I applied it to my story. Boom. Kamuli (the Methiemum doctor) was now a very large and dark woman who liked carrying knives. And her relationship with Bhon (her Festuour mate) suddenly took off for me. It finally worked, Kamuli’s actions became more certain, and the story became stronger. On top of that, a certain head-cannon (which I suppose is actual cannon, since I wrote it…) became fixed in my mind. Like many others, Kamuli had not been comfortable as a man. She was not only a female character, she was a trans woman. It isn’t mentioned or even hinted at in the story, as it’s not important to the tale, but you, dear readers, know the truth. There may be a story in the future of how Kamuli and Bhon’s romance began, and now you have a sneak peek…

I also challenged myself to scrutinize the heroic, over-the-top female lead. You’ve read the type before—Conan the Barbarian in a bikini. Instead, Amra, the main character’s girlfriend, is not a badass. She’s not very good with weapons. She’s an accountant. She wouldn’t mind settling down somewhere. I worked very hard on her character, with some great feedback from critiquers to tell me when I had crossed too far into “subservient and passive.” But in the end, I feel she becomes the heart of the story. Certain events could not happen the way they do if her character had been more intense. Amra also became a stronger, more real character for me, and I hope, for my readers.

My favorite bit for the second story, “The First Majus in Space” is pretty much what it says on the tin. I get to put a wizard in a spaceship. If you’ve ever watched Babylon 5, you can probably guess my favorite characters—the technomages, of course. I liked this idea so much it even became my imprint: Space Wizard Science Fantasy. The interaction between magic and technology is always a fascinating place to explore, but since the magic system in the Dissolutionverse uses reversible and non-reversible energy transfer, I got to play with how the technology effectively would suck away a majus’ magic, defined by their “song,” even if the end product still had the desired effect:

There was a pattern to the relentless beat of the fuel. He didn’t have to catch the notes to change them. He instead saw their pattern, made the new musical phrase, crafted from his own song, ready to insert it…there.

The ship righted abruptly, but Origon felt his invested song ripped out of his grip, flying out far beneath them. The ship began to list to the other side.

Gasping, his stomach threatening to jump out of his throat, he realized what he should have before. He no longer envied Teju his place here. There was no chance to reverse any of the changes he made. Every change to the Symphonies on this trip would be permanent. The shuttle was flying so fast that the surrounding music was in constant flux, notes changing. It would strip each application of his song from his being. If he was not efficient, the flight would drain him to something insubstantial, his song stripped of its notes.

But this unfortunate development will become a defining aspect for the titular majus, Origon. Because I’m a big fan of connected stories and larger universes, it becomes part of the arc started in my first novella, Tuning the Symphony, set almost twenty years in the past, and continued in a full novel coming in 2017.

So there you have it: gender studies and technowizards, my favorite bits of Merchants and Maji. As the story of the Dissolutionverse grows, I’m looking forward to writing more adventures and finding many more favorite bits in the years to come.

LINKS:

Amazon

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@wctracy on Twitter

Goodreads

williamctracy.com

Facebook

BIO:

William C. Tracy is a North Carolina native and a lifelong fan of science fiction and fantasy. In no particular order, he is a mechanical engineer, a Wado-Ryu Karate instructor, a video and board gamer, a gardener, a reader, and a writer. In his spare time, he wrangles three cats and a bald guinea pig, and his wife wrangles him (not an easy task). Both of them both enjoy putting their pets in cute little costumes and then taking pictures of them repeatedly.

He is the author of Tuning the Symphony, another novella in the Dissolutionverse.

My Favorite Bit: Bishop O’Connell talks about THE RETURNED

Favorite Bit iconBishop O’Connell is joining us today to talk about his novel The Returned. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Almost a year after their wedding, and two since their daughter Fiona was rescued from a kidnapping by dark faeries, life has finally settled down for Caitlin and Edward. They maintain a façade of normalcy, but a family being watched over by the fae’s Rogue Court is far from ordinary. Still, it seems the perfect time to go on their long-awaited honeymoon, so they head to New Orleans.

Little do they know, New Orleans is at the center of a territory their Rogue Court guardians hold no sway in, so the Court sends in Wraith, a teenage spell slinger, to watch over them. It’s not long before they discover an otherworldly force is overtaking the city, raising the dead, and they’re drawn into a web of dark magic. At the same time, a secret government agency tasked with protecting the mortal world against the supernatural begins their own investigation of the case. But the culprit may not be the villain everyone expects. Can Wraith, Caitlin, and Edward stop whoever is bringing the vengeful dead back to life before another massacre, and before an innocent is punished for crimes beyond her control?

What’s Bishop’s favorite bit?

The Returned cover

BISHOP O’CONNELL

Techno-magic

I love magic, adore it. I don’t mean stage magic, though that can be cool too. No, I mean the “real” kind of magic: Harry Dresden, Gandalf, Merlin, Jane Ellsworth, to name a few. I’m also an old-school computer geek. Not quite punch cards old, but just barely. My first computer was a Commodore Vic-20, which I received despite asking for an Atari (my parents said I could make my own games on the Commodore, which in fairness I did). While my computer skills provided me a future means of steady employment, it also was the start of my fascination with tech and gadgets. It might seem that these two loves are at opposite sides of the spectrum, and never shall the twain meet. Sure, there is urban fantasy in books, a few different RPGs—Shadow Run, Rifts—but none of them really blended the two. The game Mage did with a specific group players could use, but I wanted more.

So in my second novel, The Forgotten, I introduced Wraith; a homeless teen, a genius at math and science, and her magic is based on quantum theory. Though I didn’t know the term at the time, she’s also a synesthete (from synesthesia). While other wizards in my world “feel” magic and control it through sheer mental focus, Wraith literally sees it all around her. Because of her scientific inclinations, she deduces that the symbols, numbers, and equations drifting around her are in fact the quantum information of reality. This lets her hack and modify that information with equations (spells) and cause all kinds of cool things to happen. She’s sort of a mashup of Neo, Will Hunting, and Scarlet Witch. I also introduced some basic level magical technology. It was mostly cobbled together bits—the kind of thing a homeless kid could collect—and looked very steampunk.

When I was writing The Returned, Wraith has had a year of mental stability and is more confident in her abilities. I wanted her to start using various bits of tech and modifying them. The most obvious choice was to give her a smartphone. I remember how important music was to me as a teen, so that would give her the chance to get into music (she’s a big Doubleclicks fan), but again, I wanted more. So I decided to have her modify the phone. As much as I’d love to give it all kinds of awesome tricks, I knew it needed to be practical and believable. When you’re a homeless kid, you don’t have extended periods of access to electricity; not reliably anyway. So she modified her phone to absorb energy in a myriad of forms: thermal, kinetic, radiation, and even dark energy. As such, her phone never runs out of juice. A smartphone also means apps, and it made sense that she would design her own, and that they’d have magical aspects to them. After all, her magic dealt in pure information, and what’s computer code but information? Why couldn’t spells in fact, be stored as apps? If she could see the quantum information of reality, there was no reason she couldn’t see the “information” behind the code. And since modifying one would naturally change the other, why couldn’t she work it from the other direction; change/create a program by altering the quantum information? Answer: there was no reason.

Holy crap, I blended magic and advanced tech!

That was when the computer geek in me make the next logical connection: magic based computer hacking. Yeah, I admit it, I had a little bit of a nerd-gasm at this point. Then I started figuring it all out. She wouldn’t even need a keyboard, a monitor, or any interface. She saw the information around her and could interact with it directly. Things like code protections and encryption would be useless against her as a quantum hacker. Since she could see the information that defined them, she would know what solution was needed to solve the algorithm and gain access, or decrypt the data she was after. This idea even altered the idea of data storage. She wasn’t limited to traditional media. She could copy the relevant information to quite literally, anything, modifying the destination’s information to match the source’s. And since this would be on a quantum level, storage capacity was no longer an issue, assuming each particle could be translated as one bit of data.

With the how and why it would work completed, I set out to writing the relevant scenes, and I loved it! I borrowed inspiration from my experiences playing Cyberpunk 2020, Shadowrun, reading William Gibson novels, even some TV shows—anyone remember Wild Palms?—and movies. Chuck Wendig said that writing is a job, which means sometimes its work; ditch digging he called it. Well, other times, it’s freaking magic, with a little tech thrown in.

LINKS:

HarperCollins

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Google Play

iTunes

Kobo

Read an excerpt

Website

Twitter

Facebook

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BIO:

Bishop O’Connell is the author of the American Faerie Tale series, a consultant, writer, blogger, and lover of kilts and beer, as well as a member of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. Born in Naples Italy while his father was stationed in Sardinia, Bishop grew up in San Diego, California where he fell in love with the ocean and fish tacos. After wandering the country for work and school (absolutely not because he was in hiding from mind controlling bunnies), he settled in Richmond VA, where he writes, collects swords, revels in his immortality as a critically acclaimed “visionary” of the urban fantasy genre, and is regularly chastised for making up things for his bio. He can also be found online at A Quiet Pint, where he muses philosophical on life, the universe, and everything, as well as various aspects of writing and the road to getting published.

My Favorite Bit: Beth Cato talks about BREATH OF EARTH

Favorite Bit iconBeth Cato is joining us today with her novel Breath of Earth. Here’s the publisher’s description:

In an alternate 1906, the United States and Japan have forged a powerful confederation—the Unified Pacific—in an attempt to dominate the world. Their first target is a vulnerable China. In San Francisco, headstrong Ingrid Carmichael is assisting a group of powerful geomancer wardens who have no idea of the depth of her power—or that she is the only woman to possess such skills.

When assassins kill the wardens, Ingrid and her mentor are protected by her incredible magic. But the pair is far from safe. Without its full force of guardian geomancers, the city is on the brink of a cataclysmic earthquake that will expose Earth’s powers to masterminds determined to control the energy for their own dark ends. The danger escalates when Chinese refugees, preparing to fight the encroaching American and Japanese, fracture the uneasy alliance between the Pacific allies, transforming the city into a veritable powder keg. And the slightest tremor will set it off. . . .

Forced on the run, Ingrid makes some shocking discoveries about herself. Her powerful magic has grown even more fearsome . . . and she may be the fulcrum on which the balance of world power rests.

What’s Beth’s favorite bit?

Breath of Earth cover

BETH CATO

My new novel, Breath of Earth, is alt history steampunk fantasy set in 1906 San Francisco. I like to joke “Spoiler alert: there’s a big earthquake,” because the date and place (and the very cover) give away that plot point in a major way. That’s fine by me. The earthquake happens, yes, but the circumstances are a bit more complicated than a mere tectonic shift.

My heroine, Ingrid Carmichael, is a geomancer. I drew on history, science, and mythology to create my own magic system and unique earthquake. I’m a research geek, so this was absolutely my favorite bit.

For me, earthquakes are personal. I’m a native Californian. One of my earliest memories is being three years old and in the bathtub when the devastating Coalinga earthquake occurred nearby. We practiced earthquake drills in schools. Family trips to the coast meant crossing the very visible ridged line of the infamous San Andreas Fault.

As part of my worldbuilding, I had to figure out how to cause earthquakes–and more importantly, how to stop them.

My version of 1906 features technology that is powered by crystals called kermanite that store the earth’s energy like batteries. Geomancers like Ingrid are conduits. During an earthquake, geomancers don’t simply feel the rumbling–they siphon the magic of the earth and actually stop tremblors. This isn’t without risks. Earth energy causes a spike in body temperature that can kill them quickly unless they break direct contact with the ground or grab kermanite, which will pull the energy out of their bodies. Ingrid, being the heroine, is especially gifted–and cursed–by her incredible ability to hold and use energy.

Kermanite and geomancy are my fabrications, but when it came to the actual earthquake, I relied heavily on historical fact. There are tons of books on the subject, fiction and non, and movies as well. The data was overwhelming, really. I had to pick and choose what would reinforce my new version of history.

For example, Enrico Caruso is famous for singing in Carmen the night before the real disaster; in my world, there is a highly controversial performance of the opera Lincoln, which celebrates the president’s Emancipation Proclamation as well as his late life work on behalf of Chinese refugees. That’s because the Civil War ended early because of an alliance between the American Union and Imperial Japan–and in 1906, the two are still partnered in their efforts to dominate mainland Asia.

Plate tectonics–the genuine science–play a role in my novel, but there are also more fantastical elements. Mythologies around the world attribute earthquakes to entities like massive two-headed snakes or shifting turtles or a giant namazu (catfish) twitching in the sea. Ingrid’s mentor is obsessed with researching semi-mythical geomantic Hidden Ones. Unlike everyday magical creatures like unicorns or pixies, these Hidden Ones are so extraordinary, so deific, that people question if they still exist at all. Hint: there might be something to the old stories.

For all the media ballyhoo about when the next “Big One” will happen, no one knows. There is something terrifying, something magical, about that. Breath of Earth gave me the chance to explore a subject that has fascinated me ever since I was a scared three-year-old asking, “What happened?”

LINKS:

BethCato.com

@BethCato on Twitter

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Powell’s

BIO:

Beth Cato hails from Hanford, California, but currently writes and bakes cookies in a lair west of Phoenix, Arizona. She shares the household with a hockey-loving husband, a numbers-obsessed son, and a cat the size of a canned ham.

She’s the author of THE CLOCKWORK DAGGER (a 2015 Locus Award finalist for First Novel) and THE CLOCKWORK CROWN (an RT Reviewers’ Choice Finalist) from Harper Voyager. Her novella WINGS OF SORROW AND BONE was a 2016 Nebula nominee. BREATH OF EARTH begins a new steampunk series set in an alternate history 1906 San Francisco.

My Favorite Bit: Erica L. Satifka talks about STAY CRAZY

Favorite Bit iconErica L. Satifka is joining us today with her novel Stay Crazy. Here’s the publisher’s description:

After a breakdown in college landed Emmeline Kalberg in a mental hospital, she’s struggling to get her life on track. She’s back in her hometown and everyone knows she’s crazy, but the twelve pills she takes every day keep her anxiety and paranoia in check. So when a voice that calls itself Escodex begins talking to Em from a box of frozen chicken nuggets, she’s sure that it’s real and not another hallucination. Well… pretty sure.

An evil entity is taking over the employees of Savertown USA, sucking out their energy so it can break into Escodex’s dimension. When her coworkers start dying, Em realizes that she may be the only one who can stop things from getting worse. Now she must convince her therapist she’s not having a relapse and keep her boss from firing her. All while getting her coworker Roger to help enact the plans Escodex conveys to her through the RFID chips in the Savertown USA products. It’s enough to make anyone Stay Crazy.

What’s Erica’s favorite bit?

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ERICA L. SATIFKA

The protagonist of my debut novel Stay Crazy, Emmeline Kalberg, isn’t like most girls. That’s because she’s recently been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, which makes it hard to distinguish fantasy from reality, a situation that becomes even more complex when she’s contacted by an interdimensional being who tells her that our universe is on the verge of annihilation. And she’s not alone.

Roger Cermak, Em’s coworker at the alien-infested Savertown USA, also has schizophrenia. Unlike Em, his psychotic experiences are not recent, and are totally controlled with medication and the passage of time. So when he too is contacted by the being called Escodex, he knows it’s real. Em, however, doesn’t trust him. Why would she? She can’t even trust herself. Here’s what happens during their first extended conversation:

“I’ll have a diet pop. It’s on him.” She narrowed her eyes at Roger in the dimly lit booth. “What do you want to talk about?”

“I want to talk about the voices you’ve been hearing.”

She frowned. “Come again?”

“Don’t play dumb. I saw the burn on your forehead. The same thing happened to me a few weeks ago. First I got a burn, then I started hearing voices.”

She looked out the window at the blocky facade of Savertown USA. “So?”

“You don’t think this whole situation’s a little strange?”

“Lots of weird things happen to me, mister. I’m a crazy person.”

“But this weird thing is actually happening.” Roger sipped at his own Diet Coke. “Listen, I didn’t believe it at first either. I thought I was hallucinating again. But the same thing happened to both of us and that proves it’s real.”

Em rolled her straw between her fingertips. “What do you mean, ‘again’?”

“I used to be schizophrenic. Haven’t had an episode in twenty years. Until now. But I’m not crazy, and neither are you.”

Em looked at Roger. “I think you’re mistaken about that one.”

It was really important to me that Em not be the only neuro-atypical major character in the book. While she didn’t always have schizophrenia (this book has been through countless “imaginings”), once I figured out she did, Roger’s character sprang up almost immediately, fully formed.

Their relationship isn’t easily defined. It’s definitely not romantic, it’s not even really friendship, and Em would rather die than call Roger something as sappy as a mentor. Yet, as they work together, Em sees a glimpse of her possible future. Roger is overweight and balding (two common side effects of antipsychotic medication), and she mocks his appearance out of fear. But Roger is also stable, and smart, and kind. Throughout the course of their uneasy alliance, Em realizes there’s life after her diagnosis. At the beginning of the book, she feels and to a large extent is totally alone: her mom doesn’t get her at all, and try as he might her therapist isn’t really equipped to deal with her. Roger becomes the positive model Em needs, even if she’d never admit it.

Roger is about twenty years older than Em, and developed his disorder in a time when people were even more misinformed about mental illness than they are now, especially one as serious as schizophrenia. And he’s been through a lot of crappy things: homelessness, jail, involuntary commitment. Just as Em sees Roger as a possible future, Roger sees Em as a window into his past, and he’s determined not to let her make some of the same mistakes he’s made, no matter how stubborn she is (and she’s really stubborn).

So often in books that feature a neuro-atypical character, there’s only one of them. I really wanted to do something different, something to show that two mentally ill characters can learn from each other, prop each other up, and most importantly, kick some alien ass.

LINKS:

Website

Twitter

Facebook

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Apex Publications

BIO:

Erica L. Satifka is a writer and/or friendly artificial construct, forged in a heady mix of iced coffee and sarcasm. She enjoys rainy days, questioning reality, ignoring her to-do list, and adding to her collection of tattoos. Her short fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld,Shimmer, Lightspeed, and Intergalactic Medicine Show, and her debut novel Stay Crazy was released in August 2016 by Apex Publications. Originally from Pittsburgh, she now lives in Portland, Oregon with her spouse Rob and an indeterminate number of cats.