Archive for the ‘My Favorite Bit’ Category

My Favorite Bit: Micah Joel talks about BROKEN TABLET

Favorite Bit iconMicah Joel is joining us today to talk about his novel Broken Tablet. Here’s the publisher’s description:

What happens when a Silicon Valley engineer gets trapped in the ancient Sumerian city of Ur?

When a senior engineer at Ixion, Silicon Valley’s hottest company, gets frustrated with the gadget lifestyle, he gives it all up for a pastoral life. But when pulled 4,000 years back to the bronze age, his only choice is to re-invent technology and save the future.

If you liked Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, or time travel classics like L. Sprague de Camp’s Lest Darkness Fall, join the adventure and read this exciting debut novel from Micah Joel.

What’s Micah’s favorite bit?

Broken Tablet cover

MICAH JOEL

When it comes to time travel, there’s a huge problem. Actually there’s quite a few, but the one I’m thinking about is language. To keep a time travel tale from devolving into a boring (or terrifying, depending on your High School experience!) lesson in a forgotten language, a handful of tropes have become commonplace. Protagonists with deep expertise in dead languages are conveniently over-represented. Universal translators are often mentioned once before moving on. Sometimes the whole language barrier just gets kind of glossed over.

In my novel Broken Tablet, I wanted to dispense with the language problem before it got tedious, but in a way that connected with bigger themes. One thread running through the whole book is an examination of conflicting ways of thinking, so I let my inner linguist geek-out over the use of language. How much does your language affect the way you think? If you woke up one morning and found the voice in your head speaking Swahili, or Somali, or Sindhi, or even American Sign Language, how much would that affect your outlook on other things in your life?

It’s not too much of a spoiler to mention that in Broken Tablet, our modern-day protagonist, Shiloh, finds himself stuck in Bronze Age Sumer. After grappling with language for just long enough to realize how truly lost he is, he meets the priestess in charge of the city, who gives him a stone that lets him understand her language. Except this isn’t a throwaway Universal Translator. Hearing another language in his head affects how he thinks, and ends up influencing his perception of the world around him. After finishing the novel I found that this is a field of study called linguistic relativism; it falls under the umbrella of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, in case you’d like something to google later.

An example: In the presence of the powerful priestess, Shiloh’s every attempt to use the word “I” comes out of his mouth as “your servant,” a reflection of the way both the language and the society viewed honorifics and relative status. It helps emphasize Shiloh’s powerlessness shortly after he’s plunged into an unfamiliar world.

Another example, which sadly didn’t make the novel’s final cut: The Sumerians were incredible astronomers, capable of making detailed measurements and predictions of the heavenly bodies. But their language didn’t have a word for astronomy distinct from astrology, whereas in our modern world, it’s common for people to draw a sharper line between scientific thought and unscientific horoscopes.

The Sumerians attributed nearly every imaginable circumstance to some kind of divine intervention, so for them there wasn’t any meaningful distinction between developing mathematics to predict the motion of Jupiter, and, say, performing a complex incantation to predict when they needed to make the next sacrifice at the temple. Shiloh tries to explain this difference, but his explanation (as he hears it) makes no sense: “I see that you’re talking about astrology, as in divination, but I’m talking about astrology, as in observing the heavens.”

As the story progresses, Shiloh gradually figures out the secrets behind the translation stone and asserts himself more forcefully, which causes more of the same effect, but this time in the other direction. He changes the Sumerians’ language and introduces new terms to them, like repeatable experimentation (“a devising”) and the forming of hypotheses (“a devising whose merit begs evaluation”).

Nudging their language in a new direction changes their outlook accordingly until finally… (the remainder of this sentence has been omitted citing spoiler etiquette).

For Shiloh, everything all comes back to Silicon Valley, a place that features both a distinctive corruption of language, and a distinctive culture to match. So if you get a chance to read Broken Tablet, I hope you’ll keep an eye out for the use of language, and think about how much or how little language affects how you see your world.

LINKS:

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BIO:

Micah Joel’s books combine geeky characters with cutting-edge technology, whether modern or ancient. Micah works as a professional geek in Silicon Valley. If you use the internet, chances are, you’ve run some of the code Micah’s written. Micah graduated the Viable Paradise writing workshop; an intense week on Martha’s Vineyard, where he worked on a story that later became Broken Tablet, his debut novel.

My Favorite Bit: LJ Cohen talks about DREADNOUGHT AND SHUTTLE

My Favorite BitLJ Cohen is joining us today with her novel Dreadnought and Shuttle. Here’s the publisher’s description:

When a reckless young computer programmer resurrects the damaged AI on a long dormant freighter, she and her accidental crew expose explosive secrets from a war they were taught ended decades ago.

Welcome to the universe of Halcyone Space.

Charged with protecting Ithaka and its covert rebellion from discovery, Ro and the members of Halcyone’s crew learn to lead double lives within the Commonwealth. Their plans to hide in plain sight disintegrate when Alain Maldonado — Ro’s father — returns seeking revenge and takes a hostage to ensure their cooperation. As the former shipmates track Maldonado down, each course they plot endangers the life of his hostage, threatens to reveal Ithaka, and uncovers conspiracies that could brand them all traitors.

DREADNOUGHT AND SHUTTLE is book 3 of the Halcyone Space series of science fiction space opera adventures that began with DERELICT and continued with ITHAKA RISING.

What’s LJ’s favorite bit?

Dreadnought and Shuttle cover

LJ COHEN

My favorite bit in writing DREADNOUGHT AND SHUTTLE was creating Dev. Devorah Martingale Morningstar, to be precise. The character and her name were a gift from the muses. Dev simply showed up in the first chapter of the novel and steadfastly refused to be a minor player.

When your subconscious is that stubborn, you’d be a fool not to listen.

The Halcyone Space books already had a large cast of main characters and I certainly didn’t plan on adding another point of view to my ensemble. Initially, Dev was just meant to be the college roommate of one of my main characters, Micah Rotherwood. In the middle of book 2 of the series, Micah finally gets what he wants – a place at University. Book 3 starts with him arriving there. Since he would be cut off from his former crewmates aboard Halcyone, I knew he’d need some characters to interact with. Hence, Dev.

She is everything Micah is not: brash where he is controlled, garrulous where he is reserved, open where he is secretive. And her upbringing in the rough-and-tumble settlements – permanent refugee cities that sprung up on Earth after the rising seas took most of the coastlines – stands in sharp contrast to his privileged life off planet as the son of a career diplomat.

It is her fierce will to survive and her creativity that I most love about Dev. Aside from her tough childhood in the settlement and the skills she has from it, she is a materials science student. Being trapped on a ship is her equivalent of a kid in a candy store and she totally takes advantage of what’s around her. There’s a reason why I describe her scenes as MacGuyver meets The Ransom of Red Chief.

Part of the fun of writing her scenes was in exploring the world of materials science and I completely lucked out in finding a large materials science community on G+. The people there enjoyed helping me come up with realistic scenarios of materials and what could be done with them. Materials science is utterly fascinating – the intersection of physics, chemistry, and engineering. I’m so glad I got to discover it through Dev.

Here’s a bit from her point of view:

She released the pressure on the tool and pulled it free. Her forehead beaded sweat. Her hands were trembling. Moving quietly, she repositioned to the opposite corner and tried again. Again, the screwdriver started to warp before there was any sense of movement from the plug. With deliberate care, Dev set it down and wiped her hands on the bottom of her shirt. Then she picked up the tool and went to the third corner.

In her mind, she was uncovering a precious relic, and this was a dig site, not a prison. Slowly, carefully, she could loosen the plugs. She had to.

It was just going to take time. Dev had plenty of that.

She lost track of how long she circled the small area of floor, applying minute amounts of pressure to each of the four plugs in turn, before one shifted. At first Dev thought she’d cracked the screwdriver, but when she looked down, the pattern of the flooring had been disrupted and the tiny disk was now ever so slightly raised up above the level of the tile.

“Fuck, yeah,” she whispered, before attacking the remaining three with a new energy.

While her captor believes she is trapped and helpless, locked in the ruined galley of a spaceship in the midst of a refit, she has spent her day making tools from the polymer water containers and finds a way to break into the access shafts below her. Yes, she’s afraid. Yes, she feels overwhelmed, but she is no one’s passive victim. Dev isn’t a kick-ass warrior or a computer hacker. It is her quiet strength, creative problem-solving skills, and determination that make Dev one of my favorite things about DREADNOUGHT AND SHUTTLE.

LINKS:

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BIO:

LJ Cohen is a novelist, poet, blogger, ceramics artist, and relentless optimist. After almost twenty-five years as a physical therapist, LJ now uses her anatomical knowledge and myriad clinical skills to injure characters in her science fiction and fantasy novels. She lives in the Boston area with her family, two dogs, and the occasional international student. DREADNOUGHT AND SHUTTLE (book 3 of the SF/Space Opera series Halcyone Space), is her sixth novel. LJ is a member of SFWA, Broad Universe, and the Independent Publishers of New England.

My Favorite Bit: Alberto Bieri talks about THE DRAGON KING (CHRONICLES OF CALIBRAN)

My Favorite BitAlberto Bieri is joining us today with The Dragon King, the first episode of his epic fantasy The Chronicles of Calibran. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Marked from birth, King Hesleof Obella has sat on the Dragon Throne ruling the land of Calibran for over two decades. A meeting with Lyrroth, an ancient dragon, brings forth surprising news to the wise king.

Hesleof’s ultimate goal of uniting the varied races of Calibran is now altered to keeping the Realm safe from an upcoming threat, potentially more deadly than the dragons of old. Twisted creatures, racial tensions, a disgruntled race of Dragons wanting back the land stolen from them by the mortals, and the emergence of a never before seen power rising from the forbidden Chaos Lands are about to change the face of Calibran forever.

But Hesleof is not alone: the fierce minotaurs of Calibran as well as, Noble elves, Wood elves, Dark elves, Dwarves and even Orcs could be allies in dealing with these new threats.

Hesleof will look for answers: can the legendary Noble elf, Almorwen, provide answers to his doubts? Is the Realm really in danger? Does Hesleof needs to no longer just unite the races, but hold them together to survive?

Join Chronicles of Calibran epic fantasy series now! A brand new amazing fantasy world is waiting for you!

What’s Alberto’s favorite bit?

The Dragon King cover

ALBERTO BIERI

There are plenty of epic battles and intimate struggles in The Chronicles of Calibran, but when thinking about a moment from The Dragon King that I really love, it’s actually a minor incident that comes to mind.

On his way to consult with Lyrroth the Benevolent, a wise dragon who carries a dire warning, King Hesleof comes across a murder. Two barbarians have killed a goblin, seemingly as part of a robbery, and are about to set upon more:

“Our business does not concern the throne,” growled one of the barbarians.

“Does it concern the goblins?” Hesleof motioned to the two cowering creatures. “For the goblins, like the barbarians, are under the protection of the throne.”

Ruric dismounted and took his place beside Hesleof. He began to unlash his battle axe, but stood back as the thalagring let out a screech, unsettled by the building tension. Ruric patted the creature’s shoulder before lifting his weapon free. The king still mounted, their heads were level, and Ruric said, “It appears that your protection might be in question for the one over there.” He pointed with his axe to the goblin corpse, then to the severed head. “…and there.”

“Barbarians do not answer to minotaurs,” said the barbarian holding the sword. Hesleof assumed he was the leader. “We talk to men, not beasts.”

“You will address my sergeant-at-arms when spoken to,” Hesleof said. “Now state your name and business, barbarian.”

The reader might assume that it’s about to be the worst day of the barbarians’ lives, but there’s actually no easy resolution. Both sides expect the king’s protection, and there’s the constant possibility of the situation tipping over into violence. Hesleof behaves wisely, preventing bloodshed, but the murderers go free. There’s little justice to be found, and no-one walks away happy – even Hesleof’s closest friend, the minotaur Ruric, asks if they’re now rewarding the murder of their citizens.

Perhaps it’s a stark moment, but it encapsulates so much about the world of The Dragon King, and about what that titular position entails. In Calibran, potential rulers are ‘Marked’ from birth by a unique symbol. The symbol is ancient magic, but it doesn’t ‘choose’ the next ruler. Instead, it merely marks those who might one day possess the necessary qualities.

In myth, legend, and even our own history, there’s always been this idea that rulers are chosen by divine providence – that they’re selected or supported by otherworldly forces. If you look at Arthurian legend, the bedrock on which a lot of fantasy writing is based, you have that pivotal image of the Lady of the Lake presenting Arthur with the sword Excalibur. In our world, you have the Egyptian Pharaohs, considered Gods on Earth, and even the concept of the ‘divine right of kings’ with relatively recent figures such as King Louis XIV and King James I. Clearly, it’s a concept that strikes a chord with us, and it’s something that The Dragon King, and The Chronicles of Calibran as a whole, is designed to play with.

King Hesleof is a good man and a fair ruler, he lived up to his potential, but that’s not the only way it can go. As the series unfolds, the reader encounters other Marked who are in a different position. Some aren’t ready yet, some don’t want the job, and some have been corrupted by a sense of entitlement.

When Hesleof encounters the barbarians and the goblins, the reader sees that this is a world where, even with the wisdom of Solomon, there’s often no perfect solution. Rulers are successful because being Marked sets them a challenge; it’s the first step in a baptism of fire that can have amazing results, but it is only that first step. It’s an intricate, impressive mechanism, but it’s not the finger of God pointing at one person.

This idea that nothing is guaranteed – that even those who are ‘chosen’ can stumble, fall, and fail – is everywhere in The Chronicles of Calibran. As the goblins lament their murdered brother and the barbarians escape with stolen gold and the king’s blessing, a seed is planted in the reader’s mind. This was a situation that was perfectly mediated by a good king, one who values the safety and happiness of his people, and yet there’s only tragedy. If that’s the case, then what happens when war and terror descend on the land, and that good king is forced to make hard decisions? What happens when ruthless contenders covet his throne and challenge his power? What happens when the very magic that binds the kingdom together threatens to burn it to ash? The Dragon King begins to answer those questions and, while there’s always hope, the minor scene I’ve chosen as my favorite suggests there may be some very dark days on the horizon.

LINKS:

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BIO:

Alberto, a fantasy enthusiast since childhood, is the driving force behind the Chronicles of Calibran. His is inspired by the Dragonlance novellas and Tolkien books. Alberto is a big fan of the creations of fantasy artists like Larry Elmore, Angus McBride and Boris Vallejo.

Together with his friends he still enjoys long sessions of RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons, Middle Earth Role Playing and tabletop games.

My Favorite Bit: Ruth Vincent talks about ELIXIR

My Favorite BitRuth Vincent is joining us today with her novel Elixir. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Mabily “Mab” Jones is just a twenty-something, over-educated, under-employed New Yorker trying to survive as a private eye’s unpaid intern . . . or is she? Once a powerful fairy, but tricked by the Fairy Queen into human form, Mab is forced to face her changeling past when investigating a missing person case at a modern speakeasy.

Obadiah Savage bootlegs fairy Elixir to human customers thirsting for a magical fix. But when Mab and Obadiah become joint suspects in a crime they didn’t commit, the only way to prove their innocence is to travel back to the fairy realm. And when Mab confronts the Fairy Queen and learns the depth of her betrayal, she must decide if the fate of the fey world is worth destroying the lives of the humans she’s come to love.

What’s Ruth’s favorite bit?

Elixir cover

RUTH VINCENT

When world-building my urban fantasy novel, ELIXIR, my maxim as a writer was always, can I make it cooler? This became my rubric for designing a magic system. A portal to fairyland in New York City was cool. But using the Times Square New Year’s Eve ball drop as a portal to fairyland, with a magic bootlegger harnessing the energy of the millions of people counting down to power his spell? Cooler.

It was important to me to give the urban part of my story the same tender attention to detail as I gave to the fantasy element; I wanted my fictional NYC to be just as enchanting as the fairy realm that runs parallel to it (in my experience, the real New York City is both more brutal and more magical than it’s commonly portrayed by Hollywood.) The idea for the Times Square ball drop scene occurred to me as a short story back in 2008, before I’d even written the manuscript of ELIXIR.

Like any self-respecting New Yorker, I have never and would never spend New Year’s Eve in Times Square. However, on the eve of 2009, as I watched the ball drop from the relatively safe distance of Columbus Circle, it occurred to me how primal these New Year’s Eve festivities are. Take away the computerized LED lighting system, and it’s not so different than the way people have been celebrating this season for thousands of years: clamoring for the return of a ball of light in the cold, dark, midwinter night. What a perfect setting for a portal to fairyland?

A modicum of internet research yielded some surprising facts: the ball is actually twelve feet in diameter (in other words, I could theoretically fit a character or two inside.) It would be pretty cozy, sure, but that would be good for building tension. And so I wrote a scene where my protagonist, Mab Jones, and her love interest, Obadiah Savage, manage to get inside the ball and use it to travel to the fairy realm.

While some authors dread ‘middles’ as a place where stories can easily sag, I’ve always appreciated this quieter point in a book as an opportunity to explore the complexity of my characters’ inner lives, which can get overshowed in the flash-bam action of a fast-paced opening. One of the delightful consequences of squeezing my heroine and hero into a geodesic sphere together for hours was that they would be forced to talk to each other. Many uncomfortable truths and tender intimacies are revealed in the conversation they have in the ball while waiting for the drop – because they literally can’t get away from each other anymore. (I wish I could share this conversation with you, but that would lead to spoilers!) At the end of this quietly emotional scene, however, comes the ball drop itself – a wild joy ride that was a pleasure to write, and definitely one of my ‘favorite bits.’ Enjoy an excerpt:

….The cacophony of voices became one voice.

“Ten!” they shouted.

What was it going to be like when they got to “one”?

I was scared.

I grabbed Obadiah’s hand. But he took a tiny streamer whistle out of his pocket and blew on it, making an obnoxious noise. Clearly he was having a grand time.

“Nine . . . !”

“When we transition to the next world, what’s it going to be like?” I asked nervously.

“Relax, Mab, you’ll be fine . . .”

“Seven . . . !”

How the hell was I supposed to relax? We were getting closer and closer to the bottom of the pole!

“Six . . . !” the crowd bellowed.

The giant ramen noodle sign slid past us. Lights flashed all around; the sound of the crowd was deafening.

“Five!” they roared.

My ears popped.

“Four!” they chanted in unison. Their voices were getting louder.

“Three . . .”

I looked down at the crystal between my feet. We were almost there.

“Two . . . !”

“One . . . !”

Light exploded around us. Booming blasts shook the ball. And there was smoke—wait, why was there smoke?

“Obadiah—something’s wrong—the ball is on fire!”

He was saying something—I could see his lips moving, but I couldn’t hear him—the sound had deafened me. Each blast shook me inside, vibrating in my bones. I screamed, but I didn’t think he could hear me. In the strobes of glaring light that illuminated Obadiah’s face, I could see that he was smiling. Why was he smiling? The ball was exploding!

“Relax, Mab, it’s the fireworks . . .”

But then suddenly it wasn’t the fireworks. A flash of white light like an atom bomb blinded me—and the bottom of the ball disappeared out from under our feet. We were falling, falling into nothingness.

“Oh shiiiiii—!”

I never finished my expletive. I never heard the crowd yell, “Happy New Year!” I only felt the jolt of impact as my body slammed into something cold and hard. Vaguely, as if underwater, I heard voices singing “Auld Lang Syne,” and then everything went black.

LINKS:

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BIO:

Ruth Vincent spent a nomadic childhood moving across the USA, culminating in a hop across the pond to attend Oxford. But wherever she wanders, she remains ensconced within the fairy ring of her imagination. Ruth recently traded the gritty urban fantasy of NYC for the pastoral suburbs of Long Island, where she resides with her roguishly clever husband and a cockatoo who thinks she’s a dog.

Ruth Vincent is the author of the CHANGELING P.I series with HarperCollins Voyager Impulse, beginning with her debut novel, ELIXIR.

My Favorite Bit: Katrina Archer talks about THE TREE OF SOULS

My Favorite BitKatrina Archer is joining us today to talk about her novel The Tree of Souls. Here’s the publisher’s description:

A murky past. A forbidden love. A deathly power.

When the river spits Umbra onto its bank, naked and shivering, the only clue to her identity is the arcane brand seared into her skin. A brand hunted by both a murderous necromancer and a handsome stranger. A brand that thrusts Umbra into a simmering conflict between the ascendant Clans and the nomadic Gherza. A brand that may make her the key to averting all-out war.

The Tree of Souls weaves an intimate tale of dark sorcery, doomed love, and implacable revenge, amid an age-old clash of nations, with all the souls of the living hanging in the balance.

What’s Katrina’s favorite bit?

Tree of Souls cover

KATRINA ARCHER

“That came out of your head?”

I think every writer must get a variation on this comment from a non-writer at some point in their career. I most often receive it from my husband. Coming from him, it’s not meant to imply I’m a freak. It originates from a genuine puzzlement, even awe, that anyone can create stories from whole cloth.

I, on the other hand, don’t understand how people can’t. I’ve always been a daydreamer. As a kid, when lights out denied me my books after bedtime, I’d tell myself my own stories. The only difference between now and then is that now I write those bedtime imaginings down. I probably shouldn’t call them stories—they’re more like little scenes or vignettes. Never enough for a whole plot, but both of my books, including The Tree of Souls, have at least one of these vignettes still in them, fundamentally unchanged from when they saw me off to dreamland.

The vignettes are easy, but creating a whole story that then hangs off one of them is the hard part. I rigidly outlined my first novel just to ensure I could finish it at all. Which left me little room for improvisation and serendipity. With The Tree of Souls, I outlined to a point, wrote, saw where it took me, and then outlined again. With the constraints loosened, I’d sometimes surface from a writing session dazed and blinking, not fully aware of what I’d just written.

I’d been in the zone, a state of working in which you’re not really conscious of working at all. I’m a software engineer, and I’ve experienced the zone before while coding. Some people call the phenomenon flow. The world around you ceases to exist and there’s nothing but the task before you. If you sneak up on me while I’m in the zone, you’ll startle me so badly I’ll jump.

The snippet below comes from one of those episodes of flow. My protagonist, Umbra, and her companion, Fayne, have just been ambushed and are battling for their lives.

Time billowed and expanded, and I saw Fayne, blood dripping from a cut to his cheek, turn to come to my aid. Behind him, a dagger glinted in its inexorable arc toward his heart. I gazed up into the eyes of my executioner, the sword poised over his head for the killing blow.

I cried out, smelled clover and blood. So much life.

I felt the air part as the blade sliced downward.

To end.

Like this.

No.

The brand at my throat scythed icy cold.

No.

Umbra’s on a big voyage of personal discovery in this story, and this fight and how she gets out of it show her that she’s really not the person she thought she was. I love this part of the story not just because it’s critical to Umbra’s journey, but because when I reread these scenes the day after writing them, I said to myself “This came out of my head?!”

My favourite bit is the one that surprised even me.

(My second-favourite is the bit with a horse (see what I did there?) that everyone tells me breaks them out of the story because it’s just too implausible. It also happens to be the only bit I have actually witnessed in real life.)

LINKS:

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Website

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BIO:

Katrina Archer is the author of dark fantasy The Tree of Souls, YA fantasy Untalented, and nature photography book Shorescapes of Southern British Columbia. A professional engineer, she lives on her sailboat in Vancouver, BC, Canada, and has worked in aerospace, video games, and film. Connect with her online at www.katrinaarcher.com.

My Favorite Bit: Renee Patrick talks about DESIGN FOR DYING

My Favorite BitRenee Patrick is joining us today with their novel Design for Dying. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Los Angeles, 1937. Lillian Frost has traded dreams of stardom for security as a department store salesgirl . . . until she discovers she’s a suspect in the murder of her former roommate, Ruby Carroll. Party girl Ruby died wearing a gown she stole from the wardrobe department at Paramount Pictures, domain of Edith Head.

Edith has yet to win the first of her eight Academy Awards; right now she’s barely hanging on to her job, and a scandal is the last thing she needs. To clear Lillian’s name and save Edith’s career, the two women join forces.

Unraveling the mystery pits them against a Hungarian princess on the lam, a hotshot director on the make, and a private investigator who’s not on the level. All they have going for them are dogged determination, assists from the likes of Bob Hope and Barbara Stanwyck, and a killer sense of style. In show business, that just might be enough.

The first in a series of riveting behind-the-scenes mysteries, Renee Patrick’s Design for Dying is a delightful romp through Hollywood’s Golden Age.

What’s Renee’s favorite bit?

Design for Dying cover

RENEE PATRICK

One half of the detective duo in Design for Dying, our mystery set during Hollywood’s Golden Age, is Edith Head. The real-life costume designer had a remarkable career spanning six decades, over five hundred films, and thirty-five Academy Award nominations. She inspired Edna Mode in Pixar’s The Incredibles. She was on a postage stamp.

The other half? Lillian Frost, a good Catholic girl from Queens, New York, who ventured west to become a star, quickly realized fame wasn’t in the cards, and settled for security as a clerk in Los Angeles’ second-best department store.

What these unlikely allies have in common is our favorite bit. Namely, they understand that each movie has a secret history, hidden in plain sight.

Edith came by this knowledge through her position at Paramount Pictures. Lillian learned it through family. Here, she describes what she brought with her to California:

What I did have was a love of the movies and an appreciation for the labor it took to make them. Both came courtesy of my uncle Danny, who toiled for years as a set painter at the Paramount Studios in Astoria. He’d bring me to work with him occasionally, telling me to church mouse in a corner. I’d drink in the hubbub behind the scenes then marvel at the transformation that occurred when the cameras rolled. Actors would take their places, and the flats that Uncle Danny and his boisterous pals had erected and painted would become a banker’s office or a police station before my eyes. In the soft flicker of light at the Prospect Theater in Flushing, I’d thrill whenever Danny leaned over and whispered, I did that bit there, pet. Thanks to Danny, hard work and magic were indistinguishable for me.

The stories told by people who work on films are seldom about the finished product. They’re about punching the clock. The day we shot that scene, it was only seventeen degrees. The dog in that movie hated me for some reason. I could hardly breathe in that dress. Their experiences, understandably, will be colored by purely practical concerns. They were doing a job.

Creating timeless glamour takes true effort. Edith Head knew this all too well. She collaborated with scores of directors and producers to render their visions in fabric and thread. Actors speak of “going from the outside in,” using external signifiers like wardrobe to help them discover their characters. Edith would be at their side when these performers were at their most vulnerable: stripped of their handlers and retainers, before they’d selected the necessary tools, fearful of how their decisions would play out on towering silver screens around the world.

There are no secrets in a dressing room. What better place for an amateur sleuth?

The story being told onscreen isn’t the only one. It may not even be the best one. That conundrum lies at the heart of every backstage drama from 42nd Street to The Larry Sanders Show. Critic Gene Siskel would apply a simple yardstick: “I always ask myself, ‘Is the movie that I am watching as interesting as a documentary of the same actors having lunch together?’”

We were intrigued by the notion of spinning new stories from these secret histories, of isolating elements from movies and constructing a fictional narrative around them. A gown from a forgotten 1936 crime drama, The Return of Sophie Lang. A set built for College Swing, a gossamer 1938 musical-comedy. Even famous faces like actress Barbara Stanwyck and Edith herself. We wanted to fold reality in on itself and produce something familiar, but different.

With a lot of jokes in it.

LINKS:

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Edith Head’s postage stamp

BIO:

Renee Patrick is the pseudonym of married authors Rosemarie and Vince Keenan. Rosemarie is a research administrator and a poet. Vince is a screenwriter and a journalist. Both native New Yorkers, they currently live in Seattle, Washington.

My Favorite Bit: Deborah Biancotti talks about WAKING IN WINTER

Favorite Bit iconDeborah Biancotti is joining us today to talk about her novella Waking in Winter. Here’s the publisher’s description:

On a far, frozen desert world, Muir the pilot discovers an ancient artefact in the ice. She sees a mermaid at first, but later comes to wonder if it is Ningyo, a fish god from her homeland in Japan. A god that brings misfortune and storm. A god that—by all means possible—should be returned to the sea. The rest of Base Station Un see something else. Bayoumi the lab rat sees Sekhmet the lioness goddess, daughter of the sun god. Partholon the creep finds in its shape a ‘good, old-fashioned cruxifix’. But all of them want to possess it. All of them want it for themselves.

What’s Deborah’s favorite bit?

Waking in Winter cover

DEBORAH BIANCOTTI

The thing I geeked out about most when I was writing Waking in Winter was ice.

Yeah, I know. Doesn’t sound fascinating. But for many of us in the Southern Hemisphere, ice is pretty exotic. That’s partly why I’ve had such an obsession with stories set in icy, snowy landscapes. From John W. Campbell’s 1938 novella Who Goes There? to Alistair Maclean’s 1963 novel Ice Station Zebra. From John Carpenter’s 1982 movie The Thing to . . . well, how do you follow up The Thing?

So when I wrote my own ice-loving story, I read up on polar exploration. I discovered that in 1897, three Swedish men died after trying to circumnavigate the Arctic—in a balloon. I found out that in 2008, NASA dropped ninety rubber ducks into a glacier in Greenland. They’re still looking for them. (Ninety! That’s like the number of Tupperware lids I’ve lost.)

I learned that scientists in the Antarctic carry pee bottles, and transport frozen human waste back with them to their own countries for sewerage treatment. (Solids are burned, in case you were wondering, and the ash is also taken home.) Waste management was so out of control on our initial forays into the Antarctic that countries are still undertaking remediation treatments of sites where oil drums and old vehicles have been dumped, contaminating the ice.

I read a fabulously cynical cult classic called Big Dead Place by Nicholas Johnson. The London Times called it “M*A*S*H on ice”. Johnson was a contract worker at McMurdo Station, an American Antarctic research station. From drunk clowns to frozen stalagmites of excrement, Johnson had seen it all, done it all and described it all “to a repetitious soundtrack of Foreigner and The Eagles”.

From Johnson’s book I borrowed the idea of expedition classism and station decoration. Johnson reported on plastic trees and fake houseplants. I used a deflating palm tree. Either way, there’s something stubbornly human about the desire to decorate the icy landscape like the world ‘back home’.

Turning to other ice research, I read about Frederick Tudor, the young nineteenth century entrepreneur who invented the ice trade and became a millionaire. I learned that Antarctica is a desert, because so little rain or snow falls there. I looked into the frozen underground ocean on Mars. I realized my main character, Fuyuko Muir, has been trying to get by with a frozen sea inside her, a kind of emotional desert that she thinks she skim across in her twin-seater plane.

I barely scraped the surface of life in polar climates. But it all helped to shape the world of my story: an icy, unnamed planet with remote scientific outposts and an unknowable alien presence. Sometimes the research helped in very small ways, and sometimes in bigger ways (like the ducks. I used the ducks).

I admit some sadness came from writing this article, though. As I searched for updates to my research, I discovered that Alberto Behar—the NASA scientist who created the rubber duck experiment—died in a light plane crash in LA in 2015. I found that Nicholas Johnson’s book Big Dead Place was set to be made into an HBO series by James Gandolfini—until the actor/producer died in 2013. (The TV show is potentially still moving towards development.)

And Nicholas Johnson himself died by his own hand in 2012, after having been blacklisted from returning to the Antarctic outpost he’d described with such unabashed bittersweetness. I tried to visit his Big Dead Place website and found a server error that rendered the whole thing a pure, blank, white space.

There’s something about those icy, dangerous landscapes, some kind of longing or awe, that keeps us coming back for more. I raise my glass and tip my hat to those explorers and storytellers who have gone before me, the ones who have shared my fascination. And all the explorers and storytellers to come.

LINKS:

PS Publishing Waking in Winter order page

Blog

Amazon

Read an excerpt

Learn more at these links:

S. A. Andrée’s Arctic Balloon Expedition of 1897

The Sober Science of Migrating Rubber Duckies

Waste Handling in the Antarctic:

http://www.usap.gov/travelAndDeployment/documents/FieldManual-Chapt15WasteHandling.pdf

http://classroom.antarctica.gov.au/stewardship/waste-management-in-antarctica

http://icestories.exploratorium.edu/dispatches/greywater-and-waste/

Human impacts: prevention, mitigation and remediation (in Antarctica)

The Man Who Shipped New England Ice Around the World

Water on Mars: Exploration & Evidence

What Is Antarctica?

Alberto Behar, Who Used Robots and Rubber Ducks to Probe Icy Secrets

James Gandolfini’s ‘Big Dead Place’ Revived at HBO with ‘Sopranos’ Alum Timothy Van Patten Attached

The Fascinating Life and Death of Nick Johnson

Big Dead Place website

List of suicide crisis lines

BIO:

Deborah Biancotti is the author of A Book of Endings and BadPower, and co-author of the New York Times bestselling novel, Zeroes. She has been shortlisted for the Shirley Jackson Award and the William L. Crawford Award for Best First Fantasy Book. Her new novella, Waking in Winter, is available from PS Publishing. Deborah lives in Sydney, Australia. You can find her online at deborahbiancotti.com and on Twitter @deborah_b.

 

My Favorite Bit: William C. Tracy talks about TUNING THE SYMPHONY

Favorite Bit iconWilliam C. Tracy is joining us today with his novella Tuning the Symphony. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Change one note and the universe changes with the Symphony.

One apprentice will become a full majus today. The other will wait months for another suitable challenger. Rilan Ayama is skilled in using her song to change the Grand Symphony of the universe, but her opponent, Vethis, is crafty, and not above a little simple bribery. Though Rilan is counting on the support of her closest friend Origon, he remains absent. She has only a cryptic note saying important matters of his family take precedence, and he needs her help. The mystery pulls Rilan’s attention away from the most important test of her life.

Maji create portals between the far flung planets of the Great Assembly of Species, but many places still remain out of easy reach. A search for Origon’s brother leads Rilan and her friend across the wilds of one of the ten homeworlds. There, Rilan’s fledgling skills are pushed to their limits as they investigate a secret that could bring down all six houses of the maji.

What’s William’s favorite bit?

Tuning the Symphony cover

WILLIAM C. TRACY

I’ll get right to the point.  I love the potential of Tuning the Symphony.  Oh, there are a lot of little moments in the story I adore, from bears in fancy hats, to a magical sparring match, to walls higher than you can see, to a few surprises I won’t spoil.  But my favorite bit is being able to lay this universe before you.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the characters, too.  Rilan and Origon will feature in at least five other works that are partially written or bouncing around in my brain.  But that’s the point.  This story can spiral off into so many more possibilities.  I have been writing in this universe for about twenty years now, from the first noodlings when I was a teenager.  This novella, the first published, is actually a story I started wondering about when writing a longer work: what was Rilan and Origon’s first adventure?

So I explored the idea, and had a lot of fun rolling back the characters I was familiar with to when Rilan was just beginning her career.  The chance to strip out a lot of her confidence and roughen up the edges smoothed by time made her almost a new character.  Origon is less changed in this novella, because he’s a bit older than Rilan, but the dynamic between them is raw here, more fragile and quite different than in later times.

Then my mind began to wander off on different paths.  How does this society—made of ten planets hopelessly separated by vast swaths of space, yet tied to each other economically and physically by magical portals—deal with interspecies attraction?  You’ll see a few hints of that question in Tuning the Symphony, but I also have plans for a story between star (heh) crossed lovers.  Next, there is that pesky question of how these worlds interact with each other politically.  Do they war?  Can they, when they only touch through person-sized portals?  I have two shorter stories coming out later this year, dealing with parts of that question from both the maji’s point of view, as well as from the regular inhabitants making up the Great Assembly of Species.

Oh, and that longer work I mentioned?  It ties in bits and pieces of all these ideas, and gives me a chance to explore the larger, universe-endangering questions.  I hope to put that novel out sometime next year.  It features Rilan and Origon, older and wiser, as well as some of the other characters later on in life.  And since I already know what’s coming, I could write my own little jokes and foreshadowing in this novella that no one will get until the later works come out…

I have always loved huge series that happen in different times and places, where friendly faces pop up all over.  Stories like Moorcock’s Eternal Champion Saga, Feist’s Riftwar Cycle, Sanderson’s Cosmere, Niven’s Known Space, and Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga.  Comic books have been doing this for ages, and I’m in awe of the fantastic connected stories taking place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Even one of the main questions this story addresses got me thinking of another story I plan to write.  Here is a quote from later in the book, discussing how the six houses of the maji work:

“You’ve never heard of someone belonging to three houses, have you?” Rilan asked. It was a silly question. Everyone knew the answer.

But Origon took it seriously, pacing through shavings on the forest floor. “There are schools of thought among the houses—especially with those who are members of more than one—postulating why there are to be maji who can hear two Symphonies. There has never been any recorded case where a majus has heard more than two. The prevailing thought is to be that the strain on the mind is too great. Those who would hear more than two aspects of the Grand Symphony die before they are born.”

Visions of secret societies and meetings in the dark flitted through Rilan’s imagination. She was only beginning her path to become a majus, and there were still many secrets to unlock in the houses.

Those secret societies and dark meetings begged me to be realized.  It’s further down the stack of stories in my head, but not too far, especially because it will feature one of my favorite characters when he was a lot younger.  The potential for more adventures, cool characters, and intriguing ideas means my favorite bit of Tuning the Symphony is being able to continue writing about all those other awesome concepts hiding in the background of this story.

LINKS:

Tuning the Symphony is available in book form from Amazon US, Barnes & Noble, and the author’s website.  It is also available as an ebook from Kindle, Smashwords, and Kobo.  You can follow the author on Goodreads.

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 for a large construction equipment company, 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 somewhere between one and six guinea pigs, 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.

My Favorite Bit: Josh Vogt talks about THE MAIDS OF WRATH

My Favorite BitJosh Vogt is joining us today with his novel The Maids of Wrath. Here’s the publisher’s description:

After surviving employee orientation without destroying the city with her new powers, Dani is finally a bonafide Cleaner. Raring to get to work and save the world from Corruption, she’s given the critical assignment of…full-time tools training. After all, what good are magic mops or squeegees if she doesn’t know how to properly wield them against Scum? For now, she’s stuck in sparring matches where her pride is getting as bruised as her body.

Ben, her janitor friend and mentor, is also struggling with being sidelined as a “consultant” after the loss of his powers. His only consolation is having gained information that could help solve the mystery of his wife’s death on a Sewer run gone horribly wrong—the same event that temporarily trashed his sanity.

But when a maid goes berserk during a training session and tries to slaughter everyone with a feather duster, something is clearly afoul within the ranks of the Cleaners themselves.

Company procedure brooks no compromise: Identify and quarantine the source of the Corruption at all costs. But who cleans the Cleaners? Especially when further enraged outbreaks seem to occur at random?

As bodies begin to create quite the messy heap, it’s only a matter of time before the whole company is consumed by the madness—taking Dani and Ben down the drain with it.

What’s Josh’s favorite bit?

Maids of Wrath cover

JOSH VOGT

Maintaining a Clean Image…

When I first came up with the idea of a corporation dedicated to upholding the virtues of Purity while defying Corruption, I tried to imagine just how far the company managers would take that policy.

If your company employs magically empowered janitors, maids, plumbers, and other sorts of sanitation workers, exactly how do you enforce a clean image? After all, they’re already devoted to cleaning up the messes nobody else wants to touch. What else can you do to ensure they don’t give the company a bad name? If their cleanliness is supernatural, what could they possibly do to befoul the corporate image?

Well, there’s a difference between having a clean body and a dirty mind. So what keeps a Cleaner from expressing themselves in ways that wouldn’t quite be agreeable to company policy?

A foul-filter.

That is the term I came up with for how the Cleaners censors its employees. Whenever anyone tries to say a “dirty” word, they are bleeped. They open their mouth and nothing comes out but static, in essence. And that list of dirty words is being updated on a daily basis. For instance, “picklehead” got added in Enter the Janitor, merely because it was used with ill intent. Hint: Never call your boss a picklehead.

The fun part is when new readers flip through the books (either Enter the Janitor or The Maids of Wrath) and point out the gobbledygook when someone tries to curse. I get to explain it’s on purpose and, for some reason, their eyes invariably light up. At the same time, several characters within the story aren’t exactly pleased by their inability to curse. So they are forever trying to find loopholes in order to properly express themselves.

And as a bit of a tease, in the third novel (The Dustpan Cometh) one main character, Ben, resorts to Shakespeare. When he is unable to use even the most common curses in the modern day, why not go back a bit? And wow, was Shakespeare creative with his insults and cures. Want a few examples?

Onion-eyed moldwarp?

Fool-born measle?

Earth-vexing flap-dragon?

There are whole websites devoted to Shakespeare’s curses. I would never have guessed, but am quite glad I found out. So one of my favorite elements in continuing this series is figuring out unique ways for characters to curse.

It’s just their way of asserting a bit of free will despite management oversight.

LINKS:

Website

Amazon

Goodreads

BIO:

Author and editor Josh Vogt’s work covers fantasy, science fiction, horror, humor, pulp, and more. His debut fantasy novel is Pathfinder Tales: Forge of Ashes, published alongside his urban fantasy series, The Cleaners, with Enter the Janitor and The Maids of Wrath. He’s an editor at Paizo, a Scribe Award finalist, and a member of both SFWA and the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers. Find him at JRVogt.com or on Twitter @JRVogt.

My Favorite Bit: Stephanie Burgis talks about MASKS AND SHADOWS

My Favorite BitStephanie Buris is joining us today to talk about her novel Masks and Shadows. Here’s the publisher’s description:

The year is 1779, and Carlo Morelli, the most renowned castrato singer in Europe, has been invited as an honored guest to Eszterháza Palace. With Carlo in Prince Nikolaus Esterházy’s carriage, ride a Prussian spy and one of the most notorious alchemists in the Habsburg Empire. Already at Eszterháza is Charlotte von Steinbeck, the very proper sister of Prince Nikolaus’s mistress. Charlotte has retreated to the countryside to mourn her husband’s death. Now, she must overcome the ingrained rules of her society in order to uncover the dangerous secrets lurking within the palace’s golden walls. Music, magic, and blackmail mingle in a plot to assassinate the Habsburg Emperor and Empress–a plot that can only be stopped if Carlo and Charlotte can see through the masks worn by everyone they meet.

What’s Stephanie’s favorite bit?

Masks and Shadows cover

STEPHANIE BURGIS

I still remember the first opera I ever saw. I was a teenager, and I was a musician-in-training, so when a touring opera company came to town to perform Tosca, my mom thought it would be a good experience for me to attend. She warned me that while some people love opera, others really hate it, but she thought I probably ought to give it a try.

I was curious, and a little bit skeptical, but I thought it might be fun…and I hoped at least it wouldn’t be too boring. I sat in the rustling, waiting audience as people took off their coats, chatted and read their programs, and the orchestral musicians in the opera pit tuned their instruments. As usual, I craned my neck to see whether there were any women musicians in the brass section (because I was a French horn player, getting ready to head off to music conservatory in a few years).

Then the lights went out. The overture began. The singers came onstage…

And ohhhhhh. I didn’t just love opera. I LOVED opera! As I sat there, unmoving, barely breathing for the next few hours, I was swept out of myself into a heightened state of sensation.

I had found a new obsession!

The drama. The wildly over-the-top romance. The heartbreakingly gorgeous music that intensified every single moment of the story. The whole concept of music AND story, so seamlessly joined together, without a single break for spoken words!

I was someone who’d known ever since I was seven that I wanted to be a writer, but I’d also been planning since I was thirteen to be an orchestral musician as my day job. (I never claimed to be a practical person!)

Opera took everything I loved most and put it all together into something bigger. Something amazing.

I came home from that first performance feeling as if I were floating. If I had had a decent singing voice, I would have dreamed of being an opera singer, but that wasn’t an option for me. Instead, I went on to music conservatory to study French horn performance and music history, and I was happy whenever I got the chance to play in the orchestra pit for any opera. Then – because I’d figured out that an orchestral job wasn’t my dream after all – I went to grad school to study opera history, which felt at least closer to what might really make me happy…and then, three years into my PhD degree, I saw a job opening at my local opera company.

Perfect!

Well…as it turned out, it wasn’t a perfect job. Not really. But for those couple of years, I got to live and breathe opera as a living, creative force, as part of the company that made it.

And every single one of those experiences came together as I was writing Masks and Shadows.

There’s dark alchemy in Masks and Shadows. Forbidden romance. Political scheming. An assassination plot. Masquerades of all types.

But every single plot is centered around the famous opera house in the glittering, luxuriant eighteenth-century palace of Eszterháza, where Joseph Haydn was busily creating his own operas (which I’d studied in detail, all those years ago, in my PhD work on the opera and politics of eighteenth-century Vienna and Eszterháza).

And I wrote this novel itself as an opera. It’s divided into acts, not into parts. The characters’ plots weave together in just the same way that they would in an eighteenth-century opera, complete with dramatic finales at the end of the different acts. The romantic hero is a castrato, one of the superstar singers of the century. The romantic heroine’s maid, in a moment of crisis, gets transplanted from her former working life to become a professional singer in Haydn’s opera troupe – and finds that shift exactly as hard and as transformative as you might imagine!

Villains come up with ruthless schemes; people fall in love when they absolutely shouldn’t; dark magic swirls through the shadows of the palace; and betrayals and redemption take place while the most astonishingly beautiful music is created behind it all…

And that is my very favorite bit of the novel: my own attempt, using words alone, to summon that shimmering sense of something bigger – something amazing – that I experienced for the first time when I was a teenager, at my very first opera performance.

LINKS:

Author Website

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Goodreads

Twitter

BIO:

Stephanie Burgis grew up in East Lansing, Michigan, but now lives in Wales, surrounded by castles and coffee shops. She has published over thirty short stories in various f/sf magazines and anthologies, including Strange Horizons, Daily Science Fiction, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies. She is also the author of the Kat, Incorrigible trilogy of MG Regency fantasy adventures (known in the UK as The Unladylike Adventures of Kat Stephenson), and is a graduate of the Clarion West writing workshop.

My Favorite Bit: Patrick S. Tomlinson talks about TRIDENT’S FORGE

My Favorite BitPatrick S. Tomlinson is joining us today to talk about his novel Trident’s Forge. Here’s the publisher’s description:

They’ve made it this far. If only that increased humanity’s chances on this new planet…

Against all odds, the Ark and her thirty-thousand survivors have reached Tau Ceti G to begin the long, arduous task of rebuilding human civilization. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world,
Tau Ceti G’s natives, the G’tel, are coming to grips with the sudden appearance of what many believe are their long-lost Gods.

But first contact between humans and g’tel goes catastrophically wrong, visiting death on both sides. Rumors swirl that the massacre was no accident. The Ark’s greatest hero, Bryan Benson, takes on the mystery.

Partnered with native ‘truth-digger’ Kexx, against both of their better judgment, Benson is thrust into the heart of an alien culture with no idea how to tell who wants to worship him from who wants him dead.

Together, Benson and Kexx will have to find enough common ground and trust to uncover a plot that threatens to plunge both of their peoples into an apocalyptic war that neither side can afford to fight.

What’s Patrick’s favorite bit?

Trident's Forge cover

PATRICK S. TOMLINSON

TRIDENT’S FORGE came as a surprise. I’d written the first book in the series, THE ARK, as a stand-alone, self-contained novel. There had been no plans at the time for a sequel, much less a series. But when your agent emails you and says “I need a précis for the next two book by Friday so we can pitch it as a trilogy,” well, you don’t argue. A hurried rewrite of the closing chapters of the THE ARK and some furious brainstorming later, and boom, we have a trilogy. Or more, depending on how many copies y’all buy.

So my favorite bit about TRIDENT’S FORGE might be the fact I was given the opportunity to write it at all. But, that’s not a very compelling blog post, so if you’re really going to twist my arm about it, my favorite bit about the book has definitely got to be designing and writing the Atlantians.

For me as a reader, one of the most satisfying experiences I have while digging through a new book is discovering a new alien species. And not just “Nose-job of the week,” type of aliens like we used to get in Star Trek, but realistic, fully-realized aliens who work not only from an evolutionary standpoint and fit into their environment, but live within a culture and system of morality that is equally alien, yet believable.

Some of my favorites over the years have included the Pierson’s Puppeteers of Larry Niven’s RINGWORLD series, the Pequeninos of Orson Scott Card’s SPEAKER FOR THE DEAD, the Tines of Vernor Vinges A FIRE UPON THE DEEP and CHILDREN OF THE SKY, and, most recently and perhaps most impressively, the double whammy of the Ilmatarans and Sholen in James L. Cambias’s excellent debut, A DARKLING SEA.

So, when the time came for me to build my own alien race from the ground up, I jumped in with both feet. The Atlantians, and their civilization, are a product of the world on which they developed. Tau Ceti G, their fictional homeworld set in a very real star system, is an old planet of rolling hills, prairies, an deep canyons carved from an extra billion and a half years of erosion. It’s also located in the middle of a shooting gallery. In the real world, the Tau Ceti system has ten times the planetary dust density of our own solar system. Ten times the leftover protoplanetary matter means ten times the comets, asteroids, and meteorites flying around the system looking for a nice juicy planet to impact.

It was assumed by the human colonists that, with a dinosaur-ending-impact happening every six or eight million years on average, that nothing much more complex than plankton would be floating around the planet, to say nothing about an entire stone-aged civilization. So to make them plausible, I had to find ways to make the Atlantians tough, smart, and immensely resilient, without crossing into hand-waving territory.

As a result, I picked cuttlefish as the model for their ancient ancestors, instead of bony fish. Smarter than most any fish, and with impressive regenerative powers, they seemed an ideal starting point for the sort of rugged and adaptable creatures that could plausibly flourish on such a violent planet. Being of cooler blood than their human counterparts meant they burned fewer calories and could survive on the scraps of food to be found in between periods of bombardment.

However, it was a further realization of what an old, worn down world would really look like that really cemented not only their physiology, but their culture and myths for me. Tau Ceti G has few mountains. They’ve all been worn down by many hundreds of millions of years of wind, rain, and freeze/thaw cycles. But what it lacks in vertical spectacles is more than made up for in its river valleys, canyons, and most especially, cave systems. The limestone areas of the planet’s crust are simply lousy with cave networks which themselves sport complex ecosystems fueled by fungus and anaerobic bacterial colonies feeding on vented gasses, hot springs, and even on the rocks themselves.

A whole separate underground biome existed, ready made for the Atlantians to retreat into during the worst periods of nuclear winter on the surface. Here, in the dark and damp caves, their society could limp along, hibernating in the safety of the deep, until things returned to normal above ground.

This thought informed much about them, from their bioluminescence, to their inverted spiritual views of the sky being home to fire and death, and salvation awaiting far below. I had an immense amount of fun building not only their bodies, but their minds. And while I’m not going to claim that the Atlantians are destined for inclusion in future conversations among sci-fi fans alongside the great examples listed above, I do hope readers enjoy my first shot at crafting a race. Hopefully enough to keep reading. I have big plans for the Atlantians and their human partners in the coming years.

LINKS:

Website

Facebook

Twitter

Goodreads

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

BIO:

Patrick S. Tomlinson lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with a menagerie of houseplants in varying levels of health, a Mustang, and a Triumph motorcycle bought specifically to embarrass and infuriate Harley riders. When not writing sci-fi and fantasy novels and short stories, Patrick is busy developing his other passion for writing and performing stand-up comedy in the Madison, Milwaukee, and Chicago scenes.

My Favorite Bit: Martha Wells talks about THE EDGE OF WORLDS

Favorite Bit iconMartha Wells is joining us today with her novel The Edge of Worlds. Here’s the publisher’s description:

An expedition of groundlings from the Empire of Kish have traveled through the Three Worlds to the Indigo Cloud court of the Raksura, shape-shifting creatures of flight that live in large family groups. The groundlings have found a sealed ancient city at the edge of the shallow seas, near the deeps of the impassable Ocean. They believe it to be the last home of their ancestors and ask for help getting inside. But the Raksura fear it was built by their own distant ancestors, the Forerunners, and the last sealed Forerunner city they encountered was a prison for an unstoppable evil.

Prior to the groundlings’ arrival, the Indigo Cloud court had been plagued by visions of a disaster that could destroy all the courts in the Reaches. Now, the court’s mentors believe the ancient city is connected to the foretold danger. A small group of warriors, including consort Moon, an orphan new to the colony and the Raksura’s idea of family, and sister queen Jade, agree to go with the groundling expedition to investigate. But the predatory Fell have found the city too, and in the race to keep the danger contained, the Raksura may be the ones who inadvertently release it.

The Edge of Worlds, from celebrated fantasy author Martha Wells, returns to the fascinating world of The Cloud Roads for the first book in a new series of strange lands, uncanny beings, dead cities, and ancient danger.

What’s Martha’s favorite bit?

The Edge of Worlds cover

MARTHA WELLS

I have a lot of favorite bits in the Books of the Raksura series.  I like writing non-human characters, and I love writing my matriarchal bisexual shapeshifting flying lizard people. But my favorite bit of The Edge of Worlds is what I call the Moon and Stone Show Goes on the Road.

The two characters have a close relationship despite their circumstances. Moon has been a loner and a survivor, and has trouble conforming and fitting into a society where he’s supposed to be a consort to a queen, where his only job in the court is not to fight or hunt, but to support the queen and be the social glue that holds all the different factions and castes together.  He has no idea how to do that.

Stone is a consort who has outlived his queen and become a line-grandfather.  He’s stepped outside the society he has lived in all his life, and is in danger of losing his ties to it.  Having to help Moon and the others in the court stay alive keeps him connected.

The Books of the Raksura have always been about what happens after you find what you think you’re looking for, after you find your family and place in the world, and how you deal with trying to fit in, and trying to keep that family together and survive.  Moon and Stone have more in common than not, though their relationship tends to be irascible.  All Moon’s relationships within the court are important, especially his relationship with Jade, his queen.  But Stone is the first one who felt like family.

And writing Moon and Stone is especially fun for me when the story takes the characters out of the Raksuran territory of the Reaches and out into the wider landscapes of the Three Worlds, so they can encounter lots of strange situations and other non-human people.

Excerpt:

Moon made his way through the sparse crowd, aware Kalam was sticking obediently close.  He sat next to Stone as the Coastal and the other groundlings left.  Kalam took a seat on the opposite side of the pool.

The sealing, a young female, stared at Moon in what was probably supposed to be a provocative way.  Moon was still irritated from the encounter with the maybe-Aventeran, and it just made him want to bite through someone’s neck artery.

Apparently this was obvious.  The sealing turned to Stone and said in Altanic, “What’s wrong with him?”

“He’s in a bad mood,” Stone explained, “he was born that way.  Does the one who’s down there with you want to talk too?”

The sealing sank into the water a little, swishing her fins in exasperation.  “I take it you’re not here for the usual.”

Stone said, “I don’t know what that is.  I want to know if you’ve had any news from the waters in the direction of the place the groundlings call sel-Selatra.”

Scaled brows drew down in thought.  “Towards the wind passage?  The land of the sea-mounts?”

“That’s it.”

“There was some–”  The sealing’s whole body jerked, as if something had grabbed her from below and tugged.  Moon’s instinct said predator and he almost shifted, catching himself just in time.  The sealing said, “Ah, someone else wants to talk to you,” and sank below the surface and out of sight.

Stone gritted his teeth and gazed up at the damp ceiling.  He said in Raksuran, “I hate talking to sealings.  Everything’s a damn bargain.”

“You hate talking to everybody,” Moon said, in the same language.  It didn’t help, but Moon felt he had to point it out.

“Shut up.  Why is he here?” Stone jerked his head toward Kalam.

Moon said, through gritted teeth, “So I don’t have to shift and kill everybody in this stupid stinking place.”

Stone sighed.  Another sealing broke the surface, and water lapped up over the edge of the pool. She studied them both thoughtfully, with an edge of contempt in her expression, then said in Altanic, “We sell isteen.  If you want to buy that, stay.  If you don’t, get out before you regret it.”  She bared fangs.  “We don’t sell information.”

Moon didn’t know what isteen was and he didn’t care.  Considering the other groundlings in here, it was probably a simple that made you stupid.  Stone just said, “That’s good, because I wasn’t planning to pay you.”

She swayed in the water, as if considering.  “Buy isteen, and perhaps I’ll give you the information you want.”

Stone said, “I don’t want isteen, and I’m not giving you anything.”

“If I give you information, I need to be paid.”  She nodded toward Moon.  “I’ll take that one.”

After having to rescue Kalam from drunken groundlings who couldn’t control their own genitals, this was too much.  Moon said, “Try.”

The sealing focused on him, really looking at him for the first time.  Whatever she saw made her scales ripple.  Whether it was aggressive or defensive, Moon didn’t know, but it nearly set off his prey reflex.  Stone tilted a sideways look at him and made a noise in his throat, just a faint growl, not enough to vibrate through the floor.  “Moon.  No.”

The message was clear.  Moon hissed at him, and laid down on the damp floor, head propped on his hand, as if prepared to wait as long as it took.

LINKS:

Web Site

Blog

Twitter

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

Powell’s

Indiebound

BIO:

Martha Wells has written many fantasy novels, including The Wizard Hunters, Wheel of the Infinite, the Books of the Raksura series (beginning with The Cloud Roads), and the nebula-nominated The Death of the Necromancer, as well as YA fantasies, short stories, and non-fiction. She has had stories in Black Gate, Realms of Fantasy, Stargate Magazine, Lightspeed Magazine, and in the anthologies Elemental, The Other Half of the Sky, The Gods of Lovecraft, and Mech: Age of Steel. She has also written the media-tie-ins, including Stargate Atlantis: Entanglement and Star Wars: Razor’s Edge.

My Favorite Bit: Ainy Rainwater talks about IF WISHES WERE SPACESHIPS

Favorite Bit iconAiny Rainwater is joining us today with her novel If Wishes Were Spaceships. Here’s the publisher’s description:

When Jazlyn is forced to make an emergency landing on a quarantine planet, the worst she expects to find are a bunch of irate scientists complaining because she messed up the pristine conditions of some experiment. But the buildings look like works of art and the inhabitants are a wealthy scion of a galactic dynasty and an anxious techie. While the compound has all the comforts of home, it has none of the basic hospitality she expects. Cut off from all communication, surrounded by a thicket of dangerous carnivorous plants, Jazlyn must find a way to repair her ship — if possible — or hope that her friends find her distress beacon before Sterneworth, the planet’s resident tyrant, does something drastic. Can she trust Blaine, the techie who is completely under Sterneworth’s thumb, and who desperately wants off the planet by any means? Jazlyn has never been one to knuckle under or buckle under pressure. Nor is finesse is one of her skills. She will tackle the problems — the ship repair, the bizarre plants, and the duplicitous inhabitants of the planet — head on. Has the sassy spacer who’s used to getting her way met her match in the power and might of the Sterneworth dynasty? Everyone on the planet has a secret agenda. She has a ship to repair…

What’s Ainy’s favorite bit?

If Wishes Were Spaceships cover

AINY RAINWATER

It was tough to choose a favorite bit because this novel was so much fun to write. I wanted to do a fun novel for friends and fans who have been waiting so patiently while I work on a fantasy series. My idea was an ol’ fashioned adventure tale of someone stranded on a planet with giant carnivorous plants, but I didn’t want to do a book with a heavily retro feel. I wanted a confident female protagonist who pushed back when she was pushed. Enter Jazlyn….

I love a lot of things about this book, but I keep coming back to the characters, especially Jazlyn. She’s who we want to be when things go wrong. She’s competent and confident. She absolutely will not let anyone step on her for any reason. Whatever happens she just keeps moving forward. No matter what’s thrown at her, she thinks she can handle it. It doesn’t mean that she doesn’t get angry or frustrated, but she has a wry sense of humor and isn’t easily deflected from her objectives.

Up to this point, she’s had a fairly good life. She’s used to things going her way because she has the confidence and skill set — as well as business partners who are friends — to ensure that her life is as good as she can make it. That, as it turns out, is something of a problem. She’s not used to facing situations that are totally out of her control. She’s used to getting her way.

The problem is that Sterneworth, who owns the planet she had to ditch on, is the scion of a wealthy dynastic family and he, too, is used to getting his own way. Neither he nor Jazlyn have the best “people skills”. Jazlyn tends to push rather than negotiate. She has partners with different personal styles; one of her partners is a good negotiator, and the other “skates by on charm”. But she can’t call on their skill set in this situation. In fact, she can’t call at all since Sterneworth controls the comms.

“Let me ask you something,” she began. “Do you want me to stay on this planet, right here, annoying you day and night and disrupting the routine of your life, or do you want me gone, the sooner the better? Because if you regard me as a problem or a nuisance, as I have every reason to think you do, then the absolute best thing you can do to return to the status quo — whatever that is around here — is to let Blaine give me a hand running diagnostics and helping with repairs. Unless you want to let me use your comm system to contact my people to come and pick me up. For some reason Blaine is under the impression that this perfectly reasonable action — using the general comm — is impossible. I’d like to know why. I’d also like to get just a tiny bit of help, no more than any reasonable human being would expect to be given. No more than any reasonable human being would give. Now, are you going to be reasonable or am I going to have to shanghai Blaine and hijack the comm?”

I needed the language in that paragraph to be blunt and inflammatory. I do use some 20th century idioms in the book to give some bits of dialogue a brash colloquial feel. Idiomatic English many centuries in the future would be largely incomprehensible to readers today, so I chose to use a limited amount of future-speak, mixed with more contemporary language for maximum impact.

The book is very much a battle of wills between two people with opposing agendas, who really can’t understand each other. Caught between Sterneworth and Jazlyn is the frightened techie, Blaine. Like Jazlyn, I sort of despised Blaine at the beginning of the book, but he grew on me. Blaine makes Jazlyn stop and think of someone other than herself and her own problems. Jazlyn gives Blaine perspective on the trajectory of his life. Unfortunately Blaine needs more than just a fresh perspective. He needs Jazlyn’s ship.

Sometimes life is complicated and bad things happen. We all want to be confident and unflappable when things in our life spin out of control. We want to be like Jazlyn. Sometimes, though, people’s lives gradually slip away from what they had envisioned for themselves and, like Blaine, they realize that as scary as it is to take risks, nothing will change unless they do.

What of Sterneworth, the resident tyrant? I can’t say that I like him, but he was an interesting character to write. Sterneworth is a bundle of contradictory desires, a volatile mix of power and vulnerability, and driven as much by fear as arrogance. The skill set of a galactic bully is not helpful in this situation, and when things go wrong he has only himself to blame.

My favorite bit? The way the characters interact and react to their individual circumstances on this unusual and challenging planet. Jazlyn is a catalyst. She upsets the status quo. Both Sterneworth and Blaine are forced to reevaluate their positions simply because she landed there. Jazlyn’s ship is at the center of everything; all that the characters want — or don’t want — is tied up in that ship. If wishes were spaceships, then beggars might ride…

LINKS:

If Wishes Were Spaceships is available from: Amazon US, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Smashwords, Kobo

Connect with the author on social media:  Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Instagram

Websites: Gymshoes Music, her official musician website; The Usual Suspects, a group food blog she contributes to; The Mighty Microblog, a miscellany, and A Truant Disposition, which is Ainy Rainwater’s official author site.

BIO:

Ainy Rainwater has been writing and publishing short stories, essays, and novels in various genres for about 30 years. She lives in the greater Houston area with her husband and rescue dogs. She enjoys reading, writing, playing guitar and percussion, gardening, knitting, tea, baking and other kitchen improvisations, daydreaming, and wasting time online.

She is also known for the digital pop which she makes under the name Gymshoes. “Everest Sunrise” was featured in the documentary What It Takes. After hurricanes Katrina and Rita she released the EP, A Tropical Depression, the profits of which go to benefit the American Red Cross. Gymshoes albums are available from online stores.

Currently she’s working on a chick lit fantasy series as well as a sequel to If Wishes Were Spaceships.

My Favorite Bit: Rachel Swirsky talks about LOVE IS NEVER STILL

Favorite Bit iconRachel Swirsky is joining us today with her short story “Love Is Never Still” in Uncanny Magazine Issue Nine.

Featuring all–new short fiction by Rachel Swirsky, Shveta Thakrar, Max Gladstone, Kelly Sandoval, and Simon Guerrier, classic fiction by Daryl Gregory, nonfiction by Jim C. Hines, Kyell Gold, Javier Grillo–Marxuach, and Mark Oshiro, poems by C. S. E. Cooney, Jennifer Crow, and Brandon O’Brien, interviews with Rachel Swirsky and Simon Guerrier, and Katy Shuttleworth’s “Strange Companions” on the cover.

What’s Rachel’s favorite bit?

Uncanny Magazine Issue Nine cover

RACHEL SWIRSKY

When I was very young, my parents bought me D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths. I dearly loved it. In fact, I tried to proselytize it on the preschool playground. Well, by proselytize, I mean “I made them play make believe about Greek myths,” but I had a brief period of believing they were true. What? Greek gods were neat. The end of the book indicated that all the Greek gods had died, but having been raised in a culture where gods are known to die and later live again, that didn’t seem like a huge barrier.

In high school, I got the usual Edith Hamilton, and a good dose of Greek plays, from Antigone to Lysistrata. In college, I studied playwriting and acting, and discovered a new range of theatrical adaptations. There were new interpretations, like the production of Iphigenia at Aulis rewritten from Clytemnestra’s perspective, and like Zimmerman’s take on Ovid, Metamorphoses, which is partially staged in a pool.

Something I really like about the way many theaters perform Greek myths is that time and anachronisms are often allowed to slip freely. The props and dialogue are frequently at a disjunct. After thousands of years, Greek myths are meta-fiction of themselves. Every version owes its existence to stories told and told and told again. New generations bring their tools for understanding. Plays can feature both old-fashioned choruses and cell phones, or be significantly more daring than that.

While I was in graduate school, one of my fellow students wrote a novel based on Antigone that aimed to do the same things as those plays. Time, props, dialogue—all slipped between time frames according to an underlying logic the author knew, but the reader had to learn. It’s trickier in prose because theater relies on visuals to emphasize what they’re doing, but the results in my classmates’ novel were extremely striking.

All of these experiences helped me learn that working with Greek myths gives you an enormous toolbox in terms of style and content. So when I began writing my version of the Galatea myth, “Love Is Never Still,” my mind was already full of possibilities for alternate structures and ways to play with the story.

“Love Is Never Still” retells two myths simultaneously. One: the sculptor who fell in love with his statue, Galatea, and wished her to life. Two: Aphrodite’s love triangle with Hades and Hephaestus.

My favorite bit about “Love Is Never Still” is probably also my least favorite bit: the complex layers I built in over the course of four months of intense revision.

First, there are the points of view. The story begins with the sculptor, and moves on to Galatea—fair enough. Later, we hear from Aphrodite, Hephaestus, Ares, Zeus, the Fates, death, weather phenomena and some inanimate objects, for a total of about fifteen different perspectives. I actually tried writing some of the sections in the format of a traditional Greek chorus, in iambic pentameter and everything, but thank goodness I dropped that before it got too far.

It’s a little unusual to give a point of view section to a pedestal, but as I said in my interview for Uncanny Magazine, it felt intuitively right—if I was giving speaking roles to forces like death and love, it made sense to look at the mundane end of the spectrum, too.

 Pedestal

Where there were feet upon me, there are divots, and I am cold.

The text is also heavily layered, which took me a lot of time. There are a number of passages that are meant to be read two ways. It was difficult to hit the right pacing for that, so that both readings seem well-crafted and seamless.

Mortals—even sometimes gods—forget the finesse required for working gold… They forget those fingers must know the delicacy of repoussé. They must, with great precision, caress gold’s most tender places with surpassing gentleness until it molds to his will.

I tried to make the text as specific and evocative as possible with research details. I spent some afternoons chasing down things like the ingredients of ancient perfumes (“balsam and cinnamon, hyacinth and lily, styrax and sweet rush”), or the color of ancient apples (pink). The most beautiful descriptions I found were from books on ancient ivory trading where I read about “silver and electrum and carnelian and malachite. [Hephaestus] embosses jewelry with trees and horses and dancers, and adorns the hilts of his weapons with granulated gold. He ornaments gods’ palaces with panels of open work ivory, and oak–carved furniture inlaid with ebony.”

Where possible, I also layered in elements from the original myths. Several details are from Ovid. At other times, when describing the gods, I used theoi.com to find more about their estates and sacred creatures, for instance Ares’ iron palace, and Aphrodite’s cockle shells and myrrh.

Some pieces of the text are crafted to act as call and response to each other. Summer and Winter speak at opposite ends of the story, and use the same sentence structures to describe events. Aphrodite’s understanding of love is constantly in flux, but always stated with the same determination. She loves both Ares and Hephaestus, although they are opposites, and the sentences with which she declares that love are mirrored.

Of Ares, she says:

Love is a spark, a winging bird, a waterfall splash. It is immediate; it is urgent; it is spontaneous. Like Ares, it moves with perfect, bold unity. It is a fully embodied moment, experienced with every incendiary, saturated sense. It is the smell of a lover and the bite of a provocative glance. I am love, and I am all these things.

And of Hephaestus:

Love is a mountain that swallows ages. It endures a thousand winters, and a million storms, and never erodes. It is steady; it is patient; it is sheltering. Like Hephaestus, it wields its hammer boldly, but also remembers the value of gentleness. It is waking to your lover’s dreamy morning murmur, and the smell of his skin that lingers in his linen. I am love, and I am all these things.

I used to write poetry (who knows—maybe I will again someday) and its great pleasure was the attention I could pore over every word. With a story like this, which I worked on intensely at the line level for about four months, I was almost able to approximate that level of control. I’m immensely proud of how much complexity there is going on in this story—immensely proud, but also ready to make some time for writing simply.

LINKS:

Read “Love Is Never Still”

Author Website

Patreon

Newsletter

Twitter

Facebook

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BIO:

Rachel Swirsky is a short story writer living in Bakersfield, California. Her short fiction has been nominated for the Hugo Award, the Locus Award, the World Fantasy Award, and the Sturgeon Award. She’s twice won the Nebula Award: in 2010 for her novella, “The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers Beneath the Queen’s Window” and in 2014 for her short story, “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love.” She graduated from the Iowa Writers Workshop in 2008 and Clarion West in 2005.

My Favorite Bit: Stacey Berg talks about DISSENSION

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

For four hundred years, the Church has led the remnants of humanity as they struggle for survival in the last inhabited city. Echo Hunter 367 is exactly what the Church created her to be: loyal, obedient, lethal. A clone who shouldn’t care about anything but her duty. Who shouldn’t be able to.

When rebellious citizens challenge the Church’s authority, it is Echo’s duty to hunt them down before civil war can tumble the city back into the dark. But Echo hides a deadly secret: doubt. And when Echo’s mission leads her to Lia, a rebel leader who has a secret of her own, Echo is forced to face that doubt. For Lia holds the key to the city’s survival, and Echo must choose between the woman she loves and the purpose she was born to fulfill.

What’s Stacey’s favorite bit?

Dissension cover

STACEY BERG

My favorite bit of Dissension is a look characters exchange at the end of the climactic scene when—no, wait. That is my favorite bit, but I can’t explain why without spoiling the story. But I love the end of the opening scene almost as much, and that I can talk about. There are only two characters, alone in a wasteland; one is lost, and the other has come to find her. We know the lost girl has been hurt in a fall from a cliff; we think the searcher has come to her rescue.

[The girl’s] eyes came back to Hunter’s. “It doesn’t hurt. I don’t feel anything.”

“I know.” Hunter edged around a little. “Here, let me help you sit up.” The girl was a boneless weight against her, arms dangling, a handful of sand trickling between limp fingers as Hunter knelt behind her, holding her close. “It’s all right, Ela. You did well.” The lie wouldn’t hurt anything now.

The girl’s head lolled back against Hunter’s shoulder, eyes searching her face as if trying to focus across a great distance. Her whisper was barely audible. “Which one are you?”

“Echo.”

“Number five, like me.”

“Yes, Ela.” She eased one palm around to cup the back of the girl’s head, the other gently cradling her chin. “Ready?”

The girl’s nod was only the barest motion between her hands. Hunter let her lips rest against the girl’s dusty hair for a short moment. She felt the girl’s mouth move in a smile against her fingers.

Then, with a swift and practiced motion, Hunter snapped her neck.

I love this bit because of the way it subverts the reader’s expectations. It sets up the tone of the whole rest of the book, without seeming to work too hard. The page or two before has introduced my main character, Hunter, and showed her embodying her name, calmly tracking a student lost in a desert training exercise. Now, as the dangers of night time close in, she’s finally found her. At first Hunter seems almost gentle; not only in the way she physically handles the hurt girl, but also in her attempts to comfort her, even lying to her to make her feel better. Then there’s the passing mystery in the exchange of names: why does the girl ask “which one”; what does it mean to be “number five”? And finally, we feel the intimacy of the dusty kiss, and then gut-punch that follows. The conflict between these two actions is a physical manifestation of the internal conflict that tortures Hunter from here right to the end of the book.

This is just the set-up I wanted to pull my readers right into the story, and I think it works. That’s why it’s my favorite bit.

LINKS:

Author Website

Twitter

Book Website

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

iTunes

BIO:

Stacey Berg is a medical researcher who writes speculative fiction. Her work as a physician-scientist provides the inspiration for many of her stories. She lives with her wife in Houston and is a member of the Writers’ League of Texas. When she’s not writing, she practices kung fu and runs half marathons.