Archive for the ‘My Favorite Bit’ Category

My Favorite Bit: D. Lieber talks about CONJURING ZEPHYR

My Favorite BitD. Lieber is joining us today with her novel Conjuring Zephyr. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Retreating underground to escape a devastating ice age, humans build a new society. When magic is discovered and harnessed for survival, the citizens of Terrenus establish theories and principles of how to use it.

Kai Stephenson is determined to prove magical principles aren’t set in stone. Having lost her younger brother in a tragic accident, she will ensure such accidents never harm anyone else. She enrolls at the most elite university to gain the knowledge she needs to achieve her goal. Overconfident that living as a boy at an all-boys university will only be a minor inconvenience, Kai is convinced her classmates will never discover that she’s a woman. After all, women aren’t capable of higher forms of magic, and her boyish figure certainly doesn’t hurt her disguise.

Hiding her true identity becomes a problem when her new friends start to awaken her repressed sexuality.

What’s D.’s favorite bit?

Conjuring Zephyr cover

D. LIEBER

I have many favorite bits about Conjuring Zephyr. I spent a lot of time developing the magic and building the subterranean society in which Kai and her friends live. I’m pleased I was able to weave social commentary into the story without bashing my readers over the head with it. I think my readers will find they can ignore it completely, if they choose, and just enjoy the story.

I had fun satirizing why I think modern science is stuck, western views on female sexuality, as well as male and female gender roles. But my favorite bit was simply love finding Kai even when she was preoccupied and didn’t have time. Because, isn’t that how it happens to us all?

What I was really excited about while writing Conjuring Zephyr was who Kai would choose from all of her potential love interests.

I spend a lot of my free time watching anime and Korean television, and I absolutely love reverse harem stories. But what makes me really squee like a fangirl are the stories where female characters disguise themselves as men to accomplish their goals.

I get really into it, and I binge watch until I know the ending. I’m usually disappointed. The protagonist always chooses the guy who was a complete jerk to her through most of the show.

Watching any foreign television certainly takes some getting used to. I will even go so far as to say that it takes dedication. Because, let’s face it. At first exposure, some of that stuff just seems downright weird. I wanted to introduce this genre to western audiences in a way they could understand without so much effort.

When I was in the audience of an authors’ panel at C2E2 in 2014, one of the panelists said she writes stories she wants to read. It seemed like such an obvious thing to say afterward, but it really gave me the push I needed to put pen to paper.

I set out to write a story in the genre I love and end it the way I wanted. But as I was writing, I began to understand exactly why the protagonist always picks the jerk.

Now, I’m not going to tell you who Kai chooses, because that would spoil it. I will say that, not only will it surprise the reader, but it surprised me as I was writing it.

Once I set my characters up and let them go, they took me to places I never would have predicted. They became alive, tormented by past tragedies, fighting desires they couldn’t understand or express in their repressed society, and chasing a goal that was accepted as impossible from the beginning.

LINKS:

Website

Amazon (paperback)

Amazon (ebook)

Barnes & Noble

Facebook

Goodreads

Publisher

BIO:

D. writes stories she wants to read. Her love of the worlds of fiction led her to earn a Bachelor’s in English from Wright State University.

When she isn’t reading or writing, she’s probably hiking, crafting, watching anime, Korean television or old movies. She may also be getting her geek on while planning her next steampunk cosplay with friends.

She lives in Wisconsin with her husband (John), retired guide dog (Samwise) and cat (Yin).

My Favorite Bit: E. Catherine Tobler talks about THE KRAKEN SEA

My Favorite BitE. Catherine Tobler is joining us today with her novel The Kraken Sea. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Fifteen-year-old Jackson is different from the other children at the foundling hospital. Scales sometimes cover his arms. Tentacles coil just below his skin. Despite this Jackson tries to fit in with the other children. He tries to be normal for Sister Jerome Grace and the priests. But when a woman asks for a boy like him, all that changes. His name is pinned to his jacket and an orphan train whisks him across the country to Macquarie’s.

At Macquarie’s, Jackson finds a home unlike any he could have imagined. The bronze lions outside the doors eat whomever they deem unfit to enter, the hallways and rooms shift and change at will, and Cressida – the woman who adopted him – assures him he no longer has to hide what he is. But new freedoms hide dark secrets. There are territories, allegiances, and a kraken in the basement that eats shadows.

As Jackson learns more about the new world he’s living in and about who he is, he has to decide who he will stand with: Cressida, the woman who gave him a home and a purpose, or Mae, the black-eyed lion tamer with a past as enigmatic as his own. The Kraken Sea is a fast paced adventure full of mystery, Fates, and writhing tentacles just below the surface, and in the middle of it all is a boy searching for himself.

What’s E. Catherine’s favorite bit?

The Kraken Sea cover

E. CATHERINE TOBLER

My favorite bit in The Kraken Sea is the fact that everything I want to talk about is a spoiler. I’ve been writing circus stories since 2004, but have never before written the story of the man who made the circus, Jackson himself.

Every time I approach this piece, I think, “Oh, I can talk about X!” Then, the more in depth I think about X, the more I realize that no, if I really talk about X, everything unravels.

I keep thinking I would tell you about the bakery–because if you know me, you know I love all manner of baked goods. Cakes, and croissants, and cookies, meringues, and macarons. In this book, I included palmiers, because they look like hearts. Jackson’s Unreal Circus and Mobile Marmalade has always had a food element to it: Beth makes marmalades that are magically infused with specific times and places, and one can travel there with just a bite. This is either a blessing or a curse for the person eating the marmalade.

Having the opportunity to include a bakery was a delight–it fits the story universe perfectly. But if I go deeper and tell you that the bakery is part of a territorial dispute between two ancient, warring factions…we get closer to spoiler territory. Because that leads to telling you about the thing in the basement, and if I tell you about the thing in the basement–

Yeah, we can’t go there.

I also thought I’d talk about the girl on the fire escape–Mae. Mae’s path crosses with Jackson’s accidentally at first (or is it?), and then later with deliberation when she waits for him on the fire escape outside his room. Mae accuses Jackson of being no ordinary boy, but of course she’s no ordinary girl, either. Though Mae seems to work as a lion tamer within a genderbent burlesque show (hey, it’s a circus!), Mae is also an aspect of Fate.

This is probably also a spoiler, but maybe it’s the right kind–the kind that gets the reader excited for the work at hand? Mae is Lachesis, she who does not spin or cut the threads of life, but she who decides how long a thing will endure. She is not creation or destruction, but the calm between. She tends to infuriate people with her calm certainty, especially her sisters, who are all about making or unmaking a thing.

So…are her sisters also in this book?

They absolutely are. Fates! The threads of life! The beginning, the middle, the end, within Jackson’s own genesis story!

And are the Fates  involved with the thing in the bakery basement?

Well, that’s a spoiler.

LINKS:

B&N

Amazon (paperback)

Amazon (ebook)

Excerpt

Apex

Goodreads

Author’s website

Author’s blog

Author’s twitter

BIO:

E. Catherine Tobler was born on the other side of the International Dateline, which either gives her an extra day in her life or an extraordinary affinity when it comes to inter-dimensional gateways. She is the senior editor of Shimmer Magazine and lives in Colorado, which has a distinct lack of inter-dimensional gateways, but an abundance of mountains, which may prove mad indeed.

My Favorite Bit: Christopher Husberg talks about DUSKFALL

My Favorite BitChristopher Husberg is joining us today with his novel Duskfall. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Pulled from a frozen sea, pierced by arrows and close to death, Knot has no memory of who he was. But his dreams are dark, filled with violence and unknown faces. Winter, a tiellan woman whose people have long been oppressed by humans, is married to and abandoned by Knot on the same day. In her search for him, she will discover her control of magic, but risk losing herself utterly. And Cinzia, priestess and true believer, returns home to discover her family at the heart of a heretical rebellion. A rebellion that only the Inquisition can crush…

Their fates and those of others will intertwine, in a land where magic and daemons are believed dead, but dark forces still vie for power.

What’s Christopher’s favorite bit?

Duskfall cover

CHRISTOPHER HUSBERG

It’s a both an exciting and somewhat terrifying thing when a side character comes out of nowhere and threatens to take over your novel. When that happens to me, I generally see myself having a few options: (1) remove the character entirely and refocus on the central characters, (2) let the character’s magnetism do its thing and see where she takes the novel, or (3) seek a balance in the hopes of keeping the awesomeness that drew me to the side character in the first place while still maintaining the integrity and structure of the story. I think that last option is the hardest one, but one of my favorite characters (and favorite bits of Duskfall in general)—Astrid—developed from my attempt to achieve that balance.

Astrid is a 300-year-old vampire in the body of a nine-year-old girl, and she is awesome. She’s sarcastic, she’s horrifyingly fun in a fight, and from her first appearance in the novel her deep, complicated backstory bled onto the page, gushing to be told. I was tempted to just keep writing about her and see where she took me, but as much as part of me wanted to do that, I knew it wasn’t the right decision for the story. It would’ve created a very different novel from the one I was trying to write with Duskfall, and while Astrid came in as a fresh, exciting character, I was still very attached to and invested in the stories of Winter, Knot, and Cinzia (the three central characters of the novel).

But I really didn’t want to remove her from the story, either. Astrid had a role to play, and I wanted her, and no one else, to play it—and I’m glad I let her! Now that Duskfall is a finished product, I can’t imagine the story without her.

So why do I like Astrid so much? I think her status as a child vampire was the source of a lot of her initial appeal. The child-vampire trope isn’t a new thing, of course; Anne Rice did it brilliantly with Claudia, but I think my favorite iteration is Eli from John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Let The Right One In. A child with access to immortality and all of the horrifying traits of a classic vampire—while still retaining a childlike disposition and sense of wonder as much as possible—was too interesting an idea to pass up. Astrid is physically a child, but she never quite develops into a normal adult mentally, either. Her views of what we might term “adult” concepts—sex and romantic love, among others—has a sarcastic overtone that masks her confusion, jealousy, and general cluelessness about those topics.

She was a breath of fresh air, too, mainly through that sarcasm and her sense of humor. The other main characters, especially in the first draft, were pretty serious. And rightly so; they had some pretty serious things going on, after all. But from her first appearance on the page, Astrid was immediately sarcastic, embracing a childishly sardonic view of the world. After hundreds of years of living in it, she had to start finding the humor in things!

And, of course, I love her fight scenes. It was so fun to write Astrid’s fight scenes. Having a nine-year-old go to town on a dozen or so warriors twice her size was a blast. I took influence from Hit-Girl’s scenes in Kick-Ass, as well as the film version of Let the Right One In. And while Tomorrowland came out after I’d written the first few drafts of Duskfall, I loved Athena’s fight scenes too because they reminded me very much of Astrid’s.

But sarcasm, humor, and her propensity towards violence aside, what drew me most to Astrid’s character was what draws me to any character—sympathy, and a strong back story. Astrid’s back-story (which I unfortunately can’t talk much about here as it’s still being revealed in the books) was one of those things that seemed to sort of write itself—and having 300 years to work with meant Astrid had a lot of room for development. I think that’s the ultimate key to Astrid’s appeal, at least to me—she was fun to read, fun to write, fun to develop, because I felt for her. For brief periods of time she became real to me, and that’s one of the best parts of being a writer, that schizophrenic state in which my characters slowly become real, where I start having conversations with them in my head. It’s delightful, and Astrid represented the epitome of that for Duskfall.

In book 2 of the Chaos Queen Quintet, which I’m currently revising, Astrid has already seized a larger role in the story, and almost more than any other character, I see her arc clearly in my mind over the remaining four books. I can’t wait to take her through all that, and to take some of you with us.

LINKS:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Kobo

IndieBound

Website

Facebook

BIO:

Christopher Husberg grew up in Eagle River, Alaska. He now lives in Utah, and spends his time writing, reading, hiking, and playing video games, but mostly hanging out with his wife, Rachel, and daughter, Buffy. He received an MFA in creative writing from Brigham Young University, and an honorary PhD in Buffy the Vampire Slayer from himself. Duskfall is his first novel. The next installment in the Chaos Queen Quintet, Dark Immolation, will be published by Titan Books in June 2017.

My Favorite Bit: Curtis C. Chen talks about WAYPOINT KANGAROO

My Favorite BitCurtis C. Chen is joining us today with his novel Waypoint Kangaroo. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Kangaroo isn’t your typical spy. Sure, he has extensive agency training, access to bleeding-edge technology, and a ready supply of clever (to him) quips and retorts. But what sets him apart is “the pocket.” It’s a portal that opens into an empty, seemingly infinite, parallel universe, and Kangaroo is the only person in the world who can use it. But he’s pretty sure the agency only keeps him around to exploit his superpower.

After he bungles yet another mission, Kangaroo gets sent away on a mandatory “vacation:” an interplanetary cruise to Mars. While he tries to make the most of his exile, two passengers are found dead, and Kangaroo has to risk blowing his cover. It turns out he isn’t the only spy on the ship–and he’s just starting to unravel a massive conspiracy which threatens the entire Solar System.

Now, Kangaroo has to stop a disaster which would shatter the delicate peace that’s existed between Earth and Mars ever since the brutal Martian Independence War. A new interplanetary conflict would be devastating for both sides. Millions of lives are at stake.

Weren’t vacations supposed to be relaxing?

With Waypoint Kangaroo, Chen makes his debut with this outer space thriller. Chen has an extensive network of connections to prominent science fiction authors, and has studied under John Scalzi, James Patrick Kelly, and Ursula K. LeGuin.

What’s Curtis’s favorite bit?

WaypointKangarooCover

CURTIS C. CHEN

My favorite bit in Waypoint Kangaroo is a dumb joke. (I know what you’re thinking: “Which one? There are so many dumb jokes in your novel!” Thanks, Mom.)

Dumb jokes and bad puns are especially apt for my protagonist, KANGAROO. That’s his spy agency code name, because he has a superpower: the ability to open portals into a pocket universe that only he can access. The pocket allows Kangaroo to smuggle pretty much anything anywhere, and it makes him both special and useful, but he’s otherwise not terribly well suited to be a secret agent. I had fun playing with that dichotomy.

Kangaroo is an American, and at some point I decided that English would be the only language he was fluent in, because it went against the fiction trope of a hyper-competent super-spy–see if you can spot other James Bond 007 references in the book!–and that setup also gave me the opportunity to reproduce a bit that my wife and I improv every so often:

  • She’ll ask me how to say a word in Mandarin.
  • I’ll tell her.
  • She’ll say the word back to me but not get the precise sound right.
  • I’ll say the word again.
  • She’ll say it again but still not quite right.
  • Lather, rinse, repeat.

(Basically imagine Abbott and Costello doing “Who’s on First?” Sort of. And I’m Lou, just to be clear.)

This comedy gold is possible because Mandarin is a tone language, and non-native speakers often have difficulty distinguishing the tones that affect the meaning of spoken words. It’s like music: you can train yourself to hear different pitches and tell when a note is “sharp” or “flat,” but it doesn’t come naturally to most people.

In Waypoint Kangaroo, our hero gets tripped up when reading a stranger’s name tag. My publisher is producing an audiobook edition of the novel, and I included these notes for the narrator:

  • There is a comedy bit at the start of Chapter 18 involving the Chinese name “Xiao”…
    • If you do NOT speak Mandarin, just ensure the two characters are making different sounds when they each say “Xiao” in the back-and-forth dialogue.
    • If you DO speak Mandarin, the correct inflection of “xiao” is a homophone for “small”; Kangaroo’s mispronunciations should be all of the three other inflections (with the homophone for “laugh” being last, if you please).

And here’s the bit in question:

“Thank you . . . Xiao?” I’m not quite sure how to pronounce that name.
“Xiao,” he says.
“Xiao,” I do my best to repeat.
“Xiao.”
“Xiao?”
“Close enough, sir.” His expression tells me I should just drop it. “How may I help you?”

Trust me, this would kill in Taiwan.

My obsessive stage direction for what is an inconsequential throwaway joke is just one symptom of a long-running fascination with the craft of writing for performance–especially television–but that, as they say, is another story. I hope my dumb jokes will not interfere with anyone’s enjoyment of Waypoint Kangaroo. Especially you, Mom.

LINKS:

WAYPOINT KANGAROO dot com

Abbott and Costello perform “Who’s on First?” (YouTube video)

“Tone language” (Simple English Wikipedia article)

Barnes & Noble

Powell’s Books

Amazon.com

Twitter

Facebook

Goodreads

Newsletter

Blog

BIO:

Once a software engineer in Silicon Valley, CURTIS C. CHEN now writes speculative fiction and runs puzzle games near Portland, Oregon. His debut novel WAYPOINT KANGAROO, a science fiction spy thriller, is forthcoming from Thomas Dunne Books on June 21st, 2016.

Curtis’ short stories have appeared in Daily Science Fiction, the Baen anthology MISSION: TOMORROW, and THE 2016 YOUNG EXPLORER’S ADVENTURE GUIDE. He is a graduate of the Clarion West and Viable Paradise writers’ workshops.

You can find Curtis at Puzzled Pint Portland on the second Tuesday of most months. Visit him online at: http://curtiscchen.com

My Favorite Bit: Laura Lam talks about FALSE HEARTS

My Favorite BitLaura Lam is joining us today with her novel False Hearts. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Laura Lam’s adult sci-fi debut False Hearts: Two formerly conjoined sisters are ensnared in a murderous plot involving psychoactive drugs, shared dreaming, organized crime, and a sinister cult.

Raised in the closed cult of Mana’s Hearth and denied access to modern technology, conjoined sisters Taema and Tila dream of a life beyond the walls of the compound. When the heart they share begins to fail, the twins escape to San Francisco, where they are surgically separated and given new artificial hearts. From then on they pursue lives beyond anything they could have previously imagined.

Ten years later, Tila returns one night to the twins’ home in the city, terrified and covered in blood, just before the police arrive and arrest her for murder–the first homicide by a civilian in decades. Tila is suspected of involvement with the Ratel, a powerful crime syndicate that deals in the flow of Zeal, a drug that allows violent minds to enact their darkest desires in a terrifying dreamscape. Taema is given a proposition: go undercover as her sister and perhaps save her twin’s life. But during her investigation Taema discovers disturbing links between the twins’ past and their present. Once unable to keep anything from each other, the sisters now discover the true cost of secrets.

What’s Laura’s favorite bit?

False Hearts US cover

False Hearts UK cover

LAURA LAM

So far my process in writing books seems to be smooshing together my favorite things and seeing what comes out. In my Micah Grey gaslight fantasy series (Pantomime, Shadowplay & Masquerade), I mashed together gender and sexuality, the circus, Victorian magic, court intrigue, long-vanished civilisations, and the line between magic and technology. False Hearts, on the other hand, swirls together conjoined twins, cults, the mob, near-future San Fransisco, brain hacking, and dream drugs.

The setup of False Hearts is this: Taema and Tila were born as conjoined twins, joined at the chest, in a reclusive cult in the redwoods across the San Francisco bay known as Mana’s Hearth. There, everything is frozen in 1969 technology, and to change yourself in any way is considered sacrilege. When the twins’ shared heart starts to fail, it’s expected they’ll bow to the will of the Creator and let nature takes its course. Instead, they escape, but it’s not as easy as they’d hoped. Once they’re in San Francisco, the twins are separated and fitted with mechanical hearts. Ten years later, Tila is accused of murder in a world where crime is almost eradicated. SFPD give Taema a chance to save her sister: go undercover and assume her sister’s identity, and help break up the underground mob called the Ratel and their distribution of a new, dangerous dream drug called Verve.

These dream drug sequences are some of my favourite bits of the book, as I can end up bending reality and adding in some very creepy visuals. There are two strains of drugs: Zeal, which is licensed by the government and anyone can take. You plug in, work out your darkest nightmares, and it’s cathartic. When you come out, it has a soporific effect and makes you less violent in reality. Those that society think are high risk of becoming chronic criminals find the drug addictive. Verve is what the Ratel have created, and it makes you more violent after you take it, which is understandably going to be a problem for Pacifica if it becomes widespread. I’ll leave you with a small snippet of Taema going into a Zealscape dream sequence to ask a woman named Mia about what her sister might have been up to:

I hear the screams first.

The door opens for me into a barren room as long as the building. The concrete floor is cracked, the paint on the walls peeling off in layers. Exposed wires hang from the ceiling, and flickering overhead light casts a harsh light on the two figures before me.

One is Mia. She’s strong here as she no longer is in real life. Her bare arms ripple with muscle, the fitted jumpsuit hugging her full breasts and thighs. Her hair is long, like it was in Mana’s Hearth before she left when Tila and I were eight. But she is a long way away from the gentle woman in soft dresses that I recall. This Mia’s face is twisted in rage and bloodlust, and she’s wielding a scalpel stained with blood.

I shudder, my hand involuntarily going to the scar beneath my dress. Mia’s tool falls, and she bends over. My eyes finally rest on the other figure.

It’s Mana-ma.

Our former leader has collapsed to the ground. She’s alive, breathing hoarsely. The black robe she wears is heavy with blood. On her back, she gapes at the cracked ceiling, her mouth opening and closing. Mia has cut out her tongue.  It lies next to her like a dead fish.

I cry out, stumbling away.

Mia pauses in her terrible work, her eyes meeting mine. Her face goes slack in surprise.

‘Taema.’

I’m dressed as Tila. I have her face, and her tattoo snaking down my thigh. Despite this, Mia still recognizes me.

‘Why are you here?’ she asks. ‘You’ve never been in my dreams before.’

That’s a comfort, I guess. She’s never wanted to kill me. Mia’s covered in blood, and the broken shell of a replica of the woman who leads Mana’s Hearth cowers beneath her.

‘Mia. Something’s happened to Tila. I need your help.’

‘You’re…not part of the dream?’ Mia seems confused.

Mana-ma gives a strangled gasp, more of a high wheeze. Without batting an eyelid, Mia brings down the scalpel into Mana-ma’s neck. The colors of the warehouse grow brighter, sharper, until they’re hypersaturated. I step back, horrified.

Without realizing what I’m doing, I focus on that mental state I found while in Mediation at the Hearth. The clear, calm stillness. ‘Stop,’ I say. Mia’s eyes widen, but her hand jerks back, taking the scalpel with her.

‘You don’t tell me what to do! Don’t make me do what I don’t want to!’ she shrieks.

Did I make her do that?

Blood spurts out of Mana-ma, and once the blood—the reddest blood I’ve ever seen—leaves her body, it turns from scarlet to black. The dark oil rises, covering Mana-ma’s corpse, and then the figure collapses into a puddle. It reminds me uncomfortably of the spread of blood of the crime scene recreation.

The scalpel is still in Mia’s hands. I hold up my own, spread wide, to look unthreatening. ‘No, I’m not part of the Zeal,’ I say. ‘They couldn’t pull you out, so I took a small dose and came in.’

Mia shakes her head.  ‘I don’t know if I can believe that. They all say they’re real when they’re not. Either way, you shouldn’t have come. You’re too innocent for the Zealscape. Especially mine.’ Her face creases in a grin, and I take another step away. She is utterly transformed from the woman who took us in just after the surgery, when we were weak as kittens and just as innocent in the ways of the world. I remember the way she pushed my hair back from my face, kissed my forehead goodnight. She took us to museums on weekends, patiently explaining so many things to us that we didn’t understand. Mia, my second mother in many ways, is looking at me like she wants nothing more than to stick the scalpel in my eye.

She shakes her head again, mystified. ‘Can’t believe a girl who escaped the Hearth would ever step foot somewhere where they mess with your brain. Didn’t you have enough?’

‘Didn’t you?’ I counter.

That same sly grin. A gesture at Mana-ma. ‘Do you really think I actually escaped the Hearth? It’s always here.’ She taps her temple, and then considers me. ‘Maybe it’s still in you, too.’

LINKS:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Goodreads

Website

Twitter

BIO:

Laura Lam was raised near San Francisco, California, by two former Haight-Ashbury hippies. Both of them encouraged to finger-paint to her heart’s desire, colour outside the lines, and consider the library a second home. This led to an overabundance of daydreams. She relocated to Scotland to be with her husband, whom she met on the internet when he insulted her taste in books. She almost blocked him but is glad she didn’t. At times she misses the sunshine.

My Favorite Bit: Shannon Page talks about THE USUAL PATH TO PUBLICATION

Favorite Bit iconShannon Page is joining us today with her book The Usual Path to Publication. Here’s the publisher’s description:

A collection of essays about the UNusual, amusing, heartbreaking, random, and quite perfectly crazy ways writers got their words out there.

CONTENTS:
Cherie Priest, “How I Skidded Sideways Into Publishing”
Alma Alexander, “Don’t Try This At Home”
Mark Teppo, “Mapping Uncharted Terrain”
Laura Anne Gilman, “Two Paths”
Jim C. Hines, “The Goblin’s Curse”
Katharine Kerr, “That Long Winding Road”
David D. Levine, “How to Sell a Novel in Only Fifteen Years”
K. Tempest Bradford, “It All Happened Because of Netscape Navigator”
Ada Palmer, “The Key to the Kingdom”
Ken Scholes, “My Path to Publication, and My Other Path to Publication”
Nancy Jane Moore, “The Meandering Path”
Jennifer Brozek, “No One True Way”
Rhiannon Held, “Timeline Key Points”
Jo Walton, “Not Deluded: How I Sold My First Novel”
Chris Dolley, “First Sale”
Brenda Cooper, “With a Little Help from a Poet”
Chaz Brenchley, “My First Book”
Tina Connolly, “Going from Short Stories to Novels in 60,000 Easy Words”
Randy Henderson, “My Finn Fancy Adventure in Publishing”
Elizabeth Bourne, “The Gypsy Curse”
John A. Pitts, “My Path to Publication”
Mindy Klasky, “April Is the Cruelest Month”
Amy Sterling Casil, “I Was Rejected, Then Sold the Same Story to the Same Editor!”
Deborah J. Ross, “The Magic Phone Call”
Phyllis Irene Radford, “My Road to Publishing, or, Tiptoeing Through Mine Fields”
Sara Stamey, “How I Became a ‘Real Author'”
Trisha Leigh/Lyla Payne, “Making It”
Afterword (Your Editor’s Story)

What’s Shannon’s favorite bit?

Usual Path to Publication cover

SHANNON PAGE

Now I understand what’s so hard about that “Who is your favorite child” question. I don’t have children, but I do have a couple of brothers, so I always thought the answer was obvious: me, naturally. (Sorry, bros.)

Being an editor is not at all like having children. Of course not. Except for the tender affection I feel for each and every one of my authors, for each and every one of their stories. And except for the fierce protectiveness I feel for my edited books. The desire to see them succeed out there in the world. The fear that they will be misunderstood, or ignored, or bullied on the playground. But other than that: nope, not at all.

Preparing to write this piece, I have just read through The Usual Path to Publication once again, looking for that one special, favorite quote, the one I can point to and say, “This, this! Here are the words that epitomize this little book. This is my favorite bit.”

I found one in every essay.

It would be cheating to say that my favorite bit about this book is the entire book. So I won’t say that. No, after much consideration, I’ve realized that my favorite bit about this book is the commonality it so wonderfully illustrates. Each author’s story is different in its particulars; yet every author in this book tells a tale of flexibility, of patience, of not giving up. There are moments of despair, frustrating reversals, much random accident. But every author believed that their words mattered. And so they kept at it. For as long as it took.

This, I think, is what binds all authors together—along with anyone else in this crazy industry we call publishing. Every time I opened my email last winter to find another submission for this book, I felt that touch of community, and took joy in it. Writing can feel like such a lonely endeavor. Who knows if your words are ever going to reach an audience, ever going to touch someone? Who knows if you are ever going to “succeed”—whatever you take that to mean?

Twenty-seven authors generously shared their stories of how they broke in—and, often, what happened next. These tales are filled with coincidence and luck and timing and the random forces of nature; of those who helped along the way, lessons learned, mistakes to be avoided. And, most of all, a rugged persistence. A belief that they had words and thoughts and emotions to share with the world at large, despite the many barriers that world tosses in the path.

Because there is no “usual path to publication.” Every writer finds their own way. And then, so very often, those authors then turn back to shine a flashlight on their particular pathway—to light the way for others, to inspire them, or maybe just to amuse them.

Okay, I’ll admit it: my favorite bit about this book is that it exists at all. So sue me.

LINKS:

Amazon

Paperback

Website

Facebook

Book View Café

Barnes & Noble

Kobo

BIO:

Shannon Page is a Portland, Oregon-based author and editor. Her work has appeared in Clarkesworld, Interzone, Fantasy, Black Static, Tor.com, and many anthologies, including the Australian Shadows Award-winning Grants Pass, and The Mammoth Book of Dieselpunk. Books include Eel River; the collection Eastlick and Other Stories; and Our Lady of the Islands, co-written with the late Jay Lake. Our Lady was named one of the Best Books of 2014 by Publishers Weekly and was a finalist for the Endeavour Award. Edited books include the anthology Witches, Stitches & Bitches and the essay collection The Usual Path to Publication. She is a longtime yoga practitioner and an avid gardener, and has no tattoos. Visit her at www.shannonpage.net.

My Favorite Bit: Adam Rakunas talks about LIKE A BOSS

My Favorite BitAdam Rakunas is joining us today with his novel Like A Boss. Here’s the publisher’s description:

In this breathless and hilarious followup to Windswept, former labor organiser Padma Mehta’s worst nightmare comes true: she gets yanked out of early retirement.

After buying her favourite rum distillery and settling down, she thought she’d heard the last of her arch nemesis, Evanrute Saarien. But Saarien, fresh out of prison for his misdeeds in Windswept, has just fabricated a new religion, positioning himself as its holy leader. He’s telling his congregation to go on strike, to fight the system. And unfortunately, they’re listening to him.

Now Padma’s summoned by the Union president to help stop this strike from happening. The problem is, she’s out of practice. And, the more she digs, the more she realises this whole strike business is more complicated than the Union president let on…

What’s Adam’s favorite bit?

Like A Boss cover

ADAM RAKUNAS

I hate PowerPoint.

This is not a radical statement. Its user interface is opaque, its effects are cloying, and its prevalence as the go-to tool for making dull, bloodless presentations even more soul-deadening means it’s inescapable. If anything, you might be nodding your head right now and saying, “Yeah, I hate PowerPoint, too!”

Which is why my favorite bit in Like A Boss is a PowerPoint presentation.

Well, kinda. Padma Mehta, the two-fisted labor organizer and heroine of the Occupied Space books, is a former executive go-getter. Once upon a time, she lived and breathed presentations about budgets, corporate governance, and entertainment logistics (ie making sure there are enough straws and napkins for every football stadium in the world). She walked away from all that to join the Union and make people’s lives better. No more PowerPoint (or its futuristic equivalent) ever again.

Until she has to talk a planet-wide angry mob into stopping its strike and getting back to work. Normally, she’d just go on the Public, the vast network that’s beamed right into everyone’s eyeballs. But when that gets shut down, what does she do? She grabs a bunch of markers, finds the nearest wall, and gets to drawing. She lays out all the connections between her planet’s stalled economy, the Union’s corrupt leadership, and what everyone watching can do. If she can turn one crowd to her side, then people can copy what they saw and tell a new bunch of people what’s going on. It’s file sharing the old-fashioned way: writing on the wall from memory.

As she talks, the crowd talks back to her. Some of them aren’t buying her argument. A few kids have hijacked the markers and are adding their own embellishments. Getting a bunch of angry people to listen is hard. Getting them to change their minds and come over to your side? That’s a heroine’s task. Padma is tough and fair-minded enough to listen, to challenge, to change her tactics while maintaining her course. Plus, she knows everything is riding on her getting this right.

The fact that she’s giving a presentation with lots of pretty graphics and bullet points is not lost on her. Granted, she’s scribbling boxes and lines on the side of a market stall, but it’s still a bloody presentation. The difference, both for her as the heroine and me as the writer, is that this slow-motion slide show means something. If she can’t make her case to this crowd, the strike will continue, people will get hurt, and the bad guys will win. Engaging in (or writing about) a pitched battle in the streets may be fun, but making a compelling presentation that will get people’s attention and motivate them? That’s a challenge.

I’ve joked how this is the closest I will get to a John Galt speech. Ayn Rand’s infamous seventy-page-long rambler is one of those hallmarks of speculative fiction that anyone who writes about politics has to measure up to at some point. Its sheer cultural weight is massive, and the speech’s word count only adds to its gravitational density. I’m glad Rand wasn’t alive in the era of PowerPoint, because turning the whole thing into a presentation would have created a literary singularity that would have crushed anything that got near it. The whole of Atlas Shrugged leads up to that point, just as most of Like A Boss leads up to Padma writing on a wall. The difference that is that Padma’s trying to get people to work together so they can make their lives better, and Galt wants to justify why it’s perfectly to be such a selfish dick. I like to think Padma would kick little Johnny’s ass even on her worst day.

Padma’s case to her fellow Union members might as well be mine for How To Make A Fair And Just Society. She and her compatriots have gotten complacent and inattentive. Running a Fair And Just society takes work, and work can be a pain in the ass. However, the alternative — chaos and bloodshed and near starvation — are much worse. Better to attend a weekly meeting, pester representatives to do a better job, and do the occasional gruntwork. Oh, and sit through presentations.

Granted, Padma gets to loosen up her audience first with tacos and rum punch. Maybe we all need more of that.

LINKS:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Powell’s

Mysterious Galaxy

Elliott Bay Book Company

Kobo

Website

Twitter

Facebook

Goodreads

BIO:

Adam Rakunas is the author of the Philip K. Dick Award-nominated WINDSWEPT and the forthcoming LIKE A BOSS. His short fiction has appeared in Futurismic.com and the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. He has had a long and varied career as a video game engineer, a triathlon race director, a parking lot attendant, an IT consultant, and a theater usher. He splits his copious spare time between writing, political rabble-rousing, and being a stay-at-home dad. A former Southern Californian, he and his family now live in the Pacific Northwest. Find him online at giro.org.

My Favorite Bit: Anna Kashina talks about ASSASSIN QUEEN

My Favorite BitAnna Kashina is joining us today with her novel Assassin Queen. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Defeated by the Majat forces, Nimos and the other Kaddim Brothers retreat to their secret fortress in the southern mountains. Nimos knows that the Majat’s victory is only temporary: during the flight, he managed to place a mark on Kara, one of the top-ranked Diamond Majat. His mind magic would now allow him to use this mark to confer her fighting skill to the Kaddim warriors and turn her loyalties to their side.

The new Majat Guildmaster, Mai, is planning a march against the Kaddim. His key ally, Prince Kyth Dorn, is instrumental in these plans: Kyth’s magic gift can protect the Majat against the Kaddim mind control powers. But Mai and Kyth are having trouble getting over their rivalry for Kara’s affections–even after they realize that this rivalry is the least of their worries, at least for the moment. Something about Kara is not right…

What’s Anna’s favorite bit?

Assassin Queen cover

ANNA KASHINA

My favorite bit in writing “Assassin Queen” – and the whole “Majat Code” series — is the main character, Mai. It felt almost like a guilty pleasure to write about it. Is this even legitimate?

Mai is a Diamond-ranked warrior, so highly skilled that despite his young age he has become a legend in the Majat Guild. He first appeared in book 1 of the series, “Blades of the Old Empire”, where he was intended to appear only briefly, not that it ever worked out as planned. In that book, Kara, another Diamond-ranked Majat, violates her orders, triggering the Guild to send an assassin after her. Since up until that point Kara seems pretty much undefeatable, I needed this assassin to be dangerous enough to make the readers worry about the outcome. On the heels of that came the realization that this danger cannot be fully evoked unless this character is developed far beyond an ominous shadow figure wielding a blade. It took me a long time to come up with a person who would fit the bill.

Once I worked out the big picture, everything else started clicking into place, including his looks, personality – even his name. Opposite to the stereotypes, he looks slim and delicate, boyish. When he first appears, he is described as more fit to carry a lyre than a sword. Yet, he also emanates subtle threat, and the reason for it becomes obvious as soon as he starts fighting and we see both his competency and the brutal force he is capable of.

Mai is built through contrasts, and when all these contrasts formed in my head, his image popped out and immediately became dimensional. I could always see him in my mind, beyond the details I chose to describe. It became even more exciting when he started talking – and saying things I absolutely did not expect him to say. Any time a character wanted to have a conversation with Mai, all I needed to do was set up the situation and the topic and then let Mai do all the talking. Literally. By Book 2 in the series, “The Guild of Assassins” I began to think of writing as “watching” and I could not wait to get back to it. Now, having written the conclusion of the series, I think back on it with a mix of enjoyment and regret. I love the way the series turned out. And, I am sad I am not writing it any more.

In Book 1 Mai remained a secondary character, even if with a much bigger role in the story than I originally planned. By Book 2 he stepped decisively to the front – can you imagine my thrill when my publisher chose to feature him on the cover? Book 3 all revolves around him, and the choices he must make to save the world. I credit Mai with the way the story stayed so seamlessly together, integrating several major point of view characters into one fast-moving plot line. I also credit him for the fact book 2 won two Prism Awards last year, both the “Best in Fantasy” and the “Best of the Best” grand prize, both given for speculative fiction with elements of romance.

I found it curious that despite how focused on Mai I was, how much I was looking forward to seeing him every time I wrote the Majat Code series, I still found it unnatural to use his point of view. He is shown entirely through the eyes of others, who love and admire him–or on occasions hate him and find him annoying. This blend was fun too, reflecting all the contrasts and dimensions of his personality in a way that also makes perfect sense all around.

But the most rewarding of all was to see the same reaction to Mai in many of my readers and fans. Evoking this response, finding the like-minded people who enjoy the same things about my books that I do – this is really my favorite bit!

LINKS:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

IndieBound

Powell’s

Angry Robot

Blog

Facebook

Twitter

BIO:

Anna Kashina grew up in Russia and moved to the United States after receiving her Ph.D. in cell biology from the Russian Academy of Sciences. She works as a biomedical researcher and combines career in science with her passion for writing.

Anna’s interests in ballroom dancing, world mythologies and folklore feed her high-level interest in martial arts of the Majat warriors. She lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

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:

Amazon

Website

Mailing list

Twitter

Goodreads

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:

Amazon

Google Play books

Goodreads

Website

Blog

Twitter

FB

G+

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:

Amazon

Website

Twitter

Facebook

Goodreads

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.

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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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Powell’s

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Google Play

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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.