Archive for the ‘My Favorite Bit’ Category

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.

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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:

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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.

My Favorite Bit: Alan Smale talks about EAGLE IN EXILE

Favorite Bit iconAlan Smale is joining us today with his novel Eagle in Exile. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Perfect for fans of Bernard Cornwell, Steve Berry, Naomi Novik, and Harry Turtledove, Alan Smale’s gripping alternate history series imagines a world in which the Roman Empire has survived long enough to invade North America in 1218. Now the stunning story carries hero Gaius Marcellinus deeper into the culture of an extraordinary people—whose humanity, bravery, love, and ingenuity forever change his life and destiny.

In A.D. 1218, Praetor Gaius Marcellinus is ordered to conquer North America and turning it into a Roman province. But outside the walls of the great city of Cahokia, his legion is destroyed outright; Marcellinus is the only one spared. In the months and years that follow, Marcellinus comes to see North America as his home and the Cahokians as his kin. He vows to defend these proud people from any threat, Roman or native.

After successfully repelling an invasion by the fearsome Iroqua tribes, Marcellinus realizes that a weak and fractured North America won’t stand a chance against the returning Roman army. Worse, rival factions from within threaten to tear Cahokia apart just when it needs to be most united and strong. Marcellinus is determined to save the civilization that has come to mean more to him than the empire he once served. But to survive the swords of Roma, he first must avert another Iroqua attack and bring the Cahokia together. Only with the hearts and souls of a nation at his back can Marcellinus hope to know triumph.

What’s Alan’s favorite bit?

Eagle in Exile cover

ALAN SMALE

We begin Eagle in Exile deep in the heart of the North American continent in an alternate universe where Rome never fell and Columbus will never sail. The Land – Nova Hesperia – is huge and wild, and populated by a great diversity of tribes and nations that often bewilders my Roman hero, Gaius Marcellinus. The people he currently knows the best belong to the Mississippian Culture, centered in Cahokia, but his world is about to grow even larger.

Given the book’s title, it might not be giving too much away to reveal that in Eagle in Exile Gaius Marcellinus is forced to leave Cahokia for a while. In the pre-historical era, and in fact well into the historical era, the rivers of North America were often more efficient thoroughfares than the extensive land trails, and it’s onto the river he goes: the great and glorious Mississippi, to be precise, in a beat-up and seriously under-crewed Viking longship.

The focus in the Clash of Eagles books is on action and adventure rather than a scrupulous dissection of my alternate timeline (although I could write a detailed essay on the millennium since my point of departure, if anyone wants it). Likewise, Marcellinus’s Mississippi journey is hardly a gentle travelogue. There’s not much jolly Twaining around, though I did strive for occasional flashes of wit. But even in Samuel Clemens’ day the Mississippi was a ruthless adversary. The course of the river was ever-shifting, its banks were treacherously muddy, the current was strong and unforgiving, and its smooth surface obscured the perils that lurked beneath. From Eagle in Exile:

The blue waters of the Oyo, still swollen by snowmelt, entwined with the greenish murk of the Mizipi to produce a broader river with water of a deep golden brown. Relatively straight as it passed the hills and forests north of the confluence, the Mizipi now twisted sinuously through an endless procession of broad curves and oxbows, arcs of water that almost looped back on themselves. Sailing was difficult on a river that could not stay remotely straight for even a few miles at a time, and they relied on the oars to keep them in the deepest part of the channel, where the current could carry them; left to its own devices the Concordia would spin off into eddies and end up in the shallow waters on the outer edges of the curves. The crew also had to stay constantly alert for floating tree trunks, submerged snags, and the endless sandbars that would rise beneath them and threaten to ground them even when they were far from the bank.

From the written accounts in our own history it’s evident that most of the people who lived on the river – the riverboat captains and crew, Native Americans, free peoples and slaves, townsfolk and traders and wanderers – hated the river, or at least treated it with a respect so profound that it differed little from hatred. And not just the Mississippi, either. Lewis and Clarke had a hell of a time beating their way up the Missouri River (also featured in Exile), even with a crew of tough-assed soldiers and mountain men. Their journals are soaked in blood, pain, sweat, sickness, and uh, blisters.

It’s on the Mississippi that Gaius Marcellinus faces some of his biggest challenges. Desperate battles with malevolent bad guys, certainly, but also the challenges of attempting to understand and communicate with cultures that appear even more alien to him than the Cahokians, Iroquois, and Algonquians he already knows. The challenge of reaching an accommodation with his nemesis and love interest who, for better or worse, is also aboard the Viking ship. The challenge of keeping his crew together against overwhelming odds, with the threat of a new Roman invasion just over the horizon. Marcellinus may be pretty good at war, but it’s on this dangerous river voyage that he learns the most about family and community.

And as a backdrop to all that, I got a lot of joy out of trying to evoke the sheer scale, danger, and unpredictability of the mighty, muddy, greasy Mizipi, Nova Hesperia’s greatest river. And that was my favorite bit.

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BIO:

Alan Smale grew up in Yorkshire, England, and now lives in the Washington, D.C., area. By day he works at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center as a professional astronomer, studying black holes, neutron stars, and other bizarre celestial objects. However, too many family vacations at Hadrian’s Wall in his formative years plus a couple of degrees from Oxford took their toll, steering his writing toward alternate, secret, and generally twisted history. He has sold numerous short stories to magazines including Asimov’s and Realms of Fantasy, and the novella version of Clash of Eagles won the 2010 Sidewise Award for Alternate History.

My Favorite Bit: Gillian Murray Kendall talks about THE BOOK OF FORBIDDEN WISDOM

My Favorite BitGillian Murray Kendall is joining us today with her novel The Book of Forbidden Wisdom. Here’s the publisher’s description:

In a world of blood and betrayal, love is the only redemption…

But that knowledge can only be reached by means of magic and a journey, by way of a confrontation with feelings that are hard to understand—or bear.

On Angel’s sixteenth birthday, her younger sister, Silky, wakes her to prepare her for a marriage to Leth, a man she likes but does not love. Trey, her oldest childhood friend who is secretly in love with her, watches helplessly.

But Angel’s brother, Kalo, interrupts the wedding ceremony. He wants her dowry, and he also believes Angel can lead him to The Book of Forbidden Wisdom. In a world where land is everything, this book promises him wealth. In the night, Kalo goes to Angel’s room to threaten her, but Trey has rescued both Angel and Silky, and the three of them—joined by an itinerant singer—themselves seek The Book of Forbidden Wisdom. While Kalo believes the book contains land deeds, they believe it harbors great power.

Always just a step ahead of Kalo, Angel, Silky, Trey, and the Bard finally arrive at the place of The Book.But things have changed now:  Angel knows her own heart at last.  Confronted by evil, at the end of the known world, Angel and her companions turn and fight. Together. And in so doing, they find that love contains a power of its own.

What’s Gillian’s favorite bit?

The Book of Forbidden Wisdom

GILLIAN MURRAY KENDALL

Sixteen-year-old Angel and her younger sister Silky—with their two male companions—are desperate to escape the troops behind them by passing on horseback into the country of Shibbeth.  This land lies just beyond huge monolithic Cairns constructed in ages past to mark the border.  I had one heck of a time getting the pace right on this, as well as subtly conveying what is all too true:  they have left danger behind only to confront ever greater dangers ahead.  But I love the characters here because, under pressure, they remain so very much themselves:  Angel watches out for Silky, who is watching out for her horse, and the relief of both at the end of the scene is palpable. And we know who the villain is:  after all, he calls our heroine, Angel, names.

The Cairns looked closer now.

But maybe not close enough.

We were really going all out now.  For a moment Silky fell no further behind, and we rode as one.  And then Silky’s pony, Squab, lost more momentum.  I turned my head and screamed at her.

“Hit him,” I yelled.  Silky shook her head.  I was frantic.  “Hit him!  Now.”

And Silky, her face as pale as milk, pulled her crop from her boot and smacked Squab on the rump.  In a second, he was up with us again.

And then the Cairns were no longer a shimmer in the distance; they were in front of us.  We galloped without looking behind; my breathing was labored, and Jasmine was slathered with foam.

At last we surged forward between two of the great standing Cairns of Shibbeth.

Leth and his men had to pull up hard not to cross the boundary—so hard that two of the horses went down.  I felt elated, but I knew that this was not the end.  He would find another way to get at me.  But for now Leth didn’t dare enter.  He didn’t have enough at stake to risk being taken there.

We did.

“Harlot!” Leth screamed at me.  “Harlot!  Whore!”

We kept riding hard until we could no longer make out what he was saying, and the Cairns were well to our backs.

And I thought, So this is Shibbeth.  This is the forbidden country.

LINKS:

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BIO:

When Gillian Murray Kendall was a child, she spent some years in England while her father researched his biography of Richard III, and her mother wrote children’s books.  She had stumbled into a wardrobe, and her enchanted world was England.  That sense of belonging-in-the-strange shaped Gillian’s life. In the 1980s, the months and months she spent in Africa waiting in lines for kerosene and milk and rice was a new normal, while Gillian found the once-familiar Harvard, with its well-stocked grocery stores, alien. Recently Gillian spent two years in Paris, where learning a new culture, a new strangeness, resulted in the writing of her first book and the beginning of The Book of Forbidden Wisdom.

Gillian is a Professor of English Language and Literature at Smith College, where her specialty is Shakespeare and Renaissance Drama.  She is married to biologist Robert Dorit and has two sons, Sasha and Gabriel.

My Favorite Bit: Elizabeth Bonesteel talks about THE COLD BETWEEN

My Favorite Bit Elizabeth Bonesteel is joining us today with her novel The Cold Between. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Deep in the stars, a young officer and her lover are plunged into a murder mystery and a deadly conspiracy in this first entry in a stellar military science-fiction series in the tradition of Lois McMaster Bujold.

When her crewmate, Danny, is murdered on the colony of Volhynia, Central Corps chief engineer, Commander Elena Shaw, is shocked to learn the main suspect is her lover, Treiko Zajec. She knows Trey is innocent—he was with her when Danny was killed. So who is the real killer and why are the cops framing an innocent man?

Retracing Danny’s last hours, they discover that his death may be tied to a mystery from the past: the explosion of a Central Corps starship at a wormhole near Volhynia. For twenty-five years, the Central Gov has been lying about the tragedy, even willing to go to war with the outlaw PSI to protect their secrets.

With the authorities closing in, Elena and Trey head to the wormhole, certain they’ll find answers on the other side. But the truth that awaits them is far more terrifying than they ever imagined . . . a conspiracy deep within Central Gov that threatens all of human civilization throughout the inhabited reaches of the galaxy—and beyond.

What’s Elizabeth’s favorite bit?

The Cold Between

ELIZABETH BONESTEEL

My favorite bit of The Cold Between is the huge, explosive mess that is Greg and Elena.

These are two people who know each other extremely well, yet manage to miss each other completely. They are also, despite Greg’s big mopey eyes, loyal friends. For-real friends. Family. No matter how often that gets tested, no matter how much they claw at each other, the bond remains.

By the time they have their first scene together, all we have of their relationship is Elena’s brief thoughts heading home the morning after shore leave:

Their friendship had been strained for half a year, and the public argument they’d had two weeks ago had undone the last of her equanimity.[…]Losing Danny should have hurt more than losing Greg, but she had so few true friends in her life. Lovers were easy; she felt she had left Danny behind already.

Greg was not so easily replaced.

Greg, for his part, has spent the night being chewed out by his superior officer, and chewing out one of his own people in return. He’s got it in his head that despite their estrangement, he can notify Elena of Danny’s murder professionally and compassionately.

Except that he’s forgotten that he has no real ability to deal with her at all. And when he trots out all of his practiced, military strategies for breaking bad news, she takes the conversation sideways, and he’s immediately off-balance.

This, of course, is what’s always attracted him to her. Greg’s had his life mapped out since he was a kid. He might have resented that in his youth, but as an adult he’s continued the trend. A place for everything, and everything in its place, personal and professional alike.

And Elena blows through his neat categories like she’s made of smoke. To everyone else, he’s the captain, the officer, the boss. To her – that’s his job, not who he is. She’s the only one who sees him as a whole person. He doesn’t even properly see himself.

Of course…Elena’s missed a few things along the way.

I’ve had some readers say “Come on, she must know how he feels!” And the answer to that is…she doesn’t, really. Apart from being her superior officer, he’s been married as long as she’s known him, and she’s seen nothing to suggest he’d wander afield from that. Why would she assume there was more to it than that when he has said and done nothing to suggest it?

Elena is clueless in her own way She’s a mechanic: something breaks, and she fixes it. Her talent is breaking down a problem into soluble component puzzles. The possibility that a particular puzzle might not be soluble does not compute for her. All she needs to do is bash at it from another angle. The trouble with her relationship with Greg is that she’s not in on what all the puzzle pieces are.

Despite all of this, it was important to me to keep Greg from being passive and miserable. He’s made an active choice to say nothing to Elena of his romantic feelings. He’s not going to cheat on his wife, so what’s the point of saying anything? And despite his recent bad behavior, their relationship – just as it is – is everything to him. Predominately, it’s a source of strength for him, not weakness. He feels like she’s the only person in his life who doesn’t really care if he keeps following his carefully-laid-out map. What’s romance in the face of that?

There’s an interdependency between Greg and Elena that neither of them fully understands, and they each seem hellbent on doing everything they possibly can to shatter it. But when it’s backs against the wall, there’s never any doubt: they’re fighting together. It’s when they’re not sure they’re against the same wall that the problems arise.

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BIO:

Elizabeth Bonesteel began making up stories at the age of five, in an attempt to battle insomnia. Thanks to a family connection to the space program, she has been reading science fiction since she was a child. She currently lives in central Massachusetts with her husband, her daughter, and various cats.

My Favorite Bit: Peter Tieryas talks about UNITED STATES OF JAPAN

My Favorite Bit iconPeter Tieryas is joining us today with his novel United States of Japan. Here’s the publisher’s description:

A spiritual sequel to The Man In The High Castle, focusing on the New Japanese Empire, from an acclaimed author and essayist.

The Axis won WWII and now, in the late 1980s, the Japanese Empire rules over the western US states, their power assured by technological superiority (giant mecha, etc.) But when a video game emerges that posits a world where the allies won, a game censor and an Imperial Government agent discover truths about the empire that make them question their loyalty.

What’s Peter’s favorite bit?

United States of Japan cover

PETER TIERYAS

United States of Japan began as an exploration of the tragedies that took place among Asians during WWII. Many of the important scenes involve re-examining historical events from a non-American centric perspective. That includes the decision to use the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In USJ, the Japanese Empire nukes San Jose, Sausalito, and Sacramento, feeling that doing so would shorten what might otherwise be a deadly land war. Decades later, Japanese scholars question whether it was necessary when they had already broken the American ciphers and knew they were going to surrender. Even if the bombing was done primarily as a political move to deter the Nazis on the east coast, it’s horrifying that the question of the justification for the death of hundreds of thousands of Americans has become academic.

My favorite bit was a scene that mixes history and the ethical dilemmas the soldiers face, but ultimately ended up on the cutting board. It was one of those cases where you realize you have to cut your favorite scene in order to better serve the story. In USJ, mechas are mostly part of the background, being such a lethal force that they’re only unleashed in the most extreme cases. One of my favorite characters is a mecha pilot named Kujira. She suffered injuries at a young age that caused her to work with augmented legs. This was in part inspired by a basketball injury where I tore a muscle and couldn’t walk. I used braces to help me to limp in pain for almost half a year. For Kujira, her early setback, which ended up leading to a severe leg condition, gave her a strong familiarity with machines. This has helped her to become one of the most distinguished pilots in the Empire, especially because she’s used to the neural interface that other pilots take longer to get accustomed to. Unlike her compatriots though, she is irreverent, disrespectful of the cadre, and a total maverick.

I loved her character as a stark contrast to the other officers who follow the stratified structure of the imperial army. Because she’s such a brilliant fighter, her superiors tolerate her. But she never tires of sticking it to them, as in the beginnings of a civil conflict in San Diego that will have repercussions for decades. Her immediate reaction in finding out everything is going to hell is: “How’d you guys screw it all up again?” where the “guys” isn’t gender neutral.

But it points to a bigger question. When you exist in an authoritarian system, is it possible to defy its evils and still stay alive? “I’m tired of having to choose between doing the horrible and more horrible,” Kujira says, and her statement in many ways forms one of the most important themes in the book

In my research of the WWII tragedies, I read many personal accounts from people and soldiers who were ordered to perpetrate war crimes. They’d often say they had no choice, doing what was required of them because they would have been executed if they hadn’t. But there were others who resisted in every way they could manage, putting their own lives at risk, standing by what they felt was right. That included Japanese civilians who protected those of other races while the soldiers carried out atrocities.

As an outsider, Kujira has no qualms about defying orders she considers stupid in line with her understanding of bushido and honor.

In San Diego, as the civil conflict with the American rebels called the George Washingtons breaks out, they unleash a monstrous set of super tanks based on the various German Landkreuzer prototypes of WWII.

For the original draft, it was actually a massive German monster the Japanese call a “Golem,” a defiant description because of its mythologically Jewish origins. These monsters are genetically modified since birth and their cells are induced into massive growth. They are “biomorphed” into creatures that are both amorphous and powerful, a countermeasure to the mechas which the Germans cannot defeat. Subjected to a lifetime of experimentation and psychological scarring, these Golems could never be controlled. During the test phase, they wreaked havoc on the Germans, destroying several cities. So the whole project was shelved and the hundreds who were experimented on were either terminated or discarded to the Italian black market, who in turn sold it to various resistance groups the Germans felt would undermine Japanese dominance.

Unleashed by the Americans, the Golem starts destroying everything in its wake. The American rebels, having no idea, are overwhelmed. It’s up to Kujira to defeat it. But just as she’s about to engage the Golem, she’s told by her superior officers to leave it alone so it can destroy the Americans. She refuses the order, commences a long strategic battle throughout the city, trying to save as many civilians as she can. I had a blast describing the battle as well as diving into Kujira’s prowess, skill, and fury. In the Golem, she sees an externalized representation of soldiers in war. Even after she is victorious against the monster, she gives a respectful bow to her adversary, knowing it too is a victim.

Ultimately, this scene was heavily modified to become the super tanks I mentioned above. This was mainly because the scene felt at odds with the grittier reality of the rest in light of it being the late 1970s. It was something straight out of an anime, kaiju versus mecha, rather than the more science based speculation of the rest of the book. Even though a part of me wished it stayed, I knew it was the right decision to cut it.

It’s that fusing of history, science fiction, strange speculations, ethical dilemmas, and clashing personalities that, I feel, makes USJ the story it is. I loved that scene for giving Kujira a truly dangerous opponent who brings out the gamut of emotions that all the soldiers face. Their battle exemplifies the internal struggle that is at the heart of each of the characters and even as a deleted scene, helped set the tone in writing the other sequences.

LINKS:

Amazon

Blog

BIO:

Peter Tieryas is the author of United States of Japan and Bald New World. His writing has been published in places like Kotaku, Tor.com, and ZYZZYVA. He’s worked as a VFX artist on films likeGuardians of the Galaxy and Alice in Wonderland. He likes tweeting about alternate histories at @TieryasXu.

My Favorite Bit: Mark Tompkins talks about THE LAST DAYS OF MAGIC

My Favorite Bit iconMark Tompkins is joining us today to with his novel The Last days of Magic. Here is the publisher’s description:

An epic novel of magic and mysticism, Celts and faeries, mad kings and druids, and the goddess struggling to reign over magic’s last outpost on the Earth.

What became of magic in the world? Who needed to do away with it, and for what reasons? Drawing on myth, legend, fairy tales, and Biblical mysteries, The Last Days of Magic brilliantly imagines answers to these questions, sweeping us back to a world where humans and magical beings co-exist as they had for centuries.

The Last Days of Magic introduces us to unforgettable characters who grapple with quests for power, human frailty, and the longing for knowledge that has been made taboo. Mark Tompkins has crafted a remarkable tale; a feat of world-building that poses astonishing and resonant answers to epic questions.

What’s Mark’s favorite bit?

Org LDM Tompkins Cover

MARK TOMPKINS

Villains! Much to my surprise my favorite bit about The Last Days of Magic was writing the villains. Characters who at least tried to be honorable felt more constrained by the story arc, whereas the antiheroes freely wrought havoc across the page. I always looked forward to a new one making an appearance. They ran amuck, stayed longer than I had planned, and generally did as they pleased.

Their voices were strong and vibrant. I never really knew what they were going to say until I put ink to page (I am old fashioned in my writing tools). And they lent themselves to being killed, or otherwise subdued, in such exotic ways.

Happily, an abundance of human and inhuman villains presented themselves: Orsini, the psychotic head exorcist; a nameless deranged Imp; Richard, the sadistic king; and plenty of violent faeries. Witches, it should be noted, came in both flavors, nefarious and virtuous. The wicked ones turned out to be concentrated in France due to the dominance of the High Coven, which did not tolerate challenges within its territory.

The most compelling antiheroes to write were those who were psychologically complex and had compelling backstories that hinted at why they became evil. Unlike the out of control Imp, they had plans and a code. My favorite was Isabeau, Queen of France and Grande Sorcière of the High Coven. We see her history through a kind of past life regression to renew her magical blood:

A small clock on the mantel chimed 2:00 A.M., the time for her witches to gather. Before she could join them tonight, she must renew her bond—a bond through blood and time—to the founder of their coven, as she did after each solstice. Though still exhausted from her most recent trip to Norway, she climbed out of her canopy bed and pulled a silk robe over her nightgown. Gliding across her moonlit bedroom, she approached the wall and pressed a piece of molding. With a click a panel swung open.

The Grande Sorcière entered into a perfectly square, windowless room. In the center, on a small gilded table, a single golden candle burned, filling the room with liquid yellow light. The Grande Sorcière knew that as long as she performed the rite, this candle, first lit by her kinswoman Taddea de la Barthe 121 years ago, would not go out and would not burn down. She sat on a plain wooden chair, gazed into the flame, and began the ritual of remembering.

She was rowing a boat up a river of blood under a dark purple sky, where a sun and a moon spun in a tight arc. Along the black sand bank, row upon row of women, thousands of them, each of them on fire, turned their heads to watch her pass.

She tied the boat to a stone wharf and stepped out onto a staircase, which led down farther than she could see.

She walked down the staircase and entered one of the many doors along its edge.

She was in the body of eight-year-old Taddea, standing at a familiar second-story window at the edge of a large square in a town she knew to be Toulouse in 1275.

She could feel the man’s rough hand under her chin, squeezing her face, smell the ale and sausage on his breath as he bent down to her. “You must watch,” he growled. The Grande Sorcière and her predecessors did not care enough about him to remember the man’s name. “See what happens to your kind, what we’ve done to your mother.”

He thought he was forcing her to watch. He was not; she would have watched anyway.

The Grande Sorcière, Isabeau, was thrust into darkness by the persecution of her forbearers. Knowing that, how could I possibly resist giving her a chance for revenge, for more wickedness? What is it about writing from darkness that is so… delightful? Or is it just me?

LINKS:

Visit the author’s website, or connect with him on Facebook, or Twitter.

Buy the book on: Barnes&Noble, Indiebound, iBooks, Audible, Amazon

BIO:

The Last days of Magic, published by Viking, is Mark Tompkins’s debut novel. He founded the Aspen Writers’ Network and serves on the board of Aspen Words, a program of the Aspen Institute. He is a published poet and international award-winning photographer whose work is held in the permanent collections of museums in the United States and abroad. Born in Texas of Irish ancestry, Tompkins lives in Colorado with his family.

My Favorite Bit: Jason LaPier talks about UNCLEAR SKIES

My Favorite Bit iconJason LaPier is joining us today with his novel Unclear Skies. Here’s the publisher’s description:

The second book in Jason LaPier’s thrilling sci-fi trilogy

Justice isn’t what it used to be

Rogue cop Stanford Runstom blew open a botched murder case and was given a promotion – of sorts. But doing PR work for ModPol, the security-firm-for-hire, is not the detective position Runstom had in mind, particularly when his orders become questionable.

Freedom always comes at a price

Despite being cleared of false murder charges, Jax is still a fugitive from justice. When ModPol catches up with him, keeping his freedom now means staying alive at any cost, even if that means joining Space Waste, the notorious criminal gang.

Security can be deadly

When ModPol and Space Waste go head to head, old friends Runstom and Jax find themselves caught between two bloodthirsty armies, and this time they might not escape with their lives.

What’s Jason’s favorite bit?

Unclear Skies cover

JASON LAPIER

My favorite bit about Unclear Skies? That would be the character arcs. Taking these characters into the second book of The Dome Trilogy really gave me an opportunity to deepen their backstories and broaden their growth by forcing challenges on them with higher stakes.

Jax was once a life support operator in a 27th century dome on a planet orbiting Barnard’s Star, with an easy job and an apathetic life. He’s forced out of his shell when he’s wrongfully accused of killing a block of residents. In the first book of the series, Unexpected Rain, this event was enough of a shock to compel some character growth out of Jax: he found himself in many “adapt or die” situations (or in some cases, “adapt or go to prison for life”). In the second book he remains a fugitive and is essentially homeless – to the point where his sense of humanity is in danger. He doesn’t have the most basic needs: shelter and food. He’s alone. He’s depressed and feeling hopeless. He has to pull himself back into the world as someone else, take on a new identity, and in a place so different from the domes he grew up in. When the opportunity presents itself for Jax to make himself useful, to allow himself become more than a shadow, he takes it. He saves lives with his knowledge, but at the risk of exposing himself – both to the authorities he’s eluding and to the people who he’s grown close to.

In Unexpected Rain, Stanford Runstom is a police officer who longs to become a detective. In the follow-up, Unclear Skies, he’s been “promoted” into the public relations department. He still believes in the vision of the interstellar organization that employs him, Modern Policing and Peacekeeping: to provide justice and defense services to civilizations that have evolved to eras of peace, but still in need of protection on occasion. He’s uncomfortable with the semi-celebrity status he’s acquired for his role in solving the mass murder that Jax was accused of, and even more uncomfortable that his new job is not police-work, but instead marketing-work. Runstom has always felt out of place – a rare birth anomaly has given his skin a green tinge and marks him as an outsider in any habitat he visits – but being forced to do work he doesn’t understand exacerbates that feeling. When he can’t be a cop in the face of danger, he finds a new quality in himself: the ability to stand up and lead. Ultimately – without giving too much away – Runstom reconnects with his past in unexpected ways. This allows us to learn much more about the man who clings to a sense of justice like it’s the only anchor in a chaos-filled life.

Dava was kind of a secondary main character in the first book of the trilogy. Now in Unclear Skies, she becomes a true central character. She starts as an assassin who prefers to work alone; as an Earthling who was orphaned during the ride from Earth to the domes, she’s always felt outcast. Due to the effect that dome filtration systems have on pigmentation, Earthlings like Dava are the only humans around that still have dark skin, and thus her heritage is unmistakable. One of the few black-skinned people she knows is Moses Down, the man who “rescued” her from her dome life, albeit into a life of organized crime. He is like a father to her: a connection she struggles with, is confounded by. She even once toyed with the notion that she was in love with him. These are all the convoluted thoughts and emotions of someone who was plucked from her home and lost her family and forced to live as an outsider in a new world.

Now Moses wants Dava to become a leader, and through the course of Unclear Skies, she struggles to learn how to meet his expectations. She thinks what’s blocking her is her inability to trust others. But what is really holding her back is not her inability to connect with her fellow gangbangers – it’s her fear of connecting to them. It’s a fear of caring, because they can be so easily taken away. A fear of allowing them to become her family; though she doesn’t yet understand that, the concept being so foreign to her.

Together, these three very different characters share similarities in their arcs. In their own ways, each is struggling with a lack of home. The old saying “home is where the heart is” only goes so far. In the Maslow’s pyramid sense of “needs”, a human being needs shelter at the most basic level. A human being also needs family and companionship. And higher up, a human being seeks a sense of belonging. That’s what home is: a shelter, a family, and a place where you belong, and each of these characters is missing some part of that equation. They are driven unconsciously by the desire to correct their imbalances and find their true homes.

So my favorite bit about Unclear Skies is that I get to watch these characters continue to grow, continue to broaden and deepen, and that I get to set them on a path toward what it is they truly seek, even if they don’t yet know what that end-goal is.

LINKS:

Website/Blog

Twitter

Amazon

B&N

Kobo

Google Play

iTunes

BIO:

Born and raised in upstate New York, Jason now lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife and their long-haired dachshund. In past lives he has been a guitar player for a metal band, a drum-n-bass DJ, a record store owner, a game developer, and an IT consultant. These days he divides his time between writing fiction and developing software, and doing Oregonian things like gardening, hiking, and drinking microbrew.

My Favorite Bit: S. K. Dunstall talks about ALLIANCE

My Favorite Bit iconS. K. Dunstall is joining us today with their novel Alliance. Here’s the publisher’s description:

As the Linesman series continues, linesman Ean Lambert finds himself facing an alien ship he doesn’t understand—and a terrifying political threat he cannot fight…
 
The lines. The soul of every ship. It was once thought there were only ten, but that was before an alien vessel appeared at the edge of space—before Ean Lambert heard more lines singing. Ean’s ways of communicating with lines is strange. But his abilities make him a valuable tool—or weapon—to command.

Captain Selma Kari Wang has lost everything—her ship, her crew, her legs. But the New Alliance of Worlds is not done with her yet. After they rebuild her broken body, they send her to captain one of the new alien ships, teaming her up with Ean, the only one who can understand the alien lines.

Kari Wang and Ean are poised on the threshold of discoveries that could change the world. But not everyone wants the New Alliance to control the secrets they uncover—and those who oppose won’t hesitate to do whatever it takes to stop them…

What’s S. K.’s favorite bit?

cover image, Alliance

S. K. DUNSTALL

Hmm. How do we talk about this one without spoilers?

Because this favorite bit is right in the middle of the final action scene.

Each of us has our own favorite bits in the stories we write. They’re not generally the same.  Sherylyn tends to like the scenes with big emotional impact, while Karen goes for the scenes with clever banter.

For example, a passage like:

Fitch’s grin stretched almost ear to ear.  “Congratulations, Captain. You have a new pair of legs.”

She stared at the bright white ceiling and ignored them.

The light dimmed with the night. Brightened again with the new day. Over and over.

They should have let her die along with the rest of her crew.

Is something Sherylyn would pick out as a personal favorite, while Karen’s might be:

“Will you look at that,” Mael said to Tinatin. “Captain Legless.”

But with Alliance we had the same favorite bit, and it’s right in the middle of the finale.

The best space operas have the following in common.  Characters you care about. Fights, action. High stakes.  It’s often served with a dose of humour or repartee that makes you quote lines to your friends for ever after.

They’re action adventure stories, and like any action adventure, the stakes keep rising until everything comes together in one final major scene, good guys against bad guys. All the plot points come together at that time too.

We’re what they call ‘pantsers’, writers who find out the story as they go along rather than plotting it all out at the start and writing to the plot. With two of us writing, there is a little bit of planning in that we will often talk out a scene just before we write it, so that we agree on what’s going to happen. Just-in-time plotting, if you like, but that’s all.

In this book our major storyline is how Ean Lambert, who is now the New Alliance’s leading linesman, teams up with Captain Selma Kari Wang, who has just lost her ship, as they learn how to work with the alien line ships. There’s the enemy, of course, who are trying the prevent them doing that.  There’s also a secondary story happening.  The mystery of the destruction of Kari Wang’s first ship.

Naturally, as the story progresses, the stakes get higher in each storyline.  Until it all comes together in the finale.

So even though we don’t plan our story, in Alliance we were always writing to this one scene. We didn’t know how it would happen, we just knew the two stories would come together here. So that of course, right when Kari Wang needs him most, Ean’s got big problems of his own.

Which is why his first answer, when she demands his help, is,

“We’re kind of busy, right now.”

When we started we didn’t know how we were going to get there, or what happened when we did get there, but it all came together for us.  It worked, and it was a fun journey.

That’s why it’s our favorite bit.

LINKS:

Website

Twitter (@skdunstall)

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

BIO:

S. K. Dunstall is the pen name for Sherylyn and Karen Dunstall, sisters who have been telling stories—and sharing them with each other—all their lives. Some years ago, they realised the stories they worked on together were much better than the stories they worked on alone. A co-writing partnership was born.

They live in Melbourne, Australia.