Brenda W. Clough is joining us today to talk about her serial fiction A Most Dangerous Woman, a standalone sequel to Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White. Here’s the description:
Marian Halcombe never believed she’d fall in love, let alone marry. That is, until she meets Theo Camlet. But when Theo’s first wife, who everyone believed to be dead, reappears, Marian’s happy-ever-after might just slip away. Marian and her brother in law, Walter, must delve into the darkest and most dangerous corners of London to save Theo from accusations of bigamy and murder, as well as the hangman’s noose.
What’s Brenda’s favorite bit?
BRENDA W. CLOUGH
Content Warning: description of genital mutilation as outdated medical procedure
A MOST DANGROUS WOMAN is solidly set in the mid-Victorian period, an era full of research nuggets. It was before antibiotics, before the germ theory, but in a period where everyone wrote everything down. So you have masses of thrilling and blood-curdling medical disaster stories. I am trying to wedge as many of the most wince-worthy ones into these novels! But some of the ones that didn’t make it into the current book include:
The period pharmacopoeia. The favorite Victorian drug was an opiate; opium or its more powerful derivatives were added to everything. Tonics. Baby supplements. Cough syrups. Malaria medicines. It’s a wonder anyone got anything done, they all must have been higher than Timothy Leary. Another beloved chemical enhancement was arsenic. It was like corn sugar for us, a useful additive to anything you can imagine. Lotions, foodstuffs, hair products – everything went down a little better with arsenic. There were no food purity regulations, no drug laws that precluded you from buying half a pound of the stuff at the local store so that you could add arsenic, or opiates, to the food you were selling or cooking for the hubby and kids.
Things to do to sick people. When Emily Bronte (author of WUTHERING HEIGHTS) was bitten by her dog, she staved off rabies by cauterizing the wound with a poker heated red-hot. She did this with her own hands, not even allowing Charlotte and Anne to help. Thank God, there were no cell phone cameras so the incident is not viewable on YouTube. The things to feed to sick people will make you feel ill just reading the recipes. The idea was that sick people were not strong enough to digest anything. So they got dishes like bread jelly (put the bread in a bowl, pour boiling water on, and after it cools take the bread out. Spoon the water left in the bowl into the invalid’s mouth). Or gruel, the bane of Oliver Twist. You could have sago gruel, oatmeal gruel or rice gruel. All of these to be served quite plain, and any leftovers could be used to glue wallpaper to the walls. If you read JANE EYRE it is clear that Bertha, the crazy wife hidden in the attic, is fed on nothing but gruel. After a year or two on this diet you would go berserk and burn the hose down too!
Creative treatment trends. There was a fashion for hydropathy, which means taking baths. Cold baths, hot baths, water poured in a steady stream onto the top of your head – all these things were supposed to help cure a variety of ailments. Charles Darwin spent years treating his digestive issues with sitz baths, sitting in a shallow basin of water. You can still view the bowl at his house in Sussex – he kept it hanging behind his office door, handy for use. Another horrific notion, mainly pushed by a single nutty doctor, was clitoridectomy. Yes, using a scissors on a woman’s most personal organ would cure her of nearly anything from toothache to infertility. That doctor got disbarred, but another, whose idea that all your health problems were caused by your teeth, was not. He prescribed extractions for everything from colds to heart trouble to gout, and did a good business. Then he got sick himself, and had all his own teeth pulled out. He was horrified when it didn’t help, and you will not be surprised to hear that after that he went into a decline.
And finally, the one medical issue that you find very little written about: STDs. Sexually transmitted illnesses were rampant, in an era when London teemed with prostitutes and there were no cures or cheap protections. There was of course no birth control, and even condoms had to be expensively and painstakingly hand-made (from lamb intestine, tied on with ribbon). Every man who strayed sooner or later picked up some horrible disease, and if they were unlucky they were infected with the most feared germ of all: syphilis, the Great Pox. It was highly infectious, and incurable. The treatments (mercury) were at best partially effective and at worst killed you outright. But you couldn’t talk about it. Because if you had an STD you, by definition, had been sleeping around. Doctors would diagnose and treat men, but carefully not tell their wives even if the lady became infected. Because it was the mister who paid the bill, and the knowledge would only upset the poor little woman, right? In any case there was no cure until the advent of penicillin, and if you were really unfortunate the disease would pop back out after years of making you ill, and drive you insane. A vast field of literary analysis is out there, exploring how the fear of VD haunts fiction and poetry of the period. As syphilis warped men’s sexuality, infected women (Isak Dinesen caught syphilis from her husband) people wrote about it in coded or veiled terms that we are only just starting to perceive.
Although I had not intended this, you can look up from the world of A MOST DANGEROUS WOMAN and be really, really glad that you live in an era with modern medicine!
Brenda W. Clough spent much of her childhood overseas, courtesy of the U.S. government. She writes novels and short stories. Her first fantasy, The Crystal Crown, was published by DAW in 1984. She has also written The Dragon of Mishbil (1985), The Realm Beneath (1986), and The Name of the Sun (1988). Her children’s novel, An Impossumble Summer (1992), is set in her own house in Virginia, cottage at the edge of a forest.
Sheryl R. Hayes is joining us today to talk about her novel Chaos Wolf. Here is a publisher’s description:
Bitten by a werewolf. Taught by a vampire. At this rate, she’s going to start a war.
Literature major Jordan Abbey ordered a double mocha latte, but it wasn’t supposed to come with a side order bite by a love-sick werewolf. When a vampire comes to her rescue, gut instinct tells her he has questionable motives. But he’s the only one she can trust to help get in touch with her inner animal.
Within a week, her smart mouth lands her in trouble with the hostile Alpha of the local pack and the stiff-necked vampire Elder. She now has less than a moon cycle to master shape changing… or else. And the besotted werewolf who started this whole mess is stalking Jordan and killing her friends. He won’t take no for an answer.
In the Northern California town of Rancho Robles where the children of the Wolf and the Bat share an uneasy coexistence, one woman makes an epic mess of the status quo.
What’s Sheryl’s favorite bit?
SHERYL R. HAYES
I love world building. Pick up my copy of The Magician’s Nephew and the book falls open to is where Aslan sings Narnia into being. Tolkien’s Simillarion has a well thumbed section about the creation of Arda. I read my mother’s copy of Mother West Wind’s “How” Stories over and over and over until all I had to do was close my eyes and I could see the Green Forest and all the animals who lived there. So when I got the chance, I dove in head first to create my own mythos.
It’s a standard trope of most urban fantasy that werewolves and vampires do not get along. The comment ‘it’s always been that way’ without an explanation of why left me unsatisfied. It makes sense if you consider them both as alpha predators that may be competing for the same resources. Sometimes it’s a personal dislike, but more often than not, it’s something intrinsic to both species. I wanted to dig into the reason for that instinct. That meant going all the way back to the beginning.
In my new novel Chaos Wolf, as Jordan explores her werewolf nature, she is taught about the Wolf and the Bat. All vampires and werewolves are familiar with the legend. Whether or not they believe it is another matter entirely. But they can all recite how the first Wolf and the first Bat were cursed by Gaia for killing the first Man, locking them into human forms.
If you listen to the werewolves, the Wolf showed true contrition for her sin and Luna, unable to lift the curse placed on her by Gaia, lessened it. Moved to pity, she allowed the Wolf to regain her true shape once a month, making her the first werewolf. When the Bat sought sympathy from Sol, he was punished further for attempting to deceive his patron god, transforming him into the first vampire.
The vampires tell a slightly different version. Ashamed of how he had led his friend into temptation, the Bat interceded on the Wolf’s behalf. He took on additional punishment of not being able to bear the rays of the sun in addition to the blood thirst that ravaged him. But she didn’t show any appreciation for his sacrifice, still angry at him for causing their downfall from grace.
Both the Children of the Wolf and the Children of the Bat use this story as justification for the hostilities between their species. Which one is telling the truth? Only the gods, the Wolf, and the Bat know for sure. And me, but I’m not telling.
Sheryl R. Hayes can be found untangling plot threads or the yarn her cats have been playing with. In addition to writing, she is a cosplayer focusing on knit and crochet costumes and works full time at a Bay Area water company.
Tina LeCount Myers is joining us today with her novel The Song of All. Here’s the publisher’s description:
On the forbidding fringes of the tundra, where years are marked by seasons of snow, humans war with immortals in the name of their shared gods. Irjan, a human warrior, is ruthless and lethal, a legend among the Brethren of Hunters. But even legends grow tired and disillusioned.
Scarred and weary of bloodshed, Irjan turns his back on his oath and his calling to hide away and live a peaceful life as a farmer, husband, and father. But his past is not so easily left behind. When an ambitious village priest conspires with the vengeful comrades Irjan has forsaken, the fragile peace in the Northlands of Davvieana is at stake.
His bloody past revealed, Irjan’s present unravels as he faces an ultimatum: return to hunt the immortals or lose his child. But with his son’s life hanging in the balance, as Irjan follows the tracks through the dark and desolate snow-covered forests, it is not death he searches for, but life.
What’s Tina’s favorite bit?
TINA LECOUNT MYERS
One of my favorite parts of my fantasy novel is the science behind it. In fact, I started writing The Song of All after a debate with my husband about what distinguishes science fiction from fantasy. Let’s just say it was a robust discussion in which my husband made the point that science fiction presents what is possible based on science, while fantasy presents magic and the supernatural and is not based on science, a distinction I took umbrage with.
“What about quantum physics?” I asked. “What about dark matter and dark energy? Couldn’t they explain magic and metaphysical elements?”
“Fine,” he conceded, knowing I had watched more TedX and Neil deGrasse Tyson talks on YouTube than he had. “But there are no such things as elves.”
“But there could be,” I said.
Human evolution, even starting as late as Homo erectus, reflects substantial differences in morphology. Comparing Homo sapiens to the Neanderthals, Homo sapiens have keener eyesight, hearing, and sense of smell. Through natural selection, any number of potential phenotypes might evolve if those individuals are successful at surviving and passing on their genetics. Nothing precludes the evolution of an “elf.”
Later, as I rehashed the argument, I thought about how many cultures have elves as part of their mythology. I recalled the Finnish folktales my own grandparents told me as a child about spirits that lived in the far north, in Saamiland. I began to imagine just how these magical creatures might have evolved. And what started as research to prove my point unexpectedly ended up as a fantasy novel.
In The Song of All, the Jápmemeahttun (pronounced yahp.meh.mehah.toon) are my “elves.” They are distinct from the human Olmmoš (pronounced ol.mow.sh), having evolved over millennia of prehistory in isolation. While the two species have similar morphology, the Jápmemeahttun have developed some distinctive characteristics due to environmental and social pressures. One such characteristic is their unusual reproductive system. The Jápmemeahttun are protogyny sequential hermaphrodites, meaning they change sexes, in this case from female to male, a model that I borrowed from real life biological sciences.
Researchers suggest that sequential hermaphroditism occurs in nature when an individual animal reproduces most efficiently as one sex when younger, but as the other sex when older. Among invertebrates and vertebrates, there are many examples of sequential hermaphroditism, both protogyny (female to male) and protandry (male to female). The Clownfish switches from male to female. The Blackfin Goby fish can go both ways depending on need. The European common brown frog sometimes switches from female to male when the females are older, prolonging their lifetime reproductive success. But my favorite example is the wrasse because of the impassioned lecture my college biology professor gave on this fish.
After weeks of stunningly dry lectures, my introductory biology course had finally evolved from the cellular level to the topic of reproduction. My professor, who for those proceeding weeks had shown little enthusiasm for the material, began to explain with surprising animation the mating rituals of this small fish-the wrasse. With gusto, she described how when the dominant male of a school dies or as she put it “goes out for a cup of coffee”, the largest female will begin seducing the other females and develop male organs to become dominant in the school. She concluded with a cackle that, “There’s a reason why they’re called Sneaky Suckers.” Only she did not say Suckers.
Struck by my professor’s unexpected liveliness, I stopped taking notes and saw for the first time just how mind-blowing biological adaptations can be. Two decades later, when I started to write The Song of All, I remembered that moment of wonder and saw in evolution the possibility to write about magical creatures, using not only imagination, but also science to shape them.
As a species, the Jápmemeahttun are far more honorable in their courtship than the wrasse. They do not rely on duplicity to ensure that dominant genes are passed on. But like the wrasse, the Jápmemeahttun, as I envisioned them, are the result of natural selection. They adapted in response to their imagined world, just as species have on this planet. Evolution has created some pretty magical creatures in the Earth’s 4.5 billion years of existence: Pterodactyls, Duck-billed Platypuses, Human Beings. And numerous cultures acknowledge the existence of unseen supernatural beings. So, while I am willing to concede to the point that there is no scientific evidence of elves, I add the caveat, “Not yet.”
Tina LeCount Myers is a writer, artist, independent historian, and surfer. Born in Mexico to expat-bohemian parents, she grew up on Southern California tennis courts with a prophecy hanging over her head; her parents hoped she’d one day be an author. The Song of All is her debut novel.
Sue Burke is joining us today with her novel Semiosis. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Colonists from Earth wanted the perfect home, but they’ll have to survive on the one they found. They don’t realize another life form watches…and waits…
Only mutual communication can forge an alliance with the planet’s sentient species and prove that humans are more than tools.
What’s Sue’s favorite bit?
Let’s design a big, scary alien. As a first step, let’s consider Earth beings.
What’s the biggest living thing on Earth? Pando, a clonal colony of a single quaking aspen tree, covering 106 acres of ground in Utah.
What’s the oldest? Pando, again, whose roots are an estimated 80,000 years old. As for the oldest individuals, there’s a bristlecone pine in California, a cypress in Chile, and a sacred fig in Sri Lanka, among many other trees, all more than 2,000 years old.
You can see where this is headed. And you’re already skeptical. Let me try to convince you.
What are the most essential beings on Earth? Possibly the members of the family in the vegetable kingdom called Poaceae – that is, grasses – which includes rice, wheat, maize, sugarcane, oats, barley, and many other grains. Without them, we’d starve.
What’s the nastiest creature on Earth? There’s lots of competition, but I’ll argue that this category can and should include plants. For example, rose bushes have thorns so they can climb over other plants, anchoring their prickles in their flesh, and very possibly starving them of sunshine and killing them – but roses don’t care. (Why would you ever give a rose to your beloved again, knowing that?)
Trees fight among themselves, too. Softwood trees grow fast to capture sunshine, which all plants covet, while hardwoods grow more slowly. Their branches are stirred by the wind against softwoods, grinding through them. Hardwoods rise up to become dominant in the forest canopy by amputating other trees’ limbs one by one. (I told you. Nasty.)
Fine, you say, but plants mostly just sit there. Well, yes and no. They’re actively involved with their environment, including you. When it serves their purpose, they can even communicate with you. When a tomato in your garden turns red, what has that plant just told you? (Bear in mind that the tomato plant wants you to eat the tomato, since its uncooked seeds travel safely through your digestion to arrive at a new, potentially ideal growing site, along with fertilizer.)
Plants also communicate with each other quite a bit through air-borne chemicals and through their roots. They produce pesticides when they’re warned by their companions of a coming attack by insects. They can also produce a wide range of chemicals for all sorts of purposes, from perfumes to psychoactive viagra samples drugs to poisons.
Plants aren’t passive. They’re busy, aggressive, and they have weapons.
They can see, too, in a way. You’ve noticed plants leaning toward sunshine, and some of them keep track of how long sunshine lasts during the day to bloom in certain seasons. They also seem to count. Some bamboos live for a specified number of years before they flower, as many as 120 years, and they know exactly when time is up.
I could go on with what plants can do, but the conclusion is clear. We share Earth with beings who are big, old, nasty, communicative, very aware of their surroundings, armed and deadly, and who are absolutely essential to us, so we have to keep them around.
Let’s use that to create a science fictional protagonist. You immediately have an objection. This big scary being is literally rooted in place. You’re right. This is going to be tough.
And that’s where the fun starts: with an artistic challenge. Stories often deal with something the protagonist wants and can’t get. What would a specific plant want? How would its desire conflict with other beings, maybe with ourselves? How far would a plant go to get what it wants? (We already know that plants are murderous.) Remember, we might depend on this alien to survive as much as we fear it.
Cue the drama. We’ve never faced an enemy as big and bad as this, or had an ally with such extensive resources. We’re going to face dire, unexpected choices.
Have I convinced you? I hope so. I had fun, at any rate. I built a planet and seeded it (literally) with aliens who look harmless at first glance. But now maybe you’ll believe that looks can be deceiving, and an alien who is green and leafy can also be big and scary.
Sue Burke is a literary translator, and has worked as a journalist and editor for a variety of newspapers and magazines. She has also published more than 30 short stories. She used to live in Madrid, Spain (hence the literary translator work), and now lives in Chicago. Semiosis is her debut novel. You can learn more about it at its website, https://semiosispax.com/
David Mack is joining us today with his novel The Midnight Front. Here’s the publisher’s description:
On the eve of World War Two, Nazi sorcerers come gunning for Cade but kill his family instead. His one path of vengeance is to become an apprentice of The Midnight Front―the Allies’ top-secret magickal warfare program―and become a sorcerer himself.
Unsure who will kill him first―his allies, his enemies, or the demons he has to use to wield magick―Cade fights his way through occupied Europe and enemy lines. But he learns too late the true price of revenge will be more terrible than just the loss of his soul―and there’s no task harder than doing good with a power born of ultimate evil.
What’s David’s favorite bit?
*Note: The following essay includes a depiction of suicide. If you are thinking about suicide, are worried about a loved one, or would like emotional support, talk to someone here.*
It can be easy to forget that even great sagas are constituted of mere moments, and that sometimes the smallest, most personal of scenes can carry a story’s greatest emotional weight.
The Midnight Front is many things at once: it’s a sweeping World War II epic; it’s a dark fantasy that chronicles a bitter secret war between rival groups of sorcerers who wield black magick; but at its heart, it is about a small cadre of magicians who grow to care for one another like family.
Underscoring that theme is the fact that several of my magic-using characters are orphans, have been cast out of their families, or have otherwise found themselves alone in the world. This is true of my main character, Cade, who loses his parents early in the story; my female lead Anja is cast out of her home as a teen and de facto adopted by the Allies’ master magician, Adair. Last but not least, one of Adair’s senior apprentices, Niko, has long since lost his parents, and over the course of the novel he, too, loses what few kin he has left, in a debacle that leads to the death of fellow apprentice Stefan and causes a bitter rift between Niko and Adair.
Such is the state of play when, late in the book, Niko must risk his life to escape a “dead zone” in which magick will not work, so that he can use an enchanted mirror to pass military secrets back to Adair. With their sorcerous archenemy Kein only seconds behind him, Niko crashes his stolen car into a forest and flees. Then:
Drenched in his own blood, Niko propped himself against a tree and pulled his enchanted mirror from a coat pocket with a quaking hand. “Fenestra, Adair.” He was shaken by a hacking cough full of blood while he awaited the master’s reply. Searchlights slashed through the trees as the Germans followed his swath of destruction through the woods.
Adair’s face replaced Niko’s reflection. “Christ, lad, what—”
“No time, Master.” He propped the mirror on his leg, then used his good hand to pull the map and camera from inside his coat. He pushed them one at a time through the mirror to Adair. “Kein . . . built a trap. . . . In a bunker. At Pointe du Hoc.”
“They will cover it with wax and cement. It will be hidden. But destroy it you must.” Tears fell from his eyes. He croaked out his last words. “Bonne chance, Père.”
Shadows converged upon Niko. Kein shouted, “Take him alive!”
Niko put the barrel of his pistol into his mouth.
I will not be used against my friends, as Stefan was.
SS troops surrounded him, submachine guns at the ready.
In the name of love, Niko pulled his trigger.
One scene later we pick up that moment from the perspective of his master, Adair:
As the remote image vanished from Adair’s mirror, the master expected to confront his reflection — but like the Fool gazing upon Lear, he saw only his shadow.
He pounded the floor with the sides of his fists. How could I have doubted that lad? Loyal to the end. Braver than I knew.
Tears streamed from Adair’s shut-tight eyes. Niko’s last words haunted him.
Bonne chance, Père.
Adair’s chest heaved with painful sobs for which he had no breath, so his body shook in near silence as he surrendered to his heartbreak.
He called me Father.
I love these related moments. Though Adair and Niko are just supporting characters in the novel, this moment speaks to one of the truths of the narrative. What bonds my heroes through all of their struggles and setbacks is genuine affection.
By comparison, the concerns that drive their foes, the Thule-Gesellschaft (which was a real occult society that helped spawn the Nazi Party) and its leaders (Kein, Briet, and Siegmar) seem to be self-interest, fear, and a desire to see the world burn. If the villains of my story represent a family unit, it is a dysfunctional one at best.
But Adair’s last moment with Niko … it breaks my heart every time I read it. Niko still feels guilty for having set in motion the events that killed Stefan, who he loved like a brother. Just as poignantly, up until the moment of Niko’s sacrifice, Adair still carries anger and resentment toward Niko over that error.
But when Niko refers to Adair as Père — that heartfelt moment, that simple choice of words, expresses a lifetime of love and respect. And then it’s followed by a devastating act of self-sacrifice.
Without those words, it would still have stung Adair to see Niko die. But after that valediction, the moment becomes more profound: for the second time, Adair loses a man who is like a son to him.
It is a tragedy in a novel replete with loss, death, and destruction. But in its sorrow there is also hope: the belief that love will win the day. Even as Niko faces his own end, he urges his surrogate father to look toward the light. He believes in him.
Perhaps it’s a romantic delusion to think that love and hope alone are enough to win a war — but without them, there’s really nothing left worth winning.
David Mack is the award-winning and New York Times bestselling author of more than thirty novels of science fiction, fantasy, and adventure, including the Star Trek Destiny and Cold Equations trilogies. His new novel The Midnight Front is available now from Tor Books. Mack’s writing credits span several media, including television (for episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), film, short fiction, and comic books. He resides in New York City.
In which Mary Robinette talks about the science behind the meteor strike in The Calculating Stars, the human reaction to conflict versus disaster, and exploring Mars. Plus, a brief teaser of The Relentless Moon, book three in the Lady Astronaut series!
In which Mary Robinette and Cady Coleman, a retired NASA astronaut, discuss the impact of gender on NASA’s astronaut selection program, why representation is important, and what the space program of the future might look like.
In which Mary Robinette and several other authors talk about writing hard science fiction, how to figure out what you need to research, and not letting research distract you from getting words down on the page.
In which Mary Robinette teaches a class on how to write and structure short stories. Writing is fractal: once you understand the principles that make something work at one length, you can apply it to other lengths. She discusses the elements of the MICE quotient, weaving plot threads together, how to maintain tension through the muddy middle, and satisfying endings. Also, everyone writes a story in class! Yes, really!
In which Mary Robinette and several other science fiction authors discuss how present technology shapes future society, walking the line between disaster and hope, and what the world might look like in the year 2050.
In which Mary Robinette discusses her lifelong connection to science fiction, how puppetry informs her storytelling, the mechanics of turning an idea into a story, and the creative process behind her punch card punk universe and its multiple award-winning first novel The Calculating Stars.
with Charlotte Bond, Lucy Hounsom, and Megan Leigh
In which Mary Robinette talks about writing alternate histories, how divergent points shift society, using real historical figures in fiction, and why genre stories can create space for thinking about social issues.
In which Mary Robinette talks about using math as a magic system, learning to be aware of personal and structural biases, the stigma around mental illness, recording audio books, and whether or not she would go to space.
In which Mary Robinette reads an excerpt from The Fated Sky and then discusses the research that went into writing the Lady Astronaut novels, the evolution of her punchcard punk universe, how she decides what to write, and what she’s learned from dealing with third graders.
MRK’s multiple careers, The Lady Astronaut series, alternate history, “We Interrupt this Broadcast”, women in the space race, scifi as thought experiments, not being ashamed of reading scifi, using experts to help your writing, fixing “write what you know”
How Mary Robinette choses what historical period to write in, how to be fearless, make an outline work for you, writing in different mediums, favorite puppet personas (with voices), what a rocket launch is like.
In which Mary Robinette talks about structured procrastination, her first role on Sesame Street, balancing mental health with solitary creative pursuits, behind the scenes at Writing Excuses, and the legacy she hopes to leave.
In which Mary Robinette has a conversation with John Scalzi about the Lady Astronaut novels and reads an excerpt from The Fated Sky. Then, John Scalzi reads his short story “Regarding Your Application Status.”
In which Mary Robinette reads an excerpt from Ghost Talkers, and then talks about reading out loud effectively, managing reader expectations when writing about specific historical periods, what the “strong” in “strong female character” actually means, recognizing and dealing with structural and internalized gender bias, and why she writes healthy committed relationships.
In which Mary Robinette discusses her story “The Midnight Hour,” subverting fairy tales, writing characters with mental illness without losing sight of their humanity, the intersection of puppetry and writing, and paying it forward to create a richer community.
In which Mary Robinette talks about ending the Glamourist Histories series with Of Noble Family, drawing inspiration from Mansfield Park and making the context accessible to modern readers, and her new gig on Sesame Street.
In which Mary Robinette discusses communication with a fan, her Glamourist Histories series, the cover design process, and how she picks the historical periods she writes in. She also reads an excerpt from Glamour in Glass!
In which Mary Robinette discusses the reception she has received for Shades of Milk and Honey, shadows puppets and how they play in her novels, and the second book in her Glamourist Histories series, Glamour in Glass.
In which Mary Robinette talks about writing with Jane Austen’s language and style, writing tics, the historical divergence point in the Glamourist Histories, and using the principles of puppetry in her writing.
Paul Weimer is joining us today with his 2017 DUFF Report, What I Did On My Summer Vacation. Here’s a description of the project:
The Down Under Fan Fund Report is compiled by the Down Under Fan Fund Representative as a record of their trip to the other side of the world to connect with SFF fandom, and bring disparate portions of the SFF community together. Having originated in 1970, the Down Under Fan Fund sends fans from Australasia to North America and back again in alternate years. Entirely run on donations from the SFF community, the Down Under Fan Fund report itself is made available so that all proceeds from its sale can help replenish the Fund. The 2017 Down Under Fan Fund delegate, Paul Weimer, traveled from Minnesota to the 2017 National Science Fiction conventions of both New Zealand and Australia, and saw many things along the way, ranging from Hobbiton to the Sydney Opera House. The 2017 Down Under Fan Fund Report details his experiences.
What’s Paul’s favorite bit?
For me, writing the Down Under Fan Fund report was very much like writing a travelogue. I was a stranger in a strange land, having traveled to the antipodes in search of conventions and other SFFnal and touristy things. It did take me a few days to truly get my bearings in New Zealand, driving on the opposite side of the road, dealing with technical problems, sulfur sensitivities, nearly not finding Hobbiton in time for my tour, and then the stress of performing my duty and attending the first of the two cons, Lexicon, in the resort town of Taupo. But it had been to that point an often-challenging trip to manage.
It was like a sign from the heavens, thusly, that as I left Taupo on an early morning, the sky was overcast if not rainy, making a long drive down the desert road and across a fair chunk of New Zealand to be an experience of sullen skies, poor photographic conditions, and a lot of driving. I had already learned that driving in New Zealand was a slow and ponderous affair, doubly so in rain and fog. I wound up in less than stellar lodgings after a day and a good chunk of the night driving where New Zealand had seemed mostly grey, flat and nothing like the Middle Earth I had hoped to see in and between the convention. Only brief breaks of clarity sustained me on that drive, but my hopes to see the great three central mountains of the north island of New Zealand had been occluded. A suggestion that author Adam Christopher had made to me months ago, when first planning the DUFF trip, had turned out to be a wash.
The next day, waking up in that questionable motel, seemed to promise nothing better. I had to get to Wellington at the bottom tip of the island that evening, but I wanted one more shot at real scenery in New Zealand before the next part of my trip, over in Australia. So, I went for it, driving up Mount Taranaki in the early grey morning in search of a waterfall. I found my waterfall, and a mountain wreathed in clouds, the top as invisible as the ones on the desert road had been. It was a pity, too. Mount Taranaki is a stratovolcano standing in the middle of flat country. Think of it as a somewhat smaller version of Mount Fuji from Japan and you’ll get the idea.
And yet, despite the weather, it was then, after the short walk to the waterfall, as I stood by my car, key in hand, something drew me to take a hike. I could have left after the waterfall, it was a long drive to Wellington, after all. The day was not getting any longer. And still, I found myself climbing a path through the goblin forest, a twisted and faerie looking forest of covered branches that gave the air of an Elven court. When I emerged from that forest an hour later at the “Hillary Seat”, the face of the mountain above me came into view.
Reader, the clouds had parted. The fog was gone. The rain was abolished. The sun was out. The snow packed top of the mountain peak gleamed in the sunlight. The flanks of the mountain were vibrant with color of brown and green. It was a transformative experience, looking up at one of the great mountains in the world, there for my eye and camera to capture (and yes, there are photos of that glorious vista in the report). I stood rooted to the spot for long minutes, unwilling to break the vision of all I had hoped to see in New Zealand in terms of scenery.
I would go on to a fantastic second con in Melbourne (aside from having gotten New Zealand con crud), and see many fantastic things in Australia in the company of most excellent people. And my report is full of photos of everything I saw and everyone I met, from beaches in New Zealand, to Hobbit holes, to the Sir Julius Vogel Awards, to the podcasters of Galactic Suburbia, the Great Ocean Road, and much more. However, it is that moment on Mt. Taranaki, after that hike that something told me I had to take against all rational thought, and to my benefit, that I go back to again and again in my mind. And that’s why it’s my favorite bit.
Paul Weimer is a SF writer, reviewer, and podcaster and an avid amateur photographer. When he isn’t doing any of that, he’s often found rolling dice and roleplaying. His audio work can be found on the Skiffy and Fanty Show and SFF audio. His reviews and columns can also be found at Tor.com and the Barnes and Noble SF blog, amongst other places. Paul is best seen on twitter as @princejvstin.
Wendy N Wagner is joining us today with her novel An Oath of Dogs. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Kate Standish has been on the forest-world of Huginn less than a week and she’s already pretty sure her new company murdered her boss. But the little town of mill workers and farmers is more worried about eco-terrorism and a series of attacks by the bizarre, sentient dogs of this planet, than a death most people would like to believe is an accident. That is, until Kate’s investigation uncovers a conspiracy which threatens them all.
Sure, a few intrepid wrigglers may have crept onboard Leif Erikson’s longboats; a cocoon or two may have clung to the soles of other forgotten European settlers—but the point is that of all the earthworm varieties living in the United States, more than 33% are as foreign to the Western Hemisphere as the Mona Lisa. The green forests of the Pacific Northwest, where I call home, was devoid of those pink, wiggly little critters that I love to see in my garden.
In a vegetable garden or a field full of browsing ruminants, an earthworm is useful thing. It swallows pieces of soil and rotting debris, digesting the bacteria it finds and expelling humic acid-rich casings (poop, for those of you who don’t speak garden-ese). Its movement through the earth carries organic material from the surface of the soil into deeper layers, feeding and oxygenating soil microbes who in turn nurture the plants around them. The food plants I grow are benefited by the work of the earthworm—just as, above the soil, they are benefited by pollinators like bees, butterflies, and beetles. Plants do not grow by themselves.
Needless to say, I spend a lot of time trying to encouraging plant allies in my own garden. I’m a composting fiend, always hoping to add beneficial bacteria to my veggie beds. I’ve planted hundreds of pollinator-attracting plants. I’ve established mushroom beds around my cherry tree. I’ve even purchased freeze-dried mycorrhizal soil inoculants that claim to help establish plant-friendly fungal and bacterial communities. I’d do just about anything to make the soil in my garden better for the plants I want to eat.
That’s why my favorite bit about An Oath of Dogs are all the little soil creatures I’ve managed to sneak onto the page. Hepzibah, a character whose diary gives us a taste of early colonial life, is incredibly focused on building good soil. European settlers in North America had no idea their plants had evolved to thrive in the presence of European soil organisms that were rare or unavailabe in the New World—that may be part of the reason their farms took so long to establish. But in the last fifty years or so, our understanding of plant and soil communities has flourished. With a better grasp of soil science, my colonists brought bales of compost and boxes of butterflies on their trip into space. They knew that people who need to eat need to encourage plant allies in their fields.
But never forget that every part of an ecosystem is connected. When we add new creatures to make it easier to grow something we like to eat, we can cause unexpected disasters. Today, scientists studying forest soils blame imported earthworms for erosion—and maybe even global warming. The honeybees Europeans brought to the U.S. helped wipe out native bee populations, leading up to the pollinator crisis we face four hundred years later. The ways we grow our food have vast effects on the ecosystems around us. And who knows what adding Earth organisms to a extraterrestrial environment will do?
That’s the question at the heart of my book, and it’s all wrapped up in my favorite stuff: soil science. I like to think of it as the dirty bits.
Wendy N. Wagner is a full-time science fiction and fantasy nerd. Her first two novels, Skinwalkers and Starspawn, are set in the world of the Pathfinder role-playing game, and she has written over thirty short stories about monsters, heroes, and unsettling stuff. An avid gamer and gardener, she lives in Portland, Oregon, with her very understanding family.
Curtis C. Chen is joining us today to talk about his novel Kangaroo Too. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Set in the same world as Waypoint Kangaroo, Curtis C. Chen’s Kangaroo Too is bursting with adrenaline and intrigue in this unique outer space adventure.
On the way home from his latest mission, secret agent Kangaroo’s spacecraft is wrecked by a rogue mining robot. The agency tracks the bot back to the Moon, where a retired asteroid miner?code named “Clementine” ?might have information about who’s behind the sabotage.
Clementine will only deal with Jessica Chu, Kangaroo’s personal physician and a former military doctor once deployed in the asteroid belt. Kangaroo accompanies Jessica as a courier, smuggling Clementine’s payment of solid gold in the pocket universe that only he can use.
What should be a simple infiltration is hindered by the nearly one million tourists celebrating the anniversary of the first Moon landing. And before Kangaroo and Jessica can make contact, Lunar authorities arrest Jessica for the murder of a local worker.
Jessica won’t explain why she met the victim in secret or erased security footage that could exonerate her. To make things worse, a sudden terror attack puts the whole Moon under lockdown. Now Kangaroo alone has to get Clementine to talk, clear Jessica’s name, and stop a crooked scheme which threatens to ruin approximately one million vacations.
But old secrets are buried on the Moon, and digging up the past will make Kangaroo’s future very complicated…
What’s Curtis’s favorite bit?
CURTIS C. CHEN
My favorite bit in Kangaroo Too is the Planned Parenthood health center on the Moon.
(To forestall nitpickers: yes, I know Kangaroo calls it a “free clinic” in the book, but he’s speaking colloquially.)
At one point in the story, Kangaroo needs to meet with an extralegal contact, and the contact chooses a Planned Parenthood facility that he has after-hours access to through family connections. When I first plotted this out, it wasn’t important exactly what kind of location they met in, as long as it was private and unofficial. And I had a lot of leeway with the contact’s backstory.
I had thematic reasons specific to this story for choosing Planned Parenthood to be their meeting location, but I also had personal motivations. The future depicted in the Kangaroo-verse is not a dystopia; humans are still dealing with a lot of the problems we have today, plus a few new conundrums, but science and technology have continued to improve our lives. And I wanted that future to include Planned Parenthood.
As I’m writing this, Republicans in the US Congress are trying to roll back a lot of progressive government health care initiatives. Part of the latest proposed legislation would defund Planned Parenthood, which receives roughly $500 million in federal funding every year–more than half of its annual revenue. I hope that doesn’t happen, because we need Planned Parenthood.
Founded in 1916, Planned Parenthood provides health education, sexually transmitted infection (STI) testing and treatment, contraception, and, yes, abortions to people who may not have access to compassionate care elsewhere. Planned Parenthood health centers saw 2.4 million patients in 2015. I know people who received essential health services from Planned Parenthood when they were too poor or too scared to go anywhere else. I know people who are alive today because of Planned Parenthood. And a civilized society ought to provide for all its people, not just the most privileged.
Finally, for the record, this is not just about interrupting pregnancies. None of the federal funding that Planned Parenthood receives is used for abortion services. This is about providing reasonable access to reproductive health services for the half of the human race that, you know, actually makes the babies. And if you’re against that, well, I imagine we disagree on a great number of things, and I’ve got better things to do than argue with you. I’m working to bend the moral arc of the universe toward justice.
Back to the novel: once I had picked Planned Parenthood for the secret rendezvous, I revised an earlier scene in which Kangaroo gets pulled into a conversation at a hotel bar while following a target. The original draft of that talk was pretty inconsequential, both plot-wise and character-wise, but now that the topic of reproduction was on the table, I had an opportunity to raise the stakes in a few different ways.
The other barfly wants to talk about the difficulties of maintaining a long-distance relationship; how much is Kangaroo willing to reveal about his own personal life? The topic of children comes up; does Kangaroo want kids? What are his own–wait for it–plans for parenthood? You’ll have to read the book to find out. And I apologize for nothing.
Once a Silicon Valley software engineer, Curtis C. Chen (陳致宇) now writes speculative fiction and runs puzzle games near Portland, Oregon. His debut novel Waypoint Kangaroo (a 2017 Locus Awards Finalist) is a science fiction thriller about a superpowered spy facing his toughest mission yet: vacation. The sequel, Kangaroo Too, lands the titular secret agent on the Moon to confront old secrets.
Curtis’ short stories have appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Mission: Tomorrow, and Oregon Reads Aloud. 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 every month. And yes, there is a puzzle hidden in each of the Kangaroo book covers! Finding the respective rabbit holes is left as an exercise for the reader.
J Tullos Hennig is joining us today with her novel Summerwode. Here’s the publisher’s description:
The Summer King has come to the Wode…
Yet to which oath, head or heart, shall he hold?
Once known as the Templar assassin Guy de Gisbourne, dispossessed noble Gamelyn Boundys has come to Sherwood Forest with conflicted oaths. One is of duty: demanding he tame the forest’s druidic secrets and bring them back to his Templar Masters. The other oath is of heat and heart: given to the outlaw Robyn Hood, avatar of the Horned Lord, and the Maiden Marion, embodiment of the Lady Huntress. The three of them—Summerlord, Winter King, and Maiden of the Spring—are bound by yet another promise, that of fate: to wield the covenant of the Shire Wode and the power of the Ceugant, the magical trine of all worlds. In this last, also, is Gamelyn conflicted; spectres of sacrifice and death haunt him.
Uneasy oaths begin a collision course when not only Gamelyn, but Robyn and Marion are summoned to the siege of Nottingham by the Queen. Her promise is that Gamelyn will regain his noble family’s honour of Tickhill, and the outlaws of the Shire Wode will have a royal pardon.
But King Richard has returned to England, and the price of his mercy might well be more than any of them can afford…
What’s JTH’s favorite bit?
J TULLOS HENNIG
The meeting of Robin Hood and Richard the Lionheart is the stuff of legend. It’s been told in ballads and books, portrayed in oils and watercolours, and played out in dim theatres—particularly on screen.
But with few exceptions (one being the excellent, atmospheric ITV series Robin of Sherwood), Richard is portrayed as the Illustrious Saviour King. He’s the one who returns from Crusade just in time to Right All Wrongs, vanquish the Evil Sheriff, and boot the arse of his sniveling younger brother Bad Prince John. He attends a ginormous kegger out in the forest with Robin Hood and the Merries, who’ve held the green bastions of Sherwood for her Rightful Lord. And he usually hands Marion over as a prize to the loyal outlaw leader.
Well, I’ve never been one to toe the party line.
But I do have to do Richard some justice. He was an efficient warrior with an undeniable magnetism. He must have loved his mother; the first thing he did upon ascending the throne was set her free from the prison where his father had kept her bunged up for years. Brought up a good son of Mother Church, mostly within the continental provinces of his Angevin family, he was well groomed in the predatory games and political marksmanship of medieval rule. Yet it’s likely his reign became a contribution to the already-downward Angevin slide. It’s also likely Richard had little use for the wet, green island where he was King, save as a war chest, or as Royal Forest to enclose and claim just in case he did decide to visit… a rarity.
It’s also pretty well accepted that he didn’t speak English.
Of course, few early medieval kings did.
But such contrary factoids writhe in a writer’s brain, burning. A King who doesn’t speak the language of his subjects. A Maiden who should be more than a mere prize. Even the inexplicable penchant for constructing a massive, impossible outlaw town in Sherwood Forest—one fit to support the aforementioned royal kegger—begged to be addressed.
So when I realised that “my” Robyn and the King were going to meet, I itched to dig in and transform that meeting from less of an exercise in implausibility to something more… well, genuine to my own sensibilities. And since the Books of the Wode were a subversive reimagining from the outset, (Robin, of course, long revered as the maestro of subversion), then why not twist this tail as well?
How can someone who truly believes they have chattel rights to everything—and granted by all-powerful god—be anything but a massively entitled piece of work? And if said person possesses remarkable charm and magnetism as well as that crown, then it just means they’ve an easier time convincing people of their puissance. Might makes right, all that.
And how can a Heathen peasant-turned-outlaw—one who’s garnered nothing but the whip and a burnt home as price for his existence, who has to watch as taxes and a literal king’s ransom not only beggar his land, but try to forbid him the forest he holds sacred—admire such a king? Robyn Hood is on a mission from his own god, by the by, and has no reason to trust Richard. He’s only fierce loyalty to his sister Marion and his lover Gamelyn. The first has to convince him to try for a pardon, and the second has an inheritance at stake that could provide sanctuary even for those branded wolfsheads, sodomites, and pagans.
Richard isn’t evil, but he’s certainly no peach. So the reality in Summerwode has to reflect how an entitled monarch usually gets whatever he wants—and has the power to either raise it above itself or destroy it.
And he doesn’t speak English! Which made for some necessary translators, twisty conversations, and volatile confrontations between the King of England and the very north English, very arsy King of the Shire Wode:
“He has always preferred the campsite and his men about him to any court. No doubt you, master archer, can understand such things.” Mercadier’s Anglic faltered, trimmed heavily with the nasal hum of Frank talk, but he spoke it well enough. Though he did seem to have more problems understanding Robyn than Robyn did him, and was much less patient than was mannerly.
“Nowt better than a clear night and a fire with t’ Wode all ’round,” Robyn replied, soft.
Mercadier paused in his application of wood splits below the roasting meat and frowned, parsing the words slowly. Richard, lounging with powerful arms crossed, spoke a soft patter of Frank to his captain, chuckled as he answered, spoke again.
It was Mercadier’s, this time, to laugh. “He says his half-brother the Archbishop of York is correct. England’s northern shires do speak a language unintelligible to all but their own.”
Says one who waint arse himself to speak any Anglic tongue, Robyn thought but did not say. Instead he let his speech curl even more into those “northern shires.” “’M fair upskelled tha’s nobles loosed milord King wi’ nobbut ussen.”
Mercadier blinked. Frowned. Robyn hid a smirk beneath a scratch to his beard.
“Again?” Mercadier demanded—and well, but Robyn had to give him that much for tenacity. “Slow, si’l vous plaît.”
No sense of humor, these Franks.
I hope the results are compelling—and genuine.
Many thanks, Mary, for your generosity in sharing your blog space for this newest instalment in the Wode books. Cheers!
J Tullos Hennig has always possessed inveterate fascination in the myths and histories of other worlds and times. Despite having maintained a few professions in this world—equestrian, dancer, teacher, artist—Jen has never successfully managed to not be a writer. Ever.
Her most recent work is a darkly magical historical fantasy series re-imagining the legends of Robin Hood, in which both pagan and queer viewpoints are given respectful & realistic voice.
K. Bird Lincoln is joining us today with her novel Dream Eater. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Koi Pierce dreams other peoples’ dreams.
Her whole life she’s avoided other people. Any skin-to-skin contact—a hug from her sister, the hand of a barista at Stumptown coffee—transfers flashes of that person’s most intense dreams. It’s enough to make anyone a hermit.
But Koi’s getting her act together. No matter what, this time she’s going to finish her degree at Portland Community College and get a real life. Of course it’s not going to be that easy. Her father, increasingly disturbed from Alzheimer’s disease, a dream fragment of a dead girl from the casual brush of a creepy PCC professor’s hand, and a mysterious stranger who speaks the same rare Northern Japanese dialect as Koi’s father will force Koi to learn to trust in the help of others, as well as face the truth about herself.
What’s K. Bird’s favorite bit?
K. BIRD LINCOLN
When Joseph Campbell Isn’t Enough: Or why I hunger for Baku
There’s this memory I have of being in my elementary school library during lunch hour, running my fingers over the spines of books in the 398.2 area of nonfiction (folktales and myths) and being thrilled with the cornucopia of Red Riding Hood tales, Changelings, Greek Heroes, Baba Yaga, and Babe the Blue Ox.
Through them I discovered a hunger for the stories we tell ourselves as a people.
In high school I discovered Joseph Campbell and delved into those tales. Stories which evoked the psychic unity of mankind as manifested in the Hero’s Journey or Creation Myths.
For a while, that satisfied my hunger.
But I was hungry again by college—just when I had to choose a language to study to meet graduation requirements—and met a boy. A very, very cute boy who was also a Japanese Studies major. So I started to study Japanese language, history, and psychology. It began to dawn on me that Joseph Campbell, while certainly including myths from Asian countries in his writing, was as bound by the same white, Euro-centric cultural upbringing in the interpretation and focus on myths as I was.
And I realized that my hunger for making sense of the stories meant I had to not only unify and categorize, but also delve into the weird, obscure (this was before Neil Gaiman’s American Gods or the TV show Grimm) and not-oft-mentioned stories.
If you’re a manga or anime fan, you probably know about Kitsune. Kij Johnson’s The Fox Woman, Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman: The Dream Hunters, MTV’s Teen Wolf, Pokemon, Disney’s Robin Hood—the trickster fox is one of those easy-to-plug-into Euro-centric culture myths. What really fed my hunger to find meaning in a true diversity of human experience and thought, were the other kinds of myths: the dream-eating baku, the turtle-esque kappa with their polite fanaticism, bowls of water embedded in their heads, and propensity for rape or murder, and the avian-demon tengu that evolved from fierce and violent protectors of the forest to amiable bumpkins easily duped by humans.
Reading tales of the kappa and the tengu challenged me to wrap my mind around the interaction and seeding of religion and culture that occurred from India to China through Korean and into Japan. They forced me to realize a broader view of what civilization was (476-800 BCE was by no means “dark ages” for India, China, and Japan) and understand my own cultural viewpoint was quite narrow. Kappa and Tengu were exotic, they tickled my fancy for far-off flavors and stories of people I could easily label “other”, “different”, “strange”.
But then I married a Tokyo boy and had daughters—and all of a sudden I became hungry again to seek that which unifies rather than that which makes of us “the other.” (Because my daughters’ future psychotherapy bills depended upon it.) How could these freaky tales, these monsters, from the very primitive depths/hindbrains of such different cultural minds be incorporated into a psychically whole being?
Baku are ungainly. Awkward chimaeras of tiger and elephant, possibly inspired by sightings of ancient tapir.
Commonly known from 18th and 19th century Japanese netsuke (a miniature sculpture originally developed as a closure for small sacks used as pockets in yukata and kimono ) carvings like these.
Baku eat bad dreams. Although, if they are called upon too often and remain hungry after digging into a nightmare, they may stay to eat your hopes, aspirations, and ambitions as well. A chancy helper. But it was to baku I was drawn. Baku are just strange enough to have no real parallel in European culture that I could easily identify, yet they tap into a universal human vulnerability—our psyche as we sleep, the most primitive and meaningful images of our dreaming, and the ways our brains organize and incorporate information.
What would it mean to have one foot in the waking and one foot in the dream world? What does it mean to come from two very distinct cultures like Japan and America? Baku appeal to me because of their very disjointedness, the chimerical nature that attempts to incorporate disparate pieces into a whole. (Here’s where my daughters would roll their teenage eyes and tell me they are not chimaeras but people, and stop drawing parallels between bicultural identity and myths).
But it’s too late. My hunger for the obscure tales, coupled with my desire to find unity in diversity, have already lead to making Koi, my Dream Eater protagonist, both half-baku and half-Japanese. I can’t promise Koi discovers any Joseph Campbell- style universal truths in her journey, but she does get to wrestle with trickster kitsune, Armenian dragons, and Pacific Northwest ice hags and trickster bluejays.
K. Bird Lincoln is an ESL professional and writer living on the windswept Minnesota Prairie with family and a huge addiction to frou-frou coffee. Also dark chocolate– without which, the world is a howling void. Originally from Cleveland, she has spent more years living on the edges of the Pacific Ocean than in the Midwest. Her speculative short stories are published in various online & paper publications such as Strange Horizons. Her medieval Japanese fantasy series, Tiger Lily, is available from Amazon. She also writes tasty speculative and YA fiction reviews under the name K. Bird at Goodreads.com. Sign up for her sporadic newsletter, The Mossy Glen from her facebook page and get access to free goodies– both readable and edible.
Actually, I have two party favors for you. One of the things that fascinates me is the way you can tell the same story and, depending on the audience, it will differ wildly. Back in 2013, I wrote a story specifically for audio called Forest of Memory. I used the audio medium not just as a component of the story, but as a plot element.
The idea was that Katya Gould was telling you this story, and you were hearing her tell you and just you the story.
When Lee Harris at Tor.com asked about publishing it, I looked at the story, and it wasn’t going to work. A key component was that this story was a unique artifact. So I rewrote the entire thing, focusing on typewriters. This involved adding scenes, inserting typos and changing the diction of the piece. (By the way, intentional typos in a story make the copy-editors job oooooh so interesting. A couple of places she actually flagged that, stylistically, I should add some errors to a section.)
While I was struggling with this story, I tried a technique in which you write the synopsis as if you are writing a children’s story. So, here’s the children’s story version of a Forest of Memories. (You can download the Forest of Memory children‘s thingie as a pdf.)
Forest of Memory as a children’s story
The day Katya went offline, she had only planned to buy a typewriter, a paperback book, and a stapler.
But when she rode her bicycle, with the typewriter, the paperback book, and the stapler, into the woods she saw a deer on the road. The deer saw her and stopped.
Katya thought it would be a very nice idea to take a picture of the deer, so she did. She asked her imaginary friend Lizzie to hold the picture for her, and Lizzie said she would.
While she watched the deer there was a bang and a pow and the deer fell down. Katya was not alone. She was not alone at all. There was a man on the road, with a gun. She told Lizzie to call for help.
But Lizzie didn’t answer.
All Katya had to fight the man with were the typewriter, the paperback book, and the stapler. And her bicycle. She tried to ride away, but her bicycle was too slow with the typewriter, the paperback book, and the stapler.
She left them all behind and ran into the woods, but the man found her anyway.
He shot her, the same way he shot the deear with a bang and a pow.
But Katya wasn’t dead and neither, it turned out, was the deer. The man had just put them both to sleep for a little while. He kept Katya close by his side while he hunted other deer. She wanted to run away, but didn’t know where she was. She didn’t even have the stapler.
She stayed with the man for three days. She thought he might keep her forever, but one of the deer gored the man with its horns. He was hurt very badly, and told her that she would need to call for help.
Finally, she could reach Lizzie who had been very worried about her. The police had found her bicycle, with the typewriter, the paperback book, and the stapler, but they couldn’t find Katya. She told them where she was and tried to lead them back to the man, but he was gone.
William 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?
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.
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.
Alan 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?
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.
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.
Dan Koboldt is joining us today to talk about his novel The Rogue Retrieval. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Stage magician Quinn Bradley dedicated his life to a single purpose: headlining for a major casino on the Las Vegas strip. But just before his dreams come true, two modern mercenaries show up to make him a puzzling offer. Half a million dollars for six months on a private assignment. Their corporate employer has discovered – and kept secret – a gateway to a pristine medieval world called Alissia.
For fifteen years, they’ve studied it beneath a shroud of secrecy. Now, the head of their research team has gone AWOL, with a backpack full of disruptive technology. They’re sending in a retrieval team, and they want Quinn Bradley to come along. His talents for illusion, backed with the company’s considerable resources, should make for some convincing magic.
It will need to be convincing. Because Alissia has the real thing.
What’s Dan’s favorite bit?
I’ve been reading fantasy and science fiction since the 4th grade. I’m a sucker for world-building, and it showed in the books I went for. I didn’t just read the doorstopper fantasy novel. I read the glossary, the genealogy, and the forums on Dragonmount.
When the time came to write my novel, I wanted to create an equally compelling secondary world . So I asked one of my favorite authors, Scott Lynch, how he does it so well. He said, “I am absolutely not afraid to take a place or a specific detail that I’m keen on and world-build everything else around it.”
When I took his advice, I learned something interesting. Apparently, my favorite bit is the booze.
Alcohol comes in many forms in Alissia, my novel’s secondary world. Whether it’s the rough ale they drink in the cold north of Felara, or the color-changing liquor from Valteron, every society leaves their unique stamp on the time-honored tradition of inebriation. Alcohol is more than just a way to get drunk. In many societies (both real and fictional), it’s a crucial element of culture and tradition.
I like exploring booze in a secondary world because it’s so versatile. You can produce alcohol by fermenting grain mash (beer), grapes (wine), fruit juice (cider), rice (sake), and even honey (mead). You can distill it into high concentrations for spirits like vodka and gin. Humans have been fermenting things since the late Stone Age, and look how far we’ve come: the worldwide alcoholic beverage market last year was over $1 trillion.
That kind of money changes things, and here’s proof. Every year, my family takes a vacation to Traverse City, Michigan, home of the National Cherry Festival. One of our favorite parts is driving up the Old Mission Peninsula to look at the cherry trees. Over the past few years, however, vineyards have replaced many of the orchards. I’m told they’re far more profitable.
I love wine as much as the next guy, but I miss the cherry trees. And I hate the idea that profit margins are the reason they’re gone. It made me wonder how far a society would be willing to go to produce an expensive alcoholic beverage. That’s how I came up with the most famous and expensive drink in my book’s world, Caralissian wine:
The only time they got any notice from the locals was when they encountered a wine caravan. Ten wagons, each pulled by a pair of draft horses. These were hardly visible behind the mounted riders that escorted them, who happened to be some of the hardest mercenaries that Caralissian gold could buy. They looked up at the sound of the approaching horses. Hands went to sword hilts. Two of the men reached down into the nearest wagons, probably for spears or loaded crossbows.
“Caravan coming at us,” Logan warned over the comm link. He slowed his mount and moved to the side. “Keep your hands visible, no sudden moves.”
The mercenaries knew their business—they only got paid if the shipment arrived safely. Their casual positions only looked haphazard. If Logan were to attack, three or four would engage him from multiple angles. An equal number would stay with the wagons. And a few would ride for the nearest Caralissian outpost for reinforcements. Bandits tried raiding wine caravans from time to time. Some even got hold of a cask or two, but they rarely made it far enough to enjoy a taste.
All of this grew from a simple idea: a drink that cost its weight in gold. I started thinking about economics of that, in a pre-industrial society. The exploitative labor practices required to produce it. The impact on international trade. The armed guards you’d need to protect it.
Caralis is a monarchy, so only a few can enjoy the vast wealth brought by Caralissian wine. The queen, of course, and her pet nobles. That leaves an entire populace out in the cold. Forfeiting most of their crops to the Caralissian vintners. Starving while the chosen few grow rich.
Dan Koboldt is a genetics researcher and sci-fi/fantasy author from the Midwest. He’s co-authored more than 50 publications in Nature, Science, The New England Journal of Medicine, Cell, and other journals. Dan is also an avid hunter and outdoorsman. Every fall, he disappears into Missouri’s dense hardwood forests to pursue whitetail deer with bow and arrow. He lives with his wife and children in St. Louis, where the deer take their revenge by eating all of the plants in his backyard.
(Tor Books — August 21, 2018) Continuing the grand sweep of alternate history laid out in The Calculating Stars, The Fated Sky looks forward to 1961, when mankind is well-established on the moon and looking forward to its next step: journeying to, and eventually colonizing, Mars. Of course, the noted Lady Astronaut Elma York would like to go, […]