“Evil Robot Monkey” will be appearing in Gardner Dozois’s Yearâ€™s Best Science Fiction. You know, there were anthologies that I regularly bought before I started writing seriously. This is one of them, because the selections were always thought-provoking and that’s what I loved about SF. And to have one of my stories in there… I’m stunned.
And not using nearly enough exclamation points for the occasion.
As I stared at Mr. Purvis standing in the door with a pink slip in his hands, I gripped the edge of the counter with both hands to keep from swooning yet again. The revelation that he had been duckwrangler508, my illicit internet romance, had already shocked my system beyond endurance. Now, to see that my rejection of him would lead to this? My bosom heaved with emotion.
With his back to me, he began to speak. “Miss Vanhese. I’ve come to apologize for my behavior. I realize I put you in a compromising position and I want you to know I had no intention of doing so.”
He turned to regard me, and I noticed for the first time that his eyes were a steely, piercing blue. “Will you forgive me?”
I nodded, momentarily overcome.
He took a step forward, looking at the page in his hands. “I hope this will make things easier for you.”
He laid it upon my desk, and turned without a word. I glanced down and the first words made my blood pause as if all caffeine had drained from my heart.
REQUEST FOR TRANSFER:
Employee: Keith Purvis
Reason for request: Personal
The sound of the lock opening pulled my attention away from the paper, the import only beginning to make its way through my distracted senses.
“Wait!” I cried, stretching out my hand. “Have you done this for me?”
His back to me, he nodded.
I trembled to think he could display such sensitivity. Yet, I must unburden myself and display my guilt, guilt as vile and dark as reheated coffee. “Mr. Purvis, I must tell you I did not present myself honestly to you.”
“Nor did I.”
“When you needed help, the solution I offered was not mine. It was from tech support.”
“Miss Vanhese, you know barista’s salaries are not enough to live on.”
“Of, of course, that is why tips are so important.” I stuttered, confused by this sudden, unmerited change in subject.
“My dear Sophia, don’t you recognize my voice?”
I gasped. With his back to me, I was able to separate his voice from his figure and realized that he was my tech support liaison. For a second time that day, I cried, “You?”
“After the first call, I deliberately asked a question that had no answer, hoping you would call again. I should have told you then. I planned to tell you today, to tell you I would be leaving the store. I know I don’t have the right to ask you this, but,” he half-turned his head, displaying his fine profile, with its high, noble forehead, “once I transfer, is there any hope…?”
I pressed my hands to my lips too overcome to form words, but my soft cry must have signaled my acceptance. He turned and seemed about to come to me, then stopped himself and simply nodded. “I will keep my staff list then.”
He unlocked the door and let in the customers who waited, wondering, on the street.
He paused and turned to face me.
“Will I see you on the Web?”
He smiled then, and I caught a glimpse of a spirit as wild and untamed as organic Kona beans. “Of course.”
Gardner Dozois namechecks me in his list, along with some truly fantastic writers.
At any rate, new or newISH writers to keep an eye on would include: Ted Kosmatka, Vandana Singh, Justin Stanchfield, Jason Stoddard, Lavie Tidhar, Carrie Vaughn, Andrea Kail, Daniel Abraham, Ysabeau S. Wilce, Jamie Barras, Una McCormack, Aliette de Boddard, Beth Bernobich, Jeste de Vries, James L. Cambias, Laird Barron, Sarah K. Castle, C.W. Johnson, Daryl Gregory, Peter Friend, Theodora Goss, Sarah Monette, Mary Robinette Kowal, Cat Sparks, Brendon DuBois, and a LITTLE further down the road, David Moles, Benjamin Rosenbaum, Elizabeth Bear, David D. Levine, Alex Irvine, Greg Van Eekhout, Ruth Nestvold, Jay Lake, Charles Coleman Finlay, Paolo Bacigalupi, Chris Roberson, Paul Melko, and Tim Pratt.
All of the lists include people that make me think, “Huh? Really? [x] isn’t firmly established?” and other people that I’ve never heard of. I’ll definitely be looking for more fiction from all of these folks.
Lisa Mantchev posted this video of You Think You Can Dance and I clicked on it because usually Lisa is smart about these things.
At the 1:34 mark, the male dance did a move that I specifically teach new puppeteers to avoid because it is physically impossible. Let me repeat that. Physically impossible. He stands up, rolling over his toe, in a way that makes it look like he’s being pulled up and back by a string.
He does it three times during the course of the video — which also includes a fantastic dance and is worth watching on its own — each time, I backed the film up and watched it over and over.
Now, the thing is, that clearly, he’s a very strong man and that he’s getting a little boost from his partner, but STILL if I did that with a puppet I’d be accused of breaking every rule about Muscle and gravity in the books. Granted, there are times when we break the rules on purpose, but if one is aiming for realistic movement, what this man is doing would be avoided because it looks impossible.
The funny thing is, that it’s like fiction. There are all sorts of things that happen in real life I could never get away with in fiction because because it defies belief. It fascinates me that the issues involved in creating verisimilitude on the page and on the stage are same. It doesn’t matter if it’s true if it doesn’t look real.
One hundred years ago, or even fifty years ago, the average reader did not travel widely and did not have access to full-color photographs or television. They had never seen pyramids, or elephants, or tropical rain forests. Many people had also never seen a prairie, a pine forest, a stretch of English farmland, or an industrial city. This means that the reader’s repetoire of pre-conceived images was not as vast as the modern reader’s.
I think much of her post is also true for dialects in fiction. Once upon a time, not only was it possible for someone to have never heard a German accent, but it was also likely that they would be called upon to read that passage aloud. So writing dialects phonetically helped the reader. Fashions and readers’ expectations change.
I don’t talk about my writing process all that much on this site because every writer has their own way of figuring things out. That and I generally find it dull, but the motorcycle ride yesterday reminded me of a trick that I find handy and you might, too.
I spent a lot of time on the back of the bike doing “headwork” and trying to sort out character motivations and worldbuilding. The moment we stopped, I pulled out my keyboard and started writing. Not story, but jotting down what I’d been thinking about during the headwork.
In fact, the term is misleading because, while I spend some time just thinking, like yesterday, I usually write a lot of this stuff down in the form of a dialog with myself. Sometimes this happens at the beginning and sometimes in the middle when I discover a plot problem.
The key is writing it down, because that makes the ideas less slippery. I can see when I’m covering the same territory because I have a log of my thought process.
I was going to use yesterday’s session as an example, but it’s sort of too in the middle of the project, to be useful to anyone except me. But, while working on “American Changeling,” I found my characters stalling a lot, which is a sign to me that I don’t know what they want. Now, I knew that my main character needed a Key to open a magically shut gate. But what was that key? I had no clue. Here’s my log of the headwork I did to sort that out.
What does Kim want?
To fit in.
What do her parents want? Love her, but loyal to the Faerie Queen
How does she unlock the gate?.
First of all… Who locked it? Queen Elizabeth? To protect her borders because the Fae were going to make a deal with the Scots or the Irish. Research that.
OR did the Faerie Queen lock it herself to keep out the mortals who were corrupting her people OR to stop a threat from the Unseelie Court.
Let’s go with Queen E or no… the catholics but for similar reasons. ((Eventually wound up with Queen Mary)) Now. Where did the key wind up?
Ah… The Portland Art Museum as part of the Britannia exhibit. Make something up there that makes sense. Clearly the key is iron. ((Because then fairies can’t touch it, which was important to the story)) Is it necessarily key shaped? No. What else could it be…
A chalice. A mirror. An ink pot. A vase. A… What’s a reliquary. Now that’s an interesting idea. Yes. If the — oh, not the Art museum. A catholic church — reliquaries hold the bones of a saint, preferably a woman or child, but is actually the bones of a Fae. Yes. That makes sense.
All of which led me to a clearer understanding of my backstory and once I knew who my bad guys, I could make smarter choices about their actions. The thing about writing it down is that it makes it less ethereal. It gets it out of my head and lets me look at it without the sort of idealized Ah-ha! moment that vanishes when actually examined.
I won’t pretend that I made this idea up. I know a lot of writers who do it. I picked it up in Orson Scott Card’s Literary Bootcamp and, boy, has it made my life easier since.
If anyone has time, I could use help with two tasks.
1) I recorded a story (not mine and I promise it’s good) and I need to listen to it to make sure that we didn’t leave any of my stumbles in it. I’m tuning out my own voice. The story is two and a half hours long, but the section in question is just in the first half hour.
2) I have to turn in a list of books that one of my novel length manuscripts resembles. I’ve got one name to offer and then I blank. Is anyone willing to read this puppy and offer suggestions? You don’t even have to read the whole thing! Just enough to say, “This reminds me of [blank].” The only catch is that I’d like to turn in the list on Monday. It’s Urban Fantasy.
Edited to Add: Many thanks to Julia and Scott for responding so quickly!
And now, I’ll go back to doing the layout which is paying the bills.
I’ve had a copy of Cherie Priest’s Four and Twenty Blackbirds sitting on my shelf for over a year now. The stack of “please read me” is very tall and I look at it with longing, but the thought of adding a book to all the other things I’m lugging around the city is not appealing.
Then Tor solved my problem by releasing it as a free ebook. I downloaded that sucker faster than you can say download and have to wonder why I waited so long to read it. Granted, my family is from Chattanooga, so there’s an immediate connection there, but more importantly, the story and characters are compelling.
How compelling you might ask? When Eden was — no spoilers, suffice to say she was in deep, I went an extra stop on the train and then walked back READING. You think walking while reading a book makes you look nerdy? Walking while reading a palm pilot… now that’s dedication.
If you haven’t read it, and the idea of Southern Gothic horror sounds appealing, let me recommend Four and Twenty Blackbirds. I’ve got a copy of the next book on order. I just wish I could get it as an ebook.
Right-o. So, day one of my attempt to write a story on my cellphone has taught me some things. First of all, though my cellphone will let me key in 1000 character message, it breaks it into 160 character messages to send. It just doesn’t necessarily send them in the correct order. I rewrote it to fit into three 160 character blocks, rather than rely on technology.
Second, specificity of word choice buys me a lot of room. You always hear that one specific word can replace a dozen vague ones, but until you are fighting for space you don’t realize exactly how much that gets you.
Third. SMS sucks for formatting dialogue.
Here is the first installment, sent in three texts, for those of you who are curious. You can also follow along on twitter, BUT twitter only allows 140 characters, so you have to click through to see the remaining 20. Deeply annoying, but what’s a girl to do?
Virginia leaned across the white tablecloth. “When I said the ninjas were no match for us, I meant it. Lou will have the White Phoenix Feather by dessert.”
She polished her fish knife. “Quit gaping and finish your soup.”
Parker stirred his habanero spinach bisque. “I don’t doubt your skills.”
“With our fees, we’d better be good.” A dark shape scuttled past the wall of tinted glass. “Crap,” she said. “More ninjas. Give me your soup.”
Rob, by the way, finds the whole experiment offensive because of its inefficiency. I can tell you now that I am unlikely to do this again, but I am interested in how function influences form. This will become quite telegraphic, I suspect.
This month, Clarkesworld magazine is offering my story, “Clockwork Chickadee,” as one of their two fiction offerings. Plus, “The Secret in the House of Smiles” by Paul Jessup, and non-fiction by Ekaterina Sedia, Jeff VanderMeer and Neil Clarke.
The clockwork chickadee was not as pretty as the nightingale. But she did not mind. She pecked the floor when she was wound, looking for invisible bugs. And when she was not wound, she cocked her head and glared at the sparrow, whom she loathed with every tooth on every gear in her pressed-tin body.
The sparrow could fly.
The story is available in two flavors, written or read aloud. Clarkesworld is offering audio fiction now, and my story kicks that off.
They’ve got a comment thread, so do let them know what you think.
So, I’d read about these cellphone novels in Japan and thought that it was completely insane to consider writing a novel on a phone. And then I was waiting for the train, my palm pilot was in the bottom of my bag with produce from the farmer’s market burying it, and I thought, “Why not?”
So, I pulled the phone out and started writing. I use the word loosely, you understand. [1. If I get frustrated and give up, I will write the ending in a more traditional medium and email it to you.] Anyway, if you are interested in being part of my experiment, drop me a line with your cell number and I will periodically text you an installment in “The Case of the White Phoenix Feather.”
I have to warn you that these will be extremely sporadic installments and that all of them will end with a cliff-hanger. I’ll start sending them randomly, next week. You may get one a week, or one a day. I should also warn you that I’m writing with no idea of where this is going.
Here’s the first line.
Without preamble, Virginia leaned across the spotless white tablecloth and smiled. “When I said the ninjas were no match for us, I meant it. Lou will be back with the White Phoenix Feather before the dessert course. Now quit gaping and finish your soup.”
Edited to add: This will be a short story, not a novel. I’m not that crazy.
(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, […]