Archive for the ‘SFF’ category

Interview on Pros and Cons

August 22, 2013

This week, I spent some time talking with Jonah Knight and Mikey Mason about small-press publishing, Mercury Retrograde Press, and my decision to shut it down. You can listen to the conversation on the Pros and Cons Podcast. Mikey and Jonah are always great fun to talk with, and as interviewers they do a terrific job of getting right to the heart of any matter.

If you’ve been wondering about the nuts and bolts of running a small press or even just what the hell I’ve been thinking for the past few years, you may find the conversation worth listening to. And if you’re at all interested in convention culture, you should be following them anyway. Did I mention they’re up for a Parsec Award?

Listen here.

The Next Big Thing

November 27, 2012

Last week, the gracious and generous Dave-Brendon De Burgh tagged me in the Next Big Thing meme that’s going around. This is a really fun way to discover writers who are new, or at least new to you, and I am most grateful to him for inviting me to play.

Now that I’ve been tagged, I’m supposed to answer the interview questions and tag several more writers. In the spirit of “new, or at least new to you”, I’ve tagged three writers at various stages in their careers:

Leona Wisoker is hardly a new writer, though she may be new to you. Her third and fourth novels, Bells of the Kingdom and Fires of the Desert, will be coming out under the Mercury Retrograde label this spring. She’s got an almost cultish following for her Children of the Desert series. And I appreciate her taking the time to play this game with me.

Rod Belcher is a new writer: his debut novel, The Six-Gun Tarot, will be published by Tor in January, and it’s already lighting up Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Romantic Times, et al. In fact he’s so new that his website and blog won’t be live until the end of the week…so I am just linking to the Facebook page for his novel for now.

Rachael Murasaki Ish is, like so many of the writers participating in this meme, as yet unpubbed–at least as a writer. I happen to know she’s got That Thing We Can’t Teach in Writing Workshops, and I’m looking forward to her getting her fiction to the point of publishability. Having worked with her in other professional contexts, I know she has the tenacity necessary. (And did I mention that she and I have a book together coming out this spring? For that one she’s wearing her Visual Artist hat. But more on that anon.)

I hope you’ll click through on those links and discover some exciting artists. In the meantime, here are my answers to the interview questions:

What is your working title of your book?

The Heart of Darkness

Where did the idea come from for the book?

Short answer: Everything in World Myth, 398.2 in your library. I started hanging out in that section roughly 6 months after I could read things longer than your average Dick & Jane adventure.

Long answer: This book is the second of a series, The Way of the Gods. I started writing this series because I wanted to explore the nature of godhood. (What makes a god a god? Where does the god’s power come from? What does his existence mean?) Along the way, inevitably, the story also explores the nature of power, the definitions of good and evil, the dichotomy between science and religion, and the tension between honor and exploitation. And the nature of addiction.

The first book of the series, The Shadow of the Sun, introduces the reader to Ellion, a defrocked wizard and deposed monarch who wants nothing more than to redeem himself. But when an opportunity to do that arises, he runs as fast and far as he can in the opposite direction, because redemption will come at the price of confronting all the mistakes he made ten years ago. The problem follows him, as problems will; and he takes on the charter of protecting Letitia, rising monarch of the Danaan nation of Fiana, from a renegade wizard who is trying to take over the part of the world Ellion left behind.  Along the way, he will find it necessary to confront the past he’s been avoiding–and find his assumptions about the gods and the world around him up-ended.

The Heart of Darkness picks up where The Shadow of the Sun leaves off. The title refers to a magical operation that’s critical to the unfolding action–and also to the Joseph Conrad novella of the same name. Like Conrad’s hero, Ellion–and other characters as well–find it necessary to travel into the unmapped interior, the wild places where the rules are suspended, and find the deep truths revealed there: truths both about the world and about themselves.

What genre does your book fall under?

You’d find it shelved as Epic Fantasy. But none of the other Epic Fantasy books trust it. They think it’s a party-crasher, and it’s going to start some kind of trouble. They’re right.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I brought my first readers, Mark and Rachael, in to help me brainstorm this one. I’m the only writer I know who doesn’t automatically “cast” all their characters. And I’m pretty sure we can’t afford all this talent for our imaginary movie. But we had a great time!

In the interests of space, I’m just going to list our casting choices here. We went into more detail on Tumblr, here.

Ellion — Matt Bomer

Letitia — Natalie Portman

Iminor — Jared Padelecki

Nechton — Robert Downey, Jr.

Tella — Charlize Theron

Leahy — Matthew McConaughey

Rohini — Olivia Wilde

Amien — Peter O’Toole

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

One sentence? The book is going to weigh in at over 200K words! Ahem.

When Ellion becomes a pawn in the tug of war between the old gods and the new, he begins to realize that the truths he has spent his life upholding may not be true at all, and the order he defends may be unjust.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

The book will be published by Mercury Retrograde Press.

Full disclosure: I am Mercury Retrograde’s publisher and editor-in-chief. Fortunately I know that the publisher who edits her own work is a fool, and I humbly submit to colleague Anna M. Branscome during this process.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Hmm. The first draft of this novel was one part of the ridiculous 330K-word, 3-month orgy of writing that produced the first draft of the entire series over ten years ago. As a standalone, the first draft took maybe 6 months to develop. (It was considerably shorter; I am a better, deeper writer than I was then.) The current draft has been in the works for about 18 months.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

That’s a really rough question: it’s hard to answer without sounding or feeling arrogant, inflated. Within spec fic, one might draw comparisons between my series and Julian May’s The Golden Torc and the other books in that series; I’ve had people compare it to Zelazny’s Nine Princes in Amber series and The Mists of Avalon. Thematically, I’d shelve it near Dan Simmons’s Hyperion and Patricia McKillip’s Riddlemaster series. And, maybe, Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel series.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Professor Tolkien: I adored his books. Can’t tell you how many times I re-read them. I will say that some of the covers fell off, and those were covers from a nicely-produced boxed set. But for all the beauty and magnificence, there were things I wanted to argue with: among them, the unquestioning acceptance of the feudal ideals that the entire heroic literature tradition brings us. And, while I’m arguing with the master, the easy definition of Good vs. Evil. (This is the part where people will argue with me, and I accept all those arguments as valid. I’ve held them at cons beyond counting. But still I reject the notion that the world, even a fictional world, is divisible into the Good, the Evil, and the Corrupt.)

The Bible: because once you’ve angered all the Tolkien fans out there, the only bigger target is the Bible’s fanbase. No, that’s not the reason why. Because it’s wild and self-contradictory and huge and one-stop shopping for all the ideas a reader needs to unravel the Western canon, as well as an intellectual kleptomaniac’s dream. Because it begs the reader to ask the question Who or What Is God and then argue with herself about the answer.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Magic. There’s a lot of it in this book. Not the hand-wavey fairy-dust kind of magic, but real, there’s-physics-behind-this magic with roots in traditions that go back for centuries and serious implications for the society that has to deal with it.

Gods. Plenty of those, too. They are not nice people. But they are interesting.


This was a fun excursion. To my surprise, I especially enjoyed “casting” the novel–figuring out which actors should play the parts. And I had fun putting that Tumblr post together. Thanks for inviting me to play, Dave-Brendon!

Crafting Matriarchal societies in SF/F

May 31, 2011

As you know if you’ve been playing the home game, I have a certain fascination with the way we breathe patriarchy with our air. It’s a driving force behind the worldbuilding in my series. Reading this blog post on the question of matriarchal societies in SF/F gave me some new food for thought.

Before you ask yourself “Why would anyone want to write about matriarchy?”, take a minute and think about how many of the really tired tropes in genre fiction stem from the assumptions of patriarchy. Then explore further–the above-linked  blog post from The Border House is a good place to start–and consider all the truly awful examples of matriarchal societies in SF/F lit and gaming. This is definitely one of the areas in which we can do better.

What would a real, functioning matriarchal society look like? What limitations would it impose on people of both genders? I’ve tried to look at those questions, in a limited fashion, in my fiction. What are some books (or games) that have gotten it right?

Having something to say

September 10, 2008
The Fabulous Russ Marshalek (yes, that is his official title) took his turn on a group blog today:

A Good Blog is Hard To Find: I think I may have something to say

and like most of the things Russ tosses off as if they are effortless, this latest installment of Russ-thought made me think. Real Thoughts. I’m up to my eyeballs in pre-release, and so I can’t give this set of thoughts the time to percolate they deserve. “I apologize for the length of this letter; I had not time to write a short one.” So it goes.

Russ and I have never discussed his Southern Identity. I’m a Yankee, after all: an exile on this side of the Mason-Dixon. But to my Yankee eye he seems less a Southerner than a sophisticated, literary person. Like so many educated southerners, he speaks and writes in much the same idiom as his northern friends. Likewise his tastes in music and literature don’t have the effect of an “I’m from the South” t-shirt. He’s passionate about southern lit, of course, and evidently about southern culture in general. But when we first met I took him for a fellow Yankee exile. Which of course just means I thought he was a lot like me & the people I usually hang out with. You know, he’s an interstitial kind of guy.

I was forcibly struck, on reading Russ’s blog post, by the universality of the angst experienced by interstitial artists. Russ stands between Southern and something bigger (American, perhaps? I can’t say for sure) and feels uncomfortable about his perceived lack of Southern cred, just as the interstitial writers whose work Mercury Retrograde publishes struggle with the discomfort of our collective “one foot in *literary*, one foot in SFF” stance. In the company of the New Yorker set, we feel inadequately literary. At SFF cons we feel *too* literary, not sufficiently geared towards Entertainment. Who the hell are we, really? Where do we get off, trying to pass ourselves off as either serious writers or SFF geeks? Is the world ready for or even interested in what we feel compelled to share?

Actually, the world is hungry for it. Because there are an awful lot of us interstitial folk out there, and we are dying for stories and memoirs and art of all flavors that connects us to one another, that allows us to share and extrapolate upon the experience of being neither this nor truly that. So many of us are interstitial in far more than one way, and works like the memoir of a southerner who wants to love his southern roots and still connect with a larger community remind us that even in our interstitiality, our not-quite-belongingness, we are part of a community. I stand between art and science, between fantasy and literature, between past and future, between female and male, between maturity and eternal adolescence, between Real Publishing and the fringe. Sometimes–perilously often–I feel suspended between humanity and something Other. It has been astonishing and validating for me to discover so many others who live with each of these flavors of interstitiality, and to connect with them via our shared understanding of its mystery.

I can’t wait to see Russ’s memoir. The chapter with dragons in it, especially, of course, but–even more than that–the part in which Russ reminds all of us who stand between worlds that it is our common alienness that makes us human together, and that it is in the unique and bizarre parts of our histories, our lives, and ourselves, that we have the most in common.

Interstitial Arts

Decatur Book Festival: Dragon*Con Annex

September 2, 2008

From high atop the eyrie of the Flatiron Building, the Great Eye of Tor Books cast Its glance across the landscape–and Its attention chanced to fall upon the Decatur Book Festival. It had been looking for Dragon*Con, but what the hell. Criteria were considered: expected attendance of 75,000. Check. Book buyers and author panels. Check. Major metropolitan area. Check. Worthy of attention. Minions should be dispatched.

Later, some of the aforementioned minions came by and redirected Its attention to the actual Dragon*Con, only a short (according to the timetables) ride away on public transport, and breathed a collective sigh of relief when It blinked understanding and fixed Its gaze on the larger prize. Still, in some place on which it is perilous to speculate, a plan was forming. Why not take over two festivals at once? Mwahaha.

There is something about Tor which we SFF geeks cannot resist. Perhaps it is some sort of geekish pheromone. We don’t even know what has lured us into these places in which It can enrapture our attention and make us buy books we didn’t realize we needed. This is, I believe, similar to but not the same as the glamour by which It forces the corporate buyers at B&N and Borders to bow to Its whims. All I really know is that when I looked at the program for the Decatur Book Festival, having (for reasons I didn’t understand until too late) decided to direct my attention there rather than Dragon*Con this year, there were several panels full of SFF authors. I confess it: my programming kicked in. I decided these panels were of interest.

Oh, yes, they were entertaining. I enjoyed listening to Kevin Anderson, Tobias Buckell, Cherie Priest and John Scalzi on Saturday morning. I was immediately intrigued by the similarity between this panel and a hundred other such panels I had attended at SFF cons. Perhaps author panels are the same everywhere, yes? Perhaps. When I realized all four authors are under contract with Tor, and that a couple of Tor editors were in attendance as well, I merely thought, Well, good for them. Decatur Book Festival is big enough to merit the attention of a New York house, after all.

It wasn’t until I wandered into Brandon Sanderson‘s panel (I hesitate to call it that; the poor guy obviously ran all the way from Dragon*Con, and then was expected to handle a session invented by a teen literary group all alone) and recalled that he, too, is a Tor author that I began to understand. Props, btw, to Mr. Sanderson, who did a lovely job with the topic they threw at him, engaged the audience in lively discussion of SF and Fantasy and the relative merits thereof. Only at one moment did he begin to get all Literary (thus perking up my little ears in hopes of Yet More Interesting Discourse) and started talking about the Hero’s Journey as documented by Joseph Campbell. But he caught himself immediately and brought the discussion back to the arena his fans desired.

That was my favorite moment of the entire festival, because I am a SFF geek and it reminded me of the difference between the things we talk about at literary cons (of which I am an unabashed fan) and the things we talk about at more fannish events.

But I am not sure I experienced the true Decatur Book Festival, because aside from those panels that turned out to be a part of Tor’s plot to annex the Decatur Book Festival to Dragon*Con, I saw little besides the schmoozing, the power lunching, and the fans circulating among booths, drenched in their own sweat–all of which was pretty much like the rest of Dragon*Con. I had planned to attend both days, but (due, I suspect, to the Ungodly Heat, the Atlanta smog, or some unholy combination thereof) I spent the day working up to a migraine and most of the next day trying to recover.

I’m disappointed that I missed out on the True Decatur Book Festival. Next year I will make a point of attending some panels that have nothing to do with SFF and perhaps even hold some sort of power lunch with someone who doesn’t really understand the difference between SF and F or what all the fuss about the distinction is. But I must say that there is one way in which Dragon*Con has it all over the Decatur Book Festival, and it has nothing to do with the proximity of a proper tiki bar in which to broker publishing deals.

Air conditioning.

This looks interesting

July 5, 2008

Wonderlands on Ning

Wonderlands, apparently, is a social network devoted to the fantasy genre. They aim to be wide-reaching. It looks potentially quite cool.

This is my weekend to dig back in to the final section of Affairs, so I can’t go play on a new social network right now…but this intrigues me. If any of you take the plunge, please let me know what you think.

Writing telepathy and other aberrant behaviors

June 16, 2008

Wynette has begun the process of revising her cult classic Blood is Thicker Than Water in preparation for releasing a second edition. I’m doing what I can to help, of course, because that’s what we do around here. One of my tasks is to weigh in on style issues: I will be the editor of record on the second edition, which should not be construed as my having any sort of power over any part of the endeavor. 🙂

One of the conundra (is that a word? seems it should be. must go look… Oh dear. Forget I even had that moment. Have I mentioned I never studied Latin, though my tuition dollars have paid for a few years of the stuff in the next generation?) Ahem. One of the conundrums of writing speculative fiction–actually, a high percentage of the conundrums involved–stem from the fact that in SFF we postulate certain activities as more or less normal when we don’t have common consensual-reality labels, grammars, and stylistic conventions to describe and discuss them.

When I edit SFF, I spend more mental energy on how to handle these issues than on the garden-variety editing required on all the many pages in your average SFF book. Do we capitalize the pronouns that refer to deities? How shall we punctuate the telepathic conversations? Do we use the same set of verbs to refer to psionic behaviors as to the corresponding mundane ones? People grow surprisingly passionate about these issues, as if they might have definitive right and wrong answers–when, should we muster the perspective to view these issues dispassionately, it becomes clear that the answers can only be definitive to that particular author and work.

Digging back into Blood is a case-in-point. We have wound up having long (not contentious, thankfully) discussions about how to present telepathic conversation. Because I was wearing my Editor Hat during these discussions, I was able to maintain a neutral stance, give the whole issue up to my standard “as long as it’s consistent and comprehensible, it cannot be considered incorrect, because the CMoS has yet to render an opinion on the topic”. And Wynette, whose work this is, finally made a ruling on how this particular piece of imaginative styling should work in her book. Her ruling is *correct*, because it falls within the few definitive stylistic rules we have for these sorts of things.

But as an author and an SFF geek, I’m going, “No! Wrong!!! I TOTALLY DISAGREE with the way you’re doing this!” When my book comes out at the end of this year, the telepathic conversations will be presented very differently from the way Wynette is doing it–because that’s how I think they should be. Because that’s my work, and no one else gets to say I’m imagining incorrectly, as long as I’m consistent about it.

We must remember to be polite about these things, and not smack one another with our well-worn copies of the CMoS. Because ultimately what we don’t agree about is the way we imagine these uncommon phenomena for which there are no consensual-reality labels, grammars, and stylistic conventions–let alone definitive truths. Because ultimately what we’re disagreeing about is the contents of our imaginations, which it would be very silly to expect to match up in the first place.