swan_tower: (Default)

I’m off this evening to Denver for what I’m going to assume is the highest-altitude Comic-Con of the lot. If you’re there this weekend, here’s when and where you can find me, and what I’ll be doing!

  • Friday, 1-1:50 p.m. — Avadakedavra! Magic in Literature
  • Friday, 2-2:50 p.m. — Kicking Butt in Corsets
  • Friday, 5:30-6:20 p.m. — The Past Is Here: Writing Romantic Fiction with an Historical Backdrop
  • Sunday, 11-11:50 a.m. — But Is It Epic Enough?
  • signing 11 a.m.-12 p.m. Friday, 2:30-4:30 p.m. Saturday, and 4:30-5:30 p.m. Sunday

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: (Default)

How often is the thing that brings a story to life a question of grammar? And yet, I know exactly what Linda Nagata means. Here she is, explaining how verb tenses turned out to be the key:

***

cover for THE LAST GOOD MAN by Linda NagataIf there ever was one bright spark, one bit of insight, one unexpected plot twist that brought The Last Good Man to life, I don’t remember it. What I do remember was how flat and uninteresting the manuscript felt to me in the earliest days.

This wasn’t an unusual situation for me. Beginnings are hard and it can take time to work out a tone and style that feels right. So I kept pushing forward, telling myself that if I kept going, the essential spark that every novel needs would eventually ignite.

It didn’t happen. Not for over 30,000 hard-fought words. Sure, the story was advancing but I wasn’t happy with the tone or with the way it was being told—and I didn’t know why.

I’d done my preliminary work—a lot of preliminary work. I’d been tossing ideas into the literary stew pot for months, revising my synopsis again and again. This was a very near-future story centered on a small private military company—contract soldiers of the sort hired by corporations, NGOs, and the US government. These were “white hat” mercenaries, choosy about their clients, working only for the good guys, and though they were a small force, that force was amplified by the autonomous robotic weaponry they could deploy. And I had an unusual protagonist in True Brighton.

Middle-aged women are not generally considered cool enough to serve as the lead in a techno-thriller, but I wanted to give it a shot—I wanted the challenge—so I made True forty-nine years old, a retired US Army veteran and mother of three who is still fit, strong, and agile enough to qualify for field missions.

All the pieces seemed right. For months I’d sensed the potential in this story, but still somehow the spark was missing.

Up to this point I’d been writing in third person, past tense. Then—30,000 words in and on the verge of despair—I chanced to read a novel written in third person, present tense and I was intrigued. Could I write The Last Good Man in third person present?

Present tense is commonly used with first person, where the narrator relates the story using “I” or “we.” I’d done a whole trilogy in first-person present. But I’d never written in third-person present. Inspired by the novel I was reading, I decided to try it.

And I liked the energy of it! It was just a technical change, but at last the tone of the story felt right. I continued to move ahead, writing additional pages every day in present tense, and at the end of the day I would revise my past work, gradually shifting it from past tense to present, adding detail as I did.

I was far, far happier with the feel of the story. The change in tense had given it the spark it needed—or maybe it had given me the spark I needed. Whichever it was, I never considered shifting back.

***

From the cover copy:

Scarred by war. In pursuit of truth.

Army veteran True Brighton left the service when the development of robotic helicopters made her training as a pilot obsolete. Now she works at Requisite Operations, a private military company established by friend and former Special Ops soldier Lincoln Han. ReqOp has embraced the new technologies. Robotics, big data, and artificial intelligence are all tools used to augment the skills of veteran warfighters-for-hire. But the tragedy of war is still measured in human casualties, and when True makes a chance discovery during a rescue mission, old wounds are ripped open. She’s left questioning what she knows of the past, and resolves to pursue the truth, whatever the cost.

“…a thrilling novel that lays bare the imminent future of warfare.” —Publishers Weekly starred review

Linda is a Nebula and Locus-award-winning writer, best known for her high-tech science fiction, including the Red trilogy, a series of near-future military thrillers. The first book in the trilogy, The Red: First Light, was a Nebula and John W. Campbell Memorial-award finalist, and named as a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2015. Her short fiction has appeared in Analog, Asimov’s, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Lightspeed, Nightmare, and several anthologies.

Linda has lived most of her life in Hawaii, where she’s been a writer, a mom, a programmer of database-driven websites, and an independent publisher. She lives with her husband in their long-time home on the island of Maui.

Website | Twitter

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: (gaming)

I’ve been sitting on this news for nearly a year, waiting for my first piece to go live so I can tell you all about it.

So there’s this game called Legend of the Five Rings. It was a collectible card game and RPG; I got involved with the RPG, doing some freelance work for the later parts of fourth edition, because it had sucked me in overnight. The setting, Rokugan, is inspired by Japanese history and culture, and it’s got the kind of rich worldbuilding that makes the place come to life for me. So when the parent company sold L5R off to Fantasy Flight Games, I was, shall we say, rather determined to stay involved.

And I am. But not writing for the RPG this time: instead I’m one of their fiction writers. You see, one of the defining characteristics for L5R has always been the ongoing narrative of the game, influenced by the winners of various tournaments, and expressed through official canon stories.

My first story is here!

I think it should be a decent introduction to the setting for those who aren’t familiar with it. (In fact, that’s one of the goals for this first set of stories: give newcomers an overview of Rokugan, clan by clan.) If you like what I wrote, you might find L5R overall interesting, and you can check out the other fictions here (those provide links to the pdfs if you want to see the pretty formatted versions).

Yeah . . . I’m pretty excited. 😀 The setting has been rebooted back to the Clan War, so there’s an opportunity to do all kinds of cool new things, and this story provided a really great chance to showcase that, with the Dragon facing two entirely fresh conflicts that don’t come with easy answers attached. And I’m working on more stuff as we speak, so my involvement will be ongoing. *\o/*

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: (Default)

The most recent New Worlds post is on sumptuary laws, i.e. the ways in which societies try to regulate the outward signifiers of class and rank.

Looking back at my previous blog series of BVC — Dice Tales is now set to be an ebook! You can currently pre-order it from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google Play, iTunes, and Kobo; or you can wait for the on-sale date of July 18th and get it from DriveThruRPG or direct from the publisher, Book View Cafe. This is edited and expanded from the original blog series, with more than half a dozen new essays.

And — as a teaser — while it is my first foray into game-related publishing, it may not be my last . . .

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: (Default)

I’ve been making these tikkun olam posts for about half a year now, and responses to them have been slowing down, which I suspect is in part a sign of fatigue. It’s hard to keep on working to repair the world when so many people seem determined to break it, and when it’s hard to see any result for your effort.

But sometimes you can make a very real difference to a very specific person. Chaz Brenchley has put out a call raising funds to treat his wife’s multiple sclerosis. If we lived in a country where this was covered by insurance, they wouldn’t have to worry; instead we live in a country where Republicans are trying to take away even the insurance we already have. Karen is the primary earner in their family, and she doesn’t know how soon she’ll be able to return to work. Helping out, either by donating directly, or by subscribing to Chaz’s Patreon, can make all the difference in the world to these two people, and to their friends and family.

And while you’re at it, call your senators and beg them to oppose Trumpcare. Because I’d like to live in a world where things ranging from anxiety to surviving sexual assault don’t count as “pre-existing conditions,” and where health insurance companies are required to cover things like doctor’s visits.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: (Default)

When we bought our house last year, the property included one Meyer lemon tree, two apple trees (producing four kinds of apple between them, because grafts), and something we dubbed the Charlie Brown Cherry Tree.

Remember the Christmas tree in the Charlie Brown holiday special? Yeah. It was like that. Shorter than I am, spindly, rather lacking in leaves, and though we can’t remember how many cherries it produced, the number was small enough to be counted on one hand. I don’t have any pictures of it, but you get the idea.

This past winter, we finally got an abundance of rain. Also, our neighbors trimmed back a tree on their property that had been overshadowing the cherry.

Oh. my. god.

Here’s one branch of the tree. Note how there are more cherries on this single branch than the entire tree produced last year.

a small cluster of cherries on a tree

Here’s a shot of the most abundant section when it was really starting to gather steam:

a downward shot of cherries on a small tree

And here’s the near-final tally; there are still a few more cherries ripening on the tree that I haven’t picked yet.

a plastic container full of cherries

About half of those were harvested yesterday. Reader, I tell you: I got BORED picking cherries. Pick, pick, pick, for god’s sake why are there still more cherries to pick; I’ve been out here forever. They’re frozen because the tree is still shorter than I am, and even with its present abundance, we have to save up to get a useful amount. (They’re sour cherries, so less the kind of thing you just snack on than what we buy at the farmers’ market.) But we have enough to do . . . man, there are too many possibilities. My husband has been making jam out of various fruits, so maybe that. Or a pie? Is this enough for a pie? Maybe some little tarts or something? I don’t know.

I only know that it’s no longer the Charlie Brown Cherry Tree. Ladies and gentlemen, this is The Little Cherry Tree That Could.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: (Default)

Not to be confused with my own series! Brenda Cooper’s novel Wilders takes place in a world on the other side of an ecological collapse. Here’s what the cover copy has to say:

cover for Wilders by Brenda Cooper

Coryn Williams grew up in the megacity of Seacouver, where every need is provided for—except satisfaction with life. After her parents’ suicides, her sister, Lou, fled the city to work on a rewilding crew, restoring lands once driven to the brink of ecological disaster to a more natural state. Finally of age, Coryn leaves the city with her companion robot to look for her sister.

But the outside world is not what she expects—it is rougher and more dangerous. While some people help her, some resent the city, and still others covet her most precious resource: her companion robot. As Coryn struggles toward Lou, she uncovers a group of people with a sinister agenda that may endanger Seacouver.

When Coryn does find her sister, Lou has secrets she won’t share. Can Coryn and Lou learn to trust each other in order to discover the truth hidden beneath the surface and save both Seacouver and the rewilded lands?

What was the spark that brought Coryn to life?

*

Wilders is the beginning of a new series for me. Although I’ve written a number of near-future stories set on Earth, Wilders is the first novel-length science fiction I’ve set on my home planet. Everything else has been set some indeterminate time in the future in a different solar system, in space, or once, in the far past. Setting things in brand new made-up worlds is easy. I love world-building.

But I wanted to write more directly about us. So I plunged in a book about two broad topics I care about: the environment and technology. Wilders is about a time fifty years in our future, with fabulous and powerful cities full of technology, entertainment, and safety. The land between cities has been ravaged by climate change. In order to explore the technology thread, I needed a naïve protagonist who readers wouldn’t fault for being way-too-dependent on her robot companion. Even though my viewpoint character, Coryn, would learn enough to be compelling through the story, I struggled to bring her to life early on. Some very bad things happen to her. These give her great pain, so she is sympathetic, but still, frankly, a little boring in the first few chapters. Coryn also doesn’t know enough at the beginning of the book to tell the story of the world to the reader in any detail.

So I needed help, but I didn’t know what kind.

Coryn is a runner. This is how she dumps her pain, and her loneliness. Running. Her robot, Paula, is her only friend. Paula trains her, and together they run through the city, deeply immersed in augmented reality worlds. Then one day a much older woman, Julianna, runs right past Coryn, and makes it look easy. Intrigued, Coryn follows her.

Now, I had never seen Julianna before. She wasn’t in my rough outline. She wasn’t on my list of characters. I didn’t know who she was or what she looked like other than the gray ponytail from the back. But Julianna’s existence opened entire avenues of exploration into the hidden secrets of my future city, and she became a main character in Wilders and in the sequel (tentatively named Keepers). Her backstory is the backstory of the city, her wealth is the key to resources I need later, and her deep distrust of robotic companions makes Coryn question her own blind trust of Paula. In fact, the first moment this happens is on the first run, where Julianna make Coryn leave Paula outside of the restaurant with her own security robots. Here is when that happens:

At the landing, the still-nameless woman leaned over to her. “Leave your companion outside.”

That surprised Coryn. “She usually sits with me.”

A slightly perturbed look crossed the woman’s face. “Well, I’m going to eat with you. She doesn’t need food. She can stay out with my guards.”

Coryn blinked. Paula’s job was to keep her safe.

So that’s the spark that helped bring Wilders to life. Its name is Julianna. She sprang to existence exactly when I needed her.

*

* Reserve an autographed copy from University Bookstore in Seattle
* Amazon Kindle Version
* Amazon paperback link
* Indiebound

*

Brenda Cooper is the winner of the 2007 and 2016 Endeavor Awards for “a distinguished science fiction or fantasy book written by a Pacific Northwest author or authors.” Her work has also been nominated for the Phillip K. Dick and Canopus awards.
Brenda lives in Woodinville, Washington with her family and three dogs. A technology professional, Brenda is the Chief Information Officer for the City of Kirkland, which is a Seattle suburb.
Brenda was educated at California State University, Fullerton, where she earned a BA in Management Information Systems. She is also pursuing an MFA at StoneCoast, a program of the University of Southern Maine. Learn more or sign up for her newsletter at her website: http://www.brenda-cooper.com.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: (Default)

The latest posts from my New Worlds Patreon are:

Also, I’m going to be at Denver Comic-Con! Just got my schedule today:

  • Friday, 1-1:50 p.m. — Avadakedavra! Magic in Literature
  • Friday, 2-2:50 p.m. — Kicking Butt in Corsets
  • Friday, 5:30-6:20 p.m. — The Past Is Here: Writing Romantic Fiction with an Historical Backdrop
  • Sunday, 11-11:50 a.m. — But Is It Epic Enough?
  • signing 11 a.m.-12 p.m. Friday, 2:30-4:30 p.m. Saturday, and 4:30-5:30 p.m. Sunday

If I can scrounge up the time and brain cells, I also want to post about Wonder Woman. Short form: go see it! Longer form will have to wait, though.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: (Default)

My beloved Timbuk2 messenger bag is kind of dying. The bag itself is still pretty solid, but the waterproof lining on the cover has at this point cracked in enough places that just sticking electrical tape over the splits is no longer going to cut it.

The problem is, Timbuk2 doesn’t seem to make this bag anymore. It’s their convertible messenger bag/backpack — I don’t remember the product name anymore, but I don’t see anything like that on their site. (If I’m just overlooking it, do point me in the right direction!) Who else makes a good, solid product in that vein? My three requirements are 1) waterproof, 2) with a protected laptop compartment, and 3) convertible.

Mind you, there is an argument to be made that I’m better off with an actual backpack and an actual messenger bag as separate things, because this was never ideal as a backpack. But it was dead useful when I did my research trips for the Onyx Court books, because I could put it on my back while hiking ten or fifteen miles around London, and then switch it to a messenger bag to look more professional when I met with people. I’m not doing that type of trip these days, so the need is less pressing than it used to be. But still, I’ve gotten used to it, and don’t want to give up without at least a bit of a fight.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: (Default)

One of the hardest things about our current political situation is that it isn’t going to be over any time soon. Getting involved for a day? That’s easy. Staying engaged for a month? That’s manageable. But keeping it up for years . . . that’s hard. It’s like the whole concept of dieting: the best thing to do is not to restrict your eating habits for a limited time, but to change them indefinitely, in a way you can sustain long past the point when that initial surge of energy has burned out.

Tikkun olam doesn’t work very well as a binge. It’s a way of thinking, a way of living. So another month, another repetition of the question: how have you been thinking and living? What things have you done to repair the world, in your own life or someone else’s? Donations, volunteer work, efforts to build a better future or to mitigate harm you see coming. Any good is good, no matter how small.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: (Default)

My husband is allergic to citrus — not badly so, not to the level of “get him to a hospital” or “break out an epi pen,” but he should try to avoid it when possible.

. . . there are a lot of recipes that call for small amounts of lemon juice.

Is there anything that would make a good substitute for this? Something mildly acidic, I presume — maybe some kind of vinegar? White wine strikes me as the most “neutral,” but then again, I know little enough about this that I may have just typed utter nonsense. Recommendations appreciated.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

Safe Haven

May. 25th, 2017 11:55 am
swan_tower: (Default)

Over the past few months I worked my way through the five seasons of the TV show Haven. In its core structure, it’s basically Yet Another Procedural: each week there’s a mystery, the heroes investigate, the mystery is solved by the end of the episode. But the premise of this one is speculative — an FBI agent discovers weird things going on in a small Maine town — and spec-fic shows usually pair their procedural-ness with at least some degree of metaplot, which I find myself really craving these days. So I figured I would give it a shot.

And for the most part, the structure is indeed conventional. Weird Thing Happens. Audrey Parker (the FBI agent) and Nathan Wuornos (the local cop) investigate. The problem is inevitably being caused by the Troubles, a set of supernatural afflictions that plague many residents of Haven. Our heroes find the Troubled person responsible —

— and then they help that person.

I mean, every so often they do have to arrest somebody or it even ends in death. But overwhelmingly, the focus is on solving the Troubles, not punishing them. In many cases, the person responsible doesn’t realize they’re the source of that week’s weird thing; when they do know, they’re often terrified and unable to stop their Trouble from hurting people. These supernatural abilities trigger because of emotional stimuli, so week after week, you watch Audrey untangle the threads of someone’s psychology until she figures out that they need to accept the fact that a loved one is gone or reconcile with an estranged friend or admit the secret that’s eating away at them, and when they do, their Trouble lets go.

It is amazingly refreshing, after all the procedural shows I’ve seen that involve people with guns using those guns to solve their problems. (There’s a key moment late in the series when the entire Haven PD gets sent out to manage a big outburst of Troubles, and they literally get a speech from the police chief about how the people causing problems aren’t the enemy and need to be helped, not beaten down.) In fact, it’s so refreshing that I was willing to forgive the show’s other flaws. The scripts are often no better than okay, and for the first four seasons the characters are remarkably incurious about the metaplot: they accept that the Troubles show up every twenty-seven years, Audrey is somehow connected to them, etc, but it takes them forever to get around to asking why, much less making a serious effort to find the answers. (In the fifth season the show dives headfirst into the metaplot, and the results are less than satisfying.) Furthermore, if you’re looking for characters of color, you basically won’t find them here. Haven does a pretty poor job in general with secondary characters, often getting rid of them after one season; I can only think of two people who get added to the cast after the first episode that stick around instead of getting booted out of the plot.

But the character dynamics are pretty engaging, some of the episodes have a pretty clever premise . . . and it’s a show about helping people. About resolving problems through addressing their underlying causes. About how, if somebody has a Trouble but they’ve figured out ways to manage it without hurting anybody, you clap them on the back and move on to someone who’s having more difficulty. There’s a good-hearted quality to the show’s basic concept that kept me interested even when I could have been watching something with better dialogue but less compassion.

More compassion, please. We need it.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: (Default)

If you’re like me, the phrase “Orpheus myth in space” gets your immediate attention. Here’s Jessica Reisman to tell us about the spark that brought Substrate Phantoms to life!

*

cover to SUBSTRATE PHANTOMS by Jessica ReismanSubstrate Phantoms had a long road to publication, so I’ve had to cast my mind back to remember the original writing and when the fire seemed to catch. I already had my far future science fiction universe, the Aggregate, in which I’ve had several stories and my first novel (so long ago now that Substrate gets to be a new debut), and had been playing around with the idea of the Orpheus myth in space, a kind of ‘don’t look back’ when a character is fleeing a space station, trying to save a loved one.

That was all very well, but things weren’t really taking any compelling shape. It was with the haunting of the space station that the first sign of heat flared up. A kind of film reel unfurled in my mind, of powerful images and feelings having to do with the intersection of technology and futurity with superstition and our need for the kind of possibility inherent in the more inward, arcane, and irrational side of our natures. Where these elements—often set in opposition—cross is a deep vein of story for me.

It was a pretty potent unfurling of image and feeling, that film reel. It had what felt like the whole story—and more—within it. My writing process is what we sometimes call “organic.” The initial phase of image, feeling, and story arc is like a seed for me, a tiny, dense ball of potential in which the story exists. To maul the metaphor, note-making, research, background work, and world building are all preparing the ground, planting, and fertilizing; the actual searching march of words onto page is when the growth begins and the story stretches toward its shape.

So there was the spark of the haunted space station—a usefully compelling elevator pitch, but what now? I think it leapt into full conflagration when I found the opening of the first chapter:

Revelation deck rested currently in station shadow, spangled in reflections off the solar collectors. Long glimmers cut through the high dim space in a slow dance. Revelation deck was a big space with open gridwork, gridwork being the bones of station superstructure hidden on other decks. Tall viewports and a lack of adult traffic made it a favorite haunt of station kids, four of whom sat clustered under a twenty-foot span of the grid arch. Likely there was someplace they were supposed to be, and strict regulations said they shouldn’t be there, but it was a regulation never enforced.

Jhinsei, two-thirds of the way through sitting a shift at the automated shuttle monitors, liked the murmur of voices. He had been such a kid himself, not too many years past, listening to tales on Revelation; besides, they lessened the loneliness of the cavernous deck.

Revelation deck, far future space station, kids telling stories, future and past: it makes friction for me and, voila, sparks!

*

From the cover copy:

The space station Termagenti—hub of commerce, culture, and civilization—may be haunted. Dangerous power surges, inexplicable energy manifestations, and strange accidents plague the station. Even after generations of exploring deep space, humanity has yet to encounter another race, and yet, some believe that what is troubling the station may be an alien life form.

Jhinsei and his operations team crawl throughout the station, one of many close-knit working groups that keep Termagenti operational. After an unexplained and deadly mishap takes his team from him, Jhinsei finds himself—for lack of a better word—haunted by his dead teammates. In fact, they may not be alone in taking up residence in his brain. He may have picked up a ghost—an alien intelligence that is using him to flee its dying ship. As Jhinsei struggles to understand what is happening to his sanity, inquisitive and dangerous members of the station’s managing oligarchy begin to take an increasingly focused interest in him.

Haunted by his past and the increasing urgent presence of another within his mind, Jhinsei flees the station for the nearby planet Ash, where he undertakes an exploration that will redefine friend, foe, self, and other. With Substrate Phantoms, Jessica Reisman offers an evocative and thought-provoking story of first contact, where who we are is questioned as much as who they might be.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indigo | Publisher

*

Jessica Reisman’s stories have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies. A three-time Michener Fellow, she has been writing her own brand of literary science fiction and fantasy for many years. Jessica has lived in Philadelphia, parts of Florida, California, and Maine, and been employed as a house painter, blueberry raker, art house film projectionist, glass artist’s assistant, English tutor, teaching assistant, and editor, among other things. She dropped out of high school and now has a master’s degree. She makes her home in Austin, Texas, where well-groomed cats, family, and good friends grace her life with their company. Find out more at her site.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: (Default)

I’ve been very remiss in linking to my New Worlds posts over on the Book View Cafe blog (brought to you by my lovely Patreon backers). Here’s the full lineup to date:

If that stuff looks good to you, please consider becoming a backer!

And, for a bonus: I’ve been neglecting the Dice Tales community on Imzy, but I put up a new post today ranting about how combat-oriented rules can screw over plot.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: (Default)

The floor is now open for you to ask me anything! I’ll be answering questions for at least a couple of hours, so get ’em in while you can!

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: (Default)

Ladies and gentlebeings! Have you ever wanted to ask me a question? About anything?

Your chance is coming!

Tomorrow, May 18th, at 11 a.m. Pacific time (6 p.m. UTC), I’ll be running an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit’s r/books. This is timed to coincide with the end of the Memoirs of Lady Trent, of course, but it being an AMA, we’re hardly limited to that topic; you can ask me questions about Patreon, karate, photography, roleplaying games, fanfiction, music, cats, travel, my favorite fruit, why I always wear my hair in a braid, or anything else that strikes your fancy. So prep your questions, and two days from now, let ’em fly!

Reddit AMA announcement

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: (Default)

Spark of Life is a chance for authors to talk about a key moment when the story came to life: a character did something unexpected, the world acquired new depth, or the plot took a perfect but unforeseen turn. For more details, go here.

***

Juliet McKenna, The Shadow Histories of the River Kingdoms

This Must Be Kept A Secret

After four series and fifteen novels, I’m familiar with that electrifying moment when a story comes alive, when the interaction of people, places and plot generates an internal momentum to drive the narrative, often in unexpected directions. It can be a wild ride. It’s always exhilarating.

My experience with the stories in The Shadow Histories of the River Kingdom was very different. This new fantasy world started with one short story for an anthology called “Imaginary Friends”. What if a lonely child’s imaginary companion proved to be a threat? not a consolation? What would make this significant? It would be, if that child was important. So I devised the tale of Princess Kemeti discovering that her imaginary friend can step out of the Unreal World. Worse, he threatens to break free of her control. That’s some challenge for a nine year old.

So far, so good, for a single story. Then I realised something about the magical environment I’d just created, where dreams, longing and other emotions can call something or someone into existence in a parallel world. The possibilities were limitless, and if those creations could cross over into day-to- day reality, so was the potential for confusion and for dangerous situations. More stories floated through my own imagination. But that wasn’t the ‘spark of life’ moment.

That came when I realised this magic would have to be kept a secret. Except, how could that possibly be done? If someone’s dreams of a unicorn could send one trotting down a street? Unicorns get noticed. Apparently inexplicable things get noticed by the authorities, religious, political, whoever. Once those in power worked out what was happening, they’d see that same limitless potential for chaos that I had. Then they would go one step further. They’d realise the uses they could make of such magic, as well as the ways their enemies could abuse it. What would this mean for the River Kingdom which I’d sketched into the background of Kemeti’s story?

More than that, something so powerful would have to be kept a secret. But how do you keep something so unpredictable hidden? By watching and waiting and concealing every manifestation as quickly as possible. By assessing anyone and everyone who proves to have this uncanny magical talent. By enlisting those powerful enough to be of use, whatever their character or their background might be. When the stakes are so high, that’s going to be an offer these people would be very unwise to refuse. But that’s okay if we’re the good guys, right? The ends can justify the means…

That’s it. That’s the spark. This tension, this challenge, the inherent instability, which will drive more stories, novellas and novels set in this world.

cover art for THE SHADOW HISTORIES OF THE RIVER KINGDOMS by Juliet McKenna

Juliet E McKenna is a British fantasy author living in the Cotswolds, UK. Loving history, myth and other worlds since she first learned to read, she has written fifteen epic fantasy novels, from The Thief’s Gamble which began The Tales of Einarinn in 1999, to Defiant Peaks concluding The Hadrumal Crisis trilogy. In between novels, she writes diverse shorter fiction, ranging from stories for themed anthologies such as Alien Artifacts and Fight Like A Girl through to forays in dark fantasy and steampunk with Challoner, Murray and Balfour: Monster Hunters at Law.

Currently exploring new opportunities in digital publishing, she’s re-issued her backlist as ebooks in association with Wizard’s Tower Press as well as bringing out original fiction. Most recently, Shadow Histories of the River Kingdom offers readers a wholly new and different fantasy world to explore. Learn more about all of this at www.julietemckenna.com and find her on Twitter @JulietEMcKenna

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: (Default)

Aliette de Bodard’s latest book, The House of Binding Thorns, is the second book in the Dominion of the Fallen series, which began with The House of Shattered Wings. What’s the point at which the book came to life for her?

*

cover for House of Binding Thorns by Aliette de BodardI really dithered about where to start The House of Binding Thorns.

The book is a Gothic dark fantasy set in a decadent Paris set in the wake of a magical war: I knew pretty early on that it was going to be "opium war with dragons" and that it was going to involve politics, backstabbing and magical intrigues around an arranged marriage, but while I hammered out the basics of the plot pretty quickly, I couldn't get the entire thing to gel. It sounded fantastic on paper, but I tried and discarded several beginnings that didn't work.

One of the main characters, Madeleine, is a drug addict (to the opium analogue in this universe, a drug distilled from the ground bones of Fallen angels). I knew that her first chapter was going to involve her being forcibly weaned off the drug in unpleasant ways (since the magical faction she belongs to, House Hawthorn, is headed by a sadist and completely ruthless). But every attempt I made at opening in media res fell flat.

And then I realised I was having a twofold problem: the first was that opening on a character being tortured felt too over the top for me personally. The second was that opening in media res is a very tricky thing. It's too early for the reader to care about the characters that horrible things are happening to, so the writer needs to both get the reader to care and to keep everything else going at the same time, which is a lot of very hard juggling.

The usual fix to this is to open earlier, get the reader time to get attached to the characters, and then have things go pear-shaped. I realised that I could actually open later, after the weaning from the drug had already happened, and only allude to it in flashbacks. This solved both of my problems in one go. I could make the reader attached to a character recovering from trauma, and I also could leave the description of said trauma mostly to the reader's imagination– which I've always found to be more effective than graphic descriptions of violence.

I sat down, and wrote:

In the House of Hawthorn, all the days blurred and merged into one another, like teardrops sliding down a pane of glass. Madeleine couldn’t tell when she’d last slept, when she’d last eaten—though everything tasted of ashes and grit, as if the debris from the streets had been mixed with the fine food served on porcelain plates—couldn’t tell when she had last woken, tossing and turning and screaming, reaching for a safety that wasn’t there anymore.

And just like that, the character (and the book) came alive for me.

*

cover art to The House of Binding Thorns by Aliette de BodardAliette de Bodard writes speculative fiction: her short stories have garnered her two Nebula Awards, a Locus Award and two British Science Fiction Association Awards. She is the author of the Dominion of the Fallen series, set in a turn-of-the-century Paris devastated by a magical war, which comprises The House of Shattered Wings (2015 British Science Fiction Association Award, Locus Award finalist), and its standalone sequel The House of Binding Thorns (Ace, Gollancz). She lives in Paris. Visit her website or Twitter for more information.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: (Default)

Last night my temper snapped. I pulled up the website for every single congressional representative from Texas who voted for the atrocity they call a healthcare bill and tweeted at them — I would have emailed, but none of the ones I tried accept emails from non-constituents — telling them that they are unfit to hold public office.

Why Texas? Because I was born and raised there, and still feel ties even though as of last September I’ve lived there less than half my life. It seemed like a good place to start with my rage. I originally meant to keep going, but after tweeting at twenty-four of the two hundred seventeen Republicans who greenlit a bill that might as well be labeled We Don’t Care If You Die, I was too sick at heart to continue.

When I say they are unfit to hold public office, I mean it. They should not be voted out; they should resign before the next election even rolls around. But since I doubt most of them have enough shame left to do the right thing and step down, it’s on the people of this country to make it happen at the next opportunity. Those two hundred seventeen people have completely lost sight of what it is to be an elected official. The ideas of representing their constituents, of serving the public good, of laboring to make our imperfect union a little more perfect? That’s long gone. Some of them have admitted they didn’t even read the bill before they voted in favor of it. The rest apparently read it and were okay with the monstrous cruelty it represents. Because it isn’t about governance anymore; it’s just a great big game of sportsball, and they wanted their side to score some points. They wanted to pass something. Anything. Didn’t even really matter what it was, so long as they could be seen achieving something, marking the world as their own by pissing all over it.

Never let them forget this. Some votes don’t really matter; this one did, even if the bill dies in the Senate as it deserves. This was evil. This is a bill that, if passed, would kill countless Americans, that would make us all sicker and weaker and more vulnerable. And they didn’t care. They cheered it on, because it’s their team, and that’s all that matters anymore.

The list of names is here. I thank the 193 Democrats who voted against it, and the 20 Republicans who appear to still have a conscience or a sense of duty.

The rest of them?

Tie this millstone around their necks, and make them carry it for the rest of their lives. It’s the least they deserve.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: (Default)

Since Livejournal changed their terms of service and the mass exodus began, I haven’t had a single comment on the LJ versions of these posts. Accordingly, I am going to cancel and remove that blog. If you’re still reading via LJ, I suggest you transfer to one of these options:

* the WordPress original (you can subscribe via the widget in the sidebar or checking a tickybox when commenting on a post, or add it to an RSS reader like Feedly)
* the Dreamwidth mirror

I’ll be shutting down the LJ in a few days, so make your changes now!

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

Profile

swan_tower: (Default)
swan_tower

September 2017

S M T W T F S
      12
34 5 67 89
101112 13141516
17181920212223
24252627282930

Syndicate

RSS Atom

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Sep. 19th, 2017 01:20 pm
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios