swan_tower: (natural history)

If you’re in the Bay Area, don’t forget: I’m reading at Borderlands Books tomorrow, at 3 p.m.! (On Independent Bookstore Day, no less.) And I will have some very special news to announce . . .

***

I think one of the things I’ve enjoyed most about writing the Memoirs of Lady Trent is the way it gave me a reason to shore up some of the gaps in my knowledge.

Take African history for example. If all you had to go on was my high school education, you’d think that it consisted of human evolution, Egypt, and the slave trade, with nothing in between. (Nothing after, either, but that wasn’t a regional bias; my history classes bogged down on the Civil War and Reconstruction, so that the twentieth century is as the void to me.) I had the vague osmotic sense that there had been a place called Songhay, and that was it.

I could have fixed that at any time. But I’m much more likely to pursue reading about a topic when I have an immediate use for it — something beyond “man, I really ought to know more about X.” It’s pretty well-documented that we learn things better in context, rather than in isolation, and a writing project gives me context. A globe-trotting protagonist was therefore ideal, because she dragged my thoughts in all kinds of new directions, laying the foundation for future exploration. (Solaike in the upcoming Lightning in the Blood draws a lot of its social structure from Dahomey; that probably wouldn’t have happened without The Tropic of Serpents first.)

Islam is another good example. In college I took classes on early Christianity (which also means you wind up learning a decent bit about Judaism) and Hinduism, and some of my Japanese history classes touched on Buddhism and to a lesser extent Shinto, but Islam? Terra incognita for me. Sending my characters to Akhia was the kick in the pants that I needed to read up on it, to make myself conversant with at least the basics. I could have read a Wikipedia article to learn the difference between Sunni and Shiite, but it was easier to retain details when I had a reason to devote dedicated work time to the question. I wouldn’t call myself deeply well-informed on Islam now, but at least I’m not flat ignorant anymore.

Thanks to this series, I know more about Polynesia and how you can locate a flyspeck of land in a thousand miles of empty sea. I know some of the dynamics behind and resulting from Tibetan polyandry. And as I said on the Tor/Forge blog, I’ve learned piles about different kinds of climates and how people live in them.

This is one of my favorite aspects of my job. It’s constantly giving me reasons to learn new things, and I feel richer as a result.

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

swan_tower: (natural history)

I’ve got a post up at Tor.com about what it feels like to say goodbye to Isabella, and there’s an interview with me at Goldilox. Continuing on from yesterday’s post (and this time basically sans spoilers), there’s someone else I’d like to talk about . . .

***

Tom Wilker is the best accidental character I’ve had in a while. Maybe ever.

What do I mean by “accidental”? I mean that I did not, at the outset, plan for him at all. I don’t think he was even in the first thirty thousand words I wrote, before I set the book aside for a few years; I think I added him in when I came back to the story, because I realized Lord Hilford would of course have some kind of assistant or protégé along for the Vystrani expedition. Jacob was too new of an acquaintance to occupy that role; therefore I invented Mr. Thomas Wilker.

Read the rest of this entry  )

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

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More than six years ago, in January of 2011, I sent my agent the pitch for the Memoirs of Lady Trent. It consisted of thirty thousand words from the first book and a document approximately three thousand words long describing the setting and the plots of the various novels. Because I am crap at outlining, while those latter synopses bear some resemblance to the final story, it’s very obvious in hindsight that I was just waving my hands in an attempt to make it look like I knew where was going . . . and nowhere is that clearer than in the figure of “Lord Trent,” i.e. Isabella’s husband.

Here there be spoilers. (Up through In the Labyrinth of Drakes, though I’d say the only really bad spoiler is for A Natural History of Dragons. If you haven’t yet read Within the Sanctuary of Wings, you’re in the clear.)

Read the rest of this entry  )

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

swan_tower: (*writing)

Jim Hines has been doing a thing on his blog where he genderswaps character descriptions to look at how women and men get depicted. He did it first with classic SF/F novels, then with more recent titles — including his own.

It’s an interesting enough exercise that I decided to go through my own books and see what happens when I genderswap the descriptions. Results are below. I skipped over the Doppelganger books because quite frankly, describing people has never been a thing I do a lot of, and back then I did basically none of it, so this starts with Midnight Never Come.

***

Read the rest of this entry � )

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

swan_tower: (Default)

Many thanks to everyone who has picked up items from the Great Swan Tower Moving Day Sale! It has been a great benefit to me, cleaning out the various boxes I keep my author copies in.

In the course of packing up, I found a stash of the US trade paperbacks of Voyage of the Basilisk squirreled away in a corner. (I’d been wondering where they’d gone.) So here’s an updated list of what’s available. Same drill applies: all you have to do is email me or leave a message here calling dibs on something and giving me your mailing address; I’ll respond to let you know whether it’s still available, and we’ll arrange payment. Shipping is included for orders within the U.S. Inscriptions on request.

You have one more week to order anything that strikes your fancy!

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

swan_tower: (natural history)

Just a quick notice to say that, unsurprisingly, the end of the month brought in a mini-flood of letters. I’m working diligently to get through them, and should have replies out the door by the end of next week at the latest. But I figure you all would prefer that I prioritize finishing the draft of the final book — not to mention that if I don’t take frequent and lengthy breaks, my cursive gets even worse than it usually is. :-P So it’s one letter here, one letter there, in between other things. And of course a few more may yet come in, things that were mailed before the end of February but took a while to reach Lady Trent’s mailbox.

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

swan_tower: (natural history)

What with yesterday’s World Fantasy kerfuffle, I forgot to post a reminder that the Month of Letters has begun! If you’d like to receive a letter from Lady Trent, instructions for how to do so are here. (Or, y’know — I’ll answer letters addressed to me, too.) I’ll reply to anything postmarked within the month of February, so get your pens going!

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

swan_tower: (Default)

As I have done in past years, I will be participating in Mary Robinette Kowal’s Month of Letters! Ish — the actual point of it was to send something via the mail every day in February, but, inspired by her example, I’ve used it as a time in which people can write to and receive letters from Lady Trent. The process will be exactly the same as in past years.

Time to go practice my cursive . . . .

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

swan_tower: (Default)

1) I sold a short story! “From the Editorial Page of the Falchester Weekly Review will be up at Tor.com some time next spring. As the title suggests, this is a Lady Trent story — the one I wrote while on tour this past May, in fact, and some of you may have heard me read it at BayCon.

2) I sold another short story! Continuing my unbroken streak, I will have a piece in the fifth Clockwork Phoenix anthology: “The Mirror-City,” which takes place in a Venice-like setting. Did I come up with it while in Venice? Nope; the idea is years old, and deadlines meant I actually had to write and submit the thing before I ever left for the real place. :-)

3) If you prefer to get your novels in audiobook form, you’re in luck: Warrior and Witch are both now available on Audible. With shiny new covers, no less!

And with that, I’m off to World Fantasy tomorrow. See some of you there!

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

swan_tower: (natural history)

. . . and an awesome one. :-D

You see, during our tour we made a pact. I wasn’t going to hold her to it, because I know she’s a ridiculously busy woman — but when I came up with my idea for a Glamourist Histories fanfic, we agreed that if I wrote that one, Mary would write the Lady Trent fanfic idea she had come up with.

And so she has.

It should still work just fine even if you aren’t familiar with Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. (Though if you aren’t: oh my god, you should go watch that show. It’s fabulous.) There’s also an AO3 version, if you have an account there and want to be able to do the whole bookmarking/reccing/etc thing — but you should still check out Mary’s post, which has an explanation for how the story came about. (As I recall my reaction, it looked a bit like this. Or that look Mako Mori gives Pentecost in Pacific Rim, when Raleigh says he wants Mako to have a shot at the co-pilot test and she looks like every Christmas for the rest of her life just got offered to her at once.)

I hope you all are half as entertained by the result as I was. :-D

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

swan_tower: cover detail from Voyage of the Basilisk (Voyage of the Basilisk)

From now until the end of the month, you have a chance to get a letter from Lady Trent! Send your own missives to:

Marie Brennan
P.O. Box 991
San Mateo, CA 94403

letter-prep.jpg

Address the outside envelope to me, not Isabella; that way you can be sure it will be delivered. And remember to include your return address, or I won’t be able to write back . . .

I’ve got my ink and dip pen, seals and sealing wax all ready to go. Bring on the mail!

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

swan_tower: cover detail from Voyage of the Basilisk (Voyage of the Basilisk)

I suppose it isn’t really the Month of Letters as Mary Robinette Kowal originally conceived it, since I don’t actually wind up mailing something every day of February. But the Month of Letters is where it started, so I still think of it by that name.

I am referring, of course, to the chance to receive a letter from Lady Trent herself. It’s easy to do; all that is required is for you to send a letter to her, at this address:

Marie Brennan
P.O. Box 991
San Mateo, CA 94403

Address the outside envelope to me, not Isabella; that way you can be sure it will be delivered. And remember to include your return address!

Then check your own mail. I will write back as Isabella, in my very best cursive (please forgive its awkwardness), with a hand-dipped pen, and sealing the letter in wax. You are welcome to do whatever you please with the letter: share it with others, post it to social media, etc.

I will answer any letters sent before the end of February, though depending on volume it may take me a little while to do so.

Happy letter-writing!

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

swan_tower: (*writing)

I haven’t been posting much about my progress on the fourth Memoir. (Which does have a title now, but as with Voyage of the Basilisk, I’m going to hold off on announcing it until the preceding book is released. I want people’s attention on that one, not the one that won’t be out until 2016.)

It’s a bit hard to talk about this book, because of the weird way publishing timescales work. I read reviews of The Tropic of Serpents and marvel at people who say things like [spoiler] — and then I remember that those people haven’t even read Voyage yet, let alone the one I’m presently writing. Of course the relevance of [spoiler] is not yet clear. Of course [spoiler] hasn’t developed very much yet. I’m not actually pointing at any one thing with those brackets; I could list several to fill in the blanks. I’m almost four-fifths of the way through the series. Everybody else is barely two-fifths done. What the story looks like from my perspective is wildly different from what all the rest of you see.

I had a plot epiphany the other night that is so freaking perfect, I honestly can’t believe it took me this long to come up with it. Like, how was this not part of the pitch I sent to Tor back in 2011? How was I such an idiot that I did not see this needed to be part of the story until just now? I really have no idea. Seriously, you all are going to read this book and assume I’ve been planning [x] from the start. I will smile mysteriously and try to pretend that’s true, so you don’t all know how blind I really was.

On Twitter the other night I joked that sometimes when I’m writing these books, I think about what the sensible thing to do would be . . . and then I have Isabella do the opposite. It’s funny because it’s true, to an extent. The key is mood: back when I was drafting A Natural History of Dragons, I had to keep prodding myself not to fall into Onyx Court mode. Forget subtle political maneuvering; this series needs crazy shit, yo. So the bit of plot I’m presently wrapping up right now had a moment where Isabella could have gone the cautious and sensible route, informing somebody of a suspected problem and mobilizing various resources to deal with it. But that would have created a story where she sits on her hands and then gets a report from other people that the issue has been dealt with. That? is not pulp adventure. So instead I came up with a reason for her not to tell that person what was going on — a solid enough reason, I hope, to at least pass muster for the genre — and then there were hijinks involving her tailing Person A who is tailing Person B and at the end of it all there’s an abortive brawl. Much better.

I’m also going at this in weird order. I was floundering around in the middle of the book, with Isabella out in the field doing one stage of her research — but I didn’t really know how long I should spend on that bit, and I wasn’t sure where the whole thing was going anyway (this was pre-epiphany), until finally I decided I should skip ahead and write the bit referenced in the above paragraph, since at least I knew what I was doing with that. I think I’m going to keep on from there, writing some — who knows; maybe all — of the last third of the book; then, once I have a chunk of that in place, I’ll be able to back up and know what ought to go in the middle, to set up the end. This is weird for me, y’all. I don’t write this way, out of order. Except that maybe right now I do.

Hey: whatever gets the book done.

Speaking of which, I’m about at the . . . halfwayish point sorta but not really? I have about half of the word-count, but since a chunk of that is from way later in the book, I’m not mentally at the halfway point of the story. More like the two-thirds point, possibly a bit later. But it’s starting to look like a book rather than a short story that got way out of control. And in another few days I’ll get to write the emotional resolution to one of the conflicts, which will make it a lot easier to go back and figure out the rise and fall of the stuff leading up to that. (I hope. Remember, I’m new to this method.)

Darling du jour:

“There’s a bit of difference between swimming in shark-infested water because you’re trying to retrieve something from the bottom, and staying in just because you’re already there and haven’t been eaten yet.”

“We are still trying to retrieve something from the bottom. All that has changed is whether anybody on shore cares whether we — oh, hang the metaphor.”

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

swan_tower: (*writing)

It’s that time of year, when authors round up what they did in the previous year for your consideration in awards.

Novel-wise, I had The Tropic of Serpents, the second of the Memoirs of Lady Trent. It made NPR’s “best of” list, in three different categories: Science Fiction Fantasy, Science and Society, and It’s All Geek to Me. The third book in the series is coming out in March — which is irrelevant to awards for 2014, but may be of interest to you all in other respects. :-)

Short fiction, I had four pieces:

“Mad Maudlin on Tor.com (read it online)

“Centuries of Kings” in Neverland’s Library, ed. Rebecca Lovatt and Roger Bellini

“Daughter of Necessity on Tor.com (read it online)

“The Damnation of St. Teresa of Avila” in Shared Nightmares, ed. Steve Diamond

The latter three are short stories, while the first one is a novelette, as such things get counted.

I also published Monstrous Beauty, but that’s a reprint collection of previously published work, so it isn’t eligible for anything that I’m aware of.

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

swan_tower: (*writing)

In the order that they occur to me:

1) Michael R. Underwood’s The Younger Gods is out! Main character is a runaway from a family of evil cultists, has to try to stop them from kicking off the apocalypse. Mike is a friend, of course, but this one would sound good to me even if I weren’t biased. :-)

2) I’m starting to rack up some foreign sales for the Memoirs. So far it looks like you’ll be getting at least the first book in Thai, French, and Polish. I’m on the verge of completely outgrowing my brag shelf, where I keep one copy of every edition of my books: there are worse problems to have.

3) Speaking of my brag shelf, the Mythic Delirium anthology is also out! This has “The Wives of Paris” in it, among other things. You may recall this anthology as the one that got the excellent starred review from Publishers Weekly; well, now you can own your very own copy. :-)

4) Strange Horizons is currently holding its annual fund drive. There are prizes listed here, but it isn’t the full list yet; they’re adding stuff as the drive goes on. Two of the additions will be a signed pair of the UK trade paperbacks of A Natural History of Dragons and The Tropic of Serpents, and a signed ARC of the third book in the Memoirs of Lady Trent, Voyage of the Basilisk. If you want a crack at those, head on over and pledge some money!

5) I’ve got another ebook coming out next week, this one a collection of my dark fairy-tale retellings called Monstrous Beauty. You can pre-order it right now from Amazon or Kobo, or wait until next week and get it from Book View Cafe, Barnes and Noble, or iTunes. Just in time for Halloween!

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

swan_tower: from the cover art for my novel The Tropic of Serpents (Tropic of Serpents)

For the Driftwood fans out there (I know there are more than a few of you), Wilson Fowlie has read “The Ascent of Unreason” for Podcastle. If you missed it when BCS podcasted it, or when they published the text version, head on over and give it a listen!

Also, in the “good causes” category of links: Pat Rothfuss, the brain behind the Worldbuilders fundraising charity for Heifer International, has decided he isn’t pouring enough time and effort into benefiting the world, so he’s expanded his enterprise into selling signed first editions from authors who wish to donate a few. I think I sent in ten copies of The Tropic of Serpents; no idea how many are left, but (as of me posting this) there’s at least one. The money goes to charity, so if you want a book and the warm glow of knowing you’ve done something good, this is a splendid chance to get both at once.

(I don’t have five things to make a post, but I do have this: another shout-out for A Natural History of Dragons over on io9, this time in the context of “10 Great Novels That Will Make You More Passionate About Science.” It’s a list that makes for some pretty interesting reading, I must say.)

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

swan_tower: (natural history)

Some of you may have seen this excellent set of posts on the blog Generation Anthropocene, using details from George R.R. Martin’s novels to try and build a geological history of Westeros and Essos. It’s a fantabulous bit of geekery, marrying serious scientific know-how to one of the big challenges of writing speculative fiction, that task we refer to as “worldbuilding.”

I read those posts, grinned at the geekery — and then paused.

And clicked around a bit.

And sent an email.

A couple of months later, I am the proud owner of a tectonic map of Lady Trent’s world, along with extensive notes on the geology and climate of her planet. Mike Osborne and Miles Traer of Generation Anthropocene were kind enough to read through the first two Memoirs and take my description of the places that show up in #3, then help me work out the underpinnings of that world in greater detail than I had already. I’m pleased to say that my efforts on the climate front pretty much held up to their scrutiny; I don’t have any howling errors there. Figuring out the tectonics, though, gave me information I need for future maps, and provided a number of new considerations I’ll definitely be trying to work into the last two books.

I want to thank these guys publicly, because they have done yeoman work on my behalf. If this kind of nerdiness is your catnip, you should definitely check out the Generation Anthropocene site.

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

swan_tower: (Default)

I’ve done a number of interviews and guest posts lately, so here’s a quick link dump:

Five Underused Mythological Creatures at Fantasy Cafe, in which I talk about weird things in bestiaries that show up all too rarely in novels.

Interview at Fantasy’s Ink; they ask me about my favorite characters and what I consider to be the most important element in a book.

Another interview, this one with Mike Underwood, who leverages the fact that we’ve known each other for more than ten years to ask me a lot of fabulous questions about gaming, Driftwood, and what martial arts master I would train with if I could.

“Time, Writing, and Tricks of the Trade”, a guest post at Bookworm Blues where I talk about the challenges of writing a sequel fifteen years after the first book.

“Kick(start)ing Myself into Scrivener”, a post at Book View Cafe on my first-ever attempt to write a novel in a program other than Wordperfect.

And finally, one that isn’t mine, but mentions me and makes for entertaining reading: Science in Fantasy Novels is More Accurate Than in Science Fiction.

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

swan_tower: (Default)

Five updates make a post . . . .

1) The Chains and Memory Kickstarter is a bit over halfway to the first stretch goal. The pace of progress has (unsurprisingly) slowed down; I welcome any signal boosting, and/or suggestions for other things I could do to spread the word.

2) While Mary and I were on tour earlier this month, Tor sent a camera crew to film our Portland event and interview us afterward. It was a fascinating experience; this wasn’t the “sit and have a conversation in front of the camera” kind of thing, but rather raw material for the following video:

If you’d like a sense of what our events were like, check it out!

3) Driftwood fans take note: I’ve sold the audio rights for “The Ascent of Unreason” to Podcastle.

4) My SF Novelists post for this month was “Pleaser Don’t Doed Thising”, in which I take aim at Bad Fantasy Latin, Bad Fantasy Japanese, and other such linguistic sins.

5) WisCon! I went. It was a thing.

Sorry, that’s just the tiredness talking. Going to WisCon was a good idea; going right after being on tour, less so. I feel like I didn’t take full advantage of the experience, partly because I was going easy on myself, partly because I’m new to the con’s culture and therefore didn’t know in advance about things like the Floomp. It was fun, though: lots of interesting people, some good panels (and some I really wish had dug further into their topics), some &@#$! awesome GoH speeches, etc. The good news is, now I know what to expect and can get more out of it in future years. Will I be back in 2015? Dunno; I’ll have to look at my schedule. But I do intend to be back eventually.

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

swan_tower: from the cover art for my novel The Tropic of Serpents (Tropic of Serpents)

I’m pleased to announce the winners of the Design Your Own Dragon contest!

Choosing the winning entries was much harder than I anticipated. Some of the criteria were straightforward; for example, the concept had to be one which fit into the paradigm of dragons in Isabella’s world, but did not duplicate too closely something already described in the series. (My apologies to those of you whose entries resembled breeds that will be appearing in Voyage of the Basilisk. You had no way of knowing those particular niches were already filled.) After I filtered for that, though, I still had quite a few possibilities. Then it was a matter of considering which ones could be most easily incorporated into the later books, which is easier said than done.

In the end, I narrowed it down to two winners. Without further ado, I give you: Yubin Kim’s honeyseeker, and Kate Parkinson’s Mrtyahaiman mew!

HONEYSEEKERS are nectar-loving arboreal creatures that thrive in eucalyptus forests. Typically 12~14 cm long, Honeyseekers are light-bodied with broad, manoeuvrable wings and a prehensile tail which allow them to cling to thin flowering branches, where they soak up nectar with their brush tipped tongue. During winter when blooms are scarce, Honeyseekers supplement their diet with insects caught with their clever foreclaws.

The species display sexual dimorphism and while the females are a drab muddy green, the males sport glittering black and yellow scales and a sapphire-blue crest. The males build nests and display to attract females, who then mate with those they judge worthy and leave after laying a single egg. When a sufficient number of eggs are gathered, the males incubate and raise the young alone.

When threatened, Honeyseekers breath a noxious spray in the eyes of the predator, a concentrate of toxins gathered from their close association with the eucalyptus. The Honeyseekers are thought to play a large role in the lifecycle of the tree and some blame them for the invasive spread of eucalyptus which are beginning replacing oak woodlands in certain forests.

MYRTYAHAIMAN MEW

A small drake measuring no more than thirty centimetres at the shoulder, this species is called the ‘noisy trickster’ by locals, as well as epithets not appropriate to repeat. Although they meet all other criteria, mews do not have any special property to their breath and are thus classified as draconic cousins rather than true drakes. Their name derives from their distinctive call which resembles the mew of a cat.

Mews are typically black with bronze tones to their scales, although brown and even albino specimens have been noted. Flocks of up to thirty individuals have been sighted but they are most often seen in groups of three or four. They are intelligent and resourceful creatures and are often attracted to human settlements, where they pillage shiny objects and scavenge through rubbish pits and middens. This behaviour has sometimes led to them becoming unpopular with humans.

Mews love fatty foods and have been known to land on the back of sheep to pick out pieces of flesh. There are legends of mews stampeding flocks of sheep or goats over cliffs to feast upon the remains, though this has never been reliably documented.

A gathering of mews is called a festival.

My thanks to everyone who participated; it was a lot of fun seeing what you all came up with!

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

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