Posts Tagged ‘fantasy’

We’re creeping up on the three year anniversary of Stuff and/or Junk and I spent some mental currency on trying to come up with a way to celebrate the fact that Holy cow I haven’t let it die yet?? without an obligatory blog equivalent of a sitcom clips show.

Fortunately for me, 2012 was a good year for debut authors in the SF scene. At least it was pretty rad for debut authors on my shelf. I started the blog on Feb 12, 2012 after lurking on twitter for a few weeks. It coincided pretty closely with my first writing related convention and the debut book from author Myke Cole. With the upcoming release of his fourth book, Gemini Cell, on January 27th, I thought it would be a perfect excuse to check in.

Headshots of Myke ColeCole’s first book, Shadow Ops: Control Point was a serious breath of fresh air for me as a reader. I describe Cole’s universe as a military urban fantasy or how the actual military would deal with sorcerers being dropped into their ranks. And it’s a description I use a lot because they are one of the most recommended books on my shelf. There’s an entire unit of the Rhode Island Air National Guard readers that I helped along.

Gemini Cell takes place in the same universe as the original Shadow Ops trilogy but earlier in the timeline with a different cast of characters. This time around magic isn’t established in the world, the book is “set in the early days of the Great Reawakening, when magic first returns to the world and order begins to unravel.” I’ve preordered mine (and lots of links down at the bottom if you are so inclined to do the same).

So in the spirit of the upcoming three year mark, I’d like to bust out some shop talk since that’s the sort of thing I like to do and Cole, being one of the friendliest authors out on the scene, has been kind enough to indulge me. Of course, I’ll be out of any useful shop talk questions when we cross paths at Boskone 52, but that’s a problem for later. Maybe we’ll just talk about beer at that point and hopefully not blizzards that are outside the convention hotel waiting for me to drive through like last year… or the year before (Boskone has a thing with blizzards).

geminicellOne of the themes in your reviews over the years, which I’ve completely agreed with, is that your writing levels up with each book. I loved Control Point but Breach Zone blows it out of the water. Do you find that there is a leveling up of your back end writing process as well? What’s changed about your writing process between Control Point and Gemini Cell?

Thanks for noticing this. I can’t say whether or not I’m a “good” writer, and I can’t say that I’m “getting better” with each book, but I can objectively and definitively say that each novel is very different from all the others. This is by design, and I’m enormously proud of it. There’s a lot of pressure for direct to Mass-Market Paperback authors like myself to write in-series novels that feature the same protagonist and are all very similar. I’m not knocking that style. There are some GREAT writers out there doing great things in this mode. Look at Jim Butcher and Patricia Briggs. One of my favorite writers, Bernard Cornwell, writes this way (his Richard Sharp and Thomas of Hookton novels).

But that’s not what I want to do. I push really, REALLY hard to progress as a writer. If my career fails, I don’t want it to be because I didn’t challenge myself. Control Point is sort of a bildungsroman and a fugitive story. Fortress Frontier is a fantasy quest piece. Breach Zone is a siege tale and a tragic romance. All three books have different protagonists by design. Breach Zone stops using chapter group sections, and is a double-helix narrative (a story in the past and a story in the present intertwining and climaxing together) that I stole from Mark Lawrence.

Gemini Cell is a *very* different novel from the Shadow Ops trilogy. It’s got much stronger elements of romance and totally different characters. The magic system is completely different. Scylla got some POV time in Breach Zone, but Sarah Schweitzer is a major POV character who can almost be counted as the book’s protagonist.

At the same time, I wrote The Fractured Girl (the 5th draft is currently with my agent, and I’m hopeful we’ll go out to market soon), which is a medieval “grimdark” fantasy in the mode of Lawrence and Abercrombie, whose protagonist is a 13 year old gay girl.

My point is this: I strive to get better, but I know that’s totally subjective. What isn’t subjective is this: I do something *different* with each book. To the extent that improves my writing, I’m delighted.

Your writing mixes genres. Even before we crossed paths at my first Boskone the idea of a modern military fantasy book came off as new and fresh. After spending twenty years reading in the genre, new and fresh is an amazing thing. And then Bookbinder came along and the support staff became the protags. And I absolutely maintain that Breach Zone is really a romance book in disguise. Now I’ve seen tidbits on twitter that the horror book scene is keying in on Gemini Cell. What kind of challenges are there with mixing genres and bringing other people’s tropes into our SFF scene?

All major successes in the arts are outliers. Take a look at A Song of Ice and Fire. We all talk about Ned Stark’s beheading as if it’s just part of the fantasy literature. But the truth was that, in capriciously killing a major and well-loved character, Martin took us into new territory. Look at the major comics that broke out when the Comics Code was bucked off in the 80’s – Miller’s Dark Knight Returns and Moore’s Swamp Thing. These books went into completely uncharted territory and they reaped major rewards.

All of these examples were not creating anything new out of whole cloth. They were riffing in creative ways on extant tropes. Martin was writing a medieval fantasy. Miller was working with Batman, one of the oldest and most loved characters in the history of comics. But they consciously pushed out into new territory. They took risks, and audiences responded.

I like to think that I’m doing that here. I grew up with zombie fiction. I started with the Romero flicks like everyone else, but I got in on the ground floor with the zombie renaissance as an early reader of Kirkman’s Walking Dead in ’03, long before the TV show made it a household word. I’m certainly not the first person to ask more complex questions about the zombie phenomena (what if zombies can still think? How do they integrate with humanity?). Diana Rowland’s White Trash Zombie series deals with this, and Carey’s Girl With All the Gifts is getting a lot of press lately. In making Gemini Cell‘s character undead, I wanted to explore the military applications of zombies, and I also wanted to avoid the trope that zombie infection is always via virus.

When Dread Central, a major hub site for horror, picked up the story, I was tickled. I hope it means I’m on the right track.

One of the other upcoming projects you’ve talked about is the Fractured Girl (like a few paragraphs above), which I’ve seen you describe as a Mark Lawrence-esqe grimdark starring a teenaged girl protag long before you described it above. That’s a big swing from the cadre of military officers that make up your other protags. I can’t even listen to the same genre of music when I switch gears so drastically. Do you need to cultivate a different headspace for writing from such a different point of view? Do you have to change up the mechanics of your process any?

I’m not sure, but only because it’s so new to me. I’ve had a hard time writing Javelin Rain, which is the sequel to Gemini Cell (I just finished a 1st draft of Javelin Rain on December 31st). Keep in mind, I also had a hard time writing Breach Zone, which is widely regarded as my best published work (judging from the critical reception). So, this could mean that it’s simply how it goes for me lately: I have a hard time writing the book, but it turns out to be solid, or I could be having a tough time switching gears between The Fractured Girl and Javelin Rain.

I will say this: I was much more excited to write The Fractured Girl than I was to write Javelin Rain. I think some of this is the “oooooh, shiny!” tendency to be drawn to something new and different. Gemini Cell is my fourth military novel. If you don’t count unsold work, that means roughly 500,000 words (or 2,000 pages) in the same arena. It’s nice to branch out and stretch your legs. It’s also really important to me that I be a writer with a capital “W.” I want to show that what success I’ve enjoyed isn’t gimmickry, that it’s about more than my “authentic” military voice.

This one is kind of cheesy but it’s a topic that fascinates me, but what kind of soundtrack would you drop for Gemini Cell? Sometimes I see books with an author’s playlist in the back. What’s the playlist for Gemini Cell?

This is a tough one for me, since I almost always write to movie soundtracks. So, there literally is a soundtrack playing as I create my world. It would definitely be a composite soundtrack that included orchestral scores interspersed with pop artists. For example: Snow White and The Huntsman‘s soundtrack, which I write to a lot, includes Florence and The Machine. Narnia‘s soundtrack includes Switchfoot and Alanis Morrisette. I am loving the Skyrim soundtrack as well. Video game soundtracks loom large in my repertoire.

One more slightly cheesy one, but as a film school grad, I can’t resist. If the mythical Hollywood movie deal dropped into your lap and you had a say in the casting call, who would you tap to be the stars across Gemini Cell or any of the other books you’ve written? I have to say, I’d be partial to Idris Elba or a younger Djimon Hounsou as Oscar Briton.

Funny you should mention this. I actually was asked this very question and gave a detailed breakdown here. (Interviewer’s note: I tried really hard not to write repeat questions but my google-fu failed me that day)

Gemini Cell would be really tough to cast for. The lead, James Schweitzer, has his face blown off and poorly reconstructed. He’s so hard to look at that they put a modified flight helmet on him (as shown on the cover) to keep him from scaring the shit out of living troops.

PlayersHandbookYou’ve talked about how D&D was part of your nerd foundation, specifically the paladin archetype. (Chaotic neutral sorcerer here, Green Rodrick ftw!) I know we’ve all been tempted to take the stat sheet and keep writing. Jim Hines actually did in a round about way. China Meiville’s Perdido Street Station and The Scar read like they could be D&D source books, he even makes references to the classic adventuring party in the former. Have you ever had any characters make the jump from dice to the page? Do you find any useful synergy between tabletop RPGs and writing?

I find TONS of useful synergy between RPGs and writing, but not in the way you think. Playing D&D taught me to imagine myself as someone else, to form an external model/vision of the person I wanted to be (in this case, a paladin). I wasn’t parented well, and so that vision became the role-model I never had. It allowed me to reinvent myself as a military officer and eventually as a writer. The task of going pro as a writer is so impossible that it would make almost anyone give up. A paladin doesn’t worry about that. He hefts his shield and advances into hell. Without RPGs, I would *never* have become a novelist.

This next one approaches a “standard” question, which I’ve been doing my best to avoid, but according to my google-fu, you’ve yet to answer this one since the Breach Zone release window so it’s new for 2015! I know you’ve got the previously mentioned Fractured Girl and Javelin Rain, the sequel to Gemini Cell, in the works, what else are you juggling with that epic work ethic you’ve got?

operationarcanaFunny you should mention. My novelette, Weapons In The Earth, will be published in John Joseph Adams’ Operation: Arcana military fantasy anthology in March. It’s a POW story set in the Shadow Ops universe and told from the goblin POV. I’ve also been invited to do short work for the Urban Allies anthology and Shawn Speakman’s Unfettered anthology.

While I wait for beta-reads to come back on Javelin Rain and for my agent to comment on The Fractured Girl, I’ve dusted off an old science-fiction police novel proposal that is highly influenced by Kameron Hurley’s Bel Dame Apocrypha. (Interviewer’s note: !!!) It deals with cops who merge with a race of nanoscale xenocarids who colonize their bodies for law enforcement applications. It would leverage a lot of my work in law enforcement with a lot of my work in . . . dreaming up crazy shit. It’s also very, very bleak (like The Fractured Girl). I know a lot of people are already predicting “grimdark’s” demise, but that tone is still what resonates most with me in fiction.

We’ll see what comes of it. Fingers crossed.

As a secu­rity con­tractor, gov­ern­ment civilian and mil­i­tary officer, Myke Cole’s career has run the gamut from Coun­tert­er­rorism to Cyber War­fare to Fed­eral Law Enforce­ment. He’s done three tours in Iraq and was recalled to serve during the Deep­water Horizon oil spill. All that con­flict can wear a guy out. Thank good­ness for fan­tasy novels, comic books, late night games of Dun­geons and Dragons and lots of angst fueled writing.

Myke Cole’s fourth novel, Gemini Cell drops on January 27th. Connect with Cole on his website mykecole.com or on twitter @mykecole. Preorder the book at your bookseller of choice – Barnes and NobleAmazon IndieBoundPowell’sBooks-a-millionPandemonium Books & Games, Cambridge MassBooks on the Square, Providence RI

So I’m sure that small cadre of frequent readers knows that I’ve shifted away from entire posts devoted to each book I read. It’s an unfortunate byproduct of having a job, a two-year-old and a novel to write. I still love talking about great books. Today, I’ve already buttoned up a chapter on the novel-in-pogress and my kiddo is happily munching on Cheerios so I am expanding beyond the 140 characters of twitter so I can pontificate about a bunch of books I’ve recently thought were pretty kick ass.

shatteringtheleyShattering the Ley by Joshua Palmatier

You already saw me talk about anticipating Shattering the Ley by Joshua Palmatier in the last To Read Pile post I wrote. (psst, a lot of those books are still in the pile, it was large and I’ve been reading slow) I added Palmatier to my Shelf of Honor with Well of Sorrow written under his pen name Benjamin Tate. One of the things I really liked about it, was it read a bit like a political thriller with its pacing and sprawl. His writing leveled up from his first book to Well and it did again from the Well series to Ley.

This new series is set in a slightly more advanced fantasy world than usual. Those magical ley lines seen throughout fantasy books are being used by Palmatier in the way people have used electricity. I had an early industrial revolution vibe to this fantasy world that was incredibly unique. Now take the sprawl of a fantasy novel and layer in tons of intrigue. It ends a touch abruptly to set up book two, but enough of the loose ends were buttoned up that it didn’t bother me beyond jonsing for the next book. Even knowing exactly how much work it takes to write a novel, impatient reader is impatient sometimes still.

 

sixguntarotSix-Gun Tarot by R. S. Belcher

Six-Gun Tarot by debut author R. S. Belcher is part of a dying breed: Books I pick up off the shelf with no outside recommendations. I saw the book kicking around Readercon. It’s got some killer cover art going for it, but I heard no buzz about it whatsoever. I finally picked it up at my local B+N because I saw a blurb from Felicia Day on it. Consider this your buzz.

It’s a weird west book; a mashup of some serious Lovecraftian occult stuff and the post-Civil War west. There is a lot going on. A lot. A woman part of a secret society of pirate assassins? Done. Mad scientists? Booyah. Immortal sheriff? Of course and he’s got a demigod deputy. Chinese gangs? Of course they’re in the Nevada desert. Where else would they be? It takes a little while to sort out everything going on but once the book hits the halfway point, it flies by and becomes un-put-down-able. There’s crazy potential for a long series with this and I hope it pans out.

 

generationvGeneration V by M. L. Brennon

This is the first time an urban fantasy novel has taken place where I live and holy crap it is super rad to see Rhode Island in a SFF novel. Also, vampires would explain a lot of our politics here. Uh oh, did you tune out the second I said vampires? You stop that right now! ML Brennon took Generation V and put a fresh spin on vampires. That takes a lot because the vampire population is pretty high in our genre.

For every bit of action and drama in this book, there’s an equal amount of fun. Fortitude Scott is a vampire, but he drives a crappy car, lives in a dump in Providence and gets beaten up by muggers (which goes along with living in the bad parts of Providence). He’s not even particularly thrilled about being a vampire. It’s like he’s the average joe of vampires and I absolutely loved every bit of it.

tomeoftheundergatesTome of the Undergates by Sam Sykes

Ok I read the first of Sam Sykes‘ books a long while ago. Apparently it was even before I started the blog because I never wrote a post about it before. He’s got his fourth, A City Stained Red, coming out soon. But for some reason a lot of people have been asking for adventure packed sword and sorcery recommendations from me lately. I got someone to buy his book with “Swords. Demons. Farts.” Sykes writes with a “I fucking love this stuff” attitude which makes it a joy to read. I also think he is one of the most thoughtful authors out there when discussing genre issues and craft. The “Buy My Book” gags are priceless and I really want a calendar of them someday.

throneofthecrescentmoonThrone of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed was one of the first book reviews I did on this website. It’s still awesome. It fits into the same sword and sorcery adventure type fantasy as Sykes so a lot of recommendations lately. I convinced a couple people at Readercon to check out his writing. I’ve been reading in the genre for twenty years so the fact that it’s an Arab based fantasy world made this book hugely refreshing. If you want to check out Ahmed’s writing, he’s got a free ebook of short fiction available. I posted about it a while back too. It’s got a couple of my favorite short stories in it.

lextalionisLex Talionis by RSA Garcia

I reviewed Lex Talionis by RSA Garcia recently. Go read it again. But there’s a good chance that’s how you found my blog in the first place. A significant portion of my traffic has been heading to her book and I’m ok with this. I’ve been recommending this a lot in person for people who are wanting a fresh feel on the classic sci-fi tropes starring an ass kicking lady.

 

hurricanefeverHurricane Fever by Tobias Buckell

I’m ending with my current read, which I’m only about halfway through and will go back to reading as soon as I’m finished typing all this. Hurricane Fever by Tobias Buckell is the sequel to Arctic Rising. At first when I heard that Fever was going to be about the Carribean spy, Roo Jones, instead of Anika Duncan, I was a bit disappointed. I admit it. Anika was such a kick ass character, I really wanted to read more about her. But I’ve read quite a lot of Buckell’s books, so I felt ok trusting that he’s writing the best story possible. The book isn’t letting me down a bit. Roo is kicking ass and taking names and I’ve flying through it. I’m not even done and I’m ok recommending it to everyone.

I actually have some free time and today (edit, not really. I wrote half of this last Tuesday) so I am going to use it to talk about awesome books. Or at least, books I expect to be awesome. I’m not going to talk about books I’ve already finished this time. I’m elbow deep into Dance with Dragons anyways, so the previous read was a while ago. Today, I want to talk about the books in my To Read Pile. They’re sitting on the shelf, waiting to be read as soon as I finish this last GRRM tome. Of course, at the speed I’ve been getting books done lately, I’ll see October before I finish this pile.

toreadpile

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So that’s them, held up with a Medusa head. That’s how I roll. Time to talk about them. From top to bottom and left to right.

Generation V by M. L. Brennan – I think I first heard about her because Brennan was at NY ComicCon with Myke Cole. That sounds about right. Then I saw on twitter she was going to be doing a reading from the latest book in Providence and I was all like “Holy shit! People do things in Rhode Island! …. on days I’m unavailable…” One thing I’m seriously jazzed about, this book takes place in Rhode Island! New Yorkers can get blaze about urban fantasy happening in their backyard but after the author tweeted “Enjoy the RI locales”, I skimmed for where they were. The protag lives in Cranston, all of two miles from my house. I’m absolutely going to troll Cranston and take pictures of where the book happens. I’ve always wanted to do that (the pictures part, not trolling Cranston)

The Cracked Throne by Joshua Palmatier – This guy is a Shelf of Honor author with Well of Sorrows (as Benjamin Tate). This particular book is the second book in his first trilogy. Honestly, I often don’t read the back of the book for Shelf of Honor authors, or sequels to books I already liked. I don’t need any further convincing to buy them and the way the last book left off, the second should pick up pretty shortly after. I first saw him at Boskone 49.

Half-off Ragnarok by Seanan McGuire – This is book three in the InCryptid series. I think this will be the fifth of hers that I’ve read. I first started reading her books from a recommendation by Jim Hines. I started with InCryptid, instead of the Toby Daye books, because InCryptid was brand new at the time. McGuire was the Guest of Honor at the last Boskone and is pretty rad.

A Discourse in Steel by Paul S Kemp – Another sequel. Hrm, seems I have a lot of these. This is the second Egil and Nix book. They buckle swashes and kick asses. I’m pretty sure I learned of these books because anything published by Angry Robot is automatically on my radar.

Tricked by Kevin Hearne (a.k.a. Taco Pope) – Book four of the Iron Druid Chronicles, which is up to six or seven plus some novellas. I found Hearne off a recommendation via Sam Sykes (who was recommended by Scalzi). The protag, Atticus, and his dog Oberon are one of the best duos in the SF genre. There’s just as much humor in these books as the serious stuff. It makes the books refreshing.

In a Fix by Linda Grimes – This is a straight up bookstore browse find, the only proper one on the list. The protag is a “human chameleon” who pretends to be other people to fix things for them. Like getting someone to accept a marriage proposal. Shapeshifters and spies? Done. You don’t need any more to sell it.

The Cormorant by Chuck Wendig – Here’s some more awesomeness from Angry Robot Books. This is book three of the Miriam Black series, which just got picked up for a TV deal on Stars. Wendig writes with a lot of flair. And swears. So many swears. He’s also one of the go to people for writing shop talk. I read the first Miriam Black book when it was brandy new based off the trifecta of Lauren Beuckes, John Scalzi and the power of the Angry Robot.

The Blue Blazes by Chuck Wendig – Copy and paste half of above right here. This is the start of a new series about gangsters and demons and magic.

Zeus and Co. by David Lee Jones – This is an old one I scored on a Book Barn browse. That’s the seriously epic used book store down in Connecticut. The book is old enough that it doesn’t even have a picture on Goodreads. I can’t even find any sort of web page for the correct David Lee Jones. It’s about hackers and Greek gods. I love godpunk so I nabbed this right away. I’m sure the 20 year old tech is going to be silly in it’s oldness, but I’m hoping it holds up anyways.

 Fiddlehead by Cherie Priest – Buying this book was another no-brainer. Fiddlehead is part of the Clockwork Century series which was bequeathed (bequoth?) on the Shelf of Honor. The series is often considered the definitive books of steampunk. I also enjoy how they are all interconnected but still readable as individuals. That’s a nice trait when I don’t usually have time to go back and reread a whole series. I think I first put Boneshaker (the first Clockwork Century) on 2009’s Xmas list after reading a Scalzi Big Idea post.

The Killing Moon by N. K. Jemisin – This book takes place in a world where the dominant magic system is fueled by people’s dreams. That is bad ass. The practitioners of this magic, well they could heal you … or maybe kill you. Either way. That’s a temple that is definitely worth reading about. Jemisin also comes recommended by most of my twitter feed.

Reamde by Neal Stephenson – Here is another Shelf of Honor author (with Ananthem). This is another of his books set in the real world. Reamde is a cyberpunk deal about online gamers and wars with Chinese gold farmers that spill over into the real world. It will get me all nostalgic for my Warcraft and EverQuest days. I read my first Stephenson book years ago off a recommendation from my dad.

God’s War by Kameron Hurley – I swear I had this book on my To Buy List before it was nominated for all the awards. Freelancing ex-government assassins? That’s pretty sweet. “Alien gene pirates” alone would sell me on it. I know that was all part of a back cover marketing angle and there are a lot more layers to the book. Good. As it should be. I think I first heard about Hurley from Seanan McGuire. She’s also a great person to follow on ye olde twitter.

Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear – This is not my first book by Bear and I know it won’t be the last. I previously read Undertow and thought that Bear wrote one of the best alien POV’s I’ve ever read in decades. She even got the seriously obscure reference to the cheela I made when I talked about her well written aliens. Ghosts is the first book in Mongol / Eastern based fantasy rather than the same old Medieval British based fantasy world. Bear came recommended from most of my twitter feed and I finally bought some of her books after seeing her at Boskone 50 last year.

lextalionisIn The Mail – Lex Talionis by R.S.A. Garcia – I was recommended this book when a twitter pal said “Hey, my sister has an awesome book coming out soon.” I was all like “Ima gonna go check this out.” And I did. And I got super happy because Lex uses one of my favorite SF tropes, which I hardly ever see anywhere. Amnesiatic protags that have to discover their identity right along with the reader. I can think of all of four books that do this, and two of them (Nine Princes in Amber and A Thousand Words for a Stranger) are on the Shelf of Honor. So this book is totally happening. I’m pretty sure I would have found this book regardless because Elizabeth Bear has also given it her recommendation.

 

shatteringtheleyOn Order – Shattering the Ley by Joshua Palmatier – Remember above how I said he was a Shelf of Honor author? Still applies here. The magic system in this book is closely tied with the infrastructure of the world and I find that whole concept very intriguing. I’m excited to see an epic storyline set in the urban city of the book. Ley drops in July right before Readercon so I’m hoping Palmatier rolls in for that con and I can add to my signed shelf.

51logoIt’s February so that means it’s Boskone time! This is my third time around at this con and the second year in a row that this con commuter got to drive through a blizzard. It’s a good thing I have the blood of the frigid northlands in me and winter doesn’t bother me.

I rolled in for two days of the con and hit up eight panels plus the Guest of Honor interview and the flash fiction slam. Wow, I didn’t realize I was that busy. No wonder I didn’t have time to eat lunch. The panels were split evenly between shop talk and fan stuff. There was talk of positive work habits at Finish It: Completing Your Work. I got that 500 words/day seems to be more of a magic number for pros and pros with day jobs than the mythical 1666 2/3 words/day from NaNoWriMo. That’s always a positive to hear what with having the day job and family. Food in Fiction was another fun shop talk panel. Elizabeth Bear, who is always a delight to hear talk on panels, pointed out how food is very underutilized in world building. World building is pretty damn important to any flavor of our genre so it was rather productive shop talk.

Pixels to Print: The Challenges of Running a Magazine was a behind the scenes with the head people from Clarkesworld, Beneath Ceaseless Skies and Galaxy’s Edge. I seriously wish my writer / newspaper editor friend had been in on that. I tend to only dabble in short stories, but I love learning about the behind the scenes stuff that goes into the products we all read. The last shop talk panel I hit up was Writers on Writing: Sex vs Romance. It bordered on genre talk at times because the relationship expectations for different parts of our genre can be wildly different. I have to admit, I lost track of a little bit of this panel because it keyed into something that was missing in my novel-in-progress and I outlined a new opening chapter on the spot. So super huge thanks on that even if I did miss a bit of what was said.

I drifted into Ezines, Fanzines and Blogs on Sunday. That frustrated me a bit. Waxing nostalgic about “the good ol’ days” has its place but it shouldn’t be paired with “new things are horrible and different and just go too fast.” I was seriously glad that Mallory O’Meara was there to be “yeah, no.” She runs a New England wide thing called Arkham Horror Book Club and was all “Yeah we do digital and still do all those things you think are missing from today’s fandom.” High five for all that.

Genre discussions always make me happy. I find that stuff fascinating, going back to the same kind of discussions in film school. Urban Fantasy in Transision tracked how the subgenre is evolving. I completely agree that it has come a long way from the “Buffy lookalike kills [insert monster] with [insert magic/weapon].” This is a good thing because I think UF has some of the most progressive storytelling around now and when it first came about, it was very needle-in-a-haystack to find the good ones. Future Fantasy and the Teen Protagonist spent a lot of time defining terms. That sounds boring written out but it really wasn’t. It keyed in with some of the YA trends. Apparently to kids these days (I think it makes me old because I just said “kids these days”) consider ‘sci-fi’ a dirty word. Future fantasy is becoming a term for “sci fi with wonder.” It’s a term I like that fits and I really wish I had written down which panelist said it. Wicked Good Villains went into how storytelling is evolving past black and white good versus bad. The best baddies are the ones you can understand, think Magneto, and the best protags are the ones who are a bit messed up. I’ve actually been thinking about a whole post on that for a while and took some notes to use accordingly.

The Guest of Honor interview was a lot of fun. Seanan McGuire is just as fun of a storyteller in person. Elizabeth Bear was doing the interview which really consisted more of “Hey, deadly viruses!” or “Tarantulas!” and then stories just happened. I also hadn’t realize that the massive pile of publications she’s written has all been since 2009. Damn, I knew she had a busy schedule but now that’s gone from damn to holy crap! I am seriously amazed by that time management fu. It’s also nice to hear someone say her name aloud because I wasn’t ever sure I was saying it right in my head. Having a last name no one ever pronounces correctly, but really should unless they’re from Canada, makes pronunciation something I worry about getting right.

I rolled in for the Kaffeeklatch with Myke Cole. He continues to be engaging and helpful and an all around cool person.

Reading at Boskone 51.

Reading at Boskone 51.

Oh hey, you didn’t think I’d forget to tell you how the reading went did you? It went well. I kept the nerves down and busted out my radio DJ voice. One thing that I knew but didn’t really click before the reading was that I brought a cyberpunk story to lay in front of people who helped invent cyberpunk. The inventors of the genre. Let that sink in for a moment. And then think if that was a really good idea. Whatever. I brought it, I laid it down and it was good. I didn’t win but the people who did dropped some excellent stories. The competition was very close. One of the judges said he thought there was a moment that seemed a bit dated, like a 70s or 80s kind of SF. That may have been the kicker, but you know what, I can live with that . That’s a personal preference. Everyone has them, doesn’t mean the story is bad. I had a couple people come up to me afterwards and also on ye olde Twitter tell me they liked my story. That’s a fantastic thing to happen after reading in public for the first time. An extra high five for Brenda Noiseux, a twitter pal I got to meet for real and was at the reading. She snapped that pic of me.

Last and certainly not least, my favorite part of going to these cons, finding cool new authors. Both of these authors this year sold me on their work during the Urban Fantasy in Transition panel. Like I said above, UF has some of the most interesting storytelling going on now. I will definitely be picking up the books of Mur Lafferty and Max Gladstone. Lafferty’s book, The Shambling Guide to New York City, I knew of but talking about where the character arc was heading for book two and being an all around well spoken and interesting individual really sold me. Gladstone is also well spoken and interesting, (there’s a theme, being cool helps sell) but I hadn’t heard of his books at all. Three Parts Dead is urban fantasy written from a fantasy world evolving up to the industrial age rather than most UF which is a real world base and magic added in. Necro lawyers. That’s bad ass. The only downside was that I was hording my cash money in case I got snowed in Saturday night and the books were all sold out from the huckster’s room when I went to get them on Sunday. Oh well. I’ll just get them on the next big order.

Quotable quotes, (sometimes with context):

  • “Just slide your Ender’s Game across the table and nod.” –Anna Davis, author of The Gifted, in the Future Fantasy panel
  • “We’re in a golden age of flawed heroes and sympathetic villains.” -Myke Cole on Wicked Good Villains
  • “It was my midlife crisis. Instead of buying a red convertible, I set up a company to see how fast I could lose my money.” -Shahid Mahmud (Galaxy’s Edge) on getting into publishing
  • “My comments aren’t as valuable as the quick turnaround.” -Niel Clarke, founder of Clarkesworld, on using form letters
  • “Everything is a draft until you die.” –Fran Wilde on Finish It: Completing Your Work
  • “Sci-fi is sort of a dirty word.” -Stacey Friedberg, Asst Editor at Dow on the Future Fantasy panel on marketing to a younger audience.

So Boskone 51 did everything I needed it to. I got fodder for the work in progress. I got fodder for the blog. I met and talked to some cool people. (Look mom! Introverts being social!) I had a lot of fun.

Counting down the days til my next con. Readercon in five months.

This has been percolating in my head for a while, like most of my bigger blog posts tend to do. I don’t remember any specific thing that spurred me on to this thought train. The aging old guard that hates any sort of change is an ugly thing in the SF community, and it’s all too often that they rear up and stomp around like dinosaurs. One of their many airing of grievances probably set this off.

I grew up reading the Old Guard. That’s what my parents read back in the day because they weren’t the Old Guard then, they were the Newbies. They were the Old Guard though when I started reading their books at ten. A lot of the Old Guard have written amazing things. The cornerstones of science fiction and fantasy came about because of them. That’s past tense. It’s a fact. Even if they’ve turned into curmudgeonly old guys, their past impact on the genre can’t be changed. Prime example: Ender’s Game and Orson Scott Card. Today’s version of OSC is not someone I would ever get along with, to put it in nice words that aren’t swearing. However, the book he wrote back in the 80s is profound.

Thanks to this nebulous mass of the Old Guard, there is an image that the Average White Guy who reads in our genre only wants to read about Average White Guys and put their foot down to squash diversity. Eh, that might be a bit dramatic, but the image is one of indifference at best.

I want to put it out there that it is a complete misnomer that people only want to read about people exactly like them. I think this is doubly so within SF circles. If we weren’t all fans of the different on some level, we’d all be reading “regular” literature instead.

Just from a practical point of view, think that I’ve been reading SF for twenty years now. No one can read everything, but I consider myself fairly well read in both the sci fi and fantasy sides of the genre from the 70s stuff my parents were buying in high school on up to the new stuff today. I couldn’t even tell you how many times I’ve read about the  Average White Guy Chosen One who must save the universe/kingdom.

Been there, done that. That’s not to say it couldn’t still make for a good book, but it’s a very tired trope. I want something new. We’re fortunate that we live in a day where it is a hell of a lot easier to find that shiny new story. Amazon may be the 900 pound gorilla in the room, but you can buy anything from them, not just what is confined to the shelves at the local big box. Finding something different than the bleached out vision of sci fi or the Anglo based fantasy is a lot easier than it used to be.

Examples galore are out there. Some of the ones I love to recommend (and frequently do) are Crystal Rain by Tobias Buckell, Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed and a new one I recently read, Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi.

In none of these books, or the myriad of others I read, being different was not the end all be all of the book. Having a different cast of characters and a different cultural basis were defiantly points in favor for the books. None of that would have mattered though if they weren’t written well. How’s the plot? How’s the prose? Drop the ball on that and you’re novel could be about the UN and it wouldn’t matter one wit to me.

ascension-coverI’m going to use Ascension again as an example since it’s new so therefore hasn’t been talked about around these parts before. The protag, Alana, is black and gay. The relationships in the book are polyamorous. That’s quite possibly the polar opposite of the Average White Guy. Ok. That’s all well and good, how’s all the other stuff going on in the book? Plot? Prose? It happens to all be fantastic. Alana is a bad ass engineer who stows away in a cargo ship on a desperate mission. The engineer on a civilian ship is a point of view that’s refreshing in itself instead of the typical guns-blazing space marine. But that’s a tangent for another blog post. The point is, Alana is doing badassery independent of how she identifies herself. Her differences add more layers to a novel that already had a compelling base.

That is the best way to go about adding more diversity into the SF scene.

Because character diversity isn’t the end all be all of a good novel, it doesn’t always work out. I read an urban fantasy with a gay protag that spent more time sitting around moping “Does she love me? Do I love her?” It was book one of a series so the plot never felt any need to move about with urgency and the novel ended up being half relationship, high school type drama, dealing with intolerant family kind of stuff. If that’s your bag, great, fantastic, I’ll let you know where the used bookstore I sent it off to is. It’s not my bag at all because the plot took a back seat to all the introspection. There should be balance between the two.

There was another time I read a steampunk book that made a huge to do and reveal of a transgender character right at the start of Act Three. Ok cool. People are people. And? And nothing. The book went out of its way to make it into a Thing, I expected some sort of plot point out of it. When there wasn’t one, I felt the whole thing was distracting. The drama was distracting, not the character herself. I think it would have been more effective storytelling if it had been brought up earlier in the normal course of business and without the drama of a reveal. But then again, I don’t know anyone else who’s read the same book to solicit other opinions. Maybe other people liked the drama of it.

Having a diverse cast in SF become a non issue is a noble and proper goal. A multicultural, multiracial, multi(insert any adjective that describes people) landscape should be accepted as the norm. I think that treating it as normal is the best way to get people around you to also start treating it as normal. Lead by example kind of thing. Letting the storytelling take a back seat to creating a diverse cast does a disservice to the very cause they want to champion. Maybe disservice isn’t the right word choice. It’s more like a lateral move, not hurtful but not really helpful in the end.

I feel like writing diversity as normal is harder to accomplish as an Average White Guy writer though. I don’t want to deal with questions of “Is this guy pandering for sales?” or “You’re not X, you can’t write about X without authenticity.”

Whatever. Screw that noise. In the end, I’m going to write the stories I want to write. That will frequently be about characters that aren’t like me because otherwise life would be boring as hell. I’ve got a short story about a scientist that happens to be a black woman with genetically engineered pink hair and six fingers. Why? Fun. Also, the character design was inspired by one of my kid’s Nick Jr cartoons (so many points to whoever can call that one). The punk band in my in-progress novel has a Hispanic brother and sister and a Chinese drummer. Why? Well, originally it was set in my hometown which has large Puerto Rican and Chinese communities. There’s no reason the band should be nothing but white guys. That’s just things plucked out of my daily life plunked into my writing.

I might not write different people right. In fact, I’m sure I’ll screw it up once in a while. And if people want to respectfully talk shop about how to improve writing a certain POV, fantastic, I love talking shop and I always want to get better as my writing. The same goes for my reading lists. New points of view from diverse characters will always be another positive selling point in the laundry list of things I look for in a new book. I like to think that the genre community is getting better in that regard. We can drown out the haters by treating differences as a regular part of everyday life. That goes for the real world too.

The Year End Shenanigans for 2013 is going to focus on the books I’ve been reading. Largely because of all that free time I don’t have, I’ve scaled back on book review posts here. But I still love pontificating about great writing and spreading the word. I picked up most of the books I read now because of the people around me, so I want to do the same for the great things I read.

I’m not really feeling detailing out the query grind on this. Anyone familiar with a query grind is nodding knowingly right now anyways.

Onward to the books! I’m going to do this is lumps rather than singling out titles for specific things. Why? Cause it’s my post and I can do what I wanna! Except for the first thing. Always with the exceptions. But it’s an important one…

The Most Recommended Book of the Year

The Lives of Tao / The Deaths of Tao by Wesley Chu

From the overlords at Angry Robot Books, the first Tao book came out in February and did so well the second was pushed up to October. Hence I’m listing them both. There’s all sorts of awesome going on with these books which can tell you all about why I liked it. What makes the Tao books so recommendable for me though is the genre blend going on here. Chu writes science fiction with a healthy dose of adventure thriller. It opens doors to a broader audience. There’s something special about accessible genre writing. We’re not going to grow the genre without pulling new people in. A lot of readers I know in real life don’t read off of the same lists that I do. Tao has been recommended to the military SF readers to the non-SF Jack Reacker Clive Cussler crowd.

The Most Influence on My Own Writing

I guess I lied and I am going to talk about my writing a little bit. This is a special kind of category for me though. I firmly believe that you can’t help being influenced by everything you read. You take cues from positive things you read and steer clear of the stuff you don’t like. There are a few authors that have very directly influenced both the book that I’m shopping around and the one I’m writing right now.

In Amity, the book I finished polishing over the summer, there are two chapters specifically dedicated to positive writing influences. There is a Soviet style show trial going on dedicated to Saladin Ahmed. The third POV character needed the perspective shift so it was dedicated to a person who challenges people to broaden their own perspective both in his writing and generally in life. The second scene in Amity specially dedicated is to Myke Cole. It’s actually one of my favorite scenes in the whole entire novel. There’s a riot cop facing off with my main protag. There’s a respect that they’re both just doing their job… one that happens to put them at odds with each other.

My current in-progress novel, the Rhode Island godpunk, owes a lot to Chuck Wendig first. There is so much swearing involved and Wendig is a virtuoso of swears. Seriously, I work in a shipyard and swear every tenth word and it has taxed my ability to creatively swear. The female lead of my book has a little bit of Miriam Black in her. The book also owes a tip of the hat to Delilah Dawson. Remember Wicked as They Come? Oh yeah. Don’t fear the smooching in SF! There’s totally smooching happening because that’s what the characters want, it’s what they need. My novel doesn’t work without the chemistry between the two leads and that means there’s smooching.

The Favorites of 2013

favorites2013I will leave you now with blurb sized exhultations of my favorite books of the year, in no particular order beyond how they’re piled on my kitchen table right now. Fun fact, I got to meet three of the five at conventions this year. They were all very awesome people and personalized books for me. Also, I saw Wes Chu in the distance at Readercon.

The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu – A genre blend that takes one of my all time favorite tropes, multiple consciousnesses stuffed inside of the same noggin and throws in a history spanning secret war.

Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier by Myke Cole – Ok so I got to read it early before it’s January release date, but it still counts because I say it does. Bookbinder is a fantastic character bringing a different perspective to the military based SF. The logistics guys are just as important as the front line fighters but it’s not a POV that’s full of traditional glory. I loved getting the new view as watching Bookbinder grow into the roll he is thrown into. I’m loving this series enough that I already made my local B+N order book three for me so I can have it on day one.

The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch – How could I not include the new adventures of Locke and Jean? I drove to Massachusetts so I could get mine from the man himself. (I also won at twitter that day) We finally got to see Sabetha in action. Finally! Book one was Locke as a planner and in book two, he was more reactionary. In book three, he’s matching wits with his equal, not something he ever really has to do even when shit hits the fan.

Blood’s Pride by Evie Manieri – Straight up proper fantasy novels have had a resurgence in my reading lists lately. There’s a lot of tradition embroiled in fantasy and that’s not always a good thing. Manieri takes all the good parts of the epic fantasy and strips away all the bad breathing new life into the stodgy genre at the same time. World spanning sprawl and very personal stories come together to make something very special.

Wicked as They Come by Delilah S Dawson – I picked this up as a recommendation by Chuck Wendig. This is dimension hopping science fiction sprinkled liberally with steampunk but shelved as romance. Forget artificial shelf segregation and do yourself a favor by reading this. Tish has a fantastic character arc pulling herself back together after some bad times. The world building is top notch. So what that there’s smooching? Embrace the smooching!

So thanks to twitter again today, I’ve noticed a phenomenon in SFF publishing. It’s not the first time I’ve noticed it, but it happened again today and hey look! For once I have the time to do something about it.

So what the hell is it? [Insert Monty Python and the Holy Grail yelling GET ON WITH IT!]

Short answer, international cover art is way cooler.

humandivEhumandivjapanesexample A…. John Scalzi‘s Human Division dropped in Japan with this pile of kick ass on the right. Now… don’t get me wrong, the US version looks pretty damn spiffy but it also looks somewhat traditional. I don’t need to be a marketing genius or some sort of cultural expert to see that the manga looking cover is going to have a lot more attraction in Japan than the traditional space station.

Now actually, as far as traditional SF covers go, I think the Human Division cover is pretty damn spiffy. It’s got a nice color palate instead of black starscapes. But, I am partial to covers that show characters and while the Japanese cover doesn’t show an actual scene from the book, people are always more interesting than tech alone. I also agree with what Scalzi said himself that it’s great they show Ambassador Abumwe and not just the shooters.

So both good, but Japan wins. Like woah.

lockelamora-uslockelamora-ukExample B…. Scott Lynch‘s The Lies of Locke Lamora. Full disclosure, Lies is one of my all time favorites. But I totally did not pick it up off the shelf because of the cover. I actually picked up it’s sequel off the shelf first because of it’s cover. Again with the US cover, kind of traditional. I dunno what the hell Locke is supposed to be thinking sitting there. He’s certainly not being a very good thief sitting out in the open like that. It would bother me a lot less if that was something that happened in the book, but he never stares off at Camorr’s towers looking all pensive, wry and slightly emo.

UK over on the right still has Locke perched in odd places for some reason, but that captures the feel of the city and the book so much more. Locke’s version of Camorr is the dirty slums where you’re more likely to get shanked and dumped into the canal.

UK absolutely wins here and I’m pretty sure they stayed with the same artist for all the covers going forward, US and UK.

breachzone-usbreachzone-ukExample C…. Myke Cole‘s upcoming (and greatly anticipated) Shadow Ops Breach Zone, or in the UK, just plain Breach Zone. Now, again here, I don’t think the American cover is bad, I just think that the UK one is a whole lot better. Over on the left, Harlequin looks pretty damn impressive. Scylla looking pretty cool down in the corner but it’s totally Harlequin’s show and he could be a poster child for a recruitment poster there. Which is the point. We know this because we’ve met Harlequin before and I think the cover captures him pretty well.

But poor Harlequin can’t hold a damn candle to Scylla over in the UK on the right. She is fucking Bad Ass. Capitol letters and all. Seriously. Like Betty White, Scylla is sick of your shit. It captures the character more perfectly than any cover I’ve seen in a while. I want to find some British pounds to get my hands on that one.

Also, there’s a new blurb on the UK cover. The Peter Brett blurb on the left is a good one, (though nothing beats “I do not wish Sam Sykes dead” in Tome of the Undergates) but it’s the same one through all three books.

I’m getting into the rhetorical territory here now but I’m wondering why the covers are so different. The Japanese cover isn’t too hard to figure out but do the marketing departments in London and New York really so divergent? I was clicking around on goodreads and some people have wild variants around the world with their covers. Peter Brett, China Miéville and the afore mentioned Sam Sykes all have completely different covers out in EuropeIf you call up Boneshaker by Cherie Priest, one of my favorite covers, it’s the same across the world. I’m not sitting around in the publishing house or anything but I think it would be very interesting to be a fly on the wall to get some insight into the why’s of these decisions.