Monthly Archives: April 2010

Asimov’s Accepting Electronic Submissions

w00t! Here’s the news from Asimov’s editor Sheila Williams:

Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine is now accepting electronic submissions. Authors should read our manuscript guidelines at http://www.asimovs.com/info/guidelines.shtml before submitting material online. Online submissions of stories and poetry can be sent to us via our new form at http://asimovs.magazinesubmissions.com/index.php. Authors with a print copy of their story currently under consideration should not resubmit the story electronically. I will respond to those stories via the traditional SASE.

Note that Asimov’s has a specific gateway for electronic submissions which you’ll need to use. As always I strongly suggest following submissions guidelines to the letter, lest you be branded too much trouble to bother with.

Good on Sheila and Asimov’s for opening this particular door; hopefully Analog and Fantasy & Science Fiction won’t be too far behind.

The Big Idea: Mira Grant

Oh Noes! It’s the Zombie Apocalypse™! It’s the end of the world! Yes, yes, Mira Grant said, zombies, end of the world, blah blah blah. Been there. Done that. Got the bloody t-shirt. But what comes after the end of the world, when the world actually is still there? One answer: Feed, which takes a couple decades beyond the zombie apocalypse to a world which has, in its way, adjusted to the undead. And Grant (the pen name for current Campbell Award nominee Seanan McGuire) does a pretty good job with it, according to a starred review in Publishers Weekly: “Shunning misogynistic horror tropes in favor of genuine drama and pure creepiness, McGuire has crafted a masterpiece of suspense with engaging, appealing characters.” Well, then.

So how does it work? And how do you truly show a United States in which living and undead share the same country? Ms. Grant reveals all!

MIRA GRANT:

Feed is a book built around a single, simple idea that took two years to come together, largely because it was a lot more complicated than it looked. What if the zombie apocalypse happened…and we survived?

A little background:

I’m a horror movie fanatic. Some of my earliest memories involve watching The Blob and Alien in my family’s living room. Little Shop of Horrors was my favorite musical for years (and has only recently been displaced by Evil Dead: The Musical). So the rise of public awareness regarding the inevitable zombie apocalypse has been fabulous for me, especially since it means people don’t look at me as oddly when I start assessing the zombie-preparedness of their homes. But as time went on, I started getting really bothered by the fact that no one who wound up in a horror movie had ever seen a horror movie. Scream and sequels aside, you’d think that eventually people would learn not to date boys named Johnny, not to trust anyone with a machete, and to reliably shoot for the head. But they didn’t.

I began toying with the question of what would happen if the horror movie really happened. What if it happened in the real world, where everyone has had the opportunity to see a horror movie, or at least has a friend who’s seen a horror movie? What would happen if the zombies came? There were really only two scenarios. In one, all the horror movie knowledge in the world couldn’t save us…and in the other, we’d have to deal with something the movies never seemed to care about. We’d have to deal with after.

Because I could get to after, I had to put together a logical “before,” which meant having scientific, potentially survivable zombies. Luckily, I’m also a serious virology nut, and having me at the dinner table is frequently an exercise in “Hey, wanna know what I learned about MRSA today?” (Hint: The answer is “no,” especially if you’re eating.) Most viruses don’t want to wipe out their host species, since without a host, the virus has nowhere to go but extinction. Assuming we had viral zombies, it would actually be in the best interests of the virus that controlled them to find a balance, of sorts, between killing everyone and failing to spread itself in an efficient manner. I literally spent about two years playing with my zombie virus, looking for that perfect balance, and constructing the society that would naturally spring up around an ongoing threat of zombie infection. What would it do to funeral rites? To medical emergencies? In a world where everyone is just one bite away from becoming the enemy, how willing are people going to be to form lasting bonds with other people?

Once I had my virus hammered out (and survivable), it was time to figure out exactly how we were able to come through the apocalypse alive. I decided that at first, the mainstream media would probably laugh the risen dead off as some sort of stunt—a mass zombie walk gone a little overboard, maybe—and that at least in the early days of the Rising, the Internet would be the only and most reliable source of information. Bloggers and people on Twitter and message boards and a thousand chat rooms and Facebook updates would spread the news faster than any other network possibly could, and we’d wind up with a sort of grassroots resistance to the living dead. The movies would give us a starting point, and we’d be able to work things out from there.

I was in the process of writing Feed when Hurricane Katrina happened, and I saw the Internet react and come together just the way I had proposed we could, and would, given a big enough emergency. But that came later. First I had to get to the point of being able to start the book—I had a virus, I had a game plan for surviving the virus, and I had a culture that existed about twenty years after the Rising, focused heavily on Internet news and never going outside when you didn’t have to. What I didn’t have was a plot. I complained endlessly to my friends about the fact that my zombie world had no place to shamble. And then one night my friend Michael asked a simple question:

“Why don’t you do a Presidential campaign?”

It was simple; it was elegant; it was perfect. By taking the political angle, I could really dissect this society and the way the coming of the dead had changed it. A Presidential campaign, by its very nature, will span the United States, and that’s what I wanted. I wanted to show how the world would change in the aftermath…and how we might be forced to adapt, but we wouldn’t just lay down and die. Little things, like the fact that George Romero is considered a global hero, resulting in “George” and “Georgia” being two of the most common names given to children. Big things, like the closure of the national parks and the abandonment of Alaska to the dead.

Everything.

By the end of that night, I had the full story unfolding in my head, complete with the narrators who would make it come to life. I think I wrote a hundred pages the first week, barely noticing when things like “bedtime” and “dinnertime” passed me by. I was twenty years away; I was twenty years past the end of the world.

That first big idea really was a lot bigger than I thought, because it literally required me to rebuild America, as well as put together a viable mechanism for raising the dead (it also cures cancer and the common cold). I loved every minute, and I still do. I also sleep with a machete under my bed. You know.

Just in case.

—-

Feed: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Follow Mira Grant on Twitter. Also follow her alter ego, Seanan McGuire. Read McGuire on LiveJournal.

Quick Romantic Times Recap

I had a one-day, zoom-in, zoom out appearance at the Romantic Times Booklovers Convention in Columbus today and aside from yet more driving added to my already prodigious weekly tally, it was actually a very good time — my panels were good and for my signing I got to sit next to Harley Jane Kozak, actress and mystery writer, who was just lovely and good company; we ended up exchanging books.

I also saw some friends (Holly Black, Kat Richardson, Sarah Zettel, Diana Rowland among them) and met some fun new folks, including Nicole Peeler, Carrie Ryan, Charlaine Harris, the aforementioned Ms. Kozak, and the crew at Romantic Times magazine, who were all very nice to me. Natalie Luhrs, the science fiction reviewer there, however, gifted me with perhaps the most evil CD ever created in the history of history. She frequents the comments here so I will let her reveal the black depths of her sinister compilation; suffice to say I expect it violates the Geneva conventions in an awesome sort of way.

In short: glad I went, even if only for the day.

Marjorie Liu’s New Video Game

I am off to the Romance Times Booklover’s Convention, at which I will do panels and sign books (and before the uninformed among you snicker, note that I am the recipient of a Romantic Times Critics Choice Award for The Last Colony, so they’ve been good to me) and hopefully see some friends. I’ll be gone all day, so have fun without me.

Tangentially related to this, let me congratulate my friend, paranormal romance writer Marjorie M. Liu, because yesterday marked the release of a video game based on her books: Tiger Eye Part I: Curse of the Riddle Box. The game, which is available for PC now (and for Mac in May) is a paranormal romance “casual game” that more or less follows the characters and events of Marjorie’s debut novel. You can learn more about the game by following the link above, and if you want to check it out, the game starts at just $6.99 (with deluxe versions costing a few dollars more).

I’m only slightly jealous Marjorie has a video game based on her book. Mostly I think it’s pretty cool.

The New Desk

Got home from my LA travels this week to discover the new desk had arrived and been set up in the office:

Those of you with memory will note the desk is considerably smaller than my previous work desk, and intentionally so: Having a massive L-shaped desk proved conducive to gathering clutter, something I’m hoping to avoid from here on out. The new desk has room for a monitor, a keyboard and a couple of other things, and that’s pretty much it. I also commissioned a matching filing cabinet, which you also see here. I suspect I may shuffle a few things around, but by and large, this is what it will look like moving forward.

Still awaiting arrival: The new bookshelves, and when they arrive, additional furniture and wall hangings, at which point the office will be officially complete. But now that the desk is in I can start working in the office again, which is a nice feeling after a couple of months of exile. It’s good to be home, basically.

Science Fiction Film Summer Preview

Whilst I am winging my way across this great country of ours (presuming you are from in the United States — this statement not applicable in all the other 200+ nations in the world), here’s something to keep you amused: A quick glance at the surprisingly sci-fi-light summer film season. Let’s just say it’s not likely to be a vintage year, science fictionally speaking. As always, feel free to leave your comments and thoughts over on the AMC site.

Early Wednesday Morning Check In

Well, the thing I came to California to do is done, and it went pretty well, if I do say so myself, and I’m sure I will tell you about it when I can tell you about it, which isn’t right this moment. For now, just know I’m happy about it.

And now my plan is to lapse into unconsciousness and then get up at a ridiculously early hour, because I have to be at an airport to fly home. As one often does when one travels. I’ll check in with you all Wednesday evening, when I get home. Stay off the furniture until then, okay?

Two SFWA-Related Links

Because, you know, SFWA.

First, Cory Doctorow praises the SFWA Grievance Committee (“Griefcom”) for helping him get paid for work. The details of the story are over there, but this is a relevant quote:

Many people ask what the point of SFWA is; I’m guilty of wondering this at times myself. But here is something that SFWA does really well: back up individual writers with the collective might of the organization and the tenacity of its volunteers. I can’t thank Michael [Capobianoco] and John [E Johnson III] and Griefcom enough.

Hey, it’s no small thing helping people get paid.

Speaking of getting paid for one’s work, here’s an interesting interview with M.E. Ray, the editor of Redstone Science Fiction, an upcoming online magazine. During the course of the interview Ray discusses why he made sure that his upcoming magazine paid SFWA-recognized professional rates from the get go — basically, because he and his co-founder wanted to be taken seriously as a venue and to attract the best work.

This is of course thinking I approve of highly, and not only for the sake of the writers involved. The fact is that if you’re serious about your work and your success, you invest and you make choices for the long-term. I hope it pays off for them.

The Big Idea: J.A. Pitts

Sometimes when you write a character, the character don’t just meekly walk off the page when you’re done with the story; they stick around, poking at you and saying “hey, I’m still here. What now?J.A. Pitts concocted just such a character in his debut novel Black Blade Blues — now here he is to tell you what happened next.

J.A. PITTS:

Black Blade Blues is my first published novel. Actually, it comes out tomorrow, so be gentle.

I struggled with the thought of this essay, curious if anyone would really care what my internal theme for the novel was. I mean, the story will stand on its own, right? There is a theme, something I wanted to discuss through the story and characters, and I have it on pretty good authority I pulled it off.

We are a society that bases our self-worth and self-esteem on what we think the world wants us to be, living up to some artificial standard we glean from the media and peer pressure. Unfortunately, few ever learn to look beyond that and live comfortably in their own skin. It is those who defy the common norms and accept themselves for who they are who find true happiness. That’s the idea behind Black Blade Blues: learning to accept the world for what it is, not for what you wish it to be. And with that: learning to accept yourself.

The novel started out as a short story I wrote on spec. I wanted to stand out in the field of competitors, so I decided to follow Wilhelm’s rules and delve deeper, past the obvious choices and reach for the ideas further in the psyche.

The anthology was looking for stories about magic swords, so I decided on the Norse blade, Gram, used to slay the dragon, Fafnir. I thought it a good idea, since I hadn’t seen any new fiction based on Norse mythology. Of course, several good books have come out recently, but I’m pretending they don’t exist.

Next, I considered my main character for this fantasy tale. I wanted a tight-in point-of-view and a character the audience wouldn’t expect. Instead of the typical warrior or wizard, I decided to go a different way. Almost no one writes about the supporting cast. The blacksmith creates the swords and supports the hero. Why not bring the blacksmith out of the background and make her the hero?

Yes, I said her. I decided that the blacksmith should be a woman. A strong woman, a maker who wields fire and steel. That was a heroine worthy of a tale.

Finally, mix in my love of urban fantasy and the setting of modern-day Seattle—it seemed a natural fit.

Now I had something I felt was unique. Urban fantasy, Norse mythology, and a female blacksmith who had to reforge the sword Odin himself shattered, in order to save the day.

Sarah Beauhall came to life in my head — cocky, mid-twenties, loves Doc Martens and punk rock. It wasn’t until I had nearly finished the first draft of the short story that I realized Sarah was a lesbian. A young woman with a sheltered upbringing who struggles to understand the world she lives in and along the way, discovers who she is.

And isn’t that what all stories are about — discovering who we are, and how we deal with the world?

I sold the short story to the anthology Swordplay, which came out in 2009. But the story would not go away. As soon as I wrote it, Sarah clamored for more time on the page. Everyone who read the story wanted more.

Sarah had more to her life than this simple tale of reforging a broken blade. She needed to see the dragons, do battle with the giants and trolls in her life, and learn who she was.

The book sang to me in my sleep and filled my head during my day. It possessed me. Every thing I did became an exercise in how Sarah would handle that situation. I found myself hunting down punk venues and black smithies. Day after day I swam in the waters of Sarah’s world, discovering the pain of her struggle and the intricate web of her life. Along the way she comes to terms with it all in order to save the ones she loves and become the woman she was meant to be.

The story colored everything in my life. I started listening to different music, researching and reading books that I’d dabbled with in college — women’s studies, sexual identity, Norse mythology, on and on.

I made it a point to discuss more openly my understanding and misunderstanding of the GLBT world around me, especially with the friends I’d come to know and care about in the community.

It continued the process I’ve been working through for decades: the expanding of my horizons and the better understanding of the world I live in.

That’s what Sarah has to do. She comes from a narrow background, filled with fear and caution, to discover a world where dragons exist and the world order isn’t what she’d always thought it was.

Paralleling her discovery of magic and dragons is her own struggle to accept her sexuality despite society’s unbending expectations of who she should be.

Along the way I learned more about myself than I thought. I’d always been an open-minded individual, but the process of researching and writing this book allowed me to explore my life and world beyond the boundaries I’d previously put in place. Now I find myself stepping out of the comfort zone to learn things I’d lamented missing as a kid. I’ve joined the Girl Scouts, as an example, and am learning to be an Outdoor Specialist. Recently I finished my Girl Scout/Red Cross certified Wilderness First Aid training. I never thought I’d do anything like this. Sarah taught me that. By writing her journey to self discovery and open her eyes to the way the world was, it allowed me to do the same.

It’s a rocking good tale. I hope you like it.

—-

Black Blade Blues: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

The New Netbook

Here it is:

If it looks familiar, there’s  a reason: it’s another Acer Aspire One, the brand of netbook I had before. Why? It’s cheap, it’s functional for what I want a netbook to do, and I liked my old one until I inadvertently killed it the other night. I did think about splurging and getting an iPad, but the fact of the matter is at the end of day I need an actual keyboard and a computer that can do more than one thing at a time more than I need shiny and pretty. Damn my practical nature!

Toronto Recap

So, how did my trip to Toronto go? Quick recap:

1. The Friends of the Merril Collection offered to pay for a plane ticket, but I ended up driving because I had other travel coming up which might have dovetailed with the Toronto trip but the dates weren’t confirmed until last Wednesday, by which time the cost of a plane ticket from Dayton to Toronto was $1,500. Which seemed excessive. So I got in the car instead. It’s not a short trip — 435 miles and close to eight hours — but it wasn’t as bad as all that, since Southern Ontario in late April is pretty. That said, driving to Toronto and back with only a day between is a lot of driving, and I’m not hugely in a rush to do it again. Next time: taking a plane.

2. Friday I spent most of the day in the company of Chris Szego of Bakka-Phoenix Books, who was a lovely hostess and who walked me all through Toronto with sightseeing. We walked for several miles, which was the most exercise I’ve gotten in a while, alas, and my body was more than happy to inform me of it once we has stopped long enough for my leg muscles to seize up. I ended up taking some aspirin before I went to bed. Chris of course should not be blamed for my sloth coming back to kick my ass, and as noted it really was a fine time seeing more of Toronto than I have before.

3. After all the sight-seeing we did end up at Bakka-Phoenix, where I filmed an interview with Space, the Canadian science fiction television channel, and got a chance to catch up with Michelle Sagara West and Leah Bobet, who were excellent company. Bakka-Phoenix is one of my favorite book stores on the North American continent, and is jam-packed with the books of many of my writer friends, so getting a chance to hang out there for a bit was a Very Good Thing.

4. We got to the Merril Collection a little bit early, in order to let the folks there give me a tour of their stacks. For those of you who don’t know what the Merril Collection is, it’s one of the most comprehensive collections of science fiction literature (if not in fact the most comprehensive collection) in the world. The reference stacks there are climate and humidity controlled and feature a genuinely staggering amount of science fiction, fantasy and horror, including rare first editions, author manuscripts, and science fiction pulp magazines going back to the 1920s. In short, a true Geek Mecca, and one of those places every geek should visit before they die (because visiting it after you die will not do as much for you).

5. I am deeply relieved to say that my talk was well attended (we had people standing in the back — sorry, folks), and what you missed by not being there was me reading the first two chapters of Fuzzy Nation — its global debut, in point of fact — followed by roughly an hour of general blather, because I do try to give value for my appearance fee, and then the ritual defacing of books with my signature. I think it all went pretty well, but I’m not the one to ask about that. But if nothing else I had fun. Afterward Chris, Leah, Michelle and I went for a post-blatheration drink accompanied by Lesley Livingston, the fabulous YA author who as it happens was one of the very first people I met in this whole wacky science fiction/fantasy community, because we hung out at Torcon 3, which was my very first ever science fiction convention. It was really cool to be able to catch up with her.

6. The only downside to any of this is that my netbook took this opportunity to die on me — fortunately after I used it for my reading, but even so. I suspect it’s my fault for not making sure it was entirely shut down before stuffing it into my travel bag after the reading and then walking all over Toronto with it, but no matter what it makes me a little sad. It was a good little netbook. Of course, now I’m in the clear to buy an iPad if I want to, which is something Krissy noted to me when I announced the demise of the netbook. I think she may suspect I intentionally killed the little dude. For the record, I would totally not ever do such a thing. Totally not ever, man.

To sum up: Toronto is a wonderful city full of wonderful people (mostly Canadian!) who treated me very well while I was there. I had a grand time and look forward to visiting again. Thanks for  having me, and especially thanks for coming out and seeing me while I was there. I look forward to coming back some time, sooner rather than later.

Merril Update; More Travel

My little netbook seems to have kicked it, so this update is from the iPod and will be brief. In short the Merril talk went well, I think, and the people were lovely and fun to be with. Now I’m totally wiped out, in a good way, and plan to lose consciousness in very short order. In the morning I’ll be off to home and will update again when I get there with more details. But for the moment: Thanks, Toronto. I had tons of fun.

The Big Idea: Leah Cypess

Most books have a “Big Idea” to them — but that doesn’t mean that idea makes itself obvious to the writer from the start. Sometimes the writer has to go exploring for it, trying different things with their writing until that idea reveals itself to her. Doubt it? I present to you Leah Cypess, whose debut novel Mistwood features a big idea that make Cypess going searching.

LEAH CYPESS:

Destiny. Fate. Supernatural powers.  That’s what high fantasy is traditionally all about.  Very often, the main characters are Ordinary People who get caught up in magical events, or have magical powers; and usually, they’re not too happy about it.  They don’t want to be the Chosen One.  Their powers have ruined their lives.  They just want to be Ordinary.

Take one example: Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  In between single-handedly destroying dozens of vampires at once and making snarky comments, Buffy spent a lot of time sighing about being the Slayer.  She didn’t want to defeat evil and save the world during every sweeps month.  She wanted to have an ordinary high school experience.  She wanted to be an ordinary teenage girl.  As an ordinary teenage girl myself, I sometimes felt like reaching through the screen, grabbing her by the shoulders, and yelling, “That might actually not be so great!”  Except, of course, she would have killed me.  (And I suppose there are a few other minor problems with that scenario.)

But what if it was the other way around?  What if a supernatural creature found itself developing human traits, and wasn’t happy about the situation at all? What if she didn’t want to be ordinary? What if what she wanted was to have supernatural powers, and a Purpose, and a Destiny?  What if her internal struggle was not about escaping her destiny, but about holding onto it?

Because if you have a destiny, then you know where you’re going.  Your choices are about how to get there, not about where you want to go.  And really, isn’t that easier?  If you have choices, real choices, you might not make the right choice.  Worse than that – there might not be a right choice.

The main character in Mistwood, Isabel, is an immortal shapeshifter bound by an ancient spell to protect the dynasty of the king who bound her.  Because she’s powerful and ruthless and doesn’t care about anything else, she’s done her job superbly for centuries.  But I start the book after something has gone dreadfully wrong, leaving her trapped in human form with no memory of how she got into that body and no idea how to get out of it.  For the first time in her centuries-old existence, she will face confusion, doubt, and divided loyalties.  For the first time, she doesn’t know what she is supposed to do.

And now I have to be upfront: I wasn’t thinking about any of this when I started this book.  In fact, I didn’t know I was starting a book.  I had an image in my mind of a supernatural creature being hunted in a magical woods; I remember thinking up the first line one evening, picking up a notebook, and sitting down to write. I didn’t even know if I was writing a short story or a novel.

But as I continued writing, and ideas and plots and characters began to come together, these questions kept coming up: about choices, about destiny, about being human.  I began writing scenes out of order; I remember being on the subway on my way to work one morning, and suddenly being struck with an idea and penning a long internal monologue that would go through my main character’s mind when she faced an important choice – though I didn’t yet know what that choice would be (and needless to say, most of that monologue got edited out).

Piecing together all the action scenes and intrigues with Isabel’s internal struggles was quite an endeavor, and definitely not the most efficient way to go about writing a book.  But I did it, and in the end Mistwood is exactly what I hoped it would be. It’s a fantasy novel with so many of the things I love about fantasy: ancient spells and high intrigue and surprise attacks and secrets buried in the past. And a Big Idea, woven through it, that I didn’t even know was going to be there when I started.

—-

Mistwood: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read the first three chapters here.

In Toronto

And posting the obligatory “view out my hotel window” picture:

Delighted to say the trip in was pleasantly uneventful, which is what you want when engaging in international travel.

Now to catch up on e-mail and to free comments from the previous post trapped in the moderation queue.

Remember, Torontonians: I am here in town for a reason. Hope to see you all tomorrow evening. Well, not all of you. I’m pretty sure the Merril Collection reading room could not fit four million people. But hope to see a fair representative slice of you in any event.

Your “Hey I’m Traveling” Pimp Thread

I’ll be heading inching toward Toronto most of the way, so while I’m away, why not take the opportunity to suggest something cool to the rest of the folks around here? Could be a book, some music, a Web site or Whatever; could be something you are doing, a friend is doing, or something someone utterly unrelated to you is doing. Whatever it is, tell people about in the comments.

One note: As always, I suggest that you do one link per comment, because the site’s moderation software will automatically boot you into moderation with three or more links, and sometimes does it with two. As I’m traveling most of the day, I won’t be able to do get into the moderation queue frequently, so single link comments are best. You can make more than one comment, however.

If you do get punted into the moderation thread, don’t panic; I will get to it by late afternoon or early evening.

So: I’m out of here. What cool thing do you want to point everyone else to?

Heading Down Under

For those of you who have been staying up nights wondering whether I would show up at AussieCon4, go take a nap: Yes, I plan on going.

No, I have no more details at the moment — I haven’t even got my AussieCon4 membership yet so every other question you might have about my attendance and participation will be answered with “I don’t know,” because I don’t and probably won’t for some time. Sorry.

But I can say I am excited to go. This will be my first trip to Australia. I understand that when you get off the plane, they hand you a jar of Vegemite and a koala, and a former member of Men at Work is on hand as your personal valet! I can’t wait.