Black Tide Rising and Mash Up — Out Today!

Oh, nothing, just a reminder that there are two anthologies being released today in which I have short stories. The first (alphabetically speaking) is Black Tide Rising, set in John Ringo’s zombiverse, for which I and Dave Klecha have contributed the story “On the Wall”; the second being Mash Up, in which my fantasy/horror story “Muse of Fire” resides (Mash Up is the printed version of Rip-Off!, originally an audio-only anthology).

Both are available at your favorite bookstore, and if they are not, then tell them to special order! That’s right! You can do that!

A Tweet Spree on Amazon Author Rankings and Envy

To begin, this tweet:

To which I responded:

Which got me some “haa lolz sour grapes” comments which left me slightly confused, so I had do a bit of digging. Which, along with the desire to generally expand on this comment, led to the following.

 

The Big Idea: Anna Kashina

Warriors live to a code — but what if in a moment of crisis, that code ties your hands? Anna Kashina confronts such a scenario in her novel, Assassin Queen.

ANNA KASHINA:

“Assassin Queen” is the third and concluding book in the Majat Code trilogy, which was ultimately driven by one big idea: what would happen if immense power were to be confined by very strict rules? In particular in this series, what if you were an extremely powerful warrior, but in exchange for this power you had to live by a highly restrictive code, which would ultimately prevent you from doing what you believe is right?

This topic has fascinated me over the years, and weaves into a lot of my writing. In the Majat Code, I have finally satisfied my desire to explore it on the backdrop of a story set in medieval multicultural world featuring political intrigue, romance, adventure, and lots of fancy swordplay.

The central action in the series belongs to the Majat warriors: an elite guild of fighters that could be thought of as Eastern martial artists integrated into the medieval Western setting. The Majat Guild trains the best of the best, and then hires out their services to the highest bidder. Warriors of their top, Gem ranks, are valued the highest, especially the Diamonds that are few and far between. Each Diamond equals the fighting power of a small army, but like the rest of the Majat they are bound by the Code of their Guild. They must always follow orders and are allowed no loyalties of their own – in politics or in personal life. And, they can never leave the Guild. Once ranked, only death can remove them from their bond to the Majat.

Two of the main characters of the book, Kara and Mai, are both Diamond-ranked, and throughout the series their loyalties and their resolve to follow the Code are thoroughly tested in every possible way.

In Book 1, “Blades of the Old Empire”, Kara is thrown into a political conflict orchestrated by a devious enemy, where she is meant to become a pawn and ultimately bring about the downfall of the Majat. As the gambit comes into play, Kara is faced with a choice between duty and honor. She must kill a good man, whose magic ability is essential for the survival of his kingdom. To refuse would mean sealing her own death warrant. Once she makes her choice, Mai, who is similarly trained but slightly superior to her in skill, is sent after her – and it becomes his turn to make a choice between following orders and doing the right thing. The choices they both make lead to a revolt inside the Majat Guild (described in book 2, “The Guild of Assassins”) and eventually to a war that is the focus of “Assassin Queen”.

When I started writing these series, I expected it to be finished in one, maybe two books. But even though each book does have a satisfactory ending (or so I hope), some loose ends remained and needed to be tied up. Thus, I ended up with a series of three standalone but interconnected books. Each of them was a lot of fun to write, in all different ways.

Writing book 3, “Assassin Queen” felt very satisfying. I knew the story was going to be fully wrapped up, but having a whole book to do it gave me the luxury of doing it through very fun subplots that originally came up during my world building for the series but, as I believed, were never going to see the light of day. One of those subplots takes place in a desert Queendom of Shayil Yara, a matriarchal society modeled after the ancient Middle East. And yes, Kara has a mysterious far-reaching connection to that queendom – but of course you would have to read the book to find out more about this, and about the choices all my characters must make to find their peace.

—-

Assassin Queen: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.

The Greatest of All Time

I cried for Muhammad Ali when I was eight years old, the night he fought and lost to Leon Spinks, February 15, 1978. When I was eight years old Muhammad Ali was everywhere, the best known and most admired athlete in the world — he even had an animated television series, for heaven’s sake! — and everyone knew, without qualification, that he was The Greatest of All Time. I knew that too, took it as an article of faith. The Greatest of All Time, a living legend, was a man who simply could not be defeated, certainly not by Leon Spinks, who I had never heard of before and who I, in the depth of my understanding at the advanced age of eight years old, considered something of a palooka (had I known what the word “palooka” meant at that age, which I didn’t). But he did lose to Spinks, and I sobbed for hours. For Ali to lose to someone like that unmoored my understanding of the world. It was literally my first crisis of faith.

What I didn’t understand then, and wouldn’t fully understand for years afterwards, was that Ali was not called The Greatest of All Time because he was undefeatable in the ring. He was defeatable, five times in his career, even if the other 56 times he out-thought, out-fought, out-danced, and out-psyched the other men in the ring with him, his artistry in doing so becoming the foundation of his greatness for most people, including me. What made Ali The Greatest of All Time was the totality of who he was, outside the ring as well as in it.

The world doesn’t need me to recount the details of his life — there will be enough obituaries that will do that, and I can say with utter confidence that there are vast numbers of people better equipped, for all sorts of reasons, to eulogize the man. What I can say is that from that early crisis of faith at age eight to today, almost 40 years later, my understanding of Ali changed from him being a simple god on a pedestal, someone who was The Greatest of All Time by acclamation — and who was I at eight years old to argue — to him being a complex, difficult, imperfect and inspiring human being, a product of and a shaper of his time. What was true at age eight is true at age 47: He was The Greatest of All Time. What changed was not Ali. What changed is my understanding of him, and what greatness is.

Let me talk a moment about Ali being both a black man and a Muslim. In the wake of his death, you’re going to see people saying that Ali transcended his race or his religion, or both of them, to become someone who belonged to all people. I think two things about this. First, it’s undeniable that people of all races and creeds admired him, his life and his accomplishments. I loved him as a child, when my understanding of him was simple, and I honored him as an adult, when my understanding of him was more complex.

But — and this is the second thing — you cannot love or honor Ali properly without acknowledging that blackness and Islam are at the core of his greatness. It seems to me, and I think the events of his life bear this out, that the greatness of Ali — who he was — was did not come out to you, was not there for you, and in a fundamental way did not care what you thought of it. It was there, and you could come to it or not, and if you did, you had to take it on its on terms. On Ali’s terms. And Ali’s terms were: He was a black man, in America and in the world. He was a Muslim man, in America and in the world. He was who he was. He did not have to transcend those things about himself. You, however, might have to overcome your understanding of what you thought of both blackness and Islam to appreciate him. People did or did not; Ali went on regardless.

I think it’s important that when I was an eight-year-old child, one of my idols, one of my pantheon, someone whose greatness I accepted uncritically, was a black man. I’d like to think in a small, early way that my love for Ali made a difference in how I grew up thinking about race. As I grew up, and I learned about his experiences being black in the US in the mid-20th Century, his refusal to submit for the draft and his reasoning for it, and his conversion and movement through Islam — and the responses to all of these by others as they happened — Ali was an unwitting but invaluable teacher.

I can’t say I have a perfect understanding of race or religion or of blackness in America or of Islam. The imperfections of understanding of each of those is on me. But I can say that to the extent I engage in any of them with any measure of success, Muhammad Ali is part of the reason why. Because he was black. Because he was Muslim. And because he made me understand that both of those were fundamental to his greatness, not things he needed to transcend to be seen as great.

My friend and classmate Josh Marshall noted earlier today that the decline in interest in the sport of boxing over the last few decades makes it difficult for younger people — especially under the age of 30 — to understand the scope of Ali’s greatness in his time. I think it also means, particularly with regard to the sport of boxing, that Ali’s appellation as The Greatest of All Time is unlikely to be seriously challenged, ever. It’s not that other boxers won’t have better records; it’s not that other boxers won’t be great. It’s that for a moment in time, boxing had in its ranks a man who could and did shape his nation and his world with his athletic talent, his political courage, his devastatingly sharp mind, and his great heart.

He was Muhammad Ali and there will never be another like him. I cried for him when I was eight because I did not understand why he was The Greatest of All Time. I understand now. I cry for him again because I do.

The Big Idea: Kelley Grant

Sometimes the Big Ideas of a book series can grow, and the author is left wondering, great, now, how do I make this work? With The World Weavers, author Kelley Grant considered the overall concept of the trilogy she’d written, and how to make the expansive big idea of it come to a satisfying conclusion.

KELLEY GRANT:

While watching the local news one night I began considering the likelihood that we’d created God in our image, because if he’d created us in his image and this was how he acted, we were doomed. It made me think of the Greek gods and goddesses, their very human flaws and how difficult they made life for mere mortals.

My brain started clicking. What if there were truly a greater being, but not in our form? And it created humans, but found we couldn’t govern ourselves. That One being might create some deities in our image so they could understand us, to take care of us. But, if they were human-like deities with great power, what creature would protect humans from the deities’ envy and greed and selfishness?

My dog put his head on my lap, but he was too loyal, too kind. My cat lounged on my brand new sweater, depositing fur and claw holes and gazed upon me with contempt and ownership. That seemed like a concept to write about – a land ruled by dangerous, capricious deities who were held mostly in check by great cats loyal to the One-being who created all. Throw in some rebellious humans and that idea served as the basis for the first novel of this series, Desert Rising.

The World Weavers is the concluding volume of the series. I had to bring a human rebellion against the deities to a close. But how do mere mortals war against deities without being crushed like ants? How do you separate pieces of the universe and then weave them back into wholeness, when the pieces have minds and don’t want to be woven back in? I love David vs. Goliath stories where the little guy finds a way to triumph over incredible odds. As a little person who was bullied by larger kids in school, those stories inspired me with hopes of future revenge. In The World Weavers I’d created some pretty big, epic bullies for my heroes to cast down. Perhaps too big.

It was at this point that I realized I was too stupid to write this story. In the first novel I’d created something of epic scope; an entire religious system, powerful gods, and two territories living in peace with a complicated trade network. In the second book I exploded both the religious and trade systems (oops) and created war. In this third book I was left with war and lots of pieces I needed to reassemble in some meaningful way. I knew the conclusion I needed to travel to, only, there were so many pieces…and they didn’t want to go together. I’m a smart person, but my brain hurt thinking about it, and I couldn’t afford to hire Stephen Hawking to write it for me.

So I did what writers do. I drank…umm, just kidding. I put on my rainbow underpants and sat down and plotted. I put the characters together and learned through their eyes and personalities how to reel the deities in. Though I’m not generally a plotter, during writing I charted every essential action in every chapter because I knew I would be rearranging them. I realized that my characters could not win against the deities through sheer strength. So they had to be sneaky. Sneaky is fun. World Weavers is one large, carefully plotted trap with everything at stake and little certainty of success.

But maybe, just maybe, my heroes will score another victory for the little guys.

—-

The World Weavers: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|iBook

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s page. Follow her on Twitter.

The Big Idea: Bob Defendi

Bob Defendi is a gamer who knows what it’s like to be trapped in a bad game session. But as the writer of Death by Cliché, Defendi decides to take that bad game session one step farther. It’s a big step. And it goes straight down.

BOB DEFENDI:

Mel Brooks said. “Tragedy is when I stub my toe. Comedy is when you fall into an open manhole and die.” The dark truth of comedy is that in every comedic situation, someone feels pain. Sad clowns have been a staple for far longer than people have been stapling clowns. Humor is a joyful, shining light, but it only shines because something burns.

Too morbid? How about this:

“You enter a room lit by flaming brassieres.”

Death by Cliché started with this image. A group of mature, experienced gamers gathered around a game table in a local store with a theoretically post-pubescent kid running the game. As the word “brassieres” spills from his mouth the adults exchange glances, and their stomachs sink. They know that they just sat down to play the worst game of their lives.

There’s a game designer at the table, however, and he is there to save them. He has turned his passion for games into a career, and he’s discovered that anyone who thinks work is a four letter word has a damn-poor vocabulary for swearing. There’s a dichotomy to the old axiom of “do what you love,” because turning your passion into a career irrevocably alters your perceptions of the form.

Did I mention that this is a true story?

You see, I once received a call from the marketing department of a major game company. A kid they knew to be a looney was about to demo their brand new game at a local game store. They knew it was going to be a train wreck. My job was simple: Go to the store, assess the game, and likely stage a coup because a bad game is far worse than no game, and they didn’t want complaints of “epic fail” to cost them the Salt Lake City market on the eve of a new release. I remember thinking that my worst case scenario would be to simply end the game and send everyone home before things got too ugly.

Here’s where it stops being a true story, and starts being a story filled with truth.

Our hero cannot have an easy out. He must be trapped, and so I, Bob Defendi set out to trap the semi-fictional Bob Damico in the worst game of all time. I would transform my—err I mean HIS—greatest love into the very embodiment of Hell.

That meant I’d have to kill him. The department of ironic punishments owns your sorry ass now.

Death by Cliché is about terrible storytelling. It’s about a man with deep knowledge of the form riding a train wreck like an Alanis Morrisette cover of an Ozzy Osborne song. It had to be painful enough to be funny, and funny enough to leave readers begging for more. It had to have the structural integrity of Buckminster Fuller’s bath house, built on a foundation of buckwheat pancakes.

Clichés are painful. They’re terrible. Under almost no circumstances do you want to let them into your story. You certainly don’t want to fill your story to the brink with them. You absolutely, positively don’t want to build the entire story on the bones of clichés and on the blood of bad storytelling.

Because that way lies madness.

And you really don’t want everyone to buy a copy, so you’re forced to do it all over again in a sequel.

Or maybe all of that is hindsight. Maybe I had no grand plans. Maybe I wanted to name a character Bob and start the book like this:

“Authors who write their own chapter quotes should be shot.”

—Bob Defendi

Then shoot him in the head.

—-

Death by Cliché: Amazon

Visit the author’s site. Visit his Facebook page. Follow him on Twitter.

The Big Idea: Manu Saadia

In the future, we will have space travel and transporters and tribbles… but will we have a robust and coherent economic system? And if so, what will it look like and how will it actually function? These are the questions that Manu Saadia has asked, and in his book Trekonomics, attempts to answer.

MANU SAADIA:

As you may have heard by now, Star Trek turns 50 this year. Over the past 50 years it has become an integral part of our lives. It is a signpost in popular culture, a legit, iconic piece of Americana.

As a result, everything has been written about Star Trek. You’ve got books on the physics of Star Trek, the religions of Star Trek, the philosophy of Star Trek (my favorite: The Wrath of Kant), Trek fandom, Gene Roddenberry William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, etc, etc. Star Trek is a literary genre in and of itself.

I’ve read a lot of these books over the years. After all, I am a dedicated fan. Yet, I couldn’t find a book about the economics of Star Trek. For some bizarre reason that crucial aspect of Trek, perhaps its most singular, had not been covered. To paraphrase the other franchise, this was the book I was looking for.

So there it is. Plumbing. That’s the big idea behind Trekonomics. Plumbing. You can’t see plumbing, you take it for granted, you barely notice it. Yet plumbing is absolutely essential to life in modern society, real or imagined. Economics is the plumbing of Star Trek as much as it is the plumbing of our world. It is what gives them both their unique, distinctive shapes. It is what makes them work.

We all know that there is no money in Star Trek’s 24th century. But it goes far beyond that: in the Federation there is neither hunger, poverty nor any of the economic challenges and rewards that make our 21st century lives so interesting. In Trek’s world, what British economist John Maynard Keynes called the “economic problem,” the necessity to work to sustain ourselves, has simply gone the way of the dodo.

In the book I examine three questions: first, how does economics actually function in Star Trek’s universe? Second: is Trekonomics internally consistent? And thirdly, is it even remotely possible or is Star Trek just another cheesy SJW communist Kumbaya in space?

The C- or the S- words are the elephant in the room when it comes to Trek. Let’s dispose of that once and for all. No, Star Trek is not a communist utopia in space. It is not communist (or socialist) because communism was an economic and political response to Keynes’ economic question – how to best organize and distribute scarce resources. In an over-abundant world such as Star Trek’s, a post-scarcity world, the issue of ownership is moot. It’s very much like Iain Banks’ Culture. Why would you want to own the means of production when the value of the things you produce has converged to zero? Or, in other words, when a replicator can make any gizmo at will, there’s very little point in trying to corner the market on gizmos. Besides, there are much more rewarding things to do with your existence – mapping stellar gaseous anomalies, studying new life and new civilizations, being the captain of the flagship, boldly going etc…

To my great surprise, Star Trek’s economic ideas are remarkably consistent. The show does not break much of what we currently know of economics. Furthermore, it turns out that elements of Star Trek’s speculative political arrangements already exist in our own world – namely, the practice of making some technologies and services free and available to all without restriction, as public goods (think Wikipedia or the GPS). This strongly suggests that post-scarcity is as much a political decision as it is a matter of technological progress. That being said, as Paul Krugman wryly observed at NY Comic Con, what may hold us back on our way to a Trek-like utopia is the human propensity to remain stubbornly unhappy.

Speaking of unhappiness – throughout the years, whenever I got depressed I would usually sit down and watch a few episodes of Star Trek so as to get transported to a better and happier future. Star Trek always had a therapeutic, reparative, function in my life. But not just that: I am the kind of guy whose marriage vows were ‘live long and prosper,’ and who inserted ‘live long and prosper’ in his son’s birth announcement. While I do not usually cosplay, you could say I am a Trekker for life.

This book is a love letter to Trek, if a bit on the wonkish side. It is an attempt to demonstrate that Star Trek’s optimism, so often derided if not summarily dismissed, rests largely on its economic premise; and that said economic premise is the opposite of naive or crazy. I believe that Star Trek truly fulfills philosopher John Rawls’ famous thought experiment on the veil of ignorance: what kind of society would you design if you did not know in advance what would be your place or position in that society? Chances are it would look like the Federation’s utopia, sans the spaceships and the aliens.

That is the value of Star Trek in our world. That is why it has endured for 50 years. That is why it still matters today. Live long and prosper, indeed.

—-

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

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow him on Twitter.

Heading Home From Madison

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In which we had a lovely time at Wiscon. I hope your Memorial Day weekend has been a fine one, and that (here in the US), you give a moment to ponder on those whom Memorial Day is meant to honor.

 

New Books and ARCs 5/27/16

As we here in the US head into the Memorial Day weekend, here is a stack of books and ARCs for your delight and perusal. Anything here speak to you? Tell me in the comments!

The Big Idea: Camille Griep

For today’s Big Idea, Camille Griep goes all the way back to the Trojan War for inspiration with her new novel New Charity Blues — and picks up the story of two characters you might not expect.

CAMILLE GRIEP:

“The danger on the rocks has surely past,” sang Steely Dan’s Becker and Fagen in “Home at Last,” a paean to Odysseus’ homecoming. “Still I remain tied to the mast.” From songs to poetry to fiction, retelling old stories isn’t a novel concept … or is it? (I apologize, really. Please put the tomatoes down.)

The empty spaces in fairy tales, myth, and folklore insatiably lure some writers, and I’m no exception. We’ve wallowed in the untold tales of Oz, the fleshing out of King Arthur, and the exploration of the Grimm’s Ever Afters. (Heck, I even wrote one of the latter.) With New Charity Blues, I knew I wanted to look a little deeper in the Old Story pile. Though the Trojan War and its fallout has received beautiful and innovative treatments from Madeline Miller’s Song of Achilles to Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad, there were two stories I thought needed a further look: those of Cressida and Cassandra.

Way back in the olden days when I was in college, I remember one of my favorite professors marveling at length at how a certain car company could be so stupid as to name their sedan a Cressida. “Hey,” I thought to myself, in a fit of tacit cowardice. “It wasn’t her fault she had to fend for herself in the Greek’s camp. Who knows, maybe those cars are scrappy and reliable?” Honestly, though, I had no idea. My family bought American, and I could only dream my moldy LeBaron into a vehicle that didn’t slurp up a bottle of power steering fluid a day.

Not too long after that, the same honors lit class read “Cassandra,” by Robinson Jeffers. “Poor bitch, be wise,” warns the poet. Though Jeffers was commiserating with the Seer in the piece, I recalled leaving class incensed at the injustice of it all. Cassandra never gets to rub her rightness in anyone’s face, never gets to say I told you so. Instead, she gets myriad odes to her supposed mental state. Suffering insanity or not, the girl was right. And I wanted to hear a story where someone had to say, “Holy Horsenoodles! We should have listened to her!”

New Charity Blues puts a magnifying glass over the perspectives of Cressida (Syd) and Cassandra (Cas), but to do so, I needed to significantly quiet the violence (the magic of trial and error revealed that one can only kill so many characters per chapter unless one has a four letter monogram). To tell the story of the two women required an allegorical war, and to tell a contemporary version of that conflict, I needed an apocalypse. I chose to enter the story after a pandemic has swept the (unnamed) country, introducing Syd amid the ruins of a city crippled by lack of water and Cas atop a desert-turned-verdant paradise.

Ripping inspiration from the headlines usually my bag, though in my case, I admit there might be a bit of subconscious passive aggression in New Charity’s water-rags-to-reservoir-riches tale. Growing up in the dry foothills of Eastern Montana, waiting for the trundle of the water truck so that I could take a shower, I might admit to a certain glee in giving the city girls the short end of the cistern measuring stick for once. Regardless, New Charity has the water the City needs. And they aren’t sharing.

As with so many wars, the resentments between the two communities run long and deep. Syd left with her mother for the city at 14 to become a dancer, leaving her small town beginnings and her friends behind for the bright lights. Her father, who had been slated to join them, found he could not and chose New Charity over her family. Readers meet Syd six years later, and she’s plenty jaded, having lost her mother, her city, her career, and her purpose. When a letter arrives with the news her father has died, a final door shuts on a possible reconciliation for all that hurt. The letter, however, contains an opportunity: a way in to the gated bastion of all things painful in her past. On a mission, Syd arrives in a New Charity much changed from her childhood, though some things have stayed the same.

Syd notices that her childhood friends, Seers Cas Willis and her twin, Len, are the same “perpetual whirlwind” they’ve always been. But while Len is fumbling his way into adulthood despite his insulated environs, Cas is reticent to even think about who she wants to be – her mother treats her like a baby, her father uses her a fortune-telling political puppet, and her brothers use her as a reliable sidekick. When Cas foresees Syd’s arrival, she’s relieved. That is, until she accidentally learns more about Syd’s father’s death; it calls into question the magic of which she and her brother are the last keepers.

And here is the crux of the big idea: Syd wants to turn the water back on and save her beloved City, but hits a snag when she learns the repercussions of her plan. Cas wants to prove her town isn’t the monster Syd is painting it as, but cannot seem to convince herself the more she learns and reflects. Their friendship grows, changes, and prevails, even as the conflict escalates via tiny decisions – ones made for all the right reasons resulting in all the wrong outcomes.

Syd’s search to find peace with herself and the people around her will hopefully allow her to fight back against her literary reputation of inconstancy. Cas’s awakening to the wider world around her will challenge perceptions of her poetic forbear’s naïve hysteria.  Their stories could be told a thousand times more, and with any luck, they will be.

—-

New Charity Blues Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.

New Books and ARCs, 5/26/16

Before I head out to Wiscon, here are today’s new books and ARCs that have come to the Scalzi Compound. What here calls to you? Tell me in the comments!

Wiscon; Extending Semi-Hiatus into June; Other Things

Things! About me!

1. This weekend I’m at Wiscon in Madison, Wisconsin. However, aside from “Sign Out,” the mass signing event the convention holds, I’m not on any programming. Why not? Because I didn’t want to be and didn’t volunteer for any. Sometimes I just hang out! So, if you’re going to Wiscon this weekend and want to say hello to me, you’re in luck (likewise, if you have a book for me to sign at Sign Out).

2. This May I’ve been in a “semi-hiatus” state to get work done on the books I’m writing, and the good news is it’s been useful! The bad news is the books aren’t done, so I’m going to go ahead and extend the semi-hiatus, probably through June. The other good news in this case is that are 13 Big Idea pieces scheduled for June, so between them, sunset pictures and cat pics (and yes, the occasional political rant from me) you should be fine for another month.

3. Really happy about the positive response to The Collapsing Empire reveal on Tuesday. This is just a heads up that there will be other reveals coming up soon as well. Yes! I have not been idle! Uh, mostly. So, you know. Stay tuned.

The Big Idea: Kat Howard

“What price fame?” You’ve heard the phrase before, no doubt, but with her novel Roses and Rot, author Kat Howard puts a spin on it that you’ve probably not experienced before. Here she is to explain it.

KAT HOWARD:

My debut novel, Roses and Rot, is an extremely loose retelling of the “Tam Lin” ballad. Loose enough that I usually call it a riff, not a retelling – I took some of the pieces I liked, tossed others, switched some around. But my favorite part – the part that led to the big idea that led to the writing of the novel, well, that’s gone.

Let me explain.

It comes out in the original ballad that the young and handsome Tam Lin is in trouble because he has been stolen away by the Queen of the Fairies. Sounds like a good deal, right? Well, not exactly:

And pleasant is the fairy land,
But, an eerie tale to tell,
Ay at the end of seven years,
We pay a tiend to hell,
I am sae fair and fu o flesh,
I’m feard it be mysel.

(Text from Child Ballad 39A)

And I was fascinated by this idea – the idea that somehow, somewhere in the past, something had happened to put Fairy in a sort of vassal relationship to Hell. I love this tiny piece of the ballad, but as much as I wrestled with the idea, the connection between Hell and Fairy is something I haven’t figured out it.  And no matter how hard I tried to wedge anything Hell-related into early drafts of what became Roses and Rot, it didn’t work. So I had to let it go. But that didn’t mean I had to let everything go.

In the ballad, Tam Lin has no great desire to go to Hell. And so he asks his lover, Janet, to save him so he doesn’t wind up paying the tithe that Fairy owes.

Roses and Rot as it is now came out of thinking about that. About thinking about what kind of relationships were strong enough that you could ask someone to rescue you from Hell – which was, in the ballad, a difficult and dangerous task. And about what would happen if the person who was chosen for that sort of sacrifice actually wanted to go.

Hell is easily avoided if it looks like Hell. And Imogen and Marin, the two sisters at the heart of Roses and Rot, grew up in a situation that gave them a pretty good idea of what Hell looks like. They’ve spent their lives doing everything they could to make sure they got out, but it’s never quite worked. Their Hell took the form of a person, their abusive mother, and she keeps tracking them down, keeps sliding back into their lives.

But what happens if there’s something that happens after going to Hell, and that something looks like magic, like a gift, like everything you’ve ever wanted, handed to you on a plate? What if this after (or its equivalent, since Hell as a place isn’t in Roses and Rot) looked so good, there is a competition to go to Hell?

Here’s the deal. I’ll offer it to you: You get success, guaranteed, absolute top of the charts, your name lives forever, sort of success. But first, you spend seven years in a place that’s not very nice. That might in fact be so bad you could think of it as an equivalent of Hell. Oh, and not everyone who goes makes it back out alive.

Do you take the bargain?

Imogen and Marin are two young women who’ve already been through Hell once, and they’ve gotten themselves out the other side of it. They’re both artists – Imogen a writer and Marin a dancer. They’ve worked hard, made sacrifices. What’s being offered is everything they’ve ever wanted. And there’s only one spot.

Death’s a risk that might seem acceptable to you if you grew up somewhere that felt like Hell, and paying the tithe would be your guarantee that you would be safe in the future. It might also be an acceptable risk if you’re an ambitious artist, close enough to see success, but not quite close enough to securely grab it. But your death might not be an acceptable risk for someone who loves you. They might not be able to just stand back and watch you go. They might decide to save you, even if you don’t want to be saved. Even if saving you means making sure that you don’t get everything you’ve ever wanted.

Roses and Rot began as an idea about why you might send someone to Hell. It turned into a story about why you might have to save someone from walking into it on their own.

—-

Roses and Rot: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.

 

Cover for The Collapsing Empire, My New Book, Out on March 21, 2017

All the details are over on Tor.com, right now.

“But Scaaaaaaalzzzi, clicking through is sooooooooo much woooooooooork!”

Oh, fine. Here.

Cover artist? Sparth, aka Nicolas Bouvier, whose work will be familiar to you if you, you know, play video games at all.

But seriously, go over to that Tor.com link for more details.

New Books and ARCs, 5/20/16

It’s another all-Baen Books day for new books. Why? Because Baen keeps sending me a ton of books, that’s why! Tell me what here in this pile looks interesting to you.

(Disclosure: Black Tide Rising (out 6/7) features a short story co-written by me and Dave Klecha.)