The Big Idea: Anna Smith Spark

The world we live in is not always peaceful… and maybe sometimes we kind of like it that way, whether we like to admit that or not. Author Anna Smith Spark has thoughts on the act of violence, and how it animates the story of her novel The Broken Knives.

ANNA SMITH SPARK:

The Court of Broken Knives is a novel about violence.

When I started writing the book, I didn’t have a plot or a world or a cast of characters in mind. What I had was a scene.

A desert.

A group of men.

Violence.

I’ve always been fascinated by violence: How one might respond to the opportunity for violence. What doing violence might feel like.  And that’s what The Court of Broken Knives ultimately became about.

I was brought up reading the great myths and legends, the old stories of heroes. The Iliad. The Eddas. Beowulf. Gilgamesh. The Tain. I loved these stories. Read and reread them, immersed myself in them, told myself stories set in their worlds. But what I came back to, as I got older, was the realisation that for so many of these stories we are not reading about good versus evil. We are not reading high fantasy, the last desperate stand where evil is vanquished and the Dark Lord is overthrown. We are reading about violence for its own sake. The act of winning, of killing one’s opponent and glorying in one’s triumph, is the victory. The hero is ‘good’ because he wins.

And yes, ‘he’. These are acts of masculine violence. More women have perhaps fought in battle than we realise, yes, granted. But, historically, organised violence has been the domain of men. Armies and battle hosts have been male places. Places from which women have been excluded. And that in itself is worth thinking on.

Let’s look for a moment on the Iliad. The Iliad was written down over two and a half thousand years ago. It was composed perhaps three thousand years ago. It is the first and greatest masterpiece of European literature, the foundation stone of western culture. It is a book entirely and totally about war. A very large number of people die in the Iliad. Graphically, horribly, and without even the consolation of heaven awaiting them. The whole reason for the war is shown to be futile.

But war is also the whole basis of the Iliad’s society. The leader of the Trojans is called Hector. He’s spent ten years killing Greeks for the sake of a woman who ran off with his little brother. He’s seen most of his brothers die, and his wife’s entire family die, and he knows, deep down inside, that he’s going to die himself. In one of the most moving scenes in the poem, he says farewell to his wife and child before going out to battle, and he knows and we know and they know that he’s not going to come back from it. And this is what he says:

When [their child is grown and] comes home from battle wearing the bloody gear

Of the mortal enemy he has killed in war-

A joy to his mother’s heart.

(Homer, Iliad, trans. Robert Fagles, Penguin, 1990, book 6, lines 568-574)

Coming home from battle still bloody with his enemies’ innards. That’s the greatest joy a woman can want for her children. That’s what makes you absolutely the top chap.

The Iliad is not a celebration of war. But is not a rejection of war, either. It makes one terrible, horrifying, entirely obvious point:

Winning at war feels great. And that’s a strange and exhilarating experience to write about—particularly someone who has not ever fought.

Reading about war is enjoyable. Writing about war is immensely enjoyable. And I strongly suspect, from everything I’ve ever studied about history, that actually doing war is even more enjoyable than reading or writing or watching it. Warfare has been pretty much a constant of human history, and those who are good at it have generally occupied the top social and sexual desirability spot. Some war is morally justified.  Most war is not. We’ve always known that. Right back to the Iliad. And yet we do it. We have always done it. We probably always will.

We do it because winning at war feels great. I wanted my characters to have the same feelings as Hector: to understand simultaneously that war is bloody and horrible, but also glorious and exciting and fun.

I do not say this because I think war is a good thing. It is a terrible thing. A horrifying thing. A thing of utter shame and grief.

But I say it because it is a true thing, and a thing that I wanted people to remember in The Court of Broken Knives.

—-

The Broken Knives: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

The Big Idea: Stella Parks

I’ve eaten Stella Parks‘ desserts, and, oh, man, they are so good. So I’m delighted to give her space today to let her tell you about her debut cookbook BraveTart, which examines and celebrates a branch of America’s culinary tradition Parks thinks is overlooked and underappreciated. Is she right? Read on.

STELLA PARKS:

When people hear that I’m a classically trained pastry chef or that I work at a place called Serious Eats, most everyone will ask how I got my start. I can’t help but imagine they want to hear about a magical summer in France or else how I learned to bake at my mother’s side. Maybe they want me to say that I always loved Julia Child, or that I saved up my allowance to buy my first croissant. Trouble is, it didn’t happen that way at all.

I grew up in suburban Kentucky, my summers spent with Puddin’ Pops on the porch, my winters passed one mug of Swiss Miss at a time. I loved the tongue-scorching sweetness of a McDonald’s apple pie from the drive-thru window and the muffled scrape of a plastic spoon against the bottom of a chocolate pudding cup (the tinfoil lid curled back and licked clean, natch). At the supermarket, I learned the heft to a tube of cookie dough, the lightness in a bag of marshmallows, and the rattle of rainbow sprinkles in a plastic jar. That’s how I got my start—somewhere between the milk-logged squish of an Oreo and the snap of a Crunch bar.

Sure, it sounds a little trashy compared to that whole Proust thing with madeleines and tea, but I find those bites are just as transportive, little triggers that send me flying back through time. Chances are, if you grew up in America, you’ve got some memories like that as well. Maybe it’s the a dollop of Cool Whip on pumpkin pie, the sticky fingered bliss of an ice cream sandwich, or that familiar slab of birthday cake on the conference room table. Those shared experiences, however mundane, connect us across most every demographic.

It’s a common phenomenon, but a culinary tradition we pay little respect—we call it junk food. Truth is, mass produced snacks have a lineage as respectable as any other. Animal crackers, vanilla wafers, and Fig Newtons all date back to the 1800s, and even newcomers like Rice Krispies Treats, Reese’s Cups, and Milky Way bars are nearly a hundred years old. For anyone raised in America and alive today, these sweets have always been a familiar part of life. Yet they’re not really ours; industrial formulas are subject to change or even cancellation outright (RIP, Coke Zero; adios, Magic Middles).

So when I set out to write a cookbook about American desserts, I knew I couldn’t leave the “junk food” behind. It had damn well earned a place at the table—right alongside “proper” American desserts like devil’s food cake, chocolate chip cookies, and apple pie. With that mandate in mind, I spent nearly six years writing, researching, and developing recipes for everything from Snickers to snickerdoodles. In the end, I don’t think of it as a cookbook so much as a culinary time capsule, stuffed full of recipes, vintage images, history, and photography to tell the story of American desserts as a whole.

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BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Visit the author on Serious Eats, Twitter, and Instagram, or on tour.

The Big Idea: Beth Cato

There’s the saying that “those who don’t learn history are doomed to repeat it,” but in order to learn your history, sometimes you have to dig deeper — much deeper — than what is commonly known. This is a fact that has relevance for author Beth Cato and her latest novel Call of Fire.

BETH CATO:

I love that historical fiction can be entertaining and educational at the same time. When I began to research prior to writing Breath of Earth, the first novel in this series, I was genuinely excited to delve deeper into turn-of-the-20th-century California history. My books feature a 1906 America that is allied with Japan to form the Unified Pacific, a world power in the midst of conquering China as part of its goal to dominate mainland Asian. I bought a number of books on Chinese immigration and experiences in America in that era.

As my research continued for my second book, the newly-released Call of Fire, I found that I dreaded reading more on the subject. I’ve been a history geek since I was a kid and I went into this with the knowledge that Chinese immigrants had been treated poorly, but I had no real comprehension of the horrific abuses they endured.

This wasn’t just about far-off California history anymore, either. This was about my hometown, the place I was born.

Like many other San Joaquin Valley cities, my hometown of Hanford was founded by the railroad in the late 19th century. Chinese men did much of the hard labor to lay the tracks and blast their way through mountains to connect the state with the larger continent. Centrally-located Hanford had one of the largest Chinese communities in the valley. These days, the city is proud of what remains of its China Alley. There’s a lovely tea room there, as well as a preserved Taoist Temple with a gift shop. The Moon Festival each October is a big draw.

When I was a kid, though, I was puzzled that Hanford still had its China Alley but other nearby cities–even larger ones like Visalia and Fresno–did not. My mom told me something like, “They were probably torn down over the years.” That made sense to me. Hanford’s China Alley has some decrepit buildings, too, and it’s only been in recent years that other parts have been lovingly restored to become a year-round attractions.

During my research, though, I finally found the real answer to my childhood question. The other Chinatowns weren’t simply torn down. In the 1880s and 1890s, they were firebombed and the surviving Chinese were run out of town. There were even race riots in vineyards near Fresno.

Hanford still managed to retain some of its Chinese population, but that didn’t mean all was well during that period. I found mention of an editorial from my hometown paper in 1893 that admonished young white women of the county to improve their kitchen skills so that they would not hire Chinese cooks.

I called up my mom. “Did you know about all of this?” She did not. I called up my grandma. Same answer.

That’s when I became angry.

What the Chinese had endured had been erased from local history. Men were murdered. Families terrorized. Livelihoods destroyed. Then the butchery and abuses they endured were forgotten.

When I write about these kinds of racist incidents in my books, I imagine many readers will think that the stuff is pure fiction, all part of the elevated drama of my alternate history. That’s exactly why I include an author’s note in each book along with an extensive bibliography (which I also have on my website at BethCato.com). I want readers to know about the ‘Dog Tag Law’ that required Chinese immigrants to carry an identity card, America’s first internal passport, starting in 1892. I want them to know what happened in Tacoma, Washington, and Honolulu, Hawaii.

I hope people enjoy my books Breath of Earth and Call of Fire, but I also want readers to learn, as I have, that our beloved hometowns may possess dark secrets that need to see the light. We can’t undo the crimes of the past, but we can learn. We can remember.

—-

Call of Fire: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.

The Big Idea: Kathe Koja

It is sometimes said that someone is a person of their time — which may make you wonder what might happen to that person in different times, and what those times would do that person. Kathe Koja might, anyway, and it’s one of the reasons her novel Christopher Wild exists.

KATHE KOJA:

Come over here. There’s someone I want you to meet.

He’s a London guy, but he’s been around the block, he knows a lot of people and a lot of people know him. They say he’s a scholar and a poet, they say he’s a spy, they say he likes guys; he says he likes guys, and likes smoking, and thinks religion is all about control, not love, among other free-thinking opinions. Some people—most famously a dude named Dick who ratted him out to the authorities—suggested that the “mouth of so dangerous a [man] should be stopped.” And the authorities agreed, and had him killed.

But he was, he is, a writer. And so his work kept on speaking in tandem with that brief, steep, outrageous life—as I write this, this guy, this Christopher Marlowe, this Kit, is studied in universities around the world, his plays of turbulent men with violent ideas are produced and debated and relished, and he’s stealing the show in a show called Will.  

There are more than a few Marlowe biographies and novels: you may have met him there. Anthony Burgess’ gorgeously written A Dead Man in Deptford was my own introduction to Kit, and the life pointed to the work—I’d heard of Faustus, that soul-selling literal daredevil, but the other plays (like Edward II and Tamburlaine) were ravishingly new to me. And the poems, sexy, erudite, unforgettable poems . . . I thought, who is this guy! I thought, oh god this guy. I thought, I have to write about him too.

And so my newest novel, Christopher Wild.

But befitting its subject who loved to challenge, this book was such a challenge that I was bewildered how to even begin. I don’t write about real people, I write fiction that works to make characters seem real. And no one is ever going to write a better, more beautiful bio novel than Burgess. So how could I reincarnate this man?—whose voice I was crazy in love with, and whose life has resonance not only with his own time but every era where power seeks to throttle truth, and fear sits side by side with stifling caution; which is to say, every era . . . And most of all, first and last of all, he’s a writer, a gloriously original and badass writer, how could I do him full justice on the page? All I had was doubt, and a giant pile of notes and research reading.

But I wanted to hang out with Marlowe.

So I took the leap, I plunged: I planned the structure of the novel then threw that structure totally away, I found a new way, I found that the way to show his contemporaneity was to place him in places where silence shouted loudest, where danger was deepest for a man who can’t keep his mouth shut, ever: places like his own grimly glamorous Elizabethan world, then a tense and humid McCarthyesque mid-20th century, then a darkening future just slightly past our own horizon, where punishing surveillance is the 24/7 norm.

The voice that flowered in those ages, and my pages, was a confident one, a fierce and passionate one, one that I followed every bit as much as I led: I knew him better then, I learned as we went on. Is it the book I expected I’d be writing? Not at all. But that’s what it’s like when you hang with a bold new friend, he takes you places you didn’t imagine you’d go.

Which is why I opened up the process to early supporters, who received a monthly email with research notes and cool or silly factoids (Kit Harington plays Faustus! Sniff a Marlowe perfume!), along with excerpts from the novel in progress—another thing I’d never done before, or contemplated doing.

And then all the writing was done, and Marlowe was ready, again, for his close-up, he was climbing into a big-finned yellow Buick, he was heading up the crusty subway stairs, he was striding down a slick and cobbled alley where life and death murmur together, telling eternity’s everyday secrets; he was here again, with us again, because he’s never left . . . If you’ve met him already, lucky you (and why the hell didn’t you tell me sooner?). But if you haven’t, oh then please grab a seat, get a drink, let me introduce you and we can all go wild.

—-

Christopher Wild: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Roadswell Editions

Visit the author’s blog. Follow her on Twitter.

The Big Idea: Daniel H. Wilson

Think the idea of robots is a relatively new one? It doesn’t have to be, and in The Clockwork Dynasty, author Daniel H. Wilson gives some thought to the idea of what it would be like if the idea were something other than on the cutting edge of modern civilization.

DANIEL H. WILSON:

In 1928, a box of old junk arrived at Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute. Really old. Rumored to be the remains of an incredible device, the loose pieces of brass machinery were unassembled, many of them twisted and singed by fire. A decade passed before an engineer could piece together the device into its true form—a little boy at a desk, holding a quill pen poised in his fingers.

Wound up and set loose, the primitive robot began to draw elaborate sketches and poems. And at the end of the final poem, written in French, it signed off with a flourish: “Written by the automaton of Maillardet.” Just like that, after over a century, the device revealed its provenance in a surprisingly simple manner—by writing it down on a piece of paper.

I remember being inspired by the story of Maillardet’s draughtsman; it left me thinking that although we live in a modern civilization, our ancestors had their triumphs, too.

And so, as these things go, a scene began to creep into my mind. I imagined walking, talking automatons, sent like messages from our ancestors in the distant past, created before written history and wandering here to our present through the long dark ages of humankind. Thus began the adventure of June Stefanov, a young anthropologist specializing in the study of court automatons—starting with the moment she discovers a hidden message in the writings of a revived automaton much like Maillardet’s:

“All who breathe do not live; all who touch do not feel; and all who see do not judge. Behold the avtomat.”

The Clockwork Dynasty imagines the avtomat (a Russian word that means “machine”), a race of humanlike machines built in prehistory by a fallen civilization. Concealing themselves among humanity for centuries, they have quietly served the great empires of antiquity and steered nations around the globe toward our familiar technological future. In the present day, they are running out of power and praying that civilization will soon be advanced enough to understand and repair their inscrutably complex bodies.

The central paradox is of course that our “primitive” ancestors reached technological heights we’ve never seen. The fruit of their labor still walks among us, each avtomat symbolic of some virtue prized by our lost forbearers. Though these robots are superior to humans, they are built in our image and carry our principles. And they are depending on us to save them from oblivion.

So, what the heck was I thinking? Normally, I write about shiny, new robots. These creatures (at least initially) are made of ceramic and brass; wood, leather and whalebone. Their story isn’t set “five years in the future”—it begins in an age passed out of all memory, a time of legends and myth.

In this way, The Clockwork Dynasty has something in common with some of my favorite fantasy and sci-fi worlds. In places like Star Wars, The Hobbit, and Dune, the older a technology is, the more powerful it is.

It’s an idea I find refreshing. Maybe it’s just fatigue. I’m the robot guy, you know? My flap cover story is that I earned a PhD in robotics and now I write (relentlessly) about the cutting edge of technology. Want to know what’s coming next? Ask the robot guy!

Not this time. There is hubris in assuming that our civilization is the latest and the greatest. It’s an assumption The Clockwork Dynasty does not make.

Homo sapiens has been roaming this planet for over a hundred thousand years. We’ve got just five thousand years of written history. A lot of smart people have been born and died in our uncharted past. Who knows what marvels they produced?

Another refreshing tidbit—I’m not destroying the world this time.

In novels like Robopocalypse and Amped, I’ve relished watching technology tear society (and let’s face it, people) apart. But the robots in The Clockwork Dynasty are pushing humanity toward a high-tech future. It’s a reverse apocalypse, and a theme much more in line with how I feel about robots and technology.

Looking back on it, I feel this novel is testament to the symbolic power of the robot in storytelling. We humans are obsessed with ourselves and our place in the universe. Our robotic creations hold up a distorted mirror to humanity, challenge our primacy and uniqueness, and force us to rethink our most basic assumptions.

And what amazes me most is that robots and automatons have been challenging us this way for millennia, and they will continue to do so for years to come…

Right up until the Robopocalypse. ;)

—-

The Clockwork Dynasty: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt (click on the “read an excerpt” button on the linked page). Visit the author’s site. Follow him on Twitter.

The Big Idea: Adam Christopher

Congratulations! Your book was a success! Now do that trick a second time! In discussing Killing is My Business, author Adam Christopher talks about doing the thing that you did so well all over again — but different this time.

ADAM CHRISTOPHER:

You know how it goes, the difficult second album: a band spends years meticulously crafting a collection of songs, polishing them through endless live sets until they shine, and these songs form their incandescent debut album.

Then they need to produce the follow-up and essentially come up with an entirely new repertoire on demand. That second album can be a difficult one indeed.

Now, I didn’t spend years crafting the Ray Electromatic Mysteries – Made to Kill, the first full-length novel after the Tor.com novelette Brisk Money, came out in 2015 and was something like my seventh published novel – but somehow the series has a certain kind of weight, just like that debut album of your favourite band. I think it’s because that original big idea was very big indeed – I was writing Raymond Chandler’s lost science fiction epics, a series about a robot assassin working in Chandler’s near-future Hollywood of 1965. That idea sprang from Chandler’s own letter to his agent in 1953, in which he complained about sci-fi, saying “people pay brisk money for this crap?” Clearly, this was a front, the famed hardboiled author conducting a fishing expedition, seeing if his agent would bite.

Sixty years later, I wrote a story named for Chandler’s letter – Brisk Money. The idea was everything – a whole world was open to me, enough not just for a novelette but for a trilogy of hardboiled novels and another in-between novella, Standard Hollywood Depravity – the title, again, taken from Chandler’s letters.

So far, so good. Made to Kill was a blast to write.

And then came book two.

I wouldn’t call it a sophomore slump. Far from it. The three novels were pitched together, right from the start, so I knew what I was doing and where the books were going. But there was one thing in back of my mind while I was working on what became the second novel, Killing Is My Business.

What would Raymond Chandler do?

That mantra, in essence, became the big idea of the book.

The concept of the Ray Electromatic Mysteries is simple: the robot revolution came and went in the 1950s, and Ray is the last robot left in the world, designed to be a private eye working in Hollywood. The only snag to this is that his supercomputer boss, Ada, was programmed to make a profit – and she quickly figured out you could make more money by killing people than finding them. A little tinkering with Ray’s CPU and Ada turns him into an accomplished hit-robot.

Simple enough, and, importantly, an open-ended concept. You could write a hundred stories about a hitman.

Which was actually the problem – because while I could easily write endless hardboiled, noir-ish stories set in Chandler’s seedy LA underbelly, a world full of wiseguys and dames and crooked cops and the mob, that’s nothing that hasn’t been seen before a thousand times. Hell, that’s basically Chandler’s oeuvre and people have been calling him a genius or a hack for the last seventy-plus years.

No, what I had to do was to write science fiction. There was no point in Ray being a robot if that wasn’t vital to the story. Ray had to be the central player in the trilogy – he’s unique, literally, and that has to drive the story arc that stretches across all three books.

So: what would Raymond Chandler do?

More specifically, what would Raymond Chandler do… with a robot?

In Killing Is My Business, Ray’s unique character is used to rather unsubtle effect when he uses his virtually indestructible chassis to protect a mob boss from a drive-by shooting, literally placing himself between the crime lord and his would-be executioners. This is something that only Ray could do. It’s a key scene, the first piece of the story that I had thought of.

And it was also a scene that I knew had to happen – if Ray is a robot then being a robot is the story. With that thought foremost in mind, I could write book two and I could make sure the series as a whole is more than just a set of pastiche crime novels, it was something original.  

Now, if he only Ray Electromatic knew what I torment I had in store for him in book three…

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Killing is My Business: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

The Big Idea: Vivian Shaw

Monsters are monsters, but do they always have to be so… monstrous? Vivian Shaw considers the fundamental nature of these terrible creatures in Strange Practice, and how she came to look at them from another angle entirely.

VIVIAN SHAW:

What’s my big idea?

The facile answer is, of course, sensible monsters. An idea which doesn’t seem to have found a great deal of traction thus far in any genre, classic or contemporary, and so offers a wide-open opportunity to play with readers’ expectations — but the real underlying answer goes back a lot further than that. It has to do with the contrast between ordinary and extraordinary, and what that means in terms of storytelling.

I’ve been writing novellas and novels of varying quality since I was about ten or eleven, but I did National Novel Writing Month for the first time in 2004, right after spending a lot of time on urbex websites, and the big idea behind that first NaNo was how many characters from classic vampire lit can I get into one story while exploring the weird and wonderful subterranean world of London? The answer turned out to be between five and eight. That first draft featured not only Lord Ruthven and Sir Francis Varney, but also Dracula and Carmilla (only spelling herself Mircalla, because vampires and spelling are such a thing). On the human side I had Greta, descended from Van Helsing, and August Cranswell, descended from the family that put paid to the vampire of Croglin Grange.

I decided to put vampires in the NaNo novel because I’ve always been fond of them — even as a kid I loved reading the classics, even if I had to stop every now and then to look up the words. The way in which the Western vampire mythos evolved from age to age, gathering often-contradictory detail with each well-known story added to its canon, fascinated me. But in all the stories, all the retellings, I couldn’t get away from the fact that most of the vampires did really stupid things. Their behavior was practically designed to attract the attention of the pitchfork-and-flaming-torch brigade, and just for once I wanted to read about vampires who just got on with it — vampires who were monsters, yes, but also people. Vampires who didn’t have to have geographically unplaceable accents and go swanning around in evening dress all the time for no reason. Vampires who didn’t need to be hypersexualized edgelords in leather trousers, or spend all their time moping about their cursed eternal fate, woe. Vampires who’d rather write nasty letters to the Times than tear throats out (unless the latter was really necessary), and who used their powers to watch over the city and stop other monsters ruining everything. Vampires who were sensible.

And because I wanted to read it, I had to write it first.

That book was called The Underglow, and it sat around on various hard drives for a decade while I borrowed characters from it and played with them, letting them evolve into much more nuanced and interesting individuals. In 2014 I dusted the book off again, looked at it properly, and determined it would need to be stripped to the skeleton and rewritten almost from scratch.

And this time the big idea wasn’t about cramming in as many recognizable characters as I could shoehorn into a plot, nor was it limited to vampires alone. This time it was about the individuals themselves — a more diverse cast, given more opportunity to shine — and what it actually meant to them to be what they were, extraordinary creatures in an ordinary world. I didn’t just have sensible vampires. I had sensible were-creatures, and mummies, and ghouls, banshees, bogeymen, a whole spectrum of monsters to play with, a richer world to explore.

It was this second iteration of the book that would end up becoming a series starring Greta as the central character, set in this peculiarly overlapping supernatural-adjacent world. With my editor’s help, I continued to refine the text into something that explored that particular aspect of storytelling: both the contrast between the ancient monsters and the modern day, and the fascinating difficulties encountered by people who necessarily spent their time in the liminal space of that boundary between natural and supernatural. What their experience would be, as creatures who had to coexist either covertly or overtly with ordinary humans, keeping their natures as quiet as possible — and what it might be like as a human to witness that experience, and to take on the responsibility of offering care across species boundaries. What kind of person would you have to be, to do a job like that?

Without really intending to, all those years ago in the throes of NaNo, I’d done myself an extraordinary favor in inventing the character of Greta Helsing. In the previous version, Greta was much less important a character; in this one, I could take much more advantage of her highly specialized role to portray those monsters as her patients, people she cared for, whatever sort of creature they might be, and what that meant to her. As a human physician to the supernatural, she necessarily encounters an enormous variety of complaints, and so I get to write about so many fascinating problems seen both from the human and the clinical standpoint. It gives me endless pleasure to apply scientific protocol to the realms of the unreal — there’s the contrast thing again, ordinary and extraordinary balancing each other — and I love writing about listserv arguments over the relative merits of different embalming fluids in zombie tissue stabilization, or the practice of creating perfect bone replacements for mummies via 3-D printing from a laser scan.

So it’s contrast, and it’s the experience of that contrast, of being a stranger in a strange land, that really drives the book (and, in fact, the series). The concept of found family echoes throughout, as well — it’s a natural consequence of the transposition of individual and environment, and one of my favorites.

But if, in the end, all you take away from Strange Practice is sensible monsters…I’m gonna be well-pleased with the work of my hands.

—-

Strange Practice: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

The Big Idea: Tal M. Klein

Teleportation: A great idea, but with some practical… problems. It’s a physics thing. In this Big Idea for The Punch Escrow, author Tal M. Klein wonders, what if you could solve those problems, not with physics, but with another branch of human intellectual endeavor entirely?

TAL M. KLEIN:

F#*%ing transporters, how do they work?

It was the Ides of March of 2012. I had just started a new job and was chatting with a co-worker about lens flare. Specifically, I was ranting about J.J. Abrams’ penchant for gratuitous lens flare, using the Star Trek reboot as an example, when all of a sudden the conversation was interrupted by our CEO.

“It’s bullshit!” he shouted.

(He wasn’t talking about the lens flare.)

Our CEO wielded a PhD in Computer Science and was using it to fight with Star Trek, or more specifically its transporters. He went on to monologue about Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, explaining that the position and the velocity of an object couldn’t both be measured exactly, at the same time, even in theory, and in the highly improbable likelihood that somehow someone did manage to circumvent the uncertainty principle, they’d still have to contend with the no-cloning theorem, which stated that it was impossible to create an identical copy of any unknown quantum state.

Here is what I heard: “Teleportation is impossible because physics.”

Now let’s be clear, I’m not a scientist. What I am is a product man. I build and market technology products for a living. Having bet my career on startups, my brain senses opportunity where others see impossibility. In fact, whenever anyone tells me I can’t do something, my mind automatically appends a “yet” to the end of their statement.

My favorite author growing up was Larry Niven. This fact is germane here because the first thing that came to mind during the CEO’s aforementioned monologue was a Niven essay entitled Exercise in Speculation: The Theory and Practice of Teleportation, part of a collection called All The Myriad Ways. Niven’s spiel on teleportation explored the pros and cons of the myriad ways (see what I did there) we might achieve commercialized human teleportation. The science was interesting, but what I remembered latching on to as a kid was his take on the anthropological impact of teleportation.

Niven’s itch was akin to what angered my CEO: If we discount for Star Trek’s technobabble and defer to actual physics, then every time Scotty teleported Captain Kirk he was actually killing him in one place and “printing him out” somewhere else.

This destructive teleportation variant of the twin maker trope has been explored almost ad nauseum. Though there are several good stories and movies that address the existential problems teleportation could introduce should it ever become a viable transportation mechanism, none have adequately presented a marketable solution to that problem — at least none that might pass muster with an anthropologist.

How come nobody ever discussed how society might come to adopt teleportation in the first place, I wondered. Science fiction seemed to lack a scientifically plausible teleportation mechanism that could be deemed safe enough to commercialize in the near future.

So, I decided to solve the teleportation problem — with marketing!

In my day job as a chief marketing officer, when I’m asked to play out this kind of go-to-market strategy problem, I use a game theory methodology known as Wardley mapping; an augmentation of value chain mapping. The “product” came in the form of the Punch Escrow. It’s the MacGuffin that makes teleportation safe and thus both scientifically and anthropologically plausible. The value of mapping in predicting the future is based in pragmatism. If we can assess what components of tech will become commoditized in society, we can envision innovations that build on those commodities in alignment with basic needs, making their commercialization more plausible.

Consulting with a real life quantum physicist, I used the Wardley mapping approach to understand the teleportation problem and then solve for it: When someone teleports, the Punch Escrow is a chamber in which the they are held — in escrow — until they safely arrive at their final destination. That way if anything goes wrong during teleportation, the “conductor” could just cancel the trip and the traveler would safely walk out at the point of origin as if nothing happened.

But how does one market this scenario given the very obvious twin maker issue?

A capitalist society will always want to get from point A to point B faster and on-demand. I don’t think anyone would argue that safe teleportation is a highly desirable mode of transport. The Punch Escrow makes it possible, and International Transport (the company behind commercial teleportation in the 22nd century) effectively brands it as “safe.” To wit, critics of early steam locomotives avowed that the human body was not meant to move faster than fifty miles an hour. Intelligent people with impeccable credentials worried that female passengers’ uteruses might be ejected from their bodies as trains accelerated! Others suspected that a human body might simply melt at such speeds. You know what? It didn’t matter. People wanted to get from point A to point B faster, train tycoons marketed to that desire with implied underpinnings of safety, and trains took off.

Just as locomotives didn’t transform our world into a dystopia, it stands to reason teleportation won’t either. Yes, people die in train accidents (not because their organs fly out of their orifices, I should add), but the benefit is anthropologically perceived as greater than the risk. Same goes with commercial flight. Of course you’ve heard the axiom, “If God had meant man to fly…” — that didn’t seem to stop droves of us from squeezing into small flying metal tubes in the sky. Today, we face similar fears with autonomous vehicles, but I’m certain that the marketers will calm our nerves. I believe within a generation the notion of manual driving will seem as esoteric a means of getting around as a horse and carriage. Maybe the same will be said of teleportation a century from now?

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The Punch Escrow: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

The Big Idea: Nat Segaloff

When biographer and historian Nat Segaloff sat down to interview science fiction Grand Master Harlan Ellison for his new book A Lit Fuse, he knew that he was in for a challenge. What surprised him about the process was how much it wasn’t just about Ellison, but also about him.

NAT SEGALOFF:

How do you write something new about someone everybody thinks they already know? A writer who is famous for putting so much of his life into his stories that his fans feel that even his most bizarre work is autobiographical? That was the unspoken challenge in late 2013 when I agreed to write Harlan Ellison’s biography, an adventure that is just now seeing daylight with the publican of A Lit Fuse: The Provocative Life of Harlan Ellison.

I wrote the book because Harlan wouldn’t. He came close in 2008 when he announced he would write Working Without a Net for “a major publisher,” but he never did. Maybe he figured he’d said enough in his 1700 short stories, essays, and articles he’s published over the last 60 years. It wasn’t as if he was afraid of the truth; he always said he never lies about himself because that way nobody can hold anything against him. That was my challenge.

When we shook hands and I became his biographer, I also became the only person he ever gave permission to quote from his work and take a tour of his life. What I really wanted to do, though, was to explore his mind. What I didn’t expect was that, as I examined his creative process, I would also bare my own.

When you sit down with someone for a conversation, it’s fun; when you sit down with someone for an interview, it’s serious. Harlan has been interviewed countless times and he has always been in control. This time, I was. I had to get him to say stuff that was new, and I had to go beyond where others had stopped.

A Harlan Ellison interview is a performance. He will be quotable, precise, vague, and outrageous. He takes no prisoners. He will run and fetch a comic book, figurine, photograph, or book to illustrate a point, all of which breaks the mood. My job was to get him to sit still and not be “Harlan Ellison” but simply Harlan.

Harlan is one of the few speculative fiction writers (along with Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, and a handful of others) who became public figures. Part of this stemmed from the quality of his work but much of it was created by his being, as I kept finding in the clippings, ““fractious,” “famously litigious,” and “argumentative.” Indeed, most of the stories I found during my research could be divided into two categories: “What a wild man Harlan is” and “I alone escaped to tell thee.”

Balderdash. What I discovered was a man who takes his craft seriously and fiercely defends others who labor in the field of words. An attack on them was an attack on him, and an attack on him was not to be deflected but returned in kind. “I don’t mind if you think I’m stupid,” he told one antagonist, “it’s just that I resent it when you talk to me as if I’m stupid.”

Even though I had final cut, I ran whole sections past him to get his reaction. He never flinched. In fact, he challenged me to go deeper. It was almost as if – and don’t take this the wrong way – I was Clarice Starling and he was Hannibal Lecter — the more I asked of Harlan, the more I had to give of myself. Both of us put our blood in the book even though I am the author.

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A Lit Fuse: Amazon|NESFA Press

 

The Big Idea: Cassandra Khaw

Identity issues can sometimes be a bear, as the protagonist of Bearly a Lady finds out — in no small part because author Cassandra Khaw experienced something similar in her real life.

CASSANDRA KHAW:

The first time I came out as bisexual to a partner, it was a mess. What was a passably tolerable relationship became a wasteland of conspiratorial winks, elbow nudges, and endless attempts to convince me to have a threesome with someone, anyone, just pick an attractive person of the same gender.

Thing is, I don’t blame him.

Bisexual representation in media is a fraught topic. More often than not, bisexual people are characterized as wild, promiscuous individuals with thrilling sex lives, perpetually ready to jump into bed with whomever they find attractive. (Not necessarily untrue or even wrong, but that’s a conversation for another space.) Consequently, we end up with people like my ex, who begin quivering with lascivious curiosity the moment they so much as hear the hum of that first syllable.

But we are getting better at it. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has one of my favorite bisexual characters of all times: Darryl Whitefeather, a middle-aged divorcee who comes out mid-season and proceeds to have a stunningly healthy relationship with his new boyfriend. (That show has its problems, but I will forever love the writers for making sure the queer couple is the happy one.) And genre writing is even further ahead in that department. Take Kai Ashante Wilson’s work, for example, which remarks on polyamorous queer relationships without even the barest breath of hesitation. After all, in a world of dragons and technical-minded gods, what is there to fear about a man who loves a man and also a woman?

I’m digressing.

With Bearly a Lady, I’m hoping to build on that canon. Zelda McCartney is a complicated character, for all that she might sometimes appear like an airhead. She’s been out for a long time; this isn’t a self-discovery story. Instead, the book, which goes into some dark places between the lines, interrogates the idea of expectations, labels, and toxic relationships.

And that is because she is a werebear in a human world, a woman endlessly bombarded by external forces, all looking to chip at her self-esteem for the sake of a quick buck or someone else’s emotional fulfillment. It’s no surprise that Zelda has only half an idea as to which box she belongs. Honestly, a lot of people don’t figure that out. Especially those raised outside of liberal communities.

I’d know. For the longest time, that was me.

(Except for the werebear part.)

So, that’s one of the Big Ideas behind Bearly a Lady. I wanted my main character to be full of internal conflict, certain in her identity but uncertain of the words that one might use to define oneself. A mess of paradoxes and imperfections glued together by bad sitcoms and ice-cream. I’m hoping that, one day, Bearly a Lady might be part of some bisexual teenager’s library, another piece in the puzzle as they figure out who they are. Maybe, Zelda will be an example of who they hope not to be. Maybe, they’ll see a bit of themselves in her. Who knows? That’s not up to me.

Bearly a Lady might be a queer paranormal rom-com with werebears, vampires, and billionaire fairies galore, but it’s also a look into the life of a queer woman who doesn’t always get it straight.

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Bearly a Lady: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo

Read an excerpt online. Visit the authors site. Follow her on Twitter.

The Big Idea: Michael F. Haspil

Getting older often gives you a perspective that younger people don’t have. But what happens when you’re immortal? What is your perspective then? It’s a question Michael F. Haspil has considered for his debut novel, Graveyard Shift.

MICHAEL F. HASPIL:

As human beings, we tell ourselves fictions to make it easier to cooperate one with one another.

Sometimes, the fiction is noble. We are all equal and entitled to certain inalienable rights. This story only extends to imaginary lines drawn on a representative map, a different sort of fiction. After all, “We” doesn’t apply to “Them”.

Many times, the fiction is merely useful. This color of light means “go” and another color means “stop”. All drivers must drive on this side of the street. Pieces of paper have value and you can use them to barter for goods. When people stop trusting in those fictions, life becomes hazardous and disagreeable.

All too often, the fiction becomes a source of human polarization. The entertainment we criticize, others adore. The sports tribes we deride are idols to others even though we select them more often due to geography than anything else. Their ties are red, ours our blue, so they are immoral. We don’t understand the methods they use to heal; therefore, they are wicked. They have a different melanin content than we do; their lives aren’t worth as much as ours are. Our god is greater than theirs; therefore, they are evil.

It’s all about tribalism and defining the Other. We tell ourselves stories and then believe them to such an extent we can justify any action.

Viewed from the point of view of hypothetical immortals, or beings so long-lived that for all purposes they may as well be, the numbers of those who belong to their tribe shrink over time, until almost everyone they meet is the Other. Of what concern is any subject when humans change their minds or stop caring about them in a week, a month, a century?

Combine that idea with how many atrocities immortals might witness, as they become more and more detached from those fictions we humans tell ourselves. How many died because they followed the wrong leader? How many burned at the stake because of paranoia? How many mass graves? How many genocides? The immortals would tell themselves a new fiction. Humans don’t matter. They all die, some sooner than others.

The trolley problem is an ethical thought exercise. An observer stands near a switch as a runaway trolley bears down the tracks. On the tracks ahead of the trolley, several people are trapped, unable to move and will die when the trolley reaches them. The observer can pull the switch and divert the trolley to another set of tracks. However, an individual standing nearby will die when the trolley diverts. The problem lies in the observer’s choice of whether to kill one person to save many or do nothing and allow many to die.

As the immortals pass down through the centuries, the trolley problem breaks. Viewed on their timescale, what does it matter if everyone on the tracks dies? Their lives are so short, they are as good as dead anyway. Why should immortals trouble themselves with the lives of beings that end in a relative eye blink? Why should human morals matter? Or human laws? It’s not that immortals are more or less ethical than humans. It’s that over their eternal lives they tell themselves different stories. New fictions, humans aren’t equipped to understand.

Taken from the human point of view, these immortals inevitably become the Other. By comparison, our short lives would not afford us a window of understanding. Their decisions and justifications would be alien to us. What do fruit flies comprehend of human machinations?

If we knew of them at all, we would fear them. We would hate them. We would hunt them.

In my novel, Graveyard Shift, some of my heroes are so long-lived they may as well be immortal and so they share part of the problems I’ve described. Added to their condition, they often make the difficult choices of committing a lesser evil to prevent a greater one. It is a slippery slope. How many times can one justify collateral damage in the name of the greater good before one becomes a new source of evil?

In many other stories, my heroes — a vigilante, a vampire, a shapeshifter, a mummy — would be the villains. As Nietzsche warns, “He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster.” But when beings survive for millennia, becoming a monster, may be inevitable.

My characters aren’t nice people. On a good day, they are indifferent to the plight of the everyman. Often throughout the story, they do unpleasant things and they rationalize what they’ve done by convincing themselves it was a necessary evil to prevent something much worse. Most of the time, that’s true.

This was a bit of a struggle for me. How could I convey the apathy of immortals and still portray them as sympathetic heroes?

It ultimately came down to their motivations. The need for atonement drives many of my characters. They view their immortality and their continued service to humankind as a sort of penance for sins committed past and present.

It wouldn’t take much to flip the script and turn them into the true monsters other perceive them to be. This is what Matheson’s Richard Neville discovers at the conclusion of I Am Legend. Often, determining who is and who isn’t a monster, is solely based on the point of view and the fictions we tell ourselves.

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Graveyard Shift: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

The Big Idea: Jason LaPier

Home is where the heart is, but what does “home” mean, and does it mean the same thing for everyon. Author Jason LaPier has thoughts on this topic, and what it means for his latest novel Under Shadows, and the series of books to which it belongs.

JASON LaPIER:

The Dome Trilogy centers on three characters with three very different backgrounds. There’s “Jax” Jackson, who grew up in a dome on planet in the Barnard’s Star system, living a sheltered life and by his late twenties, working as a life support system operator. Stanford Runstom was born in completely unsheltered circumstances; his mother was an undercover detective for years, and when it came time for her to come back in, she opted to live out the next decade in a ship, honing her intelligence networks and staying on the move. Runstom was born in space, and his childhood home was this interstellar craft and the various ports and outposts it had occasion to visit; a life mirrored when he grew up to become a cop. Lastly, Dava was born on Earth, a planet on which human life has divided between plush arcologies and abject poverty. As a child, Dava lived underground until her parents won the “Earth Kin Rescue” lottery and were able to board an ark bound for the colonies. When Dava awoke from hypersleep, she’d become an orphan and was dumped into foster care in the domes. Her erratic upbringing eventually led her to crime.

As these three characters confront their immediate challenges and obstacles, they are distracted from identifying the real things they want for their own lives. But like a system that seeks equilibrium, they each unconsciously unveil their true internal goals. And they are surprised to find those goals have evolved from the obvious to something unexpected.

When Jax was a domer, he lacked drive and ambition. His only goal was to pay his bills. When the false accusation of murdering a block of residents under his watch forces Jax to become a fugitive, his immediate concerns become those of survival and freedom. He gets a taste of domeless life in an independent colony on the moon of a gas giant, and finds inspiration in the vibrancy, diversity, cooperation, and perseverance of the population. This manifests later when Jax is given the chance to do his part in protecting the colony’s way of life. It’s then that he realizes after all his trials, he doesn’t want to go back home to the domes, but instead wants to make a new home.

Runstom dedicated his life to the pursuit of justice, but had trouble advancing his career. Though he’d rather be a detective, he finds himself in a public relations role at the policing-for-hire company he works for. Respecting his mother’s need to stay under the radar, he maintains minimal contact with her. And yet, she sees all, and when they have a chance to be reunited, the stoically independent Runstom realizes how badly he misses his mother’s advice and love. Their separate and nomadic lives become much less bearable to him.

In and out of foster homes, Dava considered herself rescued when crime boss – and fellow ex-Earthling – Moses Down recruited her. From then on, she only concerned herself with being a good right hand to Down. He pushes her into leadership, and under his influence she tries her best. When she has to take the reins and decide what is best for the crime family, she realizes she wants to offer them something different. Moses Down brought the outcasts together and made them into a family, but Dava must find that family a place to call home.

And so the thing that unifies these three very different characters is that eventual goal to create a new home for themselves. Which explicitly means leaving previous notions of home behind, and recognizing the shadows of the past for what they are: merely shadows. This is the defining theme that I used to drive the character arcs through to the conclusion of the trilogy.

I was born in Saratoga, NY, near Albany. At the age of five, I was registered for kindergarten, but I would never attend that school; instead, my parents separated and we moved four hours away, to Elmira, NY. This was the first big shift in my sense of home, but I would spend the next twenty years in this small town. Finally, at the age of twenty-six, I’d had enough of Upstate and moved to Brooklyn in September, 2001. 9/11 came, and I was never able to make NYC my home. After six rough months of being unable to set roots into a disrupted city, I needed to escape from New York, and so I catapulted across the country to Oregon. Lacking in friends, family, and money, this is the part of my life I drew upon when thinking about what it means to learn how to make a home from scratch.

So the Big Idea here is that home is a malleable concept, and what you are born into is not necessarily what you are destined to call home. This became the core internal driver as I brought these three characters to the conclusion of this trilogy: they would each, in their own way, learn to define what home means to them.

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Under Shadows: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Kobo

Visit the author’s site. Follow him on Twitter.

The Big Idea: Christopher Brown

The opening sentence of Christopher Brown’s Big Idea essay for Tropic of Kansas hits awfully close to home these days. Buckle in.

CHRISTOPHER BROWN:

What if the revolutions we watch ripping other countries apart were happening on our own streets?

America as Syria, Ukraine, Venezuela—that core conceit behind Tropic of Kansas drove almost everything else in the book.  It also taught me hard lessons about how speculative counterfactuals dictate the way you tell their story—and how your characters need to show you the path.

As I began to sketch out the book, my big idea was literally outside my door. The Austin leaders of Occupy had made the neon junkyard across the street into their secret base camp. Every day the news showed uprisings across the world, and increasingly stark political divisions at home. The distance between the peaceful protests here and the violent chaos on screen was nearer than geography would suggest.

You could see narratives of revolution lurking all over our pop culture landscape, from YA dystopias like The Hunger Games to the three movies that came out as I started the first draft about people taking over the White House. I wanted to explore that territory in a way that bit into the copper wire, in a mirror reality built from the mundane details of the observed world and charged with the motive power of the revolutionary creation myths we are taught in school. Done right, it would be the literary equivalent of a Syrian war zone smartphone video transposed to St. Louis.

I thought I had the perfect generic material to pull it off, by repurposing tropes of adventure fiction and political thrillers toward more emancipatory ends.  Rogue heroes and whistleblowers—a Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser for the age of Blackwater, a Glanton gang that rides to Washington instead of the border, a Night Manager undercover in dystopia, with old binaries busted to reflect 21st century diversity.  Those action-oriented archetypes seemed an antidote to the way characters in most post-9/11 fiction verbally defenestrated corrupt power but rarely effected real change.

I looked for the territory between the Nazi-fighting grit of 1960s adventure pulps and the grim memoranda of the Senate Torture Report. I found rich character trajectory rereading Eric Hobsbawm’s Bandits, a cross-cultural study of how thieves sometimes morph into social bandits (think Robin Hood) and then revolutionaries. I found an old button that said “Billy Jack for President” and put it on my desk. I made a note to myself on my Tumblr, a photo of three books next to each other: a Frazetta-covered Conan paperback, a post-financial crisis political manifesto, and a treatise on Anthropocene ecology. The caption: “remix your hypotheses.”

I started the remix, with gusto. And the initial result was kind of like when you are a kid and your mom or dad lets you loose in the kitchen to make your own dish, usually involving a lot of food coloring that substitutes for authentic flavor, the solution to which is more sugar. A compelling postulate does not automatically make a believable world, and a fresh archetype does not necessarily make a character anyone cares about. There’s no recipe—you need to intuit your own, using real ingredients available in the pantry of memory.  It’s not easy, and usually takes a few tries.

J.G. Ballard liked to say that the inverted worlds of his realist science fictions were drawn using the same skills he learned as an anatomy student dissecting human cadavers. I thought I understood what he meant until I tried to find my own way in. You have to take the clay of the real world and turn it inside out more than just one time. You have to see the threads that connect all the different pieces into a whole system. You have to figure out how character defines the world, is defined by it, and how the world of your story functions as a kind of meta-character. Outlines only get you so far—you have to write your way through it, and the harder it feels the closer you probably are.

The post-9/11 story I wanted to tell required a world without 9/11, in which all the dark energy of the war on terror was unleashed inside our own borders. The Sadr Cities needed to be run-down suburbs with rebels holed up in bullet-pocked strip malls. The American Spring required an America that looked a lot more like an oligarchic dictatorship than the civil society I lived in.  And the people that inhabited that world had to be found through their shimmering reflections in the liminal spaces of this one.

The oft-quoted Gibsonian aphorism about the uneven distribution of the immanent future is also true of dystopia. The parts of America turned Third World, the Yankee Gaza and DMZ, are there if you look for them. So are their inhabitants. The guy I met who lives in the abandoned building by the frontage road, the lady I know who called me about the deportation trucks rounding up her neighbors, the in-laws who told me about their college friends who got disappeared in the dirty war back home, and even the people grinding away in the corporate offices downtown could all point to the dark mirrors hiding in plain sight.

The land told the story of its own subjugation to industrial agriculture and petrochemical extraction. By finding the world of my book folded into the world around me, I was able to build a real portal to my imagined postulate. I learned how the coupling of realism and speculation can inadvertently produce worlds that seem prescient. And I learned how the injection of humanism into dystopia can help find the light that lurks on the other side of the unjust worlds we make, whether in the safe laboratory of the novel or in real life.

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Tropic of Kansas: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Visit the author’s site. Follow him on Twitter.

The Big Idea: Jennifer Stevenson

 

With a title that includes the phrase “coed demon sluts,” you might think that you know all you need to know about Jennifer Stevenson’s series of paranormal women’s fiction. Here’s Stevenson to make the argument that there’s more than meets the eye.

JENNIFER STEVENSON:

The foundation of this series is a question: “Aren’t you tired of doing everything right? Wouldn’t you like a second chance to go back and do it wrong?” Each of the main characters is starting life over by becoming a succubus for hell. I discovered the hard way that it’s a deeply feminist project. And that’s the big idea.

A thorough survey of strangers in convention bars informed me that, while men easily answered the question, “What would make you sign a contract to become a sex demon?” most women had to think hard. If they went for the deal, they said they wanted physical, social, or sexual power, money, a solution to [name a physical issue], a power balance to [name a social injustice], revenge, eternal youth, and, very last, beauty. Not sex.

This was my first women’s fiction, in the main passing the Bechdel test, deeply addressing the grimnesses that make feminism so unfluffy. My usual stories often have serious themes, but they always, always present as fluffy.

The deal:

Thirty antique pieces of silver a month for tempting three individuals; go the distance and you get a nice bonus.

An eternally young, super-strong, horny demon body that can be gumbied into any shape, color, or size.

A car, a credit card, housing, and a team of other succubi.

The job:

We no longer buy souls. We can’t keep all these full-time people. Everyone’s a contractor: you can quit, you can be fired.

Online monthly reporting is hellish—Windows 8, 33 screens of fields per record. You have to tattoo your 88-digit IIDN on the sole of your foot, because who can remember that?

Kiss your old life goodbye. By the time you’re ready to quit, everyone you know may be long gone–and the you they know will be gone.

What was hard about this big idea?

The challenges were what they always are: Write the other. Get into their skin and make people forget how wackshit the story premise is.

It wasn’t hard to imagine how becoming a succubus would affect prissy housewife Beth or beleaguered teen Melitta or 98-year-old bubbe Cricket with her mile-long bucket list.

But Pog’s complicated relationship with food and its relevance to her old life as a plus-size prostitute and her shifting friendships with the other five women took me back to high school in ways I didn’t want to revisit, because I flunked Girl.

While Jee’s childhood in a Bangkok brothel left scars I could trace in my sleep, her Dom relationship to the sluts’ /p/i/m/p/ onsite manager sub was new. I wanted to rebut some of the reader protocols I found in BDSM romance and erotica–most notably that the Dom always knows what they’re doing, and that the sub always falls into the role without protest, never uses their safeword, and puts on the collar for life, not just a sweaty hour in bed. How would Jee feel, dominating their demonic pimp, doing it wrong, realizing why it’s working on him anyway, and then struggling to undo what she’s done and do it again right?

Amanda was hardest. She’s so repressed, she thinks she’s asexual; sex is just her job, and as an athlete she’s used to physical work. Memo to self: Don’t write repressed characters. An Army brat who gave her life to her ailing parents, she never realized she was gay. When they died, she found that her job at a defense contractor had segued imperceptibly into a cubicle in hell. I had to draw her out of her Army shell, wake her up sexually, and get her into bed with a woman. Amanda dragged her feet, unwilling to give up the comforting numbness of her cubicle and afraid of the Army’s rule for women: be invisible. The result was one of my sweetest, happiest books…but oy getting there.

What was easy about this big idea?

I’ve been writing about sex for almost thirty years. With every book I think, What the hell different can I say about sex this time? The answer always has to be different.

Despite the title, this series isn’t about sex. I was frankly overjoyed to plunge into imagining what, aside from their job, sex had to do with these women’s lives. I got to leave out the squishy bits and write the everything-else. From a feminist perspective, this was a total gift.

I write the unexpected and I write it funny. Sometimes that’s a gimme, sometimes it’s hard. I had to challenge the assumption that woman=slut=sex. My girls had to own “slut.” Turning reader expectation on its head meant inventing women with relatable problems, confronting those problems with succubus life, allowing myself to get angry but stay funny, writing a happy end every time that relied on character, not a magical gimmick, and leaving out the sex. The make-you-think part rose up like an onion in the schmaltz.

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Coed Demon Sluts: Beth: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|iBooks|Kobo

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

The Big Idea: Nancy Kress

Folks, in discussing her new novel Tomorrow’s Kin, author Nancy Kress has some bad news for you. It’s about your brain. And mine. And everyone’s.

NANCY KRESS:

Your mind does not work the way you think it does.

You probably assume that you consider data and come to rational conclusions. But all too often, people don’t take into account such pesky tendencies as confirmation bias (“This fact confirms what I already believe so it gets more weight”) Or polarization (“This situation is all good/bad”). Or emotionalism (“I feel this so it must be true”), a need for control (“I’m looking at what I can change and nothing else”), presentism (“The future will be like the present only maybe a little more so”), or scapegoating (“If this isn’t as I wish it to be, someone must be to blame!”)

When I set out to extend my novella “Yesterday’s Kin” into the novel Tomorrow’s Kin, which takes the story ten years farther along, I wanted to write about these distortions in your thinking. Oh, not you in particular (how do I know what you’re thinking as you read this—maybe it’s “She doesn’t mean me. I’m different.”) What interested me—especially in the current political climate—is the public mind as it relates to science and the perception of science.

There is not, of course, one “public mind.” People have differing perceptions of everything: football vs. soccer, artificial sweetness, lip piercing, Wonder Woman (I loved it). It’s precisely this lack of unity that creates conflict—and conflict is what drives fiction. No one wants to read a 400-page novel in which everything hums sweetly along for the protagonist. For one thing, we’d die of envy. Conflict swarms around science like ants at a picnic.

How can this group believe we should spend all that money going to Mars?

How can that group be so short-sighted that they don’t see the scientific value of going to Mars?

The characters in Tomorrow’s Kin aren’t going to Mars. They are, in a near-future United States, trying to go to a planet its inhabitants call “World.” Before that, they’re trying to deal with two separate global crises on Earth. And nobody can agree on how to perceive those crises, even though—and this is the heart of my novel—scientific evidence makes very clear what are the facts.

Fact: The aliens who have shown up on Earth are human, descendants of Homo sapiens taken from Terra 140,000 years ago. DNA and tissue analysis confirm this. Many people nonetheless believe that Worlders are the ultimate “other,” a separate invasive species up to no good who should be treated like Burmese pythons in the Everglades.

Fact: The spore cloud that Worlders say is drifting toward Earth exists. Astronomers confirm this, once they know where to look. Worlders say it is carrying a deadly pathogen that has already wiped out two of their own space colonies. Many people prefer to believe there is no cloud and the Worlders are planning to infect Earth with a plague.

Fact: In return for our help, Worlders leave us with the science and the engineering to build starships. Scientists eagerly decipher these and construction begins by both private entrepreneurs and several governments. Many people regard this as a Trojan horse from a race bent on destroying us.

Fact: When the spore cloud arrives, it has unexpected and terrible ecological consequences on Earth. Many people regard this as the Worlders’ fault because the epidemic arrived just after the Worlders left, even though correlation is not the same as causation.

But humanity has a long history of shooting the messenger, as well as of denying scientific fact. The medieval Church preferred the lovely idea that the Earth is the center of the universe to Galileo’s fact that it revolves around the sun. Much of the nineteenth century preferred a 6,000-year-old Earth to Darwin’s unsettling notions about evolution. Current oil-company CEOs prefer to believe that humanity is not causing global warming. And several prominent basketball players have announced their belief that the Earth is flat.

In Tomorrow’s Kin, geneticist Marianne Jenner tries desperately to convince people of scientific facts. Colorful entrepreneur Jonas Stubbins has plans to exploit facts for profit. Some facts are known only to a gifted child, Marianne’s grandson. And some facts lead straight to revenge by governments powerful enough to achieve it—or try to. As Shakespeare pointed out, “For this is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

Do you believe something not because of fact but because of confirmation bias, presentism, scapegoating, emotionalism, polarization, or a need for control? No?

Are you sure?

So are the characters in Tomorrow’s Kin. For a while, anyway.

—-

Tomorrow’s Kin: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

The Big Idea: Sarah Kuhn

Weddings: Blessed occasion or battleground between the forces of good and evil? Why not both? Sarah Kuhn looks at the Big Day in this Big Idea for her novel Heroine Worship, and how it turns out to be a very fine setting for more than just “I do.”

SARAH KUHN:

I love weddings.

I tear up scrolling through wedding photos of people I only sort of know on Facebook, swoon over very special wedding episodes of TV shows, and if I’m attending a wedding of someone I consider near and dear? Forget it. I still get teased about the embarrassing snuffles I couldn’t suppress when one of my friends walked down the aisle to a string quartet version of “The Imperial March.” (It was beautiful!)

I have a soft, gushy heart and seeing people celebrate their soft, gushy love will always get to me. This doesn’t mean I think everyone needs to get married or has to get married a certain way—I support your right (and think you should have the right) to get married or not get married however and whenever you want. But it does mean I’ve always had a burning desire to write a wedding book—specifically, a Big Fat Supernatural Wedding Book. That book is Heroine Worship, the second in my urban fantasy series about Asian American superheroines saving the world.

One of the Big Ideas behind the whole series was to meld the fantastical and the mundane in a way that felt just a little bit ridiculous, but also incredibly fun. I cite the TV shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Middleman as big influences—those are two creative works that accomplished this particularly well without ever sacrificing earnest emotion. So in Book 1, Heroine Complex, I melded the supernatural with everyday things: demonic cupcakes, superpowered karaoke battles. In Book 2, I did that with seemingly mundane events that are part of the wedding planning process: cake tastings, dress fittings, and the epic battle that is the discount bridal gown sale.

I had a lot of fun with this, with imagining what supernatural wedding-related set piece I could throw in next, but writing my wedding book certainly came with its own unique challenges. For one thing, while I was gleefully envisioning how to make a classically ugly bridesmaid dress actually evil in some way, I had to remember to make sure that all the wedding hijinks weren’t merely hijinks—they needed to be grounded in a solid emotional story arc for my heroine, Aveda Jupiter (aka Annie Chang).

In the book, Aveda is appointed maid of honor by her best friend/co-superheroine Evie Tanaka (the protagonist of Book 1). Aveda is a character with the burning desire to be the absolute best at whatever she’s doing—she blazes ahead, hurricane-like, without thinking about the consequences. It’s always fun to give a character like this major obstacles she has to overcome, but I had to be careful not to pile on obstacles for the sake of wedding-related hilarity, to make sure each of the obstacles I was giving her made sense for her journey.

I eventually settled on the idea that she sees the maid of honor post as a mission like so many of her other superheroic missions. If she succeeds in giving Evie the best wedding ever, she’ll be able to prove herself as a friend (something she was not so hot at in Book 1) and regain the superheroine mojo she seems to have lost. That way, the main wedding storyline was tied directly to her emotional journey. I could trace the arc of both in tandem and it ensured that the wedding shenanigans I kept coming up with were relevant to the story and not just ridiculousness for ridiculousness’ sake.

Another challenge had to do with the fact that my protagonist wasn’t one of the two people getting married—but those two characters, Evie and Nate, still mean a lot to me (and to readers who were invested in their relationship in Book 1). I was super focused on Aveda’s personal arc since this book is from her POV and she’s the character who has to go through the most growth and change. That meant I was sometimes tempted to skim over or shorthand pieces of the wedding process in the story rather than giving them their due.

For example: the proposal. It’s a moment that’s supposed to be funny and sweet, but we’re seeing it through Aveda’s eyes—and her reaction isn’t the “awww” we’d get if we were seeing it from Evie’s POV. That scene initially felt a bit underwritten because I was only thinking of it as another step in Aveda’s arc rather than an important piece of the whole series involving other major characters. I went back and revised it through the final stages of copy-editing the book, taking into account what the other characters in the scene would be thinking and feeling as well, so that (hopefully!) it will give the reader a little “awww” moment.

The final challenge was more personal. Though I love weddings, I was a total stress case while planning my own. The day itself was beautiful, but my own heroine’s journey was fraught with sweaty dress fittings, pressure from relatives to do X tradition, and a sudden obsession with different kinds of cardstock. Writing a wedding book, I couldn’t help but re-live some of that—but like many writers, I dealt with it by using those feelings in the writing, giving them to my characters in a way I hope is authentic.

In the end, I got as emotional over my wedding book as I do at actual weddings—even though there was no string quartet version of “The Imperial March.”

—-

Heroine Worship: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|IndieBound|Powell’s

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

The Big Idea: Edward Willett

Edward Willett’s Big Idea post for his new novel The Cityborn references John Calvin, so allow me to suggest that you were predestined to find it and read it. But Willett might argue with me on that, as you will read (of your own free will!) below.

EDWARD WILLETT:

Some novels are born with big ideas, others have big ideas thrust upon them.

The latter was the case with The Cityborn, my new stand-alone science fiction novel from DAW Books: I was a good 60,000 words into it before I realized what I it was really about.

Now, I’m not new at this. The Cityborn is (to my own astonishment) my eighth novel for DAW. (Better yet, it’s under my own name—my last four books were written under pseudonyms, Magebane as Lee Arthur Chane and the Masks of Aygrima trilogy as E.C. Blake). But every book is different, and this was one where the writing process turned out to be as much one of discovery as it was of ex nihilo creation.

Oh, I had good science fiction premise, a fast-moving plot, interesting characters, and a (I hope) fascinating setting. I’d had the idea for the book, I just hadn’t discovered the big idea within the book.

Books can be born many different ways. The Cityborn began with a striking image: that of a young man scavenging for survival on a giant trash heap, outside a great city.

My process for building a novel from such an idea is similar to that of an oyster crafting a pearl around a piece of grit. I ask myself questions: “Why did that rubbish heap form? How big is it? What kind of city created it? Who lives there? Why are some of them reduced to scavenging? Who rules this city, and why do they allow this to continue?” My answers to those questions gave me the skeleton of my story. In The Cityborn’s case, it looks like this:

The metal City towers at the centre of the mountain-ringed Heartland. It straddles the Canyon, filled almost to the brim with centuries’ worth of rubbish and waste, a gigantic trash heap known as the Middens. The City is stratified and authoritarian, ruled by with an iron fist by the First Officer, in the name of the semi-mythical Captain. Armed Provosts enforce the First Officer’s decrees.

The Officers, the ruling class, live in luxury on the Eleventh and Twelfth Tiers, while the poor live hand-to-mouth on the First and Second Tiers. (The middle classes live…wait for it!…in the middle Tiers. Clever, huh?) Criminals and other outcasts fight for survival in the Middens, where the City’s law does not extend and vicious gangs rule.

The young man from my initial vision, Danyl, has been raised in the Middens by an old scavenger, who claims to have found him abandoned as a baby. Meanwhile, Alania, ward of a cold, distant Officer, lives on Twelfth, a pampered prisoner, never permitted to explore the City or the surrounding Heartland.

The plot gets cracking when Alania, fleeing from an unexpected attack on Twelfth, plunges into the Middens—and into Danyl’s life. Suddenly, the Provosts are after both of them, and they don’t know why. As they are pursued down the Canyon, into the Heartland, to the mountains of the north and back again, they learn secrets about who and what they are…and the actions they take in response will determine the fate of the City and everyone who lives there.

That last vague cover-blurb sentence is where I found the Big Idea that grew out of the “little idea” that provided the plot. It came to me in a literal epiphany, one morning while I was writing in Atlantis Coffee in downtown Regina (a favorite haunt of mine; it’s at the corner of Hamilton Street and Victoria Avenue, should you ever be in town and want to check it out. Tell them I sent you).

You see, the reason everyone is chasing Alania and Danyl is that both of them were literally designed to fill an important role within the City: predestined, in a way even John Calvin never dreamed of. Every day of their lives, until they come unexpectedly together, they were being unknowingly guided toward fates determined for them from infancy.

Even after they meet, throwing the proverbial monkey wrench into the machinations of their secret manipulators, they find it almost impossible to deviate from a path they had no say in choosing, whose destination they hate but may not be able to avoid.

The big idea at the heart of The Cityborn, then, is a question: can individuals break the chains forged by the circumstances of their birth, the way they are raised, the expectations and restrictions placed upon them by their society? Can they deviate from their preordained path in life?

It won’t come as a surprise to anyone who has read my other books that my answer to that question was a resounding “Yes!” The value of individuals, the importance of individual liberty (and individual responsibility), is a theme that runs through all my stories, as characters struggle to do what’s right (as they see it) despite the cost, however often they stumble and fail along the way, even if it means renouncing everything they once believed to be true.

Danyl and Alania make difficult choices. They make bad decisions that sometimes make things worse, not better. But they also fight: fight against the fate imposed upon them by those who created and nurtured them, against the chains placed on them by the society into which they were born.

They act, in short, as individuals free to make choices and take action. In the process, they change their world.

Just as, perhaps, we can.

That, it seems to me, is a pretty Big Idea.

—-

The Cityborn: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Powell’s

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

 

The Big Idea: Sarah Beth Durst

Be warned: in today’s Big Idea post for The Reluctant Queen, author Sarah Beth Durst gets a little… bloody.

SARAH BETH DURST:

This book was born in blood.

Seriously.

I had just arrived at a writing retreat in the Poconos.  Beautiful place.  Every writer was given an adorable wood cabin nestled beneath pine trees.  I was walking up to mine, reveling in the bird song, marveling at the wildflowers, anticipating frolicking with bunnies and deer… and I tripped and fell flat on my face.  Cut my lip.  Tasted blood.  And had the idea that become this series:

Bloodthirsty nature spirits.

The Reluctant Queen is Book Two of The Queens of Renthia, an epic fantasy series set in a world filled with nature spirits.  But these aren’t your sweet pastoral sprites.  These spirits want to kill all humans.  And only certain women — the queens — have the power to control them.

So that was my Big Idea for the world.  I created a gorgeous land filled with towering trees (think Lothlorien or Endor-size trees, with cities nestled in the branches), mountains so tall they pierce the sky, and endless glaciers.  Thanks to the overabundance of nature spirits, it’s a beautiful utopia… except for the constant danger of imminent death.  Given my lack of survival skills, I’d probably last about five minutes before I was ripped apart and eaten.

But that’s not the only Big Idea that went into making this book.  For me, it takes two Big Ideas to birth a book, one for the world and one for the characters — the collision of those two ideas is what propels me from “huh, that’s cool” to “ooh, I want to write that!”  (Side note for any beginning writers out there: one trick that I like for coming up with ideas is to make a list of Things You Think Are Awesome, pluck two items off the list, ram them together, and off you go.)

For this book, there was an idea that I’d been toying with for some time: exploring the concept of the reluctant hero.  The reluctant hero has a rich history in fantasy literature, which makes it wonderful fodder for ripping apart and creating something new.

One of the things that I love about writing fantasy is that there’s such a wealth of history to it.  You’re writing in conversation with hundreds of years of storytelling tradition — and because of this, readers come with a ton of expectations… which means that you as a writer have the marvelously fun chance to either fulfill or subvert those expectations.  Or both!

In The Reluctant Queen, I wanted to write a book in which a character was reluctant to use her power for a very good reason — in other words, not because she’s insecure or shy or lacks an understand of the situation, but because she’s examined the facts and come to the conclusion that using her power would be profoundly stupid.

Naelin is a woodswoman from a remote village who has immense power, but if she uses it, she runs the very real risk of leaving her two small children motherless.  Or worse, causing their deaths by drawing the spirits to them.  She’d rather let the world burn than endanger her children.

At their heart, these books are about power: who has it, who wants it, what you do with it, and what it does with you. The Reluctant Queen continues the story of Daleina (whose tale began in The Queen of Blood) and introduces Naelin — two women with very different approaches to the power they wield.  Together, they are responsible for the fate of their land.

I had (and am having!) such an immensely fun time writing these books.  It’s been an immersive experience, ziplining through the trees and flying on the backs of air spirits.  I’m so very, very excited to share this world and these characters with you!

Welcome to Renthia!  Just watch out for the trees.  They bite.

—-

The Reluctant Queen: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

The Big Idea: In Search of Lost Time

 

Got time for a Big Idea? Karen Heuler’s involves time itself — that having and getting of it, and what both mean for her latest work, In Search of Lost Time.

KAREN HEULER:

I started taking piano lesson in my mid-thirties because I fell in love with Chopin’s Preludes and I wanted to play them. I got a cheap piano (there are such things) and started taking lessons. But there was a strange thing going on. I couldn’t learn as fast as I wanted to. I wanted to play piano, but I didn’t want to lose time doing so.

Who wants to lose time? Who has enough time?

There’s a line from Andrew Marvell’s poem “To His Coy Mistress” that I often think of:

But at my back I always hear

Time’s winged chariot hurrying near

Time does indeed seem to be the quintessential Big Idea, the white noise behind all we do. Time happens without our consent, it happens without our noticing. We can do things in the fullness of time, or we can run out of time, or we can allocate time, but there’s never enough. Time is, in fact, our alternate reality. Had we used our time differently, we would have been different.  But there’s only so much time and there’s only so much we can do with it.

But what if we had more time? What if, in fact, we could purchase time? What would you do if you could use someone else’s time, no skin off your teeth, no tipping the hourglass even further? What would you do?

I hope you’d have a moral dilemma there. Yes, we all want to live and our urge to save ourselves overwhelms our urge to save others. But if you could dip here and there—a few minutes, say, from everyone on earth—would you do it? A few minutes? Who would miss a few minutes?

In my latest book, In Search of Lost Time, my main character has the ability to steal time, and possibly also the resources to get it to the people who need those minutes the most—the dying, for instance. To complicate matters, some people know she can steal time. And there’s a market for it. Of course there’s a market for it—time is the most valuable commodity there is. You can go for days without food or water, but not without time.

The sticky part, of course, is that you can’t get more time this way without taking it away from someone else. She’s not a saint but she’s not a murderer either. The underground knows who she is, as do some people who are running out of their own time. Who will she help, and how does the whole thing work, anyway? She’s new to it all. But there just might be someone who knows what to do about this strange ability she has, how to figure out a strategy for the most valuable thing there is. Can she avoid getting even more involved?

But enough about her. What would you do? If the world were starving but you could grab a few grains of rice from everyone else in order to survive, would you do it? Is just a little bit of theft really theft at all? Would you share what you stole—and how? How would you choose who to save?

These questions aren’t answerable for us; they merely let us look at the decisions we do make by looking at the choices we could make. And, by the way, those grains of time or rice don’t just come to you; you have to gather them. You have to see who you’re taking them from. The Big Idea gets personal.

What would you do?

—-

In Search of Lost Time: Amazon|Aqueduct Press

Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.

The Big Idea: Martha Wells

All good things come to an end, and for The Harbors of the Sun, the last book in Martha Wells’ Raksura series, the author takes a look at how she got here, and what the series, and the journey of writing it, has meant to her.

MARTHA WELLS:

After four novels, and two novella collections, The Harbors of the Sun is the last book in the Books of the Raksura series.

It’s fitting that The Harbors of the Sun is about the end of a journey, because it’s been a long road to its publication. The first book in the series, The Cloud Roads, came out in 2011, after taking two years to find a publisher. It was the book of my heart, a book that in many ways I had always wanted to write.

But at first, nobody seemed to want to publish a book with no humans in it, where the main characters were matriarchal bisexual polyamorous flying shapeshifting lizard-lion-bee people. Go figure!

I always felt that despite having non-human protagonists, the themes of the series were universal. Like finding a family and a home and protecting it against outside attack and environmental pressure. Learning to trust when suspicion, paranoia, and pretending to be anything other than what you are have been your main survival traits. Learning to fit into a complex society and web of relationships that seem almost impossible to understand. How hard it is to leave your past behind. Plus there’s a lot of adventures and exploration and flying and people-eating monsters; who wouldn’t want to read about that?

I put a lot of my own feelings of isolation into the story. I’d been a weird, lonely kid who grew up as an SF/F fan at a time when nobody else I knew liked or cared about it. I also wanted to capture that sense of wonder and possibility, of strange worlds with no boundaries, that I felt while looking at old books with pulp covers in the SF/F corner of the public library. (The corner that I was too young to look at yet but it was their own fault for putting the children’s section next to it.) After years of trying, I felt like I had captured that feeling with the Raksura.

Then finally, despite everything stacked against it, The Cloud Roads was published, and then The Serpent Sea, The Siren Depths, and the two novella collections. And even though I had gotten the Indigo Cloud Court settled in the Reaches and (mostly) happy, I still wanted to explore more of the Three Worlds with these characters. I wanted Moon and Jade and the others to go on an adventure outside the relative safety of the colony trees, and to explore the conflict between the Raksura and the predatory Fell.

In many ways, the Raksura didn’t know very much about their world. I wanted to take the characters and the reader on a journey to find out more. I wanted to push the boundaries as far as I could. And that idea became The Edge of Worlds and The Harbors of the Sun.

So, it’s been a long journey to get to The Harbors of the Sun, the end of the story of Moon, Jade, and the Indigo Cloud Court. This is the most I’ve ever written in one world, and it’s bittersweet to say goodbye to these characters. These are still the books of my heart, and the books I always wanted to write, ever since I was that little kid in the public library.

—-

The Harbors of the Sun: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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