I've worked off and on with Danielle Ackley-McPhail for years from many parts of the business and through it all, it has been a joy. I'm happy to present the story she wanted to tell me about her urban fantasy series.
Psst! I have a secret…I’m done!
Okay, so, not really a secret seeing as Today’s Promise, the last book in my Eternal Cycle trilogy, published in May but I’m actually having a hard time realizing it.
I started this series fifteen years ago. A story told by a friend of his days as a pawnbroker set my inner muse off on a tangent and suddenly I was introduced to my heroine, Kara O’Keefe. Her world was turned on its ear (no easy feat when she’s a born and bred New Yorker) and Irish elves, magic violins, and evil demigods (and yes, a pawnshop!) abounded…and boy, did trouble find them! Back then it was just a story, fun ramblings. Then suddenly I was writing a book…then a trilogy. I won’t say it was easy. I’d be lying if I did. But, wow! Did I have fun? You bet!
When I started I didn’t even realize I was writing a novel. When I finally clued to that, I never even dreamed there was a book like Today’s Promise inside of me. Of course, back then it wasn’t. I learned between the time I started telling Kara O’Keefe’s story and her epic ended. Not just about Irish myth and how to tell a story, but just the basics of writing! I am unashamed to say I am a much better writer today than I was when Yesterday’s Dreams (the first book in the trilogy) was originally published, and even better than when Tomorrow’s Memories (book two) first hit print.
Along the course of this series I met a lot of great characters…in every sense of the word. This is Kara’s story, though, and she makes the most dramatic transformation from timid, dedicated daughter to confident heroine (and more). She learns about the fae world and magic and her own inherent skill. Her strength is tested over and over, but she does not break. I am proud of Kara O’Keefe and her story.
There are other treasured friends between these pages, but I’m meant to keep this brief so I will tell you of just one other. Everyone’s favorite seems to be Beag Scath, a sprite/familiar who attaches himself to Kara by the end of book one. Beag Scath—or Little Shadow, to translate—is mostly the comic relief of the series, but his fans will be glad to know he gets his moment in the bad-ass spotlight by the end of book three. I am enthralled by their story and I hope you will be as well. It is rich and deep and woven through with the threads of Celtic lore.
So, if you like music, magic, or a rousing tale of good versus evil, with a heavy dose of Irish charm, I hope you will consider checking out this series. All three books published this year and are now available from Dark Quest Books.
You can find out more at www.sidhenadaire.com/books.htm.
Caroline edited me for the Timid Pirate Coming Home anthology. I also met her at a reading for that book. She is wonderfully professional and very sweet. I’m sorry this “Tell Me” is a little late. I blame it on convention travel.
Cobalt City Rookies: A Young Adult Superhero Trilogy
Sometimes a break in a Dungeons and Dragons game leads to publishing a book. Or, in this case, three. Nathan Crowder (Publisher at Timid Pirate) and I (Editor at Timid Pirate) were chatting about the state of young adult fiction, and how rarely we come across books that are what we wanted to read as teens. Before we got back to dice, we were on the path to the trilogy releasing November 1.
Cobalt City Rookies is a trilogy of young adult novels that all feature superheroes coming into and owning their strengths. This trilogy takes the mission of Timid Pirate, "Everyone is a superhero," and extends it to teen protagonists. It's a fun balance, because being a teen in the U.S. is one of the most powerless times of anyone's life. It's really a time of arbitrary rules mixed with confusion and social experimentation. Having superpowers can be a great asset, like helping you figure out if your potential girlfriend is your secret enemy, but can also lead to having to withhold information or lie to friends or family. The challenges faced by these superhero teens are often mundane (what to wear), but complicated by having a secret identity (where to hide a spare knife).
One of the books--Kensei, by Jeremy Zimmerman--has a gossip blog at the center of much of the mayhem. In Wrecker of Engines, Rosemary Jones invented a Vespa-riding, homeschooled hacker who must stop a librarian who messed with a supervillain's steampunk machines ("I wouldn't plug that in."). And another (Tatterdemalion, by Nicole Burns) has organized gang activity and missing high school students. These are stories where non-super-powered teens also have strength and humor, and that's my favorite part. Because in these three books, a range of people intersect and have to come to terms or fight their way out. The adventures encompass bicycle-powered airships, sparks of flirtation, roller derby, wolves, and much more. These are tales of an individual fighting to understand his or her self, and negotiate a place in family and society. All with awesome fight scenes. It's exactly what I wanted to read as a teen--and something I love reading now.
Caroline Dombrowski wields a red pen and track changes to support and develop the compelling and hilarious. In addition, she pickles food and trains vines. Follow Timid Pirate at www.timidpirate.com, where you can subscribe to the email newsletter, subscribe to our podcast Cobalt City Adventures Unlimited or on Twitter (@TimidPirate). Cobalt City Rookies is available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble November 1.
I love the idea of an RPG decided for two people and backed this kickstarter as soon as I heard about it. I think it is worth the money. Also, I really like the song that inspired the RPG.
One Shot was inspired by a song. It's not the world's best song, but it caught me at the right time. "Bullet in My Hand," by Redlight King. I got this image of someone leaving a dark alley after having been given a single bullet. There's some kind of score to settle, and that bullet is the only thing that will settle it.
Who gave them the bullet? What interest does that person or group have in seeing vengeance exacted?
There was juice there, so I started writing. It turned out that the system I wrote for my first game, School Daze, was able to be adapted. Before I knew it, I had a game. I wanted this game to be different, though. There are games about violence, and games about revenge, and even games about hit men. I wanted this to be personal.
One Shot is a game for only two players, which is a rarity in the tabletop RPG industry. Games for two exist, but there are far fewer of them than games for 3-5 players. With two players, the game becomes intimate. One player takes the role of the Shooter, having accepted a deal for a bullet, and out for vengeance. The other player plays the Forces, using everything else in the world to help or hinder the Shooter.
The hinge this game swings on is a personal one. The Forces see to it that the Shooter has material access; money, systems, devices, you name it. Material goods are no issue; no door is locked. What the Forces put in the Shooter's way is personal; people. From strangers to loved ones, people try to hinder or outright stop the Shooter. The Forces make the Shooter's material world smooth, and their personal world jagged.
All of this happens in a single four-hour session, from the inception of the deal to the aftershocks of the shot. It's focused, intense, and, to me, thrilling. I've never designed, nor played a game like this, aside from brushes with these feelings while playing Fiasco. I'm happy I took the challenge that I gave myself when I got the concept.
I am obviously biased about this one. My author, my company, my editing. Love this book.
Beginning writers hate the word editing.
Working on FAMISHED: THE FARM cured me.
It was my first novel, and I didn't know all the rules. I handed what was essentially a draft copy to Jennifer Brozek of Apocalypse Ink Productions with scant time to spare on the deadline; then asked if I should get a beta reader in the door.
She was gracious enough to explain - gently, for which I'm grateful - that alpha readers would also have been a good idea.
I was lucky enough to get a deadline extension.
I polled my friends and got an enthusiastic response from two professional writers and two avid genre readers. As alpha readers, I asked them to point out any errors they found, but to focus on plot holes, characterization, and anything that simply didn't make sense.
It was like having quadruplets at an Easter Egg Hunt. "Hey! Look how many cool problems I found!"
It was embarrassing, to be honest; but invaluable. Partly because these were friends and volunteers, not full-blown editors. They weren't being paid. They were taking their valuable time to read through the work and offer their solicited advice.
Two of them I spoke with in person, the other two provided marked-up copies of the draft via email. Whether talking or writing back, I made a point of not defending, explaining or hand-waving at anything they'd found; because I knew they wanted to make my work better. That was key - listening, and refusing to defend the work as it stood.
The greatest surprise was that their points were often unanimous. When one person asked a question, I could always dismiss it. When three people told me a plot point was a problem, I learned to listen.
Sitting with their feedback and working out how to fix things became a pleasurable challenge. It wasn't a chore this time. It was a joy. Maybe even more fun than the original writing, because now I had partners in what passes for crime.
I sent it around a second time. One or two more issues, but overall? I passed ... which meant a round of professional edits (by the inestimable Lillian Cohen-Moore, whose work comes highly recommended) was painless, focusing on rules of style rather than questions on the fiction.
As for Jenn, I don't think she even read the initial draft - and in retrospect, I'm very glad of that. The manuscript was accepted. Because of editing, today I'm a published author.
Editing made my book better. It made my writing better. It made my publisher happy. It'll make my next book better. There's not a word in that list I don't like ... including editing.
I've known Brad for a while. We met at GenCon a few years ago and he is one of the best guys around to talk to about being a new author. He is knowledgeable and willing to talk. I really liked his bit about the elevator pitch.
I'm a fan of elevator pitches and trying to come up with ones that succinctly describe a novel. In the case of my debut novel, The Winds of Khalakovo, think A Song of Ice and Fire meets Earthsea, with a Russian twist. I used it, in fact, to sell the book in the first place. I pitched it to Jeremy Lassen of Night Shade Books at a World Fantasy convention several years ago, and even though I was unagented at the time (most publishers no longer accept unagented submissions) he said to send it along. Four months later, I had an offer for not only Winds, but the entire trilogy.
I can probably best describe the tone of The Winds of Khalakovo by calling out a few of my literary heroes. I love George R.R. Martin's gritty style, though I'd have to say I learned more of it from Glen Cook than GRRM. I also love C.S. Friedman's relentlessly dark prose and Guy Gavriel Kay's lyricism and romanticism. My style probably falls somewhere in between those four authors.
The story itself is about a boy named Nasim, an autistic savant who has incredible powers but is unable to control them. Nikandr, a prince of Khalakovo, comes across Nasim and realizes he may have the ability to heal the blight that's been sweeping through the islands of the Grand Duchy. Nasim may also be able to heal the rampant wasting disease that strikes prince and peasant alike. But Nikandr soon discovers that others are hoping to use Nasim, but in very different ways. A militant sect known as the Maharraht hope to use him to cause untold destruction and to drive the people of the Grand Duchy off of the islands they once called home.
And so the race is on. Nikandr must unlock Nasim's secrets and keep him safe from the Maharraht, but it won't be easy. There's trouble brewing in the Grand Duchy. Old political divides are resurfacing as the Duchies fall victim to the indiscriminate blight and the deadly wasting disease. Can Nikandr reach Nasim before the Maharraht steal him away? Can he hold the Grand Duchy together long enough to do so? The answers are drifting on the Winds of Khalakovo.
The Winds of Khalakovo came out in 2010, and the second in the trilogy, The Straits of Galahesh, was released this past spring. The third, The Flames of Shadam Khoreh, will be released early next year. For more, including a cool interactive map of The Grand Duchy of Anuskaya, please visit www.quillings.com.
I know Cat from conventions and the local coffeshop. I also know her writing and love it. I’m completely biased and I really enjoyed the Near + Far collection.
My favorite thing about Near + Far is that I was worried at one point that I couldn't write SF. I've never been a sciencey person. I like reading about it, but when it comes to numbers and metals and periodic weights, a little part of my head goes wandering off into the forest, gathering daisies, until the numbers have gone away.
But one of the cool things about science fiction is that it's social science too, and that's an area that interests me greatly. Some of my favorite books fall into this view, like Joan Slonczewski's A Door Into Ocean, Kay Kenyon's The Braided World, or Louise Marley's The Terrorists of Irustan. That's where I went when I wrote science fiction, into mental rather than material science.
So there are space stations, but not much explanation of how they recycle their waste or what they're powering their solenoids on. There's war and biological weapons, but not much about the underpinnings of that. It's a little nerve wracking, because sometimes one thinks that to write science fiction, you must understand science fact.
And certainly science can inspire stories - a piece a friend posted about the impervious nature of plastic in our oceans ended up shaping "The Mermaids Singing, Each to Each," while biological engineering underlies other stories, like “RealFur” or “VocoBox.” But in each, the science is only a secondary character - it's what people do and think and say that matter in the stories, that move them along.
I’d always thought of myself as primarily a fantasy writer - both The Surgeon’s Tale and Other Stories as well as Eyes Like Sky and Coal and Moonlight are both chockfull of nothing but fantasy. But when I sat down and started compiling stories, I realized I had a lot more science fiction than I had originally thought. And that made me happy. Because I wanted to be an SF writer, to follow in the footsteps of the SF writers who’d shaped my reading growing up: Samuel R. Delany, Robert Heinlein, and Andre Norton, more than anyone else. I might not be able to operate a slide rule in a way Heinlein would approve of, but I could create a story that referenced his and talked about some of the things in it that bothered me. I was one of the gang, with just as much right to speak science fiction as the rest of them.
I’m still timorous around those who speak in numbers, those who understand the mysteries of subatomic particles or string theory. But I feel a bit more confident with this book in joining the conversation. I’m an SF writer too, dammit, and I’ve got the book to prove it. ;)
I met Myke Cole at Worldcon 2012. I asked him to tell me something interesting about his forthcoming book, FORTRESS FRONTIER (Ace, Jan 2013) and he told me what was at the heart of the book. It makes me that much more interested in the series.
When I was in Baghdad, people kept asking me if I needed anything. There were constant offers of help from friends and family: food, books, movies. Anything I wanted, anything that would get me through the long months.
Honestly? We were covered. Camp Liberty had the equivalent of a Wal-Mart where you could buy everything from flat-screen TVs to survival knives. Heck, you could even order a car, provided you were willing to pick it up once you got back stateside.
Anothing thing we had was a video library on the network, which everyone pulling a late night shift on watch wasn't supposed to be availing themselves of.
It was on just such a late night watch that I . . . ahem . . . accidentally hit up the video library and came across the 1964 film ZULU starring Michael Caine. It's a Hollywood stab at the unlikely battle of Rorke's Drift, where just over 150 British troops (many convalescing from wounds) successfully defended a position against 4,000 Zulu warriors. It had the hopeless odds base covered, which is sort of a staple in all good war films, but the thing that really resonated with me was the portrayal of the hero, Lieutenant John Chard (played by Stanley Baker).
Chard found himself thrust into a situation for which he was completely unprepared. You have to remember, Chard was a Royal Engineer who (at least according to the movie) had been sent to Rorke's Drift to survey for the construction of a bridge. Sure, he wore a uniform. Sure, he was a was a soldier, even an officer. But the truth? He wasn't a commander, wasn't a warrior, wasn't ready not only for a battle, but for a battle with odds that utterly hopeless.
Tom Hanks' character in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN shared the same situation and the same qualities. Utterly unprepared for what faced him, he simply shrugged, kept his fear and doubt to himself, and put one foot in front of the other. In what seems an utterly inadequate response to something as serious as an overwhelming horde of enemies determined to kill you, they fake it 'til they make it.
And make it they do.
That concept fascinates me. It's not a new idea. Heck, it's practically a trope in fantasy and science fiction. But there's something incredibly inspiring about watching the little guy, frightened, unprepared, hopelessly outclassed, just put one foot in front of the other. Not confident, not cocky, just plodding doggedly, because he can't figure out what else to do. You grit your teeth and you bear it.
And sometimes, you win.
That's the heart of FORTRESS FRONTIER. I hope folks find it as inspiring to read it as I did to write it.
I first met Bryan at the Rainforest Village Writers Retreat. He is a great guy to work with and read. I’m looking forward to Beyond the Sun and that’s not just because I’m in it. It is, as he says, because the anthology is all about exploring the universe.
My mom says that, as a child, I never played with a toy the same way twice. And I think that's a pretty good summary of my approach to life, especially in creativity. I love adventure, exploration. I like to go to places I've never been, meet people unlike anyone I've ever known, get to know their culture, language, the way they think...And I'm fascinated by the idea of exploring the universe.
Is it any wonder that 35+ years after she said that, I'm still creating projects like Beyond The Sun? At its heart it's about exploration and the desire to know the unknown. Space colonization has been mankind's dream for generations; one that remains unfulfilled. And I'm just crazy enough to believe it'll happen one day. I really do.
So what better subject for an anthology than stories from fellow dreamers of what that might be like? I love working with other writers and helping them get published and noticed. I love introducing them to each other and to readers. It's why I started SFFWRTCHT and do so many author interviews and promotional aids. So why shouldn't my work reflect that desire as well?
I think Beyond The Sun is an example of that. It's me bringing together writers I like and admire and challenging them to inspire me, each other and readers around the world. It's the little curious kid who wanted adventure longing for new adventure stories to explore, new places to visit from the minds and imaginations of others, and new cultures and people to encounter.
And this time, with the Kickstarter, I've invited others to share in the dream. Let's help some writers get pro-rates for their work. Not just pros but up and coming talent. Let's give these writers and some awesome artists a chance to be a part of the adventure and explore with us and then we can all sit back and enjoy the resulting explosion of creativity for decades to come.
That's why I like editing anthologies. It's why I often like reading them. And it's why I created this Beyond the Sun Kickstarter project and anthology. And I can't wait to see what becomes of it!
Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince(2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exodus will appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Books For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Lost In A Land Of Legends (forthcoming) appeared from Delabarre Publishing in 2012. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012) and hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.
I met Bryan at Origins 2012 and found him to be a generous, personable guy. He read the opening chapter of Operation: Montauk and I was immediately hooked. ~JLB
My latest book, Operation: Montauk, started one night at bedtime. I was reading A Princess of Mars to my then 8 year old son at bedtime and we couldn’t get enough of it. “Just one more chapter, dad,” he’d tell me. “Just one more chapter.”
It really got me thinking.
I’d never really written anything for him. I couldn’t think of any fiction I’d written I’d be happy to have him read. That thought fueled me. Sitting here, reading these old pulp yarns to him, what kind of story could I tell that had all of the things we enjoyed together in a science fiction novel I’d be happy to read myself?
That’s where Operation: Montauk came from.
It tells the story of a World War II soldier sent back in time to kill Hitler, but instead finds himself 65 million years in the past. There, he finds an entire community of time travelers from different eras, all trying to find out why they’re there, how to survive against the dinosaurs, and, above all, how to get home. Things get even worse when a team of Nazis find themselves in the same temporal anomaly.
It has all of the things a geeky dad and his 10 year old son love, wrapped up in a 1930s pulp style. Spaceships, dinosaurs, time travel, soldiers, Nazis, scientists, cliffhangers at the end of every chapter...even a monkey.
The work came quickly and I wrote it to put a smile on his face and keep one on mine.
It worked. I read my opening chapters to him during my editing process and he loved it, couldn’t wait to read more. I wasn’t going to let him read it until it was done, but he stole one of my galleys copies and took it to school. I was told he started a bit of a sensation. The book was all his friends could talk about for weeks.
I’d won. I created a piece of art that satisfied me creatively as an adult that my son could enjoy.
At that point, I didn’t even feel like I needed to publish it. The intended audience loved it and my job was done. The fact that it was published (by Silence in the Library) and other people have been enjoying the book, too, is all icing on the already sweet slice of cake my boy gave me.
Kurt Vonnegut wrote that you need to write for just one person. “If you open the window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.” I believe that. And if you’ve never written a story to please just one person, try it. You’ll benefit, your story will benefit, and you’re going to make someone important to you very, very happy.
If you want to check it out, Operation: Montauk is available from my website (www.bryanyoungfiction.com), Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or wherever books are sold.
Ken Hite is a friend of mine and a favorite game designer. I love his Cthuhlu based RPG books and his lyrical writing. In general, Ken is a fab guy to get to know. He is a master storyteller and someone you can learn from. ~JLB
The core scene of my vampire spy thriller RPG Night’s Black Agents flashed into my head while I was waiting for a train in on the way home from a gaming session. Standing there on the deserted platform at night in Chicago, with the rails and high-tension wires thrumming and the hot wind blowing on my neck, my mind turned quite naturally to vampires. I was looking for the next game to run for my game group, and I hadn’t even formulated the question into words before I had the answer. I was watching it unspool in my head, the escrima fight from the second Bourne movie, but my mind’s-eye Paul Greengrass had replaced Bourne’s rolled-up magazine with a wooden stake, and the German Treadstone agent with a vampire. Possibly before the train arrived, the fundamental story of the game had materialized: “Hunt or be hunted. Kill or be killed. Or worse.”
But what vampires? If all my vampires were the same, the game would rapidly devolve into garlic sprayers and UV flashlights. It wouldn’t be scary, or even exciting. Since I already had the core of who our heroes were – Jason Bourne types, burned or buried spies – I knew the game should feel like a modern spy thriller. What if the vampires were the mystery? I could run a playtest campaign for a game about hunting vampires, and about hunting answers about vampires. That meant it could use the GUMSHOE system, if I could amp its pacing up from mystery to thriller, toughen its sinews for the fighting and chases I’d need to add.
The alpha playtest was over about a year later, filling a spiral notebook with rules mods, tactics, and core play experiences. My alpha campaign presented a secret war of time-slips and Cathar conspiracy, led by a cult that worshipped extra-dimensional silicon entities modeled on the vampires and the djinn from Tim Powers’ novels The Stress of Her Regard and Declare, with just a touch of 30 Days of Night. But I couldn’t just replicate my campaign. (Although my alpha playtest vampires do appear in the Night’s Black Agents core book, as the “Perfecti Petrus” and “Alien Stones.”) Next step: take my specific campaign and pull out the general principles for an RPG modeling a thriller trilogy: revelation, confrontation, destruction.
I had to give every GM (or Director, the name I chose for its dual meaning in intelligence bureaucracy and movie-making) the power and tools to build her own mysteries and horrors. Add a modular system for building vampires, with lots of options and possibilities taken from every source I could find. Add another modular system for building vampire conspiracies, the mirror maze our spies could fight and find their way through. Notes on building cities for globe-trotting action. Notes on building action and tension, taken from screenwriting books and thriller beat analysis as much as from my own campaign. (I took the tools for my own thriller beat analysis from GUMSHOE designer Robin D. Laws’ book Hamlet’s Hit Points, a study of narrative in drama and RPGs.) Then more playtesting, by and for strangers this time. Then more revisions until every Director could play their game with my game.
All to get back to a lone hero on the run, killing a monster in verité close combat, who I saw on a hot night waiting for a train in Chicago.
Night’s Black Agents debuted this August from Pelgrane Press.