Jennifer Brozek | All posts tagged 'Tell me'

Tell Me – Dave Gross

The one time I met Dave, he described himself as "the evilest nice guy you'll ever meet" AKA an author and a GM. He was right, he really was a nice guy. Thus, I am please to present what it was he wanted to tell me about pitches.

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Pitching the Pitch
 
Most of my writing in the past few years has been for Pathfinder Tales, always with the same pair of mismatched protagonists. Count Varian Jeggare and his hellspawn henchman Radovan first appeared in the novella “Hell’s Pawns” (my love letter to film noir), but since then their travels have included four short stories, another novella, and three novels. Queen of Thorns is the latest.
 
For almost every story with “the boys,” I try to do something a little different, often inspired by my latest film binge. I even pitch them Hollywood style. For Prince of Wolves, I told my editor it would be “Indiana Jones in Transylvania.” I described Master of Devils as “Varian and Radovan vs. every Kung Fu movie ever.”
 
While my original idea for Queen of Thorns also had a Hollywood angle, the outline soon drifted far from movie inspirations. Rather than drawing on films, I found myself using the Pathfinder setting as my principal and almost sole source of inspiration.
 
Part of that inspiration comes from the map of Kyonin. Ages ago the elves fled the world of Golarion to avoid a cataclysmic event. By the time they returned, demons had claimed their land, and they have fought ever since to reclaim it. Now and then, they stumble upon an ancient ruin—obviously of elven design—that not even their eldest sages can remember.
 
From the start I knew my plot involved the search for a missing person. After researching the map and sourcebooks for Kyonin, I traced a path through sites with evocative names like Omesta, Erithiel’s Hall, the Walking Man, the Wandering Spheres, and the Endless Cairns. Finding a common thread in their histories, I wound it around the personal story of the elven father Count Jeggare had never met.
 
Besides the map, the most important influence from the Pathfinder setting came from its depiction of elves. Except their enormous irises and ears, they resemble Tolkien’s famous version of the fey folk. Under the surface, however, there are a few other slight differences.
 
The elves pity their “Forlorn” kin, elves raised in human cultures. Likewise, the elves tolerate but do not fully embrace the gnomes who settled Kyonin in their absence. Some of those gnomes suffer from a magical ennui known as the Bleaching. Reviewing these facts of the game world, I knew I had to include a Forlorn elf and a Bleachling gnome. They made excellent foils for the half-elven Varian and the devil-blooded Radovan, no less outsiders among their own people.
 
Unlike the more familiar elves of fantasy fiction, Pathfinder elves strive to embody guile, lust, and revenge, the three stings of their chief goddess, Calistria. No one better embodies those stings than a Calistrian inquisitor. Naturally, I had to have one in the story. But for contrast I also wanted to include a classical elf ranger, an incomparable scout and archer. The fun came in showing how each character embodies the passions of their goddess in different ways.
 
When it came time to promote Queen of Thorns, I found myself fumbling for a Hollywood pitch that no longer existed. Sure, you can see some Tolkienesque elements in the setting, and the demons serve a role similar to that of a certain infamous xenomorph. Now that I write those words, I wonder whether I should just give in and start describing the book as “Lord of the Rings meets Aliens.” However, the truth is that Queen of Thorns, more than the previous two Varian & Radovan books, is almost purely a Pathfinder novel.

Tell Me - Tina Connolly

I’ve not gotten a chance to meet Tina Connolly or to read IRONSKIN but I want to do both. IRONSKIN has an intriguing premise and is already added to my “to read someday” bookcase. Tina has a wonderful website that all authors should take a look at—simple, clear, concise—exactly what I’ve been telling authors to do for ages. ~JLB

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So I've been reading over Jennifer's suggestions for the "Tell Me" post. And I'm lucky because I've already gotten to talk about a few of my favorite things in IRONSKIN. For the Tor newsletter I got to talk about "The Books in the Book.".. (Ironskin has a number of imaginary books in it, which was quite fun to think up.) And for Mary Robinette Kowal's blog I talked about My Favorite Bit (which includes a note about the textual joke I had to delete).

But I haven't had a chance to talk much about the setting for IRONSKIN, so I thought I would do that. IRONSKIN is not alternate history, but it's set five years after a Great War between the humans and the fey, so I ended up doing a bunch of research into the interwar period in Great Britain, to help me give it a sense of place.

More specifically, IRONSKIN takes place both in the country and the city. There are several key locations – Silver Birch Hall is Mr. Rochart's half-destroyed estate in the country, where we start the novel. Relations between the humans and the fey used to be more cordial – humans have been trading with the fey for cheap clean technology for a long time (making the tech in IRONSKIN both ahead and behind of where you might think for post-WW1). But other relations between the fey used to be more cordial as well. And Mr. Rochart's estate is an example of fey architecture from long ago. It has been bombed and half of it is destroyed, but what is left shows the inhuman logic of fey building; staircases that don't lead where you expect, hallways that double back. A good place for a gothic setting!

Jane leaves the estate to attend her sister Helen's wedding in the city. The wedding is held at the posh home of Helen's fiancé, Alistair. This is a narrow house on a city block in an expensive part of town. I knew a few key features about it for IRONSKIN. Whereas Mr. Rochart's house in the country still has a strange amount of fey tech left running, Alistair has been trying much of the new updated technology. So there are gaslights instead of the blue lights of the old fey tech. Helen and Alistair's home becomes much more prominent in book two, and so I now know about Alistair's game room in it, its parquet floors, and just how far Helen's bedroom is from the foyer.

Another setting that comes up in both IRONSKIN and the sequel is the foundry. This is where Jane ran for shelter after the war, when she was dealing with the aftereffects of the shrapnel that had scarred and cursed her. A man named Niklas runs the foundry, and it is down by the waterfront, in a very seedy part of town. As if there wasn't enough iron onsite, it's surrounded by iron, ensuring the fey cannot get in.

Of course, in addition to the buildings, there's also the outside locations—the moor and the forest, both outside Silver Birch Hall. The novel begins in early spring, and the moor is dotted with cowslips (which remind Jane of a day 5 years before, when she marched into war with her little brother.) The forest surrounds Silver Birch Hall, is practically trying to eat it. I live in Portland, where we are constantly dealing with invasive natives in our forests and parks—ivy and Himalayan blackberry are two of the worst offenders. In that spirit I hung the forests around Silver Birch Hall with poisonous mistletoe, a parasitic plant that just happens to like silver birches.

I'm now working on the sequel, and it's been fun developing the new settings—IRONSKIN is mostly set in the country, but the sequel is mostly in the city. In addition to the places we've seen before, like Helen's house and the foundry, there are some new key settings, including several society houses, a flamboyant actress's artsy home, and a used bookstore. Of course!

Thanks for having me on the blog today to talk about IRONSKIN, Jennifer!

Tell Me – Howard Tayler

I adore Howard. I've been meeting up with him at conventions for years. Recently, we got together at a small convention and actually got time to talk to each other. He told me about this calendar and I thought it was the perfect thing to have as a guest blog post. ~JLB


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Nothing But Pith

I’ve been writing comedy for the last dozen years or so. I have a great big bag of tricks for refining dialog, shaping narrative, and (because my principle medium is comics) creating the accompanying illustrations so that the reader is encouraged to laugh.

In the course of doing this, I occasionally write a “true” punchline, a pithy bit of wordsmithing that is not only funny but is memorable, perhaps because it sums up some aspect or another of the human condition in a way that allows it to snuggle up nicely against the parts of your brain that want that sort of thing.

Within the ongoing “Schlock Mercenary” project (www.schlockmercenary.com) I found a particular plot device especially handy in this regard: an in-world book called “The Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries.”

The idea for in-world reference is not a new one. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine introduced us to the Ferengi “Rules of Acquisition.” Every so often Quark or some other prosthetically-foreheaded alien merchant would say something truly horrible about proper greed, and drive it home with a number.

The challenge for the writer lies in writing an actual aphorism. It’s nothing but pith. It might originally appear in a TV episode or a comic strip, but eventually it’s going to have to stand alone, with all the framing bits gone. Contextless, naked, it still needs to work. If it doesn’t work then it isn’t what you said it was. It isn’t a maxim, a rule, a commandment, or a verse of scripture.

As of this moment I’ve written exactly half of the seventy maxims. Eighteen months ago I’d written about ten fewer than that. People began asking me to actually publish the “Seventy Maxims” book, and I decided to go about it piece-meal. I put out a calendar featuring the first twelve. For that calendar I needed to write two new ones. I cannibalized a punch line, and came up with “Close air-support and friendly fire should be easier to tell apart.” Then I mused upon food, and came up with “If the food is good enough, the grunts will stop complaining about the incoming fire.”

Not bad. Some of my friends in the military tell me they’re actually words to live by.

Well, the calendar sold quite well, paying the bills for a few months, so I decided to do it again for 2013. But this year I found myself seven maxims short of the dozen I needed. In retrospect, I only needed to write ninety-five words to fill those seven slots. Ninety-five! Some people can type that many words in a minute.

Well, it took me from January until late October. Granted, I wasn’t thinking about it full-time, but that’s still ten months to write ninety-five words.

Would you like to see them? Here are all ninety-five, complete with their accompanying maxim numbers (those aren’t included in the word-count.)

  • Maxim 17: The longer everything goes according to plan, the bigger the impending disaster
  • Maxim 18: If the officers are leading from in front, watch for an attack from the rear
  • Maxim 19: The world is richer when you turn enemies into friends, but that's not the same as you being richer 
  • Maxim 20: If you're not willing to shell your own position, you're not willing to win
  • Maxim 22: If you can see the whites of their eyes, somebody's done something wrong.
  • Maxim 23: The company mess and friendly fire should be easier to tell apart.
  • Maxim 24: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a big gun


So, how did I do it?

One method I use for crafting these is subversion. It’s a common enough trick for writing humor to begin with, and it lends itself spectacularly well to this task. Find something already pithy, and break it in such a way that it means something new, but remains pithy. Easy, right?

Maxim 24 is a great example. We’re all familiar with the original quote from Arthur C. Clarke: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” It’s already been subverted by Barry Gehm, who said “any technology distinguishable from magic is insufficiently advanced,” so the precedent for further ruin has been set.

My subversion in Maxim 24, “indistinguishable from a big gun,” plays on the fact that most technology can be weaponized, or indeed grew out of a need for weapons. It was perfect for the project. And because the reader, familiar with the original, gets surprised by the new ending, it stands a good chance of garnering a laugh and being remembered.

Another method is “going back to the well,” or the “running gag.” This wouldn’t seem to work well for stand-alone aphorisms, but if a particular bit of wordplay worked once, it might work again. I noticed that “friendly fire” kept cropping up in the comic, and so I looked at Maxim 5 (close air-support and friendly fire should be easier to tell apart) and asked myself what besides “close air-support” might be dangerous to the troops.

Bad chow, obviously. Or maybe an angry cook. Regardless, I did a simple word-swap on my own earlier maxim, and came up with #23 above, comparing friendly fire to the company mess. And yes, I fully intend to return to that particular well again. In fact, at this point people probably expect it. Possible options for the future comparison to friendly fire include “new equipment,” “the lowest bidder,” and “HALO (High Altitude, Low Open) paratroopers” (although that last one’s a bit wordy. Hilarious, but wordy.)

Sometimes, though, it’s whole cloth. Forget subversion or running gags, both of which leverage an existing structure. Maxim 20, the one about shelling your own position, grew out of a line of dialog from one of the characters. I wrote something very close to that (“if you really want to win, try shelling yourself”) but it didn’t scan quite right. So I tweaked it a bit, and then realized it sounded like an aphorism. It sounded like the character was quoting somebody.

That moment when you discover you’ve written dialog like that? That’s gold, right there. I recognized it immediately, and re-framed the text so that the character in question was citing Maxim 20, instead of just rattling off something he’d heard.

Maxims 13 through 24 are done, and I’ve illustrated them for the 2013 calendar (available for pre-order here.) Next year I only need to come up with three maxims in order to fill the 25 through 36 slot. But the 2015 calendar takes me into uncharted waters. I have exactly three maxims in that space right now – numbers 37, 38, and 39, which means that at some point between now and October of 2014, I need to write nine new maxims, which is probably around 125 words.

But thinking about it in terms of word-count is not going to get me there. Between now and then I need to be filling my head with things to subvert, fresh gags to return to, and I need to write thousands of words of good dialog in the hope of striking gold a few times. Because unfortunately, the trick to writing a few really good words is the same trick for just about everything else we writers want to accomplish. Write a lot of probably crappy words first.

Tell Me - Danielle Ackley-McPhail

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.


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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.

Tell Me - Caroline Dombrowski

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.

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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.

Tell Me – Tracy Barnett

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.

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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.

Tell Me – Ivan Ewert

I am obviously biased about this one. My author, my company, my editing. Love this book.

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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.

 

Tell Me - Bradley Beaulieu

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.

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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.

Tell Me - Cat Rambo

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.

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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. ;)

Tell Me - Myke Cole

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.


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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.