Wednesday, April 15, 2015

An Update From the Under-Tubes

Where am I?  What day is it?  Is it time for more fun now?

Well, best guess is, it's Wednesday, I'm somewhere between Piccadilly Circus and Tooting Bec (god, aren't English names just precious?), and the funslaught continues unabated.  It'd take far too long to tell you about it all just now, but here to brighten your day is some bucolic Glaswegian splendor:

The horse says 'neigh'.  The sheep says 'baa.'
The cow says, 'hoaw you - you goin' wide?'
And here are the relevant weekly updates:

WRiTE CLUB is open for submissions until April 30th!  You've heard me blog about this contest before (even offer tips on winning it!), and my enthusiasm has reached a blue-white passion now that I'm one of the judges.  Did I mention that the grand prize is a ticket to DFWcon 2016?  True story - and you KNOW you can't pass up an offer like that.  Go!  Write!  Win!

Also, speaking of happy writey things, the great folks at ApolloCon have asked me on as their 2015 Writers Workshop Coordinator.  I'm so excited to meet all the writers!  I'm gonna get a big tank with colorful plastic tubes and an exercise wheel and put in fresh veg and toilet paper cores for chewing... oh, I can't wait to see them all!  The deadline for entry is likewise April 30th, so if you're going to be in Houston for the con, put your name in the hat and your submission in the mail!

Is it over?  Are you sick of me yet?  No?!  Well that's good, cuz I'm going to be blowing back into town on Friday night - just in time for...

Heeeeell yeeeeeah.  Look at that - they let me headline it!  Sort of!  (And if you know Carmen Goldthwaite, you also know how massively unjust that is - she is AMAZING.)  Anyway, if you're local to DFW and want to meet a whole passel of authors, come to the Hurst Barnes and Noble (same one we have my book-parties at) this Saturday, the 18th - there's going to be children's authors doing storytimes, adult authors signing books, and good times out the yang. 

Anyway, the nice Tube lady is reminding me to collect all my personal belongings, so I'll close here.  If I owe you an email (and I almost certainly do!), be assured that you are a splendid human being whose affections I am earnestly grateful for, and I will hit you back ASAP!

Please mind the gap.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

If This Isn't Nice...!

Dear Diary,

Yeah, I know.  You're not really a diary.  You're a blog, and that means that I shouldn't post anything super-personal here, and should aim for subjects that are at least nominally interesting to people who aren't me.

But you're also a great place to put things that I don't want getting lost in the social ether, and I just have to tell you about the day I had.

It started with making the trek from London to Oxford to visit my publisher at their HQ.  It was IMMENSE.  There was beer and ribs by the Thames, and a video interview I didn't totally bomb, and more free books and swag than I can carry.  Diary, I have done things I can't even tell you about. I have seen things that men were not meant to see. 

Then my wonderful new friend Helen Marshall took time out of her postdoctoring to show me around Oxford.  We went to the Pitt Rivers Museum, which was resplendent with arcane weaponry and shrunken heads, and also I got to pet a taxidermied Shetland pony named Mandy.  We had drinks in a 16th-century pub (like you do), and talked about all things writing (like I do), and next time we are totally going punting (like Oxford people do).  And there will be a next time!

Then I sailed the train, and drove the underground, and pole-vaulted the DLR - I got REALLY good at public transit today - back to the east side of London, and met even MORE fantastic new friends (codenames: TK & BB), who took me out for a catastrophic plenitude of crispy duck pancakes and linguistic banter.  It was SO great.  They are so great.  You would be physically angry if you knew how much greatness you'd missed out on.

Anyway, like I said, I know you're a blog and not a diary, and blog posts are supposed to be more than just summary ramblings. So here is a thesis statement, just to keep this legit.  Today, I have done nothing but soak up hospitality from people I've only just begun to get to know.  And none of them were of my own finding - they were each introduced to me by someone else.  It's so amazing to follow these little friendly fractal patterns outward, from one connection to the next, and such a thrill to feel yourself crowd-surfing on the generosity and enthusiasm of people who are still almost totally new to you.  And I think the best part of it is something I'm only just learning how to do: to know that it's better to give than receive, yes, but also to kick back and enjoy the receiving all by itself, without instantly worrying about how you'll pay it all back, because you're finally mature enough to realize that it's not an either/or proposition: when you're in good company, receiving IS giving - and if you keep that company long enough, everything will balance nicely.

Okay, navelgazing over.  Thanks for listening, Internet diary - you are an excellent abstracted representation of a real pal, and goodness knows I'm not short on those.

So I hope that you will do the same for the rest of your lives. When things are going sweetly and peacefully, please pause a moment, and then say out loud, “If this isn’t nice, what is?”

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Cons, Cake, and Amphibious Cartography

Am I dead?  Is this... is this the afterlife?

Well, if I am, the heavenly gates look an awful lot like the hotel bar at the Heathrow Park Inn, and if I'm not, I should probably post an update.

So I just finished having a ruinously great time at EasterCon in London, where I met up with some of my very favorite people, found some new-favorite people, nominally contributed to the furtherance of SFF literature by mentoring at the writers' workshop, and blew through a month's worth of serotonin in four days.  It was just catastrophically fun.  Anybody want to spot me a couple grand so I can come back for FantasyCon in October?  Anyone?

Well, let's put a bookmark in that.  In the meantime, I am very happy to say that Medicine for the Dead is launching on Thursday here in the UK, and it is already doing great out on the World Wide Web!  Here are some of the online highlights from the past couple of weeks:
Mary Robinette Kowal's My FAVORITE BIT

The fantastic Mary Robinette Kowal has graciously hosted me for a full-on geek-out session at her blog, and this one's all about maps.  This is me nerding out about how we arrived at the inside map for the book, and all the cool epiphanies and neat worldbuilding that that project inspired.  (If you want to know what DIDN'T make the final version, or were wondering what that "Il On Échappe" label means, check this out!)

SFsignal Guest Post: Language Barriers in SFF

Okay, so this is the guest post I was most nervous about writing, and the topic I'm easily the most excited about.  Over at SFsignal, I've got a guest blog about all the awesomesweet stuff you can do with language barriers and translator characters in sci-fi and fantasy, and if you have any interest in that (or are just curious about how a Bulgarian interpreter can help you navigate your next erotic encounter with an alien buffalo-squid), you should definitely go see!

Ally Bishop's Upgrade Your Story Podcast - Episode 64

This was SUCH a fun time, y'all.  If you don't know, Ally is basically the Arch-Magus of Editing and the Supreme Queen of Online Socializing, and we had a total gas talking about the different paths to publication and what I've learned about how to promote and present yourself out in the real world (or at least as close as SFF conventions get to reality).  Definitely, definitely get on board with Ally - she is fun in a can, and the host with the most!

Heartfield Fiction: What I Learned About Writing From Cake

My friend and agency-sibling Kate Heartfield has a fantastic blog series called "Unlikely Influences", and I was so happy when she invited me to contribute. And let me tell you: in raw quantities of of love, fear, toil, and genius, writing is second only to cake. I put the piping bag down a few years ago, but all those sleep-deprived, frosting-smeared nights became retroactively worthwhile when it came time to spend a few thousand hours trying to prove that I had a story worth telling.

IndieReview Behind the Scenes - Weekend Edition!

The thing about Michelle Cornwall-Jordan and Jamie White is that they're basically drift-compatible Jaeger pilots, but for a kickass indie podcast instead of a giant kaiju-destroying robot.  (And they graciously let me in under the fence, even though I'm not technically indie :) )  We had an awesome time chatting about everything from fishmen feeding-frenzies to writing inspiration/advice, ostrich ragout, and oh god, I actually did tell the ketchup packet story.  Sorry, Mom.

GCE: It's 3:10 to Yuma Meets Fantasy

Okay, this last one's not any of my doing, but GeekChicElite put up SUCH an awesome review of Medicine for the Dead that I can't not share it with you.  GCE was where I got my very first review, back when Sixes came out last year: they have been so enthusiastic about the series from day one, and I've been so nervous about whether this second book would live up to the first, and it's just wonderful to see it so well received.

Actually, that goes for all of you guys, too.  Thank so you, so much for the reviews you've written, the Facebook updates you've posted, the books you've bought and the people you've told. Every lasting success is made up of hundreds or thousands of small, singular acts, and I so appreciate you acting on my behalf.

SIXES was like riding a new ride at the theme park. MEDICINE was like riding the same ride but at the front with your hair on fire.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Launch Party 2: Bigger, Badder, Radder

Sorry, guys.  I'm fresh out of words.  Any that I didn't use up myself were burned and blown away.  I blame you for this.

Because y'all were all

and I was like

and then we totally 

And everything after that is a happy, hazy, thoroughly ecstatic blur.

But here's the whole story, lovingly chronicled by people more articulate and sober than I:

(By the way, are you guys following Jenny Hanniver yet?  If not, act now!  She makes hashtags!  She live-tweets!  She lights up a room, does asphalt beat-downs in two-inch heels, and is a vital part of this balanced book-launch!)

Anyway, you get the general idea.  There's good times, great times, and then there's times so amazing you spend the whole drive home second-guessing yourself and thinking about all the little screwups and jackass stuff you said, and this was one of those.  Big, big love to all y'all, whether you were there in body or in spirit.  You KILLED it.

--So for example, if the book is shelved between "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very-Bad Day" and Irvine Welsh's "Porno"...
--I want to read it!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Three Tips For Using Social Media to Achieve Your Dreams and Destroy Your Enemies

Y'know, being sociable is tough stuff when you're a writer, not least because we hear so many mixed messages. For example,
  • Keep a presence on Twitter, Facebook, etc. – but don't spam, and don't expect them to sell books.
  • Be real and honest – but don't be negative, political, or confrontational.
  • Build your platform (you're nothing without your platform!) – but really you should focus on writing the next book.
And needless to say, some of us are more peppy and amiable than others.  As my legendary literary lifemate "Evil" Dan Bensen says,
"I feel like the girl in Glee who's crying in the corner. 'I just want to tell everyone how stupid they are. Why do they hate me?'"
But until you can execute your cunning master-plan to crush the New World Order under your jack-booted heel, you probably will have to get along and play nice... for now.  So here are a few best practices we've come up with between us.

This is what we call "phase two."

1. Measure Your Efforts

You know, back when I was doing Biggest-Loser boot camp, they used to harass us about showing up for monthly fitness tests.  The refrain was, "If you don't measure what you're doing, you are watering a telephone pole and hoping it will grow."

Easy to do for sit-ups and mile times!  But for writing, it's one of the most simple-yet-incredibly-difficult things about the whole endeavor.  You wrote five blog posts this month – but are they any good?  You have 2,000 Twitter followers – but what does that actually get you?  Your website got 300 hits today – but were any of them from actual humans?

So maybe we have to look beyond the easy pre-packaged measurements we're given by online accounts, and look for hidden metrics.  When you tweet about some new thing on your website, how much of a traffic bump do you get?  How many people reply or retweet?  Is it more at certain times of day, or when you include an image? 

Of course, not all measuring is good measuring. You could count every crossed T and dotted I in your manuscript without it having a lick of relevance .  Which is why it's so important to...

2.  Know What You're After

As in, what do you expect to get out of what you're doing?

For example, reading out loud for 15 minutes each week, to a group of ten different randomly-sorted people each time, is not a great way for me to get holistic feedback on my novel-length work.  But I still get immense value out of reading at the DFW Writers Workshop, because I meet SO many great writers there, a few of which become my dedicated critique partners and close friends.

And, as Dan says about doing likewise on online forums,
"There's some real utility out of the stuff people have critiqued. And it has stirred my idea-pot pretty reliably (one big conversation=one interesting new idea). I also think (hope) I'm priming the pump and getting some good karma for when I really need help. But managing Tumblr/Twitter/et al is time-consuming and it generates ZERO visits to my webpage. I guess I just need to come to terms with that and accept that I'm doing research and making contacts, not managing fans."
Or to put it another way: you can't know the value of your efforts without measuring them in some way, and you can't know how to measure them until you know specifically what you're trying to achieve.

3. Double-Dip Shamelessly

Look, you're a busy budding supervillain. You don't have time to putz around.  And you already know that great writing is all about 'and'.  That scene needs to further the plot AND explain backstory.  The dialogue needs to convey information AND reveal character.  The description should give the reader a sense of place AND say something about the person describing it.

It's the same thing for your online presence.  The Facebook discussion you sunk an hour into - could you screencap or paraphrase it for Tumblr?  The pictures you took for your novel research - could some of them go on Pinterest or Instagram?  The epic email exchange you had with your evil counterpart - would that make a good double-blog post?

Well, this half of it sure was fun!  Head over to Dan's The Kingdoms of Evil to complete your journey to the Dark Side enlightenment!

Just because I hate everybody doesn't mean they have to hate me too.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Second Verse, Better Than the First

Well, friends, as I type this, I'm sitting on my couch in my comfortably shabby Hello Kitty PJs, refreshing the Medicine for the Dead Amazon page to see whether it actually goes on sale tonight, and hosting a warm cat in my lap.

In other words: life is pretty swell.

Anyway, I wanted to say, I know that this book launch has been pretty squishy compared to the epic, Internet-spanning grandeur of The Twelve Days of Launchmas. Part of that's because you always go all-out for first books and first babies.  But a lot of it is because I just didn't have it in me this year.

Basically, my brain broke over the winter - or maybe it's been broken for a long time now, and just got to a point where I couldn't compensate for it anymore - and the time I should have spent organizing guest posts and planning a release calendar was largely squandered on irrational crying jags and days and days of wheel-spinning, self-loathing productivity failure.

And I know it's not cool to flash your insecurities at the world, but it's important to me to put that in writing here... because there is already SO MUCH "we don't talk about that in public" material in this industry, and also because the longer I spend in said industry, the more I realize that mental health is a huge, huge issue for writers.  The black dog has bitten my editor.  The brain-hamsters are chasing my friends.  And the longer you spend slogging through the swamps of sadness, the easier it is not to realize that you've already sunk in up to your neck.

Why yes, I AM still traumatized. Thanks, '80s!
So I feel like that's worth saying.  But the reason I say it on this particular day is because for me, today is a celebration of two intimately-related things: putting this book out, and getting my happy back.  I'm proud of myself for working hard on both fronts.  I'm hugely grateful to my husband, my agent, and all my wonderful friends and family who got me through the rough patches.  And I'm really, REALLY excited for you to read this book.

Like... you know, there was a day last year when I was sitting in a dingy strip-mall dressing room, trying to stuff the mutilated remains of my self-esteem into a god-awful bridesmaid's dress* and contemplating my failures... like y'do.  And then my phone dinged: it was an email from one of my best buddies and critique partners, Dan Bensen:

That's my critique in a nutshell.  Wow.

So Sixes is a good book. It got published and it'll start your career off right. But THIS book blows Sixes out of the water. It's tight, it's focused, it makes promises and convinces me you'll live up to them. It both continues the story begun in Sixes and begins its own new story, and balances perfectly between fantasy and comprehensibility.
*NB: I bought a different, thoroughly awesome dress. 

And you know - that didn't magically fix my life.  I still had to stop and make a concerted effort to fix my own life.  But ever since then, I've been cruising on a rising tide of enthusiasm from the people who've read Medicine for the Dead - and the biggest difference between this launch and the last one is that I'm not going into it hoping that it's a good book.  I KNOW it is.  And I'm so, so happy to have the chance to share it with you.

Anyway, I won't say too much more about it here - because I DID get my happy back, and I DO now have guest-posts and events scheduled out the wazoo, and you will be hearing plenty of book-talk through the whole month of April.  For now, just know that even if it looks like there hasn't been as much pom-pom shaking this second time around, this is truly a bigger, better, greater day... and that if you ever need help finding your way back to your own greatness, I hope you'll let me know.  Happiness is a mass noun, and two people have more mass than one.

Okay, enough sloppy stuff.  Go buy my book, come to my party, and if you've already got all that licked, kick out the jams with me and Harry Solomon.  Life is GOOD!

Life has been good to me
Got very few complaints so far

Life has been good to me
Hope you're as happy wherever you are!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Book Review: The Golden City

Look, people. I know there's certain best-practices to use in a book review.  You want to give people a balanced analysis of the whole thing: the plot, the characters, the writing, pacing, worldbuilding, etc.  You don't want to just pick one thing and go nuts about it.  It shouldn't read like a third-grade book report.

Well, this one does, and I'm not sorry. Mainly because it took all my self control not to just write THIS BOOK IS MY MOST FAVORITE fifty times in purple crayon. I'm absolutely serious here: if you liked the characters in Sixes, if you enjoyed the worldbuilding or the fishpeople or the manners or the history, go get this one. Do it. I'll wait.

The Golden City
by J. Kathleen Cheney

For two years, Oriana Paredes has been a spy among the social elite of the Golden City, reporting back to her people, the sereia, sea folk banned from the city’s shores....

When her employer and only confidante decides to elope, Oriana agrees to accompany her to Paris. But before they can depart, the two women are abducted and left to drown. Trapped beneath the waves, Oriana’s heritage allows her to survive while she is forced to watch her only friend die.

Vowing vengeance, Oriana crosses paths with Duilio Ferreira—a police consultant who has been investigating the disappearance of a string of servants from the city’s wealthiest homes. Duilio also has a secret: He is a seer and his gifts have led him to Oriana.

Bound by their secrets, not trusting each other completely yet having no choice but to work together, Oriana and Duilio must expose a twisted plot of magic so dark that it could cause the very fabric of history to come undone....

I'm sorry, I can't.  I don't have any clever hook to put here.  I just absolutely love this book.

More specifically, I love Oriana.

Most-specifically, I did not realize until now how monstrously thirsty I was to see a heroine – hell, a character of any gender – who is what I can only call "dauntlessly plain."  Like, she's perfectly intelligent, but not a genius.  She's not "feisty".  She's not snarky, or witty, or gorgeous-but-doesn't-know-it. She's not even fearless – and with good reason, because there's plenty for her to be afraid of here.  Her only superpower, if you want to call it that, is her refusal to quit: somebody has killed her mistress, and now there's nothing for it but to smooth her skirts and go after them.

Oh, and also she's a sereia, with some awesomesweet fish-lady powers.  That's neat too.

But honestly, I would have loved this book just as much even if it had been straight-up historical fiction, because the characters are just so unrelentingly SOLID.  Oriana and Duilio and 95% of the minor characters are good, thoughtful, sensible people, the kind who have the wisdom and emotional maturity to understand when others have their best interests at heart, and reciprocate their trust.  And that's what keeps a classic trope from becoming a cliché. There are past tragedies, but they're not treated as Torturous Dark Secrets. There's slowly growing interest/attraction between the two leads, but no "what is this sudden fire in my loins" insta-love. There are human characters with human limitations, but nobody has to be an irrational idiot to make the plot work.

And like... maybe it's just cuz I'm reading from the perspective of a writer, but I can't tell you how much I admire that.  It takes absolute, iron-clad skill and confidence to do what Cheney has done here.  To spend your whole first chapter with nothing more dramatic than a pair of women packing clothes and counting petticoats – and yet make it an important, compelling scene.  To craft a relationship strong enough that neither character needs to go into dramatics to keep it interesting.  To take the "every protagonist must have a crucial flaw" rule and snap it over your knee.

Anyway, I know no book is perfect, and I'm sure there are legitimate nits to pick somewhere in here, but frankly I don't care enough to go looking for them.  The characters in this book have all of what I love most about the people in my own life – grace, grit, compassion, and maturity – and, as in my own life, my only real regret is that I didn't get to know them sooner.

My Favorite Bit:

"My people tend to think of selkies as..." Her lips pressed into a thin line.

Duilio raised one brow as he opened the carriage door. "As?"

"Well, rather savage," she admitted. "They choose to live on the sea rather than in homes, as we do."

He helped her up. "Anything different is barbaric, Miss Paredes. You should see the Scots."

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Monday, March 16, 2015

Interview: Carrie Patel and THE BURIED LIFE

Okay, so you know how we have all those cute expressions about how "books take you places" or about how you can "get lost" in them? 

Well, I'm kind of especially excited about this one, because The Buried Life doesn't so much 'take you somewhere' as gas you, drag you a couple miles underground, slap you awake, spin you around, and maybe arrest you if you start asking too many questions.  There's a strange setting here, and lurking in its shadows is a story that will unhinge its jaw and eat your face.  Metaphorically speaking.  Anyway, here to share in my enthusiasm is the author, Carrie Patel!

TT: Well, so let's start by catching up all these poor deprived souls who don't know you as well as I do.  How would you describe THE BURIED LIFE to the uninitiated?

CP: It's a murder mystery about lies, politics, and dead historians set in an underground city. It's part science fantasy, part mystery, and all intrigue and fancy manners.

TT: Haha, and you know what they say - the only good historian...!

CP: one with fancy manners?

TT: Well, I was going to say "is a dead historian", but that's a bit morbid - let's go with your version :) Actually, though, I'm glad you mentioned the fancy manners, because I'm given to understand that that's actually Your Favorite Bit of the story!  Here's a question, then: what are the challenges of establishing those social conventions in a fantasy world like this one?  How do you clue your readers in without bogging down the story?

CP: The challenge is to make those social conventions relatable to the reader, to the point that when she sees them played out on the page, she understands the implications, knows what they mean for the relationship between two characters, and feels any tension that they're supposed to generate. In the case of The Buried Life, it helps that Recoletta has something of an analogue in Victorian society, so many of the conventions of a class-based society will make sense very quickly. In other situations, a character's reaction can go a long way toward establishing the context for particular social conventions. When one of your characters (particularly a perspective character) reacts to something with surprise, discomfort, or embarrassment, you get the sense very quickly that some sort of line has been crossed. And because all of us have experienced similar emotions over different circumstances, those reactions help personalize those social conventions.

(with a big tip o' the hat to The Pandora Society)
TT: Absolutely!  And that's such an effective way to make use of those little pattern-hungry parts of our brain - you know, the bits that light up whenever we think "ooh, it's like Egypt, but in space" or "cool, they're Pokemon-collecting fantasy-Romans!"  But you mentioned how hard it was to nail down a genre for THE BURIED LIFE, which got me thinking about the other side of the coin.  For example, as soon as you say "Victorian-flavored fantasy", some people will immediately think "steampunk", and maybe be disappointed when there is neither steam nor punks.  What kind of work did you and Angry Robot do to help calibrate reader expectations?

CP: It helps that Angry Robot's mantra is "SF, F, and WTF," because The Buried Life really skews toward the WTF end of the spectrum. We tried to avoid leaning too heavily on "steampunk" as a label, and the back-of-the-book summary doesn't contain any steampunky buzzwords (except maybe "gaslight"). But between the Victorian manners and the regressed technology, I don't think anyone who ventures in expecting steampunk will really find themselves in hostile territory.

TT: Hey, way to reclaim WTF!  Seriously: I'm sorta biased here, but I think it's so awesome/important to have cool genre-bending books like this one - having a little mystery, a little history, a little fantasy and a huge, glorious brain-dazzling setting can make it so enticing for us to leave our comfort-zones and try something new.  Have you been surprised by reader response so far?

CP: Coming from the author of a kick-ass Weird Western, I will take that as quite the high-five, indeed! I'd say I've been surprised by quite a bit of the response. I probably avoid reading a whole lot of it, because it would be too easy for me to fixate on the praise or the criticism, both of which would likely leave me curled up and unproductive for entirely different reasons. That said, I have read a lot of really positive feedback, and I think what's surprised me is how much readers have loved the book and its characters for the same reasons I did when I started writing. When you spend so much time on a book, you fall in love with various parts of it for your own reasons, and it's easy to stop at the end and wonder if anyone's going to feel the same way about it you did. So it's been a wonderful surprise to see that many people do!

TT: Isn't that just the best?!  It's so hard to believe that there could be so many other people out there whose brains operate on your same frequency - and such a wonderful thing to realize that there are, and they do!  So since you mentioned characters, let's talk about that for a bit - because I want to shout from the rooftops about Jane and Malone, but it's not like they're Thelma and Louise.  In fact, I think you mentioned something about how your original proto-protagonist actually needed to be two different people.  Was that primarily a logistical, plot-forwarding decision (different characters with access to different social spaces, as we said), or were you more interested in establishing a sharp contrast between their personalities?

CP: It was definitely a bit of both. I wanted to set up and solve some murders, but I didn't want to be a pure murder mystery, and I wanted to explore the social setting without turning this into Downton Abbey Underground. Jane and Malone provide a lot of nice contrasts to each other, and their perspectives give readers some rather different views of Recoletta. I don't think I could have explored the city with the same nuance without writing both of them, and to the extent that The Buried Life is really about the transformation of a city, I think we needed both of their viewpoints.

TT: ABSOLUTELY, madam, and let's get serious about the city for a second here, because to me that is just the best, neatest, coolest thing about this whole enterprise.  Some stories are born from a character, or a big high-concept premise, but yours seemed to bloom out of this one strange, beautiful, slightly-twisted place.  And I love how it's neither a timeless, static backdrop, nor the dystopian result of that One Thing that happened that One Time.  So since Recoletta is such a layered place - history piled on top of history - let me ask:  what was it like designing all those layers?  Did you start with the end result and work your way backwards?

The Wieliczska salt mine - one of several real-world inspirations for Recoletta
CP: It was more like starting with a quick impression and sharpening the focus from there. At the outset, I got excited about The Buried Life the same way a lot of people get excited about movie trailers--you hear the music, you see the fast cuts, and you think you know what you're going to like about it before you even know what it's about. You get a particular feeling, and you just hope that the actual movie is going to leave you with the same feeling once you see it. It was the same way with Recoletta and The Buried Life. There was this feeling of mystery, spoiled glamor, and secrets, and building Recoletta (and sketching the characters and filling out the plot) was about creating something that would ultimately deliver that weird melange of feelings. Once the basics were defined--an underground city with a strong class system--then figuring out the details was largely about supporting this crazy world so that the whole thing felt cohesive and didn't come crashing down. That's where particulars about the history of the whitenails, the relative independence between the Council and the Municipal Police, and the specifics of farming communes came into play.

TT: Ahh, I love it, and I know exactly what you mean - start with the feeling, and then build backwards so that you can support it!  Oh, but speaking of building backwards, let me finish here by asking you about building upwards.  Since I am one of the lucky few to have gotten to read a bit of the next book, help me get these other folks as pumped as I am.  (People, there is a qadi!  An honest-to-god qadi!!)  What should we look forward to in the sequel?  What's new and exciting and awesome in CITIES AND THRONES?

CP: More characters, more intrigue, and more underground cities! Without giving away anything, I'll say that CITIES AND THRONES brings a lot of big developments and changes for the characters of THE BURIED LIFE and the city of Recoletta, and many of them are things even I didn't expect when I first sat down to write it! You'll see another city that has developed very differently from Recoletta, and many of the characters will face the consequences for the decisions that they made--rightly or wrongly--in the first book.

TT: See, THAT's what I like to hear - I'd call it the Mass Effect effect, except that authors were bringing the narrative chickens home to roost WAY before it was cool.  

So there you have it, people: if you're a little tired of mainstream same-old same-old, take a page from Carrie and the Jam and go underground!  (And do it quick, too, cuz THE BURIED LIFE is already out, and CITIES AND THRONES is dropping this summer!)

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Friday, March 13, 2015

A Footnote From Roundworld

Y'know, I have amazing taste in friends.  Today that was confirmed in the worst possible way, as my Twitter, Facebook, and text messages all blew up with news about Terry Pratchett's death.

To say that I'm sad would be a huge understatement.  Still, I debated whether or not to write this, for the same reason I usually don't comment on a public figure's passing: what can I say that hasn't already been said to better effect elsewhere?  What could I add that hasn't already been exhaustively reiterated?

But here is a thought, which maybe you haven't had too many times already.  Like... when I think about the people I miss the most – the ones I didn't know personally, I mean – they are loved for their generosity and enthusiasm as much as their talent.  Right now I'm thinking of Mr. Rogers, Carl Sagan, Jim Henson, Molly Ivins, Robin Williams, Leonard Nimoy, and yes, absolutely Terry Pratchett.  They aren't the only people to produce great work, or to establish a personal connection with audiences through said work, but with them, you feel like you're connecting with someone who finds immense beauty and worth in other people, someone who's just massively in love with the world and its possibilities.

And of course, the great thing about great people is that they are truly one-of-a-kind.  They're all lit up by that same love and zeal, but they refract it at different wavelengths: you would never mistake the Land of Make-Believe for the Discworld, or Mork for Spock.

So when I think about what's truly unique about Pratchett, what runs all through his work and what most impresses me about it, it's compassion, yes – his insistence on treating every character as a fully-realized, sometimes-ridiculous person.  But more than that, his work is proof that compassion can intermingle with everything except contempt.   It doesn't just live in charitable giving and tender moments and wise sayings from the Dalai Lama.  You can cultivate it anywhere. 

You can poke fun at someone without diminishing their humanity. 

You can satirize a belief without doing violence to its believers.

You can love the world, and still be righteously, intractably angry with some of its workings.

And it doesn't surprise me that he spent over thirty years writing Discworld novels, because any fictional world large enough to contain an idea of that immense power and importance is one any reader could spend a lifetime exploring.  There's so much you can read into it, and so much to take away from it.

For me, the biggest takeaway is this: our better nature does not live in opposition to our stubbornness, pettiness, fearfulness, idleness, and foolishness.  We don't have to divorce those parts of ourselves to realize our potential. On the contrary, they are essential to our greatness – and for those of us who are fortunate enough to have Pratchett's books on our shelves, so is he.

Well, that's what I got out of it, anyway.  What about you?

There isn’t a way things should be. There’s just what happens, and what we do.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

How to Successfully Fail at Networking

Y'know, a big part of this author business is in the social game.  Meeting people, making connections, getting known.  They say that you should always have your A-game on when you're out in public, because you never know who you'll meet - or more importantly, who they'll be when you meet them the next time. 

But what does that actually look like?  And how can you mess up something as simple as "get along and play nice?"  Here for your enjoyment is a both a case study and a cautionary tale.

How to Successfully Fail at Networking
Son of Bride of Return of the Curse of the Odd-Numbered Trek Movie, Part 5: Dammit, Was That THIS Weekend?
by Tex Thompson

Once upon a time, I wrote a blog post for John Scalzi's Big Idea series about One Night in SixesIt was pretty rad.

One day, a handsome prince named J.R. Forasteros read the post and said, "that book sounds totally sweet."  So he bought the book, read it, and said, "that was totally sweet."

The really great thing is that he said that to my Twitter account, and also into a microphone.  For you see, this handsome prince was none other than one of the Storymen: a master pastor, podcaster, and godly pop-culture enthusiast.  When I got wind of this, I said, "who IS this ubermensch they call the Story-Man?  We must forge an alliance!"

And we did.  On Twitter.  And it was great.  Until one day, he moved from Ohio down to Dallas, in order to use his radical preaching to bring light to the suffering proletariat in the dark, benighted kingdom of Rowlett.  Needless to say, we met up and got drinks.  It was hella rad.

But in the land of Dallas, there was a prophecy: that on the portentous Friday the 13th of March, the stars would align and summon forth All-Con, spilling hedonism and nerdery through the halls of the Crowne Plaza North Dallas Hotel.  We felt ourselves drawn to it, as unwashed moths to a flaming cheeto.

"A panel!" I cried. "We shall propose a panel!"  And thus we spoke it into being:

So let it be written - so let it be done.


From the Christ-like figure of Superman to the frequently metaphysical adventures of the USS Enterprise, fantasy and science fiction have long provided a fertile ground for considering religious and philosophical questions in a new light. Yet while our DnD characters can pray to any number of fictional deities, it's difficult to imagine the Chronicles of Narnia being published today – and we are often much more comfortable sharing our love for Goku than God. As mainstream interest in SFF grows and religion becomes an increasingly private affair, how will their relationship change? What is it about spaceships and superheroes that touches our spirituality, and how can a passion for one inspire the other?

"Let it be!"  The Story-Man bellowed his mighty assent.  Thus resolved, we summoned the greatest heroes within easy commuting distance: Clay Morgan, the Paladin of Pittsburgh; Gabe Guerrero, the orc-forged Scourge of Denton County; and Jake Kerr, the Middle-Grade Magus.  As the con-staff raised our banner, we took council over chips and salsa, and drank to seal the deal: together, we will produce and podcast a panel of world-shattering excellence, and cement our place in convention history.

Wait, what's that? I promised you a cautionary tale?  Oh, right - well, the thing is, I forgot that I'm going out of town this weekend for a Vegas wedding, so unless somebody invents a portal gun this week, I can't actually be on the panel.  That's why my name's not up there.

So let that be a lesson to you, kids: if you're going to spin one idle tweet into an epic Central-Time-Zone-spanning alliance for the ages, check your date planner first.

No, but for real this time.  If you want my networking advice, here it is: try to minimize the time you spend doing things you actively dislike, but always, always tack towards the things that are a little bit scary - whether that's hanging your opinions out on a big-name website for the world to judge you on, or tweeting a stranger out of the blue.  And don't be discouraged if it doesn't seem to net you anything: you just don't know what kind of fantastic fruit it might bear, months or even years down the line.

Oh! And here's another hot tip: if you're going to All-Con, park yourself at the panel and bear witness to history in the making!  (The rest of you can bear witness to history once it's actually made - the podcast will go up on the Storymen site when it's done.)  Don't think this is a one-time deal, either, for we have been diligently machinating, and there are plots afoot that you wot not of...!

--It's a song, you green-blooded... Vulcan. You sing it. The words aren't important. What's important is that you have a good time singing it.
--Oh, I am sorry, Doctor. Were we having a good time?
--God, I liked him better before he died.