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.

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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."

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.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Medicine for the Dead - Prologue a-Go-Go!

Y'know, I'm lucky.  I'm REALLY, really lucky.  Fall-in-the-river-and-wade-out-with-fish-in-both-pockets lucky. 

How do I know this?

Because I signed with an agent AND an editor who let me do prologues.  /smugface

Anyway, here as a tasty pre-release nibble is the prologue for Medicine for the Dead - short, sweet, and spoiler-free!  (I can promise that, because it was originally the prologue for the first book.)

On an arid plain under a blistering bright sky, someone dressed as an Ara-Naure woman walked east towards the sun, carrying a fur-swaddled infant.

And swearing at it.

"Can't you be STILL, you nasty little parasite," she said over its tireless screams. "I'm thirsty as well, but you don't see me having fits over it, do you?"

The plume of black smoke behind them was now scarcely a wisp on the horizon. In the heat of the day, nothing else moved but one idle rat snake, its tongue flicking in tandem with the darting of the caretaker's eyes as she clutched her disagreeable prize.

Then she felt the front of her deerskin dress feebly accosted, and looked down in loathsome surprise. "What? Do you think there is anything there for you? Here, if it will shut you up, have your udder..."

She pushed her false hair out of the child's reach, put the tip of one gaunt finger to its mouth, and relished a few moments of desperately-suckling silence. Then it turned its face away and shrieked with fresh, frustrated outrage.

She withdrew her hand, her cracked lips curling back over small, sharp teeth. "Well, scream all you want! You are a damned ungrateful child, you miserable ugly runt, and when we get to the river I will drown you and leave you for the fishmen!"

But although the child carried on unabated, assuring their mutual misery, her hurried steps and hunted eyes suggested that she did not intend to surrender it to anyone.

And if you like the sound of that (and have read the first book), set your watch and bate your breath, cuz I'm sending out the whole first chapter next week.  Sign up if you want in!

Here then will we begin the story: only adding thus much to that which hath been said - that it is a foolish thing to make a long prologue, and to be short in the story itself.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Book Review: Under the Empyrean Sky

You know the thing, where you have some particular book on your to-read list for what feels like forever?  And then you finally get around to reading it, and end up just wicked pissed that it took you so long, because that means all these other lesser humans who beat you to it have been walking around with this story in their heads for MONTHS now, and who the hell do they think they are?  Well?  WHO THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?

(Asking for a friend.)

Under the Empyrean Sky
by Chuck Wendig

Corn is king in the Heartland, and Cael McAvoy has had enough of it. It's the only crop the Empyrean government allows the people of the Heartland to grow—and the genetically modified strain is so aggressive that it takes everything the Heartlanders have just to control it. As captain of the Big Sky Scavengers, Cael and his crew sail their rickety ship over the corn day after day, scavenging for valuables. But Cael's tired of surviving life on the ground while the Empyrean elite drift by above in their extravagant sky flotillas. He's sick of the mayor's son besting Cael's crew in the scavenging game. And he's worried about losing Gwennie—his first mate and the love of his life—forever when their government-chosen spouses are revealed. But most of all, Cael is angry—angry that their lot in life will never get better and that his father doesn't seem upset about any of it. When Cael and his crew discover a secret, illegal garden, he knows it’s time to make his own luck...even if it means bringing down the wrath of the Empyrean elite and changing life in the Heartland forever.

Confession: I haven't read a lot of YA.  I want to.  I mean to. But sometimes the ones I pick up just seem so checklist-y, so paint-by-numbers, that it's hard to sit back and let the story do its own thing.

And I'll admit, I had a little bit of the checklist blues here in the beginning of this one.  Hero.  Best friend(s). Love interest/triangle. Rival. Parental issues/trauma. And because this is a dystopian, we also have the Totally Evil Empire, propped up by Totally Evil People – well, all right, MOSTLY evil people – because, you know, evil.

But hear me out, now: cornpunk.

Seriously. Evil corn. Evil, out-of-control corn sucking the life from the soil and sickening the people who tend it.  Corn so unnatural that you can use it for plastics, fuel, or anything else, just as long as you don't eat it.  Corn that is literally not even food.

THAT is what I showed up for, and that is what this book delivered in sinister leafy spades.  (And in case you were wondering, yes, we're definitely tilting at real-world windmills here: when the villain's name is "Agrasanto", it's not hard to imagine which two mega-corporations the author's got in his crosshairs).  Regardless, you read something like this here...

"Cael wipes blood off his arms and swats away a stalk of corn that has bent down toward him.  They say the corn can't smell blood, but Cael doesn't buy it."

... and if getting the toe-curling tickle-shivers reading that is wrong, then dang it, I don't wanna be right.

And then there's the creepy bio-domes.  And the pollen-storms.  And the plant-cancer.  And I don't know exactly where, but somewhere around the hundred-page mark, I forgot to count tropes or guess what would happen next and just got sucked into a world of giant threshing engines, plastic-bubble ghost-towns, and a trail of mysteriously fresh vegetables that leads out from the corn-fields, and into an action-tastic, page-burning plot.

I've read some other reviews of this book, talking about standard dystopian tropes and not-so-fleshy characters, and I can see where that comes from.  I do like it when books are more 'challenging' on that front – you know, when the story's people and institutions are more complex, less absolute.  My hope is that this book is taken up with establishing what the next one will skew/reverse/muddle, and that we'll get some more shades of gray going a little further on down the road.

Regardless, I'll tell you this: I sat in cold bathwater for the better part of an hour last night, helplessly pruning up as I tore through the last hundred pages with wild, wrinkly abandon, and I'm only writing this now so that my review wouldn't be colored by anything in the next book.

Which I'm downloading right now.

Because corn.

The corn compels me.

Buy Now: Barnes & Noble Add to GoodreadsOrder Now From Amazon

My favorite bit:

Normally he'd talk to her. Light, polite conversation: Heard a twister hit Guster's Grove couple days ago, piss-blizzard's coming, Lane and Rigo are good, got a portion of squealer meat a few weeks back, Pop's okay, so's Mer, got a shuck rat for dinner, everything's pretty fine, don't worry one lick about anything. He'd feel like a real monster telling her all the things that are really going on. All the things he's feeling. Hey, Mom, I know you're trapped inside that thing you call a body, and while I got you here, maybe I could burden you with MY problems? How's that sound?

Today, though, he's got to hurry off. Got to get Mer to milk the goat and then head to market.

He kisses his mother on her brow, just where the tumors recede - he's not grossed out by them anymore, but he hopes she still has some sensation left beyond the cancerous margins.

Monday, March 2, 2015

A Toast to Toast, and a Salute to Spock

Okay, so there's this cat I know - and if you're a Grammaticats fan (and who isn't?!) you know him too.  He's this rakish gentleman here:

His name is Toast, and I'm sad to say that he was recently put to sleep, having lived a handsome, happy 16 years.

"Jesus, Tex - emotional whiplash, much?!"

Yeah, I know - sorry about that.  But I wanted to write about him and to share him with you guys, and this seemed like a good day to do it.

The funny thing is, I never actually got to meet Toast.  He belonged to one of my best buddies' parents, all the way up in Minnesota.  But I got pictures of him on the regular - my buddy, Frank, is a devoted GrammatiCats photographer - and status updates on him and the other cats through our email pen-pal-ship.  It was hard to read about his last trip to the vet, though of course not nearly as hard as it must have been to take him there.

It's interesting, though, isn't it - how we can get genuinely attached to pets and people we've never personally met.  How they aren't 'just' pictures or voices or characters on TV.  How we can feel really connected to them, even if we've never spent a minute in their company.

Yeah, you knew I was going here.
There's that thing in our brains, that pattern-hungry part of us that sees cows in the clouds and faces in our toast (small t, though Toast had a hell of a face himself), and it's forever filling in the blanks for us. Sometimes that makes for disappointment - what's that old saw about how you should never meet your heroes? - because sometimes our mental conception is quite different from the reality. 

But the cool thing is, the longer you 'know' one of these long-distance people, and the more you see and hear about them, the more data points you have to paint an accurate portrait of what they're really like.  Your mental picture gets richer, more real - and even though it may never match the kind of intimate understanding you would have if the two of you were close personal friends, the feelings you have can be every bit as profound.

So as sad as I am not to have met them personally, I'm also incredibly glad I got to have Leonard Nimoy as my Twitter-grandpa, and Toast as my pen-pal cat.  They go with Carl Sagan, Robin Williams, Mr. Rogers, and our old dog Chip on the list of People I Will Miss Forever (Even If They Weren't Technically People).

It's a bittersweet feeling, knowing that that list will only get longer as I get older.  But more than anything, I'm tremendously grateful that we humans are wired to find ourselves everywhere, and to enjoy epic friendships - furry, fictional, or fannish - even with those who never knew our names.  It's a heck of a blessing, and they are a tremendous gift.

A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory.