Author Archives: J. Kathleen Cheney

J. Kathleen Cheney is a former teacher and has taught mathematics ranging from 7th grade to Calculus, with a brief stint as a Gifted and Talented Specialist. Her short fiction has been published in Jim Baen's Universe, Writers of the Future, and Fantasy Magazine, among others, and her novella "Iron Shoes" was a 2010 Nebula Award Finalist. Her novel, "The Golden City" came out from Penguin in 2013. Her website can be found at www.jkathleencheney.com

How Do You Read?

I met yesterday with my real life writers’ group, and after doing some critiques, we—as we usually do—chatted a bit about what we’re watching and reading.  And one of the interesting things to me was how differently some of us function as writers and readers.

When I’m actively writing a book or novella, I struggle to read. When I do read then, I usually read outside of genre. I can read mystery or romance or non-fiction…but reading fantasy just doesn’t work.

The thing that I struggle with is my internal editor. My brain, as it’s reading, wants to restructure every sentence, swap paragraphs four and seven, and change all the dialog tags. And after a time, I’m not reading the story any longer…I’m only looking at words. And then I stop caring about the story. It’s weird.

(There are rare exceptions to this. I can, for example, read an author whose style is wildly different from mine—let’s say, Ben Aaronovitch—and for some reason, the internal editor turns off.)

Because of this, I usually build up a bunch of reading to do between projects. So I’ll finish writing a book and then read voraciously for a while before turning back to writing again. I usually schedule time for that.

One of my writer friends, however, said that she has no problem reading while she’s writing. She’s a very disciplined reader, and tackles a poem, a short story, and a bit of novel reading every day. WOW!

And a third threw in the point that she doesn’t re-read things…whereas I can reread books over again and again. (I also have no problem with spoilers in movies or TV, which may be related.)

I always find it fascinating that writers have such different approaches to reading, so I thought I would see if there were other opinions out there. Here are a few questions:

  1. Do you reread books?
  2. Do you read in a disciplined manner? Or do you read in a haphazard, on-and-off, when-the-mood-takes-you fashion?
  3. Do you read exclusively within genre? Or do you read outside genres?
  4. Do you read the newest stuff immediately? Do you read only some authors immediately? Or are you, like me, constantly behind the reading curve?
  5. Do you binge read?
  6. And for writers: Is there a difference in reading habits between when you’re actively writing and when you’re not?

Bonus question: How big IS your TBR pile? (photos welcome)

HOW DO YOU READ?

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Writers and Weltschmerz

On one of the on-line writers groups I frequent, someone opened a forum topic that ran something like this…Is Anyone Getting Any Writing Done? The question was an interesting one for me, because all writers have to, at times, write on…despite personal setbacks.

Now let me be clear…there are situations in which the writing CANNOT go on. There are times too bleak: sicknesses and household emergencies and financial struggles. There are times when we sit down and simply stare at the screen, unable to do anything. That’s inevitable. Real life tends to trump our writing at times. But this isn’t that. It’s not an inability to write brought on by health issues or finances or priorities.

This is Weltschmerz–the feeling of anxiety caused by the ills of the world. (Definition via Wikipedia)

Many of the writers I know have been suffering weltschmerz since the second week of November. It’s a frightening time for a lot of people, and with holidays on top of that, there’s simply so many stressors that it’s taking a toll on our creativity, grinding it down into the dust. We’re staring at our screens, wondering how we can go on writing our small bits of fiction when there’s so much out there in the world that’s slipping awry. How can we be creative when others are suffering? When they’re afraid? When we’re afraid?

For me, it was a matter of having commitments to fulfill. I’m posting a novel serially, which forces me to edit a bit each week. I have a monthly commitment to my Patreon Patrons on another serial. And I promised that I would have the first book of The Horn out in December.

(Gratuitous bit of book promotion…Oathbreaker is now available in ebook format!)

Those commitments kept me in my chair on days when I would rather have been endlessly refreshing Twitter. I had to get the work done. And when we’re dealing with contracts with publishers, that gives an outside push.

Even without that impetus, I know all my writer friends will eventually sit back down and start writing again.

Why? This is what we do. We write.

Writing is how we deal with the injustices in the world. It’s how we let others know about them. We have voices and we apply our words to let others know what’s happening.

We may be writing blog posts, tweets, letters to the editors, to our congressmen, to those men and women who control various aspects of those things that terrify us. We may drop a line to a serviceman or woman. We might write stories for a benefit anthology for survivors from Aleppo. We might write a wild story to brighten the evening of someone else who has weltschmerz and is seeking pure escape. It might be small. It might be big.
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In time we’ll step back into the fray with the weapons we use best…our words. Because this is what we are. We’re writers.

Why Does It Take So Long for the Next Book???

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One thing that readers often ask is why the gap between books is so long, and I thought I’d address some of the reasons for that here…

When an author is being published by a traditional publisher (like the members of Novelocity have been), there’s an awful lot that goes into the process, every step of which slows down publication. I’ll put some of these below:

  • The publisher has to find a place in their schedule for the book. Publishers don’t want to release too many books at once, and therefore they tend to spread them out throughout the year. That schedule can be set up as far as 18 months in advance, so Book X might be ready to go on January 1, but they don’t have room to schedule it until April 17…so that’s when it comes out.
  • The publishing process has a gazillion steps (edits, copyedits, proofs), and a delay at any of those levels can cause the above schedule to become problematic. I’ve known authors whose books, due to some issue—not necessarily the author’s doing—along the line has caused their book to miss its scheduled slot…and end up being shunted back 18 months. A small delay can turn into a huge one.
  • The publisher wants to wait on results before giving the green light to a later project. (My example would be my editors waiting for Dreaming Death to actually come out before greenlighting a sequel—which they did not do after all—but that would have meant at least 18 months between the book and its sequel.)

 

Of course, there can also be slow downs on the writers’ side. For example:

  • Some writers do not write quickly, no matter how much their publishers want them to finish that next book. In fact, you will see books scheduled that are pushed back several months for this very reason. *
  • Some writers have multiple projects going on, sometimes with multiple publishers. Necessary prioritization means that they may not be working on the book -you- want them to work on.
  • Some writers will have a series dropped by a publisher. This creates a whole new set of problems, as the writer has to figure out some way to get the rest of those books out there. There are a limited number of presses who will pick up an abandoned series (this is a complex problem), or the writer can self-publish the remaining books (far more common these days).

All of those reasons will cause slow downs. In most cases, authors probably wish things would go faster. I certainly do.

However, this also causes an issue for readers who want everything now…which in turn causes its own problems for the writers.

I’ve seen a lot of people say “I’ll wait until the whole series is out and buy it then so I can read it all.”

Unfortunately, this is really deadly for writers because the publishers are looking at initial sales of books when they determine whether to buy more from that writer. If people are waiting to buy the book until the whole series is out, then the publishers see that as a lack of interest in the series…and cancel it.

The publisher can’t know that people actually do intend to buy the book one day…and even if they did, the publishers won’t take that gamble unless the writer is someone super-famous (G.R.R.M., for example.) I’ve seen a lot of writers with good reviews and decent sales get cut mid-series because….well, they’re selling, but not -enough-.

So the slow pace of the industry might be frustrating, but it’s not the author’s doing. Hang in there with us! We need readers’ support…

…and their patience!

TL:DR version
To the publisher,
readers waiting to buy until the series is complete = lack of interest in the series
________________________

*It’s very hard to know why books are pushed back, but most authors who have social media presences are usually happy to explain that. Check their blog/webpage/social media if you want to know why.

When a Series Dies an Early Death

One of the thing that traditionally published authors know is that your relationship with your publisher isn’t permanent.

Most of the time, our contracts with them are for a limited number of books. They purchase two books, see how those go, and then maybe purchase a few more.

Sometimes they don’t.

With my first contract, I made sure that Book #2 (the last book of that contract) could be read as a completion to the series…just in case the publisher didn’t offer to purchase my next book. Fortunately, they did, so I got to end The Golden City series the way I wanted. Yay!

I wrote books 3 and 4 for my second contract. Book 4 was the beginning of a new series, but since I didn’t have a new contract, I made sure it could stand alone. Yes, there are a lot of things that remain unanswered in that book (Dreaming Death) but overall, the story doesn’t end on a cliffhanger or anything like that.

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But by the time I was coming up for my next contract, the merger between Penguin and Random House was motivating my publisher (which was an imprint of PRH) to clean house. They didn’t renew a lot of their writers…and I was one of those swept away.

So what happens to my story now?

Most writers live with the knowledge that this can happen. We’ve seen it happen to our friends.

Fortunately, nowadays there are a lot of ways that the series can go on now.  The author can self-publish the story, whether by funding it themselves, or going with crowd-funding. There are also a few smaller publishers who are willing to pick up a half-finished series. (There are a lot off drawbacks to that for that publisher, though, the main reason that it’s not common.)

The writer, however, usually needs to move on to a different series to stay afloat.

This can be frustrating and disappointing to readers (AND the writer.) But it happens. Far more often these days than anyone likes.
So what can the reader do when their favorite series is cancelled?

  1. Watch the writer’s webpage or blogs to see what they have planned for the next books in the series.
  2. If the writer’s going to finish out the series by crowdfunding, either donate…or just spread the word. (Others may not have seen the news.)
  3. If the writer does publish the remaining books in the series, purchase them. (Yes, we’re always asking you to buy our books. It’s how we survive.)
  4. If the writer DOESN’T publish the remaining books in the series, buy what they’ve got coming out next.

Some writers aren’t prepared to self-publish things. Either they don’t have the time (it IS time-consuming), the funding (we do have to eat), or the desire to put out that series ending on their own.

Please don’t let that scare you off of buying their next series. I guarantee, that author is working as hard and fast as they can to get new stories out there.

The publishing industry is changing so fast these days that writers are constantly under pressure to decide what’s the best next step to them. Whatever that step turns out to be, they can’t get buy without the support of their readers!

So stick with them!

 

Which favorite series of yours died an early death?

 

 

 

New Release: The Shores of Spain

Out today, from Ace/Roc, the final novel in the Golden City series by J. Kathleen Cheney:
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A brilliant new chapter in the Novels of the Golden City.

Even as the branches of peace are being offered, there are some who still believe those who are not human should be used as chattel. And they are willing to go to great lengths to retain their power.

Newlywed siren Oriana Paredes has been appointed Ambassador to her home islands now that communication between Northern Portugual and the magical races has been restored. But convincing her people that the new Portuguese Prince’s intentions are honorable after years of persecution is difficult. And her husband, Duilio, faces his own obstacles among the sirens where males are a rare and valuable commodity with few rights.

In addition to their diplomatic mission, the two hope to uncover the truth behind Oriana’s mother’s death. Evidence suggests that Spain—a country that has been known to enslave magical beings—may have infiltrated the siren authority. Unable to leave their post, Oriana and Duilio must call on Inspector Joaquim Tavares to root out the truth.

But even his seer’s gift cannot prepare him for what he will discover.

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This is the third and final book in the series, although there will be a couple of related novellas eventually…

 

In addition, the mass market paperback of The Seat of Magic goes on sale today…so if you purchase books at that size, this is your chance!

Seat of MagicEnjoy!

Translating The Three-Body Problem

Translating The Three-Body Problem

The Three-Body Problem, by Cixin Liu, is the first volume in a best-selling Chinese hard scifi series. The English edition is being released by Tor Books on November 11, and I was the translator.

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From the publisher’s description:

Set against the backdrop of China’s Cultural Revolution, a secret military project sends signals into space to establish contact with aliens. An alien civilization on the brink of destruction captures the signal and plans to invade Earth. Meanwhile, on Earth, different camps start forming, planning to either welcome the superior beings and help them take over a world seen as corrupt, or to fight against the invasion. The result is a science fiction masterpiece of enormous scope and vision.

You can follow this link to read more about the book on Tor.com, including excerpts and author interviews, and buy the book from your favorite bookstore.

Though I’ve translated over twenty short stories from Chinese into English, this is my first novel translation, and the challenges I faced felt qualitatively different.

One set of challenges involved becoming sufficiently knowledgeable about various subjects discussed in depth in the book so that I could understand the nuances and render the relevant passages accurately in English. The Three-Body Problem is filled with grand ideas based on scientific speculation as well as very human-scaled stories steeped in China’s ancient and modern history. To properly discharge my duties as a translator, I had to do a great deal of research, including reading papers on pure math and astrophysics, gleaning relevant historical details from books about the Cultural Revolution and Classical Chinese, and interviewing scientists and individuals who lived through the Cultural Revolution to fill in gaps where book research was insufficient. In a lot of ways, translating this book required as much background research as writing a book myself.

Another set of challenges involved going beyond merely linguistic features to ensure the integrity of the translated work. When working with a large, complicated novel like this, a translator’s job isn’t just to re-create the work in a new language; he or she also needs to act as fact-checker and editor. Chinese readers have different expectations about narrative conventions and the desired level scientific detail, and I struggled to strike a balance between preserving the flavor of the original and making the book appealing to a new audience.

For example, to make aspects of the book dependent on knowledge of Chinese history and culture accessible to Anglophone readers, I had to decide how best to integrate the necessary background explanation with the text—a footnote is a very intrusive device, and I resolved to keep their use to an absolute minimum. Similarly, to make sure that I could make the technical parts of the book sound plausible to specialists as well as read fluently for general readers, I had to replicate the calculations in the book, look up the original scientific papers, and consult working physicists to determine the necessary jargon to use to ensure precision without sapping narrative energy. I ended up learning a lot about how to craft a compelling novel in the process.

As difficult as the translation process was, I found it very rewarding. The necessity of consulting Cixin Liu, the author, on many of these decisions deepened the friendship between us, and I’ll be forever grateful to my thoughtful beta readers and Liz Gorinsky, my editor at Tor, who helped me figure out the best solution for many of these conundrums.

While The Three-Body Problem itself is a thrilling hard scifi ride, the sequels (one of which I’ll also be translating) are even more grand and imaginative as they continue the story of humanity’s journey to the stars. I hope readers have as much fun reading these books as I had working on them.

Vectors: What fantasy creature would you like most as a pet?

Our question for the Novelociraptors this week? What fantasy creature would you like most as a pet?

Leslie Williams

profile-photo-lesleywilliams-96x96Our first guest, Leslie Williams, when thwarted in her original career goal of hustling at Jeopardy tournaments, decided to cash it all in for the high stakes, rollercoaster world of library science. She spends most of her time at the Evanston Public Library soothing terrified 7th graders whose laptops died the night before their final research papers were due, and vainly trying to convince them that encyclopedias existed prior to Wikipedia. Mild mannered, power shusher by day, Lesley dabbles in the dark art of musical theatre as a member of her synagogue’s Purim Players, where she has essayed major roles in such unforgettable productions as West Side Tsuris, Bally Chai, and Camelplotz. She lives in Evanston, Illinois, where she was voted Most Likely to Blow a Gasket Over Inadequate Source Citation for three consecutive years

imagesSo here are my criteria for a supernatural pet: it should be friendly, enjoy humans (but not as snacks), offer some kind of bonus feature, (magical protection or splendiferous wealth are always good choices), and fit comfortably into a 2 bedroom suburban condo.

My gut reaction was, “Dragon!” No more carrying pepper spray or lumbering around in cumbersome body armor: ain’t nobody gonna mess with a dragon owner. Then there’s that gold hoarding feature, which would definitely come in handy if the beast could be persuaded to share. Or invest.

However, upon further reflection, (and remembering how I dread simple kitchen burns), it occurred to me that a dragon, even a teensy one with limited firepower, might be an overly incendiary choice. And ours is a non-smoking building.

I considered a buffalito, (from my good friend Lawrence Schoen’s “Buffalito Destiny” series.) Buffalitos are cute, cuddly little pups, very affectionate, and non-carnivorous. The only slight problem is that they will eat you out of house and home…literally. Having previously shared space with destructive alien life forms that consume 10 times their weight, (i.e. our teenage babysitter) the last thing I need is a pet that can happily chow down on the bathroom fixtures.

The babelfish has possibilities: think of the renumerative scam possibilities of understanding every known human language! Yet the companionate animal function is sadly lacking; one can hardly snuggle with a slimy creature residing in one’s ear canal. Delete.

No, the clear choice is a phoenix. They live for 500 years, strike fear into the hearts of the impure, (take THAT creepy delivery guy in my alley), are recyclable, and even though this does involve perennial self immolation, their healing tears would counteract any resultant 3rd degree injuries. And no litter box!

Matthew Johnson

Matthew Johnson headshotOur second guest is Canadian author Matthew Johnson. Matthew lives in Ottawa, Ontario with his wife and their two sons. His work has been published in places such as Asimov’s Science FictionThe Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and Strange Horizons, and has been included in several Year’s Best anthologies and translated into Danish, Russian and Czech. A collection of his short stories, Irregular Verbs and Other Stories, was published in June by ChiZine Publications. When he’s not writing or practicing full-contact parenting he works at MediaSmarts, Canada’s centre for digital and media literacy, where he writes lesson plans, articles and educational computer games, does public appearances and media interviews, and occasionally does pirate voices in both English and French. He blogs  at www.irregularverbs.ca and is on Twitter as @irregularverbal.

Hiero'sJourneyI’m tempted to say “tribbles,” but I’m pretty sure the bylaws where I live don’t allow more than five of them per household within city limits. Like any child of the ’80s, of course, I went through a period of wishing I could adopt Lockheed the dragon from X-Men, but since Lockheed was basically a flying cat who could breathe fire I’m not sure how he would get along with the two cats I already have.

In the end I think I have to pick Klootz the mutant moose from Sterling E. Lanier’s Hiero’s Journey and its sequel The Unforsaken Hiero. As well as being bigger and smarter than a present-day moose Klotz is telepathic, which makes him an ideal mount and companion for the titular hero as he has a variety of bizarre adventures in post-apocalyptic Canada. I owe this book a lot, having encountered it at a formative age; it was the first vaguely interesting book I had ever encountered that was set in my own country, for instance, and its gleeful, unapologetic cheesiness (one Goodreads commenter described it as “like a milkshake made out of Burt Reynolds’ chest hair and the skeleton of a Brontosaurus”) helped to give me the courage to embrace genre cliches in the hopes of making them my own.

Mostly, though, I’d like Klootz for a pet because I ride my bike to work. Ottawa’s a pretty bikeable city, but there are definitely parts of it where drivers need to be reminded to share the road: two tons of psychic warmoose might just do the trick.

Lawrence M. Schoen

WingedMonkeyThis was a tough question for me, particularly as I’ve committed nearly half a million words writing about buffalo dogs (aka buffalitos), alien creatures that resemble miniaturized versions of the American bison, but with the ability to consume virtually any matter and transform it all into flatulence of pure oxygen. But that’s be taking the easy way out.

My Klingon background pushes me in the direction of tribbles, the cooing, furry ovoids from Iota Geminorum IV that are born pregnant and make kudzu seem harmless, but again, no, that would be too simple.

I think I have to go with a winged monkey. You know, the blue-furred ones from THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ. Not only would one be a great companion animal, but it could fetch things for you (hey, monkey, I just called in a pizza; it’ll be ready in 30 minutes, go get it!), is presumably house-broken, and gets to wear a cute little hat (and vest too, if you go by the 1939 film). I have a sneaking suspicion that it would probably smell really bad, but that just means I’d have to build a monkey aerie on my roof. And oh, the fun we’d have terrorizing other neighborhood pets, as my winged monkey plunges from the sky and snatches them up (all in innocent play, of course).

Beth Cato

StarliteI have two clear favorites.

I was four when I became obsessed with the cartoon Rainbow Brite. For me, the allure wasn’t Rainbow herself or rainbows or the fumbling villainy of Murky and Lurky… it was her horse, Starlite. I already had a strong interest in horses and Starlite cemented that. My Little Pony never appealing to me as much–it was too cutesy. I wanted a real horse. A talking, magical real horse in particular. I collected Breyer horses. I read every horse book I could. If total strangers knew one fact about me, it was that I loved horses.

At about age eleven, I realized that my family was poor and I would never have a horse of my own. Even so, that love has never gone away. Earlier this year, I resumed riding lessons for the first time as an adult. My desire for magical horses still works into my writing, especially my poetry (see “Seeds” at Mythic Delirium and “What We Carry” at inkscrawl).

On a completely different note, I love Dragon Quest slimes.

Dragon Quest is a huge role-playing game franchise that started on 8-bit Nintendo. It paved the way for Final Fantasy and everything that’s come since. The games are still popular in Japan, though their marketing in the rest of the world has always been inconsistent. The most iconic character from the game is the blue slime. It’s the first monster you encounter in most every game. I adore slimes. There’s something glorious about those bright, smiling faces, even as you pummel them to death.

ReadingtoBigBlue_sm (1)For a number of years, I was a major importer of DQ goods–manga, doujinshi (fan-made comics), shitajiki (pencil boards), bandanas, figurines, etc, with slimes figuring most prominently. I still own over a hundred plush slimes, ranging in size from cell phone fobs to Big Blue the bean bag chair slime, as shown. Heck, I even have a slime Zippo lighter and a slime derby board game. Amongst my friends, I became known as the Queen of Slimes.

Give me a magical talking horse and an army of slime minions, and I’ll be happy

Steve Bein

imageI’m a dog person, so I’m going with a cave troll.

The one they pick on in Fellowship of the Ring is so misunderstood. He’s a perfectly nice guy—just a big dope who fell in with the wrong crowd, really. It’s clear that he doesn’t want to fight. They have to drag him in on a chain. I don’t know where he got the big hammer, but he probably just uses it to whack stuff. Kind of like throwing snowballs at trees or whatever. It’s just what you

It’s not his fault that a bunch of little pesky people shoot him with arrows. That would piss anyone off. You don’t let your kid yank a strange dog’s tail, and you don’t let your kid shoot trolls with arrows. It’s just common sense.

Trolls don’t shed. They’re not explicitly forbidden in any lease agreements or rental contracts. They’re loyal, they’re easily housebroken, and they’re smart enough that you can teach them tricks. What dog can throw the Frisbee back to you? And what dog can throw it 500 yards?

They do require a little bit of extra living space, but it’s worth the investment, considering the fact that a cave troll is the ultimate home security system.

The only real trouble is that you need an in-home darkroom, or else you need to board up your garage so tightly that no sunlight can get in. It would be awful to come home and find your pet has turned to stone.

Ken Liu

images (1)I’m going to have to go with Cassiopeia from Michael Ende’s Momo. Cassiopeia is a tortoise who can talk by displaying words on her shell and who can see thirty minutes into the future. A theme in Momo is that the time you “save” by working harder in the relentless pursuit of efficiency is actually time you lose to the Men in Grey, and Cassiopeia, moving slowly and steadily through life, has all the time in the world. She could teach me a lot.

Fran Wilde

tumblr_mtlkecW4U91sjro9ko1_500Stitch. “Is little and broken, but still good.”

Tina Connolly

6a00d8345169e469e201287611ee6d970cI was pretty thoroughly sold on Anne McCaffrey’s fire lizards growing up. Sure, the full-size dragons were mighty and magnificent and telepathic and all that jazz. But the fire lizards were darling, and Menolly had like 9 or 25 of them or something like that. All different colors, too.

So it’s probably no surprise that I wanted to write something with a tiny dragon in it. My next book, SILVERBLIND, has steamy, silver, forest-dwelling wyverns–and we meet several of their kitten-sized babies. Now unlike fire lizards, baby wyverns — woglets — don’t tend to go around imprinting on humans. So Dorie’s pretty shocked to find out she’s in charge of one. They’re cranky and hissy and they spit steam (baby steam, at first.) Worse, they yodel. They’re reportedly cousins to the legendary basilisks, and they can fascinate themselves a meal . . . but they don’t do anything useful like teleporting messages all over the countryside. Still, Dorie grows rather attached to her inconvenient woglet, and so did I.

Michael R. Underwood

Hiccup-Toothless-how-to-train-your-dragon-9626230-2000-850Do I have to stick with just one? I can’t have my own fantastic menagerie, with a Mabari hound from Dragon Age, a Gold Dragon mount from Dragonlance, and a Kaiju BFF?

If not, then I want a Night Fury as friendly and loyal as Toothless from How To Train Your Dragon. Smart, maneuverable, perfect size for a not-large human to ride, and capable of laying explosive waste to my enemies!

What’s not to like?

 

What fantasy creature would you like most as a pet?

Vectors: What book character do you most strongly identify with?

Our question for the Novelociraptors this week? What book character do you most strongly identify with?

Steve Bein

imagenI’ve got to go with Hank Devereaux.

Devereaux is an English professor, and the protagonist of Richard Russo’s Straight Man. Russo was a professor himself, so he knows whereof he speaks. I’m a professor too, so I can testify first-hand to the fun house mirror universe that is academia. Don’t get me wrong: the fun house really is fun. But to any reader who thinks Russo is being unrealistic when he has Devereaux threaten to execute a goose on television, I’ll say this: Dante himself could not envision a world so outlandish as the modern American university.

I haven’t carried out any public goose executions myself, and neither have any of my colleagues—at least not that I know of—but I have seen some equally wacky things in my time. Some day I’ll write a book about them, but in the meantime, I can sympathize with Devereaux.

He’s at his most sympathetic when he is mired in departmental politics. His colleagues are lunatics. Many of mine have been lunatics too, though in fairness, they’re the first ones to identify themselves this way.

Here’s the thing: if you’re a professor, you’re a weirdo. This isn’t an insult; it’s a necessary precondition. You need to be nerdy enough to attempt to walk the path, introverted enough to bury yourself in your research, extroverted enough to speak in front of hundreds of strangers, bullheaded enough to finish a dissertation, opinionated enough to try to publish it, and charismatic enough to keep students interested in your subject. That means the average department meeting is an attempt to reach agreement between obstinate, opinionated nerds who are gregarious and withdrawn in equal measure. Good luck with that.

It’s a strange world we academics live in. Russo gets it, and that’s why I feel for Hank Devereaux.

J. Kathleen Cheney

images (1)I’ve always liked Fred Cassidy from Zelazny’s Doorways in the Sand. Like Fred, I was a bit of an eternal college student although I didn’t reach 13 years like he did (7.5 years the first time, then an additional 2 years later). I even had a professor accuse me of being a dilettante at one point. And also like Fred, I often found myself in the middle of things and didn’t know how I got there.Seriously, out of all the college students I knew, I was by far the most likely to accidentally absorb an alien sentience. Charv and Ragma would be exactly the sort of helpers I got.

I think that was why I most related to Fred. He wasn’t a Big Hero. He’s just trying to get through the whole thing alive, which I think a lot of us are doing in college.

Beth Cato

Farthest-AwayMountainI’m going to harken back to a book I’ve loved since age 11. The Farthest-Away Mountain by Lynne Reid Banks (yes, the author of the much more famous Indian in the Cupboard series) is an epic quest novel for the middle grade set. Fourteen-year-old Dakin lives in her quiet village until one day a distant mountain calls to her. She ends up dealing with monsters, an ogre, a colorful witch, a frog, and a host of other vibrant characters on her journey.

One of the most memorable things about the book is a comment she makes early on in regards to decorative gargoyles, that they aren’t really scary, but sad. She’s scorned for that opinion. Later on, she meets gargoyles. They are deeply touched by her compassion. It was such a simple subplot, but it had an impact on me–that this wonderful heroine is surviving by her wits, but her compassion is also one of her greatest assets. I wanted to be like her at age 11. I still do.

Lawrence M. Schoen

downloadI don’t know that I “strongly identify” with any particular character in fiction but I can relate to the character of Miles Vorkosigan in his role as Imperial Auditor, which begins near the end of Lois MaMaster Bujold’s novel Memory and continues on for several more books. The job requires a combination of skills and disciplines, and really draws home the point that one can achieve remarkable insight by looking at a problem using multiple sets of vastly different tools at the same time. I’ve always thought that some of our best discoveries have come about from someone outside a field looking at it with different perspectives, different metaphors. That’s only a very small part of what these books are about, but it always pleases me to see a protagonist who wins the day (and the girl!) by being smart in clever ways.

Tina Connolly

Matilda1Well, Sorrel from Streatfeild’s Theatre Shoes for your obscure reference of the day. Otherwise I’ll have to go with Roald Dahl’s Matilda (especially as drawn by the incomparable Quentin Blake!) A little pointy-chinned girl with brown hair amid toppling piles of books? All I needed was her superpower and I was ready to take on any Trunchbulls that might come around.

Michael R. Underwood

RedwallFor many years, I ate up traditional fantasy rags-to-riches narratives like they were candy. And of those narratives, the one that was probably most powerful for me was Matthias, the humble hero of Redwall, the first of Brian Jacques’ series. Matthias is clever, loyal, and seems to succeed as much for his diligence as his Chosen Hero cred.

When I read those books, I’d been recently bullied, and started learning martial arts. And like many kids who’d learned a little about martial arts, I wanted a chance to use them righteously, to stand up for people the way I was learning to stand up for myself. And I saw all of that and more in Matthias, hoping that I could see it in myself

 

What book character do you most strongly identify with?

Book Release: ONE NIGHT IN SIXES

Arianne “Tex” Thomspon’s debut novel, One Night in Sixes, is out today!

One Night in Sixes

The border town called Sixes is quiet in the heat of the day. Still, Appaloosa Elim has heard the stories about what wakes at sunset: gunslingers and shapeshifters and ancient animal gods whose human faces never outlast the daylight.

And the daylight is running out. Elim’s so-called ‘partner’ – that lily-white lordling Sil Halfwick – has disappeared inside the old adobe walls, hell-bent on making a name for himself among Sixes’ notorious black-market traders. Elim, whose worldly station is written in the bastard browns and whites of his cow-spotted face, doesn’t dare show up home without him.

If he ever wants to go home again, he’d better find his missing partner fast. But if he’s caught out after dark, Elim risks succumbing to the old and sinister truth in his own flesh – and discovering just how far he’ll go to survive the night.

 

One Night in Sixes available for pre-order here: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Powell’s 

Vectors: What’s your favorite literary food or meal?

Our question for the Novelociraptors this week? What’s your favorite literary food or meal?

Shallee McArthur

ESShallee20Edit_head_large2Our guest todayShallee McArthuroriginally wanted to be a scientist, until she discovered she liked her science best in fictional form. When she’s not writing young adult science fiction and fantasy, she’s attempting to raise her son and daughter as proper geeks. A little part of her heart is devoted to Africa after volunteering twice in Ghana. She has a degree in English from Brigham Young University and lives in Utah with her husband and two children. Her YA sci fi novel, THE UNHAPPENING OF GENESIS LEE, debuts from Sky Pony Press Nov. 4, 2014.

 

68428Food in literature fascinates me, partially because I took a mythology and culture class in college that focused a lot on the place food has in culture. One of my favorite foods in one of my favorite books are baywraps in the Mistborn books by Brandon Sanderson, because they’re so reflective of the culture. They’re a simple food made by the skaa (read: oppressed peasant/slave class). Basically, baywraps are barley and vegetables wrapped in flatbread.


Skaa are poor. They don’t have access to fancy or expensive food like meat. But barley, veggies, flatbread…these are cheap, easily accessible, and simple to put together. It’s easy to vary what goes in the baywrap based on what you have on hand. It’s something that can be eaten quickly or on the go, since skaa don’t spend an awful lot of time sitting around a table, eating and relaxing. I was so fascinated by how much of skaa culture was evident in a simple food, that it became one of my favorite examples of literary food! And, if you happened to be interested in trying one, there’s a fab recipe right here!

Fran Wilde

ancillary-justiceThis is a really hard question for me to answer because I talk to other authors about food in fiction a lot with Cooking the Books. (Including Novelocity members Mike and Kathleen, and more to come.) — and it’s hard to pick a favorite.

My favorite literary food varies by season and mood — right now, I love the teas in Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice and the savory foods from Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastards series. Other times, fun fictional food is what I want: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Alice and Wonderland, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Lawrence M. Schoen

RoaldDahl-CatCFLike Fran, I’m always asking writers to tell me about their most memorable meals in my weekly blog Eating Authors. That, and for more than a decade I’ve been writing short and long fiction with a protagonist who’s a gourmand, as an excuse to conjure up alien banquets and interstellar food trucks. And it probably doesn’t hurt that my wife used to be a chef.

But because I’m so late to the (dinner) table, I’ll keep it short and simple. I’ll go with the three course meal gum that still needs a bit of work before going to market from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Sure, Dahl’s a bit heavy-handed with the moralism, and poor Violet Beauregarde has to be rolled offstage and be “de-juiced,” none of that dampened the science fictional allure of the gum for me. It was just a step away from the promised food pills of the future. Hmm… and that glass elevator does have some resemblance to a flying car in the end…

Tina Connolly

marypoppinsWell, Butter Pies from Diana Wynne Jones’ A Tale of Time City. But I already raved those simultaneously hot/cold ice creamy treats in another post. Turkish Delight in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (which turned out to be depressingly not that great when I had it in real life.)  Beth’s post reminds me of all the good food in the Little House books, particularly in Farmer Boy, where a good deal of Almanzo’s thoughts center on what he gets to eat (bird’s nest pudding with cream, and stacked pancakes, and fried doughnuts. . . .) There’s a bunch of delightful-sounding things in the Mary Poppins books, too, including Gingerbread Stars (not to mention Mrs. Corry breaking off some barley-sugar fingers for Jane and Michael!) Really, children’s books often have the best food. . . . 

M.K. Hutchins

7996Talking about fiction and food inevitably leads me to the Redwall series, by Brian Jacques. These books are a gateway into epic fantasy. Big, fatty volumes with lots of adventure. And also lots of feasts. Redwall books always make me salivate, whether they’re describing homey bread or deeper ‘n ever pie. There is more than one website dedicated to recreating Redwall food, but the one I know best is The Redwall Kitchen. It’s been around for fifteen years.

I didn’t know it when I picked them up, but these stories were originally written for children attending the Royal Wavertree School of the Blind. Jacques certainly crafted books rich in senses other than sight. I read and reread these books in middle school, especially. I love that someone had created books that didn’t talk down to me — that swept me up into a long, ripping yarn of a tale. Sometimes childhood favorites don’t hold up to the test of time, but I recently reread The Long Patrol and was pleasantly surprised to find Redwall the same magical, delicious-smelling place that I remembered.

Beth Cato

imagesFor me, the most memorable food isn’t from a specific book but from a genre. Starting at about age 8, I discovered Laura Ingalls Wilder and from there I read into historical fiction on the pioneer west, the Oregon Trail, and the Civil War. There are period details across those books that, when I started to write (and never finish) my own epic fantasy efforts at age 12, I consciously utilized. It was kind of a light bulb moment for me, that realization that, “Hey, these historical fiction books I read are totally different, but I this makes perfect sense to use in this medieval world of my own creation.” My characters traveled with dry meat, corn pone, and hard tack, and if they stayed put long enough they could fix some camp beans, They worried about the purity of water in a spring. Even if they were kids, they could set simple snares and cook over a campfire.

It’s funny to think of how that base knowledge has carried over to The Clockwork Dagger. My main character, Octavia, is a farm girl, but she can set snares, tuck away rolls and hard cheese, and use enchantments to make sure the water is safe. Camp beans are still on the menu–plus, now I have a nonfiction book on the Civil War medicine and camp life to provide specific direction on how it was done. The food isn’t gourmet by any means, but when people are trying to kill you and your stomach is near empty, most any meal tastes divine.

What’s your favorite literary food or meal?