Monthly Archives: May 2014

Vectors: Plotter or Pantser?

Our question this week: Plotter or pantser? Have you changed your position on the spectrum and if so, how?

Tina Connolly

tina_connolly-300x450I used to be a total pantser. Not the sort of pantser who describes their process as “following the headlights down a dark twisty road”, but a terrible sort that involved seeing one little image that might be part of a story someday. It might be a sentence, it might be a character, it might be a moment. And then, seeing another little image. And another. And maybe the first image is the end of the story and maybe the second one is in the middle and maybe the third one is also in the middle, but a different middle, one that exists if the story goes somewhere else. (But in the meantime, you’re going to need this non-canon 3rd image in order to find the 4th image, and the 6th.) And then, trying to put all these things together.
This worked . . . okay . . . for short stories.

This was terrible for novels.

I have a trunked novel written this way. It’s a glorious mess, and maybe someday it’ll come out of the trunk and try to reform. But basically around the time of Ironskin (my 7th novel), I had to learn to start writing linearly. There were still many times in that novel I would jump sideways and write another piece of the puzzle that had occurred to me, and then go back. Copperhead got a little better, process-wise. And then with the last novel, Silverblind, I was finally able to just write it from start to finish. No jumping around. And I think it’s my strongest novel yet.

My current process is somewhere between plotter and headlights. I start by figuring out the loose overall arc to the story. About as much as would go on the back of a book, say. Then I start writing, finding the voice, finding out things I didn’t know. I go back and refine my outline, adding more detail. Back and forth. I’m enjoying this process much more than the floundering connect-the-dots I had before, and I think it may stick with me for awhile. . .

E. C. Ambrose

E. C. AmbroseI used to write only when the inspiration took me–so I might not write for weeks, then suddenly I would spend days on end working on the novel. Each time, the spaces seemed to grow–I’d spend more time doing nothing, then more time writing. But the books that resulted from this tended to be rambling and jumpy. I did sell one of these books, which was submitted at 220K words, and published at 167K–ouch! Painful revision!! Two big epiphanies lead me to my current process.
First of all, I had a bunch of friends doing NANO. I couldn’t take off the month of November (I was running a wholesale gift business at the time) But I could take off most of January into February, so I did a personal chapter-a-day challenge. I wrote 38 chapters in 35 days, the book that became Elisha Barber. I think this approach allowed me to maintain the energy of the work during the whole time I was writing. On the other hand, the book has a single protagonist, and a fairly tight plot structure. I would get ideas about things to happen later and jot them on old business cards to keep a sort of loose, running outline. The equivalent of a GPS for that dark, windy road where I could see a few turns ahead, but not the whole roadmap.

By the time I sold Elisha Barber, as book 1 of “The Dark Apostle” series, I had written 4 more books to follow it, and wrap the series. Unfortunately, the editors loved the first book, but wanted the rest of the series to be bigger, more epic. They wanted. . . an outline! Gasp. So this dedicated pantser sat down and brainstormed a new series structure. They weren’t crazy about it. They had suggestions. I wrote a new outline with those suggestions. I wasn’t crazy about it. I wrote yet one more outline–this time really working each major turn, especially developing a climax worthy of the whole series.

And lemme tell you–far from making me lose steam on the books because I know how they end, having that big, amazing moment to work toward has fired me up about it. I still make changes as I go–usually moving around parts of the outline rather than ditching them entirely–but the outline gives me confidence about the work. I just finished developing an outline for a new series, taking my time with the R&D, then doing a lightning draft for the first few chapters, combining the big-picture structure tools of the outline with the energy and excitement of the writing flow. Can’t tell you how jazzed I am to get to work on that!

M. K. Hutchins

MK HutchinsWith short fiction, I usually write a scene-by-scene outline before drafting. Every scene carries so much burden of the story that I feel I need to carefully plan it out for the story to flow and make sense.

With novels, I used to wing the entire thing, but the results were not always pretty (or even salvageable). Now I start a book with a very rough outline — maybe a page or two of notes, often along the lines of Dan Well’s 7-point-plotting system, which makes a lot of sense to me.

But “outlining” isn’t just something to do before writing a book. Whenever I finish a chapter, I go summarize it in my ongoing chapter-by-chapter outline. I usually outline the next chapter before I actually write it as well. Having a broad framework to hang the story on, then keeping track of what I’m actually doing, helps me a lot. But digging in and just writing gives me ideas for what should happen next. I also love writing a character into a horrible bind with no idea of how they’ll survive, because then I’m pretty sure my reader won’t know, either.

So, plotting and pantsing are, for me, both valuable tools.

Fran Wilde

Fran2014It depends on the story. Quite often, I write a scene or a voice because it wants to be written — so a complete pants — and then I block out what kind of story that scene is trying to tell — plotting. The first novel I wrote was loosely outlined. The second was pantsed, then plotted, then the last third came out in a completely different direction than I’d expected, and that was great too.

Story’s gonna story.

J. Kathleen Cheney

screenshot2Definitely a plotter. I’ve rarely had any luck just ‘going where the story takes me.’ When I try that I usually have to go back and rein in all the subplots that want to go off in every direction. So in interest of being efficient (which is my goal these days), I’m working harder on the front end. I hope that saves me headaches on the editing end.

Not that I’m perfect. I usually write an outline and fall off the outline wagon somewhere about 1/3 of the way through. By 2/3s I’m hopelessly off….so I re-outline the rest of the book then and try to fix it. In fact, this has always been a problem for me, so much so that while I do outline the story and I know where it will end, I’ll generally only produce a detailed outline for the beginning of the book. The middle third is lighter, and the last third of the outline is sketchy at best. Why spend the time creating an elaborate ending when I know that by the time I get there I’ll have to redo the outline?

That doesn’t qualify me as a pantser, though…

Michael R. Underwood

Michael R. UnderwoodI see plotter and pantser as two extremes of one continuum. I’ve swung from 95% pantser to 80% plotter over the course of my writing career. Before I wrote my first novels, all of my short stories were 100% pantsing.

My first novel was 90% pantsed, with only the vaguest structure in mind. When I wrote Shield and Crocus, my third novel (before Geekomancy, but published after), I built out a bit of an outline, a ‘lamp posts in the darkness’ structure that gave me landmarks but little in the way of connective tissue or points in-between.

Each novel since then, and in a big way in the last year, I’ve moved more and more toward being an outliner. Attack the Geek was broken out down to the scene, and Hexomancy, which I’m writing even now, Is broken down to scene and beats within. I still go off-outline, and frequently, trying not to be afraid to let my imagination lead me down unforseen paths on the day and in the moment.

My next step is not to outline more, but to outline smarter, to look at the arcs, sub-plots, and to have more of a sense of the shape of the story in addition to the beat-by-beat of ‘this happens, and then that, all leading to this’ outlining that I do now. I know that I’m only operating at the low levels of plotting, and I’m hoping I can get better and smarter at it to produce even stronger first drafts and to be able to look at complete drafts and get better at identifying where the structure has gotten lopsided and needs to be corrected to create more beautifully-shaped stories

Beth Cato

BethCato-steampunk-headshotI’m totally a plotter, but then, I’m even a plotter in real life. I’m the queen of to-do lists and planning out my day, researching restaurants before I will eat there, etc. It only makes sense that this carries over to my writing. I even do little outlines for flash fiction.

That said, I’m flexible within my plots, too. My writing tends to surprise me, especially as I near the climax. There’s often a point as I write or as I rewrite when the proverbial light bulb clicks on over my head and I realize, “Oh yeah, THAT is what I was writing.” My novels in particular are this way. I heavily outline plot and subplot up to the climax. At that point, I have vague ideas of the event and definite ideas about the result, but no clue how it actually happens.

That said, my poetry is my one area of spontaneity. I start with a prompt or first line, write, and have no idea where it will go. My rough drafts tend to pour out all at once.

Lawrence M. Schoen

Lawrence SchoenIn thinking about my answer this week, it felt a bit like being enrolled in a 12-step program and attending a meeting. Imagine yourself in a room full of cheap folding chairs occupied by a menagerie of authors, a table with bad coffee and donuts at the back, and some writer standing at the front who introduces himself by name and then adds, “And I’m a Pantser.”

When I first started writing, my fiction began with a cool idea and a character. That was enough to begin the engagement for me (and ideally, for my reader). It’s that teaser at the beginning of a television show before the first commercial break; if they did their job you’re still watching after the commercial ends. Beginnings are crucial.

With a Beginning in hand, I’d then turn to the Ending. How do I want things to look when it’s all over? Where will my character be and how is he different now (which is not the same as how did those changes come about)?

Once I had a rough idea of my Beginning and my Ending, I was off! This for me is the very definition of being a Pantser. As you stand at the start of your tale, there are an nigh infinite number of ways for you to get from Point A to Point B. Who needs a map? Turn off the GPS and just head out. The adventure will unravel.

The problem though is that while you can often get a satisfying story this way, I’ve found the the odds of actually doing so go way up when you have a clear (which is not necessarily the same as saying “detailed”) outline before you begin.

The thing that converted me was spending two weeks on top of a mountain and learning from master plotter Walter Jon Williams. I refer to his master class, the Taos Toolbox. That experience set me on the road of recovery (to continue beating the 12-step metaphor).

The last thing I’ll say about being a (reformed pantser) outliner is that when you have an outline and you get stuck on the part of the book you’re working on, you can skip ahead to another point along the line and keep on going. Which allows me to turn the unrepentant pantsers in the room and go “neener neener” when they get stuck.

Steve Bein

Steve BeinI’ve always been a plotter, and I wish to hell I wasn’t. Plotting is the hardest part of writing to me.

I’ve tried it the other way, and writing by the seat of my pants, I can churn out lots of snappy dialogue. Nice descriptions of settings and characters too. Cool fight scenes, interesting philosophical problems, all that good stuff. What never, ever emerges is story. It’s all just rambling.

So I’m a plotter because I have to be. I think of it this way: I need to log a flight plan before I take off. I need to know my destination in advance. That said, unexpected turbulence can force me to depart from the plan. I always outline, but I rarely end up following the outline point by point. The flight path evolves as it progresses, swerving to avoid problems as they arise.

So where are you on this continuum?

Vectors: What is your favorite first line in a novel or story?

Steve Bein

I’m torn between Ernest Hemingway and Jeff Carlson:

tumblr_m4ghjz00MB1qhho07“He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.”
(The Old Man and the Sea)

“They ate Jorgensen first.”
(Plague Year)

Carlson sets the tone for the next three books in that one sentence. Not an easy thing to do!

But Hemingway being Hemingway, he accomplishes quite a bit more than this. He sets the tone, introduces the protagonist, and raises a host of questions about him. Why does he fish alone? Is he just bad at this, or does he have terrible luck, or is something happening in the Gulf Stream to make the fishing so poor? Given how poorly he’s faring, why does he keep going out in that skiff? This geezer is either as persistent and tenacious as Rocky Balboa or as lonely and wretched as Gollum.

Some day, when I teach a class on fiction writing, The Old Man and the Sea will be a required text. Hemingway fills the whole book with sentences like that. But in terms of sheer stopping power, no one hits harder than Jeff Carlson with those first four words. Hemingway, himself a boxer, would appreciate that.

 

 

Tina Connolly

pride-and-prejudice-by-jane-austen-mobile-wallpaperCertainly Pride & Prejudice! “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”

In the SFF arena, I always loved the opening to Robin McKinley’s Hero and the Crown: “Aerin could not remember a time when she had not known the story; she had grown up knowing it.” It sets the mythic tone of the book, but more, of course, I immediately
want to know what that story is. A story you learned so long ago that you can’t even remember the first time you heard it. It must be an important story to her – and it is; it’s about her mother–which rolls into being important about Aerin, too. The story of her ancestry is the story of the book, and it unfolds beautifully from there.

 

Beth Cato

download“Mars is supposed to be dead, just a big hunk of cold rock hanging in space.”

That’s the first line of The Daedalus Incident by Michael J. Martinez, one of my favorite books from last year. The book is not a straightforward science fiction tale set on Mars, though. It has two parallel plots: one set on Mars, where a human mining settlement is disturbed by seismic activity and other weirdness that defies logic, and late 1700s aboard a British ship that is powered by alchemy and sailing through deep space. The two realities begin to overlap and it’s incredibly fun. I love the mind-bendy aspect of Martinez’s historical fiction. That first line is really a great set up for that fact that everything they think they know is utterly wrong.

The sequel, The Enceladus Crisis came out the first week in May. I’ve had it preordered and I can’t wait to start reading!

J. Kathleen Cheney

76620The primroses were over.
—Watership Down, by Richard Adams

This was the first novel that I read (in sixth grade) where I actually began to notice the structure of the novel. The first time I had serious meta-thoughts about a book that I can remember. I read this novel over and over and over, because it fascinated me in every way—the stories they would tell each other, the made-up language, the relationships and hardships. Even some of the dialog is still stuck in my head all these years later. “Can you run? I think not.”

By eighth grade the paperback copy that I carried everywhere was in tatters. As a graduation present, my adored choir teacher presented me with a hardback copy—the first hardback I’d ever owned. I still have that hardback, well-worn, sitting in the very top left of the big bookshelves. And I still cry over the ending—even just thinking about it.

 

Michael R. Underwood

Neuromancer_(Book)The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.”
– from Neuromancer, by William Gibson.

Not only is it an incredibly evocative and tone-setting line indicating that the mediated world will be prominent, technology present in every aspect of life, it’s also one grounded in a sense of time and place. When Neuromancer was written, dead channels were all greyscale fuzz, a sea of null signal, out of which channels would emerge for intrepid adventurers adept enough with the bunny-ear antennae.

Now, dead channels are an infinite neon blue, flat, unchanging. I was too young to read Neuromancer when it first hit (I was 1 year old), and instead, I grew up in a world that had embraced Neuromancer‘s lessons, both the lessons to follow and the ones to avoid…but perhaps not as Gibson had intended. It’ a testament to how much has changed in science fiction and science reality in just 30 years.

M.K. Hutchins

“So, there I was, tied to an altar made from outdated encyclopedias, about to get sacrificed to the dark powers by a cult of evil Librarians.” This is from Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson, which I know I’ve already kinda mentioned. But it was worth mentioning twice—especially for that first line.

I’m also rather fond of the opening to The Shifter by Janice Hardy: “Stealing eggs is a lot The Shifter 72harder than stealing the whole chicken.

What is you favorite first line?

Vectors: What gets you excited about a new project?

E. C. Ambrose

Elisha BarberI know I have a story to tell when I have a person, in a place, with a problem.  I usually have no idea what the solution to the problem is–but I know it will get much worse before I’m done!

Most of my work is inspired by research. I’ll start reading up on a certain setting–the vital intersection of a particular place, with the historical period or current event I want to focus on.  I’ll read anything I can to build up that background material, taking notes on details I think might be useful, and considering what kinds of people in that setting would be interesting to tell a story about.  The character usually appears from this research and brainstorming. So–person, place–next, I just need the problem!  Conflict is the engine of plot.  This initial problem could be large, clearly a major conflict, or it could be a smaller one that gets the character moving (willingly, or not).  In the case of Elisha Barber, my reading on medieval surgery led me to a barber surgeon in London, his hands dripping with blood, framed in a sunlit door and saying, “My God, I’ve killed them all.”  Who had he killed?  And why?  I had to write the book to find out. . .

 

Beth Cato

Clockwork DaggerI get excited about a project when I have an outline. Yes, I’m a total square, a dweeb. I’m also diagnosed as OCD and that is very true with my writing process, too.

See, the story/poem/novel begins with the base concept, whether that’s a scene, an opening line, or a problem. But then the conundrum is figuring out how everything fits together–and this makes me very anxious. When my grandma taught me how to do jigsaw puzzles, her primary tip was, “Look for the edge pieces first.” When I start something new, I don’t know if I hold an edge piece or one from the middle, so I begin to create my own edges. I jot down notes, stream-of-consciousness. For a story, I usually type them straight into Word like a little list of plot points. This is the exciting part–it’s when my brain sees everywhere out there and I can judge if it actually makes sense, if it’s worth writing.

Novels are bigger and scarier. I get excited by the concept, but I’m afraid to get too enthusiastic. I feel a lot better about things when I have an outline and when I can see the spectral tendrils of how everything will click together. When I do my stream-of-consciousness notes for novels, I called it “plot vomit.” I hack up everything that might happen in the course of the story. It’s messy. It’s ripe. But from there, I can break things into scenes and chapters, flesh it out more, shuffle everything into Scrivener, and actually start writing.

After I finish a draft and accept that it might not completely suck? That’s when I get really excited.

 

 

Steve Bein

Like Beth, I’m an outliner, and like E.C., I need some kernel to work with before I can move forward. For me that kernel pops into being when two ideas coalesce.

Here’s an example: I heard an interview with Steven Tyler, who once forgot all the lyrics to the new Aerosmith album in the back seat of a cab. He said it was the most important thing in the world. I thought, Hell, the whole world should burn to a crisp if the most important thing in it is Aerosmith lyrics. That got me wondering what the most important thing in the world really is, and how someone could forget it in the back seat of a cab.

This was just my bag. I’m a philosopher, so I spend a lot of time thinking about the most important things in the world. Truth, justice, beauty, love, wisdom, the kind of stuff Plato wrote about. Stuff it’s not so easy to leave in a cab.

So the cab idea floated idly for years, and somewhere along the way I started thinking about time travel, precognition, and poker. (You know, as one does.) untitledIf moments are like cards in a deck, it would be really nice to know in advance which cards are coming up—or better yet, to borrow the best ones from deeper in the deck to play right now. This wouldn’t be time travel per se. More like time borrowing.

And bang, there it was: the coalescence. What’s the most important thing in the world? Time. How do you leave time in the back seat of a cab? You keep it in a time lender.

The result was “The Most Important Thing in the World,” which might be the best short story I ever wrote. It published in Asimov’s, and reappeared just this year in The Time Traveler’s Almanac. (Check out that table of contents. Star-studded to say the least!)

 

Tina Connolly

silverblindI get excited when the right voice finally comes to me. (Which, often, might be the same as knowing who the main character really is.) I’m in the noodling-around stage of a new project right now. The last couple months I’ve had it ticking along in the back of my brain, gathering bits of ideas and mashing them together. I can hear a voice starting to emerge out of it. I have a hard time working on more than one project at once, so I’m letting it build up until I have a chance to
put some words down. The whole early process of grabbing fun ideas, playing with them, and then finally, putting fingers to keyboard and finding out if there’s something there . . . that’s definitely my first exciting bit!

 

Michael R. Underwood

GeekomancyI almost always start with the Big Idea for a story. Things like “What would happen if you combined the New Weird with Superheroes?” (Shield and Crocus) or “What would geek magic look like?” (Geekomancy).

Those big ideas come knocking, and I take some notes, brainstorm a bit. But a project goes from ‘this would be a cool idea’ to ‘I Must Write This’ when I get a character, a starting situation, and an overall conflict.

When I’m developing a story, I plan, I think, and more recently, I outline. There’s an accretion effect, where my ideas and excitement for a project build, and build, and build, until there’s a point where I am nearly jumping out of my own skin to get started, and then that pile of excitement I’ve been building breaks like a wave,, and I dive into the project, riding that excitement into the beginning of the draft.

M. K. Hutchins

brownies-05021Ideas get me excited. Big, tasty, chewy, worldbuilding ideas. But a single idea does not a story make. Usually I need to slam several idea together to carry a story…but not all ideas go together. So I keep an idea folder, brimming with notes of things that would be cool to write about. Sometimes the ideas linger for years, just waiting for the right pairing. It’s like goat cheese brownies. Goat cheese is tangy and delicious. Dark chocolate brownies are decadent. Bake them together, and you’ve got a mind-blowing, tasty treat. When I try to write before I have the right mix of ideas, the results are underbaked (bad pun entirely intended).

With Drift there were a lot of different things whirling together in my brain. Floating turtle-islands inspired by Maya cosmology. Family structure on an agrarian and population-restricted floating island. A watery hell populated by dangerous monsters. A main character with a family history of treason who is still trying to figure out what that treason was. Eventually, I knew I had enough to fill a world, to fill up a novel, and I was ready — and eager — to start.

J. Kathleen Cheney

My process is very similar to M.K.’s.  I put together lots of ideas, gathered from myriad sources. Some things I can’t even tell you where they came from. (I was asked recently about my underwater artwork idea the other day, and could only reply that it sprang fully-formed from the dark corners of my mind.)Jia-li hands

I usually mentally string those ideas together with characters, then come up with a plot. Then I flesh out that plot with all the circumstances that make it logical. This photograph, for instance, cut from a magazine ad, ended up being tied with several other images, two concepts, and some time-period studies into an entire series of short stories (including “The Dragon’s Child” and  “Early Winter, Near Jenli Village.”)

But at some point, the possibility of a Romance comes along for one of my characters, and that’s when I truly start to enjoy it. Yep, somewhere deep down inside, I have a Romance Writer struggling to get out (I probably subsumed my romance-writing twin in the womb or something.)

(I do write stories without any Romance, BTW, Fleurs du Mal being an example of that.)

Cover reveal: E.C. Ambrose with ELISHA MAGUS

E.C. Ambrose debuted the cover of Elisha Magus on Goodreads a few days ago–now it’s Novelocity’s turn! This second book in the Dark Apostle series will come out July 1st in hardcover and ebook.

Elisha_Magus(1)

In Elisha Magus, the barber-surgeon, feared and hunted for his spectacular regicide, finds himself under the protection of a duke, and offered the duke’s daughter, Rosalynn, in marriage. When Elisha escorts Rosalynn to a retreat in the New Forest, he hopes to recover the dread talisman stolen by his lover and teacher, Brigit, after the battle. Elisha learns more about the shadowy nature of witches and the truth of his own power: that he has become so close to Death that he is indivisible from it—a power that Brigit is desperate to learn. Does his knowledge make him a necromancer, feeding on the fear and pain of others?

When he befriends the discredited Prince Thomas, Elisha has the chance to forge a more just nation, but his enemies grow stronger and more vicious, wielding the power of death to craft a reign of horrors that will blacken the future of England—and maybe the world.

Vectors: Our Favorite Scoundrels

Who shoots first does matter. This week our topic is:
Excepting Han Solo (because otherwise this question would be too easy), who is your favorite sci fi or fantasy scoundrel?

J. Kathleen CheneyJ. Kathleen Cheney
I’m not a reader who likes villains. I think of monsters as monsters, and bad guys as probably-not-redeemable. That said, when I read this question, my mind immediately turned to the one villain I find fascinating: Bane. Not the Batman version, but a far stranger scoundrel/villain. Godstalk

In the book Godstalk P. C. Hodgell introduces us to a young woman named Jame who’s come to a city to escape her past. She earns an apprenticeship with the local thieves’ guild, but in the process attracts the attention of one of the local nasties, a fellow named Bane. He has a terrible reputation for hurting people who cross him, even to the point of flaying them alive. Yes, he’s that sort of bad guy. Bad all the way through.

Now I’m about to drop some spoilers, but the book has been out for years, so…here goes.

Along the way, Jame discovers that Bane is probably her half-brother, and that his soul was stolen from him by his foster father who used it to create a monster than haunts the lower part of town, devouring the souls of children. Near the end of the first book, though, Bane sacrifices his life protecting Jame, fully knowing that he will be flayed alive….and that because he’s separated from his soul, he cannot die.

And he doesn’t. His soul is still hanging around, halfway stalking Jame, and halfway watching her back. Later, when she has something precious she needs hidden, she puts it in an oubliette, and leaves him guarding it. BTW, the item is one of the three sacred items of their people.

The author is several books into this series, and the main reason I’m still reading it is not that I want to find out how Jame and her twin brother are fairing. It’s not to see the big apocalyptic showdown that we know is coming.

I want to see what Bane does with the Book Bound in Pale Leather….

BethCato-steampunk-headshotBeth Cato
I’m generally not attracted to the scoundrel type. I mean, as much as I love Mal in Firefly, I know in person I would be utterly repulsed. I like my heroes lawful good.

Oddly enough, though, as I started to ponder book scoundrels I had one immediately come to mind–Arvid Semminson, in Elizabeth Moon’s masterful Paksenarrion fantasy series. He’s a card-carrying member of the Thieves’ Guild and pretty darn good at killing people. Really, he’s everything that a paladin such as Paks should despise. Moon creates wonderfully shaded characters, though. Arvid has done bad things, but he still has a sound moral core, and everyone who is a satellite to Paks cannot help but be changed in a profound way. Maybe that’s why he’s my kind of rogue.crown-of-renewal

The original Paks books started in the 1980s and Moon has extended the series in recent years. The final book, Crown of Renewal, comes out in late May. I confess I haven’t read last year’s book yet–my to-read pile is downright scary–but I have a hunch that Arvid is destined for some kind of greatness. If he lives. If not, I figure there’s a grand purpose in that, too.

Lawrence SchoenLawrence M. Schoen
This is another tough one, particularly as I have my own series of novels, novellae, and short stories where the protagonist is a likeable rougue (and if you haven’t read any of the adventures of the adventures of the Amazing Conroy, then shame on you).

I’m leaning a bit toward nominating Vlad Taltos from the series of novels by Steven Brust. They’re a great read and loads of fun except one thing is holding me back: The protagonist in question isn’t so much a scoundrel as a professional assassin. That’s part of Brust’s charm as a writer, he has the reader cheering for a character who goes around killing other characters. Fun stuff, but not a proper choice for this week’s question.HouseofShards

Instead, I’m going to go with Drake Maijstral, the gentleman thief from a trio of novels by Walter Jon Williams. Humanity has long since assimilated by an ancient, alien civilization, and because a past emperor was a bit of a klepto, we now have “allowed burglary.” But it’s not simply a case where the authorities look the other way, it’s actually an “extreme sport” and minor aristocrat Maijstral is rated among the Top Ten by the Imperial Sporting Committee. And of course, he’s aided by his long-suffering alien butler. It’s bit like like a blend of P.G. Wodehouse’s “Jeeves” stories and Alexei Panshin’s Anthony Villiers books. Great characters shoved into great situations.

I’ve referred to Williams in the past as the Master of Plot, and he really shows that off here as he piles on subplot after subplot after subplot, book after book, in this too-short series that can perhaps best be described as an interstellar comedy of manners.

The books themselves (The Crown Jewels, House of Shards, and Rock of Ages) vanished from print years ago. The Science Fiction Book Club had them in an omnibus edition (Ten Points for Style), but I think that’s gone now too. Fortunately though Williams has been converting his backlist to ebook format, and all three books are available again, and at reasonable prices.

MK HutchinsM.K. Hutchins
Althalus, from The Redemption of Althalus by David and Leigh Eddings.RedemptionofAlthalus

I know the name “Eddings” brings up images of long series, but this is a stand alone. That’s part of what I love about it. The novel feels like an entire series tightly crammed into a delightful 726-page package (okay, that doesn’t make it sound short). I’ve read this one multiple times. It has all those big epic, sweeping stakes and all that lovely banter that I think the Eddings really excelled at writing — but without any long slogs of traveling or other meanderings that fantasy of that era was prone to.

And The Heist Society by Ally Carter was terribly fun — exactly what I needed while I was staying up late at night rocking a newborn. I rarely pick up contemporary novels, but the premise sucked me in. Katrina’s conman father’s been blamed for a theft he (actually) didn’t commit. So Katrina — who thought she’d left “the life” behind for good — is back in the game to find the stolen paintings and steal them back before it’s too late.Heist Society

 

 

Steve BeinSteve Bein
I think I’m going to go with Turin Turambar. For my money he’s Tolkien’s greatest character. I know that’s a bold statement, but seriously, read Children of Hurin. It’s brilliant.

But this is such a hard choice! It seems I’m not of the same mind with many of my fellow Novelociraptors, because scoundrels are usually my favorites. Even when I was little, I liked Wolverine and was bored by Captain America.

So for me Turin has some pretty tough competition. The next obvious choice after Han Solo is Chewbacca. After Chewie comes Mal Reynolds from Firefly (since let’s face it, Mal is Han Solo, just in a different incarnation). After him, the next most obvious choice is everyone else on Firefly.The_Children_of_Hurin_cover

After them, I want to say Jamie Lannister, and I would say Tyrion too, except Tyrion stays too close to the halls of power for me to call him a proper scoundrel. To me Jamie never quite fits in; he’s at his best when he’s riding rakishly around the Seven Kingdoms.

After them, Loki, Coyote, Butch Cassidy, Inigo Montoya, YT from Snow Crash, Rorschach from Watchmen, Gurney Halleck from Dune, Lando Calrissian from the old Alan Dean Foster novels, Silk from the Belgariad… so many choices! Not to mention Arya Stark, who isn’t quite a scoundrel but she’s one in the making, or Conan, who could be a great scoundrel if only he weren’t so darn grim all the time, or… well, the list goes on and on.

So since I’m forced to make a choice, I’m sticking with Turin. But he’s in good (bad?) company!

INITIAL ACCELERATION: UPCOMING BOOKS FOR MAY

coversplash may

The Novelociraptors always keep an eye out for new publications, and here we offer a sampling of books launching this May.

Grendel’s Curse  by Alex Archer

White Heart of Justice by Jill Archer

Bloodwitch by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes

End Program  by James Axler

The Boost by Stephen Baker

Of Neptune by Anna Banks

SALT by Colin F. Barnes

The Pillars of Sand  by Mark T. Barnes

Banishing the Dark  by Jenn Bennett

Mirror Sight by Kristen Britain

Skin Game by Jim Butcher

The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne

The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier by Jack Campbell

Thief’s Magic  by Trudi Canavan

Searching for Sky by Jillian Cantor

Queen of the Dark Things by C. Robert Cargill

The One  by Kiera Cass

Divided by Elsie Chapman

City of Heavenly Fire  by Cassandra Clare

The Wizard’s Promise by Cassandra Rose Clarke

Strange Country by Deborah Coates

The Severed Streets by Paul Cornell

The Girl with the Windup Heart  by Kady Cross

Deadlock by Tim Curran

The White List by Nina D’Aleo

A Dance of Shadows by David Dalglish

The Unforgiven  by Alyssa Day

Suffer the Children by Craig DiLouie

Deep Blue  by Jennifer Donnelly

A Place for Sinners by Aaron Dries

The Chronicle of Secret Riven by Ronlyn Dominique

Dark Matter by Ian Douglas

American Craftsmen by Tom Doyle

The Lost by Sarah Beth Durst

MILA 2.0 by Debra Driza

The Oversight  by Charlie Fletcher

Jade Sky by Patrick Freivald

Slightly Spellbound  by Kimberly Frost

Dangerous Creatures by Cami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Rogue by Greg F Gifune

Frankenstorm by Ray Garton

Chantress Alchemy by Amy Butler Greenfield

A Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca Hahn

Midnight Crossroad  by Charlaine Harris

While We Run by Karen Healey

Mammals by James Robert Hernden

Witches in Red by Barb Hendee

Motherless Child by Glen Hirshberg

Sanctuary  by G. Michael Hopf

Sworn in Steel by Douglas Hulick

In Dark Service by Stephen Hunt

Reborn  by CC Hunter

Painkillers by Simon Ings

Hunt the Darkness  by Alexandra Ivy

The Guild  by Jean Johnson

Sixth Grave on the Edge  by Darynda Jones

Scan by Walter Jury and Sarah Fine

The Immortal Circus  by AR Kahler

The Way to Babylon by Paul Kearney

Zombie, Indiana by Scott Kenemore

Alien Collective by Gini Koch

Starship Grifters  by Robert Kroese

A Girl Called Fearless by Catherine Linka

Artemis Awakening by Jane Lindskold

Bald New World by Peter Tieryas Liu

Guardian by Alex London

The Three by Sarah Lotz

Bird Box by Josh Malerman

Hot Lead, Cold Iron by Ari Marmell

The Enceladus Crisis by Micheal J. Martinez

The Falconer by Elizabeth May

The River of Souls by Robert McCammon

The Crimson Campaign  by Brian McClellan

Sparrow Hill Road by Seanan McGuire

Among the Unseen by Jodi McIsaac

Defenders by Will McIntosh

Reaping the Dark by Gary McMahon

Meridian  by Josin L McQuein

The Immortal Crown by Richelle Mead

Free to Fall by Lauren Miller

Cyador’s Heirs  by LE Modesitt Jr

Crown of Renewal by Elizabeth Moon

Dark Aemilia  by Sally O’Reilly

House of the Rising Sun  by Kristen Painter

The Bees by Laline Paull

The Given by Vicki Pettersson

After the End by Amy Plum

The A-Word by Joy Preble

Feather Bound by Sarah Raughley

Twenty Trillion Leagues Under the Sea by Adam Roberts

Camelot Burning  by Kathryn Rose

Veil of the Deserters  by Jeff Salyards

Gemsigns by Stephanie Saulter

Fire Kin by MJ Scott

The Dark World  by Cara Lynn Shultz

End Times by Anna Schumacher

Empower  by Jessica Shirvington

Allies & Assassins by Justin Somper

Dragon Princess by S. Andrew Swann

Shattered by Teri Terry

Rebel: 2  by Amy Tintera

Merlin’s Nightmare by Robert Treskillard

Indistinguishable from Magic by Catherynne M Valente

Authority  by Jeff Vandermeer

Pandemic by Yvonne Ventresca

Ash and Bone by Lisa Von Biela

My Real Children by Jo Walton

Night Terrors by Tim Waggoner

The Silk Map by Chris Willrich

The Epherium Chronicles: Crucible by TD Wilson

The Man with the Compound Eyes by Wu Ming-Yi

Raging Star  by Moira Young

Bad Luck Girl by Sarah Zettel

 

 

 

*This is not, of course, a complete list. We simply can’t catch every launch!

News for April and May

Tina Connolly

tina_connolly-300x450– Wrote and sold a brand-new story! It’s called “Super-Baby-Moms Group Saves the Day!”, and I sold it to Alex Shvartsman for the UFO3 humor anthology.
– Is currently doing copyedits for Silverblind. Then come page proofs, and then we are ALL DONE.

Beth Cato

BethCato-steampunk-headshot– sent sequel novel The Clockwork Crown to editor a month and a half before deadline. Huzzah!
– science fiction poem “Barstow” in Spark Volume V
– steampunk poem “Cogs” in the April issue of Apex Magazine
– will be attending LepreCon in Mesa, Arizona, on Saturday May 10th

J. Kathleen Cheney

-sold two more books to Ace/Roc (Penguin), The Shores of Spain, the third book in the Golden City series, and Dreaming Death, the first in a new series that includes a character who’s previously appeared in her fiction, Shironne Anjir. If you’d like to read a story about her, “Touching the Dead” was originally published in Jim Baen’s Universe and reprinted in The Best of Jim Baen’s Universe, Vol. 2. It’s also available free here.

E. C. Ambrose

E. C. Ambrose-is doing a cover reveal on Goodreads on May 9th for Elisha Magus, book 2 in The Dark Apostle series!





Steve Bein

PMA cover— The Italian translation of Daughter of the Sword hit shelves.
– Turned in copyedits for the mass market release of Year of the Demon, which comes out in September.
– Had a very successful panel at C2E2, and then shook hands with Hacksaw Jim Duggan, and later that night I had drinks with Patrick Rothfuss and John Scalzi!
Got a first look at the cover for Philosophy and the Martial Arts, which features an essay from Yours Truly.
– Looking forward to another great panel at Minneapolis Comic Con on Saturday, May 3, this one on writing and martial arts.
– Still going all stops out, full steam ahead on Disciple of the Wind.

(And because Steve was too humble to mention it himself, were noting here that Colleen Lindsay included Daughter of the Sword in her shortlist of top scifi/fantasy, including other notables like William Gibson’s Neuromancer and Charlaine Harris.)

M. K. Hutchins

MK HutchinsDrift will now be released in mid-June.
– My short story, “Water Lilies”, is up for free at Daily Science Fiction.
– show quoted text –
http://www.mkhutchins.com/


Fran Wilde

Fran2014– Interviewed Mur Lafferty AND Novelocity author Michael R. Underwood for Cooking the Books.

– My Storium kickstarter stretch goal level funded and I get to join the amazing group of authors writing for this incredible game. My space opera, State Liminal, will be available by the fall.

– And the big one: edits are turned in on the novel. Wooo! ::falls down:: ::gets back up:: ::keeps writing::

Michael R. Underwood

Michael R. UnderwoodAttack the Geek: A Ree Reyes Novella was published on April 7th. I conducted a short but potent blog tour to promote it, with highlights including an appearance a special GeekMom edition of Fran Wilde’s Cooking the Books.

The Skiffy and Fanty Show (of which I am a co-host) was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Fancast. This means I may now forever style myself a Hugo nominee. Two weeks later, I am only vaguely getting used to the idea.

Tor.com hosted the cover reveal and a first chapter excerpt of my upcoming novel, Shield and Crocus. I also received a box full of ARCs for said novel and somehow restrained myself from trying to dive into them like Scrooge McDuck.

And along the way, I started the first draft of Hexomancy, the third Ree Reyes novel.

Vectors: Favorite Non-English Language Story or Book (part 2)

We continue to answer the question, What’s your favorite non-English language book or story in the SF/F genre?

Lawrence SchoenLawrence M. Schoen
This is an easy pick. I’m going with the Epic of Gilgamesh, the oldest, written story we have. We’re talking early Mesopotamian here. Gilgamesh was King of Uruk back around 2500 BC. Uruk, for those of you playing along at home is believed to be one of the first cities of the world, so that makes it an even cooler place to have been a king, right?ghIlghameS

The story was probably originally written in Sumerian, but survives into present day because it was used as a teaching exercise for young scribes learning to write Akkadian. As a result, there are numerous, intact sets of cuneiform tablets with the story, which have allowed historians ready access to the work, as well as creating a pretty standardized version of the story.

Gilgamesh is described as “two thirds god,” and has some wonderful adventures. He battles a wild man of the forest (Enkidu) and eventually the two become closer than brothers. When Enkidu dies (whoops, sorry, spoiler!), Gilgamesh goes to the underworld demanding the return of his friend. There’s also a section, written in a very different voice, that describes the sorts of things a person should do to lead a good life. Nice advice from the dawn of civilization.

Of course, what makes this even more special to me, is that it’s precisely the kind of Human action tale that Klingons would enjoy. Which goes a long way to explaining why, in 2003, I published ghIlghameS, a Klingon translation of the Earth’s oldest epic.

I think I’ve got the timeline spanned pretty well there, don’t you?

AnatolyBelilovskyGuest Anatoly Belilovsky
If I had to pick one book, it would have to be 20000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA by Jules Verne – it hit me early and it hit me hard; I remember reading it in my grandparents’ apartment in Lvov, in Russian, in first grade in school, and rereading it more times than I can count. The grandeur of going places, of the alien world under the sea; the lone, isolated captain Nemo; incredible freedom in strict confinement – the parallel between living in the Nautilus and living inside one’s head – it put the wonder in wandering.20000Leagues

As for others – also very early on –

MONDAY BEGINS ON SATURDAY (link to pdf)

NIICHAVO, the Institute of Research into Sorcery and Magic, is best thought of as a very small Hogwarts with Hagrid in charge – and if there are to be any charges of plagiarism, MONDAY BEGINS ON SATURDAY is vintage 1966.

And, finally:

AMPHIBIAN MAN

Another outcast, another quest for freedom in a dimension perpendicular to everyone else’s plane of existence. I see a pattern emerging. Hmm…

Anatoly Belilovsky was born in a city that went through six or seven owners in the last century, all of whom used it to do a lot more than drive to church on Sundays; he is old enough to remember tanks rolling through it on their way to Czechoslovakia in 1968. After being traded to the US for a shipload of grain and a defector to be named later (see wikipedia, Jackson-Vanik amendment), he learned English from Star Trek reruns and went on to become a pediatrician in an area of New York where English is only the fourth most commonly used language. He has neither cats nor dogs, but was admitted into SFWA in spite of this deficiency, having published stories in NATURE, Ideomancer, Immersion Book of Steampunk, Daily SF, Kasma, UFO, Stupefying Stories, Cast of Wonders, and other markets. He blogs about writing at loldoc.net, pediatrics at belilovsky.com, and his medical practice web site is babydr.us.

Michael R. UnderwoodMichael R. Underwood
I’m going to cheat and bring in media sources so I can talk about Ghost in the Shell. I was an anime/manga fan as a teen, because of and informing the fact that I studied Japanese in high school. Many of my friends were also studying Japanese, so we’d hang out and watch anime with subtitles over the weekends, practicing our aural comprehension.GitS

We started with Ranma 1/2, Vampire Hunter D, Tenchi Muyo, Akira, and Neon Genesis Evangelion, but it was really Ghost in the Shell that most blew me away. It was far deeper than most of the other anime (but more coherent than Neon Genesis Evangelion), and packed an incredible amount of plot, worldbuilding, character, and theme into one story, all lead by an impressive female lead who had a complicated and nuanced relationship to her body and to physicality in general. Other films and shows got me into anime, but Ghost in the Shell showed me what it could really do when it was stretching to be thought-provoking without being obtuse.

Fran2014Fran Wilde
Ahhh I was hoping someone would bring Ghost in the Shell. Go Mike!

My favorite non-English language stories are a tie, but one author influenced the other greatly. So:

Jorge Luis Borges (Argentina). All of it. The Book of Sand. Ficciones, “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,” “The Library of Babel.” I love watching his stories unfold. I love the way he explores ideas of place and memory.

Milorad Pavić (Serbia), specifically The Dictionary of the Khazars. This is a dictionary written in three parts, divided by religion. Definitions for the same word change depending on which part of the dictionary you are reading. You can read it linearly, or by jumping back and forth between words. And there’s a mysterious swordsman that weaves his way throughout the book. There are male and female versions of the dictionary, with only one word different. And the original dictionary (for this is a found object) was written in poison ink. Published in 1984, The Dictionary of the Khazars is a bound work of hypertext. It’s also lovely.

tina_connolly-300x450Tina Connolly
I have two answers to this question, and both are books I fell in love with as a kid. The first is Michael Ende’s The Never-Ending Story. Do you have memories of the moment of *discovery* of your favorite books? I definitely do. In this case . . . Well, I had a bad habit as a kid of going over to friend’s houses to play . . . and then sitting down and reading their books. On my friend Theresa’s bedstand was a library book that looked exactly as The Never-Ending Story should look: a hardback with an embossed picture of Auryn. I started reading . . . I got to the point where I found Bastien reading this very book . . . I could not stop. I think I read half of that book that night (and yes, as we all know, this is a very long book.) I couldn’t borrow it from her – it was a library book! I couldn’t borrow it from the library – she had it! Ah, the agony. I finally got to read all of it. I remember being confused and disappointed by the movie. But it didn’t change my love for the book.Paris20

And the second is another book that I still wildly love, and have re-read even more. Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth. I’ve seen the old Disney version a number of times, and though it, too, doesn’t match up with my own idea of the story, I rather like it all the same. When I took French in college, I worked my way through copies of this and of Around the World in 80 Days to practice the language. And of course, if you haven’t read the (comparatively) recently-discovered Paris in the 20th Century, the story is not my favorite, but it’s worth it just to see what Verne came up with!