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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.)

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!

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 –

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 1)

This week we look to works that originate in other languages by answering…
What’s your favorite non-English language book or story in the SF/F genre?

ken_liuGuest Ken Liu
If I had unlimited space, I could talk about this topic all day: Russian, Polish, and Japanese works of scifi have all been memorable to me, and many of the short stories I’ve read (and sometimes translated) from Chinese by authors such as Ma Boyong, Cheng Jingbo, Xia Jia, Hao Jingfang, Tang Fei, Bao Shu, etc., are among my favorites. But today, I’m limiting myself to three books only.

I’d have to begin with Cosmicomics, by Italo Calvino (original in Italian, translated by William Weaver). A fabulist take on “hard” scifi, this collection of short stories remains unparalleled, in my opinion, to this day. It was the first work of scifi I read that showed me the possibilities of melding fantasy and science fiction tropes, of using the language of science to speak in a logic of metaphors, of telling human stories using whimsical mathematical equations and mischievous physical constants.ThreeBodyProblem1

Next, I’d like to highlight the THREE BODY trilogy by Liu Cixin (“Liu” is his surname) from China. Enormously popular in China, these three are among my all-time favorite hard scifi books. An epic tale of humanity’s journey to the stars that begins with the threat of an alien invasion, the series is breathtakingly imaginative and compelling, with a non-Western perspective that is at once refreshing and thoughtful. The science is handled with great care and precision to convey the beauty and power of this most wondrous of our endeavors, while the human drama complements and reinforces the grand scale of the scientific speculation. I’m really glad that Tor Books is bringing the trilogy to Anglophone readers (starting with the first book, THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM in fall of 2014). Volumes 1 and 3 will be translated by me while volume 2 will be done by Joel Martinsen.

Finally, I want to talk about my friend Chen Qiufan’s debut novel, THE WASTE TIDE, which is now my favorite contemporary near-future Chinese scifi. (Again, “Chen” is his surname.) A dystopian tale rooted in the cyberpunk tradition, it’s also a clever, nuanced, and layered critique of globalization, neocolonialism, and the hypocrisy of democratic and authoritarian societies alike in the face of imbalances of power and wealth. And he manages to do all of this with moving, wonderful characters and a brilliant prose style that delights the ear
as well as the mind. I’ve translated a sample of his book and the reactions from readers so far are enthusiastic. I’m hoping to share this work with Anglophone readers soon.

Ken Liu is an author and translator of speculative fiction, as well as a lawyer and programmer. His fiction has appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Asimov’s, Analog, Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, and Strange Horizons, among other places. He is a winner of the Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy awards. He lives with his family near Boston, Massachusetts.

Ken’s debut novel, The Grace of Kings, the first in a fantasy series, will be published by Saga Press, Simon & Schuster’s new genre fiction imprint, in 2015. Saga will also publish a collection of his short stories.

J. Kathleen CheneyJ. Kathleen Cheney
This is a very difficult question to answer, mostly because I haven’t read a ton of foreign-language authors. Usually if I read something in French or Spanish, it’s an author I already know, and I’m just reading the book for practice. (With novels, it’s easier to read one you’ve previously read in English so that you know the context when you tackle the foreign language.)

If I were to pick something I’ve -only- read in French, it would be Ansen Dibell’s, Le Soleil du grand retour.soleil

I talked about my love for this series in an earlier post, where I explain the general premises of the series. And as I say that I’m a big fan of Dibell’s work, why haven’t I read this in English? Because books four and five in the series, The High King of Kantmorie, were never printed in English, only French and Dutch. Le Soleil du grand retour is book five in the series, and I’ve even toyed with translating it into English, only to discover that I simply don’t have the time (although I know that someone is working on that.)

The current going price for this book, BTW, is about 95 euros (about 132 dollars). So getting copies of books 4 and 5 isn’t cheap. But if you’re a fan, it’s worth every cent…

MK HutchinsM. K. Hutchins
The Carpet Makers by Andreas Eschbach. This is a haunting book — somehow depressing and beautiful at the same time. The novel is a series of short stories, starting on the humble planet where carpet makers spend an entire lifetime crafting a single carpet from the hair of their wives to send to their unseen God Emperor.CarpetMakers

From that rural beginning, the stories travel to urban, then to intergalactic. The scope is immense. I haven’t read many short-stories-as-novels, but it works so well here. I don’t think that it would be possible to have the same kind of emotional experience if Eschbach didn’t show us so many parts of this carefully-built universe.

Steve BeinSteve Bein
I just adore The 13½ Lives of Captain Bluebear, by Walter Moers. Ordinarily I’m not a big reader of kid’s fiction, but those Europeans seem to have much more refined child readers than we have on this side of the Atlantic. There are a lot of American parents who wouldn’t allow their kids to read Bluebear. It’s almost irreverent but not quite, almost bawdy but not quite, almost sophisticated surrealist adult fiction but not quite. I’ll sum it up this way: Captain Bluebear and Baron Münchhausen would make good drinking buddies.Bluebear

Here are the opening lines of Bluebear, from the eponymous author:

A bluebear has twenty-seven lives. I shall recount thirteen-and-a-half of them in this book but keep quiet about the rest. A bear must have his secrets, after all; they make him seem attractive and mysterious.

Attractions and mysteries abound in this book. Captain Bluebear encounters minipirates, yetis, rickshaw demons, time-snails, the headless Bollogg and the Bollogless head. He sails around all of the sunken continents we’ve forgotten about, and takes us to places like the Valley of Discarded Ideas. He encounters such natural wonders as the Eternal Tornado and Cogitating Quicksand.

This is one of those books you’ve never heard of, and when you finish it you wonder why everyonehasn’t heard of this book. It belongs on the shelf right next to The Hobbit, The Last Unicorn, and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe—namely, the shelf of kid’s fantasy fiction that remains perennially captivating adult reading.

(Oh, and his has been translated from the original German. The English is fluid and fun.)

Vectors: The Deadline Kitchen

When you’re on a deadline, or trying to finish that novel, or copy edits, the last thing your brain sometimes has space for is cooking. But folks have to eat. So.

What do you cook, or not, when you’re in the weeds?

The Novelocity crew brings you five time tested recipes, plus survival foraging and ordering tips.

Tina Conolly

tina_connolly-300x450My favorite go-to when on deadline is to have already in the past prepared and stored quarts of soup. And by “already in the past” I also mean that someone else has done it for me. I don’t know why I have such a mental block on soup, but I’m absolutely convinced that I cannot get it to come out right. Luckily my husband happily throws whole chicken carcasses in our soup pot and makes stock, and when my parents come out to visit, my dad often offers to make up a couple pots of chicken noodle or green bean ham. It’s such a relief to see the freezer lined with plastic quarts of soup that just need to be reheated.

And then, while the soup’s warming up, I can throw together some cheese biscuits. Again, I’m unlike everyone I know in that I have a block against making soup but the opposite of a block against baking. Baking is relaxing. Baking is fun. Baking results in cheese biscuits or plum crisp at the end. I don’t even measure, so this is a totally unhelpful recipe, but it’s something like:

  • a cup of flour,
  • a tablespoon of baking powder,
  • several tablespoons butter,
  • some cheese,
  • some salt, and
  • some chopped-up whatever herby things are in the garden.
  • Add milk until it looks right (I know! Sorry.)
  • and bake at 425 for 12 minutesish.

Voila, dinner! And then, back to work. Oh no, wait, bathtime and bedtime. And THEN, back to work.

BethCato-steampunk-headshotBeth Cato 
When I’m on a deadline, I’m all about making large quantities of food that I can portion out to keep in the fridge or freezer. I love making breakfast cookies or energy balls, stuff that might take thirty minutes or an hour to assemble but save me a lot more time in the long run. In case my husband needs treats for work, I always keep cake mix stashed in the pantry so I can throw together cookies with two eggs, 1/3 cup oil, and chocolate chips or candy.

For supper, I love my crock pot. One of my new favorite recipes is pesto ranch chicken thighs–weirdly, my husband adores this recipe, though he doesn’t like ranch dressing or pesto. I love this because it comes together in five minutes, cooks over the afternoon, and is absolutely delicious. I modified the recipe from Picky Palate.

Pesto Ranch Thighs4_smNovelocityCrock Pot Pesto Ranch Thighs


  • 8 boneless skinless chicken thighs (2-3 pounds)
  • 6-8 ounce jar of pesto
  • 1 packet ranch dressing dry seasoning mix
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth or water mixed with chicken/vegetable stock concentrate or water


  1. Place chicken thighs, pesto, ranch dressing (dry from the packet) and liquid into crock pot. Stir gently to coat chicken and combine everything.
  2. Place lid on top and cook on high for 3-4 hours or on low for 6-8 hours. Leave thighs whole or chop. (If you chop, add them into the pot again on warm for 15 minutes so they can soak up more flavor!)

J. Kathleen CheneyJ. Kathleen Cheney

When I’m under a deadline crunch, most of my cooking goes by the wayside.   It’s chouriço and cheese, nuts (I had cashews for lunch yesterday), boiled or scrambled eggs and sausage.  The local Sprouts sells shredded chicken and turkey, which can be used to shortcut meals.  Apples with peanut butter.  A banana.  

It’s kinda sad, but I revert to college cooking.
But when I’m done?  Enchiladas and tamales, FTW!!!


Fran2014Fran Wilde
In the summer, two words: Tortellini Salad*

  • Cook up a bag of dried cheese tortellini.  Drain and rinse to cool.
  • Toss with olive oil and sea salt.
  • Add:
  • 1 container quartered cherry tomatoes
  • 1 avocado (or more if you’re an avocado person)
  • 1 can sweet corn
  • If we have other vegetables around, those have been known to go in there too.
  • Refrigerate until ready to eat. Makes leftovers.

*can be modified using gluten-free pasta. Turns out pretty ok, despite the best efforts of GF pasta to taste like wet cardboard.

Once that’s all eaten up, three more words: Take Out Indian. 



Steve BeinSteve Bein

Wow!  My fellow Novelociraptors are much more industrious in the kitchen than I am.  When I’m under a deadline — like right now, so I’ll keep this short — my default meal is breakfast cereal.  Prep time: one minute or less.  Clean-up: one minute or less.

Other favorites are bananas and granola bars.  Prep time: one second.  Clean-up: two seconds.  Chocolate goes on the list too, because otherwise this diet is a little low on vitamin C.  (The C does stand for chocolate, doesn’t it?)

Lest you think this diet is unhealthy, I’ll have you know I spoke to a dietician about it.  Dr. Spaceman from 30 Rock thinks it’s just fine.

Megan Hutchins
MK HutchinsIf I’m lucky and the deadline runs over a weekend — I don’t cook. My husband makes a huge batch ‘o delicious gumbo in the dutch oven which we then feast off of for several days. Barring that, a few of my other favorite things to cook…
  • 1-2 Tbsp curry paste,
  • a can of coconut milk,
  • plus some veggies (like cabbage, sweet potato, onion, bell pepper),
  • plus some kind of protein (I love shrimp, but it’s usually chicken or tofu).
  • Simmer it up. Toss rice in rice cooker.
  • Make a big batch so we have leftovers.

Couscous Salad

  • Cook a bunch of bulk couscous with handy homemade chicken stock in the freezer.
  • Add in some vegetation (fresh cucumber, tomato, and green onion is nice; cooked carrots work)
  • and something with fat or protein (choose two: feta, olives, chickpeas, cooked diced chicken).
  • Dress with a little olive oil and lemon juice.
  • Dollop on Greek yogurt if it’s in the fridge.
  • Oh, and make lots and lots for leftovers.

It’s tasty hot and cold, so the kiddo can even have it for lunch at school.

And, of course, there’s the marvelous Radish Beef Rice Bowl. I marinate a bunch of beef at once, then freeze in meal-sized portions. With one of those handy, I can prep dinner in five minutes. Toss everything in the rice cooker and click a button. Yum.


Michael R. UnderwoodMike Underwood

I’ve generally had the most deadline stress for revisions rather than initial submission deadlines.

When I’m revising, the pizza comes out. In that I order pizza and then eat it for basically every meal except breakfast. Pizza is my comfort food in general, and there’s no time where I need comfort more than revisions. Or copy edits. Or when I have 48 hours to turn around page proofs. I’m rigorous in my scheduling for first draft deadlines, but revision deadlines are always tighter, and that means pizza.
When I really need to de-stress from work deadlines, I take the extra hour or two and make my own dough, since I’ve turned making my own dough into a meditative practice. The rest of the world goes away for a while, and it’s just me, the music, and the dough. It’s also great to work with my hands in a different way that just tapping away on a typewriter.
But when I just need to remove the time and thought of cooking from my day in order to maximize revision time, I call Homeslyce. They have a ‘Strongman’ pizza, which is a type of meat-lovers’ pizza. I’ve included a picture of Homeslyce’s Strongman, my go-to Deadline Pie.
photo (44)



Vectors: Disliked Required Reading from School

We love books., in general. There will, however, be exceptions. That’s especially true of assigned reading from school. We delve into our pasts to remember the books that made us growl, fuss, and contemplate violent acts against Ernest Hemingway.

What required reading in school did you absolutely despise?


J. Kathleen CheneyJ. Kathleen Cheney
To be honest, practically everything. I spent most of my high school career trying to get out of reading authors like Conrad and Hemingway and Faulkner. I suppose that my second runner up was Moby Dick, which will, no doubt, meet with gasps from some people. It simply didn’t make sense to me. This was followed by Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage, which I found annoying because I found the narration manipulative. (I especially disliked that we didn’t learn the guy’s name.) My crown for Worst Torture of High School Students, however, goes to Steinbeck’s “The Red Pony”, which is eighty pages of a horse dying slowly and a kid feeling miserable about it. RedPony

Essentially, I discovered early that I didn’t like what most English Majors consider ‘deep’ or ‘important’ works of fiction. They tended to be depressing, which is simply Not My Thing.

And thank heavens for my college English prof who taught Literature: Fiction who taught Tolkien and L’Amour and let me do my reports on The Mabinogion. and Gillian Bradshaw.

Fran2014Fran Wilde
My math book.

People in my family are notoriously good at math and engineering. Unlike them, I knew myself to be terrible at it. I focused on art and English. Took the algebra class with the goofy word problems, not calculus. A high school teacher (a kind soul, Mr. Maas) went so far as to pull me aside to talk DaVinci and show me how an artist could also be a mathematician. He was convinced — possibly because he’d taught my sister (now a world-class naval architect and marine engineer [whoops, sorry, proud sister moment]) by then — that all he needed to do was overcome my resistance and I would happily devour numbers like a good member of my clan.

Amusingly, the minute I learned I could automate an animation in Flash using algorithms, or build something really cool in php, I was All Over the Math. And I was good at it, too, most of the time. It took programming and lots of it to help me overcome my fear. Now I love it quite a lot.

Dear Mr. Maas, thank you for trying. Sorry I was late to class.

Steve BeinSteve Bein
I went to the same high school as Ernest Hemingway, and so naturally our teachers beat us half to death with Hemingway. I bore a grudge against that man for years.

Today, The Old Man and the Sea is one of my favorite books. When I teach a class on writing some day, it will be required reading. I could talk for ten minutes about the first sentence alone. He accomplishes so much with it. old man and the sea

But in high school, I wanted to replace the bronze bust we’d pass as we walked through the front door. Instead of a bust of ruggedly handsome middle-aged Hemingway, I wanted end-of-life Hemingway, which is to say Hemingway with his mouth open, the back of his head hollowed out, and a bunch of melted bronze splattered on the wall behind it.

Sorry, a little too much? That’s how much I hated Hemingway.

hemingway bust

Lawrence SchoenLawrence M. Schoen
Once again, Steve Bein seems to be reading my mind. My first thought was to talk write bout Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, one of many novels forced upon the 12-year old me in Mrs. Byers 7th Grade Honors English class. To this day, all I can recall from the book is the eponymous protagonist’s fondness for Joe DeMaggio and his incessant whining about how he “wished the boy was here.”

AnimalFarmBut the more I thought about it, the more another book from that same class intruded on my awareness, blocking out all rational thought. I refer of course to George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Now, what makes this particularly ironic is that the book I have sitting on my editor’s desk at Tor right now originally had the elevator pitch of “Dune meets Animal Farm as it’s a far future adventure set in a galaxy full of anthropomorphic animals. But irony aside, I just didn’t get what Orwell was selling. I followed the power struggle. I loved that bit about “all animals are equal, and some are more equal than others,” and it probably contributed in some small way to pushing me down the road toward a fascination with language and linguistics. But — and I cannot stress this strongly enough — every fricking bit of allegory went completely over my head. Communism? Seriously?

I should add that it’s not just the book itself that put it to the #1 spot on this list, but the book report that followed in Mrs. Byers’s class. And not my book report, that was fine (so far as it went). It was the horror and confusion that followed when another kid got up to do his report on the same book, and the elaborate explanations of pigs as communists that flowed form his lips, using vocabulary that he’d never demonstrated before and wouldn’t again for years. Yeah, and I don’t doubt that his parents helped him build that working volcano for science class later in the year.

CharlesEGannonCharles E. Gannon
The required reading that I found most aversive were all “theory” tracts, and so, while they were often picayune in their objects and habits of analysis, they were also written from that fever-pitch of earnestness that typifies many of the “must read” critical works that populate masters and doctoral program lists. Specific titles and authors elude me now—for which I am thankful.

Many of these treatises were hypertrophied (not to say bloated and fatuous) explications of “critical apparatuses” so extraordinary lofty and finely nuanced that the authors had to invent whole new vocabularies to express them. And by inventing that vocabulary, the author conveniently created a special kind of unassailable authority. I’ll call out two disciplines to illustrate: social psychology and literary theory.

For every practical and empirical in social psychology, there seems to be another whose imagination and sense of utility are both moribund. So they hide their paucity of worthy content in a deep and trackless thicket of terms, taxonomies, and distinctions so fine and so unnecessary that it makes the classic debate about how many angels may dance on the head of a pin sound like white-coated lab science.

In the domain of literary criticism, something similar started increasing as the theoretical vigor of post-modernism and deconstruction began sliding down into decrepitude. Nervous doctoral candidates and untenured assistant professors began mining the far reaches (not to say howlingly obscure corners) of their fields in search of something optimally recondite/byzantine. Lacanian and Foucauldian theory in fusional critical apparatuses, for instance. The agonizingly esoteric arguments resembled those between computer code jockeys over the respective merits of different programming languages and architectures, resulting in debates that were of interest to–maybe–63 people on the face of the planet.

No wonder I forgot the names and titles of the specific assignments—or maybe I suppressed them to get past the resentment of having to act as if all these emperors of theory were, in fact, wearing new clothes.

Dr. Charles E. Gannon’s current Nebula-nominated novel, Fire with Fire, was a best-seller and is also a finalist for the Compton Crook Award for best first novel. It is the first volume of an interstellar epic that continues in the forthcoming sequel, Trial by Fire (August 2014). Gannon is coauthor with Steve White of Extremis, the latest entry in the Starfire series created by David Weber, and 1635: The Papal Stakes, a Wall Street Journal Best-Seller in Eric Flint’s Ring of Fire universe. He has numerous shorter publications in shared world series, anthologies, and Analog. As part of his ongoing work with various defense and intelligence organizations (Pentagon, Air Force, NATO, others), Gannon was invited to present sections of Fire with Fireat the NRO, as well as highlights from his non-fiction book Rumors of War and Infernal Machines(winner of the 2006 ALA Choice award, Best Book of 2006). A multiple Fulbright scholar, Gannon is also Distinguished Professor of American Literature at St. Bonaventure University.

JamesLCambiasJames L. Cambias
I had the advantage of going to one of New Orleans’s better schools, Isidore Newman School, and now that I can see what my own kids are reading in school I realize how good the reading list at Newman was. But there was one exception.

In my freshman year of high school, back in 1981, the theme of the English class was “coming of age.” We read Lord of the Flies and Romeo and Juliet and Henry IV, Part II. All excellent stories of young people finding their place and role in the world. I learned a lot in that class; that was my first real exposure to Shakespeare’s works.

But for some reason, among all those classics, we were also handed a little paperback collection of short stories about “youth in rebellion” or something like that. I forget the title, but it had groovy early-Seventies cover art and featured stories like “The Bike” by Alan Sillitoe and John Updike’s “A&P,” and I’m pretty sure there were some excerpts from S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders in it as well.Outsiders

I’m not entirely sure why someone thought that stories of young people struggling with authority figures would resonate with a bunch of affluent, brainy kids in a private prep school in New Orleans. My classmates were authority figures in training — one of them became a city councilwoman, a couple of others now run some of the city’s big businesses. A lot of them became lawyers. Not a hotbed of angry youth. Our brushes with rebellion mostly consisted of trying to sneak into the college bars around Tulane despite being underage.

Now, the stories in that little paperback were fine. Whoever put the collection together obviously picked excellent selections. It was the purpose of the anthology, and the reason for assigning it which I despised. Apparently some editor decided that “today’s youth” circa 1978 couldn’t relate to fiction which wasn’t about contemporary teenagers. And my teachers, though they put Shakespeare and Golding on the lesson plan, apparently bought into that notion.

It irritated me, and it irritates me still, because I couldn’t avoid the impression that my teachers were trying to apply their Baby Boomer-era template of “youth rebellion” to my own Generation X cohort. We weren’t rebels; when my friends watched The Graduate our universal reaction was “take the plastics job, you idiot!” In their painstaking effort to reach out to “today’s youth” the teachers only demonstrated how little they understood our actual concerns.

The result was a paradox. If my teachers were trying to encourage myself and my fellow students to be rebels, as they liked to imagine themselves to have been, then we defied them by refusing to do so.

James L. Cambias writes SF and designs games. Originally from New Orleans, he lives in western Massachusetts. His stories have appeared in F&SF, Shimmer, Nature, and several original anthologies. A Darkling Sea, his first novel, came out in January 2014. Mr. Cambias has written for GURPS, Hero Games, and other roleplaying systems, and is a partner in Zygote Games. He is a member of the notorious Cambridge SF Workshop. Read his blog at www.jamescambias.com.

BethCato-steampunk-headshotBeth Cato
High school freshmen reading material is very depressing. My class read through Romeo and Juliet, Antigone, and the William Golding book Lord of the Flies. In case you haven’t read that novel of doom and gloom, it’s about English school boys on a desert isle who lose all their civilized senses and descend into their primitive, baser selves. Rather like going to high school, just without the profanity and innuendo. One of the boys–the most sane of the lot–is dubbed Piggy. He’s fat, and has glasses, and is treated like dirt… and I related to him strongly. I felt like the female equivalent of Piggy at my school.lordoftheflies

I won’t say what happens to Piggy.

I enjoyed my social studies class–I had a great teacher, Mr. McCaw–and loved reading. But wow, did I hate that book. Lord of the Flies mirrored what I saw around me, and it was neither pretty or hopeful. It’s the first book I remember reading where I thought, “Wow. I hate all of these characters. Rocks need to fall and kill all of them… except Piggy.” Then I kept reading.


Tex ThompsonTex Thompson
I had my share of less-than-favorite authors in school. Any unit on the Romantic poets was always especially tough to stomach, though eventually I learned to get through it with mental MST3K. (“Dad, I had a feeling today!” “Well, don’t, son.”)fear-and-trembling

But it wasn’t until I was in college that I met a Liberal Art that I absolutely could not master. I’m not ashamed to say that Aristotle punched me in the breadbasket, Descartes kicked out the back of my knees, and Nietzsche smashed a chair over my back. I was used to sobbing in frustration over differential equations and stoichiometry, but it was AMAZING to me how completely my powers of “reading words on a page and having an MLA-format Deep Thought about them” failed me in philosophy. Kierkegaard, you are my Kryptonite.

I would like to end with some Eye of the Tiger stuff here, but the short story is that I buckled like a belt, took Mexican Politics instead, and can converse at length about the damaging effects of “toallagate” on the Fox administration. Let’s call that a win.

March News

tina_connolly-300x450Tina Connolly
It’s all podcasts, all the time, around here!

I read two stories for Beneath Ceaseless Skies: The Breath of War, by Aliette de Bodard, and The River Does Not Run by Rachel Sobel.

I read a flash story for Cast of Wonders, Pictures in Crayon, by Elizabeth Shack.

One of my stories, A Memory of Seafood, is read by Kelley MacAvaney for Drabblecast.

And my flash fiction podcast, Toasted Cake, is back to its post-baby, regular weekly schedule, with the 100th episode! It’s Thirty-Six Interrogatories Propounded by the Human-Powered Plasma Bomb in the Moments Before Her Imminent Detonation, by Erica L. Satifka.

MK Hutchins

M.K. Hutchins
– ARCs for Drift are out! I’ve also turned back in the copy edit.

BethCato-steampunk-headshotBeth Cato
– the full first chapter of The Clockwork Dagger is currently featured on Tor.com
– science fiction short story “Measures and Countermeasures,” about the future of eating disorders, is on Daily Science Fiction
– poem “Nisei” in the new issue of Mythic Delirium alongside folks like Jane Yolen and Rhonda Parrish
– will be participating in the April Poem-A-Day Challenge using daily prompts from the the Writer’s Digest Poetic Asides Blog.

Lawrence SchoenLawrence M. Schoen
– the 2nd of April is my personal annual holiday, the anniversary of my dissertation defense. I call it “Doctoral Day” and I burn a vacation day from my regular job to treat myself especially well. I encourage everyone to bloviate and be pompous on this most hallowed day. Soapbox pontification is expected, as well as obnoxiously educating anyone who crosses your path. Truly a glorious holiday!
– the last weekend of April will see me down in Richmond, VA as I return to RavenCon after too long away. The incomparable Elizabeth Bear is the con’s GoH, so you know it’s going to be a great event. Hope to see you there!
– In other news, I am simultaneously working on polishing a YA novel and developing two new novels (one of which is a spin-off using characters from last year’s Nebula nominated novella “Barry’s Tale”). I’m not sure if I’m being super productive or procrastinating actually finishing a project. Time will tell.

Michael R. UnderwoodMichael R. Underwood
March was a busy month (and April will be even busier).

I submitted The Younger Gods to my editor, and wrote, revised, and submitted a short story promised to a RPG anthology.

At the start of the month, I attended FOGcon outside of San Francisco, which was a great deal of fun. I got to dispense harsh & beautiful publishing truths alongside colleagues to an eager audience.

Early reviews for Attack the Geek are coming in from all around the blogosphere:

Science of Couponing
Journey of a Bookseller

At Skiffy & Fanty, I participated in Shoot The WISB episodes about the original Godzilla and part three of our ongoing Babylon 5 Re-Watch.

And right at the end of the month, I was a guest on the SF Squeecast, talking about expectations.

…so that’s why I’m exhausted!

Fran WildeFran2014

At the end of March, I gave a reading at ICFA – the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts. It was fabulous.
I also visited my publisher for the first time. That was a blast. Photos coming soon…
I’m preparing new Cooking the Books columns with Mur Lafferty and Novelocity’s very own Mike Underwood.
I sold audio rights to my very short story, “The Naturalist Composes His Rebuttal,” to Lakeside Circus – coming soon!
And some stuff I can’t talk about just yet. Watch the skies….

Steve BeinSteve Bein
Thrilled to see the US release of The Time Traveler’s Almanac! I think you’ll like my story in it, but let’s face it, I am not the #1 reason to buy this one. It’s got stories from George R.R. Martin, Ursula K. Le Guin, H.G. Wells, William Gibson, Ray Bradbury… well, the list goes on. I can’t recommend this book highly enough.
– Speaking of star power, I’m looking forward to some great panels and mega stars at Chicago Comic Con.
– Still pushing full steam ahead on Disciple of the Wind

Vectors: Favorite new author from the past year

We’re holding back on the childhood nostalgia this week and looking to the more recent past. Our question: What’s your favorite book from an author you hadn’t read a year ago?


Steve BeinSteve Bein:

I finally started Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone. I’ve had this one on my stack for a long time.

Somehow I came to think about it as a cousin to my own work. They share both a birthday and a milestone: it’s Gladstone’s first novel, and it came out the same day my first novel came out. Christian McGrath did the cover art for both books. The covers are even in the same general color spectrum, gold and orange ranging into black. They both feature badass women with blades.threepartsdead

I don’t judge books by their covers. I do judge them by their first sentences, though. (Not exclusively by their first sentences, but it’s a factor.) So how’s this for a first sentence?

When the Hidden Schools threw Tara Abernathy out, she fell a thousand feet through wisps of cloud and woke to find herself alive, broken and bleeding, beside the Crack in the World.

Sold!Daughter of the Sword

On the day Daughter of the Sword came out, when I rushed out to see my very first novel right there on the shelf in an honest-to-god bookstore, Three Parts Dead stared up at me from the next shelf.

Now I have finally delved deep enough into my to-read stack to uncover it again. It was worth the wait; I’m really enjoying it.


BethCato-steampunk-headshotBeth Cato:

First of all, I’d like to chime in with agreement for Steve’s choice. Three Parts Dead is a fabulous book. I just read the sequel Two Serpents Rise and enjoyed it immensely, too. Fantastic secondary world urban fantasy/epic fantasy/steampunk/dystopic vibe across that series.

Ahem. To go on with my answer…Fangirl

I read Rainbow Rowell’s book Fangirl last year and was awed and delighted. It’s not a genre book, but it’s absolutely about the love of genre. It’s New Adult with all the angsty experiences of a college freshman, with boy drama, sister drama, roommate drama… but it all feels utterly real. This is totally not my normal kind of book, but the characters are so relatable that it works. The heroine, Cath, is a super-introvert who writes Simon Snow fanfiction. Snow is obviously based on Harry Potter, though Potter exists in this world, too. Cath isn’t just a writer in her fandom–she’s THE writer, with a huge online following for her slash stories about Simon and his very-Draco-like roommate, Bas. I couldn’t help but get a huge kick out of this since my core group of online friends through my college years consisted of women writing anime and game-related slash.

The realism is what really got me about this book. I felt like I knew all these people. It has one of the sweetest romances I’ve read in recent years and it’s not formulaic in the least. Nothing is formulaic here. It’s raw, it’s real, it discusses sex and drinking and college life with real consequences, and through it all is the sustaining love of fandom and how it gives Cath stability. It even delves into the “is fan fiction real writing?” debate and handles it with a deft hand.

I can’t recommend this book enough. I’ve heard that Rowell’s book Eleanor & Park is likewise amazing, and I need to buy it.


MK HutchinsM.K. Hutchins:

Yangze Choo’s The Ghost Bride is simply gorgeous. It delivers prose that’s both rich and mesmerizing without being florid. It was easy to lose myself in various settings. Add compelling characters, a world of ghosts and hell banknotes, and plenty of mystery. I couldn’t put it down.cracked

The Ghost Bride

Cracked by Eliza Crewe is also fantastic. I love the voice — the sarcasm, the dark humor. That voice and the tight, YA-pacing, make the book addicting. I got to read it before it came out, and promptly re-read it in hard copy when it launched. It’s a laugh-and-cry-and-cheer kind of story…and I don’t know how to describe it more than that without dropping giant spoilers.


tina_connolly-300x450Tina Connolly:

I’ll ditto the Max Gladstone lovefest!

Another couple favorite books from people I read for the first time last year are:seachange


Graham Joyce, Some Kind of Fairy Tale, and S. M. Wheeler, Sea Change. Some Kind of Fairy Tale is a lovely book that walks the line between fantasy and reality. Twenty years ago a teenager named Tara disappeared. Now she walks back into her family’s life – and she looks exactly the same. It’s almost as if she’s spent the intervening years in fairyland… And Sea Change is a gorgeous fairy tale full of monsters and friendships and beautiful, horrible things, surprising and sharp and lovely.


J. Kathleen CheneyJ. Kathleen Cheney:

I must admit that my new fave came from an Amazon recommendation. (Wow…sometimes they do work.) Since I’d read some historical mysteries on my vacation in late 2012, and I have a history of reading Regency, Amazon suggested that I start reading the Regency Mysteries of C. S. Harris. After some consideration, I picked up her first novel in the Sebastian St. Cyr series over Christmas break….and was hooked. I read all 8 books in the series last year; the 9th came out March 4.serpents_200

If I were to pick a favorite of them, I would choose the 4th book, Where Serpents Sleep. It takes our hero in a totally different direction for his life after a terrible discovery in Book 3. I think that makes it the most interesting one, since it’s almost as if he’s learning who he is again. (Only to have another bombshell dropped on him in Book 4, then Book 5…)

But seriously, if you’re going to read these, you need to start at the beginning.

Lawrence SchoenLawrence M. Schoen:
About ten minutes ago I finished reading Max Gladstone’s excellent Three Parts Dead, and I was blown away. I’m tempted to echo Steve Bein and include it as my answer to this week’s question. But, the question was posed before I read it (actually, before I even started it), and so I’m going to go with the answer I’d been intending to type up for days and days.

Allow me to point you at The Lies of Locke Lamora, book one of the Gentleman Bastard series by Scott Lynch. Despite the rather unwieldy title (which at first glance made me think this book was about falsehood told of a Scottish body of water), I was instantly absorbed by the author’s voice, the intricacies and detail work he crafted, and the utter delight he drew out of me as scene after scene raised the stakes to ever dizzying heights only to have the next scene’s reveal/reversal turn everything on its head, remove the previously perceived threat, and ramp things even higher for other reasons. ScottLynch-TLoLL

I’d met Scott several years back, chatted with him at conventions on multiple occasions, but somehow never got around to reading his work until a couple months after our last chance meeting in a hallway at the San Antonio WorldCon. I’m kicking myself for having waited so long, but now I’m glad I delayed because Novelocity is giving me an opportunity to send a shout out about the book and encourage you (yes, dear reader, I’m talking directly to you!) to give it a read if like me, you’ve somehow missed reading this gem.

I should add that a lot of things that Scott Lynch does in this book, Max Gladstone does in his (although with very differently built worlds as backdrop). Perhaps best of all, both authors have already written two sequels to both books. It’s a great time to be a reader!