Silly Interview with Anncillary Leckie, Yes I said That, I’ll Be Here All Night

Ann Leckie
This is Ann Leckie. If you’re a fan of contemporary science fiction and fantasy, and you don’t know who she is, you may have spent the last few years in cryogenic storage. In which case — awesome, and welcome back.
Ann likes dinosaurs, lives in Missouri, and really, really likes researching things.

RS: I’ve been reading your Raadchai stories for eleven years now (Yeah, eleven years. Let that sink in.) and I know the gloves and tea were in them by the time I started reading. Were they part of the initial germ of the Raadch, or if not, how did they evolve?

They weren’t part of the initial germ, but they got into the mix pretty soon after that. And I’m not sure where they came from or why they stuck–it just kind of worked for me somehow.

Which is how a lot of things are when I’m writing. Sometimes I’ll see someone say, like, “Oh, and this detail here, this is obviously Leckie doing this profound intentional thematic thing” and I’m like, no, actually, it was shiny, or else it made the story work the way I wanted it to, but I am  not going to speak up and spoil the impression that I was actually doing this very sophisticated thing!

RS: Tell everyone the story of the tea Vonda.

So, Clarion West has a party every Friday night of the workshop. And I turned up to the first one and I walk in (actually into the front yard of the house where it was) not knowing anybody, and this woman comes up with a plastic bag full of yarn and says, “Here, I make these for the students every year. Take one.” So what they are is these crocheted…objects. Our class mostly called them “scrunchies” or “scrunchy things.” If you were to crochet a couple chains and then join them to make a small loop, and then do a dozen or so double crochets in the loop and join the first and last ones to make a flat circle, and then every round after that make two double crochets in every double crochet, after a few rounds you’d have a scrunchy thing.  Mine was mostly a sportweight yarn that was white with a strand of what looked like silver tinsel in it, and then it was edged with a round of single crochets in red.

Anyway, so I picked my red and silver and white scrunchy thing and I thanked the nice lady and she went off to give one to another student and someone leaned over and said to me, very quietly, “That was Vonda McIntyre,” and I nearly fell over. Vonda McIntyre! Gave me a scrunchy thing she had crocheted herself! I put it on my desk in my room where the workshop was.

And so then, while I was working on the story that eventually became “Night’s Slow Poison” I needed a creature. Building creatures can take quite a while if you take your worldbuilding seriously, which I generally do. But I needed something fast, and I looked up and there was my scrunchy thing. “Right,” I said, “you’re my creature. What to call you?” And thus the tea Vonda was born.

RS: Do you have a picture of your tea Vonda?

I don’t!  I know it’s in my office somewhere, I ran across it the last time I cleaned the whole office, but Mithras only knows where it is now. Probably under a huge pile of beads and yarn.

RS: I do not have a picture of my tea Vonda. Maybe I’ll find it when we clean our office.

Hahaha clean the office. The very idea. I don’t know about yours, but that would be a big project here in my office.

RS: I love your fantasy world in which gods must always speak the truth, and suffer penalties when they lie. Can you describe it more fully and talk about how you came up with it?

I actually designed that world for “The God of Au” and then found that I could use it for other things.

I did a lot of reading on various topics, and ended up fascinated with the very…I guess I’ll say “contractual” nature of some pagan Roman religious practices. Like, you’d make an offering and you would be careful to describe the terms of your offering very specifically so there was no misunderstanding. “I give you the wine I pour out on the ground” rather than “I give you this wine” which could, if you squinted, mean all the wine in the amphora, or from the harvest, right? Or when praying to a god or asking them for something, they’re sometimes very careful about names and identities. If you clearly needed to propitiate *some* god (there’s a plague, or a string of misfortunes, or some ill-omened event but there’s no information about which god might be the one to go to) you’d make an offering to something like “the god who’s concerned in this, whether they’re male or female or neither, by whatever name they answer to” (that’s a very loose paraphrase, not an actual quote of any inscription). In fact, such a dedication occurs in “The God of Au.” Or, like, there were certain ceremonies that had to go off as specified, and if there was one detail wrong they had to start over from the beginning, because the deal was it had to happen a particular way. So if, say, it was a procession during which the officiating priest couldn’t be contaminated by seeing something–let’s say a dog–during the procession, well, instead of having to start over every time a stray dog turned up, they’d put blinders on the priest in the procession so even if the dog was there, he wouldn’t, you know, see it.

I found that really interesting, in part because of the way it implied the assumption of the very real presence of gods, and the potential for a very direct relationship between people and gods, and for gods’ very direct actions on the world, in a way that makes perfect logical sense if in fact gods exist and they consider themselves bound by contracts in that way. It was a small step from there to “gods are bound by their own words.”

Which is essentially the premise of the universe–not much different from the world we live in at all, but for this one thing–multiple gods exist, and their power comes from the fact that whatever they say is true–even if it wasn’t before they said it. Of course, a world that has such beings in it is going to be very different from ours, even if everything else is basically the same.

RS: Have you considered writing a fantasy novel? Do you have an idea for it?

I have! I have some faint scratchings of an idea. It would take work to develop those into an actual novel, but I would really like to do it some time.

RS: What is the best kind of tea?

The kind that tastes good to you! Right now I’m enjoying different oolongs, but there aren’t many kinds of tea that I just don’t like. Well, I’m not a rooibos fan. (Well, let me amend that, I’ve got a green rooibos blend that I was given as a gift and I like that one a lot. But generally, not a rooibos fan.)

RS: For the past several years, you’ve been making spectacularly gorgeous woven bead jewelry. Can you describe a couple of your favorite projects? Pictures please!

Oh, wow. I’m not sure I’d say “spectacularly gorgeous,” but. I’ve got a few necklaces I’m very proud of, and I got into doing pins for a while (for maybe obvious reasons), which are nice because they’re small and finish quickly. Beadweaving can take such a long time! I’ve got a freeform peyote necklace that’s been in progress for a couple of years, sheesh, I really do need to finish it.

I’ve posted pics of some of the pins on my tumblr:

imageI’m kind of proud of that one, though it’s mostly bead embroidery and polymer clay. The cuneiform allegedly says “the goddess Innana.” I know “the goddess” part is right, that’s that star-looking thing on the left, it’s the determinative for gods. (alone it can also mean “star” or “sky” and you now have almost the entire extent of my knowledge of Sumerian.)

image (1)These are just kind of playing around. In colors I hardly ever use, actually, but I walked into the bead store last winter and was so tired of gray, and they’d put a bunch of beads those colors up front and I was like ‘I need the bright colors!”

image (2)This is a freeform square stitch project. Freeform kind of takes some getting used to, I think, but it’s fun.

image (3)More bead embroidery. The “jewels” are of course plastic things from a huge bag I got at the craft store. I can’t help it, I like sparkles.

image (4)There are more, and I did bunches and bunches of little triangles. I did the necklace in my author photo! And also the necklace and purse I wore for the 2014 Nebulas and Hugos! I’m not sure I have pictures of all of them, though.

RS: New fans may or may not know you as someone who was the assistant/associate editor at PodCastle for several years, and the founder and editor of Giganotosaurus Magazine. What do you get out of editing? Do you see yourself taking up another editing project?

Maybe! I enjoy editing, but it does take up a very similar part of my energy as writing does, which is why I handed off the editing of GigaNotoSaurus to Rashida Smith (who is doing a fabulous job).

Part of what I’ve learned from editing is how to look at something that isn’t working for me and think of effective ways to fix it. I wasn’t doing the fixing myself, but I think I got better as time went on at identifying things and coming up with workable suggestions for the writer. And of course, sometimes the writer’s reply would be “No, actually, I think this other thing will work better” and it would! That was something I felt I could bring back to my own work, that would make it better.

Also, honestly, it is genuinely fun to buy stories, to say “Yes, give me the story I want to publish it!” And then even more fun to have it go out into the world and maybe see people read it or talk about it. Most of the credit goes to the writer, and rightly so, but there’s just something…I don’t know, parental? about publishing stories.

RS: Should dinosaurs have guns?

Yes. Yes they should. Especially if their technology has gotten to the point that they’re mounting expeditions to Mars.

RS: What is your least favorite way to end an interview?

I..don’t know? I don’t think I’ve had an interview end badly. 😀

Silly Interview with Cat Rambo Who Plays in the MUD

Cat Rambo

Cat Rambo is a Nebula-nominated writer, successful online writing teacher, current president of SFWA, and one of my Clarion West classmates–along with Ann Leckie, who I’m interviewing next week. I’m a great admirer of her short stories (I’ll be publishing some fan art of a few of them in a bit), like this one and this one. Her first novel came out this year, too, in the lovely and well-developed world of Tabat (I have a draft of the sequel in my inbox, and I can’t wait!) Also, she’s tons of fun to hang out with, and everyone should do so, but hopefully not all at once.

1. Although you write stories in other venues, you have at least two persistent worlds. One is Tabat where your novel takes place. Can you talk about the world and how it came to be?

Tabat started with a game concept. A friend was working on a MUD (a text-based multi-player game) where each administrator would create their own city, and I decided to do a seaport. One of the cool things about the game engine was that you could add tags onto room, so there were bits of description that only appeared under certain conditions, including things like time of day, season, moon phase, tide, and so forth, including things like if the player was carrying a specific object or had particular spells on them.

I went nuts with it. I built a city where you smelled fish when the tide was high and the wind was coming from the south, and where the tiles of the great Moonway shifted in color depending on whether the moon was full or lean. In the spring there was the smell of particular flowers when you descended the stairways leading from one terrace to another, and in the fall, storms sweeping in from the south-east brought the smell of rotting reeds from the marshes bordering the city on one side.

Alas, much of my work was lost in a server accident, and after that discouragement and the falling away of the other administrators, Tabat never got to see actual players.

Later, I tried to recreate it in another MUD. I had been working with Armageddon MUD, which had a period each Saturday where the game was inaccessible to players while the staff performed maintenance and additions. We planned to have a space available only on Saturdays, a mini-mud that would be a single city. However, we ended up doing away with the Saturday downtimes, and so this project also never saw light. (Armageddon still exists; enter at your own peril.)

So when I started writing fantasy stories, it was a logical place to set some. I knew it well, and it’s gotten even further fleshed out in my head over the decade I’ve been working with fiction in it. Writing a fantasy quartet in it has been fun, but the next volume, Exiles of Tabat, actually moves the reader outside the city, accompanying Bella and Teo.

2. Likewise, you have a space station (Twicefar, right?) where you’ve set a lot of stories. (I can link to some here.) How did that develop?

Twicefar grew out of a single story that I wrote while at Clarion West, Amid the Words of War, which is set in a brothel named The Little Teacup of the Soul aboard the station.

As characters emerged in one story, I ended up exploring them further in others. One of my favorites is “Kallakak’s Cousins,” which appeared in Asimov’s. The universe around that far-future setting has hosted some stories as well, such as TimeSnip, Angry Rose’s Lament (another Clarion West story), and Bots d’Amor.

3. What new writing skills have you learned from teaching regularly?

I’ve gotten better things like placing the reader inside the character’s head, rather than a spot about six inches behind it or, worse yet, hovering at a distance. A lot of it are little tricks, devices I wouldn’t have thought about if I hadn’t been thinking about the topic for a particular class.

And I’ve gotten much better at knowing how to get from “this would be nifty” to finished story. I keep getting people who tell me they want to learn how to tell the ideas that will turn into stories from the ones that will peter out. And that’s not actually a skill you pick up. Instead you learn how to reliably turn something into a story.

4. You and I have both attended a lot of workshops in different venues. In my experience, different workshop cultures have different strengths and weaknesses. Common, useful metaphors known in sci fi workshops might not be common in graduate programs that concentrate on realism. What did you learn in graduate school that doesn’t get included in most science fiction workshops?

Hmmm. I think one of the things that gets emphasized in grad workshops as opposed to SF workshops is a sense that you’re part of the overall conversation of literature, that anything you write is influenced by and in some ways a reply to the texts that have moved you in one way or another.

I wrote “Bus Ride to Mars” as a love poem to Geoffrey Chaucer, who I adore, for example. Do you need to have read The Canterbury Tales to appreciate it? I sure hope not. But there’s great pleasure in reading a text and seeing the layers of influence at work in it, and sometimes SF workshops don’t talk about that or even denigrate it as snooty literary stuff. That’s a shame and it’s something that hampers us.

I’m very happy to see efforts to keep genre history — particularly the pieces that end up dropping away often — preserved in projects like Kris Rusch’s Women in SF website.

5. How does your women’s studies background influence your writing at this point? Does that relationship continue to develop as you keep writing?

Always. I’ve got an undergrad certificate in Gender Studies from Notre Dame, plus I taught in the Women’s Studies department at Towson for a number of years. It shapes a lot of my reading as well as many of my approaches to life and acts as a goad to keep me trying to understand and learn about my own filters and blind spots.

Sometimes it overtly influences a story, as with “All the Pretty Little Mermaids,” another Asimov’s story, which actually also has a little tribute to one of my favorite professors from Notre Dame, Charlene Avallone, in it.

6. Is there a color that you would never dye your hair?

I probably would never bleach it again. I did that one year to go purple at World Fantasy and found the process alarmingly painful.

7. As president of SFWA, can you describe your plan for fixing all problems with the Hugo Awards?

Hahahahaha. I’m too busy with the SFWA mission of doing stuff that actually helps working writers. Lots of cool things lately, and more to come this year. For recent examples, see the Speakers Bureau and the SFWA Star Project program.

8. Upcoming projects and other news: take it away.

I just finished Hearts of Tabat, the sequel to Beasts of Tabat; it’s off with beta readers right now. Finishing up the second edition of Creating an Online Presence for Writerswith lots of interesting updates. Releasing two collections this year, one of steampunk stories on June 1 and another two-sided collection from Hydra House in August. Writing lots of stories, finishing up “The Wizards of West Seattle” for Patreon supporters later this month. Working on more on-demand classes, including both class and book version of Moving from Idea to Draft. Plenty of travel this year, including the Nebulas next week, Gencon, Worldcon, Westercon, Dragoncon, Orycon, and the Chinese Nebulas in Beijing in the fall. Whew!

Silly Interview with Ken Liu who HAS THE SCHEMATICS for a Time Turner!

KenLiu_Full_SizeKen Liu came onto the short story scene a few years ago, and then dominated it, and has continued to dominate it since. If you’re interested in contemporary short science fiction, Ken is an author you can’t miss. One of my favorites: Mono no aware. And his first major award winner: Paper Menagerie.

RS: You have a full-time job, a family with young children, a career as a successful short story writer and novelist, and a career as a translator. How? What demonic trick of time have you unleashed? I must ask if you have a time turner of the kind from Harry Potter which allows you to move back six hours in time. Do you have a time turner?

KL: Ah, the “time turner,” that most wondrous of artifacts.  Did you know that “time” is etymologically related to “tide”? And in fact, “tide” only acquired the sense of “flood and ebb of the sea” fairly recently (as in, less than seven centuries ago) …

Also, it seems to me that “time-turner” could be a kenning for “office drone”?

Speaking of time-turning, I have to thank you for your recent recommendation of “Ghost Trick” (available for the Nintendo DS and iOS). That game involves multiple sessions of reversing time’s flow for four minutes at a time and trying to change fate.

What was the question again?

RS: If you do not have a time turner, what magic time-traveling device do you have? I will not believe the answer “none” so you may as well be honest.

KL: Ahem. Yes, you got me…

So I practice the ancient magic of “Saying No.” Basically this involves being very careful about what projects I choose to work on. There are far too many interesting ideas for stories and far too many exciting anthology calls to say yes to all of them. I have to prioritize.

Because my writing time is so limited, I can’t afford to pursue all leads and just hope some of them work out. I have to be ruthless and say no to the vast majority of ideas and invitations I get so that I can focus on the few projects where I think my contributions will actually be unique, interesting, and artistically rewarding.

Many other writers write faster and write more than I do, but I think I have the advantage of picking a larger percentage of projects where my interests and talents are a good match for the projects’ needs.

RS: Speaking of Harry Potter, if you could send your kids to Hogwarts, would you?

KL: I’d have to ask my kids. Personally, I’m not a big fan of sending them away to boarding school because I want to spend more time with them. Parents get so little time with their children as is… But if they really want to go and learn magic, I’ll support them. And I hope they work hard to challenge the rather authoritarian system at Hogwarts and engage in campus activism.

And I’d have to do a lot of work to supplement their knowledge of the non-magical world.

Finally, I want them to bring a note to Hogwarts—more like a treatise—on how the rules of Quidditch make no sense.

RS: Many of your stories hook into important parts of East Asian history. I’m thinking of the ones that take place around World War II in particular. I know as a Jew the events of World War II were something that caught in my mind and stayed there. Was that an experience you had as well?

KL: Absolutely.

The terrible events around World War II in East Asia and Europe are searing experiences that should never be forgotten. Yet, in the years since, the forces of denial and repression have tried again and again to make us forget. In the case of East Asia, they base their arguments either on the needs of geopolitics or on high-minded (but false) claims that somehow forgetting is the same as reconciliation. Some have also resorted to despicable attempts to discredit survivors and to deny the facts of historical atrocities, thereby committing a fresh round of violence against the memory of the victims and the peoples of East Asia.

“Forgetting” history is a luxury that belongs to the privileged winners of history. The rest of us tread on bones and walk through ghosts, and we must not forget the past, which shapes the present and the future.

RS: I think of your stories as having an old-fashioned science fiction feel and structure, while being leavened with a modern approach toward emotion and character (and a broader idea of what constitutes interesting subjects). Does that ring true for you at all? How would you characterize your aesthetic?

KL: I like hearing you describe my stories that way. You’re, without a doubt, one of the sharpest readers of my work, and when you point out something about my fiction—whether positive or negative—I sit up and listen.

I think authors are often the least accurate summarizers of their own work, for they’re too close to it. Still, for what it’s worth, I think of what I write as primarily the fiction of rhetoric, of story-as-argument—not as persuasion, mind you, but as meditation.

My stories, as all fiction must, follow the logic of metaphors, and because I like to work with literalized metaphors, this practice draws me to employ the tropes and techniques of science fiction and fantasy. I enjoy working with literalized metaphors, exploring their nooks and crannies, finding shears and drops, bridging them and chaining them and laddering them into a structure that will reveal something of what we feel in our lives but cannot put into words.

At the same time, I have a deep ambivalence about our contemporary apparent-consensus over what makes a “good story”—despite all the aesthetic disagreements in the field, the science fiction and fantasy genres do seem to experience strong normative pressures concerning _how_ to tell a story. Characters need to be “real” and “deep” (by which we mean psychological interiority as popularized by the Modernists); points-of-view need to be consistent; exposition should be carefully blended into characterization and plot advancement; plots and characters need to arc and follow discernible shapes and patterns … and so on and so forth.

In a time when everyone is taught to appreciate oil paintings done in a classical European style, brush paintings in the style of Song Dynasty masters will seem spare, unrealistic, “flat,” unbelievable, … “not a good picture.” But I don’t believe there is just one way to tell a good story—we have had too much variation over time and across the globe in what narratives speak to particular peoples in particular contexts for me to accept that.

I like to construct stories in a way that evokes far older narrative traditions and techniques, and perhaps bring to bear tools learned from outside the core scifi/fantasy experience. Whether these efforts work for readers is not something I can control, but at least I enjoy telling stories the way I want to.

RS: You translated Three Body Problem whose author, Cixin Liu, seems to have definite opinions on this topic. (From his American author’s note: “The stories of science are far more magnificent, grand, involved, profound, thrilling, strange, terrifying, mysterious, and even emotional, compared to the stories told by literature.”) Is science more important than art?

KL: I like Liu Cixin’s work, and it is completely in line with his own aesthetic that prizes science and scientific speculation as the core of a good SF story.

While I enjoy reading stories written in this vein, I don’t always enjoy writing stories like that. I feel that the techniques of science fiction and fantasy can be used for many other types of stories, including stories in which the scientific speculation primarily serves as a literalized metaphor.

This isn’t to say science is more important than art, or vice versa. Both science and art are human enterprises, ways of knowing, and I don’t think it’s impossible to create compelling narratives that draw on both—and I also think there’s nothing wrong with creating stories that emphasize one over the other.

RS: I think a lot of us envy your ideas and how neatly you fit them into stories. Can you describe your process of developing a story from idea to draft?

KL: I don’t have a single process that applies for all stories. In a lot of cases, my stories begin from a single image or phrase that I find evocative. In other cases, they come from some scientific paper I read that I find particularly interesting.

I then take that story seed and let it sit in my head for a while. Once I begin thinking about something, I notice other things in my life that are related to it: books I read, web pages I come across, other papers cited in the first paper, illustrations and photographs that seem to speak to the seed, and so on. I let all of this churn in my head, and sometimes I discover that there’s no interesting story there, despite my best efforts, but at other times the seed grows into a sapling that I can envision as a tree someday.

That’s when actual drafting starts. I don’t outline or plan, but prefer to explore the idea as I write. This means that I tend to draft slowly (because I’m using the drafting process to think) and it also means that I have to do a lot of work in revisions. Overall, the way I write short stories is a bit like sculpting, where the story slowly emerges as I carve away the excess key by key.

RS: You love the video game Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney! Me, too. But you’re an actual lawyer. What do you enjoy about it?

KL: I love the way the law’s tendency as a game of rhetoric is highlighted in these games. The process of parsing words carefully to find “contradictions” is actually quite similar to the way lawyers craft their arguments—not in the details, of course, but in mindset and approach.

I also like the fact that Phoenix’s clients are always innocent and that he’s never had to defend someone who isn’t a good person. If only real lawyers are so lucky.

RS: Is there anything else you’re excited to share? Bonus points if it’s silly and/or a lie and/or a silly lie.

Wall of StormsKL: I’ve been working on the copyedits of my second novel, The Wall of Storms, and I’m super excited to share this book with readers come October. There’s lots more intrigue and politics and crafty battle strategies and oodles of silkpunk technology. I literally dream about these machines some nights…

Okay, but more seriously, I have discovered the secret of time-turning, and I have a proof and a set of schematics that I’m excited to share. Okay, let me find it on my hard drive … Darn it, it is too lengthy to fit into the space allotted me here, and the pictures are too big to send through email. Next time?

Obligatory “If You Were a Butt, My Butt” UpdateThe fundraiser’s doing really well! And if we get to $600, Ken Liu will join authors Ann Leckie, Brooke Bolander, Juliette Wade, Alyssa Wong, and me, in writing a round robin story about dinosaurs. (I didn’t plan to run this interview to coincide with that; it just happened.)

Silly Interview with Na’amen Tilahun, Aspiring Prince Impersonator

Na'amen TilahunNa’amen Tilahun has been around the science fiction scene for a long time — as a fan, a convention attendee, and a bookstore clerk. And now as a novelist! His debut novel, The Root, is coming out in June. I blurbed it:

“Naamen Tilahun‘s novel will make readers searching for variety in their SFF diets squeal with delight. The detailed world-building is strange and wondrous.”

Because we are both obsessed with the television show RuPaul’s Drag Race (or at least, he watches it and I’m obsessed), I asked him a ton of questions about drag queening. If you’d rather read a discussion of literature and toasters, just scroll down. We get to it.

RS: Who is your favorite contestant from RuPaul’s Drag Race ever?

NT: This is a hard one. There are queens from each and every year that I adore and follow on social media long after the season is over. I love fashion queens, pageant queens, comedy queens, every kind of drag queen. Most of all though I love a queen that can make me laugh so Pandora Boxx, Latrice Royale, Bianca DelRio, Jujubee, Willam, Alaska Thunderfuck 5000 and Shangela all rank very highly with me.

Adore DelanoFavorite of all time, though? Probably Adore Delano, she makes me laugh whether it’s on purpose or not, I love her give no fucks attitude and her music is amazing. I love a messy queen most of all.

RS: Which Queen should never have been allowed on the race? Keep it 100.

NT: Oooh this is mean. I could go safe and just name one of the girls who exited first or second in one of the seasons but you said to keep it 100 so: Tammie Brown. I love vintage and I love kooky but I just do not get her, ever. But you know I acknowledge that a lot of the queens that I love, love her. Her jokes just make no goddamn sense to me.

RS: If you were on the race, what would you wear, what name would you use, and who would you play on the Snatch game?

NT: I think I would rock a lot of superhero inspired bodysuits. I would probably be a combination cosplayer/drag queen like Dax ExclaimationPoint…but better. I’d enter the workroom in a whole Manhunter (Kate Spencer) inspired look.

My name would be Hateretha Kitt.

I think in Snatch Game I would try to follow in the footsteps of Kennedy Davenport and push the envelope by doing a man, in this case Prince.

Na'amen The RootRS: I guess I should ask you something that isn’t about drag race. Tell me about your young adult book.

NT: Well my novel The Root features two main characters. There’s Erik, a former child star who left the business after a scandal and now lives in San Francisco and has just discovered he isn’t completely human. And there’s Lil who is basically a magic-wielding assistant librarian in another world that is slowly being devoured. There are a lot of other characters that get into the mix – mentors, parents, rivals. The novel jumps between our San Francisco and the alternate world and there are secret societies, shady dealings, betrayal, revenge, all that good stuff.

RS: You’ve been an advocate for diversity in SF, particularly in regard to race and sexuality. How did that work affect what you wanted to write about?

NT: I think it’s always subconsciously in my writing. The reason I’m such an advocate for diversity is because it’s the world I live in, it’s the people I see on the street and interact with at work and for fun. I’ve never lived in a city where I only knew white people or straight people. I always have had a diverse group of folks in my life and in my circle of friends. So when I write a book it’s natural to me that the characters I write about resemble the people I know. I also didn’t want to write an issue book where the story centered around a crisis of identity or coming out. Don’t get me wrong those books can be done really well but I always love the books where the characters are just queer or brown or disabled and while it’s part of the story because that’s their life it’s not the focus of the story. I want action and adventure for people who look like me and my friends.

I’m also confused by people who build homogeneous worlds, where everyone looks the same, feels the same, and has the same kind of relationships. Especially in speculative fiction which arguably is more about wish fulfillment than any other genre, why is this the world that you imagine? There are authors who are willing to imagine what our society will look like in thousands of years but they won’t look at their own assumptions and write a world were people are brown or queer or disabled or marginalized in any way. That’s ridiculous to me, we’ve always been here and always will be here.
Then again maybe they have thought about it and that’s the world they want to build, that’s fine, I’m just not interested. It’s especially astonishing when the work is set in a hugely diverse city like Los Angeles or the Bay Area or New York or London but the cast of characters never includes diversity.

RS: For many years, you worked at Borderlands, the San Francisco bookstore that specializes in science fiction and fantasy. What are some of the best experiences you’ve had there?

NT: Yes, I love them and still do some freelance stuff with them. I think the best experience was cultivating relationships with readers who shared my reading sensibilities. There were certain customers who I just had an instant rapport with and for most part knew immediately what book I wanted to recommend to them. These were customers who knew if I suggested a book they weren’t going to find it dripping with rape culture or racism or sexism. Borderlands has been my bookstore since I moved to the Bay Area and they’re a great supportive community.

RS: And since you’ve worked in a bookstore–Who should we be reading who we aren’t reading? 

NT: Well I love Martha Wells her Books of the Raksura series is my favorite fantasy series of the last few years and her novel Wheel of The Infinite is one of my go-to re-reads.

Nalo Hopkinson has such a gorgeous way with language, her sentences are beautiful and her novels deal with trauma without making it entertainment. Love, love, love Sister Mine.

Larissa Lai wrote Salt Fish Girl which I think is a criminally underrated novel, moving in time from the ancient past to the far future it’s a beautiful novel about family and identity.

Oh and in that vein The Fortunate Fall by Raphael Carter which was really popular when it came out but a lot of people seem to have forgotten it – that novel is one of my Cyberpunk holy trinity (the other two are Melissa Scott’s brilliant Trouble & Her Friends and When Gravity Falls by George Alec Effinger).

I would also add N.K. Jemisin & Ann Leckie to the list but I can’t imagine there are many people who haven’t read them – I feel sorry for those people if they exist.

In terms of just released or upcoming release Mishell Baker’s Borderline blew me away and Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart A Doorway literally made me cry in spots.

I’ll stop here because I could go on and on.

RS: DRAG RACE DRAG RACE DRAG RACE

NT: My top three this season are definitely – Bob the Drag Queen, Kim Chi and Chi Chi
The ones I just wish would go away are – Acid Betty, Robbie Turner and Derrick Barry

flying toasterRS: If the old Ellen joke is true, and you get a toaster every time you convert someone to being gay, where are all the toasters?

NT: I’ve been hoarding my own and intercepting everyone elses so that one day, one day, I can make a giant toaster Mecha that will not only allow me to take over the world but have the best mobile breakfast diner ever. I shall call it Papa Waffles and we will serve every breakfast food but waffles. Mwahahahahahaha! I shall rule all I see through a vast empire of toasted bread!

RS: This space left blank for you to say whatever you want about upcoming projects, things you’re excited about, which drag race contestants are going to win, how to raise Octavia Butler from the dead, roller derby, River Song, or whatever other topic you’d like to bring up.

NT: The main problem with trying to resurrect Octavia Butler is the question of consent. Does she want to be raised from the dead, maybe she’s happier not dealing with all these fools. We don’t want to fall into a Buffy situation. Although if we could get consent, whoo boy! The stories that woman wrote, the stories that were still inside her? There are few authors who can make me read trauma so deeply and still make the book exciting and almost fun. She had a skill for portraying life as it is, a series of intense ups and downs.

As for upcoming projects, I’m working on relaunching my podcast with my friend Chris Chinn The *New* Adventures of Yellow Peril & Magical Negro soon where we talk geek shit from a POC perspective. I also have a podcast called The Worst Queers with another friend that I’m working on getting up and running. After that’s done I’d love to work on a webcomic – I’ve had a couple pretty specific ideas for a few years now that I would love to see turned into a comic.

Also I’m in the midst of trying to invent a working Time-Turner so that I can have time to do all the projects I want to. Either that or becomes extremely rich so I don’t have to work full-time. Whichever comes first.

Silly Interview with Spencer Ellsworth Whose Bedpost Notches Are Real People

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Spencer Ellsworth had been publishing short stories since 2009, and has work in PodCastle, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, F&SF and a number of other places. You can find his short story “Clockwork of Sorrow” in the anthology Ghost in the Cogs: Steam-Powered Ghost Stories (the cover of which you can see here).

Every time I see Spencer, I always ask the same question. You see, several years ago when Ann Leckie was running Giganotosaurus, I sometimes did first-round reading for her. And while Ann and I have very similar taste, we don’t have identical taste. So once in a while we’d come up against a story that I was jazzed about, but that didn’t quite cross her threshold. So every time I see Spencer, I ask about that one story that got away.

[Note: We conducted the interview a while ago, just after the Nebula ballot was released.]

RS: Haaave you sold the cool story about the alien kites yet? If not, perhaps we can leave a summary here to tempt an editor into opening their door.

I HAVE. IT SOLD. IT’LL BE UP AT TOR.COM… SOMETIME THIS YEAR HOPEFULLY OR MAYBE NEXT WHO KNOWS. THAT WAS A LITTLE ANTICLIMACTIC BUT WE’RE STILL KEEPING CAPS LOCK ON.

It’s called “When Stars Are Scattered,” and it tells the travails of a doctor on a homesteading planet, an atheist caught between Muslim missionaries, who have converted the quirky indigenous aliens, and homesteaders mostly of a Baptist stripe, who do not see the aliens as sentient, intelligent beings.

This story, man. I originally wrote a draft in 2006, scrapped it and rewrote in 2007, and that went everywhere and got nice notes from everyone, including you at GigaNotoSaurus. I took it to Viable Paradise in 2010, where it collected some nice comments and an invite to submit from Patrick Nielsen Hayden, then I took it home and sweated over the rewrites for four years, then finally sent it in and… they bought it.

WHEW

Ten long years ago, when I conceived the story, I was really pushing myself to tackle some bigger issues in storytelling. My favorite writer is Octavia Butler, partially because I could never predict, or even start to predict, how her stories would end. They were always about these terrible moral dilemmas and vicious relationships. So I decided to write one of the real world’s unpredictable conflicts, about faith and land and morality, and put some aliens in it.

RS: Conan the Barbarian. It sounds like you both love it, and know it has problems. What do you see as today’s cultural heirs to the tradition?

You refer to “The Child Support of Cromdor The Condemned,” which was a very well-received piece on Podcastle, and AHEMAHEM made the Nebula recommended reading list.

I wrote that story about the terrible male role models presented to me as a young man. James Bond, Conan, The Man With No Name, etc–all those taciturn, violent guys who have a girl of the week, conveniently gone the next week. It was difficult for me to reconcile such role models, whom society held up as the paragons of “manliness,” with my dad, who relied on peace and compassion to solve problems, and (gasp) treated women like actual human beings.

I got fan mail for that one. I quote “All the notches on Cromdor’s bedposts get to be real people in your story, even when they’re not directly onscreen.” I was proud of that, especially considering there aren’t that many women onscreen in the story. It’s very distinctly a story about the women who have been left offscreen, and humanizing both Conan and Conan’s wenches.

RS: You recently sold a short story that you wrote in an hour. Is that normal for you? How was it different–if it was–from your normal writing process?

About The Bear” was based on a true story, and that really fueled it. Writing all comes from unconscious processing, I think, but occasionally you hit a rich lode near the surface, and a real-life experience becomes great fiction. I really did know a guy who wrestled a bear and came out okay, although, as I learned upon pressing him, it was an adolescent bear. I plugged our conversation into my fantasy world, and boom: I had a flash piece that all came together, about one of my favorite themes: how stories change us.

RS: When you are teaching English, what’s the most basic thing you want to make sure all students leave knowing?

Ooh! Good question! And yet, I don’t really want them to “know” something, so much as I want them to love learning. A lot of students come into my classes at Northwest Indian College having had bad experiences in school. They were frustrated, stereotyped, endured racist microaggression either within or without the community, and their parents often went through the same or worse, especially if a residential school was involved. Many never received early intervention for dyslexia or farsightedness. They are turned off by academic learning, though most of them are very adept at learning and sharing traditional teachings.

I want them to leave with a love of books, a discovery that academic learning can be fun and empowering. When a student finds a body of knowledge that inspires them, that’s the best part of my job. A couple of cool experiences I’ve had lately: a student stayed up all night finishing the memoir of an American Indian Movement activist, a student shared with me his ideas for science fiction stories and we discussed creative writing for a while, and several students told me they loved my Developmental Reading class, which is not, in my mind, a Number One Fun Time Class. Oh, and we read “If You Were A Dinosaur, My Love,” in that class, and had a spirited discussion about subtext and genre. They liked the story, all the more so for discovering the subtext. BE PROUD RACHEL. YOU ARE MIGHTY IN READING 091

RS: Tell me about Pawnbroker.

Quality used musicians! Prices negotiable. Pawnbroker is my band and we try to marry the 90s and the 60s, our favorite musical decades. Try us out for free.

I’ve always played music along with writing–I find the intuitive, experiential nature of playing music live makes a good companion to the more structured, studied creativity in writing and revising. The band has actually been on a little hiatus, though I’m sure we’ll make it work again one of these days. In the meantime, I’m working on a solo project that is like unto Nick Cave or Elliott Smith, which is my way of saying I can’t really sing but the songs will one day be covered by Scarlett Johanssen for a vanity project. PROMISE

RS: Projects? Notes? Please put them here!

Projects:

I’m currently working on a book called The Red Walker, which is SO MUCH COOL FUN TO WRITE. It’s about a girl whose brother dies halfway through his Epic Chosen One quest, so the little sister has to take up the quest, with the help/hindrance of a rogue sorcerer who is, um, a lot like Omar Little from The Wire.  As in, if Omar lived in an epic fantasy novel, this would be him.

Everyone say it with me: “Oh, indeed?”

Notes:

I recently read Six of CrowsBigfootloose & Fancy FreeSeriously Wicked, and The Shards of Heaven and loved them all. You should too.

Our Lady Of The Open Road was one of my favorite stories of last year, aaaaand it’s on the Nebula ballot.

You can put just about anything in chocolate and it makes it better! This stuff is amazing. Vote it for the Nebula in Best Chocolate. And this stuff in the Vegan Cheese Nebulas.

Why isn’t drywall reusable? That is so wasteful. Amiright?

Stop adding “punk” to things, writers! Cyberpunk IS punk; it’s an angry critique of materialist culture! Steampunk/dieselpunk/silkpunk/drywallpunk/bicyclepunk/godzillapunk/blerrrrghhfrpunk are killing the word “punk” and (all together now) PUNK’S NOT DEAD.

Bears, man.

Thanks very much for this opportunity to rant and share some answers to excellent questions, Rachel. As I’ve said many times, if you were a dinosaur, you’d be this one.

DinoRiderTrexARMORED

Silly Interview with Mary Robinette Kowal, intermittenty teal storyteller

© 2012 Rod Searcey

© 2012 Rod Searcey

Mary Robinette Kowal is a woman of incredible multiple talents — a professional puppeteer who sews regency dresses and narrates audio books — and wins Hugo Awards. Her first novel series, the Glamourist Histories — fantasy novels about Austen’s regency period — recently concluded. I even drew some fan art about it. She also teaches writing online — oh, just visit her website.

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RS: A lot of novelists let short stories lapse when they embark on their novelling careers. You keep publishing strong short fiction, like last year’s “Midnight Hour” in Uncanny Magazine. How do you make time for short stories, and what do you get from them that you don’t get from longer fiction?

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MRK: Honestly, these days I start a lot of the short stories while I’m teaching my Short Story Intensive. Part of the process is that I write along with the students in order to demonstrate how to start from a story seed and then develop it into a story. I often have a market in mind when I’m doing these, so the demonstration does double duty. The thing that I love about short fiction as a writer is that I get to experiment with a lot of different styles and ideas without the huge time investment of a novel. Plus, as a reader, I find that a short story can often deliver more of a sucker punch to the emotions and I kinda like that.
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RS: You have one of the coolest career histories of any working writer I know, having been a professional puppeteer. In fact, I am going to take this opportunity to link to your audition video for the Henson workshop because it is amazing. (insert vid) How would you go about presenting yourself in puppet-form? Feel free to be practical, metaphorical, or to alternate.
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MRK: Well… as it happens, I have been doing these videos recently in which a puppet answers questions about writing. In puppet form, I curse a lot more than I do in real life. And I’m teal. [RS: You can see one of her episodes here.]
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RS: You sew absolutely beautiful regency dresses which have served as award gowns, bridal dresses, and icons for Scalzi fundraisers. When and how did you start sewing? And if you’d like to share any pictures of your dresses, I would not object.
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MRK: My mom taught me to sew when I was in elementary school, and then the puppetry career refined those skills because you can’t buy an off-the-rack pattern for puppet clothing. The Regency gowns began as “research” but I keep making them because they are simple and fun.
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RS: Your glamourist histories are, in part, an hommage to Austen. Perhaps you would indulge me in some silly alternate history. Imagine Jane Austen living today, not as her historical self reincarnated, but just as a person who happens to be alive now. How might you imagine her life? 
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MRK: Her choices would not be as constrained today as they were then. I like to think that she and Cassandra would have a nice flat together and that Jane would continue writing. She’d attend conventions, like RT, and have a circle of friends that she snarked with on Twitter. If you’ve ever read any of her letters, you know that she was the queen of the cutting comment and would OWN Twitter. She would probably have to have a day job but would have picked something that she felt a connection to, not just something that made her life easier so perhaps social work or maybe an anthropologist — no. Wait. I’ve just remembered her childhood histories. I bet she would have gotten a PhD in history.
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RS: Like many writers, your artistic talents abound in many creative fields. What drew you to and kept you writing?
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MRK: I was one of those kids who wanted to do everything, and they all seem to revolve around forms of storytelling. What I like about writing is that there are no limits. I don’t have to worry about gravity or physics or a budget when I’m planning a story, or at least not in the ways I have to worry about them when I’m creating a puppet show.
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RS: I read an interview in which you said you dread the “what are your upcoming projects” question, and yet, I fear, such things are inevitable since interviewers have to give us a way to promote what we’re up to. You suggested the question “What are you excited about?” instead, which I’ve used myself. But this wouldn’t be a silly interview if I did something practical like listen to what you want to be asked. So, instead: if your next/current project was an adorable animal, what kind of adorable animal would it be?
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RK: A three-legged German Shepherd. Okay… I know, that doesn’t sound very adorable, but let me tell you about this German Shepherd. Her name is Ghost Talkers. She was a service dog in the war, and lost a leg saving the life of her human partner. She’s back home and healed now, and is so delighted and happy and enthusiastic, but can also very serious, because she’s a veteran. When she walks, it is a bouncing uneven gait that’s kind of funny, but when she runs you can’t tell that she was wounded. And if you let her, she would totally serve again because she’s kind and loyal and will save your life, then cover you with kisses.
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Quick “Making Lemons into Jokes” campaign note: At $155, “If You Were a Butt, My Butt” is close to having an audio version!
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If you want to support the Butts and send some money to Lyon-Martin health services (LGBTQ health care, offered regardless of the patient’s ability to pay), subscribe to my Patreon. You can stay in it for the long-haul, or just pay in for a single month so all your contributions go to L-M.
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Silly Interview with S.B. Divya, Defense Attorney for the Oxford Comma

Thanks to S. B. Divya for granting me a silly interview!

S. B. Divya is one of those people who is talented across many areas: science, engineering, art, fiction, music, and extreme sports. She’s got a shiny new novella available from Tor.

SB Divya

1. Your bio says that “S.B. Divya is a lover of science, math, fiction, and the Oxford comma.” I am here to tell you that the Oxford comma has, unfortunately, been put on trial for its life. However, you are its defense attorney! Make your case.

Your honor, I humbly present the Oxford comma, also known as a serial comma. It is abastion of orderliness in a sea of grammatical chaos. This comma is an exemplary citizen, always obeying a simple rule: that it follows each item in a list until the last. Let us not create an exception to the rule! Let us not say, “It follows each item in a list except for the second to last and the last, which shall be joined by a conjunction.” Nay, let us stand fast against such unwieldy rule-making – such convoluted thinking – and embrace the simplicity that is embodied by this innocuous punctuation mark.

2. Any good debater should be able to do both sides of the debate, right? If you had to, how would you argue that the Oxford comma should go to death row?

We all know that prisons and pages suffer from overcrowding. Why not make room by removing … ah, no, never mind. I can’t do it! I can’t betray my ideals and play devil’s advocate in a convincing fashion. “It’s a waste of space” seems to be the best this side has to offer, and really, in this glorious age of digital documentation, who cares? No trees were harmed by the insertion of one little comma.

3. Your website has a headline showing five eff words: fact, fiction, feminism, future and family. Do they all figure in your writing?

They do. Of course they feature in my blogging, but those are common themes in my fiction as well. Let me break them down one by one, starting with the word “fact.” I love science, and I love incorporating it into my fiction. This is not to say I haven’t dabbled in the magical arts, but my favorite stories are the ones that involve a kernel (or more) of plausibility.

Fiction – this one speaks for itself! I’m getting to the point where I could write about being a science-fiction author, to tie this one back to the fact side.

Feminism: the “f” word that started it all. Yes, the female (and gender neutral!) characters in my fiction are equals to the males. Ultimately, that’s what feminism is about so far as I’m concerned. Equal opportunity – it sounds simple on paper, but it’s a beast to wrestle in the domain of social change.

As to the future, that’s the realm of most science-fiction. It’s probably fair to say that I speculate about the future more than the average person. This doesn’t always work in my favor (think disasterizing on a regular, involuntary basis), but it does give me plenty of ideas for stories.

And family? None of us would exist without one. Even the lone wolf character is defined by the absence of family support. Whether by blood or adoption or romance, family is what drives us at a fundamental level. This is what shapes our personalities at an early age, where we learn who we want to be.

4. You have a novella coming out from Tor.com Publishing. What was the best part about writing it?

RuntimeThat nobody had any expectations of it – not even me! I wrote it on a lark, an attempt to write something longer after working at short fiction for nearly two years straight. This meant I could throw in a lot of my favorite topics – gender divides, social inequality, hackers and tinkerers, the beauty and danger of nature – and out popped a mess of a story (my first drafts are like that) with a main character who I loved and a compelling plot.

I didn’t know what to do with the thing after I wrote it so I let it lie for a while, figuring I’d eventually edit it and submit to the usual magazine suspects. I went back to short fiction for a few months until I heard about the open call for novellas from Tor.com Publishing. Writers (like most people) can use a good motivator. This one got me to revise and submit the novella because, why not? I had nothing to lose!

5. What was it like working with Tor.com’s new arm?

When Tor.com Publishing offered me a contract, I was blown away. My editor there has been extremely patient and thoughtful while working with me. I knew very little about the world of book publishing, and that was what I was dealing with. I took a bit of time to find a wonderful literary agent, who was also very patient and understanding, and then the ball’s been rolling merrily downhill since then.

I’d say the whole experience has been extremely smooth. My husband and I have been doing a major home renovation over the same months that I’ve been working with Tor, and the latter has been much easier to deal with! They handled the cover art and design (which I love) and have been proactive with marketing and publicity. I haven’t published any other books so I have nothing for comparison, but I would certainly recommend them to any writer.

5. You do a lot of what I guess I should call extreme sports. In our house, we mostly call them adventure sports, and the only one I do is SCUBA diving. What draws you to these hobbies? And if you want to tell a story or two… I certainly wouldn’t *complain.* ;)

I love being outdoors. Nature is my temple, and being out in the wilderness restores my sanity in wonderful ways. As for the adventure sports, I can lay some of that at my husband’s feet. He was a diver before we met, and he convinced me to try it. I loved it! Still do. I place a lot of faith in the technology that lets us stay underwater, and I hope we make some advances there before I’m too old to dive. My best and worst dive experiences were during a week-long liveaboard trip in the Maldives. The best: huge manta rays swimming just inches above me on their way to a cleaning station. The worst: currents! Holy fast currents, Batman, those were tough for me to deal with.

Mountain biking was another one that my husband drew me into. I love easy cross-country rides, but I’m not an aggressive rider. I never learned to jump or ride ramps – the Slickrock trail in Moab defeated me after two downhills – but I love where these rides take me. You can go a lot further on a bike than on foot in the same amount of time, which means you get to see more amazing scenery. Sure, some of it whizzes by, but I walk all the scary sections so I get plenty of time to take it in.

(And then there was that time we almost got lost in the desert…as the sun was setting…and it was raining…and I nearly strangled my beloved husband for not backtracking in time…but we made it out alive. We did damage the delicate cryptobiotic soil during our exit, which I’m not proud of, but you know, survival takes precedence. Not as dramatic a story as 127 hours – thank goodness! – but exciting enough for my tastes.)

To flip the narrative a bit, I did get my husband into snowboarding, and I’m usually the impetus for backpacking trips. I also arranged a trip for us on deep-sea submarine off the island of Roatan. Our deepest point was around 1100 feet. That was an incredible experience. Everything is still and silt-covered – it looks like undisturbed dust. We lost most of the marine life around 300 feet, and then we saw lots of strange little translucent jelly-things.

I’ve done a decent amount hiking in and around Yosemite, and I got up Half-Dome the year before I got pregnant. Those cables are scary, but the exhilaration of being up there – awesome! I stole from these experiences shamelessly for Runtime, and I wish I had access to the technology that my main character does. My biggest weakness in sports is literally that I’m weak. I don’t have a ton of strength or stamina so having gear that enhances my body’s natural abilities would open some amazing doors.

The one “extreme sport” I’ve wanted to do for a long time is skydiving. Now that I’m a parent, though, I feel like it would be irresponsible to do it until after my daughter is more grown up.

6. Upcoming projects and any other notes you’d like to make–please insert here!

Since I’ve written about it above, this is probably where I should mention that my novella, Runtime, will be available from Tor.com Publishing on May 17. You can pre-order it now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iBooks.

I’d also like to put in a word for Escape Pod, the science-fiction podcast and magazine, where I work as Assistant Editor. I hope people will go listen to some great stories (or read them on the website if that’s their preference). A lot of what we publish is original fiction and I hate to see it missed because it’s not a traditional genre magazine.

Silly Interview with Effie Seiberg, Liar.

Thanks to Effie Seiberg for granting me a silly interview!

 

EffieSeibergEffie is a San-Francisco-based writer with the requisite San-Francisco-based tech job. In college, she studied philosophy and logic. Now she bakes novelty cakes shaped like “spaceships and facehuggers.” Follow her on Twitter at @effies, or check out her other stories at effieseiberg.com.

1) One of the first times I met you, it was because you were on the liar’s panel at FogCon where people compete to tell outrageous lies. If I remember correctly, it’s an annual panel, and I think you’ve been on it before. How did you get involved?

The 2014 FOGcon Liar’s Panel was my favorite panel ever. For my slot on the panel, it was a tie between me, the zombified head of Richard Nixon, and a Magic 8 Ball, but of those I was the only one willing to do it without an outrageous speaking fee.

It was a lot of fun! If I recall, at one point one panelist was both Neil Gaiman and Seanan McGuire at the same time, and another panelist was the entire Nebula voting committee, and I believe I shot a raygun at the first audience member who asked a question. Sadly, FOGcon hasn’t had another Liar’s Panel since. I can’t imagine why.

2) Is the above an outrageous lie?

This sentence is a lie.

3) If the answer to number one is not an outrageous lie, can you tell us an outrageous lie?

The answer to question 4 is the truth.

4) Wait, how do I know you aren’t sneakily telling the truth?

The answer to question 3 is a lie.

5) All right, I’ll let it go. Just know that I’m aware that at any point you could be LYING. So. You studied philosophy and logic. Do you use that in your fiction?

Absolutely! There’s a long tradition of slipping philosophy into speculative fiction, especially since they’re both about exploring ideas and taking them to their logical conclusions. Some of my favorites are Italo Calvino’s “All at One Point” and Asimov’s “The Last Question” for metaphysical cosmology, Ken Liu’s “Mono No Aware” for ethics, and Roald Dahl’s “William and Mary” for epistemology, and the movies Labyrinth and Monty Python’s Holy Grail for classic logic. Also the entire Discworld series for all the philosophy ever.

The fun of it is putting it into a story that doesn’t sound like a dry philosophy text. So, take metaphysical cosmology, which is about questions of the nature of the universe, its existence, and its origin. That’s a pretty good basis for a science fictional story! Calvino turned that first state of all matter condensed into a single point as a crowded apartment building. Asimov used increasing magnitudes of computational ability to define the pre-conditional state for creation. For my take on it, I just went with a recipe. No really, “Recipe: 1 Universe” uses a mix of real references about the states of the universe after the Big Bang, plus some baking tips, plus a bit of whimsy thrown in for good measure, so that you too can create and be destroyed by your own universe.

Or take utilitarianism, a branch of ethics that says that you should optimize to do the most good for the most people. Liu created a moving story of self-sacrifice in the face of peril to save the human race. (Seriously, go read it. And have tissues on hand.) I, on the other hand, wrote a story about a cute and naive smartbomb. “Rocket Surgery” (available in the Jan issue of Analog) is about a smartbomb named Teeny who, while going through a variety of test simulations, starts to question how to optimize its actions to do the most good. These actions don’t always align with the General’s plans.

It’s also fun to take logical fallacies like the slippery slope argument, where you extrapolate something to its logical extreme until it really makes no sense anymore, as a foundation for satire. Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” uses this to propose that we all eat babies. I decided to go with a toy line launch predicating the end of the world. “Re: Little Miss Apocalypse Playset” is a corporate epistolary showing a string of well-meaning decisions with disastrous outcomes. (Also the characters chose to re-brand the four ponies of the apocalypse as Punchy, Bonesy, Sniffles, and Om-Nom, so you can already tell that this wasn’t going to end well.)

6) Repeating: you studied philosophy and logic. Does that make you more or less susceptible to “Someone is wrong on the internet” syndrome? (https://xkcd.com/386/)

It pains me to inform you that humans aren’t logical and never will be. This is why I welcome the upcoming rise of our robot overlords.

7) What was your experience with Women Destroy Science Fiction like?

I’m so grateful that “Ro-Sham-Bot”, about a robot who just wants to play rock-paper-scissors, was a part of Lightspeed’s “Women Destroy Science Fiction!”. When I heard that an entire special issue of the magazine (which walks and quacks like an anthology) was going to be 100% written, edited, and illustrated by women, and took as its title the core of a snarky misogynistic comment from twitter, I was delighted. It’s the most elegant screw-you response to misogyny I’ve ever seen, all while staying positive in tone. The fact that it was my first pro story sale was just icing on the cake!

It was pretty shocking and humbling to have a story nestled in the table of contents among some of your favorite authors (N.K. Jemisin! Seanan McGuire! Sarah Pinsker! You!) and then see WDSF go on to win awards and become required classroom reading, but my favorite part of the whole experience was watching the conversation unfold online after publication. On reddit, sometimes known as a bastion of intolerance and misogyny, I watched people talk about the personal essays and share their own experiences. Trolls saying they didn’t like it when women wrote science fiction and to “get your feelings off my spaceship” were shut up when others talked about other great SF writers like Nancy Kress and Connie Willis and Anne McCaffey. The tone of the conversation shifted, and it was incredibly gratifying to watch.

It’s also been amazing to see the projects that this has spawned. Women are far from the only marginalized voices in the field. Since then we’ve seen Queers Destroy and People of Color Destroy, and People with Disabilities Destroy will come next. The Escape Artists podcasts have put out Artemis Rising and Artemis Rising 2, two all-women collections. Fantastic Stories of the Imagination just announced a Queers Take Over special issue. The projects just keep coming!

It’s exciting to be a tiny ant surfing on this growing wave of inclusion!

8) Upcoming projects: got some?

After having a string of short stories come out recently, I’m switching the focus to novels. I’m finishing up a YA fantasy novel right now about a naive princess chemist who tries to gain membership to the neighboring country’s scientific society, only to find out that it’s full of corruption and sabotage and is a front for an upcoming arms race. It’s got explosions and pre-steampunk flying machines and academic satire and awkward nerds flailing at each other in attempts at flirting. Mostly explosions though. Now that I think of it, there are a lot of things on fire in that book.

After that, I think I’m going to try my hand at a Middle Grade novel that I’m thinking of as candy-colored noir, with mobsters and a failed heist and a chicken-parrot hybrid that belches out fireballs. Hmm, I think I see a theme here. You don’t need to worry – you don’t seem to be wearing anything that flammable.

9) Were you lying about your upcoming projects? You were, weren’t you?

I can neither confirm nor deny that [[[MESSAGE REDACTED BY GOVERNMENTAL CENSORS]]], especially about the baboons.

Silly Interview with Fran Wilde, expert on man-made wings

fran by Steven GouldThank you to Fran Wilde for agreeing to do a silly interview!

I met Fran a few years ago at WorldCon, but we really got some nice time together at 2015’s ICFA in the pool. Later, we discussed migraine glasses.

Fran’s first novel, Updraft, is a Nebula nominee. She has another novel coming out in 2016 (Cloudbound) and a Tor.com novella (The Jewel and Her Lapirdary) out in May. She’s published short stories in some of the usual suspects like Asimovs, Tor and Nature.

1. Like a million writers before you, you’ve had to deal with being a primary caregiver (yes?) and writing. What are your strategies?

I’m a parent and a trailing spouse (ie: spouse gets job, you move [which? I never thought I’d be doing that!]), and I occasionally need to look in on my parents. I’m also a freelancer. That makes for a lot of “Stop everything you are doing / thinking about / concentrating on and focus on this other thing right now!” which isn’t particularly conducive to a calm writing environment. My solution for a long time was stops-and-starts, which wasn’t really a solution because I rarely finished anything. Then I started scheduling my writing like I would a job or another task, on the theory that if I didn’t put it first, no one would. Even if it meant getting up before everyone else (and I am a TERRIBLE morning person), even if it was just for an hour or two. Writing is the thing I do first now. That doesn’t mean I neglect the other things, and it’s still a lot of work finding an hour, or day here, another there, but especially as my family has evolved, tasks are getting easier to distribute… and we’re getting much better at all communicating our needs to each other instead of assuming that someone will always be there to catch what needs caught, or that this need or that need isn’t as important as someone else’s. (And we make a lot of lists and spreadsheets and schedule as much as we can in advance. That sometimes still doesn’t work out, though!)
I think, actually, the hardest thing for a long time was the isolation. Not being able to get out to coffee shops, or even knowing that writers’ groups, or writing retreats / workshops existed, made it hard to see myself doing what I loved as a valid choice. It’s always easier to say “this person needs me to do x, then y, before I can think of doing my own work.” It felt selfish to do anything else. Especially when there wasn’t anyone nearby to point to as another way to do things. When I figured out that I could say “I am taking these two hours to write,” or “I’d like to go for this weekend retreat,” and everyone would see if they could make room for that — willingly! — that was an enormous change. And by doing that, I was able to connect with other writers — both in person and by Google chat, which is huge, because even if I can’t get out to something, being able to connect online makes all the difference.
These days, sometimes the timespan I need is a lot more than two hours, and sometimes it’s weirdly hard having my focus broken when someone needs something right that minute that I haven’t planned for. And sometimes I still need reassurance that what I’m doing has value to the family / to me / to others. But we’re getting there.
2. The setting for UPDRAFT is very unusual–it contains a mosaic of different elements that aren’t usually associated with each other. How did you develop such a layered world?
Mostly I developed the world through layering. The bone towers have been there from the start, as have the wings, the clouds, and some of the characters. But the rest came from asking questions about what would be the logical extension of a sky-bound culture — what would they lack, what would they not know they were lacking? What physical features of the landscape impacted politics? How would that change over time? I’d add those layers in, write side stories about various groups and events that happened far from the events of the novel, and let those events quietly impact the rest of the world. And then I’d go back and do another layer.
3. Have you ever done skydiving or hang gliding or anything similar?
I haven’t! I’m a sailor. I have relatives who hang-glide, and I spent a lot of my childhood watching storms roll in on the cliffs of the Chesapeake Bay (it gets really windy), but in order to do the research for UPDRAFT, I wanted to feel the physics of being in a wind tunnel, and I wanted to make sure I was writing a flying book, not a sailing book turned sideways. So I went indoor skydiving, which was a hoot. And very spinny.
The wings in the book aren’t hang-gliding wings, they’re more like a cross between furlable wings and wing-suit wings, so I also watched a lot of wingsuit fliers on long-flights and also doing particularly dangerous things like flying through canyons. I researched about 2,000 years of man-made wings in history, and talked a lot with engineers who understand the physics of foils – aka: wings.
3a. Bonus question! What were the most unexpected things you learned about man-made wings?
  • The number of times a version of “but forgot to add a way to lift their feet and so broke both legs in the fall” appeared in the texts. Repeatedly.
  • This stained glass window in Malmesbury (link), depicting Eilmer – an 11th Century monk who tried to fly. (And who forgot to lift his feet and/or panicked and broke both legs in the fall.)
  • The reported 17th c. Khan’s reaction to Ottoman-empire polymath Hezârfen Ahmet Çelebi *successful* flight over a body of water : a sack of gold coins, while stating “This is a scary man, he is capable of doing anything he wishes.” Plus exile to Algeria.
4. We both deal with migraines that interfere in our lives in all sorts of inconvenient ways–when we should be writing, when we should be on panels at conventions, to name only a couple that relate to writing. Actually, I don’t think I have a question here. I’m just complaining. Why don’t you complain some, too.
Ugh, yeah. My usual thought when I feel a migraine coming is: “Maybe it won’t be that bad?” or “I can get through this task, then go take care of myself. Maybe it won’t be that bad.” Hah. No. Bad idea. I hate putting people out, or causing a stir, and I am really bad at asking for help, so sometimes I’ll push myself even harder to work through it, and of course the migraine always pushes back, often at the WORST times. That said, once I figured out most of my migraine accelerants, I’ve been able to control them more. That’s been really good, except when it’s not.  Grumble.
Ok, tossing this back at you! How do you deal with the unpredictability and the invisibility of migraines? How do you communicate pain to someone else when there are few visible markers until things are really really bad?
RS: Oo, throwing the question back at me. Meta. My migraines may not be as bad as yours; I’m often in a kind of demi-functioning, impaired-but-not-totally-gone state. So, I do things like go to meetings and just sit with my hands over my eyes, which I find most people are pretty good about even though it looks weird. I think the visual component makes it easy for most people to understand. These days, I actually have a medicine that works very reliably, but it makes it impossible for me to drive, so it’s inconvenient. And I often still fall asleep (my migraines usually put me to sleep). I don’t like having to bail on commitments when they happen. It’s deeply frustrating.
5. Back to me asking the questions! You’ve had a really fast career growth spurt in the past year. What’s the most unexpected thing you’ve encountered? 
It’s funny – it doesn’t feel fast? There’s a lot of work that went on under the surface, both in the years before I was public about the fact that I was writing again, and in the years since I started sending out stories. And there’s also the feeling of “ok what is the next thing?” So I guess I feel like I’m always growing and learning, and that there are always going to be more elements of craft and practice that I want to hone.
Most unexpected was the realization that it doesn’t get easier. A friend told me once that it gets differently hard. She was right, but then she is almost always right.
6. Do you have any upcoming projects, or anything else you’d like to talk about? Entertaining lies are encouraged. (Non-entertaining lies are tolerated.)
My gem universe novella “The Jewel And Her Lapidary,” a hidden history wrapped in a traveler’s guide, is coming out in May from Tor.com. And CLOUDBOUND — a companion novel to Updraft (not a sequel!) comes out in September, which I’m really excited for.
I’m staffing Paradise Lost in May, and am a writer in residence at University of Richmond in March, as well as at York University in the fall.
I have some more research-based activities I’m planning, both for the last novel in the Updraft cycle, as well as for another completely unrelated project. And more gem universe stories. No spoilers though.
I can’t think of any entertaining lies! I should practice that. YES. My upcoming project will be boot-camp training in entertaining lies.

Silly interview with Darusha Wehm, pink-haired sailor.

Darusha_Wehm_authorphotoDarusha Wehm is a Canadian-born New Zealander who spent YEARS SAILING THE PACIFIC, which is pretty freaking cool. She’s got several novels out, a number of short stories, and she also publishes mainstream fiction (without the ‘m’ in her name).
Darusha was kind enough to consent to a silly interview, in which I bugged her a lot about the YEARS SAILING THE PACIFIC thing, because, as I mentioned, freaking cool.
*
1) I’m always intrigued by authors’ diverse histories, especially the ones that sound like they could be from adventure novels. You spent a few years traveling at sea. What was the most surprising thing about living on the water?
I suspect people expect an answer about wildlife or weather or self-sufficiency, and I certainly did learn plenty of interesting things about those aspects of my journey. But for me, the most surprising thing about my time sailing was the incredible sense of community among the other people I met along the way.
Other sailors and many locals are incredibly free with their time, fuel and supplies when someone needs help. It’s as if everyone is that best friend who drops everything on their only day off to come help you with a project gone wrong that you should probably never have attempted in the first place. I’ve seen people risk their lives to help a boater in trouble who they’ve never even met.
It’s like we are a small town, the exact population of which is constantly changing as boats move to different places. But in every port and every anchorage your neighbours are there, ready to have an improptu potluck party. You might never have met these particular neighbours before, but that doesn’t matter. You’re all still a part of the community.
2) You write and edit crime/mystery fiction as well as science fiction and fantasy. What appeals to you about mysteries?
 
I like puzzles. I also love stories that are about the intimate problems of ordinary people’s lives. Many mystery and crime stories have both of those elements, which draw me to them. Also, I like reading about how people deal with situations where bad things happen. To me, fiction can be a way to test drive another life, another set of possible choices, and seeing the extreme ends of those choices helps me calibrate my own moral compass.
3) Would you write, or have you written, a mystery novel about a character traveling at sea?
When I was travelling, people often asked if I was going to write about sailing and I always said no.  I was too caught up the in the everyday life to see the possibilities for fiction. But now that I’m a land person again, I’ve started a series that revolves around a sailing crew travelling the world. It’s not a mystery, but who knows what I might write in the future.
After living on a boat for seven years, I can tell you that the most common mystery aboard is, “What’s that noise?” I’m not sure how well that would translate to written fiction.
4) I’ve only been to the North Island, but everything I’ve seen in New Zealand is gorgeous. Why did you decide to settle in Wellington? What didn’t you expect about living there?
 
Even though I was born and raised in Canada, Wellington is my mother’s hometown, and she always spoke of it with great fondness. It’s the seat of government here, so had a lot of job opportunities for my partner and as one of those artsy, small cities, has a great culture scene which worked well for us both. Plus, it’s absolutley stunning (when it isn’t blowing a gale).
The most surprising thing to me about Wellington is how at home I feel here. I lived on the boat for the first few years I was here, and since the boat was my home, everywhere I was when I was on it felt at least somewhat familiar. But Wellington, wonderful as it is, is a terrible place to live on a boat — it is, by many measures, the windiest city in the world. Once I moved ashore, I expected to feel more alien here, but I don’t. I am an obvious immigrant with my noticiable accent, and small talk with new people always involves the question, “Where are you from?” However, I feel completely comfortable here and have developed a strange attachment to this little city.
5) You have beautiful purple and magenta hair in your author photo. Do you still have it?
Thank you and I do! I’ve had lots of hair colours and styles over the years and I think this is my favourite.
6) Any upcoming projects or events you’d like to share?
I recently released the first in the aforementioned sailing series, called Devi Jones’ Locker. The first book is Packet Trade and it’s available in ebook and paperback from the usual online stores. Folks can find out more about it and my other books at my website http://darusha.ca
Here’s the blurb:
Tropical adventures. A rag-tag sailing crew. Running off-grid data servers? Sounds legit.
Devi Jones is a year away from graduating with a Computer Science degree and it’s internship time. But usually the ship part isn’t quite so literal. She gets hired by Really Remote Desktop, a cloud data storage company that keeps their servers in odd places, like the bilge of a hundred-foot sailboat.
How can a homebody like Devi step on to a boat with six strangers and sail away from everything she has ever known? All while trying to do her best at her first real job? Being in a tropical paradise helps — but only until things start to go wrong.