Final drafting and revisions of The Nine‘s as-yet-untitled sequel has commanded the lion’s share of my writing energy for the last month, meaning things have been quiet here on the blog. They haven’t been quiet, though, in the arranging travel and appearances department.
Last year I had the great pleasure of traveling to the Nebulas with my husband, reading with my fellow Broad Universe gals and paneling extensively at Readercon, giving an author talk at the Fountaindale Public Library, paneling and reading at WindyCon, doing my first book launch and reading at Anderson’s Bookshop, and supporting my favorite friendly local game store and comic shop, Villains & Heroes Academy, through a Small Business Saturday book sale. It was, in short, a busy year. Toss in a blog tour and a couple of podcast interviews and 2017 was something between exhilarating and exhausting. (And that’s before we even think about politics.)
I’m kicking off 2018 with my first visits to ConFusion in Detroit and CapriCon in Wheeling, Illinois, quickly followed by a huge Johnson County Public Library event on writing and world-building for genre readers. You can learn the details of my schedule by checking my events page. Keep an eye out there for updates in the coming weeks as I finalize my late spring and summer travel plans.
If you spend much time following the culture of sff, you probably know that the start of each year marks “awards season,” which is a bit of a misnomer, as there are so many awards from so many different cons and organizations, the process of nominating, reading, and voting for the best of sff can take up the lion’s share of the year from January to August.
And so, around this time, writers, editors, and artists emerge from their burrows like Punxsutawney Phil spying for his shadow, sharing their awards eligibility posts. This year, I have the honor of being among them.
I’m not generally a short story writer and am only just peeking my head into the world of related works writing through soon-to-be-inaugurated column with Luna Station Quarterly, “A Place Where It Rains.” (It’s an Italo Calvino reference, for those interested.) Thus, my singular offering (and a good one, I think) is my debut novel The Nine.
The Nine, my gaslamp/clockpunk/steampunk dark literary fantasy heist about science, faith, family, redemption, murder-trees, and ogres with eyes on their feet debuted from Pyr on November 14, 2017. Black Gate magazine and Publishers Weekly have have some very fine things to say about it. It’s proud to say it’s eligible for:
Hugo Award: Best Novel
Nebula Award: Best Novel
Locus Award: Best Fantasy Novel and Best First Novel
The Dragon Awards: Best Fantasy Novel (anyone is free to nominate here)
And as for me, personally?
It is my great honor to at last be eligible for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. This one is particularly important to me because so many writers I love and admire have been nominated for it over the years — and many of my favorites didn’t win. To be nominated for a Campbell and lose would be a mighty achievement for me, indeed. I’d still feel as if I stood among giants. Ending up on the ballot for this award is my highest dream at this point in my career. I wouldn’t cry over a loss here in the least. I’d feel like I’d arrived.
If you’re interested in reading The Nine, of course you can buy a copy using one of the many handy links on this website (it’s available in print, audio, and ebook formats), get a copy from your local library, or read excerpts from it on this website, or on Tor.com. You’ll also find several chapters of it in the upcoming Campbell eligibility anthology Event Horizon 2018.
I hope you enjoy it, and hope you’ll give me your support if you do!
With just days left until The Nine releases, you’ll be “seeing” a lot more of me around — online and in person! Keep an eye out for me at the following places this November, in what I’m calling the Nine Days of The Nine tour. (Okay, fine. If you count the whole WindyCon weekend, it’s not nine days exactly. But let a girl have her fun.)
If you’re part of my street team (still haven’t joined? why? don’t you like seeing cool stuff nobody else gets to see? — sign up for the newsletter at the top of this page!) then give me a boost by checking out these events, online or in person, and spreading the word about them. And if you’re not? Well. You’ll learn more than enough about me and my book to want to get in on the action.
Nov. 13 Lawrence M. Schoen’s Eating Authors & Anderson’s Bookshop Naperville, IL’s Pre-Release Sale & Signing: I’m very grateful to Hugo- and Nebula-nominated sff author Lawrence M. Schoen for inviting me to tell you about a favorite, formative meal on his “Eating Authors” blog series (a good entry to look up if you’re at all interested in my strange past in the martial arts). The night-before-release festivities continue in realspace, too, as I gather with friends, family, students, and perfect strangers for an exclusive pre-release sale of The Nine at Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville. It’s never too late to order your copy and join in! Also, copies ordered online and shipped to you can be autographed. Just add in the comment box at checkout “I would like my copy signed” and place your order before November 13!
November 14 is. . . RELEASE DAY!!!
Nov. 14 Nicholas Kaufmann’s The Scariest Part: Many thanks to dark fantasy author Nicholas Kaufmann for welcoming me to his blog, where you’ll learn about facing the fear of being told you can’t have the villain you want in your book. . . . because they might be sympathetic after all. What happens when someone holding the strings to your future says that, and you still say no? Find out here!
Nov. 15 John Scalzi’s The Big Idea: Every book idea comes from someplace. Hugo-Award winner John Scalzi is good enough to let me explain how pretending to be bad at my college work-study job yielded rewards I’d never imagined in my writing.
Nov. 16 Mary Robinette Kowal’s My Favorite Bit: Mary Robinette Kowal may be one of the sweetest people in all of sff, so it’s no surprise that she opens her blog to authors who want to get excited with you about what they love in their work. On November 16, you’ll get to read about the one scene that survived every single edit The Nine went through, and why it survived unchanged to the very end.
Nov. 17 Uncanny Magazine Blog: Publishing is a strange, complicated world and I’ve been fortunate to have an excellent support system of friends, family, and professionals around me. The Thomases of Uncanny Magazine are a little of all three to me. They’ve been kind enough to let me write about one of my favorite tropes — redemption arcs — but with a twist: writing as the author’s redemption arc.
Nov. 21 Reddit r/fantasy Ask Me Anything: All cards on the table: I’m really not a Reddit kind of gal, so this one’s a bit scary. Still, there’s no more interesting place to go to get questions about your work and interface with readers than Reddit’s r/fantasy “Ask Me Anything” forum. Pop in to post a question, or to see my answers as they emerge Nov. 21st!
Nov. 25 Small Business Saturday at Villains & Heroes Academy in Bolingbrook, IL: I’m a geek down to the marrow of my bones, and so Villains & Heroes Academy in Bolingbrook is exactly the kind of place I like to spend my time, and very much a place I wish I had had in my life as a kid. Fortunately, the Townsend kids are there every week for games, comics, and general geekery. Now you can support a big-hearted small business and buy a copy of The Nine from me. Gifts, swag, and giveaways for all comers will be there, too.
Nov. 30 Chuck Wendig’s Terribleminds.com “The Five Things I Learned Writing The Nine“: You’d have a hard time identifying a more colorful author or blogger than Chuck Wendig. His “Five Things I Learned Writing. . .” series is the perfect home for other authors to share their most colorful experiences writing, too. The list could go a lot longer than five, in my case. But I had to be good and obey the rules.
And there it is! A first taste of the many places you can go to keep up with me. More to come in the weeks to come, of course. If you have any suggestions of where you’d like to see me — in real life or virtual life — make a suggestion in the comments below.
The Nine is an Amazon Editors’ Pick for Best Science Fiction and Fantasy in November! And if that wasn’t a big enough way to have kicked off the month (including, ahem, a sprint to the end of NaNoWriMo with Book Two in the works), Tor.com hosted a teaser from the novel — a chapter you can’t find anywhere else (or at least, not until November 14). Moreover, a brand-new review from Books, Bones, & Buffy came out this morning, and to say it’s glowing is. . . kind of an understatement? Well, I’m glowing, anyway.
Keep your eye out for “The Nine Days of The Nine” in November, starting November 10 at WindyCon 44 where I’ll be doing a reading from The Nine, a giveaway of the final ARCs and the much-beloved Thieves of Fate Fan Packs (complete with character-themed tea, notebooks, bookmarks, and of course the custom-designed Stone Scales tote bag by Mike Dean) and joining panels Friday and Saturday on everything from tropes of bygone sff to survival in the crapsack dystopia.
Join me here for the full schedule reveal of the “The Nine Days of The Nine” this Wednesday so you’ll know where I’ll be in real life and digitally. I’d love to “see you” at all the stops along the way!
I recently posted on both Facebook and Twitter, encouraging folks to sign up for my newsletter (see that lovely box at the top of the page, just waiting for your email address… come on, you know you want to try it) and offering a chance to be part of my street team for The Nine’s release.
The short version is that a street team is a group of fans who work with an author to help promote her work in simple, sustainable ways. Street team members share information about an author and her work on social media, encourage area stores and libraries to carry her work, suggest her work to friends and family, post reviews online, and help create a positive atmosphere around an author and her work. Generally, street teams form in the weeks and months before a book releases and continue after to keep momentum going. Street team members are compensated in the ways fans generally like best. They’re sent special emails with information and sneak peeks of content other readers can’t get, get announcements in advance of the general public, and often get fun swag and freebies for their efforts, too. They also get the eternal, undying gratitude of the author they advocate for.
That’s me. And, that would be you, too. YOU could be part of my street team.
If you’d like to join, add yourself to my mailing list (again, top of the page, then follow the instructions that pop up after you submit your email).I’ll be sending out one email a week until the end of December. After that point, we’ll taper back to one or two emails a month, mostly focused on rewarding you with Good Stuff.
The emails will combine requests for action from you — for example, in a given week after release, I might ask everyone to snap a picture of The Nine in the wild (at a bookstore, a con, a library, or even your own home) and share it via social media — and a treat from me.
Starting next week, the street team’s reward will be part of a deleted scene from The Nine. After that, the rewards will vary, but I promise they’ll always be cool and worth the couple of minutes I’ll ask of you in return.
THIS week, to get warmed up, here’s your first Street Team directive (to be duplicated later in an email to the mailing list):
Go to Goodreads.com and (if you don’t already have one) make a profile. Add The Nine to your To Be Read list, if it’s not already there, and follow my author page.
Then, go to your friend list on Goodreads (if you already have one) andrecommend The Nine to at least two other friends — of course, I wouldn’t complain if you chose to do more than two!
And that’s it! That’s all you need to do! Remember, the goal of the street team is to spread awareness about the book and create excitement so more people discover and share it. Every thing you do toward that goal is a gift to me.
There’s nothing particularly unique in an author talking about her love of libraries. It makes sense. Why wouldn’t someone who loves books enough to go to the trouble of making them love a place full of free books? In my case, I love libraries for all the usual reasons, plus one: it was where I met some of my best friends.
Whether it was a one-off tabletop RPG gathering or a regular writing workshop, I met and bonded with a lot of people over the years through attending library programs. That’s why giving back to my childhood library’s program providers by appearing at the Fountaindale Public Library’s Indie Author Day on October 14 is a huge personal achievement.
If you live in the Chicago suburbs and are interested in learning more about the publishing process, whether self-pub, small press, or larger traditional publishing, the Indie Author Day will have something for you. With authors writing everything from children’s books to erotica, you can get advice about taking a project in its infancy to completion, about promoting and publishing your work independently, about building outreach through social media, and about revising your work in the traditional publishing pipeline. If that’s not enough, there will be giveaways for all attendees.
In my case, in addition to giveaways for all attendees, I’ll be raffling off two Thieves of Fate Fan Packs, which include:
a snazzy tote bag with original The Nine-themed art designed by my colleague, teacher and comics artist Mike Dean
a complete set of The Nine character-themed teas, with six blends designed to capture the essence of Rowena, the Alchemist, Anselm, the Reverend Doctor Phillip Chalmers, Rare, and Inspector Gammon
your own “little black notebook” and pen set, with the cover of The Nine decorating it (art by the amazing Adam S. Doyle)
and, of course, a copy of The Nine in ARC (advance reader copy) form
Indie Author Day is set to be a big program with a lot of information and opportunities for the attendees, running from 1-5:30 PM, and entirely open to the public — no fees or pre-registration required.
I’ve been a teacher for fourteen years, which means many things: a lot of time spent at desks, grading papers; a lot of the same conversations about the same concerns, applied to various students; a lot of chocolate and mugs given as gifts at the end of term. It also means a lot of time assembling, through both careful curation and careless inspiration, an arsenal of bromides to help students navigate recurring issues in their writing. There are few writing adages more frequently repeated than “Kill your darlings” (variously attributed to Chekhov, Wilde, Faulkner, and Stephen King, but ultimately the work of Arthur Quiller-Couch). Maybe “Write what you know” or “You can’t edit a blank page” are contenders, but lacking the murderous flair of “Kill your darlings,” I think they might only rate a close second.
But maybe, just maybe, the conspiracy against darlings is finally on notice. In her role as guest instructor at Alpha Workshop,Alyssa Wong shared this message with her awesome sfnal pupils:
"It's important to know what you like about your own writing. Never let go of the things that you love." Lecture wisdom from @crashwong.
I love Alpha Workshop. They’ve nurtured the growth of my former students, Ana Curtis and Surya Cannon, and introduced me to other fabulous young Alphans like Kyra Boisseree and Alina Sichevaya. Combine an Alpha tweet with an @crashwong authorship and you’ve got a favorite guaranteed, as far as my feed is concerned. But I retweeted Alyssa’s message because of how deeply, utterly true it felt to me, as a writer.
I’ve been guilty of telling students to cut one thing or another from their work for practical reasons — something is long, confusing, contradictory, distracting, breaks tone, shifts tone without cause, whatever. But I’ve tried not to do this too often because ultimately, what we love in our own writing is the very thing that brings us back to do the work day in and out. Those little pieces of ego spur us to confront the blankness of the not-yet-written. It’s not easy work. You have to love something about it to keep showing up.
I’m grateful to Alyssa and Alpha for sharing this message, because it validates the author over the reader. We know already that the reader matters. So much of writing workshop culture is built up around the authority of readers, it can be difficult to balance that power against an author’s desires, and that balance is crucial. After all, the reader is as imperfect as the writer, and elusive, to boot. Each is unique, and for every confluence of opinions and tastes that helps create “a market” for a story (“Hey! A f/f historical mystery set in occupied Japan! We’ve been looking for that!” – sidebar, if there is such a thing out there, please shove it in my face) there are divergences that diffuse a monolithic “market” into individual readers with their own reasons for ultimately not enjoying something that seemed tailor-made to their tastes (“Oh, no, did you hear that it’s totally a Bury Your Gays thing, though?”). Just as writing a story intended to charm all readers in a workshop – boring none, offending none, surprising none – results in pablum no one wants to consume, writing a story and then culling out of it the things that gave you joy, the parts of your style that make you love what you can do with the space between your ears, is counter-productive.
There’s a joke in Chez Townsend that if there was nobody around to stop me, all my fiction would run a bit like this bit Eddie Izzard does on tension and conflict in British cinema. Go ahead and watch it. I’ll wait.
I don’t get mad when my husband, always a first-flight reader of my work, looks up from the screen to tell me the characters are arranging matches again. If anything, I find ways to help them do it more often (though maybe I break it up and sprinkle it around differently, after a good beta read). My ideal book would be about 50% action/adventure with 50% Matchstick Interludes. Arguably, that’s about what the Thieves of Fate series is shaping up to be, and I like it that way. I love my characters to have deep-seated issues, to live surrounded with unspoken things and tension that could whet a blade to blurred blue edge. I love that crackling chemistry. I love questions half-answered, and wordless understandings, and all of that stuff. I want my reader to do a bit of work, because that’s the work I want to do when I read. I want that emotional gymnastics routine as a counterpoint to the espionage, the heists, the Machiavellian scheming, the running-for-your-life pursuits and back-alley ambushes. And I think, for the most part, my ideal reader wants that, too. So you’re welcome.
Or maybe that’s not what you want in a book. And that’s okay. But I know I’m at my best when characters are tangled and thorny, both within themselves and within the conflict of the plot. Anyone who tells me to take that out of my work, well. That’s one darling I’ll never kill.
I hope every Alphan takes Alyssa’s words to heart and plunges deep into some writerly self-love. I hope the rest of us can indulge in that too. We spend so much time worrying over approval of others; spending a little more approving of ourselves is long overdue.
Hey, if you’re a Goodreads user and are keen to get an ARC of The Nine, enter this giveaway between August 1-9th, 2017!
At the end of June, a little before the official okay was given to release Readercon programming schedules, I jumped the gun and posted the reading and panels I’d be part of this year. To my relief, didn’t have to issue a correct as my schedule stayed put. But I have better reasons than disliking updating posts to be happy about that.
I’m happy about my Readercon schedule because giving a public reading from my debut novel, The Nine, speaking about problematic characters, about characters with disabilities, and about “soul” in stories reinforced so much of what makes me love writing, reading, and talking about both.
In the “The Souls of Stories” panel proposed by Rose Fox and moderated by Cecilia Tan, I found myself in the awkward position of pushing back against an idea Rose had proposed in their description of the panel: “What does it mean to relate to a story the way one relates to people? How does this intersect with the stereotype of the introverted reader who chooses stories over human interaction?”
My answer to this provocative question was, “We can relate to books much the same way we relate to people because reading a book IS a human interaction. A human wrote the damn book!” That got a laugh from the audience — and not, I’m relieved to report, an unkind one — but it also set the tenor of my weekend.
There I was in a hotel outside Boston, its halls literally overrun with authors and editors and readers and critics and bibliophiles of every shape and size, assured in the knowledge that what had brought us together was a fundamental love of books.
Daily conversation lends itself to slightly hyperbolic statements like “I love coffee,” or “I love sunny days.” But however bowled over we might be by clement weather or our morning’s first cuppa, we don’t mean “love” in the same way we do when we say “I love you,” or even when we say we love something much less intimate about someone — “I love your hair,” for instance. There is no real recipient of those earlier statements. Coffee doesn’t care. The sun will shine, or not, without any particular pride-in-performance.
Books are different, though. When we say we love a book, of even just part of a book (its characters, premise, prose, and so on), we speak something that’s not just a compliment to the creator. If that’s all it was, it wouldn’t be much different from loving someone’s hairdo. Instead, we’re realizing the creator’s effort to reach us, and feeling it succeed. The text is the hand that stretches back through time and space, through culture and bias and hope and despair, and tries to give us something. An open door. A moment of solace. A problem to chew on. An image that will haunt us. A promise that, really, things can turn out all right, in the end.
Books may be the most human of all interactions, because they embrace our species’ unique capacity to escape time-binding, to record both the real and the unreal, and to deploy them in perpetual records, offering new (un)realities to others. If you’re the sort of person who would click the link to this blog, I know I’m already preaching to the proverbial choir. But that’s also the point. You go to something called “Readercon” not so it can change your mind about books, but so it can double down on everything that brought you there, absorbing you into the discourse of the written word (and into the Saturday night Miscellany, too).
Of course books are human interaction. Books are our avatars, little pieces of our humanity we package for the delight and edification of others. Sharing those avatars, processing them together, enlarges the semi-private space of the written word.
That’s why telling Samuel R. Delany that I couldn’t teach my speculative fiction studies class without his scholarship is important.
That’s why putting an ARC in a reader’s hands and then having them return later asking for an autograph is important.
That’s why shaking hands with authors I’ve taught in classes, and authors I love too much to teach, is important.
That’s why meeting critique partners from half a continent away and finding every possible way to tell them how wonderful they are is important.
I was honored, elated, and ultimately exhausted by my time at Readercon. It was a weekend about sharing pieces of soul. In that same panel on the Souls of Stories, Lorrie Kim explained the “soul” of the Harry Potter series is oxytocin, the hormone that most strongly influences social bonding. Maybe the best stories are all oxytocin for the brain, triggering a bonding between reader and text.And really, that’s all I ever hoped to do, as an author. I hope that (to borrow Erik Amundsen’s term) I’ve “ensoulled” The Nine in such a way that it is the right kind of friend to the right person at the right time.
For now, I need to get back to the draft of its sequel. That new, still-growing soul is calling me, too, and its characters are in serious need of dopamine, if I don’t misjudge the peril I’ve left them in.
I’ve been looking forward to Readercon for months, especially (though not only!) because my application to be on programming was accepted. Getting the program ratings packet to help drill down into where I could best be scheduled only amplified my anticipation. One hundred thirteen pages of sessions, panels, readings, and get-togethers later, I found I had requested to take part in seventeen different sessions. Take that kind of overexcited squee and multiply it by the dozens of other people ranking their programming desires and I can hardly imagine how the scheduling team tackled making anything coherent.
Fortunately for me and everyone else planning to spend July 13-16 in Quincy, Massachusetts, they did, and it’s brilliant.
If you’ll be at Readercon, or just considering stopping by (remember that Thursday the 13th is open to the public, free of charge, and I’m on the bill that night!), here’s where you can find me on panels and programming. Come say hello!
8 PM Thursday, July 13: Broad Universe Rapid-Fire Reading – Come hear me read from The Nine and meet two other authors, Randee Dawn Kestenbaum and Susan Matthews, at this group reading sponsored by Broad Universe, an international organization supporting women writing sf/f/h.
11 AM Friday, July 14: Writing Characters With Flawed Beliefs – I’m honored to be the panel leader for this discussion of how to manage writing characters whose beliefs, because of historical context or other factors, are problematic or even repulsive to modern readers. Is there a way to write a hero whose beliefs are likely to offend readers, and still have them be a hero? How will our own beliefs as writers stand the test of time in generations to come?
2 PM Friday, July 14: Writing Disability in the Future – I’m very excited to take part in this panel where I’ll be discussing accurate, thoughtful portrayal of disability in sff, particularly when technology and magic make “cure solutions” so tempting. There’s much to be said about how we examine our assumptions about “ability” as both writers and readers, and how those assumptions are acted out or dismantled in the text. This is an important subject for me because of the people in my family and working life with disabilities and my ongoing experiences with them. I hope to do it justice.
4 PM Friday, July 14: The Souls of Stories – I deserve no credit for this panel idea, but it’s one that could have been lifted from my thinking about my job as a teacher. To quote the panel description, “What does it mean to relate to a story the way one relates to people? How does this intersect with the stereotype of the introverted reader who chooses stories over human interaction? What are the advantages and limitations of this way of looking at the reading experience?” My whole function as a teacher is helping students connect to the soul of a story, giving them the language they need to speak about how they relate to it, and how it relates to them. If stories have souls – an essence that’s meant to grab on to readers in a very particular way – what responsibility do we have as authors to take care of our readers’ souls, in return?