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Posts Tagged ‘writing’

The Nine Days of THE NINE

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.


The Nine Days of The Nine Promo Schedule!

Nov. 10-11: WindyCon 44 in Lombard, IL. – Friday the 10th I’ll be on a panel discussing currency and survival in a dystopian setting; Saturday, I’ll be on two other panels and giving a reading with prizes and giveaways for attendees. Check the events schedule entry for more details!

Nov. 13 Lawrence M. Schoen’s Eating Authors & Anderson’s Bookshop Naperville, IL’s Pre-Release Sale & SigningI’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 PartMany 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 IdeaEvery 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 BitMary 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 BlogPublishing 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 AnythingAll 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, ILI’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 “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.

Fountaindale Library’s Indie Author Day 2017

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 hope to see you there!


On Picking Reader Brains for Fun & Profit

We’re now in finals week at IMSA, where I have the pleasure of teaching sf and creative writing courses and working with some of the most interesting students you’re likely to find. Finals week means a retreat to a predictable pattern: long hours of grading, calculating revisions, writing final term comments. Cleaning my office. Drinking tea. Eating at my desk. Wandering in circles gnashing my teeth. More tea.

One of the best things in that predictable end-of-term pattern is my students’ joint blog in Speculative Fiction Studies. For several years, I’ve tapped into the lifeblood of sf publishing — through Twitter, #MSWL, and a growing collaboration of sf publishing professionals — to get my students talking to the creators of the work they’ve been reading, interacting with and contributing back to the sf ecosystem.

This year, I was fortunate to have the cooperation of my agent, Bridget Smith; my editor at Pyr, Rene Sears; and writers Max Gladstone, Carmen Maria Machado, and Naomi Kritzer in furnishing questions for my students to ask. The general theme was, “If you could pick smart, teen readers’ brains, what would you want to know from them that would help you do your job better?” The students’ final assignment was a short essay in blog post form, responding to any of the five pros they chose. The posts went live this weekend, and are up for anyone to read and respond to here: SFS @ IMSA.

You should stop by, whether you are a reader of sf, a writer, an editor, or an agent. These students have a lot to share about what they hunger for in their fiction, from greater diversity in representation of body size and nonbinary identities to more thoughtful pairing of linguistic and narrative style with plot content. They’re picky. They’re insightful. They’re the rising generation of readers who will shape what flies off the shelves in the years to come — and what’s likely to sit there and languish, instead.



Sometimes, You Need to Ask Better Questions

I was more than a little nervous, going into work on Thursday morning, April 20, because my Speculative Fiction Studies students were speaking with Amal El-Mohtar. I was excited, grateful, hopeful, and yes. Terribly, deeply nervous. I should point out that there’s nothing about Amal that should make anyone fearful, apart from her talent, her enthusiasm, her accomplishments, her erudition, her grace —

No, scratch that. I was anxious about my students – and, let’s be honest, me – having a good showing with Amal because she’s very much to be admired. One never likes to let down one’s heroes. So I told myself what my mother always told me about fear and success: “You only feel so awful because you care so much. It would be wrong if you didn’t.”

My students read Amal’s “The Truth About Owls” as part of their homework and were ready to speak to her through a Twitter AMA on the hashtag #AMALowl. It seemed a perfect plan: low-impact ‘face time’ between a writer and students familiar with her work, with the technology free and practically foolproof. But though the questions the students shared were thoughtful and sincere, and Amal dove into answers as fast as anyone could expect a lone writer on a mission to do, the disconnection of an asynchronous conversation felt a bit wrong.  In a previous, totally spontaneous AMA, Alyssa Wong and Brooke Bolander had been able to tag-team their way through half a class period of discussion. Two against twenty had worked out much better than twenty-to-one odds, as I might have realized if I had used my tactical brain more and my fangirl brain less.

Fortunately, in a quick DM session after, Amal raised the issue that would turn things around for the afternoon: “That was super cool! I hope the answers were ok! I’m sliiiightly regretting not actually doing this over skype because some of those questions definitely deserved more thought-through answers! . . .What do you think pedagogy-wise? I will totally do what’s easier for you / better for class!”

It was the right question — a better question than “Will this go okay?”, which had been the only place I could make my brain focus all morning. Instead, Amal asked what it would take to make the teachable moment itself better. She assumed (rightly) that it would be okay. And it had been. But she also sensed it could have been better.

So, we switched tracks and arranged a Skype call for the afternoon.

As the students on my side of the call gathered (freely sharing expectant looks, without a webcam to capture them all), they looked over the questions they’d written with Twitter in mind and started revising on the fly. More words, nuances, ideas. Amal was a gem, putting up with bad audio and not seeing her audience’s faces as if it was part of the fun.

I wish she could have seen the kids, because they were all smiling.

The conversation really broke open about five minutes in, when a student walked up to my laptop mike and asked, “Why did you decide to leave it ambiguous whether Anisa’s power is real or not?”

It was a joy to watch Amal’s face, already smiling, fill with a sudden light.

“That is. . . you know, that is actually a great question, because usually people want to know which it is –is there a power or not? And I don’t like to answer that because you’re right. I did that on purpose. And I guess it’s because. . .”

And on she went, the student nodding back at her the whole time.

If only she could have seen it.

It’s not often readers have the chance to ask a writer why they make certain choices. But that shouldn’t keep us from asking ourselves different, better questions as we read or work. The student could tell that if Amal had wanted her audience to have a clear sense of what was and wasn’t real in her story, she’d have written that way. She’s well more than capable. So the important question clearly wasn’t what’s the binary ‘truth’ in “The Truth About Owls.” The question was, what does the story gain in its ambiguity? What does it offer its reader, through whatever lens we pick up?

When I write, what questions am I asking myself, and how will they help me get to something beyond the next plot beat? What questions do I hope my readers would ask me, if I were the one on the other side of a chat screen? It’s something I’ll be thinking about tonight as I settle in to draft another chapter of The Nine’s sequel.

At that moment, with Amal almost laughing at the simple beauty of a better question, my daylong nervousness finally washed away.  Between Amal’s question about what would make things better for the students, and my students’ questions about what they’d read, it was clear everyone in the room had gone beyond the obvious to the essential.

That’s what the best writers coax their readers into doing.

Thanks for showing us that, Amal.



Inspirations for THE NINE

I have the great privilege of teaching creative writing professionally, which means I spend nearly as much time fielding questions about writing from my students as actually reading their work — or writing my own, for that matter.

Often, my students agonize over their work being “too much like” other things. If someone mentions during workshop that so-and-so’s short story reminds them of [Fill in the the Blank], there’s this automatic fear reaction from the author. They don’t want to be seen as derivative, un-creative, or (God forbid) a plagiarist. I’ve made the mistake of drawing parallels between x and y when talking about student writing, only to find the compliment I thought I’d carefully crafted sent the poor kid plunging into despair

I can get behind a mortal dread of and aversion toward plagiarism, certainly. But fearing the way your work has been shaped by other things you’ve read, or seen, or just plain loved? That’s one of the best parts about writing. It’s a change to talk about the worlds you’ve absorbed, to reimagine things in combination with your imagination.

There are many works I could cite as key influencers for The Nine and broader world. Some of them I had explicitly in mind as a wrote, and others simply insinuated themselves into my smallest writing gestures, the way you absorb the habits of an old friend as you talk over coffee, mirroring them without quite consciously realizing it.

Back-cover blurbs can only tell you so much about what to expect from a book, and with The Nine‘s release still far off on November 14, maybe you want to do a little homework and find out more about what’s in store. If you’ve liked or loved any of the following, then there might just be something in The Nine for you.

  • Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series –  Do you like vast political conspiracies with a theological twist? How about plucky orphans, shape-shifting soul mates, powerful witches, and giant sentient war bears? Treachery, love, Pyrrhic sacrifice, and battles waged across multiple layers of reality? If you don’t like these things, it’s safe to say I don’t understand you at all, because the collusion of theology and science that frames Pullman’s world was the inspiration for the Ecclesiastical Commission and the skullduggery that draws in the heroes of The Nine.
  • Jorge Luis Borges’ The Book of Imaginary Beings – Not a novel by any means, and not a collection of short stories, Borges’ Book is a fantastical collection of coy, tantalizing encyclopedia entries about fantastical beings from all over the globe. Look up the entry on the Lamed Wufniks to see the first breadcrumb that sent me down this trail.
  • Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen –  As a life-long comics reader (most especially the X-Men books from the late eighties to the early aughts), I have an indelible interest in super heroes and other characters living strange, secret lives in the margins of things. Moore and Gibbons’ story follows super heroes after they’ve put the life behind them (to varying degrees of success), exploring the damage they’ve done to themselves and the impossibility of outliving or running your past.
  • Joss Whedon’s Firefly – A space western science fiction television series? As an inspiration for a dark clockpunk fantasy? Yup. And here’s why: Whedon’s talent for snappy, bantering dialogue that offers tiny peeks behind the curtain of backstory has long been a model for me, and I’m a sucker for his theme (consistent across nearly every large-scale project he’s touched) of “found families.” You learn as much about these characters’ relationships from what they DON’T say as what they do, which remains a guiding principle in my own writing, years after I watched the series for the first time.
  • Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence novels – There’s so much to love in Max Gladstone’s writing, it’s hard to sum up its influence over me in a few short sentences. It has so much to recommend it. Rich, multi-textured and multi-cultural settings across a vast globe we’ve yet to see explored to its farthest horizons, certainly. A brilliant, gutsy fusion of technology, magic, and law as the motive apparatus of government and economy, absolutely. But often overlooked, especially in the shadow of other authors who use vast casts of characters, like George R.R. Martin, is his ability to use a variety of point of view characters in close third person, bobbing the reader between and among different perspectives of the plot, with each character’s emotions and perspectives as clear and compelling as the last. My critique partners have compared by use of multiple third person perspectives to GRRM, but it’s really Gladstone I had most in mind.

There are, of course, a dozen other influences on my writing, large and small, I could name – Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastards Sequence, Roger Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber, and N.K. Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms all spring to mind. But the headliners of this post are truly where I’ve begged, borrowed, and been inspired most.