Looking for something to read while the turkey cooks? Why not a little murder mystery? “Sweet Death” is up at Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and it’s a little Poirot-pastiche set in a city I envisioned as “Lud-in-the-Mist post-WWI.”
The title has absolutely nothing to do with the baritone/tuba ensemble at my alma mater.
This bears (heh) the distinction of being the first story I completely composed, rewrote, and sold after Johanna was born. Astute readers will be able to tell what I was reading to her when I wrote this.
The first misconception that many people make when meeting an Ursa Davala is to assume that because they are somewhat bearish in appearance, they carry some of the same traits that we assign to bears: slow, taciturn, graceless in movement and manner. These are all false; the Davala are large and strong, but they move quickly, often pinpointing an opponent’s weak spot before the fight has begun. Few humans have the chance to correct that impression. I am very fortunate to be one.
It took me a while to realize that yes, I do write horror. It’s just not what I used to think of as horror back when I was reading paperbacks with black and red covers. The story that’s up at Strange Horizons today (with an absolutely gorgeous illustration by Paula Arwen Friedlander) is my attempt to write something Lovecraftian (minus the ickier bits of Lovecraft, and no I don’t mean tentacles). In hindsight, though, I wonder how much it was influenced by a newer subgenre of horror: the urban-legend, creepypasta type of story that flourishes on the net.
I actually set out to write this story with nothing beyond “something creepy” in mind. So what did I find creepy, this time around? Well, floods. And old abandoned schools, like the kind I’d sometimes see back home. And viewing or reading something that suddenly looks back at you.
I think what I wanted to capture most was inexplicable horror, and just how much worse that can make it. I think I did a good job. Take a look for yourself — or a listen, as it’s up in podcast form as well. And then, maybe, see if it’s raining . . .
Only a few shreds of material evidence survived the events: a few incomplete and water-stained notes in the school’s daybook, a broken rowboat lodged in a tree, water damage to the first story of Wilbraham’s house.
The photograph of fifteen little girls in navy blue smocks and white pinafores, staring out at the camera as if facing a judge.
Electric Velocipede will be posting Issue #27 online today, starting with “Seven Ways of Bringing Down the Regime” by Daniel Ausema. “The Girls of the Forest” should be up sometime around midday — if you haven’t downloaded it for your Nook or Kindle, this would be the time to look!
I’m off to a grand New Year’s gathering (with Tiny Human in tow…oh boy) and this is a great way to end the year. It’s sad to see Electric Velocipede go, but I’m still amazed and honored to be a part of this last issue.
Best of the season to all!
Issue 27 of Electric Velocipede comes out today for Nook and Kindle, and my story “The Girls of the Forest” is part of it. I’m happy to announce this, but it’s still a sad occasion, because this is the last issue of Electric Velocipede. It’s a shame, because it’s a fantastic magazine, and while I can understand the reasons for closing it (time and money, the usual culprits), it’s still sad to see it go. I’m honored to have been a part of Electric Velocipede’s run, even if I came in at the very last minute.
A few notes about the story:
A lot of my story ideas come from two things banging together in my brain: the RAF and King Arthur, flying snakes and clockwork, superheroes and freedom of information. This one started out no different, being the result of 1) listening to the Decembrists’ “The Crane Wife Part 3” over and over again and 2) the birth of my nephew — or, more specifically, my brother-in-law describing the birth of my nephew, complete with sound effects. As is often the case, the story followed a path that led away from these, and as I wrote it, it became clear that I was putting together some of my thoughts about motherhood.
But the story was finished, and I sent it out into the world, and for a time it was set aside in my mind.
And then, in one of those coincidences that would be difficult to swallow if it were fiction, Electric Velocipede bought the story about a week after my daughter was born.
So there I was, nursing and sleepless and going through the story to see what I wanted to change before calling it final, reading what I’d written about motherhood when it was far off for me. And though there are parts of the story that scare me even more than they did when I wrote them, I think it still fits.
As I write this, my daughter is snoozing in her crib. Strange and uncertain and ambivalent as it is, this story is for her, who was not even dreamt of when it began.
I really should send a bottle of wine or something to the Boskone program committee. This makes two stories that were directly inspired by program items — “Sunlight Society” came out of a panel on superheroes (darned if I can remember the actual topic, but it did go into the unnerving nature of vigilantism). And now “A Death for the Ageless,” out in Beneath Ceaseless Skies this week, which started when I was on a panel about the detective in urban fantasy.
As is usually the case, I got caught by an irrelevant point and ran with it: where are the Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple figures in urban fantasy? So many urban fantasy detectives are based on the American hardboiled detective, but we get fewer of the eccentric, quiet, cerebral detectives. In the panel itself, a few were pointed out to me, but the idea still lodged in my head. How would you capture some of the spirit of an Hercule Poirot in a fantasy setting? Well, much of the tone of those stories draws from the post-World War I atmosphere, and much of Poirot’s charm is his “fish out of water” status…and then there’s the difficulty of writing a murder mystery in a short story form to begin with…and then there’s the Hastings character, the narrator, who isn’t the detective but these days can’t just report on how brilliant the detective is…
By the time Boskone had ended, I had the opening of “A Death for the Ageless.” I even had a pretty good idea whodunnit. And I had more: the odd friendship between Mieni and Swift, which drove the center of the story and made it an awful lot of fun to write. The backstory of the City started to come together after the first draft (I now know who the Usurper is, and where the worst battles of the war were fought, and a few other important things) and I had a world to play in.
So take a look. I had a blast writing this story, and I hope you like reading it. And if it leaves you with a craving for salad, well, that’s all part of the plan.
Elariel of the Ageless, once high in the courts of Poma-mèl, had been taller than most human men, with the harsh and elegant bone structure common to all Ageless, his expression now distant and tranquil. Shame about the multiple stab wounds; there was nothing tranquil about that ruin of a chest.
I’ve completely lost track of time since Tiny Human arrived — I’m not even sure what day of the week it is most of the time — so it’s no surprise that this crept up on me. “Someone Like You” is now up at Apex Magazine, along with fiction from Anaea Lay, Mary Robinette Kowal, Hal Duncan, and Maurice Broaddus.
This is a strange little story, and I’m not really sure where it came from. Originally it was a challenge I set myself — write something science-fictiony and keep it under 2000 words. Well, in revision the latter restriction got dumped, but it’s still one of the shortest pieces I’ve written. It’s also one of the few stories that I’m comfortable calling science fiction, rather than fantasy wearing deely-boppers and going “beep beep.” (Not that there’s anything wrong with that; I just wanted to try something that wasn’t masked fantasy.) Two elements came together in the story, and I’m still not sure whether I’ve handled them both well: the idea of using multiple worlds theory for practical computation and the appeal of a really, really dysfunctional relationship.
As you can guess, blogging is a little lower down on the priorities list than usual (under “keep Tiny Human fed and clean” and “get some friggin’ sleep” and “write up that idea that’s currently just a character and a MacGuffin and see if you can find a structure for it”). However, I will be posting a little more, as I have a couple of short stories coming out relatively soon. (One of which has strangely appropriate timing.)
In the meantime, I’ve turned in a draft of the most recent novel, and now I’m noodling around with some new ideas. Although what seems like a great plot during the 3am feeding tends to be a little less coherent the next morning.
And while some baby blogging will undoubtedly creep in (she’s very much a part of our lives now, after all), I promise not to let it take over. I’m not yet sure whether I want to write about it, honestly. It was such a strange and all-encompassing experience that using it in a story feels odd. Maybe that’ll change as time goes on.
I’ll be at Readercon this coming weekend!
Saturday, 10:00 AM: Intellectually Rigorous Fictional Data: Making Up Facts That Are True. Debra Doyle, Alex Dally MacFarlane, Margaret Ronald, Ken Schneyer, Harold Vedeler, Henry Wessells (leader).
How do you make up convincing fictional primary sources? No, not for purposes of seeking political office, but because you need to know the facts and how they underpin the world of your fiction and the lives of your characters. Imaginary books and letters are just the beginning, even if they never appear in the narrative. Which fictional data sources matter? How much is enough to make a narrative feel resilient and whole?
I’ve used a few of these in-narrative, and I certainly use them in creating the plot/world/characters. And I’ve got some pretty clear ideas on how they can work or flop. Of course, what really gets me interested is coming up with secondary and tertiary fictional sources…
Sunday, 1:30 PM: Reading: Margaret Ronald.
Margaret Ronald reads a new short story.
I’ve got a short story coming out in Apex later this summer, and it’s one of the shortest things I’ve written. I’ll probably go with that…although I have sold a very goofy short lately, so I might give a taste of that as well, time permitting.
I don’t know how present I’ll be for much of the con beyond this, since 1) the siren song of giant robots fighting kaiju calls me for Saturday afternoon and 2) I’m having to take it a bit easy just now, on account of being eight months pregnant.
Um. Yeah. I kind of forgot to mention that.
I’m currently burning through this novel draft so I can turn it in before Tiny Human makes an appearance. With any luck, I can have the draft done in about a week. (Last polish! Half done! Oh heaven.) And then…maybe I’ll get this short story turned around too before the sleep deprivation hits.
Or maybe I’ll just have to see what sleep deprivation does to my plotting.
So I sat down with some friends the other night to re-watch a movie that blends the genres of science fiction and horror. It does a fantastic job, using the speculative idea at its heart to draw out hidden motivations, chipping away the viewer’s assumptions until the end can’t help but leave you unsteady, less sure of the ground you stand on both with regards to the narrative and the outside world.
I’m talking, of course, about Primer.
No, really. Primer is a horror movie. Don’t get me wrong; it’s also a science fiction movie, and I can see why it could be considered solely that — not least because of how detailed it is in its consideration of time travel. And I really do love its technobabble, mainly because it never slows down for the viewer.
But even as it’s telling a science fiction story, it’s doing so in a way infused by the horror genre. In our post-movie “okay so what was up with X” conversation, I claimed that it had elements of the Gothic to it, but I’m pretty sure I’m using that term inaccurately. The horror aspect of the movie is much more than jump-scares or eldritch terrors (nothing against either of those, mind you); it’s the whole mood, from the ominous hum of the box to the repeated isolation of the two leads (emphasized by how everything but their dialogue tunes out now and then). And as much fun as it is to puzzle out timelines and failsafes and which Abe and Aaron were in which box when, I think there’s a lot to consider about this movie that has nothing to do with the big question of “what just happened?”
Spoilers for Primer below.
If you’re in the greater Boston area and have any interest in steampunky-type stuff, come to the Watch City Festival this weekend! There’ll be a sidewalk parade, music (including Emperor Norton’s Stationary Marching Band!), dancing (a belly dance show on Sunday!), discussions, debates, and very likely many gorgeous costumes.
Oh, and I’ll be reading on Saturday at noon. Come see me ham it up! I’ll probably be reading “The Governess and the Lobster” just because that one’s so much fun to read aloud.
Those of you who’ve read Wild Hunt will know why this is such a big deal for me. I suppose it’s a risk when working with real-life situations and mysteries that one of them might be solved after the book comes out. Hard to regret it, though. (And hey, it’s not like I haven’t run into this before — I remember having to revise an early draft of Spiral Hunt after the Sox won the World Series, which till then had been a major plot point.)
I am so going to be following this story. And I really hope they get the paintings back, and that they’re in good condition. Those frames have been empty far too long.
“A Family for Drakes” is now up at Beneath Ceaseless Skies.
This story has a strange genesis. About six years ago, I dreamed the scene at Traben’s Crossing, ice, drakes, Vigil, and all. I remember dreaming I was one of two children, and that when the drake spoke I could understand it.
I also remember being convinced in the dream that this was a trailer for The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Which was mildly boggling when I woke up and remembered that no, there wasn’t anything like this in The Two Towers.
I tried to write a story with what I remembered from the dream, but it crumbled in my hands. My narrator (Bron, at the time) didn’t have any believable motivation, the drakes themselves seemed irrelevant, and I really had no idea where it would go after that one clear scene. Hell, I didn’t even get to that one scene; I was bogged down in getting there, and abandoned the draft.
A little while back I started thinking about dragons. (As one does.) About ownership of dragons, such as that could be, and what circumstances could contribute to them turning up out of nowhere, and about responsibility for dragons. And with that came some thoughts about family, what responsibility one has to family, when it is time to turn away.
And this story surfaced in the middle of that, and finally I had the context for that one scene.
I’m not sure how much of that dream remains in this story, but the story itself is one I’m proud of. I hope you enjoy it.
She pushed up to her hands and knees as a third drake, this one smaller than the others, landed in front of her. Its eyes gleamed, red glass in a mask of bone and black wood, and furnace-stink swept over them. The drake turned its head to regard her with its other eye, lipless jaws parting in a grin.
A few updates for a Monday morning:
– I can’t believe I haven’t mentioned this yet, but “Sunlight Society” has been reprinted in Rich Horton’s anthology Superheroes, out now! With stories by Peter S. Beagle, Kelly Link, Leah Bobet, Carol Emshwiller and more, the anthology is amazing, and I’m thrilled to be a part of it.
– “Serpent in the Gears” has been reprinted, this time as audio fiction in the Steampunk Specs compilation. Available both as audiobook and CD, the audio anthology includes some fantastic stories by steampunk masters, and my story as well.
– A new story will be out in Beneath Ceaseless Skies later this week: “A Family for Drakes,” which, though not explicitly set in the same industrial fantasy world, could certainly have some of the same hallmarks if you move back a few centuries. It’s a bit grim in places, though I think ultimately hopeful. It’s also a bit strange, in that I dreamed a scene in this story about ten or so years ago, and it’s only just now made it into a real story. Inspiration from dreams is a chancy thing — do it too often and you end up with the Tale of Missing Your Flight While Naked And Also Behind On Your Deadline — but now and then, something’s come through that way. I’ll say more about it when the story’s up, but that post may be a little delayed, because…
– I’m going to FogCon this coming weekend! Which, yes, means that I’ll be on the West Coast for about a week. It’s been far too long since I was in San Francisco. I’ll be with family for a lot of it, but if you’re at FogCon, come say hi! (Really. It’s my first time there, and I suspect I’m going to feel so very very lost.)
Writing-wise, I have one more round of revisions to do before I hand this draft over to BRAWL (biggest problem: make the ending understandable) and because of that “Detective in Urban Fantasy” panel at Boskone, I now find myself with a first-draft Hercule Poirot pastiche set in a semi-urban fantasyland. I don’t even know any more, man. Inspiration is nuts.
And off to Boskone next! Revisions are done, and with any luck by the end of Boskone I’ll have an idea whether it’s a book or a bunch of stuff strung together. (At this stage, the distinction is eluding me.)
Here’s what I’ll be doing at Boskone:
Friday, 8pm: Mythology in Science Fiction
Julia Rios (M), Debra Doyle, Greer Gilman, Margaret Ronald
How have myths and fables from our past affected SF writers’ development of fictitious off-world or future-world mythology? Are most of their myth systems just the old stuff dressed up with different names, or is anybody coming up with anything truly new? Does a mere hint of myth make an SF story a fantasy?
(Oh, I have thoughts on this. So many thoughts. Some of my favorite SF stories draw on myth as part of the underpinnings, and I’m a sucker for well-mixed fantastic and science-fictional elements. Yep, I’m getting my fantasy cooties all over your SF!)
Saturday, 1:30pm: Reading
(I think I’ll read something relatively light about dead bodies and mad science. What? Why are you looking at me like that?)
Saturday, 3pm: Magic on the Street: The Detective in Urban Fantasy
Margaret Ronald (M), Bob Kuhn, Ellen Asher, Dana Cameron, Toni L. P. Kelner
We’ve discussed cross-genre and mystery/fantasy. Now let’s turn the microscope on the sleuth in urban fantasy. Probably no Miss Marples here, but hard-boiled detectives, and certainly the half-dead and half-sidhe. Plus many of these dicks are dames. How else do these eldritch investigators compare to more mundane gumshoes, and to each other? And does magic spoil a reader’s chance of solving the mystery fair and square?
(I’m moderating this one, and in the grand tradition of moderators everywhere, I’m getting sidetracked by part of the panel description. Why aren’t there more Miss Marples in urban fantasy? Where’s my Hercule Poirot among the eldritch horrors? Don’t worry, I promise to talk about more than just this. It’s just bugging me right now.)
Sunday, 10am: SIAWOL: Steampunk Is A Way Of Life
Jim Frenkel (M), James Cambias, Margaret Ronald, Julia Rios
Steampunk fans don’t just read the stuff. We also rock the goggles — and the cosplay cons, and the Victoriana motifs for everything from our tablets to our tattoos. Does the lifestyle circle back to influence the writing? What’s changed since the start? What’s the current state of the field, and what further enthralling developments are even now in gear?
(I really don’t know too much about what’s out there beyond the literary side of steampunk. Advice, gentle readers?)
Sunday, 11am: The Spirit of the Place (B48)
Margaret Ronald (M), Sharon Lee, Steven Popkes, Darlene Marshall
In certain tales of the fantastic, scenery is so much a part of the fabric of the fiction that it practically becomes a character itself. Let’s talk about stories set in these unique locales. Don’t they contradict the modern fashion that says character and dialog are all, and scenery is at best a light decoration and at worst a distraction? In the best work, how is this effect justified — and accomplished?
(Is there really that “modern fashion” out there? I mean, I can think of a few SF and fantasy novels where the setting is not necessarily a focus, but there are many more where it’s absolutely integral to the plot. Have I missed a trend somewhere?)
After the con, I’ll probably be headed out shortly for some downtime; I took Arisia in very small doses, and I suspect I’ll need to curtail some of my Boskone time as well. And after that…more revisions, most likely.
Oh hey. I have an Arisia schedule. And apparently no sense of timing.
Saturday, 2:30pm: Portal: Beyond the Cake (Andy Hicks (m), Maddy Myers, Margaret Ronald, Carolyn VanEseltine, Brianna Wu)
How does a game that started out as a side project by some kids playing around with the Half Life 2 engine, become a geek culture phenomenon? Why does an abandoned laboratory ruled over by a passive-aggressive supercomputer resonate with us? Is it the perfect metaphor for life in 21st century America?
(I am so looking forward to this. I loved presenting my Portal paper at Readercon, and I’m very curious to see what we come up with. Also, I have opinions on this subject. Oh, do I have opinions.)
Saturday, 7:00pm: Reading: Hashway, Nurenberg, & Ronald
Authors Kelly Hashway, David Nurenberg, and Margaret Ronald will be reading selections from their works.
(I’m a little torn — do I read the Governess and the Lobster again, or do I try something new and unpublished about mad science? Or go with an older story?)
Sunday, 1:00pm: Keeping Track of the Action (Mary Catelli, Debra Doyle (m), Suzanne Palmer, Margaret Ronald)
Let’s say you’re writing a complicated plot with many characters, scenes in multiple places, and perhaps a convoluted time sequence. How do you keep track of it all? Spreadsheet? Story board? Or do you keep it all in your head? What if you have a pile of background research to keep track of for the technological or historical realism that you’ve researched? What tools keep it all organized for you?
(Since I’ve used methods that range from Scrivener to complicated POV charts to scraps of paper tucked into notebooks, I can speak a little bit on the usefulness of each. Spoiler: scraps of paper are not the way to go.)
I will likely only be attending Saturday and Sunday, since I’m hoping to claim tonight for some quiet time and revision. This draft has fewer flaws than I’d thought, but it’s also taking longer to revise. Bah.