2019 is almost over, but hey! I get a whole new year tomorrow, brand new and sparkling with promise. (At least, I think that shiny stuff is promise. It could just be glitter. Not gonna lie, there’s a lot of leftover Christmas glitter lying around. And pine needles. Especially pine needles!)
Before moving forward, here’s a quick look at 2019…
The first draft of a fantasy novel written, which I then decided to rewrite completely; I’m now a third of the way through the rewrite.
Two short stories published in anthologies; another sold but only coming out in 2020.
Two Cons as panelist and one doing a reading (Boskone in Boston, Worldcon in Dublin, and Eurocon in Belfast).
An international book launch! We released our collaborative women’s sci fi anthology DISTAFF during Eurocon in Belfast. There were cupcakes and robot chocolates…
Attended the New England SCBWI conference and the NESCBWI ENCORE event.
I passed on organization of our local SCBWI meet and greets but took on a new role as co-director of the 2020 and 2021 regional conferences!
Con badge and con nails
Favorite books this year include Holly Black’s fabulous Folk of the Air series, S.A. Chakraborty’s City of Brass and Kingdom of Copper, Maggie Stiefvater’s Scorpio Races, Peter McLean’s excellent Priest of Bones, and Matt Fraction’s run of Hawkeye graphic novels.
Some of the movies I loved were Captain Marvel and Charlie’s Angels. Shazam was a delightful surprise — lots of fun and one of the best found families I’ve seen in a while. The Rise of Skywalker was a good and satisfying conclusion to Star Wars. As for Endgame, no comment. I’m still in mourning!
TV shows! I finally caught up on the Netflix Marvel shows, and the last season of Daredevil was truly excellent. Derry Girls is fabulous and really good fun; thanks to my daughter for introducing it! We binged The Umbrella Academy as a family and thoroughly enjoyed it (great soundtrack). Other faves were Good Omens and Carnival Row, which I’m almost done with. And the CW end of year Arrowverse crossover has been a blast, with tons of fun cameos. Oh, if you like cooking shows, please go and watch Jon Favreau’s The Chef Show on Netflix! (I don’t even watch cooking shows and I love this one. I think my fave episodes so far have been Skywalker Ranch and the oyster farm…)
Personal bits and pieces
Our rescue pup Misty is now a year and a half, and tons of trouble but also absolutely adorable.
We went on a family trip to Washington DC in spring — my first time there. We arrived at peak cherry blossom time, beautiful!
Summer took me to Ireland for two weeks on my own to meet writing friends, attend a couple of conferences, and do a bit of sightseeing on the side.
We also had summer visits from my mum and my mother-in-law, always a good excuse to get out and do some local touristing.
I now have a child with a driver’s license… Scary stuff!!
We had a French exchange student come to stay for two weeks, a great experience for all of us.
I’ve joined a gym, am trying to eat more healthily, and am learning to do divination with crystals (a good meditation tool!) — investing in a bit of TLC for both body and soul.
Coming in 2020
In February, I’ll be at the NYC SCBWI Winter Conference and at Boskone, checking in with both my kid lit friends and the SF/F community. In May it’ll be time for the NESCBWI regional conference, which I’m helping to organize this year!
The Not All Monsters anthology from Strangehouse Books arrives sometime in autumn, containing my short story The Sugar Cane Sea.
Writing, writing, writing. Goals for 2020! I have a short story I’m rather pleased with that I’m polishing up to submit soon. I plan to finish the rewrite of my fantasy novel and get it submission-ready. I also plan to finish revising the SF YA I wrote in 2018, and get back to my stalled draft of Star Blade. Busy, busy!
Stephen Palmer is the author of fifteen novels, dabbling in a variety of genres from science fiction to slipstream, including steampunk, alternate history, and fantasy. He tells tales of the past-that-might-have-been, and the future-that-might-yet-be. His gripping and thought-provoking prose is both wildly creative and chillingly conceivable.
In the Factory Girl trilogy, Stephen Palmer brings us a meticulously constructed clockpunk alt-Edwardian world, full of bustling automata and a myriad of other tiny details. The story of Kora and Roka, different personalities of the same young woman, the ‘girl with two souls’, sweeps us along from England to Africa and back again in an intricate plot that centers on themes of identity and society.
The Girl With Two Souls, The Girl With One Friend, and The Girl With No Soul will be released today and throughout December 2019 in brand-new editions from Infinity Plus Press.
Hi Stephen, thanks for joining me on the blog. Congratulations on the release of the new editions of the Factory Girl trilogy! Could you tell me a little about the cover changes?
The trilogy got some good reviews, which I and Keith Brooke – my outstanding editor, and the man behind Infinity Plus Books – were pleased with. But afterwards I felt it could maybe do more. Last year I met Tom and Nimue Brown at the Asylum Steampunk weekend, and on the Saturday I got to see more of Tom’s artwork. Tom has a unique style of creating images, which I immediately fell for. Nimue hand colours the art for their graphic novels – they are a fantastically talented pair. With both of them being fans of the trilogy (Nimue reviewed it for her Druidlife blog), it occurred to me that the trilogy could benefit from being re-jacketed. I floated the idea to Keith, and he agreed. In due course the arrangement was made with Tom and Nimue. I saw them in Stroud a few months ago, and we had an enjoyable chat in a pub. Lovely couple.
After a while I sent Tom a few descriptions and other suggestions, and he came up with the images this year, all three of which we loved.Then it was a matter of firing up Photoshop to create the cover designs.
Identity is a key theme in the Factory Girl trilogy, as indeed with many of your other works, such as the excellent Beautiful Intelligence. What is it about this theme that fascinates you?
That’s a good question, a wise question. I’m going to have to think a bit about it. [Thinks for a few days…] Well, perhaps it’s because the main direction of my thinking life is the relationship between human beings and the real world, a relationship which, in my own life, has been conveyed by understanding. Understanding, for me, is the most fundamental aspect of individual and social life. It’s what motivates the majority of my life anyway. I think Kora’s need to understand the circumstances of her life is based in part on my own drive for meaning.
Human beings have two main ways to create meaning, including the meaning of other people, which is identity. We can create it ourselves from what we are told, or we can find it out from first principles. I would characterise the former as narcissistic and the latter as realistic. The former says: this is what I believe regardless of the real world. The latter says: I’ll test the real world, see what it tells me, then make a decision based on that. Most people form their identity from a blend of the two. They’ll be born and brought up in a particular culture, which they’ll adopt as the norm. But a lot of people will move on from that. I think this is why women in general are a better representation of humanity than men. Men take so much on faith. Women tend to communicate more, and better, which allows them to see themselves from other perspectives; and that’s a key to personal growth, I think, including for identity.
In Beautiful Intelligence this aspect of social life is more generally presented. Leonora is going for the individual, faith-based option via her AI, while Manfred decides to see what the BIs will tell him. His first scene, the cutting of the bonds between the nine BIs, is his answer to his thought process. Leonora by contrast has no idea what Zeug will do because she has imposed her own ideas onto it.
A lot of my work is about this split in human meaning and its relationship with identity. Even in my debut, Memory Seed, the priestesses of the Goddess realise at the end of the novel that their lives have been lived regardless of what the world was telling them. The story ‘First Temple’ in my recent collection Tales From The Spired Inn tells the same story in civic life. We cannot be saved. We have to save ourselves.
Your main protagonist is actually two characters in one: Kora and her ‘other soul’, Roka. What inspired her creation? Did you find you had to do a lot of research into subjects such as dissociative identity disorder to pull off this ambitious character?
About a year before I put the trilogy together I had an idea for a book title – The Girl With Two Souls. I don’t know why this title popped into my mind, unless it somehow represented ideas which interest me, and which are the philosophical theme of the trilogy: do human beings or other creatures and creations have a soul or spirit? Anyway, I wrote it down for future reference, as it seemed a particularly intriguing title for a novel. The year after, that title and the whole thematic template for the trilogy merged and came out in a single two hour splurge. I knew Kora was the girl with two souls, I knew she had one black African parent and one white British parent, and I knew she would alternate between Kora and some other character. Now, the strange thing is, this alternation of identity has been recorded in reality; there are some individuals with DID who alternate regularly, day by day. I was so astonished to read this that I remembered it much later, when it became the central aspect of Kora’s mental condition.
I did do a little research, but not much – just enough to make the grounding plausible. There are aspects of Kora which are my own invention, while other aspects are psychologically grounded. Also, I wanted to emphasise that the Edwardian society surrounding Kora would look at her from a Christian perspective, i.e. that she did have two souls within. There was very little understanding of mental conditions in those days – a theme of my WW1 novel Tommy Catkins. Freud, for instance, had in 1910 only been published for a couple of decades. So Kora is psychologically grounded, but also a person of my imagination.
I think this might be a good point to mention an aspect of the trilogy which some readers found perplexing, and that is the “second novel” which intertwines with the main one. This is Amy’s Garden by Reverend Carolus Dodgson. I can tell you that right from that opening splurge of ideas I knew Amy’s Garden had to be a central element of the trilogy. It is of course an alternate version of Alice In Wonderland – I’ve always loved that book, like millions of others. So I re-wrote it, using Dodgson’s love of logic in my own particular way, asking and answering questions about consciousness and the human condition. Amy’s Garden is a book Kora cannot live without. As she declares much later, it is her heart. I did everything I could to encapsulate in the smallest possible amount of prose, and as vividly as possible, ten central aspects of consciousness and the human condition: that is what Amy’s Garden is, over twelve brief chapters. Kora, lacking a steady identity, grasps at a deep level that the book speaks to her, which is why she carries it in her pocket and is never parted from it. And in Amy’s Garden itself I played with a kind of conceptual echo, since Amy herself carries a book in her pocket…
By the way, in Alice In Wonderland, Alice’s sister is not named, though some believe she is called Lorna. I called her Amy, and had Alice herself appear briefly part of the way through Amy’s Garden, alongside her parents. Now, in real life back in 2013, I knew two sisters called Amy and Alice, which is where Amy’s name came from. They were students at the college where I worked! I never told them, of course…
In your blog post ‘The Unemployment Problem’ you talk about your automata. Did you go through different models for employment in your world before settling on that one, or was it clear from the start which direction you wanted to go in?
The second line in my notebook from that two hour splurge says: touchstone, steampunk. I knew right away that I wanted to write a steampunk or steampunk-influenced work. So automata were the direction to go in. I think I was also influenced by a television documentary I watched presented by Professor Simon Schaffer called ‘Mechanical Marvels: Clockwork Dreams.’ This was broadcast in autumn 2013, and I remember being fascinated by it, as at the time I knew nothing about how complex automata were in historical times. I’ve watched it a couple of times since, it really is an amazing documentary.
I particularly liked the idea of automata being the slaves underpinning the British Empire, as so much of the wealth and power of that real era came from exploitation: of the working class, of people in colonial nations like India, and, in previous centuries, of actual slaves, like those taken from West African countries. Linking these automata slaves with Kora’s father and his Factory seemed the perfect connection to me, and made for some great plot twists!
The Clockwork Garden is amazing! How did the idea for this come about? And additionally, what is your personal favorite Factory Girl location?
How strange that you should mention the Clockwork Garden in that way! It so happens I can remember exactly how it came about – no coincidence, maybe. I was at the day job, out for a lunchtime stroll – this would be autumn 2013 – and was walking back to the college through a place in my home town of Shrewsbury called the Quarry, which is basically an old sandstone quarry now converted into a beautiful green park adjacent to the River Severn. By this time I was putting together all the details for the novel, prior to writing the first volume December 2013 – January 2014. As I looked out at the trees and bushes I had a sudden mental image of them all made in metal. From that single thought came the whole idea of the Clockwork Garden. I remember being pretty excited about this idea – I wrote it down in my notebook as soon as I got back, then, later, made it more sophisticated to include clues about the Factory and other details. I love it when inspiration strikes in this way. As I’ve written on my blog and at SFF Chronicles, I think authors should always listen to their subconscious. It’s where a lot of the important work happens.
I think my favourite location is probably Dr Spellman’s house in Sheffield. It was very important to me because it was the first safe location for Kora after she was sprung out of Bedlam Mental Hospital. My version of Bedlam was inspired by an actual mental hospital, you see, and Dr Spellman’s house is topographically almost identical to a house I know. Because in those first two chapters you don’t know for sure that Dr Spellman is a good man, I intuitively hit upon the idea of using a house I have fond memories of. The reader of course wouldn’t be aware of any of this, but it was important to me; it affected the tone of my writing. I wanted to write from a position of knowing deep down that Kora was safe, not in peril as she was inside Bedlam. This all sounds a bit odd, I know, but when I created the template for the trilogy it all came out of my subconscious in one go, which told me that the whole thing was ready formed in there and just waiting for the right moment to emerge. So it felt right that Dr Spellman’s house should link to my own memories in some way, giving it extra depth and an aura of safety. From that house, Kora is able to explore. It gives her a solid foundation. There’s a scene at the beginning where Dr Spellman is waiting for Roka, and he is sitting half asleep at the top of a staircase; that’s directly out of my own visual memories of this house.
You also have a new novel on the way, set in the Factory Girl world. Could you tell us a bit about The Conscientious Objector?
After writing the third volume of the trilogy I had a year off, as I’d done a lot of work, felt exhausted, and needed a rest. But, as I rested, I realised Erasmus Darwin had a tale yet to tell, so in December 2015 I began The Conscientious Objector, which takes place in 1914 – 1915 and tells of Erasmus’ reaction to the outbreak of what even then was called the Great War (i.e. World War 1). Erasmus of course loathes physical combat, as evinced by his reaction to being given a pistol by his Uncle Frank when Frank’s house is under siege in The Girl With One Friend. I realised that in WW1 he would by inclination be a pacifist, and perhaps even a conscientious objector, though that would be a very dangerous position for him to take. Conchies, as they were known, could be shot by firing squad. Many were. (My subsequent WW1 novel Tommy Catkins went deeper into this soldiers’ dilemma.)
I wanted Erasmus to have a female companion, so the other main character is Claudia Cooper, a strange woman of very mysterious origin. As I thought about these two characters and their relationship I decided to use the notion of early childhood memory, focusing on that point when we have our first recallable memories – usually around the age of three or four – but for Claudia blurring them into something indistinguishable from fantasy. As a consequence, much of the novel is Claudia and Erasmus delving deep into her origin via a most extraordinary special mission given to them by the British generals on the Western Front. The novel ends with a revelation which, of course, I couldn’t possibly divulge here, but which presents both Claudia and Erasmus with a life-threatening situation the like of which neither has ever encountered.
This novel, like the trilogy, also has a second book intertwined with it, which I wrote shortly after completing Amy’s Garden. It is Amy’s Adventures In Narkissos, a much darker work, as is suggested by the scene in The Girl With Two Souls where Kora, via the Amy doll, asks a question about it, to her immediate shame. This second Reverend Carolus Dodgson book details more of Amy’s world, asking questions of its reader about the role of selfishness (or more accurately narcissism) in their lives.
Do you have plans for more work in this setting?
No. It’s done and dusted. I’m terribly restless creatively, and I have two other alternate history fantasy/steampunk works finished or in preparation. But I do feel great warmth towards the Factory Girl trilogy, and I feel very lucky that Keith published it. He’s been a tremendous support to me. Many thanks for asking these great questions Juliana, I had fun answering them!
And thank you, Stephen, for sharing your insights on your work!
Find Stephen’s work on Amazon (see links above); other buying options including Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Smashwords available on the Infinity Plus website.
It’s freezing in Connecticut, and perfect book-and-blanket weather! Although I must confess that I’ve slowed down on the reading in November — I’m using NaNoWriMo to give my novel rewrite a boost, so have eased off on other people’s words to focus on my own. I have, however, managed to make a nice dent in my to-read list over the past few months, so here are a few favorites from that particular pile…
Recent Reads: A bit of this, a bit of that…
I’ve had Peter McLean’s Priest of Bones languishing on my Kindle for a while, and I’m so glad that I finally got around to it. This is a really good read in the grand old ‘Grimdark Fantasy’ tradition, with a fun cast of characters and some very nice worldbuilding. It follows soldier and field priest Tomas Piety as he heads home from war to reclaim the crime empire he left behind, and soon turns into a game of strategy and intrigue when national politics stick grubby paws into Piety’s business. I absolutely recommend it for fans of this style of fantasy.
My daughter’s been telling me for months that I should have a look at Leigh Bardugo’s TheLanguage of Thorns, and guess what? She was right. You don’t need to have read Bardugo’s Six of Crows duology or her Shadow and Bone trilogy for this, though a working knowledge of her Grishaverse is helpful. However, I’d recommend at least Six of Crows, which is a fabulous heist story in the style of Scott Lynch’s Locke Lamora books. Thorns itself is a collection of folktales, some original and others clear retellings of known stories, written in a variety of styles that match the different nations in Bardugo’s expanded world. Lyrical and also surprisingly funny at times, this is a thoroughly enjoyable read.
When I heard that Disney’s upcoming Hawkeye TV show was going to be loosely based on the Matt FractionHawkeye comics, I decided to take a look. I’m not much of a graphic novel person, but the little I saw online intrigued me, and I was lucky enough that my local library had the first volumes in one neat omnibus edition. Honestly, this is so good! I’ve always liked Barton’s character in the Avengers movies, but this took things to a new level. Great characterization, and I can’t wait to see how they handle Clint and Kate’s interactions on-screen. Also, I need to read the rest of the series now, especially the one in ASL, which I hear is fabulous.
Both my daughter and I are fans of Seanan McGuire’s InCryptid novels, and the latest in the series, That Ain’t Witchcraft, certainly lives up to the very high bar set by the previous books. We’re once again in Antimony Price’s point of view, as she investigates a little ghost trouble in New England and ends up taking on the Crossroads itself. Annie and Sam are adorable as usual, and the whole ensemble cast is perfect. My only complaint? Now I need a family reunion novella with the entire dysfunctional Price crew united and under one roof, significant others and all… If you like urban fantasy and haven’t yet tried InCryptid, please do! I love these books — they take every one of my boxes, tick them neatly, and hand them back gift-wrapped and beribboned.
Now Reading: “We use it to light things from far away,” I said. “You know,” Tom said, “things you have to light from far away probably shouldn’t be lit at all.” – The Blackthorn Key.
I picked up The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands a while back, and am now on the third book, The Assassin’s Curse. This middle grade historical adventure series is absolutely fantastic! The books center around an apothecary’s apprentice, Christopher Rowe, and his friends, and are set against the backdrop of 1660s England complete with threats of the plague and of political conspiracies galore. The series is fun, well-written, and full of code-breaking, apothecary secrets, and twisty plots. It’s written for kids, but honestly, there’s plenty in them that will appeal to adults, too. Good stuff.
To Read: Old friends, new beginnings.
The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert was one of my favorite books of 2018! Now I have the ARC for the sequel in hand, and can’t wait to get started. The Night Country releases on January 7th 2020, and returns us to the magic and darkness of Albert’s Hinterland. If you haven’t read the first book yet, give this wonderful blend of fantasy and magical realism a try.
Call Down the Hawk by Maggie Stiefvater just landed in our mailbox in all its big hardcover glory, signed bookplate and all. Can you tell that we’re fans in this house? This is the long-awaited sequel to the Raven Cycle series, and focuses on Ronan Lynch, my absolute favorite of all Stiefvater’s Raven Boys. To get in gear for this brand new release, both my daughter and I reread the four original Raven Cycle books; now we’re all fired up and ready for more Ronan and Adam, and to meet all the new characters that Stiefvater has promised us for this series.
It’s today! It’s our day! After over a year of planning, writing, editing, formatting, and all the other things that go with taking a book from concept to fruition, our collaborative sci fi anthology is out in the world. Fly, little book, fly!
Click here to read about DISTAFF on our website, and don’t forget to order your copy. Enjoy!
In just seventeen days, on August 15th, our collaborative anthology DISTAFF will be out there in the wide world for everyone to read. It’s been an amazing journey, from the very early ideas hatched on the SFFChronicles.com forum, to this point, less than a month from release day.
To celebrate, I asked the DISTAFF authors to think of a song that could work as a soundtrack for their stories. Here it is, the DISTAFF Anthology Playlist!
Jane O’Reilly opens the anthology with The Broken Man, a post-apocalyptic tale of caution and of cautious hope. Her suggestion is Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell.
Kerry Buchanan brings us Space Rocks, an irreverent mystery that blends mythology and space travel. Kerry picked Bob Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone as a backdrop to her story.
Rosie Oliver is the cool mind behind The Ice Man, a frost-cold murder mystery set in a near-future Sweden. Her choice of soundtrack is KeiiNO’s Spirit in the Sky.
Juliana Spink Mills, well, that’s me! The song I picked for my story A Cold Night in H3-II, a chilling tale of a struggling space colony, is Demons by Imagine Dragons.
Damaris Browne is the author of The Colour of Silence, a poignant tale of sorrow and hope, where the people of Earth seek salvation among the stars. Her song of choice is Silence is Golden by the Tremeloes.
EJ Tett’s contribution is Holo-Sweet. They say that love will always find a way — though space romance isn’t always easy! EJ’s song suggestion for this fun tale is Let’s Get It On by Marvin Gaye.
Shellie Horst is the author of My Little Mecha, in which a growing security threat and a systems malfunction meet family miscommunication to form the perfect storm. Shellie’s musical pick is Dare to be Stupid by “Weird Al” Yankovic.
Susan Boulton brings us Ab Initio, a harrowing tale of survival — but at what cost? Susan’s soundtrack suggestion is Human by Rag’n’Bone Man.
Jo Zebedee finalizes our anthology line up with The Shadows Are Us And They Are The Shadows: when all hope seems lost, life surprises us. Jo’s song choice for her story is Pink Floyd’s Welcome to the Machine.
If you want to listen to the full soundtrack, click here to find it on iTunes. (Disclaimer: not all songs may be available in your region. Spotify list to come; please check back.)
It’s 2019! Well, it’s actually been 2019 for a while now, but I haven’t done a book round-up since 2018 so does that mean I get to celebrate New Year’s all over again? No? Ah, well, it was worth a try. *discreetly shoves champagne glass and party streamers under the table*
I actually followed my New Year’s resolution and made a good dent in my to-read list. Okay, who are we kidding, that thing is huge! But I have upped my reading game this year, and it feels good to be back! Here are a few of my favorites from the last couple of months.
Recent Reads: A world tour of mythology.
I’d heard good things about City of Brass, so when I spotted it in my local library, I immediately picked it up. S.A. Chakraborty’s lush fantasy tale starts in the streets of 18th century Cairo and travels to Daevabad, the legendary city of brass, home to the djinn. Beautifully written, and with plenty of twists and turns to keep readers on their feet, I swept through this in a day and a half, absolutely enchanted.
Another 2018 release that plays with different world mythologies is Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse. Set after a future climate apocalypse has ravaged the USA and the Navajo people have created the magically protected land of Dinétah, the story follows monster hunter Maggie Hoskie on the trail of dark witchcraft and ancient legends reborn. Roanhorse’s prose is swift and fierce, and Maggie is a wonderful character — at the same time flawed and fragile, yet strong as stone.
This next one is a relative oldie compared to the other books in this post, but I’d been wanting to read The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater for a while. I love Stiefvater’s writing style in the Raven Cycle series, and this one has a similar atmospheric allure. However, instead of dusty Virginia roads and rolling hills, we have bracing winds and sea-salt spray, tough island grass and even tougher island people. It plays loosely with the Celtic myth of the water horse, using it to tell a tale of resilience and determination. Very nice.
The Cruel Prince by Holly Black may well end up being one of my favorite books of the year. This dark fairytale has underlying themes of abuse and isn’t afraid to get its hands dirty. The story of a mortal girl, brought up in the land of Faerie among the members of the Royal Court and caught up in the violence and political intrigue that accompanies the fight for the throne, it’s a breathtaking read and I absolutely raced through the pages.
Now Reading: The end of the Shattered Realms.
I’ve only just started Deathcaster by Cinda Williams Chima, last book in the Shattered Realms quartet, but I’m already mourning the end of this series. I was thrilled when, back in 2016, Chima gave readers the chance to dive back into her Seven Realms world with a new quartet of novels, set a generation after The Crimson Crown concluded. It’s been wonderful meeting a whole new cast of characters while enjoying the setting she so beautifully delivered in the previous series.
To Read: It’s all about those sequels…
I have two sequels on my reading list, and I’d like to get to them soon while the previous books are fresh in my mind. Both are the second-in-series of books mentioned above: The Wicked King by Holly Black, and Kingdom of Copper by S.A. Chakraborty. I’m looking forward to jumping back into Black and Chakraborty’s worlds!
How has your reading been so far this year? Any good sci fi or fantasy suggestions? Let me know in the comments!
Back in 2018, a few of us who post regularly on the SFFChronicles.com forum decided to get together and produce a science fiction anthology. After much debate, the concept for DISTAFF emerged: a collection of stories by women. That’s the only connecting thread — the stories themselves are all vastly different, and all the richer for that.
DISTAFF will be released in August 2019, during Worldcon in Dublin and Titancon/Eurocon in Belfast. I’m absolutely thrilled to be a part of this project, and now that we’ve had a lovely cover reveal hosted by SFFWorld.com, I can finally share our beautiful art by Shellie Horst, one of the participating authors. Besides Shellie and myself, the list includes Jo Zebedee, Kerry Buchanan, Jane O’Reilly, Rosie Oliver, Damaris Browne, E. J. Tett, and Susan Boulton.
Here’s the blurb:
A staff used in spinning. Of women and women’s work. An anthology of women’s stories woven through time and space.
In 2018 a crack team of women sci-fi writers, all members of the sffchronicles community forum, came together to write an anthology. Distaff is the result. Join us as we share stories of people, of science and exploration, and enjoy the words we weave.
Another year, another edition of Boskone, ‘New England’s longest running science fiction convention’. I’ll always have a soft spot for Boskone, which represents a lot of firsts for me: first SF/F con I ever went to (back in 2015, two years after moving to the USA) and first time on panels (2017) are two of them. This year I added another couple of firsts: my first time moderating a panel and my first time doing a reading.
Here are some of my Boskone 56 highlights!
Trying my hand at moderating. I…actually had a great time doing this. The other participants of the Agency and Free Will in Speculative Fiction panel — Gillian Daniels, Rebecca Roanhorse, Greer Gilman, and M.C. DeMarco — did a fantastic job with a pretty tricky theme, so a huge thanks to them all for playing along with my not-so-easy questions.
The Broad Universe group reading. Broad Universe has been organizing their Rapid Fire Readings for years now, and as a new member of the group I was delighted to give this a go. We each got an allotted six minutes to give the audience (and each other) a taste of our work, and I really enjoyed the mixture of styles and genres.
Talking fights in the Now, That’s a Great Action Scene panel. Unfortunately our moderator Errick Nunnally only made it for the end of the panel, but Bracken MacLeod stepped in and kept S.L. Huang, Vincent O’Neil and myself busy with plenty of fun discussion points. And I got to take my HEMA longsword to show offprove a point (ha! point…) about the need for proper research.
Debating trilogies and series in the Middle Book Syndrome panel. Fran Wilde did an awesome job moderating this (plus, we had matching nail polish!), and Kenneth Rogers Jr., Sarah Beth Durst, Sharon Lee and myself had a great time trading tips and tricks for keeping those trilogies flowing.
Readings! Besides the Broad Universe reading, I also caught the Unlikely Imaginarium group reading, with Elaine Isaac/E.C. Ambrose, Clarence Young/Zig Zag Claybourne, Kenneth Schneyer, C.S.E Cooney, Carlos Hernandez and Cerece Rennie Murphy. And later that same day, a reading by S.L. Huang, whose Zero Sum Game sounds awesome and has already been added to my to-read list.
I always try to fit in a few panels, and Laundering Your Fairy Tales with Jane Yolen, Theodora Goss, Victoria Sandbrook, Karen Heuler and Melanie Meadors was a great pick, delving into the often-dark history of popular fairy tales. Of Gods, Devils, And Tricksters was another good one, with an in-depth look at trickster figures in mythology. This one was moderated by Max Gladstone, with Rebecca Roanhoarse, Shannon Chakraborty, Jane Yolen and Dana Cameron. And I ended up going to The Great Agent Hunt, with S.L. Huang, Joshua Bilmes, Christopher Golden, Lauren Roy and Barry Goldblatt. Lots of good advice, and plenty of cautionary tales…
People. All the people. New friends, old friends… Conversations everywhere: at the bar, in the hallways, at the tail end of panel sessions. This is what really makes Boskone such a great event — getting to hang out with other readers, writers, and fans for two days straight. You are all awesome and I loved spending time with you! I hope to see you next year!
I only stayed two days this time, instead of the full weekend, to save a little on hotel money. I was sad to leave early, but it’s for a good cause: in August I’ll be at Worldcon in Dublin and then Titancon in Belfast! I’m really excited to be trying something new, but you can bet that in 2020 I’ll be back at Boskone, my ‘home con’ and forever favorite.
Book news! Well, anthology news, actually. Tomorrow my short story King Swan comes out in a brand new collection — Gorgon: Stories of Emergence (Pantheon Magazine).
From the official blurb: “Be changed. GORGON: STORIES OF EMERGENCE contains 42 transformative stories spanning all genres from both emerging and new voices alike, with all new stories by Gwendolyn Kiste, Richard Thomas, Annie Neugebauer, Eden Royce, Beth Cato, D.A. Xiaolin Spires and more, and featuring 10 illustrations by Carrion House.”
I’ve had a peek at some of the stories and they’re awesome! You can buy Gorgon on Amazon in ebook and paperback, starting tomorrow…
It’s been two years today since HEART BLADE was published! Happy bookversary to the Blade Hunt Chronicles!
Finnish-born author C.T. Grey is an engineer and self-confessed information junkie with a serious addiction to science fiction and fantasy. Besides his own novels, Grey has also published a number of articles and blog posts on technology, science, politics, and a wide variety of other topics, both fact and fiction.
In First Interview, book 1 of the Necromorphosis series, Grey introduces us to a bleak and horrifying post-zombie-outbreak London, where a mutated virus has escaped government control and now runs rampant among the population. The novel comes with a twist, though: zombies are not the only supernatural creatures roaming London. And now the Damned, which include vampires, are threatened with exposure as the entire structure of society begins to fall apart.
Juliana: Hi C.T., and welcome. First Interview is a zombie novel with a unique approach — one of its main point of view characters is a vampire! How did you come up with the idea of mixing traditional fantasy elements like vampires and magic with a classic zombie outbreak tale?
CTG: Thank you Juliana. It is a good question. At the beginning the trilogy was just a short story that I posted in its entirety in the SFF Chronicles under a title of “A New Beginning…” It was story where Herbert Jackson faced Jane and end up as her dinner, as the story ends in the classical Jane’s line: “I’d like some red, please.”
When I started to listen to Jane as my muse I was imagining a very different kind of story as I was admiring Bear Grylls and I wanted to put him as a character, which comes to rescue Jane from some tower in London. It would have been really romantic and somewhat a classical adventure. However it never happened as Jane led to a very different kind of survival story.
I never wanted to write a classical zombie story or follow Kirkman in the niche market, as the whole turmoil with the zombie uprise is a background detail in the book. It is not the main thing. Jane’s survival story is and I wanted to make her extraordinary as those types get highlighted born in the times of conflict.
You can read from between the lines that the story Jane tells to Henrik isn’t a normal journey. But it is the sort of case that Henrik would be normally investigating, but the deeper he ventures into the story that Jane is weaving, he starts to realise that everything isn’t as it should be.
I wanted that to be the fantasy element, not just supernatural as that would be boring. I honestly wanted to write in all the places she has visited, things she has seen but wasn’t mentioned in the books, like for example: dryads, centaurs, elves and dragons. What I think is interesting is that to Henrik all of those things are magic. He doesn’t believe in any of them, because he was born skeptic. But over the course of the trilogy, his views change somewhat dramatically.
Juliana: I know you are a fan of a wide variety of science fiction and fantasy TV shows, which you review for the SFFChronicles.com. Did your eclectic approach to entertainment influence your choice to draw from both sides of the speculative coin, so to speak?
CTG: No. It never was my aim, but I do admit I might have been influenced by them. Thing is whatever you read, watch, see will get mixed in your mind and eventually spilled out on the paper.
I started my own reading experience with Ursula Le Guin’s Tales from Earthsea and moved on to cover a number of classical masters like Asimov, Tolkien, Heinlein, Philip K Dick and so on. I read a lot and I still do, but these days I have the internet, so I don’t read as many books as I used to, but over the years I’ve never been just one type of guy.
If there is a fantasy creature in my stories, the chances are there are a number of others lurking at the background, ready to pop in the stage. I could claim that it’s like the case of Tove Janson’s Moomins, once you know they are real, they never go away and in the Moomin valley there are a large number of things that not present in the ‘real world,’ but we still do believe in there.
Therefore I cannot omit fantasy from a story, if the main character is already a fantasy creature. What I can and what I have done in the trilogy, is that I’ve rooted them into the realm of realism as much as I can. It just happens to be that after the Great Panic all these creatures start to pop all over the map.
So, in the case of the Necromorphosis trilogy, nothing you’ll see is traditional. I mix … sometimes quite strongly science fiction into fantasy because both genres can offer so much more than restricting yourself to write yourself into the corner. The biggest SF thing I have is the Portal technology, but it is also funny, because the portals are in scientific terms pure fantasy.
Juliana: I have a confession — I’m terrified of zombies! But First Interview, despite the sometimes-graphic descriptions of gore, somehow eased me in and kept me from running away. A lot of this is probably down to your protagonist Jane, and her matter-of-fact manner of telling the story. Was this a conscious decision on your part — to give the reader some breathing space, so the horror wouldn’t be too overwhelming — or did this just occur naturally?
CTG:(Laughs) You are not the only one. Jeff Richards, who has edited the whole trilogy, confessed to me very early on that he absolutely hates the zombie tales. To him, you and a number of other people, who have read the book, have confessed the same thing. First Interview isn’t about the zombies, or what they do, when the apocalypse becomes real, because that tale is Jane’s tale and I doubt she would ever bore Henrik with a simple zombie story.
When you later on read the next book – From Exopolis to Necropolis – you will notice that the same effect that plagues AMC’s The Walking Dead plagues that story as it keeps moving away from shuffling horrors to a short of story that is close to Inception. And that move was as much intentional as it could be. The dead will remain as threat and as a reminder about what happened when the Day of Great Panic dawned in Jane’s Earth and it became apparent that there was no return to the world of yesterday.
So to get Jeff to edit he had to love the story so much that he made me put it into various competitions with the Big 5 for over two and half years. When it became apparent to me that they liked it and saw something in it, but couldn’t invest money into it, I made a decision to publish it on my own.
Juliana: What challenges did your two main characters, the vampire Jane and Intelligence Analyst Henrik, bring? Who was the hardest one to write? And the easiest?
CTG: Henrik was the hardest. The simple reason is, he’s an invisible narrator in First Interview but his role grows much bigger later on. Because he was so vague I had harder time engaging him than Jane. Usually she’s much easier and more interesting thing to write than Henrik. With her you always know that you’re not going to have a boring moment. Instead you’ll get a chance to explore things that otherwise wouldn’t be possible. You could claim that Jane is sort of Super Heroine and you wouldn’t be wrong as that is almost what she is. With her being an over six and half centuries old vampire, you get a chance to explore world from a point-of-view that is far older than what you could do with a traditional human perspective.
She has seen history and met people since last mini ice-age and it shows in her narrative. With Henrik the case is different, as he studies things in the current timeframe rather than wallowing in the past, like Jane does sometimes.
There are only a few Jane focused chapters that I struggled to write. Some of them especially so because I got so emotional with her struggles to cope with the world she didn’t wanted to bring around. Jane would have happily stayed in the shadows and continued living in a normal world that we experience everyday.
Juliana: First Interview is full of high-octane action scenes. Do you have a system for writing these scenes? Do you work them out beforehand, in your mind or on paper, or do you just jump straight in?
CTG: I don’t plan them as I let the muse and flow bring them out, but each one of those battles has been written multiple times. In some cases Jeff has made me to rewrite them again. So you get multiple layers that over time became the scenes you see in the books. In First Interview there is a scene, where Jane is being targeted by a sniper. I wrote it probably ten times even though it is relatively simple thing to write. It is also a reference point that Henrik uses multiple times, because in his mind, nobody could have survived it. Jane, on the other hand, isn’t a nobody and her ending in it wouldn’t have made a very good book. (laughs)
With the choreography of the fights I have over a decade long experience as a game-master and making high-octane adventures for the top-class players. Believe me, they schooled me well on what’s an interesting fight and how it should go down. Although with the gamers what you expect to get isn’t ever going to happen, because their sole aim is to destroy you as a game-master. (laughs again)
So, with the fights I never aim to destroy my characters but to put them through fast-and-dirty fights where sometimes unbelievable things happens just like it is in the case of the real life. Although I have a chance to show those scenes to military people and ask their opinion on them, I tend utilize my service experience and stuff that I’ve gathered continuing talking and analyzing current fights in the world, before I bring them on the paper.
Believe me it would be easier to write them if I didn’t knew anything about the art of warfare or how the battles turn out. In fact I’m glad that you can reflect those experience in the fiction and anchor them into the reality as much as I can. It also helps that every week, sometimes every day I write reviews on the stuff you see in the small screen or in the big one.
Juliana: Since your first language is Finnish, what were the key difficulties you had to face when working in English? And do you have any tips for other non-native-English writers?
Finnish and English are very different. Whilst Finnish might be easier language to write prose, it’s not the main language in our world. I write both fluently and out of those two, English is way much harder, because it has so many rules. Some things don’t make sense to even English Masters as they have to accept that things are the way they are. On the other hand I can easily bend the Finnish words and use them in completely different meaning altogether as the language flexes more around the speaker and the writer than what you can do with English language alone. So, it is a question of how much you can cope, and how well you can learn those rules to be able write in second language. As English is one of the main languages I try not to play with it as much I can do with my mother tongue.
Juliana: Talk to me about your cover! What are your favorite things about it? How closely did you work with the artist, Jackie Felix?
CTG: The cover… Oh man, I don’t know where to start. Well, firstly, I wanted to show Jane and keep Henrik altogether, as Jane is the Main Character in the First Interview. Jackie did a fantastic job in bringing her and Sergeant Red out as a couple, as you can see them standing in the Interview Room 2, looking mighty grumpy. Through the book they are an item as much as Jane and Jaq is, but Jackie didn’t wanted to draw nasty dead in the streets of war torn London, hence you see them in the Interview scene.
I chose Jackie, because she draws the best females characters in the industry and she isn’t afraid of showing them curvy or full of life. She also has an ability to draw from the darkness and apply that to the canvas. Jackie also managed to capture the feeling that their world is close to us but in some terms it’s more technologically advanced than our own. You see the eye of the Source (an AI) in the background watching everyone. So even in that you can get layers of the that only make complete sense once you have the knowledge.
Juliana: On February 10th you’ll be releasing Book 2 of your series, From Exopolis to Necropolis. Can you give us any spoiler-free hints of what awaits Jane, Henrik, Jaq and Co.? Also, First Interview very briefly introduces deeper fantasy elements, such as magic, the teaser of more supernatural creatures lurking undercover, and the mysterious Underworld. Will you expand upon these in the sequel?
CTG: Yes, I’ve expanded them a great deal, as the reader gets to dive into the story that was hugely inspired by Nolan’s Inception movie. You’ll get to learn how the Necromorphis advanced in the streets of London. What role the Portals, the Exopolis and the collective of special people that the Authorities placed in the Moon has been doing since the dust from the Great Panic has settled. You also learn much more about Henrik and what he’s going to do when, after six months, he meets Jane in the Exopolis and one of the first things she asks is for him to become Mayor.
At the background, you can expect that the war between the Damned and the Authorities is continuing. And for your delight there aren’t that many scenes involving the dead as there are in the First Interview. Instead of them you get to learn more about the mysterious Underworld, and what role it plays in the grand scheme of things.
Juliana: Thank you CT for stopping by and answering my questions. And I love the cover of the new book, with art by Adam Burn!
From Exopolis to Necropolis is available for preorder from Amazon, and First Interview will soon be available at a special promotional price during the sequel’s pre-launch week.