Good morning. Happy Tuesday, even! How’s everybody doing? You’re not hallucinating. There is indeed a blog post up on the LexieCon. I know! I’m shocked, too. But it turns out those “diet and exercise” recommendations actually do some good. Who knew? (Besides everybody who recommended them to me) I’m feeling much better these days, so I figured I’d sit down and write a blog post.
I’ve moved into my new house, which is 40% of the reason for my silence! It’s frankly terrifying because there’s so much about houses that I never knew. My home comes complete with a messy set of pipes that needed cabling on the first weekend I moved in, a furnace with the world’s shyest pilot light, and frankly more rooms than I know what to do with at the moment. I’m sloooooowly starting to put things in places and being able to actually locate things again. Boxes are being unpacked one by one.
It’s been an interesting journey because a combination of stress and bad eating habits nearly put me in the hospital. As it is, I’ve had to make some major adjustments. Also, while I was dealing with that: the night before the movers showed up, Nikki hurt her leg and subsequently refused to eat anything. We think the latter may have been due to stress, but the last time one of our dogs stopped eating she didn’t come home from the vet, so I was a little paranoid when I rushed Nikki to the vet hospital in the middle of the move. Luckily, she’s fine and after a couple weeks, everything seems to be mended. So. Plumbing issues, heating issues, health issues, dog issues, all on top of a new house.*
Did I mention I have a book due in May?
So, really, this is a great time to announce I’ll be at C2E2 for the third year in a row! Come see me at my panel on Saturday afternoon on April 22nd! Richard Kadrey, Alex Gordon, Rachel Dunne, and I will be led by Daniel José Older in a discussion about writing realistic superpowers. I have absolutely no experience with this topic and hope I don’t drag everybody else down. We’ll be doing a signing afterward and you’ll be able to get signed copies of HOW TO SAVE THE WORLD, a title I regret more and more every day because that’s seriously a guide we need right now and my book is definitively not a guide.
Other things happening:
The first Wednesday of every month, a bunch of really great Harper Voyager authors get together on Twitter and have the #SFFChat. It’s a good time, and if you’re on Twitter, you should check it out. I’ll let you know when the next session is as soon as I know.
First and third Wednesday of every month, my friend Khrys hosts a #StrongWomenWrite Twitter chat. Right now she’s trying to put together a great expo for women writers on how to write fight scenes, so you should meander over and check out that tag.
I’m trying to be a little more active with my Tumblr. We’ll see how it goes, but it’s basically just a random posting of things that I like and things that make me laugh, so if you’re having a bad day, have a peek.
Speaking of Tumblr, I’ve been curating a cross-referenced research Tumblr for a couple years now, just putting things that I find helpful on it. I’ve updated the theme and the tag system (though it’s a work in progress), so you should check it out: the-lexiecon.
Chuck Wendig strikes again with awesome writerly advice.
Boaty McBoatface hits the high seas.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is a new Amazon pilot and you should really, really, really watch it because it’s Amy Sherman-Palladino’s writing and I can’t help it, I am a sucker for the banter.
And that’s all, folks. See you in *looks at blog* three months, probably.
* Cindy the dog will not be moving in with us; unfortunately she’s developed cancer, so my parents are going to keep her with them for as long as she can remain comfortable.
|Every week there's a #bookqw tag on Twitter that I enjoy. This week I accidentally made Shark-man seem like a main character. OOPS.|
Welcome to 2017 and whatever the hell all of this is.
It’s supposed to be a “new year, new you” sort of thing, but I’ve learned the dangers of posting resolutions online (I made some new year’s resolutions several years ago about finishing a story and then a reader called me on it later on that year. I understand their frustration, but…that story was free and my resolutions are for me, not for you, dude. It irked me, so I don’t do that anymore). And frankly, I don’t have any. There are some things that I want to happen in 2017 and several goals for my year, that’s for sure.
I could look back on 2016. I had a historically low word count (first time I haven’t cracked 150k since 2009) due to generalized anxiety. And I know that it’s natural, that we as writers have cycles and that a tree doesn’t produce fruit all year around, but I’m not proud.
But positively, some great things happened in 2016. Read some great books, saw some awesome movies. HOW TO SAVE THE WORLD came out…in the fall sometime? I want to say October and November.1 My awesome friend Sarah Kuhn blurbed it, which was the first time I’ve had a book blurbed. She said wonderful things about it, which was why I was happy to see her at NYCC (which I got to attend!). Getting to “hang out” with her in a Wired article was definitely a highlight. I have a new editor that I’m excited to work with, something really cool happened that I’m not allowed to share yet, I made some great bookish friends!
My niece was born in September and I got to meet her over Christmas and she’s this wild-haired, wide-eyed person I can’t wait to know. Any chance I get to see my nephews (and give them dragons) is treasured. My grandmother and uncle flew in to Phoenix to surprise me and they attended some of my panels, so now I can say I’ve talked about Superman’s uniform needing a chest- and butt-window in front of my grandmother, which not many people can say. I got to meet an online friend I’ve known since 2010! Personally it was a year of amazing occurrences.
2017 promises to bring some challenges, especially the first few months. While I’m working on a big project, I’m also house-hunting. I could tell you that I’m not doing this so Nikki, who is the biggest sun puppy ever, has a nice big yard to lie in and soak up the sun…but you know I’d be lying. That dog runs my life.2 Plus it’d be neat to have a dedicated office space. This is going to severely cut into my con-attending in 2017. I’ve budgeted out doing two, and those would both be done with the primary goal of visiting friends. Other goals involve sociability, some activism, and writing.
My friend Liana Brooks does an amaaaaazing newsletter every week highlighting an impulse buy under $5. This month she’s giving away an e-copy of Chuck Wendig’s Invasive! You should sign up!
I’m going to announce my winner for my giveaway on Monday, so keep a close eye on my Facebook and Twitter!
Reading log has been updated to reflect 2016 and what I’m working on in 2017. It makes me laugh to see how few actual books I read, considering I read about 200-300k of fic every week. Also, if you haven’t watched Critical Role, I definitely recommend it. Matt Mercer is unparalleled as a storyteller, and it’s just genuinely fun to watch a group with such chemistry work together to solve all these in-great problems. It’s taught me quite a bit as a player.
Anyway, that’s what’s going on with me. How’s everybody else doing?
1 I’m so good at this author gig, you guys.
2 I CAN say that one of my goals of 2016 was successful: make more money writing than I spent on my dog. In the year’s defense, Nikki didn’t need $7k in surgery in 2016, unlike 2015.
Greetings, fair readers! It's been awhile (hi, Solitude)! I wish I had a good excuse, but the election got me down (yes, I voted enthusiastically for Hillary and also if you think that means I'm insulting you by having done that and that's a bad business model for a writer to have and talk about political opinions, welp, bye, see ya never), so it's been rough to be the up and peppy person on this blog in the meantime. I'm only here today to tell you I got some big news that I won't share for awhile and to announce...drumroll please...
That's right, see all of that swagilicious stuff in the picture at the top? That can all be yours for one low, low price of an entry into this form! Provided you're in the US because I'm terrible at post offices. The giveaway will end on the last day of 2016 because someBODY should get something good out of this year.
The bag contains:
- • a NYCC tote bag and pin both featuring Nova the Sloth, Harper Voyager's amazing mascot
- • a personalized signed copy of HOW TO SAVE THE WORLD
- • a deck of Wonder Woman playing cards for others to play while they wait for you to finish reading HOW TO SAVE THE WORLD so they can have their turn
- • my love and affection (intangible)
So get to signing up, folks! And know that I won't be around as much coming up: I'm in the process of buying a house and working on a project simultaneously, which means lots of avoiding spending money AND keeping my nose to ye olde grindstone. How's everybody else doing? What's been happening? Catch me up in the comments!
We join Gail Godwin in her quest to make it through one day without utter catastrophe striking! Warning: THIS POST IS FULL OF SPOILERS FOR SUPERHEROES/SUPERVILLAINS ANONYMOUS. You have been warned. In capital letters, even!
Gail Godwin (Hostage Girl) – a woman who would just like to have a normal day, thank you very much.
Guy Bookman (Blaze) – the rich heir to a business empire who would also like Gail Godwin to have a normal day.
Angélica Rocha (Vertigem) – gym owner, superhero trainer, unfazed even though her main power is phasing.
Brooklyn Gianelli (Chelsea) – Supervillain. High school girlfriend of Sam Bookman, captured and experimented on by Lodi Corp and Dr. Mobius.
Raze (Razor X) – Supervillain. Does not understand basic things like friendship.
Kiki Davenport (No Hero Affiliation) – granddaughter of a superhero, a supervillain, and a mad scientist, an intensely smart doctor whose psychic abilities endanger her to Villain Syndrome.
Victoria "Vicki" Dawn Burroughs (Plain Jane) – Supermodel. Expert in structural integrity.
Jeremy Collins (No Hero Affiliation) – Gamer. Probably some other things by this point.
Naomi Gunn (No Hero Affiliation) – Journalist. Pain in Gail Godwin's butt. Nose for trouble. Actually, pretty much everything else for trouble.
Eddie Davenport (No Hero Affiliation) – CEO of Davenport Industries. Gail's note: major asshole, avoid at all costs.
Jessie Davenport (Raptor) – Somewhat reclusive heiress to Davenport fortune.
Christoph Mobius (Dr. Mobius) – Mad scientist. Killed in explosion at Lodi Corp.
Rita Detmer (Fearless) – Supervillain. First recorded case of Villain Syndrome.
Kurt Davenport (Raptor) – Deceased. Founder of Davenport Industries.
Audra Yi (No Hero Affiliation) – Terrifyingly efficient assistant to Jessie Davenport.
Sam Bookman (War Hammer) – Guy's older brother. Good at superheroing and not much else. Got a little obsessed with finding out why his twin went missing.
Sal (No Hero Affiliation) – Bartender at Mind the Boom.
Portia Oleander McPeak (No Hero Affiliation) – Coworker of Gail's. Able to become invisible, much to her dismay.
Venus von Trapp (Same) – Plant-based supervillain. Once turned Gail green.
Lady Danger (Same) – Victorian supervillain. Breeds dogs.
Shark-man (Same) – Asshole protector of San Francisco. Regularly called Sharkbait. Wears gray.
A Primer for Everything You Need to Know Before Reading How to Save the World
Skip forward to 10 months later. Gail's approached by Naomi Gunn, a reporter doing a piece on her year anniversary of cease-kidnappings…who of course jinxes things for Gail, who's kidnapped not five minutes later by Dr. Mobius. He infects her with Mobium, a radioactive isotope that replaces all of the carbon in her body. It's supposed to turn her into an addict so that he can control Blaze into doing his bidding. After Gail is freed during a confusing encounter with men in black, she desperately seeks to get in touch with Blaze, going so far as to reach out to Naomi. Unfortunately, Naomi's a little busy being targeted by Chelsea, a supervillain out for information. Gail, with her newfound abilities, saves the day and wakes up to find that Davenport Industries, the biggest company in the world, is also the shadow organization that fosters and protects superheroes.
And this is taking a long time. Okay. Let's see if I can cut some of this down. Davenport Industries helps out superheroes and they give Gail a place to live, where she discovers several things.
1. Her trainer, Angélica Rocha, is a sadist who can redirect her momentum and phase distances in the blink of an eye. She's there to keep Gail healthy.
2. Blaze isn't Gail's ex-boyfriend Jeremy, but her ex-coworker Guy Bookman. He and his brother Sam have the same abilities; their sister Petra disappeared, though she too shared the family power.
3. Dr. Lemuel Cooper and Dr. Kiki Davenport are keeping an eye on Gail's abilities, which aren't anything like Dr. Mobius said.
4. Chelsea's on the loose and after Naomi, who has information that she wants.
Naomi reaches out to Gail for help, asking to meet at a mall. When Gail and the others arrive, though, Chelsea shows up with some goons and a full-out battle begins. They manage to get away, but Chelsea hits Angélica with a blast of her venomous ray, injuring her fatally. At the hospital, Gail (gravely injured herself) is arrested by Eddie Davenport because she's believed to be secretly in cahoots with Chelsea in an ending that is still ranted about on Amazon to this day.
Okay, on to SUPERVILLAINS ANONYMOUS!
Gail is thrown into Detmer Prison where the worst supervillains are sent, and she discovers that it's closer to a day spa where supervillains are kept happy and fed five-star meals. Unfortunately, it's not all fun and games for Gail, who draws notice of Rita Detmer, world's first supervillain and a woman intent on beating the crap out of Gail. Gail has no idea why until she wakes up to find Rita standing over her bed, and she's literally thrown out of prison by the supervillain.
Gail goes on the run, fighting off Raptor and hiding with Guy. The only one who can clear Gail's name is Naomi Gunn, being held at a Davenport facility. With the surprising help of an old coworker, Gail breaks in and retrieves Naomi, but all hell breaks loose when Chelsea shows up. Plain Jane and Guy (disguised as War Hammer to hide the fact that he's in Chicago) intervene. Guy visibly falters upon seeing Chelsea, calling her Brook…and then almost getting killed when Brook uses a device on him that neutralizes his powers.
When Gail reaches out to Kiki for medical help, she discovers some truths:
1. Dr. Mobius is Kiki's grandfather
2. Chelsea is actually Brooklyn Gianelli, a woman Guy thought died years before, and Sam's ex-girlfriend.
3. Rita and Mobius planned for Gail to get powers to protect Kiki from an all-powerful spy in Davenport's midst.
4. Angélica's not as dead as once thought. In fact, she now has the same powers as Gail.
Raptor eventually tracks down Gail and hands her over to Cooper (the spy) in order to see what he'll do, leading to Gail getting tortured. She's rescued, but it leaves a mark or two. Together, they blow up the Lodi facility where Gail was held. Gail and her friends then lure Cooper into a trap in the same place where Guy got his powers, and work together to kill him since he heals too fast to reasonably be held anywhere and will kill countless others. Jeremy willingly electrocutes himself to make it happen and ends the book in a coma. Gail returns to prison to serve out a small sentence for having escaped prison in the first place.
Barnes & Noble
So I don't do a lot of "how to write" posts on this blog. I used to in my full-fandom days: I have another blog somewhere on the internet full of tips and tricks about the mechanics of writing. Today that feels to me like unmitigated swagger and bravado. The audacity of youth. I don't know if it's due to age or due to getting a publishing contract, but almost overnight I went from Knowing What I Was Talking About to being completely unable to answer the inevitable question that gets asked at every panel that I attend:
What advice would you give to a writer?
My mind goes completely blank at this question. Empty. Nada. Zilch. One time I watched a tumbleweed cross the vast canyon my brain had become, with appropriately twangy music accompanying it. Kind of entertaining, honestly, but not helpful when I'm up on stage in front of people and they're expecting me to say something smart. We put you up there for a reason! You must squeeze SOMETHING of value from your brain that isn't a pun. (me: "…you really must not read my blog.")
My issue with this question is I always have such trite, unhelpful answers: "Put your butt in the chair and your fingers on the keys." "Write." "Read stuff you like. Try to write like that, if you want." Not every tip is going to work for every writer, and as somebody with hangups because of writing "reference" books I read in junior high and high school, I'm paranoid about being the inadvertent cause of somebody else's hangups. And yes, I'm aware that this is ridiculous: everybody is responsible for handling their own hangups. But it's a fear.
But something neat happened a few months back, and it made for a cool example I can use when talking about craft! So today, I'm writing about my favorite, favorite, favorite thing:
Character and Perspective
To preface this, a little about me: I have a pretty heavy arts background. I studied video production and German in college, have been writing since I was eleven, and if I'm bored, I'm usually reading fiction or playing in Photoshop. My day job1 is technical writing and editing at a firm that makes custom **mumble mumble** for some pretty awesome clients. As a result, I work primarily with engineers, who have such a different thought process in approach to things that I'm every day amazed by their brains.
Take my coworker, K. He's soft-spoken, always in a plaid shirt, jeans, and a gray hoodie. I work with him on electronics manuals. A few months ago, he came back to chat with my cubicle-mate and spotted something on my desk.
I have an old medium-format Ansco camera on my desk that a lot of the engineers enjoy poking at (it's a really cheap old box camera). K, however, immediately reaches for my insulator. His eyes light up. "Do you know how this works?" he asks.
"No, actually. All I know is that it's an insulator? For the top of power lines?"
K, normally a little antisocial and shy, comes to life as he explains how the insulator works, how the wires were wrapped around them to avoid touching the wood. He darts over to my whiteboard and draws the modern-day insulators used on the giant power lines, explaining the changes made and why they happened. There are more diagrams that follow. In the space of five minutes, I learn more about the little glass insulator sitting on my desk than I knew beforehand because K looked at a thing on a desk and saw the engineering marvels of it, and wanted to share about something he loved.
Now let me tell you about this insulator.
My grandpa worked for a few telecommunications companies out in California stringing up and fixing power lines.2 And as a result, he collected used insulators, whole milk crates full of them, in all colors and shapes. After he passed away, my grandma planned to get rid of them, so I asked if I could have one as a keepsake.
I picked one because, honestly, it resembles Darth Vader's helmet. We used to watch Star Wars at my grandparents' because they had the VHS tape and my brother adored it, and that's where my love for it began, but that didn't occur to me when I selected my insulator. I liked the color, I liked the fact that it was shaped like Darth Vader's helmet, I liked that it's labeled New York because I'd just moved back from Long Island, and it was a neat memento. And it's just a cool thing. My dad told me insulators were originally made at the end of the day in glass factories with whatever glass was leftover. They'd start out clear, but the sun would pick out the pigments of color in the glass and they usually wound up changing all different colors. Mine is a very pretty shade of green, but it's also got old bits of newspapers stuck to it, and dirt from my grandparents' house clustered in little pieces inside. I can see bubbles and imperfections both on the surface and inside the glass.
Nowadays, you can find these insulators at flea markets and antique stores, or repurposed into chandeliers and lighting fixtures. Mine sits on my desk among postcards from all over the world, geeky bobble-heads, and the really cool puzzle box my best friend bought me from Budapest. Little mementos that mean the world to me. The insulator is one of my favorite possessions. I look at it and I remember my grandfather. K looks at it and sees a technical marvel from bygone days. It's the same little shaped piece of glass, but it means very different things to each of us.
And that's something I feel that writers need to bring to their writing when tackling perspective. To really sell a character, we always say that we have to see the world from their eyes, but oftentimes I see this advice couched in broad terms. What are the philosophies? What does the character believe in? Favorite food? How does so and so feel about this other character?
All of these are good things to know! And you probably should know them at some point in your writing process, even if you may not necessarily use them. But the moments that make characters, for me, are the insulator moments. Those are the moments in the book that can absolutely dazzle. A character might look at something and see exactly the same thing I do, which I'll connect to because: samesies! Or they might look at an object and see something I would never consider, and now I'm intrigued and I've learned something about that character.
How and what a character chooses to focus on is important, especially with multiple points of view. For a while, I followed a serialized story that split every new installment in two: first you would see the scene from Character A and then from Character B. And in the hands of anybody but the best writer, this could get tedious. As it did with this story! If Character A picked up a cup of coffee in her version of the scene, Character B also noted the coffee. Character A's facial expressions were later remarked upon by Character B whenever Character A thought something significant. Sure, each character had individual thoughts, but they noticed the same things for the same reasons. Their names could have easily been swapped around and I wouldn't have noticed. And that's definitely a problem, unless you like reading the same scene twice with slightly different thoughts attached to the dialogue. If you do, have at it! Enjoy! But for me, like I said: tedious.
New POV must offer new, different perspective. That's what keeps books fresh and exciting, and makes characters really stand out. So if you're struggling with every single one of your POV characters sounding the same or same-ish, look for the insulators in their lives. I promise you, they're there, and those details will help you out.3
Anyway, that was just a fun little work example that occurred to me and I thought I would share it. Does anybody have, um, specific writing questions? I can either help out or point you in the direction of things people much smarter than me have said. If you need writing advice, really, though, here goes: Write. Put your butt in the chair. Read. Learn. Write more. Repeat. Boom.
PS - My grandpa, by the way. He was such a Dude. I miss him every day.
1 Yes it's true: writing doesn't pay the bills yet. Well, it pays, like, two bills. Small ones.
2 I grew up knowing that his job title was "Contractor" and because of that, I thought contractors were people that climbed the telephone poles and fixed them (boy, was I in for a surprise when I got older).
3 Provided they don't bog down the story, but when to include detail and when not to is a whooooooooole different blog post for another day. Which I will totally talk about if people want me to.
1. Gail's original last name was actually Petersen. It didn't change until I submitted the manuscript to Impulse during the open submission. It was between Godwin and Goodwin, and those choices were because I wanted her to have an alliterative name.
2. I picked Muncie IN as Gail's hometown because my best friend went to grad school there. I've spent a few weekends in Muncie. Sorry to residents, but I can see why Gail wanted to escape so badly.
3. Gail does have a backstory and a mom, but she doesn't think about them. I borrowed them from a now defunct series of mine. I don't think they'll ever show up in the series itself. My next series, however, I made the deliberate choice to have more than one mother as part of the picture, as nobody in SUPERHEROES ANONYMOUS seems to have actual parents.
4. Guy's original last name was Bookerton. I changed it because boogers. Enough said.
5. Jeremy was originally Jamie. I like Jamie Orcutt in SECRET SOCIETY GIRL too much to give him such a jerk of a name twin.
6. Guy's birthday is the same as another best friend's. It's October 28th. You can see all of the birthdays listed on the profiles I posted when SUPERVILLAINS ANONYMOUS came out.
7. Gail's hobbies in high school were working three jobs and playing softball. She's always been a workaholic and lacking in self-esteem, but damn if she can't knock you out with a beer bottle from 20 feet away if she should choose to.
9. I finished SUPERHEROES ANONYMOUS the day before Nikki was born.
10. Naomi Gunn was created on the second draft and replaced a reporter who only existed for one scene. She is biracial. Her mother is white and her father is black. If anybody in my series is truly Lois Lane's spiritual successor, it is her and not Gail, even though I describe the series as "Lois Lane becomes Supergirl."
11. Between drafts of SUPERHEROES ANONYMOUS, I amped up social media use by 300%. Portia and Naomi's texts are my favorite to write. Neither capitalizes. I hope I haven't driven my copy-editor or Maximus to drink.
12. There was originally a secret baby plot. I dumped this when I got rid of a character named Layla.
13. Spoiler: Kiki originally had Villain Syndrome. Cooper was going to be a fall guy and not the villain.
14. Writing Gail 'porting for the first time was terrifying because it meant I had to commit to her changing powers, which I wasn't 100% sold on.
15. Vicki's middle name is from the Babysitters Club. Kristy was my fave, but I liked Dawn because like me she'd just moved from CA to the east coast. North Carolina instead of Connecticut for me, and we moved because of Papa Dunne's work and not divorce. BUT IT STILL COUNTS. Babysitters Club actually remains a strong formative influence on my life. I brought it up at a panel at PHXCC.
16. Portia's powers were a very late addition and had me outright crying with laughter every time I wrote about them. She is, by the way, pansexual and she is not the only queer character in my series.
17. Kiki and Angélica were inspired by real people. "Kiki" has an identical twin. "Angélica" is a bodybuilder. You can't make this up.
18. My mental image for Eddie Davenport is always Aaron Eckart. You can blame Thank You for Smoking.
19. I wrote the first draft of SUPERHEROES ANONYMOUS while living in the Hamptons in the winter. You know what there is to do in the Hamptons in the winter? Absolutely nothing. Hence writing the book.
20. My working title for HOW TO SAVE THE WORLD was SUPERPOWERS ANONYMOUS. Not as great as SUPERHEROES ANONYMOUS 2: ELECTRIC POWERS BOOGALOO, which is probably took us several people and a lot of time to come up with the title. And yes, I'm sad that "Not a Guide" doesn't appear on the cover.
21. HOW TO SAVE THE WORLD is not a guide.
22. It is, however, available in e-format on October 4th and in mass market paperback on November 1st.
23. It's not Gail on the cover but Angélica. I figure with everything she's done to save Gail's butt, she deserves her own cover. Isn't she great? I love Angélica.
24. Pre-ordering gets you more SUPERHEROES ANONYMOUS the series.
25. All of my readers are fantastic people. It says so right here on my fact sheet.
Welcome to Tuesdays with Lexie, the feature where I invite other authors and/or interesting people onto the LexieCon to answer very important questions. Today's guest is a woman who happens to commit battery with breadsticks (limp ones, at that), and a good friend of mine. That's right, I nagged Beth Cato, author of the fantastic BREATH OF EARTH (out today), CLOCKWORK DAGGER, CLOCKWORK CROWN, and multitude of short stories and novellas (including WINGS OF SORROW AND BONE), into visiting.
It's steampunk alt history set in a 1906 San Francisco. The United States and Japan are allied as a world power and taking over China, and much of their steampunk military might arises from energy trapped by geomancy. Well, my heroine is Ingrid. She's a darn powerful geomancer, and women aren't supposed to inherit geomancy. When most of the city's geomancers are assassinated, she may be the only person who can hold back a major quake, but she's forced on the run to stay alive, too.
Obviously the 1906 earthquake was a real thing that really happened, and (slight spoiler) Teddy Roosevelt—or a variation thereof—is a character that’s obviously based on a real person (maybe; I’m not convinced he wasn’t a nationwide hallucination). Where’s the line on using a real person/real events in an alt-history like BREATH OF EARTH? For you personally, I mean, not for the entire world. Unless you want to give a firm directive for everybody to follow. I won’t seek to limit you.
Are there any absolutely fascinating tidbits that you’ve come across in your research that just didn’t make it into the book, that you want to share? It’s a safe space.
I think the fascinating bits that I haven't used have more to do with my hometown and Central California as a whole. I have read extensively about the Chinese experience in California around the start of the 20th century. It's ugly stuff, and it was completely ignored when I was in school. I found one bit that referenced my hometown newspaper in about 1893 posted an op-ed imploring the women of Kings County to learn to do their own laundry so that they didn't support the vile Chinese. I mean, wow. This is my same hometown that today is so proud that it still has its China Alley and Taoist Temple. That kind of thing feels personal for me, even though my grandparents' families didn't get there for a few more decades.
CLOCKWORK DAGGER and CLOCKWORK CROWN, is also based on actual historical events, but unlike BREATH OF EARTH, it takes place in a built-from-the-ground-up world. What was it like doing the worldbuilding between the two? Was it more or less difficult? And since I’m a sadist, which do you prefer overall?
The two worlds have their own unique challenges. CLOCKWORK DAGGER is inspired by the World War I era, but I made my own geography, my own history, my own cultures. That is freeing in a lot of ways. BREATH OF EARTH has the advantage/disadvantage of Earth and its full burden of history. Which is nice, because I can talk about familiar things--like reference the Bible and Shakespeare and Basho--but it also means there are endless ways I can muck everything up, too. Between the two, CLOCKWORK DAGGER is an easier world for me to write in--but I say that because I've lived in that space for years and I know it well. It was agony to create from scratch!
BREATH OF EARTH has a lot of different, intertwined magic systems that I don’t want to spoil, other than to say they’re all amazing. What was your inspiration for making it so wide-range and varied? Do you have a wall full of index cards and red string about how each magic system affects the other? And care to share any of your inspiration/where readers of this most esteemed blog could go to find out more information about any of them?
I think my initial inspiration for geomancy as an actual job comes from Final Fantasy Tactics, which is a classic strategy game using various magical and warrior classes from the Final Fantasy series. When I decided I wanted to write about the 1906 earthquake from a steampunk angle, I knew I had to use geomancy as the central magic because duh, earthquake. From there, it was the matter of asking a lot of practical questions. How could geomancy be a job? How would it be useful in the economy? How would someone train for this? Dull, gritty world-building stuff. Once I had that established, I began to develop the cooler aspects.
The other magic in the book wasn't quite so planned. I didn't intend to have healing magic at all because I explored that so deeply in CLOCKWORK DAGGER. Then as I wrote the BREATH OF EARTH rough draft, I needed to heal Ingrid, and suddenly Reiki became an integral part of the plot.
As for how I keep all of it straight, I type up Word documents for all elements of the world, including the magic. That's something my/our agent advised that I do when I first started on CLOCKWORK DAGGER and it's very helpful, especially as I am first figuring everything out.
I was stumped by this so I asked my husband. He helpfully suggested Airship McAirshipface. I love this man. I really do.
After giving this more thought, I think I would name the airship for my dream horse, a palomino Paso Fino named Golden Melody. I imagine the airship with have a copper-toned orichalcum gondola, so it would suit the craft well.
Your blog is the reason I will probably never go hungry again and ALSO the reason I am perpetually hungry. Are we going to ever see a science fiction baker from you? Or, more importantly, what would a science fiction baker protagonist bring to the table (other than awesome space bread)?
I HAVE ALREADY DONE THIS. BWA HA HA. Seriously, I had a short story in Nature Magazine last year that is all about the importance of baking for far-future humanity.
Are you going to be okay if I write Ghostbusters/Breath of Earth fanfiction about Fenris (aka my favorite forever and ever) and Holtzmann hanging out and being engineering bros?
I haven't seen the new Ghostbusters yet, but I have witnessed much love for Holtzmann and I think there would totally be chemistry there for Fenris. You have my blessing.
Speaking of Fenris, if his fanclub (of which I am President) were to get badges, what do you think we should put on them so we could recognize each other in public and know to perform the secret handshake? Also, any recommendations for the secret handshake? I'm thinking it's just grunting as we walk by in the middle of fixing things, and never making eye contact.
Well, Fenris isn't keen on physical contact. He has bad associations there. A grunt and a nod would probably work well as the "handshake" in this case. As for badges, Fenris would love it if badges depicted his beloved airship Palmetto Bug but it would need to be ABSOLUTELY ACCURATE or he would have a conniption fit.
Ingrid would grind Pokémon for candy or other goodies. She has a stubborn streak a mile wide. Cy would walk distances to get what he needed, especially if he were playing the game for someone he was devoted to. Ingrid would set up a naming system. She was a secretary, and any incompetence with organization would really bug her. Fenris wouldn't get Pokémon Go at all. He wants physical, tangible results for his labor... though he would probably watch over Ingrid and Cy's shoulders and offer lots of advice on how he would play the game in a much more efficient way.
If someone did fan art of my characters playing PokémonGO, I would love them forever.
|Corey Ralston Photography (2013)|
Beth Cato is the author of the Clockwork Dagger series from Harper Voyager, which includes her Nebula-nominated novella WINGS OF SORROW AND BONE. Her newest novel is BREATH OF EARTH. She’s a Hanford, California native transplanted to the Arizona desert, where she lives with her husband, son, and requisite cat. Follow her at BethCato.com and on Twitter at @BethCato.
When assassins kill the wardens, Ingrid and her mentor are protected by her incredible magic. But the pair is far from safe. Without its full force of guardian geomancers, the city is on the brink of a cataclysmic earthquake that will expose Earth’s powers to masterminds determined to control the energy for their own dark ends. The danger escalates when Chinese refugees, preparing to fight the encroaching American and Japanese, fracture the uneasy alliance between the Pacific allies, transforming the city into a veritable powder keg. And the slightest tremor will set it off…
Forced on the run, Ingrid makes some shocking discoveries about herself. Her powerful magic has grown even more fearsome…and she may be the fulcrum on which the balance of world power rests.
Buy BREATH OF EARTH: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Powells | Books A Million | Poisoned Pen
If you follow me on social media, you probably saw that my weekend tweets were not the nonsensical musings of a bored Lexie, but rather I DID STUFF. That’s right, on Saturday I drove across Missouri to Kansas City, home of my high school band trip. With a five minute stop and no construction, it’s a three hour and twenty minute drive—the perfect amount of time to listen to one podcast, two albums, and half of In The Heights. Mercifully, I arrived before any of the songs that make me cry could begin.
Kansas City was home to WorldCon or MidAmerica Con or whatever the real name is, and my original plans were to take some vacation from work and spend the week attending non-stop panels and readings. A closer look at my budget said that’s probably a bad idea, but I could swing a day trip. I packed an overnight bag in case a migraine or exhaustion hit, but the plan was to drive out in the morning and return in the evening, weary but satisfied.
First up was the Meet and Eat with Beth Cato and Becky Chambers, both of whom I got to hang out with at Phoenix Comicon and who are each the living embodiment of awesome. I may or may not have been late, but I still wore my FENRIS FAN CLUB PRESIDENT crown. They spoke about political messages in science fiction, the misconception that golden age scifi is apolitical, longevity, historical and technological accuracy, outlining, and a bunch of great subjects. Plus there was food, which my undergrad days taught me makes any event special.
While they signed books, I said hi to some author friends and got to meet others in person for the first time: Brooke Johnson (whom you may remember from last week’s Tuesdays with Lexie), Auston Habershaw (Bostonian with a Boston, the next level in Boston), Tina Gower (agency sibling! Soon we will rule the world), Becky’s wife Bea (who wins for “Best Last Name”), C. Stuart Hardwick, aaaaaaaand a writer whose name I can’t remember (which is terrible because I ended up having lunch with him, Tina, and Stuart). Hanging around after the event proved fortuitous, as I got to tag along on a tour of the library, which started life as a bank that could print money.
Keeping with the random, I tagged along with some others from the tour for lunch, where I learned more about short fiction writing (seriously, the people that can do that are wizards) and, interestingly enough, the Scientology writing contest my mom forbade me from entering in high school. God bless Yelp, which led us to a Mediterranean restaurant not far from the library and the convention.
Since I had a few hours before dinner, I headed up to the World War I Museum. I’ve written things that took place during the Great War, so it was neat on many levels to see facets of my research in person. Bonus: the museum’s not terribly expensive and the surrounding area is stunning (plus a lot of people were walking dogs nearby, and dogs always make my day).
You walk into the museum on a transparent floor about twenty feet over a field of poppies, which gave me a brief bout of vertigo, and the first thing you do is watch a short video about the tensions leading up to WWI, which did better at explaining the war than any of my history classes. The museum is split in two by another video that projects onto a giant screen over No Man’s Land, depicting the entry of the US into the war. The central wall is a textual timeline pre- and post-US entry, and you can wander in and out of sections that display uniforms and mess kits and things soldiers carried with them. Actual size renditions of trenches can be viewed by sticking your head into a foxhole and each little alcove contains its own niche about the different countries. I can see why it’s regarded as an excellent museum. I took a lot of pictures of things that I’m not going to share for reasons, but I can say that if I had a reason for visiting the museum, it was definitely satisfied.
After the museum, I wandered up to the memorial and spent a few minutes gazing upon the Kansas City skyline, a short rest before dinner. The tower is open to the public during the day, but after discovering in Prague that I don’t really like narrow, dark places, I elected to stay out in the sunlight. Unfortunately, somebody inside fell and the paramedics were called.
Dinner was an affair made interesting by the fact that 98 Degrees was performing a few hundred feet away, so there were a lot of people my age standing outside and that was a trip. At dinner, I was knighted with my own floppy bread scepter by Beth Cato, High Priestess of Churromancy, and I feel like if I ever win any awards, it won’t even come close to this feeling of limp euphoria. Jen and Mike (now #HusbandMike thanks to Twitter!) were at the convention and came to dinner with us, which was fantastic. Plus, I got to sit next to Bishop, one of my all-time favorite people in the writing world. I couldn’t hear a lot of what was going on thanks to the noise level, but gosh, I had so much fun. There’s a reason writers are the best people to have around, and that dinner proved it.
Unfortunately, either the food or the headlights gave me a migraine on my way home, a slight letdown to the end of the trip, but I spent yesterday napping and reading to make up for it. Still: calling Saturday a win and definitely worth even more than a migraine to see my friends.
Tomorrow: come back for my hilariously awesome interview with Beth. In the meantime, check out the Reading Log! I’ve added a couple new books that I think are splendid and you should read them ASAP.
I’m lazy and I don’t feel like coming up with an official blog post today. Right now, the Twittersphere is going nuts naming Seven Faves. Seven favorite movies, TV shows, series, episodes, seven first jobs, etc. etc. I participated in movies because I’m super-cool like that, and also I’m aware that a lot of people would consider my taste basic or silly. Yet I can’t bring myself to care. So the movies I listed:
1) Legally Blonde
In college, I had two majors: German and Video Production. Not a whole lot of crossover there, except for my European Film class (I wrote about The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and I still have a lot of feelings about German expressionistic film that I’m willing to unload on anybody equally willing to listen), and one of the hallmarks of being a video major was lying about all of the movies I’ve seen and haven’t seen. I can talk intelligently about so many movies I’ve never watched because they’re about subjects that never interested me (primarily: men, angry men, violent men, racism, sexism, men). So it used to be that I’d lie about my favorite movies and never say what my true favorite movie is. HOWEVER, those days are over, and it is indeed Legally Blonde and will likely remain Legally Blonde for a long, long time.
2) Ocean’s Eleven
Give me a good heist movie any day, and this one is top-notch, in my book. I don’t think either of the follow-ups worked just because they were trying to replicate a once-in-a-lifetime formula of that cheesy glamour that Vegas provides. I love every single character in this movie, I love the montages and the music, and how it’s not an action movie. A lot of movies want to put you right in the middle of the action and keep your heart beating, but the cinematography deliberately takes a step back and keeps you out of the protagonist’s shoes. It’s an excellent choice for characters that pull a heist in the film because it avoids the narrative cheating that comes along with a lot of plot twists. These characters are conmen. We see them when they aren’t being observed, but there’s enough of a distance that it doesn’t feel like we were lied to, also.
Needs more women. THANKFULLY WE’RE GETTING A FEMALE REBOOT.
3) Shawshank Redemption
My next door neighbor, the first friend I made when my family moved during my high school years, adored this movie and I watched it with her a few times. It’s only in the past five years moved onto my all-time favorites list. I like how the prison itself is a character in the film. And I love Morgan Freeman’s entire character arc and the use of the voice over.
Needs more women.
We quote Mushu DAILY.
5) Jupiter Ascending
I don’t care if you don’t like this movie. I love this movie. I went to see it by myself in theaters while I was struggling with anxiety over SUPERVILLAINS ANONYMOUS (I’d never written a direct sequel before, it was a book that was almost an entirely new genre from SUPERHEROES ANONYMOUS, there were a lot of big pay-offs I wasn’t sure I was equipped to handle). And for over two hours, in that theater, I saw a movie that had been made precisely for me. It was like every book I’ve ever wanted to write, come to life. It had the kickass heroine who was allowed to fail, it had wonder and a gorgeous aesthetic, and a battle that the main character could fight without being overwhelmed. A lot of people asked “Is this how teen boys feel when they see action movies?” Because that was how I felt, for the first time. This was a movie for me.
And I went home from that movie, sat down at my computer, and beat the ever-loving tar out of my writer’s block. That movie and the feelings it inspired got me through the rest of that damn book.
6) Galaxy Quest
We ALSO quote this movie daily. It is my favorite Star Trek movie.
7) Ghostbusters (2016)
I included this one on the list to piss everybody off, but it’s true. I like the older Ghostbusters, but there’s some seriously gross shit in that film that turns my stomach. This, however, was a movie I grinned all the way through. I like the characters, I love the dialogue, there was just the right amount of nostalgia, and most importantly: this movie is fun without dragging me down with other problems, and that’s really all I need from a film.
So that's my list. I guess this is the part where I say "Come at me, bro." But you're not gonna change my mind so maybe go read a book instead. And review it! Because authors like nice things like food and shelter.
Next week I've got an interview with Beth Cato and maybe something about my possible trip to Kansas City this weekend! Until then, stay sexy!
Welcome to the first installment of Tuesdays with Lexie, a series where I talk to people that I find interesting and ask them
Obligatory Tell Us About Your Book, Brooke! *shiny plastic smile here*:
The Guild Conspiracy continues the story of Petra Wade, self-taught clockwork engineer, as she tries to stop the conspiracy she uncovered in the first book, The Brass Giant. The British Empire is on the brink of war with the anti-imperialist French, and she’s determined to do whatever it takes to prevent it—even going so far as committing treason to keep the conflict at bay. Throw in the complications of a long-distance boyfriend, the excitement of an underground mechanical fight ring, and the watchful eye of a Royal Forces soldier, and Petra has more than enough to contend with in this book.
THE GUILD CONSPIRACY is your first full sequel in this series, though there’s a spin-off novella (THE MECHANICAL THEATER, starring Petra’s older brother Solomon) available for readers as well. What challenges did you face when coming up with a sequel? And what surprised you the most?
Really, the hardest part was coming up with a compelling plot, a high-stakes conflict to top what happened in the first book. I went through several different outline revisions before settling on the final plot. I wanted something new, something different enough that it wouldn’t feel like the same plot as the first book, but something familiar enough that people who enjoyed the first book would hopefully enjoy the sequel. And I think that’s where I ran into the most trouble. I was very reader-conscious when I wrote this book. The Brass Giant, I wrote for me, to see if I could write steampunk. The Guild Conspiracy, however, I wrote for literally everyone but me. So that was crippling at times, constantly thinking of how it would be received, instead of just writing the damn thing. But I got through it. Eventually. And with an acceptable degree of sobbing.
As for surprises, I did not expect to hardcore ship a certain pair of characters like I did. In my outline, there was not going to be a romance in this book. Then suddenly, there was a romance subplot. When I had these two characters on the same page, I could not help but want to shove them together and make them kiss. I fought it. I cut every single iteration of romance. I put it back in. I scaled it back. Removed it. Revised it. The final result is very different from any of the early drafts I conceived, and I only came to a decision on how exactly to resolve things after a long talk with my editor. A good surprise, at least. :)
Oh, this is tough, but if I have to choose… I’d say Rupert, the best friend character introduced in The Guild Conspiracy. He’s just that steadfast, really thoughtful kind of friend who will always be there for you no matter what kind of shit goes down—even if it means helping your best friend to commit treason. He’s the kind of friend you call when you have a dead body and need someplace to bury it, the friend who shows up with a shovel at 3:00 am, no questions asked. That guy. Everyone needs a Rupert.
You’re a hybrid author, publishing both indie and through Harper Voyager Impulse. Everybody can read your DARK LORD IN TRAINING series free on Wattpad (Note to my readers: you should do that immediately, the premise is hilarious and charming). Do you find that there’s a lot of crossover between the two? Are there different skillsets you need to bring for each?
I started with self-publishing, so I have a soft spot for the DIY attitude that comes with going indie. As far as crossover, the writing is the same. I put just as much thought and attention into both when it comes to writing the actual story and trying to entertain my readers. The biggest difference is that I very much go solo with my indie stuff. Some people prefer to hire editors and cover designers and ebook formatting services and publicists. I don’t, so all of those tasks fall to me. Whereas with my traditional stuff, all of those things go to the art department and a team of editors, so that I can focus on whether or not my sales rankings have moved since yesterday. There’s a lot more work involved in self-publishing, but really, for me, the biggest difference comes down to the format. With Dark Lord in Training, I’m writing the story one chapter at a time, (irregularly) posting each chapter as I finish it. That’s a challenge in itself, very different from writing a first draft, editing the whole thing twelve times over, and then publishing a novel in its entirety. And being able to get instant reader feedback is something you just don’t get whenever your chest-deep in your second round of edits and can’t figure out what words are anymore.
What would you name your own personal airship?
Probably something containing “pickle” or “turnip”. I don’t know why. They’re funny words. I like them.
The Indomitable Turnip.
For somebody looking to read steampunk for the first time, where would you recommend starting?
Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan series. That’s where I started, and I recommend it to anyone and everyone looking to get into steampunk. If you’re already a big fan of romance-driven young adult or paranormal romance, then I’d recommend Cassandra Clare’s Infernal Devices series, starting with The Clockwork Angel. For urban fantasy readers, Viola Carr’s Electric Empire series, starting with The Diabolical Miss Hyde.
Most important question of all: walk me through the strategies your characters would employ when playing D&D. Is there a min-maxer? Who’s the drunk bard? Does anybody accidentally derail the campaign?
Oh man… okay:
So, Emmerich would be totally into it. He’s the guy who spends three hours building his character and figuring out just how to roleplay properly without being too annoying. He’s the one who brings props, plays in costume, and talks in a weird faux-medieval accent during each game session. He plays the studious wizard who multiclasses into bard.
Petra would be the min-maxer, analyzing the rules and gameplay in order to make the most overpowered character possible. She’s the one who would always be trying to “win” against the other players, despite being told numerous times that the game doesn’t work that way. She’s the fighter, duel wielding swords.
Braith would be the rules lawyer, keeping Petra in check and letting Emmerich do whatever the hell he wants because he doesn’t try to abuse the game. He’s always looking stuff up in the player’s handbook to make sure that everyone is playing their characters right. Braith ends up as the dungeon master.
Rupert is the tagalong friend who comes to hang out but doesn’t really care to learn the rules, so Emmerich tries to make him a character because he just loves making characters, but it’s way too complicated to play well, so Braith steps in and gives him the simplest character possible. Petra takes over and helps him max out his stats. Rupert ends up landing the killing blow in his first epic battle and starts to actually get invested in the game, and afterward, he ends up veering the group on the weirdest side quests because he still doesn’t really know how to follow a quest line from beginning to end. Also, it’s fun wrecking Braith’s carefully laid plans and forcing him to go off-book. He plays the curious, yet deadly accurate ranger.
Yancy is the guy who always plays the rakish swashbuckling rogue, drinks and flirts too much in-game, and pretends not to care about the game at all, but secretly he loves it.
And Selby is the guy that got dragged into the group because they needed a fifth. He thinks Braith is a terrible dungeon master, he constantly gets into fights with Petra over who should be the leader of the group, he finds Emmerich’s roleplaying annoying, and he can’t stand Rupert’s complete and total obliviousness of the rules of the game. But he still comes to every session because he doesn’t want to be left out and hear about all of their crazy shenanigans after the fact. Begrudgingly, he enjoys it. He plays the high and mighty paladin of the group.
In the face of impossible odds, can one girl stem the tides of war?
It has been six months since clockwork engineer Petra Wade destroyed an automaton designed for battle, narrowly escaping with her life. But her troubles are far from over. Her partner on the project, Emmerich Goss, has been sent away to France, and his father, Julian, is still determined that a war machine will be built. Forced to create a new device, Petra subtly sabotages the design in the hopes of delaying the war, but sabotage like this isn’t just risky: it’s treason. And with a soldier, Braith, assigned to watch her every move, it may not be long before Julian finds out what she’s done.
Now she just has to survive long enough to find another way to stop the war before her sabotage is discovered and she’s sentenced to hang for crimes against the empire. But Julian’s plans go far deeper than she ever realized … war is on the horizon, and it will take everything Petra has to stop it in this fast-paced, thrilling sequel to The Brass Giant.
Buy THE GUILD CONSPIRACY: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | iTunes | Google Play | Harper Collins
Dunne. Lexie Dunne.
Author of the SUPERHEROES ANONYMOUS books. Certified nerd. Pre-order your copy of HOW TO SAVE THE WORLD now!
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Chapter 1 | Chapter 2
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Chapter: One | Two | Three
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