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“The Glass Galago” cover reveal and exploring the monstrous

Posted on November 6, 2015 by

"The Glass Galago"

“The Glass Galago”

On Wednesday in Saratoga Springs I got to see three variations of this spectacular cover for “The Glass Galago,” which is the third* of The Gales and which will be out in a couple months. Irene Gallo showed me this lush and beautiful Richard Anderson image, and I squealed like a little child newly in possession of all the ice cream.

*The first two Gales are Among the Silvering Herd and The Ugly Woman of Castello di Putti.

I am sitting in the hotel room in Saratoga Springs as I write this, checking my UCLA classrooms and talking with my students about what makes a person or non-human character monstrous. They’re asking: is the monstrous always just about making someone Other? Some might say any ordinary person with a defective moral compass–your classic heartless killer or other all-too-human predator– can be a monster. And in non-fiction, that scans for me. If a journalist wants to call Charles Manson a monster, I’m not going to quibble.

In fiction, my taste runs to the more than human monsters. I like for them to have a whiff of the transcendent. In the above series of stories, Gale Feliachild occasionally regards Captain Garland Parrish as monstrous, even though he’s not even remotely evil. He’s overly blessed by nature, you see: impossibly handsome, exceedingly graceful, and good at almost everything he turns his mind to. It’s just about too much. He’s good, but he can easily be jealousy-inducing. We all know people like this: coveting their good fortune makes us feel small, and it’s hard not to blame them.

The current TV version of Hannibal Lecter has an intense aestheticism and is so robustly athletic that he’s as hard to kill as The Terminator.  Some of his qualities are appealing–his love is so pure!–and that makes his compulsion to kill and eat the rude all the more awful. And the fact that we can empathize with the idea of quelling the rude, neglectful and genuinely awful people we run across from time to time actually increases the effect… it invites us to consider whether we might not condone more than we should.

Linda Nagata gets her Heroine on the prairie

Posted on November 4, 2015 by

LindaNagataLinda Nagata is a Nebula and Locus-award-winning science fiction and fantasy author whose more recent work includes short fiction like “Nahiku West,” runner up for the 2013 Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, and the novel The Red: First Light, a near-future military thriller that was a finalist for both the Nebula Award and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. Originally self-published, The Red: First Light is now available from Saga Press/Simon & Schuster, along with its sequel The Trials, and the concluding volume of the trilogy, Going Dark.

Linda has spent most of her life in Hawaii, where she’s been a writer, a mom, and a programmer of database-driven websites. She lives with her husband in their long-time home on the island of Maui.

Is there a literary heroine on whom you imprinted as a child? A first love, a person you wanted to become as an adult, a heroic girl or woman you pretended to be on the playground at recess? Who was she?

So many details of childhood have faded into the mists of time, but one literary heroine I clearly remember is Laura Ingalls Wilder. I loved the Little House on the Prairie books and read every volume our library had on the shelf. These were adventure stories, telling of a life alien to me but one that I could understand—and I’m still drawn to adventure stories.

But I didn’t dream of being Laura. Though the Little House books were based on real life, it was another real-life woman who truly captured my young imagination.

On the pages of National Geographic and in Time/Life nature books I read about the biologist Jane Goodall and her work studying chimpanzees in their natural habitat—living in the rainforest and becoming accepted by these creatures that were so much like us but so different. That, I decided, was what I wanted to do as an adult. And while I ultimately went in a different direction, Jane Goodall’s presence in my imagination surely encouraged an interest in biology and natural history that I still possess.

Can you remember what it was she did or what qualities she had that captured your affections and your imagination so strongly?

The things that most appealed to me as a young girl were exploration, adventure, living in the wild, and animals—animals of all sorts. Our family had the usual dogs, cats, birds, fish, and briefly, horses. I dreamed of more exotic pets. I even had a little book on capturing wild creatures and keeping them as pets. That’s not something I would encourage these days, but it was fun to contemplate at the time. I even set a few live traps, though I never managed to capture a rabbit. Anyway, I was in love with nature and the natural world (still am), and in addition, an interest in science was strongly encouraged in our home.

Enter Jane Goodall: a fiercely intelligent young woman, quiet and soft-spoken, but still daring to go out into the wild, into this beautiful forest, to do Amazing Science, interacting with chimpanzees in their natural environment. It triggered all my checkboxes and I was soon telling people that I was going to be a primatologist.

Really.

I wonder sometimes if I grew up in an alternate reality. I hear other women my age tell of how they were discouraged from pursuing nontraditional interests, but that was never the case for me. My family, and my father in particular, encouraged all kinds of intellectual interests, and I grew up in a changing world, where I was very aware that women like Jane Goodall existed, and that many things were possible.

How does she compare to the female characters in your work? Is she their literary ancestor? Do they rebel against all she stands for? What might your creations owe her?

I’ve never considered this before, but I think a good argument can be made that Jane is a literary ancestor of some of my characters. Determined, independent, finding her own path, taking her own approach. I like to write about women characters with those traits—women who are confident in their own abilities.

Bonus round: How do you feel about the word heroine?

I’m fine with it. I’ll admit that being a woman often feels like a drawback, especially given the sorts of books I like to write—action adventure that is not focused on traditional “women’s issues” (as if women have a limited range of interests!). Still. I’d rather see the feminine accepted and respected, than erased. Granted, some feminized nouns sound a bit archaic, but “heroine” works for me.

About this post: The Heroine Question is my name for a series of short interviews with female writers about their favorite characters and literary influences. Clicking the link will allow you to browse all the other interviews, with awesome people like Kay Kenyon, Louise Marley, Juliet McKenna, and Alex Bledsoe. If you prefer something more in the way of an actual index, it’s here.

The Hairy Logistics of Workshopping a Novel

Posted on November 2, 2015 by

Alyx portrait 2014 smallOne of my online students asked today how novels get workshopped in the real world. It’s a question with several dimensions. It references novels as opposed to short stories, and also raises the issue of face to face workshops versus the online kind. The real heart of this question, it seems to me, is “How does a group workshop a bunch of works that are probably all over 75K words long?”

I’ll home in on that, but first let’s glance past the side issues:

ONLINE VERSUS FACE TO FACE: The logistics of finding like-minded novelists to work with make it probable that any novel workshop you do find will have an online component. Unless you live in a big city and know a fair number of other writers,the pool of people available to you will be so much bigger if you expand it to include, you know, the whole Internet.

Face to face workshops have an immediacy that e-mail can’t match, but this is perhaps beginning to be a moot point in the age of Google Hangouts and similar conferencing software. If you want to talk through a manuscript and your computer’s not ancient, you can meet in realtime. It’s really about what you want.

Both types of feedback–written and face to face–can be crucial to a project’s development as long as the critiques are good and the writer is ready to listen. Your mileage may vary, but I believe the magic is in the people, not the delivery system.

SHORT FICTION VERSUS NOVELS: Short fiction, in workshop terms, has an awesome advantage over novels. It’s short! My UCLA classes run ten weeks and can have as many as fifteen students. Even if each student came in with a slender tome, (say 50K words or 200 pages) a whole-novel workshop would be looking at reading 3000 pages of manuscript. That’s just reading, and doesn’t consider the feedback! I wrote 8,700 words of critique last week on nine short submissions, and that excludes follow-up discussion.

A usual strategy is to submit a manageable section of a novel instead. Everyone gets a more or less equal chance to show off part of their novel. This highlights the other advantage of a short fiction workshop–writers can submitting whole pieces. We can evaluate them from start to stop; all their cards are revealed. If someone says “I don’t like the decision Proto makes here,” you don’t find yourself crying in your beer because it all makes sense in the next chapter.

LOGISTICS OF WORKSHOPPING NOVELS

So, how do you workshop novels? There are probably a billion strategies, and I’m open to hearing them all, but here are the three main tactics:

–Workshopping an already finished novel in its entirety.
–Workshopping a finished novel in parts.
–Workshopping a WIP (work in progress) in parts.

WHOLE FINISHED BOOKS: If you have a book done, you can look for readers who have time and the inclination to read it all. This generally isn’t going to be a 15-person workshop, but rather a handful of trusted readers to whom you’re going to owe the same favor. And, unless you set a reading deadline and then convene a meeting (at your house, a convivial restaurant, or online) the feedback is likely to come in a one-on-one format, via e-mail. This is just as it would come from an agent or editor, which may have some useful features… but it doesn’t allow the ferment that comes from discussion, give and take, agree and disagree.

The obvious advantage here is that the work is critiqued as a piece. You get feedback on the whole thing. Your set-up, character arcs, and whether you stuck the ending can all be evaluated, because–as with a short story–the readers have everything they need.

The possible downside is that you’re going to get one take from each reader… you’re hardly going to ask them to take a second run at the rewrite in six months’ time!

Getting a finished novel read after it’s drafted keeps the critique process from sabotaging your momentum, though, or tempting you to stray from the path you’ve set for the story. This is crucial for many writers. Then again, if you do conclude from the feedback on the early chapters that you’ve taken your characters in a bad direction, there’s that much more to rewrite if the other 450 pages have already been put to bed.

FINISHED BOOKS, IN PIECES: This may, for some, offer the best of both worlds. It assumes you have access to or can build a workshop with some kind of rotating roster, and you submit pieces of the completed draft of your book, in order, at regular intervals. You get feedback on Chapters 1-3, for example, and as you rewrite them you turn in Chapters 4-6. All the while, you’re reading and critiquing works by your peers.

The possible disadvantages here are that this sort of thing requires a certain amount of organizational discipline from the workshop, a group that sticks to its commitments and its schedule.It might also take longer than you’d like. People inevitably forget major chunks of chapters 1-3 by the time they reach 9-12. However, it may represent a lighter workload for a larger group–thus garnering more feedback– and be more generally do-able.

UNFINISHED BOOK AS YOU GO: This is the mode for most of the novel writing courses I teach at the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program, and it has a lot going for it. Writers get an immediate sense of what people like about the book, and a chance to rethink the elements that aren’t working before those elements get embedded too deeply into the book’s structure. Everyone is drafting madly, so the emphasis can be on big picture stuff rather than the fine details of prose and polish. And if you get someone on board with a story element they weren’t buying in an earlier round of critique, you know you’ve addressed a problem. That can be a great feeling.

A chief drawback with this kind of critique process is that sometimes the drafting stage of a book is a delicate time, and too much feedback during this early exploration of a story can disrupt a writer’s momentum, causing them to go back and rewrite their beginning over and over, or to abandon the project entirely.

Novels are big investments of time and emotion, and as such they come with big risks. Figuring out how to get decent feedback for yourself and for a particular project, at any given time, can be a genuinely tricky business. This post is long because it’s a complex question with no single right answer.

The best advice I can give you, therefore, is to get to know other writers who are in the same stage of artistic development as yourself. When you meet someone in a class or at a con who really gets your work, bend over backwards to give them amazing feedback on theirs, and work to stay connected. As you build a network of writers you trust and admire, your resources for structuring a workshop you can use will increase.

Sean Williams calls out Pern in the Heroine Question

Posted on October 28, 2015 by

Sean Williams, photo by James Braund

Sean Williams, photo by James Braund

Sean Williams is an award-winning, #1 New York Times-bestselling author of over forty novels and one hundred stories, including some set in the Star Wars and Doctor Who universes. His latest is Hollowgirl, the final book in his Twinmaker trilogy. He lives just up the road from the best chocolate factory in Australia with his family and a pet plastic fish.

Is there a literary heroine on whom you imprinted as a child? A first love, a person you wanted to become as an adult, a heroic girl or woman you pretended to be on the playground at recess?

As a young boy who wasn’t into sports or fighting, I struggled to identify with many of the male leads in the science fiction and fantasy novels I loved. It was always a treat, therefore, to encounter women in fiction who stood out from the norm, women like Tenar in The Tombs of Atuan, Teela from Ringworld, and Lessa from many wonderful Pern books. I was tempted to pick one of them in answer to this question in order to then speculate as to whether I would regard them with such awe now, after many subsequent years reading through a much wider library than was available to me back then. The truth, though, is that the heroine who immediately came to mind, and who has had the greatest influence on my life, on and off the page, is one of Anne McCaffery’s lesser known characters: Sharra of Southern Hold.

Can you remember what it was she did or what qualities she had that captured your affections and your imagination so strongly?

I know exactly why she made such a big impression on me. Sharra’s not a major character in the early Pern books. She doesn’t appear at all until The White Dragon, and even then she largely plays against the main character, who she later marries. But she made a big impression, at least on me. She’s described as “not pretty”, with irregular features, a long nose and a chin that is “a shade too firm for beauty”, yet she has many other attractive qualities, and not just her voice. She is an accomplished Healer, which later leads her into the sciences and the annihilation of her world’s greatest biological threat. Curiosity and a keen wit makes her a smart operator of the people around her, including her husband. I admired her for her brains and for not being one of the beautiful people. That doesn’t stop her from needing to be rescued pretty soon after we meet her, but you can’t have everything, alas.

How does she compare to the female characters in your work? Is she their literary ancestor? Do they rebel against all she stands for? What might your creations owe her?

Sharra rebels against her family to do what’s right, and uses her brain as well as her heart to determine what “right” might be. My female leads (and I love writing female leads) are always trying to find that same balance between gut and intellect. This is nothing new, of course, but I do think of Sharra when I approach their particular issues. Clair, the main character of my Twinmaker series, is constantly struggling between the mismatch between means and ends. Intending sincerely to do the right thing doesn’t mean you won’t accidentally destroy the world, because no one’s superhuman. Everyone’s imperfect.

The idea of imperfection is important to me, too. That’s the story engine at the heart of Twinmaker–the idea that “improvement” is automatically a good thing. Erasing imperfection, to my mind, erases identity and uniqueness in all facets of life and art. When I said earlier that Sharra influenced me off the page and on, I was referring to a line I’ve used often: that she gave me my love of women with interesting noses. Bordering on facile, but there’s a grain of truth to it. Buff blokes blowing up the bad guys are as tedious as their perfect peril princesses. I like my characters and my friends to be imperfect, entertainingly flawed, beautifully real.

About this post: The Heroine Question is my name for a series of short interviews with female writers about their favorite characters and literary influences. Clicking the link will allow you to browse all the other interviews, with awesome people like Kay Kenyon, Louise Marley, Juliet McKenna, and Alex Bledsoe. If you prefer something more in the way of an actual index, it’s here.

Child of a Hidden Sea $2.99 ebook and things you can win!

Posted on October 27, 2015 by

By way of a tasty appetizer for the release of ​A Daughter of No Nation, my marvelous publisher Tor Books has put the e-book edition of ​Child of a Hidden Sea on sale in all digital formats: Kindle, iBook, B&N Nook, Kobo and Google Play. Feel like spreading the word? Here’s a Tweet:

A second appetizer course will be coming your way shortly, in the form of an excerpt from the new book, which will be out December 1st.

Meanwhile, don’t forget that Goodreads giveaway. The odds are currently about one in a hundred for you to be one of five lucky winners who’ll get advance copies of the novel. And I’m running a contest for a copy of your choice of my first three novels. You can still get in on both draws- details are here!