Monthly Archives: June 2014

The community of the highlight

It’s always sort of an interesting experience when I’m reading something on my Kindle app and I run into one of those20140628-134344-49424122.jpg passages where the app marks it for you and lets you know how many other people have highlighted it. It’s interesting to me because sometimes I agree that it’s highlight-worthy, and I enjoy musing on the reasons for my agreement or lack thereof, but also because it’s a moment where what’s usually a relatively solitary experience – sitting somewhere and reading – becomes deeply communal.

We often do experience books among and with others, now. We talk about them on Twitter, on Tumblr, on book blogs, on review sites. We talk about what we love and we critique what we didn’t. We share recommendations and we offer warnings regarding what’s to be avoided for whatever reason. The web provides so many sites for conversation about what we’re reading.

But then there are the moments where we’re immersed, just us alone lost in the world of a book, and suddenly other people are there with us. I see what others found noteworthy. I no longer experience the passage in isolation from the thoughts of others. It changes the way I read and think about what I’m reading.

Probably some people would find this intrusive, but I like it, these little snatches of the experience of community in the midst of being mentally by myself. It’s like we’re passing each other on a road through beautiful countryside, and we exchange a wave. Hello, how are you? Fine day, isn’t this lovely? Well, I’ll be seeing you. Take care. I don’t know their names; I don’t know anything about them except for the fact that we were, for a time, traveling the same road.

And I don’t require company. But it’s nice to know that I’m not alone.

RAVENFALL excerpt: Chapter 1

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As promised, here’s the first chapter of Ravenfall, free to read.

The Story So Far, by way of the back cover blurb:

In exile from her home and her people, Turn – once Crow and psychopomp-in-training – is living among the mysterious Ravens, a people steeped in magic and forgotten history. Despite a period of relative peace, Turn is restless and struggling to find her place among her adopted tribe. Complicating things are her feelings for her friend and companion Ava, which are both changing and intensifying. And of course, peace can’t last. Unexpectedly, an old friend appears bearing bad tidings, and the Ravens are faced with a choice between fight or flight. But the choice may not be as clear as it appears, and Turn suspects it may be informed by an influence that means to destroy them.

The lost tribe of the Moravici, supposedly stripped of power, are not as dead as they seemed, and are extending tentacles of control and dark coercion into places Turn didn’t believe possible. The Crows, convinced that the Ravens pose a lethal threat, are preparing to make war. In Sol, the world of the living, the dead are rising, and they have an appetite for flesh. The Ravens are arguing among themselves, unable to take action. Despairing, Turn sees little hope of saving anyone.

But of course, help can come from the unlikeliest of places. The question is what price it will demand.

Click the cut for excerpty goodness. And if you like what you read, please add on Goodreads. And buy. And if you buy, it’s always amazing if you review anywhere you like. I pretty much depend on word-of-mouth, so any help there is so appreciated.

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Win a paperback-ebook bundle of A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE FUTURE

I’m already doing a Goodreads giveaway for my essay collection over here, future_cover_final copy2but obviously not everyone is a Goodreads member, so I wanted to give those people a shot too. Enter below to win a signed copy of the trade paperback of A Brief History of the Future, plus the ebook in your choice of format. I got my galley proof of the paperback today and except for a few very minor formatting tweaks, it looks pretty great. Am pleased.

Long story short: GIVE ME CONTACT INFO, GET FREE BOOK MAYBE

I’ll draw a winner on July 1st, when the book gets released.

Writing RAVENFALL: Gender, pronouns, and creating the character of Ava

Those of you who have read Crowflight will have met Ava, the Raven who saves Turn from starvation and an infected wound after she’s exiled into the Shadowlands. In Ravenfall, Turn’s relationship with Ava deepens, and the two of them take a journey that forces them to depend on each other in entirely new ways. By the end of the book, they’re closer than ever, and in Rookwar I’m happy to report that Ava is taking center stage in ways they haven’t before, mostly by virtue of their own demands to be allowed to do so.

Ava is an interesting character, at least to me. They’re strange, and for a while they were entirely mysterious to me. When I wrote Crowflight I knew I needed a character to act as Turn’s guide to the Ravens as a people and a culture; Line and Orbit had taught me that as Adam came to understand the Bideshi with the help of Kae and Lochlan. When you’re introducing both the protagonist and the reader to a new world within the world of the story, such a guide-character is not necessary but often very helpful.

So at first that was what Ava was there to do. But as Turn learned about them, I learned about them too. Or rather, I learned what I didn’t know about them, and how much of what I did know was somewhat contradictory.

I have no idea how old Ava is. They haven’t told me, so they haven’t told Turn, either. Ava is definitely older than Turn, and may in fact be quite a lot older, though I don’t think Ava is elderly. They aren’t elderly in any physically recognizable way; they’re slender to the point of serious thinness, but they’re extremely strong. Their face is essentially ageless, unlined but not at all young. They’re wise, but they tend to keep out of the way of any political or social power – perhaps because of that wisdom. They’re familiar with Raven blood magic, but don’t specialize in it particularly. They’re a skilled warrior, but prefer not to fight at all, and what role they’ve played in past conflicts is unclear. They’re devoted to the service of the goddess Atropos, but not especially devout or mystical, at least not any more than any other Raven.

They’re also devoted to Turn, but their other intense relationships – if any – remain a mystery. I know almost nothing about their parentage, their personal history, or their motivations before Turn came along.

Which isn’t to say I don’t know anything about their actual character. Slowly, as they’ve revealed their personality to Turn, they’ve revealed themselves to me. Ava is quiet, practical, but capable of intense emotion and possessed of deep convictions. They tend to be naturally skeptical, and to depend on little without evidence. From what I’ve observed of the way I write them, they’ve always been something of an outsider within the already-outsider Ravens, preferring to keep to the margins and make their own decisions independently of the group. Turn met Ava when Ava was camped some distance from the rest of their group; my sense is that Ava often did that before meeting Turn, retiring to the wilderness away from the primary encampment to engage in solitary meditation.

But on Turn’s arrival, Ava gained a kind of anchor. Ava was drawn to her instantly and provided Turn with not only a guide but also a companion at a time when Turn badly needed one. I think Ava was ready for one as well, after so much time spent alone. Now Ava serves as Turn’s companion and friend, as well as advisor of a kind. Turn is still quite young, barely out of her teens, and she needs one.

And then there’s the issue of gender. As soon as Ava made themselves known, my general sense was that they were a woman, but that quickly changed, and I realized that it made a lot of sense to write Ava as genderqueer/non-binary, which I’d been wanting to do with a character for a while. There is no place for non-binary people in Crow culture, but there is among the Ravens, who are both more and less bound by traditions (sharp-eyed readers may pick up some similarities between them and the Bideshi, some of which were consciously inserted and some of which were not). That means there’s a bit of a learning curve for Turn, and for a time she thinks of Ava using binary pronouns, which Ava allows.

But I knew pretty early on that I wanted to eventually go with the singular they, and I wanted to Turn to end up there as well. Some of it that was personal – I prefer that pronoun for myself, and it irritates me how much resistance there is to it, as well as to other non-binary pronouns – but some of it was also that I just wanted to see what would happen to the way I wrote if I abandoned binary writing with a character.

And interestingly enough, what happened was that Ava finally felt able to start asserting themselves not only as a secondary character but as a co-protagonist, which they pretty much are at this point. The simple adoption of a different kind of pronoun made a character come alive for me in a way they hadn’t before. The moment in Crowflight where Turn stops thinking of Ava as she and starts thinking of them as they was a major turning point for me as the author. From then on, writing Ava felt different.

Incidentally, she is simply what Ava offers as a pronoun for Turn to use, not one at which Turn arrives herself. Ava’s reasons for doing that are unclear to me, aside from graciously looking for a way to make Turn more comfortable while she settled into the idea of a non-binary person. Ava certainly doesn’t identify as she any more than they identify as he.

So what Ava taught me – among other things – is that pronouns matter a lot in writing a character, and playing with gender in a story can make an enormous difference in the end to how a character feels and lives and acts through an author. They also taught me that I could write characters like this, that I didn’t have to be afraid of it just because not many other people are doing it (though I’m so happy to see that it’s becoming less uncommon). I could open my fictional worlds up to people who are more like me, and while that might be obvious to some people, it’s also easier for some people, and it was liberating when I really started to internalize that.

So Ava’s important, and what they taught me has been important. I’m not sure what state they’ll be in at the end of Rookwar. But whatever happens between now and then, I’m grateful.

Later this week/early next week I’ll be posting the first chapter of Ravenfall, so watch for that.

 

Here’s the RAVENFALL cover and I love it

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LOOK AT IT

When we last left Turn, Psychopomp-in-training and now exile from the Crows, she was living among the mysterious Ravens, a people steeped in magic and forgotten history. For a time there’s been peace, but Turn is restless and struggling to find her place, as well as confronting her feelings for her friend and companion Ava, which are both changing and intensifying. And of course, peace can’t last. An old friend appears unexpectedly with bad tidings, and the Ravens are faced with a choice between fight or flight. But the choice may not be as clear as it appears, and Turn suspects it may be informed by an influence that means to destroy them.

The lost tribe of the Moravici, supposedly stripped of power, are not as dead as they seemed, and are extending tentacles of control and dark coercion into places Turn didn’t believe possible. The Crows, convinced that the Ravens pose a lethal threat, are preparing to make war. In Sol, the world of the living, the dead are rising, and they have an appetite for flesh. The Ravens are arguing among themselves, unable to take action. Turn faces despair everywhere she looks, and little hope of saving anyone.

In short, everything kind of sucks. But of course, help can come from the unlikeliest places. The question is what price it’ll demand.

This thing gets released in July. As you see above, it’s the second book in the Casting the Bones trilogy; the third book is coming this fall. Naturally I’ll be giving away free stuff, so watch for that. Might make some jewelry; haven’t decided. In the meantime, while you wait, Crowflight is available, and I hope you check it out and enjoy.

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And it goes without saying that if you do, reviews – positive or negative – are massively, massively appreciated.

 

Cover reveal and release date for A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE FUTURE: COLLECTED ESSAYS

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Finalized files have been sent to Createspace and Smashwords, so I’m finally ready to make the announcement in a formal way: A Brief History of the Future, my collection of essays/nonfictional bits will be released on July 1st. It’ll be out in trade paperback, and all major ebook formats.

AND: The paperback won’t be available for purchase until the release date, but you can preorder the ebook right now OVER HERE and if you do it’s a dollar off what the eventual list price will be (right now it’s $2.99 down from $3.99). You can also download a sample, about 20% of the book.

FURTHERMORE: Tomorrow I’ll be launching a giveaway for a signed paperback-and-ebook package edition. So watch for that.

I want to make it clear: None of this content is exclusive to the book. It’s all available for free online. The value added here is A) it’s in a convenient, (I think) attractively packaged collection for all reading location eventualities, and B) you’re sending money my way in a larger cut than you would be with a publisher who is not me. Which may not be value added for you, but given that as of now I have no job for the fall – though I think I’ll be okay – boy I sure do appreciate it.

Let me tell you: I love how easy Smashwords makes it – they really are a great service – but even so, formatting an ebook is tedious. Especially if there are a lot of links. Which there are in mine, because blog posts with a lot of in-text links don’t translate well to book form, and the way I dealt with that was to go crazy with the endnotes. It’s not the most elegant solution but it’s the one I went with.

In any case, I’m pleased to say that I appear to have managed the thing. Which is good to know, because right now there’s a better than average chance that I’ll have to do it for the Line and Orbit sequel.

Anyway. I’m excited about this. I hope you are too.

News and an excerpt from a novel-in-progress

I haven’t posted in a bit. Nothing major to announce at the moment, except that I sold a short story – “A Shadow on the Sky”, a tale of a drone queen because of course drones would need one – to Mythic Delirium.

AND here’s a novel update: I’m currently working on two concurrently, because I’m out of my mind. The first is Rookwar, the final installment in the Casting the Bones trilogy – which I am very behind on and need to push hard at this month – and also an as-yet untitled one that I began on a whim. You know how I seem to keep coming back to the Line and Orbit universe? Well, this is the story of Kae, how he met his wife Leila, and how – together – they saved the entire convoy from starvation, managed a conflict between a lost human colony and a sentient biosphere, dealt with Relationship Feelings, and somehow didn’t murder Lochlan.

I’m not very far into it, and like any baby novel its future is uncertain, but I’m feeling pretty good about it and so far it feels like it’s coming relatively smoothly. If you like, here – with the usual caveats about a work-in-progress (rough draft, may not make it into the final product if there is one, etc.) – is an excerpt.

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