Hey! Look! More new books and ARCs! Speak to me of the titles here you covet, in the comment thread below.
Hey! Look! More new books and ARCs! Speak to me of the titles here you covet, in the comment thread below.
In celebration of his exit from the 2016 presidential race, and by request, here is a more-or-less complete collection of all the horrible ways I’ve described Ted Cruz during the campaign (plus a couple bonus bits from 2013, when Whatever readers awarded him the title of Asshole of the Year, besting other luminaries such as Rob Ford, Justin Bieber, and, yes, Barack Obama).
Ted Cruz is:
Goddamn, I will miss him. But not enough to want him back. Ever.
Update: It’s been noted I forgot I also called Cruz an “ambulatory cloacal splotch.” Duly noted!
Real-world tragedies, best-selling action novels and the Canadian undead — these are some of the influences that Katrina Archer had in mind while writing The Tree of Souls. What did she take from each and how did they come together in her novel? Archer is on it, below.
The Tree of Souls was born from not one, but three ideas that together ask one Big Question.
The first idea: school shootings. Which sounds strange for a story set in a world without gunpowder, firearms, or even schools, but The Tree of Souls might never have seen the light of day if not for a school shooting in my hometown. I was outlining the sequel to my first novel, a young adult fantasy, when it happened. I go to a very dark place when these events occur, because I was in engineering school in Montréal when a bitter, envious man gunned down 14 female students at a neighbouring school. Including women in my circle of friends. So yet another shooting nearby made me feel like nothing had changed, and my light fantasy for teens took an inappropriately dark turn.
Instead of forcing a story I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to write, I channeled those unhappy energies into the characters of The Tree of Souls. Some of whom feel the same sense of rage combined with unchecked entitlement that I suspect drives a subset of mass shooters. While there’s no single root cause for these (I don’t have the training to really delve into the psychology), picking an emotion to focus on was my way of trying to make sense out of events I’ll never truly understand.
The second idea is why I sometimes pitch The Tree of Souls as “The Bourne Identity for fantasy readers.” Because my protagonist is an amnesiac—here, a woman named Umbra—with dangerous skills, who doesn’t know if she is on the side of right or wrong. As the Magic 8 Ball might say: signs point to “wrong.” (Herein end any similarities to The Bourne Identity.)
I’ve always loved the amnesia trope. One of my favourite characters ever is Roger Zelazny’s Prince of Amber, Corwin. He of the less than complete memories. Yet people often advise novice writers to avoid the amnesia cliché. A wise person once told me I’d likely only get one shot at it in my career, so choose wisely when to tackle it.
Amnesia creates drama precisely because the character doesn’t know what type of person they really are. I used it as a plot device to force Umbra to see herself as others do—even if she ultimately doesn’t enjoy the view—because she’s now a stranger in her own life.
The tricky line to walk with this as a writer is: how do you get a reader to empathize with a character who doesn’t particularly like herself? It took a few drafts to get that balance right, before Umbra started to feel like she was fighting for herself rather than simply against her sketchy past.
All of the above might sound unrelentingly grim. Which brings us to the third idea: I love vampires. Sexy vampires especially. I’d love to write the great Canadian vampire story. But. I had nothing new to say about them (I do solemnly swear that if I ever come up with anything, my vampires won’t be sparkly. #TeamLestat). The lack of a vampire idea obliged me to create a different kind of seductive, conflicted character, one who looks human on the surface, but also has deadly supernatural skills.
And thus was born Umbra’s power over souls. One that was very fun to write, and that gives her some cool options for getting into and out of trouble. On the surface, it’s this power that makes her a creature of death, but ultimately her human failings—her inner demons—are at the root of her travails.
Umbra can’t move forward unless she exorcises these demons and learns how to use her power for good. If she fails, I wrote a tragedy. If she succeeds, I wrote a redemption story. The one I committed to paper is *** SPOILERS ***.
Put together, the three ideas force Umbra to ask herself that one Big Question: “Am I a monster?”
Guess where you’ll find the answer.
Another day, another stack of excellent recent and upcoming releases to show off to you. Tell which of these books excites you, down in the comments.
1. So on one hand, Ted Cruz, a shambling assemblage of skin tabs and ego, has left the presidential race. That’s good!
2. But on the other hand, Donald Trump, angry racist billionaire, is definitively going to be the GOP nominee for president. That’s very very bad.
3. Dear Republicans: Your party is a raging trash fire of hate, obstructionism and stupidity, most recently evidenced by the fact that Trump is going to be your nominee, and that Cruz, a jowly gobbet of tubercular phlegm, was your second choice. Oh my God, please fix yourselves.
4. But more immediately, inasmuch as you seem unlikely to do that in time to do anything about Trump with respect to him being your nominee, and I would never suggest that you just not vote, let me say these two words to you: Gary Johnson. I mean, I understand most of you gag at the thought of pulling the lever for Hillary Clinton. Fair enough! Johnson’s positions on (most) issues are going to be closer to your own, probably, and this way you also don’t vote to drop a straw-haired ball of dangerously inchoate rage into the White House. Everybody wins! Except Trump, which is the point.
5. Hey, Bernie Sanders won Indiana last night! Good for him. The netted him a total of five delegates, which puts him on track to take the 2016 Democratic nomination from Hillary Clinton, oh, let’s see, let me carry the one here, ah, there we go, never. I think it’s fine for Sanders supporters to keep dreaming, and for Sanders himself to maneuver himself into the discussion of the Democratic platform. I also think it’s fine for Hillary Clinton to start serious prep for dealing with Trump, because really, that’s where we are, and everyone knows it. So let’s stop pretending. Because, holy shit, Trump.
Some excellent books in today’s stack, I would say. Anything here call to you? Tell me in the comments!
Does a story need to be dark to be deep? Does substantive always have to equal depressing in fiction? I’ve always firmly believed no, and in my debut novel my goal was to hit that point of intersection between joyful and thoughtful. My series fits the nebulous category of ‘urban fantasy’ because it takes place in modern times albeit with magic, and it’s set at least partially in a city (not just a city, but the city: New York). But I’d grown tired of the gratuitously grim urban fantasies that had become something of a trope in the genre. I wanted my book to be unabashedly fun, without being fluff.
How to do that, I realized, rested almost entirely on the narrative voice. And thus I wrote my story in the first person POV of a fairy. Fairies don’t have the same level of damage as vampires, werewolves, or other such supernatural creatures. They’re not cursed; they’re not tortured – they’re not necessarily good, but they’re hardly ever grim. Even the fairies in Celtic folklore, while a far cry from the sanitized pixies of Disney films and frequently malevolent, are usually depicted as playful. If I wrote a fairy heroine who wasn’t enjoying her own story, I wouldn’t be being faithful to the mythological roots.
My heroine, Mabily “Mab” Jones, has a unique perspective in that she’s a changeling; she’s in the human world but not of it. It’s a position that comes with inherent conflict – loneliness, inability to ever truly belong, plus hurt at her betrayal (she was tricked by the Fairy Queen into getting stuck in human form) and a deep-seated guilt over the human girl she unwittingly displaced. However, twenty-two years after the switch, when the story begins, Mab has learned to make the best of a bad situation. She’s a bit of an amateur anthropologist – a student of the human society into which she’s been thrust. She finds us humans fascinating, frustrating, but always wryly amusing. In the hands of a different author or through the eyes of a different narrator, this could have been a much darker story – but Mab still sees her human life as a grand adventure (though one she never chose) and her optimism is the filter through which we read some of the more brutal and disturbing aspects of the book.
Writing a book that reads as effortless actually requires a lot of effort, perhaps more than one that doesn’t. I wrote almost 1,000 additional pages of drafts that I ended up throwing out before I honed in on the voice I was seeking. Luckily, since it was my first book and I didn’t have a deadline breathing down my neck, I had the luxury of time to do that (this will not be the case with Elixir’s sequel, which releases later this year!)
When I say Elixir was the first book I ever wrote, what I mean is it’s the first book I ever finished. My hard drive is a burial ground where many unfinished manuscripts have gone to die – weighty, ‘important’ works that I grandiosely day-dreamed would win me respectable literary acclaim, but then ultimately abandoned, because I didn’t find these stories fun enough to sustain me when the writing got tough (as writing inevitably will.)
This doesn’t mean I don’t explore the dark side of the human heart in my fiction – I find fantasy the best medium for doing that – or that I can’t explore deeper societal issues. My stories have never been overtly political, and yet the opportunities for metaphor are rich. The series is about a society (fairies) utterly dependent upon a limited, non-renewable resource (Elixir) that powers all their magic and their way of life. They do increasingly unethical things to produce and control it, and innocent children caught in the crossfire pay the ultimate price. Sound familiar? But a reader could easily miss all that and simply be entertained by an adventure tale with a touch of romance. I tried to never lob readers over the head with any heavy handed message. I’ve always believed writers should just tell the story – and not deprive readers of the pleasure of their own interpretations by telling them what it means.
I was academically trained to write literary fiction, and I was afraid, if I wholly embraced writing the genre fiction I so delighted in reading, I would never become a “serious writer.” Perhaps that’s true. Urban fantasy novels don’t exactly get reviewed by The New Yorker. But in writing Elixir I realized I didn’t want to be a serious writer; I wanted to be a joyful writer.
Maybe we write the books we want to read? As a reader, I wanted a less brooding, less bloody book, a fantasy whose epic battles are of the internal variety. And as an author, I know what a long hard slog writing a novel can be. The only thing that sustains me, once the heady infatuation of the initial idea wears off and the rewrites seem Sisyphean, is joy.
It’s joy that I want to spread through my stories. After all, the world is depressing enough on its own – we don’t need all our novels to be.
As we all know, I don’t have a new novel out this year — although the mass market paperback of The End of All Things is out May 31, hint, hint — but that doesn’t mean I’m not showing up in new books in 2016. Above you’ll see two new books that I’m in, one already out, and the other upcoming. The one that’s already out is The Books That Changed My Life, edited by Bethanne Patrick, in which notable folks (including, uh, me) talk about the books that made a real impact on them. Other folks featured in the book include Margaret Atwood, Rosanne Cash, Dave Eggers, Kate Mulgrew and Al Roker. This is a pretty wide net, folks.
The one that hasn’t come out yet is Mash Up, which is the printed version of the audio anthology Rip-Off! which you may recall came out about three years ago. The audio version did very well — nominated for an Audie Award, whilst Mary Robinette Kowal’s contribution scored a Hugo — so it’s lovely to finally see this anthology in print. And as you can see on the cover, this is a hell of a line up of authors. Mash Up will be out June 7th — also, coincidentally, the release date of the other anthology I’m in this year, Black Tide Rising, which features a story I co-wrote with my pal Dave Klecha. Basically I have a very busy two weeks coming up at the end of May and early June.
So, that’s three books in 2016 so far! Plus my audio-first novella The Dispatcher should be out later this year (with the print version from Subterranean Press to follow after the audio’s exclusive period), plus, speaking of Subterranean, I’ve turned in another book project to them a couple of weeks ago, which should be out later this year. I’ll wait until Subterranean officially announces that before I say anything else about it.
So, to recap:
And the mass market paperback of The End of All Things, out May 31st.
Wow, for not having anything out in 2016, I sure have a lot of things out in 2016.
I got a smidge behind in showing off the new books and ARCs that have come to the Scalzi Compound, so I figure the semi-hiatus would be an excellent time to catch up on this score. To that end, please peruse this very fine stack of books courtesy of Baen Books, all titles that are just recently out or about to be. What looks good to you? Tell me in the comments!
The first picture here is of Krissy in 1994, when we got engaged; you can see my goofy face cropped halfway off there. The second is from 2007, nine years ago. The third is from 2011, five years ago. The final one is from this weekend, at Penguicon.
Best guesses: Highlander; vampire; has a painting in the attic; deity slumming around on planet Earth just for kicks. I mean, you tell me.
No matter which it is, I’m happy to spend my time with her.
I do not look like I did in 1994. Alas.