Category: Guest Post
by March 4th, 2014-
Last year, out-of-work travel writer Zöe Norris found herself in the Big Apple — looking for work and finding more than she bargained for. Mur Lafferty’s THE SHAMBLING GUIDE TO NEW YORK CITY (US | UK | AUS) is a hip and fun take on urban fantasy, which Cory Doctorow called “an unbeatable mixture of humor, heart, imagination and characterization.”
Since today is also Mardi Gras, it seemed appropriate to ask for Mur’s excellent travel advice on enjoying the celebration….if you’re a vampire that is.
The most difficult thing in New Orleans for vampires is accommodation. New Orleans is 8 feet under sea level, and graves and coffins and any sort of tunnel system are nonexistent. You must plan early to book a crypt, or find room in some of the hotels that feature sunlight-tight rooms. These hotels and the rentable crypts are often booked by November, so plan early.
Know the local laws
Every city has laws specific to itself, for example, no earth demons welcome in Boston, and zombies must visit only downtown hospital morgues for brain retrieval. New Orleans is no different. Hunting can only be done in the cemeteries, all parties must be invite-only to limit the number of humans that try to attend, and the legally drunk limit is drinking one pint of blood that has a .10 blood alcohol content. So watch how many parting humans you partake of.
Do not dress in costume
Mardi Gras in New Orleans is the one time and place where you can be yourself. You can dress in clothes that you find comfortable, even if they are from the 1300s, and you can avoid putting on makeup to disguise the paleness of your skin. Out and proud, that’s the chant of local vampires, as they proudly display all that they are this one time during the year.
Catch Mardi Gras throws
If you attend the correct parades, you may have a chance to catch throws such as frozen blood cubes, candied brain bits, or hedgehogs. These parades are often late at night on side streets to not attract too much human attention. WATCH OUT: some hunters will throw rosaries and crucifixes at eager vampires looking to catch throws, so make sure you know what you’re asking for when you get your loot.
Ask before you participate
Many parades will allow you to join them, if you ask before the parade begins. Parades are a wonderful opportunity for all supernatural creatures to walk in the open with no disguises. Even larger creatures such as dragons and wyrms can pass themselves as floats in a parade. But do not join a parade as it’s moving along; the vampires in the parade may see that as a threat.
Watch your children
Since so many supernatural creatures fit in seamlessly with the chaos that is Mardi Gras, many sire vampires will use it as a “coming out” party or “Debutante ball” for their newest progeny. The baby vampires will likely still be hesitant to use their new powers, but most likely they will be excited for the opportunities to hunt and party and get drunk like they did in life. This means they will be more liable to step out of line, attract the attention of the authorities, accidentally kill a party attendee, or worse. It’s a fun, family-friendly event, but that doesn’t mean your children don’t need watching.
Watch for thieves
Thieves are wonderful, and Mardi Gras is full of them. They’re very good at what they do: lifting wallets and cell phones and the like. Thieves also make for very tasty pickings, as their blood is usually spiked with adrenaline, so after one attempts to rob you, capture him and take him somewhere safe (like the nearest graveyard) and feast away. The best part is, authorities will often look the other way if you can produce proof that you were only protecting the other humans. (Usually handing over the thief’s stolen goods will get you in the clear here.)
Remember what we said about accommodations? We have more vampires killed simply by being out all night and suddenly unable to find a safe place to hide when the sun comes up. And we’re talking old vampires, people who really should know better. But there is no better place to feed freely on drunks than Mardi Gras in New Orleans, and even the most cautious vampire can get in trouble if she has had a few too many tourists. You do not want to realize it’s 5am and your only sanctuary is a porta potty, which isn’t very light tight to begin with.
No dangerous behavior elsewhere
You can actively hunt in the graveyard, and even show many of your true colors to drunk humans who think you’re just kissing them roughly on the neck. Anything goes at Mardi Gras, which makes it an ideal vacation spot for vampires and other supernatural creatures. But when you step into the working part of the city, where there are fewer parties and more people just trying to enjoy an evening, you will stand out, and the authorities will notice you. Stay in the French Quarter, stay within the invite-only parties, and stay within the cemeteries.
by February 27th, 2014-
UNFETTERED should not exist.
Not in a perfect world. In a perfect world, cancer does not exist. And even if it does exist, in a semi-perfect world, there is adequate healthcare insurance covering fantastic healthcare.
Unfortunately, I found out how imperfect the world is in 2011 when I was diagnosed with Stage 3B Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
I was prepared for the cancer. I had been diagnosed ten years earlier with a far graver form of the disease. I knew what to expect – the surgeries, the chemotherapy, the fatigue and sickness. In 2001, I beat the cancer, but I had to be a mentally tough bastard to do it.
I knew it would be no different in 2011. The cancer didn’t frighten me. But it was paying for treatment that became the real problem.
I live in the United States where, in my opinion, the healthcare system is broken. Due to my pre-existing cancer diagnosis, I did not qualify for health insurance. I would not be denied healthcare but that healthcare would have to be paid out of pocket. My treatment would cost about $200,000. I would undoubtedly have to declare medical bankruptcy, ruining my financial future for the next decade.
The bastard came to the fore. I knew there had to be a way out. While I went through treatment, I began asking my writer friends if they could donate short stories for an anthology I would sell to offset those medical costs.
UNFETTERED is the result. Read the rest of this entry »
by February 25th, 2014-
In the interview section at the back of FORTUNE’S PAWN, I explained that the reason I originally decided to write the Paradox books was because I wanted to read an action packed SF romance and couldn’t find one, so I created my own. This is a true story, but it’s also true that my sudden reading urge wasn’t the only reason I decided to write about a female soldier turned mercenary who fights aliens, has a romantic subplot, and gets herself involved in a conspiracy that might doom all sentient life in the galaxy. You see, before all that, before Paradox and the xith’cal, even before Devi sauntered into my brain and informed me that I was writing her novel right that minute, I was already on the hunt for somewhere to put the Lady Grey.
I’ve been in love with powered armor since I watched my first mecha anime as a pre-teen renting anime tapes from Blockbuster in the dark days of the mid-90s. The idea of wrapping a person with all our fragile, soft flesh and emotional instability inside a machine that granted super human powers, but only under limits and often at huge costs, was like catnip for my young story-obsessed brain. I actually liked the price even better than the power it bought. Power alone is boring. It’s what power does to people—why they want it, how it changes them, and what they’re willing to do to keep it—that’s where the novel is.
If you’ve ever enjoyed a well told superhero story, you already know that the most compelling part of a any hero is their humanity. We don’t love Batman because of his toys, we love him for what he does with them, and why. We are, in short, far more interested in the man than the bat. Similarly, superheroes who have no weaknesses are boring. Even Superman, the most wish-fulfillment of all wish-fulfillment characters, needed kryptonite to be compelling in the long term.
Powered armor takes this idea a step further. Devi’s suit gives her what are essentially superpowers. She’s super fast, super tough, and super strong. She has eyes in the back of her head, the ability to look up almost any information with a thought, and a literal photographic memory. But none of this power is really hers. She’s just the driver, the breakable, fragile human at the heart of everything, and the knowledge that her power can be damaged, taken away, or even simply run out of energy, is what makes her plights that much more interesting and tense.
Powered armor certainly wasn’t the only way I could have done this. There are a million ways in Science Fiction to make someone super powered. I could have given Devi implants, or made her a genetically modified super soldier. But all of these things would have been hers, and I didn’t want that. I wanted Devi’s powers to be something she something she had to pay for and could only use at great personal risk, because the person who has the guts to willingly put their neck on the line for the power to achieve their goals is also the person who can function without it. Take Superman’s powers away and he becomes a whiny embarrassment sulking in his Fortress of Solitude. Take Batman’s money and gadgets away and he’s still freaking Batman.
This vulnerability is why I think powered armor is such a staple in our collective imagination. It’s the ultimate unstable power—a supreme weapon that’s stealable, breakable, hackable, and only ever one technological glitch away from being a metal mausoleum—and the character who chooses to use it even in the face of all those flaws is practically guaranteed to be the sort of hardcore badass you want to read about. I put Devi in the Lady Gray precisely because I wanted her to be the sort of heroine who, when I blasted her suit full of holes, would use the sharp edges to go for her enemy’s throat. The Lady Gray made Devi every bit as much as she made the Lady Gray, and I wouldn’t want either of them any other way.
Rachel Bach is the author of Paradox, a three part, heavy ordinance blast of Science Fiction that starts with FORTUNE’S PAWN (US | UK | AUS) and continues with HONOUR’S KNIGHT (US | UK | AUS), out now! Want to find out more about the Paradox series? Read the interview, which appeared in the back of FORTUNE’S PAWN.
by January 24th, 2014-
There’s a whole fantasy trope based around the protagonist of the story discovering that, after the initial skirmish with the forces of evil, he or she is the Chosen One, the one person who has all the skills – mental, physical and magical – to defeat the big bad and win the day.
And we love hearing about them because we can dream we are them. We’re no longer ordinary; quite the opposite. We become, for the length of the tale, extraordinary; possessing such skills, strength and stamina that no other mortal can command. The Chosen One is the archetypal super-hero story: think of Greek and Persian legends, and you’re halfway there already.
But when the story ends, the clouds come over, the sky darkens, and the world becomes colder, harsher and less caring. We’re not the Chosen One. We’re nothing unusual. Not only can we not take the battle to the forces of evil, we don’t even know where to start. We simply have to accept the way things are, with no hope of changing the slow grind of life.
But hang on. That’s not necessarily the case. We know through experience that we can claim small, if temporary, victories that bring life and light to us and ours. And we know that being inspired by our fictional heroes and heroines can make us better people – G. K. Chesterton spoke the truth when he said: ‘Fairy tales don’t tell children that dragons exist; children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children that dragons can be killed.’ Read the rest of this entry »
by January 20th, 2014-
The Spiritwalker Trilogy is an epic fantasy coming-of-age-and-revolution in a gas-lamp setting written in first person from the point of view of a single character. While I really enjoyed writing in the voice of Cat Barahal, the single character first person viewpoint also presented challenges. For example, I could only ever see other characters as Cat sees them, and any incident that she does not herself personally witness she can only report on (or hear a report of) later.
As I finished up COLD STEEL (US | UK | AUS), the third in the trilogy, I decided to write a short story “coda” from the point of view of one of the other characters, Cat’s beloved cousin Beatrice (Bee). I also decided that because Bee is an artist I wanted the story to be illustrated. I’ve written about “The Secret Journal of Beatrice Hassi Barahal” elsewhere (extensively here where I talk in detail about the process of creating a chapbook with illustrations).
The artist Julie Dillon did a fabulous job with the black and white illustrations for the Secret Journal. I also commissioned her to do a couple of color pieces, more for my own selfish desire to have the illustrations than anything else (although we are talking about doing a limited edition print run).
Julie did two spectacular pieces based on passages from COLD STEEL.
Today, Orbit Books is debuting the second piece, “Amazons.” (Click for a larger view.)
I asked Julie to illustration the following passage:
A gust of wind rattled the branches. A drum rhythm paced through the woods. On its beat I heard a woman’s voice call out a verse, answered by a chorus of women singing the response.
A column of soldiers marched into view, although they were almost dancing, so proud and mighty were they, and every single one a woman.
Four drummers led them while a fifth struck a bell, the drummers prancing and stepping on their way with every bit of flash and grin that any young man could muster. Their shakos were as jaunty as my own. All wore uniform jackets of dark green cloth piped with silver braid. Some wore trousers, while others preferred petticoat-less skirts tailored for striding. Most wore stout marching sandals laced along the length of calf, brown legs and black legs and white legs flashing beneath skirts tied up to the knee. Four lancers walked in the first rank, tasseled spears held high, while the rest carried rifles and swords. A banner streamed on the wind. It depicted an antlered woman drawing a bow.
Of the piece, Julie writes:
“I made the viewpoint lower to the ground so the viewer is looking up at them a little rather than looking down, which I thought might give them a somewhat larger than life feel. I also tried to make their poses and gestures, most particularly the arms of the amazons in the front row, have a nice flow of movement between them, to try to convey the sense that they are moving a little more energetically.”
by December 19th, 2013-
Hardcore horror fans are sometimes dismissive of “creature features” – horror narratives that build their scare tactics around a monster. Obviously there’s a very respected classical canon of monsters (vampires, werewolves, zombies, demons . . . ) that sit close to the heart of the horror genre and partially define it. But then there’s a host of other beasties that are exiled to the outer darkness – or the Black Lagoon, 40,000 fathoms, outer space, the Korean sewer system, wherever it was they came from in the first place.
I can see the distinction, to be honest. You look at a vampire (sparkly or not) and you think horror. You look at the spiky cactus beast from The Quatermass Experiment, or the lolloping mutant in The Host, or Godzilla stomping on a toy Tokyo, and you think sci-fi. Or depending on your tastes, maybe you think “that tea isn’t going to make itself . . . ”
There’s a deeper distinction to be drawn, though. It concerns our relationship with the monster and the reaction that it draws from us. Creature features are predominantly about spectacle, and they probably share more DNA with thrillers than with horror stories. They can be scary, but it’s a fairly uncomplicated fear. The fear of being eaten, say, or having your head ripped off. Monsters in horror have the potential to scare us or challenge us in different ways. Read the rest of this entry »
by December 10th, 2013-
“This is the end, beautiful friend…” ― Jim Morrison
“Everything has to come to an end, sometime.” ― L. Frank Baum
With the final book of the Shaper Trilogy being released, lately I’ve been thinking about Endings. It occurs to me that the most important part of any story is The End.
The End supports and honors everything that comes before it. Nothing in a story escapes the ending of that story. All the characters you love, the adventures that thrill you, the experiences that move you on the most basic of human levels, the emotional connections that make stories so powerful…all of these things are magnified, framed, and validated by a good Ending. The End of a story creates a reverse “ripple” effect that travels backwards across the length and breadth of the narrative. If the Ending isn’t right, it can ruin the entire story.
A good Ending provides closure and satisfaction–even when it is bittersweet, unhappy, or tragic. Some stories cry out for that tragedy. Should HAMLET have turned into a comedic farce in the final act? Not without completely dishonoring the story. Shakespeare gave his tale the end that it truly deserved. If Romeo and Juliet had not died, what power would their story hold for us today? What could befit those star-crossed lovers more than being eternally united in death? They died as they loved–senselessly, blindly, and violently. They earned it.
The reader of any given story expects a reward or payoff for investing time in that story. We read and read and are carried along by the rushing tide of characters, plot, and setting, but our ultimate goal as Consumers of Story is to reach The End. Therefore, the ultimate goal of any narrative is its Ending.
Aristotle stated that “A whole is what has a beginning and middle and end.” This sentiment became the basis for the three-part plot structure that underlies all of modern storytelling. Even in the classic Five-Act Play, acts 2, 3 and 4 are generally divisions of an extended Act Two. But was it Aristotle who invented the idea that stories must have a beginning, middle, and end? No, there were stories being told long before the Greek made his famous observation. Artistotle simply payed attention to the world around him, as philosophers do, and he noticed this underlying structure that supports all of human life. Read the rest of this entry »
by December 4th, 2013-
“For the first time ever I was writing the same story in two different media at the same time.”
I was a comics writer before I was a novelist, and a novelist before I was a screenwriter. Although actually I was scrabbling at the edges of all three of those forms before I got a handhold on any of them. I just knew I wanted to write – and what sort of stories I could write. As far as media went, I wanted to work in pretty much all of them. Stories are stories, right?
I’m not quite so blasé these days. I’ve got a sort of league table of media that I can work in and media I definitely can’t. I love prose, TV and movies, comics, and I’ll probably always want to have feet in all those camps (if I run out of feet, I’ll borrow or rent some). But I turned out to have no skill at all for radio, and games writing was a nightmare I’m still trying to wake up from. As Clint Eastwood said in Magnum Force, a man’s got to know his limitations.
There’s one particular pleasure, though, that you can only experience as a writer in multiple media – the pleasure of adaptation. I’ve been lucky enough to be commissioned several times to do comic book adaptations of novels and movies, and once to do a movie adaptation of another writer’s novel. In each case, I had a blast.
With the story structure already in place, the creative process and the creative challenges are very different from the ones you face when you’re making something entirely new. What you have to do is to dismantle the story – break it down into its component parts – and then think about what each part is doing. I’m not just talking about plot points, I mean characters arcs, themes, even key lines of dialogue. You do this because it’s not possible, ever, simply to move a story into another medium scene by scene, the way the town of Springfield was moved in that Simpsons episode by putting all the houses on wheels, driving them a mile down the road, and putting them down again in the same configuration of streets.
Okay, it is possible to do that, but it’s usually a bad idea. Every medium has its own native vocabulary, or palette, or whatever you want to call it. Its own biases. Things it does brilliantly well and things it can scarcely do at all. So when you adapt, you’re finding different solutions to the same set of narrative problematics. You’re making the story talk in its own voice but in a different language. And if you do it well, and if you’re lucky, the original writer will still recognise his or her progeny despite the pork pie hat, rah-rah skirt and Groucho Marx moustache.
When I was writing The Girl With All the Gifts, an opportunity came up that was completely new to me. An opportunity that was – well, probably not unique, but I’d be willing to bet fairly rare. Read the rest of this entry »
by December 3rd, 2013-
So I’m sure there’s at least a few people out there (or at least I’m going to pretend there is) curious about my transition from ‘self-publishing idiot’ to ‘an idiot being published by Orbit’. I should probably make something clear first. Coming in from self-publishing, I’d heard plenty of…let’s call it propaganda. Traditional publishing is evil! It’s the devil! They’ll buy your soul, run it through a paper shredder, make you change your characters into bland rip-offs of something else that’s popular, then feed your soul back to you in quarterly intervals. Also they’ll never do anything to help sell your books, treat you like scum, ignore your calls, and probably murder your puppy while they’re at it.
Now I’m sure there’s at least one puppy-murdering publisher out there, but I’d never actually quite bought into all of this. It’s one thing to believe a business is acting like, you know, a business, another to believe they were cartoon level villainy needing to be conquered by G.I. Joe. But even if I didn’t believe it, I still heard all the horror stories, the examples, the warnings… and it builds up a bit of an expectation. So after signing with Orbit and beginning the editing process, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have any butterflies in my stomach as I got to peek behind the curtain. Read the rest of this entry »
by November 29th, 2013-
Ever since I decided to use Francis as my pen name, the subject has cropped up. Why? Is there some gender reason? Is it because you’re writing from a male first person perspective? In part that’s true – although Francis is a family name, which is why I chose it initially.
Writing as a supposed male has had some interesting side effects though. I’ve surprised a few people who thought I was male, which I’m taking as a compliment about getting the character right. And the other area that surprised me was the idea of author inserts, and the assumptions that come with that.
As a reader, I completely understand the temptation to assume a character (especially in first person) is, somehow, a representation of the author as they are, or who they wish they were. Perhaps because first person is so personal and you get so far inside the character’s head, that it’s difficult to see how they could possibly not be some sort of self-insert. Read the rest of this entry »