Category Archives: Guest Post

Guest Post: Author L. Jagi Lamplighter

Rachel Griffin Cover L. Jagi Lamplighter

How to Avoid Being Flattened By the Steamroller of Progress
by L. Jagi Lamplighter

Recently, a friend sent me an ad for virtual keyboards. If you haven’t seen one, it’s a rather nifty device. You put it on your desk, and it casts a red light image of a keyboard on your desk. Then you type on it, as if it were a keyboard, and letters appear on your screen.

Rather cool.

Only, to my friend, the existence of this device was a bit of an embarrassment. He’s a science fiction writer, and five or ten years ago, he wrote a book where he predicted virtual keyboards. He made them up.

Back then. They were science fiction.

Today, they are fact.

Where does that leave him?

How, he wondered, do science fiction writers stay ahead of science fact?

No Escape for the Scientifically-Challenged

I felt for him. I had kind of been there.

I myself am a fantasy writer. You would think I would not have this problem. Alas, even we fantasy writers are plagued with being outrun by the march of progress.

When I first started the Prospero’s Daughter series in 1992, I wanted to make my main character, the five hundred year old Miranda, daughter of Prospero from Shakespeare’s Tempest, seem rich and capable, so I gave her a whole pile of nifty tech devices—not anything as wild as a James Bond gadget, but fancy, hard-to-get stuff that was extremely cutting edge.

By the time the book was published in 2009—I owned all but one of those devices.

I also had a scene where I wanted to show that she was very busy and very capable. So, back in 1992, I gave her many computers, all working at once.

Then, multi-tasking came along. Nobody bothered using more than one computer anymore.

Okay…I updated. I gave her a lot of printers all clacking away. Clacking, mind you, because back then, we were talking about dot-matrix printers. They made a lot of noise.

Couple of years later, I went back to revise the book, and printers weren’t so loud any more.

In the long run, I threw up my hands. I got rid of her high-tech office entirely and gave her an old fashion office with a huge desk and geese honking as they flew by outside.

I wasn’t even inventing the technology, and I couldn’t keep up.

Fighting Back

So, what does an author do to actually stay ahead of the invention curve?

Continue reading Guest Post: Author L. Jagi Lamplighter

Guest Post: Max Gladstone

Two Serpents Rise Gladstone, Max-2

Author Max Gladstone joins today to talk about worldbuilding over the course of a series. His latest release, Two Serpents Rise released from Tor Books on October 29, 2013.

Mosaic Worldbuilding
By Max Gladstone

How much do you really know about our world?

I don’t want to get all Obi Wan Kenobi here, but many of the beliefs we all have about our world depend on our orientations and positions within that world. I’m not even talking about big deal moral opinions—uncertainty goes all the way down to everyday stuff.

The price of gasoline or the distance of a commute or the number of pages in a book might seem objective, sure. But even those numbers look very different depending on who and where you are. Does filling your gas tank cost (a) as much as a Friday night dinner for two at your favorite restaurant, before drinks? (b) as much as you spent on food for the last week? (c) as much as your week’s rent? (d) enough to buy you a hundred liters of beer in a back-alley bar in Beijing? The answer depends on you.

Worldbuilding over the course of a series springs from that principle. A single book lays out some details of a setting, offers certain ‘truths’ about who’s good, who’s bad, who’s ugly, what magic looks and feels like, who the good guys are, and so forth—but those truths are filtered through the lens of a protagonist. To Our Hero Jane Wunderkind, Girl Inventor, the Mad Scientist’s Guild is an oppressive force preventing true social change. But what if the next book in the series focuses on Second Inspector deMaupassant’s conflicts with an insidious designer of self-replicating beetle automata who’s planning to set them loose in the center of Paris? It’s possible to tell an entire story from deMaupassant’s perspective, in which he’s the good guy and Jane’s Collective of Free Madmen (and -Women) are the danger.

Writing further books in a series is partly an exercise in finding and filling whitespace, sure, in extending the margins of the map, but merely filling whitespace leaves many possibilities unexamined. How much cooler to subvert and reinvent? To show the flip side of truths characters in prior books thought they knew? If your characters are big deal nobles and wizards, another book could show that society from beneath, or from the side.

My first book, Three Parts Dead, focused on a junior associate at an international necromancy firm—a young woman with disproportionate power and status for her age. Her life isn’t easy. She’s an outcast from much of human society as a result of her abilities. But she can bend the forces of nature (and supernature) to her whim, so there are consolations to be had. For Tara (my character), magic is awesome, something to be practiced, studied, and employed at every opportunity.

For the second book, Two Serpents Rise, I wanted to show the same world through the eyes of someone without Great Magical Powers™. Caleb, the main character in Two Serpents Rise, is a smart guy, but that’s it—he’s no Craftsman, no necromancer, and as a result the magic that defines and builds his world is a source of fear and uncertainty for him. He has status within his community, as a gambler, as a risk manager, as an employee, but he’s surrounded by forces beyond his control. For him, the fantasy setting verges regularly on horror. Meanwhile, where Tara views Craftsmen as good people discriminated against by a society that unjustly fears them, Caleb sees beings of caprice and immense magical might, that frequently disregard the rights and autonomy of other people as they pursue their own aims.

And that’s just one obvious axis. Characters in Two Serpents Rise have different perspectives as a result of their different historical, sociothaumaturgical, and racial backgrounds, sexual orientations, and classes. The juxtaposition of all those perspectives (I hope!) helps make the world real.

It turns out Obi Wan knew what he was talking about.

Max Gladstone has been thrown from a horse in Mongolia and nominated for the John W Campbell Best New Writer Award. Two Serpents Rise, his second novel, is about water rights, human sacrifice, dead gods, and poker.


Amazon, IndieBound, Barnes and Noble, Powell’s, blog, and twitter feed.

Guest Post: Gail Martin on Gender and Genre

Ice Forged cover 2 gail-martin

Gender and Genre
By Gail Z. Martin

There’s been a lot of discussion in various places around the Net about gender and genre, specifically about women, sci-fi and fantasy. You can find that for yourself online if you’re interested: I won’t rehash. But SciFiChick asked for my 2-cents, so I’ll preface this by saying that it’s my opinion, for what it’s worth, as someone who has made a living writing epic fantasy for several years.

Maybe some of my perspective is difference because I came out of the corporate world in the 1980s and 1990s. I’m used to being the only female executive in a room, dealing with men who hailed from the Mad Men era and holding my own. As the head of Corporate Communications departments, I often worked with the CEO and Chairman, and I learned early on to hold my ground and never let ’em see you sweat. I’ve stared down boards of directors and attorneys, as well as pushy reporters. And I can flip and pin my 90 pound dog when he gets obstreperous. Maybe it was the perfect background for coming into the genre.

I’ve never run into discourteous behavior from my publishers, editors or agents. They’ve all been wonderful to work with, collaborative, respectful and professional. I know there are some folks who keep a running tally of how many women win or are nominated for certain awards, how many sit on particular boards, and that kind of thing. Maybe it’s my corporate background, but except for when I worked for a non-profit, I have never been in a work setting that was 50-50 men to women, so I don’t notice that kind of thing unless you point it out to me. I don’t expect it, so not getting it doesn’t faze me.

I look around at my author friends, some of whom are waiting for their first big break, some who are climbing up the mid-list, some who are sitting on top of the heap and some who are navigating creative transitions. I can’t say that I’ve seen those struggles go any easier for men than for women, or that I’ve seen men rocket to the top while women slog. Sometimes, I’d say that I’ve observed the opposite. I don’t think it’s entirely a gender issue, although discrimination is real and it does exist. Many times, I think frustration can be a matter of timing and luck. Sometimes you’re in the right place at the right time with the right story, and sometimes you’re not.

I think we’ve come a long way since George Sands turned out to be female and everyone got the vapors. By the middle of the Harry Potter series, everyone knew that JK was female and boys didn’t stop reading. I think publishers may be more hung up on perceived reader opinions than the readers are. After all, if people immediately see a writer who goes by initials, and assume the writer is female, it’s not much of a subterfuge! Are there individual dinosaurs out there, either on the consumer or publishing side, who think women “can’t” write a particular type of book? Probably. There were men who didn’t think women could or should hold certain types of corporate jobs. Flip the one-finger salute and keep moving on. Other people will recognize talent and not care which restroom you use.

When I was ten years old, my Great-Aunt Minerva sat me down for a talk. She was born in 1895, and she was a medical doctor, following in the footsteps of her father. She had co-habitated with her long-time partner Frank for 40 years, but they never married, the family rumor said, because they didn’t want to mingle their stock portfolios. Minerva was a force of nature. And she told me to do what I pleased with my life and to hell with what anybody’s opinion was.

I guess that stuck with me. An awful lot of people tried to tell me that I couldn’t be something or do something, and they had their reasons, that it wasn’t ladylike or that their view of God didn’t like it. Salute and move on. I don’t have time to keep tallies. Too busy doing what I do. In the long run, succeeding at what you want to do makes your point better than any argument. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Continue reading Guest Post: Gail Martin on Gender and Genre

Guest Post: Anton Strout

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Author Anton Strout joins to talk about his latest release STONECAST and the latest trends in urban fantasy!

“Blank is the New Vampire”
By Anton Strout

I’ve been in the publishing industry for sixteen years now. Six of those years have been as an author: first, for my Simon Canderous paranormal detective novels and now for second series the gargoyle-tastic Spellmason Chronicles, which includes ALCHEMYSTIC and the just released STONECAST. During my time in the book world, I get asked at a minimum of at least twice the same rumbling industry wide question: what’s the next paranormal trend?

When I started behind the scenes in 1998 at one of the Big Six, vampires were the big undead man on campus. Even then, the industry was saying vampire literature was a dying trend (no pun intended). Yet here we are, years later, with vampires still making the bestseller list. Not so dead, are they?

In recent years (I’m looking in your direction, PRIDE & PREJUDICE & ZOMBIES) everyone’s favorite brain eaters have become super hot. Werewolves and other shapeshifters have also declared the new hotness. There was even a trend out there of publishing books about selkies, which—as best I can recall without looking it up—are shape shifting were-seals out for some sexay times. Over and over fantasy/romance trend pieces try to put their finger on what the next monster hotness will be, but does anyone really know?

Man, I hope it’s gargoyles. Continue reading Guest Post: Anton Strout

Guest Post & Giveaway: The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic

Language and World-Building
by Emily Croy Barker

What sort of languages do they speak in other worlds? I gave some serious thought to this matter in writing my novel, The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic—and was intrigued and inspired to discover, in reading about the life of J.R.R. Tolkien, that the same question had helped spark the creation of Middle-earth itself.

Tolkien was 22 years old and a philology student at Oxford University when he encountered the eighth-century Old English poem Crist by Cynewulf. As Colin Duriez writes in J.R.R. Tolkien: The Making of a Legend, the poem included a couple of lines that Tolkien found intensely evocative:

Eala Earendel engla beorhtast
Ofer middangeard monnum sended.

“Hail, Earendel, of angels the brightest,
Sent over middle-earth to mankind.”

Tolkien was struck particularly by the name “Earendel,” which has roots in older, Germanic languages and which he called “euphonic to a peculiar degree.” It inspired him to write his own poem about a hero’s quest.

Instead of just borrowing the name “Earendel,” however, as a good philologist Tolkien worked out an equivalent in Elvish, the private language that he had been developing from Norse and Germanic roots. Earendel becomes “Eärendil” in Tolkien’s poem—and in the sprawling mythology that would eventually underlie The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion.

“…The name could not be adopted just like that,” Tolkien later wrote. “It had to be accommodated to the Elvish linguistic situation, at the same time as a place for this person was made in legend.” Elvish, he went on to say, “was beginning, after many tentative starts in boyhood, to take definite shape at the time of the name’s adoption….” In a foreword to The Lord of the Rings, he wrote that the legends and myths of Middle-earth were “primarily linguistic in inspiration and was begun in order to provide the necessary background of ‘history’ for Elvish tongues.” For Tolkien, the creation of a fantasy world, its history, and its language were inextricably intertwined.

Creating my own fantasy world, I kept that lesson in mind. In my novel, Nora, a graduate student in literature, wanders into an entirely different world, where she ultimately begins the study of magic. Before that, however, she has to learn the language.

Luckily, she’s able to pick up the basics of the common tongue, Ors, while under a translation spell. But it still takes her a while to grasp the nuances of the language and to develop real fluency, not to mention to lose the unfortunate accent that she accidently acquired while under the spell. As she masters Ors, she also learns more about the strange, often frustrating new world in which she finds herself. There are 12 different words for sheep. Given names in the ruling class are all patronymics. Women are supposed to speak slightly differently—more hesitantly—than men. Nora learns just what some of her new friends think of her when she overhears them referring to her with a pronoun used for inanimate objects, animals, or servants.

I want to be perfectly clear: In inventing a language, I was nowhere near as rigorous, analytical, or sophisticated as Tolkien was. There’s no Ors dictionary or grammar. But including just a few details of how the language worked added interesting texture to the world that I’d imagined.

It also helped me show how foreign this place initially seems to Nora. More than once, she’s frustrated because there’s no Ors equivalent for the English word she has in mind. For an academic like Nora, being suddenly illiterate is quietly terrifying. The first time that she even begins to feel at home in this alien world is when she picks up a child’s lesson book in Ors and realizes that she can teach herself to read.

Language is what we build stories out of. We can also use it to build worlds.


Courtesy of Viking, I have a copy of The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic by Emily Crow Barker for one (1) lucky winner!

Contest is open to US residents only. No PO Boxes, please. To enter, just fill out the form below. Contest ends August 23. I’ll draw a name on August 24, and notify winners via email.


Good luck!

Continue reading Guest Post & Giveaway: The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic

Undead and Unsure Blog Tour: The 12 Days of Betsy

9780425263433_large_Undead_and_Unsure Undead and Uneasy

The Hidden Excerpts
by MaryJanice Davidson
(in which Betsy is planning her wedding, and sampling wedding cake flavors with Marc)

“The search is over.” Marc sprayed me lightly with crumbs as he made his announcement in the middle of the Pat-A-Cake bakery on Lake Street. “This is the cake of cakes. The dream cake. The only cake. We’re done now.”

“And when are you two getting married?” the baker, a lovely woman who did not look like she was surrounded by pastry all day, asked brightly.

“After the world blows up,” I replied before Marc could zing me. “And maybe not even then. This is my maid of honor, kinda. He’s not the groom.”

“She won’t put Fag of Honor on the invites,” he complained to the pastry chef, who had managed to hang onto her smile. “And her best friend keeps threatening not to show. But we’ll fix that when the time comes.”

Continue reading Undead and Unsure Blog Tour: The 12 Days of Betsy

The Thousand Names Blog Tour: Launching The Shadow Campaigns

The Thousand Names Blog Tour: Launching The Shadow Campaigns

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The Butcher’s Bill: Kill Your Darlings by Django Wexler

The phrase “In writing, you must kill your darlings” comes to us from William Faulkner, and like any pithy aphorism it has often been misused and misinterpreted. It doesn’t literally refer to killing your characters. Rather, ‘darlings’ means bits of prose, pieces that you’re particularly happy with or proud of.

It’s often passed on as writing advice, but (to my mind, at least) it’s not so much advice as a warning. Every writer has pieces of the story that they love: a clever exchange of dialogue, an apt simile, a telling detail. We’re not being advised to eliminate these things—why would we?—but reminded that they are ‘good’ only in service to the story as a whole.

When the time comes for editing, sometimes they have to go. There is always the temptation to twist the story to save them, to rewrite another dialogue so you can use that bon mot, or divert the heroine to Australia so she can experience that beautiful sunrise you spent so much time on. Faulkner (and generations of writing teachers since) tells us that sometimes you have to let go, to consign your favorite phrases to the trash in the confidence that, when the time comes, you’ll come up with some more.

The original draft of The Thousand Names we submitted to the publishers was about 15% longer than the final version. My editors (I’m in the unusual and excellent position of having two great editors who work together, one from the US and one from the UK) agreed that the book’s pacing could be improved by slimming it down, and offered some hints on what could go.

One of the things we agreed to take out was a series of dream sequences, in which Winter remembers her life back in the Vordanai orphanage known as the Prison and her meetings with the girl whose face haunts her dreams. I liked these sequences a lot, but with an outsider perspective I could see they didn’t fit—they were completely different, tonally, from the rest of the book, and occupied a lot of pages without moving the plot forward. (Plus, as my editor pointed out, dreams don’t usually work like a movie reel of convenient flashbacks!) Getting rid of them was painful, but it was the right thing to do. Kill your darlings.


But in this wonderful new age of the internet, sometimes they can come back to life! The following is a scene from the “cutting room floor” of The Thousand Names, taking place when Winter was a young teenager, several years before the events of the book. Enjoy!

—————— Continue reading The Thousand Names Blog Tour: Launching The Shadow Campaigns

Guest Post: T.M. Goeglein “From Concept to Completion”

From Concept to Completion, or, How a Blink becomes a Book
by T.M. Goeglein

Want to start up a fiction writer like an outboard motor, I mean, really get him babbling about inspiration and motivation, memories and ‘a moment that changed my life’?

As him where his ideas come from. And then put on your spit-guard and stand back.

When I was first asked this question, I strove to be as earnest as possible, walking backward through my mind like a little Sherlock Holmes – did it start here, did it start there? – and after I’d been spewing nonsense for, like, twenty minutes, non-stop, I gave up. The words faded in my mouth like a slowly deflating balloon. I had no real clue what I was going on about.

Since then, I’ve participated in numerous author events and when a fellow writer is asked this question, I peek at my watch and begin planning a nap-with-my-eyes-open. It’s not uncommon for a response to begin with something like, “Well, when I was a child back in Akron…” Oy vey. You might as well start handing out the No-Doze now.

Here’s all that I know about myself. It starts and ends in the length of a blink of an eye.

I see something on the streets of Chicago – a well-dressed old woman yelling at a cop, who seems scared – or read a story in the news about some guy who, while renovating a deserted home, finds a locked metal box hidden inside of a wall – and that’s it. Done. The idea will be planted like a tree and the rest of the forest, so to speak – the story or book – will grow up around it.

The rest of the process is really too dull to describe. I sit, I write, I edit. But in the end, if that blink has become a book, I know I’ve done my job.

T.M. Goeglein’s new novel Flicker & Burn releases August 20, 2013 from Putnam Juvenile.

Sara Jane Rispoli is still searching for her missing family, but instead of fighting off a turncoat uncle and crooked cops, this time she finds herself on the run from creepy beings with red, pulsing eyes and pale white skin chasing her through the streets in ice cream trucks; they can only be described as Ice Cream Creatures. They’re terrifying and hell bent on killing her, but they’re also a link to her family, a clue to where they might be and who has them. While she battles these new pursuers, she’s also discovering more about her own cold fury and more about the Chicago Outfit, how the past misdeeds–old murders and vendettas–might just be connected to her present and the disappearance of her family. But connecting the dots is tough and time-consuming and may finally be the undoing of her relationship with the handsome Max–who’s now her boyfriend. But for his own safety, Sara Jane may have to end this relationship before it even really starts. Her pursuers who’ve shown her her mother’s amputated finger and the head of the Chicago Outfit who’s just whistled her in for a sit-down make a romance unthinkable. The only thing that matters is finding her family and keeping everyone she loves alive.