Quill – A Scholar’s Condolences

Scenario – The Archduke
Character – Scholar
Skill – Illumination

To Cisco Vallon y Bedel , Archduke of Cambrona,

You might not remember me from our youth, but nonetheless I write you with my respectful condolences on the passing of your sister Maria. She and I were schoolmates at the academy at Mola during the years 1212 to 1216. This was a time the memories of which I cherish with great fondness, and such feelings are in large part due to my friendship with Maria. If you think back to those years, you may recall a slight, nervous student who was ever calling your sister down from fences and out of mud puddles. That was I.

The very first time your sister spoke to me, it was to bring me to see you. I was barely seven when I was first sent to the academy. You would have been fifteen then, nearly a man and already well-ensconced in the heady matters of the Corte. Maria and I had been sent to fetch water from the well across the heather fields behind the school. She had volunteered for this wretched duty. Our teacher sent me with her, stating I needed some sun on my face and air in my lungs. As soon as we out of the building she gripped my wrist and said she had something exciting to show me. Fearing the teacher’s reprisal, I let her drag me out to a slim path leading into the town. We waited in the lazy heat and listened to the chirruping of the crickets in the grass, not speaking once. A noise interrupted the peace – it was you and some friends, riding horses down the road with the easy vigor of youth. Maria waved and waved.

The teachers at the academy had their hands full with your dear sister. Where I was ever attentive, she was impassioned. If I had the correct answer, she had the funnier way of saying it. When the scolding old servants had to all but drag me from some hidden nook in the library come the closing bell, they had to spend hours trying to find Maria in the nearby forest where she took great pleasure in scaling oaks barefoot. And for all my natural inclination toward the scholarly life, they all loved her more. It brings me a wistful pleasure to say we all did.

If I may indulge in another anecdote – my students would tell you I can hardly be convinced to keep my illustrative stories to myself, and I fear they are correct in that assessment. Maria must have felt the same way when we were children, but she always listened to every mundane tale of mine to the end – my best memory of who your sister was as a person, the first glimpse of the woman she would eventually become, involved a half-dozen ducks and young Sarro of Mieri. While Sarro would rise to some stature upon inheriting his mother’s mercantile fleet, as a boy he had very little concept of matters nautical. Our class was watching some ducks on a pond, and Sarro puffed himself up to tell us the birds were floating along in the same formation as the vanguard of the armada. Maria questioned him on that, having seen said vanguard herself more than once. When Sarro realized his boasting was failing, he began to whimper. Maria tackled him into the water and thrashed about like a buffoon until he laughed. She told me later she did it to make sure he was so wet no one could see his tears.

If I see you at the Cathedral of Light, I hope you will not think me too bold if I present myself to you after the funeral. Your sister was a dear friend, and I wish only to share my memory of her with one who she loved so greatly. As the Book says, she has taken her right place among the angels.

Your humble friend,
Mire Andagon
Professor of Crafts
University at Torrecon

 

 

Result: The Archduke thanks Andagon profusely for his excellent letter and promises that he will be repaid for his kindness with a gift of great worth.

Quill – Single-player Letter-writing RPG

I recently finished a major draft of the novel I’ve been working on, and as I hit that last Save, I promised myself I would do other things with my life for a while than worry about writing stuff. After a few weeks, I picked up Quill.

Quill is an RPG where your write letters. Pick a character, select a scenario, roll some dice, pen a missive.

It’s also writer crack. World-buildy, characterizationy, playing-with-voicy crack. What better way to itch the authorial scratch is a non-stressful way? And I don’t even have to buy pizza.

I’ll be posting my “sessions” here under the unsurprising category Quill.

 

Tiny!fic – Clockwork

Yoon Ha Lee’s doing some tiny!fic writing prompts on Patreon. Here’s one of mine.

 

“Either your information is bad or you’re a plain idiot.” The enchanter’s knuckle-runes glowed a shade darker as he whispered, making the sheets of metal the green of old glass. “This is spring steel. The Cadois aren’t making weapons out of this.”

The spy smirked. An enemy ship’s hold was no place for an argument. “Just do your job.”

As the ‘chant worked his fingers and mumbled his spells, the spy did the thing he hated most — he explained himself.

“The Great Horloge needs a new mainspring, and this metal is going to be used for it. Every clock in Cadogna is set to the Horloge. Your enchantment is giving us control over the entire country’s time. So do it right.”

Review: Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom by Bradley W. Schenk

Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom by Bradley W. Schenk

Advance reading copy provided by publisher

 

I came across Schenk’s work through his illustrations, mainly the Pulp-O-Mizer cover generator (if you haven’t tried it, rectify this omission immediately). Given that, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the novel; how would the style of Retropolis make the transition to a full-length piece?

A little background first. Retropolis is a highly-stylized retrofuturistic concept based in the adventuresome fun of old pulp sci-fi stories, and that light, tongue-in-cheek style is handled with great discipline and consistency. The rules, as I see them:

  • Technology and science are fun, not evil. No Ewoks in Retropolis.
  • Chrome glistening in the sun, not oily old hulks.
  • It should all seem plausible based on 1940’s technology, with the addition of some big leaps (lighter-than-air metal, e.g.)

Given that by design the work is meant to remind us of slim, disposable volumes of tales featuring derring-do over character, how does this translate to a contemporary novel?

The answer: quite well.

Schenk presents a healthy smattering of fun characters, each with their own take on a world of impossible technologies. I mean, there’s a guy who keeps a slide rule in a hip holster — awesome. The humor is wit, not camp. As we slide steadily toward a world of AI, the moral question of the book (no spoilers) is timely and well-handled. And Schenk’s prose is absolutely lovely. This is an action-packed romp with more heart than grit.

If you’ve ever sat up watching old B-movies and laughed at the titles, go pick this book up.

Interview with Lesley Conner, Managing Editor of Apex Magazine

Apex Magazine is doing mad good work. (You may have noticed one of their novelettes in the latest Hugo finalists, for a recent example). They are currently running their 2017 subscription drive, which you should check.

So, how does the magic happen? Who are these diligent humans who spin slush into gold?

One of them is Lesley Conner, who was kind enough to answer a few of my more pressing questions.  What follows, Dear Reader, is a tale of horror, social reading, bees, Michigan, and the mind-bending term “goldendoodle”. You will not be the same at the end as you are now, at the blameless start.

Let us begin with Lesley’s bio, which I tore from the Apex site like Marty McFly with a  phonebook.

Lesley Conner is a writer, social media editor and marketing leader for Apex Publications, and Managing Editor for Apex Magazine. She spends her days pestering book reviewers, proofreading, wrangling slush, doling out contracts, and chatting about books, writing, and anything else that crosses her mind on the @ApexBookCompany Twitter account. Most of her nights are spent with a good book and a glass of wine. Her alternative history horror novel, The Weight of Chains, was recently published by Sinister Grin Press. To find out all her secrets, you can follow her on Twitter at @LesleyConner.

Now that we have all been introduced, the interview:

Tell me about the release of your first novel in 2015. How did it go? What did you and the publisher do to get the word out? Did you have a launch party? Were there cupcakes?

Lesley – The release of my first novel The Weight of Chains … was odd. You’d think that I’d be use to novel releases—Apex releases several books a year and I’m involved with each and every one—but with my own novel I was a mess! I was simultaneously afraid people would read it AND afraid no one would ever read it. So weird! Or maybe that’s how every author feels and I’m just used to seeing things from the editor perspective.

As for what I did to get the word out, I treated The Weight of Chains much the same way I do every Apex release. I reached out to reviewers and bloggers that I would with for Apex’s releases and humbly asked if they’d be willing to look at my novel. Since I already had a working relationship with many of them, I was able to set up a good numbers of reviews—many of which said something to the effect of “Lesley seems so nice … Where the hell did this novel come from!?!”

It’s funny that you ask about cupcakes. Have you read The Weight of Chains? Cake plays a very nefarious role in the story. When I sign copies I typically write “Welcome to the castle of my imagination. Enjoy your stay, but don’t eat the cake!” I didn’t have a launch party, but I really wanted to … and serve cupcakes that I’m then warning people not to eat. Yeah, it’s possible I’m slightly evil. LOL!

 

Is your dog named after the character from Buffy?

Lesley – Haha! Yes, my mini goldendoodle puppy Oz is named after Seth Green’s character in Buffy. I recently introduced my 14 year old and 9 year old daughters to the series and they love it as much as I do. When we brought home the fuzzy-faced puppy, naming him after the werewolf seemed like a perfect fit.

Of course, shortly after that the girls started saying we needed a second dog so we could have a Willow. I am not ready to have another dog yet so they’re going to have to hold off on that for now.

What is your process for finding cover art? 

Lesley – I rely heavily on sites such as DeviantArt. When we need to line up a couple of covers I will pour myself a cup of coffee and start plugging random search terms into the site. Science fiction, robot, bees … whatever I think may lead to some interesting images. Then I just browse. Some days I find nothing we can use; other days I find too much! I send links to pieces I think would work as cover art to Jason Sizemore and he narrows that down to the ones he likes. After that I approach the artists and see if they’d be interested in selling us nonexclusive rights—this is why you may see artwork that has been featured on Apex Magazine or one of our books elsewhere, we buy nonexclusive rights so the artist is free to sell those rights again. Luckily we haven’t had much trouble finding beautiful artwork by artists all over the world. Being able to work with so many talented artists and hopefully helping them find new fans is amazing!

 

Reading as a social activity — reading sentences to someone nearby, etc. A lost art?

Lesley – Not in my house! I’m constantly reading passages from whatever book I’m reading to my husband. Honestly, I’m not sure he always appreciates it—I probably shouldn’t interrupt the shows he’s watching—but I can’t help myself, especially when I’m reading a book that I know he isn’t interested in reading himself. I want to share funny lines or characters that I think are amazing. He’s a good sport and puts up with it.

It’s a habit that I’ve seemed to have passed on. My 14 year old daughter will come out of her room and sit next to me on the couch so she can read a passage she thinks is particularly clever. And both of my daughters want me to read books that they’re reading. They want to discuss them and have conversations, so I end up reading a LOT of YA fiction.

I’m also a Girl Scout leader, working with the middle school age girls. There are times when our meetings end up devolving more into a book club because they all want to talk about what they’re reading. I am not going to discourage that!

From my perspective, social reading is alive and well. You just have to know where to find it and how to foster it. Or read everything you’re reading aloud to your spouse whether they like it or not …

 

Have you seen changes to the industry from crowdfunding and subscription-based funding models like Patreon? 

Lesley – Crowdfunding and subscription based funding models allow writers and publishers to take chances on projects they may have shied away from in the past. Those quirky book ideas—the ones authors are really passionate about but aren’t sure anyone else will be—are suddenly a possibility. You want to write a weird western about a fairy who wants to be a train conductor? Instead of trying to sell the idea to a publisher who isn’t sure there’s an audience for such a book, you can put together a Kickstarter. It allows you to feel out interest without fronting the money, and in the end this means a greater number of books about niche topics end up being published. This is definitely a good thing!

But there’s a downside as well. More and more often a lot of publications rely on crowdfunding, subscription drives, and Patreon to keep their doors open. These promotional pushes take up a huge amount of time and energy, and in many cases they can make or break a publication, or at least dictate what a publication is able to do between now and the next promotional push. I don’t think anyone will be surprised when I say it’s stressful. But there’s also something exciting about doing a drive like the Revive the Drive event we’re running for Apex Magazine right now and it gives us the chance to put together amazing double issues like the one we’re setting up for January 2018.

 

Do you get to conventions at all? Which is your favorite?

Lesley – I don’t get to as many conventions as I would like to. There are a lot of reasons for this, with kids, money, and serious social anxiety being at the top of my list, but I really want to go to more.

This year I made it to ConFusion in Michigan. A lot of Apex people who I haven’t seen in a while were there and it was wonderful to get to catch up. Plus, it was an awesome con. If you’ve never been, I’d definitely recommend going. Great mix of writers and fans. The programming covered a wide range of topics. The consuite was amazing! And the con is very family friendly. I would definitely like to go back in the future.

Other than that, the only other con I’m planning on attending this year is Scares that Care. I’m not going in any official Apex capacity, but instead just to enjoy the event. I haven’t done that in a while, so it should be fun.

 

A big thanks to Lesley for her time, insight, and unflagging love of Californian vampire slayers*.  Be sure to swing by Apex’s Revive the Drive site and bear witness to the fantastic goodies on offer.

 

*that being either “slayers of Californian vampires” or “people from California who slay vampires”.

 

Apex Revive The Drive, ft. Story Review and Signed Copy

Apex Magazine’s annual subscription drive is back, including all manner of goodies for your enjoyment, One of these goodies features me!

This item includes a short story critique by Glitch Rain author Alex Livingston. It also includes a signed copy of Alex’s Apex novella Glitch Rain!

Alex will do a thorough critique of one short story (up to 7,500 words) with editing notes on story structure and grammar left throughout the manuscript via track changes. When he returns your story to you, he will include an email detailing what he believes to be the strengths and weaknesses of the story, as well as suggestions on how to make the story stronger. If you have questions about any of his notes, he will be happy to go over them with you, working with you step by step to make your story the best it can possibly be.

I’m very happy to offer my services for the fine folks at Apex. Check it here!

Review – The Fortress at the End of Time by J. M. McDermott

Review copy provided by the author.
A quiet man takes a position in a lonely place, finds both the job and the people he works with aren’t what he expects, and finds a way to craft his own destiny despite the staggering inertia of isolation and depression. Sounds like a Prestigious Literary Novel, and not what you’d expect from a space novel, right? McDermott tosses the pew-pew-laser-laser cliches directly out the window and presents a character-driven novel where the interpersonal and introspective conflicts take the helm. You should check it out.
The choice between resigned despair and desperate action forms the tension in the book. Assigned to a crumbling coffin of a space station, Ronaldo Aldo repeatedly has his hopes for his life dashed by bad luck, by the anger of people who have little outlet for it, and by his own failings. He is unable to find any satisfaction in work, prevented from making any real change to his condition, and disallowed from any true emotional connection. The only apparent alternative to the demeaning drudgery of the assignment is taken all too frequently — the suicide rate is high.
Anyone who has been (or at least felt) trapped by circumstances can immediately relate. I could just run away, go AWOL, punch my boss in the mouth and let him try to catch me. But if I quit, how will I live? The world (or galaxy) is cold and indifferent; what if I can never find work again? Am I better off staying with what I have? Or am I simply not brave enough? Am I doing this to myself?
Soul-searching is not the reaction I have to most spacefaring fiction. McDermott’s world is filled with galaxy-spanning political and economic complexities which he shows not from the POV of the crack starship captain with a disregard for the rules or of the sharp-eyed heir-apparent to an oligarchic shipping dynasty, but through the small-scale experiences of people who can only wonder why the Powers That Be have seen fit to keep them cold and endangered at the far limit of human civilization. Their struggles, their foibles, their myriad ways of reacting to the same harsh truths of life are memorable and ring consistently true.

Twitch.tv and Fiction?

Watching other people play videogames is a time-honored tradition, since the days when you more controllers than siblings.

The other night I watched as a great sci-fi writer played Skyrim. She has a channel on twitch.tv. It was lovely, just cruising along with N. K. Jemisin as she fought vampires to raise money to improve her house. So chill. I started poking around in twitch, checking out some videos and channels, and decided that Zeno Stede needed to make a return.

I started a new twitch channel in which I play the new content in No Man’s Sky as if I were the protagonist from From The Void, my serial fiction space adventure podcast. Because why not?

The challenge will be seeing how this works from a narrative sense. FTV was a man sending audio messages to his sister about his latest escapades. After a few tries, it seems like this will be more of a running commentary on Zeno’s thought processes as he gads about this procedurally-generated universe. What is his conflict? How does one frame these stories in an interesting way? Without a previously-scripted experience, is this more like improv than writing? Further updates as events warrant.

Check it here: https://www.twitch.tv/aximperator/videos/highlights

“Is Jeng-zai Heretical?”: a piece of Ninefox Gambit fan-fic.

[Warning: most of the content to follow is pure conjecture as to the exact nature of the jeng-zai deck of cards featured in Yoon Ha Lee’s fantastic Ninefox Gambit, which you should go read if you haven’t. – AL]

Is Jeng-zai Heretical? : An essay by Rahal Volare

(comments in red by Professor-Magistrate Rahal Sen Kann)

I would not dare to imply that any official action be taken against the playing of jeng-zai, a pleasurable and harmless (conjecture) tradition throughout the factions since before the hexarchate. I offer only a theoretical exercise on how the game and its variants could be interpreted as outside of Doctrine.

The Deck

The deck itself is a fairly simple matter: 27 cards in three suits (Roses, Gears, and Doors) running from ace to seven followed by two “noble” cards (the General and the Archate, or “Crowned” card). Yet the history, legend, and tradition surrounding these cards speaks to the effect they have on the shared minds of the populace at all levels of society.

Take, for example, the General of Roses, or “Drowned General” as it is known at jeng-zai tables. The standard depiction is of a military personage wearing a uniform decorated with rose-shapes, whose image is crossed at the lips by a line of waveform shapes clearly representing water. Overwhelmed, perhaps, or in failure. All manner of dramas can be found wherein a swarm leader draws the Drowned General and earns the mistrust of her crew. (cite these dramas for investigation) But some histories cite earlier forms of the card where several lines crossed the image at varying angles, representing bullets just missing the General. An error in the printing of one of the most-widely-distributed decks at the time made the waveform, and the tradition of the unlucky card (more here on luck. E.g. lucky unlucky 4 of any suit in Kel “dramas”, such as they are) has stuck.

Of course, the history of Shuos Jedao has lent deep meaning to the Deuce of Gears. Did the card choose the madman, or the other way around? (strike this from all drafts immediately) The lowest card in most jeng-zai variants, it is the only non-noble card to have oddities in its design: first, the varying sizes and shapes of the two gears and second, the lightning-strike shape. Design histories are unclear as to why this is the case. (end all investigation into this matter. handled by other scholars at length)

The Game

Jeng-zai is, at its most basic, a game of probability management and bluffing. Does your hand beat those of your opponents? Can you convince them it does even if it does not? The game draws interest from all factions for various reasons. The Nirai argue over the deep maths of the shuffle. The Shuos value the manipulation of others. (incomplete. what else do they value? what do they learn about a person by playing against him?) The Andan have an entire language of seduction built around the finer points of the game. The Kel love a winner-take-all game like the typically-Kel variant known as “F*ck The Calendar”, which rewards massive risks and presumed failure. (also breaking orders. this is a partner variant, with one partner as the lead, and certain card combinations only work when both partners contribute. but there can be only one winner. worth noting here that only in play will a Kel even think of disobeisance. the main social value of Fuck The Calendar is in allowing the Kel to flex any latent rebellious muscles a little in a controlled environment. see Shuos secret monitoring records of every game of Fuck The Calendar ever played in a military installation in the last 250 years). Even the Vidona find uses for the psychological strain the game can cause. (and what of us? and the Liozh? why bother writing about heretical gameplay without referring to them? see, but do not distribute, attached text)

Hypothesis

We have seen that the individual cards have meanings beyond their values.  The game itself has an indelible and invariant (use different word) place in our society. These associations are social, and outside of any Lexicon. It may be possible, then, that the game and its deck could be heretical.

Could the arrangement of a deck of cards in the pocket of some fledge cause unintended results in a formation? A question for the Nirai, surely, but one worth asking. Calendrical stability is a delicate matter (strike), and if a dead soldier were to be found with the so-called Fire’s Own Fortune hand at the top of his favorite deck after a lost battle, the mental damage this could do to a swarm is worthy of investigation. Loyalty-states can be assessed by our weaponry, and loyalty is not immune to the effects of the near-exotic qualities our subconscious attributes to jeng-zai. (good Rahal reasoning here)

Indeed (awk), any social construct which operates by rules outside of Doctrine merits monitoring. All games are based in an agreed-upon rule set, and any rule set not measured and valued by Doctrine is a potential risk to the hexarchate and the Calendar. Thus, jeng-zai, while clearly not (conjecture), could be viewed as a heretical by its very nature.