Many years ago, I put out my first series of novels. It began with The Silver Ship and the Sea. As often happens with new children, not everything went well. The Silver Ship and the Sea came out to good reviews and sold well for an SF debut by an unknown author. It won the Endeavor Award. The second book came out on Black Thursday in 2008, or the day the stock market fell. Car dealerships closed. Banking and investment institutions teetered. No one cared about my second book, especially not in hardcover at about $30.00 a copy. I suspect two copies were purchased on release day – one by me and one by my mom. Not the publishers fault, not my fault, and worse things happened to many other people. I didn’t even – really – have any room to complain. We didn’t lose our house or our jobs. But bad sales of book two (Reading the Wind) meant low orders for book three (Wings of Creation), and so the series was cancelled one book shy of completion.
There it languished.
When you start telling a story, and people read your story, they want the end. It’s like a promise between a writer and a reader. But I didn’t have any practical way to put out book four. Each book has a whole story in it, but this series also has a clear meta-story that goes across all the books, and I plotted it as a four-book story.
I didn’t despair. I kept writing. Prime Books published Mayan December, which did better than I thought it would. Pyr bought the duology the The Creative Fire and The Diamond Deep and then the related duology Edge of Dark and, soon, Spear of Light. They may buy two more books set in a different world. Fairwood Press put out my first collection, Cracking the Sky. With the help of five friends, I kickstarted a short fantasy collection, Beyond the Waterfall Door. Edge of Dark was recently shortlisted for the PhillipK. Dick award.
Writing careers accrue to those who persevere.
But in spite of the fact that my new books are doing well, the last book from that first series is still in me. From time to time I dream of it. Every once in a while a fan emails and asked where it is.
I’ve had contracts in hand since I was in Maine in January, and now it can be told.
Wordfire Press will reprint the first three books, and they will publish book 4, The Making War (which exists as a rough draft, about half done. So it needs more work…). I’m also going to clean up the first three – without changing the story or the characters, who I love dearly. I’ll make it stronger, although with a light touch. I know a lot more now than I did ten years ago when I wrote Silver Ship in the first place. They’re going to be great.
I don’t have pub dates yet, and those of you who follow me closely know how busy I am. But I will get this done. I will be able to keep my promise.
I was lucky enough to have a book nominated for the Philip K. Dick award in a great year for it. The competition is stiff – I recommended Ramez Naam’s Apex long before we all got nominated, I read and loved an early version of Adam Rakunas’s Windswept (the current version is still on my TBR pile, and I’m not at all surprised it is doing great). I’m enjoying PJ Manney’s (R)evolution when dog walking and commuting. I’m hoping to get to the other two (Archangel, by Marguerite Reed, and After the Saucers Landed, by Douglas Lain) before the award, although my only chance is probably audio given all the required reading I have right now. But liking the other nominated work is only one dimension.
Some sic fi awards have been awkward over the last few years. But we are all working together to bring you something cool:
And you win! We’re giving away six sets of the six books. Head on over to our giveaway site, and enter for a chance to win.
I mostly read science fiction, but every once in a while I’ll dig into fantasy, especially by certain favorite writers. Aliette DeBodard is one of my favorites. Her House of Shattered Wings didn’t disappoint. This dark fantasy set in an alternate Paris turned out to be an excellent read, full of flawed and magnificent characters, real threats, powerful magic, and small intrigues.
I highly recommend it.
Note that there are multiple breathtaking cover images of this book. I consider that a testament to the powerfully evocative imagery in the book.
I’m really touched and flattered and pleased….and a bit shocked happy. I just learned that Edge of Dark is a finalist for the Philip K. Dick Award.
The award is presented annually with the support of the Philip K. Dick Trust for distinguished science fiction published in paperback original form in the United States. The award is sponsored by the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society and the award ceremony is sponsored by the Northwest Science Fiction Society.
Here is the whole list:
EDGE OF DARK by Brenda Cooper (Pyr)
AFTER THE SAUCERS LANDED by Douglas Lain (Night Shade Books)
(R)EVOLUTION by PJ Manney (47North)
APEX by Ramez Naam (Angry Robot Books)
WINDSWEPT by Adam Rakunas (Angry Robot Books)
ARCHANGEL by Marguerite Reed (Arche Press)
I am excited for us all!
I just finished the audiobook of Paolo Bacigalupi’s “The Water Knife.” Nicely done! Paolo has always truly good at warning — which is one of the big jobs science fiction does well. In this case, he’s warning about a future that feels very real, a dry and thirsty future where fresh water represents power. He writes with enough confidence to force you to believe in his world. In “The Water Knife,” the future Paolo draws in vivid detail lines up with the real headlines available today about water, lack of water, and fights over water rights.
It’s a tough job to write a book about current and near-term events where the story is strong enough that the message doesn’t feel like a lecture. Paolo succeeds. The story is fabulous, the warning feels dire, and I didn’t feel stepped out of the story for the warning.
I also loved the narration.
I don’t want to say too much else because of spoilers, but my parents live in Phoenix. Every time I visit, I love the sunshine and the high desert and I love seeing them. I also feel like the set-up is off-balance, that so many people simply don’t belong in that desert. I think Paolo must have had that same thought.
Note there are also other books I’d recommend on this topic. These include Mary Rosenbaum’s Water Rites and Rob Ziegler’s Seed. Brenda Hillman’s poetry book, Practical Water. The futurist in me thinks we should all read about this topic – fiction and non-fiction. It is going to be a topic of future discussion.
In my day job (IT Management), it’s normal to go back to school mid-career to get new skills and hop up a rung. Apparently the creative writing career is different; the goal of the MFA is to get published, and after you are published, you don’t really need one. But I’ve never been conventional. I am, however, quite goal-driven. My bucket list contained a Master’s degree. I’m five to ten years from retiring from my IT career, so an MBA or an MPA seemed silly. So here I am, getting my MFA even though I’m pretty well-published these days. There are good reasons – I still have skills to learn as a writer (being published does not mean you know everything), I’m toying with the idea of teaching (and being a good writer does not make you a good teacher) and I needed something different (the life of a mid-career mid-list novelist is an exercise in hanging on by the fingernails and investing time and money you don’t have to keep clinging to the ledge while kicking upward as hard as you can).
So here I am.
For those not following earlier FaceBook or other posts, I’m at the StoneCoast program in Southern Maine. That’s me – make it hard if you can. I picked an MFA program as far away as possible without leaving the continental US. Guess who has never been in below-zero weather? Yep. Four days. I’m counting gloves. But given that I write speculative fiction, Stonecoast is one of two places to be if you need something low residency so you can keep working.
The program looks like this: Go to Maine for ten days and do a lot, go back home for a semester and do a lot. Repeat for a total of four times. Go back to Maine and graduate. I’m at the end of the first semester.
So far, so good.
The residency was great. I already wrote about that (see FaceBook). The semester was too. You’ll notice from the paragraph up above that I picked Stonecoast because they have a popular fiction program, and I write science fiction and fantasy. Those, by the way, are actually excluded by name from many MFA programs. Which is kind of like saying you can come to our school but only if you don’t like cherries. I mean, really? That aside, StoneCoast has a great popular fiction program, but I enrolled in the fiction program and then for my first semester I studied poetry.
There are reasons. I enrolled in the fiction program because I like literary SF (Kim Stanley Robinson, Neal Stephenson, Ursula K. LeGuin) and I got it into my head that the popular fiction program would be about things I already know while my writing could use a literary brush up. Really – snooty reviewers call my line-by-line writing bad names from time to time. They’re actually bullies. I shouldn’t care, but I do. While signing up for fiction might have been wrong-headed thinking, I learned a lot from my first residency workshop teacher, Dolen Perkins-Valdez. Besides, I have all the access I need to published SF and fantasy writers – they are my friends. It still makes sense to be in a program where they don’t hate what I do.
So what’s up with the poetry? Well, that was a spontaneous decision. I was sitting quietly in a chair listening to Martín Espada read. He is a glorious reader. I did start my literary career with poetry, but for the last two decades I’ve been writing space opera. When Martín read, I was transported. I was happy. Due to one of the usual bad-things-that-happen-to-novelists (my editor left the house and everything slowed down) I didn’t have any pressing deadlines that weren’t basically self-created. I had just delivered the last novel manuscript I had under contract. So I interpreted this as the universe making a poetry sized hole in my life and I leapt into the hole.
So what was the semester like?
I had fun. I read a craft book on poetry written by Frances Mayes, who wrote Under the Tuscan Sun (which has over 250,000 likes on Goodreads. Yipes!). I read poetry by Walt Whitman. Who knew I would love Walt Whitman? I read poetry by Dorianne Laux (I did know I loved her work…I fell in love with The Orgasms of Organisms years ago) and more, of course. It’s a Master’s program. There was a lot of work. I wrote fifty or so poems. I read hundreds of poems. I listened to talks. I got to work with Eléna Rivera who was fabulous as a teacher/mentor for the semester, and who is a damned fine poet as well. All good.
So the experience has been awesome so far. But let’s do a round of pros and cons below, since that might be helpful to anyone else considering this path.
Pro’s so far:
I love the people. All of the instructors are great, and since it’s a program on the East Coast there are a lot of speculative fiction writers I don’t know well teaching there (although I’d met most of them). The fiction writers and poets are new, but they would have been anywhere I went. Still, it’s fun to be in a group of writers I don’t usually see.
The other students are great. I’m not the oldest one. I was a little afraid of that. The young ones are a little precious and adorable (I mean that in a good way — I realize it could be taken badly). One graduating student didn’t consider Ursula Le Guin a speculative fiction writer. I managed not to fall off of my chair. Barely. But the people are all great. Some are pretty damned fine writers already. One of the graduating (now graduated) students has this amazing book-movie thing going about a pet snail. I’m not kidding.
I am learning.
I’m having fun. Serious fun.
Note that a lot of the things I like are probably about StoneCoast itself – when I was doing my research I noted many programs where I had out-published EVERY teacher (not true here, not even close) and one (unaccredited) where the magical thing you had to do to graduate was write 20,000 words. I mean really? I write 50,000 words every November and 20,000 most months. I did nanowrimo this year even while doing Stonecoast. What would I do after the first month in a program with such a low bar that I could write it in one long coffee-filled weekend on the beach? So Stonecoast seems to be a good blend of actual rigor and good teachers – it’s a good place for me. The con’s might be more universal.
Con’s so far:
It costs a lot.
Most of the stuff I’ve read has been truly interesting. Some of it has been amazing (“Dart” by Alice Oswald, any poem by Jorie Graham or Dorianne Laux). Some of it has been what I’m going to call “Academic shorthand.” It assumes you’ve read every classic book in the world, uses code for major discussion and topics, and is totally – totally – unintelligible to the average person who hasn’t been at a University much for thirty years. Those hours are never coming back. Now, I get it. Shorthand is necessary. I’m in tech, and I might say, “I got a new IOT thing that serves as the new house base and uses blahdeblah encryption.” We all have our own languages and they serve a purpose. To understand some of these essays I had to go read essays about the essays and watch YouTube videos of the authors and leave offerings of banana peels outside the windows for the Gods of Academia. And not for the kinds of things I read about for fun like “How do we all thrive and defeat climate change at the same time?” This is for stuff like “Why don’t you start every line at the left?” Head-desk. Head-desk. Head-desk.
There is nothing about this program that helps a mid-lister with the business of writing. The business of writing stuff is all super-elementary and aimed at the unpublished. I expected that. I suppose it would be hard to entice a starry-eyed young writer with their first published story to show up for “Where to sell book three of your series after your first publisher abandoned you” or “What do you do with the eighteen boxes of hardbacks you stupidly bought as remainders?” as residency seminar titles. At least I have other resources for that stuff.
So…I started out to write a short blog past and this has gotten rather long. I have a few hundred pages to read for my next residency, which starts January 8th. So I’ll just go do that now.
Neal Stephenson’s latest book, Seveneves, truly rattled me. It’s a masterpiece of story. I was listening in audiobook (which is about the only way I can consume fresh fiction right now with my writing/school/work schedule) so I had get it slow. It took four weeks. If I’d had in in my hands I’d have screwed up my schedules and just stayed up late every night, so I guess its good I bought it with an Audible credit. Even taken slowly, the book woke me up at night more than once — I’d be processing some bit of story in my hindbrain and it would shock me awake, and a few times even get me out of bed to think about it. There are huge stakes in this book, true heroes, and a also a series of believable characters full of human flaws and frailty.
SevenEves is “On the Beach” crossed with something more hopeful, a story of space and transhumanism, of transcendence and resilience. Gosh, that almost sounds like I’m writing a blurb! But that’s what it felt like to read it. Remade is still on my too-read list and couldn’t ever get into the Baroque Cycle, but I’ve loved everything other novel of Stephenson’s. For me, this one is the best since Snow Crash. As a warning, it borders on horror. Not the usual horror fair of machetes and mean men or nasty supernatural enemies, but the true horror of a scary situation.
There is a lot of world building. A lot. But I’m a world building geek, and thus perfectly happy to have long descriptions of cool things when they are in good hands (I loved the description of the cathedral in Anathem). That said, Stephenson doesn’t stint on character in this novel – there was plenty of story.
The narration is fabulous. The first part is read by Mary Robinette Kowal, who’s a true pro. I was sad to see it transition to Will Damron, although he did an excellent job as well. I just missed Mary’s voice.
I really can’t say much else without getting into spoilers, but I highly recommend Seveneves and in particular, I suggest picking up the audible version (if you happen to have 31.5 hours in a car or somewhere else to listen to it).
I hope to see this on our award short lists this year.
I recently finished Aurora (Audible version). I started out interested in it because I have also written generation ship books, and I find the generation ship to be a particularly interesting setting. There is a lot of technology and a lot of big dreaming and hope that travels with these ships, and putting a lot of humans in a tin can (even if its big and well engineered) tends to produce interesting results. Which it does here.
Of note, Aurora is both well written and well-narrated. It’s a huge scope work (as you would expect from KSR). The only thing I didn’t like was the main premise, which I won’t give away here. It implies challenges to space travel that I hadn’t thought of (and should have). I’m considering it food for thought.
That aside, it’s a beautiful book, full of great world building and interesting characters. Robinson is also a great line by line writer, and always fun to read on that level. I recommend it highly.
Nanowrimo is not for everyone, and generally, its more for newer writers than me, although I do know many other pro writers who nano. For any who don’t know, Nanowrimo is all about writing 50,000 words in a month, which the size of a smallish novel (My novels are usually 120,000 words). At any rate, for the curious, here is a bit on the book I’ve started, and a bit on this year’s nano experience.
This is the first time I’ve combined my MFA and Nano. I’ll get to do that again next year. This semester I’ve been working on poetry, and I was curious about how that would affect my fiction. I think it did make me a little more lyrical in my prose. Since the book now has to get tucked away for MFA work through mid-January and then I’m likely to have copyedits for SPEAR OF LIGHT (the sequel to EDGE OF DARK), I won’t see much of this manuscript again for about 10 weeks. So I’ll be able to tell then.
The book is a fun coming of age story (but appropriate for adult readers) that explores a nearer-term and on-earth future. So it’s different than my last few books and actually is working my futurist muscles harder than the far-far-future stuff. But that’s a different post.
Nano is always about deadlines. I’m very busy (full-time plus day job that’s been personally really hard this year for some reason), MFA, we just moved, and I’m keeping up a slightly-slowed writing career. I’m doing less short work, but I feel like the novels need to keep coming. The universe is weird. Part of why I signed up for Nano was because I felt like I was stagnant in my writing sales, and now I’m getting some momentum I don’t want to lose. I guess sleep is not an option. That’s all to say even doing nano felt impossible going into it, and I finished only one day early this year. But at any rate, since I’m even busier than normal this year, there wasn’t any time to think too hard or get stuck so I didn’t. I basically typed as fast as I could. It was really almost fun, like the reward for all of the other hard work. What glory to have half an hour to two hours a day when I could actually just write forward on fiction!
Anyway, it was fun. And I’ve got a number of reading recommendations and an essay that’s stuck in my head backed up — I’ll try to get those out in the next week or so, but no promises (see above).
I’m currently at the 100 Year Starship Symposium. This symposium was started by DARPA and is now run by Mae Jemison, who was the first black female astronaut to go into space. At the moment, I’m hearing about the 1400 planets that have been found. That’s only in the last twenty years – it was roughly twenty years ago that we found the first one. Once more, what a lovely time to be alive.
I’ve been to a lot of conferences about space. This one is different in a few important ways:
Most importantly, that audience (the few hundred scientists and enthusiasts and sci fi writers and students) is focused on one thing — getting out into the solar system in a human-powered ship in such a way that the journey is for everyone in humanity. In other words, rather than being about defense or war or even pure science, they are interested in peaceful, inclusive exploration and expansion. Here is the exact statement from them:
We exist to make the capability of human travel beyond our solar system a reality within the next 100 years. We unreservedly dedicate ourselves to identifying and pushing the radical leaps in knowledge and technology needed to achieve interstellar flight, while pioneering and transforming breakthrough applications that enhance the quality of life for all on Earth. We actively seek to include the broadest swath of people and human experience in understanding, shaping and implementing this global aspiration.
How do I know they mean it? Usually the audience at a conference with similar slides on the dais would be 80% white male. Not here. The single largest group of people in the audience is white males, but if I added all the rest of us up, one would have to actually count to determine whether or not the numbers (collectively) of people of any-color-or-type-other-than-white-male is greater. But it might be. This is, in fact, very unusual.
This is a very cool place to be. None of us in this room are likely to be on this starship when it is created. But in many ways this place and time represents the early generations of this multi-generation starship.
I am a writer, public speaker, and a futurist. I’m interested in how new technologies might change us and our world, particularly for the better.
I’m excited about my most recent book series, a duology called “Ruby’s Song” which includes the books The Creative Fire and The Diamond Deep, both published by Pyr. I’m also doing a non-fiction blog series, Backing into Eden, which comes out roughly twice a month and explores ways to care for the world, now and in the future.