Cold Steel, Crown of Stars News, & A Reprise: Five Ways of Seeing Andevai (Spiritwalker Monday 21)

Page proofs of COLD STEEL are complete and turned in.

The over-abundance of orange post-its has to do with a typesetting glitch (which I have been given to understand is already corrected).

This officially is the cleanest set of page proofs I’ve ever gone over. In a 597 page manuscript I personally found only four mistakes (the official proofreader called attention to a couple of other things for a total of perhaps 8 mistakes). The rest are small changes I made because I cannot stop niggling with the manuscript. Substituting one noun because I had repeated a different noun four times. Replacing a slightly clunky line of dialogue with a sharper snarkier one. And so on.

BUT IT IS NOW DONE. In other words, I can’t change anything else even if I wanted to.

Meanwhile, sometime later this week Orbit UK will be announcing the release of all seven of the Crown of Stars books in digital editions. They asked me to write up a Crown of Stars Retrospective post (in whatever manner I wanted to retrospect the series), and composing that short essay took all my post-writing time for the week. So I still have not completed the second part of the post on the Creole of Expedition (Part One here). In fact, I have no Monday post ready to go at all, and thus because I determined to post every Monday like I promised, I decided here today to reprise a post from May 2011 in which I group the most common reactions to Andevai as he appears in Cold Magic into five basic descriptions. I did this because reactions were very divided, and also because I knew once Cold Fire came out, I would likely get a new set of reactions.

Here they are, five ways of seeing Andevai (behind a cut so those who remember the post can, if they wish, skip it): Continue reading

Short Stories, Deadlines, & the Cold Steel FINAL Cover (Spiritwalker Monday 22)

This week’s Spiritwalker Monday post was supposed to be The Creole of Expedition Part Two (Part One from last week can be found here), in which I go into detail (and quote extensively from people who know more than I do) about how I “created” a creole specifically for the city of Expedition so the people who live there could have a regionally specific way of talking.

I haven’t had time to finish writing that post because of other deadlines.

1) I am still working my way through the page proofs of COLD STEEL.

Of course I am looking for typos and grammatical mistakes, of which so far I believe I have found only two in quite a long manuscript, which means the Editor, Associate Editor, copy editor, and Sr Production Director have all done an excellent job. There is one odd glitch (marked by the orange post-its) which has to be trimmed out throughout [number strings that got dropped into/left in from some previous cycle of production]. Given the paucity of actual typos, my focus has been making any last (minor) changes such as changing a word or rephrasing a conversation or (in one case) adding a small revelation to the end of a chapter. This massive project is due at the end of the week.

2) A final copy-edit read-through of my short story “My Voice Is In My Sword,” which was originally published in WEIRD TALES FROM SHAKESPEARE (edited by Katharine Kerr & Martin H. Greenberg, 1994) and is being reprinted (together with a new interview) in APEX MAGAZINE‘s February 2013 issue. It’s now done and turned in.

3) Edits on my short story (technically a novelette) for Jonathan Strahan’s FEARSOME JOURNEYS (Solaris/S&S Summer 2013), a collection of original epic fantasy short stories. Due at the end of this week also.

Because of these deadlines, I plan to finish and post the Creole Part Two post — next week.

For this week, have a jpeg of the final cover for COLD STEEL. Note the cut on her cheek.


I’ve edited the image below out and asking you to go to the image here (Cold Steel Final Cover).

The Creole of Expedition: Part One, Setting the Stage and Asking the Question (Spiritwalker Monday 23)

When I began writing volume two in the Spiritwalker Trilogy, Cold Fire, I knew the plot would take my protagonist, Cat Barahal, to the Caribbean. Because the Spiritwalker books are a version of alternate history, I also knew that the 19th century Caribbean in this universe would have a different power dynamic from the 19th century Caribbean in our own world.

For one thing, in the Spiritwalker world the Americas were not colonized by the European powers. (As it happens, the European powers as we know them do not exist.) Among many other consequences, this meant that the Taino and other peoples who populated the Greater Antilles were *not* devastated by disease, forced labor, slavery, and various attempts to erase and subsume their cultures. They continued to expand and thrive.

I had already established (if not explicitly in book one then in my own notes) that a fleet from the beleaguered Empire of Mali had reached the Caribbean two centuries before the main story begins and founded up a settlement. With these refugees from Mali came also Phoenician sailors and merchants, and later they were joined by Roman sailors and merchants and immigrants as well as by Celtic immigrants, Iberian immigrants, and other people who had left Europa for one reason or another to make a new life elsewhere. Clutches of trolls, the feathered people, had migrated south from their ancestral homelands in North America.

Together these settlers had established Expedition Territory as a small autonomous territory within (and with the permission of and through a treaty with) the greater Taino empire, which I decided had by this time absorbed all the islands greater and lesser of the Caribbean.

In the Spiritwalker world, Europans refer to the area as the Antilles rather than the Caribbean. I used Antilles in preference to Caribbean because I felt it would be more clear to readers that the cultures they would meet here would not be the same as the cultures many in the USA and elsewhere most often refer to as “the Caribbean.” The word Antilles has its own long history, and with a Latin (Romance language) based etymology and what is possibly an origination in old Iberia, it fit well enough the altered history.

However, it also made sense to me that, given the several centuries’ separation and with the slow sea travel of the time and with a different blend of languages present within Expedition, the speech of the people in Expedition would be noticeably different than the speech Cat had grown up with in her own home city of Adurnam.

I don’t talk about this in the text (and I realize that it is contradiction regardless because I am writing in English), but in Adurnam *theoretically* the basic Latin foundation of the common language is heavily influenced by local Celtic and Bambara dialects with elements of Phoenician blended in. Cat also speaks a modern version of the Punic dialect that would have developed in Qart Hadast (Carthage) and later adapted to Gadir (Cadiz) where the Hassi Barahal family has made its base for many generations, but I never had time to deal with her multi-lingual capabilities because it doesn’t really come up in the story. She would also have studied a “schoolbook” form of Latin which would be known among all literate people and which would be in general use for correspondence. This “formal Latin” is the foundation for the common trade language.

My assumption had to be that many people who live in cities speak more than one language and understand multiple dialects as a matter of course, and that villages who are governed by legal clientage to a mage House or princely clan will have at least some members of the village who can speak their masters’ language as well as communicate with outsiders and people passing through in a local pidgin version of the trade language. Only in the most isolated villages would you find monolingual people, and even then there would surely be peddlers who came through periodically bringing with them goods, stories, and bits and pieces of the outside world in the form of scraps of a more cosmopolitan language.

Regardless, once Cat reached Expedition it was clear she would hear a language that she could partly understand but which would sound very different to her ear. Even if I presupposed (as I did) that in the Antilles Latin had retained its place as the basis for the common trade language with a strong Phoenician secondary influence, the other secondary influencing languages would be present in different proportions. In Expedition, Celtic dialects would be weak while a variant of what is Bambara in our world would be strong. Additionally, because the dominant culture in the region is the Taino Empire, the language of the Taino would certainly have made its mark on the language that developed in Expedition even if it did not replace it, and many people would speak both the creole and “standard Taino” as a matter of necessity.

As I worked on Cold Fire, I had to face this crucial question: Do I use a creole to represent the local language of Expedition or do I write people’s speech to be indistinguishable from Cat’s own?

Using a creole would create several significant problems.

One, of course, is simply the extra effort for a reader who is not familiar with the creole to read and parse (for example) “dat is di way dem chat” as opposed to “that is the way they talk.” There is a certain amount of learning curve to get comfortable with the vocabulary, grammar, and rhythm of a creole, and that is a lot to ask of a reader.

Second, writing dialogue in a dialect or creole that one is not intimately familiar with is difficult to pull off and easy to do poorly. It may come across as insulting and appropriative, as awkward or demeaning. It may seem to some readers that the speakers of the creole are being made to look ignorant and ill-educated because they are not using grammar “correctly” (although they are in fact using a streamlined grammar rather than standard grammar because a creole has a functional grammar and is not a marker of ignorance or stupidity).

For these reasons, I was extremely hesitant to try to use a creole for the local speech in Expedition. Given that I am not a native speaker of nor intimately familiar with any of the actual Caribbean creoles spoken today or in historical times, how could I possibly write a creole that would feel authentic within the text and would not be disrespectful to indigenous speakers of creoles?

Set against those objections there rose answering responses.

Cat is a visitor to Expedition, not a local. What she hears will sound different to her ear. If I simply wrote people talking the same way she did, the story and her experience would lose much of the sense of being a truly different place from where she grew up. Instead of a foreign city, it would just be her city with a different backdrop. While that would be the safe choice, it would also be the blandest and weakest choice. And it would be disrespectful in a different way.

The actual historical presence and importance to literature, music, culture, religion, and history of the many Caribbean creoles must not be ignored. The Caribbean is a vibrant and vital cultural sea. To not even give a nod to the reality of the Caribbean we know in our world simply because it would be hard to do so seemed wrong to me. As disrespectful and appropriative as it can be to hamfootedly write clunky bad dialogue with precious dialect-isms, it seemed more disrespectful to me to erase the existence of creole altogether.

I knew that, regardless, Cat’s experiences in Expedition would be filtered through her point of view, her limited knowledge, and her presence there as a foreigner. That gave me a little leeway.

In the end, I decided I had to use *a* creole.

My answer was to use not an extant creole–which I could not pull off–but to create a creole for the Antilles of the Spiritwalker world that would echo and draw from the English-dominant creoles of our Caribbean but would have its own blend of borrowed words, rhythms, and grammar and one furthermore influenced by the Taino language and empire that surrounds Expedition Territory.

Does the creole in Cold Fire work? I don’t believe that is my question to answer. For some readers it will work; others will find it problematic or annoying. I did my best, that’s all I can say for sure.

In retrospect, looking back, I would do it again the same way. Not because I think I did it well (or not well) or even necessarily right but because I did what I felt I had to do to make the culture of Expedition feel like a real place with its own history and set of traditions, a culture that has developed over time because of the particular circumstances of its founding, setting, and development.


Link to the second part of The Creole of Expedition: Part Two, Defining and Creating a Creole (Spiritwalker Monday 13).

Rivers of London: Ben Aaronovitch’s 21st century London (Peter Grant series)

There are books I can’t write. This is a good thing.

What a limited world it would be if the only novels available were ones I could think up. I’m not dissing myself or my writing; I’m just saying I have certain stories to tell and I get the greatest pleasure imaginable out of experiencing the stories other people have to tell.

What’s odd is when I find a book that feels tailor made for me because it has oodles of my favorite fictional things presented in ways that most please and entertain me–and it is a book I definitely could not have written. How do these authors know to make the book just for me in that particular way?

Late last year I picked up Ben Aaronovitch’s MIDNIGHT RIOT (original/UK title: Rivers of London) because I had seen it mentioned enough times that I thought it was time for me to try it, and because I was looking for a modern fantasy fiction read.

It turns out that the series hits so many of my favorite things that I read the extant three novels (#1 MIDNIGHT RIOT/RIVERS OF LONDON, #2 MOON OVER SOHO, and #3 WHISPERS UNDERGROUND) in three days, one a day. It was like I fell into the world and couldn’t (and didn’t want to) climb out.

What did I love? (this list will be as spoiler free as I can make it, but the comments will not be)

1) London!
I love London. These books are set in London and written by a Londoner. The sense of place is so grounded that I am 99.99% certain that Aaronovitch has been to every place he writes about. It feels utterly real because it is real. As an added bonus, there are a number of architectural asides relating to the history of the city that I love unreservedly because I love architecture. The details make the setting, and they all ring true and are exactly right to bring this London to life like I could go there next week and meet some of these people and see these secret places if only I knew how to get into them. Also, the magic is tied in to London and to the land itself. SO AWESOME.

2) Furthermore, the London of the series is the truly multicultural 21st century London that exists today rather than an antiquated London with a primarily white cast and a few random people of color thrown in. When people object to inserting people of color into narratives just to “make quota,” this is an example of a series I would point them to in order to show how to write a story about the real world and seeing what is in front of our eyes every day.

3) The narrator, Peter Grant, is a young constable just off probation.
Okay, he just works for me as a narrator. If I was 24, I would totally have a crush on this guy AND I would know that he was exactly the kind of guy I should not have a crush on, because he is bad boyfriend material but good friend material. Yes, in case you’re asking, I identify in that sense with Lesley. Don’t judge me.

3) The well-crafted first person narration.
He has a charming, funny, humane, and observant voice that is a pleasure to read and follow along with.
But there’s more to it than that. The narration does double duty.
We sometimes see things Peter does not.
We occasionally get things about him he misses.
We can in some cases understand people differently than he does.
He is often very observant and sometimes entirely clueless.
We are told, through the mouths of others (mostly Lesley and Nightingale), things about Peter that are often critical and which he repeats faithfully even if he disagrees with them (I will quote two of my absolute favorites in the comments section), and at the same time the narrative itself reveals through action how true those things are (for instance, Peter’s “short attention span”).
Meanwhile, some of his weaknesses can also at times be strengths (e.g. his way of focusing which is sometimes a lack of focus allows him to see things and to experiment with magic in ways that other people do not).
He makes mistakes. At the same time, he is good at a lot of the things he does without being way too good.
Asides are paid off later. Nothing is wasted.
The next book is set up, and the seeds of further books down the line are being laid in place as well. I can’t know how much BA plots out the larger narrative arc in advance but it feels to me like there are several unfolding plots here that could run to many more books in the way that a really well done tv series has season arcs and an overall series arc. And I will be there for every one.

4) Magic! Magic! Magic!
Magic that makes sense, with rules and limitations, and which is about the hard repetitive learning curve not about special inborn talent that manifests to miraculously make the Chosen One the bestest of all around. It’s difficult to come up with a way to integrate magic into the modern world that doesn’t feel cliched, dull, shallow, done a million times, or tainted with an underlying message of aristocratic chosen-ness. This magically infused world really worked for me. Besides magic, there are also people and creatures with inborn natural magic, and that is categorized and fitted into the entire schema as well.

5) Human Positive
This first person narrative is told from the point of view of a young man in his 20s with a healthy (hetero)sexual appreciation for women, a male gaze, a not inconsequential good opinion of himself (leavened by a grain of salt in his sense of humor), and yet which is COMPLETELY RESPECTFUL OF WOMEN. Furthermore, the female characters feel like real human beings and appear in a variety of roles all of which he pays attention as human beings.
This should not be as unusual as it is, but it is, so let me repeat that again:
RESPECTFUL OF WOMEN. Treats women as human beings and portrays women in a wide variety of roles which are not limited to sexual object or male caretaker.

5a) Over on my Book Smugglers Smugglivus guest post which you can find here, I discussed the idea of writing a healthy male heterosexuality as opposed to an obsession with unhealthy sexuality . It is completely possible to write about male heterosexuality in a way that is positive and real without it becoming puerile, juvenile, tittering, demeaning, filled with abuse and rape and an objectifying male gaze. It’s one of my favorite things about the book because I never felt that, as a woman and a human being, I had to cringe.

6) Secondary characters.
Loads of them, with distinct personalities, the sense that they have their own lives and plot arcs, and a feeling that we may re-meet these people at any time because they are not automatons in service of the plot. Also: his mum. Trust me on this.

7) FINALLY: Wit.
Not every sense of humor works for everyone but this one absolutely nailed a blend of serious and witty that totally works for me.

In short, I love this series because it works for me on every level. Will you love it? I don’t know, but I encourage anyone who hasn’t read it to at least try it if my description sounds at all appealing.
Those who have read it, feel free to join with me here to discuss it, spoilers, predictions, scars, and all.

Falling Into Books, or When Reading is like Sex (Spiritwalker Monday 24)

Every once in a while I pick up and start reading a novel and it’s like falling into the water and being able to breathe under the surface so that you become the water and yet stay yourself. This reaction is more complex than a novel hitting all your literary kinks or pleasing you on any number of levels by having the writing and the plot and the characters and the world all work for you. It is more like a species of attraction.

But don’t take my word for it. I got to thinking about this because of a conversation I had on Twitter with Lora Maroney [@Lorata should you wish to follow her on Twitter]. An excerpt:

LM: Working out difference b/t fiction kink & fiction boner. I think it’s whether I’d read something bad just bc it has that element in it.
LM: because I was about to use the terms interchangeably but they really aren’t.
Me: No, they really aren’t.
LM: Also do I expect people to share the love or judge me when I tell them I like something, that’s part of it too
LM: it’s subjective & that’s why it’s great. Also I’m less likely to be offended if someone doesn’t share a fiction boner
LM: it’s like ME ME ME and something I want to roll around in. It’s not like HOW CAN YOU HATE STAR WARS ARE YOU MAD etc
Me: Yeah, a fiction boner is like a reaction you can’t predict or control, one that is very strong. It just is.
LM: Yes, and while I can talk intelligently about the why of my narrative kinks, with fiction boners it’s like AHHH MY FEELINGS

This is what I mean when I say that sometimes reading is like attraction, not like actual physical sex but that sense of absorption and obliteration.

In 2011 I had this happen with Susanna Kearsley’s The Winter Sea. I wrote briefly about the book here (and in fact use the phrase “fell in love with”). I retain a visceral and emotional memory of reading one of the very intense emotional scenes from the book. It’s so rare for me to recall such vivid memories of reading, to remember myself in the act of reading, of that process as I was so immersed and caught up in the scene and also aware of how amazingly caught up I was. At one point I remember pausing and marveling at how involved I was, how overwhelmed by the immediacy of the fictional moment.

How strange and wonderful that interaction between reader and text is.

How weird is it that we get so unbelievably involved in characters who don’t exist? And yet characters and worlds and stories linger with me; they are some of my most important experiences. Surely it says something about human beings that stories not only exist in every human culture but that stories under-gird the creation of human culture because they are woven into the fabric not just of our societies but of our own selves.

Story is one of our natural conditions.

Sometimes stories damage us. Sometimes they heal us. Some make us laugh and some make us cry and some make us angry and some ignore us completely. Some stories get more space and brighter colors and are allowed to be loud; some stories are buried, and others are made mute, and others whisper. And we still live through them and sometimes die because of them.

Reading a novel is only one of many varieties of story. The story as novel is a version that has long worked for me, and sometimes I read books so consciously and analytically that I never fall into the page. Some people no doubt believe that “falling into the page” is a way of reading that one ought to be suspicious of, as if immersion, going under, should rouse distrust rather than celebration.

But I celebrate it, for myself. Not everyone reads this way, and that is cool. Be what you are! People don’t all need to read the same way.

As for me, I love falling into the page, falling under the surface of the story. I love getting so caught up that nothing else exists in the moment of reading except this place and these people that another mind has fashioned and sparked with an odd sort of life. Because these are my own preferences, I therefore tend to write with an aim ultimately to creating an immersive experience for readers.

Recently I had this experience of falling to a story with the first three volumes of Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant urban fantasy series [Rivers of London aka Midnight Riot in the USA; Moon Over Soho; Whispers Underground]. I’m going to talk about the series in a related post tomorrow that will be filled with spoilers, and I hope any of you who have read it will come and talk about the books with me. Because I Have Feelings.

So what about you guys? Are you immersive readers? Or analytical ones? Or something else? Have you fallen into any books lately? What is your take on fiction kinks vs. fiction boners?

Crown of Stars ebook releases (USA)

Finally some news on ebook releases of the Crown of Stars series.

This information is for the USA market only, where the series is published by DAW Books.
I will post news about the UK/Aus/NZ region (Orbit UK) as soon as I know anything.

KING’S DRAGON is available now as an ebook in Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and presumably mobi and epub versions.

PRINCE OF DOGS and THE BURNING STONE are scheduled to be released in ebook versions on January 15.

I do not currently have a schedule for volumes 4 – 7.

A question for those of you outside of the USA/Canada and the UK and the Australia/NZ regions who like to read English language e-texts: How are you able to get English language ebooks? Are you in a restricted market, or do you have some other mechanism to get downloads?