2015 Writing/Publishing Retrospective

Yes, 2015 was an exceptionally busy year for me. It’s not that I write quite that fast but that I had no fiction released in 2014 with the exception of The Courtship, a Spiritwalker-related short story posted on my blog. Due to scheduling, two novels, a short fiction collection, a novella, a short story, and several long non-fiction pieces appeared this past year. I also attended four conventions.

Here is the 2015 rundown of professional (money-making) pieces [and a quick comment about when the piece was actually produced]. I don’t list blog posts on my blog or as guest posts elsewhere although I wrote several I thought were pretty ace.


A review of The Steerswoman by Rosemary Kirstein appears in Cascadia Subduction Zone.

[I wrote this in 2014.]


The Very Best of Kate Elliott, a short fiction collection by Tachyon Publications, is released to quite good reviews and with an exceptionally excellent Julie Dillon-illustrated cover.

[All the stories in this collection were written prior to 2014. The introduction was written in 2014.]


An essay titled Writing Women Characters as Human Beings published at Tor.com.

[An ongoing project that went through multiple revisions, I finished this in 2015. I hope to finish a companion piece in 2016.]


A reprint of my novelette “On the Dying Winds of the Old Year and the Birthing Winds of the New” appears in Lightspeed Magazine (the story appeared for the first time in the short fiction collection). It is set in the Crossroads universe.

[This piece has been around some years but the final revisions were done in 2014.]


I wrote the foreword for Speculative Fiction 2014: The Year’s Best Online Reviews, Essays and Commentary, edited by Renee Williams and Shaun Duke and published by The Book Smugglers Publishing.

[Written in 2014? I think? Or early 2015?]

Guest of Honor at SFeraKon in Croatia. I tell you this: The Croatians are THE BEST.

I’m already exhausted and we aren’t even halfway through the year.


San Diego Comicon, panel and signings. BIG. REALLY BIG.


My Young Adult debut novel, Court of Fives, is published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. The audiobook (narrated by the wonderful George Dolenz) is published by Hachette Audio. Among other things, CoF was listed as one of NPR’s Best Books 2015.

[First draft written Winter 2012/13, revisions 2013 into early 2014]

Sasquan/Worldcon, in Spokane, Washington. Fun for me. Bad forest fires for the people in Eastern Washington.


Guest of Honor at Sirens Conference together with Rae Carson and Yoon Ha Lee. Wow, this was grand. You should come in 2016.

This month I also turned in final revisions for Poisoned Blade, Court of Fives 2, scheduled for publication in August 2016. I wrote the first draft and completed three revision passes, all in 2015.


And then, yes, volume one of a long-awaited (by me if by no one else!) new adult epic fantasy, Black Wolves, published by Orbit Books.

[First draft written 2013-2014, revisions 2014/early 2015]

Black Wolves has an audiobook narrated by the fabulous Richard Ferrone, and published by Recorded Books.


The year rounds off with two final pieces of short fiction.

Night Flower is an ebook only novella, a prequel set in the Court of Fives world.

[Written and revised in 2015.]

The Beatriceid is a short fiction feminist retelling of the Aeneid, in verse, set in the Spiritwalker universe and published by The Book Smugglers.

[Written and revised in 2014.]

Whew. What was I thinking?

Tomorrow: 2016 Prospective & maybe a resolution or three.

April 2015 Lightspeed Magazine includes a Crossroads Trilogy story

My story “On the Dying Winds of the Old Year, On the Birthing Winds of the New” appears in the April 2015 Lightspeed Magazine as part of the exclusive print/ebook content (as opposed to the free online content).

“On the Dying Winds of the Old Year, On the Birthing Winds of the New” stands alone, but will be of particular interest to people who have read the Crossroads Trilogy since it is written by the point of view of Mai, some years after the end of the trilogy.




You can find the Table of Contents and more information here.

NaNoWriMo 4: The small detail that builds a big picture

In the first novel of the Crossroads Trilogy, Spirit Gate, I introduce Captain Anji who with his company of about two hundred soldiers is traveling toward the imperial frontier where war has broken out. He is on his way to take up an important command. Circumstances force him to journey entirely elsewhere, but for the purposes of this post let me discuss a salient detail.

Anji is called a “captain” because I did not want to make up words for ranks that the reader would have to learn. There was enough detail about this fantasy world that it seemed reasonable to me to go with basic terms like “captain,” “chief” (in its military usage), and so on. What I did know and needed to get across was that Anji is not only traveling to take up a major command more like that of a general but that he has significant status and rank in his own person regardless of his military rank.

As it happened my archaeologist spouse has since 2002 been employed under the umbrella of the Department of Defense working for the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (the “joint” in the title refers to a joint civilian/military unit). Because of this I have had a glimpse into the military that I might not otherwise have done.

While I was writing Spirit Gate I happened to be involved (at that time) in the unit’s Family Readiness Group, which is basically a support service network for the families of servicemen and women. During my time of FRG involvement, the general who was then commander of JPAC considered the FRG important enough that he made sure to be personally involved. Therefore I was able to observe him at a number of meetings.

I was much struck by a detail I would have never myself have thought to include (even though it is obvious once you stop to think about it): He had a young officer in attendance at all times. Obviously he had staff officers and a command structure, but this young man (who had the loveliest blue eyes, not that that is germane to anything) was in essence his “body man.”

Observing this I realized the presence of this “body man” was a telling detail that was missing from my depiction. I immediately gave Anji two “body men” (Sengel and Toughid) who are one or the other in attendance on him and on watch at all times.

There’s a lot you can know from this detail: Anji is an important enough man to warrant constant attendance, as well as needing a man at hand he can use to relay orders or run errands if need be, at any moment of the day or night. As well, Anji regards himself (with good reason, given his complicated history) as someone who needs to be guarded day and night. The presence of Sengel and Toughid, who rarely speak but who matter in the plot, also creates an expectation of constant military readiness, which can be seen as a good thing or as an ill thing, depending on your perspective — and it is exactly that perspective changing which matters in the larger thematic plot of the Crossroads Trilogy.

It is easy to fish up generic details as you write. I do it all the time, especially in first drafts when I may be paying less attention to the details than to the forward motion of the characters across the plot. At times not worrying about the details in the first draft may be the way to go; it can be easy to get bogged down and lose momentum. At other times it is crucial to slow down to seek out the specificity and even intimacy of those details within the setting that allow the deepest level of plot and theme to bubble up within their framework. Sometimes you cannot known the texture and look of such details without a serendipitous observation (such as the one described above). At other times it takes a concerted effort to research or experience an element pivotal to the setting or characters.

Whether in the first draft or in a later revising draft, I try to stop and think about what the details are telling me. I ask myself whether I am grabbing at facile answers rather than really digging for that small detail that by its existence unfolds a much bigger story.

Ways of Struggling with Gender

YA writer Mette Ivie Harrison writes an excellent post on Gender Masquerades (mostly focusing on the tv show The Mentalist but with wider applicability):

As it is now, any romance between them I think is simply too uncomfortable for a modern American audience which, for all our talk about equality between men and women, still clings to very stereotypical views of what is feminine and what is masculine. I wish that I believed that we would come to accept that labeling certain behaviors as “masculine” or “feminine” is just silly and ultimately confining to both men and women in the real world. We should not choose our behavior based on what is allowable to our gender, but on what is authentic to our feelings and to the person we want others to see us as. All gender, in my view, is in the end, a masquerade.

Her thoughts have a lot of resonance with me and my experience (as does a story she tells from her own childhood) for a number of reasons.

I’ll just mention one, reflecting the current series I’m working on, Spiritwalker (Cold Magic and Cold Fire, with Cold Steel still a-writing). [If you are extremely sensitive about spoilers, the following may be construed to have them in the most general sense.]

One of the elements I’m struggling with in Cold Steel is, as always, the baggage of my youth sliding in unannounced and unheralded to warp what I think I’m trying to do (what I’m actually doing is probably beyond my ability to parse).

I’m a feminist. I’m an athlete. As a child I was what was then called a “tomboy,” which to me means merely that the things I was told were “boy” things, like playing outdoors, climbing trees, being active, and wanting to have adventures, were the things I did and wanted to do.

I try very hard to write stories in which there are as many female characters as male characters, with as much agency and importance in the plot. Yet I often have consciously to go back through later drafts to make sure that my female leads aren’t being more passive than I actually want them to be, aren’t letting others make decisions for them or devise all the cunning plans (unless there is a specific reason because of experience, competencies, or social roles), are showing leadership, and are present as confident individuals with a strong sense of themselves (as long as that is within character).

Yes, even with Cat, who is one of the most forthright characters I have ever written.

Curiously, I had less of this problem with the character Mai, in the Crossroads Trilogy, who is certainly my most stereotyped-gender “feminine” protagonist. In an odd way, this suggests to me that I may have been to some extent unthinkingly “comfortable” with the limitations she and others saw in her role, enough so I was always able to write her as a strong-minded character who grows into her full potential without any unconscious backsliding on my part. One way to describe it is that she fit a role I never did, although I was told often enough by the society around me that it was a role girls ought to want to fit. Obviously Mai’s journey has its own unique path, but regardless, I find that the more I dig down, the more baggage I find.

With Spiritwalker one of the interesting struggles I’ve had is with the American ideal (and I want to be specific here by citing American culture) of the male warrior hero. I’ve written warrior heroes before (Sanglant from Crown of Stars is an example of this type). Andevai is not a warrior hero. He can in some ways be described as essentially a geek. I grant you that he is an extremely competitive young man who takes any assault on his status so personally that he will go out of his way to make sure you know that he is better than you at whatever it was you challenged him at . . . albeit mostly within the context of his expertise, which is cold magic, and almost exclusively in the context of other young men.

Cat is the one with the killer instinct (which I mean literally). When Andevai says, “That is what I want. No killing.” in Cold Fire, does that make him less manly, by these standards? She’s the effective fighter who thinks on her feet. He’s the methodical thinker who prefers to plan everything out. They’re both very physical, by which I mean they both live very much in and think about their bodies, but his physicality is mostly described in the context of his manual labor, his fixation on his appearance, and the mentions of his love of dancing (which culturally for him is a masculine activity) while hers is mostly described in athletic terms, like punching sharks, out-racing soldiers, and playing batey. Her capacity for violence is much higher than his. I keep slamming up against my own knee-jerk reaction that I have to make him more violent lest readers think he is not “masculine” enough while at the same time I deliberately riff on “beauty and the beast” variations to flip these expectations.

I go on about this because I’m trying to understand how these underlying message creep into my ways of struggling with gender in my fiction. I don’t have an answer, nor do I think there really is one except for the constant need to be alert, to be present, to try to keep one’s eyes open and learn and do better. It’s a constant, changing process, just as living is.

Do you struggle with gender issues in your work? Do you struggle with gender issues in work you read? To go back to what Harrison said, where do you find your authenticity?


ETA: I want to flag Cora Buhlert’s really excellent post responding to Mette’s post as well as (to a lesser extent) my own.

Hmm, looking at all this I wonder whether the rather rigid gender role pattern in the US (which is a lot more rigid than in Germany) is gradually breaking up.