fangirl reading

At A Dribble of Ink: Gravity’s Own Monster

Aidan Moher invited me to A Dribble of Ink to talk about sky-high worldbuilding. Here’s a peek, with a pointer to the rest…  

A few things to know before we set out:

First, we’re going up… and (maybe) down, so pack your chutes. Aidan asked me to write a post about worldbuilding in the air — a somewhat non-traditional fantasy setting — because of a few stories I have in the wind. I set both the short story, “A Moment of Gravity, Circumscribed,”1 out this month in XIII: Stories of Transformation (Resurrection House, March 2015), and my upcoming novel Updraft above the clouds.

Second: Gravity’s a tough mistress. I hope you checked that chute before you packed it. [Keep Reading at A Dribble of Ink…]

2014’s Top Six Posts

sunsetHere they are:

Before the Mast and On the Deck of the World. An intensely personal post. I’m very grateful it got the reception it did, and for the support and thoughtful words of so many when I posted it.

Magic Wants to Be Fed: Cooking the Books with Robin Hobb. Robin Hobb. Talking about food. And writing. And answering questions from Reddit/r/fantasy readers. Such a fun interview to do, with a fantastic author.

Many Things at Once: Cooking the Books with Russ Galen. Wherein I drove my agent a little nuts trying to get him to pair books with food & wine. But eventually he saw method in my madness. Sorry about all the spaghetti-space operas coming your way!

On Campbell Ineligibility and the Eligibility of Others. Talking about careers, awards, and a list of shiny authors you should not miss.

2014 Favorite Reads. What it says on the tin! Plus a peek at more great books on my goodreads.

My Little Jhereg & The Lunch of Locke Lamora’s Bartender’s Guide. This Cooking the Books April Fools list of made-up drinks from Scott Lynch and Steven Brust has requested its own personal assistant and a bowl of blue M&Ms for its private trailer.

(Can’t wait until you see what Cooking the Books has on the menu for 2015.)

2014 Favorite Reads

A wealth of great things happened on the page this past year — sometimes serving as a balm or a fuse for dealing with world events.


2014 bookshelf pic (selected links below) — Lots more wonderful books here!


As usual, I’m scattershot about keeping track of my goodreads. I wibbled about short stories, novellas, novellettes and novels here on these very pages. I shared what-I’m-reading posts at the Between the Bookends columns hosted by Geekmom. And, to my great delight, my review of Eileen Gunn’s Questionable Practices was published at the New York Review of Science Fiction.

Amazing reads, short and long, content across all age ranges and appropriateness levels. I read the entire Hugo short story slate as well this year, in order to participate on the Loncon3 Hugo short story panel. From that list, if you haven’t yet, read John Chu’s The Water that Falls on You from Nowhere, and Ellen Klages & Andy Duncan’s Wakulla Springs, which won Hugo and a World Fantasy Awards respectively this year. See also, Aliette de Bodard’s The Waiting Stars, Catherynne M. Valente’s Six Gun Snow White, and Mary Robinette Kowal’s Lady Astronaut of Mars. (coffee-broken editor’s note: Hugo Winning Lady Astronaut of Mars)

As always, I know I’ve forgotten things. I’ll be moving novellas and novellettes around all day because I’m just that organized. And there’s a bunch on the TBR pile I haven’t gotten to yet.

Ready? Here we go…  (more…)

Notes from a (Philcon) panel: What to Read… New to You


*some* people might have felt a little punchy after a long day at the con.

On Saturday, Hildy SIlverman (twitter), Todd Dashoff, Deborah Stanish (twitter), and Anne K. Gray (twitter) joined me to talk about short stories, books, comics and other things we felt the audience should know about in Philcon’s first-ever “Things You Should Read but Don’t Know About Yet” panel.

I set up four speed challenges and asked the panelists to list up to five titles or authors they felt everyone might not know about but should, in categories including ‘short story,’ ‘novel,’ ‘anthology,’ and ‘grab-bag’.


A Cooking the Books Appetizer – E. Catherine Tobler’s Watermark

Occasionally the Cooking the Books staff (that is, for the moment, me, myself, and I) discovers an tidbit from something you might like. Such is the case with the following appetizer – a food related excerpt from one of October’s Cooking the Books guest hosts, E. Catherine Tobler.

Coming Sept. 22, 2014 from Masque Books

Coming Sept. 22, 2014 from Masque Books

E. Catherine Tobler is the senior editor of Shimmer Magazine and author of works including Rings of Anubis (Masque Books, 2014), and an ever growing ring of stories that collects beneath the Jackson’s Circus tent.

Her latest novel, Watermark, will be released by Masque Books on September 22, but you can read a specially selected, food-related excerpt here, right now. When you’re through, head on over to E. Catherine Tobler’s website, where she’s hosting a giveaway for Watermark through Saturday, October 4.

Meantime, enjoy, and keep an eye out for more October Cooking the Books! (more…)

Frankenpost: Four Great Short Stories Not By Me, On Reading, Workshops, & Things Upcoming

It’s been an exciting month around here – and a busy one. Over on Twitter, I experimented with lightning-round Cooking the Books book giveaways, and that went really well. We’ll be doing some more of those.

But first and foremost, I’m delighted to share that revisions are *finished* on book 1 and we’re moving to the next phase of the process – meaning we’re one step closer to BOOK!

Working with my editor and the team at Tor has been an amazing and awesome experience so far. Oh the brilliant and funny things that happen in the margins of books before they get published. Totally excellent conversations going on in there. Oh the gifs. So. Many. Gifs.

I know I’ll have more to say about the editing process soon, including some upcoming Book 1-related news — but I can’t talk about that yet, so I’m going to make you a bunch of links for this frankenpost (thank you, Natalie) and say:

Look! What’s that over there?!?


An Interview with Elizabeth Bear*

This article has been reprinted from Apex Publishing’s archives. It was originally published there on April 10, 2014.

Author Elizabeth Bear dropped by Apex today on her way to share her latest book, Steles of the Sky, with the world.

Along with award-winning short stories, Elizabeth Bear has written over twenty five novels and short story collections. John Scalzi has said of Bear that she is “One of this generation’s best science fiction and fantasy authors.

Today, she brings with her a challenge for Apex readers: the opportunity to win a copy of Steles of the Sky from her publisher, Tor Books. Read on to find out how.

Apex: Steles of the Sky, the third book in the Eternal Sky series, is out! How are you celebrating? 

EB: With endless publicity. Conventions, blogging, interviews–oh! Hi!

Also, Sarah Monette and I are hard at work on the third Iskryne book, An Apprentice to Elves, after many unavoidable delays. And Emma Bull and I are hard at work on the Shadow Unit series finale, which rejoices in the playful title of “Something’s Gotta Eat T. rexes.”

I suppose maybe I should consider something actually celebratory. Huh. That’s a good idea.

Let me talk to my boyfriend.

[One talk with boyfriend later]

Dinner out! And Captain America II. You are a good influence, Fran. (Author note: d’aww. Thanks.)

You are a known mixologist.  

There are wanted posters in every cocktail bar in America.

What would be the perfect beverage to enjoy with Steles?

Buttered tea, I think. Since it’s a little hard to get fermented mare’s milk in most of the English-speaking world.

People in the Eternal Sky lands drink an awful lot of tea. But then, I drink an awful lot of tea. My current favorite is Upton Tea’s gen-mai cha, which is a green tea with puffed rice in it.

I will personally probably be enjoying a New Glarus Wisconsin Belgian Red cherry ale. Which is impossible to get, outside of Wisconsin, so I hesitate to mention it, but I’m going to anyway. I’m a huge ridiculous fan of everything New Glarus does. (Massachusetts, my primary home and the place where I actually vote, is also replete with fine microbreweries. Opa Opa and Berkshire Brewing are personal favorites.)

We first talked about the Eternal Sky series when you did a Cooking the Books interview about food and worldbuilding (the infamous roasted marmot interview). How is worldbuilding different for the third book in a series vs. the first? 

It’s important, for me at least, not to fill in all the mysteries, because a totally known world is a small world. To show more of the world, and deeper layers of the existing places. But I also try in general to manage my worldbuilding on the fly. To do what Jo Walkon calls “incluing.” What the reader figures out from implication will always mean more to her than what the writer just up and tells her.

I love blocks of exposition when they’re written well. The whaling chapters are the most interesting part of Moby Dick, if you ask me. But good exposition–the artful infodump, as my friend Charlie Finlay says–is basically good nonfiction writing. It needs to be disciplined and maintain narrative drive.

So in the first book, you’re laying a lot of foundations of expectation. And then in later volumes, you have the options of reinforcing or subverting those. And of course there’s always the stuff that I know that there’s no room for, because it would bog the story down. Worldbuilding is like icebergs–the most dangerous bits are under the surface.

So there’s always new stuff. New places to go, new technologies and cultural quirks to explore. Being married to somebody often means learning something new about them every couple of days, and working on an epic fantasy canvas isn’t all that different.

So in this book, I finally got to show the Hasitani, the female scholar-priests and mendicant scientists of the Caliphate. And I got to show Cho-tse–they’re sort of badass monk anthropomorph tigers–other than Hrahima.

In epic fantasy, the world itself is a character. And the more complicated and interesting and complex and surprising you can make it, the better. Worldbuilding is characterization for planets.

Speak to me, please, of megafauna in the world of Eternal Sky.

“Charismatic Megafauna” is the name of my next band.

One of the awesome fun things I got to do in this world is play with megafauna. There’s some fantastical megafauna–Rukhs, for example, for which I invented a completely weird fantasy biology. And then I made the fortuitous discovery that Indricotherium, my favorite extinct rhinoceros, is named after a Russian mythical creature, the Indrik-zver.


Nothing would do, at that point, except to mount cannons on the backs of indrik-zver and send them stomping all over battlefields.

The awesome thing about fiction writing is the size of the special effects budget.

You’ve written on livejournal and elsewhere about being a kinesthetic learner. How does muscle memory translate to the page? Are there elements of Steles you needed to experience physically before you could write them?

I don’t know what it’s like to be any other kind of learner, so I have no idea how to answer that question. It’s just how I write.

I could talk at length about getting visual stuff on the page, because I have had to learn that. There’s one early book where I got so exhausted by trying to think up descriptions of places that every single building on the planet has a slate floor. It was my own private rebellion against coming up with visuals.

I’ve gotten better at it since. John Gardner talks a lot about observing for the writer in On Becoming a Novelist. I recommend it.

In addition to being a prolific, award-winning pro writer, you’ve been a longtime instructor at writing workshops including the OWW, Viable Paradise, Clarion, and more. Why do you teach? What do you love about teaching? What’s difficult about teaching?

I love teaching. It makes me make sense of what I’ve learned, organize it, codify it. And it’s not like it’s of any use to the world if I don’t try to share it. We get better–our craft, all art, all science–improves because we can learn from each other. If somebody in twenty years writes a great book and in the process uses some chip of information I figured out how to express in a useful fashion and put in a blog post, that’s the most awesome thing ever.

What is next on the horizon for Elizabeth Bear?

Well, as I said above, Sarah Monette and I are finally getting some traction on An Apprentice to Elves, the long-delayed third Iskryne novel. That and the series finale of Shadow Unit, which I am writing with Emma Bull, are my current big focuses.

But! I just handed in a standalone Wild West steampunk novel for Tor. It’s called Karen Memory, and it concerns the adventures of a mettlesome parlor girl–which is to say a high-class prostitute–and her friends and allies as they take on a corrupt plutocrat.

On the horizon, however, I’ve just signed two deals I’m incredibly excited about. One involves two linked big-canvas space operas for Gollancz. The first is called Ancestral Night. We don’t have a series title yet, but Simon Spanton basically came to me and said, “Why don’t you take everything that you think is cool and awesome about big idea space opera and put it in a book, and then I can edit it, and we will both be very happy?”

So I’m going to take everything I think is cool and awesome and huge and put it in a book. The aesthetic I want to evoke is… C. J. Cherryh and Iain Banks and James White and Andre Norton, by way of Chris Foss.

Big ideas, spaceships, some lovely really alien aliens, stretching the fabric of space and time. But with a solid, fast-paced, adventury plot and some nice crunchy characters–a couple of hardscrabble protagonists trying to make a living off a very. very dangerous form of salvage operation.

Ambitious, yes, but I’m feeling like I’m at a point with my skills where I can pull it off.

The other great big announcement is that there are going to be more novels set in the world of the Eternal Sky. We don’t have individual titles yet, but the subseries is “The Lotus Kingdoms.”

So I’m going to be writing at least three more novels for Tor. These will take place about fifty years afterSteles of the Sky, and they’re going to follow the two protagonists of my short story “The Ghost Makers,” which appeared in Jonathan Strahan’s Fearsome Journeys anthology. They’re both masterless warriors. One is a magical construct, a sort of metal golem with a soul–called a “Gage”–whose sorcerous creator has died; the other was a sworn bodyguard to a Caliph who has been deposed and now finds himself in a position analogous to what our world would call a ronin.

They’re tasked to make a delivery to the queen regnant of a tiny, threatened principality in the Lotus Kingdoms, and while they’re there they become embroiled in intrigue, court politics, family drama, romance, war, magic, ancient secrets, swordplay, and dragons.

Because everything is more awesome with dragons.

Thank you so much to Elizabeth Bear for visiting Apex! I can’t wait to read Steles of the Sky! 

Meet Novelocity & January Short Fiction Reads

Noveloceraptor… because books are delicious

A few weeks ago, ten intrepid authors began blogging about questions relevant to your interests. From tracking monthly science fiction and fantasy debuts to answering questions about reading, writing, and things in between, the gang at Novelocity is worth a read – or several reads.

Novelocity features authors J. Kathleen Cheney (The Golden City & The Seat of Magic [Roc, 2013-2014]), E.C. Ambrose (Elisha Barber & Elisha Magus [Daw, 2013-2014]), Beth Cato (The Clockwork Dagger [Harper Collins Voyager, 2014]), Mike Underwood (Geekomancy, Celebremancy, Attack of the Geek [Angry Robot, 2012-2014]), Tina Connolly (Ironskin, Copperhead, & 1 more [Tor 2012-2014]), M.K. Hutchins (Drift), Steve Bein (Daughter of the Sword, Year of the Demon, Disciple of the Shadow [Roc 2012-2014]), Lawrence M. Schoen (Barsk, Tor 2015), Tex Thompson (One Night in Sixes, Solaris 2014), and yours truly, plus guests from all over the industry.

This week, the raptor is talking about Favorite Reads of Our Late Teens & 20s. Last week? Favorite Fantasy Worlds. What about yours? Head on over and join the conversation…

Meantime – want a few great short fiction reads for early 2014? Got you covered. Check out: