Claudie Arseneault was actually the first person to introduce me to the term solarpunk (a genre I've been rambling non-stop about ever since), through the call for submissions to her solarpunk dragons anthology Wings of Renewal. I've been following her career ever since, and it turns out she's just an all-around good person and awesome writer whom I'm glad to have encountered.
Today, I've invited Claudie onto my blog to talk about her new fantasy novel Baker Thief.
Here's what the book is about:
Adèle has only one goal: catch the purple-haired thief who broke into her home and stole her exocore, thus proving herself to her new police team. Little does she know, her thief is also the local baker.
In a nutshell, what was the path from idea to publication for BAKER THIEF?
I started Baker Thief as a project that would be as fun and tropy as I wanted it to be, a story in which I’d allow myself to write Whatever I Wanted. The first glimpse of the project involved an investigator looking for a thief at a masked ball and a f/f romance—that changed quite a bit, but I was already aiming for The Good Tropes.
I hadn’t even put the first word down before I knew one of the MCs would be bigender and aromantic, and that I didn’t want romance, but a queerplatonic relationship. These stories were near impossible to find (they still are hard, but it got better), and I felt drawn to them. Turns out that was because I was aromantic myself, but I didn’t know at the time. I also… jumped in with as much French as I wanted to, and to have my language in there quickly became incredibly meaningful and important to me.
It took me quite a few drafts to get the ending right, then it made the typical rounds of dev editing through writer friends, sensitivity readers, beta readers, and copyediting. I started the first draft in February 2016, and here we are, about a year and a half later.
What’s your typical writing routine? Do you write at a certain time of day, have word count goals, a particular playlist you listen to, etc.?
It really depends on what part of the process I’m at. If I’m creating new words, typically for first drafts, I will write nearly every day and set word count goals (usually around 700-1,000 for weekdays, and 1,500-2,000 for weekends). As a writer, I do a lot better if my progress is constant. My full-time job makes this rather difficult, however, which means that I will write whenever I can. At least half of Baker Thief has been written on my cellphone during transit, and a good chunk of the other half was over my lunch break.
I don’t have playlists as much as I have artists I’ll put on and listen on loop. And I don’t mean many of them. Most of my previous novels were written and edited on a background of Mumford and Sons. For Baker Thief, though, I stuck to artists from Québec, either Karkwa or Dumas. It felt right to listen to local music for a WIP that drew so intensely from my roots.
What advice do you have for young writers who are struggling through the first draft of a fantasy novel?
The first and most important for me is… don’t give up. Get to the end. Writing the end will teach you so much about the craft, about your story. Even if you end up trashing the story, it will be worthwhile (and you will have finished a draft!). That doesn’t mean you have to power through unquestioningly, though. Different writers need different things to get to the end. I handle unclear drafts very well, so I write start to finish without ever revising what’s behind, even if I decided halfway through I need to make a major change. I just take a note, act like the change is done, and move on. I know writers who couldn’t do that—no chance in hell—so they revise as they go, and their first drafts take longer but are a lot cleaner.
So I guess my biggest piece of advice is experiment. Try things out! See what works for you, what allows you to progress and what just makes you hyper-anxious and unproductive. We all work differently, and sometimes our process even changes from one story to another. But if you find yourself never finishing anything? Find a way to get to that end; you’re limiting your growth otherwise.
You’re very invested in the topic of asexual/aromantic representation. Do you remember the first time you saw this type of character represented well in fiction? What are some other published books that get it right?
My first time was for a sex-repulsed asexual character, Nadin from Fourth World by Lyssa Chiavari. Nadin struggles a lot with her sex-repulsion and there are scenes throughout the novel that felt like someone had spied on my life. One in particular made me set the book down, because I needed time to take it all in.
That was my first time, but by actively seeking representation over the course of the last 2-3 years, I’ve found so many more. I couldn’t even begin to list them all here. I recommend picking up the Chameleon Moon series, as it has an alloromantic asexual MC in the first book, and an aromantic asexual one in the second (and a whole lot more queer disabled diversity). If you’re more a contemporary person, then Let’s Talk About Love is about a biromantic asexual black girl. For aromantic characters, Darcie Little Badger has a wonderful short story, “Nkásht íí”, that is online for free and is all about friendship. I also thoroughly enjoyed A Promise Broken, from Lynn E. O’Connacht—a low-stakes fantasy of manners about a girl grieving and her aroace uncle.
As I said, there are many more out there! You can check out Penny Stirling’s list of aromantic or asexual fiction that’s free online, Queer Books for Teens recommendations for aromantic and asexual, or even access my database which has a record of all the aro or ace fiction I could find, with tags and filters to make it easier to narrow down on what you really want.
How have your own baking adventures informed the development of BAKER THIEF?
Not in major ways. I was already well into the novel by the time I got really into baking, and I’d done my fair share of research before. It did change the way I described it—the details, basically. It’s just not the same until you have both of your hands in the dough and your lower back kinda hurts from all the kneading and you got flour over your clothes again because you keep forgetting an apron.
Do you have any readings or signings coming up? Where can readers find you, online or off?
I don’t have a lot of in-person stuff coming up, but I attend Can*Con every year, and I expect to be at Sirens Con this year, too! October is my convention month, haha. I am much easier to find online, however. I tweet at ClH2OArs and my website is at claudiearseneault.com. You can also support me more directly on Patreon.
Claudie Arseneault is an asexual and aromantic spectrum writer hailfing from Quebec City. Her love for sprawling casts invariably turns her novels into multi-storylined wonders centered on aromantic and asexual characters. Her high fantasy series, City of Spires, started in February 2017. Her next book, Baker Thief, features a bigender aromantic baker and is full of delicious bread, French puns, and magic.
Claudie is a founding member of The Kraken Collective and is well-known for her involvement in solarpunk, her database of aro and ace characters in speculative fiction, and her unending love of squids. Find out more on her website!
Like a lot of writers, I have many random notes for story ideas, most of which go nowhere or sit in a notebook for years before they actually become a story. "Under a Rock" started as one of those: I had the idea of an inexplicable gigantic tooth showing up in someone's backyard, and them charging admission to see it, a la "A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings." I plucked the idea out of my notebook after seeing an anthology call that had something to do with sharks and dinosaurs; I decided the giant tooth I'd imagined could be a cosmic-sized version of either. After looking into the anthology a bit more, I discovered it was actually a revenge market, something put together to get back at/make fun of some other editor or author. These happen from time to time as manifestations of publishing world drama—the recent Cocktales and The Cocky Cockers anthologies which were reacting to the CockyGate "trademark" fiasco are prime examples. But considering I didn't know or have any stake in whatever this shark-related drama was, I decided to just be grateful for the prompt that helped me get this idea on paper, and submit it elsewhere.
I wrote this story just after I quit my "day job," which I'd been working at the same time I took over management of World Weaver Press, and I was feeling pretty stretched thin and out of touch with the rest of the world. This was one of the first stories I'd written in nearly a year. All of that exhaustion and disconnection got poured into this story, the sense that remarkable things were happening all around me and I couldn't even look up to witness them. I guess "Working Like a Dog" and "Brain Child" have similar themes—I'm just not a writer who deals well with the drudgery we so often need to pay our bills.
The character in this story ends up at home from her overbearing job because she's suffering from a cold. It was a convenient way to take her out of her element, but it was also an idea I'd been wanting to explore for a while. Protagonists are usually healthy and ready to run, or else they're suffering from some sort of severe trauma or disease. So much of my life has been spent in sniffles, or in not-great-but-not-fatal health, so I gave my character a cold to see how she'd face this adventure with a tissue in her hand.
Here's an excerpt of "Under a Rock":
A giant dinosaur tooth sat smack in the middle of our un-mowed back lawn. Truly giant: a good eight feet tall, and twelve or more from root to tip.
Read the rest of the story at Silver Blade Fantasy Magazine: www.silverblade.net/2018/06/under-a-rock/
Joanne Merriam is the publisher of Upper Rubber Boot Books, a fantastic independent publisher who has brought you amazing books such as Sunvault: Stories of Solarpunk and Eco-Speculation and Choose Wisely: 35 Women Up to No Good. Now Joanne is running a Kickstarter to get two new anthologies off the ground. Broad Knowledge features a story by my good friend and Clarion classmate Vida Cruz, as well as stories by Wendy Nikel and Aimee Ogden, two authors I've been lucky enough to work with through World Weaver Press. Sharp and Sugar Tooth looks pretty awesome too, featuring some familiar names that always deliver amazing stories: Catherynne M. Valente, Alyssa Wong, Damien Angelica Walters, Caroline M. Yoachim, and many others.
Check out my interview with Joanne Merriam, and then support the Kickstarter here:
Sarena Ulibarri: Your description for these anthologies says they focus “on ‘bad’ women, and ‘good’ women who just haven’t been caught yet.” This reminds me of that famous quote about “well-behaved women rarely make history.” What made you want to publish stories about this kind of character?
Joanne Merriam: That description is defining ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in reference to what we expect women to be, and I’m really fascinated by social expectations and how people structure their lives to adhere to or challenge them. The women in these anthologies appear to be doing everything ‘right’ while getting their own way, or decide they won’t be held back by others’ expectations, or, tragically, try to adhere to or challenge expectations and pay a terrible price for it.
I hope that the breadth of stories will collectively show different ways of being, and open up a mental space for thinking about their own options for our readers (whether or not they’re women), in addition to entertaining them.
SU: Can you give a couple of teasers about some of the stories we’ll find in BROAD KNOWLEDGE and SHARP & SUGAR TOOTH?
JM: Broad Knowledge includes a scientific paper written by a researcher who contracts Innsmouth Fish-man Syndrome, an article for biblical scholars on a seraph’s visit to Earth, an in-depth ethical discussion for journalists covering a woman who has been quarantined on a military base so her ideas don’t spread to the general population, and a series of newspaper headlines and excerpts covering the invention of time travel—but the story that’s probably the most fun, and also possibly the darkest, is “Mary in the Looking Glass,” about the legendary horror figure Mary Whales, and her ex-lover.
Sharp & Sugar Tooth features the ritual consumption of funerary meat, poison as a replacement for war, chefs who heal society one meal at a time, alien biomes which entirely consume their hosts, and women turning into chocolate, honey, pastry, fish food, and apple-bearing trees. I’m particularly taken with Jasmyne J. Harris’ “What the Bees Know About Discarded Girlish Organs,” in which part of romance is being eaten by your partner, and what happens when people split up before the process is completed. It’s really haunting.
SU: You are editing BROAD KNOWLEDGE, while SHARP & SUGAR TOOTH is being edited by Octavia Cade. Did the two of you take different approaches to curating these books?
JM: Yes, I think so. Octavia is quite brilliant! She struck me as very deliberate and careful and thoughtful about how she structured the book, both in selecting stories and in ordering them, to fit a kind of overall narrative arc. I took a more topic-oriented approach to ordering, and am perhaps not as smart, but I’m always saved by the amazing writers who send in their stories and make me look really good as an editor.
SU: How do these two anthologies differ from CHOOSE WISELY, the first anthology you did of “Women Up to No Good”?
JM: The main difference is the theme, of course: Choose Wisely is all about choices, while Broad Knowledge is about (you guessed it) knowledge, and Sharp & Sugar Tooth about food and consumption. They are also more diverse: Choose Wisely has more white authors, and more Americans, than either of these anthologies, and that’s reflected in the stories in these anthologies being more varied and reflecting more of our world.
SU: You have some excellent writers lined up in these two anthologies. As an editor/anthologist, how do you go about reaching out to writers to ensure a diverse table of contents?
JM: I use social media extensively to reach communities I’m not a part of. For calls for submissions, I post, where appropriate, on the FB groups Call For Submissions; Calls for Submissions (Poetry, Fiction, Art); Open Call: Science Fiction, Fantasy & Pulp Markets; Open Submission Calls for Horror/Paranormal/Mystery/SciFi Writers; Call For Submissions : QUILTBAG; Asian Science Fiction & Fantasy; Feminist Science Fiction; The State of Black Science Fiction; Women of Color Writers' Community; and WOMPO (Women's Poetry Listserv). I also tag writers who I’m interested in seeing work from, and post using hashtags like #diversesff on Twitter and Tumblr, and note the call for submissions in my emailed newsletter, which goes out 2-3 times/year. I’m also on Duotrope, so people who use that to search for markets will find our listings.
When I’m selecting stories, I try to read blind by saving all of the stories under their titles and removing author identities. Of course, it’s never entirely blind because I can recognize some writers’ voices, but I make the attempt, which means that I have to address diversity in my submissions pool before I get to that largely-blind selection stage. Midway through my submissions period, I’ll go quickly through the submissions I’ve received to get a sense of who is submitting, just looking at names, and faces where gmail has included a photo, so I can see if I need to work harder to get the word out to certain communities. It’s necessarily an incomplete and uncertain process, so I try to err on the side of assuming I need to do more work. I try to do this at least a month and preferably longer before submissions close, so people have time to respond to renewed calls for submissions.
SU: What's the process a story goes through between the time it is accepted and the time it is published in an Upper Rubber Boot Books anthology?
JM: External editors have their own editorial processes, but for me there’s editing and proofreading with an outside proofreader, and then there’s all the stuff that goes into making the books themselves. So I go through any edits with the authors (reading closely, sending suggestions for changes), and possibly rewrites if they’re required, and then I figure out what order the stories should go in (usually I try a bunch of different orders until I settle on something that feels right), then create an html file of the stories, which will eventually be part of the ebook (I make the html file first then create the print book file from it so that any errors in the html will get caught). Then I do the formatting for the print files, then send those to the authors to double-check.
Check out some excerpts from these anthologies below, and support the Kickstarter until June 30, 2018 by clicking here.
My fantasy story "The Ice Tree" is in the second issue of Apparition Literary Magazine! A hero-in-her-own-mind amateur sorceress sends a village into chaos while trying to prove herself, and vows to undo an ancient curse to make up for the mess she's made. Things do not go well.
I initially wrote this story more than ten years ago, and very little of the original survived when I re-wrote it in 2014 at the Clarion Workshop. It again became a different monster based on workshop feedback, and it took me a lot of drafts to get it just right. In the Clarion version (which unfortunately will be housed forever in the Clarion archives at the UCSD library), I was responding to feedback from a classmate who said my language tended to be dull. I was trying, desperately, to write more lyrical and beautiful sentences. The result just sounded…kind of silly. So I doubled down on that, and the character of Mirella developed naturally from that "extra" tone. She's not a likable character—she's not meant to be—but I hope you enjoy her anyway. It's much easier to get away with this kind of a male character—I drew inspiration from Zap Brannigan, Gilderoy Lockhart, and Ash Williams, but Mirella is definitely her own brand of delusional egotist.
Here's a brief excerpt, a bit of backstory about how Mirella developed the magic she's now abusing:
Although spell-casting was a rare skill these days, there was nothing special about Mirella’s proclaimed title of “holder of an Izka stone.” The original Izka stones were massive, and had been split and scattered throughout the land. Mirella had discovered hers in the decorations on the wardrobe in her childhood bedroom when an unlikely coincidence of gestures had accidentally created a spell that transformed her bed into a rosebush, thorns and all. She’d pried the stone out of the wardrobe and messed around with it on her own for a while, but after she’d turned her sister’s hair to wax—a fine improvement, Mirella thought, but not what she had been going for—she took a two-week class with some old hag in an upstairs apartment to learn how to properly use it.
If you'd like to see the Pinterest board I made for the story, you can check it out here. And you can pick up a copy of the issue on Kindle at the link below, or read the story online at the Apparition Lit website.
Leena Likitalo is one of the fantastic authors I was lucky enough to get to know at the Clarion Fantasy and Science Fiction Writers' Workshop, which we both attended in the summer of 2014. Though many of our cohort have published a good deal of short fiction since that summer (some of it very well received), and a few have landed small press book deals, Leena is the first of our group to be published with a "Big Five" publisher like Tor. THE FIVE DAUGHTERS OF THE MOON by Leena Likitalo is out today, July 25, 2017, and the sequel, THE SISTERS OF THE CRESCENT EMPRESS will be available in November 2017.
I'm thrilled that more people will finally have the chance to experience the wondrous worlds that flow from Leena Likitalo's fingertips.
Inspired by the 1917 Russian revolution and the last months of the Romanov sisters, The Five Daughters of the Moon by Leena Likitalo is a beautifully crafted historical fantasy with elements of technology fueled by evil magic.
Sarena Ulibarri: In a nutshell, what was the path from manuscript to publication for THE FIVE DAUGHTERS OF THE MOON?
Leena Likitalo: The Five Daughters of the Moon came to me, demanding to be told right at that moment, and perhaps that's why everything happened so very fast.
The story came to me first in November 2014. I had just started in a new job and resolved not to work on any novels for the time being. This story didn't care about that! It was so insistent that I had no other option but to scribble it down as a short story.
The good thing about insistent stories is that they pretty much write themselves. The next summer, when I had some time off from work, I jotted down a synopsis for the duology — by then I'd realized the story was too big and complex for one book. It took me around three months to complete the first draft of the novel, and in November 2015, I had a book in my hands.
I'd been in touch with Claire Eddy—my editor-to-be—before about a different project. While she said no to that one, her kind feedback encouraged me to approach her with my new project in February 2016.
Fast-forward to June of the same year, and there I was with a two-book deal from Tor.com, represented by the wonderful Cameron McClure of Donald Maass Literary Agency.
SU: What advice do you have for young writers who are struggling through the first draft of a fantasy novel?
LL: You can do it. You can. Just keep on writing. Word after word. Sentence after sentence. See, put them after each other like that. There's your first page, chapter, and the rest will follow. It's fine if you don't know how the story is going to end. Eventually you'll get there if you just keep on going.
Keep on writing. Write every day, even if it's just a word, even if that word is wrong, or perhaps it's the right one. One sentence a day is a lot. A whole page? You're on the right track.
Finish what you're writing. Cherish it. Toss it away in shame. Both are fine. As long as you feel something toward what you wrote, you're doing it right. If it's bad, you know you should probably try a different thing next time around. If it's good, then great!
Google. Google your favorite author and how they got where they are now. Read forums on how to become a writer. Learn the trade. Blog post after another, websites, too. Standard manuscript format, synopsis, query, publishing deal anatomy, foreign rights. You want to know all about them. Just in case one day…
So you have a novel in your hands? I'm so happy for you! Is it ready go or do you want to work on it still? It's ready? Then it's time for the next step on your journey.
Query agents. Get rejected. Cry. Get over it. Submit again. Rinse and repeat. This is writer's life.
Put the first novel into a drawer. Start a new one. Rinse and repeat until success follows. It might take only one iteration. Or then nine. But eventually, one day, maybe one day your writerly dreams will come true.
SU: What books, authors, or films most influenced you when writing THE FIVE DAUGHTERS OF THE MOON?
LL: I've always loved Russian literature. When I was fourteen, we read Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky in school. I was the only kid in my class that cheered on the assignment. But darn, that language, the impeding melancholy… that's my cup of tea. And if you want to read a novel with the most fabulous cast of characters ever brought to life, try War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy.
Around the time The Five Daughters of the Moon came to me, I wanted to brush up my Swedish. Maria Turtschaninoff had just won the prestigious Finlandia Junior prize for her novel Maresi, and so I decided to try that one.
Maresi is a quiet and dark story that builds up slowly and stays with you months and months after reading the last page. The women in the story are strong, each in their own unique way. This novel inspired me to seek new dimensions in the stories I had to tell -- I realized that it was possible to write tales where women are in control of their own fates even if the world is set against them.
Now movies, you ask? Gimme historical dramas. I like the aesthetics of Downtown Abbey – the dresses, the country houses, ridiculous dedication to etiquette. Another favorite of mine are the Hercule Poirot movies. The best one is of course Murder on the Orient Express.
SU: What’s your favorite memory from the Clarion Workshop?
LL: Ah, Sarena, you should know that there are too many to name just one!
I think the utmost best thing about Clarion was making connections that last for years and years to come. We're still in touch with my group, and it's been immeasurably valuable to me! No one understands writer's pain and anxiety like another writer… And to see my fellow classmates selling stories and becoming editors – it's a fabulous thing to witness!
SU: How many stories did you write at Clarion, and what became of them?
LL: I had decided that I would write six stories in Clarion, and while I did stay true to my decision, I think I might have been better off with just four or five.
My Week 1 story was not good at all, and I knew it even when writing it. The sole purpose of that story was to remove the writerly blocks lingering in my blood and get going with the actual business of telling tales.
My Week 2 story, Operating Santa's Machine, was a hit amongst my Clarion classmates — but let's just say that there's not much market for naughty Santa stories.
My Week 3 story, Give Your All to the Cause, started as a silly car-ride conversation about buying political favors with organ donations. It took me half a year to finish this story, but once it was done, I was very happy with it. This one found home at Galaxy's Edge magazine and I think it's one of my best scifi stories to date.
My Week 4 story, The Village At the Shadow of a Sleeping Cyclop, crushed me. It spiraled out of control, and I couldn't finish it in the way I wanted. I'm still thinking of fixing it, because I like the imagery and concept. But there's so many stories I really want to tell, that this one might need to wait a few more years still.
After Week 4, I was sure I couldn't piece another story together. And then this epic poem came to me pretty much out of nowhere, and so Ocelia, Ocelia was born. Jeff VanderMeer bought it for weirdfictionreview.com, and there's a Finnish translation available, too, coming out hopefully this year still.
And then there was Week 6 — rather than letting an idea come to me, I decided to go with an idea I'd been toying with for some time already. The end result was crafted rather than organic. Not my finest piece.
SU: Do you have any readings or signings coming up? Where can readers find you?
LL: Worldcon 75 will be organized in Helsinki — my very hometown. I'll be participating in a panel there, and hanging out in countless others.
You can find more about me and these events in www.leenalikitalo.com.
Leena Likitalo hails from Finland, the land of endless summer days and long, dark winter nights. She lives with her husband on an island at the outskirts of Helsinki, the capital. But regardless of her remote location, stories find their way to her and demand to be told.
While growing up, Leena struggled to learn foreign languages. At sixteen, her father urged her to start reading in English, and thus she spent the next summer wading through his collection of fantasy and science fiction novels. She has fond memories of her "teachers": J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert Jordan, Roger Zelazny, and Vernor Vinge.
Leena breaks computer games for a living. When she's not working, she writes obsessively. And when she's not writing, she can be found at the stables riding horses and playing polocrosse.
You can visit her online at www.leenalikitalo.com.
Guest Post by K.T. Ivanrest, author of the story "Lightless" in Equus, an anthology forthcoming July 18, 2017 from World Weaver Press
I seem to have a conflict problem. In the first draft of my Sirens story, "Threshold," there wasn’t enough conflict. In contrast, my early drafts of "Lightless" had too much. Below is a section of the first scene from an earlier version of "Lightless," and while I ultimately couldn’t make the fading/crime connection work with the rest of the story, I do like the extra tension it brought and wanted to share it (because what the world needs right now is more conflict, right? Right?...).
(Note: because it’s an early draft, it’s not the best-edited excerpt you’ll ever read. Bear with me.)
[Fulsa, locked in a tower with his slave Phaios, awaits the arrival of the empress.]
He peered down at his hands, but could discern no difference in their glow. It was impossible, here in this prison with only Phaios for company, to tell whether there had been any more change, any further dimming. Beside the lightless slave he always looked radiant, so bright he could almost forget what was happening, and then the empress would arrive for her weekly visit and he would see the truth again.
Her footsteps were soft tps on the polished stone stairway, her presence announced by the gradual spread of light that preceded her up the staircase, pressing away the shadows with proud disdain and careless ease.
“Your Imperial Majesty.” He knelt as she ascended the last of the stairs, the silver fabric of her coat rustling softly on the stone, scattering specks of light like jewels for the less fortunate.
“Fulsa.” Did she practice making his name sound like an insult, or did it just come naturally, a ready accompaniment to her anger and shame? “Another turn of the heavens. Are you, perhaps, finally prepared to make a confession?”
For the briefest moment he considered saying yes, inventing an offense and apologizing and begging her to let him free. But of course it would do no good—the fading would continue and she’d know he had lied, and still she would not believe he’d done nothing.
“No,” he said at last.
Her eyes narrowed to slits, her fury flashing like her ever-present light. “You persist in lying to me. Every day you pale further into night and yet you continue to insist that you are innocent.”
“I am. I’ve done nothing, I don’t know why this is hap—“
“Ridiculous,” she snapped. “I could overlook your crime, whatever it is, but your arrogance and dishonesty are unforgiveable.”
She gave him a long, searching look, perhaps trying to decide whether arrogance and dishonesty were severe enough defects to cause someone to fade. But if that were the case, he thought bitterly, she would have faded long ago, and quiet, dependable Phaios would be sitting on the throne in her place.
He shook his head and forced himself to meet her eyes. “I will not incriminate myself.”
“Then we are finished.” She spun, the glass beads woven into her hair clicking as she moved.
“Please.” He reached after her but dared not touch even her coat. “Please, is there nothing I can do or say to prove myself to you?”
I want to go home.
A long silence, pure and perfect like all the silence here in this desolate place, away from the city, from the stables and his team, from the thousands of citizens lighting the island with their glow.
At last the empress spoke, voice hard as stone. “I will not visit again. When you are prepared to confess your crime, send word.”
She strode forward and he leapt after her, desperate. “Wait, mother, plea—”
By the time she’d spun again he was back on his knees, hot with shame, but the fire did nothing to increase his glow, which instead seemed to dim beneath the empress’ glare.
“Look at you. Cowering like a lightless.” She turned once more and strode toward the staircase, and though he knew exactly what she was going to say next, it didn’t hurt any less to hear it. “You are no son of mine.”
How does it compare to the final version of "Lightless"? You’ll have to read the story and see! </shameless plug>
K.T. Ivanrest wanted to be a cat or horse when she grew up, but after failing to metamorphose into either, she began writing stories about them instead. Soon the horses became unicorns and the cats sprouted wings, and once the dragons arrived, there was no turning back. When not writing, K.T. can be found sewing and drinking decaf coffee. She has a PhD in Classical Studies, which will come in handy when aliens finally make contact and it turns out they speak Latin.
Blood Rose Rebellion is the debut novel by Rosalyn Eves, and it landed on shelves March 28, 2017. The first in a new YA trilogy, Blood Rose Rebellion is historical fantasy set "in a world where social prestige derives from a trifecta of blood, money, and magic, one girl has the ability to break the spell that holds the social order in place."
Rosalyn Eves is another of the amazing writers I met through PitchWars, along with others such as Hayley Stone and S.D. Grimm, whom I interviewed last year. I asked Rosalyn to join me on my blog today to talk about her road to publication and the challenges of writing historical fantasy.
Sarena Ulibarri: In a nutshell, what was the path from manuscript to publication for BLOOD ROSE REBELLION?
Rosalyn Eves: I started writing the book that would become Blood Rose Rebellion in the fall of 2012 (wow—so long ago!). It took me about 9 months to write, and another 9 months to revise. I started querying just before I got into Pitch Wars, so I stopped querying and hunkered down for an intense revision (I cut 27k from the book and added another 24k or so). Pitch Wars really jump started the agent hunt though—I wound up with 16 or 17 requests, plus a few agents from prior contests were waiting for the Pitch Wars revision. I got my first offer about two weeks after sending out my PW novel, and signed with Josh Adams the first part of December. (He wasn't one of the PW agents, but I'd met him at a conference that spring and he requested the full when I'd finished revising). BRR went on submission in mid January, and sold mid February.
Laid out like that, the process (once I finished writing) seems pretty speedy and smooth—but there were plenty of trunked novels before this one!
SU: What kind of things did you learn from your PitchWars mentor when you were getting your PitchWars manuscript ready to query?
RE: I learned that I can be long-winded, and sometimes I need to sacrifice historical accuracy for the sake of the story. For example, the middle was dragging because I was trying to keep the Hungarian revolution on the actual date (3/15/48), but those winter months before the revolution were taking too long to get to the point, so I had to move the rebellion forward a few months. (The opening date, around the start of the London season, was less negotiable). Though I'd been hearing this from other readers, my mentor (Virginia Boecker)'s feedback is what really motivated me to cut and rewrite the middle section.
SU: BLOOD ROSE REBELLION is historical fantasy that takes place at the height of the Austro-Hungarian empire. What was it about this place and time period that made you want to write about it?
RE: I've always been fascinated by the nineteenth-century, so I was automatically drawn to that time period. I'd lived in Hungary for about 16 months in my 20s, and fell in love with the language and culture. When I decided to set the story in Hungary, that automatically narrowed the time frame for the story, because the revolutionary era was so dynamic.
SU: How much research did you have to do to get the historical details right, and what gaps did you have to just fill in for yourself?
RE: I did a lot of research for this book—as much as possible, I tried to rely on real historical details for the world (though obviously, the magic is invented). Food, dress, social customs--I got all those from books. I read history books to get a general feel for the revolution and other historical context, but I also read lots of novels, especially English translations of Jokai Mor, a Hungarian writer who had a fantastic eye for detail, lived through the revolution (and was friends with many of its leaders) and wrote multiple novels about his contemporaries. I also read several travel narratives written by British travelers to Hungary mid-century, who helped me understand how a British transplant might see her new homeland. And of course, I have Hungarian friends who helped me with some of the translations and answered my questions. The hardest research involved Romani culture, as most nineteenth-century records were written by outsiders, not the Romanies themselves. I read as much historical research as I could, talked with experts, and extrapolated some from 20th century ethnographies and first-person narratives by Romanies.
SU: What advice do you have for writers struggling through the first draft of a new fantasy novel?
RE: Keep going. One of my favorite bits of writing advice is that first drafts just have to be finished to be perfect.
The other thing I'd suggest is to read nonfiction--history and culture and economics and anything that can help you flesh out your world. You probably won't be able to lift any details directly (doing so runs the risk of cultural appropriation), but understanding how economics affects government, etc., can help you build a more believable world.
SU: Do you have any readings or signings coming up? Where can readers find you?
RE: I just got done with a short book tour and some local signings, but I will be at Salt Lake Comic Con in September. Readers can always reach me on social media: @rosalyneves (Twitter and Instagram), and https://www.facebook.com/rosalyneveswriter/
Rosalyn Eves grew up in the Rocky Mountains, dividing her time between reading books and bossing her siblings into performing her dramatic scripts. As an adult, the telling and reading of stories is still one of her favorite things to do. When she’s not reading or writing, she enjoys spending time with her chemistry professor husband and three children, watching British period pieces, or hiking through the splendid landscape of southern Utah, where she lives. She dislikes housework on principle.
She has a PhD in English from Penn State, which means she also endeavors to inspire college students with a love for the English language. Sometimes it even works.
Website * Facebook * Twitter
This week, I'm wrapping up my reviews for the stories in the anthology Wings of Renewal: A Solarpunk Dragon Anthology.
Did you see parts 1 and 2 of my Wings of Renewal solarpunk book review? You can click here and here to see my reviews of the first 15 stories.
I definitely have favorites, and I definitely have criticisms, but overall, this book has been an enjoyable read. With so few options out there for books and stories that identify as solarpunk, this is a good place to start, and to gather ideas for your own solarpunk stories.
Morelle and Vina by Sam Martin
A couple of kids find an old airplane in the off-limit ruins, and, through some salvage work and genetic engineering, build it into a living dragon. The imagery of this story is absolutely gorgeous: elevated bike paths made from sea shells and shaded by solar panels, a central vertical garden draped in greenery; streets designed with colorful mosaic tile. This is also the best example in the book of a co-operative, post-capitalist society. It seems like a lovely world to live in, but it doesn't feel like a static utopia—things are not perfect, and there are consequences for pushing boundaries the way our main characters do. Unfortunately, we never actually get to see those consequences, because the story ends so abruptly. It lacks resolution, ending right at the climax, and on quite a negative note. One of the key things people are looking for in solarpunk is optimism. Does that mean solarpunk stories have to have happy endings? If not happy, I think, then at least hopeful. This story, though it had many beautiful moments and ideas, ultimately left me on a sour and unsatisfied note.
Wings of the Guiding Suns by M. Pax
One of the few stories in this book told from the point of view of a dragon, this a galactic guardian sent to rescue the last remaining humans from Earth before the sun is destroyed—if only the humans will agree to be rescued. Overall, the writing is strong and the imagery is great. The premise is intriguing, though I think vastly oversimplified. Still, it's a nice tale of the complexity of human nature and perseverance against great odds.
Seven Years Among Dragons by Lyssa Chiavari
Mixing fantasy and science fiction can work, but the rules and limitations of the world need to be established and consistent. (Have you noticed my primary criticism of stories in this anthology is usually worldbuilding?) This one does not feel consistent at all. The sci-fi and solarpunk aspects seem tacked on to what would otherwise be a coherent fantasy story, and could be extracted and replaced with lower-level fantasy tech or magic—both of which already exist in this world, though there's little explanation for why one is used rather than another for any given reference. Still, there are a lot of things to like about this story. It's a unique twisting of Snow White. The writing is vivid and engaging, and the author has an excellent knack for tension and pacing. I would have liked this one a lot better just as a fantasy story. The solarpunk themes feel forced, and the technology is unexplored.
One Last Sweet by Claudie Arseneault
A sweet story (no pun intended) about a boy who wants to do something nice for a dying dragon that helped his village become self-sufficient. There's not a lot at stake, and there's a lot of "telling" exposition, but overall it's a nice story with interesting tech, likeable characters, and good disability representation. The final scene is vividly rendered and memorable.
Community Outreach with Reluctant Neighbors by Kat Lerner
If we accept solarpunk as an aesthetic or a mode rather than a genre (as I suggested in my Part 2 review), then this is a solid example of solarpunk fantasy. On the tech and setting level, it's light, but it's there. Two important scenes directly involve solar panels, and there are several mentions of algae lamps. But in terms of solarpunk themes—environmental balance, community and cooperation, accepting others, hope and optimism, etc.—it has those in droves. This is one of the better written stories in this anthology. A Leslie Knope-type community organizer makes it her personal mission to get the anti-social witch on the hill involved with community activities. It's a lovely story of mutual redemption, and really, the anthology is worth buying just for this story alone.
Wanderer's Dream by Maura Lydon
To be honest, I didn't entirely understand the plot of this story, but it has something to do with a couple of "Wanderers" (which seems akin to the aboriginal "walkabout") who help a dragon and a dragon-lady. The stakes are high—humans and dragons are not allowed any contact, on penalty of death—but seem arbitrary. The background and logic of this law are never explained or explored. Though, maybe that's part of the point. Maybe, like much paranormal romance, it's a metaphor for "forbidden" types of love (i.e. queer relationships or kink). I'm not sure. But while the plot didn't hold together for me, the characters and interpersonal relationships were well drawn and kept me engaged. This is another fantasy story with a solarpunk overlay, and while nothing is lost from that overlay, I don't think much is gained from it either.
The Last Guardians by J. Lee Ellorris
This is a wonderful story, and a perfect end to this anthology. I may have teared up a little bit... In a world where dragons have come to Earth to be caretakers and guide humans back to the right path, the last two guardian dragons have reached the end of their lives. But as her partner prepares for death, the last one seeks a miracle that will ensure they are not actually the last. As solarpunk continues to develop, I'd love to see it focus on how humans can save ourselves, without aliens or magic or divine intervention, but even though dragons save us in this story, the themes of environmental stewardship and cooperative responsibility are crystal clear. And if we must be saved, then I can think of no better saviors than gorgeous, kind, queer dragons. This is a world I would definitely love to live in.
This week, I'm delving into the middle stories in the book Wings of Renewal: A Solarpunk Dragon Anthology, edited by Claudie Arseneault and Brenda J. Pierson.
Did you see the first part of my Wings of Renewal Book Review? If not, click here for reviews of the first eight stories.
Not sure what "solarpunk" means? Check out my blog post on the World Weaver Press site called "The Brighter Futures of Solarpunk," as well as the comprehensive "Solarpunk Reference Guide."
And that is all the ado I shall give this week. On to the reviews:
The Quantum Dragon by Tobias Wade
A water energy scientist learns a corporation is allowing fusion reactors to collapse and profiting from people who are fleeing Earth for a Martian colony, so he creates a virus to shut down the reactors—which makes things worse. I enjoyed the science in this story, but wish the author had delved a little deeper into it. The protagonist is working on a method to harness energy from ocean currents. Cool! But why is this the green tech that's going to save us, more than, say, wave energy (which already exists), or any of the other renewables? I'd have loved to know more.
Note: It has come to my attention that this story is not included in the re-issued edition of Wings of Renewal. I am reading a first edition, published by Incandescent Phoenix Books. The new edition republished by Claudie Arseneault contains fewer stories than the original.
Fighting Fire With Fire by Gemini Pond
A community works together to extinguish a fire that threatens the forest their forebears planted to stop the encroaching desert. Like a lot of the stories in this anthology, it could have used a bit more in the way of worldbuilding and characterization, but overall, this was a nice story about cooperation and perseverance.
Refuge by Mindi Briar
A stranded spaceship pilot is rescued by an ethereal dragon and taken to a utopian planet. This story would be right at home in a space opera or space adventure anthology, though it is a bit rare to see true utopias (that don't turn out to be dystopias in disguise). This story faces head-on a lot of the concerns writers have about utopian settings, and through exploration and contrast, comes to a satisfying conclusion. The author claims to be writing a novel in this world. I'll keep an eye out for it.
The Dragon of Kou by Caroline Bigaiski
The idea that dragons and other creatures of myth returned once we cleaned up the planet is a pretty common theme in this anthology. To be honest, that was the angle I took in the story I wrote for their call for submissions (which was rejected, as it should have been. It wasn't ready!). This story had some nice moments, but the narrative style was quite distancing for me, and I don't feel it will stick with me as one of the more memorable pieces. And to be honest, by this point in the anthology, I'm craving a little more "solarpunk" and a little less "dragon."
Deep Within the Corners of My Mind by CJ Lehi
I enjoyed the Romanian setting of this story—it's not one I see very often in science fiction. I can't speak for authenticity or representation, but nothing stood out to me as an obvious stereotype, and the setting did feel integral to the story. A bit more violent than the others so far in this anthology (though vastly less so than an average SFF tale these days), with a satisfying non-violent resolution.
Note: It has come to my attention that this story is not included in the re-issued edition of Wings of Renewal. I am reading a first edition, published by Incandescent Phoenix Books. The new edition republished by Claudie Arseneault contains fewer stories than the original.
The Witch's Son by Diane Dubas
I ranted last time about how I thought solarpunk should remain science fiction and not get too tangled up with fantasy and magic, but this story is making me question that assertion. This is urban fantasy in a solarpunk setting, and, I don't know, it kind of works. Is solarpunk a genre, or is it an aesthetic, the way horror can be considered an aesthetic? Can solarpunk be overlaid onto other genres without losing its core? Maybe it can. Magic exists in Dubas's world, but it wasn't magic that reversed our ecological damage. The backstory about climate change and renewal is too brief, glossing over how we got to this world, but that's also not the focus of the story. Really, it's a symptom of the fact that this should be a novel. It feels like a first chapter rather than a fully-realized short story, and if it were given the room to breathe, I'm sure we'd get all that backstory much better fleshed out. One of the most awesome parts of this story was The Red Door. This is such an great idea, and so much more could be done with it.
"The Red Door was synonymous with all things forbidden: sex, drugs, magic, and petroleum. Are you a duke with a penchant for diesel engines? The Red Door is your place. A countess with a kink for motor oil? The witch behind the Red Door is there for you."
Dragon's Oath by Danny Mitchell
In a world where people harvest dragon scales to use like solar panels, someone is hunting and shooting down the dragons. Like the previous story, this is much more of a first chapter than it is a complete short story. It raises a bunch of story questions but resolves none of them. Our protagonist finds one of the injured dragons and becomes a caretaker for its baby. That's great, but it's the start of a story, not a whole story. The characterization and worldbuilding on a micro scale is pretty good—I always had a good sense of the immediate setting, and the diversity of the characters is one of the best parts. We have a hijab-wearing Muslim protagonist, and Mandarin-speaking background characters, which is an intriguing mix. However, I was kind of lost on the macro scale: Are we in a future earth where dragons have reappeared (like many of the other stories in this book)? Are we in an alternate present-day earth where dragons have always existed? Are we on a new planet like Pierson's "New Persia"? Are we in a secondary fantasy world inspired by Islamic culture? I really couldn't tell.
The solarpunk tech in this story was mostly background, but there was a satisfying amount of it: "solar trees," which, without additional description, I'll choose to imagine like those awesome Singaporean solar collectors; molten-salt batteries for solar storage; ornithopter drones; electric bikes; etc. The idea of literal dragon scales as solar converters is dampened a bit for me by the fact that "Dragon SCALEs" is an actual type of flexible solar technology, but that probably didn't even exist when this story was written. Overall, my biggest critique of this story is that it really needs to be a full novel, and if it were, I'd definitely keep reading when I got to the end of the first chapter.
Come back next week for Part 3 of my Wings of Renewal solarpunk book review!
A few weeks ago, a friend asked me for some advice about how to submit short stories to magazines and anthologies, so I'm sharing the advice I gave her with the world. If you're a new writer who's just stepping a toe into the world of publishing, or if you've gotten lucky with a few markets but don't really understand how the whole thing works, then this article is for you. This advice about submitting short stories is primarily for those writing fantasy and science fiction, as some of the details may differ if you write literary (for example, many literary markets allow simultaneous submissions while SFF do not), but no matter what genre you're working with, this six step sequence can help point you in the right direction.
And who am I to give this advice? No one, really, but I've published approximately 35 short stories (many of them very short), ranging from non-paying and token markets all the way up to professional and prize-winning. According to Duotrope, I've sent out 535 submissions in the last six years. I'm also an editor who has read a good deal of slush for both magazines and anthologies over the last five years.
Want to submit short stories to magazines or anthologies? Here's your six step sequence.
First of all, is your story ready to submit? Have you had your critique group or beta readers look at it, and implemented as many of their suggestions as fit your vision for the story? Have you teased out every possible specific detail about these characters, this setting, this situation, as you can fit into the space of a short story? Have you read it out loud to listen for clunky sentences, word echoes, stilted dialog? Have you let it sit for a couple of days (or even weeks) and then read it again with fresh eyes? Is it absolutely the best you can do at this moment in time?
If you answered no to any of the above, stop right now, and stop thinking about publication. Maybe it needs another rewrite, or five. Maybe you just need to write a different story. Or five.
Second, research the markets. Decide what matters to you. Do you want to be paid professional rates, or are you okay with less? Do you want a paper copy, or do you prefer online publication? Do you want to be in a well-established publication, or do you want to take a chance on something newer? Market listings such as Duotrope.com, the Submission Grinder, and Ralan.com are excellent search engines that can help you discover new markets and narrow down the ones that are looking for the kind of story you’re writing. To find anthologies, visit small press websites (or follow them on social media) to watch for anthology announcements, and skim Kickstarter for anthologies that may still be taking submissions. Always visit the magazine or anthology’s website, and be sure to read the submission guidelines. Avoid any market that charges a submission fee*, and watch for red flags such as asking for exclusive rights. After you look at a dozen or so submission guidelines, you’ll have an excellent sense for what’s normal and what’s not.
(*Submission fees are more common and accepted for literary markets, but are anathema in genre fiction. Contests are different, but should still be treated skeptically, especially if the entry fee is high.)
Third, once you’ve decided which markets you’d like to submit to, read them. If you’re looking at anthologies, pick up another anthology by that editor or publishing house. If you’re looking at magazines, pick up their latest issue. Most magazines are available online, but you can also go camp out at your local Barnes and Noble to look at paper issues of Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine, Asimov’s, Analog Science Fiction & Fact, and a few others. Lightspeed, Clarkesworld, Strange Horizons and many others have podcasts you can download to listen to while you drive, walk the dog, or eat lunch. However you do it, make sure you’ve read at least a few stories in a magazine before you send yours there. You don’t have to read all of them cover-to-cover, but read enough to get a sense of what they value in a story, and if they’re publishing stories like the ones you’re writing. Even if your story is great, the editor won’t take it unless it’s also a great fit.
Fourth, use Standard Manuscript Format (unless otherwise specified) and submit the story according to the market's guidelines along with a brief cover letter. Do not describe your story in the cover letter. The cover letter should be very short, and include the story’s title, word count, any previous publications or writing education you may have, and a “thank you” for their time. Don’t have any publications or writing education? No problem, just leave that part out. Do not apologize for having none, or offer any rationalizations or frustrations about it. Simply omit. If you have other education or life experience that relates to the content of your story, you can also include that. For example, if you are writing hard science fiction about space travel and you have a PhD in physics, say so. Or, if you are queer and so is your character, you can let the editor know the story is #OwnVoices.
Here’s the standard cover letter I have sent out for years:
Dear [Magazine Title] Editors,
That’s really it. A cover letter is not a query letter (which you need for submitting a novel). It is simply a polite introduction that says “Here’s my story, thanks for taking a look.”
Fifth, practice Rejectomancy (and abandon all hope). You can keep track of your submissions at Duotrope or the Submission Grinder, which will let you see the average response times for markets. Most science fiction and fantasy markets do not allow simultaneous submissions, so you’ll need to wait until you hear back from the first one before submitting the same story to the second one (and so on). If you know that Asimov’s, for example, takes an average of 100 days to respond, but Clarkesworld takes an average of two days to respond, that can help you plan which markets to submit to first, and help allay your anxieties as you wait for that response. If you haven’t already, start writing a new story.
Sixth, when that dreaded rejection comes in, move on to the next market on your list, make sure to follow their guidelines (which may differ slightly from the last one), and submit the story to that magazine or anthology. Keep submitting until you run out of places you would be proud to see your work in. The pro-markets are great, but there are a lot of semi-pros and token markets that do a great job as well. Or, if the editors were nice enough to give you personalized feedback, you may want to do another pass through the story and incorporate their suggestions. Unfortunately, you can’t resubmit it to the same magazine or anthology unless the editor specifies that they’d like you to (called a "revise and resubmit").
If their response is an acceptance rather than a rejection, then do a happy dance, sign the contract (after reading it closely), make sure you get paid, and always share the news with your friends and social media followers when the story is released.
And then, if you haven’t already, submit your next story.