Samuel Peralta's "Future Chronicles" anthologies are always fantastic collections, and I was thrilled to be invited to participate in this one, especially after I leaned I would be sharing a table of contents with authors such as Ken Liu, Seanan McGuire, and Jake Kerr. It's actually my second one with Jake—we were in the same issue of Lightspeed years ago. I've never been much of a video gamer, but I've long been obsessed with virtual reality, and that's the type of game I wrote about in "Sick and Tired."
In a world of nearly instant cures and ubiquitous good health, Sick and Tired Disease Simulation Agency offers virtual reality games that allow people to experience illness without the physical toll. After Jacob’s easy, fifteen-minute procedure zaps his cancer away, he becomes obsessed with the blog his grandmother wrote while dying of the same affliction fifty years before, and decides to visit Sick and Tired to understand what he was spared from. But the deeper Jacob gets into the game, the looser his grip becomes on which of these realities is true and which is illusion.
I think eventually this will be available in print, but right now you can only get it in ebook. It's been a very popular ebook, though We even spent some time as a #1 New Release in Science Fiction Anthologies!
Get the book here:
This book was originally being marketed as cyberpunk, but the publishers, Angry Robot, switched over to calling it solarpunk just a couple of weeks before release. It is definitely both: it has the cyberpunk technology of the neural implant, which is sort of like an instant messenger in your brain, controlled by eye movements, that also allows you to feel the emotions of the people you're connected to. It also has the fast-paced race-against-the-clock feel of cyberpunk, and the focus on information and data as the ultimate key to power. To keep sensitive data from being hacked, they encrypt it into a courier's blood cells. So, yeah, it's totally cyberpunk.
But Implanted doesn't take place in the same dark, polluted, brutalist type of setting usually featured in cyberpunk. New Worth is a domed city—one of many that people have retreated into to survive a massive climate crash. The city itself is stratified, based on the anatomy of a forest: the rich live up in the Canopy or the Echelon, the middle class in the Understory, etc. Many of the descriptions we get of the city show it as green, beautiful, with plants and fountains and attempts to simulate the nature they're yearning to get back to. Much of the plot revolves around the idea of Emergence from the dome—when it will happen, who does the work, who gets to benefit. New Worth is certainly not a utopia, but it's not a straightforward dystopia either, and our narrator learns there's a lot more going on than she realized at both the highest and lowest levels of this complex society. It's ultimately very optimistic and "punk" in unexpected ways. So, yeah, it's totally solarpunk.
Here's the official description:
When college student Emery Driscoll is blackmailed into being a courier for a clandestine organisation, she's cut off from the neural implant community which binds the domed city of New Worth together. Her new employers exploit her rare condition which allows her to carry encoded data in her blood, and train her to transport secrets throughout the troubled city. New Worth is on the brink of Emergence - freedom from the dome - but not everyone wants to leave. Then a data drop goes bad, and Emery is caught between factions: those who want her blood, and those who just want her dead.
Lauren C. Teffeau is a fellow New Mexico writer, and I read pieces of this book in a much earlier draft. I loved it back then, but I was blown away with how tight and exciting the story became in this final version. I asked Lauren to chat with me about her path to publication and her approach to worldbuilding.
Sarena Ulibarri: In a nutshell, what was the path from manuscript to publication for IMPLANTED?
Lauren C. Teffeau: Some of my projects have longer gestation periods than others. I was building the world IMPLANTED is set in well before I had an agent or a professional sale under my belt, so we’re talking many years here. I like to think that time was crucial in thinking through all the moving pieces and bringing it to life in vivid detail. We’ll see! I went through many drafts with my crit groups until I felt like I had a strong enough project to bring to my agent. I revised it again based on her feedback, and the manuscript sold to Angry Robot after approximately six months on submission.
SU: The early drafts of IMPLANTED were written as Young Adult, but it’s being published now as Adult. What changes did you need to make to “age it up” in the final version?
LCT: This is an issue I have run into before with my novel projects. I’m drawn to that time in characters’ lives when they face their “first test” in the real world. While that’s often part and parcel of coming-of-age stories which we often see in YA, I seem to always come up with scenarios where it’s harder to justify how these young teens are doing all these amazing things to save the world on such a grand scale, when it’s far more realistic for someone a bit older to have the life experience and, more importantly, the access necessary to drive the plot. Plus as a recovering romance writer, I sometimes include adult themes in my stories that are more appropriate for Adult books. As far as IMPLANTED goes, when my agent and I decided to treat it as an Adult project, it actually made some of the setup a lot easier to pull off because I didn’t have to explain all the reasons why my teenaged main character had the skills/background needed to make her role in the story more convincing. Instead of being a high school student, she’s now a recent college grad and has four more years under her belt to contribute to suspending readers’ disbelief.
SU: Could you talk a little about the worldbuilding of New Worth? What tools did you use to imagine and create this fascinating domed city?
LCT: I wanted to explore what happens after the coming climate apocalypse, a time where people have had to retreat from the natural world. The traumatic upheaval would be felt for generations and affect the city’s design and development as living memory fades and approximations and reinterpretations become all that’s left over. In a domed city where people are kept at far remove from nature, I figured access to the sun would become a new commodity of sorts. That led me to modeling my city’s structure off of the rainforest: canopy, understory, and ground level, each distinct ecosystem defined in part by the amount of sunlight they receive. And in my domed city of New Worth, those sections roughly correspond to different socio-economic groups, with the rich and well-connected living in the upper levels with the most access to sunlight. Population ecology, survivor bias, even fractals all contributed in some way to the city’s design as well.
SU: What books, authors, or films influenced you while writing IMPLANTED?
LCT: When I’m drafting, I try to keep my mind uncluttered of other media until the story I’m trying to write has firmed up and can stand on its own. That said, I’ve always loved espionage-tinged media—James Bond, Jason Bourne, even Sterling Archer—romance, YA, and most action/adventure properties, and those interests often come out in my work in both subconscious and conscious ways. At some point I was descripting IMPLANTED thusly: Take Johnny Mnemonic, add a dash of Person of Interest, mix with Logan’s Run, and wrap it all up in a Blade Runner-meets-solarpunk aesthetic.
SU: What advice do you have for beginning writers who are struggling through the first draft of a science fiction novel?
LCT: Finish your shit. And it will feel like shit. It will feel like you’re a fool for wanting to write and for wanting to share your stories with the world. But you have to push through all that to get to THE END. Then, take a break. When you return to your project, you’ll discover that maybe it isn’t as bad as you thought it was. Or that you are in a better position to see the story’s flaws and how to fix them. Either way, you cannot submit something that is incomplete. And it is only once a draft is complete that you can get a sense for how to revise. If nothing else, remember there are no shortcuts and try to enjoy the journey along the way.
SU: Do you have any readings or signings coming up? Where can readers find you?
August 3-5 ArmadilloCon in Austin, Texas
August 10 Reading and Q&A at the Albuquerque Science Fiction Society
August 16-19 Worldcon in San Jose, California
August 24-26 Bubonicon in Albuquerque, New Mexico
September 6 Reddit/Fantasy Ask Me Anything
September 8 Reading and Signing at the Denver Science Fiction and Fantasy Series
September 15 Reading and Signing at Page1 Books Albuquerque, New Mexico
October 7 Reading and Signing at Bookworks Albuquerque, New Mexico
October 19-21 MileHiCon in Denver, Colorado
My website laurencteffeau.com is the best way to stay up-to-date with what’s going on with me.
Lauren C. Teffeau was born and raised on the East Coast, educated in the South, employed in the Midwest, and now lives and dreams in the Southwest. When she was younger, she poked around in the back of wardrobes, tried to walk through mirrors, and always kept an eye out for secret passages, fairy rings, and messages from aliens. She was disappointed. Now, she writes to cope with her ordinary existence. Follow her on Twitter, Goodreads, Amazon.com, and Pinterest.
"Chrysalis in Sunlight" is about two survivors of an alien invasion—one a veteran and one a civilian—who have to road trip from Denver to San Diego for treatment for a condition caused by exposure to alien microbes. I called this my "solarpunk Don Quixote" story while I was writing early drafts, though I don't know if it's actually the best example of solarpunk, and the homage to The War of the Worlds is probably more obvious than the Don Quixote connection. The story is ambiguously hopeful, and part of the plot revolves around a solar-powered electric car and a wind farm. There isn't an overt environmental theme, though maybe there are some metaphorical ones. It's not really the focus though, so much as the relationship between these two characters, and living with the aftermath of trauma.
I'm proud of this story, but I've been nervous about sharing it. The narrator has chronic pain, which is something I struggle with too, but rarely ever talk about, which makes this story feel a little more personal than most. I also used a trope you're not really supposed to use. I knew it, and I did it anyway, and while I tried to handle it with nuance and awareness, my intentions don't matter as much as how it is received.
Below are some images from my Pinterest board for the story, with a few quotes from the story. Below that is a longer excerpt. See the whole Pinterest board here: www.pinterest.com/sarenaulibarri/chrysalis-in-sunlight/
When I was younger, Aunt Melissa used to show up twice a year, always stirring my otherwise mild-mannered family into a party, defeating my father in arm wrestling matches, challenging my grandfather to whiskey shots. She’d once driven all the way to Denver from the base in Missouri where she was stationed so she could beat the crap out of my ex-boyfriend who had given me a bruise.
"Chrysalis in Sunlight" was published by GigaNotoSaurus. You can read it online, or you can download a free ebook directly from their website. Find the story here: giganotosaurus.org/2018/08/01/chrysalis-in-sunlight/
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/
Full disclosure: Jennifer Lee Rossman is one of the authors I work with through World Weaver Press. We've been lucky enough to snag short stories from her for Glass and Gardens: Solarpunk Summers and Mrs. Claus: Not the Fairy Tale They Say, and she'll have a science fiction novel that is fun and heartbreaking in all the right ways coming out with us in early 2019.
Then again, she's got stories all over the place these days, so other publishers are clearly catching onto her talent! I invited her onto my blog to tell us a bit more about her awesome time travel novella, out now from Kristell Ink.
Here's the description of Anachronism:
It's the same old story: Time traveler meets girl, time traveler tells girl she's the future president, time traveler and girl go on a road trip to prevent a war...
Sarena Ulibarri: In a nutshell, what was the path from manuscript to publication for ANACHRONISM?
Jennifer Lee Rossman: When I wrote ANACHRONISM, I had never been published and, quite frankly, had no clue what I was doing as far as publishing was concerned. I wrote my query letter in about five minutes and proceeded to send it to every publisher that came up in my "sci-fi novella publishers" Google search (typos and all and, in one case, I managed to send two copies of my query letter in one email).
By some miracle, it worked, and Kristell Ink's amazing editor Kate Coe has helped me polish the manuscript and guide me through the confusing world of proof copies and promotion. It's been a long process, but holding an actual book full of my words is the best feeling.
SU: Without too many spoilers, how does time travel work in your novella? Are there limitations and constraints your time traveling characters have to work within?
JLR: Moses doesn't like to give a lot of information about the intricacies of the science involved in time travel, but he does say that paradoxes are possible. There is nothing stopping you from going back in time and killing your ancestor, but it might make your ancestor pretty mad.
SU: What books, authors, or films most influenced you when writing ANACHRONISM?
JLR: The writing style has been compared to Douglas Adams, but that wasn't really a conscious decision. I was really inspired by roadtrip buddy movies. I love the dynamics (and hilarity) that arise when you stick two people in a car and force them to get along, and getting to add sci-fi and save-the-world elements made it really fun to write.
SU: 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.?
JLR: I write whenever I can, usually listening to 70s and 80s music. I try to write at least one page every time I'm on the computer, which sometimes results in short paragraphs and a lot of dialogue.
SU: What advice do you have for young writers who are struggling through the first draft of a science fiction novel?
JLR: Find other writers in your genre, whether that means a critique group at your library or a couple nerdy people on Twitter who will laugh along with you when you realize you accidentally stole half of your plot from Star Wars.
SU: What are you working on now? And where can readers find you, online or off?
JLR: I'm trying to rewrite a series of novellas I wrote when I was nineteen. They are... not well written, but I think they're fixable. And a bunch of people on Twitter have somehow convinced me to write a book about werewolves in wheelchairs. Called Chairwolves.
I also have a novel, Jack Jetstark's Intergalactic Freakshow, coming out next year with World Weaver Press. The editor is a really nice lady named Sarena Ulibarri, and she definitely did not force me to say that.
I blog at jenniferleerossman.blogspot.com and Tweet @JenLRossman, and you can find my stories in these anthologies on my Amazon page: amazon.com/author/jenniferleerossman
About the Author
Jennifer Lee Rossman is a science fiction geek from Oneonta, New York. When she isn't writing, she cross stitches, watches Doctor Who, and threatens to run over people with her wheelchair. Her work has been featured in several anthologies and her novel, Jack Jetstark's Intergalactic Freakshow, will be published by World Weaver Press in 2019.
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.
My story, "Cocktails at the Mad Scientist's House" is in the Spring 2018 issue of Mad Scientist Journal, out now! Makes sense that this is where this story would end up, doesn't it? I didn't initially write the story with Mad Scientist Journal in mind, but it turned out to be a perfect fit.
My story is classified as an "essay," but it's still definitely fiction (I should hope that would be fairly obvious). One of the quirky, fun things about Mad Scientist Journal is that they publish these first person "essays" as though the character were a real person who just dictated their experience to the author. That's why below, you'll see the byline says "An essay by Tina Eikenboom, as provided by Sarena Ulibarri." I even had to come up with a brief bio for my character. Here's what I said about her:
Tina Eikenboom is a real nobody. You've never heard of her, or met her. Unless maybe you went to high school with her. Or community college. If you ever lived next door, you might know her as that girl who plays music too loud. Tina's not her real name, but it does start with a T, and if she has too much to drink, she might accidentally tell you what it is.
I'm grateful to Dawn Vogel and Jeremy Zimmerman for giving Tina's frantic story of murder and mad science a home in this issue. I was also thrilled to recognize a couple of other names in the table of contents, including Holly Schofield, who has a story forthcoming in my Glass and Gardens: Solarpunk Summers anthology. This story of hers is a lot darker than the solarpunk one, of course. Those feral clowns mentioned on the cover? Yeah, that's Holly's story. (And it's awesome.)
I hope you'll check out a copy, and let me know what you think of the stories!
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.
I first met Matthew Burnside a massive Facebook group called MFA Draft when we were both applying to MFA programs. The group was set up so applicants to the many creative writing grad programs could share support and anxiety while they waited for those acceptance calls or rejection notices. Matthew was one of the many memorable personalities in that group. I, certainly, was not, but many of them friended me anyway, and I love seeing where their paths have taken them now that we've all finished our programs. Matthew Burnside's Facebook feed alternates between the most ridiculous, awkward memes and the most inspirational, heartfelt manifestos about writing and art. See the interview below and you'll get a taste of what I mean.
Matthew's first full-length story collection, Postludes, is out today from Kernpunkt Press.
Sarena Ulibarri: The most important question first: is that a corgi on the cover? Is there a corgi in this book?! I must know.
Matthew Burnside: There are at least two dogs in Postludes, but I never specify that either is a corgi. I actually asked the cover artist to just “envision your most precious pet” and a corgi was the result. Pets are inextricably linked to childhood, nostalgia, and most notably our early conceptions of loss I think, so they definitely had important roles to play.
SU: In a nutshell, what was the path from manuscript to publication for Postludes?
MB: Postludes is a jigsaw of mostly formal experiments I did over the years, some preceding my MFA but many of them completed while I was in my program. Finding a home for the collection was difficult because they aren’t traditional pieces, some have more in common with poetry than prose, and a cohesive theme proved elusive for the longest time. In short, it was a monster to market. I feel like much of my work feels like B-sides, not in quality hopefully but in tone and variety. Prose that feels more like poetry at times (or vice versa) can be really alienating to readers, but it’s how I write for better or worse. Plot or narrative doesn’t interest me nearly as much as conveying a feltness or visceral emotion through landscapes of language.
SU: You earned an MFA from the prestigious Iowa Writers Workshop—what advice do you have for young (or not so young) writers struggling through the MFA application process?
MB: I know when I first started trying to crack the MFA code (I was rejected by 50+ programs before Iowa finally said Sure, come on in) I was doing it for the wrong reasons: I needed validation. To feel like a writer. I needed people who had already been successful to pat me on the head and go, Yes, little one you have my permission to write your little things. And then, of course, you look around at all the other really talented writers and do your best to follow their example. To publish where they’ve published and how they’ve published. You try to sound like them and maybe look like them and think like them, too. This is the mistake I think, because it means latching on to a path that’s been tread a thousand times already instead of maybe footing it and exploring your own path, which can be scary and lonely but may lead you to yourself---your own unique identity as an artist. At a certain point when I was at Iowa, I remember some of my peer’s words ringing in my ears, regarding this weird new media project I had made: “How in the HELL are you ever going to sell this?” And I remember thinking I HAVE NO IDEA and then promptly thinking, How Exciting is That? Maybe it doesn’t matter if I sell it at all? Maybe it shouldn’t? That doesn’t mean it’s not a worthy investment of time and craft. That doesn’t negate its value as an artful endeavor. That acceptance changed a lot for me. Since then, I’ve just sort of been exploring and writing what’s interesting to me. Some things have been successful, most haven’t, but it’s all one big exploration now. So, I guess my advice to younger writers would be Forget Trying To Make It Into the Cool Writers Club. Forget carving a fail-proof career out of art. Forget perfectly padded CVs whispering the promise of tenure and wide-eyed admiration from little versions of you. Accept Loneliness Now. Invite Failure Now, the more ambitious the riskier the better. Accept being an outlier, an outsider, an under-the-radar obscure no-name Nobody. Because there’s tremendous creative freedom in that, to work on what you want how you want for your own pure-as-ice joy. If you want rabid fans, if you’re desperate for attention, go start a cult. Writing is not a way to get love from others, or at least it shouldn’t be. It’s about finding a key to unlock rooms you never knew you had inside of you.
SU: Much of your work can be classified under that fuzzy label of “Experimental Writing.” What does “experimental” mean to you, and how has your understanding of it morphed over your writing career?
MB: It used to mean WRITER WHO WILL NEVER MAKE MONEY EVER. It still means that, mostly. But it also means being a Serpentine Disciple of Yes in a narrow valley of mediocrity. It means a willingness to die again and again through your work for the off chance to be reborn as something better. It means restlessness and motion sickness and a stubborn refusal to wear the same hat even if it is the prettiest and most comfortable of hats.
SU: What books, authors, or films most influenced you while writing Postludes?
MB: I’ve already spoken of the influence Akira Kurosawa’s DREAMS had on the book in another interview, but there are others too: Chris Van Allsburg’s The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, the dream fog logic of David Lynch, Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia, the dancing of Martha Graham, the science of Stephen Hawking, cartoons, video games, even the comedy of Mr. Bean.
SU: Do you have any readings or signings coming up? Where can readers find you?
MB: None scheduled. I find that my work doesn’t really lend itself to performativity. I mostly prefer to leave it as a thing that exists on the page or screen, but in 2017 that may be something I try to change. I’d welcome the opportunity, especially if it involves working with young writers, as the classroom is where I feel most comfortable.
Until then, I live on the internet at http://matthewkburnside.wixsite.com/2017 and currently teach fiction and creative writing for new media at Wesleyan University.
Matthew Burnside’s work has appeared in Best American Experimental Writing, DIAGRAM, Ninth Letter, Kill Author, PANK, and Pear Noir! among others. He is the author of several chapbooks and numerous digital works. He currently teaches at Wesleyan University and is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
Find your copy of Postludes:
Small Press Distribution