Wednesday, November 28, 2018

The Changeling Wars series by A.G. Stewart

A. G. Stewart is one of the best science fiction authors I know. Her book, LOOSE CHANGELING, was the first in the Changeling Wars series, and her latest, SPARE CHANGELING, debuted in October 2018.

Nicole always thought she was regular-issue human...until she turns her husband’s mistress into a mouse. The next day, Kailen, Fae-for-hire, shows up on her doorstep and drops this bomb: she’s a Changeling, a Fae raised among mortals. Oh, and did he mention that her existence is illegal? Now she's on the run from Fae factions who want to kill her, while dealing with others who believe she can save the world. And there’s the pesky matter of her soon-to-be ex, without whom she can’t seem to do any magic at all...

Nicole's life has finally wound down to normal--or, at least, as normal as life could be for a Changeling. Sure, her Fae hound roommate could be nicer, and she could use a part-time job to pay some bills, but she's closing the doorways between the worlds. She's got things under control.

Until she's framed for the murder of a Fae King.

Only a Changeling could have committed the murder, and Nicole is the only living Changeling. The Fae families hate her. The Court wants to execute her. Her hound and ostensible minion couldn't care less if she lives or dies. But what if they're wrong? What if there is a spare Changeling? Reluctantly, the Fae Court grants her a short reprieve to do the impossible: find out who placed the Changeling, find out who the Changeling is, and bring both parties to justice.

And if she could just keep the mortal world none the wiser while she does it, that would be great.

You recently moved to Southern California. What do you love most about this new adventure, and how have you kept writing amid this transition?

The weather and the beaches are pretty nice! But really, I think "adventure" is a good way to describe it. I'd been in Sacramento for 13 years, and felt quite settled. But my husband got his dream job, and following your dreams is important to both of us. I'd do it again in a heartbeat. Mostly I love how this move gave us the chance to work together as a team on a big common goal, which made it more fun than stressful! I kept writing through the move. I was mostly working on revisions through this transition, and honestly, there were some days I didn't touch my manuscript. But I moved down before my husband did, and there were times I couldn't do much to help on my end. So I wrote.

Sounds like a great place to do it! SPARE CHANGELING is the next in the Changeling Wars series. In what ways does the world you created expand in this new story? 

In LOOSE CHANGELING, Nicole is just learning that the Fae world exists. I was able to explore that world a little more in the novella that takes place between the two books, but in SPARE CHANGELING, Nicole starts to actually learn some of the dynamics between the Fae families. And she learns that there is more to that world than just the Fae families. There are vast, wild areas that are still half-unexplored, with creatures she's not known existed. I'm so excited to share how Nicole's Changeling status, which seems to be a settled matter after book one, still causes a ripple effect in the Fae world that spreads into the mortal one.

 And it shows how good characters inevitably affect the world around them. What are some of your current projects?

I'm currently working on Bone Shard Daughter, a multi-POV epic fantasy that takes place on an archipelago of migratory islands on the brink of civil war. Lush tropical forests, an ocean without a bottom, an adorable magical companion, a palace of locked doors with a mystery behind each, and a lot of discovering who you really are in a time of political upheaval. I'm pretty excited about it. I've also got the next Changeling Wars novella up on queue--A Beginner's Guide to Changeling Minds. Nicole has to learn how to use mind magic in order to keep a lid on Portland. And then there will be Changeling Times, which delves into the start of that war mentioned in the series name ;)

Buy: Amazon

Buy: Amazon

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Wednesday, November 21, 2018

LEVEL FIVE by William Ledbetter

I met William Ledbetter at this year's WorldCon, and was intrigued by the premise of his novel LEVEL FIVE. Have a look:

In the mountains of Pakistan, a high-tech mission aimed at preventing another nuke on US soil goes off the rails - with deadly results. At a Wall Street investment firm, a computer intelligence takes the first tentative steps to free itself from its digital restraints. In a basement workshop, an engineer sees visions of a god who instructs him to defend the human race - by any means necessary.

In Level Five, the debut near-future thriller by Nebula Award winner William Ledbetter, AIs battle for dominance, and nanotechnology is on the loose. And all that stands in the way of the coming apocalypse is a starry-eyed inventor who dreams of building a revolutionary new spacecraft and an intelligence agency desk jockey faced with the impossible choice of saving her daughter - or saving the world.

According to your website bio you "spent most of you non-writing career in the aerospace and defense industry." In what ways, if any, has this informed your writing? 

A good deal of my fiction has been influenced by working in the aerospace industry. I enjoy writing space stories and since I have a solid understanding of the difficulties involved, many of my protagonists are engineers and technicians, the nuts and bolts kind of people who build and maintain these spacecraft. One of my stories, "Tethers," which is available to read for free at is about two space hardware technicians sent to an orbital fuel depot to fix a problem, but end up stranded and fighting over the limited oxygen supply. Three of the POV characters in my novel LEVEL FIVE work with technology in either an engineering or systems design level, so I'm sure that was probably driven by my familiarity with the aerospace industry and manufacturing.

Fascinating! LEVEL FIVE is also an Audible original. How did you determine the correct pacing within this novel, and what do you hope readers will take away when they're finished?

LEVEL FIVE has multiple point of view characters, each with their own history and agenda, so the pacing was mostly driven by each of them doing things that push the plot forward. My intention was for each character to contribute to the growing tension level as I braided the four plot lines together, until the ending affected them all and was affected by them all. I primarily wanted to entertain my readers, but also to show how sometimes the smallest and most well intentioned efforts can have huge and unexpected consequences. None of my characters were perfect heroes or antagonists, they were all flawed in some way and blind to those flaws, as they all struggled to do what they thought was best for themselves, their families and humanity itself. And like much science fiction, this was kind of a stage for future technologies and how they can be used for good and evil as humanity struggles to understand their impacts.

What a great way to incorporate both internal and external conflict! How do you balance time between various projects, and how do you know when to prioritize one project over another?

 I generally have several projects going at the same time. This can be good in that I've seldom had anything resembling writer's block. If I get stuck on one project I'll just set it aside and work on one of the others. Of course it can also be bad when project deadlines are concurrent. Most of the time I can do project triage and prioritize the one with the tightest deadline or requires the most amount of work. On those occasions when I literally have to push two projects forward at the same time I will generally split them up, working on one during my regular morning writing sessions, and work on the other during evenings and weekends.

Sounds like you've been able to find a routine that works. What are some of your current projects?

I'm working on a new science fiction novel tentatively titled CHANGING HORSES, which is about the crew of a generation style colony ship that encounters a very unusual alien race. I'm also working on the opening chapters for a sequel to my novel LEVEL FIVE, but will probably not finish that one until CHANGING HORSES is complete. I also have several short stories screaming for attention, demanding to be written, so I'll have to squeeze those in somehow. I have a new short story called "What I Am" coming out in the November/December issue of Asimov's and a story called "Bridging" in the Homo Stellaris anthology coming out next year from Baen Books.

Buy: Audible

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Tuesday, November 13, 2018

MUNMUN by Jesse Andrews

I saw Jesse Andrews on a panel at this year's Bay Area Book Festival, and he's one of the best speakers I've ever listened to. When he asked the audience who had bought a copy of his new book, MUNMUN, I held mine up proudly. Though Jesse Andrews is mostly known for YA realistic fiction like ME, EARL, AND THE DYING GIRL, MUNMUN offers a unique lens into the reality of social inequality through a fantastical premise.

In an alternate reality a lot like our world, every person’s physical size is directly proportional to their wealth. The poorest of the poor are the size of rats, and billionaires are the size of skyscrapers.

Warner and his sister Prayer are destitute—and tiny. Their size is not just demeaning, but dangerous: day and night they face mortal dangers that bigger richer people don’t ever have to think about, from being mauled by cats to their house getting stepped on. There are no cars or phones built small enough for them, or schools or hospitals, for that matter—there’s no point, when no one that little has any purchasing power, and when salaried doctors and teachers would never fit in buildings so small. Warner and Prayer know their only hope is to scale up, but how can two littlepoors survive in a world built against them?

I love your narrative voice, both in your stories, and on your website. When did you know that you'd finally found your writing voice? (Or are you still finding new ways to discover it?)

I don’t think I’ll ever feel comfortable calling a voice *my* voice. There are writers who have A Voice and then there are writers who are shapeshifting mimics who can only sound like other people and never themselves. Because they have no true selves! They’re completely contingent beings who only become people in reaction to other people or situations, and I am definitely in their category. That’s why I only write in the first person, from the perspective of characters who aren’t me and who have voices who aren’t mine.

So, that’s what I believe about myself, and yet it’s almost definitely not true, because with all three of my books so far plus a lot of the scripts that I write, the people who know me are always saying things like, “I read your book/script and it was like you were reading it in my head. I was just hearing your reedy nasal voice the entire time.” So I guess that pretty much *is* my voice.

Here’s a way better answer: I found my voice when I stopped trying to show everyone how smart I was. Before Me and Earl I wrote two novel-length manuscripts and about a dozen short stories and I was trying to smush the maximum of (what I thought of at the time as) intellect onto every single page. None of it got published. For Me and Earl I tried to just relax and let people sound like people. It went a lot better.

And it's a beautiful story as a result. Like Me and Earl, MUNMUN has an excellent premise, and it offers an interesting exploration of inequality and dreams. In what ways do you hope society can close some of these gaps? 

It’s going to be difficult for me not to be political in this answer, because the synagogue where I had my bar mitzvah was shot up by a maniac yesterday morning, and both his racist hatred and his capacity for violence were demonstrably enabled by the Republican Party. So I think we can begin by limiting that party’s power in every way possible. I think there’s at least a case to be made that the party itself should be outlawed, the way a democracy might reasonably outlaw a modern Nazi Party if one were to attempt to participate in its elections.

This is also a tough question because novelists are more at home describing and not prescribing. But one driver of inequality is people’s indifference (if not hostility) to the welfare of other people who aren’t exactly like them. So an obvious prescription is more empathy, in the form of more (and better) stories about more kinds of people. This is not a new or original point, but what I’d add is, let’s maybe tell fewer stories about Hero versus Villain, a banal and fundamentally conservative framework. If you believe some people are just evil and deserve punishment, you’re probably pretty into Fox News, or will be in ten years. If instead you believe—as anyone who actually studies this sort of thing for a living can tell you—that people’s attitudes and behavior and outlook are overwhelmingly shaped by their environments and peer groups and circumstances, and that people can change when those things change, then there’s hope. For both them and you!

But I can’t suppress my own certainty that the right wing must be put out of power as soon as possible, for as long as possible. The current presidency’s widest-reaching achievement is inarguably the sheer volume of fear it has manufactured. Monstrous, and monstrously unnecessary, fear. “I can’t just let my people get slaughtered,” said a man whose “people”—despite what his favorite websites told him—are not being slaughtered in any way, and in fact enjoy almost limitless power in this country. Then he took a (legally owned) weapon of war and massacred 11 of the gentlest and most thoughtful human beings in the world. I know because I grew up with them.

We are all definitely thinking about the community involved with the shooting in Pittsburgh, and I am so sorry for the loss of those amazing people who were so seminal in your life, and the lives of others. You are definitely right that there should be more layers of nuance in our society, and I hope that kind of change, both external, and internal, can happen soon. You also co-wrote the screenplay for the movie adaptation of ME, EARL, AND THE DYING GIRL, which won both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. (I also loved your adaptation of EVERY DAY!). What do you love most about writing screenplays?

The best part by far is the collaboration. You work with artists who can do things you could never, yourself, in a million years, do. How is acting even possible? How do you just become someone else?

I also love the economy it enforces. Novels allow you to be expansive and really sit in a conversation like a nice long bath. In a script, if you can’t say it in four lines, you’re probably wasting everyone’s time. That kind of pressure makes you a much better writer. It’s also pretty stressful. So maybe I don’t love it. I’m grateful for it, let’s say that.

And obviously it’s pretty cool to get to hang out with Nick Offerman sometimes, who is about as fantastic a dude in person as you would hope. (Also a great writer! Get his books too!)

Oh, wow! I definitely will! What are some of your current projects? 

I’ve been working on the script for a movie at a major studio since January, and I’m actually not allowed to say publicly what that movie or studio is. But the studio is one of the good ones! And I think the movie will be too. Check back with me in a couple years.

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

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Wednesday, November 7, 2018

The Lady Astronaut series, by Mary Robinette Kowal

I first heard about Mary Robinette Kowal when one of my writer friends joined one of her short story beta workshops back in 2016. I finally got to meet her at this year's WorldCon, and she treated each one of her fans with kindness and grace. I just finished reading SHADES OF MILK AND HONEY, the first in her Glamourist Histories (think Jane Austen with magic). Her new Lady Astronaut series is a fascinating alternative history that explores what might have happened if women had originally been the faces of the space program in the 1950s.

On a cold spring night in 1952, a huge meteorite fell to earth and obliterated much of the east coast of the United States, including Washington D.C. The ensuing climate cataclysm will soon render the earth inhospitable for humanity, as the last such meteorite did for the dinosaurs. This looming threat calls for a radically accelerated effort to colonize space, and requires a much larger share of humanity to take part in the process.

Elma York’s experience as a WASP pilot and mathematician earns her a place in the International Aerospace Coalition’s attempts to put man on the moon, as a calculator. But with so many skilled and experienced women pilots and scientists involved with the program, it doesn’t take long before Elma begins to wonder why they can’t go into space, too.

Elma’s drive to become the first Lady Astronaut is so strong that even the most dearly held conventions of society may not stand a chance against her.

Of course the noted Lady Astronaut Elma York would like to go, but there’s a lot riding on whoever the International Aerospace Coalition decides to send on this historic—but potentially very dangerous—mission? Could Elma really leave behind her husband and the chance to start a family to spend several years traveling to Mars? And with the Civil Rights movement taking hold all over Earth, will the astronaut pool ever be allowed to catch up, and will these brave men and women of all races be treated equitably when they get there? This gripping look at the real conflicts behind a fantastical space race will put a new spin on our visions of what might have been.

When we spoke, you said, "Only you have a true vision of what your story is." Have you encountered instances in which that vision has been somewhat unclear, and if so, what ways have you resolved it?

I've definitely encountered those, especially when I've signed up for an anthology and don't have a solid story idea. When I do that, I have a worksheet that I use for the things I'm having trouble getting traction on. For instance, I'll ask what it is that my character wants and then what are the concrete actions they take to try to achieve that goal. Then what goes wrong. I'll brainstorm lists of twenty looking for the thing that excites me. Really, it's all about chasing my joy. That's the piece that no one else can really know until you find it.

Joy is definitely an important thing to chase! Your latest book, THE FATED SKY, is the latest in the Lady Astronaut series, which explores an alternate history of the space race. What, if anything, did you discover while writing this series that surprised you?

I was amazed at how long and thoroughly women have been involved in the space program. Jet Propulsion Labrotory had a policy that they did not hire men for the computer department -- that's what they used to call the women who did calculations. They only hired women. So all of those orbital mechanics were worked out by women with, at most, a mechanical calculator. There's a great book called Rise of the Rocket Girls that talks about JPL, and of course, there's Hidden Figures.

The Hidden Figures book is great--and it includes a ton of fascinating stuff that the movie didn't get a chance to cover. You're also a member of the Hugo-Award winning podcast Writing Excuses. What led to your involvement in this podcast, and what do you enjoy most about contributing to it?

They asked me! What I enjoy most is the way the guys make me think. It's like being on a really good panel at a convention, where someone says a thing that opens up new avenues in your brain. I've been especially enjoying the last two seasons where we bring season-long guest hosts in. These folks are so very, very smart.

They are indeed! What are some of your current projects? 

Currently, I'm participating in NaNoWriMo by working on book 3 in the Lady Astronaut series. It's called The Relentless Moon and is a parallel novel to the events in The Fated Sky.

Lady Astronaut:

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

The Glamourist Histories:

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

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