Prayers of Forges and Furnaces up at Lightspeed Magazine


Lightspeed Magazine has published my Aztec Western/steampunk story “Prayers of Forges and Furnaces”, a reprint from Sean Wallace’s Mammoth Book of Steampunk .


The stranger came at dawn, walking out of the barren land like a mirage—gradually shimmering into existence beside the bronze line of the rails: a wide-brimmed hat, a long cloak, the glint that might have been a rifle or an obsidian-studded sword.

Xochipil, who had been scavenging for tech at the mouth of Mictlan’s Well, caught that glint in her eyes—and stopped, watching the stranger approach, a growing hollow in her stomach. Beneath her were the vibrations of the Well, like a calm, steady heartbeat running through the ground: the voice of the rails that coiled around the shaft of the Well, bearing their burden of copper and bronze ever downwards.

The stranger stopped when he came up to her. They stared wordlessly at each other. He was tall, a good two heads taller than Xochipil; he held himself straight, like an axle or a rod that wouldn’t break. The glint wasn’t a sword or a rifle, after all—but simply that of a dozen obsidian amulets, spread equally around his belt, shining with a cold, black light that wasn’t copper or bronze or steel, but something far more ancient, from the old, cruel days before the Change.

Read it here. Author spotlight here. And please remember to subscribe to Lightspeed or buy the issue–not only will you get the content early, you’ll also help support the magazine that brings you awesome fiction.



Couple of plugs:
-Fundraiser for Accessing the Future, an anthology of disability-themed SF. Co-edited by Kathryn Allan and Djibril al-Ayad, to be published by Publishing. Djibril already brought the wonderful (and under appreciated) We See a Different Frontier into being, this looks also awesome.
-In a rather different vein, a wonderful short story by Alter S. Reiss, over at Beneath Ceaseless Skies: racial tensions, immigration and murder in the kitchen of a large restaurant: “By Appointment to the Throne”

Rainy Writers Workshop


So, I’m back from Brittany, where we had a fantastic time with Kari Sperring, Kate ElliottRhiannon Rasmussen-Silverstein  and Rochita Loenen-Ruiz. Much good time was had–even though there was more snakelet-minding than I expected. I had time to ponder a few pieces, as well as eat ice cream, buckwheat crepes, and try to grab some sleep.

We visited Carnac, which was lovely–I had forgotten how impressive it was: a broken 4km of standing stones, which they think is part of a larger alignment of 40km between Quiberon and Vannes. And had a lovely buckwheat crepe in a restaurant overlooking the harbour at La Trinité-sur-Mer. Ham and cheese and egg is the best (the bit where you pierce the egg with the point of a knife and watch the egg yolk ooze across the crepe? the best!).

Now am back in the saddle, and busy snakelet-minding. Time to get back to work, methinks…

Darkness notice


Heading to the Rainy Writers’ Retreat in Brittany II with Kari Sperring, Kate Elliott, Rochita Loenen-Luiz and Rhiannon Rasmussen-Silverstein (and the snakelet). Internet access will be present but I expect not much to happen on that front; so email, twitter etc. will be slow.Expect to be back Wednesday.

Kate Elliott’s Spiritwalker trilogy

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Composed of Cold Magic, Cold Fire and Cold Steel. Set in an alternate version of Europe where Carthage never fell; where a sheet of ice covers everything north of England and Belgium; and where the Taino Empire still rules in the Caribbean, Kate Elliott’s most recent trilogy is a thing of beauty. It’s a very tightly focused fantasy: the narrator if Catherine (Cat) Hassi Barahal, born into a family of Phoenicians couriers and spies–who finds herself, quite unexpectedly, married to a cold mage from one of the most powerful Houses in Europe, and thurst in the midst of intrigues both political and supernatural.

In the world of Spiritwalker, magic comes in two flavours: cold mages can spread a cold strong enough to douse fires and shatter steel; whereas fire mages channel flames and conflagrations, often to disastrous results. But magic users must take care not to become too powerful; for once a night on Hallow’s Eve, the Wild Hunt comes from the spirit world, and kills and dismembers a powerful magic user. The cold mages are thus powerful, but not overly so; and they govern Europe in a loose alliance with the princes who wield temporal power. But radicals are agitating for equal rights, and the infamous general Camjiata (this storyline’s version of Napoleon), has recently come back from his exile and is busy raising another army to conquer Europe… Cat and her beloved cousin Beatrice (Bee), who both find they have more abilities than they suspect, flee as every faction attempts to lay hands on them and use them for their own purposes.

It’s hard to do justice to the worldbuilding in this: one of Kate Elliott’s great strengths is her ability to create a universe that truly feels lived in–that gives you the impression that it doesn’t solely exist for the plot, and that everyone and everything has an existence that goes beyond the narration of the trilogy. The magical system is also fantastic (magic based on thermodynamics! Entropy between the spirit world and the mortal world!). And the characters really shine: from impulsive and kind-hearted Cat to theatrical and pragmatic Bee; from the arrogant and magnificent cold mage Andevai to the canny and manipulative Camjiata, they all leap off the page–you might not always agree with what they do, but they’re all thoughtfully depicted; and I really loved that the story went unexpected places, and explored issues of consent, equality and power, and how revolutions might or might not be the best way to grant these. And special props to the Master of the Wild Hunt, who’s in a class of his own for manipulative bastard.  Also, the salt plague is one of the awesomest, most refreshing ways of doing zombies in speculative fiction ever (and I say this as someone who’s a bit burnt on the subject of zombies).

There’s a few extras, too: The Secret Journal of Beatrice Hassi Barahal features Bee’s POV, and lovely art by Hugo Award winner Julie Dillon; and “The Courtship” takes up the story a few days after the end of Cold Steel from the POV of another character.

Highly recommended, in case you had doubts.

Your hemi semi yearly Vietnamese poem


Because it’s such a pretty, heartbreaking poem:

Tác giả: Xuân Diệu

Yêu là chết ở trong lòng một ít
Vì mấy khi yêu mà chắc được yêu.
Cho rất nhiều song nhận chẳng bao nhiêu;
Người ta phụ, hoặc thờ ơ, chẳng biết…
Phút gần gũi cũng như giờ chia biệt.
Tưởng trăng tàn, hoa tạ với hồn tiêu,
Vì mấy khi yêu mà chắc được yêu!
– Yêu, là chết ở trong lòng một ít.
Họ lạc lối giữa u sầu mù mịt,
Những người ai theo dõi dấu chân yêu;
Và cảnh đời là sa mạc cô liêu.
Và tình ái là sợi dây vấn vít.
Yêu, là chết ở trong lòng một ít.

Rough translation (not my own)
( Xuan Dieu )

To love is to die a little in the heart,
for when you love, can you be sure you’re loved?
You give so much, so little you get back —
the other lets you down or looks away.
Together or apart, it’s still the same.
The moon turns pale, blooms fade, the soul’s bereaved,
for when you love, can you be sure you’re loved?
To love is to die a little in the heart.
They’ll lose their way within dark sorrow land,
those passionate fouls who go in search of love.
And life will be a desert stripped of joy,
and love will tie the knot that binds to grief.
To love is to die a little in the heart.

Guest of Honour at Eurocon 2016


Guest of Honour at Eurocon 2016

Very pleased to announce I’ll be a Guest of Honour at Eurocon 2016 in Barcelona, along with Richard Morgan, Jun Miyazaki, and Enrique Corominas. Dates are 4-6 November 2016. (yeah, you’ll have noticed I seem to go to Barcelona quite a bit those days. Not complaining, it’s a great city, the food is awesome, and I get to practise my–ailing–Spanish…)

My novel writing process, aka writing with baby


There’s a fabulous essay by Ursula Le Guin (I think it’s “The Fisherwoman’s daughter”?) on writing and motherhood, which contains the following: “The point, or part of it, is that babies eat manuscripts. They really do. The poem not written because the baby cried, the novel put aside because of a pregnancy, and so on. Babies eat books. But they spit out wads of them that can be taped back together; and they are only babies for a couple of years, while writers live for decades; and it is terrible, but not very terrible.”

I read this years ago, and it’s stuck with me (though I’d forgotten that awesome last part). It’s all so true; and even more so when you have the actual baby. I stopped writing about seven months into my pregnancy, because I spent most of my time lying down with no energy, feeling very much like a beached whale. After the birth of the snakelet I went a bit insane with not writing, so I started doing it again in fits and starts; but it wasn’t until the snakelet was 4-5 months old, and I was almost ready to go back to work, that I started writing my novel again.

Novels, for me, are different commitments than short stories: I can research a short story for weeks and binge-write the actual first draft in a couple of days; I just can’t do that with a novel. With novels, I have to sit down and write consistently; a little at a time for a long time. The problem, when you have a baby, is that “little” can mean three minutes before something goes wrong ™ and you have to rescue a crying snakelet from whatever he got himself into.

I’ve seen people post about setting some time in the week for writing, always the same time: it never worked for me pre-baby, and it certainly didn’t work afterwards (when something does need your attention, it’s a choice of me or my husband; if my husband isn’t available it has to be me. In those circumstances, a set schedule is a bit like mission impossible). My philosophy was: “whenever there is available time, grab it”. Didn’t matter if it was ten minutes while the baby napped or while my husband played with him; I just used whatever I had.

“available time”, though, doesn’t get you very far with a day job and a baby. When I started up the novel again, I was 25k in, and needed to get to 100k in a couple of months: simple maths told me I would need to write more than 1000 words a day to make my self-imposed deadline. Given that there were a lot of days when I just couldn’t manage to write, this sounded like a lot cause.

Fortunately for me, I have a commute. And an alphasmart (a Neo 2 I think).

They don’t make them anymore (they stopped in 2013 I think), but those things are the best friend for a writer like me. Basically, it’s a keyboard with a small screen. I admit the attraction, put like that, is limited, as you could get the same mileage out of an iPad or a laptop. But the thing is, a Neo is totally distraction-free, boots up in a heartbeat, (you touch a button, it lights up, you touch a button, it turns off), and it keeps going *forever* (and I mean forever. I got mine in 2009, I put three AA batteries in it, and it’s still at 60% despite my typing up 1.5 novels, 1 novella and a bunch of short stories on it). You only get a chunk of 10,000 words or so (after that you need to change memory buffers, which is trickier), but given that you can’t really edit with it, it’s fine for me. I basically would type my day’s scenes on the Neo, transfer it to my laptop (it hooks up to computers by pretending to be a keyboard, which means it’s dead easy to set up), and do cleaning up and editing on my laptop.

The trouble with this method is that I need a lot more editing afterwards, because I make a lot more typos and because scenes easily get very repetitive (the Neo screen has about 6-8 lines of text on it? not ideal to get a large-scale picture). I did a lot of things in Word, and then imported the lot into Scrivener, where I searched for repetitions and moved stuff around (Scrivener is a very powerful tool that’s good for a lot of things; my use of it is akin to using a kitchen robot to chop up a few cloves of garlic: that is to say I label different scenes according to their POV, and move scenes around in my draft).

I didn’t *quite* make my deadline (of course), but I was still pretty darn close. Certainly, if you’d told me I’d write most of my novel while minding a very young child a year ago, I’d have told you you were insane ^^

At any rate, that’s my writing process. What about you? How do you make time for writing? Do you have any tips for writing with young children?