Category: fiction

WIP snippet, because I feel like it

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There was a sound, on the edge of sleep: Suu Nuoc wasn’t sure if it was a bell and a drum calling for enlightenment; or the tactics-master sounding the call to arms; in that breathless instant–hanging like a bead of blood from a sword’s blade–that marked the boundary between the stylised life of the court and the confused, lawless fury of the battlefield.

Aka, “Aliette writes a really ambitious novella that might unexpectedly turn into a novel” (I really hope not. Over 40k but below 70k is really a bad length for fiction). It’s a loose sort of sequel to On a Red Station, Drifting, with some of the same characters making guest appearances (basically set in the Imperial Court eighty years after the ending of the novella).

Since we’re travelling light (hahaha), I’ve left my research books at home, but I thought I’d recommend:

-Vietnam History: Stories retold for a new generation, Hien Vo, Chat Dang. Ok, here’s the deal. You emphatically will not get a history from this book–the authors aren’t historians, and it’s not a scholarly dissection of various motives and sources. However, what you will get is the kind of stories my grandma tells me, the “folklore”, or history as it’s perceived by the people who aren’t formally trained. It’s biased, of course; I wouldn’t necessarily agree with everything (particularly in the colonial era); but it’s a nice springboard for learning more about the major figures of folklore. As a bonus, it has a freak amount of the Vietnamese equivalents to Chinese deities and Chinese historical figures, which saves me the trouble of going through Wikipedia armed with a meagre command of the language…
-1587, a year of no particular significance: the Ming Dynasty in Decline, Ray Huang: I really like this book for its portrayal of court life in the tail end of the Ming dynasty. Really handy for those court intrigue bits ^^
-Monarchy and Colonialism in Vietnam: 1875-1925, The Anh Nguyen: I’m still halfway through it. It’s really hard to stomach, for obvious reasons (the sheer arrogance of the colonialists and the total lack of comprehension of the Nguyễn court of what they’re really up against, for starters; also, the slow encroachment of loss of sovereignty even as the colonial empire starts tightening up is heartbreaking). It turns out to not really pertain to the novella, so I’ll be going through it at a more restrained pace…

Strange Horizons reprint: “Chambered Nautilus” by Elisabeth Vonarburg

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Strange Horizons very kindly asked me to curate a reprint for their June issue. I picked Elisabeth Vonarburg’s “Chambered Nautilus” (translated from the French by Jane Brierley). I really like Vonarburg’s introspective, dreamy science fiction, and I think it’s a shame that so little of it got translated into English (you can pick up The Maerlande Chronicles from amazon–I prefer her Tyranaël series, but I think this stopped being translated after two volumes?). More info here at her English website.
Being an editor, even if it’s for a brief, one-story stint, means I read a lot of stories and didn’t have nearly enough space for all the stuff that I loved. Can I recommend you check out the following anthologies for great fiction? The Apex Book of World SF (volume 1, volume 2; and volume 3 which has recently been released), Afrofuturism, Mothership, AfroSF, and, if you have a copy lying around, Bloodchildren, which was a limited-time anthology by the Octavia Butler scholars and is sadly no longer available)? Also, anything by Yukimi Ogawa (she’s got a great story in this issue of Strange Horizons,  “Rib”, a mordant tale of a skeleton woman and the child who befriends her), Zen Cho (her collection, Spirits Abroad, just got released, and that link explains how to get a copy from her), Benjanun Sriduangkaew (who is up for the Campbell Award this year, and whose story “Autodidact” ought to be on awards list next year if there’s any justice), and Rochita Loenen-Ruiz (check out “Of Alternate Adventure and Memory” up at Clarkesworld, as well as her newest “Movements” column in this issue of Strange Horizons, which focuses on languages, hegemonies and translations).

That’s all from me for the moment–please do leave feedback on Strange Horizon’s website on the story if you’re so inclined.

“Immersion” to be reprinted in Mammoth Book of SF story by women

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“Immersion” to be reprinted in Mammoth Book of SF story by women

Quite pleased to announce that my short story “Immersion” will be reprinted in Alex Dally MarFarlane’s Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women. Will you just look at that cover and at that TOC? Very honoured to be part of this.

TOC:
“Girl Hours” by Sofia Samatar
“Excerpt from a Letter by a Social-realist Aswang” by Kristin Mandigma
“Somadeva: A Sky River Sutra” by Vandana Singh
“The Queen of Erewhon” by Lucy Sussex
“Tomorrow Is Saint Valentine’s Day” by Tori Truslow
“Spider the Artist” by Nnedi Okorafor
“The Science of Herself” by Karen Joy Fowler
“The Other Graces” by Alice Sola Kim
“Boojum” by Elizabeth Bear & Sarah Monette
“The Eleven Holy Numbers of the Mechanical Soul” by Natalia Theodoridou
“Mountain Ways” by Ursula K. Le Guin
“Tan-Tan and Dry Bone” by Nalo Hopkinson
“The Four Generations of Chang E” by Zen Cho
“Stay Thy Flight” by Élisabeth Vonarburg
“Astrophilia” by Carrie Vaughn
“Invisible Planets” by Hao Jingfang
“On the Leitmotif of the Trickster Constellation in Northern Hemispheric Star Charts, Post-Apocalypse” by Nicole Kornher-Stace
“Valentines” by Shira Lipkin
“Dancing in the Shadow of the Once” by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz
“Ej-Es” by Nancy Kress
“The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees” by E. Lily Yu
“The Death of Sugar Daddy” by Toiya Kristen Finley
“Enyo-Enyo” by Kameron Hurley
“Semiramis” by Genevieve Valentine
“Immersion” by Aliette de Bodard
“Down the Wall” by Greer Gilman
“Sing” by Karin Tidbeck
“Good Boy” by Nisi Shawl
“The Second Card of the Major Arcana” by Thoraiya Dyer
“A Short Encyclopedia of Lunar Seas” by Ekaterina Sedia
“Vector” by Benjanun Sriduangkaew
“Concerning the Unchecked Growth of Cities” by Angélica Gorodischer
“The Radiant Car Thy Sparrows Drew” by Catherynne M. Valente

Belated sales announcement: the Moon over Red Trees to BCS

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Belatedly announcing that I sold my short story “The Moon over Red Trees” to Beneath Ceaseless Skies (yeah, this is a BCS kind of year. Not that I’m complaning. It’s a great market, and, as evidenced by publication of Benjanun Sriduangkaew, Seth Dickinson and Yoon Ha Lee  , Scott H. Andrews has got awesome taste).

It’s a bit of a change for me, as this is a historical fantasy set in colonial Indochina in the beginning of the 20th Century.

Snippet here.

I will now go back to my novel writing being the mother of the snakelet.

2013 in review

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Keeping this brief…

In 2013, I published a handful of stories (see here for a complete list), and managed to write a couple more. I worked on my novel (but see below why the progress on that got a little interrupted…); attended a couple cons (Eastercon, Nebula Awards and Rencontres de l’Imaginaire).

I won a Nebula Award (for “Immersion”), a Locus Award and was twice finalist for the Hugo, finalist for the Sturgeon and finalist for the Sturgeon Memorial Award.
I got my novelette, “The Waiting Stars”, into Gardner Dozois’s Year’s Best.

Also made my first foray into self-publishing with the release of the e-edition of On a Red Station, Drifting. The response to it has been overwhelming; in general, this has been a year to be greatly thankful for–my gratitude goes to everyone who supported me, whether by reading my stuff, promoting my stuff, listening to my (numerous) twitter rants and/or giving me pregnancy/parenthood/writing/misc. advice. Much much appreciated; I’m humbled to have such generous people around me.

And, of course, the major production of the year was the successful (and mostly eventless, though those things are always more eventful than you’d like!) delivery of the snakelet. The side-effects included selling the old place, buying the new place and moving into it–still an ongoing project. My current level of parenthood is “apprentice”, I reckon…

2014 should see publication of a few stories; hopefully work on that %%% novel (I’m finding it hard to concentrate on anything longer than a few thousand words lately–we didn’t get the baby model that had long, quiet naps!); and attendance at Worldcon and possibly Nine Worlds (we should be in London August 8th-August 18th).

Hope everyone has a great end of year and a very happy 2014, and see you on the other side!

Sale: “Days of the War, as Red as Blood, as Dark as Bile” to Subterranean Online

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Hum, so, that story about the phoenix?

I’ve sold it to Subterranean Online for a future issue. Many thanks to Yanni Kuznia for the invitation, and to Gareth L Powell and Rochita Loenen-Ruiz for the feedback (extra thanks to Rochita for putting up with my total absence of a brain). It’s set in the Xuya continuity, some time after On a Red Station, Drifting (and even has a returning minor character from that novel). Features mindships (of course), the Four Saintly Beasts, and the Vietnamese concept of “duyên” (wonderfully economical concept, a headache to translate into English though!). Also, I actually wrote this while feeding the snakelet nonstop, which is probably worth a zillion achievement points all by itself…

Can haz first draft!

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6000 words, which I count a great victory (the snakelet being a major force for distraction). Temp title: “Days of the War, as Red as Blood, as Dark as Bile” (just until I find something slightly less unwieldy).

Snippet:

In the old days, the phoenix, the vermillion bird, was a sign of peace and prosperity to come; a sign of a just ruler under whom the land would thrive.

But those are the days of the war; of a weak child-Empress, successor to a weak Emperor; the days of burning planets and last-ditch defences; of moons as red as blood and stars as dark as bile.

#

When Thien Bao was thirteen years old, Second Aunt came to live with them.

She was a small, spry woman with little tolerance for children; and even less for Thien Bao, whom she grudgingly watched over while Mother worked in the factories, churning out the designs for new kinds of sharp-kites and advance needle ships.

(am aware Thien Bao is a man’s name in Vietnamese–there’s an in-story reason for it, but am struggling to manage the related exposition. Might just give up and go for a more traditional woman’s name)

Hoping to level up into progress on the novel after that (but not wholly optimistic).

We See a Different Frontier, anthology of postcolonial SFF, now available as ebook

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Ok, so I’m biased because I wrote the preface for this, but you can now buy the e-edition of Djibril al-Ayad and Fabio Fernandes’s We See a Different Frontier here on amazon.

(I admit I’m not a big fan of the cover, but that’s my  personal opinion, and the fiction collected in the antho itself is well worth a closer look)

The anthology collects SFF from the point of view of people outside the usual SFF hegemony, with countries such as Brazil, Singapore, the Philippines, etc.; and writers such as Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, Joyce Chng and Benjanun Sriduangkaew. Stories focus on imperialism, the difficulties of navigating a postcolonial history and of being the silenced voices on the world scene–it’s a very chewy, fertile terrain in which to plant fiction, and by and large this is a stunning anthology. The stories I loved most were Rochita Loenen-Ruiz’s “What Really Happened in Ficandula”, an angry tale of retribution and revenge that stretches across generations, Dinesh Rao’s “Bridge of Words”, an elegiac story about diaspora and losing one’s language, and Benjanun Sriduankaew’s splendid “Vector”, about the rewriting of history and the fight of the oppressed to impose their own voices over those of their oppressors.

Do give it a try. It’s a great read, and it’s stuff that needs to be tackled in SFF.

My experience with self-publishing “On a Red Station, Drifting”

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So… I thought it might interest people to share my experience with epublishing my novella On a Red Station, Drifting. What follows is a few disjointed thoughts on what I did and how I did it.

-Why: the original edition of On a Red Station, Drifting was a paper, limited edition hardcover with no ebook edition planned; I got lots of requests for an ebook edition, especially from readers not in the UK. I figured that since the market for novellas was so freaking limited, I might as well dip my toes into the world of self-publishing and see what happened.

-Cover art: I decided to get new cover art for the ebook version, to differentiate it from the paper one (which was a limited edition, and whose cover also had the slight problem of being far too busy to display at low resolutions, a definite handicap when dealing with buying ebooks). I browsed a couple things on deviantart (seriously considered using a couple existing pieces, but one was too dark and the other one at a large horizontal format and therefore quite unsuitable for an ebook cover no matter which way I turned the problem). I ended up commissioning Nhan Y Doan , whose work I had long admired, for a watercolour with the two main characters on it.

It’s a bit scary to commission an artist; many thanks to Colin Tate, who gave me pointers for navigating the entire thing. Basically I described what format I wanted; and the “feel” of what I was going for by showing the artist a few covers in genre with a predominantly red/orange background (I wanted red for obvious reasons); can’t remember everything I used, but one of them was Ian M. Banks’ Against a Dark Background. I also put in an excerpt from a scene that showed the interactions between the two main characters, and provided a summary description of both of them and their clothes, again using pictures as references. I was a bit scared of how it would turn out, but the end result was fabulous.
The cost of the commission was a little over 130$, to which I would have added lettering (which the artist didn’t provide)–except that the fabulous Janice Hardy very kindly did it for me, offering me several choices of fonts. I went for the one that most clearly appeared SF-esque, in order to counterbalance the soft watercolour design, itself an unusual choice for an SF novella.

-Conversion to ebook format: after much trying around, I used Scrivener for Mac plus the kindle converter KindleGen, which you can download on the amazon website. I found the instructions here useful, though I did end up having to fight a bit to get my part labelled as “book 1″ and not “chapter 1″). For EPUB, same thing except no need for KindleGen. The files produced are pretty clean; I ran them past people with a Kindle (huge thanks to Stephanie Burgis), and on my own Kobo Glo, just to make sure that it generated OK.

-Pricing: after much dithering, I priced the book at $2.99, and a similar amount in the other Kindle stores. I wanted to take advantage of the royalty rate at 70% on amazon, and also didn’t want to sell the novella too expensive or too cheap–I had a look at similar books on amazon and found that they were all at slightly higher prices than this (or much higher in the case of Nancy Kress’s Before the Fall, After the Fall–except I’m not Nancy Kress!).

-Publishing: I published on Kindle Direct Publishing because, let’s face it, it’s the biggest ebook market. At the same time, I wanted to give people a chance to find the book through other distribution channels, so I went through Smashwords in order to complement publication on amazon (Smashwords takes a percentage of sales, but has the advantage of distributing across the board to Apple, Sony, Kobo, etc.–at the time I signed up for it back in May, it wasn’t possible for me to sell on B&N, for instance, because I wasn’t based in the US).

Gotta hand it to Amazon, it’s pretty simple to open an account and upload your book file once you have everything. I can get paid via bank transfer, which is handy (but I understand this isn’t possible everywhere, and that this can be a pain in the %%% when you don’t sell enough books to reach the minimum amount necessary for them to issue a check). Smashwords is also pretty simple, although what I did was upload the EPUB file direct without trying to format a compatible Word document, which I’m given to understand is more of a headache (I did end up fighting a bit with their uploading system, which flagged non-existent errors and wouldn’t let me publish).

Cheryl Morgan also very kindly offered to publish the book on her Wizard’s Tower Books ebookstore, which puts me in fabulous company as well as giving me a more targeted market.

The split from my sales so far is: 89% sales through amazon (all Kindle stores conflated), 8.5% through Smashwords (about 1/3 of these are direct smashwords sales, and the rest is a conflation of other retailers like Apple, Kobo…), and 2.5% through Wizard’s Tower Books.

-Stuff I wish people had told me before: the tax withholding from Amazon and Smashwords if you’re not a US resident. I didn’t know that 30% withholding was the norm, and that you had to fill forms to get them not to do that anymore (see here for handy guidelines if you’re not a US citizen and not living in the US)–and that it took up to 1-2 months for this to be taken into account.

-Accounting: Smashwords is great, they pay you at the end of a given quarter via Paypal and that’s it. Amazon is… odd. I still haven’t quite worked out their payment logic. They also account separately for every store and every royalty percentage (I get 70% within some countries and 35% within others), so reading the sales files can rapidly become a headache–not to mention the fact that for stores where I don’t sell a lot, I basically am not seeing any money for months. Well, I guess at least I do get paid at some point…

-End results: obviously the experiment is still ongoing, but overall I’m pretty pleased. I published in the leadup to the Nebulas, at the time the novella was announced as a finalist for the Hugo, Nebula and Locus Awards, which considerably helped visibility. I did a couple promo items (on SF Signal and other places), though due to pregnancy fatigue plus the headaches involved in selling our house plus buying a new one I wasn’t really aggressively marketing, and more relying on word of mouth. The first payment from amazon basically went into paying for the cover, but from now on it should be all profit (the kind of fabulous profits that will allow me to book my dream holiday to Mũi Né–hahaha wait, maybe not).

So, that’s my experience with ebook publishing–what about you? Have you done it yet, and how has it worked for you?

Snippet

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From last week’s wordage, for all my write-a-thon supporters:

“Come on,” Isabelle said, pushing a small stone door in an unremarkable corridor; and Philippe, with a sigh, followed her. 

To stop, awestruck, at what lay inside.

It had been a church, once. You could still see the columns and the beginning of the vaulted ceiling, a first row of arches gracefully bending towards each other; and the remnants of wooden benches, burnt where they had stood. The stained-glass windows were broken, or absent; but the gaze was still drawn, unerringly, down the nave and to the altar at the other end–or where the altar would have been, if it hadn’t been turned to rubble long ago, and the only things remaining were the wrecks of three statues–the centre one was least damaged, and had probably been a Virgin Mary carrying the corpse of Jesus.

No, not a church. A cathedral, like the pink-hued edifice the French had built in Saigon–he could still feel the fervour of its builders, of its worshippers, swirling in the air: a bare shadow of what it had once been, but so potent, so strong, so huge.

“Notre-Dame,” Philippe whispered.