Weekend Writing Warriors: Sunday 26 July 2015 (WIP: Shipwright, Captain, Figurehead)

“Our world is called Karis: grace unearned, unlooked-for, the very picture of the Original World before our species entered on the scene.”

“Cloud-wreathed, water-wrapped, jeweled seas and skies,” the Zoia cadet replied, half speech and half song. Her hands relaxed at her side. “The gods give, open-handed. We rise to the divine in generosity, not brute force.”

Ah, that one had been well-catechised, both at home and later.

“I have kin in South Continent,” Naime said. “I am no less proud of the steppes than of Landfall-on-the-River.”


In which Naime the Shipwright explains the name of the world. From Camp NaNoWriMo project Shipwright, Captain, Figurehead, short stories in the Ship’s Heart universe.

Weekend Writing Warriors offers a selection of eight-sentence excerpts from many different writers. For the full selection, see here.

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Weekend Writing Warriors: Sunday 19 July 2015 (WIP: Shipwright, Captain, Figurehead)

Certainly they wouldn’t have dared to say such a thing in the hearing of the kin of Naime the Just, no matter she’d been in her grave for most of Naime’s life. Over a century and a half old, and half cyborg at least by the time Naime first met her, she’d lost an arm and part of her face in a bombing attack in the waning days of the clan-feuds; in the family portrait where three-year-old Naime rested in the lap of her namesake, the prosthetics showed plainly.

Naime the Just saw no reason to dissemble her wounds; the walking-stick Naime used on bad days was inherited from her: tall, with an adjustable high-friction hand-grip for walking, and several others should she decide to convert the staff to a weapon. Stout work, in carbon-composite and metal fittings, with a skid-proof tip that worked equally well on pavements, earthen tracks, and high rocks.

Her enemies weren’t like those of her namesake; they wouldn’t come on her with bombs or projectile-weapons, not at this stage of the game. Not yet. More they’d press for an escape clause for the use of Ships against Outlanders, or narrowing the choice of crew to certain clan-lines. Slava, for example, who hailed from the True Ocean ship-colonies, was considered an Outlander by those who wanted to narrow the compass of the clan-system to the Continent west of the Inland Sea.


In which Naime the Shipwright compares her political situation to that of her namesake. From Camp NaNoWriMo project Shipwright, Captain, Figurehead, short stories in the Ship’s Heart universe.

Weekend Writing Warriors offers a selection of eight-sentence excerpts from many different writers. For the full selection, see here.

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Vacations in Romancelandia: Interview with the Bowman’s Inn Collective

The Bowman’s Collective presents The Bowman’s Inn, Book 2 (Summer)

41XphTzp03L._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_In the city of Anteros, you might find yourself at the Bowman’s Inn. You could be lonely, hurting, or lost more than you know. The bartender, Valentine Archer, will know just what you need. He not only looks like a Greek god, he used to be one. Cupid prefers to be called Val these days. But he still knows how to mend a broken heart.

Six authors have combined their talents to bring you a collection of tales with romance, mystery and maybe a little humor. Oh, and quite a lot of sex. The delightful short stories feature characters who own or operate the facilities of the Bowman’s Inn or are just passing through. Whatever the case, Cupid has a way to help all of them find what their hearts require.

The Spring volume introduced Val (Cupid) his girlfriend Mandy (Psyche). In the present volume, Summer, the rodeo has come to town. Contributors: Milli Gilbert (Author), Roxanna Haley (Author), E.D. Vaughn (Author), Kate Whitaker (Author), Brandy Ayers (Author), D.L. Hungerford (Author)


So did you know each other before (is this a conspiracy) or did you just meet through this project (coincidence)?

ED: We know each other through another writing site

Milli: Scribophile.com

Brandy: We say it is a writing site but it is mostly an excuse for shirtless pictures of men

Milli: lol! And procrastination.

Roxanna: We started a secret group on Scrib so we can talk about the project and critique each other.

Milli: Which is where the shirtless men come in.

Brandy: Isn’t there one in the Bowman’s group? That needs to be rectified!

ED: I think I need more Chai to keep up

Milli: Should we call it the HotDish? Sorry, I’m Minnesotan to the core. Continue reading

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Goals: An Embarrassment of Riches

As I’m settling back into everyday life following CONvergence, I’ve been sorting through the projects in process. I can call it “too many deadlines” or I can call it an embarrassment of riches. Let’s go with the next.

Here are the projects, new and returning, that will be featured on this site in upcoming months.

Love in the Time of Starships: more book reviews. I have a scary number of books on my e-reader, and new ones popping up all the time. I’m generally in the middle of 10-15 books at any given time.

The Muse of Research: writer interviews. I have a backlog for editing, with some interview drafts running as long as 14,000 words. That’s what happens when you interview fascinating people like Lev Mirov, Yoon Ha Lee, Phenderson Djèlí Clark, to name but three.

CampNaNoWriMo: I’m doing the July challenge, with a goal of 50,000 words that I may or may not hit. The great thing, though, is the community. I created a cabin with folks I know in persona and from Twitter, and have been introducing my writing buddies to each other via google chat. It’s always fun when folks you like turn out to enjoy each other’s company.

Editing: My editing schedule is off by a month and a half. Nuff said. Soldiering on, but original brilliant plan of having entire backlist up by now … was a brilliant plan for a superhero with 48 hours in a day and no need for sleep.

Vacations in Romancelandia: I met a lot of my in-person writer-pals through NaNoWriMo. If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll notice that Tuesday nights generally mark a giddy on-line and in-person gigglefest with the irrepressible Milli Gilbert and my good buddy Becca Patterson. Milli is a romance writer, and recently she introduced me to her posse. I did a group interview with the Bowman’s Inn collaborative anthology crew, which is the first of a series of interviews and reviews both with working romance writers in my circle and authors I’ve discovered on Twitter. It’s about 50% Wild Horses and 50% serious writing process, so hang on for a wild ride.

The Anthologist’s Art. I have over 70 anthologies on my e-reader. As I read and review them, I have noticed that each story is part of the larger movement of a collection. I can’t resist asking what’s behind the curtain, so I’m starting a new interview series on the process of proposing, curating, and editing an anthology. My goal here: I get to satisfy my curiosity, demystify an important role in the writing community, and talk to some of my literary hero(in)es.

Writer Tech: CONvergence 2015 served as proving ground for my super-minimal writing kit, which I’ll be documenting and discussing in coming weeks. This includes some recommendations for portable sit-stand desks and other ergonomic wonders at low, low prices. I’ll also continue to talk with writers about their process for self-care and productivity under the Less Than Ideal Conditions that most of us live with.

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Weekend Writing Warriors: Sunday 12 July 2015 (WIP: Shipwright, Captain, Figurehead)

“I was not aware that you worshiped in that cult,” the sculptor said.

“I don’t. And to the point, neither do you.”

“So why are you asking me? There are artists of that tendency.”

“The lover does not always see with clearest eyes,” Naime said. “I told you I wanted an accurate likeness. All of the consequences, not only the glamorous bits.”


In which Naime commissions a statue of the god of war. From Camp NaNoWriMo project Shipwright, Captain, Figurehead, short stories in the Ship’s Heart universe.

Weekend Writing Warriors offers a selection of eight-sentence excerpts from many different writers. For the full selection, see here.

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Love in the Time of Starships: One Ordinary Day, with Werewolves

  • Joyce Chng writing as J Damask. Heart of Fire. Fox Spirit Books.
  • Jo Thomas. 25 Ways to Kill a Werewolf. Fox Spirit Books.
Disclosure: These books both come from my personal library, and coincidentally come from the same small publisher. [Www.foxspirit.co.uk]
Werewolves are a staple of both traditional horror and contemporary urban fantasy. Chng and Thomas write them with startling originality and resonant detail. Both novels are deeply rooted in research and specific landscapes, with vivid and memorable protagonists, and both work splendidly as stand-alone novels while being part of a larger arc. Heart of Fire is the third in a trilogy, while 25 Ways to Kill a Werewolf is the first in a planned series of three novels, with its sequel (Pack of Lies) just released this month.

In July, Fox Spirit is  re-releasing Wolf at the Door and Obsidian Eye, Obsidian Moon (books 1 and 2 of J Damask’s trilogy).

I have read both of these books as stand-alones.

Everyone expects a Book 1 to entice, but I also found Heart of Fire, Book 3 of a trilogy, compelling as a stand-alone narrative with a lot of implied backstory. Jan Xu (Xu Yin) is mother to a lively toddler, an active participant in her family and community, with a sister who is suffering from physical and mental disability in the wake of earlier events.

She’s also a werewolf, and the alpha of her pack. One of the most powerful themes in this story is the generational changing of the guard. I read it just before my final six weeks with my mentor, and the emotional truthfulness of the relationship between Jan Xu and her dying father (as well as his presence with her after his death) gave the kind of sustenance we expect from great fiction. The scenes of family life are delightful, including the extended family packing up cars and coolers for a Lunar New Year traditional gathering. That it’s werewolves getting ready for a full-moon hunt is just one more detail, and the family dynamics remind us that (were)wolves are family people.

Of course, as city folk living in Singapore, Jan Xu and her kin take part not only in family politics but municipal politics. Singapore supernaturals are both indigenous and European; the drakes (European dragons) have intermarried with their local counterparts, only one of many relationships carrying over from a colonial past.

On my second reading of Heart of Fire, I noticed how much of the sensory palette is kinesthetic, gustatory, or olfactory. Those deep, old senses hook into human memory and evoke the sensory surround of a city I’ve never visited, not an “exotic locale,” but an old city full of people who’ve lived there for generations and retained ties to rural roots. There’s a sensual specificity about food, interiors, ordinary family relationships, children at play, family holidays, that’s really marvelous (oh yes, and on the subsequent read-through I got the same craving for oyster dumplings, so don’t read this novel when you are hungry).

Along with Jan Xu we feel supernatural politics as an intrusion into daily routine. She already has enough stuff going on, and dealing with dragons, vampires, and other troublemakers local and imported is not what she wants to be doing with her time. She gives short shrift to the angsty characters who’d be the focus in a standard-issue urban fantasy, whether the wealthy bicultural vampire or the mysterious foreign werewolf who’s turned up on her territory with wounds from an attack by parties unknown.

The glimpses we get of Jan Xu’s relationship with her husband, sister, parents, as well as minor characters such as her community-gardening Taoist elf friend carry the weight of established relationship, and make me hungry for backstory without leaving me entirely in the dark. As in all great urban fantasy, the place is itself a character, with a wonderful sense of layers of history hidden under the busy surface of the present day.

In the course of the story, Jan Xu settles into her new status as alpha. She’s such an interesting character that I want to know how she got there. So I’m eagerly awaiting the first two volumes of her story.


As a writer, I found myself watching all the references to events (back story) outside the scope of the tale. They’re done with feather-light grace, after the fashion of world-building asides in good historical fiction, science fiction, and fantasy. The other thing that’s nonstandard here is that it’s written POV the “supernatural creature” and takes us for a journey in another skin.

The sensory palette is a huge part of the human-but-Other feeling of the story. Jan Xu constantly reacts to the “wrong smell” (be it drakes, vampires, or werewolves outside her pack) with a convincing combination of revulsion and resolution. Yes, they’re Other, but they’re part of my world. Yes, all this political stuff is a serious annoyance, but dealing with it is part of my family responsibility. This relatively brief story (under 50K words) shows and suggests a rich web of kinship, relationship, alliance, and opposition.


Heart of Fire takes place in a lush, sophisticated urban setting, with a protagonist who enjoys a lively and ramified family of both blood and affinity. 25 Ways to Kill a Werewolf is a stark contrast, both in setting and social milieu. The protagonist, Elkie Bernstein, is the child of an embattled single mother; she grows up in impoverished rural Wales, isolated from most of her peers except for her next-door neighbor, David. Since childhood, Elkie and David have practiced combat with homemade spears, learned the scrubby local landscape, and cobbled together a notion of the world from romance novels, television, and spotty access to the internet.

When a series of lone werewolves show up, one after the other, Elkie and David improvise ways to defend themselves. These werewolves are scary lone men with wrong-wrong-wrong written all over them. Jo Thomas is playing an entirely different face of the werewolf: the savage within, inhumanly murderous. The gritty contemporary setting plays off ancient echoes of berserkers alongside well-researched detail about rural life, biological hazards (including parvovirus), not to mention what happens when train hits werewolf. (Answer: train wins.)

Before long, Elkie and David track the shape-shifters back to a neighbor whose wife and son supposedly left him. The real case is both weirder and uglier than that, including some murky business with the son, Ben, and a series of citified visitors. No spoilers here, but economic motives drive a good part of the action. This is not some misty Celtic Twilight landscape but an underdeveloped corner of a modern country, where ambitious young people are as desperate to leave as their counterparts in the Iron Range of northern Minnesota.

Not long into their career as a werewolf-killing duo, Elkie and David have serious differences of philosophy. Elkie finds herself at odds not only with the werewolves but her former friend. Both her character and David’s are limned in psychologically realistic action, with an arc of ambition and betrayal that rivals the drama of supernatural action scenes. Not that there’s any shortage of the latter; Jo Thomas makes good on her promise of twenty-five lethal means, which unfold in clumsy, brutal, and occasionally comic action scenes. As the situation spins out of control, Elkie finds herself more and more isolated.

What drives this story is a resourceful and desperate young protagonist, far out of her depth and dealing with a series of ugly surprises.


The supernatural element here is as matter-of-fact as in Chng’s novel, and just as much an intrusion into the main character’s life. Unlike many urban fantasy heroines, Elkie wastes no time in either angst or skepticism, but adapts to the new reality with the alacrity of a survivor. Like Jan Xu, Elkie is the child of a specific place and time, and all the more memorable for it. Whether she’s doing farm chores, studying (or abandoning) school-leaving exams, battling predatory interlopers, or doing internet research at the local library, Elkie feels entirely plausible. In particular, the pinch of her limited resources very real.

Structurally, there’s a sort of triangle between Elkie, David, and Ben. It’s far from romantic, even when sexual attraction comes into play. David’s in an adventure quest, Ben’s in a video game, and Elkie has to cope with the results implied by those narratives. As with Chng’s novel, I’ve read this one more than a few times, to tease out how different levels of narrative work.

Thomas deploys a witty meta-narrative here about the sorts of stories people think they’re in, as well as mordant satire of stories and situations that have become a staple of paint-by-numbers contemporary fantasy. She dispatches the usual story with the same ruthless, desperate verve that her protagonist dispatches vulpine shape-shifters. There’s nothing attractive about these werewolves. They have a lot in common with mundane predators, the drifter/serial killer or the neighborhood child molester.

Thomas evokes Northern European folklore about magical wolf-skins, whereas Chng draws from the behavior of real wolf families. The enchantment in 25 Ways to Kill a Werewolf is of the raise-the-hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck variety, and the gritty rural setting both underlines and offsets this. The magic in Heart of Fire is everyday family life on the border between human and Other, with sensual details from a very-much-intact cultural and physical setting.

For both novels, research is the bones, character the muscle, and conflict the motive force.
As the first novel in a larger arc, 25 Ways to Kill a Werewolf does not resolve all its plot threads, and implies trouble to come even as Elkie confronts the people who’ve been making werewolves… to what end, it’s not clear. I found the structure very satisfying, though I’m definitely looking forward to more.


Update: at time of writing (7/7/2015) book 2 of the Elkie Bernstein series, Pack of Lies, is available both in paperback and ebook. I’ve purchased it and have begun reading. Wolf at the Door is also available in paperback.

In a few weeks, I’ll be writing about Prequels and Sequels, and talking about the larger arcs.

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Weekend Writing Warriors: Sunday 5 July 2015 (WIP: Ship’s Heart, character interview)

If you asked me what I could have, ambitions I’d fulfill if I could–well, get T-7 off our back. That would be a nice start.

Just give us a fighting chance, all right? Do you seriously have to be stirring up trouble where none needs to be? The universe hands us trouble enough, if you’ve ever faced the Void, or even a day when the machinery didn’t work right. Chance dogs our footsteps at every turn, and there’s a good reason that three of the four faces of Luck allude to disaster.

Dis-aster, the stars not in our favor: the odds, cosmologically, have never been in our favor. So why stick your bony thumb in the scales and make it worse?


The narrator is Taryn the Outlander. From character interviews for the Ship’s Heart universe.

Weekend Writing Warriors offers a selection of eight-sentence excerpts from many different writers. For the full selection, see here.

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