Since it seems that links to the old “Skill List Project” posts are now broken, I will slowly migrate them to this site, so you’ll be seeing them show up one by one. If this is the first time you’ve read the Skill List Project posts, I hope you enjoy them!
My oh my, it’s been a while since I wrote anything here. Much water has flowed under the bridge, but since there’s snow on the ground, perhaps I’ll be inside more and I can do more blogging.
Most importantly for today, Ed Willett has just released an interview with me for his podcast The Worldshapers. I’ve known Ed for years, and I think it’s a great idea to interview SF writers about their creative process. He’s also managed to accumulate an impressive line-up of guests; I definitely recommend checking out the whole podcast series.
And by the way, congratulations Ed on winning an Aurora award this year!
The Bundoran bundle has finished its run with great sales results. I’m also happy with the series of “liner note” posts I made discussing most of the stories I contributed to the bundle.
Do I need to explain liner notes? Way back when, before music was simply downloaded, vinyl albums and later CDs often came with notes about the songs. Most commonly, the notes included the lyrics of all the songs. Sometimes they also contained commentary about the songs, either by the writer(s), the performer(s), or a music critic. These comments were called liner notes (and it amuses me that there’s a Wikipedia entry for them…but of course there is).
The practice of liner notes has been taken up by writers in a number of other media. In particular, Kieron Gillen writes liner notes for his comic book series The Wicked + The Divine. These notes are panel-by-panel discussions of each issue; they’re all well worth reading if you want insights into the thoughts and the process of putting comic books together.
Gillen has just started a similar set of commentary notes about Peter Cannonball, Thunderbolt, a new series featuring the old comic book character who inspired Ozymandias in Watchmen. Again, I recommend both the comic book and the notes. Since there’s only been a single issue released, I have no idea where the series will go, but I’ll certainly keep reading.
And the experience of writing liner notes for my short stories has made me wonder about writing liner notes for my two published Dark vs. Spark novels. It would mean a ton of work, which is why I’m vacillating about the idea…but if any of the people reading this would like to read chapter-by-chapter notes about EXPLOSIONS and GUN, send me a comment or a tweet to show your interest.
Well, that was simple: I just added my Twitter feed to the sidebar of this web site.
I post and/or retweet about a dozen tweets a day, mostly in the morning. I like to start my day by looking at eye candy, and I retweet my favorites. I also retweet things that appeal to me. But I’ve set up Freedom to kick in at 9:15AM so that I have to leave Twitter and get to work.
(As it happens, I’ve been working on non-writing stuff the past three days, so you’ll find some tweets that were made in the middle of the morning. However, that’s rare, and I’ll soon get back to my normal non-tweeting morning schedule.)
Aurora Award Nominations!
The big news today is that two of my books have been nominated for Aurora Awards!
The Auroras are Canada’s science fiction/fantasy awards. Any work by a Canadian author is eligible to be nominated. The books nominated were:
Book 1: ALL THOSE EXPLOSIONS WERE SOMEONE ELSE’S FAULT is nominated for Best Novel of 2017.
Tesseracts 20: Compostela (edited by Spider Robinson and me) is nominated for Best Related Work.
Voting begins on July 28 and closes on September 8. Any Canadian can register to vote. I’ll post more about how to vote when more information is available.
And while I’m thinking about it, I should note that I now have a Patreon account. If you’d like to support me, see my news feed for further information.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been sick: first with a cold, then with a nasty flu. During that time, it was hard to write real work…but I kept writing anyway, because that’s what I do.
I came up with the following story. Since I doubt that it’s publishable, I thought I’d post it here just for my own amusement. Consider it the raving of a fevered mind.
Zeus holds a feast, but Eris is not invited. She sneaks in anyway, and throws a golden apple into the midst of the diners.
Hermes, the fastest of the gods, snatches the apple from the air. He reads the inscription. “To the best endowed.”
Clio, Muse of History and chronicler of events on Olympus, manages a creditable “record needle scratch” sound as her quill pen jerks across the official scroll.
“Say what?” Zeus asks Hermes.
“To the best endowed,” Hermes repeats. “And she’s made a little drawing—”
“We get the picture,” Artemis interrupts.
Athena sighs. “Eris has upped her game.”
* * *
Hera says, “We all know what Eris is doing. She’s just annoyed because you wouldn’t invite her.” She glares at her husband. “And didn’t I tell you something like this would happen? But no, you thought snubbing the Goddess of Discord would be a brilliant idea!”
“She makes everyone uncomfortable,” Zeus mumbles.
“She makes you uncomfortable,” Hera says. “Because she calls you out on the rape-y shit you do.”
Ares yells, “Yo, Hermes, where you going with that apple?”
Hermes has been edging toward the exit. “I’m just, uh, going to get rid of this,” he replies. “Cuz it’s an obvious provocation, and we gods, who aren’t like totally juvenile, would never treat it seriously, right?”
“You were taking it back to your room, weren’t you?” Ares says.
“Look, it is an obvious provocation,” Artemis says, “and since we’re all grownups here (except for Aphrodite’s date), we aren’t going to start making fools of ourselves by…guys, are you even listening to me?”
“Just hypothetically,” Zeus says, stroking his chin, “how would we go about determining such a thing?”
“You could just ask Aphrodite,” Athena says. “I imagine she’s schtupped you all, so she knows the truth.”
“Yeah, right,” Aphrodite says, glancing worriedly at Hera, “I may be indiscreet, but I’m not getting in the middle of anything like this. Ladies don’t kiss and tell.”
“Ladies,” Hera says. “Darling Aphrodite, you can be so droll.”
Hephaestus says, “I never go anywhere without a tape measure.” He pulls it out and puts it on the table. The tape measure.
Demeter grimaces. “Please, no.”
“Wrong time and place completely,” Zeus agrees, “considering how much some of us have been drinking. We should name a date for an official weigh-in, so to speak. With an impartial judge.”
“Yes, that’s not going to end badly,” says Athena. “Oh, and just FYI, there’s no frickin’ way I’m going to be judge.”
“No one asked you to,” Poseidon says. “We need someone who won’t make us shrivel.”
“Next you’ll be suggesting some beautiful fourteen-year-old virgin,” Hera says in disgust. “Someone who’ll lead you to lengths unimagined, and who’ll you’ll all just love showing your—”
“Stop!” say Artemis and Hestia in unison.
“Well, there’s this girl Helen in Sparta…” Zeus says.
“Seriously?” Hera says. “Seriously?”
“Look,” Athena says, “we all know how this will play out. You men will be too afraid to compete on your actual ‘merits’, so as soon as someone gets picked to be judge, you’ll all try to bribe them with divine interventions. The winner won’t be the one with the most inches, but whoever makes the most obscenely irresponsible offer to some poor mortal who doesn’t know that gifts from the gods always blow up in your face.”
Zeus, Ares and Poseidon exchange looks. “Works for me,” Zeus says.
“Helen then?” Poseidon suggests. “Because I’m not showing my junk to a dude.”
Hera says, “For the love of—”
“Silence, wife!” Zeus bellows.
Hera glares at him. “Fine. You deserve what you’re going to get.”
Zeus, who clearly has some cognitive deficiency, as evidenced by every story ever, thinks she’s cheering him on.
* * *
Helen of Sparta is indeed beautiful: fourteen years old, except that she looks like twenty (if you know what I mean), except that she really looks fourteen (if you know what I really mean)…so yeah, basically, god-bait.
And king-bait too: her father, Tyndareus of Sparta, raffled her off by inviting a bunch of kings to ogle her, having them each pay a fortune for the chance to compete for her, and giving her away to whoever won some nude wrestling contest (or whatever), but not before making all the suitors swear they wouldn’t get mad if they lost, and wouldn’t ask for their money back, or burn down Sparta, or rape and kill Helen out of spite. (As one does, if one isn’t forced to promise otherwise. These were, after all, kings.) Helen was won by Menelaus, and the couple ascended the throne of Sparta, reigning with co-equal power.
Just kidding. Menelaus ascended the throne, Helen got locked into a backroom of the palace, and life unfolded as per paternalistic usual on the Greek peninsula.
Until the night when a succession of gods visits Helen in her room like the worst version of A Christmas Carol ever.
Zeus is the first to arrive. He intended to be third, because it’s always the third contestant who eventually wins the prize, but Zeus has jumped the gun, as is his tradition. He shows up in the form of a platypus, since it’s one of the few animals he hasn’t done yet. He has a box of chocolates clutched in his bill, which he figures is necessary, because seriously, platypus.
Helen takes the chocolates, and begins to eat them as Zeus explains the contest. She nearly chokes to death with surprise as Zeus lays out the details.
“So you’ve come here to show me…” Helen’s voice trails off as she regards the platypus with all the dubiousness a fourteen-year-old can muster. Marsupial anatomy is not her particular study, yet she makes an educated guess that platypi are not gifted to any apple-winning extent.
“No,” Zeus says. “In deference to your tender years, I will instead offer a generous inducement to name me the winner.”
“You mean you want to bribe me to cheat?”
“Look, girl, it’s either that or I show you—”
“Right,” Helen says, “bribery it is. Induce me.”
“I offer you Power,” Zeus says, occasionally referring to notes he’s written on 3×5 index cards. “Power to rule the greatest empire this world has ever known, to command wisely and well, to live a long happy life, and to be remembered as a great and beloved monarch down through the centuries.”
“Huh.” Helen contemplates the prospect. “It doesn’t matter that I’m a girl?”
“Well…” Zeus says, not making eye contact, which is quite easy when you’re a platypus, “Option #1 would be to make you not a girl.”
“You mean turn me into a man.”
“Yes. A vigorous manly man who can crush his enemies beneath his feet and forge a legacy with the strength of his mighty arm.”
“Yeah, no,” Helen says. “That not me.”
“I realized you might say that,” Zeus replies, “for am I not the wise all-father of the gods? Option #2 is trickier, and I normally like to avoid time travel, but I could swap you into a life where you’d get the empire, the happiness, etc. in a time and place where girls wearing a crown isn’t quite so beyond the pale. Tell me, what do you think of the name Victoria?”
“You’re saying you would swap me into…wait, does that mean you’d be swapping out some other girl and putting me in her place?”
“And she’d end up here as Menelaus’s wife? And spend the rest of her life as me?”
“I assume she’s a terrible person and fully deserves to have her wonderful glorious life ripped away from her so I can enjoy myself in her stead?”
Zeus shrugs. “Probably? But I can’t whether she’s really good or bad because I’m basically incapable of seeing women as sapient beings.”
“Oh-kay then,” Helen says. “Inducement noted. Thank you. When you leave, please send in the next applicant.”
She thinks, They weren’t even very good chocolates.
* * *
Next comes Poseidon, smelling of the sea: briny and slightly rotten like a haddock that’s been dead for three days. This is less of a turnoff than you might expect, because Helen is a true blue Greek girl. The low-tide aroma brings back happy memories of expeditions to the seashore before men starting lining up to kidnap her, rape her, buy her from her father, etc.
Poseidon himself is an old bearded dude encrusted with barnacles, but Helen has encountered a lot of old bearded dudes encrusted with barnacles, so Day In The Life. “Are you going to bribe me too?” she asks.
“Gladly,” says Poseidon, who’s much more at ease paying women than talking to them. “I offer you all the treasure beneath the waves! Gold and jewels from every sunken ship! The fine spermaceti oil of whales! The healthful fins of sharks!”
“That’s an old wives’ tale, you know,” Helen says.
“Okay, how about rich deposits of petroleum, more valuable than gold itself? And methane clathrates? Athena keeps going on about methane clathrates. They’re going to be very big one day. And black smokers, whatever they are. You can have those too.”
“Are they cute black smokers?” Helen asks.
“They are oily plumes of sulphuric chemicals emitted by hydrothermal vents, thereby supporting unique biological communities,” Poseidon replies, trying not to sound like he’s reading off an index card. “Conceivably, some of the tube worms are cute, when viewed from a flattering angle. Or when bejazzled.”
“Okay then,” Helen says. “That’s your offer? Cash?” She nods. “I like it. Simple. To the point.”
“Good,” Poseidon says. “Now would you like to see my—”
“That won’t be necessary,” Helen says.
“It’s really no trouble,” Poseidon says.
“Leave a photo in one of the treasure chests,” Helen tells him. “If I happen to choose you. Next!”
* * *
Next is Hermes, who slips in fast in front of Ares. Hermes doesn’t have an offer, he just wanted to be third, because everyone knows that’s best. He eats all the chocolates left by Zeus, steals some of Helen’s clothing, and zips out again without saying a word.
* * *
The last in line is Ares. There are, of course, other gods in Olympus; but Hephaestus says the whole contest is shite, Dionysus is too drunk to find Greece, let alone some girl’s place in Sparta, Apollo never competes in anything he isn’t one hundred percent guaranteed to win, and of course, nobody has bothered to tell Hades there’s a contest at all, because nobody bothered to tell Hades about the original feast, or about the twenty previous feasts that Zeus has hosted, and there’s a whole Eris-to-the-power-of-OMG situation just waiting to go off like a powder keg when Hades finds out what he’s missed, but everyone kicks that one down the road a little farther because no one has ever accused the Greek pantheon of future-oriented thinking.
Ares arrives dressed in his best bronze and leather, with his hair cut short and with numerous barracks tattoos. Helen considers it a much better look than barnacles or marsupial fur. She can’t immediately think of a look that wouldn’t be better than barnacles or marsupial fur, but kudos to Ares for not finding one.
“So,” Helen says, “is this another bribe offer?”
“Well,” Ares says, “my wife wants me to call it a present, not at bribe.”
“You have a wife?” Helen asks.
“Sort of. It’s not official, but after the whole blowup with Hephaestus catching me with Aphrodite, we all cooled down and worked out an arrangement. Because Aphrodite. So she and Hephaestus and I are kind of together now, and it’s working out okay.”
Helen remains silent for a moment, then says, “I don’t know what to do with this information.”
“Well, actually, it’s going to work out well for you. I didn’t know what to get you for a present, because Aphrodite usually handles that kind of stuff—you know, remembering birthdays, clipping the toenails on Phobos and Deimos, booking me for a checkup with Asclepius once a year—so I asked her what a girl like you might want, and she said, ‘How about helping her go off somewhere nice with a person of her own choosing?’ Not another husband, unless that’s what you and he want…not even a ‘he’ if you aren’t into guys, and nobody’s saying this is even a sexual thing, just go with a friend, have some laughs…but basically this is a Get out of Sparta free card, with a full-paid two-person vacation away from Menelaus for the rest of your life.” Ares scratched his beard. “Personally, I think it sounds kind of cheap, considering that Zeus and Poseidon must have offered you, what, a gazillion drachmas, or maybe elevation into a god yourself. But Aphrodite seemed to think…”
Helen throws her arms around Ares and hugs him. “It’s a lovely gift.”
Embarrassed, Ares says, “I could sweeten the pot by killing someone for you. Your choice of whether or not he suffers.”
“No, getting out of here is all I need,” Helen says. “Except it’ll have to be someplace Menelaus won’t find me. He’ll look high and low, I know he will.”
Ares thinks for a moment, then says, “Go to Troy. I know people there; I’ll set you up. And I’ll introduce you to a few of the guys. Who knows, maybe you’ll hit it off with someone.”
Helen hugs him again. “Thanks. I declare you the winner.”
* * *
Ten years later, in the ashes of Troy, with the Age of Heroes dead and Olympus ruptured by schisms that would lead to its irrelevance, Zeus says to Ares and Poseidon, “Okay, so we pay some poet to blame this on the women, right?”
The men nod in agreement.
I’ll be doing an “Ask Me Anything” on Reddit’s /r/fantasy, Tuesday, December 5.
Feel free to submit questions during the day. I’ll answer anything that’s there, then start taking questions live starting at 7:00PM Eastern Time.
Hope to hear from a bunch of you!
As noted in a previous blog post, I’m occasionally sharing bits of my writing process in the hope that it will be interesting to readers and useful to other writers. So here’s another report from the trenches.
I’m working on Book 3 of the Dark vs. Spark series, and I’ve reached the point where I’m satisfied with the narrator’s tone of voice. So now that I know what the book “sounds like”, I’ve been working on what it will actually contain. In other words, I’m sort-of-kind-of making an outline.
Before I can figure out what events are going to happen, I like to have a list of possible locations: interesting places I might use during the course of the story. Since the books take place in the Kitchener-Waterloo area of Southern Ontario, this means that I pick some venues where action might happen. Where would it be fun to have a big fight? (This is a superhero book; there have to be fights.) What well-known spots in the city haven’t I used yet? What sort of places aren’t overused in other SF books?
I get out a bunch of index cards and write one place per card. If some event suggests itself, I put that on the card too. To begin with, however, I don’t need to know what happens; I just want to know the place.
So that’s one thing I’ve been doing in recent days…and just as a spoiler, Waterloo is home to the Canadian Clay and Glass Museum/Gallery. It’s really a no-brainer to have a huge superpowered fight in a museum filled with valuable glass artwork. I couldn’t squeeze such a fight into Book 1 or Book 2 of the series, but it’s going to happen this time for sure!
Or at least I hope. I have a lot more work to do before I get a working outline. I’ll keep you apprised of developments as I go along.
The four main characters are all roommates, and are third-year students at the University of Waterloo (my old alma mater). Just for fun, I decided that they’d each be from one of the major departments in the Faculty of Science: Biology, Chemistry, Earth & Environmental Sciences (i.e. Geology and other resources), and Physics & Astronomy. I should note that I’m roughly halfway through a B.Sc. in Geology, although it remains to be seen if I’ll have the time to keep going.
The story is told from the viewpoint of the Geology student, Kim Lam. Kim is very smart and very non-binary, but still working through the fallout of a failed relationship with someone who wanted to be a Darkling more than he wanted to be with Kim. Kim is stuck in emotional quicksand. That slowly begins to change when a lab accident gives Kim and Kim’s roommates superpowers.
One of those roommates is Miranda Neufeld: physicist and amateur opera singer. Another is Shar Chandra, a wizard when it comes to chemistry, cookies, and getting under Kim’s skin. Lastly is Jools Walsh, nominally in biology, but actually majoring in bad decisions.
Why these characters? Well first, I wanted a team of superheroes, and four seemed like a good number. Four people provide lots of scope and combinations, without the group becoming too big to handle. Four people also matched nicely with the science departments…and that’s important because in this setting, superheroes are strongly linked to science (just as Darklings are strongly linked to magic).
Secondly, I wanted characters who were interesting and sympathetic, but very different from each other. Kim is a walled-off introvert; Miranda is high-maintenance and strident; Shar is completely imperturbable; Jools is wild and moderately self-destructive.
Each character has something unique to contribute to the action and ambiance. For example, since this is a superhero book, fighting is inevitable…so someone on the team really ought to know how to kick butt. Making someone a martial arts student was too easy; instead, Jools is a fanatic hockey player (one of the reasons she’s doing so badly in school). The other roommates bring their own strengths to the table, in unexpected but believable ways.
From Day One, I’ve envisioned ALL THOSE EXPLOSIONS as the first book of a series, with each book told from the viewpoint of a different roommate. ALL THOSE EXPLOSIONS is the book where Kim confronts the ghosts of the past. The next book (THEY PROMISED THE GUN WASN’T LOADED) will be from Jools’s point of view. After that comes Miranda, then Shar.
Each book will show the central character dealing with personal issues—win, lose, or draw. Each book will also be written in a different tone of voice, appropriate to the character involved…which is a lot of fun for me, and I hope for readers too.
My next book ALL THOSE EXPLOSIONS WERE SOMEONE ELSE’S FAULT comes out from Tor Books on November 7, so it’s high time I talked about it. I’ll be doing a number of blog posts over the next few weeks; feel free to ask questions as we go along.
But first things first: what is the book about?
Superheroes. And vampires/werewolves/demons.
Here’s the set-up. In 1982, monsters all over the world realize they’ve been doing it wrong. Why hide in the shadows when you’ve got a supremely marketable asset? So they announce that for ten million dollars, they’ll convert you into the monster of your choice. You’ll get magical powers, immunity to disease and aging, plus a bunch of other benefits.
By the dawn of the 21st century, almost all the rich and powerful people in the world have paid to become Darklings. They’re careful not to behave too outrageously—they don’t want to provoke a serious uprising—but they run every government and major corporation, without anyone powerful enough to stop them.
Then superheroes show up: everyday joes who just happen to get bitten by a radioactive spider, fall in a vat of weird chemicals, or touch a strangely glowing meteor. Suddenly, randos off the street have just as much superhuman power as wealthy Darklings do. Super “commoners” quickly become a counterbalance to Dark overreach.
So that’s the set-up: the rich 1% are Darklings, the 99% are superheroes (universally called Sparks). As you can imagine, fisticuffs and a lot of explosions ensue.
Next time, I’ll talk about the book’s protagonists and maybe a bit about the plot.