Thursday, September 29, 2016

Butler's Parables Series: A Fiction We Don't Want To Live In

So the question put in front of me today: what fictional character would you like to be?   There's been that meme of late to define yourself with three fictional characters, and I'm always at a loss with that sort of thing.  I don't know, I just don't think along those lines.  
But-- and forgive me for getting a bit political-- I know one fictional setting that I don't want to live in, and that's Octavia Butler's Parables duology.
If you haven't read Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents, a quick summary: it's set in a near future dystopia, where the American government has effectively collapsed to privatization and a fearmongering leadership.  And as opposed to the hip dystopias of Hunger Games or Divergent, this one is disturbingly plausible.  At the time I read it, it felt like a place that we might actually reach, it felt more real from its lack of rules or rigidly defined divisions.  Instead, all the divisions are just the usual Fear of the Other-- someone who isn't one of mine can't be trusted.
It's a frightful vision of the future, and I hope it's not a future that anyone would want to live in.  There is hope in the series, hope spawned from attempts at unity and empathy.  But the point of the series is how fear and selfishness tries to squash hope, unity and empathy.
Choose a bright future.  Choose hope and empathy.  Because that's where I want to live.
And read those two books, because they are excellent.

Monday, September 26, 2016

That Was FenCon, and How To Con Better

So, I'm back from FenCon, and it was a lovely time, and I'm exhausted.
Mostly because I woke up at 5am-- a time that is not a good look for me, if you know me.  Even at my age, I'm more likely to see 5am from the other side than to wake up at that time.  (Though nowadays, it would probably be that I was on a writing streak, and lost all track of time.  It does happen.)  But I woke up at 5am to be able to reach Dallas (technically, Irving, TX) before my 10am panel.  Panels were excellent, seeing the usual Texas people was excellent, having an extended chat with Jim Hines was excellent, seeing my old friend from college that I hadn't seen for a couple years was excellent.  (Can you tell I'm tired-- I'm not bothering with changing up the adjectives.)
One thing that kept coming up in conversation-- and something I've been thinking about for a while-- is how to make cons better for writers.  Now... this is a bit of a broad brush, and intentionally so.  Some cons are fantastically writer-friendly, and do great things that make it worth a writer's while to come out.  Some... less so.  And some are more geared toward the kind of writer who is going to set up their own booth and hand-sell their books.  If you're at that kind of con and don't have that inclination (hint: I do not), it's going to be a waste of time.
So the question comes up: what cons do it well?  What cons want to do better, and what does "doing better" look like?  How can we, collectively as writers, do to help the con runners?  Is it better for us to focus on fan-run, lit-focused cons (smaller but more targeted audience), or much at the larger full media cons (large crowds, but lit track tends to be lost in the shuffle.)
These are the sort of things I'm thinking about.  Mostly because I love going to cons, but I have a hard time justifying the expense if I'm not really moving the needle on a fanbase.  I'm a big believer in the quantum mechanics of value; I don't need to be pocketing more money than I spent to go (see above: I do not want to be hand-selling my books myself)-- but I do need to have a sense that it was productive in getting people interested in my books.
So what does this mean?  Well, I'll be thinking about what I'm attending next year... and, of course, I'm open to invitation.  I don't have anything else planned for 2016, but in 2017 I should be attending ConDFW, Comicpalooza, ArmadilloCon and World Fantasy.  SoonerCon is on the table, but I need to see if I can make it work.  And if you want me at your con... give me a buzz.  I'm glad to discuss it.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Off to FenCon

Hey all-- off to Dallas for FenCon this weekend, and if you're in the area, I'd love to see you there!  I may even have ARCs of An Import of Intrigue to give away, so come check it out.
Here's my schedule:
Saturday  10:00 AM  - 11:00 AM  Trinity VI    Art of Conjuring: Fair and Practical Use of Magic   Description: Even magical worlds must live by rules. Authors discuss how to lay down a set of rules that move the plot along, yet don't overly restrict how characters use magic.Panelists:  C. Dean Andersson, Marshall Ryan Maresca, A. Lee Martinez, Kathryn Sullivan, Shanna Swendson, Tex Thompson *
Saturday  11:00 AM  - 12:00 PM  Chinaberry    Do Bodies Really Bend Like That?   Description: Let's talk about those cover poses that not even a contortionist could love: The bendy, twisty poses that would cause the most fit of us to dislocate a hip if we tried. (Our Guest of Honor has tried. And it earned him a Hugo Award.) Is any one to blame? What can be done to reverse this trend? (Disclaimer: Try at your own risk. The management is not responsible for injuries. Bring your own liniment.)  Panelists: J. Kathleen Cheney, Jim C. Hines, Marshall Ryan Maresca, Mel. White, Dantzel Cherry 
Saturday  2:00 PM  - 2:30 PM  Dealer's Room   Autographs  
Rosemary Clement, Marshall Ryan Maresca 
Sunday  10:00 AM  - 10:30 AM  Pecan    Reading   Marshall Ryan Maresca  
Sunday  12:00 PM  - 1:00 PM  Red Oak    It's All Klingon to Me: Constructing a New Language   Description: Authors from Tolkien to Carroll to Orwell have constructed languages for their books. In pop culture we have Klingon, Dothraki, and Alienese. How do you go about building one of your own? Panelists:Kimm Antell, Marshall Ryan Maresca, Rie Sheridan Rose, Tex Thompson, Walter Hunt 

Monday, September 19, 2016


Maresca - An Import of IntriqueSo, An Import of Intrigue comes out in six weeks, give or take a day.  And in addition to the anticipatory posts like here and here, there's already been some ratings and reviews.
"I went into the sequel with reasonably high expectations. In short, this sequel matched my expectations, and more."
That's from Chris Meadows at SF&F Reviews, and that is a lovely start to the reception for Import.  I know some writers say they can't read reviews or don't care, but I personally think it's important, especially early on, to gird yourself toward how things will go.  The initial responses have me optimistic that it's going to be a very well received book, especially by fans of A Murder of Mages.  
And if you haven't read A Murder of Mages, well, here's your chance to get on that before Import comes out.  And, of course, pre-order Import.
We've got a relatively exciting plan for the release of Import, including quite an extensive blog tour.  So keep your ear to the ground.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Burning Bridges and Small Press Stockholm Syndrome

So, the point of discussion this week is on burning professional bridges-- when is it time to do that?  Now, for me, this is a mostly theoretical question.  I'm rather pleased with my agent and editor, thank you very much.   And why wouldn't I be?  My editor won the Hugo for Best Editor for the very year my novels debuted.  My novels are connected with a Hugo win.  See?  I have proof.
OK, mostly I want to show off that photo.  But, for real.  I'm happy.
But there can be good reason to break off a professional relationship with your agent or editor.   Especially if you are suffering from Small Press Stockholm Syndrome.
See, small presses can be really problematic things.  You should really deeply think about what you're doing before you get involved in one.  Investigate closely and ask yourself, honestly, "Are the books these people publish ones that I would buy?"  And if the answer is anything but a resounding, "Of course!"  do not sign a contract.  Do not do it just to be published by someone.  Else you might end up saying something like this:
If [EDITOR] hadn’t noticed us lurking about and convinced us to submit a short story to [ANTHOLOGY], we don’t become professional authors at all.  [EDITOR] took us from nothing–nothing— and made us what we are.
The above quote comes from a defense of a small press publisher who wasn't paying royalties or meeting obligations.  But it's OK, because that publisher loves us and made us!
It's like staying in a bad marriage because they were the first person who showed interest in you.
Look at what your publisher is actually doing for you, and ask yourself-- without getting lost in the sunk costs and the misplaced gratitude: are they really helping you and your career?  Or are they trapping you in their orbit?
I've mixed a lot of metaphors here.  It happens.
In the mean time: tonight (Sept. 15th) I'll be appearing at BookPeople in Austin on a panel about SF&F for the Writers' League of Texas!  Next week I'll be at FenCon!  Come say hello.

Monday, September 12, 2016

The Streets of Maradaine

Each new series in Maradaine gets its own name, for marketing and clarity. With the benefit of hindsight, I should have given the Thorn novels a different series name than "Maradaine", as it makes it sound like it's the main series and the others are auxiliaries, when in truth, they're all on equal footing in my mind.  That said, the series of books that I've been referring to as "Holver Alley" now has an official name: The Streets of Maradaine.  A series that starts with The Holver Alley Crew.
Mixing high fantasy and urban fantasy, The Holver Alley Crew is the first novel of Maresca’s third interconnected series set in the fantasy city of Maradaine.

The Rynax brothers had gone legit after Asti Rynax’s service in Druth Intelligence had shattered his nerves, and marriage and fatherhood convinced Verci Rynax to leave his life of thievery. They settled back in their old neighborhood in West Maradaine and bought themselves a shop, eager for a simple, honest life. Then the Holver Alley Fire incinerated their plans. With no home, no shop, and no honest income—and saddled with a looming debt—they fall back on their old skills and old friends.

With a crew of other fire victims, Asti and Verci plan a simple carriage heist, but the job spirals out of control as they learn that the fire was no accident. Lives in Holver Alley were destroyed out of a sadistic scheme to buy the land. Smoldering for revenge, burdened with Asti’s crumbling sanity, the brothers lead their crew of amateurs and washouts to take down those responsible for the fire, no matter the cost.
Holver Announce Card
So, The Holver Alley Crew is the first book in the Streets of MaradaineLady Henterman Announce Cardseries, and Lady Henterman's Wardrobe is the second.  Now, I'll admit, with a title like Lady Henterman's Wardrobe, that book probably sounds like it will be far from the grim and gritty streets that you'll be diving into with The Holver Alley Crew.  And all I have to say to that is...  spoilers.
The Streets of Maradaine is going to be a dark-but-fun series.  I am very excited that you're all going to get to meet the Rynax brothers and the rest of the crew .  Fortunately, that's less than six months away!  The Holver Alley Crew releases on March 7th, 2017.   You can go to its Goodreads page or pre-order it on Amazon

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Perils of the Writer: Deciding What's Next

So, upon the writing of this, I'm putting the final touches on The Imposters of Aventil, getting ready to send that in (along with finalized maps, appendix, acknowledgments), and with that, Imposters of Aventil will be done. Save, you know, copy edits and proofs.  But the fundamental book that will come out next October (i.e., 2017) will be what it's going to be.
Now, what am I going to do next?
Fortunately, I have contracts and deadlines to tell me what that's going to be.  Namely, my top priority is going to be finishing the working draft of Lady Henterman's Wardrobe, the sequel to next March's The Holver Alley Crew.  I'm well along with it, but it is rough, and it's still got plenty of work to go.  That's really not a decision, though: that's what's next.
After that, my decisions and prioritizing get a bit more complicated.  I need to get moving on the third Constabulary book, The Parliament of Bodies.  But part of working that involves redoing the outline.  I'm also rewriting another manuscript-- one that's finished-- and getting that polished (and sold) is somewhat tied to Parliament.  This is the challenge with writing these interconnected stories in the same setting: having that re-write locked down will help me figure out what I need to do in Parliament.  The core story plan won't change, but there are shades and elements that weren't fully anticipated when I wrote the original outline.
Beyond that, I have a few things on the backburner that I will pay more attention to.  I still have a space opera book I'm working on, and it needs a lot of work.  Like, an ending.  And a serious re-write of the first three chapters.  I also have a fantasy project that is well-outlined, but it wasn't coming together.  I realized the problem is in the worldbuilding.  So I'm going back into that aspect and re-doing it in a way I'm finding fun and exciting.  Of those two, I think the latter is going to become my real 'back-up' project for the foreseeable future. 
But still, first things first: Lady Henterman's Wardrobe.  That's an easy choice.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Showing, Telling and Worldbuilding in Bloodline

So, in the past few weeks, I watched Bloodline on Netflix.  On the whole, I quite liked it.  The story is compelling, the acting is exceptional, and it's filled with with a hazy, humid atmosphere that gives it a definitive sense of place and tone.
That doesn't mean it isn't without problems.  And one of those is one of Showing vs Telling.  I'm going to try to be minimal with the spoilers, and I'll certainly avoid the big ones.  But still, be aware.
Bloodline is the story of the Rayburn family, who own a successful beachside hotel in the Florida Keys, and the trouble that arises when the eldest son, Danny, comes home to stay.  Danny is the black sheep, having been away from their town for years, and is generally considered a shiftless loser.  He is the stain on the Rayburn Family Name.
And that family name is very important.  Often we're told how important the Rayburns are in the community.  We're told the family name means something in their community.  "My family has connections with the city council" the youngest says at one point, indicating that he can help with any sort of zoning/bureaucratic problems with a real estate deal.  "The name Rayburn means a lot to people," someone tells another member of the family as a reason why they should run for office.  This idea is stated and reinforced multiple times.
But nothing that we're shown in the show matches this idea at all.  In fact, much of what we're shown runs counter to it.
First of all, we're shown that the Rayburn family is singular, and doesn't have any sort of legacy.  The father, Robert (Sam Shepherd), we're told, was an only child and severed almost all connection with his own parents at a young age.  So the Rayburn name in the community starts with him.  He and his wife Sally (Sissy Spacek) run the inn, and have for decades.  The three adult children are a detective in the sheriff's office, a lawyer, and a boat mechanic.  So, for all intents and purposes, the "Rayburn Family" consists of five people.  There's no extended family, no network of cousins. None of them in a significant position of community influence or notoriety.  None of the usual trappings of a powerful family.  Even with the Inn being a great success-- and it clearly seems to be-- that isn't enough to build a "family name" in the way the show implies.  Certainly not enough to add weight to a run for political office.  As we're shown it, the Inn might bring wealth and success, but that doesn't immediately translate to influence, prestige, or community standing-- especially since everything about Robert's character shows him to be the kind of person who wouldn't cultivate that.  And nothing that the three children do specifically cultivates that either.
So where does the "Rayburn is an important name in this town" come from?  It comes from the audience being told that, rather than shown it.
Which comes to worldbuilding.  Worldbuilding, of course, isn't just about the world of the story.  It's about the characters' own histories, their path to where they currently are.  And that includes their personal histories: what the parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents did.  Foundational elements of where the characters come from.   So if, in your story, you want to create an "important" family in a community, you have to think about how they got there, how that importance was built, and how those who wield that power maintain it.  Let the truth of that come clearly through the story, so you don't have to just tell us that something is so because the story needs it be so.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Ignored Classics

All right, back when I was collegiate, I lived in the Scholar's dorm-- aka everyone here is smart and well-read.  That led to a fair amount of academic posturing.  You had to be all, "Godel's Incompleteness Theorem?  Yeah, of course I know that theorem, who doesn't know it?  Impact of the Smoot-Hawley Tarriff act?  Please, I wrote a paper on that.  For extra credit.  Pride and Prejudice?  Yeah, I read that.  I read that in 7th grade."  
Friends, I did not read Pride and Prejudice.  Never have.  Was supposed to junior year of high school, but... yeah.  No.  Now that I'm not trying to prove anything (you try being a film student in a scholars dorm surrounded by STEM people), I feel no great need to fake it. 
But let's talk about some of the classics in the genre.  Because I'm unlikely to have my geek card revoked for not having read my Austen.  
In genre?  Let's see.  I've never read Lovecraft.  Never read Howard.  Never read Burroughs.  Never read Arthur C. Clarke.  Never read Leiber or Vance.  
But here's the thing: that's OK.  I've had a few moments at conventions, around other writers or fans, where I've felt that same thing creeping up my spine of, "Oh, you can't let them know you aren't an expert", but I've long since learned to beat that down with a stick.  There's plenty of the classics I haven't read.  Plenty of new stuff I haven't read yet, either.  And I'm all right with that.