Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Interview with Ellen Clary, author of Pursuits Unknown



Today, the Speculative Fiction Showcase takes great pleasure in interviewing Ellen Clary, whose debut novel, Pursuits Unknown, we featured on July 9.

Pursuits Unknown is your first book. Can you tell us a bit about the inspiration behind it and what led you to write that story?
I like to create the characters and then watch how they interact in their world. In this book, I started with my villain. Without revealing too much, I can say that chapter 35 is one of the first ones I wrote. I created a world that was overpopulated and gave it a villain who wanted to remake their world more to his liking. I studied religion secularly some in college, so I find how people use religious power to be fascinating. Then the challenge became finding problems the dogs and their humans could solve.

I think it’s safe to say from your bio that you are fond of dogs. How did that begin, and how important are dogs in your writing?
I've always been an animal person and keeping horses is not that practical these days (I grew up with them), so I say that I have "downsized" to dogs. I've been waiting years for someone to write fiction that uses dogs and humans working together in a way that's not cute or full of wisdom. When that never happened, I started writing my own. 

You mention that you wanted to feature a bisexual and a transgender character in the novel. Can you tell us more about that and why it was important to you?
I don't remember specifically mentioning that (though I am bisexual myself), but I wanted to see what it was like to create a world where sexuality wasn't the pivotal issue that it is in our own world. I don't force things on my characters, so what has resulted is that of the four main characters, one is hetero, one lesbian, one bisexual, and one decline-to-state (I don't think he's asexual, but he essentially is in the first book). There is a trans character who does appear in one chapter.

Your protagonist Amy and her partner Lars are detectives with a telepathic bond - and Lars is a kelpie-shepherd mix. This sounds like a wonderful starting point for a story. But there are also some serious themes - very serious - in the book, such as racism, the misuse of science, and overpopulation. How do you weave those themes into the plot of a thriller?
I created the main characters then I started to build the world and the environment (which is still evolving). I really dislike things that are just cute for cuteness sake. After I created my villain, let him follow his goals, then I had instant conflict and then the basis of a story. If you let it go where it leads, it can be some pretty dark places. The hard part was that the villain had to be buried much deeper into the story and he had to be this invisible opponent that the main characters could not clearly see at first.

I think some thrillers in the past were quite reactionary. They often related to incursions by foreign powers, or terrorist groups. What are the challenges of writing a progressive thriller?
You know I've never quite thought of it that way. Though my main characters do not like the villain and what he stands for, they're not xenophobic which might make a difference, but there is no shortage of name-calling either.

You were a writer of humorous fiction to begin with. How do you find writing in a different genre, and does humour still creep in?
My characters devolve into silliness pretty easily. I can't help but let humor creep in. I had one editor quibble with me about my characters bantering in a stressful moment much later in the book. I mentioned that in a writing group and one person sent me a YouTube video of British troops laughing and taking photos of each other while they are being actively shelled. Needless to say I ignored those editorial comments. Dark humor is still funny.

Is it safe to say that progressive and transformative writing is flowering as never before?
I think so, but you really should be talking with Brooke Warner of She Writes Press about it. There are just more places where people's voices can be heard.

What books do you read for pleasure, and have you got any current favourites?
I really like urban fantasy, I dearly love Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden series. (Talk about great humor). And I have a long-standing crush on anything that Neil Gaiman comes up with. I've been a fan of his since Sandman. He's a genius at creating characters and Death is one of the best characters I've ever read, especially when she's telling her brother Dream to lighten up.

I read thrillers, and mysteries when there is a compelling character or environment. I like Daniel Silva's Gabriel Allon, Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone (and Santa Barbara), and Tony Hillerman's Joe Leaphorn (and the Navajo Nation). And of course Diana Gabaldon's Outlander which is in a class by itself.

Can you tell your readers about your dog sports habit?
My first love is dog agility, which means running around like a fool trying to keep up with your dog and shout out relevant directions at the right time with highly varying degrees of success.

Out of necessity, I train in obedience, and learned herding skills to keep one of my herding dogs sane. It was a weird experience being in a pasture wondering how I got there. I've done enough scent work, so I can use a non-realistic, fictionalized version of it in my writing.

Are there any particular problems with writing a character who is also an animal? 
On the telepathy I deliberately set up pretty strict parameters. I decided to stick with the current thinking that bright dogs are the equivalent of a two or three-year-old human. This sets up all sorts of interesting challenges for the main human characters. The dogs communicate in a very limited fashion. No standing up on some mountain reciting poetry. No complete sentences. They use short phrases and now the humans get to try to come up with a limited language that they both can use. This is something that will run through the series. (Yes, it is one.)

The thing you have to keep in mind when using an animal as a character, is that they are still an animal with their own priorities. Your horse is going to be tempted by that grass way over there. Your horse may find a tumbling paper bag to be a threat. Your horse may decide that there is no way that crossing that mud puddle is at all safe. (Been there.)

How important is it to you to research animal behaviour and get details right?
That is the one thing that I strive to get right. Everything else I feel free to embellish, but the dog behavior part is important to me and one of my advance readers is a dog behaviorist. I had a pain-in-the-rear reactive dog and I did a ton of research and training seminars trying to help him, so as a result I have a pretty solid base in that regard.

Are you watching any series on Netflix or Prime, and what sort of thing do you prefer?
GOOD OMENS! (I love Crowley and Aziraphale and their love for each other, despite the biggest obstacles that anyone has ever encountered.)
Outlander (On Starz, but I just rent the DVDs. I love how Claire is so in-your-face.)
Grace and Frankie (The comic genius of Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda. How to do physical comedy with 80-year-olds? Put them on the floor and have them "race" for the phone.)
A Series of Unfortunate Events
Westworld
The Umbrella Academy
Dr. Who
Lost (a while back, but I did the whole thing.)
And I have a Grey's Anatomy thing, and I watch The Amazing Race whenever it's on. 

Have you got a WIP at the moment, and will there be a sequel to Pursuits Unknown?
Amy and Lars is a series and book two is in pieces all over the floor right now.

Have you got any tips for aspiring writers?
While I've always been a writer I didn't get serious about writing novels until I realized that no one else what going to write what I really wanted to read. I love other people's work, but it wasn't going to be my work. If you have a vision stick with it.

This book was a 2012 National Novel Writing Month dare from a friend who is in the acknowledgements. After the first few days, I realized that there was no way I was going to be able to keep up with the frenetic pace that's required (and 50,000 words is not long
enough to be a novel anyway), but I could write 500 words a day and if you do that for 200 days, you have a novel. Just start writing. Even if you think it's terrible, as Diana Gabaldon says, over time you will improve.



About Ellen Clary:



Ellen Clary is a dog-owning computer professional who has both literary and technical college degrees. She has a love of dog behavior and training, as well as a dog sports habit. Formerly a humor writer, she now wants to write dog-related novels that she, and others, would like to read. A California native, she now lives in a Victorian house in the San Francisco Bay Area with her wife and dogs.


Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Witch Hunt (Staci Drenvauder Chronicles, Book 1) by L.R. Deney

Release date. July 6, 2019
Subgenre: Urban fantasy

About Witch Hunt

 

Strange kidnappings are taking place throughout Seattle. In the wake of a problematic election in America, the crimes seem to be racially motivated. Left behind at the scene of each disappearance is the symbol of the Black Sun, a symbol that is connected to Naziism.

It's up to Staci Drenvauder, a witch and mistress of the Dark Arts, to investigate the kidnappings. But the Nazis appear to be infecting everything, even the secret, magical city of Azramoas seems to be affected with strange happenings taking place on the ruling Council. To complicate matters further, a demonic force from Staci's past makes itself known once more.

Snark, gloom, and romance intermix within this riveting tale. Join Staci in her quest to punch Nazis.

 

Excerpt:

 

“Staci Drenvauder, you are brought before us charge with the high crime of illegal use of magic,” Speaker Ravenford announced, his face coated with disgust and fury. “You’ve gone too far this time, Miss Drenvauder.”
            “Spare me the scolding, John,” Staci replied in her usual defiance. “We all know that this Council has always had it out for me and has been gnashing at the bit for a chance to bend me over and fuck me. For that reason, you’re far from unbiased and ergo any court you hold will be unfair in the extreme.”
            “Do you think this is a game, Miss Drenvauder?” Councilor Frandsen asked, her steely gray eyes glaring daggers at Staci.
            “The amusing part is that I’m the only one present who knows it’s a game. You all take yourselves far too seriously and don’t understand the bare naked truth that surrounds you.”
            “And what truth is that?”
            “The Emperor has no clothes. You pretend yourselves to be more enlightened and superior than our mundane compatriots on Earth, but the reality is you’re practically identical. You’re obsessed with power, wealth, and authority, and there isn’t a single non-human among you, and I only count one person of color at that—apologies Drake—and most of you are men, which shows you share the same damn white, patriarchal structures as the civilization you split off from. You were trying to escape the Church’s government, so you became a government.
“And so little do you realize that your world is so closely intertwined with Earth’s that you often forget the number of times Azramoas has been dragged kicking and screaming into its major conflicts. Hell, even now while a dangerous, genocidal ideology reemerges in Earth’s new century, infiltrating their major governments, you too have become compromised. The motives of someone here do not match the rest of yours and it will all bite you in the ass.
            “It could almost be funny if it wasn’t so sa—”
            “That’s quite enough, Miss Drenvauder,” Speaker Ravenford interrupted, his voice a bit louder than usual. “We didn’t bring you here to make complaints about how the Council of Magic is governed, regardless of how many conspiracy theories you cook up about it. We brought you here because you face a grave charge.
            “Illegal use of magic is no laughing matter. Attacking and interfering with mundane law enforcement like you have done is not only disturbing their peace, but also risking our world to exposure. Should the Church find out we still exist, it will seek to hunt us down. It has happened before and it can happen again.
            “We cannot risk you continuing this personal crusade of yours against the gods know whatever it is that you think you’re fighting. You are a public menace and you must be contained indefinitely for Azramoas’ own good. Our survival as a people, as a culture, and our highest Art, must never be threatened again!”
            Staci huffed. “It sounds like you’ve already decided I’m guilty.”
            “You are guilty!” Councilor Vasiliev interjected from the right-side edge of the Council. She was seated next to Fromm. “We have a witness to what you did.”
            “So much for a fair trial. What even happened to my rights? Don’t I even get a lawyer?”

 

Amazon

 

About L.R. Deney:

Laura Ruby Deney is a reclusive, vampiric witch that shuns the light and thinks kitties make good company. Having gone through her fair share of trials and tribulations in the all too cruel and unforgiving world, she has embraced her wretched existence and seeks to rule the world someday. But for now, writing. Lots and lots of writing.

 

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Monday, July 15, 2019

Memory Aether (Memory Aether, Book 1) by R.J. Rugroden

 Release date: June 12, 2019
Subgenre: Cyberpunk

About Memory Aether:

 

Earth is at war, and a secret mission depends on Alexia modifying her boyfriend Michael’s memory, erasing herself completely from his mind. She holds onto his memories in the hope that someday she can reinstate them. But something goes wrong and Michael is captured as a prisoner of war, held on a distant moon. Alexia must work with old friends to decode the memories she extracted. A government agent with his own agenda shows up at just the right time, equipping them with what they need. Alexia doesn’t trust him, but working with him is the only way she can save Michael.


Excerpt:

 

Alexia shook so badly that the holo interface struggled to register her movements. Michael’s life depended on her command inputs being precise, so she buried her emotions and tried to think of him as just another patient.
Every time she looked at him, sedated in the operating chair, while her fingers maneuvered through the air, she thought of how much she would miss him. Erasing her boyfriend’s memory was not how she thought her day was going to go.
Michael had showed up in her operating room an hour ago, and, at first, she thought it might be a surprise romantic visit. It was not. His shoulders arched ever slightly upward, and his face sagged.
“What happened?” she asked. Scenarios sparked to life in her head: someone close had died, Earth had been dealt a serious blow in the war with Bayama, Michael was leaving on a dangerous mission.
Michael’s eyes wandered around the room for a few seconds until he finally looked at her.
“I can’t tell you.” The spark she usually saw in him was replaced with regret. “How much would you have to erase to get rid of this frame?”
He showed her a sequence of numbers on his com-watch: memory frame references. She couldn’t imagine where he acquired them or learned what they even meant. Bewildered, she studied them and ran quick calculations in her head.
“Total removal or partial recall?” she asked.
“Total. I need them completely removed. Please.” The tension in his voice caused her adrenaline to spike. She knew that tone: the same desperation she heard when he lost his brother or as he waited for his name to be cleared of treason charges. The carefully measured cadence with which he delivered the news that her mother had passed.
“Umm,” she stalled for time trying to think, “the time frame—, this is yesterday you want erased?”
Under normal circumstances, a memory consultant would put together a plan, and the procedure would stretch over half-hour sessions once a week. The plan would include reference numbers of specific memories causing the patient problems, and the consultant would gradually shift those frames back in time. The patient would remember their troubling incidents as happening a year ago, then five years, then twenty, further back until the effects of the memories gradually diminished. In severe cases where total removal was necessary, a whole collection of frames surrounding the event would be moved back before the patient’s memory had even formed, then one-hundred blank memory frames would be inserted between the incident and the patient’s earliest memory.
Then there was the complication of associated threads: anything the brain had chosen to relate to the displaced memory. Every thought was connected, like threads in a spider’s web, and modifying a memory wasn’t as simple as doing some neurological photoshopping. She would have to place sirens around each modification, encouraging the patient’s brain to ignore any external references to the erased memory. Michael may have been able to come up with the memory frame numbers, but what he didn’t understand was how expansive a procedure this was. It required hundreds of frame removals, and the risk for developing personality disorders later on would be high. Michael had asked her to do it in a single afternoon.


Amazon


About R.J. Rugroden:

Reesha Rugroden is an administrator by day and a writer by night, with a side of technical writing and being a virtual assistant for authors. She never sleeps. She has an extreme case of optimism and suspension of disbelief. She lives in Minnesota with her husband, two children, and a cat. Her interests are varied and esoteric, from RPGs and video games to Origami, Scherenschnitte, and Kickboxing.


Website | Facebook | Twitter | VA Services


Saturday, July 13, 2019

Interview with Eugen Bacon, author of Claiming T-Mo


Today it gives the Speculative Fiction Showcase great pleasure to interview Eugen Bacon, whose new novel Claiming T-Mo, due to be published by Meerkat Press in August, we will feature on August 13th. 

You gained an MSc in computer science before you switched to creative writing, in which you have a PhD. You say you were “mentally re-engineered” into creative writing. Can you tell us what you mean?
I’ve read some fun bios, the favourite being Chris Kluwe’s who says he grew up in a colony of wild chinchillas and basically barked and howled until he was 14. He’s played football, once wrestled a bear for a pot of gold, and lies occasionally. And why the heck are these bio thingies in third person? Sheesh, so cool, I thought when I read it. ‘Mentally re-engineered’? That’s me trying to be cool. 

You are a prolific author, having published numerous critically acclaimed short stories, but Claiming T-Mo is your first full-length novel - what different challenges did that present and what strategies did you use?
I’m mostly a short story writer, never turning a story into a novel because the story became too long, or had too many characters or the theme was not fully developed in the shorter form, or that I wanted to continue working on the story as a larger piece. 

A short story is, for me, complete in itself—it doesn’t beg to be longer. Sometimes speculative fiction writers don’t understand this. I am in love with the short form for its precision, its integrity, its intensity, its fine craft when done well. It is fun and immediate. 

All these things about the short story present as challenges when I write a novel. So, my strategy is to embed and layer the novel with special vignettes, interconnected. As one writer Felicity Castagna once said, the short story is the backbone of everything I write, regardless of genre. I build my novel story by story, where the writing is singing in a discipline already familiar, while chiming the chorus of a novel. Perhaps this explains the sharpness and intensity of Claiming T-Mo

You have contributed a chapter to a multi-authored book: Creative Writing with Critical Theory: Inhabitation, Gylphi (2018). Are there any conflicts between writing about a subject like critical theory and the writing process itself?
I’m very diverse, writing across forms and genres: short stories, prose poetry, scholarly articles, creative non-fiction, literary fiction, speculative fiction... I enjoy creative writing, period—and it crosses boundaries of form and genre. During my PhD in creative writing, I taught myself to marry or divorce the scholar from the artist. 

Can you tell us more about that book of essays and your contribution to it?
Inhabitation explores how writers forge connections between critical theory and their practice while considering creative contexts. My chapter is titled Betwixt: Cross-cultural and cross-genre inhabitation in creative writing
‘What colour are my characters? What languages do they speak? I am legion, the self and ‘other’. This is a story about inhabitation, a multiple embodiment. I write as a scholar who is also an artist, who was once a scientist; a short story writer who is also a novelist… My multiplicities surface in positionings of discontinuity, being between worlds. These diversities render themselves in my cross-genre writing, in self-reflective, fictional or diagnostic negotiations that engage with difference in the otherworldly or the everyday. As a writer who exists in zones of difference within and between cultures… my writing crosses borders to new worlds in a postmodernist realism of no ‘clean’ divide. I am many.’
What is it about short stories that particularly lends itself to SF&F as a genre?
In my book Writing Speculative Fiction, I reference theorist Paul March-Russell and talk about the relationship between the short story and postmodernism. The postmodern is… undecidable: the short story leaves meaning to be uncovered. The postmodern is… decentred: the short story’s undecidability dissolves centralisation. The postmodern is… simulation: the short story’s decentralisation allows distinction from reality and enables artistic representations of reality. 

Do you see how qualities of the short story work splendidly in speculative fiction? 

You have also had a non-fiction book, Writing Speculative Fiction: Creative and Critical Approaches, published by MacMillan in May. Having read the blurb, this sounds fascinating: “Through analysis of writers such as Stephen King, J.R.R. Tolkien and J. K. Rowling, this book scrutinises the characteristics of speculative fiction, considers the potential of writing cross genre and covers the challenges of targeting young adults.” Can you tell us more about the book and what led you to write it?
Writing Speculative Fiction is a child of my PhD thesis, de-scholarised, and turned into a fun book that is also a valuable guide in the realms of theory and practice. It offers a framework on which the main components of speculative fiction rest, including the conventions of storytelling. It pays attention to literary theorist Roland Barthes’ pleasure of the text. Most of all, it draws on works by established and emerging writers and offers signposts for recognising and implementing the ‘speculative’ in fiction. 




The blurb also mentions that you interrogate the sub-genres of speculative fiction. Sometimes it seems as if the genre is constantly generating new sub-genres, for example steampunk, dieselpunk, arcanepunk and sparkpunk, to name but a few. What are your thoughts on this?
Fads come and go. Genre and sub-genre boundaries stay thin. In his interview with Writer’s Digest, Orson Scott Card warned against following transient ‘literary trends’ that come and go. Once the trend is over, so are the stories and book you wrote to satisfy them, says Card. I agree. As Card suggests, the best way to invent your best stories is to write about what you believe in, what you’re passionate about.  

What about the interaction between genre and literary fiction? Some authors, for example notoriously Ian McEwan, have denied that they were writing Science Fiction when it seemed that they were writing precisely that. What do you think of this, and does it even have any relevance?
I question why Ian McEwan would refuse to acknowledge bending genre. I am a proponent of cross genre writing. Crossing genre is experimenting. Beautiful works come from integrating traditional genre and literary fiction. Literary award winners from speculative fiction are birthed from successful blends that move publishers, readers and judges who are prepared to be astonished. A good writer will stay curious, exploratory, immersed in a creative space that is ever redefining itself. A good reader will find affection in deviants.     

What are you working on now?
I have a novella currently under consideration, and three short form collections, two of which are contracted. With two books out this 2019, I underestimated the exertion! 

Claiming T-Mo will be published by Meerkat Press in August. Can you tell us more about it?
I wrote Claiming T-Mo as part of my creative PhD. I was fascinated with the model of stories-within-a-story for a writer of short fiction to craft a novel. I was also mesmerised with crossing genre and integrating the literary into my speculative fiction. Claiming T-Mo is a story about engaging with difference (the original title was Outbreeds, a breed of others), where—despite its name—the women are the true heart of the story. 

What new departures can your readers look forward to, and where would you place the book within the genre?
I wrote this book as a curious, exploratory writer immersed in a dynamic creative space. I beg my readers to find affection in this deviant that has no singular tick to the questions: Is it science fiction? Or fantasy? Or horror? 




There is a recurrent joke that writers of dystopian fiction have been put out of business by the dystopian present. Is all speculative fiction necessarily pessimistic?
Claiming T-Mo is not dystopian—which by its very nature attends to themes of societal dysfunction, leading to oppression or abject poverty, for instance, perhaps as an outcome of post-apocalyptic events. I can see why readers might construe dystopian fiction as pessimistic. But not all speculative fiction is dystopian. 

To what extent have e-books revolutionised the situation for writers and writing generally?
E-books certainly make writers and their writing more accessible. Sadly, it also opens doors to poor quality work that may be fan-based and cheaply proliferates the market. Readers must apply filters through reviews, recommendations, the calibre of a publication, and much more, to gauge the superiority of a work. But sometimes you never know until you chance an unknown writer and discover they are a gem. 

What are you reading at the moment and what do you read to relax?
I’m about to embark on Michael Ondaatje’s Anil’s Ghost, oh such fun. I’ve just finished a collection of short stories by Australian John Kinsella, who is a stimulating writer! He reminds me of the beauty of the short form. I truly love speculative anthologies and novellas—like Jennifer Giesbrecht’s The Monster of Elendhaven




About Eugen Bacon:



Eugen M. Bacon, MA, MSc, PhD, studied at Maritime Campus, less than two minutes' walk from The Royal Observatory of the Greenwich Meridian. A Computer graduate mentally re-engineered into creative writing, Eugen has published over 100 short stories and articles and multiple anthologies. Shortlisted Bridport Prize 2018. Honorable Mention L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest 2017. Her articles were nominated for the 2017 Aurealis Convenors Award for Excellence. Out soon: Creative non-fiction book with Macmillan International (2019). Literary speculative novel with Meerkat Press (2019). Chapter, multi-authored book: Creative Writing with Critical Theory: Inhabitation, Gylphi (2018). Eugen's work is published in literary and speculative journals, magazines & anthologies worldwide. She is also a professional editor, check out Writerly - editing services.



Friday, July 12, 2019

Speculative Fiction Links of the Week for July 12, 2019


It's time for the weekly round-up of interesting links about speculative fiction from around the web, this week with Spider-Man: Far From Home, season 3 of The Handmaid's Tale, season 3 of Stranger Things, Midsommar, the new Lion King, tributes to Artur Brauner and Rip Torn, Finncon, SpikeCon and much more. 

Speculative fiction in general:

Film and TV:

Comments on Spider-Man: Far From Home (possible spoilers)

Comments on season 3 of The Handmaid's Tale:

Comments on season 3 of Stranger Things

Comments on Midsommar

Comments on the new Lion King:

Awards: 

Writing, publishing and promotion:

Interviews:

Reviews:

Classics reviews:

Con and event reports:

Science and technology:

Free online fiction:

Odds and ends: