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Highlights from Three ConFusion Reddit AMAs

Of Noble Family by Mary Robinette Kowal Fiddlehead by Cherie Priest American Craftsmen by Tom Doyle

In case you missed it, ConFusion was last weekend! Reddit took advantage of having so many authors gathered in one place to conduct some fun, possibly alcohol-fueled AMAs.

Here are the highlights from three of those AMAs, featuring authors Cherie Priest, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Tom Doyle.

Mary Robinette Kowal: I’m here at ConFusion doing panels on fiction, costuming, and carrying two flasks of scotch with me. Ask me anything. No. Really. I might lie to you, but I will answer.

Howard Taylor said to me at the San Antonio World Con that your presence on Writing Excuses made the podcast worthy of a Hugo win, and them muttered something about herding cats being your super power. What’s the biggest challenge you face as a cat herder on Writing Excuses?

Realizing that I just need to let the cats sit wherever they want.

What kind of pie would best accompany The Glamourist Histories?

This is tricky, since the pie as we know it is a conspicuously American invention. I think we’d have to go with a pie relation, the tart.

Apricot and chocolate seems most appropriate as it combines tart sweetness with a dark, bitter underlayer.

You did a tour with Marie Brennan for your books recently, if I recall correctly. What was that like? You guys are my two favourite authors that do Austen-esque fantasy novels.

It was SO MUCH FUN. We both wear costume and have a bit of additional stuff that we do, in addition to reading. Tor actually put together a video that shows sort of what it’s like. AND we’re touring together this year.

Cherie Priest: They’ve given me rum. Let’s do this.

Clockwork Century—Done for good or something you could go back to someday?

Done with Jacaranda, which comes out in a week or so. Jacaranda is sort of an epilogue to that series…and I’m very fond of it, but—barring fat sacks of unforeseen cash American—this is where it stops.

I’ve got needy pets (and a new needy baby), and it’s really hard to get stuff done. How do you structure your writing day around your pretty beasts?

Wake up and walk the dog. Come back and get dressed. Spend the hour or two before lunch answering business emails and doing Writer Business Stuff. Lunch. Write until supper. Husband goes and walks the dog for the afternoon/evening. Play video games and/or watch TV and have a drink and tweet.

That’s more or less how it goes, most days. My pets are kind of low-maintenance; the dog is big and lazy, the cat is elderly and sleeps about 20 hours a day. So I’m lucky, there.

I was wondering about working in the Wilds Cards universe. If you use another writer’s character do you need to get permission from the writer or do you just need to run the story idea by the editor(s)? Also do you plan on revisiting the Wild Cards universe and or Kilgore Jones?

It’s a little hard to explain—you can use other writers’ characters, but you talk to them first, and get their permission for anything major (killing them off, marrying them off, etc. etc. etc.)…it depends on the project, really. In the end, the editor is always GRRM. He’s the only one whose approval you really need. It’s nice, really—it’s not like working in oh, say, video games—where everything happens by committee. There’s just one person ultimately in charge, and if he’s cool with it, you’re good.

I hope to keep writing in WC, but lately I’ve been pretty busy. I have four books coming out this year, if that tells you anything—thought I did do a novelette on Tor.com last year called “The Button Man and The Murder Tree.” And Kilgore Jones turns up in the Rogues anthology (coincidentally, also via GRRM)—in a story called “Heavy Metal.”

I love KJ and will probably continue to tell stories about him 🙂 (He’s based loosely on an old friend of mine, who finds the whole thing hilarious.)

Tom Doyle: I’m the author of American Craftsmen (Tor 2014) and its sequel, The Left-Hand Way (August 2015)—contemporary fantasies of military intrigue that imagine Poe and Hawthorne wrote thinly veiled nonfiction.

What are you working on now that you would like to share?

Finishing the galley proofs for my 2nd book, The Left-Hand Way, and working hard on book 3, tentatively titled War and Craft.

Modern military fantasy is something I hadn’t even known existed, and was something I had no idea I’d love, until I read Myke Cole’s trilogy. I know that his trilogy was highly informed by his time in the service. Do you have a similar background in the military? What inspired you to join this (thus far) incredibly niche genre?

I haven’t had the honor to serve, but I spoke at length with a friend from grade school who served in Special Forces in the First Gulf War for sensory and technical details. My initial thought was that I wanted to write a fantasy with a distinctly American mythos grounded in American literature, history, and folklore. I wrote the military scene first, and my first reader (Stephanie Dray) said that should be my focus for telling the rest of the story.

What more can you tell us about your novels? Style of writing and what readers can expect? What process did you go through to get published and what advice could you provide? What are your go-to book recommendations and why?

The style is a combination of fantasy and technothriller, with lots of allusions to American classics and history. Getting published was one of the most difficult things in my life—years of hunting for a good agent, and then getting a publisher. I recommend attending the SFWA industry reception in NYC whenever possible to contact agents and editors. Lately, I’ve been recommending Leviathan Wakes just so friends can get ahead of the new TV series. I recommend China Mieville and Paolo Bacigalupi frequently.

What does success mean to you?

Writing is the pie eating contest where the prize is more pie. If I get to keep doing this, that’s success.

If you were forced to sing karaoke, what song would you choose?

Force isn’t necessary. I have a weekly rock jam at my house. My go to karaoke song in Japan was “Jumping Jack Flash.”

Highlights from Peter Watts’ Reddit AMA

Echopraxia by Peter Watts
In case you missed it, Echopraxia author Peter Watts did a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) earlier this week. Here are the highlights from it.

Do you believe the central thesis of Blindsight, that consciousness is an aberration and evolutionary dead-end? Is there a similar theme to Echopraxia?

First question: I didn’t when I wrote the damn thing. I just couldn’t think of anything that an intelligent agent needed consciousness for, and it finally occurred to me that the idea of consciousness as a maladaptive side-effect was an awesome punchline for an SF story. I pretty much knew that about two weeks after release, some actual neuroscientist would condescendingly point out something that had never occured to me (because I generally don’t know what the fuck I’m talking about), and that would be that.

Since then, though, the evidence for the spandrel interpretation has only grown stronger. There are actual peer-reviewed papers out there arguing for the nonessentiality of consciousness. I may have blindly tossed a dart over my shoulder and, purely by accident, hit the bullseye.

Second question: Less than a day after release, and you’re already asking for the Cliff’s notes? I think not.

You are broke and have been offered a wheelbarrow full of cash for the rights to make a Blindsight movie. How would it work?

First of all, I am broke. What part of “midlist science ficton writer” don’t you understand?

Miniseries, but not Syfy: HBO. If we’re lucky we could get the guys who did the Sharknado movies (although personally I thought “Sharktopus” had greater verisimilitude), but those guys are in such high demand we’d probably have to settle for the “True Detective” crew.

Pacing, cuts and edits. Yes. There would be all of those things.

What made you choose the nature of consciousness as a focal point in the Blindsight universe? You can see your biology influence, specifically marine, in the crafting of the aliens, but what made you delve into the mind?

Back in the early nineties I read an essay by Dawkins—it was actually the afterword to a collection of essays on evolutionary ecology whose name I’ve forgotten—in which he mentioned, almost offhandedly, that the functional utility of consciousness was one of the great outstanding biological mysteries, that it was trivially easy to imagine an intelligent agent that could do everything we could without being conscious so what was consciousness good for, in the evolutionary sense?

He obviously wasn’t the first person to ask that question, but he was the first person to ask it within my eyeshot—and once posed, I felt embarrassed that that question had never occurred to me before then. It seemed obvious, a huge dark mystery at the center of our very existence. I wouldn’t say I started obsessing on it necessarily, but from then on the question was always there, niggling away in the back of my mind.

Eventually I got off my ass and wrote a book about it.

What made you decide to return to the Blindsight universe for Echopraxia?

My agent. I actually wanted to write a near-future techno-thriller about genetically-engineered giant squid, and in the wake of Behemoth’s tankage I was especially leery of revisiting any well without enough time to recharge my creative batteries. But I laid out five potential projects for the man, and he opined that what-was-then-called “State of Grace” was head and shoulders above the others.

And here we are.

What authors/movies/etc. influenced the horror aspects of your fiction?

The mandatory answer here is Lovecraft—but honestly, I haven’t read any Lovecraft since high school, and even then only a handful of stories. I liked the Alien movies well enough, but they weren’t especially influential on my own writing. If I dig deep enough, and if I’m brutally honest, I’ll admit that Rorschach may have had its genesis in the space-Rastaferian tree-ship from “Buckaroo Banzai: Adventures Across the Eighth Dimension”.

No, really.

For the rest of Peter’s AMA, head to Reddit.

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Highlights from Marie Brennan’s Reddit AMA

The Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan
In case you missed it, The Tropic of Serpents author Marie Brennan did a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) earlier this week. Here are the highlights from it, including information about the world of Lady Trent, future books, and about Marie herself!

Why dragons? What do you think of the resurgence of dragons lately?

I think you’re right that dragons sort of became “unfashionable” for a while, because they seemed so overdone. But there’s still room to do interesting things with them; for example, Naomi Novik’s Temeraire books crossbred them with Patrick O’Brian to get a really interesting historical and military flavor, focusing on whole crews rather than the single telepathically bonded rider that we were used to from Anne McCaffrey. It’s just a matter of getting outside our assumptions and saying, okay, if that’s been done, what else is there to do? In my case, it was a matter of looking at the 3rd edition D&D book Draconomicon and thinking, what if instead of killing them and taking their stuff, you were there to study their life cycle or something? It wouldn’t have worked very well as a game, I think, but I’ve been having a blast with it as a story.

Why do you use a pseudonym?

Because my legal name is unmanageable. My first name is often mistaken for male, and I don’t want to do the gender-ambiguous thing some female authors use to get around sexism. (I totally see why they do it, and don’t blame them, but I choose not to do the same.) My last name is unpronounceable and unspellable for most people, and my cover designers would punch me in the face for making them cram fourteen letters in there. 🙂

I knew at the age of ten that I would write under a pseudonym someday. “Marie Brennan” is probably the only decent writing-related idea I had at that age….

Did you read a lot of non-fiction books or books from the Victorian era to get the right tone for A Natural History of Dragons?

Yes, the Memoirs are written as if they were the true story of Isabella’s life, intended for readers in her own world. Most first-person fiction is narrated in a more “unspecified” frame—you’re just in the head of the viewpoint character, without an explicit definition of their reason for telling it and the point in time they’re telling it from. So I definitely draw a lot of the style from actual memoirs (Victorian or otherwise) and that sort of thing. When it comes to the content, of course, I take my cue from fantasy and pulp adventure, along with actual historical explorers and scientists.

I want to read the books Isabella mentions. Any plans for releasing versions of those?

You’re not the first person to ask that, actually. It delights me that so many people are interested in seeing the books Isabella refers to (whether that one or one of her own academic works). At the moment I don’t have any plans for that—writing the actual novels is occupying my time and energy—but if the series does well enough, that might be very fun to do. I’m a fan of “companion books” myself, like the sorts of things they’ve released for Harry Potter or His Dark Materials; it would be nifty to have something similar for my own work.

I love The Tropic of Serpents. What other books or authors should I try?

The most similar thing in my ouv oeuev oueueueouvre—seriously how do you spell that word—in my body of work is probably the Onyx Court series. They’re all historical fantasy set in London, but each one takes place in a different century, going from the Elizabethan (Midnight Never Come) up through the Victorian (With Fate Conspire), stopping off at the English Civil War (In Ashes Lie) and the Enlightenment (A Star Shall Fall) along the way. They’re all semi-standalone, in that their plots are mostly self-contained, but they do gain some effect if you read them in chronological order.

As for other authors, I have to take a moment to pimp Mary Robinette Kowal, author of the Glamourist Histories. They’re alternate Regency fantasies; the elevator pitch for the first one (Shades of Milk and Honey) is basically “Jane Austen with magic,” but they get more political as they go along, with some very fun intrigue. Our books have enough in common that Tor, our mutual publisher, will be sending us on a tour together in May, to Chicago, Seattle, Portland, Salem, Houston, Salt Lake City, San Diego, and San Francisco—details are at that link. No dragons in her books, though; if you want more of those, Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series is the logical one to recommend. Napoleonic War WITH DRAGONS!

Any fun traditions relating to Daylight Savings?

Heheheheh. Yes, the Coming of the Hour (in the fall) and the Going of the Hour (in the spring). The former begins at 2 a.m. and lasts for one hour, ending at 2 a.m., while the latter begins at 2 a.m. and lasts for one hour, ending at 4 a.m. The duly appointed Grand Poobah does not lead a quasi-religious procession around campus, bearing a cardboard clock and chanting random things, and even if they did, the ceremony absolutely under no circumstances would end with the burning of the clock, because open flame is not permitted on campus.

Hail Chronos!

Will there be more adventures of Lady Trent?

There will be five books in total! I just announced the title for the third this past weekend; it will be Voyage of the Basilisk. (And if that reminds you of Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle, you’re not wrong.) I can’t deliver “forever,” I’m afraid—I do have an arc in mind, which means there will be an end—but hopefully five will be enough to entertain you thoroughly.

For the rest of Marie’s AMA, head to r/books.

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