Here’s a thing you might be interested in. Goodreads is hosting a contest for a signed copy of my book, Time Heist. All you you have to do is head on over to Goodreads, click on the little button that says “Sell My Soul In Exchange for an Opportunity to Win a Signed Copy of Time Heist” and voila, you’re in.
Also, there’s some small print about giving up your firstborn child, but hey, that could be a good deal depending on how much you like kids.
Anyways, check out the linky thing below and sign up today. Or tomorrow, or the day after. The contest is running for 30 days so there’s no real rush, but why wait?
Yesterday I passed a landmark for the year: 100 books read. At the start of 2015 I set the goal of reading 2 books per week, but somehow I’ve managed to get a bit ahead of myself. Which is good, ’cause it means now I can put the books down, go out and actually have a life. Right?
Nah, probably not so much. I like reading more than I like socializing. I’m peculiar like that.
Anyways, so that you can benefit from my anti-social/fantatical reading, I put together a list of my 5 favorite books read in 2015. Note: none of these books were actually released in 2015, so if that’s what you’re looking for, you’ll be sorely disappointed. I’ll compile a list for that at the end of the year so for now, just hold onto your underoos and we’ll get to it when we get to it.
Alright, so without further adieu, in no particular order, here’s your reading list:
1. Zero, Echo, Shadow, Prime – Peter Samet
Zero, Echo, Shadow, Prime (from here on out referred to simply as ZESP) is Peter Samet’s début novel. We follow Charlie Nobunaga, a promising young mind diagnosed with cancer, as a cutting edge tech firm tries to save her by uploading her mind into the body of a robot. Along the way, they create multiple copies/clones of her, however, which leads to all sorts of shenanigans.
I loved this story for a whole slew of reasons. 1) strong female character 2) complex worldbuilding 3) interesting technology with ethical implications 4) well-written. For a début novel, I think Samet really knocked this one out of the park. It’s a fast-paced thriller dragging you through the pages.
There are a couple of things about the story I didn’t like, but they were fairly minor by comparison. Things like: a forced love connection and, at time, a confusing application of technology.
Regardless, this was a great read. Highly recommended. I can’t wait to see what Samet cooks up next.
2. MoxyLand – Lauren Beukes
I’m sort of late to the Beukes love-train, but I’m gonna hop on anyhow. Beukes is one of those refreshing voices within the genre. She has stunning tone and style dripping from every page.
Moxyland is a compelling near-future story examining the imprisoning effect technology/social media/interconnectedness has on us all. Moxyland features a diverse cast set in South Africa, which I think is pretty damn cool considering these days, most science fiction is either set in America, Europe, or Space (The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi, set in Thailand, also does a fantastic job of this).
So, while I loved a great many things about Moxyland, there was one major thing that bothered me. Namely: the story was muddled by the number of point-of-view characters, making it difficult to tell what the hell was actually going on, and why. Usually, this would sound the death knell for me. I’m all about the story. But in this instance, I’m obliged to look past it, because again, Beukes style and voice are just so good. As I was telling a friend the other day. Sometimes it doesn’t matter what story you tell, sometimes it’s all about the how.
I haven’t delved into the rest of Beukes’ backlist, though I intend to once I get caught up on all the other books in my To Be Read pile. Common opinion tends to rank her newest book Broken Monsters better than Moxyland, so if you’re looking to pick something up from Beukes, that might be a good option.
3) Altered Carbon – Richard K. Morgan
Again, I’m late to the party. Altered Carbon is by no means the new kid on the block, but you know what? It’s still good.
Nay, It’s still fantastic.
Richard K. Morgan has branched off and is writing dark fantasy these days, but his Takeshi Kovacs novels (of which Altered Carbon is book one) are stellar.
Altered Carbon has absolutely everything you could want out of a futuristic cyber-punk, mystery thriller. A compelling lead character not so dissimilar from Han Solo, a murder mystery that’ll leave you scratching your head until the very end, action and suspense up, and then out, the wazoo, and worldbuilding of the sort you would expect in a Brandon Sanderson novel.
Simply put, if you’re a fan of cyberpunk there are three authors you really need to read: William Gibson (Neuromancer), Neal Stephenson (Snow Crash), and Richard K. Morgan (Altered Carbon). Do it now. you won’t regret it.
4) The Red: First Light – Linda Nagata
I have an interview with Linda (and more in-depth review) planned so I’ll keep this short and sweet for now. The Red is military sci-fi done at its best. Nagata steps into a typically male dominated genre and shows the boys that the ladies can get it done just as well, if not better.
Three things I love about The Red:
1) disabled veteran not defined by his handicap
2) strong supporting female character (aka: she’s out doing her own bad-ass important things)
3) minority characters everywhere you turn.
The story effectively boils down to the rise of Artificial Intelligence and the effects such an entity would have on the world. If that sounds like your cup of tea, then drink up. You’re gonna love this.
5) City of Stairs – Robert Jackson Bennett
If I was handing out Hugo Awards City of Stairs would have won Best Novel in 2014. There aren’t enough words to describe how much I loved it. So, suffice it to say, I liked it a whole lot.
All the other books to make the list were of a Science Fiction bent, which makes sense considering that’s my primary genre, but City of Stairs defies the odds by coming in with a weird urban fantasy genre buster of a story about dead gods, magic, a city half destroyed, bureaucracy, and all sorts of other things.
In terms of building a complex world filled with intricate overlapping parts, City of Stairs stands alone (okay, maybe not entirely alone. Rise of Two Serpents by Max Gladstone was pretty good at this, too).
As always, I award bonus points for stories that feature strong female leads who are not simply caricatures of a male, but with female parts. I’ll continue doing this until we arrive at the time and place as a culture where this is no longer praise worthy. For now, unfortunately, it is.
If you’re into urban fantasy with complex characters all trying to act according to their own needs and wants, then you really can’t go wrong with City of Stairs.
Alright, folks. That’ll just about do it for me over here. Now it’s your turn. Get down to the comments and tell me about the best five books you’ve read this year!
The other day I was fortunate enough to be on one of those new fangled podcast things over at SF Signal. We talked about the Hugos, WorldCon, and hot up-and-coming authors you should be reading. My recommendation for a new author you should take the time to read was none other than Ernie Luis.
I’ve read a couple of his short stories now (The Killswitch and Alternate) and both were fantastic. He writes the sort of science fiction that goes down smooth, but keeps you guessing/thinking. They’re quick and fun. What more could you ask for? Give’em a try.
Ernie originally came on my radar because we are both part of Samuel Peralta’s The Time Travel Chronicles set for release this October. An anthology of short fiction you folks definitely won’t want to miss out on.
Ernie was nice enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to chat with me, so enough of me monologuing over here. Go see what Ernie has to say!
Ernie Luis Interview
Anthony Vicino: Alright, Ernie, we’re just gonna cannonball off the high-dive and get right down to it.
Now, I know it’s hard to choose, ’cause we love all our babies equally, but it’s time to play favorites. Of the stories you’ve written, which is your favorite?
Ernie Luis: The Killswitch
AV: Oh, wow. You didn’t hesitate like…at all. Why The Killswitch? Is it because it’s the prettiest?
EL: I feel like I’ve improved my writing with each story, so it’s easy for me to say The Killswitch is my favorite because it’s my most recent. I was originally going to publish it with the intention of leaving it as a short story, but I fell in love with the characters so much that I decided to write a full length. So yeah, as of this moment it is my favorite (Sorry Alternate).
AV: It’s alright, Alternate is living in a different reality, one where you actually love it the most. (For those of you who have not read Alternate, this is a funny joke because it’s all about alternate realities. For now, just take my word for it, I’m funny.)
Tell us about some of your favorite and/or least favorite story tropes.
EL: Favorite: semi-Greek tragedies. I love a good bittersweet ending. The hero accomplishing his mission and sacrificing so much for it all makes me happy and sad all at the same time, and it’s a feeling you really only get in stories I think.
Least favorite: Love triangles. Especially the ones where you have to pick a side. The only time I’ve enjoyed it was in Hunger Games. So let’s just cut that out. Love isn’t always a triangle!
AV: In my experience, love has never been a triangle. If anything it’s just a dot, or a rhombus (I’ll leave that for you geniuses at home to figure out. Hint: I don’t even know what it means.)
EL: Love rhombus. Now you’re talking.
AV: Time to reveal your deepest held feelings of inadequacy, Ernie. What do you wish you could do better as a writer?
EL: Let myself have bad days. When a bad day of writing comes, it’s like a mucky swamp I can’t get out of, and I think “This is it. I’ve written my last good words as a writer. I’m finished.” And then I’ll eventually write something decent, wipe my forehead and say “Phew!”
AV: That’s great, and highly relatable. Take note writers, stay in the game long enough and I promise you’ll feel this way at least once or twice. How ’bout literary strengths? Whatcha got?
EL: I think my strengths are in my dialogue. I really picture my characters having the conversations I write. But I may be wrong, it’s just usually the thing I least have to revise.
AV: I’ll throw you an ‘attaboy and let you know that your dialogue is fantastic. But to stop you from getting a big head, tell us about your literary weaknesses.
EL: My weakness has to be writing stories set on Earth. For some reason, if I write about some distant planet with foreign technology, or an apocalyptic Earth, I can write for hours on the smallest details. But if it’s just a plain old real world setting, I get kinda bored describing it. My mind is made for Sci-Fi I guess.
AV: I assume you’ve been twirling pens around paper for awhile (or whatever the computer equivalent is), so how has writing changed (or not changed) for you since you began?
EL: Confidence is the biggest thing that’s changed. I’m not afraid to try new things, I’m not afraid to write what I want to write and not what I think will please everyone. I never really understood what people meant by different writing styles and flows, but now that I’ve found mine, I definitely understand. Writers have to find their own voice. And with each manuscript that gets finished, I’m getting more and more confident in my own voice.
AV: Ah, the ever illusive search for voice. It’s like Jason and his Argonauts going Golden Fleece shopping. Thankfully it’s one of the searches we all go through, and you know what they say about misery and company…it still sucks.
I’m always fascinated by how other writers write. Can you give us a little insight into your story creating process?
EL: I’m constantly daydreaming. I’m usually always thinking about a certain character or a certain scene. So throughout the day I’m always on my phone, writing little tidbits down in my notes. And then sitting down to write is just typing it all down, with all the pretty little details.
EL: I have an endless sea of notes in my phone, some small ones with basic story ideas, and some large ones with massive outlines. I like to outline big plot points, characters, and endings. I’m big on outlining endings. I’ll usually fill in the rest as it comes to me. I don’t like to outline scene by scene. I let the characters take me there. So it’s a bit of both.
AV: And when do you write? Do you have a daily writing schedule? Weekly? Once in a blue moon when the proper virginal sacrifices have been made?
EL: I try to write 800 words a day. I say 800, because I used to tell myself to write 1000 words a day, and I’d get lazy or procrastinate. So if I tell myself 800, I’m like “psh, I can knock out 800 no problem.” And then I usually end up writing 1000 anyway. But I do perform a proper virginal sacrifice every month while drinking a Blue Moon to really get the juices flowing. Doesn’t every writer do this?
AV: I do believe authors account for roughly 93% of all virginal sacrifices per year. Of those, Stephen King is responsible for 85%. But hey, it seems to be working for him. Moving forward what’s the plan?
EL: Write. Til Death.
AV: So that’s definitely what we’ll call playing the long game. How about in the nearer future. Say in the next 1 year, 5 years, and 10 years?
EL: I’m trying to focus more on novels now. I’ve been writing strictly short stories my entire first year in self publishing. So this next year my goal is to write my first trilogy of novels. Very excited. In 5 years, I hope to have a few sci-fi trilogies out, while also trying my hand at the mystery genre, as well as releasing a contemporary college romance novel semi based on my life. And 10 years? Well, ruling the world. Obviously.
AV: I’m afraid someday we’ll have to fight it out Highlander style for I too would like to rule the world. Oh well, maybe we can come up with some sort of time share option. You can rule the world on Monday, Wednesdays, and Saturdays.
EL: Oh, so you get four days, huh? Typical.
AV: Quick, look at your desk. What’s there?
EL: Wallet, keys, laptop, couple baseball caps, mail, headphones, and copies of The Martian, Armada, and Shift, written by Andy Weir, Ernest Cline, and Hugh Howey, respectively.
AV: Those are three great authors to have sitting on your desk, Ernie. Props. But let’s say your favorite author calls tomorrow and says they want to collaborate. Who’s calling and what sort of story do you two write?
EL: Markus Zusak: Yo, Ern.
Me: What up, MZ?
Markus Zusak: Not much, mate. So when are we going to do this collab?
Me: I’m ready to go, man. Let’s do this.
Six months later, a novel with a beautifully dark and melancholy cover titled Monsters In The Mirror is released, centered around a detective who can see people for who they really are, and fakes a drug addiction in order to deal with his hallucinations. Markus writes the chapters from the perspective of the detective, and I write the chapters from the perspective of the novel’s killer, whose identity is slowly revealed chapter by chapter.
AV: Goddamn, I really want to read that now. I’ll put a word in with Markus for you, see if we can’t make this happen. But don’t get your hopes up, there’s still that pesky restraining order keeping me at least 50 feet away from him at all times.
EL: He’s still not over the porcupine thing, is he? Dang it, Anthony, I told you it was a bad idea.
AV: Keeping with the thread of hypothetical situations, let’s imagine for a moment that you’ve been inducted into the Writing Hall of Fame (a totally real thing I’m not making up), what do they say about you/your legacy/career?
EL: Ernie Luis and Anthony Vicino are both inducted into the WHOF for their legendary interview. Their legacy will live on forever with the bar they’ve set for author interviews. Oh, and they had good writing careers too.
AV: Well, yes. This is a given. We’re redefining art, man. Let’s get deep: What do you resent most about writing?
EL: That for months on end, I am the only one knows my stories and my messages. I wish I could instantly create the stories in my head to share them with the world. But unfortunately, that’s not how it works. And so for many months, in a long and lonely process, I am the only one who knows my stories. It’s like the great Morgan Freeman once said, it’s like having “a dream that no one sees but you.”
AV: Ah, yes. The lonely suffering artist. We’ve all been there, and unfortunately it never gets easier. Best remedy? Work everyday and finish what you start. BooM! (That’s for the noobs out there).
What’s your favorite safety line? The one that keeps cropping up in your stories.
EL: “Holy sh*t”
Beautifully descriptive and multifunctional. Don’t know how we can top that, so we won’t even try. If you want to connect with Ernie find him aat ernieluis.com or on facebook at ErnieLuisWrites!
Last week I was invited to join the SF Signal podcast for a panel with Gail Carriger, Stina Leicht, Sarah Chorn, Paul Weimer, Alvaro Zino-Amaro, and Patrick Hester) about Worldcon, The Hugo Awards, Up-and-Coming Authors, and Hot New Books We Can’t Wait To Read. It was what the kids these days like to call a hoot-n-nanny. Go check it out. Click the pic below!
Today we’re talking about the promises and implied expectations we as storytellers make. For those of you not in the know, Brandon Sanderson is one of my favorite authors, specifically from a narrative craft perspective. One of the things he talks about over, and over, and over again, is making promises and then fulfilling them.
This is sort of a tricky concept that’s easily forgotten when our stories get into the meaty middle and start juking and jiving all over the place. Compounding this problem is the fact that sometimes we don’t even discover until midway through the book what sort of story we’re even telling. This means either copious amounts of revising, or breaking some promises.
Alright, before we get too deep, let’s explain what’s meant by ‘promises’.
Regardless of what sort of story you’re telling, in the first few pages, you’re making some promises. If you adopt a whimsical tone with slap-stick comedy, you’re telling your audience, this is going to be lighthearted little romp. If on the other hand, you start your book with a brutal murder mystery, then you’re making an entirely different sort of promise.
Now, beyond promising a cohesive narrative tone, you’re also establishing some genre promises. Again, if you start the book with a murder mystery, you’re making the unspoken agreement with the reader that by the end of the book, that mystery will be resolved in some sort of satisfying way (note: this does not mean everything ends happy and honky-dory, but that initial mystery will be resolved!).
If you get to the end of your story, and you haven’t delivered on that initial promise (aka: you haven’t resolved the mystery of whodunnit or why),you’re going to leave your readers with a fur-ball of frustration in their throat.
Interestingly, your audience might be unable to articulate their feelings of frustration, but it’ll gnaw at the back of their mind like Pinnochio with a termite infestation all the same.
I read a story a couple months back that did this exact thing. First chapter opened with a murder investigation, point of view character is the detective in charge. We follow this detective throughout the book, but midway through (as should be the case in your book) the crisis escalates and the murder is no longer the primary concern. Now, this is fine, your story should be like a staircase of ascending problems, but for every step you take towards the top of the building, by the end, the reader needs to return to ground floor.
Don’t leave your reader on the roof! They’ll likely starve or die of exposure up there. And then guess what, they’re gonna leave you a bad review. Guess what else? I won’t feel bad, ’cause you deserve it, you filthy promise breaker.
Okay, so playing on the staircase metaphor, let’s give an example and walk through a sample story to get an idea of how this works.
Ground Floor: Baseline. Nothing terribly exciting here.
First Step: Murder scene. Who dunnit?
Second Step: Murder investigation leads into a twisted den of liars and thieves. Things are not what they seem. MCgarners the attention of the wrong crowd. Now MC’s a target.
Third Step: More murder! Perhaps somebody close to the main character; perhaps not.
Fourth Step: More investigating, but now MC’s daughter gets kidnapped by mobsters.
Fifth Step: MC discovers a secret society of bad guys. The murders are now just a small piece of a much bigger puzzle.
Sixth Step: *by now we’re huffing and puffy. I mean, seriously, six whole steps? Whew* MC tracks down the mobsters, and rescues his daughter.
The Roof: Our MC has saved his daughter, and now he brings down the crime syndicate boss-man. Shoots him with a spit wad right in the eye, bad guy winces, stumbles back and falls down our fairly little staircase. Breaks his neck. We win! Huzzah!
Note: whimsically killing the bad guy in a story like this is breaking your initial “This is a grisly murder mystery” promise.
But don’t write: The End, and call it good. Walking away now leaves us with literary blue-balls because our MC never resolved the mystery of that initial murder. During his escapades he got sidetracked and tangled in this other mess, but we can’t leave that first story thread flapping in the wind. Tie it up nice and neat, make a bow for god’s sake.
So, now we have to reverse the steps (this is called the denouement or resolution, and it can be done pretty quick).
Sherlock Holmes does this all the time with Watson. He’ll sometimes take a moment to tie all the seemingly unrelated strands together. For instance, that initial murder could just be wrong place, wrong time. The guy went into 7-11 to get a 72 ounce slurpee, stepped outside and got shived in the spine because the assassin-for-hire made a mistake and offed the wrong guy.
Simple case of mistaken identity that led the MC to uncover a much deeper, darker society of inept assassins. But if you never directly address this, and don’t return the reader to ground level, they’ll leave your story with a sense of incompleteness.
There are other ways of breaking a promise, by the way. Earlier we mentioned setting the tone early on in the story and then maintaining consistency throughout. Sure, the story is an ever-living, growing, breathing monstrosity, but it should only change in degree, not type.
Your gritty detective noir should not morph into a coming of age rom-com by the end.
I actually made this mistake in one of my stories, though I’m not going to tell you which (you’ll just have to read them all and figure it out for yourself. Muahaha!). I started the story very whimsical with a lot of feel good banter being tossed about.
The inherent promise I made to the reader was: You’re going to have a good time, laugh, and leave this story feeling bubbly.
Problem? Uh… I killed everybody off in the final chapters. And not in a funny way, either (eg: slipping on a banana peel).
Interestingly most readers really enjoyed the story, but then expressed how the ending left them feeling gutted. Which, in point of fact, was my goal. But I gutted them by making them fall in love with the characters and then brutally slaying them.
Think of it like this: You watch seven season of Friends, and then George R.R. Martin takes over writing the last three episodes.
You’re gonna walk away with some mixed feelings. No, actually, they probably won’t be mixed, you’ll probably just feel horrible. And not the good kind of horrible.
Keep this in mind when you’re crafting your stories. Deliver on the initial promises you make. If by the end you haven’t delivered, or you’ve delivered on the wrong promise, well, go back and fix it. Trust me, you’re story will be all the better for it.
What’s your favorite example of an unfulfilled promise in storytelling? Was it a book, movie, T.V. show?
My personal favorite example is the television series: LOST. Okay, scamper down to the comments and tell me I’m wrong. I dare you!