Works In Progress and Trail of Dead II: 2 Fucks 2 Furious

Real talk: For a very long time after finishing my last story, I struggled with ADHD-induced writer’s block. Then I got medicated and got stimulated and hey ho whaddaya know, I’m now simultaneously working on two novels, to (fates be kind) be first-drafted by February at the very latest.

One is a fantasy novel I’ve been germinating for a good ten years. It’s prosey and past-tensey and pretty much pure storytelling of the kind I’ve always loved in books like The Last Unicorn and The Princess Bride. The other is the Trail of Dead sequel, which is … Well, it’s the Trail of Dead sequel. It’s noir. It’s pulp. It’s action. You love this shit or you don’t, and good health to you either way.

Anyhow! Since a lot of people REALLY REALLY love Rhye, and because Chuck Wendig asked so very nicely, I’m posting a short excerpt from the latter for your very brief reading enjoyment. Caveat: It’s a first draft, so it’s not as spit-shined as editor-polished work, obviously. Look for the finished product in a year or two! Maybe. Hopefully.

II: IN WHICH MADAME ENTERTAINS A VISITOR

9 AM the next morning there’s a rap on the front door. Rhye’s already awake because she never went to sleep. She is also stone-cold sober and she’s been thinking about her life all night and so she answers the knock with a pistol cleaned six times in the past eight hours ready-steady-take-off-your-heady clutched in one hand, clusters of nerves twitching clickcode for DANGER in seventeen different planetary languages beneath the stress fractures of her good left eye. In all her long, sticky, blurry months of squatting in this place like a choleric bear peacefully shitting itself to death, nobody has ever bothered knocking. Not for love, not for money, and sure as hell not at 9 in the fucking AM, when all the locals are either sleeping it off or tying it on or trudging to the docks in their workboots. It’s a week of firsts that is about to be some motherfucker’s last call.

“Say whatever say-so you got to say and get the fuck going before I call the landlord and she pulls a gun on you or something. Wait, shit, too late.” Click goes the hammer drawing back its pinchy little fist. “I hope this has a beginning that starts with cookies and ends with you leaving the cookies on my welcome mat as you skip back in the direction of that road over there.”

Long pause. A woman’s voice, hesitant, mostly muffled by the door.

“… You don’t … have a welcome mat.”

“Yeah, and I’m beginning to suspect you don’t have any fuckin’ cookies for me either so we appear to be at what you’d call an impasse. Speak. Don’t stutter.” She leans the door open a crack. On the other side her unseen visitor jumps back so quickly Rhye hears their heels splintering through the rotten boards. Whoopsie. “And don’t think I didn’t notice that sass. You wanna get cute, you can take that shit out back and see how well it works as a shovel.”

“Look, I think there’s been some sort of misunderstanding—“

“You’re goddamned right there’s been some sort of misunderstanding. You’re about to misunderstand your way onto a fuckin’ bullet if you don’t start talking or walking.”

Hugo nomination

Alyssa Wong did a much more in-depth, comprehensive writeup of the current Hugo situation, so you should probably go read that first (and vote for her for the Campbell, for God’s sake! I don’t need to sing her praises; they are self-evident), as this is mostly just addressing where I stand as one of the current Hugo finalists. I’ll try and make it short, as your time is precious and if you’re anything like me you are sick unto fucking death of hearing about the issue.

So. That silly cyberpulp story I wrote and sold to Lightspeed a year ago has now managed to net itself a hat trick of nominations: Nebula, Sturgeon, and Hugo (EDIT: Make that a quartet; it just got onto the Locus Award ballot as well). I’m honoured. I’m beyond honoured: I’m fucking stunned and honoured. However, making this pretty much the textbook definition of a pyrrhic victory, the Hugos have yet again been hijacked by semi-sentient anal glands, who spewed hot, smelly ass juice all over the ballot, squeezing deserving legitimate work out and smearing the palmful of legitimate noms who got through with expressed butt infection funk. This gunk is straight-up rancid. Stains clothes, kills flowers, soils hope. In an attempt to be very clever doggies, they also stuck several legitimate, worthy works that would have probably gotten on the ballot anyway onto their slates as shields.

So, what’s a nominee to do?

Not a whole lot, honestly. We have two options: Stay on target, or withdraw. Both are perfectly valid choices, but I’m not withdrawing my nomination. The reasons are thus:

A. “Trail of Dead” was NOT on the Rabid slate. It is the only nominee in the Novelette category that wasn’t on their shit-smearing list. Additionally, Hao Jingfang’s Folding Beijing–a fine novelette that would have gotten on the ballot under its own steam–was Rabid-slated, but is definitely worth touching your eyeballs down on, regardless. The entire intent of RPs using legitimate works as shields this year was to make people bounce off them on principal. Don’t give ‘em the satisfaction. Read and use best judgment.

B. It WAS on the Sad ‘Recommended’ list, but ‘eligibility’ for that sideshow was downright farcical and seemed to involve people mentioning things in a comments thread. If I recall correctly from my one glance at their methods, three people brought up my story, and one of them hated the fucking thing (pretty per for the course with “Trail of Dead”). Either way, I don’t believe the Sad List had a huge bearing on this year’s outcomes. At this point they’re just ticks on the frothers’ matted backs. I’m still not happy about my inclusion, but …

C. … This story is also currently a finalist for the Nebula and the Theodore Sturgeon. It was on the 2015 Locus Recommended Reading List (and is apparently a Locus Award finalist, to boot). It was on several end-of-year best-of lists, and earned a spot in Rich Horton’s Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2016. Tl;dr: Many people really, really, really liked “Trail of Dead.” I can’t say whether or not it’s a good enough story to also belong on the Hugo ballot; I’m a terrible judge of my own work and there are plenty of people who will gladly let you know it’s vulgar, brainless garbage that makes a mockery of the hallowed Nebula, Sturgeon, Locus, and Hugo ballots. Conversely, there are many other people who will tell you it’s one of their favourite stories of the year. Both viewpoints are equally valid; if you read it and it’s not your thing, it’s not your thing. One way or the other, it managed to kick, punch, and claw its way through a wall of slate voting onto a fourth ballot, and I think it deserves a shot, if only to be a two-handed, middle-fingered salute to all slate puppers everywhere. The future is coming, there’s no stopping it, and they won’t always get their precious way no matter how big a howling toy aisle strop they throw, be it on an awards ballot or out in the wider world.

Hard pounding this, gentlemen. Let’s see who will pound the longest. Or, in Rhye terms, got here anyway, you fucks. Let’s see this through to the bitter fucking end.

Eligibility Post of Eligibility!

So I wasn’t even sure if it was worth doing this, seeing as how I’m a lazy bum who only had one thing published last year. But according to Sources it was a Big Thing, and worth remarking on, and I am nothing if not susceptible to peer pressure.

The one thing was my pulp novelette, And You Shall Know Her By The Trail Of Dead, published in Lightspeed Magazine last February, now nearly a year (good god) gone. Over at Tor.com, Amal El-Mohtar called it an “amazing … no-holds-barred pulp action cuss-fest.” Max Gladstone’s extremely generous review at Goodreads (first time I’ve ever had something up for review at Goodreads, natch) says, “it’s the kind of action you only find in prose, beautiful with sharp edges.” Rich Horton of Locus, who picked it up for the Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy 2016, writes that the lead’s voice is, “profane, vulnerable, and very darkly funny … well-executed, with a perfect, twisty ending.” Bubbajoe123456 of the io9 comments section says that “all the characters sound like they have tourettes.”

It’s big and violent and sort of silly and it took me three years to finish writing the damn thing, but there is a lot of me in this story, and a lot of my heart, and that probably says more about who I am than I initially wanted to admit in public. ‘And You Shall Know Her By The Trail Of Dead’ is eligible for Best Novelette on both the Nebula and Hugo ballots, so if you enjoyed it or were moved by it or just really like f-bombs and think fun stories can also have big dumb hearts inside their gunpowder-stained chests, go ahead and give it one of your slots, with much thanks for your consideration.

The Rack ‘n Rye.

So I think I’ve told the story of how I accidentally named Rack and Rhye after a cocktail about a million times now (including in my Author’s Spotlight), but it bears repeating that it is a really, really fucking good drink, subtle but punchy in all the right ways. The world is made of happy accidents, dig? Arrack is an underappreciated spirit, and rye goes with just about anything.

Mix one up and read the story, if you haven’t already! Or mix one up and re-read it, or mix one up and screw the story.

‘And You Shall Know Her By The Trail Of Dead’

So, uh, hey, anybody who may be still reading this! Long time, no see! Can I, uh, refill your kibble, refresh your water, give you some lotion for those manacle burns? Cool, cool. Sorry about the wait!

The cyberpulp shooty bang-bang swear-thing I kvetched about finishing for two years came out! At Lightspeed! And to my great shock and surprise and gape-jawed confusion, the people not instantly repelled by the wall of bad language apparently fucking loved it. Loved each blazing fuck and silly simile. When I started writing this story I was honestly just doing it to make myself happy, cramming in every trope and narrative tic in my brain’s Favourites list. Turns out a lot of people like the same stuff. I think it’s the most popular story I’ve ever written by a long damn shot.

And reviews! Glowing reviews coming out of the goddamned walls. Know what I was expecting even less than readers loving it? Reviewers loving it. Reviewers I fucking respect. Amal El-Mohtar at Tor! K. Tempest Bradford at io9! A.C. Wise at SF Signal! Apex! Jesus christ, even fucking Tangent recommended it, even if the reviewer seemed to be at least 40% horrified by the language.

The only reviewer less-than-thrilled was Lois Tilton, and as usual if you can actually parse what the hell she’s trying to get at you are the One True Regent of the Britons.

I have no idea how to respond to praise gracefully, so all I can say is this: thank you all for enjoying it and thank those of you who have stopped to tell me so even more, sincerely. You’re the only reason I’m doing this thing (well, that and I cannot stop myself from spewing words like a busted sprinkler outside an office building at 3 AM), and I love hearing that you got something out of it. I’d change a few things, if I could–the silly John Wick Russian baddie accents aren’t needed, and maybe a few of the fucks could go–but other than that, there is the strangest feeling of satisfaction with how this has turned out.

Now. On to a sequel? Who fuckin’ knows.

Writing Process Blog Tour

A week or so ago, I made a solemn oath to my dear friend Valya Dudycz Lupescu, author of The Silence of Trees and founding editor of Conclave: A Journal of Character. Why yes, says I, I would love to join the Writing Process Blog Tour! I can totally have that done before Monday!

What neither of us took into account is that I am A. apparently a big fat liar, B. a pathological procrastinator, and C. would be going on a weekend trip with enough delays and re-routings to tire out a meth’d-up hummingbird. So Monday came and went and I missed my deadline. Because I’m an asshole.

But I am doing it right now, because, while an asshole, I’m an asshole that keeps my promises. Eventually.

1. What am I working on?

Nothing solid enough to be classified as anything other than gas. My pulp novelette, And You Shall Know Her By The Trail Of Dead, should be coming out at Lightspeed Magazine some time later this year, as well as another story in an upcoming anthology that I’m still not at liberty to announce. As far as works-in-progress go, I’m in the midst of re-writing a story I began at Clarion about a harpy beekeeper, a novel idea that plays like a mashup of Shadow of the Colossus and Where The Wind Blows, and something tentatively titled The Revolution Will Be Televised Before A Live Studio Audience.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

That’s not a question I’m sure I can answer as thoughtfully as it might deserve. To be typically blunt: I don’t know. I’ve always been terrible at assessing my work’s merits. Like every author, I am the only me that exists, and the stuff that I write comes solely from my own unique experiences and world views, which I suppose counts for something. You are getting pure, undiluted Brooke Bolander, a species with a wild population of one. When I die, I will be extinct; there will never be any more. I AM SIGNIFICANT, cried the dust speck.

… Unless some alien consciousness is beaming thoughts and memories directly into my skull, in which case oshit.

3. Why do I write what I do?

My friends have posted lengthy, noble, beautiful responses to this question. My answer is much more pragmatic/selfish: I write what I want to read.

Now, there is nothing new under the sun, and I am well aware of that fact, and occasionally the knowledge makes me want to drink antifreeze, especially when I get what seems like a fabulously original idea and no, no, that was already done as a three-book series that sold ten million billion copies. But sometimes that enormously popular three-book series sucks, or you feel the plot could have been executed in a much more interesting way. Sometimes the idea is new enough that nobody has done it in awhile, all glory to the Muses, and you really really really want to read it, and the characters will not stop breaking shit inside your brain until you provide them with an outlet.

Images and voices lodge in my mind’s eye, and I’ve gotta dig them out (you can’t just walk around all the damned time with a plot jammed to the hilt in your retina; it gets uncomfortable). Nobody else can write those scenes (unless they crack open my skull and feast on the goo inside), so it’s up to me to do it.

4. How does your writing process work?

It always starts with a single image. I see a scene sticking out of the ground, like a pot sherd, and the archaeologist in me won’t stop until the entire thing is uncovered and re-assembled. Which means making up the plot as I go along, which may explain why I’ve never managed to write anything longer than 20,000 words. It’s admittedly a problem. I suppose either I’ll learn ways to deal with it or, y’know, I won’t.

Music is also pretty important to my process. A good song can act as a metronome for the language in a story. The rhythm of a novel’s prose is ridiculously important to me; if a word falls in the wrong spot, it’s as jarring to my inner reader as a singer hitting a bad note. Funnily enough, I can’t listen to music while I’m working, so I listen to the song first and go from there.

Next up on the tour are fabulous authors Alyssa Wong and Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam! Look for their brain spews on May 27th, unless they’re like me and can’t stick to their deadlines worth a damn.

Alyssa is a 2013 graduate of the Clarion Writers’ Workshop. Her story, “The Fisher Queen,” appears in the May/June issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine. She is rated A for Awesome.

Bonnie lives in Texas with her partner and two literarily-named cats: Gimli and Don Quixote. Her fiction and poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in magazines such as Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, and Goblin Fruit. You can visit her on Twitter @BonnieJoStuffle or through her website: www.bonniejostufflebeam.com. She is rated B for Beautemus.

Sale!

So, that pulp thing I began working on two fucking years ago? It finally sold. To Lightspeed, my glorious and ever-loving patrons. I am beside myself with glee. Look for that in the near-future. It’s … not exactly like anything else I’ve ever done, being an exercise in big dumb shooty pulp and all.

That brings my sales up to a grand total of six, five of them professional, three of those to Lightspeed, and four of them to John Joseph Adams. Not bad. Not bad at all. Maybe in another three years I’ll have enough for a short story collection that nobody will ever publish or buy! The future remains unwritten.

Jumping the Gorge.

So I’ve been thinking about art and human connections.

Imagine you are floating in a glass bubble in space. Around you, there are others. At some point in your journey, you meet the eye of someone else, and a conversation strikes up. You know the feeling. It’s a fucking drug, that moment of connection. Nothing else like it in the world, whether it’s a burgeoning friendship or a romance or a business partnership.

The only problem is, you can never quite make contact, no matter how well you think you know them or or how hard you press your hands against the bubble walls. Close is still just close. There will always be half an inch of glass between your palms. Sometimes the comm link breaks down and you only get pieces of what they’re saying. Miscommunications turn into outright arguments.

Sometimes they go away and they don’t come back.

As I said in my WDSF essay, we’re all just ships of meat and bone, trying to find some way over, across, through that barrier. There is no real way to see inside a person’s head cockpit, which is both a blessing (I’m certainly thankful for it) and a curse. Sometimes I get the feeling that’s all a lot of art is: Attempts to ramp our sentience motorcycles over the great gorge and get across what we’re feeling in pictures so fucking clear the person looking at them will actually gain the ability to see what we’re seeing behind our eyelids. It’s the closest to telepathy most of us will ever get. I’ve managed it once or twice and lemme fuckin’ tell you, hoss, the jolt is a little like falling in love.

Emotions are such a personal thing. Maybe art is the best way of getting them across.

V to the O to the T to the E.

Okay, motherfuckers. If you want to vote for the Hugos or the John W. Campbell Award this year, you HAVE TO BE REGISTERED BY MIDNIGHT for one of three things: LoneStarCon (last year), LonCon (this year) or Sasquan (next year) by 31 Jan. 2014. That’s TODAY. By midnight.

Please note, you DON’T ACTUALLY HAVE TO ATTEND TO REGISTER. A SUPPORTING membership allows you to nominate, vote, and get the Hugo Packet. It’s an Absentee ballot, essentially, and it costs you 40 BUCKS (that’s the cost of a good fancy meal). So if you want to vote but can’t fly all the way to London or travel back in time to last August or don’t want to go to Spokane NEXT year, there is an option.

As I said in my last post, your votes are really, really fucking important, especially in the case of the Campbells. You don’t have to vote for me. You don’t even have to like what I write. You can ABHOR what I do, and I’m plenty sure many of you do. More power to you, guys. Rock the fuck on with your big ol’ bloated hatebladders. But for the love of all that is good and unholy, give SOMEONE the nod. Marc Blake released an anthology of work from Campbell-eligible writers yesterday*. It is, to be blunt, the book size equivalent of a blue whale’s dong, and it is free for download. Read. Find someone you love, and show them how much you care by spending roughly the cost of a nice fancy meal on registering and voting.

Oh, and do it before midnight. No pressure or anything.

http://sasquan.org/

http://www.loncon3.org/

* (Three of my previously published stories are in there, because last year I forgot to send Marc my stuff and I missed the ballot by three votes. Not this fucking time. I fail by my own lights and not my own laziness this go-round.)