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Carrie Vaughn: Writing for My Kid Self {Guest Post}


Today I’m excited to welcome Carrie Vaughn to the blog to share why she wrote her new novel Martians Abroad, out today!

            I’ve been telling people my new novel Martians Abroad is old school. I intentionally wrote it to be old school, harkening back to the gee-whiz adventures of the so-called Golden Age of science fiction of the 1940s and 50s, when we hadn’t quite gotten into space yet and we still thought Mars might have water and we were sure we’d be able to visit the Moon on Pan Space Airlines in just a couple of decades. When we really thought colonizing the solar system was going to be a whole lot easier than it turned out to be. (Living and working in space is really hard. One of the things NASA is grappling with right now is how spending a long time in microgravity damages astronauts’ vision when they return to Earth. The orbital environment seems to be physically mooshing their eyeballs and optic nerves. That’s definitely a problem that’s going to have be addressed before we get our asteroid colonies.)

I wanted to write a book that had that same kind of optimism, that imagines what a colonized solar system might be like, with capable characters solving problems and having adventures in a space-faring future. Moreover, I wanted to update the concept with all the scientific and technological discoveries that have been made over the last fifty years about astronomy, space travel, and planetary science. (We have detailed maps of the surface of Pluto now! How cool is that?!) And I wanted to modernize the general sensibilities of such a story. For example: I wanted the main character to be a girl. A teen girl who wants to be a starship pilot, and who has adventures, where such a thing is entirely normal and no one needs to comment on it. You know, the kind of book I really would have loved when I was a teenager.

           One of the most famous science fiction short stories from the 1950s is “The Cold Equations” by Tom Godwin. It’s a classic hard SF story about real physics and real problem solving: a ship delivering much-needed medicine to a plague-ridden colony carries exactly enough fuel calculated for the weight of that specific cargo. So when a stowaway is discovered on board, all the weight-based fuel calculations are thrown off, and the ship won’t have enough fuel to deliver its desperately needed medicine. The lives of the many outweigh the lives of the few, and the stowaway is jettisoned into the cold darkness of space. That the stowaway is a teenage girl makes the scenario even more tragic, right? Well, no, because there’s a not-so-subtle implication that she got into this mess because she’s a girl and just didn’t know any better. She’s wearing sandals and a dress. She has no concept of things like fuel calculations. This story made me so angry the first time I read it — as a teenager girl — and even more angry on subsequent readings, when I remind myself that yes, it really is as bad as I remembered. It seemed like such a failure of characterization: if she grew up on a space station, or in a space colony, she would know about things like fuel calculations and safety rules of spaceships. I asked myself, what would this story look like if it was a boy who stowed away? And I get the impression the author never considered that a boy might have stowed away because he didn’t know better. For all the brilliant optimistic future many of these golden age SF writers imagined, they couldn’t imagine a place for women outside their traditional roles.

The hero of Martians Abroad, Polly, knows all about space ships. She wants to be a starship pilot. She learns everything she can about traveling in space. She knows all about fuel calculations.

So was it hard, writing an old-school SF adventure starring a teenage girl with poor impulse control? Not at all.

There’s kind of this secret that isn’t really a secret: If you want to write an adventure story with a woman as the main character. . .you just make the main character a woman. Or a teen girl, in the case of Martians Abroad. That’s it. It’s not really any more complicated than that. I’ve been asked by a lot of new writers who want to write good, inclusive fiction: How do I write strong women characters? You write people, I tell them. You write a human being. You ought to be able to list ten traits that character has before you even get to sex or gender. Are they funny, nervous, impulsive, kind, athletic, careful, angry, manipulative, optimistic? And so on. Those are the traits that will drive a story. A kid who grew up in space would know about space.

Polly is ambitious, impulsive, a fighter, and a good friend, and I hope you all like her as much as I do.



Writing an Unlikeable Character {Guest Post by Ken Liu}

Today I’m excited to welcome Ken Liu to the blog to discuss unlikeable characters! I always feel like I end up liking the characters you aren’t supposed to like, so I couldn’t resist reading what Ken had to say about the writing process for such a character. Ken’s newest book, The Wall of Storms, is out now!

Writing an Unlikable Character in The Wall of StormsWall of Storms Cover

– by Ken Liu

In most of my short fiction, I’ve relied on protagonists who are likable in some way. It made sense to create characters who were easy to empathize, whose struggles the reader could connect with without a lot of explanations and justifications, and whose ideals and motivations, while complicated, fit into common interpretive frameworks.

Naturally, I wanted to try something different for my novels.

In The Wall of Storms, one of my favorite characters is Empress Jia, and she is not a likable character. She schemes and plots for most of the book, often bringing suffering and harm to characters who are likable. She doesn’t bother to explain herself to her enemies, and so even the moments of her heroism can be seen—not without good reason—as mere instances of self-serving propaganda. She doesn’t focus her life on love (either of family or otherwise); instead, she is almost single-mindedly dedicated to power: to obtaining it, to wielding it, to protecting it from anyone who would try to take it away from her. She is ruthless in the pursuit of her own (often opaque) goals, and she doesn’t care who’s harmed in the process. From time to time, she speaks of ideals, but she is not a gifted orator, and so her speeches come across as … lacking.

Yet she is the one who manages to save the day, the one who leads her people through their gravest threat. She is the survivor, the one who madkes the critical decision and has to live with the consequences, even if most fear her and demonize her rather than love her.

She is, in other words, very much like a modern political figure thrust into an epic fantasy setting.

Ken Liu photo_credit Lisa Tang LiuOne of the themes of The Dandelion Dynasty is the ways in which political mythmaking can often be more important than political reality. The Grace of Kings can be read as a competition between two political myths, as embodied in two larger-than-life figures. Kuni Garu presents a myth of political progress, of positive change motivated by the vision of a more just Dara for all. His opponent, Mata Zyndu, presents a myth of cyclical stability, of restoration to a simpler, less turbulent status quo ante in which everyone knew their place. Mata Zyndu is consumed by his myth, and sacrifices himself on its altar without ultimately understanding why. While Kuni always operates with an understanding that the story he tells is only a myth that must deviate from the pragmatic concerns of real governance, he sincerely believes that the myth is a worthy vision to aspire to.

Both are likable in their own ways: flawed figures whose failings can be forgiven in the metaphorical logic of mythic narratives. They hew to the classic vision of heroes as human beings who are just a little bit closer to the gods than mere mortals.

Empress Jia, on the other hand, embodies a very different sort of political myth. It is intellectually possible to understand that her vision of civilian control of the military, of replacing the fragile bonds of personal loyalty of warlords to a charismatic sovereign with lasting structures of a self-interested bureaucracy dedicated to the machinery of state, may perhaps be desirable. Yet this isn’t a myth that arouses the passions. It doesn’t hold much emotional appeal to the masses. The only way she can make it come true is through ruthless political machinations and carefully calculated plots that she cannot (and feels no need to) explain to those around her.

At a very simplistic level, Empress Jia embodies a dilemma that is often attributed to modern politics: good, sensible policies cannot be sold to the public because they do not hold the kind of intuitive appeal craved by most of us, driven by our primitive (but no less legitimate) emotions. In order to implement such policies, either a charismatic leader must sell them as something else or faceless elites must sneak them in through the backdoor, taking advantage of the political ignorance of the populace. Often the most sensible policies are not the most emotionally appealing, and the most visionary politicians are not the most likable.

It is a challenge to hang the weight of the narrative on such a character. I’m not sure what “success” means in this context: if readers dislike her, have I “succeeded”? If they do not, have I “failed”? But I do know that the political mythmaking in The Wall of Storms is, because of her, also much more interesting.

Purchase Wall of Storms: Indiebound | Amazon* | Simon & Schuster

Start with Grace of Kings: Indiebound | Amazon* | Simon & Schuster

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How Do You Write After the Curtain Falls? {Guest Post}

Four Roads Cross Guest Post

Four Roads Cross by Max Gladstone

Today I’m excited to welcome Max Gladstone back to the blog to discuss the latest book in the Craft Sequence, Four Roads Cross, out now!

How do you write after the curtain falls?

The heroes succeed: the Death Star’s blown up, the Emperor’s slain, the bright new day dawns! The curtain falls, the credits roll, music swells, and we’re thrust out into the glaring light of day before we can ask, wait, what happens next? [Read more…]

5 Facts About The Left-Handed Fate by Kate Milford

Left-Handed Fate

Hello everyone! Today I’m excited to welcome Kate Milford to the blog to discuss her new middle grade book, The Left-Handed Fate! It’ll be out later this month and this is a middle grade story not to miss :D.

  • The most literal world of The Left-Handed Fate is the ship itself. A big chunk of the book takes place aboard a topsail schooner called (drumroll) the Left-Handed Fate. It’s a letter-of-marque, meaning it’s a ship licensed by its country (in this case, England) to prey on enemy ships. You could also call it a privateer, but its crew wouldn’t. Sounds too piratical.

[Read more…]

Flash Fiction by Levi Black {Blog Tour}

Red Right Hand by Levi Black Blog Tour

The Hand You’re Dealt by Levi Black

Today I’m excited to get to share a first with you: flash fiction :D. Levi Black’s full-length novel Red Right Hand, is out now! To get an idea of Black’s style, check out his flash fiction “The Hand You’re Dealt” below.


By Levi Black

Used with permission, all rights reserved.

The air was heavy with lamp soot, coal dust, tobacco smoke, and the damp mist of unwashed humanity. It clung to the inside of his throat, making it tickle, exacerbating his cough. [Read more…]

Wolf’s Empire: Gladiator {Authors Q&A} + Giveaway!

Wolf's Empire: Gladiator Authors Q & A

Today I’m excited to welcome Claudia and Morgan to the blog to discuss their new book Wolf’s Empire: Gladiator (out now)! I got interested in Gladiator as soon as I saw a review that mentioned most of the characters are bisexual in addition to the awesome sounding sci-fi set up. I can’t resist a book that shows bisexuality is normal and legitimate!

Claudia, Could Accala hold her own against your character Susan Ivanova from Babylon 5?

Accala has her combat discus and lots of hand-to-hand combat training so as much as I adore Ivanova and believe her to be one of the toughest most competent characters I have ever portrayed I would have to vote for Accala in a hand-to-hand or edged weapon fight if (and this is a big if):

If it came down to PPG versus an ion pistol from the Wolf’s Empire universe, I’d say Ivanova would take Accala. Ivanova would also have the upper hand if it were a test of skills in a White Star or keeping cool under a large form battle, due to age and experience but I sure as heck would think that ANY confrontations between those two would make sparks fly! They are both prototype Alpha kick ass ladies to say the least.

Babylon 5 had a big story arc. Have you tried to do something similar with Wolf’s Empire?

Absolutely. The historical Rome is vast and complex so expanding that out to a galactic empire filled with warring families, cultures, and alien beings was a big job. Over the top of that we laid out a detailed story arc that takes the main character and her allies on a challenging and exciting journey as they struggle to save the empire from external attack and destruction from within.

Susan Ivanova was bi-sexual and had a difficult time with relationships. Are you exploring this aspect of Accala in Wolf’s Empire?

Don’t we ALL have difficulty with relationships? :)

Yes, even though Accala is mature she begins the first book in her teens so there are feelings that are new for her when she comes into contact with certain individuals. We have explored her sexuality with even less of a fuss as it was in Babylon 5 and Ivanova, i.e.:  people were taken aback when she was revealed to have feelings for a woman whereas now Morgan and I just presumed that in a futuristic Roman arena, there would not be traditional aspects of sexuality and that being bisexual or homosexual would simply be so normal and taken for granted that we would not have to point it out or make a fuss about it. Accala experiences love and lust with both sexes in Wolf’s Empire: Gladiator. Her confusion between the comfort of a loving physical relationship, falling “in” love and  having sex for the sake of release or just pleasure is the same conundrum we are all faced with at a certain age, only wisdom and more experience can change that and as I mentioned earlier, she is quite young…..she is exploring right now. …but she does have the capacity to love deeply despite life dealing her some terrible blows at a very early age.

What do you feel are the important qualities of a science fiction heroine?

Fallibility and angst, there has to be a learning curve and some insecurities in a character for you to care about her, no one is perfect…perfect is boring. Physical and mental strength is obviously key as well.

Will there be more Wolf’s Empire books?

Heck ya! If the fans want them then we have plans to take Accala as far as she can go.

How much is your main character Accala like your character Susan Ivanova?

They are both incredibly resilient, both emotionally and physically, which is why imagining a fight between them is difficult, especially since they are both stubborn and dislike losing!

They have a lot in common such as their inner strength, whether guided by the memories of people who have passed or a higher being, they both rely on a spiritual-inner life to give them strength in times and to talk to throughout trials.

They are both kick ass, fabulous, strong women who I find joy in bringing to life at first with JMS, the creator of Babylon 5, and now with my writing partner, Morgan Grant Buchanan.


Courtesy of Tor, I also have a giveaway for you all! If you are now as excited about Wolf’s Empire: Gladiator as I am, don’t miss out :D. This giveaway is open to US/CAN addresses, the winner will have 48 hours to respond to my email, and I’ll be checking entries so be sure everything is correct.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck!

Debut Authors Bash – Traci Chee + The Reader Giveaway!

Debut Author Bash

Interview with Traci Chee Author of The Reader!

I’m so excited to have Traci Chee on the blog today discussing her upcoming debut novel, The Reader! In addition, there is an ARC giveaway at the bottom :D. Finally, if you are as excited about The Reader as I am, don’t miss The Reader box from Books on Dragonwings for SIX items themed after The Reader and a hardcover!!!!

The Reader has a lot of different stories wrapped together; did you have all these stories in mind when you started or did the interweaving grow from something more linear? [Read more…]

5 Novels that Put the ‘Urban’ in Urban Fantasy!

5 Novels that put the Urban in Urban Fantasy

Guest Post by Ruth Vincent

Today I’m really excited to welcome a new urban fantasy author, Ruth Vincent, to the blog! Her novel, Elixir, is out now and so far I’m quite enjoying it! If you’re a fan of urban fantasy, don’t miss this new series and these old favorites :D.

One of my favorite things about the urban fantasy genre is how the city can almost become a character in the story itself. When writing my first novel, Elixir, it was very important to me that the urban setting feel vivid and authentic. I’d always been unsatisfied by the way I saw New York City portrayed in movies, TV shows, and fiction – it never felt like my New York. My New York is both more brutal and more sublime than those sanitized metropolises. It is simultaneously a giddy promise of dreams fulfilled, and a dystopian reality of overpriced, roach-infested walk-up sublets. And yet I never wanted to stoop to the gratuitously dark city that has become a cliché in this genre, because we’re seeing the mean streets of New York through the eyes of an idealistic, fairy changeling narrator, who finds the quirks of the human society into which she’s been thrust fascinating, charming, and often wryly amusing. [Read more…]

5 Unlikely SF/F Heroes – Guest Post by Mishell Baker of Borderline

5 Unlikely SF/F Heroes - Guest Post by Mishell Baker

Guest Post by Mishell Baker Author of Borderline

When I heard about Borderline all those months ago, I was instantly intrigued by the idea of an urban fantasy with a main character with a physical disability and a personality disorder. We’ve been asking for fantasy starring characters with disabilities for so long, and I was so nervous to start hoping we were finally making progress. Now that I’m nearly done with Borderline myself, I know that I shouldn’t have been nervous. I absolutely love this book and so I’m thrilled to welcome Mishell to the blog to talk about other unlikely heroes! And remember, Borderline is out now (Amazon affiliate link) so go pick it up :D.

Millicent Roper, the woman who saves the day in my urban fantasy novel Borderline, is a bilateral amputee with a personality disorder. While it’s true that Millie isn’t exactly the stock image that pops up if you Google “hero,” she wouldn’t be the only surprising person to fill the role of protagonist in a fantasy or science fiction adventure. SF has long been a refuge for the sorts of heroes who’d be picked last if the cool kids were in charge of saving the world. Not sure what I mean? Here are a few favorite oddball examples from my personal library:

  1. Roen, The Lives of Tao, Wesley Chu. In a fun twist on the “chosen one” trope, a flabby, aimless IT technician is in the wrong place at the wrong time and by sheer dumb luck ends up as host to an incorporeal alien on a mission to save the world. Poor Roen has no choice but to rise to the occasion through painful hard work and turn himself into someone worthy of fighting a war for the future of humanity.
  2. Tyrion Lannister, A Song of Ice and Fire, George R. R. Martin. In most stories about clashes of royalty, a little person like Tyrion might, at best, hope for the role of court jester. Although “hero” might not be the most precise word for this unwanted second son, Tyrion Lannister is always at the center of epic events and is quite possibly the character with the highest intelligence, the kindest heart, and the largest army of adoring readers of any in the series.
  3. Meg Murry, A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle. Fourteen-year-old Meg does not exactly inspire confidence at first sight. She’s young, awkward, unattractive, and barely getting by in school despite coming from a family of highly intelligent people. But in the end it is only Meg’s love that can save her father and brother from the soulless evil that is trying to swallow the universe.
  4. Doctor Adoulla Makhslood, Throne of the Crescent Moon, Saladin Ahmed. When a series of supernatural murders threatens the great city of Dhamsawaat, who rises to the occasion? An overweight, elderly ghul-hunter who wishes he’d retired years ago. His silvery beard, round belly, and fondness for tea and poetry may not be standard-issue for a monster hunter, but his courage and honor carry him through what he hopes will be one last job.
  5. Nicodemus Weal, Spellbound, Blake Charlton. In a world where magic revolves around the precise construction of language, the dyslexia-like disability that causes Nicodemus to “misspell” any magic he touches is more than an inconvenience; it’s outright dangerous! He’s the guy everyone tries to keep as far away from the action as possible, and yet he excels when fate casts him in the central role of world-shaking events.

None of these characters would be identified as heroes on sight, and they’re just a handful of examples. SF is rife with characters who may not look like much at first glance, but who possess deeper qualities that are crucial to solving the problems at hand. As readers — often less than glamorous ourselves — we take comfort from these characters and look forward to the day when the world requires the use of our own hidden talents.


Mishell Baker is a 2009 graduate of the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop, and her short stories have appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Redstone Science Fiction, and Electric Velocipede. She has a website at and frequently tweets about writing, parenthood, mental health, and assorted geekery at @MishellBaker. When she’s not attending conventions or going on wild research adventures, she lives in Los Angeles with her husband and children. Borderline is her debut novel.

Book Connection With Ella Martin: These Broken Stars + Giveaway!

book connection with ella martin tour header

In celebration of Valentine’s Day, I’m welcoming Ella Martin (author of I Love Him, I Love Him Not) to the blog to discuss the wonderful romance in YA sci-fi These Broken Stars, one of my favorite books of 2013! She’s also giving away a copy of These Broken Stars so you can see how awesome it is :D.

These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan SpoonerWhen I read science fiction, it’s always with a sense of awe. It’s hard enough to create multi-dimensional characters and a compelling plot. It’s another to do all that and build a detailed world with lush landscapes and futuristic technology. Add to that a swoony love story, and I’m left staring at the last page wondering how the author did it.

THESE BROKEN STARS by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner was a delicious read. It’s the first book in the Starbound Trilogy, and this dual-narrative story admittedly sets up the story arc for the entire series, but it does so in a way that leaves you simultaneously satisfied and wanting more. And that’s a tough combination to master. We meet Lilac and Tarver on board the Icarus, a luxury space cruise liner, before the ship is torn out of hyperspace. They escape the ship together in a life pod, only to crash on an uncharted alien planet. [Read more…]