Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Editing in Process... Led Astray: The Best of Kelley Armstrong

Led Astray: The Best of Kelley Armstrong
Cover art by Liliana Sanches
So, what does 148,000 words of short fiction physically look like? A stack of manuscript pages 2¼ inches high; or 530 pages, to be exact!

That's the size of the manuscript for "the best of" short story collection Led Astray by Kelley Armstrong, forthcoming in September from Tachyon Publications.

Now, I haven't read a lot of Kelley Armstrong's fiction. Just a few stories, no novels. I'm not an "urban fantasy, werewolves-vampires-zombies" kind of guy. During my years working with Night Shade Books[1], I worked on a couple Kelley Armstrong stories: "Twilight" in By Blood We Live (2009) and "Last Stand" (also included in Led Astray) in The Living Dead 2 (2010), both anthologies edited by John Joseph Adams. And one other story, "A Haunted House of Her Own" in The Urban Fantasy Anthology, edited by Peter S. Beagle and Joe R. Lansdale, from Tachyon Publications (2011)[2].

To say I was surprised when I began working on the stories in Led Astray would be an understatement. I'm still not an "urban fantasy, werewolves-vampires-zombies" kind of guy, but I will definitely be reading more Kelley Armstrong stories in the future. What I discovered is that a number of the stories are written within Ms. Armstrong's existing series' universes -- actually only ten of the collection's twenty-three stories are "standalone"; all the rest fall within her existing series. So I would read a very cool story like "Learning Curve," and then six stories later I would encounter some of the same characters in "The List." The characters are so deftly written that when I came upon them again in another story it was like meeting up with old friends already.

One of my favorites, albeit a standalone story, is "Last Stand" -- unexpectedly, at least for me, a zombie story! It's a typical zombie story, in one sense: following a virus outbreak, soldiers in a fort must fight for their survival against the "Others." The well-drawn, strong female protagonist, Monica Roth, was a chemistry teacher before the outbreak, and now serves as commander, doing her best to keep the "last band of resistance fighters" alive. Here are a couple excerpts:
Before [Gareth] could say a word, she lifted her hand.
"Objection noted, Lieutenant."
"I didn't say a word, Commander," he said.
"You don't need to. You heard we're bringing in a fresh lot, and you're going to tell me—again—that we can't handle more prisoners. The stockade is overcrowded. We're wasting manpower guarding them. We're wasting doctors caring for them. We should take them out into the field, kill them and leave the corpses on spikes for the Others to see."
"I don't believe I've suggested that last part. Brilliant idea, though. I'll send a troop to find the wood for the poles—"
She shot him a look. He only grinned.

[. . .]

The H5N3 virus had started in Indonesia, with sporadic outbreaks downplayed by authorities until they could announce a vaccine.
Their salvation turned into their damnation. Some said the vaccine had been deliberately tampered with. Others blamed improper testing. They knew only that it didn't work.
No, that wasn't true. If the goal was to ensure that people survived the flu, then it worked perfectly. People were vaccinated, they caught the virus, they died, and they rose again.
Even before they rose, though, they'd carried a virus of their own, unknowingly spreading it through lovers, drug use, and blood donations. By the time officials realized the problem, a quarter of the population was infected. After the vaccinations stopped, another quarter died from the influenza itself. Both viruses continued to spread.
That was the Great Divide. The human race sliced in two, one side fighting for supremacy, the other for survival.
How "Last Stand" differs from the typical zombie story is...well, let's just say if I tell you, then I will completely spoil the experience of reading this story. You're just going to have to trust me on this one: go order Led Astray: The Best of Kelley Armstrong from Amazon or wherever you prefer to purchase books, and read this story -- and the twenty-two others in the collection -- and be amazed. Of course, if you are already a fan of Ms. Armstrong's work then I'm not telling you anything you don't already know!

This is the table of contents as it appears in the manuscript, with the respective universes noted where applicable. Of the twenty-three included stories, two are original to this collection.

Rakshashi (standalone)
Kat (Darkest Powers universe)
A Haunted House of Her Own (standalone)
Learning Curve (Otherworld universe)
The Screams of Dragons (Cainsville universe)
The Kitsune's Nine Tales (Age of Legends universe)
Last Stand (standalone)
Bamboozled (Otherworld universe)
Branded (Otherworld universe)
The List (Otherworld universe)
Young Bloods (Otherworld universe)
The Door (standalone, original to this collection)
Dead Flowers by a Roadside (standalone)
Suffer the Children (standalone)
The Collector (standalone)
Gabriel's Gargoyles (Cainsville universe)
Harbinger (standalone)
V Plates (Otherworld universe)
Life Sentence (Otherworld universe)
Plan B (standalone)
The Hunt (Cainsville universe)
Dead to Me (standalone)
Devil May Care (Cainsville universe, original to this collection)
Seventeen of these stories have been reprinted from anthologies, so I suspect even avid readers of Kelly Armstrong's fiction will not have seen most, if not all, of these stories. So no need to purchase seventeen other volumes...you can read the best of Kelley Armstrong in Led Astray.


[1] You can read my diatribe "Doin' Hard Time at Night Shade Books," which includes a complete list of the more than 100 books I worked on during my time with the press.

[2] I just realized that I have now worked for Tachyon Publications for more years than I did Night Shade Books -- I believe my first project was in 2002; and considering it has all been contract work through the years, I have no complaints. The working relationship has been one of the best, and I hope it continues for many years to come. Led Astray is my most recent copy editing project; Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds was my most recent editorial project, which you can read about in detail here.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Links: "How to Find the Right Critique Group or Partner"

"There's an element of searching and an element of matching. You're looking for people you can share a piece of your creative self with, for people you want to spend time on, for people who can help you become a stronger writer—a tribe or community. So a good fit is important."

The above is from Brooke McIntyre, founder of Inked Voices, a site where writers workshop in small, private online groups. She has a guest blog post entitled "How to Find the Right Critique Group or Partner for You" (June 10, 2015) on JaneFriedman.com.

I have to admit, it's one of the best posts I've read in recent memory on critique/partner groups. And what makes this post even more valuable is that Ms. McIntyre links to networking opportunities, online critique sites, review communities, and more.

Here are the topics covered in the post:

A. What to Look For in a Partner or Group
1. Shared Direction, Similar Stage
2. A Workable Pace
3. People Enjoy the Writing and Feel Comfortable Critiquing It

B. So, How Do You Go About Actually Finding One of These Groups?
1. Writing Associations
2. Conferences and Retreats
3. Meetup
4. Participate in a "Mo"
5. Other Networking Opportunities
6. Online Critique Sites
7. Review Communities
8. Email and WordPress Groups

Even if you already participate in a critique group, I suspect you'll find some worthwhile tidbits in this post. So check it out on JaneFriedman.com. One caveat, however: Both Jane Friedman and Brooke McIntyre are in the editor-for-hire business (Aren't we all?) so they do tend to mention their own products when the opportunity arises.

Monday, June 8, 2015

"The pace of the novella is never less than breakneck": a review of Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds

Slow BulletsIf you are unfamiliar with the various works of author Alastair Reynolds, then Slow Bullets would be the perfect starting point. If you read Alastair Reynolds already, preferring his longer novels and series work -- still, don't deny yourself the pleasure of reading this story, as Slow Bullets has more ideas than some novels that are twice its length.

If you have any hesitations whatsoever about reading this story, read Richard Dansky's review in The Green Man Review:

Wars do not end neatly. While treaties may be signed and victories declared, there's always room around the edges and in the grey spaces away from cameras and central command for those more interested in brutality than resolution.

Such is the starting premise of Alastair Reynolds' novella Slow Bullets, which puts protagonist Scur in the entirely illegal clutches of a brutal enemy soldier. The ancient war the two have been fighting on opposite sides of is over, but on the ground that doesn't matter—Scur is captured, tortured, and left for dead with the ticking time bomb of a second "slow bullet"—a combination internal hard drive and dog tag implanted in every soldier—injected into her. Tougher than her captor thinks, Scur cuts out the second bullet, but that merely sets up the real conflict.

Scur later awakens onboard a giant transport vessel, prematurely awakened from hibernation, or so she thinks. The ship itself is in trouble, filled with a mix of war criminals, soldiers from both sides, and confused and terrified crew. It's also arrived a little late, as the green and lush planet it was supposed to arrive at after the war—now a dim and distant memory—appears to be undergoing an ice age, the sort of development that rarely occurs overnight.

The story has all the components of a classic disaster scenario, especially once Scur spots the man who captured her among the faction-riddled passengers. In lesser hands, that's perhaps what it could have been, with Scur and her nemesis pursuing each other across the wounded ship until there was some sort of climactic confrontation, preferably backlit with explosions. But Reynolds doesn't take the easy way out. Rather, the obvious conflict is contextualized, with the bigger problems—what's wrong with the ship, what can be done about it, how can groups of people for whom war is still fresh in their recently unfrozen minds be drawn to work together—taking center stage and the personal conflict viewed more as a threat to bigger, fragile solutions.

The pace of the novella is never less than breakneck, even if the incidents being discussed don't fit neatly into conventional action beats. Reynolds sketches the evolution of this unconventional, highly combustible society with a sure hand, eliding unnecessary detail while laying out the key components in stark detail. There's no wasted space here, no digressions into pointless technobabble or infodump for the sake of showing off the world building. Indeed, even the slow bullets of the title get described as much by implication as by exposition, which can lead an unwary reader to assume they've stumbled into a segment in an ongoing series. The fact that the ideas of the book are so big—the source and implications of the untimely ice age, the scale of the just-ended war, the questions of faith and memory and society that drive the action onboard ship—that it seems impossible for them to be given their due in something novella length. And yet Reynolds manages it while effortlessly sidestepping the more conventional questions one would expect him to have to answer—what happened to the ship, the larger details of the war—remain thoroughly sidelined. It is enough that things have happened, and Slow Bullets looks resolutely to the future instead of shoring up its universe's past.

At its core, Slow Bullets is a hopeful book, a cry against the darkness of seeming inevitable destruction. Scur and her shipmates, against all odds, manage to create something in the midst of a scenario primed instead for bloody destruction, and they give freely of themselves to do so. The greater good is ultimately affirmed as something worth striving and sacrificing for, even if the personal cost is high. But that doesn't mean it's a happy or cheerful book, rather just an eminently worthwhile one.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Shirley Jackson Award Nominee: The Children of Old Leech Anthology

The Children of Old Leech tpbThe Children of Old Leech was the brainchild of editors Ross E. Lockhart and Justin Steele, and published in hardcover by Word Horde in July 2014 (and recently reprinted in trade paperback). The subtitle to this anthology is the key to its content: "A Tribute to the Carnivorous Cosmos of Laird Barron" -- stories written in the worlds and playgrounds of dark fantasy/horror author Laird Barron.

When I wrote about my work on TCoOL (April 14, 2014, blog post), I stated (and I quote): "I am confident that some of these stories will make their way onto the list of finalists for next year's Bram Stoker Awards and/or World Fantasy Awards." What I hadn't anticipated at the time was that the anthology itself would be nominated for the Shirley Jackson Award. My congratulations to all the 2014 Shirley Jackson Award nominees; you can read the list of all the finalists, and categories, on ShirleyJacksonAwards.org.

As I said, TCoOL was originally published in a hardcover edition. In fact, if you ordered the book direct from Word Horde prior to publication -- and were willing to spend a few bucks more -- you would have scored the deluxe edition, which came with a limited edition goodie (July 5, 2014, blog post). Which brings me to the fact that if you read -- and collect -- quality fiction, particularly dark fantasy and horror, then follow, friend, and stalk Word Horde because you'll want to get in on any future deluxe editions the press publishes.

Here is the contents list for The Children of Old Leech:
Introduction: Of Whisky and Doppelgängers — Justin Steele
The Harrow — Gemma Files
Pale Apostle — J. T. Glover & Jesse Bullington
Walpurgisnacht — Orrin Grey
Learn to Kill — Michael Cisco
Good Lord, Show Me the Way — Molly Tanzer
Snake Wine — Jeffrey Thomas
Love Songs from the Hydrogen Jukebox — T.E. Grau
The Old Pageant — Richard Gavin
Notes for "The Barn in the Wild" — Paul Tremblay
Firedancing — Michael Griffin
The Golden Stars at Night — Allyson Bird
The Last Crossroads on a Calendar of
  Yesterdays — Joseph S. Pulver, Sr.
The Woman in the Wood — Daniel Mills
Brushdogs — Stephen Graham Jones
Ymir — John Langan
Of a Thousand Cuts — Cody Goodfellow
Tenebrionidae — Scott Nicolay & Jesse James Douthit-Nicolay
Afterword — Ross E. Lockhart

As part of the promotion for TCoOL, Word Horde published mini excerpts from each of the stories over a span of several weeks. The first story excerpt is "The Harrow" by Gemma Files; at the bottom of the page you will find a link to the next story excerpt, and so on, through the entire contents list. So if you are unfamiliar with this anthology, then take advantage of these mini excerpts and give them a read.

Lockhart and Steele collect 17 original stories from some of the shining stars of modern horror, constructing a worm-riddled literary playground from elements of the fiction of horror maestro Laird Barron. The results come across with a coherent feeling of dread, without feeling derivative of the source. The Broken Ouroboros comes up in an academic study of a rural cult in Molly Tanzer's "Good Lord, Show Me the Way." The worms crawl in as tiny silkworms in J. T. Glover and Jesse Bullington's "Pale Apostle." Old Leech appears in the context of a hippie revival retreat in T.E. Grau's "Love Songs from the Hydrogen Jukebox." In Joseph S. Pulver, Sr.'s "The Last Crossroads on a Calendar of Yesterdays," the pages of the Black Guide become material for a golem built by a Jewish man driven insane from a childhood witnessing Nazi magic. A doppelganger of Barron himself features in a wonderfully creepy introduction by Steele. Hopefully Barron will enjoy this tribute; his fans certainly will. (July)
Publishers Weekly, 05/19/2014

The 2014 Shirley Jackson Awards will be presented on Sunday, July 12, 2015, at Readercon 26, in Burlington, Massachusetts.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Alastair Reynolds on the Genesis of his story Slow Bullets

Slow BulletsJust the other day...well, actually, three days ago...I posted that the new novella by Alastair Reynolds -- Slow Bullets -- was now available for purchase. (The ebook should be available tomorrow, June 2, on Amazon, according to publisher Tachyon Publications.)

As I've previously written (here and here), I first approached Al Reynolds about a novella for Tachyon Publications in April 2013. And now, just a bit over two years later, Slow Bullets has been published. The book itself didn't really take two years: Al had to first write the story, then the story had to be accepted and agreements signed, and then the work on editing and publishing the story begun. What I didn't know, until yesterday, is that this story had actually been in process, so to speak, for years.

On his blog Approaching Pavonis Mons by balloon, the author explains how two completely separate story ideas that had been gestating for years finally came together to form Slow Bullets.