Lesbian gothic horror “A Human Stain” at Tor.com At Locus, Paula Guran said, “…this spellbinding gothic novelette’s graceful writing and superlative atmosphere of dread alone are more than enough to commend it.” (10,000 words)
Far future SF “We Who Live in the Heart” at Clarkesworld Gardner Dozois said, “The worldbuilding
here is fascinating, as is the intricately
worked-out detail of how the living ‘‘submarines’’
function and how it would be possible,
to some degree at least, to control them, but the
human relationships among the crew are equally
complicated and equally compelling. By the end,
the story has generated a great deal of suspense…” (15,000 words)
I definitely think of myself as someone who writes short, not long, but these pieces pack a lot of story into the wordcount.
Also, both stories happen to feature lesbians. I didn’t plan that, but it’s kind of awesome.
Usually, I don’t do a recommendations post. I just tweet about good stories throughout the year, and add my recommendations to the SFWA Suggested Reading lists.
However, I’m compelled to super-push two works. First, Annalee Newitz’s novel Autonomous, because it’s just freaking spectacular (AND a lot of fun). I loved it so much. It’s got my vote for best novel of the year.
Second, please read and nominate K.M. Szpara’s terrific novelette “Small Changes over Long Periods of Time.” This is brave, bravura work and deserves to be recognized as one of the best stories of the year.
In December, when I was making my writing plans for this year, I vowed to write five 5,000 word stories. You see, I’d just finished a very long novella (Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach — coming in March!) and I was itching to write shorter. I had all five planned out. So, it’s September. How have I done with that goal?
Revised Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach twice (no small task)
Planned a sequel: Time, Trouble, and the Lucky Peach (will be so much fun!)
Planned a book I’m dying to write (even more fun!)
Planned three more short stories in the series of five I’m currently obsessed with
When I look at this list, I feel pretty darn productive. Also super excited about writing these things.
And in case that looks just too virtuous, I also started and gave up on a story that just wasn’t giving me joy. And that’s okay! Not all ideas work out and not all are worth the time it takes to make them click.
My time travel novella Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach is ready for preorder! The release date is March 13, 2018 in both trade paperback and ebook. Pre-orders matter, so if you’re inclined, please do!
Check out these amazing blurbs! How could anyone resist?
“Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach is a tour-de-force, with nuanced characters in a masterfully conceived world of stunning, mind-bending eco-tech. Absolutely brilliant storytelling. I didn’t want it to end.” ―Annalee Newitz, co-founder of io9 and author of Autonomous
“The far future, the distant past. Time travel, bioengineering, office politics ― and ecological consulting. How could I not love this?” ―Peter Watts, author of Echopraxia
“A necessary meditation on the nature of change and the sacrifice required to manifest it, Robson’s novella pulls no punches, spares no rods, and leaves no idea unexamined.” ―Madeline Ashby, author of Company Town
And here’s the cover copy:
Experience this far-reaching, mind-bending science fiction adventure that uses time travel to merge climate fiction with historical fantasy. From Kelly Robson, Aurora Award winner, Campbell, Nebula, and Theodore Sturgeon finalist, and author of Waters of Versailles
Discover a shifting history of adventure as humanity clashes over whether to repair their ruined planet or luxuriate in a less tainted past.
In 2267, Earth has just begun to recover from worldwide ecological disasters. Minh is part of the generation that first moved back up to the surface of the Earth from the underground hells, to reclaim humanity’s ancestral habitat. She’s spent her entire life restoring river ecosystems, but lately the kind of long-term restoration projects Minh works on have been stalled due to the invention of time travel. When she gets the opportunity take a team to 2000 BC to survey the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, she jumps at the chance to uncover the secrets of the shadowy think tank that controls time travel technology.
So why not make it a novel? That’s what everyone said when I told them the first draft was 50,000 words! But it’s not quite that simple. To make it a novel, the story would have to be a lot bigger. This is a tight novella-sized concept.
But it’s going to be an actual book? Yes! An actual physical book with gorgeous cover art (which should be revealed sometime in the fall). Which means I get to include a dedication, acknowledgements, and all that real book stuff.
What’s it about? A fluvial geomorphologist, a gay veterinarian, and a research assistant walk into a bar…
No, wait. Here’s the elevator pitch:
In 2267, Earth has just begun to recover from a mass extinction event, but the invention of time travel by secretive think tank TERN has blocked the flow of funding for long-term ecological restoration projects. Minh, an elderly fluvial geomorphologist, has spent her entire life working to restore ecosystems, and she’s enraged at having her life’s work disrupted by the illusion of quick-fix solutions to the world’s problems. When Minh gets the opportunity take a team to 2000 BC to conduct a past-state assessment of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, she jumps at the chance to uncover TERN’s secrets.
Why did you decide to write about this? I’ve worked in professional services firms for most of my life, and I’ve learned that takes an incredible amount of effort to get humans to work together.
Inthis novella, the world economy is designed around the idea that the only thing of value is a person’s time. The basic economic unit is the billable hour. Natural resources have no value because everything, including food, can be fabricated at the atomic level. Labor is done by robots. If you don’t like the standard of life where you’re living, everyone has the basic human right to take their projected billable hours elsewhere – basically vote with their feet.
I call this the Transparent Economy, where all transactions are measured and tracked. This is the same economic system I use in my Clarkesworld novelette “We Who Live in the Heart,” which is set on a distant planet 600 years in the future. I’m currently working on another story set in Toronto in the near future, which deals with the origin of this system.
This is a utopia, right? Definitely not. The Transparent Economy has some definite drawbacks. One is a lack of privacy. Another is the simple fact that the world has humans in it. Even if we had a utopia, we’d find ways to make drama.
But nobody has to work, right? Hah! Computers, robots, and databases will never be able to do everything. Plus, many people like to work. I think a major contributing factor to happiness is knowing your time is well spent and valued by others.
How does the time travel fit into all this? Time travel is a big complication. It was invented about ten years before the story begins.
Are there paradoxes? No! I don’t care for time travel paradoxes. I think there’s tons of drama to be had from the simple fact of time travel being possible.
So how does your time travel work? Every writer designs their time travel physics to suit the kinds of stories they like to tell. Mine is specifically set up to be essentially useless – it can’t be used to change anything. You can go to the past, do whatever you like, and come home, but you can’t stay there. And once you’ve returned home, you can’t revisit the same past timeline you visited before. Each trip is to a fresh timeline. There’s no way to build on anything you do in the past.
I wanted to explore how time travel with no consequences can be a big problem and people can still get themselves in HUGE trouble with it even when, on a basic level, it’s only good for tourism.
And historical research. Oh yes, lots of historical research! And ecological research too. And a lot of other things — but it’s especially good for getting yourself into trouble.
2016 was a terrific year for me, filled with travel, excitement, and personal and professional triumph. 2016 has another face, of course, and it’s not pretty. However, I won’t rail against its injustices here. I’m just going to focus on the personal stuff.
Let’s count in fives: In 2016 I had stories in five year’s bests and was a finalist for five awards. Five by five. To keep up the pattern, my plan for 2017 is to write five 5000-word stories. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s run it down:
Five Year’s Bests
Three of my stories were reprinted in year’s best anthologies edited by Jonathan Strahan, Gardner Dozois, Paula Guran, Neil Clarke, and Alan Kaster. The copies make a nice tall tower on my dresser. I’m extremely proud so many editors thought well of my work and can only hope to have such a successful year again.
Five Award Nominations
I was nominated for the Nebula Award, the Aurora Award, the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, the Sunburst Award, and the World Fantasy Award. I want to give a few details about these awards because nobody ever says much about what it’s like to be an award finalist. Superstition, perhaps? I can understand that, but people want to know how I found out, what I felt, what happened. So here are my impressions.
How I found out: SFWA Director of Operations Kate Baker, who is a total doll, phoned me to ask if I would accept the nomination. This was delicious because I got to squeal at her and get virtual hugs over the phone. So if you think you might get a nomination, pick up all phone calls from mysterious numbers in February.
What the award ceremony was like: Total glam-fest multi-day celebration. The SFWA Nebula Conference is a glorious event and SFWA makes you feel like a star.
Finalist swag: Nebula nominee pin and certificate, also ribbon for conference badge.
How I felt when the results hit: About 15 seconds of disappointment for myself, and slightly longer disappointment that my friends didn’t win either. But I was live-tweeting the results so I was more concerned that I spelled winner Nnedi Okorafor’s name right. She’s an amazing writer and if you haven’t read her Nebula-winning BINTI, you should.
How I found out: Alyx and I were on vacation in London when we got the emails from the award committee. Very excited that we were both nominated!
What the award ceremony was like: We didn’t get to go, but it was in Calgary my brother went in our place and had a great time.
Finalist swag: As with the Nebula, nominees get lovely pins.
How I felt when the results hit: Alyx and I found out we both won via Twitter, in quick succession, and then shortly after, via text and photos from my brother. We were really sad we couldn’t have attended in person especially since so many friends were at the ceremony.
Our twin trophies are proudly displayed in our living room. So pretty!
Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award
How I found out: Kij Johnson sent a lovely email with congratulations, checking to see if I would accept the nomination, which of course I did.
How I felt when the results hit: I ran into friend and fellow finalist E.J. Fischer before the event. When I congratulated him, he said, “Oh, didn’t you know? Kelly Link won.” Apparently this info was printed on the event posters. That was a bit of a let down, especially since Alyx and I had been traveling all day to get to the event.
Kelly Link winning is hardly unexpected because she is a goddess. However, it turned out during the ceremony that E.J. was runner-up, so that was a surprise and very nice because he’s wonderful and so is his work. I love it when my friends are rewarded for their genius!
How I found out: The committee posted the long list on their site, and then the short list a few months later.
How I felt when the results hit: About 20 seconds of disappointment. I was hoping for this one, especially since it brings actual award money. Maybe another year, if I’m lucky.
World Fantasy Award
How I found out: I looked at Twitter and had a zillion notifications. Unexpected and a fun way to find out!
What the award ceremony was like: Unfortunately I couldn’t go to WFC. We’d planned to go but had to change our plans to make a trip to visit family instead.
How I felt when the results hit: About 2 minutes of disappointment. I was rooting for Usman Malik and really thought he would win.
I can say with a great deal of confidence that being an award finalist is pretty darn nice. Part of the excitement and fun is juggling the social media with congratulations flowing in from all directions. It’s a true adrenaline hit!
What could have been…
Apparently without puppy business, I might have had been Campbell finalist, too. That would have been nice but I can live without it.
What have you done for me lately?
It looks like I’ve been slacking because 2016 publications are thin on the ground. I’ve been hard at it, though. Here’s what I did in 2016:
Extensive revisions to my lesbian gothic horror novelette “A Human Stain,” which appears at Tor.com on January 4, 2017. Ellen Datlow put me through five rewrites for this one! Not complaining. The story needed it. (See, though, the continuing pattern of fives?)
Ellen Kushner asked me to write a Tremontaine tie-in story and I was thrilled to do it. “The Eye of the Swan” appeared on Tor.com in October 2016.
And finally, I finished the long novella (39,700 words) that I’ve been working on since summer 2015. It’s a time travel story tentatively titled “Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach.” I’m hoping it’ll find a home soon.
And in 2017?
After spending more than a year writing my time travel novella, I’m desperate to work on shorter pieces. My plan for 2017 is to write five 5000-word stories. I’ve got them all planned out.
I’m at Boskone for the weekend. I’m not on the programming, but just here to hang out and have fun. I’ll see some delicious friends and mentors.
Though I haven’t updated this blog in a while, I haven’t been idle. I’ve been running hard to finish a time travel novella. It’s going long. Will probably end up around 40K words. Yikes.
Some people can write a story in a weekend but I certainly can’t. This particular story has been a lengthy process even though I’ve had the concept beginning-middle-end from the start. I never write a story without knowing where it’s going, but it’s the bits in between that are difficult. I want it to feel authentic, so I’m being very careful. If I go too fast, I’ll only create problems that will be difficult to fix in revision. I can only hope that in the end it’ll be worth the effort. Whether it’ll be marketable or not, I leave that up to the gods. In this case, the ancient Sumerian gods Enki and Inanna.
Last year was such an amazing year — in 2015 all my dreams came true. My first publication at Clarkesworld in February, closely followed by an anthology, then Asimov’s, then Tor.com, then another anthology. My work has enjoyed an enthusiastic reception, with three stories appearing on the Locus Recommended Reading list and five stories chosen for year’s best anthologies. I’m eager to get more stories out into the world, but that simply can’t be rushed.
I do have one story out to market right now and I’m hoping to hear a yea or nay soon from the editor who has it in hand. I don’t know if it’s exactly the right story to follow up this amazing year for a few reasons — not the least because I’d rather follow up 2015 with a story that knocks people’s hats off. Not sure this little horror story has that quality. I wrote myself into some difficult corners with it (probably because I tried to rush the first draft) and have been working with the editor on revisions. It’s been a good learning process. Now I know that for me, forcing a draft to completion just causes intractable story problems.
So back to the novella for me! Onward, forward, and ahead! All that matters are the words!
A few days ago on his Facebook page, Gardner Dozois posted the Table of Contents for his upcoming Year’s Best Science Fiction, Thirty-third Annual Collection. The anthology will be available next July, and is already available for pre-order on Amazon.
The TOC includes a story of mine. I’d be thrilled about this under any circumstances, but it turns out the story he chose is my very first published story, The Three Resurrections of Jessica Churchill, which appeared in Clarkesworld this past February. Hitting Gardner’s Year’s Best with a first published story feels — well, there are no words. Peter Watts reminded me a few days ago, however, that it’s all downhill from here. I could only laugh and agree with him. Peter is the happiest cynic I know.
Here are the stories appearing in the anthology. The list is in no particular order. I’m definitely the most junior writer in the bunch, though by no means the youngest. And look: Aliette de Bodard has two stories here. Nice!
It’s been an eventful month! My novella Waters of Versailles came out at Tor.com and as an ebook on June 10th. The August Asimov’s with my story Two-Year Man hit in ebook format on July 1, with the hard copy magazine released to newsstands just yesterday. And tomorrow Alyx and I leave for Readercon!
When Alyx and I moved to Toronto two years ago, one of the changes that most excited us was the easy access to the big East Coast SF conventions. This will be the first time we’ve taken advantage of our new location. I hear so many good things about Readercon, and can’t wait to discover it for myself.
After the con, we’re taking a couple of vacation days in Boston. There’s nothing we like better than exploring a new city. Many photos will be taken.
“Very funny, witty, dark, kind of sexy story…
Wonderful, beautifully written, very funny, some great smutty scenes as well, and lovely social detail…
Gorgeous complicated novella, so nice to read. Highly recommended.”
In the podcast, Tansy also mentions that she fell in love with the art Kathleen Jennings created for the novella, and hadn’t actually realized it was cover art. When Kathleen made the piece available at Redbubble, Tansy bought several items and then was surprised to come across the art at Tor.com. She probably wouldn’t have read the story otherwise, so I’m double grateful for the wonderful cover Kathleen created.
When something bad happens, people who are otherwise reasonable and kind humans will say terrible things like, “In the end it’ll all be for the best,” “This will turn out to be a great opportunity,” or “When one door closes another door opens.”
It’s really quite unforgivable, isn’t it?
Too bad it’s often quite true.
It was April 1, 2013. I had been working for an architectural firm, doing great work, putting my heart and soul into my dream job. I had no idea that the axe was overhead until they called me into the boardroom. I was laid off along with about a half dozen of my co-workers. (Architects shed staff like fleas, by the way. Don’t work for architects unless you know this.)
I was devastated. Of course I was. And on April Fools Day, too.
I was also scared. You see, I’m the major breadwinner in our family. My darling Alyx has a couple part time gigs in addition to writing but I’m the bacon-bringer, the meat in the sandwich, the mortgage-payer. Without my paycheck, we’re utterly screwed.
So, yes, scared. Shitless.
What did I do? I cried a lot, then picked it all up and started looking for work. And I also started redrafting, from scratch, a story that had been emphatically not working. I pulled out a great piece of advice from the brilliant Steven Barnes (which I’ve blogged about here), put it down on the table, and started again.
Six weeks later, Alyx and I had sold our Vancouver condo and moved to Toronto. I got a new job, new city, new horizons to explore. And I was drafting a story that was, bit-by-bit and slowly-so-slowly, teaching me how to write. Finally, after years of desperately trying to learn to write while everything was comfortable and stable, at a time of great personal stress and upheaval I was able to figure out some of the skills I knew I’d been missing.
So this is how getting laid off — which probably ranks as #5 on the list of worst things that have happened to me in my adult life — gave me Sylvain, and the little fish, Annette, Gérard, a parrot, and a monkey, and a colorful Versailles that still leaps off the page into my mind. It gave me my first big-time professional sale, to the best-paying, most prestigious market in the SF field, to an editor I’ve admired since the 1980s, Ellen Datlow.
I’m not the kind to forgive and forget. I’m not that easy-going. But the memory of getting laid off doesn’t hurt anymore. In fact, I might actually be grateful for it.
Read the story that makes legendary editor Ellen Datlow cry every time she reads it! Read the story that Tor Associate Editor Irene Gallo had to stop reading on the subway because it was too darn steamy!
The following is the novella’s first scene. It starts with a bang (ha ha, sorry, couldn’t resist), so depending on how much steam you can take, you may want to avoid reading it on the subway, or at work.
Waters of Versailles – Excerpt
Sylvain had just pulled up Annette’s skirts when the drips started. The first one landed on her wig, displacing a puff of rose-pink powder. Sylvain ignored it and leaned Annette back on the sofa. Her breath sharpened to gasps that blew more powder from her wig. Her thighs were cool and slightly damp—perhaps her arousal wasn’t feigned after all, Sylvain thought, and reapplied himself to nuzzling her throat.
After two winters at Versailles, Sylvain was well acquainted with the general passion for powder. Every courtier had bowls and bins of the stuff in every color and scent. In addition to the pink hair powder, Annette had golden powder on her face and lavender at her throat and cleavage. There would be more varieties lower down. He would investigate that in time.
The second drip landed on the tip of her nose. Sylvain flicked it away with his tongue.
Annette giggled. “Your pipes are weeping, monsieur.”
“It’s nothing,” he said, nipping at her throat. The drips were just condensation. An annoyance, but unavoidable when cold pipes hung above overheated rooms.
The sofa squeaked as he leaned in with his full weight. It was a delicate fantasy of gilt and satin, hardly large enough for the two of them, and he was prepared to give it a beating.
Annette moaned as he bore down on her. She was far more entertaining than he had expected, supple and slick. Her gasps were genuine now, there was no doubt, and she yanked at his shirt with surprising strength.
A drip splashed on the back of his neck, and another a few moments later. He had Annette abandoned now, making little animal noises in the back of her throat as he drove into her. Another drip rolled off his wig, down his cheek, over his nose. He glanced overhead and a battery of drips hit his cheek, each bigger than the last.
This was a problem. The pipes above were part of the new run supporting connections to the suites of two influential men and at least a dozen rich ones. His workmen had installed the pipes just after Christmas. Even if they had done a poor job, leaks weren’t possible. He had made sure of it.
He gathered Annette in his arms and shoved her farther down the sofa, leaving the drips to land on the upholstery instead of his head. He craned his neck, trying to get a view of the ceiling. Annette groaned in protest and clutched his hips.
The drips fell from a join, quick as tears. Something was wrong in the cisterns. He would have to speak with Leblanc immediately.
“Sylvain?” Annette’s voice was strained.
It could wait. He had a reputation to maintain, and performing well here was as critical to his fortunes as all the water flowing through Versailles.
He dove back into her, moving up to a galloping pace as drips pattered on his neck. He had been waiting months for this. He ought to have been losing himself in Annette’s flounced and beribboned flesh, the rouged nipples peeking from her bodice, her flushed pout and helplessly bucking hips, but instead his mind wandered the palace. Were there floods under every join?
Instead of dampening his performance, the growing distraction lengthened it. When he was finally done with her, Annette was completely disheveled, powder blotched, rouge smeared, wig askew, face flushed as a dairy maid’s.
Annette squeezed a lock of his wig and caressed his cheek with a water-slick palm.
“You are undone, I think, monsieur.”
He stood and quickly ordered his clothes. The wig was wet, yes, even soaked. So was his collar and back of his coat. A quick glance in a gilded mirror confirmed he looked greasy as a peasant, as if he’d been toiling at harvest instead of concluding a long-planned and skillful seduction—a seduction that required a graceful exit, not a mad dash out the door to search the palace for floods.
Annette was pleased—more than pleased despite the mess he’d made of her. She looked like a cat cleaning cream off its whiskers as she dabbed her neck with a powder puff, ignoring the drips pattering beside her. The soaked sofa leached dye onto the cream carpet. Annette dragged the toe of her silk slipper through the stained puddle.
“If this is not the only drip, monsieur, you may have a problem or two.”
“It is possible,” Sylvain agreed, dredging up a smile. He leaned in and kissed the tips of her fingers one at a time until she waved him away.
He would have to clean up before searching for Leblanc, and he would look like a fool all the way up to his apartment.
At least the gossips listening at the door would have an enduring tale to tell.
End of scene 1.
The rest of the story is coming first thing Wednesday!