Tag Archives: sunny moraine

An Interview with Sunny Moraine

A few years back, I interviewed Sunny Moraine about their novel Line and Orbit. Sunny was kind enough to come back today to talk about their new serial fiction podcast, Gone. If you dig Gone (and why wouldn’t you?), consider supporting Sunny on Patreon so they can continue creating it. Now, to get things started, I’ll make introductions by way of shamelessly stealing from Sunny’s author bio…

Sunny Moraine’s short fiction has appeared in Tor.com, Strange Horizons, Nightmare, Lightspeed, and multiple Year’s Best anthologies, among other places. They are also responsible for the Root Code and Casting the Bones trilogies and their debut short fiction collection Singing With All My Skin and Bone is available from Undertow Publications. In addition to time spent authoring, Sunny is a doctoral candidate in sociology and a sometime college instructor. They unfortunately live just outside Washington, DC, in a creepy house with two cats and a very long-suffering husband.

GoneWelcome back! Gone just released its mid-season finale. Without giving too much away, can you give folks who may not be caught up yet a taste of what Gone is about? And for those who are in the know, any non-spoilery hints about what the future holds?

Gone starts with a relatively simple premise: you wake up one morning and everyone has vanished, leaving no trace or clue regarding what happened or where they went. My unnamed protagonist goes from there, initially trying to answer the most basic question of where everyone is, but things quickly get a lot weirder and far more troubling questions begin to assert themselves. Including the one I think most of us would be asking: “Is this even happening at all?”

Halfway through the season it’s turned into a story about mental illness and the terror of isolation and the fearful damage of deeply repressed anger. It’s also a twisted kind of love story (this is where I think the influence of Alice Isn’t Dead is most apparent) between two women, a romance which has been happy and healthy on the surface while resentment and lies seethe beneath. At heart it’s a story about things breaking down and falling apart: lives, relationships, one’s grip on reality and perhaps reality itself. It’s a very personal story and a lot of my own baggage is in it. Which is true of most of my work.

The future? I’m both excited by and nervous about the future. I can reveal that the second half of the season is going to be much darker – figuratively and literally – and some fairly awful things are going to happen, including one scene that I’m especially nervous about because of the subject matter, which hopefully I’ll pull off okay. I don’t think things are going to tie themselves up neatly in the end, but I almost never end stories that way anyway. Nevertheless, I’m aiming to make the ending a real conclusion that ideally at least somewhat satisfies. Although not all the questions will be answered, many will be.

I promise she won’t turn out to be in Purgatory. Or Heaven, or Hell, or any iteration of any afterlife. I won’t hurt anyone else the way Lost hurt me.

Something that I said in the intro to the midseason finale is that this is actually a much larger universe than it seems right now (about which I don’t know a huge amount and would like to find out). I’m not sure how much of that universe I’ll be able to explore in the next five or six (six maximum) episodes, but it is out there, and while I’m envisioning this season as a single self-contained narrative that can stand on its own, I’m also consciously developing it in a way that could be an establishing point for a second season. That’ll depend almost entirely on the reception the rest of the season gets; if the demand is there, I’ll try to make it happen. In any case, there’s the possibility.

You’re essentially a one-person production team, and you’ve written a bit about your process on your blog. One of the things that surprised me is how much room for improvisation you leave yourself. What is your actual, physical process like when you sit down to record? What do you have with you in terms of notes, cues to yourself, or points you know you need to hit in each episode? Have you ever gone back to re-record sections after something unexpected came up that pushed the plot in a different direction, or do you simply go forward from where the new twist in the story takes you?

Very little of what someone hears is directly scripted, yeah, although the Interludes are all written beforehand. For the main episodes I draw up an extremely rough sketch of an episode, with a few “talking points” for each scene, but otherwise I just sit down in front of my cheap little mic and improvise with one eye on my outline. I feel like it helps with the acting, and it makes it easier for me to get fluidly into this character’s head. I actually haven’t had to re-record much; I edit things, cut out longer pauses and lines that I don’t think work, but for the most part I get the lion’s share in a single take.

The overall plot for the rest of the season is fairly set, but I’ve left some flexibility for things to take the natural turns they want to (which is also how I write my other fiction). So for the most part, when something new pops up, I have room to let it run. I’ve also had to shift scenes around here and there in my outline when I realized they might have to happen sooner or later than I thought.

On a related note, what has been most surprising to you in terms of what you originally envisioned for the story, versus where it’s ended up so far? (If you can answer without giving too much away that is.)

The plot hasn’t really surprised me; it’s the details that have revealed themselves as I go. I had only a basic grasp of this character when I started recording the first episode; she’s taught me about herself as the story has unfolded. Though again, none of that has been exactly surprising, because the framework for her character was always there and I knew the outlines of who she was, but it’s been great to chip away at the marble and watch the details of the sculpture appear.

I think what’s been most surprising to me is actually just how well it’s held together so far. I’m obviously nervous about that suddenly not being the case, and it’s clearly not a perfect story because very few stories are, but in general, considering that I’ve never done this before (with the exception of my other podcast, Keep Singing, which is purely a fandom deal), the whole thing has been kind of a pleasant surprise.

In the same post where you discussed process, you talked a bit about drawing inspiration from classic audio dramas like The Shadow, as well as recent podcasts like Alice Isn’t Dead. One of the things that’s always fascinated me about the audio dramas is the foley work. How do you handle sound effects for Gone? Have you used any household items in unconventional ways to create the audio effects? Has any of your audio work caused undue alarm among neighbors, pets, or passersby those who may not be aware you’re recording an audio drama?

Oh, man. Yeah, it’s been an interesting experience, especially given that I have no budget or formal training in any of this, and my “recording studio” is a home office with tile floors and mostly bare walls. That obviously works okay for stuff that’s technically supposed to be recorded in someone’s echoey home office, and that’s one reason why I lean a lot on that setting, but for scenes set elsewhere, I have to get creative. So far the best solution I’ve come up with for that is recording with a literal quilt over my head and the mic to dampen the echo. I have to hold very still to minimize the rustling. It’s not perfect but I think it works better than I would have expected.

For sound effects, I make heavy use of a site called Freesound.org, which is an excellent archive of Creative Commons licensed sound effects. The quality is a somewhat mixed bag but so far I’ve found enough good stuff to do what I want to do. But using imported sound effects takes a fair amount of precise work – I often do a lot of editing and move smaller bits of them around – so I try to do in-“studio” foley when I can. When the protagonist is flipping through a book, I’m flipping through a book. When she runs into the hall, I’m running into the hall. I actually threw myself and a bunch of stuff on the floor for a scene in the second episode; the pain you hear there is real (I wanted it to be; I suffer for my art).

The most recent episode involved some screaming; I closed up the house, put the quilt over my head, and prayed no one would call the cops. It’s not the last time I’ll need to scream, either, so it could yet happen.

I have badly startled my cats on more than one occasion.

As mentioned, you’re a one-person production team. Do you think you might ever expand to include additional voices?

I’ve been thinking about that a good bit, especially as I look forward to the possibility of a second season. I’d like to, with another project if not with this one, but I think I would have to adjust my working style somewhat and write real lines, given how much of what I do is unscripted. That or find a truly gelling improv partner. I’m also not sure about how to handle the logistics of recording multiple voices, especially if I’m dealing with geographically distributed people, but hey, I could learn. I’ve taught myself how to do this much.

In addition to being a podcaster, you’re also a novelist, and a prolific author of short fiction. What else do you have coming up, or in progress that you’d like people to know about?

I have a story forthcoming in Uncanny Magazine – not sure exactly when – about two women who forge an intense and violent romantic relationship owing to their shared superpower: they can cause enormous destruction when they’re in pain. I’m very proud of it and very excited to share it with the world.

Besides that, I’m in the final stages of editing a novel called LINEAGE which will be released hopefully sometime in the first part of next year from Riptide Publishing. It’s a work of science fantasy set in the same universe as the ROOT CODE books, about a trans man who (along with the girl on whom he has a tremendous and tremendously awkward crush) crashlands on a strange planet and must try to survive caught between an isolated band of survivors and their nemesis, who is a gigantic sentient plant-mass.

Finally, I’m in the early development stages of another podcast with my sister, Emma Phipps. The working title is “Drinks and Thinks”, and the premise is that we drink a different specific brand of liquor per episode while we ramble on some topic of mutual interest. I have no idea how well this would/will work but it seems like it might be fun.

That all sounds amazing and I can’t wait to read and listen! Thank you so much for stopping by!

Thank you so much for having me!

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Summer Book Love 2016

Summer is upon us. With the exception of the occasional minor drop in temperature, the days are full of warm weather and sunshine, at least in these parts. Since it stays light so much longer, there are extra hours to sit outside and read. Whether you’re on a porch swing, sipping a cool drink while the bees bumble lazily by, or stretched out on a beach towel listening to the surf crash, summer is a glorious time to get lost in a book. Of course, to be fair, any season is a glorious time to get lost in a book. Anyway, regardless of season, here are a few recent books I’ve thoroughly enjoyed and perhaps you might enjoy them, too.

Kraken SeaSince 2004, E. Catherine Tobler has been spinning incredible tales of Jackson’s Unreal Circus and Mobile Marmalade. Now, with The Kraken Sea, published by Apex Books, readers can go back to the beginning and see where it all began. As an infant, Jackson was left in a daffodil box at the steps of an orphanage. As a young man, he boards a train, bound for Chicago and a new life, along with several other orphans. Jackson isn’t like the other children, however. There’s something inside him, something terrible and powerful and wonderful. He struggles to keep it hidden, but sometimes he can’t help himself. He unfolds, and scales and tentacles burst forth from human skin. As he struggles to control his nature, Jackson is thrust into his new life as an errand boy at Macquarie’s  working for Cressida, an imposing woman who runs a good portion of the town. There are shadows at Macquarie’s, things Jackson may or may not be meant to see, and questions he certainly shouldn’t ask. He’s mean to do his job, keep his head down, and stay out of the neighboring territory run by the Bell family. Of course, he does none of those things, particularly after he meets Mae, the youngest of the Bell children, a lion tamer in a burlesque show that is at once fantastic, terrifying, and brutal. Jackson finds himself drawn deeper into the intrigue between the rivals who run the city, and the darkness that runs under it. Like Jackson himself, there are things hidden beneath the city’s skin, waiting to burst free, and nothing is what it seems. The Kraken Sea is a gorgeous novel, alive with sensory detail, and imagery that will steal your breath away. There is darkness under every glittering surface, but a darkness that begs to be explored. While the Kraken Sea stands alone, it hints at a larger world, at Jackson’s future, and the many dimensions of his character and his story. It’s a novel about love and family, loss and pain, and finding a place in the world. And, of course, binding everything, Tobler offers up the first tantalizing glimpses of her circus, calling you to run away and partake of its wonders.

Spells of Blood and KinI first encountered Claire Humphrey’s Spells of Blood and Kin by hearing her read an excerpt at Readercon, and I was immediately hooked. Spells of Blood and Kin is a werewolf novel, except it isn’t at all, and it’s so much more. The word werewolf is never once mentioned, leaving room for everything else Humphrey weaves into the story. There’s Russian folklore, magic, and witches, but in its deepest heart of hearts, it’s a story about family – the one you find, the one you make, and the one you’re born into. As the story opens, Lissa is dealing with the sudden death of her grandmother. Lissa’s grandmother provided spells, cures, and healing for the local Russian community, and now Lissa must take on her role, while trying to maintain the semblance of a normal life and not let anyone know she’s a witch. This complicated by her stepsister, Julia, showing up out of the blue, determined to help Lissa because family – no matter how distant – needs to stick together. Even further complicating things, a man named Maksim comes to Lissa, claiming her grandmother knew him and owed him a debt. He says he is kin, but explains very little other than that he needs very powerful magic to control a dark and violent aspect of himself that her grandmother’s magic helped keep dormant. The their stories run in parallel  – Lissa working to find a magic strong enough to put the wolf in Maksim back to sleep, while Maksim works to track down, tame, and train Nick, a young man he bit and accidentally turned – and of course, they eventually collide. As the title implies, the themes of kinship and blood echo throughout the novel. In Maksim’s case, family is those with whom he shares the horror of an existence tied to violence and pain. Before accidentally turned Nick, he purposely turned Gus, a young woman who would have died without his his intervention. They are pack, a family, dealing with their violent nature by turning their brutality against each other, rather than hurting someone they could actually break. Rather than romanticizing the animal nature of the kin, in Maksim Humphrey gives us a character who is truly haunted by his past actions, physically pained by his drive to hurt others, and desperate to shed that part of himself. In fact, all the characters in Spells of Blood and Kin have aspects of themselves they would rather keep hidden, from what they see as necessity, but they must learn to trust each other – something which is not easy for any of them. Humphrey flips several tropes in her characterization, which is another of the novel’s strengths. Despite her role as a healer, Lissa is one of the most closed off characters. Instead of being nurturing and drawn to others, she does her best to isolate herself. Maksim, a former soldier and a boxer, wants nothing more than to shed the violence of his past, while Gus embraces the freedom that comes with being kin. She tempers it with alcohol and fighting, she knows her limits and how to exercise self-control, but she has no interest in denying or burying the animal part of her. Nick starts as seemingly harmless, a slacker, but once he’s bitten he embraces the wrong parts of being kin. He tries to control those around him using his new superior strength. His life before being bitten was stagnant; as change is forced upon him, and he uses that change to try to resist the larger forward progress of his life so he never has to grow up and start acting like a responsible adult. Overall, Spells of Blood and Kin is a fantastic novel. It’s also Humphrey’s debut, and I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Sword and StarSword and Star is the third and final book in Sunny Moraine’s Root Code trilogy. I’ve raved about the others – Line and Orbit, Fall and Rising, and the related-yet-stand-alone book, Labyrinthian – in various places before. Sword and Star is no exception. In addition to be a satisfying wrap-up to the series, the final book in the trilogy builds on the first two in a way that expands the universe in which they’re written. Everything feels bigger in Sword and Star – the stakes are higher, the world larger, and every decision carries more weight. Taken together, the three books can be compared to a single camera shot, continuously pulling back so more and more of the world fills the frame. Line and Orbit was a fairly personal story, focused primarily on Adam and Lochlan, their budding relationship, and the immediate danger to both their lives. Fall and Rising broadened the focus, showing the way Adam and Lochlan’s decisions in the first book impacted those around them, their friends and loved ones, as well as people they barely knew, but who they would come to call allies. Fall and Rising also deepened and matured Lochlan and Adam’s relationship, taking it from the heat of battle and passion to a more complicated and contemplative level as they learned to live with each other, and learned who each of them were alone and together, in battle and outside of it. Now, in Sword and Star, the camera is zoomed all the way out, showing the larger consequences of the actions begun in Line and Orbit as they ripple across the galaxy to touch alien planets, shake the foundation of the government back on earth, and threaten to tear the fleet apart. Lochlan and Adam’s relationship has expanded as well, encompassing the possibility of loss in a new way as they both change and grow, and deal with their own pain and challenges. The emphasis is less on the immediacy of sex and romance, and more on the consequences of love, how it makes people vulnerable and stronger all at the same time. This idea is echoed in multiple relationships across the novel – Kae and Leila, Rachel and Aarons, Kyle and Eva. Friendships are tested, limits are pushed, and worlds both personal and all-encompassing hang in the balance. As usual, it’s all wrapped in Moraine’s gorgeous prose, and while I’m sad to see this series ending, I can’t wait to see what they move onto next.

All the Birds in the Sky
All the Birds in the Skyby Charlie Jane Anders perfectly captures what it’s like to be an awkward kid precisely at the age when everyone is doing their best to fit in, be liked, and present some kind of face to the world that will allow them to be accepted. Patricia is a witch who discovered her power at a young age after rescuing a bird and hearing it talk. Laurence is a computer and science whiz who followed schematics he found online to build a two-second time machine. Both of these incidents early in their lives set them on paths that will having far-reaching consequences for their own futures, and the future of humanity as a whole. Patricia and Laurence are special, and that sets them apart, but as is often the case, their specialness sets them too far apart. Laurence’s parents want him to keep his head down, not rock the boat, and be normal. Patricia’s parents think she’s a little hooligan. None of the other kids at school like them, and by the time they reach middle school, this social ostricization throws them together and they become friends. Anders perfectly captures the cruelty of kids towards each other, and the vicious things they’ll do to those they perceive as weak in order to secure their own status in the pack. However it isn’t just kids who are cruel in Anders’ world; adults are willfully clueless, if not outright hostile at times, further isolating Patricia and Laurence. The story resists the usual chosen one narrative. While Patricia does get accepted into a magical school, the invitation only comes after weeks of being tormented on all sides, and by accepting the invitation, she essentially has to cut all ties with her family. For all this though, All the Birds in the Sky isn’t a bleak novel. The future is laced with hope to counterbalance the despair. After middle school, Laurence and Patricia find their way back into each others’ lives as adults. Patricia is struggling with her powers, constantly being told by the other witches around her to avoid Aggrandizing herself, overreaching her powers and causing something terrible to happen. Laurence is working for a billionaire, building secret super science projects and trying to access other dimensions. At the same time, he’s struggling to maintain a budding relationship with his new girlfriend who he’s terrified of losing. Anders repeatedly teases the possibility of several catastrophic outcomes from either Laurence or Patricia’s particular talents. There are world-changing events in the offing, apocalyptic even, but even as these events come to the fore, the story never loses sight of the characters. It’s the little moments of interaction, and the humor Anders laces throughout, that make the novel shine. Patricia and Laurence aren’t always kind to each other. Their relationship is complex, and it evolves over time, and it feels all the more real and human because of it. Anders manages to balance charm, quirkiness, and dark moments as deftly as she blends the magic and science within the book so none of it ever feels out of place. All the Birds in the Sky is a kind of tapestry, one woven from wool and silk, hemp and ribbon, artificial intelligence and spells, feathers and electrical wires. Taken separately, the elements seem like they’ll never form a picture, but when you step back, the result is glorious. It’s a fun book, but one full of genuine emotion as well. As with Humphrey, this is Anders’ debut novel, and I can’t wait to see what she does next.

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Fall Book Love

Carrying on the tradition I started in the spring wherein I read books actually published in this calendar year (*gasp*) and recommend them before the end of said calendar year so other folks might also have time to read them (*gasp*) I bring you several new books I’ve read and enjoyed this fall. If you’re curious as to what I read and enjoyed in the spring and the summer, you can find those posts here and here.

LetterstoZellLetters to Zell by Camille Griep wasn’t even on my radar until a friend lent it to me. It ended up being one of those books that took me completely off guard with how much I enjoyed it. I love fairy tale re-tellings, but sometimes the genre feels a little stale. I was fully prepared for an ‘okay that’s cute, I see what you did there’ take on fairy tale characters, but Letters to Zell is filled with genuine emotion, and it’s not always pleasant emotion either. As the title implies, it’s an epistolary novel with Cinderella (CeCi), Snow White (Bianca), and Briar Rose (Rory), writing to Rapunzel (Zell), about their day-to-day lives now that Zell has moved away. The classic fairy tales form the jumping off point for their stories, but once each character finishes their ‘Pages’, they’re free to live out the rest of her lives however they choose. Any deviation from one’s Pages (i.e. fate) could destroy the known Grimm world. As the story opens, Bianca has yet to finish her Pages, and she’s dragging her feet. She’s not super keen on the idea of marriage, and she resents the need to punish her stepmother just because her story says so. As for CeCi, she’s happy and in love with her prince, but not keen on the queen thing either. She and her husband have no interest in children, and her real passion in life is to become a chef. Rory, meanwhile, is trying to do the best to want she’s been told is her destiny. Long ago, her true love almost destroyed the world by trying to steal her Pages and set her free. He was banished from the realm, and she was put to sleep to save her life. Now she’s stuck with a husband who has no interest in her, is desperate for a child she can’t seem to conceive, and doesn’t really know where she fits in the world. All of this serves as the backdrop for a story of true and deep friendship. Female friendship in particular is often neglected in fiction – both written and filmed. We have the term bromance, but no feminine equivalent. Again and again we see stories featuring a lone exceptional female, or if there’s more than one woman, they’re either bitter rivals constantly at each others’ throats, never talk to each other, or only talk about their relationships with men. In Letters to Zell, Griep gives us a strong female friendship that is far from smooth, but feels all the more real because of it. Each character is fully developed, true to her own wants and desires, but with deep love and loyalty to the others. They misunderstand each other. They work at cross-purposes occasionally. They fight, but the love never goes away. Griep also gives us a novel with a full and satisfying arc for each of her main characters. CeCi, Bianca, and Rory all grow over the course of the story. It’s sweet at times, and heartbreaking at others. Despite the fairy tale setting, each character feels like someone you might meet in the real world, and someone you want to root for even when you don’t agree with all their choices. Just like a friend.

FallandRisingFall and Rising by Sunny Moraine is the sequel to Line and Orbit (co-authored with Lisa Soem), picking up the threads of the first novel and evolving them. In a way, it’s a more mature novel in its themes – not in terms of racy content, though it is a kissing book – but in the way it delves into choices and the consequences of those choices. The characters are dealing with the aftermath of a major battle, trying to cope with their trauma even as they’re facing a new threat. They’re dealing with loss at the same time as they’re simply trying to stay alive. As with Line and Orbit, romance and relationships are a major part of the novel, woven in-between the battles, desperate escapes, and daring fights. Fall and Rising tackles the natural evolution of Adam and Lochlan’s budding relationship from Line and Orbit. After the first heady days of a romance born in the midst of fleeing for their lives, they’re coming to learn more about each other, and learning to live with each other. They’re still fleeing for their lives, and at the same time, dealing with the difference in their cultures, figuring out who they are in relation to each other, and who they ultimately want to be within themselves. They’re learning who they are apart and together, how they strengthen each other, and where they’ll have to compromise to make things work. Love factors into the novel in other ways as well – the deep love of friendship, love for one’s people as opposed to the love of a specific person, and the ways love can tear you apart. The characters are faced with hard choices throughout the novel; they’re called on to make great sacrifices, and it’s wrenching to watch. The final scenes of the book especially are heart-hurting in the very best of ways. As always, Moraine’s prose is stunning, proving that a work can have it all – action, adventure, romance, strong characters, and gorgeous writing. I’m already looking forward to the next book in the series.

UpdraftLast, but not least, is Fran Wilde’s debut novel, Updraft, which I’ve been looking forward to since it was first announced. The worldbuilding in the novel is absolutely stunning, and while it’s far from the only striking thing about the book, it is likely one of the first things that’ll grab you. Wilde plunges (or perhaps lifts) the reader into a city of living bone high above the clouds, introducing them to a society that travels by wing. The city with its tiered towers is lovingly described, and its structure also lends its shape to the nature of the book, its layers of meaning. For instance, the bridges strung between bone towers are a sign of favor; they strengthen towers both in terms of political position and  literally – bracing them against the natural forces of gravity. The world of Updraft is one that begs to be explored. There are sung laws, mouths in the sky, and secrets deep in the city’s heart. Against this backdrop, Wilde tells the story of Kirit, a young woman earning her right to fly, her right to speak, and fighting to save her city, her family, and her friends. There are two sides to every story, and as Updraft progresses, Kirit must cope with the fact that the history she’s been taught all her life is only part of the picture. Through all the alliances and shifting truths she must navigate, Kirit remains fierce and loyal and determined. But while at her core Kirit remains true to herself, she grows immensely as well, and the world around her is irrevocably changed. Without giving too much away, I particularly appreciate the way Updraft isn’t afraid to shatter the natural order of its society. Many fantasy novels are about trying to ‘set things right’ – to restore the rightful ruler, lift the curse, put things back the way they were before. Updraft is a novel of revolution. The characters actions truly impact the world, and by the time the novel is done, it’s clear that nothing will ever be the same again and they will have to live with the consequences. It’s a fascinating novel on many levels, blending characters, politics, economics, engineering, and action, and the descriptions of flight are absolutely stunning. As with Fall and Rising, I’m already looking forward to Updraft’s sequel.

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Coming Attractions 2: Still Attracted

Or should that be Coming Attractions 2: The Re-Attractioning? I don’t know what the hip kids say these days…

Anyhoo. Back in December, I wrote a post highlighting several 2015 releases I was anticipating. A few of them have come out, and I promptly devoured and adored them  (hi, Signal to Noise, hi, Karen Memory). A few I am still eagerly anticipating (hi, Updraft, hi, Against a Brightening Sky, why aren’t you out yet?!?). In the meantime, while I continue to eagerly await those releases, a whole new crop of books have found their way onto me radar. I’m excited about them, and you probably should be, too.

Exerpimental FilmExperimental Film by Gemma Files will officially come out December 3, 2015, and is currently available for pre-order. As a general rule, I’m a fan of Files’ work. As a general rule, I’m also a sucker for fiction about movies, in particular old movies, silent films, and/or obscure, mysterious pieces of cinema that may or may not actually exist. When you combine these – Files writing about film – it’s pure magic. each thing i show you is a piece of my death (co-written with Stephen J. Barringer), remains one of my favorite pieces of short fiction by Files, and is among my favorite short stories period. So a whole novel about early 20th century film, the uncovering of lost footage, and mysteriously a disappearing socialite/filmmaker? Sign me the fuck up! The subtle, creeping dread Files infuses throughout so much of her work is sure to be present here as Experimental Film also promises to be a ghost story. Needless to say (though I did kind of say it already), I’m very much looking forward to this one.

Inheritance of AshesAn Inheritance of Ashes by Leah Bobet is due out in October, and is also currently available for pre-order. I have been looking forward to this book since July 2014 when I first heard Bobet read an excerpt at Readercon. I heard her read a second excerpt this year, and I’m certainly not waiting another whole year for the rest of it. Hints of Lovecraftian monstrosities against the backdrop of a Dust Bowl/Depression setting? Yes, please! The novel centers around two sisters struggling to survive and hold on to their family farm in the wake of a war against supernatural beings. There are twisty things; very bad bird-spider things that generally tend to flock, and were supposedly all wiped out when the dark god died, but things are rarely that clean and easy, are they? From the two excerpts I’ve heard, the voice in this novel is amazing, and the characters are ones I will happily follow on their journey. I’ll just be over here making vague grabby hands until the novel is released.

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Spring Book Love

Spring might not be the right word, given this post was written in the midst of a snow storm, but the season isn’t important. The books are the important bit. Typically I do a year-end wrap-up of books each December. I’ll still do that, but this year, I figured why wait? I want to babble about the books I love now.  Wonder of wonders, several of the books I’ve loved this year are even published in 2015. If I gush about them now, there’s even more time for other people to read them before a new year ticks over and there’s a whole fresh crop of books to fall behind on.

Karen Memory

First up, Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear. I’d been looking forward to this novel since I first heard about it, and snapped up a copy as soon as it came out. The action centers around the “soiled doves” of Madame Damnable’s high-class parlor in a steampunk-tinged weird wild west. (If you don’t fall in love with the book based on the name Madame Damnable alone, then there’s just no help for you.) The titular Karen and the other girls of Madame Damnable’s are a family. They’re full of fierce love for each other, and they watch each other’s backs no matter what happens. They even look out for strangers, too. An injured escapee from a less reputable brothel brings the girl who helped her escape to their door, bleeding from a gunshot wound. Madame Damnable’s girls take them in, no questions asked, despite the world of trouble it’ll bring on their heads. What follows is action, adventure, and a good dose of daring. Above and beyond all of that, the beauty of Karen Memory is its focus on female friendships. It also places front and center the voices frequently overlooked by the Western genre. Instead of the typical square-jawed cowboys, we get whores and cooks, politicians and lawmen, and they all come from different backgrounds and have different body types, genders, races, and sexual preferences, showing that history is not a monolithic culture. On top of all that, there are escapes, bravery, horses, love, and gunfights. There’s even a cat. In short, it’s everything you could want from a weird, wild Western.

Signal to Noise

Next up is Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Signal to Noise, another book I’d been looking forward to since first hearing about it, which I grabbed as soon as it was available. Set in Mexico City in 1988 and 2009, the story follows three teenagers who learn to cast spells using vinyl records. The narrative moves back and forth between the 80s, when the three were best friends, and the present day, when their friendship has long since fallen apart. Meche, the main character, comes back to her home town to attend her father’s funeral. Her return inevitably dredges up old memories, and plunges her back into a life she tried hard to leave behind. Meche is a truly wonderful character. She’s allowed to be prickly and surly angry. She’s allowed to push people away without making concessions to their feelings. She’s allowed to misunderstand and fuck up and get things wrong. In short, she’s allowed to be human – something sadly still lacking in many female characters, even today. Moreno-Garcia maintains a delicate balance. Despite her anger, Meche is never unlikable. You understand where she’s coming from, and why she acts the way she does. She inhabits a world full of other human characters, all flawed and strong in equal measures, all imperfect as humans tend to be. It is precisely because they are imperfect that you care about these characters. They are people you know. They may, at one time or another, have been you. The magic and fantastical elements here are a bonus. The real heart of the novel is the relationships. This is proved out by the last scene of the book, which is breathtakingly perfect, and a magic all of its own.

Labyrinthian

Last, but not least, Labyrinthian by Sunny Moraine. I was so eager to read this one, I apparently bent the laws of time and space and received my copy before the official release date. Take that, time! You’re not the boss of me! Ahem. Sorry. The novel is set in the same universe as Line and Orbit by Sunny Moraine and Lisa Soem. While it isn’t a sequel, it shares many sensibilities. Taur is a genetically modified human on the run from the people who made him. Theseus is a bounty hunter who accepts the job of tracking him down. As frequently happens in this sort of tale, the people who set the bounty on Taur’s head betray Theseus. Instead of paying him, they try to kill both him and Taur. With nowhere else to turn, the two go on the run. Theseus and Taur discover a budding attraction for each other, while trying to stay alive, save Taur’s siblings, and unravel the mystery behind the creation of these genetically engineered super-beings. Oh, and just in case the stakes weren’t high enough, there’s also a chip embedded in Taur’s skull, ticking down toward killing him. The novel is sexy and fun and proves definitively that romance and space opera do in fact mix. As it turns out, feelings do not ruin a perfectly good story about spaceships, genetic modification, and bounty hunters. They make it better. Also, it’s sexy. Did I mention sexy? Luckily, there are more novels set in this universe on the way.

So there you have it – three excellent books, and the reading year has just begun. There are plenty more delicious books on the way, and I look forward to devouring them. Now it’s your turn. What have you read so far this year that you’d recommend? There’s always room for more on my tottering to read pile.

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An Interview with Sunny Moraine

Sunny Moraine was kind enough to drop by today to talk about their book, Line and Orbit, co-authored with Lisa Soem, which was just released in paperback from Samhaim Publishing. For those unfamiliar with Sunny, clearly you have been living under a rock, because their work has been everywhere lately, but nonetheless, allow me to introduce you…

Sunny Moraine is a resident of the Washington D.C. area, a Ph.D. candidate, and the author of the novels Line and Orbit (with Lisa Soem) and Crowflight. They are also the author of several dozen pieces of short fiction, earning them the honor of being named 2013 New Author of Promise by reviewer Lois Tilton of Locus Magazine Online. They maintain a blog at sunnymoraine.com and can be found on twitter as @dynamicsymmetry.

Line and Orbit

ACW: Welcome! Let’s start off with Line and Orbit. It was released as an ebook first, and just came out in paperback. Care to give readers a taste of what it’s about?

It started out as me and my co-author basically writing the book we’d want to read, an epic-y space opera/science fantasy with a diverse cast and queer characters. The plot itself concerns a man from a future human civilization that’s come to regard genetic perfection as the absolute ideal—which of course creates problems when he shows symptoms of a congenital illness. Exiled and struggling to survive, he falls in with the Bideshi, nomadic human users of space!magic who have been at odds with his society for a long time. They appear to be able to heal him for a time, but before long complications ensue regarding a horrific secret, a brewing war, and a cocky and irritatingly attractive Bideshi fighter pilot.

ACW: You had another novel come out in 2013 as well, Crowflight, published by Masque Books. Would you like to say a few words about that one?

Crowflight concerns a young woman from a society of Psychopomps (guides of the souls of the dead) who—seemingly by accident—uncovers a conspiracy that threatens not only her people but her entire world. Framed and betrayed, she’s cast into the wastelands outside her city, where she makes some unlikely friends and begins to learn that you can only run from your past for so long before you have to turn and face it.

ACW: The two books came fairly close together, and on the surface, they’re very different– Space Opera and Dark Fantasy (to apply simple categories). Were they written around the same time? If so, was it a challenge to work in such different worlds, or was it kind of like getting to eat a delicious pie and a delicious cake simultaneously?

The two books were actually written about three years apart, and both came at very different points in my graduate education; Line and Orbit was written in the first year and was a refuge, while Crowflight was written in the fall of my fourth year and was really more therapy, a repository for a lot of the emotional difficulties I was going through at the time. That said, I think there are a lot of similar aspects to both—both feature secrets, both contain “wastelands” and other spaces that fall far outside of what the protagonists are comfortable with, that they nevertheless find themselves thrust into. Both are also focused around night and darkness, which I think is interesting but haven’t entirely untangled the meaning of, if there is any. I do seem to have specific story elements that I keep coming back to.

Crowflight

ACW: On a semi-related note, you worked with Lisa Soem on Line and Orbit. What was the collaborative writing process like versus working solo on Crowflight?

The collaborative process took longer and was logistically more difficult, but also rewarding in a way that nothing I’ve done since in terms of solo work really has been. Writing can be so lonely at times, and it can really be a motivator to work with someone who is as excited about your world and your characters as you are. It can also be hugely beneficial to have another perspective to go to, especially when you hit a block of some kind. So in some ways writing alone was more difficult. That said, by the time I wrote Crowflight I had already written two other solo novels (which will almost certainly never be published, for excellent reasons) so I was familiar with what kinds of self-motivation it required. In some ways, it’s also easier: You’re not on anyone’s schedule but your own, and no creative decisions require mutual agreement. There are trade-offs either way.

ACW: Both Line and Orbit and Crowflight have sequels in the works, correct? You’ve hinted on twitter and elsewhere that the Line and Orbit sequel is a very different book from the first one, and that it also involved a major re-write. Do you attribute that to being in a different place as a writer than when you wrote the first novel, or was it just what this particular story needed in order to work? Did that process impact your work on the Crowflight sequel at all?

The Crowflight sequel, Ravenfall, is done and will hopefully see a release sometime this year. The Line and Orbit sequel, Fall and Rising, is also done with the major part of its rewrite, and I hope to find a home for it soon. In terms of what prompted the rewrite, a lot of it was practical (the book as it stood was having problems finding a home), but I also do attribute the decision to having gained a better understanding of what a good novel—especially a good sequel—requires. Fall and Rising as it first existed was much, much darker than it is now, and while I think that’s a story I’ll tell someday, it wasn’t a good match for the mood of Line and Orbit, which was fun and ultimately uplifting (though it definitely has its dark points) and very slightly goofy. The spiritual thread running between the two books had to match. So it really did have to be a different book in the end, and now it’s much more similar to Line and Orbit itself.

The Fall and Rising rewrite was completed a couple of months after I completed Ravenfall, so I actually think the writing of that book influenced the rewrite, rather than the other way around. Ravenfall is, in almost every respect, a match for the mood and themes of Crowflight, and I think the process of creating that match helped me to understand what you’re really doing when you write a sequel. It’s not just a different book with a bunch of the same general characters and place names. That seems like it should be self-evident, but sometimes it takes a while to internalize self-evident things, I think.

ACW: Let’s switch gears a bit and talk about short stories. As if releasing two novels in one year wasn’t enough, you’ve also had an incredible year short fiction-wise in 2013, including being named the most promising author of 2013 by Locus Online (congrats, by the way!). Is your writing process different for short fiction? Did you sneak in short stories while working on novels, or do you focus on one at a time? Do you have a favorite among your recently published short stories?

Thanks! 2013 was awesome enough that I can’t believe that 2014 could possibly match it, though of course I’m hoping. Gonna keep working, regardless.

I didn’t really appreciate how different my process for short fiction was until I tried to approach it recently after months working almost exclusively on novels and found it incredibly difficult. I’m not sure exactly why, I just know that it was like I was trying to switch gears in my brain and couldn’t quite make it happen, at least not quickly. My process tends to be very instinctive—I feel my way through the general shape of the story and then as I write it emerges. With long things I outline at least a bit, but the overall process is still very organic. That process is essentially the same for short stuff as for long stuff, but I think that the shape and the way of feeling it out is different. And I think using one and not using the other made it harder to switch back. Though I think I’m finding my feet again—I’d like to give novels a break for a bit and focus on short things.

Among my recent stuff, I think one of my stories that’s gotten the most attention, “A Heap of Broken Images” (published in the anthology We See a Different Frontier), is probably my favorite. It’s a story I wrote during one of the most mentally and emotionally difficult months of my life, and I think it was a bit cathartic; it came very quickly and of a piece, though it took some rewriting to get it exactly the way I wanted. Aside from that, I’m very proud of “I Tell Thee All, I Can No More” which came out this past July in Clarkesworld. It’s one of the strangest things I’ve ever written, I think, and it feels to me like one of those rare stories where you actually accomplish almost everything you set out to do.

ACW: Given the amount of fiction you regularly produce, it’s hard to imagine you have much spare time, but on the theory that you do find a moment here and there, what occupies your time when you’re not slogging through the word mines?

I’m a PhD candidate in sociology, so I’m currently working on a dissertation that I aim (hope) to have completed in the next couple of years. I also teach intro-level college courses, which I enjoy a whole bunch – it’s probably the most rewarding academic thing that I do. Otherwise, I bake and knit and get generally domestic. I also enjoy really terrible TV and questionable horror films. And video games. I play a ton of video games – recent favorites include The Last of Us, Gone Home, and Outlast.

ACW: Now that you’re well on your way to conquering the world through fiction, what’s next for you? What else are you working on that you want people to know about? (If it’s a top secret death ray, you don’t have to tell me.)

I have a story coming out in May in the anthology Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History, which I am so excited about – the whole project looks incredible and I’m honored to be part of it. I have another novel, Labyrinthian, that’s currently sitting on an editor’s desk and I hope it’ll see a release in 2014, though nothing is set in stone. Soon I plan to embark on an extensive rewrite of yet another novel I wrote last year – I love it but it’s not ready to go out into the great big world just yet. And of course, Fall and Rising is heading out to a publisher soon, so I’m hopeful that before long there will be news there as well.

And there’s also the death ray. Though its development is stalled because it’s warm so the cats keep sleeping on it.

ACW: Thanks for stopping by!

Thanks so much for having me!

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