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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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An Interview with Fran Wilde

Author PhotoFran Wilde was kind enough to stop by today to talk about her debut novel, Updraft. If her answers to my questions leave you hungering for more, well you’re in luck! It just so happens Fran is doing a Reddit AMA today, and you can ask her questions of your very own. Also, if you happen to be local to the Philadelphia area, Fran will be taking part in The Future of Philly Sci Fi and Fantasy at the Free Library of Philadelphia on Wednesday, September 9, along with Michael Swanwick, Jon McGoran, Gregory Frost, Siobhan Carroll, and Stephanie Feldman. Six wonderful authors talking about the local Philadelphia speculative fiction scene – this is event not to miss! But for now, back to the interview. To start things off, I will introduce Fran by shamelessly stealing from her author bio…

Fran Wilde is an author and technology consultant. Her first novel, UPDRAFT, debuts from Tor on September 1, 2015. Her short stories appear in Asimov’s, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Nature, and Tor.com, while her nonfiction interviews with writers appear under the banner “Cooking the Books” at Tor.com, Strange Horizons, the SFWA blog, and at franwilde.wordpress.com. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook.

ACW: Welcome, Fran! First off, congratulations on the publication of Updraft! I feel incredibly lucky to have read an early copy of this novel. It’s been tough waiting for the book to be out in so I could squee about it without spoiling it for anyone, so I can only imagine how you’ve felt! To start things off, care to give us a taste of what Updraft is about?

FW: I feel incredibly lucky to have you as a beta reader.

Updraft is about a city built on towers of living bone; it’s about secrets and laws, monsters, songs, wind and silence. It’s the story of Kirit and her friend Nat, and how breaking a law leads to consequences unimaginable and deadly.

ACW: I love everything about the world you’ve built for this book, and the characters are amazing. You’re currently working on the third book in the series. Were there any challenges you faced writing the second and third books as opposed to the first? Was it easy to slip back into the characters’ voices, or did you have reintroduce yourself to everyone before they would start telling you their stories again? If you can say without giving too much away… Did anything about the characters or the direction the story took surprise you while writing the second or third book, or did you have everything more or less mapped out in your head from the beginning?

Updraft was written, initially, in six weeks. Then I revised the second two thirds completely, over another few months. At times, it felt like the story was spilling out of me. Cloudbound is similar in some ways, but there were new directions I wanted to go, and new themes I wanted to explore (and upend). The hardest part is getting all the details right – the tower names, secondary characters’ eye color. Thank goodness for notes, and copy editors.

And yes! A lot surprised me about the second book! I didn’t want to write in the comfort zone of the first book, so I’m glad for that. I loved writing it for that reason.

UpdraftACW: Because I’m a bit of a process nerd, I’d like to talk a bit about Updraft’s origin story. The first novel started life as a short story, correct? When did you realize it was actually a novel, and how did you go about expanding it? Are there bits of the story that remain intact more or less the way you originally wrote them, or did everything change as the world expanded?

Correct. The first book began as a short story – the second short story I’d written in this world. The first short story is actually part of the second book (take that, process). I realized with the help of beta readers that there was much more to it. Lots of things changed. The singing and wind, the wings and the towers? Those stayed the same. So did the characters in the stories.

ACW: On another process-related note, you did some rather unique research while writing the first book – indoor skydiving in a wind tunnel. Could you tell us a bit about that and how it impacted the flying scenes in your books? What other types of research have you done for the series, and what’s your favorite bit of odd, or new knowledge you gained?

I wrote a whole post about the wind tunnel for iO9! It was a great thing to do – I learned so much about how a body moves in that space, and how small changes impact things like roll and lift.
As far as other research, I did a lot of background reading on monsters. I grilled my resident scientist for details about chemistry. I looked at a lot of high-altitude foods. And sinew – how it was used for sewing and light construction. And cephalopods. Lots of research about them.

ACW: Let’s talk about Cooking the Books for a moment. You started the series in 2011, and you have interviewed some amazing authors about the intersection between food and fiction. The series has since morphed into a podcast, and gained a sibling series, Book Bites. Do you have a favorite recipe from the series? What’s your personal go-to comfort food when you’re writing? Does cooking help you work out plot problems, or are there other things you turn to when you need to distract your brain so it can do its work?

When I’m writing, anything crunchy is my go-to. That’s dangerous because potato chips are crunchy, and so is popcorn. But snow peas and carrots are where I’m at these days. Sigh: less fun, but better for me.

Cooking is hard for me when I’m on a deadline. I get very distracted. And I’m a *terrible* baker except for cookies. Too much measuring. I like to see what I have in the fridge and improvise.
But when I have time, cooking with family and friends is one of my favorite things to do.
Favorite recipes from the blog? There are too many. I’d rather hear what other folks’ favorite recipes are from the blog. What are yours?

ACW: One of my personal favorites is blowtorch-cooked marmot, courtesy of Elizabeth Bear. It’s not something I would cook personally, but it’s…certainly memorable as far as recipes go. But back to fiction writing – how different is your writing process for your short fiction and poetry versus your novel process? Are you able to work on short fiction while you’re deep in a novel, or do you have to completely separate the two? Songs play a key role in Updraft, so I also want to ask – what is your songwriting process like? What made you want to include actual lyrics, versus simply alluding to the fact that characters are singing?

Often I’ll work on short stories in between novels. The process is the same – sketch and brainstorm, figure out themes, write a whole bunch of words, throw it all out. Start again. Wash, rinse, repeat. I’m chased by the feeling that I want to push harder, do more with each story. Novels too, but stories run faster. [That is SUCH a good pun. Will anyone get that I wonder.]

ACW: Other than the third novel, what else are you working on currently, or do you have coming up that you want people to know about?

I’ve got a couple more novels in the works – one is in editing, several are nascent. There’s a gem universe novella coming from Tor.com next spring — “The Jewel and Her Lapidary,” as well as more gem universe stories, and several bone universe stories. And I have a project I can’t talk about yet, but I should be able to do so soon.

ACW: Ooh! I can’t wait to hear more… Thanks for stopping by!


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