Nov 9, 2015
It’s been quite a weekend for me! I spent it in Saratoga Springs, NY, at the World Fantasy Convention, where I helped put together a launch party for Tremontaine. There was a cake and everything!
It was a very crowded party, and I was terrible at taking photos, but I did manage to snap this one:
There’s Delia Sherman, our fearless editor, on the left, along with producer/showrunner/co-writer Racheline Maltese, co-writer Patty Bryant, and me. Not pictured is Tremontaine’s creator Ellen Kushner, who was flying about the party suite Being a Hostess. Also not pictured was co-writer Joel Derfner, who mysteriously disappeared for long stretches of time. I’m sure he was up to no good. Sadly, co-writer Alaya Dawn Johnson was unable to come to Saratoga Springs from Mexico City, but we missed her presence!
Right now, Tremontraine is in its third week. The first two episodes have already been released, and in case you missed them, here are some handy links:
- Episode 1: “Arrivals” by Ellen Kushner — Read for Free! And also check out From the Writers’ Room: Tremontaine Episode 1 to get the behind-the-scenes details.
- Episode 2: “The North Side of the Sun” by Alaya Dawn Johnson — Buy here and read Alaya’s behind the scenes post here.
Episode 3, “Heavenly Bodies,” is written by Joel Derfner and comes out on Wednesday. You can subscribe to the whole series, which comes with both ebook and audiobook for $1.59 per episode, at Serial Box.
My first episode comes out next week!
This weekend was also glorious for me because (drumroll) I got published in the New York Times! As a longtime freelance writer, lemme tell you, seeing my byline in The Gray Lady was something special. Here’s a picture of my review essay in the Sunday Book Review:
I’ve been reading the New York Times Book Review since forever, so it was definitely a personal honor for me to be asked to review these two middle grade novels. Additionally, because both books were about biracial girls with Japanese heritage, I especially enjoyed writing the essay. I have read so few books about girls of Asian backgrounds that each one is still very special to me.
Recently, the children’s book community has been particularly vocal about digging into representations of race, and though I wrote this review before the discussion that erupted over the past month, I think my review fits well into this continuing dialogue. If you are in the kidlit community and are concerned about diversity and how it is portrayed in children’s literature, I really do hope you read my reviews of Dream On, Amber by Emma Shevah and Full Cicada Moon by Marilyn Hilton.
Oct 28, 2015
Today is launch day for Tremontaine, the collaborative serial that I’ve been working on since March with creator Ellen Kushner, co-writers Alaya Dawn Johnson, Joel Derfner, Racheline Maltese, Patty Bryant, and guest author Paul Witcover.
What is Tremontaine, you ask? The full explanation is in this blog post, but the TL;DR version is: It’s a swashbuckling, intrigue-filled fantasy with queer folks, and you read it in 13 serialized installments via the Serial Box app (only for iPhone now but they’re working on an Android version), your e-reader (Kindle, iBooks, Kobo) or on the internet. The best experience is through a subscription via the Serial Box app or the Serial Box website, where for $1.59 per installment you get not only the ebooks, but a beautifully produced audiobook version as well. It’s perfect for reading or listening to on your commute or on walks or curled up in one corner of your couch with a cup of hot chocolate.
Tremontaine is quite different from the other stuff I’ve written because of its collaborative nature, and that’s a big part of why I wanted to do this. When Ellen called me last winter to tell me about the project, I was immediately intrigued because she told me it was going to be kind of like working on a TV show. Each “episode” (really a novella-length story) would be written by a single writer, but the entire “season-long arc” would be plotted out by all the writers. I love TV, and I’ve studied television from an academic perspective and written about it as a critic, so the idea of employing the TV writers’ room structure to writing a fictional serial was irresistible to me. Plus, I’d get to work with Ellen, whom I’d come to know through her Riverside novels, starting with Swordspoint, which was revolutionary in terms of gay representation in fantasy when it was first published in 1987.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Swordspoint, it’s about a swordsman named Richard St. Vier and his lover, a university student named Alec. Their relationship is prickly and heated, but most importantly, it is on the page completely and totally normal in the world they live in. I didn’t read Swordspoint after I’d gotten published1, but as I came to know the fantasy and science fiction community and learned more about the genealogy of queer speculative fiction, Ellen Kushner’s name and Swordspoint cropped up again and again. For many readers, Swordspoint woke them up to the possibilities of queerness in fantasy, and it has been a wonderful honor to be able to write in Ellen’s world.
The story that we are telling in Tremontaine is set about 15 years before Swordspoint (you don’t need to have read Swordspoint to read Tremontaine), and the series title refers to one of the noble families in the world of Riverside. (Technically, Riverside is only one neighborhood in the City, but it’s been handy to refer to the novels and short stories that Ellen has written in this world as “the world of Riverside”.) Riverside and the City resemble premodern Europe, and one of the practices City-dwellers (especially the nobility) enjoy the most is drinking chocolate in the French manner. But chocolate isn’t native to Europe (or to Riverside); it comes from across the sea. In the real world, chocolate originated in what is present-day Mexico, and was imported to Europe. In the world of Tremontaine, chocolate is imported by a trading family who come from a land inspired by Mesoamerican cultures. This allows us to re-enter Riverside from a non-European perspective; in the case of Tremontaine, from the perspective of a daring young woman named Ixkaab Balam.
Episode 1 of Tremontaine, written by Ellen Kushner and titled “Arrivals,” introduces you to Ixkaab, as well as the Duchess Tremontaine (whose name graces the series title), a passionate young scholar named Rafe, and a farm girl with a skill for numbers named Micah. These characters quickly become entangled in a plot involving a mysterious murder, cross-class and cross-cultural (gay) passions, and the chocolate trade — so much chocolate! I think it’s the perfect series for darkening winter nights, especially if you like swordplay, spies, and drawing room intrigue, but don’t take my word for it. Here are some of the great blurbs Tremontaine has received so far:
“Sharp blades and even sharper wits abound! Delicious new adventures await fans in this welcome return to the world of Swordspoint.”
— Jacqueline Carey, New York Times Bestselling author of the Kushiel’s Legacy series
“Lovely! Beneath a froth of silk and lace Tremontaine is finely muscled, rippling with skill and promise.”
— Nicola Griffith, author of Hild
“More Tremontaine stories? YESPLEASE. Tremontaine stories by some of my favorite, excellent writers?
HELLA YESPLEASE. I can’t wait to read them all! ”
— N. K. Jemisin, author of The Fifth Kingdom
And here’s the excellent trailer (it’s great — not your typical book trailer!) which explains not only Tremontaine but the serialized format as well:
Episode 1, “Arrivals,” is now available to read for free. If you like it, you can subscribe to the rest of the series, which releases new episodes every week. I’ve written three episodes for the series, beginning with Episode 4, but you’ll want to read or listen to the all the episodes because it’s totally a group effort of awesomeness.
I hope you’ll enjoy Tremontaine!
P. S. Read Ellen Kushner’s wondrous account of the epic quest it took to bring Tremontaine to life.
- I have to give a shout out to Joe Monti, currently the Editorial Director at Saga Press, for first alerting me to the existence of Swordspoint. When I visited the offices of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers in 2008, shortly after they acquired my first novel, Ash, Joe was working there and came to meet me, bearing a paperback edition of Swordspoint, which he gave to me. Years later, this is what came of Joe’s gift! [↩]
Oct 11, 2015
* “Diverse” = a book with a non-Western setting or inspired by a non-Western culture; or with a main character who is non-white/non-Western, LGBTQ+, and or disabled
Questions about how to do research are among the most common questions I hear when it comes to writing books based on non-white cultures. Often the questions are like this: “Are there any resources that will be sure to help?” (emphasis mine) The answer is: no. There is no guarantee that any resources will be universally seen as true and right. The first thing you should do is forget about hoping for a 100% accurate resource. The second thing you should do is forget about the word “genuine” when it comes to writing a character, because “genuine” implies “authentic.” It implies that there is a true way to be something (e.g., an “authentic” Chinese person), and in reality, everybody is different. You should aim to write a character who is multifaceted, complex, and human.
That said, it is certainly very important to research the cultures you’re writing about, and although many writers know that they need to do research, they often seem flummoxed by how to do it. That’s why I’ve put together this beginner’s guide to How To Do Research. It is truly a beginner’s guide, so if you feel like you have a handle on how to do this, the post may not be for you. Toward the end of the post there are some more advanced research ideas, as well as links to further reading.
One thing I want to stress is that this is a long process that takes a lot of work. If you want to write about cultures you know little about, you have to put in a lot of time. You cannot expect to get all your answers from one person or one website or even one day at the library. There are no shortcuts to doing research properly. If you’re not willing to put in the time, then it might not be a good idea for you to write this kind of book.
A second thing I want to say up front is this: If you’re interested in writing about a culture different from your own, do you have any friends who are from that culture? I mean relatively close friends — someone you can talk to about your families. If not, then why do you want to write about that culture? I fear that if a writer has no personal knowledge of that culture via at least a close friendship, they may have a difficult time seeing the culture as a living experience. Research can tell you a lot, but shared, personal experiences between you and a close friend can tell you a lot more. CONTINUE READING →
Sep 21, 2015
If you follow me on social media, for many months now I’ve been mentioning or retweeting mentions of my next project. Sorry for the long tease! This is a very new thing I’m part of — it definitely falls outside the traditional publishing establishment — and I’m so excited to finally tell you more about it.
My next project is a serialized, digital, fantasy series1 titled Tremontaine. Created by the brilliant Ellen Kushner, author of the Swordspoint novels, Tremontaine is a prequel to Swordspoint (set about 15 years earlier) and is written by a team of writers including me, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Joel Derfner, Racheline Maltese, Patty Bryant, and guest author Paul Witcover. Tremontaine will be published by Serial Box, a startup digital publishing company that, according to this PW article, is aiming to become the HBO for readers.
What does this mean for you, the reader? Basically, Tremontaine is structured like a TV show. There will be 13 episodes (which are really novellas), released once a week. They’re designed to take about an hour to read, just like the time commitment for an hourlong TV show. The first episode (the pilot) will be free, so you can get a taste of what is to come. Each subsequent episode includes both the ebook version and an audiobook version (like a podcast!) for $1.99. If you subscribe to the series, the cost is $1.59 per episode (including both book and audio). You can subscribe to a series at the Serial Box website and read it on the web, on your phone or tablet; you can also download the Serial Box app (it’s in the Apple Apps store and also on Google Play right now) and read it or listen through that. You can even just buy it on Amazon for your Kindle. There will also be an omnibus edition at the end of the series with all the episodes collected in one place.
But why wait? Because Tremontaine is a doozy! Let me tell you more about it. (Also, check out the amazing cover art by Kathleen Jennings — isn’t it striking?) Here’s what Tremontaine is about:
Welcome to Tremontaine, the prequel to Ellen Kushner’s beloved Riverside series that began with Swordspoint! A Duchess whose beauty is matched only by her cunning; her husband’s dangerous affair with a handsome scholar; a Foreigner in a playground of swordplay and secrets; and a mathematical genius on the brink of revolution—when long-buried lies threaten to come to light, betrayal and treachery know no bounds with stakes this high. Mind your manners and enjoy the chocolate in a dance of sparkling wit and political intrigue.
What that lovely pitch doesn’t tell you is this: The Foreigner is a dashing young woman from a land and culture inspired by the Maya of Mexico and Central America, and basically everyone is queer. It is so fun! And also rather vicious. When you put a bunch of Swordspoint-loving writers in one room for three days and pound out a 13-episode-long story arc (this is what we did), you get All The Delicious Deadly Treats. Three of the 13 episodes are written directly by me, but because the series is so collaborative, I definitely feel like I and all the writers have contributed to every episode.
You can subscribe to Tremontaine here. The series launches on Oct. 28, which is only five weeks away. I really hope you’ll enjoy it!
- It is for adults, but I think my YA readers, especially fans of Huntress, will also enjoy Tremontaine. [↩]