What We’re Reading This Holiday Season

We all have it—the book you bought ages ago, that you’ve been meaning to read forever. But for some reason, you haven’t gotten around to it. Either you haven’t been in quite the right mood, or you know you’re going to need a real stretch of uninterrupted reading time. Now that the holidays are almost here, you know exactly what you’re going to do with your free time: sit down and finally read that book.

For our last newsletter of 2014, we thought we’d share our list with you. So here are a selection of Tor staffers talking about the books they’ll be reading over the holidays:
Wizard of Earthsea
Mordicai Knode, Sales Coordinator: Last year I finally filled a massive gap in my reading: Ursula K. Le Guin. I read The Dispossessed early in December and it, frankly, stunned me with just how amazing it was. I spent the rest of the month and into the next reading every one of her “Hainish Cycle” of science-fiction books. All treasures. This vacation I’m going to flip the coin to the other side and read her fantasy. Wizard of Earthsea and the rest, that’s my binge reading plan for the holidays. I’m very excited about it.

Becky Yeager, Advertising and Promotions Coordinator: I can’t wait to read Saga: Volume 4 by Brian Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples. I spend months dodging spoilers because I prefer to read the collected volumes rather than suffering through the single issues. (Those who can endure cliffhanger after cliffhanger are braver souls than I.)

Ancillary Justice
Cassie Ammerman, Digital Marketing Manager: I’m almost ashamed to admit this, because I’ve recommended this book to a few people. I start reading it multiple times, but I never actually finished it. I’ve always had a good excuse—I forgot to pack it for my trip to Europe; I had to put it down to read a book for work; I wasn’t in the mood for science fiction right then (okay, so that’s not really a good excuse, but it’s an excuse). So, this holiday season, I’m going to sit down and read Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie. I’m going to finish it this time, and then I’m going to pick up Ancillary Sword and read that too!

Patty Garcia, Director of Publicity: I received an ARC and a finished copy of Martian by Andy Weir and it’s still on the top of my to-read pile. I am definitely going to dig in over the break. And like Cassie, I also hope to get my mitts on Ancillary Justice. Can’t. Wait.

EnchantressMelissa Ann Singer, Senior Editor: I had the great good fortune to be raised by parents who read science fiction and fantasy and comics…and the further good fortune that the children’s librarian at my local public library loved SF/F and was on a mission to fill the children’s department (and the teen department, which she basically created around 1970) with a wide range of science fiction and fantasy. Through her, I discovered Lloyd Alexander and John Christopher and Ursula K. Le Guin and Suzette Haden Elgin and many more. A few weeks ago, at a used book sale, my heart skipped a beat at the sight of a copy of Enchantress From the Stars by Sylvia Louise Engdahl, with cover art by the Dillons. This was not the edition I read (which had a white cover, iirc), but I can’t have been more than 10 or 11 years old the first time I read that book, and seeing it in a box—where it was the only SF/F title—gave me a pang. So I bought it (for a whole dollar), and it’s sitting on my coffee table at home. While I read it several times in my early teens, I haven’t read it since, and part of me is afraid that it won’t have the magic I remember. But I’m going to read it again anyway, hoping to recapture the sense of wonder I felt back then, when I was a fairly newly-minted SF/F fan and had so much to discover.

Leah Withers, Publicist: I’ll be reading Tolkien’s The Silmarillion because there’s nothing like cold snowy days to curl up and dig into orc wars and elf legends!

It Happened on WashingtonStuart J. Miller, Senior Sales & Publisher Administration Manager: For the last several months I’ve been on a reading fixation consisting of books about New York City local history. Awaiting my attention for this holiday season is this wonderful book published by Johns Hopkins University Press titled It Happened on Washington Square by Emily Kies Folpe. It is a narrative history of the last 125 years of events in Greenwich Village in the vicinity of Washington Square Park. It covers art, literature, social history and government.

When I’m done with that…or perhaps before reading that, I plan to jump into another New York centric book about the conception and ultimate building of the gorgeous new High Line Pedestrian Walkway and mall in lower Manhattan. This book, entitled High Line: The Inside Story of New York’s Park in the Sky by Joshua David, is stuffed with photos and memorabilia about the famous Hy Line elevated railroad that delivered goods and produce to a growing New York from the 1930s right up until 1980 when the rail line was completely abandoned. The whole line was scheduled to be demolished within several years from then, but was saved by a group of preservationists. I’ve got my engineer’s cap all ready to don when I read this!

Whitney Ross, Editor: I absolutely loved Illona Andrew’s short story “Of Swine and Roses,” and am thrilled that there is a new book set in that world. I’ll definitely be reading Burn for Me over Thanksgiving—if I can wait that long! Others on my list include Kelley Armstrong’s newest Cainsville novel, Visions, Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller novella The Slow Regard of Silent Things, and finally reading The Lies of Locke Lamora. I’ve heard such good things!

web_brown-m-luttrell-psalter-facsimilePatrick Nielsen Hayden, Executive Editor: The Luttrell Psalter is a medieval illuminated manuscript created between 1320 and 1345 by an unknown group of scribes and artists under the sponsorship of Sir Geoffrey Luttrell of Lincolnshire (1276-1345). Its over 300 leaves have survived to the modern era in a state of excellent preservation, and it’s one of the prize manuscripts on display at the British Library. It’s of particular interest to modern people because its pages are replete not only with images of everyday fourteenth-century rural life—animals, daily work, festivals, and so forth—but also with fantastic monsters and beasts, many of them extravagant and even downright comical. At times the Psalter’s sensibility seems impossibly modern, like a brilliant graphic novel that just happens to have been set down on vellum nearly seven hundred years ago. To see what I mean, just type “Luttrell Psalter” into Google Images, and prepare to be amazed. So anyway, the book I’m looking forward to finishing is Mirror in Parchment: The Luttrell Psalter and the Making of Medieval England by Michael Camille, a chewy, detailed study of the Psalter that sets its imagery into the context of the gentry and feudal life of its day. With, naturally, hundreds of illustrations.

Miriam Weinberg, Assistant Editor: While I love being an editor, I do long for the days of uninhibited reading, where I could be the first to devour new novels, instead of looking at beloved acquired ARCs/hardcovers languishing wherever I stashed them. So, for this holiday season, I plan to dive back into my pile and gorge myself (you don’t even know if I’m referring to pies or books, now). For the post-Christmas week, I’m hoping to finally read The Paying Guests (I love Sarah Waters and I delight in reading thick gothics/historical literary fiction while it snows outside), and I’ll probably pack City of Stairs or Dreams of Gods and Monsters, and load my e-reader with submissions! I’m also hoping to read The Laughing Monsters, Ways of Going Home, and Lila, all latest releases from non-SFF authors to whom I’m partial.

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Learning the Language of Noir

Something More Than Night by Ian Tregillis
By Ian Tregillis

“The law was something to be manipulated for profit and power. The streets were dark with something more than night.” —Raymond Chandler, Trouble is My Business

Something More Than Night was simultaneously the hardest and the easiest book I’ve written. I’ve never had more fun as a writer.

The seed rattled through the dark dusty corners of my mind for almost two decades before it took root. I wanted to tell a story set inside a medieval depiction of Heaven, populated by the strange and terrifying creatures of the angelic choir. Cherubim, Seraphim, Thrones, Dominions, and the rest: a menagerie pulled from a madman’s bestiary.

The idea needed water and sunlight. For years, it received neither. Until I speculated that one of the characters might speak in the antique argot of a noir detective. Bayliss, my fallen angel, was born.

But if he was to walk down those mean streets among dames, loogans, molls, and jaspers, I’d have to become fluent. Not only with the genre’s delicious language, but also its conventions. So I spent a year studying the works of writers such as James M. Cain, Dashiell Hammett, and, of course, Raymond Chandler.

At first I feared I’d burdened myself with a tedious research assignment. Instead, it was a joy—and it led me to discover one of my favorite writers. Raymond Chandler truly was one of the great American writers of the 20th century. His Philip Marlowe novels transcended the genre. Marlowe’s descriptions of the world around him are always perfect, yet unique as a fingerprint. (My favorite appears in The Long Goodbye: “The girl gave him a look which ought to have stuck four inches from his back.” Wow!)

To get a handle on the complicated, colorful language of the genre, I read widely—pencil in hand—noting every unfamiliar word. In the course of mastering Bayliss’s patter, I built a noir slang glossary containing over 750 definitions. (I’ve posted the glossary on my website.) Hard work, but the book would have been impossible to write otherwise.

In contrast, plotting the book was a snap. Chandler himself plotted stories like a toddler sticking Lego blocks together. He had a set number of plot blocks, and for each book he’d just grab a random handful and cram them together. Thus the recurring events and themes in Marlowe’s adventures: “Marlowe Finds A Dead Body.” “Marlowe Meets A Woman With A Secret.” “Marlowe Gets Grilled By The Bulls.” “Mistaken Identity.” (Certain blocks, such as the old standby, “Marlowe Gets Knocked Out,” occasionally appear more than once.) So while mastering the language was a formidable task, mastering the plot conventions was not. I merely followed the formula established by my betters.

The Marlowe novels are steeped in their time; they touch racism and anti-Semitism. Plus they’re unremittingly sexist from end to end, with paper-thin characterizations that relegate every female character into one of only three narrow categories. (Which happens to be true of much of the genre.)

Refuting that tedious genre convention became the heart of the novel. If I was going to put a “dame” in the story—and a noir pastiche practically demands it—she’d be an actual human being. So I paired Bayliss with Molly Pruett: a modern woman with no patience for his shtick or the angels’ belligerence. She doesn’t fret quietly and wait for rescue, nor is she a conniving sexpot with a heart of ice. She’s something else entirely. She’s smart, strong, and bold.

But, then again, she is the hero.

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Frank Herbert, His Fiction, and Me

The Collected Stories of Frank HerbertBy David G. Hartwell

For five years in the 1970s I was Frank Herbert’s editor, and we maintained contact for the rest of his life. I liked him a lot.

By the time I got a job as science fiction editor at Berkeley Books (then a division of G.P. Putnams, and along with Coward-McCann, sharing the same offices), I had been reading Frank’s work for more than twenty years, having admired it since high school. One of my early favorite SF novels is The Dragon in the Sea, a prescient story about international oil theft from undersea wells in an oil-starved future. But I read all his books and many of his stories, and liked them all. Destination: Void, an early artificial intelligence novel, in another favorite. Then, of course, came Dune, his monumental classic.

To be in science fiction in those days was to be in the same social circles as everyone else in the field (well, I never met the pseudonymous Cordwainer Smith, but I knew someone who had, and I did get to visit Alice Sheldon—James Tiptree, Jr.), to go to the same parties as Arthur C. Clarke and Judith Merril and Isaac Asimov and Anne McCaffrey and, well, just about everyone. The field was just not that big and SF people were often isolated and yearned for the company of other SF people, and traveled hundreds or thousands of miles to hang out for a weekend at one of the few conventions held each year, fans and pros alike. So by the time I got a job that included being his editor, Frank and I had mutual friends, and I already knew his agent. The contract I inherited was for the third Dune book, Children of Dune, and that was the first one I worked on with him. I went to his house in Port Townsend, Washington a couple of times, and we got to know one another better.

Frank was in those days kind of a big blond-bearded Santa Claus figure who had immense enthusiasms, often about new technologies, but always about ideas, and about stories. He was clever and inventive. I could tell stories about publishing Children of Dune, and more about publishing his book on using home computers, and how no one really believed that they would sell well. But some of my favorite moments were visiting Seattle in the 1970s and 1980s when Frank was in town and having dinner at sunset on the water, sometimes also with my friend Vonda McIntyre, long friendly evenings of gossip and ideas. By that time Frank was a public figure, a bestselling writer, and there was a film adaptation of Dune coming out.

One of the things I always wanted to do, and could not because of the publishing situation in the 1980s and 1990s, was to edit and publish a collection of Frank’s short stories. And it began to become possible; my fine assistant at Berkeley from the Herbert days, John Silbersack, had grown into one of the major literary agents in New York, and now represented the Herbert estate. We could talk.

And so began a nearly five year process of finding a way to do the book, for the record but also for the entertainment of the vast Frank Herbert audience, which was still being cultivated by his son, Brian Herbert, and Kevin J. Anderson in the Dune world continuations. It’s here at last, The Collected Stories of Frank Herbert, and I feel as if another piece of my own life is happily completed too.

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Found in Translation

The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu

By Liz Gorinsky, Editor

Until fairly recently, most English-speaking science fiction fans knew very little about the Chinese science fiction publishing scene. This is not because that scene doesn’t exist—there is a thriving SF market in China, perhaps best exemplified by the magazine Science Fiction World (科幻世界), which has been publishing monthly for more than forty years. With a peak circulation of 300,000 copies, it’s the world’s most popular SF periodical by a long shot. Since most Anglophones can’t read Chinese, however, China’s science fiction has never been a large part of the cultural conversation on Western shores. In the past few years, some short fiction has begun to make it over, largely thanks to (often volunteer) translation efforts by renowned American SF&F writers such as John Chu and Ken Liu, but this barely scratches the surface of what’s out there.

When the manuscript for The Three-Body Problem, also translated by Ken Liu, landed on my desk, it was my first chance to read a novel-length narrative from China (and a massively successful one, with over two million copies of the trilogy sold there). It broke my brain open in all the best ways. I would have been happy to publish this simply because such great science fiction doesn’t cross an editor’s desk all that often, and this book had it all: Big Ideas, sweeping adventure, an inventive and strange alien society that the reader is left hungry to learn more about. It also has a truly epic scope: the first book covers approximately fifty years of recent history, while the latter two swing out to horizons upwards of five hundred years in the future and well past the far reaches of the galaxy. Finally, Three-Body’s unusual-to-me combination of great SF and insight into the Cultural Revolution and other aspects of Chinese society are sadly almost non-existent in popular culture in America.

While Chinese writers have been reading English SF in translation for the last century and beyond, they’ve also been writing their own, and the works I’ve seen have all had distinct flavors quite unlike what we’re seeing in America today. Sometimes it is particularly poetic prose or the kinds of cultural reference or societal structures in the text. The Three-Body Problem in particular struck me for its willingness to go into great depth about the scientific concepts it relies upon. In the English tradition, this would qualify it as hard SF, in the same camp as great latter-twentieth century writers such as Hal Clement and Arthur C. Clarke. In fact, Three-Body is hard enough that it inspired cosmologist and string theorist Li Mao to write a book about it called The Physics of Three-Body.

While Cixin Liu manages to convey these complex concepts with a great deal of clarity (even to this reader, who hasn’t studied physics since high school), it is a book that demands time and attention to understand both the scientific and social aspects of the story. I had moments of wondering if the “average American” would be up for the challenge. This is still an open question, but it has been heartening that all the reviews we’ve seen so far have been extremely positive. They’ve also recognized and appreciated the fact that there is something about the perspective and the narrative turns in The Three-Body Problem that is utterly unlike what Western readers have come to expect.

Finally, as much as I love this book and series for their inherent charms, Three-Body also gives us access to horizons of another sort that I am thrilled to have more opportunity to explore, particularly the fact that the author and the vast majority of the characters are Chinese. This seems so natural in our diversifying world (and will only become more so as we look into the future), yet it’s a refreshing change of pace from so many SFnal visions that fail to recognize this diversity. And this has been a the rare opportunity to publish a non-Anglophone writer, traditionally difficult terrain given the costs and barriers associated with translation, but something I hope we’ll see much more of in future (especially thanks to initiatives such as Clarkesworld’s great work in the short fiction world). I hope that a great many SF readers will choose to follow us into this bright, bold future and pave the way for more storytelling that is as unique and inspiring as Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem.

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A Hero Raised on Star Trek

Willful Child by Steven Erikson

By Steven Erikson

I adore Star Trek, always have. I am a massive fan of Capt. Kirk (still the best captain of the lot in my opinion) and a huge fan of William Shatner (proud Canadian that I am). I play Star Trek Online, and I own a fair amount of Star Trek memorabilia. It is safe to say that I am a Trekker. So it should come as no surprise that I always wanted to write a Star Trek story.

One of the things that has consistently struck me as strange is that in all these SF future worlds, contemporary culture never seems to have existed. No matter the future world, Star Trek, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, even Buck Rogers, never seem to have happened. Starbuck doesn’t remember Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers doesn’t remember Kirk, and Kirk doesn’t know what a lightsaber is. The obvious reason is probably to do with copyright issues, but when you are designing a future universe based on ours, it seems so strange to leave out the big SF shows that have formed our opinion of space travel. And if copyright is the reason, well, that’s just ridiculous. Isn’t SF supposed to incorporate all that we were and are, into what we will become?

So you could say that when I wrote my new novel, Willful Child, I took for my premise the simple idea that a guy in the future grew up watching the adventures of the U.S.S. Enterprise and her formidable Captain Kirk, and decided that this was who he was going to be. A child raised by TV, and one show in particular, who is then given a spaceship and sent off to find new worlds to conquer. What would someone be like if Captain Kirk was their sole role model? Someone who leaps into battle sure in the knowledge that they will be back on next week? Someone who is apparently irresistible to every alien female he meets? Someone who believes the chain of command applies to other people and not him? A captain of the future living with 1960s cultural aesthetics?

Anyway, this was a chance to write something as over-the-top as I could manage. To extend the logic of Star Trek to absurd conclusions and play with the tropes of the show. This is what ultimately led to the adventures of Captain Hadrian Sawback of the A.S.F. Willful Child. A man-child who has modelled himself on Kirk without the benefit of a more realistic role-model, set in a future universe in which humanity has become aggressively, obnoxiously complacent, and written using an episodic approach that allowed me to parody the show. A rollicking space adventure that would make people laugh. A spoof of the gross-out cringe-comedy kind, with something offensive to someone on virtually every page.

Hadrian is my take on a James Bond, a Flashman, a Slippery Jim DiGriz. Not dark enough to be an anti-hero, not heroic enough to be a traditional hero, and certainly not evil enough to be a villain. But he’s no clean-cut paragon of virtue. He has blind-spots and feet of clay. He craves adventure and wants to bring his universe toward the ideals of the show he grew up watching, seemingly unaware that the real world doesn’t work according to the narrative strictures of a TV show.

While Willful Child works as a stand-alone book, I envisage this as a series that will allow me to develop the characters in much the same way that they slowly developed over the course of the show (only, in a more insane fashion). This is the pilot, if you will, for the continuing adventures of Capt. Hadrian. If after reading Willful Child, you want more, then get on my case. That is, if you really want to read The Wrath of Betty and The Search for Spark. I buckle under that kind of pressure, every time. And to be honest, I can’t wait.

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Throwback Thursdays: Steven Brust on Animals, People, and Vlad Taltos

Welcome to Throwback Thursdays on the Tor/Forge blog! Every other week, we’re delving into our newsletter archives and sharing some of our favorite posts.

Vlad Taltos is back in Steven Brust’s Hawk! In the November 2007 Tor Newsletter, author Steven Brust talked about the characters—and the animals they’re similar to—he’s created over the years. Be sure to check back in every other week for more!

Hawk by Steven BrustBy Steven Brust

Why is it that I put animals in my books, or, more particularly, put in people with some sort of symbolic relationship to an animal? Is it because, in human history and pre-history so many people identified themselves with animals? No, that’s the justification, not the reason.

Is it so I can explore the animal nature within us all? Yeah, right, whatever.

Is it that it makes it easier to explore what it really means to be human? No, but if the New York Review of Books ever interviews me, that’s what I’ll say.

No, it’s so I can make fun of my friends without them knowing about it.

In the world in which the Vlad Taltos novel is set, the population is divided into what are called Great Houses, each named for an animal. Some of these animals are familiar to us all, some are made up, and some are familiar but altered. In truth, all human beings are a delightful mix of personality traits, some of which can appear dominant at various times depending on circumstances. In fiction, particularly fantasy, I get to exaggerate characteristics and make animal comparisons, and when I need to, make up the animal—all for the pleasure of laughing at my friends. I love this business.

Like, that guy who cares just a bit too much about money? Orca. The one with the temper? Dragon. The manipulative bastard? Yendi. The guy with ethics but no principles? Jhereg. The one who would cut off an arm rather than be rude? Issola. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had hours of fun figuring out which House all of my friends belong in.

My latest Vlad Taltos novel—out in paperback this month—is called Dzur. A dzur is your typical big, nasty cat. The people who identify with it are of the House of Heroes.

What, exactly, do I mean by “hero?” I’m not talking about real heroes, because real heroes only happen where character meets circumstance. Nor am I talking about people who constantly look for situations where they can show off their courage—they aren’t heroes, they’re adrenaline junkies. By “hero,” in this context, I mean someone who always goes in with the odds against him—in fact, who only goes in when the odds are against him. Sounds good, right?

You know them. At a party, he’s the one who won’t venture an opinion unless he’s pretty sure everyone in the room is on the other side. On the highway, he’s the ones zipping down the empty lane that’s about to vanish for construction, expecting you to let him in. On the internet—Oh, lord. Don’t get me started. Yeah, these are the guys who have raised being unpopular to an art form. One of my dearest friends is a Dzur. He sometimes refers to himself as Captain Social Suicide. Need I say more?

So, yeah, anyway. Those guys. They’re annoying as hell, but in stories they’re kinda fun.

This article is originally from the November 2007 Tor newsletter. Sign up for the Tor newsletter now, and get similar content in your inbox every month!

Six-Guns and Serial Killers

Shotgun Arcana by R. S. Belcher

By R. S. Belcher

Like the song goes, “My heroes have always been cowboys.” But another archetypal American figure plays a pretty big role in my new novel, The Shotgun Arcana: the serial killer. In the novel, I had the perverse pleasure of getting to play around with a literal army of psycho-killers—a cult of murders and cannibals, called the Teeth of Cain.

I looked into some bloody back alleys of America’s history to see what kind of real-world serial killers I could use for inspiration. As usual, history didn’t disappoint.

There’s the “Servant Girl Annihilator”, or the Austin Axe murderer, if you prefer. He was active in Austin Texas from 1884 to 1885, three years prior to the Jack the Ripper Murders in London. He was never caught and there are some serial killer experts (yes, there are such folk) who make a case that the Annihilator may also be the Whitechapel Ripper, traveling the world perfecting his bloody craft.

There are the Harpe Brothers, 18th century mountain men who killed for pleasure, or at the slightest provocation, even murdering a baby for crying too much. Many historians consider the “bloody Harpes” America’s first serial killers. The brutal pair were the inspiration for characters in Lois McMaster Bujold’s novel, The Sharing Knife: Passages and are featured in Manly Wade Wellman’s novel, The Voice of the Mountain.

Queho, a member of the Paiute tribe, who is considered Nevada’s first serial killer, eluded authorities for decades. Queho had Native American and Caucasion victims and took trophies from some of his kills, wearing the badge, number 896, that he took from the chest of a deputy he killed. The badge was found pinned to Queho’s mummified corpse when miners discovered his body in a cave in 1940, bringing the 30-years manhunt for him to a close.

John Johnston, better known as “Liver-eatin’ Johnston” was a mountain man who pursued a vendetta for over 25 years against the Crow Nation for the murder of his wife and child. Johnston lived up to his nickname, eating the livers of his victims—a grave insult to the Crow, who believe that the liver is necessary for the transition to the afterlife. The Crow hunted him for years and sent war parties to kill Johnston, calling him, Dapiek Absaroka (“Killer of Crows”). The folklore around Johnston claims he murdered and scalped over 300 Crow warriors. The number is considered by many historians to be inflated.

The Bender Family is another example of American history and mythology blurring. The Benders were German immigrant saloon-keepers in Kansas who routinely murdered their patrons and buried them in the garden behind the establishment. A guest for the night would be wined, dined, and entertained…and then usually dispatched by the eldest son with a sledge hammer. If that proved ineffective, the stunned victim was pulled through a hidden trap door in the saloon floor and their throat slit by the Benders’ daughter, Kate—a self-described psychic. The whole clan vanished before they could be caught—becoming part of western folklore, maybe even shaping urban legend.

Some of these historic killers appear in The Shotgun Arcana to make trouble for my dysfunctional little family of anti-heroes. They have different names and back stories, but they are based on real people, well, real legends, anyway. There are quite a few more salty dogs I didn’t even have a chance to elaborate on. I leave it to the diligent reader, and scholar of disturbing history, to sort the bettermost from the balderdash. Have fun.

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Making The Accidental Highwayman Videos

The Accidental Highwayman by Ben Tripp

Reprinted with permission by Ben Tripp

This is what happens when a writer gets his hands on after effects.

In Los Angeles, everybody knows somebody who makes movies or television. Ben Tripp worked in the movie business for a long time, and his wife Corinne Marrinan Tripp makes documentary films and television. So he knows people. Talented, versatile people who make the magic happen. You might imagine that when Tor Teen approached him about making a book trailer for The Accidental Highwayman, Ben’s first instinct would be to turn to this tremendous pool of talent.

You would imagine wrong, of course. Instead, Ben set about making the trailer single-handedly. Then he got carried away and made three more. Along the way the scale of the task got completely out of hand, and the great Buz Carter was enlisted to assist in the shooting. Then it was back to the desk to begin compositing, titles, and building the sound. Here are a few interesting aspects of these miniature productions.

ben-study-vid-green-screen-original

All live action shots were performed in front of a green screen, at different times of day so that the lighting would match the backgrounds. In Los Angeles everyone has a green screen in their garage somewhere. This one was pinned to the ceiling or tacked to the back of Ben’s house. Here we see an interior shot of the ukulero performing.

ben-tripp-study

The backgrounds were composed in Photoshop; this study is what Ben wishes his office looked like. In fact he does not own a hippo skull or a bust of Voltaire and there is no stolen Vermeer over his mantelpiece. His real office doesn’t even have a mantelpiece in it. But the black-and-white portrait of his wife (next to the window) does in fact hang near his desk.


Below is a screen capture of what a home movie studio looks like these days: a whole lot of layers on a computer screen.

after-effects-compositing-ben-in-study

Not everything could be achieved digitally, of course. Stock footage of sheep and a large papier-mâché giant’s head were involved, too. Ben’s love of all crafts shows here in sculpture; he also sewed the rest of the giant costume.

Originally his French Bulldog Roscoe, who is the model for Demon in the book, was to appear in the videos. But he had recently had back surgery, was underweight and partially shaved, and looked like an uncooked Thanksgiving turkey. So he did not appear in the videos.

Read more about The Accidental Highwayman and Ben Tripp at his website, kitbristol.com.

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From the Archives: Unexpected Dangers

Dangerous Women edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois

Written by Brandon Sanderson

What makes a woman dangerous? Well, what makes a person dangerous?

To me, the best kind of danger—which is, in a way, also the worst kind—is unexpected. It’s that twisted kind of dangerous that takes something familiar and safe and reveals it as something deadly. Wolves are frightening. To me, a loyal pet going mad and killing a child is ten times more terrifying.

For the Dangerous Women anthology, I wanted to find a way to express this unexpected sort of danger. I didn’t want a lean, professional assassin or a warrior in her prime, dangerous though those characters might be. I wanted something closer to home, a blend of the expected and unexpected. That is where I found Silence Montane.

The first name is one I ran across while reading puritan names. It was the second piece of the puzzle, as it raised questions. Who names their daughter Silence, and what does it imply? What is it like to grow up with this name? The answers built into the concept of a stout pioneer woman who ran an inn on the frontier, drawing the seediest criminals the land had to offer. She’d then track them after they left her inn and murder them for their bounties.

Familiar, yet unexpected. Kindly, yet deadly. The story turned out better than I could have hoped, and I’m thrilled to have had the chance—and the prompting—to write it.

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From the Tor/Forge October newsletter. Sign up to receive our newsletter via email.

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My Friend, Jay Lake

Ken Scholes Copyright Liz Ness
By Ken Scholes

This issue of Talebones runs both a little longer and a little shorter on quality than the last.

Those were the first of Jay Lake’s words I ever read. My third publication had just come out and I’d succumbed to the writerly pull toward Googling one’s self. I paused here. “A little shorter on quality than the last.” That made me a bit nervous but then I kept reading….

One story, Ken Scholes’ “Edward Bear and the Very Long Walk,” brought me a sense of finality so strong I had to lay down the magazine and wipe my eyes.

What followed was my first ever rave review and I was so moved by it that once I wiped my eyes I tracked down that reviewer and sent him a thank you note. He responded with prompt cheer and more high praise for the story.

Not long after, I learned that Jay lived in the Northwest and was going to be at Norwescon. So while I was there, standing in line at a restaurant, I mentioned to Patrick Swenson (the editor of Talebones at the time) that Jay Lake was supposedly at the con and I really wanted to meet him. Patrick laughed and pointed to a crazily dressed, somewhat loud fellow behind us in line. “That’s him there.”

It was a match made in heaven. Or maybe a match lit in hell. It was one of those rare “just add imagination” instant friendships. Our muses got on well. So did our senses of humor. And as we got to know each other—and as I settled into the Portland area—we started hanging out more and more. For most of a decade, we ate lunch together weekly at the Barley Mill on Hawthorne. I do not know how many tons of Cajunized tatertots we ate, chased with an ocean of iced tea, over the years. He inspired—or dared, or cajoled, or solicited for anthologies—at least a third of my short story inventory. He dared me to take two of those short stories and bend them into Lamentation and the rest of the Psalms of Isaak. My checkered past as a former boy preacher fascinated him and he frequently referred to me as his spiritual director though we shared a very similar worldview as secular humanists. Though to be honest, most of his spiritual direction involved me offering advice and a listening ear around his love life. Still, I liked the title and was happy to be there for him.

He was one my closest friends.

Jay died two months ago after a long, hard, losing battle with cancer. Before he went, the internet exploded with testimonies of love and pictures of Jay out in the world being himself. It was an outpouring from our tribe the likes of which I’ve never been so close to before in my life. But I get why.

Jay loved people and spent himself for them. He helped a lot of writers find their way, find their voice, find markets and he entertained the masses with his words and with his playful way in the world. And he lived transparently, letting the world see him at his best and his worst. He even made his cancer an open book, inviting others to experience it through him and find something they needed—a connection to him, encouragement in their own illness or the illnesses of their loved ones, a sense of perspective. He cared and he did what he could do to help others along the way. And he told amazing stories. Turned loose with a blank page, Jay would fill it up out of the depths of who he was and, as his mojo increased with practice, he’d find a home for his words out in the world.

I’m still coming up out of the fog of this loss. It hit me differently—harder even—than some of the others I’ve faced over the last several years. The idea that he’s gone is unfathomable to me and my memories of him live everywhere. His books are in my den. Photos he took of my daughters hang on my hallway walls. And then of course, there’s the more direct contact. More than memory, something like time travel. Jay, in 2008, when he was first diagnosed…wrote me a letter.

It arrived last week.

I guess I checked out, the letter begins. Sorry, buddy. I love you.

There was more…logistics around writing stuff and funeral arrangements, things already nailed down in conversations over his six year fight with cancer. And then he closed asking me to keep an eye on his daughter and to love my wife and all my kids, both literary and human.

They surely won’t be the last words I read of Jay’s, but they are his last words to me and after I wiped my eyes from that sense of finality, I put the letter into my treasure box, high on the treasure shelf in the Den of Ken. It lives there now with my letters from Ray Bradbury and James Stewart and the other mementos I’ve picked up along the way.

There will never be another Jay Lake.

Oh, I miss my friend.

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From the Tor/Forge September newsletter. Sign up to receive our newsletter via email.

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