Guest Post: Chaz Brenchley & the Crater School!
It is my delight and honor to host my friend Chaz Brenchley on the blog today. I met Chaz online, and then through the Irish/UK con circuit, oh, several-many years ago now. Most lately he’s been working on a project that I’m utterly in love with, both in concept and execution, and he’s here to talk about it–and its crowdfunding support system–today!
One of the joys of living in the heart of Silicon Valley is that NASA Ames is just over there, and SETI HQ is even closer. We live among the cool kids – and the cool kids like to share. I went to NASA for the recent transit of Venus; and ever since I moved here, I’ve been going to SETI’s weekly colloquium where planetary scientists and cosmologists talk about the latest discoveries, or the specific projects they have on a new mission, or the latest weird theory that’s almost a guaranteed Nobel prize if it should ever prove true (“but right now there are only two people who believe it, and they’re both in this room”), and like that.
So there I was with planetary scientists at my fingers’ ends for the asking, and lots of Mars talk going on around the time of Curiosity’s landing, so it’s really no wonder that I started thinking about Mars fiction. Real Mars, not so much, for it is dry and inhospitable and I have written my desert books already – but old Mars, Mars with canals and an atmosphere and aliens? Oh, yes. Very much yes.
And very much within that spirit, I wanted to steampunk it up a bit; and there was a lot of talk at that time in my social media about how steampunk tended to assume British Empire overtones, as though that were the only choice, and how it so very much was not. So I thought somewhat about that – but I did keep coming back to the British Empire, because I am far from home and the more time I spend in California the more inveterately Brit I become, and because I am the son of an Empire brat (Grandad was a major in the Scots Guards; Mum was born in Rangoon and grew up in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, speaking Malay more readily than English), and because above all I was really curious. If Mars were a province of the British Empire, how would that actually work? How could it happen, and what would it mean – to the Empire, and to European and world history? And to Mars, and to the presumptive Martians? How do you impose colonial rule on a race that has no concept of empire, or statehood, or governance? And does it make a difference if you’re there by their courtesy, via their aetherships, for reasons you still don’t understand? And how do you negotiate even the broadest heads of agreement where you can barely communicate at all?
And, and, and. This is one way that fiction happens, with a whole slew of questions that need answering. So this last couple of years, I have been writing stories that seek to do that. The first of them, “The Burial of Sir John Mawe at Cassini”, was published in Subterranean and picked up by Gardner Dozois for his Year’s Best SF anthology; the second – “The Astrakhan, the Homburg and the Red Red Coal” – appeared this year in Lightspeed’s “Queers Destroy SF” special issue (Oscar Wilde on Mars!). And I’m working on T E Lawrence on Mars, and A E Housman on Mars, and I’m irretrievably bogged down in a novel about Kipling on Mars (for many of these stories begin with “Y’know, if Mars were a province of the British Empire, [X] would so have gone there…”).
So there’s that, and I am passionate about it, beguiled by it, almost obsessed with it.
But I have other passions too, lifelong passions – and one of those is the Chalet School series by Elinor M Brent-Dyer. Sixty books, written over forty-five years: the tale of an English boarding school established in the Austrian Tyrol, with all that that implies. Mischief at midnight, practical jokes and punishments, prefects and dormitories and matrons and mistresses; but also adventures on a much greater scale, for these books were written in real time through the war and the girls witness anti-Semitic cruelty and take a stand against it and have to flee the Nazis themselves. And retreat first to Jersey, which turns out not to have been such a good idea; and then spies come after them, and the makeshift migratory wartime school yields some of the best stories in the series. And then after the war the school moves to Switzerland (for it needs to stay close to the TB sanatorium that brings in many of its pupils, and staff too – and that supplies another constant theme to the series, loss and survival and the comforts of faith), and things go on much as before until the author’s death in 1970.
These books have a cult following, including some surprising names that I shall not bandy here. And just a few weeks ago, I was walking home from the farmers’ market when I suddenly thought, “Y’know, if Mars were a province of the British Empire, the Chalet School would so have a sister foundation there…”
It’s already established in the canon that boys are sent home to the great boarding-shools of England; but aethership journeys are expensive, and space is at a premium. Of course they’d want to educate their girls locally, oh yes…
And so the Crater School was born, in a failed hotel built as a Norman castle, on the rim of a crater lake inhabited by a Martian naiad. Just across the water from a sanatorium, for Mars comes of course with its own diseases; and there are Basque shepherds on the slopes and Dutch families on the canal below, Indians and Chinese in the great port cities, and and and…
And I’ve stitched all this together into a Patreon project, and we are going to have so much fun, it ought to be illegal. Or at least see us sent to the Headmistress on report. You can read the first two chapters for free here, and the Patreon page is here, if you’d like to support the Crater School for this term and beyond…
DB Jackson returns! Again!
I’m delighted to once more have my friend and fellow writer DB Jackson on the blog for a series of not-terribly-serious interview questions!
1. Let’s start with the obvious. Give me the ten-cent shake-down on A PLUNDER OF SOULS.
The Thieftaker Chronicles are historical urban fantasy, and the books tell the story of Ethan Kaille, a conjurer and thieftaker (the eighteenth century equivalent of a private detective) living in pre-Revolutionary Boston. Each book is a stand-alone mystery set against the backdrop of a particular historical event leading to the American Revolution. The historical events are real, as are many of the characters; I’ve inserted fictional murders into the historical narrative, along with a cast of characters who comprise Ethan’s social circle and clientele.
In A PLUNDER OF SOULS, the third book in the series, I bring back a character who is to Ethan something like what Moriarty was to Sherlock Holmes. Nate Ramsey, first appeared in “A Spell of Vengeance,” a short story I published at Tor.Com in June 2012. Ramsey is a fun character, in kind of the way that Hannibal Lecter is a fun character. Like Ethan, he’s a powerful conjurer. He’s also brilliant, cruel, vengeful, and a bit mad. In the original short story, Ethan is hired to protect two merchants who have been threatened by Ramsey. Ethan does his best, but Ramsey gets the better of him, with tragic results, and then escapes Boston.
Now Ramsey is back. It’s the summer of 1769, and Boston is in the midst of an outbreak of smallpox (as it really was that summer). Ethan is hired to investigate a series of grave robberies, and soon discovers that corpses have been mutilated in grotesque ways, and that at least some of what has been done to them seems to be meant as a personal warning to him. What results is a little bit mystery, a little bit ghost story, and a whole lot of epic magical warfare. I won’t reveal more, except to say that Ramsey is an even more formidable foe for Ethan now than he was in 1763, when the short story took place.
2. I personally claim to never ‘cast’ my novels with actors, although there are instances where that is untrue. Do you ‘cast’ people for your characters? Anybody you want to confess to?
I’ll admit that there are times when I do this. I don’t like to because, as you have said to me in the past, it’s sometimes counterproductive to put such a specific image in the minds of our readers. But there have been characters who just lend themselves to this sort of thing. And the truth is, it can also be fun to imagine the movie versions of our books. So, that said, I can definitely see Sephira Pryce, Ethan’s beautiful and deadly rival in thieftaking, being played by Olivia Wilde. Wilde is gorgeous and alluring, but there is also something a bit edgy about her beauty. Hers is not a soft look, and with the right costuming and makeup she could totally make the role of Sephira come to life as I’ve written it.
For Nate Ramsey, I think that Michael Pitt would be a really good choice. He totally looks the part as I envision it, and the kid’s got chops.
Ethan is a much harder call. I would want a slightly older actor — Ethan is supposed to be in his early forties by this point in the series, and he has lived a hard life. Maybe Ewan McGregor or Clive Owen. Or Mark Wahlberg. I need to think about this one a bit more.
3. If you had one shot with a time machine, what one historical event, place, or person would you want to visit?
Wow. I’m not just saying this because of the Thieftaker books. Really. But I would have to choose the period right around the writing and signing of the Declaration of Independence. I have a Ph.D. in U.S. History, and while my doctoral dissertation dealt with twentieth century issues, I found the Revolutionary period fascinating. I guess that’s why, when I finally got around to blending my love of fantasy with my passion for history, this was the period in which I set my books.
It’s not just the events themselves that are so fraught with drama and intrigue. It’s also the personalities: Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and Benjamin Franklin. Brilliant minds; engaging speakers; willful, ego-driven politicians. And they were bandying about ideas from so many sources — Cato, Locke, Hobbes, Pitt, Hume, and others. It was a heady time intellectually as well as politically and militarily. That’s where I’d want to go.
4. I know you like jazz. Who’s one of your favourite artists, or what is a favourite album?
Yeah, I’m a huge jazz fan, and I listen to a lot of instrumental jazz when I work. I know that some authors can’t have any music at all going when they write, but I find that the improvisational quality of the music actually fuels my creativity. In particular, I’m a fan of “cool” jazz from the late 1950s. My favorite artist from this time — no surprise here — is Miles Davis, and my favorite albums of his are KIND OF BLUE, ‘ROUND ABOUT MIDNIGHT, and MILESTONES.
Among more recent jazz artists, I love the work of Roy Hargrove, Nicholas Payton, and a relatively obscure, but truly excellent group called Sphere. All of them remain true to the spirit of that older jazz sound, placing a premium on melody, virtuosity, and improv. It’s great stuff, and as I say, listening to it actually helps me write.
5. When are you going to finish reading The Walker Papers so we can get started on that collaboration? (WHAT?! Nobody said my questions couldn’t be self-serving!)
[Laughing] Well, if you’d slow down with the writing a bit I could at least catch up with the series!! I’ve read the first two books in the series and am now reading COYOTE DREAMS, and loving it so far. My reading time these days is eaten up by books that I read as a beta reader for friends, or so that I might give a cover blurb. Time for pleasure reading is not always so easy to come by. It also didn’t help that I got totally sucked in to your Negotiator trilogy, which also took up some time. (I know that there are more Negotiator books now, but I have my fingers in my ears and I’m saying “la, la, la, la . . .” really loudly so that they don’t distract me.) In all seriousness, I am totally psyched to read the rest of The Walker Papers and get working on our story. It’s going to be a blast.
And by the way, HIS FATHER’S EYES, the second book in the Case Files of Justis Fearsson (forthcoming from Baen Books — book I, SPELL BLIND, comes out in January) is finished and turned in. So I’ll be sending a copy of the manuscript your way so that you can read it!
Ed: 1. Olivia Wilde & Clive Owen totally work for me for those characters. Or Sean Bean 10 years ago, for that matter.
2. I don’t know much jazz–far less than I should, because I love it–but my god, KIND OF BLUE. What an album. What an album!
3. Technically there are only Old Races short story collections out now, not Negotiator books, but that’s being fussy. :)
4. For the readers: David’s got a new urban fantasy series coming out, I’ve already read book 1, we’re gonna be doing a Walker Papers/Fearsson Files crossover story, it’s gonna ROCK!
D.B. Jackson is also David B. Coe, the awardwinning author of more than a dozen fantasy novels. His first two books as D.B. Jackson, the Revolutionary War era urban fantasies, Thieftaker and Thieves’ Quarry, volumes I and II of the Thieftaker Chronicles, are both available from Tor Books in hardcover and paperback. The third volume, A Plunder of Souls, has recently been released in hardcover. The fourth Thieftaker novel, Dead Man’s Reach, is in production and will be out in the summer of 2015. D.B. lives on the Cumberland Plateau with his wife and two teenaged daughters. They’re all smarter and prettier than he is, but they keep him around because he makes a mean vegetarian fajita. When he’s not writing he likes to hike, play guitar, and stalk the perfect image with his camera.
Find DB at:
Guest Blogger: Gabra Zackman!
Over the years I’ve had lots and lots of people tell me how much they love Gabra Zackman, the reader for most of the Walker Papers audio books. Gabra emailed me around a year ago and we’ve chatted back and forth in email (and in Skype, recently! SO COOL!) a bit, and I thought, hey! I should ask if she’d do a guest blog sometime!
So I did, and she said yes! And so in honor of the audio version of RAVEN CALLS being released today, I’m posting the blog she sent. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!
The Life of an Audiobook Narrator
I’ve had the privilege over the years of recording some extraordinary books, and it occurred to me a few years back to contact some of the people who write them. It was with great excitement and awe that I first contacted Catie to say how much I loved her work, and it was with the same great excitement that I responded to her request for an entry for her newsletter.
I’m currently in the midst of prepping RAVEN CALLS, the seventh book in the Walker Series. I adore it. It’s not fair or nice to play favorites, but… this is one of my favorites. The whole series has been an absolute gift to me. But this one has had me laughing even more (if possible!) and has made my imagination and my heart dance around with joy.
I’ve had three series I’ve done that have meant a great deal to me, and I’ve made contact with all of the authors. In the midst of one, I had lunch with the author at a pivotal moment: I had been through a really rough time in life, and wanted to thank her for her work. In that dark stretch, I got to spend days in a booth with her characters, and it brought me such comfort. To my great surprise, she confessed that she had written the first book of the series while going through a divorce… that she had written the characters to bring HER comfort!!! It was amazing to know that a book she had written to bring happiness into her life affected me in the same way, and I hoped it was the same salve to many other women who listened to it. I feel the same with Joanne Walker… she’s the inner shaman/ goof/ klutz/ kick ass chick who I wish I were on the inside, and her antics can always make me laugh on a rainy day.
I got into audiobooks through something of a fluke. The well-known reader Jonathan Davis has been a dear friend of mine since we did a play together, and he invited me to send an audition to a company he worked for. This company happened to have an opening—a reader with a similar voice had just left—and I was the lucky recipient of the best job I’d ever had. Here’s another way to tell the same story: I have the privilege of working a lot as an actress, but it wasn’t always that way. For a long time I waited tables and catered, and I had gotten to the point of no return. So I decided to have a frank conversation with God. “God,” I said, while wearing a tuxedo and serving canapés, “I can’t imagine this is my greatest good on this earth. If you want me to keep being an actress, you need to give me a way to live. If not, I’m throwing in the towel. You choose.” Shortly thereafter I got a call, and my life profoundly changed. Somewhere between God and Jonathan Davis was my salvation.
From the company I initially started with, I made contacts that went off and formed their own companies… and wound up doing this wonderful work in several different studios. I was one of the first people called when Audible started their own production company, and they are still one of my greatest employers today. One of my early books was THUNDERBIRD FALLS, the second in the Walker series, and I fell in love with it immediately. I was so excited for this book… it appealed so deeply to my love of language, folklore, and funny, powerful women. But there was a catch… another reader read the first book, and this is never a fun situation to go into.
Listeners are loyal. It’s something I’ve learned. And to switch horses on them midstream… pisses them off. So it was no surprise that there was much controversy about this. I read the book with great love and passion, but I was a fairly new narrator at the time, and a bit nervous. The listener reviews nearly killed me… there were all these comparisons to the first reader’s take on it, and it was really hard for me to deal with that. Besides which, I thought she was wonderful, and couldn’t understand the change either… my guess is that she moved or something, because they never switch readers on a series if they can avoid it.
So the whole thing was a source of great paranoia to me at first… and there were a ton of reviews that preferred one or the other of us. To be honest, my terror was selfish… it was less about my work, which I was beginning to be confident about, and more about the series… would they take it away from me? If there were more books, would I get them, or not? I was so relieved when I got the next one, and the next one, and the one after that, five in all for me to read over the years. I feel like these characters have become old friends, and I so look forward to taking them with me into the booth again. At the same time, it’s an interesting thing, having read for so long… there are early choices I made, particularly character’s voices, which I wouldn’t choose now [Catie’s note: That’s okay, as I told Gabra, ’cause if I’d known where they were going, there are some choices I’d have made differently for characters early on, too!]. But what can I do? I’m sorta stuck with them! I tried in one series to switch the voices mid-way, and that was like cooking a stew then deciding to make a consommé. It’s invariably better to stick with the stew.
Reading audiobooks is a strange skill, and a strange experience. I love it, but it’s not for everyone. I typically read about 4-6 hours at a stretch, and it is an extraordinary combination of patience (you can’t move around a lot), stamina (I call it “strapping my Nikes to my vocal chords”) and creativity (we want to hear the characters, but don’t do TOO much!) Usually it’s just me and an engineer, and at this point, we’re all pretty dear friends. It’s an intimate situation, reading a book to someone, and we have all worked together for years. So you can imagine that between long takes, and lots of tea, there are wonderful conversations, all of which occur on either side of insulated glass. Pretty strange? Yes. And pretty awesome. Especially for some of the more graphic romances I’ve read… those tend to be pretty funny nights. Please imagine a bunch of women in their 30s reading graphic romances to mostly male engineers in their 20s! It’s wonderfully fun. I think you need a great sense of humor to be an audiobook narrator. You need to be able to laugh at yourself, and intuitively find the humor of the piece you’re working on, both in equal measure.
There’s often a lot of prep that goes into it as well, depending on the material. For RAVEN CALLS, I’m planning to ask Catie if she knows how to pronounce all the Gaelic words she’s put in there, and if she can help me with it! We often have to ask the authors things like that, particularly if you’re working on sci-fi. I recently completed a sci-fi book that had something like 5 pages of pronunciations, all of which were directly from the author… when you have an entirely self-created world, it’s often like that. But it has cropped up all over the place… I once read a romance that was set in Japan, and had to consult a native speaker about the phrases. And once I read a non-fiction book about an indigenous culture in Alaska and had to make my way through Inuit words. That was a picnic! Again, we all have a good laugh over it, and try our best to do the kind of work we are proud of. At this point, I have recorded over 200 books, so there’s very little that can truly surprise me.
So here I sit, about to prep more of RAVEN CALLS, and I get to look forward to some time with Joanne and her adventures in a dark booth. Likely, an attractive young male friend of mine will be sitting across the glass, and in between Joanne’s tangles with her past and present, my friend and I will talk about our lives. I’ll occasionally say a wrong word, and we’ll laugh. I’ll have to say the Gaelic phrases several times until I’m happy with how they sound. And we’ll drink tea and coffee and listen, together, to all the places this story will go, to all the paths Joanne will walk down, to her irreverent and witty self-effacement. And, frankly, we’ll thank God that this is “one of the good ones” and that we can truly enjoy the evening.
So this is for you, the listeners, who will soon have a chance to read or hear this great new installment… I hope you have as much fun listening to it as I plan to have reading it. Cheers to that!
european time zone warriors?
I need European time zone word warriors. Even if you just log in to tell me every half hour, “Write more!” that would be greatly appreciated. Anybody? Anybody?
Guest blog interview thingy with me is up at the Chapters Bookstore blog.
*rattles brain* Okay. I’m going in.
miss spammity spam spam
I completely forgot that I had an interview going up at Dear Author today. It’s my First Sale Story, which I still think is pretty funny. :) (Dear Author also gave me a quite nice review of TQB, which I thought was, well, nice of them. :))
I actually wrote some New Material today. Only about 1500 words, and I ended up moving what had been the end of this chapter into another chapter, so now I’ve got 10 or 15 pages to write to finish this chapter. Again. But then I’ve also only got that much, probably, to finish the next one, and I’ve got 2700 words or so of stuff I’ve already written that goes into either the next one or the chapter after that, and…and, well, look, I’ve only got 3 squares of the Novelist’s Event Horizon Chocolate left, so I can’t have more than 3 chapters left.
Anyway, I’ve stopped writing for the day but I’m feeling quite enthusiastic about writing tomorrow. There’s a lot of stitching together left to do, but there’s enough material already written that maybe it won’t be too traumatic. I think I’ll walk less tomorrow, and write more.
Now, however, I think I’ll go throw myself on Ted’s mercy and plead for dinner, because SO HUNGRY!
ytd wordcount: 185,900
miles to Minas Tirith: 380.6