Friday Catch-up + Tiny Snippet

I’ve rearranged my office finally, but since I haven’t hung any of my art yet, I don’t have any pictures.

Despite the clean office, I’m taking a couple of hours to work in the bagel cafe, since it’s raining.  Rain is Alwyn’s favorite weather, so he’s constantly pestering me to go outside.  By pestering I mean barking. Loudly and near-continually.  :;sighs::

So I’ve come to the cafe to do a quick blog post and get to work.

I’m currently working on The Sins of the Fathers, the sequel  to Dreaming Death. Unfortunately, when Shironne goes down to live in the Fortress, she can’t describe it for the reader. She’s blind, so it’s a real challenge for me to describe the place.

Tiny snippet:

So she allowed Tabita to lead her out into that first vast area–the commons. According to Mikael, the Fortress was very bland, with gray walls, gray floors, and glowing ceilings that provided the light within its depths. The walls held no paintings or tapestries, no wallpaper. There were, in a few places, geometric designs painted in shades of gray that were meant to give the unruly minds of children something to think about. It was commonplace to Mikael, nothing worth noticing.

To Shironne it was different, a place where breezes blew oddly clean air about. Where the walls sang to themselves, air and water moving through them like a human’s veins. Legend claimed that the Fortress was alive, and she believed it.

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Book of the Week: Disciple of the Wind by Steve Bein (+ Author Interview)

This week I’m featuring the newest book from my friend Steve Bein, the third in his Fated Blades series!

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From the cover:
When Tokyo falls victim to a deadly terrorist attack, Detective Sergeant Mariko Oshiro knows who is responsible, even if she doesn’t have proof. She urges her commanding officers to arrest the perpetrator—an insane zealot who was just released from police custody. When her pleas fall on deaf ears, she loses her temper and then her badge, as well as her best chance of fighting back.

Left on her own, and armed with only her cunning and her famed Inazuma blade, Mariko must work outside the system to stop a terrorist mastermind. But going rogue draws the attention of an underground syndicate known as the Wind. For centuries, they have controlled Japanese politics from the shadows, using mystical relics to achieve their nefarious ends—relics like Mariko’s own sword and the iron demon mask whose evil curse is bound to the blade. Now the Wind is set on acquiring Mariko.

Mariko is left with a perilous choice: Join an illicit insurgency to thwart a deadly villain, or remain true to the law. Either way, she cannot escape her sword’s curse. As sure as the blade will bring her to victory, it also promises to destroy her….

 

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Sounds great, huh?

Well, I thought I’d talk to Steve about his work here to celebrate it’s release.

 

1) So Steve, Disciple of the Wind is the third novel in your Fated Blades series (I should note here for readers that there are two novellas as well), all of which are set in Japan.  Can you tell us a bit about why you chose that setting?

I’m a Japanophile, plain and simple. I was in grade school when the ninja craze really swept the US. Snake Eyes, Storm Shadow, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Sho Kosugi, all of them captivated me. By junior high my tastes matured a little and I got into Akira Kurosawa, then James Clavell. In college I found martial arts, which got me reading Miyamoto Musashi, which eventually led me to a whole shelf of books on bushidō.

Around thirteen or fourteen I read my first book on Zen Buddhism, and it really spoke to me. (I’m not a practicing Buddhist, but Zen made more sense to me—and still does, really—than any other philosophical tradition I know.) It wasn’t until college that I started studying Japanese philosophy in earnest, and as I progressed there, I also I got deeper into martial arts. Those two created a kind of virtuous circle, each one encouraging the study of the other. From there I went off to grad school, specializing in Japanese philosophy. Then came a couple of years living in Nagoya and Tokyo, where I was suffused in the culture in a way none of my academic studies could ever duplicate. So today it’s fair to say that Japan is in my blood. I’ve never lost my fascination with it.

2) And you chose as your main character a Narcotics Detective. That’s a pretty specific niche!  How or why did you choose to go that route?

I had a couple of choices with Mariko. The Fated Blades books are multi-layered, with the modern day police thriller serving both as the primary storyline and the lens through which we get to look back at episodes in Japanese history. All the historical pieces follow the exploits of the Inazuma blades, the deadliest swords ever forged. Whoever the contemporary character was going to be, she had to have good reason to investigate the past, or else she couldn’t fulfill her purpose as a lens.

The first and most obvious choice was a historian, but I wanted to write a more exciting protagonist than some professor sitting in a study reading books. (The historian ultimately did make it into the book: he’s Mariko’s sensei when she takes up swordfighting.) The next obvious choice was a journalist, but again, I wanted a more exciting book than that. Settling on a police detective wasn’t easy, because she didn’t have any natural connection to the past, but at last I figured out what now seems inevitable: the crimes she investigates would revolve around the mysterious Inazuma blades.

As for her Narcotics assignment, that actually didn’t come until the very last draft of Daughter of the Sword. My editor observed that Mariko’s relationship with her sister Saori hadn’t been fleshed out yet. At the same time, I wanted to tease out the already-existing themes of obsession and addiction. One of the Inazuma blades has an effect on its wielder quite similar to—well, let’s be blunt: it’s an homage to—the One Ring. Gollum is an addict, as are the characters who take up this sword. Making Saori an addict afforded me another opportunity to bring out that theme in the book, and it complicated the relationship between the Oshiro sisters. Once Saori became an addict, Mariko suddenly had her mission in life: she knows she can’t make her sister sober up—only Saori can do that—so instead she dedicates herself to bringing down the people who sell the poison that ruined her sister’s life.

3) How do you feel your main character (Mariko) has changed in the process of these stories?

At the beginning of her career she wasn’t as confident as she needed to be. Throughout the three books she’s her own harshest critic, but in Daughter of the Sword she sees herself as too small, too weak, too easily pushed aside to be an effective cop. In Japan law enforcement is still very much a male-dominated profession, so every day is another attack on Mariko’s self-esteem. She has to outperform everyone just to be seen as an equal.

As the books progress, her martial training doesn’t just make her more effective in a fight; she’s also more confident, more self-assured. By the time we get to Disciple of the Wind, Mariko is officially a Certified Ass-Kicker. We get to see her take on a skilled knife-fighter with nothing other than an arm cast. But there’s a downside too. Right from the start she had trouble minding her tongue, and the more confident she comes, the easier it becomes for her to shoot her mouth off. That tends to get her in a lot of trouble.

4) Your novels feature entwined stories, one concerning Mariko and her present day trials, but others feature characters in Japan’s past. This had to take a ton of research, especially since they weren’t all in the same period.  What’s your favorite of those past eras, and is it possible that we might see you focusing on one of them in the future?

The Warring States period (1467-1603) is an era of constant turmoil. The emperor doesn’t even rate as a figurehead, and the rule of law is utterly shattered, replaced by 100 years of civil war. Then, in just forty years, Japan transforms from a rabble of feuding fiefdoms to a unified empire. It’s a fascinating time, and with the lone exception of World War II, I think more books have been written on the Warring States period than any other era of Japanese history.

I do have several characters living in this period. In Daughter of the Sword it’s Daigoro Okuma, a fledgling samurai who returns throughout the series. In Year of the Demon it’s Kaida, a young pearl diver who reappears in my new novella, Streaming Dawn. They’re my favorites to write, in large part because the research is so much fun. The truth is, I’m just as enamored with samurai and ninja stories today as I was when I first discovered them in the fourth grade. I could write a hundred books in this period and never get bored.

5) Since this is your third Fated Blades novel, I wondered whether there will be more. What can we expect from you next?

When my agent asked that question, I said what I really want more than anything else right now is to write a simple book. One era, one storyline, one set of characters. So that’s what I’m going to do, but this one is going to test me in entirely new ways. It’s hard SF, but the POV characters don’t understand enough science to know that. To them it looks like steampunk with a healthy dose of magic stirred in. Think Firefly meets Robinson Crusoe. It’s a story of space-faring people who have lost their way, forgetting so much that now they can’t get back into space. But trouble from space can still get to them, which they discover in the worst way possible.

6) And where can we find you in person this summer?  Will you be appearing at any cons or readings?

A bunch, actually. I’ll be speaking on the “Reinventing the Hero(ine)” panel at C2E2, also known as Chicago Comic Con (April 24-26). I’m on a couple of panels at Comicpalooza in Houston (May 22-25), moderating one (“Writing Tips and Tricks: How to Create Believable Worlds”) and speaking on another (“Multiculturalism in Science Fiction and Fantasy”). I’m also on at least three panels at ArmadilloCon in Austin (July 24-26, no topics announced yet). I’ll post all the details and updates—and, when the time comes, pictures—on Facebook and Twitter.

Steve Bein (pronounced “Bine”) is a philosopher, photographer, traveler, translator, martial artist, and award-winning author of science fiction and fantasy. His short fiction has appeared in Asimov’sInterzoneWriters of the Future , and in international translation. His first novel, Daughter of the Sword , was met with critical acclaim, and his second novel, Year of the Demon, was named one of the top five fantasy novels of 2013 by Library Journal . Steve’s newest book, Disciple of the Wind is in stores now, and his new novella, Streaming Dawn , is available now for your e-reader. You can find his work at Powell’s , Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and Audible.

Steve teaches philosophy at Texas State University. He lives in Austin with his partner Michele and their Black Lab, Kane. On the web he lives at http://www.philosofiction.com.

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Alejandro novella

More for record keeping than anything else: Alejandro, Serafina, and a dress.  Hey, what can I say….I liked the dress. alejandro Serafina tumblr_nmjurbYkb01tzm4feo1_500

I’m not entirely sure I can work it in, but I’m definitely hoping to get in a scene in the Cafe Majestic (The Elite Cafe at the time, actually.)

IMG_2808Of course, who knows when I’ll get this done.  Pipe dreams….

Social Media: What am I doing out here? (2014 version)

Originally posted on J. Kathleen Cheney:

I admit  it, I consume more social media than I should.  Yes, it does subtract from the time I spend writing, but it’s also my connection to most of my friends. My writer friends are scattered to the four winds, so this is the way I stay in touch with my world.

But if you want to know what I’m doing in social media land, here’s a summary:

FaceBook

I have both a personal FB and an Author Page. The author page basically repeats this webpage. The personal one is for my daily use. I post about my dogs, my coffee shops, and various other stuff.

I will friend people if it looks like we have some friends in common. If I glance at your page and we don’t seem to have anything in common, I won’t.  If you post a whole slew of angry political stuff, invite me…

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Interstellar: Ken Burns’ “The Dust Bowl” meets “2001: A Space Odyssey”

Since it’s now available for streaming, we watched Interstellar over the weekend.

Now, I will say that it’s a  visually nice movie. Given that we only have a 32″ TV, however,some of the visual awesomeness was lost.  Plus I’m just really cynical. All the business about love transcending time and dimensions did NOT work for me.

Sadly, I found that I pretty much agreed with this trailer (warning: includes spoilers.)  Don’t watch this if you’re a big fan of the movie.

My main problem with the movie was that, as a writer, I could see all the big moments coming long before they got there.  I knew pretty early on who the poltergeist was. I knew about Matt Damon (the writer telegraphed that almost as soon as MD was woken.) I knew that he was going to leave the space station again.  The problem with being a writer is that you tend to see all those things far more easily than the ‘average’ viewer, if there is such a thing.

I suspect that’s one reason I enjoy Rom Coms, Romance novels, and Mystery novels. They generally make no bones about what they are up front. They don’t expect me to think “Oh, My Goodness!” when they trot out the killer, or reveal that X is actually the guy who loved her all along.  A movie like Interstellar -does- rely on that element of surprise, and therefore, it’s lost on me.

And I will say that, in my opinion, the dialog was rather stilted, particularly when it came to matters of Love or of Relativity.  Since I’ve understood about the warping of time for space travelers since I was in my teens, I really didn’t need the explanations, so their existence made the movie seem ham-handed to me.

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That said, my husband and I talked to our waiter at Sunday morning breakfast, who also watched it this weekend, and LOVED it.  To him, all these concepts were new and thought-provoking.

He’d never seen 2001: A Space Odyssey. Or Signs. Or pretty much any movie that the older generation has seen before that dealt with this sort of issue.

He probably didn’t see Ken Burns’ The Dust Bowl, from which I felt Interstellar just picked entire sections out and cut and pasted them into the movie.

So I suppose that, like Dances with Aliens….OOPS! I meant Avatar….this is all new to him. It’s novel and fresh.

And I’m glad for him that he’s not too jaded to enjoy it ;o)

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Book of the Week: Emilie and the Hollow World (Today at 1.99!)

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Now, this isn’t a new book–it’s been around for a while. But I’m putting it up here today because it’s temporarily priced at $1.99! (And that price might not hang on much longer…in fact, today might be the last day. With Amazon, who knows?)

So to give you a bit of a feel what it’s like, here’s the blurb:
While running away from home for reasons that are eminently defensible, Emilie’s plans to stow away on the steamship Merry Bell and reach her cousin in the big city go awry, landing her on the wrong ship and at the beginning of a fantastic adventure.

Taken under the protection of Lady Marlende, Emilie learns that the crew hopes to use the aether currents and an experimental engine, and with the assistance of Lord Engal, journey to the interior of the planet in search of Marlende’s missing father.

With the ship damaged on arrival, they attempt to traverse the strange lands on their quest. But when evidence points to sabotage and they encounter the treacherous Lord Ivers, along with the strange race of the sea-lands, Emilie has to make some challenging decisions and take daring action if they are ever to reach the surface world again.

Now I loved these books, both Hollow World and it’s sequel, Emilie and the Sky World:61c85YhDj9L

These -are- young adult novels, BTW. So they’re great threshold books for youngsters wanting something new to read. And at this price for kindle (B&N seems to have it on sale as well.) it’s an easy way to try out the series.