Upcoming: Queens Library Event

On March 8th, Queens Library is hosting an event with me and authors Alex Shvartsman and Rob Dircks, in a restaurant in Long Island City. Details are here.

It’s safe to say that I owe nearly everything to the Queens Library, the public library system with which I grew up. Until the age of 12, this library system nurtured my love of reading. After the age of 12, I no longer had access to a library and in some ways, I’m still working to make up for the lost years. There is simply no way to overestimate the value of a library system to a community and in the lives of emerging readers. For the gift of childhood access to books, I’ll always be grateful to the Queens Library, and that gives this event a significance beyond the ordinary.


Campbell Award Eligibility

Last Song Before Night, which came out in 2015, was my first fiction publication. I had no short stories or even poetry published prior to that, mostly because I tend to write short fiction on average every 10 years. Anyway, this means I’m eligible for the Campbell Award for Best New Writer. I would be appreciative of your consideration.

I am not against self-promotion (obviously), but awards are a gray area and I feel odd about campaigning for them, for my own personal reasons (which probably have nothing to do with the reasons that might come to mind–I don’t think it’s bragging, I’m not shy because I’m a woman, I don’t judge other writers for campaigning because they are not me, etc.). There are several awards coming up and I won’t be discussing them here. But because the window of eligibility for the Campbell is narrow (two years), I thought I’d make an exception this time.

I am grateful that while my book didn’t come out with a big bang, readers are gradually discovering it and finding that it resonates–sometimes even in the ways I’d hoped. If you are one of those readers, your support is appreciated.

Writing War in Fantasy: High Stakes vs. Logistics

In writing the sequel to Last Song Before Night, I’ve been contemplating the challenge of writing about lands at war, which is a theme in the next two books. Most epic fantasies are about sweeping and, well, epic battles. This is also true of many of the books I loved growing up. Now that I’m venturing into that territory myself, it’s occurred to me that there are two very different approaches to writing about war in fantasy, based on two essential elements: the high stakes of war, and the logistics.

I’ll give the most basic examples to make my case. Tolkien’s Return of the King is focused on the high stakes of war. Maybe he talks about supply lines and army locations, but I certainly don’t remember because it’s not a central interest for him. He certainly doesn’t talk about taxes, as George R. R. Martin has pointed out. There is talk of strategies, but this is in a manner similar to the Bible which also includes narratives of battle strategies–it’s done in a way that dovetails so seamlessly with the storytelling that you are not going to learn much technical information about battles from reading it. That information is beside the point.

If these logistics are not central to Tolkien’s interest, then what is? To me it seems clear that a religious perspective made the conflict between good and evil of central concern to Tolkien. In the end he is far more interested in the moral defection of Denethor and the internal rot of Saruman–and conversely, the blindingly white resurgence of Gandalf as Mithrandir–than he is in questions of food supply.

That’s one end of the spectrum. At the opposite end is K.J. Parker’s Fencer Trilogy, in which logistics is everything. The only evil is within the heart of the protagonist Bardas Loredan and his brother, Gorgas. Everything else can be coldly boiled down to the machine of war and how it interconnects with the equally impersonal machine of politics.

Most fantasy novels fall within this spectrum, being neither as consumed by conflicts of the soul as Tolkien, nor as preoccupied with logistics as Parker. And nowadays fantasy readers are savvy; they want their battles realistic or not at all.

For my forthcoming novel, I’ve been doing loads of research in order to be as realistic as possible–and to get ideas, too. There is often nothing so inspiring as a bizarre factoid from history, or even just an unexpected one. At the same time, I’m aware that my inclination is toward the Tolkien end of the spectrum–ultimately what I care most about is the larger contours of the conflict and how it shapes or destroys the hearts of people. The task, then, is to pull that off while simultaneously making sure technical-minded readers are happy.

It’s an unseemly amount of work. Good thing I’m excited about this story and where it’s going.

Announcing: New Column at Tor.com, Locus Recommended Reading List, and Other Stuff

  • I’ve started a monthly column at Tor.com, The Great Classic Fantasy Reread! (Yes, I chose the name, why?) First up is The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley. Spoiler: I love this book.
  • Last Song Before Night made the Locus Recommended Reading List under First Novels! I’m truly honored: Locus is an essential SF/F institution. Being on the list is not only an honor, it also means the book is included in the Locus Poll, where readers have the option to nominate it for the Locus Award. If you enjoyed Last Song Before Night and think it deserves a nomination, the Locus Poll is here. The book is listed in the category of First Novels.
  •  Fantasy Book Critic lists Last Song Before Night as a Top Read of 2015! (Under debuts.)
  • I’ve made Brooklyn! That is, author and poet Nancy Hightower interviewed me on the Brooklyn Rail. We talked of many things including poetry, the costs of being a writer, and the dark side of art.