Tag: master of the house of darts

Brief reminder


Just a reminder that you have until Nov. 1st to enter the Master of the House of Darts competition, which comes with lots of neat prizes . You can enter via a comment or a repost, but for the best chance to win, don’t forget you can make up an Aztec recipe! So far, we’ve had prickly pear juice, chicken mixiotes, Aztec brownies, poultry with spicy fruit sauce, and gummy hearts that look like real hearts (not a recipe per se, but good enough as Aztec food 🙂 ). Come and join in the fun, either here or here!

(the less experiences cooks can also tell me who their favourite character in Obsidian and Blood is 🙂 )

D-1: competition, with Aztec cuisine!


So, in order to celebrate the impending release of Master of the House of Darts (small reminder: you can see the trailer here), I’m holding a little competition.

Prizes are as follows:

1st prize: your choice of EITHER:
-a glyph artwork (it’s from Guatemala I think), which will look fabulous with a frame and hung upon your wall, a signed copy of Writers of the Future XXIII, which has the very first Acatl short story with the original Marcus Collins artwork, and a signed copy of Master of the House of Darts.


-a signed copy of Writers of the Future, a signed copy of Master of the House of Darts as above, and a tuckerisation. I will put a character with your name (adapted for correct ethnicity if the story requires it), and a few telling details in the next work I tackle. I’m hoping it’s Unclean Spirits, the Foreign Ghosts sequel, but if the series doesn’t sell and I never end up writing the sequel within a reasonable amount of time, I’ll shift it to an appropriate novelette. In addition, you will also get a sneak peek at the Vietnamese space station novella.

2nd prize: whichever of the two prizes above the 1st place winner doesn’t choose.

3rd prize: your choice of signed book, either Writers of the Future, Servant of the Underworld, or Harbinger of the Storm.

The rules are as follows: I will put everyone’s names in a hat, and draw at random. Your name gets put in the hat as many times as you have points. Get points in the following manner (they’re all cumulative, so you can do several of those things at the same time):

1. 4 points for creating and posting your favourite Aztec-inspired dish (a few hints here, and you can also google “Aztec food” for plenty of other websites. Basic staples include maize, cactus, turkey, various spices and chillies, and cacao beans). I will NOT judge how authentic the recipe is, or even check to see that it’s eatable, but mainly how creative you are!
(however, do not try to sell me a hamburger as your favourite Aztec food…)
ETA: sorry, wasn’t clear. Post the Aztec dishes in the comments of this post or its LJ mirror.
2. 2 points for telling me, in the comments, your favourite character in the Obsidian and Blood books, and why. There’s a handy list of characters here if you’ve forgotten their names (which can always happen with Nahuatl tongue-twisters…)
3. 1 point for simply commenting, either on this blog post or on the LJ mirror
4. 1 point per repost of this on FB, LJ, Twitter, etc. (comment with a link to the post(s)/RT and I’ll credit you).

ETA: sorry, my brain went on holiday… You have until next Tuesday (Nov. 1st) to enter.

This is open to anyone, wherever you are in the world–so get cooking and reposting 🙂

D-1: Master of the House of Darts trailer


Yup, once again, I have way too much time on my hands…

Let me know what you think, and I’d be very grateful if you shared/RTed/etc.
(sorry about the preview–I’ve tried to pick the best image I could, but youtube’s automatic choices aren’t excellent, to say the least…)

ETA: sorry, the competition is coming a bit later today, when I’ve finished with the various picture uploads…

D-4: bonus content: character sheets


So… I was talking about character sheets earlier. Character sheets are what I use to keep track of who does what in the trilogy–and who did what before the books actually started. I kept them regularly updated before each book, because they’re easy references, and save me the trouble of having to look up a particular details among the 25 chapters of a novel…

As usual: this isn’t an exhaustive system, or even the best system. It just happens to be the one that worked best for me.

I know lots of people go for physical description, but I’ve never found them particularly useful: I prefer to know what my character thinks, rather than what they look like, and as a result, though I did leave some spot for physical attributes on the character sheet, I never filled them out. (I think I’ve filled them once or twice, if a character has particularly notable physical traits such as scars).
I went for a format Tim Powers mentioned at Writers of the Future, which was to define a character by what they loved most, hated most, wants most and feared most. Those have to be four different things, not two pairs of polar opposites–otherwise you’re not getting much mileage from the system.
It’s actually quite interesting to see how different characters have totally different wishes (how they can, for instance, want the same things most, but not have any of the other three headings identical, and how this turns them into totally different people).

I used this as the basic format, then I threw in a bunch of other things: most useful for me were the attitudes of the various characters to the most important concepts in their societies, which helped to pinpoint the various mindsets (note that everyone is a believer, and no one is anti-religion, as this would have been historically inaccurate–not to mention awkward in a world where the gods are manifest. Though there are various degrees of appreciation, or lack thereof, for the priests in general). I added a biography, because I was tired of having a character rever to some events as having happened XXX years ago, and always getting the dates wrong…

Here’s the spoiler-free sheet for Acatl–mostly as it was at the beginning of Servant of the Underworld, though I added in a few things following Harbinger of the Storm.

(cut for length)
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D-6: the “unimportant” bits


One of the most important lessons I learnt lately was from Ben Rosenbaum, at the last VD workshop I attended: he said (very rightly) that the bits and pieces of a character that aren’t in service to the story are those which make them come to life.
So, for instance, if I have a character who likes soy sauce and prawn crackers (and none of that is relevant to the story except in an incidental capacity), she’s going to feel much more real to you than “random girl who gets dropped into magical country and must fight to survive”. Because that last is a plot description, and nothing else: it’s a shell that’s waiting to be filled, but it can never, ever be a good character description.

It’s not a new lesson–on some level, I’ve always known that, but it’s something I struggled to put into practice in my first short stories. When I was starting out, I wrote too much wordage, and I had to teach myself to cut–and that included cutting out the bits that I thought didn’t advance the story, like the “extraneous background”. The problem is that my characters ended up being–not cardboard cutouts, but people who didn’t feel real. People who’d sprung up, all armoured and armed, to answer the need of Story. I could swap them, and it wouldn’t change anything. Acatl in the first Obsidian and Blood stories (here and here) is a nice enough guy, but he doesn’t really exist. He inhabits a detailed world, but he’s as thin as paper, containing just enough to move the plot forward, give him handy crises of conscience when needed, and that’s about all. It’s not like those stories are failures–they’re mainly plot-driven, so it’s not so vitally important for the main character to feel real–but they lack something. They’re thin, for want of a better word.

The good news is, I’ve got better at this for short stories; but from the start I was infinitely better at the whole backstory thing with novels. I might not have articulated the lesson well at this stage, but I approached things in a very different matter when I started planning my first decent novel: I wrote characters sheets, and they all had a “quirks” section–it’s Acatl’s love of food; Ceyaxochitl’s acerbic character, and her tendency to bang her cane on the floor to punctuate her words. It’s also their views on various things that I didn’t really need for the novel itself: when I started writing Servant, I knew exactly what Acatl feels about women, even though this was never actually required to come up in the first novel–but this helped me, even at a subconscious level, to sort out his character, and to round him into someone who would feel real to the reader. I also knew pretty much everything about Acatl’s life from his birth onwards, and most of that never made it into the novel either; but it helped me handle how he felt about his brother or Ceyaxochitl.

There are other bits that are, strictly speaking, extraneous from a novel, if we view it only from a plot standpoint: secondary/minor characters [1][2]. They’re not required by the plot, per se–well, OK, they are, but the plot doesn’t require much to them beyond, say, “be an obstacle to main character’s attempt to free his brother”. So, accordingly, those characters weren’t overly planned in my synopsis: a brief mention was more than enough, or so I thought.

I hadn’t expected most of them to hijack the narration, or to be so much fun. I think what happened was a variant of the “non-essential” thing: because I didn’t feel bound to respect any kind of character sheet or plot summary with them, I basically improvised as I was writing, and created them out of whole cloth in the space of a few scenes. Mihmatini, Acatl’s sister, was basically a name on a piece of paper; I hadn’t actually expected her to berate Acatl quite so soundly, or to be so mercilessly pragmatic. Likewise, Nezahual-tzin was just a required role, as the Revered Speaker of an allied power; I hadn’t thought that so many sparks would fly between him and Teomitl; or that he would have such an enigmatic and exasperating streak.

Three books in, and I’m proud of my unexpected characters. I gave them story arcs (both Mihmatini and Nezahual-tzin have pivotal roles in Master of the House of Darts); developed their personalities and had them interact with each other (one of my favourite scenes in MoHD is one which has Mihmatini meet the over-arrogant priest of Tlaloc, Acamapichtli, and they have what is best described as a courteous spat); and, of course, because it’s book 3 in a trilogy, I put them through the wringer, and tested their loyalties until they broke. Because, you know, it’s what authors do.

And my favourite character? It’s a bit like choosing favourites among one’s children–always a fraught business… I’m going to go for “which character surprised me most”–and the answer to that is actually Acamapichtli, the High Priest of the Storm Lord. In book 1, he was basically the “need an obstacle” character, and I gave him everything that went with the role: staggering arrogance and cutting wit (it wasn’t an entirely conscious decision, but of course both of these are flaws that Acatl would hate to bits). By the time book 2 came around, I wondered if I should kill him off and replace him with another High Priest; but I had the feeling this would be too easy, and way too nice for Acatl (and we’ve already established I don’t do nice for characters, right?)
So Acamapichtli stayed in the end–and the guy who started out as a foil for Acatl gradually evolved into someone else–a character who has his own problems, his own decisions to make; and his own sense of ethics and morals (totally contrary to Acatl, but diversity’s good for you, right? 🙂 ). And his own twisted sense of honesty, too. Basically, he’s awesome fun to write, and that’s why I like him.

In book 3… let’s just say Acamapichtli is back for more fun; and that putting him in charge of the entire palace during an epidemic is just a handy way to create more problems for poor Acatl…

What about you? Have you ever had secondary characters appear out of nowhere? Or, if you’re a reader, have you ever seen secondary characters who were as, or more memorable, than the main characters?

[1]I’m not sure where to draw the line between those. I’ve always been very uncomfortable with the “protagonists/everyone else” distinction, and I tend to think in terms of “main characters/secondaries/unnamed”. The main characters are those who drive the narration for me: for instance, by standard terms, Acatl would be the protagonist of Servant of the Underworld; but I consider him on the same level as his brother, Neutemoc, whose desires and wishes drive a lot of the plot even though Neutemoc isn’t either a viewpoint character or a protagonist. Secondary characters are named, and have a specific and distinctive personality (Mihmatini, Tizoc-tzin); but they’re not as important to the plot; and you could pull them from the narration and replace them by someone else with a few minor adaptations. Minor characters are just walk-on parts, and are generally (but not always) unnamed.

[2]If you’re curious, I had characters sheets for the following in Servant: Acatl, Ceyaxochitl, Eleuia, Huei, Mahuizoh, Neutemoc, Quiyahuayo, Teomitl, and Zollin. All the others I considered “secondary” (yes, even Mihmatini! Though she now has her own sheet, of course).

D-7: titles and other considerations


So, this is actually the leadup to the Master of the House of Darts release (it’s out in the US on Oct. 25th, and for some odd reason the UK has to wait a little bit more, till Nov 3rd. The ways of publishing are impenetrable…).

So, to prepare for next Tuesday, I’ll be publishing one blog post a day until Friday (process, research tidbits, behind-the-scenes bonuses, and more…)–and watch out next Monday for a competition with neat prizes (including a tuckerisation and an Aztec print!)

(warning: minor spoilers for Servant of the Underworld)
Continue reading →

Various pubs


OK, slowly crawling back into some semblance of normal life (alas, the boxes are still winning the fight in our appartment, and I’m now officially behind on everything). But here’s a handful of things to keep you busy while I’m writing:
-First off, here are the first three chapters of Master of the House of Darts:

Aka, Teomitl finally gets a chance to be all official and formal, Neutemoc makes a much-awaited comeback. Oh, and a warrior dies of a curse.
The Best of BCS Year Two is now out, featuring stories by Marie Brennan, Saladin Ahmed, Yoon Ha Lee and more fabulous authors. And my own “Memories in Bronze, Feathers and Blood”. Scott H. Andrews does a tremendous job of publishing vivid and evocative fantasy, and if you haven’t already checked out BCS, this is a tremendous way to dip into the best of what the magazine has to offer. There are some really awesome stories here, and I put one of them (Kris Millering’s “The Isthmus Variation”) on pretty much every ballot I had for the year 2010.
-you can also get The Immersion Book of Steampunk, which also has “Memories…”, as well as stories by Tanith Lee, Paul di Filippo, Lavie Tidhar, and other cool writers. (and yay, I share another TOC with Tanith Lee. Nope, it never gets old…)

Brief update


OK, so work continues on the novella–I took a brief break for some flash fiction. Temp title is “The Heartless Light of Stars”, though I’m not necessarily convinced by it.

Vu had never been able to speak to Thuy. Even when they were children, he’d had got on well with the rest of his siblings–had chased lizards with them in the courtyard of their house, clung to them as the family scooter, laden with fish and fruit, wove its way through the congested traffic; and had breathed in their dreams, sharing their longings and aspirations as though they were his own.

Uh. Yes. More Vietnamese in space. Why do you ask?

Hugo voting deadline came and went while I was on blackout; nwhyte has a recap here of people announcing their voting intentions online. Good news is, if we’re going by that, I don’t think I’m going to need that speech after all 😉

(I remain intrigued by the sharp divide between people who complained the story was too slight, and people who said it was too complicated to follow. The breadth of reactions to the same text is always something I find very much fascinating).

Currently finishing up my edits for Master of the House of Darts, writing up the historical notes and the acknowledgments. Next up: more novella work, in addition to preparing the California/Nevada trip (aka what am I going to read at both readings, and what kind of cookies I drag with me).

Three good things made a post


-Behold, the final draft of Master of the House of Darts has been delivered to the Angry Robot overlords. Which should leave me time to catch up on a number of things I owed people (blog posts…), and to start work on the Xuya novella. Which in turn involves reading Dream of Red Mansions again. Cool.
Servant of the Underworld has been longlisted for a British Fantasy award, which is making me all tingly. And, what’s more, I see lots of familiar names in that list, including Patrick Samphire, Stephanie Burgis (twice!), Lauren Beukes, Dave Gullen, Chaz Brenchley/Daniel Fox, Martin Owton, Rosanne Rabi­nowitz, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Adam Christopher, Beth Bernobich… Many thanks to my nominator(s).
-I have tandoori chicken, naan, and I am running water for a bath. With bubbles.

Quick weekend update


(yes, lest you wonder why I’m online so early: I’ve taken my Friday afternoon off, and am currently in a train, headed for a weekend break. Ah, holidays…)

So, what’s up. Not been doing much: writing Master of the House of Darts pretty much wiped me out; so I took a 2-3-week post-novel break, wherein I did nothing much but read Agatha Christie novels. Which, incidentally, are wonderful things. Very relaxing–purely intellectual puzzles with very little violence. I hadn’t appreciated till now the need for a quiet space, and if you’d told me a few years ago that I was going to read Christie for fun and relaxation I’d have laughed at you. But there’s something infinitely soothing about her books–partly, I guess, because they’re about an idealised bygone time that cannot possibly concern me except in the remotest of senses; and partly because they’re puzzles more than thrillers, which means there is little stress and little incentive to GET THE ENDING NOW. Now I know where my tendency for dialogue-and-interviews-as-plot comes from…

I also read Elizabeth Bear’s Dust, the first volume of her Jacob’s Ladder trilogy, and fell in love all over again. It’s a blend of Arthurian mythos, Zelazny’s Amber, and Bear’s awesomely lyrical and mythic language. Think backstabbing family politics, on a generation ship. With swords and knights and angels, except everything is slightly askew, and there’s a peculiar weight to having all that mythology–a generation ship is pretty much a self-contained universe, and it’s interesting to see how the inhabitants are shaped by their ancestors’ belief systems and foibles (in many ways, it also reminded me of Zelazny’s Lord of Light, which also has SF with mythic tropes, the tropes having been set by the original colonists/passengers in order to establish a system by which they could profit). Very good, with cool characters. I thought two of them were under-used; but then I got my copy of Chill aka book 2, and I saw they were going to be the protagonists in that book. What more could a girl ask for? 🙂

Next up is revising MHD, and starting up work on the next project, on which I have very vague ideas–thinking of a Chinese/Vietnamese generation tale on a space station, but it’s all very nebulous. Before I commit to any plot, I need to reread Dream of Red Mansions, which I intend to use as my model for this. Should be interesting.

Cooking-wise, not much–it was a decidedly Vietnamese week, with phở, green mango salad (gotta work on the salad dressing though), and xá xíu (what can I say, I had 1.1 kg of pork, a big oven dish, and rather too much time on my hands. Good thing the thing freezes easily. Also, the H likes xá xíu). I really need to get down with the caramel recipe and work out how not to fail dismally at it, but the week was rather too busy for that…