Tag: obsidian and blood

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-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…)

Linky linky


-Malinda Lo on “What does ‘authentic’ mean, anyway?”. Some really interesting thoughts, especially the impossibility of saying “so-and-so is more authentic than…” (ie, authenticity isn’t an objective criteria and everyone has different experiences). Even though it’s a tricky business, I definitely think that Malinda is right when she says you can have, say, a character in Ancient Vietnam who insults her mother–but you have to be aware that, within the wider culture, she’s going not only to be viewed as unusual, but as an unfilial daughter, and there will be heavy consequences for her.

-Somehow ended up on deepad’s DW, where I found an old-ish post about emigrants vs. sourcelanders (to over-simplify, the diaspora versus those who remained in the “home” country). Interesting discussion especially as regards authenticity (though I’m not sure I agree with everything. Some of the arguments about who “owns/gets to write about” the cultural heritage of a particular country, for instance, make me more than a little uneasy, though a. I’m hardly neutral on the issue, obviously, and b. I can see where the frustration comes from–an all-too-familiar case of minorities/majorities in Western countries getting more attention than their “sourcelander” counterparts). ETA: sorry, this is the blog post in question. As a bonus and because, on second thought, the post, its comments and some of the attendant assumptions make me deeply uneasy, here’s a set of links to Asian people blogging about their various hyphenate experiences and how it’s affected them. Especially love this one by ciderpress.

-Two Dudes in an Attic reviews Servant of the Underworld (particularly like the description of Acatl as an emo wanker who would be moping and writing bad love poetry, were he alive today).

-Amy Sanderson reviews Servant of the Underworld.

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).

“Harbinger of the Storm” featured on Speculate!


Over at Speculate!, Brad Beaulieu and Gregory A Wilson are running a three-week special on Harbinger of the Storm: this week is the review of the book; next week will be an interview with me, and the following week will focus on writing techniques used within Harbinger.

Many thanks to Brad and Greg for the opportunity–not only did they read and dissect the book from cover to cover, they also arranged a three-way chat on Skype across three different time zones on a weekday, which is nothing short of heroic.

The podcast has featured authors such as K.J. Anderson, Patrick Rothfuss and N.K. Jemisin, and Brad and Greg have a palpable and infectious enthusiasm for all things genre. Go listen here, and check out past episodes, too!

In other shameless news, I opened my copy of Interzone 234 to discover that “The Shipmaker” had taken 4th place in the Readers’ Poll (behind Nina Allan’s “Flying in the Face of God” and two neat Jason Sanford stories), and that the illustration by Richard Wagner had tied for 1st place. Wow…

Brief post


Had a lazy weekend, which involved much writing, eating Russian food (thanks to a friend who made us discover borscht, dressed herring, pierogi, and grilled pork), and of course Vietnamese food (a rather copious shrimp curry, thanks to my grandma).

Entering my second-to-last week of the job; also, entering French summer, which means everything suddenly is going very slowly, and people are unavailable… (frustrating). On the plus side, this week is the annual picnic of the department; I volunteered for salad. I hesitate to make bò bún, but I think I’ll go for a more classical French or Italian dish, if only because leftovers are more easily recycled.

In other, more exciting news, slowly filling in the holes on the novella, and answering a couple questions about the French translation of Harbinger of the Storm. The new novel project is going to be, er, an old one, ie revising Foreign Ghosts [2] before it is sent out. (with a side order of brainstorming sequels).

*rolls up sleeves*

[1] Apologies for the inevitable spelling/usage mistakes: I’m doing my best to retranscribe from Cyrillic, but Russian is nowhere near my native language…
[2] Foreign Ghosts is the Xuya novel. In the words of the blurb I wrote a couple years ago:

The year is 2009–but the world is profoundly different. China’s discovery of America before Columbus has given rise to a West Coast ruled by Xuya, the former Chinese colony. Now, instead of San Francisco, the bustling metropolis of Fenliu is Xuya’s second-largest city, where Irish-Americans walk side by side with Aztec warrior-spies, and the vermillion-painted houses of Xuyan gentlemen-scholars contrast with the grime of Inca clan-compounds. Transportation is done by aircars and maglev trains; and technologies such as network sockets, communicators and weapons are routinely implanted into human bodies.

In this bewilderingly foreign world, PI Jonathan Brooks is desperately looking for a way to fit in. His latest gamble was to rent a flat in one of the posher Xuyan areas of town–but it backfired with the flat turned out to contain a cache of illegally imported mummies. Expropriated and considered a suspect, Brooks must discover the truth and clear his name before he is arrested and tortured.

But Brooks’ hurried and careless investigation may have unintended consequences: Fenliu is a city of many cultures, perpetually poised on the cusp of dislocation, and the racial riots of five years ago need only the flimsiest of excuses to flare up again…

In which I am translated, part the Nth


“Dom Jaguara pogrążony w cieniu” (“The Jaguar House, in Shadow” in Polish), courtesy of polter.pl. With nifty illustrations, and a complementary author interview! Courtesy of Bartek, Izabela ‘Isabell’ Mazur, Bartłomiej ‘baczko’ Łopatka, and Artur ‘mr_mond’ Nowrot
בונת הספינות (“The Shipmaker” in Hebrew) at sf-f.org.il. Courtesy of Ehud Maimon, and Ibar Inbar Grinstein (not entirely sure I got the names right, as this is the one page I cannot make head or tail of all fixed now!)
“Constructorul de nave” (“The Shipmaker” in Romanian) at srsff.ro, courtesy of Cristian Tamas, and Antuza Genescu.
“Casa Jaguarului, în umbră” (“The Jaguar House, in Shadow” in Romanian) at srsff.ro. Same culprits as above 🙂
D’Obsidienne et de Sang, of course, the French translation of Servant of the Underworld, courtesy of Eclipse. My awesome pretty pretty softcover edition 🙂
-and a forthcoming French translation of “Jaguar House” (“Quand l’ombre se répand sur la Maison Jaguar”) in Galaxies, courtesy of Pierre Gévart and Camille Thérion, which I’m currently rereading…

Still holding out for a Spanish translation, which would amuse me (because of the Mexico connection, and also because I speak the language…) But pretty darn happy with all of these.