Cities as Fantasy Settings: a panel retrospective

What a panel, friends. I am not kidding. I was so honored to share space with my co-panelists, Gary K. Wolfe, Kathleen Jennings, and David D. Levine. They were very passionate about the subject, and came to the panel ready to drop some serious knowledge.

I’m not going to get everything we talked about in here. It was 50 minutes of seriously dense conversation, so there’s no way I could condense all of it into one blogpost. However, I’ll endeavor to describe some of my favorite conversational highlights. The panelists also gave tons of book recommendations, and I’ve endeavored to include as many of those as possible in a list below.

To start, I asked the panelists a really simple question: what is a city? We were talking about fantasy settings, which is really just a shorthand way of saying speculative fiction settings in this case. Those settings can span a lot of different kinds of worlds. Accordingly, the definition of a city might change from one world to another. Various definitions of a city were discussed. A city could be considered a system, a place where collaboration and innovation were simplified because of relative population density, and a place the creates the illusion of anonymity. Overall, the panelists felt the city could best be described as a social experiment.

So with that nebulous definition, we jumped into the panel.

The theme of the conference this year was “Secret Histories”. There are a lot of assumptions we make when designing worlds, so I wanted to know was kinds of assumptions or inspiration was used in designing their fantastical cities. David started off by referring to how colony domes in space settlements could function similarly to the defensive walls of older European cities, and comparing that to the cities of the United States – often sprawling, spread wide by quick car traffic and flat, fertile lands. Kathleen pointed out that a lot of cities build upwards on top of themselves, each layer almost geological in nature. She mentioned the subterranean tunnels in New York City, sealed up in the early 1900s and forgotten until one was excavated just recently, which were used to bring cattle into the city to be slaughtered. When she was talking I couldn’t help but thinking of the city as a coral reef, building always on its own bones.

Gary pointed out that this building on a given city was something that you could also trace back in literature – it wasn’t just about the new physical layers of the city, but also the story-layers that had accrued. In his words, “When someone writes about New York, they are writing about everybody else who’s written about New York.”

This raised the question of the city as a living thing. The example that came most readily to my mind of a city embodied was “The City Born Great” by N.K. Jemisin, where the city is literally embodied in an avatar. Kathleen pointed out that there was a difference between a city as a person versus a group or people taking on the genius of a place. She saw the city as more porous, shaped by the people who passed through it as much as it shaped those people.

Discussion turned to other cultures that had inspired city settings in the fantastical, then. We talked, briefly, about how cities in Africa and Asia, for example, have drastically different architectures and designs because colonists often built over existing infrastructure. Cities in the United States, in comparison, and in Australia do not often have that base infrastructure to build on, and are relatively young because of it. The panelists felt that overall, writers are becoming better at depicting a variety of cultures because more material is available about alternate ways of living, thanks to things like the internet.

As might be expected, the topic of urban fantasy as a subgenre came up. After all, talking about fantastical cities inspired by real cities would inherently lead to a discussion of real cities pulled into the fantastic. Several great book recommendations came out of this conversation in particular. One interesting comment made by Gary posited that the city may have replaced the forest as the new wilderness or frontier, which was prominent in much colonial literature. The frontier being conquered, writers were forced to turn to either outer space or to the urban jungle. I personally felt a little uncomfortable with that statement, and asked if that implied an otherization of the city and its inhabitants. To me, describing the city as a frontier implies a certain feeling of antagonism toward the city that might have arisen out of the industrial revolution’s squalor and the collapse of inner cities in the 80s. What about the city feels unnatural or foreign? While we weren’t able to answer that question, I think that it would make a really good research paper, personally.

Anyway, please enjoy this list of recommendations below! I haven’t read most of these so I can’t speak to them, but if you want some of my personal recommendations, you can check out my post from last week. I plan to add quite a few of these to my reading list!


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WFC 2017: a recap

So, World Fantasy Convention. What a whirlwind.

This year’s convention theme was Secret Histories, and I’m sorry to say I missed a good chunk of the programming because of my flight schedule. What I did manage to catch was, with one exception, amazing. My next few weeks of blogposts will recap some of my favorite panels I attended, and also the panel I moderated.

The S.O. and I got in to San Antonio early in order to visit with family. We mostly drank beer and ate pastries and watched Stranger Things, which was super fun. It was good to catch up with people we hadn’t seen for a while, and to get to know the city a bit more. We caught a Día de los Muertos celebration Sunday, and ate pan de muerto at a local bakery. I was super impressed by the blending of culture I saw in San Antonio, honestly. It gave me some real perspective on American identities that I felt like I haven’t had for a while. Most of our traveling over the past two years has been predominantly in Appalachia, with some forays into the deep South and Vermont. Each time I travel in the US, I get totally different cultural flavors, overlaid on the familiar. I feel like I learn more about my country every time.

Artwork in the Wyndham

On Wednesday, my brother dropped us off at the Wyndham. The S.O. and I had plans to bike the missions – there are five mission in San Antonio, including the Alamo, and they are connected by biking and walking trails for the intrepid traveler. Unfortunately, the S.O. came down with a bad cold, so he spent most of the day in bed. I was left to my own devices Wednesday and Thursday, though he did come out and visit folks for dinner. We saw a lot of old friends and made some new ones. We also caught my brother for drinks Thursday night, in between all the networking, at a literary themed bar called The Last Word. I saw Martha Wells speak and got Raksura stickers!

I should have gotten Martha Wells to sign Moon. 

Friday night was the big book signing, so after a quick dinner we hurried back for setup. I had a small pile of books to sell, and I happily sold five of my six! I think people didn’t want to take my last copy.

My signing table. I was sandwiched between Beth Cato and Lucienne Diver, so that was fun!

It was a great week, and being back at the grind fulltime feels absolutely strange.

This week, check out the recap of the Cities in Fantasy Settings panel, followed by some discussions from other panels over the next few weeks!


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Getting ready for my panel

Hey friends! This weekend I am in San Antonio for World Fantasy Convention 2017. The theme is “Secret Histories” and I am moderating a panel all about cities as palimpsests! The panel is called “The Role of Cities in Fantasy Settings” and it will be tomorrow morning at 10 am if anyone is in town.

I got to be panel moderator because of my day job, so I thought I might use this post to make recommendation of some of my favorite books about cities for those of you who may not be able to join tomorrow. I’ll also try to do a recap of what the other members of the panel discuss for next week, though we’ll see how on the ball I am tomorrow morning with note-taking.

Imaginary Cities

First, I spent several weeks leading up to this panel reading the book Imaginary Cities by Darran Anderson. It was a super interesting read, and I recommend it if you are a writer daylighting as an urban planner, like myself. Anderson does a broad survey of the city in literature and architecture, including such famous minds in the urban planning field as Le Corbusier alongside philosophers like Plato and fiction writers like Italo Calvino. It’s a dreamy, memorable survey with a delightful way of looking at things. One of my favorite early lines in the book talks about Le Corbusier’s vision for the city: “It is a city rethought as planetary space, but what can live in a vacuum?” There’s enough fodder in here for all of your storytelling and visioning needs.

The Dervish House

On the semi-fictional spectrum, one of my favorite cities is Istanbul as depicted in Ian McDonald’s The Dervish House, a tense and smart techno-thriller meets near-future dystopia meets historical fiction. Yes, there is a lot going on in this book, and it is done so well. The layers of Istanbul sit on top of one another, bleed into one another, and each character carries their own city with them. It’s a book of intensely vivid prose and gorgeous vistas, all contained around a tight knot of action.

The Water Knife

Paolo Bacigalupi has made a name for his near-future dystopias focusing on climate change. Most memorable of these is the Wind Up Girl, which won several awards, but I think the author really comes into his own with The Water Knife. This book takes place in Phoenix, AZ, conveniently enough the city I was born in, and I had a hard time reading it because it was so incredibly believable. As might be expected, climate change means that the setting is absolutely integral to the plot of this work, and that setting is a grim, waterless future indeed.

The Wheel of the Infinite

Really you could pick up any Martha Wells book and get a delightful lesson on building worlds, but why not start with this one? This city hangs parallel in time or space to another, and the big crisis of the book is trying to keep it from being erased by that other place. Wells draws on canal cities from around the world to design Duvalpore.

The Craft Sequence

I left the Craft Sequence for last because there aren’t enough words to explain Max Gladstones adroit use of the city in these works. The first of the books in order of publication, Three Parts Dead, is set in the city of Alt Coloumb, a magnificent place whose infrastructure is literally the body of a god. Every book in this sequence is set in a different city, each more fascinating than the last, with the most recent book focusing on how cities are narratives, communal decisions in how we want to experience our world. If you have any interest in cities historically, urban planning, fantastical zoning law or anything of that nature, you should probably read these books.

Go forth and read, and I’ll see you next week!


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Good news

Hey friends, some updates from the world of writing!

I’ve been working on getting some appearances scheduled for next year – I believe that I will be at Roanoke Author Invasion and MystiCon again in 2018, though I’m still waiting to firm some of that up, and will be looking at other local convention options that would require less investment on my part. MystiCon is super awesome in that they cover your convention expense, but RAI is a paid event and many other book events are paid as well. This inhibits me a bit, but I’m looking to get in front of some new audiences. So be looking for those announcements as they come about.

I also just recently finished a short story prompted by seeing a very beautiful pendant circulating on the internet. I did not buy it, because I have self-control and I need to make my house payment. I did, however, make a new Pinterest board (I know, my Pinterest is getting out of hand) for short story inspiration. This short story was largely motivated by aesthetics and the desire to write the backstory for another short story that I had written a year or so ago. It was one of those stories that pretty much wrote itself, which is always a nice feeling.

Now that I’ve bought a house and stuff, things are settling down a little bit. That’s allowed me to start pulling together some query packets. Very exciting stuff. Being on submission is always a little heart-pounding, but lately I’ve developed a bit of a laissez-faire attitude about it all, which is helping.

Some of my new zen is because I took a chance recently and applied to be on the program of World Fantasy Convention 2017 and guess what? Despite the fact that I almost didn’t do it because of general impostor syndrome and self-deprecation, I got on the program!! This is such a huge deal for me, honestly. I still haven’t wrapped my head around it, and it’s going to take a lot of work from me to do it right. I’m totally ready, though.

Anyway, I will be updating my events page and this website soon with more details!

Roanoke Author Invasion 2017

What a weekend.

So I want to start off with some background, here, before I talk about selling books and such. I came into this weekend a bit like a jetplane making an emergency aquatic landing. That is to say, I belly-flopped right into RAI because I was straight up out of fuel and had been for two weeks. This is in large part because I over-committed myself this spring. What did I over-commit to? You guessed it. The wedding.

Who’s idea was it to get married again? Why didn’t we elope in September like civilized millenials do? I don’t know the answers to this, exactly. I suspect they were “mine” and “because I said so” but….I really can’t face that right now. So we’ll treat those questions as rhetorical.

In any case, mistakes were made, caterers were contracted, and mothers were roused, so now we’re having a wedding. It’s at the end of May, for those keeping track. If you’ve ever planned a wedding, much less planned one while holding down a full-time job with increasingly more robust deadlines, you may be aware of the state of pure dismay that has come to live in my brainpan. There is far too much to do, and not enough focus to do it all. Thus, when I rolled up on Roanoke Author Invasion, I rolled up with a tongue raw from licking envelopes and a brain that was oozing out of my ears. At least the weather is nice around here this time of year and I didn’t have far to travel – just down the road, in fact. Small favors.

I showed up to RAI with two boxes of books, several handfuls of postcards, business cards, and some sweet buttons. As you’ll see from the pictures, I was not so prepared as my fellow sellers, who had great banners and signs with which to wave and attract customers. Goals for next year. However, considering, I think it went okay. I sold a few books, doubled my mailing list, and gave away a bunch of promotional material. My only real goal here was to get my books in front of some new people, and I accomplished that. Of such minor successes are upstart authors made.

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Do I look tired? I feel tired. Luckily I survived.
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My table from above! I love all of my pretty markers. You can see that people had cleaned out a lot of my stuff by this point.
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A wide view of the room. Look at all those authors!

 

I am happy to say I got a hike in this weekend, once everything was over. I needed that hike. With the stress of the past few weeks, I have gotten about zero exercise in. So this hike, needless to say, kicked my butt. But honestly, it’s the best feeling, once it’s all over. You feel strong in ways you can’t usually feel strong during the week.

I was the slowest member of my group, and I lost them right before the summit. They weren’t where I thought they would be, and I spent some time sitting on the trail down, staring down the valley and contemplating things. It was time I needed. There’s a bit of a war going on in my mind most days, as I’m sure is true for many people. On the mountain everything gets quiet. It seems possible.

When my friends caught up with me, we headed back down and started the long drive home. There was dinner waiting for us at a friend’s house. I loaded some major calories and drank five types of home-brewed beer, and generally had a good time. No pictures of that, but here are some from the mountain.

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This is the tiniest dog. My friend Greg brought it, and its brother. They lasted a mile, I think?
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My red face and a tiny dog in my backpack. They were really a bit too small for boulder hopping.
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I was so far behind everyone for pretty much the whole trip. But I got cool pictures.
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A panorama of the valley and some of the boulders we climbed.

Well, that’s it! I’ll catch you next week with some regular content, but until then I hope you get some outdoor time in!

MystiCon schedule

Hey everyone! Taking a brief break from cover reveal stuff for a special MystiCon Schedule post!! Check out the panels, readings and signings I will be doing below.

Reading – Friday at 4:30 pm, Room 533

If you want to hear an excerpt from the upcoming Daughter of Madness, check in here! I’ll post the excerpt up on the blog the following weekend for those who can’t make it.

Panel – “It’s the End of the World”, Friday at 6:00pm, Ballroom C

We’re going to talk about apocalypses! I’ve got some fun projects I’m querying in this vein, and I LOVE dystopias, so I am very, very excited.

Signing – Saturday at 11:00 am

I’ll be taking over one of the signing tables at eleven! Come out to get free swag, sign up for the newsletter, buy a book, or chat about your favorite characters!

Panel – “Epic Scale Fiction”, Saturday at 4:00pm, Dogwood 1

I’ll probably mostly talk up the Creation Saga and the epic fantasies I have loved that have inspired it. Maybe there will be some LotR and ASOIAF references!

Panel – “I Must Create a System”, Sunday at 9:00am, Ballroom C

I actually have no clue what this panel is about or how I got on it, since I intentionally was trying not to schedule things for the morning. Wee!

Panel – “The Last Race Benders/Gender Benders”, Sunday at 11:00am, Dogwood 1

I am ridiculously excited to talk about gender/race bending in ANYTHING.

Panel – “Viewer’s Guide to Anime”, Sunday at 2:00pm, Ballroom E

Anime is the best. I will probably talk about my pet peeve of how everyone assumes all anime characters are white and obviously they are Japanese???? Unless otherwise specified??? Otherwise mostly glorious anime goofiness and how I love reverse harems. Yep.

I hope to see you all there! If you need more information, you can check out their website.

 

 

 

Some event updates

I’ve been playing a lot of catch up the past two weeks following my vacation and in advance of some upcoming deadlines. As you know, the audiobook for Mother of Creation is out October 1st. What you may not know is that I also am working against a deadline for the rough and first drafts of Daughter of Madness, the long awaited second book in the series. That deadline exists because the book needs a cover that I can use for marketing and promotional things, and also I need some time to do rewrites, etc, before an early 2017 release date. That date is To Be Determined at this point in time, but I promise to keep you updated.

In other news, given that schedule that I’m working towards I have decided to forgo World Fantasy Convention this year. WFC has in previous years been a lovely trip, and I’m going to greatly miss all of the people I usually see there, especially the Clarion West crowd. One of my great dreams is to give them my money and attend a Clarion West workshop, actually, but 6 weeks off is probably not something I’m going to have all in a row anytime soon. I generally have attended WFC previously as a way to connect with other writers and to pitch editors and agents for traditional publishing projects. I hope to attend larger conventions in the future to do just such activities, but right now I need to focus on the next step in my self-publishing career and also on my home life (i.e. remember that time I’m buying a house? Sometime soon? Whose idea was that?)

Anyway, no WFC this year. If anyone is interested in purchasing my membership before end of October, do let me know.

However, I have some exciting news! I have been notified by MystiCon that I will be a guest this year! MystiCon is held in early February in Roanoke, Virginia. If there is a panel topic you would like to see presented on, I encourage you to contact me, since I need to get some ideas together to pitch to the organizers pretty soon.

I will also be at Roanoke Author Invasion in April, as previously announced. So those on the east coast still have two chances to catch up with me and buy some books this spring!

I’m hoping to have an audiobook sample and some other fun stuff to post up here soon, so keep you eyes and ears open.