For Your Consideration – Implanted

It’s awards season, the time of year that strikes fear into the heart of every writer while simultaneously stoking the flames of what-ifs.

The only thing I have that’s award-eligible this year, is my debut science fiction novel Implanted, that was published by Angry Robot this August in trade paperback and ebook. An audiobook version came out at the end of October from High Bridge Audio. I’m immensely proud of it, between its mash-up of cyberpunk and solarpunk elements, the homage to espionage and romance, and a deep-dive into communication theory.

Implanted-glitch (faster)

After all, when you’re writing about the future, you can never have too many ideas in my opinion. And mine tend to come to me snarled together, interwoven and inseparable, or in great big chains like dominoes falling into place, one right after another.

It’s gotten some great reviews, between the ambitious world and a turbo-charged second half, but I’d love for it to find even more readers. In case you’re still on the fence about the book, here’s a look at some of the themes I explore in Implanted:

This is a story about the coming climate apocalypse.

So many different potential futures stretch out before us. But as recent reports suggest, it’s increasingly likely we’ll have to pay the piper for all the damage we’ve wrought to Mother Nature, and god help us when that debt comes due. In the world of Implanted, the worst has already happened. After too many years of storm-leveled towns, receding coastlines, drought, flood, pollution, and devastating fighting over food and resources as governments try (and fail) to provide for their people, domed cities have become humanity’s only option to escape the ravages of a world pushed to the brink after so many years of abuse.

Implanted_EndorsementWILDE

What would make such a disruptive population shift into a constrained environment successful? Think about it. If you had to bundle up your life, abandon your home, and take refuge in a domed city, what would bring you solace?

This is (also) a story about hyperconnectivity.

For the citizens of New Worth, it’s neural implants that make day-to-day life more bearable along with the network that provides them with an unending array of information, entertainment, and ways to connect with other users. After all, when you lose everything, what’s one more piece of your humanity?

Implanted_EndorsementWJW

Roughly two generations later, when the book starts, the tech has matured with the city. While everyone in New Worth is granted equal protection from the hostile environment outside, their lives inside the dome are dictated by status, credit balances, and career potential. Those with the right credentials have every advantage as they literally rise through the ranks, living out their lives on the city’s luxurious upper levels. Everyone else remains landlocked below – choked off from light, constrained by space, and constantly inundated by others tied to the same fate. The one bright spot on the horizon is Emergence – the day when the dome finally comes down, and they can return to the land.

Implanted_EndorsementLINDSKOLD

After all this time, implants are still most people’s go-to choice to cope with living under glass. But taming the network’s growth has become virtually impossible – too much of the city’s infrastructure relies on it – which in turn has made data security increasingly difficult.

So… this is also a story about information security.

The government and business sectors have been sinking so much money and manpower into chasing down bugs and backdoors and staying on top of new advances, they’ve had to come up with a new way of doing things. Getting back to basics, with a twist, of course. Physical instead of digital delivery of information, the twist being the DNA-encoded blood cells as the new format.

Implanted_EndorsementSMSTIRLING

Enter Aventine Security, a clandestine organization that specializes in shuttling information too sensitive for the network across the city. What makes their elite couriers so special isn’t the state-of-the-art training or gear they’ve been provided with, but a special property of their blood that allows them to carry encoded information that makes it undetectable, unhackable, and untraceable. And people are willing to pay top dollar for their services…and their discretion.

And perhaps most importantly, Implanted is a female-centered cyberpunk story.

Which in my mind at least we need more of. Men’s visions of our technological future dominate the field, too often filled with oversexualized women with problematic characterization (dentata’s anyone?). The list of women publishing cyberpunk is short though memorable (frex. Pat Cadigan, Laura Mixon, Madeline Ashby, KC Alexander), and I humbly add Implanted to that list, where I tried to cram together as many things I love as I could, including high-tech gadgets, light espionage, romance, and hard questions about the future, while centering the female experience.

And I very much hope you’ll join me on the adventure…

A Message To My Future Self

“I just have one question.”

The old man and a woman I took to be his wife came up to me after I had burned through my signing line at Book Bar, a lovely venue in the Berkeley neighborhood of Denver, Colorado. I was there with fellow New Mexican author Rebecca Roanhorse who was promoting her electric debut Trail of Lightning while I was promoting my own debut Implanted from Angry Robot. We had both read sections from our respective books, answered questions moderated by J.L. Forrest who runs the Denver Science Fiction and Fantasy reading series, and then made ourselves available to sign books and chat with audience members afterwards. Forrest provides a nice recap of the evening here.

Reading-Series_Teffeau_Roanhorse_8x10

It was only my forth public appearance for Implanted, and I was still trying to figure out how to strike that careful balance between being approachable and authorly, all the while keeping imposter syndrome at bay. No mean feat when you’re sitting next to the zeitgeist. My mouth was tired from trying to smile for the last two hours lest my resting bitch face slip through. I still hadn’t found a position on my barstool that both presented my pear-shaped frame to best advantage and didn’t aggravate my lower back. I was regretting my choice of outfit and rethinking my answer to one of the questions put to us earlier in the evening. And oh god was I hungry, having put off dinner since there hadn’t been time to eat beforehand.

But I smiled at the couple and said, “Sure!”

He had his hands clasped behind his back. His wife stood mute beside him, a half-smile pasted to her face. An impressive white beard reached down to his breastbone. He paused and pursed his lips, and suddenly I realized this wouldn’t be like the other people I’d spoken with that evening. The ones who said they were excited to read Implanted after hearing me speak, the woman who was grateful to have found a cyberpunk novel not imbued with the male gaze, or the nervous young man desperate for writing advice. Somehow, this would be different.

This gentleman pointed out that both excerpts Rebecca and I had read that night depicted women hunting men for hurting another woman. After a moment of reflection, I realized it was true. Rebecca read from Chapter 2 of Trail of Lightning where her main character Maggie is chasing down a man-shaped monster who has stolen away a young woman to feast on—a powerful, unsettling scene. My selection, the opening chapter of Implanted, the main character Emery is hunting a young man who’s in the process of stalking a different young woman. When the coast is clear, he attacks in an attempt to steal her neural implant. Emery stops him, but she leaves the scene of the crime before the police arrive, setting her on a journey the rest of the book follows.

“Would your character go to such an effort to protect a man in the same situation?” the old man asked me, an unpleasant intensity to his voice.

Rebecca was engaged with some enthusiastic fans beside me, so she luckily didn’t have to face his quiet disbelief when I said, “Yes, of course.”

I then nattered on about how that wasn’t really the point of the scene though, that my main character was protecting someone from a similar attack she survived before the events of the book, that as the author, I got to pick what elements best served my story, and in this case, upending reader expectations and exploring female rage, was my goal. After all, I named the person Emery is following Breck Warner, echoing the name of that of apex scumbag Brock Turner. Subtle, I am not. Of course it would be a young woman Emery’s trying to protect from a repeat of her own past, a past she hasn’t quite figured out how to escape at the start of the book. I said something glib about sisterhood too, but the details at this point are fuzzy.

But I well remember the way he shook his head, disappointed, and left. His wife followed him, having never said a word. Oh, and in case you were wondering, he didn’t buy either my or Rebecca’s book.

I’ve thought a lot about that interaction since. I know it doesn’t hold a candle to uncomfortable interactions other authors have had with members of the public over the years. But I try to analyze moments like this when they pop up to better prepare me for the next one. I’m a classic staircase wit where I’m nothing better than a deer in headlights in the moment. It’s only after I’ve retired from the hum and buzz of a public interaction that any cleverness returns, far too late for a rescue.

As a publishing professional trying to drum up support for a debut, I’m always fearful that any negative interaction could affect my ability to get another project published—not true of course, but the little voice in my head doesn’t know that. After reviewing that conversation, however, I don’t think there was anything I could have said to salvage that interaction—to make the sale, as it were. He was being provocative at best, trying to set me down at worst, for having the temerity to center the female experience in my story.

So much of writing—writing for publication, that is—is getting enough people to decide, “hey, this is great,” and getting even more people to read it, preferably giving up their cold hard cash for the opportunity to do so. The business side of writing leads to this mindset that we must go after every potential reader and find a way to convince them we’re worth their time and money. That each missed opportunity is why our numbers suck, that if we could only convince this one other person we’d all be bestsellers and shortlisted for all the awards. A bruising cycle that only ends when you either quit writing or pick out a penname to start over.

It’s not worth it. Even for someone like me where my little book could use all the help it can get. But if someone is going to approach my book from such a perspective, there’s something freeing in deciding: my dude, my work is not for you.

These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.

You can find such sentiment online, often in pithy tweets that read like affirmations in our current political climate made by women stronger and/or more experienced than me in navigating the intersection of art and economics in a broken world. Sometimes it feels a little like settling, knowing your work can never have the reach you’ve dreamed of. Or maybe I should feel driven to succeed despite that dude and all the others like him, even if it feels like crawling uphill over shards of glass. I don’t know. Of course, I’m still writing, but my wide-eyed naiveté has taken a critical hit, and I’m not sure I can afford that, not when that naiveté is what allowed me to pursue writing in the first place.

It’s just one guy, right? Why am I even letting myself get caught up in all this? Maybe it’s the people-pleaser in me. Maybe it’s a way for me to give other writers out there a head’s up about the world we’re so desperate to be a part of, a toolkit for deciding how and when to cut your losses.

And maybe, like Emery, I’m trying to protect my future self from another no-win situation, where the best choice is to walk away and keep writing, no matter what.

My Story "Chicken Feet" Now Available

I’m pleased to announce that my story “Chicken Feet” is now available for your listening or reading pleasure through Wily Writers.

Wily Writers is a twice-monthly podcast series. Stories are speculative in nature, responding to monthly themes. I wrote “Chicken Feet” for their call for young adult post-apocalyptic tales back in October 2011. I actually wrote a story before this one, but realized I had a novel on my hands. I went back to the drawing board and wrote “Chicken Feet” and the other story has taken over is now my novel-length WIP.

Big thanks to Wily Writers editor Angel Leigh McCoy, guest editor Ripley Patton, and voice actor Leah Rivera for her audio performance of my story.

Wily Writers just started offering professional rates for stories in 2012. I’ve had a very positive experience working with them and would encourage you to take a look at the guidelines for their upcoming calls for the year.

Thanks!
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The Story behind the Story – Fat Girl in a Strange Land Edition

When I saw the call for the Fat Girl in a Strange Land anthology for Crossed Genres Publications, I knew I wanted to submit a story. When I see specific calls for anthologies or special issues of magazines, it can take me a while to warm up to the occasionally bizarre ideas editors are looking for. But not this time.

So the next question became, how to do this call justice? There were two required elements: a fat, female protagonist and some sort of journey to a strange land (however conceived). The fat part I had no problem with. Though I am not considered overweight myself, many members in my extended family have dealt with obesity and other weight-related issues. So my familiarity the situations they’ve faced along with my experiences with the societal pressures any woman feels, I felt reasonably confident I could create a fat character and treat her with respect.

The “strange land” part was trickier. What kind of story could I tell? It was going to be science fiction, I knew that much. Which means future. And when I think future, I honestly don’t think of fat. Because in the shiny future, we will have figured out all the nutritional and emotional and genetic triggers that make us fat and everyone will be healthy and beautiful and live forever… Well, at least I hope that’s how it goes. So the question then for me was why would people need to be fat the future? There had to be some benefit to being fat.

Fat is essentially stored energy. What if the people in my story needed an abundance of stored energy to do something? That became: what if they needed it for a mission they were going on? And of course, it had to be a mission to a “strange land.” A-ha. My character would be leading a terraforming mission to an icy, uninhabited planet, and the fat was necessary to not only keep her team warm but to also give them the energy they needed to work near constantly to keep the mission on schedule.

Now I had a story. The only problem was I didn’t know anything about terraforming. So I started with Wikipedia’s article on terraforming and worked my way out to other sources. I spent a lot of time learning about Mars since so many people, scientists and futurists alike, have thought about ways we could transform it into a planet that could support life. And the ideas to do so left me scratching my head. The best science-lite overview came from “How Terraforming Mars Will Work” at HowStuffWorks. Basically there are three methods:

  • Large orbital mirrors that will reflect sunlight and heat the Mars surface.
  • Smashing ammonia-heavy asteroids into the planet to raise the greenhouse gas level.
  • Greenhouse gas-producing factories to trap solar radiation.

The scope of the first two methods was so overwhelming, I was uncomfortable using them. How could I keep this a story about a small team of people when they are building these massive mirrors or flinging asteroids (!) into planets? Plus the level of technical and scientific details made me nervous since I definitely don’t have a degree in astrophysics. The third one was most plausible, but I kept thinking how all three of these methods relied on introducing energy to the planet either via the sun or through asteroidal impact, not using the planet itself as a source of energy. Why not heat the planet up from the inside out instead of outside in?

We all know about the power of greenhouse gasses. But even without our meddling, the earth would still produce CFCs and other gasses that heat up the atmosphere through natural processes like volcanic eruptions. And we get volcanoes and earthquakes along fault lines where tectonic plates rub up against one another.But although this is all well and fine for Earth, what about other planets? Did they have plate tectonics?

Turns out they do (Plate Tectonics Determine Life on Other Planets and Plate tectonics on a planet far, far away), which was enough evidence for me to make my story’s team terraform the planet by inducing seismicity, culminating in volcanic eruptions that would belch greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere and ensure eventual warming of the planet. See Climatic Effects of Volcanic Eruptions and Volcanic Gasses and Their Effects for more info. Science in my Fiction also provides a nice overview of volcanoes, tectonics, and other geological considerations when writing about other planets, which would have been really handy if it came out before I submitted my story :). Oh, and how does one induce seismicity? That’s the easy part. Just look at fracking.

The result is my story “The Tradeoff” in the Fat Girl in a Strange Land anthology that releases this Friday, February 17th.

There’s currently a GoodReads giveaway if you are interested in getting your hands on a copy of the anthology.

And stay tuned for next week, when I bring you an interview with anthology editors Kay T. Holt and Bart R. Leib.

Happy writing!
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Description and Your Characters’ Lens

I’m in what I think is the final round of revisions for my historical romance. I’ve said this before, but hopefully, it’s true this time.

I’ve been incorporating feedback from my critique partners, trying to eradicate nefarious narrative distance, and have found a group of local writers to serve as betas as I get closer and closer to the finish line (the finish line in this scenario is the querying phase).

One thing that came up after my betas read the first section of my novel was the need for more physical description of place and character – something both my CPs alluded to as well. Admittedly, description is tough for me – I find long passages of description boring as a reader and tend to keep the description in my own writing as concise and functional as possible. Especially in my historical romance, where many details are the result of conjecture despite the research I’ve done. Basically I’m terrified of getting my wrists slapped by a history buff for any assumptions I’ve made about the time period.

This is complicated by the fact that my heroine is already well versed in my story’s setting, so it doesn’t make sense for her to spend her “stage time” waxing on about the castle where she lives, the people she interacts with. They just are to her. Familiar. Taken for granted. A given.

But to my hero (and newcomer to this world), these things are worth mentioning as he takes in the sights and sounds and passes judgment on them.

Therefore I’ve created a rule for myself: In a character’s POV, the description is going to emphasize primarily new information.

Character ——> New Information

So, in my story, my characters will be focusing on different things in their POV scenes:

Heroine —-> hero and his men
(since she is already familiar with the setting)

Hero ——-> heroine and setting
(since he is already familiar with his men)

What’s left over is context, exposition, backstory. As well as character’s thoughts, emotion, and physical markers of emotion, which to me is different from physical descriptions of characters and setting — the type of description I’m focusing on for this post.

Unlike a story in first-person, where all the information must reach the reader through one perspective, in dual-POV stories (like most romances published today) the choice of what is described, when, and by whom, can not only move the story forward but speak to character as well.

As I revise and look for places to reduce narrative distance and add description, I’m trying to keep in mind the notion that my characters will be more aware of others’ actions and their surroundings, and place less importance on their own actions:

Therefore, when I’m writing a scene from my hero’s POV, he might acknowledge the fact he smiles to some comment another character makes and leave it at that. But when the heroine smiles, he’ll pass judgment on that action, no matter how slight. Does her lip curl up? Can he see her teeth? Does it remind him of the kiss they shared the scene before?

Not only does this help me vary physical cues, but enhances my hero’s perspective (and by extension his character) and give me an opportunity to flesh out parts of my novel that need more description.

This is a subtle shift, but an important one for someone like me who tends to let the reader’s imagination do the heavy lifting in terms of fully visualizing scenes.

What ways do you use your characters’ lens to pass on information to the reader?

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