Promise of a Battered Moon – the Jack Teng Interview!

Jack Teng? Who he?

Long story short, he’s the author of a new and rather spiffy SF novel from Grimbold Books. You can find him on the twitters at @MyBossIsADroid, and over here at his own site, or on the wild streets of Vancouver chasing down replicants and answering only to the name K. Possibly.

Test 6That book, of course, is this one: The Promise of a Battered Moon. It’s out now at all sorts of Amazons.

A planet-killer asteroid is hurtling to Earth and everyone is freaking out. But not Manon Fontaine. She knows what the asteroid really is and it’s hers. Once she controls it, she’ll revive the world’s post-war economy and also her mother’s mining company. But first, she needs to navigate family betrayals and kidnapping attempts before she can finally determine her own fate.

Meanwhile, Ann Wilson, an augmented Union super-soldier, has been having problems (beyond the mental strains of indiscriminate killing): her last targets were blown up with fractional deuterium devices, and made things very messy. Ann hates messes. What she hates more is a commanding officer who jerks her around and then sends her, of all places, to Luna City. Little does she know she’s conducting illegal missions to gain control of the asteroid.

In the middle of it all, is Eric Lin, a Union-born-Chinese thruster mechanic. Because of the war with the PPA, he’s been ostracized and forced off-planet to Luna City and the orbital colonies. All he wants is to be accepted and left in peace. This apparently is too much to ask, as both the Union and the PPA send soldiers to drag him away for the-hell-knows what. The reason is in fact that he holds the key to controlling the asteroid.

Amidst traitorous double-agents and assassinations, Manon, Ann and Eric’s paths collide, leaving a wake of destroyed orbital stations and rampaging mobs, ultimately leading them into a confrontation on the moon.

If that doesn’t sound like Gareth L Powell-sized fun, then you plainly need to read it again. Or, go forth and hear from the man himself, below!

So, this story you’ve written. What’s it about? Why should I interrupt my nap-time to read it?

It’s about my horrible ex-partner and a huge asteroid coming to destroy the planet!

Actually, both are true, but the book is about three characters related to an asteroid that suddenly appeared and is threatening to destroy the planet. One of them is a super-assassin named Ann, who’s slowly going insane. The other is Manon, a French-Canadian trying to rebuild her family’s business. And the last is Eric, who doesn’t understand why two superpowers are trying to kill him and are willing to kill his friends and destroy his former satellite home to do it. Their fates are intertwined as they all are brought against their wills to the Luna City. (Also, Eric’s ex-girlfriend may or may not have been inspired by my ex! Ah, the sweetness of spite!)

Where do you get inspiration? Where did the ideas for your latest novel come from?

Good question! My inspiration often comes from a mix of the news and my life. For example, I grew up in Quebec and many of my friends are French-Canadian, so I thought it would be fun to weave them in. I already mentioned my ex-partner though.

The biggest inspiration comes from my addiction to reading the news every day. It’s a very small spoiler to say this, but one of the key reasons why the asteroid is of interest to people in the book is because it contains a large hoard of rare earths. In the book, the planet’s rare earth supply has been almost depleted, which has caused the world economy to tank. So whoever manages to control the asteroid and the rare earths it contains will be able to restart the economy and be very very rich. In our times, we’re starting to see some battles over certain minerals like cobalt and lithium, which are essential for batteries. I just took that idea and put it in an asteroid!

Jack TengWhat are your plans to conquer the world?

I will make fill the world with delicious ferments! Mooohahahahaha! Seriously though, my partner and I really enjoy making fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, kvass, bread, natto, miso… hell, you name it we probably fermented it. One day everyone will love deliciousness of the partially rotten food!

What research rabbit-holes have you been down while writing? What was the most interesting, or the most tedious?

One of the more complicated topics I was looking into was how to terraform the moon. I was very saddened when I learned that the moon’s gravity just couldn’t support an atmosphere. But then I thought about whether it could be an atmosphere with different gases, and then… I had to abandon the project because it was getting ridiculous.

How often do you provide a cat sleeping spot- I mean, write? Do you have a comfy chair and a routine, or do you freelance cat-nap style?

I’m usually pretty regimented when I write. I often try to squeeze in 500 words in the morning and then 500 words in the evening. This way I can target about 7-8000 words a week.

When you’re not writing, what do you spend your time doing? Besides looking at cat pictures on the internet, obviously.

Usually cooking and experimenting with food! For my birthday this year, I’m most excited about what I’ll be cooking up. It’s an interesting, roundish body part and there are two of them, but they’re not eyeballs or kidneys. Can you guess what it is? I’ll be cooking it in pork lard flavoured with sumac, and I’ll be eating them with smashed potatoes cooked with hops-butter! YES!

Is there anything you’ve read/seen recently that would be worthy of my attention?

I really enjoyed Maggie Shen King’s An Excess Male. Brilliant!

Because my bosses Grim and Bold brought me this interview – along with half a vole and what I sincerely hope is only a hairball – they’ve got a few questions of their own…

Cats. Fabulous, or completely fabulous?

Utterly fabulous!

What’s your second-favourite food? Because obviously you are a human of taste and discretion, and therefore your favourite is tuna.

Tomato sauce

Bold’s bow tie: excellently stylish, or rather dashing?

Dashing!

14212167_10154346725991826_5900355182089162614_nOn a scale of ‘excellent’ to ‘needs more practise’, how good are you at giving ear scratches?

Peerless

 

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Guest Post: On Worldbuilding, with Alex Davis

I’m not here today – I’m over at Alex Davis’s place, looking after the cat and feeding the flowers. Meanwhile, Alex is over here, feeding the cat and looking after the flowers…

Creating a science-fiction world, by Alex Davis

Alex Davis

Ah, worldbuilding. One of the immortal questions of genre fiction. How much do I need to do? How should I go about it? How do I know when I’m finished? It was something that took a while when I was writing The Last War – even though some things were laid down by the publisher who initially took the book on – and something that was a really enjoyable part of the process. I was trying to come up with a new piece on this, but I don’t think I ever summed it up better than this article I wrote for Writers News back in August of 2013. You’ll need to find your own science-fiction landscape for this exercise, but there’s no shorage of images out there you can use as inspiration. I was also lucky enough to chat with the awesome Tony Ballantyne for this one, which is always a pleasure!

A whole new world…

Science-fiction is a genre that is filled with any number of fascinating new worlds. These may be parallel versions of the world we live in, projection of what the future will look like on Earth or indeed stories set entirely in other places – other planets, other galaxies, other universes. And naturally these fantastic settings do not happen by accident – they are usually carefully considered and crafted by authors. There are a number of key reasons for this, of course. The world itself informs the story, offering key developments for the plot and characters. The world enriches the story, providing a vivid setting and evoking mood and atmosphere throughout. Science-fiction author Tony Ballantyne echoes this point in discussing his favourite setting: “One of my favourites is Gethen, from The Left Hand of Darkness [By Ursula K Le Guin]. The setting plays a big part in the mood of the book: it would have been a very different novel if it took place on another world.”

The world individualises the story, setting it apart from all of the other great science-fiction out there. True, there may be resemblances to the settings of past science-fiction stories, but your world is just that – yours and yours only. Readers will respond to an interesting, dynamic and well thought-through world, and often read multiple stories and books set there.

Worldbuilding is, naturally, a complex business, and can feel overwhelming if you are relatively new to the genre. First of all, I’d always say develop it in a way that you are comfortable writing – there doesn’t need to be a lot of complicated technology and science if you don’t consider this your forte. There is a distinction between hard science-fiction – which applies strict technological and scientific rigour throughout, and often focuses on these elements – and soft science-fiction, which looks more at the societal aspect of alternative settings. You don’t need to be a scientist to write science-fiction!

The exercises below are designed to help you create a world which could be a background for your stories, but of course if you have the story in mind already then it’s important that the world fits that. Tony Ballantyne says of his writing process: “Most of my first drafts take place against a half sketched world. It’s only on the later drafts that I really begin to fill in the details. By this time I’m really enjoying myself and I take a lot of pleasure in shaping my world and allowing it to shape the story.”

Let’s Get Physical

It may well be that much of what your story zooms in on are the cultural aspects of your world, and how the hierarchy and society is built. But without a physical sense of location, it is impossible to envisage what this society might look like. The physical element will also impact on the society itself – a world heavily filled with rivers, for example, may never develop cars in favour of boats, or have people living in houseboats rather than fixed abodes. This then has an impact on where and how people work, what people’s relationships are like, what leisure activities they may pursue and much more. As such, to begin with trying to develop your culture could well prove counterproductive.

Let’s take on an exercise using the image opposite, in which we try to give the physical landscape some real depth. First off, I’d like you to name and describe one of each of the following:

An animal that lives on the surface of the land
An animal that lives beneath the ground
A plant that grows in the location

Then I’d like you to consider the weather in the location. Just how hot – or cold – is it going to be? Is there much rain, or snow, or hail, or any other form of precipitation? Are there storms, gales, strong winds?

Last of all, I’d like you to write a short scene in which you spend a night in this setting. What forms of life do you encounter? What weather do you have to endure? What sounds inhabit the landscape? What do you eat or drink? Really try and orient yourself within this setting in order to truly bring it to life.

The Big Society

The reason for beginning with the landscape and weather elements of your world is that this will give you an immediate insight into what kind of culture would develop there. So let’s pick up from our previous exercise and looking at building a society from scratch.

The first question – and one I consider vital in the worldbuilding process – is about how people live. Are they in robustly built houses, or cramped flats, or something far simpler? Do they live alone, or with family or acquaintances? Do people live in large cities, or small villages? These kind of details will again feed into much of how the society operates.

Once you have a sense of where people live, from there you can consider things such as what sort of relationships people have with each other, what kind of family units might exist, and also what kind of jobs people might do. If people are based in cities, then their working life will differ substantially from those who live in the country. What would the prime industries be?

It is often worth at this stage drawing up a spider diagram, which will allow you to think freely about these important matters for your world. You may also want to consider:

Laws – are these restrictive or quite free? How are they enforced, and what punishments to people face for crimes?

Government – is the structure dictatorial, democratic, communist or anarchist?

Wealth – are there distinctions between rich and poor? Does this feed into a class system?

Technology – what technology exists in your setting? This may be very advanced, or simply resemble today, or indeed be less forward than what we have now.

Leisure – what do people do for leisure, and how much time do they have to pursue interests and hobbies? Do people tend to enjoy their pursuits alone, or play games/sports in groups?

Social interaction – are people likely to have parties or social gatherings? Do people tend to meet at their work, or in some other way? Or are people very isolated and lonely?

Food and drink – what do people eat, and where do they get it from? Is food and drink simple, or are there a range of options and choices to be enjoyed?

A technological utopia, tomorrow…

Locating the Conflict

One of the major benefits of this approach to worldbuilding is that it often makes developing characters and plots significantly easier. Now we have a sense of the landscape and the culture of your setting, the next step is to consider just what the story might be. The set-up phase of the story provides the ideal opportunity to introduce readers to your world, establishing not only the characters you are going to be following but the setting they inhabit. It is when we come to the conflict phase that the story really picks up, and this is where the value of your worldbuilding will be seen.

If you consider the culture of the present day, there are all manner of conflicts that surround us. These may of course be literal conflicts – we’ve seen many wars and battles fought over the last 100 years – but they may well be something far more subtle. It might be a conflict that a character fights against a corrupt system, a conflict that someone fights on behalf of a wronged relative or loved one, a conflict fought against a criminal underworld. Take some time to look at your world and spot where these kind of trouble spots may be. On the surface, you might have a location that appears peaceful and settled, but as an author your task is to dig beneath that surface and find those ‘flashpoints’ within your setting that are just waiting to explode. Rest assured, they are there! Take a look at your spider diagram, and the physical elements you’ve created, and see what kind of problems and struggles could emerge.

The key phrase you are looking for is ‘what if?’ – the two words that define so many stories, in any field.

A technological dystopia, yesterday…

Expanding Your World

The other benefit of creating a persuasive, in-depth and vivid world is that it will stand you in good stead for many years to come. Most science-fiction series are set entirely within one world, and may well follow the same characters over the course of time. You might even decide to move on from those characters and explore other aspects, other characters and other locations. A powerful setting can give you plenty of material going forward as an author, so it is time well-spent for any writer looking to work in the genre.

There is, however, a final note of caution – worldbuilding is important to SF stories, but it should not be all there is! You still need dynamic plot and character, and you still need to write the book once the setting is established! Tony Ballantyne says: “I find that too many writers, especially beginners, are so in love with their worlds that they forget about their plot and characters. Worldbuilding can easily become something people do rather than getting on with writing a story. It’s fun, but you’re fooling yourself if you think that you’re writing!”

To get into Alex Davis’s world of the Noukari, check out The Last War at http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00YQICMHQ or buy the paperback at http://shop.ticketyboopress.co.uk/index.php?id_product=68&controller=product

Feeling Social

This month has been a blast: we started the ball rolling on the SFSF Social, and I put my bum in the chair, donned the Writing Mittens, and started carving Project:TFL into shape.

Oh, and there’s cover art for Heir to the North coming soon too! I’ve seen it; it looks superb.

Meanwhile, speaking of the Social as we were, which was inspired by both the Super Relaxed Fantasy Club and the York Pubmeets, there’s a new interview with Joanne Hall over on Jan Edwards’ blog. Jo organises both BristolCon and the BristolCon Fringe nights (which I’d recommend going to as their guests are also top drawer), and does all this while also being a top class author.

The interview is here. Go read it, then go buy both volumes of The Art of Forgetting! And pre-order Spark and Carousel while you’re at it.

(Warning: interview also contains unexpected me.) 🙂

Reasons to be Cheerful – 2014 edition

Granted, there aren’t all that many reasons to be cheerful, looking back at the mess the world made of 2014.¹ But on a personal level, it’s been pretty stellar. The year has built and built like an over-extended Zarathustran overture. I can’t guarantee obelisks, but we’re definitely leaving the under-developed grunters behind…

Anyway, what have I got to be so happy about?

Heir To The North, the first part of Malessar’s Curse, will be released in print and e-formats by Grimbold Books/Kristell Ink in late summer 2015. I may have mentioned that already. I make no apologies for mentioning it again. The cover art looks plenty cool so far, and I’ll share it as soon as I’m allowed to!

All welcome!

The deal was pretty much done at FantasyCon in York, back in September. That was a brilliant weekend. At the same time, I accidentally became the point man for Sheffield’s own variant of the successful Super Relaxed Fantasy Club and York Pubmeets. The first of these SoYo genre afternoons, the SFSF Social – in which there will be readings, and prizes, and all for the grand price of £absolutelynowt – takes place in January. If you’re interested – and with guests Jo Thomas and Adrian Tchaikovsky, why wouldn’t you be? – click this way and see the details. There’s been a bit of a dearth of this kind of thing in Sheffield, despite the city being home to the annual Off The Shelf literary festival, so we’d like this to become something of a regular fixture.

Empire Dance 4: The Packard Defence came out on or around May 4th, and while it didn’t set the world alight (and nor did I expect it to) it did seem to go down particularly well down in the Antipodes. Thank you all ever so much!

Creatively and businesswise, we’ve never been in a better place. When Rachel led a macrame workshop at an event organised by Sheffield Museums, the response was staggeringly positive. So much so, in fact, that I had to rope myself in as an emergency backup demonstrator – learning the knots as I went! Now, if you want to include the Social in the numbers, there are three businesses in the house. And that’s not counting the day job². Meanwhile, my former employer (and I’ll note officially that it’s good to see them still trading) wants to give me more money. How can I reasonably refuse?

Stuff I’ve enjoyed this year? Bear in mind that some of it is probably older than 2014… (and none of these are affiliate links, by the way)

Cool cover, cool book!

Sebastien de Castell’s Greatcoats series started with a fantastic bang in Traitor’s Blade. Django Wexler’s The Thousand Names, Brian McClellan’s Promise of Blood, Ack Ack Macaque by Gareth L Powell, The Art of Forgetting by Joanne Hall, Kameron Hurley’s Mirror Empire – all wonderful stuff and highly recommended. The cool Tales of the Nun & Dragon. I’m in the middle of a massive re-read of Kate Elliott’s Crown of Stars series, enjoying the depths once more. Alastair Reynolds wrote a fantastic Pertwee-era Doctor Who novel, Harvest of Time, which hits all the right notes while still being far-future epic. Ian Sales – Then Will the Great Ocean Wash Deep Above – a brilliant continuation of the award-winning Apollo Quartet. And holy frack, Paul Cornell’s London Falling. It Shit Me Up Bad. Due to time constraints I didn’t even get to the parts of the TBR pile I really wanted to (KT Davies, Stella Gemmell, The Expanse, the BFS award winners from this year – and is it wrong that I still haven’t read A Dance With Dragons?). I still can’t bring myself to finish Thea von Harbou’s original novel of Metropolis (prose thicker than gravy). The Demi-Monde started off so well and yet didn’t quite do it for me.

So what’s coming up? What does 2015 hold aside from the publication of Heir To The North? (yep, I said it again…)

  • High King’s Vengeance will be following on HTTN’s heels. Not immediately, obviously, but fear not – it will come…
  • Short story fans will love 2015. Fox Spirit Books will be publishing That Sinking Feeling, Junior Twilight Stock Replacer, Take Me With You, and Full Compliance across their  expanding range of Fox Pockets anthologies. Two more stories are out at different markets.
  • With three completed Johnny Silver stories, and two more at the plotting stage, Silverdale’s last best hope for peace and the star of Full Compliance will strike out on his own either at the end of the year or in 2016.
  • There’s another novel project. This one, Project:TFL, is coming together at a rate of knots. That’s an intentional pun. I’ve been locked up for worse. Without spoilering the plot, I think it’s safe to say that there isn’t another fantasy like this on the market (Drayton). I’m rather excited about it. All that remains is to write the blessed thing.
  • Which means that something has to give: ED5 is slipping back down the list of priorities, but when something as cool as Project:TFL comes along, and there’s only so many hours in the day, well…
  • More conventions. I’m already booked for Fantasycon once more – this time in Nottingham – and the Grimbold/Kristell Ink stable will have its very own “holiday home”. Excited? Me? OK, yes, definitely. Especially since either Fantasycon or Bristolcon (which I’ve also booked holiday for!) will probably see the official launch of HTTN. Naturally there will also be EdgeLit in Derby, since the crown of quiz champions held jointly by Roy Gray, Kevin Redfern, Hayley Orgill, Alex Bardy, and myself must be stalwartly defended!

And it’s not all about me either. There’s no feeling like that of seeing other people – your friends – be successful too. Watching small presses like Fox Spirit, Boo! Books, Grimbold, Tickety-Boo, and people such as the excellent folks who comprise the Inkbots and the active writers on SFF Chronicles all ramp up their careers and gain the credits and successes they all deserve is just as rewarding as putting in all the hard work yourself. This isn’t a zero-sum game, after all.³

I look forward to more successes and reading cool stuff by (amongst others!) Laura Lam, Josh Vogt, JB Rockwell, Kate Shaw, Susan Boulton, Wes Chu, Joanne Hall, Joel Cornah, AJ Dalton, Mhairi Simpson, Ian Sales (last of the Quartet!), Jo Zebedee and more….

And with that, I’m off to don the writing mittens and get this thing drafted. Happy New Year, everybody!

Should’ve gone to Specsavers…..

¹ We’ll relegate being miserable to a footnote, however, as is proper. Miserable even has a postcode – DN17 2LB. Fortunately, Happy postcodes (WR2 5DQ & BH21 3DP, for example) are also available.
² I’ve never had so many Saturdays and weekends off in my life! Less stress, better pay, more weekends? Turns out redundancy was a step forwards, not back.
³ Zero-sum games have a postcode. Funnily enough, it’s the same postcode as Miserable.

The Grimbold Books Kickstarter – Funded!

The Grimbold Books Kickstarter finished with 150% funding, which is a massive, wonderful achievement – and many thanks to all who backed it and spread the word about it!

What does it all mean? Well, going forward, it means that Grimbold will be putting new releases up on Netgalley for reviewers. It means they can look to fund audiobook versions of their catalogue, and also bring physical stock to conventions. These are important steps that Zoe and Sammy are taking, and it’s brilliant to see their hard work paying off – they deserve it!

Obviously there’s a bit of self-interest here too: Heir to the North will be one of Grimbold’s 2015 titles. Again, I’m proud and privileged to be in on the deal.

2013: Looking back, moving forwards

fahrenheit-451-unisex-t-shirt-9218-p[ekm]250x250[ekm]That was a short year, though technically of course there is no such thing. But it definitely raced by for me. And as always, there were plenty of plus and minus points. I’ll ignore those negatives that revolve around the continued piecemeal destruction of education, culture, health and democracy in general by those over-privileged and hypocritical bastards in Westminster, otherwise this will be a bloody long post indeed (and although calling David Cameron an inbred piece of llama shit is edifying, it doesn’t help me finish any of my ongoing projects).

So instead, here’s a randomised list of things that happened to me, for good or ill, over the last 12 months. It is by no means complete – like the politicians, some mouth-breathers aren’t worth mentioning by name. More positively, of a slew of genre-related Xmas gifts, here’s an absolute gem, off to yer right… Continue reading 2013: Looking back, moving forwards

All the news that’s fit to print

It’s been a strange few weeks, though overwhelmingly positive in nature. New employer, new routines – and one of the biggest of those changes is that Christmas is no longer a bogeyman of stress and horror. From a distance, I can actually enjoy the time of year and, wonder of wonders, keep writing through it. If anything, Christmas week is going to be wonderfully quiet. I love it.

So, while I’m not indulging in NaNoWriMo quantities of wordcounts, I’ve certainly upped the pace somewhat. A whole arc of Johnny Silver stories is planned out, though I still have no idea how to market the adventures of a former South Yorkshire superhero in novella format; the first full adventure is completed, with the second already at 2.5k after only two days of writing; and a short introduction to the Forgemaster himself is out on submission with an upcoming and rather fun micropress. You wouldn’t have found me able to work like this in previous years.

Malessar’s Curse is still doing the rounds too – and though it didn’t find a home at A Certain Excellent Publisher, it certainly fought till the final bell, and I’ve received wonderful feedback from that Publisher. For a first novel-length submission, I’m calling that a definite win. (And I shouldn’t have to mention that Curse is already back out on query rounds – can’t stop the signal, friends).

Amazingly, the car even passed its MOT – held together by patches of rust as it is, I was expecting it to expire within sight of the garage.

Perhaps the only downside, craft-wise, is that ED4 has found itself pushed to the sidelines once more in favour of Johnny Silver, but while I’m enjoying myself, I’m not complaining.