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Posts Tagged ‘a natural history of dragons’

Soundtracks on Spotify!

Last weekend @hannah_scarbs asked on Twitter whether I had the soundtracks to my novels on Spotify. To which the answer was no — but now it’s yes, because that made me realize that putting them up there is an eminently sensible idea. Of course not everything is available on that service (in particular, all of the Battlestar Galactica scores are absent, and I’ve drawn heavily on those over the years), but the vast majority were there! So if you want to know what my soundtracks sound like, now you can give ’em a listen. And if you want to know what each track maps to, I’ve also linked to that information for each book.

The Complete Memoirs of Lady Trent now available as an ebook omnibus!

If you’d like to own the entire (Hugo-nominated!) Memoirs of Lady Trent series in ebook, now it’s easier than ever to do! Just head on over to Barnes and Noble, Google Play, iTunes, Kobo, or Amazon and pick up The Complete Memoirs of Lady Trent, an ebook omnibus of all five titles.

To head off two questions people are likely to ask: no, this isn’t available in the UK, because it’s something my US publisher decided to do, and at the moment it is ebook only. We may have a print omnibus eventually, but among other things it faces the inconvenient problem of how to group the books: you can’t bind all five of them together very easily, so does Voyage of the Basilisk (which also happens to be the longest book) go in the first half or the second? Ebooks do not pose these problems, so an ebook omnibus it is, at least for now.

Hugo FAQ

People have been asking various questions about the Memoirs and the Hugo Awards, so here’s a quick set of answers to share around (so I don’t have to type them over and over again — which, I just recalled, is Isabella’s in-story reason for writing her memoirs, so this is rather meta):

1) Is the series complete?

Yes! The book I’m writing right now is a related sequel, but it concerns Isabella’s grand-daughter Audrey; the Memoirs of Lady Trent themselves are finished. There are five books: A Natural History of Dragons, The Tropic of Serpents, Voyage of the Basilisk, In the Labyrinth of Drakes, and Within the Sanctuary of Wings. There is also a short story, “From the Editorial Page of the Falchester Weekly Review.”

2) I’m not sure I’ll have enough time to read everything. Where should I start with the Memoirs?

If you need a quick taster, “From the Editorial Page of the Falchester Weekly Review” is probably the easiest way to get that. It’s somewhat different from the Memoirs, being told in the form of letters rather than, y’know, a memoir — but it will give you a decent sense of Isabella’s personality and some of the series’ core concerns, in only 2100 words, and you can read it for free on Tor.com or get it in ebook. It takes place between the third and fourth book, but neither contains any significant spoilers nor requires you to have read the series to understand it.

Where the novels themselves are concerned, well, the traditional place to start is at the beginning. 🙂 But the challenge of the Best Series Hugo, of course, is that it isn’t the Best First Book of a Series Hugo. A Natural History of Dragons is a fine introduction, but if you’re pressed for time and want to jump in deeper, I recommend either The Tropic of Serpents or Voyage of the Basilisk. (Labyrinth and Sanctuary are distinctly dependent on the preceding books for their full effect.) I think Voyage does the best job of being both comprehensible on its own and a showcase for many of the series’ aesthetic and thematic concerns, but it also does so in the context of a story that’s a little more decentralized, because (as the title suggests) it’s Isabella’s Darwin-esque trip around the world. If you’d rather a more focused milieu, Tropic is the one to look at.

3) How does one go about voting for the Hugos?

The Hugo Awards are bestowed by the membership of the World Science Fiction Convention, so if you want to vote, become a member! A supporting membership gets you the right to vote on the 2018 award, the right to nominate for the 2019 award, and (in all likelihood) access to the Hugo Voter Packet, which assembles ebook copies of as many of the nominated works as publishers are willing to provide — usually quite a lot of them. An attending membership gets you all that and access to the convention itself, which will be August 16th-20th in San Jose, California.

The Memoirs of Lady Trent are up for a Hugo!

Fortunately the Hugo people are kind; they don’t make you sit for very long on the news that you’ve been nominated. 😀

That’s right, ladies and gentlebeings: the Memoirs of Lady Trent have made the Hugo Award ballot for Best Series! (This was announced on Saturday, but I didn’t post about it here because I was incredibly busy that day, and then Sunday was, y’know, April Fool’s. Not a good day to announce real and major news.) And of course here we say the usual modest things about being so pleased and excited, but —

— look, can you keep a secret? Just between us.

I am beside myself over this. Because while I am proud of all the individual books, it is as a series that I think they truly shine. I did everything I hoped to with them and more — because while I planned a lot of things about the character arc and the exploration of the world and the discoveries Isabella would make along the way, the story also sprouted all kinds of thematic depth, above and beyond what I intended to include. I wound up saying things about women, and science, and women in science, motherhood, social class, romance, grief, being an outsider in a foreign land, the price of technological development, and and and. What I originally thought of as just kind of some fun pulpy adventure about studying dragons instead of killing them and taking their stuff — well, it’s still that, but it grew so much richer along the way.

And now it’s nominated for a Hugo.

I owe thanks to everybody who helped make this series what it is: Paul Stevens, the editor for the first three books, and Miriam Weinberg, the editor for the last two (herself nominated for Best Editor – Long Form!); Rachel Vater, who suggested I make Isabella an artist, and Eddie Schneider, who has championed these books the whole way through, and all my foreign agents who have brought them into French and German and Polish and Russian and Romanian; Todd Lockwood, whose art helped inspire the series and has graced its covers and interior pages throughout; Alyc Helms, who helped bail me out of plot tangles on all five of these books and more besides; and all the women, past, present, and future, whose determination and ingenuity and intelligence inspired the character of Lady Trent. Every year when I invite people to send her letters, I get missives from women working in various scientific fields, telling me about their dreams and their discoveries, and every year I have to sniffle back tears because the ink I use for Lady Trent’s replies isn’t waterproof.

It has been an honor and a privilege. And now, as the saying goes: before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. I’ve been nominated for a Hugo; now it’s time to go back to what I was doing before that happened, which is polishing up the tale of Isabella’s granddaughter and carrying it through to the end.

I have run out of clever names for the latest iteration of the Month of Letters

Last year I titled this post “Return of the Revenge of the Bride of the Son of the Month of Letters, Pt. Whatever: Quantum Boogaloo,” which pretty much uses up all the clever sequel references I could make. Maybe call this one: “Month of Letters: Letter Harder”?

Anyway! The point is that I am doing the Month of Letters again!

Years ago, Mary Robinette Kowal declared February to be the Month of Letters: a time to send actual letters through the actual mail, like, with paper and stuff. As part of this, she invited readers to correspond with Jane, the protagonist of her Glamourist Histories — and, inspired by her example, I did the same with Lady Trent.

So this is your annual heads-up that February will be your opportunity to write a letter to Lady Trent and receive a reply, in my very best cursive, written with a dip pen, and closed with a wax dragon seal. I’ve gotten some incredible letters in the past — some of them very funny, some of them deeply moving — along with more casual notes. If you’d like to participate, all you have to do is send some kind of handwritten missive to:

Marie Brennan
P.O. Box 88
San Mateo, CA 94401

Make sure to include your return address! I will reply as quickly as I can, workload and pile of correspondence permitting. I’ll answer anything postmarked within the month of February, though it may take me until March to deal with the last few, depending on how many I get and when they arrive.

Because I’m writing a sequel to the Memoirs, this will probably not be the last year I do this. The book won’t be out until after next February (I’m still writing it), so you’ll get another Month of Letters next year, and then possibly one the year after that, giving you a chance to write to Audrey, Isabella’s granddaughter. So enjoy them while they last!

“Can one use a dragon to light a candle on Shabbat” and other important questions from Lady Trent’s world

My husband, to me: “You probably want to see this.” <sets his laptop down in front of me>

Me: <reads the best tumblr conversation I’ve seen possibly ever in my life>

Seriously — “Can I use my pet dragon to light candles on Shabbat?” is an actual debate religious leaders would have to have in Isabella’s world. Because they have dragons, and a sizable percentage of Anthiope is Segulist (i.e. Jewish), so that scenario is a thing that could actually happen. Probably has. And now I’m regretting that I’m not conversant enough with Judaism to write a short story that is entirely about Segulist magisters arguing over something like using a pet dragon to light a candle on I don’t think I ever came up with a replacement term for Shabbat (it would run from sunset on Eromer to sunset on Cromer, i.e. Friday-Saturday, but there ought to be another word for it). I had enough trouble writing “The Gospel of Nachash”; this would be harder, especially since I don’t think I can ethically yoink the things people said in that Tumblr thread for my own commercial purposes, and figuring out how to turn it all into a workable story would require me to go beyond what’s there into the wilds of stuff I don’t even know enough about to ask the right questions.

<wanders away from half-finished blog post for a while, thinking>

<comes back>

Okay, screw it. We’re doing this thing.

And I do mean “we,” because I am actively soliciting ideas from people who know Judaism better than I do, that you’re willing to let me use to write a Lady Trent story about religious debates concerning the proper role of dragons in pious Segulist life. I have no idea what form this is going to take; right now in my head it reads like a “Dear Abby” column, with some magister who is here for all your dragon-related religious queries, but it would be hard to give that enough shape to pass for a short story rather than just a novelty piece. Really, I can’t plan the story itself until I know what material it’s going to be built around, because that will probably suggest to me a context for why and how and of whom the questions are being asked.

So toss me some suggestions, people. Other than using a dragon to light a candle on Shabbat (probably a sparkling or a Puian fire-lizard; I don’t recommend desert drakes for the purpose), what other questions might come up? I know enough about kosher laws to be pretty sure dragon meat does not qualify, assuming you would even want to eat it, which you probably would not. After that, I don’t know what would be interesting to consider. Any thoughts?

Literary cocktails and mocktails

It’s 5 p.m. somewhere, right?

A few days ago the Tome and Tankard blog posted their recipe for the “Lady Trent,” a mojito-like cocktail inspired by the Memoirs of Lady Trent. Our first attempt at making it here at Swan Tower was not entirely successful; it turns out we need to be a lot more conscientious about mixing the honey into the gin before adding other things, lest we wind up with a glob of honey stuck all over with mint leaves. 🙂 But the general shape of the cocktail is a great deal like the “Jimi Hendrix” I asked the internet to help me recreate a while back, so even in less-than-entirely-successful form, I give this one an official thumbs-up.

And for those of you who cannot or do not wish to partake of the booze, I thought I could post the recipe a reader designed years ago for the launch party of A Star Shall Fall. It’s called the Winged Serpent Philter, and it’s made as follows:

  • Blueberry juice
  • Fresh blueberries
  • Lime
  • Lime infused sparkling water
  • Honey
  • Granulated Sugar

In a small bowl, mix two parts water and one part honey. Coat the blueberries (three or four per drink to be served) in the honey water mixture and immediately roll in granulated sugar. Allow to dry. Dip the rim of a martini glass in the honey water mixture and then into granulated sugar to coat the rim. Mix three parts blueberry juice to one part sparking water with a dash of lime juice (all liquids should be chilled). For a sweeter flavor, omit lime juice. Pour into the martini glass. Put three or four sugar coated blueberries on a garnish pick and hang on the rim of the glass. Add a curl of lime peel. Serve promptly.

Enjoy!

an authorial self-indulgence

Back in July, I got an email from a reader in Sweden named Gillis Björk, saying they’d loved the Memoirs of Lady Trent so much, they were inspired to make a carved wooden slipcase for the series, and would I like to see pictures/a video of the crafting process.

WOULD I EVER.

In fact, having seen the slipcase . . . I sent Gillis an email, asking how much they would charge to make one for me.

Because seriously, the Memoirs are so damn pretty, with Todd Lockwood’s cover art and the three-piece cases and the deckled edges and so forth. Didn’t they deserve a good house to live in? It was a total self-indulgence, but I thought, hey, if Gillis was willing . . .

Behold the result! (Turn up the volume to hear the narration — it’s quite faint.)

It is even prettier than the original. We went for oak instead of beech, and Gillis got a lot more detailed with the carving of the dragons and so forth. At the end of the video you can see the slipcase on my shelf, with the books inside! And if you want to watch the making of the original version, that’s here:

Complete with accidentally-decapitated dragon and guidelines for avoiding spontaneous combustion. 🙂 These videos make for a fascinating watch if you enjoy seeing crafters do their thing; since I know bugger-all about woodworking and carpentry, they were hugely educational to me. And my endless thanks to Gillis for the lovely result!

Broadening My Horizons

If you’re in the Bay Area, don’t forget: I’m reading at Borderlands Books tomorrow, at 3 p.m.! (On Independent Bookstore Day, no less.) And I will have some very special news to announce . . .

***

I think one of the things I’ve enjoyed most about writing the Memoirs of Lady Trent is the way it gave me a reason to shore up some of the gaps in my knowledge.

Take African history for example. If all you had to go on was my high school education, you’d think that it consisted of human evolution, Egypt, and the slave trade, with nothing in between. (Nothing after, either, but that wasn’t a regional bias; my history classes bogged down on the Civil War and Reconstruction, so that the twentieth century is as the void to me.) I had the vague osmotic sense that there had been a place called Songhay, and that was it.

I could have fixed that at any time. But I’m much more likely to pursue reading about a topic when I have an immediate use for it — something beyond “man, I really ought to know more about X.” It’s pretty well-documented that we learn things better in context, rather than in isolation, and a writing project gives me context. A globe-trotting protagonist was therefore ideal, because she dragged my thoughts in all kinds of new directions, laying the foundation for future exploration. (Solaike in the upcoming Lightning in the Blood draws a lot of its social structure from Dahomey; that probably wouldn’t have happened without The Tropic of Serpents first.)

Islam is another good example. In college I took classes on early Christianity (which also means you wind up learning a decent bit about Judaism) and Hinduism, and some of my Japanese history classes touched on Buddhism and to a lesser extent Shinto, but Islam? Terra incognita for me. Sending my characters to Akhia was the kick in the pants that I needed to read up on it, to make myself conversant with at least the basics. I could have read a Wikipedia article to learn the difference between Sunni and Shiite, but it was easier to retain details when I had a reason to devote dedicated work time to the question. I wouldn’t call myself deeply well-informed on Islam now, but at least I’m not flat ignorant anymore.

Thanks to this series, I know more about Polynesia and how you can locate a flyspeck of land in a thousand miles of empty sea. I know some of the dynamics behind and resulting from Tibetan polyandry. And as I said on the Tor/Forge blog, I’ve learned piles about different kinds of climates and how people live in them.

This is one of my favorite aspects of my job. It’s constantly giving me reasons to learn new things, and I feel richer as a result.

The Accidental Mr. Thomas Wilker

I’ve got a post up at Tor.com about what it feels like to say goodbye to Isabella, and there’s an interview with me at Goldilox. Continuing on from yesterday’s post (and this time basically sans spoilers), there’s someone else I’d like to talk about . . .

***

Tom Wilker is the best accidental character I’ve had in a while. Maybe ever.

What do I mean by “accidental”? I mean that I did not, at the outset, plan for him at all. I don’t think he was even in the first thirty thousand words I wrote, before I set the book aside for a few years; I think I added him in when I came back to the story, because I realized Lord Hilford would of course have some kind of assistant or protégé along for the Vystrani expedition. Jacob was too new of an acquaintance to occupy that role; therefore I invented Mr. Thomas Wilker.

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