Category Archives: novel

I grieve for my beloved Hong Kong

It has bad air. I was still a smoker when I worked there, and I joked it was protective. It’s impossibly expensive, though plenty of people live there cheaply. It’s a culture clash, crash, and fusion — Chinese and Anglo, old and new, rich and poor, metropolitan and tropical, high-pressure and laid-back. It’s fast, so fast. After you leave, for a long time, everyplace else feels slow.

Of course I set part of my first novel there, the most raw part, the true climax. That romantic imagined life was my consolation prize. Had my parents been younger when I left my corporate life, I would have moved back there.

I love Hong Kong.

Hong Kong’s Lion Rock lit up as protesters gathered at its peak. Photo: Tyrone Siu/Reuters

I swore a while back not to write about politics, but this is more. Unique places are an endangered species. Hong Kong is its own strange ecosystem, married to change but in love with constancy. I admire its people. They are courageous and vivacious and more honest than most, except when haggling. I fear for them.

I’ve feared for them since the handover from British rule to Chinese rule, 22 years ago. I was happy for my Hong Kong friends after the handover — there was a pride then, akin to what African Americans felt with Obama’s election. Still, my parents fled Soviet rule. I saw this conflict coming — honestly, I expected it sooner.

It’s not the same, of course — unique is like that. It’s not left-right, not occupier-colony, not exactly rich-poor. For a shorthand, maybe old-new. Hong Kong is decades older than Communist China, but far younger at heart.

Call it this, now: One country, two incompatible hungers.

I’ve never lifted a billion people out of poverty. I do know something about the rare and the special. They are easy to milk and maddening to sustain — but if you don’t sustain them, if you don’t help them thrive, they dry up. There is no more special, and others know you for a fool.

China made a big deal, the biggest deal, about adopting this shining child, and then refused to understand it. Maybe it was jealous. Maybe it felt threatened. Maybe it wanted a trophy. Maybe it was just indifferent. Hunger, like justice, is blind.

China risks being a fool now. Soon, I fear, it will risk worse.

I grieve for my beloved Hong Kong

It has bad air; I was still a smoker when I worked there, and I joked it was protective. It’s impossibly expensive, though plenty of people live there cheaply. It’s a culture clash, crash, and fusion — Chinese and Anglo, old and new, rich and poor, metropolitan and tropical, high-pressure and laid-back. It’s fast, so fast. When you leave, for a long time, everyplace else feels slow.

Of course I set part of my first novel there, the most raw part, the true climax. That romantic imagined life was my consolation prize. Had my parents been younger when I left my corporate life, I would have moved back there.

I love Hong Kong.

I swore a while back not to write about politics, but this is more. Unique places are an endangered species. Hong Kong is its own strange ecosystem, married to change but in love with constancy. I admire its people, I call them courageous. I fear for them.

I’ve feared for them since the handover from British rule to Chinese rule, 22 years ago. I was happy for my Hong Kong friends after the handover — there was a pride then, akin to what African Americans felt with Obama’s election. Still, my parents fled Soviet rule. I saw this conflict coming — honestly, I expected it sooner.

It’s not the same, of course — unique is like that. It’s not left-right, not occupier-colony, not exactly rich-poor. For a shorthand, maybe old-new. Hong Kong is decades older than Communist China, but far younger at heart.

Call it this, now: One country, two incompatible hungers.

I’ve never lifted a billion people out of poverty. I do know something about the rare and the special. They are easy to milk and maddening to sustain — but if you don’t sustain them, if you don’t help them thrive, they dry up. There is no more special, and others know you for a fool.

China made a big deal, the biggest deal, about adopting this shining child, and then refused to understand it. Maybe it was jealous. Maybe it felt threatened. Maybe it wanted a trophy. Maybe it was just indifferent. Hunger, like justice, is blind.

China risks being a fool now. Soon, I fear, it will risk worse.

Hong Kong’s Lion Rock lit up as protesters gathered at its peak. Photo: Tyrone Siu/Reuters

Destroying Budapest

My science-fiction work-in-progress is set in a single city, and I needed to see it to imagine living in it. Welcome to Pest! Only walk on gray parts….
Pest, the White Lake and the Soft Lands
Budapest was a proxy in the One-Day War between Greater Russia and Umoja East Africa. Buda is now the White Lake, a boiling toxic waste of microscopic robots that eat carbon dioxide, and anything else, to make diamonds that wash on its shores. Both embargoed no-person’s-land and boomtown, Pest houses thieves, smugglers, engineers, and skaters, daredevil gladiators who jump and spin over the Lake in maglev boots, just one fall from death.
I suppose I could have done any old thing to ruin a city, but I wanted a dusting of Science! in my fiction. I thought a fractal would make a believably consistent result small enough for microscopic robots to store. I used FractalWorks, a Mac app, to generate a tiny portion of the celebrated Mandelbrot function, and overlaid this on a large screenshot of central Budapest, so its finer arcs and whorls were the length of city blocks.

Budapest map and Mandelbrot sliver

Budapest map and Mandelbrot sliver


I didn’t think at the scale of blocks it could ever be so precise – if nothing else, land would collapse – so I cut out the Lake using an image editor’s predictive selection tool, to make the edges sloppy and eroded.
Both the pink and white areas are products of the fractal. The white is the Lake itself, while the pink represents Soft Lands, areas of shifting underground streams through which nanites recharge, around which smugglers tunnel.
It’s been a huge help to have the reference. Putting my characters on a literal map lets me figure out relative distances, and helps me imagine the land and the city that might grow from it.
I also thought further about my mechanical monster’s makeup. Where Lake meets land has always been seductively quiet, since earliest drafts. Instead, let the meeting of Lake and Soft Lands be a place of churn and upheaval, the turbulence of nanites going into and out of dormancy around the buzz of other nanites quantumly-uncertain just where their strange fractal stops. I have a heart murmur too.
It’s easier to name things in the context of the city’s weird sense of humor now, and I’m looking at it as more impressively built than previous drafts. Where before it was falling apart and hastily erected, now I see it as printed and reprinted, strange but regular, by the same artificially-intelligent drone “taxibots” that run the city services. This has new virtues and a very different look. And some rewriting.
If this map gets reproduced in the book, I don’t want the plain line drawing quality of most novel maps. Rather I’d commission a graphic artist to generate a cityscape, degrade that so it looked like a 12th-generation-photocopy of an old image, have all the landmarks written in sloppy marker. At top: “Welcome to Pest where you will likely die.” At bottom: “Wanna know more? Live and learn.”

A quick hello during a busy season

I am sorry to have been so silent. In between summer travels with family, all my projects have been in construction phases, and I don’t like vague-posting.
But, news. I have several author events scheduled for this fall. You can find me at:
The Fredericksburg Independent Book Festival, Fredericksburg, VA, Sat Sep 23
YABBAFest, Warrenton, VA, Sat Oct 14
Quest-Con, Mobile, AL, Fri Oct 20-Sun Oct 22
Philcon, Cherry Hill, NJ, Fri Nov 10-Sun Nov 12
I have also begun recording The Demon in Business Class audiobook. People who sign up for my mailing list at Fredericksburg or after will get a free copy of the early session recording of Demon chapter 1.
Want in on the goodies? Sign up too! 
The third project is of course my new novel, which I finally have come to admit is not going to be fleshed out from the previous manuscript, but completely rewritten. I have however set myself the semi-impossible goal of debuting it next year at Atlanta’s massive DragonCon, which means that next week I get to writing in a headlong Phildickian rush. Well, maybe not, but I have a lot to do.
I’ll be posting about the book in a couple of days, since I can actually discuss it now and show some concepts.
A fourth project … awaits much more solid scheduling. Suffice it to say I am working with great artists.

Demon ebook on special sale until Aug 17

Starting today for the next three weeks, The Demon in Business Class ebook is on sale as part of the “Bump in the Night” fantasy-thriller set at Storybundle.
Pay from $5 to $15, you get six ebooks, including mine; pay more than $15 and get nine more ebooks. Download versions for all readers – or, if you follow their slightly technical instructions, Storybundle can send it direct to your Kindle/Kindle app.
If you have friends who are fantasy or thriller readers, please share the sale with them! It’s good until August 17 2017.

Hello Florida Supercon – goodbye wonderful Raleigh!

Hope to see you this coming weekend, July 27-30, at Florida Supercon in Fort Lauderdale, FL. I’ll be at the Bard’s Tower booth all four days of the con with Kevin J. Anderson, Josh Vogt, Kevin Ikenberry, Keith DeCandido, and J Scott Savage. I have one scheduled panel, on using real world experiences in fiction, at 3:30pm on Thursday.
I’m pleased that Florida Supercon is under the same management as last week’s Raleigh Supercon. Raleigh was a tremendous event, well-run and with a welcoming energy. I met many enthusiastic people, and even got to join a panel on Religion and Magic.
I’m very lucky to have Bard’s Tower as a promotional outlet to the world of fan conventions. Bard’s Tower helps me connect to my audience while working in a collaborative way with fantastic and experienced writers. Speaking as a business, tens of thousands of people with hundreds of options and real-world budgets are a brutal lab for direct marketing. As an artist, it’s an incredible chance to find that certain reader my work really speaks to, live and in-person — an unrivaled source of joy.

Hello Connecticon 2017 – and thanks!

Tonight I fly north to Hartford, CT, to join the Bard’s Tower booth opening Friday at Connecticon. It’s the first of three cons I’m doing in July at Bard’s Tower, with other fantastic writers.
Cons are intense, by design, and they’re also long days standing on concrete. Three cons in four weekends is a heavy schedule, personally tiring and hard on my family. Still, #livingthedream . These are my last big cons this calendar year. I want to connect with every interested reader during my hours in these big convention halls.
How immediate these connections can be! People know their tastes, even if naming them with difficulty, but they feel. Once in a while I get a visual clue that a convention-goer might be my audience – cosplaying Sandman‘s Death, or wearing an Unknown Pleasures t-shirt – but more often, the readers find me and click. I’ll see an hour of people glancing away, then a delighted voice reads my title aloud and everything brightens.
Connecticon 2016 was my first con behind the table, learning to connect with readers in person and find their interests, before my launch in Cincinnati. Seeing how little time one gets in the hugeness of a con convinced me to market overtly to a niche sensibility.
I am excited to come back with my book – and new trading cards!

New Demon trading cards!

As a promotion on social media for The Demon in Business Class, I created a virtual trading card deck. For cons, I printed card versions of the nine character pictures. They were done as a last-minute inspiration, made by shoving the cards’ original Instagram proportions into a business card template on Moo.com, the excellent online printer. The cards turned out to be popular at cons and events, and at a better cost-per-item than postcards.
I updated the info on the back and resent the cards to print a larger order – seven this time, of the original nine, because nine is unwieldy at a con; and extra Zarabeths.
This time, Moo said the uneven border made for unsatisfactory results, and offered me the chance to do the cards over with new images. They were right of course, and I took the opportunity.
At my upcoming cons in Hartford, Raleigh, and Ft Lauderdale, I’ll be sharing the good word about Demon with new promotional trading cards!

Sexual tension in fiction

My guest post for the Fictorians, a site on writing fiction, discusses sexual tension and its different roles in different stories. It’s part of the Fictorians’ month-long Tension series.
Read it at: 

Sexual Tension in Fiction

Sticking to my knitting (opinions)

As Facebook gently reminded me —
2017-fb-little-while
my professional media have been stale. It was less a writer’s block than a blind alley. Perhaps others will find my thinking instructive.
Like everybody, I have opinions about the world, and in these contentious times, it’s very tempting to share them. Everyone else is, and I talk prettier than many. Why not join the fray? Ooh, ooh, you’re discussing politics, or climate change, or guns? I can do that too!
I drafted three different posts on things political. One even got into my WordPress dashboard, until I deleted it.
Truth is, I just don’t want to be a public intellectual.
It feels irresponsible to say this. In the face of the great activists of the past, and today’s popular writers who still manage worthy columns (or at least snarky tweets) – and often get slagged by some fans for voicing opinions they don’t like – it seems weak to say, nah, I’m out.
I’m out. While it might feel good to get something off my chest, people aren’t waiting around to hear what I have to say about today’s crisis. Or, if people are, they don’t just want it once. If I start down that road, I have to stick with it, have to make it a bigger part of my life and thought.
Perhaps this would be virtuous, but it wouldn’t be singular. Many good people already discuss the state of the world, plainly and well, after actually investigating it and reporting on it. If I want to change the world in favor of my political beliefs, I’m better off writing checks.
Or, writing novels.
Not that I’m going to be ripping tales from today’s headlines. That’s not my thing. More to the point, the political power of good fiction is often indirect. Fiction can say complicated things to culture, often better than it says simple ones. There are political ideas in my novel The Demon in Business Class, but they’re neither immediate nor partisan.
The “messy ground where the worldly meets the divine,” as my back-cover text promises, is a place in the mind. My characters in their big world might inform your opinions about tomorrow’s crisis, whatever it is, but only by example and analogy.
That’s my contribution. We’ll see if it’s enough, over time.