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We’re heading out on the road again: this time to RavenCon in Richmond, VA, which will be held at the Holiday Inn Koger Center, Friday, April 5 through Sunday, April 7. We just adore Raven for its wonderful mix of bookish, filk, and media programming and guests, and we’re really looking forward to seeing our old friends and meeting new ones. This year there will be several of us participating in programming: Barbara Friend Ish, Jonah Knight, and Leona Wisoker. And we’re bringing a terrific party for Leona’s fourth installment in her Children of the Desert series, Fires of the Desertfeaturing not only Leona, her beautiful new book, and dinner, but Jonah’s new Children of the Desert song. We’ll be selling Fires of the Desert and all our books from our table in the Dealers Room–and Fires of the Desert will be available for purchase at the launch as well.

Elsewhere around the con, we’ll be sitting on plenty of panels, doing concerts (well, Jonah will), and holding the fantastic meaty conversations for which RavenCon is rightly famous. You can catch us at these program events:

Leona:

Friday 3 PM–Writing Fight Scenes
Friday 10 PM–Fighting Writer’s Block
Saturday 9 AM–What’s New from Perseid Publishing
Saturday 6 PM–Launch Party for Fires of the Desert
Saturday 9 PM–Reading
Sunday 10 AM–Writing Up Close and Personal
Sunday 1 PM–Signing

Jonah:

Friday 7 PM–Performance at Opening Ceremonies
Saturday 12 PM–Concert
Saturday 2 PM–Signing
Saturday 3 PM–History of Podcasting
Saturday 6 PM–Launch Party for Fires of the Desert (Jonah will perform his new Children of the Desert song)
Saturday 8 PM–Geek Music
Sunday 10 AM–Cross-Media Collaboration
Sunday 1 PM–Concert

Barbara:

Friday 4 PM–Another Galactic Empire
Saturday 1 PM–Potions, Poisons and Plots: Inventive ways to kill a character 
Saturday 4 PM–Social Media for the Introvert
Saturday 6 PM–Launch Party for Fires of the Desert
Sunday 10 AM–Cross-Media Collaboration
Sunday 11 AM–Naming Names, Titling Titles

Come out and see us this weekend. You’ll be glad you did.

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Shadow front cover 2012 smallThe first of the Mercury Retrograde book read-alongs begins today. Join book bloggers across the Internet in discussing The Shadow of the Sun. Participating bloggers include:

A Dab of Darkness
Coffee, Cookies, and Chili Peppers
Just Book Reading
Lynn’s Book Blog

Conversations about the read-along are also taking place on the newly-minted Mercury Retrograde Press Goodreads discussion group.

 

As posts go live, we’ll be adding links to them here.

Week 1:

The Shadow of the Sun Read-Along Part I: Dab of Darkness

All the Myths I Stole:
Barbara Friend Ish’s response to nrlymrtl’s challenge question

The Shadow of the Sun Read-Along–Part 1: Just Book Reading

Place as Character: Using Worldbuilding to Develop Story
Barbara’s response to Amy’s question on her Just Book Reading post

The Shadow of the Sun by Barbara Friend Ish Read-Along: Week 1: Coffee, Cookies, and Chili Peppers

The Shadow of the Sun Read Along, Part 1: Lynn’s Book Blog 

Week 2:

The Shadow of the Sun Read-Along Part II: Dab of Darkness

That’s Not Even a Real Word! How I invent languages for my fiction:
Barbara Friend Ish’s response to nrlymrtl’s Week 2 question

The Shadow of the Sun by Barbara Friend Ish Read Along: Week 2: Coffee, Cookies, and Chili Peppers

The Shadow of the Sun Read Along – Part 2: Just Book Reading

Shadow of the Sun by Barbara Friend Ish, readalong week 2: Lynn’s Book Blog

Week 3:

The Shadow of the Sun Read Along Part III: nrlymrtl’s post on Dab of Darkness

The Sex Lives of Male Characters: Our Cultural Assumptions in Action:
The first of Barbara’s responses to nrlymrtl’s question for Part 3

Writing About Sex: Love Through Other Eyes:
The second installment of Barbara’s response to nrlymrtl’s question for Part 3 (live 4/16)

The Shadow of the Sun Read-Along–Part 3: Amy’s post on Just Book Reading

The Shadow of the Sun by Barbara Friend Ish Read Along: Week 3:
Sue’s post on Coffee, Cookies, and Chili Peppers

Shadow of the Sun by Barbara Friend Ish, readalong week 3: Lynn’s post on Lynn’s Book Blog

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If you missed the earlier post about read-alongs, online book discussions, and how you can play, you can find it here. It’s easy to get involved by clicking through to the participating blogs. You can also add your blog to the list.

This particular read-along is being led by nrlymrtl, host of the Dab of Darkness blog. Here is the

Planned Read-Along Schedule

April 1st: Chapters 1-7
April 8th: Chapters 8-15
April 15th: Chapters 16-21
April 22nd: Chapters 22-28
April 29th: Chapters 29-END

Don’t have a copy of the book? Not to worry. For the duration of the Read-Along, you can download your free eBook here. And Dab of Darkness is hosting a giveaway that includes not only eBooks but a couple of signed Trade Paper copies.

nrlymrtl is a master of spinning interesting questions. This should be a great conversation. See you around the blogs!

Read-Along Fun

I Like Big Books

Some of our favorite book bloggers, led by the intrepid Elizabeth Campbell, Lady Darkcargo, have started a project: group readings, called Read-Alongs, of Mercury Retrograde Press books. To say we’re honored by their interest would be an understatement! They’ll be holding read-alongs of a variety of Mercury Retrograde Press books over the course of the year, and we have all been graciously invited to play along.

Who is “We”?
All of us, the readers. Oh, yeah, and the writers, too, but mostly those of us who adore books, who treasure the smell or the way the backlight of the eReader casts just enough light in a darkened room.

What is a Read-Along?
It’s a bit like an online book club. One person will volunteer to lead the reading of a particular book; she will figure out how to break down the book into manageable chunks (because people have lives, you know) and propose a schedule for all the participants to post about the book they’re sharing (once a week seems to be pretty common). Other book bloggers will sign up to participate and the parties involved nail down the schedule and other details. Then the reading starts.

Meanwhile, the read-along leader develops sets of discussion questions for each chunk of the book and distributes them to the participants. Then, on the agreed-upon dates, all the bloggers put up posts of the questions and their thoughts. Then discussion ensues: they comment on one another’s thoughts; their readers do the same. And then they go back to the book, read the next chunk, and do it again.

How can we readers participate?
It seems clear that the most fun is had by participating bloggers: people who go to the trouble to actually post on their own blogs. Maybe this is just the push you’ve been waiting for to finally start your own blog. Go for it! But if you don’t have a blog, you can still participate by stopping in to the participating blogs on the read-along days and joining the discussions there. We’ll be posting links to the posts of read-alongs as they develop, just to make it a little easier.

I’m a blogger! How can I get in on the fun?
Start here. You can join read-alongs if you want, but if you’re more interested in the independent route, there are plenty of other options. And, as always, reviewers and book bloggers are welcome to inquire about review copies of any of our books. If you want to get in on a read-along, Lady Darkargo can put you in touch with the bloggers leading them. (If you’re interested in the Shadow of the Sun read-along, get in touch with nrlymrtl, who runs the Dab of Darkness blog.)

What if I haven’t read the book yet?
No worries! Most of the people involved are reading for the first time as they play. The joy of these things is hashing over the books while you read, not doing a book review or book report. And if you haven’t bought the book in question, as long as it’s a Mercury Retrograde Press book, we’ve got you covered: for each of the read-alongs book bloggers do for a Mercury Retrograde book, we’ll be offering a free download of the book in question for the duration of the read-along. Usually we’ll post the free download a week in advance of the first read-along date for the book, so that everyone has plenty of time to get started.

What books will have read-alongs?
I don’t know, but I’m as anxious to find out as you are. This project belongs to the bloggers, and they’ll be deciding what to read. The people organizing the read-along of Mercury Retrograde books have agreed to start with The Shadow of the Sun. But there has been chatter about read-alongs of a number of other books on our roster. I can’t wait to see what they’ll read!

The Shadow of the Sun read-along starts April 1. Details, and download links, available here.

Here’s an event you won’t want to miss: the official launch party for Book 4 of Leona Wisoker‘s acclaimed Children of the Desert series, Fires of the Desert. We’ll be celebrating Leona’s fourth book-day at RavenCon in Richmond, Virginia, at 6 PM on Saturday, April 6. The party will take place in the con suite, and will include Leona and her fabulous new book, dinner, and other entertainments. Did we mention dinner?

Fires front cover RGB

Says Leona,

It’s in the con suite+it’s at 6 pm on a Saturday night=DINNER is MANDATORY. There will be veggie trays, homemade flatbread, cheeses, a shredded spicy beef dish in a crockpot, coffee, tea, pickled things, and cake. And other things. Depending on how crazy I get over the next week of con prep.

In addition, there will be an additional Moment of Awesome: our own Jonah Knight will be playing his new Children of the Desert song at the launch. This song is a HUGE SECRET. No one but Jonah has heard it. Nobody who’s currently breathing, anyway. This will be your chance.

You can keep up with late-breaking developments by joining the event on Facebook. And naturally we’ll be selling the book at our table in the Dealers Room all weekend, and copies will be available at the launch as well.

Can’t make it that night? Con-phobic? There will be a secondary event the following weekend. Details here.

When I read Secrets of the Sands, the first book in Leona Wisoker’s Children of the Desert series, I had what seems to be the same reaction that everyone else did: I thought it was fantastic. At a number of conventions I would pitch the book to potential readers, occasionally in front of Leona. It almost became a game. I would praise her book and watch her blush. Good times.

In a matter of days at Ravencon, Fires of the Desert, the fourth book in the series, will be released. To help celebrate, I have written a song inspired by the books that I will be performing at the book launch party.

I have written a handful of songs based on other people’s books and webcomics. When I begin the creation of a derivative work, there are a few different ways to approach it. If the story is compact and full of closely knit plot points, I tend to write a plot heavy song. A song regaling the action, often speaking in first person as one of the main characters. If the book emphasizes mood, setting, or internal monologue, a story song is usually not very effective. Broad strokes to capture tone and imagery are usually the way to go.

After reading all four of Leona’s books (yes, I got advance copies!) I found myself facing an interesting challenge. These books have a large cast of vivid characters traveling over a sprawling world speaking in multiple dialects attempting to achieve multiple objectives. How do I approach condensing four thick fantasy novels into the three verses of a single 3-4 minute song?

The answer to How came by changing the question to Who. Who is the audience for this song? Once the song is recorded and added into my live set list, folks that hear it will likely need an introduction to the world, the tone, and the characters, requiring a sort of blending of my usual approaches. As the performer of the song Children of the Desert, I am more of a bard than in previous songs. Let me tell you a story and take you away. I think this is the way the characters in the story would encounter a song and the sort of song that it would be.

So far, I’ve kept the song a secret.  But that secret ends at Ravencon. Hope to see you there.

Periodically I hold conversations with people who ask, in so many words, why I choose to focus all my energy on fantasy fiction, of all things. It’s not serious, really; I could be doing more challenging, more important work.

I disagree entirely with the premise from which those conversations proceed. I believe speculative fiction is the most challenging work a person not blessed with mad mathematical skills could take up. This genre has been called the literature of ideas, and I think that’s an entirely apt description. It offers writers the tools to take readers far enough outside their normal contexts to examine ideas that are otherwise beyond contemplation. The majority of people are not wired for digging directly into issues that make them intensely uncomfortable; but take those issues outside a context that looks familiar, run them through the filter of story, and they become possible to engage with. Through these filters we can look at the ideas without flinching away, think about them, and take them back into our everyday context.

Bells of the Kingdom, the third book in Leona Wisoker’s acclaimed Children of the Desert series, is one such work. It’s a gripping, impossible-to-look-away-from story–but there is a darkness running through it, elements of things people would prefer not to confront. Leona herself has written:

I set out to write a fantasy novel with a cast of Heroes, and wound up with rather a lot of Reluctant Heroes who needed their arms wrenched round twice to go where I wanted them to go. Not a single cheerful “let’s go get ‘em!” sucker among the lot. What’s worse, the longer I worked with them, the more convincing their reasons for being Reluctant became. Some very ugly stuff crept in along the edges and wormed its way into the heart of the story: child abuse, prostitution, torture, and all manner of sadistic behavior.

I never set out to write this sort of novel; but there it was, one day, staring at me with big mournful eyes. And with every revision, with every re-read, I remembered more and more clearly that I’d drawn this or that horrible snippet from things that really happen, every single day, all over the world.

Robert M. Tilendis, in his introspective review of Bells of the Kingdom on The Green Man Review, notes, “Wisoker’s series so far has not been what you could call light-hearted, but this volume takes us some places I found very hard to go.”

It is very difficult, even in the context of fiction, to contemplate “every horror we’ve found to inflict on each other and on ourselves”. It is devastating to look into a book and discover it is a mirror of humanity, of ourselves. To see the monstrous possibilities of our species, and to recognize the tendrils they stretch into us, whether we are participants or merely apathetic bystanders.

But if it is horrifying, it can also be redemptive. These mirrors into our species and ourselves can allow us to stir out of apathy, to take some sort of action. One avenue of action available to readers touched by the dark truths in Bells of the Kingdom is offered by the Not For Sale Campaign, which is working to end human slavery–not just in places comfortably distant, but in dark corners much closer to home. We’ll be donating ten percent of the profits on all direct sales of Bells of the Kingdom, whether via the website or at conventions, to the Not For Sale campaign this year. Leona will be donating ten percent of her profits for this book to the foundation as well. Both of these campaigns will run through the end of the year, and they cover both print and eBook sales.We hope that if this book touches you, you’ll consider supporting the Not For Sale Campaign in other ways as well.

I’ve had people ask me what made me decide on a desert setting. My usual response involves a blank stare and a fumbling attempt to make “I haven’t the foggiest” sound like a rational answer. Once in a while I launch into the story I told in my previous post on this topic, and really, the proper answer is much the same: someone critiqued the Kingdom of Salt manuscript and said it was too standard-Euro-Medieval-white.

I agreed, and set about trying to fine-tune the various details into a different shape. That’s the point at which I started asking the Big World questions: where and how life developed, who the various gods were, what happened to atheists, who the vegetarians were as opposed to who raised cattle (and where to find bacon, cheese, chocolate, and coffee–very important items to the development of civilization, as far as I’m concerned!), why  humanity had moved from point A to point B, and why nobody had done the equivalent of the route-to-China schtick.

Short answer on that last: I was feeling lazy and didn’t want that complication. I knew that wouldn’t fly as a reason, so I had to come up with a plausible reason why travel to date had been restricted to the one large continent. That reason is not mentioned anywhere in the Children of the Desert series, mind you, although it is hinted at during the end bit of Fires of the Desert. I may or may not reveal it in subsequent series, or in special mini-stories along the way. But it’s in my Secret Background Notes. Mwah.

Back to the question of uniqueness. Essentially, I referred to the many excellent guides scattered across the Internet about the worst fantasy mileu tropes, cross-checked my writing against those, decided which ones needed changed, inverted and rearranged what I could, and came up with plausible reasons to keep the rest. There was no point to developing a totally unique inn and tavern setup, for example, or a different kind of beer, wine, or tea. Those are backdrop items that really don’t need a whole lot of tweaking to work, and if I messed with that basic trope, I risked distracting the reader from the action. I tried to keep stuff like that as simple as possible without being overly tropistic (is that a word? If not, it is now), and focused more on the strange creatures like firetail birds, gerhoi, desert lords, ha’ra’hain, and ha’reye, along with the cultures and characters, to make the world stand out.

In the fourth book especially, I had fun doing research on ceremonies and musical instruments; while the northlands are still patterned largely along standard Euro-medieval lines in many ways, the southlands is an absolute riot of cultures and a mishmash of time periods, none of which was randomly chosen. The Aerthraim, for instance, are quite austere and are inclined toward simplifying ceremonies, if not outright avoiding them altogether; on the other hand, Sessin Family is fond of creating absurdly ostentatious ceremonies in order to look wealthier and stronger than everyone else.

Once I started figuring out broad categories like that, and developing the answers to questions such as what, exactly, Aerthraim Family considers to be excessive ornamentation and what Sessin considers to be too little, a cascade of increasingly fine tuned details started snapping into place, and critters like the firetail bird and outfits like the one Azni wears to the Scratha Conclave just sort of appeared on the page as I wrote. I rarely had to stop and consider what someone would wear or what the nearby flora and fauna looked like.

I will note that I’ve had to pull or sharply condense all sorts of geeky-cool details from the final text, even stuff I desperately wanted to keep (like a detailed description of the Scratha Conclave room), because as my publisher ever so gently pointed out, it really just got in the way. And I had to remove Teilo and Lord Evkit’s POV altogether from this series, which really hurt; Evkit is such a bloody fun character (well, to write about, at least. Not to deal with, certainly). And Teilo has a…well, a unique perspective on matters. One day, perhaps, I’ll get the chance to present “extended cuts” of various scenes, and the two POV lines that were entirely removed from Guardians and Bells. But not today. Not just yet…

I did have to stop, as noted above, and do some research for the sake of creating two powerful ceremonies in the fourth book. I leaned on accounts of an ancient Japanese processional for the one, I’ll give you that hint, and the other…well, listen to some of Coyote Run’s music and you’ll probably see where I drew at least the musical inspiration for that one from. I like to think that Cat and Dave are in the shadows at that ceremony, gleefully whacking on those gigantic teyanain drums…*ahem* but I mustn’t spoil it, now! Book four won’t be out until April, at RavenCon of Richmond. Except for our beloved book reviewers, who will get to devour the ARCs of books three and four rather sooner than January and April, respectively. (Yes, yes, Colleen, we have you on the list, I absolutely won’t forget you, don’t worry!) 🙂

Ah, but I still haven’t answered the question of “what made you choose a desert setting?” Unfortunately, I still don’t really have a proper answer. When I started writing the book that  became Secrets of the Sands (it was originally called Walking the Kingdom), I had no notion that it would eventually see real publication, so I didn’t record stuff like that. (To be honest, I still don’t.)

The best I can do is to say that I had, truly, no notion past a few scattered notes about the origins of humanity to work with when Idisio first strolled onto the page. When Scratha grabbed him, and I started asking why Scratha was so ominious, the term “desert lord” just showed up on the page, willy-nilly. So I had to develop a desert culture that would have feasibly produced someone as catastropically bad-tempered as Scratha. Then I had to figure out why Alyea would go south with so little knowledge as to what she was facing; developing the immense suspicion between north and south kicked off a whole new set of details and questions.

I suppose at some point it began to seem like something of a shame not to use all this amazingly cool information I was putting together. So Scratha threw in the towel and went south, dragging Idisio and Riss along.

Events took on their own direction and momentum from there. I had to run fast enough to keep up with the weird stuff I was writing, and provide rational or at least plausible reasons for it to be happening. By Bells of the Kingdom, the world was fairly well established and had been accepted by fans, and writing about the setting was very nearly intuitive.

So the best answer I can offer is this: I didn’t choose the desert setting. It chose me. And I can only hope I’ve done that incredibly complex world justice with my words, and that one day I can show my readers a more complete view of the stuff happening in areas that Alyea and Idisio, and even Cafad Scratha, never get to visit.

There’s this expatriate master thief named Lamb, for starters, who may well show up in the fifth book…and then there’s the story about Azni’s twin brother, Allonin…and there’s all the side story about Lord Evkit, and how he came to power…and what happens at the Night Market in Water’s End… and, and… well, there will be time for all that. I promise. Right now, it’s time for me to draw the curtain once more and leave the stage, so that the cleaning crew can tidy up before the next blogger comes on. Please do leave questions and comments in the box by the door as you leave…and I’ll be back in a few days with another post about the series, characters, plot, setting, or whatever else you indicate that you’d like to hear about.

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