Tuesday, October 4, 2016

SF/F/H Author Interview: Wendy Wagner

Garrett and Wendy at Westercon 2016
Wendy Wagner is the managing editor at Lightspeed and Nightmare magazines, as well as a fast-emerging novelist. Her newest book, Starspawn, is a Pathfinder Tale novel that continues the adventures of the ex-pirate-extraordinaire Jendara, who readers first met in Skinwalkers. Walker also has a new, unrelated novel coming out from Angry Robot books in the summer of 2017, called An Oath of Dogs.

Wendy was kind enough to sit down with me for an interview back in 2013, but a lot has happened since then. In addition, to the new books, she’s taken part in the release of a series of special issues from Lightspeed and Nightmare that feature underrepresented voices in the genre. And of less import to the world at large, but important to me, she was also kind enough to write a blurb for my newest novel, Souldrifter.

All things considered, I figured it was hi-time we caught up, and once again she was kind enough to sit down with me to talk about her new books, her influences, promoting diversity in SF/F, and maybe travelling to Mars…

GC: First of all, congrats on the release of Starspawn. It's been out for a little over a month now. How does it feel to have your second novel out there, and how’s the reception been so far from readers?

WW: Thank you! People really seem to be enjoying the book. It's a much more complicated plot—per request of the Pathfinder development team—with a lot more characters and creatures. I was a little worried to go from writing what was basically a straight sword-and-sorcery adventure to producing something that was still S&S, but with a Lovecraftian flavor. I was really worried about getting the balance right. But at least one reviewer told me it was "Reese's peanut butter cup of horror and fantasy."

GC: Ha, that's about as good of a compliment as you could ask for.

WW: That's what I thought!

GC: So you mentioned the new book has a Lovecraftian component, and I know you're a fan of the Cthulhu mythos. Did you feel like you needed to stay true to the mythos in any sort of way, or did you just use it as an inspiration and take it in your own direction?

WW: Well, Pathfinder has its own take on the Cthulhu mythos that's a little more adventure-oriented and less cosmic horror-tasting. For this project, I mostly needed to make sure that I stayed true to their vision of the mythos. Of course, I did want to add a little of Lovecraftian dread and vastness to my project, since that's something I love about the Mythos. I think the book progresses from a feeling of traditional adventure to an atmosphere of adventure in the face of cosmic terror. I feel pretty good about the way the end worked out!

GC: That's awesome. I know for me, writing a sequel was a much more streamlined process than writing the first book in the series. Was it the same for you? Did you find that the process went faster or was anyway easier with book two, seeing as you’d already gotten to know Jendara and the Pathfinder universe really well?

WW: Oh, yes! This book took much less time to write than the first book. I already knew Jendara a little bit—since I'd written the first short story about her—when I wrote Skinwalkers, but I was still pretty new to the Pathfinder world. Between writing the two books, I wrote some other short stories for Pathfinder, did a little freelance copy editing for them, and spent about six months playing a campaign. I learned so much about how the game worked between the two books. It really helped me make the magic and the fighting work out much better.

GC: Glad to hear round two went faster for you. Are there any more adventures in store for Jendara, or any other projects you’ve got lined up with Pathfinder?

WW: I'm currently in between projects for Pathfinder. I have a short story coming out later this year in a volume of their new Lovecraft-inspired adventure path, but after that, my calendar is wide open. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that they still like me!

GC: Well, I don't see how they couldn't! Okay, so let’s switch gears and talk about your forthcoming novel, An Oath of Dogs, due out from Angry Robot in Summer 2017. You already did a great guest post at Barnes & Noble about how writing your own novel was different than writing in a shared world, so I won’t retread that. Instead, tell us about the timeline for writing An Oath of Dogs and Starspawn. Was there an overlap where you working on both at the same time?

WW: There was! I actually got the seed idea for An Oath of Dogs back when I was outlining Skinwalkers! I was reading Dan Simmons' novel A Winter Haunting, which talks a lot about the rather complicated relationship people have with dogs, and I knew I wanted to do something with it. So I put that on the back burner for a while, just thinking about where I was going to take that idea. I even thought it was a short story for a while.

It sat on the back burner for a long time. I wrote Skinwalkers and another novel (a mid-grade fantasy project that may or may not ever work), and then I finally got up the nerve to start working on An Oath of Dogs. It had metamorphosed into this big, complicated thing in my head, and it took a long time to sort it out into a real book.

By the time I was actually ready to start writing, I was already under contract for Starspawn. While Starspawn was a tremendously enjoyable book to write, I also resented every day it took me to produce it, because I was dying to get back to An Oath of Dogs.

GC: So you didn't try to write both at the same time?

WW: I had about 80 days to put together the first draft of Starspawn, and of course, I was also overseeing a lot of big projects for the magazines I work for (Lightspeed and Nightmare). I just didn't have enough brainpower to do it all at once.

GC: I imagine not. 80 days is fast to kick out a first draft! Well done.

WW: Yeah, our original target publication date for Starspawn was last winter. But the publication calendar for the Pathfinder novels was significantly rejiggered, pushing it back to this summer. I could have taken a ton more time writing that book!

GC: From reading the cover blurb for An Oath of Dogs, it looks you’re tackling some big issues. What sort of real life influences did you draw upon for this book?

WW: I grew up in southern Oregon in the late '80s and '90s. The economy down there was heavily dependent on the timber industry. During that time, there was a lot of fighting between environmental organizations trying to protect dwindling forest habitat and people eager to protect timber jobs. It was an incredibly tense, scary time to live down there—they called it the "timber wars." There was actual violence, with people blowing up logging sites and other people threatening to shoot them, and activists getting car-bombed. And of course, as all of this was going on, timber companies were shipping millions of board feet of lumber to Japan while they tried to manipulate the Clinton administration into giving them more land to log.

All of this left a pretty strong impression on me. The history of Oregon is rife with the story of big industry stripping natural resources from communities and siphoning the profits into distant places. It's a colonial legacy, and this book is all about colonialism.

GC: Yeah, I remember hearing about a lot that growing up down in California. It sounds fascinating. I can't see where you took those ideas in the novel.

WW: Oh! The book is set in a timber town, but on another planet. And the corporation that my character works for is very, very shady. The book is just jam-packed with forests and loggers and ecoterrorists!

GC: Besides the Dan Simmons book you mentioned, were there any other books or authors who directly influenced An Oath of Dogs?

WW: To be honest, the biggest influences on this book were really films and TV. Another early influence on the book's direction was Vampire Hunter: Bloodlust. There's this terrific atmosphere to that movie. Everyone there is afraid of vampires, so everything's decked out with crosses, and everything shuts up after dark. The town in An Oath of Dogs is very similar—they've really come to fear these wild dogs that torment the town, and they've developed some odd coping mechanisms.

GC: Nice! I haven't seen that movie. I'll have to check it out.

WW: I've only read a little of the manga, and it's cool, too.

GC: Okay, so switching gears again...As you’re well aware, there’s been a lot of turmoil in the SF/F field about making our field more inclusive. As a woman who not only writes, but is managing editor at two of the field’s top mags, do you feel any extra pressure to be an advocate or champion for underrepresented voices?

Lightspeed Magazine, June 2015 (Queers Destroy Science Fiction! Special Issue) by [Magazine, Lightspeed, McGuire, Seanan, Chu, John, Stufflebeam, Bonnie Jo, Brenchley, Chaz, Lemberg, Rose, Ryman, Geoff, El-Mohtar, Amal, Bigelow, Susan Jane, Hopkinson, Nalo]WW: Of course SF/F needs to be more inclusive! All of publishing needs to be more inclusive! I've been so lucky to work at Lightspeed while we've been working on the Destroy series—we've spotlighted women in SF/F/H, queers in SF/F/H, and now people of color. I've gotten to hear so many stories about just how much the field can suck. It's hard to believe people miss out on so much great talent simply because publishing focuses everything through this white, male, upper middle class lens.

I'm just another white middle class lady, so my voice isn't an especially uncommon one in the field. But I feel like I have a responsibility to include people of all races and sexuality and ability in my work. For one, it's more representative of the real world, which is important. And for another, I know how important it is for people to see themselves represented in the genre. I also think it's really important to do a good job writing those characters.

But I think that's pretty much everyone's job in all genres. If you're not doing it, you're not doing a very good job capturing the human condition.

GC: Well said. When you and I last met, it was at Westercon a few months back, and I attended a panel where an editor from a big publishing house said that representation in fiction doesn't really change anything. I couldn't believe it. And none of the other panelist called him on it! I've heard dozens of firsthand testimonials from past students of mine who've talked about what it meant to them when they first encountered an author or character who was the same as them.

WW: RIGHT??? I wish I could give that editor a copy of the personal essays from the three Destroy SF issues. Representation was a major theme for all three populations. Like this year, I can't tell you how many women were overjoyed to watch the new Ghostbusters. It was so amazing just to see *normal* women on screen kicking butt. I was so happy after that movie that I got teary.

GC: I'm in full agreement! Okay, let's lighten it up with the speed round. Ready?

WW: Yay!

GC: You Tweeted a while back that one of your characters is a vegan botanist/beer enthusiast and has a lot in common with you. Does that mean you only drink vegan beers, and if so, any big name beers we should watch out for that aren't vegan?

WW: I'm not actually a vegan—my daughter is, so I mostly eat vegan, although I am a vegetarian. But I do love beer! And, like my character, I identify as bisexual. But some big news about beer is that Guinness is going vegan by the end of the year! They've always used isinglass (from fish bladders) as a filtration material, but they're switching to a vegan filtration system.

GC: Glad to hear that about Guinness. I’m not a vegetarian, but I certainly don’t need fish in my beer, and I'm sure fish are glad to not be put in beer. What's your favorite beer?

WW: I really love Fort George brewing. Their Vortex IPA is just delicious.

GC: How about your favorite thing to grow in the garden?

WW: Broccoli! It's a pretty big plant, and it goes through all these awkward phases before it looks like what you buy at the grocery store. I feel like a champ when I get a big head of broccoli out of my garden.

GC: Your nemesis in the garden?

WW: Powder mildew. Grr!

GC: Yeah, I hate that stuff. My poor squash plant...

WW: It even got to the swiss chard this year!

GC: Punk ass powder mold! But back to the speed round…One recommendation for readers. It can be a book, movie, TV show, game, whatever.

WW: I just read the best book! It's called Wylding Hall, by Elizabeth Hand. (It's about ten years old.) It's a series of interviews with different members of this 1970s folk rock band about the month they spent at this mysterious mansion in the British countryside. It's very magical, very atmospheric, and very cool. (It's fiction, in case I didn't make that clear.)

GC: Sounds sweet. I'll have to check it out. All right, last one. SpaceX says they'll send people to Mars within the next decade. If you could take your family with you, would you do it? And what would be your stipulation to Elon Musk? A guaranteed steady supply of coffee?

WW: Absolutely! It would be a dream come true to be a Martian colonist. But the only way I'd be able to convince my husband to go would be if we could bring our entire board game collection.

GC: Sounds fair to me!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Con-Volution 2016: My Monstrous Schedule

Con-Volution 2016: The Age of Monsters is this weekend, I'm excited to be participating in a whopping five panels. This will be my first time attending Con-Volution, located in San Francisco, California, and I'm looking forward to hopefully meeting a lot of great new people.

If you'll be in attendance, please flag me down and say hi. Here's the schedule of the panels I'll be appearing on. I'm stoked to chat about the making of monsters, and particularly Saturday's panel, "Fear of the Other," which should touch upon some important issues in the genre (and the world) right now.

Worldbuilding: The Monstrous Element

Friday 21:00 - 22:30, Parlor 2021 (Hyatt Regency SFO)

Including monsters and inhuman creatures in your fiction Worldbuilding.

Steven Savage, Juliette Wade (M), ElizaBeth "Lace" Gilligan, Melissa Snark, Garrett Calcaterra, Anne Bishop*
*Convention Guest of Honor

How "Scary" is Science?

Saturday 10:00 - 11:30, Parlor 2036 (Hyatt Regency SFO)

There was a time where things like organ cloning and replacing body parts with plastics were things that fiction writers used to fuel thrills and chills; now we're seeing these medical marvels come true.  Are they still scary, or have we moved on?

Garrett Calcaterra, J. L. (Jim) Doty, Laurel Anne Hill, Kevin Roche (M), Heidi Stauffer

Building a Better Monster: The Nuts & Bolts of Monster Physiology

Saturday 17:00 - 18:30, Boardroom IV (Hyatt Regency SFO)

It may seem like the more tentacles and claws, the scarier the monster, but when it comes to writing a monster worth it's scales, sometimes less is more. Or is it? We'll discuss!

ElizaBeth "Lace" Gilligan, Tyler Hayes, Garrett Calcaterra (M), Pat MacEwen

Fear of The Other

Saturday 20:00 - 21:30, SandPebble B (Hyatt Regency SFO)

 Horror from previous generations draws much of its power from the fear of the Other. In some cases the other is an unknowable being, a cosmic terror, but just as often it's not, referencing instead more mundane distinctions between us and them. How problematic is the use of the Other to engender fear? Has fear of the Other led to some of the challenges genre faces today relative to inclusiveness and equality?

Lillian Csernica, Juliette Wade (M), Garrett Calcaterra, Gregg Castro t'rowt'raahl Salinan/rumsien Ohlone, Sumiko Saulson

Who Threw Away the Monster Compendium?

Sunday 14:00 - 15:30, SandPebble D (Hyatt Regency SFO)

When was the last time a zeitgeist novel had a bugbear or a cockatrice? How long is it since someone fought giant, flesh-eating beasts instead of pikemen? Where did all the monsters go? With quest plots out of fashion, deus ex machina ditched, treasure-hunting too economically dull, and stories about ethics instead of enemies, is the monster still relevant in today’s fiction?

Mark Gelineau, Garrett Calcaterra (M), M. Todd Gallowglas

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Celebrating Seven Years: Best of The Machine Stops

Saying goodbye to the old Machine Stops logo
August 8, 2016 was the seven-year anniversary for this blog, and I finally got around to giving the site a facelift. Hopefully, the new layout will make reading easier on they eyes. I'm also going through and updating broken links, including making sure all the book titles and images now have active links.

The Machine Stops started out with me intermittently rambling on about what I was working on in the infancy of my writing career, but as I became more involved in the SF/F community as a professional (sometime around 2011), the blog become infinitely more interesting, featuring interviews with other authors and the occasional SF/F lists.

Looking forward, I'll still be blogging about my own writing updates (about once a month), but you can expect to see a lot more interviews with other authors and fun features like top-10 lists and whatever other strange ideas pop into my head.

To celebrate the first seven years and kickoff a new chapter for The Machine Stops, here are the

Top 10 Most Popular SF/F Posts

10. Interview with Misty Massey, author of Mad Kestrel and weird wild west anthology editor

9. The History of Modern Fantasy (sort of)

8. A Brief History of Eä, the World of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, and The Hobbit

7. Interview with steampunk progenitor James P. Blaylock

6.  20 Albums for Sci-Fi and Fantasy Geeks

5.  An Annotated Bibliography for Science Fiction and Climate Change

4. Interview with Author David B. Coe (a.k.a. D.B. Jackson)

3. Welcome to the World of Transgressive Fiction

2. Interview with author and podcaster Patrick Hester

1. 20 Obscure SF/F/H Books Recommended by the Pros

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Dreamwielder Ebook Sale and Writing Updates

Good News. Diversion Books has put the ebook version of Dreamwielder on sale for only 99 cents through September 13, so if you've been holding out for a good deal, now's the time to go for it. That price should be valid at all ebook retailers. For your convenience here are some quick links:


Even if you've already read Dreamwielder, please help spread the word. Sales like these are a great way to lure new readers to the works of emerging authors like myself. Low risk, high reward, I like to say. On top of that, 99 cent sales are a great way to climb the rankings on ebook retailer websites, which in turn attracts even more readers in a snowball effect. So yes, please share, share, and share some more. I'll be happy to return the favor, even if it means coming to your house to do a live reading or whipping up something for you in the kitchen!

It's been a while since my last post, so here are a few more miscellaneous updates:

  • Souldrifter got a great write-up in the Mountain Democrat, here, with some original quotes from me and a little biographical info about where I grew up and went to high school.
  • Dreamrush got a great, story-by-story review from According2Robyn. (By the way: Keep an eye on Robyn Bennis. She's an author with her debut novel coming out from Tor books next year.)
  • I've started work on a new stand-alone novel tentatively titled The Beasts of Qaza. The book will be a mashup of fantasy, steampunk, and lost world adventures.
  • Prior to starting in on the new novel, I wrote a tie-in short story called "Twelve Generations of Woolies for a Mine." I'll have publication information for that in the coming months.
  • I'm also in the process of planning book 3 in The Dreamwielder Chronicles. I could say that means I'm writing two novels at once, but unless I discover a way to clone myself, realistically that means I'll need to finish the first draft of The Beasts of Qaza before starting in on Dreamwielder 3
  • Lastly, a bit of very sad news. I lost one of my furry muses last week. Jager dog was my stalwart companion for the last twelve years. He was there as I finished up my MFA and my very first novel. He was there when I wrote my first short story to ever get published. He was there when I wrote Dreamwielder and Souldrifter, and while he enjoyed a good nap in my office while I wrote, he was equally eager to drag me out of the house to go on hikes and other great adventures. He will be sorely missed, and never forgotten. 
RIP Jager dog...

-Garrett Calcaterra

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Introducing DREAMRUSH

I'm very excited to announce the release of DREAMRUSH, my first collection of short fiction. The collection includes several stories that were previous only available in ebook format, including the Dreamwielder prequel "Wulfram," as well the never-before-published story "Deus ex Aurum," which is set during an alternate California gold rush.

The book is available in trade paperback and ebook formats at Amazon and all major online book retailers.

Here's the full book jacket blurb:

"Calcaterra's stories, long and short, are well-crafted, innately readable, and thoroughly kick-ass." –Ahimsa Kerp, author of Cthulhu Kaiju

From the author of The Dreamwielder Chronicles comes 5 tales of fantasy, future past, and gaslamp frontierism, including...

"The Knight's Dog" – The gritty fantasy that's been read over 80k times and is oft compared to The Game of Thrones.

"Page Fault" – A thrilling mashup of cyberpunk, fantasy, noir, and post-apocalyptic fiction.

"Deus ex Aurum" and "Gold Comes Out" – Groundbreaking tales of gaslamp frontierism, set during the California gold rush.

"Wulfram" – The prequel to Dreamwielder, chronicling the story of the mysterious sorcerer Wulfram.

-Garrett Calcaterra

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Spring Recap and Summer Events

It's been an eventful spring and early summer of 2016. I kicked things off with a book signing at the Book Carnival in Orange back in April, along with steampunk legend James P. Blaylock. The event was well attended and my trip back down to southern California afforded me the opportunity to meet up with family and the crew from my writing group, The Biscuits.

Next, I conducted a sci-fi and fantasy writing workshop for kids here in my new hometown of San Leandro, at the Manor Library. The young attendees were super-attentive and excited to write their own stories. Their enthusiasm reminded me why I enjoyed teaching in the classroom for so long.

Most recently, I returned to the county where I attended high school and did a book signing at Face in a Book in El Dorado Hills. I had a lot of family and friends attend, and met some new fans, which was great. Authors James L'Etoile and M. Todd Gallowglas also stopped by, and it was wonderful getting to catch up with the both of them. A big thanks to Jim also for sharing some photos, two of which I've shared here.

Next up for me is a trip to Portland, Oregon for Westercon. I won't be participating in any panels or readings at this convention, so it'll be nice to just relax and watch other writers talk this time around.

In other news, my collection of short work, Dreamrush, officially releases next week (July 5, 2016). I'll be sure to do a new post on launch day. In the interim of all this, I've slowly continued on with the prep work for my new fantasy novel involving prehistoric creatures, and I'm also tinkering with a rough outline for the third (and final) Dreamwielder book. Once I get back from Westercon, it'll be full-on writing time.

-Garrett Calcaterra

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Dreamwielder ebook: 99 cents all week!

In honor of the Nebula Awards, which happen this week, my publisher, Diversion Books, is running a promotional deal on the ebook edition of Dreamwielder. All week (May 10–17, 2016), you can download the book for 99 cents.

Download a copy if you haven't already, and if you have, well heck, please help spread the word.

I'm also getting in on the Nebula action. No, not by getting nominated for an award (I wish!), but with my article on the Nebulas at The Book Stops Here, "7 Sci-Fi and Fantasy Authors You Won’t Believe Have Never Won a Nebula Award for Best Novel."

To download a copy of Dreamwielder, cheap, click here.