January 27, 2016

Obligatory Award Eligibility Post

Not that I think I could possibly win, but if you are able to nominate books and authors for award consideration (either being a member of WSFS or SFWA), I would very much appreciate a nomination! Being considered for such a prestigious award would be an absolute honor, and I’m happy to say that I am eligible for award nomination this year.

And if you cannot nominate my books for any of the following awards but still want to support me as an author, spread the word about my book! If you enjoyed either The Brass Giant or The Mechanical Theater, the best thing you can do is let people know. Whether that’s writing a review on Amazon, gifting a copy to a friend, requesting a copy at the local library, or rattling on about automatons and clockwork engineering to your general practitioner next time you visit, every little bit helps.

Read more about the awards I’m eligible for below:

Hugo Awards

Best Novel: The Brass Giant
Best Novella: The Mechanical Theater

Voting for the awards is open to all members of the World Science Fiction Society (WSFS), and to become a member all you have to do is buy a membership in that year’s Worldcon. It is not necessary to actually attend the convention. A “supporting membership,” the cost of which varies from year to year (in 2015 it costs US$40; in 2016 it costs US$50), is all you need to join WSFS.

Nominations are open to members of the current year’s Worldcon, the members of the past year’s Worldcon, and, starting with the 2012 Hugo Awards, the members of the following year’s Worldcon. The final ballot is open only to members of the current year’s Worldcon. You do not have to attend the Worldcon in order to vote. Each person may cast only one nominating ballot even if that person is a member of more than one Worldcon. A special category of Supporting Membership is available for people who wish to vote but cannot afford to attend the convention. Supporting Membership also entitles you to all of the official Worldcon publications for that year, and entitles you to participate in the vote to select the site for the Worldcon to be held two years hence. Each Worldcon sets its own membership rates.

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer

The John W. Campbell Award uses the same nomination and voting mechanism as the Hugo, even though the Campbell Award is not a Hugo.

Like the Hugo Awards, the Campbell Award voting takes place in two stages. The first stage, nomination, is open to anyone who had a Supporting or Attending membership in the previous, current, or following year's Worldcon as of January 31. For Sasquan, this means members of Sasquan (the 73rd World Science Fiction Convention in San Antonio), MidAmeriCon II itself, and Worldcon 75 (Helsinki) can nominate any eligible author.

To be able to vote for the award, you must be a member of MidAmeriCon II (the 74th World Science Fiction Convention in Kansas City, MO). If you are not a member of MidAmeriCon and wish to vote, you must purchase a supporting membership or an attending membership before January 31.

Nebula Awards

Novel: The Brass Giant
Novella: The Mechanical Theater

Only SFWA members may nominate and vote for the Nebula Awards.

A work must be nominated by an Active, Lifetime Active, Associate or Lifetime Associate member (with no fiduciary interest–which means, not the writer, not the editor, the agent, publicist,) during the nomination period, which runs November 15 of the eligibility year through February 15 of the following year.  An author doesn’t have to be a member of SFWA in order for her work to be considered. The six works in each category with the greatest number of nominations become the finalists for the Nebula Awards for that year.

Deadline for nomination: February 15th.

January 14, 2016

why THE GUILD CONSPIRACY isn't out yet

Not that anyone checks this blog anymore... 

I have a long-ish update to make regarding the release of my next steampunk novel, so if you're wondering why the hell it hasn't come out yet, or want to know why you haven’t heard a recent update from me, here's why:

1.) It took a lot longer to write than I originally anticipated.

I thought I would be done with the book in March 2015, but because of delays with The Brass Giant, I wasn’t able to start on it until February. Even so, the goal was to finish the first draft by the end of April. Three months seemed more than doable for the 80,000 word novel I had planned. However, I didn’t account for editing my novella, The Mechanical Theater, or all the marketing and promotion I had to do for The Brass Giant ahead of its release in May, so an April deadline stretched on and on to a July deadline, and my original plan for 80,000 words morphed into a 127,250 word monster of a draft, even after cutting over 13,000 words in a desperate hope to bring the word count down early on in the drafting process. But drafting took six months altogether (with about six weeks of editing work mixed in). Not bad, really, though slower than I would have liked.

Also, it bears mentioning that I have a toddler, and she is one of the primary reasons I take so long to write and edit. I have a very limited number of hours each day in which to write uninterrupted, and they are constantly shrinking. Things take longer than they used to, and for this book in particular, I had to work many long nights and weekends to make up for that lost time during the day. This was not good for my health or my sanity. Do not recommend.

2.)   Editing took longer than anticipated.

Okay, so I finished the first draft mid-July. The idea was that I would give myself a short break, until the first of August, when I would start editing. I figured that I could have the entire thing edited by mid-September, giving me six weeks to complete the second draft before turning it over to my editor. Great. Except the book was even more of a mess than I thought, and I had a lot of work to do before I would feel it was good enough to send to my editor. I ended up cutting another 65,000 words from the novel, total, but between rewriting scenes and adding new ones, I added another 40,000 words back into the draft, ending up with a book that was still nearly 25,000 words over my initial goal. I finished the second draft and sent it off to my editor in the first week of October. Two months to edit 127,000 words. I had to bust my ass, but I did it.

3.) My editor has other clients.

I’m not the only one on her schedule, and because of the delays I caused by being late with my book, I probably got shoved to the back of the manuscript queue. Can’t be helped. But that comes to the crux of the situation…

4.) My editor left Harper Voyager and took on a new job at another publishing house.

Which throws a great big damper on things. With my editor’s move to a new publishing house, that means I now have to switch to a new editor who already has a handful of clients to start with, and just got saddled with a handful more. So my book has to, once again, shuffle into the first available slot for the imprint’s production schedule. There is literally nothing I can do about this, but that’s okay. In the long run, I think it’s going to work out for the better (see below).

The Good News

I now have a rather good estimate for when the book should release, barring any additional delays, and right now, the book is scheduled to release August 9, 2016. It may shuffle a bit, depending on the rest of the publisher’s lineup and needing to time releases optimally, but it’s safe to say that the book will come out in the general timeframe of mid-August. Which means!—and this is the really good news—in light of the delayed release date, I have a chance to edit the book one more time before my editor gets her hands on it.


Why this is a Good Thing™: You’ll see above that I edited the full 127,000 word novel in a mere two months, working late nights and tiring weekends to get it done as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, quickly as possible doesn’t always equal best as possible, and in the months after turning my book over to the publisher, I’ve realized a few things that I should have done differently with the story. The truth is, the book I turned in was not my best work. But now I have an opportunity to fix it, make it better. And you better believe I’m going to seize that opportunity.

Despite the annoyances of yet another delay in the book’s release, I know that I can sculpt the draft I turned in last October into something much better now that I’ve had the proper distance from the story to see it more objectively. I now have a chance to tighten up the writing, strengthen the emotion in each scene, further develop the characters and the setting, and really optimize each scene as it plays into the greater plot. And in the process, hopefully I can bring the word count down to something a bit closer to the word count listed in my contract.

Yes, it means that the book will release later than planned, but in the end, it will be a better book. And that, my dears is a Very Good Thing™. 

November 12, 2015

How to Write a Compelling Opening Scene

Craft Workshop
(this workshop was originally presented to a classroom of students at Arkansas Tech University, November 5th, 2015; everything in this workshop is my personal opinion as a writer and reader of SFF fiction)
Writing a good opening scene requires establishing the setting, introducing characters, and introducing some semblance of conflict or plot (often manifesting in the inciting incident).
In a novel, you generally have a chapter to accomplish this; in a short story, you might have a single scene, or a page or two.


Setting needs to inform your story, either by providing obstacles for your characters or being an integral part to the plot. By effectively establishing your setting, you ground your characters in a world that feels real to the reader, whether it is a spaceship deck orbiting a distant star a thousand years in the future, a small town high school set in present day, or the medieval court of a French queen. 
Establishing setting is different from world-building. This has nothing to do with figuring out the religions of the world, mapping an imaginary space station, or figuring out the political structure of the story world. This is strictly about grounding the reader and your characters in the story, providing a backdrop for the events of the story to unfold.
[Disclaimer: I primarily write science fiction and fantasy based in history, so that is what I am familiar with, but these notes should be applicable to any genre]
To create a realistic setting for your story, you need to establish the following:
  • When does the story take place?
  • Could be a specific year or era in history, present day, far in the distant future, or any variation between. It can be as specific as an exact date or as broad as a political or technological era.
  • The important thing is to provide the reader with an impression of whenthe story takes place in relation to the world that they already know, whether your story is in the real world or in an invented world of your own making. How is it different—if it is different at all?
  • This can be most easily established with:
  • referencing specific dates, wars, events, or persons (London, 1815; the Civil War; the reign of King Henry VII; the Han Dynasty; “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…”; etc.)
  • technology, or lack thereof (use of smartphones, internet, and social media for modern settings; horse-drawn carriages for settings existing prior to the 20th century; lack of indoor plumbing or electricity for pre-Victorian settings; primary use of swords or bows in combat for medieval settings; slightly improved technology for near future settings; holographic communicators, lightsabers, and spaceships for far future settings; etc.)
  • fashion (neon tights and side ponytails for the 80s; skinny jeans for a modern setting; empire-waist dresses for the Regency period; corsets, bustles, and cravats for the Victorian age; technologically advanced jumpsuits for a future setting, etc.)
  • Where does the story take place?
  • Could be a real location from history or modern day Earth, an invented location based on aspects of the real world, or somewhere completely from your imagination. (e.g. New York City, Ancient Mesopotamia, Medieval England, a futuristic Detroit, outer space, the realm of fairytales, thirteenth century French court, etc.)
  • The location for your initial scene may be small and simple (a bedroom, classroom, or corporate meeting room), vast and complicated (a warring battlefield, a system of interconnected tunnels far beneath the earth, or on the deck of an imperial starship currently in hyperspace), or anything in between.
  • This can be established through expositional description, but think in broad strokes rather than specific detail. Only describe what is necessary for the reader to get a sense of where the story is taking place. I try to follow a general rule of no more than three sentences to describe a location, unless it is particularly important that I describe more (but it’s usually not that important).
  • You don’t need:
    • lengthy descriptions of scenery
    • observations of weather (unless it’s important somehow)
    • backstory and/or history related to the location
    • infodumps of any kind
Social Atmosphere
  • What is the social status quo? How do characters interact with each other?
  • This doesn’t have to be an intricate examination of the sociopolitical atmosphere of your story world, merely an acknowledgement of what is considered normal.
  • Consider your main character(s) place in society, where they stand in the hierarchy of power, and how that affects the way they move through the world. For instance, a servant will interact with the world differently than a nobleman or a queen, just as a maintenance technician will interact differently than a starship captain.
  • What are the divisions between gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, age, and physical or mental ability?
  • This errs toward world-building, but it can be an important part of establishing a realistic setting, especially how the divisions, prejudices, and discriminations affect the main character and those around them,and how those views differ from or adhere to the views of modern society. While you don’t have to include all of this in your first pages, it’s something worth considering.
 Sensory Details
  • Most writing relies on visual descriptions to establish setting, but using the other senses in your descriptions can really bring a setting to life.
    • Sight: remember to include color, the way light reflects off an object, visible wear or age, apparent texture, etc.
    • Sound: consider the sounds your characters might hear as a direct part of the natural setting—distant conversation, construction machinery down the street, the creak of a ship’s mast or the splash of waves against the hull, the thrum of FTL engines powering up, wind in the trees, the tick of a clock, the pitch and tone of someone’s voice; etc.
    • Touch: describe texture and temperature as it is relevant to how your character is interacting with the setting—rough, peeling wallpaper; condensation on a cold can of soda; the grit of sand against skin; the blistering heat of a desert sun; the dry brittle feel of an old skeleton; the thick humidity of a muggy swamp; the mushiness of processed food; etc.
    • Taste: think beyond food and drink and consider other tastes that your character might experience—a change in saliva, presence of blood in their mouth due to injury, a tang of sweetness on the air, the taste of rain, dust, mud, grease, the taste of evaporated steel in the wake of a destructive laser—anything that could be a direct product of the environment.
    • Smell: this follows along with taste, since the two are so closely entwined, but smell is one of your greatest tools after sight, so use it! Think of what scents and odors your setting might produce—the clean smell of pure oxygen pumped into a spacy colony, the scent of musty autumn leaves, coming rain, freshly trimmed grass, body odor, burning firewood, cigarette smoke, clean sheets, dusty parchment, etc.
    • Visceral: the human body responds to external stimuli beyond the five senses, and giving your characters visceral responses will help the reader connect to them more deeply. Consider changes in heartbeat, changes in breathing, the feel of goosebumps, a character’s throat tightening up when they get emotional, a rush of adrenaline, a chill of fear, a tingling sense of dread, etc. For this, I highly recommend reading The Emotional Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression for a good primer on how to convey emotion and internal thought through physical action.
  • A good rule of thumb is to include one of the secondary senses at least once per page, and be careful of repeating the same sensory descriptions in close proximity. A little goes a long way.


Introducing your characters and establishing their goals and motivations is paramount to getting readers to care about them. The sooner the reader becomes invested in your characters, the more likely they are to continue reading the first chapter or scene of your story—and beyond.
You should introduce your main character in the first sentence of your story, and they should be fully integrated into the story environment from the moment they are introduced. Ground them in the setting by having them interact with their surroundings, either directly, with the character acting upon the setting, or indirectly, with the environment acting upon the character.
Though make sure that you are telling the story through the right viewpoint character! Focus on whoever can tell the most interesting story, the person who will face the greatest change throughout the course of the story; this is usually the person who has the most at stake, the most to lose, or the most to prove. Personally, I find that ordinary characters who do extraordinary things make for more compelling viewpoint characters than experienced heroes.
There are four things to consider when introducing a character in your opening pages: normal life, a definable goal, and the motivations behind their actions.
Normal Life
  • What is considered normal life for the main character?
  • Does the character enjoy this life or wish for something else?
  • Your story should start just before great change comes into the character’s life, either by their own actions or external forces. You must lay the foundation for that change in your opening pages to give the reader a reason to keep reading.
Definable Goal
  • Your character should have a clear, definable goal in the first pages of your story.
  • This can be something simple and specific, such as wanting to get to school on time, or something complex and ambitious, such as sneaking into a palace to assassinate a king during a brutal siege, which might be resolved by the end of the first scene or chapter of your story. Or it could be a distant goal that the character will work toward for the rest of the story, ultimately reaching their goal (or failing) by the end of the story.
  • Regardless of the type of goal, the character should be actively pursuing that goal in the first pages of your story. Your character needs to be an agent of change in their own lives, always moving toward their goals, even if they are repeatedly set back.
  • There should be obstacles between your character and their goals. This is what creates conflict in your story. Sometimes these obstacles may manifest as a result of the antagonist’s direct actions, but obstacles can present themselves in the environment or setting, from within the character themselves, or by other external forces out of the character’s control.  
  • There must be a sense of forward momentum in the opening pages of your story, and a clear goal helps give the impression of action andmovement.
  • Why does your character want to pursue this goal?
  • Your character needs a reason for wanting this, some driving force behind everything that they do. Try to determine what drives them and how far they will go to achieve their goals.
  • This can be as simple as ambition, curiosity, obligation, feeling that it is the right thing to do, wanting to prove that they can do it, or because if they don’t, something bad will happen.
  • The best motivations come from within the character, not from external forces, and even if external forces are involved in motivating the character, you still need to give the character a solid, internally justified reason for choosing to pursue the goal.
  • Things to avoid (these are generally agreed to be a result of lazy writing, so if you decide to use these tropes, it should not be the sole reason behind your character’s motivation; give the character a secondary motive for pursuing their goals):
    • Killing or harming loved ones
      • (especially women who exist in the story only to be harmed or killed in order to motivate a male character; see “Women in Refrigerators”)
    • Prophecies, Destiny, or “Chosen One” narratives
  • introduce your character by having them wake up in the morning
  • start with a dream or a flashback
  • show the character showering, getting dressed, eating breakfast, etc.
  • have them describe themselves by looking in the mirror
  • allow your character to engage in pointless navel-gazing or reflective meditation
  • try to squeeze in your character’s entire backstory when you introduce them
  • start the story with your character in a life-or-death situation (the reader doesn’t care yet)
  • start the story on the first day of school
  • have your character address the reader directly or introduce themselves by name
Keep in mind that these openings can be done, but it is difficult to do them well. When these openings work, it is because there is a lot of other stuff being accomplished at the same time.

Inciting Incident:

Once you have introduced your main character and established the initial setting of the story, the rest of your opening pages should build toward the inciting incident—the initial conflict that marks the beginning of the overarching plot, setting in motion the chain of events that make up the rest of the story, and motivating your main character into action.
Without the inciting incident, there is no story.
This is the moment when everything changes for the main character, upsetting the balance of their normal life, creating conflict, introducing adventure, and/or posing a problem that now needs to be solved. The main character is forced into action, usually by external forces, and is no longer able to return to the life that they had at the beginning of the story.
The sooner the inciting incident occurs and launches the main character into the story, the more likely readers will keep reading to find out what happens next.

April 21, 2015


Available for download June 9th!

Petra Wade’s older brother, Solomon, has always dreamed of being an actor. Instead, he works grueling shifts in the clockwork city’s boiler rooms to help support his large adopted family. When Le Theatre Mecanique holds an open call for their upcoming performance, he decides to audition. However, the only role he is suitable to fill is that of the theater’s custodian.

Leaving the well-paying boiler job behind him, Solomon immerses himself in the theater—watching rehearsals, studying the performances, and working with an emerging young actress to improve his skills. But back at home, his family feels the sting of their reduced income when his younger sister Emily develops pneumonia and the only treatment is too expensive.

Solomon will be forced to make a difficult choice: fulfill his dreams of stardom, or help save his younger sister.

Preorder now ($2.99): Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | iTunes | HarperCollins

April 19, 2015


so, if you are a reviewer and want an ARC of The Brass Giant, you can submit a request for a review copy at this link.

i’m not sure exactly how the whole ARC process works with Harper Voyager, like what their requirements are, but if you let me know that you’re submitting a request and you have a fairly steady review output on your blog, Goodreads, or Amazon, i can nudge my publicist to make sure that you get a copy (or at least increase that likelihood).

registering on Edelweiss is very simple and you don’t need to provide a full address or anything, just region/city/state/country. when you request the ARC (a button on the right hand side) all they ask is for relevant information about your reviewing history/presence to make sure that you are actually a reviewer.