Edward Willett

Twist of the Blade nominated for Aurora Award!

1472837_10151793023756603_1347226651_nThe Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association has announced the ballot for the 2015 Aurora Awards, recognizing the best in Canadian science fiction and fantasy, and I’m pleased and proud to announce that Twist of the Blade is on the ballot in the Best Young Adult Novel Category.

Others nominated in that category:
Lockstep by Karl Schroeder, Tor Books;
Rain by Amanda Sun, Harlequin TEEN;
Out of This World by Charles de Lint, Razorbill Canada;
The Voices in Between by Charlene Challenger, Tightrope Books;
Mabel the Lovelorn Dwarf by Sherry Peters, Dwarvenamazon; and
Sea of Shadows by Kelley Armstrong, Doubleday Canada.

The Aurora awards will be present during SFContario 6 / Canvention 35 on the weekend of November 20-22

There are more than the usual five nominees because of a three-way tie for the last spot on the ballot. The complete list of nominees in all categories can be found at the link below. Note that if you join the CSFFA you can vote for the awards, and you’ll also receive a voters’ package that includes many of the nominated works, or portions thereof.

Please consider joining and voting for your favorites!

Read Chapter 1 of FACES online!

Faces coverWith the July 7 release of the hardcover of my E.C. Blake novel Faces, Book 3 in The Masks of Aygrima trilogy, just around the corner, it’s time to post a little teaser. You can now read Chapter 1 online. It picks up immediately following the events at the end of Shadows.

Watch this space–I’m planning to run a giveaway in June to help promote the release!

Faces will be available through your favorite bookstore, or you can pre-order it now from Amazon. Here’s a convenient link!

Seven-sentence stories from Creating in the Qu’appelle

11174699_10152818863321720_9176968265373696047_oI had the great pleasure last Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday to be one of the writer-instructors at Creating in the Qu’appelle, an annual teen writing camp held at Dallas Valley Ranch Camp outside Regina. (The others were Chris Fisher, Gerald Hill, and Steven Galloway.)

Over the course of the 2 1/2 days, I conducted four workshops, three for students and three for teachers, and had one-on-one meetings with several promising young writers. There as also a very enjoyable open-mic night where the teens read from their work, I sang “Me” from Beauty and the Beast (because, why not?), and the talented duo AndersonBurko performed.

For my workshop, I used the Seven-Sentence Short Story exercise that I lifted from James van Pelt a while ago. To recap, it works like this:

1. Introduce what the main character wants and the first action he/she takes to accomplish that goal.

2. The results of the action the charact takes in sentence #1 has to make the situation worse. The character should be farther from the goal now.

3. Based on the new situation, the character takes a second action to accomplish the goal.

4. The results of the second action the character takes from sentence #3 is to make the situation worse. The character should be even farther from the goal now.

5. Based on the new situation, the character takes a third and final action to accomplish the goal.

6. The third action either accomplishes the character’s goal, fails to accomplish the goal, or there is an unusual but oddly satisfying different result of the last action.

7. The denouement. This sentence wraps up the story. It could tell the reader how the character felt about the results, or provide a moral, or tell how the character’s life continued on.

I don’t always take part in the exercise myself, but this time I did. And so, gentle reader, I present you with two seven-sentence short stories. Be kind.

Story 1: The Deer Hunter

1. Prestal looked down from the branches of the giant oak into the dim green shadows where the great stag hesitated, clenched his knife more tightly between his teeth, and leaped.

2. He intended to land on the stag’s back and seize its antlers, to ride it to exhaustion and then kill it with the dagger…but the moment he moved he startled a flock of starlings which exploded from the tree with a noise like a hailstorm on a tile roof, and the stag bolted too, so that rather than land on it shoulders, Prestal landed on its hindquarters, and promptly tumbled to the ground, getting kicked in the stomach by the fleeing stag’s rightmost hoof on the way.

3. But he wasn’t done yet: he spat the now useless dagger from his mouth and reached instead for the crossbow slung across his back; killing the stag with a crossbow bolt might not impress his fair lady Silena as much as the riding-it-and-stabbing-it scenario he’d originally envisioned, but ultimately, the real goal was not letting dinner get away.

4. He aimed, fired, and missed…well, missed the stag: he did hit the black mountain cat which had just leaped from the branches on the far side of the giant oak and born the stag to the ground, the bolt skittering across its haunches so that it yowled in pain and fury—and then turned and leaped toward him, murder in its yellow eyes.

5. Prestal had one chance, and one chance only: he snatched up the fallen dagger, held it out at arm’s length, and waited for the impact.

6. But the impact never came—the beast leaped high over his outstretched arm, landed behind him, skidded to a halt, and made a sound that the panicked Prestal first interpreted as a growl, until his terror subsided a little: then he recognized it as a purr.

7. He twisted around just in time to see the cat transform from cat to beautiful lady—his lady, Lady Silena, who smiled and said, as she helped him to his feet, “As I warned you when we first met…sometimes, I can be a bit catty.”

Story 2: A Lesson in Humility

1. Anton dove headfirst into the crystal-clear water of the Pool of Light, determined that this time he would reach the bottom and retrieve the precious Stone of Foreseeing that Sage Chamis, his mentor, had demanded he come back with…or not come back at all.

2. But the moment he touched the water, it changed in consistency from liquid to something more like thick jelly: he barely penetrate it, and in the same instance it changed from crystal-clear to inky black, black as scrivener’s ink.

3. Anton swore, but he wouldn’t—couldn’t—give up: he drew the dagger from his belt and sliced at the jelly-like substance of the pool, digging his way foot by foot toward the hidden bottom, and the Stone it held.

4. The Pool didn’t seem to like that: the whole thing heaved, like a dog that had eaten bad pork, and threw Anton out onto the glittering, jewel-like sand surrounding it.

5. He scrambled to his feet and, in fury and frustration, thrust out his fingers and screamed the activating words for the Spell of Flaming Death.

6. The magical fire tore into the pool’s black contents, causing them to bubble and smoke, filling the cavern with a thick haze that made Anton cough and blinded him for several minutes: when it cleared, there was the pool, crystal-clear again, the Stone of Foreseeing still winking away in its depths, as though mocking him.

7. ”Seeing is not the same as having, and sometimes the best way to your goal is not the direct path,” a voice said behind him, and he turned to see Sage Chamis, who walked over to a rope lying at the side of the pool he had noticed but ignored, tugged on it, and pulled the stone to him, only to untie it and toss it back into the pool: “Let us continue our lessons,” he said, and Anton, sighing, followed him out of the cavern.

All in all, Creating in the Qu’appelle was a great experience. I hope I have the chance to go back some day!

Saskatchewan Book Awards jurors say nice things about Masks

Book Awards 2015The Saskatchewan Book Awards were handed out on Saturday night. My novel Masks (written as E.C. Blake) was shortlisted in two categories. Alas, I didn’t win, but at least I picked up a couple of great review quotes.

Jurors for the Drs. Morris & Jacqui Shumiatcher Regina Book Award wrote:

“An exciting, compelling narrative that sweeps the reader up into a thoroughly believable, artfully constructed alternate world, Masks is a rip-roaring story featuring a complex, nuanced heroine and a fine cast of supporting characters. The writing is spare and efficient, the narrative absorbing, the conflicts engrossing.”

And the jurors for the SaskEnergy Young Adult Literature Award wrote:

“When rejected by her mask, Mara is thrown on an adventure that forces her to journey far and deep. In the process, she discovers her true strengths. A riveting read that is both fast-paced and unpredictable–Masks is a page-turner!”

Not bad, eh?

The jurors in question, by the way, were Melanie Dugan, Nate Hendly, and Chris Rutkowski for the Regina Book Award, and Caroline Pignat, Robert Priest, and Valerie Sherrard for the Young Adult Literature Award.

Giving imagination free rein: Sheila Gilbert of DAW Books

Me With Sheila & Betsy

From left to right, Sheila Gilbert, me, and Betsy Wollheim.

I’m jumping the gun a little bit here, since Freelance hasn’t come out yet, but here’s my upcoming “Space-Time Continuum” column for the Saskatchewan Writers Guild magazine–an interview with my editor and publisher, Sheila Gilbert, nominated once again this year for a Hugo Award for Best Editor, Long Form.

As a teenager looking for science fiction and fantasy, I was drawn to the distinctive yellow spines of paperbacks published by DAW Books—a name I found amusing because DAW are the initials of my brother, Dwight Arthur Willett.

In fact, those initials belonged to Donald A. Wollheim, who founded the press in 1971 with his wife, Elsie. Today, the company is co-owned and operated by their daughter, Elizabeth (“Betsy”) Wollheim, and Sheila Gilbert. Together they select, edit, and publish all the books under the DAW imprint, including work by award-winning authors, bestselling authors…and me.

Sheila Gilbert, then, is both my editor and publisher—and a handy person to interview to give you a little insight into the world of a major SF and fantasy publisher.

Sheila read science fiction and fantasy in her teens and attended conventions, which is how she became friends with the Wollheim family. Fresh out of university, with a B.A. in English, she was offered a job as an editorial assistant to Don Wollheim, who in those days edited Ace Books.

“I jumped at it,” Sheila says. “People were going to pay me to read the books I would read anyway! It was the ideal job and I never looked back.”

In 1972 she moved to New American Library as an ad and cover copywriter, becoming editor of NAL’s Signet science fiction line in 1978. In 1985, when Don Wollheim became critically ill, Betsy Wollheim asked Sheila to join her at DAW. The two have run the company ever since.

DAW is attractive to new writers because it is one of the few major publishers that still accepts unsolicited submissions. The odds are long—hundreds of manuscripts arrive in any given month—but, says Sheila, “We’ve found some of our best authors through manuscripts that are unsolicited. Which isn’t to say that we haven’t also gotten things through agents, but it doesn’t mean that you have to have an agent to sell a book. You just have to be a really good writer.”

In her 45 years in the business, Sheila has read a lot of manuscripts. But one thing never changes: “Every time you find one that is good and you can actually be excited about it, it’s certainly a thrill.”

Although you can submit a complete manuscript (by mail, not email, unless you’ve been asked to send it by email), Sheila actually recommends sending a query letter first—not an email, because of spam filters. “Make it very simple. If you can, have a one-line kind of hook to hopefully catch attention, and then a synopsis. We don’t need a testimonial how your mother and all of your relatives loved it.” Along with the synopsis, send the first three or four chapters. If the partial submission is interesting enough, DAW might ask to see the complete manuscript. (For DAW’s formal submission requirements, see www.dawbooks.com.)

What kind of books does DAW publish? “We’re really open to the whole spectrum, from epic fantasy to urban fantasy to military SF to cultural or high-tech SF—pretty much anything where there are strong ideas, really well-developed characters, and good writing.”

She urges writers seeking to be published by DAW (or anyone else) to write every day, even if they end up throwing most of it out. “If you write every day, 200 words every day, before you know it, you’ll have a book,” she says. “If you sit down and write occasionally that’s not nearly as likely. If you find a writers’ group that can give you good input, that’s valuable. But you have to have something to work with.”

Once a book is accepted, the editor steps up. Editors, Sheila says, “provide an objective perspective. A good editor will see the holes in your manuscript, the things that don’t make sense and are missing. They can help you improve your plots and your characters, make the book that you’re writing the best it can possibly be. But it’s a collaborative effort, and I think that’s the most important thing. They shouldn’t just be telling you what to do, they should be helping you find the right path.”

Sheila doesn’t think traditional publishing is going away, even though it’s never been easier to self-publish. “A lot of people think they can self-publish, which some people can do and do well. But other writers need more input than that, need an editorial hand, need someone who understands marketing and can bring to that everything publishers can offer.”

Ebooks are an increasingly important part of the book market. “They don’t have the heavy associated costs of the print editions, so they really subsidize print sales,” Sheila says. But their success depends large on the author’s online presence. “It’s the biggest promotional tool that authors have these days. It gives readers a personal stake. They feel like they know the author and they’re friends.”

For 45 years, Sheila Gilbert has been intimately involved with the world of science fiction and fantasy literature. She sees science fiction and fantasy offering the ultimate creative playground for writers, readers—and, yes, editors and publishers, too.

“It’s one of the areas where you can give your imagination free rein, which is not true of other fields,” she says. “What could be more fun than creating a whole universe?”

What indeed?

Read the first chapter of Lake in the Clouds!

Lake_intheClouds_smallerLake in the Clouds, Book 3 in my YA fantasy series The Shards of Excalibur, comes out in May from Coteau Books–which means it’s time for a little teaser.

Here you go: Chapter 1 for your reading pleasure, just to whet your appetite.

Sharp-eyed observers may also note that the title has changed slightly, from The Lake in the Clouds to just Lake in the Clouds. This is so it matches up better with the first two books, Song of the Sword and Twist of the Blade, neither of which begins with a definite article. The fourth book has likewise shifted title from The Cave Beneath the Sea to Cave Beneath the Sea.

Book launches are planned for May 16 at ComicReaders here in Regina, and May 26 at McNally Robinson in Saskatoon.

I’m very excited about this upcoming release…I hope you are, too!

Available in May from Coteau Books

Buy from Amazon.ca

Buy from Indigo.ca

Cover art and description of FACES hits online bookstores

Faces coverGetting closer all the time to the July 7 release of Faces, Book 3 of my Masks of Aygrima trilogy (written as E.C. Blake) from DAW books, edited by three-time Hugo nominee Sheila Gilbert. The cover art has finally appeared in online bookstores, along with the description below.

Warning: this could contain spoilers if you’re still on Book 1!

***

The spellbinding third novel of The Masks of Aygrima is set in a land where people are forced to wear spell-imbued Masks that reveal any traitorous thoughts they have about their ruler, the Autarch.

Mara Holdfast is a young woman gifted with the ability to see and use all the colors of magic. Two other people share this talent: the Autarch, who draws upon the very life-force of his subjects to fuel his existence and retain his control over the kingdom; and the legendary Lady of Pain and Fire, the only person who has ever truly challenged the Autarch’s despotic reign.

After a devastating battle that takes a dreadful toll on both the rebel unMasked Army and the forces of Prince Chell, their ally from across the sea, Mara and her fellow survivors have no one to turn to for help but the Lady of Pain and Fire.

As the Lady leads them to her haven beyond the mountain borders of the kingdom, Mara feels that she has found the one person who truly understands her, a mentor who can teach her to control and use her power for the greater good. Together, they may be able to at last free Agryma from the Autarch’s rule.

Living within the Lady’s castle, cut off from her friends in the village far below, Mara immerses herself in her training. Still, she can’t entirely escape from hearing dark hints about the Lady, rumors that the Lady may, in her own way, be as ruthless as the Autarch himself.

Yet it is not until they begin their campaign against the Autarch that Mara discovers where the real danger lies. Driven by the Lady’s thirst for revenge, will Mara and all her friends fall victim in a duel to the death between two masters of magic?

 

Thoughts on the Hugo Awards

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The nominees for this year’s Hugo Awards have been announced, and I’m thrilled to see that my editor at DAW Books, Sheila Gilbert, is once again nominee for Best Editor, Long Form. This is Sheila’s third time on the ballot, and here’s hoping this is the year she goes home with the rocketship.

That said, I’ve decided I’d throw in my tuppence-worth of thought on the Big Hugo Controversy of 2015. Many pixels have been spilt and much bandwidth sacrificed to discussions all over the Web, but it’s entirely possible you, gentle reader, are among the few who know nothing of this. Let’s see if I can sum it up while being fair to both sides.

This year, SF writer Brad Torgersen mounted a campaign called Sad Puppies 3 to solicit suggestions of people who fans thought ought to be on the Hugo ballet but might be overlooked without greater attention being drawn to them. From those suggestions, and in consultation with like-minded colleagues, he presented a slate of possible nominees (including my editor, Sheila Gilbert). He and the others promoting the slate–bestselling SF/fantasy author Larry Correia and SF/fantasy author Sarah A. Hoyt, among others–urged people to give the list serious consideration, to read the suggested works, and then, most importantly, to buy supporting memberships to this year’s WorldCon in Spokane and nominate and, later, vote.

The view of the Sad Puppies is that awards have tended to go to recent years to certain works primarily because those works carry an approved political message (specifically a left-wing political message), or because their creators are outspoken online advocates of approved political messages, rather than because those works are necessarily particularly well-written or entertaining science fiction or fantasy.

In contrast, the Sad Puppies slate includes authors of varied political persuasions, some right-wing, some left-wing, some unknown: the goal is not to promote a political agenda but rather to ensure that political agendas do not become the central feature of the Hugo Award nominees.

The Sad Puppies campaign was a remarkable success, with the majority of the nominees either being on the Sad Puppies slate or another one run by controversial but influential (his website generates enormous traffic) writer/editor Vox Day, who called his similar-but-not-identical slate Rabid Puppies (and whose motivations may be somewhat different).

Those who disagree with the Sad Puppies approach fall into, by my analysis, roughly four (overlapping) camps. While the Sad Puppies approach is entirely within the rules, open campaigning for the Hugos has traditionally been frowned upon. (It is the Sad Puppies’ contention that such campaigning has still gone on, but behind the scenes. I suspect that is true, but have no solid evidence for it.) This dislike of open campaigning is one reason some are unhappy with the Sad Puppies.

The second camp comprises those convinced that the reason for the Sad Puppies campaign is entirely reactionary: that the Puppies are upset that more people of varying skin tones and sexual identities and left-wing political views have been winning awards than did in the past, because the Sad Puppies are largely white straight conservative men and they believe only white straight conservative men should be winning awards. The fact that the current Sad Puppy slate is not, in fact, entirely made up of white straight conservative men, does not seem to alter their stated perception. The fact that the Sad Puppies flat-out state that’s not what the campaign is about doesn’t alter this perception either: they’re accused of lying about their true motives.

The third camp comprises those who believe the Sad Puppies campaign is really just an attempt by its organizers to net Hugo Awards for themselves. Since Larry Correia made the ballot this year and withdrew his name from consideration, and Brad Torgersen recused himself before the nominations even began, that one doesn’t seem to have much basis in fact, but the argument is still made.

The fourth camp comprises the several who believe that the Hugo Awards should only be nominated and voted upon by a core group of fans with a long involvement in either WorldCon or the SF publishing industry; that the new fans nominating and voting for the Hugos for the first time this year, without having any connection to WorldCon or the group of editors/publishers/authors/reviewers/bloggers who see themselves as the core of the community, are interlopers who are trying to take the Hugo Award process over from those to whom it rightfully belongs due to their years of interest in, and involvement with, the Hugo process. This attitude is seen on the Sad Puppy side as being a claim that there is a hierarchy of fans, and that they, despite their love of science fiction, are seen as “not real fans,” or at least a lower order of fans, ones who should not be allowed to have a say in the Hugo Awards.

The annoyance of those who disagree with Sad Puppies has erupted online into the kinds of vitriol with which anyone who spends any time online is all-too-familiar. Insults fly, accusations are hurled about, people are called racist and sexist and homophobic and stupid, and so forth, and so on.

There is a move afoot among those whose ox has been gored by the preponderance of Sad Puppies nominees on the Hugo ballot this year to vote No Award (a viable option under the preferential Australian-style ballot of the Hugo) above any work or person who appeared on the Sad Puppies slate, regardless of quality.

I think this is wrong-headed, not to mention cruel and disrespectful. It’s a form of guilt-by-association–you hang out with the wrong people, so you will be shunned. It’s playground tactics, and far more destructive to the Hugo process and the perception of the award among readers than the mere presence on the ballot of works with which whose nomination those voting No Award disagree.

Yes, the No Award option is there for those who honestly believe nothing was nominated deserving of the award–but read the nominees first and then make that decision. To punish people–like Sheila Gilbert!–simply because they happen to be on the Sad Puppy slate is flat-out wrong. And it WILL backfire. I suspect, because Ann Leckie’s book Ancillary Justice won for Best Novel last year, that the non-Sad Puppy nominee of choice is the sequel, Ancillary Sword. If the No Award-above-Sad Puppy movement takes off and is widely promoted, there’s little doubt that the insulted and annoyed whose own nominated works are being No Awarded will return the favour. No Award could win the Best Novel category. And that wouldn’t be good for anyone, except those few who perhaps would take perverse delight in the complete destruction of the award’s remaining cachet.

Where do I stand in all this? (I know you’re dying to find out.) More on the Sad Puppy side, simply because their stated goals (and unlike a lot of the critics, I’m not going to take the “sure, they SAY this, but I know they really mean THIS” approach–I take them at their word) are not to damage or destroy the Hugos, but to rescue them. To, in fact, INCREASE the “cachet” I referred to by increasing the number of people who nominate and vote for the award, and increasing the diversity of that group of Hugo-supporting fans.

And when I say diversity, I don’t mean diversity as in skin-color and sexual identity. I couldn’t care less about the skin-color and sexual identity of the authors I read, or the characters they write–provided they write, and the characters inhabit, a fascinating, mind-expanding, entertaining fictional world. True diversity is diversity of opinion, of thought, of storytelling style. That’s the diversity that matters within science fiction (and within the world in general). And the smaller and more insular the group of people deciding who deserves and doesn’t deserve a Hugo, the less of that kind of diversity we’re going to see.

The number of people nominating for the Hugos this year set a record. I suspect we’ll see a record number of people voting, too. This year’s awards will suffer, no doubt, from all the controversy, but I hope that what the Sad Puppies have accomplished is to blow open the Hugo process, letting in fresh air and light and way, way more science fiction fans, and offering the possibility to many, many more writers that they may not only some day win a Hugo, but will do so secure in the knowledge that lots of people both nominated for them and voted for them.

A lot of the people nominating and voting this year were unaware the Hugo Awards even existed until the Hugos were drawn to their attention through the Sad Puppies. Others knew the awards existed, but had no clue they could be a part of the nomination process by buying a supporting membership. Their reaction was, “Cool! I’ve got to get on on that.”

I don’t see that as a bad thing. How can it be? The Sad Puppies, contra their detractors, are not trying to wreck the Hugo Awards, they’re trying to save them, by raising their profile and making them more truly representative of the vast sea of science fiction, and science fiction fans, which surrounds us.

The Hugo Awards claim to be the most prestigious award for science fiction, and once they were, but they haven’t been for a while–and they won’t be again unless they penetrate the consciousness of the thousands who read SF and fantasy books and watch SF and fantasy TV shows and movies, and throng to the ComicCons and DragonCons, and they, too, begin to nominate and vote.

Sad Puppies isn’t going away. Sad Puppies 4 is already in the works, with Kate Paulk heading it up. I don’t know what form it will take–I doubt she does, either, yet. For myself, I hope that, rather than provide a “there are five slots and here are five nominees” list as was done this year, which lends itself to those who are motivated to do so to vote a “straight ticket” and which certainly lends ammunition to those who claim that’s what everyone did, they provide somewhat longer lists of suggestions, a la the Locus Magazine recommended reading list.

For myself, I considered the Sad Puppy list when nominating, and did make a few nominations that appeared on their list. My reasoning? I saw people on that list I’ve long thought deserved to be a Hugo nominee, and their presence on the list seemed to indicate that this year they might actually make the ballot–and I wanted to help them along. The big one there for me was Jim Butcher, who absolutely deserves a Hugo, in my estimation, and whose nominated book this year, Skin Game, is one of his best.

Barring a change in the notoriously hard to change World Science Fiction Convention bylaws, we may see record nominations and online recommendation battles in the years to come, record voting, and record interest in the Hugo Awards.

I personally think that’s a good thing.

Here’s my slate for the final ballot this year:

Sheila Gilbert, Best Editor, Long Form

Other than that, read everything, vote as you see fit. And ignore anyone who tries to get to you do anything else.

ADDENDUM RE COMMENTS POLICY: Since this post is generating more comments than most things I post, I should point out that all comments have to be approved before appearing. If your comment doesn’t appear right away, it probably just means I’m not at my computer for a while. If you don’t see it after, say, two or three hours, it’s possible I didn’t approve it. It’s more likely I just haven’t seen it yet. And it could also have ended up in spam, in which case I’ll still see it, but it’ll take longer.

The Shards of Excalibur first four books as a set looks like this…

Song of the Sword Cover CoteauTwist of the Blade for WebThe Lake in the Clouds CoverCaveBeneath_theSea_smallercover

Cover art revealed for The Cave Beneath the Sea

CaveBeneath_theSea_smallercoverHere’s the cover art for The Cave Beneath the Sea, Book 4 of The Shards of Excalibur YA fantasy series from Coteau Books. Book 1 was Song of the Sword, Book 2 was Twist of the Blade, Book 3 is The Lake in the Clouds (coming out May 1). The Cave Beneath the Sea is due out this fall and Book 5 will be out next spring, to wrap up the series.

Pretty cover, isn’t it? They all are. Collect the whole set!