Seanan McGuire

Velveteen vs. the Multiverse, by Seanan McGuire

When I was at Windycon a few weeks back, the convention was kind enough to give me a copy of Seanan McGuire‘s collection Velveteen vs. the Multiverse [ISFiC Press].

I wrote the introduction to the first Velveteen collection, Velveteen vs. the Junior Super Patriots, so I was very thankful (do you see what I did there?) to get my hands on book two. In this book, bunny-eared superheroine Velveteen, with the power to animate toys, continues her battle against the the forces of the Super Patriots, Inc.

I emailed Seanan after I finished reading the collection, telling her she was awesome, and that I was honored to be her friend. She wrote back to say thank you, but that she wasn’t sure what about her silly superhero stories had inspired such a response.

That’s a fair question, and it’s taken me a few days to try to put it into words. Because sure, there’s a fair amount of silliness going on in these stories. There’s a superhero who’s basically a Disney princess come to life. There are Velveteen’s green plastic army men shooting tiny plastic bullets at bad guys. There’s a whole story about getting trapped in a typical horror flick.

But despite the silliness, the characters are always treated with respect. They feel like real people, even when they’re flung into rather odd or absurd situations. Their struggles and their love and their pain are real, and you very quickly start to care about them all. I think that’s one of Seanan’s superpowers.

There’s more going on here, though. These stories, this book, felt … unfiltered in a way most books don’t. It felt like Seanan McGuire had written these stories purely for the fun and joy and love of it. Knowing her as a friend, I could see her shamelessly indulging her love of parallel universes and toys and twisted holidays and fairy tales and horror films and so much more, and it works. This collection is an invitation to join Seanan in celebrating everything she loves.

Now sure, if you don’t like the same things she does, then the stories may not work for you. No book works for everyone, after all. And not everyone has the same tolerance for the fun/silly factor in stories.

But I like it. I like the random-but-carefully-thought-out superpowers combined with the all-too-real corporate overlords of the Super Patriots, Inc. I like that she never forgets that all victories come with a cost. I like that the individual, mostly-standalone stories don’t feel repetitive. I like the character revelations we get in this book.

I liked the first collection, but by the end of this one, I felt like Seanan had accomplished something magical.

The Velveteen stories are also available online if you want to check them out before you buy. The first nine are listed on her website. All of them are tagged on her LiveJournal.

Go forth and read and buy. For justice!

New Books

Lots of friends with new books out this week. Because apparently I don’t have enough to read already? At this rate, I’m never going to reach the summit of Mount To Be Read!

Morgan Keyes’ Darkbeast Rebellion [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] is a middle-grade fantasy, the follow-up to Darkbeast, which I enjoyed and reviewed here.

Martha Wells has a Star Wars book out about Princess Leia, called Razor’s Edge [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy], set between the events of Star Wars and Empire.

Anton Strout’s Stonecast [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] is the second book in his Stonemason Chronicles. There may or may not be were-jaguars.

Laura Anne Gilman’s Soul of Fire [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] is the second part of the Portals Duology, following Heart of Briar.

Marie Brennan has put together a collection of essays on writing fight scenes, called (appropriately enough) Writing Fight Scenes [Amazon | B&N].

Elizabeth Bear’s novella Book of Iron [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] is a standalone prequel to Bone and Jewel Creatures.

Finally, the tenth issue of Seanan McGuire’s serial Indexing [Amazon] has just been released.

As always, please feel free to suggest other new books I’m forgetting, or just share what you’re reading and enjoying right now.

Other August Books

In an effort to stop obsessing over my own book coming out tomorrow, I wanted to point out a few of the other books showing up in August. (I’ll add sales links for Kane and Klasky when they become available tomorrow.)

Wrong Ways Down [Amazon], by Stacia Kane. (August 6) For fans of Kane’s Downside series, I’ll just mention that this story is from Terrible’s point of view, which is something I suspect many of you will appreciate.

Dragonwriter: A Tribute to Anne McCaffrey and Pern [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy], edited by Todd McCaffrey. (August 6) A collection of memories, essays, and insights about the creator of Pern.

Possession [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy], by Kat Richardson. (August 6) Tor.com has an excerpt from Richardson’s latest Greywalker book here.

Single Witch’s Survival Guide, by Mindy Klasky. (August 13) This is the first volume of Klasky’s Jane Madison Academy series, where her librarian-witch opens a school for witches. Go Team Librarian! The first chapter is posted here.

Velveteen vs. The Multiverse, by Seanan McGuire. (Mid-August) I wrote the introduction for McGuire’s first delightful Velveteen collection, and I’m very excited to see the second coming out! Preorder from ISFiC Press here.

What are you looking forward to reading this month?

 

Midnight Blue-Light Special, by Seanan McGuire

One of the best parts of going to Book Expo of America? The books, of course! Including a few I grabbed when I visited the DAW office, like Seanan McGuire’s Midnight Blue-Light Special [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy]. This is book two in McGuire’s Incryptid series. (I reviewed book one here.)

This one picks up quite smoothly where book one left off. Discount Armageddon introduced us to Verity Price, cryptozoologist and ballroom dancer, who was watching over the cryptids of New York City and doing her best to avoid attracting the attention of the Covenant of St. George, something that got more complicated when she started dating Dominic De Luca, a member of said Covenant. Also, there were dragon princesses and talking mice, a scary psychic math whiz, and lots of sharp pointy things.

Book two ups the stakes: the Covenant is sending a team to purge New York City. If Verity runs, the cryptic population she’s tried to protect will be slaughtered. If she stays, well, there’s a good chance they’ll be slaughtered anyway, along with Verity. Though the Covenant wouldn’t kill her right away. First they’d force her to reveal the location of her family so they could wipe out her entire line.

While the plot felt a little light, there’s a lot that impressed me about this one. First of all, when you combine it with book one, you have a full character arc for Verity. It feels like you’re reading an episodic book, just like a hundred others, and suddenly you realize McGuire knows exactly where she’s going with Verity’s internal journey as well as the external battles. A lot of books have action; not all of them have that kind of internal development.

McGuire also demonstrates her willingness to break the rules (guidelines? expectations?) of first person point of view novels, and does so effectively. I love the way the chapter dingbats (the symbols at the start of each chapter) change when we jump to a different PoV. That was beautifully done.

I’m quite fond of the characters, as always. From the religious mice to the introductory quips from Verity’s family to Sarah the cuckoo, who we get to see much more of this time around. (Sarah is both wonderful and scary.)

Basically, it’s fast-paced urban fantasy that passes the Bechdel Test with ease, includes McGuire’s trademark creativity and banter, and makes for a fun read. If you liked book one, pick this one up as well.

Discount Armageddon, by Seanan McGuire

Twice in a row now I’ve found myself reading a Seanan McGuire book while my wife has surgery. This time it was Discount Armageddon [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy]. Here’s the official synopsis:

Ghoulies. Ghosties. Long-legged beasties. Things that go bump in the night… The Price family has spent generations studying the monsters of the world, working to protect them from humanity-and humanity from them. Enter Verity Price. Despite being trained from birth as a cryptozoologist, she’d rather dance a tango than tangle with a demon, and is spending a year in Manhattan while she pursues her career in professional ballroom dance. Sounds pretty simple, right? It would be, if it weren’t for the talking mice, the telepathic mathematicians, the asbestos supermodels, and the trained monster-hunter sent by the Price family’s old enemies, the Covenant of St. George. When a Price girl meets a Covenant boy, high stakes, high heels, and a lot of collateral damage are almost guaranteed. To complicate matters further, local cryptids are disappearing, strange lizard-men are appearing in the sewers, and someone’s spreading rumors about a dragon sleeping underneath the city…

This book is McGuire combining her fascination with weird and wacky biology with her never-resting imagination to produce an urban fantasy that isn’t too serious, but is a great deal of fun. There’s plenty of good banter, lots of action, and a long list of interesting creatures to meet and talk to and/or beat to a pulp.

I had started reading this a while back, and it hadn’t sucked me in. I’m not sure if that was the book or my life getting in the way. But this time, as soon as we reached rumors of the dragon, I was hooked.

The romantic subplot was pretty true-to-form. Sexy sworn enemy is sexy, protagonist goes back and forth between attraction and wanting to put a bullet in SSE, SSE slowly comes around, and ends up more or less on the side of the angels. Except not, because in McGuire’s world, angels are probably some sort of dinosaur/bird hybrid that evolved to feed on the sound waves generated by hymnal music. That said, it was a fun subplot, and they do have some good chemistry going.

What really makes the book work though are the cryptids, the various species McGuire fits into the urban setting, from Sarah the shy/geeky/telepathic cuckoo to the dragon princesses to the gorgon to the Aeslin mice. Oh God, the mice. I won’t even try to explain them, except to say they’re one of those delightfully fun ideas I wish I’d come up with. While the sheer number of cryptids living undetected in the city strained my belief a bit, in a lighter book like this, I think it works.

Keep in mind, “light” doesn’t mean “mindless” or “thoughtless.” While the Covenant are pretty straightforward bad guys, the Price family brings a more interesting perspective as cryptobiologists, studying the biological role of cryptids and how they fit into the larger ecology. (Want to know what caused the Black Plague? Hint: It has something to do with the loss of unicorns.) Traditional monsters aren’t treated as monsters; nor are they simply misunderstood uglies with hearts of gold. They’re true to their nature. Like any other species, they can be dangerous, but that doesn’t make them evil. It’s an examination you don’t run into that often.

Which leads to a point I’ve seen made in some of the negative reviews for the book. In the first chapter, Verity chases down a ghoul who has murdered a number of girls in the city. But instead of killing it, she lets it off with a warning, with the understanding that if it happens again, she’ll personally end him. Which means she essentially let a murderer go free, and some readers have a problem with that.

Me, I’m torn. I can’t imagine the ghoul was under the mistaken impression that killing and eating random girls was okay, so it’s not like this was a cultural misunderstanding. On the other hand, if it was deliberate–and knowing McGuire, I’d lay odds that it was–it shows that Verity is in some ways just as bound to the rules and teachings of her family as the Covenant is to theirs. She lets the ghoul go because that’s what the Price family does, in part I suspect to distinguish themselves from the Covenant. It didn’t ruin the book or anything, but it was a bit troubling, and I wonder if that decision will come back in future books.

Overall, a lot of fun. If you like McGuire’s work, this one’s worth checking out. If you haven’t tried her stuff, this might be a good place to start.

Guest Post: Seanan McGuire on Writers with Day Jobs

My second guest blogger of awesomeness is the award-winning author Seanan McGuire (also known as Mira Grant). Her pseudonyms’ newest novels are Late Eclipses and Deadline, respectively. If you enjoy her guest blog post, I’d encourage you to check out her LiveJournal or go say hello on Twitter.

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…zero hour, five a.m.

When I was a kid, I used to read about the lives of working writers. They seemed to live mostly in one-room apartments, where they hunched over their typewriters and pounded out a living one word at a time. They weren’t, for the most part, rich, but they kept the lights on with sonnets and movie reviews and the occasional filler column for the men’s magazines (and as a little girl, I assumed they were all writing for wrestling magazines and car catalogs, because there were some ways in which I was very, very sheltered). Edgar Allen Poe didn’t flip burgers. Lord Byron…well, he was a lord, which often comes with some financial assistance, but he never asked anybody if they wanted fries with that. Life as a writer was hard, but it was something you could do. All you had to do was write. Like Ewan MacGregor’s character in Moulin Rouge!

Times have changed. Thanks to inflation and a mutating market, it’s a little harder now to make do and keep the lights on with a few short story sales and some ghost-written letters to Penthouse every month (“Dear Penthouse; I never believed it would happen to me…”). It doesn’t help that we have more “vital expenses” than ever before. My grandmother used to talk about thinking of shoes as the sort of thing you only had to buy once every two years. I would go nuts if you took away my internet connection, cellular phone, and cable TV–and yes, I am one of those writers who still watches TV. Sometimes as much as ten hours of TV a week. I watch the shows, they do not watch me.

Regardless, even without children, I have more expenses than my predecessors, and the cost of living isn’t going down. Add on the sad necessity of private medical insurance (assuming I don’t feel like melting any time soon), and it becomes clear why I have joined the ranks of the many, the not so very proud, the utterly exhausted.

Writers with day jobs.

My clade is a strange one, neither fish nor foul, the synapsidian inhabitants of our fantastic ecosystem. Each day, we lumber from our caves, dressed in the colors of the regions, and shuffle into our places in the great working jungle. Maybe we press keys. Maybe we assemble small machines. Maybe we make your coffee. Regardless, we are synapsids in disguise, pretending to be one thing when we’re secretly another. At the end of the day, we shuffle back home, shedding a little more of the illusion with every step, until we fling ourselves at our keyboards, maybe pausing to shovel something into our mouths, and begin our real jobs. The ones we wouldn’t be doing if we didn’t really love them, because damn.

Being a working writer means constantly fighting a battle against our twin arch-enemies, Procrastination and Social Life. Procrastination says “Hey, there’s a big shiny internet right there. Maybe you could learn something cool. Become a better writer. Get even more awesome. Finally get that big break and quit your day job. Or just play Farmville for eight hours. Don’t you wonder which it would be?” Meanwhile, Social Life says, “It’s not like you’re doing anything, you’re just sitting there, we’re all starting to think you don’t like us anymore, you need to come outside, it’s not healthy, it’s not right, and hey, wasn’t that Farmville I just saw?” Sure, we have team-ups from time to time–even Magneto occasionally joins the X-Men–but at the end of the day, Procrastination and Social Life will do their best to make sure nothing ever actually gets done.

Zero hour. Five p.m.

Balancing work and life is hard in our modern world. Balancing work-that-pays-bills, work-that-soul-demands, and life can seem borderline impossible sometimes. Being a writer is exhausting, time consuming, and yes, incredibly rewarding…but it’s reward that comes after hundreds of hours of work that is borderline invisible to the people around us. It’s secret work. It’s work that only the other synapsids really see happening. And it’s work that, unless we have co-authors in our closets, we have to do alone. All this science, we don’t understand, you see. It’s just our job. Eight days a week.

Have you hugged your member of order synapsidia today?

A Spoileriffic Review/Discussion of Mira Grant’s “Feed”

I finished reading Feed [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] by Mira Grant (aka Seanan McGuire) this week.

The zombie uprising began in 2014, due to a combination of two viruses meant to eliminate the common cold and cure cancer. Everyone is infected: when you die, the virus reanimates you as a zombie. But if you’re bitten/infected by a zombie, that also triggers the transformation, and you’re a walking corpse within minutes.

The book is set twenty-five years after the uprising, and society has adapted (somewhat) to the presence of zombies. Certain territories are more hazardous, and declared off-limits. Blood tests are everywhere. And a trio of bloggers has just been selected to follow and report on presidential candidate Peter Ryman.

One of the key lines for me came early in the book, when Georgia Mason (our protagonist) remarks that the zombies aren’t the story. I can’t remember the exact wording, but that line captures why the book works for me. We’ve all seen story after story about zombie uprisings; Feed is the story of what comes next.

I can see why this book has broken out the way it has. You’ve got classic SF extrapolation of future trends, like Grant’s presentation of the blogging world. You’ve got zombies that make sense (at least moreso than 98% of the zombie stories out there). You’ve got plenty of zombie-fighting action, political intrigue, and nonstop tension. You’ve got relevance in the strong parallel between fear of zombies and our present-day attitudes toward terrorism. And Georgia and her brother Shaun make a great pair of characters, complementing one another beautifully.

I’m about to get into major spoiler territory, so if you haven’t read it, look away now. (To anyone reading on an RSS feed, I’m sorry – I’m not aware of any way to put a cut tag into the feed.)

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Book Reviews: Strout & McGuire

I wrote both of these reviews a while back, when I was thinking I might try to start up a separate book reviewing blog called “Magic ex Libris” — a tie-in to my new series.  And then I realized there was no way in Hades that I could add another blog to my online obligations.  I found my notes tonight, and figured I’d clean them up and get ‘em posted.  Better late than never, right?


Dead Matter [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] is the third book in Anton Strout’s light urban fantasy series, in which Department of Extraordinary Affairs agent Simon Canderous uses psychometry and a big bat to fight the nasties of New York.

Our story begins with Simon’s partner Connor taking a sabbatical to look for his missing brother, leaving poor Simon to cover twice the workload.  Simon eventually manages to slip away for some personal time with his girlfriend (ex-cultist and technomancer Jane).  Naturally, given Simon’s luck, Taco Night is interrupted by an angry, lumbering monster with lots of pointy bits.

Pointy monster is just the beginning.  Simon, Jane, and Connor slowly uncover a bigger problem — one which puts Simon in the crosshairs of just about everyone, monster and human alike.

I like this series.  I like the sense of fun, and there’s much less angst than in your average urban fantasy.  (Though sometimes it feels like Strout is trying a little too hard for the funny.)  Like the previous two books, this one is a quick read.  My only complaint is that the beginning meandered a bit.  Taco Night monster seemed like a random encounter, and it took a few chapters to start to get a sense of a larger story.

Dead Matter stands alone pretty well, but you’ll get more out of it if you’ve read the first two books in the series.


Seanan McGuire scares me.  She’s writing two series simultaneously, under two different names.  She’s also a singer with multiple albums, as well as a gifted artist.  I think she’s also Batman.

A Local Habitation [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] is the second book in McGuire’s urban fantasy series about October “Toby” Daye, a half-human, half-fairy changeling and knight of the Shadowed Hills.  (In the San Francisco area, for those not familiar with fae territories.)  This time around, Toby must visit the realm of Countess January O’Leary in the County of Tamed Lightning to investigate a series of bizarre murders.

McGuire gives good fae.  Reading this series, you just know she has a dozen notebooks filled with the details of the various fairy bloodlines, territories, allegiances, and powers.1  She makes them real.  Often more real and complex than humans, who are mostly just background noise this time around.

A Local Habitation uses the locked room mystery format.  Someone in Countess O’Leary’s computer company is murdering her people.  Is it Alex, the irresistibly sexy love interest with a secret?  April, the dryad whose “tree” is the computer server?  Gordan, the cranky but skilled healer?

There were times when I wish Toby had been quicker to pick up on various clues.  It sometimes felt like McGuire was trying a little too hard to hold back information.  In a mystery, you obviously don’t want the reader to figure things out too quickly.  At the same time, the fae of Tamed Lightning were a little too secretive, holding back one important revelation after another, even as they’re dying.

There’s a lot to like about this book.  It was great to see more of fairy society.  I particularly enjoyed the revelations about the night-haunts.  The murder mystery, once we discover the truth, was fascinating on a number of levels, and I hope McGuire follows up on some of the things we learn about Faerie.  And April is just great.  (I tend to have a weakness for dryads.)

  1. She recently started posting some of her worldbuilding info on her blog.

First Book Friday: Seanan McGuire

Welcome to First Book Friday, an ongoing series exploring how various authors sold their first books.

Seanan McGuire, a.k.a. Mira Grant, is this year’s winner of the Campbell Award for Best New Writer.  She’s also a skilled musician.  Plus she draws awesome comics :-)   Basically, Seanan is who you’d get if SF/F were a superpower.

Read on to learn how she sold the first of her many books, and the whirlwind that began with that first sale…

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In digging through my (relatively epic) email archives, the earliest fragments I can find involving a character named Toby Daye are dated early 1998.  Twelve, going on thirteen, years ago.  I was twenty years old.  The rules of urban fantasy as we currently know it were still sort of sticky and half-baked, and no one really knew what they could or couldn’t get away with.  I thought my decision to write in the first person was unique and would really stand out.  You know.  Crazy things like that.

After a few years of figuring out what the hell I was doing, I had a finished novel: Rosemary and Rue [B&N |  Mysterious Galaxy | Amazon], which, in its original form, didn’t look very much like it did when it finally got published.  I wrote a sequel.  I learned a lot from writing the sequel.  I re-wrote the first book.  I wrote a third book.  I learned a lot from writing the third book.  I re-wrote the first book.  I wrote…you get the picture.  By 2007, I had what I considered to be an awesome book, and absolutely no idea what I was supposed to do with it.  I was like the underwear gnomes.  “Step one, write; step three, PROFIT.”  Only I had no idea how to proceed.

I had started talking to the woman who would eventually become my agent, Diana Fox, in early 2007.  We’d been discussing the possibility of her representing me, and the fact that clearly, I still needed to do some work on Rosemary and Rue.  In December of that same year, I had one of those Legally Blonde “whoa” moments, and suddenly realized that I needed to completely re-write the book.  Diana asked to see the first sixty pages.  Then she asked for the whole book.  Then we spent about eight hours on the phone, ending with a formal offer of representation.  Whee!

I asked a friend of mine who was also an author if she would be willing to read Rosemary and Rue and give us a “shop quote” — something that we could use to pique the interest of editors.  She agreed, with that sort of cautious “um, maybe…” that is really the best defense of the published author being approached by their unpublished friend.  She wound up enjoying the book enough that she strongly recommended we try approaching DAW, as they would be the best fit for my work.  We approached DAW.  Thirteen days later (not that I was counting or anything), Diana called me at my day job and asked whether I had a minute.  I always have a minute for Diana.  I said sure.

She said “We got DAW.”

…the screaming eventually stopped.  And the real work began.

Everything about actually publishing a book was strange and new to me.  I had to meet my editor, learn how she worked, learn how to work with her, and learn the names of everyone’s cats (not entirely joking).  I had to come to terms, fast, with the fact that a) there were now a lot of things I didn’t control, and b) everyone in the world assumed that I did control them, resulting in my spending a lot of time explaining publishing cycles to my friends.  And most of all, c) the whole world was about to have the chance to meet my imaginary friend, and not everyone was going to like her.

A year ago, I had no books in bookstores.  As I write this, I have four, with at least four more coming.  It’s incredibly weird.  Sometimes, I still expect to wake up back in December of 2007.  But weird as it all is…wow, has it been worth it.

Friend Promo

I’m very fortunate. I’ve got a lot of very nifty friends and acquaintances, both the real-world and the online variety, and sometimes I’ve just got to show them off.

To that end, I’m declaring this an open “Promote Your Friends” thread.  Please feel free to post whatever cool projects or accomplishments your own friends have been up to lately.  (If you’re on my jimchines.com blog and your comment doesn’t show up, let me know and I’ll rescue it from moderation.)

Let the promo begin!

  • My daughter Clara was promoted from purple belt to third brown in Sanchin-Ryu on Monday.
  • Seanan McGuireis currently in Australia at Worldcon, where she’s a finalist for the Campbell Award for best new writer.  Between her Toby Daye books and the success of her zombie thriller Feed, I think she’s got a good shot at bringing home the tiara.
  • Lynne Thomas, editor of Chicks Dig Time Lords (and my archivist!), has a new project: Whedonistas: A celebration of the worlds of Joss Whedon by the women who love them.
  • My friend Steven Saus has a story online called The Burning Servant, part of a chain story project founded by Mike Stackpole.  (Stackpole sounds like he’s doing a lot of interesting stuff … I need to check that out!)
  • Elizabeth Moon is a well-known SF writer, but she’s also a very good blogger.  She wrote a great post about gender bias in publishing last week.
  • John Kovalic provides a very nice, pointed comment on race and gaming in this Dork Tower strip.  (Check out the follow-up strip, too.)1

Finally, my author friends have some new books out.

Your turn.  What nifty things have your friends been doing?

  1. I’ve never met Kovalic or talked to him much online, but we swapped a few e-mails and he provided a great blurb for Goblin Quest, and I figure that’s good enough to include him here!