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So, by a certain point it became obvious that when I would set to work on a fantasy piece, I would end up centering it around a particular animal. Maybe two animals. This was handy, because at the time I was writing these a trip to the zoo was generally greeted with enthusiasm by most of the other people in the house, though they would sometimes get impatient with my desire to stare for a while at a particular animal they found less interesting than others.

For “Beloved of the Sun,” which I sold to Beneath Ceaseless Skies in 2010, I had decided (for reasons that I’m not a hundred percent clear on anymore) that I wanted to write a scary, dangerous butterfly. As often happened, Ant actually ended up with more screen time, and by the time I was done writing I knew way more about sturgeons in the Mississippi and Missouri rivers than I strictly ever needed to. (I’ve forgotten a good deal of it now, honestly.)

But the couple of trips to the Insectarium at the zoo were a complete success from my kids’ standpoint! So that was a win.

I knelt on a woven mat. The room was dark, the walls barely visible. A low fire burned on the packed-earth floor. Human heads circled the fire, eyes shadowed, dark mouths open as though they were about to speak or scream. The fire flared up momentarily, and I saw they were round clay pots, the faces molded and painted on. Across the fire from me sat a man in leggings and linen shirt, his face strong-boned and sharp, long black hair pulled back. Behind him sat a large, dark bird on a perch.
 
“She sees,” said a voice like wind through an empty jar. “She hears. She may or may not understand what she hears. But her mind seems to receive speech as words, not merely sounds.”
 
“But she doesn’t speak,” said the man. “Is there damage?”

Nearly all my fantasy stories have shorthand titles that I used while writing them or while discussing the stories with my writer friends, especially the people who saw the stories at various stages before the final draft. “The Nalendar” is “the skink.” “Marsh Gods” is “the Crane.” “The Unknown God” is usually “the horse” but sometimes “the Frog.” Despite Ant’s taking the stage more often, this one was “Butterfly.”

The Endangered Camp” is one of my few short science fiction pieces.

Back in the day, when I first decided to try to sell short fiction in earnest, I ran across an interview with then-F&SF slushreader John Joseph Adams.  F&SF was of course one of the venues I wanted very badly to sell to, and I had not managed to get anything past JJA and onto then-editor Gordon VanGelder’s desk. Like a lot of newbie writers, I was searching desperately for something that would get me out of the slush.

(Note to aspiring writers–I know it is useless to say this to you, because it was useless to say it to me at the time, but I’ll say it anyway: this is not actually a productive aim. Just work on writing the best stories you can. Getting past the slusher before you’re actually producing salable work (and you will never be able to tell, yourself, whether your work is salable so just do the best you can and leave the rest to the universe) will do you no good. I know, you don’t believe me. That’s all right, I did my best for you. Keep writing. It’ll be all right.)

Anyway. Someone interviewed JJA and asked him what he wished he saw more of in the slush. And he said he wished he’d see more post-apocalyptic fiction, more stories involving Mars, and more stories with dinosaurs. And I said, jokingly, “Now the race is on–who will be the first to submit a Post Apocalyptic Dinosaurs on Mars story?”

And about two days later I was driving and was fortunately on an empty street when it hit me just how I could write exactly that.

I wrote the first draft while I was at Clarion West. Gordon VanGelder was our week four instructor, and I submitted it that week. He was unimpressed. Undaunted, I revised it and submitted it various places. It did not sell. Until it hit the second volume of the Clockwork Phoenix anthology series. 

(Well, okay, actually it was my third sale to now-defunct Helix. It was never published–long story, part of the fallout of the whole mess that resulted in the creation of Transcriptase. They hadn’t paid me–Helix paid on publication, not acceptance–so I asked to withdraw the story so I could submit it elsewhere, since it was obvious to me that they would at that point never publish it. I was given the story back, and I sent it back out into the fray.)

You could do worse than check out any volume of the CP anthos, btw.

Anyway. Rich Horton picked it up for the corresponding year’s Best SF antho, which pleased me, because I’m really quite fond of this story.

Last time I mentioned working diligently during a particular period to write shorter and shorter, until I reached the (for me) region of ultimate fiction shortness. As a result of that effort, I have several very short pieces out there. One of them was for a rather unusual anthology, A Field Guide to Surreal Botany. Pieces took the form of entries in a field guide, and mine was for a plant called Clickweed. (Someone actually turned up with a copy at Outland in Oslo, which surprised and delighted me.) It’s not available online, and it’s a bit odd out of context–but then, the actual context was (delightfully) odd to begin with.

Also around this time, I wrote the 1,000 word “Bury the Dead,” which never had a print publication, so I put it on my website for International Pixel Stained Technopeasant Wretch Day, and later it was narrated over at Podcastle by the awesome Tina Connolly.

I wrote “Footprints” in a fit of pique after an online conversation that made me angry, and then sold it to Postcards from Hell, which was an interesting project that sadly never did more than it’s first series of postcards. I put it on my Livejournal for another IPSTP Day, once its exclusivity period had lapsed. Five hundred words! That’s very nearly the lowest wordcount I would ever manage.

But the actual lowest? The point at which I said to myself, “Self, you have accomplished that. Check the box and go do other things”? That was “The Sad History of the Tearless Onion.” I wrote it for the first Escape Pod flash fiction contest. It came in fourth, but EP bought it anyway, and eventually it ran on Podcastle. Three hundred words. I had done it!

Later, after Ancillary Justice came out, Popular Science asked me for a flash fiction piece for their Dispatches from the Future, specifically on the topic of aging. So I do have one much more recent piece of fiction that’s three hundred words long: “HappyMart.” Scroll down–or, you know, just read Ian Tregellis’ story which is just above mine.

This is really not a length at which I’m comfortable–when it comes to short fiction I’m happiest when I’m working in the eight to twelve thousand word range, honestly. But I’m pretty proud of having managed to actually write these stories.

Oh, and since A Field Guide to Surreal Botany came out in 2008, I’m pretty sure my bit of it is past any exclusivity period, so here’s my entry. (Without, of course, the lovely illustration.) I think you can still get copies of the book, actually, and it’s a cool little project that I enjoyed very much.

Common Clickweed
 
Anyone who has wandered by the side of a lake or a stream will have encountered the common clickweed. Its seven-leaved basal rosette, the distinctive smooth, thick leaves, and the hairy stalks that trail into the water, are unmistakeable. Raise those stalks out of the water (gingerly, with a stick!) and the lens-shaped growths near the ends of those stalks emit the clicking sound that gives these predatory plants their name. To a fish’s ear these clicks sound remarkably like a distressed knucklefish, and any hearer hoping for an easy mouthful is lured into the entangling hairs and trapped, to be absorbed by the clickweed over a period of several days. Half-digested clickweed prey is sought after by some epicures, who eat it with vinegar, or a dash of coarse salt. This, and the noise the plant makes, is the extent of the clickweed’s charm. It is hardly a beautiful plant.
 
But common, ugly clickweed has a secret. Some seventy-five years ago a retired diplomat named Bren Wilson was separated from her party during a caving expedition. Fifty years later her skeleton was found near an underground pool, along with a notebook detailing her last days. According to this account she lived by the pool for weeks, eating the sparse prey of a clickweed bleached white by its subterranean existence. This is not impossible; though each clickweed seems like a single plant, in fact it is really one part of a single organism that may stretch as far as a quarter mile, hundreds of sets of leaves emerging from the same rhizome. It is conceivable that an offshoot might find its way into a cavern.
 
But the next part of her notes led readers to assume that, disoriented and malnourished, she had imagined the plant entirely–she wrote that she had been able to find the plant and its pool because it glowed. “Like a cold fire,” she wrote, “golden and glittering and burning.” This would seem impossible–clickweed had never been observed to glow under any circumstances, and phosphoresence serves no purpose in a cavern, since the creatures that live there are blind.
 
But fifteen years after the discovery of Wilson’s notes research confirmed that, contrary to all common sense, some of these do indeed glow. There is no predicting whether a particular specimen will, nor when it will do so–a subterranean colony might shine for its entire existence, or grow for years in darkness, burn for three days to a month, and then go dark again. As Wilson herself wrote, “It can serve no purpose…but it is not mysterious, because no one can even suspect it. It exists, it would seem, for itself alone.”
 
Pilolaqueus sonivius
 
Carnivorous, colonial geophyte. 7-leaved base rosette of oblanceolate leaves, 4-10 cm, fleshy and glabrous. Trailing stalks 20-70cm, 2-5mm wide, with numerous long, fine but strong hairs. Near the ends 2-6 lenticular excresences, opposite, lacunate. Monoecious, pedicels 0.5-1cm, apetalous, capsule ovoid, black, dehiscent, 5-seeded. Found along the banks of lakes, streams, and small rivers on every continent.

I had a fabulous time at Vericon last weekend! I got to hang out with some wonderful folks and have some great conversations, and it was just overall a wonderful weekend. Some highlights! First off, the hotel bar had an interesting drink menu:

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I decided to try the Pear-side-in Adventure, which was actually quite good.

the Pear side in Adventure

That was Friday night, and I’m not much of a photographer so I figured that would be the extent of my convention photos. But I was wrong. So, so wrong. Citizens, I give you this team of Interdimensional Cosplayers:

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It’s obvious what’s going on here, right? That’s Hamilton/Breq in the middle, and she’s recruited Agent Carter, Lieutenant Peepsarwat, and Translator Zeiat in her search for the Presger gun. That case Agent Carter is carrying?

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Holds Presger bullets. Delicious, chocolate Presger bullets.

Look at them. I mean, just look!

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TranslatorZeiatVericon

It’s kind of difficult to see, but in the cup there’s a tea infuser in the shape of an orange fish.

Anyway. I had a fabulous time–the Vericon volunteers took great care of me, the panels were fun, I got to hang with friends of mine and I had some great lunches and dinners with new people who I’m glad to have met, and my plane left Boston ahead of predicted bad weather. It was about as good a time as a convention can be.

Remember I said that a good deal of my short fiction career involved my learning to write to shorter and shorter lengths? This is true–up to a certain point (not long past this story, in fact) you can (more or less) put most of my work in chronological order just by arranging them by descending word count. (Once I hit 300 words I figured I’d achieved what I wanted, and began just writing various lengths.)

Anyway. I was quite proud of myself when I finished “Marsh Gods.” Four thousand words! Go me! And then, to top it all off, I sold it to Strange Horizons, which I’d kept getting very nice rejections from and wanted to sell to really badly.

So, for your enjoyment, “Marsh Gods.” Like nearly everything I sold at the time, it’s set in the universe I’d begun building in “The God of Au” and continued to use in “The Nalendar.”

Voud had escaped the house before dawn, climbing up the ladder and onto the roof, across the neighbors’ roofs and down to the edge of the water, where she had caught three decent-sized frogs. She had tried but failed to catch a fourth, the bullfrog she’d heard honking hoarsely away somewhere on the bank; her sister-in-law Ytine would be dismayed at her muddy tunic, but there was no help for it. Now, her prey struggling in her bag, she went to ask the gods a question.
 
It was late enough in summer that she could go on foot, over the causeway. The shore of the gods’ island was muddy and cypress-shaded, but as she climbed, the trees cleared. At the edge of the trees, she stopped and dropped her bag on the ground. “I have questions,” she called. “Frogs for answers!” Insects trilled; the frustratingly elusive bullfrog honked. Voud sat on her heels—it didn’t pay to be impatient with gods—and watched the sky lighten.

Edited to add: Wilson Fowlie has kindly supplied a link to Podcastle’s audio version of the story: “Marsh Gods” at Podcastle

Sheesh, I haven’t posted my schedule for Vericon this weekend!

I got into Boston yesterday, and had a lovely time at Pandemonium Books and Games. I read a bit from Ancillary Mercy, and answered lots of interesting questions, and signed books, and it was just a tremendous amount of fun.

Vericon itself begins today–this evening, I think. And here’s what I’m doing:

Friday
8-8:45 PM reading
 
Saturday:
10 AM-11 AM: Fictional Politics
Lois McMaster Bujold has described SF as “fantasy of political agency”. People have argued seriously that there are so many kings in fantasy because democratic politics is too hard to explain to the reader. How do we write political stories and make them interesting?
Seth Dickinson, Ada Palmer, Ann Leckie. Moderator: Malka Older
 
11 AM-12 PM: Designing Futures
Starting from now, how do we extrapolate the trends to come up with a science fiction future that hasn’t already been done to death?
Malka Older, Ann Leckie, Wesley Chu. Moderator: Ada Palmer
 
12-12:45 PM: Guest of Honor Speech (Ann Leckie)
 
1-2 PM Book Signing
 
Sunday:
10-11 AM: Awards — What Difference Do They Make?
People talk about the importance of awards in the field, but are they just a nice sign of appreciation or do they really make any difference to your career? Our panelists have won enough that they ought to know.
Ann Leckie, Wesley Chu, Greer Gilman. Moderator: John Chu.
&nbsp
11 AM-12 PM: Glory and Death
What keeps us coming back using these things to power our stories, and on what levels is it realistic?
Ann Leckie, Seth Dickinson, Fran Wilde. Moderator: Jo Walton

It sounds like a fun weekend, I’m looking forward to it.

The God of Au” is the first story I wrote in what eventually became its own fantasy universe. I wrote it, as I said in an earlier blog post, aimed at an anthology that wanted fantasy stories about war, religion, and political intrigue. As often happens I ended up instead with a fantasy story about volcanoes and giant squid. Sort of.

I had difficulty selling it–it’s nearly thirteen thousand words long, which is a length that’s difficult to place even in the best of circumstances. But I’d put a lot of work into the world, and when the occasion presented to aim another fantasy story at another anthology, I used the framework I’d already built for “The God of Au.” I’ve continued to use that universe for fantasy stories, it’s been pretty useful and fun.

I sold three or four stories in this universe before I sold “The God of Au” to Helix. Which is a publication that is no longer with us, for better or for worse. The story currently appears at Transcriptase, which archives a number of Helix stories. If you’re curious how and why that happened, there are links on the Transcriptase site.

But! “The God of Au.”

The Fleet of the Godless came to the waters around Au by chance. It was an odd assortment of the refugees of the world; some had deliberately renounced all gods, some had offended one god in particular. A few were some god’s favorites that another, rival god had cursed. But most were merely the descendants of the original unfortunates and had never lived any other way.
 
There were six double-hulled boats, named, in various languages, Bird of the Waves, Water Knife, O Gods Take Pity, Breath of Starlight, Righteous Vengeance, and Neither Land Nor Water. (This last was the home of a man whose divine enemy had pronounced that henceforth he should live on neither land nor water. Its two shallow hulls and the deck between them were carefully lined with soil, so that as it floated on the waves it would be precisely what its name declared.) For long years they had wandered the world, pursued by their enemies, allies of no one. Who would shelter them and risk the anger of gods? Who, even had they wished to, could protect them?

Also at Transcriptase, and linked in the sidebar of “The God of Au,” is my story “The Snake’s Wife.” I sold TSW before I sold TGoA, though I wrote it quite some time later. I think it’s a very good story, personally, but I don’t plan to link to it directly here. If you’re interested in reading it, you can find it in the sidebar, but I want to say up front that “The Snake’s Wife” should have All the Content Warnings on it. Just so you know.

So, this morning I got this question over at Goodreads:

Hello. I wondered if you were aware of the fact that in the french translation of Ancillary, Breq is male ? The translator (a guy btw), made Breq speak using male pronouns and epithets about herself…himself… Were you consulted on that matter ? Did they (the french editor) made Breq male so as to sell more books ?

So, just first off, it strikes me as unlikely that such a change would be made in order to sell more books.

But, I’ll be honest, I was taken aback and a bit annoyed at the thought. However. Some folks over on Tumblr have looked at the sample of the beginning of the book that’s available, and a few pages I photoed from near the end,* and suggested to me that what’s going on here is that the translator is trying to do something that’s easy in English–and that’s actually an important pronoun thing in the book–but not available in French. That is, English has a different pronoun for inanimate objects than for living things (or, often, more specifically, humans). In the book I use “she” for humans and “it” for ships, but there is no “it” in French.

From the sample, it appears that ships are referred to with masculine forms–ship is apparently a masculine noun in French, so that makes sense. And Breq refers to herself with the same forms. Which makes perfect sense, because Breq thinks of herself as a ship, not a human being.

I might wince a bit at Breq referring to herself in the masculine–but actually, the translator is trying to transfer into French something that is quite easy in English, but not so much in translation. And since the text was already playing games with pronouns, why not?

So, all in all, if that’s what’s up, I’m good with that.

___
*I speak no French, though I can sometimes get the gist of simple sentences (particularly about food). I had Spanish for four years in high school but have forgotten much of it–enough to make my good-enough-at-Spanish-to-impress-her-college-advisor-with-her-placement-test-score daughter frown at me when I attempt to speak it. I took German in college and never got half as good as I was at Spanish and have forgotten most of it. Oh, but Duolingo tells me I’m 20% fluent in Swedish! I gave Duolingo a side-eye when it told me that. It can only be true if fluent Swedish-speakers talk about nothing but elephants reading newspapers and boys loving eggs, and men and women eating breakfast and drinking water, with the occasional moose wandering by in possession of some sandwiches.

If you’ve been reading my blog a while, you probably already know about this story, but I suspect I’ve picked up some new readers, so.

Remember last time I linked to a short story, I said that my first few pieces of short fiction had been SF? “Night’s Slow Poison” is one of them. I wrote the first draft while I was at Clarion West. In the first week, two of my classmates had turned in stories titled “Crawlspace.” They were very different stories, but the coincidence amused us, and for a while there was a running joke that all of us should turn in stories with that title. “Or,” someone suggested at one point, “Spacecrawl.” The suggestion was made that this would involve lots of creepy alien bugs maybe. “Or,” I said, “you could…” and then stopped, because the idea of The Crawl had suddenly built itself in my mind, and it seemed full of story possibility. “Oh!” exclaimed a classmate, “Ann’s just had an idea!”

I had. It took me a week or two to work out, and the first draft was full of problems, but there was a lot there that I liked. Eventually I revised it to my satisfaction and started sending it out, but for a very long time I couldn’t sell it. This made me sad, because I was quite fond of it, but that’s the breaks, that’s how writing goes.*

Then, finally, it sold to Electric Velocipede, edited by John Klima. EV had been on my list of venues I really wanted to sell to for a while, so I was super happy about that. EV is, sadly, no longer with us.

Last year, Tor.com reprinted it.

The Jewel of Athat was mainly a cargo ship, and most spaces were narrow and cramped. Like the Outer Station, where it was docked, it was austere, its decks and bulkheads scuffed and dingy with age. Inarakhat Kels, armed, and properly masked, had already turned away one passenger, and now he stood in the passageway that led from the station to the ship, awaiting the next.

When I submitted this to Strange Horizons, way back when, the (very nice) rejection included a mention of the tea vondas–a creature in the story—saying the name made the editor think too strongly of Vonda McIntyre. And well it should have. At the first week’s Friday night Clarion West party, the first person I met was a very nice lady who offered a bag of crocheted…scrunchy things.** “Take one,” she said, “I make them for the students every year.” How nice, I thought, and chose a white one with red edging, and thanked her, and she went off to offer her gifts to some other students.

A classmate came up to me and said, very quietly, “That was Vonda McIntyre.” And I nearly fell over. I had just been in the presence of Vonda McIntyre! Unconquered Sun!

So when I needed a creature for my story–and fast–I looked up from my desk and saw…my scrunchy thing. “Okay,” I said. “But what will I call it?” And so I found myself with the vondas of the story. I kept it, when I revised. Because.

“Night’s Slow Poison” is set in the Radchaai universe though not (at the time of the story) in Radch space. Readers will likely recognize a few placenames.

*I did have to change the title, of course. I’d turned it in to the workshop as “Spacecrawl.” (The same week, I think, as S. Hutson Blount turned in his story titled “Spacecrawl.” He sold his “Spacecrawl” to Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, far sooner than I sold mine.) I quite like the new title, actually, but I still think of it as “Spacecrawl.”

**If you crocheted a couple chains and joined them to make a loop, and then made twelve or so double crochets in that loop and joined them, to make a flat circle, and then each round made two dc in each dc so that it got all curvy and ruffly instead of flat, you would have something that was nearly identical to my red and white scrunchy thing.

So, the first short stories I wrote were pretty much all science fiction of one sort or another. I thought maybe I just wasn’t much of a fantasy writer, though I do like to read fantasy, quite a lot. But then a friend of mine pointed out an anthology call for submissions that wanted fantasy stories involving war, religion, and political intrigue. “Ann, if that doesn’t have your name on it, I don’t know what to say,” my friend told me.

So I sat down and did some serious considering. And in the end, I came up with “The God of Au,” which was way too long for nearly anyone and didn’t quite fit the call anyway. (It is kind of typical of my process that I started off with the intention of writing war and political intrigue and ended up with volcanoes and giant squid.) That bad boy took a while to sell, but I was proud of it, and it was still sitting unsold in my inventory when I saw the call for the newly revived Sword and Sorceress.

I wrote “The Nalendar” in the same universe I had already begun to establish in “The God of Au” but, of course, a very different part of it. And I managed to keep it down to about eight thousand words–the guidelines had given nine thousand as the upper limit, so I was pretty proud of myself. (Much of my short fiction career involved working very hard to learn to write to shorter and shorter lengths, so this was a milestone for me.)

The editor bounced it back to me saying they couldn’t buy a story that long but if I would cut it down to five thousand, they would take another look.

That puzzled me, because it was under the stated maximum–but hey, the editor gets to make the call, and Mithras help me, I was going to cut the story down.

When I was done, I felt like it was kind of lifeless and bleeding, but I sent it off anyway. And immediately found myself hoping the editor wouldn’t buy it. That was a revelatory moment for me–I hadn’t thought it would bother me much how good I thought a story was, that I could ever not be happy to have anything at all published so long as it got me money and a publication credit.

Thankfully, the editor didn’t buy the story. And I went on to sell the original, full length version to Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, which I’d been hoping to sell to for a while, so it was all good. The story has been reprinted recently in Uncanny Magazine. So, have some light Monday morning reading!
 

Down at the riverfront at Kalub, the little gods congregated in clouds, flies and dragonflies and even small birds approaching would–be travelers. They scattered out of the way of wagons and carts, circled over the flagstoned road and then re–formed. Umri walked through them, careful not to jostle or hit. The citizens of Kalub paid deference to a host of more powerful gods, including the river itself, but it was wise to be wary of even these tiny things.
 
A small bird lit on her shoulder. “Take me with you, I’ll see you safely to your destination!” it chirped.
 
“No thank you,” said Umri, “I’m seeing someone off.” The tiny brown bird cocked its head, eyeing the bag in her hand, but flew off without saying more.