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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.


 

So! This will have to be much shorter than I wanted it to be, since I got home from my fabulous week-long Scandinavia Mini-Tour last night, and this morning a bunch of heavy wet snow did something fatal to my internet access at home, so I’m typing this at a cafe.

Anyway! Over the last week I’ve been in Oslo, and in Stockholm! I visited Outland, where I talked to readers and signed books. I also visited the Oslo public library and was interviewed by Norwegian author and translator Ørjan Karlsson–and also got to answer questions from the audience. It was a wonderful time, and I had a blast! I did manage to get lost on at least one occasion, but that was okay, it just meant I saw more of Oslo than I would have otherwise. Thanks to all the folks who suggested I visit the Vigelandsparken, which was very unusual and cool. (It was on my way back from there that I got lost, so it was a day full of adventure!) At any rate, my stay in Oslo was great fun, I met wonderful people and had a lovely time. And Outland is a wonderful store, the folks in Oslo are super lucky!

Then I flew to Stockholm, so I could sign books at Science Fiction Bokhandeln. Which, it turns out, is also a wonderful bookstore! I met even more wonderful folks, signed a lot of books, answered questions, and generally had a great time. I also got to have supper with the two winners of a contest the store had held–the prize was having supper with me and a few other folks. Thanks, Anna and Anders! It was great to meet you and I really enjoyed getting to hang out with you.

I left both places loaded with gifts–mostly tea, Anna, I had some of the Earl Grey for breakfast this morning!–and had a chance to try new food (I think I need to see if the international grocery here carries brown cheese….) and just generally had a wonderful time. I really, really hope I have a chance to go back some time.

I did this a while ago on Tumblr, made some weekly posts about my old short fiction, and a recent tweet reminded me that a lot of my readers aren’t aware of most of the short fiction I’ve had published. Which, I mean, if you’re not into short fiction, cool, scroll by, but just in case you are interested, well.

So, my very first SF&F sale was a story called “Hesperia and Glory” which appeared in issue number four of Subterranean Magazine. It was guest-edited by John Scalzi, so, yes, he was my very first editor. The entire issue was made freely available as a pdf, which is where that link goes. There’s a lot of good stuff there, including Rachel Swirsky’s first SF&F sale!

(My first ever sale ever was a story to True Confessions. It wasn’t spec fic, and since stories in TC were supposedly ONE HUNDRED PERCENT TRUE writers didn’t get a byline and all names in the ms were changed before publication. Trust me, you’re not interested in reading it.)

Anyway. Hesperia. I knew that John Scalzi was guest-editing an issue of Subterranean, with “science fiction cliches” as the theme. So while I was at Clarion West, I pounded out a draft and turned it in for the final week of the workshop. It had, at the time, the brilliant title “Help I Need A Title.”

Michael Swanwick was our instructor that week. Now, he put a huge amount of energy into teaching. Seriously, I don’t know how he did it. He read everything we’d submitted for the entire six weeks, plus our application stories, and gave us extensive comments on all of it. What a gift, right? It was amazing. And he had lots of things to say about my story for the week. All of which I duly noted down because I am no fool–if Michael Swanwick is going to give me writing advice I am damn well going to take it.

On the way home I was thinking hard about how to apply his advice, when I suddenly realized that in fact all the advice he’d given me was wrong.

See, he’d misread my story. (It was, as all my first drafts are, pretty awful, so that was no one’s fault but mine.) And he’d given me all that advice based on that misreading. But it took me several days and a long train trip to realize that. And to realize that what I needed to do was to re-write it in such a way that Michael Swanwick would not misread it.

Yeah, that took me some time, and some amount of banging my head on the desk, but eventually I ended up with “Hesperia and Glory,” buffed it all to hell, and sent it off. And nearly died of delighted shock when I got an acceptance back. Nearly died of shock a second time when Rich Horton asked to put it in his Years Best antho for that year.

In a lot of ways, that was one of the most important lessons I learned at Clarion West, and one I’m exceedingly grateful to Michael for teaching me–that all the best advice in the world (and trust me, it was fabulous advice for the story I appeared to have written) isn’t useful if it’s not for your story. And that in the end it’s you, the writer, who has to make that call.

So, “Hesperia and Glory.”
 

Dear Mr. Stephens,
 
It is entirely understandable that you should wish a full accounting of the events of the last week of August of this year. If nothing else, your position as Mr. John Atkins’ only living relative entitles you to an explanation.
 
I must begin by making two points perfectly clear. The first is quite simple. The account you have read in the papers, and no doubt also received from the chief of police of this town, is entirely false.
 
My second point is this: there is not now, nor has there ever been, a well in my cellar.

 

If you’re into audio, you can hear it read at Escape Pod.