Author Archive

firebreak review roundup!!

Wednesday, September 8th, 2021

Firebreak has been out for 4 months this week and I’m absolutely loving the reader reactions to Mal and Jessa and 06 and 22. I’ve mentioned elsewhere that it took me 3 years to talk myself into writing this one and the fact that it’s resonating with people is just really really nice. Especially as it jams so many disparate elements together that arguably don’t even belong in the same zip code, let alone the same book.

For whatever reason, the pro review situation with this book was…unexpected for my first book with a big publisher. As in, it didn’t get many reviews at all. Most places that reviewed my small press books just skipped this one. I don’t know how much of that is ::gestures at everything:: and how much is just my luck, but in any case I want to make sure you know how much I appreciate it if you read it and liked it enough to recommend it to a friend! Word of mouth absolutely makes or breaks a book, especially if the standard awareness-raising methods (reviews) fall through, and book launches are absolutely still suffering due to the pandemic, so if you helped point potential readers toward this or any book here in the hellscape of 2020-2021, you’re pretty awesome. Those of you who wrote blog reviews and pointed me to them, I’ve included some of my favorites in this roundup–I’m so grateful you spent the time to write them up so thoughtfully!!

Tor.com says: “It’s difficult to do justice to the power and sheer presence of Kornher-Stace’s writing in Firebreak, the weight and possibility of it, the anger and hope and friendship and loyalty she breathes onto the page. …A gripping, powerful, fantastic novel.” And also thatFirebreak is part mystery, part gamer-geek-out, part scream of rage at corporate culture and capitalist greed.”

Locus says: “Even with first-person narration, the details are effortlessly strung out across the book. The economic disparities between our protagonist and the select few elite are spelled out within mere sentences. Kornher-Stace is a wicked smart writer, and makes some compelling ethical anti-capitalist arguments (if you’re one to cry at the grave of Adam Smith this novel probably isn’t for you). The plot is exciting and tremendously easy to follow and read – I rarely had to reread any pages to understand a deeper message, nor did I find myself confused by the actions of the characters. This book clearly took some time make it look so effortless, and I commend the author’s ability to create a complex world within a fun-to-read book. Above all, I loved it because I simply enjoyed reading it, and forgot that I was reading this book to produce a review.”

Booklist (starred review) says: “This dystopian novel will appeal to fans of Ready Player One and The Hunger Games with its blend of gaming adventures that spill over into real life.”

Chicago Review of Books says: “At the center of the novel is a deep friendship between Mal and Jessa. In the dystopian world ruled by hypercapitalism, the human connection between two people proves a powerful force. Their friendship motivates the characters, and like all close friendships is often strained by their competing personalities. But those differences make them stronger. Moreover, their friendship contrasts the market capitalism they struggle against. They succeed when they cooperate with each other. When the pair receive a bounty of water from their sponsor, they share the wealth. When the water in Old Town is turned off, Jessa and Mal pool the water they have reserved for the collective good. Friendship and human commune are the antithesis of the capitalism dominating their world. Corporations are on trial in this novel. If 1984 and Brave New World were warnings against authoritarian governments, Firebreak is a warning against unchecked capitalism. By combining familiar science fiction elements with a strong critique of the commodification of essential elements of life and the corrupting influence of power, Firebreak offers a frightening warning against a near-future dominated by the rule of megacorporations.”

Publishers Weekly says: “…the effortlessly detailed worldbuilding is captivating. Kornher-Stace leads readers through the cinematic landscape of her imagined future with an expert hand.”

The Little Red Reviewer says: “Firebreak is one of the best books I’ve read this year. Nicole Kornher-Stace is the best author you haven’t read yet. I love her books so much that I force my husband to read them. He described one of her earlier novels as the best novel he’s read in ten years, maybe ever. That’s it. That’s the review.”

Lizzie Writes says: “When I first finished the book, mixed emotions settled into my brain. I was pissed off; I was beside myself with grief. I wished there was more to the story… I NEEDED there to be more. In the days that followed, I found my mind drifting back to the story until I suddenly just started crying. Like, in the middle of the work day, full on tears. That was the moment I realized that the book was my new favorite. That is what I really desired from books, I realized: ones that leave me thinking, searching for answers to the unanswerable long after it’s over. I have yet to shut the fuck up about Firebreak. I’m pretty sure that my friends are a little annoyed with me but I don’t mind. I will scream it from the rooftops because this book is too underrated for how absolutely amazing it is.”

Crini says: “There is amazing queer representation and then there is “OMG it’s ME”. Firebreak by Nicole Kornher-Stace is very much the latter for me. This book certainly wasn’t the first time I got to see aro/ace rep in a book, but there was one aspect to it that I hadn’t seen before: the friendship/platonic crush. Oh wow, did I feel seen. While I might very well have loved the book just for that, there is a lot more to it too: precious characters, awesome plot, and the scary bit regarding how likely this possible future really is for us. (if you see this compared to RPO, let me just say: this is the better, non-white-cis-dude RPO of your dreams!)”

Bibliosini says: “How can I ever imagine re-reading this masterpiece without ending in tears? I’ll probably read it over and over again for the tears LOL! Firebreak was such an unexpectedly clever and spectacular science-fiction standalone! I would recommend this to anyone who loves good science fiction because it is possibly one of the best I have read so far!”

Forever Lost in Literature says: “Firebreak is a book that completely took me by surprise by how much intensity, heart, and hope it had wrapped up in an action-packed, highly engaging story. …I was slightly hesitant going into Firebreak because I felt like this was a setup I’ve read more than once before and one that can be pretty hit or miss–’gaming stories’ aren’t always a hit for me, no matter how much I wish they were–and I’m glad to say I was entirely misled with my hesitance because this book grabbed me from the first page and didn’t let go until I put the book down. The VR game and water scarcity situation may be the starting point for everything that happens in this book, but they are at the same time not even close to being what this book is about.”

Bookish Brews says: “Oh man, where do I begin? I really loved this book. When I opened it, I thought “man this is kin of long, I didn’t realize!” And then literally this book doesn’t slow down at any point. It is packed with amazing content. This is going to be a hard review, because it’s packed with so many different amazing things that I don’t know how well I can narrow it down! This book is easy to follow and fast paced, but delightfully anti-capitalist in a way that Ready Player One wishes it was. …Firebreak was truly incredible. It was everything I could have hoped for in a book. It was full of action but never missed a moment to make a statement on the important things. I’m truly impressed at what this book was able to accomplish without feeling weighed down at all. Absolutely wonderful!”

a quick note on my single-tier patreon and why it’s that way!

Sunday, August 1st, 2021

I’ve been asked a bit recently about whether I plan to add more tiers to my Patreon, so I wanted to briefly get into the reason why I probably won’t be doing that.

I’ve been running this Patreon the same way for about three years now (!!), which is: a single pay-what-you-want tier of $1 or more ($1 is the minimum signup Patreon will allow). Anything I post on there is available to all subscribers. Does that mean that most of my signups are for $1? Sure. But it’s very important to me not to paywall anyone out of anything. I set it up so I had a place to put all the character side content I’m writing for the Archivist Wasp books and Firebreak, as well as extras like deleted scenes and original endings, all of which works really well with the single tier format, but regardless what I put on there eventually, accessibility is my #1 priority.

I mean, look. Books are expensive. If you’ve read mine and you liked them enough to want to hang out in those worlds with those characters a little longer, the least I can do is make that as easy as possible. Sometimes people point out to me that many authors make a $1 you-have-my-gratitude tier and start the actual content at $3 or $5 or whatever (totally understandably: most authors do not make much money at all and we’ve still got to eat, obviously), but I want to try to avoid running mine like that for as long as I can possibly manage.

That said, if there’s ever anything you’d like to see me offer over there, just let me know in the comments (or DM me on Twitter) and I’ll see what I can do. And, of course, thank you so much for your support! Patreon has its flaws but it’s probably the closest I’ll ever get to any kind of steady income, which is honestly pretty helpful in an industry where a book brings in royalty checks a grand total of twice a year (if it sees royalties at all). But above and beyond that–I love working with the characters and worlds of those books, and it means the absolute world to me that you’ve given me a reason to continue. <3

big big thanks to my patreon supporters!!

Friday, July 16th, 2021

Somehow my Patreon is ONE (1) supporter away from 100! Thank you so much to my supporters old and new! When I set this up back in…2017? 2018? with the aim of filling it up with a ton of extras for a couple of books that hardly anyone had heard of, I thought I might get five supporters, ten max? So this is amazing and helps me justify spending the time to write patreon-only exclusive tie-ins, which I’ve been doing on there for quite a while now. That’s where you’ll find the myths mentioned in the Archivist Wasp books written up in their entirety, as well as the draft-in-progress of the third Archivist Wasp book, an extremely long tie-in novella about 06 & 22 at age 12, deleted scenes from all my books, etc etc etc.

In case you didn’t know, the whole thing is no tiers, pay-what-you-want for access to everything, because it’s a big goal of mine to make as much of my stuff as accessible as possible.

it’s my book birthday! again!!

Tuesday, July 13th, 2021

my MG debut JILLIAN VS PARASITE PLANET is out today from Tachyon!! It’s a very science-forward survival story in spaaaace, which I have seen described in various places as The Martian for kids, which makes it sound very shiny.

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If you like that cover, wait til you see the interior illustrations! Those and the cover are all by Scott Brown. But I mean seriously:

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I wrote this one for my kid back when he was the same age as the protagonist, and filled it up with science and weirdness and creepiness and hopefully also some humor. It’s got a girl protagonist, though, because we need about a zillion more of those in SF and adventure stories for kids, and she’s got anxiety because I got really frustrated with how that tends to get depicted in fiction.

I’ve always wanted an excuse to invent a mind-control parasite from scratch, and my mom always told me I should really try my hand at writing a kids’ book, and those two things collided in my head for…whatever reason…and refused to be separated. (If you’re even remotely interested in the topic of real-world mind-control parasites, start here and then read The Wasp that Brainwashed the Caterpillar by Matt Simon, The Plight of the Living Dead also by Matt Simon, Parasite Rex by Carl Zimmer, and This Is Your Brain on Parasites by Kathleen McAuliffe. For an all-ages intro, check out Animal Zombies! by Chana Stiefel.

One of my favorite parts of writing Jillian was the space probe/multitool/cartoon addict SABRINA (Semi-Autonomous Bio-Reconnoitering Intelligent Nanobot Array). SABRINA’s shapeshifting abilities were probably pretty solidly subconsciously inspired by Jake the dog from Adventure Time, but I couldn’t have written it without having been a longtime fan of Janelle Shane’s blog AI Weirdness or her book You Look Like a Thing and I Love You. Highly recommend both!

Here are some blurbs I just shamelessly lifted off of Tachyon’s site (sorry I know it looks squashed, click on it to embiggen):

And to those of you who’ve read my books Archivist Wasp, Latchkey, and Firebreak, and are wondering whether this one is also connected to the general overarching story that each of those is part of, the answer is: what do you think 😀

(you absolutely do not have to have read my other stuff for this, it’s arguably lots more of a standalone than Firebreak is, but. Just. There is continuity. And watching readers discover it has been an utter delight.)

Anyway, if any of this is of interest to you, please consider giving Jillian a read! I’ve never even attempted a kids’ book before so I’m really curious to know what you think of it. And as always, I realize books are expensive and everything sucks right now, but your local indie bookstore needs your support more than ever, so if you’re going to get one of my books I’d love you to go there for it–or get your library to pick it up for you!

get your questions ready, pals

Saturday, July 10th, 2021

absolutely massive archivist wasp/latchkey/firebreak/etc continuity post, spoilers ahoy

Friday, July 9th, 2021

So there’s been some interest in me writing up a post about the continuity of Archivist Wasp, Latchkey, Firebreak, Jillian vs. Parasite Planet, and more. This is that. SPOILERS FOR BASICALLY EVERYTHING I HAVE PUBLISHED SINCE 2015 ABOUND BELOW. I guess even telling you that the books are connected counts as spoilers, but Firebreak has been out for a couple of months now (somehow??) and enough reviewers have mentioned the interconnectedness of this book to the last two that it’s probably okay.

The formatting of some below screenshots and captions got messed up so I’m sorry if any of it is hard to read–it looked good in the draft I swear. I’ve gone back in and made the captions green to try and differentiate them from the massive wall of text. I’ll see if I can make any further fixes!

First off, to clear up any confusion, you absolutely positively do not need to have read the Wasp books in order to read Firebreak. Anything listed below is just extra layers for deeper meaning to the five of you who’ll actually read all the books and stories that feeds into this monstrosity. I wrote Firebreak as a standalone, and I sold it as a standalone. Specifically I sold it to a publisher that rejected Latchkey on the basis of it being a sequel and would never in a million years have published Firebreak if knowledge of those other books was necessary going into this one. One of the most pleasant surprises over the first two months of its launch is how many of the reviewers who have most vocally loved it also state outright in their review that they’d never read anything else of mine before. So it’s been really nice to see that Firebreak is enjoyable on its own merits. It was a Big Challenge to write a book that was simultaneously extremely deeply interconnected with my past books while also standing 100% on its own.

So why do it? Couple reasons.

I wrote Archivist Wasp as a standalone. No, really. I swear. It’s been hilariously suggested to me–multiple times–that writing Latchkey was “a money grab,” which is adorable. If I was going to write a “money grab,” a sequel to an obscure tiny weird book that hardly anyone had heard of would not be how I’d go about it. (Besides, I loathe when people accuse authors of “money grabs.” You do understand it’s their job, right? And alas we do not have UBI. If they do not “grab” “money” they cannot keep writing books. Is this not clear? It’s hard enough to place value on our own work sometimes without dealing with this. But I digress.)

The real reason why it did not stay a standalone is simple. As soon as I’d turned Wasp in to the publisher, like the instant it was officially out of my hands, I started getting just straight-up ambushed by scenes and bits of dialogue from what I thought was a missed opportunity to add to that book. Soon I realized that what I was looking at was a different book. Same characters. Different book. Okay then. So Latchkey was drafted before AW was released.

Quick aside about a question I get asked a lot, namely: why do those two books have different publishers? Basically what happened was: because of the above, only AW was under contract with its publisher. I did work with them for a while on a potential sequel, but we never managed to get the manuscript to a place where we both wanted it, and there were things I really didn’t want to compromise on, so we amicably parted ways on it and I tore the whole thing apart in order to write it exactly as I wanted, no compromises. I had a hell of a time trying to find a publisher to pick up book 2 of what I by that point realized was a trilogy (yes, I hope to have book 3 answer some of the questions books 1 and 2 raised! I promise! More on that below) but eventually it got picked up by Mike and Anita Allen at Mythic Delirium, who actually published the very first Wasp-adjacent short story long loooong ago (more on that below too).

As for book 3, tentatively titled Catchkeep, that’s a work-in-progress on my Patreon. Will it be traditionally publishable ever? I mean, probably not. But since when has that stopped me? Maybe if I can publish enough books that I get a sizeable enough readership to make that look attractive to a publisher. It’s a long game, I know. But interconnecting four books (and counting) and a handful of short stories and novellas is a long game too. I’m used to it. My dream is to have the trilogy bound as a single volume. I can already see the cover art. Trust me, it’s cool.

Besides, I am a huge dork for Interconnected Continuity Shit, and I love puzzles. And these characters would not leave me alone. Like, at all. Archivist Wasp has three distinct settings, all of which are much bigger in my head than on the page–I tend to strongly prefer understated worldbuilding, both as a writer and a reader, so I tend to curate what details make it into the book in a way that (hopefully) feels organic to the story and not infodumpy, because I aim for immersive worldbuilding and not jarring people out of the text by interrupting a scene for paragraphs or pages of exposition, which is tricky because as you can probably tell by now from this post my brain operates on a steady diet of tangents and asides–so there was a lot more there in all three of those settings that I could, and realized I really wanted to, explore.

So that explains why Latchkey exists. Firebreak is a bit different. Basically one of the absolutely valid and totally non-petty reasons (cough) why Firebreak even exists is that when Archivist Wasp came out, someone stated in their review that it was obvious that I’d put no thought whatsoever into this war that this ghost was referencing. And I was like, reeeally. Is it. Because (in my books and in others) what a lot of people don’t seem to understand is that what may look like “lazy worldbuilding” is actually the author exhibiting massive restraint and laying out an extremely careful breadcrumb trail of worldbuilding tidbits rather than bludgeoning you with a bunch of tell-don’t-show. Which, if your preference is exposition, that’s obviously fine! But you should know what you’re looking at when you encounter the alternative. There’s nothing lazy about it.

So I got annoyed. And when I get annoyed I tend to write books. Honestly it was a great excuse to do what I wanted to do anyway, which was to write a whole (probably-unpublishable) technically-prequel-but-genuinely-standalone book about the ghost and Foster and more of what they went through in the preapocalyptic world. It’s been a genuine and utter delight to see readers encounter Firebreak first and then go back to my earlier books and have this holy shit! moment when they realize that the books are connected. Or vice-versa. It’s very satifsying.

But while yes, spite can carry you pretty far, the real heart of Firebreak is that I wanted to tell more of the ghost’s story from back before he was, y’know, a ghost. The question I then faced was: okay, how exactly do I do that? As much as I wanted to write him as a POV character, it didn’t feel right. (For this book anyway. More on that below too!) So I kicked around some ideas as to who my POV character was actually going to be, and how I was going to tell the ghost’s story in this kind of oblique sidewise manner while not leaning too hard on readers’ previous knowledge of him as a character in other books.

Basically: way way back in the day, I watched Serenity before I’d even heard of Firefly, and I remember being so very confused, feeling like I was absolutely missing something, like: eek, clearly I am supposed to be caring about what happens to these characters a whole lot more than I do, what’s that about? So that’s what I was explicitly trying to avoid here. The Serenity-before-Firefly effect. I hope I was successful!

So eventually I came up with Mal, and her story, and how 22 fit into it. There were a lot of themes I wanted to squeeze in there, but I also wanted it to be the story of this nobody who never really had any interest in being a somebody but was shoved into that position by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Her platonic infatuation with 22 is there for a few reasons.

One, I really wanted to write a platonic crush. It took me a really long time to realize that I’m aromantic asexual, which is funny given that, looking back, I’ve had plenty of crushes but zero of them were romantic/sexual. Just this sense of I’m really into this person but because society has provided no template for this level of interest in the absence of romantic or sexual intent, I am extremely confused and can talk to none of my friends about it because when I try they misinterpret it egregiously through no fault of their own due to the abovementioned lack of social template. Sometimes I convinced myself that it was romantic/sexual, just because I had this idea that that was what I was supposed to do. I don’t wish that on anyone. So I really wanted to capture my own particular aroace experience in a book. I can’t dropkick it back in time to hit 14-year-old-me upside the head with it, but I can maybe put it forward for anyone else who needs to see a book that centers those admittedly-hyperspecific-and-as-such-underrepresented kinds of feels.

Another is that if there’s a character in the Wasp books that has a fanbase, it’s the ghost. So this is a little surprise present to those who’ve enjoyed him.

The third is that he is a character who has lived in my head since I was about 12. I have no idea where he came from, but he doesn’t want to leave. I don’t even really feel like I can take credit for him at this point, he’s that ingrained. (Seriously. Praise makes me very uncomfortable but I unreservedly adore when readers love this one particular character. It hits my praise receptors at this weird remove that makes zero sense but here we are.) Anyway, he’s going nowhere. So continuing to write him stories was kind of inevitable.

As the book became angrier and more complex, my impostor syndrome started getting in my face, like no way was doing this story justice remotely within my ability. This was a process that took three solid years of me talking myself out of writing it and just generally getting in my own way until I just eventually went you know what, fuck it and drafted a 110,000 word book inside 5 weeks. The finished book has nothing from that draft removed (beyond the ending few paragraphs, which were Just Too Dark, Nicole), just stuff added in because my editor Navah Wolfe is amazing. I’d been fretting that the book was too long and any editor would make me chop 20,000 words, but quite to the contrary Navah let me off-leash to add that many. I got to extend out some of the Mal/22 scenes especially, which was the exact thing I wanted to do all along. Plus the ending is less Dark now. You have Navah to thank for that.

What was really hard to do in extending Archivist Wasp, a standalone book that drafted at 56,000 words, into this whole one-woman dollar-store MCU situation, is the fact that I wrote AW to be this surreal dreamlike Journey Into the Underworld, full stop. I didn’t foresee having to explain some of this stuff. I took one (1) paragraph of notes on AW before writing it. I took about twenty pages of notes on Latchkey just to get my shit together, some of which got transferred into my Firebreak notes file so I had at least some chance of keeping the continuity, y’know, continuous.

There’s already one minor continuity error I’ve found, about which I can do precisely nothing until I achieve my dream of finishing the third Wasp book and reissuing the whole thing as a trilogy. Which is to say, probably at no point before the literal heat death of the universe. Does that bother me? ahahaha of…course…not…

What I don’t want to do here is spoil things that are going to show up in the third Archivist Wasp book, so I’m going to try to very carefully tiptoe around those. If you’ve read Archivist Wasp, Latchkey, and Firebreak, and you still come away from this post with questions, all I can say is hopefully I’ll answer those for you in future!

The line I had to walk in Firebreak is to tell a story that would hopefully appeal to those who hadn’t read that older stuff, while kind of also talking over their heads at the people who have.

For instance, one thing I hoped was clear when I wrote Archivist Wasp and Latchkey but probably was not was that calling this operation the “Latchkey Project” was me making fun of all the absolutely unbelievably stupid names they come up with for these things in real life. Firebreak gave me the opportunity to lampshade that a little.

It is indeed a very stupid name and they should be ashamed of it

Or, like, okay. It’s weird really getting into this! So. I have a folklore background and one of the things I had way too much fun with in Archivist Wasp was creating an entire postapocalyptic mythology from whole cloth. I’m fascinated by how folklore and mythology are basically just people playing Telephone with ideas that expand to a point where all the original context has been stripped away and they end up about a zillion times larger than life. So I started thinking about the time that the ghost and Foster lived in, and what might have been important to people who lived about a hundred years in our future. I knew that the army that the ghost and Foster fought in was a corporate army and not a typical government-controlled military, and I wanted to take the whole children-as-supersoldiers trope and put my own spin on it. And I didn’t want this corporate army to be secretive. I wanted it to be playing an all-in hearts-and-minds marketing game to popularize a war that had no real valid reason for existing beyond that they could make bank off of it. So it was an easy jump from there to: these people are celebrities. Big celebrities. Even if nobody knows who they really are under all the branding. And that if they figured largely in the general cultural consciousness of the place where they lived and worked, and they died not long before humanity was wiped out, the idea of them might still be lingering in this place until the end.

In Archivist Wasp and Latchkey, Foster was always referred to by name, but her numerical designation does briefly appear. 22’s does not, for the extremely clever reason of I hadn’t decided on one for him yet

In terms of folklore as people-playing-Telephone-across-the-centuries, many readers have picked up on the similarities between the words Latchkey and Catchkeep, especially when spoken aloud. There’s, uh, a reason for that.

Also:

Wasp checking out Catchkeep’s lurchers

SABRINA is a shapeshifting glob of nanobots, but Stellaxis (then StellaTech) likes to portray it as a cute dog with the company logo on its flank…

…and that company logo looks like what?

Eventually, given enough generations of Telephone, the logo becomes the mascot becomes the company becomes the thing that kills Ember Girl. Which is all, of course, true

Jillian, by the way, in Jillian vs. Parasite Planet, the same middle-grade book SABRINA comes from, starts out in the same building in the year 2113, before Stellaxis was Stellaxis and had a space program, now defunct (the stars-and-arrow logo is a holdover from that era). Here she is:

Cozy.

21 years later, here’s Mal:

Ugh.

And quite a bit later here’s Wasp:

He would know.

But why would these people be such a big deal? After all, they’re dead by the time the world ends. They were a literal product of a hypercapitalist society with a nonexistent attention span, but in that society they were revered. 06/Foster especially had a lot of the optics of a folk hero, which we see in some of Mal’s asides in Firebreak:

Honestly none of them are worthy of her

And the implication of the end of that book is that big changes are coming, probably not for two corporations that control everything but maybe at least in this one city. Which is where, thousands of years in the future, Wasp’s town of Sweetwater is situated. Right on top of the ruins of New Liberty. Which is why in Latchkey, Wasp’s there exploring the same subbasements where Mal was interrogated and released and then returned.

I wonder who would have done something like that. Someone who probably had their reasons.

So the ruins of this particular city are where these ghosts are tied to, not just because that’s where they died but because that’s where they persisted in the cultural consciousness. Wasp knows that ghosts are made of memory, but what she doesn’t understand (yet) is that it’s not only their own memories that make them.

These two ghosts in particular had help.

Oh no, Mal, this is going to go so spectacularly wrong.

This is what I plan to really get into in the third Archivist Wasp book. It starts literally where Latchkey leaves off, no three-year time gap this time. So the ghost knows the stories of Ember Girl and Carrion Boy from Wasp, and he’s just helped out, kind of, in the fight for Sweetwater, so he’s seen what Carrion Boy’s followers are like, and he’s coming off of two books that have basically beaten him over the head repeatedly with the fact that everything he tries to fix he just ends up fucking up worse (Foster’s death! Foster’s chip!), so he’s, um, kind of primed to jump to conclusions here. Here he is a couple chapters into an admittedly messy draft-in-progress of book 3, where Wasp has found him, having dragged the corpses of the Ember Girl/Carrion Boy/Crow analogues out of their temporary coffins so he could torture himself wondering about this oooone teensy detail that’s been bugging him.

Because this disaster boy hasn’t been through enough. Now he’s a corrupted symbol.

And oh yeah, about that crow…

Lookin’ good, Mal.

I read some years ago that crows are actually songbirds.
The songkeepers from Wasp’s world are all descended from Mal, the original teller of 06’s & 22’s story.

He doesn’t remember Mal too well, because he never knew her very well. But she made an impression, even if it’s mostly gone (along with 99%+ of his other memories) by the time we first meet him. But those of you who’ve noted how similar Mal is to Wasp, personality-wise, there’s a reason for that too.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-9.png
Note he doesn’t answer her question

This is, like, really on the nose and 3 years later I’m honestly not sure how I feel about it so let’s draw attention to it I guess

He does remember that house in the woods though. Or that there was a house. Details a lil hazy. He is, to repeat, a mess.

Like trying to remember a dream you had of a house, a long long time ago

Honestly his memory of the house was nicer than the real thing, 22 you weirdo

New Liberty comes through to the ghost-place though in full fidelity. Much more so than this one random house does, because it’s of greater significance to more ghosts, and everything in the ghost-place is made of memories crowdsourced from the dead. The more people remember something, the clearer it comes through.

Here it is in the ghost-place
And here it is in 2134 as Mal bikes out of it

Meanwhile the paper that Wasp reads Foster’s memories off of is part of Mal’s collection of 06/22 news stories. One thing that was interesting in these books was being able to describe the same events/locations/etc with totally different vocabulary, depending on whether it was Wasp’s point of view or Mal’s. This is just one example. There are a bunch. That whole scene that happens in both books, for starters.

Wasp just sees “the ruins of some building”
But Mal recognizes it

Wasp does see one of the ghost’s memories that has Mal in it, but doesn’t realize at the time that this is at all significant:

Here’s what Wasp sees…

…and here it is from Mal’s angle. I love reader reactions when they run into this scene in one book after having read the other. Like. Really love them. A lot.

I mean technically she sees more than one…

It’s not that it’s where her troubles began, more it’s when they began to escalate. Dramatically.

Should’ve cleared that desk out faster.

One thing that was just incredibly fun to do was piecing scenes back together based on what I knew of them from earlier books. The whole chip-and-sword thing, for instance.

He should look repentant, he’s ridiculous, what the fuck are you even doing, it’s a sword not a throwing knife, who raised you
…actually nevermind that’s just plain mean

If Mal hadn’t done this one specific thing, Wasp and 400 years of Archivists before her would have had a different job / no seriously

And just to anchor the timeline a lil:

This probably reads as an entirely random detail to the 99.998% of readers who either didn’t read Archivist Wasp four seconds ago / oooor entirely reasonably forgot the following

Would 06 have been less stubborn if she knew Mal was in danger in the next cell over? Of course she would have
…………yeeeaah 🙁

Or like just messing around with unreliable narration:

I mean, sure, let’s go with that, you weirdo

22 you absolute disaster you are a cog in a marketing machine, full stop

It’s probably clear by now that I have a major problem when it comes to these books.

Mal is not a self-insert character but this is 100% a self-insert observation

As such, I have of course written many many thousands of words of Extra Stuff. Just a really inadvisable number of words of Extra Stuff.

It took me a long time to find a publisher for Archivist Wasp. I’d say it was for a lot of reasons, but it really boils down to two. One: it was a YA book without romance (and I had zero intent to compromise on that point, and I had to turn down agents’ requests for revise/resubmits that added romance in but I was not going to budge on this). Two: it was Weird. So while I was trying to figure out what the fuck to do with it, I messed around with a short story alternate version that basically told the story of some of the constellation/myths through the lens of a very-far-future anthropological paper. It’s called “On the Leitmotif of the Trickster Constellation in Northern Hemispheric Star Charts, Post-Apocalypse” and you can find it in Clockwork Phoenix 4 or in The Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women.

Archivist Wasp changed a bit between that first draft and the final, and this story came out kind of in the middle, so don’t expect the story to be super consistent with everything else–I don’t remember much about it but some of the constellation names, for instance, changed. Also it is really super old.

Still, though.

I did warn you I had a folklore background.
That ending is classic, by which of course I mean I stole it

This all checks out tbh

Catchkeep is, and I do not say this lightly, not a good doggo

And just to anchor the sixteen stars thing a little, because it’s also in the Stellaxis logo as seen above:

ok so *according to whatever I had looked up at the time* Ursa Major had sixteen major stars. Four seconds ago I looked it up *again* to verify it so I wouldn’t have to turn in my astronomy nerd card to you all and now what I’m seeing is that it has….not 16 major stars…but…22.
oh come on now

ANYWAY SO CATCHKEEP=URSA MAJOR, WHICH DOESN’T DIP BELOW THE HORIZON AT ANY TIME IN THE YEAR IN THE NORTHERN HEMISPHERE which is what Wasp is saying here just filtered through the mythos
…and of goddamn course now it’s got 22 stars in it what the actual hell

And Stellaxis-then-StelTech’s space program used to bring them…there! Ursa Major was their bread and butter. For a time.
Hence the logo. And the lurchers’ tattoo. And the legend. It’s a religion born of marketing!! No I’m not cynical at all why do you ask

At some point after I finished writing Latchkey, I started kicking around this idea about the relics of a current civilization as found by a far-future post-apocalyptic civilization, and how to small children they might be indistinguishable from fossils–or, depending on the nature of the extinction event, they might be the only approximation of fossils discoverable at all. That turned into “Last Chance,” published at Clarkesworld, which takes place several years before Archivist Wasp but in the same world. Some of you might recognize the narrator.

My no-less-massive-for-being-totally-unavoidable regret with Firebreak is that I wasn’t able to include more 06 and 22 in it. I got to lament it a little here on Mary Robinette Kowal’s blog back in May, but trust me when I say my sorrow on this point runs deep. I vented some of it in the novelette “Pathfinding!” which appeared in Uncanny Magazine. It’s about 06 and 22 when they are fifteen years old and they, along with all the other surviving operatives, are testing out the Director’s new combat simulator. Things then go sideways with maximum rapidity. It’s full of stupid little Easter eggs that I expect literally nobody to notice, such as:

He is not good at helicopters in “Pathfinding!”

or in Firebreak for that matter, or anywhere probably let’s be honest

or:

Of course 22’s favorite cookie is oatmeal raisin, I mean, look at him

And it’s Mal’s favorite too because obviously

Now I’m not saying that the last orange juice Mal had was in the Stellaxis basement but I’m not not saying that either

Oh no it was wasn’t it

And since this story actually came out before Firebreak, it contains the first published instance of the company (which has not been publicly named in either of the Wasp books) monopolizing water, and people being unhappy about that

It’s not the best protest slogan, if we’re honest…

…but it’s catchy

This is the big one though.

06 never quite got there

Until she did. 🙁

(The trail where Mal finds 22, tangentially, is based on the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail, which is about two blocks from my front door. It’s also where That Bridge Scene from A Quiet Place was filmed. There was a community container garden on that bridge and a Little Free Library and they pitched both off the side of the bridge in order to film that scene and I’m honestly still mad about it. But if you’re ever in the Rosendale-New Paltz-Kingston neck of the upstate-ish NY woods, check out that trail, I love it a lot.)

And then there’s a ton of stuff over on my Patreon because no I don’t know why I’m like this. There are deleted scenes from these books over there, and I’ve written up a bunch of the myths mentioned in the Wasp books in their entirety (more of those to come as I get around to them).

And then there’s, um, this.

Oh yes / I wrote FORTY THOUSAND WORDS of 06/22 Boxcar Children homage fluff / which I thought was fluff until it started doing an awful lot of character work heavy lifting that I never got the chance to do elsewhere / why am I like this that’s an excellent question I don’t know okay / oh also SABRINA’s in it / and it’s just wall-to-wall references to 4 books as far as the eye can see, which I can’t in good conscience get into all of here / I should probably stop talking now / I’m so sorry

And of course the third Wasp book is on there as well, such as it is. I’m hoping to get back to it really soon. It’s going to be a very different book than the first two (and extremely different from Firebreak) in that it’s probably not going to be very action-y or fastpaced and will be absolutely packed with Character Feels and hopefully answer a lot of the questions that the first two books raised. It’s about how the memories of these people got corrupted across the ages–their personal memories but also the remnants of humanity’s memory of them–and for what reasons, and how deep that goes, and how both your own memories and everyone else’s memories of you, if inaccurate enough, work together to corrupt your manifestation as a ghost that is literally made of memories, and whether in the end it’s just irreparable. It’s going to be big and slow and sprawly and I exist perpetually in a state of terrified eagerness to really dig into it and hopefully not mess it up too badly.

Anyway!

In the off-chance that anyone has actually read this far, I’m honestly kind of impressed and thank you so much! If you noticed anything I should have added to this list, or questions about stuff in the books, let me know!! And if the concept of all these extras is intriguing to you, my Patreon is no tiers, pay-what-you-want for access to everything I post. Which is at this point about three years’ worth of extras from all the books mentioned above, plus that 40k 06/22 piece that’s going up monthly as we speak, plus an eventual full draft of the third Wasp book (it’s a few chapters in right now, more soon!). Also, I’m trying to get better about putting tip jars on things that take me ages to put together (friends yell at me about this A Whole Bunch) so here’s my ko-fi if you felt like tossing something in.

But honestly just the fact that you enjoy these books enough to have read this far (seriously this has taken me twelve straight hours at this point and I totally expect to be addressing an empty room by now) is frankly incredible. If you’re still here to see this, thank you so much.

I know that as soon as I publish this post I’m going to remember about nine hundred other bits I forgot to add into it. So it may well end up getting edited going forward as my brain decides to cough things up. I deliberately left out stuff that will be super spoilery for book 3, and honestly that 06/22 thing on my Patreon is so loaded with references to ::gestures at everything:: it’s kind of stupid. And not only Easter egg things, but things that end up really mattering to the character backstories and I’m kind of annoyed it’s almost definitely unpublishable. When it’s all up, I’ll go back into this and update it with the stuff that ties that novella back into everything else, but as it’s still coming out monthly, I don’t want to spoil stuff that’s not readable yet.

All in all this whole thing’s an absolute labor of love, and it’s a long game, and it’s not over yet. Thank you so so much for exploring it with me.

#BooksForPalestine auction

Tuesday, June 1st, 2021

I’m taking part in the #BooksForPalestine auction! Along with 500+ other bookish items, I’m donating a signed/personalized/ANNOTATED hardcover copy of FIREBREAK. It’s absolutely one-of-a-kind as I’ve literally never annotated anything ever before, but this is for an absolutely necessary cause so I’m gonna try. <3

Bid here!

And whether you’re interested in this particular item or not, with 500+ items the auction’s virtually guaranteed to have something for everyone. Follow the auction on Twitter and go bid on something!!

so FIREBREAK has been out a week today…

Tuesday, May 11th, 2021

…and I wish I could thank you all individually for ordering/reading/reviewing/handselling/requesting from your library/etc!

They’re all personal but this one means an awful lot to me & it’s absolutely amazing to see Mal and Jessa and their questionable adventures already clicking with readers. It was very important to me to write Mal as an introverted, prickly, somewhat antisocial character full of traits that are more often than not deemed “unlikeable” in a female protagonist while lauded in a male one, and also to make her aromantic and asexual, because I am, and I have never yet seen it written in a piece of media in a way that really resonated with me personally. The fact that most readers seem to be 100% getting what I was doing in both of those instances and totally accept Mal for who she is has been extremely reassuring. I’ve never gotten such an overwhelmingly positive response on a book so early before. I’m honestly blown away. Thank you.

To those of you coming new to my writing: hi! Firebreak has often been called my debut, but it isn’t, and my adult debut, which it also isn’t. I’ve been publishing since about 2007 but always with (amazing!!) small presses so while they’ve been a joy to work with, a lot of my work has gone under the general radar. If you enjoyed Firebreak, check out Archivist Wasp and Latchkey next. Additionally, my Patreon has several years of book extras and stuff (including a ridiculous ongoing fluff piece I’ve been writing for 06 and 22 in which they are twelve years old and having a Boxcar Children-esque adventure in a shipping container). It’s no-tiers, pay-what-you-want for access to everything. Finally, because I’m noticing quite a number of 06 and 22 fans (which delights me), here’s a standalone story about them that actually came out months before the book.

I have another book coming out in two months! Jillian vs. Parasite Planet is my middle-grade debut. It’s a science-forward survival story including portal-based space travel, creepy mind-control parasites, a snarky cartoon-addicted shapeshifting nanobot swarm, and a protagonist whose anxiety disorder is depicted in a way that is more realistic to my experience than the “shyness” that tends to be the (wildly inaccurate) media default. And it has interior! illustrations! by the incredibly talented Scott Brown. If this sounds like your jam (or the jam of a kid in your life) it’s open to preorders now! As always, you can ask your library to preorder for you!

I was given the opportunity to do a bunch of essays, guest posts, and interviews that are ongoing throughout the month. Some aren’t out yet but here’s a few that are:

I wrote about how “unlikeable” female protagonists are great actually over at Fantasy Book Cafe!

My essay “Sex Is Great, But Have Your Ever Seen Your Real-Life Relationship Depicted in Fiction?”, which is about the importance of representing strong platonic relationships in books/movies/etc, is in this month’s issue of Apex Magazine and available online 6/3!

The Nerd Daily asked me some great questions here!

Paul Semel asked me some more great questions here!

I wrote about in-medias-res worldbuilding, especially in a cross-genre piece, over at CrimeReads!

At Mary Robinette Kowal’s blog I got to talk about my favorite bit of writing Firebreak!

Lastly, on May 27 at 6pm EST I’ll be chatting online about Firebreak with Amal El-Mohtar over at Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn (virtually) and I’d love to (virtually) see you there! Register here.

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I’ll do a review roundup soon and add more guest posts and stuff as they become available, but in the meantime just wanted to say thank you all so much.

IT’S MY BOOK BIRTHDAY!!

Tuesday, May 4th, 2021

After 3 years of telling myself I wasn’t good enough to write it, a year on sub, publication being pushed back by a year…it’s finally here.

Look at this cover! Look at this blurb!! It’s a book! It’s a book that’s out today!!

Firebreak

This book was a weird combination of the most fun I’ve ever had writing anything PLUS the most personal deep dive I’ve ever attempted in anything. It’s about gaming and friendship and activism and trying to fuck up a corporate-owned police state. It’s got an aro/ace protagonist, a fierce platonic crush, lady gamers getting shit done, and also mechs and swords and stuff because hi.

I really hope you like it!!

New guest post up at Fantasy Book Cafe!

Monday, April 26th, 2021

Today I have a guest post up at Fantasy Book Cafe! It’s about asshole women characters and the weird double standard to which we hold them.

More guest posts, interviews, etc. to come! One week and one day until book birthday!!