Recommended Read: The Mad Scientist’s Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke

I don’t often write book reviews. I used to, but when I became an author I found it increasingly hard to be impartial. But I finished this book a few hours ago and I keep thinking about it. Some mild spoilers follow, but I’ve stayed away from really specific plot points. It’s a book that will stay with me. I think Cassandra and I must have similar taste, because this is so exactly my cup of tea.

The Mad Scientist’s Daughter is hard to pin down. If I had to give it an elevator pitch, I’d say it’s about a girl who falls in love with an android that’s a bit like Data from Star Trek, but written in the literary tone of Margaret Atwood.

It’s a book that’s light on the science fiction and heavy on story and characters. Say all of the events in this book really happened—the unnamed Disasters that caused civilization to fall and rebuild itself. This is a book that would be written in that world as modern literature for the inhabitants of that world. Does that make sense? It’s written as if we live in that world already. So if you’re looking for a book with heavy science fiction elements, they are not here.

Robots are common—as nurses, as workers. But androids with such a level of sentience like Finn are not. He’s one of a kind. When Cat is six, her father, a brilliant cyberneticist, brings him home. At first, he scares Cat and she thinks he’s a ghost. And then he becomes her tutor, and her friend. And eventually, more. It follows Cat’s life, and how Fin is a constant, even if he’s not there.

It’s a love story that shouldn’t work. Finn grew up with Cat (naturally, he doesn’t age), and he was her tutor. In some ways Dr Novak, the “mad scientist” is like a father to Finn, too. So in that respect it’s odd, and perhaps a little wrong. But I found those elements didn’t put me off as much as I thought they would. I felt for Finn and Cat.

The book focuses on Cat. Sometimes, Finn is missing for large portions of the book. Time passes. The story starts with Cat at six and ends when she’s in her thirties, so there are huge skips of time between certain chapters. Cat grew up as an only child, left to run wild along the flowers. She’s selfish, but not in a deliberate way. And that selfishness and inability to really connect with others follows her into adulthood. She floats through life. She’s a daughter of a rich scientist. She studies philosophy, which is especially antiquated in a world where everyone studies engineering, and works part-time as a cigarette seller, or a vice girl. Occasionally, she weaves tapestries. She doesn’t have a fierce drive and she’s always introspective and a little melancholy. Because she’s not whole.

There are friends, but none of them have a deep bond with her. She doesn’t have any close female friends. And with men, she’s like an android that is incapable of love. One calls her an ice queen. She dates them because she feels like she should, but she doesn’t love them. She loves Finn, who she thinks can never love her in return because he’s a machine.

The book touches on so much—what is humanity? What is consciousness? What is love? It examines selfishness and how painful it can be to others even if it’s unintentional. And yet it also shows the consequences of not being selfish enough to be true to yourself and your feelings, of being too afraid to reach out for what you desperately want more than anything else.

Full of beautiful, melancholy prose that paints a strange, new future where the summers are too hot and the winters are too cold, The Mad Scientist’s Daughter is a gorgeous book. Read it to find out what happens to Finn and Cat, who will get under your skin.


Worldcon 2012: Chicago Style

I am still recovering from the Chicago Worldcon, but it was a blast. Here’s some bulletpoints of the week:

The week was a lot of hanging around, eating, drinking, and uh, not going to many panels on my part. The next con I’m going to I’m going to plan my time better.

That’s not to say I was in the Big Bar the entire time. Because the Angry Robots took over Worldcon, we did a few events. We went out for pizza, we went bowling, and there was a book reading at The Book Cellar. I went to the Tor party and sat through part of the Hugos, but it was so packed I couldn’t stand in the back the entire time, so we followed via Twitter.

I was really impressed by the Hugos, which I’d not followed that closely in previous years. Out of the 17 categories, 11 of the wins were of women, and there was a good parity between genders in the nominations. As so many award ceremonies have been male dominated, that was refreshing. Another goal next year is to read all the nominations next year and vote.

All dolled up for the Hugos. Adam Christopher, Stephen Blackmore, and me.

This con was a lot about meeting people I’ve known online for some time. Foremost was meeting Wesley Chu, who I chat to on gchat pretty much every day, so meeting in person and staying at his house was a treat. Also invading Wesley, his lovely wife Paula, and their dog Eva’s home was my husband, Craig, my editor, Amanda Rutter, and Adam Christopher.

Me and Kim at Lucky Strike!

I also met many of my Strange Chemistry and Angry Robot stablemates for the first time: Gwenda Bond, Cassandra Rose Clarke, Ramez Naam, his girlfriend Molly, Lee Collins, his girlfriend Victoria, Chuck Wendig, and Matt Forbeck. Saw Lee Harris, Anne Lyle and Kim Curran again. New people met: Mur Lafferty, Stephen Blackmore, Stacia Decker, Anne Zanoni, and Josh Vogt.

Adam Christopher, some dude who won a Hugo, and me

Also, I said a brief awkward hello to Neil Gaiman (photographic proof to the left!) and then ran away from Neil Gaiman to say a quick hello to Scott Lynch, who is one of my favourite authors. Yay! I’m sure I’ve forgotten people and will have to go back and slyly edit this.

Overall, it was a great, if exhausting week. Now I’m in California hanging out with my family, so stay tuned for a California post later!

Congratulations to Wesley Chu, the Lives of Tao, and Angry Robot Books!

I’m absolutely delighted to welcome to the blog today one of my closest friends, Wesley Chu, who has just signed a deal with Angry Robot Books for his debut, The Lives of Tao. We both submitted to the Angry Robot Open Door Month in March, 2011. When we both learned we had gone to editorial, we started chatting first on the AbsoluteWrite forums and then on gchat. We now pretty much chat every day, egging each other on and setting writing goals, angsting at each other and how marvelous and strange it is to transition from aspiring to professional author. I’ll even be crashing at his pad this summer for Worldcon, so I’m reasonably certain he’s not an axe-murderer.

I’m so happy that his wonderful, funny, action-packed sci fi book (think Chuck with aliens) has found a perfect home with the loveable but cross Angry Robots, and that we’re now colleagues and stablemates as well as best buds. So here’s Wes with a little more about The Lives of Tao.

Today is an important day. Alongside other momentous events such as my birth, my first back flip, and the first time Eva the Airedale Terrier learned to shake her head on command, I became a published author. This morning, Angry Robot Books announced a two book deal for my The Lives of Tao series.

Laura Lam, my literary partner-in-crime and future New York Times bestselling author, asked me to guest blog on her site. This is a first as well (today’s full of them!) and I’m not sure where to start.

For the first time, humanity will finally learn the truth about the alien puppet masters that have been living on our planet, and how their civil war caused some of the greatest wars this planet has ever seen. For years, I told everyone within hearing distance about these aliens who were manipulating mankind’s evolution by inhabiting our greatest historical figures. Most people just smiled and asked me if I ever met Tom Cruise at a Scientology meeting.

How else do you warn a civilization with the attention span of drunken hamsters about the impending destruction of Earth by aliens no one can see? A person can’t just go to the local authorities and report the danger. We all saw how that worked with Kyle Reese. All it got was everyone at the police station killed.

So I did what any righteous freedom loving citizen of the United States would do if they wanted to be heard and respected. I tried to get on reality TV. When that didn’t pan out (Why didn’t you turn around, Ceelo!), I opted for the next best thing. I wrote a book. Labeling it as a fiction wasn’t a mistake. I do want people to read it after all. But make no mistake. This series will be the most important set of books you will ever read! Learn about how a silly Mongol conquered the known world. Discover the real cause of the Spanish Inquisition.

The first book in the Lives of Tao trilogy will be released April 2013 by Angry Robot Books. People say the Angry Robots are just mad and want to take over the world. I call them Earth patriots.

Congrats, Wes! You can find out more about Wes and the hidden war among us at his blog and on Twitter.

Strange Chemistry & Angry Robot Books Open Door Period: Now Open!

Are you unagented? Do you have a complete, polished, awesome YA SFF novel or an adult Classic/Epic Fantasy novel? For the next two weeks, Strange Chemistry Books are accepting YA SFF and Angry Robot Books are looking for adult Classic/Epic Fantasy.

If you’re thinking of applying, read the both sets of guidelines and follow them to. a. letter. Absolute Write already has a thread for both Strange Chemistry and Angry Robot’s Open Door, so if you have some questions, people on there may be able to help. You have until April 30th to enter!

I subbed last year and it changed my life. Be patient, keep the faith, and keep writing. Best of luck to all who enter.

My Road to Publication: Or, the tale of 1,000 (100,000) email refreshes

I meant for this blog post to be fairly short. But I got carried away and so here is my somewhat long story of how I transitioned from an aspiring to professional author.

Right away, I’ll admit that I’ve had an easy time of it, comparatively. This is my first completed novel, and it went to the fist publisher to see it. That’s not to say it wasn’t difficult, and stressful, and frightening at times, but the whole process was shorter than many.

I dabbled with writing as a teen, starting and abandoning a truly heinous third of a fantasy novel in California, which was an utter mess of tropes. But I bonded with my future husband over it, because he was writing a novel as well, so all was not lost. His novel is salvageable. Mine most definitely is not.

I then decided to focus on reading instead, and so for the next few years I read 100-150 books a year, in all genres: classics, sci fi, fantasy, YA, contemporary lit, graphic novels, memoir, nonfiction, what have you. I was and am a promiscuous reader, though SFF was my true love. I wrote reviews of them for a time, several of which are still scattered about Goodreads, which helped me pinpoint what I liked and disliked about certain novels, regardless of format or genre. My favourite books tended to be ones that meshed several genres.

At university, I bounced between several majors and settled on English literature and creative writing. I wrote some short stories and poetry. I placed in a few poetry/fiction contests, which gave me some cautious optimism that I was a halfway decent writer. I came up with a cool idea for a novel and researched and started it, but my confidence flagged and I kept setting it down.

After I graduated university, I moved 6,000 miles to be with the afore-mentioned husband. I had my shiny piece of paper and thought doors of employment would magically open to me now that I had a degree.

Ahahaha. Haha. Ha.

I ended up working some very boring jobs that kept my hands busy but required no mental effort. And so I started daydreaming, and returned to that novel idea I had come up with in 2007. This time, I decided to write a “backstory” of my character, Micah Grey, as a teenager. I day-dreamed the plot while I filed, thinking up various scenes and sometimes scribbling during my lunch and tea breaks. I started it in December 2009 and finished in March 2011, while also occasionally working on the adult novel. I then promptly subbed the novel about the teenage Micah to Angry Robot Book’s Open Door Month.

That was a newbie error. You probably shouldn’t sub a first draft. But, I had no expectations of getting past the first round, and I was proud that I’d sent it off and harboured a tiny, little hope that they’d like it anyway. I subbed on the second to the last day. I didn’t show my cover letter to any of my friends because none of them had read the book and I didn’t want to spoil the plot. I wasn’t sure if it was even an adult novel or a YA novel—it seemed to me like it could be either. I’m glad I didn’t know as much about the publishing world then as I do now, or I would never have been brave enough to send it off with nothing but a deep breath and some crossed fingers.

Three months later I got a nice email message saying they’d enjoyed the first 5 chapters and would like to see the rest, signed by someone called “Amanda for Angry Robot.” I was road-tripping around the East Coast of the USA with my mom, and I hadn’t been on the internet that much. I saw it, freaked out, and really quickly read through the whole thing one last time while my mom drove from DC to Philadelphia, finding some last-minute typos and reading some of the sticky bits out loud.

And I sent it off again, certain it’d get rejected but hoping anyway.

One month later, I went to Amsterdam with my best friend, who was visiting from California. I should note that I’m not constantly traveling, by the way. I had a carefully neutral email from that very same Amanda for Angry Robot, asking a question about my book and if I had plans for a series. I sent her an email back and then flew back to Scotland.

And the next day I got another email saying that I’d gone to editorial! Said best friend, Erica, did not miss the opportunity to take a photo of me freaking out. So here’s me, without makeup, very excited. And very pink.

She also mentioned that she felt the book was more YA, but that she did know that Angry Robot were thinking of going in that direction. And so I started biting my fingernails and waited.

And waited. I had very short fingernails for months. They’re only just now starting to grow back.

You hear about the glacial pace of publishing all the time, but here was my proof of it. Every morning I’d rush to my inbox, certain something would be there. The weeks passed and obviously the level of panic I had at the beginning subsided, replaced by a low-level anxiety.

I also committed more newbie publishing errors: I started querying this book that was not ready, with an absolutely awful, 600+ word query letter monstrosity for the first ten or so, and then a more manageable 250 word query for the others. But that 250-word query letter was still pretty terrible, mainly because the manuscript had some lingering issues. Learn from my mistake: don’t do this. I burned through 20 or so agents, wasting their time and mine. I did more research than some, but I could have done a lot more.

During the wait, I turned to people online, which ended up being really helpful. 20-something of us made it to the editorial level out of 1000 or so submissions to AR’s Open Door Month. Most of us congregated on AbsoluteWrite’s Open Door Waiting Thread, and we ended up creating our own little private forum (calling ourselves the Anxious Appliances) where we could angst without the Robot Overlords potentially lurking. I’ve made some really close friends through this, and even though the Open Door period has long since passed, we still post on the forum. I’ve beta-read most of their work and we’ve given each other advice and shared resources. I hope our forum continues well into the future.

Additionally, I met Anne Lyle on Absolute Write, an Angry Robot author. Because I had someone I could speak to, I decided to go to FantasyCon in Brighton in late September. I found out that I really liked conventions and meeting other authors and industry professionals. I also met Amanda. I had a very scary but cool lunch with Angry Robot, where I pushed salad around on my plate and hoped I didn’t look as petrified as I felt.

I went to editorial in mid-July. I received my next verdict in late November. Amanda was the one who emailed me, because now she was no longer the reader—she was an editor in her own right of Angry Robot’s new YA imprint, Strange Chemistry. She gave me suggestions and then over the next few months, I worked really, really hard on my MS.

I finished the rewrite on leap year, 2012, and it felt auspicious to query the same day. The last agent I queried ended up being the one to offer. Juliet Mushens of Peters, Fraser & Dunlop requested the MS in 5 minutes, sent me an email an hour later saying she was loving it, and offered the next day. We spoke on the phone and just clicked. I knew there was no way an agent would be more enthusiastic an advocate for me than Juliet.

Amanda read the new version, loved it, and everything just clicked into place. I received The Call two days after Juliet offered, and now a day before Eastercon, I’m out there. I’m an author! There’s no going back! Not that I’d want to.

But it’s a heady rush of emotions. Elation, terror, painful excitement, holding in the burning desire to tell everyone but not being allowed to just yet. My book will be out there. Some people will love it, some people will not. A year ago, if you’d told me this is what would happen I have laughed. I’ve loads of other milestones to look forward to. So here we go.

Thanks for reading me prattle on, and I hope you’ll take a look at Pantomime in February 2013. You can read my press release here.  To read the first chapter, click here.