Lizard Brain is a shared blog about Science Fiction and Fantasy from Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck.

Just a reminder

by Daniel Abraham

I’m closing down the MLN Hanover giveaway tomorrow so I can actually get to the mailing stuff out part. Get in on it if you want to get in on it.

And exactly one week until Vicious Grace drops . . .


Countdown to Vicious Grace

by Daniel Abraham

The official release date for Vicious Grace is November 30th.  We are in the final countdown.  In celebration — or possibly as a kind of cargo cult offering to the gods — I’m going to try running a giveaway.  I’ve heard good things about them in the past.  might as well give it a shot, right?

But I’m not entirely sure how to go about it.  Should I give away copies of Vicious Grace?  Or copies of the first two books?  All three?  Should I print up copies of MLN’s only published short story (“Hurt Me” in Songs of Love and Death)?  Should I give the books to the folks who ask for ’em, or should I get y’all to nominate some friend or relative of yours who we can surprise with signed copies in the mail?  Should I try to get Carl Kassel’s voice on your home answering machine?

Hell if I know.  I’m new around here myself.

Let’s start easy, then.  I’ll open requests now.  If you’d like a free signed copy of Vicious Grace, leave a comment here with your email address in some slightly disguised form to confound spammers or drop me a line at dja at daniel abraham dot com.  On Wednesday, I’ll pick five folks at random and send out copies.

Additionally, in honor of our previous conversations here on the blog, the first five people to donate $50 to your local rape crisis line / rape prevention training / sexual abuse counseling joint, I’ll send you all three books.  And we’re working on the honor system here, folks.  I’m not gong to ask for receipts or anything.  Just know that if you lie about it just to score some free books, you’ll be the kind of person who’d lie about something like that just to score some free books.  You have to live with yourself.  Do the right thing.

Okay.  Back to work now.


Notes on the New Art

by Daniel Abraham

By which I mean console gaming.

My first computer game was Colossal Cave Adventure.  I was in third grade, going over to Laura Buxton’s house after school.  Her father, Larry, had built his own computer in the back bedroom, and Laura and I spent a lot of hours back there figuring out how to avoid the grue, navigate the maze of twisty passages, and say Plugh to the best effect.  As I remember, Laura also introduced me to Pong, which I found somewhat less interesting.  In Advent, I could explore hidden caves, solve complex puzzles, kill dragons with my bare hands.  In Pong, I could move either up or down.

Yeah, no contest.

I also didn’t have a television for large swaths of my childhood, and as a direct result I sat out the Atari and Nintendo revolutions.  When I got older and had a computer anyway, I played through some Blizzard games — Warcraft, Starcraft, Diablo.  They were fun, but I wouldn’t have bought a dedicated computer just to play them.  And then I met Ty, and lo, I was corrupted.

And the game that got me twitching at all hours of day and night?  Was it a new story of exploration with dragons to defeat, hidden caverns to explore, intellectual and linguistic puzzles to tease apart?  Nope.  I went for the game that was all about action, and not just action, fairly simple, repetitive action.  My first love of console gaming was the great, great grandchild of Pong.  Left 4 Dead.  I broke.  I caved.  I got not only an Xbox, but the most expensive television I’ve ever owned (okay, that’s a low bar — my taste in electronics is pretty cheap, but still . . .) and all for a game I could only play when the kid was asleep.

Left 4 Dead, for those who haven’t yet been corrupted, is a first-person shooter where you take the role of one of four survivors of a zombie apocalypse.  It’s built as four “movies” with exactly the same plot:  get from point A to point B without getting everybody killed at once.  There were two things about it that fascinated me:  the simplicity and the design.

As these games go, Left 4 Dead is very straightforward.  Your inventory consists of at most two weapons, a health pack, a bottle of pills, and one of two kinds of grenade-like things.  There is nothing more to manage.  There are a bunch of zombies, with a few special enemies with powers and behaviors that are simple to understand.  The whole game is demonstrated in a short action-packed video introduction — every obstacle, every strategy, every bad guy, every ability.  But because the placement of the enemies and supplies varies so much, every play-through is a little different.

And the design.  Left 4 Dead was built to make players work together.  Anyone striking off on their own is doomed.  The game designers force the players to cooperate.  It is a game about supporting and protecting the people around you.  It’s simple, it’s visceral, it’s tactical, and it takes very little time to learn.

And the best part?  It comes with designer notes.  If you go to the extras menu, there’s an option to play through the game’s commentary track where you go through the game landscape from point to point, hearing the designers commentary about what they were thinking, what concerns they had, and what solutions they adopted.  I played through for months without thinking particularly about how the game used color to direct me, or how important it was to have the silhouettes of the players be distinct from each other and from the enemies, or, or, or . . .

With respect to Roger Ebert, Left 4 Dead was and is my entrance into an elegant art form that has come to exist within my lifetime.  The aesthetic and technical issues that it engages with are unlike anything I’ve seen elsewhere, and they’re also very familiar.  I’ve thought about how art leads the eye through a painting or a book cover.  I’ve talked about how rule sets shape behavior.  I’ve read people much smarter than me who were concerned with how interactivity changes narrative.  Gaming has its roots in Colossal Cave and Pong, and it has pulled a tremendous body of theory and practice up around those to become something new and interesting.

And, of course, Left 4 Dead isn’t like sitting down with a book.  It doesn’t have that depth of characterization, the sharp interplay of dialog between characters, the sense of everything coming together in ways that weren’t obvious but seem neccesary after the fact.

For that, you need Dragon Age.



by Ty Franck

So, three people have asked me about collaboration, specifically my collaboration with Daniel on the Expanse series, in the last couple days. I thought it might be nice to explain the origin of James Corey and his project The Expanse.


First off, the obvious answer. Daniel and I are collaborating on this project because we actually want to. We’ve been friends longer than we’ve been writing partners. His family hangs out at my house, my wife and I hang out at his. We would see each other fairly often even if we didn’t have a joint project. I mention this, because the first piece of advice I’d give to someone considering a collaboration is that you should probably like the person you are about to work with.


How it all came about is a bit more complex. In my spare time, I’m a game designer. By which I mean I spend a fair amount of time developing settings for role playing games, and then convincing other people to try them out. I had a space opera setting I’d been developing over a three year period, while running the game in a play-by-post format on a friend’s forum. The player reaction had been quite positive, and I decided to try and run a game in that setting with my live group. The initial group consisted of a few people from the New Mexico writer’s mafia, including my boss George, along with our friends Melinda and Ian and Chip, and my wife. That group played as the crew of a tramp steamer in space who get caught up in a solar system wide war, and everyone seemed to have a good time with it.

At about that time, Daniel and his wife were exploring the idea of getting back into gaming, and I offered to run a different game for them in the same setting. In that game, they were playing cops on a space station carved into the asteroid Ceres.

After our first session, I let Daniel take a look at the giant volume of notes I had on the setting. He immediately said, “This needs to be a book. You’ve already done all the heavy lifting with this world-building. Now you just need to write the story.”

At first, his idea was to write the entire first draft with me narrating the events of the story, then going over his draft and making edits. But after our first session working together, I knew that wasn’t going to work. As I watched him working on the prologue, my fingers were itching to get at the keyboard. I immediately changed the deal, and said I’d only do the book if I wrote half. I’d only written half a dozen short stories, and sold two of them, so I wasn’t on Daniel’s level as a professional writer by any means. But I knew I’d never be able to sit back and let him tell my story without getting my hands dirty too.

The Process:

As the book had two protagonists in alternating chapters, it was fairly simple to split up. I wrote all of the chapters from one POV, he wrote all the chapters from the other.

We meet about once a week to talk about the next two chapters we’re working on. We work from a simple outline of the story, so each week we know, at a sort of single sentence level, what needs to happen in those chapters. We flesh that simple outline out, discussing the chapter at a scene by scene level, concentrating especially on those things that need to happen to make sure the subsequent chapters have sufficient foundation.

Once that’s finished, we retire to the living room and play Xbox until Daniel has to leave to pick his daughter up from school (the awful backbreaking drudgery of the professional writer, right?).

Over the course of the week, we write the chapters we discussed. At the next meeting, we exchange our chapters and do a read and first pass edit of the other person’s work. Daniel winds up adding a lot of sensory detail to my sections. My eyes tend to glaze over when reading descriptive detail, so I have a hard time remembering to add it in my own work. And when I edit Daniel’s sections, my most common edits are to details that keep the technology, if not plausible, at least consistent. Though, that is only in general. I’ve made prose changes to some of Daniel’s stuff, and he’s caught me in more than one inconsistency and fixed it.

The details are not that important, but what is important about this process is that each of us has to turn in a chapter to the other person, and then be okay with that person making changes to it. We discuss anything that’s significant, but even so, we rewrite each other pretty much every week. If you can’t handle someone rewriting your stuff, then collaborating is probably not for you.

I think there are two things absolutely essential for this sort of collaboration to work: One. you both have to be working on the same project. Not just the same book or story, but the same artistic goal. If I wanted nothing but action, and Daniel wanted nothing but economics, and we kept rewriting each other to replace one for the other we’d never get anywhere.  And two, you have to work with someone you trust.  You have to believe that they have the talent and the craft to write good prose, and to have useful suggestions about your writing.  If you don’t trust them, the process will be very painful.

When we began the project, our consensus was that we were writing old fashion space science fiction with a deeply sentimental heart. Every time we lose our way, we just have to remember our mission statement, and we get back on track. If we didn’t agree utterly on what that mission was, the project would falter and die as we tried to pull it in two different directions.

We’re getting close to halfway done with our second monster space opera novel. And 250,000 words into our joint venture, things seem to be stronger than ever. After finishing Leviathan Wakes, our shared reaction seemed to be, “This is a pretty good book. I hope we get to write a lot more of these.”

Here’s hoping.


Surreal Life

by Ty Franck

Ser Jorah Mormont/David Bowie

So I return from Malta tired and deeply aware of how strange my life is. This is something that I am forced to remind myself from time to time, as even the strangest life can come to seem mundane without a proper frame of reference.

For example: I’m a writer, by at least a few definitions of that word. Like most people in difficult and competitive professions, I value the advice and counsel of those who have succeeded. In an odd and totally unrelated coincidence, I work for George R.R. Martin, who Time magazine once called “The American Tolkien.” Honestly, totally unrelated. I didn’t get this job because of being a writer, and in point of fact, up until relatively recently George was utterly uninterested in my writing.

But even while working as a stealth writer, totally under George’s radar, I got to sit and talk the business of writing with him. Often for hours. I learned the ins and outs of the publishing business, along with George’s theories on craft. Things that any neophyte would pay thousands of dollars to hear (and many a Clarion student has) George lecture on. I received this enormous bounty because George happened to be looking for an assistant at about the same time that I was half heartedly looking for a job.

Now, three years later, in a series of increasingly unlikely events that would make most struggling writers pull their hair out with disbelief, I am a paid novelist with a series of books coming out. And those years of learning from the master have paid off in entirely unexpected ways.

So, that’s just one example.

So, Malta.

I went with the boss to the Island nation of Malta to visit the set of the Game of Thrones series HBO is filming. We got to watch a bunch of the filming, and even had time to visit a few historic sites on an island absolutely brimming with history.

As I ambled through an armor museum in Valletta chatting with George about the amazing displays, it struck me that once again I was experiencing a surreal moment. The author of one of the most beloved fantasy series of all time was chatting with me about full plate armor, and why it was designed in certain ways to stop certain kinds of attacks. How did that happen? If I wrote a story in which that happened to the protagonist, no one would believe it.

And I kept coming back to that surreal feeling as I ate lunch with the guy who is going to play Conan the Barbarian in an upcoming film, or had a drink and a laugh with Daenerys Targaryen, talked Converse sneakers with an award winning costume designer. This is weird, I had to keep reminding myself. This is unusual. Don’t let this become mundane.

And I think I mostly succeeded. I hope I stored up that sense of strangeness for later, so that when I write about being in a strange situation I can bring it back.

But the real reason I wrote all of this is to talk about the most surreal thing I’ve ever seen:

One day while filming on some stunning cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean sea near Rabat, I saw Iain Glen, dressed in full plate and chain armor, loudly singing Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.

Yeah, my life is fucking weird.


Two notes and an admin thing

by Daniel Abraham

Note One:  Leviathan Wakes v. Fuzzy Nation v. Out of the Dark.  it’s the SF Signal cover smackdown!

Note Two:  Leviathan Wept and Other Stories (no relation) reviewed!

Admin Thing:  Wordrpress is asking about some updates.  It’s just to a theme that we aren’t actually using, but in case it all gets fouled up, that’s what may or may not break everything.

Okay.  That’s all I’ve got today.  Let’s be careful out there.

[ED: Okay, looks like the update went fine.  Carry on.  Nothing to see here.  😉 ]

1 Comment

MLN on UF: The Anonymous Interview

by Daniel Abraham

So I talked about rape and urban fantasy, and — as is often the case — not everyone agreed with me.  As if often the case, I learned some things I hadn’t known, specifically that there are a *lot* more explicit rapes in UF than I’d been aware of.  That’s making me review and revise my thesis, but it hasn’t yet changed my mind.

A few years ago, I was at a worldcon with Walter Mosley.  He was talking about how writers get pigeonholed, and told an anecdote about going into a bookstore and finding one of his own science fiction books shelved in mystery.  He took it to the information desk and let the bookseller know that it was mis-shelved.  The bookseller said something along the line of “No.  That’s by Walter Mosley, and he writes mystery.”  Mosley got to say “I’m Walter Mosley.” And what he said at Worldcon was that he could see the words running across the bookseller’s forehead  . . . and you write mystery.

I’m that bookseller right now.  Clearly it is perfectly possible to write explicitly about rape in urban fantasy because a bunch of successful people do it.  And yet I am convinced it’s a mistake to do it.  It’s weird having a conviction.  I employ them so seldom.

But I’m off track.

Someone signed on the blog anonymously and took issue with my post.  We had a couple interchanges (they’re still there, you can take a look), and she came up with a list of questions grilling me on gender in my work.  They’re interesting, so I thought I’d haul them out for all y’all to look at.  Let’s shall we?

My interviewer?

ANON: I do have a few non-confrontational questions in order to take a step back and because it occurred to me to be curious about something. And I do understand that you may choose not to answer them but I’d really like to know:  How does/do the female protag(s) in your Urban Fantasy book(s)compare to those you describe in this post? Do they fear rape? Have they been forced into power? Do they have ambition? Do they have a circle of females surrounding them, are they surrounded by men or a combination? Are any of their potential lovers potential domestic abusers? Is that because this female(s) is/are better able to choose among her male choices or is it because there were no domestic abusers created among her choices to begin with?

MLN: Jayné Heller is my protagonist in the Black Sun’s Daughter books.  The third of those is about to come out.  I designed her to be — especially in the first books of the series *exactly* what I was describing in my earlier post.  Her powers are thrust upon her.  She is surrounded (and supported by) men.  Not exclusively, quite, but close.  She does not fear rape, nor have I brought sexual assault into the series as a plot point.  (I don’t intend to do so.)

Her present lover is a sensitive, nice guy.  None of the potential love interests in the series would pose her any danger of abuse.  (In part because she has magic powers and could defend herself, but they’re also not those guys.)

The Black Sun’s Daughter series was built to be ten books long.  The idea was (and is) to start with something as close to the standard as I can get, and then over the course of the series, peel it away.  I don’t want to get into too many spoilers, especially as the books aren’t all written yet, but the underlying matter that interests me about urban fantasy is the protagonist’s journey from an urban fantasy heroine to someone that can be strong without being weaponized.  I don’t like to use the word “empowered” because it’s been misused so often, but the idea’s related.

ANON: Are the villains and their minions primarily male or female? How many rapists are within their ranks?

MLN: My relationship with villains is a little idiosyncratic.  In the series, the magic things are bodiless — unclean spirits.  While some are gendered, the person being ridden by them doesn’t have to have to be of any particular sex.  But that’s not really the answer to your question.

The primary villain of the story is male.  He is a rapist by any sane definition, but we aren’t going to have any descriptions of a woman being raped, we aren’t going to see him chuckling evilly as he prepares to assault anyone.  And my protagonist, while damaged by his agency in other ways, won’t be raped.

There are incidental characters — I’m thinking of one in particular — who is guilty of sexual assault.  He ends poorly.

ANON: Now why did you fashion your world this way?  Did you create your world as a purposeful commentary on cultural discomfort about women and power or is it something that has unconsciously developed as the narrative evolved? Or do you feel that your narrative has nothing to do with commentary on women and power but is about something else? If so, what is that something else?

A knife? Or the subtext of cutting stuff?

MLN: Oh, I built it in a government lab to do this.  I’m lucky in that I’ve gotten to hang out with some really first-class minds for years and kick these kinds of ideas around before I ever started the project.  Carrie Vaughn is probably the most important of those.  But the points about ambition and being in community with other women came from conversations with Suzy McKee Charnas and Maureen McHugh.  I went into urban fantasy because I as interested in taking what I see as the wish fulfillment of urban fantasy and remaking it in what is for me a more interesting image: a woman who achieves power without identifying herself with violence.

You see, I’m skeptical about the redemptive power of violence.  I don’t think that a woman who kicks ass is the same thing as a strong woman.  The gap between those two ideas is where I’m writing these books.

ANON: Do reviewers agree with your assessment or see the underlying theme you are trying to convey?

MLN: Damned if I know.  I’d be a little surprised if they did.  They’ve got at most a little less than a third of the project to judge from, but even putting that aside, estimating someone by their reviewers puts a lot of faith in the reviewers.  Part of my job is to stand out in public for the casual judgment of whoever happens to be wandering by.  I’ve been called all sorts of names by folks who had opinions about me and my work.  Pedophile, racist, misogynist, queer, metrosexual.  It’s undignified and often humiliating, but it’s the price I pay for a job I enjoy, so I put up with it.

If you would like a snapshot of the project without the mess and bother of buying all the books, though, I’d recommend you pick up or borrow or go stand in the aisle at your local bookstore and read the new Dozois & Martin anthology Songs of Love and Death.  The MLN Hanover story in there — “Hurt Me” — will pretty much tell you whether the Black Sun’s Daughter books are worth considering.

And now, with respect, I had a few questions for my interviewer. The problem is I don’t know how she can answer them.  She is, after all, anonymous, and this is the Internet.  I may have several people answer.  Or none.  Or someone entirely different who’s wearing the same mask.  Part of the problem with this kind of imbalance of power.  I suppose anyone’s welcome to answer, just so long as we keep the conversation civil and troll-free.  I kill trolls without comment.  All y’all know it now.

— I started off this conversation by saying that I thought it was a bad idea to address rape directly in urban fantasy.  I still think that, though my justifications aren’t as solid as they need to be.  Anon, you found that insulting.  Could you paraphrase what I said before in a way that makes the offensive parts clearer for me?  I’m wondering how much of what you eventually heard was in what I meant to say.

— You’re an urban fantasy reader.  What do you want from a good book?  Would you have the same expectations of non-fiction as of a novel?  A literary novel as of a genre one? Do you think the role of the best fiction is to be realistic? Escapist?

— What is your experience of subtext? Do you think it’s a proper and appropriate tool of fiction even when it requires *not* stating something directly or is that kind of intentional omission something writers do when they’re being show-offy and twee?  Or does the level of skill make all the difference?

— Oscar Wilde wrote “The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily.  That’s what fiction means.”  To put you on the spot as much an an anonymous voice in the ether can be, Anon, what does fiction mean?


Cool Hunting 11/3/10

by Daniel Abraham

1) Vicious Grace is reviewed.  Roxanne didn’t hate it.

2) Election postmortem:  The American Conservative is unimpressed.  “During the last few months, I have been reading the argument that angry Americans want to restore some measure of justice and order in society so that rewards go to the deserving and failures are not bailed out. It is a significant problem that the chosen method to express this anger has been to reward the undeserving and promote the failures.”


4) Ninety percent of the cells in your body aren’t human.


We Got Cover Art (and more stuff too)

by Daniel Abraham

It begins . . .

Your friends and mine at Orbit have announced the official release of the Leviathan Wakes cover.  And nifty new wallpaper too!  Lo, I am spiffed.

Ty would be spiffed too, but he’s traveling to exotic locations and having adventures.  I think it says something about our relative characters that his travel-related injuries involved a drunken race with a professional stunt man down a night-darkened road in Morocco while mine was food poisoning in Denver.

1 Comment

MLN on UF: Comment and response

by Daniel Abraham

No one said much here about that last post, but there have been some conversations at my LJ account, Aliette de Bodard’s LJ account, and the Westeros forum.