C2E2!

Posted: April 14, 2015 in Uncategorized

C2E2-Logo-SquareI’m thrilled to announce that I’ll be attending the C2E2 comicon/fan expo in Chicago, from April 23-26.  This is my first convention, and I’ll be presenting on a panel entitled “Reinventing the Hero(ine),” with Charlaine Harris, Steve Bein, Lexie Dunn, and Lauren Roy.  Talk about a lineup!  I certainly feel as I’ve been thrown into the deep end, but in a great way.

Here is the description of the panel on the C2E2 website:

“Heroes come in many forms these days, from reluctant superheroes to psychics and beyond. Join Authors Charlaine Harris (Day Shift), Steve Bein (the Fated Blades series), Bailey Cunningham (the Parallel Parks series), Lexie Dunne (Superheroes Anonymous) and Lauren Roy (the Night Owls series) as they discuss the paranormal elements in their action-packed novels that keep their protagonists on their toes and delight and reward readers.”

The panel is on Saturday, April 25, from 12:15-1:15 in Room S403.  Please come by!  A book signing will follow, 1:30-2:30, at Autographing Table 18.  Come see how terrible my handwriting is!

To check out what the action was like at C2E2 2014, here is a trailer:

Prize of Night

Posted: April 14, 2015 in Uncategorized

Prize of Night (1)Prize of Night, the final book in the Parallel Parks trilogy, will be released by Ace on June 30th.  It will be strange not to have these characters rattling around in my brain anymore, though someday, I’d love to write a piece of short fiction expanding on supporting characters like Julia and Narses.  It was a challenge to write from four different perspectives, and to alternate between primary and secondary worlds (after a while, I was no longer certain about which place was “real,” or what that even meant within an urban fantasy novel).  I tried to push myself while writing the series, to avoid the pitfalls of falling into a comfortable narrative presence.  Just after I finished Path of Smoke, I read a review that described one of the characters as a “Mary Sue,” and I was surprised by this–it hadn’t occurred to me that I might be favouring someone.  Coincidentally, I was reading Northrop Frye’s Secular Scripture, and I began to think about the Romance conventions that might come into play, especially in a work of fantasy.  As I began Prize of Night, I tried to be more aware of the “darlings” that writers are always instructed to kill without mercy.  I tried to take the difficult path whenever I could, to shake things up, and to cleave to the idea of sacrifice that influenced Pile of Bones.

Pre-order Prize of Night from McNally Robinson.

There are still more stories left to tell about Anfractus (and I only scratched the surface with Egressus), but I hope that this series finale acts as an open-ended conclusion.

posWhile waiting for Prize of Night, feel free to pick up a copy of Path of Smoke, which was released by Ace in 2014.  The Romantic Times gave it a positive review, noting that “Cunningham’s expert storytelling, inventive plot and fascinating characters will hook readers right away, engaging them until the very last page.”  One of the challenges and pleasures of writing Path of Smoke was to maintain a scenario in which one of the characters was completely side-lined, while anticipating what would happen when they got out of the penalty box, so to speak.  It gave me the chance to focus more closely on the other three, and how they related to each other as an uneasy trio.  There’s a chase scene involving Wascana Park that was so much fun to write–I really enjoyed how it turned out.  Note:  no monsters have ever chased me while I walked through the park, that I know of.

You can order Path of Smoke from friendly independent booksellers like McNally Robinson.

Mastering the Game of Thrones

Posted: April 14, 2015 in Uncategorized

MGOT_coverThis will be a blizzard of updates, since I’ve neglected the website for too long.  But my sabbatical is on its way, and I’m going to concentrate on streamlining and updating the site.

Mastering the Game of Thrones–an anthology of essays on George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, which I co-edited with colleague Dr. Susan Johnston–was released with McFarland in January.  The volume debuted as a top seller on Amazon’s Science-Fiction/Fantasy and Criticism lists.  It includes an essay by David J. Peterson, creator of the Dothraki language for the HBO Game of Thrones series, as well as a host of other engaging pieces on wolves, dragons, maesters, food, religion, and sexuality.

The Library Journal gave the volume a positive review:  “Battis and Johnson have assembled a volume that stands on its own both as rigorous criticism and as an accessible way for rabid fans to lose themselves in Westeros all over again…recommended.”

Purchase the book from McFarland, or from an independent bookstore like Powell’s.

Interview about Pile of Bones

Posted: August 16, 2013 in Uncategorized

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Here is an interview that I did today with Heather Anderson from Global Regina News.  We talked about “Pile of Bones” and fantasy literature in Canada.

http://globalnews.ca/regina/videos/

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Ace/Roc Feature

Posted: August 2, 2013 in Uncategorized

ImagePile of Bones is featured on Penguin’s fantasy literature website.  There is a description of the book, plus an excerpt, for anyone who’s curious.

Check out the feature here

Release Date

Posted: July 30, 2013 in Uncategorized

ImagePile of Bones comes out today.  I received my author’s copies last week, and it’s always exciting to see a manuscript in print for the first time.  Up until that point, it’s a story that’s been translated into something digital, a file passed from author to agent to editor.  You review multiple copies of it, and after a while, it starts to feel like a photo that you’ve been staring at for ages.  You can no longer make out the whole image.  You hyper-focus on grainy areas, trying to enhance them, or (in some cases) blur them politely out of existence.  You’re given a list of key-words, character details, place names, and even a sheet which presents your own stylistic quirks.  Any creative misuses or neologisms are marked, so the copy-editor knows that these are your particular idiosyncrasies, rather than errors in need of correcting.  Sometimes they are errors, in the strictest sense, but somehow productive ones.  My favorite editorial term has always been stet (from the Latin, “let it stand”), which is what you write in the margin when something weird needs to stay as it is.

The idea for this novel emerged from a casual conversation that I had with a friend.  He told me that Wascana Park was called “pile of bones” in Plains Cree (Oskana ka-sasteki), because it had once been an open plain where buffalo carcases were left to dry out.  There was also the suggestion that many human bones had joined the buffalo skeletons, over time, making the whole area a kind of mixed ossuary.  I had been intrigued by Wascana Park from the moment that I first moved to Regina.  It just didn’t seem to belong there.  I was baffled by the idea of this tiny bridge spanning an artificial lake, girdling a park that was frozen at least six months out of the year.  It immediately struck me as being a gothic place, and I could imagine all sorts of supernatural funny-business happening there.  So I decided to tell a story about four graduate students who discovered that Wascana Park held some kind of darkly magical potential.  It ended up becoming a crossover fantasy, involving two separate worlds:  urban Regina, and a loosely-Roman world that was closer to a live-action RPG.

Telling a story from the perspective of grad students was something that I’d thought about for a long time.  When I was a doctoral student, I would often join a group of friends to drink and watch melodramatic television.  Someone was always being shushed, because none of us could refrain from murmuring about our individual projects.  During the commercial breaks, we would smoke on the patio and commiserate, or celebrate (often, both at the same time).  Then we’d file back into the living room, and try to lose ourselves in a hospital drama about doctors-in-training who just wanted to find love in a rainy climate.  I don’t remember who it was, but someone, at some point, observed:  “There should be a show about grad students.”  All of us agreed that it would be an incredibly boring show, yet we’d give anything to watch it.  Pile of Bones was my attempt to honor this idea, by telling a story whose protagonists were mostly introverts.  I’m not the first to do this (see Kay’s Fionavar Tapestry, or Barbara Hambly’s Windrose Chronicles), but I did want to present a realistic snapshot of life as a grad student.  Those years were some of the happiest and most precarious of my life, and it’s a pleasure to recall them as I write about these characters.

I also wanted to tell the story from multiple perspectives—but not too many.  The goal was to create a series of linked novellas, each of which focused on a particular character.  I wanted to explore them intimately, over four chapters or so, and then switch, just as the reader was getting comfortable.  The effect, I hoped, would be one of benign disorientation.  In the beginning of the novel, we have Andrew’s voice.  He sets up the action for the reader, but he’s also the character who’s the most introverted.  So everything is a little hazy around the edges, because that’s how he sees the world.  The conclusion is narrated by Ingrid, who is the outsider.  Just as everything is starting to go to hell, we get her perspective, which is more pragmatic.  The novel might have ended differently, if it had been Carl or Shelby watching events unfold.  I really enjoyed writing from these interlaced perspectives, because it allowed me to think closely about how these four people saw each other, how they witnessed things, and processed.  I was less interested in constructing an epic, and more concerned with developing the relationship between these characters, all of whom harbor their own secrets, and pursue their own intensities.

When I was asked by my publisher (six years ago, which is hard to believe) to describe the Occult Special Investigator series, I said that it was Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets CSIIf I had to describe the Parallel Parks series in the same compact manner, I’d call it Big Bang Theory with real magic.  The characters on that show are always talking about myth and fantasy, and much of the show’s humor derives from the fact that they choose Dungeons & Dragons over social interaction, that they are scientists who want to believe in magic.  A friend also told me, once, that Big Bang Theory isn’t actually about nerds:  it’s about how people perceive nerds.  My hope with Pile of Bones was to tell a story where the nerds got to be the heroes, but also to present a diversity of experiences:  a single mother, a young scholar at odds with her own traditions, a historian with perhaps too much confidence, and a prosodist who shares some qualities with Sheldon Cooper.

I’m feverishly working on the sequel, so it’s hard to fully appreciate the publication of the first book in this new series.  But I hope that people are willing to believe in its central argument:  that teaching assistants can save the world.

Feel free to order a copy from Chapters, Amazon, McNally Robinson, Barnes & Noble, Booktopia, The Book Depository, Kobo, Books-a-Million, Indiebound, ApplePowell’s, and other independent booksellers.  I’ll also give you a signed copy, if you happen to live near me (or if you’re willing to pay for postage).

Surviving Deadlines

Posted: June 27, 2013 in Uncategorized

calvinIt’s been quite a while since I’ve updated my author site, and for that, I apologize.  I’m a bit in awe of my friends and colleagues who actively maintain blogs while working full-time.  I realize that there’s no secret:  it just takes work.  I’m going to try to update more frequently.  With Pile of Bones coming out (July 30), I need to spend more time online, connecting with potential readers and generally being available.  When I was working on my first novel, I imagined that I would one day experience a glorious book tour.  Maybe the book would even get its own cardboard cut-out.  The reality is that publicity has become DIY, and in order to create and maintain a network of readers, you have to search for them.

In the meantime, I thought I might write a little about surviving deadlines.  If inspiration is the fun daimon—the one who whispers in your ear:  “Get drunk!  Visit a park!  Call your ex and transcribe the conversation!”—the deadline is the daimon who shuts down the party.  Even unpublished writers have to deal with deadlines.  At the university where I teach, our creative writing students are expected to produce new material each week.  They can’t simply cite writer’s block as an excuse, because they’re being graded on their output.  There are certainly weeks during which I can barely produce a few words, let alone the solid opening to a short story, or a well-crafted poem.  Writing under a deadline can generate enough anxiety to keep you up all night, but you won’t be getting anything done—instead, you’ll be playing online games, hysterically updating your Facebook status, and imagining what would happen if you skipped town and entered some sort of Writers Protection Program.

If you work in the nebulous area known as genre fiction—i.e., if your novel can be clearly marketed to a specific audience—then strict deadlines are a part of your life.  Most publishing houses will require you to produce a novel each year, and many of the Romance houses will ask for more than that.  There are well-known SF/fantasy writers who produce 2-3 books per year.  These are writers who have achieved a level of literary fame, but they still work according to this schedule, because it’s virtually impossible to support yourself by writing alone.  These are not ideal conditions to be working under, but the publishing industry needs to meet the demands of its audience.  Just as an actor has to take on multiple roles over the course of a year, an author has to commit to multiple projects.  Only about 0.5% of writers, at the very top of the fame pyramid, are able to take breaks between projects.  I usually tell my students this on the first day of class.  I’m not trying to be cruel, but many of them want to write fantasy or science-fiction, and I think they ought to know what they’re getting into.

When your manuscript is due in a year, and you’re already working full-time, writer’s block has to be carefully managed.  It certainly exists, although not to the extent that we see in cinema and television, where idealized writers who haven’t produced anything in a decade are moaning about their lack of inspiration.  If you were actually trying to live by your writing, and hadn’t produced anything in one year, the situation would be fairly grim.  Some people discount writer’s block as a kind of literary hobgoblin.  What Tyrion Lannister would call a “snark” or a “grumpkin.”  I believe that it does exist, but not as some kind of wraith that wants to suck your soul.  It’s more of a multi-layered type of exhaustion, which strikes artists and academics, as well as professional writers.  In order to work beneath a deadline, you need to find ways to defy writer’s block, without pushing yourself to the point of physical breakdown.

Here are some strategies that I’ve learned for surviving deadlines, while still maintaining some semblance of humanity.

1.  Do not write every day.  I once posted, quite arrogantly, on a forum that professional writers should write every single day.  I was dumb, and wrong.  You should write when you have the time and the energy for it, but if the tank is empty, then give yourself a break.  The key is to learn what “empty” truly feels like, because it’s different for everyone.  Sometimes, if you’re a bit tired, you can push through it with a cup of coffee, some lively music, a walk around the block.  Other times—when you feel like you want to pass out—what you need is a hiatus.  Writing when you’re completely tapped will only produce that sad paragraph where you’re describing exactly what’s happening around you:  “The sun was hot.  He was sweating.  The fan buzzed.  The cat was asleep under the table.”  Save yourself from this self-reflexive narrative, and go have a nap.

2.  Make use of coffee shops.  Even smaller towns will usually have several.  If you can find a place that’s relatively quiet—or at least a place that has ample seating—then you should be able to work in fits and starts.  Nobody expects you to produce a chapter in a few hours, but an iced coffee and some pastry power can often get you through a page, before you know it.  Although coffee houses have their own distractions, these are far less than what you’d experience at home, with your books, and your TV, and…oh, it’s been a while since I’ve watched that DVD set, maybe just one episode of Firefly.  Going to a café implies purpose, and sometimes you can actually guilt-trip yourself into writing.  It’s an ideal place to work for a few hours, and once the chair gets too uncomfortable (or someone puts on a Katy Perry CD), you can go home.  That allows you to break up the workload.  If you happen to get a second wind, you can always go to a late-night diner.  Often, changing your environment can have a kind of “re-charging” effect.

3.  Remember that you don’t need a perfect manuscript, you need a finished manuscript (this is also true of academic theses).  Hammering out a draft is more important than honing each paragraph, regardless of whether you’re a “basher” or a “swooper,” in Kurt Vonnegut’s terminology.  Honing comes later, once the material has had some time to ripen.  If you run into a wall, then try to write around it as best you can.  You can always return to that point later.  If the wall seems insurmountable, then give yourself a couple of days to really think about it, but resist the urge to obsess.  The answer may not arrive until you’re further along in the writing process.

4.  Distract yourself with other creative material.  Read widely, watch quality television, spend some time in darkened theatres, listen to music.  All of these media have the potential to be inspiring, but you also have to really offer your attention to them.  Mute the voice that’s telling you that you should be writing.  Turn up the Manu Chao, or the video game soundtrack.  Make notes while you’re watching films and TV shows.  Go see a play, where the experience is interactive.  Sometimes, writers will read an exceptional novel, and think:  I could never do that.  Imposter syndrome.  It’s as real as writer’s block, but you have to be more direct with it.  Just say:  no, I’ll probably never write something exactly like that.  But I am, currently, writing something that’s interesting, and I’m sure I can learn something from what I’ve just read.

5.  Leave your house.  Spend time with friends.  If life is merely what gets in the way of your writing, then you’re doing it wrong.  You can’t always be observing.  Sometimes, you have to participate.  Allow yourself to get sloppy, make mistakes, get hurt, take risks.  The worst thing you can do is be surrounded by your friends and family, while thinking:  I should be writing.  Instead, think:  I am one lucky asshole, to have these people in my life.  Put down your anthropologist’s glasses, and pick up a glass of wine.  If something particularly literary happens, you can write about it some other time.  But just as often, these moments remain elusive, and impossible to revisit.  That’s what makes them shine.

6.  Try to enjoy the process.  Writing is awesome.  It’s seductive, and powerful, and it can transport you to unfathomable places.  Simply finding time to write—even a few hours in a day—is an outrageous luxury that most people don’t have.  If you’re one of the lucky ones, then pause, every once in a while, to feel satisfied.  You get to tell stories, and make up worlds.  People whom you’ve never met—and will never meet—are going to read your work, and be affected by it.  That’s a magic spell:  creating some small change, good or bad, in another person’s life.  Don’t shy away from it, and try not to complain (too much) about the work that such an enchantment requires.  Just say the words, and step back.  Someone has heard you.