I am sorry to inform you, Dear Bitches, that Jane Austen: The Secret Radical is not the stirring tale of an undercover Jane who lives a life of seeming calm while secretly running top secret missions for the abolitionist movement in the dead of night. However, it’s a fascinating nonfiction piece of detective work that points out that in the context of her day, Jane would have come across as a much more politically and socially progressive writer than she does to modern readers.
Author Helena Kelly’s premise relies on the idea that every time period and every culture has its own frame of reference. If I tell you that I do all my shopping at Walmart, that tells you something about me that is different from me saying that I do all my shopping at Whole Foods. Cultural references aren’t always that name brand specific (“name brand” is, itself, a phrase that is a cultural reference) but we all rely on thousands of these references without ever thinking about it.
Over time, certain themes stay current, which is one of the reasons that so many older books remain relevant and meaningful. However, most of the references with which the books’ original readers approached the text are lost, giving the book a different flavor with each new generation of readers. Kelly tries to look at Austen’s texts through the lens of Austen’s first readers, and she finds a lot of plausible evidence that Austen was writing very progressively about marriage, class, slavery, and money during a time when England was at war and dissent or criticism was repressed, often severely.
Here’s an example: In Mansfield Park, there is one reference to slavery that all readers can easily understand, and that is when Fanny brings it up at the dinner table and is shushed. Readers with more knowledge of history also know that when Sir Thomas goes to Antigua, he’s probably dealing with problems on his plantation, which is run by slaves. So far things are pretty overt. However, readers who read Mansfield Park when it was published would also have noticed that Fanny’s favorite poet, William Cowper, was famous for his poems in praise of abolition, and that Maria quotes from a passage about slavery written by Laurence Stern that was all the rage at the time. These, among other references, are obscure today but would have been glaring to Regency Era readers.
The other method Kelly uses is to analyze the text for things like repeated words and certain symbolism. For instance, in Mansfield Park, a book that deals with the idea of being trapped in multiple ways, the word “chains” is used thirteen times whereas in all other her other books combined it’s only used twice. In my opinion, sometimes this method of analysis is plausible and sometimes not so much. It’s clear that Kelly knows her Austen. However, all English majors know the trick of making everything symbolic, whether it’s intended to be or not. I buy the idea that Northanger Abbey is a book with a lot of content regarding sexuality but I don’t buy the idea that the scene in which Catherine opens boxes is about masturbation. Sometimes a box is just a box.
This isn’t light reading, but it’s also not mired in academic jargon. To my surprise, I read it in two days, lured on by the suspense of wondering just what Austen allegedly had to say about various topics. I found the chapters on Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park to be the most convincing and entertaining. The amount of scholarship and the clarity and approachability of the writing is truly impressive.
One of the reasons that I loved the chapters on Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion is that while Kelly does get into the darker subtext, she also celebrates reasons that the romances in those two novels are successful at a level I hadn’t considered. With other novels, Kelly is less sanguine about the eventual happiness of the couples. If you don’t want anyone casting aspersions on Edward from Sense and Sensibility, or Knightly from Emma, or Edmund from Mansfield Park, back away from the book slowly.
I would recommend this to people who have an interest in Jane Austen at an academic level. I would NOT recommend it to people who simply enjoy Austen for some nice reading, nor to those whose primary attachment to Austen is from the television and film adaptation, which tend to soften things considerably. If you fall into either of the latter groups, then this book will either irritate you or successfully ruin all conception of Austen as light and happy. If you like getting into the nuts and bolts of writing and history, then this book will be perfect for you.
After our first and second installments of Podcast and Episode recommendations, my playlist has grown considerably. I listen to podcasts while walking my dogs and while cooking, and I find that sampling new shows is both fascinating, affirming, and intimidating. Fascinating because I learn about so many new cool things, affirming because I’m so excited when there are new shows, and intimidating because I pay closer attention to finer details of my own podcast after I listen to a new one.
But! I always love finding new episodes to recommend, either from shows I’ve already subscribed to, or shows that I’ve just discovered. Here are a few recent favorites.
If you haven’t tried Still Processing, please, please try the episode titled, “We Care For Ourselves and Others in Trump’s America.”
Morris and Wortham talk about the concept of self care, the co-opting of the term, and the history of personal, physical, and spiritual care for marginalized people. They also have a guest, Matthew Steinfeld, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine, talk about diagnosis and care – and about the mental and emotional toll of contentious conversations, and the personal cost of doing the work to engage with people who hold views that are toxic and bigoted. I have listened to this episode, no lie, three straight times. It’s mind blowing.
I’ve also tried a new show: Adrift, with Geoff Lloyd and Annabel Port. It’s a comedy podcast that seems to be partly about social awkwardness and embarrassment, and partly about random comedy. The two were radio DJs or presenters, and their show ended in March of this year.
The first episode featured stories about Annabel’s dog that had me laughing so hard I couldn’t go up my stairs until I calmed down. It’s sort of silly absurd comedy mixed with stories of social hesitance, and for the most part the two episodes I’ve listened to so far have been quite funny.
And finally, also new: Rough Translation, a new podcast from NPR about issues affecting countries around the world that have a parallel with issues we’re facing in the US.
The first two episodes, “Brazil in Black and White,” and “Ukraine vs. Fake News,” were so interesting, I kept shushing the dog who was whining at me. Then I realized he was whining because I was standing completely still in my kitchen, holding his food bowl, stuck in place trying to fully process what I was listening to. Poor dog (yes, I fed him and his brother).
What podcast episodes have rocked your brain lately? Got any to recommend?
We had not realized the Roman site at Vaison-la-Romaine was so enormous, so we went back. Most of the old Roman town is under contemporary construction, but a tobacco millionaire at the beginning of the 20th century invested a huge sum in buying land and excavating. Unfortunately the fashion in the period was also restoration, and much of the theater had handsome new concrete risers poured over the ancient (and probably un-sittable) stones. The section of the water feature in the first photograph is in suspiciously good shape. This, combined with the generally-less stupendous ruins available, has kept Vaison from getting that coveted Unesco or World Heritage designation.
The second photo shoes the Roman bridge over the river, leading to the medieval city on the other side. Amazingly, this is still in daily use. Cars drive merrily across (the stone pavement and zoom on away. Have a look at the quite ancient building to the left of the bridge. It too is still inhabited and has been update for modern commerce; I believe if you go round the corner it’s a gift and souvenir shop. Someone has cut into the ancient wall and installed new French doors — see the workman’s ladder. I do not doubt that a little iron balcony will follow, perhaps with a cafe table and two chairs so the tenant can enjoy a pastis while watching the river run under a bridge 2000 years old.
Finally, the obligatory cat shot. Two black cats live on the site of La Villasse. Cats are encouraged at French sites, to keep down the rats and mice; the ones in the Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris are welcome tenants and in the arena at Arles I spotted an ancient nook furnished with a dish of kibble. These two are clearly siblings, and not going to get buddy-buddy with a bunch of tourists. Instead they maintain a proper French sang-froid, refusing to be petted but willing to tolerate our adoration.. We saw similar black cats at the Pont du Gard. Does this mean that all cats at French archaeological sites are black ones?
I’m conducting too many negotiations right now. I discuss them as if they’re easy.
They’re not. They’re stressful and take time.
But I always learn something.
And yesterday, I gained a brand new perspective.
I wrote the following sentence to someone who wanted to take my entire IP in a series for a pittance:
I’ve spent decades developing my IP.
I then proceeded to explain to that person that I controlled my IP and they would not get their grubby paws on it, especially for a few thousand dollars and promises of future money. (Anyone who could read contracts would know that the company didn’t have to pay me the full up front money in a timely fashion if at all, and there would be no future money…to me…because I would have signed it away.)
I’ve spent decades developing my IP.
I have never said that before, nor have I said it so blatantly. It provided me with an incredible and unexpected perspective.
I was trained in traditional publishing, where writers go begging for opportunity. Writers are taught to beg, from professors (let me into your class!) to critique groups (is my writing good enough?) to agents (will you take me on?) to publishers (will you buy my book?).
We’re not trained to value what we’ve built.
I’ve spent decades developing my IP.
That statement is a statement of power. It’s a statement of value. It says I have worked hard. Respect my work and deal with me like a professional.
Imagine if all writers took that attitude into their negotiations for their work. Or into anything they do for their writing.
Writers would become stronger, just by owning what they have done. By valuing what they have achieved.
I know many of you are frowning as you look at that sentence. A few of you don’t know what IP is. IP is intellectual property. Intellectual property has become so important in modern business that companies are buying it up and sitting on it.
What, exactly, is intellectual property?
Well, it’s so important that the State Department of the United States Government has an entire division set aside for protecting U.S. IP around the world. And yes, I just discovered that while conducting a Google search for a great definition of IP. I found similar offices on the websites of the governments of Singapore, Australia, and the United Kingdom, along with the standard wikis and law school definitions.
Intellectual property embodies unique work reflecting someone’s creativity and is all around us, manifested through miracle drugs, computer games, films, and cars. The three main areas of intellectual property law that innovators use to protect their ideas are Trademarks, Patents, and Copyrights.
You should click on that link above, because there’s a nice little piece on why IP matters so much that a department of the US government that is not the copyright or patent office has an entire division devoted to it.
This UK link has a great guide connected to IP, that’s UK focused. This Australian link has a ton of pamphlets that also discuss IP. You might want to use The Google, as a friend of mine jokingly calls it, to find the appropriate IP information for the country you live in.
As a writer, you create IP every time you commit your ideas to paper. (Into a form.) If you don’t understand copyright, you’re going to be a huge disadvantage, which is why I wrote a simple blog post on copyright last year and then begged you all to buy and read a copy of The Copyright Handbook.
I did that so you could defend your copyrights, so that you know what you’re actually licensing, and so that you’re in tune with how your business actually works. Dean’s doing a great series of posts called The Magic Bakery, in which he discusses why writers should protect copyright as well as how to monetize your copyrights properly.
Dean’s blog is fascinating to me. Because whenever he talks about the value of intellectual property, he gets a huge pushback from writers. Or a somewhat clueless series of questions that mean the writers have no idea what they’re actually working on.
Writers are so used to begging to get attention, that they have no idea how to think of their work as something not just important to them, but as something with lasting value.
The world has changed dramatically in the past several decades with more and more of a company’s value attached not to factories, machines, or hard assets but rather the companies’ ideas, processes, and designs – their intellectual property.
The American economy has moved from a manufacturing economy to one that makes most of its revenue from businesses that monetize their intellectual property. You know, like film studios. Game companies. Damn near every business in Silicon Valley.
While I’ve been writing about the disruption in publishing initially caused by (ahem) someone’s proprietary design (um, Amazon Kindle), I really wasn’t paying attention to the outside world’s acknowledgement of IP. In the past, if I had written I’ve spent decades developing my IP to someone I was negotiating with, they would have responded with a confused “Whaaaaat?”
Now, they understand exactly what I mean.
Writers need to understand it too. Even if your books don’t sell well.
The IP I was dealing with in that negotiation came from a novella I first published more than a decade ago. I’ve written dozens of stories and even more work set in that world since. I am constantly developing, licensing, and honing that IP.
It is an active IP, which means that it continues to grow.
I know, still sounds theoretical, right?
So instead of using Dean’s Magic Bakery analogy, let me give you one of my own.
You have spent fifteen years owning a brick-and-mortar collectibles store. (I’m basing this analogy on one of our stores.) The store has more than 2,000 square feet of retail space, packed to the brim with collectibles as small as a marble or as large as a Homer Simpson life-size doll. In the back is a warehouse with even more items.
There are hundreds of thousands of collectibles in the front and back of that store, each with its own unique value.
One day, a Hollywood location scout walks in the front door, looks around, and decides that this store is a perfect setting for one scene in an upcoming movie. The scout talks to you, and you agree that they can rent the entire store for two days to shoot that scene.
Then the scout brings you the contract to sign that allows them to shoot in your store.
For a few thousand dollars and permission to shoot for two days, you sign away all ownership and control of that store. Sure, you might continue to work in the store, but any profits you make will go to the movie people. And they can take anything they want out of that store for the lifetime of the store, and use those items as they see fit. In fact, they can move the store to Los Angeles if they want, and bar you from entering the store forever.
As a store owner, you would never do that.
Writers do it all the time.
Wow, they think, I’ll get a movie made out of my book.
Wow, they think, I’ll get a game made out of my book.
Wow, they think, I’ll get a traditional publishing deal and my book will be on the stands everywhere.
And they lose the one thing they have of value. Control of their IP.
Does the writer ever think that they spent years developing that property? Nurturing it? Making it cool enough that someone else comes calling and wants a piece of it?
And the agents the writers put in charge of guarding the door to their little shops only ask the movie people/game company/traditional publisher how much up front money the writer will make so the agent can get a fast 15%. Or, as in the case of at least one agent I know, the agent demands that the movie people/game company/traditional publisher give him a piece of the property if the agent lets them in the door.
In other words, the agent takes part of the business, but leaves none for the person they’re supposed to represent.
Which is why I do all this annoying negotiation myself.
I have worked hard to create my IP. I spent years on it. I own it. I control it. You want to use a piece of it for a project of yours? Then treat me with the respect I deserve. Treat me like someone who has created something of value. Treat me like an equal.
Or go the fuck away.
Click paypal.me/kristinekathrynrusch to go to PayPal.
“Business Musings: I Spent Decades Developing My IP,” copyright © 2017 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Image at the top of the blog copyright © 2016 by Dean Wesley Smith.
Meanwhile I'm laughing my ass off because, well, om mani padme hum. Not the sound of the chant, but it's literal meaning: the jewel in the heart of the lotus. Mystical people have been staring at this thing forever, because A) it's inspiring, B) it's really pretty, and C) when you're out of your body on a lot of other dimensions it tends to be right in front of your face and kind of hard to ignore. Which is okay because A and B. :D Anyhow, quantum mechanics might like to take a look at the prismatic branch of sacred art. Perhaps it will prove inspiring. Because quantum physics is where magic and science meet, which is why it's cool. I may not be able to hack the math, but quantum physics still makes my existential intelligence sit up and go squee.
On the downside, this means people are getting reeeeeaaaalllly close to figuring out graviton technology. This is about as relaxing as realizing that the toddler has just about figured out how to turn on the blowtorch. O_O
A video of a Nazi in Seattle getting punched and knocked out has been making the rounds. Responses range from satisfaction and celebration to the predictable cries of “So much for the tolerant left” and the related “Violence makes us as bad as them and plays right into their hands.”
A few things to consider…
1. According to one witness, the punch happened after the Nazi called a man an “ape” and threw a banana at him. With the disclaimer that I’m not a lawyer, that sounds like assault to me. I’m guessing Assault in the Fourth Degree. In other words, the punching was a response to an assault by the Nazi.
The witness who talks about the banana-throwing also says he was high on THC. I haven’t seen anyone disputing his account, but I haven’t seen corroboration, either.
2.Remember when George Zimmerman murdered Trayvon Martin, and people like Geraldo Rivera said it was because Martin was wearing a hoodie, and that made Martin a potentially dangerous “suspicious character”? Utter bullshit, I know. But if our legal system let Zimmerman plead self-defense, saying he was afraid because Martin was wearing a hoodie, doesn’t that same argument apply against someone wearing a fucking swastika?
We’re talking about a symbol that announces, “I support genocide of those who aren’t white, aren’t straight, aren’t able-bodied…”
3. Buzzfeed presents this as anti-fascists tracking a Neo-Nazi to beat him up. While antifa Twitter appears to have been talking about this guy, there’s no evidence that the punch was thrown by someone who’s part of that movement. And even if he was, the guy didn’t throw a punch until after the Nazi committed assault (see point #1).
Those Tweets quoted on Buzzfeed also suggest the Nazi was armed, which could add to the self-defense argument in point #2.
Is Nazi-punching right? Is it legal? As any role-player will tell you, there’s a difference between whether something is lawful and whether it’s good.
The “victim” has every right to press charges. But for some reason, he didn’t want to talk to police about the incident.
Was punching this guy a good thing? I mean, there’s a difference between comic books and real life. The Nazi was standing in front of some sort of tile wall. He could have struck his head on the corner after being punched, or when he fell to the ground. In other words, there’s a chance–albeit probably a slim one–that this could have killed him.
My country and culture glorify violence. I’d much rather avoid violence when possible. I think most rational people would. But there are times it’s necessary to fight, to choose to defend yourself and others. I think it’s important to understand the potential consequences of that choice.
Multiple accounts agree this man was harassing people on the bus, and later on the street. He was a self-proclaimed Nazi. Police say they received calls that he was instigating fights, and it sounds like he escalated from verbal harassment to physical assault … at which point another man put him down, halting any further escalation.
I don’t know exactly what I would have done in that situation, but I see nothing to make me condemn or second-guess this man’s choice in the face of a dangerous Nazi.
Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.
It’s time for Wednesday Links, where we post some neat things we’ve found on the internet. I’m currently in one of those states where I’m not sure what day it is and when I do figure it out, it’s always earlier in the week than I’d thought. Which is a real bummer.
Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries has a Kickstarter to be made into a movie! It’s already been successfully backed (yay!), but there are some awesome stretch goals that the team is working toward.
Big thanks to all of you who sent me the link to Entertainment Weekly’s cover reveal & interview with Lisa Kleypas. I loved this little historical fact from the Q & A:
Where did your idea for a female physician/doctor come from?
When I write these historical romance novels, I do an incredible amount of research just to get the flavor of the time period and to pick up all these details that give the story life. As I was reading about important people back in the late 1800s in England, the name Elizabeth Garrett Anderson came up. I was shocked to realize that she was the only female physician in England for 20-30 years and I had never even heard of her. After she got into the British Medical Association through a loophole after completing all these studies at the Sorbonne in France, the British Medical Association changed their rules so that no more women could be admitted for another 20 years. And I could not stop thinking about her because what an incredible thing to be the only woman in an entire country for that long. So I based this character Garrett Gibson on her and, of course, used the name Garrett, because I loved the idea of using a slightly androgynous name for this really tremendously accomplished and brave woman.
Also, what do you think of the cover? We had some thoughts here at the Bitchery.
The Ripped Bodice is doing a Blind Date with a Book, where readers can purchase books based on the description. Readers won’t know the actual title of the book until they receive it and unwrap it! I always love it when people do this. And just a reminder that The Ripped Bodice has graced us with an affiliate link for all of your online shopping.
In a previous Wednesday Links, we mentioned that Georgette Heyer’s Sylvester was being made into a stage production. Well, welcome Reader Melinda who saw it! Here’s her review:
Not long ago you mentioned on the blog that Lifeline Theatre in Chicago is doing a stage adaptation of “Sylvester” this fall. I’m a resident of Portland Oregon but realized that I’d be in Chicago visiting family during the play’s previews. So we got tickets.
Yesterday afternoon we went to the show, and I am pleased to report that it was well done and very, very fun! All of us enjoyed it–not only myself and my daughter, who are Georgette fans and familiar with the story, but also my husband and son in law who had never heard of Georgette or Sylvester.
The theatre is small, so the environment is intimate, and the production is creative (costumes are suggested, casting is diverse, each actor plays many parts, and there is a “game of love ” theme that organizes and comments on the action). I was personally amazed that such a long and complex novel could be dramatized in a way that made it manageable for a 2-hour running time and yet retained the essential character (and comedy) of the book.
Interestingly enough, the program mentioned that this is the theatre’s fourth adaptation of a Heyer novel, so it seems they have an interest in this kind of literature. They also seem to have done adaptations of Dorothy Sayers and “Miss Buncle’s Book.” If I were a Chicago resident I would definitely be keeping my eye on their future productions
Does anyone else plan on seeing it?
Erotic romance author, Selena Kitt, did an AMA (ask me anything) over at Reddit and I thought the Q & A was pretty informative for authors! Check it out! She talks about promoting books, how to manage a large backlist of books, and more.
Don’t forget to share what super cool things you’ve seen, read, or listened to this week! And if you have anything you think we’d like to post on a future Wednesday Links, send it my way!
Placido was adopted but Domingo wasn't, so now Domingo has to work twice as hard to make a mess of his cage. Vin Diesel was adopted, with exclamation marks after his name on the adoption board. Apparently he finally managed to be nice for a full fifteen minutes. Tanglewood (in the picture) is new and very friendly. He's officially a kitten but nearly full grown.
The excitement came afterward. When we'd finished our work, Virginia and I went to Tom's a mile away to get some stuff for the shelter. I brought it back while she continued home. When I got to the shelter, there was an animal control officer at the bathroom door.
Tiny, a very large gray cat, has been staying in the bathroom for weeks, and we've kept the door closed so she can stay away from the other cats. According to the description, she's declawed, morbidly obese, and very scared. Somehow she locked herself in the bathroom. It has a twist button lock, which isn't easy for a cat to work. You can't open the door from the inside without unlocking it, which makes it unlikely anyone locked it by accident. The officer was trying to pick the lock. I didn't stay for very long, so I don't know what they ended up doing.
Update: Virginia and I just got an email with a sharp rebuke from the director for working there so long and doing such a thorough job. I guess we'll have to remember to do a hastier job next time.
From Words Are My Matter by Ursula K. Le Guin:
"Gary Snyder gave us the image of experience as compost. Compost is stuff, junk, garbage, anything, that's turned to dirt by sitting around a while. It involves silence, darkness, time, and patience. From compost, whole gardens grow.
"It can be useful to think of writing as gardening. You plant the seeds, but each plant will take its own way and shape. The gardener's in control, yes; but plants are living, willful things. Every story has to find its own way to the light. Your great tool as a gardener is your imagination.
"Young writers often think -- are taught to think -- that a story starts with a message. That is not my experience. What's important when you start is simply this: you have a story you want to tell. A seedling that wants to grow. Something in your inner experience is forcing itself towards the light. Attentively and carefully and patiently, you can encourage that, let it happen. Don't force it; trust it. Watch it, water it, let it grow.
"As you write a story, if you can let it become itself, tell itself fully and truly, you may discover what its really about, what it says, why you wanted to tell it. It may be a surprise to you. You may have thought you planted a dahlia, and look what came up, an eggplant! Fiction is not information transmission; it is not message-sending. The writing of fiction is endlessly surprising to the writer.
"Like a poem, a story says what it has to say it the only way it can be said, and that is the exact words of the story itself. Why is why the words are so important, why it takes so long to learn how to get the words right. Why you need silence, darkness, time, patience, and a real solid knowledge of English vocabulary and grammar.
"Truthful imagining from experience is recognizable, shared by its readers."
Words: The passage above is from "Making Up Stories," published in Words Are My Matter: Writings About Life & Books by Ursula K. Le Guin (Small Beer Press, 2016). The poem in the picture captions is from Circles on the Water by Marge Piercy (Knopf, 1988). All rights reserved by the authors.
Pictures: Corray Farm on Scotland's west coast, near Glenelg, photographed on our trip north in June: polytunnels, turf-roofed office, Howard reading in the yurt cafe, and the four-footed welcoming committee.
One of the first tasks most writers face is improving their dialog. This seems to happen in stages. In my experience, beginners start by writing dialog the same way they write narrative, in long, formal, complex sentences without idioms or contractions. Characters frequently speak in paragraph-long speeches with far too much explanation (usually of things that either everyone in the story should already know, or things they can see for themselves), so that if you print out a page and pin it to the far wall, you can’t tell whether it’s a page of dialog or a page of description. It goes something like this:
“Beside the door, you will find a small cold-box, made of ash and enchanted to keep whatever it holds as if lying in deep snow on a mild winter’s day. It will easily accommodate those perishable goods with which, if my perception is correct, you have filled your knapsack,” said the housekeeper.
“We thank you for your consideration, and shall certainly make use of the facilities you have mentioned,” the ranger responded. “Your hospitality is most appreciated after our long and arduous journey through the mountains, especially after the bandit attack, the encounter with the dragon, and the race to get away from the flash flood that swept away our horses and left us in the state you see, with our garments torn and dirtied and our backpacks over-full with what provisions we could salvage from fire and water.”
“Your tale is a harrowing one indeed, and moves me to make you thrice welcome to the Inn of Nine Rooms, which I hope you will find both safe and comfortable, as well as much to your taste after such a trip,” the housekeeper replied.
In the next phase, the writers have figured out the sentence structure and syntax reasonably well, but they often go overboard in the opposite direction, using nothing but short, simple sentences. Also, the content still unnecessarily repeats information and often sounds like someone reading from a FAQ:
“Do you have somewhere to store our supplies?” the ranger said.
“There is a cold-box next to the door,” said the housekeeper.
“Can we use it for the food?” the ranger asked.
“Yes, it is nearly empty,” the housekeeper said.
“That is good. We have a lot to store. It was a rough trip. There were bandits, a dragon, and a flash flood,” the ranger said.
“That sounds terrible,” the housekeeper said.
Eventually, writers realize they don’t have to do the entire scene in the spoken part, even if it is a conversation. Contractions appear. They start using character actions and bits of description to prevent repetition and flesh out the scene, and they begin paying more attention to the positioning and phrasing of the speech tags:
The ranger lifted a bulging leather knapsack with a scorch mark across the side. “Do you have somewhere we can store our supplies?”
“There’s the cold-box,” the housekeeper said, pointing to a large chest beside the door. “It’s nearly empty.”
“Thanks.” The ranger opened the chest and began sorting through the contents of the knapsack, emptying a whetstone, a worn pair of gloves, two tent-pegs, and a coil of rope onto the floor and piling a collection of bruised fruit, broken crackers, waterlogged cheese, and squashed sandwiches into the cold box.
The housekeeper watched with growing curiosity, and finally could keep silent no more. “What on earth happened to you?”
“The trip through the mountains happened,” the ranger replied with a sigh. “First it was bandits, then a dragon. And just when we thought we’d come through the worst, a flash flood. This is all we could salvage of our supplies.”
“That sounds terrible!” said the housekeeper.
That level is sufficient and satisfactory for much publishable fiction. The next improvements come in giving each character a distinct voice. The first try at this is often done by using wildly different accents.
The ranger lifted a bulging leather knapsack with a scorch mark across the side. “Have you a storage room for our supplies?”
“Nowt save t’ cold-box,” the housekeeper said, pointing to a large chest beside the door. “But tis nigh empty.”
“Thank you.” The ranger opened the chest and began sorting through the contents of the knapsack, emptying a whetstone, a worn pair of gloves, two tent-pegs, and a coil of rope onto the floor and piling a collection of bruised fruit, broken crackers, waterlogged cheese, and squashed sandwiches into the cold box.
The housekeeper watched with growing curiosity, and finally could keep silent no more. “Was’t ill luck or bad planning has left ye w’ such a mish-mash?”
“Evil chances,” the ranger replied with a sigh. “Bandits, then a dragon, then a flood. This is all we could salvage.”
“Lawks!” said the housekeeper.
As the writer improves, they start using more subtle distinctions – word choice, syntax, the way the sentences scan – as well as content. One character may be willing to explain everything in great detail, while another sticks to the bare minimum; one may be consistently polite, if not formal, while another is slangy and inquisitive.
“Beg pardon, ma’am, but have you somewhere we might store our supplies?” The ranger lifted a bulging leather knapsack with a scorch mark across one side.
“Cold box,” the housekeeper said, pointing. She leaned on her broom, watching him suspiciously.
“I thank you kindly,” the ranger replied. He crouched next to the chest and began sorting through the contents of the knapsack. “I appreciate the welcome after so difficult a journey. The others will be in in a moment,” He pulled out two tent pegs and a coil of rope and stared at them. “We’ve no use for these without the tent. Can you use them.”
“The rope, mayhap,” the housekeeper replied.
The ranger set the rope aside and continued his work. “It was the dragon did for the tent,” he said. He pulled out some waterlogged cheese and bruised fruit and looked at it doubtfully. “The flood got most of the perishables the bandits left us. Might you be willing to sell us some replacements?”
“Not my place.” The housekeeper hooked a thumb in the direction of the back room. “Ask Bartlebor.”
A lot of the trick in developing different voices is in figuring out what content is actually necessary in the conversation, and letting the other details shape themselves around those crucial bits, depending on the characters’ voices and personalities.
For those following along at home: The hearphone movie test was inconclusive. I could, indeed, hear the dialog in Fantastic Beasts clearly while wearing the hearphones, but! So could I without. I am forced to conclude that the speakers on the new television set are superior to those in the local movie theater.
I have not yet done the Noisy Bar test drive. I have a window of opportunity tomorrow, when I need to be in Augusta insanely early so the car can get its 10,000 mile inspection, fine-tuning, whatever. Steve has bravely volunteered to go with me, and the plan (The Plan) is that, after the car is taken care of, we shall adjourn to IHOP, which is really pretty noisy, and I will do a test there.
One of the things that's really freaky about the hearphones, besides hearing yourself talk through your ears, is that there's a option for "silence" -- which turns off your ears. Or at least feels like it's turned off your ears. No input gets through.
In other news, the page proofs for Neogenesis, the twenty-first book in the Liaden Universe®; the eleventh Liaden book we've written for Baen -- landed in my in-box yesterday. Today, after breakfast, Sprite and I sat down with our red pen and our sticky tabs and went over the front matter and the first 48 pages, which takes us through the first section/chapter.
I will now go on to other things, including working on Fifth of Five, the sequel to Neogenesis and the last book in both the five-book arc beginning with Dragon in Exile, and the last book in the arc begun 29 years ago, in Agent of Change.
Twenty-nine years ago.
Well. I guess I've earned those purple hairs.
Before anyone asks: Nope, still don't know when the eArc of Neogenesis will appear at a Baen.com near you. The last word I had, from two "Baen insiders" (editors, actually, but "Baen insiders" sounds infinitely cooler than "editor") was that the eArc would be available in September. That is the sum of my knowledge on the subject (honest!). If you need to know more, you need to write to Baen.
What else? The fountain pen experiment continues to go well. I have one pen (out of, er, four? that escalated quickly) that I'm not really crazy about, but I am declaring success.
So, that seems to be all the news. Everybody be well.
RECOMMENDED: Level Up by Cathy Yardley is 99c! Sarah and author Bree Bridges (one half of Kit Rocha!) had an entire podcast episode dedicated to squeeing about this book. If you want more geeky romances in your life, the next book, One True Pairing, is also on sale!
Geeky introvert Tessa Rodriguez will do whatever it takes to get promoted to video game engineer– including create a fandom-based video game in just three weeks. The only problem is, she can’t do it alone. Now, she needs to strong-arm, cajole, and otherwise socialize with her video game coworkers, especially her roommate, Adam, who’s always been strictly business with her. The more they work together, though, the closer they get…
Adam London has always thought of his roomie Tessa as “one of the guys” until he agreed to help her with this crazy project. Now, he’s thinking of her all the time… and certainly as something more than just a roommate! But his last girlfriend broke up with him to follow her ambitions, and he knows that Tessa is obsessed with getting ahead in the video game world.
Going from friends to something more is one hell of a challenge. Can Tessa and Adam level up their relationship to love?
Crossing the Line
Crossing the Line by Audra North is 99c! This is the third book in the Hard Driving series, but it works fine as a standalone. I’ve read some of North’s books in the past and she does write some pretty sexy contemporaries. Readers loved the chemistry between the hero and heroine, but others wanted more racing action.
He wanted her the first time he saw her. It didn’t matter that he was on stage in front of a room full of reporters, or that his publicist was telling him to move on, or that she was asking him a question about racing. One look at her “just been bedded” hair — completely at odds with her deliciously prim appearance — and Ty Riggs is hooked.
Corrine Bellows is one of the woefully few women in a male profession: sports reporting. In a field where “Hey, sweetheart, can you fetch me a cup of copy” is part of her job description, she’s determined to keep things professional. And while interviewing Ty Riggs, the hottest new driver on and off the track, is a major scoop, Corrine knows that she is in major trouble when it becomes clear that Ty wants so much more and is determined to get it. As things heat up between them, Corrine finds herself on shakier ground. Her big secret just may destroy everything.
Beauty and the Highland Beast
Beauty and the Highland Beast by Lecia Cornwall is 99c! This is a historical romance with Beauty and the Beast elements. Readers say the book has a great start introducing the hero and the heroine, but there were others who felt a lot of the plot points seemed unnecessary. It has a 3.8-star rating on Goodreads. This is the first book in the A Highland Fairytale series and right now, you can grab all three books for less than $3!
Powerful and dangerous highlander Dair Sinclair was once the favored son of his clan, The Sinclairs of Carraig Brigh. With Dair at the helm, Sinclair ships circled the globe bringing home incredible fortune. Until one deadly mission when Dair is captured, tortured and is unable to save his young cousin. He returns home breaking under the weight of his guilt and becomes known as the Madman of Carraig Brigh.
When a pagan healer predicts that only a virgin bride can heal his son’s body and mind, Dair’s father sets off to find the perfect wife for his son. At the castle of the fearsome McLeods, he meets lovely and kind Fia MacLeod.
Although Dair does his best to frighten Fia, she sees the man underneath the damage and uses her charm and special gifts to heal his mind and heart. Will Dair let Fia love him or is he cursed with madness forever?
Meat by Opal Carew is 99c! It doesn’t look like this book is part of any series, so you can read without worrying about details from any previous books. I wanted to include this book because the title made me giggle. This definitely falls into the erotic romance category, so expect a lot of sexytimes. However, readers thought the book could have benefitted from being a bit longer.
Just one taste isn’t enough…
I ran into Rex Keene—literally—when I was trying to catch my flight and his muscled, tattooed arms stopped my fall.
Then our flight gets canceled, and we’re stranded in the same hotel room together…it ended up being the steamiest night of my life.
All I knew is that I had to see him again.
I just didn’t expect him to show up a week later in the restaurant I manage…as our new head chef.
But the generous, tender man I spent that night with is gone; instead he’s arrogant, demanding, and terrorizing the staff.
But he won’t give up until we’re together – and I’m not sure I can stay away.
Which man is real?
Who is Rex Keene?
Hello and a Happy Wednesday to all!
Today, we are proud to be hosting an exclusive excerpt from Weaver’s Lament, an upcoming Tor.com novella by Emma Newman, sequel to the excellent Brother’s Ruin!
Charlotte was certain she was going to die. She’d thought the threat of Royal Society Enforcers was the most terrifying thing she’d ever experienced, but that was nothing compared to travelling by train. Now she understood why her grandmother had always crossed herself whenever anyone mentioned the rapidly expanding rail network.
She’d been fine in the first few minutes of the journey, when the train had pulled away from Euston station in a stately fashion, even excited. She’d looked out on transport sheds and then houses, with a sense of adventure blooming in her chest. It wasn’t so bad; it was bumpy and noisy as the carriage rattled over the rails, but only a little faster than an omnibus. Quite why her father had looked so concerned when he’d helped her into the carriage, she’d had no idea.
Twenty minutes into the journey, as the city thinned and the countryside opened up, the train had built speed until the greenery at the side of the track was a blur. Surely nothing could go so fast and be safe? No wonder her mother had been so put out by Ben’s letter, asking his sister to visit him in Manchester.
“But you’ll have to go on the train!” she’d squawked. “It’s such a long way! Why can’t he come to visit us here?”
“Because he’s not allowed,” Charlotte had replied, reading the letter from her brother again. It seemed like a simple invitation, but the fact that he’d asked only for her made Charlotte nervous. Surely he missed their parents too? She feared he was getting ill again and struggling to cope. After the success of being accepted into the Royal Society of Esoteric Arts, she could imagine his reluctance to admit any weakness, especially considering the exorbitant amount of money they’d paid her family as compensation. She remembered how proud he’d been, even though it had been her magical skill, not his, that had earned him a place in the College of Dynamics and changed their family’s fortune.
“But I thought he wasn’t allowed to see us,” Father had said. “Something must be wrong. I should go with you.”
Charlotte knew Ben would be furious if she brought anyone else with her. “No, Papa, I’ll go by myself. If there was a problem, he’d have been sent home. We’d know about it. He’s probably missing us and can’t risk the entire family going to see him.”
So much concern over one simple invitation, but it was no surprise. They’d all been worrying about him, and with the six-month mark of his training as a magus coming up, they were all afraid that his previous pattern would resurface; he’d last a few months away from home and then fall deathly ill again.
“I’m not sure it’s proper for you to travel alone, Charlotte,” Mother had said. “We’re a respectable family now. We live in the West End. People will talk.”
She’d laughed. “Mother, no one will even notice I’m gone! Even George is too busy to see me this week.”
Her fiancé’s review was on Friday and he was desperate to earn his promotion to registrar. She was certain he’d succeed; the office of Births, Deaths and Marriages could not have a more dedicated clerk. But there was more at stake than his professional pride; he was adamant that they could not marry unless he was earning a decent salary in a secure position. Not even the offer of help from her parents, now very well off thanks to the compensation from the Royal Society for taking Ben, would dissuade him. “It’s a matter of principle, darling,” he’d said to her. “If I cannot provide a good life for my wife right from the start, I don’t deserve to marry.”
Charlotte would have been happy to live in a tiny terraced house back over on the other side of the city, where they used to live before the windfall, but she was willing to be patient. Life in the west of the city was surprisingly different. Her mother was so much happier there—she’d been able to give up sewing—and the house was larger, with a better landlord. But with the improvement of their circumstances came a strange set of ideas that Charlotte simply didn’t share. Her mother seemed to think that living in the West End meant they had to go promenading in the park on Sunday afternoons after church. The colour of their curtains had to be fashionable, they had to have a maid—even though they’d been perfectly fine without one before—and Charlotte had to take care of her reputation. It seemed that taking the train alone would somehow endanger it. Charlotte was certain that her secret career as an illustrator would not fit in with her mother’s ideas about how she should conduct herself, either.
“I will put her on the train at Euston,” Father had said, elbow resting on the large mantelpiece, pipe in hand. “Benjamin will meet her at London Road station in Manchester. The London and North Western railway company has trains that go straight there with no changes. We’ll make sure he knows which train she will be on.”
“I shall go tomorrow,” Charlotte had said. “Then I can be back for Friday, so I can be there for George after his review.”
“That’s settled, then,” Father had said between puffs. It seemed that, for him, their change in fortune had translated to that particular pose and unfortunately smelly habit.
Now she wished her father had come with her, if only just so she would have someone to talk to. She’d brought her sketchbook, handkerchiefs to embroider and some crochet, but was unable to put her hand to any of them. Even though the terror had subsided to a constant tension and a gasp every time the carriage lurched on a corner, it was still too bumpy for her to do anything save look out the window.
Growing accustomed to the speed, Charlotte was getting used to focusing her attention out towards the horizon. It was a beautiful May morning when she left Euston and she was filled with hope as she looked out over the verdant countryside. The hedgerows were flowering, the fresh new leaves on the trees were her favourite shade of pale green and she could see lambs gambolling in the fields. George would be promoted and they would have a spring wedding and it would be perfect. As they sped through the midlands, the sky darkened and the view was obscured by driving rain. At least she was in an enclosed first class carriage. Her grandfather had told her about the old third class carriage he’d travelled in once, open to the elements during a terrible thunderstorm. She shivered at the mere thought of it.
Daydreaming about her wedding and enjoying the view could only keep her fears for Ben at bay for so long. The compartment was relatively small, seating six comfortably, and had its own door. She was lonely, yet always relieved when no one got in to share it with her at a station. She wouldn’t know what to do if a man travelling alone got in with her. She hoped another young woman would share the rest of the journey, providing company without any fear of unwelcome attention, but she was still alone hours later when the train pulled into Crewe. A comfort stop of ten minutes was announced, but she didn’t want to leave her luggage unattended, so she watched the other passengers instead. She was desperate for a cup of tea and a bun, but she decided to wait until she arrived so she could share that with Ben.
Charlotte was just starting to change her mind when she spotted a familiar flash of blond hair against a black satin collar. She jolted in her seat as she realised the man leaving the compartment next to hers was none other than Magus Hopkins, her secret tutor. The sight of him brought the usual tumult of guilt and excitement. The sense of guilt had started months before, when he’d discovered she’d helped to con the Royal Society into thinking her brother was far more magically gifted than he was. It was a permanent emotion now, reinforced every time they met in secret, even though it was only so he could teach her how to control her own ability without turning wild.
Charlotte watched him stride towards the station café along with many other passengers. Her heart pounded, as it always did when she saw him. She scowled at the back of his burgundy frock coat, silently cursing the perfection of his silhouette. Like every time she saw him, she was seized by the desire to draw him. Charlotte knew she must never give in to it. Bad enough that she even considered it.
When Hopkins was out of sight, she leaned back so he wouldn’t be able to see her through the window of her carriage when he returned to the train. Had he followed her? Surely not! She’d left a note in the usual hiding place, explaining that she couldn’t meet him that week, but hadn’t said anything about the reason why.
A knock on the window made her jump and she felt her face flush red when she saw a burgundy velvet cuff. She pulled the window down as Magus Hopkins doffed his top hat to her.
“Why, Miss Gunn, it is you!” he said with a cheery smile. “What an extraordinary coincidence!”
“Indeed,” she said, trying to hide her delight at seeing his face by frowning most deeply. “What brings you to Crewe?”
“Oh, I’m going to Manchester,” he said, patting his hat back into place. “My compartment is next to yours. We’ve been neighbours all the way from Euston, it would seem.”
She folded her arms. “Magus Hopkins, this is too much of a coincidence for me to bear. Why have you followed me?”
His eyebrows shot up behind the brim of his hat. “Followed you? Quite the contrary, Miss Gunn. I’ve been invited to assist with the design of a new clock tower. The Manchester Reform Club has proposed something quite ambitious.”
It sounded plausible enough; his specialisation in the Fine Kinetic arts was the design of efficient timepieces. The Royal Society held the Queen’s charter for the maintenance, measurement and accuracy of nationalised timekeeping, necessitated by the rise in popularity of the railways. Now that the country could be crossed in a matter of hours, localised time at individual towns and cities was no longer acceptable. The trains, in turn, were a product of research funded by the College of Thermaturgy, and one of their magi would be at the front of the train now, using Esoteric arts to keep the boiler at exactly the right temperature. Between the three colleges of the Royal Society, England—and indeed, the Empire—were evolving at an astounding rate.
No matter how plausible the reason, Charlotte didn’t believe him. But then she considered how she was simply one secret in his life, not the centre of it. She doubted that her comings and goings were of as much interest to him as he was to her. She shouldn’t be so vain.
“May I ask what takes you to the North, Miss Gunn?”
She couldn’t tell him the real reason. Ben could get into trouble if his supervisors knew he’d written to her. “I’m visiting a relative,” she said. “My aunt. Vera. My aunt Vera.”
His lip twitched in that maddening, charming way it did whenever he disbelieved her. “Oh, really? I confess, when I spotted you on the way to the café, I was certain you’d be on your way to visit your brother. He’s been assigned to a mill in Manchester, has he not?”
That was more than she knew. “I have no idea,” she replied truthfully. “Apprentices aren’t permitted to disclose their whereabouts to relatives, as you know.”
“Shame,” Hopkins said, glancing down the platform as other passengers started to return to their compartments. “I’ve heard some rather alarming rumours about a couple of the cotton mills there. It would have been interesting to know if there was any truth to them.”
He waved a hand, dismissively. “All hearsay, no doubt. But of course, it’s of no relevance to your dear aunt.”
The twinkle in his eye infuriated her. Must he always tease her so? “If my brother were—purely hypothetically—serving his apprenticeship in one of those mills, would he be in danger?”
“I would not be content if someone I loved were involved in their operation.”
She bit her lip. She knew he was steering her again, as was his wont, but she couldn’t let her pride interfere when it came to Ben’s safety. “Please, Magus Hopkins, if there’s something I should know about my brother’s apprenticeship, do tell me. Is this Ledbetter’s doing? Is it something to do with that awful cage he was involved in?”
Magus Ledbetter was the one who had recruited her brother into the College of Dynamics, an odious man whose marque was embossed on a cage that killed debtors. With the help of Magus Hopkins, she’d been able to save her father from that fate, but not her brother from Ledbetter’s clutches. As much as she feared for Ben’s health away from home, she also feared that Ledbetter would corrupt his gentle heart.
Hopkins became serious. “The mills are the province of the College of Dynamics, you understand. They wouldn’t appreciate the likes of me knowing about any difficulties they may have, let alone my telling another.”
Charlotte slid to the edge of her seat, closing the distance between them. “You said that we would work together, rooting out the likes of Ledbetter and his despicable activities. If there is anything like that cage happening where my brother is apprenticed I insist you tell me.”
“He’s asked you for help, hasn’t he?”
She looked away, torn. “He’s asked me to visit,” she confessed. “He didn’t say anything in the letter, but he asked only for me. I’m very worried.”
He nodded, satisfied with the truth. She hated breaking her brother’s confidence, but Hopkins had not let her down yet. “There have been several unusual accidents that can’t be ascribed to mechanical failure nor to human error. The accounts that have reached me speak of something sinister at play and—”
“Is this gentleman bothering you, Miss?”
Charlotte leaned back as the station guard came into view. “Thank you for your concern, but we are acquainted.”
The guard doffed his cap at both her and Hopkins. “Begging your pardon, sir, Miss, but I like to keep an eye out for any young ladies travelling alone.”
“Most considerate of you,” Hopkins said. “I was simply doing the same.”
“The train will be moving on shortly,” the guard said. “May I suggest you return to your compartment, sir?”
Hopkins doffed his hat to Charlotte again. “I wish you a very pleasant stay in Manchester, Miss Gunn.” He looked as if he were about to go, but reconsidered. “And mark my words, Miss Gunn. You are likely to see things in Manchester that will upset you, and possibly test even a saint’s temper. Best to keep your mind on higher things.”
He was warning her to be mindful of his teachings and remember her own marque. As an untrained latent magus, the risk of turning wild was omnipresent for her. In the months that had passed since Ben’s test, she knew she was getting more powerful, and Hopkins had confirmed as much. He had taught her the technique her brother would also have learned to manage his ability. Like all the magi, she’d developed her own personal symbol, what the Royal Society referred to as a “marque.” It was meaningful only to her, and focusing upon it helped to rein in her latent ability. It would also, in time, mean that she’d be able to influence objects at a distance, even out of her sight.
She wanted to ask Hopkins to come into the compartment with her so they could continue the conversation, but she didn’t dare do something so scandalous in front of the guard. Besides, Ben was meeting her at the station, and if he met her straight of the train, he’d recognise Hopkins. They’d met when Ben was tested. All she could do was give a faint smile and say, “Thank you, Magus Hopkins. I will bear that in mind.”
The guard saw Hopkins to his compartment and gave her a kindly smile as he walked off down the platform. Charlotte wished she’d gotten that cup of tea after all. She needed one now more than ever.
The crowded platform at London Road station was both a blessing and a curse. It reduced any chance that Ben might have had to spot Hopkins, but it also made it very difficult for her to be seen, too.
It was easy to pick Ben out in the crowd, as he stood at least a foot taller than many of the men there. But no matter how much she waved at him, he simply didn’t see her. She dragged her bag from her compartment and stood on it, taking off her bonnet to flap it at him. At last, he waved at her and made his way over, cutting through the crowd like a tea clipper.
He picked her up and span her around. “Charlie Bean!” he cheered. “Oh, I am so very glad to see you!”
“Put me down, silly!” Charlotte laughed, worried that far too much of her petticoat lace was in plain sight. She beamed up at him when he put her down.
He looked so well! Better than she’d ever seen him, in fact. His gaunt cheeks had filled out and even taken on a rosy hue. His dark brown hair was shining, his sideburns and moustache neatly clipped, his back straight. The coat hanger quality of his shoulders had gone and he filled out his shirt and frock coat with a broad chest. His arms had felt strong when he’d picked her up. He was the very picture of health.
“How was the journey?”
“Terrifying,” she said, and he chuckled. “It improved once I got used to it. Could you wave that porter over?”
“No need,” he said, picking up her bag as if it contained tissue paper. “There are splendid tearooms down the road. Are you thirsty?”
“Parched,” she said, tucking her hand into the crook of his elbow. “It’s so lovely to see you again!”
Charlotte clung to him as he led her through the crowd, Hopkins nowhere to be seen in the throng of passengers. They passed happy reunions and tearful farewells, until at last they made it out onto the street.
Ben disentangled himself from her. “I’m afraid we shouldn’t be seen to be close, out on the street,” he said. “Sorry, Charlie, I quite forgot myself there. I shouldn’t have embraced you like that. Not in public.”
She looked around them, but no one seemed to be paying any attention. “I understand,” she said.
Out on the street, the red-bricked buildings made her feel a world away from the fine Georgian stone and grey bricks of London. The street was pulsing with people and the thoroughfare was clogged with horse-drawn carriages and omnibuses. The skyline was dominated by mills several storeys high, mixed with rows of workers’ cottages and slums. The smell was most unpleasant, and Charlotte couldn’t help but think of miasma. Only two years before, thousands had died here from cholera.
Despite the overcrowding and filth of the city, she was happy to be there. It was such a relief to see Ben well. The ominous comments Hopkins had made about the mills seemed irrelevant now. Ben seemed full of confidence and people moved out of their way as he approached. He wore the red-and-black-striped cravat of a Dynamics apprentice, and those who noticed it stared at him as they passed with looks of envy, fear, and respect. How different it was from the last time they’d walked down a street together and she’d had to practically carry him home. This time she was hurrying to keep up.
She was glad when he guided her towards the doors of the Heywood Tea Rooms. “You must try an Eccles cake,” he said as he held the door open for her. “They are quite extraordinary.”
It was a very large establishment, filled with tables covered in crisp white linen waited on by pretty women in smart uniforms. Along the back wall, there were private booths. Charlotte suspected they were the reason he’d brought her here. When Ben asked one of the waitresses to seat them in the one in the far corner, she was certain of it.
He ordered tea for two and Eccles cakes for both of them.
“Mother and Father send their love,” she said, watching him cast an eye over the room and the rest of the patrons.
Relaxing, Ben gave her his full attention. “Did they make a fuss about you coming to visit?”
“Of course. They’re both well. George, too—he has his review for promotion on Friday. We’re hoping for a spring wedding. And there’s going to be another collection by the author of Love, Death and Other Magicks and I’ve been commissioned to illustrate it. That’s all my news, now you tell me everything!”
The waitress arrived with their order and Ben waited until she’d left again. He sighed at the way Charlotte prodded the Eccles cake. “It’s got lots of currants inside. You’ll like it.”
“When you said ‘cake’ I was expecting a sponge, not something covered in flaked pastry.” She stirred the teapot. “When I got your letter I was worried you’d fallen ill again.”
“I’ve never felt better.”
The first pour from the pot was enough to tell her it hadn’t brewed long enough. She nibbled at the edge of the pastry and took a larger bite, weathering his “I told you so” expression with as much grace as she could muster. She looked at him expectantly, deciding not to say another word until he started talking.
Instead, he stirred the teapot, too, and then poured for both of them. She took another bite and looked at the rest of the tearooms. Perhaps everything was actually just fine, and she’d got herself into a stew over nothing.
“Charlie, I need your help.”
Perhaps not. She looked at him, at his healthy glow, and saw genuine worry in his eyes. “Tell me what’s wrong.”
“It’s all been going so well,” he said. “I was so nervous when I left home, I didn’t eat for the first couple of days. But then I made a friend, and I settled in and . . . it’s difficult, dear heart; we’re not really supposed to tell an outsider about anything we do.”
Outsider? The word stung. She pushed the feeling down as best she could. “I understand. Has something gone wrong? Is it your friend?”
“No, no, nothing like that. It was very difficult at the start, I won’t lie. I struggled terribly but then I had a real breakthrough, and since then I’ve been doing so well, Charlie. Ledbetter says I’m one of the most promising students he’s had for years. Oh, don’t look like that! Surely you’re not still harbouring that grudge against him!”
“He is not a good man,” she said firmly.
“Is this some nonsense about him taking me away from you?”
“Oh, what rot! I’m not a child, Ben!”
“Then tell me what you have against him!”
She picked up her teacup, knowing she could never tell him about that awful debtor’s cage. It would put him in an impossible position, and she couldn’t risk his success. Now that the Royal Society had recruited him, he could never leave. She wasn’t prepared to make his life there a misery, and it would be, if he knew what his mentor was really like. “It’s just a feeling I have,” she finally said, hating the insipid statement. “You’ve been doing well,” she said, trying to bring him back on topic, if only to take the look of exasperation from his face. “So why did you send for me? Are you lonely? Homesick?”
He shook his head, clearly struggling to confess his troubles. He was such a loyal soul. It didn’t stop her from wanting to shake him until he spat it all out, though. She took out her frustration on the cake instead.
“I’ve been apprenticed to a cotton mill,” he finally said, “and it’s been going very well. Very well indeed.”
“Darling”—she reached across to hold his hand—“you don’t have to keep saying that.”
He sighed. “I don’t want you to think I can’t cope. I can, I swear it. In fact, I’ve never been happier.”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Ben! Just tell me!”
He pulled his hand back and leaned forwards to whisper over the teapot. “There have been a few . . . incidents at the mill. Not on my shifts, I hasten to add. Looms have been destroyed and none of the witnesses are willing to tell us who did it. They’re all covering something up.”
“Have you spoken to Ledbetter about it?”
“I tried. He just kept brushing me off. I’m only an apprentice, Charlie. No one listens to me and no one explains anything to me except exactly what I need to know.”
“It sounds like it’s all out of your hands.”
“If only it were that simple. I’m being put up to the next level of apprenticeship, which means I won’t just be working the line shaft, I’ll be supervising the running of the mill as a whole. Ledbetter has a system, you see, to push the best apprentices to the top faster. I’ve been chosen as one of the final two. Myself and another apprentice, Paxton, are going to be competing against each other. I cannot risk one of these incidents happening when I’m responsible for the mill.”
“Is there no one you can confide in? Is that why you asked me to come?”
He poured more tea. “No, that’s not it. Charlie, it’s more complicated than that. We believe the looms are being destroyed by saboteurs.”
“Like the Luddites? Darling, all of that stopped well before we were born!”
“Not Luddites, trade unionists. And more than that, socialists.” He looked around the tearoom again, lowering his voice further. “There are secret organisations springing up all over the country, determined to wreak havoc. They hate the Royal Society and want to destroy us. They argue that we have too much power and that parliament values the needs of the Royal Society above those of the common man. It’s dangerous, Charlie. Sedition, that’s what it is. And I’m convinced they have a secret group working at the mill. They have a great number of sympathisers among the workforce, and that’s why none of them will out the culprits.”
Want to destroy us . . . His words widened the gap between them. Sedition? Socialists? It sounded more like sensationalism to her. Was the pressure getting to him? “Darling, is there something you want me to do? I can’t see how I can help.”
He lifted the pot to pour tea before realising he’d only just done that. She steeled herself. What was he finding so difficult to say?
“Charlie, I need you to come and work at the mill.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“I need you to pretend you’re not my sister and just be one of them. One of the workers. I need someone on the inside, and you’re so kind and people open up to you so easily.”
“Good lord! You want me to be a spy?”
He twitched and looked around the room yet again. No one was sitting close enough to them to listen in. “Keep your voice down! I wouldn’t ask if it weren’t absolutely imperative. Please, Charlie. None of them will talk to me because I’m a magus. Ledbetter has said that if neither Paxton nor I root out the saboteurs, he’ll consider us to be socialist sympathisers. Paxton is a snake, and I am certain he’s already trying to pin it all on me. I caught him going through the drawers in my room the other day. He didn’t take anything but it’s clear he aims to win this round and be fully qualified, no matter the cost.” He reached across the table and took her hands. She was shocked to feel them shaking. “Charlie . . . if Paxton pins the socialist problem on me, Ledbetter will have me prosecuted for aiding and abetting sedition.”
“But that’s utterly ridiculous! Why waste a good apprentice on such an exercise when it isn’t your fault?”
“Because he has to make an example. And he has to get to the bottom of it all. Threatening us with transportation is an excellent motivator. In Ledbetter’s opinion, anyway.”
Charlotte felt sick. “Transportation? To Australia?”
He nodded, just as pale-faced as she was. “I doubt I would survive the voyage. You know how sickly I used to be. Packed into a boat with criminals rife with disease, I’d be done for.”
“Shush,” she said, squeezing his hands. “It doesn’t bear thinking about.” Her misgivings about being a spy faded into insignificance, now that she understood the threat to him.
“You’re the only person I can trust completely to tell me who is responsible for the sabotage. I have to root them out, Charlie, before Paxton finds a way to pin it all on me. If I win this round, Ledbetter will pass me for full qualification. Paxton won’t be able to touch me. And when I’m fully qualified, I’ll be able to apply for funding to build my own mill, with his support. Then I can earn enough money to support you and Mother and Father.”
“I don’t need you to support me. I’ll have George.”
Ben leaned back. “You haven’t told him, then. About your gift.”
She dabbed at her lips with her napkin. “I am not going to discuss that with you. I have everything under control. I’ll help, darling, of course I will. But I have heard some horrible stories about mills . . .”
“The London rags exaggerate things terribly,” he said. “And it won’t be for more than a couple of days. You’re such a good judge of character, you’ll spot who the ringleader is quickly, I’m sure you will.”
“So now I’m a good judge of character? Even though you don’t believe me about Ledbetter?” There was a long pause, long enough for her to regret her tone. “I’m sorry,” she said. “This is all a bit of a shock. I thought I was going to have nurse you back to health, not go and work in a mill.”
“I know this is horribly selfish of me,” Ben said. “But I’m desperate, Charlie. Help me to find the ringleader, and I’ll make sure you’ll never want for anything ever again.”
She tutted at him. “I won’t help you for financial gain, you fool. I’ll do it because I love you.”
His relief brightened his whole face. She could see how much it weighed upon him. “Thank you, dear heart, thank you. I promise it won’t be for more than a couple of days. I’ll take care of all the arrangements. Let’s have supper somewhere first, though, shall we?”
Charlotte nodded, feeling bad that she’d made him think she’d only agreed out of love for him. Hopkins said something strange was happening at the mills, and he’d made it sound like something esoteric, rather than political. She was determined to find something that could be used against Ledbetter, something she could take to Hopkins so they could build a case. The hope that it would impress her handsome tutor had nothing to do with it whatsoever.
Copyright © 2017 by Emma Newman
About the Author
EMMA NEWMAN writes dark short stories and science fiction and urban fantasy novels. Between Two Thorns, the first book in Emma’s acclaimed Split Worlds urban fantasy series, was shortlisted for the British Fantasy Awards for Best Novel and Emma was nominated for Best Newcomer. Her latest novel is Planetfall.Emma is a professional audio book narrator and also co-writes and hosts the Hugo-nominated podcast ‘Tea and Jeopardy’ which involves tea, cake, mild peril and singing chickens. Her hobbies include dressmaking and role playing games.
Weaver’s Lament is out October 17 2017 from Tor.com.
I finished up work on Friday, but have been running around like a madwoman ever since, because what with everyone around me having horrible health scares or worse this year, I'm beginning to feel a bit morbid about my trip and wanted to see everyone before I left just in case I died while overseas.
Yeah, that's the inside of my brain right now. It does not sleep. Sleep is for the weak! (Or for the plane.)
I also have apparently decided that I am only allowed to ignore the postal survey if I have written EVERY IMAGINABLE POLITICS BLOG POST before I leave. So in addition to the one from last week, I wrote an epic piece yesterday fact-checking one of those long lists about all the ways countries lost their religious freedom after achieving marriage equality (hint: they really didn't. Also, some people are really paranoid about gender fluidity), and I'm working on four more pieces which will publish at various points while I'm away and after I come back. Because I'm nuts.
Oh, and I posted my vote back on Monday, because that's rather more important than just writing endless essays...
For a different flavour of nuttiness, we're doing the Global Challenge at work this year, and our team is called 'one small step for science', which pretty much mandates an astronaut theme – and so on Saturday, I led my team on our first big group walk to the planetarium. We met in Brunswick, at Handsome Her, a café that has achieved peak Brunswick by being vegan, environmentally sensitive (glass straws, no disposable cups or serviettes, free compost out the back for your garden) and feminist (men have to pay an 18% surcharge, which is donated to a women's shelter, and the walls are covered with vulva-themed art. Except in the bathrooms, which have a menstruation art theme. It's quite... something.). Also hipster - every item on the menu has about twenty different elements, including things like charcoal brioche buns, smoked avocado and strawberry baobab ice cream. Oh, and also all menu items are named for feminist icons. And there are four kinds of non-dairy milk available for your coffee.
It's hilarious. The food's pretty good, too.
Anyway, having stuffed ourselves silly on vegan yummies, we embarked on our journey, which quickly turned into a bit of a death march because everyone had arrived late, which meant we hit Brunch Peak Hour, which meant we left late, which meant we had just over 2 hours in which to walk the 12 km to the planetarium before our show started. Ouch.
We started by walking along the Capital City trail, through Royal Park, until we met Flemington Bridge. Which we hadn't been expecting to meet, but evidently we got onto the wrong trail in Royal Park. Fortunately this was, if anything, a short cut. Then we wandered through the streets of Kensington, and along a rather pretty path between houses and gardens with rather farm like fences that made us feel as though we were being herded like cattle - we were on the site of the old abbatoir, as it turned out!
Next we walked along the Maribyrnong River for a while, past the glorious golden Buddha statue, and then sadly left it behind us to walk along a rather busy road and under the Westgate Bridge. We had to take a slight shortcut at this point, which was a pity, because we missed a nice little footbridge out over the water.
Finally, we reached the planetarium - five minutes before our show was due to start! We rushed in, and got to watch a gorgeous show about stars and how they work, which had really spectacular artwork - they would visualise the star as it would look, then stylise it into an art-deco / stained glass sort of design, and it was just stunning. This was followed by a guided tour of the night sky over Melbourne in September, which referenced the indigenous constellations, and was really fantastic. Finally, we got a special extra video about the Cassini mission to Saturn, which had of course ended the night before. So that was really a nice touch, and we all walked out resolving to do some actual star-watching at a later challenge date.
And then we caught the ferry home, because if you can catch the ferry, you must catch the ferry. That is the rule.
It was spectacular, and fun, and I got 26,700 steps and hurt all over for two days. But it was worth it.
And this is me signing off for now - I have politics blog posts to write and a bag to pack. See you next month!
What are some of the hard things you've done recently? What are some hard things you haven't gotten to yet, but need to do?