Writer Wednesday: Phoebe Barton

Please note: under normal circumstances this would have been posted and promoted on Wednesday Jan 20, 2021. Due to the US Inauguration and the flood of news surrounding it, I decided to push Phoebe’s interview by a day so it wouldn’t get lost. – Carrie Cuinn

Phoebe Barton. Photo courtesy of the author.

Phoebe Barton is a queer trans science fiction writer. Her short fiction has appeared in venues such as AnalogOn Spec, and Kaleidotrope, and she has experience with more than a dozen transit systems across North America and Europe. She serves as an Associate Editor at Escape Pod, is a 2019 graduate of the Clarion West Writers Workshop, and lives with a robot in the sky above Toronto. Connect with her on Twitter at @aphoebebarton or www.phoebebartonsf.com.

Today we’re bringing her in to talk about her latest release, a huge text-based interactive fiction game out now from Choice of Games.

The Luminous Undergroud. Image from Choice of Games. Art by EJ Dela Cruz.

Strange things are going down underground! Build your team, descend beneath the city streets, and face down daemons with magic and science in The Luminous Underground, a 660,000-word interactive, choice-based secondary-world science fantasy novel by Phoebe Barton. Can you and your crew clear out a haunted subway that’s slowly falling apart? Here’s your chance to find out! Grab your gear, build your team, and brave the tunnels – and if you’re good enough, maybe you can prove to everyone that you’re the best daemon hunter in town.

Without context, what’s one of your favorite sentences in the book?

It’s not a sentence so much as a line of dialogue, but it’s one I keep coming back to. I feel like it encapsulates the energy I put into the game, of doing your best but being thwarted by and and taking the heat for forces beyond your control.

“Bells.” McCowan brushes demolition dust and stray bits of wreckage off his coveralls. “I’ll bet we get blamed for this.”

What Earth-like traditions or objects were important to you to include in your story?

While The Luminous Underground is set in a secondary world, a lot of its aspects are imported from Earth for commentary and familiarity – which also makes it easier for me, because the work’s already been done! The Barrington subway is strongly influenced by the Toronto subway system, seeing as how that’s the one I’m most familiar with, but the most personal inclusion from reality is Bradford Street Public School in Chapter 1: it’s not based so much on my old elementary school so much as I used the memories of my old elementary school as a set.

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Writer Wednesday: Sam J. Miller

Sam. J. Miller. Photo courtesy of the author.

Sam J. Miller’s books have been called “must reads” and “bests of the year” by USA Today, Entertainment Weekly, NPR, and O: The Oprah Magazine, among others. He is the Nebula-Award-winning author of Blackfish City, which has been translated into six languages. His short stories have been widely anthologized, including in multiple editions of the Best American series. He lives in New York City, and at samjmiller.com.

Today he drops by the site to talk about his latest novel, The Blade Between

The Blade Between is a ghost story about a damaged gay guy who goes home to try to save the town he hated (and the people he loves) from the destructive plans of corporate interests… but he’s manipulated by dark forces both human and monstrous, and his scheme swiftly spirals into supernatural violence. One reviewer called it “James Baldwin meets Stephen King.”

Without context, what’s one of your favorite sentences in the book?

“Love is harder than hate.” 

What makes this book different from anything else you’ve done?

It’s different from my other work in that it’s a grisly horror story, which I’ve never done before at novel length. But it’s 100000% THE SAME as everything else I’ve done in that it’s about fraught gay love and horrific systemic injustice and monsters and charismatic megafauna. 

The Blade Between is set in your hometown of Hudson, New York. How does your version of it differ from reality?

While I tried to cleave as closely as possible to the actual city I love and hate so much, I couldn’t resist throwing in some ghosts and monsters and murder and mass arson. And whales. Well, the whales are real. Hudson really was a whaling city. As to whether their ghosts still haunt the place, I guess that’s tough to prove one way or another. 

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Writer Wednesday: Zig Zag Claybourne

Zig Zag Claybourne

Zig Zag Claybourne is the author of The Brothers Jetstream: Leviathan and its sequel Afro Puffs Are the Antennae of the Universe. Other works include By All Our Violent Guides, Neon Lights, the short story collection Historical Inaccuracies, and the inspirational book In the Quiet Spaces. His stories and essays on sci fi, fandom, and life have appeared in Apex, Galaxy’s Edge, GigaNotosaurus, Strange Horizons, and other genre venues, as well as the “42” blog at www.writeonrighton.com. He grew up watching The Twilight Zone and considers himself a better person for it.

It’s his latest book, Afro Puffs Are the Antenna of the Universe, we’re here to talk about today…

No one has time for your BS…but Captain Desiree Quicho and her crew of utter badasses surely don’t. Got a universe to save. Again. Commandeer one piece of out-of-this-world tech and suddenly you have an evil billionaire and a corporate queenpin on your ass, factions scrabbling at the power grab to end all power grabs, and an ultimate AI bent on a rampage of healing. All a captain wanted was a little chill time, a few tunes, and quality barbecue. Woe to those blocking her groove. Four women; One machine goddess; a Hellbilly, Saharan elves, the baddest Pacific Octopus this side of Atlantis… and Humanity’s balance tilting toward its biggest unknown future yet.

Without context, what’s one of your favorite sentences in the book?

“Thus spake Bobo to ya.” Any time I get to riff on “Thus Spake Zarathustra” and use a telepathic octopus to do it, I’ma do it! I would’ve re-written the entire book just to make sure I could include that one line!

If you could pick one room to spend a day in, from one place in your story, where is it and why?

The library of the Silica elves. It’s the opposite of anything we think of as a library. It’s raucous in place, there’s food and drink, it has the hue of a honeycomb, and it contains ancient knowledge several magnitudes higher than our own. If I wanna learn ancient aliens or experience the full power of a fully functioning book of poetry, let it be with elves who love Prosecco and music in their libraries!

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Announcing: “Writer Wednesday” Returns!

This year wasn’t what I hoped for, in so many ways. While the “New Year” is kind of arbitrary, I like the idea of getting a chance to start over, simply because the date on the calendar changed. I don’t have a lot of goals for the next year – the last thing any of us need right now is to set ourselves up for failure by taking on too much – but one of them is that I want to use my time and platform to promote other writers and creators. It’s important to me not just because we’re friends or I love their past work, but because supporting each other is a vital part of our community. Any time I get a little bit of a leg up in this world, I want to bring everyone else with me.

Years ago, in a different version of this blog, I used to post a weekly writer interview with friends. For 2021, I’m bringing that back. Some of these new projects are books, others are story collections, or games – but they’re all unique and I’m excited to learn more about them.

For January 2021, I’ve got interviews with:

Upcoming interviews include Kelley Robson, Wendy N. Wagner, Premee Mohamed, Karen Armstrong, A.C. Wise, and a lot more. But, I still have spots open for later in the year, so if your book-length project is being published in the next 12 months and you’re interested in being interviewed, please get in touch. The earlier you reach out, the more likely I am to be able to fit you in close to your release date.

I’m particularly interested in speculative fiction novels, text-heavy games, or nonfiction that relates to SFF. Traditionally published books available on multiple platforms are more likely to find a place here because I’d like to include links to small bookstores that are local to the writers themselves, which means showcasing books you could order from those independent shops. I’ll also consider small press publications if the press is established and well regarded, and the books are available from multiple outlets (which can include buying directly from the publisher). I know Amazon is inevitable but I don’t want them to be the only source for books if we can help it.

I can’t guarantee you a spot – I am trying to keep the schedule balanced between different types of projects, with an emphasis on early career writers or writers from marginalized communities – but I can promise to carefully consider all requests. Please give me at least 30 days to respond before querying again.

Writing my tie-in novella for the Wasteland 3 video game

No Way Home was written as a companion to the Wasteland 3 video game by inXile Entertainment, and explores a beloved main character’s adventures between W2 and W3. (Available as part of the Digital Deluxe Version of the game through Steam.) The other two novellas you get as part of this package are written by Matt Wallace and Ari Marmell.

Cover art for all three novellas by Brissia Jiménez

I’ve gone back and forth about when to post this for a couple of months now. On one hand, I’m impatient and excited to talk about this project. I originally got the contract in 2019, and the finished novella was accepted by my editor last November, so I’ve been waiting over a year to share the details. I couldn’t even tell people I’d worked on this specific game – inXile’s third installment in their foundational post-apocalyptic video game series – until it was released at the end of August 2020. But that was 3 months ago, so why did I keep waiting?

Spoilers, and an NDA.

In order for me to talk about the writing part of this writing project, I have to talk about the games themselves, the lore and history, which means potentially spoiling the game for people who hadn’t played it yet. Because my novella is set between W2 and W3, I have to talk a little about the game that just dropped and a lot more about the game that came before. Wasteland 2 was released in 2014, which should be plenty of time to ensure that most people who want to play it have played it, right? Well, maybe not. See, there’s some people who didn’t grow up with Wasteland, who learned about it when they heard game 3 was coming out, and who just this year started playing game 2 to prepare.

Plus, Wasteland 2 has multiple endings. I’d played it through different ways before I was even hired to write for inXile, but I still hadn’t gotten the exact ending the studio considers to be canon history for going into Wasteland 3. So when I talk about that – which I will, in this post – it’s likely to surprise at least a few people, even on a game that’s been out for six years.

I love gaming. I wouldn’t want to anyone to ruin all the surprises on a new game for me, so I definitely don’t want to do that for anyone else. Plus, I signed an NDA when I was being considered for the job, which means I can’t say anything that isn’t public already. Because of that, I had to wait until certain plot points became public knowledge, or risk breaking my contracts (which I’d never ever do). To be safe, I waited three months after the newest game became available, and when I do talk about possible-spoilers later in this post, I’ll warn you first.

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