Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Tag: Lynette Burrows

First Impressions

They say first impressions are important. As a writer, I’d say that goes for the first lines of stories, too. Lots of great books and stories open with ho-hum first lines. But I deeply admire a great opening line.

I often kick off a new month with a collection of illustrated quotations. This month, I’ve put my own spin on a related idea that I got from a friend, Lynette M. Burrows. Her excellent blog regularly features great opening lines from books she’s read.

This month is also Women’s History Month, when I like to focus on the creative work of women throughout the years. I’ve highlighted great women artists on my blog in the past, such as Artemisia Gentileschi and Rosa Bonheur. But today I’m featuring opening lines from five great women writers making creative history in the science fiction and fantasy field right now.

First Impressions from Rebecca Roanhorse’s Sixth World

The monster has been here. I can smell him.
--Rebecca Roanhorse, Trail of Lightning
Design by Jan S. Gephardt, with book cover from Simon and Schuster.

Trail of Lightning is the first of her “Sixth World” books, based on Navajo traditional stories. The second, Storm of Locusts, is near the top of my “to be read” pile, as is her most recent title, Black Sun. Roanhorse identifies as indigenous and African American, although her tribal membership is disputed. Her husband is Navajo. Trail of Lighting focuses on Navajo culture and characters.

FAIR WARNING: some Navajo groups have criticized the book as disrespectful, or as cultural appropriation. Certainly, the nature of the action in the book, if depicted of any cultural group, probably could be seen by conservative observers from that group to be “disrespectful.” Roanhorse herself has said that her goal was “accuracy and respect.”

I have chosen include this book in my collection because in my opinion Roanhorse consistently writes with respect and understanding about indigenous characters. She’s widely seen as an important rising voice in the science fiction field. And it’s an intriguing story with an arresting opening line.

Murderbot’s First Words

I could have become a mass murderer after I hacked my governor module, but then I realized I could access the combined feed of entertainment channels carried on the company satellites.
--Martha Wells, All Systems Red
Design by Jan S. Gephardt, with book cover from Thrift Books.

For those of us who love Martha Wells’ prickly cyborg Security Unit, each new installment of its adventures is a new joy (yes, Murderbot’s pronouns are it/its). The first impressions offered in the opening of its debut appearance provide an important (if incomplete) angle on its approach to life.

The “Murderbot Diaries” stories are set in a distinctly dystopian universe where opportunistic corporations seem largely unrestricted by inconvenient morality. What makes them such as joy to read Murderbot’s personality and perspective.

Whenever our favorite “SecUnit” teams up with the flawed but well-intentioned humans who accept it into their society, we get a new opportunity to see how these well-written stories play out. Not all of them begin with such a marvelous “characteristic statement” as the first line offered here. But in my opinion all are well worth a read.

This is not Wells’ first series. Until All Systems Red, the award-winning first novella was published, she was best known for her fantasy novels and media tie-ins. She writes prolifically in many lengths and several genres/subgenres.

An earlier voice than the others

As soon as he entered the room, Baines blurted out, "We want you to find us a viable human heart, fast."
--Nalo Hopkinson, Brown Girl in the Ring
Design by Jan S. Gephardt, with book cover from Amazon.

I’ll confess that when I first began contemplating this blog post, Nalo Hopkinson’s 1998 novel Brown Girl in the Ring was the first book I knew I wanted to include. I picked it up at a science fiction convention not long after it was first published. Once I read that first line I was hooked. Talk about compelling first impressions!

After Octavia Butler and Samuel Delaney, Hopkinson was the first Black science fiction author I knew about, or whose work I read. She is in fact a Jamaican-born Canadian Back when I started reading sf, the field was dominated by old, white, imperialistic misogynists. Not all were—but enough.

When I read the work of authors such as Hopkinson, I got a whole new viewpoint. Their unique and intriguing takes on the field stretched my imagination and opened my eyes. Their visions became part of the broader worldview I’ve tried to develop ever since.

The inimitable wit of T. Kingfisher

She was going to die because of the rutabagas.
--T. Kingfisher (Ursula Vernon), Bryony and Roses
Design by Jan S. Gephardt, with book cover from Barnes & Noble, and rutabaga photo from The Land Connection.

You might know Ursula Vernon’s artwork—indeed, I first met her as an artist, when she was an Artist Guest of Honor at ConQuesT 43 (2012). It was only later that I realized she also writes under the name of T. Kingfisher.

Her small gem of a story Bryony and Roses is a distinctly different take on the old story of Beauty and the Beast, and indeed the rutabagas do play an important part. If you enjoy her humor and unique approach, I think you’ll be well rewarded by this tale. And look! She has more books!

First impressions for a jewel-like novella of polished words

"Something wants to eat you," called Almost Brilliant from her perch in a nearby tree, "and I shall not be sorry if it does."
--Nghi Vo, The Empress of Salt and Fortune
Design by Jan S. Gephardt, with book cover from Goodreads.

From the very start to the very end of this acclaimed novella, I had a sense that the author had particularly chosen, placed, and polished each word to perfection. The opening line offers a great foretaste. Seanan McGuire called it a “puzzle box,” and it’s a good description. This story unwinds in its own nonlinear fashion, yet it moves inexorably to its devastating conclusion.

Nghi Vo has so far published two novellas, a novel, and a whole raft of short fiction. I imagine we have only begun to hear her remarkable voice. If you’re curious how to pronounce her Vietnamese name, this might help.

I hope you enjoyed these “first impressions” first lines, and the stories that go with them (and proceed from them). Next week we’ll present another collection: G. S. Norwood has some great first lines to share, too. Please leave a comment about your favorites. Suggest more great first lines. Or maybe you’d like to offer other observations. Please share your thoughts!

IMAGES:

All of the design work on the first-line quote-images is mine, for well or ill, other than the book covers. For those, I have several sources to thank. I’d like to thank Simon & Schuster for the Trail of Lightning cover. I’m grateful to Thrift Books for the All Systems Red cover. Same to Amazon for Brown Girl in the Ring. I appreciate Barnes & Noble for the cover of Bryony and Roses (Also The Land Institute for the photo of the rutabagas!). And I’m grateful to Goodreads for the cover of The Empress of Salt and Fortune. Many thanks to all of you!

Tales of ConQuesT (48)–The Writing Part

I love  participating in panel discussions at science fiction conventions–and I was part of several at ConQuesT 48 held this and every year in Kansas City on Memorial Day by my home science fiction group, the Kansas City Science Fiction and Fantasy Society


I participated in several panel discussions at ConQuesT. In addition to sharing an hour of reading with Sean Demory of Pine Float Press, my other scheduled panels all could be potential subjects for future blog posts. Please comment below, if you’d like to see more on any of these topics!

What Gives Characters Depth?

This panel focused on writing techniques, plus a review of “3-D characters we love” and why we chose them. It was ably moderated by Rob Howell. I was joined on the panel by P. R. AdamsLynette M. Burrows, and Marguerite Reed.

L-R: P. R. Adams, Lynette M. Burrows, Marguerite Reed, and moderator Rob Howell

Our discussion ranged through such questions as what makes a character come to life, our assorted techniques for “getting to know” our characters, and what happens when the scene you thought you were going to write takes a right-angle turn because “the character had something else in mind”/you realized it wouldn’t be in character for the person to do/say/think what you’d originally intended. It was a fun and lively discussion.

Intellectual Property and Literary Estates

I got to moderate this panel (former teacher: I like to make sure the discussions are fueled by lots of good, well-researched, leading questions, that everyone gets a chance to talk, and that the audience is actively engaged in shaping the conversation). I’d signed up to be on the panel because of my connection with the administration of my late brother-in-law’s literary estate.

My fellow panelists were Dora Furlong, who’d been involved in establishing a foundation to administer the literary estate of a writer and game-creator; Susan R. Matthews, who’d gone through the process of writing a will and discovered that there were all sorts of decisions to be made about who would administer her literary estate; and Craig R. Smith, whose focus was more on contracts and protecting intellectual property.

L-R: Susan R. Matthews‘ icon; Dora Furlong; Craig R. Smith‘s book cover.

We discussed the nature of intellectual property, the relative importance of registering ISBNs and copyrights, what is included in a literary estate, the kinds of decisions the executor or trustees of such an estate may have to make, leaving specific instructions (for instance, about what to do with emails and unfinished manuscripts), and many other issues that most writers, artists, or other creative people rarely consider–but which have everything to do with their legacy.

Writing Fight and Combat Scenes

I moderated this panel, too–but I did little talking about my own work on this one. Both of my fellow panelists, Rob Howell and Selina Rosen, are well-spoken, engaging, and knowledgeable, with a depth of background I could admire, but not match (SCA battle-experience, military history studies, martial arts training, and many more varied writing projects than I’ve racked up so far).

L-R: Rob Howell, a photo of an SCA battle by Ron Lutz; and Selina Rosen. Yes, it was a lively panel discussion.

It was a privilege to manage time and audience input, while offering them questions about varieties of research, frequent plot objectives of most fight or combat scenes, tips for keeping the action vivid and interesting, and pet peeves about other authors’ bad practices. Rob, Selina, and the knowledgeable audience kept the panel fast-paced, interesting, and wide-ranging.

Horror Fiction and Xenophobia

Yes, I did moderate this panel also–but as with the “Fight and Combat” panel, I ended up mainly facilitating the experts, namely Sean Demory, Karen Bovenmeyer, and Donna Wagenblast Munro.

Not much of a horror writer or reader myself, I approached this panel from the viewpoint of a multiculturalist who generally looks upon xenophobia (fear of foreigners or, more basically, fear of “the other”) as a negative thing.

L-R: Sean Demory, Karen Bovenmyer, and the Facebook Profile Picture of Donna Wagenblast Munro.

Not to worry. While earlier traditions of horror have embraced the “fear of otherness” via unfamiliar cultural practices, deformity, and/or disease to create the objects of fear, my three fellow panelists are contemporary horror writers who have embraced the “feared other” as their protagonists.

This brought new poignancy to their responses to my questions about “who are the monsters of today?” and which is the most potent bogeyman of today, the terrorist (domestic or foreign), the corporate overlord, the hacker, or the community dedicated to conformity? Reactions were mixed, but ultimately conformity won as the most stifling on the individual level.

I See No Way That Could Possibly Go Wrong

This panel focused on new technologies just beginning to emerge today, and our thoughts about their ramifications in the future. The panelists were, L-R in the photo below, Christine Taylor-Butler, Bryn Donovan, me, and Robin Wayne Bailey. The photographer (and knowledgeable contributor from the audience) is the writer J.R. Boles.

I was not originally scheduled to be on this one, but the designated moderator (who shall go nameless) did not show up for the panel. Bryn and Robin invited me to join them and moderate. Since I actually knew a bit about the topic (thanks largely to researching and writing this blog), I was delighted to leap in.

We had a great discussion, with a lot of intelligent input from the panelists and our knowledgeable audience. We spent most of our time on the question, “What technology that’s now in its infancy would you most like to see developed, and how do you think it would change things as we know them?”

Answers touched on flying cars, 3-D printed kidneys, earpieces or brain implants to transmit data, lunar colonies, asteroid mining, and much more.

IMAGES: I’m the one who put together the ConQuesT 48 banner. It features a logo design by Keri O’Brien and a photo of the lobby of our convention hotel, the Sheraton Kansas City Hotel at Crown Center, which provided the photo. 

The photos of assorted authors with whom I did panels come from the following, gratefully acknowledged sources:

The photo of Rob Howell is from his Amazon Author Page. That of P. R. Adams is from his Amazon author page. That of Lynette M. Burrows is from her Twitter Profile @LynetteMBurrows, and that of Marguerite Reed is from her Twitter Profile, @MargueriteReed9

Dora Furlong’s photo is from her Amazon Author Page. Susan R. Matthews’ image-icon is from her website; I was unable to find a photo of Craig R. Smith, so I finally settled for a cover image of his book, Into the Dark Realm

I’d like to offer special thanks to the Society for Creative Anachronism, and photographer Ron Lutz, for use of the photo Clash of Battle.

The photo of Selina Rosen is a detail from a photo by the indispensable Keith Stokes, taken at Room Con 10 in 2014 (a party hosted by James Holloman at ConQuesT each year) and posted in the MidAmericon Fan Photo Archive

Many thanks to the Johnson County (KS) Library for the photo of Sean Demory (there’s also a great interview with him on that page). The photo of Karen Bovenmyer is from her Twitter profile @karenbovenmyer; unfortunately, I couldn’t find a photo of Donna Wagenblast Munro or a book cover for her anywhere, so finally I substituted an image from her Facebook page.

Last but far from least, many, many thanks to J. R. Boles for the photo of the “I See No Way” panel, from her Twitter account, @writingjen

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