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Book Week Launch Events

Alyc Helms

We have two exciting events coming up for next week’s publication of The Mask of Mirrors.

First, Mysterious Galaxy is hosting a virtual book launch on Tuesday, Jan. 19 at 7pm PT. It’s a joint event with Christopher Paolini, author of To Sleep in a Sea of Stars, where we’ll chat about our books and writing and try not to dwell too much on the state of the world but instead focus on our hopes for the new year.

Then, on Thursday, Jan. 21 at 6pm PT, our publisher, Orbit Books, is hosting a livechat and Q&A with us and Andrea Stewart, author of The Bone Shard Daughter, where we’ll… chat about our books and writing and try not to dwell… you get the idea!

It’s free to register for the events, so come join us for the launch of our new adventure!

The Clothing Makes the Con Artist

Alyc Helms

The Mask of Mirrors is a book shot through with textile metaphors, from slang terms like ‘knots’ for the gangs and ‘cuffs’ for the nobility; to the pattern deck and its suits of the spinning, woven, and cut threads; to the interweaving of multiple PoVs to create a dense cloak of intrigue. We didn’t consciously start out with that model in mind, but once we started crafting the world, the textile metaphors only got stronger.

However, one thread that isn’t metaphorical at all is the importance of clothing and fashion, something we knew from the beginning would be central to Ren’s ability to sell her con. There aren’t many human cultural universals out there, but the importance of clothing and fashion in determining whether a person is in-group or out-group might be one of the closest things to a constant that we’ve got. And Ren has her sister, Tess, who might not be able to weave lies with her words, but she can damn well tailor them into her clothing designs.

Something so intrinsic to the main plot couldn’t be handwaved (not that we wanted to!) We had to figure out a complex language of fashion in the same way we’d done with the magic, social, political, and economic systems. We’re fairly well-suited to this kind of work: Alyc has a hobbyist background in costuming for theater and historical re-creation, and although Marie likes to downplay it, she’s no slouch in the sewing department either.

For Nadežra, we knew we needed two ‘looks’ – one for the indigenous Vraszenians and one for the descendants of the colonizers from Seste Ligante (who follow the fashion changes from their parent countries). We also wanted a hybrid look for common Nadežrans – people who might have a mixed Ligante/Vraszenian heritage, but don’t have cultural ties to either group.

One of the silhouettes was dictated by the image we already had in mind for the Rook. That character was so closely tied to his conceptual forebears — Zorro, the Scarlet Pimpernel, the Dread Pirate Roberts, Ezio — that we had to dress him in a tailored coat resembling a justacorps or frock coat, and high leather boots so the coat could swing around the tops of the boots when he swashes and duels.

Look, we are simple people. We delight in simple pleasures. And one of them can best be summed up in a stanza from Alfred Noyes’ “The Highwayman”:

“He’d a French cocked-hat on his forehead, a bunch of lace at his chin,
A coat of the claret velvet, and breeches of brown doe-skin;
They fitted with never a wrinkle: his boots were up to the thigh!
And he rode with a jewelled twinkle,
   His pistol butts a-twinkle,
His rapier hilt a-twinkle, under the jewelled sky.”

The Rook’s costume is a bit of an echo of a bygone era (his coat is of a longer, looser, more functional cut than current Liganti fashion trends), but in order to not make it seem like someone’s grandpa was running around on rooftops, we decided to take advantage of the old adage about fashion recurring in cycles. That let us have that same swishy skirted coat/waistcoat style for our contemporary Liganti look, with one of the main differences being colors (the current fashion is for pale neutrals and pastels) and preferred textiles (brocades, velvet, and satin-woven cottons and silks thanks to advances in technology and trade).

Little details like this might seem unimportant, but having them means we can figure out ways to use them — and use the fashion — to further the story. For example, pastels can be difficult to maintain, which means there are a lot of stained pieces at remnant stalls that Tess can pick up for cheap… which is one reason that trendsetter Renata begins setting a fashion for brighter, bolder colors and a more streamlined, tailored look. Dyeing is easier than bleaching, and tailoring means you can creatively use smaller pieces and less fabric!

With Vraszenians, it all came down to the textile metaphors we mentioned. They are central to Vraszenian culture, to the point where lineages are tracked by embroidery, hair braiding is an art, and knotwork charms abound. Thus the panel coat became the core of that silhouette – a simple design that allows Vraszenians to display their love of and appreciation for embroidery, blackwork, needlepoint, and other fabric manipulations in that vein.

Because fashion is so important, we want readers to experience it as more than a parade of descriptions of colors and clothing pieces. We explore the sensual elements of clothing like draping, layering effects, embroidery, and the ‘hand’ of the fabric. We want readers to feel the pile of the velvet under their fingers, hear the whisper of a lace overlay as it slides past the satin underneath, move with the weight and drape of the skirts of the Rook’s coat as he fights a duel. We want the clothes to feel lived in; we want our readers to want to live in them.

Lumen knows we do!

The Origins of a Scar

Alyc Helms

Yesterday I finally had the surgery for my hyperparathyroidism, which was diagnosed back in October, but then an ankle injury derailed me for the entire winter (and then, y’know… there was this pandemic thing that cropped up).

One of the nice things about this particular surgery is that you know almost immediately if it was effective. My PTH level pre-surgery was 260 pg/ml (normal range is 15-75). My intraoperative level (right after they took out that problem parathyroid gland) was 29 pg/ml. So that’s very good, and hopefully I will start to see a relief of symptoms immediately as well. Since some of the symptoms of hyperparathyroidism are depression, anxiety, and fatigue… I’m REALLY hoping that happens.

I have a tendency to write haiku when I’m coming off anesthesia. It’s… a thing. The first thing I remember as I was coming back around was someone saying ‘blah blah blah Inconceivable blah blah.’ I remember trying really hard to say ‘You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means.’ But I still had my oxygen mask on at that point, and I don’t think my mouth was working like it should.

However, it definitely informed my recovery haiku:

Recovery haiku #1, 10am (Surgery ended around 9:30am)

Like Westley, alive.
Still feeling mostly dead, though.
Inconceivable?

Recovery haiku #2, 10:15am

First thought waking up
Was a quote from Princess Bride.
Guess that I’m still me.

In any event, I am recovering (well enough that Marie and I have started drafting Chapter 14 today), and I will end up with a wicked-looking scar from this.

So of course, I needed to come up with explanations for the scar that were more interesting than “Parathyroid surgery. No, not thyroid. Parathyroid. They have nothing to do with each other, except that the parathyroid glands hang out around (and sometimes inside?!) the thyroid gland. Anyways, one of mine lost its chill, so it had to go.”

alyc untamed scar
Origin #4: Jin Guangyao is having WAY too much fun here. And I don’t seem all that concerned. (5-minute photomanip courtesy of Georgina Kamsika)

With that in mind, here is Alyc’s Scar Origin Stories, an Incomplete List:

  1. Cut myself shaving — with Occam’s Razor.
  2. Let’s just say, I do NOT recommend “The Pit & the Pendulum: The Live Action Experience” at Universal Studios.
  3. Time Machine. Whitechapel. You do the math.
  4. Got held hostage by a bad guy with gujin string. BUT, it finally goaded me to confess to my soulmate after fifteen years of dancing around each other, so it all worked out.
  5. Archaeology is a lot more dangerous than the movies would have you believe.
  6. Untitled goose attack.
  7. Pet tiger. She’s got glamour claw tips now, so it probably won’t happen again.
  8. It’s the zipper on my alien suit. This is why you shouldn’t buy off-the-rack.
  9. When the sign says, “You must be this height or lower to ride this ride,” they are NOT joking.
  10. Paper cut. Don’t ask.
  11. I played Harlan Thrombey in a community theater production of Knives Out. I’m a method actor. 
  12. I pissed off the Queen of Hearts. Barely made it out of Wonderland with my life.
  13. I attended the tale of Sweeny Todd a little TOO well.
  14. I was Ned Stark in a previous life.
  15. I was Catelyn Stark in a previous life.
  16. I was Marie Antoinette in a previous life.
  17. I was Princess Sidana of Meara in a previous life (that one’s a deep cut. Heh.)
  18. I was [insert beheaded/neck slashed character] in a previous life.
  19. I was the final girl in a real life slasher movie.
  20. CIA chip implant. Don’t believe me? THAT’S JUST WHAT THE DEEP STATE WANTS!
  21. Botched my dodge roll.
  22. I’m actually a living Pez dispenser.
  23. I used to be an adventurer, but then I took an arrow to the neck.
  24. When Gimli said, “And my AXE!” I did not expect this was what he meant.
  25. Laser security grid at the Umbrella Corporation.
  26. Corporate team building exercise gone awry. Can’t say more because of the NDA.
  27. Let’s just say my publisher takes book promotion preparation VERY SERIOUSLY.
  28. The Flying Spaghetti Monster touched me with their noodly appendage. Turns out, they’re sharp.
  29. Night of a hundred-thousand ninja. I was a hedge. There was an overzealous gardner. It was a whole thing.
  30. You know, you indulge in your curiosity about auto-erotic asphyxiation ONE TIME…
  31. Never juggle razorwire on a dare. Or at all, really.
  32. Took a bottle to the neck in a Froghole riot.
  33. Sword of Damocles EPIC FAIL.
  34. Marie likes to work out all our combats using live steel. I have short arms.
  35. It’s my Eazy-Peel™ Crease.
  36. Assassin. I gave him a bad day.
  37. Assassin boyfriend. I gave him a good day… I HAVE A TYPE, OKAY?! (I miss that game).
  38. I took the 90s Reach Toothbrush commercial at its word and got a flip-top head.
  39. I got tired of men telling me I should smile more.
  40. I was the original muse for Washington Irving’s woman with the diamond band, Alexandre Dumas’ woman with the velvet necklace, Ann McGovern’s woman with the velvet ribbon, and Alvin Schwartz’s Jenny with the green ribbon… WHY ARE AUTHORS SO OBSESSED WITH BEHEADED WOMEN?!
  41. Fuck it. I’m a dullahan.

This post originally appeared on Alyc Helms’s website.

May Updates and Cover Girls

Alyc Helms

Two years ago in May, Marie and I said ‘let’s do this’ and launched a whirlwind four months of writing. Most weeks, we put down 10k words or more, and by the time October rolled around, we had a 225k word book draft for what would eventually become The Mask of Mirrors.

Last year in May, we got our first offer for the book and received an enthusiastic proto-response from the editor who made the offer we eventually accepted.

This year, we have a finalized book (at least, we’ve finished with the proofread pass and ARCs are coming soon), a new publication date of January 2021, and a cover debut and excerpt on io9.

After a winter hiatus for a whole rash of life stuff, we’re back into drafting book 2 and it’s shaping up to be so much fun. I’m looking forward to what next May’s updated will be.

This post originally appeared on Alyc Helms’s website.

Got Masks?

Alyc Helms

A few weeks ago, I knocked out some masks for myself and my brother using t-shirts — because I have waaaay too many t-shirts. Copyedits for The Mask of Mirrors are turned it, and since I’m in the ranks of the Covid-19 unemployed, I have some free time to make more.

 I don’t really need another mask for myself, but it occurred to me that other folks among my friends might want some. The masks I’m making are fairly simple. They’re not N95-certified or HEPA-compliant or anything that fancy. They’re just two layers of thick t-shirt cotton with cotton ties to go around the back of the head and neck. However, most of the reports I’m seeing indicate that these are still helpful for people doing necessary errands, etc. 

The 911 on Masks 

They’re washable, which you’ll want to do on receipt (both for sterilization reasons and because I have a cat) and regularly as you use them, but with three masks, you can easily rotate them. So, let me know if you want me to make you some masks. Feel free to email me at alychelms@gmail.com with your request and shipping details. 

Each t-shirt yields three masks — one plain and two with a portion of the t-shirt design. No charge, though if I get a lot of requests then I wouldn’t say no to folks Venmo-ing me a few bucks to cover packaging and postage. Depending on the response I get, I’ll probably churn out a bunch this weekend and do a single trip to the post office on Monday to send them out. 

If you have a particular design you’d like, let me know. Designs available are on a first come, first serve basis. Base t-shirt color is listed in parentheses. I’ll update this list as designs are claimed — assuming I get any requests at all 🙂 

  • Rigoletto (black)
  • Fox-o-Lantern (black)
  • Winter Fairy (navy)
  • Disney Princesses (grey)
  • Princess & Dragon (black)
  • Princess & Dragon (kelly green)
  • Fox Leafpile (kelly green)
  • Dragon & Phoenix (black) Claimed!
  • Story Dragon (navy)
  • Fire Dragon (black)
  • Distressed Flash (black)
  • Loki (black)
  • Mulan (black)
  • Wicked Witch & Flying Monkeys (black)
  • Unicorn Mermaid (bright blue)
  • Ursula 1 (black)
  • Ursula 2 (black)
  • Ursula 3 (black) Yes, I have a lot of Ursula t-shirts. And?
  • Star Wars: Rey 1 (black) Claimed!
  • Star Wars: Rey 2(black)
  • Star Wars: General Leia (navy)
  • Toothless 1 (black)
  • Toothless 2 (black)
  • Toothless 3 (navy)
  • The World’s End (black)
  • Cernunnos & Rhiannon (navy) Warning: tastefully obscured boobies Claimed!
  • Cernunnos & Rhiannon (dark green)
  • John Barleycorn & Willendorf Venus (dark green)
  • Green Man (dark green) 

Now to figure out what’s going to be on in the background while I churn these out. Suggestions?

This post originally appeared on Alyc Helms’s website.

Level Unlock – Big Damn Trilogy Sale!!

Alyc Helms

Last summer, I started working on a collaborative project with Marie Brennan that ended up being more or less NaNoWriMo for four months straight. We finished the 220k word behemoth in October, tossed it back and forth between beta readers, our agents, and each other, and sent it out to editors this past spring.

This week, we accepted a deal from Orbit Books to publish it as the first book of the Rook and Rose trilogy! It will be coming under the joint pen name M.A. Carrick (there’s a story there, but that’s for later).

I’m still working on my elevator pitch for the series, but here’s the general gist:

Alta Renata Viraudax is actually Arenza Lenskaya, a con artist who has infiltrated the nobility in an attempt to set herself up with a cushy life… only to run afoul of The Rook, a Dread-Pirate-Roberts-style vigilante whose mission is to oppose the nobility — including the increasingly visible Alta Renata. Capers, banter, double-crossing, and identity hijinks ensue. Think The Scarlet Pimpernel meets Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora series.

This was the most fun writing that I’ve ever had, and I think it shows on every page. Marie and I bring out the best in each other, and because we’re both anthropology worldbuilding geeks, we were able to create an incredibly rich, dense setting for us to play in. We’ve got multiple, inter-locking magic systems — Marie developed a whole divinatory card system that will definitely be Kickstarted so we can create an actual deck, and I got to get my ritual magic on by creating another system based on sacred geometry. There’s politics and economics, swashbuckling and derring-do, queerness and genderplay galore (because hell yeah there is), and so many fun characters that it hurts sometimes to do terrible things to them.

More news to come as this moves from editing into production! A little over a year ago, all we had was an idea. Now we have a book deal. Soon we’ll have a book! These things move faster than you think. I hope you’ll all come along with us for the ride.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with what has sort of become our unofficial theme song:

This post originally appeared on Alyc Helms’s website.

What I’m Doing This Summer

Alyc Helms

I’ve recently made passing mention to a super secret collaborative project I’m working on. I’ve been hesitant to say more because so often projects like this die before they ever get momentum.

However, after six-ish months of planning, plotting, and worldbuilding, and three weeks of intense writing that have already pushed us past the 25k point, I feel confident in saying this is a thing.

To get a feel for the flavor, listen to this:

Capers! Heroic vigilantes and antiheroes! Identity hijinks! Masquerades and mistaken identities! Romance and betrayal and rooftop assignations, all while wearing fabulous outfits!

So that’s what Marie Brennan and I are working on, if you can call it work. Writing with her is so much fun that I actively look forward to getting butt in chair every day.

Now that R&R (our code for it) is out of the bag, look for posts about collaboration, magic systems, clothing design, economic and political systems, folklore, civil engineering, and all the other fun things that come up when you knock two anthropologists together and tell them to design a world for fantasy intrigue.

This post originally appeared on Alyc Helms’s website.