I had the chance to see Marie Brennan and Mary Robinette Kowal at Copperfield’s Books in Petaluma California on May 7. I have a signed copy of Kowal’s Of Noble Family and a signed copy of Brennan’s Voyage of the Basilisk to give away to one lucky random commenter with a U.S. address.

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Mary Robinette Kowal (left, with egret feather) and Marie Brennan take questions from the audience.

“We dress like this all the time,” Mary Robinette Kowal said in response to a casual question, as she and Marie Brennan sat down at the table in Copperfield’s Books. “Mine’s really comfortable. It’s like a nightgown.”

Marie Brennan looked at her. “Mine isn’t,” she said.

Brennan and Kowal are traveling together as part of the Brave New Worlds book tour. Both writers are known for appearing in costume; Kowal in the gowns of the British Regency period her GLAMOURISTS series occupies, Brennan in the more formal Victorian garb her character, Lady Trent of the LADY TRENT MEMOIRS might wear when she was not out searching for dragons. By the way, the women made their own costumes (as if they weren’t talented enough already).

Lately writers at in-person events do more than just read from the latest release, or sit and sign books. For one thing, with the internet, review sites and advanced reader copies, the audience often knows a lot about the newest book. It also takes more effort to get people, as Kowal put it, “out of their houses, away from the computer where all the shiny things are.” Kowal and Brennan each added a performance component to their reading, which made this event truly memorable.

Kowal performs The Broken Bridge

Kowal performs The Broken Bridge

Neither one read from the new releases, the Voyage of the Basilisk for Brennan and Of Noble Family for Kowal. Kowal announced that Of Noble Family is the last book in the GLAMOURISTS  series, to much whining from the audience. I say that as the lead whiner. She chose to read an opening section from her new book, due out in spring of 2016, called Ghost Talkers. The book is set in England during World War I, with spiritual mediums who talk to recently deceased soldiers in order to provide intelligence to the war effort. Kowal is a performer, and used accents and voice changes to bring her section to life. I got a little chill when she read the phrase, “The air was frigid with souls.”

After that, Kowal presented a “tiny puppet show,” called The Broken Bridge. This is a genuine Regency-era puppet show that was very popular, she said, performed for almost sixty years. It runs about two and a half minutes.

Brennan read from In the Labyrinth of the Drakes, the fourth LADY TRENT adventure. Brennan’s costume, voice and demeanor expertly captured Isabella, Lady Trent. Isabella and her colleague Tom are off on a new assignment, this time an attempt to raise dragons in captivity. They are working with the Royal Army, a fact that makes Isabella uncomfortable, and may spend some time looking for a character they met in Voyage of the Basilisk. To say any more would be including spoilers.

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Brennan asks the group, “What size of creature would have a claw like this?”

Brennan also demonstrated the types of artifacts and props Isabella might have brought to one of her own speaking events. My personal favorite was the fossilized “claw” of an enigmatic creature for which no other remains have been found.

I also like the “skull of a drake” that she presented. While she was signing my books she noted that it looked “surprisingly like a velociraptor skull.” She said, “I love being able to buy a velociraptor skull and take it off my taxes because it’s a business expense!”

During the Q&A, the two writers seriously considered a question about how Lady Trent would react to glamour, and how Jane and Vincent would react to dragons. Brennan said that Isabella would find two aspects of glamour useful; the remote viewing spell which would allow her to study dragons from a safe distance; and that the act of creating images itself would help with her presentations. “She’d have PowerPoint!”

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Velo–er, drake skull.

Kowal tried to fit non-magical dragons into her magical world. She wondered what the dragons would make of glamour. They agreed that Vincent’s invisibility spell would not fool dragons, since they would smell him. “So Vincent would probably get eaten by a dragon,” she said. “It would be a sad story. And a short one.”

Although their books are very different, these two writers have great energy together. They spark off one another, and have the same type of humor, which made for a fun evening full of laughs. Here is their itinerary. If you are nearby and you want a different author-signing experience, check them out, because really, how often to you get to hold a “dragon” skull and see a live puppet show? I recommend it.

Readers, I have a signed copy of Kowal’s Of Noble Family and a signed copy of Brennan’s Voyage of the Basilisk to give away to one lucky random commenter with a U.S. address.

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  • Marion Deeds

    Marion Deeds, with us since March, 2011, is the author of the fantasy novella ALUMINUM LEAVES. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthologies BEYOND THE STARS, THE WAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, STRANGE CALIFORNIA, and in Podcastle, The Noyo River Review, Daily Science Fiction and Flash Fiction Online. She’s retired from 35 years in county government, and spends some of her free time volunteering at a second-hand bookstore in her home town.

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