I finally get to do this: make an eligible awards blog post.
First, I’m up for the John W. Campbell award for Best New Writer. This is a not-Hugo presented at WorldCon in August. Members of the previous, current, and following year’s WorldCon are allowed to nominate their choices.
I had two novels published in 2018 (pictured above). They are:
Both of these novels are eligible for the 2019 Philip K. Dick, Hugo, and Nebula awards. Smoke Eaters is also eligible for the World Fantasy awards.
My short story, Torches and Pitchforks for Sale was published in the anthology, Infinite Dysmorphia, from Kristell Ink/Grimbold Press in the UK.
I also have a story coming out in an upcoming Amazing Stories called A Swift Drop; Two Bits, but I’m not sure if it will make the cut-off.
And I also have a podcast! Cosmic Dragon can be found on this site, as well as all podcast feed sources. I interview SFF authors and generally act like a fool for public consumption. The Hugos have a Best Fancast category for which this applies.
If you enjoy my work, I would love your nomination for any of these and other awards, such as the Reddit Fantasy Stabby and the Kitschie.
I couldn’t ask for better readers and I’m wishing you a fantastic 2019.
You asked for it, and here it is. The following is a chapter that didn’t make it into the final version of DAUGHTERS OF FORGOTTEN LIGHT. It takes place between the time DOFL land at the shipping port and when they free all of the captive shippees. This is unedited and contains SPOILERS for those who haven’t read the book yet. Enjoy.
One soldier blew a huge pink bubble with his gum.
The other one popped it with her finger. “Try to act professional.”
Their steps squeaked as they left the holding room, and the male soldier tucked the gum back into his mouth. “What’s to be professional about? It’s just a bunch of shipees. I don’t see why we don’t just kill them now and be done with it.”
“Because it has to be done humanely.”
The man began another bubble when two rang shots flew into each soldier, flinging them into the wall.
One of the balls returned to Hurley Girly’s rang as she clomped from around the corner. “What do you think, girls? That was pretty humane wasn’t it?”
“I aimed for the head.” Dipity shrugged.
Sarah moved along the wall and peered into the holding room. The few shipees she saw waited in their cells, doors closed. The guards numbered just over a dozen.
Lena rubbed her chin when Sarah told her what she saw. “I’m going to let all of you vote on what we do next.” She nodded to the two former O.C. girls. “That includes you two. We can leave our cyclones here and go in with stealth and sneakiness, or we can ride or die.”
“Ride or die,” came the unanimous chorus of lowered voices.
Lena smiled. “You girls were never ones for the quiet shit. And Pao? Ride with Hurley Girly and try to be careful with that new rang you have.”
Now where’s the fun in that? Sarah mocked a salute to her gang’s head.
Lena pointed to Dipity. “Grab a key card off one of those soldiers. And you can lead us in.”
“You sure?” Dipity wrinkled her brow. She’d never led the cavalcade before. Always comfortable in the back.
“Why the hell not?” Lena said. “We’ll break up when we get in there. Don’t shoot any shipees. The more of them we have on our side, the easier it’s going to be overthrowing the assholes who sent us away. Ready?”
Dipity grabbed a key card from the soldier with bubblegum all over his face and hopped onto her cyclone. She raised a fist then zipped toward the door. Sarah held onto Hurley Girly, as they jolted into full speed. Dipity was one brave mother, going from zero to crazy in two seconds flat toward a solid object. If the key card didn’t work at the speed she traveled, she’d crash right into the door. Sarah would have chickened out and veered off course, if not shot her rang in the hope that the multitude of shots would go through.
But the doors opened just before Dipity got there, and every soldier in the holding room turned to see them blast through. Three soldiers on the second floor aimed their rifles. Hurley Girly broke off from the group and ramped the stairs. Sarah didn’t feel so much as a bump.
“Shipees, get down!” Sarah yelled as she raised her rang.
The lights flew from her weapon in a scattered mess, taking out each soldier in their path with a shot to the head or chest. The other shots flew around the holding room like loose, rabid birds.
Hurley Girly had to duck to avoid getting hit with one. “Damn it, Pao.”
They neared a soldier who hadn’t noticed them zooming toward him. As he turned to aim his rifle, Hurley Girly plowed into his side with her cyclone, sending him over the railing. They stopped to make sure he didn’t get up after landing on his head.
Now that would be a miracle, Sarah thought.
From this vantage, Sarah took in the glorious surroundings, below and above. Rang shots flew with fury, bouncing off walls and the ceiling where a gaping hole had been covered with clear tarp. Soldiers cried out and bled from wounds that didn’t fully cauterize from the balls of light.
Sarah never felt so much power, or if it wasn’t power, it definitely felt like the complete absence of fear. She wasn’t stupid enough to think it could last, but damn it, she could bask in it for a few seconds.
On the ground floor, Dipity roared past a soldier and smashed his face in with her speeding fist. Another one shot at her, but she dodged it in time for the laser to graze her shoulder. With blood trickling down her large arm, she sped for her attacker and shot a rang shot into his crotch. The soldier dropped and Dipity kept her momentum, driving her cyclone right over him.
The shipees stared from their cells, faces and hands smudged against the clear glass. They were as safe as they could be, but their faces showed an eagerness to join in on the fun.
The holding door opened and another fifty soldiers stormed in with hands filled with rifles. A laser turret followed behind. The turret rolled on chain-link wheels, like one of the tanks outside, its gun barrel just as intimidating.
Sarah searched the holding room for the control box that opened all the cell doors. She’d seen it before she’d been shipped, but her memory was shit anyway, and the sudden wave of panic didn’t help at all.
The box hung from a wall on the ground floor, a hundred feet away from the invading soldiers.
Jumping from the cyclone, Sarah sped round to the stairs on the other side.
“Hey!” Hurley Girly shouted. “Where are you going, dipshit?”
Sarah skimmed over the steps like a runaway sled. She landed just a few feet from Dipity.
“Throw me the key card,” Sarah held out her hand.
Dipity pulled the card from her jacket and threw. When Sarah caught it, the soldiers shot at every inch of the holding room. Sarah hopped onto Dipity’s cyclone and, keeping as low as they could, they zipped for cover behind the stairs.
“Your arm okay?” Sarah nodded to Dipity’s bleeding hole.
“Not for much longer if we don’t get to that box over there.” The control box couldn’t have been more than twenty-five feet away, but it lay right in the soldier’s line of sight.
“Use your rang on those soldiers,” Dipity said.
“I will! But I have to have a straight arm, and it burns every time I shoot it.”
“Quit being a turd and light those fuckers up.”
Sarah took a big breath and extended her arm around the front of Dipity’s cyclone. A laser flew past, nearly destroying her rang and what arm she had left. She pulled back quickly and leaned against the bike. A high-pitched whine built up where the soldiers had taken their position. Something spun faster and faster.
“It’s that turret warming up.” Dipity’s dark skin had lost some color. She gripped her injured arm as blood poured steadily between her fingers. She’d lied. Her injury was worse than she’d let on. She needed help, and quick.
Sarah brought her rang around again and fired. Her stump burned hotter and hotter the more the energy balls poured into the holding room. But she kept it shooting. She worried where the other Daughters were and if any of the rang shots were to find one of them in the back, but she kept her arm straight.
When the heat became too much to bear, she fell back behind her cyclone and cradled her rang arm, wanting to rip the gun away, but knowing it would have been a mistake.
“I think you got ‘em,” Dipity said.
Sarah poked her head out. Many of the soldiers lay dead. The others must have scattered when she fired. The turret lay on its side, but was very much still intact, and spinning its barrel.
Then it fired.
Sarah jumped back as the turret lasers racked the wall near the cell control box. The line of fire moved with every shot, pushed by the vibration of the overturned turret. The lasers moved toward the controls inch by inch. In seconds, the box would be destroyed, and the shipees would be stuck in their cells.
With a quick jump, Sarah got onto Dipity’s cyclone.
“What the hell are you doing?” Dipity stared at her with wide eyes.
“The only thing I can.” She rode out from behind the stairs, using her elbow for the left handlebar.
I must be a fucking idiot.
The turret lasers continued their barrage as Sarah rode to the side of them. When they got inches from her boot, she locked her bike into full speed, and jumped from the seat. When the floor caught her, Sarah tucked her body as best she could, but every place her body hit hurt like being punched by a porcelain fist.
The lasers tore into the cyclone as it sped toward the turret.
Just a little further.
The cyclone wobbled, slowed by the laser fire. The blazing wheels kept spinning.
The cyclone slammed into the turret, a symphony of shattering glass and twisting metal. For a moment, everything got quiet. Then the cyclone exploded in a concussion of hot, blue light.
Sarah covered her head and rolled toward the far wall. The tremendous heat slapped her back, and she smelled burned hair. When the noise died, she pushed herself up. The turret and the cyclone smoldered in a black mess, and a soldier on the railing above shot his rifle. Sarah jumped and rolled, ignoring her swollen joints as she ran for the control box. With a slide of the key card and the push of a couple buttons, the cells opened.
Sarah looked back to Dipity, heaving breath. “That wasn’t that hard.”
“Now what?” Dipity shook her head. “The shipees don’t have guns.”
The soldier above screamed and landed with a splat beside the stairs.
“No,” Sarah said. “But there are a lot of them.”
The noise that came next was a mash of screams and lasers. By the time Sarah and Dipity crawled out of their hiding spot, all the soldiers had been thrown over the railing or blasted with a rang gun. One brave shipee was finishing off a soldier with tiny hands around the neck.
A few floors up, Lena stood in the middle of three dozen shipees, breathing like she’d run a marathon. “I swear, Pao. You don’t how to keep a cyclone do you?”
“Everybody okay?” Sarah helped Dipity up the last step.
“Minus a few shipees and one of our newest Daughters.”
The remaining O.C. girl broke through the crowd with a reserved hatred across her face. Sarah’s guts twisted, but she tried to ignore it. She didn’t even know the dead girl’s name.
Lena looked around the floor. “Hurley Girly is around here somewhere. Probably flirting with some shipees on the other end of the holding room. Yep, there she is.”
“Dipity needs her arm bandaged.” Sarah held up Dipity’s arm before the big woman yanked it back.
“I’ll be all right,” Dipity said.
Sarah looked around at all the shipees. Bruises and sweat covered them as they caugh their breath. Bloody, some of them. But in Sarah’s experience, that always fueled the fire to fight.
“How’d you girl’s like to get out of here?” Lena yelled.
The shipees within earshot hollered approval and shook their arms high. The ones farther away, who probably hadn’t heard it, joined in as well. A contagious, electric excitement filled the holding room. The hairs on the back of Sarah’s neck tingled.
“Who are you?” one of the shipees held her hand up. Poor thing still acted like she attended grade school.
“My name is Lena Horowitz. And we’re from Oubliette. They tried to take us out, but the bastards just gave us a good way to come here and kick ass. So, how’d you like to get a little revenge on the cocksuckers who were going to kill you?”
The shipees roared with delight.
“Okay,” Lena continued. “Shipees, gather all the laser rifles in this port. Make sure every girl has one.”
Explosions racked the walls from outside.
“What in hell was that?” Hurley Girly broke away from the crowd around her.
Lena quickly twirled a finger in the air. “Get those guns. All of you. Now, now, now!”
The shipees scattered, spreading the word to those who hadn’t been close enough to hear.
“What’s going on out there?” Sarah tapped Lena’s arm.
Lena snapped her head around. “Do you not remember those big ass tanks?”
A Mind So Dark in a City So Bright
By Sean Grigsby
“If you’re still here at the end of the summer,” she said, “I’ll know you love me.”
As far as postcoital statements went, that had to be the strangest thing I’d ever heard, especially coming from a woman I’d been dating for three months, a woman I’d just professed my love for.
“What?!” I rolled onto my side and pushed a strand of hair over her ear. “Emmy, of course I’ll still be here. What are you talking about?”
Standing, she put on my robe. When she lifted her dark hair over the collar, I caught a glimpse of the implant on the back of her neck. I’d seen it before, felt it during intimate moments, but I’d never asked her about it. Modifications were personal and that was something you didn’t do. If a guy wanted to flaunt a new pair of Boren Corp titanium arms, that was one thing (and someone would eventually find the guy armless and pulseless in an alley).
It was the window Emmy headed for, but first she had to fumble past the labyrinth of augment body parts piled up in my apartment. If my clients ever saw that mess, I’d have had to get in line for a real job.
Emmy pressed a button to raise the blackout curtain and that’s when the night broke in. Fusion City is the only place I’ve ever known that was darker during the day and brighter at night. Folks could go blind from the neon glow—a real cluster of incandescent geometry that pointed you one way and then another. This way, this way. No! This way. We have what you want, what you need. You won’t live without it.
It’s why I wore my dark goggles if I ever had to go out at night. But the lights never seemed to bother Emmy.
She pressed her forehead against the window and blew a foggy circle. When other people would have marked a smiley face or a four-letter word, Emmy just stood there and watched it fade away. “You’ll get tired of having to deal with me. And then you’ll leave.”
“I know you get sad sometimes, but it doesn’t bother me. It doesn’t change how I feel about you.”
She turned to me. Even in the shadow Fusion City made of her face, I could see tears rolling down her cheeks. “You haven’t seen how bad it can get, Darren.”
Out of bed and in the buff, I took her in my arms. “I’m not like any other asshole you might have been with before. I don’t turn tail when things get tough. Who else would have let the entire city peek at his junk, just so he could hold you?”
That barely got a weak smile.
“Seriously.” I kissed her head and brought her in close. “I’m not going anywhere.”
I don’t know what it was that woke me later that night. Maybe it was the absence of something. When I sat up and looked at Emmy, her eyes were open. Staring, but not at me. She lay in the fetal position, stiff to the touch.
“Emmy?” I shook her gently. She didn’t respond. It was like pushing against stone, and I’d touched enough dead bodies to know what rigor mortis felt like.
She must have gotten into the pill box I kept in the kitchenette. Pain killers for clients who couldn’t deal with the pain of surgery. She’d overdosed and I hadn’t heard a thing. Damn it, Emmy. I never thought she would do something like this. Why didn’t she let me help? Why didn’t she let me fix it?
You can’t fix everything, she’d once told me.
Tears stinging my eyes, I bolted onto my knees and checked her for a pulse. It was weak but present. Her chest didn’t rise, but when I put my ear to her nose a slow exhale blew warm. She was alive but… petrified.
“Talk to me, Emmy.”
I scooped her into my arms and carried her to a chair, kicking off a box of hyperlink eyeballs. She remained stiff, frozen in the same position. It was like carrying a piece of cold metal. I sat her up—or tried to. She fell to the side and I had to catch her.
This wasn’t an overdose. Nothing in my pill box would have turned Emmy’s muscles to stone.
I suffered a moment of weakness, thought about calling the medics—no. I loved Emmy, but I couldn’t be any help to her if the cops also came along and found all the black market augments in my place.
But there was someone I could call.
Emmy wasn’t in any shape to sit in that chair, so I put her back in bed and covered her with a sheet.
“Darren, m’boy!” Elmer Rickshaw’s green hologram filled my field of vision within the VR phone helmet. He wore glasses with frosted lenses I could never see his eyes through and the part in his hair implant looked like it might have been combed with a razor.
“I’m in trouble, Elmer.”
“Then why the hell are you calling me? Get off the line before you drag me into it.”
“It’s not like that. My girlfriend, she’s frozen or something. Breathing, pulse, everything is normal except that she’s turned into a damned mannequin.”
Elmer tucked in his lips, thinking. “Where’d you meet this girl?”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“Do you want my help or not?”
I reached up to rub my face but my hand struck the phone helmet. “A few months ago. It was a… VR mixer or something. For singles.”
“Didn’t think you were the type to get involved with something like that.”
“It’s legit. More than anything else I’ve got my hand in. Emmy, that’s her name. Works at a cryo clinic. She’s got this implant on the back of her neck, too, but I never—”
“She get blue?”
I shook my head even though I knew he wouldn’t be able to see it. “No, she’s breathing just fine. There’s no sign of cyanosis.”
“No, dummy. I meant, does she get depressed?”
“Oh. Well, yeah, sometimes. She was really sad before we went to sleep.”
“She’ll be back to normal. I don’t know when. Might not be today. Tomorrow? No telling, kid.”
“So, you know what’s going on?”
“Nope. And that’s the story I’m sticking to. Brain augments are a special area of illegal. Cops find out you didn’t report a neuro job, whatever they’d do to you for your surgeries would seem like a walk in the park. Listen, your girlfriend will be just fine while you go handle our business—you got that maintenance appointment with Jumpy Legs later today?”
“Yeah,” I said.
“Jumpy Legs” was a woman named Marley Sandalwood who’d had me install new legs with hydraulic propulsion. Apparently, she’d always wanted to leap twenty feet into the air. But they’d been giving her problems, leaking hydraulic fluid. I had to go fix them to keep my good name intact. People who used the black market might be breaking the law, but that didn’t mean they expected shoddy service.
“And some advice, kid?” Elmer said.
“Act like this never happened.”
When I got home from fixing Marley Sandalwood’s legs, Emmy sat in the chair in which I’d previously failed to keep her rigid body.
“Hey, babe,” she said.
“Hey. Are you okay?”
She lowered her head. “You saw.”
I could have lied, listened to Elmer’s advice and just pretended none of it had happened. But although I might have lied to my suppliers, my clients—hell, even Elmer sometimes—I couldn’t lie to Emmy.
“What’s going on?” I asked. “That implant on the back of your neck. Is that what made your body go stiff? I’ve never seen anything like that.”
She tossed me a device and then a small pod. “Sit down.”
I looked into my hands and saw it was an insta-coffee mug and the pod was a Colombian roast. I plugged in the pod and let the coffee brew in my hands. Sitting in front of her with my legs crossed, I took a sip through the insta-mug’s straw.
“Couple of Christmases ago,” she said. “Me and my family show up to my father’s loft to surprise him. Our relationship had been pretty shaky for years, but I wanted to change things. I remember walking through his door holding a whole stack of presents I’d wrapped terribly. Nothing expensive. Just some shirts and a used VR phone, so he could talk to us. Instead, we found him… I found…”
She took a deep breath and looked toward the window, as if she wanted to jump out and soar into the never-ending lights.
“You don’t have to talk about this if you don’t want to,” I said.
“No,” Emmy said. “You have to know. I just have to stay calm enough to stay… here. Present. Sometimes it’s like I’m reliving it all over again. Anyway, my dad, he’d gone out and bought himself a Christmas gift the day before. A laser pistol from some back alley. Tiny gun. Cops called it a JI something.”
A JI-349. Sneaky little bastard with a punch. You’d never see it coming if a supplier decided he’d rather take your money and keep his augments.
Emmy gave a small laugh. “I was a little late on the reconciliation, huh? It was me who found him. I kept telling my husband to keep our son out of the room so he wouldn’t see. Would have ruined him. It’s bad enough I still see it when I close my eyes. Well, until I got this.” She tapped the back of her neck.
“Holy shit,” was all I could say, until it clicked that she had a kid and a husband. “You’re married?”
“Was. I got to where I wouldn’t leave the bed. Doctors diagnosed it as PTSD, but it always feels more than just four blocky letters bunched together. More than the “D word.” It’s like this entity that gets into me. Possession, if I believed in that sort of thing. My ex couldn’t cope. Divorced me and got custody of our son. Ethan. That’s his name. Was his name. I don’t know where they are.”
“Don’t be. Like I’ve told you before, everyone leaves.”
“I’m not going—”
“When I lost everybody I started taking anything I could get my hands on to break free, to feel anything close to normal. Prescriptions at first, then when they weren’t doing the trick, I tried stuff the conglomerates don’t look very kindly on. Same story there. I confessed to another cryo aid that I was considering suicide. I don’t know why I told her. She isn’t a friend. ‘I know a guy,’ she told me. Said he might have something to help.”
“The implant,” I said.
Emmy nodded. “He said he could make it to where I didn’t have to experience the depression when it hit. When the implant senses it coming on, it shuts down everything besides basic life functions, slowly reworks my brain chemistry until I come out of it.”
I was no one to judge black market dealings, but the thought of Emmy having to go to some grubby-handed butcher who promised a cure really twisted my guts. It wasn’t helping the problem, it was only burying it. A fast-forward button whenever things got rough. I wanted to cry, to scream at her. But that was stupid. She was just trying to find some peace. Still, I wanted to wring the guy’s neck.
“That’s no way to live,” I said.
“At least it’s living. You wouldn’t know what it’s like. Your life is so perfect.”
I looked around at the veritable junkyard my apartment had become since I’d dropped out of medical school. Yeah, I was living the dream all right.
“One of my clients,” I said. “Her new eye wasn’t taking. It happens sometimes. The body rejects it, no matter how many drugs you push. I offered to put the old one back, free of charge. Elm—my partner keeps them on ice for a month after, just in case. She didn’t want that. She wanted her new eye. I never found out why it was so important to her. I’d check in on her from time to time, trying to convince her to let me put her back the way she was. She’d just cry. Tears from one eye, blood from the other. She jumped from the top of the neon cowboy off Morgan Street.”
I thought of that client before every surgery, wondering if I’d fail again. Not in my augmenting skills, but in making someone feel that they deserved to live. I might not have finished my medical degree, but I took the Hippocratic Oath seriously.
Placing a hand on Emmy’s thigh, I said, “I’m not going to pretend I know what it’s like, but I want you here with me. Even when it’s bad, I want to be the one to hold you. I want you to know I’m holding you.”
“Sometimes I’m aware when the implant kicks in. It’s not a conscious thing, just shapes moving around. Other times I relive that moment when I saw my dad’s body. A nightmare on repeat. Bloody walls closing in on me.”
She swallowed as if straining anything more from getting out. It was visible in her wincing face, a constant struggle to keep the beasts tucked into the back of her mind, where only their shadows might flicker across her thoughts every so often. It had to be hell.
“The good times are when I don’t know anything happened, a blackout. I just wake up and go about my life. Although the cryo clinic has written me up a few times for being late or not showing up at all. It’s not like I can tell them.”
My coffee had gone cold, so I threw it toward the kitchenette.
“Who did the surgery?” I asked.
“It doesn’t matter.”
“It does to me. I want to know if this guy is a quack. You could have brain damage.”
Under low lids, she rolled her eyes, as if she was telling me a pointing finger came with four more pointing the other way. “His name was Birchum. I met him at the arcade on Gibson Avenue. Does that satisfy you?”
I grabbed my goggles and coat as I headed for the door.
“Where are you going?” Emmy asked, following me.
“To talk to this Birchum. We’re going to get that implant out of you.”
“You can’t.” Emmy grabbed my arm, but didn’t pull. “Just leave it alone, Darren. It’s not your decision. Just… stay here with me. Like you said you wanted.”
Strapping on my goggles, I sighed. “You’re one of the strongest women I’ve ever met. The shit you went through. Brain surgery, even. But you don’t need that implant. We can work together to make you better.”
She let go of my arm, and instead of feeling relieved, I felt rejected.
“It’s never going away,” she said. “It’s a part of me. So, either you love all of me, or you don’t.”
“You haven’t even said if you love me, too.”
Emmy turned her back on me and I was out the door. As far as I know, she was still standing in that position when I hit the street.
A group of zurgheads gathered around one of their own, watching as he shot lasers at a holographic monster stomping through the digital city in front of him. A woman among them pulled a zurg cartridge from her leather pants pocket and plugged it into the slot grafted on her right forearm. When the drug had done its job, the cartridge ejected itself and fell to the floor with the rest of the expended.
The guy at the door said I could find Birchum playing Galaga in the back. Someone was back there punching buttons, but he didn’t look like any kind of augment surgeon I’d ever met. He was a foot taller than me and wore a dirty tank top that showed off pale arms packed with large but flabby muscle. His bald head was covered with scabs.
“You Birchum?” I leaned against the next game over.
His eyes never left the screen. “Not now, I’m almost there.”
“You install an implant on a woman? Something that turns her stone-still when she gets depressed?”
His fingers hit the buttons and wiggled the joystick. My presence had completely vanished from his radar.
I reached behind Galaga and ripped the cord from the wall.
“What the fuck!” Birchum turned to me, huffing through his nostrils.
“I asked you a question.”
“I almost got the high score,” his voice jumped to soprano. “I should kick your ass.”
“I just want to talk.”
He stepped forward. “I know nothing. You must be some kind of stupid, coming in here accusing me of doing a neuro job. Do I look like a night surgeon to you? I’m a law-abiding citizen. Got that? Now, get outta here before this conversation turns into Mike Tyson’s Punch Out.”
I removed my laser pistol, a Dretzle 99, not as compact as the JI-349, but it fit in my coat okay. The zurgheads a few games down watched, eager to see if I would defeat this new monster attacking the city.
“Jesus, man.” Birchum raised his arms, keeping them tight to his body. “I was just angry. No need to shoot someone over a game.”
A sudden wave of embarrassment hit me, but I kept the gun where it was. “This is important.”
“Well, let’s talk it out. I’ll buy you a soda.” His eyes gestured toward the fountain bar.
I sighed and returned the gun to my coat pocket. “I’m not thirsty.”
When Birchum finished topping off his drink, he took a seat at one of the tall tables by the window. I remained standing.
“Yeah, I remember her,” he said. “This was like, a little less than a year ago. But what do you care?”
I opened my mouth to speak, but closed it to consider the question.
“She’s your girl,” he said, nodding as he sipped his straw. “That’s what this is about. When the implant kicks in, you’re left with a human paper weight. I understand, man.”
“No, you don’t. You can’t go messing around with someone’s brain. Arms and legs are one thing. But this… how do I remove it?”
Birchum spit his drink at me, laughing. “You can’t. Not without killing her. Sorry to give you the bad news, champ, but maybe you should cut your losses and get another girlfriend.”
“I don’t work like that.”
Birchum held his empty palms up. “Then deal with it. Those are your only two options.”
“There’s got to be something I can do.”
I’d said it more to myself, but Birchum hummed as if I’d given him something to chew on.
“There might be something.” Birchum slurped his drink until it made that annoying burbling sound. “Depending on how much you really care about her.”
I told Emmy I’d be gone for the next two days, but made it up to her with a nice dinner and a magic show. We walked home that night, talking and laughing, kissing. Fusion City’s lights didn’t even bother my eyes. It was the best night we’d spent together since we first met.
“I want to say it,” she said. “I’m just scared.”
“I love you. That’s why I tell you. Not to get some automatic response. You don’t have to say it. I feel it.”
She hugged me and in my ear whispered, “I don’t deserve this.”
What she didn’t deserve was bottomless pit swallowing her and preventing her from being loved. I didn’t say that, though. I wanted to keep the night’s vibe as bright as the corporate greed surrounding us. I’d be fixing it soon anyway, the only way I knew how.
Two days later, I came home and found her on the floor, stiff and staring. A note lay beside her that she’d written with deep purple lipstick. It simply read, “I love you, too.”
I carried her to the bed and came back with the double-ended cord Birchum had given me. After I undressed, I got under the sheets and cuddled close against Emmy’s back.
“I don’t know if you can hear me,” I said, “but I’m doing this because I love you.”
The cord plugged easily into her implant like Birchum had said, and was just long enough to reach the back of my neck. Two days earlier, I had him install the same device in me, giving him extra cash for pulling a gun on him. Unlike Emmy’s, though, my implant would only engage if both of us were linked and Emmy was in the catatonic state.
As I plugged in, I wondered if I’d be aware, awake but immovable until Emmy came up from the darkness. How long would it be until I could look in her eyes and see her there, looking back?
“You’ll feel everything she feels,” Birchum had told me. “It’ll be like it’s happening to you. Whatever it is. Are you prepared for that?”
I thought of the bleeding walls closing in. The pain I would feel seeing her father dead as if it was my own father—if I’d loved mine as much as Emmy loved hers.
“She’s worth it,” I’d told Birchum.
Either way, we were together, and at the end of the blinding night that’s all that really mattered.
Les Miserables is one of my favorite musicals, and I've always wanted to record a cover of The Confrontation, performing both Javert's and Valjean's parts. Well, here it is. Enjoy.
Halloween is almost here and that means horror is at its apex! Speaking of apex, D.W. Gillespie's new book released earlier this month from Sirens Call Publications, and has a very interesting monster lurking in the Smoky Mountains...
- The Interview -
SG - I'll get the tough question out of the way. The monster in your book is called Apex and uses one's fears against them. How is this different from Stephen King's iconic clown and what influences did you pull from?
DWG - You know, it's funny, but that hasn't even come up before, even though you do make a good point. In blurb form, it might sound remarkably similar. In the context of the book, Apex is very different from Pennywise. Apex has much more of sci-fi inspiration to him, but not in a Lovecraftian, unknowable sort of way. By the end of the book there really aren't any questions as to what he is.
As far as influences, I don't want to give too much of away because there's a bit of a mystery to the story and specific examples might spoil things. I'll just say this...within the first 30 pages or so, you'll think you know what's going on, but you really don't.
SG - What can you tell us about Apex?
DWG - Apex has the ability to see into people's minds and use that against them. He can't shapeshift or anything like that, so he has to be creative about how he uses that ability. In one of my favorite scenes, he looks into the mind of Laura, one of the main characters in the novel, and he sees her deep hatred for her elderly, abusive father. I won't spoil how he uses that information against her, but it makes for a tense, deeply disturbing scene.
SG - You live in Tennessee and set the book in the Smoky Mountains, what is it about this setting that drew you to write about it?
DWG - It's a beautiful area, and it just fit the story perfectly. Anyone that's ever been to Gatlinburg knows how picturesque the mountains are. Originally, Still Dark grew out of a single dream I had, this weird, impossible vision of a crocodile swimming under a frozen lake. I woke up, jotted it down, and the next day, I couldn't stop thinking about it. I've been to the mountains a lot throughout my life, but only once while it was snowing. It stuck with me though, and once the actual story started to form around that dream, I knew it had to be in that area.
SG - Favorite scenes you can talk about?
DWG - The aforementioned croc under ice is a good one, just because it's so implausible and weird. At that point in the early parts of the book, you're just thinking, "How the hell can any of this make sense?"
A bit later, a similar scene takes place in a massive indoor aquarium. Picture this: a giant, darkened room, no electricity, the sound of lapping water, the smell of blood, and over everything, the distance screams from dying people. Among the many horrors in that scene, one of my favorites is the giant squid peering out from the red water. I love that scene so much, I knew it had to make the cover.
SG - How long have you been writing and what do you love about horror fiction?
DWG - Longer than I'd like to admit. Actually, there's a few answers. I have school projects from 3rd grade about me shooting Frankenstein with a shotgun, which technically counts as horror. The better answer is since around 2002. That was when I took a creative writing class and realized I had at least a little something to work with. The past 6 years or so have been the best. That was around the time I took a good long look at what I was doing and realized I just wasn't putting my all into it. Since then, I've had one small little success after another.
As for horror, well, it just comes naturally for some reason. I can't quite explain why, but that's where my mind drifts. I do have some other novels waiting in the wings, including a full blown sci-fi and even a dark fantasy. I imagine I'll be branching out some, but it will almost all have that dark edge to it. People always look at horror writers and think they must be sickos to dream up all that nastiness. I just think it's healthy to have a connection to the slightly darker side of life. I'm honestly one of the most normal, boring people I know. Maybe all that horror helps keep me grounded.
SG - Best piece of writing advice you've learned so far?
DWG - Resilience. Tenacity. Whatever you want to call it. The ability to get told no a thousand times and still press on. At this point in my career, that's probably been more valuable than all the How To blogs I've ever read.
From the cover:
When a thunderous explosion rocks an idyllic cabin resort in the Great Smoky Mountains, animals and humans alike begin to act strange. Jim, along with his wife Laura and son, Sam, are cut off from the outside world, but they soon realize the true nightmare is just beginning…
Deep in the snow-covered woods, something is waiting. The creature calls itself Apex, and it’s a traveler. Reading the minds of those around it, Apex brings the terrifying fears hidden in the human psyche to life with a singular purpose: to kill any that stand in its way.
Locked in a fight for their lives, Jim and his family must uncover the truth behind Apex, and stop the creature from wreaking a horrifying fate upon the rest of the world!
Buy now at Amazon
That's right, folks. Angry Robot Books is publishing my novel, SMOKE EATERS in March of 2018. Below, I've linked some posts that will tell you a little bit more about the book and how I've always wanted to write for Angry Robot.
Clicky-clicky ---> Fantasy Faction Deal Announcement
Clicky-clicky ---> Angry Robot Announcement
I'm no guru, and I hate having to start an article this way, but let me get this across: this is all just my whackadoo opinion.
So, if you're a new writer, you might have asked yourself, or other writers, what you should start out writing. Should you jump head first into novels, or should you start with short stories?
Well, it depends. Also, it doesn't matter.
Because, as a new writer, everything you write at this time will be practice. I'm not saying you won't be able to sell any of this practice. I certainly sold some of my crap to small publishers back in the day. But you're at a point where freedom is infinite and you can do whatever the fuck you want.
This is a time where you're going to learn about yourself as a writer. You might find you suck at novels and excel at the shorts. Or vice versa.
Ray Bradbury had always suggested writers start out with short stories. So, being a fan of Ray-ray, I started writing short stories. I was also deathly afraid of writing a novel.
"You mean I have to write a query and a synopsis if I want to get a novel published? Forget that!"
Thing is, everyone who read my short stories said the same thing: "This feels like it should be a novel."
Now, I'm not saying I'm bad at writing short stories (I just recently sold one for an anthology called HOLDING ON BY OUR FINGERTIPS) but through my practice, I discovered I'm naturally a novel-length storyteller. And not even a big novel. I've never written anything over 90k.
I've heard people say that short stories are harder to write than novels.
I think they're right.
Novels give you room to run, to explore shit.
Short stories have to be sharp and to the point.
On the flip side, more people read novels, just a fact. While there are many more short story markets out there today, thanks to the internet, it's still tough as balls to get in to semi-pro and professional markets. Hell, it's tough to get in to token markets that give you nothing more than your name on a web page.
That's not to say novels are easier to sell. And though I'd like to say that there are far fewer people out there with finished novels versus finished short stories, I'm sure I'd be wrong. I used to read slush for an online horror magazine and, holy shit are there a lot of people out there writing. And, holy shit there are a lot of people out there who write out their revenge fantasies.
Whatever gets you through the day, Charlie.
Many of the award-winning short story writers out there write nothing but short stories. Same goes for novelists. Then, there are those crazy folks who write both and can do no goddamned wrong.
The best advice I can give to any of you out there who don't know where to start is this:
Go with your gut, and write both short stories AND novels. If people tell you that every short story you write feels like a novel, try expanding it. You'll figure out what you fit best with.
Try without giving a damn if you fail. You'll only grow through experimentation and falling on your ass a few times.
Perseverance, y'all. Perseverance.
Till next time, I'm out.
Wanted to let y'all know about my brand-spanking-new podcast, Cosmic Dragon. It's going to be all about debut SFF authors and their books. Subscribe in your favorite podcast app or check it out here:
I've never seen what Richard Writhen actually looks like, so it made sense that, while I was at the art museum the other day, a painting of a mustachioed man began speaking speaking to me and claiming to be Richard Writhen. Not one to pass an opportunity by, I asked him about his book, THE HISS OF THE BLADE.
SG - This is your third novella and the first in a series. What is it about novellas vs. novels that you like better?
RW - I have preferred the novella length for some time. I think that I first decided to adopt it for my series work after I finished reading both The Chronicles of Narnia and Prydain. I admire world-building so dense that you don't really need a thousand pages to present your narrative, and folks can read it in a shorter amount of time. Of course, a shorter book is also quicker to produce with less filler as well.
SG – Can you tell us what a reaver is and why someone would become such?
RW - Reaver is a word from the old English that refers to a "plundering forager." Back in the day in the dark ages or the time of the Vikings or whatever where there were merely villages and society had not progressed to the point that it has today, it was far more common for roving killers to come to your home, kill you and your family and take whatever of value you may have. One of my characters in the novella, Clyde Grundren, has tried to go straight in true Carlito's Way fashion but finds that his military background is incompatible with civilian life and this draws him back into a lifestyle that involves some degree of criminal activity.
SG - What's up with the serial killer?
RW - His motivations are not quite what you would expect at first; it all ties in to the religions and deities of the planet that the three novellas take place on, Cedron. There is a spiritual angle to it, almost like the movie The First Power.But of course, he has to be detained and managed first ... but he is quite overmanaged, to strange ends.
SG - And a sorcerer threatening the city?
RW - One of the magnates mentioned in the blurb, Kieth Fassvard eventually comes to be willing to do anything to win in a war of wills with his opponent, Tyrus Mahdren. Unfortunately, that includes the use of arcane magic that is thousands of years old and was technically unstable in the first place. He enlists a magic user from an unlikely source and begins to pressure him in every way possible to bail him out of a predicament.
SG - Favorite scene from the book?
RW - That would involve some serious spoilerifficness (?) but let's just say that the conflict hits a little bit too close to home for Kieth.
SG - Favorite SFF archetype?
RW - I love all witches, wizards and magic users. But rough barbarian types too. Because IRL, both physical and mental strength are useful. For every Gandalf there's a Logen Ninefingers ...
SG - Best writing advice you ever received?
RW - “I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide." - Harper Lee
From the cover:
Two petty mercenaries are falsely accused of switching sides in a feud between two rich and powerful magnates; an ex-miner on the run from a murder charge becomes a reaver and embroiled in a romance; an industrial lieutenant is recruited to help capture a serial killer and an entire city is in danger of being ensorcelled by an ancient monk.
It's alive! It's alive! And it wants to kick Nazi ass!
Edward M. Erdelac retired his mad scientist's lab coat for the evening recently, and discussed his book from Comet Press, MONSTRUMFUHRER, over a plate of schnitzel.
SG - There have been several mashups with Nazis and supernatural monsters, but your book is the first, that I know of, that brings Mary Shelly's creation into the picture. What inspired the idea?
EE - Actually the 2013 Dutch movie Frankenstein’s Army beat me to the punch, but I was literally closing in on the last chapters when it was released. It really took the wind out of my sails on writing the novel for a couple months till Lisa Morton over at the HWA advised me to continue with it. I’ve still never seen it.
The idea came to me way back in 2003 or so, brainstorming with a buddy of mine. It began life as a proposed graphic novel, and was completely written out in script form, but I couldn’t get an artist interested, so I decided to turn it into prose.
I think I had been reading about the Holocaust and Mengele’s experiments, and trying to piece together some kind of reason for these horrifically inhumane deeds, just to kind of quiet my own mind. Of course, in reality, they were simply the actions of a depraved, sadistic lunatic given unchecked, state-sanctioned authority over defenseless people.
SG - How much research did you have to do?
EE - A great deal of sobering stuff. Posner and Ware’s biography on Mengele, several first-hand accounts of the Holocaust. Lagnado and Dekel’s Children of The Flames, Dr. Nyiszli’s account….and of course a couple rereads of Shelly.
My dad’s an avid World War 2 buff, so that definitely helped. Lots of phone conversations and picking through his library.
SG - What can you tell us about Jotham and Eli?
EE - When the story picks up with them, they’ve already felt the terror of the Nazi pogroms. Their family’s been devastated. Their mother wasted away in the Krakow ghetto , and their father, though he’s managed to get himself and his sons out, has deposited them with a family friend and gone off in hopes of finding a means out of Europe for all of them. So they’re hiding out in the attic of a Polish bookstore, where they discover Captain Walton’s letters to his sister (which, in our reality, comprise the epistolary novel Frankenstein).
Jotham and Eli are identical twins, but quite different in temperament. Eli is a musician, Jotham a voracious reader and a polyglot. Eli is something of a dreamer, holding out hopes for his people and his family, whereas Jotham has let a certain pessimistic practicality settle into him. He’s a survivor without illusions.
SG - This isn't your first historical horror. What can we expect from you next?
EE - I’ve completed a wuxia fantasy weird western called The Chilibean Joss that I’m shopping around. I’ve also got a short Lovecraftian novel featuring a certain popular espionage character set in the 1960’s coming out from April Moon Books. It’ll be paired with something from William Meikle. Next year I’ll be reprinting my Lovecraftian weird western series Merkabah Rider with some new material. I also have a dark Arthurian fantasy novel, The Knight With Two Swords, due out this year from Ragnarok Books.
SG - Favorite scene from the book?
EE - Well the premise is Frankenstein’s original Creature coming down from the North Pole to stop Mengele from replicating the experiment. It’d be proverbially showing the gun in the first act and not firing it in the third if the Creature doesn’t actually ever face any of Mengele’s experiments, so I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by saying they clash, and it’s a pretty brutal superhuman confrontation I enjoyed writing. It’s kind of a moment of pulpy fresh air after the choking ash of Auschwitz – one of the only scenes to survive unchanged from the original graphic novel concept.
SG - Favorite horror archetype?
EE - I’m a big fan of the occult detective, as epitomized by Abraham Van Helsing. The fighting scholar type well-versed in obscure knowledge.
SG - Best writing advice you ever received?
EE - Joe Lansdale told me (and a table of other writers) that writing is a muscle which needs to be regularly exercised the same time every day, or else it atrophies. I commit to two hours a morning. I wish I could say I gave physical exercise the same attention.
MONSTRUMFUHRER is available now!
From The cover:
In 1936 Dr. Josef Mengele discovers Victor Frankenstein's lab journal in the attic of an Ingolstadt dormitory and is tasked by the Reich Institute with replicating his reanimation procedure.
While hiding in a bookstore in Warsaw, a pair of Jewish twin brothers, Jotham and Eli Podczaski, come across the letters of Captain Walton to his sister, detailing the ill-fated story of Frankenstein.
When Jotham and Eli are captured by the Gestapo and encounter Mengele in the gray confines of Auschwitz KZ, they alone recognize the origin of his bizarre, sadistic experiments. Jotham hatches a plan to escape the camp and travel north, to find the only being capable of stopping Mengele from providing the Third Reich with a new race of undying stormtroopers; the only being on earth who will believe them ... Frankenstein's original creature.
A murder is what you call a group of crows, and I'm guessing if they were ravens, you could call it an orc rave. No. I guess not. But it sounds cool. Scott Oden has been in the game for a while, and was gracious enough to answer a few questions about the new book coming out June 20th from Thomas Dunne, A GATHERING OF RAVENS.
SG - Grimnir is the main character in A GATHERING OF RAVENS. But is he a hero?
SO - Only by accident. But, he's not one-hundred percent villainous, either. Grimnir is the last of his kind; his people were known by many names, from Scandinavia to Ireland and even deep into the Continent, but to us he is an Orc. And he is the mold by which others were cast: savage, murderous, profane; a thief, if need be, and a liar, given over to irrational fits of rage. But, despite all this, even Grimnir has a redeeming quality: if, somehow, you can convince him to give his word then that oath to you is as good as if it were chiseled in stone. The whole story, in fact, exists because he swore an oath to avenge a fallen kinsman. And, no matter what, he will see that oath fulfilled.
SG - What themes did you want to play with in the book?
SO - The primary theme that runs through A Gathering of Ravens is the conflict between the Old Ways, represented by Grimnir's fervent paganism, and the New Ways, embodied in the rising power of Christianity. Grimnir's world, the shadow-world of myth and legend, is dying; the alfar and the dvergar -- elves and dwarves -- are slowly withdrawing from our world. Even the spirits of stock and stone, the landvaettir, are falling prey to the scouring influence of this new religion. It is a ragnarok, of sorts, with Grimnir's world passing away as our modern world is born from its ashes. He -- and we -- bear witness to this ending and rebirth.
Other themes include the binding power of oaths, and how unlikely friendships can spring even from confrontational adversity.
SG - This is your fourth novel and the second with Thomas Dunne. What can we expect from you in the future? More Grimnir?
SO - More Grimnir, more Greeks, and maybe a bit with some sentient mice.
On the immediate horizon is the follow up to A Gathering of Ravens, which I'm calling "Twilight of the Gods" -- Grimnir clashes with berserkers, a deathless shield-maiden, a dragon, and a teen-aged girl who does too good a job impersonating him. After that, I have a few ideas I'm kicking around: a third Grimnir novel, a couple of historicals, and something that looks suspiciously like Redwall as written by Robert E. Howard.
SG - What intrigues you about orcs?
SO - I wrote a whole blog post last year about this very thing, so if you'd be so kind as to allow me to paraphrase and plagiarize myself:
The Orc is a powerful symbol: the ur-Barbarian, the Other who lives and thrives on the edges of polite society. The Orc is cunning, savage, hard to kill. The Orc represents chaos and change; it threatens the status quo and offers nihilism, dystopia, and rapine as valid alternatives. To a writer, there is much to explore within the context of the Orc.
But, a core criticism of Orc-themed fiction almost since its inception is this: how are they different from Humans? What sets them apart? And if they’re close enough to Human for Human readers to understand and sympathize with, then why not just make them Human? Why must they be Orcs? The criticism has merit. In Tolkien, for example, the Uruk-hai of Minas Morgul and Cirith Ungol are uncomfortably close analogs to modern men – the type of profane and long-suffering machine-gun fodder JRRT encountered in the trenches during WWI. Contrast this to Mary Gentle’s Grunts, where Orcs are brutish and almost childlike, tusked and green-skinned barbarians with a gallows sense of humor. In Stan Nicholls’ Orcs trilogy, we return to a Tolkien-like sense of purity, with Orcs that are quarrelsome and violent, but functionally no different than their Human enemies. Opposite this portrayal would be Morgan Howell’s vision from the Queen of the Orcs trilogy, where they are Noble Savages patterned after the Iroquois of central New York. Though superficial elements such as appearance differ, every Orc who has thus appeared as a protagonist in fiction is imminently recognizable to readers – as a guttersnipe dough-boy, a slapstick barbarian, an idealized trope, or a CGI’d Human. Ultimately, the Orc is Us, though writ large and defined by either subtle characterization or a Pagliaccian sense of the absurd.
SG - Favorite SFF archetype?
SO - The Barbarian. The fell-handed loner from the fringes of society who lives by his wits, his sword, and his own code -- which is not, you might say, copacetic with the laws of the realm. Most of my characters have an element of this archetype. I blame a childhood spent reading the Conan tales by REH.
SG - Favorite scene from the book you can talk about?
SO - Oh, man . . . all of them? I seriously love this whole book. Though, if I must choose, the scene I'm most proud of as a writer comes at the bridge between parts one and two (the book is divided into parts named for the geographic region where they occur: Part or "Book" One is set in Denmark; Book Two is in Southern England, around the city of Bath; Books Three and Four are set in Ireland). Grimnir and his captive, Étaín, confront a trio of dwarf brothers and enter one of the hallowed shrines to Yggðrasil, the tree that connects the Nine Worlds of Norse myth. It's got tension, humor, some interesting imagery, and even twelve stanzas of Norse poetry. I look over it, now, and I'm like, "who wrote that?!"
SG - Best writing advice you ever received?
SO - Finish what you start. No matter if it sucks. No matter if you have no passion for it, or if your passion for it has waned with time. Finish it. This I got from Lawrence Block's excellent book on writing, Telling Lies For Fun and Profit. That, along with Steven Pressfield's The War of Art and Betsy Lerner's The Forest For The Trees, sits at my elbow as I write -- the only three writing books I allow on my desk.
A GATHERING OF RAVENS releases everywhere June 20th.
From the cover:
To the Danes, he is skraelingr; to the English, he is orcnéas; to the Irish, he is fomoraig. He is Corpse-maker and Life-quencher, the Bringer of Night, the Son of the Wolf and Brother of the Serpent. He is Grimnir, and he is the last of his kind―the last in a long line of monsters who have plagued humanity since the Elder Days.
Drawn from his lair by a thirst for vengeance against the Dane who slew his brother, Grimnir emerges into a world that’s changed. A new faith has arisen. The Old Ways are dying, and their followers retreating into the shadows; even still, Grimnir’s vengeance cannot be denied.
Taking a young Christian hostage to be his guide, Grimnir embarks on a journey that takes him from the hinterlands of Denmark, where the wisdom of the ancient dwarves has given way to madness, to the war-torn heart of southern England, where the spirits of the land make violence on one another. And thence to the green shores of Ireland and the Viking stronghold of Dubhlinn, where his enemy awaits.
But, unless Grimnir can set aside his hatreds, his dream of retribution will come to nothing. For Dubhlinn is set to be the site of a reckoning―the Old Ways versus the New―and Grimnir, the last of his kind left to plague mankind, must choose: stand with the Christian King of Ireland and see his vengeance done or stand against him and see it slip away?
Scott Oden's A Gathering of Ravens is an epic novel of vengeance, faith, and the power of myth.
I've known Peter for a while, but was surprised to see he'd sent a package wrapped in black paper. Inside was a foul-mouthed statue of a chained, burned little bastard who required blood to help me summon the rent money. After I phoned Peter to complain about the weird totem he'd sent, I managed to calm down enough to discuss his forthcoming book, and the third in the Burned Man series, DAMNATION, published by Angry Robot.
SG - DAMNATION is the third novel in the Burned Man series. Can we expect more?
PM - Oh yes, I very much hope so. Don Drake’s story is far from over – in fact it may only just be beginning!
SG - What prompted moving Drake from London to Glasgow?
PM - Ah, now without spoiling the end of DOMINION for anyone who hasn’t read it yet, Don Drake really needed to get out of London for a while. He initially heads to Glasgow looking for Debbie, his long-suffering girlfriend from the first book, and he eventually ends up in Edinburgh. I especially like Edinburgh as a place and I’ve been there a number of times in person. As Don says in the first book, “It’s a spooky old city, is Edinburgh.”
SG - You put a lot of accurate occult info in your books. Do you have a history with the dark arts?
PM - I have a history of studying occultism, yes. Whether those arts are dark or not rather depends on a certain point of view, of course, and a lot of the magic in the books is wildly exaggerated for dramatic effect. All the same there are nuggets of truth in there as you say, for those who know where to look. I recently wrote a guest column on this very subject for another blog, in fact: https://ihate00critics.blogspot.co.uk/2017/02/guest-post-peter-mclean.html
SG - Can you tell us about your other books coming from Penguin?
PM - Of course! This new series is my first foray into secondary world, “swords and horses” grimdark fantasy, set in a quasi-Tudor society but with echoes of the end of the First World War. Think of it as “The Godfather with swords” and you won’t be far wrong. The series as a whole is tentatively called THE PIOUS MEN and the first book, PRIEST OF BONES, is due for release in October 2018 from the Ace Books imprint of Penguin Random House.
SG - Favorite SFF archetype?
PM - Wizards, hands down. I’m a sucker for wise, powerful old magicians, especially ones who turn out to be less “benign grandfather” and more “manipulative old bastard”. Bayaz from Joe Abercrombie’s First Law series is one of my all-time favourite characters. I’m also very fond of the “damaged old soldier” archetype, as you’ll see in PRIEST OF BONES.
SG - Favorite scene from the book you can talk about?
PM - My favourite scene from Damnation is the very end, but obviously I can’t talk about that. Menhit from DOMINION is back though, and she has a great scene where she gets to show Don some extremely “tough love” healing which was great fun to write.
SG - Best writing advice you ever received?
PM - "Do The Work". Seriously, reading about writing isn't writing. Talking about writing isn't writing. Writing is writing. Sit down and write.
DAMNATION releases May 2.
From the cover:
Shambolic demon-hunting hitman Don Drake is teetering on the edge of madness in this smart, witty urban fantasy novel.
Don Drake is living rough in a sink estate on the outskirts of Edinburgh, doing cheap spells for even cheaper customers while fending off the local lowlifes. Six months ago, Don fled from London to Glasgow to track down his old girlfriend Debbie the alchemist.
With the Burned Man gradually driving him mad, Don meets with an ancient and mysterious tramp-slash-magician, with disastrous consequences. Now his old accomplices must step into save Don from himself, before he damns himself for good this time.
If I've learned anything in my 30-something years on this planet, it's this: the gods mess everything up.
AMONG THE FALLEN is the second book in the Godserfs series from Angry Robot and author N.S. Dolkart, the first being SILENT HALL. This is epic fantasy at its most divine, and N.S. descended from a thunder cloud to speak to me about the new book.
SG - SILENT HALL was your debut novel. Had you written any before that?
NS - Before Silent Hall, I had written a more lighthearted fantasy heist called THE KINGMAKERS, though I'll want to change the title (among other things) if I ever do get it published. The Kingmakers was very fun -- there were assassins and thieves and a knight cursed with the inability to lie, and there was this wonderful land where things operated by fairytale rules instead of high fantasy ones and it screwed everything up. Highly recommended; would write again.
SG - Religion takes a big role in this epic fantasy. What ideas and themes were you hoping to tackle?
NS - There's a theme common to all mediterranean-area religions and to many others besides, which is that godly attention is not something you want. Gods are big and scary and unpredictable, and they can turn on you in the blink of an eye. This is true in ancient Egyptian mythology, it's true in Greek and Roman mythology, and it's true in the Bible too. There's a point in Exodus where God randomly decides to kill Moses without any explanation, and it's his wife who has to save Moses by subjecting their son to a sudden and bizarre circumcision ritual. There's a moment where God threatens to slaughter all the Israelites and make Moses the patriarch of a great nation, and Moses has to talk God down. So a big part of my worldbuilding is re-introducing readers to a world where none of the gods are predictably benevolent. Appeasing gods is a huge part of people's lives, and though it will inevitably become routine for some, behind all the ritual and routine is the primal fear of being punished, harshly, for reasons that nobody can quite be sure of.
Plus there's the issue of having your god potentially lose a battle against some other god, and then you're screwed.
So starting from that premise, there were a few theological questions to answer: if the gods are so powerful and at the same time so frequently in conflict with one another, how come they don't just go slaughtering their enemies' worshippers right and left? I answered that early on with what I called the Fingers in the Mesh analogy, but not every question is so easy to resolve. Take, for example, this age-old question: if gods can grant prophecies and make plans and schemes that go well into the future, how can there be room for human agency? That's not the kind of question you answer, that's the kind of question you explore. I do a lot of exploring.
SG - What can you tell us about the characters?
NS - They're all in some ways archetypal, but none of them stick to the script:
The classic fighter who trained all his life for war turns out to be too emotionally sensitive for that kind of brutality, and struggles to find something better to do with his life.
The guy who's most invested in being The Hero has a legacy of domestic violence to overcome, and that's an ongoing lifelong struggle, not something he can resolve through some big epiphany about how violence is bad. I believe in that kind of struggle. I think any time we try to fundamentally change ourselves, our success is bound to be qualified by little failures (and sometimes big ones) all along the way.
It's a similar story of exertion and failure with my cowardly backstabber -- he has to come to terms with who he is at the same time as he tries to improve himself.
The brainiac who wants to become a wizard has to decide how much she's willing to take advantage of her friends (and her enemies) in order to get what she wants. Her role model / mentor is a bit of a psychopath, so she knows that that rabbit hole goes down pretty freaking deep.
Maybe my favorite character is Bandu, a girl raised by wolves. Her conflicts with civilized society lead to some great moments, and she's my only main character who has complete confidence in both her abilities and her desires. That leads her to occasionally make some pretty poor life choices, but she also has the determination to make it work for herself.
SG - This is the second in the series. Can we expect another?
NS - Book three is set to come out next summer, assuming I write it on time!
SG - Favorite scene in the book you can talk about?
NS - Possibly the scene where one of the main characters thinks he's really excelling at intrigue (and at theology, since everything in this series comes back to theology), but then he's easily outwitted by an elderly woman. It's especially delicious because he's so damn proud of himself until the moment he realizes he's been outmaneuvered.
I think as an author it's so easy to fall into the trap of having your heroes and your villains be the only people with any real agency. So I take great satisfaction in having written side characters who can hold their own.
SG - Angry Robot has a consistent lineup of great titles. What else made you decide to publish with them?
NS - The nanobots they injected into my bloodstream made it very risky to deny their requests. There were some other factors too: 1) They function at a very high professional level, and punch well above their weight. 2) They have a very good reputation, and came highly recommended by my agent. 3) They offered me a 2-book contract with an option for more, and I was very excited to get to write a second book since I was so in love with the setting and characters from Silent Hall. It can be heartbreaking to have to give up on your plans for a sequel (as I had previously discovered), so it was awesome to know that I would be allowed -- nay, required! -- to write a Book Two. And now that option for more has been exercised, so I get to write Book Three!
SG - What's the best writing advice you ever received?
NS - Put more of your background and experience into your writing. I started out very insistent about just writing straight fantasy with no deeper message, and I was pretty good at it, but I've found much more success and satisfaction now that I've embraced the idea of writing fantasy that speaks to who I am. "Write what you know" is way too vague to be useful, but when my college professors said my fiction would be better if it drew more upon my heritage, they weren't wrong.
I'm not sure this is the best advice for all writers, mind you. But it was for me, and I'm glad I eventually got around to taking it!
AMONG THE FALLEN is available now!
A lot of people have been talking about moving to Canada for some reason, but I thought it would be a great idea to interview an author from the land of maple leaves and Jim Carrey. Nicholas Eames's debut novel, KINGS OF THE WYLD released this week from Orbit Books and he staggered in to answer my questions.
SG - Reading the book’s description and adoring that awesome cover, KINGS OF THE WYLD gives me a sense of The Magnificent Seven/Seven Samurai among other gritty, old school adventure stories. What inspired the book?
NE - In a word, music. The original concept was a setting in which mercenary bands were afforded the celebrity status of rock stars, and everything sort of went from there. Also, 'Ready Player One' by Ernest Cline was what spurred me to write it. That book was so committed to being fun before anything else--it kept me smiling page after page, and I hope my book can do the same for someone else.
SG - This is your debut novel, how many had you written before?
NE - Just one loooong one, which, after several rejection letters told me that 270k words was too big, I pared into two separate novels. It wasn't a bad book, per say, but it suffered from pretty much every mistake a rookie writer can make. Regardless, I'm grateful for the lessons it taught me.
SG - What can you tell us about Clay Cooper?
NE - Clay Cooper is essentially two people. One is a monster, the product of an abusive father and a childhood poisoned by violence. The other is the man he wants to be, the one he feels is worthy of the woman he loves and the daughter their raising. The good half of Clay--the dominant half--is essentially the most noble, loyal, and selfless person imaginable. One reviewer recently compared him to Sam Gamgee, which was pretty much what I was going for.
SG - Some of the best stories involve old friends (and enemies) coming back together for one more gig, what was it about this type of plot that attracted you to it?
NE - Well, there's a great amount of fun to be found in referencing past exploits without going into detail, and something interesting (to me, anyway) about revealing a set of characters through the eyes of those around them. The bandmates in this book don't think much of themselves, but everyone they meet perceives them differently--either as old friends, bitter rivals, or heroes to be worshipped.
SG - Is KINGS OF THE WYLD a standalone novel or do you have a series in mind?
NE - Yes. And yes. There will be at least three books in THE BAND series, though each will feature a different band and be set in successive eras of my world's history. Each book will have a self-contained story, but there will be an arc of sorts running through them.
SG - Favorite scene from the book that you can tell us about?
NE – One of my favorite scenes is the beginning of Chapter Twenty-Five, which, according to the 'Soundtrack' section on my website, is paired with 'When the Levee Breaks' by Led Zeppelin. I had this song in mind long before I wrote that chapter, and tried to capture that scene in super-awesome movies like Armageddon where the cast walks side by side in slow motion. Now I don't usually like to toot my own horn, but I think I frigging nailed it.
SG - Best writing advice you ever received?
NE - Probably to take whatever you write first and put it in a drawer forever. Granted there are exceptions to this rule--people who write a masterpiece right out of the gate--but they are exceedingly rare. I thought I was one of them for a long time. I was dead certain of it. But it turns out I wasn't. Ultimately, only you can say when it's time to start fresh, but don't be afraid to try. At the very least it will make you a better writer, and if you're lucky...well, pretty soon you'll be doing interviews to promote your new book and wondering how in the hell this happened to you!
From the cover:
GLORY NEVER GETS OLD.
Clay Cooper and his band were once the best of the best, the most feared and renowned crew of mercenaries this side of the Heartwyld.
Their glory days long past, the mercs have grown apart and grown old, fat, drunk, or a combination of the three. Then an ex-bandmate turns up at Clay's door with a plea for help--the kind of mission that only the very brave or the very stupid would sign up for.
It's time to get the band back together.