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.
Saddle up and ride into the sunset with the final book in the Children of the Drought series, DREAMS OF THE EATEN, from Solaris. Author Arianne "Tex" Thompson rolled in with the tumbleweeds to talk about her latest novel.
SG - You’ve called the books in this series “rural fantasy”. What’s the distinction from fantasy western if any?
TT - Well, I like to think of "rural fantasy" as an umbrella term with room to include the kind of frontier or country-set stories that don't necessarily feature cowboy hats and six-guns. Think about HBO's Carnivale, or a Wizard of Oz reimagining with flying monkeys and talking scarecrows spilling out over dustbowl Kansas. They're rural, but not necessarily Western - and there is so much potential there!
SG - Appaloosa Elim has been through a lot since he first appeared in ONE NIGHT IN SIXES. What can we expect in this final book?
TT - This is pretty much the end of the road we set out for him - for several of the characters, actually. The quest that was set at the end of One Night in Sixes - to take home the body of Dulei Marhuk and answer for his murder - will be completed. The question is what that will cost, and who will have to pay for it. The divine forces that were introduced or hinted at in Medicine for the Dead will also drive a wedge up through our mortal players, without any single person or entity controlling the board (or even being fully aware of all the other pieces on it). There is hope, and potential for resolution, but it won't come without significant sacrifice - even from those who consider themselves mere spectators.
SG - You have many different races in the series, from fishmen to the Eaten. And with Elim you have a man whose skin makes him look like a painted horse and is treated poorly because of it. Was this a topic you planned on exploring with the books or did it just happen organically?
TT - I'm so glad you asked! Speaking as a chronically conflict-averse card-carrying squishy white woman (CCACCSW, for short :) ), racial unrest was the last anthill I felt qualified to stick my nose into. But it became a moral mandate the moment I decided to write an epic fantasy series rooted in American history. Sure, there are plenty of monsters and mythological creatures in American folklore, and those are worth featuring - but the defining struggle of our nation is this ongoing 300-year quest to free our incredible promise from the incredible violence that it's been steeping in. We are the Rebel Alliance and the Empire. We are Narnia and we are Panem. And Elim's not a bad avatar to explore that with: for better or worse, we are all judged by an appearance beyond our control, and we are all stuck dealing with inherited messes not of our own making.
SG - DREAMS OF THE EATEN marks the end of the Children of the Drought trilogy. What are you working on now?
TT - I'm so glad you asked! I really like this Droughtworld sandbox, and I think it has potential to host many more stories. We'll let this set of characters rest for the time being, but I would love to follow in Terry Pratchett's footsteps, and explore other corners of the same world. More to come!
SG - I listened to one of your classes at DFWCon a few years ago. Do you still teach? And what do you still want to learn yourself?
TT - Honestly, teaching is the perfect complement to writing, for me. It's everything that writing isn't: social, performative, focused on others, and with a big dollop of instant gratification on top. I now teach for the Writers Path program at SMU in Dallas, and have a catalogue of classes/workshops that I take on the road with me. (Have Powerpoint, will travel!)
I tell you what, though: in my darkest, most selfish moments, I dream of running away to finish learning Spanish and get a degree in linguistics. I pine for it. I lust for it. That's a big reason so many of the characters in the Children of the Drought trilogy are multilingual, and consider it strange not to know a second language. I don't have a power-fantasy per se - but those books are my knowledge-fantasy writ large.
SG - Favorite scene from DREAMS OF THE EATEN you can talk about?
TT - You know, there's a moment somewhere in the first few chapters of the book, when everything is balancing precariously on a knife's edge. The fishmen have been chemically hypnotized into a murderous rage, and are hell-bent on slaughtering the Dog Lady. The Dog Lady can communicate telepathically with those who know her, but has no human tongue to speak with. Shea knows the fishmen's language and the Dog Lady's mind, but is still too far away to be heard. Hakai knows that one of the fishmen is the group's translator and might be prevailed upon, but he's blind and has no idea which one it is. Which leaves just Dia, who only knows the amphibious words for "I love you", repeating it to each of them in turn, frantic to identify the translator and snap them out of their daze before the whole lot of them swarm and kill her - a delicate glass key trying a dozen rusted iron locks. It's not a long scene, but there's so much realness in it. Our national discourse is struggling with just this same issue: collectively, we have all the tools to solve the problem and understand each other - if we could only hear the right voice, saying the right thing, at the right time, to the right people. It is both the simplest and the most impossibly difficult task we have, and unbelievably frustrating to all of us.
SG - Best writing advice you ever received?
TT - My favorite question! And here it is, my favorite answer, for all the striving scriveners out there: "If you want to do something that hasn't been done before, include someone who hasn't been included before." Zombie apocalypse? Done to death. Unless your main character is a Type-1 diabetic. Figure out *their* quest for survival and you have something special. Just so, there are a million "Chosen One" medieval fantasy novels out there - but write one where the person who pulls the sword from the stone is a single mother of three, and I'm sold. There may be only handful of plots in the world, but there are a MILLION characters out there - and a million more readers who would love to see themselves and their experiences cast in the starring role.
From the Cover:
As the funeral cortege draws near, the crows begin to gather...
The stunning conclusion of this extraordinary trilogy.
After trials by fire and thirst, Appaloosa Elim's quest to bring home the body of the crow prince is finally nearing its end.
But the coffin is missing, the funeral party is hopelessly scattered, and the fishmen are hell-bent on revenge. Worse yet, the pilgrimage has disturbed an ancient power – and the earth is crumbling in its grip.
As the ground shakes and the crows gather, the final reckoning promises to unite the living and the dead in a battle for the land itself. One way or another, blood debts will come due, Elim will face his judgment, and the World That Is will be forever changed.
Arianne "Tex" Thompson is home-grown Texas success story. After earning a bachelor’s degree in history and a master’s in literature, she channeled her passion for exciting, innovative, and inclusive fiction into the Children of the Drought – an internationally-published epic fantasy Western series from Solaris. Now a professional speaker and creative writing instructor at SMU, Tex is blazing a trail through writers conferences, workshops, and fan conventions around the country – as an endlessly energetic, relentlessly enthusiastic one-woman stampede. Find her online at www.TheTexFiles.com
SG- What is the world of Everly like? How is it different from our own?
MB- Everly is a hidden magical world that you can only access through a portal in our world. There is no technology in Everly and it all feels very untouched. Everything has a sort of shimmer to it and Madison describes it as brighter and more vibrant than our world. The thing that really sets Everly apart from our world is the magical element. There are witches, mermaids and fairies and each group is very segregated from the others. The fae have their own government, the witches are run by a coven and the Strongbloods are ruled by a King. There is a struggle for power in the land because the King thinks that he rules them all but the magical groups refuse to acknowledge him. You will see that element of Everly play out over the course of the series.
SG- Who is Madison Rosewood?
MB- Madison Rosewood is an 18-year-old track star who despises running and her popularity. She really just wants to find her birth parents and to shed the nickname "Mad Dash" that she was given for her incredible speed. Madison is snarky, bold and a little too impulsive (and sometimes selfish) for her own good but she has a great heart. She has a tough time with anything emotional and leans on her best friend Jason whenever anything gets too touchy-feely. Another cool thing about her is that she is an amazing fighter. Her Aunt Ruth owns a gym and has been training Madison in various forms of combat her whole life.
SG- Madison is about to leave high school and, essentially, enter a completely different world. Then literally. Why did you decide to write a portal fantasy?
MB- Life after high school is a bit like diving through a portal into another world. So that parallel was something I wanted to work in but have it be quite literal. Everly's themes and basic plot points could have just as easily taken place in our world but it would have dulled the impact. Having it hidden away and only accessible through a portal made it much more fun because then I could strip out the modern aspects of our world and still tell the same story. In Everly, Madison wouldn't have the distractions that she may have in our world. No phones, no TV. Just her mission, her emotions and her drive.
SG- EVERLY is the first of the series. How many books do you have planned?
MB- Right now there are 3 books total planned but I may add a fourth as a prequel to the events in book one. There is a lot that happens before Madison sets foot in Everly and I would love to explore that further.
SG- What's your favorite scene from EVERLY?
MB- I have to go with the final confrontation scene at the end. I won't tell you who it's with but the entire sequence of events before and after that scene just make it a solid punch to the gut, emotionally. There are some pretty cool fights and face-offs too. It may not be the happiest ending, but you can really see the growth of Madison and her willingness to face some of her problems. There is also a giant step back in another one of her relationships that really leads into book two.
SG- Favorite SFF archetype?
MB- I would have to say the Heroic Trickster which is "a character who's just as happy pummeling villains with his wit as with his fists." That's 100% Madison. She is strong and a great fighter but she loves to use her intellect against her enemies too.
From the cover:
MADISON ROSEWOOD IS ABOUT TO GRADUATE AND HEAD OFF TOWARD A BIG, BRIGHT FUTURE THAT ANY KID WOULD KILL FOR: A FULL RIDE ON A TRACK SCHOLARSHIP, THE WORLD'S GREATEST BEST FRIEND, AND AN AUNT THAT HAS ALWAYS PROVIDED FOR HER. THE PROBLEM? MADISON JUST WANTS TO FIND HER BIRTH PARENTS, EVEN IF IT COSTS HER ALL OF THE ABOVE.
WHEN HER AUNT RUTH IS KIDNAPPED, ALL OF MADISON'S PLANS ARE PUT ON HOLD. GUIDED BY A MYSTERIOUS STRANGER, MADISON AND HER BEST FRIEND FOLLOW AUNT RUTH'S KIDNAPPERS THROUGH A PORTAL INTO A HIDDEN WORLD CALLED EVERLY. TRAVELING THROUGH FAIRY-LIT CAVERNS AND TOWERING OAK FORESTS, MADISON QUICKLY REALIZES THAT BEHIND EVERLY'S BEAUTY IS A WORLD FILLED WITH TREACHEROUS MAGIC, VIOLENT ENCOUNTERS, AND SHOCKING TRUTHS ABOUT HER FAMILY.
THERE, ARMED ONLY WITH AN ENCHANTED SWORD AND A SHARP TONGUE, SHE BATTLES HER WAY PAST DECEPTIVE WITCHES AND BOUNTY HUNTERS TO ATTEMPT A DANGEROUS RESCUE THAT CHANGES BOTH HER AND EVERLY'S FUTURE FOREVER.
If it be a piratical adventure on the high seas you're after then hoist the main sail and climb the shrouds. A book lay just off the port bow . . .cough . . . cough . . . okay, I can't keep up the pirate voice for too long.
But if you love seafaring adventure and portal fantasy, you'll want to check out A.M. Dellamonica's Stormwrack series. Tor is releasing the third book, THE NATURE OF A PIRATE, on December 6th and Alyx swung in with teeth clutching a cutlass to talk to me about the new book.
SG - THE NATURE OF A PIRATE is the third book in the Stormwrack series. I’d read that you initially wanted it to be a trilogy. Any plans for more books in the series?
AD - I will definitely do more storytelling on Stormwrack—I’d like to write a Bram trilogy!--but the very next thing I’d like to do on that world is wrap up the story arc for my series of novelettes about Gale Feliachild and Garland Parrish. One of those stories is newly out in Beneath Ceaseless Skies – it’s called “The Boy Who Would Not Be Enchanted,” and it contains a major piece of the backstory about Gale’s long-prophesied death and Garland’s role in her murder. (Story is at http://www.beneath-ceaseless-skies.com/stories/the-boy-who-would-not-be-enchanted/).
It was foretold at Gale’s birth that she would die at someone else’s hand, and everyone—including Gale herself—assumed that meant she would be murdered as a comparatively young woman. The fact that she’s still kicking around having adventures in her sixties is as much a surprise to her as anyone else. She never expected to live so long! She has always lived, in fact, as though she might be dead tomorrow. So I want to write a few more stories to round out that set, and continue her espionage career.
SG - The Stormwrack series is portal fantasy. Why did you decide to have Sophie Hansa be a character from our world?
AD - There’s a sense in which my first two books, Indigo Springs and Blue Magic, are also portal fantasy… they take place in our world, but characters from Oregon travel to and drain magic from a devastated wasteland that was, at one time, the realm of the fairies.
As this probably implies, they’re rather dark books.
When I set out to write the Hidden Sea Tales, I wanted less darkness and more fun, for myself as much as for my readers. So I started with a list of things I absolutely love. Portal fantasy was at the tip-top of that list!
It was awhile ago, and my recollection’s fuzzy, but I probably decided on a portal world before I had solidified either Sophie Hansa’s character or the basics of what Stormwrack was like. (As for Stormwrack itself, some of the other things on my love list were: biodiversity, tall ships, the history of fingerprinting, pirate fantasies… well, you get the idea.)
SG - How much pirate history inspired you or found its way into the world of Stormwrack?
AD - The history of marine piracy is too much romanticized: all that swashing of buckles is a popular narrative that’s offered to us without nuance. It’s like the homogenous paradigm of “The” Wild West, or stories where organized crime bosses are lovable galoots who only ever harm their competition, or stories where serial killers are somehow cool. A person can like those stories, but they shouldn’t necessarily assume there’s much reality baked into them.
With Stormwrack, I had a clean slate, and the nations of the Piracy reflect that disconnection from Earth history.
When this trilogy begins, the pirate nations have been largely stopped from raiding, but their leaders yearn for the good old days. They’ve glossed over the times when they preyed on weaker nations-- taking hard goods and prisoners for the slave market—and sell it to their kids as a period when they were cunning and brave in the exercise of a legitimate cultural practice.
I couldn’t entirely resist the aesthetic of Hollywood-style piracy entirely, though, so Convenor Brawn reappears in this book, complete with his glorious outfits, flowing hair, and magically-enhanced ornamental fingernails.
SG - What can you tell us about the fright?
AD - What can I tell you? More than you would probably ever want to know! I will say that the fright that appears in chapter one of The Nature of a Pirate is colloquially known as a wood fright… but there are a number of fright spells. (In the second book in the trilogy, you may remember, the sailing vessel Sawtooth was set upon by salt frights.)
Part of the book’s central mystery is that a treaty banning frightmaking had been enacted on Stormwrack decades earlier: the process was seen as so universally destructive that all the nations of the Fleet tried to stamp out the spells that create them. Sophie and the crew of Nightjar realize that there’s a rogue frightmaker on the loose, a spellscribe who resurrected the banned spells and who now specializes in such enchantments. They’re incredibly dangerous and cause a lot of damage.
SG - Favorite scene from THE NATURE OF A PIRATE?
AD - In the first book, Child of a Hidden Sea, Sophie’s full name name falls into the wild… which means that anyone in possession of it could potentially enchant her. In The Nature of a Pirate, she finally deals with a legal name change, Stormwrack style. It’s not quite what she’s expecting!
SG - Your wife, Kelly is an author herself. What’s it like being married to another writer?
AD - Kelly is a jaw-droppingly imaginative, thoroughly fantastic, rip-your-guts-out-and-make-you-like-it author! (If you haven’t read her work yet you’re in for a treat: check her page http://kellyrobson.com/stories/ for the full list).
The best part of our life at present is that we always have the option to take a step out of the real world, to insert ourselves into a waking state of shared dreaming. We take in facts and observations and experiences… bounce them back and forth and, in the process, transforming them into fiction. We talk about the stories we’re writing, or want to write, and the people we want to write about.
Kelly and I can be walking down the street, or in a museum, and we’ll be talking about… I don’t know, some abstract term we’ve picked up, like virtue signalling… and one of us will say “That might make a good story, if—“ Ten minutes after that “If,” we’ll both have a completely different idea of what kind of good story we might make out of the initial topic of conversation, and our backbrains will be churning the possibilities.
It’s a lot of fun in other words.
I started selling fiction back when the Internet was in its Model A stage—where you still had to start it with a crank and profanity. My first genre publications were in hard-to-get print magazines like Tomorrow SF and Crank! The online community of SF writers was coalescing around some very fractious unmoderated message boards, and everything real got done by snailmail. You might occasionally hear that someone read your story and liked it, especially if you went to conventions, but that was a rare experience indeed.
Having an opportunity to watch Kelly’s career unfold now, in the age of social media—in what almost seems like another world--has been wonderful and delightful, particularly since her work is so brilliant and has gotten such wide, sincere, and justified acclaim.
SG - Best book you’ve recently read?
AD - Lately I’ve been reading advance copies of books by authors I know, but if I rave about those it’d be so unfair—your readers won’t be able to get their hands on things like Lara Elena Donnelly’s excellent and heartbreaking Amberlough until February, for example! For something you can buy right now, let me say that horror readers should not miss the chilling Gemma Files novel Experimental Film, which just won the Shirley Jackson Award and the Sunburst Award.
SG - Best writing advice you ever received?
AD - When I was in my teens I encountered Heinlein’s rules of writing: you must write, you must finish what you write, you must put what you write on the market, etc. (Rob Sawyer has a good article about the rules, with some commentary, on his site. http://www.sfwriter.com/ow05.htm)
The Heinlein rules aren’t about craft, obviously, so much as they are about showing up, but as a young writer that may be what I needed most—a fundamental lesson about the all-important butt in chair factor. The idea of finishing, as opposed to endlessly toying with beginnings, was especially important. I love beginnings, but until I started writing complete drafts, I didn’t really understand how stories worked.
The other thing about butt-in-chair is it does take you a long way toward improving your craft, simply because practice truly is the key to getting better. I encountered other ideas on how to get better, both from face-to-face encounters with my heroes and via their written How-To advice, but none of their insights would have penetrated if I hadn’t first absorbed that initial set of concepts: Do it. Keep doing it. Send it to market and do it some more.
From the cover:
The Nature of a Pirate is the third book in acclaimed author, A.M. Dellmonica’s high seas, Stormwrack series. The Lambda Award nominated series begins with Child of a Hidden Sea.
Marine videographer and biologist Sophie Hansa has spent the past few months putting her knowledge of science to use on the strange world of Stormwrack, solving seemingly impossible cases where no solution had been found before.
When a series of ships within the Fleet of Nations, the main governing body that rules a loose alliance of island nation states, are sunk by magical sabotage, Sophie is called on to find out why. While surveying the damage of the most recent wreck, she discovers a strange-looking creature—a fright, a wooden oddity born from a banished spell—causing chaos within the ship. The question is who would put this creature aboard and why?
The quest for answers finds Sophie magically bound to an abolitionist from Sylvanner, her father’s homeland. Now Sophie and the crew of the Nightjar must discover what makes this man so unique while outrunning magical assassins and villainous pirates, and stopping the people responsible for the attacks on the Fleet before they strike again.
We've all had that experience--you follow a complete stranger into another world, you fight against an oppressive, otherworldly government . . . no? Just me? Well, don't worry, I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Foz Meadows, who wrote just the sort of thing you need in your life. AN ACCIDENT OF STARS releases from Angry Robot on August 2nd in the U.S. and ebook, and August 4th in the U.K.
SG- Where did you come up with the title--AN ACCIDENT OF STARS?
FM - I wanted something that combined the macro and micro aspects of the story: the idea of a multiverse is something huge and wonderful, but stumbling into it by mistake is terrifyingly personal. And thus An Accident of Stars, which is deliberately evocative of an embarrassment of riches, juxtaposing (to use a horribly high school English word) an intimate emotion with a bigger, more beautiful concept.
SG- What can you tell us about those creatures on the cover?
FM - They’re called roa, and they’re friendly – there are still horses in Kena, but in the cities, roa are more common. They’re also something I originally dreamt up as a kid – I used to draw pictures of them, and when I was writing the book, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to include such an old creation in a new story: a sort of homage to my younger self.
SG- Portal fantasy has been around for a while, going back to Alice in Wonderland and The Chronicles of Narnia. Where do you see the status of the subgenre and can we expect more from you in that vein?
FM - I think that, for a long time, portal fantasy has been viewed as either naff or childish, due largely to the traditional safeties it extends to the protagonists. Alice in Wonderland, Narnia and The Wizard of Oz, to give the obvious examples, are all what we’d term middle-grade stories if they were written now, and while we quite rightly consider them classics, accessible to and intended for whoever wants to read them, that more youthful, protected aspect of their storytelling has nonetheless defined how we think of the subgenre as a whole.
The darker elements in portal fantasies have largely come from fairy tales – the idea of a world inverted or an era stolen, a child lost in the woods or a goblin bride snatched at market. With An Accident of Stars, I wanted to tell a different kind of portal story, one where the consequences of the protagonist’s absence from Earth are present in the narrative. As a kid, it always bugged me that characters like Alice and Dorothy and Susan could visit these other worlds and never really question wanting to come home again, or that home would still mean the same thing to them when they got there. It felt cheap, somehow, as though everything they learned and felt in the other world was somehow erased by leaving it, and I wanted to write a story where that didn’t happen.
SG- Who is Saffron Coulter and how does she end up in the world of Kena?
FM - Saffron is a teenage girl who’s struggling to make sense of the distress she feels at school; someone so hungry for meaning that she accidentally follows a stranger into another world. As a character, she began as a comic self-insert I wrote in my teens, a girl who was rescued from maths class to go on adventures, though back then, I wasn’t self-reflective or inventive enough to make her a discreet entity.
That being so, it was fun to develop her in ways that my younger self would never have considered. Like me, she’s bisexual, compartmentalised and fed up with high school, but otherwise, she’s a work of pure fiction. Though I will say that the harassing incident she experiences in class at the start of the first chapter is closely based on my own teenage experiences. I’d like to think that girls in high school now don’t have to put up with that sort of bullshit on a regular basis, but by all accounts, it’s something that hasn’t changed, and my hope is that readers will recognise that, and related to it.
SG- AN ACCIDENT OF STARS could be compared to the work of fellow Angry Robot author, Kameron Hurley, and a few others. Who do you consider to be your influences?
FM - As a kid, one of my favourite films was Return to Oz, which starts out with Dorothy Gale, returned to Kansas from her first trip to Oz, being institutionalised for talking about what happened to her there. It had a big impact on my concept of what portal fantasies could do, and for all its flaws, I owe a lot to it. In terms of worldbuilding, I think Kameron and I are writing in parallel to each other, having grown up being inspired by a similar pool of inventive, feminist authors – in my case, Kate Elliott, Robin Hobb, Katharine Kerr and Tamora Pierce.
SG- Favorite scene from AN ACCIDENT OF STARS?
FM - I certainly have one, but I can’t really talk about it here because Spoilers!
SG- Favorite SFF archetype?
FM - One that’s cleverly subverted.
From the cover:
Book I of the Manifold Worlds from Hugo-nominated author Foz Meadows.
When Saffron Coulter stumbles through a hole in reality, she finds herself trapped in Kena, a magical realm on the brink of civil war.
There, her fate becomes intertwined with that of three very different women: Zech, the fast-thinking acolyte of a cunning, powerful exile; Viya, the spoiled, runaway consort of the empire-building ruler, Vex Leoden; and Gwen, an Earth-born worldwalker whose greatest regret is putting Leoden on the throne. But Leoden has allies, too, chief among them the Vex'Mara Kadeja, a dangerous ex-priestess who shares his dreams of conquest.
Pursued by Leoden and aided by the Shavaktiin, a secretive order of storytellers and mystics, the rebels flee to Veksh, a neighboring matriarchy ruled by the fearsome Council of Queens. Saffron is out of her world and out of her depth, but the further she travels, the more she finds herself bound to her friends with ties of blood and magic.
Can one girl - an accidental worldwalker - really be the key to saving Kena? Or will she just die trying?
ARENA is the debut novel from Holly Jennings about a near future where video gamers are the new superstar athletes. ACE released the book today, and you can get it at Amazon, B&N, Kobo, and Google. Holly joined me recently, not only to make my Galaga score look minuscule, but also to talk about ARENA.
SG - You're a lifelong gamer. What inspired you to write ARENA?
HJ - The idea for ARENA came to me when I was watching a documentary about professional gamers and reading a book called Neuromancer. For anyone who doesn’t know, Neuromancer was one of the definitive books of science fiction and explored the idea of plugging your consciousness into a virtual matrix. Once I started thinking about competitive gaming in combination with fully-immersive virtual reality tech, I couldn't stop writing the book down.
SG - In the book, how does getting hurt or killed in-game affect players in real life?
HJ - Getting hurt or killed in-game has no effect physically on the player once they unplug from the game. However, it can alter their psychological perception of consequences. How can you accept real-world repercussions of your mistakes when, in the game, you can simply respawn?
SG - What can you tell us about Kali Ling?
HJ - She's something fierce. She's cocky, hotheaded, and deeply flawed, but also has a lot of passion. In ARENA, she's a female gamer competing in a brutal fighting game. She loves martial arts, video games, and most of all, coffee.
SG - When you think about it, 2054 isn't that far in the future. How has the world changed in ARENA?
HJ - In ARENA, the world isn't that different. It's much more tech-heavy. Virtual reality has revolutionized education, medical, and even sports. Thanks to the immense popularity of virtual gaming competitions, gamers have become celebrity athletes. They are the ones on the covers of tabloids and rolling up to the clubs in Maserati's (and yes, those still exist, too). This concept of gamers as being athletic and famous was something I really enjoyed writing about because of its play on current tropes.
SG - What advice would you have loved receiving as an aspiring author?
HJ - Write the book you want to write. Before ARENA, I was so concerned with what other people would think about my stories. What would my friends think of this? My family? The industry? Once I was able to let that go and just focus on the story I wanted to tell, my writing exploded. I wasn't afraid to go dark or color outside the lines. I really believe this is one of the biggest factors that led to publication. When agents and editors read the same concepts and stories all day, pushing the boundaries gets noticed.
SG - Favorite moment in ARENA?
HJ - Without giving away any spoilers, I especially like ending of ARENA. Kali's personality transforms quite a bit through the book, and this is where we see the culmination of that change.
SG - Favorite SFF trope?
HJ - Good question! Probably the lovable android and their quest for humanity, like Wall-E's search for love or Data's wish to become more human. I also enjoy when neo-noir is mixed in with science fiction or fantasy, like Blade Runner. That's definitely a close second favorite.
From the cover:
A fast-paced and gripping near-future science fiction debut about the gritty world of competitive gaming...
Every week, Kali Ling fights to the death on national TV.
She’s died hundreds of times. And it never gets easier...
The RAGE tournaments—the Virtual Gaming League’s elite competition where the best gamers in the world compete in a no-holds-barred fight to the digital death. Every bloody kill is broadcast to millions. Every player is a modern gladiator—leading a life of ultimate fame, responsible only for entertaining the masses.
And though their weapons and armor are digital, the pain is real.
Chosen to be the first female captain in RAGE tournament history, Kali Ling is at the top of the world—until one of her teammates overdoses. Now, she must confront the truth about the tournament. Because it is much more than a game—and even in the real world, not everything is as it seems.
The VGL hides dark secrets. And the only way to change the rules is to fight from the inside...
J.C. is my mentor, and I don't mean that in the "smoking a pipe and dolling out sage advice while you crawl through barbed wire and mud" kind of way--although that did happen--but J.C.has worked with me on brushing up a manuscript, and is always good for a hit of street knowledge. This up-and-coming author joined me for a few questions about the newest book.
SG - You've written 3 Grimm Agency novels and a novella. How is THE REBURIALISTS different from your previous series?
JC - The Grimm Agency series is both humorous AND dark at times, mainly because I couldn’t imagine fairy tale creatures adapting to the modern world, and the collision of the two almost always makes me laugh. In The Reburialists, however, I set out to write something different. My original goal was to tell this story with your typical alpha-hero. But the more I got into it, the more I wondered why someone would behave like that, and the exploration took the story to places I didn’t expect.
SG - What can you tell us about Brynner Carson?
JC - Playing off my previous answer, I wanted to look at why someone would leave behind their family, use sex as an escape mechanism, hold everyone at arms length—and believe they were meant to face unimaginable evils.
SG - Egyptian myth plays a big role in the plot. How much research did you do?
JC - Confession time: In the first draft, it was heavily influenced by Egyptian Mythology. But the more i got into the story, the more I understood it was more a look at how the world had been influenced by the co-orgs. For instance, Hieroglyphics (as Grace points out) are usually repetitive - symbolic, followed by spelling out the word is common. But the co-org version combines many different character sets and makes an advanced language capable of expressing ideas that aren’t necessarily easy.
So I did a great amount of research and then dropped most of it to focus on the story instead. :)
SG - Who would win in a fight between Marissa and Brynner?
JC - Marissa would hire Brynner to deal with problems, not fight him. Hand to hand? Brynner would win easily - a fight over before it begins. He’s a hulking brute of a man trained in hand to hand combat from the time he was eight. Marissa *loses* most fights she’s in, if we look at it objectively—but it’s driven her to utilize different strengths. Since Marissa is loathe to kill when given a choice, it’s unlikely she would gun him down.
SG - Can we expect more to come for Brynner and the BSI?
JC - That’s up to the readers who buy my books and Ace. I have the events of a second book jotted down in a two page document, but I wanted to make it so that if this is the only one, readers feel like there’s a rock solid sense of closure. So how do we get a second book? Well, while the ending of The Reburialists looks nice and solid, some major changes have been set in motion that aren’t immediately apparent.
SG - Favorite scene from THE REBURIALISTS you can share?
JC - The scene I still love to read is when Grace sits down to eat dinner with Brynner’s aunt and uncle that first night. It’s where we get to see she’s not some “bitter, angry atheist” — she’s a rational person who works through science to understand everything, while they are deeply religious, loving people who believe it’s their destiny to deal with the re-animus. The conflict there lets me show them as more than caricatures - the angry atheist, the foolish religious person.
SG - Favorite SFF archetype?
JC - I’m a huge fan of evil overlords and minions. Evil overlords because…lava lair, of course. Plus, they have armies willing to obey their every command, vicious pets willing to devour people, and they don’t have to deal with home-owners associations. Evil overlords rule.
From the cover:
Burying the dead is easy. Keeping them down is difficult.
At the Bureau of Special Investigations, agents encounter all sorts of paranormal evils. So for Agent Brynner Carson, driving a stake through a rampaging three-week-old corpse is par for the course. Except this cadaver is different. It’s talking—and it has a message about his father, Heinrich.
The reanimated stiff delivers an ultimatum written in bloody hieroglyphics, and BSI Senior Analyst Grace Roberts is called in to translate. It seems that Heinrich Carson stole the heart of Ra-Ame, the long-dead god of the Re-Animus. She wants it back. The only problem is Heinrich took the secret of its location to his grave.
With the arrival of Ra-Ame looming and her undead army wreaking havoc, Brynner and Grace must race to find the key to stopping her. It’s a race they can’t afford to lose, but then again, it’s just another day on the job . . .
If you're a fan of science fiction and fantasy and don't know who the Nielsen Haydens are, get on your game, people! Where the hell have you been? But as a crash course, Teresa is a consulting editor for Tor Books, where Patrick is Executive Editor. Click on the photo above to read their blog, Making Light. Patrick and Teresa were kind enough to take a break from being Guest Editors of Honor at MidSouthCon 34 to chat with me. I learned so much during this interview, and much had nothing to do with publishing.
*The following was transcribed from a recording and has been edited for brevity.
SG – So, I guess the first question is: What are some upcoming Tor books that you’re most excited about?
PNH – Usually the answer to that is whatever first novel is currently on my horizon. And right now, that’s a book that’s coming out in May. The author is a woman named Ada Palmer. It’s called TOO LIKE THE LIGHTNING—it’s a Shakespeare quote. It’s the first book of a four-novel series called, TERRA IGNOTA, a science fiction set five hundred years in our future, and it’s pretty much unlike anything I’ve ever read in science fiction.
It uses a lot of the techniques of conventional SF, but it does other stuff, too. It’s a very interesting quasi-utopian future that, in some ways, is kind of designed to outrage our sensibilities.
TNH – This is how you can tell it’s another period, because there are things that outrage us. I think one of the problems with the original concept of the utopia is that you got the impression that it would be a single utopian state and that they’d be in it forever, this very static kind of conception.
PNH – Yeah, this is not a static world.
TNH – Of course it’s a much better world in a great many ways, but it is not static.
PNH – It’s fragile.
TNH – It’s fragile, and there’s strong sense of: how did we get here and where are things going?
PNH – And Ada is a professional historian. Currently she’s an assistant professor at the University of Chicago. Which is a great gig.
TNH – Renaissance History is kind of her stronghold. She’s also done things like the history of Atheism.
PNH – And Skepticism. Interesting person, interesting writer. And so I’m very high on this book.
SG – And it comes out May 10th. Where do you see Tor’s future?
TNH – Probably somewhere in midtown (laughs).
SG – Out of the Flatiron?
TNH – Well, we don’t know. But we’re going to keep making books. We love what we do. We’re good at what we do.
PNH – If you’re asking if there’ll be a Tor Books in twenty-five years, I’m pretty sure there will be. We’re a part of Macmillan, which is the smallest of the Big Five.
TNH – And they seem to genuinely prize Tor for what Tor is good at. It’s like they recognize that we are a name in science fiction and fantasy, and have a sense that we know what we’re doing.
SG – In thinking of what happened at Angry Robot and the changing of the guard, Lee Harris left and you acquired him.
PNH – Well, he left because we stole him (laughs). We were looking for an editor for the Tor.com novella line. We initially wanted someone who could work in New York, but Lee Harris made such an impressive pitch, and he was obviously quite well-connected to the kind of hot, young, smart, scrappy, up-and-coming writers who are still writing short fiction.
SG – The Alexander Hamiltons of the publishing world.
PNH – (laughs) Yeah, there you go. At Tor right now, you cannot get too far away from quoting Hamilton.
TNH – If you ask what’s the hottest thing in science fiction right now—
PNH – Hamilton. Yeah, absolutely.
SG – A personal question: How did you two meet?
PNH – In an APA.
SG – APA?
PNH – Amateur Press Association.
TNH – Before the Internet.
PNH – This is back when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Fandom in the 1970s.
TNH – This week we will celebrate our 37th anniversary.
SG – Congratulations!
PNH – So, in the pre-Internet world there was science fiction fandom going back to like 1929. And a lot of it took place in fanzines. There weren’t that many conventions. So one of the mutant forms of all this, starting in the late 30s and really taking off in the 60s, was Amateur Press Associations, or APAs. A small group of people ranging from twenty to seventy, that’s the high end, but typically about thirty-five people. And they would all publish a small fanzine addressed entirely to the other people in the group. And the central mailer would send them out to all the other members. So this was like a very slow Internet, but it was incredibly fast-seeming at the time. And you’d write something, type it on stencils, send it out, and get answers and arguments and comments in like three or four weeks. Oh my God! From dozens of people!
TNH – All of the characteristic fan-ish inventions or, at least, technologies that they picked up and ran with are all pre-Internet.
PNH – Yeah, talking about the language, common Internet abbreviations like “LOL” came from APAs.
TNH – We took to the Internet like nobody’s business. But Patrick and I met each other in, what, AZAPA?
PNH – AZAPA, yeah.
TNH – He did the best colophons (laughs).
PNH – It was people in Arizona SF fandom or people who were their friends. And I started in the latter category because I grew up there, but my family moved to Toronto when I was seventeen, eighteen years old. But when we first became aware of each other’s existence, she was twenty, I was maybe seventeen.
TNH – He was still shorter than I was.
SG – (laughs)
PNH – But we didn’t actually get involved for another year and a half.
TNH – I had a terrible crush on Patrick for like two years before I got up the courage to say anything about him. One of the first things I noticed about Patrick was he did such great prose. He did naturally justified colophons.
PNH – Colophon, in the context of a fanzine, think “Masthead”.
TNH – So, when the web came along, you started seeing these astonished news stories about some couple that met online and actually wound up getting married, and Patrick and I are sitting back and laughing.
SG – What qualities in a manuscript spur you to acquire it?
PNH – I’m looking for the thing that I had no idea I was looking for, but you did it so refreshingly, so originally, so amazingly that I’m just blown away. Like, right now it seems extremely unlikely that I’m interested in a western. But if something like True Grit showed up in my inbox, something as unconventional, and genre-breaking and neat, I would totally buy that.
TNH – If we’re hanging out in the kitchen, fixing dinner, it’s the impulse to say, “Let me tell you about what’s happening in this story now. I know I told you three previous iterations, but oh my God, this is what’s happening now.
PNH – Let’s go to the opposite end of all that. I hate trend-spotting in general, because book publishing is just too slow for that to be effective. By the time you notice there’s a trend toward Yugoslavian vampire stories…you know, it takes a year to write a Yugoslavian vampire novel, another two years to sell, and another year or two to publish it. By that time, they’re way the hell back in the rearview mirror. It’s pointless. You may as well just write good stuff.
But, that said, there’s never enough sciencey science fiction. There’s always too much fantasy. And the reason is—
TNH – Sciencey science fiction is hard to write.
PNH – Well, that’s part of it. But another reason—this has to do with the psychology of aspiring writers, who want to break in, and might write one and might write the other—everybody knows, more or less, that fantasy outsells science fiction by about two to one. What this means is that nine out of ten aspiring writers are trying to write fantasy. If you are remotely numerate, you can see immediately that this leads to a serious shortage of science fiction. And that’s always the case. We never have enough really sciencey science fiction, as opposed to alternate history, or Steampunk, or whatever. And I don’t mean necessarily just super, Greg Benford, hard science fiction with rivets. But you know, just sciencey stuff. Like, I mean, Old Man’s War, which is not all that sciencey, but is still recognizably “science” science fiction. Of course, there are never enough books like Old Man’s War.