Journal

My Favorite Bit: Curtis C. Chen talks about KANGAROO TOO

Favorite Bit iconCurtis C. Chen is joining us today to talk about his novel Kangaroo Too. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Set in the same world as Waypoint Kangaroo, Curtis C. Chen’s Kangaroo Too is bursting with adrenaline and intrigue in this unique outer space adventure.

On the way home from his latest mission, secret agent Kangaroo’s spacecraft is wrecked by a rogue mining robot. The agency tracks the bot back to the Moon, where a retired asteroid miner?code named “Clementine” ?might have information about who’s behind the sabotage.

Clementine will only deal with Jessica Chu, Kangaroo’s personal physician and a former military doctor once deployed in the asteroid belt. Kangaroo accompanies Jessica as a courier, smuggling Clementine’s payment of solid gold in the pocket universe that only he can use.

What should be a simple infiltration is hindered by the nearly one million tourists celebrating the anniversary of the first Moon landing. And before Kangaroo and Jessica can make contact, Lunar authorities arrest Jessica for the murder of a local worker.

Jessica won’t explain why she met the victim in secret or erased security footage that could exonerate her. To make things worse, a sudden terror attack puts the whole Moon under lockdown. Now Kangaroo alone has to get Clementine to talk, clear Jessica’s name, and stop a crooked scheme which threatens to ruin approximately one million vacations.

But old secrets are buried on the Moon, and digging up the past will make Kangaroo’s future very complicated…

What’s Curtis’s favorite bit?

KANGAROO TOO cover image

CURTIS C. CHEN

My favorite bit in Kangaroo Too is the Planned Parenthood health center on the Moon.

(To forestall nitpickers: yes, I know Kangaroo calls it a “free clinic” in the book, but he’s speaking colloquially.)

At one point in the story, Kangaroo needs to meet with an extralegal contact, and the contact chooses a Planned Parenthood facility that he has after-hours access to through family connections. When I first plotted this out, it wasn’t important exactly what kind of location they met in, as long as it was private and unofficial. And I had a lot of leeway with the contact’s backstory.

I had thematic reasons specific to this story for choosing Planned Parenthood to be their meeting location, but I also had personal motivations. The future depicted in the Kangaroo-verse is not a dystopia; humans are still dealing with a lot of the problems we have today, plus a few new conundrums, but science and technology have continued to improve our lives. And I wanted that future to include Planned Parenthood.

As I’m writing this, Republicans in the US Congress are trying to roll back a lot of progressive government health care initiatives. Part of the latest proposed legislation would defund Planned Parenthood, which receives roughly $500 million in federal funding every year–more than half of its annual revenue. I hope that doesn’t happen, because we need Planned Parenthood.

Founded in 1916, Planned Parenthood provides health education, sexually transmitted infection (STI) testing and treatment, contraception, and, yes, abortions to people who may not have access to compassionate care elsewhere. Planned Parenthood health centers saw 2.4 million patients in 2015. I know people who received essential health services from Planned Parenthood when they were too poor or too scared to go anywhere else. I know people who are alive today because of Planned Parenthood. And a civilized society ought to provide for all its people, not just the most privileged.

Finally, for the record, this is not just about interrupting pregnancies. None of the federal funding that Planned Parenthood receives is used for abortion services. This is about providing reasonable access to reproductive health services for the half of the human race that, you know, actually makes the babies. And if you’re against that, well, I imagine we disagree on a great number of things, and I’ve got better things to do than argue with you. I’m working to bend the moral arc of the universe toward justice.

Back to the novel: once I had picked Planned Parenthood for the secret rendezvous, I revised an earlier scene in which Kangaroo gets pulled into a conversation at a hotel bar while following a target. The original draft of that talk was pretty inconsequential, both plot-wise and character-wise, but now that the topic of reproduction was on the table, I had an opportunity to raise the stakes in a few different ways.

The other barfly wants to talk about the difficulties of maintaining a long-distance relationship; how much is Kangaroo willing to reveal about his own personal life? The topic of children comes up; does Kangaroo want kids? What are his own–wait for it–plans for parenthood? You’ll have to read the book to find out. And I apologize for nothing.

LINKS:

KANGAROO TOO web site

Planned Parenthood

This teen is the new face of Planned Parenthood. ‘I wanted all the chances everyone else had.’

Services like Planned Parenthood important as syphilis cases on the rise

Trump Wants to Slash All Federal Funding for Planned Parenthood

14 Things Everyone Gets Wrong About Abortion

Someone you love has had an abortion: It’s time to end the silence

Barnes & Noble

Powell’s Books

Amazon.com

Twitter

Facebook

Goodreads

Newsletter

Blog

BIO:

Once a Silicon Valley software engineer, Curtis C. Chen (陳致宇) now writes speculative fiction and runs puzzle games near Portland, Oregon. His debut novel Waypoint Kangaroo (a 2017 Locus Awards Finalist) is a science fiction thriller about a superpowered spy facing his toughest mission yet: vacation. The sequel, Kangaroo Too, lands the titular secret agent on the Moon to confront old secrets.

Curtis’ short stories have appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Mission: Tomorrow, and Oregon Reads Aloud. He is a graduate of the Clarion West and Viable Paradise writers’ workshops.

You can find Curtis at Puzzled Pint Portland on the second Tuesday of most every month. And yes, there is a puzzle hidden in each of the Kangaroo book covers! Finding the respective rabbit holes is left as an exercise for the reader.

Visit him online at: http://curtiscchen.com

 

My Favorite Bit: Sara Dobie Bauer talks about BITE SOMEBODY ELSE

Favorite Bit iconSara Dobie Bauer is joining us today with her novel Bite Somebody Else. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Imogene helped her newbie vampire friend Celia hook up with an adorable human, but now Celia has dropped an atomic bomb of surprise: she has a possibly blood-sucking baby on the way. Imogene is not pleased, especially when a mysterious, ancient, and annoyingly gorgeous vampire historian shows up to monitor Celia’s unprecedented pregnancy.

Lord Nicholas Christopher Cuthbert III is everything Imogene hates: posh, mannerly, and totally uninterested in her. Plus, she thinks he’s hiding something. So what if he smells like a fresh garden and looks like a rich boarding school kid just begging to be debauched? Imogene has self-control. Or something.

As Celia’s pregnancy progresses at a freakishly fast pace, Imogene and Nicholas play an ever-escalating game of will they or won’t they, until his sexy maker shows up on Admiral Key, forcing Nicholas to reveal his true intentions toward Celia’s soon-to-arrive infant.

What’s Sara’s favorite bit?

Bite Somebody Else cover image

SARA DOBIE BAUER

The Bite Somebody Series is rife with hilarious dialogue, sexy sex, and ridiculous situations that only a couple awkward, profane vampire girls could get themselves into. With the final book in the series—Bite Somebody Else—finally unleashed upon the world, it’s sort of emotional to think that it’s all over, and yet, the characters live on in my head … just like my favorite scene in Bite Somebody Else.

Whereas Imogene was the rough-around-the-edges / semi-evil sidekick in Bite Somebody, Bite Somebody Else is her beach romance. True, Celia once called Imogene a terrible influence, but even terrible influences need love on occasion—something Imogene is loathe to admit, especially when she starts falling for grumpy, uptight, 350-year-old bloodsucker Lord Nicholas.

Theirs is not an easy tumble in the sheets, which is probably why I love the following scene, about a third in, when Imogene and Nicholas wake up one evening to drink liquor-laced blood while reading the local Florida newspaper:

“I’m trying to read.”

She leaned her head on the back of the couch and yawned. “About what?”

“Mrs. Cleaver has lost her dog.”

She lifted her head and looked at him. If there was ever a man who looked snuggly, it was Lord Nicholas Christopher Cuthbert III, sitting there on her couch in pajamas that smelled distinctly him. Incapable of self-control, Imogene slid down lower on the couch and rested the side of her head against his shoulder.

“What else?” she asked.

“Mm, well, it seems someone is trying to buy out the old tennis courts down by St. Arthur’s, despite what locals consider a ‘rat problem.’ Could be lucrative or a horrible, life crushing mistake.”

She smirked. “Life crushing?”

He took another large gulp from the pitcher that was now dripping with condensation before handing it to Imogene.

She took a sip and set the pitcher down before curling her knees up and resting them against the side of Nicholas’s thigh. She then curled into a little ball, her head resting on him as she closed her eyes.

“More,” she muttered.

“The Drift Inn has been struck by lightning due to the depravity of its clientele.”

Imogene snorted and sat up. She smacked him on the shoulder. Then, like she was some character in one of those chick flicks Celia liked, Imogene leaned forward and kissed Nicholas on the cheek. He didn’t flinch but simply smiled as he continued to read the latest, thrilling news from Admiral Key.

There’s just something about these two strong, somewhat abrasive, and battle-ready characters being all soft and cuddly together that makes me melt. (Plus, I think Nicholas is freaking adorable.)

In every book, there has to be at least a bit of light in the dark, flowers on the tombstone, rum in the punch. Just as there are two sides to every story, there are many sides to every person. To spend time with Imogene and Nicholas while they snuggle in their PJs feels like a gift. It’s a moment of romantic respite between their snippy sarcasm and inane arguments.

With their defenses up in Bite Somebody Else, Nicholas and Imogene are two tough vampires who would never admit to weakness. On the couch in this scene, they’re two people trying not to fall in love … and failing miserably.

LINKS:

Website

Amazon

Facebook

Twitter

Instagram

BIO:

Sara Dobie Bauer is a writer, model, and mental health advocate with a creative writing degree from Ohio University. Her short story, “Don’t Ball the Boss,” was nominated for the Pushcart Prize, inspired by her shameless crush on Benedict Cumberbatch. She lives with her hottie husband and two precious pups in Northeast Ohio, although she’d really like to live in a Tim Burton film. She is a member of RWA and author of the paranormal rom-com Bite Somebody, among other ridiculously entertaining things.

My Favorite Bit: Christopher Husberg talks about DARK IMMOLATION

Favorite Bit iconChristopher Husberg is joining us today with his novel Dark Immolation. Here’s the publisher’s description:

A new religion is rising, gathering followers drawn by rumors of prophetess Jane Oden. Her sister Cinzia—once a Cantic priestess—is by her side, but fears that Jane will lead them to ruin. For both the Church and the Nazaniin assassins are still on their trail, and much worse may come.
Knot, his true nature now revealed if not truly understood, is haunted by his memories, and is not the ally he once was. Astrid travels to Tinska to find answers for her friend, but the child-like vampire has old enemies who have been waiting for her return. And beyond the Blood Gate in the empire of Roden, a tiellan woman finds herself with a new protector. One who wants to use her extraordinary abilities for his own ends…

What’s Christopher’s favorite bit?

Dark Immolation cover image

CHRISTOPHER HUSBERG

I love twisting and molding words to fit a narrative. I love doing what I can with the text to reflect what is going on within the text. It’s something I find personally invigorating as a writer. It doesn’t always happen, of course, and it isn’t always at the forefront of my mind when I’m writing–in fact, it rarely is–but when the opportunity presents itself, I enjoy experimenting a bit. Just such an opportunity came up with my latest novel, Dark Immolation, the sequel to Duskfall and second book in the Chaos Queen Quintet.

First, a bit of background. One of my favorite novels is The Truth About Celia, by Kevin Brockmeier. I love the novel for many reasons, but a section of the book in which Brockmeier uses a unique, head-hopping, third-person present omniscient point of view to jump from character to character as they interact with one another always stands out to me. It’s a pretty great section, and it fosters an intimacy with both the characters and the world in an incredibly innovative, efficient way.

I’d experimented with that same style and voice a few times as an early writer, and I’d always wanted to try something like it in a fantasy novel–the efficiency with which it introduces a world and a group of characters was too tempting to pass up. I’ve always been a fan of efficiency when it comes to writing; one of the best compliments I think I can pay a work is to say that it’s concise–it says as much as possible with as few words as possible. The third-person present omniscient voice just seemed an interesting and new way to approach the ever-shifting balance of just the right amount of world-building and character detail while still keeping the reader’s attention and generating a sense of progression–and doing it all in a relatively concise manner.

That said, I always want a reason behind everything I do as a writer (spoiler alert, this isn’t always the case, but I prefer it to be, and even when it isn’t, I like there to be the illusion of some greater reason behind whatever stylistic choice I’ve made). In the earliest draft of my first novel, Duskfall, I’d included a prologue that used this third-person present omniscient voice, but it didn’t make the final cut–it didn’t even make the first cut; I eliminated the scene before I’d even finished the first draft, because there was no reason for it.

With Book 2 in the series, however, I finally found a good reason.

The concepts of telekinesis and telepathy form the basis for one of the magic systems in the books called psimancy. By focusing on the influences of telepathy in the magic system, and by framing it with a character that found herself in a particularly disoriented and mind-bending state–to say the least–at the beginning of Dark Immolation (no spoilers!), I think I was able to justify it. Not only that, but it’s a tool I turn to multiple times throughout the novel, and one that I’ll continue to modify and tweak throughout the series. I’m pretty happy with it, and I hope it’s a fraction as interesting to you as it has been for me!

LINKS:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Kobo

IndieBound

My Website

Facebook

BIO:

Christopher Husberg grew up in Eagle River, Alaska. He now lives in Utah, and spends his time writing, reading, hiking, and playing video games, but mostly hanging out with his wife, Rachel, and daughter, Buffy. He received an MFA in creative writing from BYU, and an honorary PhD in Buffy the Vampire Slayer from himself. The first novel in the Chaos Queen Quintet, Duskfall, was published in 2016. The third installment, Blood Requiem, will be published by Titan Books in June 2018.

My Favorite Bit: Jon Del Arroz talks about FOR STEAM AND COUNTRY

Favorite Bit iconJon Del Arroz is joining us today to talk about his novel For Steam and Country. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Her father’s been pronounced dead. Destructive earthquakes ravage the countryside. An invading army looms over the horizon. And Zaira’s day is just getting started…

Abandoned at an early age, Zaira von Monocle found life as the daughter of a great adventurer to be filled with hard work and difficulty. She quickly learned to rely on only herself. But when a messenger brought news that her father was dead and that she was the heir to his airship, her world turned upside down.

Zaira soon finds herself trapped in the midst of a war between her home country of Rislandia and the cruel Wyranth Empire, whose soldiers are acting peculiarly—almost inhuman. With the enemy army advancing, her newfound ship’s crew may be the only ones who can save the kingdom.

What’s Jon’s favorite bit?

For Steam and Country cover image

JON DEL ARROZ

Excerpt:

 

A whimpering squeak came from under the table. I rushed over, pushing aside fragments of plates, baskets, and the remains of a flower arrangement. “Oh, Toby!” I said, holding my breath in hopes he hadn’t been crushed.

My ferret poked his head up from under a fruit basket, staring at me like I was crazy. He held a half-eaten apple between his front paws, but lost his grip on it when he stumbled on the tile floor in excitement. His apple rolled toward my feet. Toby scampered and clawed up my pant leg, moving with fervor around my body. His paws tickled me with each step. When he reached my shoulder, he nudged me lovingly with his nose.

Jon’s Favorite Bit:

Authors love little furry critters. If you go to almost any author’s feed on social media, you’ll see it littered with puppies and kittens. Animals have inspired such great works in the field like The Cat Who Walked Through Walls by Robert Heinlein, or even the Dragonriders of Pern by Anne McCaffrey – in which the dragons are used as an allegory for horses.

I created the character of Toby because I wanted Zaira to have a furry sidekick who both caused a little chaos and brought her comfort when the going got rough. Toby is a hyperactive little ferret who was given to Zaira as a present from her adventurer father, who was always gallivanting off in some foreign land. Toby serves as a reminder and a connection to her father, and also plays an important plot role later in the book.

We as humans have strange connections to animals, and can sometimes love them more than humans I chose a ferret because I wanted something different from most works, but still presenting a relationship with a domesticated animal. I racked my brain, trying to think of something that would be fun and memorable. I don’t recall how I came across the idea of a ferret, but when I did, I spent a good amount of time on youtube researching ferrets as pets. What I found was some of the most amusing material I’ve ever watched on the internet.

Ferrets are some of the cutest but also craziest animals out there. They’re typically a little smaller than cats, with a look almost like a strange rat. They’re curious animals that squirm and move around constantly, and often work themselves into a frenzy. Ferrets are playful. They jump around and in their playfulness can bite a lot harder than it looks like their little jaws should be able to do. They also are easily spooked, and will run and hide like a pet Chihuahua if they get too worked up.

I didn’t address a couple of points about keeping ferrets of pets in For Steam And Country. With such an action-driven plot, there was little time to explore the day to day life of Zaira with her pet Toby, but I had notes on the characteristics of ferrets all the same. Ferrets have a musky, gamey smell to them which can be very strong. Imported ferrets to the United States have some of their scent glands in their rear removed to mitigate this, but a creature in the wild in a fantasy steampunk era could stink, and would require frequent baths. Beyond that, they’re carnivores, and they have very specific diets that they have to adhere to, otherwise their digestive tract gets clogged and could kill the animal. They also have very limited eyesight, relying on their sense of smell. This final point I tried to elude to in situations with Toby sniffing around to find and discover things.

This being a fantasy world, I did include a mild telepathic bond between Zaira and her pet. Toby could sense when trouble was around, or feel his way through a situation later in the book in order to help bring Zaira her comforts and needs. It’s more of something that’s implied in the book, but in the real world, people and their pets do often form bonds that seem to border on the supernatural. This is part of the charm of having an animal sidekick, making for a compelling addition to a story that adds to Zaira as a character as much as it presents fun for a reader.

If you look at one youtube link for ferrets, I recommend this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z7HgqXWMpX4. You’ll be stricken with a case of the “awws” within thirty seconds, I guarantee it.

LINKS:

Amazon

Goodreads

Jon’s blog

Jon’s Twitter

BIO:

Jon Del Arroz began his writing career in high school, providing book reviews and the occasional article for a local news magazine. From there, he went on to write the weekly web comic, Flying Sparks, which has been hailed by Comic Book Resources as “the kind of stuff that made me fall in love with early Marvel comics.” He has several published short stories, and has worked in gaming providing fiction for AEG’s weird est card game, Doomtown Reloaded, and settings for various RPGs. His debut novel, Star Realms: rescue Run went on to become a top-10 bestselling Amazon space opera. For Steam And Country marks his first foray into fantasy.

My Favorite Bit: Michael Johnston talks about SOLERI

Favorite Bit iconMichael Johnston is joining us today with his novel Soleri. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Michael Johnston brings you the first in a new epic fantasy series inspired by ancient Egyptian history and King Lear.

The ruling family of the Soleri Empire has been in power longer than even the calendars that stretch back 2,826 years. Those records tell a history of conquest and domination by a people descended from gods, older than anything in the known world. No living person has seen them for centuries, yet their grip on their four subjugate kingdoms remains tighter than ever.

On the day of the annual eclipse, the Harkan king, Arko-Hark Wadi, sets off on a hunt and shirks his duty rather than bow to the emperor. Ren, his son and heir, is a prisoner in the capital, while his daughters struggle against their own chains. Merit, the eldest, has found a way to stand against imperial law and marry the man she desires, but needs her sister’s help, and Kepi has her own ideas.

Meanwhile, Sarra Amunet, Mother Priestess of the sun god’s cult, holds the keys to the end of an empire and a past betrayal that could shatter her family.

Detailed and historical, vast in scope and intricate in conception, Soleri bristles with primal magic and unexpected violence. It is a world of ancient and elaborate rites, of unseen power and kingdoms ravaged by war, where victory comes with a price, and every truth conceals a deeper secret.

What’s Michael’s favorite bit?

Soleri cover image

MICHAEL JOHNSTON

Sometimes the best way to invent a world is to start with the one you already know. When I got my big idea for my first novel, SOLERI, I found it in ancient Egypt. See, the Egyptians were the first to create a three hundred and sixty-five-day calendar. It was a big deal back then and the first of its kind. Now, I don’t want to lose you here. Yes, calendars aren’t usually the inspiration for an epic fantasy novel. They aren’t usually the inspiration for anything. But this one is different. It’s fascinating—I promise.

The story goes something like this: Each year, just prior to the annual flooding of the Nile river in Egypt, the star, Sirius, appears on the horizon before sunrise (the so-called heliacal rising of Sirius). Over time the Egyptian farmers took note of star’s rising. And eventually they started using it to predict the annual flood. Now, the flood was important to the Egyptians; the water enriched the desert soil, making the land suitable for farming. Without the flood, Egypt would starve, so they kept careful track of the star’s movement. They noted that Sirius rose, just prior to sunrise, every three hundred and sixty five days, which became the basis for their calendar and ours too. But here’s the interesting part: The calendar didn’t work out perfectly. The Egyptians created a calendar with twelve months of thirty days each. (They also had only three weeks in each month, and the weeks had ten days in each of them. Imagine working a ten-day week!) So twelve months with thirty days in each month gave the Egyptians three hundred and sixty days total. Are you following the math? They were five days short.

This is the really interesting part.

They didn’t tag on an extra day here and there to make the calendar work. We do that and it’s just confusing. They stayed with their twelve perfect months and took the extra five days and made them a special time, a holy time.

In SOLERI, as in ancient Egypt, the five days exist outside of time. The days aren’t even part of the calendar. No one can work, or perform any type of labor. Nothing of importance transpires. How could it? There was no date. Imagine having five days that existed without time. No name for the day. Nothing to fill in the “date received” column in apple mail (sorry, I don’t use outlook). That’s interesting. In fact, there’s something really magical about this idea.

In SOLERI, the five days are a high holiday, a feast.  They don’t accompany the rising of a star, but they do precede an annual eclipse.  Each year, the sky turns black as the moon eclipses the sun. This was their heliacal rising, their sign that a new year had started. Now, in our world, eclipses don’t happen on a yearly schedule. Our orbit is imperfect. But if the earth had a perfectly spherical orbit and the moon did as well and both shared the same plane, the moon would eclipse the sun at regular intervals. Imagine that! If you lived in antiquity and the sky blackened at regular intervals it would most likely have a profound effect on your culture. It does in SOLERI.

The whole empire revolves around the high holiday and it has for three thousand years, all the way up to the start of my novel. In SOLERI we find out what happens when that cycle breaks. In Soleri, I explore that moment when everything changes and that order that has existed for three thousand years falls apart.

LINKS:

Website

Amazon

Twitter

BIO:

Michael Johnston was born in 1973 in Cleveland, Ohio. As a child and a teen he was an avid reader of science fiction and fantasy. He studied architecture and ancient history at Lehigh University and during a lecture on the history of ancient Egypt, the seed of an idea was born. He earned a master’s degree in architecture from Columbia University, graduating at the top of his class. Michael worked as an architect in New York City before moving to Los Angeles. Sparked by the change of locale, a visit to the desert, and his growing dissatisfaction with the architectural industry, he sought a way to merge his interests in architecture and history with his love of fantasy. By day he worked as an architect, but by night he wrote and researched an epic fantasy novel inspired by the history of ancient Egypt and the tragic story of King Lear. After working this way for several years, he shut down his successful architecture practice and resolved to write full time. He now lives and writes in Los Angeles with his wife and daughter.

My Favorite Bit: A.J. Hartley talks about FIREBRAND

Favorite Bit iconA.J. Hartley is joining us today with his novel Firebrand. Here’s the publisher’s description:

New York Times bestselling author A. J. Hartley returns to his intriguing, 19th-century South African-inspired fantasy world in Firebrand, another adrenaline-pounding adventure.

Once a steeplejack, Anglet Sutonga is used to scaling the heights of Bar-Selehm. Nowadays she assists politician Josiah Willinghouse behind the scenes of Parliament. The latest threat to the city-state: Government plans for a secret weapon are stolen and feared to be sold to the rival nation of Grappoli. The investigation leads right to the doorsteps of Elitus, one of the most exclusive social clubs in the city. In order to catch the thief, Ang must pretend to be a foreign princess and infiltrate Elitus. But Ang is far from royal material, so Willinghouse enlists help from the exacting Madam Nahreem.

Yet Ang has other things on her mind. Refugees are trickling into the city, fleeing Grappoli-fueled conflicts in the north. A demagogue in Parliament is proposing extreme measures to get rid of them, and she soon discovers that one theft could spark a conflagration of conspiracy that threatens the most vulnerable of Bar-Selehm. Unless she can stop it.

What’s A.J.’s favorite bit?

Firebrand cover image

A.J. HARTLEY

In Firebrand, the second book of my vaguely African, steampunky Steeplejack series, the heroine, Anglet Sutonga, goes to visit her employer’s country estate. Ang is a city girl, and she has a dread of wild animals, having grown up with all the myths and horror stories of what lurks outside the city walls. She’s a bit freaked out by the fancy house in all its Victorian formality, and—left alone to wait for her employer in an elegant withdrawing room—she starts getting antsy.

Time passes: ten minutes, twenty.

It’s odd. She goes out into the hallway and calls for him, but there’s no answer. She starts exploring the extensive ground floor of the great house, but it is silent and deserted: no staff, no servants, no sign of her boss or his family. It’s late, and, torn between irritation and anxiety, she finds her way to the kitchens where a courtyard door has apparently been left unlatched. It’s open, flapping in the night breeze but, as she goes to close it, she realizes that something is out there in the dark.

Something big.

A shadow moves. Then another. Whatever it is, there are several of them.

Then they start that mad, distinctive chuckling, and she realizes;

Hyenas!

She turns to flee into the house but finds there are more already inside, skulking behind the kitchen cabinets…

I’ll say no more about what happens next, but I hope you can see just a little of why I love this bit. Partly it’s because I put Ang in a situation where her usual skills (her climbing ability) will not help her, forcing her to be smart and resourceful in other ways. And partly the moment plays on some of her darkest fears about the nature of the country around her. Hyenas are scary animals. Big, rogue males have been known to attack people by themselves. A pack can bring down anything that walks the bush…

But there’s more to it than that. Because while hyenas are potentially terrifying by themselves they are even more terrifying indoors. I know that sounds crazy, but think about it. Some of the added dread comes from being up close to the creatures in a confined space, but some of it is also the sheer visceral wrongness of wild things inside a nice, safe, homey space. Think of how unnerving it is to have a bird fly into your living room, say or—in story terms—think of the wolf inside Granny’s cottage in Little Red Riding Hood. To take a more recent example, remember the velociraptors in the kitchen scene in the original Jurassic Park.

What makes these animals so frightening is their juxtaposition with the tame and ordinary spaces where we live: the wild inside the domestic. So the hyenas become more scary because they are surrounded by things which are familiar and ordinary, the trappings of everyday life like tables and chairs and ornaments and paintings positioned next to slavering, hunting beasts. It’s not just that the animals are frightening; their being indoors violates our sense of our human sophistication.

And I didn’t just make it up. I’ve never been in a confined space with a hyena (thank God—though there are accounts of hyenas going into houses and attacking people) but I did have a thoroughly unnerving experience while traveling in South Africa. I left the door of my little cottage unlocked for a minute and a watchful baboon—not as scary as a hyena for sure, but a sizeable monkey with claws and sharp teeth—got into my kitchen. Baboons are clever, unafraid or humans and potentially quite dangerous. I tried to shoo it out, but it got up on the counter–-which put it’s eyes level with mine—and stared me down. I got it out eventually (after it had rifled through my cabinets for sugar packets) but I don’t mind saying that the whole experience was deeply unsettling!

I’ve always loved animals and been absolutely fascinated by them. But some beasts belong outdoors. When they get inside it’s like gravity has been switched off. The world stops behaving the way it’s supposed to and all those protective comforts which tell us that we’re not animals fall away and we’re left with our primal and most basic instincts.

No wonder Ang was terrified.

LINKS:

Read an excerpt

AJ Hartley’s Website

AJ’s Twitter

Amazon

B&N

Indiebound

Powell’s

BIO:

A.J. Hartley was born and raised in northwest England, but left the UK after his undergraduate degree to work in Japan. Three years later he went to graduate school at Boston University, completing an MA and Ph.D. in English. After a decade working in Georgia, he became the Robinson Professor of Shakespeare Studies at UNC Charlotte, where he teaches and publishes on performance history, theory and criticism. He is also an Honorary Fellow at the University of Central Lancashire (UK).

He is the New York Times bestselling author of 15 novels in multiple genres for adults and younger readers, some of which have been translated into 28 languages. His recent work includes Steeplejack, a fantasy adventure about a girl who works in the high places of a city world resembling Victorian South Africa; Cathedrals of Glass, a YA scifi thriller about a group of teens who crash-land on a supposedly deserted planet, and Sekret Machines, a multi media project about unexplained aerial phenomena co-authored with Blink 182/Angels and Airwaves founder, Tom DeLonge. He has also written the Darwen Arkwright series for kids, the Will Hawthorne books (Act of Will etc.), award winning adaptations of Macbeth and Hamlet, and several archaeological mysteries.

Why you almost never see me do a puppet show at an SF con.

Frequently, when I’m attending a convention as a writer, someone on programming will ask me to bring a puppet show. And they ask me to do it for the children’s track. I understand this impulse, I really do, because people have probably never booked a show before and there’s a fair chance that they haven’t seen one.

There’s a temptation to just send a price sheet over and let the $10,000 price tag stop the conversation, but let me actually explain the math behind this, because I know that I’m not the only performer who gets these requests.

First, let me lay some groundwork. I am a puppeteer. I am a writer. Both of these are jobs.

When I go to an SFF convention, I’m there as a writer and part of my job is promoting my work. But no one is asking me to actually write. Just to talk be on a panel and talk about writing. I’m happy to do that. I’m happy to talk about puppetry, too. These are passions.  When I’m talking with a group of my peers, it’s fun.

Two problems then with bringing a puppet show.

  1. Kids are not my peers.
  2. And folks aren’t asking me to talk about puppetry. They’re asking me to do an actual show.

For perspective… this is the set of one of my kids shows.

It’s 20’w x 20′ deep x 10′ tall and fits into a cargo van. So let’s talk about what it would take to get that to a convention.

  • Flights x 2 – $400 = $800
  • Luggage – $500
  • Salary x 2 – $1000 = $2000
  • Per diem for performers – $600
  • 2 weeks rehearsal x2 – $1600 = $3200   <– We don’t perform on a regular basis anymore, so we’d have to get back up to speed.
  • Director – $800
  • 2 weeks rehearsal space – $500 <– This won’t fit in my living room.
  • 2 weeks refurbishing time – $1000
  • Miscellaneous – $250 <– There’s always something you’ve forgotten.

During all of this, I’m not writing.

Now when I was touring to schools, I could ammortize this because we’d hit multiple schools in a very tight span of time. So I could market the show at $1000. In the 1990s. Now? Ahahaha….

Taking a show to a convention, in a town where I don’t live…  That’s one show that I’m doing all that work for. It’s not like people are going to see the show and then immediately rush out and book me to perform at their school. And frankly, I don’t do that anymore.

My goal has always been to turn down the gigs I don’t want to do. I don’t want to do children’s theater anymore. Which is where the rest of that price tag comes from, because during those three weeks of prep, I. Am. Not. Writing.

If you approach me about doing one of our adult pieces? Yeah. I’m more likely to have that conversation with you, because I do enjoy that. But it’s still going to be expensive because there are a lot of moving pieces.

And please, please, think before you ask if I couldn’t just use someone local to do the show with me. Really stop and take a moment and think about how insulting that is. It’s like saying, “Hey! World class violinist! We’re going to hand some instruments to some random people and see if they can figure out how to play this orchestra. It can’t be that hard, can it?”

Day One at the SpaceX CRS-11 Cargo Launch NASA Social

“This is an operational spaceport…”

These weren’t the first words that I heard at the NASA Social event, but they were the ones that made everything real. I was going to an operational spaceport. It wasn’t a line from science-fiction.

I’m at the Kennedy Space Center as part of a program by NASA to make science more transparent by inviting in a group of social media folks. There are thirty-six of us from a wide swathe of life. There’s a 19-year old college student, a Tesla expert, a concert pianist, and me…  The idea is to reach out past the folks who already follow NASA and make space accessible to everyone.

Well… everyone who is willing to get up at 6:00am in order to to be processed by a bomb-sniffing dog. Am I willing to do that? Heck, yes. Twice, even, because I’m going back tomorrow.

The access that they gave us was incredible. We started the day with an overview briefing of the mission. Then we went to the Launch Control Center. No big deal, that’s just where they launched the moon missions. And the shuttle. As one does. While we weren’t allowed to take photos in certain areas, we were allowed in and shown around three of the four firing rooms.

I have taken pages of notes with details that will find their way into the Lady Astronaut books. For instance…

  • There’s sound dampening material on the interior of the firing rooms in order to keep them from getting too loud with 120 people in their during launch.
  • There’s a literal red button that the flight director can push if she needs to stop the countdown.
  • The flight director watches for changes in body language among her technicians to spot potential problems before they come to a head.

From there, we went to the Vehicle Assembly Building. It is the world’s tallest single story building. The interior is open to the roof and is the equivalent of a 52 story building inside. Here are some of the cool things:

  • The platforms from the Apollo rockets are still present, although stowed to the side.
  • There’s an area that looks like a squat room, that’s actually the underside of the mobile launcher platform that the shuttle was built on.
  • The place has an AMAZING echo if you’re loud.

Next came the terrible joke, “Are you go for lunch?”

Yes. Yes, we were very much go for lunch. Here it becomes clear that NASA spends all it’s money on getting things and people into space. The cafeteria looks like it hasn’t changed since the seventies and is frankly shocking after having gone to places like the Google headquarters. The food is obviously not why people work for NASA. It’s for the rockets and the science.

After that, we got to attend the “What’s on board” briefing, which was broadcast via Nasa.gov/live. You can watch it! You can see me ask questions. I kept having to bite my lip to keep from asking ALL THE QUESTIONS, because, really… they let a science-fiction writer loose in a room with a bunch of scientists.

These people are so passionate and enthusiastic. I really encourage you to take time to watch the video because the science that they are doing is amazing. Some of it has clear and immediate applications here on Earth. Other things are designed to make space travel easier, which in turn will make doing science in space easier. And also, just, science. It’s cool.

But here’s the real thing that you should take away… Follow @NASAsocial and when they tweet about a social coming up, just go ahead and apply. Even if you don’t get to attend a launch, it will be worth it.

Meanwhile, follow the hashtag #NASAsocial on whatever your favorite social media is. There are thirty-six of us tweeting about all the different exciting things. And each of us has a unique perspective but we’re all excited.

Why?

We’re at a freakin’ operational spaceport. In real life.

My Favorite Bit: J Tullos Hennig talks about SUMMERWODE

Favorite Bit iconJ Tullos Hennig is joining us today with her novel Summerwode. Here’s the publisher’s description:

The Summer King has come to the Wode…

Yet to which oath, head or heart, shall he hold?

Once known as the Templar assassin Guy de Gisbourne, dispossessed noble Gamelyn Boundys has come to Sherwood Forest with conflicted oaths. One is of duty: demanding he tame the forest’s druidic secrets and bring them back to his Templar Masters. The other oath is of heat and heart: given to the outlaw Robyn Hood, avatar of the Horned Lord, and the Maiden Marion, embodiment of the Lady Huntress. The three of them—Summerlord, Winter King, and Maiden of the Spring—are bound by yet another promise, that of fate: to wield the covenant of the Shire Wode and the power of the Ceugant, the magical trine of all worlds. In this last, also, is Gamelyn conflicted; spectres of sacrifice and death haunt him.

Uneasy oaths begin a collision course when not only Gamelyn, but Robyn and Marion are summoned to the siege of Nottingham by the Queen. Her promise is that Gamelyn will regain his noble family’s honour of Tickhill, and the outlaws of the Shire Wode will have a royal pardon.

But King Richard has returned to England, and the price of his mercy might well be more than any of them can afford…

What’s JTH’s favorite bit?

Summerwode cover image

J TULLOS HENNIG

The meeting of Robin Hood and Richard the Lionheart is the stuff of legend. It’s been told in ballads and books, portrayed in oils and watercolours, and played out in dim theatres—particularly on screen.

But with few exceptions (one being the excellent, atmospheric ITV series Robin of Sherwood), Richard is portrayed as the Illustrious Saviour King. He’s the one who returns from Crusade just in time to Right All Wrongs, vanquish the Evil Sheriff, and boot the arse of his sniveling younger brother Bad Prince John. He attends a ginormous kegger out in the forest with Robin Hood and the Merries, who’ve held the green bastions of Sherwood for her Rightful Lord. And he usually hands Marion over as a prize to the loyal outlaw leader.

Well, I’ve never been one to toe the party line.

But I do have to do Richard some justice. He was an efficient warrior with an undeniable magnetism. He must have loved his mother; the first thing he did upon ascending the throne was set her free from the prison where his father had kept her bunged up for years. Brought up a good son of Mother Church, mostly within the continental provinces of his Angevin family, he was well groomed in the predatory games and political marksmanship of medieval rule. Yet it’s likely his reign became a contribution to the already-downward Angevin slide. It’s also likely Richard had little use for the wet, green island where he was King, save as a war chest, or as Royal Forest to enclose and claim just in case he did decide to visit… a rarity.

It’s also pretty well accepted that he didn’t speak English.

Of course, few early medieval kings did.

But such contrary factoids writhe in a writer’s brain, burning. A King who doesn’t speak the language of his subjects. A Maiden who should be more than a mere prize. Even the inexplicable penchant for constructing a massive, impossible outlaw town in Sherwood Forest—one fit to support the aforementioned royal kegger—begged to be addressed.

So when I realised that “my” Robyn and the King were going to meet, I itched to dig in and transform that meeting from less of an exercise in implausibility to something more… well, genuine to my own sensibilities. And since the Books of the Wode were a subversive reimagining from the outset, (Robin, of course, long revered as the maestro of subversion), then why not twist this tail as well?

How can someone who truly believes they have chattel rights to everything—and granted by all-powerful god—be anything but a massively entitled piece of work? And if said person possesses remarkable charm and magnetism as well as that crown, then it just means they’ve an easier time convincing people of their puissance. Might makes right, all that.

And how can a Heathen peasant-turned-outlaw—one who’s garnered nothing but the whip and a burnt home as price for his existence, who has to watch as taxes and a literal king’s ransom not only beggar his land, but try to forbid him the forest he holds sacred—admire such a king? Robyn Hood is on a mission from his own god, by the by, and has no reason to trust Richard. He’s only  fierce loyalty to his sister Marion and his lover Gamelyn. The first has to convince him to try for a pardon, and the second has an inheritance at stake that could provide sanctuary even for those branded wolfsheads, sodomites, and pagans.

Richard isn’t evil, but he’s certainly no peach. So the reality in Summerwode has to reflect how an entitled monarch usually gets whatever he wants—and has the power to either raise it above itself or destroy it.

And he doesn’t speak English! Which made for some necessary translators, twisty conversations, and volatile confrontations between the King of England and the very north English, very arsy King of the Shire Wode:

 

“He has always preferred the campsite and his men about him to any court. No doubt you, master archer, can understand such things.” Mercadier’s Anglic faltered, trimmed heavily with the nasal hum of Frank talk, but he spoke it well enough. Though he did seem to have more problems understanding Robyn than Robyn did him, and was much less patient than was mannerly.

“Nowt better than a clear night and a fire with t’ Wode all ’round,” Robyn replied, soft.

Mercadier paused in his application of wood splits below the roasting meat and frowned, parsing the words slowly. Richard, lounging with powerful arms crossed, spoke a soft patter of Frank to his captain, chuckled as he answered, spoke again.

It was Mercadier’s, this time, to laugh. “He says his half-brother the Archbishop of York is correct. England’s northern shires do speak a language unintelligible to all but their own.”

Says one who waint arse himself to speak any Anglic tongue, Robyn thought but did not say. Instead he let his speech curl even more into those “northern shires.” “’M fair upskelled tha’s nobles loosed milord King wi’ nobbut ussen.”

Mercadier blinked. Frowned. Robyn hid a smirk beneath a scratch to his beard.

“Again?” Mercadier demanded—and well, but Robyn had to give him that much for tenacity. “Slow, si’l vous plaît.”

No sense of humor, these Franks.

I hope the results are compelling—and genuine.

Many thanks, Mary, for your generosity in sharing your blog space for this newest instalment in the Wode books. Cheers!

LINKS:

Amazon Author Page

JTH Website

Musings blog

Bookbub

Goodreads

The Wode Facebook Page

JTH’s Facebook Profile

Twitter

BIO:

J Tullos Hennig has always possessed inveterate fascination in the myths and histories of other worlds and times. Despite having maintained a few professions in this world—equestrian, dancer, teacher, artist—Jen has never successfully managed to not be a writer. Ever.

Her most recent work is a darkly magical historical fantasy series re-imagining the legends of Robin Hood, in which both pagan and queer viewpoints are given respectful & realistic voice.

My Favorite Bit: Rebecca Roland talks about SHATTERED FATES

Favorite Bit iconRebecca Roland is joining us today with her novel Shattered Fates. Here’s the publisher’s description:

The magic barrier protecting the Taakwa from their enemies, the Maddion, is gone. Malia, who led the Taakwa against the Maddion in the Dragon War, must convince the magical being, the changer, to repair the barrier before the Maddion invade to take revenge on her people and the winged Jeguduns who also call the valley home, even if it means reversing the healing the changer wrought for her.

Chanwa, the wife of the Maddion leader, uses the disorder created by the changer to lead a coup against her husband in a desperate attempt to ensure she and the other Maddion women are treated as equals. Her life, and the future of every Maddion woman, depends on her success.

Both women know the only way to succeed is to come together in an unlikely alliance.

What’s Rebecca’s favorite bit?

Shattered Fates cover image

REBECCA ROLAND

A large portion of Shattered Fates, the third and final novel in my Shards of History series, focuses on the Maddion, a patriarchal society introduced in the first novel. They are a bloodthirsty, dragon-riding society that constantly underestimates women, their enemies, and pretty much anyone who isn’t them. They are, in fact, a huge reason I continued writing this series. The first book was initially meant to stand alone, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the characters, in particular, the Maddion women. I imagined them living in the aftermath of war as their people continued to die from an illness introduced in the first book. I really wanted to know what they were up to. I really wanted to give them the chance to stand up for themselves and fight for a better life.

But how do you fight back when you don’t want to hurt those you’re fighting against? How do you get the attention of those you love, and who are supposed to love you? How do you fight when you have no weapons to speak of? The Maddion men favor their weapons and their dragons. To them, power is physical strength, might, and knowledge.

Around the time I was writing Shattered Fates, I read a book called Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War by Leymah Gbowee. In her story I saw the story of the Maddion women. Gbowee grew up during the Liberian civil war and was a victim of domestic abuse. She had no power to speak of and no weapons, and yet she brought together Christian and Muslim women to help bring a more peaceful existence to Liberia. They did it without raising so much as a finger, much less any sort of weapon. And in the coming together between Christian and Muslim women, I also saw how the divergent societies in my fictional world were coming together.

My favorite bit of Shattered Fates is the inevitable revolution led by the most vulnerable members of the population. And it serves as a much needed reminder (to me, at least) that often our brains are much more powerful and capable weapons than our fists when it comes to fighting for what is right.

LINKS:

Publisher’s Website

Goodreads

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Kobo

BIO:

Rebecca is the author of the Shards of History series, The Necromancer’s Inheritance series, and The King of Ash and Bones, and Other Stories. Her short fiction has appeared in publications such as Nature, Flash Fiction Online, Fantasy Scroll Magazine, New Myths, and Every Day Fiction, and she is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop. You can find out more about her and her work at rebeccaroland.net or follow her on Twitter at @rebecca_roland.

My Favorite Bit: Selena Chambers talks about CALLS FOR SUBMISSION

Favorite Bit iconSelena Chambers is joining us today with her collection of short stories Calls For Submission. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Selena Chambers’ debut collection guides readers out of space and time and through genre and mythos to explore the microcosmic horrors of identity, existence, and will in the face of the world’s adamant calls for submission. Victorian tourists take a virtual trip through their (and the Ottoman empire’s) ideal Orient; a teenage girl learns about independence and battle of the bands, all while caring for her mesmerized, dead mother; a failed Beat poet goes over the edge while exploring the long-abandoned Government Lethal Chambers. Visceral, evocative, and with a distinct style that is both vintage and fresh, Calls for Submission introduces a glowing, new writer of the weird and strange.

What’s Selena’s favorite bit?

Calls For Submission cover image

SELENA CHAMBERS

Calls for Submission is my debut collection from Pelekinesis. It features 15 of my very best short stories, including “The Neurastheniac,” which was nominated for a World Fantasy award last year. There’s Steampunk, Decopunk, Poepathy and Lovecraftiana, weird historical fiction, and straight up Gothic horrors with punk rock twists. Oh, and a lot of ladies.

The title summarizes the collection’s mission statement:  to examine the microcosmic horrors of identity, existence, and will in the face of the world’s adamant calls for submission. It’s also a double entendre as every story in this collection was written for specific editors. While it is easy to loose your mission in doing work for others, I actually found mine, and so this collection also demonstrates how I developed and subverted genre’s calls to submit.

Having said all that, my favorite bit has nothing to do with a story. It’s the dedication page:

“To the Babes: Kat, Lori, Michelle, and Maureen. You all inspired me to pick up the axe, and when that didn’t work out, the pen.”

Babes in Toyland is a punk rock band formed in the 1990s. They produced a total of five studio albums, To Mother, Spanking Machine, Fontanelle, Painkillers, and Nemesisters. They promoted other girls to pick up guitars and get behind the drums, and when girls like me grew up, they inspired other modes of expression, like horror stories.

I was around 12-years old when I first encountered them. I was browsing in the record store and Painkillers had just come out. The cassette caught my attention even though I had no idea what they sounded like. I knew Sonic Youth and Nirvana liked them, so they were probably cool. The endorsements weren’t what made me blow my allowance on the EP, though. It was the Cindy Sherman cover:  a propped baby doll posed in such a way that it appeared its head was that of a grotesque clown mask. Totally messed up!

Broken dolls would be a major aesthetic motif of the band. Front person Kat Bjelland even crafted an entire fashion around it. With blunt bangs barely held together with plastic toddler barrettes and vintage baby doll dresses, she sported a seminal look that would become known as Kinderwhore, and presented a demented domestic look that would be completely shattered when she took the stage with her Rickenbacker.

I was really interested in disassembled dolls back then, having mutilated a few of my own and displayed them in my room to my parents joy. It was an aesthetic pretty easy to indulge in as it was a popular motif among bands at that time. But none of them did it like this. This was about deconstructing womanhood. As I intuited this on a very basic level, my big philosophical question became: “What do you suppose this sounds like?”

Trying to describe what it was like hearing Babes in Toyland for the first time has me stumped. I’m past deadline now trying to get it right. But how do you describe an auditory tornado? Steam roller riffs, skull hammering beats, and the Banshee-Siren maelstrom of Kat Bjelland screaming, swearing, pleading and bleeding all over the studio? Distortion and discord parting and mingling with fragile melody and lyrics hardened by wit and irony to hide the vulnerable, gooey uncertainties in the middle? Ugh, doesn’t even come close, but it’ll have to do.

Everything—from the soft surrealist lyrics, to the single-worded album names to their dumpster baby doll imagery—both suggested and destroyed the notion of femaleness. It was this double-edged femininity I’d continue to be drawn too and utilize to express my own art. It was like all the anger, confusion, frustration, and ambivalence I felt had became justified because these women knew it too. Maybe others did—maybe this was actually pretty normal?

As a grew up, the influences became more implicit and subconscious.

At 24, when I decided I wanted to explore horror in my work, I was driven by a notion to explore fears of the feminine. The examples I had were Modernist and Surrealist influences, but I wanted my efforts to be more graphic, and so to help me work out my mission I secretly labeled my type of horror as Foxcore, after the term eventually applied to Babes, and other bands like L7 and Hole.

At 35, while arranging this collection, I found the same aesthetic motif that attracted me to the Babes—broken dolls, lost children, automata, and women who do it for themselves—were all present. An element further driven home by Joan Horne’s Shermanesque cover.

Without not only their music, but their aesthetic, I would have never been introduced to the possibilities of feminine fierceness, artistic fearlessness that have defined my own voice. For all of that, I am eternally grateful, and that is why my favorite bit of Calls for Submission is the dedication. It is a cue to where it all began. Thanks, again, Babes!

LINKS:

Author website

Twitter

Calls for Submission is available from Pelekinesis

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

Indiebound

Books-A-Million

Rising Shadow

Indigo (Canada)

ebook:

Kindle

iTunes

Kobo

Nook

24 Symbols

BIO:

Selena Chambers’ fiction and non-fiction have been nominated for a Pushcart, Best of the Net, Hugo, and two World Fantasy awards. Writing as S. J. Chambers in 2011, she co-authored the critically-acclaimed and best-selling The Steampunk Bible with Jeff Vandermeer (Abrams Image), but has since eschewed the initials. Her debut fiction collection, Calls for Submission, is now available through Pelekinesis. You can find out more about her work and happenings at www.selenachambers.com or on Twitter at @basbleuzombie.

My Favorite Bit: Alan Smale talks about EAGLE AND EMPIRE

Favorite Bit iconAlan Smale is joining us today with his novel Eagle and Empire. Here’s the publisher’s description:

The award-winning author of Clash of Eagles and Eagle in Exile concludes his masterly alternate-history saga of the Roman invasion of North America in this stunning novel.

Roman Praetor Gaius Marcellinus came to North America as a conqueror, but after meeting with defeat at the hands of the city-state of Cahokia, he has had to forge a new destiny in this strange land. In the decade since his arrival, he has managed to broker an unstable peace between the invading Romans and a loose affiliation of Native American tribes known as the League.

But invaders from the west will shatter that peace and plunge the continent into war: The Mongol Horde has arrived and they are taking no prisoners.

As the Mongol cavalry advances across the Great Plains leaving destruction in its path, Marcellinus and his Cahokian friends must summon allies both great and small in preparation for a final showdown. Alliances will shift, foes will rise, and friends will fall as Alan Smale brings us ever closer to the dramatic final battle for the future of the North American continent.

What’s Alan’s favorite bit?

Eagle and Empire cover image

ALAN SMALE

The Mongols are coming!

Yep, Book Three is where everything comes together; where all the wheels that have been set in motion throughout the Clash of Eagles series finally, um, smash into one another. It begins with the city of Cahokia and the forces of Rome in an uneasy alliance that’s constantly on the verge of collapsing into violence and – as must be obvious from the book blurb – powers its way forward to a climactic confrontation with the forces of Genghis Khan on the Great Plains, a terrain so similar to the steppes of Asia that the Mongols hold a significant advantage.

So there’s plenty of action in Eagle and Empire, but there’s also closure for a number of other story arcs that have absorbed me (and hopefully some of you) for many years. Because, while summaries of the books naturally focus on the battles and other large-scale action, I also really enjoy the many character interactions.

In addition to my battered hero, Gaius Marcellinus, we have Tahtay, once seriously wounded in battle, half Blackfoot, but now war chief of Cahokia. There’s Kimimela, Marcellinus’s adopted daughter and an increasingly competent pilot of the great Cahokian Hawk craft – effectively hang gliders made of sticks, skins, and sinew. There’s the precociously smart Enopay, who you can always rely on for a piercing opinion or a wisecrack. These characters we met as kids have now grown up into lives they could never have foreseen.

And then there’s Sintikala, chief of the Hawk Clan, whose face graces the cover of Eagle and Empire. (I am deliriously happy with this cover, by the way. Love what Del Rey have done with all my covers, but this one is exceptional.) And I’ve really enjoyed writing a number of the other characters: Taianita, once a captive in the hostile Mississippi city of Shappa Ta’atan and now struggling to make a future for herself as a warrior; Akecheta, the Cahokian centurion; the warriors Mahkah and Takoda; Hanska, veteran female warrior of Cahokia. The deceitful Pezi. Aelfric, the snarky Briton. The Emperor Hadrianus III and his generals Lucius Agrippa and Decinius Sabinus. I’m getting all nostalgic even typing the names. Each has some big moments in the third book.

And, in whatever space my characters really inhabit, I’d like to apologize to some of them for the things I put them through in Eagle and Empire.

There are scenes in Empire that I’d been looking forward to writing for years. Some are way too spoilery to use here. So for my Favorite Bit we’re coming back to Cahokia, that great Mississippian Culture city of 20,000 inhabitants and 120 platform, conical, and ridge mounds. Cahokia is deep in the heart of Nova Hesperia (located where St. Louis is now), and so central to the story that it’s practically a character in its own right.

In all the years Marcellinus had spent in Cahokia he had never been atop the Great Mound at night. He had stood there when the sun set, first when his life was in Great Sun Man’s hands and later when Tahtay had taken over as paramount chief, but he had always left before dusk was over and full night had descended.

And this night was especially dark. It was the new moon, and heavy cloud blanketed the city in humidity, shrouding the starlight. The cedar steps up the mound were mostly level and even, but Marcellinus had still managed to trip over his own feet several times on his way to the mound’s crest. Once there, he stopped and turned. Despite the heat, Cahokia was studded with cooking fires. Their smoke, along with the aroma of roasting meat and corn, reached Marcellinus even at this height. Within and between the houses, often appearing to float back and forth through the streets and across the plazas, were the faint glows of lanterns in the hands of Cahokians going about their duties before turning in for the night.

Marcellinus looked left. Far away to the east were the bluffs, but he could not see them in the haze. Closer was the steady glow of the foundry in the steelworks and a much fainter glimmer of lamplight from the Big Warm House. In the summer months they let the furnaces idle, but the older Cahokians still went to the baths to soak their aching limbs in the hot air and cool water and complain about their grandchildren.

To his right the fires and lamps of western Cahokia extended as far as the river in cheerful disarray, all but disappearing into the murk. But beyond them the fortress of Legio III Parthica shone bright, its walls and streets defined by rows of brilliant military lanterns. By comparison with the scattered flames of Cahokia the castra looked oddly square and sharp, almost sinister.

And behind Marcellinus stood the Longhouse of the Wings, long and dark.

Marcellinus is there to meet Sintikala, love of his life, but finds a despondent Tahtay there instead. With Rome so near, and so many divided allegiances, it’s the only place they can talk without the risk of being overheard:

“Even in the sweat lodge I cannot speak freely. Only here in the center of Cahokia, where we are the only men on a great and sacred mound inside a tall palisade, while Wahchintonka, Dustu, and a few other trusted men guard the gates below.”

It’s to be their last meeting before Marcellinus heads off to Yupkoyvi, in the desert southwest (the place we know today as Chaco Canyon, with its Great Houses of the Ancestral Puebloan culture). Marcellinus and Tahtay discuss the future: their strategies for dealing with the Emperor and his army and trying to avoid further bloodshed, and the steps that Tahtay will take with the Hesperian League of allied tribes in Marcellinus’s absence. They fumble their way through matters of fragile diplomacy and political intrigue, so alien to either of their personalities. And, finally, they talk of much more personal matters. The topics Marcellinus and Tahtay discuss by night on the Great Mound will ripple through to the very end of the book, and the friendship that is solidified here will be crucial to its resolution.

And that’s my third Favorite Bit, and a wrap for the Clash of Eagles series. Thanks again, Mary, for letting me talk about them all here!

LINKS:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Goodreads

Powell’s

Audible

Website

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BIO:

Alan Smale grew up in Yorkshire, England, and now lives in the Washington, D.C., area. By day he works at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center as a professional astronomer, studying black holes, neutron stars, and other bizarre celestial objects. However, too many family vacations at Hadrian’s Wall in his formative years plus a couple of degrees from Oxford took their toll, steering his writing toward alternate, secret, and generally twisted history. He has sold numerous short stories to magazines including Asimov’s and Realms of Fantasy, and the novella version of Clash of Eagles won the 2010 Sidewise Award for Alternate History.

My Favorite Bit: Carrie Patel talks about THE SONG OF THE DEAD

Favorite Bit iconCarrie Patel is joining us today with her novel The Song of the Dead. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Finally, the lost histories of the Catastrophe will be revealed and with them the ultimate fate of the buried city of Recoletta in the dramatic conclusion to Carrie Patel’s trilogy.

With Ruthers dead and the Library Accord signed by Recoletta, its neighbours, and its farming communes, Inspector Malone and laundress Jane Lin are in limbo as the city leaders around them vie for power.

A desperate attempt to save Arnault from execution leads to Malone’s arrest and Jane’s escape. They must pursue each other across the sea to discover a civilization that has held together over the centuries. There they will finally learn the truths about the Catastrophe that drove their own civilization underground.

What’s Carrie’s favorite bit?

The Song of the Dead cover image

CARRIE PATEL

The Song of the Dead is the final book in the Recoletta trilogy, which follows the adventures of Inspector Liesl Malone and laundress Jane Lin as they navigate the political intrigues of rival underground city-states. Each book approaches their story in a slightly different way, and The Song of the Dead is primarily a journey novel about their escape from the city of Recoletta and their search for distant lands and difficult answers.

My favorite part of this book is the execution scene at the very beginning in which Malone is led to the gallows by the leaders of Recoletta.

Once upon a time, in an earlier draft, this scene appeared at the end of the first third. My critique partners were giving me feedback, and one of them remarked, “You know, this would make a great opening for a short story.” We all got to talking about what that would mean for the structure of the first third and how it might work, and I realized that was a completely feasible adjustment.

Not only was it feasible, it was better.

First, it’s one of the more urgent scenes in the early story. One of the two series protagonists is being marched to her death by representatives of the city she’s spent two books defending. The scene introduces stakes, tension, and questions right off the bat. How better to begin?

Secondly, it does a better job of establishing the story than a purely chronological sequence would have. The early events of The Song of the Dead take place in Recoletta, and yet most of the story is about the wider world beyond the city. It’s about the intervention of forces larger than Jane or Malone imagined, and it’s about seeking answers to questions that have been raised from the first book—what catastrophe drove these cities underground? Did anything else survive?

What interrupts Malone’s hanging is the harbinger of a distant civilization, a man with many questions of his own. The journey they undertake together—each seeking answers as well as salvation for their own particular civilizations—is what the story is really about.

The beginning of the novel, on the other hand, shows how Malone’s careful plans for peace fall apart. It follows the series of conflicts and dilemmas that send her to the gallows, that exile Jane, and that trigger a transcontinental chase between the two women. These events are critical to the development of the story and the characters, but the execution scene presents a clearer image of where the rest of the novel is headed.

Of course, this restructuring created a quandary. How do you tell the story of the beginning when you’re opening with the middle?

In the end, resolving this led to what is, in my opinion, one of the greater strengths of this approach: the framing narrative.

Ultimately, The Song of the Dead is about the stories people tell one another and the way those stories take on a lives of their own. The first third of the novel unfolds in two parallel retellings, with Malone recounting the story of the events that led to her (aborted) execution to her mysterious rescuer and Jane explaining how she became a traitor and exile to someone else. There’s some careful calculation in what the two women choose to tell their interlocuters, and there’s some obvious miscalculation in what they’ve assumed about each other.

This sets them up for two parallel journeys and two searches for answers that call into question what they think they knew about themselves and their world.

Why save the best for last? Start with the good stuff.

LINKS

Website

@Carrie_Patel on Twitter

Amazon  

B&N

Indiebound

Goodreads

BIO

Carrie Patel is a novelist, game designer, and expatriate Texan. She is the author of the Recoletta trilogy, which includes the science fantasy murder mystery The Buried Life (2015), the political thriller Cities and Thrones (2015), and the upcoming The Song of the Dead (May 2017), published by Angry Robot. Her short fiction has appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies and PodCastle

As narrative designer and game writer, she works for Obsidian Entertainment, an award-winning development studio known for story-driven RPGs. She worked on Pillars of Eternity, which was nominated nominated by the Writers Guild of America for Outstanding Achievement in Videogame Writing, and its expansions, The White March Part I and II. She is currently writing for Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire.

My Favorite Bit: Robyn Bennis talks about THE GUNS ABOVE

Favorite Bit iconRobyn Bennis is joining us today with her novel The Guns Above. Here’s the publisher’s description:

In the tradition of Honor Harrington and the high-flying Temeraire series, Bennis’s THE GUNS ABOVE is an adventurous military fantasy debut about a nation’s first female airship captain.

They say it’s not the fall that kills you.

For Josette Dupre, the Corps’ first female airship captain, it might just be a bullet in the back.

On top of patrolling the front lines, she must also contend with a crew who doubts her expertise, a new airship that is an untested deathtrap, and the foppish aristocrat Lord Bernat, a gambler and shameless flirt with the military know-how of a thimble. Bernat’s own secret assignment is to catalog her every moment of weakness and indecision.

So when the enemy makes an unprecedented move that could turn the tide of the war, can Josette deal with Bernat, rally her crew, and survive long enough to prove herself?

What’s Robyn’s favorite bit?

The Guns Above cover image

ROBYN BENNIS

I thought long and hard about whether I wanted to admit this, but my favorite bit of The Guns Above is the loveable sexist, Bernat. If you’re hearing an odd sort of whirring right now, that’s the sound of every previous reader of this article rolling their eyes so hard they’ve left a psychic imprint in the HTML. But perhaps we should first take a look at Bernat at his best:

She said in a quiet hiss, “I swear, if that isn’t a roll of coins in your trousers, I will throw you overboard and tell everyone it was a tragic accident.”

The object in his pants was, in fact, a roll of coins—part of his first week’s payment from Uncle Fieren. “My dear captain,” he said, loud enough for the entire work party to hear, “take it as a compliment.”

She tensed even more. “Are all aristocrats such uncouth animals?”

“If I have given any offence,” he said, “you need only call me out, and I will happily offer satisfaction.”

This elicited some snickers from the crew, which Dupre silenced with a glance. “I take that to mean a duel,” she said, “and I am sorely tempted by the thought.”

“Would you prefer pistols at dawn, or shall I visit you in the night with my longsword?”

Many of Bernat’s most sexist moments are based on experiences I’ve actually had, courtesy of people I now despise. Even so, he’s not only my favorite character, but my favorite achievement, because I succeeded in making him loveable in spite of his sexism (not to mention his many other flaws.) I stress the “in spite of,” as Bernat is not meant to be loveable because of his sexism, which is the direction the lovable sexist trope usually goes in.

The entire world of The Guns Above is filled with rampant sexism, which blunts the trope a bit, but what really sells it is that he pays for it in a way that isn’t just the punchline of a joke. He pays with the sort of emotional turmoil and self-doubt that accompanies personal growth. Bernat becomes a slightly better person, but it’s a painful journey. He doesn’t come to an epiphany, nor do the women in his life come to see his sexism as harmless—and they certainly don’t escape harm from it. To put it bluntly, Bernat’s playful sexism threatens to destroy careers and even lives, not unlike playful sexism in the real world.

Yet readers love him. It certainly helps that every major character in the book is some sort of monster or another, so Bernat doesn’t look quite as bad by comparison. Plus, he and Josette share a quick and biting wit. Their verbal sparring matches are delightful, if I do say so myself, and I’ve found that readers are willing to forgive almost anything in a character who can deliver a really killer burn.

“I do apologize for the intrusion, but I simply had to know what put you in such a state of dread at the thought of coming to Durum. Now I see that you were afraid I’d steal your dear mother away and take her home with me. Well, you may put your mind at ease, Captain. It’s such a lovely town, I think the two of us will live here.”

The captain rolled her eyes. “If it would get you off my goddamn ship, I would happily give you my mother, and throw a couple of aunts into the bargain.”

“Your generosity is admirable, Captain. But really, it’s not such a large house. One aunt will do, I think.”

She leaned toward the stairs and shouted up, “Mother! Does Aunt Yvette still live in town?”

Elise’s voice was strangely muffled when she called back, “Why do you want to know?”

The captain’s eyes shifted to Bernat, and back to the stairs. “Just wanted to catch up.”

When early readers expressed their undying love for Bernat, but still saw him as the colossal jerk he is, I breathed a big sigh of relief. I wasn’t sure I had the writing chops to pull that off, but I’d really done it. I’d done it for that small and friendly audience, anyway. We’ll have to see what happens when my little book goes out into the wider world.

Provisionally, however, Bernat is that rare, loveable sexist who doesn’t normalize loveable sexism, making him my favorite bit of The Guns Above.

LINKS:

Author Homepage

Read Chapters 1 & 2

Additional Excerpts at Tor.com

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

IndieBound

Goodreads

Twitter

Facebook

BIO:

Robyn Bennis is an author and scientist living in Mountain View, California, where she consults in biotech but dreams of airships. Her apartment lies within blocks of Moffett Airfield’s historic Hanger One, which once sheltered America’s largest flying machines. The sight of it rising above its surroundings served as daily inspiration while she wrote her debut novel, The Guns Above.

MRK May 2017 Tour Schedule and Newsletter

Hello, Mary here with the latest news about my goings-on during the month of May.

  • Saturday 6 May: How to Fail Gracefully with K. Tempest Bradford (online)
  • Friday 12 May to Sunday 14 May: Short Story Intensive (online)
  • Thursday 18 May to Sunday 21 May: Nebula Conference (Pittsburgh Marriott City Center, Pittsburg, PA)

“How to Fail Gracefully” is a Master Class I teach with K. Tempest Bradford over at Writing the Other, which is dedicated to helping writers learn how to write characters different from themselves in a way that is both sensitive and convincing.

My Short Story Intensive course is sold out, and usually sells out pretty quickly, so keep an eye out for future sessions of this class!

The Nebula Conference is the annual SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) conference, and has panels and workshops in three tracks: career management, professional development, and expert knowledge. Registration for the conference is available to writers of all levels. The Nebula Awards are also hosted that weekend on Saturday evening, and the ballot is full of talented writers and some excellent fiction. Finally, there is a mass autograph session on Friday at the Pittsburgh Marriott City Center, which is open to the public. So, if you’re in the area but unable to attend the conference this is a good opportunity to say hello to some great writers and get your copies of their work signed by them.

Yours,

Mary

P.S. Just a reminder that I am now on Patreon, so if you’re interested in supporting me and my work in that way, you can click here.