The letter I sent the art department at Tor that led to the GHOST TALKERS cover.

GhostTalkers_comp_webLook! Look at the beautiful cover that Tor has created for my new book!

Now… Let’s talk about how we got there, eh? Because this is always the fun part. Ghost Talkers has been turned in since April. On July 1, Liz Gorinsky, my editor at Tor, asked for details for the art department. Here’s the email I sent back to her.

Hi Liz,

Whee! I love this time of the year.

A WWI propaganda poster is an interesting thought. There were a ton of them that were women-centric, which might be interesting to play with.

Here are some propaganda posters that might be interesting to look at.

I have a pinterest board of costumes.

And one of locations.

–Do the ghosts look like ghosts in this or do they look like normal folks?

They usually look like normal folks, but slightly translucent and with an aura of colors surrounding them.

Here are some period photos of mediums —

>What do Ginger and Ben look like? 

Ginger — Slender, red-headed society belle. She has long hair, that is worn up like a Gibson girl. She is usually in uniform, which looks like this, except with a black velvet collar and a shawl.

She goes dancing with Ben and wears something like this:

She appears in trousers once, but I think let’s stick to the feminine wear, eh?

Ben – He’s a captain in the intelligence department of the British Army.

“He was leaning against the wall of the warehouse, scribbling something in the tiny black notebook he kept perpetually tucked in his uniform pocket. His long lean figure had always been dashing in evening dress, and seemed to exhibit the British Army uniform to equal advantage. He had his hat tucked under his arm and a lock of his dark curls had worked its way free of its pomade to hang over his forehead. The line of his mustache was turned down in a scowl as he concentrated on his notes.”

>Is there an insignia for The Spirit Corps?

No, but there probably should be. Do you want to give the artist free reign on that, or shall I come up with something?

>Do you have any cover comparisons?

Er… I usually just trust Irene.

I will mention that there are two secondary characters of color that feature prominently and I’d love it if we could get some representation on the cover somehow. One is a Caribbean medium. The other is a Sikh soldier. I’ll understand if they don’t fit, but if the cover winds up having figures in the background, then I’d just like it to not be an all white grouping.

>….and basically, the cover concept memo info. 

WWI. The book is primarily a wartime spy novel, driven by a love story.  [Discussion of spoilers to keep off the cover] I want something that promises History, WW1, Ghosts, and a love story. But I totally trust Irene to figure out what that looks like.


Notice what I’ve done here. I’ve got reference images already collected so I can just hand them over to Irene Gallo (Tor’s art director) who gave them to the artist, Christian Mcgrath. I have descriptions of the characters. When talking about the cover concept, I describe the feel of the novel, but not the plot.

This is a description of the novel.

Ginger Stuyvesant, an American heiress living in London during World War I, is engaged to Captain Benjamin Hartshorne, an intelligence officer. Ginger is a medium for the Spirit Corps, a special Spiritualist force. Each soldier heading for the front is conditioned to report to the mediums of the Spirit Corps when they die so the Corps can pass instant information about troop movements to military intelligence.
Ginger and her fellow mediums contribute a great deal to the war efforts, so long as they pass the information through appropriate channels. While Ben is away at the front, Ginger discovers the presence of a traitor. Without the presence of her fiance to validate her findings, the top brass thinks she’s just imagining things. Even worse, it is clear that the Spirit Corps is now being directly targeted by the German war effort. Left to her own devices, Ginger has to find out how the Germans are targeting the Spirit Corps and stop them. This is a difficult and dangerous task for a woman of that era, but this time both the spirit and the flesh are willing…

So… what do you think? Does the cover deliver this?

My Favorite Bit: Ilana C. Myer talks about LAST SONG BEFORE NIGHT

My Favorite Bit iconIlana C. Myer is joining us today with her Last Song Before Night. Here’s the publisher’s description:

A high fantasy following a young woman’s defiance of her culture as she undertakes a dangerous quest to restore her world’s lost magic in Ilana C. Myer’s Last Song Before Night.

Her name was Kimbralin Amaristoth: sister to a cruel brother, daughter of a hateful family. But that name she has forsworn, and now she is simply Lin, a musician and lyricist of uncommon ability in a land where women are forbidden to answer such callings-a fugitive who must conceal her identity or risk imprisonment and even death.

On the eve of a great festival, Lin learns that an ancient scourge has returned to the land of Eivar, a pandemic both deadly and unnatural. Its resurgence brings with it the memory of an apocalypse that transformed half a continent. Long ago, magic was everywhere, rising from artistic expression-from song, from verse, from stories. But in Eivar, where poets once wove enchantments from their words and harps, the power was lost. Forbidden experiments in blood divination unleashed the plague that is remembered as the Red Death, killing thousands before it was stopped, and Eivar’s connection to the Otherworld from which all enchantment flowed, broken.

The Red Death’s return can mean only one thing: someone is spilling innocent blood in order to master dark magic. Now poets who thought only to gain fame for their songs face a challenge much greater: galvanized by Valanir Ocune, greatest Seer of the age, Lin and several others set out to reclaim their legacy and reopen the way to the Otherworld-a quest that will test their deepest desires, imperil their lives, and decide the future.

What’s Ilana’s favorite bit?



There’s a romantic idea of what writers do which belies the reality for most of us: It’s a grind. It can be exhilirating coming up with new ideas, feeling the flow as a story works its way through you, but these experiences are as rare, random, and to be treasured as the most perfect sunset. Even then, it doesn’t match up with the image many have of writers—fueled by inspiration, the words emerging miraculously.

That is, except for one time, when my experience of writing was that improbable picture-perfect moment. It couldn’t be planned in advance, and I may never recapture its like again.

To set the scene: Late night in Jerusalem in the summer of 2010, during a massive heatwave. It was something like the fourth consecutive day of 105 degrees, and worse yet, it wasn’t cooling off at night—something you can usually rely upon in the desert climate of that city. Like most Jerusalemites, we had no air conditioning. After tossing for hours, I had to admit sleep wasn’t going to happen. The next day at work was shot.

By then it was three in the morning. I took my laptop onto our porch. We lived in a third-floor walkup on a central thoroughfare in Jerusalem called Emek Refaim (which either means “Valley of Healers” or “Valley of Spirits,” depending on whom you ask); our apartment was across from popular cafes and restaurants. Summer nights in Jerusalem are delightfully alive, and even now at three in the morning a few patrons lingered outside the restaurant below, raucous in the silence. What I loved about that porch was being among trees and an enfolding peace, sheltered from the bustle and traffic of Emek Refaim yet still a part of it.

At night, the hills beyond the city became indistinct with mist. I recall a brilliant moon. I settled myself onto one of the overstuffed chairs on our porch—left by a previous tenant—and opened to the revised draft of what was growing into Last Song Before Night. The male protagonist is wandering the capital city in the small hours of morning after the collapse of his world. In that penumbral hour—of the day, of his life—the city is transformed; even the familiar shortcuts are strange to him.

And here I was, in that same surreal space before daybreak, traversing the city of my imagination. At some point the restaurant patrons below vanished, and the silence deepened. My memory cast back to long-ago wanderings through Jerusalem’s Old City just before sunrise: clambering up broken stairs to rooftops that overlook the souk, then down again, to a new maze of streets and alleyways. The sensation of being alone.

I guided my character to the necessary discoveries, the kind that emerge at such times of the night. The night gave them to me. It was as perfect a merging of creation and lived reality as I’ve experienced—nothing else has come close.




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Ilana C. Myer has written about books for the Globe and Mail, the Huffington Post, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and Salon. Last Song Before Night is her first novel. She lives in New York City.

My Favorite Bit: Seb Doubinsky talks about THE SONG OF SYNTH

My Favorite Bit iconSeb Doubinsky is joining us today with his novel The Song of Synth. Here’s the publisher’s description:

The Song of Synth welcomes readers into a world of mind-warping drugs, conspiracy, and a hero who can’t distinguish reality half the time.

Synth is a drug able to induce hallucinations indistinguishable from reality. But it’s brand new, highly addictive, and more than likely dangerous. Even the dealers peddling the pills don’t know what long-term effects the drug will have on its users.

For Markus Olsen, Synth offers an easy escape from his crumbling life. Markus, an ex-hacker, has been caught red-handed. While his friends were sent to jail for thirty years, Markus decided to cooperate, agreeing to lend his services and particular criminal expertise to Viborg City’s secret service, aiding the oppressive state power he’d been fighting to break, in exchange for his relative freedom.

But Markus’s past as an anarchist comes back to haunt him in the form of a credit card with no account but an seemingly unlimited balance and the discovery of a mysterious novel in which he is a main character. How much of his reality is being produced by Synth? How disconnected from real life has Markus become?

Forced to face his past and the decisions he’s made, Markus must decide between the artificial comfort of his constructed life and the harsh reality of treason and the struggle for freedom.

What’s Seb’s favorite bit?

Song of Synth, The 9781940456256


My favorite bit in my novel, The Song of Synth, isn’t actually a “bit” – it is more of a texture, a background – in a word, its music. Music is very important for me. I listen to it full blast when I type and I can only write when I have the right music for the novel. Many of my writer friends look at me in disbelief when I say that, but it’s true. My wife can tell you that I also take naps with music blaring in the background. Silence is not my friend.

What music helps me do is create a coherent atmosphere. All my novels have different soundtracks. Some writers publish their playlist and that’s what I’ve decided to share with you here.

In the case of the Song of Synth – which, as its title indicates, revolves around music, albeit a strange one – I didn’t find it for a while and I felt very frustrated. I wanted something special, which could fit all the moods and loops of narration. It was still during the time of MySpace and I began following threads and clicking on unknown bands. I was getting desperate because I had the whole story, more or less, but not the fuel to carry it through. Then I heard of this completely unknown band, GANGI, led by the eponymous Matt Gangi. There were only three songs available on MySpace and I was desperate. I had found the sound of my novel, but I couldn’t write for a full year listening to the same three pieces. So I contacted Matt, and he sent me the demo of his album, which would become “A”.

It was perfect, and gave my writing the support for the textures I wanted to use. In a way, writing, for me, is very much like painting. I see colors, volumes, effects, more than I see words, sentences, paragraphs. I guess you could call my writing “synesthetic” as it blends words, images and music. And I need both music and images to work. Without them, I can’t get started or carry on. So I listened to “A” and it worked perfectly – so perfectly that all the chapter titles of the first part of The Song of Synth, “The Potemkin Overture” are the titles of GANGI’s “A” album, but in a different order.

But the story doesn’t stop here. Me and Matt have since then become close friends, following each other’s work closely and eventually doing a show together in Los Angeles in 2012, in a small gallery, combining a live concert and reading. We both hope to do it again in a near future.

And if you want to listen to the The Sound of Synth’s soundtrack, you can do it here:

You will definitely understand why it’s “My favorite Bit”.






Seb Doubinsky is a bilingual French writer, born in Paris in 1963. He has published a number of novels and poetry collections in France, the United Kingdom and the United States. He currently lives in Aarhus, Denmark, with his wife and their two children.

My Favorite Bit: Tom Toner talks about THE PROMISE OF THE CHILD

My Favorite Bit iconTom Toner is joining us today with his novel The Promise of the Child. Here’s the publisher’s description:

It is the 147th century.

In the radically advanced post-human worlds of the Amaranthine Firmament, there is a contender to the Immortal throne: Aaron the Long-Life, the Pretender, a man who is not quite a man.

In the barbarous hominid kingdoms of the Prism Investiture, where life is short, cheap, and dangerous, an invention is born that will become the Firmament’s most closely kept secret.

Lycaste, a lovesick recluse outcast for an unspeakable crime, must journey through the Provinces, braving the grotesques of an ancient, decadent world to find his salvation.

Sotiris, grieving the loss of his sister and awaiting the madness of old age, must relive his twelve thousand years of life to stop the man determined to become Emperor.

Ghaldezuel, knight of the stars, must plunder the rarest treasure in the Firmament—the object the Pretender will stop at nothing to obtain.

From medieval Prague to a lonely Mediterranean cove, and eventually far into the strange vastness of distant worlds, The Promise of the Child is a debut novel of gripping action and astounding ambition unfolding over hundreds of thousands of years, marking the arrival of a brilliant new talent in science fiction.

What’s Tom’s favorite bit?



A tickle spread slowly across the sole of Lycaste’s foot. He dismissed it dreamily, feeling it build until something firm and wet scraped the edge of his toe. Then he remembered – his foot was dangling over the side of the boat.

When I was about eight, my dad – in a pretty decent effort to shut me up – let me watch Jaws. I loved it: it was extraordinary, suspenseful and atmospheric, and to this day I can’t swim in water more than about a meter deep or close my eyes in the bath.

When I set out to write my first novel, The Promise of the Child (a 147th century space opera set at the end of humanity), I knew that I had to nail down that fear somewhere, to live it on the page, and this scene – in which our shy protagonist takes his boat out to hunt sea monsters with his friends – became one of my favourite parts of the book.

At first he couldn’t work out what he was looking at; it was as if the pale, mottled sandbank below them was moving. Its alabaster surface was tinged with colour, like a rough pearl. For a few seconds more there was no form, then with a nacreous glimmer it writhed far beneath the boat. He fell away from the side in revulsion, staring at the deck.

For Lycaste, a scarlet, three-meter tall Melius man from the wild Tenth Province, vision and colour are extremely important. His eyes are exceptionally large and sharp, all the better to make out the hues the giant people of the Tenth wear across their skins like cuttlefish – flashing various colours as etiquette requires (a later scene describes the book’s antagonist as having ‘queerly colourless eyes’, in a subtle hint that he is not to be trusted) – and so this scene plays out from his perspective like a vibrant nightmare, all light and tone.

… As the man neared the boat, a ghostly, faded tint appeared in the sea behind him. Impatiens moaned beside Lycaste, gripping the painted edge so tightly that his knuckles yellowed. At first Lycaste could only see the colour of the thing as it ascended, a paler shade of turquoise pursuing a small, struggling drop of red… Then they all saw it, the ugly white face gaining clarity as it followed them in the murk. Its huge, deep-set eyes were curious, the mouth studded with splintered teeth. Lycaste recoiled as he watched it; the face looked almost benignly human under the distorted light, an air of bewildered humour dancing in those warped eyes as it closed the distance, as if all it wanted to do was play.

Suffice to say the monster loses its charm fairly quickly, but I’ll stop there. Many thanks to Mary for the chance to describe my creepiest scene, and thank my reckless father if it scares you too.



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Tom Toner was born in Somerset, England, in 1986. After graduating with a degree in fine art from Loughborough University and the FHSH in Schwäbisch Hall, Germany, he moved to Australia. There he taught life drawing and worked in an art gallery near Melbourne. Upon returning to England he completed his debut novel, The Promise of the Child. Toner lives in London.

My Favorite Bit: Jason Kirk talks about PHANTASMA: STORIES

My Favorite Bit iconJason Kirk is joining us today with his story in verse, “The Guardian from the Sea,” from the anthology Phantasma: Stories. Here’s the publisher’s description:

An eclectic collection of speculative short stories by Anne Charnock (2013 Philip K. Dick Award finalist), Jodi McIsaac (A Cure for Madness, the Thin Veil series), Kate Maruyama (Harrowgate), Roberta Trahan (The Dream Stewards epic fantasy series), J.D. Horn (Shivaree, the Witching Savannah series), and award-winning poet Jason Kirk.

Stories include:

“Undercurrents” – A young woman discovers her migraines are a symptom of something more sinister than what a good lie-down in a dark room can cure.

“Pro Patria Mori” – An Irish soldier encounters fairies who offer magical aid, but will that magic help save those he holds dearest?

“Akiko” – A curse laid in Japan finds its mark in the City of Angels.

“The Adoption” – In a new age of sexual equality and reproductive freedom, bio-engineered foetuses are gestated in artificial wombs. But what becomes of tomorrow’s orphans?

“Pitch” – A goat-faced boy sets out with a rifle to kill his father, the Devil, in 1950s rural Georgia.

“The Guardian from the Sea” – A wheelchair-bound mermaid finds love in an adult-video store, and barely escapes to regret it.

What’s Jason’s favorite bit?

Phantasma Hi-Res


In a new anthology featuring stories of the occult, the paranormal, some science fiction, and more speculative goodness, I have the distinct pleasure of sharing pages with some wonderful authors who graciously welcomed my own contribution, a story in verse, which closes the anthology. Set in a near-future Southern California — awash in magic and populated by banshees, a monster, a gargoyle, a warlock, dragons, and a houseborg named Stanley — “The Guardian from the Sea” tells the tale of seven years in the life of Meredith, a wheelchair-bound mermaid who works at an adult-video store. Her foil and antagonist is her boyfriend Ozzie, and their deeply dysfunctional relationship comprises the core conflict of the thirteen-part narrative.

At one point in the story, Ozzie is wheeling Meredith along the boardwalk, heckling the religious evangelists on inline skates, whom he calls “holy roller bladers.” Much to Meredith’s dismay and embarrassment, Ozzie unleashes a flood of unprovoked invective, a torrent of layered insult that viciously demeans their beliefs, and he piles it on for four breathless lines. Now I was raised in a strict Catholic family, by a devout (and devoted) mother, and as a result, I remain forever interested in religion generally, Christianity in particular, and Catholicism specifically. Ozzie’s profane outcry represents the antithesis of what my mother would hope to read in my poetry, and there’s a heady, rebellious thrill that accompanies the commitment of such a pointed sacrilege to the page. Of course, they’re not my words. They’re Ozzie’s, and as the rest of the story makes clear, Ozzie is a pathological abuser with almost no sense of how his words might hurt others. At least, that’s what I’ll insist when my mother reads the story. She’ll see right through my attempt to hide behind my own reprehensible character, and we’ll both know it’s a weak defense. Sorry, Mom.

If the evangelists react to Ozzie’s verbal abuse, it isn’t depicted in the story, although Meredith’s reaction is, and in it there’s a bit of my own feeling about Ozzie’s brutal blasphemy.

Meredith blushed

like cloudswept coral

I’ll readily admit that I’m not especially adept at beautiful writing, though like any poet, I suppose, I certainly aspire to it, at least from time to time. This image, though, is among the most beautiful in all my work to date. Readers of the story — and listeners, when I’ve performed it for an audience — frequently comment on this particular image, citing their ability to see it clearly, the fluid play of blood-shadow across Meredith’s face, refracted as if through water. The relevance of the image is straightforward, given Meredith’s presumed origins in the sea, and I suspect that the clarity and the simple beauty it evokes contribute to its standing out in a poem that’s otherwise often difficult and decidedly not pretty.

But it’s the immediate succession of these two stanzas that really elevates this particular moment in Meredith’s story, at least for me. In my own reading, there’s almost nothing I love more than a surprising juxtaposition: two or more images, ideas, words, or emotions that, by virtue of their being strange bedfellows, yield more than the sum of their parts. Here in Meredith’s story, an image of simple beauty follows a crass burst of unbridled blasphemy, and this singular intersection of the pretty and the profane makes for my favorite bit.


Author Page (




Phantasma: Stories (

Phantasma: Stories (


JASON KIRK is an award-winning poet and the author of A Fabulous Hag in Purple on the Moor, Reverb: Poems, and The Other Whites in South Africa. He lives in Seattle, Washington.

My Favorite Bit: Kent Davis talks about A RIDDLE IN RUBY

My Favorite BitKent Davis is joining us today with his novel A Riddle in Ruby. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Ruby is a thief-in-training and a keeper of secrets—ones she doesn’t even know herself. A Riddle in Ruby is the first book in a witty and fast-paced fantasy-adventure trilogy for fans for Jonathan Stroud, Septimus Heap, and The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates.

Ruby Teach, daughter of a smuggler and pirate, has been learning how to swindle and steal and pick the most complex locks for as long as she can remember. But a collision with aristocratic young lord Athen sends her spinning into chaos. Little did she know that her whole life has been spent in hiding from nefarious secret societies and the Royal Navy . . . who are both now on her trail. In this debut middle grade adventure, Kent Davis weaves a rip-roaring tale through an alternate colonial Philadelphia. A world where alchemy—that peculiar mix of magic and science—has fueled the industrial revolution. With this highly original setting, a cast of fully rounded characters and rapid-fire, funny dialogue, A Riddle in Ruby will call to mind fantasy greats like Diana Wynne Jones and Terry Pratchett.

What’s Kent’s favorite bit?

Ruby BOM cover


Sparking fire. The wheel. The written word. Each changed the rules of our world forever. I have newly met a sister to these titans. Her name is Chemystry.

-Sir Francis Bacon, 1626,

Invisible College, London

My favorite bit of A Riddle in Ruby is the epigraphs. I deployed these little biscuits of text at the beginning of each chapter in an attempt to inject flavor and setting into the reader’s head with maximum fun and minimum fuss. The 1718 of Ruby is significantly different from that of our own timeline, chock full of anomalies like cobalt gearbeasts, alchemical automatons, and the peculiar arcane chemists known as “tinkers.”






-Poster searching for workers,

Tinkers’ Compound, New Jamestown


For example, the poster above sneaks several pieces of information to readers. First, that these Tinkers are a sizeable operation—they have a compound not just in Boston and Philadelphi, but in New Jamestown, too, and they’re putting up posters looking for more recruits. Next, that a New Jamestown actually came to be, which tips the hat to the idea that in this timeline, the maps may be quite a bit different from ours. The last and arguably most important thing it allows me to do is put a “y” in alchemist. Messing with traditional spelling is second only in joy for me to performing Random Acts of Period Capitalization.


9th. Over Strident Objection from a Minority, Abigail Booker allowed to deliver her findings re: experimentation with Igneous Fluid. Cause: one part brilliant scholarship, another part Mlle. Booker’s Ferocious Thumping of Mr. Smathers, compounded by her threats of further physical exertions if not allowed to speak. Excellent talk.

-Minutes of the Alembic Coffeehouse, UnderTown,

March 4, 1718

Abigail Booker and Mr. Smathers never make another appearance in the story. They do, however, offer a sense of the pluck, gumption, and Ferocious Thumping flavor that I hope suffuses the Chemystral Colonies. I want readers to feel as if they could, if they choose, set out from a scene featuring the heroine—a 13 year-old apprentice thief called Ruby Teach— and wander around a cobblestoned corner or into a fancy hall or journey into the deep western forest and still feel anchored to an intentional and specific setting. The world needed to be fleshed out as completely as possible, and that included creating portions of artifacts like newspapers, correspondence, novels, and even plays. Especially plays that let me use the name “Chatsbottom.”


CHATSBOTTOM:     Where is my carriage, Farnsworth?

FARNSWORTH:       It is somewhat Exploded, milord.

CHATSBOTTOM:     Exploded, you say?

FARNSWORTH:       But Mr. Thunderfatch will no longer trouble your lordship.

CHATSBOTTOM:     Quite right. Good chap.

-Marion Coatesworth-Hay, The Tinker’s Dram, Act III, sc. iv

The epigraphs also allowed me to tease this timeline’s history. The action of the book takes place almost one hundred years after the event that sheared that timeline away from our own—the natural philosopher Sir Francis Bacon discovering the magical science of chemystry. Each of those years, just as in our own history, must have been jammed with potentially world-altering moments. I wanted readers to know that past events from that alternate timeline had a dramatic impact on the alchemy-driven, gearbeast-populated, on-the-cusp-of-an-industrial revolution 1718 into which they were diving. For example, inquisition-like trials for alchemists, presided over by the French academy.


You gravely mistake our nature. We are neither witches nor warlocks. We are men and women of science who eat with you, study with you, pray with you. If the purges continue, however, then we are no longer your countrymen, and we will have no choice in our own defense but to seize our liberty. This country will suffer.

-Pierre de Fermat, testimony to
Académie de Philosophie, Paris, 1653

Finally it was a question of precision over info dump. While it may be informative, a four-page treatise on the crop rotational practices of the Feggerventaven peoples in relation to the nutritious Rompopilio tuber really puts a crimp in narrative flow. On the other hand, I delight in mysterious hints and tantalizing references, fleeting glimpses of a setting iceberg lurking just below the textual surface.


Laugh at the Rain.

Laugh at the Reaper.

Run from the Reeve.

-Old Irish saying

If I’m honest, though, the most compelling reason for tagging the epigraphs as my favorite bit is that they’ve been just so flipping fun to write! Crafting them turned into my writer’s diet equivalent of cheat days: pure delight and invention, without a shred of guilt. I hope the joy that I felt making them found its way onto the page, and that A Riddle in Ruby is the better for it.



A Most Clever, Strange, and Dangerous


A Young Girl Answering to Aruba Teach, also Ruby Teach

Of dark complexion, small stature and with features foxlike (as drawn below)

Sought for Crimes against the Crown


Inquire at Berth No. 5, Benzene Yards Wharf, His Majesty’s Ship Grail

-Wanted poster



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Visit the author’s site.

Follow him on Twitter.


Kent Davis has spent most of his life making stories. He is an author, game designer, and actor. He lives with his wife and a wily dog-ninja named Bobo in Bozeman, Montana.

My Favorite Bit: William Alexander talks about NOMAD

My Favorite Bit iconWilliam Alexander is joining us today with his novel Nomad. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Gabe Fuentes is in a race against time—and aliens—in this intergalactic sequel to Ambassador, which Booklist called “an exciting sci-fi adventure, perceptively exploring what it means to be alien,” from National Book Award winner William Alexander.

When we last left Earth’s Ambassador, Gabe Fuentes, he was stranded on the moon. And when he’s rescued by Kaen, another Ambassador, things don’t get better: It turns out that the Outlast— a race of aliens that has been systematically wiping out all other creatures—are coming. And they’ve set their sights on Earth.

Enter Nadia. She was Earth’s Ambassador before Gabe, but left her post in order to stop the Outlast. Nadia has discovered that the Outlast can conquer worlds by traveling fast through lanes created by the mysterious Machinae. No one has communicated with the Machinae in centuries, but Nadia is determined to try, and Gabe and Kaen want to help her. But the three Ambassadors don’t know that the Outlast have discovered what they are doing, and have sent assassins to track them down.

As Nadia heads deeper into space to find the Machinae, Gabe and Kaen return to Earth, where Gabe is trying to find another type of alien—his father, who was deported to Mexico, and who Gabe is desperate to bring home. From a detention center in the center of the Arizona desert to the Embassy in the center of the galaxy, the three Ambassadors race against time to save their worlds in this exciting, funny, mind-bending adventure.

What’s William’s favorite bit?

Nomad cover


“I want people to know that it’s funny,” my editor said.

We were struggling with promotional descriptions of Nomad. Summarizing a novel is like shoving a genie into a bottle two sizes too small.

“Really?” I asked. “Seems like a tonal shift after talking about child-diplomats, deportation, and devastating galactic conquest.”

“But the book is also funny!” she insisted.

In honor of Karen Wojtyla, my wise and wonderful editor, I chose one of the funny bits to share as my favorite.

*          *          *

Ambassadors between planets and spacefaring civilizations are always young. You have to get the kids talking first.

Each ambassador transmits an entangled sense of self to the Embassy in the center of the galaxy. All sorts of habitats are simulated inside. At least one spot will feel like home.

The rest of the Embassy will not.

Breathing underwater is difficult when your body insists that it shouldn’t be able to. Gabe hovered just under the surface, closed his eyes, and argued with his lungs.

We should panic, the lungs told him.

We’ll be fine, he answered, and tried hard to believe it.

Start kicking back to the surface, they said.

You aren’t even here, he reminded them. You’re very far away, along with the rest of me.

We’re sinking! his lungs shouted. I really do think we should consider freaking out about this.

Shhhhhhhhhh, he said. Calm down.

Both lungs continued to protest right up until the moment they relaxed into their usual rhythm.

Huh, they said. That worked out fine.

This bit—which is almost my favorite—is based on memories of learning how to swim at the local YMCA. I was five or six years old and had just figured out how to hold my breath without panic. It felt like remembering rather than learning something new. I was pretty sure I could keep it up indefinitely. Then I forgot how, abruptly lost the knack of breathing underwater, and kicked back to the surface. Repeat.

If someone offered me a superpower, any superpower, I would flip a coin to choose between breathing underwater and flying—which brings us to my favorite bit.

Gabe looked up. Flying ambassadors circled and soared above him. Most of them had wings. Gabe didn’t.

“Okay, then,” he said. “So now I need to learn how to fly. Does anyone else down here know how to fly?”

Many of his colleagues did, but their help was not helpful.

“It’s not so much about wanting the sky as it is about forgetting the ground.”

“Picture the way matter bends space, and change how you see that shape. Just fall whichever direction you want to go.”

“You want to fly? Why would anyone want to fly? The hidden and burrowing games are much better than all of that ball throwing and cloud hopping. Don’t fly. Learn how to dig.”

“Just think happy thoughts.”

Gabe listened to several offerings of contradictory advice. Then he stood on tiptoes, clenched his hands, and focused hard on the clouds above. Nothing and more nothing happened.

“Learning how to breathe underwater was so much easier,” he said to himself. “I already knew how to swim. I just needed to convince my lungs that they were far away and safe from drowning. But I can’t fly, and my whole body knows it. I’ve got to convince every single part of me that I can.”

“That sounds exhausting,” Sapi said from somewhere above him. She dropped down lightly to the grass. “Stop arguing with all of your various bits. This is a dream, remember? You’re dreaming an entangled dream. Haven’t you ever dreamed about flying?”

“Hi, Sapi,” Gabe said. “No, I haven’t. Or maybe I have. I don’t know. I never remembered my dreams before coming here.”

“You poor, sad thing,” Sapi said. “Well, come on. Kaen is waiting for us. The thing about a flying dream is that there aren’t really any mechanics involved. No flapping limbs, no imaginary wings. Just movement and intention.”

“That’s what I’ve been trying to do!” Gabe protested. “But intention isn’t producing much movement.”

Sapi pressed all of her fingertips together. “Calm down, close your eyes, and hold both hands up in the air.”

He did. “Now what?”

“Now shut up and be patient. I’ll need to take a running start.”

Gabe waited. He kept his eyes closed. Then Sapi grabbed both hands and pulled him into the sky.

Both Nomad and the paperback edition of Ambassador will be published on September 22.

Many thanks to Mary Robinette Kowal for giving me a stage to stand on.


William Alexander


Nomad on Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Powell’s

Ambassador paperback on Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Powell’s


William Alexander won the National Book Award in 2012 for his first novel, Goblin Secrets, and the Earphones Award for his narration of the audiobook. His second novel, Ghoulish Song, was a finalist for the Mythopoeic Award. His third, Ambassador, was a Junior Library Guild Selection, a finalist for the International Latino Book Award, and a winner of the Eleanor Cameron Award. Will studied theater and folklore at Oberlin College, English at the University of Vermont, and creative writing at the Clarion Workshop. He teaches at the Vermont College of Fine Arts program in Writing for Children and Young Adults.

My mom is bionic: an update on brain surgery

Mom targetting harness Yesterday morning, my mom had brain surgery. This is the second time she’s had it this summer and now that we’re nearly done with the process, she’s okay with me talking about it. A little.

Mom has been having a Deep Brain Stimulation implant — well, two, actually — installed to help with her Parkinson’s symptoms. The picture with this post is the targeting frame that they used to guide the drills. It was 3D printed especially for her.

She calls it her crown.

According to her doctor, when they began doing this kind of surgery, it would take upwards of twelve hours during which time the patient had to be fully awake. Now? They did it in three.

Well… the placing of the electrode they did in three hours. But the process itself involves five separate surgical procedures in order to do both sides of the brain. This was surgery number 4. She has one surgery left and then the second device will be activated.

They’ve already activated the first device, the one that affects the right side of her body. Folks… I love science. I always have. But right now, I love it so much on a deeply personal level. When Mom went in to have the device activated it was like — no. No, it was literally flipping a switch in my mom’s brain. I’m not going to talk too much about what that experience was like, because she remains a private person, but I will say that the sense of wonder during that appointment will completely change the way I write science fiction.

And I’ll show you video of someone else’s before and after.

If you know someone in medicine, particularly the neurosciences, please thank them for me and my bionic mother.

COMMENTS: Because my mom is a deeply private person, please don’t ask questions about her. I’m happy to talk about the science, but not my mom.

My Favorite Bit: Gerrard Cowan talks about THE MACHINERY

My Favorite Bit iconGerrard Cowan is joining us today with his novel The Machinery. Here’s the publisher’s description:

For ten millennia, the leaders of the Overland have been Selected by the Machinery, an omnipotent machine gifted to their world in darker days.

The city has thrived in arts, science and war, crushing all enemies and expanding to encompass the entire Plateau.

But the Overland is not at ease, for the Machinery came with the Prophecy: it will break in the 10,000th year, Selecting just one leader who will bring Ruin to the world. And with the death of Strategist Kane, a Selection is set to occur…

For Apprentice Watcher Katrina Paprissi, the date has special significance. Life hasn’t been the same since she witnessed the kidnapping of her brother Alexander, the only person on the Plateau who knew the meaning of the Prophecy.

When the opportunity arises to find her brother, Katrina must travel into the depths of the Underland, the home of the Machinery, to confront the Operator himself and discover just what makes the world work…

What’s Gerrard’s favorite bit?



My favourite bit of The Machinery is the masks. It feels strange to write that. In fact, if you’d asked me the same question a year or two ago, I probably would have said something else. But after spending the past few months immersed in the editing process, it’s struck me how the masks’ importance grew over the years of writing. They aren’t just a key part of the plot: they’re a symbol of the kind of atmosphere I set out to create.

The Machinery is set in the Overland, a country whose leaders are chosen by an omnipotent machine. This has brought huge success for ten millennia, with the Overland defeating all rivals and excelling in arts, science, and war. However, there is a prophecy that the Machinery will break in the ten thousandth year: we have now reached that point.

I had the idea for the book about seven years ago. It started with just the central conceit of the machine itself; I had very little beyond this. I knew I wanted it to be a fantasy. I knew I wanted it to (hopefully) convey a sense of gloomy weirdness. But it took a long period of drafting and redrafting before I felt the book really captured the atmosphere I was going for.

The masks grew in importance as I worked on the book. They are worn by the Watchers, a kind of police/intelligence service that enforces the wishes of the Machinery. They come in many forms, and are commonly shaped into animal images (a raven, a wolf, a rat), though they can also be strange likenesses of people. They are not only designed to conceal, but to reveal; when a Watcher wears one, they are able to see into the heart and soul of whomever they look upon.

The Operator, an immortal being who is the link between humans and the Machinery, imbues the masks with these powers. He creates the masks for the Watchers, and delivers them into a place called the Hall of Masks, which is located in the See House, the Watchers’ home.

One of my favourite scenes in the novel takes place in the Hall of Masks. The heroine of The Machinery is Katrina Paprissi, an Apprentice Watcher who witnessed her brother being kidnapped by the Operator many years before. Her first encounter with the Operator since then takes place in the Hall. She is horrified to see him again, in the flesh, and her fear is heightened by the rows of strange, empty masks staring down upon her.

I always wanted The Machinery to have a kind of creepy atmosphere, like one of those old ghost movies that has no need for special effects, but sucks you in with strange noises and momentary glimpses of horrible things. The masks are key to what I was going for. First, they just look weird. Second, the prospect of someone wearing a raven mask and looking into your soul is kind of unsettling (I hope).

But it’s more than that. The masks will always remind me of the organic development of The Machinery. I like allowing things to change through the writing process; of course I make plans for my novels, but they must have the flexibility to absorb natural changes. I didn’t sit down at the beginning and think, ‘this book will contain weird masks.’ From what I recall, I was writing a scene with an ordinary mask, when suddenly it allowed its user to see into someone’s soul. A lot of ideas grow like that, and for me, it’s half the fun of writing fantasy.







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Gerrard Cowan is a writer and editor from Derry, in the North West of Ireland. His debut fantasy novel, The Machinery, will be published by HarperVoyager UK in September 2015. It is the first in a trilogy.

His first known work was a collection of poems on monsters, written for Halloween when he was eight; it is sadly lost to civilisation.

Share something funny with my Dad for his birthday!

dad and meToday is my dad’s birthday.

We used to joke that we were clones. I get my sense of time from him, my curiosity, and desire to poke at things to figure out how they work. The “what happens if” gene is strong, I’m just saying. Dad is the world’s most curious man.

And he loves to laugh. He introduced me to Hitchhiker’s Guide, Calvin and Hobbes, Mel Brooks… There’s this thing in my family we call “the Walker laugh” (Walker is a family name on Dad’s maternal line) which is a full body laugh, with the head thrown back. It’s loud. It’s fun. And sometimes you have a whole roomful of folks doing it. (My cousins are nodding right now.)

Anyway, it’s one of my favorite things.

So — for Dad’s birthday, will you put something funny in the comment thread on my blog? It can be your favorite joke, a link to a funny video, or cartoon. Something that made you give a full body laugh when you saw it.

Happy Birthday, Dad! I hope the day is full of Walker laughs.

Want to see the Scrivener files for OF NOBLE FAMILY?

What would you give to see how I wrote two of my novels? Of Noble Family and Valour and Vanity.

I’m offering the Scrivener files to both books to all subscribers who sign up during Uncanny Magazine’s kickstarter. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Scrivener, it’s a writing software specifically created for novelists. So basically, for $25, you get a subscription to an fantastic magazine and all of my deleted scenes, cut characters, brainstorming… all of it.

And Of Noble Family? I cut three characters and a ton of scenes.

There are other cool backer rewards, too, so check out the Kickstarter for Uncanny Magazine.

(You will need a copy of Scrivener to read the files, but you can download a 30-day free trial and then delete it after you’ve finished.)

A storified conversation with my platonic troll.

I get a fair number of trolls in my twitter feed. These are different from people that simply have a different opinion than I do. The people that are just trolls are interested in nothing more than scoring points. It’s not always obvious which is which at first, so I try to engage them in conversation and have had some really interested dialogues that way.

Then there are the others. And this storify shows how that conversation usually goes. Many thanks to Kelly McCullough for putting it together and being my platonic troll

My Favorite Bit: Mel Odom talks about GUERILLA

My Favorite BitMel Odom is joining us today with his novel Guerilla. Here’s the publisher’s description:

He’s behind enemy lines. But those lines are shifting beneath his feet.

In the jungles of Makaum, the Terran military is locked in a critical standoff over the planet’s resources with the hostile Phrenorians, even as both species maintain uneasy relations with the locals. Tensions could ignite at a moment’s notice. And Master Sergeant Frank Sage has just stumbled upon the spark plug.

Alongside trusted Makaum scouts, Sage is running recon on what is possibly an unsanctioned Phrenorian military base.Deep in the savage wilderness, Sage recognizes the renowned Phrenorian warrior arriving on-site: Zhoh GhiCemid. As Sage knows firsthand, Zhoh’s presence could mean trouble.

Meanwhile, a mysterious faction of Makaum insurgents breaks the fragile peace with a reckless attack on the Terran base. Before the situation devolves into chaos, Sage must learn to think like his adversaries—devious friends and deadly foes alike.

What’s Mel’s favorite bit?

guerilla cover art


One of my favorite scenes in my newest book is a bar scene between series hero Terran Military Master Sergeant Frank Sage and Captain Zhoh GhiCemid of the Phrenorian Empire.

Frank Sage is old school military, a guy who’s already served in the Phrenorian War for years and gives his all every time. Unfortunately, he was wounded and shipped back to a training assignment for six years while he regrew his legs. During his time there, he’s been training young men and women to fight, but he’s wanted nothing more than to get back into combat because he’s tired of sending those people out there. He wants to be on the battlefront where he can make a difference. He finally protests enough that Command posts him at Makaum

This isn’t anything new. Look around at the men and women who have served multiple tours in Afghanistan. Those people go back again and again to help their brothers in the military.

So Sage is a guy readers can easily understand.

Captain Zhoh GhiCemid is also understandable. He’s the enemy. He’s cold, efficient, and ruthless. But he’s a military warrior like Sage, an individual who has been blooded on the battlefield and lives for combat. He’s also Phrenorian, which means that he has multiple eyes, multiple limbs, chelicerae around his mouth that can inject various amounts of poison into victims, who he may or may not eat. The Phrenorians are as close to scorpions as I could make them because, well…scorpions!

Zhoh hasn’t had an easy time of it either. He’s a disgrace to the Phrenorian Empire because his hatchlings were all deformed, a failing that was blamed on his bad genetics. Actually, he was manipulated into taking a defective wife whose family is high in the Empire. Zhoh lost his command and has been sent to Makaum to wither and die.

But he is determined to find his own path again and kill anyone who stands in his way.

To set up this scene, Sage and Zhoh ended up fighting together against a criminal cartel only a few hours ago in the dead of night. Sage wanted to shut down a weapons dealer while Zhoh went there to get information about illegal dealings his commanding officer was involved in, and—failing that—cover up anything that would damage the Phrenorian Empire.

These two enemies saved each other during that mission. But they both knew they hadn’t finished what they’d started. So, rather than end up shooting holes in each other, they agreed to a sit-down truce to negotiate where they went from there.

Of course, being military men, they meet in a bar—which quickly clears out because NO ONE wants to be caught in a crossfire between the Terrans and Phrenorians. And EVERYONE knows that’s what’s coming.

These two warriors talk, and I know and the reader knows that the ultimate showdown in this trilogy is going to be Sage versus Zhoh in a winner-take-all battle. I like the way they met as equals, but Sage still treats Zhoh as he would an officer. And Zhoh, as an officer, recognizes that sergeants are the ones who get things done in the midst of chaos.

I think it’s one of the best things I’ve done, and I like the psychology of the characters meeting on equal ground. They’re both soldiers, and they both know that when the war calls for it, they will attempt to kill each other. But for this moment—and a few moments after, they’re working together. Of course, Sage is trying to figure out what Zhoh is really after, and Zhoh wants to kill anyone who can reveal his commanding officer’s involvement before Sage can get to them.

This is one of the bits I think that works for me. I’ve read several stories of soldiers who were able to meet opponents on common neutral ground and found kindred spirits in war and hardship. I believe soldiers who are professional fighting men know that only other professional fighting men who have seen the same violence and terror can truly understand each other. Even when they were on opposite sides.

This lull, before the action ramps up in Book 3: Warlord, I think underscores that verisimilitude.

I had a blast writing it. Hope you who read it enjoy the book(s) as well!



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MEL ODOM is the bestselling author of many film and computer game tie-ins, including Forgotten Realms, Mack Bolan, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. He won a prestigious Alex Award for his YA fantasy novel The Rover. He currently lives in Oklahoma.

Bob & Nora are home! And still need your help.

After three and a half months in the hospital, Nora is finally home. For those of you arriving late, my dear friend Nora, and her husband Bob, were in a horrific car accident. They barely survived. Bob was able to go home a couple of weeks ago, but Nora’s injuries were more severe. She is, in fact, still not fully healed although she is well enough to be at home rather than in a nursing facility.

It will be months of physical therapy before either of them can work. Soooo… There is a fundraiser AND I have a treat for you.

This is my friend David D. Levine reading from his Regency Space Opera, Arabella of Mars. Yes. Regency and space adventure. It has everything I love. Listen to him read part of it to you.

And then, please help Nora and Bob out by visiting their fundraiser.

My Favorite Bit: Fran Wilde talks about UPDRAFT

My Favorite BitFran Wilde is joining us today with her novel Updraft. Here’s the publisher’s description:

In a city of living bone rising high above the clouds, where danger hides in the wind and the ground is lost to legend, a young woman must expose a dangerous secret to save everyone she loves.

Welcome to a world of wind and bone, songs and silence, betrayal and courage.

What’s Fran’s favorite bit?



In authorial lore (Ok, really, for me, writers’ “lore” is a bunch of sticky notes splattered with tea or coffee, taped on the wall beside the desk, but I’m going for setting and tone here. Bear with me.), there are many warnings and touchstones. In particular, there’s this one: the middle of a draft sucks. It sags. It sometimes breaks down. That’s where the draft-goblins come out, and the weasels that whisper you’re no good and this is no good and give up. It’s totally totally true — all of it. Except when it isn’t.

My favorite bit of Updraft is the middle. And part of the reason for that is because I wrote it first.

I’m going to try to do this without committing spoilers, so bear with me.

Below us, a white-robed challenger waited. I couldn’t see them on the downtower balconies, but I knew that they must be close….

“The challenger has demanded answers we cannot give. They have threatened to rouse the towers… Worse.” … “They’ve broken Laws. You will stop them for the city’s sake.” …

Far below, the windbeaters readied their giant wings, their rot gas. The vents opened and the Gyre gust swirled up until it reached me. I leapt into the maelstrom.

Among the early pieces I wrote within the world of Updraft, this scene was the beginning of a short story about a winged knife-fight in a wind tunnel.

The two characters were fierce and determined. They both had secrets they didn’t want to reveal. And they cared, very much, about each other, and about the city. Instant conflict. Plus: fight! Wind tunnel!

I loved writing the action of the scene. The movement and skill required for each of these characters to fight and for one to prevail. The danger of the wind tunnel, the wildness of it, and the details within it that revealed more of the world, like carvings and the expressions of the watching crowd.

But there was one problem.

When the short story was complete, I and my beta readers realized that it raised more questions than it answered:

  • what kind of world was this that had such fighting in it?
  • why were the two characters willing to fight to death?
  • who did the characters love, who did they hate, where did they get weapons?
  • what was beyond the walls of the wind tunnel?
  • what made the wind so challenging in the Gyre?

Those questions were just the beginning. I started describing my characters lives, and what brought them to this fight. I wrote about what they loved, and who. And I drew a lot. I sketched the city. I sketched the wind tunnel. I discovered monsters large and small that I hadn’t seen before.

As they fought to find a stronger gust, I moved in above. Looked for the best place to slash the challenger’s wings… I raised the knife. It glittered from the sun and spun as it split the air.

Updraft emerged from this story that is still at its heart, a winged battle in a wind tunnel, between two characters who grew into people, and two people who grew into a novel.

That’s why the middle of Updraft is my favorite bit.

Thanks for having me, Mary!


Fran Wilde



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Fran Wilde’s short fiction appears in Asimov’s, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Nature, and She interviews authors about food in fiction at Cooking the Books, and blogs for GeekMom and SFSignal. Updraft is her first novel.