Archive for the ‘My Favorite Bit’ Category

My Favorite Bit: Rachel Swirsky talks about her novelette “Portrait of Lisane da Patagnia”

 Rachel Swirsky is one of the best short story writers working in speculative fiction. At least, that’s my feeling about her. Her work has a beautiful use of language and is thought-provoking. I’m very happy that she’s joining us today to talk about her novelette “Portrait of Lisane da Patagnia,” which is available on

So let’s hear about her Favorite Bit.


When I was  a kid, I took art classes. My teacher lived in the neighborhood. She ran the classes for local children who met once a week to learn how to use a scatter of media: colored pencils, watercolors, pen & ink, acrylic, and so on. Of course, we also had to learn how to sketch.

My teacher was a Jewish woman about my parents’ age who had grown up in Queens. I started taking lessons from her at age eight and stopped at age eighteen. She had initially specialized in commercial and fashion illustration, and later become one of the pioneers of digital art.

At least once a semester, we had a class on composition, and one on perspective, and one on rendering light. In the summers, she taught figure drawing to students thirteen and up. We learned to draw and we learned to model.

From sketching still lifes of simple objects—you don’t even need a bowl of fruit—you can learn the basic principles of composition, the ways in which you as an artist can coax the viewer’s eye to where you want it. A painting isn’t actually a passive object. If the painter knows what he or she is doing, they can pull you in to the point where they want you and then guide you through the image. They create an experience—sometimes, a narrative.

As a painter, I never really knew what I was doing. I could fake it a bit. My interest was always in creating stories. My old work is littered with illlustrations of stories that I never ended up writing. Drawing and painting weren’t the best media for my expression.

Still, I love paintings.

“Portrait of Lisane da Patagnia” takes place in a fictional world with different politics than our own (as well as magic), but the story largely reflects the Italian artistic Renaissance. Since one of my characters is a student, the story gave me a chance to revisit the lessons I’d learned on color and composition.

While I researched the Italian Renaissance so that I could lay down a vague sketch for the story’s setting, I couldn’t get the paintings of the Renaissance out of my mind. I saw the settings and characters posed as if they were in Renaissance paintings. I pictured brushstrokes. I imagined careful renderings of light and shadow. I imagined the way the artist would guide the viewer’s eye.

I tried to replicate that feel in the text—not just by describing what the paintings looked like, but also the ways in which they create a viewing experience.

It’s amazing fun to create fictional paintings. I was never very good with a brush, but I fancy myself to be decent with words, and a story like this one allows me to create in prose things that are much more complex than what I could do on canvas.

Another pleasure was discovering the ways in which the material culture of the Renaissance wove recursively through the paintings. The more I read about architecture, cuisine, and clothing, the more I saw them as essential to the texture of Renaissance paintings.  Rich, shining fabrics create the emphasis on wet drapery. Intricate cathedrals inspire epiphanies about perspective.

I’ve been working on some collaborations with other writers recently, and as we’ve laid down our outlines, I’ve often found myself trying to
explain my instincts for structuring stories with the language of artistic composition. A scene goes in this place in order to counterbalance one that’s over here; using this pattern of alternating points of view will create a sense of pleasing asymmetry; the way that an ending is shaped guides the reader out of the story or back in, much in the way that a painted figure’s gaze can lead away from the canvas or back onto it.

My early art lessons inform the way I see the world. My characters experience this to a much higher degree. Their inner lives are revealed by the way they see the world, how they break it down into light and shadow.

My favorite bit of this story was exploring those revealing, intimate visuals.

I’ll close with a couple of paragraphs from the story that I think sum up what I mean:

It was summer when I first came to Lisane’s house. The sun shone brightly, casting rose and gold across squared stone rooftops, glimmering through circular leaded windows, emboldening the trumpet-shaped blooms that peaked out of alleys and window boxes. Women sat at upper storey windows, watching events in the streets, their heads and shoulders forming intriguing triangles. Shadows fell everywhere, rounding curves, criss-crossing cobbles, shading secretive recesses.

That wasn’t how I saw it as I walked to Lisane’s house that morning, holding the hand of the journeywoman who’d met my boat. It was Lisane who would teach me how to dissect the world into shapes and shadows.


Portrait of Lisane da Patagania on

Rachel Swirsky’s website


Rachel Swirsky holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers Workshop. Her fiction has appeared in numerous magazines, anthologies, and year’s best collections. She’s been nominated for the Hugo Award, the Locus Award, the Sturgeon Award, and the World Fantasy Award, and in 2011, her novella “The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers Beneath the Queen’s Window” won the Nebula Award. Her first collection is THROUGH THE DROWSY DARK, a slim volume of feminist short stories and poetry.

My Favorite Bit: Shanna Germain talks about The Lure of Dangerous Women

For full disclosure, Shanna Germain is one of my best friends. This is, in part, because she is a writer who thinks deeply about her craft and can articulate what it is that she does. In fact, we just had her on a live recording of Writing Excuses at Gencon, so you can look forward to her talking about how to write Love Scenes later this year.

For now though, here’s Shanna talking about her Favorite Bit of her newest sort story collection, The Lure of Dangerous Women.  As a bonus, she gives us an excerpt. Woot!


When people ask me what I write about, my usual answer is “sex and death.” It’s mostly true. I write a lot of erotica and a lot of horror/fantasy, so it seems like my characters are always getting naked – if not in the bedroom, then in the morgue.

But here’s my deep dark secret: What I really write about is love. Not just romantic, starry-eyed love, but love as a human condition, love as a complicated emotional and physical response to the people in our lives. Difficult love that surmounts all odds. Love that is broken with sharp talons and mended with the breath of the mountains and broken again by small dark creatures with teeth. Love that limps into town, bleeding but still believing in the beauty of its own power.

Take The Lure of Dangerous Women, my recent collection of dark fantasy and horror. At first glance, it’s a book of sex and death, full of beckoning sirens, girls who beguile you into dangerous places, psychopomps ready to take you to the other side, auto-asphyxiation, and women who sling guns and songs and knives.

Yet, it’s also a book full of love. My favorite love story in the book is “Animal Instincts,” which seems to be about (wait for it) sex and death, but is really about two women bound by a love so deep it transcends their respective obstacles. Mags, the narrator of the story, is a highly functioning autistic who connects best with animals, while her partner Joan struggles with severe OCD. They’ve found a way to make their life work through compromise and understanding, but their safe world is about to be broken apart in unexpected ways.

There’s something Joan wants to tell me at dinner, but doesn’t. I wait for her to say what it is. It’s no use asking and I don’t have the right words anyway. After dinner, she cleans in that ordered way that she has and I shower again.

Almost always, we sleep in separate rooms – she can’t bear the filth that falls from us when we sleep; I can’t sleep with the noise of her breath – but usually we meet in her bed for a bit in the evenings.

“Joan?” I say it soft, my clean feet still on the bottom of the tub.

“Come into bed!” Joan yells from her bedroom. I am smiling even as I dry off. It makes me happy when she calls me like that, when I’ve been given permission to enter. It’s like our love has conquered something unconquerable, if only for a little while.

I step from the shower, dry off, and then walk carefully across the towels she’s laid down. Six steps from bathroom to bed, each of them centered squarely on the terry cloth squares.

From there, I can get into bed with her and she doesn’t have to worry about germs or dirt. When I slide beneath the covers, she turns on her side, puts one hand on the side of my cheek. Her skin is cool, like outdoor water.

“Kiss me,” she says. This is our ritual: she lets me know what she can handle by asking for it, and I comply. Her lips taste like soap and the mint of toothpaste and, beneath that, her mouth, the length of her tongue, tastes of butter, salty and rich.

While we’re kissing, she takes my hand and puts it on her bare, round belly. Beneath the skin, the child, our child, ripples and wriggles. I laugh against her lips and then pull away, just to watch the movement beneath her skin.

“The baby likes that,” I say.

“Yes,” Joan says. “Me too. Do it again.”

So I do, and I lean into her so that our bellies are together, and the baby’s wiggling makes me laugh, like tickling.

“The doctor came today,” Joan says when she has her mouth back. Our OGBYN comes to our house because Joan can’t bear the hospital, all the germs, all the dirty tiles, all the sick people. It was one of the things we asked her before we got pregnant, if she would come and see Joan here, in her own bed.

I lean up on my elbow. “She did?”

Her blue eyes are shiny as she puts her hand over mine. “It’s a girl,” Joan says. “A girl. One more girl in our family.”

“I knew that,” I say. I did know that, somehow. I have pictured the baby a hundred times, with Joan’s blonde curls and her blue eyes, in a pink and blue dress. Ten short fingers. Dimples when she smiles, and soft, small teeth, even though I know she won’t have them yet.

“Of course you did,” Joan says with a quiet laugh. My hand caught between hers looks like a skin sandwich; her pulse above and below. “Our little Seed.”

I curve my palm around the bottom of her belly, imagining a tiny red seed inside her, growing bigger and bigger. “Our little Apple,” I say.

“Macintosh?” she says. Her laugh is curls bouncing and wrinkles like love lines at the corners of her eyes.

“Mac’s a boy’s name,” I say. We haven’t talked about names before. We don’t want to jinx anything. Not too early. Not getting our hopes up.

“Could be either,” she says.

“True,” I say. I slip my fingers down, let one play around the indent of her belly button, which is disappearing day by day as the baby, as our daughter, grows inside her. “How about Ida Red?” I say.

“Oh, yes,” Joan says.

And Ida Red she is.

“Hello, Ida Red,” I say with my hand on Joan’s belly. I can see her already.

Of course, this is early in the story, when love still walks unbroken and unscathed. Will their love survive, even if they don’t? You probably know the answer to that. I am a hopeless romantic, after all.


The Lure of Dangerous Women: amazon |


Shanna Germain claims the titles of writer, editor, leximaven, vorpal blonde and Schrodinger’s brat. Her award-winning stories, essays, poems, novellas and more have been widely published in places like Absinthe Literary Review, Best American Erotica, Best Erotic Romance, Freerange Nonfiction, McSweeney’s, and Salon. Visit her wild world of words at


My Favorite Bit: Kari Sperring talks about The Grass King’s Concubine

The Grass King’s Concubine caught me on the first page with the language. Kari Sperring has managed to create this… epic fantasy is not right. It’s a mythic fantasy, in that it feels like I was reading a story much, much older than it was, but it’s all original. It’s a novel that is very much about the power of language to shape things and in a book like that you need prose that is strong. Here you get strong, lyrical, and, at times, playful.

As it happens, her favorite bit is mine too.


“Sharp teeth gleamed in the low light. Then they were afoot and scrambling, tumbling from the tabletop to helter-skelter across the stone floor. Julana’s teeth snipped at her sister’s tail. Hooping in mid-air, Yelena twisted. Her claws snatched in Julana’s fur as she landed, and they rolled, locked about each other, over and over, tails lashing and teeth locked, until they came to a halt against a wall. Using her sister as her springboard, Julana leapt for a window-sill. Her front feet snagged its edge to hang in sudden slow time. Yelena jumped for her tail, and Julana dug in her claws. One effort of shoulders, and she was up, out of reach.”

It’s hard to decide on my favourite bit of The Grass King’s Concubine. I’ve lived with this book so long that its woven itself into me. There are passages I love, because writing them was such fun, images that have haunted me for years, things I researched and discovered along the way that made me clap my hands in delight – the history of printing, the astronomical water clock, the trees made of mica. But if I had to settle on just one thing, it would be my ferret woman, the shape-shifting twins Yelena and Julana. They were the first piece of the book to come to me, one afternoon back in, I think, 2002, when I found myself reaching for the nearest scrap of paper and scribbling down, “They were not witches.”

For a long time, that was the first line of the book (it’s now the first line of chapter 2, for various reasons). It made me smile every time I opened the file, because, to me, it said so much about who Yelena and Julana are. They sprang into life with that phrase, short and sharp and, sadly, very smelly, all teeth and noses and curiosity. At the beginning of the book, they are living in exile in a place called the Stone House, to which they have been banished by their overlord, the Grass King. The Stone House is a gateway to his domain, WorldBelow and they are supposed to protect it.

They aren’t very good at this. As they would say, it’s not what they were designed for. They were designed to find out, to steal, to bite and hunt and play and wreak havoc. All they want is to return to WorldBelow and find Marcellan, the human they protected against the Grass King’s anger. So they work a piece of sympathetic magic, to draw help to them.

Except, of course, that they aren’t witches. They don’t really know what they’ve done or the effects it might have. That spell has consequences that they could not have imagined (and, to be fair, that they probably don’t care about. They don’t have the longest attention span), both for WorldBelow and for the human realm of WorldAbove.

The novel’s heroine, Aude, is kidnapped by the Grass King’s bodyguard, who believe she is responsible for what the twins have done. Jehan, Aude’s husband, follows her, with the twins as his companions. It’s a little like trying to climb a strange mountain with somebody else’s badly trained dog. You have company and a guide, of sorts, but you can never be quite sure what might happen next or what trouble you might find yourself into – or how you’ll get out of it again. It was a little like that for the writer, too, as they filled out my landscapes and notions with their own particular approach to reality.

By nature, the twins are ferrets, though they learn to take on human shape so they can talk to Marcellan. They bite, they steal, they get into everything, and they take over every scene they’re in. Their voices were loud in my head – questioning, rhythmic, prone to repeating to each other their favourite pastimes and memories. I learned to count in ferret (it has to do with feet) and to see what they saw – not the colours and facilities first, but the corners that need to be investigated, the things that can be played with or stolen, the things that are good to eat or chase, the things that are sharp or hot or smell bad. I even got to write a water fight.

They’re the thread that binds the book together. It’s told in two strands – the story of Marcellan what happens to him in WorldBelow, and the story of Jehan and Aude trying to work out what has gone wrong in both worlds and how to set it right. The twins wind through both stories, watching, plotting, guiding, frustrating and, yes, biting. They break things and reshape them, create problems and hold clues. They play and prod and push the other characters along. I love them. I hope readers will enjoy them too.


The Grass King’s Concubine: Amazon | B&N | indiebound


Kari Sperring grew up dreaming of joining the musketeers and saving France, only to find they’d been disbanded in 1776. Disappointed, she became a historian and as Kari Maund published six books and many articles on Celtic and Viking history, plus one on the background to favourite novel, The Three Musketeers (with Phil Nanson). She started writing fantasy in her teens, inspired by Tolkien, Dumas and Mallory. The Grass King’s Concubine (DAW 2012) is her second novel. Her first, Living with Ghosts, was published by DAW in 2009.

She’s been a barmaid, a tax officer, a P.A. and a university lecturer, and finds that her fascinations of all kinds feed and expand into her fiction. She’s currently at work on two novels at once, because she needs more complications in her life.


My Favorite Bit: Kat Richardson talks about Seawitch

In the interests of full disclosure, I love Kat Richardson’s Greywalker series that when I heard she was working on a new one I begged to be one of her beta readers. I love the series, in part, because Kat never repeats a trick. Harper Blaine, her protagonist, is constantly growing as are the characters she interacts with. Kat also pulls off the near miracle of writing a series that you can jump into late and still enjoy. It helps if you’ve read the earlier books, of course, but she somehow manages to ground all the paranormal mystery.

So what’s her favorite bit? Let’s see…


Seawitch is the seventh in my Greywalker paranormal detective series featuring Seattle-base P.I. Harper Blaine. More than a quarter century ago, the Seawitch cruised away from her dock and disappeared with everyone on board. Now, the boat has mysteriously returned to her old berth in Seattle and the insurance company has hired Harper to find out what happened.

Harper is not the only one investigating, however. Seattle Police Detective Rey Solis is a good cop, albeit one who isn’t comfortable with the creepy cases that always seem to end up in Harper’s lap. But the search for these answers leads to a mysterious suicide and monstrous creatures with an ax to grind. To understand the disappearance of the Seawitch’s passengers and crew, Harper and Solis will need to put aside their differences and solve a deadly mystery more than a hundred years in the making….

My favorite bit

This book has a lot of bits I really enjoyed, like: Ghost ships! Phantoms! Shipwrecks! Sea monsters! Magical storms! Mermaids! Talking otters! Crazy grandmothers! Secret island lairs! But the best bit was something that came about because I was stuck. You see, the first thrid of the first draft was getting kind of boring—lots of walking and talking and not enough action. It’s a problem with mystery novels: they can get a little too cerebral if you’re not careful. So I was mooning around whingeing about what I should do to fix it when my husband said “Throw in a pirate!”

“A pirate?” says I. “But this is about a modern boat, how am I supposed to get a pirate onto a yacht in Seattle?”

“I don’t know,” says he. “You’re the wordy-girl. You figure it out. ‘Cause everyone likes pirates! Or ninjas! Or pirate-ninjas!”

And so I went back to my computer and the next character who appeared became a pirate. And here he is:

Solis knocked again and called out, “Mr. Zantree?”

“Are we supposed to say ‘ahoy’ or something?” I asked.

Solis started to reply but was cut off by a pirate coming around the edge of the cabin from the rear. The buccaneer was a dark, grizzled man with a broad chest showing a few gray hairs through the opening of his billowing cotton shirt. His hair was covered in a red bandana that sported a skull and crossbones on the front, but a few bits that stuck out were as gray as the rest and matched the scruffy whiskers on his jaw that weren’t quite long enough to be called a beard and were too pronounced to be five o’clock shadow. Black trousers bloused into knee-length brown boots and a bright red sash tied around his waist completed the bizarre outfit. The man himself was just as odd, his brown skin and mixed-up features defying racial typing.

“Avast! What be the cause o’ this bangin’ and hallooin’?” the pirate demanded, squinting at us with a snarl.

I always wanted to be a pirate, myself, so it was way too much fun letting Paul Zantree run around waving a cutlass and saying things like “… there’ll be fillet of freakfish all over the place!” “Damn and blast you all!” and “Arrr! They’ll never take us alive.”

Wheee! I think I may actually have had too much fun with my pirate….

Next time: Ninjas!

Kat Richardson is a bestselling novelist who lives aboard a classic yacht in the Seattle area. She shares her space with a husband, a pit bull, toy bats, paper clockwork mechanisms, and the ghosts of ferrets. Sometimes she dances, sings, makes bullet holes in paper targets, and rides a motorcycle—but not at the same time. You can learn more about her books at or visit her FaceBook page:

My Favorite Bit: Jim C. Hines talks about Libriomancer

Jim is one of those very smart people who not only writes good books, but also understands how the industry works. He looks at the larger picture around him and that shows up in his fiction, too. I should tell you that I basically read Libriomancer in one sitting and came away with feeling three things.

  1. I am jealous of libriomancy as a magic system.
  2. I want to be a libriomancer
  3. Failing that, I want one of my books to get used for libriomancy.
And now, here’s Jim to talk about what his favorite thing in the book is. Mine would involve a spoiler.


I would love to talk about my favorite bit from Libriomancer. Unfortunately, my very favorite part of the book starts on page 267, toward the climax of the story, and I’m not smart enough to figure out how to describe it without spoiling various plot points.

This particular scene encapsulates everything I love about the book and the protagonist: magic-wielding librarian Isaac Vainio. It shows his love of magic, his need to explore and push the boundaries, and his sense of wonder and discovery … even as nigh-invulnerable bad guys are busy trying to crush his head.

It’s a scene I almost didn’t include, because it’s not “normal” for a quasi-urban fantasy novel. I fully expect it to bump a few readers out of the story. My editor even asked if I was sure about keeping the scene. (She also gave me some suggestions for making it fit a little better. Gotta love a good editor!)

But I think for many of us, for those of us who share Isaac’s insatiable desire to ask “What if…?” and to seek out the answers no matter where they might take us, it will be a lot of fun.

Since I can’t get into the details, I’ll just say I hope you love it as much as I did, and talk about one of my runner-up favorites instead.

Libriomancy is the magic of pulling things from books, everything from laser pistols to magical spiders. As long as enough people have read and loved the book for their collective belief to make things “real,” you can create anything that fits through the pages.

This can create problems, of course. Untrained or careless libriomancers can reach into a book and accidentally (or deliberately) get themselves bitten by various species of vampire, for example, thus bringing the monsters into the real world.

Yes, even the sparkling ones.

In the early part of the book, Isaac is pursuing a vampire through the steam tunnels of Michigan State University. The vampire has been stealing books from the magical archives hidden beneath the library. Unfortunately, the vamp in question turns out to be unlike any Isaac recognizes – and he’s read a lot of vampire books.

They fight, and at first Isaac’s magically-created pistols give him the advantage. But the vampire dissolves into mist and surrounds Isaac. A hand materializes from the cloud, twisting the gun away. The vampire solidifies and slams Isaac into the wall, pulling a knife with his other hand. Isaac reaches for another book, but the vampire isn’t about to let him read it.

Fortunately, there are a few books whose magic Isaac can touch without rereading the text. Books he’s loved for so long, and read so many times, he can see the pages in his mind. Stories that shaped his play and his dreams as a child:

My fingers sank through the paper into hot desert air. The fingers of my hand closed around the end of a metal tube. I shifted my grip, allowing the book to drop away. I flipped a switch, and a glowing blade thrummed magically to life.

My first swing severed the vampire’s arm at the elbow. His knife clanged against the ground. I ducked low, taking his legs off with the backswing. He hissed and began to dissolve into mist.

I stepped to the side, studied the pipes for a moment, and slashed through the lower one. Hot steam blasted down, directly onto the mist. He reformed a few seconds later, dragging himself out of the steam with his remaining arm.

Like the scene I can’t talk about, this one also touches on love. Love of story, of imagination, and of magic. Not to mention giving Isaac a moment to act out the kind of fantasy most of us have had ever since we first saw a set of films set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

I can’t wait to share the book – and that love – with my readers.


Jim C. Hines’s website

Libriomancer on amazon|barnes and noble|indiebound


Jim C. Hines is a level 6 geek, multiclassed as a writer and customer support person. He generally wears leather thieves’ armor (with 39 hidden pockets for everything from bookmarks to a sonic screwdriver) that gives him a +2 armor class bonus. He took blogging as a bonus feat and recently spent some skill points in Sanchin-Ryu karate, earning a black belt that gives +3 to roughhousing with his two children. He also put points into juggling and yo-yo tricks, because juggling and yo-yos are cool. He gets an automatic penalty to all encounters with goblins, who still haven’t forgiven him for everything he put them through in his GOBLIN QUEST trilogy. Jim is worth 350 XP. Roll on Treasure Chart F to determine what he will be carrying. For complete character stats or to read the first chapter of LIBRIOMANCER, please check out


My Favorite Bits: Madeleine Ashby talks about vN

This week’s book is vN: The First Machine Dynasty
by Madeleine Ashby.

Amy Peterson is a self-replicating humanoid robot known as a VonNeumann.

For the past five years, she has been grown slowly as part of a mixed organic/synthetic family. She knows very little about her android mother’s past, so when her grandmother arrives and attacks her mother, Amy wastes no time: she eats her alive.

Now she carries her malfunctioning granny as a partition on her memory drive, and she’s learning impossible things about her clade’s history – like the fact that she alone can kill humans without failsafing…

Let’s see what Madeleine’s Favorite Bit is.


Before I was ever paid anything for what I wrote — be it science fiction or strategic foresight — I worked a lot of retail. My first job was at a Value Village in the town where I grew up, outside Seattle. I worked after school and on weekends to afford my first computer. Before that I’d written stories on my family PC, a Gateway my boyfriend nicknamed “Bessie,” because she chewed code like cud. My shifts at Value Village often proceeded at a similarly sluggish pace.

I drew from my experiences there while writing what is my favourite bit of vN, a middle chapter called “Amy Alone.” vN is the story of Amy Peterson, a self-replicating humanoid who eats her grandmother, Portia, alive when Portia attacks Amy’s mother at kindergarten graduation. Thereafter, Portia lives on as a partition of of Amy’s consciousness, and they fight for control of the same body. Being the only vN whose failsafes are broken — allowing them to hurt humans without blowing a gasket — they’re on the run.

Being on the run is expensive, though, so in “Amy Alone,” she takes a job as a hostess at an Electric Sheep outside the Olympic National Forest. The Sheep is a franchise chain of themed diners that serve both humans and robots. You and your android husband can each order a Ziggurat (a tower of chicken and waffles), but his meal will be printed out of trace metals and catalytic chemicals to beef up his repair modules. (Don’t let him eat too much, though, otherwise he’ll self-replicate.)

This chapter is my favourite bit because it’s a turning point in Amy’s character. Until that chapter the pace is relentless, and Amy has no real time to see how other humanoids live alongside humans. But now she can slow down and open her eyes to the world that her synthetic mother and organic father once sheltered her from. And it’s not pretty.

First jobs are like that. They’re a glimpse at how the world really works when your parents and teachers aren’t looking. And I don’t just mean how money works, or how responsibility works. I mean how your feet hurt after eight hours and how nobody cares. I mean finding lost children and old vibrators and even pools of blood among the dust bunnies. I mean taking vintage issues of Playboy from a display case so some guy can leaf through them slowly, his gaze alternating between your carefully blank face to Patricia Farinelli’s enormous nipples and back again. He never buys anything because he already got what he came for. That’s how the world really works. They pay you minimum wage to figure that out.

For Amy, figuring that out means observing synthetic/organic relationships from outside the safe confines of the home she had to flee, while also being truly alone for the first time in her life. She sleeps in a storage unit with only Portia’s commentary for company. She can’t share her secrets with anybody at work. She has to pretend that she’s just like any other robot, and that she enjoys getting her ass grabbed when she bends to pick up abandoned cutlery. She’s doing this because she needs the money and the free food. That’s a deeply human experience that I wanted Amy to have as a non-human being. We treat the people who serve us like they’re machines; I wanted to know how an actual machine would handle it.


vN: The First Machine Dynasty amazon | B&N | indiebound

Madeline Ashby’s website

Madeline Ashby is a science fiction writer and strategic foresight consultant living in Toronto. Her fiction has been published in Nature, Escape Pod, FLURB, Tesseracts, and elsewhere. Her non-fiction has appeared at BoingBoing, Creators Project, WorldChanging, and She tweets about futurism, anime, and what she’s making for dinner @MadelineAshby.

My Favorite Bit: Lynn Flewelling talks about Casket of Souls

I’m going to get out of the way on this one and give you the publisher blurb because it does a better job of setting up the latest Nightrunner book, Casket of Souls, than I can.

The Nightrunners are back in this gripping novel full of Lynn Flewelling’s trademark action, intrigue, and richly imagined characters.

More than the dissolute noblemen they appear to be, Alec and Seregil are skillful spies, dedicated to serving queen and country. But when they stumble across evidence of a plot pitting Queen Phoria against Princess Klia, the two Nightrunners will find their loyalties torn as never before. Even at the best of times, the royal court at Rhíminee is a serpents’ nest of intrigue, but with the war against Plenimar going badly, treason simmers just below the surface.

And that’s not all that poses a threat: A mysterious plague is spreading through the crowded streets of the city, striking young and old alike. Now, as panic mounts and the body count rises, hidden secrets emerge. And as Seregil and Alec are about to learn, conspiracies and plagues have one thing in common: The cure can be as deadly as the disease.

And what is her favorite bit?


I have so many favorite bits in the latest Nightrunner book, Casket of Souls that it’s hard to narrow it down to one. Some of them would be spoilers, and others have to be taken in context. I got to return to the intrigue and debauchery of Rhíminee nightrunning, had my beloved Seregil do an impromptu striptease in a crowded gambling house, threw a birthday party for Alec. . . Oh yeah, just one.

I was on an epic fantasy panel at Comic Con last month, and one of the audience members posed the question, “Who is your favorite character to write about?” That seems like a pretty straightforward, common, one word answer kind of question. But what I heard coming out of my mouth was “All of them.”

In Casket of Souls, as with all my books, I use multiple viewpoint characterization. So in the course of that book I wrote in the skin of not only my main and major secondary characters, and the villains, which is always delicious, but also did a few chapters about poor children who you never see again, but who really advance one of the plot threads. And I write those chapters with all the heart and attention I gave to Seregil or Alec or Thero.

When you’re writing a POV character, you have to be totally in the moment with them, totally inside their skin. I think that’s why multiple POV really delights me; you get to be so many people so deeply.

So— I have this little girl character and I have one rather brief chapter to make her real enough for the readers to care about her. She lives in the seaside slums of Rhíminee. She’s barefoot in a ragged hand-me-down dress. She’s dragging home a dead seagull nearly as big as she is (yes, I stole that from the end of A Christmas Carol). She looks into its shiny golden eye and wishes it was a bead she could wear, because she is so starved for anything beautiful in her precarious young life. In her tangled hair is a tiny blue bow, made from ribbon her mother found trampled in the street and lovingly washed and divided among her little daughters, a sad bit of prettiness in a drab and hopeless world.

I don’t know where all that came from. I had no idea any of that was going to flow out of my fingers onto the screen when I sat down to write that day. She just appeared when I needed her, and took on life because I was with her in an immediate state. I ached for that little girl, not only for her ultimate fate, but for the reality I’d just imposed on her, and what it said about poverty and classism in the Nightrunner world, and the real one. I live for moments like that in the writing process. So that’s my favorite bit.


Casket of Souls: amazon| B&N | indiebound


Lynn Flewelling is the author of the Nightrunner Series and the Tamír Triad, as well as a number short stories and articles on writing. The first Nightrunner book, Luck in the Shadows, was publishes in 1996; the latest, Casket of Souls, is now on the shelves. Her short story “Namesake” recently appeared in the new shared world anthology, Tales of the Emerald Serpent, available in e book format.

My Favorite Bit: Gregory Frost talks about the short story “Vulpes”

I’m very happy to have my first guest in to speak about a short story.  I often feel that short story writers don’t have enough opportunities to talk about their craft. So the My Favorite Bit feature is a place where they can. My first guest is Gregory Frost. He writes both short fiction and novels, but is here to day to focus on a short.

Let’s hear what he has to say about his Favorite Bit.


Rule for Writers #1: Save Everything

Most writers I know keep notebooks full of odd bits of string: story ideas that, in the end, they didn’t find compelling enough to write; descriptions they plan to find a use for somewhere, someday; notes from something they read that just screamed out of the article at the time, so they diligently scribbled something that they knew would one day cause them to spend something like two weeks of going through every page of every notebook just to locate, because you can’t quite remember the original place you saw it, and that notation is all you’ve got.

This is akin a conversation I had with author Jack Dann back before he moved to Australia, where Jack said “If you are wandering through a used bookstore and you come upon a book that screams ‘Buy Me!’ you must do so. Otherwise, six months or a year from now you’re going to realize you do need that book and it will be long gone.” We often don’t know why something is important; we just know that it is.

About 20 years back, for pure pleasure, I read a great non-fiction book by Paul Barber titled Vampires, Burial, and Death. The short summary of this book is: everything you need to know about why, historically, everybody believed in vampires. Among the many interesting bits of information contained within is Barber’s analysis of every incident he could find where corpses suspected of being vampires were exhumed. Out of all of them, only one dead body was determined not to be a vampire. In the Middle Ages, it seems, if you were accused of being a vampire post-mortem, you were totally screwed.

Somewhere in the midst of this all, in a brief passage, Barber made mention of a Romanian legend regarding white wolves/werewolves and how they were the guardians of cemeteries, protecting the living from–what else?–the vampires. That snippet just glued itself to the inside of my head and remained there.
I’ve long since come up with the premise for a novel and screenplay spun from it. I will get around to that real soon now…

But last year author Jonathan Maberry invited me to contribute a novella to an anthology he was editing, V-Wars, which made its debut in July. The premise of V-Wars is that calving ice shelves in the Antarctic release ancient organisms that interact with “junk” DNA in the human genome and recreate a long-gone life form: the vampire. And not just your generic vampire, but a vampire spun from specific cultural contexts–a world of strange and contradictory vampires. Some of them shun the light and have those fangs we all know about. Others welcome the light and have teeth like barracudas. Jonathan invited vampires and stories from all over the world.

For me that invitation was a “squee!” moment. Without hesitation I reached for Barber’s comment about Romanian lore. This had been sitting there in the dark for two decades just waiting the right opportunity, and here it was. Enter my character, Ruksana, stage right: a female scientist working with ice core samples whose family history is … a bit unusual.

The story is called “Vulpes.”

[Side note: About four months back, a scientific report came out stating that, indeed, bacteria are being released from ice where they’ve lain dormant for thousands of years. So in the diabolically warped way of writers, the contributors to the anthology are giddy that global climate change is validating our fiction.


V-Wars  amazon | B&N
Gregory Frost’s website

Gregory Frost is a writer of best-selling fantasy, supernatural thrillers and science fiction. He has been a finalist for every major fantasy, sf, and horror fiction award. His latest work is the YA-crossover duology, Shadowbridge
& Lord Tophet, voted “one of the four best fantasy novels of the year” by the American Library Association. His previous novel, the historical thriller, Fitcher’s Brides, was a finalist for both the World Fantasy and International Horror Guild Awards for Best Novel. His latest short fiction appears in Supernatural Noir, edited by Ellen Datlow. He is the current fiction workshop director at Swarthmore College in Swarthmore, PA.

My Favorite Bit: Cassie Alexander talks about Nightshifted

What happens when you take your urban fantasty and hand it to a registered nurse? You get a secret ward at the local hospital which caters to vampires, were-things, and zombies. Cassie Alexander’s debut novel follows the newest nurse on the ward, Edie Spence, as she tries to treat with the world of the paranormal and gets caught up in a mystery.

Want to hear what Cassie’s favorite bit of Nightshifted is? I thought so.


My favorite part of Nightshifted is definitely the syphilitic were-dragon. I love all the medical stuff in my books, but he wins hands down.

Part of the point of Nightshifted was me wanting to push back against all the supernatural creatures that were untouchable, always hale and healthy, who never had to worry about dying. I wanted to figure out how I could break those molds. Putting supernatural creatures in a hospital – when I happened to be a nurse who worked at a hospital – gave me that chance.

It took me awhile to get into writing Nightshifted. I was luring myself back into the book arena after nine books worth of no one else being interested in anything that I’d done. Nine books is a lot of rejection to handle, and my ninth book in particular I was so in love with that it not selling broke my writing-heart. After I trunked it, it took me two years to even try to write again. So when the idea for Nightshifted occurred to me, I pretended that it was a set of interconnecting short stories. I think secretly I knew it wanted to be a novel…but I was careful to pretend that I wasn’t falling for it. Like a jilted lover, I didn’t want to let myself get hurt again.

As it turned out, pretending that I wasn’t writing a book gave me the freedom to indulge in frankly crazy ideas – like my dragon with an STD, which was going to be the third of my short stories. I wanted to surprise people with something they’d never seen before. You never hear of supernatural creatures having any consequences for all of their unprotected sex. You also don’t hear about protagonists going to get STD tests either, which is another thing I do in my book. I know I’ve made bad choices here and there – why shouldn’t my protagonist? Or the weredragon up the block?

Past the weredragon, I love dropping in weird bits of medical knowledge in my books. Like the fact that Al Capone also had syphilis. It’s not a disease you think about often. (Unless you’re me. Who has actually had a patient with syphilis before.) I delight in secretly teaching people weird medical things, the only hazard is that sometimes current medicine changes on you. The new guidelines for CPR and advanced cardiac life support came out between me writing Nightshifted and Moonshifted, and all of a sudden you don’t give people atropine anymore for pulseless electrical activity when they code. I happened to be doing page proofs at the time and caught it, but now I live in fear of other parts of my books becoming anachronistic and quaint — although I hope to hell in ten years new readers don’t understand my slams against the insurance agencies because everyone is finally decently covered.

So yes, my favorite bit is the dragon. But secondarily to that – everything else! ;).


Nightshifted  amazon | B&N | indiebound

Her website is


Cassie Alexander is a registered nurse and the author of Nightshifted, her debut novel out from St. Martin’s Press.

My Favorite Bit: J. A. Pitts talks about Forged in Fire

What I particularly like about J. A. Pitts is that he doesn’t take the easy route. Forged in Fire is the third book in the Sarah Beauhall series, which are what happens when you take epic fantasy and set it in modern day Seattle. Seriously. Dragons in Seattle. What could be better? He takes it up a notch in the new book, while retaining the character intimacy that he started in the first. Let’s give him a chance to tell us what his Favorite Bit is.


One of my favorite aspects of the Sarah Beauhall books is the ever evolving notion of family with all the myriad definitions, configurations and obligations.

Are we doomed to only have the blood family we are born into or can we build new social structures that fulfill those same roles? When is a lover more than family? As friends come into your life, when do they cross over from being someone you like to hang out with occasionally to someone you’d fight a dragon for?

As Sarah and Katie explore their growing relationship, they begin to solidify their own social structure — stratifying individuals into support groups and mutual beneficiaries of their deeply held emotions. They bring folks into their orbit that bolster their ideas of the world, encourage their choices, shore-up their short-comings and generally band-aid their flaws.

Isn’t that what family is supposed to do?

In the opening scene of Forged in Fire, Sarah and Katie are hunting a renegade troll that has been killing livestock, stirring up the local Western Washington farmers. Only once they’ve killed the troll, they find out she’s left behind twin babies. That night, as they camp out in the troll’s lair with the orphans they discuss their own thoughts of family.

“You ever thought about having kids?” Katie asked me after the fire had burned low.

“I’ve never been all that interested,” I said. “I just never considered it something I needed to do. Don’t get me wrong, I think kids are fine.”

She made a noise beside me that I couldn’t interpret.

“But I just never figured on getting pregnant, bringing a child into this world. Especially now with everything I know about the dragons and worse.”

“I thought I’d have a daughter,” Katie said sleepily. “Someone to teach to play guitar. Someone to have tea parties with and play dress-up.”

“You never know,” I whispered. She didn’t answer and before long, I heard her steady breathing that let me know she’d gone to sleep.

Katie may very well be the best thing that ever happened to me. I cared more for her happiness than damn near anything else on the planet. I’d thought about living the rest of my life with her, back when I thought I was gonna have a long one. Now with the dragons, and the sword, Gram, I wasn’t sure I’d live out the winter. Put a totally different spin on things.

I tried to keep it together, not to let things spin out of control. But I’m not sure how well that was working for me. Let’s forget the fact I fought giants and trolls, killed a dragon, forged an ancient sword and had to deal with a crotchety and half-crazed homeless guy who either was Odin, or channeled him on a regular basis. Magic really existed in the world. There were some nasty things out there that wanted to kill me. Hell, some of them wanted to eat me.

And now, filled with a righteousness that blurred the lines of right and wrong, I’d killed this troll. She was a living, breathing, thinking, caring entity who wanted nothing more than to keep her family safe. Isn’t that what we all wanted? How did this make me any different than the fucking dragons?

I lay awake for a long time, the throbbing in my leg was dull compared to the one in my heart.

You’ll have to read the book to see what happens to those baby trolls, but the questions of family and the power behind them permeates this entire series.

Family is very important to me personally. I am fiercely protective of those I consider my tribe. Blood or bond, we have those who make our lives greater by their sheer existence and I am thankful for having them in my lives.


Forged in Fire: amazon | Barnes & Noble | indiebound

J. A. Pitts on the web


JA Pitts resides in the Pacific Northwest where he has hosts discussion groups with dragons, drinks fire whiskey with giants, shares recipes with hedge witches and compare tattoos to the trolls that roam the urban landscape he’s come to love.  His books can be found in all cool bookstores or on the aethernet for those magical reading devices that are popular with the hipsters.  He’s in the market for a really good sword.:

My Favorite Bit: A. M. Dellamonica talks about Blue Magic

I’m very excited about the newest installment in the Books of Chantments universe. I so enjoy the way magic is handled as something that is both powerful and can embue ordinary objects with extraordinary properties. So what is the author’s Favorite Bit? Let’s see.


I had to think a fair amount about this idea of a favorite bit for my novel BLUE MAGIC. It’s not that I don’t love just about a million things in my Books of Chantments universe. If anything, I was spoiled for choice. But many of the things that sprang to mind first seemed far too spoilery to squee about.

On second look, though, I decided many of those story elements were tied into the character of Juanita Corazon. I’ve realized that one of the neat things about writing the sequel to INDIGO SPRINGS (my first sequel, which sounds like a contradiction in terms) was getting to bring in someone who was new to the whole magical mess that I created in the first book. Don’t get me wrong–I love writing about Astrid Lethewood and Ev and Will and even Sahara Knax . . . but when I embarked on the beginning of BLUE MAGIC, I had a pretty good sense of where they had to end up. (At least, that’s how I remember it.)

With Juanita I got to carve out a little unexplored terrain. New person, new point of view character. Newness is alluring; it’s got a shine to it that the familiar just doesn’t.

So what do I love about this character? One of the most important things Juanita brings to this messed up mystical apocalypse is super-competence.

I know I’m not the only person who finds the ability to just do a job well and completely very sexy. And it may be that there’s a dearth of that in these books. It’s not that everyone besides Juanita is dumb, but a lot of them are inventing wheels–magic has just burst back into the world, and the people working with it are figuring everything out from the basics. It’s all trial and error. Will Forest, meanwhile, is great at what he does, normally (he’s a criminal psychologist and hostage negotiator) but his children are missing and so he’s operating at far below his normal wattage.

Juanita’s a Federal Marshall doing a great job of something that’s, maybe, a bit easy for her. She was contemplating getting into something else before the magical outbreak upheaved everything, and so she gets this comparatively plum posting at Sahara Knax’s trial for treason.

As the book progresses, she gets more and more dumped on her, and nobody really sees it. As far as all these wizards and witch-burners are concerned, she’s a means to an end. There’s a four-way struggle to control enchantment–the U.S. military is duking it out with two brands of religious zealot and Astrid Lethewood’s volunteers–and every single faction is coming to Juanita. Some of them are polite enough to ask; then there are the ones saying ‘do this or we’ll kill your family.’ But they’re underestimating her: they all see her as a minimally educated cop in a dead end job. They don’t realize they’re each giving her information about their faction and she’s using it to build her own picture of what’s going on. It’s not that she knows everything as the magical struggle unfolds, but she becomes the only person who’s got pieces of everyone’s puzzle.

Somehow she has to sort through all that information and prophecy and propaganda about the various agendas of all the factions and confront the super-powerful individuals running them. She has to do it without getting arrested, enchanted or killed and still manage to make the right choice.

I think she really rises to the occasion.



A.M. Dellamonica‘s new novel, Blue Magic, is the sequel to her 2009 Sunburst Award winning novel Indigo Springs. A resident of Vancouver, British Columbia, she is the author of over thirty short stories and teaches writing through the UCLA Writers’ Extension Program.

My Favorite Bit: Mike Underwood talks about Geekomancy

Here we have a debut novel by Mike Underwood for your consideration. For Geekomancy he’s basically turned geek culture into a magic system. Let’s see what his favorite bit is, shall we?


I have a lot of favorite bits in Geekomancy – weaving geek language into conversation, Geekomancy as a literalization of the power of fandom, and more. But the favorite bit I don’t talk about as much is the fact that I got to introduce the world to Drake Winters.

Or, as I always say his name in my head, DRAKE WINTERS! Drake is an encapsulation and willing over-extension of my idea of a pulpy steampunk adventurer. He is a walking, talking, extra-large serving of earnest enthusiasm, and writing him is an utter delight.

Geekomancy is a contemporary urban fantasy, with a magic system derived from the relationship between the magicians (called Geekomancers) and their favorite cultural properties. My main character can watch The Matrix and channel Wire Fu, and her mentor uses nostalgia-fueled props as the weapons they were in film (lightsaber, blaster, etc.)

But Drake is a throwback, a man out of time, an intruder from a different genre. Drake Winters was originally created for a tabletop RPG that I ran in a homebrew setting. Even then, Drake was a man out of time, an inventor hero from the land of Avalon – a steam-tastic analogue of England. After stumbling into Faerie, he falls in with the charismatic figure known as The Contessa of the Lapis Galleon, who he calls his Mistress.

Because ultimately, Drake Winters is a Doctor Who shout-out wrapped in a Changeling: The Lost character concept. Changeling: The Lost (by White Wolf Publishing) is a tabletop RPG where all of the characters have survived a period of captivity in the mind-and-body-warping land of Faerie. When the game came up, the premise for Changeling and the format for Doctor Who collided in my mind with this question: what if you had a female Time Lord who dimension-hopped instead of time-hopped, and picked up impressionable men, adventured with them, seduced them with the power of her personality, then dumped them unceremoniously far from home? Drake was my answer to that question.

So when I decided to bring Drake Winters into Geekomancy, the character was already firmly established in my brain. He was brash, intelligent, stuffy, verbose, and compassionate. He’s a fantasy rather than Science Fiction version of steampunk, with magic and technology combined with devices like Aerothopters and Aetheric Breakthrough Actuators.

Drake isn’t a geek in the contemporary sense, but his entire character concept is rooted in intertextuality and genre-mashing. He’s my chance to play with some of the fun bits of the steampunk subgenre on my own terms. And since he is almost entirely pop-culture illiterate, he served as a good counter-point to Ree, Geekomancy’s main character, who grew up on texts like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and is a native speaker of Geek-Speak.

Writing Drake is easy, from his voice to his too-formal manner. I just tap into the part of my brain labeled ADVENTURE! and combine it with an intentionally anachronistic verbosity. Drake was so much fun to write that I had to rein him in and make sure he didn’t take over the novel. Geekomancy is Ree’s story, and Drake is just a guest star. But every time I write him, I grow more confident that Drake will get his own time in the spotlight someday.

But for now, he’s My Favorite Bit in Geekomancy – a delightful joke character who turned out to be a fantastic companion in his own right.


GeekomancyAmazon.comBarnes & Noble | iBooks



Michael R. Underwood grew up devouring stories in all forms: movies, comics, TV, video games, and novels. He holds a B.A. in Creative Mythology and East Asian Studies from Indiana University and an M.A. in Folklore Studies from the University of Oregon, which have been great preparation for writing speculative fiction. Michael went straight from his M.A. to the Clarion West Writers Workshop and then landed in Bloomington, Indiana, where he remains. When not writing or selling books across the Midwest as an independent book representative, Michael dances Argentine Tango and studies renaissance martial arts. Geekomancy is his first novel, coming July 10th from Pocket Star for all eBook platforms.

My Favorite Bit: Dan Wells talks about The Hollow City

It’s no secret that I like Dan Wells’s writing. A lot. So I was nervous about The Hollow City
because I had high expectations. He totally lived up to them.

We talk about the writing process on Writing Excuses all the time. Today, Dan is going to tell you about his favorite bit.


I started writing THE HOLLOW CITY several years ago, more as a thought experiment than anything else: could I write a schizophrenia novel? Could I write a schizophrenia novel that was also a horror story, AND a thriller, AND a cool mystery, and still make it all work? I did a lot of research into schizophrenia itself, and the treatment and medication and such, to make sure that I got it all right, but I quickly realized that the mental disorder wasn’t the hard part. Despite how hard they were, the constant shifts in reality weren’t really the hard part either. The hard part was tip-toeing through the vast minefield of schizophrenia cliches without blowing the entire book to smithereens.

Some of the cliches are unavoidable. Part of me likes to read/watch/devour schizophrenia stories just because of the moment where you realize that one of the characters isn’t real. It’s a cliché, but it’s a fun one, and it’s a part of what attracted me to the genre in the first place. My answer to this was two-fold: first, I made sure that I focused a lot of attention on the other, less-flashy symptoms of schizophrenia, like depression and disorganized behavior. Hallucinations are the ‘cool’ part, narratively speaking, but the other stuff is far more important to how the disorder works, and the effects it has on the lives of the patients and their families. Being sure to give those aspects equal treatment expanded the book in some very neat ways, helping to take it in new directions I hadn’t anticipated. But that’s not my favorite bit.

The other way I softened the cliché was to have the hallucinatory characters, once they were finally revealed, mean more and do more than the cliché usually allows. Imaginary characters are, after all, still characters, and can still do some very cool things. Playing with that, and finding new ways for the hallucinations to stay meaningful, was one of the most enjoyable parts of writing the book. But that’s not my favorite bit either.

Softening a cliché is not the same thing as avoiding it, and I wanted to really go the extra mile on this one. The core cliché of a schizophrenia story—of any story about hallucinations or delusions or madness—is the resolution, where the character slowly realizes that these things aren’t real, and sorts himself out, and triumphantly rejoins the normal world. THAT’S a cliché I can turn on its head, and that was absolutely my favorite bit. The main character, Michael Shipman, lives in a haze of false information, surrounded by monsters and conspiracies and sights and sounds and memories he can’t explain. He struggles to sort them out, but some of them won’t sort. Some of his hallucinations are real—not all, but some—and they are not the ones he likes. Instead of a book about curing the madness, THE HOLLOW CITY is a book about piecing together which bits of madness are a part of the puzzle, and what the puzzle means, and what he can do about it. There’s a sequence at the end where all of those pieces click into place, one after another, and the picture they form is terrifying. That’s absolutely my favorite bit.

I even named the book after it.


The Hollow City amazon | b&n| indiebound


Dan Wells lives in Germany. A bachelor’s in English has led him to a successful career as a corporate writer for close to ten years. His first horror novel, I Am Not A Serial Killer is available from Tor books.

My Favorite Bit: James Maxey talks about Hush

Do you like dragons? You know you do. James Maxey who I’ve been a fan of since I discovered his book Nobody Gets the Girl has two different series with dragons. Today he’s going to tell us a little bit about Hush.


is the second novel in my Dragon Apocalypse series. What drew me to the series overall was a desire to go in a different direction from my previous fantasy novels, the Bitterwood trilogy. While those books have their moments of humor, they are mostly grim and gritty novels about men and dragons locked in a genocidal struggle. I strove for as much realism as its possible to bring to world where half the characters have scales and wings. While people believe in magic and gods in the Bitterwood universe, it’s arguable that no actual magic occurs. I took care that most of the things that happened remained within the realm of known physical laws.

Hush is the second novel in my Dragon Apocalypse series. What drew me to the series overall was a desire to go in a different direction from my previous fantasy novels, the Bitterwood trilogy. While those books have their moments of humor, they are mostly grim and gritty novels about men and dragons locked in a genocidal struggle. I strove for as much realism as its possible to bring to world where half the characters have scales and wings. While people believe in magic and gods in the Bitterwood universe, it’s arguable that no actual magic occurs. I took care that most of the things that happened remained within the realm of known physical laws.

With the Dragon Apocalypse, I said, “Screw that!” and went all in on magic. My characters have a mythic understanding of the world and I write from the assumption that these myths are correct. The sun is a dragon that daily flies across the sky. The stars are glittering ice floes floating in a vast overhead ocean. When volcano’s belch fire, it means the dragon’s awake. The material world of the Dragon Apocalypse exists as a sort of malleable fiction shaped by the beliefs of its inhabitants, and men clever enough to understand this have the power to reshape the world simply by convincing others of their lies. Of course, men aren’t the only characters shaping this world. Dragons in this reality aren’t just big lizards, they’re spiritual beings whose souls permeate the elements they control. Light a candle and Greatshadow, the primal dragon of fire, stares out at you through the flame, waiting for you to grow careless so he can devour you.

The master plot of Hush involves the mischief of one of these primal dragons, the eponymous dragon of cold. Hush has allied herself with a two-hundred year old ghost witch who’s on a mission to kill Glorious, the dragon of the sun, wanting to lock the world into the perfect stillness of an eternal winter’s night. To achieve this end, the witch, Purity, is sailing across the Great Sea Above in a walrus skin boat, hunting for Glorious so she can stab him with an enchanted harpoon. As I was writing, I had several moments where I thought, “Well, this is plausible!” The surprising thing was, it usually was. Hush follows the logic of myths, an old and enduring gut level understanding of the world that still shapes our daily lives. Reality can be counterintuitive and is under no obligation to make sense. Learning that winter comes because we live on a tilted ball of rock orbiting a very hot ball of gas might be accurate, but it’s not exactly a stirring foundation for drama. But when the sun is a dragon locked in constant war with his jilted lover, whose icy heart chills the earth as she seeks to drive him from the sky, you’ve got an epic love story.

And yet, despite all of the big picture mythology that frames the story, Hush is grounded by a much more human tale. Stagger and Infidel are husband and wife, a pair of charming rogues who made their living looting ancient ruins. Alas, Stagger doesn’t survive the first book. (This isn’t a spoiler. Stagger dies in the very first chapter of Greatshadow, but his ghost carries on as the novel’s narrator.) As a disembodied spirit, Stagger doesn’t see a lot of action in the first book. But, in the second book, a witch named Sorrow builds a wooden golem to serve her and captures a ghost to animate it. Stagger is that hapless ghost. Fortunately, Sorrow and Infidel wind up as passengers on the same boat, bringing Stagger close to his wife once more, but trapped inside a body with no tongue and no power of movement beyond obeying Sorrow’s commands. Worse, his soul is like a battery for the golem, an energy source that gives psuedo-life to his wooden limbs. The more Sorrow commands him, the closer he comes to the final extinction of his soul.

When Sorrow discovers that the soul inside her golem might know the location of a lost sacred site she’s been seeking, she builds the golem a paper tongue, and grants him the power to write so he can draw her a map. Stagger winds up with the opportunity to write his wife the love letter he never wrote her in life, a final message to both her and their yet to be born daughter. That scene, where he’s given a second chance to say the things he never got to say in life, stands out for me.

Several years ago, I fell in love with a woman named Laura, and fairly early in our relationship she developed breast cancer. For most of the remaining years I knew her, there were certain conversations that were off limits for us. She was determined to fight the cancer until her very last breath, but knew her prognosis had started bad and was only getting worse. She was determined to draw as much wonder from every day of life as possible, but one trade off of living in the now was that we just never brought up hopes and dreams for ten years out, or five, or even two. Only after she was gone did I regret not broaching these topics. I wonder, absent the disease, what her long term goals would have been. Stagger’s abrupt death also robbed him of the chance to talk about his hopes and dreams. In giving him the chance to write a letter from beyond the grave, I give at least his dreams a chance to survive.

There’s a lot of golly-gee whiz, larger-than-life action swirling across every page of Hush. The ship sails across the afterlife of sailors, the Sea of Wine. Before they reach Hush, they’re hunted by Rott, the primal dragon of decay. My super-powered sailors fight yetis and ice-wyrms, flying whales and naked giants, and, of course, some huge freakin’ dragons. I’m bringing the epic to epic fantasy. But, despite all the wonders, if you’ve ever loved, and especially if you’ve ever loved and lost, I’m betting that the thing that haunts you about this book is going to be the ghost who gets his second chance.


Hush: Amazon | barnes & noble | indiebound


In 1954, psychologist Fredric Wertham published his influential work, Seduction of the Innocent, which argued that comic books were dangerous for children. Exaggerated portrayals of violence and sexual deviancy weakened morals, and crude art and simplistic writing weakened intellectual development. James Maxey’s mother never read this book.

As a result, James was allowed to read 103,619 comic books before the age of 18. As an adult, he spends an unhealthy portion of his income on these fetish objects, compulsively sealing them in plastic bags and hoarding them in towering stacks of boxes. Continue reading ›

My Favorite Bit: D.B. Jackson talks about Thieftaker

For full disclosure, I blurbed this book and loved it. It feeds all of my historical fantasy jollies, as well as being an interesting detective story. What’s particularly great about D.B. Jackson, which his bio doesn’t say, is that he’s a history professor. The man knows his stuff and in this case, his stuff is pre-Revolutionary war Boston.

And now, let’s see what his favorite bit is.


I like weaving together multiple plot strands, creating braids of narrative that carry my reader toward culminating scenes that they can anticipate but not fully predict.

I enjoy worldbuilding, taking a setting and making it come alive to the senses so that it is as rich and tactile as any “real” place my readers might know.

But most of all, I love to create characters whose triumphs and failings touch my readers’ emotions.

So, perhaps it’s predictable that my favorite bits in all my books involve those emotional payoff moments when all the terrible, mean, duplicitous, delicious things I do to my heros and heroines finally become too much for the poor souls to bear. Caught in that moment when they must buckle or find strengths they didn’t know they possessed, they act, for better or worse.

And in the aftermath, if I’ve done my job correctly, they have prevailed, but they have lost something that they can never regain. Invariably, these are the most powerful moments in my novels. And if as I write them, even my throat feels thick, even my eyes sting, I know that I’ve nailed the scene.

There is (at least) one such moment in my latest book, Thieftaker, a historical urban fantasy, which comes out today, July 3! My hero, Ethan Kaille, who is a thieftaker and conjurer in Colonial Boston, does battle with a mysterious spellcrafter who is determined that Ethan should cease his inquiry into the murder of a young woman, the daughter of a wealthy family. Ethan is on the verge of being beaten, his own conjuring powers overmastered by those of his enemy. What is worse, an innocent young man, the son of a woman Ethan once intended to marry, is doomed to die at the hands of this conjurer if Ethan fails.

But at the last moment, Ethan has one last opportunity to defeat the conjurer (at least for the moment), make his escape, and save the boy as well. The catch is that he must do something truly horrible — nearly as reprehensible in his own mind as anything the conjurer has done. He makes his choice, saving his own life and that of the boy.

But in the scenes that immediately follow he is wracked with grief at the choice he has been forced to make, and in the most painful of those scenes, he forces himself to confess to the woman he loves exactly what he’s done. And though I have read that scene again and again while revising the book, while copyediting it, while proofing it, I cannot get past the moment without choking up. I have had beta readers tell me that the scene reduced them to puddles, which, of course, I love to hear.

For me, a novel’s success or failure turns on character. If through my protagonist I can grab hold of my readers’ hearts, if I can make them grieve and fear and ultimately rejoice as he does, then I’ve succeeded as a storyteller. With this moment in Thieftaker, when Ethan’s pain is as visceral to my readers as any emotion of their own, I’ve done just that. Which is why it’s my Favorite Bit.

D.B. Jackson’s website

D.B. Jackson is also David B. Coe, the award-winning author of a dozen fantasy novels. His first book as D.B. Jackson, volume I of the Thieftaker Chronicles, will be released by Tor Books on July 3. D.B. lives on the Cumberland Plateau with his wife and two teenaged daughters. They’re all smarter and prettier than he is, but they keep him around because he makes a mean vegetarian fajita. When he’s not writing he likes to hike, play guitar, and stalk the perfect image with his camera.