Why is the Writing Excuses “Out of Excuses Retreat and Workshop” now on a boat?

Well, for the first two years, we hosted it at my parents’ home in Tennessee. The location had a lot of things going for it, but we had to limit attendance to 24 people because of the size of the venue. This meant a lot of stress for people as they tried to register for those few slots. We sold out in less than three minutes last time.

So we wanted a bigger venue, but we also wanted to address the other things that keep people from being able to attend workshops. One of those is that people get limited vacation time, and taking a week off to be away from family is hard.

Being on the ship means that you can bring your family with you. We have a dedicated space for the seminars, but the rest of the ship is designed for vacations. There’s even a complimentary Adventure Ocean® Youth Program, so your kids can have adventure while you’re improving your writing. There’s a discounted rate for family members, and while all ages are welcome on the ship, we particularly want to encourage young writers. So anyone between the ages of 12-17 can attend the seminars at the family rate, instead of paying full price.

One of the things that’s hardest about being a professional writer is learning to balance family and fiction. It only makes sense for us to help that balance from the get-go.

There’s a ton of other reasons to be on the ship. Like… the Caribbean.

For those of you who haven’t cruised before, allow me to say that I poo-pooed the idea before I started going on the Steampunk Cruises. The ship we’re on is like a giant floating resort, and every day we have a different tropical destination outside our door. So we’ll have instruction, time to write, inspiration, and time to unwind.

You can read all about it at the registration page for the 2015 Out of Excuses Workshop and Retreat for, but if you have any other questions, ask away.

Where I’ve been for the past month

So, for those of you wondering where I’ve been the past two weeks, I will tell you.

First, I went to NYC and read at KGB Fantastic Fiction with Leanna Renee Hieber. You can listen to our reading on the Fantastic Fiction at KGB website. And yes, Leanna and I both dressed for the event. I write novels set in the Regency, she’s writing Victoriana. I start at about 5:00. I read from the first chapter for Of Noble Family and the first chapter of Ghost Talkers.


Second, I went the Oregon Regency Society Retreat at the Oregon Caves, where I spent four days in the early 1800s.The last day of the Oregon Regency Society retreat. Heading back to the 21st century.

Third: I went to Chattanooga, where we threw the Out of Excuses Writing Workshop and Retreat for 24 students. It was an amazing and intensive week.

These are my notes from my clad on outlining. It's all clear now, right? #Wxr14

I’m home until Monday, when I’m off to Michigan to record an audio book, but that’s only three days so it almost feels like a it doesn’t count.



My Favorite Bit: Lesley Smith talks about THE CHANGING OF THE SUN

My Favorite Bit iconLesley Smith is joining us today with her novel The Changing of the Sun. Here’s the publisher’s description.

The world is shifting and only the blind have eyes to see it.

In a seaside village, a woman has come back from the dead, the only survivor of a tsunami which wiped out her clan. When she speaks, it is of things no Kashinai should know. She says danger is coming and only an Oracle can save them…one who has not yet been called.

In Aiaea, a city infected by fear, a priestess finds herself blind and afraid. Denied her mantle, Saiara is imprisoned by the woman who should have been her teacher. What Saiara has seen cannot be stopped and unless she acts, an entire world and its people will burn.

Their only safety lies in sacred caverns far to the north, but first Saiara must escape captivity with only the aid of a former High Oracle, a healer, a bondservant, and a Seaborn woman who is indwelt by the goddess of death.

Oracle and indwelt, healer and nomad, child and adult…the Changing of the Sun is coming. Will they be ready? Will you?

The Changing of the Sun is the first installment of a breath-taking trilogy that spans lifetimes and ages from veteran journalist turned author Lesley Smith.

What’s Lesley’s favorite bit?



Finding your favourite bit of your debut novel is hard. I don’t write in order so it took me a while to really look at the final narrative and fine one thread I truly loved. Of course, once I saw it, it was completely obvious. It’s a minor arc belonging to a character called Nahris. She’s a bondservant, an indentured slave to a minor merchant, who escapes her master to join the final waves of the Great Exodus on a world about to be ravaged by a cataclysmic solar storm.

In February, as I was finishing up the final draft of The Changing of the Sun, I did a Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds to pay for the e-book costs, including editing and a trilogy’s worth of beautiful covers by Jason Gurley. Doing this took a lot of work and effort, as well as a lot of soul-searching on the nature of crowd-funding and a desire to be open and honest as possible. I’m retired, blind and living on a very low income so a funded Kickstarter meant I’d able to publish the book in six months rather than a year. Anyway, I accrued some amazing backers—sixty two of them in fact—and most of them I don’t know. The whole thing was a rollercoaster of ecstatic and terrifying emotions which reminded me the world is filled with amazing people, many of whom I’m now privileged to know.

The Sunday the campaign funded, I spent the day hammering the net and raised the last £440 ($725) I needed in twelve hours. A family member, lacking understanding of the modern world and the concept of crowdfunding, had just accused me of begging for money and I hadn’t taken it very well.

My one fault is that, if someone tells me I can’t do something, then I do it just to spite them. The same applies when someone tells me I’m doing it wrong; I will do things right and I will do them well. Because I can, because I’m stubborn and it got me through uni, it allowed me to survive being a journalist and now it just keeps me semi-sane.

I hit Twitter and Facebook and I raised the money. Changing funded that evening and I promised whomever pushed me over the £1250 funding goal would get a bonus Tuckerisation. A friend of mine, whom I don’t see nearly enough of, raised her pledge not once but twice. She didn’t want the fictionalisation but she did want me to succeed.

Changing is out because of her and the people like her. That’s where Nahris came from, originally she was a placeholder character with a name which sounded good as it rolled across my tongue. Through my friend’s selflessness, she allowed me the freedom to follow Nahris’ journey, I wanted her to have a micro-arc but for it to still be important. To matter in the narrative, even though she’s not a seer or anyone special, she’s just a servant who decided to escape and could smell doom on the air.

We meet Nahris over half way through the story and Saiara has quit the city with her band of faithful followers. I know that when decisions are made, when exoduses happen, not everyone agrees or chooses to leave. Rather than Nahris’ simply staying (I left that dubious honour to Jashri, the former High Oracle who next life will be haunted by screams and water) I wondered what would happen if the last wave got lost and took the wrong road?

What if, rather than going right and following Saiara’s caravan through the desert on the Oasis Road, they instead went left and chose the River Road? Nahris became my viewpoint character for a tragedy of heart-rending proportions and while her part in the story is brief but I actually didn’t know how her arc was going to end. When it finished, her demise snuck up on me so quickly, I cried.

She was marked out from the start as a dead girl walking, she was never going to survive but her death surprised me. It also broke my heart.

Nahris followed people who wanted to live but instead made a stupid mistake and stuck with them because that’s what we all do, we cling to our own and hope it’s going to be okay. The herd mentality offers safety but also invites doom, a scant chapter’s worth of misery and fleeting thoughts as a girl makes the wrong choice for the right reasons. Not everyone gets to live, not in any story and that’s why this is my favourite bit of The Changing of the Sun.


Lesley’s official site





Lesley Smith worked as a journalist for nearly a decade before reinventing herself as an author of science fiction and fantasy. She lives in a quaint Norfolk town with three cats and her guide dog, Unis.

She is currently crowdfunding the sequel, The Parting of the Waters, and is asking everyone—rather than buying her book on Amazon—to pledge to her Kickstarter instead and get a signed paperback or e-copy that way.

My Favorite Bit: Alma Alexander talks about RANDOM

My Favorite Bit iconAlma Alexander is joining us today to talk about her novel Random. Here’s the publisher’s description.

My name is Jazz Marsh.

I am a Random Were, which means I am a Were of no fixed form – like all Random Were, my family can become any warm-blooded creature which is the last thing they see before they Turn. For me, when my time came, that meant… trouble.

I was quite young when I lost my older sister, Celia, and my family never spoke about her. It was only when I found the secret diaries that she had left behind that I began to discover the truth behind her life and her death.

I never understood what drove my moody and dangerous older brother until I began to get an inkling about his part in Celia’s death… and until, driven to the edge of patience and understanding, he finally had to face his own Turn problems… and disastrously took matters into his own hands.

One thing is clear.

Everything I thought I knew about Were-kind was wrong.


What’s Alma’s favorite bit?



I have a bad habit of riding storyhorses without tack – that is to
say, I frequently find myself setting out to write a short story but
before I know it I’m 20,000 words in, clinging on for dear life, as
the thing simply decides it wants to be a novel and sweeps me right up
with it.

The tale that became the Were Chronicles started out in exactly that
way – it began as a short story slated for a specific themed anthology
(about Were critters), and it began ‘funny’. It started out as a
humorous little tale. Honestly. And then it did the *thing*, and by
the time I was hitting 5000 words I realised I hadn’t said hello yet
properly and this thing – much darker and more vivid now than  what I
had started to write –  just would NOT be stuffed into a short story.
It wanted to be a novel. And then, in short order, as the idea evolved
and grew like a mushroom in a nice cool dark place, not one but THREE
novels. And off we went.

I just finished writing book three in the series. The Were Chronicles,
all three of them, are possibly the best thing I’ve ever written, with
some of the best characters who ever walked my stories. And you know
what the best bit is? That I finally did a full circle and went back
and used the “wasted” education – I hold a MSc in Molecular Biology,
which I’ve barely used as and of itself,  and here I was, writing
fiction which returned to my scientist days and carved out a
magnificent storyline from REAL SCIENCE, stuff that could indeed be a
Real Thing (TM) in our own world, if our own world was just a TOUCH
more weird and wonderful than it truly is.

I delved into and created a solid  scientific background for the Were
kind. Their genetics. Their physiology. And there they both are, the
two great passions of my life, yoked up together, pulling in tandem,
making each other better.

Sometimes life just ties a bow on a gift and presents it to you. These
books… were a gift.

There are some excerpts online right now, at
– one from “Random”, book 1 in the Were Chronicles, due out in late
October, and a sneak-peek excerpt from book 2, “Wolf” which is to
follow soon. They’re too long to include here – but do swing by and
take a look at them there. Enjoy. (And you have to read the rest of
the book(s) for the deeper scientific details…)


Alma Alexander
Buy the book


Alma Alexander is an internationally published novelist and short
story writer who has been wrangling words for a living for over 15
years. Readers and reviewers have compared her work to Amy Tan, Haruki
Murakami, J K Rowling, Octavia Butler… at the same time as insisting
that she is wholly original and unique and only, ever, herself. She
shares her life between the cedar woods of the Pacific Northwest
(where she lives with her husband and two cats) and the wonderful
worlds of her own imagination. More about her at

My Favorite Bit: Katharine Eliska Kimbriel talks about SPIRAL PATH

My Favorite Bit iconKatharine Eliska Kimbriel is joining us today with her novel Spiral Path. Here’s the publisher’s description.

“The world is woven of secrets.”

Ritual magic mixes dangerously with wild magic. Yet Alfreda Sorensson’s talent has grown until she becomes a target for worldly and unworldly powers. Now, to save her soul, she must leave her pioneer home in the Michigan Territory to take refuge at an elite New York school, where her wild magic places her in direct conflict with the ritual taught to young Americans and Europeans.

Alfreda suspects that half the professors may not be human at Windward Academy. It’s a curious place, a last chance for students who can’t control their powers, and a place where everything is a test, in one way or another.

At first Alfreda thinks her greatest challenge will be mastering ritual. Then she learns that traitors have infiltrated the school–and the new nation. War looms between the United States and England, and Alfreda answers the call. Only after she spies her way into an enemy magician’s estate does she learn the true challenge of her own power–

Because when dark magic finds her, she’s utterly on her own.

What’s Katharine’s favorite bit?



What happens when your life changes in the course of a single night? When the world splits open and reveals something so dangerous, that the people who love you immediately take action to protect you from it?

This is where Spiral Path, the third book in the Night Calls saga, begins.  Thirteen year old Alfreda Sorensson lives in an alternative pioneer America right on the cusp of the War of 1812. There are strong practitioners—magic users who are also gifted with knowledge of herbs and healing—who protect the communities out in the territories.  An old soul, Allie has bloomed into a potential power, and that is attracting people—and entities—who would like to use her.  Although she has learned the first notes of her family’s dark legacy, Wild Magic, she knows no ritual magic.

Ritual magic may be the key to her survival.

Alfreda is packed off to Windward Academy, where her mother’s elusive cousin Esme, the wizard of Manhattan, is training the loose cannons of this generation’s magical elite. But Windward is nothing like Allie imagined, and nothing is quite what it seems.  The powerful students are least in sight, the fringe students mostly ignore her, and her professors are by turns distant and too friendly—and probably not human.

She’s there to learn ritual magic, and finally we get to the scene that may be the heart of the book, one of the scenes I return to when I look for the meaning of Spiral Path.  Allie meets the rituals teacher, an arrogant young man of great power and seemingly little empathy.  He wants to know if Allie has any ritual training at all—he was told she did not, but she can see that there is something printed in her rituals book.  It should be blank to her until she casts her first spell.

However, Alfreda has had the first great lesson of a practitioner—she has called Death and introduced herself to him. More…Death knows Allie quite well, as he taught her the core of Wild Magic in Kindred Rites.

To gauge her skill, Professor Tonneman tells her to summon Death.

You never summon Death unless you have a question only Death can answer.

Here is where everything begins to go wrong, or right, depending on your point of view. Because the ritual teacher always summons obstacles to that attempt to demonstrate ritual potential. And Alfreda is a pioneer, a child raised first to survival and then to absorb as much civilization as her family could tote along to their new world.  She’s smart, stubborn, and insanely curious—and as time goes on, she learns more and more about when to hang onto her polish of manners, and when to cast it off again.

For a moment I could not remember which way was east, and panic froze me. Then I remembered, and sprang over to the eastern side, to slice Raphael’s sigil into the space between the lines. The archangel who is the great healer first, who holds the trumpet of the Apocalypse, Raphael’s name was one I knew as well as my own. Then the warrior general Michael for the south—

Something pale and green flashed. I leapt away from it, careful to remain in the circle. Dropping the athame into the goblet, I grabbed one of the longest logs, whirled and slashed at the dripping, glowing thing—arm. The blow connected with a satisfying, terrifying thud and crunch.

Oh, Lady, it’s real, it’s real, it’s real

She’s going to summon Death, all right.

Most of us in the Western world are civilized by our families. Allie is thrust into the game of new cultures and rules even as she learns that a sharp young woman with power needs to know when, and how, to thump things that go bump in the night.

I thank her for the lesson, because my family did too good a job teaching me to follow convention.  There is a time and place for obedience, and I hope Allie’s adventures remind readers that being good people who look out for themselves and others does not always mean following the rules.

She’s only been at Windward for seven days, and she’s opened more than a few windows in some lives—and had a few doors opened for her. I can’t wait to see what she gets up to next.



Book View Cafe


KINDRED RITES (Night Calls 2)

Book View Cafe


SPIRAL PATH (Night Calls 3)

Book View Cafe



Katharine Eliska Kimbriel reinvents herself every decade or so.  The one constant she has reached for in life is telling stories.  “I’m interested in how people respond to choice.  What is the metaphor for power, for choice? In SF it tends to be technology (good, bad and balanced) while in Fantasy the metaphor is magic – who has it, who wants or does not want it, what is done with it, and who/what the person or culture is after the dust has settled. A second metaphor, both grace note and foundation, is the need for and art of healing.  Forthcoming stories will talk about new things that I’ve learned, and still hope to learn … with grace notes about betrayal, forgiveness, healing and second chances.”  A Campbell Award nominee.

My Favorite Bit: Dru Pagliassotti talks about CLOCKWORK SECRETS: HEAVY FIRE

My Favorite Bit iconDru Pagliassotti is joining us today with her novel Clockwork Secrets: Heavy Fire. Here’s the publisher’s description.

The final book in the Clockwork Heart trilogy.

Framed for regicide and trapped on a ship crippled by enemy fire, Taya and Ondinium’s diplomatic contingent seem helpless to prevent the well-engineered war their enemies have put into motion. While Alzanan and Demican armies march across Ondinium’s borders, Taya and her husband fight airborne battles from the tropical islands of the Cabisi Thassalocracy to the war-ravaged mountains of Alzana. When Taya falls into her enemy’s hands, she fears that nobody will be able to save Ondinium from the devastating weapon about to be plunged into its mechanically ticking heart.

Books in the Trilogy:

Clockwork Heart
Clockwork Lies: Iron Wind
Clockwork Secrets: Heavy Fire

What’s Dru’s favorite bit?

Clockwork Secrets Cover


My contract for Clockwork Secrets: Heavy Fire limited me to 100,000-110,000 words, which I found very constraining. Since I had to cut some of the things I found most delightful, I’m glad to have this opportunity to write a little more about the Cabisi Thassalocracy, which main character Taya talks about in Clockwork Heart and finally visits in the new book, Clockwork Secrets. So here it is: more detail describing the new culture of the Cabisi Thassalocracy. These details are My Favorite Bit.

One thing readers may find interesting is that Cabisi speak in the present tense, which led to some rather oddly phrased sentences in the novel and many grammar-geeky internal debates (“would it be acceptable to use past-tense verbs to form present-tense conditional statements?”). I did my best to keep the Cabisi grammar consistent; please don’t tell me where I slipped up!

Which comes first, language or culture? I wanted to depict the Cabisi culture as accommodating and appreciating what it is and has now … as opposed to Ondinium (where Taya is from), which clings to its imperial past while constantly striving for a “better” (more controlled) future.

To that end, Cabiel is a sociocratie, with no heritable rank or caste. Communities nominate justiciars from their own membership to interpret the Code. What this means is that the Cabisi make decisions by consent, informed by an ancient code of law that includes rules for judicial dueling. On the other hand, Ondinium rules from the top down, and it values a level of efficiency, conformity, and uniformity impossible to attain under the Cabisi system. It’s a good thing Cabisi don’t travel to Ondinum very often; they’d find it oppressively restrictive.

Another image that I wanted to share with readers was that of the outer gallery of the Impeccable Justiciary’s meeting hall, which was inspired by Sanj?sangen-d? in Kyoto. It is a long hall containing a thousand statues of Kannon covered in gold leaf. The Cabisi deity portrayed by the statues, The Dancer, was inspired by the androgynous form of Ardhanarishvara, half Shiva and half Parvati, except that instead of being split neatly down the middle, the Dancer is depicted as either hermaphroditic or asexual. Like Shiva in his Nataraja aspect, the Dancer both creates and destroys. The Cabisi, living on tropical islands, accept the balance of the ebb and flow of life, whereas the Ondiniums and their deity, the Lady of the Forge, living in a chilly mountain range, constantly strive to construct better and stronger defenses against loss and danger.

The Cabisi consider aesthetics an important cultural value and, appreciating the bright flowers and birds around them, are especially fond of using color in their architecture and clothing. Taya’s husband, Cristof, argues that Cabisi artisanry isn’t cost-effective, but the Cabisi would never buy an unadorned rifle or bare-bones analytical engine. Taya’s own Ondinium is gray and bare by comparison

The kattaka’s whip sword is based on the urumi; if you want to see some thrilling martial arts, look up “urumi” or “kalarippayattu” on YouTube. I really, really, really wanted to write a scene in which Jinian uses the sword in combat, but for various reasons it never worked out; her nearly single-handed attack on the Indomitable occurred off-screen, although I promise it was epic.

Speaking of weapons, the Cabisi may live in a beautiful tropical setting, but an island nation faces many threats. The Cabisi believe that their culture of dueling keeps them independent; both as individuals and as a nation. Ondinium takes the opposite view, strictly controlling weapons to keep the peace.


The Cabisi Thalassocracy was intended to be an alternative to smoky, overbuilt Ondinium, that gritty urban setting so common in steampunk. My goal was to link its geography and climate with its people’s language and culture in a believable manner and show that although it faces many of the same problems as Ondinium, its very different situation has led it to solve those problems in very different ways. I’m glad I was given this chance to point that out more clearly here, and I hope you enjoy visiting Cabiel in Clockwork Secrets!






As a child I discovered that I was happier alone than with others. Words were my best friends, and the secluded laboratory-fortress in which I exercised my crazed imagination was constructed of typewriter keys, paper, and ink. Within its protective walls I created and destroyed individuals, civilizations, and entire worlds for my personal pleasure — a practice I’ve learned to share with others as a tabletop game master and a published writer. But on the whole, I’m afraid that I’m still more comfortable alone with the written word … and maybe a reptile or two.

I can be found on all those online places you’d expect (Website, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads) and can be emailed at my name at gmail dot com.

My Favorite Bit: Beth Cato talks about THE CLOCKWORK DAGGER

My Favorite Bit iconBeth Cato is joining us today with her novel The Clockwork Dagger. Here’s the publisher’s description.

Orphaned as a child, Octavia Leander was doomed to grow up on the streets until Miss Percival saved her and taught her to become a medician. Gifted with incredible powers, the young healer is about to embark on her first mission, visiting suffering cities in the far reaches of the war-scarred realm. But the airship on which she is traveling is plagued by a series of strange and disturbing occurrences, including murder, and Octavia herself is threatened.

Suddenly, she is caught up in a flurry of intrigue: the dashingly attractive steward may be one of the infamous Clockwork Daggers—the Queen’s spies and assassins—and her cabin-mate harbors disturbing secrets. But the danger is only beginning, for Octavia discovers that the deadly conspiracy aboard the airship may reach the crown itself.

What’s Beth’s favorite bit?



It’s hard to narrow down my favorite bit in The Clockwork Dagger. It’s my debut novel, so I’m ecstatic that the thing exists at all. I love that my protagonist is a healer, that my world tree is disgruntled, that my gremlins manage to be green, cute, and ugly all at once. However, there’s a particular small element of the book that makes me geek-out.

I have a map in the front of my book. A map I designed. From the time I was a young kid, any book with a map was immediately elevated in coolness. I spent hours studying atlases and book maps. I’m a geography nut, plain and simple.

However, including a map in my book was not something I planned from the get-go. My initial map was designed purely for my sanity as an author. A good chunk of the book takes place on board an airship. I needed to map out the distance involved and where relevant ports were so I could get my people from point A to point C and try to kill them along the way. I sketched out everything in pencil.

The Clockwork Dagger doesn’t take place on Earth, but the geography is roughly based on western Washington state. There are plenty of differences, too–like the absence of most of the North American continent–but readers who are familiar with the Seattle area will pick up on various references.

After my book and its sequel sold to Harper Voyager, I knew from reader feedback that my drawn map came in handy. I mentioned to my editor that it existed.

This was definitely one of those cases where I was asking for trouble. The reply came back: a map would be great, but it needed to be high res and look professional. Obviously, my little pencil sketch was not going to cut it!

Cue a frantic post to my friends at Codex Writers asking for advice. I ended up on a magical website called The Cartographer’s Guild. Be warned: if you love maps, you can lose yourself there for hours. I found a step-by-step guide to create a sketch style world map.

After many hours spent snarling at Photoshop, I had a map. That map passed muster at Voyager, too. You’ll find it right at the front of the book where it faces the title page. It’s like all those other book maps I admired over the years but this time it’s my world, with my name on the opposing page. How cool is that?

I’m one happy map geek.




Barnes & Noble




Beth Cato hails from Hanford, California, but currently writes and bakes cookies in a lair west of Phoenix, Arizona. She shares the household with a hockey-loving husband, a number-obsessed son, and a cat the size of a canned ham.

Beth’s short fiction can be found in Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and many other magazines. The Clockwork Dagger is her first novel. The sequel, The Clockwork Crown, will be released in 2015.

Follow her at and on Twitter at @BethCato.

My Favorite Bit: Kater Cheek talks about MULBERRY WANDS

My Favorite Bit iconKater Cheek is joining us today with her novel Mulberry Wands. Here’s the publisher’s description.

Susan never expected to find a corpse in her backyard, especially not one no larger than a doll. Her well-intentioned burial and investigation attracts the notice of the victim’s kin, who blame her for the murder and want vengeance. 

Griff just wants a little more money. When his friend’s squirrelly cousin offers him a side job selling magic wands, and he meets a strange but beautiful girl, he feels his luck is finally starting to change. And then he meets the owls. 

Paul is a human member of the Sunwards, a society of shapeshifting owls. When its parliament orders him to investigate a mage, he doesn’t realize his feelings for Susan will test his loyalty to the society he pledged his life to.

What’s Kater’s favorite bit?



Owls Who Become Women


How to Substitute for Vampires in Urban Fantasy Recipes

When I started to write this series, my goal was to write something that didn’t rely on easy urban fantasy tropes. No  Irish fairies, no fallen angels, no werewolves and especially no vampires.

But I couldn’t get past how useful vampires are. They’re scary and powerful, but they can be sexy too. They live forever, and you don’t know where they are during the day, and they have an uneasy kinship with darkness.  So I had to figure out how to have a protagonist that had the elements of vampires I liked, without being anything like a vampire.

Sitting outside with my friends one night, we saw an owl in a nearby tree. My friend shone a spotlight on it (they hate that, btw) and we could see how huge it was, and how scary. Owls can see at night, they have huge claws, sharp beaks and they strike in total silence. The only reason they aren’t more frightening is that owls have no reason to hurt people.

But what if they did?

So I gave them a reason to have conflicts with humans: competition over limited prey resources. What else would an owl care about, except having enough food to kill? Of course, this happens a lot in real life, that pesticide use or human development will disrupt predator-prey balance. But unlike in real life, my owls aren’t normal owls, they’re shapeshifters known as the Sunwards. The Sunwards are a society that serve and worship a goddess of sunlight. They report to her what happens in the darkness. And when their parliament feels threatened, some of its members turn into women to better spy on human affairs.

We’ve had plenty of stories in which people turn into animals, but very few books in which animals, real animals, turn into people. How could an owl, even a very intelligent owl, pretend to be human? She’d have to learn to speak, how to walk, how to wear clothes, how to pass for human among humans who are hyper-aware of any strangeness. This, too, I stole from vampire stories. The vampires are like human, but they’re not human. They’re more than human, and less.

My Sunwards live in darkness. If a Sunward touches sunlight, she vanishes back into her goddess, melding with the light and basically ceasing to exist until darkness falls again. Since she is only aging and alive during her nighttime waking hours, she can live a lot longer than a normal owl. I say owl because 95% of the Sunwards are owls, and 98% of them are female. Paul, my protagonist’s love interst, is a rare, human, male Sunward, who has to deal with the problems of being a double minority.

Paul has most of the elements of vampirism that I wanted. He lives in darkness, he lives longer than a normal human, he’s beholden to a secret society with inscrutable motives, he has an uncanny fellowship with night animals. And most deliciously of all, he has associates that may try to kill the woman he’s falling for.


Kater Cheek


Barnes & Noble




Kater Cheek is a graduate of 2007 Clarion. Her work has appeared in Weird Tales and Fantasy Magazine, as well as several anthologies. She has art, book reviews, sample chapters, and links to her other work at When not writing, she throws pots, gardens, binds books, practices aikido, and plays with molten glass.


A peek at the process of finding Igbo terms for glamour

Last week, I posted a call for help finding a native Igbo speaker that could help me with some terms for glamour in Of Noble Family, the final Glamourist Histories novel. Thank you all for sending a bunch of generous folks my way. I wound up working with Ebele Mogo, president of the Engage Africa Foundation. She’s also an author, which is always handy.

Ebele has given me permission to post our emails about the project, so you can see how this sort of process goes, and why I think it’s so important to work with someone from the culture you’re trying to represent.

First let me provide some background on the project, before I get to the specific things I need help with. I write historical fantasy novels that are set in the early 1800s. They are sort of like Jane Austen, with magic and I work very hard to be as accurate as possible aside from the inclusion of magic.

In this version of the world, everyone can do something called “glamour.” It’s an illusionary form of magic that can create images, sound, and scents but nothing tangible. Technically, although these words are never in the text, what they are doing is manipulating waveforms, so the visual illusions are a manipulation of the electromagnetic spectrum, then sound waves, etc.

In England, young ladies of quality are taught glamour the same way they are taught painting, music, and needlepoint. It’s seen as a womanly art, and the language used to describe it is related to textiles and often uses French terms. Different cultures have different relationships with it.

So– In the novel, my main character, Jane who is a white British woman, is talking to Nkiruka, an enslaved African in Antigua about glamour. The discussion is about the limitations that the British idea of glamour as a textile place on the art form. Nkiruka says that glamour has its own words, instead of borrowing. Which means… that I need words that don’t mean something else. It’s fine if they are compound words, but totally made-up terms would also work for my purposes.

What I’m going to do is give you the words that I came up with through an online tutorial and Google translate. I’ll provide the context and also the definition that the term should have. If you want the entire book, I’m happy to send that along as well.

“Yes. I use agakọ iteto and then agba gbanwere.”

  • agakọ iteto — Is a technique to blend two pieces of glamour by interweaving the waveforms.
  • agba gbanwere — Is a technique in which the glamourist pulls on the waveform to smooth the peaks and valleys, thus shifting it to a color lower in the spectrum

Nkiruka stretched a piece of blue-white glamour between them. “Look. Use a ewute iteto with your Hobbson’s Pleating. Is so snow look?”

  • ewute iteto – This is essentially a diffusion filter, that makes the illusion look soft and foggy.

She looked frankly baffled. “No. Only one mkpụrụ obi ikuku — ether.”

  • mkpụrụ obi ikuku – The ether – Where the magic comes from. Early physicists  believed that the world was broken into elements with ether being the highest element. Although this theory is discredited now, the original definition meant “A substance of great elasticity and subtlety, formerly believed to permeate the whole of planetary and stellar space, not only filling the interplanetary spaces, but also the interstices between the particles of air and other matter on the earth; the medium through which the waves of light are propagated. Formerly also thought to be the medium through which radio waves and electromagnetic radiations generally are propagated” (OED). Today you’ll more commonly see it as the root of “ethereal,” and its meaning is similar.

Please let me know if you have any questions or would like an electronic copy of the novel. Thank you very much for your time and attention.

Ebele wrote back very quickly and explained her process for thinking up terms. I’m cutting our socializing, but leaving the rest of the emails intact. One thing that I really want to point out as you read this, is the way she talks about Igbo. This is why just using google translate to come up with words for a magic system doesn’t work. Sure, I can get words, but the culture and thought behind them can’t come from a computer.

So let me get this- you basically want to find the accurate words for the techniques for ‘glamourizing’ if that’s a word.
So with the part where you interweave the waveforms I suggest you use whole sentences instead of putting the words in the middle of the english sentence as it doesn’t always fit that way. This is because igbo is very poetic and so to translate a thought you have to create a whole sentence that captures the imagery not really the word. So we are translating imagery not words in most cases. I will try to explain below

For example in the first one, “Yes. I use agakọ iteto and then agba gbanwere.” you could say “Yes, m na-eke ya ka a na-eke ịsị aka, and then ị d? ya-ad? ka ịwedata ugwu dị na ya ka hancha dị na-ala”

All the letter i’s that have a dot under are long ‘i’s in Igbo. We have short and long vowels as igbo is very tonal.

m na-eke ya ka a na-eke ịsị aka means I will weave it like you weave hair which means  interweaving the strains

ị d? ya-ad? ka ịwedata ugwu dị na ya ka hancha dị na-ala means to pull and flatten the mountains on it so they can all be flat.

Okay then where you say a diffusion filter, again we will use a poetic translation
So for  “Look. Use ewute iteto with your Hobbson’s Pleating. Is so snow look?” you can say “Look. With your Hobbson’s pleating, use ugobu na-eme ka &#7885 dị ka mmadu jịrị anya na-ebe akwa ahu uz&#7885. Is so snow look?”

Which will mean use the glass which makes it look like someone is seeing through tears (we say glass for eye glasses, mirror, anything that has a lens and from my understanding of diffusion filters they are special lenses for the effect). So basically the ugbo which makes it look like you are looking through tears means the filters that make it blurry since seeing through tear-filled eyes has that effect.

Also where you say ‘is snow look?’ are you trying to say it in pidgin english? If so it would be- na so snow dey look? But maybe you aren’t.

She looked frankly baffled. “No. Only one mkpụrụ obi ikuku — ether.”

As for mkpụrụ obi ikuku I think it is okay and very beautiful. It means the heart of the wind literally which I think does a good job of capturing the thought here.

Let me know if this helps:)

Me again. One thing I’ll note is that although I worked with someone from Antigua on the dialect that Nkiruka speaks when speaking English, it sounded wrong to Ebele because it was a different dialect than the one spoken in Nigeria. Again, this is why you can’t just say “he spoke in a dialect.”

For the one with the Hobbson’s pleating, my description of a diffusion filter is misleading. I think looking through tears is spot on, but in 1818, they wouldn’t have had the context of a glass lens. Is there a way to make it just about looking through tears?

And the pidgin… She’s using Antiguan Creole English, which made sense to me since that’s where she learned English. I worked with an Antiguan writer on those lines.

Here’s Ebele’s response.

Okay so in that case I’d say “Look. With your Hobbson’s pleating, me ka ọ dị ka mmadu jịrị anya na-ebe akwa ahu uzọ. Is so snow look?”This means – ‘do’ or ‘make’ it like someone is looking through tear filled eyes.

I’m really pleased with the results of our conversation. Of course, I’m also painfully aware that there’s an audiobook looming. Might be time to talk about getting a different narrator…

My Favorite Bit: Karina Sumner-Smith talks about RADIANT

My Favorite Bit iconKarina Sumner-Smith is joining us today with her novel Radiant. Here’s the publisher’s description.

Xhea has no magic. Born without the power that everyone else takes for granted, Xhea is an outcast—no way to earn a living, buy food, or change the life that fate has dealt her. Yet she has a unique talent: the ability to see ghosts and the tethers that bind them to the living world, which she uses to scratch out a bare existence in the ruins beneath the City’s floating Towers.

When a rich City man comes to her with a young woman’s ghost tethered to his chest, Xhea has no idea that this ghost will change everything. The ghost, Shai, is a Radiant, a rare person who generates so much power that the Towers use it to fuel their magic, heedless of the pain such use causes. Shai’s home Tower is desperate to get the ghost back and force her into a body—any body—so that it can regain its position, while the Tower’s rivals seek the ghost to use her magic for their own ends. Caught between a multitude of enemies and desperate to save Shai, Xhea thinks herself powerless—until a strange magic wakes within her. Magic dark and slow, like rising smoke, like seeping oil. A magic whose very touch brings death.

With two extremely strong female protagonists, Radiant is a story of fighting for what you believe in and finding strength that you never thought you had.

What’s Karina’s favorite bit?

Radiant 9781940456102


Shortly after finishing Radiant, I came across an article that explained the “right” way to bring a debut novel into the world.  Among other things, it recommended that you understand your genre classifications in detail and where the book will fit, know the book’s audience right from page one, and to think ahead to how you or your publisher might market the novel.

Hmm, I thought. That’s kind of the opposite of what I did. Oops?

See, when I sat down to write Radiant, maybe I should have been thinking about the future – but at the time I was just having a blast. As a result, I have a book that seems to slip between genre classifications, rich with things that delight me: ghosts and spells and sarcastic banter, crumbling urban ruins with creatures that stalk the streets when night falls, a floating city with an economy that runs on magic, and the development of a powerful friendship between two very different young women caught in strange circumstances.

But if I’m being honest what I love most of all is the book’s ending.

Sometimes I think writers make the mistake of conflating their experience writing a story with the audience’s experience in reading it – for good or ill.  And yes, working on those final few chapters was probably one of the happiest writing experiences I’ve yet had: the words rushing out as characters fought, and things went wrong, and great forces came together in those final, explosive scenes.  Yet throughout the revision and editing processes, as I read the book again and again (and again … and again …), I realized that, if anything, I liked that ending more with every read-through.

Xhea, the main character, is a homeless young woman from the very bottom of her society – literally. There is the City, made of floating Towers that battle for altitude across the sky; there is the Lower City, huddled in the ruins on the ground below; and then there is Xhea, who lives in the abandoned subway tunnels and shopping corridors that wind beneath the Lower City. In a world that runs entirely on magic, she has no magic at all – no place, no way to participate, nothing. Most people think her useless, little more than a parasite; Xhea’s too busy surviving to argue.

Yet there comes a point in the story where Xhea is trapped, alone and abandoned and in her enemies’ hands. She can find no way out; no strength, even, to try. It’s only when she realizes that her only friend in the world needs her help that she manages to stand up and fight back.  This person who others dismiss as selfish and useless is transformed not by serving her own interests, but by risking everything for someone else.

You could say that my favorite part of Radiant is Xhea herself; you could say it’s her slow and difficult process of breaking down emotional walls and learning to trust another person.  You could say it’s the cool magic, or the ghosts, or the world in which it’s all set.  But in truth, it’s just a single moment: the moment that a difficult, hurting, determined young woman truly comes into her own.

And after that … well, then things really get fun. What can I say, I love a good explosion.




Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Indiebound / Chapters Indigo


Karina Sumner-Smith is a Canadian fantasy author. Her debut novel, Radiant, will be published by Talos/Skyhorse in September 2014, with the second and third books in the trilogy following in 2015.  Prior to focusing on novel-length work, Karina published a range of fantasy, science fiction and horror short stories, including Nebula Award nominated story “An End to All Things,” and ultra short story “When the Zombies Win,” which appeared in two Best of the Year anthologies.  Though she still thinks of Toronto as her home, Karina now lives in a small, lakefront community in rural Ontario, where she may be found lost in a book, dancing in the kitchen, or planning her next great adventure.

Want to beta-read a short SF story?


I’m looking for a couple of beta-readers for a short SF story that’s about 7400 words. If you have time, I’d love to get your reader responses. Just drop your willingness into the comments here on my site and I’ll send the password along.

Here’s a teaser.

 Wary of Iguanas

by Mary Robinette Kowal

The iguana was probably some kid out for a joyride. A wetware patch covered nearly its full back in a web of gold and silicone. Tilda opened the window and leaned out to pluck the iguana off the branch. That was the thing about animals with amateur mind-riders — their instincts were slow.

She dropped the iguana into a carry-crate and threw a cloth over it. “No trespassing signs apply to anything with an intelligence on board, but I’ll drop your critter near a street sign.”

“Most people would euthanize the thing.” Helmut pulled a fresh wetware patch out of the fridge and opened the sterile packet. “You’re a softie.”

“It’s not the iguana’s fault his person is an idiot.” Still, given the nature of her contract with the German government, she couldn’t take the chance that it was a joyrider. Tilda carried the crate past the row of benches that dominated the saddle room and set it outside in the hall. “Go ahead and start calibrating and I’ll join you in a minute.”