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


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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.




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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.