Archive for the ‘My Favorite Bit’ Category

My Favorite Bit: Randy Henderson talks about BIGFOOTLOOSE AND FINN FANCY FREE

My Favorite Bit iconRandy Henderson is joining us today with his novel Bigfootloose and Finn Fancy Free. Here’s the publisher’s description:

In Bigfootloose and Finn Fancy Free, the sequel to Randy Henderson’s acclaimed debut novel, Finn Fancy Necromancy, Finn Gramaraye is settling back into the real world after his twenty-five-year-long imprisonment in the otherworld of the Fey. He’s fallen in love again with Dawn, the girl next door who waited for him. He’s proved his innocence of the original crime of Dark Necromancy, and he’s finding a place in the family business–operating a mortuary for the Arcane, managing the magical energies left behind when an Arcane being dies to prevent it from harming the mundane world.

But Finn wants more. Or different. Or something. He’s figured out how to use the Kinfinder device created by his half-mad father to find people’s True Love, and he’d like to convert that into an Arcane Dating Service. It’s a great idea. Everyone wants True Love! Unfortunately, trouble always seems to find Finn, and when he agrees to help his friend, the Bigfoot named Sal, they walk right into a Feyblood rebellion against the Arcane Ruling Council, a rebellion being fomented by unknown forces and fueled by the drug created by Finn’s own grandfather.

What’s Randy’s favorite bit?

Bigfootloose and Finn Fancy Free cover


My favorite bit about Bigfootloose?  I think overall I loved the evolution of Finn’s relationship with his girlfriend, Dawn.

Without getting too spoilery, in the first draft of Bigfootloose, their relationship went in a particular direction that was a nice counterbalance to the other romantic subplots in the book: namely, Finn trying to find true love for the sasquatch, Sal; and the relationship of Finn’s brother Pete and his waer-squirrel girlfriend, Vee.  But while it was a good arc dramatically and plot-wise, I wasn’t happy with it.  And then I realized why.

Dawn was developing in my head and heart into a true second protagonist.  I suddenly realized I had moved from writing Finn’s adventure, to wanting to take them both in the direction of those classic detective couples romantic comedies.  Nick and Nora. Remington Steele.  Hart to Hart.  Moonlighting.

So they might be perfect for each other.  As long as Finn doesn’t screw it up, that is.  Which he just might.  I honestly can’t keep him from saying and doing stupid things.

And assuming Dawn survives.

Anyway, here’s a couple of (slightly abridged) exchanges between Finn and Dawn.

“You okay?” Dawn asked behind me.

I turned, and put on my best smile. “Do bears bare? Do bees be?”

Dawn’s eyes narrowed. “Uh huh. Want to try that again?”

“Really, I’m fine—” I said.

“Sure. Get your stubborn man butt over here.” Before I could protest, Dawn pulled me into a hug.

I gave a resigned sigh, and returned the hug as much to humor her as anything. But as I stood there holding her, being held, tears leaked out.

“I understand, you know,” Dawn said. “Well, kind of. It wasn’t easy, watching Dad fade away.” Her own voice took on the edge of tears. “But at least your father is healthy. And you have Vee to help read his memories. And potions, and all kinds of real magic I don’t even know about yet. I’m sure you’ll find a way to help him.”

I kneaded my fingers into her shoulder in acknowledgment, then took a deep breath of her candy and coconut scent, exhaled slowly, and stepped back.

“About our date today—” I began.

“Oh no,” Dawn said. “Don’t go trying to sneak your way out of our plans now, it was hard enough agreeing on a time to begin with.”

“That’s because you have twenty-seven jobs.”

“I only have one job, sir,” Dawn said. “And I’m well on my way to being named café queen in charge of making all the granola, thank you very much. Who needs more than that?”

“Well, you have the animal shelter, and reading Tarot, I consider those jobs. And—”

“Yeah, yeah.” Dawn put her hands on her hips in a dramatic manner. “And don’t forget that I keep the streets safe at night as Awesome Girl, too.”

“Hey!” I said. “You’re not supposed to tell me that! You’re supposed to protect me by keeping me ignorant of your identity. Well, until I’m kidnapped to use against you that is.”

“Damn. You’re right. And you would look adorable in a short skirt and wet T-shirt, tied up and oh-so-helpless, waiting for rescue.” Dawn got a mischievous grin. “Hmmm. If you don’t have something better planned, I think I have an idea of what we could do later.” She waggled her eyebrows at me.

“I’m not sure I have a skirt that would work,” I replied.

“Are you sure? Don’t lie on my account, I’m totally fine if you do. I seem to remember you wearing eyeliner and dangling earrings in high school.”

“That was the eighties, and it was cool,” I said, crossing my arms.

“Uh huh,” Dawn replied. “Well, I have plenty of skirts for you.”

“And a superhero costume for yourself?”

“Are you kidding?” Dawn said, thrusting out her chest and lifting her chin. “I have three.”

I laughed. “Of course you do. Okay. The date is still on.”

And excerpt number two:

“Damn you and your stubbornness,” I said to Dawn, and pulled off my shirt, pressing it to her wound.

Dawn began to shiver, and said with chattering teeth, “If I w-weren’t stubborn, I w-wouldn’t still b-be with you,”

“Ha ha. How about you use it for something good and don’t die on me then,” I said, and helped her as we marched down the tunnel. “Because if you do, you know I’ll summon you up and chew you out.”

We hurried as well as Dawn could manage. The feybloods used the tunnels heavily, so best not to linger, especially with Dawn leaking blood. Her steps grew increasingly heavy and sluggish, her eyes drooping.

I shook her.  “Hey. Talk to me.”

“What was that thing?” Dawn asked finally, her words slurred.

“A jor?gumo. Rare, and very dangerous.”

“Gee, really? I’ll be careful then.”

“You can start by not attacking her next time.”

“Hey, I saved your cute little butt.  That means I own it now, both cute little buns, hon.” She sounded drunk now.  After several steps, she asked, “Why the hell was a jor?gumo thingy attacking you?”

“I don’t know,” I said.  “But I plan to find out.”

“Don’t sound so unhappy,” Dawn said. “Looks like you’re finally popular!”

“Oh, yeah, it’s awesome. I love the ‘who’s trying to kill Finn’ game.”

“Oh, that’s easy,” Dawn replied in a sleepy voice. “Clowns. Trust me, you dig deep enough, you’re going to find out it’s clowns.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

“You do tha—” Her voice faded out, and she slumped against me.

“Hey!” I said, panic rising in my chest. “Stay with me!” I summoned up my magic, and gave her a slight jolt of my own life energy.

Her head jerked back up, and she blinked. “Did you just ask me to live with you?” she asked, and we continued to stumble forward together.

“Sure. You can share my twin bed.”

“I’m the luckiest,” Dawn mumbled.


Read the First Three Chapters



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Randy’s Website




Randy Henderson is an author, milkshake connoisseur, Writers of the Future grand prize winner, relapsed sarcasm addict, and Clarion West  graduate.

His “dark and quirky” contemporary fantasy series from TOR (US) and Titan (UK) includes Finn Fancy Necromancy, and the sequel Bigfootloose and Finn Fancy Free

My Favorite Bit: Jennifer Brozek talks about NEVER LET ME

My Favorite BitJennifer Brozek is joining us today with her omnibus Never Let Me. Here’s the publisher’s description:

An omnibus edition of the first three books in Jennifer Brozek’s Melissa Allen series.

What would you do if you discovered that everyone, in your house, on your street and in your town was dead? Then you discovered you weren’t alone–and whatever was out there was hunting you?

Melissa Allen, a troubled teen under house arrest, is the only person left alive in South Dakota. After discovering the mysterious deaths of her guardians and hearing of the massacre on the news, she realizes that there are monsters out there. They are pretending to be human, and they’ve have begun a door-to-door search–for her.

Melissa is unable to leave the quarantine zone and has no help except for Homeland Security agent David Hood on the phone. Before the government takes drastic action, she must figure out what killed everyone and stop it from happening again.

…or did Melissa herself, in a psychotic fit, murder her guardians–and the rest of the apocalypse is only happening inside her mind?

This special edition features the first three books in Jennifer Brozek’s Melissa Allen Series: Never Let Me Sleep, Never Let Me Leave, Never Let Me Die as well as a previously unpublished short story.

Never Let Me takes you head first in to Melissa’s troubled, paranoid world – and it will never leave you alone.

What’s Jennifer’s favorite bit?



Never Let Me is the omnibus of my YA SF-Thriller trilogy (Never Let Me Sleep, Never Let Me Leave, Never Let Me Die, with the new short story, “Never Let Me Feel.”) starring Melissa Allen.

In the first book, Never Let Me Sleep, she is on her own in a town filled with everyone she’s ever known dead of mysterious causes but she’s not alone and what’s out there is hunting her. Locked in a quarantine zone with only a Homeland Defense agent on the phone to help her, Melissa has to solve the mystery while being hunted before the government takes matters in hand to an extreme and lethal end with Melissa as collateral damage.

Melissa is a troubled teen who questions her sanity on a regular basis—with good reason. She is bipolar, schizophrenic, and prone to hallucinations under stress. She was also under house arrest at the time of this apocalypse. She is a teenager who hasn’t been allowed to take care of herself or take responsibility for things around her. Now, not only must she take responsibility for her actions, the rest of the world is depending on her to do so.

My favorite bit comes about halfway through the first novel. It is the point that Melissa mentally shifts from someone who just reacts to one who acts and chooses to act. She has been attacked multiple times, been told what she needs to do to save everyone—including herself—and is on her way to do just that. She’s walking down the main hall of the local high school and she catches sight of herself reflected in the trophy case.

… I saw my reflection in the trophy case at the end of the hall. In the dim light, I looked bad ass. Dirty clothes, a bat in one hand, a bent butcher knife in the other, and a determined walk. I stopped and looked at myself. I realized something: I no longer wanted to be rescued, no longer felt like I needed to be rescued. Yes, I was scared, but I wanted to rescue myself and to do what needed doing.

It was a marvelous sensation. …

The image of Melissa, bloody and determined, making the conscious shift to taking control and giving herself agency, makes me happy. It’s a mental shift that she continues throughout the rest of the series. In the second book, Never Let Me Leave, she extends taking responsibility to protecting other teens like her. In the third, Never Let Me Die, it morphs from more than a duty into caring for her chosen family.

Melissa’s acceptance of her own agency will always be my favorite bit.






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Jennifer Brozek is a Hugo Award-nominated editor and an award-winning author. Winner of the Australian Shadows Award for best edited publication, Jennifer has edited fourteen anthologies with more on the way, including the acclaimed Chicks Dig Gaming and Shattered Shields anthologies. Author of Apocalypse Girl DreamingIndustry Talk, the Karen Wilson Chronicles, and the Melissa Allen series, she has more than sixty published short stories, and is the Creative Director of Apocalypse Ink Productions.

Jennifer is a freelance author for numerous RPG companies. Winner of the Scribe, Origins, and ENnie awards, her contributions to RPG sourcebooks include DragonlanceColonial GothicShadowrunSerenitySavage Worlds, and White Wolf SAS. Jennifer is the author of the YA Battletech novel, The Nellus Academy Incident, and the Shadowrun novella, Doc Wagon 19. She has also written for the AAA MMO Aion and the award winning videogame, Shadowrun Returns.

When she is not writing her heart out, she is gallivanting around the Pacific Northwest in its wonderfully mercurial weather. Jennifer is a Director-at-Large of SFWA, and an active member HWA and IAMTW.

My Favorite Bit: Daniel M. Bensen talks about GROOM OF THE TYRANNOSAUR QUEEN

My Favorite Bit iconDaniel M. Bensen is joining us today with his novel Groom of the Tyrannosaur Queen. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Former soldier Andrea Herrera isn’t happy with where her life’s taken her. Specifically, Hell Creek, Montana, 65 million years before the present. As far as careers go, making sure the dinosaurs don’t eat her paleontologist clients comes in a pretty dismal second choice to serving her country. But when their time machine malfunctions, Andrea and her team are trapped in a timeline that shouldn’t exist with something a hell of a lot more dangerous than terrible lizards: other humans.

Kidnapped by the stone-age descendants of a lost time colony, Andrea finds herself stripped of her technological advantages and forced into a war against the implacable armies of the Slaver Empire. Even worse, the Slavers have captured the time machine and the mission’s one surviving paleontologist, using his futuristic weapons for their own ends.

Andrea’s only hope lies with the ferociously intelligent and violently insane tribal war-leader, Trals Scarback. Armed with his mystic sword, his trained velociraptor, and his herd of war-triceratops, this former slave has the resources and motivation to take on the empire. But can Andrea persuade him to see her as a partner rather than a tool for his ambitions? Only if she beats the barbarian at his own game and becomes the Tyrannosaur Queen.

What’s Daniel’s favorite bit?



What would it be like to meet a tyrannosaur? That’s the question that everyone who works with dinosaurs wants to answer. What did this animal look like? How did it behave? What sounds did it make? What smells? How did it fit into its landscape? Answering those questions —and a surprising number of those questions do have answers — will give you a picture of an animal.

(Tyrannosaurus rex by Daniel M Bensen)

(Tyrannosaurus rex by Daniel M Bensen)

But, here’s another question: Why are you meeting a tyrannosaur? What are you doing in the late Cretaceous? What are you going to do if that thing attacks? How the hell are you going to survive this? Answering those questions will give you a story.

The speed of the tyrannosaur was shocking, an insult to all sense of physics and decency. The predator executed a turn, still moving faster than a galloping horse. Andrea’s overstressed HUD could only give her a confused blur of sweeping tail, huge bunching thigh muscles under dark feathers, a snapping mouth. Jaws the size of a compact car tore through the prey’s skin and muscle in a waterfall of blood.

The tyrannosaur slowed, stopped, and stalked back to where its injured prey had collapsed. Blood splashed around its feet and the mouth tore downwards. The head lifted, scooping out a chunk of meat about the size of Andrea. It froze, as if posed for a photo. Little black eyes glinted from behind charcoal-colored feathers. Muscles curved in smooth tensegrity lines from the back of the skull to the powerful chest. Meat-hook claws cocked. Barrel ribs shifted as the lungs inflated. Bloody jaws clenched. The little bird eyes squeezed shut, and the tyrannosaur swallowed its mouthful.

“Holy shit,” said Andrea again. “You people know how to ride those things?”

“So the legends claim,” Trals grinned at her. “Let us find out if they are true.”

Groom of the Tyrannosaur Queen started out as a series of encounters between people and dinosaurs. Some of them were from the perspective of a modern person: a time-traveler. Someone like the characters in L. Sprague de Camp’s “A Gun for Dinosaur.” Others were more like James Gurney’s Dinotopia: pre-industrial human cultures that had grown up around dinosaurs. Realizing I could have both was the kick that gotGroom of the Tyrannosaur Queen up and running.

So I set to work on a story about a group of paleontologists and their bodyguard making a wrong turn in their time-machine and stumbling across a lost time-colony of stone-age humans. And, since I had just listened to the Writing Excuses episode about the Three Act Structure, I set up the beats in my outline based on how these people dealt with the creatures they found. A legion of soldiers driving a baggage train of triceratops. A particle cannon vaporizing a charging nodosaur. A kidnapper using a velociraptor to hunt down a runaway. Riding a tyrannosaur.

Those are the best bits. The dinosaurs. They’re smelly, they’re enormous, they’re just barely under control. Sometimes all the human characters can do is to hold on and enjoy the ride.


Dan’s website



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Deviant Art


Daniel M Bensen is a father, English teacher, and author. He lives in Sofia, Bulgaria.

My Favorite Bit: Dan Koboldt talks about THE ROGUE RETRIEVAL

My Favorite BitDan Koboldt is joining us today to talk about his novel The Rogue Retrieval. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Stage magician Quinn Bradley dedicated his life to a single purpose: headlining for a major casino on the Las Vegas strip. But just before his dreams come true, two modern mercenaries show up to make him a puzzling offer. Half a million dollars for six months on a private assignment. Their corporate employer has discovered – and kept secret – a gateway to a pristine medieval world called Alissia.

For fifteen years, they’ve studied it beneath a shroud of secrecy. Now, the head of their research team has gone AWOL, with a backpack full of disruptive technology. They’re sending in a retrieval team, and they want Quinn Bradley to come along. His talents for illusion, backed with the company’s considerable resources, should make for some convincing magic.

It will need to be convincing. Because Alissia has the real thing.

What’s Dan’s favorite bit?



I’ve been reading fantasy and science fiction since the 4th grade. I’m a sucker for world-building, and it showed in the books I went for. I didn’t just read the doorstopper fantasy novel. I read the glossary, the genealogy, and the forums on Dragonmount.

When the time came to write my novel, I wanted to create an equally compelling secondary world . So I asked one of my favorite authors, Scott Lynch, how he does it so well. He said, “I am absolutely not afraid to take a place or a specific detail that I’m keen on and world-build everything else around it.”

When I took his advice, I learned something interesting. Apparently, my favorite bit is the booze.

Alcohol comes in many forms in Alissia, my novel’s secondary world. Whether it’s the rough ale they drink in the cold north of Felara, or the color-changing liquor from Valteron, every society leaves their unique stamp on the time-honored tradition of inebriation. Alcohol is more than just a way to get drunk. In many societies (both real and fictional), it’s a crucial element of culture and tradition.

I like exploring booze in a secondary world because it’s so versatile. You can produce alcohol by fermenting grain mash (beer), grapes (wine), fruit juice (cider), rice (sake), and even honey (mead). You can distill it into high concentrations for spirits like vodka and gin. Humans have been fermenting things since the late Stone Age, and look how far we’ve come: the worldwide alcoholic beverage market last year was over $1 trillion.

That kind of money changes things, and here’s proof. Every year, my family takes a vacation to Traverse City, Michigan, home of the National Cherry Festival. One of our favorite parts is driving up the Old Mission Peninsula to look at the cherry trees. Over the past few years, however, vineyards have replaced many of the orchards. I’m told they’re far more profitable.

I love wine as much as the next guy, but I miss the cherry trees. And I hate the idea that profit margins are the reason they’re gone. It made me wonder how far a society would be willing to go to produce an expensive alcoholic beverage. That’s how I came up with the most famous and expensive drink in my book’s world, Caralissian wine:

The only time they got any notice from the locals was when they encountered a wine caravan. Ten wagons, each pulled by a pair of draft horses. These were hardly visible behind the mounted riders that escorted them, who happened to be some of the hardest mercenaries that Caralissian gold could buy. They looked up at the sound of the approaching horses. Hands went to sword hilts. Two of the men reached down into the nearest wagons, probably for spears or loaded crossbows.

“Caravan coming at us,” Logan warned over the comm link. He slowed his mount and moved to the side. “Keep your hands visible, no sudden moves.”

The mercenaries knew their business—­they only got paid if the shipment arrived safely. Their casual positions only looked haphazard. If Logan were to attack, three or four would engage him from multiple angles. An equal number would stay with the wagons. And a few would ride for the nearest Caralissian outpost for reinforcements. Bandits tried raiding wine caravans from time to time. Some even got hold of a cask or two, but they rarely made it far enough to enjoy a taste.

All of this grew from a simple idea: a drink that cost its weight in gold. I started thinking about economics of that, in a pre-industrial society. The exploitative labor practices required to produce it. The impact on international trade. The armed guards you’d need to protect it.

Caralis is a monarchy, so only a few can enjoy the vast wealth brought by Caralissian wine. The queen, of course, and her pet nobles. That leaves an entire populace out in the cold. Forfeiting most of their crops to the Caralissian vintners. Starving while the chosen few grow rich.

Looking, perhaps, for a way to take revenge.


Visit the author’s website, Twitter feed, or Science in Sci-fi blog series.

Check out the book on Amazon, Barnes & NobleGoodReads, or HarperCollins.


Dan Koboldt is a genetics researcher and sci-fi/fantasy author from the Midwest. He’s co-authored more than 50 publications in Nature, Science, The New England Journal of Medicine, Cell, and other journals. Dan is also an avid hunter and outdoorsman. Every fall, he disappears into Missouri’s dense hardwood forests to pursue whitetail deer with bow and arrow. He lives with his wife and children in St. Louis, where the deer take their revenge by eating all of the plants in his backyard.

My Favorite Bit: Marie Brennan talks about CHAINS AND MEMORY

My Favorite BitMarie Brennan is joining us today with her novel Chains and Memory. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Manifestation was only the beginning.

The Otherworld has returned — bringing with it the sidhe, the source of humanity’s psychic powers. Some mortals welcome these creatures of legend, some fear them . . . and no one is ready for the change their presence will bring.

Last autumn Kim and Julian stood at the center of that storm. Now they face a challenge closer to home: a battle over the laws governing wilders, the closest genetic relatives of the sidhe. Many feel that change should wait until the current upheaval has ended . . . but Kim sees opportunity in the chaos, a chance to free Julian and all his kind from the chains of the deep shield that locks their gifts away.

The roots of that shield run deeper than she knows. The quest to destroy it will lead her and Julian back into the world of the sidhe, where they will uncover ancient lies, face betrayal on all sides — and gamble everything on the possibility of freedom.

What’s Marie’s favorite bit?



My favorite bit in Chains and Memory is both a moment and a thread that runs throughout the story.

It also, not coincidentally, happens to be the core of what drove me to write the book in the first place. You see, when I wrote the original draft of Lies and Prophecy so many years ago, I intended it to be a stand-alone book. I knew the story didn’t tie up in a neat bow at the end . . . but I didn’t see any way for what happened next to be something my protagonists could still protag in.

Little details kept drifting into my mind, though — most of them background for the secondary protagonist, Julian Fiain. I’d decided, in drafting Lies and Prophecy, that he belonged to a minority of psychics whose gifts manifested at birth rather than in puberty, and that such people were raised as wards of the state. But because the first draft of that book was the first novel I ever finished, I hadn’t put a lot of thought into how that whole “raised as wards of the state” thing worked. Over the following years, as I revised and rewrote and revised again, the picture began to fill in — not all of which fit into that first book.

So my favorite bit of Chains and Memory is the culture and society of wilders, and how those things interface with the rest of the world they live in. The main protagonist of the series, Kim, wasn’t raised by the state . . . but in order for her relationship with Julian to function, she needs to understand what that life is like, and how it affects those who grew up that way. And Julian in turn needs to open up to Kim, rather than closing her out the way wilders usually do.

Half the time this expresses itself in little details, like when Julian telekinetically yanks an object to his hand rather than walking over to pick it up, then admits to Kim that he trained himself out of the habit when he went to live among ordinary psychics. But there’s also a watershed moment in the story where their entire relationship reconfigures itself: Julian realizes he’s been undercutting Kim in a serious way, entirely without meaning to, because of his subconcious habits and assumptions. Changing his behavior is hard . . . but he makes himself do it, and the result is utterly transformative.

I wrote that scene long before I started drafting the book. (That one, and a couple of others playing off the same conflict.) I had to revise it, of course, because by the time I got there properly the story wasn’t quite the same as I had imagined — but the core hasn’t changed. And its fire is the reason that “stand-alone” book became the start of a series. Lies and Prophecy is, among other things, the story of how Kim and Julian got together; Chains and Memory is the part I find more interesting, the part where they have to work out how that relationship is going to function, despite the differences between them.






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Marie Brennan is an anthropologist and folklorist who shamelessly pillages her academic fields for material.  She is currently misapplying her professors’ hard work to the Victorian adventure series The Memoirs of Lady Trent; the first book of that series, A Natural History of Dragons, was nominated for a World Fantasy Award. She is also the author of the doppelanger duology of Warrior and Witch, the urban fantasy Lies and Prophecy, the Onyx Court historical fantasy series, and more than forty short stories.

My Favorite Bit: Megan E. O’Keefe talks about STEAL THE SKY

My Favorite Bit iconMegan E. O’Keefe is joining us today with her novel Steal the Sky. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Detan Honding, a wanted conman of noble birth and ignoble tongue, has found himself in the oasis city of Aransa. He and his trusted companion Tibs may have pulled off one too many cons against the city’s elite and need to make a quick escape. They set their sights on their biggest heist yet – the gorgeous airship of the exiled commodore Thratia.

But in the middle of his scheme, a face changer known as a doppel starts murdering key members of Aransa’s government. The sudden paranoia makes Detan’s plans of stealing Thratia’s ship that much harder. And with this sudden power vacuum, Thratia can solidify her power and wreak havoc against the Empire. But the doppel isn’t working for Thratia and has her own intentions. Did Detan accidentally walk into a revolution and a crusade? He has to be careful – there’s a reason most people think he’s dead. And if his dangerous secret gets revealed, he has a lot more to worry about than a stolen airship.

What’s Megan’s favorite bit?



If I’m being truly honest, my favorite bit of Steal the Sky changes based on my mood. There are a lot of moving parts in the book, and which one tickles me the most at any given time varies quite a bit. I suspect that’s probably true for most writers – it’s like asking us to pick the favorite part of a dear pet. But what I come back to again and again, what I feel is truly the heart of the book, is the deep well of friendship between Detan, my conman protagonist, and his best friend Tibs.

When we first see them together in Steal the Sky, they’ve already been friends for awhile. They rely on one another to keep their tempers in check and their heads on straight when they’re neck deep in mischief. They know one another’s deeper secrets, and the darker aspects of each others’ natures, and accept those things. They even help each other to overcome them when necessary.

But while their relationship runs deep, they tease one another ruthlessly and don’t hesitate to call out when one or the other is being an idiot. Though, to be fair to Tibs, it’s usually Detan being the doofus.

Disagreements between them are hashed out quickly, and usually with sly jibes. In the excerpt below, Detan has just upset Tibs by using his family name – Honding – to gain social leverage over someone who had pushed his temperamental buttons. The Honding name is an old and respectable one. One Detan’s powerful aunt is very protective of having used in unscrupulous circumstances.

When he and Tibs were back on the solid rock of Aransa, the old rat gave him a sturdy punch in the arm.

“You’re a mad bastard, Honding.”

“Pits below!” He jumped and rubbed at the ache. “I was perfectly safe navigating the vents. I got a good look at them from above.”

“It’s not the vents I’m about.” Tibs said as he marched ahead, taking the lead back into the winding ways of the city. Detan ruffed his hair in frustration, then shook himself and scurried to catch up. Dusk was descending over Aransa, the purple-mottled sky making Tibs little more than a silhouette before him. He stomped with every step he took, wiry fingers curled into knobby fists at his side. Detan slowed his steps and shoved his hands in his pockets, ducking his head down like a whipped dog.

“Is it the clothes?” Detan ventured, “Because, well, I figured that—”

“Nope, that ain’t it either.”

“Err. Well…”

Tibs stopped cold, pinning Detan down with his gaze as easily as he’d drive a nail through a board. “Dame Honding is going to hang you from your toenails, using your name with just anyone like that.”

“Oh! That. Well, it is my name Tibs.”

“You had better write her a letter, sirra, before the rumors get back.”

Detan sighed and sat down hard on the top of a low, stone fence, heedless of the dust that undoubtedly coated his backside. “I suppose. Wouldn’t want the old badger to worry, eh?”

“I suggest you do not address it to ‘the old badger’.”

“She’d laugh!”

“She’d fly right out here and beat you with her parasol.”

They move on to discussing other worries that venture into spoiler territory, so I’ll cut it off there. Their easy rapport is something that always makes me smile and is a joy to write, even when they’re having arguments. Well, let me be honest: they’re a joy to write especially when they’re having arguments.

Strong friendships are an element of fiction that I love to find in stories, and I’m delighted to add my own manic duo to the bunch.


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Megan E. O’Keefe was raised amongst journalists, and as soon as she was able joined them by crafting a newsletter which chronicled the daily adventures of the local cat population. She has worked in both arts management and graphic design, and spends her free time tinkering with anything she can get her hands on.

Megan lives in the Bay Area of California and makes soap for a living. It’s only a little like Fight Club. She is a first place winner in the Writers of the Future competition and her debut novel, Steal the Sky, is out now from Angry Robot Books.

My Favorite Bit: Eric James Stone talks about UNFORGETTABLE

My Favorite Bit iconEric James Stone is joining us today with his novel Unforgettable. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Out of sight, out of mind.

In the near future, a fluke of quantum mechanics renders Nat Morgan utterly forgettable. No one can remember he exists for more than a minute after he’s gone. It’s a useful ability for his career as a CIA agent, even if he has to keep reminding his boss that he exists.

Nat’s attempt to steal a quantum chip prototype is thwarted when a former FSB agent, Yelena Semyonova, attempts to steal the same technology for the Russion mob.

Along with a brilliant Iranian physicist who wants to defect, Nat and Yelena must work together to stop a ruthless billionaire from finishing a quantum supercomputer that will literally control the fate of the world.

What’s Eric’s favorite bit?



For sentimental reasons, my favorite bit of Unforgettable is the original beginning of the novel.  When I started writing that first scene I had no idea I was starting a novel. I just had an idea of a character who could not be remembered, and I wrote it simply to meet my daily writing goal.  It wasn’t until later, when I showed snippets about the character to my writing group and they told me I needed to write a novel about the character, that I came up with the plot of the novel.  So here’s what I wrote on the first two days of January 2008:

I straightened the tie I’d stolen from Macy’s that morning and stepped into the interviewer’s office.  Becoming a CIA agent was my only choice if I wanted to go legit.  I had to make a strong impression.

The balding man behind the desk looked up.  “You don’t look twenty-seven,” he said.

“I’m not.  I don’t have a Ph.D. in math, either.”  My words rushed out, and I sat in a chair to force myself to slow down.  “I copied someone’s resume, just hoping to get the interview.”

He leaned back in his chair and pinched the tip of his nose a couple of times as he looked me over.  “You’re what, eighteen?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Fresh out of high school and watching too many James Bond movies?  Tell you what–I admire your creativity.  Go to college, get a degree in something useful, and I’ll guarantee you an interview when you graduate.”

“I can’t go to college.  Anyway, I need a job that will pay me now, and I think you can use someone of my unique talents.”

“I hate to disappoint you, but you’re not much of a liar.”  He held up the resume I’d sent.  “A good candidate would have been able to walk through that door and convince me he was the man on this sheet of paper.”

“I’m not a good liar,” I agreed.  “My talent is different.  I have to show it to you.”

“What is it?”

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.  You have to see it first.  Write this down on a piece of paper: Nat Morgan promised to show me his talent.  Then sign it and put the date and time.”

He gave me a skeptical look.  “I don’t have time–”

“Please.  I promise you’ll be impressed.”

“Nat Morgan’s your real name?”

I nodded.

After a moment, he picked up a legal pad off his desk and wrote.  “Done.  Now what?”

“Now I step outside for a minute and come back in.”  I stood up and walked out the door, closing it behind me.  I counted to sixty, just to be safe, then walked back into the office.

The interviewer looked at me, blinked rapidly a few times, then shook his head as if to clear his thinking.

“You don’t look twenty-seven,” he said.

“My name in Nat Morgan,” I said, “and I promised to show you my talent.”

“Sorry, I don’t remember that.  You’ll have to make an appointment, because I’m supposed to see–”

“Look at your pad of paper.”


I pointed to the pad.  “Read it.”

He pulled the pad across the desk and looked at it, then looked at his watch.

“You must have snuck in here and written that while I was at lunch.”

“Is it your handwriting and signature?”

He leaned back in his chair and pinched the tip of his nose a couple of times.  “You’re a forger?  It’s pretty good work.”

“I’m not a forger”  I waved my finger in a circle.  “Do you have video surveillance of this room?  That’ll make things quicker.”  I’d have brought my own video camera, except security would have confiscated it on the way in.


“OK, the fact is you wrote that when I was in here a few minutes ago, but you forgot I’d been here after I stepped outside.”

A version of this scene is still in the novel, though it is no longer the beginning.  But it’s still my favorite bit because it’s the seed from which the novel grew.



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A Nebula Award winner, Hugo Award nominee, and Writers of the Future Contest winner, Eric James Stone has had stories published in Year’s Best SF 15, Analog, Nature, and Kevin J. Anderson’s Blood Lite anthologies, among other venues.  His debut novel, science fiction thriller titled Unforgettable, was published by Baen.

One of Eric’s earliest memories is of an Apollo launch on television. Thanks to his father’s old science fiction collection, Eric grew up reading Asimov and Heinlein.

Eric attended Orson Scott Card’s Literary Boot Camp and the Odyssey Writing Workshop. Eric lives in Utah with his wife, who is a high school physics teacher, and their daughter.  His website is

My Favorite Bit: Marieke Nijkamp talks about THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS

My Favorite Bit iconMarieke Nijkamp is joining us today with her novel This Is Where It Ends. Here’s the publisher’s description:

10:00 a.m.

The principal of Opportunity, Alabama’s high school finishes her speech, welcoming the entire student body to a new semester and encouraging them to excel and achieve.

10:02 a.m.

The students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class.

10:03 a.m.

The auditorium doors won’t open.

10:05 a.m.

Someone starts shooting.

Told over the span of 54 harrowing minutes from four different perspectives, terror reigns as one student’s calculated revenge turns into the ultimate game of survival.

What’s Marieke’s favorite bit?



When I started writing This Is Where It Ends, I knew I wanted the entire story to take place over the course of fifty-four minutes and follow various different characters. In short, it seemed like an impossible task. Because not only did I have a ridiculously short time frame to play with, several of the characters also happened to be in the same enclosed room. Everything one character did, immediately influenced the others, and vice versa. And even in the few cases where I did not have to relate the events consecutively, there were entire chapters that took place over the course of a minute, and I could only focus on simultaneous happenings for so long without messing up the balance of the story.

It took me all of two chapters to figure out I needed a very clear roadmap for this story. Now I wasn’t too fazed. I plotted stories before. I was convinced I could do this.

The story didn’t quite agree. It sort of maybe fitted one structure but not quite. It needed elements of another. It was to the drawing board and back to the drawing board for me.

Eventually, with the help of Excel, two massive pots of coffee, and the famed example of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter spreadsheet, I started creating what turned into my story blueprint: the Massive Spreadsheet of Doom.

A spreadsheet that tracked most, if not all on-page characters on a minute-by-minute basis, from shortly before the story started until the very end. I plotted where they were, what they did, how they did or didn’t influence others, and in what order their scenes appeared. The last was color coded, of course.

And there is something about forcing yourself to think through the movements of every character on such a micro level that drove me up a wall while I worked though the spreadsheet… and became such a massive help when I was writing the story. It helped me to see the shape and the balance of the story. Whenever I felt blocked, I only had to refer back to the spreadsheet to get myself back on track. I could play with minor elements without disrupting the overarching narrative. And with every revision, I could color code problem areas to reshuffle, revise, rewrite.

The spreadsheet became the thing I geeked out about most. My favorite bit, and the perfect example of exactly what I hoped to do with the story. Besides that, it became a really cool thing to show to both readers and aspiring authors. I figured it might be the perfect method for someone else too, and it’s inevitably one of the behind-the-scenes things readers ask about first, whenever I’m skyping with schools or libraries.

So of course, when the next story reared its head, I knew I had found the perfect method—my favorite method. Except, as stories are wont to do, this one didn’t quite agree with that format. The perfect structure is the perfect structure for a single story—not for all of them. So it’s to the drawing board again. And here’s to a new favorite blueprint.


Author website


Amazon US

The Book Depository


Amazon UK


Books of Wonder

Barnes & Noble




Marieke Nijkamp was born and raised in the Netherlands. A lifelong student of stories, language, and ideas, she is more or less proficient in about a dozen languages and holds degrees in philosophy, history, and medieval studies. She is a storyteller, dreamer, globe-trotter, geek. Her debut young adult novel This Is Where It Ends, a contemporary story that follows four teens over the course of the fifty-four minutes of a school shooting, will be published by Sourcebooks Fire in January 2016.

My Favorite Bit: Lawrence M. Schoen talks about BARSK: THE ELEPHANTS’ GRAVEYARD

My Favorite BitLawrence M. Schoen is joining us today with his novel Barsk: The Elephants’ graveyard. Here’s the publisher’s description:

The Sixth Sense meets Planet of the Apes in a moving science fiction novel set so far in the future, humanity is gone and forgotten in Lawrence M. Schoen’s Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard

An historian who speaks with the dead is ensnared by the past. A child who feels no pain and who should not exist sees the future. Between them are truths that will shake worlds.

In a distant future, no remnants of human beings remain, but their successors thrive throughout the galaxy. These are the offspring of humanity’s genius-animals uplifted into walking, talking, sentient beings. The Fant are one such species: anthropomorphic elephants ostracized by other races, and long ago exiled to the rainy ghetto world of Barsk. There, they develop medicines upon which all species now depend. The most coveted of these drugs is koph, which allows a small number of users to interact with the recently deceased and learn their secrets.

To break the Fant’s control of koph, an offworld shadow group attempts to force the Fant to surrender their knowledge. Jorl, a Fant Speaker with the dead, is compelled to question his deceased best friend, who years ago mysteriously committed suicide. In so doing, Jorl unearths a secret the powers that be would prefer to keep buried forever. Meanwhile, his dead friend’s son, a physically challenged young Fant named Pizlo, is driven by disturbing visions to take his first unsteady steps toward an uncertain future.

What’s Lawrence’s favorite bit?



My favorite bit is probably the epilogue, which is almost unchanged from when I wrote it more than twenty years ago. But I can’t tell you why it’s my favorite bit because… Spoilers. So, I’ll share one of my other, still-very-cool-but-not-quite-as-favorite bits for purposes of this blog visit. But trust me, you will thank me for that epilogue when you get to it.

One of the main tropes in Barsk is that a life-long friendship can transcend even death. This is made considerably easier (and more plausible) by the presence of a drug that permits users to manipulate something I call nefshons, which are subatomic particles of memory and personality. The drug allows the user to summon the collected memories of people who have died and converse with them much as they would have in life, to effectively speak with the dead. That detail is a major feature of the book, and as such is more of a given than a spoiler. And it’s a critical thing for you to know if you’re to follow the (penultimate) favorite bit that follows.

You also need to know that my protagonist, Jorl, has been marked by his people with a bioluminescent tattoo of an aleph on his forehead. It’s a cultural thing, and it grants him a single perk: passage. No doors are closed to him, no queries barred from his asking. He can go anywhere he chooses. There may be consequences, but those will come later. In the moment, no one can bar his way.

Early in the book, Jorl realizes that to unravel an ancient prophecy (he’s an historian) he has to travel to the place all Fant go when they learn their death is at hand. One morning, typically in old age, each of them just wakes up to the certain knowledge that life is coming to its conclusion and a destination pops into their mind, and off they go. The Fant call this “sailing away.”

The only Fant who know where this “Elephants’ Graveyard” is are the people who are traveling there to die. It’s not on any map, and there’s no one around that Jorl can ask for directions because anyone who knows has already left and wouldn’t tell him anyway. The Fant are funny like that. When it’s your time, you’ll know, otherwise, sorry.

Jorl’s solution is to use his ability to speak with the dead. He summons his own father, Tral, and explains that he needs information to find the destination, the last place his father traveled to. Tral is less than helpful:

“It’s not for you to know. It’s not the sort of thing you know until it’s your time. And if it was your time, you’d know.”

“You said you’d share what you know. Happily.”

“Ask me something else. Something I can tell you.”

“You can tell me, you’re choosing not to.”

Tral crossed his arms over his chest. His ears dropped defiantly. “You have a clear understanding of the situation. That’s good.”

“Dad, I didn’t want to do this, but, you know I have an aleph.”

“I’m dead, not blind. What of it?”

“So you have to tell me.”

“I don’t believe I do.”

“Being dead doesn’t relieve you of your culture. The bearer’s mark grants him passage. No doors can be closed to him. He’s free to go wheresoever he wills. That’s the law of Barsk!”

“I’m not disagreeing, Son.”

“Well, I choose to follow where you and other dying Fant have gone.”

Tral relaxed in the guest chair. The smile returned to his lips but his eyes had lost that joyous gleam. “Then go, boy. I’m not stopping you. Go ahead, sail off .”

“Then you’ll tell me where it is?”

“Of course not. I already told you I wouldn’t. You’re not stupid. You’ve never been stupid. Pay attention.”

Jorl slapped at his own forehead, the aleph’s glow faint, but steady. “You just said you weren’t stopping me!”

“And I’m not. But I’m not going to enable you either. That mark means you can go where you please and no one can hinder you. It doesn’t mean anyone else has to help you though. And I won’t.”

Maybe I’m projecting (and it wouldn’t be the first time), but there’s something quintessential about all father/son relationships that can be found in this scene. There’s a father’s pride in his child’s achievements, a son’s need to show that he’s an accomplished adult, a reminder that regardless of age or education or even death, a man is always his father’s son.

I never quite had this conversation with my own father, but I can remember plenty of others that were close enough and which surely inspired this one. When I wrote it, and now every time when I re-read it, I feel like I’m speaking with him again. It’s the closest I can come to manipulating nefshons and experiencing the joy and inevitable loving frustration of speaking with my father. He’s been gone sixteen years, but in writing up this blog piece, I’d swear he’s sitting across the table from me, smiling softly.






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Lawrence M. Schoen holds a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology and psycholinguistics. He’s also one of the world’s foremost authorities on the Klingon language, and the publisher of a speculative fiction small press, Paper Golem. He’s been a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award, the Hugo Award, and the Nebula Award. Lawrence lives near Philadelphia. You can find him online at and @KlingonGuy.

My Favorite Bit: Holly Messinger talks about THE CURSE OF JACOB TRACY

My Favorite Bit iconHolly Messinger is joining us today with her novel The Curse of Jacob Tracy. Here’s the publisher’s description:

St. Louis in 1880 is full of ghosts—mangled soldiers, tortured slaves, the innocent victims of war—and Jacob Tracy can see them all. Ever since Antietam, when he lay delirious among the dead and dying, Trace has been haunted by the country’s restless spirits. The curse cost him his family, his calling to the church, and damn near his sanity.

He stays out of ghost-populated cities as much as possible these days, guiding wagon trains West with his pragmatic and skeptical partner, Boz. Then, just before the spring rush, Trace gets a letter from the wealthy and reclusive Sabine Fairweather. Sickly, sharp tongued, and far too clever for her own good, Miss Fairweather needs a worthy man to retrieve a dead friend’s legacy from a nearby town—or so she says. When the errand proves far more sinister than advertised, Miss Fairweather admits to knowing about Trace’s curse and suggests she might be able to help him—in exchange for a few more odd jobs. Trace has no interest in being her pet psychic, but he’s been searching 18 years for a way to curb his unruly curse, and Miss Fairweather’s knowledge of the spirit world is too tempting to ignore. As she steers him into one macabre situation after another, his powers flourish, and Trace begins to realize some good might be done with this curse of his. But Miss Fairweather is harboring some dark secrets of her own, and her meddling has brought Trace to the attention of something much older and more dangerous than any ghost.

Rich in historical detail and emotional depth, The Curse of Jacob Tracy is a fast-paced and inventive debut, an intriguing introduction to a bold new hero.

What’s Holly’s favorite bit?



There’s a scene almost dead smack in the middle of The Curse of Jacob Tracy where Trace, Boz, and a trainful of Baptist missionaries are trapped in a cattle car, on a lonely dark mountain slope of the Rockies, while a pack of feral bloodsuckers slaughter the steers that had previously occupied the car and then throw a carcass at the car in an attempt to break it open and get at the people inside.

The image of a steer’s head breaking through the upper slats of a cattle car was one of the earliest visions that swam up from my fervid imagination, back when Trace and I were getting acquainted and I was brainstorming horrific situations to put him in. By writer-logic it was a fairly simple equation of cowboy + monster hunter + old west setting = train beset by vampires = cattle car is the best place to take cover on a train during a vampire attack.

When I was a kid my mom had the complete set of those “Old West” books from Time Life. (You may have seen their distinctive faux-leather covers in used bookstores.) So when I stared writing the Trace stories almost the first thing I did was call my mom and wheedle those books out of her. I still have them and they are a wonderful general reference, but for the day-to-day grit of life in the American 19th century, I needed more specifics. For instance, in the book “The Ranchers,” there were illustrations of 19th-century cattle cars, but the details were vague—when, exactly, did those cars with the upper ventilation slats come into use? I knew if I described such a car in a story set in 1880 and I was wrong, some wiseacre would gleefully broadcast to the internet what an idiot I was.

That’s the danger of writing historical fiction: no matter how diligently you research, you’re going to miss something. And even if you find a verifiable source, there’s another, dissenting source that’s going to claim the opposite is true.

I obsessed over the question for weeks. Back in 2005 it wasn’t easy to lay hands on accurate 19th century references. The upsurgence of steampunk, the popularity of shows like Deadwood, and a general interest in more sustainable ways of living had made a lot of people look backwards. That, plus the advent of Google Books, have resulted in a wealth of 19th century materials being available on the internet, both original sources (medical journals before about 1890 are a hoot) and enthusiasts’ compilations.

But back in 2005, as I was contemplating the type of curmudgeon who’d be likely to call me on putting the wrong cattle car in 1880, it dawned on me: model railroad enthusiasts. They were notoriously obsessed and detail-oriented, and consequently they’d have the resources I needed.

There was a very good hobby store a half-mile from my workplace. At lunchtime I went over and stood gazing in delight at the 1/12 scale replica cars, each neatly packaged and labeled with the dates of its time in use. And there was my cattle car, with the practical-yet-vulnerable-from-a-defensive-point-of-view ventilation slats occupying the upper third of the walls.

“Can I help you?’ said a friendly shopgeek.

“Oh, I found what I needed,” I said happily.

“You a collector?”

“No, I’m a writer,” I said. “I needed an example of an 1880s cattle car because I’m going to have some people take shelter in it during a vampire attack, and I need to know where the access points are for logistical reasons.”

He nodded as if this made perfect sense, and pulled out a catalog to show me a spread full of more pictures of Gilded Age cars. I may or may not have squee’d in glee.

“Always fun the help somebody with an interesting project,” said the shopgeek.





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Holly Messinger grew up a tomboy in a Bible-thumping household, where she learned how to cook, sew, dig a post hole, cut up a chicken, and shuck corn. She got her English degree from a Baptist college and spent the next 15 years studying Chinese martial arts. She enjoys silk dresses, well-balanced weapons, and chocolate cake. Holly lives in Lawrence, Kansas (scene of the Quantrill massacre) with her woodworking husband and a spoiled gray cat. They keep firewood stacked on the front porch.

My Favorite Bit: Michael Livingston talks about THE SHARDS OF HEAVEN

My Favorite Bit iconMichael Livingston is joining us today with his novel The Shards of Heaven.  For those of you who have read Shades of Milk and Honey, Captain Livingston is named after Michael. He is one of my oldest writing friends, and has helped me work out fight sequences on more than one occasion. I read The Shards of Heaven in an early draft and it was fantastic. It’s even better now.

Here’s the publisher’s description:

Julius Caesar is dead, assassinated on the senate floor, and the glory that is Rome has been torn in two. Octavian, Caesar’s ambitious great-nephew and adopted son, vies with Marc Antony and Cleopatra for control of Caesar’s legacy.

But as civil war rages from Rome to Alexandria, and vast armies and navies battle for supremacy, a secret conflict may truly shape the course of history: two sons of Caesar have set out on a ruthless quest to find and control the Shards of Heaven, legendary artifacts said to possess the very power of the gods — or of the one God.

Caught up in these cataclysmic events, and the hunt for the Shards, are a pair of exiled Roman legionnaires, a Greek librarian of uncertain loyalties, assassins, spies, slaves . . . and the ten-year-old daughter of Cleopatra herself.

The Shards of Heaven reveals the hidden magic behind the history we know, and commences a war greater than any mere mortal battle.

What’s Michael’s favorite bit?

Shards Cover 2


To read my favorite bit of The Shards of Heaven, you don’t even need to open the book. But you do need to have the book.

So go ahead and pick yours up.  I’ll wait.


Okay. Got it?

Good. Now turn it over. Look at the back. It’s really swell cover copy, I think, but that’s not what I’m after. Nope. See that blurb from Mary Robinette Kowal?

The Shards of Heaven has everything I want. Accurate history, magic, a diverse cast, intrigue and action, all set in ancient Rome. And Egypt. And did I mention the legionnaires?” – Mary Robinette Kowal

Yep. That’s it right there. That is my favorite bit.

I’m not saying that I don’t like what’s in the book, because nothing could be further from the truth. I love this book. I’m deeply proud of it. There are moments in it that still have the power to take my breath away even though I wrote them — and that’s a really phenomenal feeling. Like the early scene when Juba, realizing he now possesses the Trident of Poseidon, looks out over the sea and perhaps for the first time in his life ponders the existence of the gods. Or that moment that one of my characters, falling unconscious after a brutal fight, is aware that his friend is reaching out to catch him. Or maybe that really big Roman battle scene in the middle, where I can’t wait to see the next action, the next quip, though of course I know what’s going to happen.

I know I’m biased, but I think the adventure in Shards makes for a really good book.

Yet I don’t think it would be this good of a book — and it very certainly wouldn’t be the one you’re holding in your hands — if it wasn’t for Mary. She has, you see, been with this book for a long time indeed.

And that makes her blurb my favorite bit of the whole thing.

Mary’s ancestral home in Tennessee is a place of charm and touching beauty. And her parents are two of the most wonderful and amazing people I’ve met. They’re also incredibly patient: on many occasions they’ve opened their home to a band of writers who’ve come on Mary’s invitation for a writer’s retreat. I first met her (and them) at one of these retreats. And it was there that she first read The Shards of Heaven.

I remember sitting in the warm country comfort of her living room while she retreated downstairs to read my pages. I remember how I tried working on my laptop like the other writers in attendance. Truth was I could only manage to flail blindly at the words because, well, Mary is reading my book right now and what if she hates it?

Mary was already Somebody at that point, you see, and I deeply admired her formidable skills as a writer. I knew she was one of the best — still today I teach several of her stories in my creative writing classes — and this was one of the first times I’d let someone read this book I was writing. I really wanted her to like it.

Eventually she came up the stairs. She was in the middle of chapter four, I think. She looked me dead in the eye. She smiled. “This is good,” she said. “This is really, really good.”

Harlan Ellison once said that you know you’re a writer when a writer says you’re a writer. If so, that was my moment of truth. Mary Robinette Kowal, a terrifically talented writer, said I was a writer.

She went on to read the whole thing. She made some very wise suggestions for improvement, but more than anything she told me she loved it. She encouraged me not to give up.

Fast forward a few years, and I found myself attending JordanCon as a special guest lecturer — the very same year that Mary was the Guest of Honor. It was a great time. Mary and I shared several meals and laughs. On the last night there was a dance, which was lovely, and partway through it I received a urgent email from a student traveling abroad who was contemplating self-harm. I immediately retreated to the lobby and sat down to compose several emergency emails. Just after I had hit “send” on the last one I looked up to see Mary, smiling, introducing me to Paul Stevens, the fiction editor at Tor who a couple years later would — because of a chain of events initiated in that moment — buy my book.

And then those years later, after the ink on the deal was dry, Paul said we really ought to send the book to Mary, to see if she would blurb it. He asked me if I wanted to do it or if I wanted him to do it. Not wanting her to feel the pressure of our friendship in the decision, I suggested that he do it.

Less than one hour later, Mary had sent in her marvelous blurb.

And now she has given me this: an opportunity to use her sizable social media presence to boost the awareness of that book.

I’m sure somewhere a publicist is cringing that I spent that opportunity talking about my friend rather than my novel, but the truth is that they do not exist apart from one another. Write what you know, the old adage goes, and of course that only goes so far. I’ve never been the nine-year-old daughter of Cleopatra, smuggling the asp that will end her mother’s life. I’ve never stood on the heaving deck of a Roman trireme and commanded the sea to rise. I’ve never done so many of the things my characters do in The Shards of Heaven. But that’s not really what “write what you know” means to me.

For me it means instead the deeper truths of our lives, the deeper connections that make up who we are. Even apart from her encouragement and kindness in helping me get to this point, Mary’s friendship is a part of who I am. It’s a part of this book.

So it is a special kind of symbol to me that this fact is cemented — branded, one might say — onto the cover itself.

And that, dear readers, is why it is My Favorite Bit.




Read an excerpt


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An award-winning writer and professor, Michael Livingston holds degrees in History, Medieval Studies, and English. Shards of Heaven, the first in a trilogy of historical fantasy novels, will be published by Tor Books in November 2015. In his academic life, he teaches at The Citadel, specializing in the Middle Ages.

My Favorite Bit: Michael R. Underwood talks about THE SHOOTOUT SOLUTION

My Favorite Bit iconMichael R. Underwood is joining us today with his novella The Shootout Solution. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Leah Tang just died on stage. Well, not literally. Not yet.

Leah’s stand-up career isn’t going well. But she understands the power of fiction, and when she’s offered employment with the mysterious Genrenauts Foundation, she soon discovers that literally dying on stage is a hazard of the job!

Her first assignment takes her to a Western world. When a cowboy tale slips off its rails, and the outlaws start to win, it’s up to Leah – and the Genrenauts team – to nudge the story back on track and prevent a catastrophe on Earth.

But the story’s hero isn’t interested in winning, and the safety of Earth hangs in the balance…

What’s Michael’s favorite bit?



It’s almost inevitable that I’d end up writing something like Genrenauts. Starting my career with the Ree Reyes books, where fandom and love of SF/F culture is its own magic system, making the jump from that to a more general series about genre and storytelling was a natural extension. Genrenauts is a more general idea, letting me apply my love of self-aware genre-mashing to a broader canvas.

Genrenauts started the same way as many of my projects – with a question I asked myself: What if you threw a genre-aware character directly into the world of a story? That seed of an idea quickly grew as I added in influences and fleshed out the idea so that it was something new, something specific, more than just a Frankenstein-pastiche of Planetary, Leverage, and The Last Action Hero.

Now fully-developed, Genrenauts is a science fiction series in novellas, where a group of storytellers (the titular Genrenauts) travel between dimensions – each the home of a narrative genre, from Crime to Westerns to Romance and so on, where tale types play out again and again – to find and fix broken stories. If they don’t, those broken stories will ripple back to the Genrenauts’ home world and re-write reality to disastrous results. In The Shootout Solution, the first episode, the head of the Genrenauts recruits struggling stand-up comic Leah Tang to join the team as they try to fix a broken story in the Western world.

And there, My Favorite Bit was getting to lampshade the heck out of the Western genre. The tropes and archetypes of Westerns are very well established, to the point that for many, they’ve gone past Archetype into Stereotype, become rigid and inflexible. There are new Westerns playing with the genre and creating new interpretations, and I hope The Shootout Solution will be one of them.

Early in Act Two of The Shootout Solution, Leah and the Genrenauts walk into a town straight out of a movie studio back-lot, with a saloon, a bank, and a half-dozen other stores. It’s a one-street town plagued by bandits, with saloon girls, a friendly but firm madam, and a chatty bartender. Leah marvels in the generic excess of the world, the energetic oddity of stepping into a situation where everything is in place, where you know exactly what to expect.

Except she doesn’t. Because the story there is broken, and beyond that, even in the midst of the most stereotypical Western setting, there are elements reacting against stereotype. The characters we meet in this town aren’t all who they appear to be, and much of the story focuses on what it takes to be a hero in the Western genre, and who gets to put on the gun belt and rise to the occasion. I’ll leave it there to avoid spoilers, but rest assured that The Shootout Solution doesn’t just present Western stereotypes to celebrate them, doesn’t leave questions unasked. And if there are some Blazing Saddles shout-outs and self-aware jokes about the Western genre along the way? Even better.

My Favorite Bit in Genrenauts is getting to re-examine the ways that genre sets expectations and frames stories, to poke fun but also send out some love for the stories which brought me to where I am today, telling stories about stories to a readership which has spent years surfing the waters of narrative. If you liked the Ree Reyes books (often narrated by our marvelous hostess herself), then I think you’ll like Genrenauts, as well, especially if you’ve ever wanted to jump into a story and push it toward your own version of a happily ever after.


Genrenauts series

Author website



Michael R. Underwood is the author the several series: the comedic fantasy Ree Reyes series (GEEKOMANCY, CELEBROMANCY, ATTACK THE GEEK, HEXOMANCY), fantasy superhero novel SHIELD AND CROCUS, supernatural thriller THE YOUNGER GODS, and Genrenauts, a science fiction series in novellas. By day, he’s the North American Sales & Marketing Manager for Angry Robot Books.

Mike lives in Baltimore with his wife and their ever-growing library. In his rapidly-vanishing free time, he plays video games, geeks out on TV, and makes pizzas from scratch. He is a co-host on the Hugo-nominated Skiffy and Fanty Show.

My Favorite Bit: Karina Sumner-Smith about TOWERS FALL

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

War. Fire. Destruction. Xhea believed that the Lower City had weathered the worst of its troubles—that their only remaining fight would be the struggle to rebuild before winter. She was wrong.

Now her home is under attack from an unexpected source. The Central Spire, the City’s greatest power, is intent on destroying the heart of the magical entity that resides beneath the Lower City’s streets. The people on the ground have three days to evacuate—or else.

With nowhere to go and time running out, Xhea and the Radiant ghost Shai attempt to rally a defense. Yet with the Spire’s wrath upon them, nothing—not their combined magic, nor their unexpected allies—may be strong enough to protect them from the power of the City.

From Nebula Award–nominated author Karina Sumner-Smith, Towers Fall is a fantastic climax to this amazing and thought-provoking trilogy.

What’s Karina’s favorite bit?

Towers Fall Cover FINAL-small


There is so much riding on the third book in a trilogy. It’s a book that has to be a whole story in and of itself, while simultaneously connecting to and creating resonances from the earlier books. It has to tie up all those loose ends. It has to justify all the words that have come before.

Writing Towers Fall, the third and final book in my Towers Trilogy, was an exhilarating, stressful, chaotic experience, one that I loved and loathed in equal measure. I was in love with the story, with finally reaching the conclusion that I’d been working toward for so very long—and was absolutely terrified that I was going to mess it up.

And yet my favorite moment in that whole writing process wasn’t actually finishing the story (glorious as that was), nor turning it in, but a moment of sudden understanding that occurred when I was in the middle of writing the first draft. Obvious as it seems in retrospect, there was a moment where I suddenly realized: I had been wrong about these books from the start. For all my protestations that the Towers Trilogy books do not, will not include a romance … they do. It was there the whole time.

While these books aren’t about a romantic relationship in the traditional sense, they are very much a love story.

No one questions the sacrifices one would make for a lover or spouse; it does not seem strange for a character to fight and struggle to the ends of the earth to help or save their child or a sibling. But to go to such lengths for someone who is “only” a friend? Hardly.

It seems to me that relationships that are not bound by blood or sex are seen as somehow lesser. We say that someone is “only” a friend; there is the (frustrating, awful) talk of the “friend zone,” as if a friendship is an undesirable consolation prize. And the idea that friendship alone would be enough to motivate someone to great and terrible lengths seems foreign to some individuals.

Yet that mindset is so opposite to my own life experience, feelings, and understanding of friendship. I have friends who are best described as my family-of-choice; my spouse is also my dearest friend. (And yes, my strange, prickly main character takes after me more than some realize. If one of my close friends needs the world burned down? Darling, hand me the matches.)

So it’s no wonder that the heart of these books for me has always been the relationship between Xhea and Shai, two young women from opposite ends of their society who develop a deep connection despite their many differences. Yet, even knowing that their friendship was the heart of the story, only in writing Towers Fall was it clear that, though there is no traditional romantic plotline, no sex or even kissing, these two women love each other.

That love, that connection, that devotion, not only drives the books, but it changes their world around them. Everything that happens, good and bad, is because they found each other. Because they save each other, time and again.

There is one scene in Towers Fall that dives right into the core of their relationship, and is perhaps my favorite scene in the whole trilogy. As it comes in the book’s last third, I hesitate to say too much lest I ruin the scene for new readers; but it’s about the worst thing that could happen to these two characters, both physically and emotionally—and it leads to a moment of perfect joy and catharsis.

Writing that scene felt like tearing my heart open and healing the same wound in the span of a chapter. For those readers who have joined me on this journey—three whole books!—I think you’ll know the scene when you reach it.

For these characters to find joy and togetherness after everything they’ve been through—all the sacrifices they made, all the trust they’ve built, all the things they’ve lost, all the love they found—well, I’ll admit it. Writing it, I cried, and they were tears of joy.





Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Indiebound


Karina Sumner-Smith is the author of the Towers Trilogy from Talos Press: Radiant (Sept 2014), Defiant (May 2015), and Towers Fall (Nov 2015). In addition to novel-length work, Karina has published a range of science fiction, fantasy, and horror short stories that have been nominated for the Nebula Award, reprinted in several Year’s Best anthologies, and translated into Spanish and Czech. She lives in Ontario near the shores of Lake Huron with her husband, a small dog, and a large cat. Visit her online at

My Favorite Bit: Martin Rose talks about MY LOADED GUN, MY LONELY HEART

My Favorite Bit iconMartin Rose is joining us today to talk about his novel My Loaded Gun, My Lonely Heart. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Vitus Adamson has a second chance at life now that he’s no longer a zombie. But after killing his brother Jamie, Vitus lands in prison on murder charges. Jamie’s death exposes secret government projects so deep in the black they cannot be seen—without Vitus, that is.

Sprung from jail, the government hires Vitus to clean up Jamie’s messes, but tracking down his brother’s homemade monsters gone rogue is easier said than done. The first of them is a convicted killer assumed to be safely behind bars. However, it appears he is still committing murder through his victim’s dreams. High on Atroxipine—the drug that once kept him functioning among the living—and lapsing into addiction, Vitus’s grip on reality takes a nasty turn when his own dreams begin slipping sideways.

Vitus’s problems multiply as he deals with his failed friendship with wheelchair-bound officer Geoff Lafferty, his wrecked romance with the town mortician Niko, government agents working for his father, sinister figures lurking in the shadows, and, least of all, the complications of learning how to be human again.

Secret agents, conspiracy theories, broken hearts and lonely souls, the siren song of prescription drugs . . . in My Loaded Gun, My Lonely Heart, readers are invited to discover life after undeath, where there are no happy endings.

What’s Martin’s favorite bit?

My Loaded Gun


Picking a favorite bit of a novel is tricky business; I’d love to wax rhapsodic about the character of Elvedina, or discuss in-depth my particular love of government conspiracy theories (think Jon Ronson’s The Men Who Stare At Goats) but I fear to reveal too much and take the pleasure of discovery away.

Instead, let me tell you about vultures.

Not the sort of animal people think of when they ponder a few of their favorite things, but for me, the vulture holds a special place in my life. When I first wrote Bring Me Flesh, I’ll Bring Hell, it amused me to think that the natural pet of a sentient zombie would of course, be a scavenger bird. But by the time I found my stride while writing My Loaded Gun, My Lonely Heart, the much maligned turkey vulture had taken on a whole life of its own, insinuating itself into the scenes, from whimsical atmosphere builder to a critical force upon which plot would come to rely on.

Take the time to watch Jim Henson’s Dark Crystal to get the full flavor of Skeksis creepiness, and you have the turkey vulture on a smaller scale and with less robes – ugly, wrinkly head jutting like a periscope above a pile of feathers. Commonly spotted along roadsides attending its macabre road-kill buffet. However, this was not how I garnered my weird love for this hideous member of the avian family; it happened when I was twenty-two, doing security at a state park.

I was fresh in the wake of a family tragedy and lurching from day to day in a state of numbness. In the mornings I’d hoist the flag in the gloaming before sunrise and then walk the grounds in the midst of hundreds of thousand acres of pristine pine forest and open up the lakeside buildings. I’d approach from a distance before I arrived at the sandy banks of the lake, with the sun cresting the edge of the forest trees.

Arrayed before me on the shore, a long, straggling line of turkey vultures. They stood abreast of each other and shook out their wings, holding them half-cocked, tip to tip, worshiping the sun at the water’s edge. They warmed themselves, leaving only at the first sign of human trespass. Massive and saturnine. If one lives a thousand lifetimes, few things measure up to the stillness and intensity of watching, unobserved, the secret ritual of these carrion eaters. I will carry it with me to my deathbed.

Before I reach that final destination, however, I suffice to carry it into story instead; I plucked a vulture from memory and resurrected it in My Loaded Gun, My Lonely Heart. Here, this vulture lives and breathes as one of my favorite bits, one of my favorite parts.







Barnes & Noble


Martin Rose’s fiction spans genres with work appearing in numerous venues, such as Penumbra and Murky Depths, and various anthologies: Urban Green Man, Handsome Devil, and Ominous Realities. Bring Me Flesh, I’ll Bring Hell, is a horror novel published by Talos in 2014, and has been recognized as one of “Notable Novels of 2014” in Best Horror of the Year, Vol. 7.

My Favorite Bit: Emma Newman talks about PLANETFALL

My Favorite Bit iconEmma Newman is joining us today with her novel Planetfall. Here’s the publisher’s description:

From Emma Newman, the award-nominated author of Between Two Thorns, comes a novel of how one secret withheld to protect humanity’s future might be its undoing…

Renata Ghali believed in Lee Suh-Mi’s vision of a world far beyond Earth, calling to humanity. A planet promising to reveal the truth about our place in the cosmos, untainted by overpopulation, pollution, and war. Ren believed in that vision enough to give up everything to follow Suh-Mi into the unknown.

More than twenty-two years have passed since Ren and the rest of the faithful braved the starry abyss and established a colony at the base of an enigmatic alien structure where Suh-Mi has since resided, alone. All that time, Ren has worked hard as the colony’s 3-D printer engineer, creating the tools necessary for human survival in an alien environment, and harboring a devastating secret.

Ren continues to perpetuate the lie forming the foundation of the colony for the good of her fellow colonists, despite the personal cost. Then a stranger appears, far too young to have been part of the first planetfall, a man who bears a remarkable resemblance to Suh-Mi.

The truth Ren has concealed since planetfall can no longer be hidden. And its revelation might tear the colony apart…

What’s Emma’s favorite bit?

Planetfall cover


All novels require world building, even if you’re writing a contemporary novel set in the real world with average people, you still have to construct their lives and embed the reader into them. When you write in SFF, world building goes to a whole new level and it’s one of the things I love most about writing it. My previous series (The Split Worlds) involved Fae and sorcerous magic and three different slices of reality, each with their own rules and characteristics.

My latest novel, Planetfall, is science-fiction and needed a whole set of new world building, both for the colony established on a distant planet in which the novel is set and also for the Earth left behind. As the novel centres on Ren, the 3-D printer engineer for the colony, I also needed to root the reader in a sense of her, her ability and the technology as early as possible.

The first chapter contains a memory of a conversation she had back on Earth with her mother. It’s in Ren’s old lab and her mother has come to visit. Ren has started a print so she can show her mother what she’s working on, and is hoping to impress her.

What I’m going to do now is share a snippet of this conversation and then break down what I hope it conveys in terms of world building and introducing the main character.

She went up to the plasglass and peered through, seeing nothing but a few millimeters of tissue. She turned to me with her nose slightly wrinkled. “What is it printing?”

“A new pancreas,” I said. “For Dad.”

“Oh.” She’d hoped I was making something she could hang up in the hallway of her inert home. “I didn’t realise you were involved in this sort of thing. I’ve seen it on the news.”

And that was the moment I knew I’d been stupid to hope for anything. “The gene therapy isn’t working out for him. There’s an unusual base pair sequence in the-”

“Renata,” she holds up her hand. “You know I don’t understand this kind of thing.” The hand lowers to rest over her heart. “I’m an artist.”

I wanted to say that my colleague had called me that when he saw the final model I’d compiled for the print. I wanted to ask her why she wasn’t even the tiniest bit worried about Dad’s cancer. They were married once, surely an echo of something remained? But all I said was “I’m making him a new pancreas with cells cultured from a cheek swab and it’s actually fucking cool. I’m going to save his life. And thousands of other people who can’t-”

“I don’t think it’s right.”

“How can it be wrong to save a life?”

“Where does it stop? Making a person? Making copies?”

“Actually, they’ve already locked down the ethics on that, after the guy over at Princeton-”

“It’s going too far, all this science. Where’s the beauty? Where is God in all of this?”

“Everywhere,” I whispered. “Especially here.”

At the start, the information about what is in the printer is designed to inform the reader that this is a world in which 3-D printing technology has advanced beyond what we have today. People are trying to develop this now, with some early successes, but by some estimates we’re still about twenty years away from being able to print a fully functional replacement organ. What I wanted to show here is that in Ren’s world, this memory of her past is definitely set in our future (or at least one I hope will come to pass!) in which cancer can be treated by techniques that are being researched now, and that printing organs has also advanced significantly too.

On a character level, it shows that Ren is skilled in these areas, but more than that; she has developed a solution to her father’s problem. She’s an engineer, a natural problem-solver. Her defence shows she is willing to stand up for her work but also hints that it is cutting edge.

Her mother’s reaction to it is about as far away from what my own would be in the same circumstances! She shuts down Ren’s enthusiastic explanation, bringing the conversation topic squarely back to her. I wanted this to show the poor communication and relationship between the two of them, the self-centredness of the mother and the gulf between their world-views. In the rest of this snippet, she fires off concerns about what her daughter is doing which are the over-simplified, scare-mongering headline content propagated by the press. I wanted to show the average knee-jerk reaction to new tech and the fact it hasn’t changed – nor the people who voice those kinds of concerns without looking into the issue themselves. When Ren reassures her that one of her worries is no longer relevant, her mother talks over her again, unwilling to listen to a reasonable voice. Her mother changes tack, attacking Ren’s work with more spiritual concerns. Ren’s response to this shows that she is a woman of faith, and that faith sits very comfortably alongside her scientific work. Considering the plot of Planetfall, this is a critical piece of information!

The efficiency of dialogue

What I hoped to do here is show how a slice of conversation between two characters can convey a lot of information about both the people involved and the world. Of course, if the dialogue falls too much into “well John, as you know, the super-light-emitting-oojamaflip was only approved last summer so we haven’t tested it yet and anything could happen when I press this button” it causes its own problems! Getting the balance between introducing factual information, plot critical information, character details and general world building is tricky, but I hope these thoughts about what I tried to achieve in this scene snippet might be of interest to any fellow writers – and potential Planetfall readers too!


More information about Planetfall


Tea and Jeopardy podcast





Emma Newman writes dark short stories and science fiction and urban fantasy novels. ‘Between Two Thorns’, the first book in Emma’s Split Worlds urban fantasy series, was shortlisted for the BFS Best Novel and Best Newcomer awards. Emma’s next book, Planetfall, will be a standalone science fiction novel published by Roc in November. Emma is a professional audiobook narrator and also co-writes and hosts the Hugo-nominated podcast ‘Tea and Jeopardy’ which involves tea, cake, mild peril and singing chickens. Her hobbies include dressmaking and playing RPGs. She blogs at and can be found on Twitter as @emapocalyptic .