Archive for the ‘My Favorite Bit’ Category

My Favorite Bit: Beth Cato Talks About THE CLOCKWORK CROWN

My Favorite Bit iconToday Beth Cato joins us to talk about her new novel, The Clockwork Crown. Here is the publisher’s description:

Narrowly surviving assassination and capture, Octavia Leander, a powerful magical healer, is on the run with handsome Alonzo Garrett, the Clockwork Dagger who forfeited his career with the Queen’s secret society of spies and killers—and possibly his life—to save her. Now, they are on a dangerous quest to find safety and answers: Why is Octavia so powerful? Why does she seem to be undergoing a transformation unlike any witnessed for hundreds of years?

The truth may rest with the source of her mysterious healing power—the Lady’s Tree. But the tree lies somewhere in a rough, inhospitable territory known as the Waste. Eons ago, this land was made barren and uninhabitable by an evil spell, until a few hardy souls dared to return over the last century. For years, the Waste has waged a bloody battle against the royal court to win its independence—and they need Octavia’s powers to succeed.

Joined by unlikely allies, including a menagerie of gremlin companions, she must evade killers and Clockwork Daggers on a dangerous journey through a world on the brink of deadly civil war.

So what is Beth’s favorite bit?


When I decided to work gremlins into the plot of my novel, The Clockwork Dagger, I had no idea that one gremlin would result in my book selling to Harper Voyager.

In early 2013, my agent called with the happy-happy-HAPPY news. Her basic information was 1) An editor wanted to buy The Clockwork Dagger and one more book, and 2) Everyone who read Dagger fell in love with Leaf the gremlin.

Therefore, I can’t help but be fond of Leaf and the rest of the gremlin menagerie. They continue to win over readers. I can’t say how many times I’ve had folks tell me, “I LOVE LEAF,” or “I want a Leaf of my own!” or ask if there are gremlin plushies in the works (I wish!).

Gremlins–Leaf included–play an increasingly important role in the second book of the set, The Clockwork Crown.

The genre is steampunk fantasy based on the World War I-era, though not set on Earth. My gremlins are very steampunk creatures, biological beings created out of science and magic. They are green-skinned and bat-winged, most of them about cat size. The first generation of gremlins was cobbled together with bits of cats, dogs, and other small animals, though gremlins now breed on their own.

Gremlins are hideous in an adorable way. They have round black eyes, smushed faces, and tapered ears. They meow, chirp, and purr, and say a lot without utilizing human speech. My heroine Octavia learns that young Leaf the gremlin is incredibly bright. He quickly becomes a beloved friend.

Octavia and Leaf’s relationship is an exception in their world. Most everyone else despises gremlins. They are creations out of the technologically-superior city-states to the south and have a reputation as flying vermin. They horde silver and food. On top of that, they’re regarded as a perversion of science and magic. Some people question if they are truly alive at all.

Octavia is well aware that gremlins are living beings because she’s a highly skilled medician. Her healing magic enables her to hear the life songs of any surrounding bodies, human or animal. She initially befriends Leaf as the rest of his flock is massacred as a menace on board an airship. In the second book, Octavia learns more about the nature of gremlins and meets their creator. Readers wanted more gremlins, and by golly, they get more gremlins.

I never could have anticipated the importance of gremlins within the full storyline, or in the plot of my life. They stole more than cheese and silver–they also stole hearts from readers at Harper Collins and around the world. For that, gremlins will forever be among my favorite bits.


@BethCato on Twitter


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Beth Cato is the author of The Clockwork Dagger steampunk fantasy series from Harper Voyager. Her short fiction is in Urban Fantasy Magazine, InterGalactic Medicine Show, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies. She’s a Hanford, California native transplanted to the Arizona desert, where she lives with her husband, son, and requisite cat.

My Favorite Bit: Joanne C. Hillhouse Talks About MUSICAL YOUTH

My Favorite Bit iconToday Joanne C. Hillhouse joins us to talk about her new novel, Musical Youth. Here is the publisher’s description:

Can one summer make the difference of a lifetime?

Zahara is a loner. She’s brilliant on the guitar but in everyday life she doesn’t really fit in. Then she meets Shaka, himself a musical genius and the first boy who really gets her. They discover that they share a special bond, their passion for music, and Zahara finds herself a part, not just of Shaka’s life, but also that of his boys, the Lion Crew.

When they all get roles in a summer musical, Zahara, Shaka, and the rest of the Lion Crew use the opportunity to work on a secret project. But the Crew gets much more than they bargained for when they uncover a dark secret linking Shaka and Zahara’s families and they’re forced to confront some uncomfortable truths about class, colour, and relationships on the Caribbean island of Antigua.

Musical Youth placed second in the 2014 Burt Award for teen/young adult Caribbean Literature sponsored by CODE.

So what is Joanne’s favorite bit?

Musical Youth

Some of my favourite bits in my novel teen/young adult novel Musical Youth spotlight the relationship between the boys, something we don’t see enough – the ways they ground and at the same time grind (mercilessly tease) each other. In the case of Shaka and his Lion Crew, they are a family of their own making and anyone developing a relationship with one is essentially developing a relationship with the whole group. As Zahara discovers when Shaka tries to help her get over her shyness when it comes to playing her guitar in front of others:

“Play,” he insisted.

“I, I can’t…”

“Yes, you can. Play.”

She wanted to stamp her feet; she didn’t like him playing games with her.

She stood there in a dark so dark she couldn’t even see her feet, and tears stung her eyes.

“Play,” he urged, his voice coaxing.

And she breathed, and breathed again, and lifted the guitar; it was awkward, she didn’t have a strap and it kept slipping. Still, she closed her eyes, tears wetting her lashes, and she strummed, conscious that he was out there in the dark somewhere listening to her. And what happened as she played was that his presence, his silence, his attentiveness, his encouragement, his invisibility and the music she had never been able to resist had a calming effect on her. Her strumming grew more assured, Lauréna Lee right there at the tips of her fingers. At the last lick of her pick, she opened watery eyes to find his face inches from hers, she hadn’t even heard or felt him come closer.

She thought he might kiss her then, held her breath; but he merely asked, “how you feel?”

She searched her heart. “Happy,” she said.

Her fingers were still tingling, and the electricity of it travelled up the rest of her body until she felt like she had to move or scratch or dance or something. She leaned forward and kissed him.

And just like that the spell was broken.

“Woohooo!” somebody hollered.

“Mi boy goin’ get some,” said another.

And she looked past him, squinting, to see Kong, Accident, Monkey, Scaly, and Big Head.

Shaka rolled his eyes and she tried to be mad but she was still tingling. Besides, of course, he’d brought his Crew, she’d quickly learned that they were extensions of each other. She kind of envied them that.

Wow, choosing a favorite bit was hard. I thought about a section near the end where Shaka reflects on his bond with his boys; but then thought, no, show, don’t tell. However, given that I write from an authentically Caribbean space, allowing my characters to live and breathe as they are, picking an excerpt that showed that bond was also challenging. Context would be sacrificed and context is important in helping the non-Caribbean reader especially access the rhythms, speech, and sensibilities of lives that might be unfamiliar to them. Also I wanted to include Zahara and music, and a bit of the book’s broader themes – Zahara’s path to confidence through creative expression, the ways Zahara and Shaka bond over music and help each other to grow…while hinting at the tone of the relationship between the boys. I think this scene comes as close to doing all of that better than anything else I could have chosen.




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Antiguan and Barbudan writer Joanne C. Hillhouse wrote The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight (since re-issued as Dancing Nude in the Moonlight 10th Anniversary Edition and Other Writings), Fish Outta Water, Oh Gad! and Musical Youth, which placed second for the Burt Award for YA Caribbean Literature in 2014. Her writing fiction and/or poetry have appeared in Pepperpot: Best New Writing from the Caribbean, In the Black: New African Canadian Literature, and other journals and/or anthologies. She runs the Wadadli Pen writing programme. For more: or

My Favorite Bit: Terry Jackman Talks About ASHAMET, DESERT BORN

My Favorite Bit iconToday Terry Jackman joins us to talk about her new novel, Ashamet, Desert Born. Here is the publisher’s description:

“Headstrong was the least I knew they said about me. Unpredictable, a wicked sense of humour? Gods, I hoped so.”

A desert world. A population of 100 males to every female. And for Ashamet, its prince, a suddenly uncertain future…

All Ashamet wants is the warrior life he already has. But then a divine symbol appears on his arm, closely followed by an attempt on his life. Now nothing’s simple any longer, even less so when a new and very foreign slave seems shocked by both his new surroundings – and his master’s amorous attentions.

Could this innocent young male hold the key to Ashamet’s survival? And to his heart?

Ashamet, Desert Born, is a debut adventure fantasy with an exotic Arabian-style setting and strong elements of same-sex romance.

So what is Terry’s favorite bit?


I loved putting Ashamet’s strong character onto the page, often grinning as much as he did at his less than reverent reactions to his world, and its dangers. I loved Keril’s first appearance, and how different he is – from Ashamet, from the others around him and maybe even from what he first seems? But I’m hoping they’ll be a case of love at first sight for you as much as they were for me and I won’t need to point you in their direction.

So how about something in the book you might not notice so much…

There’s a small scene, a moment tucked between all the adventures, when Ashamet stands back and just accepts what’s in front of him. For once there’s no agenda, no ulterior motive, no threat. It’s an ordinary moment, in a life that so seldom is.

If you take this scene for granted when you come to it in the course of reading the whole book, that’s fine; after all so does Ashamet. But for me the words dropped onto the page from nowhere. They weren’t in the outline. They weren’t even a vague idea in my head, but once they arrived they had to stay, word for word as they first appeared, because they belonged. They were a small bonus moment.

They begin…

The next day found us turning north-west. Four more days took us from the desert’s shifting yellow sands to cloying brown and orange soil. In these parts every village sat beside its jealously protected clay pit. Slaves and free males, stripped to loincloths in the heat and dust, were often caked with it so thoroughly they looked like moving statues.

Houses here had lacquered, peach-tiled walls instead of whitened plaster, every second building open fronted with a dome-shaped, brick-built kiln beneath its awning. Every awning was without exception drab and faded, but the poles that propped them up were always brightly lacquered. Master potters bent at wheels. Young males kneaded slabs of glistening clay on heavy benches…

Ashamet only stays there for one night, enjoys the break in the journey then travels on. Does it add anything vital to the plot? Honestly, I’m not sure it does. But I think it added something to the story, something it would have been a shame to miss.

If you get to that page maybe you’ll tell me what you think?





Terry Jackman, christened Teresa, is married with kids and not pretending to be a guy for the book. Nobody ever calls her anything but Terry, so that’s the most honest name to use.

To go with two names she inhabits two worlds. In one she’s a mild-mannered lady who tutors children and lives quietly in a pretty English village. [Find out more at ]

In the other she’s secretly on the committee of the British Science Fiction Association, coordinates all their online writers’ groups, writes a regular page for Focus magazine, reads submissions for Albedo One in Ireland and is a ‘top reviewer’ for Netgalley. What else? She is also a member of Milford, and NorthwriteSF, has been known to appear on panels at conventions and does some freelance editing.

When Ashamet goes public the two lives will finally collide. She suspects there’ll be some raised eyebrows so she’s stocking up on fortifying tea and biscuits.

My Favorite Bit: Peter Orullian Talks About TRIAL OF INTENTIONS

My Favorite BitPeter Orullian joins us today to talk about his new novel, Trial of Intentions. Here is the publisher’s description:

The gods who created this world have abandoned it. In their mercy, however, they chained the rogue god–and the monstrous creatures he created to plague mortalkind–in the vast and inhospitable wasteland of the Bourne. The magical Veil that contains them has protected humankind for millennia and the monsters are little more than tales told to frighten children. But the Veil has become weak and creatures of Nightmare have come through. To fight them, the races of men must form a great alliance to try and stop the creatures.

But there is dissent. One king won’t answer the call, his pride blinding him even to the poison in his own court. Another would see Convocation fail for his own political advantage. And still others believe Convocation is not enough. Some turn to the talents of the Sheason, who can shape the very essence of the world to their will. But their order is divided, on the brink of collapse.

Tahn Junell remembers friends who despaired in a place left barren by war. One of the few who have actually faced the unspeakable horde in battle, Tahn sees something else at work and wonders about the nature of the creatures on the other side of the Veil. He chooses to go to a place of his youth, a place of science, daring to think he can find a way to prevent slaughter, prevent war.

And his choices may reshape a world . . .

So what is Peter’s favorite bit?


I wrote Trial of Intentions as an entry point to my series—it’s only book two. I wanted readers to be able to jump in without having to read prior stuff. And I like it as a starting place for a number of reasons. Chief among them? Resonance.

Let me explain.

When I was world building for my series—The Vault of Heaven—I had this notion: There should be (what I call) governing dynamics. I liken these to mechanical law. Think gravity, magnetism. It made sense to me that a world would operate on certain principles.

Add to this that I’m a musician. I hear the world around me more than I see or smell or taste it. This led me to one of my primary governing dynamics: Resonance.

In my world, Resonance is not precisely the same as it is in ours. Or perhaps I should say that it’s more. What I mean is, Resonance still has some of the same physical behaviors as it does in our world, but I also give it other attributes. If you’re familiar with the concept of quantum entanglement, then you’ll understand another of Resonance’s powerful uses in my fictional universe. In short, things can be moved, changed, affected at a distance.

Resonance has become the underpinning for five magic systems in my world so far. And what I think is cool, is that these various forms of magic all look and feel different. That makes sense to me, since they originate from different cultures. But the reader can see how they all ladder-up to Resonance.

Of course, my music magic system gets most of the stage time. I go deep on how it works. And the woman in the story who possesses this ability isn’t shy and retiring and singing sweet lullabies. Her song is rough and combative. And powerful.

And if I’m to believe my early readers, the music magic system is unlike anything they’ve read before. That gives me a happy.

But Resonance underlies something else that Trial of Intentions does—which is also quite a change from book one: science.

In Trial, there’s an entire society dedicated to science: astronomy, physics, mathematics, cosmology, etc. There’s a college for each. And they work collaboratively (and in formal debate) to establish scientific principles.

One of my characters in Trial of Intentions has this crazy notion that instead of escalation by half the world to fight an apocalyptic war, that maybe, just maybe, science could be used to avert war before it begins.

And at the center of that inquiry? You guessed it. Resonance.

I love the scenes in Trial of Intentions where a few characters are trying to get at answers through investigative inquiry and debate. Oh, there’s conflict, too. Tension. Mortal danger. Battle. Imagine all that in the context of academia! I mean, as my character uncovers this scientific principle, he’s also learning how to use it. But not always with perfect control. And it’s usually against “bad guys” who‘ve mastered its use.

And still . . . there’s another application of Resonance. And I may like this one better than the rest. It has to do with one friend comforting another friend. It has to do with wounds of the heart. And regret. And the slow movement toward healing those deep scars.

In Trial of Intentions I deal with suicide. Without going into it, I’ll tell you that a friend of mine made this choice just before I began writing the book. Suicide was always a part of my world, because I’ve conceived a dire place. At least for some. But in hindsight, I can see that the real world got into the pages of my fictional world as a few of my characters struggle through the aftermath of loved ones who do self-slaughter.

What about Resonance then? Well, there’s a thing that happens when two people who care for each other connect regarding shared pain, or strong emotions of any kind. Two souls resonating with each other. Finding some solace. Forgiveness.

I posit that even these things—which might be seen as ephemeral—can affect mechanical systems. That they touch the physical. Or can.

But that’s secondary to the quiet moments of struggling through shared suffering to arrive at a better place. Maybe I said it better in the book:

But everyone knows that when the heart fails, what’s needed is a friend who doesn’t falsely reassure, and can walk a road with you just because. Doing things because. That’s what friends do when the heart fails.


Twitter: @peterorullian
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Peter Orullian has worked at Xbox for over a decade, which is good, because he’s a gamer. He’s toured internationally with various bands and been a featured vocalist at major rock and metal festivals, which is good, because he’s a musician. He’s also learned when to hold his tongue, which is good, because he’s a contrarian. Peter has published several short stories, which he thinks are good. The Unremembered and Trial of Intentions are his first novels, which he hopes you will think are good. He lives in Seattle, where it rains all the damn time. He has nothing to say about that.

My Favorite Bit: Sally Kilpatrick talks about THE HAPPY HOUR CHOIR

My Favorite BitToday Sally Kilpatrick joins us to talk about her new novel, The Happy Hour Choir. Here is the publisher’s description:

From debut author Sally Kilpatrick comes a hopeful tale of love and redemption in a quiet Southern town where a lost soul finds her way with the help of an unlikely circle of friends. . .

Life has dealt Beulah Land a tough hand to play, least of all being named after a hymn. A teenage pregnancy estranged her from her family, and a tragedy caused her to lose what little faith remained. The wayward daughter of a Baptist deacon, she spends her nights playing the piano at The Fountain, a honky-tonk located just across the road from County Line Methodist. But when she learns that a dear friend’s dying wish is for her to take over as the church’s piano player, she realizes it may be time to face the music. . .

Beulah butts heads with Luke Daniels, the new pastor at County Line, who is determined to cling to tradition even though he needs to attract more congregants to the aging church. But the choir also isn’t enthusiastic about Beulah’s contemporary take on the old songs and refuse to perform. Undaunted, Beulah assembles a ragtag group of patrons from The Fountain to form the Happy Hour Choir. And as the unexpected gig helps her let go of her painful past–and accept the love she didn’t think she deserved–she just may be able to prove to Luke that she can toe the line between sinner and saint. . .

So what is Sally’s favorite bit?

the happy hour choir

Let me set the scene a bit: My contemporary southern fiction, The Happy Hour Choir, revolves around Beulah Land, a fallen from grace honky-tonk piano player. Beulah was kicked out of her mother’s house when she was sixteen and has been living ever since with her octogenarian piano teacher, Ginger Belmont. Ginger has also taken in Tiffany, a waitress at the bar where Beulah works. At this point in the story, she and the minister she’s fallen for are about to go out on their first real date, a double date with Tiffany and her beau. Ginger has been imparting wisdom to the younger ladies. Beulah is your narrator.

… I was still trying to wrap my mind around [what was said to Tiffany] when Ginger pressed a stack of crinkly packets into my palm. “You’re not too old to have fun, either. You have my permission to make a sinner out of that saint.”

My eyes widened to match my mouth. “Ginger Belmont!”

At the sound of Tiffany’s sensible shoes clunking on the stairs, Ginger pointed upward, and I stuffed my “gift” into my purse.

The doorbell rang. Ginger hugged Tiffany then pulled me into an embrace.

“Life is short,” she whispered. “Life is awful damn short.”

This is my favorite bit for a couple of reasons. First of all, it’s where I first got the idea to play around with the concept of sinners and saints. Ginger Belmont has seen some things in this old world. She understands human nature better than most of us, knowing that not one person is all sinner or all saint. Life isn’t perfect; it’s still precious. She’s urging Beulah to romantically consider Luke, but she does it in a responsible and surprisingly modern way. I like to think of Ginger as the voice of reason in the book.

I also chose this selection because it proves plotting a novel doesn’t mean you get rid of all of the surprises. I, like Beulah, had absolutely no idea that Ginger was going to hand her a wad of condoms. I remember audibly gasping when I wrote the scene because prim and proper Ginger did the exact opposite of what I would’ve expected. I may have plotted the entire novel before I wrote it, but there were surprises aplenty, this one chief among them.

Finally, I had to do some interesting research for this portion of the novel. Did you know that Methodist ministers vow to be celibate while single? Did you further know that there’s more than one definition of “celibate”? I must’ve wasted an entire day trying to figure out how many bases my poor minister could reach without breaking his vows. I guess you’ll have to read the book to read that particular box score!

Thanks so much for letting me participate with My Favorite Bit! I knew I loved this scene more than the average bear, but writing about it gave me the chance to delve into the why.




Kensington Books


Unable to decide between literature and writing, Sally Kilpatrick received a B.A. in both from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. After eight years of teaching Spanish (because that’s what you do with an English major), she earned her MAPW from Kennesaw State University. She has since sold three books to Kensington. The first of these, The Happy Hour Choir is out. . . now! She serves as President of Georgia Romance Writers and lives with her husband/trusty manservant, two precocious kids, and two mischievous cats in Marietta, GA. You can often find her at or on Twitter under the handle @SuperWriterMom.

My Favorite Bit: Chrysoula Tzavelas talks about CITADEL OF THE SKY

My Favorite BitToday Chrysoula Tzavelas joins us to talk about her new novel, Citadel of the Sky. Here is the publisher’s description:

A Dark Lord is rising. Again. But hey, that’s what the royal family is for, right? Kicking butt in nice dresses: a new epic tradition.

Her (not very) Serene Highness Princess Tiana tries her best not to think about the dark lords ravaging her country or how the magic in her bloodline makes her family go mad. The descendant of a legendary hero, she prefers bringing the myths of old to life on the theater stage, not on the battlefield.

Then a rash of suspicious deaths strikes the Regents—trusted advisors, friends, and guides to her troubled royal family—and the Noble’s Council tries to cover it all up. Tiana is determined to get to the bottom of the murders and the conspiracy, even if that means making a dangerous pact with a telepathic demon trapped in a magical sword. But he may just be the edge she needs to save the people she loves.

Cursed sword in hand, Tiana and her friends prepare to face the encroaching darkness­—and the ultimate truth about her and her family.

So what’s Chrysoula’s favorite bit?


The magic. It’s one of my favorite bits–or perhaps I should say it’s a few of my favorite bits. I love that the world of Citadel of the Sky has multiple forms of magic, some of which are completely unconnected but all of which draw on my geek experiences.

The first family of magic is the Royal Blood magic, and it has three components: the phantasmagory, the emanations, and the eidolons.

The phantasmagory is communication magic. The Royal Blood can touch each others’ minds and share their dreams and when they’re gone, those dreams linger. Where? How? A mystery of the setting! But I can say that I was definitely inspired by elements of the Internet in crafting this fantasy world. It distracts them away from real life, provides a distancing filter on near events, lets them talk to others far away, and, like the Internet, it has a history that lingers, waiting to be discovered.

Down she went, through layers of the phantasmagory. It was like before, like after Tomas’s funeral: she was descending through history. Its strata passed her by, each one made of layered memories and dreams. Sometimes they could merge into something new and cohesive, something almost alive.

The next two magics are closely intermingled. Emanations are, simply, telekinesis with a sense of touch. My protagonist uses emanations to move things, sense things and levitate. I spent a fair amount of time watching Magneto in X-Men when writing her magic use. I love Magneto.

She extended her hand like a blade, and this time the emanation that she sent out was not pressure, but an edge, sharp and fast, biting through ancient stone, the warped metal, and the clots of mortar. By the time she was on the final side, eating through one of the hinges, she could tell that the door was sagging towards her, though it wasn’t yet visible to the eye. “Back up, back up,” she muttered, trying not to lose her focus. “Get out of the way!” The phantasmagory yawned beneath her, eager to pull her down and change her perspective.

The final side of the Royal Blood magical triad is the eidolons. The eidolons are an advanced form of emanations, although most of the inhabitants of Citadel’s world think of them as distinct. Take a burst of telekinetic force and tie part of your psyche to it so that it acquires an animal’s intelligence and senses. You can use it as a spy or a guardian… if you can create them at all.

She and Shanasee crowded through the door and put Kiar on the couch. One of Yithiere’s eidolons trotted in behind them and joined the moon-glow wolf. Jant’s fox eidolon followed and scooted under a chair. Shanasee didn’t have eidolons now either, though she’d manifested them before Benjen had died. Like Tiana, she was dependent on her relatives to protect her Regent from whatever stalked them.

Kiar wondered if a wolf eidolon was still protecting Lisette as well. How many eidolons was Yithiere maintaining? Again, she was struck to tears. He tried to be so tireless. But the more eidolons one projected, the less resources one had for one’s self.

The Royal Blood triad is a rare magic, though: limited to those of a specific bloodline. Why? Plot mysteries! But there’s another magic that is much more common, despite the activation ritual’s lethality. This is the Logos magic, which I’ve described to friends as the ability to speak the programming language of the world. When a wizard (or Logosworker) activates their Sight, they’re basically seeing the Matrix. They’re learning how to recode the world, using an occult language where the words themselves hurt to say. Some cultures are a lot better at it than others.

Slowly, she pulled the special Logos-vision over her eyes, being careful not to go too far. It was usually easy to get halfway there, to start perceiving the basic component nature of the universe. The problem was resisting going further than halfway. If she didn’t hold it back, it would dominate her vision, turning everything she looked at into an incomprehensible jumble of passive linguistic noise.

While I love the characters and the plot of Citadel of the Sky, it isn’t an exaggeration that exploring the interactions between the different types of magic is definitely one of my favorite bits. I like rich worlds and complex systems. I really love thinking about how familiar concepts can be reimagined in other worlds.




Twitter: @chrysoula






Chrysoula Tzavelas went to twelve schools in twelve years while growing up as an Air Force brat, and she never met a library she didn’t like. She now lives near Seattle with cats, dogs, adults and children. They graciously allow her a couple of hours to write everyday and one day she’ll have time to do other things again, too. She likes combed wool, bread dough, and gardens, but she also likes technology, games and space. This probably goes hand in hand with liking Jane Austen, Terry Pratchett and Iain Banks.


My Favorite Bit: Eli K.P. William talks about CASH CRASH JUBILEE

My Favorite Bit iconEli K.P. William is joining us today with his novel Cash Crash Jubilee. Here’s the publisher’s description.

In a near-future Tokyo, every action—from blinking to sexual intercourse—is intellectual property owned by corporations, who take it upon themselves to charge licensing fees for your existence.

Amon Kenzaki is a Liquidator for the Global Action Transaction Authority. If you go bankrupt and can no longer pay to live, Amon is sent to hunt you down and rip the BodyBank from your flesh. So what if you’re sent to the BankDeath Camps after, forever isolated from a life of information and transaction? Amon is just happy to do his job as long as he’s climbing the corporate ladder.

But the higher you climb, the farther you fall. Amon is tasked with a simple mission, one he’s done hundreds of times. Except he awakes the next morning having no memory of the assignment, and finds his bank account nearly depleted, having been accused of an action known as “jubilee.”

To restore balance to his account, Amon must work to unravel the meaning behind jubilee. But as he digs himself deeper toward bankruptcy, Amon begins to ask questions of the ironclad system he’s served his whole life and finds it may cost him more than his job to get to the truth of things.

What’s Eli’s favorite bit?

Cash Crash Jubilee 9781940456270

For what my preferences as author are worth, I’d say that my favorite part of Cash Crash Jubilee is the ending. This is where all the emotional, mythological and narrative currents culminate in one last surge of action.

Obviously, I’m not going to tell you what happens at the end. I hate when people ruin the ending of stories for me and I definitely won’t be doing such a disservice to my own story. But rather than stop my post here, let me tell you about a little detail that spoils nothing and yet still manages to say a lot about Cash Crash Jubilee and the Jubilee Cycle series as a whole.

First, I need to tell you a few things about my main character, Amon Kenzaki. So, in this near future Tokyo where all actions are intellectual properties owned by corporations and everyone has to pay licensing fees for everything they do, Amon works for the Global Action Transaction Authority or GATA. They’re basically the government except all they do is make sure everyone’s paying the correct amount to the right corporation. Being a Liquidator, Amon’s job is to apprehend people who go bankrupt, so that GATA can remove their implanted computer system (called a BodyBank) and banish them to Bankdeath Camps.

Like it says on the back of the book, right?

Except, almost every night, a mysterious forest appears in Amon’s dreams and he would do anything to go there. Since travelling to this place is sure to cost lots of money, he becomes obsessed with frugality and job promotion in order to increase his savings. His obsession grows so extreme that he even starts taking seminars to reduce the frequency of his breaths and blinks (which are just barely considered volitional actions because they can be controlled consciously).

Fast-forward to chapter eight. Amon has just been informed that he must cash-crash the Chief Executive Minister of GATA, an almost supernaturally eloquent man named Lawrence Barrow who Amon has idolized for most of his life. His best friend and liquidation partner, Rick Ferro, didn’t show up for work that day and refuses to answer Amon’s messages for some reason, so it looks like Amon will have to go in on the mission alone.

Feeling ambivalent and confused about the situation, Amon finds himself wandering around Ginza, an area of Tokyo where the latest high-class fashions transform on the bodies of streetwalkers literally every second. Lost in thought, he’s at the back of a crowd waiting for the light to turn green, when a woman approaches him from behind a stall displaying various green teas. She proffers a tray of paper cups filled with tea and then:

“Care to try some gyokuro from Uji?” she asked, holding out the tray. Amon ignored her. He was a bit parched, but didn’t want to pay the company that owned “accept free samples.”

This little episode performs multiple roles within the narrative. The two Japanese words develop the Japan setting; Uji is a place in Kyoto famous for producing green tea and gyokuro is a premium variety that is shaded from the sun at least two weeks before harvesting to create a particular intense flavor. Amon’s refusal of the sample develops his character; he is so concerned about saving money he won’t even pay a small fee to drink tea despite being thirsty. There’s a lot happening here and I could go on, but I didn’t choose this part to elaborate on any of these roles. Rather, I chose it because the irony of a supposedly free sample that nonetheless costs money provides an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of “freedom” and how this concept relates to Cash Crash Jubilee.

The word “free” has many overlapping and sometimes contradictory meanings, but in this post it’s worth mentioning three. First, something can be free in the sense of being “complimentary.” In this case the word is usually applied to a product, service or activity that doesn’t require payment of money to own, borrow or use. Second, free can mean something like “unhindered” or “untrammeled”. There are no physical, psychological or social obstacles blocking some particular course of action. Finally, it can have a more proactive meaning. We’re free when we have the potential to realize our desires and ambitions.

In the excerpt above, all of these different meanings are implied and conflated. Considering in what sense Amon might be free to take the sample illustrates this point. Is the sample complimentary? Are there no obstacles to his choosing it? Does he have the potential to realize his desires in this moment? I don’t like analyzing my own novel, but I think these questions are important because they apply just as well to actions in our daily lives. You might be tempted to answer “no” to all three questions, but I think this amounts to denying that anyone in the present world is free, because, if you think honestly and carefully about your actions, you’ll realize that it’s rare for us to be free in all three senses of the word just outlined.

Perhaps you’re willing to give three definitive nos anyway because you’re already convinced that we’re never free. Perhaps you think we’re all pre-determined in our choices or are all political and economic slaves with no hope of emancipation.

Whatever you believe about freedom, many details in Cash Crash Jubilee provide an opportunity to reflect on it. And this passage is particularly useful in this regard since in just a few short sentences it gestures to the discord between our different notions of freedom that resonates through the entire Jubilee Cycle series.


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Eli K. P. William, a native of Toronto, currently works in Tokyo as a Japanese-English translator. He has also written for the Japan Times, Now Magazine, and the Pacific Rim Review of Books. Cash Crash Jubilee is his first novel.

My Favorite Bit: Kelley Grant talks about DESERT RISING

My Favorite BitToday Kelley Grant joins us to talk about her new novel, Desert Rising. Here is the publisher’s description:

“It frightens me, knowing the One has called up two such strong individuals. It means that there are troubled times in our future, and you must prepare yourselves.”

The Temple at Illian is the crown jewel of life in the Northern Territory. There, pledges are paired with feli, the giant sacred cats of the One god, and are instructed to serve the One’s four capricious deities. Yet Sulis, a young woman from the Southern Desert, has a different perspective – one that just might be considered heresy…

Sulis’s twin Kadar, meanwhile, is part of a different revolution. When Kadar falls in love with a woman from a Forsaken caste, he finds he’s willing to risk anything to get her people to freedom. But with Sulis drawing a dangerous level of attention from the deities, and war about to break out on two fronts, change may not come as easily as either twin had hoped.

So what is Kelley’s favorite bit?


I grew up running wild in the hills of Ohio’s Amish country. Animals were always an important part of my life; both our family pets, and the wild creatures who co-inhabited the old farmhouse we lived in. We had bees in the attic, flying squirrels peering at us from the walls and snakes in the dirt cellar. We also took in stray dogs, hamsters and even a very angry goat who felt called to trample me at every opportunity.

And there were always cats. It was seldom I went to sleep without a purring cat curled somewhere on the bed. I realized recently that I have been owned by 18 felines from childhood until now. So of course somewhere in those years of ownership they brainwashed me into creating the feli of my novel Desert Rising. The feli are large felines who claim magically talented people for the Temple in the Northern Territory. They are my favorite bit.

In Desert Rising, it was fun playing with a world that wasn’t human centered. The feli were created first, as companions to The One – who is the supreme creator. Humans were created to be companions to the feli because the giant cats were bored. Only then were the four deities created in the image of humans to rule over them. Because cats have no interest in governing wayward humans! And the feli of my world are truly cats – not humans in the form of cats, not talking animals – but cats in their purest persnickety felineness. They want scratches behind the ears, the best food, and their chosen human to provide a soft lap to purr on.

The feli are my favorite bit, not just because they are awesome, large cats, but because the feli Djinn, who claims my heroine Sulis, is a tribute to a particular cat who claimed me, just after college. Djinn, however is cheetah-sized, so he can really enforce his feline desires on Sulis.

 “Unlike the other feli, who remained sitting tall, just barely touching their paired, Djinn sprawled beside her and laid his big head in the lap she created with her crossed legs. When she didn’t immediately stroke him behind the ears, he reached a long leg out and touched her knee with his paw, claws barely sheathed. She sighed in irritation and caressed him, so he would not put a hole in her shift. His answering purr filled the meditation area, and the other pledges looked over at them in surprise. Lasha met her eyes, and Sulis rolled hers. Lasha looked away quickly, hiding a smile.”

The cat who claimed my heart was Chester, an extraordinary cat who loved me through six moves, through college, job changes and marriage. Chester would drape himself across me when I read and if the petting stopped, the warning paw would go out as he touched me on the knee or face. The claw was next, if I did not pay attention. Chester assessed every human who came through his house. If they were judged worthy, he would bestow his presence on their laps. If unworthy, they dared not touch him or be slashed. And Chester owned every bit of me.

We lost Chester at age 19 to kidney failure. He lives on in Desert Rising. But as I write this, Willow is stretched out beside me, occasionally sticking a paw on the keyboard to put in her word. Our evil flamepoint Siamese Ember jealously eyes her from a bookshelf  – Ember stars in the second book of the series, The Obsidian Temple, which comes out in July.  With their gazes upon me, I feel a certain compulsion to put even more feli in book 3. After all, where would Sulis be, without her Djinn? How could my life be complete without a cat on the lap and a good book in hand?



Twitter: @kgrantwrites


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Kelley Grant grew up in the hills of Ohio’s Amish country. Her best friends were the books she read, stories she created and the forest and fields that inspired her. She first told stories to her cats, then her teachers, then expanded her audience at Otterbein college, where she earned her degree in writing. She and her husband live on a wooded hilltop and are owned by five cats, a dog and numerous uninvited critters. Besides writing, Kelley teaches yoga and meditation, sings kirtan with her husband, and designs brochures and media.

My Favorite Bit: Brooke Johnson talks about THE BRASS GIANT

My Favorite BitToday Brooke Johnson joins us to talk about her novel, The Brass Giant: A Chroniker City Story. Here is the publisher’s description:

Sometimes, even the most unlikely person can change the world

Seventeen-year-old Petra Wade, self-taught clockwork engineer, wants nothing more than to become a certified member of the Guild, an impossible dream for a lowly shop girl. Still, she refuses to give up, tinkering with any machine she can get her hands on, in between working and babysitting her foster siblings.

When Emmerich Goss–handsome, privileged, and newly recruited into the Guild–needs help designing a new clockwork system for a top-secret automaton, it seems Petra has finally found the opportunity she’s been waiting for. But if her involvement on the project is discovered, Emmerich will be marked for treason, and a far more dire fate would await Petra.

Working together in secret, they build the clockwork giant, but as the deadline for its completion nears, Petra discovers a sinister conspiracy from within the Guild council … and their automaton is just the beginning.

So what is Brooke’s favorite bit?


When I first sat down to write The Brass Giant, I never could have expected that this simple idea that popped into my head one late night of insomnia would somehow develop into this vivid alternate universe, sprawling with characters and stories. All I knew was that I needed to tell this one story, about a young girl who wants something impossible for her time—and how she makes that dream possible. I never imagined that Chroniker City, the fictional city in which The Brass Giant takes place, would grow so far beyond my original idea.

The city sits twenty miles off the southern coast of Wales, built onto a small island of rock eight miles west of Grassholm. In our world, a remote lighthouse stands there, built in the late 1850s. However, in my alternate timeline, a wealthy German engineer by the name of Gumarich Chroniker instead chose the location in the early 1830s for his greatest engineering project—a mechanical, self-sustaining city that would eventually become the technological hub of the modern world.

What I didn’t realize was that in the course of writing the novel, the city would evolve beyond that original world-building. As I delved deeper into the setting, the city gained history and layers and several different dynamics that I did not expect.

And I love that the world came alive like that. I love that this city started as nothing more than a simple what if… and then became this multifaceted world—from the subterranean levels of engines and boilers beneath the city to the leading polytechnical university of the modern world.

But one aspect of the setting stands out from the rest: the subcity. In The Brass Giant, I spend a good number of pages beneath the streets of the city proper. My main character navigates the dangerous service tunnels and networks of pipes to sneak into a restricted workshop, she visits her brother in the subcity boilers, and even uses her knowledge of the subcity layout to escape prison and go into hiding when she’s accused of espionage by the Guild.

Here’s a quick description from the novel:

Petra led Emmerich down the brass spiral staircase and stepped onto a catwalk, suspended high over the rows of furnaces and boilers. Steam hissed through the latticework of pipes along the walls and sweat glistened on the underbellies of the boiling tubs. Below, lines of workers rhythmically thrust shovels into coal carts and fed the furnace fires, the light of the glowing coals gleaming off their soot-covered skin. The air was hot with the tang of metal.

From the boilers, they traveled the tiers of catwalks, descending deeper into the subcity—vast chambers of enormous gear trains and spinning turbines laid out neatly below, hundreds of floor engineers, foremen, operators, and technicians attending to the chief tasks that kept the city alive and running. The droning roar of the massive machines filled the air with a deafening hum, infused with the sound of clanking pistons, the oscillating whir of spinning wheels and gears, the groan of overburdened pipes, and the gratifying hiss of steam as pressure was released.

Petra and Emmerich drifted through the discordant rhythm, passing by the busy control deck and into the very heart of the subcity—the primary engine room, the source of all power to the city. They stood over the spinning driveshaft, surveying the grandest of machines from the narrow catwalk bridge that spanned the width of the chamber. It was here, deep in the thrum of the city itself, that Petra felt truly alive, truly inspired—her sanctuary.

She rested her arms against the railing, breathing in the rich scents of coal, gasoline, and oil, the pulse of the city singing through her body. Emmerich marveled at the whirling turbine, his eyes brighter than she had ever seen them, filled with an excitement she knew well. He no doubt felt the thrum of the machines in his chest, the whir of gears in his mind, the oscillations of linkages in his bones, the hiss of steam in his lungs. Here, he was one with the machines, one with the city, connected in the same way she was. In that moment, caught up in the movement of the machines, he understood her in a way that no one else ever could. It was why she had brought him here.

The subcity is what brings Chroniker City to life for me, transforming what could have been yet another ordinary London-esque setting into a fully mechanized city, a character in its own right, with many secrets hidden in its deep, dark hollows.

This city is alive, and I hope that some small hint of its depth and mystery reach readers as they read the novel, and that Chroniker City comes alive to them in the same way it exists in my head.









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Brooke Johnson is a stay-at-home mom and tea-loving writer. As the jack-of-all-trades bard of the family, she journeys through life with her husband, daughter, and dog. She currently resides in Northwest Arkansas but hopes to one day live somewhere more mountainous.

My Favorite Bit: Andrea Phillips Talks About REVISION

My Favorite BitAndrea Phillips is joining us today with her novel Revision. Here’s the publisher’s description.

Mira is a trust fund baby playing at making it on her own as a Brooklyn barista. When Benji, her tech startup boyfriend, dumps her out of the blue, she decides a little revenge vandalism is in order. Mira updates his entry on Verity, Benji’s Wikipedia-style news aggregator, to say the two have become engaged. Hours later, he shows up at her place with an engagement ring. Chalk it up to coincidence, right?

Soon after, Benji’s long-vanished co-founder Chandra shows up asking for Mira’s help. She claims Verity can nudge unlikely events into really happening — even change someone’s mind. And Chandra insists that Verity — and Mira’s newly minted fiance — can’t be trusted.

So what is Andrea’s favorite bit?


My very favorite part of Revision is the relationship dynamic between two characters in the supporting cast: Joseph and Joey, who are the proprietors of Joes’ Buzz, the coffee shop where Our Heroine is employed. I love the Joes. They’re a joy to spend time with, and I think it comes through in the writing.

Joseph sauntered in early in the afternoon. Where Joey could have been the second coming of Jerry Garcia, Joseph looked like a Korean Ben Franklin, though I don’t think anybody would have been brave enough to say it right to his face. He had an adorable round belly, a balding pate with a little ponytail holding his graying hair back, and a tiny pair of half-moon reading glasses perched at the bottom of his nose.

“Our Mira’s getting married,” Joey called to him, right across the whole room.

“Is she pregnant?” Joseph called back. I must have turned about five different shades of crimson. I could tell from the heat of all that blood rushing to my face at once.

The couple of regulars in the place looked at each other and then studiously focused on their phones and lattes. You could practically see their ears grow three sizes, though. Sigh.

“She says no,” Joey said. “But I don’t know if we believe her.”

“I’m not pregnant,” I said.

Joseph strolled up and carefully inspected my reddened eyes, my sallow complexion, my filthy hair. “You look terrible,” he said. “I bet it’s going to be a girl.”

Fiction is riddled with bad relationships. Angst! Drama! Faithlessness! And that’s as it should be, because conflict is the heart of drama. Good relationships can be incredibly boring to read about. Static, or even entirely lifeless. Who wants to read that?

And so it’s not surprising that the primary relationships in Revision are troubled, too. Trust, communication, boundary issues: it’s all in there. In particular, Mira’s romantic relationship with Benji is reminiscent of the subtly bad relationships many of us have in our teens or 20s, before you learn how to do it right. (Or maybe that’s just me?)

But I think it’s important to show good relationships, too, so our mental template for what love looks like doesn’t only come in fifty shades of abusive or unhealthy.

And to take it a step further, I especially wanted to portray a good, stable, mature gay marriage, because they’re fairly hard to come by on screen or on the page, even now. (Though I should point out that I’m a straight woman myself, and I in no way mean to elevate myself as an authority on this topic!)

I find that when a gay relationship gets any attention at all in mainstream media, the plot often focuses on that gayness itself as a source for drama and characterization. Gay people in stories are defined by questions of who’s out and who isn’t; who is welcomed and supported by their family, and who isn’t. We tell that kind of story so much that we forget it’s not the only story there is. It becomes reductive; characters defined exclusively by their gayness lose the chance to be complete people.

So I try to do differently, and show more of the vastness of human experience. So: the Joes, who are defined by the warmth of their feelings for one another, not their relative position on the spectrum of sexuality. The Joes have one of the most delightful relationships I think I’ve ever written. They’re comfortable with one another, they have a great rapport, they’re loving and protective of each other and of the life they’ve built together. No matter what happens to them, there’s no question they’ll find a way through it together.





Fireside Fiction


Andrea Phillips is an award-winning transmedia writer, game designer and author. She has worked on projects such as iOS fitness games Zombies, Run! and The Walk, The Maester’s Path for HBO’s Game of Thrones, human rights game America 2049, and the independent commercial ARG Perplex City. Her projects have variously won the Prix Jeunesse Interactivity Prize, a Broadband Digital award, a Canadian Screen Award, a BIMA, the Origins Vanguard Innovation Award, and others. Her book A Creator’s Guide to Transmedia Storytelling is used to teach digital storytelling at universities around the world.

Her independent work includes the Kickstarted serial The Daring Adventures of Captain Lucy Smokeheart and The McKinnon Account, a short story that unfolds in your email inbox. Her debut novel Revision is out on May 5 from Fireside Fiction Co. and her short fiction has been published in Escape Pod and the Jews vs. Aliens anthology.

You can find Andrea on Twitter at @andrhia. I mean, if you like that sort of thing.


My Favorite Bit: Michael J. Martinez talks about THE VENUSIAN GAMBIT

My Favorite BitToday Michael J. Martinez joins us to talk about his new novel, The Venusian Gambit: Book Three of the Daedalus Series. Here is the publisher’s description:

In the year 2135, dangerous alien life forms freed in the destruction of Saturn’s moon Enceladus are making their way towards Earth. A task force spearheaded by Lt. Cmdr. Shaila Jain is scrambling to beat them there while simultaneously trying to save crewmember Stephane Durand, who was infected during the mission to Saturn and is now controlled by a form of life intent on reopening a transdimensional rift and destroying the human race. But Jain doesn’t realize that the possessed Stephane has bigger plans, beaming critical data to other conspirators suspiciously heading not for Earth, but for Venus…

In 1809—a Napoleonic era far different from our own—the French have occupied England with their Corps Eternélle, undead soldiers risen through the darkest Alchemy. Only the actions of Lord Admiral Thomas Weatherby and the Royal Navy have kept the French contained to Earth. But the machinations of old enemies point to a bold and daring gambit: an ancient weapon, presumed lost in the jungles of Venus.

Now, Weatherby must choose whether to stay and fight to retake his homeland or pursue the French to the green planet. And Shaila must decide if it’s possible to save the man she loves, or if he must be sacrificed for the good of two dimensions. In the dark, alien jungles of Venus, humanity’s fate in both dimensions hangs in the balance—forcing past and present to once again join forces against an ancient terror.

So what’s Michael’s favorite bit?


All those clichés about being a parent are true – it’s a tough job, but it’s the most rewarding thing I can possibly do. To see my daughter grow up into a very caring, loving, cool individual is the best thing ever, and all I can do is work hard to ensure I don’t mess that up.

The funny thing is, the fiction I grew up on really didn’t really reflect a parent’s perspective when it came to relationships. There’s a lot of stuff out there from the kid’s point-of-view – especially when said kid is rebelling against his or her parents, or one or both parents get fridged, sadly – but not much from the parent.

I have a lot of favorite bits in The Venusian Gambit, but there’s a father-daughter moment there that tops them all, because I think it reflects that mix of love, pride and worry that parents have when regarding their kids – especially when the kids do something brave or selfless.

On Venus, Lord Admiral Thomas Weatherby needs to convince the Venusian lizard-aliens (yep, just roll with it) to side with him against the French in 1809. However, he does not have the language skills to make the proper ritual introduction – one slip, and the Venusians will kill him where he stands.

His daughter, Elizabeth, has been encouraged from an early age to make the most of her mind, and is a self-taught expert in both the language and culture of alien species among the Known Worlds – including those of the Venusians. Naturally, she promptly volunteers to take her father’s place, even though the ritual requires personal blood-letting in addition to the proper verbiage.

As you might imagine, Weatherby immediately dismisses the notion of his daughter taking on such a dangerous task. Yet there’s nothing for it – she’s the best person for the job, and the most knowledgeable. It’s up to her to say the words, draw the blade across her hand and spill her blood to placate the Venusians – because not only is England itself at stake, but the entire multiverse as well.

Elizabeth understands the risks and the stakes, and she wants to do it. And Weatherby has no choice but to stand aside and allow her to make that terribly risky but incredibly important choice.

My daughter is only just turned 11, and naturally I’m working assiduously to ensure we can all avoid such life-and-death perils here in the suburbs. But I can see her grow up daily, making her own decisions to be kind, to be helpful, to pursue her interests as she sees fit. She’s even-tempered (as much as tweens can be), responsible and, I think, a genuinely good person. A father’s bias, perhaps, but I’m sticking to it.

So when Lord Weatherby watches Elizabeth make her way to the ritual circle, knife in hand, I may not be able to relate 100%, but I can certainly feel for him. There’s pride and terror and love, bound in a knot in his gut, and despite the stakes, his first instinct is to just take Elizabeth away from the danger – even if it means allowing Napoleon to win.

As a fellow father, I feel a bit bad for putting Weatherby through all that – as bad as I can feel regarding a fictional character of my own making, at any rate. But I also feel a lot of shared pride in Elizabeth’s intelligence and courage, in her ability to do the right thing despite the cost.

While I certainly hope my kid is never in such a precarious spot, life is going to throw curve balls at her. And while I highly doubt she’ll have to make choices involving blood-letting alien introductory rituals, I can only hope that I’m giving her the right stuff, whatever that stuff is, to make good choices.

So that’s my favorite bit among bits in The Venusian Gambit. I think we all want our kids to be safe and happy, but that’s not always going to be the case. All I can do, like Weatherby, is to raise a kid who’s going to do the right thing when the time comes.






Michael J. Martinez is the author of The Venusian Gambit, the final installment of the Daedalus trilogy, as well as other assorted bits of fiction. More importantly, he’s a husband and a dad. He can be found online at and on Twitter at @mikemartinez72.

My Favorite Bit: Lev AC Rosen talks about DEPTH

My Favorite BitLev AC Rosen joins us today to talk about his new novel, Depth. Here is the publisher’s description:

In a post-apocalyptic flooded New York City, a private investigator’s routine surveillance case leads to a treasure everyone wants to find—and someone is willing to kill for.

Depth combines hardboiled mystery and dystopian science fiction in a future where the rising ocean levels have left New York twenty-one stories under water and cut off from the rest of the United States. But the city survives, and Simone Pierce is one of its best private investigators. Her latest case, running surveillance on a potentially unfaithful husband, was supposed to be easy. Then her target is murdered, and the search for his killer points Simone towards a secret from the past that can’t possibly be real—but that won’t stop the city’s most powerful men and women from trying to acquire it for themselves, with Simone caught in the middle.

So what is Lev’s favorite bit?



Noir-speak.  There’s a specific scene in Depth that I think is probably my favorite, but it’s so spoilery I can’t bring myself to talk about it.  But I can talk about why it’s my favorite bit – and how that aspect of the scene reaches out to my favorite part of the book in the general: the dialogue.

I think noir is put together by its dialogue.  The world in so many ways is created by the way characters speak to each other; shorthand, slang, the back and forth.  In the scene I Dare Not Speak Of, it’s two characters talking over a body.  They speak in short-hand, one implying the other is guilty of murder, the other turning it around.  It’s almost like a court battle, but instead of long speeches and careful questioning, it’s down to the barest minimum of dialogue.  Each sentence has to pack as much information as possible into as few words as possible.  Words become bullets.  The history of these characters, the situation they’re in, is built by the words they throw at each other.

And since the world of Depth is one in which the ice caps have melted and New York City exists as building tops and bridges, I got to make up some slang, too.  I didn’t want to go futuristic at all.  I wanted to evoke the past, the 40s, the hardboiled everything – go forward to go back.  So I pulled up old slang from my favorite noir movies and books.  Some became especially effective in a wet world: “air tight,” referring to something or someone good and trustworthy, for example, seemed even more effective in a world where air tight meant you could keep a thing dry.  To drift – to head out, leave, vanish, worked pretty well, too.  Some needed to be adapted: dust – which could mean a lot of things, but in the context I wanted meant worthless – didn’t seem to fit anymore.  I turned that to salt.  Make tracks – to run out of a place – didn’t make sense either, so that became make waves.  And since storms are deadly out on the sea, when I wanted to imply the idea of sensing trouble, I made up my own slang: “feel a drop.”  There were other terms, too, cobbled together from old movies and nautical slang.  I wrote up a whole list – these are just some of my favorites.  I didn’t even get to use them all.  But the art of constructing slang around the world – using the words people spoke to convey something about the world – was a real pleasure, and something that turned out like I wanted it to.  I was afraid of it veering into camp now and then (and certainly, reading all those together, it might look that way), but with spare sentences and select phrases, just a few bullets of dialogue can paint the picture of the world I wanted.


Lev AC Rosen website

Twitter: @LevACRosen



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Lev AC Rosen is the author of the widely praised novel, All Men of Genius (Tor, 2011). His middle grade novel, Woundabout, will be published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers in Summer 2015. He received his BA from Oberlin College and his MFA in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. Originally from lower Manhattan, Lev now lives in even lower Manhattan, right at the edge of the water, with his husband and a very small cat. You can find him online at

My Favorite Bit: Of Noble Family

OfNobleFamily-400Yes, I know. I’m doing one of these for my own book BUT there’s this thing I’m super-excited about. It’s the audiobook. So– I narrate all of the Glamourist Histories. The final book in the series is set in Antigua. Aside from Jane and Vincent, and a couple of minor characters, the rest of the people in Of Noble Family are Antiguan born. Some are free people of colour, some are enslaved. All of them speak with an Antiguan accent.

If I hadn’t written the books, AND narrated the first four in the series, I would never have been cast for this book. One or two black characters? Sure. An entire novel? No. It would be the audio-equivalent of blackface.

Fortunately, before I even turned the book in, had already agreed with me about why casting me was problematic. What we decided to do was to bring on two additional narrators, Prentice Onayemi and Robin Miles. They are both fantastic.

I broke the book apart and we treated it like a full-cast audio production. They are both amazing.

So what is my Favorite Bit?

For the first time, I get to hear Vincent speak aloud. I told Prentice to think Mr. Darcy and go for his deepest, sexiest rumble and the man delivers. Oh, my. His other characters are also wonderful to listen to, but Vincent? He’s really catching his retreat into formality to hide social anxiety. The warmth in his voice when he and Jane are flirting… I just love it.

Robin Miles is also spectacular. Her character range is astonishing and she actually called Joanne Hillhouse — the Antigua editor/author I worked with on the dialect — to work out lines that were in Antiguan Creole English.

I’m actually listening to my own audiobook, which I never do, and am eager to hear what happens next because of the life that these two narrators are bringing to the book. The lines aren’t the way I would have narrated them, but they feel true to the characters. That’s what’s so exciting. I’m a huge fan of audio fiction and audio plays. Getting to hear the range of characters fully represented… it makes my heart squee.

You can listen to a sample on and get to hear a little of Vincent and Herr Scholes.

My Favorite Bit: M. Darusha Wehm talks about Children of Arkadia

My Favorite Bit M. Darusha Wehm joins us today to talk about her novel, Children of Arkadia. Here is the publisher’s description:

Kaus wants nothing more than to be loved while its human counterpart, Raj Patel, believes fervently in freedom. Arkadia, one of four space stations circling Jupiter, was to be a refuge for all who fought the corrupt systems of old Earth, a haven where both humans and Artificial Intelligences could be happy and free. But the old prejudices and desires are still at play and, no matter how well-meaning its citizens, the children of Arkadia have tough compromises to make.

When the future of humanity is at stake, which will prove more powerful: freedom or happiness? What sacrifices will Kaus, Raj, and the rest of Arkadia’s residents have to make to survive?

So what is Darusha’s favorite bit?


When I was about eight years old I had my future all figured out. After a couple of my classmates and I badgered our parents into taking us to the local museum for a talk on humanity’s future in space, I knew where I was going to be when I grew up. Not what I was going to do, exactly, but where I’d be doing it.

A Stanford torus, if I got my way, though I admitted that my friend’s preference for a Bernal sphere would be acceptable. I had no doubt that by the time the 21st century rolled around and I was officially old, I’d be living in a space colony.

Those were different times: it was before the Challenger disaster, before space exploration was considered a non-essential expense. The future was just around the corner and anything was possible.

It didn’t quite work out that way. It is, indeed, the greatest disappointment of my life that the enthusiasm and boldness of the speakers in that dusty museum basement room have been dampened by politics and economics.

Decades later, I wanted to write something full of big ideas, something that would make me think about a world I’d like to live in. Something that made me feel like I do when I look up into a sky full of stars on a moonless night. That’s how Children of Arkadia was born.

Writing this book was, at its most selfish, a way for me to live out my childhood dream. Yes, it’s the story of a utopia gone wrong and I can’t say that I would necessarily want to live in that particular society. But while I wrote it I got to imagine a better world, a place among the stars where instead of looking up to the sky, dreamers and children would look up at the homes and fields of their neighbours across the wheel. Where the need of human groups to expand and explore would be met without displacing anyone else. Where day-to-day life was a grand adventure.

As I lived among the characters of the book, as they built their home from a bare metal shell into a living, complicated ecosystem, I got to experience what they did. The fear and thrill of going somewhere and building something no one had ever done before. Of taking baby steps on a journey to other worlds. And that’s my favourite bit about Children of Arkadia.

I still believe that our destiny is among the stars. Spaceship Earth cannot be our only vessel if humanity is to survive. Sadly, I doubt that there will be ordinary people living full-time in space in my lifetime (though I’d be thrilled to be wrong). At least we can live there in our imaginations — and maybe stories like mine will help to inspire future generations to make these dreams come true.


M. Darusha Wehm website



M. Darusha Wehm is the three-time Parsec Award shortlisted author of the novels Beautiful Red, Self Made, Act of Will andThe Beauty of Our Weapons. Her next novel, Children of Arkadia (Bundoran Press), will be released April 28, 2015. She is the editor of the crime and mystery magazine Plan B.

She is from Canada, but currently lives in Wellington, New Zealand after spending the past several years traveling at sea on her sailboat. For more information, visit

My Favorite Bit: Howard Tayler talks about PLANET MERCENARY

My Favorite BitHoward Taylor joins us today to talk about Planet Mercenary, a role-playing game (RPG) he and Alan Bahr created, set in the universe of Schlock Mercenary. Here’s the description from the RPG’s Kickstarter:

The Planet Mercenary Role Playing Game is a custom system designed for speedy play with rich storytelling. Combat goes quickly, and when it goes disastrously it’s still a lot of fun.

The core product will be a hard-bound, illustrated, 208-page, full color world book, plus a deck of 50 cards used to steer your role play in hilarious directions.

We’ve hit our first stretch goal, so we’ll also be making custom dice sets (six dice in two different colors) and a Planet Mercenary challenge coin. Further stretch goals include additional pages in the book, armory pins, and some very enticing in-universe reading material.

So what is Howard’s favorite bit?


I was pretty sure it was a terrible idea.

For thirty seconds I thought it was brilliant, and then it seemed so dumb I actually felt embarrassment for having thought of it, and I hadn’t even shared it with anyone yet.

I was at lunch with Alan Bahr, and we were trying to come up with a name for the role playing game set in the Schlock Mercenary universe. We were pretty late in the development cycle to not have a name, and we were getting desperate.

Schlock Mercenary readers have been requesting a role playing game since 2003. You’d think that would have given me enough time to dream up a name for it, but naming non-existent products didn’t seem like a good use of my time. Then, in February of 2015, Sandra, Alan, and I were finally far enough along that we needed a name, and we needed one rather immediately. We could have called it the Schlock Mercenary RPG, but that felt lackluster, and everybody agreed that it would have limited our reach in the wider RPG space.

The idea, the terrible one, had been with me for a while, and I was afraid to share it with Alan. We were brainstorming in a hotel restaurant when I finally decided that bouncing one more dumb thing off of him couldn’t possibly hurt THAT much. I shrugged aside my fear of looking stupid, and gave Alan the pitch.

“How about this: We call the game PLANET MERCENARY, naming it after an in-universe supplier of weapons and stuff.”

Alan winced.

“There’s more.” I mimed opening a book and turning pages. “The book is an in-world artifact. The front page is a letter from the CEO.”


I adopted my Official Market-Speak Voice:

“Valued Planet Mercenary customer! Many of you have expressed concerns that the grunts in your companies are uneducated imbeciles, and you can’t get them to read briefing materials, not even to literally save their lives. We have created this old-timey pencil-and-paper role playing book to solve your problem. Your grunts will think it is just a game, but they will actually be learning about the weapons they carry, the enemies they point those weapons at, and the places where, if they read carefully, they might just NOT breathe their last breath.”

I stopped, and waited for Alan to say “Yup. That’s ridiculous.”

He did not say that.

His eyes lit up, his jaw dropped, and he began gushing about how awesome this was. He thought it was fantastic. I waited for thirty seconds, wondering if the idea would turn as dumb for him as it had for me.

It did not.

So I tried looking at my silly idea through his eyes, and I fell in love with it all over again.

We shared the in-world-artifact concept with a few others, and they reacted almost exactly like Alan had, loving it, and becoming quite excited to see the finished product. This energized me, and when I sat down to write some of the fluff in the book I adopted an in-universe voice, and the words flowed in that exhilarating way that tells writers they are geniuses and cannot be stopped.

(I should point out that this exhilaration never lasts long enough, and there’s always a slog during which we wonder whether we’re just too stupid to know how stupid we are, but imposter syndrome is a story for another day.)

Other ideas followed. In the margins on the front page there is an in-line comment from the CEO:

Who wrote this? I don’t talk like that! Also, if I make notes in here, will they get cleaned out before we print?

One of the writers assures the CEO that in-line comments will be removed, and of course they are not. The comments in the margins become their own through-line, telling several stories across 200+ pages of RPG text.

I find it a little frightening to consider that this idea, which I was afraid to share with my collaborator, is now the theme that ties the entire project together. It is not just a title and a cool hook. It is the hook, the line, the sinker, the rod, the boat, and the compass.

It is also my favorite bit—not because it’s important to the project, but because it will always serve as a reminder to me that some of the very best ideas look stupid, and I won’t be able to figure out whether they’re worthwhile without sharing them.


Planet Mercenary Kickstarter

Schlock Mercenary

Writing Excuses


Howard Tayler is the writer and illustrator behind Schlock Mercenary, the Hugo-nominated science fiction comic strip. He also co-hosts the Hugo and Parsec award-winning “Writing Excuses” podcast, a weekly ‘cast for genre-fiction writers, with Mary Robinette Kowal, Brandon Sanderson, and Dan Wells. They collaborated together to create the Shadows Beneath anthology.

His most recent project is the Planet Mercenary RPG which is being funded via Kickstarter right now. Planet Mercenary is set in the universe of the Schlock Mercenary comic. You can find the comic online at

Howard  lives in Orem, Utah with his wife Sandra, their four children, and one ungrateful, archetypally imperious cat.