Archive for the ‘My Favorite Bit’ Category

My Favorite Bit: Tom Toner talks about THE PROMISE OF THE CHILD

My Favorite Bit iconTom Toner is joining us today with his novel The Promise of the Child. Here’s the publisher’s description:

It is the 147th century.

In the radically advanced post-human worlds of the Amaranthine Firmament, there is a contender to the Immortal throne: Aaron the Long-Life, the Pretender, a man who is not quite a man.

In the barbarous hominid kingdoms of the Prism Investiture, where life is short, cheap, and dangerous, an invention is born that will become the Firmament’s most closely kept secret.

Lycaste, a lovesick recluse outcast for an unspeakable crime, must journey through the Provinces, braving the grotesques of an ancient, decadent world to find his salvation.

Sotiris, grieving the loss of his sister and awaiting the madness of old age, must relive his twelve thousand years of life to stop the man determined to become Emperor.

Ghaldezuel, knight of the stars, must plunder the rarest treasure in the Firmament—the object the Pretender will stop at nothing to obtain.

From medieval Prague to a lonely Mediterranean cove, and eventually far into the strange vastness of distant worlds, The Promise of the Child is a debut novel of gripping action and astounding ambition unfolding over hundreds of thousands of years, marking the arrival of a brilliant new talent in science fiction.

What’s Tom’s favorite bit?



A tickle spread slowly across the sole of Lycaste’s foot. He dismissed it dreamily, feeling it build until something firm and wet scraped the edge of his toe. Then he remembered – his foot was dangling over the side of the boat.

When I was about eight, my dad – in a pretty decent effort to shut me up – let me watch Jaws. I loved it: it was extraordinary, suspenseful and atmospheric, and to this day I can’t swim in water more than about a meter deep or close my eyes in the bath.

When I set out to write my first novel, The Promise of the Child (a 147th century space opera set at the end of humanity), I knew that I had to nail down that fear somewhere, to live it on the page, and this scene – in which our shy protagonist takes his boat out to hunt sea monsters with his friends – became one of my favourite parts of the book.

At first he couldn’t work out what he was looking at; it was as if the pale, mottled sandbank below them was moving. Its alabaster surface was tinged with colour, like a rough pearl. For a few seconds more there was no form, then with a nacreous glimmer it writhed far beneath the boat. He fell away from the side in revulsion, staring at the deck.

For Lycaste, a scarlet, three-meter tall Melius man from the wild Tenth Province, vision and colour are extremely important. His eyes are exceptionally large and sharp, all the better to make out the hues the giant people of the Tenth wear across their skins like cuttlefish – flashing various colours as etiquette requires (a later scene describes the book’s antagonist as having ‘queerly colourless eyes’, in a subtle hint that he is not to be trusted) – and so this scene plays out from his perspective like a vibrant nightmare, all light and tone.

… As the man neared the boat, a ghostly, faded tint appeared in the sea behind him. Impatiens moaned beside Lycaste, gripping the painted edge so tightly that his knuckles yellowed. At first Lycaste could only see the colour of the thing as it ascended, a paler shade of turquoise pursuing a small, struggling drop of red… Then they all saw it, the ugly white face gaining clarity as it followed them in the murk. Its huge, deep-set eyes were curious, the mouth studded with splintered teeth. Lycaste recoiled as he watched it; the face looked almost benignly human under the distorted light, an air of bewildered humour dancing in those warped eyes as it closed the distance, as if all it wanted to do was play.

Suffice to say the monster loses its charm fairly quickly, but I’ll stop there. Many thanks to Mary for the chance to describe my creepiest scene, and thank my reckless father if it scares you too.



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Tom Toner was born in Somerset, England, in 1986. After graduating with a degree in fine art from Loughborough University and the FHSH in Schwäbisch Hall, Germany, he moved to Australia. There he taught life drawing and worked in an art gallery near Melbourne. Upon returning to England he completed his debut novel, The Promise of the Child. Toner lives in London.

My Favorite Bit: Jason Kirk talks about PHANTASMA: STORIES

My Favorite Bit iconJason Kirk is joining us today with his story in verse, “The Guardian from the Sea,” from the anthology Phantasma: Stories. Here’s the publisher’s description:

An eclectic collection of speculative short stories by Anne Charnock (2013 Philip K. Dick Award finalist), Jodi McIsaac (A Cure for Madness, the Thin Veil series), Kate Maruyama (Harrowgate), Roberta Trahan (The Dream Stewards epic fantasy series), J.D. Horn (Shivaree, the Witching Savannah series), and award-winning poet Jason Kirk.

Stories include:

“Undercurrents” – A young woman discovers her migraines are a symptom of something more sinister than what a good lie-down in a dark room can cure.

“Pro Patria Mori” – An Irish soldier encounters fairies who offer magical aid, but will that magic help save those he holds dearest?

“Akiko” – A curse laid in Japan finds its mark in the City of Angels.

“The Adoption” – In a new age of sexual equality and reproductive freedom, bio-engineered foetuses are gestated in artificial wombs. But what becomes of tomorrow’s orphans?

“Pitch” – A goat-faced boy sets out with a rifle to kill his father, the Devil, in 1950s rural Georgia.

“The Guardian from the Sea” – A wheelchair-bound mermaid finds love in an adult-video store, and barely escapes to regret it.

What’s Jason’s favorite bit?

Phantasma Hi-Res


In a new anthology featuring stories of the occult, the paranormal, some science fiction, and more speculative goodness, I have the distinct pleasure of sharing pages with some wonderful authors who graciously welcomed my own contribution, a story in verse, which closes the anthology. Set in a near-future Southern California — awash in magic and populated by banshees, a monster, a gargoyle, a warlock, dragons, and a houseborg named Stanley — “The Guardian from the Sea” tells the tale of seven years in the life of Meredith, a wheelchair-bound mermaid who works at an adult-video store. Her foil and antagonist is her boyfriend Ozzie, and their deeply dysfunctional relationship comprises the core conflict of the thirteen-part narrative.

At one point in the story, Ozzie is wheeling Meredith along the boardwalk, heckling the religious evangelists on inline skates, whom he calls “holy roller bladers.” Much to Meredith’s dismay and embarrassment, Ozzie unleashes a flood of unprovoked invective, a torrent of layered insult that viciously demeans their beliefs, and he piles it on for four breathless lines. Now I was raised in a strict Catholic family, by a devout (and devoted) mother, and as a result, I remain forever interested in religion generally, Christianity in particular, and Catholicism specifically. Ozzie’s profane outcry represents the antithesis of what my mother would hope to read in my poetry, and there’s a heady, rebellious thrill that accompanies the commitment of such a pointed sacrilege to the page. Of course, they’re not my words. They’re Ozzie’s, and as the rest of the story makes clear, Ozzie is a pathological abuser with almost no sense of how his words might hurt others. At least, that’s what I’ll insist when my mother reads the story. She’ll see right through my attempt to hide behind my own reprehensible character, and we’ll both know it’s a weak defense. Sorry, Mom.

If the evangelists react to Ozzie’s verbal abuse, it isn’t depicted in the story, although Meredith’s reaction is, and in it there’s a bit of my own feeling about Ozzie’s brutal blasphemy.

Meredith blushed

like cloudswept coral

I’ll readily admit that I’m not especially adept at beautiful writing, though like any poet, I suppose, I certainly aspire to it, at least from time to time. This image, though, is among the most beautiful in all my work to date. Readers of the story — and listeners, when I’ve performed it for an audience — frequently comment on this particular image, citing their ability to see it clearly, the fluid play of blood-shadow across Meredith’s face, refracted as if through water. The relevance of the image is straightforward, given Meredith’s presumed origins in the sea, and I suspect that the clarity and the simple beauty it evokes contribute to its standing out in a poem that’s otherwise often difficult and decidedly not pretty.

But it’s the immediate succession of these two stanzas that really elevates this particular moment in Meredith’s story, at least for me. In my own reading, there’s almost nothing I love more than a surprising juxtaposition: two or more images, ideas, words, or emotions that, by virtue of their being strange bedfellows, yield more than the sum of their parts. Here in Meredith’s story, an image of simple beauty follows a crass burst of unbridled blasphemy, and this singular intersection of the pretty and the profane makes for my favorite bit.


Author Page (




Phantasma: Stories (

Phantasma: Stories (


JASON KIRK is an award-winning poet and the author of A Fabulous Hag in Purple on the Moor, Reverb: Poems, and The Other Whites in South Africa. He lives in Seattle, Washington.

My Favorite Bit: Kent Davis talks about A RIDDLE IN RUBY

My Favorite BitKent Davis is joining us today with his novel A Riddle in Ruby. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Ruby is a thief-in-training and a keeper of secrets—ones she doesn’t even know herself. A Riddle in Ruby is the first book in a witty and fast-paced fantasy-adventure trilogy for fans for Jonathan Stroud, Septimus Heap, and The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates.

Ruby Teach, daughter of a smuggler and pirate, has been learning how to swindle and steal and pick the most complex locks for as long as she can remember. But a collision with aristocratic young lord Athen sends her spinning into chaos. Little did she know that her whole life has been spent in hiding from nefarious secret societies and the Royal Navy . . . who are both now on her trail. In this debut middle grade adventure, Kent Davis weaves a rip-roaring tale through an alternate colonial Philadelphia. A world where alchemy—that peculiar mix of magic and science—has fueled the industrial revolution. With this highly original setting, a cast of fully rounded characters and rapid-fire, funny dialogue, A Riddle in Ruby will call to mind fantasy greats like Diana Wynne Jones and Terry Pratchett.

What’s Kent’s favorite bit?

Ruby BOM cover


Sparking fire. The wheel. The written word. Each changed the rules of our world forever. I have newly met a sister to these titans. Her name is Chemystry.

-Sir Francis Bacon, 1626,

Invisible College, London

My favorite bit of A Riddle in Ruby is the epigraphs. I deployed these little biscuits of text at the beginning of each chapter in an attempt to inject flavor and setting into the reader’s head with maximum fun and minimum fuss. The 1718 of Ruby is significantly different from that of our own timeline, chock full of anomalies like cobalt gearbeasts, alchemical automatons, and the peculiar arcane chemists known as “tinkers.”






-Poster searching for workers,

Tinkers’ Compound, New Jamestown


For example, the poster above sneaks several pieces of information to readers. First, that these Tinkers are a sizeable operation—they have a compound not just in Boston and Philadelphi, but in New Jamestown, too, and they’re putting up posters looking for more recruits. Next, that a New Jamestown actually came to be, which tips the hat to the idea that in this timeline, the maps may be quite a bit different from ours. The last and arguably most important thing it allows me to do is put a “y” in alchemist. Messing with traditional spelling is second only in joy for me to performing Random Acts of Period Capitalization.


9th. Over Strident Objection from a Minority, Abigail Booker allowed to deliver her findings re: experimentation with Igneous Fluid. Cause: one part brilliant scholarship, another part Mlle. Booker’s Ferocious Thumping of Mr. Smathers, compounded by her threats of further physical exertions if not allowed to speak. Excellent talk.

-Minutes of the Alembic Coffeehouse, UnderTown,

March 4, 1718

Abigail Booker and Mr. Smathers never make another appearance in the story. They do, however, offer a sense of the pluck, gumption, and Ferocious Thumping flavor that I hope suffuses the Chemystral Colonies. I want readers to feel as if they could, if they choose, set out from a scene featuring the heroine—a 13 year-old apprentice thief called Ruby Teach— and wander around a cobblestoned corner or into a fancy hall or journey into the deep western forest and still feel anchored to an intentional and specific setting. The world needed to be fleshed out as completely as possible, and that included creating portions of artifacts like newspapers, correspondence, novels, and even plays. Especially plays that let me use the name “Chatsbottom.”


CHATSBOTTOM:     Where is my carriage, Farnsworth?

FARNSWORTH:       It is somewhat Exploded, milord.

CHATSBOTTOM:     Exploded, you say?

FARNSWORTH:       But Mr. Thunderfatch will no longer trouble your lordship.

CHATSBOTTOM:     Quite right. Good chap.

-Marion Coatesworth-Hay, The Tinker’s Dram, Act III, sc. iv

The epigraphs also allowed me to tease this timeline’s history. The action of the book takes place almost one hundred years after the event that sheared that timeline away from our own—the natural philosopher Sir Francis Bacon discovering the magical science of chemystry. Each of those years, just as in our own history, must have been jammed with potentially world-altering moments. I wanted readers to know that past events from that alternate timeline had a dramatic impact on the alchemy-driven, gearbeast-populated, on-the-cusp-of-an-industrial revolution 1718 into which they were diving. For example, inquisition-like trials for alchemists, presided over by the French academy.


You gravely mistake our nature. We are neither witches nor warlocks. We are men and women of science who eat with you, study with you, pray with you. If the purges continue, however, then we are no longer your countrymen, and we will have no choice in our own defense but to seize our liberty. This country will suffer.

-Pierre de Fermat, testimony to
Académie de Philosophie, Paris, 1653

Finally it was a question of precision over info dump. While it may be informative, a four-page treatise on the crop rotational practices of the Feggerventaven peoples in relation to the nutritious Rompopilio tuber really puts a crimp in narrative flow. On the other hand, I delight in mysterious hints and tantalizing references, fleeting glimpses of a setting iceberg lurking just below the textual surface.


Laugh at the Rain.

Laugh at the Reaper.

Run from the Reeve.

-Old Irish saying

If I’m honest, though, the most compelling reason for tagging the epigraphs as my favorite bit is that they’ve been just so flipping fun to write! Crafting them turned into my writer’s diet equivalent of cheat days: pure delight and invention, without a shred of guilt. I hope the joy that I felt making them found its way onto the page, and that A Riddle in Ruby is the better for it.



A Most Clever, Strange, and Dangerous


A Young Girl Answering to Aruba Teach, also Ruby Teach

Of dark complexion, small stature and with features foxlike (as drawn below)

Sought for Crimes against the Crown


Inquire at Berth No. 5, Benzene Yards Wharf, His Majesty’s Ship Grail

-Wanted poster



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Read an excerpt.

Visit the author’s site.

Follow him on Twitter.


Kent Davis has spent most of his life making stories. He is an author, game designer, and actor. He lives with his wife and a wily dog-ninja named Bobo in Bozeman, Montana.

My Favorite Bit: William Alexander talks about NOMAD

My Favorite Bit iconWilliam Alexander is joining us today with his novel Nomad. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Gabe Fuentes is in a race against time—and aliens—in this intergalactic sequel to Ambassador, which Booklist called “an exciting sci-fi adventure, perceptively exploring what it means to be alien,” from National Book Award winner William Alexander.

When we last left Earth’s Ambassador, Gabe Fuentes, he was stranded on the moon. And when he’s rescued by Kaen, another Ambassador, things don’t get better: It turns out that the Outlast— a race of aliens that has been systematically wiping out all other creatures—are coming. And they’ve set their sights on Earth.

Enter Nadia. She was Earth’s Ambassador before Gabe, but left her post in order to stop the Outlast. Nadia has discovered that the Outlast can conquer worlds by traveling fast through lanes created by the mysterious Machinae. No one has communicated with the Machinae in centuries, but Nadia is determined to try, and Gabe and Kaen want to help her. But the three Ambassadors don’t know that the Outlast have discovered what they are doing, and have sent assassins to track them down.

As Nadia heads deeper into space to find the Machinae, Gabe and Kaen return to Earth, where Gabe is trying to find another type of alien—his father, who was deported to Mexico, and who Gabe is desperate to bring home. From a detention center in the center of the Arizona desert to the Embassy in the center of the galaxy, the three Ambassadors race against time to save their worlds in this exciting, funny, mind-bending adventure.

What’s William’s favorite bit?

Nomad cover


“I want people to know that it’s funny,” my editor said.

We were struggling with promotional descriptions of Nomad. Summarizing a novel is like shoving a genie into a bottle two sizes too small.

“Really?” I asked. “Seems like a tonal shift after talking about child-diplomats, deportation, and devastating galactic conquest.”

“But the book is also funny!” she insisted.

In honor of Karen Wojtyla, my wise and wonderful editor, I chose one of the funny bits to share as my favorite.

*          *          *

Ambassadors between planets and spacefaring civilizations are always young. You have to get the kids talking first.

Each ambassador transmits an entangled sense of self to the Embassy in the center of the galaxy. All sorts of habitats are simulated inside. At least one spot will feel like home.

The rest of the Embassy will not.

Breathing underwater is difficult when your body insists that it shouldn’t be able to. Gabe hovered just under the surface, closed his eyes, and argued with his lungs.

We should panic, the lungs told him.

We’ll be fine, he answered, and tried hard to believe it.

Start kicking back to the surface, they said.

You aren’t even here, he reminded them. You’re very far away, along with the rest of me.

We’re sinking! his lungs shouted. I really do think we should consider freaking out about this.

Shhhhhhhhhh, he said. Calm down.

Both lungs continued to protest right up until the moment they relaxed into their usual rhythm.

Huh, they said. That worked out fine.

This bit—which is almost my favorite—is based on memories of learning how to swim at the local YMCA. I was five or six years old and had just figured out how to hold my breath without panic. It felt like remembering rather than learning something new. I was pretty sure I could keep it up indefinitely. Then I forgot how, abruptly lost the knack of breathing underwater, and kicked back to the surface. Repeat.

If someone offered me a superpower, any superpower, I would flip a coin to choose between breathing underwater and flying—which brings us to my favorite bit.

Gabe looked up. Flying ambassadors circled and soared above him. Most of them had wings. Gabe didn’t.

“Okay, then,” he said. “So now I need to learn how to fly. Does anyone else down here know how to fly?”

Many of his colleagues did, but their help was not helpful.

“It’s not so much about wanting the sky as it is about forgetting the ground.”

“Picture the way matter bends space, and change how you see that shape. Just fall whichever direction you want to go.”

“You want to fly? Why would anyone want to fly? The hidden and burrowing games are much better than all of that ball throwing and cloud hopping. Don’t fly. Learn how to dig.”

“Just think happy thoughts.”

Gabe listened to several offerings of contradictory advice. Then he stood on tiptoes, clenched his hands, and focused hard on the clouds above. Nothing and more nothing happened.

“Learning how to breathe underwater was so much easier,” he said to himself. “I already knew how to swim. I just needed to convince my lungs that they were far away and safe from drowning. But I can’t fly, and my whole body knows it. I’ve got to convince every single part of me that I can.”

“That sounds exhausting,” Sapi said from somewhere above him. She dropped down lightly to the grass. “Stop arguing with all of your various bits. This is a dream, remember? You’re dreaming an entangled dream. Haven’t you ever dreamed about flying?”

“Hi, Sapi,” Gabe said. “No, I haven’t. Or maybe I have. I don’t know. I never remembered my dreams before coming here.”

“You poor, sad thing,” Sapi said. “Well, come on. Kaen is waiting for us. The thing about a flying dream is that there aren’t really any mechanics involved. No flapping limbs, no imaginary wings. Just movement and intention.”

“That’s what I’ve been trying to do!” Gabe protested. “But intention isn’t producing much movement.”

Sapi pressed all of her fingertips together. “Calm down, close your eyes, and hold both hands up in the air.”

He did. “Now what?”

“Now shut up and be patient. I’ll need to take a running start.”

Gabe waited. He kept his eyes closed. Then Sapi grabbed both hands and pulled him into the sky.

Both Nomad and the paperback edition of Ambassador will be published on September 22.

Many thanks to Mary Robinette Kowal for giving me a stage to stand on.


William Alexander


Nomad on Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Powell’s

Ambassador paperback on Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Powell’s


William Alexander won the National Book Award in 2012 for his first novel, Goblin Secrets, and the Earphones Award for his narration of the audiobook. His second novel, Ghoulish Song, was a finalist for the Mythopoeic Award. His third, Ambassador, was a Junior Library Guild Selection, a finalist for the International Latino Book Award, and a winner of the Eleanor Cameron Award. Will studied theater and folklore at Oberlin College, English at the University of Vermont, and creative writing at the Clarion Workshop. He teaches at the Vermont College of Fine Arts program in Writing for Children and Young Adults.

My Favorite Bit: Gerrard Cowan talks about THE MACHINERY

My Favorite Bit iconGerrard Cowan is joining us today with his novel The Machinery. Here’s the publisher’s description:

For ten millennia, the leaders of the Overland have been Selected by the Machinery, an omnipotent machine gifted to their world in darker days.

The city has thrived in arts, science and war, crushing all enemies and expanding to encompass the entire Plateau.

But the Overland is not at ease, for the Machinery came with the Prophecy: it will break in the 10,000th year, Selecting just one leader who will bring Ruin to the world. And with the death of Strategist Kane, a Selection is set to occur…

For Apprentice Watcher Katrina Paprissi, the date has special significance. Life hasn’t been the same since she witnessed the kidnapping of her brother Alexander, the only person on the Plateau who knew the meaning of the Prophecy.

When the opportunity arises to find her brother, Katrina must travel into the depths of the Underland, the home of the Machinery, to confront the Operator himself and discover just what makes the world work…

What’s Gerrard’s favorite bit?



My favourite bit of The Machinery is the masks. It feels strange to write that. In fact, if you’d asked me the same question a year or two ago, I probably would have said something else. But after spending the past few months immersed in the editing process, it’s struck me how the masks’ importance grew over the years of writing. They aren’t just a key part of the plot: they’re a symbol of the kind of atmosphere I set out to create.

The Machinery is set in the Overland, a country whose leaders are chosen by an omnipotent machine. This has brought huge success for ten millennia, with the Overland defeating all rivals and excelling in arts, science, and war. However, there is a prophecy that the Machinery will break in the ten thousandth year: we have now reached that point.

I had the idea for the book about seven years ago. It started with just the central conceit of the machine itself; I had very little beyond this. I knew I wanted it to be a fantasy. I knew I wanted it to (hopefully) convey a sense of gloomy weirdness. But it took a long period of drafting and redrafting before I felt the book really captured the atmosphere I was going for.

The masks grew in importance as I worked on the book. They are worn by the Watchers, a kind of police/intelligence service that enforces the wishes of the Machinery. They come in many forms, and are commonly shaped into animal images (a raven, a wolf, a rat), though they can also be strange likenesses of people. They are not only designed to conceal, but to reveal; when a Watcher wears one, they are able to see into the heart and soul of whomever they look upon.

The Operator, an immortal being who is the link between humans and the Machinery, imbues the masks with these powers. He creates the masks for the Watchers, and delivers them into a place called the Hall of Masks, which is located in the See House, the Watchers’ home.

One of my favourite scenes in the novel takes place in the Hall of Masks. The heroine of The Machinery is Katrina Paprissi, an Apprentice Watcher who witnessed her brother being kidnapped by the Operator many years before. Her first encounter with the Operator since then takes place in the Hall. She is horrified to see him again, in the flesh, and her fear is heightened by the rows of strange, empty masks staring down upon her.

I always wanted The Machinery to have a kind of creepy atmosphere, like one of those old ghost movies that has no need for special effects, but sucks you in with strange noises and momentary glimpses of horrible things. The masks are key to what I was going for. First, they just look weird. Second, the prospect of someone wearing a raven mask and looking into your soul is kind of unsettling (I hope).

But it’s more than that. The masks will always remind me of the organic development of The Machinery. I like allowing things to change through the writing process; of course I make plans for my novels, but they must have the flexibility to absorb natural changes. I didn’t sit down at the beginning and think, ‘this book will contain weird masks.’ From what I recall, I was writing a scene with an ordinary mask, when suddenly it allowed its user to see into someone’s soul. A lot of ideas grow like that, and for me, it’s half the fun of writing fantasy.







Google Play

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Gerrard Cowan is a writer and editor from Derry, in the North West of Ireland. His debut fantasy novel, The Machinery, will be published by HarperVoyager UK in September 2015. It is the first in a trilogy.

His first known work was a collection of poems on monsters, written for Halloween when he was eight; it is sadly lost to civilisation.

My Favorite Bit: Mel Odom talks about GUERILLA

My Favorite BitMel Odom is joining us today with his novel Guerilla. Here’s the publisher’s description:

He’s behind enemy lines. But those lines are shifting beneath his feet.

In the jungles of Makaum, the Terran military is locked in a critical standoff over the planet’s resources with the hostile Phrenorians, even as both species maintain uneasy relations with the locals. Tensions could ignite at a moment’s notice. And Master Sergeant Frank Sage has just stumbled upon the spark plug.

Alongside trusted Makaum scouts, Sage is running recon on what is possibly an unsanctioned Phrenorian military base.Deep in the savage wilderness, Sage recognizes the renowned Phrenorian warrior arriving on-site: Zhoh GhiCemid. As Sage knows firsthand, Zhoh’s presence could mean trouble.

Meanwhile, a mysterious faction of Makaum insurgents breaks the fragile peace with a reckless attack on the Terran base. Before the situation devolves into chaos, Sage must learn to think like his adversaries—devious friends and deadly foes alike.

What’s Mel’s favorite bit?

guerilla cover art


One of my favorite scenes in my newest book is a bar scene between series hero Terran Military Master Sergeant Frank Sage and Captain Zhoh GhiCemid of the Phrenorian Empire.

Frank Sage is old school military, a guy who’s already served in the Phrenorian War for years and gives his all every time. Unfortunately, he was wounded and shipped back to a training assignment for six years while he regrew his legs. During his time there, he’s been training young men and women to fight, but he’s wanted nothing more than to get back into combat because he’s tired of sending those people out there. He wants to be on the battlefront where he can make a difference. He finally protests enough that Command posts him at Makaum

This isn’t anything new. Look around at the men and women who have served multiple tours in Afghanistan. Those people go back again and again to help their brothers in the military.

So Sage is a guy readers can easily understand.

Captain Zhoh GhiCemid is also understandable. He’s the enemy. He’s cold, efficient, and ruthless. But he’s a military warrior like Sage, an individual who has been blooded on the battlefield and lives for combat. He’s also Phrenorian, which means that he has multiple eyes, multiple limbs, chelicerae around his mouth that can inject various amounts of poison into victims, who he may or may not eat. The Phrenorians are as close to scorpions as I could make them because, well…scorpions!

Zhoh hasn’t had an easy time of it either. He’s a disgrace to the Phrenorian Empire because his hatchlings were all deformed, a failing that was blamed on his bad genetics. Actually, he was manipulated into taking a defective wife whose family is high in the Empire. Zhoh lost his command and has been sent to Makaum to wither and die.

But he is determined to find his own path again and kill anyone who stands in his way.

To set up this scene, Sage and Zhoh ended up fighting together against a criminal cartel only a few hours ago in the dead of night. Sage wanted to shut down a weapons dealer while Zhoh went there to get information about illegal dealings his commanding officer was involved in, and—failing that—cover up anything that would damage the Phrenorian Empire.

These two enemies saved each other during that mission. But they both knew they hadn’t finished what they’d started. So, rather than end up shooting holes in each other, they agreed to a sit-down truce to negotiate where they went from there.

Of course, being military men, they meet in a bar—which quickly clears out because NO ONE wants to be caught in a crossfire between the Terrans and Phrenorians. And EVERYONE knows that’s what’s coming.

These two warriors talk, and I know and the reader knows that the ultimate showdown in this trilogy is going to be Sage versus Zhoh in a winner-take-all battle. I like the way they met as equals, but Sage still treats Zhoh as he would an officer. And Zhoh, as an officer, recognizes that sergeants are the ones who get things done in the midst of chaos.

I think it’s one of the best things I’ve done, and I like the psychology of the characters meeting on equal ground. They’re both soldiers, and they both know that when the war calls for it, they will attempt to kill each other. But for this moment—and a few moments after, they’re working together. Of course, Sage is trying to figure out what Zhoh is really after, and Zhoh wants to kill anyone who can reveal his commanding officer’s involvement before Sage can get to them.

This is one of the bits I think that works for me. I’ve read several stories of soldiers who were able to meet opponents on common neutral ground and found kindred spirits in war and hardship. I believe soldiers who are professional fighting men know that only other professional fighting men who have seen the same violence and terror can truly understand each other. Even when they were on opposite sides.

This lull, before the action ramps up in Book 3: Warlord, I think underscores that verisimilitude.

I had a blast writing it. Hope you who read it enjoy the book(s) as well!



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MEL ODOM is the bestselling author of many film and computer game tie-ins, including Forgotten Realms, Mack Bolan, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. He won a prestigious Alex Award for his YA fantasy novel The Rover. He currently lives in Oklahoma.

My Favorite Bit: Fran Wilde talks about UPDRAFT

My Favorite BitFran Wilde is joining us today with her novel Updraft. Here’s the publisher’s description:

In a city of living bone rising high above the clouds, where danger hides in the wind and the ground is lost to legend, a young woman must expose a dangerous secret to save everyone she loves.

Welcome to a world of wind and bone, songs and silence, betrayal and courage.

What’s Fran’s favorite bit?



In authorial lore (Ok, really, for me, writers’ “lore” is a bunch of sticky notes splattered with tea or coffee, taped on the wall beside the desk, but I’m going for setting and tone here. Bear with me.), there are many warnings and touchstones. In particular, there’s this one: the middle of a draft sucks. It sags. It sometimes breaks down. That’s where the draft-goblins come out, and the weasels that whisper you’re no good and this is no good and give up. It’s totally totally true — all of it. Except when it isn’t.

My favorite bit of Updraft is the middle. And part of the reason for that is because I wrote it first.

I’m going to try to do this without committing spoilers, so bear with me.

Below us, a white-robed challenger waited. I couldn’t see them on the downtower balconies, but I knew that they must be close….

“The challenger has demanded answers we cannot give. They have threatened to rouse the towers… Worse.” … “They’ve broken Laws. You will stop them for the city’s sake.” …

Far below, the windbeaters readied their giant wings, their rot gas. The vents opened and the Gyre gust swirled up until it reached me. I leapt into the maelstrom.

Among the early pieces I wrote within the world of Updraft, this scene was the beginning of a short story about a winged knife-fight in a wind tunnel.

The two characters were fierce and determined. They both had secrets they didn’t want to reveal. And they cared, very much, about each other, and about the city. Instant conflict. Plus: fight! Wind tunnel!

I loved writing the action of the scene. The movement and skill required for each of these characters to fight and for one to prevail. The danger of the wind tunnel, the wildness of it, and the details within it that revealed more of the world, like carvings and the expressions of the watching crowd.

But there was one problem.

When the short story was complete, I and my beta readers realized that it raised more questions than it answered:

  • what kind of world was this that had such fighting in it?
  • why were the two characters willing to fight to death?
  • who did the characters love, who did they hate, where did they get weapons?
  • what was beyond the walls of the wind tunnel?
  • what made the wind so challenging in the Gyre?

Those questions were just the beginning. I started describing my characters lives, and what brought them to this fight. I wrote about what they loved, and who. And I drew a lot. I sketched the city. I sketched the wind tunnel. I discovered monsters large and small that I hadn’t seen before.

As they fought to find a stronger gust, I moved in above. Looked for the best place to slash the challenger’s wings… I raised the knife. It glittered from the sun and spun as it split the air.

Updraft emerged from this story that is still at its heart, a winged battle in a wind tunnel, between two characters who grew into people, and two people who grew into a novel.

That’s why the middle of Updraft is my favorite bit.

Thanks for having me, Mary!


Fran Wilde



Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Powell’s


Fran Wilde’s short fiction appears in Asimov’s, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Nature, and She interviews authors about food in fiction at Cooking the Books, and blogs for GeekMom and SFSignal. Updraft is her first novel.

My Favorite Bit: Michi Trota talks about UNCANNY MAGAZINE YEAR TWO

My Favorite BitMichi Trota is joining us today to talk about Uncanny Magazine Year Two: The Return of the Space Unicorn Kickstarter. Here’s the Kickstarter description:

Last year, three-time Hugo Award winner Lynne M. Thomas & three-time Hugo Award finalist Michael Damian Thomas ran the Uncanny Magazine Year One Kickstarter. We promised to bring you stunning cover art, passionate science fiction and fantasy fiction and poetry, gorgeous prose, and provocative nonfiction by writers from every conceivable background. Not to mention a fantastic podcast featuring exclusive content.

With the hard work of the best staff and contributors in the world, Uncanny Magazine delivered everything as promised. All this content is available for free over the web, thanks to your support.

Though Uncanny has developed several additional funding streams to make the magazine sustainable, we’re not quite there yet. Which is why we’re running the Uncanny Magazine Year Two: The Return of the Space Unicorn Kickstarter.

If you’ve been looking for an opportunity to join or rejoin the Space Unicorn Ranger Corps, now’s your chance!

Our Year Two goals will bring Uncanny closer to sustainability by paying for more great content and making sure the magazine’s business infrastructure is solidified.

On deck for Year Two is an outstanding group of solicited contributors, fantastic backer rewards, plus some additional surprises.

Short Stories!




There will also be more slots for unsolicited submissions (we reopen in September). We’re deeply committed to finding and showcasing new voices in our genre from around the world.

Uncanny Magazine is published as an eBook (MOBI, PDF, EPUB) bimonthly (the every other month kind) on the first Tuesday of that month through all of the major online eBook stores. Each issue contains 3-5 new short stories, 1 reprinted story, 3 poems, 2 nonfiction essays, and 1 interview, at minimum. Our monthly podcast includes a story, a poem, and an exclusive interview in each episode.

Kickstarter Backers at the Subscriber Level or higher, and those purchasing single issues, get each issue in its entirety up front, no waiting. Those reading online for free wait a month for the second half, which appears on the second Tuesday of the month at

We at Uncanny think we’re doing important work, and we’d like to continue. Please consider supporting Uncanny Magazine Year Two.

What’s Michi’s favorite bit?



I’m pretty sure the first story I remember my parents reading to me was The Hobbit. Science fiction and fantasy dominated my bookshelves as a kid, and as a 37-year-old adult, that hasn’t changed. No offense to my husband, but SFF was really my very first love. So the past year I’ve spent as managing editor for Uncanny Magazine has been absolutely incredible.

Choosing what my Favorite Bit of working on Uncanny isn’t an easy prospect because there are so many things I enjoy about it. I’m an editor and writer by education and trade, so getting to utilize my professional skills in a passion project is an unlooked for gift. Getting to see fiction, nonfiction, and poetry by authors whose work I’ve admired for years go into a publication with my name on it makes my inner fangirl squee with delight (I may or may not have run around with that first issue, pointing at it to all my friends and giggling over my name in the masthead). Also, our logo is a Space Unicorn, and we call our supporters the Space Unicorn Ranger Corps, how cool is that?

But if I had to choose, what I love the most about Uncanny is the view it’s given me into how truly inspiring, diverse, and passionate the SFF community really is.

Every piece of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction that Uncanny has published has brought a unique vision and voice to the magazine. Every story submitted to the magazine, regardless of whether or not we publish them, demonstrates an incredible amount of passion for SFF. It takes a lot of effort, love, and not a small amount of risk-taking, to submit your work for publication, and I’m in awe every day at the sheer volume of work that I see coming into Uncanny.

The magazine’s staff are some of the most skilled and enthusiastic people I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. Their commitment to celebrating the best that SFF has to offer has inspired me to do some of the best work of my life (even though it often involves a lot of sleepless nights and enormous amounts of coffee and chocolate during deadline time!). Though I had spent the last several years becoming more active in my local Chicago geek community by doing panels and writing about representation issues in geek culture, becoming a part of Uncanny has allowed me to join a world of SFF fandom that’s wider, more creative, and more invigorating than I could have imagined. I’m challenged each time I read Uncanny’s stories, in the best possible way, by provocative narratives that expand my understanding of what shapes SFF can take.

I’m also reminded, with each issue we publish, that in spite of the efforts from some corners to corral SFF into a narrow little box, new voices, perspectives, and interpretations are flourishing in the genre — and people are eagerly clamoring for more. The number of supporters who joined Uncanny’s Space Ranger Unicorn Corps and made our Kickstarter for Year One such a success, who’ve bought subscriptions, individual issues, or contributed to our Patreon, stands in stark opposition to the notion that SFF fans are only interested in “heroes with swords” and “laser-firing rocket ships.” The SFF community is one that’s inexorably moving toward greater inclusion and representation, and I’m so proud to be a part of that.

A few years before Lynne and Michael Thomas asked me to join them on their newest publication adventure, I’d been falling a bit out of love with SFF, because I felt like I was reading the same stories, and each new genre kerfuffle made me wonder if there really was a place for a person like me in SFF, both as a fan and an aspiring creator. Thanks to becoming a part of Uncanny, I’ve been both reminded why I fell in love with SFF in the first place, and given the ability to see SFF with new eyes. I’ve been able to connect with fandom with a re-invigorated spirit, and new faith in what our community is capable of. And maybe, just maybe, enough inspiration to revisit that long-held dream of writing my own fiction.

At Uncanny we say we look for “intricate, experimental stories and poems with verve and imagination that elicit strong emotions and challenge beliefs from writers from every conceivable background. Uncanny believes there’s still plenty of room in the genre for tales that make you feel.” And that’s exactly what My Favorite Bit about Uncanny is: it makes me feel.


Uncanny Magazine homepage

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Michi Trota is a writer, editor, speaker, communications manager and community organizer in Chicago, IL. She is the Managing Editor for Uncanny: A Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Michi writes about geek culture and fandom, focusing primarily on issues of diversity and representation, on her blog, Geek Melange, and is a member of the Chicago Nerd Social Club’s Board of Organizers. Topics guaranteed to get her talking for hours include comics, Doctor Who, and food geekery. Michi was a featured essayist in Invisible: An Anthology of Representation in SF/F (edited by Jim C. Hines). In her professional life, she is a managing editor with fifteen years of experience in the publishing industry. In her spare time, she spins fire with the fire+bellydance showcase, Raks Geek, and at the Chicago Full Moon Jams.

My Favorite Bit: Stina Leicht talks about COLD IRON

My Favorite BitStina Leicht is joining us today with her novel Cold Iron. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Fraternal twins Nels and Suvi move beyond their royal heritage and into military and magical dominion in this flintlock epic fantasy debut from a two-time Campbell Award finalist.

Prince Nels is the scholarly runt of the ancient Kainen royal family of Eledore, disregarded as flawed by the king and many others. Only Suvi, his fraternal twin sister, supports him. When Nels is ambushed by an Acrasian scouting party, he does the forbidden for a member of the ruling family: He picks up a fallen sword and defends himself.

Disowned and dismissed to the military, Nels establishes himself as a leader as Eledore begins to shatter under the attack of the Acrasians, who the Kainen had previously dismissed as barbarians. But Nels knows differently, and with the aid of Suvi, who has allied with pirates, he mounts a military offensive with sword, canon, and what little magic is left in the world.

What’s Stina’s favorite bit?



Every novel has that moment when it signals to the author that everything is working. Cold Iron was no different. Mind you, it took a while because Cold Iron, the novel, started life as a failed short story. I say failed because it never sold, and I gave up sending it out. (Which, by the way, you totally shouldn’t do.) Anyway, I’m a novelist. So, that short story grew into the novel, but I didn’t fall in love with it until Nels’s best friend Viktor appeared.

Viktor Reini is Nels’s korva. Korvas are kainen with a certain talent for fading into the background. They’re quiet. They’re extremely average-looking. They’re the people that people don’t see. They’re also great listeners. All these things make them excellent spies, scouts, assassins, and thieves. As a result, freebooting korvas are illegal. They need an affiliation or a patron. Otherwise, they’re executed—if caught. There are exceptions, mind you, but if a korva is caught and is given a second chance, they’re marked with an obvious facial scar. In any case, Viktor has no scar. He has a patron, Suvi, Nels’s twin sister. She pays him to work for Nels.

As it happens, Nels and Viktor get off to a rocky start. Nels, unsure whether or not to trust Viktor, makes the classic mistake of not delegating. Instead of leaving Viktor to steal an illegal weapons cache—one that Nels has already paid for but the dealer hasn’t delivered—Nels decides to accompany Viktor. For the record, Nels isn’t very good at sneaking.

Entering the cave, Nels paused until his eyes adjusted to the dim light. Water dripped somewhere ahead, echoing off the smooth, rippled walls. He’d edged a hundred feet down the tunnel before the moonlight gave out, and he was forced to feel his way along the wall. He had ordered Reini to wait with the lantern a discrete distance from the entrance. Judging by the absence of light, it was clear they had differing opinions on what that meant.

“You’re doing better, even if you do breathe louder than a stampeding herd of elk,” Lieutenant Reini whispered. He was close enough that Nels could feel Reini’s breath on his ear.

Damn it. This isn’t going to work out, is it? Nels thought and then reconsidered his frustration. As if you can get through a day without arguing with Major Lindström, you hypocrite. It was a sign of Reini’s great magical talent that Nels hadn’t even sensed the use of magic. “Just open the damn lantern before I kill myself.”

“Yes, sir, Captain-Highness, sir.”

“Cut the crap, Lieutenant, if you plan on retaining the little braid you’ve got.”

“Yes, sir.”

Light inundated the passage with a tiny squeak from the hooded lantern, revealing the passage ahead. Nels could now see Lieutenant Reini—-an unremarkable six foot tall kainen with light brown hair bound into a soldier’s club. Shadows cast on Reini’s face did not mask the twinkle of humor in his black eyes. If Nels had met Reini under other circumstances, he was certain he’d have liked Reini at once. They shared a similar attitude toward authority, after all.

“The crates are this way,” Reini said. “This is going to be like stealing milk from a sleeping cow.”

Nels followed Reini, skirting the edge of an underground stream. Shadows cowered from the light. At last, the blackness faded. The lantern’s hood was shut, emitting a second squeak. Ahead, a bright circle of moonlight marked the water well behind Almari’s house. The curved stone walls of the well were set with a series of iron rings leading to the surface. Looking up, limestone and old mortar framed a stormy moonlit sky. Flickers of lightening danced in the gathering clouds.

“I understand Almari does the bulk of his business in smuggled Ytlainen port,” Reini whispered. “We should acquire a few casks while we’re here.”

“Only the muskets, Lieutenant,” Nels said. “Anything else is stealing.”

“You take the fun out of everything, sir.”

“I wouldn’t say that,” Nels said. “We’re here, aren’t we?”

Lieutenant Reini paused. “I must say, you aren’t entirely what I expected.”

“And what did you expect?”

Reini glanced over his shoulder with a sly grin. “A spoiled autocrat with no sense of humor and even less common sense.”

“I’d say you’re a fair judge of character,” Nels whispered. “I’m somewhat short on common sense in particular.”

“Ah. I’m right swived, then.”

I love that Viktor uses “stealing from a sleeping cow” because one of the real world legends about fairies — well, Irish fairies, anyway — is that they steal milk from farmers’ cows. Of course, things go bad for Nels and Viktor. They walk into a trap, they’re outnumbered, and there’s no retreat. This leads Nels to say…

“I thought you said this would be easy.”

“Never said that. I believe my exact words were that this was going to be like milking a sleeping cow.”

“Exactly,” Nels said.

“You don’t know much about cows, do you, sir?”

That was the moment I knew I was on to something. From that point forward, I had a wonderful time with Nels and Viktor. Hopefully, everyone else does too. And now here’s your chance to see for yourself. My publisher, Saga Press, is giving away a copy of Cold Iron today. If interested, just write a comment below, and you’re entered in the giveaway. One entry per person. I’ll announce the winner in the comments and on Twitter. Good luck!




NPR review

Barnes and Noble review


Stina Leicht is a two time Campbell Award nominee for Best New Writer and a Crawford Award finalist. The first novel in her new Flintlock Epic Fantasy series, Cold Iron, debuted July 2015 with Simon and Schuster’s Saga imprint.


My Favorite Bit: David Nabhan talks about THE PILOTS OF BOREALIS

My Favorite Bit iconDavid Nabhan is joining us today with his novel The Pilots of Borealis. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Top Gun heads to outer space in this throwback to the classic science fiction of Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein.

Strapped in to artificial wings spanning twenty-five feet across, your arms push a tenth of your body weight with each pump as you propel yourself at frightening speeds through the air. Inside a pressurized dome on the Moon, subject to one-sixth Earth’s gravity, there are swarms of chiseled, fearless, superbly trained flyers all around you, jostling for air space like peregrine falcons racing for the prize. This was the sport of piloting, and after Helium-3, piloting was one of the first things that entered anyone’s mind when Borealis was mentioned.

It was Helium-3 that powered humanity’s far-flung civilization expansion, feeding fusion reactors from the Alliances on Earth to the Terran Ring, Mars, the Jovian colonies, and all the way out to distant Titan. The supply, taken from the surface of the Moon, had once seemed endless. But that was long ago. Borealis, the glittering, fabulously rich city stretched out across the lunar North Pole, had amassed centuries of unimaginable wealth harvesting it, and as such was the first to realize that its supplies were running out.

The distant memories of the horrific planetwide devastation spawned by the petroleum wars were not enough to quell the rising energy and political crises. A new war to rival no other appeared imminent, but the solar system’s competing powers would discover something more powerful than Helium-3: the indomitable spirit of an Earth-born, war-weary mercenary and pilot extraordinaire.

What’s David’s favorite bit?

Pilots of Borealis 9781940456232


It’s difficult to single out a favored theme, topic or scene from The Pilots of Borealis. Borealis, built astride the lunar North Pole, is the richest, most extravagant city in existence. It’s grown powerful and arrogant after centuries of harvesting the helium-3 infused into the lunar surface and shipped to every port-of-call in Creation. Helium-3 feeds the fusion reactors that power humanity’s vast and complex society. It’s a city created to explore the limits of what the human eye might find too spectacular for comfort and endurance, and then exponentially exceeded. Such a paradise requires angels, and Borealis has the most chiseled, dangerous, superbly-trained, fearless seraphim in the Solar System: her pilots.

Piloting can only be found and accomplished on the Moon under Borealis’ dome, the gentle gravity and titanium-hard physiques and regimen of the athletes combining to bring one of mankind’s oldest dreams to fruition—winged, muscle-powered flight. They are a breed unto themselves, even among the quarter trillion human beings strung throughout civilization’s far-flung domain, spanning the distance all the way out to lonely Titan at the edge of humanity’s grasp.

But even Borealis and piloting—and the impending do-or-die struggle among the great powers, now that the supply of helium-3 is finally running out—can’t hold center stage for long. It is the characters that inhabit Borealis, the Terran Ring, and the roiling Alliances on Earth that hold sway in this story.

Yet, none of them rise above my favorite bit in Pilots of Borealis: Clinton Rittener.

A reviewer is as conflicted with him as I’d hoped. “I’ll not call him a hero, because nothing could be further from the truth,” she says, referring to Clinton’s stint as the most celebrated—and ruthless—mercenary of the age, a condotierro whose forces cut a swath of death and destruction across Asia not seen since the days of Tamerlane. At the same time though she “enjoyed . . . Clinton,” and wanted to know more about him. Clinton Rittener will grab the reader, sink in some very sharp teeth, and shake like a tiger. He will not, in the end, come to be understood; his character is meant to leave one asking questions.

This scarred, battle-hardened protagonist is indeed part monster, but to his credit, not one of his own making. Clinton started out as something else, like all of us, yet with unexpected and unavoidable forays into various purgatories, surrounded by the denizens of those cruel precincts, was turned into something he never intended to be. His saving grace is a simple one: through everything, he never forgets who the man inside him used to be. So the reader, I hope, will wind up rooting for Clinton Rittener, bizarrely cheering for someone with more blood on his hands than just the average warlord.

But that’s not how Clinton Rittener would want to be seen, as a former yuan shuai, high marshal, of the coalition of Jiangsu, Shanxi and Fujian during the Great Eastern War. Nor would he point to his intelligence work in the Underground on Mars. He wouldn’t regale his exploits in the Outer Solar System, cruising over volcanic rings the size of Germany exploding on the Jovian moon Io, or about traversing frozen methane floes drifting in Titan’s hydrocarbon seas.

Clinton Rittener would introduce himself, and will to the reader, in the only way he fully and truly sees himself: as a pilot.


Pilots of Borealis web site

Pilots of Borealis Facebook Page  


Barnes and Noble



David Nabhan was a certificated bilingual public school teacher for nineteen years in South Central Los Angeles. Nabhan is now retired from teaching and has relocated to the Northeast, where he travels, writes, and tutors Spanish.


My Favorite Bit: Aliette de Bodard talks about THE HOUSE OF SHATTERED WINGS

My Favorite Bit iconAliette de Bodard is joining us today with her novel The House of Shattered Wings. Here’s the publisher’s description:

In the late twentieth century, the streets of Paris are lined with haunted ruins, the aftermath of a Great War between arcane powers. The Grand Magasins have been reduced to piles of debris, Notre-Dame is a burnt-out shell, and the Seine has turned black with ashes and rubble and the remnants of the spells that tore the city apart. But those that survived still retain their irrepressible appetite for novelty and distraction, and The Great Houses still vie for dominion over France’s once grand capital.

Once the most powerful and formidable, House Silverspires now lies in disarray. Its magic is ailing; its founder, Morningstar, has been missing for decades; and now something from the shadows stalks its people inside their very own walls.

Within the House, three very different people must come together: a naive but powerful Fallen angel; an alchemist with a self-destructive addiction; and a resentful young man wielding spells of unknown origin. They may be Silverspires’ salvation—or the architects of its last, irreversible fall. And if Silverspires falls, so may the city itself.

What’s Aliette’s favorite bit?

House of Shattered Wings-2


My favourite bit of The House of Shattered Wings is Lucifer Morningstar.

The House of Shattered Wings is set in an alternate version of Paris which was devastated by a magical war in 1914, and where magic is the province of Fallen angels and their favourites. Naturally, any such book would need their own version of Lucifer!

The proto-version of The House of Shattered Wings was a novelette set in the fictional city of Silverspires, and had a first version of Morningstar as an elderly angel sitting in a former church and seldom moving from it (owing, I suspect, a big debt to the angel Islington in Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, a villain with whom I’ve long been fascinated). He was also rich, knowledgeable, and desperate to return to Heaven, or to catch any glimpse of it–and would pay any price for that.

When the novelette became a novel, I was… not entirely satisfied with this version of Morningstar, which seemed to me to be lacking both in sulphurous seductiveness and in badass levels–we are talking about someone who led a rebellion in Heaven, so he had to be memorable. I drew on other things I’d read and watched with Lucifer and/or Fallen angels in them (the Devils in Elizabeth Bear’s Promethean Age series, Lucifer the Sandman, Akio in Utena), and completely rethought the character.

The ruined church stayed, and became the ruins of Notre-Dame–for, if you’re the oldest and most powerful Fallen in existence, where else are you going to make your home, but at the religious centre of Paris, on an island close to the very centre of the city? I ditched the “seldom moving from it” because it made my plot needlessly complicated. My new Morningstar was the founder of Silverspires, the oldest House in Paris: a powerful magical faction and a place of safety for hundreds of souls. He was fair-haired, arrogant and possessed of an effortless magical aura that drew people to him.

And, to materialise this arrogance, I gave him wings.

I really love the wings–they’re my favourite bit of this favourite bit. In this universe, Fallen angels lose their wings when they fall from Heaven (or rather, the wings are burnt away and mangled irretrievably when they hit the ground). But Morningstar made himself metal, serrated wings: both a matter-of-fact statement that he didn’t care where he stood with regards to Heaven, and a wickedly efficient weapon that he wielded in battle.

Naturally, a character like that is going to distort the plot whenever he runs close to it. And, having set most of my action and most of my characters in House Silverspires, I needed them to be vulnerable if I wanted a plot. This required me to either give them a threat that would be stronger than Morningstar; or to do something a little different.

Yeah, that’s right. Having made this wonderful, powerful, arrogant character, I proceeded to get rid of him.

As the book opens, Morningstar has been missing for more than twenty years. The House he founded has attempted to go on as best as they can, but they have been steadily losing power and influence, and even the magical protections Morningstar left them have been slowly ebbing away.  This would not be a great place to be even in the best circumstances; but you can always rely on a character to accidentally set off a major curse on the House…

Of course, missing doesn’t mean completely absent from the narration–he looms large in the life of some characters: Selene, his successor as head of House Silverspires, was his student and is still trying to fill in for him; and Philippe, a Vietnamese immigrant with magical abilities of his own, is able to see him in visions. In both cases they’re very interesting scenes to write, where I can play on the intersection of awe and terror that such a character would generate, and show off the contrast between my characters and Morningstar.

All in all, I’m really glad I redesigned the character–he made for such a fun experience writing him!






Aliette de Bodard lives and works in Paris, where she has a day job as a System Engineer. In her increasingly rare spare time (between the day job and wrangling a young toddler), she writes speculative fiction. She has won two Nebula Awards, a Locus Award and a British Science Fiction Association Award. Her novel, The House of Shattered Wings, is set in a turn-of-the-century Paris devastated by a magical war and features Fallen angels, alchemists, witches, a Vietnamese ex-Immortal with a grudge, and entirely too many dead bodies! It’s out August 18th from Roc Books in the US and August 20thfrom Gollancz in the UK. Visit for more information.

My Favorite Bit: Stephen Moore talks about GRAYNELORE

My Favorite Bit iconStephen Moore is joining us today with his novel Graynelore. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Rodrig Wishard is a killer, a thief and a liar. He’s a fighting man who prefers to solve his problems with his sword.

In a world without government or law, where a man’s only loyalty is to his family and faerie tales are strictly for children, Rodrig Wishard is not happy to discover that he’s carrying faerie blood. Something his family neglected to tell him. Not only that but he’s started to see faeries for real.

If he’s going to make any sense of it he’s going to have to go right to the source – the faeries themselves. But that’s easier said than done when the only information he has to go on is from bards and myth.

What’s Stephen’s favorite bit?

Graynelore large


A few years ago I had a conversation with my mother about her historical family roots and she reminded me that I am, in fact, directly descended from notorious Sixteenth Century Border Reivers. Who? Family groups from the English/Scottish borderlands that looked upon theft, kidnap, blackmail, murder and blood-feud as all part of normal daily life. What author worth their salt wouldn’t want to write about that? I couldn’t resist, and after travelling a long and winding road of research and creative adventure I was eventually to arrive at my fantasy novel, GRAYNELORE. And how might I best describe GRAYNELORE? If it’s an epic fantasy, it’s also a tale of divided loyalty. It’s a blood-soaked mystery, a grown-up faerie-tale and, in its own twisted way, a kind of love story.

Which begs the question: out of all those amazing possibilities, do I have a favourite bit? It’s my book… of course I do! I have lots of favourite bits! But if I must pick out just one then I must.

After much thought, I’m going to choose the very first scene I wrote when I began Graynelore. It came to me fully formed and almost word perfect first time. (Believe me, an extremely unusual event for a writer who composes piecemeal and as inspiration hits; an author who can easily re-write a scene a dozen times or more in an attempt to get it just right.) Originally this scene did not belong anywhere in particular, only eventually becoming the start of Chapter Six: The Killing Field, and pivotal to the plot.

Why do I love it? Well… It very much set the tone and nature of the story I went on to tell. Also, I’m a very visual author. I see the actions, the events and the landscapes of my tales clearly laid out before me. And I’m a lover of beautiful words. The way they read off the page; indeed, the way they visually appear in print. It’s all important, and not to be rushed! This particular scene begins with the description of a face, a beautiful, enticing, seductive image. However, as the scene unfolds, it quickly becomes apparent that all is not what it first appears to be…

Her eyes, they were a blue that startled, invited, demanded. They caught hold of me, drew me to her like a lover. Still wet, they glistened. Not with tears. Nor fear. There was no stain on her cheeks. Her white cheeks… White skin… She was a beauty yet. The wind was playing lightly across her face, moving a single frond of auburn hair. She had caught it upon her tongue at the edge of her mouth. Open mouth. Red mouth… Surely she was teasing me, smiling, whispering. No… yes.

I tried to put Notyet’s face in the way of hers, only I could not seem to find it. Vague, hidden as if veiled, its image would not come to me.

‘Rogrig,’ she said.



Did she really speak my name, then? No… yes. No. It was only the voice of the wind.

‘Rogrig… Rogrig…?’

But this last was not a woman’s voice, nor the wind.

‘Watch this, Rogrig!’ It was a clumsy youth who had spoken: Edbur, my elder-cousin Wolfrid’s whelp, his laughing cry was thin with a disguised fear.

Then there was violence, the sweet scent of fresh blood spilled, the kicking.

I was suddenly released from my stupor and the woman’s spell was broken. Instinctively I gripped the hilt of my sword, but let it rest at my side. There was no threat here. I recognised the boy’s smell. Edbur, Edbur-the-Widdle… It was a fitting nick-name. He was old enough, and big enough to fight, but the whelp soiled himself at every skirmish. Still, there had been killings made here, and if wounded pride was the worst of his injuries he had served his surname, his grayne, better than many. The fortunes would soon forgive him for it. And if they did not, well, then I would forgive him in their stead.

The boy’s swinging kick sent the severed head of the dead woman tumbling. Edbur-the-Widdle laughed outrageously as it thumped and thudded between grass and gulley, as it broke heavily upon stone, spilling teeth, spitting blood.

Not a woman now.

Is the scene a little gory? Perhaps, but it’s also honest and even beautiful (I hope). And if it was to become important to the story, it was also pivotal in another way. You see, up until this point all of my books had been written for older children (and I’ve been a published author for nineteen years!) With this one scene, I found myself standing at an unexpected crossroads. And I knew if I was going to write truthfully about Border Reivers, it might well be a faerie tale, but it was not going to be a children’s story. And so it turned out. GRAYNELORE is my very first fantasy novel for adults.




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Stephen Moore is the author of the fantasy novel, GRAYNELORE. (Published by, HarperVoyager. 13th August 2015.)

A published author since the mid 1990’s he’s also written several well received fantasy books for older children (ages 9-14yrs/YA) including, TOOTH AND CLAW, SPILLING THE MAGIC and FAY. (Published by, Crossroad Press.)

Stephen hails from the North of England; a beautiful land he loves to explore; full of ancient Roman history, medieval castles and remnants of the infamous Border Reivers.

Long ago, before he discovered the magic of storytelling, he was an exhibition designer and he has fond memories of working in the strange old world of museums. Sometimes he can still be found in auction houses pawing over old relics!

He loves art and books, old and new. He’s into rock music, movies, history and RPG video games! But mostly, he likes to write, where he get to create his own worlds.

My Favorite Bit: Tom Doyle talks about THE LEFT-HAND WAY

My Favorite Bit iconTom Doyle is joining us today with his novel The Left-Hand Way. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Poe’s Red Death returns, more powerful than ever. Can anyone stop him before he summons an apocalyptic nightmare even worse than himself?

In The Left-Hand Way, the second book of Tom Doyle’s contemporary fantasy series, the American craftsmen are scattered like bait overseas. What starts as an ordinary liaison mission to London for Major Michael Endicott becomes a desperate chase across Europe, where Endicott is both hunted and hunter. Reluctantly joining him is his minder from MI13, Commander Grace Marlow, one of Her Majesty’s most lethal magician soldiers, whose family has centuries of justified hostility to the Endicotts.

Meanwhile, in Istanbul and Tokyo, Endicott’s comrades, Scherie Rezvani and Dale Morton, are caught in their own battles for survival against hired assassins and a ghost-powered doomsday machine. And in Kiev, Roderick Morton, the spider at the center of a global web, plots their destruction and his ultimate apotheosis. After centuries of imprisonment, nothing less than godlike power will satisfy Roderick, whatever the dreadful cost.

What’s Tom’s favorite bit?



Imagine that a single family of magician soldiers held the inspirations for Bronte’s Jane Eyre, Kipling’s Kim, Conrad’s Marlow, Buchan’s Hannay, Fleming’s Bond, and Moorcock’s Eternal Champion. Imagine further that this same interracial family descended from famous African, American, and English historical roots. What new stories would this open up within the British literary and spy traditions, and what would this background mean for the family’s fictional modern descendant?

Such a saga might fill several volumes, but as a backstory for one character it couldn’t easily fit into the narrative flow of a single book, particularly a fantasy thriller. A few of the details are in my story proper, but more of them went into an appendix. Therefore, and I’m almost ashamed to admit it, the appendix from The Left-Hand Way is my favorite bit. This seems so very wrong because, as in our bodies, the appendix is supposed to be an extra, useless bit that dangles from the end. For some readers, appendices even lead to a visceral conditioned response of loathing and aversion.

How did my delight in an appendix come about? In my first book, American Craftsmen, which also had a lot of historical and literary backstory, the publisher asked for a genealogical endnote to help sort out the characters in the protagonist’s family. I was naturally worried about doing this–images of Tolkien’s list of Númenórean kings haunted me. But it turned into a complete hoot. For narrative flow, I’d had to cut many of the neat little tales I’d imagined for my protag’s ancestors; now, I could briefly show off them and their factual and fictional allusions without impeding my main story.

In the sequel, I didn’t wait for the publisher to ask; I planned on an appendix. This time, it was for the family of the most interesting new character in the book: Grace Marlow (the woman on the cover above from the awesome Dominick Saponaro). I also had an agenda for this appendix: I was going to create a mini-cryptohistory of British literary and spy fiction that both highlighted and created interracial elements.

As noted in the publisher’s description, Royal Navy Commander Grace Marlow works with MI13, the equivalent of MI5 and MI6 for magician soldiers. From Grace’s last name, one might guess one of her early English ancestors: Christopher Marlowe (the “e” later gets dropped). Before his premature demise, he has a child with a daughter of Francis Walsingham (whom Elizabeth I called her “Moor”). A formerly enslaved person and a distant relative of Queen Charlotte marry into this line, and the eventual result is Edward Marlow (the secret basis for Edward Rochester in Jane Eyre).

The other side of the family descends from Tituba of Salem, famous for her involvement in the witch trials. In history, she survives that horror, but her fate afterwards is unknown–the perfect opening for a cryptohistorian. In my version of events, her descendants fight for their freedom on the British side during the American Revolution. After the war, they go to England, where eventually Jane Howe, the inspiration for Jane Eyre, is born.

Because of the experience of her colonial American ancestors, Grace has no affection for the U.S., and as noted above in the book’s description, she and her family are particularly hostile to the Endicotts. Instead, she is completely devoted to the UK craft service. Like my other characters, Grace feels the weight of her family’s history–she is literally haunted by her ancestors. But this history is also an inspiration to heroic action.

Besides simple entertainment, one of the main points of my appendix material is that, as with stagings of Shakespeare and portrayals of famous TV and movie characters, it is fun and interesting to re-imagine character identities in classic novels. Perhaps the most visible examples of this I’ve seen on social media are the gender-flipped readings of classics, which seem to broaden interpretations and readership. Though I hope readers of The Left-Hand Way are caught up in the adventure story, I encourage you to look at the appendix at any time during your progress through the book, and please let me know what you think of its brief cryptohistorical outline (and also how many historical and literary references you spot there and elsewhere in the text).


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American Craftsmen: Amazon Barnes & Noble Powell’s

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Tom Doyle is the author of the American Craft fantasy series from Tor Books. Tom’s collection of short fiction, The Wizard of Macatawa and Other Stories, includes his WSFA Small Press Award and Writers of the Future Award winners. He writes science fiction and fantasy in a spooky turret in Washington, DC. You can find the text and audio of many of his stories on his website.

My Favorite Bit: Ellen Datlow talks about THE BEST HORROR OF THE YEAR VOLUME SEVEN

My Favorite Bit iconEllen Datlow is joining us today with her book The Best Horror of the Year Volume Seven. Here’s the publisher’s description:

A sin-eater plies the tools of her dangerous trade; a jealous husband takes his rival on a hunting trip; a student torments one of his teachers; a cheap grafter is selling artifacts form hell; something is haunting the departure lounge of an airport . . .

The Best Horror of the Year showcases the previous year’s best offerings in short fiction horror. This edition includes award-winning and critically acclaimed authors Laird Barron, Caitlín R. Kiernan, Nathan Ballingrud, Genevieve Valentine, and more.

For over three decades, award-winning editor and anthologist Ellen Datlow has had her finger on the pulse of the latest and most terrifying in horror writing. Night Shade Books is proud to present the seventh volume in this annual series, a new collection of stories to keep you up at night.

What’s Ellen’s favorite bit?

Best Horror vol 7 final cover


My Favorite Bit of editing The Best Horror of the Year, now in its seventh volume, is that it forces me to read so much short fiction every year and thus become aware of many new writers I’ve never heard of before.

Always, even after twenty-eight years of editing a best short horror fiction anthology, I’m surprised by how regularly I encounter this phenomenon. Sometimes, looking back, I notice that a writer I may have given an Honorable Mention to in an earlier volume, is someone whose work I’ve chosen to be in the most recent volume. To me, that means that they’re growing as writers and imposing on my consciousness-a very good thing. Paradoxically that’s also my least favorite part because I know I’ll never, ever finish as long as I’m doing the series!

Part of the fun of this series is watching writers continue to level up, accruing Honorable Mentions in my anthologies during the early part of their career, and then, like I said above, something clicks, and they make the leap from Mention to selection. But it’s always the story that jumps out at me, not the author, per se. Once I choose a story by someone for the best of the year, I’ll keep an eye out for more work by them-sometimes I even begin to solicit original work from them for future anthologies or for whatever magazine or website I’m working on at the time. Sometimes, it’s a one-off. That is, I may take a story for the best of the year and never take another one by that writer. Being included once doesn’t give anyone a free pass, unfortunately! There are only a few writers whose short stories wow me every time. Also, since some of my favorite writers only occasionally write horror, I might not include their work for several years.

I can’t speak for other anthologists editing horror bests of the year, but I suspect my definitions of what I consider horror might be looser. There’s a fine line between horror and dark fantasy, and horror and weird fiction. I’ll occasionally include something that while I consider it horror, other editors might not. I’m more inclined toward the creepiness of a story than to its “scariness”-very few stories scare me. Real life scares me. Horror stories do not. In any case, I’m certain that we all believe we’re doing the best job possible in creating great overviews of the year in horror.

When it comes to the writers I’ve worked with, I can never pick a favorite story of mine over the years; no way can I answer that! But readers can tell the stories I love and that stay with me by seeing what I reprint in other anthologies over the years. And hopefully those same readers will stay with me, too, for all the anthologies still to come!






Ellen Datlow has been editing science fiction, fantasy, and horror short fiction for almost thirty years. She was the fiction editor of Omni magazine and Sci Fiction and has edited more than fifty anthologies. She has also won many awards for her work, including the Bram Stoker Award, the Shirley Jackson Award, and the Hugo Award, among others. She lives in New York City.

My Favorite Bit: Stephanie A. Cain talks about STORMSEER

My Favorite Bit iconStephanie A. Cain is joining us today with her novel Stormseer. Here’s the publisher’s description:

The kingdoms of Tamnen and Strid have been at war for decades. Princess Azmei of Tamnen left her family for a treaty marriage to end that war–but an assassin’s blade destroyed her plans. Protected by her presumed death, Azmei hunts the person trying to destroy her family.

Commander Hawk of the Tamnese army was captured by the Strid after being left for dead on the battlefield. After years as a prisoner of war, he is finally ransomed–only to find he has no place left in the world. His parents are dead and his command has long since been given to another. At loose ends, he agrees to an undertaking for the crown–seek out the truth about Princess Azmei’s killer.

Yarro Perslyn has been captive to the Voices in his head for most of his short life. The only family who ever cared for him was his sister Orya, and she disappeared. Now the mysterious Voices in his head are saying something new. They are real, and they want Yarro to free them.

Princess, prisoner, and prophet collide in the embattled region between the two kingdoms. But will they be in time to prevent more death, or will the rising storm break them all?

What’s Stephanie’s favorite bit?

Stormseer Front 800px


I actually can’t tell you my favorite favorite bit about Stormseer, because it would be a major spoiler–the truth of who/what the Voices actually are. So today I’m going to talk about my second favorite bit, instead. It’s closely tied to my favorite favorite bit, so don’t worry, I’m not cheating you!

My second favorite bit about Stormseer is the character of Yarro Perslyn. While Stormseer continues the story begun in Stormshadow about Princess Azmei of Tamnen, the character who undergoes the most transformation is Yarro. And it’s his fault I wrote this novel in the first place.

Yarro is mentioned a couple of times in Stormshadow by his sister, and from the first time I wrote his name, I knew I was going to need a whole book about him. He’s a young man trapped inside his own head, prisoner to mysterious Voices who provide commentary on the world they see through his eyes. The Voices have their own personalities, and Yarro is pretty sure they’re real, even though he knows “normal people” don’t hear Voices in their heads or lose hours to watching visions.

Yar’s family doesn’t understand him, but that’s not entirely bad. His grandfather is the Patriarch of a family of assassins, and if he knew about the Voices, he would make Yar use them to hurt people. One of Yar’s brothers, in a rare moment of honesty, admits that in a different family, Yar would have been given help dealing with the Voices.

The Voices like to have a part in Yar’s conversations, and I had a lot of fun writing their commentary. Sometimes they distract him, but sometimes they help him out with valuable advice. Here’s a conversation early in the book where they speak their opinions of the Patriarch:

“What are you thinking inside that locked up head of yours, I wonder,” his grandfather said. “I think your brothers underestimate you. Your sister never did.” Suddenly the old man’s face was very close to his, iron fingers seizing his chin in a vise-like grip. “What do you know of Orya’s plans, Yarro? Tell me! I am your Patriarch!” A fleck of spit hit Yarro’s lips.

EAT HIM. BLIND HIM. LICK HIS EYEBALLS. Yar shuddered. He didn’t really like that one. That Voice was always hungry, and if Rith brought out that Voice’s temper, Yar’s grandfather brought out its cruelty.

“Tell me!” His grandfather shook him so hard Yar’s neck ached. “What did she tell you before she left?”

LIE TO HIM, whispered another Voice. It was sly, more subtle than the first. THE PATRIARCH WILL USE YOU IF HE KNOWS THE TRUTH. Yar blinked up at his grandfather. His lips were mushed together by the old man’s grip, but he still said, “Goodbye.”

Evidently his grandfather understood, for he shoved Yar away, letting go of his chin and making Yar stumble backwards.

BE INNOCENT. BE FOOLISH, said the second Voice, and Yar let himself fall down.

Underestimate me, he thought at his grandfather. An image of a dove fighting a serpent flashed before his eyes. His jaw went slack as he stared, rapt, at it. That was what he wished to be. A dove.

“Fool. Worthless fool.” The old man’s voice dripped contempt. Yar didn’t care. He stared at the dove as it flapped its wings. Its beak was closed on the serpent’s head. Yar wondered if it would win. How could it? Doves were peaceful birds. But if they were attacked, they would fight back. Anything would fight back when it was attacked.

Yar knows he isn’t like other people, but then again, his destiny isn’t much like other people’s, either. The Voices are much, much more than Yar’s imaginary companions. And I can’t wait for readers to find out, along with Yar, who and what they actually are.






Stephanie A. Cain writes epic & urban fantasy. She is the author of Stormsinger, Stormshadow, Stormseer, and Sow the Wind. She grew up in Indiana, where much of her (so far unpublished) urban fantasy is set.

She works at a small museum in Crawfordsville, Indiana, doing historical research, giving tours of a Victorian man-cave, and serving as a one-woman IT department. A proud crazy cat lady, she is happily owned by Eowyn, Strider, and Eustace Clarence Scrubb.

In her free time, she enjoys hiking (except for the inevitable spider encounters), bird-watching, reading, and playing World of Warcraft and Skyrim. She enjoys organizing things and visits office supply stores for fun. She owns way more D20s, movie scores, and fountain pens than she can actually afford.