Archive for the ‘My Favorite Bit’ Category

My Favorite Bit: Zachary Jernigan talks about SHOWER OF STONES

My Favorite Bit iconZachary Jernigan is joining us today with his novel Shower of Stones. Here’s the publisher’s description:

The follow-up to Zachary Jernigan’s critically-acclaimed literary debut No Return.

At the moment of his greatest victory, before a crowd of thousands, the warrior Vedas Tezul renounced his faith, calling for revolt against the god Adrash, imploring mankind to unite in this struggle.

Good intentions count for nothing. In the three months since his sacrilegious pronouncement, the world has not changed for the better. In fact, it is now on the verge of dying. The Needle hangs broken in orbit above Jeroun, each of its massive iron spheres poised to fall and blanket the planet’s surface in dust. Long-held truces between Adrashi and Anadrashi break apart as panic spreads.

With no allegiance to either side, the disgraced soldier Churls walks into the divided city of Danoor with a simple plan: murder the monster named Fesuy Amendja, and retrieve from captivity the only two individuals that still matter to her—Vedas Tezul, and the constructed man Berun. The simple plan goes awry, as simple plans do, and in the process Churls and her companions are introduced to one of the world’s deepest secrets: A madman, insisting he is the link to an ancient world, offering the most tempting lie of all… Hope.

Concluding the visceral, inventive narrative begun in No Return, Shower of Stones pits men against gods and swords against civilization-destroying magic in the fascinatingly harsh world of Jeroun.

What’s Zachary’s favorite bit?

Shower of Stones


The violence!

The funny thing, though? I don’t even like fight scenes all that much. I’m usually bored, hoping that the narrative quickly moves back to the relationships. I feel like most action scenes overstay their welcome. While everyone else is riveted to their seats during a shootout, or gripping their Kindles during a sword fight, I’m usually yawning. It’s not that the scenes are badly done, by any means; I’m just not the audience for them. I don’t even get much out of UFC fights.

So, why the hell would my favorite parts of Shower of Stones be the violent bits? Well, it’s got something to do with the fact that, being that I don’t really like such content, I nonetheless managed to write scenes of violence that excite me. After getting my contributor copies of the book a few days ago, I did as any jubilant writer would do and went back to reread some of what was now in print. I was overjoyed to find that the violent parts still made me grin. They still painted images on my mind’s eye, just like I was remembering a film.

(In case you think this sounds awfully braggy, note that I very rarely like what I’m writing. To me, it’s all just one big pile of clumsiness. Any occasion to say, “Hey, this ain’t so bad!” is an occasion for joy.)

But, thinking about this, I wonder — what did I do right this time round? I mean, I liked the fighting scenes in No Return, particularly the ones where I got to showcase some really crazy magical abilities or skull-cracking punches (or, even better, a combination of the two), but somehow they were overshadowed by other factors. I think, in Shower of Stones, I managed to be more efficient with my descriptions, increasing the tempo substantially:

They tried to pull free, but quickly realize their struggles were useless. The bowmen dropped their bows and reached for their swords. The remaining mage stopped his efforts entirely and raised his chin in defiance. Evurt crossed the remaining distance to them, swatted two of the warriors’ blades away, and took the third. Decapitating all three with such skill that each toppled gracefully sideways, he caused the mage to be drenched in blood.

He reached out and slowly, inexorably, pried the staff from the mage’s hands. He broke the weapon over his knee, causing a brief flare of sparks to erupt from its lit end. He thrust the jagged ends of the mage’s own staff into the meat below the man’s clavicles, carrying him to the ground to the sound of both ankles snapping, impaling his shuddering body upon the sun-baked dirt. The mage screamed until his voice ran out, and then screamed some more. Evurt cocked his head almost curiously, and then tore the man’s lower jaw off, silencing the cries to a bubbling exhalation.

It may not be to everyone’s taste, how it’s written — and Lord knows it’s ridiculously violent, even cartoonish — but I love how Zack-from-over-a-year-ago didn’t linger on any one description. If I can be charitable to myself (never an easy task), I’d say that the above at once sensationalizes violence and refuses to romanticize it. I do hate it when violence is cozy, too easy for both the characters and the reader. More than anything, I hate it when violence is reduced to coolness: Oh, wow, that was neat!

Even when an opponent is dispatched with ease, as Evurt does above, violence should have an element of horror to it. No one could do as Evurt does, but what if they could? What if the mind behind the actions viewed it with complete dispassion?

I’m glad that — for me, at least — I was occasionally able to convey violence without any sentimentality. Not only because the subject of violence deserves to be treated respectfully, with more thought than “it’d be cool to rip a guy’s jaw off, bro!” but also because violence is one of the last things to be sentimental about. We live in a society that has, to some extent, bleached the horror right out of horrific acts, and I don’t want to be a part of it.

Of course, this is my interpretation. The whole point of My Favorite Bit is for the author to look at what they love in what they did. Perhaps I am being too charitable to myself. What seems to hold some depth for me may just appear shallow to someone else.

And that, in and of itself, is cool. I hope readers pick up Shower of Stones and have myriad reactions. More than anything, though, I hope they find at least one thing to love — even if it’s not the thing I love all that much.



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Zachary Jernigan’s debut novel, No Return, is a science-fantasy story filled with sex, violence, religion, and muscular people in weird skintight costumes living on a world where god exists and is very upset. A hardcover edition came out from Night Shade Books in 2013, followed by a paperback edition the following year. The AV Club listed No Return as one of the best books of the year. The sequel and conclusion to No Return, Shower of Stones, is out now in hardcover from Night Shade Books. Publishers Weekly praised the new novel, saying, “Jernigan employs hard-hitting and unflinching prose that’s as concise as it is brutal.” The author’s first proper short story collection — title TBA — is forthcoming in the early spring of 2016 from Ragnarok Publications.

My Favorite Bit: J. Dalton Jennings talks about SOLOMON’S ARROW

My Favorite Bit iconJ. Dalton Jennings is joining us today with his novel Solomon’s Arrow. Here’s the publisher’s description:

It’s the mid-twenty-first century. The oceans are rising, the world’s population is growing, terrorist organizations are running rampant, and it has become readily apparent that humanity’s destructive nature is at the heart of the matter.

When all faith in humanity seems lost, a startling proposal is announced: Solomon Chavez, the mysterious son of the world’s first trillionaire, announces that he, backed by a consortium of governments and wealthy donors, will build an interstellar starship—one that will convey a select group of six thousand individuals, all under the age of fifty, with no living relatives, to a recently discovered planet in the Epsilon Eridani star system. His goal is lofty: to build a colony that will ensure the survival of the human race. However, Solomon Chavez has a secret that he doesn’t dare share with the rest of the world.

With the launch date rapidly approaching, great odds must be overcome so that the starship Solomon’s Arrow can fulfill what the human race has dreamed of for millennia: reaching for the stars. The goal is noble, but looming on the horizon are threats nobody could have imagined—ones that may spell the end of all human life and end the universe as we know it.

Filled with action, suspense, and characters that will live on in the imagination, Solomon’s Arrow will leave readers breathless, while at the same time questioning what humanity’s true goals should be: reaching for the stars, or exploring the limits of the human mind?

What’s J. Dalton’s favorite bit?

Solomon's Arrow 9781940456225-NEW


Like any writer worth his salt, virtually every part of my novel, Solomon’s Arrow, can be called My Favorite Bit. The trick, however, is to write about one of my favorite bits in such a way as to prevent the story arc from being spoiled for those who have yet to read the book, while casting light on that same bit for those who have.

With that in mind, the bit I’ll be blogging about takes place three nights before the much-heralded launch of humanity’s first interstellar starship, Solomon’s Arrow. A going away party—hosted by the mysterious Solomon Chavez—is being held for a number of VIPs, who are among the colonists leaving Earth in a matter of days. Bram Waters, one of the novel’s chief protagonists, is scheduled to arrive the following morning; however, after receiving a message informing him that his request to meet Solomon Chavez has been refused, he reschedules his overseas flight to arrive early, just in time for the party. The kicker is, upon his arrival at the party he’s unable to provide an invitation and is refused entrance. But then, to his great relief, along comes Floyd Sullivant, head of security for Solomon’s Arrow. The two were teammates on a joint mission with Canadian Special Forces to capture the person responsible for a terrorist plot. Seeing Bram’s predicament, Floyd invites him to the party—as his plus one. Some humorous banter ensues as they enter the ballroom.

In the background, a band is playing a song made famous in the Big Band era. The song is “Sing, Sing, Sing,” by Benny Goodman, and is one of Solomon Chavez’s favorites; the song also provides a clue to the mystery that surrounds him.

While listening to the music and sipping drinks at the bar, Floyd spots Solomon Chavez conversing with a group of people on the far side of the ballroom and asks Bram if he would like to be introduced to the enigmatic industrialist. Bram readily agrees. Strangely enough, the introduction is laced with tension; and for some unknown reason, Solomon refuses to shake Bram’s hand. He can sense the man is loath to be around him, which Bram finds both confusing and offensive. Being psychic, he senses there is much more to Solomon Chavez than meets the eye; and yet, despite his curiosity, he holds back from exploring the matter deeper. Bram has a code of ethics, which the reader learns about earlier in the book that prevents him from doing so. He explains this to Solomon and the man reluctantly provides a quick handshake.

Another individual in the group—who, coincidentally, was also a member of the mission with Bram and Floyd—is Gloria Muldoon. She breaks the tension by asking Bram to escort her to the bar. Bram is more than willing to oblige her request, seeing as Gloria is an intelligent, resourceful, beautiful woman—albeit one with a famously cold demeanor. However, she’s drawn to Bram and soon opens up to him, which gives the reader a glimpse into her tragic past. Bram is also no stranger to tragedy. This shared bond, along with their mutual attraction, sets in motion a relationship that proves instrumental to the rest of the story.

Is this bit the most exciting or important one in Solomon’s Arrow? No, but it is one of my favorite bits; it contains humor and tension and provides an important turn in the lives of two of the novel’s key characters. After all, isn’t that what a favorite bit should entail?



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J. Dalton Jennings is a retired graphic artist who served for six years as an avionics technician in the Arkansas Air National Guard.Solomon’s Arrow is Jennings’s first published novel, and he currently resides in North Little Rock, Arkansas. 

My Favorite Bit: E. L. Chen talks about THE GOOD BROTHER

My Favorite Bit iconE. L. Chen is joining us today with her novel The Good Brother. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Tori Wong is starting over. She’s given herself a new name, dropped out of school to work at a bookstore, and fled her parents’ strict home to do all the things she’s never done before. Like go out on weeknights, flirt with her cute co-worker Egan, and live out of the shadow of her overachieving brother, to whom her parents always compare her. Even though he’s dead. But she soon finds that reinventing herself isn’t as easy as it seems. Especially during Yu Lan, the Festival of Hungry Ghosts, when traditional Chinese believe that neglected spirits roam the earth. Not one but three forgotten ghosts come back to haunt Tori: her vengeful brother Seymour, and ambitious Vicky and meek little Mui-Mui, herself at age seventeen and eleven. Despite her attempts to appease them, none of them approve of Tori’s new life. They sabotage her job and her budding relationship with Egan. Literally haunted by the past, Tori spirals into despair, but learns the truth about Seymour’s death, and in doing so learns to accept herself.

What’s E. L.’s favorite bit?

Boy Eating

Boy Eating


My hands-down favorite bit of The Good Brother is a scene. A quiet scene, not a big show-stopper. There are no explosions or histrionics or emotional highs or lows, and none of the ghosts that haunt Tori are involved. It’s simply an exchange of dialogue between Tori and her closeted cousin Wilson.

Wilson gives her a ride to a family dinner, and they both dance around the fact that they had each seen each other with a “friend” a few days ago: Wilson with his boyfriend, and Tori with her crush Egan. Tori fears that Wilson will mention Egan to her parents, whose scrutiny she wishes to avoid.

“Hi,” I said. “Nice car.”


I climbed in. A saccharine female voice warbled over the car speakers in Cantonese. It sounded like a cover of an old Madonna song.

Neither of us said anything until Wilson had navigated the downtown streets and turned onto the ramp to the highway. “Oh, the other day,” he said as the car accelerated onto the open road “. . . that guy you saw me with, that was my housemate, Dominic.”

“I didn’t know you had a housemate,” I said.

“He just moved in a few months ago.”


“He’s a friend. He needed a place to live, and I have an extra bedroom, so I figured this was a good way to pay off my mortgage quickly.”

“That’s a good idea,” I said, and I knew that he knew I didn’t believe him. “What does he do?”

Wilson stared straight ahead at the road. The traffic heading north on the Don Valley Parkway was surprisingly good for a late Sunday afternoon. Good traffic on the DVP, however, merely meant that it was moving. “He’s an actor.”

“Oh,” I said, and I realized just how bad the situation was. Coming out was one thing. Dating an actor was another. Traditionally in Chinese society, entertainers were considered little better than prostitutes. Scholars were on the top of the hierarchy; merchants, actors and prostitutes at the very bottom. “I won’t say anything. Um, I don’t just mean about Dominic’s career.”

“Thanks,” Wilson said. “So who was your friend?”

“Oh, that was Egan,” I said, trying to sound casual. “I work with him. We were actually with another co-worker but he had to leave.”

“Uh huh.”

“I think he has a girlfriend,” I lied. The leather upholstery squeaked as I squirmed in the passenger seat. “Egan, I mean. Not our other friend.”

“Uh huh,” Wilson said. We sat in silence for another few minutes. The song ended, and a duet started up. It was just as saccharine. I could never tell Cantonese pop songs apart. They all sounded bland and maudlin.

That’s it. Nothing happens. And yet one of my beta readers called out this scene as a favorite too, so I knew I was doing something right. Tori and Wilson say a lot to each other without actually being open. Neither can admit out loud–or perhaps even to themselves–what they feel for the important people in their lives.

I’d heard on a writing podcast (Writing Excuses, actually, co-hosted by Mary Robinette Kowal) that YA novels tend to be more explicit in their narrative when describing their characters’ thoughts and feelings. This I had in the back of my mind when I was giving The Good Brother a near-final pass. But a brief discussion with a YA writer friend–as well as examining my favorite books in the genre–confirmed my suspicion that this isn’t always necessary. The story should be told the way it needs to be told. The reader can be trusted to read between the lines, and infer the characters’ feelings from their dialogue and actions.

Trying to write quiet, telling a lot without explicitly telling too much. This is my favorite bit of The Good Brother, and something I definitely want to get better at.







E. L. Chen’s short fiction has been published in anthologies such as Masked Mosaic, The Dragon and the Stars and Tesseracts Fifteen, and in magazines such as Strange Horizons and On Spec. She lives in Toronto with a very nice husband, their young son, and a requisite cat. The Good Brother is her first novel. Anything else she doesn’t mind you knowing can be found at

My Favorite Bit: Loren Rhoads talks about THE DANGEROUS TYPE

My Favorite Bit iconLoren Rhoads is joining us today with her novel The Dangerous Type. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Set in the wake of a galaxy-wide war and the destruction of a human empire, The Dangerous Type follows the awakening of one of the galaxy’s most dangerous assassins and her quest for vengeance. Entombed for twenty years, Raena has been found and released.

Thallian has been on the lam for the last fifteen years.  He’s a wanted war criminal whose entire family has been hunted down and murdered for their role in the galaxy-wide genocide of the Templars. His name is the first on Raena’s list, as he’s the one that enslaved her, made her his assassin, and ultimate put her in a tomb. But Thallian is willing to risk everything–including his army of cloned sons–to capture her. Now it’s a race to see who kills whom first.

Alternatively, Gavin has spent the last twenty years trying to forget about Raena, whom he once saved and then lost to Thallian. Raena’s adopted sister, Ariel, has been running from the truth — about Raena, about herself and Gavin — and doesn’t know if she’ll be able to face either of them.

The Dangerous Type is a mix of military science fiction and an adventurous space opera that grabs you from the first pages and doesn’t let go. Along with a supporting cast of smugglers, black market doctors, and other ne’er-do-wells sprawled across a galaxy brimming with alien life, The Dangerous Type is a fantastic beginning to Loren Rhoads’s epic trilogy.

What’s Loren’s favorite bit?

Dangerous Type


One of the things that fascinates me the most is persona.  I’m interested not only in the persons we present to the world as ourselves, but also in the identities our friends ascribe to us – and the gaps where those two don’t mesh.

Some of this dates back to high school, when I (like everyone else) tried to figure out who I was.  My friends seemed to assign roles to me.  I was a vixen.  I was in danger of becoming a drug addict.  Needless to say, I suppose, but I didn’t see myself reflected in either of those images.  It was just that my adventures didn’t always lie along the same avenues as theirs did.  It puzzled and amused me that the people who should have known me best sometimes didn’t seem to know me at all.  In that not-knowing, they invented someone else for me to be, someone I could choose to inhabit or to confound, as I liked.

The first book of my new trilogy looks at persona through the lens of point of view. From the outside, The Dangerous Type looks like a space opera.  Inside, it’s a study of the personas that lovers and ex-lovers create for the main character.

Even though Raena is the central character of the book, her point of view doesn’t appear until two-thirds of the way through the text.  Before that, the story unfolds through the eyes of people who knew her twenty years previous, before she was secretly imprisoned and seemed to vanish from the galaxy.  Some of these characters knew Raena well and some only briefly, but all of them overestimate her competence and strength, either by leaping to conclusions about her or by living vicariously through her or by simply wishing she was someone other than who she is.

Gavin Sloane tried to rescue Raena twice in the past – once for money and once for pride – but he’s never stopped looking for her.  Chief among the points of view, Gavin’s built a persona for Raena that she can’t possibly live up to, predicated on the less than twenty-four hours they spent together two decades earlier.  He’s researched her history and knows as much about the facts of her life as anyone, but without actually having had the time to know her, he’s created and interacted with her mostly in his mind.

Ariel Shaad calls herself Raena’s sister – and she contrived a legal adoption into the Shaad family for Raena after she’d disappeared– but in reality, Raena was purchased by Ariel’s dad to be a bodyguard.  The girls had real, deep affection for each other, but their relationship was never as equal as Ariel would like to remember, even if Ariel’s protectiveness for Raena is reciprocated.

Former Imperial diplomat Jonan Thallian took Raena as a teenager and molded her into an assassin to serve his agendas.  Jonan lives in a universe of his own imagination, where other people rarely become more than ghosts.  Raena was the only person to become real to him, albeit only after she ran away from him.  He believes she is his perfect creation, to be broken and controlled once he recaptures her.

Of course, Raena isn’t – and couldn’t be – any of those things.  She’s not a long-lost girlfriend or a rich girl’s sister or a killer goddess.  She’s just a woman with a very specific skill set in a deceptively girlish body, struggling to acclimate to an unfamiliar galaxy where everything she believed in, everything she thought was true, has been dismantled.  She’s trying to negotiate everyone’s expectations of her while keeping herself alive.

The book was inspired not just by my experiences in high school, but by continuing to interact with those same friends today.  I’m blessed to still consider myself friends with the people I knew back then.  We’ve been close, grown apart, gotten back together. We know each other’s stories so well that we assume we know each other well.  Still, the older I get, the more I realize that we (in the general sense) never really know anyone else.  I’m not even convinced we ever really know ourselves.  Instead, we create our friends out of what they say, what they do, how they make us feel.  We interact with them as if these imaginary people we’ve created are the people themselves – until stress or an unguarded word or even watching them interact with someone else makes us reassess.

I find this whole process of reassessment, the continual updating of the personas, riveting.  In the novel, all the characters who are holding up masks of their own try to hold up masks for Raena as well. Rather than being revealed, she ends up being hidden behind mask after mask after mask, until she finally finds someone who will listen when she begins to speak for herself.

Of course, this is all background.  The plot is something else altogether.  That’s where the space opera comes in…



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Loren Rhoads is the author of The Dangerous Type, Kill By Numbers, and No More Heroes, the components of the In the Wake of the Templars trilogy. Night Shade will publish all three books in 2015.

My Favorite Bit: S. K. Dunstall talks about LINESMAN

My Favorite Bit iconS. K. Dunstall is joining us today with their novel Linesman. Here’s the publisher’s description:

First in a brand new thought-provoking science fiction series.

The lines. No ship can traverse the void without them. Only linesmen can work with them. But only Ean Lambert hears their song. And everyone thinks he’s crazy…

Most slum kids never go far, certainly not becoming a level-ten linesman like Ean. Even if he’s part of a small, and unethical, cartel, and the other linesmen disdain his self-taught methods, he’s certified and working.

Then a mysterious alien ship is discovered at the edges of the galaxy. Each of the major galactic powers is desperate to be the first to uncover the ship’s secrets, but all they’ve learned is that it has the familiar lines of energy—and a defense system that, once triggered, annihilates everything in a 200 kilometer radius.

The vessel threatens any linesman who dares to approach it, except Ean. His unique talents may be the key to understanding this alarming new force—and reconfiguring the relationship between humans and the ships that serve them, forever.

What’s S. K.’s favorite bit?



Two people writing a book together doesn’t equate to one person writing the same story twice as fast. In fact, most people who co-write will tell you that it’s just as fast to write the story alone.  We would, anyway.

They wouldn’t write the same story either. It’s the continual going over and over the story in the edits that blends our voices together.  Even at the end of a novel, when we know the characters well, and we know what’s going to happen, if we both sat down and wrote a final chapter those two chapters would be very different.  Different tone, different voice.

Likewise, while we have a rough description of what each character looks like, we certainly don’t envision them the same way.  Sometimes we don’t even pronounce the names the same way.  (Kaelea: Sherylyn says ‘Kah-lee-ah’, Karen says ‘Kay-lee’.)

So obviously, we have different favorite bits for our story too.

In Linesman, ships travel faster-than-light using lines of energy. Humans don’t know much about these lines. It’s alien technology they discovered and cloned five hundred years ago. There are ten lines altogether, and each line has a different purpose. Line six, for example, powers the engines. Line nine takes them into the void—the alternate dimension equivalent to hyperspace—while line ten moves them through space to a new place in the galaxy.

The lines are repaired by specialists with the ability to ‘feel’ the lines and ‘push’ the energy back into place. Linesmen are found early and train for years.

Except our protagonist, Ean.  (Which we do both pronounce the same way; it’s a variant of Ian, and pronounced like Ian—that is, Ee-yann).  Because he came from the slums, he was never tested for line ability as a child and as a result is mostly self-taught.   (But he is certified, and he is working.) He hears the lines as song.

Sherylyn’s favorite bit comes toward the end of the story.

It’s the first time Ean has ever been on a space station.  He’s been on planets and on ships, but never on a station before.

Behind it he could hear the lines of the station, magnified somehow by the presence of the linesmen, crying out to be heard with no-one listening.  The higher lines hadn’t been used since their initial use to transport the station and were atrophying in place.

That’s all we can tell you without spoilers, but it’s the emotional impact of all these lonely lines that she likes.

Karen’s favorite bit, or bits, are the one-liners they always tell writers to throw away. Common writing advice is to ‘kill your darlings’, which means delete the prose you are overly attached to. The idea being that if you love it too much it’s only in the story because you love it, not because it should be there.

“Abram likes you,” Michelle said, eventually.

And everyone sang to the lines, too.

Because no-one but Ean sang to the lines, so effectively Ean believes Michelle is lying to him.

Or another one:

Ean stayed with the uniforms, Rebekah stayed with the civilians. He did wander over to talk to her once, but she moved away before he got there. Which could have been accidental because he was sure she hadn’t been watching him, but the timing was about as coincidental as the earthquake on Shaolin.

Because everyone knew the earthquake on Shaolin had been caused by humans, and it had been deliberately timed to destroy the last remaining line factory in neutral territory, just after a new line factory had opened in enemy territory.

Of course there’s overlap in what we like.  More, there aren’t many bits we don’t like.  If either of us don’t like a section we rewrite it until we have something that makes us both happy.

That’s part of the fun of co-writing.


Linesman: Amazon (US) | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

S K Dunstall: Website | Twitter


S. K. Dunstall is the pen name for Sherylyn and Karen Dunstall, sisters and co-authors who live in Melbourne, Australia. Linesman is their first novel.

My Favorite Bit: Camille Griep talks about LETTERS TO ZELL

My Favorite Bit iconCamille Griep is joining us today with her novel Letters to Zell. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Everything is going according to story for CeCi (Cinderella), Bianca (Snow White), and Rory (Sleeping Beauty)—until the day that Zell (Rapunzel) decides to leave Grimmland and pursue her life. Now, Zell’s best friends are left to wonder whether their own passions are worth risking their predetermined “happily ever afters,” regardless of the consequences. CeCi wonders whether she should become a professional chef, sharp-tongued and quick-witted Bianca wants to escape an engagement to her platonic friend, and Rory will do anything to make her boorish husband love her. But as Bianca’s wedding approaches, can they escape their fates—and is there enough wine in all of the Realm to help them?

In this hilarious modern interpretation of the fairy-tale stories we all know and love, Letters to Zell explores what happens when women abandon the stories they didn’t write for themselves and go completely off script to follow their dreams.

What’s Camille’s favorite bit?



A reader might stumble upon Letters to Zell and wonder to herself, Is the entire novel in letters? Who is this Zell whose mail we’re snooping through? Why would anyone want to start a unicorn preserve? The answers (yes, Rapunzel(l), and I’m not altogether sure) will be revealed once the reader has finished the book. But because the epistolary structure of this novel is uncommon these days, I’d like to take this opportunity to explain why the letters themselves are my favorite bit.

This book, my first novel, is a declaration of love to friendship as well as a paean to correspondence between friends.  Though it is a somewhat polarizing choice in terms of structure – requiring much of a reader’s concentration – I realized, after several false starts, the only way I could correctly tell the stories of these three women was to put the reader at the receiving end of a fairy tale mailbox.

See, once upon a time, in a land called Montana, a nine or ten year old Camille Griep had a favorite friend named Lizzy who moved to Pennsylvania. Back then, Lizzy might as well have moved to the moon. But soon Camille learned to console herself with the letters sent back and forth for a few years, sharing their lives and thoughts and, of course, woes – parental, scholastic, boy-related. Their interests and personalities eventually diverged, ceding to the more immediate demands of adolescence.  But the power of letters was seared into her heart, all those many years ago.

But that’s quite enough of the third person. After I moved to California for college, letters shored up the homesickness that gripped me for the first several months. I wasn’t sure I’d survive being so far away from my family and friends. Receiving mail made such a lasting impression that, to this day, I still dream about getting my mail at the campus post office (aptly named Story House).

I spent college summers in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness at a camp 30 miles from the nearest tiny town post office. The mail truck came three times a week and we sat up for mail call as if instead our names were being called for The Price Is Right. I’d secret my letters to the quietest place I could find and read them with the roar of the Boulder River in the background.

Throughout the years, letters allowed me to deepen friendships, gossip, laugh, cry, engage, sympathize, empathize, and even fall in love. Within letters we wrote as our best selves, responsible for putting a picture of our day, our week, our countenance on the page. Responsible for illustrating life and emotions with canvases made of words.

The core of Letters to Zell is three women navigating the expectations of adulthood. I wanted to turn these expectations upside down. Instead of my friends wanting the fairy tale, what if the fairy tales were in want of our reality? Instead of re-telling familiar stories, I wanted to write the as yet blank futures of CeCi (Cinderella), Bianca (Snow White), Rory (Sleeping Beauty), and Rapunzel (Zell, asking what does Happily Ever After look like?

The title came about as a joke — the result of several workshops whereupon I was asked if the book was really going to be all letters. Even though the title never dissuaded the question, the name stuck, and grew on everyone involved. It not only describes the format, but the recipient, too.  To eliminate the sometimes-exclusionary nature of letters, the readers are allowed, if they wish, to become part Zell themselves.

Initially, I tried to include letters back from Rapunzel. But I found the replies cluttered the story I was trying to tell. And it interrupted a true examination of the kinds of assumptions we make about each other in the real world in the absence of information – the assumption everyone else is happy, and has life all figured out.

Rory, the shameless romantic of the book, tries to explain Zell’s silence with romantic optimism while Bianca, our potty-mouthed loose cannon gives marriage advice while making a mockery of her own impending nuptials. To get inside of the heads of these women, while still carrying a plot, the only choice seemed to be letters.

One of the things I tried to avoid was allowing the characters to sound similar. While I love epistolary tales, I wanted to make each woman unique, at least at the outset. To make each voice easier to read individually, I made very conscious choices with tense. While CeCi is first person past tense, Bianca is first person, present tense, almost exclusively active, while Rory’s voice is very passive. Their voices change, over time, as the characters are shaped by their experiences in the world and, more importantly, each other.

The reason individual voices became so important was due to a tidbit I learned while researching the original Grimm material. While I considered myself a fairy tale fan, I hadn’t realized that the Grimm brothers’ method of gathering material consisted of gathering oral traditions door to door from the women within.

In a small way, the format of Letters to Zell allows these characters to not only re-assert themselves as the authors of their own narratives, but to actively write that narrative in their letters to each other. No longer subject to the pen and ink of humans or the spite of fairy godmothers, the women strike out on their own unique paths. There is no happy ending, there are only journeys toward happiness. And a mail pigeon or two.




Camille Griep lives and writes just north of Seattle, Washington. She is the managing editor of Easy Street and a senior editor at The Lascaux Review. Letters to Zell, is her first novel.

My Favorite Bit: Carrie Patel talks about CITIES AND THRONES

My Favorite Bit iconCarrie Patel is joining us today with her novel Cities and Thrones. Here’s the publisher’s description:

In the fantastical, gaslit underground city of Recoletta, oligarchs from foreign states and revolutionaries from the farming communes vie for power in the wake of the city’s coup. The dark, forbidden knowledge of how the city came to be founded has been released into the world for all to read, and now someone must pay.

Inspector Liesl Malone is on her toes, trying to keep the peace, and Arnault’s spy ring is more active than ever. Has the city’s increased access to knowledge put the citizens in even more danger? Allegiances change, long-held beliefs are adjusted, and things are about to get messy!

What’s Carrie’s favorite bit?

Revolution transforms the city of Recoletta. The new leaders dethrone the old oligarchs, open up the secret archives, and establish a new government based on change and transparency.

Months later, Recoletta is in shambles, the farming communes have revolted, and neighboring cities scheme against the crippled behemoth.

Inspector Liesl Malone, now chief of police, must protect her city from black market barons, violent insurgents, and the excesses of her new government. Meanwhile, Jane Lin has fled to the city of Madina, where she learns of a plot to crush Recoletta. Jane must decide whether—and how—to save her old city from her new home.

One thing I loved about writing The Buried Life was telling a story from the perspectives of two very different characters who are shaped by the events of the novel in very different ways. Inspector Malone is dogged, aggressive, and proactive to a fault, whereas Jane the laundress is cautious, observant, and mostly trying to keep her footing around dangerous and powerful people.

My favorite bit of Cities and Thrones was reversing their roles.

The Buried Life ends (spoilers) with Jane on the run and Malone in a position of leadership in the newly-reconstituted Recoletta. Isolated and (mostly) friendless, Jane must find a way to outmaneuver the city she’s left behind and the gauntlet of mysterious powers ahead of her. And through her vulnerability, Jane begins to recognize that she has a unique strength, too:

Jane remembered a story she’d been told weeks ago, at a party to which she never should have been invited by people who were, likely as not, dead by now. It had concerned Roman Arnault and his uncanny ability to survive by remaining relevant.

She was lucky to have made it this far on the goodwill of the farmers. But she needed something more. And on the other side of Salazar’s threat, she perceived an opportunity – the ability to survive and, perhaps, thrive by remaining relevant.

If only she had something he needed.

And that was when she noticed it. She’d seen it many times, but she didn’t recognize it at first because she’d only witnessed it obliquely, in interactions happening around but beyond her.

It was hunger. In the way Salazar pinched the handle of his mug, in the way his lips were slightly parted. He wanted, very badly, to know what had happened in Recoletta.

And then something else occurred to her for the first time.

She could use that hunger.

She comes to understand the power of narrative and the authority that comes from holding the answers that other people want. And so, without fully understanding the consequences, she begins to shape the story that the rest of the region will hear about Recoletta.

He wanted reasons. Something to give meaning to an as-yet unfathomable series of changes.

Realizing that her fate might hinge on those very reasons, she gave him the ones she suspected he wanted to hear.

“Recoletta’s weakening. Rotting from the inside. It was run by a few corrupt inbreds who have no particular skills to lay claim to except an incredible capacity for deceit and self-delusion.” Something hot and turbulent sang in her blood. Even if she hadn’t spared the matter much thought before, she knew everything she was saying was true. Whether she felt this good because her words seemed to have the desired effect or because she could finally speak them, she couldn’t quite say.

He was leaning in, so she continued.

“Sato recognized that, which is why he stepped in. But what he doesn’t recognize is that he’s little better. Others are catching on fast, though. You’ve seen the numbers coming out of Recoletta. It’s only a matter of time before his new city collapses on itself.”

While Jane learns to thrive in her new surroundings, Malone finds herself alienated and disoriented by the city changing around her. Her situation is further complicated by her new position of power, which she never wanted and which still leaves her with a bad taste in her mouth:

She still didn’t understand the politics of this new Recoletta. It didn’t take more than common sense to know that things were bad and getting steadily worse, but she couldn’t follow the minutiae of gestures, expressions, and inflections in the Cabinet meetings with Sato well enough to know whose fault it was from week to week (even if it was hers) or how promises and bargains were made over a raising of eyebrows and quirking of lips.

Recoletta had become an amorphous place of ragged flesh congealed around broken bones, and in the darkness of her apartment, she imagined she heard it contorting around her. The thought filled her with a kind of dread she was unable to admit even to herself. She closed her eyes each night, wondering what kind of city she’d wake up in.

Yet dashing and skulking through tunnels, she could feel the city under her feet, hear and smell the evidence of thousands of people still making their way in it. It reminded her that it was a real place of stone and metal and not merely an idea shaped by the debates between Sato and his cronies.

Her cronies now.


@Carrie_Patel on Twitter


Carrie Patel is an author, narrative designer, and expatriate Texan. When she isn’t scribbling her own fiction, she works as a narrative designer for Obsidian Entertainment, where she wrote for Pillars of Eternity. Her work has also appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Cities and Thrones is her second novel and is the sequel to The Buried Life.

My Favorite Bit: A.F.E. Smith Talks About DARKHAVEN

My Favorite Bit iconA.F.E. Smith is joining us today with her novel Darkhaven. Here’s the publisher’s description.

Ayla Nightshade never wanted to rule Darkhaven. But her half-brother Myrren – true heir to the throne – hasn’t inherited their family gift, forcing her to take his place.

When this gift leads to Ayla being accused of killing her father, Myrren is the only one to believe her innocent. Does something more sinister than the power to shapeshift lie at the heart of the Nightshade family line?

Now on the run, Ayla must fight to clear her name if she is ever to wear the crown she never wanted and be allowed to return to the home she has always loved.

What’s A.F.E.’s favorite bit?



My favourite bit of Darkhaven has to be the city it’s set in.

Arkannen is probably the most orderly city you’ll come across. Not the inhabitants; they’re as complicated and messy as anyone else. But the city itself has an abundance of structure. It’s a walled city, or maybe a multi-walled city, since it consists of seven concentric rings that are each accessible by a single gate. In the very centre – the seventh ring – is Darkhaven itself, the tower where the country’s ruling shapeshifter family (the Nightshades) live; and each of the other rings has its own precise function, whether that’s trade or worship or weapons training.

At this point, it may be worth mentioning that the British town I live in, Milton Keynes, is famous for its roundabouts. And I mean famous. Mention Milton Keynes to anyone in the UK and nine times out of ten, the response will be Oh, you mean the one with all the roundabouts. Which is relevant only because when I told a writing friend where I live, she instantly said That explains Darkhaven’s map. Which hadn’t actually occurred to me, but … yeah. It’s entirely possible that living in a town full of roundabouts led me to create a perfectly round city.

Anyway, like Milton Keynes, Arkannen was created pretty much whole. It’s not one of these places that started as a hamlet, or a cluster of hamlets, and then grew organically until one day it turned around and realised it was London. No, according to in-world history, Arkannen was designed according to certain principles, then built according to design. After all, you wouldn’t get a perfectly round city (or a city made of roundabouts) without some serious design work taking place.

Of course, that all happened centuries ago. So although Arkannen started out as a fortified city that would be easy to defend during medieval-style warfare – complete with arrow slits, lookout posts and gates that are easy to barricade – things have changed a little since. Industrial revolution has hit, bringing all the upheaval that entails. The lower rings of the city, in particular, have become a place full of steam trams and factories, airships and machines; but still, alongside and beneath them, there are narrow cobbled streets and oxen pulling carts. Thus the old and the new coexist in sometimes uneasy harmony.

Higher up in the city, the impact of mechanization hasn’t been so great. I must admit I’m very fond of the fourth ring, the residential ring, which is – as it always has been – divided into sixteen Quarters, each of which traditionally houses a different segment of the population. Each Quarter is named after, and decorated with, a semi-precious stone in a different colour. And to help people find their way around, the streets are paved with stripes that consist of tessellating arrow-shaped tiles in those same colours – similar to what I imagine it would be like if you painted the map of the London Underground onto the streets of London. Simply follow the stripe in the colour you want and it will take you to the right Quarter.

Though it may look the same as ever, there are some steam-powered vehicles and household appliances in the fourth ring. But beyond that, the industrial revolution stops. Apart from the new gas lamps, the training grounds of the fifth ring and the temples of the sixth are much the same as they ever were. And Darkhaven itself – right at the centre – doesn’t appear to have changed since it was built. It looks like what it is: a show of power and a warning to the world.

Yet there is actually more to the city than what I’ve described so far, because Arkannen was built according to alchemical principles. It was designed to focus power into the tower at its heart in order to maintain the abilities of the Nightshade shapeshifters who live there. So the seven gates are positioned at different points around the compass, and together they create a shape that holds the seven alchemical elements in balance. None of the city’s inhabitants are aware of this, except perhaps a few of the alchemists currently working at the university, but there is a well-known legend that the fate of the Nightshades is intimately bound up with the fate of Darkhaven. If one falls, so too does the other.

This fact isn’t touched on to any great extent in Darkhaven, but it’s there in the background. And who knows … it may become relevant in later books.


Buy the book from HarperCollins / Amazon (global link) / Barnes & Noble / Google play / iBooks / Kobo

Reach A.F.E. Smith on her website / Facebook / Twitter

DARKHAVEN on Goodreads


A.F.E. Smith is an editor of academic texts by day and a fantasy writer by night. So far, she hasn’t mixed up the two. She lives with her husband and their two young children in a house that someone built to be as creaky as possible – getting to bed without waking the baby is like crossing a nightingale floor. Though she doesn’t have much spare time, she makes space for reading, mainly by not getting enough sleep (she’s powered by chocolate). Her physical bookshelves were stacked two deep long ago, so now she’s busy filling up her e-reader.

What A.F.E. stands for is a closely guarded secret, but you might get it out of her if you offer her enough snacks.

My Favorite Bit: Alyc Helms Talks About THE DRAGONS OF HEAVEN

My Favorite Bit iconAlyc Helms is joining us today with her novel The Dragons of Heaven. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Street magician Missy Masters inherited more than the usual genetic cocktail from her estranged grandfather. She also got his preternatural control of shadow and his legacy as the vigilante hero, Mr Mystic. Problem is, being a pulp hero takes more than a good fedora and a knack for witty banter, and Missy lacks the one thing Mr Mystic had: experience. Determined to live up to her birthright, Missy journeys to China to seek the aid of Lung Huang, the ancient master who once guided her grandfather.
Lung Huang isn’t quite as ancient as Missy expected, and a romantic interlude embroils her in the politics of Lung Huang and his siblings, the nine dragon-guardians of creation. When Lung Di-Lung Huang’s brother and mortal enemy-raises a magical barrier that cuts off China from the rest of the world, it falls to the new Mr. Mystic to prove herself by taking down the barrier.
As Missy prepares to confront Lung Di, she faces a tough decision: remain loyal to Lung Huang and see China destroyed, or side with the bad guy and save the world.

What’s Alyc’s favorite bit?



I‘m a folklore nut. Growing up, I amassed a decent collection of Andrew Lang’s Fairy Books of Many Colors.  I snatched up every Terri Windling/Ellen Datlow collection I could lay my mitts on. I knew the ‘original version’ of Sleeping Beauty (well, the Basile version) before it was cool. I started studying folklore because I was a sucker for synchronic myths—the way similar-seeming plots and tropes would show up in the stories of otherwise distinct cultures. Your basic Claude Levi-Strauss, Joseph Campbell-style folklore-geek crack about ‘mythemes’ and ‘hero’s journeys.’ I was all about the Ur-narrative. The Uber-myth.

I think the first thing they do when you go into Folklore as a disciplinary study is beat that wide-eyed adoration of universal narratives out of you. They let you know that universal themes and plots are lovely, and it’s so nice that Campbell brought you this far, but the study of Folklore is the study of the particular, of variation. It’s a focus on the different meanings that a particular group of people ascribe to a seemingly universal story. It’s a study of the coded associations that cultural groups embed into common symbols. The first rule of Folklore club is, if someone asks you if you’ve heard a particular story before, you say no because you want to hear their version of that story. The hero’s journey is not the same thing to all peoples. It only looks that way if you erase the nuance.

The Lang books were pretty good prep for going beyond Western European folklore (he includes a not- insignificant selection of tales from other parts of the world/cultures), but I really started digging in to non-European myths, legends, and lores in my undergrad days.

That’s where I discovered the Cannibal Inn trope.

The cannibal inn is one of my favorite tropes in Chinese folklore, possibly because when I first encountered it, I was studying travel narratives and the satisfaction that people take in hearing and telling stories of travel disasters (like the Mary-Go-Round trials and associated drinking game of our lovely hostess!) In a cannibal inn story, a traveler stops at an inn for a night, but wakes up to discover that the kind innkeepers and friendly locals are all cannibals, and the traveler is in danger of being the next meal. The details of each execution reveal a lot about cultural norms: expectations around hospitality, the tensions that can creep into host/guest relationships, what happens when propriety comes into conflict with taboo. Great, rich stuff that can’t be conveyed by a summary.

So, of course, when writing The Dragons of Heaven, I had to include a cannibal inn scenario!

But that threatened to run afoul of another thing I love: characters who are narratively savvy, who know stories and use stories to make sense of the world around them. A character with knowledge of the cannibal inn trope who finds herself in a cannibal inn situation is going to have some awareness of how to deal with the situation.

A bunch of clueless Western tourists… are not.

So, early on in Missy’s adventures (before she gets too narratively savvy), I tell my own version of a cannibal inn story. It’s a tourism-gone-wrong narrative, a take-home-to-your-friends-(if-you-survive) cautionary travel tale. It is not simply a Hansel and Gretel variant (despite the claims of the German tourist in the group). It’s my chance to explore and foreshadow in microcosm Missy’s own, particular hero’s journey as well as the larger themes of the book: issues of cultural intrusion and appropriation, xenophobia/xenophilia, and collaborative heroics.

I wrote the entire thing in a single sitting, cackling to myself as I did so. It’s my favorite non-spoilery chapter to perform at readings when I can wrangle 6-8 people to play the different characters (pro-tip: former Angry Robot editor Lee Harris plays a fantastic vixen!) I take glee when readers tell me that a particular bit (you’ll know it when you get to it) made them queasy. It’s the darling I wasn’t willing to kill even when I wondered whether it had a place in the larger narrative flow of the book. I made it work because I wasn’t willing to let it go.

It resonates because of the trope, but it works because of the particulars. That’s good folklore.

The Dragons of Heaven, forthcoming from Angry Robot in June 2015
Angry Robot | Powell’s | Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Amazon UK | Waterstones | Goodreads

Enter the Goodreads giveaway by July 1 for a chance to win a copy.

Alyc Helms fled her doctoral program in anthropology and folklore when she realized she preferred fiction to academic writing. She dabbles in corsetry and costuming, dances Scottish highland and Irish ceili at Renaissance and Dickens fairs, gets her dander up about social justice issues, and games in all forms of media. She sometimes refers to her work as “critical theory fanfic,” which is a fancy way to say that she is obsessed with liminality, gender identity, and foxes. She’s a freelance RPG writer, a graduate of Clarion West 2012, and her short fiction has appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Daily Science Fiction, Crossed Genres, and Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet. Her first novel, The Dragons of Heaven, will be published by Angry Robot Books in June 2015. She can be found on Twitter @alychelms or at

My Favorite Bit: Chris Angus Talks About THE GODS OF LAKI

My Favorite Bit iconChris Angus is joining us today to talk about his novel The Gods of Laki. Here’s the publisher’s description:

From the author of Flypaper comes an adventure about mysterious underground volcanic forces and a savage plot to alter the Earth’s climate.

A race to unveil the secret of Laki, a volcano on the southern shores of Iceland, pits our heroes—a sixteen-year-old Viking girl from the tenth century, a German geologist from World War II, and a former Secret Service agent protecting a female volcanologist—against evil forces with a plan to cause an eruption using explosives, altering the global climate through the release and forcing the price of oil to skyrocket.

Everyone and everything on Laki is in danger, including the possibility of ever unraveling the mysteries of the place, as it faces burial beneath a carpet of lava flows. Caught underground by the fracturing physical breakup of Laki, everyone finds themselves ensnared by Laki itself—an unseen, implacable foe that seems everything but a benign presence. Every move they make appears to be guided and controlled by an intelligence that permeates the netherworld.

Only gradually, through all the conflict between the various factions, does everyone begin to realize that it is Laki itself that has always been in charge.

What’s Chris’s favorite bit?
GodsOfLaki-FrontCover 9781631580468

Part of the serendipity that comes with researching and writing is discovering something you hadn’t expected to find and realizing with a jolt that this bit of knowledge is so fascinating that you are absolutely compelled to incorporate it into your story.

Such was the case in my book THE GODS OF LAKI, set around Iceland’s busy subsurface geology of volcanoes, glaciers, hot thermal waters and subglacial lakes. A race to unveil the secret of the volcano Laki pits our characters against evil forces with a plan to use explosives that will cause an eruption and alter the world’s climate. But much more is going on beneath Laki than anyone suspects. Caught by the fracturing breakup of the volcano, our heroes face an unseen, implacable foe with supernatural power.

The more I read about subglacial lakes, the more fascinated I become, and of course, for a thriller writer, they offer untold bounty. There are many causes of subglacial lakes. Not all are related to volcanic activity. Some may be formed simply from the incredible pressure of the weight of the overlying glaciers, which causes heat that can melt the ice, forming pristine freshwater lakes that may not have been exposed for millions of years. Thus, scientists have a sample of water as it was before humans began to mess with the earth.

There are several hundred known subglacial lakes beneath Antarctica. Lake Vostok is the largest of these. The surface of its waters is some 13,000 feet below the surface of the ice, actually lower than sea level. The lake is 160 miles long by 30 miles wide. Its waters may have been isolated for up to 25 million years and may well contain previously undiscovered life forms.

Did I hear someone say: thriller?

Subglacial eruptions can cause jokulhlaups or great floods of water. The effects of a volcano erupting beneath a glacier can bring about the interplay of forces such as ice, meltwater and molten lava that can have catastrophic results. A subglacial lake that breaks free can cause runoffs equal to a week’s outflow of the Amazon. This all plays into the plot of THE GODS OF LAKI, including the possibility that the isthmus of land that once connected Britain and Europe may have been washed away by the catastrophic release of subglacial waters.

My utter absorption with this phenomenon surprised me. I couldn’t stop thinking about the incredible forces involved. It virtually inserted itself into the story. The choice was not mine. I wanted to know more about it. And now my readers will too.


Chris Angus


Chris Angus is the award-winning author of several works of nonfiction and a newspaper columnist. He has published more than four hundred essays, articles, book introductions, columns, and reviews in a wide variety of publications, including The New York Times, the Albany Times-Union, Adirondack Life, American Forests, Wordsworth American Classics, Adirondack Explorer, and many more. He also served for ten years as the book review editor for Adirondac magazine. Angus lives in Canton, New York.

My Favorite Bit: Rebecca Roland talks about FRACTURED DAYS

My Favorite Bit iconToday Rebecca Roland joins us to talk about her new novel, Fractured Days. Here is the publisher’s description:

Malia returns home the hero of a war she can’t remember. The valley burning under the Maddion’s invasion, the fate of her late husband, the way she resolved the long-time distrust between the Taakwa people and the wolfish, winged Jegudun creatures–all of it has been erased from her memory. Malia hopes to resume training as her village’s next clan mother, but when the symbiotic magic that she and the Jeguduns used to repair the valley’s protective barrier starts to consume more and more of her mind, she’s faced with the threat of losing herself completely.

A powerful being known as “the changer” might hold the solution to her vanishing memories. But the Maddion’s new leader, Muvumo, also seeks the changer, hoping the being will cure them of the mysterious illness killing off his people. Meanwhile, Muvumo’s bride hopes the changer can bring about a new era, one in which she and the other Maddion women no longer need to hold onto their greatest secret.

So what is Rebecca’s favorite bit?

Fractured Days cover
One of my favorite bits about the world in Fractured Days is how the main character, Malia, and her people, the Taakwa, can share memories directly with the Jeguduns, who are winged, wolfish, humanoid creatures that sort of resemble gargoyles. The Jeguduns can take a look at a Taakwa’s memories, and they can show a Taakwa their own memories. And it’s not just like watching a picture on a screen; it’s an immersive experience where you feel and hear and smell what the Jegudun experienced.

Take, for instance, when a Jegudun shares a memory with Malia that involves flying. Malia gets to feel the wind rushing against her. She gets to smell all the scents in that rushing wind: wildflowers, woodsmoke, the dangerous brimstone scent of dragons (yes, there are dragons in this book). She gets to feel the mist coming off a waterfall as she glides beside it in the Jegudun’s memory.

The other thing about sharing memories is that you know exactly what happened. There’s no chance to lie or manipulate the truth. There’s no way to hide events, unless you refuse to share them. The Jeguduns don’t even attempt deception, because it’s not possible for them, which makes them refreshingly honest. And because they can reveal events as they unfolded, I can’t help but think they would make the best eye witnesses, should they ever establish a court system in their world.

And one of the coolest things of all is that the Jeguduns can pass memories down from one generation to the next. So a Jegudun’s grandmother could share all the most pertinent events of her life with her children, and they can share those with their children. Imagine being able to access history like that. I can’t help but think that if we could experience history through our ancestors, we might be better at not repeating mistakes. We might actually have a more peaceful world, because we have vicariously experienced what it’s like to lose that.

For generations, the Taakwa thought the Jeguduns were their enemies. But it’s through the sharing of memories that Malia discovered how her people actually helped the Jeguduns escape their slave masters and establish a home in the valley where the Taakwa live. The ability to fully experience moments of someone else’s life leads to greater understanding. I guess part of me dreams for greater understanding with people who are different, and for the ability to find those things we all have in common, rather than fear those things that make us different.



Twitter: @rebecca_roland



Rebecca is the author of the Shards of History series, The Necromancer’s Inheritance series, and The King of Ash and Bones, and Other Stories. Her short fiction has appeared in publications such as Nature, Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, Stupefying Stories, Plasma Frequency, and Every Day Fiction, and she is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop. You can find out more about her and her work at or follow her on Twitter at @rebecca_roland.

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


Barnes & Noble




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.