Archive for the ‘My Favorite Bit’ Category

My Favorite Bit: Erica L. Satifka talks about STAY CRAZY

Favorite Bit iconErica L. Satifka is joining us today with her novel Stay Crazy. Here’s the publisher’s description:

After a breakdown in college landed Emmeline Kalberg in a mental hospital, she’s struggling to get her life on track. She’s back in her hometown and everyone knows she’s crazy, but the twelve pills she takes every day keep her anxiety and paranoia in check. So when a voice that calls itself Escodex begins talking to Em from a box of frozen chicken nuggets, she’s sure that it’s real and not another hallucination. Well… pretty sure.

An evil entity is taking over the employees of Savertown USA, sucking out their energy so it can break into Escodex’s dimension. When her coworkers start dying, Em realizes that she may be the only one who can stop things from getting worse. Now she must convince her therapist she’s not having a relapse and keep her boss from firing her. All while getting her coworker Roger to help enact the plans Escodex conveys to her through the RFID chips in the Savertown USA products. It’s enough to make anyone Stay Crazy.

What’s Erica’s favorite bit?



The protagonist of my debut novel Stay Crazy, Emmeline Kalberg, isn’t like most girls. That’s because she’s recently been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, which makes it hard to distinguish fantasy from reality, a situation that becomes even more complex when she’s contacted by an interdimensional being who tells her that our universe is on the verge of annihilation. And she’s not alone.

Roger Cermak, Em’s coworker at the alien-infested Savertown USA, also has schizophrenia. Unlike Em, his psychotic experiences are not recent, and are totally controlled with medication and the passage of time. So when he too is contacted by the being called Escodex, he knows it’s real. Em, however, doesn’t trust him. Why would she? She can’t even trust herself. Here’s what happens during their first extended conversation:

“I’ll have a diet pop. It’s on him.” She narrowed her eyes at Roger in the dimly lit booth. “What do you want to talk about?”

“I want to talk about the voices you’ve been hearing.”

She frowned. “Come again?”

“Don’t play dumb. I saw the burn on your forehead. The same thing happened to me a few weeks ago. First I got a burn, then I started hearing voices.”

She looked out the window at the blocky facade of Savertown USA. “So?”

“You don’t think this whole situation’s a little strange?”

“Lots of weird things happen to me, mister. I’m a crazy person.”

“But this weird thing is actually happening.” Roger sipped at his own Diet Coke. “Listen, I didn’t believe it at first either. I thought I was hallucinating again. But the same thing happened to both of us and that proves it’s real.”

Em rolled her straw between her fingertips. “What do you mean, ‘again’?”

“I used to be schizophrenic. Haven’t had an episode in twenty years. Until now. But I’m not crazy, and neither are you.”

Em looked at Roger. “I think you’re mistaken about that one.”

It was really important to me that Em not be the only neuro-atypical major character in the book. While she didn’t always have schizophrenia (this book has been through countless “imaginings”), once I figured out she did, Roger’s character sprang up almost immediately, fully formed.

Their relationship isn’t easily defined. It’s definitely not romantic, it’s not even really friendship, and Em would rather die than call Roger something as sappy as a mentor. Yet, as they work together, Em sees a glimpse of her possible future. Roger is overweight and balding (two common side effects of antipsychotic medication), and she mocks his appearance out of fear. But Roger is also stable, and smart, and kind. Throughout the course of their uneasy alliance, Em realizes there’s life after her diagnosis. At the beginning of the book, she feels and to a large extent is totally alone: her mom doesn’t get her at all, and try as he might her therapist isn’t really equipped to deal with her. Roger becomes the positive model Em needs, even if she’d never admit it.

Roger is about twenty years older than Em, and developed his disorder in a time when people were even more misinformed about mental illness than they are now, especially one as serious as schizophrenia. And he’s been through a lot of crappy things: homelessness, jail, involuntary commitment. Just as Em sees Roger as a possible future, Roger sees Em as a window into his past, and he’s determined not to let her make some of the same mistakes he’s made, no matter how stubborn she is (and she’s really stubborn).

So often in books that feature a neuro-atypical character, there’s only one of them. I really wanted to do something different, something to show that two mentally ill characters can learn from each other, prop each other up, and most importantly, kick some alien ass.






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Apex Publications


Erica L. Satifka is a writer and/or friendly artificial construct, forged in a heady mix of iced coffee and sarcasm. She enjoys rainy days, questioning reality, ignoring her to-do list, and adding to her collection of tattoos. Her short fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld,Shimmer, Lightspeed, and Intergalactic Medicine Show, and her debut novel Stay Crazy was released in August 2016 by Apex Publications. Originally from Pittsburgh, she now lives in Portland, Oregon with her spouse Rob and an indeterminate number of cats.

My Favorite Bit: Brooke Johnson talks about THE GUILD CONSPIRACY

My Favorite BitBrooke Johnson is joining us today with her novel The Guild Conspiracy. Here’s the publisher’s description:

In the face of impossible odds, can one girl stem the tides of war?

It has been six months since clockwork engineer Petra Wade destroyed an automaton designed for battle, narrowly escaping with her life. But her troubles are far from over.  Her partner on the project, Emmerich Goss, has been sent away to France, and his father, Julian, is still determined that a war machine will be built. Forced to create a new device, Petra subtly sabotages the design in the hopes of delaying the war, but sabotage like this isn’t just risky: it’s treason. And with a soldier, Braith, assigned to watch her every move, it may not be long before Julian finds out what she’s done.

Now she just has to survive long enough to find another way to stop the war before her sabotage is discovered and she’s sentenced to hang for crimes against the empire. But Julian’s plans go far deeper than she ever realized . . . war is on the horizon, and it will take everything Petra has to stop it in this fast-paced, thrilling sequel to The Brass Giant.

What’s Brooke’s favorite bit?

The Guild Conspiracy - cover


Two words: MECH FIGHTS.

Think Real Steel (you know… that one movie with Hugh Jackman and the boxing robots) meets the smaller-scale bot fights of Big Hero 6, except, instead of futuristic, computer-controlled robots, you’ve got teenage engineers fighting with grungy combat mechs, built using the most advanced technology of the late Victorians. It’s all clockwork and steam, early combustion engines and primitive electronic circuitry, somehow cobbled together into deadly mechanical combatants. And then they get to punch each other.

How could that not be my favorite bit?

In The Brass Giant, the first book of the Chroniker City series, the main character, Petra, helps build a clockwork automaton, proving herself as a capable engineer and attracting the attention of the Guild—the elite institution of engineers she desperately wishes to join—but after attempting to expose the underlying conspiracy behind the automaton’s construction, all of her involvement in the project is buried and forgotten, unknown but to the select few who would rather keep it that way.

Fast forward to The Guild Conspiracy, and once again, Petra finds her talent and abilities questioned and challenged by everyone around her. No one knows who she is or what she’s done. They don’t realize that the failed automaton project collecting dust in the armory—the same automaton that prompted them to start the mechanical fight ring in the first place—was built from her design. All they know is that she is a girl, and girls can’t possibly be engineers.

Well Petra is there to prove them wrong, one fight at a time.

The mech fights were one of the earliest ideas I had for The Guild Conspiracy, surviving several reimaginings of the novel over the years, but when I finally finished the first draft—more than 50,000 words over target and several months past my deadline—I was worried my editor would ask me to cut the fights for the sake of pacing or tension or for sheer lack of relevance to the main plot. I was determined to make sure that didn’t happen.

The mech fights were my way of adding a glimmer of something good and bright—in all their technicolor, bombastic, impossible glory—to an otherwise dreary and somber plot. So I did my best to meld this seemingly extraneous subplot into the rest of the story, making it more and more integral to Petra’s story arc with each iteration. And I must have done a good job because by the time I sent the manuscript to my publisher, my editor loved every word. No complaints whatsoever. The mech fights were there to stay.

For me, steampunk has always been about grandeur, lots of flash and bang, gears and goggles, but the best steampunk has more than enough substance behind the shiny brass aesthetic. The machines in my books are improbable, and sometimes impossible, but with the mech fights especially, there is this underlying sense of wonder and awe built into to every ticking gear, into the ratchet and clank of these incredible machines. Every puff of exhaust and churning piston is there as a testament to the innovation and invention of brilliant minds, of engineers and their ability to dream and imagine and build something new, something impossible, something never done before. That is what I wanted to capture with the mech fights. They exist as a glimmer of hope for the future, a promise of something other than the inescapable war looming over the horizon.

And that hope is just as important to the story as Petra trying to stop the conspiracy.

Plus, it’s fun. 🙂


She eyed Bellamy across the ring, his face drawn in concentration, waiting for her to act. She would have to distract him, break his guard.

“Hey, Bellamy.”

“What?” he spat.

Flipping a switch on the control box, she activated the transport wheels on the bottom of the mech’s feet. All she needed was a second or two, a slight delay in his reactions. If she could get past his defenses, knock the mech to the floor, the fight would be as good as hers.

She poised her fingers over the controls. “Tell me how it feels, knowing you’re about to lose to a girl.”

He scoffed, his arms relaxing slightly as he glared at her. “You wish.”

She smirked. It was enough.




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

My Favorite Bit: Uncanny Magazine Year Three Kickstarter — The Space Unicorn Flies Again!

Favorite Bit iconMichi Trota is joining us today to talk about the Uncanny Magazine Year Three Kickstarter. About the Kickstarter:

Over the last two years, three-time Hugo Award winner Lynne M. Thomas & four-time Hugo Award finalist Michael Damian Thomas ran the Uncanny MagazineYear One and Year Two Kickstarters. 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.

Through the hard work of our exceptional staff and contributors, Uncanny Magazine delivered everything as promised. All Uncanny Magazine content is available for free over the web, thanks to your support.

We’ve had exceptional Years One and Two with numerous accolades. So far, pieces from Uncanny Magazine Year One are finalists for 14 different awards and have been included in 6 separate Year’s Best anthologies. This year, we’ve been recognized as a World Fantasy Award Finalist (Special Award, Nonprofessional) and Hugo Award Finalist (Best Semiprozine). Hao Jingfang’s Uncanny Magazine story “Folding Beijing” (translated by Ken Liu) became a finalist for the Hugo, Sturgeon, and Locus Awards. Amal El-Mohtar’s “Pockets” and Sam J. Miller’s “The Heat of Us: Notes Toward an Oral History” are also World Fantasy Award Short Fiction finalists.

This is a phenomenal achievement for our first year of existence, and we couldn’t have done it without you. This is your magazine. Our community of Kickstarter Backers, the Space Unicorn Ranger Corps, made it possible for our remarkable staff and contributors to create this wonderful art for all of our readers.

Thank you. Thank you for having faith in us and becoming stakeholders in this dream.

Though Uncanny continues to develop several additional funding streams, we still need the help of the Space Unicorn Kickstarter community to keep bringing you this amazing content.

This is why we’re running the Uncanny Magazine Year Three: The Space Unicorn Flies Again Kickstarter! If you’ve been looking for an opportunity to join or re-up with the Space Unicorn Ranger Corps, now’s your chance!

We have an outstanding group of solicited contributors, fantastic backer rewards, plus some additional surprises on deck for Year Three!

Short Stories!




There will also be more slots for unsolicited submissions (we reopen once we reach our first fundraising milestone). 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 Three.

What’s Michi’s favorite bit?



Clearly I need to obtain a Time Turner. Or a TARDIS. Because it doesn’t feel as if it’s been a full year since Uncanny Magazine ran our Kickstarter to fund Year Two, and yet here we are, back in the thick of things with another Kickstarter to fund Year Three.

And what a year it’s been.

The outpouring of support for Uncanny’s Year Two Kickstarter blew us past all of our stretch goals, allowing us to publish another year’s worth of beautiful, challenging, and inspiring SF/F prose, poetry, and art. The magazine is now both a Hugo Award and World Fantasy Award finalist, and several Uncanny pieces have been included in Year’s Best anthologies and nominated for awards. My reading pile is never going to be empty, thanks to all the writers whose work I’ve been introduced to because of Uncanny (I’m pretty sure my tombstone’s going to say “Here lies Michi: She was buried by stories she hadn’t yet read”). I’m so happy to know that Uncanny’s work is bringing so much enjoyment to SF/F fans, and I couldn’t ask for anything more than this.

And yet there is: I’m immensely humbled by the fact that as Uncanny’s Managing Editor, I’m the first Filipina to be a Hugo finalist, in any category.

This isn’t My Favorite Bit about Uncanny though, as proud as I may be as a Hugo finalist, but it does illustrate what I love best about Uncanny: the dedication of its publishers, staff, and supporters to welcome and celebrate the best of what SF/F has to offer, in all its infinite variety. Because Space Unicorns know that it’s not just enough to open the gates of SF/F and wait for people to walk in, especially if they haven’t always been welcome — in order to build a thriving, vibrant SF/F community, you also need to do the work of actively inviting others in, which includes reaching out to new people, as well as those you know. Uncanny has become a home for weird, wonderful, experimental prose, poetry, and art, and I’m especially proud of how the magazine has become a platform for sharing the work of marginalized creators.

Visibility is incredibly important. Who we see as characters, as creators, can either inspire us or close the door on our dreams. It can be a struggle to remain true to your vision and find the energy to create in a world that often ignores (if not denigrates) your work; it’s that much harder when you think you’re alone, and when you don’t see people who share your face and your experiences in the spaces you want to join.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been on a panel at a con, and been approached afterward by AAPI (Asian American/Pacific Islander) fans, by Filipino fans, who tell me what it means to see themselves represented in these spaces. Before I joined Uncanny, I participated in geek communities. I went to conventions, organized panels and local nerd events. I started firespinning in cosplay. I’ve read SFF all my life and considered myself a fan, but didn’t exactly feel as if I belonged in fandom. Even though I’ve been working in publishing and editorial for over 15 years, the idea that I could be a part of a publication like Uncanny never even crossed my mind (ok, it did, but I didn’t actually think it would happen). But here I am, 11 issues under my belt, going to my very first WorldCon as an actual Hugo finalist, all because Lynne and Michael Thomas, Uncanny’s Editors-in-Chief and publishers, believed in what I could contribute to the magazine and took a chance on asking me to be a part of it.

This approach is why every issue of Uncanny can be exciting and new for both regular readers and those who are just discovering the magazine. We’ve published stories about telepathic alien lions, the literally-combustible nature of collective fury and sorrow, tattoos that determine the nature of one’s personality, zombie-haunted beaches, and weird Western desert ghosts. You can find essays about everything from geek rock to gaming communities to examining nerd culture and social privilege to starting your own podcast. I’ve personally re-discovered an appreciation for poetry in reading Uncanny’s selections, and I squee with delight every time I’m given a new piece of cover art for each issue (at this point I’m going to have to dedicate one wall in our apartment just for Uncanny covers). Deborah Stanish’s interviews with Uncanny contributors are never anything less than insightful, and just when I think I’ve made up my mind about how I feel about a story or a poem, Amal El-Mohtar and Erika Ensign’s readings on the Uncanny Magazine Podcast allow me to experience those pieces in a different light.

There’s a reason why we say Uncanny publishes prose, poetry, and art that will make you feel.

When people ask me why I love SF/F so much, why they should give the genre a chance, I can tell them without hesitation to look through Uncanny because there are so many different approaches and interpretations of what SF/F means that they are sure to find something that speaks to their own tastes. The magazine is constantly evolving, expanding, and experimenting with what SF/F is, and can be.

The willingness to embrace new people, seek out fresh perspectives, and publish SF/F that is at turns gorgeous, experimental, heart-wrenching, and challenging (and sometimes all at once), is what I believe makes Uncanny so special, and really is My Favorite Bit about the magazine and the community it’s creating. I know for certain that I wouldn’t be here without it, and I can’t wait to see where it takes us next.


Uncanny Magazine homepage

Uncanny Magazine Year Three Kickstarter

Twitter: @uncannymagazine

Facebook: Uncanny Magazine

Tumblr: Uncanny Magazine


Michi Trota is a writer, editor, speaker, communications manager and community organizer in Chicago, IL. She is the Managing Editor for the Hugo Award and World Fantasy Award finalist Uncanny: A Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy, and is the first Filipina Hugo Award finalist. Michi writes about geek culture and fandom (and sometimes food), 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. In her professional life, she is a content development and growth manager with over fifteen years of editorial experience in media. In her spare time, she spins fire with the fire+bellydance showcase, Raks Geek, and at the Chicago Full Moon Jams. You can follow Michi on Twitter @GeekMelange.

My Favorite Bit: Cat Rambo talks about ALTERED AMERICA

Favorite Bit iconCat Rambo is joining us today with her book Altered America. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Steampunk fans will rejoice in the appearance of Altered America: Steampunk Stories, collecting Nebula and World Fantasy Award-nominated author Cat Rambo’s steampunk fantasies, including “Clockwork Fairies,” “Snakes on a A Train,” and “Her Windowed Eyes, Her Chambered Heart,” into a single book. Rambo’s wry humor, precise and evocative descriptions, and ability to create a world with a few deft touches are showcased in these ten tales.

Rambo has a gift for immersing her reader into a vivid universe full of adventure, sensuality, wit, and poignant observation. -Jody Lynn Nye

“Cat Rambo is endlessly innovative, ingenious, and just plain entertaining. Read her stories.” -Kevin J. Anderson, New York Times bestselling author of The Dark Between the Stars.

Highly recommended for anyone who enjoyed “The Wild, Wild West” and other steampunk stories. -Galaxy’s Edge Magazine

“A sparkling collection from one of the brightest talents in the field.” -Ursula Vernon

“Each one of Cat Rambo’s steampunk stories stands solidly on its own, but as a collection, these stories click together like cogs to depict a complicated, curious alternate Earth filled with magic, technology, and mayhem.” -Beth Cato, author of The Clockwork Dagger

Includes “Clockwork Fairies,” “Rare Pears and Greengages,” “Laurel Finch, Laurel Finch, Where Do You Wander?”, Darrell Award nominated “Memphis BBQ,” “Rappacini’s Crow,” “Her Windowed Eyes, Her Chambered Heart,” “Snakes On a Train,” “Web of Blood and Iron,” “Ticktock Girl” and “Seven Clockwork Angels.”

What’s Cat’s favorite bit?

Altered America cover


My favorite thing about Altered America is that it let me go back to one of those places of wonder that we inhabit as children, which was the television show Wild Wild West, starring Robert Conrad as James T. West and Ross Martin as his sidekick, Artemus Gordon. Set in the frontier era, the show featured the two special agents serving President Grant by traveling around troubleshooting a variety of issues, including Dr. Miguelito Loveless, a genius dwarf given to constructing all manner of diabolical devices.

I was a solitary child, but I had plenty of imaginary playmates. West and Gordon often accompanied me in my explorations of the neighborhood; while I appreciated West, Gordon seemed the more approachable to me, and we had a number of conversations, though I cannot remember much of the content. Artemus West, the mechanical Pinkerton agent who appears in several of these stories (as well as at least one forthcoming one), is my tribute to those companions. I miss you guys.

I loved the texture of the show, the brassy glitter and touches of Art Nouveau, and the world they inhabited, which managed to also be the West that I knew from visits to my cattle-raising grandparents in Kansas. The show was steampunk before anyone knew what steampunk was, and decades later when I encountered the label, I knew instantly that it was a familiar landscape.

There’s a combination of machinery and magic in steampunk that fascinates me, that reminds me of those days of early reading when anything was quite possible because you hadn’t learned yet how many impossibilities the world presents. Why shouldn’t clockwork people think or guns shoot purple sparks and fire that turn you into animals? It’s a more malleable, interesting world than this one seems at times.

And it’s an era of exploration, of new doors constantly opening, and in steampunk those doors can lead in so many directions and collide with so many sub genres, opening onto the roiling depths of Lovecraftian horror or wandering into a beautifully ornate version of space. The stories in Altered America often differ from each other in flavor, whether it’s the fairytale tinged retelling of Sleeping Beauty or the more eerie realism of “Her Windowed Eyes, Her Chambered Heart,” but they’ve all got the crunch of gears and cogs down among the base notes.

“Her Windowed Eyes” is a return to one of the episodes that has stuck with me all my life, “The Night of the Living House,” in which West and Gordon track a fugitive to his ancestral home, which is haunted by the ghost of his mother. There’s a moment where every window in the room slams shut, refusing to let them out, that was — and remains — one of the scariest moments I’ve ever seen on film, and so when I wanted to work with a steampunk piece, that story was my inspiration — although I like to think what emerged is very different from the television episode.

I’ll leave it to you to judge.













Cat Rambo lives and writes primarily in the state of Washington, with occasional peregrinations elsewhere. A prolific short story writer, she has had work published in such places as Asimov’s, Clarkesworld Magazine, Weird Tales, and Her first novel, Beasts of Tabat, appeared in early 2015 from Wordfire Press and will be followed by its sequel, Hearts of Tabat, in late 2016. Also appearing this fall is Neither Here Nor There, Rambo’s fourth story collection.

Award nominations have included the Nebula and World Fantasy Awards, the latter for Rambo’s editorial work with Fantasy Magazine. She is a frequent volunteer with the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) and is currently its President. She teaches a series of online writing classes, details of which can be found at her website. Her most recent nonfiction work is Ad Astra: the SFWA 50th Anniversary Cookbook, co-edited with Fran Wilde.

My Favorite Bit: SL Huang talks about PLASTIC SMILE

Favorite Bit iconSL Huang is joining us today with her novel Plastic Smile. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Cas Russell, antisocial mercenary, has decided to Fight Crime. With capital letters, like in one of her friend’s comic books.

After all, she has a real-life superpower: with her instantaneous mathematical ability, she can neuter bombs or out-shoot an army. And it’s Cas’s own fault violence has been spiking in the world’s cities lately — she’s the one who crushed the organization of telepaths that had been keeping the world’s worst offenders under control. Now every drive-by or gang shooting reminds Cas how she’s failed, and taking out these scumbags one at a time is never going to be enough.

She needs to find a way to stop all the violence. At once.

But Cas’s own power has a history, one she can’t remember — or control. A history that’s creeping into the cracks in her mind and fracturing her sanity . . . just when she’s gotten herself on the hit list of every crime lord on the West Coast.

Cas isn’t going to be able to save the world. She might not even be able to save herself.

What’s SL’s favorite bit?

Plastic Smile cover


A Real-Life Story

I have horrible gaydar. I’m really, truly terrible at identifying other queer people. Only twice in my life have I suspected someone’s sexual orientation without being told.

One of these was N. When I walked into the first meeting of one of the many theatre groups I belonged to in college, N. was sprawled on the floor sporting a tiara and a pink feather boa, waxing boisterously on some entertaining story for the room. A few minutes later, I thought, “Hmm — I think he might be gay.”

He was — proudly and openly so. He was also a charming and talented fellow who was a tentpole of the college theatre community. He deservedly snagged leads in everything he auditioned for, and was funny, vivacious, and very well-liked.

One show, a post-rehearsal tradition was to go out for beers at a local campus-adjacent watering hole.  They served only cheap beer at $3 a pitcher.  That show had a small cast and crew, and all eight of us would cram around one of the tables and joke and tell stories until the wee hours of the morning. As a freshman, I was the young ’un of the bunch, and though I couldn’t share in the beer, I felt awed to be included in the company.

During a very normal such night, N. got up to use the bathroom. He was sitting against the wall, so had to squeeze past everyone else to get out. One of the people who was scooting his chair in for N. to pass was R., another pleasant, friendly fellow in the cast.

As N. squeezed past R.’s chair, he touched R.’s shoulder with his hand.

R flinched.

He flinched loudly. I don’t know how else to describe it. It was huge, it was obvious, and the entire table went from uproarious chatter to dead quiet. Everyone stared.

N.’s face went red.

So did R.’s. He started stammering an apology. To his credit, he didn’t try to make it out to be anything it hadn’t been. “I’m so sorry,” he kept saying. “I never would have thought I was homophobic, that I would ever do something like that. I’m so sorry.”

The incident etched itself into my memory forever.

Plastic Smile

The real-life memory informed the writing of a similar instance in Plastic Smile, the fourth book of my Russell’s Attic series. It’s a minor character note that some readers may not even notice — one person flinching from another after connecting that he’s gay.

In the book, the difference — a major difference — from what I saw in real life is that the person flinching is someone framed as bigoted and a buffoon.  Which is not the same thing, not as powerful, because to me, what made the real-life incident so visceral was that the person perpetrating homophobia was a good person. An accepting person. Someone who considered himself a non-homophobic person, but who still had a reflexive reaction that was drastically homophobic.

Having a character who’s written as bigoted do such a thing is not, to my mind, nearly as affecting. We expect it of such people. We don’t expect it of our friends and allies.

So maybe I’ll be writing about this again, and again, in other contexts. Especially as an author who is (mostly) out and openly queer myself now, and who wonders sometimes —

Who would flinch from me?

Who would pull their children away from me?

Who would vote for my civil rights but still not want to touch my hand?

I don’t know. I go through life, I meet people, wonderful people, accepting people.  And I don’t know.

Who will flinch?



Amazon UK



Barnes & Noble


SL Huang justifies her MIT degree by using it to write eccentric mathematical superhero fiction, starting with her debut novel, Zero Sum Game. Her short fiction has appeared or is upcoming in Strange Horizons, The Book Smugglers, and Daily Science Fiction, and she’s unhealthily opinionated at or on Twitter as @sl_huang.

My Favorite Bit: David D. Levine talks about ARABELLA OF MARS

My Favorite BitDavid D. Levine is joining us today with his novel Arabella of Mars. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Since Newton witnessed a bubble rising from his bathtub, mankind has sought the stars. When William III of England commissioned Capt. William Kidd to command the first expedition to Mars in the late 1600s, he proved that space travel was both possible and profitable.

Now, one century later, a plantation in a flourishing British colony on Mars is home to Arabella Ashby, a young woman who is perfectly content growing up in the untamed frontier. But days spent working on complex automata with her father or stalking her brother Michael with her Martian nanny is not the proper behavior of an English lady. That is something her mother plans to remedy with a move to an exotic world Arabella has never seen: London, England.

However, when events transpire that threaten her home on Mars, Arabella decides that sometimes doing the right thing is far more important than behaving as expected. She disguises herself as a boy and joins the crew of the Diana, a ship serving the Mars Trading Company, where she meets a mysterious captain who is intrigued by her knack with clockwork creations. Now Arabella just has to weather the naval war currently raging between Britain and France, learn how to sail, and deal with a mutinous crew…if she hopes to save her family remaining on Mars.

Arabella of Mars, the debut novel by Hugo-winning author David D. Levine, offers adventure, romance, political intrigue, and Napoleon in space!

What’s David’s favorite bit?

Arabella of Mars cover


There’s no question what my favorite bit of this book is. It’s the scene I had in mind from the very beginning, the one I was writing toward during the whole first hundred pages, and the one (other than the opening) that I pick most often when I’m reading for an audience: the scene where Arabella takes off from Earth aboard the airship Diana.

Up to this point Arabella has been a Patrick O’Brian girl stuck in a Jane Austen world. Born and raised on Mars, she grew up as an adventurous tomboy on a wild colonial frontier, running around the desert with her brother (in leather pants, no less!). So her mother, fearing she would turn out completely unmarriageable, has hauled her back to England to bring her up as a proper lady. But she hates it, and chafes against England’s climate, gravity, and especially the limited role to which she, as an English female of the gentry, is restricted. Then she learns that her evil cousin plans to kill her brother, back on Mars, and inherit the family fortune — and Arabella is the only person who can stop him. This presents her with a horrible responsibility… and a fantastic opportunity to escape the boring, constricted life of an English lady.

This scene is the place where all of my research and thinking about achieving space travel using Regency-era technology (with a few small changes in physics, such as filling the solar system with air) hits the page where the first time, and it’s also a critical hinge point in Arabella’s physical and emotional journey. It’s the moment when she commits, beyond recall, to a life in male clothing as a crew member of an aerial clipper, and it’s also the first time she sees London, then England, and finally the whole planet Earth from above. This is where she sees how far she has already come, and where it’s clear just how far she has to go.

After this scene she has duties to perform, shoveling coal and swaying-out the masts and suchlike, and a whole new vocabulary of aerial gibberish to learn. Her life from this moment on will never be the same. But what will happen to her? You’ll have to read the book to find out.



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David D. Levine is the author of novel Arabella of Mars (Tor 2016) and over fifty SF and fantasy stories. His story “Tk’Tk’Tk” won the Hugo Award, and he has been shortlisted for awards including the Hugo, Nebula, Campbell, and Sturgeon. Stories have appeared in Asimov’s, Analog, F&SF,, and multiple Year’s Best anthologies as well as award-winning collection Space Magic from Wheatland Press.

David is a contributor to George R. R. Martin’s bestselling shared-world series Wild Cards. He is also a member of publishing cooperative Book View Cafe and of nonprofit organization Oregon Science Fiction Conventions Inc. He has narrated podcasts for Escape Pod, PodCastle, and StarShipSofa, and his video “Dr. Talon’s Letter to the Editor” was a finalist for the Parsec Award. In 2010 he spent two weeks at a simulated Mars base in the Utah desert.

David lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife Kate Yule. His web site is

My Favorite Bit: Sarah Kuhn talks about HEROINE COMPLEX

Favorite Bit iconSarah Kuhn is joining us today with her novel Heroine Complex. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Being a superheroine is hard. Working for one is even harder.

Evie Tanaka is the put-upon personal assistant to Aveda Jupiter, her childhood best friend and San Francisco’s most beloved superheroine. She’s great at her job—blending into the background, handling her boss’s epic diva tantrums, and getting demon blood out of leather pants.

Unfortunately, she’s not nearly as together when it comes to running her own life, standing up for herself, or raising her tempestuous teenage sister, Bea.

But everything changes when Evie’s forced to pose as her glamorous boss for one night, and her darkest secret comes out: she has powers, too. Now it’s up to her to contend with murderous cupcakes, nosy gossip bloggers, and supernatural karaoke battles—all while juggling unexpected romance and Aveda’s increasingly outrageous demands. And when a larger threat emerges, Evie must finally take charge and become a superheroine in her own right…or see her city fall to a full-on demonic invasion.

What’s Sarah’s favorite bit?

Heroine Complex cover


I love karaoke.

Please note: this does not mean I am a good singer. Anyone who has ever been forced to listen to me try to harmonize with myself during a stirring rendition of TLC’s “No Scrubs” will tell you the exact opposite is true. Thankfully, enthusiasm counts for a lot in karaoke and I am really good at enthusiasm. I’ve rallied crowds through totally off-key Britney Spears covers using nothing more than a few well-placed hand claps and a heaping serving of bravado. And I’ve seen other musically challenged performers do the same. To me, that’s the key to karaoke’s appeal: for a brief, shining moment—those three minutes of perfect pop—anyone can be a star.

When I was writing Heroine Complex, I knew I wanted my fabulous Asian American superheroine protagonists to have big, colorful fight scenes that were outrageous, funny, and a ton of fun. One of the climactic fights features Evie Tanaka—a former sidekick coming into her own as a bona fide heroine—facing off against her foe in a supernaturally enhanced karaoke battle.

I loved this idea for a few reasons. First of all, it’s the kind of challenge that’s horrifying to someone like Evie, who’s comfortable staying in the background and on the sidelines. As she’s forced to rally and find her inner karaoke star bravado, her heroic side starts to come out and she finally begins to find the confidence to stand up for herself and fight for what she believes in.

Second, while “karaoke battle against demonic forces” obviously has an element of the ridiculous, the stakes involved mean our heroes must treat karaoke very seriously. And while I believe karaoke should be fun above all else, I also believe it should be done earnestly rather than ironically—when I sing Britney, I mean every word. And when Evie takes on some of pop music’s other great masters, she does too.

Finally, writing this kind of battle is just pure fun. I love sing-offs, dance-offs (hmm, maybe a dance-off in the sequel?), and pretty much any kind of “-off” involving the creative arts. Writing a fight scene where superheroes have to use killer dance moves, stage presence, and vocal range—rather than punches, kicks, or actual superpowers—to vanquish evil puts a big, stupid grin on my face and allows me to let my imagination go to some truly weird places.

The resulting scene in question is too spoilery for me to share, so I’ll just tell you some of the key songs involved.

*“Single Ladies” by Beyoncé: Beyoncé’s songs are really some of the ultimates when it comes to aspirational karaoke jams. This one has the added bonus of being accompanied by well-known dance moves for Evie to utilize. Somewhere there exists a terrible iPhone video of me and a friend attempting these dance moves during our own (drunk) karaoke attempt. Do not try to find it.

*“I Want It That Way” by Backstreet Boys: You can put some real high school prom slow dance soul into this jam. I have also performed this one with a friend, to great acclaim—the karaoke place we were at didn’t have both parts cued up during the “tell me why” section and we sang them anyway.

*“Eternal Flame” by The Bangles: Shockingly, I have never performed this one, but I totally recommend looking up the clip from The Vampire Diaries where Caroline Forbes uses her vampire powers to compel a band to play it for her so she can have a big rock star moment and woo the guy she likes. It’s every beautiful karaoke fantasy in one amazing scene. In Heroine Complex, Evie has a special connection to this song—it  recurs a few times throughout the book. And in the end, it’s the song that helps her finally shed the assistant mantle and find her true karaoke stardom.



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Sarah Kuhn is the author of Heroine Complex—the first in a series starring Asian American superheroines—for DAW Books. She also wrote The Ruby Equation for the Eisner-nominated comics anthology Fresh Romance and the romantic comedy novella One Con Glory, which earned praise from io9 and USA Today and is in development as a feature film. Her articles and essays on such topics as geek girl culture, Asian American representation, and Sailor Moon cosplay have appeared in The ToastUncanny MagazineApex MagazineAngryAsianMan.comIGN.comBack StageGeek Monthly, The Hollywood ReporterStarTrek.comCreative Screenwriting, and the Hugo-nominated anthology Chicks Dig Comics. In 2011, she was selected as a finalist for the CAPE (Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment) New Writers Award. You can visit her at or on Twitter: @sarahkuhn.

My Favorite Bit: Alyc Helms talks about THE CONCLAVE OF SHADOW

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

The line between enemy and ally is thinner than a shadow’s edge.

Ever since she saved the spirit guardians of China by selling out to her worst enemy, Missy Masters – a.k.a. the pulp hero Mr. Mystic – has been laying low. But when knights serving the Conclave of Shadow steal secret technology from a museum exhibit on the Argent Aces, everyone looks to Mr. Mystic for help. If Missy doesn’t want her masquerade blown, she’d better track down the thieves, and fast.

But stolen tech turns out to be the least of her problems. Recent events have upset the balance of power in the Shadow Realms, removing the barriers that once held the ravenous Voidlands in check. Their spread threatens destruction in the mortal realm as well… and only the Conclave stands ready to push them back.

In a world of shadow, telling friends from enemies is easier said than done. But if she wants to save San Francisco, Missy will have to decide who to trust. Including her own instincts, which tell her that something is stalking her with murder in mind…

What’s Alyc’s favorite bit?

Conclave of Shadow cover


Recently, as part of another blog interview, I talked about a pilgrimage that I once made to Cape Wrath, which was often considered to be Ultima Thule—the end of the earth. To get there, I had to take a plane (to London), a train (to Inverness), a bus (to Thurso), another bus and then a POSTAL TRUCK (to the Village of Smoo), a bike (to the Cape Wrath tour meeting point), a jeep, a boat (across the Kyle of Durness), and then another jeep. When I got to Cape Wrath, I walked right past the lighthouse, climbed as far as I could down the sloping edge of the cliff, and ate my lunch while I watched the birds and waves below my feet.

San Francisco has its own sort of Ultima Thule: Lands End. The surf-pounded rocks of Cape Wrath represent (if only imaginatively) the border space between the European continent and the cold, empty expanse of the North Atlantic. Similarly, Lands End is the last outpost, beyond even the Golden Gate, where San Francisco gives way to the vast Pacific. The ocean is constantly eating away at the cliffs. The winds blast at the breaks of California cypress, twisting their limbs like taffy. Fogs regularly blanket the land, drifting through the trees like winding sheets. Just south sits the crumbled ruins of the Sutro Baths, and just east looms the Presidio.

And on a tiny shelf thrusting out toward Pyramid Rock, is the Lands End Labyrinth.

The Lands End Labyrinth was conceived and constructed by local artist Eduardo Aguilera in 2004. It has been vandalized a few times, and each time locals came together to rebuild it. It’s not the sort of destination that’s marked by signage or listed in most official literature. It’s just something you learn about if you live in San Francisco long enough, almost by osmosis. You find it by turning off one of the coastal hiking trails in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. On weekend days, there may be a dozen or so people there, some taking pictures, many waiting their turn to walk the path between the stones.

Lands End Labyrinth

I have a thing for border zones and the liminality they represent. Border zones are beautiful, but they can also be painful places, what Gloria Anzaldúa called in Borderlands/La Frontera, “this thin edge of barbwire.” They scrape, they cut, they erode a landscape, a culture, a people, an identity. In a place like Lands End, where the ocean and wind are constantly devouring the land, the labyrinth is intended as a monument to peace and meditation. It’s like a metaphysical shunt for all that turbulent energy. It is easy enough to tear down the physical structure of the labyrinth—it’s only a bunch of fist-sized rocks, after all—but the imaginative hold it has on the community means we rebuild it again and again.

In my writing, I often return to this metaphysical idea of borders as wounds that need to be treated before they can start to heal. This is built into the mythology of the Mr. Mystic series in the form of the boundaries between the real world and the nightmarish Shadow Realms that Missy Masters has control over.

I expand that idea in The Conclave of Shadow when Missy learns that the Shadow Realms are the kinder, gentler buffer zone to the cosmic horror that is the Voidlands. The boundaries between these realms are decaying, and Missy has to find a way to reinforce them and redirect the Voidlands energy before it reaches catastrophic proportions. Much like the community effort to rebuild the Lands End Labyrinth, she cannot do it alone.

On a personal level, the Lands End Labyrinth becomes a centering point for Missy when desperation drives her to wonder if the ends can justify the means. Later, she uses it—along with the Golden Gate Bridge, the Alcatraz lighthouse, and the seven hills—in the ritual she and her allies have created to protect the city against the Voidlands threat.

Missy never considers that other metaphysical association common to labyrinths: There’s always a monster in the center.


The Conclave of Shadow, out July 5, 2016
Available in print and ebook
Angry Robot | Powell’s | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Amazon UK | Waterstones | Goodreads

The Dragons of Heaven, out now!
Available in print, ebook, and audibook
Angry Robot | Powell’s | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Amazon UK | Waterstones | Goodreads


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 has published stories in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Daily Science Fiction, Crossed Genres, and Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, and she has published monsters in Green Ronin’s Chronicle Creatures splatbook series. The Conclave of Shadow is the second novel in her Adventures of Mr. Mystic series from Angry Robot. She can be found on twitter @alychelms or at

My Favorite Bit: D. Lieber talks about CONJURING ZEPHYR

My Favorite BitD. Lieber is joining us today with her novel Conjuring Zephyr. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Retreating underground to escape a devastating ice age, humans build a new society. When magic is discovered and harnessed for survival, the citizens of Terrenus establish theories and principles of how to use it.

Kai Stephenson is determined to prove magical principles aren’t set in stone. Having lost her younger brother in a tragic accident, she will ensure such accidents never harm anyone else. She enrolls at the most elite university to gain the knowledge she needs to achieve her goal. Overconfident that living as a boy at an all-boys university will only be a minor inconvenience, Kai is convinced her classmates will never discover that she’s a woman. After all, women aren’t capable of higher forms of magic, and her boyish figure certainly doesn’t hurt her disguise.

Hiding her true identity becomes a problem when her new friends start to awaken her repressed sexuality.

What’s D.’s favorite bit?

Conjuring Zephyr cover


I have many favorite bits about Conjuring Zephyr. I spent a lot of time developing the magic and building the subterranean society in which Kai and her friends live. I’m pleased I was able to weave social commentary into the story without bashing my readers over the head with it. I think my readers will find they can ignore it completely, if they choose, and just enjoy the story.

I had fun satirizing why I think modern science is stuck, western views on female sexuality, as well as male and female gender roles. But my favorite bit was simply love finding Kai even when she was preoccupied and didn’t have time. Because, isn’t that how it happens to us all?

What I was really excited about while writing Conjuring Zephyr was who Kai would choose from all of her potential love interests.

I spend a lot of my free time watching anime and Korean television, and I absolutely love reverse harem stories. But what makes me really squee like a fangirl are the stories where female characters disguise themselves as men to accomplish their goals.

I get really into it, and I binge watch until I know the ending. I’m usually disappointed. The protagonist always chooses the guy who was a complete jerk to her through most of the show.

Watching any foreign television certainly takes some getting used to. I will even go so far as to say that it takes dedication. Because, let’s face it. At first exposure, some of that stuff just seems downright weird. I wanted to introduce this genre to western audiences in a way they could understand without so much effort.

When I was in the audience of an authors’ panel at C2E2 in 2014, one of the panelists said she writes stories she wants to read. It seemed like such an obvious thing to say afterward, but it really gave me the push I needed to put pen to paper.

I set out to write a story in the genre I love and end it the way I wanted. But as I was writing, I began to understand exactly why the protagonist always picks the jerk.

Now, I’m not going to tell you who Kai chooses, because that would spoil it. I will say that, not only will it surprise the reader, but it surprised me as I was writing it.

Once I set my characters up and let them go, they took me to places I never would have predicted. They became alive, tormented by past tragedies, fighting desires they couldn’t understand or express in their repressed society, and chasing a goal that was accepted as impossible from the beginning.



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D. writes stories she wants to read. Her love of the worlds of fiction led her to earn a Bachelor’s in English from Wright State University.

When she isn’t reading or writing, she’s probably hiking, crafting, watching anime, Korean television or old movies. She may also be getting her geek on while planning her next steampunk cosplay with friends.

She lives in Wisconsin with her husband (John), retired guide dog (Samwise) and cat (Yin).

My Favorite Bit: E. Catherine Tobler talks about THE KRAKEN SEA

My Favorite BitE. Catherine Tobler is joining us today with her novel The Kraken Sea. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Fifteen-year-old Jackson is different from the other children at the foundling hospital. Scales sometimes cover his arms. Tentacles coil just below his skin. Despite this Jackson tries to fit in with the other children. He tries to be normal for Sister Jerome Grace and the priests. But when a woman asks for a boy like him, all that changes. His name is pinned to his jacket and an orphan train whisks him across the country to Macquarie’s.

At Macquarie’s, Jackson finds a home unlike any he could have imagined. The bronze lions outside the doors eat whomever they deem unfit to enter, the hallways and rooms shift and change at will, and Cressida – the woman who adopted him – assures him he no longer has to hide what he is. But new freedoms hide dark secrets. There are territories, allegiances, and a kraken in the basement that eats shadows.

As Jackson learns more about the new world he’s living in and about who he is, he has to decide who he will stand with: Cressida, the woman who gave him a home and a purpose, or Mae, the black-eyed lion tamer with a past as enigmatic as his own. The Kraken Sea is a fast paced adventure full of mystery, Fates, and writhing tentacles just below the surface, and in the middle of it all is a boy searching for himself.

What’s E. Catherine’s favorite bit?

The Kraken Sea cover


My favorite bit in The Kraken Sea is the fact that everything I want to talk about is a spoiler. I’ve been writing circus stories since 2004, but have never before written the story of the man who made the circus, Jackson himself.

Every time I approach this piece, I think, “Oh, I can talk about X!” Then, the more in depth I think about X, the more I realize that no, if I really talk about X, everything unravels.

I keep thinking I would tell you about the bakery–because if you know me, you know I love all manner of baked goods. Cakes, and croissants, and cookies, meringues, and macarons. In this book, I included palmiers, because they look like hearts. Jackson’s Unreal Circus and Mobile Marmalade has always had a food element to it: Beth makes marmalades that are magically infused with specific times and places, and one can travel there with just a bite. This is either a blessing or a curse for the person eating the marmalade.

Having the opportunity to include a bakery was a delight–it fits the story universe perfectly. But if I go deeper and tell you that the bakery is part of a territorial dispute between two ancient, warring factions…we get closer to spoiler territory. Because that leads to telling you about the thing in the basement, and if I tell you about the thing in the basement–

Yeah, we can’t go there.

I also thought I’d talk about the girl on the fire escape–Mae. Mae’s path crosses with Jackson’s accidentally at first (or is it?), and then later with deliberation when she waits for him on the fire escape outside his room. Mae accuses Jackson of being no ordinary boy, but of course she’s no ordinary girl, either. Though Mae seems to work as a lion tamer within a genderbent burlesque show (hey, it’s a circus!), Mae is also an aspect of Fate.

This is probably also a spoiler, but maybe it’s the right kind–the kind that gets the reader excited for the work at hand? Mae is Lachesis, she who does not spin or cut the threads of life, but she who decides how long a thing will endure. She is not creation or destruction, but the calm between. She tends to infuriate people with her calm certainty, especially her sisters, who are all about making or unmaking a thing.

So…are her sisters also in this book?

They absolutely are. Fates! The threads of life! The beginning, the middle, the end, within Jackson’s own genesis story!

And are the Fates  involved with the thing in the bakery basement?

Well, that’s a spoiler.



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Author’s website

Author’s blog

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E. Catherine Tobler was born on the other side of the International Dateline, which either gives her an extra day in her life or an extraordinary affinity when it comes to inter-dimensional gateways. She is the senior editor of Shimmer Magazine and lives in Colorado, which has a distinct lack of inter-dimensional gateways, but an abundance of mountains, which may prove mad indeed.

My Favorite Bit: Christopher Husberg talks about DUSKFALL

My Favorite BitChristopher Husberg is joining us today with his novel Duskfall. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Pulled from a frozen sea, pierced by arrows and close to death, Knot has no memory of who he was. But his dreams are dark, filled with violence and unknown faces. Winter, a tiellan woman whose people have long been oppressed by humans, is married to and abandoned by Knot on the same day. In her search for him, she will discover her control of magic, but risk losing herself utterly. And Cinzia, priestess and true believer, returns home to discover her family at the heart of a heretical rebellion. A rebellion that only the Inquisition can crush…

Their fates and those of others will intertwine, in a land where magic and daemons are believed dead, but dark forces still vie for power.

What’s Christopher’s favorite bit?

Duskfall cover


It’s a both an exciting and somewhat terrifying thing when a side character comes out of nowhere and threatens to take over your novel. When that happens to me, I generally see myself having a few options: (1) remove the character entirely and refocus on the central characters, (2) let the character’s magnetism do its thing and see where she takes the novel, or (3) seek a balance in the hopes of keeping the awesomeness that drew me to the side character in the first place while still maintaining the integrity and structure of the story. I think that last option is the hardest one, but one of my favorite characters (and favorite bits of Duskfall in general)—Astrid—developed from my attempt to achieve that balance.

Astrid is a 300-year-old vampire in the body of a nine-year-old girl, and she is awesome. She’s sarcastic, she’s horrifyingly fun in a fight, and from her first appearance in the novel her deep, complicated backstory bled onto the page, gushing to be told. I was tempted to just keep writing about her and see where she took me, but as much as part of me wanted to do that, I knew it wasn’t the right decision for the story. It would’ve created a very different novel from the one I was trying to write with Duskfall, and while Astrid came in as a fresh, exciting character, I was still very attached to and invested in the stories of Winter, Knot, and Cinzia (the three central characters of the novel).

But I really didn’t want to remove her from the story, either. Astrid had a role to play, and I wanted her, and no one else, to play it—and I’m glad I let her! Now that Duskfall is a finished product, I can’t imagine the story without her.

So why do I like Astrid so much? I think her status as a child vampire was the source of a lot of her initial appeal. The child-vampire trope isn’t a new thing, of course; Anne Rice did it brilliantly with Claudia, but I think my favorite iteration is Eli from John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Let The Right One In. A child with access to immortality and all of the horrifying traits of a classic vampire—while still retaining a childlike disposition and sense of wonder as much as possible—was too interesting an idea to pass up. Astrid is physically a child, but she never quite develops into a normal adult mentally, either. Her views of what we might term “adult” concepts—sex and romantic love, among others—has a sarcastic overtone that masks her confusion, jealousy, and general cluelessness about those topics.

She was a breath of fresh air, too, mainly through that sarcasm and her sense of humor. The other main characters, especially in the first draft, were pretty serious. And rightly so; they had some pretty serious things going on, after all. But from her first appearance on the page, Astrid was immediately sarcastic, embracing a childishly sardonic view of the world. After hundreds of years of living in it, she had to start finding the humor in things!

And, of course, I love her fight scenes. It was so fun to write Astrid’s fight scenes. Having a nine-year-old go to town on a dozen or so warriors twice her size was a blast. I took influence from Hit-Girl’s scenes in Kick-Ass, as well as the film version of Let the Right One In. And while Tomorrowland came out after I’d written the first few drafts of Duskfall, I loved Athena’s fight scenes too because they reminded me very much of Astrid’s.

But sarcasm, humor, and her propensity towards violence aside, what drew me most to Astrid’s character was what draws me to any character—sympathy, and a strong back story. Astrid’s back-story (which I unfortunately can’t talk much about here as it’s still being revealed in the books) was one of those things that seemed to sort of write itself—and having 300 years to work with meant Astrid had a lot of room for development. I think that’s the ultimate key to Astrid’s appeal, at least to me—she was fun to read, fun to write, fun to develop, because I felt for her. For brief periods of time she became real to me, and that’s one of the best parts of being a writer, that schizophrenic state in which my characters slowly become real, where I start having conversations with them in my head. It’s delightful, and Astrid represented the epitome of that for Duskfall.

In book 2 of the Chaos Queen Quintet, which I’m currently revising, Astrid has already seized a larger role in the story, and almost more than any other character, I see her arc clearly in my mind over the remaining four books. I can’t wait to take her through all that, and to take some of you with us.



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Christopher Husberg grew up in Eagle River, Alaska. He now lives in Utah, and spends his time writing, reading, hiking, and playing video games, but mostly hanging out with his wife, Rachel, and daughter, Buffy. He received an MFA in creative writing from Brigham Young University, and an honorary PhD in Buffy the Vampire Slayer from himself. Duskfall is his first novel. The next installment in the Chaos Queen Quintet, Dark Immolation, will be published by Titan Books in June 2017.

My Favorite Bit: Curtis C. Chen talks about WAYPOINT KANGAROO

My Favorite BitCurtis C. Chen is joining us today with his novel Waypoint Kangaroo. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Kangaroo isn’t your typical spy. Sure, he has extensive agency training, access to bleeding-edge technology, and a ready supply of clever (to him) quips and retorts. But what sets him apart is “the pocket.” It’s a portal that opens into an empty, seemingly infinite, parallel universe, and Kangaroo is the only person in the world who can use it. But he’s pretty sure the agency only keeps him around to exploit his superpower.

After he bungles yet another mission, Kangaroo gets sent away on a mandatory “vacation:” an interplanetary cruise to Mars. While he tries to make the most of his exile, two passengers are found dead, and Kangaroo has to risk blowing his cover. It turns out he isn’t the only spy on the ship–and he’s just starting to unravel a massive conspiracy which threatens the entire Solar System.

Now, Kangaroo has to stop a disaster which would shatter the delicate peace that’s existed between Earth and Mars ever since the brutal Martian Independence War. A new interplanetary conflict would be devastating for both sides. Millions of lives are at stake.

Weren’t vacations supposed to be relaxing?

With Waypoint Kangaroo, Chen makes his debut with this outer space thriller. Chen has an extensive network of connections to prominent science fiction authors, and has studied under John Scalzi, James Patrick Kelly, and Ursula K. LeGuin.

What’s Curtis’s favorite bit?



My favorite bit in Waypoint Kangaroo is a dumb joke. (I know what you’re thinking: “Which one? There are so many dumb jokes in your novel!” Thanks, Mom.)

Dumb jokes and bad puns are especially apt for my protagonist, KANGAROO. That’s his spy agency code name, because he has a superpower: the ability to open portals into a pocket universe that only he can access. The pocket allows Kangaroo to smuggle pretty much anything anywhere, and it makes him both special and useful, but he’s otherwise not terribly well suited to be a secret agent. I had fun playing with that dichotomy.

Kangaroo is an American, and at some point I decided that English would be the only language he was fluent in, because it went against the fiction trope of a hyper-competent super-spy–see if you can spot other James Bond 007 references in the book!–and that setup also gave me the opportunity to reproduce a bit that my wife and I improv every so often:

  • She’ll ask me how to say a word in Mandarin.
  • I’ll tell her.
  • She’ll say the word back to me but not get the precise sound right.
  • I’ll say the word again.
  • She’ll say it again but still not quite right.
  • Lather, rinse, repeat.

(Basically imagine Abbott and Costello doing “Who’s on First?” Sort of. And I’m Lou, just to be clear.)

This comedy gold is possible because Mandarin is a tone language, and non-native speakers often have difficulty distinguishing the tones that affect the meaning of spoken words. It’s like music: you can train yourself to hear different pitches and tell when a note is “sharp” or “flat,” but it doesn’t come naturally to most people.

In Waypoint Kangaroo, our hero gets tripped up when reading a stranger’s name tag. My publisher is producing an audiobook edition of the novel, and I included these notes for the narrator:

  • There is a comedy bit at the start of Chapter 18 involving the Chinese name “Xiao”…
    • If you do NOT speak Mandarin, just ensure the two characters are making different sounds when they each say “Xiao” in the back-and-forth dialogue.
    • If you DO speak Mandarin, the correct inflection of “xiao” is a homophone for “small”; Kangaroo’s mispronunciations should be all of the three other inflections (with the homophone for “laugh” being last, if you please).

And here’s the bit in question:

“Thank you . . . Xiao?” I’m not quite sure how to pronounce that name.
“Xiao,” he says.
“Xiao,” I do my best to repeat.
“Close enough, sir.” His expression tells me I should just drop it. “How may I help you?”

Trust me, this would kill in Taiwan.

My obsessive stage direction for what is an inconsequential throwaway joke is just one symptom of a long-running fascination with the craft of writing for performance–especially television–but that, as they say, is another story. I hope my dumb jokes will not interfere with anyone’s enjoyment of Waypoint Kangaroo. Especially you, Mom.



Abbott and Costello perform “Who’s on First?” (YouTube video)

“Tone language” (Simple English Wikipedia article)

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Powell’s Books







Once a software engineer in Silicon Valley, CURTIS C. CHEN now writes speculative fiction and runs puzzle games near Portland, Oregon. His debut novel WAYPOINT KANGAROO, a science fiction spy thriller, is forthcoming from Thomas Dunne Books on June 21st, 2016.

Curtis’ short stories have appeared in Daily Science Fiction, the Baen anthology MISSION: TOMORROW, and THE 2016 YOUNG EXPLORER’S ADVENTURE GUIDE. He is a graduate of the Clarion West and Viable Paradise writers’ workshops.

You can find Curtis at Puzzled Pint Portland on the second Tuesday of most months. Visit him online at:

My Favorite Bit: Laura Lam talks about FALSE HEARTS

My Favorite BitLaura Lam is joining us today with her novel False Hearts. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Laura Lam’s adult sci-fi debut False Hearts: Two formerly conjoined sisters are ensnared in a murderous plot involving psychoactive drugs, shared dreaming, organized crime, and a sinister cult.

Raised in the closed cult of Mana’s Hearth and denied access to modern technology, conjoined sisters Taema and Tila dream of a life beyond the walls of the compound. When the heart they share begins to fail, the twins escape to San Francisco, where they are surgically separated and given new artificial hearts. From then on they pursue lives beyond anything they could have previously imagined.

Ten years later, Tila returns one night to the twins’ home in the city, terrified and covered in blood, just before the police arrive and arrest her for murder–the first homicide by a civilian in decades. Tila is suspected of involvement with the Ratel, a powerful crime syndicate that deals in the flow of Zeal, a drug that allows violent minds to enact their darkest desires in a terrifying dreamscape. Taema is given a proposition: go undercover as her sister and perhaps save her twin’s life. But during her investigation Taema discovers disturbing links between the twins’ past and their present. Once unable to keep anything from each other, the sisters now discover the true cost of secrets.

What’s Laura’s favorite bit?

False Hearts US cover

False Hearts UK cover


So far my process in writing books seems to be smooshing together my favorite things and seeing what comes out. In my Micah Grey gaslight fantasy series (Pantomime, Shadowplay & Masquerade), I mashed together gender and sexuality, the circus, Victorian magic, court intrigue, long-vanished civilisations, and the line between magic and technology. False Hearts, on the other hand, swirls together conjoined twins, cults, the mob, near-future San Fransisco, brain hacking, and dream drugs.

The setup of False Hearts is this: Taema and Tila were born as conjoined twins, joined at the chest, in a reclusive cult in the redwoods across the San Francisco bay known as Mana’s Hearth. There, everything is frozen in 1969 technology, and to change yourself in any way is considered sacrilege. When the twins’ shared heart starts to fail, it’s expected they’ll bow to the will of the Creator and let nature takes its course. Instead, they escape, but it’s not as easy as they’d hoped. Once they’re in San Francisco, the twins are separated and fitted with mechanical hearts. Ten years later, Tila is accused of murder in a world where crime is almost eradicated. SFPD give Taema a chance to save her sister: go undercover and assume her sister’s identity, and help break up the underground mob called the Ratel and their distribution of a new, dangerous dream drug called Verve.

These dream drug sequences are some of my favourite bits of the book, as I can end up bending reality and adding in some very creepy visuals. There are two strains of drugs: Zeal, which is licensed by the government and anyone can take. You plug in, work out your darkest nightmares, and it’s cathartic. When you come out, it has a soporific effect and makes you less violent in reality. Those that society think are high risk of becoming chronic criminals find the drug addictive. Verve is what the Ratel have created, and it makes you more violent after you take it, which is understandably going to be a problem for Pacifica if it becomes widespread. I’ll leave you with a small snippet of Taema going into a Zealscape dream sequence to ask a woman named Mia about what her sister might have been up to:

I hear the screams first.

The door opens for me into a barren room as long as the building. The concrete floor is cracked, the paint on the walls peeling off in layers. Exposed wires hang from the ceiling, and flickering overhead light casts a harsh light on the two figures before me.

One is Mia. She’s strong here as she no longer is in real life. Her bare arms ripple with muscle, the fitted jumpsuit hugging her full breasts and thighs. Her hair is long, like it was in Mana’s Hearth before she left when Tila and I were eight. But she is a long way away from the gentle woman in soft dresses that I recall. This Mia’s face is twisted in rage and bloodlust, and she’s wielding a scalpel stained with blood.

I shudder, my hand involuntarily going to the scar beneath my dress. Mia’s tool falls, and she bends over. My eyes finally rest on the other figure.

It’s Mana-ma.

Our former leader has collapsed to the ground. She’s alive, breathing hoarsely. The black robe she wears is heavy with blood. On her back, she gapes at the cracked ceiling, her mouth opening and closing. Mia has cut out her tongue.  It lies next to her like a dead fish.

I cry out, stumbling away.

Mia pauses in her terrible work, her eyes meeting mine. Her face goes slack in surprise.


I’m dressed as Tila. I have her face, and her tattoo snaking down my thigh. Despite this, Mia still recognizes me.

‘Why are you here?’ she asks. ‘You’ve never been in my dreams before.’

That’s a comfort, I guess. She’s never wanted to kill me. Mia’s covered in blood, and the broken shell of a replica of the woman who leads Mana’s Hearth cowers beneath her.

‘Mia. Something’s happened to Tila. I need your help.’

‘You’re…not part of the dream?’ Mia seems confused.

Mana-ma gives a strangled gasp, more of a high wheeze. Without batting an eyelid, Mia brings down the scalpel into Mana-ma’s neck. The colors of the warehouse grow brighter, sharper, until they’re hypersaturated. I step back, horrified.

Without realizing what I’m doing, I focus on that mental state I found while in Mediation at the Hearth. The clear, calm stillness. ‘Stop,’ I say. Mia’s eyes widen, but her hand jerks back, taking the scalpel with her.

‘You don’t tell me what to do! Don’t make me do what I don’t want to!’ she shrieks.

Did I make her do that?

Blood spurts out of Mana-ma, and once the blood—the reddest blood I’ve ever seen—leaves her body, it turns from scarlet to black. The dark oil rises, covering Mana-ma’s corpse, and then the figure collapses into a puddle. It reminds me uncomfortably of the spread of blood of the crime scene recreation.

The scalpel is still in Mia’s hands. I hold up my own, spread wide, to look unthreatening. ‘No, I’m not part of the Zeal,’ I say. ‘They couldn’t pull you out, so I took a small dose and came in.’

Mia shakes her head.  ‘I don’t know if I can believe that. They all say they’re real when they’re not. Either way, you shouldn’t have come. You’re too innocent for the Zealscape. Especially mine.’ Her face creases in a grin, and I take another step away. She is utterly transformed from the woman who took us in just after the surgery, when we were weak as kittens and just as innocent in the ways of the world. I remember the way she pushed my hair back from my face, kissed my forehead goodnight. She took us to museums on weekends, patiently explaining so many things to us that we didn’t understand. Mia, my second mother in many ways, is looking at me like she wants nothing more than to stick the scalpel in my eye.

She shakes her head again, mystified. ‘Can’t believe a girl who escaped the Hearth would ever step foot somewhere where they mess with your brain. Didn’t you have enough?’

‘Didn’t you?’ I counter.

That same sly grin. A gesture at Mana-ma. ‘Do you really think I actually escaped the Hearth? It’s always here.’ She taps her temple, and then considers me. ‘Maybe it’s still in you, too.’



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Laura Lam was raised near San Francisco, California, by two former Haight-Ashbury hippies. Both of them encouraged to finger-paint to her heart’s desire, colour outside the lines, and consider the library a second home. This led to an overabundance of daydreams. She relocated to Scotland to be with her husband, whom she met on the internet when he insulted her taste in books. She almost blocked him but is glad she didn’t. At times she misses the sunshine.

My Favorite Bit: Shannon Page talks about THE USUAL PATH TO PUBLICATION

Favorite Bit iconShannon Page is joining us today with her book The Usual Path to Publication. Here’s the publisher’s description:

A collection of essays about the UNusual, amusing, heartbreaking, random, and quite perfectly crazy ways writers got their words out there.

Cherie Priest, “How I Skidded Sideways Into Publishing”
Alma Alexander, “Don’t Try This At Home”
Mark Teppo, “Mapping Uncharted Terrain”
Laura Anne Gilman, “Two Paths”
Jim C. Hines, “The Goblin’s Curse”
Katharine Kerr, “That Long Winding Road”
David D. Levine, “How to Sell a Novel in Only Fifteen Years”
K. Tempest Bradford, “It All Happened Because of Netscape Navigator”
Ada Palmer, “The Key to the Kingdom”
Ken Scholes, “My Path to Publication, and My Other Path to Publication”
Nancy Jane Moore, “The Meandering Path”
Jennifer Brozek, “No One True Way”
Rhiannon Held, “Timeline Key Points”
Jo Walton, “Not Deluded: How I Sold My First Novel”
Chris Dolley, “First Sale”
Brenda Cooper, “With a Little Help from a Poet”
Chaz Brenchley, “My First Book”
Tina Connolly, “Going from Short Stories to Novels in 60,000 Easy Words”
Randy Henderson, “My Finn Fancy Adventure in Publishing”
Elizabeth Bourne, “The Gypsy Curse”
John A. Pitts, “My Path to Publication”
Mindy Klasky, “April Is the Cruelest Month”
Amy Sterling Casil, “I Was Rejected, Then Sold the Same Story to the Same Editor!”
Deborah J. Ross, “The Magic Phone Call”
Phyllis Irene Radford, “My Road to Publishing, or, Tiptoeing Through Mine Fields”
Sara Stamey, “How I Became a ‘Real Author'”
Trisha Leigh/Lyla Payne, “Making It”
Afterword (Your Editor’s Story)

What’s Shannon’s favorite bit?

Usual Path to Publication cover


Now I understand what’s so hard about that “Who is your favorite child” question. I don’t have children, but I do have a couple of brothers, so I always thought the answer was obvious: me, naturally. (Sorry, bros.)

Being an editor is not at all like having children. Of course not. Except for the tender affection I feel for each and every one of my authors, for each and every one of their stories. And except for the fierce protectiveness I feel for my edited books. The desire to see them succeed out there in the world. The fear that they will be misunderstood, or ignored, or bullied on the playground. But other than that: nope, not at all.

Preparing to write this piece, I have just read through The Usual Path to Publication once again, looking for that one special, favorite quote, the one I can point to and say, “This, this! Here are the words that epitomize this little book. This is my favorite bit.”

I found one in every essay.

It would be cheating to say that my favorite bit about this book is the entire book. So I won’t say that. No, after much consideration, I’ve realized that my favorite bit about this book is the commonality it so wonderfully illustrates. Each author’s story is different in its particulars; yet every author in this book tells a tale of flexibility, of patience, of not giving up. There are moments of despair, frustrating reversals, much random accident. But every author believed that their words mattered. And so they kept at it. For as long as it took.

This, I think, is what binds all authors together—along with anyone else in this crazy industry we call publishing. Every time I opened my email last winter to find another submission for this book, I felt that touch of community, and took joy in it. Writing can feel like such a lonely endeavor. Who knows if your words are ever going to reach an audience, ever going to touch someone? Who knows if you are ever going to “succeed”—whatever you take that to mean?

Twenty-seven authors generously shared their stories of how they broke in—and, often, what happened next. These tales are filled with coincidence and luck and timing and the random forces of nature; of those who helped along the way, lessons learned, mistakes to be avoided. And, most of all, a rugged persistence. A belief that they had words and thoughts and emotions to share with the world at large, despite the many barriers that world tosses in the path.

Because there is no “usual path to publication.” Every writer finds their own way. And then, so very often, those authors then turn back to shine a flashlight on their particular pathway—to light the way for others, to inspire them, or maybe just to amuse them.

Okay, I’ll admit it: my favorite bit about this book is that it exists at all. So sue me.






Book View Café

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Shannon Page is a Portland, Oregon-based author and editor. Her work has appeared in Clarkesworld, Interzone, Fantasy, Black Static,, and many anthologies, including the Australian Shadows Award-winning Grants Pass, and The Mammoth Book of Dieselpunk. Books include Eel River; the collection Eastlick and Other Stories; and Our Lady of the Islands, co-written with the late Jay Lake. Our Lady was named one of the Best Books of 2014 by Publishers Weekly and was a finalist for the Endeavour Award. Edited books include the anthology Witches, Stitches & Bitches and the essay collection The Usual Path to Publication. She is a longtime yoga practitioner and an avid gardener, and has no tattoos. Visit her at

My Favorite Bit: Adam Rakunas talks about LIKE A BOSS

My Favorite BitAdam Rakunas is joining us today with his novel Like A Boss. Here’s the publisher’s description:

In this breathless and hilarious followup to Windswept, former labor organiser Padma Mehta’s worst nightmare comes true: she gets yanked out of early retirement.

After buying her favourite rum distillery and settling down, she thought she’d heard the last of her arch nemesis, Evanrute Saarien. But Saarien, fresh out of prison for his misdeeds in Windswept, has just fabricated a new religion, positioning himself as its holy leader. He’s telling his congregation to go on strike, to fight the system. And unfortunately, they’re listening to him.

Now Padma’s summoned by the Union president to help stop this strike from happening. The problem is, she’s out of practice. And, the more she digs, the more she realises this whole strike business is more complicated than the Union president let on…

What’s Adam’s favorite bit?

Like A Boss cover


I hate PowerPoint.

This is not a radical statement. Its user interface is opaque, its effects are cloying, and its prevalence as the go-to tool for making dull, bloodless presentations even more soul-deadening means it’s inescapable. If anything, you might be nodding your head right now and saying, “Yeah, I hate PowerPoint, too!”

Which is why my favorite bit in Like A Boss is a PowerPoint presentation.

Well, kinda. Padma Mehta, the two-fisted labor organizer and heroine of the Occupied Space books, is a former executive go-getter. Once upon a time, she lived and breathed presentations about budgets, corporate governance, and entertainment logistics (ie making sure there are enough straws and napkins for every football stadium in the world). She walked away from all that to join the Union and make people’s lives better. No more PowerPoint (or its futuristic equivalent) ever again.

Until she has to talk a planet-wide angry mob into stopping its strike and getting back to work. Normally, she’d just go on the Public, the vast network that’s beamed right into everyone’s eyeballs. But when that gets shut down, what does she do? She grabs a bunch of markers, finds the nearest wall, and gets to drawing. She lays out all the connections between her planet’s stalled economy, the Union’s corrupt leadership, and what everyone watching can do. If she can turn one crowd to her side, then people can copy what they saw and tell a new bunch of people what’s going on. It’s file sharing the old-fashioned way: writing on the wall from memory.

As she talks, the crowd talks back to her. Some of them aren’t buying her argument. A few kids have hijacked the markers and are adding their own embellishments. Getting a bunch of angry people to listen is hard. Getting them to change their minds and come over to your side? That’s a heroine’s task. Padma is tough and fair-minded enough to listen, to challenge, to change her tactics while maintaining her course. Plus, she knows everything is riding on her getting this right.

The fact that she’s giving a presentation with lots of pretty graphics and bullet points is not lost on her. Granted, she’s scribbling boxes and lines on the side of a market stall, but it’s still a bloody presentation. The difference, both for her as the heroine and me as the writer, is that this slow-motion slide show means something. If she can’t make her case to this crowd, the strike will continue, people will get hurt, and the bad guys will win. Engaging in (or writing about) a pitched battle in the streets may be fun, but making a compelling presentation that will get people’s attention and motivate them? That’s a challenge.

I’ve joked how this is the closest I will get to a John Galt speech. Ayn Rand’s infamous seventy-page-long rambler is one of those hallmarks of speculative fiction that anyone who writes about politics has to measure up to at some point. Its sheer cultural weight is massive, and the speech’s word count only adds to its gravitational density. I’m glad Rand wasn’t alive in the era of PowerPoint, because turning the whole thing into a presentation would have created a literary singularity that would have crushed anything that got near it. The whole of Atlas Shrugged leads up to that point, just as most of Like A Boss leads up to Padma writing on a wall. The difference that is that Padma’s trying to get people to work together so they can make their lives better, and Galt wants to justify why it’s perfectly to be such a selfish dick. I like to think Padma would kick little Johnny’s ass even on her worst day.

Padma’s case to her fellow Union members might as well be mine for How To Make A Fair And Just Society. She and her compatriots have gotten complacent and inattentive. Running a Fair And Just society takes work, and work can be a pain in the ass. However, the alternative — chaos and bloodshed and near starvation — are much worse. Better to attend a weekly meeting, pester representatives to do a better job, and do the occasional gruntwork. Oh, and sit through presentations.

Granted, Padma gets to loosen up her audience first with tacos and rum punch. Maybe we all need more of that.



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Mysterious Galaxy

Elliott Bay Book Company







Adam Rakunas is the author of the Philip K. Dick Award-nominated WINDSWEPT and the forthcoming LIKE A BOSS. His short fiction has appeared in and the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. He has had a long and varied career as a video game engineer, a triathlon race director, a parking lot attendant, an IT consultant, and a theater usher. He splits his copious spare time between writing, political rabble-rousing, and being a stay-at-home dad. A former Southern Californian, he and his family now live in the Pacific Northwest. Find him online at