Archive for the ‘My Favorite Bit’ Category

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

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

10:00 a.m.

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

10:02 a.m.

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

10:03 a.m.

The auditorium doors won’t open.

10:05 a.m.

Someone starts shooting.

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

What’s Marieke’s favorite bit?



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Author website


Amazon US

The Book Depository


Amazon UK


Books of Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s Lawrence’s favorite bit?



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m dead, not blind. What of it?”

“So you have to tell me.”

“I don’t believe I do.”

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

“I’m not disagreeing, Son.”

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

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

“Then you’ll tell me where it is?”

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

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

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

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

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






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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s Holly’s favorite bit?



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You a collector?”

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

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

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





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

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

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

Here’s the publisher’s description:

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

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

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

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

What’s Michael’s favorite bit?

Shards Cover 2


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

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


Okay. Got it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Read an excerpt


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s Michael’s favorite bit?



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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Genrenauts series

Author website



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

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

My Favorite Bit: Karina Sumner-Smith about TOWERS FALL

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

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

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

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

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

What’s Karina’s favorite bit?

Towers Fall Cover FINAL-small


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Indiebound


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s Martin’s favorite bit?

My Loaded Gun


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

Instead, let me tell you about vultures.

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

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

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

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

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







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

My Favorite Bit: Emma Newman talks about PLANETFALL

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s Emma’s favorite bit?

Planetfall cover


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

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

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

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

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

“A new pancreas,” I said. “For Dad.”

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

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

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

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

“I don’t think it’s right.”

“How can it be wrong to save a life?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The efficiency of dialogue

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


More information about Planetfall


Tea and Jeopardy podcast





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

My Favorite Bit: Lila Bowen (aka Delilah S. Dawson) talks about Wake of Vultures

My Favorite Bit iconLila Bowen (aka Delilah S. Dawson) is joining us today to talk about her novel Wake of Vultures. Here’s the publisher’s description:

A rich, dark fantasy of destiny, death, and the supernatural world hiding beneath the surface.

Nettie Lonesome lives in a land of hard people and hard ground dusted with sand. She’s a half-breed who dresses like a boy, raised by folks who don’t call her a slave but use her like one. She knows of nothing else. That is, until the day a stranger attacks her. When nothing, not even a sickle to the eye can stop him, Nettie stabs him through the heart with a chunk of wood, and he turns into black sand.

And just like that, Nettie can see.

But her newfound ability is a blessing and a curse. Even if she doesn’t understand what’s under her own skin, she can sense what everyone else is hiding — at least physically. The world is full of evil, and now she knows the source of all the sand in the desert. Haunted by the spirits, Nettie has no choice but to set out on a quest that might lead to her true kin… if the monsters along the way don’t kill her first.

What’s Lila’s favorite bit?



So here’s my problem: I’ve never been punched in the face.

I studied muay thai for several years, and one thing always bothered me: The guys were too easy on me. Whether we were practicing kicks or punches or sparring, they always hit me too softly, hung back to let me attack first, and gave me patronizing smiles when I landed a bruising kick. And that just made me hit them all the harder as punishment.

In Wake of Vultures, I’m unusually cruel to Nettie Lonesome, the main character who begins as a slave girl and chooses to live as a man, a Texas Ranger, and a monster hunter. But I wanted to give her that moment of satisfaction I never had in all my sparring days.

All in one swift motion, Hennessy sat up and clocked her in the jaw with a brawny fist. Nettie fell over on her back, seeing stars, and he climbed to his feet to stare down at her, hands on his hips.

“What the Sam Hill was that for?” she asked, sitting up slowly and rubbing her aching jaw.

“Because if you’re going to play at being a boy, I’m damn well going to treat you like a man. A feller causes me this much trouble, I find that punching him in the face makes me feel a lot better.”

He held out a hand to pull her up, and when she stood, they eyed each other warily.

“I can live with that,” Nettie said with a nod.

Being punched in the face is the best thing that’s ever happened to Nettie. In my alternate 1800s Texas, called Durango, she was born half black and half native and found by folks who use her as a slave—while never telling her what a slave was. She’s been used, abused, and beaten, but never treated as a human being. For all the scars on her back, getting clocked in the jaw by Hennessy means she’s exactly what she wants to be, what she sees herself as: a capable equal. Not a weak girl to be pitied, not an attractive woman to be used, not a minority to be looked down upon, not a servant to be exploited.

A man.

Part of the beauty in writing an ignorant shut-in is that your character doesn’t have a full understanding of the prejudice and cultural standards rampant in their current society. Raised in seclusion on the frontier by people who didn’t see her as human, she’s never heard of homosexuality and therefore has no qualms about her own attraction to both men and women. She sees dressing as a man as a practical choice and considers the aesthetic trappings of women to be foolish. Her only role models for women are unhappy wives and the whores at the bordello, so putting on pants and a gun belt is a smart decision. Even though Nettie starts out far from free, her mind is oddly unfettered, which is what allows her to be herself in a world in which she would’ve faced derision and scorn.

Although I definitely don’t want to be punched in the face, it felt good to give Nettie that bruise. And don’t worry—she gives as good as she gets and immediately punches Hennessy for calling her a liar. “Kill what needs to die,” is a theme of the book, and so is, “Punch who needs to be punched.”


Wake of Vultures on

Amazon –

Barnes & Noble –

Indiebound –

Signed copies available at FoxTale Book Shoppe in Woodstock, GA –


Delilah S. Dawson is the author of the Blud series, Servants of the Storm, Hit, Star Wars: The Perfect Weapon, a variety of short stories and comics, and Wake of Vultures, written as Lila Bowen. She teaches writing classes online at LitReactor and lives in the north Georgia mountains with her family, a floppy mutt named Merle, and a Tennessee Walker named Polly. Find her online at

My Favorite Bit: Cassandra Rose Clarke talks about OUR LADY OF THE ICE

My Favorite Bit iconCassandra Rose Clarke is joining us today with her novel Our Lady of the Ice. Here’s the publisher’s description:

The Yiddish Policeman’s Union meets The Windup Girl when a female PI goes up against a ruthless gangster—just as both humans and robots agitate for independence in an Argentinian colony in Antarctica.

In Argentine Antarctica, Eliana Gomez is the only female PI in Hope City—a domed colony dependent on electricity (and maintenance robots) for heat, light, and survival in the icy deserts of the continent. At the center is an old amusement park—now home only to the androids once programmed to entertain—but Hope City’s days as a tourist destination are long over. Now the City produces atomic power for the mainland while local factions agitate for independence and a local mobster, Ignacio Cabrera, runs a brisk black-market trade in illegally imported food.

Eliana doesn’t care about politics. She doesn’t even care—much—that her boyfriend, Diego, works as muscle for Cabrera. She just wants to save enough money to escape Hope City. But when an aristocrat hires Eliana to protect an explosive personal secret, Eliana finds herself caught up in the political tensions threatening to tear Hope City apart. In the clash of backstabbing politicians, violent freedom fighters, a gangster who will stop at nothing to protect his interests, and a newly sentient robot underclass intent on a very different independence, Eliana finds her job coming into deadly conflict with Diego’s, just as the electricity that keeps Hope City from freezing begins to fail…

From the inner workings of the mob to the story of a revolution to the amazing settings, this story has got it all. Ultimately, however, Our Lady of the Ice questions what it means to be human, what it means to be free, and whether we’re ever able to transcend our pasts and our programming to find true independence.

What’s Cassandra’s favorite bit?



One of the most useful things for me to do when I’m in the throes of writing a novel is going for a walk. I can’t listen to music when I’m writing (it’s too distracting) but I will listen to it while I’m walking—often the same three or four songs that I most strongly associate with the characters and the story. I slip on my earbuds, put on my tennis shoes, and wander aimlessly around my neighborhood while my brain takes over, working out story wrinkles and coming up with new scenes and interactions for my characters.

Two years and eleven months ago, I did this exact thing while working on Our Lady of the Ice. It was November, and I was writing part of Our Lady for Nanowrimo. I went for my customary book-writing walk one evening, right at twilight.

It started to rain.

Now, I’ve always loved the rain, so this wasn’t a huge concern for me—and anyway, it wasn’t raining hard, more a soft mist in the failing light. And it was beautiful. At one point I passed under a streetlamp and the light illuminated each of the individual raindrops, creating this sense of static. And like that, I had an idea for a scene in Our Lady of the Ice.

That scene made it to the final draft of the novel, and even three years later, it’s still one of my favorites. It takes place towards the end of the book, but isn’t terribly spoilery in terms of plot. Luciano, a robot, links his “brain” to the mind of Eliana, a human, and shares his first memory with her. That memory is—you guessed it!—a rainstorm. That is signficant because Eliana, having grown up in the domed metropolis of Hope City, has never seen rain or thunder or lightning in her entire life:

And then there was a rustling, all around her, like the trees were trying to talk. She felt like she should hold her breath.

Water poured out of the sky.

It fell in raging, riotous sheets, soaking through her thin gray coveralls, plastering her short hair to her head. It dripped into her eyes. Little yellow lamps glowed at each of the houses, and their light caught the raindrops and made them shimmer like static. When the lightning flashed it turned the whole world white.

(Notice how the streetlamps and the static made it in there? That’s one of the things I love about writing.)

We go on to learn that Luciano should never have even had that memory—he wasn’t supposed to leave those houses, the place of his production. And yet this illicit memory is the perfect one for him to share with Eliana.

And I think that’s what I love the most about this scene: in a book about a major conflict between robots and humans, it’s a moment of connection, a literal shared history. I love the idea that something as small and ordinary as a rainstorm helped these two characters, with their two unimaginably different experiences, see each other for the first time.





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Cassandra Rose Clarke grew up in south Texas and currently lives in a suburb of Houston, where she writes and teaches composition at a pair of local colleges. She holds an M.A. in creative writing from The University of Texas at Austin, and in 2010 she attended the Clarion West Writer’s Workshop in Seattle. Her work has been nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award and YALSA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults. Her latest novel is Our Lady of the Ice, out from Saga Press now. You can find her online at

My Favorite Bit: Kelly Swails talks about THIS MAY GO ON YOUR PERMANENT RECORD

My Favorite Bit iconKelly Swails is joining us today with her novel This May Go On Your Permanent Record. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Sally Clark is curious about how technology works, which would be fine except her experiments tend to be illegal. She’s also a terrible liar, which is why she ends up in court for stealing groceries with nothing but a hacked smart phone. While the judge isn’t impressed that her alcoholic mother had traded the grocery money for booze, she is intrigued by Sally’s hacking skills. The judge offers Sally a deal to keep her out of Juvenile Detention. The only one caveat: if Sally fails, she’s going straight to Juvie. Sally accepts, and before the end of the day she’s enrolled in the School for Extraordinary Youth. She’s barely unpacked her bags when she discovers that SEY is a prep school for world domination.

What’s Kelly’s favorite bit?

Permanent Record-cover-900x1350


At the School for Extraordinary Youth, freshmen have to go through an Induction Ceremony before even school begins. This ceremony determines two things: a student’s suitability for the school and their initial class rank. Success means you live to fight another day. Failure means you’re packing your bags to try your luck at a regular school.

One of my favorite chapters in the whole book is Sally’s Induction Ceremony. Not only was it enormously fun to write, it also serves to introduce the reader to Sally’s world. Unlike most other students at SEY, Sally didn’t know the school existed before she arrived; she only had time to glance at a few brochures and her class schedule before she begins her Induction. We see Sally’s ingenuity when she listens to other student’s answers in the hopes that they will help her. We also watch Sally persevere wrong answers (it turns out she doesn’t know how to get a fake passport or the melting point of plutonium). We learn who founded the school, the radius of the quad, and an easy way to launder money.

Another reason I love this chapter: it introduces three people who will help shape the course of Sally’s life at SEY. We meet Cody, who will become Sally’s best friend; Mallory, the smartest girl in the class; and Justine, the mean girl who will become Sally’s mortal enemy. Sally and Cody have an easy friendship. Sally wants to like Mallory but isn’t sure she can be trusted. Justine is out to get Sally banished from SEY from the moment they meet. It was fun to discover the dynamic between each of the characters as they appeared on the page. It was as though Sally and her peers already existed and they were letting me transcribe their lives. For a writer, it doesn’t get much better than that.






Kelly Swails is an editor, author, recovering microbiologist, and crazy cat lady. Her work has appeared in several anthologies. This May Go on Your Permanent Record is her first published novel. She and her husband live in Chicago and spend their time enjoying everything the city has to offer.

My Favorite Bit: SL Huang talks about ROOT OF UNITY

My Favorite Bit iconSL Huang is joining us today with her novel Root of Unity. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Back for book three . . .

Cas Russell has always used her superpowered mathematical skills to dodge snipers or take down enemies. Oh, yeah, and make as much money as possible on whatever unsavory gigs people will hire her for. But then one of her few friends asks a favor: help him track down a stolen math proof. One that, in the wrong hands, could crumble encryption protocols worldwide and utterly collapse global commerce.

Cas is immediately ducking car bombs and men with AKs — this is the type of math people are willing to kill for, and the U.S. government wants it as much as the bad guys do. But all that pales compared to what Cas learns from delving into the proof. Because the more she works on the case, the more she realizes something is very, very wrong . . . with her.

For the first time, Cas questions her own bizarre mathematical abilities. How far they reach. How they tie into the pieces of herself that are broken — or missing.

How the new proof might knit her brain back together . . . while making her more powerful than she’s ever imagined.

Desperate to fix her fractured self, Cas dives into the tangled layers of higher mathematics, frantic for numerical power that might not even be possible — and willing to do anything, betray anyone, to get it.

What’s SL’s favorite bit?


Women of color are rare in SFF. Older women are rare. Friendships between women are all too rare.

So it delights me greatly that at the heart of Root of Unity is the friendship between two older women of color.

Oh, and did I mention they’re both brilliant mathematicians?

I love these two characters so much. And there’s so much to their friendship that didn’t make it onto the page.

When the book begins, Sonya Halliday is in her forties and Rita Martinez is in her seventies. They’re described as formerly a mentor and student who have, in the intervening years, become collaborators and friends.

There’s more to it than that, in my mind.

Halliday is a mathematical genius, and she’s also an African-American woman. The slighting she received in the math world twenty years ago, when she was earning her degrees, would have been enough to put off the most determined mind. But she dug in her fingernails, and the harder people tried to push her out, the more stubborn she became.

Still, she might have flipped off all of academia and gone to make a fortune in finance if it hadn’t been for Martinez.

Martinez says at one point that she mentored Halliday because she saw so much of herself in her. If Halliday faced barriers entering mathematics, Martinez, a Native woman, entered the field when it was a thousand times more backward. And on a deep personal level, she’s always felt a bit like a cultural outsider in her own life. She’s had to find her own place in the world, and it hasn’t always been easy.

She persevered, and eventually did find that place: an unstable equilibrium of relative peace.

But she’s always been all too aware of the small slights and hurdles thrown in the path of her and others like her, ones that continue to this day. She wanted to mentor Halliday first because Halliday’s mind was incredible, but second because Martinez was afraid that brilliance would go unrecognized. Well, shoot, she thought — I’ll recognize it.

So she did.

But neither of them could have predicted how much that relationship would grow, and how deep their friendship would become. Halliday was so inspired by Martinez’s mentorship that she went into the same subfield, and they’ve collaborated with each other ever since, ever finding their methods and interests effortlessly compatible. Always finding their shared love of mathematics was only the beginning of what they valued in each other. After so many decades, they more than care for each other: they have each others’ backs, always and forever.

Martinez says at one point that her love for Halliday is not well defined but is “applicable by hypothesis,” and my main character later refers to the friendship between the two as Martinez’s zeroth axiom. For in their eyes, there’s no world in which their loyalty to each other isn’t knitted into the fabric of reality.

Thus, within this book of car chases and gun fights and explosion after explosion, I find myself saying “my favorite bit” is about a quiet friendship between two secondary characters.



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. In real life, you can usually find her hanging upside down from the ceiling or stabbing people with swords. Online, she’s unhealthily opinionated at or on Twitter as @sl_huang.

My Favorite Bit: Kameron Hurley talks about EMPIRE ASCENDANT

My Favorite Bit iconKameron Hurley is joining us today with her novel Empire Ascendant. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Loyalties are tested when worlds collide…

Every two thousand years, the dark star Oma appears in the sky, bringing with it a tide of death and destruction. And those who survive must contend with friends and enemies newly imbued with violent powers. The kingdom of Saiduan already lies in ruin, decimated by invaders from another world who share the faces of those they seek to destroy.

Now the nation of Dhai is under siege by the same force. Their only hope for survival lies in the hands of an illegitimate ruler and a scullery maid with a powerful – but unpredictable –magic. As the foreign Empire spreads across the world like a disease, one of their former allies takes up her Empress’s sword again to unseat them, and two enslaved scholars begin a treacherous journey home with a long-lost secret that they hope is the key to the Empire’s undoing.

But when the enemy shares your own face, who can be trusted?

In this devastating sequel to The Mirror Empire, Kameron Hurley transports us back to a land of blood mages and sentient plants, dark magic, and warfare on a scale that spans worlds.

What’s Kameron’s favorite bit?

EmpireAscendant-300dpi - FINAL COVER


When Worlds Collide

During a recurring catastrophic event, a multiplicity of parallel worlds collide, and in the end, only one world can survive the encounter. The other will perish.

But who gets to choose which one?

That’s the conceit behind The Mirror Empire and its sequel, Empire Ascendant. I’ve already written about my favorite part of The Mirror Empire. When it came to the sequel, I had another type of scene I was working toward, right from the very beginning.

Ultimately, this is a book about coming together. About meeting our darker selves. Our darker halves. It’s finding out if and how we could come to an agreement with them, or if we would choose to obliterate someone identical to us for wrongs committed in desperation. It’s seeing who we are when we are left with only bad choices.

My favorite part of Empire Ascendant is the climactic scene I came up with when I began this, the second novel in the trilogy: it’s the symbolic meeting of the worlds over a vast feast laid out on a battlefield, set between the tumultuous stir of two great armies while the satellites in the sky shift unpredictably overhead.

The war they are waging for the world is at a standstill. They have come to a temporary ceasefire while they parley. It’s their last ditch effort to save themselves from further bloodshed and heartache.

Here, finally, the enemies that have seen one another only from afar, and perhaps only know of one another in the abstract, must face what they are actually doing.  They must see that they have committed themselves to genocide.

We see the enemy. And the enemy is ourselves.

It was this epic feast, this coming together of armies while the world burns around them, that also became the inspiration for the blazing cover of the book.

I loved coming up with the food for this scene, too, which spoke of beginnings, of new life amid the flames – the early spring fare, all plant-based, as suited my vegetarian cannibal heroes. And I loved finally employing some destructive, poisonous plant shenanigans, which were sorely lacking in a book inhabited by giant semi-sentient plants.

It’s scenes like this, when all of your plotting and planning, your years of hard work and character studies, come together over a dangerous dinner wedged between two armies, that all the effort seems worth it.

Now they just need to decide what to do next.



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Twitter: @kameronhurley


Kameron Hurley is the author of The Mirror Empire and Empire Ascendant, as well as the award-winning God’s War Trilogy. She has won the Hugo Award, Kitschy Award, and Sydney J. Bounds Award for Best Newcomer. Hurley has also been a finalist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, Nebula Award, the Locus Award, BFS Award, the Gemmell Morningstar Award and the BSFA Award for Best Novel. Her short fiction has appeared in Lightspeed MagazineYear’s Best SFEscapePodThe Lowest Heaven, and the upcoming Meeting Infinity.

My Favorite Bit: Minerva Zimmerman talks about TAKE ON ME

My Favorite Bit iconMinerva Zimmerman is joining us today with her novel Take On Me. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Turning someone you don’t know into a vampire probably violates the Hippocratic oath. But Alex wasn’t really thinking about that when he found a girl bleeding out in his shower.

Being turned into a vampire isn’t as cool as it sounds. Especially when all Hannah wanted to be was dead. She thought she had finally escaped her brother. Until she woke up. Alive? Undead? Whatever. And now Hannah is stuck with the uncoolest vampire in existence.

As Alex and Hannah feel each other out — breaking some bones along the way — Alex’s oldest friend comes looking for help, and Hannah’s brother comes looking for her. What none of them see are the forces pushing them all on a collision course.

What’s Minerva’s favorite bit?

Take On Me cover


My favorite bit is a who, not a what. The main characters, Alex and Hannah, are some of my favorites to write. I know them to the point where someone could give me a random setting and situation to drop them in the middle of it and I could write their responses and conversation immediately. I adore these characters, and I couldn’t be more excited to finally share them with readers. You see, Take On Me is only the beginning. I not only get to share them in this book, but in two more.


They’d only gone a block or so when Alex spotted one of his nemeses. “Wait here,” he told Hannah, before scaling the metal fence.

He scooped up the ceramic gnome in his sweatshirt and tucked it under one arm as he jumped back over the fence.

“Oh god.” Hannah said. “You’re going to get us arrested.”

“Whatever for?” Alex blinked innocently.


“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“There is seriously something wrong with you.”

Alex readjusted the bundle under his arm and started walking. “I don’t need anyone to fear me.”

Hannah’s jaw shut with a snap of teeth as she stamped after him. “I don’t *need* it.”

“You need a lot of things,” said Alex. “We all do.”


Hannah is a month from her eighteenth birthday when Take On Me begins, and she is unapologetically a bratty teenager. She thinks she knows everything. She acts out. She acts inappropriately. She’s not just avoidant about difficult emotions, she rarely lets herself acknowledge that she feels them. There are also glimmers of the mature individual she could grow into if she’s given the chances needed to develop them.

Alex is old. Old enough that he doesn’t think about how old anymore. He’s all about lying low, living a comfortable life, and keeping busy. The last thing he thinks he needs is a teenager around. And he’s bored. He steals for fun and is finishing medical school for what is not the first or even second time in his long life. What he’s had in abundance is time. He’s not the smartest or most well-adjusted individual, he’s just got a lot of past experiences to relate current events to. He’s also got an avoidant personality but in a totally different fashion.

This isn’t your typical vampire story. He’s not there to save her. If anything, he needs saving more than she does. Hannah just needs time. But, forever is a very long time.


Book page





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Minerva Zimmerman is a statistically chaotic neutral writer of tragically funny fiction. She lives in rural Oregon and works as a museum professional. She occasionally blogs at and spends too much time on Twitter @grumpymartian.

My Favorite Bit: Ilana C. Myer talks about LAST SONG BEFORE NIGHT

My Favorite Bit iconIlana C. Myer is joining us today with her Last Song Before Night. Here’s the publisher’s description:

A high fantasy following a young woman’s defiance of her culture as she undertakes a dangerous quest to restore her world’s lost magic in Ilana C. Myer’s Last Song Before Night.

Her name was Kimbralin Amaristoth: sister to a cruel brother, daughter of a hateful family. But that name she has forsworn, and now she is simply Lin, a musician and lyricist of uncommon ability in a land where women are forbidden to answer such callings-a fugitive who must conceal her identity or risk imprisonment and even death.

On the eve of a great festival, Lin learns that an ancient scourge has returned to the land of Eivar, a pandemic both deadly and unnatural. Its resurgence brings with it the memory of an apocalypse that transformed half a continent. Long ago, magic was everywhere, rising from artistic expression-from song, from verse, from stories. But in Eivar, where poets once wove enchantments from their words and harps, the power was lost. Forbidden experiments in blood divination unleashed the plague that is remembered as the Red Death, killing thousands before it was stopped, and Eivar’s connection to the Otherworld from which all enchantment flowed, broken.

The Red Death’s return can mean only one thing: someone is spilling innocent blood in order to master dark magic. Now poets who thought only to gain fame for their songs face a challenge much greater: galvanized by Valanir Ocune, greatest Seer of the age, Lin and several others set out to reclaim their legacy and reopen the way to the Otherworld-a quest that will test their deepest desires, imperil their lives, and decide the future.

What’s Ilana’s favorite bit?



There’s a romantic idea of what writers do which belies the reality for most of us: It’s a grind. It can be exhilirating coming up with new ideas, feeling the flow as a story works its way through you, but these experiences are as rare, random, and to be treasured as the most perfect sunset. Even then, it doesn’t match up with the image many have of writers—fueled by inspiration, the words emerging miraculously.

That is, except for one time, when my experience of writing was that improbable picture-perfect moment. It couldn’t be planned in advance, and I may never recapture its like again.

To set the scene: Late night in Jerusalem in the summer of 2010, during a massive heatwave. It was something like the fourth consecutive day of 105 degrees, and worse yet, it wasn’t cooling off at night—something you can usually rely upon in the desert climate of that city. Like most Jerusalemites, we had no air conditioning. After tossing for hours, I had to admit sleep wasn’t going to happen. The next day at work was shot.

By then it was three in the morning. I took my laptop onto our porch. We lived in a third-floor walkup on a central thoroughfare in Jerusalem called Emek Refaim (which either means “Valley of Healers” or “Valley of Spirits,” depending on whom you ask); our apartment was across from popular cafes and restaurants. Summer nights in Jerusalem are delightfully alive, and even now at three in the morning a few patrons lingered outside the restaurant below, raucous in the silence. What I loved about that porch was being among trees and an enfolding peace, sheltered from the bustle and traffic of Emek Refaim yet still a part of it.

At night, the hills beyond the city became indistinct with mist. I recall a brilliant moon. I settled myself onto one of the overstuffed chairs on our porch—left by a previous tenant—and opened to the revised draft of what was growing into Last Song Before Night. The male protagonist is wandering the capital city in the small hours of morning after the collapse of his world. In that penumbral hour—of the day, of his life—the city is transformed; even the familiar shortcuts are strange to him.

And here I was, in that same surreal space before daybreak, traversing the city of my imagination. At some point the restaurant patrons below vanished, and the silence deepened. My memory cast back to long-ago wanderings through Jerusalem’s Old City just before sunrise: clambering up broken stairs to rooftops that overlook the souk, then down again, to a new maze of streets and alleyways. The sensation of being alone.

I guided my character to the necessary discoveries, the kind that emerge at such times of the night. The night gave them to me. It was as perfect a merging of creation and lived reality as I’ve experienced—nothing else has come close.




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Ilana C. Myer has written about books for the Globe and Mail, the Huffington Post, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and Salon. Last Song Before Night is her first novel. She lives in New York City.