Archive for the ‘My Favorite Bit’ Category

My Favorite Bit: Alan Smale talks about EAGLE IN EXILE

Favorite Bit iconAlan Smale is joining us today with his novel Eagle in Exile. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Perfect for fans of Bernard Cornwell, Steve Berry, Naomi Novik, and Harry Turtledove, Alan Smale’s gripping alternate history series imagines a world in which the Roman Empire has survived long enough to invade North America in 1218. Now the stunning story carries hero Gaius Marcellinus deeper into the culture of an extraordinary people—whose humanity, bravery, love, and ingenuity forever change his life and destiny.

In A.D. 1218, Praetor Gaius Marcellinus is ordered to conquer North America and turning it into a Roman province. But outside the walls of the great city of Cahokia, his legion is destroyed outright; Marcellinus is the only one spared. In the months and years that follow, Marcellinus comes to see North America as his home and the Cahokians as his kin. He vows to defend these proud people from any threat, Roman or native.

After successfully repelling an invasion by the fearsome Iroqua tribes, Marcellinus realizes that a weak and fractured North America won’t stand a chance against the returning Roman army. Worse, rival factions from within threaten to tear Cahokia apart just when it needs to be most united and strong. Marcellinus is determined to save the civilization that has come to mean more to him than the empire he once served. But to survive the swords of Roma, he first must avert another Iroqua attack and bring the Cahokia together. Only with the hearts and souls of a nation at his back can Marcellinus hope to know triumph.

What’s Alan’s favorite bit?

Eagle in Exile cover

ALAN SMALE

We begin Eagle in Exile deep in the heart of the North American continent in an alternate universe where Rome never fell and Columbus will never sail. The Land – Nova Hesperia – is huge and wild, and populated by a great diversity of tribes and nations that often bewilders my Roman hero, Gaius Marcellinus. The people he currently knows the best belong to the Mississippian Culture, centered in Cahokia, but his world is about to grow even larger.

Given the book’s title, it might not be giving too much away to reveal that in Eagle in Exile Gaius Marcellinus is forced to leave Cahokia for a while. In the pre-historical era, and in fact well into the historical era, the rivers of North America were often more efficient thoroughfares than the extensive land trails, and it’s onto the river he goes: the great and glorious Mississippi, to be precise, in a beat-up and seriously under-crewed Viking longship.

The focus in the Clash of Eagles books is on action and adventure rather than a scrupulous dissection of my alternate timeline (although I could write a detailed essay on the millennium since my point of departure, if anyone wants it). Likewise, Marcellinus’s Mississippi journey is hardly a gentle travelogue. There’s not much jolly Twaining around, though I did strive for occasional flashes of wit. But even in Samuel Clemens’ day the Mississippi was a ruthless adversary. The course of the river was ever-shifting, its banks were treacherously muddy, the current was strong and unforgiving, and its smooth surface obscured the perils that lurked beneath. From Eagle in Exile:

The blue waters of the Oyo, still swollen by snowmelt, entwined with the greenish murk of the Mizipi to produce a broader river with water of a deep golden brown. Relatively straight as it passed the hills and forests north of the confluence, the Mizipi now twisted sinuously through an endless procession of broad curves and oxbows, arcs of water that almost looped back on themselves. Sailing was difficult on a river that could not stay remotely straight for even a few miles at a time, and they relied on the oars to keep them in the deepest part of the channel, where the current could carry them; left to its own devices the Concordia would spin off into eddies and end up in the shallow waters on the outer edges of the curves. The crew also had to stay constantly alert for floating tree trunks, submerged snags, and the endless sandbars that would rise beneath them and threaten to ground them even when they were far from the bank.

From the written accounts in our own history it’s evident that most of the people who lived on the river – the riverboat captains and crew, Native Americans, free peoples and slaves, townsfolk and traders and wanderers – hated the river, or at least treated it with a respect so profound that it differed little from hatred. And not just the Mississippi, either. Lewis and Clarke had a hell of a time beating their way up the Missouri River (also featured in Exile), even with a crew of tough-assed soldiers and mountain men. Their journals are soaked in blood, pain, sweat, sickness, and uh, blisters.

It’s on the Mississippi that Gaius Marcellinus faces some of his biggest challenges. Desperate battles with malevolent bad guys, certainly, but also the challenges of attempting to understand and communicate with cultures that appear even more alien to him than the Cahokians, Iroquois, and Algonquians he already knows. The challenge of reaching an accommodation with his nemesis and love interest who, for better or worse, is also aboard the Viking ship. The challenge of keeping his crew together against overwhelming odds, with the threat of a new Roman invasion just over the horizon. Marcellinus may be pretty good at war, but it’s on this dangerous river voyage that he learns the most about family and community.

And as a backdrop to all that, I got a lot of joy out of trying to evoke the sheer scale, danger, and unpredictability of the mighty, muddy, greasy Mizipi, Nova Hesperia’s greatest river. And that was my favorite bit.

LINKS:

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BIO:

Alan Smale grew up in Yorkshire, England, and now lives in the Washington, D.C., area. By day he works at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center as a professional astronomer, studying black holes, neutron stars, and other bizarre celestial objects. However, too many family vacations at Hadrian’s Wall in his formative years plus a couple of degrees from Oxford took their toll, steering his writing toward alternate, secret, and generally twisted history. He has sold numerous short stories to magazines including Asimov’s and Realms of Fantasy, and the novella version of Clash of Eagles won the 2010 Sidewise Award for Alternate History.

My Favorite Bit: Gillian Murray Kendall talks about THE BOOK OF FORBIDDEN WISDOM

My Favorite BitGillian Murray Kendall is joining us today with her novel The Book of Forbidden Wisdom. Here’s the publisher’s description:

In a world of blood and betrayal, love is the only redemption…

But that knowledge can only be reached by means of magic and a journey, by way of a confrontation with feelings that are hard to understand—or bear.

On Angel’s sixteenth birthday, her younger sister, Silky, wakes her to prepare her for a marriage to Leth, a man she likes but does not love. Trey, her oldest childhood friend who is secretly in love with her, watches helplessly.

But Angel’s brother, Kalo, interrupts the wedding ceremony. He wants her dowry, and he also believes Angel can lead him to The Book of Forbidden Wisdom. In a world where land is everything, this book promises him wealth. In the night, Kalo goes to Angel’s room to threaten her, but Trey has rescued both Angel and Silky, and the three of them—joined by an itinerant singer—themselves seek The Book of Forbidden Wisdom. While Kalo believes the book contains land deeds, they believe it harbors great power.

Always just a step ahead of Kalo, Angel, Silky, Trey, and the Bard finally arrive at the place of The Book.But things have changed now:  Angel knows her own heart at last.  Confronted by evil, at the end of the known world, Angel and her companions turn and fight. Together. And in so doing, they find that love contains a power of its own.

What’s Gillian’s favorite bit?

The Book of Forbidden Wisdom

GILLIAN MURRAY KENDALL

Sixteen-year-old Angel and her younger sister Silky—with their two male companions—are desperate to escape the troops behind them by passing on horseback into the country of Shibbeth.  This land lies just beyond huge monolithic Cairns constructed in ages past to mark the border.  I had one heck of a time getting the pace right on this, as well as subtly conveying what is all too true:  they have left danger behind only to confront ever greater dangers ahead.  But I love the characters here because, under pressure, they remain so very much themselves:  Angel watches out for Silky, who is watching out for her horse, and the relief of both at the end of the scene is palpable. And we know who the villain is:  after all, he calls our heroine, Angel, names.

The Cairns looked closer now.

But maybe not close enough.

We were really going all out now.  For a moment Silky fell no further behind, and we rode as one.  And then Silky’s pony, Squab, lost more momentum.  I turned my head and screamed at her.

“Hit him,” I yelled.  Silky shook her head.  I was frantic.  “Hit him!  Now.”

And Silky, her face as pale as milk, pulled her crop from her boot and smacked Squab on the rump.  In a second, he was up with us again.

And then the Cairns were no longer a shimmer in the distance; they were in front of us.  We galloped without looking behind; my breathing was labored, and Jasmine was slathered with foam.

At last we surged forward between two of the great standing Cairns of Shibbeth.

Leth and his men had to pull up hard not to cross the boundary—so hard that two of the horses went down.  I felt elated, but I knew that this was not the end.  He would find another way to get at me.  But for now Leth didn’t dare enter.  He didn’t have enough at stake to risk being taken there.

We did.

“Harlot!” Leth screamed at me.  “Harlot!  Whore!”

We kept riding hard until we could no longer make out what he was saying, and the Cairns were well to our backs.

And I thought, So this is Shibbeth.  This is the forbidden country.

LINKS:

Author Website

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Book Website

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BIO:

When Gillian Murray Kendall was a child, she spent some years in England while her father researched his biography of Richard III, and her mother wrote children’s books.  She had stumbled into a wardrobe, and her enchanted world was England.  That sense of belonging-in-the-strange shaped Gillian’s life. In the 1980s, the months and months she spent in Africa waiting in lines for kerosene and milk and rice was a new normal, while Gillian found the once-familiar Harvard, with its well-stocked grocery stores, alien. Recently Gillian spent two years in Paris, where learning a new culture, a new strangeness, resulted in the writing of her first book and the beginning of The Book of Forbidden Wisdom.

Gillian is a Professor of English Language and Literature at Smith College, where her specialty is Shakespeare and Renaissance Drama.  She is married to biologist Robert Dorit and has two sons, Sasha and Gabriel.

My Favorite Bit: Elizabeth Bonesteel talks about THE COLD BETWEEN

My Favorite Bit Elizabeth Bonesteel is joining us today with her novel The Cold Between. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Deep in the stars, a young officer and her lover are plunged into a murder mystery and a deadly conspiracy in this first entry in a stellar military science-fiction series in the tradition of Lois McMaster Bujold.

When her crewmate, Danny, is murdered on the colony of Volhynia, Central Corps chief engineer, Commander Elena Shaw, is shocked to learn the main suspect is her lover, Treiko Zajec. She knows Trey is innocent—he was with her when Danny was killed. So who is the real killer and why are the cops framing an innocent man?

Retracing Danny’s last hours, they discover that his death may be tied to a mystery from the past: the explosion of a Central Corps starship at a wormhole near Volhynia. For twenty-five years, the Central Gov has been lying about the tragedy, even willing to go to war with the outlaw PSI to protect their secrets.

With the authorities closing in, Elena and Trey head to the wormhole, certain they’ll find answers on the other side. But the truth that awaits them is far more terrifying than they ever imagined . . . a conspiracy deep within Central Gov that threatens all of human civilization throughout the inhabited reaches of the galaxy—and beyond.

What’s Elizabeth’s favorite bit?

The Cold Between

ELIZABETH BONESTEEL

My favorite bit of The Cold Between is the huge, explosive mess that is Greg and Elena.

These are two people who know each other extremely well, yet manage to miss each other completely. They are also, despite Greg’s big mopey eyes, loyal friends. For-real friends. Family. No matter how often that gets tested, no matter how much they claw at each other, the bond remains.

By the time they have their first scene together, all we have of their relationship is Elena’s brief thoughts heading home the morning after shore leave:

Their friendship had been strained for half a year, and the public argument they’d had two weeks ago had undone the last of her equanimity.[…]Losing Danny should have hurt more than losing Greg, but she had so few true friends in her life. Lovers were easy; she felt she had left Danny behind already.

Greg was not so easily replaced.

Greg, for his part, has spent the night being chewed out by his superior officer, and chewing out one of his own people in return. He’s got it in his head that despite their estrangement, he can notify Elena of Danny’s murder professionally and compassionately.

Except that he’s forgotten that he has no real ability to deal with her at all. And when he trots out all of his practiced, military strategies for breaking bad news, she takes the conversation sideways, and he’s immediately off-balance.

This, of course, is what’s always attracted him to her. Greg’s had his life mapped out since he was a kid. He might have resented that in his youth, but as an adult he’s continued the trend. A place for everything, and everything in its place, personal and professional alike.

And Elena blows through his neat categories like she’s made of smoke. To everyone else, he’s the captain, the officer, the boss. To her – that’s his job, not who he is. She’s the only one who sees him as a whole person. He doesn’t even properly see himself.

Of course…Elena’s missed a few things along the way.

I’ve had some readers say “Come on, she must know how he feels!” And the answer to that is…she doesn’t, really. Apart from being her superior officer, he’s been married as long as she’s known him, and she’s seen nothing to suggest he’d wander afield from that. Why would she assume there was more to it than that when he has said and done nothing to suggest it?

Elena is clueless in her own way She’s a mechanic: something breaks, and she fixes it. Her talent is breaking down a problem into soluble component puzzles. The possibility that a particular puzzle might not be soluble does not compute for her. All she needs to do is bash at it from another angle. The trouble with her relationship with Greg is that she’s not in on what all the puzzle pieces are.

Despite all of this, it was important to me to keep Greg from being passive and miserable. He’s made an active choice to say nothing to Elena of his romantic feelings. He’s not going to cheat on his wife, so what’s the point of saying anything? And despite his recent bad behavior, their relationship – just as it is – is everything to him. Predominately, it’s a source of strength for him, not weakness. He feels like she’s the only person in his life who doesn’t really care if he keeps following his carefully-laid-out map. What’s romance in the face of that?

There’s an interdependency between Greg and Elena that neither of them fully understands, and they each seem hellbent on doing everything they possibly can to shatter it. But when it’s backs against the wall, there’s never any doubt: they’re fighting together. It’s when they’re not sure they’re against the same wall that the problems arise.

LINKS:

Website

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HarperCollins.com / HarperCollins.co.uk / HarperCollins.ca

Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk / Amazon.ca

BarnesandNoble.com

IndieBound

Powell’s

Google Play

iBookstore US / iBookstore UK / iBookstore Canada

Kobo

BIO:

Elizabeth Bonesteel began making up stories at the age of five, in an attempt to battle insomnia. Thanks to a family connection to the space program, she has been reading science fiction since she was a child. She currently lives in central Massachusetts with her husband, her daughter, and various cats.

My Favorite Bit: Peter Tieryas talks about UNITED STATES OF JAPAN

My Favorite Bit iconPeter Tieryas is joining us today with his novel United States of Japan. Here’s the publisher’s description:

A spiritual sequel to The Man In The High Castle, focusing on the New Japanese Empire, from an acclaimed author and essayist.

The Axis won WWII and now, in the late 1980s, the Japanese Empire rules over the western US states, their power assured by technological superiority (giant mecha, etc.) But when a video game emerges that posits a world where the allies won, a game censor and an Imperial Government agent discover truths about the empire that make them question their loyalty.

What’s Peter’s favorite bit?

United States of Japan cover

PETER TIERYAS

United States of Japan began as an exploration of the tragedies that took place among Asians during WWII. Many of the important scenes involve re-examining historical events from a non-American centric perspective. That includes the decision to use the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In USJ, the Japanese Empire nukes San Jose, Sausalito, and Sacramento, feeling that doing so would shorten what might otherwise be a deadly land war. Decades later, Japanese scholars question whether it was necessary when they had already broken the American ciphers and knew they were going to surrender. Even if the bombing was done primarily as a political move to deter the Nazis on the east coast, it’s horrifying that the question of the justification for the death of hundreds of thousands of Americans has become academic.

My favorite bit was a scene that mixes history and the ethical dilemmas the soldiers face, but ultimately ended up on the cutting board. It was one of those cases where you realize you have to cut your favorite scene in order to better serve the story. In USJ, mechas are mostly part of the background, being such a lethal force that they’re only unleashed in the most extreme cases. One of my favorite characters is a mecha pilot named Kujira. She suffered injuries at a young age that caused her to work with augmented legs. This was in part inspired by a basketball injury where I tore a muscle and couldn’t walk. I used braces to help me to limp in pain for almost half a year. For Kujira, her early setback, which ended up leading to a severe leg condition, gave her a strong familiarity with machines. This has helped her to become one of the most distinguished pilots in the Empire, especially because she’s used to the neural interface that other pilots take longer to get accustomed to. Unlike her compatriots though, she is irreverent, disrespectful of the cadre, and a total maverick.

I loved her character as a stark contrast to the other officers who follow the stratified structure of the imperial army. Because she’s such a brilliant fighter, her superiors tolerate her. But she never tires of sticking it to them, as in the beginnings of a civil conflict in San Diego that will have repercussions for decades. Her immediate reaction in finding out everything is going to hell is: “How’d you guys screw it all up again?” where the “guys” isn’t gender neutral.

But it points to a bigger question. When you exist in an authoritarian system, is it possible to defy its evils and still stay alive? “I’m tired of having to choose between doing the horrible and more horrible,” Kujira says, and her statement in many ways forms one of the most important themes in the book

In my research of the WWII tragedies, I read many personal accounts from people and soldiers who were ordered to perpetrate war crimes. They’d often say they had no choice, doing what was required of them because they would have been executed if they hadn’t. But there were others who resisted in every way they could manage, putting their own lives at risk, standing by what they felt was right. That included Japanese civilians who protected those of other races while the soldiers carried out atrocities.

As an outsider, Kujira has no qualms about defying orders she considers stupid in line with her understanding of bushido and honor.

In San Diego, as the civil conflict with the American rebels called the George Washingtons breaks out, they unleash a monstrous set of super tanks based on the various German Landkreuzer prototypes of WWII.

For the original draft, it was actually a massive German monster the Japanese call a “Golem,” a defiant description because of its mythologically Jewish origins. These monsters are genetically modified since birth and their cells are induced into massive growth. They are “biomorphed” into creatures that are both amorphous and powerful, a countermeasure to the mechas which the Germans cannot defeat. Subjected to a lifetime of experimentation and psychological scarring, these Golems could never be controlled. During the test phase, they wreaked havoc on the Germans, destroying several cities. So the whole project was shelved and the hundreds who were experimented on were either terminated or discarded to the Italian black market, who in turn sold it to various resistance groups the Germans felt would undermine Japanese dominance.

Unleashed by the Americans, the Golem starts destroying everything in its wake. The American rebels, having no idea, are overwhelmed. It’s up to Kujira to defeat it. But just as she’s about to engage the Golem, she’s told by her superior officers to leave it alone so it can destroy the Americans. She refuses the order, commences a long strategic battle throughout the city, trying to save as many civilians as she can. I had a blast describing the battle as well as diving into Kujira’s prowess, skill, and fury. In the Golem, she sees an externalized representation of soldiers in war. Even after she is victorious against the monster, she gives a respectful bow to her adversary, knowing it too is a victim.

Ultimately, this scene was heavily modified to become the super tanks I mentioned above. This was mainly because the scene felt at odds with the grittier reality of the rest in light of it being the late 1970s. It was something straight out of an anime, kaiju versus mecha, rather than the more science based speculation of the rest of the book. Even though a part of me wished it stayed, I knew it was the right decision to cut it.

It’s that fusing of history, science fiction, strange speculations, ethical dilemmas, and clashing personalities that, I feel, makes USJ the story it is. I loved that scene for giving Kujira a truly dangerous opponent who brings out the gamut of emotions that all the soldiers face. Their battle exemplifies the internal struggle that is at the heart of each of the characters and even as a deleted scene, helped set the tone in writing the other sequences.

LINKS:

Amazon

Blog

BIO:

Peter Tieryas is the author of United States of Japan and Bald New World. His writing has been published in places like Kotaku, Tor.com, and ZYZZYVA. He’s worked as a VFX artist on films likeGuardians of the Galaxy and Alice in Wonderland. He likes tweeting about alternate histories at @TieryasXu.

My Favorite Bit: Mark Tompkins talks about THE LAST DAYS OF MAGIC

My Favorite Bit iconMark Tompkins is joining us today to with his novel The Last days of Magic. Here is the publisher’s description:

An epic novel of magic and mysticism, Celts and faeries, mad kings and druids, and the goddess struggling to reign over magic’s last outpost on the Earth.

What became of magic in the world? Who needed to do away with it, and for what reasons? Drawing on myth, legend, fairy tales, and Biblical mysteries, The Last Days of Magic brilliantly imagines answers to these questions, sweeping us back to a world where humans and magical beings co-exist as they had for centuries.

The Last Days of Magic introduces us to unforgettable characters who grapple with quests for power, human frailty, and the longing for knowledge that has been made taboo. Mark Tompkins has crafted a remarkable tale; a feat of world-building that poses astonishing and resonant answers to epic questions.

What’s Mark’s favorite bit?

Org LDM Tompkins Cover

MARK TOMPKINS

Villains! Much to my surprise my favorite bit about The Last Days of Magic was writing the villains. Characters who at least tried to be honorable felt more constrained by the story arc, whereas the antiheroes freely wrought havoc across the page. I always looked forward to a new one making an appearance. They ran amuck, stayed longer than I had planned, and generally did as they pleased.

Their voices were strong and vibrant. I never really knew what they were going to say until I put ink to page (I am old fashioned in my writing tools). And they lent themselves to being killed, or otherwise subdued, in such exotic ways.

Happily, an abundance of human and inhuman villains presented themselves: Orsini, the psychotic head exorcist; a nameless deranged Imp; Richard, the sadistic king; and plenty of violent faeries. Witches, it should be noted, came in both flavors, nefarious and virtuous. The wicked ones turned out to be concentrated in France due to the dominance of the High Coven, which did not tolerate challenges within its territory.

The most compelling antiheroes to write were those who were psychologically complex and had compelling backstories that hinted at why they became evil. Unlike the out of control Imp, they had plans and a code. My favorite was Isabeau, Queen of France and Grande Sorcière of the High Coven. We see her history through a kind of past life regression to renew her magical blood:

A small clock on the mantel chimed 2:00 A.M., the time for her witches to gather. Before she could join them tonight, she must renew her bond—a bond through blood and time—to the founder of their coven, as she did after each solstice. Though still exhausted from her most recent trip to Norway, she climbed out of her canopy bed and pulled a silk robe over her nightgown. Gliding across her moonlit bedroom, she approached the wall and pressed a piece of molding. With a click a panel swung open.

The Grande Sorcière entered into a perfectly square, windowless room. In the center, on a small gilded table, a single golden candle burned, filling the room with liquid yellow light. The Grande Sorcière knew that as long as she performed the rite, this candle, first lit by her kinswoman Taddea de la Barthe 121 years ago, would not go out and would not burn down. She sat on a plain wooden chair, gazed into the flame, and began the ritual of remembering.

She was rowing a boat up a river of blood under a dark purple sky, where a sun and a moon spun in a tight arc. Along the black sand bank, row upon row of women, thousands of them, each of them on fire, turned their heads to watch her pass.

She tied the boat to a stone wharf and stepped out onto a staircase, which led down farther than she could see.

She walked down the staircase and entered one of the many doors along its edge.

She was in the body of eight-year-old Taddea, standing at a familiar second-story window at the edge of a large square in a town she knew to be Toulouse in 1275.

She could feel the man’s rough hand under her chin, squeezing her face, smell the ale and sausage on his breath as he bent down to her. “You must watch,” he growled. The Grande Sorcière and her predecessors did not care enough about him to remember the man’s name. “See what happens to your kind, what we’ve done to your mother.”

He thought he was forcing her to watch. He was not; she would have watched anyway.

The Grande Sorcière, Isabeau, was thrust into darkness by the persecution of her forbearers. Knowing that, how could I possibly resist giving her a chance for revenge, for more wickedness? What is it about writing from darkness that is so… delightful? Or is it just me?

LINKS:

Visit the author’s website, or connect with him on Facebook, or Twitter.

Buy the book on: Barnes&Noble, Indiebound, iBooks, Audible, Amazon

BIO:

The Last days of Magic, published by Viking, is Mark Tompkins’s debut novel. He founded the Aspen Writers’ Network and serves on the board of Aspen Words, a program of the Aspen Institute. He is a published poet and international award-winning photographer whose work is held in the permanent collections of museums in the United States and abroad. Born in Texas of Irish ancestry, Tompkins lives in Colorado with his family.

My Favorite Bit: Jason LaPier talks about UNCLEAR SKIES

My Favorite Bit iconJason LaPier is joining us today with his novel Unclear Skies. Here’s the publisher’s description:

The second book in Jason LaPier’s thrilling sci-fi trilogy

Justice isn’t what it used to be

Rogue cop Stanford Runstom blew open a botched murder case and was given a promotion – of sorts. But doing PR work for ModPol, the security-firm-for-hire, is not the detective position Runstom had in mind, particularly when his orders become questionable.

Freedom always comes at a price

Despite being cleared of false murder charges, Jax is still a fugitive from justice. When ModPol catches up with him, keeping his freedom now means staying alive at any cost, even if that means joining Space Waste, the notorious criminal gang.

Security can be deadly

When ModPol and Space Waste go head to head, old friends Runstom and Jax find themselves caught between two bloodthirsty armies, and this time they might not escape with their lives.

What’s Jason’s favorite bit?

Unclear Skies cover

JASON LAPIER

My favorite bit about Unclear Skies? That would be the character arcs. Taking these characters into the second book of The Dome Trilogy really gave me an opportunity to deepen their backstories and broaden their growth by forcing challenges on them with higher stakes.

Jax was once a life support operator in a 27th century dome on a planet orbiting Barnard’s Star, with an easy job and an apathetic life. He’s forced out of his shell when he’s wrongfully accused of killing a block of residents. In the first book of the series, Unexpected Rain, this event was enough of a shock to compel some character growth out of Jax: he found himself in many “adapt or die” situations (or in some cases, “adapt or go to prison for life”). In the second book he remains a fugitive and is essentially homeless – to the point where his sense of humanity is in danger. He doesn’t have the most basic needs: shelter and food. He’s alone. He’s depressed and feeling hopeless. He has to pull himself back into the world as someone else, take on a new identity, and in a place so different from the domes he grew up in. When the opportunity presents itself for Jax to make himself useful, to allow himself become more than a shadow, he takes it. He saves lives with his knowledge, but at the risk of exposing himself – both to the authorities he’s eluding and to the people who he’s grown close to.

In Unexpected Rain, Stanford Runstom is a police officer who longs to become a detective. In the follow-up, Unclear Skies, he’s been “promoted” into the public relations department. He still believes in the vision of the interstellar organization that employs him, Modern Policing and Peacekeeping: to provide justice and defense services to civilizations that have evolved to eras of peace, but still in need of protection on occasion. He’s uncomfortable with the semi-celebrity status he’s acquired for his role in solving the mass murder that Jax was accused of, and even more uncomfortable that his new job is not police-work, but instead marketing-work. Runstom has always felt out of place – a rare birth anomaly has given his skin a green tinge and marks him as an outsider in any habitat he visits – but being forced to do work he doesn’t understand exacerbates that feeling. When he can’t be a cop in the face of danger, he finds a new quality in himself: the ability to stand up and lead. Ultimately – without giving too much away – Runstom reconnects with his past in unexpected ways. This allows us to learn much more about the man who clings to a sense of justice like it’s the only anchor in a chaos-filled life.

Dava was kind of a secondary main character in the first book of the trilogy. Now in Unclear Skies, she becomes a true central character. She starts as an assassin who prefers to work alone; as an Earthling who was orphaned during the ride from Earth to the domes, she’s always felt outcast. Due to the effect that dome filtration systems have on pigmentation, Earthlings like Dava are the only humans around that still have dark skin, and thus her heritage is unmistakable. One of the few black-skinned people she knows is Moses Down, the man who “rescued” her from her dome life, albeit into a life of organized crime. He is like a father to her: a connection she struggles with, is confounded by. She even once toyed with the notion that she was in love with him. These are all the convoluted thoughts and emotions of someone who was plucked from her home and lost her family and forced to live as an outsider in a new world.

Now Moses wants Dava to become a leader, and through the course of Unclear Skies, she struggles to learn how to meet his expectations. She thinks what’s blocking her is her inability to trust others. But what is really holding her back is not her inability to connect with her fellow gangbangers – it’s her fear of connecting to them. It’s a fear of caring, because they can be so easily taken away. A fear of allowing them to become her family; though she doesn’t yet understand that, the concept being so foreign to her.

Together, these three very different characters share similarities in their arcs. In their own ways, each is struggling with a lack of home. The old saying “home is where the heart is” only goes so far. In the Maslow’s pyramid sense of “needs”, a human being needs shelter at the most basic level. A human being also needs family and companionship. And higher up, a human being seeks a sense of belonging. That’s what home is: a shelter, a family, and a place where you belong, and each of these characters is missing some part of that equation. They are driven unconsciously by the desire to correct their imbalances and find their true homes.

So my favorite bit about Unclear Skies is that I get to watch these characters continue to grow, continue to broaden and deepen, and that I get to set them on a path toward what it is they truly seek, even if they don’t yet know what that end-goal is.

LINKS:

Website/Blog

Twitter

Amazon

B&N

Kobo

Google Play

iTunes

BIO:

Born and raised in upstate New York, Jason now lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife and their long-haired dachshund. In past lives he has been a guitar player for a metal band, a drum-n-bass DJ, a record store owner, a game developer, and an IT consultant. These days he divides his time between writing fiction and developing software, and doing Oregonian things like gardening, hiking, and drinking microbrew.

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

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

As the Linesman series continues, linesman Ean Lambert finds himself facing an alien ship he doesn’t understand—and a terrifying political threat he cannot fight…
 
The lines. The soul of every ship. It was once thought there were only ten, but that was before an alien vessel appeared at the edge of space—before Ean Lambert heard more lines singing. Ean’s ways of communicating with lines is strange. But his abilities make him a valuable tool—or weapon—to command.

Captain Selma Kari Wang has lost everything—her ship, her crew, her legs. But the New Alliance of Worlds is not done with her yet. After they rebuild her broken body, they send her to captain one of the new alien ships, teaming her up with Ean, the only one who can understand the alien lines.

Kari Wang and Ean are poised on the threshold of discoveries that could change the world. But not everyone wants the New Alliance to control the secrets they uncover—and those who oppose won’t hesitate to do whatever it takes to stop them…

What’s S. K.’s favorite bit?

cover image, Alliance

S. K. DUNSTALL

Hmm. How do we talk about this one without spoilers?

Because this favorite bit is right in the middle of the final action scene.

Each of us has our own favorite bits in the stories we write. They’re not generally the same.  Sherylyn tends to like the scenes with big emotional impact, while Karen goes for the scenes with clever banter.

For example, a passage like:

Fitch’s grin stretched almost ear to ear.  “Congratulations, Captain. You have a new pair of legs.”

She stared at the bright white ceiling and ignored them.

The light dimmed with the night. Brightened again with the new day. Over and over.

They should have let her die along with the rest of her crew.

Is something Sherylyn would pick out as a personal favorite, while Karen’s might be:

“Will you look at that,” Mael said to Tinatin. “Captain Legless.”

But with Alliance we had the same favorite bit, and it’s right in the middle of the finale.

The best space operas have the following in common.  Characters you care about. Fights, action. High stakes.  It’s often served with a dose of humour or repartee that makes you quote lines to your friends for ever after.

They’re action adventure stories, and like any action adventure, the stakes keep rising until everything comes together in one final major scene, good guys against bad guys. All the plot points come together at that time too.

We’re what they call ‘pantsers’, writers who find out the story as they go along rather than plotting it all out at the start and writing to the plot. With two of us writing, there is a little bit of planning in that we will often talk out a scene just before we write it, so that we agree on what’s going to happen. Just-in-time plotting, if you like, but that’s all.

In this book our major storyline is how Ean Lambert, who is now the New Alliance’s leading linesman, teams up with Captain Selma Kari Wang, who has just lost her ship, as they learn how to work with the alien line ships. There’s the enemy, of course, who are trying the prevent them doing that.  There’s also a secondary story happening.  The mystery of the destruction of Kari Wang’s first ship.

Naturally, as the story progresses, the stakes get higher in each storyline.  Until it all comes together in the finale.

So even though we don’t plan our story, in Alliance we were always writing to this one scene. We didn’t know how it would happen, we just knew the two stories would come together here. So that of course, right when Kari Wang needs him most, Ean’s got big problems of his own.

Which is why his first answer, when she demands his help, is,

“We’re kind of busy, right now.”

When we started we didn’t know how we were going to get there, or what happened when we did get there, but it all came together for us.  It worked, and it was a fun journey.

That’s why it’s our favorite bit.

LINKS:

Website

Twitter (@skdunstall)

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

BIO:

S. K. Dunstall is the pen name for Sherylyn and Karen Dunstall, sisters who have been telling stories—and sharing them with each other—all their lives. Some years ago, they realised the stories they worked on together were much better than the stories they worked on alone. A co-writing partnership was born.

They live in Melbourne, Australia.

My Favorite Bit: Randy Henderson talks about BIGFOOTLOOSE AND FINN FANCY FREE

My Favorite Bit iconRandy Henderson is joining us today with his novel Bigfootloose and Finn Fancy Free. Here’s the publisher’s description:

In Bigfootloose and Finn Fancy Free, the sequel to Randy Henderson’s acclaimed debut novel, Finn Fancy Necromancy, Finn Gramaraye is settling back into the real world after his twenty-five-year-long imprisonment in the otherworld of the Fey. He’s fallen in love again with Dawn, the girl next door who waited for him. He’s proved his innocence of the original crime of Dark Necromancy, and he’s finding a place in the family business–operating a mortuary for the Arcane, managing the magical energies left behind when an Arcane being dies to prevent it from harming the mundane world.

But Finn wants more. Or different. Or something. He’s figured out how to use the Kinfinder device created by his half-mad father to find people’s True Love, and he’d like to convert that into an Arcane Dating Service. It’s a great idea. Everyone wants True Love! Unfortunately, trouble always seems to find Finn, and when he agrees to help his friend, the Bigfoot named Sal, they walk right into a Feyblood rebellion against the Arcane Ruling Council, a rebellion being fomented by unknown forces and fueled by the drug created by Finn’s own grandfather.

What’s Randy’s favorite bit?

Bigfootloose and Finn Fancy Free cover

RANDY HENDERSON

My favorite bit about Bigfootloose?  I think overall I loved the evolution of Finn’s relationship with his girlfriend, Dawn.

Without getting too spoilery, in the first draft of Bigfootloose, their relationship went in a particular direction that was a nice counterbalance to the other romantic subplots in the book: namely, Finn trying to find true love for the sasquatch, Sal; and the relationship of Finn’s brother Pete and his waer-squirrel girlfriend, Vee.  But while it was a good arc dramatically and plot-wise, I wasn’t happy with it.  And then I realized why.

Dawn was developing in my head and heart into a true second protagonist.  I suddenly realized I had moved from writing Finn’s adventure, to wanting to take them both in the direction of those classic detective couples romantic comedies.  Nick and Nora. Remington Steele.  Hart to Hart.  Moonlighting.

So they might be perfect for each other.  As long as Finn doesn’t screw it up, that is.  Which he just might.  I honestly can’t keep him from saying and doing stupid things.

And assuming Dawn survives.

Anyway, here’s a couple of (slightly abridged) exchanges between Finn and Dawn.

“You okay?” Dawn asked behind me.

I turned, and put on my best smile. “Do bears bare? Do bees be?”

Dawn’s eyes narrowed. “Uh huh. Want to try that again?”

“Really, I’m fine—” I said.

“Sure. Get your stubborn man butt over here.” Before I could protest, Dawn pulled me into a hug.

I gave a resigned sigh, and returned the hug as much to humor her as anything. But as I stood there holding her, being held, tears leaked out.

“I understand, you know,” Dawn said. “Well, kind of. It wasn’t easy, watching Dad fade away.” Her own voice took on the edge of tears. “But at least your father is healthy. And you have Vee to help read his memories. And potions, and all kinds of real magic I don’t even know about yet. I’m sure you’ll find a way to help him.”

I kneaded my fingers into her shoulder in acknowledgment, then took a deep breath of her candy and coconut scent, exhaled slowly, and stepped back.

“About our date today—” I began.

“Oh no,” Dawn said. “Don’t go trying to sneak your way out of our plans now, it was hard enough agreeing on a time to begin with.”

“That’s because you have twenty-seven jobs.”

“I only have one job, sir,” Dawn said. “And I’m well on my way to being named café queen in charge of making all the granola, thank you very much. Who needs more than that?”

“Well, you have the animal shelter, and reading Tarot, I consider those jobs. And—”

“Yeah, yeah.” Dawn put her hands on her hips in a dramatic manner. “And don’t forget that I keep the streets safe at night as Awesome Girl, too.”

“Hey!” I said. “You’re not supposed to tell me that! You’re supposed to protect me by keeping me ignorant of your identity. Well, until I’m kidnapped to use against you that is.”

“Damn. You’re right. And you would look adorable in a short skirt and wet T-shirt, tied up and oh-so-helpless, waiting for rescue.” Dawn got a mischievous grin. “Hmmm. If you don’t have something better planned, I think I have an idea of what we could do later.” She waggled her eyebrows at me.

“I’m not sure I have a skirt that would work,” I replied.

“Are you sure? Don’t lie on my account, I’m totally fine if you do. I seem to remember you wearing eyeliner and dangling earrings in high school.”

“That was the eighties, and it was cool,” I said, crossing my arms.

“Uh huh,” Dawn replied. “Well, I have plenty of skirts for you.”

“And a superhero costume for yourself?”

“Are you kidding?” Dawn said, thrusting out her chest and lifting her chin. “I have three.”

I laughed. “Of course you do. Okay. The date is still on.”

And excerpt number two:

“Damn you and your stubbornness,” I said to Dawn, and pulled off my shirt, pressing it to her wound.

Dawn began to shiver, and said with chattering teeth, “If I w-weren’t stubborn, I w-wouldn’t still b-be with you,”

“Ha ha. How about you use it for something good and don’t die on me then,” I said, and helped her as we marched down the tunnel. “Because if you do, you know I’ll summon you up and chew you out.”

We hurried as well as Dawn could manage. The feybloods used the tunnels heavily, so best not to linger, especially with Dawn leaking blood. Her steps grew increasingly heavy and sluggish, her eyes drooping.

I shook her.  “Hey. Talk to me.”

“What was that thing?” Dawn asked finally, her words slurred.

“A jor?gumo. Rare, and very dangerous.”

“Gee, really? I’ll be careful then.”

“You can start by not attacking her next time.”

“Hey, I saved your cute little butt.  That means I own it now, both cute little buns, hon.” She sounded drunk now.  After several steps, she asked, “Why the hell was a jor?gumo thingy attacking you?”

“I don’t know,” I said.  “But I plan to find out.”

“Don’t sound so unhappy,” Dawn said. “Looks like you’re finally popular!”

“Oh, yeah, it’s awesome. I love the ‘who’s trying to kill Finn’ game.”

“Oh, that’s easy,” Dawn replied in a sleepy voice. “Clowns. Trust me, you dig deep enough, you’re going to find out it’s clowns.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

“You do tha—” Her voice faded out, and she slumped against me.

“Hey!” I said, panic rising in my chest. “Stay with me!” I summoned up my magic, and gave her a slight jolt of my own life energy.

Her head jerked back up, and she blinked. “Did you just ask me to live with you?” she asked, and we continued to stumble forward together.

“Sure. You can share my twin bed.”

“I’m the luckiest,” Dawn mumbled.

LINKS:

Read the First Three Chapters

Goodreads

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Indiebound

Randy’s Website

Facebook

Twitter

BIO:

Randy Henderson is an author, milkshake connoisseur, Writers of the Future grand prize winner, relapsed sarcasm addict, and Clarion West  graduate.

His “dark and quirky” contemporary fantasy series from TOR (US) and Titan (UK) includes Finn Fancy Necromancy, and the sequel Bigfootloose and Finn Fancy Freehttp://www.randy-henderson.com

My Favorite Bit: Jennifer Brozek talks about NEVER LET ME

My Favorite BitJennifer Brozek is joining us today with her omnibus Never Let Me. Here’s the publisher’s description:

An omnibus edition of the first three books in Jennifer Brozek’s Melissa Allen series.

What would you do if you discovered that everyone, in your house, on your street and in your town was dead? Then you discovered you weren’t alone–and whatever was out there was hunting you?

Melissa Allen, a troubled teen under house arrest, is the only person left alive in South Dakota. After discovering the mysterious deaths of her guardians and hearing of the massacre on the news, she realizes that there are monsters out there. They are pretending to be human, and they’ve have begun a door-to-door search–for her.

Melissa is unable to leave the quarantine zone and has no help except for Homeland Security agent David Hood on the phone. Before the government takes drastic action, she must figure out what killed everyone and stop it from happening again.

…or did Melissa herself, in a psychotic fit, murder her guardians–and the rest of the apocalypse is only happening inside her mind?

This special edition features the first three books in Jennifer Brozek’s Melissa Allen Series: Never Let Me Sleep, Never Let Me Leave, Never Let Me Die as well as a previously unpublished short story.

Never Let Me takes you head first in to Melissa’s troubled, paranoid world – and it will never leave you alone.

What’s Jennifer’s favorite bit?

NeveLetMeOmnibus

JENNIFER BROZEK

Never Let Me is the omnibus of my YA SF-Thriller trilogy (Never Let Me Sleep, Never Let Me Leave, Never Let Me Die, with the new short story, “Never Let Me Feel.”) starring Melissa Allen.

In the first book, Never Let Me Sleep, she is on her own in a town filled with everyone she’s ever known dead of mysterious causes but she’s not alone and what’s out there is hunting her. Locked in a quarantine zone with only a Homeland Defense agent on the phone to help her, Melissa has to solve the mystery while being hunted before the government takes matters in hand to an extreme and lethal end with Melissa as collateral damage.

Melissa is a troubled teen who questions her sanity on a regular basis—with good reason. She is bipolar, schizophrenic, and prone to hallucinations under stress. She was also under house arrest at the time of this apocalypse. She is a teenager who hasn’t been allowed to take care of herself or take responsibility for things around her. Now, not only must she take responsibility for her actions, the rest of the world is depending on her to do so.

My favorite bit comes about halfway through the first novel. It is the point that Melissa mentally shifts from someone who just reacts to one who acts and chooses to act. She has been attacked multiple times, been told what she needs to do to save everyone—including herself—and is on her way to do just that. She’s walking down the main hall of the local high school and she catches sight of herself reflected in the trophy case.

… I saw my reflection in the trophy case at the end of the hall. In the dim light, I looked bad ass. Dirty clothes, a bat in one hand, a bent butcher knife in the other, and a determined walk. I stopped and looked at myself. I realized something: I no longer wanted to be rescued, no longer felt like I needed to be rescued. Yes, I was scared, but I wanted to rescue myself and to do what needed doing.

It was a marvelous sensation. …

The image of Melissa, bloody and determined, making the conscious shift to taking control and giving herself agency, makes me happy. It’s a mental shift that she continues throughout the rest of the series. In the second book, Never Let Me Leave, she extends taking responsibility to protecting other teens like her. In the third, Never Let Me Die, it morphs from more than a duty into caring for her chosen family.

Melissa’s acceptance of her own agency will always be my favorite bit.

LINKS:

Amazon

Blog

Facebook

Twitter

Google Group (notifications only)

BIO:

Jennifer Brozek is a Hugo Award-nominated editor and an award-winning author. Winner of the Australian Shadows Award for best edited publication, Jennifer has edited fourteen anthologies with more on the way, including the acclaimed Chicks Dig Gaming and Shattered Shields anthologies. Author of Apocalypse Girl DreamingIndustry Talk, the Karen Wilson Chronicles, and the Melissa Allen series, she has more than sixty published short stories, and is the Creative Director of Apocalypse Ink Productions.

Jennifer is a freelance author for numerous RPG companies. Winner of the Scribe, Origins, and ENnie awards, her contributions to RPG sourcebooks include DragonlanceColonial GothicShadowrunSerenitySavage Worlds, and White Wolf SAS. Jennifer is the author of the YA Battletech novel, The Nellus Academy Incident, and the Shadowrun novella, Doc Wagon 19. She has also written for the AAA MMO Aion and the award winning videogame, Shadowrun Returns.

When she is not writing her heart out, she is gallivanting around the Pacific Northwest in its wonderfully mercurial weather. Jennifer is a Director-at-Large of SFWA, and an active member HWA and IAMTW.

My Favorite Bit: Daniel M. Bensen talks about GROOM OF THE TYRANNOSAUR QUEEN

My Favorite Bit iconDaniel M. Bensen is joining us today with his novel Groom of the Tyrannosaur Queen. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Former soldier Andrea Herrera isn’t happy with where her life’s taken her. Specifically, Hell Creek, Montana, 65 million years before the present. As far as careers go, making sure the dinosaurs don’t eat her paleontologist clients comes in a pretty dismal second choice to serving her country. But when their time machine malfunctions, Andrea and her team are trapped in a timeline that shouldn’t exist with something a hell of a lot more dangerous than terrible lizards: other humans.

Kidnapped by the stone-age descendants of a lost time colony, Andrea finds herself stripped of her technological advantages and forced into a war against the implacable armies of the Slaver Empire. Even worse, the Slavers have captured the time machine and the mission’s one surviving paleontologist, using his futuristic weapons for their own ends.

Andrea’s only hope lies with the ferociously intelligent and violently insane tribal war-leader, Trals Scarback. Armed with his mystic sword, his trained velociraptor, and his herd of war-triceratops, this former slave has the resources and motivation to take on the empire. But can Andrea persuade him to see her as a partner rather than a tool for his ambitions? Only if she beats the barbarian at his own game and becomes the Tyrannosaur Queen.

What’s Daniel’s favorite bit?

B018UD6DH2

DANIEL M. BENSEN

What would it be like to meet a tyrannosaur? That’s the question that everyone who works with dinosaurs wants to answer. What did this animal look like? How did it behave? What sounds did it make? What smells? How did it fit into its landscape? Answering those questions —and a surprising number of those questions do have answers — will give you a picture of an animal.

(Tyrannosaurus rex by Daniel M Bensen)

(Tyrannosaurus rex by Daniel M Bensen)

But, here’s another question: Why are you meeting a tyrannosaur? What are you doing in the late Cretaceous? What are you going to do if that thing attacks? How the hell are you going to survive this? Answering those questions will give you a story.

The speed of the tyrannosaur was shocking, an insult to all sense of physics and decency. The predator executed a turn, still moving faster than a galloping horse. Andrea’s overstressed HUD could only give her a confused blur of sweeping tail, huge bunching thigh muscles under dark feathers, a snapping mouth. Jaws the size of a compact car tore through the prey’s skin and muscle in a waterfall of blood.

The tyrannosaur slowed, stopped, and stalked back to where its injured prey had collapsed. Blood splashed around its feet and the mouth tore downwards. The head lifted, scooping out a chunk of meat about the size of Andrea. It froze, as if posed for a photo. Little black eyes glinted from behind charcoal-colored feathers. Muscles curved in smooth tensegrity lines from the back of the skull to the powerful chest. Meat-hook claws cocked. Barrel ribs shifted as the lungs inflated. Bloody jaws clenched. The little bird eyes squeezed shut, and the tyrannosaur swallowed its mouthful.

“Holy shit,” said Andrea again. “You people know how to ride those things?”

“So the legends claim,” Trals grinned at her. “Let us find out if they are true.”

Groom of the Tyrannosaur Queen started out as a series of encounters between people and dinosaurs. Some of them were from the perspective of a modern person: a time-traveler. Someone like the characters in L. Sprague de Camp’s “A Gun for Dinosaur.” Others were more like James Gurney’s Dinotopia: pre-industrial human cultures that had grown up around dinosaurs. Realizing I could have both was the kick that gotGroom of the Tyrannosaur Queen up and running.

So I set to work on a story about a group of paleontologists and their bodyguard making a wrong turn in their time-machine and stumbling across a lost time-colony of stone-age humans. And, since I had just listened to the Writing Excuses episode about the Three Act Structure, I set up the beats in my outline based on how these people dealt with the creatures they found. A legion of soldiers driving a baggage train of triceratops. A particle cannon vaporizing a charging nodosaur. A kidnapper using a velociraptor to hunt down a runaway. Riding a tyrannosaur.

Those are the best bits. The dinosaurs. They’re smelly, they’re enormous, they’re just barely under control. Sometimes all the human characters can do is to hold on and enjoy the ride.

LINKS:

Dan’s website

Amazon

Goodreads

TV Tropes

Tumblr

Facebook

Twitter

Deviant Art

BIO:

Daniel M Bensen is a father, English teacher, and author. He lives in Sofia, Bulgaria.

My Favorite Bit: Dan Koboldt talks about THE ROGUE RETRIEVAL

My Favorite BitDan Koboldt is joining us today to talk about his novel The Rogue Retrieval. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Stage magician Quinn Bradley dedicated his life to a single purpose: headlining for a major casino on the Las Vegas strip. But just before his dreams come true, two modern mercenaries show up to make him a puzzling offer. Half a million dollars for six months on a private assignment. Their corporate employer has discovered – and kept secret – a gateway to a pristine medieval world called Alissia.

For fifteen years, they’ve studied it beneath a shroud of secrecy. Now, the head of their research team has gone AWOL, with a backpack full of disruptive technology. They’re sending in a retrieval team, and they want Quinn Bradley to come along. His talents for illusion, backed with the company’s considerable resources, should make for some convincing magic.

It will need to be convincing. Because Alissia has the real thing.

What’s Dan’s favorite bit?

Koboldt-Rogue-Retrieval-cover

DAN KOBOLDT

I’ve been reading fantasy and science fiction since the 4th grade. I’m a sucker for world-building, and it showed in the books I went for. I didn’t just read the doorstopper fantasy novel. I read the glossary, the genealogy, and the forums on Dragonmount.

When the time came to write my novel, I wanted to create an equally compelling secondary world . So I asked one of my favorite authors, Scott Lynch, how he does it so well. He said, “I am absolutely not afraid to take a place or a specific detail that I’m keen on and world-build everything else around it.”

When I took his advice, I learned something interesting. Apparently, my favorite bit is the booze.

Alcohol comes in many forms in Alissia, my novel’s secondary world. Whether it’s the rough ale they drink in the cold north of Felara, or the color-changing liquor from Valteron, every society leaves their unique stamp on the time-honored tradition of inebriation. Alcohol is more than just a way to get drunk. In many societies (both real and fictional), it’s a crucial element of culture and tradition.

I like exploring booze in a secondary world because it’s so versatile. You can produce alcohol by fermenting grain mash (beer), grapes (wine), fruit juice (cider), rice (sake), and even honey (mead). You can distill it into high concentrations for spirits like vodka and gin. Humans have been fermenting things since the late Stone Age, and look how far we’ve come: the worldwide alcoholic beverage market last year was over $1 trillion.

That kind of money changes things, and here’s proof. Every year, my family takes a vacation to Traverse City, Michigan, home of the National Cherry Festival. One of our favorite parts is driving up the Old Mission Peninsula to look at the cherry trees. Over the past few years, however, vineyards have replaced many of the orchards. I’m told they’re far more profitable.

I love wine as much as the next guy, but I miss the cherry trees. And I hate the idea that profit margins are the reason they’re gone. It made me wonder how far a society would be willing to go to produce an expensive alcoholic beverage. That’s how I came up with the most famous and expensive drink in my book’s world, Caralissian wine:

The only time they got any notice from the locals was when they encountered a wine caravan. Ten wagons, each pulled by a pair of draft horses. These were hardly visible behind the mounted riders that escorted them, who happened to be some of the hardest mercenaries that Caralissian gold could buy. They looked up at the sound of the approaching horses. Hands went to sword hilts. Two of the men reached down into the nearest wagons, probably for spears or loaded crossbows.

“Caravan coming at us,” Logan warned over the comm link. He slowed his mount and moved to the side. “Keep your hands visible, no sudden moves.”

The mercenaries knew their business—­they only got paid if the shipment arrived safely. Their casual positions only looked haphazard. If Logan were to attack, three or four would engage him from multiple angles. An equal number would stay with the wagons. And a few would ride for the nearest Caralissian outpost for reinforcements. Bandits tried raiding wine caravans from time to time. Some even got hold of a cask or two, but they rarely made it far enough to enjoy a taste.

All of this grew from a simple idea: a drink that cost its weight in gold. I started thinking about economics of that, in a pre-industrial society. The exploitative labor practices required to produce it. The impact on international trade. The armed guards you’d need to protect it.

Caralis is a monarchy, so only a few can enjoy the vast wealth brought by Caralissian wine. The queen, of course, and her pet nobles. That leaves an entire populace out in the cold. Forfeiting most of their crops to the Caralissian vintners. Starving while the chosen few grow rich.

Looking, perhaps, for a way to take revenge.

LINKS:

Visit the author’s website, Twitter feed, or Science in Sci-fi blog series.

Check out the book on Amazon, Barnes & NobleGoodReads, or HarperCollins.

BIO:

Dan Koboldt is a genetics researcher and sci-fi/fantasy author from the Midwest. He’s co-authored more than 50 publications in Nature, Science, The New England Journal of Medicine, Cell, and other journals. Dan is also an avid hunter and outdoorsman. Every fall, he disappears into Missouri’s dense hardwood forests to pursue whitetail deer with bow and arrow. He lives with his wife and children in St. Louis, where the deer take their revenge by eating all of the plants in his backyard.

My Favorite Bit: Marie Brennan talks about CHAINS AND MEMORY

My Favorite BitMarie Brennan is joining us today with her novel Chains and Memory. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Manifestation was only the beginning.

The Otherworld has returned — bringing with it the sidhe, the source of humanity’s psychic powers. Some mortals welcome these creatures of legend, some fear them . . . and no one is ready for the change their presence will bring.

Last autumn Kim and Julian stood at the center of that storm. Now they face a challenge closer to home: a battle over the laws governing wilders, the closest genetic relatives of the sidhe. Many feel that change should wait until the current upheaval has ended . . . but Kim sees opportunity in the chaos, a chance to free Julian and all his kind from the chains of the deep shield that locks their gifts away.

The roots of that shield run deeper than she knows. The quest to destroy it will lead her and Julian back into the world of the sidhe, where they will uncover ancient lies, face betrayal on all sides — and gamble everything on the possibility of freedom.

What’s Marie’s favorite bit?

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MARIE BRENNAN

My favorite bit in Chains and Memory is both a moment and a thread that runs throughout the story.

It also, not coincidentally, happens to be the core of what drove me to write the book in the first place. You see, when I wrote the original draft of Lies and Prophecy so many years ago, I intended it to be a stand-alone book. I knew the story didn’t tie up in a neat bow at the end . . . but I didn’t see any way for what happened next to be something my protagonists could still protag in.

Little details kept drifting into my mind, though — most of them background for the secondary protagonist, Julian Fiain. I’d decided, in drafting Lies and Prophecy, that he belonged to a minority of psychics whose gifts manifested at birth rather than in puberty, and that such people were raised as wards of the state. But because the first draft of that book was the first novel I ever finished, I hadn’t put a lot of thought into how that whole “raised as wards of the state” thing worked. Over the following years, as I revised and rewrote and revised again, the picture began to fill in — not all of which fit into that first book.

So my favorite bit of Chains and Memory is the culture and society of wilders, and how those things interface with the rest of the world they live in. The main protagonist of the series, Kim, wasn’t raised by the state . . . but in order for her relationship with Julian to function, she needs to understand what that life is like, and how it affects those who grew up that way. And Julian in turn needs to open up to Kim, rather than closing her out the way wilders usually do.

Half the time this expresses itself in little details, like when Julian telekinetically yanks an object to his hand rather than walking over to pick it up, then admits to Kim that he trained himself out of the habit when he went to live among ordinary psychics. But there’s also a watershed moment in the story where their entire relationship reconfigures itself: Julian realizes he’s been undercutting Kim in a serious way, entirely without meaning to, because of his subconcious habits and assumptions. Changing his behavior is hard . . . but he makes himself do it, and the result is utterly transformative.

I wrote that scene long before I started drafting the book. (That one, and a couple of others playing off the same conflict.) I had to revise it, of course, because by the time I got there properly the story wasn’t quite the same as I had imagined — but the core hasn’t changed. And its fire is the reason that “stand-alone” book became the start of a series. Lies and Prophecy is, among other things, the story of how Kim and Julian got together; Chains and Memory is the part I find more interesting, the part where they have to work out how that relationship is going to function, despite the differences between them.

LINKS:

Website

Blog

Twitter

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

BIO:

Marie Brennan is an anthropologist and folklorist who shamelessly pillages her academic fields for material.  She is currently misapplying her professors’ hard work to the Victorian adventure series The Memoirs of Lady Trent; the first book of that series, A Natural History of Dragons, was nominated for a World Fantasy Award. She is also the author of the doppelanger duology of Warrior and Witch, the urban fantasy Lies and Prophecy, the Onyx Court historical fantasy series, and more than forty short stories.

My Favorite Bit: Megan E. O’Keefe talks about STEAL THE SKY

My Favorite Bit iconMegan E. O’Keefe is joining us today with her novel Steal the Sky. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Detan Honding, a wanted conman of noble birth and ignoble tongue, has found himself in the oasis city of Aransa. He and his trusted companion Tibs may have pulled off one too many cons against the city’s elite and need to make a quick escape. They set their sights on their biggest heist yet – the gorgeous airship of the exiled commodore Thratia.

But in the middle of his scheme, a face changer known as a doppel starts murdering key members of Aransa’s government. The sudden paranoia makes Detan’s plans of stealing Thratia’s ship that much harder. And with this sudden power vacuum, Thratia can solidify her power and wreak havoc against the Empire. But the doppel isn’t working for Thratia and has her own intentions. Did Detan accidentally walk into a revolution and a crusade? He has to be careful – there’s a reason most people think he’s dead. And if his dangerous secret gets revealed, he has a lot more to worry about than a stolen airship.

What’s Megan’s favorite bit?

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MEGAN E. O’KEEFE

If I’m being truly honest, my favorite bit of Steal the Sky changes based on my mood. There are a lot of moving parts in the book, and which one tickles me the most at any given time varies quite a bit. I suspect that’s probably true for most writers – it’s like asking us to pick the favorite part of a dear pet. But what I come back to again and again, what I feel is truly the heart of the book, is the deep well of friendship between Detan, my conman protagonist, and his best friend Tibs.

When we first see them together in Steal the Sky, they’ve already been friends for awhile. They rely on one another to keep their tempers in check and their heads on straight when they’re neck deep in mischief. They know one another’s deeper secrets, and the darker aspects of each others’ natures, and accept those things. They even help each other to overcome them when necessary.

But while their relationship runs deep, they tease one another ruthlessly and don’t hesitate to call out when one or the other is being an idiot. Though, to be fair to Tibs, it’s usually Detan being the doofus.

Disagreements between them are hashed out quickly, and usually with sly jibes. In the excerpt below, Detan has just upset Tibs by using his family name – Honding – to gain social leverage over someone who had pushed his temperamental buttons. The Honding name is an old and respectable one. One Detan’s powerful aunt is very protective of having used in unscrupulous circumstances.

When he and Tibs were back on the solid rock of Aransa, the old rat gave him a sturdy punch in the arm.

“You’re a mad bastard, Honding.”

“Pits below!” He jumped and rubbed at the ache. “I was perfectly safe navigating the vents. I got a good look at them from above.”

“It’s not the vents I’m about.” Tibs said as he marched ahead, taking the lead back into the winding ways of the city. Detan ruffed his hair in frustration, then shook himself and scurried to catch up. Dusk was descending over Aransa, the purple-mottled sky making Tibs little more than a silhouette before him. He stomped with every step he took, wiry fingers curled into knobby fists at his side. Detan slowed his steps and shoved his hands in his pockets, ducking his head down like a whipped dog.

“Is it the clothes?” Detan ventured, “Because, well, I figured that—”

“Nope, that ain’t it either.”

“Err. Well…”

Tibs stopped cold, pinning Detan down with his gaze as easily as he’d drive a nail through a board. “Dame Honding is going to hang you from your toenails, using your name with just anyone like that.”

“Oh! That. Well, it is my name Tibs.”

“You had better write her a letter, sirra, before the rumors get back.”

Detan sighed and sat down hard on the top of a low, stone fence, heedless of the dust that undoubtedly coated his backside. “I suppose. Wouldn’t want the old badger to worry, eh?”

“I suggest you do not address it to ‘the old badger’.”

“She’d laugh!”

“She’d fly right out here and beat you with her parasol.”

They move on to discussing other worries that venture into spoiler territory, so I’ll cut it off there. Their easy rapport is something that always makes me smile and is a joy to write, even when they’re having arguments. Well, let me be honest: they’re a joy to write especially when they’re having arguments.

Strong friendships are an element of fiction that I love to find in stories, and I’m delighted to add my own manic duo to the bunch.

LINKS:

Barnes & Noble

Amazon

Website

BIO:

Megan E. O’Keefe was raised amongst journalists, and as soon as she was able joined them by crafting a newsletter which chronicled the daily adventures of the local cat population. She has worked in both arts management and graphic design, and spends her free time tinkering with anything she can get her hands on.

Megan lives in the Bay Area of California and makes soap for a living. It’s only a little like Fight Club. She is a first place winner in the Writers of the Future competition and her debut novel, Steal the Sky, is out now from Angry Robot Books.

My Favorite Bit: Eric James Stone talks about UNFORGETTABLE

My Favorite Bit iconEric James Stone is joining us today with his novel Unforgettable. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Out of sight, out of mind.

In the near future, a fluke of quantum mechanics renders Nat Morgan utterly forgettable. No one can remember he exists for more than a minute after he’s gone. It’s a useful ability for his career as a CIA agent, even if he has to keep reminding his boss that he exists.

Nat’s attempt to steal a quantum chip prototype is thwarted when a former FSB agent, Yelena Semyonova, attempts to steal the same technology for the Russion mob.

Along with a brilliant Iranian physicist who wants to defect, Nat and Yelena must work together to stop a ruthless billionaire from finishing a quantum supercomputer that will literally control the fate of the world.

What’s Eric’s favorite bit?

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ERIC JAMES STONE

For sentimental reasons, my favorite bit of Unforgettable is the original beginning of the novel.  When I started writing that first scene I had no idea I was starting a novel. I just had an idea of a character who could not be remembered, and I wrote it simply to meet my daily writing goal.  It wasn’t until later, when I showed snippets about the character to my writing group and they told me I needed to write a novel about the character, that I came up with the plot of the novel.  So here’s what I wrote on the first two days of January 2008:

I straightened the tie I’d stolen from Macy’s that morning and stepped into the interviewer’s office.  Becoming a CIA agent was my only choice if I wanted to go legit.  I had to make a strong impression.

The balding man behind the desk looked up.  “You don’t look twenty-seven,” he said.

“I’m not.  I don’t have a Ph.D. in math, either.”  My words rushed out, and I sat in a chair to force myself to slow down.  “I copied someone’s resume, just hoping to get the interview.”

He leaned back in his chair and pinched the tip of his nose a couple of times as he looked me over.  “You’re what, eighteen?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Fresh out of high school and watching too many James Bond movies?  Tell you what–I admire your creativity.  Go to college, get a degree in something useful, and I’ll guarantee you an interview when you graduate.”

“I can’t go to college.  Anyway, I need a job that will pay me now, and I think you can use someone of my unique talents.”

“I hate to disappoint you, but you’re not much of a liar.”  He held up the resume I’d sent.  “A good candidate would have been able to walk through that door and convince me he was the man on this sheet of paper.”

“I’m not a good liar,” I agreed.  “My talent is different.  I have to show it to you.”

“What is it?”

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.  You have to see it first.  Write this down on a piece of paper: Nat Morgan promised to show me his talent.  Then sign it and put the date and time.”

He gave me a skeptical look.  “I don’t have time–”

“Please.  I promise you’ll be impressed.”

“Nat Morgan’s your real name?”

I nodded.

After a moment, he picked up a legal pad off his desk and wrote.  “Done.  Now what?”

“Now I step outside for a minute and come back in.”  I stood up and walked out the door, closing it behind me.  I counted to sixty, just to be safe, then walked back into the office.

The interviewer looked at me, blinked rapidly a few times, then shook his head as if to clear his thinking.

“You don’t look twenty-seven,” he said.

“My name in Nat Morgan,” I said, “and I promised to show you my talent.”

“Sorry, I don’t remember that.  You’ll have to make an appointment, because I’m supposed to see–”

“Look at your pad of paper.”

“What?”

I pointed to the pad.  “Read it.”

He pulled the pad across the desk and looked at it, then looked at his watch.

“You must have snuck in here and written that while I was at lunch.”

“Is it your handwriting and signature?”

He leaned back in his chair and pinched the tip of his nose a couple of times.  “You’re a forger?  It’s pretty good work.”

“I’m not a forger”  I waved my finger in a circle.  “Do you have video surveillance of this room?  That’ll make things quicker.”  I’d have brought my own video camera, except security would have confiscated it on the way in.

“No.”

“OK, the fact is you wrote that when I was in here a few minutes ago, but you forgot I’d been here after I stepped outside.”

A version of this scene is still in the novel, though it is no longer the beginning.  But it’s still my favorite bit because it’s the seed from which the novel grew.

LINKS:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Goodreads

Website

Twitter

BIO:

A Nebula Award winner, Hugo Award nominee, and Writers of the Future Contest winner, Eric James Stone has had stories published in Year’s Best SF 15, Analog, Nature, and Kevin J. Anderson’s Blood Lite anthologies, among other venues.  His debut novel, science fiction thriller titled Unforgettable, was published by Baen.

One of Eric’s earliest memories is of an Apollo launch on television. Thanks to his father’s old science fiction collection, Eric grew up reading Asimov and Heinlein.

Eric attended Orson Scott Card’s Literary Boot Camp and the Odyssey Writing Workshop. Eric lives in Utah with his wife, who is a high school physics teacher, and their daughter.  His website is www.ericjamesstone.com.

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?

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MARIEKE NIJKAMP

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.

LINKS:

Author website

Sourcebooks

Amazon US

The Book Depository

IndieBound

Amazon UK

iTunes

Books of Wonder

Barnes & Noble

Target

Books-A-Million

BIO:

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.