Archive for the ‘My Favorite Bit’ Category

My Favorite Bit: Rowenna Miller talks about TORN

My Favorite BitRowenna Miller is joining us today to talk about her novel Torn. Here’s the publisher’s description:

TORN is the first book in an enchanting debut fantasy series featuring a seamstress who stitches magic into clothing, and the mounting political uprising that forces her to choose between her family and her ambitions, for fans of The Queen of the Tearling.

In a time of revolution, everyone must take a side.

Sophie, a dressmaker and charm caster, has lifted her family out of poverty with a hard-won reputation for beautiful ball gowns and discreetly embroidered spells. A commission from the royal family could secure her future — and thrust her into a dangerous new world.

Revolution is brewing. As Sophie’s brother, Kristos, rises to prominence in the growing anti-monarchist movement, it is only a matter of time before their fortunes collide.

When the unrest erupts into violence, she and Kristos are drawn into a deadly magical plot. Sophie is torn — between her family and her future.

What’s Rowenna’s favorite bit?

Torn cover image

ROWENNA MILLER

When we study history, we have both the benefit and the giant blind spot of knowing how it turned out.  The choices historical people made end up cast in the light of the outcomes of conflict or change, and we often ascribe motivations to individuals and entire groups that only emerge as clear and discreet after the dust has settled.  When it comes to revolution, we often face an even bigger blind spot—those who opposed change must have sided ethically and ideologically with “the establishment,” right?

When I began writing Torn, I knew one thing pretty confidently about my protagonist, Sophie.  Though she was sympathetic to the problems the revolutionaries in her community were responding to, she was also deeply (and understandably) averse to change, having sacrificed and fought to achieve her goals of owning a business.  Revolution means change. So I found myself exploring an unfolding revolution through the lens of a protagonist whose motivations are far more nuanced than “pro” or “anti” revolt—she is motivated by her professional success, by her family, and by her community more than she is motivated by ideals.  She isn’t willing to risk what she loves on a dodgy gamble.

And the revolution itself—more than a dodgy gamble, it’s a morally questionable endeavor to begin with.  Some members, like Sophie’s brother Kristos, are ideologically motivated.  Others are motivated by anger and seem out for a kind of reversal of status that could end with something like the French Revolution’s Terror.  And the nobility they’re railing against isn’t entirely corrupt—the system, which, though grossly unjust, keeps the peace, and most of the individuals, though grossly privileged, care about their country and its people.  As it becomes increasingly obvious to all involved that violence is very likely necessary in establishing a fairer system based on new ideology, the question of how much death (and whose) is a fair price for change nags Sophie…and doesn’t seem to bother some of the people it perhaps should.

This ambiguity was one of my favorite parts of the book, which led to writing characters who had to face these competing motivations and their own investment in their choices.  Writing Sophie and Kristos and their not infrequent spats drew their fears and hopes and problematic plans into full relief.  Neither had the monopoly on logical and empathetic arguments.  Kristos was right that the nation needed change, but Sophie was also right that change meant serious risk for ordinary people like them.  Other characters added more nuance—Theodor and Viola, nobles Sophie encounters in her expanding business, are not entirely unaware of their unjust privilege but truly believe they are using their wealth and power to benefit the country. Depending on one’s definition of benefit, perhaps they are—offering stability at the price of the common folks’ stagnation, but can a political system that doesn’t listen to or allow for participation by the majority of its citizens ever truly benefit them?

The complications on the simple goal of “doing what’s right” made writing these characters’ responses to revolutionary ideas, and eventually actions, one of my favorite parts of writing Torn.

Yet, running contrary to this ambiguity is the presence of the charm and curse magic Sophie utilizes.  Present and visible only to practitioners like her, it’s quite literally light and dark, imbuing items she charms or curses with good or bad elements.  This little twist challenges the idea of complete moral ambiguity—this is a world where good and bad literally exist in a physical sense, yet the people inhabiting the world, even those handling magic itself, are not any more capable than most of us in discerning it.

And that—the juxtaposition of real good and bad with people who make a wretched tangle of right and wrong—is my favorite bit!

LINKS:

Torn Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

Facebook

BIO:

Rowenna Miller grew up in a log cabin in Indiana and still lives in the Midwest with her husband and daughters, where she teaches English composition, trespasses while hiking, and spends too much time researching and recreating historical textiles. TORN is her first novel.

My Favorite Bit: A. E. Decker talks about INTO THE MOONLESS NIGHT

My Favorite BitA. E. Decker is joining us today to talk about her novel Into the Moonless Night, the third in the Moonfall Mayhem series. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Catch Starthorne has spent a lifetime running from the prophecy that names him as the one who will save the shifter race, but now that he has returned to his home in Clawcrags, he may have to face his destiny. Determined to slip through fate’s fingers, Catch sows confusion, making friends from foes, mixing up the occasional sleeping death potion, and matching wits with an overbearing lion-shifter, who appears to have plans of his own.

While Catch schemes, Ascot works to retrieve him with the help of a witch and a pair of madcap shifter rebels. But every attempt to reach him earns her fresh enemies and embroils her ever deeper in the conspiracies surrounding the prophecy. After five hundred years of repressed tension and social strife, the Clawcrags are ready to explode—and it sometimes seems someone’s working hard to see that they do!

What’s A. E. Decker’s favorite bit?

Into a Moonless Night cover

A. E. DECKER

A mist hung in the air. Through it, I could see a group of people gathered around a wharf by a canal. They talked animatedly amongst themselves as they unloaded crates. I approached, sensing some charged excitement about them, as if a longed-for event was finally about to unfold. One of the men turned around and spotted me. He was tall, with sharp features, wearing a long, faded red coat. “Hey,” he said. With a welcoming—if slightly devilish—smile, he embraced me.

And then I woke up.

Fortunately, this wasn’t the last scene of a novel, or I’d have thrown it against the wall. No, this was an actual dream. It was also my introduction to Starley Reftkin, who was to become my favorite bit of book three of the Moonfall Mayhem series, Into the Moonless Night.

I always knew Into the Moonless Night was going to involve a revolution. Its protagonist, Catch Starthorne, is a Smilodon-shifter who has labored his entire life under a prophecy that named him the savior of the shifter race. In his homeland of the Clawcrags, a person’s place in society is ordained by what type of animal one transforms into, with lion-shifters as leaders. Catch escaped the Clawcrags twenty-five years ago and has only now returned to confront the tensions threatening to tear his society apart.

So, Catch gets to play his part deconstructing the “Chosen One” trope. That’s well and good for him, but what about the shifters who actually had to live under their unjust system while he was away? What about the ones who decided to fight it?

That’s where Starley comes in. With panache.

With a small explosion of hay, a pale man vaulted from the barn loft, twisted mid-air, and caught the pulley one-handed. When he landed, it was on his feet, and with a second crossbow pointed directly at Savotte’s head. “Count the bolts again, leather-britches,” he called.

Cavall spun around. His shocked expression transformed into one of pure, distilled outrage. “Starley Reftkin!”

Grinning from ear-to-ear, the pale man bowed, sweeping back a tail of his faded red coat. Even his eyelashes were white, as were his arched brows. A somewhat long, pointed nose and a droll mouth gave a look of deviltry to his otherwise heart-shaped face. A red bandana kept his shoulder-length white hair out of his eyes.

Visibly grinding his teeth, Cavall cast a swift glare over his shoulder at Jolt. “I should’ve-”

Starley held up a finger in the most insolent gesture Ascot had ever seen. It stopped Cavall mid-sentence. Dipping into his pocket, crossbow never wavering, Starley came up with a small jar, undid the cork with his teeth, scooped up a finger-full of the salve inside, and rubbed it over his face.

“That’s better,” he said, recorking the jar. He squinted at the sun, murky gray eyes narrowing. “Brighter day than expected. I burn so easily. Right.” He tucked away the jar and waggled the crossbow. “Yes, Galen, yada, yada, you should’ve expected, whatsit. Doesn’t matter, now, does it? Because I twitch my finger, and Rainy has a fresh hole in her head. My comrade there can do likewise to you. So frankly, since we’re starting to look like some great whatsit-centipede-all lined up like this, why don’t you two step back and let us walk away with Starthorne?”

Starley is a fighter, and a revolutionary leader. But although I’m as big a fan of Les Miserables as the next person, I knew he was no Enjolras, even if he wore red. That devil-may-care grin I’d seen in my dream kept returning to me, even as other details faded. As I mused on him, pulling together the pieces of plot, it came to me that what made Starley different from your usual fearless rebel types was that he believed in his cause—justice, equal rights for shifters—enough not only to risk death for it, but also utter humiliation. I’d never seen that before. Revolutionary leaders are generally so serious and dignified.

“How much are you willing to risk?”

“Everything,” replied Starley instantly. “No joke. I don’t care if I die if it means getting a chance to live first. Hang it, all the ambitions, all the soddin’ dreams that die because of our system—the stupidity of it makes me want to bite my own arse.”

“Don’t challenge him to actually do that, because he will,” said Jolt.

He could do it, too. When I was still in the process of creating Starley, I realized that as a shifter rebel, I needed to assign him some kind of animal to transform into. I chose a weasel. One of the defining attributes of the Moonfall Mayhem series is that I try to bend standard tropes, and weasels have a dreadful reputation. Even the otherwise excellent Zootopia made its weasel character stereotypically sneaky and cowardly. In actual fact, weasels are tremendously brave little animals, devoted to their young, and possessing a number of clever tricks for catching prey. When I saw a YouTube video featuring a stoat doing a “weasel war dance” to mesmerize a rabbit, I knew I had to include the scene somehow.

But you’ll have to read Into the Moonless Night to find out exactly how I worked it in. Starley enters around page thirty-three. You can’t miss him. He’s the queer, albino, weasel-shifting revolutionary leader who just wants to help create a world where all people stand as equals.

Even if he has to bite his own arse to accomplish it.

He’s my favorite bit of Into the Moonless Night. I hope you enjoy making his acquaintance.

LINKS:

Into the Moonless Night Universal Book Link

A. E. Decker’s website

Twitter

Goodreads

Bookbub

World Weaver Press

Bethlehem Writers Group

BIO:

A. E. Decker studied both English and colonial American history. She has worked as an ESL tutor, a tai chi instructor, and a doll-maker before turning to writing. In addition to the Moonfall Mayhem series published by World Weaver Press, her work has appeared in such venues as Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Fireside Magazine, and numerous anthologies. She is a member of, and editor for, the Bethlehem Writers Group. Like all authors, she is owned by three cats.

My Favorite Bit: Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz talks about HOW TO LOVE THE EMPTY AIR

Favorite Bit iconCristin O’Keefe Aptowicz joins us today to talk about her narrative poetry collection How to Love the Empty Earth. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Vulnerable, beautiful and ultimately life-affirming, Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz’s work reaches new heights in her revelatory seventh collection of poetry. Continuing in her tradition of engaging autobiographical work, How to Love the Empty Air explores what happens when the impossible becomes real―for better and for worse. Aptowicz’s journey to find happiness and home in her ever-shifting world sees her struggling in cities throughout America. When her luck changes―in love and in life―she can’t help but “tell the sun / tell the fields / tell the huge Texas sky…. / tell myself again and again until I believe it.” However, the upward trajectory of this new life is rocked by the sudden death of the poet’s mother. In the year that follows, Aptowicz battles the silencing power of grief with intimate poems burnished by loss and a hard-won humor, capturing the dance that all newly grieving must do between everyday living and the desire “to elope with this grief, / who is not your enemy, / this grief who maybe now is your best friend. / This grief, who is your husband, / the thing you curl into every night, / falling asleep in its arms…” As in her award-winning The Year of No Mistakes, Aptowicz counts her losses and her blessings, knowing how despite it all, life “ripples boundless, like electricity, like joy / like… laughter, irresistible and bright, / an impossible thing to contain.”

What’s Cristin’s favorite bit?

How to Love the Empty Air cover image

CRISTIN O’KEEFE APTOWICZ

My mother—as the best mothers always are—was my biggest fan. As a writer, this would manifest in a many ways: she was my pushiest editor (“You mean you haven’t finished the book yet? What’s taking so long!?”), my most aggressive Amazon reviewer (always the first to review, and always under her Amazon pseudonym “S. McGoo” lest her review be stricken from the site for sharing my last name!), and the most ardent spokesperson for my projects (she literally walked around with totes bags with my book covers printed on them, and “MY DAUGHTER’S BOOK” emblazoned, all caps, underneath). And as a poet, she was also a rich source of writing inspiration: a hilarious, uncompromising Philly broad whose loving intrusions into her daughter’s life were endlessly quotable.

When my mother unexpectedly passed away in May of 2015, I was devastated. She was my north star, the light I guided my life by, and to move through life without her seemed impossible. Of my five member family, she and I were the only true book lovers, consistently recommending books to each other that we knew the other would love, or which could be useful in helping us get through life’s latest hurtle. One of my clearest thoughts I remember after my mother’s death was wishing she could recommend me some books to help me deal with her loss!

Luckily, my friends in the writing community filled in the gap, and gifted me the books I needed: The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, Dear Darkness by Kevin Young, the poetry anthology The Art of Losing edited by Kevin Young, and Motherless Daughters by Hope Edelson, among many, many others. Those books kept me afloat. And writing my own book about my experiences felt like giving back to the community of writers who held me together when it felt like my world was coming apart.

When I shared an early draft of my How to Love the Empty Air manuscript with one of my early editors, she gave me a note I wasn’t expecting: “I wish we had some more poems about your mother before she passed…”

The comment shocked me! Poems about my mother could be found throughout each of my previous six collections. The first poem in my first ever book was titled “Mother” even! But I knew what she meant. Readers coming to this book might never have read my previous collections, and before I talked about losing her, I needed to show them what made her so incredibly funny, and unique, and perfectly herself.

It was an interesting part of my grieving process to step away from my poems about her loss, and go back further in my writing, to the ones I had written before her death. My favorite of these is the poem “My Mother Wants to Know I’m Dead” (below) which was essentially a narrated transcription of an actual email my mother sent me shortly after I arrived at the Amy Clampitt House, a writing residency where I would be the soul occupant in snowy, rural Massachusetts.

The spirit of this poem feels so uniquely my mother: pushy, and blunt, and hilarious, but absolutely steeped in love. However, what I have learned in sharing this piece at readings is that this poem represents a lot of people’s mothers. Passive aggressive text messaging may in fact be the official preferred love language for 21st century mothers! And the joy this poem brings to people—who recognize themselves and their own mothers in it—warms my heart.

It also serves as proof that the joy that people bring to others doesn’t need to end with their deaths; as long as we remember them for how they truly, hilariously, and perfectly were, the joy they bring can be boundless.

My Mother Wants to Know if I’m Dead

 

ARE YOU DEAD? is the subject line of her email.

The text outlines the numerous ways she thinks

I could have died: slain by an axe-murderer, lifeless

on the side of a highway, choked to death by smoke

since I’m a city girl and likely didn’t realize you needed

to open the chimney flue before making a fire (and,

if I do happen to be alive, here’s a link to a YouTube

video on fireplace safety that I should watch). Mom

muses about the point of writing this email. If I am

already dead, which is what she suspects, I wouldn’t

be able to read it. And if I’m alive, what kind of daughter

am I not to write her own mother to let her know

that I’ve arrived at my fancy residency, safe and sound,

and then to immediately send pictures of everything,

like I promised her! If this was a crime show, she posits,

the detective might accuse her of sending this email

as a cover up for murder. How could she be the murderer,

if she wrote an email to her daughter asking if she was murdered?

her defense lawyers would argue at the trial. In fact,

now that she thinks of it, this email is the perfect alibi

for murdering me. And that is something I should

definitely keep in mind, if I don’t write her back

as soon as I have a free goddamn second to spare.

 

LINKS:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Signed copies

Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz’s website

Twitter

Instagram

Facebook

BIO:

CRISTIN O’KEEFE APTOWICZ is the author of six previous books of poetry—Dear Future Boyfriend; Hot Teen Slut; Working Class Represent; Oh, Terrible Youth; Everything is Everything and The Year of No Mistakes— which are all currently available through Write Bloody Publishing. Her second collection of poetry, Hot Teen Slut, was recently optioned for a film adaption, and her sixth collection of poetry, The Year of No Mistakes, was named the Book of the Year for Poetry by the Writers’ League of Texas. Aptowicz is also the author of two nonfiction books: Words In Your Face: A Guided Tour Through Twenty Years of the New York City Poetry Slam (Soft Skull Press), which U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins wrote “leaves no doubt that the slam poetry scene has achieved legitimacy and taken its rightful place on the map of contemporary literature”; and Dr Mütter’s Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine (Avery Books/Penguin), which spent three months on the New York Times Best Seller list. Recent awards include a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Literature, the ArtsEDGE Writer-in-Residence position at the University of Pennsylvania, and the Amy Clampitt House Residency. When not on tour, Aptowicz lives and writes in Austin, TX, with her family.

My Favorite Bit: Kelly Robson talks about GODS, MONSTERS, AND THE LUCKY PEACH

Favorite Bit iconKelly Robson is joining us today to talk about her novel Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach. Here is the publisher’s description:

Discover a shifting history of adventure as humanity clashes over whether to repair their ruined planet or luxuriate in a less tainted past.

In 2267, Earth has just begun to recover from worldwide ecological disasters. Minh is part of the generation that first moved back up to the surface of the Earth from the underground hells, to reclaim humanity’s ancestral habitat. She’s spent her entire life restoring river ecosystems, but lately the kind of long-term restoration projects Minh works on have been stalled due to the invention of time travel. When she gets the opportunity take a team to 2000 BC to survey the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, she jumps at the chance to uncover the secrets of the shadowy think tank that controls time travel technology.

What’s Kelly’s favorite bit?

Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach cover

KELLY ROBSON

Everyone who writes about time travel designs their rules and mechanics to suit themselves. Connie Willis’ academic time travelers embed themselves in the past, and Kage Baker’s Company time travelers operate like cold war spies. We all apply time travel with restrictions that serve the stories we want to tell, highlighting the aspects of time travel that most intrigue us.

I’m not particularly interested in paradoxes or altering the future by changing the past. My time travel is designed to be consequence-free. This is because what I like best about time travel —  my favorite bit — is the ability to see how people really lived.

Like my characters Minh, Hamid, and Kiki, I would do anything to visit the past. But it wouldn’t be enough to just be able to visit just a few places. When I dream about time travelling, I want to be able to see it all. I want to see the past using the Google Earth of the future. And because I have no romantic ideas about danger being fun, I want to do it in perfect safety.

When Minh, Hamid, and Kiki land on a remote South Pacific island in 2024 BCE with Fabian, a professional historian, the first thing they do is launch satellites. Not only does this provide them with ambient power to run their tech, the satellites form a globe-spanning, high resolution remote sensing array that allows them to spy on people from a God’s eye view.

This is practical. Humans are dangerous, and they want to ensure that no past population members paddle up to the beach while they’re not looking. But the remote sensing is also part of their work. Minh, Hamid, and Kiki are ecological scientists running a past state assessment on the Mesopotamian trench. They’re spying for science.

Within a few hours of landing in the past, my time travelers can run population analyses, identify human settlements, and pinpoint agrarian and hunter-gatherer communities. For specific, pre-identified points of interest, the data from multiple satellites are combined to provide a tilt-shifted view of a ceremony atop the massive ziggurat of Ur, with an angle that allows them to see the faces of the participants. They gather data for climate analyses and scan the topography using LIDAR to build ecosystem models.

This is absolutely my favorite bit. The instant Minh hits the ground, she starts launching satellites. She’s got a project to run, and she’s fiercely competitive. She wants to show Fabian she’s in charge. She can’t start her work until the satellites are up and running, so she’s not going to waste any time. Before long, the satellites begin providing a global view, lighting up the continents with data. The whole world is at their fingertips, in a high resolution heads-up display, like Google Earth on steroids.

Now, if it were me, I’d stay on that nice, safe South Pacific island and revel in my god-like spy power. I’m a Google Street View junkie, and I can’t imagine anything better than a Street View of the remote past. But Minh, Hamid, and Kiki didn’t travel 4000 years in the past to sit around in safety. They take the first opportunity to get themselves into trouble.

LINKS:

Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach Universal Book Link

Book Page

Author website

Author Twitter

Publisher Twitter

BIO:

Kelly Robson’s Gods, Monsters and the Lucky Peach is newly out from Tor.com Publishing. Her short fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld, Tor.com, Asimov’s Science Fiction, and multiple anthologies. In 2017, she was a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. Her novella “Waters of Versailles” won the 2016 Aurora Award and was a finalist for both the Nebula and World Fantasy Awards. She has also been a finalist for the Sturgeon and Sunburst awards, and her stories have been included in numerous year’s best anthologies. She is a regular contributor to the Another Word column at Clarkesworld.

Kelly grew up in the foothills of the Canadian Rocky Mountains and competed in rodeos as a teenager. From 2008 to 2012, she was the wine columnist for Chatelaine, Canada’s largest women’s magazine. After many years in Vancouver, she and her wife, fellow SF writer A.M. Dellamonica, now live in Toronto.

My Favorite Bit: Tristan Palmgren talks about QUIETUS

Favorite Bit iconTristan Palmgren is joining us today with his novel Quietus. Here’s the publisher’s description:

A transdimensional anthropologist can’t keep herself from interfering with Earth’s darkest period of history in this brilliant science fiction debut

Niccoluccio, a young Florentine Carthusian monk, leads a devout life until the Black Death kills all of his brothers, leaving him alone and filled with doubt. Habidah, an anthropologist from another universe racked by plague, is overwhelmed by the suffering. Unable to maintain her observer neutrality, she saves Niccoluccio from the brink of death.

Habidah discovers that neither her home’s plague nor her assignment on Niccoluccio’s world are as she’s been led to believe. Suddenly the pair are drawn into a worlds-spanning conspiracy to topple an empire larger than the human imagination can contain.

What’s Tristan’s favorite bit?

Quietus

TRISTAN PALMGREN

Writing and reading history has always been difficult for me. It’s like reading prequels forever. I can’t erase what I know about the course of history. There’s not enough tension, and too much dramatic irony. As a reader, I have undeserved power over the read.

It’s not just knowing the events of history that spoil things for me, either. It’s our worldview: everything we know and think we know about things like the age of the Earth, astronomy, geology, religion, and more. I can pretend not to know these things, but that’s all it is: a pretense. It’s always there, and it’s always going to be a barrier to understanding a historical novel’s characters and their crises.

I wrote Quietus to foreground that problem. Dr Habidah Shen and her team of extradimensional anthropologists have come, for desperate reasons of their own, to Europe in the 1340s to witness the Black Death. Habidah knows her biases are a problem. She tries to, but can’t, surmount them.

Visual scanning didn’t reveal much besides a few flickering fires. Otherwise, Genoa was as solid black as the open wilderness. To Genoa’s inhabitants, the night must have seemed like a different world, cold and wild and dangerous. It was no wonder many of them believed that the plague spread most easily at night, carried on ill winds. Switching to infrared to pick a landing site felt like cheating.

The shuttle set down just inside the city walls, in an open square near a well. The moment she and Feliks set foot on soil, the ramp folded up. The shuttle vanished with a whisper and a suggestion of a shadow. A cold autumn breeze swept in.

Still thinking of the dark, Habidah turned her retinal infrared off. She wanted to see the world as the locals saw it. Her breath caught in her throat. She might as well have struck herself blind. She couldn’t even see Feliks. The world seemed so closed in around her. She only lasted a few seconds before she turned infrared on again.

My favorite bits of Quietus are those moments that twist the connection between the reader and the read. Habidah is able to do what so many of us history readers dream about: touch the past. When she comes across a dying monk, she cannot stop herself from helping him. Lying on a medical table, he grabs for her hand.

Gradually, Habidah let go. She told him, “I’m going to step out for just a moment and let your friends know where you are. I’ll be back.”

The monk, still holding up his hand, said nothing. Habidah wasn’t sure he’d heard her.

As she stepped through the doors, the monk told her, “Niccoluccio Caracciola.”

She halted on the other side, and looked back. Somehow he’d found the strength to crane his head. He was staring at her with quiet, taut desperation.

“Habidah Shen,” she managed to say before the doors shut.

Habidah is a reader. She studies this world in the same way that we readers try to get into the heads of characters in historical fiction. She uses empathy as a tool. She tries to understand Niccoluccio by placing herself in his position, trying to feel what he does.

But empathy is dangerous. Empathy is not objective.

In Quietus, that’s all right.

He started to step forward, and was stopped by the tug of Habidah’s arm. Only then did he seem to realize that he was still holding Habidah’s hand, and that Habidah wasn’t coming with him.

She said, “This is your home, not mine. I have another assignment in Marseilles.” She should have been there weeks ago. The plague’s late arrival in Genoa had delayed her. “My superiors don’t want me to get more involved. I’ve done too much already.”

“I can’t bring myself to pass the gates alone. I would rather wander the wilderness again.”

“You won’t be alone once you find your family. I don’t want to interfere.”

“You don’t need to interfere.”

The moon shone bright enough that Habidah didn’t need infrared to take stock of the fear in his eyes. “All right.” Only then did they let each others’ hands go.

She’s taken on a responsibility she’s not ready for. Through Niccoluccio, Habidah starts to see herself in ways she would rather not. While recovering from an injury with the aid of Habidah’s technology, Niccoluccio tells her:

“I feel fine now.”

“Only because our medicine has tricked you into feeling that way.”

His eyes flicked over himself, to the bruise creeping down his shoulder and the hollow curve of his stomach. If he hadn’t felt alienated from his body before, he would now. “Oh.”

Sometimes, she didn’t think he was sufficiently afraid of her and her people. There was certainly a lot to fear. More than she’d known.

She was more than an angel or agent of God, she realized. She’d become his confessor. When she’d taken him in, the last thing she had ever expected of him was unremitting trust.

There’s a lot of things I love about Quietus, but Habidah and Niccoluccio are the reason why I wrote it. They are by far my favorite part. Their relationship only gets more complicated, and fraught, from here.

LINKS:

Quietus Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

BIO:

Tristan Palmgren has been a clerk, a factory technician, a university lecturer, a cashier, a secretary, a retail manager, a rural coroner’s assistant. In his lives on parallel Earths, he has been an ant farm tycoon, funeral home enthusiast, professional con-artist impersonator, laser pointer chaser, and that guy who somehow landed a trademark for the word “Avuncular.” Jealous. He lives with his wife Teresa in Columbia, Missouri.

My Favorite Bit: Sean Grigsby talks about SMOKE EATERS

My Favorite BitSean Grigsby is joining us today with his novel Smoke Eaters. Here’s the publisher’s description:

When dragons rise from the earth, firefighters are humanity’s last line of defense, in this wild near-future fantasy.

Firefighter Cole Brannigan is on the verge of retirement after 30 years on the job, and a decade fighting dragons. But during his final fire call, he discovers he’s immune to dragon smoke. It’s such a rare power that he’s immediately conscripted into the elite dragon-fighting force known as the Smoke Eaters.  Retirement cancelled, Brannigan is re-assigned as a lowly rookie, chafing under his superiors. So when he discovers a plot to take over the city’s government, he takes matters into his own hands. With hundreds of innocent civilians in the crosshairs, it’s up to Brannigan and his fellow Smoke Eaters to repel the dragon menace.

What’s Sean’s favorite bit?

Smoke Eaters cover image

SEAN GRIGSBY

I loved Ghostbusters as a kid.

Granted, I didn’t understand the adult humor and innuendos as a five-year-old, and seeing Dan Akroyd have his pants unzipped by an invisible specter was very confusing and likely subconsciously damaging to my young mind.

But the proton packs and laser traps! The different kinds of ghosts and seeing the boys in brown sliding down the pole before they jumped into Ecto-1 and sped down the streets of New York as their tangy sirens filled the air!

It’s probably what influenced me to become a firefighter. Yeah, that sounds weird to some of you, but look at it: the Ghostbusters live in a firehouse, they respond in a light-flashing, siren-wailing rig whenever they’re called, they wear heavy packs, and they fix problems by shooting streams at them.

A little Freudian, too, I guess.

It’s also what might have inspired me down the path of a speculative fiction writer. And this brings us to my favorite bit in my debut novel, Smoke Eaters. There are so many to choose from.

Sure, in a book that’s described as firefighters vs. dragons, you might expect me to talk about all the cool fire breathers or even the volatile corporate robots, but I want to talk about an aspect of the book you might not know at first glance.

In the book, wraiths are the ghosts of people killed by dragons, and they serve a very important purpose to their murderers.

When I first set out to write the book, I had an image of a wraith—much like the angry library ghost in the aforementioned film—floating across a barren, ash-covered landscape. I had no idea at the time what ghosts would have to do with dragons, but my creative philosophy is: go with it. And so I did.

My favorite bit in SMOKE EATERS is a scene where Cole Brannigan watches an instructional video out of Canada, starring the fictional mad scientist, Professor Poltergeist. The professor explains that wraiths serve as a way to protect the eggs dragons have laid in enormous ash piles.

The smoke eaters may be getting a good handle on how to dispatch a dragon, but when it comes to wraiths, their current standard operating procedure is: run!

But, without giving too much away, the wraiths are being used for a sinister purpose in drawing dragons to certain areas, effectively burning down the neighborhood. Brannigan knows something is up, and he doesn’t have long to find out who’s behind the ghostly arson.

Writing this book was a blast, and I’m happy I got to mix my career fire knowledge with the imagination of that five-year-old kid, whose parents had to reassure him no ghost would disrobe him in the middle of the night.

They had better things to do.

LINKS:

Smoke Eaters Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

BIO:

Sean Grigsby is a professional firefighter in central Arkansas, where he writes about lasers, aliens, and guitar battles with the Devil when he’s not fighting dragons.

My Favorite Bit: Tina LeCount Myers talks about THE SONG OF ALL

My Favorite BitTina LeCount Myers is joining us today with her novel The Song of All. Here’s the publisher’s description:

On the forbidding fringes of the tundra, where years are marked by seasons of snow, humans war with immortals in the name of their shared gods. Irjan, a human warrior, is ruthless and lethal, a legend among the Brethren of Hunters. But even legends grow tired and disillusioned.

Scarred and weary of bloodshed, Irjan turns his back on his oath and his calling to hide away and live a peaceful life as a farmer, husband, and father. But his past is not so easily left behind. When an ambitious village priest conspires with the vengeful comrades Irjan has forsaken, the fragile peace in the Northlands of Davvieana is at stake.

His bloody past revealed, Irjan’s present unravels as he faces an ultimatum: return to hunt the immortals or lose his child. But with his son’s life hanging in the balance, as Irjan follows the tracks through the dark and desolate snow-covered forests, it is not death he searches for, but life.

What’s Tina’s favorite bit?

The Song of All Cover image

TINA LECOUNT MYERS

One of my favorite parts of my fantasy novel is the science behind it. In fact, I started writing The Song of All after a debate with my husband about what distinguishes science fiction from fantasy. Let’s just say it was a robust discussion in which my husband made the point that science fiction presents what is possible based on science, while fantasy presents magic and the supernatural and is not based on science, a distinction I took umbrage with.

“What about quantum physics?” I asked. “What about dark matter and dark energy? Couldn’t they explain magic and metaphysical elements?”

“Fine,” he conceded, knowing I had watched more TedX and Neil deGrasse Tyson talks on YouTube than he had. “But there are no such things as elves.”

“But there could be,” I said.

Human evolution, even starting as late as Homo erectus, reflects substantial differences in morphology. Comparing Homo sapiens to the Neanderthals, Homo sapiens have keener eyesight, hearing, and sense of smell. Through natural selection, any number of potential phenotypes might evolve if those individuals are successful at surviving and passing on their genetics. Nothing precludes the evolution of an “elf.”

Later, as I rehashed the argument, I thought about how many cultures have elves as part of their mythology. I recalled the Finnish folktales my own grandparents told me as a child about spirits that lived in the far north, in Saamiland. I began to imagine just how these magical creatures might have evolved. And what started as research to prove my point unexpectedly ended up as a fantasy novel.

In The Song of All, the Jápmemeahttun (pronounced yahp.meh.mehah.toon) are my “elves.” They are distinct from the human Olmmoš (pronounced ol.mow.sh), having evolved over millennia of prehistory in isolation. While the two species have similar morphology, the Jápmemeahttun have developed some distinctive characteristics due to environmental and social pressures. One such characteristic is their unusual reproductive system. The Jápmemeahttun are protogyny sequential hermaphrodites, meaning they change sexes, in this case from female to male, a model that I borrowed from real life biological sciences.

Researchers suggest that sequential hermaphroditism occurs in nature when an individual animal reproduces most efficiently as one sex when younger, but as the other sex when older. Among invertebrates and vertebrates, there are many examples of sequential hermaphroditism, both protogyny (female to male) and protandry (male to female). The Clownfish switches from male to female. The Blackfin Goby fish can go both ways depending on need. The European common brown frog sometimes switches from female to male when the females are older, prolonging their lifetime reproductive success. But my favorite example is the wrasse because of the impassioned lecture my college biology professor gave on this fish.

After weeks of stunningly dry lectures, my introductory biology course had finally evolved from the cellular level to the topic of reproduction. My professor, who for those proceeding weeks had shown little enthusiasm for the material, began to explain with surprising animation the mating rituals of this small fish-the wrasse. With gusto, she described how when the dominant male of a school dies or as she put it “goes out for a cup of coffee”, the largest female will begin seducing the other females and develop male organs to become dominant in the school. She concluded with a cackle that, “There’s a reason why they’re called Sneaky Suckers.” Only she did not say Suckers.

Struck by my professor’s unexpected liveliness, I stopped taking notes and saw for the first time just how mind-blowing biological adaptations can be. Two decades later, when I started to write The Song of All, I remembered that moment of wonder and saw in evolution the possibility to write about magical creatures, using not only imagination, but also science to shape them.

As a species, the Jápmemeahttun are far more honorable in their courtship than the wrasse. They do not rely on duplicity to ensure that dominant genes are passed on. But like the wrasse, the Jápmemeahttun, as I envisioned them, are the result of natural selection. They adapted in response to their imagined world, just as species have on this planet. Evolution has created some pretty magical creatures in the Earth’s 4.5 billion years of existence: Pterodactyls, Duck-billed Platypuses, Human Beings. And numerous cultures acknowledge the existence of unseen supernatural beings. So, while I am willing to concede to the point that there is no scientific evidence of elves, I add the caveat, “Not yet.”

LINKS:

The Song of All Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

BIO:

Tina LeCount Myers is a writer, artist, independent historian, and surfer. Born in Mexico to expat-bohemian parents, she grew up on Southern California tennis courts with a prophecy hanging over her head; her parents hoped she’d one day be an author. The Song of All is her debut novel.

My Favorite Bit: Rachel A. Marks talks about FIRE AND BONE

Favorite Bit iconRachel A. Marks is joining us today with her novel Fire and Bone. Here is the publisher’s description:

In Hollywood’s underworld of demigods, druids, and ancient bonds, one girl has a dangerous future.

Sage is eighteen, down on her luck, and struggling to survive on the streets of Los Angeles. Everything changes the night she’s invited to a party—one that turns out to be a trap.

Thrust into a magical world hidden within the City of Angels, Sage discovers that she’s the daughter of a Celtic goddess, with powers that are only in their infancy. Now that she is of age, she’s asked to pledge her service to one of the five deities, all keen on winning her favor by any means possible. She has to admit that she’s tempted—especially when this new life comes with spells, Hollywood glam, and a bodyguard with secrets of his own. Not to mention a prince whose proposal could boost her rank in the Otherworld.

As loyalties shift, and as the two men vie for her attention, Sage tries to figure out whom to trust in a realm she doesn’t understand. One thing is for sure: the trap she’s in has bigger claws than she thought. And it’s going to take a lot more than magic for this Celtic demigoddess to make it out alive.

What’s Rachel’s favorite bit?

Fire and Bone cover image

RACHEL A. MARKS

So much of creating Fire and Bone was one big ball of fun; the lore research, the world-building, the character dynamics. But my favorite bit to write was most definitely the banter. I admit, I love writing banter. But something about the way these characters bounced off of each other, the oddity of ancient gods meshing with the shallow nature of Hollywood glam, six-hundred-year-old demigods competing for power in the ancient order, as teen druids, with a weakness for label-wear, consider who to invite to the next gala.

All the while a dark legend is stirring beneath the surface.

As I wrote, the banter bubbled to the surface easily. Whenever the character views conflicted, or the irony of a situation presented itself, it turned into a crash of sass. Like Sage, our snarky heroine, who uses her wit to protect herself as she’s confronted for the first time with the truth of her goddess heritage by Faelan (whose POV we’re in).

“I’m going to take you to a safe place where there’s a man who wants to help you,” I say. “He’s rich, very powerful. Under his protection, you’ll learn where you come from and discover where you belong. The dark prince won’t be able to control you and—”

She barks out a laugh, interrupting me.

“What’s so funny?” I ask.

“Dark prince? Seriously?” She laughs again. “Can you even hear yourself?”

I study her and wonder if the potion that Star gave her was too strong. That pixie is so flighty.

The demi stands from the bed and folds her arms across her chest, looking guarded but determined. “Look, muscleman, I can buy this whole you’re-not-who-you-think-you-are thing, since my life has basically sucked ass from the start and I’d love to believe that it was all some huge cosmic error. But you’re trying to tell me I’m going to meet Daddy Warbucks, who will explain to me that I’m a weird alien or something? And he’ll protect me from a dark prince? Pardon me if I don’t leap to join your cult so I can get a chance at cushy digs. That’s not my style.”

“You’re not an alien.”

Sage has a way of taking everything that comes at her with a grain of salt, always keeping others at arms’ length, and using the bite of her unaffected words to take people by surprise. And so, when she finally meets with the “dark prince” and his terrifying wraiths it’s pretty well established that a little fear isn’t going to knock her off her game right away.

“You shouldn’t fear me,” he says, way too close now. “I can give you your heart’s desire.”

“Right now I’d like a one-way ticket to Tahiti.”

Confusion fills his features. “We don’t rule in the south.”

“Sounds perfect.”

But my favorite points really come to the surface once Sage and Faelan have developed their rhythm. They’ve had a lot of tense moments with frustration and danger, and it’s bonded them in a short time, allowing for an unlikely friendship.

“Wow, some warrior you are. Can’t even stand up to a tiny teen girl.”

“Aelia?” he asks. “That wee thing is terrifying.”

“I bet you don’t call her wee to her face.”

“Gods, no.”

When a book is full of looming danger and dark story threads, it’s that much more refreshing when a little humor breaks through, letting us smile. The stark contrast of fear and wit in one space allow us to feel each emotion that much more. It’s my favorite bit to read. And, most definitely, my favorite bit to write.

LINKS:

Fire and Bone

Website

Goodreads

Twitter

Facebook

BIO:

Rachel A. Marks is an author, a professional artist, keeper of faerie secrets, and a cancer survivor. If her love of the ocean is any indication, she may have been a selkie in another life. But now she’s a boring human and the author of the Dark Cycle series, which includes Darkness BrutalDarkness Fair, and Darkness Savage. Her art can be found on the covers of several New York Times and USA Today bestselling novels. She lives in Southern California with her husband, four teens, three chickens, two precocious pups, two rats, and a kitty.

My Favorite Bit: John Kessel talks about PRIDE AND PROMETHEUS

Favorite Bit iconJohn Kessel is joining us today with his novel Pride and Prometheus. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Pride and Prejudice meets Frankenstein as Mary Bennet falls for the enigmatic Victor Frankenstein and befriends his monstrous Creature in this clever fusion of two popular classics.

Threatened with destruction unless he fashions a wife for his Creature, Victor Frankenstein travels to England where he meets Mary and Kitty Bennet, the remaining unmarried sisters of the Bennet family from Pride and Prejudice. As Mary and Victor become increasingly attracted to each other, the Creature looks on impatiently, waiting for his bride. But where will Victor find a female body from which to create the monster’s mate?

Meanwhile, the awkward Mary hopes that Victor will save her from approaching spinsterhood while wondering what dark secret he is keeping from her.

Pride and Prometheus fuses the gothic horror of Mary Shelley with the Regency romance of Jane Austen in an exciting novel that combines two age-old stories in a fresh and startling way.

What’s John Kessel’s favorite bit?

Pride and Prometheus cover image

JOHN KESSEL

I have a couple of moments in Pride and Prometheus that I like a lot. One of them I think I will leave for you to experience when you read the book, but my other favorite is chapter five. This was one of the last chapters I finished in the twenty-one-chapter novel, mostly because it was a pain in the neck to write.

Pride and Prometheus is an expansion of my novelette from 2008, which won the Nebula Award and the Shirley Jackson Award. That story is told from the point of view of Mary Bennet, the sententious, bookish, unattractive middle sister of the Bennet sisters of Pride and Prejudice, who in my tale meets Victor Frankenstein, and ultimately his Creature. Victor is in England on his way to Scotland to create a bride for the monster, who threatens to kill all those Victor loves unless he makes him a companion.

I did not plan to make a novel out of the story and spent ten years resisting the idea until I realized that there was indeed a novel to be told. I did not want simply to tack on an unrelated sequel or pad out a narrative that already existed. The way I solved this problem was to start earlier and end later. The first four chapters introduce the viewpoint characters—Mary, Victor and the Creature—establish their motivations and set their stories in motion. Chapters six through ten cover the events that originally appeared in the novelette, and then eleven through twenty-one carry on from there.

Chapter five was my transition from the new beginning to the events of the old story.

It started life as a brief grab bag of a chapter in which I needed to move characters from one place to someplace else to prepare for the more dramatic events to come. In any novel, I think, a writer runs into these moments that can’t be avoided but which seem at best like carpentry and at worst drudgery. As such, I had trouble making chapter five work. I rewrote it many times.

Mary and Kitty are at home and chafing under the attentions of their difficult mother Mrs. Bennet. Not a lot happens here besides Kitty getting permission to visit Elizabeth and Darcy at Darcy’s estate Pemberley, and, to everyone’s surprise, Mary asking to go with her. After a lot of thinking and rewriting it ended up being like so many chapters in Austen novels, essentially two conversations: the first between Mary and her sister Kitty and the second between Mary and her father.

The scene between Kitty and Mary used a classic Austen setting: a sunny afternoon when the two sisters walk home from church, talking privately, away from their parents. Mary and Kitty are very different people, thirteen years older than they were in Pride and Prejudice. They have both been struggling with the notion of ending up spinsters; Kitty is not happy at the prospect and is desperate to find a husband. Mary has until recently resigned herself to being alone, but now she has two prospects, one realistic and dull, and the other Victor Frankenstein.

This is the most intimate scene between the sisters, where they talk about their hopes and fears, and despite their differences of temperament, show a real bond. One purpose here was to make Kitty, who earlier might have seemed shallow, sympathetic, another to show the sisters’ love for each other. I managed to get out of this scene alive; I’m sure my sigh of relief must have been audible from Derbyshire.

Then I had to write the scene between Mary and Mr. Bennet. Its purpose was to have Mary (who heretofore has spent most of her time stuck at home entertaining her mother) ask for permission to visit Pemberley with Kitty. Besides this I had no idea what else they might discuss. Once I got them talking, they fell into a conversation about Mary’s prospects, about marriage in general, and about why Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, two people who could not be more incompatible in temperament, ended up together—a question that readers of Pride and Prejudice have been asking for 200 years. It’s a moment of intimacy, an extrapolation that I expect many Austen readers or critics must have made about the Bennets, but that I had not seen written about anywhere. I was genuinely surprised at Mary’s forcefulness in demanding what she wants here, and even more so at how Mr. Bennet reacts, and how he confides in her.

My mental conception of the novel was “A Jane Austen heroine falls into a gothic novel.” For the most part my novel follows Frankenstein in all its melodrama—murder, animated corpses, body snatching. But chapter five is all Austen, and that’s why I like it so much. I can’t claim to match Jane in her wit and subtle delineation of character, her deconstruction of the manners and morals of well bred English families, but here is where I enter the most fully into her world.

No action, just two people sitting in a room talking. No faustian over-reaching, no histrionics. But the glimpse it gives of Mr. Bennet as more than a sardonic critic of other family members, and of Mrs. Bennet as more than an exasperating trial for everyone around her, and of Mary as more than a figure of fun, makes me happy that I wrote it.

LINKS:

Pride and Prometheus Universal Book Link

Website

Facebook

BIO:

Born in Buffalo, New York, John Kessel’s most recent book is the new novel Pride and Prometheus.  He is the author of the earlier novels The Moon and the Other, Good News from Outer Space and Corrupting Dr. Nice and in collaboration with James Patrick Kelly, Freedom Beach. His short story collections are Meeting in Infinity (a New York Times Notable Book), The Pure Product, and The Baum Plan for Financial Independence.
Kessel’s stories have twice received the Nebula Award given by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, in addition to the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, the Locus Poll, and the James Tiptree Jr. Award. His play “Faustfeathers’” won the Paul Green Playwright’s Prize, and his story “A Clean Escape” was adapted as an episode of the ABC TV series Masters of Science Fiction. In 2009 his story “Pride and Prometheus” received both the Nebula Award and the Shirley Jackson Award. With Jim Kelly, he has edited five anthologies of stories re-visioning contemporary short sf, most recently Digital Rapture: The Singularity Anthology.
Kessel holds a B.A. in Physics and English and a Ph.D. in American Literature. He helped found and served as the first director of the MFA program in creative writing at North Carolina State University, where he has taught since 1982. He and his wife, the novelist Therese Anne Fowler, live and work in Raleigh, NC.

My Favorite Bit: Dan Koboldt talks about THE WORLD AWAKENING

My Favorite BitDan Koboldt is joining us today with his novel The World Awakening. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Quinn Bradley has learned to use the magic of another world. And that world is in danger. Having decided to betray CASE Global, he can finally reveal his origins to the Enclave and warn them about the company’s imminent invasion. Even if it means alienating Jillaine…and allying with someone he’s always considered his adversary.

But war makes for strange bedfellows, and uniting Alissians against such a powerful enemy will require ancient enmities-as well as more recent antagonisms-to be set aside. The future of their pristine world depends on it. As Quinn searches for a way to turn the tide, his former CASE Global squad-mates face difficult decisions of their own. For some, it’s a matter of what they’re willing to do to get home. For others, it’s deciding whether they want to go home at all.

Continuing the exciting adventures from The Rogue Retrieval and The Island Deception, The World Awakening is the spellbinding conclusion to the Gateways to Alissia fantasy series from Dan Koboldt.

What’s Dan’s favorite bit?

The World Awakening

DAN KOBOLDT

When I started writing this series, I asked a simple question: if you sent a modern illusionist into a medieval world, how well could he pass himself off as a real magician? I imagined that he could probably pull it off, especially if he leveraged modern technologies and materials that a pre-industrial society has never seen.

When I started the story, I figured that arming my character with geeky modern tech – LEDs, lasers, and maybe a small flamethrower – would be the most fun. But I was wrong. My magician’s favorite thing about entering a pristine medieval world isn’t his technological advantage: it’s access to a naïve audience.

This not only helps with his tricks, but puts all of our world’s history and pop culture at his disposal. It came in handy in the first book, when he had to talk his way past a security checkpoint:

Then the lyric just popped into his head. “So now we’ve come to you, with open arms. Nothing to hide.” He held out his arms, palms open, imploring him. “Believe what I say.”

That’s from a Journey song, which the natives in the other world have obviously never heard. Later, in book two, he finds himself turning down a job offer with a little help from Robert Frost:

The captain gave him a serious look. “Somethin’ tells me you’re destined for bigger things. But if they don’t pan out, I’d be happy to take you on.”

“I appreciate that,” Quinn said. “But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.”

Knowledge of our pop culture also provides a wealth of ideas for handling sticky situations. Like this one in The World Awakening, when Quinn and Jillaine need to approach a dangerous man about a ransom:

“Well, what do you want to do?” she asked.

“I’m thinking we go with the fake bounty hunter routine,” Quinn said.

“Never heard of it.”

“Oh, it’s a classic. And you get to be the bounty hunter, which will be more fun.”

She cringed a little. “I’m not sure I can pull that off. What do I even do?”

“And there’s costumes, too,” he said, pretending not to hear. He leaned back and gave her the up-and-down survey. “For you, I’m thinking leathers. Maybe a little chain mail to really sell it.”

“What about you?” she asked.

“I’m the prisoner, so I don’t need much. Just for you to tie me up.”

Her eyebrows shot up, and she put on a pensive expression. “This begins to offer some appeal.”

Of course she’s never heard of the fake bounty hunter routine. She hasn’t seen Return of the Jedi.

When I began this series, I thought that my magician would rely on his hard-won skills and state-of-the-art technology to get by in the other world. But his knowledge of pop culture proved surprisingly valuable as well, and that’s what makes it my favorite bit.

LINKS:

The World Awakening Universal Book Link

The Rogue Retrieval (book 1) Universal Book Link

The Island Deception (book 2) Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

BIO:

Dan Koboldt is a genetics researcher and fantasy/science fiction author from the Midwest. He is the author of the Gateway to Alissia series (Harper Voyager) about a Las Vegas magician who infiltrates a medieval world. He is currently editing Putting the Science in Fiction, (Writers Digest), a reference for writers slated for release in Fall 2018.

By day, Dan is a genetics researcher at a major children’s hospital. He has co-authored more than 70 publications in NatureScience, The New England Journal of Medicine, and other scientific journals. He lives with his wife, daughter, and twin boys in Ohio

 

My Favorite Bit: R. H. Stavis talks about SISTER OF DARKNESS

My Favorite BitRachel H. Stavis is joining us today with her memoir Sister of Darkness: The Chronicles of a Modern Exorcist. Here’s the publisher’s description:

The world’s only non-denominational exorcist tells her astonishing true story: a riveting chronicle of wrestling entities from infected souls, showing how pain and trauma opens us to attachment from forces that drain our energy . . . and can even destroy our humanity.

As a secular exorcist, Rachel H. Stavis has cleansed thousands of tormented people, from small children and Hollywood moguls to stay-at-home moms and politicians. But for many years, the horror screenwriter and novelist denied her gift. As a little girl, she began to see “monsters” floating around her bedroom or attached to other children. Told it was only her imagination, Rachel learned to ignore the things she saw.

But a series of events in adulthood forced her to acknowledge her unique ability and embrace her power to heal. Since then, Rachel has dedicated her life to helping others cast off the forces feeding off of us. Performing her services pro-bono, she quietly worked in the shadows, until she unknowingly revealed her work to a journalist, who told her story to NPR.

A unique look at demonology removed from religious dogma, Sister of Darkness recounts Rachel’s journey to becoming an exorcist and chronicles some of her most extreme cleansings cases, including those that put her and her clients in peril. Going deep into her world, we meet the diverse range of people she has helped—young, old, famous and not—in gripping stories of danger and sometimes sadness, that are ultimately about redemption. Rachel teaches us that there are a diverse range of “entities” surrounding us—some of these are playful or misguided, while some are dangerous and harmful. She introduces each of them and explains their power, helping us understand what is attacking and hurting us, and what we can do to protect ourselves.

Frightening, eye-opening, and utterly enthralling, Sister of Darkness brings to light a world ruled by destruction, chaos and fear, and the woman who bravely fights to protect those who seeks her out.

What’s Rachel’s favorite bit?

Sister of Darkness cover

R.H. STAVIS

When writing a memoir, it’s very odd to try and find a favorite part – mainly because it’s a portrait of your life, and it’s so personal, and full of ups and downs (as life surely is). But if I had to choose what I think is one of my favorite things – both in the book and as an experience – it is the opportunity to teach people the truth about Entity.

For so long, people have been taught to believe that exorcism and possession is “the devil,” or specific named demons, and it has been heavily steeped in religion. And they have been taught that possession is exceedingly rare.

In my worldview, it’s actually very different: there are all kinds of Entities that vary on a scale from least harmful to incredibly malignant. There are Entities who don’t interact with humans at all. There are Entities who I call “High Beings” which actually give help to us (like Spirit Guides, Master Teachers, Angels, etc.). And possession is actually not rare at all. Most people have had an Entity, or are carrying an Entity now, and don’t even realize it!

In fact, there is an entire world of Entity – right below the surface of our world. It exists along with us, and affects us. Unfortunately, we are very susceptible to it. But it’s with this knowledge and understanding that we can begin to help ourselves. Each day we have a choice: be conscious about what we think, what we say, and how we affect others, or remain unconscious of it, and let ourselves simply go through the motions.

If we choose to be conscious, we become more aware of our energy – what I call “baseline frequency.” Are we happy? Sad? Does everything bother us? What about our internal dialogue? Is it positive? Are we helping others? Putting others down? So many choices, and believe it or not, these choices can either put you in harm’s way (toward possession and attachment), or away from it (high vibrational existence). How so? Because Entity is seeking low vibration, and it is seeking to attach to someone with an energy signature it can feed off of. That is how possession actually works.

What I love to do, as I say to people, is to remind everyone how incredibly powerful they are. You know those times when you go through your day, and someone says or does something negative (perhaps they cut you off in traffic, for example), and it can affect you for hours? That’s how powerful your actions, thoughts, and words can be. Imagine if we all spent time creating a place of loving kindness, how amazing the world would be!

Though we can’t control others, we can certainly start with ourselves. We can change the negative self-talk to something positive. We can be benevolent and loving to those around us. And we can do simple acts of kindness in our own ways. By doing this, we raise our frequency, and in doing that, we protect ourselves from attachment.

LINKS:

Sister of Darkness Universal Book Link

Twitter

BIO:

A screenwriter for film, television and video games, R.H. Stavis created the backstory for Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, and has published four horror novels. A professional exorcist, she lives in Van Nuys, California.

My Favorite Bit: Sue Burke talks about SEMIOSIS

My Favorite BitSue Burke is joining us today with her novel Semiosis. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Colonists from Earth wanted the perfect home, but they’ll have to survive on the one they found. They don’t realize another life form watches…and waits…

Only mutual communication can forge an alliance with the planet’s sentient species and prove that humans are more than tools.

What’s Sue’s favorite bit?

Semiosis cover

SUE BURKE

Let’s design a big, scary alien. As a first step, let’s consider Earth beings.

What’s the biggest living thing on Earth? Pando, a clonal colony of a single quaking aspen tree, covering 106 acres of ground in Utah.

What’s the oldest? Pando, again, whose roots are an estimated 80,000 years old. As for the oldest individuals, there’s a bristlecone pine in California, a cypress in Chile, and a sacred fig in Sri Lanka, among many other trees, all more than 2,000 years old.

You can see where this is headed. And you’re already skeptical. Let me try to convince you.

What are the most essential beings on Earth? Possibly the members of the family in the vegetable kingdom called Poaceae – that is, grasses – which includes rice, wheat, maize, sugarcane, oats, barley, and many other grains. Without them, we’d starve.

What’s the nastiest creature on Earth? There’s lots of competition, but I’ll argue that this category can and should include plants. For example, rose bushes have thorns so they can climb over other plants, anchoring their prickles in their flesh, and very possibly starving them of sunshine and killing them – but roses don’t care. (Why would you ever give a rose to your beloved again, knowing that?)

Trees fight among themselves, too. Softwood trees grow fast to capture sunshine, which all plants covet, while hardwoods grow more slowly. Their branches are stirred by the wind against softwoods, grinding through them. Hardwoods rise up to become dominant in the forest canopy by amputating other trees’ limbs one by one. (I told you. Nasty.)

Fine, you say, but plants mostly just sit there. Well, yes and no. They’re actively involved with their environment, including you. When it serves their purpose, they can even communicate with you. When a tomato in your garden turns red, what has that plant just told you? (Bear in mind that the tomato plant wants you to eat the tomato, since its uncooked seeds travel safely through your digestion to arrive at a new, potentially ideal growing site, along with fertilizer.)

Plants also communicate with each other quite a bit through air-borne chemicals and through their roots. They produce pesticides when they’re warned by their companions of a coming attack by insects. They can also produce a wide range of chemicals for all sorts of purposes, from perfumes to psychoactive viagra samples drugs to poisons.

Plants aren’t passive. They’re busy, aggressive, and they have weapons.

They can see, too, in a way. You’ve noticed plants leaning toward sunshine, and some of them keep track of how long sunshine lasts during the day to bloom in certain seasons. They also seem to count. Some bamboos live for a specified number of years before they flower, as many as 120 years, and they know exactly when time is up.

I could go on with what plants can do, but the conclusion is clear. We share Earth with beings who are big, old, nasty, communicative, very aware of their surroundings, armed and deadly, and who are absolutely essential to us, so we have to keep them around.

Let’s use that to create a science fictional protagonist. You immediately have an objection. This big scary being is literally rooted in place. You’re right. This is going to be tough.

And that’s where the fun starts: with an artistic challenge. Stories often deal with something the protagonist wants and can’t get. What would a specific plant want? How would its desire conflict with other beings, maybe with ourselves? How far would a plant go to get what it wants? (We already know that plants are murderous.) Remember, we might depend on this alien to survive as much as we fear it.

Cue the drama. We’ve never faced an enemy as big and bad as this, or had an ally with such extensive resources. We’re going to face dire, unexpected choices.

Have I convinced you? I hope so. I had fun, at any rate. I built a planet and seeded it (literally) with aliens who look harmless at first glance. But now maybe you’ll believe that looks can be deceiving, and an alien who is green and leafy can also be big and scary.

LINKS:

Semiosis Universal Book Link

Semiosis website

Sue Burke’s website

Goodreads

Blog

Facebook

Twitter

BIO:

Sue Burke is a literary translator, and has worked as a journalist and editor for a variety of newspapers and magazines. She has also published more than 30 short stories. She used to live in Madrid, Spain (hence the literary translator work), and now lives in Chicago. Semiosis is her debut novel. You can learn more about it at its website, https://semiosispax.com/

 

My Favorite Bit: Diana Renn talks about FALSE IDOLS Season 1

Favorite Bit iconDiana Renn joins us today to talk about Season 1 of the serial fiction False Idols. Here’s the series description:

FBI Linguist Layla el-Deeb is deep undercover posing as an heiress in the Middle East. She must infiltrate the highest echelons of society in order to trace priceless relics from their millionaire owners back to illegal digs and the terrorist groups profiting from their sale.

But Layla’s troubled past and growing feelings for an art dealer’s son begin to complicate her judgment, and when she uncovers a terrorist plot that threatens American and Egyptian lives she must decide where her loyalties truly lie.

What’s Diana’s favorite bit?

False Idols image

DIANA RENN

As a collaboratively written, serialized story spanning eleven “episodes,” False Idols features a formidable cast of characters. Our heroine, Egyptian-born FBI agent Layla el-Deeb, along with her mentor, Special Agent Ellen Pierce (head of the FBI Art Crimes unit) follow the money trail in Cairo, Egypt, to investigate how illicitly sold antiquities finance terrorism, and to protect the U.S. from an imminent attack.

The scale of the crime required a large group of suspects. So on the character front, False Idols has it all – more than enough to fill the stage of a Broadway musical! Going undercover as an art-collecting heiress in Cairo, the city she once called home, Layla meets eccentric international art collectors, shady antiquities dealers, shadowy middlemen, and terrorist insiders. She becomes entangled with a brilliant American art restorer who steals her heart. She befriends an Italian journalist who is desperate to keep stories about archaeological lootings from being buried in the news, and who shares her values of truth and justice. She plays a high-stakes cat and mouse game with a high-ranking Egyptian government official. She reports to Agent Pierce, a seasoned FBI agent who has a chip on her shoulder and a dark secret. She reconnects with her estranged family, putting the entire operation at risk. And she interacts with a rousing chorus of other FBI agents, Egyptian and American embassy workers, political activists, protestors, organized crime thugs, and a slick crowd of jet-setting twenty-something party kids, whom she somehow manages to convince to accept her into their circle.

Out of this enormous cast, though, I am most proud of Layla – both her unconventional story, and the unique way she came into being.

Writing Layla marked a departure for me as a mystery writer. My previous novels were written for young adults. My globetrotting, mystery-solving teens were amateur sleuths, by virtue of their age. They encountered everything for the first time – not just crimes, but different cultures, love and loss, and their own hidden reservoirs of strengths. Teen sleuths were fun, but I felt ready to flex my mystery-writing muscles and try my hand at a different type of detective.

Layla is no starry-eyed ingénue. She’s pushing thirty and asking herself questions about what the next chapter of her life might look like. She’s led a completely unconventional life so far; will she find someone who will accept the complexities of her identity? Can she trust anyone? And while this is her first undercover gig, she is a trained FBI agent who’s kicked down a few doors. Layla also grew up in one of Cairo’s poorest neighborhoods -within a stone’s throw of the penthouse apartment where she resides in her undercover role. She’s worked incredibly hard to leave her family, get an education, and become a U.S. citizen and an FBI agent.

The other layer of complexity to Layla is her undercover life. As she tries to penetrate deeper into the world of antiquities collectors and dealers, she must be cautious about what she reveals to people. Yet even her “true” identity – competent, self-sufficient FBI agent- is another type of cover, layered over the vulnerable girl who grew up in a Cairo slum. Complicating matters are her growing feelings for James, the son of an art dealer she’s investigating, and her affection for the dealer himself, who comes to see her as family. It’s exhausting work, keeping the lies in check and not revealing too much – even as Layla tries to deepen connections with people she’s come to care for.

Part of Layla’s work involves looking closely at the provenance of valuable artifacts, trying to determine their authenticity, their point of origin, and the times that they have changed owners. Her radar is always up for fakes and flaws, the story of a relic that doesn’t make sense or that might point to illicit deals. In the process, she becomes more aware of her own provenance, and the fact that her story is not without cracks.

The creation of any fictional character is always a little mysterious, yet with characters in my other books, I can always point to a point of origin, the original inspiration. A stranger’s face, an overheard conversation, a figure from my own past. Over subsequent drafts, I round characters out, plumb their psychological depths, and come to know them -ideally, to inhabit them.

Layla was different. Who dreamed her up originally? Who or what inspired her? I do not actually know. When our author team signed on for this project back in 2016, we were handed a great gift from Adaptive Studios and Serial Box: the beginning of a character named Layla, and the premise for an exciting story. Our showrunner, Lisa Klink, fleshed out Layla further when she wrote the Story Bible. Then Lisa, our other co-author Patrick Lohier, and I – in consultation with the creative folks at Serial Box and Adaptive – brainstormed further. At our story summit meeting in Los Angeles in November 2016, our team spent three days in a writer’s room to plan the False Idols characters, episodes, and overall plot. In the writer’s room, Layla began to have a life, a back story, and a character arc, which we traced on numerous sticky notes that eventually filled a wall.

Layla's development

Over the ensuing months, we wrote our individual episodes, critiqued each other’s work, brainstormed again, and – with the aid of our amazing editors Molly Barton and Lydia Shamah – we endlessly revised. It was through that collaborative process, Layla came to life. Not from one individual writer.

I marvel at how we all agreed on her motives, her goals, and her character arc. I do not think the team every debated, at least not for long, what Layla would or would not do in any given situation. Her voice and personality are consistent across episodes. In writing Layla, handing her off from one episode to the next, it felt less like we were creating her than we were learning even more about her. I’m proud to have been one of many people who helped bring Layla to life and to tell her story.

LINKS:

False Idols Season 1

How Serial Box works

Diana Renn’s website

Diana Renn’s Twitter

BIO:

Diana Renn is the author of three young adult mysteries featuring international intrigue and globetrotting teens: Tokyo Heist, Latitude Zero, and Blue Voyage, all published by Viking/Penguin. Blue Voyage was honored as a 2016 “must-read” by the Massachusetts Book Awards, and Latitude Zero was a Junior Library Guild selection. Her latest project is False Idols, a collaboratively-written, episodically-released thriller published in a partnership with Serial Box and Adaptive Books. Her essays and short fiction have appeared in Publisher’s Weekly, The Huffington Post, Brain Child, Literary Mama, The Writer, YARN (Young Adult Review Network), and others. Diana grew up in Seattle and now lives outside of Boston, Massachusetts with her husband, her son, and a moody black cat. Visit her online at www.dianarennbooks.com or @dianarenn on Twitter.

My Favorite Bit: David Mack talks about THE MIDNIGHT FRONT

Favorite Bit iconDavid Mack is joining us today with his novel The Midnight Front. Here’s the publisher’s description:

On the eve of World War Two, Nazi sorcerers come gunning for Cade but kill his family instead. His one path of vengeance is to become an apprentice of The Midnight Front―the Allies’ top-secret magickal warfare program―and become a sorcerer himself.

Unsure who will kill him first―his allies, his enemies, or the demons he has to use to wield magick―Cade fights his way through occupied Europe and enemy lines. But he learns too late the true price of revenge will be more terrible than just the loss of his soul―and there’s no task harder than doing good with a power born of ultimate evil.

What’s David’s favorite bit?

The Midnight Front cover image

DAVID MACK

*Note: The following essay includes a depiction of suicide. If you are thinking about suicide, are worried about a loved one, or would like emotional support, talk to someone here.*

It can be easy to forget that even great sagas are constituted of mere moments, and that sometimes the smallest, most personal of scenes can carry a story’s greatest emotional weight.

The Midnight Front is many things at once: it’s a sweeping World War II epic; it’s a dark fantasy that chronicles a bitter secret war between rival groups of sorcerers who wield black magick; but at its heart, it is about a small cadre of magicians who grow to care for one another like family.

Underscoring that theme is the fact that several of my magic-using characters are orphans, have been cast out of their families, or have otherwise found themselves alone in the world. This is true of my main character, Cade, who loses his parents early in the story; my female lead Anja is cast out of her home as a teen and de facto adopted by the Allies’ master magician, Adair. Last but not least, one of Adair’s senior apprentices, Niko, has long since lost his parents, and over the course of the novel he, too, loses what few kin he has left, in a debacle that leads to the death of fellow apprentice Stefan and causes a bitter rift between Niko and Adair.

Such is the state of play when, late in the book, Niko must risk his life to escape a “dead zone” in which magick will not work, so that he can use an enchanted mirror to pass military secrets back to Adair. With their sorcerous archenemy Kein only seconds behind him, Niko crashes his stolen car into a forest and flees. Then:

Drenched in his own blood, Niko propped himself against a tree and pulled his enchanted mirror from a coat pocket with a quaking hand. “Fenestra, Adair.” He was shaken by a hacking cough full of blood while he awaited the master’s reply. Searchlights slashed through the trees as the Germans followed his swath of destruction through the woods.

Adair’s face replaced Niko’s reflection. “Christ, lad, what—”


“No time, Master.” He propped the mirror on his leg, then used his good hand to pull the map and camera from inside his coat. He pushed them one at a time through the mirror to Adair. “Kein . . . built a trap. . . . In a bunker. At Pointe du Hoc.”

“Niko, I—”

“They will cover it with wax and cement. It will be hidden. But destroy it you must.” Tears fell from his eyes. He croaked out his last words. “Bonne chance, Père.

Shadows converged upon Niko. Kein shouted, “Take him alive!”

Niko put the barrel of his pistol into his mouth.

I will not be used against my friends, as Stefan was.

SS troops surrounded him, submachine guns at the ready.

In the name of love, Niko pulled his trigger.

One scene later we pick up that moment from the perspective of his master, Adair:

As the remote image vanished from Adair’s mirror, the master expected to confront his reflection — but like the Fool gazing upon Lear, he saw only his shadow.

He pounded the floor with the sides of his fists. How could I have doubted that lad? Loyal to the end. Braver than I knew.

Tears streamed from Adair’s shut-tight eyes. Niko’s last words haunted him.

Bonne chance, Père.

Adair’s chest heaved with painful sobs for which he had no breath, so his body shook in near silence as he surrendered to his heartbreak.

He called me Father.

I love these related moments. Though Adair and Niko are just supporting characters in the novel, this moment speaks to one of the truths of the narrative. What bonds my heroes through all of their struggles and setbacks is genuine affection.

By comparison, the concerns that drive their foes, the Thule-Gesellschaft (which was a real occult society that helped spawn the Nazi Party) and its leaders (Kein, Briet, and Siegmar) seem to be self-interest, fear, and a desire to see the world burn. If the villains of my story represent a family unit, it is a dysfunctional one at best.

But Adair’s last moment with Niko … it breaks my heart every time I read it. Niko still feels guilty for having set in motion the events that killed Stefan, who he loved like a brother. Just as poignantly, up until the moment of Niko’s sacrifice, Adair still carries anger and resentment toward Niko over that error.

But when Niko refers to Adair as Père — that heartfelt moment, that simple choice of words, expresses a lifetime of love and respect. And then it’s followed by a devastating act of self-sacrifice.

Without those words, it would still have stung Adair to see Niko die. But after that valediction, the moment becomes more profound: for the second time, Adair loses a man who is like a son to him.

It is a tragedy in a novel replete with loss, death, and destruction. But in its sorrow there is also hope: the belief that love will win the day. Even as Niko faces his own end, he urges his surrogate father to look toward the light. He believes in him.

Bonne chance.

Perhaps it’s a romantic delusion to think that love and hope alone are enough to win a war — but without them, there’s really nothing left worth winning.

LINKS

The Midnight Front Universal Book Link

Read an excerpt

David Mack’s website

Facebook

Twitter.

BIO

David Mack is the award-winning and New York Times bestselling author of more than thirty novels of science fiction, fantasy, and adventure, including the Star Trek Destiny and Cold Equations trilogies. His new novel The Midnight Front is available now from Tor Books. Mack’s writing credits span several media, including television (for episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), film, short fiction, and comic books. He resides in New York City.

My Favorite Bit: Wendy Nikel talks about THE CONTINUUM

My Favorite BitWendy Nikel is joining us today to talk about her novel The Continuum. Here’s the publisher’s description:

For years, Elise has been donning corsets, sneaking into castles, and lying through her teeth to enforce the Place in Time Travel Agency’s ten essential rules of time travel. Someone has to ensure that travel to the past isn’t abused, and most days she welcomes the challenge of tracking down and retrieving clients who have run into trouble on their historical vacations.

But when a dangerous secret organization kidnaps her and coerces her into jumping to the future on a high-stakes assignment, she’s got more to worry about than just the time-space continuum. For the first time ever, she’s the one out-of-date, out of place, and quickly running out of time.

What’s Wendy’s favorite bit?

Continuum cover

WENDY NIKEL

It’s probably tough for an author to choose a favorite part of any book they’ve written — much like choosing a favorite child — but a favorite part of an author’s first book seems particularly difficult to pinpoint. With your first book, you tend to throw all your favorite things in with a reckless abandon: your favorite characters, favorite settings, favorite jokes, favorite tropes and plot twists. And though not all of the “favorites” I infused into THE CONTINUUM have survived its many iterations since the first draft, it’s still safe to say that this story is overflowing with my favorite elements of time travel, science fiction, and books in general.

But my absolute favorite bit — the bit without which the book wouldn’t exist — is the Place in Time Travel Agency.

“Of Missing Persons” is a short story by time travel author Jack Finney, which tells about a man who comes across a travel agency that deals in more than just trips around the globe. In Finney’s story, the agency can also send travelers to a different dimension. I loved this idea of time travel hidden in plain sight so much that, when I set out to write my own story, I drew inspiration from Finney’s to create my own time travel agency.

People who walk into the front reception often assume the Place in Time Travel Agency is just another overpriced rip-off, but our actual customers—all personal referrals—know to request a trip to Richmond, Surrey when they come in. Only then are they directed back to the real travel agency. (from THE CONTINUUM)

Even the travel agency’s “code word” is a reference to the setting of H.G. Wells’ “The Time Machine.” And that’s not the only homage I pay to that story; the founder of my travel agency goes by the pseudonym Dr. Wells.

In my story, this specialized travel agency helps clients can take a break from the pressures and stresses of the present by facilitating their vacations in the past — whether it’s an adventure in ancient Egypt, a pilgrimage to medieval Scotland, a study of now-extinct baiji dolphins on the Yangzee River, or just a few weeks relaxing in a simpler time before cell phones and computers and social media.

The only catch is that there’s rules to follow. Ten, to be precise, that detail things like where and when you can travel, and what needs to be done to keep the agency’s exclusive technology a secret. After all, it’d cause chaos if everyone knew the truth — that time travel was possible.

But just in case… Next time you’re walking down a city street and happen across a travel agency that seems just a little too shabby to afford the rent in that area, where the prices for cruises and overseas excursions seem a little too high, maybe try asking for a trip to Richmond, Surrey, and see what happens…

LINKS:

THE CONTINUUM Universal Book Link

Website

Facebook

Twitter

BIO:

Wendy Nikel is a speculative fiction author with a degree in elementary education, a fondness for road trips, and a terrible habit of forgetting where she’s left her cup of tea. Her short fiction has been published by Fantastic Stories of the ImaginationDaily Science FictionNature: Futures, and elsewhere. Her time travel novella, The Continuum, is forthcoming from World Weaver Press in spring 2018. For more info, visit wendynikel.com