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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s Martin’s favorite bit?

My Loaded Gun


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

Instead, let me tell you about vultures.

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

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

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

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

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







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

My Favorite Bit: Kent Davis talks about A RIDDLE IN RUBY

My Favorite BitKent Davis is joining us today with his novel A Riddle in Ruby. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Ruby is a thief-in-training and a keeper of secrets—ones she doesn’t even know herself. A Riddle in Ruby is the first book in a witty and fast-paced fantasy-adventure trilogy for fans for Jonathan Stroud, Septimus Heap, and The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates.

Ruby Teach, daughter of a smuggler and pirate, has been learning how to swindle and steal and pick the most complex locks for as long as she can remember. But a collision with aristocratic young lord Athen sends her spinning into chaos. Little did she know that her whole life has been spent in hiding from nefarious secret societies and the Royal Navy . . . who are both now on her trail. In this debut middle grade adventure, Kent Davis weaves a rip-roaring tale through an alternate colonial Philadelphia. A world where alchemy—that peculiar mix of magic and science—has fueled the industrial revolution. With this highly original setting, a cast of fully rounded characters and rapid-fire, funny dialogue, A Riddle in Ruby will call to mind fantasy greats like Diana Wynne Jones and Terry Pratchett.

What’s Kent’s favorite bit?

Ruby BOM cover


Sparking fire. The wheel. The written word. Each changed the rules of our world forever. I have newly met a sister to these titans. Her name is Chemystry.

-Sir Francis Bacon, 1626,

Invisible College, London

My favorite bit of A Riddle in Ruby is the epigraphs. I deployed these little biscuits of text at the beginning of each chapter in an attempt to inject flavor and setting into the reader’s head with maximum fun and minimum fuss. The 1718 of Ruby is significantly different from that of our own timeline, chock full of anomalies like cobalt gearbeasts, alchemical automatons, and the peculiar arcane chemists known as “tinkers.”






-Poster searching for workers,

Tinkers’ Compound, New Jamestown


For example, the poster above sneaks several pieces of information to readers. First, that these Tinkers are a sizeable operation—they have a compound not just in Boston and Philadelphi, but in New Jamestown, too, and they’re putting up posters looking for more recruits. Next, that a New Jamestown actually came to be, which tips the hat to the idea that in this timeline, the maps may be quite a bit different from ours. The last and arguably most important thing it allows me to do is put a “y” in alchemist. Messing with traditional spelling is second only in joy for me to performing Random Acts of Period Capitalization.


9th. Over Strident Objection from a Minority, Abigail Booker allowed to deliver her findings re: experimentation with Igneous Fluid. Cause: one part brilliant scholarship, another part Mlle. Booker’s Ferocious Thumping of Mr. Smathers, compounded by her threats of further physical exertions if not allowed to speak. Excellent talk.

-Minutes of the Alembic Coffeehouse, UnderTown,

March 4, 1718

Abigail Booker and Mr. Smathers never make another appearance in the story. They do, however, offer a sense of the pluck, gumption, and Ferocious Thumping flavor that I hope suffuses the Chemystral Colonies. I want readers to feel as if they could, if they choose, set out from a scene featuring the heroine—a 13 year-old apprentice thief called Ruby Teach— and wander around a cobblestoned corner or into a fancy hall or journey into the deep western forest and still feel anchored to an intentional and specific setting. The world needed to be fleshed out as completely as possible, and that included creating portions of artifacts like newspapers, correspondence, novels, and even plays. Especially plays that let me use the name “Chatsbottom.”


CHATSBOTTOM:     Where is my carriage, Farnsworth?

FARNSWORTH:       It is somewhat Exploded, milord.

CHATSBOTTOM:     Exploded, you say?

FARNSWORTH:       But Mr. Thunderfatch will no longer trouble your lordship.

CHATSBOTTOM:     Quite right. Good chap.

-Marion Coatesworth-Hay, The Tinker’s Dram, Act III, sc. iv

The epigraphs also allowed me to tease this timeline’s history. The action of the book takes place almost one hundred years after the event that sheared that timeline away from our own—the natural philosopher Sir Francis Bacon discovering the magical science of chemystry. Each of those years, just as in our own history, must have been jammed with potentially world-altering moments. I wanted readers to know that past events from that alternate timeline had a dramatic impact on the alchemy-driven, gearbeast-populated, on-the-cusp-of-an-industrial revolution 1718 into which they were diving. For example, inquisition-like trials for alchemists, presided over by the French academy.


You gravely mistake our nature. We are neither witches nor warlocks. We are men and women of science who eat with you, study with you, pray with you. If the purges continue, however, then we are no longer your countrymen, and we will have no choice in our own defense but to seize our liberty. This country will suffer.

-Pierre de Fermat, testimony to
Académie de Philosophie, Paris, 1653

Finally it was a question of precision over info dump. While it may be informative, a four-page treatise on the crop rotational practices of the Feggerventaven peoples in relation to the nutritious Rompopilio tuber really puts a crimp in narrative flow. On the other hand, I delight in mysterious hints and tantalizing references, fleeting glimpses of a setting iceberg lurking just below the textual surface.


Laugh at the Rain.

Laugh at the Reaper.

Run from the Reeve.

-Old Irish saying

If I’m honest, though, the most compelling reason for tagging the epigraphs as my favorite bit is that they’ve been just so flipping fun to write! Crafting them turned into my writer’s diet equivalent of cheat days: pure delight and invention, without a shred of guilt. I hope the joy that I felt making them found its way onto the page, and that A Riddle in Ruby is the better for it.



A Most Clever, Strange, and Dangerous


A Young Girl Answering to Aruba Teach, also Ruby Teach

Of dark complexion, small stature and with features foxlike (as drawn below)

Sought for Crimes against the Crown


Inquire at Berth No. 5, Benzene Yards Wharf, His Majesty’s Ship Grail

-Wanted poster



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Read an excerpt.

Visit the author’s site.

Follow him on Twitter.


Kent Davis has spent most of his life making stories. He is an author, game designer, and actor. He lives with his wife and a wily dog-ninja named Bobo in Bozeman, Montana.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did I hear someone say: thriller?

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

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


Chris Angus


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

My Favorite Bit: Eli K.P. William talks about CASH CRASH JUBILEE

My Favorite Bit iconEli K.P. William is joining us today with his novel Cash Crash Jubilee. Here’s the publisher’s description.

In a near-future Tokyo, every action—from blinking to sexual intercourse—is intellectual property owned by corporations, who take it upon themselves to charge licensing fees for your existence.

Amon Kenzaki is a Liquidator for the Global Action Transaction Authority. If you go bankrupt and can no longer pay to live, Amon is sent to hunt you down and rip the BodyBank from your flesh. So what if you’re sent to the BankDeath Camps after, forever isolated from a life of information and transaction? Amon is just happy to do his job as long as he’s climbing the corporate ladder.

But the higher you climb, the farther you fall. Amon is tasked with a simple mission, one he’s done hundreds of times. Except he awakes the next morning having no memory of the assignment, and finds his bank account nearly depleted, having been accused of an action known as “jubilee.”

To restore balance to his account, Amon must work to unravel the meaning behind jubilee. But as he digs himself deeper toward bankruptcy, Amon begins to ask questions of the ironclad system he’s served his whole life and finds it may cost him more than his job to get to the truth of things.

What’s Eli’s favorite bit?

Cash Crash Jubilee 9781940456270

For what my preferences as author are worth, I’d say that my favorite part of Cash Crash Jubilee is the ending. This is where all the emotional, mythological and narrative currents culminate in one last surge of action.

Obviously, I’m not going to tell you what happens at the end. I hate when people ruin the ending of stories for me and I definitely won’t be doing such a disservice to my own story. But rather than stop my post here, let me tell you about a little detail that spoils nothing and yet still manages to say a lot about Cash Crash Jubilee and the Jubilee Cycle series as a whole.

First, I need to tell you a few things about my main character, Amon Kenzaki. So, in this near future Tokyo where all actions are intellectual properties owned by corporations and everyone has to pay licensing fees for everything they do, Amon works for the Global Action Transaction Authority or GATA. They’re basically the government except all they do is make sure everyone’s paying the correct amount to the right corporation. Being a Liquidator, Amon’s job is to apprehend people who go bankrupt, so that GATA can remove their implanted computer system (called a BodyBank) and banish them to Bankdeath Camps.

Like it says on the back of the book, right?

Except, almost every night, a mysterious forest appears in Amon’s dreams and he would do anything to go there. Since travelling to this place is sure to cost lots of money, he becomes obsessed with frugality and job promotion in order to increase his savings. His obsession grows so extreme that he even starts taking seminars to reduce the frequency of his breaths and blinks (which are just barely considered volitional actions because they can be controlled consciously).

Fast-forward to chapter eight. Amon has just been informed that he must cash-crash the Chief Executive Minister of GATA, an almost supernaturally eloquent man named Lawrence Barrow who Amon has idolized for most of his life. His best friend and liquidation partner, Rick Ferro, didn’t show up for work that day and refuses to answer Amon’s messages for some reason, so it looks like Amon will have to go in on the mission alone.

Feeling ambivalent and confused about the situation, Amon finds himself wandering around Ginza, an area of Tokyo where the latest high-class fashions transform on the bodies of streetwalkers literally every second. Lost in thought, he’s at the back of a crowd waiting for the light to turn green, when a woman approaches him from behind a stall displaying various green teas. She proffers a tray of paper cups filled with tea and then:

“Care to try some gyokuro from Uji?” she asked, holding out the tray. Amon ignored her. He was a bit parched, but didn’t want to pay the company that owned “accept free samples.”

This little episode performs multiple roles within the narrative. The two Japanese words develop the Japan setting; Uji is a place in Kyoto famous for producing green tea and gyokuro is a premium variety that is shaded from the sun at least two weeks before harvesting to create a particular intense flavor. Amon’s refusal of the sample develops his character; he is so concerned about saving money he won’t even pay a small fee to drink tea despite being thirsty. There’s a lot happening here and I could go on, but I didn’t choose this part to elaborate on any of these roles. Rather, I chose it because the irony of a supposedly free sample that nonetheless costs money provides an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of “freedom” and how this concept relates to Cash Crash Jubilee.

The word “free” has many overlapping and sometimes contradictory meanings, but in this post it’s worth mentioning three. First, something can be free in the sense of being “complimentary.” In this case the word is usually applied to a product, service or activity that doesn’t require payment of money to own, borrow or use. Second, free can mean something like “unhindered” or “untrammeled”. There are no physical, psychological or social obstacles blocking some particular course of action. Finally, it can have a more proactive meaning. We’re free when we have the potential to realize our desires and ambitions.

In the excerpt above, all of these different meanings are implied and conflated. Considering in what sense Amon might be free to take the sample illustrates this point. Is the sample complimentary? Are there no obstacles to his choosing it? Does he have the potential to realize his desires in this moment? I don’t like analyzing my own novel, but I think these questions are important because they apply just as well to actions in our daily lives. You might be tempted to answer “no” to all three questions, but I think this amounts to denying that anyone in the present world is free, because, if you think honestly and carefully about your actions, you’ll realize that it’s rare for us to be free in all three senses of the word just outlined.

Perhaps you’re willing to give three definitive nos anyway because you’re already convinced that we’re never free. Perhaps you think we’re all pre-determined in our choices or are all political and economic slaves with no hope of emancipation.

Whatever you believe about freedom, many details in Cash Crash Jubilee provide an opportunity to reflect on it. And this passage is particularly useful in this regard since in just a few short sentences it gestures to the discord between our different notions of freedom that resonates through the entire Jubilee Cycle series.


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Eli K. P. William, a native of Toronto, currently works in Tokyo as a Japanese-English translator. He has also written for the Japan Times, Now Magazine, and the Pacific Rim Review of Books. Cash Crash Jubilee is his first novel.

My Favorite Bit: Kelley Grant talks about DESERT RISING

My Favorite BitToday Kelley Grant joins us to talk about her new novel, Desert Rising. Here is the publisher’s description:

“It frightens me, knowing the One has called up two such strong individuals. It means that there are troubled times in our future, and you must prepare yourselves.”

The Temple at Illian is the crown jewel of life in the Northern Territory. There, pledges are paired with feli, the giant sacred cats of the One god, and are instructed to serve the One’s four capricious deities. Yet Sulis, a young woman from the Southern Desert, has a different perspective – one that just might be considered heresy…

Sulis’s twin Kadar, meanwhile, is part of a different revolution. When Kadar falls in love with a woman from a Forsaken caste, he finds he’s willing to risk anything to get her people to freedom. But with Sulis drawing a dangerous level of attention from the deities, and war about to break out on two fronts, change may not come as easily as either twin had hoped.

So what is Kelley’s favorite bit?


I grew up running wild in the hills of Ohio’s Amish country. Animals were always an important part of my life; both our family pets, and the wild creatures who co-inhabited the old farmhouse we lived in. We had bees in the attic, flying squirrels peering at us from the walls and snakes in the dirt cellar. We also took in stray dogs, hamsters and even a very angry goat who felt called to trample me at every opportunity.

And there were always cats. It was seldom I went to sleep without a purring cat curled somewhere on the bed. I realized recently that I have been owned by 18 felines from childhood until now. So of course somewhere in those years of ownership they brainwashed me into creating the feli of my novel Desert Rising. The feli are large felines who claim magically talented people for the Temple in the Northern Territory. They are my favorite bit.

In Desert Rising, it was fun playing with a world that wasn’t human centered. The feli were created first, as companions to The One – who is the supreme creator. Humans were created to be companions to the feli because the giant cats were bored. Only then were the four deities created in the image of humans to rule over them. Because cats have no interest in governing wayward humans! And the feli of my world are truly cats – not humans in the form of cats, not talking animals – but cats in their purest persnickety felineness. They want scratches behind the ears, the best food, and their chosen human to provide a soft lap to purr on.

The feli are my favorite bit, not just because they are awesome, large cats, but because the feli Djinn, who claims my heroine Sulis, is a tribute to a particular cat who claimed me, just after college. Djinn, however is cheetah-sized, so he can really enforce his feline desires on Sulis.

 “Unlike the other feli, who remained sitting tall, just barely touching their paired, Djinn sprawled beside her and laid his big head in the lap she created with her crossed legs. When she didn’t immediately stroke him behind the ears, he reached a long leg out and touched her knee with his paw, claws barely sheathed. She sighed in irritation and caressed him, so he would not put a hole in her shift. His answering purr filled the meditation area, and the other pledges looked over at them in surprise. Lasha met her eyes, and Sulis rolled hers. Lasha looked away quickly, hiding a smile.”

The cat who claimed my heart was Chester, an extraordinary cat who loved me through six moves, through college, job changes and marriage. Chester would drape himself across me when I read and if the petting stopped, the warning paw would go out as he touched me on the knee or face. The claw was next, if I did not pay attention. Chester assessed every human who came through his house. If they were judged worthy, he would bestow his presence on their laps. If unworthy, they dared not touch him or be slashed. And Chester owned every bit of me.

We lost Chester at age 19 to kidney failure. He lives on in Desert Rising. But as I write this, Willow is stretched out beside me, occasionally sticking a paw on the keyboard to put in her word. Our evil flamepoint Siamese Ember jealously eyes her from a bookshelf  – Ember stars in the second book of the series, The Obsidian Temple, which comes out in July.  With their gazes upon me, I feel a certain compulsion to put even more feli in book 3. After all, where would Sulis be, without her Djinn? How could my life be complete without a cat on the lap and a good book in hand?



Twitter: @kgrantwrites


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Kelley Grant grew up in the hills of Ohio’s Amish country. Her best friends were the books she read, stories she created and the forest and fields that inspired her. She first told stories to her cats, then her teachers, then expanded her audience at Otterbein college, where she earned her degree in writing. She and her husband live on a wooded hilltop and are owned by five cats, a dog and numerous uninvited critters. Besides writing, Kelley teaches yoga and meditation, sings kirtan with her husband, and designs brochures and media.

My Favorite Bit: SL Huang talks about HALF LIFE

My Favorite BitSL Huang is joining us today with her novel Half Life. Here’s the publisher’s description.

Cas Russell is back — and so is her deadly supermath.
Cas may be an antisocial mercenary who uses her instant calculating skills to mow down enemies, but she’s trying hard to build up a handful of morals. So when she’s hired by an anguished father to rescue his kid from an evil tech conglomerate, it seems like the perfect job to use for ethics practice.
Then she finds her client’s daughter . . . who is a robot.
The researchers who own the ’bot will stop at nothing to get it back, but the kid’s just real enough for Cas to want to protect her — even though she knows she’s risking everything for a collection of metal and wires. But when the case blows up in her face, it plunges Cas into the crossfire of a massive, decades-long corporate espionage war.
Cas knows logically that she isn’t saving a child. She’s stealing a piece of technology, one expensive and high-stakes enough that spiriting it away is going to get innocent people killed. But she has a distraught father on one hand and a robot programmed to act like a distraught daughter on the other, and she’s never been able to sit by when a kid is in trouble — even a fake one.
Screw morals and ethics. All Cas wants to do is save one little girl.
What’s SL’s favorite bit?
SL Huang

“Hey, I just came from rehearsal, so I’m going to grab a quick shower while I’m here,” Miri said. She turned to me. “Cas, right? Make yourself at home, but do me a favor and don’t choke out my cats.”

“I’m really sorry about that,” said Checker. “Cas is…well…” He gave up. “Are you okay?”

Miri winked at him over her shoulder as she disappeared into the hallway. “Fine. My girlfriend’s given me worse.”

“Too much information!” Checker yelled after her.

There’s this new character in Half Life who didn’t appear in the first book.  Her name is Miri, she’s Checker’s dance partner, and she’s a very minor character — she only appears in three scenes.

She’s pretty much my favorite character ever.  Why?  Because she’s basically me.

I mean, not REALLY — she’s not at all a math nerd, for one.  And if I tried to keep as many plants as she does I’d end up with a forest of dead things in my apartment, which is only fun if you’re into that sort of thing.  But she’s a queer Asian woman who makes her living in the performing arts and is strangely unperturbed by the weirdness showing up in her life, and every time she pops up on the page I get that happy little flutter of relating to a character a little too well.

Which solves a nice little problem for me!  Namely:

Since book 1 of this series came out, a somewhat frightening number of people who know me as a person have told me they think of Cas as being based on me.  To which I can only say:

“Holy moly, what do you all THINK of me?!”

I mean, we’re talking about CAS, my superpowered mathematician protagonist with no social skills and severe issues with her moral compass.  Cas, who only cares about money and will draw a gun on you as carelessly as she’ll bloody you up.  Some friends have even said that they imagine her looking like me, despite the fact that her described appearance is totally different!

I am going to make a public statement, right now, the absolute truth: I honestly do not go around shooting people and punching them in the face all the time.  I really, sincerely do not.


And hey, being more serious for a second, maybe that’s part of the danger of being an ethnic woman writing a (different) ethnic woman as a protagonist — and oh, all right, a protagonist who also likes math and guns, I’ll give ’em that.  Fine, I guess I see why people want to imagine me as Cas.  But the comparison is still slightly horrifying, given that she’s a violent mercenary antihero who shoots first and asks questions later, and I’m . . . not.

Not to mention that Cas can be an exceptionally rude person.  Really, she’s an asshole.  It’s an effort to write her dialogue much of the time because I have to work to make make her more curt and mean and growly.

*makes more shifty eyes at my friends*

Miri, on the other hand . . . Miri is lovely and easygoing and witty.  She’s joyous and talented and a loyal friend and doesn’t bat an eye when the protagonists take over her apartment to hide from the Mafia and the Feds —

Okay, fine, Miri’s much cooler than I ever will be.  Miri’s as awesome as I WISH I were!

I quite love her.

And now when people ask if Cas is based on me, I can point to Miri instead.  And I can say, “What?!  No!  Cas is not me.   I do not kill people!  You know who is me?  Her.  THE QUEER ASIAN WOMAN PERFORMER PERSON WHO SNARKS AT THE PROTAGONISTS AND LIKES CATS.  THAT’S ME.”

In all honesty, Miri probably has no more aspects of my personality in her than some of the other characters who fold facets of me-ness into them — Checker, for instance, who gets to make about 9,823,427 nerd references in this book, or (terrifyingly) the antagonist of Half Life, whom I tried to write as if he was the corrupted funhouse mirror of someone with my background, if that person were both way more evil than me and way less lazy.  But Miri’s existence makes me happy in the same way she’d make me happy if another author wrote her, because she’s someone I delight in relating to.

I hope you all enjoy her just as much as I do.



Amazon UK



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SL Huang justifies her MIT degree by using it to write eccentric mathematical superhero fiction, starting with her debut novel, Zero Sum Game. In real life, you can usually find her hanging upside down from the ceiling or stabbing people with swords. Online, she’s unhealthily opinionated at or on Twitter as @sl_huang.

My Favorite Bit: Jonathan L. Ferrara talks about THE GUARDIANS OF SIN

My Favorite BitJonathan L. Ferrara is joining us today with his novel The Guardians of Sin. Here’s the publisher’s description.

Seven deadly sins have been unleashed, and the only one who can defeat them is the boy who set them free.

Nicholas Blackwell has no idea he is supposed to fulfill a destiny. All he knows is that he draws trouble like a magnet. Orphaned at seven when two demonic men killed his parents, he copes with the strict rules of his new home, St. Christopher’s academy, unaware that he has been the real target for the killers and that his guardian angel has saved him in the nick of time. And now, his problems are only beginning when a mysterious serpent lures him into the woods and tricks him into a demonic ritual that will unleash the Seven Deadly Sins to destroy the humankind. Nicholas has no choice but to correct his mistake–or die trying.

Aided by Amy, a shy but determined girl who seems to know more about his task than she should, Nicholas’s quest is to travel into the City of Demonio and defeat the Seven Guardians of Sin. To succeed, he must confront demons, monsters, and lost souls, learn the mysteries of the Chapel of Dreams, discover the true meaning of friendship and love, and face the darkest secret of all: the Blackwell Family Secret.

What’s Jonathan’s favorite bit?



Sixteen-year-old Nicholas Blackwell knows plenty about the Seven Deadly Sins, After all, he lives in a world renowned Catholic boarding school: St. Christopher’s Academy. With nuns for teachers, and a grumpy priest for a principal, Nicholas is forced to learn about a religion he cares nothing about.

I’ve always found the Seven Deadly Sins to be a morbid, but fascinating subject. As a human, in one time or another, we have had these infamous sins clouding our better judgement. These seven powerful words have the ability to darken our morals, and stray us from what makes us good. My character, Nicholas Blackwell finds himself literally facing each of the Deadly Sins, but they are far from what he had been taught at school.

Growing up in a Catholic family, I was taught the Seven Deadly Sins at a young age. Quite frankly, they terrified me, which to me meant I was intrigued. I needed more. I craved to know their beginning. Why were Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy, and Pride so connected to evil? Who picked these sins, and how did they originate? With a strong love of fantasy and the supernatural, I discovered the secret of sin and thus began this story.

With one bite from the forbidden fruit, Nicholas, alongside his new friend Amy, is swallowed into the City of Demons; a dark, whimsical world filled with mayhem. The only way for them to find their way back home is to defeat the Guardians of the Seven Deadly Sins. They follow an old serpent through the city, finding first a lustful vampire, a starving troll, and a greedy little leprechaun hoarding all demon gold. One by one the sins are revealed, leading Nicholas closer to his family’s dark secret found by none other than the King of Demons himself — Lucifer.

My favorite passage from the book is between the archangel Gabriel and his fallen brother Lucifer: the old serpent.

A man appeared out of nowhere, walking along the school building, making his way through the wet grass. The new moon sat above him like a smile in the sky, as though someone in the Heavens thought the night a curious one. Fog rolled toward the gate, stopping at its bars as if aware that the gargoyle statues at the gate entrance would not allow passage. The cool night air brushed gently across Gabriel’s face as he started toward the gate, picking his way through the dark forest. His purpose was much too important to delay any longer. There was no time even to change out of his janitor uniform. He waited. An old serpent pushed its way through the fog, slithering across the grass. Only the gate stood between Gabriel and the snake. The serpent rose out of the fog, its body twisted in the grass as its huge head swung toward Gabriel, hissing.

“You are not welcome here,” Gabriel said with more power in his voice than he normally cared to use. “Leave this place and never come back!”

“Do not mistake it, Gabriel, whether it be tonight, or years from now, I will taste his blood.” A forked tongue slid out from the serpent’s thin mouth.

“It is the will of our Father.”

“I have no Father!” the serpent hissed. “And you, my brother, are nothing more than His puppet.”

“As long as I stay within these gates, my light becomes this school’s haven, which means you are not allowed to cross here, understood?”

The serpent smirked. “Every light goes out, even yours, brother. Our epic battle might have been fought eons ago, but I will have my revenge, and my vengeance starts with that boy. You can’t stay there forever. I will not rest until the Guardians have reawakened.” The serpent’s head hit the grass and it slithered on into the woods.

Thank you Mary for allowing me to be a part of your Blog.  That is my Favorite Bit!






Jonathan L. Ferrara was born in San Pedro, California to an Italian fisherman and a mother from New York. Growing up with one older brother, Jonathan had several hobbies: finding the best hiding spots to jump out and scare his mother, discovering new fantasy book series, and  imagining outrageous, whimsical worlds full of magic. He is now happily married, residing in California in the City of Angels. He has two wonderful children—his dog Koda and cat Merlin.

His author’s website is

A brief reminder of my Hugo eligible works.

Hello future!

I’m writing this before heading on internet vacation for the month of March. You should be receiving it with one week left to nominate for the Hugo awards. I hope you won’t mind if I remind you that a couple of my things are eligible for consideration.


  • Lady Astronaut of Mars –  (We think the print version of this is eligible but there’s no official ruling. More details at

Short Story


Best Related Work

Best Dramatic Presentation Short Form

Best Dramatic Presentation Long Form

  • Forest of Memory – Metatropolis: Green Space – (Audible) Please note, that even though it is a novelette, it is in audio format only and has a running time of one hour and forty-four minutes. The Hugo rules say that anything over ninety minutes is Long Form. I don’t actually think it’s got a chance in hell of making the ballot, but I’d incorrectly put it in BDP short form on my previous eligibility post, so this is really just here as a correction.

What I published last year, and the whole audio question.

As we kick off the New Year, it’s time for the traditional look back on what I published last year, but this year requires a little bit of annotation because there’s a curious question about audiobook fiction.

First the list.


  • Without a Summer – This was book 3 in the Glamourist Histories.

Short Story

  • “We Interrupt This Broadcast” — The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination (Tor)


Best Related Work

Best Dramatic Presentation Long Form

  • Without a Summer by Mary Robinette Kowal, (Audible)
  • The Incrementalists, by Steven Brust, Skyler White, narrated by Ray Porter, Mary Robinette Kowal (Audible)
  • Chimes at Midnight: An October Daye Novel, Book 7, by Seanan McGuire, directed by Max Bloomquist, narrated by Mary Robinette Kowal (Brilliance Audio)
  • Celebromancy: Ree Reyes, Book 2, by Michael R. Underwood, narrated by Mary Robinette Kowal (Audible)
  • METAtropolis: Green Space by Jay Lake, Elizabeth Bear, Karl Schroeder, Seanan McGuire, Tobias S. Buckell, Mary Robinette Kowal, Ken Scholes, narrated by Dion Graham, Robin Miles, Mark Boyett, Scott Brick, Allyson Johnson, Sanjiv Jhaveri, Jennifer Van Dyck, Jonathan Davis (Audible)
  • The Far Time Incident by Neve Maslakovic, directed by Sandra Burr, narrated by Mary Robinette Kowal (Brilliance Audio)
  • The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination: Original Short Fiction for the Modern Evil Genius, edited by John Joseph Adams (editor), directed by Nick Podehl, narrated by Stefan Rudnicki, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Justine Eyre (Audible)

Best Dramatic Presentation Short Form

  • Forest of Memory – Metatropolis: Green Space (Audible)
  • “We Interrupt This Broadcast” — The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination (Brilliance Audio)

The Annotation

*”Lady Astronaut of Mars” was originally published in audio in 2012. It had enough nominations to land on the novelette ballot for the Hugos, but the committee ruled that it was a Dramatic Presentation and moved it to that category. It didn’t have enough nominations to make the ballot. It appeared on in September, 2013 and, in theory, is  eligible in print for the Hugos. But only for the Hugos.  All the other major awards consider audio publication to be publication.

The Locus Awards:

While we don’t have official posted definitions for the Locus Awards…

At this point, for the Locus Awards we consider digital and audio books to simply be different delivery formats, like hardcover or mass market. The text is considered as first published and categorized by length. We do continue to evolve our definitions as the technology around publishing changes.


III. f. Works Debuting in an Audio Version: In general if any work that is otherwise eligible for a Bram Stoker Award® debuts as an audio book (whether as a tape, CD or similar physical format, or as a download) then that work is only eligible for Award consideration in the year that the original audio version was released. If a printed version is released in a subsequent year the work is ineligible for further Awards consideration. However, this is the only the case where the following pre-conditions are met: the audio version was available to at least 33% of the Association’s voting members; if physically produced in any format at least 751 copies must have been produced (but not necessarily sold); and, if available as a download, that download must be dedicated to selling or providing that work either stand-alone or collected with other works (works included in a one-off podcast or radio program that are not later made available in downloadable form are not covered by this rule, hence later audio or printed versions of those works are eligible for future consideration).

Nebula Awards

All works first published in English, in the United States, during the calendar year, in the genres of science fiction, fantasy, or a related fiction genre are eligible for the Nebula Awards® in their respective categories. Works such as comic books, graphic novels, and similar type works shall be placed in an existing category as deemed appropriate by the Nebula Awards Commissioner, based primarily on their word count.

(Note from me: The Bradbury is not a Nebula. In the past, the question came up about audio and the board at the time, which I was on, ruled that it counted as publication.)


3.3.7: Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form. Any theatrical feature or other production, with a complete running time of more than 90 minutes, in any medium of dramatized science fiction, fantasy or related subjects that has been publicly presented for the first time in its present dramatic form during the previous calendar year.
3.3.8: Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form. Any television program or other production, with a complete running time of 90 minutes or less, in any medium of dramatized science fiction, fantasy or related subjects that has been publicly presented for the first time in its present dramatic form during the previous calendar year.

Based on what happened last year, it seems that the Hugo awards treat the printed version and the audio version as two different things. Print goes into a fiction category. Audio goes into Best Dramatic Presentation. BUT it’s not spelled out in the rules and each committee is responsible for interpreting the rules that year. So what happened last year does not necessarily set a precedent for this year, but similar rulings in previous years have set a precedent.

I’ve queried to get clarification, but have been told that decisions are made in response to nominations and that a ruling can’t be made on a hypothetical situation. So, the only way to find out is to nominate something and see what happens.

My Favorite Bit: J Tullos Hennig talks about SHIREWODE

My Favorite Bit icon

J Tullos Hennig is joining us today with her novel, Shirewode. Here’s the publisher’s description.

Book Two of the Wode

The King of the Shire Wode. That is what they will call you.

Years ago, a pagan commoner named Rob of Loxley befriended Gamelyn Boundys, a nobleman’s son, against seemingly insurmountable odds—and with horrific consequences. His home razed by order of the Church, Rob was left for dead, believing his sister, Marion, and his lover, Gamelyn, had perished.

But Gamelyn yet lives. Guilt-ridden by his unwitting betrayal of Loxley, one of the last bastions of the Old Religion, Gamelyn rides off to seek absolution in the Holy Land. Rob vanishes into the greenwode and emerges as leader of a tight-knit band of outcasts who revolt against the powers that be.

When the two lovers meet again, it will be in a brutal, blindfolded game of foxes and hounds that pits Templar assassin against Heathen outlaw. Yet the past cannot be denied, and when Rob discovers Marion is also still alive, the game turns. History will chronicle Robyn Hood and Guy of Gisbourne as the deadliest of enemies, but the reality is more complicated—and infinitely more tragic.

What’s JTH’s favorite bit?



Thanks, Mary, for giving me the opportunity to ponder this.

And I did ponder a while before coming to the realization that nearly all my Favourite Bits start out as distinct challenges. This Bit, at its heart, had a weird polar opposition: something so familiar it could inspire groans instead of cheers… yet something no fictional representation has cared to broach.

There are so many Guys of Gisbourne, after all This Bad Guy has been in almost every version of Robin Hood for the past hundred years, he has graced books, plays, movies and television series. So my Guy (oh dear, that really does sound like the Mary Wells tune, doesn’t it? *facepalm*) had to have something different about him, some twist in motivation and being. Of course the main twist, that he and Robin (aka Robyn) were boyhood lovers, is definitely new, but it influences the story’s character, not just Guy’s. Also, many of those aforementioned Guys are a departure from the ballad, not the one-off horsehide affecting bounty hunter hired by the Sheriff to kill Robin Hood. I really wanted to go back to the original ballads.

And in those ballads lay the answer. Right there, in the text of Robin Hood and Guy of Gisburne. Bounty hunter. Horsey drag. And not just some little horsehide cape, but the Full Monty of “top and tayle and mayne”. While Guy has become quite popular, no one seems willing to deal with the horsy drag. And why?

Because it’s frankly more than a few bales shy of a cartload. Even Robin, in the original ballad, thinks Guy is addlepated for wearing it.

But, man, what an opportunity! I grabbed it and ran. And stopped about four paces in. I mean, it is addlepated. However to make it fly?

At least I had options:

  • Guy is not playing with a full deck.
  • Tie it into ritual folklore… this story is about forest deities and magic, after all.
  • Come up with a prosaic explanation. One that isn’t boring.

Starting with #1… I wanted Guy to not be either insane or dim-witted–those are roles he’s played many times already. #3… well, horsy drag is actually not as mad as one might suppose. Stalking horses were used for hunting, where, yes, people did dress up as horses to confuse their body lines. But while Guy is hunting, it’s not for the king’s deer but a wolfshead… a very human outlaw and one Guy believes to be a pretender to the magical covenant of the Shire Wode…

Given the choice between bread and mead and mythos… well, I’ll whinge, because I really like bread and mead, but mythos will always win. And this challenge (like most when you stop fighting them and just be present) layered itself, as I wrote, with all sorts of yummy subtext and symbolism. So…

What happens when a Templar assassin tries to infiltrate a Pagan ritual and ends up dressing as the hob horse, one of the more powerful symbols of Pagan ritual?

Here’s a bit of that Bit:


“The’ ’Ob ’Oss!”

“Th’ Wode Horse! The Tup!”

The Tup… The Wode Horse… It hissed through and over the crowd, excited murmurs, echoes in the trees.

“Aye, the Tup! An’ he’s brung seed to th’ dying ground!”

Within a matter of moments, Guy was amidst a small crowd of masked revelers, a dance twining and spiraling about him. The ones coming the closest were mostly females, and they were laughing, each trying to shove the other toward him.

Guy had to force himself to not turn tail and run. Inconceivable, that a bunch of maidens would nearly make him retreat when he had faced down desert armies.

Abruptly he remembered the teeth on his mask, groped at his chest, yanked at the string. The teeth snapped together with decided effect; the lasses shrieked, darted away. But they were laughing, and they kept coming back for more.

Fairly soon he was the center of laughing and hollering folk, pulled into the dance. The dancing line swung past the river, curled about, and came back to the caverns. Guy played his part, every sense heedful. Waiting.

“’Tis time for the horseplay, aye?” A growling purl of a baritone, its common accent not dodging its power in the least. Everyone turned, expectant. The surge forward and murmurings of the surrounding people revealed everything: who it was, and why.

Waiting was over. It stood, limned by fire, in the largest of the cavern openings. A man… a beast… unbelievably tall with an immense, fourteen-point rack seeming to sprout from the cowled head. Caped with furs and feathers, rags and leathers, it was impossible to see body shape, or to discern if there truly was a body beneath. The sight of it stirred the unlikeliest of fears in the deepest places; Guy barely caught himself from angling back in sheer instinct. It was the gilt on the tines, and the glint of chain—bronze and silvered—dangling from the rack of antlers like the scrapings of velvet, which pulled him further from superstitious instinct, from reaction to rational.

This was no simple pilfer from the king’s deer… the horns held upon them more wealth than any of these peasants would see in a lifetime. The Horns of the god? Was Guy looking at part of what his master had sent him for—one of the artifacts this murderous wolfshead had stolen?

The beast-man’s fire-lit eyes locked on him. Guy abruptly found himself in the midst of the circle, the masked revelers parting around him. He was left solitary, ringed by masked faces and glittering eyes.

“Did you think I’d let you do this, Gisbourne?” Full of some deep emotion, the beast-man’s mellifluous voice slapped Guy sideways and, inexplicably, traced shivers across his skin. “Take him.”


Again, many thanks, Mary, for being such a gracious host. You have a lovely place here!






About the Author:  With an inveterate fascination in other times and places, J Tullos Hennig has managed a few lifetime professions in this world–equestrian, artist, dancer–but has never successfully managed to not be a writer.  Abysmal luck had a lot to do with the late start in publishing, but her books are better now than thirty years ago, anyway.  She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her long-time spouse, and is beholden to several geriatric equines on retirement pensions–erm, pastures.

Want to read a draft of an SF novella?

This is a 16,200 word SF novella that I’ve written for’s shared world anthology series, Metatropolis. I’m looking for readers who would be willing to give me their gut reaction to it.

Mostly what I’m looking for though are large story issues. In particular, things that:

  1. Confuse you
  2. You don’t believe
  3. You are bored by
  4. You think are cool

In other words, what I’m looking for is your reader reaction. I should note that for those of you who are interested in process, this is a raw draft. Basically I’ve hit The End and posted it. It’s also something that I wrote specifically to be read aloud, so I handle the text a little differently, knowing that a narrator will be involved.

Here’s the teaser for “Forest of Memory.”

[Note to narrator and director: The main character, Katya, is in her early thirties. She’s lived her entire life connected to the web and this is the first time she’s telling something from memory, instead of being able to look at old footage. The telling of the story should sound as naturalistic as possible. I want stumbles and places where it’s halting as if she’s reaching for the right words. I have stage notes in brackets and at times for non-verbal lines, like [aggravated noise]. Please act those instead of reading them. ]

So, I just want to reiterate the terms of our deal before we begin. My name is Katya Gould and I am agreeing to an exclusive with you, Username:Docent. I confirm that I have not told the full story before and will not. You agree that you will not share the experience with anyone. By “story” I mean the recounting of the three days that I spent in the company of the man I knew as “Johnny.”

Now that we’re clear on that, give me a moment to confirm that your payment is in my account… Got it. Thank you.

[deep breath, settling herself]

One of the questions you had wanted me to talk about was “Why.” Why am I telling this now after so much time has passed. The answer is that I’m not entirely certain. It may be a terrible idea.

He said he wanted witnesses, but no records. I thought he meant that I shouldn’t tell anyone what I saw in the woods, but I keep thinking about it and I think I was wrong. A witness is someone who reports what they observed, right? So, what he wanted was for me to tell you what I saw. To tell someone. Maybe everyone… I don’t know.
There’s a chance that agreeing to an exclusive is the wrong choice.

It’s so strange trying to remember without being able to pull up the recording and just look at it. I keep turning that those three days over in my head so that, in some ways, they’re sharper than any other memory in my life. In other ways, I think I’m wearing the edges off the memory by looking at it so much.


If you want to read, just use the form to get the password.

Edited to add:
I’ve turned the story in, so I’ve locked the draft. Thank you to everyone who offered comments.

My Favorite Bit: Anne Lyle talks about THE MERCHANT OF DREAMS

My Favorite Bit
Anne Lyle also writes historical fantasy, which is one of my happy places for fiction. Her first book was set in Elizabethan England, but the new one takes us to Venice.
What’s her Favorite Bit?
When I started planning the sequel to my Elizabethan fantasy novel “The Alchemist of Souls” way back in 2007, I knew I wanted to set it in Venice, which I had visited a few years earlier. Not only is it a beautiful and fascinating city, but it has also changed very little in the past few hundred years, making it a great setting for a historical novel. I ended up throwing out that first draft and rewriting the book (now titled “The Merchant of Dreams”) from scratch, but the setting and some of the key characters remained, TheMerchantOfDreams-224and I knew I wanted to go back there to research it properly.
First, though, I did some online research for my book, and whilst looking into the different kinds of boats used in Venice (they didn’t just have gondolas, you know!) I came across a website belonging to an ex-pat Brit who owns a renovated medieval palazzo in Venice and rents out rooms on occasion. I contacted him, and arranged to stay for a few nights with my husband. It was the perfect place for a writer’s research trip: tucked away in one of the less touristy areas, right on the canal-side with a little garden – and free wifi 🙂
Although it has been renovated, the palazzo still has some Renaissance features, like the huge stone pillars in the living room (formerly a storeroom/gondola dock, since regular flooding makes it inadvisable to live on the ground [first] floor of Venetian houses) or the ornate marble hood of the fireplace in the dining room. Note that when I say “palazzo”, this is what all Venetian houses tended to be called, to distinguish them from the multi-occupancy tenements where the lower classes lived. The other word for such a place is “ca'”, the Venetian dialect form of Italian “casa”. Most houses have names (e.g. Ca’ Dario, which appears later in the book), but I felt I couldn’t use the real name of this one (Ca’ Malcanton) because it bears an uncanny similarity to that of my protagonist, Mal Catlyn. (Cue “Twilight Zone” theme…)
Of course I had to put it into my book, so I made it the home of the English ambassador and thus my spy characters’ base of operations in the city. Queen Elizabeth I didn’t actually send an ambassador to Venice, but since I’m writing alternate history this gives me a bit of licence. Still, I made him relatively unimportant and unregarded – at this stage in history, England was not established as a world power – and hence this tiny palazzo in the suburbs fits his position nicely.
I had to make a fair bit up, since we weren’t allowed all over the house, but many of the details are entirely accurate. The uppermost floor consists of two main attic rooms, as described in the novel, and there really is a pomegranate tree in the garden. In my book it’s summer and the tree is in flower, but when we were there in October it was fruiting and we had the seeds in our breakfast fruit salad.
Finding these little nuggets of reality – the details of real peoples’ lives – amongst the dust of the past is one of the main reasons I love writing historical fantasy. Right now I’m working on the final instalment of the trilogy, set mainly here in England, which is giving me an excuse to visit all my favourite Tudor places, from the Tower of London to Hampton Court Palace. In fact I visit them so often, I bought the annual membership card!

The Merchant of Dreams (Night’s Masque)


Anne Lyle was born in what is popularly known as “Robin Hood Country”, and grew up fascinated by English history, folklore, and swashbuckling heroes. Unfortunately there was little demand in 1970s Nottinghamshire for diminutive swordswomen, so she studied sensible subjects like science and languages instead.

It appears, however, that although you can take the girl out of Sherwood Forest, you can’t take Sherwood Forest out of the girl. She now spends practically every spare hour writing – or at least planning – fantasy fiction about dashing swordsmen and scheming spies, set in imaginary pasts or invented worlds. Her Elizabethan fantasy series debuted earlier this year with “The Alchemist of Souls”, and the sequel “The Merchant of Dreams” is published on December 18th. She is currently working on the final volume in the trilogy, “The Prince of Lies”, due out November 2013.

My Favorite Bits: Madeleine Ashby talks about vN

This week’s book is vN: The First Machine Dynasty
by Madeleine Ashby.

Amy Peterson is a self-replicating humanoid robot known as a VonNeumann.

For the past five years, she has been grown slowly as part of a mixed organic/synthetic family. She knows very little about her android mother’s past, so when her grandmother arrives and attacks her mother, Amy wastes no time: she eats her alive.

Now she carries her malfunctioning granny as a partition on her memory drive, and she’s learning impossible things about her clade’s history – like the fact that she alone can kill humans without failsafing…

Let’s see what Madeleine’s Favorite Bit is.


Before I was ever paid anything for what I wrote — be it science fiction or strategic foresight — I worked a lot of retail. My first job was at a Value Village in the town where I grew up, outside Seattle. I worked after school and on weekends to afford my first computer. Before that I’d written stories on my family PC, a Gateway my boyfriend nicknamed “Bessie,” because she chewed code like cud. My shifts at Value Village often proceeded at a similarly sluggish pace.

I drew from my experiences there while writing what is my favourite bit of vN, a middle chapter called “Amy Alone.” vN is the story of Amy Peterson, a self-replicating humanoid who eats her grandmother, Portia, alive when Portia attacks Amy’s mother at kindergarten graduation. Thereafter, Portia lives on as a partition of of Amy’s consciousness, and they fight for control of the same body. Being the only vN whose failsafes are broken — allowing them to hurt humans without blowing a gasket — they’re on the run.

Being on the run is expensive, though, so in “Amy Alone,” she takes a job as a hostess at an Electric Sheep outside the Olympic National Forest. The Sheep is a franchise chain of themed diners that serve both humans and robots. You and your android husband can each order a Ziggurat (a tower of chicken and waffles), but his meal will be printed out of trace metals and catalytic chemicals to beef up his repair modules. (Don’t let him eat too much, though, otherwise he’ll self-replicate.)

This chapter is my favourite bit because it’s a turning point in Amy’s character. Until that chapter the pace is relentless, and Amy has no real time to see how other humanoids live alongside humans. But now she can slow down and open her eyes to the world that her synthetic mother and organic father once sheltered her from. And it’s not pretty.

First jobs are like that. They’re a glimpse at how the world really works when your parents and teachers aren’t looking. And I don’t just mean how money works, or how responsibility works. I mean how your feet hurt after eight hours and how nobody cares. I mean finding lost children and old vibrators and even pools of blood among the dust bunnies. I mean taking vintage issues of Playboy from a display case so some guy can leaf through them slowly, his gaze alternating between your carefully blank face to Patricia Farinelli’s enormous nipples and back again. He never buys anything because he already got what he came for. That’s how the world really works. They pay you minimum wage to figure that out.

For Amy, figuring that out means observing synthetic/organic relationships from outside the safe confines of the home she had to flee, while also being truly alone for the first time in her life. She sleeps in a storage unit with only Portia’s commentary for company. She can’t share her secrets with anybody at work. She has to pretend that she’s just like any other robot, and that she enjoys getting her ass grabbed when she bends to pick up abandoned cutlery. She’s doing this because she needs the money and the free food. That’s a deeply human experience that I wanted Amy to have as a non-human being. We treat the people who serve us like they’re machines; I wanted to know how an actual machine would handle it.


vN: The First Machine Dynasty amazon | B&N | indiebound

Madeline Ashby’s website

Madeline Ashby is a science fiction writer and strategic foresight consultant living in Toronto. Her fiction has been published in Nature, Escape Pod, FLURB, Tesseracts, and elsewhere. Her non-fiction has appeared at BoingBoing, Creators Project, WorldChanging, and She tweets about futurism, anime, and what she’s making for dinner @MadelineAshby.

My Favorite Bit: A. M. Dellamonica talks about Blue Magic

I’m very excited about the newest installment in the Books of Chantments universe. I so enjoy the way magic is handled as something that is both powerful and can embue ordinary objects with extraordinary properties. So what is the author’s Favorite Bit? Let’s see.


I had to think a fair amount about this idea of a favorite bit for my novel BLUE MAGIC. It’s not that I don’t love just about a million things in my Books of Chantments universe. If anything, I was spoiled for choice. But many of the things that sprang to mind first seemed far too spoilery to squee about.

On second look, though, I decided many of those story elements were tied into the character of Juanita Corazon. I’ve realized that one of the neat things about writing the sequel to INDIGO SPRINGS (my first sequel, which sounds like a contradiction in terms) was getting to bring in someone who was new to the whole magical mess that I created in the first book. Don’t get me wrong–I love writing about Astrid Lethewood and Ev and Will and even Sahara Knax . . . but when I embarked on the beginning of BLUE MAGIC, I had a pretty good sense of where they had to end up. (At least, that’s how I remember it.)

With Juanita I got to carve out a little unexplored terrain. New person, new point of view character. Newness is alluring; it’s got a shine to it that the familiar just doesn’t.

So what do I love about this character? One of the most important things Juanita brings to this messed up mystical apocalypse is super-competence.

I know I’m not the only person who finds the ability to just do a job well and completely very sexy. And it may be that there’s a dearth of that in these books. It’s not that everyone besides Juanita is dumb, but a lot of them are inventing wheels–magic has just burst back into the world, and the people working with it are figuring everything out from the basics. It’s all trial and error. Will Forest, meanwhile, is great at what he does, normally (he’s a criminal psychologist and hostage negotiator) but his children are missing and so he’s operating at far below his normal wattage.

Juanita’s a Federal Marshall doing a great job of something that’s, maybe, a bit easy for her. She was contemplating getting into something else before the magical outbreak upheaved everything, and so she gets this comparatively plum posting at Sahara Knax’s trial for treason.

As the book progresses, she gets more and more dumped on her, and nobody really sees it. As far as all these wizards and witch-burners are concerned, she’s a means to an end. There’s a four-way struggle to control enchantment–the U.S. military is duking it out with two brands of religious zealot and Astrid Lethewood’s volunteers–and every single faction is coming to Juanita. Some of them are polite enough to ask; then there are the ones saying ‘do this or we’ll kill your family.’ But they’re underestimating her: they all see her as a minimally educated cop in a dead end job. They don’t realize they’re each giving her information about their faction and she’s using it to build her own picture of what’s going on. It’s not that she knows everything as the magical struggle unfolds, but she becomes the only person who’s got pieces of everyone’s puzzle.

Somehow she has to sort through all that information and prophecy and propaganda about the various agendas of all the factions and confront the super-powerful individuals running them. She has to do it without getting arrested, enchanted or killed and still manage to make the right choice.

I think she really rises to the occasion.



A.M. Dellamonica‘s new novel, Blue Magic, is the sequel to her 2009 Sunburst Award winning novel Indigo Springs. A resident of Vancouver, British Columbia, she is the author of over thirty short stories and teaches writing through the UCLA Writers’ Extension Program.

Zounds! I have an 1814 copy of Elegant Extracts.

1814 title page of Elegant ExtractsI just realized that I have an 1814 copy of Elegant Extracts. I knew I had a couple of books from the early 1800s but it had been a decade or more since I acquired them and had forgotten what they were. We were cleaning and I picked this up and then exclaimed.

Why? Because I’d just finished a reread of Jane Austen’s Emma. Allow me to show you this excerpt from Chapter 4.

“Mr. Martin, I suppose, is not a man of information beyond the line of his own business. He does not read?”

“Oh, yes! that is, no — I do not know — but I believe he has read a good deal — but not what you would think any thing of. He reads the Agricultural Reports and some other books, that lay in one of the window seats — but he reads all them to himself. But sometimes of an evening, before we went to cards, he would read something aloud out of the Elegant Extracts — very entertaining. And I know he had read the Vicar of Wakefield. He never read the Romance of the Forest, nor the Children of the Abbey. He had never heard of such books before I mentioned them, but he is determined to get them now as soon as ever he can.”

I collect etiquette books and I’m sure I picked it up because of that, but I did not connect it with Austen until just this moment. I am looking forward to reading it– very carefully.

If you want to look at a few photos of the lovely binding, I’ve got a small slideshow below.

The interior has an inscription in Latin to Jonathan E. Woodbridge. I don’t know who Mr. Woodbridge was, but I totally want to insert him and the book into Without a Summer now.