My Bookish Ways

A chat with Jason M. Hough, on his new novella, The Dire Earth, and what comes next

Photo by Nathan Hough, age 3

Photo by Nathan Hough, age 3

If you are a regular visitor to the blog, you already know that I love Jason Hough’s Dire Earth Cycle (The Darwin Elevator, The Exodus Towers, and The Plague Forge), and was very sad to see it end, but wait! There’s a new prequel novella out (just this week, and it’s only $.99!) called The Dire Earth, so if you’re jonesin’ for more of Skylar and the gang, get on that asap. In the meantime, Jason stopped by to answer a few questions about it, and what comes next for him.

So, this new novella of yours…care to give us the scoop? The Dire Earth is a prequel to the novels, yes?
A prequel, yes! It actually started out as a series of short stories, each meant to introduce one character. But as I wrote them I realized a few things. First, I’m not great at short stories. They always end up feeling like part of something bigger. And second, each of these stories had a common theme: set during the same events (when the plague begins and everyone is trying to get to Darwin). So, I talked to my editor and proposed the idea of combining them into a novella, and thus The Dire Earth was born.

I adore the Dire Earth Series, as you know, and I’d love to know what you enjoyed the most about writing it.
The initial planning that goes into each book is very fun. The actual writing of the first draft? That is a slog through giant puddles of slurping mud. Not so fun, just… work you have to do. The real joy, for me, comes in the revision process. You know when you suddenly think of something incredibly clever to say, only it’s an hour after the conversation where you should have said it? Well, revising a book is like getting the opportunity to go back and do that, again and again and again. Loads of fun!

thedireearthI enjoyed all of the characters, with a few faves, but one fascinated me on a different level. So, let’s talk about Russell Blackfield a bit. I loved to hate him and he…surprised me. What was your inspiration for him?
He’s definitely an interesting cat. The funny thing about Russell is that he’s not really the villain. Everyone thinks he is, but that’s just a sort of misdirection on my part. In truth it’s just that Russell wants to be the villain. He craves the stature of Alex Warthen, the power and wealth of Neil Platz, the gravity that seems to follow Grillo, and ultimately the adoration that Skyler receives. He just never quite gets there, and somewhere inside he knows he never will, so he acts like he does as a mask to cover that. Writing him is a lot of fun, especially in this new novella.

What were a few other characters that you particularly enjoyed writing, aside from your main players?
Well, certainly Greg and Marcus were a blast, for the few brief moments they appear. And though arguably a main player by the end, Prumble is my favorite of all.

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Better late than never: The 2014 Anthony, Macavity, and Shamus Award winners!

Shame on me for not posting these results sooner! The 2014 Anthony, Macavity, and Shamus Award winners were presented last weekend at Bouchercon 2014. Huge congrats to all the winners!

Anthony Award Winners (voted on by Bouchercon attendees)

  • Best Audiobook: The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith
  • Best Television Episode Teleplay: “Pilot” for The Blacklist by John Bokenkamp
  • Best Children’s or Young Adult Novel: The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau
  • Best Critical or Non-Fiction Work: The Hour of Peril: The Secret Plot to Murder Lincoln Before the Civil War by Daniel Stashower
  • Best Short Story: “The Caxton Private Lending Library & Book Depository” by John Connolly
  • Best First Novel: Yesterday’s Echo by Matt Coyle
  • Best Paperback Original: As She Left It by Catriona McPherson
  • Best Novel: Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger

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A chat with PT Jones, author (s) of Floating Boy and the Girl Who Couldn’t Fly

pt and sgjThe ebook version of Floating Boy and the Girl Who Couldn’t Fly has been out for a bit, but the paperback comes out next week, and I wanted to celebrate by chatting with its authors (who just happen to be two of my fave authors), Stephen Graham Jones and Paul Tremblay, (aka PT Jones). Please welcome them both to the blog!

What inspired you to write Floating Boy and the Girl Who Couldn’t Fly? Will you tell us more about it and how the decision to write it came about?
PT: Compressed timeline: I read Stephen’s amazing novel DEMON THEORY and loved it. I sent him an email telling him my feelings. About the book, that is. He seemed to like my writing as well (who knew?). Plus, we both Hate (capital H is so purposeful the purposeful should have a capital P) pickles so we got along swimmingly via email, and then we got to hang out at conventions and talk horror and basketball. At some point I thought it might be fun to try collaborating on a YA novel with no pressure or expectations. I had a very roughly sketched out the first chapter with a boy climbing up a tree and floating away at a birthday party and pitched it to Stephen. He was game and we took our time passing chapters and sections back and forth for a few years until we arrived at the end.

floatingboySGJ: Yes on the pickles. I mean, no on the pickles, and on all pickles. And, when Paul hit me up with this seed of a novel, this idea for us to take our brains out and mash them together into something better, I had a pretty good sense of his range, from THE LITTLE SLEEP to the first thing I’d read of his, THE HARLEQUIN AND THE TRAIN—a book I still think about—and I for sure already had a sense of my very limited range, so I figured this could either be great or it’ll die fifty pages in. Neither of which would really be a failure, and surely I’d learn something in the process. So, we began. But I don’t remember it taking years. Though I guess it was, technically, ‘years’ ago that we started in on this. And it probably felt like years to Paul, working with me, as one thing I have the complete inability to do is actually work on the current version instead of the last version, or the two-months ago version. Well, I also found I’m no good at remembering where exactly the files of the novel are. That’s got to make any novel-writing escapade feel agonizingly slow.

What makes Mary special? Why do you think readers will connect with her?
PT: What makes Mary special: her voice, her outlook, her snark and pessimism and humor, her struggles, too, and how important her friends are to her, how everything they do and say can be life changing in any moment.

She’s still a surly, frustrating teen, but hopefully, a real one.

SGJ: What I dig about Mary is what I dig about all characters—about all people, really. It’s that their outsides don’t quite match their insides. Like, Mary, she’s got this kind of prickly exterior, complete with smart mouth and cynical outlook. But inside, man, inside she’s a dreamer, she’s still halfway planning on some happily ever after.

Now she’s just got to figure out how to navigate her world while keeping her mask in place, and never let go of that pure part of her either. It’s a struggle, but it’s so completely worth it, I think.

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Tidal Pool Rules: A Guest Post by Jeff VanderMeer (The Southern Reach Trilogy)


Area X: The Southern Reach Trilogy omnibus (Annihilation, Authority, Acceptance) is out today from FSG, and to celebrate, I’ve got a very special guest post from author Jeff VanderMeer, with comments throughout (in purple) by Jarrett Byrnes, assistant professor of Biology at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. How cool is that? Can you tell that I’m thrilled to share this with you? You’ll certainly never look at tidal pools in quite the same way again, and of course, if you haven’t experienced this phenomenal trilogy, you can now get it all in one gorgeous volume (and it’s perfect for gift giving too.)


(with apologies to John Le Carre and his “Moscow Rules”)
by Jeff VanderMeer

areax2Between Fiji, Florida, and a more-recently discovered love for the coasts of California and Vancouver Island***Come to Maine! Amazing tidepools. Also, there’s an old Swedish saying in Ecology that you can understand the entire world through a rock pool. Or so say my Swedish marine ecologist friends. Who study rock pools.*** I’ve encountered a lot of tidal pools. I even at one point wanted to be a marine biologist before I became a writer , but that wasn’t for me because I discovered I was less interested in the science than in spending time peering into tidal pools.***Funny, I was in theater before I became a marine biologist!***

You’ll find a fair number of tidal pools in the Southern Reach trilogy, [where they’re a microcosm of the natural world but also at times metaphorical]***And vice-versa***even, in the biologist’s case, the site of a pivotal moment in her life. Of course, all of Area X, that pristine but mysterious wilderness documented in the novels, could be thought of as a kind of tidal pool…with something looking in. (Think you know how many tidal pools can be found in the trilogy? You might surprised; a few are disguised.)

Here are seven tips for surviving in tidal pools, which might also be of use on some level if you ever find yourself in Area X. I’ve had them vetted by a marine biologist (see Jarrett’s comments in purple.)

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Interview: Imogen Robertson, author of The Paris Winter

imogenrobertsonI read a lot of SFF, but every now and then, I love a good historical (especially one with lots of suspense), and The Paris Winter is just the thing to scratch that itch. That said, I’m thrilled to welcome Imogen Robertson to the blog to answer a few questions about her brand new book, The Paris Winter (out tomorrow)!

Will you tell us a bit about The Paris Winter and what inspired you to write it?
With pleasure! Paris Winter is the story of a young English woman, Maud, who comes to Paris to train to be an artist at the Académie Lafond. She finds herself almost destitute and is too proud to ask for help, but finds a place working as a companion to a young woman in ill-health. It seems her problems are over. Unluckily for Maud what seems a refuge is anything but, and she is pulled into a dark, dangerous plot. It’s a story of revenge and betrayal and the shadows cast in the City of Light.

Why Paris of 1909? What kind of research did you do for the book, and what was one of the most interesting things you learned?
I read about the floods in Paris of January 1910 and at once I realised I wanted Maud’s story to be set against that background. Paris was a very modern city, but its sewers and underground tunnels were turned against it by the waters and the streets started giving way. It had all the drama and symbolism I wanted.

thepariswinterI spent hours in the London Library reading the reports of the Paris council on the flood, read any number of contemporary reports, visited artists and diamond merchants, made files of weather reports, collected thousands of images and – of course – went to Paris to walk the streets my characters knew. I think the thing that surprised me most was learning about the numbers of American and English girls who were destitute in Paris at the time and about the people who tried to help them.

I always admire writers that take on characters from another era. How did you gain insight into Maud, and what was one of your favorite things about writing her character?
It was easier to get to know Maud in some ways than my characters from the late 18th century. Getting to know an artist who was trained in the same way as Maud was key, and also reading everything I could about women artists of the time gave me an idea of how she might look at the world. I think what I loved the most was learning the vocabulary of oil painting and working that into the novel.

Your other novels take place mostly in London and the surrounding areas. Was it fun making the switch to Paris?
I love Paris and it was very interesting to go there with the novel in mind rather than just enjoying it as a tourist. One of my other books (Circle of Shadows) is set in Germany, and another in the Lake District (Island of Bones), so I’ve done a few trips out of London in the past. The most important thing is choosing when to go. You need to have some clear ideas about the book so you go and look at the right things, but you also need to let all the new influences of actually being there sink in. There’s never enough time! I was lucky when I went to Paris that I met American writer David Downie. He and his wife – photographer Alison Harris – took me to all sorts of secret places in Paris which I would never have found on my own and the novel is a great deal richer as a result.

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The Dark Blood of Poppies by Freda Warrington: Exerpt and Giveaway

The Dark Blood of Poppies by Freda Warrington was reissued by Titan in October, and today I’ve not only got an excerpt of the book for you to read, but courtesy of Titan, I’ve got a copy to give away to one lucky US reader as well! Enjoy the excerpt, and be sure to enter to win using the internet at the bottom of the page. I’ll choose a winner on the 22nd!



The familiar, light voice sent an eerie thrill through her. Charlotte saw Violette appear in the doorway, pale in a dress of beaded ivory silk.

Violette stepped into the firelight. Her dress sparkled but her face and arms were matte, like velvet-white petals. With her blackhair coiled under a bandeau, she held herself with all her natural balletic poise.

darkbloodCharlotte put her book aside and stood up. “Violette, this is a lovely surprise. How are you?”

“I…” The dancer fell silent and stared into the fire. Her posture was defensive, as if to fend off any kiss or touch of greeting. Charlotte had no idea how to broach the subject of Matthew’s death, or the complaints of the other vampires.

“I waited until Karl had gone out,” Violette said finally. “I need to see you alone. Do you mind?”

“Of course not! Please, sit down.”

“Thank you, but no.” Violette clasped her hands across her waist. “I can’t sit still. I should be helping the wardrobe mistress with the costumes for the tour, but…”

Charlotte, moving closer, was shocked by her pallor. “Have you fed tonight?”

“Not yet,” Violette said brusquely.

“Are you still finding it hard to hunt?” She spoke gently, but her heart sank. Violette looked desolate. Charlotte’s gaze was arrested by a pearly mark over her breastbone. “What’s that on your chest?”

“This?” Violette smiled without humour, and drew down the front of her dress to reveal a ragged scar between her breasts. “Isn’t it wonderful, how fast we heal? Last night it was almost through to my spine.”

“Who did this?” Rage electrified her. To think that some idiot had actually tried to kill Violette! “Was it John? I’ll tear him apart!”

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Invisible Streets by Toby Ball

invisiblestreetsInvisible Streets by Toby Ball (Overlook, July 2014)-Like your noir with a political twist? I do, and Invisible Streets, although it’s set in the turbulent 60s, it’s rather timely, which makes it even more fascinating for me. Again, it’s the 60s in the City, and this City doesn’t exist on any real map, which gives the author a certain amount of freedom with the prose, even as he sticks to familiar events and societal conventions of the time. Most readers of thrillers expect a main problem, or mystery, for a protagonist to solve, and this has one, sort of, but there are overarching events that make up the real crux of the book. The protagonist is certainly Frank Frings, an aging journalist who has been asked by his old friend and former editor, Panos Dimitropoulos, to find his grandson Sol, who is suspected of killing his own parents and hasn’t been in touch for years. Recently, however, Panos spotted Sol in an art film, and so the world of bohemian art and film is where Frank Frings starts his investigation.

Meanwhile, Nathan Canada’s New City Project has divided the city ideologically, and soon, literally. If Canada has his way, and there’s really no reason why he won’t, the mega road which will soon run straight through the city will divide the haves and have-nots in a decisive way. Homes are being taken away from their owners via shady backroom deals which are certainly more beneficial to Canada than any of the City’s denizens,, and as palms are continually greased the collective tension of the City continues to rise.

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December 2014 Must Reads in Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror

Here are the  books that I’m especially looking forward to in SFF for December! What are you looking forward to?

godsandmonstersGods and Monsters: Mythbreaker by Stephen Blackmoore (Abaddon-Dec. 2nd)

Synopsis-Louie “Fitz” Fitzsimmons is getting out of the drugs business. It was never what you might call a career, anyway; he’s got problems – strange, violent, vivid hallucinations that have plagued him since he was a kid – and what with one thing and another, this is where he’s ended up. So he’s been cooking Hollywood gangster Blake Kaplan’s books, and putting a little aside for a rainy day – fifteen million, give or take – and he figures it’s time to cut and run. Until a vision hits at the worst possible moment, and now he’s in hospital and looking at a stretch in County on a possession charge.

Then a Lithuanian goddess of the hunt murders her way into the hospital, and Fitz ends up on the run from a pissed-off angel, and there’s new gods – gods of business and the internet – hunting him down, and what started as a bad day gets a whole lot worse. Because Fitz is a Chronicler, a prophet – a modern Moses or Hesiod – with the power to make, or break, the gods themselves…
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180 ebooks under $5! SFF, Horror, and Suspense.

Here’s your weekly round up of Kindle deals under $5. It’s a cornucopia of genre (curated with care, ’cause I love you), so you’re sure to find something you like, and if you’re a mystery lover, and you haven’t discovered Michael Connelly’s superb Harry Bosch series, or if you’re a fan of dark urban fantasy, Mike Carey’s Felix Castor series, now’s the time, because most of them are under $5 (and I’ve listed them in order.) Have fun, and happy reading (but be sure to double check that Buy button before you click:)!

Also, the sheer volume of Orbit titles that are under $5 will blow your mind:books by Jeff Somers, Jaye Wells, Nicole Peeler, Amanda Downum, so much more!

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Nyctophobia by Christopher Fowler

nyctophobiaNyctophobia by Christopher Fowler (Solaris, Oct. 2014)-Christopher Fowler is a very versatile author. He’s well known for his Bryant and May mystery series, and he can do noir with the best of them. But, he’s also known for horror, but he’s not pinned into only one style of horror either. He can do subtle, he can do not-so-subtle (Hell Train), but Nyctophobia falls firmly between those two states, and it works perfectly.

When English rose Callie meets the much older Mateo, she’s smitten, and when they discover a beautiful, and very unique, house in the Spanish countryside (complete with a quaint, tiny village nearby), she’s thrilled. She’s a trained architect, and Hyperion House offers much to get her architectural gears going. It’s built into the side of a cliff, and is constructed to maximize the amount of sunlight in the house at all times, except for the part of the house built into the cliff. It seems like a miniature version of the main house, but is completely in darkness. The housekeeper, whose family has kept house for more than a few of Hyperion’s inhabitants (and insists that Hyperion is a happy house), also seems to be hoarding the keys. Mysterious rooms aside, Callie has to admit she’s very content in the house, even if Mateo is gone quite a bit on business, and she has his 9 year old daughter Bobbie to keep her company much of the time. With those dark, dusty rooms looming in the background, however, their sunny happiness is always entwined with a subtle sense of menace. But all subtlety disappears when Callie gets her hands on those keys, and begins her explorations of the dark rooms. This is where Fowler heads into just-plain-scary-sh*t territory.

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