I’m thrilled to have Gwenda Bond on the blog today! Her first book, Blackwood, was out on the 4th from Angry Robot’s brand new YA imprint, Strange Chemistry,and has been enjoying wonderful reviews. The busy new writer was kind enough to answer a few questions, so please give her a warm welcome!
Gwenda, your first novel, Blackwood, just came out! Have you always wanted to be a writer? Can you tell me a bit about your journey?
I have. I was that obnoxious kid who declared I wanted to write books before I even really knew how to read—or write, obviously. I would make cursive swirls on paper and ask my mom to decode any words I’d accidentally made. Anyway, I took a bit of a detour post-college and wrote screenplays for several years before I realized that books were where my writer’s heart truly was and YA books specifically. And it took more years to figure out how to write a novel and a few more to sell one.
Will you tell us a little bit about Blackwood?
Happily! Blackwood is a modern take on the Lost Colony of Roanoke, set on Roanoke Island. When there’s a mass disappearance of 114 people in the present day—the same number as the original colonists—two smart, unlikely 17-year-olds must work together to uncover the secrets of the new Lost Colony, if there’s any hope of saving the missing people and themselves.
What made you decide to write a young adult novel?
I’m not sure I can write any other kind of novel, though I guess I should follow the never say never rule. It was really the flood of fantastic YA in the early to mid-2000s that woke me up to the fact it was what I should be writing. So, even though YA wasn’t nearly as robust when I was a teen and I mostly read adult books then—big exceptions for Francesca Lia Block and Christopher Pike aside—I instantly connected with the emerging new breed of YA. When I decided to go to grad school, I only looked at the Vermont College program in writing for children and YA, and while the community and mentorship there were hugely beneficial, I also think becoming more widely read in the field of children’s literature was invaluable.
Honestly, when I started trying to write novels, they were all YA. I don’t think I’ve ever had an idea that would work better as an adult book. The immediacy of action and emotion in YA really appeal to me, and that time of life is so rich with possibility. Also, the way all the books rub up against each other. It’s much more of a genre melting pot, with everyone able to steal and use what they want in a freer way, because ultimately the books are marketed into the same category regardless of genre. Especially in comparison to the restrictions marketing can slap on books that are hybrids or departures outside YA, it feels more open to writers trying new things.
What are some of your biggest literary influences?
This is always such a hard one for me, because I have trouble stepping back and teasing out actual influences from the things I love. I’m a very wide reader, but also a wide consumer of other media—TV, movies, music—and I suspect it all has an influence, in one way or another. Many of my favorite writers are also friends, which I’ll always feel lucky for, and so conversations with them are also hugely influential on the way I think about my work and also a great source of discussions about what we’re reading as well as what we’re writing. Total cop-out answer? Probably. But I’m never happy naming names unless I’m recommending books. I always kick myself for forgetting someone.
What was one of your favorite books as a child?
Oh, there were so many. But since I already mentioned him once in this interview, I’m going to single out an actual YA book I read and reread when I was a teen (not a child, so cheating, but): Christopher Pike’s Remember Me. It was—with the caveat I haven’t read it in a lot of years—a book about a girl who’s murdered at the beginning of the novel trying to find her killer, while running from a shadowy dark force, and meanwhile falling in love and uncovering great family secrets. I have no idea how it would hold up, going back to it, but the character’s voice was absolutely compelling to me back then. Pike’s books were an addictive mix of cracktastically amazing high stakes drama and teenagers who felt more true to life than many fictional teens did back then. (I should say that Lizzie Skurnick did a brilliantly snarky piece about Remember Me for her Fine Lines Jezebel column, but I still want to do an epic reread of it. Though I’m semi-afraid to now. Still, Christopher Pike forever. I inhaled those books as a teen.)
If you could read one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?
Switching gears completely, I guess it would have to be Eduardo Galeano’s The Book of Embraces. At least, that’s what I’m going with today. It’s a beautiful mix of poetry and illustration, prose and politics, which I also first discovered in high school. One of my favorite books, I go back to it every couple of years to marvel anew. It’s one of a kind.
What makes you set a book aside in frustration?
I get a lot of books for possible review in the mail (as I’m sure you do), and so often it’s no fault of the book itself. I can’t remember the last time I started a book and got beyond the first chapter and couldn’t finish it or was truly disappointed by it. What makes me set a book aside in that first chapter is usually that it just isn’t clicking—the voice or subject matter isn’t my kind of thing, the character isn’t engaging me. It’s just not for me as a reader.
What are you reading now?
I’ve been on a romance reading binge, which tends to be my go-to during stressful times (like a first book release!). Mostly, I’ve been reading Sherry Thomas, who I just discovered recently. I also loved Ilona Andrews’ latest, Gunmetal Magic, as I do all her books. And I just finished Leigh Bardugo’s Smoke and Bone, which was great, and Tiffany Trent’s The Unnaturalists, ditto.
Is there someone (literary or otherwise) that would bring out the fangirl in you if you were to meet them in person?
I have been extremely lucky in that I seem to meet the authors who become my heroes before I read their books and would be hopelessly intimidated by them and so unable to make conversation. However, I’ll admit to being somewhat in awe of Karen Joy Fowler after reading Sarah Canary for the first time. If she wasn’t so approachable and hilarious, I might have embarrassed myself terribly.
I don’t know if there’s anyone else. I’m not that impressed by celebrity, so probably not. Usually I get more impressed to meet someone with a really interesting job—you worked on the Curiosity for NASA? I’m probably going to turn into a little bit of a fangirl.
When you manage to find some free time, how do you like to spend it?
On twitter, of course. Or marathoning television shows, or reading. I should be less of a hermit. Resolution! (Resolution that will never be kept.)
Quick! What’s something that makes you laugh out loud?
Ridiculous uses of scare quotes around every day items! One-day “sale”, for instance. Though, I should probably say, I am remarkably easy to make laugh out loud.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about upcoming projects or events (or anything at all!)?
I don’t think so. Blackwood’s out now (!) and I would love to hear from readers, who can always find me via my website or at twitter. You can find out about the events I’m doing at my site, too. My next book will be The Woken Gods, out next year from Strange Chemistry/Angry Robot. So don’t be a stranger.
Thanks so much for the interview!
More about Gwenda Bond:
Gwenda Bond is a contributing writer for Publishers Weekly and regularly reviews for Locus. Her nonfiction work has also appeared in the Washington Post, Lightspeed, and Strange Horizons, among others, and she guest-edited a special YA issue for Subterranean Online. She holds an MFA in Writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts’ program in writing for children and young adults. Readers of Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet may know her as everyone’s Dear Aunt Gwenda.
She lives in a hundred-year-old house in Lexington, Kentucky, with her husband, author Christopher Rowe, and their menagerie: Hemingway the Cat, Polydactyl, LLC; Miss Emma the Dog-Girl, CPA; and Puck the Puppy, INC. This is her first novel.
On Roanoke Island, the legend of the 114 people who mysteriously vanished from the Lost Colony hundreds of years ago is just an outdoor drama for the tourists, a story people tell. But when the island faces the sudden disappearance of 114 people now, an unlikely pair of 17-year-olds may be the only hope of bringing them back.
Miranda, a misfit girl from the island’s most infamous family, and Phillips, an exiled teen criminal who hears the voices of the dead, must dodge everyone from federal agents to long-dead alchemists as they work to uncover the secrets of the new Lost Colony. The one thing they can’t dodge is each other.
Purchase Blackwood: Amazon | B&N | Indiebound
Please welcome Paul Goat Allen to the blog! Paul has been a professional reviewer for the last 20 years (he currently runs the B&N Explorations Blog) and is also an author and poet. He was kind enough to answer some questions about his career (and other fun stuff, like tea parties with his little girls), and I’m thrilled to have him on the blog!
Paul, as a reviewer myself, I’m a little in awe of your accomplishments. You’ve managed to make a huge name for yourself reviewing for outlets such as Publishers Weekly, the Chicago Tribune, and most influentially for me, Barnes and Noble’s Explorations blog, and over 6,000 reviews under your belt and counting. Whew! I know it’s a story you’ve related a few times, but will you share with us how you got started?
Well, I’ve always loved books and have been a huge SF/fantasy fan ever since I could read – I remember trying to read The Silmarillion in the third grade! – and as a kid, I always wanted to be a writer. I graduated college with two degrees in English Literature and Creative Writing and thought that becoming a published author would be easy. And, honestly, it was. Managing chain bookstores (Coles and Waldenbooks) in and around Syracuse, I saved up enough money to self-publish a little collection of poetry. Overall, it sucked but I learned invaluable lessons about how to sell the book – and myself. I did poetry readings everywhere – coffee houses, bookstores, libraries, high schools, craft fairs, mental institutions, etc. A few years after I self-published Warlock Dreams, I got a novel published. I had written it in college – entitled Burning Sticks, a morbid coming-of-age tale aimed at young adult readers – that got published by a small press in my area. They butchered it – entire chapters were deleted – but I was like 25 at the time and I had a book officially published! It sold remarkably well in a small graphical area (Central New York) and I got on the covers of numerous magazines, was interviewed on television shows – I thought I had “made it.”
But even though I had a measure of fame, I was still living at home with my parents. All of those years of hard work hadn’t really resulted in any monetary gain. I continued to write poetry but I settled in my life as a bookstore manager. And then Waldenbooks was sold to Borders and everything changed – the “book people” vibe was changed to the “buy a discount card or else” vibe overnight and I hated it.
But as fate would have it, some people that I knew very well who worked for the Waldenbooks home office in Stamford, Connecticut, got jobs as book buyers at Barnes & Noble’s headquarters in Manhattan – and less than six months after I quit my job as a bookstore manager, I interviewed for and was hired by B&N as an editor of their new Explorations SF/fantasy newsletter. This one event irrevocably changed my life. Almost 20 years later, I’m not only still doing Explorations for BN.com (it’s now a blog) but have also written for the Chicago Tribune, PW, Kirkus, BookPage, BlueInk, etc.
I know you have a huge library of “to be reviewed” books. How do you manage your time? Any organization tips for the rest of us (excluding magic beans-already tried those)?
Great question – I literally have an entire room downstairs in my house that is filled with ARCs and review copies. Offhand, I’d say 500-600 books. I tried separating them by category but that ultimately failed because so much of what I review is a fusion of genres. I tried to separate them by month of publication but the pub dates are often changed and that didn’t work either. Now I have the “mountain” and a small bookshelf where I keep “the good stuff” that I know I’ll definitely be reading and reviewing.
2012 has been an amazing year so far (at least for me), with so many wonderful new author and releases. What are a few of your favorites for this year?
Well, I don’t think 2012 has really been that amazing so far – I’ve been really disappointed by the “new” writers in paranormal fantasy; so much of it is just uninspired and derivative. And with some historically significant series ending soon – Kim Harrison’s Rachel Morgan, Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse, etc. – I’m really concerned about the future of this category. I keep waiting for the next Nicole Peeler or Jaye Wells to appear but I have been largely underwhelmed by the debut novelists in paranormal fantasy for the last few years.
2012 has been a noteworthy year for horror – namely Laird Barron’s The Croning – and it’s been a great year for zombie fiction (Horizon by Sophie Littlefield, Siege by Rhiannon Frater, Blackout by Mira Grant) but I think the best is yet to come. The year is not over yet! I’m really looking forward to Richard Kadrey’s Devil Said Bang, Justin Cronin’s The Twelve, Kim Harrison’s Blood Crime (graphic novel), Brom’s Krampus, and The Fractal Prince by Hannu Rajaniemi, to name just a few.
Do you have a fave genre?
I pretty much love anything that is well conceived and creative but my favorite category has to be apocalyptic fiction. I grew up with ‘70’s disaster movies and reading apocalyptic classics like Lucifer’s Hammer and A Canticle for Leibowitz so those kinds of novels always resonate strongly this me.
What makes you grumble and want to throw a book across the room?
Grammatical errors. I review a lot of self-published work and it is so incredibly frustrating to have to trudge through a book that is written by authors who either don’t have a grasp of the English language or are too lazy to proof their own work.
What’s an essential component of a good book for you?
Well, after reading what averages out to be 5 books a week for the last 17 years, I find myself turned off by formulaic, uninspired, storylines. It gets boring. I love authors who have the balls to try something new, do something truly innovative.
Have you ever bought a book just for the cover?
Absolutely, we all have. Just read Jess Lourey’s The Toadhouse Trilogy: Book One solely because of the mesmerizing cover art. Good cover art isn’t just important – it’s crucial.
If you could read one book again for the first time, which one would it be?
That’s a tough question because the way in which I experience books now is much different than when I was younger. In fact, I have had the opportunity to reread classics that blew my mind when I was a kid – Pohl’s Gateway, Silverberg’s The World Inside, Tolkien’s The Hobbit, etc. – and while I still thoroughly enjoyed them, that sense of wonder was somewhat diminished. That said: if I could relive the experience of reading a book for the first time, it would have to be Harlan Ellison’s Dangerous Visions anthology (1967). That collection of stories forever changed the way I look at science fiction, and sex, and life.
We all know you love books, how about movies? Any faves?
I really have no free time for movies. With two young daughters at home, I’m either reading science fiction/fantasy, attending tea parties with various stuffed animals, or arranging play dates. (And I wouldn’t change it for the world.)
What are some of the craziest things you’ve ever done?
Well, I’ve pulled out one of my own teeth with a pair of pliers and hung out of a three-story college dorm window naked during the Homecoming Parade but reading my poetry in bars was, at times, verging on suicidal. During my poetry days, I had hair down almost to my ass and had a wild beard and some of my poetry was decidedly “antisocial” so I thought reading it in bars before musical events would be a good moneymaking idea. I hired an electric guitar player to accompany me to give the poetry a little edge. at one show, we were opening up for a Metallica tribute band and the place – a dive called The Roma – was packed with rowdies. I got up on stage and started yelling out my poems, the bar as so loud I could barely hear myself, and some dude near the front started heckling. It seemed like most people were into it but this one guy just wouldn’t shut up. So I finally doused him with a beer and the crowd loved it. I honestly thought I wouldn’t live to see another day but we ended up putting on a great show and I sold a ton of books (is selling poetry books to drunken headbangers unethical?).
Quick, what’s the first thing you think of when you read these words?
Dragon: Anne McCaffrey
Electric: Kool-Aid Acid Test
Clock: Work Orange
Legend: I AM
If you could pack your bags and go anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would you go?
I’m not much of a traveler – in fact, whenever possible, I head away from people. We live near the Adirondacks so I’d probably head for the hills!
Is there anyone you’d like to meet (literary or otherwise) that would bring out the fanboy in you?
It has to be Michael Moorcock. The guy is a living legend and his Elric novels played a huge role in my life when I was an adolescent. Those novels literally saved my life and helped me through a terrible few years. What I would’ve given for Elric’s soul-sucking sword when I was in the ninth grade!
You are no doubt terribly busy, not only with the books you review, but also juggling that with a family! When you manage to find some free time, how do you like to spend it?
Well, I love to lift weights and since my girls are getting a little older (my eldest will be starting kindergarten this fall) I’ve vowed to get back to writing creatively. My goal for what remains of 2012 is to be able to bench 245 pounds and to get a short story published.
Keep up with Paul: Twitter | B&N Explorations Blog
Bitter Seeds (Milkweed #1) by Ian Tregillis
Publisher: Tor/April, 2012
It’s 1939. The Nazis have supermen, the British have demons, and one perfectly normal man gets caught in betweenRaybould Marsh is a British secret agent in the early days of the Second World War, haunted by something strange he saw on a mission during the Spanish Civil War: a German woman with wires going into her head who looked at him as if she knew him.
When the Nazis start running missions with people who have unnatural abilities—a woman who can turn invisible, a man who can walk through walls, and the woman Marsh saw in Spain who can use her knowledge of the future to twist the present—Marsh is the man who has to face them. He rallies the secret warlocks of Britain to hold the impending invasion at bay. But magic always exacts a price. Eventually, the sacrifice necessary to defeat the enemy will be as terrible as outright loss would be.
It’s late 1920, and “orphaned” children are finding themselves at the Children’s Home for Human Enlightenment, nestled in the German countryside, under the care of Herr Doktor von Westarp. The good doctor isn’t there to help these unfortunates, though. His purpose is of a more diabolical sort. Gruesome experiments are being performed on innocent children and people in the upper echelons of the Nazi party are taking notice. As adults, they will be supermen, and the world won’t know what hit them. Meanwhile, in England, a clever young orphan is being groomed to be a spy.
In 1939 Raybould Marsh is in Spain when he confronts a man who seems to have information about Dr. von Westarp’s children, but before he can questions him further, the man spontaneously combusts. As he prepares to leave Spain, he sees a woman with wires coming from her head that seems to recognize him. He’s managed to rescue a valise that contains a film reel, and upon returning to England, turns the film over to Stephenson, the man who raised him and taught him how to be a successful spy for MI6. When the film is reconstructed, what’s on it is terrifying, and a new mission is formed, called Milkweed. Under Milkweed, Marsh and his oldest and dearest friend, Will, a warlock, must track down these supermen and stop them before the Nazi’s destroy their country, and everything they love. Will must use his power to call on the Eidelons, beings of infinite time and space, to help them reshape the future, but their power comes at a price: a blood price. Eventually, these beings won’t be content with a few drops of blood, and the consequences are terrifying, even as they manage to hold back the German hordes.
Bitter Seeds uses the backdrop of WWII as a setting for a sprawling battle of good, evil, and grey. The narrative goes back and forth between the Reichsbehorde (the supermen) and the English spies and warlocks that are determined to wipe them off the map. There is the telekinetic brute, Kemmler, who is simpleminded and controlled by another man wielding a leash attached to a collar around his neck; Klaus, who can dematerialize and move through solid objects; Reinhardt, who can set fire to anything (and anyone) with his mind; Heike, who can go completely invisible; and Gretel, Klaus’s sister, who is a precog. As terrifying as this group is, Gretel is the scariest of them all. Her sociopathic tendencies are evident from the beginning, and even Klaus grows concerned that she cannot be controlled. Klaus is the most even tempered of the group, and he’s the focal point of the group. The secret to their powers is a battery pack attached to various wires that are attached to their skulls. Makes for a creepy picture, yes? Creepy is definitely one word for it. Clever and, of course, powerful, they’re a force to be reckoned with, but they are definitely not limitless because of their dependence on the batteries. It’s this dependence that Milkweed hopes to exploit. Unfortunately, this mission takes its toll on Marsh, his young family, and his friendship with Will. Terrible sacrifices are made for the good of the whole and death becomes only one more step to victory. As scary as the supermen are, you can’t help but pity them. Taken as children and programmed as killing machines, they are only a mechanism, mere cogs, in the huge machine that is Nazi Germany. They can be pitied, but never underestimated, however. Marsh and Co. have to martial enormous resources to fight this threat, because the price for not fighting is much too great. The action scenes are thrilling, the characters fascinating, and even if you’re not usually a fan of alternate history, fantasy and espionage fans will find much to like. Ian Tregillis is definitely a talent to watch, and I’ll look forward to reading the 2nd book in the series, The Coldest War!
The ceremonies for the 2012 Hugo Awards were this last weekend and there were lots of great winners!
Here’s the rundown:
The John W. Campbell Award for the best new professional science fiction or fantasy writer of 2010 or 2011, sponsored by Dell Magazines: E. Lily Yu
**In other (related) news, today I got a very warm welcome to the SF Signal team by its editor, John DeNardo and I’m so proud to be a part of this wonderful site and didja see? They won the Hugo for Best Fanzine!!
* My review for Clean by Alex Hughes went live today at SF Signal, and you can check that out here!
Please welcome Angie Fox to the blog! She’s here to talk about her brand new Monster MASH series and there’s also a giveaway, so be sure to check out the details below the post!
Sit, Sit, SIT! Tips for Training Your HellHound
KILLEN, ALABAMA–When your hellhound is living up to every inch of its name, who you gonna call?
Now, Cesar Millan. The famed Dog Whisperer is taking on a whole new breed—and it’s a supernatural one. In his new book, “Ghost Doggie, Good Doggie”, Millan shows that he’s more than up to the challenge—even when the canines in question involve bad tempers, super strength, foul odors, and the sometimes-annoying ability to be able to talk back. Here’s a few of his pointers that might help you train your paranormal pooch.
• Stay calm. Your first instinct may be to freak when Fido starts giving you the (really) evil eye—but don’t react. Your dog will mirror your energy. If you’re frustrated, he will be, too!
• Pondering why your pooch is exhibiting problem behaviors like snorting fire on the drapes, or chewing through cement? A lack of exercise is probably to blame. “Dogs need physical and mental stimulation. Period. It doesn’t matter if they’re on this plane or not,” says Millan. A rousing game of fetch-the-skull or a long walk through a menacing mist might just do the trick.
• If your haunted hound has more than one head, make sure to give each one a tasty tidbit if you want to get all their attention (and keep jealousy to a minimum). “Don’t be stingy—this is a great opportunity to bond with all of them,” says Millan. For an inexpensive, yet unexpected treat, try dried devilswort or pickled frog livers. “They’re easy to keep hidden in your hand, and I haven’t met a black beast yet who could resist a bit of liver.”
So why am I on here, talking about hellhounds? It’s all part of the launch of Immortally Yours, the first book in the new Monster MASH series. The books take place in and around a paranormal MASH unit during a seemingly endless war.
The heroine and her colleagues at the MASH 3063rd have been drafted until the end of the conflict, which is bad for her but even worse for people like her vampire roommate, Marius. They’re living in this quirky, ad-hock camp, trying to make the best of it while they work long hours in the OR, putting soldiers back together – knowing that they’re probably going to see these injured heroes again and again – if they’re lucky.
I wanted to give readers a taste of the series. So I set up a special website for PNN (The Paranormal News Network), which is the news outlet covering the war. www.PNN-Network.com is the supernatural version of CNN, with a few exceptions. Sure, PNN can be a little sensationalistic, with articles like: “Mayan Insider Scoop! Developed Armageddon “Prophecy” After Tequila Bender” and “Five Things in Your Lair That Can Kill You.” But, hey, nobody’s perfect.
I figured PNN would be a fun way to give everyone a sneak peek at the kind of world I’ve created in my new series. To celebrate, I’m giving away a copy of Immortally Yours right now. Just check out www.PNN-Network.com and post the title of your favorite article in the comments below! (International/Ends 9/14)
About Angie Fox:
Angie Fox is the New York Times bestselling author of books about demon slayers, werewolves and things that go bump in the night. She claims that researching her books can be just as much fun as writing them. In the name of fact-finding, Angie has ridden with Harley biker gangs, explored the tunnels underneath Hoover Dam and found an interesting recipe for Mamma Coalpot’s Southern Skunk Surprise (she’s still trying to get her courage up to try it).
Keep up with Angie: Website | Twitter
It’s no secret that I absolutely adored Hidden Things, by Doyce Testerman, so when he agreed to answer a few of my questions, I was thrilled! Also, thanks to Harper Voyager, I’ve got 2 copies of Hidden Things up for grabs, so check out the giveaway details at the bottom of the post!
Please welcome Doyce to the blog!
Doyce, you’ve been a writer for over a decade now, and your first novel, the wonderful Hidden Things, just came out! What was your inspiration for Hidden Things?
Honestly? It was a dare.
Several of my writerly, readerly friends were sitting around discussing our favorite and not-so-favorite books, and one of them mentioned how disappointing it was that there was no weird, magical, fantasy stuff set in the Midwest.
Then she blamed me for this, and told me that my next story needed to rectify this terrible oversight.
I protested, but she dared me.
She dared me.
After that, it was all over.
I’d been toying with the idea of someone whose best friend dies and then calls to ask her for help, but nothing had really gelled up to the point. Once I put it in the context of this other challenge, it became a story about grief and reluctant homecomings. Hidden Things seemed like a good name for creatures that lurk just out of sight, as well as all those little secrets you tuck away and try to forget.
That was basically my outline. After that, I just started writing.
How long did Hidden Things take you to write from start to finish?
Or… ten years.
I wrote the first draft, start to finish, in November of 2002. Revision followed, as it must, then another. Then finding an agent and working through the book with them. Then finding an editor and working through the book with them (twice)… and so on. Each of those editing passes were oases in a vast desert of Waiting Patiently For Replies. (I was, in retrospect, too patient, and have since learned the art of a good email nudge to keep things moving.)
(In the meantime, I wrote three other stories, and incorporated what I’d learned from those stories back into Hidden Things, so it wasn’t a total loss.)
Anyway: 30 days. Plus revisions.
What do you love most about writing fantasy?
I love what it lets us say about ourselves. A good story is about true things, even if it’s not about real things. Hidden Things is a good old road trip fantasy adventure, and you can read it that way and be done with it.
But it’s also about family, dealing with (or rejecting) change, losing those you love (via death or lots of other things that are almost worse), taking risks, and what you’re willing to give up of yourself to stay safe – at what point that crosses a line and you’re not you anymore. (Heck, at some annoyingly intellectual meta level, it’s even about Magical Realism in writing.)
I write fantasy – well, any genre, really – because I love the trappings; I love the wonder and whimsy of it. But at the same time I have to ground the story in real people with real lives, because otherwise wonder and whimsy is all it is, and ultimately that’s not enough.
(Then again, real people with real lives isn’t enough for me, either – without all the weird stuff, I’d get awfully bored.)
What are some of your biggest literary influences?
Tolkien led me over to the SF/F section of my library. Then he showed me how world building was properly done (as he has for so many authors).
Ray Bradbury (in Farenheit 451), helped me understand that I wanted to write, and why. (I wrote about that, once.)
Roger Zelazny’s spare writing style and his no-nonsense writer’s work ethic had a profound effect on me (and, I hope, continues to do so).
Stephen King is my personal gold-standard for characterization, realistic dialogue, and (of course) writing anything genuinely creepy.
Neil Gaiman showed me you could write about magic without explaining every damned thing. He has a marvelously light touch, and everything he writes is a joy to read aloud – that’s not empty praise, as I consider a book’s ability to be read aloud the final quality test.
There are more (so many more), but those are the big ones.
Hidden Things certainly has plenty of magical components to it, and for me, invoked childlike wonder many times! What were some of your favorite books or authors as a child?
Shel Silverstein wrote a few books that I found when I was first really getting into reading, and have kept close at hand ever since – I don’t think you outgrow those.
The same can be said for A.A. Milne, especially some of the unintentionally creepier poems in Now We Are Six.
(Bonus Trivia: There were snippets of both Silverstein and Milne poems in early drafts of Hidden Things, but they unfortunately had to be sacrificed to the gods of copyright.)
What would be your elevator pitch for Hidden Things?
Oh, I was so bad at the elevator pitch for this book. Now, though, I’ve had some time to think about it, and I would say:
Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, lost on a blacktop highway, with a Midwestern sunburn.
That’s a bit pat and easy, and certainly not what I set out to write, but I don’t think anyone who built their expectations from that pitch would be very disappointed.
If you could read one book again for the first time, which one would it be?
I get to cheat on this one and say The Hobbit, because I’m currently reading it with my seven-year-old daughter. It’s my (I think) eleventh time through, but if I let myself look at things through her eyes, it’s very like my first.
(This is, in my opinion, one of the many great rewards of having children.)
Hidden Things has a gorgeous cover! I couldn’t help but thinking you must have appeased the cover gods Have you ever bought a book just for the cover?
Thank you! Harper Collins actually asked for my input on the cover before they began work on it, and the designer managed something amazing in incorporating every one of my ideas while completely surpassing my wildest hopes.
I put a lot of stock in that, because I have absolutely picked up books based on a good cover design. The most recent was probably Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy, all of which are gorgeously tactile.
What makes you want to toss aside a book in frustration?
I really can’t stand it when a protagonist is dropped into a strange situation (magic, horror, time travel, whatever) and refuses to accept it. It drives me mad. A bit of disbelief and denial is absolutely natural and sane, but the second (maybe third) time something genuinely weird happens, with witnesses, maybe it’s time to let go of your binky and deal with it. I’m supposed to identify with a character with their head buried in the sand? No thank you.
I imagine juggling writing and a family keeps you busy, but when you manage to find some free time, how do you like to spend it?
I am an unapologetic gaming nerd! Board games, pen and paper roleplaying games, computer games, you name it, and I’m probably trying (and often failing) to find time for it. Lucky for me, my wife is cut from similar (albeit finer) cloth (we actually met online, playing an MMO), and our kids are heading that way as well – my daughter got Catan Junior for her birthday, which is really a gift for all of us.
Obviously, there’s also a lot of reading going on. My wife and I are both reading A Song of Ice and Fire, trying to keep up with each other (she’s currently ahead a few chapters) so we can talk about without spoiling it for each other. Lucky for us we have a good backyard and good weather for reading. (Colorado is a wonderful place to live. In Denver, the weather is often great for a bike ride almost year-round, and we’re getting to the point where it’s easier and easier to do that as a family, now that my oldest daughter is off her training wheels and getting proper knee scrapes.)
I guess I stay busy:)
What’s next for you? Can we expect to see more of Calliope Jenkins?
Right now, I’m working on a pretty big story called Adrift, which is really two stories: one is hard science fiction set on a moon-sized junkyard/Tortuga of abandoned star ships, the other is a series of bedtime stories complete with talking animals and a magical forest; the narrative switches back and forth between the two, so it’s a bit like alternating between Blade Runner and Redwall.
Nineteen-year-old Alix Nico, a self-described “million-dollar murder machine,” is a rising star in ExOps, a covert-action agency that aggressively shields the United States from its three great enemies: the Soviet Union, Greater Germany, and the Nationalist Republic of China. Rather than risk another all-out war, the four superpowers have poured their resources into creating superspies known as Levels.
Alix is one of the hottest young American Levels. That’s no surprise: Her dad was America’s top Level before he was captured and killed eight years ago. But when an impulsive decision explodes—literally—in her face, Alix uncovers a conspiracy that pushes her to her limits and could upset the global balance of power forever.
Alix Nico is only 19. This doesn’t keep her from an abundance of ass kicking, covert ops, black ops, and um, killing. Alix is an operative with ExOps, and her enhancements make her a pretty badass asset. It’s 1980, and Blades of Winter’s world is definitely a little to the left of ours, in terms of history. The Middle East and France are controlled by Germany and the Blades are determined to remove German control from their rightful territories. Shadowstorm has thus far been a pretty discreet battle between the Big Four (Germany, US, Russia, and China), but it’s about to come to a head.
Blades of Winter starts off with a bang, literally, when Alex takes a Job Number meant for a much higher, more experienced Level, and nearly gets killed in the process. She’s not what you call subtle, and successfully succeeds in angering the powers that be. She’s good, though, really good, and they need her. Turns out they’ve reopened the investigation into the disappearance and alleged termination of her father (Big Bertha), and it would take death to keep Alix away from this mission. So, armed with her trusty Lion Ballistics LB-505 (Li’l Bertha) that she inherited from her dad, Alix saddles up with her partner and lover, Patrick, and they head off to battle. And what a battle!! This mission is a globe hopping, blood soaked descent into hell, not only for Alix, but for her handlers. To say she’s a handful is a vast understatement. Capturing an enemy alive for questioning is terribly hard for Alix, since she tends to kill nearly every enemy she comes in contact with. Heavily augmented, she loves to use her bionic hand to actually reach into people and do damage. One memorable scene involves Alix, the enemy (his collarbones), a parachute, and the Eiffel Tower. That’s not the only memorable scene though. Alix is a tough-as-nails, borderline sociopathic, hot-headed, impulsive, somewhat emotionally immature killing machine.
She’s also a killing machine that terribly misses her father.
You must keep in mind that Alix began her covert ops training when she was only 12, and has never really been allowed to have any semblance of a normal childhood. The psychological aspects of this are staggering, and the author does a very good job of creating a portrait of a young woman whose emotional development has been effectively cut off at the knees. Corralling Alix sort of brings to mind trying to corral a room full of feral cats and while her impetuousness can be trying at times, there’s a hurting little girl inside of her that does come to the surface, especially when she’s with her mother, and these scenes did quite a bit to soften her character. She’s also desperately in love with her partner, Patrick, and poor guy, he has the patience of a saint when it comes to Alix, and he loves her too, no doubt about it. I’d say Alix could benefit from a hug (or 50), but I’d be afraid she’d rip my lungs out. Just sayin’.
The action is nonstop, adrenaline soaked, blood drenched and cinematic, and the fight scenes are some of the best I’ve ever read. Add to the mix a diabolical human cloning program code named Carbon, a possible mole (or moles) in ExOps, and of course, the investigation into what really happen to Alix’s father, and you’ve got an explosive first novel you won’t soon forget. Blades of Winter is complex and exciting, and the shocker of an ending will have you wishing that the sequel was at hand. I can’t wait for the next book in this series!
I’m so excited to have brand new author Kim Curran on the blog today! Her new YA sci-fi SHIFT will be out Sept. 4th with Angry Robot Book’s brand new YA imprint Strange Chemistry. She was kind enough to answer a few of my questions, so please welcome her to the blog!
You have a degree in philosophy and a career in copywriting, mainly for videogames. What made you decide to take the plunge and write a book? Can you tell us a bit about your journey?
I always wanted to be a writer. In the same way I wanted to be a fighter pilot and a foreign correspondent and Joan of Arc. But I never thought any of it would actually happen (especially the Joan of Arc bit). So after finishing my Philosophy degree (which gave me an ability to think deep thoughts about being unemployed and little else) I got a job as an advertising copywriter. That was great for about 10 years. But then something rather tragic happened to a friend of mine and it reminded me very clearly that life is short and precious and you shouldn’t waste a second of it. So I decided then that what I really wanted to do, what I’d always wanted to do, was write a book. So I quit my job, went freelance, and started writing. A few years later and here I am.
Will you tell us a bit about Shift, and what you enjoyed most about writing it?
Shift is about a teen boy who realises he’s one of a group of kids with the power to undo any decision they’ve ever made. It’s a fast-paced, roller-coaster ride with quantum physics and stuff blowing up. The whole thing was such a joy to write, from the very first page – which I wrote in a cab on the way to work one morning – to the last – which I wrote in a hammock in Mexico – it all just flowed out of me. But my favourite bits to write were the scenes with Benjo, the baddy of the book. He’s just so deliciously disgusting that I had fun creeping myself out with him.
What are some of your biggest literary influences?
There are the obvious ones, like Anthony Horowitz and Charlie Higson and then the less obvious like Albert Camus and David Mitchell. But a lot of my influences also come from movies and comic books.
What was one of your favorite books as a child?
Expecting Someone Taller by Tom Holt. It’s Norse myths set in modern day and I’ve read it so many times the cover is falling off.
If you could read one book again for the first time, which one would it be?
Today, that would be Heart-Shaped Bruise by Tanya Byrne. It’s so fresh and raw and,well, heart-breaking. It teases out a secret all the way to the end, which keeps you reading and reading.
Is there anyone that would bring the fangirl out in you if you were to meet them?
Oh, loads of writers reduce me to a squeaking mess. But I’m worst around Patrick Ness. I was lucky enough to hear him speak about A Monster Calls. When I went to get the book signed afterwards I had planned on telling him what a huge fan I was and how much I adored his writing. All I could manage to say was; ‘My name is Kim. With an i’.
When you manage to find some free time, how do you like to spend it?
Hanging out with my friends mostly. I do a lot of lunches with friends which is one of the joys of not having a ‘normal’ job. I’ve also discovered how much I like going to the cinema on my own – no one to annoy me by asking silly questions. And, unsurprisingly, when I’m not writing I read. I find it hard to read when I’m in the middle of writing or editing, so I make up for it in my downtime.
What do you love the most about living in London?
Oh, so many things! Walking across Hungerford Bridge towards the South Bank where you can see all the famous landmarks: The Eye and The Houses of Parliament on one side and St Paul’s, The Shard and The Gerkin on the other. I never tire of that view. Then there are the wealth of museums and art galleries we have to explore for free. I keep discovering new ones. For example, I only just came across the Wellcome Collection after going to The British Library with some friends. It’s an amazing, bizarre exhibit, and highly recommended.
If you could pack your bags and travel anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would you go?
I often pack my bags and head off. Last year, my husband and I travelled around Central America for three months. But if I had to pick just one place, it would probably be Essaouira in Morocco. Although ask me again tomorrow and it will be somewhere else.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about upcoming projects or events (or anything at all!)?
I’ve just finished (bar the edits) the sequel to Shift, which is called Control and that will be out next year. I’m really excited about everyone reading it, as it has a rather exciting twist. Oh, and I’ve just decided to learn to fly. So maybe I can be a fighter pilot after all!
Keep up with Kim: Website | Twitter | Facebook
When your average, 16-year old loser, Scott Tyler, meets the beautiful and mysterious Aubrey Jones, he learns he’s not so average after all. He’s a ‘Shifter’. And that means he has the power to undo any decision he’s ever made. At first, he thinks the power to shift is pretty cool. But as his world starts to unravel around him he realises that each time he uses his power, it has consequences; terrible unforeseen consequences. Shifting is going to get him killed. In a world where everything can change with a thought, Scott has to decide where he stands.
Purchase SHIFT: Amazon | B&N | Indiebound
Here are the new releases for September! However, this is by no means a comprehensive list (just ones that I especially have my eye on.) If you have any new releases that I didn’t include, and that you’d like to direct me to, please list them in the comments. Thanks!
What new books are you jonesin’ for this month?
Please welcome Jane Kindred to the blog today! Jane is the author of The Midnight Court, The Fallen Queen, and more! Jane is here to tell us a bit about her worldbuilding and she’s also offering 2 copies of The Midnight Court (one physical and one ecopy) to 2 lucky winners, so check out the giveaway details at the end of the post.
Over to Jane!
Monasteries, Murder Holes, and Mountain Cities
Thanks for having me today on My Bookish Ways—I’m excited to be here on the official release day for The Midnight Court! If you’ve read The Fallen Queen, you know there are some unusual settings in my books. This second book in my House of Arkhangel’sk trilogy gave me the opportunity to expand on the world of Heaven I’d touched on in Book One, as well as to explore more of modern Russia, where the first half of the book takes place.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have the chance to visit Russia again as research for this book, although I would have loved to. Instead, I explored Russia virtually via Google Earth and numerous websites on the Karelia area where many of the scenes take place. I needed something relatively close to the city of Arkhangel’sk, where my characters are living at the beginning of the book, where someone could be hidden away, and I wanted it to be something uniquely Russian. That was when I happened upon the monastery on the Solovetsky Islands in the White Sea.
As soon as I saw images of it, I knew this was the place. The Solovetsky Monastery is surrounded by a fifteenth-century fortress that protected it from attacks by numerous enemies over the centuries. It looks like a little kingdom of its own in the middle of a starkly beautiful archipelago. Its history, like Russia’s is tumultuous. The site of religious uprisings and a place of exile for anti-tsarists, the monastery was turned into one the most notorious labor camps of the gulag system after the Bolshevik Revolution.
With the fall of the Soviet Union, Solovetsky was returned to the Orthodox Church, and is now once again a working monastery with a small number of monks in residence, as well as a museum. I can only hope the monks of Solovetsky will forgive me for the license I took with it.
To parallel the earthly stronghold, I created a Heavenly one in the frozen north, and once I had a fortress to defend, I realized it couldn’t just sit there; I had to defend it. That was when I dove into research on the layout and functions of a fortress—fun things, like how to open a portcullis, and the purpose of a sally port (raiding parties would “sally forth” from a fortress under siege to attack the enemy), and murder holes. Because who doesn’t love saying “murder holes”? Then I had to figure out the strategy of a siege, and how medieval war engines were constructed, and how much grain your horses had to carry so that you didn’t end up eating them on a month-long trek over frozen tundra.
But my favorite part of Heaven that I got to create for this book was Aravoth City, high up in mountain country, where the angelic order of Virtues live. Oddly enough, their buildings and homes are based on ancient Roman architecture. Those Romans were pretty clever—central heating right in your home, plus an “impluvium” to catch rainwater. And of course, the Roman-style Aravothan public bath, which is to die for. I confess I patterned it pretty closely after Lynn Flewelling’s Aurënfaie baths, but in my own defense, I didn’t realize I had until I’d gone back to reread her Nightrunner series. She is clearly a woman after my own heart, and loves a good bath.
These are just a few of the places and things you’ll discover in The Midnight Court—along with the Midnight Court itself—as Anazakia, Belphagor, and Vasily take the next step of their journey.
As a special Release Day bonus, I’m giving away two copies of The Midnight Court today (or The Fallen Queen if you prefer)—one ebook and one paperback.
So tell me, what unusual place in the world would you most like to visit?
1. Answer Jane’s question above in the comments and specify ebook or physical copy (we’ll pick one of each!) Please don’t leave your email address in the body of the comment (as long as you fill it in on the WordPress form, you’re good to go-I may delete email addresses left in the comments)
2. Giveaway is open INTERNATIONALLY
3. Giveaway ends 9/8/12
About the author:
Jane Kindred began writing fantasy at age 12 in the wayback of a Plymouth Fury—which, as far as she recalls, never killed anyone…who didn’t have it coming. She spent her formative years ruining her eyes reading romance novels in the Tucson sun and watching Star Trek marathons in the dark. Although she was repeatedly urged to learn a marketable skill, she received a B.A. in Creative Writing anyway from the University of Arizona.
She now writes to the sound of San Francisco foghorns while two cats slowly but surely edge her off the side of the bed.
You can find Jane on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and on her website.
About The Fallen Queen, Book One of The House of Arkhangel’sk:
Heaven can go to hell.
Until her cousin slaughtered the supernal family, Anazakia’s father ruled the Heavens, governing noble Host and Fallen peasants alike. Now Anazakia is the last grand duchess of the House of Arkhangel’sk, and all she wants is to stay alive.
Hunted by Seraph assassins, Anazakia flees Heaven with two Fallen thieves—fire demon Vasily and air demon Belphagor, each with their own nefarious agenda—who hide her in the world of Man. The line between vice and virtue soon blurs, and when Belphagor is imprisoned, the unexpected passion of Vasily warms her through the Russian winter.
Heaven seems a distant dream, but when Anazakia learns the truth behind the celestial coup, she will have to return to fight for the throne—even if it means saving the man who murdered everyone she loved.
About The Midnight Court, Book Two of The House of Arkhangel’sk:
Against the pristine ice of Heaven, spilled blood and a demon’s fire will spark celestial war.
The exiled heir to the throne of Heaven, Grand Duchess Anazakia and her demon companions, Belphagor and Vasily, have made a comfortable home in the Russian city of Arkhangel’sk, but their domestic bliss is short lived. When their daughter Ola is taken as a pawn in Heaven’s demon revolution, the delicate fabric of their unorthodox family is torn apart—threatening to separate Belphagor and Vasily for good.
Anazakia is prepared to move Heaven and Earth to get her daughter back from Queen Aeval, risen in Elysium from the ashes of temporary defeat. But Aeval isn’t the only one seeking Ola’s strange power.
To conquer the forces amassing against them, Anazakia is prophesied to spill the blood of one close to her heart, while Vasily’s fire will prove more potent than anyone suspected. In the battle for supremacy over Heaven’s empire, loyalties will be tested and secrets will be revealed, but love will reign supernal.