As you may already know, I LOVED Sealed With a Curse by Cecy Robson, and she was kind enough to offer a copy of the book for giveaway, so check out the details below and good luck!
About SEALED WITH A CURSE:
Celia Wird and her three sisters are just like other 20-something girls—with one tiny exception: they’re products of a backfired curse that has given each of them unique powers that make them, well, weird…
The Wird sisters are content to avoid the local vampires, werebeasts, and witches of the Lake Tahoe region—until one of them blows up a vampire in self-defense. Everyone knows vampires aren’t aggressive, and killing one is punishable by death. But soon more bloodlust-fueled attacks occur, and the community wonders: are the vampires of Tahoe cursed with a plague?
Celia reluctantly agrees to help Misha, the handsome leader of an infected vampire family. But Aric, the head of the werewolf pack determined to destroy Misha’s family to keep the region safe, warns Celia to stay out of the fight. Caught between two hot alphas, Celia must find a way to please everyone, save everyone, and oh yeah, not lose her heart to the wrong guy—or die a miserable death. Because now that the evil behind the plague knows who Celia is, it’s coming for her and her sisters. This Wird girl has never had it so tough.
Celia and her 3 sisters find themselves in vampire court and Celia is terrified at what might happen. Misha Aleksandr has requested the presence of the Wird sisters after charging them with the murder of one of his family members. Today is their lucky day however, since evidence proves the dead vamp in question had a virus that caused uncontrollable bloodlust, and it seems to be spreading. People are dying at an alarming rate as the vampire virus spreads and infected vamps go on the rampage. In desperation, Misha Aleksandr appeals to the sisters to help him fight whoever is spreading the infection and weakening his power. Taran, Emme, and Shayna are horrified at the deaths, but they also don’t want to get involved. Celia sees it a bit differently and decides they should help the Master vamp fight the rival master that is causing the carnage. Not only does Misha want the sisters’ help, but he seems to have a bit of a thing for Celia, much to her chagrin, since she has her eye on a werewolf hottie, Aric, who also gets involved in the fight. So much for the Wird sisters laying low in lovely Lake Tahoe, huh?
The Wird sisters aren’t your usual supes. As the result of a childhood curse, they each have very unique powers, but consider themselves very much outside the supernatural community. All they want to do is carry out their day jobs as nurses and live in peace in gorgeous Lake Tahoe. However, Misha and the rampaging vampires don’t plan to let the sisters off so easy, and Celia’s interest in the gorgeous Aric definitely throws a huge wrench into things.
Sealed With a Curse has just about everything I want in a really good urban fantasy. Strong lead characters? Check. A sexy romance brewing on the side? Check. Vamps, weres, witches, and more? Check!! The story is told in Celia’s voice, and what I simultaneously love and hate about her is her vulnerability. Most men are very intimidated by her tigress (yep, Celia can change into a tigress, among other things), so she’s closed herself off to men, and yet she’s so very lonely and insecure. She berates herself more than once, and if you’ve ever wanted to hug a character from a book, you’ll want to hug Celia and shake her until she stops doubting herself. It’s also important to point out that while the romance element is strong in this book (lots of hotties running around, trust me), I swear there are kick ass fights every 3 or 4 pages. The author just doesn’t let up, and if you think you’ll be reading about the same old supernaturals, think again. The baddies are really, really bad, and the author never shies away from the ick factor. Cecy Robson has a very, very fertile imagination when it comes to the scaries, and she’s not afraid to use it. Celia and her sisters are a great fighting team and if you like books with plenty of girl power, you’ll love this one. I also really enjoyed Celia’s sense of humor and the “triangle” between her, Aric, and Misha. I swear this book has some of the funniest one-liners in urban fantasy. These nurses are good at their jobs, but don’t mess with them. Seriously. If you mess with one, you mess with all four, and the person/creature doing the messing is probably going to get the bad end of the stick (or blade, or claw…you get the picture.)
So, can the girls track down the source of the vampire infection and take care of business? Will Celia find the love she deserves? Will these poor girls ever get some much deserved peace? Probably not, well, at least the peace part. But that’s good for us, because that means there will be plenty of adventures with the Wird girls to come. I really enjoyed the prequel novella and was hoping Sealed With a Curse would live up to my expectations. It did. This is an exciting and refreshing debut and I can’t wait to see what’s next for this series!
Please welcome author and scientist Ramez Naam to the blog! Ramez’s first novel, Nexus, just came out TODAY from Angry Robot Books, and he was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to answer a few of my questions!
Your new book, Nexus, is out this month! How did you celebrate when you found out it would be published?
It’s probably a sign of the times, but when I first found out that we had an offer on the book, my instinct was to tweet about it! Of course, my agent (the wonderful Lucienne Diver) very sensibly suggested that I wait until we’d actually negotiated the contract and signed it.
After that, it was off with my girlfriend to our favorite restaurant.
Will you tell us a bit about it, and what inspired you to write it?
Nexus is about a drug (also called Nexus) that can link minds. It’s really a nanotechnology packaged as what seems to be a recreational drug. In this near future world, there have been all sorts of abuses of advanced nano- and bio- technologies – bio-terror, mind control, attempts to create ‘master races’, and so on – so this technology is completely illegal.
My protagonist and his friends are graduate students in San Francisco. Even though Nexus is illegal, they’re fascinated by it, and they’re working to make better versions that can link minds over longer ranges, can send more information, can even run software on the nanobots inside the human brain. When Kade, my protagonist, is busted doing this, he’s blackmailed into spying for the US government. He’s sent to Thailand to work his way into the confidence of a Chinese scientist, who might or might not be militarizing Nexus, turning it into a technology for mind control and political assassination.
Then the bullets start flying, and Kade finds out he’s in way over his head.
It’s definitely a thriller, of the near future variety, but underneath that it’s also an examination of civil liberties, the war on drugs, and the war on terror. In the novel we’ve created this immense security apparatus to guard against the mis-use of advanced technologies, not unlike the Department of Homeland Security today. And, just like today, we see that security apparatus cutting into people’s freedoms and civil liberties. It’s driven by a good motivation – make us all safer. But has it gone too far? How do we reduce the risk of technologies while also allowing for the positive uses? That’s the question I ask underneath the surface of the action thriller.
Another sci-fi influence is Ian McDonald, who sets much of his fiction in other countries – India, Turkey, Brazil – showing a slice of culture that’s different from our own, but not that far in the future. I tried to do that in Nexus, with much of the book set in Bangkok and other parts of Thailand.
To be honest, though, Nexus borrows as much from thrillers and spy novels. There’s an amazing pacing to Tom Clancy’s early thrillers that I loved and tried to mimic. And Robert Ludlum’s spy thrillers – specifically his Jason Bourne books – are another impact.
I wanted Nexus to be important, to shed light on some issues in both science and civil liberties. But to succeed at that it had to be compelling readable above all.
If someone were dipping their toe in sci-fi, where would you suggest they start (besides with Nexus, of course!)?
It really depends on the person. I’ve had recent success with Ian McDonald’s The Dervish House. It’s science fiction, but extremely near future. The setting in Istanbul is lush and beautiful, and the fact that you’re immersed in a different culture is part of the beauty of the book. Science fiction is often making up future cultures, of course, but it turns out our world is full of real cultures that most of us have never experienced, and which are far more nuanced and alien than many of the ones made up in sci-fi.
If you could read one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?
Probably Hyperion by Dan Simmons. It’s hard core science fiction, but it’s also deeply poetic and literary. In structure it’s modeled after Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. A group of pilgrims traveling together tell each other their stories. In telling those six stories, Simmons builds compelling characters and narrative, and he also paints a picture of this vast sprawling future and a deep mystery that’s brought all of them together – for different reasons, of course. He weaves in poetry, art, the somewhat heretical Catholic futurism of Teilhard de Chardin, and superhuman AIs. It’s an amazing book.
You’re a computer scientist by day, which probably keeps you pretty busy! How do you balance writing with a full work schedule?
I’m writing full time now! But it’s definitely been a challenge in those periods where I’ve balanced a day job. The only thing you can do is rigorously set aside hours where you have to write, preferably first thing in the morning, before work takes over your brain.
You have a background in science, and I want to ask about your 2005 book, More Than Human (2005 HG Wells Award Winner!), but honestly don’t know where to start! Can you tell us in layman’s terms what it is about?
It’s sort of a non-fiction book about a particular theme in science fiction – upgrading ourselves. It’s a look at real scientific research being done in genetic engineering, in making people smarter, stronger, and longer lived, and in wiring our brains to computers. All of that work is being done for medical reasons – to cure genetic diseases, to stave off Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases, to help people who’ve been paralyzed or rendered blind by an injury. But the research also points the way to augmenting people.
So the book is about two thirds popular science, describing what’s happening in the lab and what it could lead to. And the other third, woven throughout it, is the questions the science brings up. Should we do this? Is it safe? Who’ll be able to afford it? Will it widen the gaps in society? Will it destroy our human nature?
In a lot of ways, those are the very same questions I tackle in Nexus.
When you manage to find some free time, how do you like to spend it?
I love to read, of course, and as a writer I think you’re always behind in your reading. I know so many other writers now! I want to read all their books, but there aren’t enough hours in the day.
I live in Seattle, where we’re surrounded by old growth forests, lakes, rivers, and mountains, so I get outside as much as I can. I love to hike and kayak in the summer, and snowboard in the winter.
What’s next for you? I hear you have some books coming up in 2013!
I do! The sequel to Nexus is almost done. It’s called Crux and it comes out in September. You can read Nexus entirely on its own – it has a story arc that starts and ends. But it also opens the door for more stories in that world, and that’s what Crux is.
In between those two novels, I have a non-fiction book coming out. It’s called The Infinite Resource: The Power of Ideas on a Finite Planet. It’s essentially about the race between innovation and overconsumption. We’re damaging our planet, but at the same time we’re making incredible strides in things like solar energy that could turn that around. How do we make sure innovation wins? That’s the topic of the book.
Keep up with Ramez: Website | Twitter
Mankind gets an upgrade
In the near future, the experimental nano-drug Nexus can link human together, mind to mind. There are some who want to improve it. There are some who want to eradicate it. And there are others who just want to exploit it.
When a young scientist is caught improving Nexus, he’s thrust over his head into a world of danger and international espionage – for there is far more at stake than anyone realizes.
From the halls of academe to the halls of power, from the headquarters of an elite US agency in Washington DC to a secret lab beneath a top university in Shanghai, from the underground parties of San Francisco to the illegal biotech markets of Bangkok, from an international neuroscience conference to a remote monastery in the mountains of Thailand – Nexus is a thrill ride through a future on the brink of explosion.
The holidays are coming so fast and I don’t know about you, but my head is spinning. In keeping with the head spinning excitement of this time of year, I’ll be doing giveaways from now through the new year so be sure to keep your eyes peeled! How ’bout we kick ‘em off with 2 copies of Pamela Palmer’s A BLOOD SEDUCTION (thanks kindly to Avon Books.) Check out the book and giveaway details, and good luck!
About A BLOOD SEDUCTION:
Quinn Lennox is searching for a missing friend when she stumbles into a dark otherworld that only she can see—and finds herself at the mercy of Arturo Mazza, a dangerously handsome vampire whose wicked kiss will save her, enslave her, bewitch her, and betray her. What Arturo can’t do is forget about her—any more than Quinn can control her own feelings for him. Neither one can let desire get in the way of their mission—his to save his people, hers to save herself. But there is no escape from desire in a city built for seduction, where passion flows hot and blood-red . . .
I’m thrilled to have author Mandy Hager on the blog today! She’s the author of the award winning The Crossing, which will see its US release in January and has been described as “1984 for teenagers.” It’s also on my Must Read Titles of January 2013 list. Mandy was kind enough to answer a few of my questions, so please give her a warm welcome!
What inspired you to write Blood of the Lamb trilogy? Will you tell us a bit about it?
The Crossing is set on a small Pacific island, 5-6 generations after global devastation brought on by massive solar flares, the effects of which mirror the apocalyptic events in Revelations.
At the time of the so-called ‘Tribulation’ a cruise ship full of rich tourists founders on the reef of this small island. At first the ship is seen as a sanctuary – a life-saver – the resources used to help the sick and maimed. But, over time, the Captain and his white elite set themselves up as living gods – with the cruise ship, Star of the Sea, their Holy City – linked to the island by a bamboo causeway. Essentially they’re a cargo cult, using Christian texts to manipulate and subjugate the faithful population – especially for one particular need – the need for blood to stave off the effects of a leukemia-type disease brought on by the fall-out of the solar flares.
Each year, in a ceremony called The Judgement, toddlers are crudely tested to check their blood type, and those girls identified as blood-type O – which makes them universal donors – are labeled Blessed Sisters – The Chosen – taken from their families and raised on a small atoll off the main island to believe that when they hit puberty they will Cross to the Holy City to serve the Apostles of the Lamb – with ‘readiness and joy’.
entered around 15 year old Blessed Sister Maryam – late to get her bloods and impatient to fulfill her sacred destiny – the trilogy follows her journey as she Crosses from child to adult – from her safe, secure atoll home to the Apostle’s lair… where, she quickly discovers, her life is in danger and nothing is as it seems…
The whole trilogy is written from a place of anger and deep frustration – purposefully speaking to young people in the hope that through a story that engages their emotions, they will think harder about the issues raised.
At its heart it is political – a reflection on the way a few very powerful (mostly white) men hold the balance of power all around the world and maintain it through intimidation, incarceration and fear.
It looks at how power and control is asserted over women, over indigenous cultures, over the dispossessed, and over faithful populations. And it’s a challenge to those who call themselves ‘religious’ (in any faith) to live up to the basic tenets of their fundamental beliefs – those being love, acceptance, compassion, generosity and fairness for all.
Most of your work is known for having a message. What’s one of the things you’d like readers to take away from The Crossing, the first book in your Blood of the Lamb trilogy?
It’s a call to action – to empowerment – a call to stand up for what is right – for human rights. And for tolerance of others’ differences. It’s also an argument in favor of acting from a place of love.
You started your professional career as a teacher. Has teaching influenced your writing quite a bit?
When I trained to be a teacher, way back in the early ‘80s, I met three remarkable human beings there, whose influence cemented everything I had fermenting inside.
The first was my science tutor – a wonderful woman who was a survivor of Auschwitz – I saw the number tattooed on her wrist. This tiny woman had such spirit – she wasn’t cowed by her experiences – merely made stronger and more determined to make the rest of her life count. As the child of an Austrian refugee, it made me incredibly grateful that my father had managed to escape Hitler’s holocaust, and had chosen to raise his children in a country that was so settled, safe and beautiful. As a result, I have tried to make my own life count towards the greater good.
The second influential person at that time was my English tutor – arch-story-teller Jack Lasenby, who is now one of New Zealand’s foremost writers for young people. Jack re-awoke my love of story-telling, and introduced me to the power of myth.
The third was another English tutor, and in her class I met with a new and dynamic genre of fiction – the YA novel. The beginning of the 80’s was an exciting time for YA readers. A whole new and elevated class of books for young people emerged – books that dared to talk about life as it really was – and books that took me to new worlds, for the purpose of making me reflect back on my own. S E Hinton, Paul Zindel, John Christopher, Joan Aitken… for one whole year (while undertaking a specialized research project) I immersed myself in YA fiction of such high quality I was hooked for life.
The other main way teaching has influenced my writing is not in the themes or ideas so much as in my practice as a writer. A teacher needs to plan, be organized, and to work towards particular learning outcomes. As a writer I do the same. I always know what the thematic message of a book will be, and spend quite a lot of time researching and planning (structurally and character-wise) before I ever start writing.
These days I teach novel writing for a Creative Writing Degree, and am extremely grateful to have practical teaching skills to draw on.
What are some of your biggest literary influences?
I always find this such a hard question to answer! I’ve been a big reader since I was young – in a totally indiscriminate way! Early on, of course, there was Dr Seuss –his humanity and moral lessons were a huge influence on us all and I still know many of the lines off by heart! The same goes for the stories of Oscar Wilde (i.e. The Happy Prince) and Hans Christian Andersen (i.e. The Little Match Girl) – morality tales with heart. As I grew older I devoured novels, often holding on to the essence of the story but not the title or writer. I read a lot of science fiction as a teenager, liking the way it could reflect on the weaknesses and strengths of human existence by placing the reader in an unfamiliar world, to view behavior as an outsider. In the last few years I’ve become a Charles Dickens groupie! I love his passion for social causes, his ability to nail a unique, unforgettable character in one or two lines, and his razor-sharp wit. These days I also read a lot of non-fiction by writers such as Robert Wright and Joseph Campbell. I’m a big Barbara Kingsolver and Margaret Atwood fan too!
If you could read one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?
Hmm – another hard one! Perhaps George Orwell’s ‘1984’. I can still remember the shock and horror when I first read it in my teens, and how it fired up all my social and political inclinations. I love his passion and imagination, and would find it fascinating to re-read it with an analytical writer’s eye – in fact, thanks, I think I will! (And I recommend, for those writers who haven’t already read it, to search out Orwell’s essay ‘Why I Write.’)
What are you reading now?
I’m reading Rick Gekoski’s ‘Outside of a Dog – a bibliomemoir’. It’s fascinating. He tells his life story through the books that influenced him at the time. And I’ve just finished a fabulous book called ‘The Storytelling Animal’, by Jonathan Gottschall, which explores how human beings are hardwired for story.
When you manage to find some free time, how do you like to spend it?
I live on an acre of land, with fruit trees and a vegetable garden. It’s always a great joy to get outside and work in the garden, after all the hours I spend locked away in my writing room! I also love nothing better than getting together with friends and family – and I love cooking for them. Baking is my stress relief – something constructive to do that doesn’t require any thinking when my brain is tired!
I’ve never visited New Zealand and have experienced its beauty only through film and photographs. If someone were to visit you there for the first time, where would you take them?
We’re spoilt for choice here (she says proudly!) Top of my list would be to take visitors down to our South Island, which is truly awe-inspiring. Within the same day you can find pristine coves with gemstone beaches, thick ancient rainforests, spectacular mountains, and crystal clear lakes. Beautiful.
The New Year is right around the corner! What’s next for you?
Next year is shaping up to be very busy! As well as my teaching I will be working on a new book (which is currently in the early planning stages) as well as putting time into an organization I am involved with who work with youth at risk. I’m also helping with a political campaign that we’re hoping to fire up next year (which is, essentially, about trying to move our government to more climate/human friendly policies), and am very tempted by an offer from a friend to spend three weeks in her castle in southern France! I also do school visits as a writer and the odd speaking engagement… I reckon that’s probably enough to be going on with for now!
Keep up with Mandy: Website | Twitter
Here’s my roundup of book news (and other fun stuff) around the web for the week! Sometimes I add stuff throughout the day on Friday, so be sure you check back over the weekend too!
Also, don’t miss my list of gift ideas for book lovers at the bottom of the post. I’ll try to offer up new ideas every week until the end of December.
Interviews, articles, and more:
Excerpts and such:
Fun stuff (some book-related, some not):
Gift Ideas for Book Lovers (and beyond!)!!
I don’t normally do these types of announcement posts (only because in any given month, there are sooo many great releases!), but for me, this one is special. The CARNIEPUNK anthology is due in July 2013 from Pocket and it features a plethora of awesome authors, so wanted to give you the scoop (and share the gorgeous cover!) Thanks to Pocket for sharing all of the info with me!
So, step right up and take a gander at this awesome anthology, check out the author list and info, and hey, might as well preorder a copy too!
CARNIEPUNK cover artist:
Tony Mauro graduated from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and created the “When Darkness Falls” Vampire Series before going on to design movie posters for every major Hollywood studio and book covers for major publishing houses.
Rachel Caine is the New York Times and internationally bestselling author of the Morganville Vampires series, the Weather Warden series, the Outcast Season series, and the new Revivalist series.
www.RachelCaine.com and @RachelCaine
Delilah S. Dawson is an artist and an associate editor on CoolMomPicks.com. She lives with her family in Atlanta, where she is currently writing the next Blud novel.
www.delilahpaints.blogspot.com/ and @DelilahSDawson
Jennifer Estep is the New York Times bestselling author of the Elemental Assassin urban fantasy series for Pocket Books and also writes the Mythos Academy young adult series.
www.JenniferEstep.com and @Jennifer_Estep
Kelly Gay is the author of an urban fantasy series featuring Charlie Madigan. A two-time RITA Award finalist, she resides in North Carolina.
www.KellyGay.com and @KellyHGay
Kevin Hearne is the New York Times bestselling author of the Iron Druid Chronicles. He’s a middle-aged nerd who still enjoys his comic books and old-school heavy metal.
www.KevinHearne.com and @KevinHearne
Mark Henry is an adult urban fantasist, comedic horror writer and unrepentant smart-ass. His work has been translated into garbled slurs by notable alcoholics. He lives on the fringe of Seattle society with his saintly wife and assorted hairy monsters.
http://www.markhenry.us and @Mark_Henry
Hillary Jacques is an up-late, Alaska-based author of speculative fiction. Her romantic urban fantasy Night Runner series is published under pen name Regan Summers.
http://hillaryjacques.blogspot.com/ and @HillaryJacques
Jackie Kessler writes about demons, angels, superheroes, supervillains, and, in her semi-secret identity as a YA author, Riders of the Apocalypse. She lives near Albany, NY, with her Loving Husband and Precious Little Tax Deductions.
www.jackiekessler.com and @JackieKessler
Seanan McGuire is the New York Times bestselling author of the InCryptid series and the October Daye series, which earned her the John W Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 2010. The Newsflesh trilogy, published under the pseudonym Mira Grant, earned her the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 2011.
www.SeananMcGuire.com and @SeananMcGuire
Kelly Meding was born and raised in Southern Delaware and discovered Freddy Krueger at a very young age, and has since had a lifelong obsession with horror, science fiction, and fantasy. She writes the Dreg City urban fantasy series and the superhero-based MetaWars series.
www.kellymeding.com and @KellyMeding
Allison Pang, a biologist in a former life, spends her days in northern Virginia working as a cube grunt and her nights waiting on her kids and cats, punctuated by an occasional husbandly serenade. Sometimes she even manages to write. Mostly she just makes it up as she goes. She loves Hello Kitty, sparkly shoes, and gorgeous violinists.
http://www.heartofthedreaming.com/ and @Allison_Pang
Nicole D. Peeler resides outside Pittsburgh to teach in Seton Hill’s MFA in Popular Fiction. When she’s not in the classroom infecting young minds with her madness, she’s writing manga and the Jane True urban fantasy series.
www.NicolePeeler.com and @NicolePeeler
Rob Thurman is the New York Times bestselling author of the supernatural thriller All Seeing Eye, the gritty urban fantasy Cal Leandros series, the Trickster Novels, and standalone thriller-suspense novels.
www.RobThurman.net and @Rob_Thurman
Jaye Wells is a USA Today-bestselling author of urban fantasy novels about magical vampires and junky wizards. She loves to travel, drink bourbon and do things that scare her. Jaye lives in Texas.
www.JayeWells.com and @JayeWells
New York City seems to have a big problem. A genetically modified ant colony has been unleashed and people are being devoured by the nearly indestructible insects. At first it’s just a few isolated deaths, but the ants are spreading, and if something isn’t done, New York City will cease to exist. This is where Paul O’Keefe and Kendra Hart come in. Paul is a famous scientist and somewhat of a rockstar in his field, and his specialty is ants. He’s particularly interested in how ants can help us improve society. Kendra is Paul’s ex-wife, and she specializes in ants too, but the source of their divorce is the very different directions that they each took their careers. Paul began focusing on money more than research, where Kendra prefers to be out in the field, researching the ants at their levels, getting her hands dirty. When the problem gets too big to handle, Kendra and Paul are thrown together to help save the city. It doesn’t help that Kendra is still attracted to her ex, and it seems Paul holds plenty of regret about the divorce as well.
As the colony spreads and more people die, the city becomes a wasteland of death and crime and people are fleeing the city in droves. As Kendra and Paul settle into the underground bunker designed to protect VIPs in the most extreme circumstances, it’s immediately obvious that there is tension between the military in charge of the operation and the mayor who’s out to save his city. Kendra thinks she may have a solution, but it will involve finding a queen, and she and Paul are the only ones qualified to go on the dangerous mission. When they venture outside, through a devastated city with danger around every corner, you won’t be able to turn the pages fast enough. The author has a knack for setting up terrifying and tense scenes and plays wonderfully on our natural fear of bugs. Who doesn’t shiver when they think of ants crawling all over their body? I actually enjoyed learning about ants and how they work, and it’s obvious the author did her research. The science is fascinating, and the ants are too! AJ Colucci has crafted a pretty terrific thriller, and I’ll look forward to her next book!
Melissa Macgregor’s first novel, THE CURIOUS STEAMBOX AFFAIR, just came out, and she was kind enough to answer a few questions for me! Please welcome Melissa to the blog!
Melissa, your first novel, The Curious Steambox Affair, just came out! What inspired you to write the novel?
Thanks for having me on your blog, Kristin! It’s nice to “meet” you!
On a trip to London, I was sitting on a bench in St. James Park with my sister. Out of the blue, I said to her, “Who is Ian Hyde?” Her reply was, “I don’t know. Who is he?” I wasn’t sure, but the next week we were in Edinburgh for Hogmanay (New Years) and as I watched snow fall on the Royal Mile, the story of the English butcher turned physician’s assistant started to take shape.
Will you tell us a bit about it?
Alistair Purefoy is an Englishman, a butcher’s son from London, who has illegitimately entered a forbidden Scotland where Bonnie Prince Charlie’s heir is on the throne, to find himself apprenticed to Dr. Ian Hyde, perhaps the most feared and unpredictable physician in Edinburgh. His attempts at performing well are interrupted by murders in his boarding house beneath the streets of the Auld Toon. The police, at first unconcerned with the crime, finally realize that Alistair is the common denominator, and only with the help of a mysterious group called the Merry Gentlemen will he be able to overcome suspicion. What he isn’t clear on is what this group is and why they are interested in him. In the course of the story, he finds out.
The Curious Steambox Affair takes place in 1827, which is a fascinating time period! What was your favorite part of researching the novel?
My passion really is research, and I enjoyed throwing myself whole-heartedly into this. What struck me as particularly interesting was the abject gruesomeness and brutality of daily life in Edinburgh. I was shocked by how harsh the living conditions were, and how impossible it was for anyone to socially advance themselves. The line between the Have-Nots in Auld Toon and the Haves in New Town was very definitely drawn. I wanted to take a true outsider and through his eyes show the difference between the two. I also loved learning about the deep appreciation of science and the general sense that anything could happen, either medically or scientifically.
When I lived in Scotland, I loved to visit Edinburgh and tour the winding alleys (called closes) of the old part of town. I was lucky enough on one visit to have a tour of the Old Operating Theatre. I was fascinated by the circular seating, the operating floor. I felt overwhelmed with what had been studied there, what medical advances had been made. That memory lingered with me, and I knew I wanted to base much of my story around that location.
What do you love most about Steampunk, and why do you think it’s become so popular recently?
I love Steampunk because it is a celebration of creating the impossible. It is the belief that anything can happen, can be constructed simply by one’s own intelligence and skill (and a bit of luck!). It is a wonderful genre that encourages dreams and hope. I love it because it is science-based, with reasoning behind all gadgets. It advances art and imagination as well as science. I think it’s become popular recently because modern life is hard. Steampunk offers an escape into the fantastic, back to a time when people with enough skill, smarts and attitude could fix any problem, or at least believed they could.
What are some of your biggest literary influences?
My biggest influences were Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, and Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. I was blown away by their completely different voices. And I would have to add Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maude Montgomery, since I spent my childhood with that book permanently tucked under my arm.
If you could read one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?
That would be Magician by Raymond E. Feist. That was the first book I ever read where I completely lost myself in the world created between the pages. Midkemia seemed more real than my own life and I felt crushed when I reached the last page.
What are you reading right now?
I usually have two books going at once- one for work and one for fun. Right now, I’m reading Death, Dissection and the Destitute by Ruth Richardson and My Life As A White Trash Zombie by Diana Rowland. You can probably guess which one is for fun!
I saw that you’re a fellow Texan (born in Dallas!) but spent much of your childhood in Scotland. What do you love most about Scotland?
Who knew we were neighbors? Yay Texas!
I love it that Scotland is everything you imagine it to be. It is castles and ruins. Mountains and rivers. Quaint villages and pubs. A chill in the air and the promise of snow. Bagpipes and haggis. Even if you’ve never been to Scotland, you have a fixed idea of what it is in your mind just through stories. I love it that when you visit, it is exactly what it is supposed to be. Scotland is a fairytale country come to life and it never ever disappoints.
When you manage to find some free time, how do you like to spend it?
Well, I used to go to NHL hockey games but that darned lockout is making me branch out. Watching my 5 year old nephew play just isn’t the same! I went to a roller derby tournament recently (major fun). I like to wander around bookstores and fight my way through library sales (those deal finders can be vicious). If I get a big enough break from my writing, I can often be found baking in my kitchen.
The new year is right around the corner! What’s next for you?
I am currently deeply lost in the further adventures of the Merry Gentlemen, so it’s mostly writing for now. It looks like I might be at ThrillerFest in July, so please find me and say Hi if you’re there!
Keep up with Melissa: Website | Twitter
About THE CURIOUS STEAMBOX AFFAIR:
The year is 1827, and Alistair Purefoy, a young physician’s assistant, moves to Edinburgh to take a position with one Dr. Hyde. His colleagues call him a monster, while Hyde himself claims to have invented a Steambox that harnesses the human soul. Undaunted by these peculiarities, Alistair proves his mettle with the infamous Doctor, but he soon finds himself occupied outside the Operating Theatre as well…
When someone in his rooming house is murdered, Alistair is unnerved by the lack of interest from the police. He begins to investigate on his own, discovering a string of gruesome murders that appear to be connected, not only to each other, but also to him. Now Alistair can use all the help he can get, and with the aid of a secret society known as The Merry Gentlemen, he’s about to uncover a deadly experiment more monstrous than anything of Dr. Hyde’s imagining.
Ania Ahlborn’s new novel, The Neighbors, just came out, and her first novel, Seed, was a creepy (trust me on this one) hit! She was kind enough to answer a few of my questions and talk about her writing (and her Project Runway addiction), so please welcome her to the blog!
You discovered a love of writing at age 11! What’s one of the first things you can remember writing?
It was an in-tandem story with my cousin—something about a really cool chick trying to choose between two really cool guys. I’m sure they were preteens, too. How hip! No, it was terrible. So terrible that I eventually “lost” the hundred-some-odd loose-leaf pages we’d stuck in a binder. In my adulthood, I kind of regret allowing my younger self to misplace that story; I’m sure it would be good for a laugh.
You are a self-published success story with SEED, which was discovered by Amazon and resulted in a 2-book deal! Will you tell us a bit about your newest novel, The Neighbors, and what inspired you to write it?
I’ve always been fascinated with the concept of dangerous people blending in to society, and what’s more dangerous than a serial killer living next door? But let’s think about that for a minute… serial killers exist, and they’ve got to live somewhere. Ted Bundy was a charming guy with a disarming smile who worked a suicide hotline as a young adult. John Wayne Gacy owned a Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise. These people lived in everyday towns on everyday streets. They blended into society so well that when they were caught, all their neighbors could say was “he was such a nice, quiet man”. These people exist. I wanted to explore that.
What have been some of your biggest influences in your writing?
I wouldn’t say I really have any specific influences. I read books, I go to the movies, I listen to music, and every once in a while inspiration will strike. I have no idea when it’ll happen or what will trigger it, I just have faith that it’ll come. To give any one author or director or musician a higher spot on the totem pole of inspiration would be unfair, because I turn to all sources for that jolt of creativity.
What do you love most about horror, and why do you think people love being scared?
I’ve always been drawn to horror. When people ask me why, I really don’t know what to tell them. It’s just something that’s always been with me for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I adored Halloween. I still get giddy at the end of each September because October means I can play horror flick after horror flick just for the background noise… because there’s nothing like cooking dinner to a spooky soundtrack and a choir of screams. For me, horror holds the same nostalgia as old TV reruns hold for someone else. As weird as it sounds, it’s oddly comforting to curl up with a blanket and a mug of tea and watch Jason terrorize an entire town. But that’s why people love horror in the first place. It puts us in situations we can’t imagine but are strangely drawn to. Sometimes it asks us to reevaluate our beliefs, our morals, who we are as people and what we think is right and wrong. That, and it’s an adrenaline rush. Everyone loves a good jump scare now and again.
If you were going on vacation and could just take one book with you, which one would it be?
In the era of ebooks and having a virtual library of millions of books at WiFi’s beck and call, taking one book on a trip is thankfully a thing of the past. But if I could only take one, I’d probably take Stephen King’s Full Dark, No Stars. It’s a book of short stories, so it’s accessible unlike some of his thousand page epics. But it’s so dark and twisted… I could read those stories over and over again.
What are you reading right now?
I’m a finicky reader—I tend to jump from book to book and pick up where I left off months later. It’s weird, but when it comes to reading I can be like a kid on Ritalin. Right this second I’m reading Christopher Moore’s The Stupidest Angel, which is a book about “Christmas terror”—appropriate for the season. I’ve been trying to plod through King’s It for months in the meantime.
When you manage to find some free time, how do you like to spend it?
I’m a Project Runway junkie. I’ve been rewatching all the seasons, but I think I’ve burned myself out after season four. I also love Sons of Anarchy, Dexter, Boardwalk Empire… all of those shows are just fantastic. I also love baking, especially around the holidays. Any excuse I can find, I use. I tend to send treats to work with my husband. His coworkers never complain.
What do you love most about living in New Mexico? Where would you take someone visiting you there for the first time?
Full disclosure here: I don’t love living in New Mexico. I know I should probably make something up. “Oh, I love the sunshine!” but sunshine isn’t my thing. “Oh, I love the summers!” but anything above 75 degrees and I’m complaining about the desert. Quite honestly, I don’t belong here, but there are a few things I hold dear. There are some beautiful mountains out here—the tip of the Rockies. Sometimes the sunsets are incredible, and out here there’s nothing but sky. I love driving through the desert at night where there’s nothing but a strip of black tarmac ahead and the blip of a broken yellow line blurring beneath the tires. I love the scent of the air in winter—it smells like juniper and cedar wood burning in someone’s stove.
I’ve actually taken quite a few people around New Mexico in my day. We visit the small mountain town I grew up in, Ruidoso, before hitting White Sands National Monument. We take the tram to the top of the Sandia Mountains, drive up to Santa Fe and wander around the historic district.
So yeah… while I’m not in love with New Mexico, I do have feelings for it. Though I wouldn’t mind seeing other people, if you know what I mean.
What’s next for you in 2013?
Well, I believe my third book, The Shuddering, will be coming out in the summer, and I’m about to turn in my fourth manuscript to my editor any day now, which I’m hoping will make it out in late fall or early winter of next year. So that’s what it looks like on the publishing end. On the writing end, I’ll start working on another book in late January or early February. 2012 has been an incredible year. I’m hoping 2013 will be even better.
Keep up with Ania: Website | Twitter
With nothing but the clothes on his back — and something horrific snapping at his heels — Jack Winter fled his rural Georgia home when he was just a boy. Watching the world he knew vanish in a trucker’s rearview mirror, he thought he was leaving an unspeakable nightmare behind forever.
Now, years later, the bright new future he’s built suddenly turns pitch black, as something fiendishly familiar looms dead ahead.
Surviving a violent car crash seems like a miracle for Jack’s family, but Jack knows there’s nothing divine about it. The profound evil he uncovered as a boy has finally found him again. The thing that crouched at his bedside with soulless eyes and grinning, razor-sharp teeth is back with plans for Jack and his angelic youngest daughter, and a chilling promise: I’ve always been here, and I’ll never leave.
About THE NEIGHBORS:
Welcome to Magnolia Lane. It’s not exactly a little slice of heaven, but in the backwater town of Creekside, Kansas, it’s the best a jobless supermarket clerk like Andrew Morrison can do.
After sacrificing a normal childhood, a decent education, and true love to look after his alcoholic mother, he’s finally breaking free and living his own life — but in the squalid house he’s sharing with a former childhood friend, the living isn’t exactly easy. Plus, there’s something about the chipper, all-American couple next door that’s just downright creepy. However, that doesn’t keep Drew from accepting a job as their handyman — or surrendering to the wiles of perfect housewife Harlow Ward, a woman who always gets what she wants.
Drew, like a string of hapless young men before him, doesn’t realize he’s dancing with a devil — one dressed to the nines in high heels and pearls.
Dave Freer is a fascinating guy. Trust me on this one. Not only is he an author (prolific doesn’t really begin to cover it), he’s an ichthyologist, and I promise if you visit his Flinders Family Freer website, you’ll find yourself mesmerized by his and his family’s unique and fascinating lives (there are wombats!!). He’s funny too. I know, it’s totally not fair, but luckily, in his books, he shares some of this fun with us! To my delight, Dave was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to answer a few of my questions, so please give him a warm welcome!
Oh hey, did I mention that I have shiny new hardcover copies of Cuttlefish and The Steam Mole that will go to one lucky winner? Be sure you check the details at the bottom of the post!
Dave, your new book, The Steam Mole, is out this month! What can we look forward to from your heroes, Tim and Clara, in this installment?
(Blink) Chaos. Mayhem. Strange inventions, high ideals, adventure, courage. A shred of romance. What else do I ever deliver? In terms of where the story goes, into the red heart of Australia, A hotter-than-now heart, where humans survive as termites do. And coal is still king.
When you started the series, with Cuttlefish, did you already have in mind how many books you’d like to write or did you just plan to see where our characters took you?
Well, I would like to write one more. I had two definite in mind and one possible. The Antarctica book will have to wait for now. Basically they take steam into the environment and each book centers on the inventions that such an environment would need – I’ve done the sea, I’ve done the desert and tropics, and I’d love to do the ice and air. To some extent these are character growth and development stories, so barring new characters, there would be a limit on how fat I’d take Tim and Clara.
Cuttlefish and The Steam Mole have definitely been described as “steampunk”. Why do you think this genre has become so popular in recent years?
Um. Possibly because it has escaped the grey goo, angst and misery that seem to enveloped so much of the writing world? It’s a robust, exciting slightly eccentric and fun subgenre, which takes us down a pathway to a very different society. Steampunk still tends to leave you feeling good at the end of a book. And the inventions and clothing entertain me, and therefore, I hope, a lot of other people.
You’ve published many titles in adult fantasy. What made you decide to write a young adult series?
I think, having done such a lot of practicing, I am a little more skilled, and thus better equipped to write for slightly younger readers. No, I’m not joking. I’m firmly of the belief that if it is not good enough for adult audiences, it’s certainly not good enough for younger readers. Some of the concepts in CUTTLEFISH and STEAM MOLE are very complex. So is the underlying socio-politics and alternate history. I just didn’t have the skill to write that, in a way that was still a fast moving, fun story, full of high drama, back when I started. I like writing for younger audiences. They get excited by new ideas and that fires me up.
Is there one character in this series that you enjoy writing more than others?
Oh tough one. Cookie is probably nearest to my own character, so I have a soft spot for him. He’s the ship’s cook with the attitude that if you have to die, it might as well be well fed. Look, so much YA is just girly romance -which is all very well (I’m very fond of Georgette Heyer myself)but didn’t appeal much to me as a YA reader, and, um, appealed to girls like my now wife even less. Not that we objected to some romance, but we wanted story and action… So I set out to write the sort of hero and heroine that did things. I love the impetuous loyalty of Clara, and her attitude. She’s a heroine boys would like. I gather some females approve too.
You have a very rich and varied background, and I don’t think I’ve ever met an ichthyologist! What have been some of the biggest influences on your writing?
Deadlines. If I didn’t have them… Okay, look I always say I had a formal training in writing Science Fiction, as I made recommendations on how many fish could be caught. That’s fiction. Quite a lot of science is really quite fictional, but it affronts the dignity of people with PhD’s so it is bad manners to mention this. Look, you don’t need to have been swimming with sharks to write about it, but it helps (the writing, not the sharks. The sharks don’t think about books much.). The science background makes me research carefully, and makes me systematic and methodical about getting it all wrong. I have found, actually, that rock-climbing and diving side are both very much about balancing fear and determination. A hero isn’t someone who is not afraid. That’s a fool and not someone that’s easy for us ordinary people to identify with. Courage is taking the risks while knowing the consequences, and I suppose I do know about that balance Clara and Tim are, in very different ways both very determined, and at times, very afraid.
If someone were to visit you for the first time on your remote island home in the middle of the Bass strait, what would you show them first?
Show? Most of the time the poor beggars get off the plane, a little shaken (it’s a small plane and can be an interesting landing) and find themselves whisked off to DO, not to see. Gone to catch squid in the sunset, with the outer islands floating on the horizon like something out of Celtic myth, found themselves thrust into a kayak or shoved into a wetsuit, or walking up the mountain with a rope. Trousers Point reserve, where the mountain runs from granite crags and down to fossil remains of a mangrove forest etched into sea-caves and stone mushrooms, and the sea is either an angry froth or limpid clear turquoise, is where we’ve take the few visitors who thought would need a slightly gentler introduction to the enchanted islands.
When you’re not writing, how do you like to spend your time?
When it rains or blows I read. I read fast and omnivorously. Yes, I even read shampoo bottle contents in the shower. I also cook, which I love. We’re self-sufficiency freaks, so we grow, rear or catch almost all our own food (except of course from the two basic food groups coffee and chocolate, which I have yet to succeed at. I have roasted my own beans though.). I love the sea and the cliffs and wild places, so I can often be found in water catching lobster or spearing fish, out among the islands.
What’s next for you?
Well two books going at the moment. CHANGELING’S ISLAND which oddly is about changelings and islands, and the sea, danger and dogs with moustaches, which you might not have guessed by the title. I also am in the throes of the next massive Alternate history/fantasy novel set in 15th century Venice. Lots of interesting food in that, and a few cockatrices.
Keep up with Dave: Author Site | Flinders Family Freer | Twitter