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Path of Needles by Allison Littlewood, just came out in November, and she was kind enough to stop by and answer a few of my questions about the book, and more!
I’m very excited that Path of Needles is now out in the states! Will you tell us a bit about it and what inspired you to write it?
Thank you Kristin, I’m very excited about it too! I really wanted to write a book that focused on some of the things I love, which included deep dark forests and the fairy stories I adored as a child. It struck me that some of those stories have some pretty nasty happenings which didn’t particularly bother me back then, but if they took place in today’s world – well, it would be pretty different. The result was a book that combined the fantastical with a police procedural, with a serial killer bringing some of the darker aspects of those old stories to life.
I love that you made your main character, Alice Hyland, an expert in fairy tales. What kind of research did you do for the book?
I remember sitting down to re-read some favourite fairy tales and thinking, this really feels like cheating! It’s lovely when research is so pleasant. I also read a lot about the evolution of the stories and the many variants that have been recorded over the years. Fortunately there’s a lot of information available, with particularly useful books written by Jack Zipes and Maria Tatar. I found the research into police procedure more taxing as that was a new challenge for me, though fortunately I found a couple of friendly officers who looked over the text. That was hugely helpful. I spent a lot of time walking around the locations I used in the book too. It’s odd to walk around some lovely places wondering how someone could have moved a dead body or kidnapped someone . . . it certainly spiced up my walks for a while!
Have you always wanted to be a writer? Will you tell us a bit more about yourself and your background?
I think deep down it was always my dream to be a writer, but it seemed such a fragile and impossible one I never really thought it would happen. I worked in various jobs that involved writing in some way, though I was producing copy for catalogues and press releases rather than trying my hand at fiction. Then one day I enrolled on a local course, to force myself to give it a go. I remember being incredibly nervous – I’d built writing up as something big and scary that other people did. I’m just glad I took the plunge, as I quickly discovered I loved the practice as much as the idea of writing.
What was one of the first things that you remember writing?
I can clearly remember making little books when I was a kid, usually about horses! I think I probably had a better idea of what I wanted to do when I was five than when I was fifteen. After I got going as an adult, I tried my hand at all sorts of things before I realised that it was horror or dark fantasy that made me really get excited. I started to go more and more down that path after that. I didn’t grow up immersed in the genre – I read avidly, pretty much devouring anything and everything I got my hands on – but my writing soon started to influence my reading habits.
On Her Majesty’s Behalf, the 2nd book in the Great Undead War series by Joseph Nassise (after By the Blood of Heroes), just came out last week, and today I’ve got Chapters 1 & 2 to share with you courtesy of the lovely folks at Harper Voyager!
Major Michael “Madman” Burke stood with his back to the sea and stared out into the semi-darkness, watching for movement. Twenty feet behind him the waves lapped gently against the gunwale of the fishing boat that had carried him across the Channel, the same boat that, God-willing, would bring him back again when the mission was over.
What in heaven’s name had possessed him to volunteer for this?
It had been nearly a week since the Germans had launched a surprise attack against the cities of London and New York. Tens of thousands of canisters of a new strain of corpse gas, one that affected the living rather than the dead, had been dropped onto the streets of the metropolises, turning those who came in contact into one of the ravaging undead now known as Shredders.
News reports from the States indicated that New York had been cut off from the mainland, the bridges and tunnels blown to rubble. Armed units now patrolled the shoreline adjacent to the island of Manhattan and two reinforced companies stood guard at the egress to the ruined tunnels that connected them, determined to keep those who had been infected by the gas from getting out into the rest of the country. There was talk of firebombing the city into oblivion in the hope of eliminating the threat in one fell swoop, though how much of that was rumor and how much was reality Burke didn’t know.
London was a different issue entirely. The nature of the surrounding terrain made it nearly impossible to isolate the city and its infected inhabitants. To make matters worse, the municipal units that might have been called in to maintain order within the quarantine zone were unavailable. Practically every able-bodied male was on the other side of the Channel fighting to keep the German menace at bay. To add to the chaos, communication had been lost with those few military units, such as the King’s Guard, that were stationed inside the city.
Allied command outright refused to write off the city’s population without making some kind of effort to save anyone who might have survived the bombardment. Burke had seen the effect of the gas and didn’t have much hope that there was anyone still alive within range of the bombing. There were some, however, much higher placed in the chain of command than he, who held to the theory there had to have been some people who where inside during the attack, people who had seen what was happening to those exposed to the gas and had then taken appropriate measures to protect themselves. Burke, however, didn’t believe it – if the gas hadn’t gotten them, the Shredders would. What he believed didn’t matter, especially in the wake of the destruction of one of the world’s foremost cities. People simply refused to believe that there was nothing to be done and perhaps that was for the best. In the wake of the attack, a makeshift rescue operation had sprung up almost overnight. Aircraft had dropped millions of hastily printed leaflets onto the city streets, directing those who survived to make their way east along the Thames estuary where they could be picked up and transported out of the danger zone.
Rage Against the Dying by Becky Masterman (Minotaur, March 2013)-Masterman has given us a unique heroine to root for: Brigid Quinn, a 59 year old former FBI agent, who, in many ways, has just really started her life. She’s deeply in love with her husband Carlos, but has painstakingly tried to keep her past dealing with the darkest kinds of criminals out of their perfect life. But, her past seems determined to catch up with her when she’s attacked by a serial killer that happens to like women of a certain age. She survives that attack, but the aftermath sets her on a course of secrets and lies that could threaten her new life, and her marriage. A man named Floyd Lynch has just confessed to the murder of Brigid’s former colleague, a woman named Jessica who Brigid adored and who was sure would take her place. This has haunted Brigid, and as much as she wants to see it solved, and also to bring closure to Jessica’s father, something about Lynch doesn’t sit right with Brigid, and she sets out to find out the truth of his claims, along with the new FBI agent on the case, Laura Coleman, who finds a mentor in Brigid.
Brigid’s voice is one of the most unique and intriguing that I’ve ever read in crime fiction, and although she’s a fierce woman, able to kick butt with the best of them, her crippling insecurity about herself and her perceived threat to her marriage (set in motion by a past love that spurned her when he learned certain details about her job), makes her a relatable and vulnerable one, even as it prompts some questionable decision making on her part. She’s a little reckless, but I kind of like that about her, and her willingness to plunge headlong into danger is one of the things that made her so good at her job, and indeed, a huge force to be reckoned with.
Mythbreaker (Gods and Monsters) by Stephen Blackmoore (Abaddon, Dec. 2014)-Louie “Fitz” Fitzsimmons has been hearing voices all of his life, and it’s landed him in more than one hospital and mental facility, but he’s finally got a gameplan. With a bankroll of millions stolen from his boss, a failed record producer turned drug dealer named Blake Kaplan, he plans to finally get away, not only from the criminal life, but, hopefully, from the voices and hallucinations that have plagued him for so long. When a vision hits him at a really inopportune time, he ends up in the hospital, handcuffed to his bed, with a goddess of the hunt out to get him. Medeina is a force to be reckoned with, but she’s nothing compared to the awesome and terrifying angel Zaphiel, who pulls her strings (for now.) Medeina is willing to kill to get to Fitz, and kill she does. The hospital becomes a charnal house, but Fitz manages to escape with the help of Amanda, who seems to be everywhere at once. And it’s here that the real fun begins.
Mythbreaker is like It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World on crack, with a twist of PCP. It’s a chase book, and a clever one. Fitz soon finds out that he’s a Chronicler (aka, a prophet), and every god or godlike thing in existence wants him to tell their story, because their time is coming to an end. People just don’t believe in them anymore, and irrelevance is a looming horror on the horizon for creatures once great, but now waning. Blackmoore combines his trademark black humor with nonstop, explosive action, and Amanda is a wonderful creation, as is Medeina. Yep, the one that slaughtered a bunch of innocents to get at Fitz in the hospital. She wasn’t always an indiscriminate killer, and her backstory, and present story (which includes Fitz’s good friend Samantha, a former MMA fighter), is quite fascinating, and strangely poignant. But this is the kind of thing Stephen Blackmoore does really, really well. He manages to set very (very) flawed, but utterly likeable, characters among cinematic action, and make it so much more than just a quick, fun read. Don’t get me wrong, it was a fun read, but it’s so very much more than that, and it’s chock full of fun god mythology and Zaphiel is…terrifying, although he may have met his match in the fantastic Amanda (I’m gonna let you discover what makes her wonderful on your own.)
As ya’ll know, I’m a huge fan of Stephen Blackmoore’s work, and I’m thrilled to have him back on the blog to talk about his new book Mythbreaker (Gods & Monsters)!
Mythbreaker is the next installment of the Gods & Monsters series started by Chuck Wendig with Unclean Spirits and carried on by Pat Kelleher with Drag Hunt, where the gods have fallen to Earth after being kicked out of their respective heavens when all the father gods like Odin, Yahweh, and Zeus disappeared.
Mythbreaker is about a man named Louie Fitzsimmons who has been hearing voices and dealing with delusions and hallucinations his entire life. He does a lot of drugs to keep the voices down and works as an accountant cooking the books for an upscale drug dealer in Hollywood.
Turns out, though, that Fitz isn’t insane. He’s a Chronicler, a prophet who can hear the stories of the gods and make people believe, a modern day Hesiod or Ezekiel, and the gods who have been stranded on Earth have finally figured out who he is and that with his help they might be able to return to their former glory and they all want a piece of him.
Complicating things are new gods for the modern age that have appeared on the scene, gods of money and power and technology, and Fitz is stuck in the middle of all these divine pissing matches.
The Silent Girls by Eric Rickstad (Witness Impulse, Nov. 25th, 2014)-If you’re a fan of gritty thrillers, you’ll love The Silent Girls. More than a few girls have gone missing in and around the rural town of Canaan, Vermont, and one of the girls is the niece of Harlan Grout, the lone detective on the Canaan Police force. After finding her abandoned car on the highway, Grout calls Frank Rath, PI and former cop to help him look into her whereabouts. Frank is reluctant to get involved, but with his daughter Rachel off at college, things are…quiet, and the case is admittedly intriguing, especially once connections start to be made with other disappearances. The only problem is, all of these girls are quite different, and finding a common thread proves to be quite the task.
Frank Rath is my favorite kind of PI: he’s got miles of baggage and he’s approaching middle age with trepidation and more than a little loneliness (his first date with a local woman goes dismayingly bad), and he absolutely can’t help but get involved with this case. Rickstad keeps the plot moving connecting the dots between the girls (it won’t be what you think), and following the trail of a particularly creepy killer, while keeping Rath equally on his toes at home, when he can’t get in touch with his daughter at college. Consequently, he can’t help but draw parallels between his daughter’s sudden unavailability and the case. The somewhat inhospitable landscape of rural Vermont in winter keeps the tension high, as does the stakes involved in finding the who in the whodunit. The author sets out all the clues for his readers, but I had a hard time guessing the killer, and there’s a weird twist (the best kind of weird), that sets this apart from most thrillers. Be prepared to read late into the night, and trust me, the next book can’t come soon enough.
Ed Kurtz’s brand new book, Angel of the Abyss, just came out last week, and he was kind enough to answer a couple of my questions about the new book, and more! Please give Ed a warm welcome!
Congrats on the new book! Will you tell us a little about ANGEL OF THE ABYSS and what inspired you to write it?
Thank you! Angel of the Abyss is a noir murder mystery set in both modern Los Angeles and 1920s Hollywood, and it tells the story of a lost silent film that, upon resurfacing, sets into motion a series of grim events involving a pair of one-time failed filmmakers from Boston who piece together the history of the film and its lead actress, who disappeared before the film’s premiere. I write quite a lot about cinematic themes—my last novel, The Forty-Two, was set in the world of 1970s exploitation movies in New York City—and I have a keen interest in the subject of lost films. In Angel, Graham Woodard has a particular interest in the lost Warner Bros. comedy Convention City, which is really my interest. I’d give almost anything to see that picture, and quite a few others as well. Once in a rare while something turns up—Carl Dreyer’s original cut of The Passion of Joan of Arc was lost for 53 years until a print was discovered in a Norwegian asylum, of all places—and for film fanatics that can be extremely exciting. So I thought, what if a film was lost for more nefarious reasons than censorship or degradable film stock? What if there were still forces in play that would do anything to keep that film buried, including murder?
I love the whole concept of this book, and the process of restoring old films fascinates me. What kind of research did you do for the book?
The modern era segments are based largely on my own experience living in Hollywood in the 1990s, while the 1926 material was informed by years of fanaticism about cinema (and not a little exposure to Turner Classic Movies). I revisited a number of silent films—Battleship Potemkin, for example, which plays an important role in the novel—as well as period Los Angeles novels like Nathaniel West’s Day of the Locust and John Fante’s work.
Angel of the Abyss is your sixth book, and you’ve got numerous short stories under your belt, but have you always wanted to be a writer?
I’ve always wanted to create, and I wrote a lot of very short stories, what we’d call flash fiction today, when I was a kid. I turned my attention to filmmaking and screenwriting as I got older, but it never materialized into anything tangible, so I refocused elsewhere for several years, mainly academics. I still dabbled, but I didn’t take writing seriously as a professional choice until around 2007, after I finished grad school. I earned my first (token) payment for a story in 2011. I still have the check tucked into a copy of the magazine that bought the story—I never cashed it.
Why suspense? What do you love most about writing, and reading, in the genre?
I dig crime and horror fiction in particular because it tends to deal with ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances. I’m rarely interested in stories about superhuman heroes, and I never write them. I want stories about flawed, imperfect people, people with something to lose, who have to face a crisis and handle it, be that well or poorly (in the case of noir fiction, that’s often the latter). As a reader I feel the need to be able to identify and at least subconsciously put myself in the protagonist’s shoes, and I try to do the same for my readers. In The Forty-Two, Charley McCormick finds himself sitting beside a corpse in a movie theater. In Angel of the Abyss Graham Woodard takes an unusual freelance job on the other side of the country and is thrown into an eighty year old Hollywood conspiracy. In Freight, Enoch Ford discovers a trio of children who will be doomed if he doesn’t do something. What would you do?
As part of Angry Robot’s Backlist Boost series, I’m thrilled to welcome Aliette de Bodard to the blog today! She was kind enough to answer a few questions about her Obsidian and Blood trilogy (Servant of the Underworld, Harbinger of the Storm, and Master of the House of Darts), and much more!
Will you tell us a bit about your “Aztec noir fantasy” series and what inspired you to write it?
Sure! I found out about the Mexica (Aztecs) in Spanish classes: they were depicted as bloodthirsty savages, and that made me a little suspicious, because the conquistadores doing the description were hardly saints themselves! I did some research, and I realised that, aside from issues of greed and conquest (which admittedly loomed very larger), there was also a fundamental cultural misunderstanding, between a culture which saw blood sacrifices as the only way to uphold the world, and another one which had abjured them as abominations a long time ago.
A lot of the books I read on the Mexica depicted a society a few years before the arrival of the conquistadores–in decline and doomed to die. I wanted to write something that wasn’t that narrative: a world where the Mexica were at their peak, a vibrant and living civilisation, and a world where blood magic worked–where human sacrifices did keep the sun in the sky and the earth fertile. Hence the Obsidian and Blood series, which is set 40 years before the arrival of the conquistadores. And because I’ve always liked a good murder mystery, I used that structure for the books: they chronicle the adventures of Acatl, who investigates murders of supernatural origin and (rather reluctantly) becomes involved in court politics. There’s murders, star-demons, and monsters who eat the eyes and fingernails of the dead–everything you need in your fiction!
Your fiction is very culturally diverse, so I imagine your research has been fascinating. What do you enjoy most about exploring, and writing about, different cultures?
Ha, some of the research has been fascinating–some of the Vietnamese stuff involved merely asking my maternal family, who looked at me rather funny; and a lot of science involves either unpiling my old university text books, or asking my husband, who also looks at me rather funny But yes, you do find out fascinating tidbits, and also you do unexpectedly get to do very hands-on things: especially with the obscure stuff, my love of languages turned out to be very useful. Reading Spanish was obviously very useful for the research for the Obsidian and Blood books; and recently, I had to get my Vietnamese-English dictionary to translate the names of the all reign names of the Emperors of the Nguyen dynasty (I needed to name a fictional empress in a space empire, and I wanted to make sure I got my naming conventions right. I ended up plugging through Chinese in google translate for some words that weren’t in my dictionary. Rather… unexpected).
I have a peculiar fondness for piling up research books (for my latest novella, I put together a pile of books about the Vietnamese imperial court that spanned three languages and a rather wide range of subjects, from the colonial administration to daily life in a Chinese village under the Ming dynasty); and you’ll have worked out that
I’m also a very, very dedicated language geek!
I met Nikki Kelly at The Fierce Reads event in Texas to promote Lailah, and she had me at hello, so today, I’m ecstatic to have her on the blog, where she not only answered a few of my questions, but she did it with gifs. Please give Nikki a huge welcome!
Also, because Nikki is awesome, and super generous, she’s offered up a signed hardcover copy of Lailah, along with signed Lailah swag, and a bespoke Lailah tote to give away to one lucky INTERNATIONAL winner, so you know what to do-fill out the widget at the bottom of the post (I’ll pick a winner on the 12th), and good luck!
Tell us about LAILAH. What do you think makes Lailah a heroine to root for?
Lailah is the first book in The Styclar Saga – a YA PNR that centers around our heroine, Lailah, as she goes on a journey of self-discovery to uncover the secrets of her forgotten past.
In book one Lailah knows that she can die, but she wakes up again, and when she does she has very little recollection of what has gone before. She finds herself enlightened only by visions and dreams that consist of one light, one face, belonging to Gabriel.