My Bookish Ways

Interview (& Giveaway): V.E. Schwab, author of Vicious

VE Schwab’s brand new novel, VICIOUS, just came out, and not only did she stop by to chat about it, but we’ve got a copy to give away to one lucky winner!

Please welcome VE to the blog!

VESchwabYou’ve got a few YA books under your belt, and your first adult novel, VICIOUS, just came out (and frankly, looks awesome)! Will you tell us a little about it and what inspired you to write it?
Why thank you! It’s quite surreal how fast things are moving now, considering it took 2 years for my first book to hit shelves, and more than a year and a half for my next, but VICIOUS marks the start of a marathon of releases, and I’m so, so excited that it’s finally out (I wrote it over the course of nearly three years, so it’s been a long time in the works).

VICIOUS follows two brilliant, disturbed pre-med students who discover that the key to superpowers is near-death experiences. They set out to create their own abilities by controlling their own suicides and resurrections. Needless to say, it does not go well.

I wanted to write a book in which the terms “hero” and “villain” became meaningless, and then ask the reader, “Who do you root for?” I wanted to explore the IDEA of villainy, and I wanted to write a card-carrying sociopath as a lead. And I wanted to write a supervillain origin story.

viciousWhat did you enjoy most about writing your main characters, Victor and Eli? Why do you think readers will connect with them?
I loved writing Victor’s detachment—he analyzes everything in a very cold, calculating way that you might think would increase psychic distance, but people still love him—or at least root for him—and it’s been a blast creating that uncertainty in my readers, the knowledge that something/someone is wrong, but wanting them to win anyway ;) I also loved writing the origins of all four characters’ superpowers. In VICIOUS, the nature of the near-death experience, and the mental state at the time, play such an important role in shaping the power, and it was a lot of fun to figure out which powers the characters would intuitively develop.

What made you decide to write about people with superpowers, as opposed to other supernatural baddies or creatures?
I have always been a huge fan of comic books, and studied archetypes quite a bit in college, so I was chomping at the bit to play with the hero/villain model. Also, I wanted the challenge of coming up with a new superpower mythos in a world where everything feels done.

What is your writing process like? Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I’m a connect-the-dots-er. I have 5-10 plot points my story must have to be my story, and then I find my way from dot to dot. It gives me the freedom to discover, without the risk of going too far off-course.

Have there been any writers or novels that have particularly influenced you in your writing, or your life?
I’m a huge fan of Neil Gaiman, not only his work but his kindness and generosity as well as his ability to stay genuine and humble at this point in his amazing career.

If you could experience one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?
Harry Potter.

I read that you like to bake cookies…what is your favorite kind?
Chocolate chip with sea salt.

What’s next for you, this year and beyond?
Oh, man. I said this was the beginning of a marathon, and I wasn’t joking. Up next, I have THE UNBOUND (the sequel to THE ARCHIVED) hitting shelves in January, followed by the start of a MG series called EVERYDAY ANGEL in May, a second installment in September, and a new book I haven’t been allowed to announce yet in October.

Keep up with VE: Website | Twitter
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1.) You MUST fill out the form below (if you’ve signed into Rafflecopter before, it will remember you!)
2.) Giveaway is for 1 copy of VICIOUS by VE Schwab to 1 winner
3.) Giveaway is open US residents (or those with a US mailing address)
4.) You must enter before 11/1/13
5.) Giveaway book courtesy of Tor
6.) Please see my Giveaway Policy.

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Interview (& Giveaway): Thatcher Robinson, author of White Ginger

Please welcome Thatcher Robinson to the blog! I loved White Ginger, Thatcher’s debut novel, and he was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about the book, and more!

Also, courtesy of Seventh Street Books, we have a copy to give away to one lucky winner, so be sure to check out the details at the bottom of the post!

thatcherrobinsonYour debut novel, WHITE GINGER, just came out, and I loved it! Have you always wanted to be a writer? Will you tell us a little about yourself and your background?
I have a very eclectic background.

I started working at the age of 14 and have, at various times, worked as a salesman, stockbroker, mailman, sous-chef, tax auditor, hairdresser, street cleaner, software developer and corporate executive. I have two Bachelor of Science degrees, one in design and the other in computer science. Most of my life has been exploratory–a selfish pursuit of whatever interests me.

I’m creative and compulsive. I wanted to know how to build a car, so I bought an old Volvo and took it apart then spent two years refurbishing each part and putting the vehicle back together. I’m pretty oblivious to boundaries and have always had a problem with authority. I generally prefer the company of cats to people, finding them more honest in their hedonism. Being in a crowd emotionally drains me. My concept of hell is attending a cocktail party.

In the back of my mind, I’ve always wanted to write. Not until I’d learned to dream larger did I find the courage to sit down and pen a novel. Dreams are whimsy. Writing is gut-wrenching work. Failure is the death of the dream.

White Ginger is set mostly in San Francisco’s Chinatown and stars a tough but conflicted woman with triad ties. What kind of research did you do for the book?
It seems life has always placed me in close proximity with Asians. For six years, I worked in San Francisco’s financial district, just blocks from Chinatown. As I grew up, many of my friends have been Asian. I’m married to a Japanese woman and have two Chinese god-children. My Chinese friends guided me through the back alleys of Chinatown to places where only Chinese is spoken. These forays gave me a glimpse into their sub-culture. I also did extensive, on-line research on triads and the history of triads, though one must keep in mind that White Ginger is a work of fiction.

Bai’s semi-Buddhist philosophy is my own. I share her struggle in tempering ethics with practicality.

The adage at the beginning of each chapter is a common Chinese proverb gleaned from the internet. Proverbs are the philosophy of the common man. I had hoped the headings would provide some inkling of the culture that produced them.

whitegingerI know what I love about your heroine, Bai Jiang, but what do you love about her the most, and why do you think readers will root for her?
What I love most about Bai is she works at trying to be a better person, and, like most of us, sometimes fails in the effort. When that happens, she copes with humor, albeit a tad on the dark side. She suffers from being human. I think we can all relate to Bai’s frailties, her failings and her surprising victories.

As a mom, I particularly love that you made Bai a mom! Was that always the plan?
Yes! Our culture views single motherhood with skepticism, as if being a single mother is somehow a disadvantage. I think there are a lot of single mothers who can identify with the problems she encounters and the bond she has with her daughter, despite Bai’s rather obvious economic advantages. She also collects stray children, a character trait that I find especially attractive.

One thing that jumped out at me about White Ginger was its cinematic quality! I can see it easily going from book to big screen (wonderful visuals, awesome dialog…). If that were to happen, who could you picture as playing Bai, Jason, and Lee?
You’re very perceptive. I wrote the book for easy transition to film and see Bai Jiang as an international franchise for young Asian actors, whom I don’t feel get nearly enough work to showcase their talent.

My perfect storm would be a film directed by Ang Lee. I’d like to see an open casting for Bai’s part. Wonderful Asian actresses like Liu Yifei, Celina Jade, Kelly Vitz, and Ha Ji Won are all suitable. Really handsome Asian actors like Byung Hun Lee, Roger Fan, George Hu, and Leehom Wang have all demonstrated their abilities as fine actors. And I’d love to see John Lone play the part of the charmingly fearsome Tommy.

What, or who, have been some of the biggest influences on your writing?
Raymond Chandler certainly influenced my style as did the late Robert Parker. Parker’s spare writing style is remarkable. I aspire to write a fast-paced novel that entertains. My sense of humor is darker, I believe, than either Chandler’s or Parker’s, but the humor is absolutely essential in creating a fun atmosphere for the reader. I hope to someday write as well as they.

Authors who I admire are:
I’m a pulp fiction reader. I like terse writing, like that of Hemingway or Steinbeck. I admire Walter Mosley’s ability to transport the reader, and no one writes a fight scene better than Bernard Cornwell. There are so many accomplished writers, too many to list.

Read any good books lately?
I’ve been writing non-stop for the past year and haven’t read more than a dozen books. The reason I don’t read as prolifically when I’m writing is that I’m an unconscious mimic. When I recently finished a Walter Mosley novel, which I really enjoyed, I found myself writing in his style. The effect took several days to wear off. This sounds crazy, but it’s true. I’m ridiculously impressionable.

If you could experience one book again for the first time, which one would it be?
Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea left a marked impression on me at an early age. His imagery is amazing. I’ll never forget the picture he painted with words–lions playing on the sun burnished beach at dusk. I so wanted to be there with him to watch.

You’re a scotch and wine lover… What are some of your faves?
I have to profess to being a Macallan’s drinker. I keep a selection around the house for happy hour: 18- year if I’m feeling neat, Director’s Blend or 12-year if I want my drink iced. If White Ginger sells reasonably well, I plan on treating myself to a bottle of their 25-year. Buy more books if you want to see me happily plowed.

I’m eclectic when it comes to wine. I went to school at UC Davis before Napa was on the map, so I became quite spoiled in my tastes, an affliction which has far outpaced the balance in my checkbook. I love a good California Cabernet or Meritage, but prefer a flintier white, like a French Montrachet or Italian Pinot Grigio. The Italians also make a really nice red Barolo in the Piedmont region, but they, too, can be quite pricey. In retrospect, there are few wines I won’t drink. I’ll even drink a Greek Retsina, which tastes a lot like Vaseline.

Disclaimer: Anyone reading this and attempting to drink Retsina should bear in mind that the third bottle will taste much better than the first bottle.

What’s next for you (and Bai) this year, and beyond?
The sequel to White Ginger has already been penned and is being edited. I don’t want to be a spoiler, but the next book promises to be a wild ride. I’ll start the third book in the series in January 2014, an adventure that takes Bai to Hong Kong.

Keep up with Thatcher: Website

1.) You MUST fill out the form below (if you’ve signed into Rafflecopter before, it will remember you!)
2.) Giveaway is for 1 copy of WHITE GINGER by Thatcher Robinson to 1 winner
3.) Giveaway is open US residents (or those with a US mailing address)
4.) You must enter before 10/31/13
5.) Giveaway book courtesy of Seventh Street Books
6.) Please see my Giveaway Policy.

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Interview: Emma Chapman, author of How to be a Good Wife

Please welcome Emma Chapman to the blog! She was kind enough to answer a few questions about her new book, HOW TO BE A GOOD WIFE!

Emma-Chapman-_Web_mg_1836-smlYour debut novel, HOW TO BE A GOOD WIFE, will be out this month in the US! Will you tell us a bit about it and what inspired you to write it?
Marta has spent much of her adult life trying to be the perfect wife and mother, with an archaic guide, How To Be A Good Wife, as her guide. She has been married to Hector for so long she doesn’t remember much about her life before her marriage. As the book progresses, she begins to see strange things, or perhaps to remember them. These visions, or memories, start to make her question her husband Hector. It is up to the reader to decide whether the things she sees are real, or imagined.

I was inspired to write the book by a documentary I saw about Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. I was absolutely fascinated by severe cases of trauma where you can repress memories over twenty years, only to have them resurface later. When they do, you might not even be aware they relate to something you experienced. I wanted to explore the mind of a character who was experiencing this.

Your main character, Marta, is a wife whose structured world begins to come apart at the seams. Why do you think readers might connect and sympathize with Marta?
Marta is a very difficult character and she is not always likeable, but she is in a pretty difficult situation, whichever way you interpret the book. I wanted the sympathy the readers felt for her to be challenged throughout the novel. The reader’s doubts become more important as the book goes on.

I have to ask…how did you celebrate when you found out that How to be a Good Wife would be published?
I sometimes feel like I’m still celebrating. It took me a long time to get used to the idea that the book would actually be published, and I hope that feeling never ceases.

HowToBeaGoodWifeWhat is your writing process like?
When I was writing How To Be A Good Wife, I was working full-time, so I worked on the book before and after work and at the weekends. I didn’t plan the novel, and the momentum was driven by Marta’s voice. It required a lot of editing: plotting is what I find most difficult and what took up the most time.

What, or who, are some of the biggest influences on your writing?
In terms of writing style, How To Be A Good Wife was influenced by many books and things I had seen, including Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. In terms of subject matter, some influences were The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, The Awakening by Kate Chopin, and The Feminine Mystique, a sociological text by Betty Friedan. In terms of writing role models, any one who works hard at their writing and takes it seriously inspires me.

What are you reading now?
I just started Richard Ford’s Canada, which I am already enjoying. Any book that makes me stop nitpicking and just enjoy the story is a triumph in my opinion.

If you could experience one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?
Such a great question! I think maybe The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath because it changed so much about the way I think about writing and women.

When you’re not working on your next project, how do you enjoy spending your free time?
I love going to restaurants, doing Yoga, spending time with friends and family, trying new things. We just moved to Jakarta, so I am currently enjoying getting to know the city, trying new foods, and learning the language.

You were raised in the UK, but now live in Indonesia. If someone were to visit you there for the first time, where would you take them?
We’ve only been there so two months, but the best place we’ve visited in and around Jakarta is Taman Safari Park. It’s an open plan safari park with pretty much no rules. The animals come up to the car windows and eat bananas out of your hands. Fun when it’s a monkey, not so fun when it’s a lion.

What’s next for you, this year and beyond?
This year and next, I hope to keep enjoying living in Jakarta. I would love to travel more in Asia, and also finish my second novel, which is about a war photographer during the Vietnam War.

Keep up with Emma: Website | Twitter

Marta and Hector have been married for a long time. Through the good and bad; through raising a son and sending him off to life after university. So long, in fact, that Marta finds it difficult to remember her life before Hector. He has always taken care of her, and she has always done everything she can to be a good wife—as advised by a dog-eared manual given to her by Hector’s aloof mother on their wedding day.

But now, something is changing. Small things seem off. A flash of movement in the corner of her eye, elapsed moments that she can’t recall. Visions of a blonde girl in the darkness that only Marta can see. Perhaps she is starting to remember—or perhaps her mind is playing tricks on her. As Marta’s visions persist and her reality grows more disjointed, it’s unclear if the danger lies in the world around her, or in Marta herself. The girl is growing more real every day, and she wants something.

Q&A: Amanda Carlson, author of Cold Blooded (Jessica McClain #3)

I always love having Amanda Carlson on the blog, and she stopped by today to catch up about Book 3 in the Jessica McClain series, COLD BLOODED, and what she’s been up to since Book 1!

coldbloodedIt’s been a busy couple of years for you, and Cold Blooded, the 3rd Jessica McClain book, just dropped! What’s been one of the most fun things, for you, about being a published author?
The most fun is being able to get to meet so many fabulous authors, readers and fans in person. The connections that I’ve made and the great experiences I’ve had on this journey have been amazing.

What can we expect from Jessica and the gang in Cold Blooded?
Lots of non-stop action. COLD BLOODED is high octane fun. Jessica and the gang are on the run, trying to figure out how everything is going to work and trying not to get killed in the process. Just the way I like it.

How do you think Jessica has grown from the first book, Full Blooded?
The span of all three books is only a few weeks time at most. So considering the leaps and bounds Jessica has had to make, she’s grown incredibly. I’m really proud of her. She has a lot on her plate and she handles it with grace.

If the series were to hit the big screen, is there an actress that you picture as Jessica?
I’m terrible at this, but I’d probably have to say Jennifer Garner mixed with a young Kathryn Zeta-Jones. I love the idea of dark haired Scottish beauty, mixed with some girl next door.

Read any good books lately?
I haven’t finished a book in a while, but I have a lot on my list, including finishing Darynda Jones’s Charley Davidson series. I love her voice. I also love Amanda Bonilla and Kristen Callihan.

What’s one piece of advice that you would give to aspiring writers?
Finish. Always finish. If there is no book, there is no story. Once you complete the story, the world is yours for the taking.

What’s next for you, this year and beyond?
I’m editing RED BLOODED, book four in the Jessica McClain series, starting on PURE BLOODED which is book five, as well as a few other side projects I’m excited about. If you want to stay up to date on the very latest, make sure to follow my author facebook page. That’s where all the current info is:

Thanks so much for having me by the blog today! I always love stopping by. COLD BLOODED released last week and I’m so excited to have it in the hands of readers.

Keep up with Amanda: Website | Twitter

Magic, mayhem and madness explode in this third installment in the Jessica McClain series.

Jessica McClain is on the run… again.

Finally reunited with Rourke, Jessica arrives home to find that her best friend has been kidnapped, her father has vanished, and the supernatural Sects — witches, demons, and sorcerers —- don’t even have the courtesy to wait until she is unpacked to attack.

Now, mastering her powers as the sole female werewolf might not be enough to save them. Thrown together in a shaky truce with the Vampire Queen, Jessica must show all the different Sects what the true meaning of “the enemy of my enemy” is or her father will die…

Interview: Nicholas Kaufmann, author of Dying Is My Business

Please welcome Nicholas Kaufmann to the blog! His new novel, DYING IS MY BUSINESS, just came out last week and he was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about the new book, and more!

kaufmann_lg[1] (2)Will you tell us a bit about your new book, DYING IS MY BUSINESS?
DYING IS MY BUSINESS is a hardboiled urban fantasy-noir about Trent, a thief for a Brooklyn crime syndicate who can’t stay dead. Whenever he’s killed, he wakes up again a few minutes later, completely healed. Unfortunately, whenever he cheats death, someone else has to die in his place. There’s also magic, monsters, thrills, and some snarky humor. Audiences are saying it’s better than CATS, better than E.T….

Why do you think readers will root for your hero, Trent? What did you enjoy most about writing the novel, and his character?
I think they’ll root for him because he’s not heartless. He does some bad things, mostly because he thinks he’s out of options, but he’s got a conscience, yearns to become better person, and has a sharp, sarcastic tongue. I think a lot of readers will also empathize with Trent’s desire to belong. He doesn’t know who he is or where he came from. He certainly doesn’t know why he can’t stay dead. So he feels like a freak, and outsider. His compatriots in the crime syndicate don’t exactly make him feel at home. So when he meets a ragtag group of magical misfits who are trying to do go, he finds a place where he feels like he finally belongs. Unfortunately, it turns out not to be that easy. But then, nothing ever is.

What I enjoyed writing most about the novel, and Trent’s character in particular, is the way he reacts to the secret world of magic that opens up to him in the course of the novel. I think Trent brings a sense of wonder that has kind of gone missing from many urban fantasies. Magic and the supernatural have become commonplace, even institutionalized in the genre. Characters work for special government agencies that handle the supernatural, or are P.I.s that specialize in supernatural cases. I didn’t want to do that. I wanted a world where the supernatural is hidden from the public. And that includes Trent. So every time he discovers something new, it fills him with wonder or dread or terror. That sense of awe follows him throughout the book. I was careful to remember that as the protagonist he’s a stand-in for the audience, and I want the audience to feel that same awe and wonder and terror. If Trent is jaded or bored by the world he lives in, the readers will be, too, and that’s death for a book.

Dying-Is-My-Business-HDYou have a background in publishing and PR, but have you always hoped to be a published writer?
Absolutely. I’ve been writing stories since the fourth grade. I remember getting caught in the classroom writing stories instead of doing my school work. One teacher even took a story from me and read it in front of the whole class. I don’t know if she was trying to embarrass me or praise me by doing that. At that age, I felt more embarrassed than praised.. But I remember the rest of the class was transfixed by the story, and they all clapped when it was over. I think that was probably a turning point in my life. After that, I was never not writing. I had a kind of emotionally distant father, and so I wrote this science fiction story about a boy and father who get teleported to another planet, where they’re forced to spend time together fighting monsters (paging Dr. Freud!). I drew comic books about a superhero I made up named Orgo, who got zapped by radiation and so could pretty much perform whatever superpower the plot required of him, like flying or zapping people or breathing underwater. Radiation, the wonder drug! I loved scary stories, too, so I drew a “horror anthology” comic with my best friend Andy called CHAMBER OF HORRORS, which was filled with really awful, juvenile sting-in-the-tail stories. As I grew older, I began to take writing more seriously as a career option. Once I made the commitment to writing, I started selling stories. I got my start in the horror genre, but I’ve always loved urban fantasy, even before it was called urban fantasy. BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, THE GOLDEN CHILD, which is a terrible movie but I kind of loved when I was 17…I loved all that stuff that mixed magic and mystery with a real world setting, so it’s no wonder that’s what I felt compelled to write, too.

What is your writing process like? Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I have probably the least efficient writing process ever. But it’s my process and I seem to be stuck with it. I start with an outline. At least, for longer works, I outline. For short stories I don’t bother, though I’ll usually make notes about where I want things to go. My novel outlines usually fluctuates between the cursory and the ridiculously detailed. I’ll throw in dialogue sometimes, or descriptions, but then when I actually get around to writing that scene I’m just as likely not to use it. Sometimes characters I thought would be there for the scene are actually somewhere else entirely, or the dialogue is no longer relevant. So while I rely on an outline so that I’m never stuck staring at a blank page and wondering, “Now what?”, it is certainly not set in stone. I leave myself room for spontaneity, because I find that the scenes I didn’t plan are the ones where the book really comes alive.

Once I’m happy with the outline, I work my way through the rough draft, often with the help of the crit group I’ve been a part of for a decade now. Time and again, their input has proven invaluable. But it’s a slow process because I’m a slow writer. Just completing the rough draft can take me nearly a year! When I finally reach the end, I feel like collapsing into an exhausted heap, but instead I begin the editing/revising process. I hate rough drafting, it feels like a chore, but I really enjoy editing and revising once the rough draft is done. That’s where I think the magic happens and the book has a chance to become something special. Once I have the manuscript in shape structurally, I print it out and attack it with my trusty red pen, polishing up the prose, filling in the logic holes I didn’t see before, correcting typos, etc. I’ll do this at least twice, or until the prose is polished enough for me to read it without cringing. Only then do I feel like the book is ready to go. This whole process takes a really long time. I have friends who can crank out a novel in three months–a good novel, no less!–and I’m very jealous of them. But that’s not my process. Everyone’s process is different.

chasingthedragonYou’ve been nominated for numerous awards, including the Bram Stoker Award, so obviously you’re no stranger to writing about the scaries, but what is something that you find particularly terrifying?
You mean aside from spiders and gross bugs? I think what scares me the most is losing control of my own will, my own body. It’s a theme that appears in a lot of my work. In DYING IS MY BUSINESS, the main villain, Reve Azrael, is a necromancer who can take over and control dead bodies as her minions, called revenants. I played with this idea in CHASING THE DRAGON, too, where the Dragon is able to control the corpses of her victims. In my short story “Under the Skin” (which can be found in my e-collection STILL LIFE: NINE STORIES — plug!), the protagonist bleeds eels that burrow into other people and allow her to control them. It’s something that shows up enough in my work that I figure it can’t be a coincidence. It wigs me out.

What, or who, have been some of the biggest influences on your writing?
That’s a tough one. Because I know which writers I enjoy and admire, but I don’t know if they’re big influences on my work. For example, I adore Clive Barker and Peter Straub, but I don’t think I write like them, as much as I’d love to. I’ve learned certain things from them, though, about structure and transcending genre. From Sarah Langan and Laird Barron I learned about atmosphere and character. From the James Bond movies and Indiana Jones movies I learned about pacing and writing compelling action scenes. Does that make them my influences? I’ll leave that for you to decide!

What are you reading now?
I’m currently reading Ian Rogers’s horror story collection, EVERY HOUSE IS HAUNTED. I’m enjoying it a lot. Ian’s a good writer, and the stories are a lot of fun.

When you’re not working on your next project, how do you like to spend your free time?
What is this free time you speak of? Well, I enjoy spending time with my wife, going for walks, socializing, watching TV. Normal stuff, I guess. Writing is a very lonely endeavor. We’re pretty much stuck in a room by ourselves all day. So when I’m not writing I suppose what I like best is being around other people.

What’s next for you?
The sequel to DYING IS MY BUSINESS, currently titled DIE AND STAY DEAD, is set to come out from St. Martin’s in the fall of 2014. I also have a story coming out later this month in PS Publishing’s new anthology, DARK FUSIONS, which is edited by New York Times bestselling author Lois Gresh. In the near future, I plan to start work on the third book of the series, tentatively titled ONLY THE DEAD SLEEP, as well as another urban fantasy that’s completely unrelated but has been poking at my brain for a while now, demanding my attention.

Keep up with Nicholas: Website | Twitter

Given his line of work in the employ of a psychotic Brooklyn crime boss, Trent finds himself on the wrong end of too many bullets. Yet each time he’s killed, he wakes a few minutes later completely healed of his wounds but with no memory of his past identity. What’s worse, each time he cheats death someone else dies in his place.

Sent to steal an antique box from some squatters in an abandoned warehouse near the West Side Highway, Trent soon finds himself stumbling into an age-old struggle between the forces of good and evil, revealing a secret world where dangerous magic turns people into inhuman monstrosities, where impossible creatures hide in plain sight, and where the line between the living and the dead is never quite clear. And when the mysterious box is opened, he discovers he has only twenty-four hours to save New York City from certain destruction, in Dying Is My Business by Nicholas Kaufmann.

Interview: James W. Ziskin, author of Styx & Stone

James W. Ziskin’s debut novel, STYX & STONE, came out today, and he was kind enough to answer a few questions about the new book, and more!!

styxandstoneYou’re a linguist, and have a news background as well! What inspired you to write your first novel? Have you always wanted to be a novelist?
Yes, I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I wrote my first novel when I was twelve years old, It was awful. Then there were three other novels over the years, each one a little better than the last. I wrote the first draft of Styx & Stone twenty years ago, then put it aside. I needed time and experience. I’m a late bloomer.

My background in foreign languages has had a great influence on my writing. Learning and teaching foreign languages instilled in me a love for English grammar and words as well.

Will you tell us a little about your new book, Styx & Stone?
Styx & Stone, set in 1960, is a blend of traditional mystery and modern noir. My detective is Eleonora “Ellie” Stone, a fledgling reporter for a small, upstate daily. She’s struggling to establish a career for herself in the male-dominated world of mid-twentieth century America. When she receives news that her estranged father, famed Dante scholar and university professor, is near death after a savage attack in his home, Ellie returns to Manhattan to be by his side. Inexorably, she is drawn into the investigation, which becomes more complex and sinister when a colleague of her father’s turns up electrocuted in his bath. Styx & Stone explores themes of damaged love, professional ambition and jealousy, women and sexual boundaries, and, of course, Dante.

Why do you think readers will connect with Ellie Stone? Why should we root for her?
I hope readers will connect with Ellie on a variety of emotional and intellectual planes. She displays a remarkably independent streak for her time, but she’s also emotionally vulnerable. Ellie is a complex young woman, magnetic and brilliant, yet a slave to obsessive behavior usually associated with the men of her day. But forget all that; I hope readers will like Ellie because she’s a truly nice person. She’s just not a “nice girl.”

What made you decide to set the book in the 1960s? What do you find most fascinating about that time period?
1960 was a time when the world was changing fast. Jet planes, modern appliances, the end of colonial empires, and the birth of new nations. And sex was about to change too. But 1960 also fits the historical timeline I had in mind for this story. It’s just fifteen years after the close of World War II, whose clouded memories and fading horrors return in this story in the most unlikely and unexpected ways.

What are some of the biggest influences on your writing?
For the mystery genre, probably Dorothy Sayers. The Harriet Vane books. She, like Ellie Stone, was something of a “modern girl.” And I’ve always admired Sayers’s painstaking reconstruction of timelines, and how chance can both confuse and illuminate the investigation. I’m a fan of Dick Francis’s, and Raymond Chandler was the master. And while not a mystery writer, Graham Greene is probably my favorite author. I wish I’d written everything he ever signed his name to.

What is your writing process like?
I’m not a meticulous planner. I start with an idea, a situation, or a mood, let it ferment, then draw up a basic outline. When I sit down to write, the story tends to go where it will, and I often end up with better ideas than I’d put down in the outline. When I’m in the thick of a project, I write and revise as I go, cleaning up the previous day’s work. At the end, I re-edit over and over again. And then I edit it again. And again. And it’s never done.

What are you reading now?
I’ve got several books on my bedside table, trying to find time to get to them. But I’m currently reading Louise Penny’s How the Light Gets In. I admire her greatly. She’s a wonderful writer.

You’ve traveled extensively to places like France, Italy, and even India! What are a few highlights of your travels?
I’ve always had a fascination for foreign cultures and languages, starting with France, where I worked and studied for two years. I’ve spent so much time in Italy over the past thirty-plus years, especially Tuscany, that it feels like a second home. And Italian language and culture are front and center in Styx & Stone.

India, on the other hand, is not always comfortable for the outsider, but it’s my favorite place on earth. I’ve lived and worked in India more than three years, and I love it for all its beauty and its warts.

When you’re not busy with your next project, how do you like to spend your free time?
I love sports: football, basketball, baseball. Watching mostly, nowadays. I play golf, poorly. I love to swing hard. Classical music is a great passion for me, and I enjoy wine and whiskey and cats. The cats I enjoy as pets, not as food.

What’s next for you (and Ellie)?
The second Ellie Stone mystery, No Stone Unturned, is launching June 10, 2014. I’m working on the third installment, Stone Cold Dead.

No Stone Unturned is quite different from Styx & Stone. Ellie is back in her adopted upstate town of New Holland, New York, where a society girl is found dead in a local wood. Ellie finds herself caught in the middle of a twisted, voyeuristic tangle of small-town jealousies and big-city grudges. When she steps on the wrong toes, she winds up in the bad graces of some desperate people who want her off the story. Dead if necessary.

Keep up with James: Website | Twitter

Ellie Stone is a professed modern girl in 1960s’ New York City, playing by her own rules and breaking boundaries while searching for a killer among the renowned scholars in Columbia University’s Italian Department.

“If you were a man, you’d make a good detective.”

Ellie Stone is sure that Sgt. McKeever meant that as a compliment, but that identity-a girl wanting to do a man’s job-has throttled her for too long. It’s 1960, and Ellie doesn’t want to blaze any trails for women; she just wants to be a reporter, one who doesn’t need to swat hands off her behind at every turn.

Adrift in her career, Ellie is back in New York City after receiving news that her estranged father, a renowned Dante scholar and distinguished professor, is near death after a savage bludgeoning in his home. The police suspect a routine burglary, but Ellie has her doubts. When a second attempt is made on her father’s life, in the form of an “accident” in the hospital’s ICU, Ellie’s suspicions are confirmed.

Then another professor turns up dead, and Ellie’s investigation turns to her father’s university colleagues, their ambitions, jealousies, and secret lives. Ellie embarks on a thorny journey of discovery and reconciliation, as she pursues an investigation that offers her both a chance at redemption in her father’s eyes, and the risk of losing him forever.

Giveaway: Carniepunk by Jaye Wells, Kevin Hearne, Jennifer Estep, more!

What’s this? Why, I happen to have an extra advanced copy of CARNIEPUNK and I’d love to send it off to one lucky winner! Check out the book and giveaway details, and good luck!

carniepunkAbout CARNIEPUNK:
Come one, come all! The Carniepunk Midway promises you every thrill and chill a traveling carnival can provide. But fear not! Urban fantasy’s biggest stars are here to guide you through this strange and dangerous world. . . .

RACHEL CAINE’s vampires aren’t child’s play, as a naïve teen discovers when her heart leads her far, far astray in “The Cold Girl.” With “Parlor Tricks,” JENNIFER ESTEP pits Gin Blanco, the Elemental Assassin, against the Wheel of Death and some dangerously creepy clowns. SEANAN McGUIRE narrates a poignant, ethereal tale of a mysterious carnival that returns to a dangerous town after twenty years in “Daughter of the Midway, the Mermaid, and the Open, Lonely Sea.” KEVIN HEARNE’s Iron Druid and his wisecracking Irish wolfhound discover in “The Demon Barker of Wheat Street” that the impossibly wholesome sounding Kansas Wheat Festival is actually not a healthy place to hang out. With an eerie, unpredictable twist, ROB THURMAN reveals the fate of a psychopath stalking two young carnies in “Painted Love.”

1.) You MUST fill out the form below (if you’ve signed into Rafflecopter before, it will remember you!)
2.) Giveaway is for 1 advanced readers copy of CARNIEPUNK by Jaye Wells, Kevin Hearne, etc to 1 winner
3.) Giveaway is open US residents (or those with a US mailing address)
4.) You must enter before 10/19/13
5.) Giveaway book courtesy of Gallery
6.) Please see my Giveaway Policy.

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White Ginger by Thatcher Robinson

whitegingerWhite Ginger by Thatcher Robinson (Seventh Street Books, Oct.8 2013)-Bai Jiang is a souxun, aka a people finder, in the heart of San Francisco’s Chinatown. She has a 12 year old daughter, Dan, with her ex, Jason, who is a triad assassin. Yeah, it’s complicated. Her closest friend, Lee, is both her partner in business but also will protect her at any cost. When she’s confronted with her newest case, a missing girl that might have been sold into human trafficking, she’s going to need all the help she can get, even if it’s from triad enforcers. Soon she finds out that more than just a missing girl is at stake. Someone has made it personal, and is determined to bring down Bai, and all that she holds dear.

I have to say up front, this is one of the best, most fun, crime debuts I’ve read in a long time. I love that Bai is a mom, but she also kicks ass like a pro. She was raised in the world of the triad, and although she enjoys a certain amount of protection, women don’t exactly hold a lot of weight among triad members. She still has chemistry with Jason (yeah, you might be fanning yourself after scenes from these two), and he’ll do anything to protect her, but as I mentioned, it’s frustratingly complicated. Her business partner and friend, Lee, is a delight and his devotion to Bai and Dan is endearing. Bai is just about fearless, especially where kids and their safety are concerned, but she’s forced to do some things in the course of this investigation that challenge her inner peace and make her question herself intensely. It’s an oddly attractive trait in someone so strong and in command of herself, but one of the things that make her so easy to like, and to connect with. This book just begs to be translated onto the big screen and offers some great fight scenes, funny and clever dialog, and a conclusion that will both satisfy and leave readers wanting more of Bai, her family, and her wonderful, and wonderfully odd, friends. If you’re a fan of crime fiction with strong female characters, you’re in for a treat. Prepare yourself to be hooked from page one.

The Raven’s Gift by Don Rearden

ravensgiftThe Raven’s Gift by Don Rearden (Pintail, June 2013 )-When John Morgan and his wife, Anna, set off to a remote Alaskan village to teach, they know they’re in for adventure, and they do find it, but soon, what started off as something exciting turns to something terrifying when the little village is hit by the flu and people start dying at an alarming rate. Unfortunately, Anna is one of the casualties, and soon, desperate to survive, John sets out into the frozen expanse to hopefully find survivors, and a reason to go on. What he does find is a blind young woman who has miraculously survived on her own. She joins John and what follows is their fight to survive among sickness, death, and the people that have chosen a method of survival that is an abomination.

The Raven’s Gift’s narrative shifts between the present and John and Anna’s first days among the Yup’ik people. The wonder at these hardy people and their harsh living conditions shines through, even amidst their frustration at rather primitive surroundings, but they make do, and it’s a fascinating look into a very different way of life. Their devotion to each other is evident, but never cloying, and right before Anna dies, she extracts a promise from John. We do eventually find out what that promise is, and it’s one of the things that helps to raise this story above most survival/dystopian fare, although it’s certainly not the only thing. Reardon has a way with words, never overdoing the narrative but creating just enough atmosphere, in all the right places, that will set the little hairs on the back of your neck on end. There are some genuinely creepy passages in this novel, and they serve to create some very real tension during their journey. I can’t imagine having to survive in these conditions, and I swear while I was reading I wanted to wrap my blanket around me for warmth. As hard as things get for John and the girl, it’s their burgeoning relationship that adds warmth and poignancy, and you’ll want to keep an eye out for the survivalist that they meet along the way, whose acts of kindness are ultimately heartbreaking. The Raven’s Gift is a wonderful combination of survival/dystopian and yes, even love story that will satisfy readers looking for something that’s beautifully written (and yes, clichés be damned, uplifting) and just plain good. Oh, and it has one of the best endings that I’ve read in a long time. Put this one on your must read list.

Interview: Jeri Westerson, author of Shadow of the Alchemist (Crispin Guest series)

Jeri Westerson is the author of the Crispin Guest series, and the newest installment, SHADOW OF THE ALCHEMIST, is out this month! Please welcome Jeri to the blog!

jeriwestersonThe 6th novel in your Medieval Noir series, Shadow of the Alchemist, is out this month! Did you ever imagine the series would come this far? Do you remember how you celebrated when you found out the first book, Veil of Lies, would be published?
I planned for a long-lived series so on the one hand, I’m not surprised we’ve gotten this far, and on the other, it never seems to get old, this wonderful anticipation of the next book on my doorstep. It was a long, hard road to get the first one published and there are quite a few more in the series to go. But as always, we pop the bubbly and look forward to a great book launch party…with knights and mead!

What can readers expect from Shadow of the Alchemist?
A treasure hunt of sorts throughout the dark and deadly streets of London, with Crispin pitted against a Moriarity-type villain. There’s a venerated object that the villain wants and a cadre of mysterious alchemists standing in Crispin’s way. What follows is a chase down the shadowy streets of London, between men who know the secrets of poisons and purges, sorcery and forbidden sciences.

What do you love most about your main character, Crispin Guest, and why do you think readers should root for him?
In a way, he’s now the underdog. Before he was top dog, I suppose, before he lost it all and had to reinvent himself. So though he can sometimes be a bit of a sad sack, he turns it around and acts most heroically. He’s a romantic as well, and a caring mentor to his apprentice, Jack Tucker. He has many good qualities, but I suppose his persistence and his heroism mark him as a cut above the crowd, no matter his status.

shadowofthealchemistWhat do you enjoy most about being a published author?
Not only seeing the books on bookstore and library shelves, but hearing from readers who were tickled and entertained by the stories. As an author, you spend a lot of time alone creating these worlds and stories and you hope someone else will find them as enthralling as you do. It’s nice when, in fact, readers do.

What is your writing process like? Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I write several different books a year so I don’t have time for writer’s block. Therefore, it’s expeditious to outline my books so I know pretty much what I’m going to write each day. I say “pretty much” because though I do outline, nothing is etched in stone, and if the plot turns in another direction, that’s the rabbit hole I follow. So it’s mostly plotting but with a little bit of pantsing along the way.

What, or who, have been some of the biggest influences on your writing?
Anything and everything. Certainly everything I’ve ever read and enjoyed growing up and into adulthood has influenced me. Shakespeare’s language, Tolkien and Rowling’s world-building, the prose and rhythm of mysteries from Dorothy Sayers to Ellis Peters to Raymond Chandler; the many books of fantasy and science fiction I read, as well as the movies that sparked an interest in this and that, teaching me pacing and how to build to a climax. I was also a journalist for eight years and that taught me to cut to the chase and get the story in there. And then there is the history, the historical novels and history books I grew up with. So many factors go into making the writer.

What are you reading now?
BELIEVING THE LIE by Elizabeth George

Obviously your novels are set in the Middle Ages. What’s something that you find especially fascinating about this time period?
The weapons and warfare. I never stopped playing war. I was quite the tomboy as a kid and steel is very compelling (and yes, I own many sharps and know how to use them!)

veilofliesI’d love to hear more about your medieval weaponry collection…what made you start collecting? What’s one of your favorite pieces?
I think it might have been a good excuse to start collecting when I started writing historicals. My favorite piece is the sword, because it represents so much about the period; knights, the cross, the crusades, the jousts, honor, strength…it’s all very Freudian.

What’s next for you, this year and beyond?
Well, while we look for another publisher for the continuing Crispin series (and the next one is called THE SILENCE OF STONES, and involves the actual throne of England), I’ve written an urban fantasy series I hope to soon sell to a publisher (for anyone who liked the Sookie Stackhouse or Buffy the Vampire Slayer series—though, ironically, without vampires. Just plenty of other interesting beasties, a small town in Maine, a feisty female protagonist, her helpful Wiccans, a sexy demon, and an old book that causes all the problems in the BOOKE OF THE HIDDEN series). Then I am working on a Jack Tucker young adult series (THE DARK PEACE Jack Tucker Tales) that is more paranormal than mystery, and a medieval caper series that also needs to find a publishing home (OSWALD THE THIEF). So there is no rest for the wicked.

Keep up with Jeri: Website | Twitter

Once a Knight of the Realm, Crispin Guest was stripped of his title and his lands and must now earn his meager living through his wits. With the help of his young apprentice, reformed thief Jack Tucker, Guest is known to certain populations as The Tracker, the man who can find anything—for a price. It is for that reason that Guest is sought out by Nicholas Flamel, an absent-minded alchemist. Both Flamel’s wife and his apprentice are missing, and he wants Guest to find them and bring them home.

Before he can even begin looking, Guest discovers that Flamel’s house has been ransacked. Then Flamel’s assistant turns up—dead, hanging from the rafters with a note pinned to his chest by a dagger. It is a ransom note that promises the safe return of his wife in exchange for the Philosopher’s Stone, which is reputed to turn lead into gold and create the elixir of life. And the kidnappers aren’t the only ones after it. From the highest nobility to Flamel’s fellow alchemists, everyone is seeking the stone for themselves. Guest must rescue the missing wife and find the stone before it falls into unworthy hands, in Jeri Westerson’s Shadow of the Alchemist.

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