Please welcome Shane Kuhn to the blog! His new book, THE INTERN’S HANDBOOK, is out tomorrow, and he was kind enough to answer a few of my questions! Also, courtesy of Simon & Schuster, we’ve got a copy to give away to one lucky winner, so check out the deets at the end of the post.
You’ve got a ton of experience in the entertainment industry (over 20 years), but have you always wanted to write a book?
When I was very young – 8 years old – I wanted to be a writer. My parents didn’t really have a big library at home, and my school library was pathetic, so I bought books at garage sales. They were always wildly cheap – 5 cents, 1 penny (ridiculous), or very often they were free. The beauty of it was the variety. You could get Slaughterhouse Five or Roller Disco Made Easy from the same box. When I read Vonnegut, I was hooked. Of course I didn’t understand half of it but his writing always felt like it was being written by a person who looked at the world through a massive lens, the kind that captures beauty and evil with the same intensity. He’s a lot like Stanley Kubrick (another hero) that way. I began journaling at 8 because I discovered it was a very pure way for me to express my angst. Believe it or not, I had an existential crisis at that age after being grounded for 2 weeks in the summer. Trust me, what I did was bad enough to warrant that punishment. (Note the age of John Lago when he executed his first kill). I wrote many stories, most of them incomplete, over the years, but mainly I wrote stream of consciousness prose, which I later deemed to be poetry. Being a writer was not encouraged in my home. My father wanted me to be a doctor. Even though he worshipped Michener and Clavell, he was a work hardened German from Nebraska and believed that art should be a hobby or pastime after the real work is done. This, unfortunately, steered me toward pursuits that were creative but that also were more closely associated with money.
Enter the movie business. Now, mind you, I loved Cinema even before I loved books. I am a very visual person. However, I never really thought of actually working in the movies until I graduated from CU and I was working at the Boulder newspaper. I was really into photography then and wildly obsessed with Kubrick, Lean, Adrian Lyne, Ridley Scott, and Woody Allen. That was when I thought screenwriting would be perfect. I could write and be a part of the movies and also maybe get paid! Ha ha ha ha ha! Silly boy. Long story short: I spent a lot of money on film school, made an independent feature (more money), got some jobs after nearly 10 years of wheel spinning, directed another feature (this time with my writing partner), that was such a horrible experience that I can’t even listen to Bitch by the Stones anymore because it was my ringtone at the time, and all the while I never made a living at that shit. That’s how I got into advertising because I needed to pay the fucking bills. Finally, in 2012, I had enough. Existential crisis #238. I was reading one of my old journals and I remembered that time when I was 8. I remembered how writing saved me from wanting to burn the house down because I was in summer lockdown. So I decided to write The Intern’s Handbook.
My intuitive (I lived in California for nearly 20 years people) told me that true change can only happen for us when our situation becomes truly intolerable. Creatively, that was my exact situation. I desperately needed to express myself purely, without any fucking committees of douchebags who had never even seen Raiders of the Lost Ark, and WITHOUT any expectations for money or anything. I will write many books in my life, but this is the book that saved my life.
Will you tell us a little about The Intern’s Handbook and what inspired you to write it?
This book is a love child shared by my two of my obsessions: assassins and interns. I became intrigued with the assassin character when I saw The Day of the Jackal. When I saw The Professional, I was totally hooked. When I saw La Femme Nikita, I fell in love. The assassin is the ultimate blank slate. And Jean Reno in The Professional was the embodiment of this! Assassins do not play by our rules so they can be any type of person with any type of personality and background. The more you dig into the possibilities, the more interesting it becomes. And they are not psychotic because it is all business. So, you aren’t constrained by psychology.
Thus, for years I have wanted to create an assassin story. Of course, I wanted it to be a movie because that was my business. The problem was that every thing I thought of felt familiar to me. So, I kept digging. In the meantime, I have always been obsessed with interns. I was an intern myself. Congressional interns were always in the news for sex, drugs, and all kinds of mischief normally reserved for roadies. As an intern and temp in the movie business, I was blown away by the amount of work people give to interns. They are literally indentured servants but they do it voluntarily! It’s a seduction. Come work here for free and we’ll hook you up with a job. Bullshit. It’s free fucking labor for a terminally lazy corporate America. Interns are the embodiment of passing the buck.
For awhile I thought about doing a comedy about Interns. But it always felt like a one liner, not a full story. Watch The Internship and you’ll see what I mean. Finally, the sinister side of business hit me full force with Wall Street being in the news. It made me realize that there are obvious criminals – mafia, cartel, gangstas, but you never see the biggest criminals because they can pilfer entire pension funds and still get a fucking platinum severance package. With this in my head, I started thinking about all the underlings asked to do the dirty work for the big corporate bosses who want plausible deniability and I started thinking about interns. They are perfect for dirty work because they aren’t officially part of any business. And that’s when my assassin obsession met my intern obsession and had a glorious one-night stand. It all came together in my head. But I didn’t want the intern to be a pawn. I wanted interns to have power and to manipulate a corrupt system. That’s where John Lago came in.
John Lago is the quintessential anti-hero, made even more appealing by the fact that he’s got to endure the daily grind, but gets to live this exciting second life. Why do you think readers (and film-goers) enjoy these kinds of characters so much, and was there a particular model that you used for John?
I think people like John because he is a real person with relatable problems. Yes, he is a killer, but that is not by choice. He’s like one of those child soldiers plucked from poverty and forced into service. Everyone can relate to having to be someone that you’re not, having to do things you hate doing. That IS the daily grind. The biggest commonality is the fact that we are all animals. We have a predatory nature in our DNA. So, at a primordial level, we can relate. I didn’t really have a model for John other than myself. I am not a killer (can’t even step on a bug without terminal guilt) but there are some very strong parallels. I too felt trapped in my circumstances. I too dream of breaking out of the grind and being free to do what I want. The veneer of assassination and cinematic action is what makes it a fun read. The depth of John’s character and his heart is what makes the book mean something.
What kind of research did you do for the book?
Extensive research. On that note, I want to set the record straight for some readers who claim that law firms don’t hire interns or law school and law grad interns don’t compete for associate positions. Yes, one or two people have made that claim in their personal reviews. They are wrong. Law firms do hire interns. The summer internship is HOW law students get exposure to companies for future jobs. And they are wildly competitive. I may have taken some liberties with this FACT, but it’s a fucking work of fiction, boys and girls. There’s a fucking Kevlar poncho in there and an exploding coffee cup but no one said anything about that! And by the way, all of that is real too. Every damn thing about weaponry was researched extensively, down to bullet ballistics.
Every bit of medical content was also vetted with two ER docs, one of which is a decorated military flight surgeon. Authenticity is very important to me. Even in fiction. I may bend things a bit but I don’t break them.
You have a lot of screenwriting experience, but how would you compare it to writing a novel? What were some of your biggest challenges in writing The Intern’s Handbook, and what did you enjoy most about the experience?
The two things are very different. Movies are a director’s medium. Period. So, it’s very rare that a screenplay is thought of as a direct expression of a writer. Of course, there have been movie writers who are famous for being strong collaborative members of a filmmaking team, but they are still playing second fiddle to the director. Screenwriting is all about economy and knowing how to maximize the power of the medium. That is really difficult if you have no knowledge of how a film is made. And structure is king.
You have two hours, three if you’re Michael Mann, to cram in an entire story that might take five hundred pages in a book. If you can’t zero in on the most relevant and impactful story beats, then you’re lost. I actually used the screenplay structure for American cinema with The Intern’s Handbook. It’s very useful because it’s simply good story structure. The great thing about using it for a novel is you get the benefits of a solid structure but you have a lot of space to build characters, actually wield description as a creative tool, and spin a lot of fun dialogue. Books are the writer’s medium and, as someone who has slaved away over screenplays (and NONE of that work was ever fun) I can say that I love to write books. It’s like playtime, just pouring every thought onto the page. I am a visceral writer so I like to push it and see what comes out. I revere editors, so I know that my editor will get the best of my creativity but will also be able to easily see what to cut. What I enjoy the most is dialogue. Whether it’s internal (my favorite) or external, I love that game of cat and mouse because people almost never say what they really want to say and it’s like a fencing match getting to the truth.
What are a few of your favorite novels or authors? Have there been any that have particularly inspired you, in your writing, and in life?
My favorite authors are (shocker): Vonnegut, Hemingway, O’Connor, HS Thompson, Palahniuk, Dahl, Plath, Wilde, Kerouac, Burroughs, Pynchon, Fleming, Nabokov, and Blume (yeah, really) to name a few.
Books: Catcher in the Rye, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, A Moveable Feast, Slaughterhouse, My Uncle Oswald, also to name a few.
The bottom line is that I seek out books and authors in the same way I seek out rock n roll. I need darkness, action, sex, love, passion, heart, and soul. I need the visceral versus the intellectual. When I read Dahl’s My Uncle Oswald and Blume’s Wifey as a kid, my eyes were opened to the power of raw sexuality and humor in literature. Those books are fearless to me and the authors broke out of their expected station and showed the world that they are eating, drinking, fucking, and fighting adults just like everyone else. I love that. When I read Fear and Loathing, it was literally like a rock song on the page. It blew up in my head and I am still feeding on HSTs madness long after his death. Again, visceral and fearless. That’s how I feel about Chuck P too. He does not give a fuck. He’s doing his thing and it’s flowing out of him and everything else be damned (get it?). Not everyone’s going to like it. In fact, some people despise this kind of work. But I live for it. It’s what reminds me that we are just a bunch of animals wearing Prada and dining at French Laundry and for me that is how the world makes sense.
What are you currently reading?
Gravity’s Rainbow. I don’t want to talk about it because it’s kicking my ass. Recently finished The Demonologist by Andrew Pyper. Loved it. A dark compelling journey with real characters. Would make an excellent TV series. And The Strain. Terrifying and very cinematic.
Do you think that fans of your work in film will recognize your touch in The Intern’s Handbook?
I can pretty much guarantee you that I have exactly zero fans in the movie business! If I do, I think they will be very happy that I put on my big boy pants and took a shot at being a real writer.
Speaking of film, seen any good movies lately? Are there any that you’re looking forward to seeing this year?
I loved Dallas Buyers Club. It was so well written and directed and Matthew McConaughey blew my mind. I mean, I think he’s great but I never knew he had that in him. It’s a fast, dramatic, dark (of course) story with incredible actors (Jared Leto was sublime), a deep social conscience and message, and it was fucking true! It doesn’t get any better. Have you heard what the writers, Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack went through to get it made? They are heroes. I applaud them for their creativity and their courage. Their story is a move unto itself. I also loved American Hustle. Again, based on something real, outrageously fucking good performances with actors doing things you would NEVER expect, and beautifully shot. Linus Sandgren’s palette is cocaine gold baby. It’s a fucking disco fever dream. And Amy Adams? Are you kidding me? She’s drenched in sexuality, like Catherine Deneuve or Charlotte Gainsborough. Fuck. Her stock just went through the roof. Looking forward to Nymphomaniac. Also Noah. I went to film school with Darren Aronofsky. Wicked talent, almost unfair to others. I’m glad he is widening his lens to more epic work. The world needs a new David Lean.
When you’re not working, how do you like to spend your free time?
I have very little free time. I am married and have two amazing children and whenever I’m not writing or hustling, I’m hanging with them. We ski a fair bit as well. But for personal hobbies and the like, I am sorry to say I don’t have many. I am in a band! I’ve been in bands for years. When I moved to Colorado, I couldn’t find a band that wasn’t trying to be a combination of Phish and Dave Matthews. So I joined TribU2. It’s a U2 tribute band and I am Bono. I am a singer and there are no harder vocal melodies in existence than Bono’s. Chris Cornell has superhuman high note ability but Bono is up and down the register like a monkey on a banana tree and that is very challenging. But it’s fun because when I played in original rock bands in LA back in the day, we were lucky if 20 people showed up. Now we play for hundreds of people at outdoor festivals and I get to play rockstar, which is my fantasy gig!
What’s next for you?
I have written the sequel to The Intern’s Handbook and submitted it to Simon & Schuster. I have also pitched a completely new novel concept to them and I am getting very positive feedback. And I have about seven very strong novel concepts that I will execute one after the other. My goal is one novel per year or more. And I’m going to direct another film. I just need to do it to prove to myself that I can do it and then I’ll leave it alone. I love cinema and want one good film as part of my legacy.
I’m very pleased to share with you the lovely cover of WHAT THE LADY WANTS by the equally lovely Renee Rosen (Dollface). The book comes out in November, so fans of historical fiction will want to add it to their To-Buy list!
About WHAT THE LADY WANTS:
In late-nineteenth-century Chicago, visionary retail tycoon Marshall Field made his fortune wooing women customers with his famous motto: “Give the lady what she wants.” His legendary charm also won the heart of socialite Delia Spencer and led to an infamous love affair.
The night of the Great Fire, as seventeen-year-old Delia watches the flames rise and consume what was the pioneer town of Chicago, she can’t imagine how much her life, her city, and her whole world are about to change. Nor can she guess that the agent of that change will not simply be the fire, but more so the man she meets that night.…
Leading the way in rebuilding after the fire, Marshall Field reopens his well-known dry goods store and transforms it into something the world has never seen before: a glamorous palace of a department store. He and his powerhouse coterie—including Potter Palmer and George Pullman—usher in the age of robber barons, the American royalty of their generation.
But behind the opulence, their private lives are riddled with scandal and heartbreak. Delia and Marshall first turn to each other out of loneliness, but as their love deepens, they will stand together despite disgrace and ostracism, through an age of devastation and opportunity, when an adolescent Chicago is transformed into the gleaming White City of the Chicago’s World’s Fair of 1893.
Vera Abramowitz is determined to leave her gritty childhood behind and live a more exciting life, one that her mother never dreamed of. Bobbing her hair and showing her knees, the lipsticked beauty dazzles, doing the Charleston in nightclubs and earning the nickname “Dollface.”
As the ultimate flapper, Vera captures the attention of two high rollers, a handsome nightclub owner and a sexy gambler. On their arms, she gains entrée into a world filled with bootleg bourbon, wailing jazz, and money to burn. She thinks her biggest problem is choosing between them until the truth comes out. Her two lovers are really mobsters from rival gangs during Chicago’s infamous Beer Wars, a battle Al Capone refuses to lose.
The heady life she’s living is an illusion resting on a bedrock of crime and violence unlike anything the country has ever seen before. When the good times come to an end, Vera becomes entangled in everything from bootlegging to murder. And as men from both gangs fall around her, Vera must put together the pieces of her shattered life, as Chicago hurtles toward one of the most infamous days in its history, the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.
Please welcome the always awesome Adam Christopher back to the blog! His brand new SF, THE BURNING DARK, dropped last month, and he stopped by to answer a few of my questions about it, and more! Also, we’ve got a copy up for grabs courtesy of the nice folks at Tor, so be sure to check out the details at the bottom of the post!
Congrats on the new book! Will you tell us a little about The Burning Dark and what inspired you to write it?
The Burning Dark started from a very simple idea – what if you had a traditional ghost story, but instead of it being set in a haunted house, it was set in a haunted space station? From there the whole novel kinda spiraled out – how many of those traditional spooky tropes could I keep intact, and how much would I need to crowbar into a space opera setting? What else can you do with this concept over the 100,000 words or so of a novel?
I also love urban legends, and had been totally freaked out by the story of the lost cosmonauts (a collection of mythical cosmonauts sent up by the Soviet’s before Yuri Gagarin, none of whom returned, their missions then erased from official history). It seemed the perfect thing to weave into my ghost story. That also tied into this thing I seem to have for mysterious signals and transmissions – in my debut novel, Empire State, you get a sense of that with the strange phone calls detective Rad Bradley receives from an alternate universe, and I’ve even got a half-finished novel based entirely around television signal hacking and creatures that inhabit various electromagnetic frequencies. Maybe I’ll even finish that book one day!
The book has already gotten great reviews, but is a bit of a departure for you. What did you enjoy most about writing it, and what was most challenging?
It’s a different kind of book to the ones published by Angry Robot, but I’m a fan of science fiction involving spaceships and aliens as well as the weirder, cross-genre sorts of stories I am more known for. Having said that, there is plenty of genre mash-up in The Burning Dark, which is space opera and a ghost story, with a touch of godpunk thrown in.
It was fun to write, because like every book I’ve done, it was the story that needed to be told. The genre itself didn’t matter – the story I had was sort-of space opera, so I wrote a sort-of space opera. Creating a whole universe from scratch was enjoyable but also the most challenging part, because I was worldbuilding on a large scale – knowing that this was going to be the setting for several books, I had to be careful to seed stuff for the next novels in the sequence, and make a world that was defined enough for me to re-use without having to go back and fix all kinds of problems or loopholes in future books. That was the first time I had to consider such factors, and I found myself looking at the story in a different way – particularly as I was editing, as I had the next book in the back of my mind.
Do you think readers will root for Captain Abraham Idaho Cleveland?
I think so – he’s a war hero and a career officer, but he seems like a nice guy. You’d go out for a drink with him for sure. He’s thrown in the deep end along with the reader – although the reader has a slightly better idea of what is going on than he does! He’s pragmatic, strong-willed… but there is vulnerability there too. He’s trying to do his job, and face up to seemingly impossible circumstances, without cracking up. He manages to keep it together (mostly!), leading the reader through the dark until… well, I don’t want to spoil it!
What kind of research did you do for The Burning Dark?
A lot of the research was actually focused on military matters – The Burning Dark might be set 1,000 years in the future, but I wanted to create a setting that was easy for the readers to get into and recognize. The book isn’t military science fiction, strictly speaking, but nearly all the characters are Fleet personnel. So there are hierarchies and procedures and ways of handling things which I wanted to be at least mostly correct – the book is a work of fiction, and the Fleet is my creation, but it was important to get the feel of the setting right. If you can set the scene for the reader, they’ll actually do the rest for you, so long as you don’t trip yourself up anywhere along the way.
What do you enjoy most about writing, and reading, SF?
I guess it’s the fact that you can do absolutely anything with speculative fiction as a writer, and therefore as a reader you have to expect the unexpected. Which to me seems the perfect way to read (and write!). Speculative fiction also really encompasses every genre under the sun, so long as there is something otherworldly involved. The possibilities are endless!
Have you read any good books lately? Are there any that you’re looking forward to reading this year?
This year I’m trying to read a book a week, which will be an improvement on what I managed in 2013. There have been a few highlights so far this year – Koko Takes a Holiday by Kieran Shea is brilliant, and at the moment I’m reading Black Dog by Caitlin Kittredge. It’s not out until October, but damn, this is some good urban fantasy. Very dark and gritty, and well worth a pre-order.
I’m trying to mix in some non-fiction as well. Last year I adored The River of Doubt by Candice Milard, which is about Theodore Roosevelt’s insane journey into uncharted regions of the Amazon rainforest. I’ve also just finished Dark Invasion by Howard Blum, an account of the New York City Police Department’s fight against German terrorist cells just before the US entered the First World War. That thing about the truth being stranger than fiction is only a cliché because it’s true – and for writers, non-fiction is goldmine of ideas.
What’s next for you?
I’m deep in the edit for the next book in the Spider Wars sequence, The Machine Awakes, which is due out in April 2015. Once that is out of the way, I’ve got two more novels to write this year – one is a secret project which I hope to be able to talk about soon, and the other is the first of the LA Trilogy, due out from Tor in September 2015. Outside of novels, I’ve got a collaborative project which is currently in the early stages, but is looking pretty good.
So it’s a busy year of writing and editing for me, and if anything, 2015 is looking even busier – and it’s only just April 2014! But busy is good!
Please welcome the lovely Alex Hughes back to the blog! The new, and 3rd, book in her Mindspace Investigations series, MARKED, just came out and she stopped by to answer a few questions about it, her new collaboration with Kerry Schafer (squeee!), and more!
Alex, welcome back to the blog! I can’t believe the 3rd book in the Mindspace Investigations series is out already! What can we expect from Adam Ward and Co. this time around?
Hi Kristin, Thanks for having me back. I know, isn’t it crazy? This is the Guild book. Adam must investigate the suspicious death of Kara’s uncle and survive the crazy political situation within the Guild while facing his past. Meanwhile, he and Cherabino are investigating an axe murder case with an unexpected turn.
What have you enjoyed most about writing this series, and how do you think Adam has changed or grown the most since the first book?
I love this series for its depth and complexity, but that depth and complexity can be challenging! Sorting out all the plot threads in revision takes some doing. I do love getting into Adam’s head though, and I’ve been proud of him for his character growth over the last few books. He’s coming to terms with his past mistakes and learning to stand on his own. There’s a scene between Adam and Stone in this one near a fountain in a park, and Adam objects to how Stone describes his past… it’s small, and yet such a big deal. He’s claiming what happened on his own terms, and it’s healing.
On that note, what do you enjoy most about writing, and reading, SF?
The real world is a very small sandbox as compared to all the worlds and all the universes of SF. I love the real world and fiction within it, but when I have a chance to visit strange worlds and live new and different lives, it makes me excited. I love new cultures and experiences, and SF gives me both by the dozen.
What is your writing process like? Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I’m what I call a recovering pantser. By nature, I write an exploratory draft or three, and then whittle the mess down into a plot that makes sense. Doing this on a deadline, however, is a nightmare, so I’m gradually learning to build in more pre-writing and planning. Too much, though, and I crush the creative process. And, of course, no matter how much planning I do, I still have to throw things out occasionally. It’s very much a work in progress.
So, 3 books published in a little over a year! That’s quite a whirlwind! What’s one of the most interesting/challenging/fun things you’ve learned or experienced since becoming a published author?
It’s about eighteen months, actually, but it feels like eight! It’s been nuts. I’ve had to learn so many things so quickly, from contracts to marketing to how to be charming at conventions and how to write faster and better and do better research. The learning curve has been intense! My all time favorite thing since becoming a published author is how much research I get to do now. Not just on the level of the Writer’s Police Academy (super fun) but also I get to ask total strangers random questions and they usually try to answer. It’s been incredible.
What piece of advice would you give an aspiring author?
Learn the craft. Put in the time and the practice to get good, really good. Add the tools to your toolbelt so you can truly execute the cool ideas in your head, and join a good writer’s group either online or in person. There are things you will learn from critiquing other people’s work that you won’t learn any other way, and in having your own work critiqued you’ll learn to let go of the details. It’s hard, hard work, but it’s so worth it when you’ve made something you’re truly proud of.
Read any good books lately? Are there any that you’re particularly looking forward to reading this year?
Hard question, as I’m always reading! First reaction, though? The Night Circus blew my socks off. Gorgeous imagery and language, and a first-time author too. I also enjoyed Murder of Crows by Anne Bishop, Honor’s Knight by Rachel Bach, Life In Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina and Abundance: the Future is Better Than You Think. I’m looking forward to the sequel to Claws of the Cat by Susan Spann, and to the next Gail Carriger book this year.
You’re a foodie, and love to cook. What’s one of your favorite dishes?
Homemade eggplant parmesan with a lovely sheep’s pecorino romano, semi-homemade “autumn” tomato sauce, angel hair pasta and a spinach salad with dried cherries. With fresh fruit for dessert.
What’s next for you this year?
I turn in VACANT, Mindspace Investigations Book Four, in mid-April, so that’s taking up a lot of my time lately.
Then I’ll be working on a collaboration with Kerry Schafer about a hotel ghost, and working on additional proposals for new novels in new worlds. Plus figuring out books 5 and 6 in Mindspace, and perhaps a few short stories. It’s going to be a big year.
Make sure you stay up to date (and get the occasional free short story from me) by joining my email newsletter.
FORESEE NO EVIL.
Freelancing for the Atlanta PD isn’t exactly a secure career; my job’s been on the line almost as much as my life. But it’s a paycheck, and it keeps me from falling back into the drug habit. Plus, things are looking up with my sometimes-partner, Cherabino, even if she is still simmering over the telepathic Link I created by accident.
When my ex, Kara, shows up begging for my help, I find myself heading to the last place I ever expected to set foot in again—Guild headquarters—to investigate the death of her uncle. Joining that group was a bad idea the first time. Going back when I’m unwanted is downright dangerous.
Luckily, the Guild needs me more than they’re willing to admit. Kara’s uncle was acting strange before he died—crazy strange. In fact, his madness seems to be slowly spreading through the Guild. And when an army of powerful telepaths loses their marbles, suddenly it’s a game of life or death.…
It’s always a pleasure to have Marie Brennan on the blog, and today she’s here to talk about her new book, THE TROPIC OF SERPENTS, and we’ve also got a copy to give away to one lucky winner! Please welcome her back to the blog!
The Tropic of Serpents just came out, and I’m sure fans are eager to learn what Lady Trent is up to in this installment. Will you give us a bit of a teaser?
Isabella goes to a tropical region based on West and Central Africa, where she has to deal with a big-game hunter, an invading army, and quite a lot of unpleasant diseases!
When you started the series, did you already know how many books you wanted to write, or did you just plan to see where Lady Trent took you?
The very earliest parts were written with no particular plan in mind — roughly the first quarter or so of A Natural History of Dragons — but by the time I pitched the concept to my editor at Tor, I knew I wanted to aim for a five-book series.
What kind of research have you done for the series?
Some cultural, some biological: everywhere Isabella goes is inspired by a real-world place, so I do some reading to ground myself in the kind of society to be found there, but I also research a lot of stuff to do with animals and environments. I have a climatology textbook on my shelf so I can make certain the ecology makes sense for the region.
What is your writing process like? Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Somewhere in between. I’ll have a few notions in mind for things I want to have happen later on in the story, and then as I write my way through the book I’ll steer for those fixed points.
Worldbuilding is very important in this series. What are a few of your favorite literary “worlds?”
I drew a sort of indirect inspiration from Sarah Monette’s Doctrine of Labyrinths series. Monette does a beautiful job of dropping gratuitous references to invented historical figures and works of literature and so on, little details of culture and folklore, which has the effect of making her world seem very real. The anthropologist in me admires that tremendously, and tried to achieve a similar effect with this series.
What do you enjoy most about writing about Lady Trent, and why do you think readers connect with her?
I love her narrative voice, because it turns absolutely everything about the story into characterization: description, exposition, all of those things get processed through her view of the world, which means that even when I’m describing the insect life of a jungle to you, I am also telling you more about Lady Trent. Her voice also allows me a degree of reflexivity that you can’t ordinarily get away with in fiction: she will call herself out on some of her mistakes, and that lets me draw attention to the things she doesn’t call out. I think that reflexivity is a large part of what readers are responding to, because they recognize in her a lot of their own doubts or regrets or moments of gleeful satisfaction.
Have you read any good books lately?
I’ve very much enjoyed the Katya Hijazi and Nayir Sharqi series by Zoe Ferraris. They’re totally non-speculative — they’re mysteries set in Saudi Arabia — but transplanting the familiar structure of a mystery to a society where custom interferes with a lot of the investigative methods we’re accustomed to seeing makes for a very fresh spin. (For example, Nayir can’t question half the possible witnesses in the first book because they’re women and he isn’t related to them.)
What’s next for you?
I’ll be revising the third book of the Memoirs soon — Voyage of the Basilisk — then launching into the fourth one, which has no title yet.
It’s always a pleasure to host Devon Monk, and today she’s here to talk about her new book, STONE COLD (the 2nd book in the Broken Magic series), and more! Please welcome her back to the blog! We’ve also got a copy of STONE COLD up for grabs, so check out the details at the bottom of the post.
The second novel in your Broken Magic series, STONE COLD, just came out! To those new to the series, will you tell us a little about the new book and the world that it’s set in?
STONE COLD takes place in a modern-day Portland, Oregon where magic is a resource that everyone can use. A powerful organization known as the Authority used to keep the worst that magic could do hidden from the common user, but the Authority and most of its secrets have been exposed. When those secrets become a deadly weapon in the wrong hands, it’s up to Death magic user, Shame Flynn and Life magic user, Terric Conley to protect the city, world, and magic itself.
What do you enjoy most about writing the characters of Shame and Terric, and why do you think readers will connect with them?
Shame and Terric have a great dynamic. Death and Life, slacker and boyscout, chaos and order. Plus they’re old friends/enemies with lots of history who really know how to get under each other’s skin and have to work together whether they like it or not. They’ll never admit that they would put their lives on the line to save the other, but when all hell breaks loose these two always have the other’s back.
What made you decide to have two male protagonists in the series?
Shame and Terric are also Soul Complements, which means if they use magic together, they can force it to do things magic isn’t supposed to do. But the price for doing that is losing a little bit of their sanity and control. They have a great love/hate relationship, and at their core would do almost anything to make sure the people they love are safe. With Death and Life at their fingertips, they just seemed like a fun and complicated pair of protagonists.
What have you enjoyed most about writing the Broken Magic books?
I love seeing the world through Shame’s flawed, irreverent perspective. How he processes the world and people around him, and his sarcastic internal monologue is a lot of fun. That being said, I love the contrast Terric brings to the page, both in how he sees the order in magic and the world, and how he sees Shame.
When you started the series, did you already have an idea of how many you wanted to write, or did you just decide to see where the narrative took you?
I pitched it as a two-book series. For this moment in their lives, two books is just right.
You’re a busy lady, but have you gotten a chance to read any good books lately?
I am so behind on my reading right now! The last book I read was good, but I can’t remember the title right now, which means I am a busy *and* forgetful lady!
You’ve got quite a few titles under your belt and quire a fan following, too, but what’s been one of your most favorite things about being a published author?
Emails and letters from readers–especially when they say they enjoyed something I wrote. In all seriousness, I got into this business because I’m a reader and books have gotten me through some hard times, brought me joy, and widened my horizons. I hope that in some small way, my books might give that to others.
What’s next for you?
Next up is book one in my new trilogy: HOUSE IMMORTAL. That will be in stores September 2nd, and I can’t wait to share this world and characters with readers! My editor calls it: Allie Beckstrom meets Firefly, and I call HOUSE IMMORTAL my Frankenstein farm-girl, near-future fantasy, gently dystopic, save-the-world story. It’s been a lot of fun to write, and I hope it will be even more fun to read!
LOTS of great Kindle deals this week in SFF! All are under $5, and most are under $3. Looking for some YA? Got you covered. Fantasy and Urban Fantasy? Check! Load up your reader, but be sure to double check the price before you click BUY, because sometimes these deals don’t last.
Talk about some killer Kindle deals (see what I did there?)! Everything is under $5, and most of ‘em are much cheaper, but as usual, double check the price before you click BUY. Note there are a few Janet Evanovich titles as well as Patricia Cornwell, and much more. For True Detective fans, be sure to check out GALVESTON by series creator Nic Pizzolatto!
Please welcome Sharon Lynn Fisher back to the blog! Her new book, THE OPHELIA PROPHECY, is out today, and she stopped by to answer a few of my questions about it, and more!
Sharon, welcome back to the blog! Will you tell us a bit about your new book, THE OPHELIA PROPHECY and what inspired you to write it?
Thank you for having me back! OPHELIA is a post-apocalyptic biopunk Romeo and Juliet story. In case that doesn’t shed much light: It’s about a man who’s part of a genetically engineered race of humans (with insect DNA) and his forbidden attraction to an amnesiac human woman who should be his enemy.
The idea for OPHELIA began with the title. I don’t know how or when I got into the habit of reverse engineering stories from titles, but it seems to have become an essential part of my creative process. The bug part of the story was inspired by a dream I had, of two praying mantises fighting each other with wooden staffs. (My bug people are mostly blended with mantis DNA, and are called Manti.)
How about Asha and Pax? Why do you think they’re so appealing, and why do you think readers will root for them?
Regarding Pax, what makes him interesting to me is he is biologically (and hereditarily) stuck in an alpha role. He and Asha encounter each other at a point in her cycle when his more-than-human sensitivity to pheromones almost drives him to do something he doesn’t at all want to do. He is very much a thinker, and a compassionate being. This places him in the awkward position of protecting Asha against himself. Made all the more awkward by the fact his race engineered a virus that all but wiped out humanity, and she is one of the last enemy survivors.
What’s interesting to me about Asha is in the opening chapter she finds herself in a very precarious, vulnerable situation. There are things about herself she doesn’t remember — and won’t, until about the middle of the book.
She’s frightened and confused, yet manages to tap into resources she didn’t know she had, to engage with Pax from a position of strength. One of the most interesting parts of the story, I think, comes when she remembers all she’d forgotten, and has to reconcile the Asha from before the memory loss with the Asha who developed while the other was sleeping (the Asha who’s falling in love with her enemy).
For the Manti, why did you go with an insect-like creature, as opposed to something else?
That’s a great question. I wish I knew the answer.I think it was mainly the mantis dream I mentioned in question 1. Once I had that visual, I started thinking along the lines of a race that could almost be construed as a futuristic fae — humans embellished with bug and plant parts.
What’s one of your favorite things about writing SF?
Science books!!! I heart science books. I (along with most writers, I think) can build an entire world off one terrific paragraph of nonfiction. While working on OPHELIA, I read a book called FRANKENSTEIN’S CAT, about our genetic manipulation of animals. For ECHO 8, the novel I have coming out next year, I read ENTANGELED MINDS (twice) — about the intersection of psi abilities and quantum physics — and also HIDDEN REALITIES, string theory physicist Brian Greene’s multiverse book. Currently I’m reading a very scholarly (and fascinating) book on the trickster archetype (TRICKSTER MAKES THIS WORLD), and I’ll soon be diving into some reading on dark matter. (Squeee!)
If you were to recommend an SF title (other than our own) that might appeal to someone that might be a bit intimidated by the genre, which one would it be, off the top of your head?
If you’re talking specifically about sci-fi romance, I’d have to go with the obvious: RWA RITA-nominated author Linnea Sinclair. Plenty of romance, adventure, and worldbuilding. I also really loved THE OUTBACK STARS, by Sandra McDonald. More military focused, but easy on the science-y bits. For accessible, compelling, psychological sci-fi (my favorite flavor) with some romantic elements, one word: WOOL.
If Ophelia hit the big screen, how would you cast it?
Oh, fun! When I was creating Pax, I had Dominic Cooper in mind. They’d have to make him look taller. He was so sexy and adorable in THE DUCHESS. For Asha: Rose Byrne. She’s got these very expressive brown eyes. She’s also slight, but can play a tough gal, like the heroine. For Iris, Pax’s sister: MERLIN’s Katie McGrath. For Father Carrick (human/wolf transgenic ex-priest): THE HOBBIT’s Richard Armitage.
Read any good books lately? Did you have any favorites of 2013?
I devoured THE LAST HOUR OF GANN, which is no small feat considering the length. I was SO impressed by her worldbuilding, and the romantic tension she created between the human heroine and lizard hero. As mentioned above, I also really enjoyed the WOOL saga. And AMONG OTHERS, by Jo Walton — a quirky little book I very much liked.
I’ve asked this question of a few authors, and I always enjoy the answers I get: What’s one of the most fun/interesting/challenging etc things you’ve learned or experienced since becoming a published author?
I think I’d have to say the roller coaster ride — it’s fun, interesting, AND challenging. One day you’re seeing your cover for the first time. (Shiny!) Another day you’re reading a great review. (Happy!) Another day you’re smarting over a critical review. (I haz a sad!) Then you’re opening up that box of books. (Surreal!) And now you’ve got two weeks to turn around copyedits while trying to meet the deadline for submitting another book. (Help!!!)
It’s always rolling and changing, up and down, never a dull moment. Yeah, sometimes it’s hard. But it’s also invigorating!
What’s next for you this year, and beyond?
My third book for Tor, ECHO 8, has just gone into production. Here is how I describe it on my web site: Parallel-universe romantic suspense that explores possible connections between quantum physics and psi (also a Bermuda Love Triangle between a parapsychologist, an FBI agent, and an energy vampire). I’ve been referring to it as psi-fi romance.
I’m also working on a new book I don’t want to say too much about just yet. But I will say it’s set in Portland and is a sort of sci-fi take on urban fantasy romance that incorporates a bunch of different mythologies. After that I’m planning to write a sequel to THE OPHELIA PROPHECY, following the story of Pax’s sister Iris and Father Carrick.
Here are the new releases in SF, Fantasy, and Horror for April 2014.I’ve also included audiobook links where they apply. Enjoy!
April 1st, 2014:
April 8th, 2014:
April 15th, 2014:
April 22nd, 2014:
April 29th, 2014: