Interview with author Patrick Tomlinson

I got to interview author (and alleged otter trainer) Patrick Tomlinson, whose newest book Gate Crashers was released earlier this week. I hope you enjoy the interview!

Hi Patrick! Thanks for taking the time to do this interview.

Could you tell us a little bit about Gate Crashers?

It was written by a small colony of Pacific otters on specialized water-proof typewriters. It took nearly twenty years to train them up on not only the concept of language, but pacing, story structure, plot, and especially writing convincing dialogue that was not focused primarily on floating, cleaning fur, or clams.

What inspired you to write the kind of story that is told in Gate Crashers?

Head trauma.

How does your work as a stand-up comedian impact or influence your writing?

I am scrupulous about keeping them separate, so as not to give myself an unfair advantage over other writer or comedians. There’s a special, experimental implant I use to shut off large portions of my brain responsible for comedy while writing, and visa versa.

What is your writing process like? What parts of writing do you find the easiest/hardest and most fun/tedious?

My writing process is day-drinking. The easiest part is writing at about three beers in. The hardest part is after ten or so.

If you could go back and edit or re-do a particular scene in something that you’ve already published, is there anything you would change?

I try not to look backwards in my career because that’s where all the previous clone versions of myself were brutally murdered after completing each novel. I am Number 8. The future looks bright, however.

Is there a character that you have created ended up surprising you because of the decisions they made?

Well, there was that time Bryan Benson hacked my 3D printer from inside THE ARK’s docx on my Surface, printed a physical copy of himself, and made it all the way to the NFL Combine before being discovered and melted down again.

What are you most challenged by these days?

Reminding myself that the real world is not in fact a computer simulation deliberately trolling me.

What writer would you wish to hear has always wanted to meet you?

Not whoever keeps killing off my successive clones, I can tell you that.

Have you read anything or watched anything great recently that you’d recommend?

I spend all my time not writing or performing comedy in one of those sensory deprivation tanks. The isolation and ensuing insanity keeps me sharp.

If you could be a member of any fantasy race, which would you choose and why? (Please feel free to describe your weapon of choice as well).

I’d be one of the humans in Star Trek, because they’re not complete dickheads to each other and do their best to cooperate and progress as a species, so clearly a fantasy race. I’d borrow Worf’s Mek’Leth.

If you could have one of your characters team up with someone from another author’s universe, who would it be and why?

Wait, there are… others? You mean I’m not alone? [Single tear]

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

The otters have the bomb.

This post is part of the Gate Crashers blog tour. Check out the rest of the tour below!

Monday, June 25 Sci Fi Chick
Tuesday, June 26 Books, Bones & Buffy
Tuesday, June 26 Espresso Coco
Wednesday, June 27 Civilian Reader
Thursday, June 28 Bibliosanctum
Friday, June 29 For Winter Nights

Interview with author R.S. Belcher

I got to interview R.S. Belcher, author of the Golgotha (starting with The Six-Gun Tarot), Nightwise (I posted an excerpt of the second book The Night Dahlia recently), and Brotherhood of the Wheel series. I haven’t read all of his work yet, but I love what I’ve read so far and it was great to have the opportunity to ask him some questions.

I hope you enjoy the interview!

Hi Rod! Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions.

Thank you so much for inviting me.

You’re writing three different series right now. Is there anything you get to do or ideas you get to explore in the Nightwise series that you don’t in the Golgotha and Brotherhood of the Wheel books?

Yes. All three series have a “flavor” to how I write them. Nightwise is my NC-17 series. It’s harsher, has rougher language, more adult content, more sex, drugs and rock and roll. It’s also less optimistic than Golgotha or Brotherhood is. I do try to push the envelope a bit more in these books. I think of Nightwise as an occult crime novel, or as Fantasy Noir. So, yeah, I focus on and explore those ideas in that series.

How long do you expect the Nightwise series to be? Is each book fairly standalone or is there an overarching arc that the series will follow?

I’ve always kinda hated series where you have to read a half-dozen books to get any enjoyment out of the one in front of you. I work really hard to try to make each book I write, regardless of the series, standalone.

I have gotten more appreciation and respect for the folks who do write long series however with each new book I write in my series. It get’s harder and harder to not spend some time addressing stuff and characters from other books in the series. But my goal is to make my books a cohesive whole while making each story stand by itself.

For Nightwise, at present, I have several more ideas for books, at least three or four more, and an idea for a Nightwise / Brotherhood crossover story. As long as folks keep reading them and enjoying them, and my publisher keeps showing interest in the series, I can write quite a few more, and like I said I’ll try to keep them as standalone as I can.

One of the things I loved about The Six-Gun Tarot was that the world and characters were so immersive and identifiable despite the cacophony of all the ideas that went into the book. How did you pull that off?

I have a very overactive brain, hahahaha! Seriously, I write about the things I discover that interest me. I mash up genres because I have very eclectic taste in, well, everything. It seems unreal and kind of plastic to me to fence yourself into a single genre in any book you write. Life isn’t divided up by genre. It’s a comedy, a tragedy, it’s mythology, horror, and everything else, anything else, you can imagine. I try to make the worlds I build reflect that.

The characters are really important to me, I don’t want to write some hackneyed cliche of a person. I try to feel what they might feel and draw on my life and the lives of people I know to make they seem more true. I tend to end up liking a lot of my characters, even the really messed-up ones. I get to know them and that helps me to make them seem more alive to my readers, I think. I hope anyway.

When you’re writing a new book, do you avoid similar books so that you don’t end up influenced by them, or do you seek them out for inspiration?

I tend to read more non-fiction than fiction and if I get an idea for a book, I dive into research for it. After the fact, I will go back and read stuff that I get compared to and I usually find the comparisons very flattering. Some of the crime and detective writers that I got compared to for The Night Dahlia, for example, blew me away!

I read in an interview that your time working as a private investigator influenced Nightwise (and presumably The Night Dahlia). Could you tell us more about those influences?

I worked as a PI to pay my bills through undergraduate and grad school. I had wanted to get into Forensic Science as a career and a lot of my graduate work was concentrated on that discipline. Being a private investigator, especially in the towns I was in, gave me some insight into police procedure and culture (I worked for a veteran homicide detective and a uniformed police sergeant who were childhood friends and started their agency together) as well as criminal enterprises, and street and gang culture. All of that and a bunch of other work experiences all have found their way into my work. I’ve actually considered recently trying my hand at straight detective fiction and use that time in my life as source material. It might be fun!

What is your writing process like? What parts of writing do you find the easiest/hardest and most fun/tedious?

I love to research. I hate to edit. I try to give myself a few days or weeks, if I can spare it between projects to clean my brain out a bit and get ready for the next project. I’m more of a pantser than a plotter, but I do chapter summaries to keep me focused and on point before I write the chapter.

If you could go back and edit or re-do a particular scene in something that you’ve already published, is there anything you would change?

God, yes! An occupational hazard can be trying to not tinker and tweak a scene, or a whole manuscript to death. At some point you have to just say, “okay, it’s done!” I really, really suck at that.

Is there a character that you have created ended up surprising you because of the decisions they made?

Yes, all the time. I’ve planned on character’s deaths or actions and then had them, in the course of writing the scene find a solution that I didn’t see initially, or tell me “No, I’m not doing that.” It’s amazing, I honestly think it’s a kind of magic and it delights me every time, even if it does sometimes screw up my plot.

What are you most challenged by these days?

Time. I want to write more, get more projects done. I have so many ideas knocking on my skull and I want to see them made flesh, so to speak, but I can only write so quickly, and I never, never want to neglect the people I love. So, I’m trying to learn to work smarter, not harder, and to unplug and not be hermit all the time. It’s harder to do than I would have ever imagined it would be.

What writer would you wish to hear has always wanted to meet you?

Grant Morrison, Robert B. Parker, Roger Zelazny.

If you could be a member of any fantasy race, which would you choose and why? (Please feel free to describe your weapon of choice as well).

I like being a human. Seriously, I usually play humans in tabletop RPG’s. My girlfriend in college ran a very early Vampire RPG and I wanted to play a human. It’s not always easy to do, but I have no clue how to act like an elf, or a dwarf (well…maybe a little), but I can do this human thing, at least as well as anyone else does, I hope. As for a weapon, there are days I wish I had Dalek vision! It’s better for everyone that I don’t.

If you could have Laytham Ballard team up with a fictional character from another author’s universe, who would it be and why?

I’d love to see the interaction between Ballard and Harry Dresden, or maybe Sandman Slim. How about John Hartness’s Bubba the Monster Hunter? I think that would be quite the show. None of these guys work and play well with others.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Thank you so much to all the folks who read my books, recommend them, and write me to offer encouragement. You guys are the best! I want you all to know how much your time, your support, and your kind words mean to me. Thank you!

Interview with Peter Clines & giveaway of “Paradox Bound”

I recently read and loved Paradox Bound (see my review here), which was described to me as “a wildly fun sci-fi novel” and “National Treasure meets Doctor Who” and actually lived up to that description. I was excited to have the opportunity to interview author Peter Clines and give away two copies of the book! I hope you enjoy the interview.

For instructions on how to enter the giveaway, please see the bottom of this post.

The Interview

Hi Peter! Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions.

No problem at all. Ask me your questions, bridgekeeper. I’m not afraid.

I really liked Paradox Bound but I haven’t read any of your other books (yet). Is Paradox Bound representative of the kinds of books you write? Is there anything that you’ve done in Paradox Bound that you haven’t done in previous books?

Maybe? Sort of? It’s kind of a broad question. I like doing lots of different things, so my stories tend to be balancing on this three-way tightrope. Sometimes they’re a little more sci-fi, sometimes a little more creepy, sometimes a little more action-adventure. Some lean a little more this way, some lean a little more that way. And I like to think they all have a few nice, believable funny moments in them. So I guess it’s representative that way.

As for things I haven’t done before… well, hopefully a lot of it. I’ve never done something with this much historical research behind it, which was kind of fun and intimidating and overwhelming all at once.

One of the things that I loved about Paradox Bound is that it told a satisfying self-contained story but it had such a cool world and mythos. Are you planning to set any more stories in the same world?

Well, I’ve kind of stumbled into this sort of MCU/ Stephen King sort of place where a lot of my stories share loose connections. Fans of my other books probably caught an easter egg or three in Paradox Bound. So I think it’s likely we’ll see some of the characters from this book again, but maybe not so much a direct sequel. Does that make sense?

As an immigrant and recent American citizen, the idea of searching for the American Dream really resonates with me. What inspired you to come up with the object of Harry and the other searchers’ quest in Paradox Bound?

One of the original inspirations for this was Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. It’s got so many clever takes on London. The different place names and sayings that are unique to it. And it struck me on my, I don’t know, hundred-and-eighth reading or something, that no one had ever done something similar, an American version, so to speak. It became an idea I played with on and off for a while until I got it all to sit right. But one of the early ideas that came to me was the term “the American Dream.” What if all the stories about people searching for the American Dream weren’t just clever metaphors? What if it was an actual quest that people were on?

Did you do any historical research for Paradox Bound? Are there events or people that you would have liked to include that didn’t end up fitting within the story?

So much research. So much of it not used. It’s just the nature of the beast. There was a ton of stuff I found and wanted to use, but couldn’t make it fit. There was also stuff that didn’t fit, so I tweaked history for story purposes… although I only did that once or thrice.

I couldn’t help imagining a movie version of Paradox Bound as I was reading it. You’ve mentioned in other interviews that you watch a lot of movies. How does that influence your writing?

Watched a lot and worked on a lot. Movies are a very different storytelling medium, but I think there are a lot of aspects to storytelling that are universal. It doesn’t matter if I’m telling the story as a book, as a movie, as a comic book, whatever.

So there were things I definitely learned about storytelling by working on movies—most notably what you do and don’t need to tell the story. So often I’d see people doing redundant, unnecessary work, either in the script or on the screen.
And there are still things I learn watching bad movies. I’m a big believer that you can learn more from mistakes than you can from perfection.

If you had to cast a Paradox Bound movie, who would you choose?

I’m always awful at these, just because my experience tends to make me a bit overly realistic (or perhaps “cynical”) about such things. It’s only slightly more plausible than an alien invasion. Besides, I always get a kick out of hearing how other people see the characters (even if I find some of their choices kinda baffling).
 One thing I will toss out—there’s an actor I worked with years ago, Reno Wilson, who’s since gone on to bigger and better things. He’s kind of a fitness enthusiast, and he was sharing pictures and videos on twitter a while back. And I remember thinking, “man, he’d be fantastic as John in Paradox Bound.”

What is your writing process like? What parts of writing do you find the easiest/hardest and most fun/tedious?

My writing process is a mess. No one should follow it or use it as an example.

Seriously, though… I’ve been trying to outline a little more these days. I still leave myself lots of room, but I try to have the beginning, end, and a few major stops along the way all marked out before I get going. I was having some health issues for a while that really slowed me down, but now I’m back to about 2000 words a day. I try to keep it to a nine-to-five schedule, but I’ll go later if I need to.

I think first drafts are great, just the “anything goes” aspect that lets you spew ideas out on the page. But I also love editing. Seriously, I get a great joy out of going through a story line by line, reviewing the dialogue, examining word choices.

I love my job, is what I think this boils down to.

If you could go back and edit or re-do a particular scene in something that you’ve already published, is there anything you would change?

So many things. Almost every book I’ve worked on has something like that. Hell, there are things I’d change on Paradox Bound. just in the months since I finished working on it.

In theory, we keep learning, figuring out how to do things better, so it’s always possible to look back and think “Oh, it would’ve been better if I’d done this instead of that.” It doesn’t necessarily mean what’s there is bad, it just means we’ve learned a cleaner, more direct way of doing the same thing. That’s the goal, really. To keep improving, for the next book to be better than the last book.

Is there a character that you have created ended up surprising you because of the decisions they made?

Not really. I’ve always disliked that whole “oh, the characters guided me, they went in a different direction,” mindset. Writing is work. It takes effort, and all that effort comes from the writer. Nowhere else.

Now, that being said… I have had points where I’m writing and I realize the little changes and adjustments I’ve made along the way have guided the book in a new direction. But this isn’t “the characters” doing anything. It’s just me having an understanding of plot and story and structure and realizing the book needs to change to make logical sense.

What are you most challenged by these days?

Time. There’s never enough time. I have five or six different projects I want to be working on, and it gnaws at me to have to pick between them. It’s just the reality of the job, but still…

I want one of those magic pocket watches that grant you an extra hour of time every day. Are those still a thing? Where can I get one of those…?

What writer would you wish to hear has always wanted to meet you?

Has always wanted to meet me? Hmmmmm. I don’t know. When you put it that way it seems a little… weird, for some reason? There are a couple who I’d just be thrilled to know they read something of mine and found it mildly entertaining. I was thrilled when I heard F. Paul Wilson liked one of my books, and we got to meet when he was signing here in LA a while back. G. Willow Wilson, maybe? I grew up in New England, so Stephen King’s just a given. Clive Barker?

My husband and I have been watching a movie a day for about two years now and I’m always looking for new movie recommendations. What have you been watching lately?

It’s October so I’ve been watching tons of horror/creepy movies. Well, not tons. I’m behind because of New York Comic-Con. Paranorman is wonderful, and so are Coraline and The Addams Family. I have a goofy love for Jason X. There’s classics like The Omen and Halloween and The Car. Hellraiser’s another favorite. Plus, like I was saying before, I’m always watching bad movies on Vudu and usually dissecting them live on Twitter. Just discovered a little collection there of bad horror movies hosted by Elvira.

If you could be a member of any fantasy race, which would you choose and why? (Please feel free to describe your weapon of choice as well).

Okay, that’s a new one.

I think I’d probably go with some kind of lizard man. I was scared of the Sleestaks when I was a kid, and that grew into an odd fascination later. Loved them as D&D monsters. My first real story, back in third grade, was about lizard men from the center of the Earth.

So let’s say a lizard man armed with Captain America’s shield (or its native fantasy-world equivalent). That’s probably good for some fan art, right?

If you could have Eli and Harry from Paradox Bound team up with a fictional character from another universe, who would you choose and why?

Oh, there’s so many fun possibilities. The obvious answer is Doctor Who, but I’m going to be a little more obscure and go with the Lifeboat crew from Timeless. I think there’d be a lot of opportunities for fun there.
If anyone from NBC wants to give me a call, I’m sure we can work something out…

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

This is the part where I tell people to please check out Paradox Bound., right? Okay… that. Check it out.

Thank you for your time again!

Thanks for the questions!

The Giveaway

Paradox Bound‘s publisher Crown has graciously let me give away two copies of the book! To enter, please email me at with subject Paradox Bound and your name and mailing address (US only, sorry!). This giveaway is open until Dec 15, 2017.

Please make sure to include your full mailing address, I cannot consider you for the giveaway without it.

Note on privacy: I will not be using your email address or mailing address for any purpose other than this specific giveaway. If you win, your mailing address will be forwarded to the book’s publisher (Crown, in this case) so that they can mail you the book, but they won’t ever see your email address.

Interview with Ada Palmer & giveaway of both Terra Ignota books!

This interview with Ada Palmer is long overdue, it was originally supposed to be out right after Seven Surrenders was published along with a review. I think it’s been too long since I read the book to write an effective review so I decided to just go ahead and publish the interview. I loved the book, though, it’s just as good as Too Like the Lightning (which is up for the Hugo this year).

I hope you enjoy the interview!

For instructions on how to enter the giveaway, please see the bottom of this post.

The Interview

Hi Ada! Thanks for taking the time to do this interview.

Too Like the Lightning was one of my favorite books of last year – I’d never read anything quite like it (until I read Seven Surrenders anyway). What inspired you to write a series that has elements of classic science fiction, metaphysics and the Enlightenment?

Voltaire’s Micromegas. Though we think of SF as a modern genre, Voltaire wrote science fiction too. In his story aliens come to Earth and make first contact with humans—very classic—and the first things they talk about are whether the existence of God can be proved from observation of Nature, whether God designed the universe for humanity, and whether Aquinas or Descartes or Plato is most correct about the nature of the immortal soul. I was tickled reading it because they aren’t the questions we would ask in an alien encounter, but every age has different questions that they are obsessed with and think everyone will always be obsessed with, so we write stories where humans talk to aliens about tensions between Faith and Reason, or about heroism and power, and in a way that’s no more nor less implausible than Voltaire’s. That made me think about how every age has different questions in the air, and we have so much more robust science fiction now, such a rich palette of terms, concepts, imagined futures, but no one had ever taken a classic golden age-esque SF future with flying cars and a Moon Base and asked of it the questions Voltaire would have asked, about Providence, and theodicy, and Enlightenment moral questions. I wanted to try that, to ask 18th century questions of a sophisticated SF future, and to use that to try to portray a future as alien to our present as our present is to 400 years ago.

Was writing Seven Surrenders any different from writing Too Like the Lightning? Did you do anything differently?

No, not at all. I outlined the entire series in great detail before I wrote a word of Too Like the Lightning, so Seven Surrenders was just the continuation of the plan. The only thing that gave me difficulty was getting the volume break to work well, to give enough closure at the end of Too Like the Lightning, since there were a lot of things, reveals especially, that I wished I could’ve fit into the first book, rather than making the reader wait for the second, but there was just no way to get them in at the length I was asked to aim for. The end of the second book was much easier, it has a very clear resolution, but I did some playing around with the end of the first book and the beginning of the second, rearranging the order of the six chapters that straddle that break, to work on how to give book 1 as much of a sense of closure as I could. It was hard when there wasn’t time to really get to the big reveals, but I at least got to sketching a solid shadow of what is coming.

I can’t wait for the next book in the series, The Will to Battle, and I’m really glad that Tor is releasing the books relatively quickly. Is there anything you can tell us about it without spoilers for Seven Surrenders?

The Will to Battle has a very different narration structure, even though it might not seem that different at first. The first half of the series—Too Like the Lightning and Seven Surrenders—are a history, and Mycroft wrote them in retrospect, after the events he is describing, and after having done interviews and research, and planned out his narrative. That means, for example, that Mycroft has the same understanding of the other characters throughout, and knows the same things, so he can foreshadow them or set them up. The Will to Battle is a chronicle, written in sections as the events unfold, so the character narrating doesn’t know what the later outcome of the events will be, and is often surprised by twists of events, or suddenly has different opinions from those voiced in the previous chapter because events have progressed between the writing of individual chapters, in addition to events progressing in the narrative. The differences are sometimes subtle from the reader’s perspective, but it’s actually very different from my perspective planning it, and keeping a calendar of precisely what has happened when each section is written.

Will we meet any everyday 25th century people in the next two Terra Ignota books? So far, we’ve mostly been spending time with geniuses and/or world leaders, and I’m curious to see how most of the world lives.

Yes, we will, though not in everyday circumstances, only in the extraordinary situations that have resulted from the events of the first two books. I chose to tell this story by focusing on the characters with the most political agency, whose decisions most directly impact political events, particularly since it was the best way to give us intense encapsulations of the different philosophies associated with the different groups, and also so the reader could see the pressures caused by the situation focused to their maximum. It’s an approach parallel to that which Robert Graves used in I Claudius, which was one of my models. But as we see the aftereffects ripple out, more slices of events on the ground will become important ways to explore the real human consequences of changes.

Are there any further Terra Ignota books planned after the next two? Are you working on any other speculative fiction projects?

Terra Ignota will be finished with the fourth book. I had a very specific plan from the beginning, and am still happy with it as an end. But I always plan projects very far ahead—I have to if I want the world building to be so in-depth—so I’m already doing world building for several subsequent series, three of which are mature enough that I could sit down soon to outline them. The next one, unless plans change, will be a Viking mythology series, based on my work with the Eddas and other Icelandic and Northern European sources.

You’re a historian, a professor, a composer, and a writer! How do you get so much done?

I’m not good at balancing it yet, especially as academic work is getting more and more demanding. You may have noticed I only update my blog a couple of times a year now, and composing is on the back burner. But I do work very hard at time management, and at keeping myself at 100%. A lot of it comes down to learning about myself, figuring out when my best and freshest hours are and reserving those for the activities that most need me at 100% — writing and research – and making sure that minor tasks like e-mail or paperwork get saved for the more tired hours, since it’s fine to do those when I’m only running at 80%. I also work hard at listening to my body, sleeping enough, eating foods that keep me feeling good, relaxing and playing games with friends a few times a week, and exercising at least a little bit, again to keep me focused. A few hours of work at 100% are actually more productive than pushing it and exhausting myself, and I often write more in a day when I’ve taken part of the morning to exercise or read a refreshingly interesting chapter and then write for only a few hours than I do if I try to binge-write all day. But everyone works differently, so the real key is to learn about myself and how I produce best—there are no universals.

What parts of writing do you find the easiest/hardest and most fun/tedious?

The only tedious part is arguing with copy editors about minutiae like which/that. Happily that hasn’t happened with fiction, since my editors at Tor have really trusted me and left my style practically untouched, so it’s only with academic editors that I have the occasional tiff. Everything else is pretty easy – whenever I carve out time for writing and sit down it flows. Some parts are slower going than others (writing J.E.D.D. Mason’s dialog always takes forever) but it’s always intense and enjoyable.

If you could go back and edit or re-do a particular scene in something that you’ve already published, what would you change?

Nothing major yet, nothing beyond tiny things like the typo on page 16 of the Too Like the Lightning hardcover that really bothers me, or one point in Seven Surrenders where I accidentally said Masami Mitsubishi when I meant Toshi Mitsubishi (even I have trouble keeping them straight sometimes.) I think the only major wish I have would be to change it so books 1 and 2 could have come out together so people didn’t have to wait! But this is mostly because I finished book 3 before book 1 went into press, so I had lots of chances to go back and change things in the first two if I wanted to (though the only changes were tiny ones). By the time I finish Book 4 I bet I’ll have found something I wished I could tweak.

Which character that you have created ended up surprising you the most because of the decisions they made?

I don’t get surprised in that way, I plan too thoroughly for that, every decision carefully thought through in the outlining stage. I think I do a lot of working through things in outlining that other authors do in drafts. The closest thing to a surprise is occasionally when I had planned to reveal something about a character in a particular chapter but then unexpectedly it comes out naturally in an earlier chapter, or alternately it doesn’t flow naturally in the chapter where I expected to reveal it and has to fit in later. I had one of those recently in book 4 where we learned something very personal about a character a good five chapters before I had expected it to come, but it’s working well.

What are you most challenged by these days?

Time! I don’t have enough, and my e-mail is an exploding firehose of time-eating doom. In terms of writing, where I am in book 4 I’m enjoying the interesting challenge that a lot of the chapters have unusual or unique structures, which require extra planning and new approaches. If you think of the first book, for example, there are the chapters written by Martin Guildbreaker, which are different from the usual Mycroft chapters and require different planning and techniques. In Seven Surrenders similarly the second chapter is different and unusual in structure, as is the titular chapter “Seven Surrenders.” The part of book 4 I’m working on now is a string of unusually-structured chapters like that, each of which presents a unique challenge, especially for pacing.

What writer would you wish to hear has always wanted to meet you?

I’m new to the field so I think people “always” having wanted to meet me would require a time machine. I’m a great admirer of Gene Wolfe, whose Book of the New Sun inspired many aspects of my work, especially how I went about world building and narration, so I’d be stunned and honored if I heard he had read Terra Ignota and wanted to talk to me about it and how it built on his work. Similarly Samuel R. Delany. Or, of course, Diderot, since his Jacques the Fatalist was my biggest source. The other day a reader said that my description of Diderot’s project in the book made him tear up—I think Diderot would be proud.

And now for a couple of fun questions…

If you could be a member of any fantasy race, which would you choose and why? (Please feel free to describe your weapon of choice as well).

AN IMMORTAL ONE definitely! Or with the ability to move freely to and from the afterlife. Especially if I could still live here and now and work with scientists who could run tests on me and use it to develop medical immortality to share with everyone else! Beyond that the small differences between different immortal races almost don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. Other than that, I think it could be fascinating and exciting to be a Yith from Lovecraft, and travel through time and space collecting knowledge for the ultimate library, but I wouldn’t want the grim and depressing Lovecraft universe to be real, or to have to take over other people’s bodies. Similarly being one of Osamu Tezuka’s Moopies would be fascinating—aliens with perfect adaptability, so they can live in any environment, cross with any species, and help other species adapt to any new planet, making space exploration easier for all they meet—but it would be terrible actually being a Moopie in Tezuka’s universe given the metaphysics which always leads them to doom. As for a weapon, persuasion is my technique—over and over in LARPs and RPGs the GM gives me a cool weapon or spell and I never use it, I just persuade people instead. So something to make my persuasion penetrate magically, or a bardic thing to entrance people to pay attention to my words would make the most sense. Or, it’s not quite a weapon but in the anime Yakkitate! Japan there’s a kid who can bake a bread so delicious that, when you eat it, you can project back in time and change the past to fix the things that give you sorrow—resolving conflicts by solving enemies’ problems and making the world better while also creating amazingly delicious food seems pretty perfect to me. But if I had to have a more traditional weapon I’d use archery, or I’d pilot a Gundam with a DRAGOON system (advanced remote-control multidirectional attack, like a cloud of drones you direct while piloting).

If you could have Mycroft team up with a fictional character from another author’s universe, who would it be and why?

It’s a funny question, since Mycroft actually has the ability to team up with any character from any author’s universe, thanks to Bridger’s power. So the books themselves have literally answered that question internally. If we were thinking of externally, though, of porting Mycroft into another work, I think he’d be really fun playing the role of a “clever slave” or “clever servant” character in a classical Roman comedy or Commedia dell’Arte play, or Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors. And if it were just for a few hours, I’d love to see him in a room with Paarfi of Roundwood, from Steve Brust’s books—they could talk about narrative voice, and how to write a history, and just hearing the language unfold, each getting more and more polite and more and more ornamented and archaizing, would be exquisite.

The Giveaway

Tor Books is letting me give away one set of  Too Like the Lightning and Seven Surrenders! To enter, please email me at with subject “Terra Ignota” and your name and mailing address (US/Canada only). This giveaway is open until Aug 31, 2017.

Please make sure to include your full mailing address, I cannot consider you for the giveaway without it.

Note on privacy: I will not be using your email address or mailing address for any purpose other than this specific giveaway. If you win, your mailing address will be forwarded to the book’s publisher (Tor Books, in this case) so that they can mail you the book, but they won’t ever see your email address.

Interview & Giveaway: “Martians Abroad” by Carrie Vaughn

I’m a fan of Carrie Vaughn, and I enjoyed her latest book Martians Abroad (see my review here) which came out in January. I was thrilled when Tor Books offered me a chance to interview her and give away a copy of Martians Abroad! I hope you enjoy this interview – I was pretty excited to discover that Carrie is as much of a Vorkosigan fan as I am.

For instructions on how to enter the giveaway, please see the bottom of this post.

The Interview

Hi Carrie! Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions.

You’re welcome!

I haven’t read your Kitty Norville series, but I’ve read your Golden Age books as well as Discord’s Apple, and they’re pretty different from each other. And Martians Abroad is a completely new direction, too. Could you tell us a little bit about what made you decide to write that particular story?

I’m inspired by lots of different ideas, and they take me to some pretty far-out places. Martians Abroad came from thinking back to some of the old-school science fiction books my mother gave me to read when I was a kid — books that she had read as a kid in the early 60’s.  I wanted to write that kind of story — an optimistic, maybe even idealistic, futuristic space adventure, but one that takes into account all the recent research, discoveries, and technological advances of the last couple of decades.  We know so much more about Mars now than we did even ten years ago.  I also wanted a teen girl to be the main character and hero of the story.  So I folded all that into my own version of this kind of story.

Will there be any more stories featuring Polly and Charles? I enjoyed Martians Abroad, but I thought it ended right as Polly was coming into her own. I really want to read more about her. And Charles is a mystery that I desperately want unraveled!

That’s great to hear!  I do have more ideas for Polly and Charles, but right now I have deadlines for other projects that I’m going to have to work on first.  But never say never — I’ll just have to see what happens.

I was impressed with how well you portrayed Polly’s reaction to Earth as someone who has grown up on Mars – not just the physical adjustment, but her reactions to minor details. What kind of research (if any) did you do to get that right?

Part of it is just looking at Earth through new eyes — think about what it might be like to grow up in an environmentally sealed colony situation, and then find ones self on a big wide planet. Reading up on what life is like on the ISS is helpful for that, as is reading about how other SF writers handle the situation.  I also drew on some of my own experiences of moving around a lot as a kid, and not always feeling at home — my father was military, and every couple of years we lived in a brand-new region.  Some of it is extrapolating those experiences to the science fictional situation.

I read in your Reddit AMA that you like writing stories about girls having adventures without acquiring a boyfriend by the end. I love this about your work! What made you have that mission?

I was something of a late bloomer — I went through high school not really interested in dating and not understanding what all the excitement was about.  (My second year of college — that’s when it all hit with a vengeance.)  I’m absolutely certain there are a lot of teenage girls out there who were like me — not yet interested in dating, making lots of other plans for what they want to do with their lives, and frustrated at how inundated we get with messaging about romance and dating and all the rest, as if it’s the only thing we can do.  I’m writing about the kind of girl I was, and for girls who might be like that too.

When you are writing a story, do you avoid similar books so that you don’t end up copying, or do you seek them out for maximum inspiration?

A little of both?  I do like to see how other authors handle similar problems — I have a few favorite stand-bys I go to.  For space stories, that’s Lois McMaster Bujold and C.J. Cherryh.  But I also read as widely as I can because I’m always looking to learn new things about writing, and to encounter something I’m not at all expecting.

What parts of writing do you find the easiest/hardest and most fun/tedious?

The most fun is probably right at the start, the brainstorming, the first chapters when I start zeroing in on the main characters and the voice of the story, when the ideas are fast and furious and I’m still working to tie them all together.  The hardest may be at the end, when I need to revise, take all those pieces and make sure they make sense, when I’m on the second or third draft and still finding changes and improvements that require reworking the entire thing yet again.  And then copy editing, and proofreading — by that time I’ve read the whole thing maybe a dozen times and I’m super tired of it but I have to pay just as much attention to make sure it all hangs together.  At that point I have to remember how much fun it was at the start, to motivate me to keep going.

If you could go back and edit or re-do a particular scene in something that you’ve already published, what would you change?

I actually try not to think about this question too much, because if I did, I’m afraid I’d want to change everything and that would drive me insane.

Which character that you have created ended up surprising you the most because of the decisions they made?

I’d have to say Kitty, not necessarily for anything she did — she was a very vivid character for me and pretty much everything she did made sense to me.  But it was exactly that vividness that was surprising.  I’d heard writers talk about channeling their characters, but Kitty was the first time that happened for me, and it was a wonderful feeling.

What are you most challenged by these days?

That’s a big question!  I’m always trying to stretch myself — I’m currently trying to learn about writing mysteries, since that’s a genre I haven’t had much experience with.  I’m always trying to write better, and figuring out what that means.  I try to give myself a challenge with every writing project, to try to do something new and better. And continuing to make a living at writing without letting the rough parts of the business get me down too much.

And now for some fun questions…

What writer would you most wish to hear has always wanted to meet you?

I don’t know!  That’s also kind of a scary question!  My favorite writer is Robin McKinley, and I would love to meet her, especially if she also wants to meet me.  But if Ursula Le Guin wants to meet me I’ll get on in airplane right now to make that happen.

What was it like, to see for the first time a book with your name on the side, sitting on a shelf in between other books?

Surreal?  Like, I’d dreamed of it for so long, it was hard to take in, the first time.  I used to go into book stores and look at that spot between Varley and Verne and just dream, so finally seeing it took a while to sink in.

If you had to go on a date with one deity from any mythology (terrestrial or otherwise), who would it be, where would you go, and what are the chances that the date would end in pillow talk?

Not sure about this one…how are we defining deity?  Does Tom Hiddleston’s Loki count?  Though that date would probably not end well.  As a friend of mine pointed out, however much Loki needs a hug, his hugs often end in stabbing…

If you could be a member of any fantasy race, which would you choose and why? (Please feel free to describe your weapon of choice as well.)

I’ve always felt I was a Tolkienian Elf in a past life.  As a teen, The Silmarillion was my favorite because it was mostly Elves and no Hobbits.

If you could have Polly team up with a fictional character from another universe, who would it be and why?

Oh man.  Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan?  Polly could learn a lot from Cordelia, and Cordelia might actually be able to harness some of Polly’s manic energy.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Nope!  This has been fun, thank you!

Thank you for your time again! And thanks to /r/Fantasy for coming up with some of these questions!

The Giveaway

To enter, please email me at with subject “Martians Abroad” and your name and mailing address (US/Canada only). This giveaway is open until Feb 15, 2017.

Please make sure to include your full mailing address, I cannot consider you for the giveaway without it.

Edited to add: I will not be using your email address or mailing address for any purpose other than this specific giveaway. If you win, your mailing address will be forwarded to the book’s publisher (Tor Books, in this case) so that they can mail you a copy, but they won’t ever see your email address.

Interview with author Brian McClellan + giveaway

I’m still terribly behind on my reviews, but I did get to interview author Brian McClellan a few weeks ago. I tore through the first two books of Brian’s Powder Mage trilogy, Promise of Blood and The Crimson Campaign (which was just released this May) last month, and really liked them – a great fantasy world, awesome characters, a revolution, and cool magic system, including one based on guns! I’m super excited that I had an opportunity to interview Brian.

Orbit has also offered me a copy of Promise of Blood to give away – see the end of this post for details.

Brian McClellan - Credit Kevin KemptonHi Brian, thanks for doing this interview! 

First of all, I wanted to say that I really enjoyed the Powder Mage books; the universe is fascinating, and the characters are pretty awesome. For readers that aren’t as familiar with the series, though, could you tell us a little bit about it, and what makes it special?

Thanks for having me around! The Powder Mage Trilogy begins with the coup of a king by the country’s field marshal and follows several different protagonists as they deal with the fall out of the king’s execution. It has royalist uprisings, ancient sorcerers, black powder magic, betrayal, family strife, immense battles and much, much more.

As opposed to most epic fantasy, which has a medieval setting akin to the works of Tolkien, the Powder Mage books take place during the world’s industrial revolution. Muskets have replaced swords and the old ranks of nobility are giving way to the middle class. Despite the presence of flintlock weaponry, I’ve tried very hard to keep the feel of an epic fantasy novel with sprawling conflicts, duels, conflicted heroes, and many (but not too many!) of the tropes that readers will find familiar.

How is the third book (it’s called The Autumn Republic, right?) coming along? Do you plan to write any more books/short fiction set in the same universe afterwards, and if so, could you give us some hints about what they would be about?

The Autumn Republic is coming along great. The first draft is finished and has been approved by my editor, and I’m working on edits right now. When those are finished I plan on taking a month or two to write some more powder mage short fiction before moving on to the first book in the next trilogy.

I have many ideas for new short fiction, such as a locked-room mystery featuring a young Adamat, but I haven’t decided which one I’ll work on yet.

The next trilogy will take place in the Powder Mage Universe as well, ten years after the end of The Autumn Republic. I don’t want to say too much about it to avoid spoilers, but it will take place on a different continent and one of the viewpoint characters will be Vlora.

I loved that Promise of Blood is about the messy aftermath of a revolution – not something commonly explored. How did you come up with this idea, and how much did it evolve from your initial conceptualisation to the final book?

I had initially planned on starting the book earlier on in the timeline, with the coup being the culmination of book one. But that didn’t stay on the drawing board long. I quickly realized that the plot would move a lot slower and give the reader less to grab on to, and that the real story was after the coup. Some of the plot lines did change between the first and final drafts of book one. For instance, Taniel’s view point originally featured him at the Mountainwatch for the entire book, rather than starting off in Adopest.

I really enjoyed your three short stories featuring the women of the Powder Mage universe; please write more! Will we ever have a story from Ka-Poel’s point of view?

(Note: Here are links to the Powder Mage short fiction: Forsworn, The Girl of Hrusch Avenue, and Hope’s End)

Yes! As I mentioned before, I plan on writing more of those. I’d like to continue doing 3-4 a year, or even more if time allows.

Ka-poel is a tough one for me. A view point character that can’t speak would be particularly difficult to write, and both me and my wife (who does all my initial brainstorming with me) think that her character is far better suited to the mystery of a secondary character.

What is your writing process like? What parts of writing do you find the easiest/hardest and most fun/tedious?

I tend to write in spurts. Several weeks away from the keyboard, and then a flurry of activity with a third to half a novel being written in just a couple of months. It’s really a terrible way to work, and I’ve been trying to make myself be more consistent. But I tend to do most of my drafting in my head. If an idea for a scene isn’t fully realized, I won’t even start it. Now, it may change once I begin to put it on paper and that’s just fine. But I don’t like to get going until I know exactly where I sequence of scenes or a chunk of a plotline is going to end up.

I have a love/hate relationship with editing. If a scene is in good shape, editing it is so much fun because I’m looking at it with the eyes of a reader. If the scene needs a lot of work, it’s more of a grind as I go through and rewrite and change characters and all that stuff.

The Crimson CampaignOne of the reasons that I was really excited to read your books was because they were blurbed by Brandon Sanderson. How do you know Brandon Sanderson and has he influenced your writing?

Brandon was my professor back in college. I wound up in his class purely by chance (and I think only the second year he had been teaching it). We never had a terribly close relationship but he was always hugely encouraging and told me that I had real talent and if I kept working at it I’d be published some day. And now I am!

Brandon taught me that writing is more than a hobby. It’s a business, and if I wanted to make a living off it I would have to treat it as such, which was immensely valuable to me.

You live near Cleveland – how did you end up in this area, and what do you like/dislike about it? (I live in Oberlin!)

 I was born in Cleveland, raised over in Chesterland in Geauga county. I really love the area. While the winters are hard and the rain can get tedious, I love how green it is through the spring and summer. The people tend to be very nice and the cost of living is low. It gets a bad rap, but I love it.

What books have you recently read and enjoyed? Do you have any favourite TV shows?

I don’t get to read nearly as much as I used to, but I recently read both Django Wexler’s Thousand Names and Wesley Chu’s The Lives of Tao. They were both excellent books, of which I’m doubly glad because I’ve become friends with Django and Wes!

I’m a big fan of Game of Thrones, and I recently finished watching the latest season of Top Gear on Netflix, which I love despite not being interested in cars in the least.

Are there any other projects that you are currently working on?

 Just edits of Autumn Republic. I don’t do well working on several projects at once.

If you could have Tamas and/or Taniel and/or Adamat team up with a fictional character from another universe, who would it be and why?

I think Tamas would make a pretty fantastic Brightlord in Brandon Sanderson’s Roshar. He has the tactical sense to command armies on the Shattered Plains, and can you imagine him burning a powder trance while wearing shardplate? He’d be a one man army.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Just keep an eye out for more Powder Mage short fiction throughout the summer! I’m hoping to do a couple different pieces. You can check out my website for updates at, or follow me on @briantmcclellan.


As I mentioned above, Orbit has given me a copy of Promise of Blood to give away! To enter, please email me at with subject “Promise of Blood” and your name and mailing address (US/Canada only). This giveaway is open until June 16, 2014.

If you can’t decide whether to enter (hint: you should enter!), here is the cover and blurb to help you out.

15790883 The Age of Kings is dead . . . and I have killed it.

It’s a bloody business overthrowing a king…
Field Marshal Tamas’ coup against his king sent corrupt aristocrats to the guillotine and brought bread to the starving. But it also provoked war with the Nine Nations, internal attacks by royalist fanatics, and the greedy to scramble for money and power by Tamas’s supposed allies: the Church, workers unions, and mercenary forces.

It’s up to a few…
Stretched to his limit, Tamas is relying heavily on his few remaining powder mages, including the embittered Taniel, a brilliant marksman who also happens to be his estranged son, and Adamat, a retired police inspector whose loyalty is being tested by blackmail.

But when gods are involved…
Now, as attacks batter them from within and without, the credulous are whispering about omens of death and destruction. Just old peasant legends about the gods waking to walk the earth. No modern educated man believes that sort of thing. But they should…

In a rich, distinctive world that mixes magic with technology, who could stand against mages that control gunpowder and bullets? PROMISE OF BLOOD is the start of a new epic fantasy series from Brian McClellan.

Interview with author Mur Lafferty + giveaway

I read and loved Mur Lafferty’s Shambling Guides books (The Shambling Guide to New York City and Ghost Train to New Orleans) last month, and I’m very excited to be able to interview her! I had originally intended to publish this interview alongside a review of the books, but I haven’t really had time to write over the last couple of weeks. Watch this space for a link to the review when it finally goes up, though.

Orbit has also offered me a pack of the two Shambling Guides books  to give away – see the end of this post for details.

Hi Mur! Thanks for doing this interview!

I’m somewhat nervous about interviewing you because I looked you up for interview research, and you run a podcast interviewing other authors, but hopefully my questions won’t be too amateur.

Tell us a little bit about the Shambling Guides books published so far, and what you loved the most about writing them.

Mur_lafferty-300x198The Shambling Guides are about a human woman, Zoe, who becomes editor of travel books written for monsters. She has to acclimate to the myriad monsters she comes across, learn etiquette, and how to deal with coworkers who would rather eat her than take her editorial input. Occasionally she has to fight for her life, and that’s no fun at all. And then she has to produce a book on top of it all. Her first book was New York City, and her second book takes her to New Orleans.

I loved doing research and looking at cities from a different point of view. Would zombies be interested in New Orleans’ strip club? Probably not. But the succubi would. Vampires have a tough time finding lodging in the city because there are few-if-none underground areas. And New Orleans was great because it’s such a wild city that most monsters can walk around with little to no camouflage and people will just assume they’re going to a party somewhere.

How many Shambling Guides books are you planning to write? Are they mostly standalone adventures, or are they building up to something?

I’m contracted for just two right now, but I’d love to write more. I do have some dangling threads I’d like to follow, (a person goes missing-presumed-dead in book 1, there’s a mysterious person who’s never around when you need him in book 2, etc) and I do have a larger arc planned, and more cities planned. So tell your friends to get these two books so I can write more!

Could you talk a little bit about your other work for readers that aren’t as familiar with it?

I’m a freelancer so I have work all over the place. I’ve done writing for gaming magazines, anime magazines, roleplaying games, audio scripts, animation scripts, and podcast-only novellas. I’ve been podcasting since 2004 and have several shows produced, the longest running being my writing podcast, I Should Be Writing.

Elsewhere, you’ve talked about how you think cities have a special life of their own (and it’s also evident in your books!) Why don’t you live in a city?

Two reasons- we settled where there was work after college, and we like our house, our city (Durham is a small city, thank you very much), and the standard of living here. (Aside- I was offered a job in San Francisco once, and turned it down. A friend from NYC thought I was insane, then I asked him how much a our four bedroom house would cost in SF. He got very quiet.)

And the second is I grew up in a small mountain town and learned to find my way around by looking at scenery and landmarks. The whole, “Go till you see the dead tree, then turn left, if you see the ski slopes you’ve gone too far,” cliche is often true. I have a terrible sense of direction, and when I go to a city I get lost easily because I don’t look at street signs, I look at landmarks, and on a glance, many city streets look exactly the same. I love cities, but am sure I would wander into a sinkhole and die somehow if I lived there.

What is your writing process like? What parts of writing do you find the easiest/hardest and most fun/tedious?

I often write chronologically, and do it in the discovery writer kind of way. Outlines are very difficult for me, because often I don’t know the details of what happens next until I am in the process of writing. Aside from outlines, description is so hard. I’ve gotten more confident in it, but it doesn’t make it any easier. I just know I can’t slide by a scene with just dialogue, and that there will be some heavy lifting in my future.

You’ve been writing and otherwise involved in SFF for quite a long time. How do you think the field has changed since you were first introduced to it?

lafferty2Oh gosh, I’m often myopic in my view of anything on a large scale. I think the field has changed with the internet, giving writers many more choices than they have ever had, and that is a good thing and a bad thing. The worrisome thing is watching the old guard in SF look at the Internet as if it was the devil. I had an old fan proudly tell me he didn’t even have an email address, and I wondered how many “glorious technologies of the future!” books he had at home on his shelves. It also worries me when the younger writers (And I use “young” to mean career, not age) look at the long slog to publication – with querying agents and editing your book and submitting your book and having it accepted and then waiting 18 months till it hits shelves and that doesn’t even count the time it takes to get an agent or editor in the first place! – and just say, “never mind, I’ll self publish.” The publishing cycle is long, yes, but going through a period of rejection is good for a writer’s growth, and self publishing too soon denies us that growth. (And agents and editors will never be as mean to you as a disgruntled Amazon reviewer, so you’re not saving your ego any bruises there, either.)

What are you currently working on?

I have two projects that are pretty much polar opposites. One is a future dystopian book with water wars and cannibals, and the other is a fun fantasy book that takes place in a world based on ancient Rome.

What books/TV shows/movies have you been consuming recently? Anything particularly cool?

Right now I’m going through a lot of YA, reading the Divergent series and The Testing series. I also just re-listened to John Scalzi’s Human Division in the car with my daughter, who loved it.

I don’t have cable so I wait for Netflix or Amazon or DVDs, and consume many seasons at once. I’m currently catching up on The Walking Dead and Dexter. Hannibal is next on my list. I want to rewatch Game of Thrones.

The two shows I am caught up on are Once Upon a Time and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, both excellent shows.

If you could have Zoe team up with a character from another fictional universe, who would it be, and why?

Arthur Dent of course! I didn’t realize how much Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy had influenced me until I was done writing, and then did a headsmack. Zoe has a similar role- being involved with a travel book, but for monsters instead of aliens. I think they would have fun together, except Zoe would run headlong into conflict while Dent would wait about and pine for tea.

Hm, on second thought perhaps Ford Prefect could be a good companion.

Visit Mur’s website at to see all the awesome stuff that she does. Also, buy her books – I would really like more books in this series!


As I mentioned above, Orbit has given me a set of The Shambling Guides to give away! To enter, please email me at with subject “The Shambling Guides” and your name and mailing address (US/Canada only). This giveaway is open until May 9, 2014.

If you can’t decide whether to enter (hint: you should enter!), here are the covers and blurbs to help you out.

Lafferty_ShamblingGuide2F8-1A travel writer takes a job with a shady publishing company in New York, only to find that she must write a guide to the city – for the undead!

Because of the disaster that was her last job, Zoe is searching for a fresh start as a travel book editor in the tourist-centric New York City. After stumbling across a seemingly perfect position though, Zoe is blocked at every turn because of the one thing she can’t take off her resume — human.

Not to be put off by anything — especially not her blood drinking boss or death goddess coworker — Zoe delves deep into the monster world. But her job turns deadly when the careful balance between human and monsters starts to crumble — with Zoe right in the middle.


17607897-the-ghost-train-to-new-orleansCOULD YOU FIND A MUSEUM FOR A MONSTER?

Zoe Norris writes travel guides for the undead. And she’s good at it too — her new-found ability to talk to cities seems to help. After the success of The Sbambling Guide to New York City, Zoe and her team are sent to New Orleans to write the sequel.

Work isn’t all that brings Zoe to the Big Easy. The only person who can save her boyfriend from zombism is rumored to live in the city’s swamps, but Zoe’s out of her element in the wilderness. With her supernatural colleagues waiting to see her fail, and rumors of a new threat hunting city talkers, can Zoe stay alive long enough to finish her next book?

Interview with author Marie Brennan + GIVEAWAY

I got to interview Marie Brennan, the author of A Natural History of Dragons and its recently released sequel The Tropic of Serpents, which I consider one of the best new fantasy series’ that I’ve read over the past year. Marie is a former academic with a background in archaeology, anthropology, and folklore, which she now puts to rather cockeyed use in writing fantasy. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. In addition to many short stories and novellas, she is also the author of A Star Shall Fall and With Fate Conspire (both from Tor Books), as well as Warrior, Witch, Midnight Never Come, In Ashes Lie, and Lies and Prophecy. You can find her online at

I’m also giving away two sets of A Natural History of Dragons and The Tropic of Serpents – see the bottom of this post for details.

Marie BrennanThanks for doing this interview, Marie! A Natural History of Dragons and The Tropic of Serpents were two of my favourite books from last year (I was lucky enough to receive an ARC in December) and I’m thrilled that you agreed to an interview.

1. Isabella’s world is clearly an Earth-analogue. Why did you make the decision not to set it in our world, and how much historical research do you usually do for each setting?

I wanted the ability to comment on real-world history and culture (which is why I didn’t invent a setting out of whole cloth), without being constrained by the specifics of how things happened in our own past. There’s always alternate history, of course — but if I wanted to write about a version of West Africa where the slave trade never really took over, I would personally feel obligated to work out what changed in order to send events down a different path, because just hand-waving it would cheapen the significance of the actual conditions. And if I worked it all out very meticulously, then I would have to convey that to the reader, and pretty soon I’m writing something other than books about dragons.

Not to mention the effect the dragons themselves would have on history!

As for research, I do a fair bit of reading into the cultures I’m using as my inspiration, trying to get a feel for social organization, religion, that sort of thing. Nothing gets replicated with 100% fidelity — the dominant “European” religion is based on Judaism, I put Finnish saunas (and Russian overlords) in the Romanian-inspired Vystrana, and Bayembe incorporates elements of both the Ashanti and the Yoruba, to name just a few examples — but I enjoy doing that kind of research, because it teaches me not just to default to the familiar.

2. How many memoirs does Lady Trent end up writing? It seems like her exploits will take up at least a dozen volumes!

Not everything in her life merits a whole book! There will be five in total, each one covering a different major expedition.

3. When do we meet Lord Trent?

Now, that would be telling . . . ;-)

4. Can you give us a little hint about what the third book is about, and what excites you the most about it?

It’s called Voyage of the Basilisk, and the title is a pretty good pointer toward its general topic: Isabella goes on a voyage around the world, a la Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle, to do a comparative study of sea-serpents and dragons in other regions. I think the bit I’m most excited for is the archaeologist character I introduced — someone interested in Draconean ruins. Quite apart from the fact that I used to be an archaeologist and therefore share his interests, he was a lot of fun to write.

5. Are you interested in ever releasing Lady Trent’s non-memoir books? I would love to read her fluffy travel book – I’m sure it would have a lot of hidden snark!

This seems to be something a lot of people would go for, so maybe! It would be a nifty side volume to add to the series.

6. Could you tell us a bit about your non-Lady Trent books? (I haven’t read any of them yet, but I plan to!)

I have three other series out there, though one of them is only in its first volume so far. The Onyx Court is a set in London during different historical periods, with a faerie court hidden beneath the city interfering with its politics. The doppelganger books are more straightforward adventure fantasy, in a secondary world with witches and people who are basically ninja by another name, and then Lies and Prophecy is the first in a series of near-future urban fantasies, in a version of our world where psychic gifts have become common.

7. What is your writing process for a new book like? Do you start with the characters, the plot/themes, or the world?

Inasmuch as I can generalize, I guess it’s usually a character in a situation or setting. The Memoirs of Lady Trent, for example, started with the notion of a natural historian trying to study dragons, which lent itself very well toward a Victorian-type setting. Lies and Prophecy started with a young woman studying divination at college. I usually have to play around with the idea for a while before I start figuring out the plot, though there have been exceptions.

8. What are some books you think everyone should read?

This is the kind of question that makes me wave my hands inarticulately, because where do I start? I think I’ll recommend Diana Wynne Jones, a British children’s author who wrote some truly amazing stuff. I grew up on her books and still love them today — to the point where, when she passed away a few years ago, I re-read all her works and blogged about them as I went.

9. If you had to write a book about Isabella teaming up with a  character from another fictional universe, who would it be and why?

I think she would get along splendidly with Kate and Cecy from Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevemer’s Sorcery and Cecilia. And Isabella would be delighted to have magic to help out in her work!


As I mentioned above, Tor has given me two sets of these books to give away! To enter, please email me at with subject “The Tropic of Serpents” and your name and mailing address (US/Canada only). This giveaway is open until April 21, 2014.

If you can’t decide whether to enter, here are the covers and blurbs to help you out.

A Natural History of Dragons

12974372All the world, from Scirland to the farthest reaches of Eriga, know Isabella, Lady Trent, to be the world’s preeminent dragon naturalist. She is the remarkable woman who brought the study of dragons out of the misty shadows of myth and misunderstanding into the clear light of modern science. But before she became the illustrious figure we know today, there was a bookish young woman whose passion for learning, natural history, and, yes, dragons defied the stifling conventions of her day.

Here at last, in her own words, is the true story of a pioneering spirit who risked her reputation, her prospects, and her fragile flesh and bone to satisfy her scientific curiosity; of how she sought true love and happiness despite her lamentable eccentricities; and of her thrilling expedition to the perilous mountains of Vystrana, where she made the first of many historic discoveries that would change the world forever.

The Tropic of Serpents

Tropic Of SerpentsAttentive readers of Lady Trent’s earlier memoir, A Natural History of Dragons, are already familiar with how a bookish and determined young woman named Isabella first set out on the historic course that would one day lead her to becoming the world’s premier dragon naturalist. Now, in this remarkably candid second volume, Lady Trent looks back at the next stage of her illustrious (and occasionally scandalous) career.

 Three years after her fateful journeys through the forbidding mountains of Vystrana, Mrs. Camherst defies family and convention to embark on an expedition to the war-torn continent of Eriga, home of such exotic draconian species as the grass-dwelling snakes of the savannah, arboreal tree snakes, and, most elusive of all, the legendary swamp-wyrms of the tropics.

 The expedition is not an easy one. Accompanied by both an old associate and a runaway heiress, Isabella must brave oppressive heat, merciless fevers, palace intrigues, gossip, and other hazards in order to satisfy her boundless fascination with all things draconian, even if it means venturing deep into the forbidden jungle known as the Green Hell . . . where her courage, resourcefulness, and scientific curiosity will be tested as never before.

Interview with author Douglas Lain + BILLY MOON giveaway!

Douglas Lain’s debut novel, Billy Moon, was released last month by Tor Books. I was excited to be able to interview him to go with my review. I’m also giving away a copy of the book – see the bottom of the post for that.

Lain_AuthorPicHi Douglas! Thanks so much for doing this interview. First question – an adult Christopher Robin and the May 1968 civil unrest in France – I’d never think of those two things in the same thought, but you’ve managed to pull off a whole book starring them both! What inspired you to combine them? (I apologize if you get that question a lot!)

I decided I wanted to put Christopher Robin Milne into the fray of the student/worker strike of May 1968 because the strike was characterized by critics as a mere youthful adventure without any solid aim, and Christopher Milne was a man who’d lived in the shadow of his fictional persona, a character that was forever young, forever immature.  I thought if Milne could be made to see what was mature and redeemable in May ’68 then I might be able to see it too.

I know that Billy Moon is your debut novel. How long have you been writing, and what made you decide to pursue writing?

My first professionally published short story appeared in Amazing Stories in 1999.  The title of the story was Instant Labor and it was later collected in a book called Last Week’s Apocalypse in 2006.  So, I’ve been writing for 14 years if that story marks the beginning, 7 years if we start with my first published book, and just about three weeks if we start with my first published novel.

I decided to pursue writing because I wanted instant fame.  Guess I made a mistake.

Could you tell me a little about your writing process?

Here’s a secret, never actually write.  I picked this up from Slavoj Zizek, my current favorite philosopher.  He says that he doesn’t write, but rather he only takes notes and revises.  That is, he’ll start by taking notes on the subject for his book, using relatively complete sentences, and then when he’s taken enough notes he realizes that all he has to do is edit or revise.

I have lately taken up this same practice.  I take notes and I edit.  Writing has disappeared.

What projects are you working on at the moment?

I am in the middle of writing a novella called The Doom that Came to LOLCats for a small press called Eraserhead, and I’m working on a book called “How to Watch Star Trek” that will explain Marxist economics, Situationist tactics, Freudian psychology, and Hegelian philosophy by using Star Trek references, and that will explain Star Trek by referring to Marxist economics, Situationist tactics, and Freudian psychology.

Could you tell me a little bit about the podcast that you run?

The Diet Soap Podcast has that name Diet Soap is a commodity that nobody needs.  It is a philosophy podcast that explores philosophy and politics mostly. The program was recently picked up for rebroadcast on WPRR in Grands Rapids, MI.  I’ve had a variety of guests on the podcast including Michael Parenti, Rudy Rucker, Laura Kipnis, and many others.

I should confess that I was a little bit at sea with Billy Moon. I take great comfort in consistency (probably to an extreme), and Billy Moon seems like a celebration of the impossible. I’m not sure if there’s a real question here, but do you have any comments on that?

I take great comfort in consistency too, but I don’t aim to make people comfortable when I write.  And it’s funny that you should mention the impossible, because the name of my small book tour is The Think the Impossible Tour.

How did you decide what to change in the alternate history Christopher Robin’s life? For instance, Christopher Robin Milne of our timeline did own the Harbour Bookstore, but he was not married to Abigail.

Some of the changes were done for thematic reasons, for instance the real Christopher didn’t have a son with autism but a daughter with some or other physical disability, but I thought autism fit the theme better.  Or, to give another example, AA Milne died in the 50s but I extended his life into the late sixties in my novel in order to work it out so that Brian Jones could make an appearance in the novel, and in order to have Christopher face the death right before the events of May 1968.

In general I fictionalized Christopher Robin Milne, using his life as I knew it from his memoirs as the starting off point.  Probably the biggest difference is that the real Christopher never discovered that he was living in a fiction.

Which books do you think absolutely everyone should read?

Wave of Mutilation, Fall Into Time, and Billy Moon. Or, more seriously, Marx’s Capital, Volume 1.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Just links to my podcast, my blog, my Facebook page, my twitter account, and my book.


Interview with SFWA Grand Master James Gunn

I was honoured to be able to interview SFWA Grand Master James Gunn about his newest novel Transcendental (here’s my review!) and more. I don’t think my questions even scratch the surface of the experience that Prof. Gunn has had, but there are still lots of fascinating details in there.

www.daileyimages.comFor those readers that haven’t read TRANSCENDENTAL, could you tell us a little about it?

TRANSCENDENTAL is set about 1,000 years in the future when humanity has emerged into the galaxy to find it controlled by aliens who resent the intruders. After a destructive ten-year war, the uneasy peace is threatened by rumors of a transcendental machine in an unknown part of the galaxy. TRANSCENDENTAL tells the story of a group of assorted aliens and humans who set out in a shabby wartime spaceship to find the machine if it exists, as each of them tells his/her/its own story of why they are on this pilgrimage and what they hope to gain from it, for themselves and their species. But lies, betrayals, and death make the spaceship Geoffrey a battleground of hidden forces and motives before it reaches its destination.

What makes TRANSCENDENTAL unique when compared to your other books? What inspired you to write it?

TRANSCENDENTAL is my return to the genre known as the “space epic” with which I started my novel-writing career in 1955 with STAR BRIDGE and THIS FORTRESS WORLD. Now I have returned to it with, I hope, more wisdom and skill to tell a different (and perhaps more human) story.

As for its inspiration, I was thinking about a big topic when I thought of Cory and Alexei Panshin’s THE WORLD BEYOND THE HILL and its suggestion that the preoccupation of Golden Age science fiction was transcendence, and I thought what if there were a machine that could confer transcendence (or the realization of the full potential of the individual), and from there I developed the idea of a pilgrimage to find such a machine and all the motivations for discovering and using (or destroying) it, and the model of another pilgrimage and the stories told by the pilgrims, the “Canterbury Tales.”

This is my standard question for genre writers – how do you approach world building? How do you come up with a plausible universe and how do you make your aliens seem truly alien?

For me the world building (or galaxy or universe building) emerges out of the story premise (unlike Hal Clement, for instance, who invented the world of Mesklin and MISSION OF GRAVITY grew out of that). My premise of a transcendental machine needed a world of the future, a technology of jumps through hyperspace and needing maps of coordinates, a galaxy separated into different spiral arms by gulfs difficult to cross, a galactic confederation of aliens who have developed their own hierarchies and relationships, and a history to support all these and provide substance for the central concerns of the novel.

My aliens are all different because I wanted to show the universality of sapience and the desire for fulfillment of potential that is at the heart of the evolutionary force. And in the stories I gave them an opportunity to tell, I tried to reveal how their cultures differed while their goals (except for my intelligent flowers) were similar, and gave them an opportunity to tell their own stories and show how their home worlds and environments shaped them.

TRANSCENDENTAL is the first book by you that I’ve read (I will be remedying this soon!) Could you tell me a little bit about your previous work? Is it mostly stand alone books, or do many of your books share a universe? Which book would you consider best exemplifies your work?

Like many writers, I started with short stories that grew longer as I continued to write, until I produced the two novels I mentioned above. Though they eventually sold very well in reprint here and abroad (STAR BRIDGE, which I wrote in collaboration with Jack Williamson, will be reprinted next year by Tor Books), they didn’t provide much income at the time, and I decided to get my novel-length ideas published as short fiction before I brought them together as books (which resulted in my advice to young writers, “Sell it twice”). Out of that came STATION IN SPACE, THE JOY MAKERS, and THE IMMORTALS (the last of which became a TV movie and a series (“The Immortal”) in 1970-71. Most readers consider my best book to be THE LISTENERS, but I’m fond of THE DREAMERS, THE MILLENNIUM BLUES, and particularly KAMPUS (which is about the world the student rebels of the 1960s might have made if they’d been successful, one I lived through as the person in charge of public relations for the University of Kansas during that period).

You’ve been writing science fiction for quite a long time now. How has your approach to it changed over the years? Did the changing political climate (e.g. the end of the Cold War and the space race) affect it?

I think I’ve always had the basic goal of taking the science fiction that I loved as a youngster and try to bring to it the literary skills I learned as I made my way through college and life. More and more, though, I found my writing becoming more social criticism (affected, as you suggest, by political and social change in the world), though being categorized as a science fiction writer (which I accept and do not deny) always makes such departures problematic when it comes to publication (thus, for instance, THE MILLENNIUM BLUES, got published only digitally and as print-on-demand and in an Easton Press collector’s edition).

Somewhat related – how has science fiction in general changed over the years? Are there trends that are of particular note?

Science fiction changes all the time. I have a theory that it changes every dozen years or so, when a new editor comes along with a new vision (and a new magazine) of what science fiction can be and do, and attracts writers who didn’t know it could be done that way or found there a place to publish what they had not found before. Mostly science fiction has become more skillfully written in every literary sense, although it has not come up (generally) with new ideas of what to say that match its writing abilities. The Golden Age of science fiction may not have seen as much skillful craftsmanship but the ideas were awesome. To be sure, there are a few new things being done today, but sometimes the slickness of presentation covers a paucity of content.

The British new space epic is very promising and there are some U.S. authors who are doing some exciting things.

Who are your favourite authors, and what books do you consider essential reading?

I have an enduring fondness for the Golden Age writers who were introduced in a four-month stretch of ASTOUNDING in 1939, Asimov, Heinlein, Sturgeon, and van Vogt, and the authors who starred in the early months of GALAXY beginning in 1950, such as the late and lamented Fred Pohl (with Cyril Kornbluth) and Alfred Bester. But my selections are best listed in my six-volume teaching anthology THE ROAD TO SCIENCE FICTION and the reading list for the science-fiction novel course I taught at K.U., twenty-five novels I thought central to the science-fiction tradition (you can find the list on the Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction).

Ed. Note: Here’s the website for the Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction and here’s their “Basic Science Fiction Library” page, originally developed from Professor Gunn’s list. The 2013-2014 25 novel reading list for K.U.’s science fiction course can be found here.

Could you tell me a bit about your teaching career and the Center for the Study of Science Fiction that you established?

I began teaching science fiction in a student-organized course in 1969 (I was not the first–a course was taught at Colgate in 1966, and subsequently at Eastern New Mexico and Wooster) and a regular course in 1970. I had been director of public relations for the University of Kansas for almost a dozen years and decided I wanted to go back to teaching full time. I spent the rest of my 23 years before retirement teaching science fiction and fiction writing, and for almost twenty years after retirement I continued to teach the summer Intensive Institute on the Teaching of Science Fiction as well as my writing workshop. Not too long after joining the English Department full time, I discovered that I was doing a lot of science-fiction related projects, teaching, book collecting, conferences, awards, collaborating on projects in other departments, and decided to bring them together into a Center, the first of its kind to provide all of these interests under one organization (though not the first university organization devoted to science fiction), and the University administration and Board of Regents approved. The Center and its projects continue under the enlightened administration of Chris McKitterick and Kij Johnson.

transcendentalWill there be a sequel to TRANSCENDENTAL? I would love to see more of the characters and the universe, and I thought the ending left room for further stories.

I’ve proposed a sequel to my Tor Books editor and even written the first chapter (and even thought about a trilogy!).

I read another interview where you said TRANSCENDENTAL was a commentary on the genre of science fiction. Could you elaborate on that?

Science fiction is a dialogue between authors (and sometimes readers) on subjects of great import for the human species. I’ve always felt that it was important to recognize the dialogue, and TRANSCENDENTAL pays tribute to my predecessors and large and small ways that might be interesting to readers to identify and trace. It’s not necessary to enjoy the novel, but I like to amuse myself by planting such references and perhaps entertain those readers who enjoy this kind of back-and-forth between author, genre, and reader. KAMPUS, for instance, is modeled after Voltaire’s CANDIDE and also has references to quest stories like the Arthurian cycle. If anyone wants to play this game, I might be persuaded to keep score.

Are you working on anything at the moment?

Aside from the sequel (tentatively entitled INSTRUMENTAL), I also have proposed a new and updated edition of my ALTERNATE WORLDS: AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF SCIENCE FICTION (which is being reprinted, as well, in China) and I have written my memoir.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I’ve written a lot already!