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!

Interview with author Jason M. Hough + THE DARWIN ELEVATOR Giveaway!

I’m interviewing sci-fi author Jason M. Hough today! I really liked his debut novel, The Darwin Elevator (here’s my review), and I’ll also be giving away a copy at the end of this post!

Here’s the interview.

Jason-hough-author-photo-256x300Tell me about yourself, and how you got into writing.

I’m a father, a geek, and a former game designer. After leaving the game industry I needed a hobby to fill the creative void in my life, and decided to try writing because it seemed like something I could do entirely on my own. This of course turned out to be untrue, there’s a huge team of people involved, but at least at the beginning I was able to scratch my creative itch and work at my own pace.

I love the backstory behind The Darwin Elevator – aliens leave us both a space elevator and a plague. How did you come up with it?

The core of the idea came from my reaction to the standard argument against building a space elevator: it would be too hard to construct. I thought, “who says we’re the ones to build it?” That’s the moment that everything started to click into place.

The sequels to The Darwin Elevator come out in the next few months, so I assume you’re done writing them. What are you working on now?

Most of my time right now is going into interviews like this, plus guest blog posts and that sort of thing. I’m also working on some pitches for new books, which will hopefully turn into a contract soon. I’m anxious to get started on another novel!

This is my standard question for all genre authors – how do you come up with a plausible and interesting world?

All the usual answers probably apply, but one I thing I did that I came up with on my own is this: For each character I wrote up an activity log of what they did the day before the book starts. This helped me flesh out the characters, but also had a surprising bounty of ideas for the world as well. Mundane things like what people wear, how/when/where they shower or eat, these things really help answer basic questions about the world, and having those kinds of details to sprinkle into the story go a long way toward making it interesting.

Which writers are you most influenced by?

Some of my favorites, in no particular order: Guy Gavriel Kay, Richard K. Morgan, Stephen King, Ian Fleming, John Scalzi, George R. R. Martin.

What is your daily writing process like? What are the easiest and hardest parts?

I usually get up early (before 6) and find a coffee shop. This is mostly to get away from the distractions of home, where I have two young boys who want nothing but to constantly play with Papa. While there I’ll write for an hour, then take a break and do my authorly business: tweet, do interviews like this, read science news, etc.

The easiest part for me is writing action sequences. They flow like nothing else! Hardest part? When a small change is having a ripple effect throughout the story, and each fix is causing it’s own ripple. It makes me wish I had an AI I could assign the problem to.

If Skyler could have a sidekick from any other fictional universe, who would it be and why?

That’s a tough one! I’ll go with John “Black Jack” Geary from Jack Campbell’s Lost Fleet series, for good leadership advice.

What books are you reading right now?

I just finished Nexus by Ramez Naam, which was fantastic. Now I’m reading The Thousand Names by Django Wexler.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Since you asked, I’d love to also recommend a few other books: The Daedelus Incident by Michael J. Martinez, and Bad Glass by Richard Gropp.

The sequel to The Darwin Elevator, The Exodus Towers, is now out, and the concluding book in The Dire Earth Cycle, The Plague Forge, will be released this month.

You can connect with Jason M. Hough at his website ( or through Twitter or Facebook.


Enter the giveaway below:

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for arranging this interview and giveaway!

Interview with author Jenna Black + Giveaway

I’m excited to be interviewing fantasy/YA author Jenna Black today! I recently read and really enjoyed Jenna’s most recent book, Replica, and you can too – there’s a giveaway at the end of this post.

Here’s the interview:

Jenna BlackFirst of all, thank you so much for doing this interview! I really enjoyed Replica; I often get frustrated with the formulaic dystopian young adult genre, but Replica was a breath of fresh air. I haven’t read anything by you before, but I saw that you’ve written a lot of series’ already – what makes Replica new and exciting for you?

Thanks for inviting me!

There are a lot of things that make REPLICA new and exciting for me. One of the things I really love about the series and that made it so fun–and challenging–to write was the juxtaposition of a futuristic world suited to science fiction with a society that is based around a more historical concept of hereditary monarchy. Both the idea to write about exact replicas of human beings and the idea to write about corporations functioning as hereditary monarchies had been floating around in my head for a long time, and it was only when I mashed these two seemingly ill-matched concepts together that an actual story began to form in my head. I also loved writing about a careful, hyper-responsible heroine and a reckless, immature hero who have to grow up in different ways–Nadia needs to loosen up and learn to take some chances, and Nate has to grow up and learn to pay attention to the consequences of his actions.

How long is the Replica series going to be – will it be a trilogy? Do you have plans to revisit the world after the series is done, or is this just Nate and Nadia’s story?

This is a trilogy. The second book, RESISTANCE will come out in March 2014, and the third book, REVOLUTION will likely come out sometime late next year, though a date has not been set yet. I have no firm plans to revisit this world when the series is done, but I do have a germ of an idea for something that might happen in a different state, so it’s always possible.

What book(s) are you working on at the moment?

Right now, I’m working on what we writers jokingly call a “Sekrit Project.” Generally, the term is used to refer to a work that is not under contract, and therefore one we can’t talk about publicly. Yet.

What do you find to be the easiest and the hardest things about writing?

The easiest thing about writing is writing first draft material when everything is “clicking.” When I know exactly what I want to do with a scene, and the words are coming out fast and furious, and I’m so anxious to finish the scene that I feel no temptation to get out of my chair and do something else. That’s pure bliss. It feels almost like reading a book you’re really in to, when you can’t wait to find out what happens next. It makes the days when writing is a total slog feel worth it. And there are plenty of days when writing is like slogging through mud. The hardest thing for me is diagnosing the reason why I’m struggling in those periods. Sometimes, it’s just because I’m not in a good mood, or I’m tired, or I’m distracted. Times like those, the best thing for me to do is to keep slogging. I may not enjoy what I’m writing, and I may need to do a lot of editing on it later, but at least I’m moving forward. But then there are the other times, when I’m struggling because I’ve made some misstep in the narrative. There’s something “off,” but I don’t know what it is yet. And what’s hard is that I don’t always know the difference between the two when I’m in the midst of it. If there’s something wrong, something I need to go back and change, then continuing to slog forward does me no good whatsoever and just leaves me with more time not enjoying my writing.

It’s gotten a little easier over time for me to figure out whether I’m struggling because of some temporary malaise or whether I’m struggling because there’s something wrong with the book–for example, if that malaise stretches over a few days without letup, it’s a good bet there’s something wrong–but I still sometimes have trouble knowing whether to push through or stop and go back.

Worldbuilding fascinates me, so I’d love to know how you approach creating a world, since you’ve created several.

I often come up with my concepts for a world before I have an actual story to set in it. I have a big picture already created in my head, with very few concrete details. I then come up with my basic storyline, and I begin filling in the gaps of my world, developing some major details that have immediate relevance to the story I’m telling. When I actually begin the writing of the first draft, that’s when I have to start figuring out the smaller details. It’s kind of like I’m looking at my world through a camera lens. At first, it’s little more than an impressionistic blob. When I’m plotting, it comes into a little clearer focus, and I can see major landmarks. But it’s not until I’ve finished the first draft that the picture is fully in focus. Doing my worldbuilding in layers like that is very helpful for me and gives me an enormous amount of freedom. I don’t commit to details until I’m sure I need them–and I’m sure they won’t cause me problems later on in the draft, or even later on in the series.

ReplicaAs an example, with REPLICA I started out with a really big picture idea for what the world was like. I knew the society was stratified, that the story would be set in a futuristic New York, and a little bit about the history of how the United States turned into the Corporate states. When I started plotting the book, I decided the three classes would be the Executives, the Employees, and the Basement-dwellers, with the Executives being like royalty, the Employees like ordinary people, and the Basement-dwellers the poor and unemployed. When I started writing the sample chapters for submission to publishers, I focused very tightly on what life was like for my main characters, coming up with the societal expectations that were placed on both of them. They are Executives, members of the highest of the three strata of the society I created, and I worked on the details of Executive society–while having only a blurry vision of what society was like for the other two classes. I didn’t need details for the other classes yet, so I left them vague. When I got to my first scene set in the Basement, that was when I started pulling together details for what the Basement was like. That was when I decided what the buildings looked like, how the residents dressed, how the territory was divided up. In a later draft, I would seed some of the details back in the earlier parts of the book where I’d left things vague before, but by waiting until I needed the details to flesh them out, I avoided writing myself into any corners and making decisions I would later regret.

What themes do you like exploring in your books?

Sometimes it’s hard for a writer to see the themes in his or her own books. In a lot of ways, theme is in the eye of the beholder. That being said, I do feel that I have some themes I tend to revisit, even though I’m not making a conscious choice to do so. One theme I’ve explored a lot in my adult books is that of redemption and hope. Many of the characters in my adult books have dark pasts, either because of bad things that have happened to them or bad things they have done. I love taking these characters who could so easily spiral down into misery for the rest of their lives and finding a way to redeem them and give them hope. I want the message to be that no matter how bad your past, no matter how many bad things have happened to you, it’s possible to have a fulfilling and happy life–but it’s up to you to get yourself there.

I don’t particularly see that theme popping up in my YAs (though it’s possible it’s there and I just am not aware of it), maybe because my teen characters just haven’t lived long enough to sink to the depths some of my adult characters have. With the YAs, I definitely see a theme of taking control of and responsibility for one’s own life. This is particularly true for the heroines of my two teen series. In the Faeriewalker series, Dana spends a lot of time feeling powerless, feeling like a pawn in other people’s games. (And to some extent, she is.) But over the course of the series, she learns to recognize her own power and through that gains a kind of emotional independence. There’s a moment at the end of the final book, SIRENSONG, when Dana thinks: “I might be in the room with two of the most powerful people in Faerie, but thanks to my unusual magic, I was one of the most powerful people in Faerie, too.” That do me was the endpoint of Dana’s character arc, the point where in many ways she became a full adult.

I definitely see some of the same theme in Nadia’s character arc, although she has a different set of problems in that her choices involve so much risk to people she loves. In the beginning, she’s almost crippled by her need to protect her loved ones by doing what those in power tell her to do. As for where she goes from there . . . Well, you’ll have to read the whole series to see.

Your website’s tagline is “Romance with an attitude, fantasy with an edge”. Could you elaborate on that?

My first published books were paranormal romances (the Guardians of the Night series, which is being re-released in 2014). I have a love for characters who have a sarcastic sense of humor, which might not be the first thing people think of when they think of romance novels. Hence, “Romance with an attitude.” The second series I wrote was the Morgan Kingsley series. It has some romantic elements, and my heroine is certainly a queen of sarcasm, but it didn’t really fit into the romance genre, so I decided to modify my tagline to include it. The Morgan Kingsley series is by far the edgiest series I’ve ever written (with scenes that make me hope my teen readers don’t pick it up), and that’s where “Fantasy with an edge” came from. I have not modified the tagline since I started writing YA, partially because it would get cumbersome, and partially because the tagline I have still applies to some extent to my YA books. There is certainly an edge to the REPLICA series.

If Replica was made into a movie, who would you want to play Nate and Nadia?

Embarrassingly, I am completely clueless when it comes to questions like this. I’d say it’s because I don’t watch enough shows with teens in them, but I don’t do very well answering this question about my adult books, either. I guess I just don’t think in movies.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I love hearing from my fans! You can reach me via Facebook ( and Twitter (@jennablack), and you can visit my website at Thanks again for having me!


Interview with author John Marco

John MarcoJohn Marco is a fantasy author who’s written eight books so far, including the Bronze Knight series of which I reviewed the fourth book, The Forever Knight. You can visit his website here.

On to the interview!

The Forever Knight was my introduction to Lukien’s world, but I know that there were three previous books. It stands alone very well, but are there any things that people who are starting off the series with The Forever Knight should know about the story so far?

People who have seen the previous books knows how big they are, so there actually is a lot that happened in the first three books. They set up the land that Lukien inhabits, but really The Forever Knight introduces almost all new characters, and the only one that really has any play in this book from the previous stories is Lukien himself. That was done deliberately, because as much as I care about the previous books I really wanted to make as clean a break as possible from them. Of course it’s definitely helpful to read the previous books; there’s just no way around that. Thankfully, most people have said they had no trouble following this new story.

I read that this is the first book in the series that is written in first person – is that true, and if so, why did you make that switch?

The switch to first person was all part of trying to make this Lukien’s story, and to break away from the previous books. The three books that came before it are more typical “epic” fantasy, with lots of different characters and plot threads. I wasn’t interested in doing that again with this book. Lukien’s “voice” came through too clearly for me to want to concentrate on other characters. I wanted to capture that voice and tell his story alone. It was a bit of a challenge at first, because I had never written in first person before. It will be up to readers to decide whether or not I succeeded, but personally I’m quite happy with the results.

I’m really fascinating by world building, and I’d love to know more about how the process of creating Lukien’s world worked, and what you find most interesting and unique about the world.

For a lot of people fantasy is all about world-building. No matter how much writers concentrate on things like character, world-building is an essential part of fantasy story-telling. I don’t really think it’s the thing I’m best at, but I do try to make the world feel as “alive” as possible. Often, my stories are about culture clashes. There’s usually two very different kinds of societies that are at war or meeting for the first time, and that means accenting the differences between them. It’s those differences that I wind up concentrating on—like the different religions, architecture, social values, and so on. In any one of those topics there’s a ton to exploit and build upon, and that’s usually what I do. If it’s a religious society, for example, I concentrate on that and build around it. Then, the details kind of fall into place.

The Akari are fascinating characters – long dead magicians conferring power to humans. Do we learn more about their history and motivation in the previous books, or is that something that still needs to be explored? Everyone has an agenda, and I’m really curious to see what theirs is.

Oh, the Akari are hugely important in the previous books, and I had to give something of an introduction to them in this book so people would have enough information to understand what was happening. They’re a long-dead race that was wiped out in a genocidal war, but they understood the spirit world and that life continues after death, and they use that knowledge to help less fortunate “mortals.” Usually they help blind people to see, crippled people to walk, that sort of thing. In Lukien’s case, however, his Akari has given him a kind of immortality. It’s definitely a blessing and a curse for Lukien.

What other projects are you working on at the moment? Is it a new Bronze Knight novel? How long do you think the series will be?

Right now I’m working on a novel called The Bloody Chorus. It will be the first of a planned trilogy that takes place in a brand new world from all my other books. This will be a return to the more traditional “epic” kind of writing that my readers expect from me, and I think they’re going to enjoy it. There will be more Bronze Knight novels, though, probably two more. They’re already under contract, and I’ll get started on the next one after I finish my current book project. I also have a short story to write for a military fantasy anthology, and I’m jazzed for that because I love writing short stories.

What is your writing process like, both when conceptualizing a novel and day-to-day?

I sometimes refer to myself as a “journeyman writer.” I love it and I do think of it as an art, but I don’t sit around a lot waiting for inspiration to hit me. I look at it like a job, because when I don’t approach it that way I procrastinate, and that’s no good to anyone. Even when I’m conceptualizing a new book, I usually have some idea by then what I want it to be about, so I have something to build on. Then I break out the notebook and pen and start scribbling down some broad strokes. After that I start outlining. My outlines are always a mess, but it’s the kind of thing that I alone can follow. They’re not really linear, if you know what I mean. They’re kind of like a cluttered but familiar desk.

As for the actual writing, I take it one step at a time from beginning to end. I don’t jump around as some authors might, writing scenes out of sequence. That would be too confusing for me. I like to plow straight on through.

What ideas and themes do you like exploring the most in your books? (Somewhat relatedly, the end of The Forever Knight hints at a whole new world of possible ideas to explore, and I’m really looking forward to seeing where that goes.)

I love this question, because every book I’ve ever written has had a theme. I’m not sure that readers know that or pick up on the themes, but they’re always there and always keep me on track. A favorite theme of mine is revenge. It comes up in a lot of my books, and especially in The Forever Knight. All other themes take a backseat to revenge in this story! But I also like more positive themes such as redemption, which is another idea I lean on a lot in my stories.

A fun one: what character from another fantasy universe would you want to team Lukien up with? He seems like a perfect character to have a sidekick, just because he’d be so annoyed by one.

You’re right—that is a fun question. Lukien does tend to get a bit irritated by others, and it’s hard to think of him with a sidekick because he’s such a loner. But I think Aslan from the Narnia books would be a good companion for him, because Aslan is so cool and calm and Lukien is so hot tempered. I bet he could learn a lot from Aslan. I could definitely see Lukien walking along with a lion as his side.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I always like to say how much I appreciate the help of book bloggers like you, Kriti. Thank you for the opportunity to talk about my book on your site.