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The Qwillery

A blog about books and other things speculative

Interview with Marko Kloos, author of Terms of Enlistment and Lines of Departure - January 24, 2014

Please welcome Marko Kloos to The Qwillery as part of the 2014 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Terms of Enlistment, Marko's debut, is out in print on January 28, 2014 along with Lines of Departure (print and Kindle eBook)

Interview with Marko Kloos, author of Terms of Enlistment and Lines of Departure - January 24, 2014

TQ:  Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

Marko:  I’ve been writing since I was a teenager, and more than likely even before that. (I remember writing stories for my brother to take to school with him when we were both in elementary school, so I guess the writing bug hit early.) But I’ve been a weekend writer for most of my life—I always had the possibility of writing for publication in the back of my head, but making it a full-time pursuit wasn’t feasible. It wasn’t until I got married and we started having kids that I decided to put the car into gear, so to speak. Of course, being a stay-at-home parent is the worst possible set of circumstances for quiet, uninterrupted writing time…

TQ:  Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Marko:  A little bit of both. I have a general plot in my head before I start writing, and I plot out the main “waypoints” for the story ahead of time. When the novel diverges from that basic plot sketch, I revise the plot and let the story go where it wants to go. I do have one project in the works (a YA novel) that’s plotted out in detail—almost every chapter and scene—but in general I find that it stifles me too much and makes the work feel like I’m painting by numbers.

TQ:  What is the most challenging thing for you about writing? Where do you write?

Marko:  The most challenging thing about writing for me is to stay off the Internet and not get distracted by that Procrastination Engine. That’s part of the reason why I do my first drafts in longhand—there’s no Twitter or Facebook to “just check for a minute” when work bogs down, and I find it easier to remain on task. (I also enjoy the physical process of handwriting, and it’s neat to have an original manuscript of the first draft to put on the shelf.

I have a dedicated office for writing now, in the back of our house where it’s quiet, but up until recently I was a pretty nomadic writer. I’d take the notebook or writing pad all over the place in the course of a day—kitchen table, bedroom recliner, living room couch, coffee shop. The kids are in school now, so I can actually spend most of the day in the office without interruptions, but when they were still home with me, I had to get my writing done in bursts—while they were napping or watching something, or on the playground while they were playing for half an hour. When you write like that, it’s an advantage to have a highly mobile set of tools that doesn’t require a nearby outlet and doesn’t represent much theft value if you have to leave it on the playground bench for a little while because you have to boost a kid on the swings or fix a boo-boo.

TQ:  Who are some of your literary influences? Favorite authors?

Marko:  I want to think that everything I’ve read has been a literary influence in a way—it’s all grist for the mill, right? As far as SF goes, TERMS and LINES don’t get around the big names in the genre as far as influence goes, Robert Heinlein and Joe Haldeman in particular. Those are also among my favorite authors, along with John Scalzi, Neil Gaiman, and Neal Stephenson. But I’m genre-agnostic—I’ll read everything. LitFic, SF, Fantasy, YA, mystery, and (gasp!) even romance. Some of the authors whose work I’ve really enjoyed lately are John Green, Saladin Ahmed, Paolo Bacigalupi, and Adam Johnson. I’m currently reading Johnson’s “The Orphan Master’s Son”.

TQ:  Describe Terms of Enlistment of in 140 characters or less.

Marko:  Boy from the projects joins the service because it’s less dangerous than staying home—or so he thinks.

TQ:  Tell us something about Terms of Enlistment that is not in the book description.

Marko:  The book takes place in 2108, and World War III happened fifty years prior. In the resulting peace treaty between the two Earth alliances, the Svalbard Accords, the belligerents outlawed the use of atomic weapons on Earth, and classified as a war crime the public broadcast of Justin Bieber music and the improper use of the possessive apostrophe on all signage.

TQ:  What inspired you to write Terms of Enlistment? Why did you choose to write military Science Fiction? Do you want to write in any other genres?

Marko:  I enjoy reading Military SF, and I figured that writing it would be fun. I also wanted to work the sensory details of my own military experience into a narrative to write a convincingly authentic piece of military fiction. (I always get a kick out of it when I get fan mail or comments from veterans who say that reading TERMS reminded them of their own service. I just love those “Yeah, that’s how it was” comments. It tells me I hit the point of aim, so to speak.)

I’ve written in other genres: fantasy and general fiction, for example. My first two novels (the trunk novels which will never see the light of day) were general fiction. I currently have a YA novel in the works which is about half-finished, and a Urban Fantasy novel that’s also roughly half done. I’m focused on the Military SF subgenre at the moment because that’s what my readers keep asking for, but I can see myself dipping my toes into other genres in the future.

TQ:  What sort of research did you do for Terms of Enlistment?

Marko:  I worked in my own memories from my military service, and beyond that, I just kind of made it up as I went along. Once the world took shape, I had to do an awful lot of internal consistency fixes and retconning, let me tell you. I envy people like Jo Rowling who come up with elaborate worlds and biographies going back ten generations before they put pen to paper for word one, but I get too lost in that sort of thing and end up using it as an excuse not to write, so I make up stuff and write it down as I need it for the story, and then iron out everything later in the developmental edits.

TQ:  Who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why? Who is your favorite good guy, bad guy or ethically ambiguous character?

Marko:  I had to put myself in Andrew’s head a lot because the novel is written in first-person perspective, so he was the easiest to write and flesh out because I was able to share his thoughts and inner monologues. The hardest to write? ALL THE OTHERS.

My favorite character in the books (and a reader favorite) is Andrew’s eventual squad leader, the highly decorated Sergeant Fallon. She’s a gung-ho, hyper-competent, deeply troubled character with some dark spots in her past. She has an aversion to incompetent authority, which makes her a bad fit for the military, but she excels at what she does, so she gets away with a lot. SGT Fallon will return in LINES OF DEPARTURE in grand style.

TQ:  Give us one of your favorite lines from Terms of Enlistment.

Marko:  This one is the line most highlighted by readers on the Kindle version:

“There’s no perfect place, you know. You always end up trading one kind of shit for another. Me, I’ll stick with the shit I know.”

TQ:  What's next?

Marko:  The sequel to TERMS OF ENLISTMENT, called LINES OF DEPARTURE, will be out from 47North on January 28th. I am currently at work on the third book in the series, which will be called ANGLES OF ATTACK. I also have a new novella and a few short stories planned to tide over my readers until ANGLES comes out.

TQ:  Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Marko:  Thank you for having me!

Terms of Enlistment

Terms of Enlistment
Terms of Enlistment 1
47North, January 28, 2013
Trade Paperback, 346 pages
Previously published in Kindle eBook format, May 8, 2013

Interview with Marko Kloos, author of Terms of Enlistment and Lines of Departure - January 24, 2014
The year is 2108, and the North American Commonwealth is bursting at the seams. For welfare rats like Andrew Grayson, there are only two ways out of the crime-ridden and filthy welfare tenements, where you're restricted to two thousand calories of badly flavored soy every day:

You can hope to win the lottery and draw a ticket on a colony ship settling off-world, or you can join the service.

With the colony lottery a pipe dream, Andrew chooses to enlist in the armed forces for a shot at real food, a retirement bonus, and maybe a ticket off Earth. But as he starts a career of supposed privilege, he soon learns that the good food and decent health care come at a steep price…and that the settled galaxy holds far greater dangers than military bureaucrats or the gangs that rule the slums.

The debut novel from Marko Kloos, Terms of Enlistment is a new addition to the great military sci-fi tradition of Robert Heinlein, Joe Haldeman, and John Scalzi.

Lines of Departure
Terms of Enlistment 2
47North, January 28, 2014
Trade Paperback and Kindle eBook, 328 pages

Interview with Marko Kloos, author of Terms of Enlistment and Lines of Departure - January 24, 2014
Vicious interstellar conflict with an indestructible alien species. Bloody civil war over the last habitable zones of the cosmos. Political unrest, militaristic police forces, dire threats to the Solar System…

Humanity is on the ropes, and after years of fighting a two-front war with losing odds, so is North American Defense Corps officer Andrew Grayson. He dreams of dropping out of the service one day, alongside his pilot girlfriend, but as warfare consumes entire planets and conditions on Earth deteriorate, he wonders if there will be anywhere left for them to go.

After surviving a disastrous space-borne assault, Grayson is reassigned to a ship bound for a distant colony—and packed with malcontents and troublemakers. His most dangerous battle has just begun.

In this sequel to the bestselling Terms of Enlistment, a weary soldier must fight to prevent the downfall of his species…or bear witness to humanity’s last, fleeting breaths.

About Marko

Interview with Marko Kloos, author of Terms of Enlistment and Lines of Departure - January 24, 2014
Marko Kloos is a novelist, freelance writer, and unpaid manservant to two children. He is a graduate of the Viable Paradise SF/F Writers' Workshop.

Marko writes primarily science fiction and fantasy. He has been getting his genre fix at the library ever since he was old enough for his first library card. In the past, he has been a soldier, a bookseller, a freight dock worker, a tech support drone, and a corporate IT administrator.

A former citizen of Germany, Marko lives in New Hampshire with his wife and two children. Their compound, Castle Frostbite, is patrolled by a roving pack of dachshunds.

Website  ~  Twitter @markokloos

Interview with John Dixon, author of Phoenix Island - January 23, 2014

Please welcome John Dixon to The Qwillery as part of the 2014 Debut Author Challenge Interviews.  Phoenix Island, John's debut novel, was published on January 7, 2014 by Gallery Books.

TQ:  Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

John:  My third grade teacher, Mrs. Wolfe, had us write stories and made all the difference in the world by praising mine. She even went so far as typing up one of them, a silly, didactic story about animals in a courtroom, and she told my parents that I would be a writer someday. I was a bad kid, but her praise and support gave me confidence in something more than just my fists. Needless to say, I thank her extensively in my acknowledgements, and I sent her a copy along with a heartfelt thank you. I don’t know if teachers always know the difference they make, even with very young kids, but Mrs. Wolfe was one of the most important people in my life.

TQ:  Are you a plotter or a pantser?

John:  I’m a weird hybrid of the two, still trying to figure out his best process. By nature, I’m a pantser all the way, but by imposing plotting with an emphasis on structure, I was able to write Phoenix Island in ten months. With the sequel, I planned perhaps too much initially, felt a waning of excitement, then took a step back, and whoosh – here came the fun again. As I continue to write, hopefully I’ll find my proper balance between the two. Ideally, I think, I would craft a skeletal outline upon which I could hang spontaneous scene work.

TQ:  What is the most challenging thing for you about writing? Where do you write?

John:  Right now, with the book and the show coming out, the most challenging thing for me is protecting my writing time. I write anytime and anywhere, but I prefer to work on my Alphasmart Neo word processor at flimsy table in a guestroom upstairs (directly overtop, ironically enough, the dedicated office, with its roll top desk and PC). I like a Spartan workspace. The word processor and off-the-grid guestroom protect me from distractions.

TQ:  Who are some of your literary influences? Favorite authors?

John:  Since I was just a kid, literary influences have hovered over me, waxing and waning like moons of exquisite beauty. Ray Bradbury always made me feel like writing, and certainly Phoenix Island was influenced by the comic books of my youth and childhood favorites like The Lord of the Flies, The Island of Dr. Moreau, “The Most Dangerous Game”, and the novels and short stories of Jack London, America’s most unfairly and unfortunately pigeon-holed writer. Over the last decade, however, I’ve learned the most from my favorite authors, Stephen King, Elmore Leonard, and Cormac McCarthy, and a lot from other favorites, like Thomas Harris, Jack Ketchum, S.E. Hinton, and Robert Lipsyte.

TQ:  Describe Phoenix Island in 140 characters or less.

JohnPrison Break meets The Lord of the Flies – starring a sixteen-year-old Jason Bourne.

TQ:  Tell us something about Phoenix Island that is not in the book description.

John:  The main character, Carl Freeman, has one fatal flaw: he can’t ignore bullies. He’s a zero tolerance anti-bullying program on two legs, and his inability to dismiss injustice causes him no end of trouble.

TQ:  What inspired you to write Phoenix Island? Why did you choose to write a dystopian thriller? Do you want to write in any other genres?

John:  I have written widely in the short form and will continue to write in other genres.

Dystopian stories are my way of worrying about the future, while still creating characters capable of dealing with darkness. In a sense, I’m creating the mythology of my nightmare future. In terms of society, I suppose I’m a pessimist, but in terms of the human heart, I always be a terminal optimist. If the world goes bust and people must suffer, I believe some people will suffer bravely, even beautifully.

Phoenix Island came at me from a bunch of directions, unconnected experiences and ideas coalescing over time, but the heart of it grew out of two sources: hope and rage. From the get-go, I knew I wanted to write a story about a kid who, like so many people I’ve known, doesn’t really fit into polite society but who nonetheless possesses great strength and potential, given the right circumstances. Then I heard about the unbelievably disgusting “Kids for Cash” case, where judges from my home state of Pennsylvania made money by convicting kids to privately run boot camps for teen offenders. My high hopes for people I’d known met my rage over this unbelievable injustice, and the book blew up in my head.

TQ:  What sort of research did you do for Phoenix Island?

John:  The most important research came quite unintentionally through osmosis with life, from my experiences as a boxer, a teacher, a prison tutor, a caseworker for at-risk youth, and, of course, a lifelong reader with too many interests. Phoenix Island is a contemporary thriller, the story of a tough kid in tough conditions, so these experiences took me a long way, but science is important – even integral – to the book, so in that sense it is also science fiction. The book, series, and TV adaptation all deal with the question of trans-humanism, which fascinates me. Thanks to amazing sources, good people like Dr. Gary Della Zanna and Dr. John Dougherty, both of the National Institutes of Health, and the guidance of Intelligence’s executive producer, Tripp Vinson, who would get in touch, telling me to watch a specific Ted Talk, read a helpful book, or Google some bit of cutting-edge science, research was an absolute blast – as were the purely imaginative brainstorming sessions that helped me go from fact to fiction.

TQ:  Who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why? Who is your favorite good guy, bad guy or ethically ambiguous character?

John:  The easiest character to write was Carl, because I knew him so well, almost intuitively, before I’d even started the book. He is in many ways the person I wish I had been, though I would hate to go through the things he suffers.

The most difficult character to write was Carl’s friend Octavia, because she’s a girl, and that’s something I’ve never been. I’ve written comfortably from the point-of-view of women and younger females, but I found myself on sometimes uncertain ground while in the head and heart of a seventeen-year-old girl.

My favorite ethically ambiguous character is Motorcycle Boy from S.E. Hinton’s mind-blowing masterpiece, Rumble Fish, which I’ve read no fewer than twenty times. Francis Ford Coppola, who directed the film version, called Rumble Fish “Camus for kids” – a true enough statement, I reckon, and one predicated primarily upon the things Motorcycle Boy says and does.

TQ:  Give us one of your favorite lines from Phoenix Island.

John:  “With the hard darkness of night, the jungle became a madhouse of sounds: cries and squawks; squeals and snorts; hoots and gibbers; something large bellowing deeper in the woods – and under it all, the constant, deafening chorus of insects pulsed with noise, and this peeping, bleating rhythm was to him the heartbeat of night in the jungle, wild with fear and hunger and menace.”

TQ:  What's next?

John:  Right now, I’m having a blast writing Devil’s Pocket, the sequel to Phoenix Island, and I’m excited that “The Laughing Girl of Bora Fanong”, a short story I coauthored with Adam Browne, has shacked up with amazing Australian animator Adam Duncan, who’s planning to develop it into a graphic novel.

TQ:  Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

John:  Thanks so much for having me. I had a lot of fun chatting with you.

Phoenix Island

Phoenix Island
Gallery Books, January 7, 2014
Hardcover and eBook, 320 pages

The judge told Carl that one day he’d have to decide exactly what kind of person he would become. But on Phoenix Island, the choice will be made for him.

A champion boxer with a sharp hook and a short temper, sixteen-year-old Carl Freeman has been shuffled from foster home to foster home. He can’t seem to stay out of trouble—using his fists to defend weaker classmates from bullies. His latest incident sends his opponent to the emergency room, and now the court is sending Carl to the worst place on earth: Phoenix Island.

Classified as a “terminal facility,” it’s the end of the line for delinquents who have no home, no family, and no future. Located somewhere far off the coast of the United States—and immune to its laws—the island is a grueling Spartan-style boot camp run by sadistic drill sergeants who show no mercy to their young, orphan trainees. Sentenced to stay until his eighteenth birthday, Carl plans to play by the rules, so he makes friends with his wisecracking bunkmate, Ross, and a mysterious gray-eyed girl named Octavia. But he makes enemies, too, and after a few rough scrapes, he earns himself the nickname “Hollywood” as well as a string of punishments, including a brutal night in the “sweatbox.” But that’s nothing compared to what awaits him in the “Chop Shop”—a secret government lab where Carl is given something he never dreamed of.

A new life. . . .

A new body. A new brain.

Gifts from the fatherly Old Man, who wants to transform Carl into something he’s not sure he wants to become.

For this is no ordinary government project. Phoenix Island is ground zero for the future of combat intelligence.

And for Carl, it’s just the beginning. . . .

About John

Photograph by Andrew McLean
John Dixon’s debut novel, Phoenix Island, inspired the CBS TV series Intelligence. A former boxer, teacher, and stone mason, John now writes full time and serves as a consultant to ABC Studios. He lives in West Chester, PA, with his wife, Christina, and their freeloading pets. When not reading or writing, he obsesses over boxing, chess, and hot peppers.



Twitter @johndixonbooks

Interview with Rachel Cantor, author of A Highly Unlikely Scenario or, a Neetsa Pizza Employee's Guide to Saving the World - January 18, 2014

Please welcome Rachel Cantor to The Qwillery as part of the 2014 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. A Highly Unlikely Scenario or, a Neetsa Pizza Employee's Guide to Saving the World was published on January 14, 2014.

Interview with Rachel Cantor, author of  A Highly Unlikely Scenario or, a Neetsa Pizza Employee's Guide to Saving the World - January 18, 2014

TQ:  Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

Rachel:  Thank you so much, Sally! I started writing in elementary school, when the sainted Miss Benny plucked a few of us out of our third grade classroom to join her fourth grade creative writing class. My first published work was a Valentine’s poem I wrote that year which appeared in my local newspaper. I won’t say it was a straight line from third grade to publication of my debut novel, but writing is the only thing I’ve ever really wanted to do.

TQ:  Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Rachel:  I love that word—pantser! I’m something of both. I see my (approximate) destination; in A Highly Unlikely Scenario, the destination (spoiler alert!) was the world saved from certain destruction! I also see an overall structure that helps me get to that destination; in A Highly Unlikely Scenario, I envisioned a three-part structure in which Leonard, my bashful protagonist, makes his way first into the world and then into history. Then I wrote through that structure toward that approximate destination. But I don’t know in advance how I’m going to get there. I plot no more than a few pages ahead and rarely know what’s at the end of each sentence. You have to leave room for the unexpected!

TQ:  What is the most challenging thing for you about writing? Where do you write?

Rachel:  The most challenging thing about writing for me is dealing with distraction. I don’t just mean the Internet, though that’s possibly the worst of it, but even daily minutia: the phone ringing, the postman arriving, the question of what I’ll cook for dinner. This is why I do my best work at artists’ colonies, where beautiful people take care of our everyday needs, and we’re released to only live in our imaginations. I’ve been blessed to attend a number of them; this book was in large part drafted at the Millay Colony and the Hall Farm Center, which is sadly defunct. But otherwise I write at home, in private—never in public. I can’t know when my writing is going to make me laugh, or cry!

TQ:  Who are some of your literary influences? Favorite authors?

Rachel:  I read widely and voraciously—literary fiction, speculative fiction/sci fi, mysteries, history. I love long novels and short stories, and I also find inspiration in museums, concerts, films, my friends, walking around a city ... I recently wrote a quick list on Facebook of ten books I couldn’t get out of my mind when I read them—the kind of list you’re not supposed to overthink, noting only the first names that come to mind—and it turns out all were books I’d read before the age of 25: the Narnia series, Jane Eyre, Dante, Italo Calvino, Charlotte’s Web, One Hundred Years of Solitude, Borges. Somehow I forgot Harriet the Spy!

TQ:  Describe A Highly Unlikely Scenario in 140 characters or less.

Rachel:  It’s a literary romp in which one Neetsa Pizza employee discovers that you can’t save the world with pizza coupons.

TQ:  Tell us something about A Highly Unlikely Scenario that is not in the book description.

Rachel:  I love this question! The book is about all of the above, but it’s also about family—about love, guilt, and sacrifice, and also the intergenerational transmission of knowledge, caring, and values. Specifically, it’s about Leonard’s older sister Carol, a neo-Maoist masquerading as a Jacobite, who gave up a music career to care for Leonard; Leonard’s precocious, comic-book-writing, seven-year-old nephew, Felix, who too often is dumped by classmates onto the Municipal Compost Heap; his beloved Sally, a warrior-librarian on a mission to read unreadable manuscripts; and his grandfather, who came from the Old Country and died when Leonard was fifteen, but who’s still a strong presence in Leonard’s memory.

TQ:  What inspired you to write A Highly Unlikely Scenario? Why did you choose to write genre bending SciFi adventure? Do you want to write in any other genres or sub-genres?

Rachel:  I grew up in Italy and have always been fascinated by medieval history—its art, architecture, literature, religious movements, and so on. Many of the people Leonard encounters hail from that time, and then, of course, in the final third of the book, Leonard travels to thirteenth-century Rome to retrieve his nephew Felix and, incidentally, to save the world. Writing about these real people was enormous fun for me, as was trying to reconstruct what Rome was like during that time (what did the fish market look like? what might a person have seen crossing the Tiber?). I’m also interested in ideologies, and how they affect our behavior, for better or worse; in this book, religious and political philosophies we consider extinct still thrive (Whigs, for example, and Heraclitans). I’m not good with labels, but only something like sci fi (fantasy? speculative fiction?) could accommodate this much suspension of disbelief, this much imagination. But I see myself mostly as a literary writer; my next novel (due out in January 2015) is a more straightforward literary novel. After that? Who knows!

TQ:  What sort of research did you do for A Highly Unlikely Scenario?

Rachel:  I did an enormous amount of research for this book: I read Marco Polo’s Travels, as well as critical writings about his achievements; I looked at ancient maps and medieval engravings; I read about Pythagoreans and medieval mystics and Roman architecture and Jewish life in the Middle Ages and pilgrims’ clothing and the list goes on and on! I’ve created a Goodreads bookshelf of some of the sources that were most important to the writing of this novel. I always do about six times more research than I need—this is the case even with the short stories I’ve written. For me, it’s part of the fun of writing!

TQ:  Who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why? Who is your favorite good guy, bad guy or ethically ambiguous character?

Rachel:  To be truthful, none of the characters in this book was difficult to write: they all felt familiar from the start and I had enormous sympathy for them—all, of course, except the villain Ugolino de Barbarubeis, who chases Leonard around Rome, hoping to hurt him with a brank or a scramasax. He is the only unambiguously bad guy. My favorite good guy is probably Leonard’s grandfather, who doesn’t actually appear in the book, but who ate herring, pored over ancient tomes, and told the young Leonard crazy stories he couldn’t understand. Most of the characters are ethically ambiguous, though: most have made mistakes or have acted thoughtlessly or selfishly at one point, usually hurting someone dear to them as a result. Carol abandons her son to Leonard’s care so she can pursue her revolutionary aims; Leonard’s love interest Sally tries to use Leonard to get information she thinks she needs; Leonard himself was unkind to his grandfather and blind to his sister’s sacrifice. I have a special fondness, though, for Bobolo Savelli, the man who runs the pilgrims’ hostel in Rome. He’s not a bad sort, though he may overcharge Leonard and Sally for the privilege of eating his pottage and sleeping in his flea-ridden bed, but he can’t resist charging admission to see one of the marvels Leonard has brought with him to the thirteenth century, which sends Leonard and Sally fleeing from the Inquisition!

TQ:  Give us one of your favorite lines from A Highly Unlikely Scenario.

Rachel:  “Boychik, the old man said. You’re a good egg. I need you to listen good.” To understand what that means, you have to read the book!

TQ:  What's next?

Rachel:  I’ll be reading from A Highly Unlikely Scenario on the East Coast, West Coast, and some places in between this year (for dates, folks can refer to my brand new, sparkly website:, and working with my publisher to edit the next novel (Door Number Two). But I have a residency planned at an artists’ colony later this year where I hope to write new work. Wish me luck!

TQ:  Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Rachel:  Thank you, Sally! This was terrific fun!

A Highly Unlikely Scenario

A Highly Unlikely Scenario or, a Neetsa Pizza Employee's Guide to Saving the World
Melville House, January 14, 2014
Trade Paperback and eBook, 256 pages

Interview with Rachel Cantor, author of  A Highly Unlikely Scenario or, a Neetsa Pizza Employee's Guide to Saving the World - January 18, 2014
In the not-too-distant future, competing giant fast food factions rule the world. Leonard works for Neetsa Pizza, the Pythagorean pizza chain, in a lonely but highly surveilled home office, answering calls on his complaints hotline. It’s a boring job, but he likes it—there’s a set answer for every scenario, and he never has to leave the house. Except then he starts getting calls from Marco, who claims to be a thirteenth-century explorer just returned from Cathay. And what do you say to a caller like that? Plus, Neetsa Pizza doesn’t like it when you go off script.

Meanwhile, Leonard’s sister keeps disappearing on secret missions with her “book club,” leaving him to take care of his nephew, which means Leonard has to go outside. And outside is where the trouble starts.

A dazzling debut novel wherein medieval Kabbalists, rare book librarians, and Latter-Day Baconians skirmish for control over secret mystical knowledge, and one Neetsa Pizza employee discovers that you can’t save the world with pizza coupons.

About Rachel

Interview with Rachel Cantor, author of  A Highly Unlikely Scenario or, a Neetsa Pizza Employee's Guide to Saving the World - January 18, 2014
Photo by Marianne Barcellona
Rachel Cantor was born in Hartford, Connecticut, and raised in Rome. She worked for jazz festivals in France and food festivals in Australia before getting degrees in international development and fiction writing. Her short stories have appeared in The Paris Review, One Story, Kenyon Review, Fence, and other publications. She has received fellowships from Yaddo, the MacDowell Colony, the Millay Colony, the Djerassi Resident Artists Program, and elsewhere, and has been a scholar at the Bread Loaf, Sewanee, and Wesleyan Writing Conferences. She lives in Brooklyn.

Website  ~  Facebook  ~  Tumblr 
Twitter @rachelcantor  ~  Goodreads

Interview with Brian Staveley, author of The Emperor's Blades - January 14, 2014

Please welcome Brian Staveley to The Qwillery as part of the 2014 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Emperor's Blades (Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne 1) was published today. A very Happy Publication Day to Brian!

Interview with Brian Staveley, author of The Emperor's Blades - January 14, 2014

TQ:  Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

Brian:  Well, if you don’t count Anty’s Avinchir, the dashing three-page illustrated tale of a young ant who sets out on a (very brief) series of escapades before returning home to his parents, I started writing seriously in college. In those days, though, I worked almost exclusively with poetry (I know, I know, horrible career move), both writing and translating. After grad school (more poetry), I took a really great job teaching history, religion, and English, and, while at that job, I started writing fantasy.

TQ:  Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Brian:  Neither, really. I know where each book (and character) is headed, but I don’t have an outline that says, “By page 42 Character A should be dead and Character B should be having a beer.” There are writers who can work that way, but I’d miss out on most of my good ideas, which seem to come up in the process of writing. I’ll be working through a chunk of dialogue, for instance, thinking I’m headed one direction, and suddenly the characters will be arguing about some other issue entirely. I want them to be plotting to take the castle gate and instead some asshole has a hankering to get in an argument about the beer. I guess if I were a true pantser I’d scrap the original direction and follow the beer angle. Instead, I try to see how this new thread fits into the larger tapestry.

TQ:  What is the most challenging thing for you about writing? Where do you write?

Brian:  The most challenging thing about writing is doing the damn writing. You read about authors all the time who say, “Oh, I couldn’t not write. If I go a day without writing I start to lose it.”

I happen to be excellent at not writing. There are all sorts of competing attractions: sledding with my son, drinking wine with my wife, making bonfires with friends, skiing, reading, splitting wood, playing board games and drinking beer… Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy writing, but I have to be ever-vigilant about carving out a chunk of time for it each day. Otherwise, it’ll never get done.

TQ:  Who are some of your literary influences? Favorite authors?

Brian:  Influences are tricky things to nail down. The people I wish had influenced me probably haven’t, and I’m certain that there are hundreds of influences at work every day that I don’t begin to suspect. I shudder to think of all the hours I’ve spent reading the back of cereal boxes.

As for favorite authors? There are too many to count. Ursula K. Le Guin is second to none in my personal fantasy pantheon. Outside the genre, I’ve been just floored by Hilary Mantel recently. And then there’s J.M. Coetzee, although he seems to be hitting the same note a lot these last few books. Or Kay Ryan, if we’re talking poetry; I don’t think there’s anyone writing better poems these days. One of the disappointing things about writing so much is that I read less than I used to, and I really feel the loss.

TQ:  Describe The Emperor's Blades (Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne 1) in 140 characters or less.

Brian:  Three adult children of a murdered emperor -- a politician, monk, and soldier -- struggle to reveal the conspiracy without dying themselves.

TQ:  Tell us something about The Emperor's Blades that is not in the book description.

Brian:  Magic users are known as leaches, and they’re about as popular in Annur (the empire at the heart of the novel) as witches were in 17th century Salem. When discovered, they are almost always executed as abominations and perversions of the natural order.

TQ:  What inspired you to write The Emperor's Blades? Why did you choose to write Epic Fantasy? Do you want to write in any other genres?

Brian:  I read whole shelves of fantasy as a kid and never really left the genre. Even when I was all wrapped up with poetry and teaching, I’d have two or three fantasy novels waiting for me each vacation.

It’s really the scope of Epic Fantasy that appeals to me. Every story begins and ends with character, and you can have many in a large book, different women and men from different walks of life struggling with forces as old as history or as intimate as their own minds. Want a five thousand year old historian? Sure. Want a Goddess disguised as a cook? Done. There’s nothing you can’t do in Epic Fantasy. Of course, there’s nothing to guarantee that you’ll do it well

TQ:  What sort of research did you do for The Emperor's Blades?

Brian:  No specific research, but two choices proved indispensable. First, I moved to Asia to write the book because the cost of living is far cheaper over there (a few dollars a day). I didn’t anticipate, however, the way in which all those temples, stupas, wats, gardens, palaces, and fortresses would creep into the novel. The Broken Bay outside Annur, for instance, is modeled pretty closely on Vietnam’s Halong Bay.

The second important factor in the book’s creation was my teaching experience. I spent about a decade teaching ancient world history and comparative religion, and again, although this wasn’t specific research, it’s impossible to imagine The Emperor’s Blades existing at all without those years in the classroom. Historical (and quasi-historical) figures about whom I’d previously known nothing – Bodhidharma, Empress Wu Zetian, Mahavira, and dozens of others – all helped to color my own characters, and, of course, I couldn’t keep some of the great events of world history out of my mind when writing.

TQ:  Who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why? Who is your favorite good guy, bad guy or ethically ambiguous character?

Brian:  Kaden was the most difficult. He’s a monk, the heir to the Unhewn Throne, and one of the three POV characters. The trouble with Kaden (and the monks in general) is that he’s worked half his life to eliminate his own feelings and desires. Unfortunately, feelings and desires tend to be the very qualities that allow us, as readers, to invest in a character. Fortunately, Kaden has not completed his training, so though his feelings are more muted than those of his siblings, though his emotional palette is more subtle, there’s still a lot there to work with.

The easiest character was probably the Flea. He’s a veteran soldier in the elite fighting unit for which Valyn (Kaden’s brother) is training. Short, soft-spoken, unattractive, and utterly deadly, the Flea always seemed to write his own lines.

As for favorite characters, it’s hard to say. Maybe Pyrre. She’s a middle-aged merchant with a limp. Why would I like her? You’ll see.

TQ:  Give us one of your favorite lines from The Emperor's Blades.

Brian:  “The mind is a flame. Blow it out.”

TQ:  What's next?

Brian:  Well, the sequel (The Providence of Fire) is finished save for the last edits, and I’m under way with book three. People warned me that it would be tricky juggling promotion for book one, edits for book two, and writing for book three, and they weren’t wrong! I’m not complaining though – I’m just thrilled that The Emperor’s Blades is out there and that I’m getting the chance to pursue this goal I’ve had in the back of my mind for as long as I can remember, probably ever since I wrote Anty’s Avinchir.

Thanks so much to The Qwillery for doing this interview and to all of you for reading it. If you do pick up The Emperor’s Blades, let me know what you think!

TQ:  Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

The Emperor's Blade

The Emperor's Blades
Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne 1
Tor Books, January 14, 2013
Hardcover and eBook, 480 pages

Interview with Brian Staveley, author of The Emperor's Blades - January 14, 2014
In The Emperor's Blades by Brian Staveley, the emperor of Annur is dead, slain by enemies unknown. His daughter and two sons, scattered across the world, do what they must to stay alive and unmask the assassins. But each of them also has a life-path on which their father set them, destinies entangled with both ancient enemies and inscrutable gods.

Kaden, the heir to the Unhewn Throne, has spent eight years sequestered in a remote mountain monastery, learning the enigmatic discipline of monks devoted to the Blank God. Their rituals hold the key to an ancient power he must master before it's too late.

An ocean away, Valyn endures the brutal training of the Kettral, elite soldiers who fly into battle on gigantic black hawks. But before he can set out to save Kaden, Valyn must survive one horrific final test.

At the heart of the empire, Minister Adare, elevated to her station by one of the emperor's final acts, is determined to prove herself to her people. But Adare also believes she knows who murdered her father, and she will stop at nothing—and risk everything—to see that justice is meted out.

Chapters 1 - 7 are presently available as a free download from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and iTunes.

About Brian

Interview with Brian Staveley, author of The Emperor's Blades - January 14, 2014
I live on a steep dirt road in mountains of southern Vermont, where I divide my time between fathering, writing, husbanding, splitting wood, skiing, and adventuring, not necessarily in that order. After teaching high school (literature, philosophy, history, religion) for a decade, I finally committed to writing epic fantasy. My first book, The Emperor’s Blades, is the start of a series (Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne), forthcoming from Tor in early 2014. has been good enough to release the first seven chapters as a teaser that can be found here: I’m on Twitter at @BrianStaveley, Facebook as bstaveley, and Google+ as Brian Staveley.

Website  ~  Twitter @BrianStaveley  ~  Facebook  ~  Google+

Interview with T. R. Williams, author of Journey into the Flame - January 11, 2014

Please welcome T. R. Williams to The Qwillery as part of the 2014 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Journey into the Flame (Rising World Trilogy 1) was published on January 7, 2014.

Interview with T. R. Williams, author of Journey into the Flame - January 11, 2014

TQ:  Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

T.R.:  I started writing January 22nd 2010. It took a year of starts and stops to settle into what the story arc would be for my first book – Journey into the Flame.

I don’t think that I can put my finger on exactly why I started writing. I will say that storylines had always bounced around in my head. I would see a movie and say “Wouldn’t it be cool to write about this? Or what if the writer and director did that with that character?”. The ideas continued to flow, until one day I sat down and wrote my first sentence.
“In a moment, I found myself in a room which was an ancient library. Books of all kinds and from all time…. I have been here before…”
 That exact line didn’t make it into the final manuscript. But it was my first piece of writing and some of what it alludes to remains in the first book as it is on shelves.

TQ:  Are you a plotter or a pantser?

T.R.:  This is only my first book, but I would have to say that I am much more of a plotter than a pantser. Journey into the Flame, along with the other two books of The Rising World Trilogy, have a lot of moving parts and characters. I found that the links and threads that connect the various elements of the series needed to be mapped out first. Some storylines start and end within one book while others traverse all three. That takes a bit of planning.

That isn’t to say that things didn’t change as I wrote the actual chapters. Many new ideas for twists and turns emerged as the characters and conflicts did. A few changes even took place at the last minute, just before my editor took my pen away.

So, the short answer to the question is, I am 80% plotter and 20% pantser. At least for now.

TQ:  What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

T.R.:  The greatest challenge for me is character development. As in my real life, there are people that I connect with and have an affinity to. I found that writing about these types of characters was easy – I could get into their heads and understand the whats and whys about their life. Characters that weren’t represented by a real-life person in my world were harder for me to develop. I had to research real-life people that I thought closely represented each character.

Adding to that challenge was the practical fact that the book ideally needed to be a certain length, with only so many words. I’d created and written detailed backstories for most of the characters, but, in order to keep the flow of the mystery, I had to make choices as to what backstory elements would be included and which would be left out. This was a real challenge, because as is true in real life – it’s the small and subtle things that define the true character of people.

There is, lastly, the challenge, when writing a trilogy, of developing lead characters over the span of the series. I didn’t want the characters to be completely developed in the first book and then remain stagnant for the remaining two. So many story elements needed to be spread out across the trilogy. I know that leads to readers wanting to know more about a character in the moment – but there are still two more books to come.

TQ:  Who are some of your literary influences? Favorite authors?

T.R.:  Two of my favorite authors are JRR Tolkien and Charles Dickens.

I like Tolkien for creating a whole world, complete with its own history, culture and language. He was able to take the moral compass which guides our current lives and present it in a new and captivating way. My favorite character in Tolkien’s world was Tom Bombadil.

One of my other favorite novels is A Christmas Carol. I’m not sure I have a favorite character. I like them all. This was one story where none of the characters were bigger than the novel that Dickens wrote. I find that inspiring.

TQ:  Describe Journey into the Flame (Rising World Trilogy 1) in 140 characters or less.

T.R.:  In 2027, a series of cataclysmic events shake the world. A few years later, several mysterious books are found around the globe and provide earth’s remaining population the one thing they need: hope. Journey into the Flame moves the reader to the year 2069 where someone has uncovered the true power of those books.

TQ:  Tell us something about Journey into the Flame that is not in the book description.

T.R.:  One of the things that has always intrigued me is reading and learning about people who have done extraordinary things or have incredible gifts and capabilities—individuals who have healed themselves, who possess incredible musical talent at an early age, who can read another’s thoughts. The list goes on. I’ve always believed that all of humanity has these abilities in a latent way. We just haven’t tapped into them. What if all we needed was just the desire to uncover them? Journey into the Flame begins to tug on a singular thread of that tapestry.

TQ:  What inspired you to write Journey into the Flame? Why did you choose to write a genre bending dystopian novel?

T.R.:  The inspiration for the entire Rising World Trilogy is rooted in presenting a view of our world where things are more connected than we acknowledge. Science and religion have been battling for ages – what if there was a way to bridge some of their understandings? What if things that we see as separate and different can be overlaid to present a more complete picture?

I like that phrase--genre bending dystopian novel. One thing that moving a perspective forward to the future accomplishes is that you can change the atmosphere and variables that characters must face. While the moral struggles of the players might be similar to ones we face in the present day, the thought processes and ultimate resolutions to dilemmas can be new and different. So, of course, might the way we think about things in our own lives.

TQ:  What sort of research did you do for Journey into the Flame?

T.R.:  I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, but most of the research for the book was spent in two areas: science and setting.

I spent a great deal of time studying the workings of the human brain and human DNA. There was a lot of refinement required in the manuscript, taking these core elements and presenting them in a way that the reader would not find boring and dry.

I also spent time researching the locations around the world where scenes of the story would take place. I attempted to choose places that I had been to, but in some cases that wasn’t possible. There was also the challenge of setting the story in the future. What would a certain country or city look like in forty years after it might have been destroyed?

TQ:  Who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why? Who is your favorite good guy, bad guy or ethically ambiguous character?

T.R.:  The easiest character for me to write about is a man by the name of Simon Hitchlords. He’s just mean. He has one governing agenda in his life – he wants more power than anyone else. So when I write about him – it’s not difficult to project how he would react to various situations.

The hardest character for me to write about in Journey into the Flame was an elegant and aristocratic woman by the name of Andrea Montavon. She has a sinister streak in her, but she wasn’t always that way. She was difficult to construct because I don’t have people like that in my direct life.

My favorite good guy is Sebastian Quinn. His macro view of the world allows for some interesting insights. My favorite bad guy is Simon Hitchlords. As I said earlier, his decision making is easy – he’s just mean.

My favorite ethically ambiguous character in Journey into the Flame is Randolph Fenquist. But in the second book, there is another character I like even better in this regard. These characters are fun because they most mimic our own lives as we grapple with what is right and what is wrong.

TQ:  Give us one of your favorite lines from Journey into the Flame.

T.R.:  There is a moment where the main protagonist, Logan Cutler says “I can’t imagine a world where people can’t pray.”

I have more, but the question said only one. ☺

TQ:  What's next?

T.R.:  The immediate next thing is the completion of Book II and Book III. They have been plotted out, but I expect many pantser moments (I like that term, I hadn’t heard it before this interview).

After that, we will see. I have ideas for other novels. If I am fortunate, I will be granted the opportunity to write them and have them published.

TQ:  Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

T.R.:  You are most welcome. Thanks for having me!

Journey into the Flame

Journey into the Flame
The Rising World Trilogy 1
Atria Books, January 7, 2014
Trade Paperback and eBook,  448 pages

Interview with T. R. Williams, author of Journey into the Flame - January 11, 2014
In 2027, the Great Disruption shook the world. An unexplained solar storm struck the earth, shifting it four degrees south on its axis. Everything went dark. Humanity was on the verge of despair. Then a man named Camden Ford discovered a set of ancient books called the Chronicles of Satraya.

Thirty years later, the world is a different place. Thanks to the teachings of the Chronicles, hope has been restored, cities rebuilt, technology advanced. The books also have a different owner: Logan Cutler, who inherited them when Camden mysteriously disappeared. But when Logan auctions off the books to pay his debts, they fall into the wrong hands. The Reges Hominum, a clandestine group that once ruled history from the shadows, is launching a worldwide conspiracy to regain control.

Soon Logan realizes he’s made a terrible mistake. With the help of special agent Valerie Perrot and the wisdom of the Chronicles as his guide, he embarks on an epic quest to get the books back before it’s too late.

Abounding with questions about humanity’s secret past and its unknown future, Journey into the Flame will not only take you to the start of an incredible new world, it will also take you deep into the greater mysteries of the self.

About T. R. Williams

T. R. Williams divides his time between Seattle and Chicago. He is a scholar of ancient texts and loves to ponder the mysteries of life.

Interview with Marko Kloos, author of Terms of Enlistment and Lines of Departure - January 24, 2014Interview with John Dixon, author of Phoenix Island - January 23, 2014Interview with Rachel Cantor, author of  A Highly Unlikely Scenario or, a Neetsa Pizza Employee's Guide to Saving the World - January 18, 2014Interview with Brian Staveley, author of The Emperor's Blades - January 14, 2014Interview with T. R. Williams, author of Journey into the Flame - January 11, 2014

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