The Qwillery | category: 2016 DAC Interview


The Qwillery

A blog about books and other things speculative

Interview with Lena Gregory, author of Death at First Sight

Please welcome Lena Gregory to The Qwillery as part of the 2016 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Death at First Sight was published on November 1st by Berkley.

Interview with Lena Gregory, author of Death at First Sight

TQWelcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

Lena:  Hi, and thank you for having me. I’m very excited to be here. I first started writing when my youngest, who is now six, was an infant. I’ve always loved reading, but I hadn’t done any writing since I was a kid. My son didn’t sleep through the night, and I’m a bit of an insomniac anyway, so I figured I’d try my hand at writing. I loved it!

TQ:   Are you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Lena:  I started out as a pantser. I’d just sit down and write whatever came to mind. I loved the twists and turns in the plot and the surprises that would inevitably pop up. The only problem was, I sometimes wrote myself into a corner that way. And forget word count. My first book came in at almost a hundred thousand words! When I was about halfway through Death at First Sight, I had to give in and plot the rest. Although, the killer did come as a surprise at the end.

Now, I’d have to say I’m a hybrid. I do still enjoy writing whatever comes to mind, but now I have at least a rough outline of the basic story.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Lena:  The first draft! I’m just not disciplined enough to sit down and write that first draft. I end up procrastinating in every way possible, often on social media, before I’ll actually sit down and start writing. Once I have that first draft down, the edits go fairly quickly.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Lena:  I think the biggest influence on my writing has been reading. I read as much as I can, in all different genres, not only the genre I’m writing in. Getting lost in a good story motivates me to create my own stories, my own worlds and my own characters.

TQDescribe Death at First Sight in 140 characters or less.

Lena:  With Bee & Stephanie's help, Cass must prove her innocence & save her client from the fate in her vision.

TQTell us something about Death at First Sight that is not found in the book description.

Lena:  Well, she doesn’t share with too many people, but Cass doesn’t actually believe she’s psychic in any traditional sense. Years of psychiatric training and strong observation skills allow Cass to interpret the small tells and gestures that often give away a client’s moods and thoughts, resulting in fairly accurate “readings.”

TQWhat inspired you to write Death at First Sight? What appeals to you about writing what your publisher calls a cozy mysteries?

Lena:  My agent, Dawn Dowdle, first introduced me to cozy mysteries, and I was hooked after reading my first one. I love creating a small community and developing the characters throughout the series. Each time I sit down to start a new book in the series, I feel like I’m getting together with old friends.

The initial idea for Death at First Sight came from an ongoing debate in my house over whether or not ghosts are real. My daughter and I firmly believe in ghosts and in some other existence beyond our own. My husband and older son do not. I visited a psychic I found to be remarkably accurate, yet my husband still wasn’t swayed.

So, I thought it would be fun to bring that debate to my characters. Stephanie believes very strongly in ghosts and fully believes Cass is psychic. Bee, on the other hand, swears he doesn’t believe in anything otherworldly. Cass doesn’t know what she believes, though she’s forced to examine it more closely as the series progresses. Initially, though, she does not believe she’s psychic. She’s just extremely intuitive, and she enjoys helping people. Working as a psychic allows her to use her talents to help her clients.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for Death at First Sight?

Lena:  The setting came easy, since I live on Long Island, but because Bay Island is its own small island, nestled between the north and south forks of Long Island, I did have to do some research, mostly regarding when ferry service would be suspended (for took two) and which police force would have jurisdiction over the island, the state police, a local police force or a sheriff’s office.

Once that was done, I got to start on the fun stuff! I researched every kind of psychic reading I could find, thinking it would be interesting to have Cass offer all different types of readings. Then, since Cass also sells healing crystals at Mystical Musings, I did extensive research on crystals and their healing properties, which I found fascinating.

TQIn Death at First Sight who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Lena:  I think Cass was probably the easiest character to write, because I got to know her best. Being that the story is told from her point of view, I was really able to get into her head throughout the series. I could predict how she’d react to any given circumstances, and I knew her back story right from the beginning.

Bee was the hardest, because he developed over time. His back story didn’t emerge until later in the book, so I wasn’t always sure how he’d react, or what he’d think in any given situation. But, I do have to say, as the story progressed, I really came to love Bee.

TQWhy have you chosen to include or not chosen to include social issues in Death at First Sight?

Lena:  Even though cozy mysteries are murder mysteries, in general, they tend to be kind of light and fun. There is usually very little violence on the page. Although, Death at First Sight is mostly light, and often fun, I did end up including the suggestion of an abused woman in the story, although it’s more alluded to than actually shown. Domestic violence is a difficult subject, and mental abuse can be as bad as physical abuse. Unfortunately, many women suffer in silence, as Ellie does in Death at First Sight, and there doesn’t seem to be as much awareness of it as there could be.

TQWhich question about Death at First Sight do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

Lena:  How did Beast come to be? I love Beast, a Leonberger puppy who manages to get into all sorts of trouble. I love big dogs, and have had at least one, and as many as three at time, for about thirty years. Beast is a combination of all of those dogs, and some of the mischief he gets into is based on true stories.

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Death at First Sight.


“What? The world would be a better place without that woman, anyway.”

And my personal favorite: “Her six-year-old saw two ladies, a dog, and a bear on stilts.”

TQWhat's next?

Lena:  The first three books in the Bay Island Psychic Mysteries series are completed, though I still have to do edits on the third book. The second book in the series, Occult and Battery, is due to release on April 4, 2017, and the third book is due to release in October of 2017. I would love the opportunity to continue the series with a fourth book, and I am currently writing a new cozy series.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Lena:  I’ve really enjoyed visiting. Thank you so much for having me.

Death at First Sight
A Bay Island Psychic Mystery 1
Berkley, November 1, 2016
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 304 pages

Interview with Lena Gregory, author of Death at First Sight

It doesn’t take a crystal ball to see that something’s not right on Bay Island…

Since she left her psychiatric practice in New York City to open up a psychic shop in her hometown on Bay Island, Cass Donovan has given her fair share of readings to conflicted customers. But what she sees in Ellie Callahan’s future doesn’t bode well.

When Ellie’s mother, Marge, publicly confronts Cass about the reading, the embarrassment makes her want to curl up and die. And when she later stumbles across Marge’s body—and is a suspect in her murder—Cass is suddenly the star of Bay Island’s rumor mill.

Cass is determined to prove her innocence and save Ellie from meeting the fate in her unfortunate vision. But even with the help of her friends Bee and Stephanie, Cass will have to channel some serious sleuthing instincts to find the real killer…


Occult and Battery
A Bay Island Psychic Mystery 2
Berkley, April 4, 2017
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 304 pages

Interview with Lena Gregory, author of Death at First Sight
A murder mystery weekend becomes a little too real in the latest Bay Island Psychic Mystery from the author of Death at First Sight—

Cass Donovan uses her skills as a former psychiatrist to get away with pretending to be psychic, but she’s not about to let anyone get away with murder…

The outlook is not so good for Cass’s psychic shop, Mystical Musings. With winter winds discouraging tourists from riding the ferry from Long Island to Bay Island, Cass hopes to draw in more customers by hosting a murder mystery weekend, complete with a séance, in a supposedly haunted mansion.

But Cass begins to lose her spirit when her ex-husband shows up, along with his fiancée—Cass’s ex-best friend. Then, after one of the guests is found dead, a blizzard blows in, trapping everyone inside with a murderer. Now Cass must divine who did the deed before her reputation and her livelihood fade away.

About Lena

Interview with Lena Gregory, author of Death at First Sight
Lena lives in a small town on the south shore of eastern Long Island with her husband and three children.

When she was growing up, she spent many lazy afternoons on the beach, in the yard, anywhere she could find to curl up with a good book. She loves reading as much now as she did then, but she now enjoys the added pleasure of creating her own stories.

Website  ~  Facebook

Twitter @LenaGregory03  ~  Pinterest

Interview with James Islington, author of The Shadow of What Was Lost

Please welcome James Islington to The Qwillery as part of the 2016 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Shadow of What Was Lost is published on November 8th by Orbit. Please join The Qwillery in wishing James a Happy Publication Day!

Interview with James Islington, author of The Shadow of What Was Lost

TQWelcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

James:  Thanks for having me! I’d been aspiring to write something since I was a kid – simply because I’ve always enjoyed the process of creating stories - but it wasn’t until I turned 30 (about five years ago now) that I decided to really sit down and give it a serious shot.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

James:  Definitely a hybrid... which took me ages to figure out. The first time I tried to write my book, I assumed I was going to be a pantser – my best ideas have always tended to come up as I go – but then I got 100,000 words in and discovered I’d written myself into a corner. After that, I figured I must be a plotter and got about 80,000 words into a new version of the story… only to realise that I was forcing characters in unnatural directions, just to keep things adhering to the outline.
So in the end, I figured out the skeleton of a plot - but I also left plenty of breathing room for things to change along the way. It felt (and still feels) like a messy method at times, with a lot of iteration involved, but ultimately it seemed to work for me.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

James:  Stepping back and figuring out how much information to give the reader, and when. Because I already know everything about the world and the larger story, I can find it hard to assess when a lack of information crosses the line from being intriguing to just plain confusing. It’s obviously an important balance to find; too little mystery and the book risks becoming boring or predictable, but too little information and suddenly the story’s inaccessible. So I go back and forth on that a lot.

Fortunately, my editors have been great at nailing down that sort of thing. Between their input and that of my beta readers, I think I get the balance right.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing? Specifically why is Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn series so inspirational?

James:  I think other stories – including genres other than fantasy, and media other than books – are big influences. If I’ve really enjoyed something about a narrative, it’s inevitably going to shape how I look at my own work. On the other hand, if a story has a great concept but I think its execution is lacking, that can inspire me too - I definitely get excited when I see the missed potential of something, and then I think about the way it could be done.

Mistborn was huge for me, because I’d lost much of my interest in reading fantasy during my twenties, and Brandon Sanderson’s series was the one that really brought me back to it. In some ways, it was a throwback to everything I’d always loved about fantasy - fun, heroic characters, a cool world, an intriguing story, dark moments, and great action sequences. But in other ways, it completely changed things. It was fast-paced. It had awesome plot twists. It used a ‘hard’ magic system that gave the characters clear, logical limitations. It was simultaneously a more accessible and a more complex read than what I was used to, and the whole experience really got me enthused about writing my own book again.

TQDescribe The Shadow of What Was Lost in 140 characters or less.

James:  Fast-paced, heroic epic fantasy with a tone along the lines of The Wheel of Time, with likeable characters and some dark twists.

TQTell us something about The Shadow of What Was Lost that is not found in the book description.

James:  Part of the plot actually deals with time travel... which I’m usually hesitant to say, because that’s something that can be really hard to do in both an interesting and logically consistent way. So much so, in fact, that when I hear another story deals with time travel, it will actually sometimes put me off reading it. But I took the concept very seriously when I decided to include it – it’s absolutely key to the way the world I’ve created works, and I’m always conscious of not using it as a lazy ‘get out of jail free’ plot device.

TQWhat inspired you to write The Shadow of What Was Lost? What appeals to you about writing Epic Fantasy?

James:  I wouldn’t say there was a single, specific inspiration. I’ve always loved writing, and epic fantasy has been my favorite genre for a long time now, so it was just naturally going to be the one at which I tried my hand.

I think it’s the scope and stakes of epic fantasy that appeals to me most. When you’re writing about these massive, world-changing threats, the plot becomes intrinsically tied to the world you’re creating – so you’re not just writing a story set in another world, you’re writing a story about another world. Your world-building becomes crucial to your story rather than just window dressing, and that really makes the whole thing so much more interesting and engaging to me.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Shadow of What Was Lost?

James:  I did decide to read up on some of the concepts and philosophies relating to time travel – particularly determinism (in essence, that all events are inevitable), eternalism (all points in time are equally ‘real’), and the principle of self-consistency (the idea that paradoxes while time-travelling are impossible to cause) – because it’s always bothered me when I’ve seen it used in a logically inconsistent way. I wanted to make absolutely sure that my understanding of those theories was correct before I integrated them.

TQIn The Shadow of What Was Lost who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

James:  Davian was the easiest. I think he’s closest to me in personality – I didn’t really have to think too hard about how he would act in a lot of scenes, so writing his part of the story came naturally.

On the other hand, writing Caeden was pretty tricky at times. I was always having to consider how he’d react to situations not just based on his personality, but also how his perspective was colored by what he’d remembered of his past up to that point. I enjoyed writing his scenes, but they certainly required more attention than any of the others.

TQWhich question about The Shadow of What Was Lost do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!


Q: Is it possible to not be a huge Wheel of Time fan and still enjoy your book?

A: Yes! WoT is getting mentioned a lot in reviews of my book, for largely good reason, and don’t get me wrong – Robert Jordan’s series was special to me growing up and remains one of my all-time favorites, so it’s an incredibly flattering comparison. But, I think most people would concede that the series wasn’t perfect. It slowed down in the middle. It sometimes got side-tracked with its secondary characters. Some of its main characters had sections where they were frustrating to read about, for one reason or another.

As a fan, those were things I could always overlook because the rest – the vast, fascinating, complex world and story Robert Jordan created – more than made up for it. But as a writer, they’re also things I tried very hard to avoid in my own work. So if WoT didn’t click with you for some of those reasons, I still think checking out The Shadow of What Was Lost might be worth your time.

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from The Shadow of What Was Lost.


All that I wanted, I received
All that I dreamed, I achieved
All that I feared, I conquered
All that I hated, I destroyed
All that I loved, I saved

And so I lay down my head, weary with despair
For all that I needed, I lost.

TQWhat's next?

James:  I’m currently editing the sequel to The Shadow of What Was Lost – called An Echo of Things to Come – and it’ll be released in 2017.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

James:  It was a pleasure!

The Shadow of What Was Lost
The Licanius Trilogy 1
Orbit, November 8, 2016
Hardcover and eBook, 704 pages

Interview with James Islington, author of The Shadow of What Was Lost
"Love The Wheel of Time? This is about to become your new favorite series." - B&N SF & Fantasy Blog

"Islington has built a world with all the right genre elements: complex magic, terrifying threats out of legend, political intrigue, and a large cast of characters whose motivations are seldom clear. Fans of doorstop epic fantasy will not be disappointed." - Publishers Weekly

"Ingeniously plotted...Islington's natural storytelling ability provides incessant plot twists and maintains a relentless pace...A promising page-turner from a poised newcomer." - Kirkus

It has been twenty years since the god-like Augurs were overthrown and killed. Now, those who once served them - the Gifted - are spared only because they have accepted the rebellion's Four Tenets, vastly limiting their powers.

As a Gifted, Davian suffers the consequences of a war lost before he was even born. He and others like him are despised. But when Davian discovers he wields the forbidden power of the Augurs, he sets into motion a chain of events that will change everything.

To the west, a young man whose fate is intertwined with Davian's wakes up in the forest, covered in blood and with no memory of who he is...

And in the far north, an ancient enemy long thought defeated begins to stir.

About James

Interview with James Islington, author of The Shadow of What Was Lost
James Islington was born and raised in southern Victoria, Australia. His influences growing up were the stories of Raymond E. Feist and Robert Jordan, but it wasn't until later, when he read Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn series - followed soon after by Patrick Rothfuss' Name of the Wind - that he was finally inspired to sit down and write something of his own. He now lives with his wife and daughter on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria.

Website  ~  Twitter @IslingtonJames

Interview with Will Panzo, author of The Burning Isle

Please welcome Will Panzo to The Qwillery as part of the 2016 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Burning Isle was published on November 1st by Ace.

Interview with Will Panzo, author of The Burning Isle

TQWelcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

Will:  I started writing as a teenager. Before then, I often made up stories and characters and worlds, but I didn't put them to paper. I just, sort of, walked around with these people and these strange ideas in my head, sometimes for months. In my early teens I started writing, mostly as a way of getting those thoughts out of my head. I quickly realized I didn't know how to write, but it seemed the only way to learn was to do it. So I did a good amount of writing and an equal amount of throwing away.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Will:  I'm more of a pantser. I need to know the ending of a story before I can start. I have to be writing towards something. But the writing itself is a discovery. Sometimes whole chunks of story come to me, and I'll plot those sections out. But then during the act of writing, I'll inevitably stray from the path I set myself.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Will:  Feeling like I'm getting at something honest and raw. I don't like to feel as though I'm treading water in a story, or walking a reader through the beats they've come to expect. It's a challenge to stay present and open while writing. You've got to trust that the thing which excites you, but which you're worried might be too much for an audience, is the only thing worth pursuing.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing? How does being a former editor at Marvel affect (or not) your novel writing?

Will:  I'm a huge fantasy fan, but also a fan of literary fiction, poetry, comics. Pulling from influences outside your genre is a great way to explore new ground. The mantra I learned at Marvel was a good editor helps a writer or artist tell the best version of their story. I try to put myself in that mindset when I write. I ask myself what story am I trying to tell, and what is the best version of that story.

TQDescribe The Burning Isle in 140 characters or less.

Will:  A dark, violent story set in a fantasy ancient Rome with lots of magic and revenge.

TQTell us something about The Burning Isle that is not found in the book description.

Will:  Our protagonist, Cassius, is a young man who is very powerful and very naive. Obsessed with myths and legends, he fancies himself an avenging hero come to clean up a lawless town. But when confronted with the harsh reality of his work, he realizes that the cost of vengeance is innocence, and the cost of power is your humanity

TQWhat inspired you to write The Burning Isle? What appeals to you about writing Grimdark Fantasy?

Will:  I've always liked stories where a mysterious hero plays two sides of a corrupt town against each other. We've seen this story told in feudal Japan (Kurosawa's Yojimbo), in the Old West (Leone's A Fistful of Dollars), and in Depression-era America (Hammet's Red Harvest). I thought it would be interesting to set this kind of story in a fantasy world. I also wanted to write a revenge story. Lastly, I wanted to show a protagonist really struggle, psychologically and morally, with the violence and upheaval he causes.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Burning Isle?

Will:  A lot of Roman names. Hundreds of them. Military equipment and civilian tools from roughly the first century AD. Accounts of people driven mad by jungles. I'm very eager to sacrifice authenticity for a more satisfying story though, so I make no claims to authenticity.

TQIn The Burning Isle who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Will:  Sulla was by far the easiest. She had her own agenda, and no qualms about pursuing it. Cassius was more difficult. I had a handle on what he wanted. But his quest troubled him. He's a very conflicted character.

TQWhich question about The Burning Isle do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

Will:  Do you think Cassius is a hero? That's the central question of the story itself. I honestly don't have an answer though. I don't think there is a clear answer. It's this uncertainty that plagues Cassius.

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from The Burning Isle.

Will:  "That thing gnawing inside you, I know it well. It has a tremendous appetite, and it can only be sated with blood and fire. A man of your skills is liable to leave a great trail of ruin trying to feed it."

TQWhat's next?

Will:  I'm working on another novel set in the same world as The Burning Isle, with some returning characters. I'm very happy with how it's shaping up so far.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Will:  Thanks for having me!

The Burning Isle
Ace, November 1, 2016
Trade Paperback and eBook, 432 pages

Interview with Will Panzo, author of The Burning Isle
A powerful and gripping debut grimdark fantasy novel, set in a world of criminals, pirates, assassins, and magic…

“A man has only three reasons for being anywhere: to right a wrong, to earn a coin, or because he is lost.”

Cassius is not lost…

The mage Cassius has just arrived on the island of Scipio. Five miles of slum on the edge of fifty miles of jungle, Scipio is a lawless haven for criminals, pirates, and exiles. The city is split in two, each half ruled by a corrupt feudal lord. Both of them answer to a mysterious general who lives deep in the jungle with his army, but they still constantly battle for power. If a man knows how to turn their discord to his advantage, he might also turn a profit…

But trained on the Isle of Twelve, Cassius is no ordinary spellcaster, and his goal is not simply money. This is a treacherous island where the native gods are restless and anything can happen…

About Will

After working in publishing and as an editor for Marvel Comics, Will Panzo found his true calling as a physician assistant for an emergency department. The Burning Isle is his first novel. He lives and works in New York City.

Website ~ Twitter @WillPanzo

Interview with Amelia Atwater-Rhodes

Please welcome Amelia Atwater-Rhodes to The Qwillery as part of the 2016 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Of the Abyss was published in digital format on September 27th and is published in print on November 1st by Harper Voyager Impulse.

Interview with Amelia Atwater-Rhodes

TQWelcome to The Qwillery. You've written over a dozen novels for young adults. Of the Abyss, the first novel in the Mancer Trilogy, is your first adult fantasy. What are the biggest differences for you between writing fantasy for young adults and adults?

Amelia:  To start, coming of age is a major themes of most young adult novels. The individual stories in my YA series are all different, but at the heart of most is the question of, “Who am I?” What does it mean to grow up? How do you balance taking responsibility, asserting your independence and individuality, and still needing the support and protection you’ve had since childhood?

In my adult novels, I have more freedom. One fun part of writing Of the Abyss is that all of my main characters start as established adults, two of which are highly-respected in their fields. They’re at the point in their lives where they can look to the future and say, “Yes, I’m on the path I chose and that is my future.” It all goes to hell of course (fairly literally), the way real life often does, and the characters certainly need to grow and discover and reevaluate… but it’s a very different perspective, and it’s not the central theme of the story.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Amelia:  I'm absolutely a pantser. I'll make a handful of notes before I start writing, but when I start a new book, I rarely have more than a kernel of an idea, and I'm quick to add new things or throw out earlier ideas if I think something new will work better.

Of the Abyss had one page of notes before National Novel Writing Month in 2006. At the start of the month I intended for it to be a 50 thousand word throw-away project- a fun vacation from the series I was in the middle of at the time- responding to a friend's challenge to write a gay erotica story with no particular plot. I failed the challenge; I became too invested in developing my characters and discovering their story, so by the end of the month I had 50,000 words, my main characters hadn't yet hooked up, and I was typing "Part Two" instead of "The End." What was meant to be a silly story turned into an epic trilogy that included my favorite books of all those I had written. Later I looked back at my pre-NaNo notes and realized they were almost unrecognizable as the series of books that actually emerged.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Amelia:  I would have to say the middle third of a first draft, because that’s when a book is most likely to die on the table. There are other parts that are hard or unpleasant, including portions of the editing process, but that middle third is the make-or-break moment for a novel.

The first part of a first draft is easiest for me. I love scene-building, meeting the characters and starting the ball rolling. This is when I get to explore the world and learn about it; I love to build geography, culture, religion, trade, and even popular food of an area. When I revise I often end up reworking a lot of this, because in my rough drafts I "pants" it and let myself run and explore as much as I want.

The beginning is also where I get to introduce the big issues. What is the plot? How do my characters feel about these problems, whatever they are? This part, and their first reactions, is always fun and the easiest part of writing a book.

Then I hit the second third of the book. Characters have moved past immediate reactions, first plans may have failed or caused additional complications, wacky hijinks have begun and I need to figure out how to get from there to the end. This is the point where, because I'm a pantser, half of my books just stop and fizzle. This is the point where I either decide, "yes, I have an idea and it's strong enough to see me through" or "wow, this idea is boring me and I'm not going to keep going." Books in the second group go into a folder I consider my file graveyard.

To refer again to Of the Abyss, this was the point when Hansa (one of my main characters) has escaped being convicted of practicing sorcery and sentenced to death, and has gone home. His fiancée comes running up to him... and, as a writer, I stop and go, "now what?" If all goes well for Hansa and Ruby, it's "happily ever after," which is boring and would end up in the graveyard. Sometimes problems, as a writer, are a seeming lack of problems! In some books the characters dig in their heels and need a reason to get involved, and in other books they're so overwhelmed they (and I) can't see a way out. That's what makes this part so hard - as author, I often need to solve a problem I've set up to appear impossible, or discover a problem the character hasn't realized exists.

Not-really-a-spoiler: Hansa realizes his problems are just beginning.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Amelia:  Everything influences my writing.

I know that seems like a glib answer, but I don’t know any other way to respond. When we get to the questions below about inspiration and fantasy and research, I think you’ll see what I mean.

TQDescribe Of the Abyss in 140 characters or less.

Amelia:  Asking me to be brief- my kryptonite! Okay, here goes…

To escape execution, they must travel to the Abyss- a realm of hedonism, violence and grief- and reevaluate all they once knew about sorcery, love, evil, and even death

(This answer took me longer than any other answer in this interview! Yes, I had to cut out the period to get to 140...)

TQTell us something about Of the Abyss that is not found in the book description.

Amelia:  Though Of the Abyss focuses only on Kavet, that small country is a tiny piece of a much wider world called Castra. We don’t see much of that larger world in Abyss because, since the revolution sixty years ago, Kavet has become an isolationist backwater that participates little in trade or international culture.

One or the odd little facts that differentiates Castra from Earth is a scarcity of iron. Iron is strictly regulated by the Osei, dragon-like creatures who dominate the seas, because it is one of the few materials that can harm them. This makes the value of something like a steel sword (such as Hansa carries as a guard in the 126) a significant symbol of status. The purchase of an iron plow blade is a major investment, which inevitably affects industries like farming. This is one of those little facts that I love to discover, research and consider in depth while barely mentioning in the text because few readers actually care about the intricate nature of smelting iron into farm equipment (and none of my point of view characters are overly affected by it in this particular story).

TQWhat inspired you to write Of the Abyss? What appeals to you about writing Fantasy?

Amelia:  I've already said what my original "inspiration" was, so I'll address how the silly, throwaway story I intended turned into something much bigger and became an entire world I've fallen in love with.

Part of my original “decision,” in the original notes I didn’t stick with, was that this wouldn't be a quest story. I put my characters on an island country, made it winter so all the ports were closed, and said, “There! You’re stuck now!” So instead, they traveled to hell.

The Abyss isn’t really hell, though; that’s just the easiest descriptor to give it. Living mortals tend to describe the Abyss and the Numen as the infernal realm and the divine realm, domains of evil and good, but they’re actually both fairly amoral. Their inspiration came not from traditional Judeo-Christian views of Heaven and Hell, but instead came from Freudian theories about the id, ego and superego.

The Abyssi aren’t devils set out to torment people; they’re just entirely id. They're focused entirely on their own immediate needs and pleasures. The Numini on the other hand are entirely superego, so they are only able to see and understand the world in absolutes and imperatives. The Numini consider themselves the supreme, loving and righteous guardians of humanity... but, like the Abyssi, they don't fully understand human needs or desires, or the complex range of full mortal emotion (in this model, humans represent the ego).

I was also influenced by the song "Imagine," though I'll admit I heard it in an ominous way instead of the optimistic one I’m sure was intended. "Imagine there's no heaven... [and] no hell," and we'll all be able to live in peace, is the heart of the philosophy of the Quinacridone. Followers of the Quinacridone (Quin) believe that dwelling too much on the future or past, or especially dwelling on the Other realms, is a dangerous, slippery slope to destruction. The belief isn’t entirely destructive in itself (it’s based partly on concepts of mindfulness, which I respect and try to adhere to in my own life) but since the Quin make up most of the population in the purely democratic Kavet, their beliefs guide policy, which in this case results in an aggressive, institutionalized ignorance where most people are taught, “Let your leaders decide what’s right and wrong, don’t question, and don’t think too much about it, and you’ll be safe.”

Finally, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that real-world politics and religion played a huge role in inspiring this book, during its first draft and even more so during its revisions. I graduated high school a few months before 9/11, which means I feel like my entire adult life has been set against a backdrop of rising tensions and increasing religious bigotry. The Patriot Act, and other “security” measures since (and they just keep coming up), was a major inspiration for Citizens Initiative 126, which decreed that sorcery of any kind was punishable by death and established the guard force responsible for enforcing that law.

I’m also a queer woman living in the first state to legalize gay marriage, back in 2004-- which means we were also the first state to see the vicious backlash as people tried to ban it again. I started to become actively involved in politics and civil rights in early college, and this too shows in Of the Abyss, both in terms of how sexuality is viewed in Kavet and what rights, responsibilities and freedoms the characters in Kavet have-- or lack, often in the name of “security,” or because in a pure democracy the majority’s beliefs decide the law for all.

That was a long-winded answer. In short, a lot of things inspired the Mancer trilogy, which is part of why it couldn’t stay a simple NaNo, and evolved into a tapestry I’ve loved working with for the past decade.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for Of the Abyss?

Amelia:  Developing the world for Of the Abyss took a great deal of research, the majority of which I completed between the conclusion of the first draft and a completely rewritten second draft. Much of the research went into little things that aren't obvious in the final draft, like establishing the economy, ecology and international position of the country of Kavet.

I chose a lot of real-world analogs on which I could base my decisions. For example, Kavet has approximately the same climate as the state of Maine, which influences what they can farm, what kind of weather they expect or fear, and of course the seasons where shipping trade can or can't happen. In deciding how far or how fast an individual can travel via sea, I decided the naval technology would be roughly analogous to late 18th century, which influenced how difficult it is to go anywhere or ship goods. Some things didn’t have direct equivalents because they are intrinsically different from our world, like the iron scarcity. I needed to learn a great deal about iron and the evolution of its use in our world to consider how this would have changed Kavet.

One of the stranger, obsessive bits of research I did was about ducks. In Mancer 2, one of my main characters was a duck farmer. I famously spent nine hours researching ducks for what eventually became ONE PARAGRAPH in the entire trilogy. I must have ranted about it a great deal, and made a great many duck jokes, because my long-time readers and close friends still make duck and bird jokes about my writing.

TQIn Of the Abyss who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Amelia:  The easiest character to write was Alizarin. Rin is a prince of the third level of the Abyss (a demon), which means he is beautiful, sensual, and has the capacity for incredible destruction. As an Abyssi, he literally has no concept of shame or guilt. He evolves throughout the book, gaining more depth as his understanding grows, but every time he was on stage I enjoyed writing him.

The hardest character to write was Naples, an Abyssumancer (a sorcerer whose power comes from the Abyss) we meet in the second half of the book. I don’t want to write spoilers, but Naples is in a very difficult, complex situation, and the actions he takes as a result are morally beyond gray (they get pretty black). It was hard to write him in a way where he remained understandable and not just irredeemable.

TQWhy have you chosen to include or not chosen to include social issues in Of the Abyss?

Amelia:  This came up earlier when I talked about the inspiration for this book, but I’ll reiterate and rephrase here: I included social issues in Of the Abyss because I couldn’t leave them out. I’m a rabble-raising beyond-progressive gay Jewish woman with disabilities with a day job as a special education teacher. I am too constantly in the middle of or otherwise aware of too many social issues for me to ever create a fantasy world without them.

We live in a flawed world, and all we can do is try our best to improve it, day by day. In that way, my characters are exactly like us all.

TQWhich question about Of the Abyss do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

Amelia:  I was having trouble with this question, so I discussed it with my writing group and the barista at Starbucks (which is where my writing group meets) and they suggested, “Have you tried being less thorough?”

The hardest question here to answer was the one asking for 140 characters! I love this series and I love talking about it. It’s hardest to be brief!

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Of the Abyss.


It was a place of glistening black sand, venomous beasts, creeping vermin, and of course the Abyssi—those perfect, beautiful predators who ruled the infernal realm by fang and claw.

(The description of the Abyss and the Abyssi playing and plotting within at the start of the book was actually one of the last pieces of the book to write.)

He looked up at her with a gaze gone flat and ugly, with no hint inside it of the boy she had once known. “The power gets hungry,” he said, utterly unapologetic.

(This entire scene with Baryte was also a later-version addition, which is odd considering how important it became in the trilogy as a whole. When I went to revise and rewrite for the first time, I realized that Hansa and Cadmia are supposed to be high ranked and respected in their field but we never saw them actually doing their jobs. I also wanted to bring in some pieces of the larger overarching plot, which weren’t developed early in the first draft, since I didn’t know about them yet at the time)

"You taste uncomfortable, and a little angry," Alizarin pronounced. "But you also taste of power. A little dusty, cold like the Numini, but still power."

"Okay. I'm awake," Xaz snapped. "What did you want?"

"I don't remember," he said.

(As I mentioned, I loved writing Alizarin. His interactions with Dioxazine were especially fun. She’s used to dealing with Numini, and simply doesn’t know how to handle an Abyssi. He’s equally at a loss with her.)

TQ:  What's next?

Amelia:  Well, Of the Abyss is the first in a trilogy. I believe we’re aiming for a book each year, with Of the Divine coming out in 2017 and Of the Mortal Realm in 2018.

Divine goes back in time about sixty years, to the time of Kavet’s revolution, when the royal house was deposed. It isn’t a prequel, though; I think it’s more accurate to describe it as a companion. Either way, it provides the next puzzle piece readers need to unravel mysteries that come up in the first book, and sets the stage for the third book. Last, Of the Mortal Realm picks up where Abyss leaves off, and sees the story through to the end.

I’m currently editing both Divine and Mortal. I also, always, have other projects going, ranging from more work in this world (though not in Kavet) to futuristic Earth sci-fi.

My NaNoWriMo novel this year takes place several thousand miles away from Kavet, at the border of warring Silmat and Ilbian, and is inspired by a strange combination of Mulan and… and I have no idea, actually, but I think it’s going to be fun. Between the recent controversies over trans rights and my own experiences with friends who have recently come out or transitioned, gender has been on my mind a lot, so that’s going to be on the list of topics I explore this year as well.

TQ:  Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Amelia:  You’re welcome- Thank you for inviting me!

Of the Abyss
Mancer Trilogy 1
Harper Voyager Impulse, September 27, 2016
      eBook, 400 pages
Harper Voyager Impulse, November 1, 2016
      Mass Market Paperback, 496 pages

Interview with Amelia Atwater-Rhodes
After decades of strife, peace has finally been achieved in Kavet—but at a dark cost.  Sorcery is outlawed, and anyone convicted of consorting with the beings of the other realms—the Abyssi and the Numini—is put to death. The only people who can even discuss such topics legally are the scholars of the Order of the Napthol, who give counsel when questions regarding the supernatural planes arise.

Hansa Viridian, a captain in the elite guard unit tasked with protecting Kavet from sorcery, has always led a respectable life. But when he is implicated in a sorcerer’s crimes, the only way to avoid execution is to turn to the Abyss for help—specifically, to a half-Abyssi man he’s sworn he hates, but whose physical attraction he cannot deny.

Hansa is only the first victim in a plot that eventually drags him, a sorcerer named Xaz, and a Sister of the Napthol named Cadmia into the depths of the Abyss, where their only hope of escape is to complete an infernal task that might cost them their lives.

About Amelia

Amelia Atwater-Rhodes wrote her first novel, In the Forests of the Night, when she was 13 years old. Other books in the Den of Shadows series are Demon in My View, Shattered Mirror, Midnight Predator, all ALA Quick Picks for Young Adults. She has also published the five-volume series The Kiesha’ra: Hawksong, a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year and VOYA Best Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror List Selection; Snakecharm; Falcondance; Wolfcry; and Wyvernhail.

Website  ~  Twitter @AtwaterRhodes  ~  Facebook

Interview with Alex White, author of Every Mountain Made Low

Please welcome Alex White to The Qwillery as part of the 2016 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Every Mountain Made Low was published on October 25th by Solaris.

Interview with Alex White, author of Every Mountain Made Low

TQWelcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

Alex :  Glad to be here!

I started out writing movies. I've been a film geek since I was a teenager, and my friends used to tease me because I was such a little film snob. They started saying, "If you can't do better, we don't want to hear it." So one semester, I had a help desk job and too much time on my hands, so naturally I decided to start banging away at a screenplay. It was a romantic comedy, and needless to say, it was terrible. No one needs to take tips from a high schooler about love and sex. After that, I got a little more serious and wrote a feature-length blockbuster action in 2003, then finally finished my first novel in 2006. I've been writing novels ever since, and I'm about to finish my eighth.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Alex :  I'm meticulous about planning my characters' motivations. Every speaking character in my stories has a decent biography with all of the forces acting upon them. I use Aeon Timeline to map their life stories and determine specific ages for each event, questioning how certain events at certain times would alter their personalities. From there, I tend to naturally divide my books into three acts. I thoroughly plot the first two acts, but leave the third act blank, save for a basic idea. I think a spectacular ending needs to be discovered, and is a function of the character interactions over plot.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Alex :  I always want to write outside of my comfort zone. Each new book needs to be substantially different than anything I've ever produced. If it comes easy to me, I'm not interested. Emotional investment is also key--even my lighthearted comedy starred a character who was deeply flawed, anxious and suicidal. I don't appreciate characters who always maintain the moral high ground, because I'm not sure that's possible in life. I care about the screw-ups, not the sexy, wisecracking swashbucklers.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Alex :  I had a great high school education that focused on mid-century American lit, like CATCHER IN THE RYE, THE GREAT GATSBY and A FAREWELL TO ARMS. From there, I went on to read a lot of Flannery O'Connor, and fell in love with her clear, concise prose. In 2008, I read AND THE HIPPOS WERE BOILED IN THEIR TANKS, and learned that even total assholes can be compelling main characters. In addition to the literary influences, I love big, silly action flicks and stylish cinema. I'm always trying to capture both the literary and the cinematic: big visual ideas filtered through the clearest possible lens.

TQDescribe Every Mountain Made Low in 140 characters or less.

Alex :  An autistic woman living in a late-stage capitalist hellhole is confronted with the ghost of her best friend; seeks revenge for her murder.

TQTell us something about Every Mountain Made Low that is not found in the book description.

Alex :  There are two southern American myths in the story, one explicitly present and one referenced. Tailypo, an Appalachian folk horror classic, is one of the characters who aids Loxley on her path of revenge. He owns a bar, The Hound's Tail, in the darkest depths of the city. The other mythological character is Kate Baggs, otherwise known as the Bell Witch, operating out of Nashville. I like to think that tons of American mythological creatures exist in this setting, from the wendigo to Sasquatch, all hiding just out of sight of the cities.

TQWhat inspired you to write Every Mountain Made Low? What appeals to you about writing Fantasy?

Alex :  My son has autism, and like any father, I wanted to research his condition and make his life easier. The more I learned about him, the more I discovered about myself, my anxieties and habitual behaviors. Like so many parents, I came to believe in the social model of disability--that our civilization creates disabilities through its failure to empathize and provide for people. Meanwhile, I became angrier and angrier with portrayals of autism in the media. I hated the savantism and blank character reduction so commonplace in television and books. I was sick of seeing them reduced to calculators. Autistic characters should be people, not plot devices.

Meanwhile, I had this idea for a book set in the mythical American South. It wasn't really taking shape. I knew I wanted to have a character based around the brown recluse, a highly-poisonous spider native to my area, but I didn't want it to be the "seductress spider" cliche that everyone runs with. I wanted to write a timid character who could be dangerous in unpredictable ways when cornered, but otherwise just wanted to live life alone. When that character became autistic, everything clicked into place, from the overarching narrative to the cutthroat setting.

I included fantastical elements because I can't help it. I love a big, sprawling setting with supernatural elements. To date, every book I've written has had ghosts or magic or ancient curses. It's just the way I do business.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for Every Mountain Made Low?

Alex :  I wouldn't ever tackle a book like this without a significant amount of life experience. I focused on reading biographies by autistic people like THE REASON I JUMP, IDO IN AUTISMLAND, CARLY'S VOICE and Temple Grandin's THINKING IN PICTURES. I wanted to hear from people who were actually autistic and weave their experiences into my own. Anything less would be an incredible disservice to a thriving and diverse community of great individuals.

TQIn Every Mountain Made Low who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Alex :  The easiest character to write is Duke Wallace, the theocrat at the center of the conspiracy. Duke is a hyper-conservative evangelical Christian, and we have quite a few of those around here. I grew up in the church, and I was surrounded by some of the abusive beliefs Duke brings to bear on those around him. He thinks he's doing the right thing, but he gets there by not respecting peoples individuality and wishes. He's patronizing and self-aggrandizing, and I find writing him cathartic.

My main character, Loxley, is the hardest to write. I care about her so much, and I want to be respectful of the people with whom she shares her daily struggles. She's a constant balancing act. She has a difficult existence, being surrounded by such an uncaring society, but she isn't there to be pitied. She has trouble perceiving our fragile social nuances, but she's whip-smart and highly capable. People take advantage of her flaws, but she's not a fool. And I can't simply make her an angel. She grew up as part of a racist society, and some of her mother's prejudice has rubbed off on her.

TQWhy have you chosen to include or not chosen to include social issues in Every Mountain Made Low?

Alex :  This isn't exactly a light read. The town where Loxley lives, the Hole, is an unchecked capitalist paradise. There's no such thing as antitrust, and a single large corporation, the Consortium, owns most of the land in the southeast. They own the roads, utilities and farms. They make most of the food and pharmaceuticals. They supply life itself, and the residents of the Hole are socially-stratified and poverty-stricken. The world is a manifestation of the wealth gap.

I set it in a near-dystopian city because I worry every day about what would happen to my son without me. I hope that people would step in and help him have a happy life, but the conservative politicians where I live defund every social program they can find. Special education often gets cut first, leading to disheartened teachers and disenfranchised students. I believe that, with the moralization of wealth, we create a destructive, uncaring society that actively harms those at the fringes. People with autism face the pervasive bigotry of neurotypical society, and I worked hard to include those constant micro-aggressions.

My story also contains a stream of "well-meaning" men who abuse their influence over others: policemen, employers, executives, landowners. Sometimes these men are subtle, sometimes not. In my town, you can't throw a rock without hitting patriarchal crap, so part of this book is me throwing rocks.

TQWhich question about Every Mountain Made Low do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

Alex :  "The word 'autism' never appears in the novel. Why not?"

Thanks. Great question. :-D

Loxley lives in a world that doesn't care about her. There is no such thing as an autism diagnosis for her, since people either learn to survive, or they starve to death in the streets. America has a terrible set of mental health policies, and so it's no surprise that a large percentage of our homeless folks are walking around with un-diagnosed mental health issues. The Hole is America on its worst day.

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Every Mountain Made Low.

Alex :

Jayla had her stand up, then helped her replace her smudged jacket. She slipped the mask over Loxley’s face, completing the stranger in the mirror. The violinist on the other side of the glass was beautiful and confident. Mysterious. Strong. A little wild. Her dull hair poked out around the mask at odd angles; she hadn’t tamed it after her bath.

Jayla seemed to notice the unkempt hair at the same time. She stroked it once. “We’ve still got a lot of work to do.”

“I like my hair like this.”

“I could make it even better.”

Loxley shook her head, along with the violinist across from her. She thrilled to see this side of herself, and her voice came out easily and clearly. “No. This is perfect. This is the real me.”


“Over time, Vern taught me that some things were right, and some things were wrong. ‘Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.’ I was a flexible man, soft of character and will. I became a hard man, forged by the hand of God, and he made me inflexible."

TQWhat's next?

Alex :  Nothing I can share yet, but good things are always on the horizon!

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Alex :  Thanks for having me!

Every Mountain Made Low
Solaris, October 25, 2016
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 416 pages

Interview with Alex White, author of Every Mountain Made Low
Loxley Fiddleback can see the dead, but the problem is... the dead can see her.

Ghosts have always been cruel to Loxley Fiddleback - but none more than the spirit of her only friend, alive only hours earlier. Loxley isn’t equipped to solve a murder: she lives near the bottom of a cutthroat, strip-mined metropolis known as “The Hole,” suffers from crippling anxiety and can't cope with strangers. Worse still, she’s haunted.

She inherited her ability to see spirits from the women of her family, but the dead see her, too. Ghosts are drawn to her, and their lightest touch leaves her with painful wounds.

Loxley swears to take blood for blood and find her friend’s killer. In doing so, she uncovers a conspiracy that rises all the way to the top of The Hole. As her enemies grow wise to her existence, she becomes the quarry, hunted by a brutal enforcer named Hiram McClintock. In sore need of confederates, Loxley must descend into the strangest depths of the city in order to have the revenge she seeks and, ultimately, her own salvation.

About Alex

Interview with Alex White, author of Every Mountain Made Low
Alex White was born and raised in the American south. He takes photos, writes music and spends hours on YouTube watching other people blacksmith. He values challenging and subversive writing, but he'll settle for a good time.

In the shadow of rockets in Huntsville, Alabama, Alex lives and works as an experience designer with his wife, son, two dogs and a cat named Grim. He takes his whiskey neat and his espresso black.

Every Mountain Made Low is his debut novel.

Website  ~  Facebook  ~  Twitter @alexrwhite

Interview with Stephanie Gangi, author of The Next

Please welcome Stephanie Gangi to The Qwillery as part of the 2016 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Next is published on October 18th by St. Martin's Press and is an Indie Next Pick for November. Please join The Qwillery in wishing Stephanie a Happy Publication Day!

Interview with Stephanie Gangi, author of The Next

TQWelcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

Stephanie:  Hi, TQ – thank you for having me. I’ve been writing all my life – in journals as a girl, in college, at every job I’ve had – somehow they were all writing or editing jobs. I got committed to my own writing – poetry and my novel, The Next, in my mid-fifties.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Stephanie:  I am definitely a plotter-pantser hybrid. I plan and plot but once I’m on solid ground, feeling secure in my journey, I release to the fates and let the book take me where it needs to go.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Stephanie:  The most challenging thing about writing is protecting the time to write. I have a full time job, friends and family, obligations and errands – you know, life. For me, writing requires that I sequester myself, go into a tunnel, leave the fun behind for a while. For a different kind of fun.

TQHow does being a poet affect your prose writing?

Stephanie:  I think being a poet makes me listen deeply to the rhythms of my sentences. I love lyrical writing, I love a good beat, I love repetition, I love to drive the story using all of it. I learned that from both reading and writing poetry. In fact, when I get stuck, I pick up a poetry book and read, to help me quiet down and listen for the rhythms.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Stephanie:  It sounds kind of corny, but (aside from everything in my past and present) I am consistently influenced by my daughters – the love we have for each other, their open-hearted world views, their kindness, the sisterhood they share, and now that they are adults, our friendship. Motherhood has been a constant source of learning for me – I’ve gotten so much from it at all stages. I’ve been told that comes through in my book.

TQDescribe The Next in 140 characters or less.

Stephanie:  A contemporary, literary ghost story of betrayal, revenge and lust after life.

TQTell us something about The Next that is not found in the book description.

Stephanie:  I love this question. I think – I hope – it’s rock and roll and sexy and funny. Despite the fact that Joanna, the protagonist, is a ghost.

TQWhat inspired you to write The Next?

Stephanie:  I got the idea for The Next walking down Broadway in my neighborhood on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. I was nursing a broken heart, and it was a warm early fall afternoon, and it seemed like every shop and every car that passed was blaring Adele's "Rolling in the Deep". The popularity -- and anger -- of the song made me feel a little bit better. We've all been there. I wanted to capture that raw jealousy and rage that I was secretly feeling too, but could never express ... except through fiction!

TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Next?

Stephanie:  Believe it or not, I did a fair amount of research about ghosts. I watched youtube videos, I read ghost stories, I read “scientific” articles and books about ghosts and hauntings and invisibility. I was pretty surprised by how much is out there about ghosts. I’m still not convinced.

TQIn The Next who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Stephanie:  The easiest character in the book to write was Laney. I felt very connected to her grief over the loss of her mother, and her confusion as to how to move forward with her own life without her mother’s day to day guidance and support and love. I tapped into my own grief over the death of my parents years ago.

The toughest characters were Jo and Ned. I wanted them to be complex, complicated, not necessarily always likeable, but human and relatable. I think I succeeded, judging from the reviews, but it wasn’t easy to reveal them as their worst selves on the page, but their best selves too.

TQWhich question about The Next do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

Stephanie:  Why did you choose to make the protagonist a ghost? Seems like a risky decision, not exactly mass marketable!

I don’t believe in ghosts, but I believe we are all haunted by the past, especially as we get older, especially by what might have been, how we could have done better … and the past comes in strong in the dark, in the middle of the night. I also like the ghost metaphor for a woman of a certain age, made less visible, less sexual, less present in the world by society, because she’s getting older, or is sick, or is single. I think I may have been raging against that.

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from The Next.

Stephanie:  I have one I truly love: “Bitches are made, not born.” I’ve been told the book is full of quotable lines – I’m not going to spoil it.

TQWhat's next?

Stephanie:  I’m working on enjoying the ride for The Next. My publisher, St. Martin’s Press, has been enormously supportive of the book, and I’m spending the next couple of months talking to readers and other writers through the internet, at live readings, through Skype for book clubs, etc, so that’s really fun. In early 2017, I’ll be leading writing workshops for breast cancer patients, and digging in on my new novel. I’ve also got a few personal essays on deck. Oh, and my day job!

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Stephanie:  Thank you!

The Next
St. Martin's Press, October 18, 2016
Hardcover and eBook, 320 pages

Interview with Stephanie Gangi, author of The Next
"Love and loss, revenge and redemption, this debut novel will stick with you for a long time." —Emily Giffin

"I love The Next...elegantly written, thoughtfully sharp, surprisingly touching." —Cathleen Schine

Is there a right way to die? If so, Joanna DeAngelis has it all wrong. She’s consumed by betrayal, spending her numbered days obsessing over Ned McGowan, her much younger ex, and watching him thrive in the spotlight with someone new, while she wastes away. She’s every woman scorned, fantasizing about revenge … except she’s out of time.

Joanna falls from her life, from the love of her daughters and devoted dog, into an otherworldly landscape, a bleak infinity she can’t escape until she rises up and returns and sets it right—makes Ned pay—so she can truly move on.

From the other side into right this minute, Jo embarks on a sexy, spiritual odyssey. As she travels beyond memory, beyond desire, she is transformed into a fierce female force of life, determined to know how to die, happily ever after.

About Stephanie

Interview with Stephanie Gangi, author of The Next
Stephanie Gangi lives, works and writes poetry, fiction and personal essay in New York City. The Next is her debut novel.

Website  ~  Twitter @gangi_land

Facebook  ~  Instagram

Interview with Barbara Barnett, author of The Apothecary's Curse

Please welcome Barbara Barnett to The Qwillery as part of the 2016 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Apothecary's Curse is published on October 11th by Pyr. Please join The Qwillery in wishing Barbara a Happy Publication Day!

Interview with Barbara Barnett, author of The Apothecary's Curse

TQWelcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

Barbara:  Thank you! I started writing when I was about ten years old. My mom loved writing poems, so I sort took up the pen and started writing. Hers rhymed, mine never did.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Barbara:  I was absolutely a pantser until this novel. I would get an idea and just start writing, knowing more or less what I wanted to explore. With this novel, I outlined the entire book before I started writing. I plunked the outline for each chapter just below the chapter heading in the manuscript to guide me through each chapter. But as I wrote, the story (and characters) sort of took over, as they are wont to do. And the final book is quite different than where it began. But all through the writing process, I kept going back to that outline every time I got stuck, and whether or not I adhered to it, it always reminded me of where I was going, if not how I was going to get there!

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Barbara:  The discipline of doing it every day, no matter how blocked I am, no matter how tired I am. I’m not one of those writers who sets a 2,000 word goal for every day (although I did with Apothecary) unless I’m on deadline. So, yeah, discipline is the most challenging thing. After that, probably leaving favorite, but unnecessary, scenes on the cutting room floor (as it were). The old “Killing your darlings” adage. It’s painful, and I never completely delete them, preferring, instead to keep them for the future (and another book).

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Barbara:  My writing has always been fueled by a lifelong curiosity about the world. I look at the stars and wonder about them; I hear the call of a bird and I have to know what kind it is. I think (I hope) my characters reflect that in one way or another. In Apothecary, Gaelan Erceldoune, who is more than four centuries old is still in awe of the stars and planets. There’s a scene in which he picks up a rock on the beach. He doesn’t simply look at it; he wonders what’s inside. Is it a geode? What kind? That’s my own curiosity talking—I’d do exactly the same thing!

TQYou've worked as a microbiologist and have a degree in Biology/Chemistry. How did this influence (or not) The Apothecary's Curse?

Barbara:  My undergraduate education and work in Biology and Chemistry influenced me quite a bit in writing The Apothecary’s Curse. The scientific core of the story also relies on our modern understanding of genetics and medicine, but also on our human propensity to label as magic or miracle things we do not yet understand. Is it magic or is it science? That is the question. And it’s a question that comes up several times in the novel. Again, my grounding in the sciences helped me both read technical papers on the relevant medical and biological principles and translate them into a fantasy story.

TQDescribe The Apothecary's Curse in 140 characters or less.

Barbara:  Between magic and science, history and mythology lies The Apothecary’s Curse-a tale of free, unintended consequences, and, ultimately, love.

TQTell us something about The Apothecary's Curse that is not found in the book description.

Barbara:  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (the creator of Sherlock Holmes) plays a small but significant role in the story. And his fingerprints are everywhere!

TQWhat inspired you to write The Apothecary's Curse? What appeals to you about writing Fantasy (Urban and Historical)?

Barbara:  I’ve always been drawn to the ballads and legends of the British Isles, especially the supernatural ballads of fairy queens and elfin knights. The ballad of Thomas the Rhymer, who was, according to the legend, kidnapped by the Queen of Elfland and returned seven years later with the gift of prophecy and more, has always intrigued me. So I asked the question: “What if Thomas returned with something more than the gift of prophecy? What if he returned to Scotland with a mysterious, ancient book of healing? And what if that book, generations later was accidentally misused?” The answer to that question is the central story of The Apothecary’s Curse.

I love writing historical fantasy because it allows me to take real history (accurately told) and ask interesting “what ifs.” My favorite fantasy stories are always grounded in reality and history, science and the possible (no matter how improbable).

TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Apothecary's Curse?

Barbara:  So much research!! To make the science work, I read extensively about the 2009 Nobel prize-winning work in genetics. I researched both Celtic and Greek mythology and a bit of astronomy to create some of the backstory for Gaelan. I also researched the history British medicine, especially as it relates to the practice of “gentlemen” physicians and apothecaries in Victorian England—especially to understand how Gaelan would be a qualified medical practitioner and to underpin the tension between Simon Bell and Gaelan in the Victorian sections of the novel. I researched the settings as well: from the Borders region of Scotland to Smithfield Market of 19th Century London to my own backyard of Chicago’s north shore. I also read a lot of history of the era surrounding Gaelan’s early life in late 16th Century Scotland under James VI. Oh! And lots and lots about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle way beyond his writing of the Holmes canon! That scratches the surface. In other words, a lot of research went into creating The Apothecary’s Curse and its world.

TQIn The Apothecary's Curse who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Barbara:  I think the easiest character for me was Gaelan. But he was also the hardest. Easy because I understood him—not because I am an immortal (!), but because he shares my curiosity about the world and everything in it. Also easy, because I gravitate toward melancholy, brooding heroes, so I adored writing the enigmatic, sometimes-misunderstood Gaelan Erceldoune. He (and Simon) were also difficult technically. They both exist both in the Victorian part of the story and the present-day story. I had to be constantly vigilant in the modern story about keeping their diction (especially in dialogue) 21st Century while keeping them in character.

So, that’s a bit of a cheat for an answer, so I’ll say that Anne Shawe was the hardest of my main characters to write. I wanted to avoid having her be too much “me”—a slightly naïve, enthusiastic, eager scientist. I also needed to make sure the incredible, but right-in-front-of-her-eyes nature of her situation didn’t make her come off as either too gullible or skeptical beyond belief (like Scully often was in The X-Files in the later years).

TQWhy have you chosen to include or not chosen to include social issues in The Apothecary's Curse?

Barbara:  The Apothecary’s Curse definitely touches on social issues, especially the question of what happens when our knowledge and technology outstrip our wisdom to use it. I think that theme filter through all the characters both in the modern and Victorian stories. Each of the characters in The Apothecary’s Curse encounters dilemma in different ways during the course of the story. I think that that all good fiction should say something. Maybe the something is subtle and indirect; maybe it’s overt.

TQWhich question about The Apothecary's Curse do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

Barbara:  Where did you come up with the names “Gaelan Erceldoune” and “Simon Bell” (the two protagonists)?

Both of their names were chosen with a lot of thought. Both of their names speak to their families’ histories and then some (especially Gaelan). I took the name Gaelan from the ancient Roman-Empire physician-philosopher Galen of Pergamon. He was one of antiquity’s most influential men of science, especially in anatomy, physiology, pathology, and pharmacology. Gaelan’s last name Erceldoune connects him with his ancestor Thomas the Rhymer, whose full name was Lord Thomas Learmont de Ercildoune. The place Ercildoune (or as I spell it Erceldoune) is now the town of Earlston in the Borders region of Scotland.

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from The Apothecary's Curse.

“He ignored the derision in Bell’s tone, sweeping past him as he brushed his shirtsleeve across the cover; a swirl of dust erupted between them. Then with a rag pulled from his trouser pocket, Gaelan burnished the cover with meticulous, minute strokes, revealing the engraved image of an intricate tree. Emerging from deep within the leather, its bare branches entwined and diverged into snakes, each consuming its own tail—an ouroboros. The snakes merged, transforming once again into an elaborate border of interconnected and twisted helices. Gaelan beheld the marvelous engraving, considering the complexity of its design.

The hawthorn: sigil of balance between life and death. A reminder that all medicines were a paradox, curative or poisonous and, as Gaelan well knew, too often producing unexpected consequences. And then there were the ouroboroses—they were alchemy’s symbol for the circularity of life: life from life, life from death, from death to living in an eternal chain. For what was the true nature of medicine’s practice? To lift the dying, to forestall death’s knock at the door, and recommence life. But Gaelan knew, more than most, that the ouroboros also signified life eternal . . . immortality, alchemy’s eternal quest.”

TQWhat's next?

Barbara:  Right now, I’m working on a second novel that takes us more deeply into Gaelan’s history. I also continue to contribute to Blogcritics Magazine, where I serve as executive editor and publisher.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

The Apothecary's Curse
Pyr, October 11, 2016
Trade Paperback and eBook, 340 pages

Interview with Barbara Barnett, author of The Apothecary's Curse
In Victorian London, the fates of physician Simon Bell and apothecary Gaelan Erceldoune entwine when Simon gives his wife an elixir created by Gaelan from an ancient manuscript. Meant to cure her cancer, it kills her. Suicidal, Simon swallows the remainder—only to find he cannot die. Five years later, hearing rumors of a Bedlam inmate with regenerative powers like his own, Simon is shocked to discover it’s Gaelan. The two men conceal their immortality, but the only hope of reversing their condition rests with Gaelan’s missing manuscript.

When modern-day pharmaceutical company Genomics unearths diaries describing the torture of Bedlam inmates, the company’s scientists suspect a link between Gaelan and an unnamed inmate. Gaelan and Genomics geneticist Anne Shawe are powerfully drawn to each other, and her family connection to his manuscript leads to a stunning revelation. Will it bring ruin or redemption?

Qwill's Thoughts

The Apothecary's Curse starts in Victorian London and introduces us to the main protagonists - Dr. Simon Bell and Gaelen Erceldoune.

In the novel Dr. Simon Bell is a member of the famous Bell family of doctors and brother to Dr. James Bell. (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle based some of Sherlock Holmes on the real Dr. James Bell.) Simon Bell is a well known doctor in his own right in the novel. He is deeply in love with his wife, Sophie, and would do anything to save her from the cancer that is killing her.

Gaelen Erceldoune is a well-known apothecary. He has set up his business in a poor section of London and does his best to help the people of his neighborhood. He has an immense collection of books on the healing arts and science. Gaelen also is in possession of a manuscript that has been passed down in his family. It contains many cures not available to the 'modern' medicine of the Victorian era. The manuscript's history is absolutely fascinating and becomes even more so in the latter sections of the novel.

Simon's and Gaelen's lives become inextricably linked when Gaelen, who has withdrawn from aiding doctors due to certain events in his life, agrees to help Simon and give him a cure for his wife. Things go wrong with the cure, though who is to blame is never 100% clear to either man, and Sophie dies. Simon becomes despondent and in a desperate attempt to end his own life and reunite with his wife takes the rest of the cure. He doesn't die... he is granted immortality. Gaelen loses his manuscript due to events beyond his control. He is wrongly accused of crimes and life becomes a hell for him.

The novel details the lives of the two men in both the Victorian and modern era. Simon has been keeping on eye on Gaelen over the years partially out of friendship and partially out of a desire to help Gaelen find his missing manuscript. Simon wants to die and only the manuscript holds the key to reversing his immortality. Events conspire against Gaelen and his miraculous abilities to heal become known. Enter both Anne Shawe, a geneticist, and an unethical pharmaceutical company that wants Gaelen for his unique physiology. Things come quickly to a head after Gaelen is exposed. The game is afoot!

The Apothecary's Curse is beautifully researched and there is a real sense of history and wonder throughout. Bell and Erceldoune are an odd couple linked in immortality and the things they have lost throughout the years. Both men are well-developed and their lives in both the modern and Victorian eras detailed. Barnett has created a captivating combination of Historical and Urban Fantasy, of science and the supernatural, and of loss and love in The Apothecary's Curse.

About Barbara

Interview with Barbara Barnett, author of The Apothecary's Curse
Barbara Barnett is publisher and executive editor of Blogcritics Magazineand the author of Chasing Zebras: The Unofficial Guide to House, M.D. Barbara has won several awards for her writing, spanning from technical writing achievement to her writing on spirituality and religion. Barbara has a degree from the University of Illinois in biology/chemistry and has worked as a microbiologist. She is the current president of the Midwest Writers Association.

Website  ~  Twitter @B_Barnett  ~  Facebook

Interview with Colin Gigl and Review of The Ferryman Institute

Please welcome Colin Gigl to The Qwillery as part of the 2016 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Ferryman Institute is published on September 27th by Gallery Books.

Interview with Colin Gigl and Review of The Ferryman Institute

TQWelcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

Colin:  Thank you, happy to be here. I started writing some time around age 3 or 4, I think — "mom" being the first, last, and only word in my debut, which was awarded an illustrious place on the family fridge. I began taking it more seriously in college after a professor made the mistake of saying she thought a piece I wrote was funny. You can blame her for this.

I started writing because I (usually) enjoy it, at least when I'm in the moment. Sometimes, when you're writing, the world sort of falls away, and when you snap back to it, you've got 100 words on the page you don't really remember writing that you can't believe are your words... That's a special feeling.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Colin:  Mostly pantser, sort of hybrid though. On the plotting side, I'll jot down key points or themes I want to try and hit, and I don't like to start writing the first draft until I've got at least most of the narrative shape in my head.

Other than that, though? Pure flinging spaghetti at walls.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Colin:  Getting the spaghetti to stick to the wall. Pasta just doesn't adhere well to smooth surfaces.

Honestly, there are a lot of challenges, but I think the biggest I face is doubt. I often have a nagging feeling that every word/sentence/paragraph I write has some alternate, perfect version, but I'm just not talented enough to see what that is. Dealing with that feeling can be tricky. I've just tried to accept this weird duality of not being easily satisfied with what I have on the page while also recognizing that not everything will be perfect and I can only do the best I can.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Colin:  Marketing comparisons aside, reading Christopher Moore growing up really changed the way I looked at writing. Here was a guy writing genuinely laugh-out-loud speculative fiction. Up to that point, I hadn't realized that authors were allowed to be funny. I know that's strange to say, but that's how it felt to me.

Also, THE MASTER AND MARGARITA left a big mark on me — I loved its magical realism. That really struck a chord with me. Mythology obviously influenced me, too. After that, the list gets pretty exhausting.

TQDescribe The Ferryman Institute in 140 characters or less.

Colin:  Two broken souls — one an immortal guide to the dead, one about to be dead — end up on an adventure together that just might save them both

TQTell us something about The Ferryman Institute that is not found in the book description.

Colin:  I think this story can be a bit sadder and/or more introspective than the description lets on. I certainly hope it earns a smile or two along the way, but it's not exactly light fare.

Also, there's kissing. So, uh, if that grosses you out, or something, you should be aware of that, I guess. Just saying.

TQWhat inspired you to write The Ferryman Institute? What appeals to you about writing contemporary fantasy?

Colin:  Someone very close to me was battling with severe depression, among other things. I woke up one morning with the distinct thought of _What if you wanted to kill yourself, but couldn't?_ I know that's not exactly the cheeriest thought the world has ever been privy to, but it was an interesting and almost reassuring idea at the time. The rest sort of snowballed from there.

The thing I enjoy about fantasy is that, as the author, you get to design the rules, so to speak. You want a character who can jump off cliffs all willy-nilly because he feels like it? Go for it. I believe fantasy carries these inherent elements of discovery and suspense, even when dealing with the mundane, because at any given moment, the story can tap into the unexpected. There is always the potential for surprise and wonderment around every corner in a good fantasy.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Ferryman Institute?

Colin:  I shudder to think what my Google search history looks like thanks to this book. Psychologists would probably have a field day with that: "Well, given his Googling on myths, suicide, the Lincoln Tunnel, and affect versus effect, we can only conclude he was an acolyte in an ancient cult going to perform a sacred blood ritual in the Lincoln Tunnel. Oh, and his grammar was horrifyingly atrocious."

TQIn The Ferryman Institute who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Colin:  Easiest: toss up between Alice and Cartwright. For whatever reason, their voices came naturally to me — it felt more like I was taking dictation than I was writing them.

Hardest: Javrouche. He ended up getting rewritten several times. His using of French honorifics was actually from one of the latest drafts, so he was evolving even to the very end.

TQWhy have you chosen to include or not chosen to include social issues in The Ferryman Institute?

Colin:  I think having a fantastical lens to view a story through sometimes brings issues in the real world into sharper focus. The suicide angle was more of a personal desire to try and tell a story that was ultimately about hope -- that, even at the possible moment, when all seems lost, there's still a chance things can turn around.

TQWhich question about The Ferryman Institute do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

Colin:  "What's the best way to give you several hundred million dollars as gratitude for bringing this book into the world?"

What a great question that would be to get, right?

On a more serious note: "What do you hope to accomplish with this book?"

Really, I just wanted to tell a good story. My writing has a ways to go, but if I could provide the means by which a reader loses him or herself for a while, I'd be thrilled. If it helps someone pick up a little bit of hope when they were in need of it, well, all the better.

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from The Ferryman Institute.

Colin:  Oof... Really tough to pick a favorite, but here's one I enjoy: "Death was such an abstract concept right up until the point when it wasn’t anymore."

TQWhat's next?

Colin:  Hopefully another book, but I'm trying not to get too ahead of myself. I feel extraordinarily lucky to even have a chance to share this book with the world, so surviving this one is where my head's at.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Colin:  Thanks for the opportunity!

The Ferryman Institute
Gallery Books, September 27, 2016
Trade Paperback and eBook, 432 pages

Interview with Colin Gigl and Review of The Ferryman Institute
In this stunning, fantastical debut novel from a bold new voice in the bestselling traditions of Christopher Moore and Jasper Fforde, a ferryman for the dead finds his existence unraveling after making either the best decision or the biggest mistake of his immortal life.

Ferryman Charlie Dawson saves dead people—somebody has to convince them to move on to the afterlife, after all. Having never failed a single assignment, he's acquired a reputation for success that’s as legendary as it is unwanted. It turns out that serving as a Ferryman is causing Charlie to slowly lose his mind. Deemed too valuable by the Ferryman Institute to be let go and too stubborn to just give up in his own right, Charlie’s pretty much abandoned all hope of escaping his grim existence. Or he had, anyway, until he saved Alice Spiegel. To be fair, Charlie never planned on stopping Alice from taking her own life—that sort of thing is strictly forbidden by the Institute—but he never planned on the President secretly giving him the choice to, either. Charlie’s not quite sure what to make of it, but Alice is alive, and it’s the first time he’s felt right in more than two hundred years.

When word of the incident reaches Inspector Javrouche, the Ferryman Institute's resident internal affairs liaison, Charlie finds he's in a world of trouble. But Charlie’s not about to lose the only living, breathing person he’s ever saved without a fight. He’s ready to protect her from Javrouche and save Alice from herself, and he’s willing to put the entire continued existence of mankind at risk to do it.

Written in the same vein as bestselling modern classics such as The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde and A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore, The Ferryman Institute is a thrilling supernatural adventure packed with wit and humor.

Qwill's Thoughts

The Ferryman Institute by Colin Gigl is the story of Charlie Dawson, Ferryman extraordinaire. He's been working as a Ferryman for over 200 years and he's exhausted. He's tired of ferrying. He's tired of saving the day when a death is difficult and the soul he's dealing with may be traumatized. He's spending more and more time away from the Ferryman Institute. Out of the blue he receives a special and secret assignment from the President of the Institute. He's sent to ferry Alice Spiegel after she commits suicide. But for the first time ever he's given the choice to save a person or not. Charlie saves Alice.

There are many rules that Ferryman have to obey including not revealing themselves to living humans. Charlie breaks this rule (along with others) and he is in a huge amount of trouble - being locked up for centuries trouble! Inspector Javrouche who is the internal affairs officer is after Charlie for this breach among others.

Charlie is a wonderful main character. He's conflicted about what he does. He's compassionate and caring. He's somewhat sarcastic and funny. However, his work has become senseless to him. He has good friends at the Institute. Individuals who are worried about him, but he bottles up everything he is feeling and continues to do his job. He's one of the best Ferryman that has ever existed and the Institute needs him. He's greatly admired, but that is not enough for him. He doesn't want to be a hero.

Alice has had a difficult life recently - she's going nowhere professionally, she's been heartbroken in more ways than one, and she sees no continued use for her existence. Meeting Charlie (and not killing herself) starts to bring her out of her sadness. She's got a spark of self-worth left. If Charlie can nurture that, Alice may have a chance. She's a terrific counterpoint to Charlie. She's strong and independent but needs to lean on Charlie to see that she has much to live for.

Inspector Javrouche is mean, spiteful and really, really dislikes Charlie. There are reasons for this which become apparent over the course of the novel. His behavior towards Charlie is the catalyst for a lot of what happens in the novel though Charlie's saving of Alice is the linchpin event.

There is a fabulous cast of supporting characters as well - Charlie's friends and co-workers. In particular his best friend and mentor, Cartwright, is just lovely.

The Ferryman Institute is steeped in Greco-Roman lore. The Institute's history is deeply interesting and there are quite a few surprises about the Institute's founding, how it works, and its bureaucracy. Gigl has created a well thought out and developed backdrop to the novel.

The Ferryman Institute is a terrific novel. It's full of action, tension, excitement, and fascinating characters. It's a really, really fun read with moments of both laughter and introspection. Charlie Dawson is a reluctant hero, but a hero nonetheless.

About Colin

Interview with Colin Gigl and Review of The Ferryman Institute
Photo by Carly Gigl
Colin Gigl is a graduate of Trinity College with degrees in creative writing and computer science (no, he’s not quite sure how that happened, either). He currently works at a start-up in New York and lives with his wife in New Jersey.

Website  ~  Twitter @cgigl  ~  Facebook

Interview with Jason Arnopp and Review of The Last Days of Jack Sparks

Please welcome Jason Arnopp to The Qwillery as part of the 2016 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Last Days of Jack Sparks was published on September 13th by Orbit.

Interview with Jason Arnopp and Review of The Last Days of Jack Sparks

TQWelcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

Jason:  Hello! Thanks very much for ushering me in. I started writing at around the age of five, having been inspired by Tom Baker-era Doctor Who and Enid Blyton stories like The Magic Faraway Tree. I created my own comic strips and short stories, all of which involved an explosion roughly every five seconds.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Jason:  I’m very much a hybrid, so you could call me a plotser. I establish a skeletal framework, which tends to work out the story’s big turning points, and I try to decide what the story’s really about (although this will often change). Then I dive on in and work it out as I go. This can cause me untold trouble, in the form of rewriting and wailing and gnashing of teeth, but I think it’s important to engage the subconscious mind and let the story grow the right way. I find it extraordinarily difficult to put myself entirely into character’s heads before I start writing them. It’s like the difference between viewing them from above, as if they’re chess pieces, and actually possessing them like some kind of demon.

When I do go off the story rails, incidentally, that’s when I tend to turn to hardcore plotting wisdom. I kind of treat story structure templates like they’re Saul Goodman from Breaking Bad – I only call them when I’m in trouble.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Jason:  It would honestly be quicker to tell you what I don’t find challenging. I pretty much find it all very challenging and sometimes just unpleasantly difficult. The more writing experience you gain, the harder it arguably seems to become, because you get a more accurate idea of what it actually takes if you want to really achieve things and break any kind of new ground. For me, the most challenging thing about writing is that each new project seems to require a whole new skillset. It’s not like you learn your trade and then it’s plain sailing, oh no. What a ludicrous way to try and earn a living.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing? How does having a background in journalism affect (or not) your fiction writing?

Jason:  I’m influenced by every genre thing I’ve ever enjoyed, and some I haven’t. Particularly things involving the supernatural, or what seems to involve the supernatural. So that would be everything from Doctor Who to The Evil Dead to Stephen King to Mark Z Danielewski’s House Of Leaves to Scooby Doo to John Carpenter’s remake of The Thing. Chuck Palahniuk is also one of my favourite authors: I love how he has his very own style, and takes such unflinching looks at the human condition.

To make the obvious joke, journalism certainly trained me in the art of making stuff up! But actually that’s not true, because I was always lucky to avoid the dark side of journalism that involves ruining lives or bugging people’s phones. Spending over a decade on a weekly rock magazine certainly prepared me for deadlines and possibly taught me how to work out what to write first in any given piece. And in the case of The Last Days Of Jack Sparks, of course, it helped me write a journalist character with some degree of authority.

TQDescribe The Last Days of Jack Sparks in 140 characters or less.

Jason:  It’s a scary and funny thriller about an arrogant celebrity journalist who sets out to debunk the supernatural and ends up dead. #JackSparks

TQTell us something about The Last Days of Jack Sparks that is not found in the book description.

Jason:  At one point, the book incorporates a scenario based on a real-life thing called The Philip Experiment. In 1972, a group of Toronto researchers invented their own fictional character then tried to summon him into some form of existence. The results remain ambiguous to this day, making the whole thing rather fascinating. I changed its name to The Harold Experiment in this book, for reasons which should become plain enough when you read it.

TQWhat inspired you to write The Last Days of Jack Sparks? What appealed to you about writing a psychological thriller?

Jason:  I do like to climb inside characters’ heads and have a natural curiosity about life’s big questions. So I suppose I combined both interests by writing about a guy who travels the world looking to disprove the existence of ghosts. It appealed to me to make Jack an unreliable narrator, because that can be a useful way to reveal character while keeping the reader guessing.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Last Days of Jack Sparks?

Jason:  Of the global locations featured in the book, Hong Kong was the one I hadn’t visited in a long time, so Google Street View really helped there. God bless Google Street View, it’s a real unsung hero for writers. One brief part of the book is told from the POV of a flight stewardess, so I interviewed my friend Phill Barron, who works in the air as well as being a prolific screenwriter. Perhaps the most research-intensive topic in the book, though, was combat magic. More about that in a minute…

TQIn The Last Days of Jack Sparks who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Jason:  I hate to say it, but Jack was the easiest character to write. I’m not sure what that says about me, but it’s true nonetheless. The thing is, authors regularly seesaw between egotism and self-loathing, so perhaps it’s healthy to let some of that ego run riot through a fictional character. A lot of people siphon out some of their worst traits out through writing and maybe I’m one of ‘em. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

So, the hardest character to write? That was Sherilyn Chastain. Since Sherilyn’s a combat magician, she had to know her stuff. Luckily, my friend Cat Vincent is a retired combat magician and could tell me lots of stuff. In fact, plenty of Cat’s sage words went straight into Sherilyn’s mouth, which made reading the book quite an odd experience for him!

TQWhy have you chosen to include social issues in The Last Days of Jack Sparks?

Jason:  I suppose what I chose to include were social media issues. I’d noticed quite a lot of certainty expressed on social media, perhaps as an unconscious response to what often feels like an increasingly chaotic world. There are lots of great things about social media (and about certain kinds of certainty, for that matter), but sometimes it’s hard to escape the nagging sense that Twitter’s a vast room full of people yelling through megaphones, then wondering why no-one’s listening. Often feels like we’re in broadcast mode more often than we’re in receive mode. So that darker side of social media was interesting to me and helped to illuminate Jack’s own character, particularly as his own ego starts to peel away and reveal more of him beneath. Thematically, the book ended up being an exploration of how ego, belief and certainty interact in the social media age.

TQWhich question about The Last Days of Jack Sparks do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

Jason:  That’s a great question, I like it. Hmm, let’s see. The ideal question would be, “Would it be a big help if I reviewed the book at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks or Indiebound?” And my answer to this would be, “Hell yes, thank you so much, it would be a bigger help than you know! Especially for a debut novel, positive reviews are gold dust. Or, actually, word of mouth, off or on social media, can be just as valuable. Some folk might imagine that publishers put books out there and people just automatically buy them, but it’s tough – there’s a whole glittering constellation of books out there, vying for readers’ attention. You can practically feel each copy of the book selling, one at a time. When people pop up on Twitter to kindly tell me they enjoyed Jack Sparks, I send them a link to a secret page on my site that tells them how exactly how awesome they are. Word of mouth is vital.”

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from The Last Days of Jack Sparks.

Jason:  My favourite line appears twice in the novel: “There’s no such thing as the Devil”. I also like “No one listens any more. Only when it’s far too late do our ears open wide”.

TQWhat's next?

Jason:  I recently delivered the second book in my two-book deal with Orbit Books. This one is standalone and has nothing to do with Jack Sparks, who is after all, as dead as a doornail. It occupies the same general kind of territory, though, being a supernatural thriller. When I write, I aim to create an edgy kind of sense that almost anything can happen, so hopefully that unpredictability comes across in both The Last Days Of Jack Sparks and the next novel. Surprising (and hopefully delighting) readers is so much fun.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Jason:  Thanks so much for having me. I had a totally qwiller time!

The Last Days of Jack Sparks
Orbit, September 13, 2016
Hardcover and eBook, 400 pages

Interview with Jason Arnopp and Review of The Last Days of Jack Sparks
"Ingenious and funny . . . Magnificent." -- Alan Moore, creator of Watchmen and V for Vendetta

Jack Sparks died while writing this book.

It was no secret that journalist Jack Sparks had been researching the occult for his new book. No stranger to controversy, he'd already triggered a furious Twitter storm by mocking an exorcism he witnessed.

Then there was that video: forty seconds of chilling footage that Jack repeatedly claimed was not of his making, yet was posted from his own YouTube account.

Nobody knew what happened to Jack in the days that followed -- until now.

Qwill's Thoughts

The Last Days of Jack Sparks is spooky and strange. I absolutely love it. The novel's main character, Jack Sparks, is the poster person for unreliable narrator. I don't trust his brother Alistair either. The story is primarily told from Jack's POV in the form of a book he was writing called "Jack Sparks on the Supernatural", which is being edited and published with the help of his brother Alistair who offers his own notes on the events in the book. There are additional POVs included from people who are interacting with Jack and present a different picture of him.

Jack has written 3 prior books - "Jack Sparks on a Pogo Stick", "Jack Sparks on Gangs" and "Jack Sparks on Drugs". He ended up in rehab after that last book.

Jack has already made up his mind that the supernatural is all baloney. The intent of his latest book is to basically rip apart anyone involved with the supernatural and debunk what they are doing. It doesn't go quite as Jack planned. Jack Sparks is dead but how he gets there is a wild ride.

I really disliked Jack for the most part. He's self-important, self-entitled and unpleasant though he's often funny. His motives for writing about the supernatural are suspect. He's not nice. He's rude. However, toward the end of the novel I really came to feel for him, which is not to say I liked him.

Arnopp has put together a wonderful supporting cast for Jack, including his roommate Bex, his brother Alistair, and many of the people he encounters on his global trek to interview those who work in the the supernatural fields - an exorcist from the Church in Italy, a group in the US trying to recreate an experiment from the 1970s during which they try to create a ghost, and Sherilyn Chastain (a combat magician) in Hong Kong.

The Last Days of Jack Sparks is tautly written and breathtakingly paced. Jack is both horrible and fantastic and the supporting cast of characters are well fleshed out.

Arnopp leads the reader deep into the chilling heart of the supernatural and Jack's psyche - neither of which are fun places to be. The Last Days of Jack Sparks is thrilling, astonishingly twisted and fabulous.

About Jason

Interview with Jason Arnopp and Review of The Last Days of Jack Sparks
Jason Arnopp is a British author and scriptwriter. His background is in journalism: he has worked on titles such as Heat, Q, The Word, Kerrang!, SFX and Doctor Who Magazine. He has written comedy for Radio 4 and official tie-in fiction for Doctor Who and Friday The 13th, but The Last Days of Jack Sparks is the first novel which is entirely Jason's own fault (though some may prefer to lay the blame on Jack...)

Website  ~  Twitter @JasonArnopp  ~  Facebook

The Jack Sparks Website

Interview with J. Patrick Black, author of Ninth City Burning

Please welcome J. Patrick Black to The Qwillery as part of the 2016 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Ninth City Burning was published on September 6th by Ace.

TQWelcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

JPB:  Thanks for having me! I've always enjoyed writing, but I didn't get into it seriously until college. I took a creative writing seminar and was just hooked. I've been at it ever since.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

JPB:  I suppose I'd say I'm more of a hybrid. The broader the storyline gets, the larger and more sweeping the events involved, the more careful I am about plotting things out in advance, but I like to leave room for surprise and improvisation when it comes to filling in the details. That's especially true when I'm writing something especially character driven; for me it sometimes takes actually writing a scene out to really know what a given character will do or say.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

JPB:  Dealing with the fact that every word might not come out perfectly on the first try. It's easy for me to get hung up on the phrasing of a particular sentence or choice of vocabulary and lose track of the bigger picture. I have to remind myself to keep moving even if I'm not absolutely satisfied with the way my writing sounds--there will be time to come back and fuss over the words, but I need to make sure I've got a story first.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

JPB:  As I think is the case with a lot of writers in the speculative genres, there those books I encountered as a kid that marked out a territory in my mind that would always be off in some other world. Ursula K. LeGuin's "A Wizard of Earthsea" is one of many, many examples. I'm still an avid reader, and omnivorous, and I'm sure everything I read influences me to some degree or other. I'm a big fan of short stories--Lorrie Moore is one of my favorites--and I've got a soft spot for experimental fiction. Really, though, I'd say I have most of my ideas when I'm away from my desk: walking through the city (hometown: Boston), taking a long drive, standing in line at the supermarket. I'm not sure if those quite qualify as influences, but if so one of my more important ones would have to be going to the beach.

TQDescribe Ninth City Burning in 140 characters or less.

JPB:  Alternate reality invades Earth using a universe-altering power called thelemity. We learn to use it and fight back. Action, adventure ensue (think that's 140 exactly!)

TQTell us something about Ninth City Burning that is not found in the book description.

JPB:  It has seven first-person narrators, each with his or her own voice.

TQWhat inspired you to write Ninth City Burning? What appeals to you about writing Science Fiction? Do you consider Ninth City Burning a Dystopian novel?

JPB:  There wasn't really any single moment of inspiration for Ninth City Burning. It was more like whole constellation of different proto-stories, ideas that had been floating around my head--for years, in some cases--merged together to create something larger than any of them. The catalyst was the concept of the fontani, sources capable of creating almost unlimited power, but only within a small area--sort of like wifi. That was the idea that bridged the space between all these other ideas, and allowed me to bring them all together.

One reason science fiction appeals to me is the sheer breadth of possibilities (or, seen another way, the absence of limitations). Every genre has its own tropes and conventions, but with science fiction these are far from required, and in the hands of really great writers can act as a kind of shorthand for the experienced reader. You see scifi elements everywhere, from literary fiction to joyously pulpy action extravaganzas--it can take you anywhere.

I don't consider Ninth City Burning a dystopian novel per se. To me, dystopian fiction tends to revolve around some central issue or ideology the consequence of which the story's author wants to explore. Ninth City Burning certainly has features common to dystopian fiction--there are plenty of totalitarian overtones, for example--but these aren't tied to any particular present day issue. They're a consequence of a highly militarized society, and war has been around longer than history.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for Ninth City Burning?

JPB:  I read up on my military history, researching different eras of warfare. The conflict at the center of Ninth City Burning is very different from what we see in the modern world, but I had the idea that principles from the past would still apply. I also went back and revisited some of the story's conceptual ancestors: my favorite alien wars, adventures in fantastical other realms, giant robot battles. I had a good idea of the areas of genre I intended to inhabit, and I wanted to get a good view of the territory.

TQIn Ninth City Burning, who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

JPB:  All of the characters presented their own challenges, but I think I had the easiest time with Kizabel, if only because I felt free to explain as much or as little as I wanted about the ideas behind the story; with most characters I had to be very careful about not loading down the plot with exposition, but Kizabel narrates with footnotes, so if there was some big idea I really wanted to get into, I could use those without interrupting the story. The hardest to write was probably Imway; he's very competent at what he does, and he wants you to know it, so I had to make sure I knew every little specification for everything he describes. Also, he's kind of a jerk, and I wanted that to come through but also feel sympathetic from his perspective; the dissonance between how I thought he was acting (like an ass) and how he thought he was acting (like a completely reasonable person) made his narrative the hardest to balance for me.

TQWhich question about Ninth City Burning do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!


Q: Where does the word "thelemity" come from?

A: Well, Patrick, I'm glad you asked! It comes from a word in Ancient Greek meaning "to will" or "to wish". It seemed like an appropriate root to use when describing an energy with quasi-magical properties.

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Ninth City Burning.


"When I think on Death, I imagine her as a child, a girl in a white dress with untidy hair, running barefoot through the battlefield, collecting lives like wildflowers."

"And when you think about it, most things that are really fun *aren't* toys."

TQWhat's next?

JPB:  The sequel to Ninth City Burning will (hopefully) be out next year!

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

JPB:  Thanks! It's been fun!

Ninth City Burning
Ace, September 6, 2016
Hardcover and eBook, 496 pages

For fans of Red Rising, Starship Troopers, and Ender’s Game comes an explosive, epic science fiction debut…

We never saw them coming.

Entire cities disappeared in the blink of an eye, leaving nothing but dust and rubble. When an alien race came to make Earth theirs, they brought with them a weapon we had no way to fight, a universe-altering force known as thelemity. It seemed nothing could stop it—until we discovered we could wield the power too.

Five hundred years later, the Earth is locked in a grinding war of attrition. The talented few capable of bending thelemity to their will are trained in elite military academies, destined for the front lines. Those who refused to support the war have been exiled to the wilds of a ruined Earth.

But the enemy's tactics are changing, and Earth's defenders are about to discover this centuries-old war has only just begun. As a terrible new onslaught looms, heroes will rise from unlikely quarters, and fight back.

You may read my review of Ninth City Burning here.

About J. Patrick Black

Photo by Beowulf Sheehan
J. Patrick Black has worked as a bartender, a small-town lawyer, a homebuilder, and a costumed theme park character, all while living a secret double life as a fiction writer. While fiction is now his profession, he still finds occasion to ply his other trades as well. He lives in Boston, Massachusetts, where he likes to visit the ocean. NINTH CITY BURNING is his first novel. Find out more about J. Patrick Black online at

Twitter @JPatrickBlack  ~  Instagram


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