The Qwillery | category: 2017 DAC | (page 2 of 14)


The Qwillery

A blog about books and other things speculative

Interview with R.E. Stearns, author of Barbary Station

Please welcome R.E. Stearns to The Qwillery as part of the of the 2017 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Barbary Station is published on October 31st by Saga Press.

Please join The Qwillery in wishing R.E. a very Happy Publication Day!

Interview with R.E. Stearns, author of Barbary Station

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

R.E.:  I've been writing short stories for as long as I can remember. I write to think, and because I have a terrible memory. When I discovered NaNoWrimo in 2008, I started writing novels.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

R.E.:  I rely on enormous, color-coded plot outlines and accompanying color-coded timelines.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

R.E.:  Emotional scenes are challenging, because I am not an emotional person. I have to set my writing mood with music and pictures, and it's stressful and melodramatic. Then my agent or editor reads those supposedly melodramatic scenes and says "That's a pretty chill reaction for what just happened," and I do it all over again.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

R.E.:  Real-life space exploration is very exciting! In fiction, the Expanse series (James S. A. Corey, 2012), Neuromancer (William Gibson, 1984), Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982), and Firefly (Joss Whedon, 2002) all contributed to the foundation of this novel.

TQDescribe Barbary Station in 140 characters or less.

R.E.:  Two join a pirate crew, two engineers take on a security AI which has trapped the crew, and our heroines, on an abandoned space station.

TQTell us something about Barbary Station that is not found in the book description.

Adda and Iridian are romantic partners, not just professional ones.

TQWhat inspired you to write Barbary Station? What appeals to you about writing Science Fiction?

R.E.:  SpaceX was just beginning to have success with its Grasshopper rocket when I was writing up ideas for Barbary Station. That got me thinking about what it would be like if modern corporations were given absolute freedom in scientific development and resource exploitation simultaneously, perhaps in the aftermath of a colonial war for independence. That's all a solid sci fi setting, but it wasn't anything like a novel until Iridian and Adda came together as characters. Sci fi is appealing because our present is always changing, which means the future is always changing in big ways. There are fewer locked-in expectations in sci fi than in fantasy.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for Barbary Station?

R.E.:  I am conveniently married to a computer engineer, so I pestered him with questions like "Does this sound plausible?" and "Is this how you'd say that?" I also spent a lot of time reading on the NASA website, and downloading articles in college libraries. Packing for Mars by Mary Roach (2010) was a great resource, too. It's full of expert observations on the logistics of life in space, and it was so funny and disturbing that I kept having to remind myself to take notes.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for Barbary Station?

R.E.:  That cover is amazing, isn't it? That is Martin Deschambault's beautiful rendering of Barbary Station itself. I love that you can see the station's ring shape on the edges. The planets were necessary for lighting purposes but aren't present in the narrative, so in story terms, this is what Adda might see if she put the station exterior into her hallucinographic workspace.

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

R.E.:  Adda and I have a lot in common, so she was the easiest. We're about the same size, we obsess over projects we're working on, and we are similarly disconnected from most people around us. The main antagonist, the security AI, was toughest. It's hard for experts (which I am not) to predict what will go right and wrong with the learning algorithms we have today, let alone the monstrously complex stuff I'd expect to be developed 400 years from now. I had to make, and then keep track of, a lot of assumptions.

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Barbary Station.

R.E.:  That was Earther thinking, as if air, light, humidity, temperature, pressure, and gravity were unrelated forces outside human control. It would’ve been enough to say the enviro wasn’t healthy.

TQWhat's next?

R.E.:  I'm working on the sequel to Barbary Station!

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Barbary Station
Saga Press, October 31, 2017
Trade Paperback, Hardcover, and eBook, 448 pages

Interview with R.E. Stearns, author of Barbary Station
Two engineers hijack a spaceship to join some space pirates—only to discover the pirates are hiding from a malevolent AI. Now they have to outwit the AI if they want to join the pirate crew—and survive long enough to enjoy it.

Adda and Iridian are newly minted engineers, but aren’t able to find any work in a solar system ruined by economic collapse after an interplanetary war. Desperate for employment, they hijack a colony ship and plan to join a famed pirate crew living in luxury at Barbary Station, an abandoned shipbreaking station in deep space.

But when they arrive there, nothing is as expected. The pirates aren’t living in luxury—they’re hiding in a makeshift base welded onto the station’s exterior hull. The artificial intelligence controlling the station’s security system has gone mad, trying to kill all station residents and shooting down any ship that attempts to leave—so there’s no way out.

Adda and Iridian have one chance to earn a place on the pirate crew: destroy the artificial intelligence. The last engineer who went up against the AI met an untimely end, and the pirates are taking bets on how the newcomers will die. But Adda and Iridian plan to beat the odds.

There’s a glorious future in piracy…if only they can survive long enough.

About R.E. Stearns

Interview with R.E. Stearns, author of Barbary Station
Photography by Carlos Romero
R.E. Stearns wrote her first story on an Apple IIe computer and still kind of misses green text on a black screen. She went on to annoy all of her teachers by reading books while they lectured. Eventually she read and wrote enough to earn a master's degree in curriculum and instruction from the University of Central Florida. She is hoping for an honorary doctorate. When not writing or working, R.E. Stearns reads, plays PC games, and references Internet memes in meatspace. She lives near Orlando, FL with her husband/computer engineer and a cat.

Website  ~  Twitter @re_stearns  ~  Facebook

Interview with Michael Shou-Yung Shum, author of Queen of Spades

Please welcome Michael Shou-Yung Shum to The Qwillery as part of the of the 2017 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Queen of Spades was published on October 10th by Forest Avenue Press.

Interview with Michael Shou-Yung Shum, author of Queen of Spades

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

Michael:  I have been composing my own stories since I was a young child. I guess I've always felt compelled to write, although it is impossible to say why!

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Michael:  I definitely write by the seat of my pants. It comes from composing stories as a child, where you would begin a story and have no idea where it would lead.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Michael:  Coming up with an attractive form that interests me.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Michael:  Great writing and ideas by other writers--especially living with a great writer like Jaclyn Watterson to bounce ideas off.

TQDescribe Queen of Spades in 140 characters or less.

Michael:  The story behind the Strangest Hand Ever Dealt.

TQTell us something about Queen of Spades that is not found in the book description.

Michael:  It was originally started as a long short story or novelette, and not a novel.

TQWhat inspired you to write Queen of Spades? What appealed to you about Pushkin's Queen of Spades?

Michael:  Pushkin's "The Queen of Spades" is one of my favorite short stories--and one of the few stories that elevate gambling to a high art.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for Queen of Spades?

Michael:  Although I didn't know it was research at the time, I spent over two years working as a poker dealer in a small cardroom in Lake Stevens, Washington, learning the ins and outs of what goes on behind the scenes.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for Queen of Spades?

Michael:  The cover was designed by Forest Avenue's brilliant in-house designer, Gigi Little. She really hit it out of the park with this one!

TQIn Queen of Spades who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Michael:  The easiest was Barbara because she was the most fun to follow. The hardest was Chan because in many ways he began as a blank slate that I had to fill in along the way--even still, he remains something of a mystery to me.

TQWhy have you chosen to include or not chosen to include social issues in Queen of Spades?

Michael:  I intentionally made all the traditional "power roles" filled by women. It might seem like a small thing, but it's a start to reconditioning (or deconditioning) our gender expectations.

TQWhich question about Queen of Spades do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

Michael:  How would you like readers to be transformed by reading the novel? First, I hope the novel offers readers some consolation in very challenging and difficult times. Second, I hope readers become better persons in some small but not insignificant way. Finally, I hope reading the novel makes readers want to take some risks as a means of improving their life.

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Queen of Spades.

Michael:  Everything coheres with what comes before--and what comes after.

TQWhat's next?

Michael:  I am working on a novel-in-stories tentatively entitled Portmanteau.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Queen of Spades
Forest Avenue Press, October 10, 2017
Trade Paperback and eBook, 256 pages

Interview with Michael Shou-Yung Shum, author of Queen of Spades
Queen of Spades revamps the classic Pushkin fable of the same name, transplanted to a mysterious Seattle-area casino populated by a pit boss with six months to live, a dealer obsessing over the mysterious methods of an elderly customer known as the Countess, and a recovering gambler who finds herself trapped in a cultish twelve-step program. With a breathtaking climax that rivals the best Hong Kong gambling movies, Michael Shou-Yung Shum’s debut novel delivers the thrilling highs and lows that come when we cede control of our futures to the roll of the dice and the turn of a card.

About Michael

Interview with Michael Shou-Yung Shum, author of Queen of Spades
Born and raised in Houston, Texas, Michael Shou-Yung Shum eventually found himself dealing poker in a dead-end casino in Lake Stevens, Washington. Two doctorates bookend this strange turn of events: the first in Psychology from Northwestern, and the second in English from University of Tennessee. Along the way, Michael spent a dozen years in Chicago, touring the country as a rave DJ. He currently resides in Atlanta, Georgia, with his spouse and three cats. Queen of Spades is his first novel.

Website  ~  Twitter @dr_shum

Interview with Adam Burch, author of Song of Edmon

Please welcome Adam Burch to The Qwillery as part of the of the 2017 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Song of Edmon was published on September 1st by 47North.

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

Adam:  Thanks for inviting me! I suppose there are three answers to this question. I've always enjoyed creative writing from a young age. I remember in fifth grade, my teacher had all of her students write a "book". We made these covers of cardboard and contact paper and drew our own cover art. Then, some of us volunteered to read our stories in front of the class. I remember mine was called "Cops" and it was about two detectives, a young rookie and an old gumshoe, bringing down an evil crime boss. The gumshoe died leaving the young rookie to carry on the never ending search for justice, only now as a veteran as he's given a newbie partner at the end of the tale. I recently reconnected with an old classmate who still remembered me reading the story in front of the class.

Later, I lost this confidence to write fiction as school teachers focused more on analytical, essay writing and I wasn't as good with that. When I did try to write stories, I often felt like they weren't good enough in other's eyes, or were considered cliche. Part of the problem is that I was a teen! All I knew was cliche! People are more willing to tear down other's work than build it up. So I stopped, thinking I just wasn't good enough to write.

As an adult, I moved to Los Angeles after college to be an actor and I joined a writer's group founded by Jim Uhls, who had adapted Chuck Palahniuk's, Fight Club, for the big screen. The group would cast performers to read their material for feedback. Eventually, I worked up the courage to start offering the writers my suggestions on their work. Some of them thought my observations were pretty darn good and I thought to myself "Hey! Maybe I can write too!" Of course, I quickly realized it was a lot easier to discern what wasn't working in others' material versus generating my own. Still, I started to develop a practice of writing regularly, even if terribly.

My friend from the writer's group, Philip Eisner, a really smart guy who wrote the cult classic, sci-fi movie Event Horizon in the 90's, starring Sam Neill and Laurence Fishburne, invited me to table-top game with him. I'd never done that before, but learned it was a perfect blend of collaborative storytelling, acting, and socializing. I had a blast creating a character and after our gaming sessions, writing the story from his point of view. However, the group eventually disbanded as people's schedules and real life superseded fun and I was left with all these "diary entries" and nothing to do with them. I missed my friends and I missed writing for them. A friend said, "Why don't you just keep going? I think it would make a good book!" So that's how Song of Edmon, and its upcoming sequel, Roar of the Storm was born!

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Adam:  Okay, I'm going to admit that I didn't know what a "pantser" was, and had to look it up on I guess that tells you which one I am!

My feeling is that writing by the seat of one's pants is fun and perhaps useful to create a daily practice of just putting words on the page, but it's not professional. Once I am done "pantsing" for the day (usually through a daily journal ala Morning Pages), I set that aside and I plot. Stories need to have structure for maximum effect and I personally need to know where the finish line is before I start the race. Once everything is outlined fairly extensively, I go for it.

I want to make it clear that this doesn't mean that I do not leave myself open to changes and discovery in the process. If something hits me while brain transmits to fingers which in turn transmit to keys, I don't tune out the muse, as it were. I heed the call, but I always make sure that it fits within the structure I've given myself, or I go back and restructure the outline to make it fit.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Adam:  It's hard to put my finger on just one thing. There always several challenging aspects to the process. The first is my own fears and doubts about whether I am worthy enough to tell a story, whether my ideas are worthy enough to be told. However, I set those aside and tell myself, "All I have to do today is a little bit, and it doesn't have to be perfect." I do that everyday and after a while...

Once I finish a draft, it's knowing that the first pass is always going to be crappy, that my ideas and writing actually AREN'T good enough. They need to evolve to be better. So then it's going through everything again as many times as I can stomach, section by section, always asking myself if I've made the strongest choices, in the fewest words possible.

One thing I am good at, though, is trusting my beta readers and editors. When they tell me something isn't working, I believe them. I was lucky to have a lot of allies that took the time to do that with Song of Edmon (and probably still have a few readers who might say it upon finishing the published book). I "kill my darlings" easily and honor my faithful publishers and editors and Beta readers' suggestions to make the story better. Still, it always stings a bit to hear that they didn't like something.

My first experience reading reviews is a little like that, too, even though the majority are positive. Yet, I know that the sequel to Song of Edmon, Roar of the Storm, takes things in such a direction that it addresses many of the negative reviewers' feelings! Just stick with me, folks!

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Adam:  We're all a product of our influences right? The first movie I saw in the theater was Return of the Jedi. Ever since, I've been a huge Star Wars nerd. Even the prequels! Blasphemy, I know, but I think the prequels' failings inspired me to write my own stories just as much, if not more than the classic trilogy because I wanted to accomplish what they sort of failed to. I read all the expanded universe books and comics before Disney bought the franchise.

Star Wars definitely turned me on to the work of Joseph Campbell and the mono-myth. A great book is The Writer's Journey, by Christopher Vogler, which breaks down that structure for writers. Robert McKee's, Story, is a good resource for screenwriting as is The Coffee Break Screenwriter which has great exercises to just do a little bit at a time.

Otherwise, there is so much great Sci-Fi/fantasy out there, old and new, it's impossible to list everything. Tolkein, Ursula K. LeGuin, HG Wells, Isaac Asimov's Foundation. Dragonlance was big when I was an adolescent. Dune by Frank Herbert is one of my all time fave's and Kevin J. Anderson who writes the sequels and spin-offs with Brian Herbert was always super supportive in his e-mails to me. Dan Simmons, Orson Scott Card, Neil Gaiman, Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games, George RR Martin... the grittiness and reality of his series was a revelation. Each of his characters feels like a complete person with a fully fleshed out history and personality. Pierce Brown's Red Rising series is killer and he sent me a supportive e-mail before I even had an agent. I've also always been a huge Greek Mythology buff, too, and Madeline Miller's, Song of Achilles, was inspirational (you can see that just looking at my title)! I highly recommend it to anyone.

Mostly, though, the team I gamed with was the biggest inspiration- Phil Eisner (Event Horizon), Samantha Barrios, Jack Conway, Matt Bramante (who worked on Bladerunner 2049), Abby Wilde (of Zoey101 fame), and Matthew Mercer (of Critical Role). I was really writing to entertain them and just their intelligence and humor and creativity inspired me to no end.

TQDescribe Song of Edmon in 140 characters or less.

Adam:  A boy chooses between violence and peace on a distant planet divided between light and dark. The outcome determines the fate of the world.

TQTell us something about Song of Edmon that is not found in the book description.

Adam:  Well I've already mentioned how the inception of Song of Edmon was a D&D game. However, I can also tell you that Song of Edmon is merely the backstory of the character I rolled! In fact, the "real" adventure doesn't even begin until book 2, Roar of the Storm, out in January.

Part of this was due to the fact that I felt it would have been disingenuous of me to take the story that my entire group told as a team and "cash in" on it, so to speak. (Let's forget the fact that I'd never written a novel before, didn't have an agent or a publisher and the likelihood of me even getting either of these was slim). I felt like I needed to earn their endorsement to write the story. If I could turn Edmon into a book that people wanted to read, then I would have gained their trust to continue the adventure.

So, I told Edmon's history, using only what I had created to craft my tale. This led to some pretty fancy maneuverings to set up minor details that will come back in book 2, which initially had nothing to do with Edmon's personal journey. Additionally, I had to tailor Book 2 to tie up story elements that were never addressed in our game. There are also a few things my team suggested that I steer clear of because they have their own, possible future stories in mind!

Also, I narrate the audio book and it was a great way for me to combine my acting and writing.

TQWhat inspired you to write Song of Edmon? What appeals to you about writing Science Fiction?

Adam:  Since I've answered the first question in detail, I'll tackle the second. Science Fiction is a place I can imagine fully "What if?" There really are no limitations, besides what my brain can think up. Additionally, it is just a great forum to working out problems, be they personal, or societal, under the guise of a fantastical background.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for Song of Edmon?

Adam:  The great thing about speculative fiction is that, again, one isn't really constrained by reality, so long as the rules of the created world are well established and not consistently violated. The "research" is about establishing and refining the rules from gravity, to technology, to space travel, to the names of things, and the fictional history. Then, maintaining the consistency in the writing with what has been established during my world-building/plotting phase.

I do think the best science fiction has one foot in the real world and real world physics, though. So some of the research included looking up things like drones that hovered on sound. I wanted to make the technology and culture of Tao, Edmon's home planet, of a piece. In Song of Edmon, everything is centered around music, sound, and water. I was lucky enough to discover such technology had basis in reality and felt that gave justification for creating a society that was centered around it.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for Song of Edmon.

Adam:  The cover was done by Adam Hall @atomcreative, an artist my publisher 47North, found. It's not so much something specific from the novel as much as a feeling or tone the novel gives. The story takes place in the distant future on a far-flung planet within the network of wormholes collectively called The Fracture. The Nightsiders of Tao, whom are at the center of the novel, are a warlike society that hearken back to cultures of antiquity- The Samurai, the Vikings, the Spartans.

I think Adam's cover really knocks it out of the park conveying the melding of ancient warriors with tech in space.

TQIn Song of Edmon who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Adam:  This is an interesting question, and I'm not sure there is a clear-cut answer. The novel is written in first person and while Edmon is a fabrication, he is by nature a lens through which my own thoughts and feelings are focused. I kind of had to go back to my own adolescence and remember how I felt about certain things growing up, different relationships I had. Granted, none of them are as extreme or necessarily as traumatic as Edmon's are, but the feelings Edmon has are not dissimilar from my own. Additionally, a lot of authors write protagonists, who are so clearly extensions of themselves or their ideal. Ultimately they come out on top or do the right thing most of the time. One aspect I remember from my youth was that it always felt like I did things wrong. While Edmon gets to be evolves into a bad-ass, he's not a Gary Stu. He makes a lot of dumb decisions and he pays for them. Of course, I'll remind readers who are frustrated by this to remember their own adolescence and that there has to be failure before there can be success. Hopefully, the subsequent triumph is so much the sweeter because it is earned by the suffering.

Other than that, I will say Faria was a bit challenging because I was constantly questioning whether or not his philosophies were consistent and made sense. I think, often, one comes into contact with these mentor figures in heroic stories who give the protagonist fortune cookie wisdom. When one stops to think about their cliche sayings, often they don't really make a whole lot of sense. Part of my solution to this problem was recognizing that Faria is not a perfect master, in fact a lot of the wisdom he dispenses is the opposite of truth. It's part of the reason why Edmon emerges from his training with his master definitely stronger, but also a bit flawed, a bit twisted. In a way, it's my take on a Sith Lord training someone rather than a Jedi Master.

TQWhy have you chosen to include or not chosen to include social issues in Song of Edmon?

Adam:  Honestly I hate when stories are solely pedagogical. If the characters are merely stereotypes or there only to service the author's ideology, then it is a boring and worthless story in my opinion. So, yes there were some social issues I wanted to include within the story, but first and foremost, Song of Edmon couldn't be about that for me. It had to be about character. It had to be about Edmon, his emotional journey, and the emotional journey the reader takes with him. The social issues are part of the world that he lives in, just as they are part of the world you and I live in. I doubt you or I walk around everyday seeing ourselves as a mouthpiece for one particular social issue or another. I feel like I am fully three-dimensional, integrated human being, and my beliefs and caring about social issues are just aspects of me. Edmon had to be that too- a fully realized human being, as did the other characters in the book.

TQWhich question about Song of Edmon do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

Adam:  "Do you think we could turn Song of Edmon and the Fracture World Series into a best selling film or television series? What about into a graphic novel with beautiful artwork?"

My answer to those questions are a resounding YES!!!!

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Song of Edmon.


“You expect to shut that feeling away?” he asks. “No, I ask that you feel it more. There’s no other way to stand over your enemy and cut out his heart. Accept your hatred and you won’t be rash or stupid, you’ll be cold. Don’t quiet the maelstrom. Become the storm.” - Faria, Song of Edmon

TQWhat's next?

Adam:  As far as Edmon and the Fracture World Series, book 2, Roar of the Storm comes out in January. If people like it, I definitely have a third book in mind! But we'll have to wait and see!

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Adam:  Thank you! These were great questions and a lot of fun to answer!

Song of Edmon
The Fracture Worlds 1
47North, September 1, 2017
Trade Paperback and Kindle eBook, 444 pages

In Adam Burch’s thrilling series debut, a young man must choose between violence and peace in a distant world divided between those who thrive in endless sunlight and those who survive in eternal darkness.

The isolated planet of Tao is a house divided: the peaceful Daysiders live in harmony while the pale Nightsiders pursue power and racial purity through the violent ritual of the Combat.

Edmon Leontes, the gentle son of a ruthless warrior noble and a proud Daysider, embodies Tao’s split nature. The product of diametrically opposed races, Edmon hopes to live a quiet life pursuing the music of his mother’s people, but his Nightsider father cruelly forces him to continue in his bloody footsteps to ensure his legacy.

Edmon’s defiance will cost him everything…and spark a revolution that will shake the foundations of Tao. His choice—to embrace the light or surrender to the darkness—will shape his own fate and that of his divided world.


Roar of the Storm
The Fracture Worlds 2
47North, January 23, 2018
Trade Paperback and Kindle eBook, 412 pages

When he rebelled against his father, Edmon Leontes lost everything, but a lot has happened in the twelve years since he left his remote home planet of Tao. He has made a new life for himself as the medic aboard a starship, earning his keep traversing the galaxy with a misfit crew. Edmon thinks he has left his tumultuous past behind him, yet all that changes when his father dies.

Phaestion, the man he once called brother, has inherited Edmon’s birthright. But Phaestion’s ambitions of domination are not limited to Tao, and he is not inclined to let a rival—even one in exile—continue living. Phaestion’s pursuit of power spans the universe, running afoul of powers no one is fit to be meddling with. Edmon will need to confront his past as he and his crew race across worlds to uncover the origins of the Fracture…and save the universe from complete destruction.

About Adam

Born in the SF Bay Area in California, Adam graduated from the University of California at San Diego with a BA in Media/Communications and a minor in Theatre Arts. He moved to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career and worked in many small "hole in the wall" theaters playing everything from Shakespeare and Moliere to Pirandello and Tom Stoppard.

He also holds a black sash in the martial art of Wing Chun Kung Fu.

He came to Song of Edmon through a meeting with screenwriter Philip Eisner (Event Horizon), who asked him if had ever played D&D. Subsequently, the character of Edmon Leontes was born.

You may catch Adam on the random episode of ABC'S Scandal or in the cult classic Nazis at the Center of the Earth

Website  ~  Twitter @adam_mouthsoff  ~  Facebook

Interview with Melissa Caruso, author of The Tethered Mage

Please welcome Melissa Caruso to The Qwillery as part of the of the 2017 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Tethered Mage is published on October 24th by Orbit.

Please join The Qwillery in wishing Melissa a Happy Publication Day!

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

Melissa:  I’ve been writing for my entire life. Before I could actually write words, I dictated stories for my dad to type, or drew them in pictures. When I was a little kid and had insomnia, one of my parents suggested telling myself a story in my head to fall asleep, which was the worst advice ever because then I would lie awake in bed composing a serial epic fantasy novel in my brain instead of sleeping. The stories have always been there.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Melissa:  Definitely a plotter. I have long, detailed outlines and pages of notes for each major draft of a novel. But I don’t bind myself strictly to the outline—if inspiration strikes or the story or characters seem to want to go in another direction, I roll with it and then update the remaining outline to adjust.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Melissa:  Transitions! Getting into and out of a scene that doesn’t have a natural dramatic start or finish built in is the worst. I’ll know I have to write a scene where one character tells another a shocking revelation, for instance, but where are they having this conversation? What were they doing before the conversation got to that point? And once I’ve delivered the revelation, how do I end the scene on a sufficiently riveting note that will make the readers keep turning pages, rather than just tailing off lamely? I spend more time trying to figure this stuff out than I do writing the actual scene, sometimes.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Melissa:  Everything I read, every place I visit, every person I meet. It all goes in a big funnel at the top of a wacky Dr. Seuss machine in my brain and gets spat out the other end as stories. That said, whenever I read something by an author where some aspect of their craft really blows me away—say, the way Neil Gaiman immerses you in a world and makes it feel like a familiar story someone has been telling you since you were a tiny child, or how J. K. Rowling builds plot clues into the very first Harry Potter books for major twists that don’t happen until the last one, or the rhythms of Roger Zelazny’s dialogue, or how Hiromu Arakawa can deliver a huge emotional punch in a scene through the subtlest little details—I try to figure out how they did it and learn a small piece of their magic.

TQDescribe The Tethered Mage in 140 characters or less.

Melissa:  When bookish aristocrat Amalia binds thief Zaira’s fire magic, the reluctant partners must thwart a deadly intrigue before it incites a war.

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

Melissa:  Amalia’s mother, La Contessa, is one of my favorite characters, and her presence looms over Amalia throughout the whole book. She’s a powerful political force in the Serene Empire, and in Amalia’s life—but she cares deeply about her daughter, even when she’s at her most manipulative and domineering. Their relationship is complicated, and an important thread throughout the story.

TQWhat inspired you to write The Tethered Mage? What appeals to you about writing Fantasy?

Melissa:  I got the idea for The Tethered Mage on a long car ride with my husband, when we were talking about how the presence of mages in history would have affected the structure of society. The idea for the Falcon/Falconer system popped into my head— a non-mage linked to a mage, with the ability to bind or loose the mage’s power—and I immediately wanted to write characters negotiating that difficult relationship.

As for what appeals to me about writing fantasy, I’d love to say something deep and profound, but honestly? Because it’s awesome. Magic, dragons, swordfights, fancy clothes—what’s not to love? I also love the freedom to make up an entire world that will support and enhance the story I want to tell.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Tethered Mage?

Melissa:  I’ve traveled to Venice twice, and I always wanted to set a book there (though The Tethered Mage is set in an original world, the setting is heavily influenced by Venice). I looked up all sorts of details from the late 17th century period I wanted to evoke—boats, military ranks and units, courtship customs, firearms, dance and music, fashion, you name it—but it all kept coming back to Googling delicious Italian food, somehow. I got so hungry researching this book.

TQPlease tell us about cover for The Tethered Mage.

Melissa:  I LOVE MY COVER SO MUCH!!!! The design is by Lisa Marie Pompillo, and the art is by Crystal Ben & Arcangel. The bird silhouette is a symbol of the Falcons (the mage military unit into which Zaira is conscripted), and you can see shadowy details inside it evoking characters, scenes, and settings from the book. I love that the initial impression of the raptor silhouette is so striking, but the closer you look, the more you see inside it. It’s SO PRETTY!

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

Melissa:  The easiest might have been Istrella, who is a side character (teen mad scientist artificer, basically)—I love her, and she’s really fun. The hardest was probably La Contessa, because everything she said had to be brilliant. I kept going back and making her dialogue sharper and smarter.

TQWhy have you chosen to include or not chosen to include social issues in The Tethered Mage?

Melissa:  I think all speculative fiction at least touches on some social issues, since it’s part of worldbuilding to determine what social issues your imaginary society faces. Sometimes it’s more central to the plot or theme of the book than others, of course. In THE TETHERED MAGE, the biggest social issues impacting the characters and plot are how mages fit into society (and the empire’s current policy of mandatory conscription), class differences between the main characters, and political conflicts over how independent the empire’s client states should be. As for issues I chose NOT to include, the world of THE TETHERED MAGE has gender and racial equality and same-sex marriage, because I wanted my characters who are female, gay, and/or PoC to be able to just be their awesome selves in this fantasy world without weighing them down with real-world prejudices to struggle against. I think we need books that show that struggle, but we also need fantasy that shows, say, girls with swords kissing each other without anyone trying to be like “STOP THAT, IT’S TOO AWESOME TO BE ALLOWED!"

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

Melissa:  My favorite questions are ones that pull out fun little details in the answers, so maybe the question I wish someone would ask is “Tell me a random cool piece of Tethered Mage trivia!” Of course, then I have to pick one. Hmm… Here’s one: the general aesthetic of wirework artifice (one of the types of magic in the world of THE TETHERED MAGE) is loosely based on the work of my friend Kendra Tornheim’s jewelry studio, Silver Owl Creations. She does some gorgeous stuff with wire and beads, and is also a computer programmer, and I was thinking of her when I designed this type of magic where the twists in the wire and the position of the beads act a bit like a magical circuit board, forming a logical spatial language that dictates the terms of the spell.

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

Melissa:  Amalia frequently calls to mind her Machiavellian mother’s advice, so I’ll give you a couple of those:

“Power wields a light touch, because a light touch suffices.”

“Tell them nothing, and they will fill the meaninglessness of your words with exactly what they want to hear."

TQWhat's next?

Melissa:  Right now I’m working on editing the second book in the Swords & Fire series, THE DEFIANT HEIR. It continues Amalia and Zaira’s story, and introduces some new characters and settings I really can’t wait for readers to meet!

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Melissa:  Thank you! My pleasure.

The Tethered Mage
Swords and Fire 1
Orbit, October 24, 2017
Trade Paperback and eBook, 480 pages

In the Raverran Empire, magic is scarce and those born with power are strictly controlled — taken as children and conscripted into the Falcon Army.

Zaira has lived her life on the streets to avoid this fate, hiding her mage-mark and thieving to survive. But hers is a rare and dangerous magic, one that threatens the entire empire.

Lady Amalia Cornaro was never meant to be a Falconer. Heiress and scholar, she was born into a treacherous world of political machinations.

But fate has bound the heir and the mage. And as war looms on the horizon, a single spark could turn their city into a pyre.

The Tethered Mage is the first novel in a spellbinding new fantasy series.


The Defiant Heir
Swords and Fire 2
Orbit, April 28, 2018
Trade Paperback and eBook, 480 pages

Across the border, the Witch Lords of Vaskandar are preparing for war. But before an invasion can begin, they must call a rare gathering of all seventeen lords to decide a course of action.

Lady Amalia Cornaro knows that this Conclave might be her only chance to smother the growing flames of war, and she is ready to make any sacrifice if it means saving Raverra from destruction.

Amalia and Zaira must go behind enemy lines, using every ounce of wit and cunning they have, to sway Vaskandar from war. Or else it will all come down to swords and fire.

“Charming, intelligent, fast-moving, beautifully atmospheric. I couldn’t put it down.” – Genevieve Cogman, author of The Invisible Library

“The best kind of fantasy.” – Rosalyn Eves, author of Blood Rose Rebellion

The Defiant Heir is the second novel in a spellbinding new fantasy series.

About Melissa

Photo by Erin Re Anderson
Melissa Caruso graduated with honors in Creative Writing from Brown University and holds an MFA in Fiction from University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Website  ~  Facebook  ~  Twitter @melisscaru

Interview with Mareth Griffith, author of Court of Twilight

Please welcome Mareth Griffith to The Qwillery as part of the of the 2017 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Court of Twilight is published on October 17th by Parvus Press.

Please join The Qwillery in wishing Mareth a Happy Publication Day!

Interview with Mareth Griffith, author of Court of Twilight

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

Mareth:  Thank you, very pleased to be here. I started writing seriously in 2009, a few months after being laid off from a job at a theater. I had worked in theater as an audio engineer for several years, and although I didn’t realize it at the time, leaving the world of theater meant that I needed to find some other creative outlet. That outlet turned out to be writing.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Mareth:  I tend to be more of a pantser, but my process changes from project to project. I am definitely a fan of the concept of zero drafts. That is, a draft where you have absolutely no idea where the story is going (or maybe where the story is going but no idea how it’s getting there) and you blindly charge forward anyway, writing enough to get a sense of what the narrative arc looks like, what motivates your characters, and what the emotional high points are. The first draft of Court of Twilight was written this way - entirely in the dark. For example, I didn’t consciously know the ending until about a day before I wrote the scene. Once the first draft was done and I knew what the story was about, I went back and wrote an outline, and then rewrote the story to fit that outline – which cut a few scenes I’d written and didn’t need, and added in a few scenes that were absolutely essential.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Mareth:  First drafts. I seem to be an outlier in that I find the editing and revision process a ton more fun than churning out new material – I think because in the editing process, you actually get to see the story get better and better. First drafts, for me, are like army-crawling across a white carpet wearing very muddy clothes (how’s that for an image?) If you look back, you can see where the story’s going, but nothing about it looks pretty, and you know it’ll take forever to clean up…

Participating in my first National Novel Writing Month was hugely beneficial to me, because in addition to producing the first draft of Court of Twilight, it also helped me learn how to write drafts without looking too hard at the mess I’m leaving behind me as I work.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Mareth:  I am a huge fan of Connie Willis and Barbara Hambly. You can pretty much wring emotion out of any chapter of anything they’ve ever written. Also Laurie R. King, whose Beekeeper’s Apprentice was the first novel I read as a teen where I identified heart and soul with the narrator. In particular, Barbara Hambly’s Windrose books and Connie Willis’ Blackout both had huge influences on Court of Twilight – and where Ivy’s story is headed in future books – though I don’t know how much of that actually shows up in the novel. Doctor Who – the Tom Baker era as well as the modern series – is also a big influence. I have a rule that I don’t watch television – partly due to lack of opportunity, partly to make time for writing – but I always make an exception for Doctor Who.

TQDescribe Court of Twilight in 140 characters or less.

Mareth:  20-year-old Dubliner discovers her flatmate’s a runaway fairy ruler, who’s due to be murdered in days.

TQTell us something about Court of Twilight that is not found in the book description.

Mareth:  Let’s see – that covers quite a lot!

The fist sentence in what was to become Court of Twilight was written somewhere in a hostel in New Zealand during the six months I was there on a working holiday visa. It was: ‘Your lot had a very good king - he only had to die but once. Ours are very wicked kings, so nothing will suffice but that we kill them over and over.’ In one evening, I wrote two pages of dialog between Hunzu and a young narrator who would eventually turn into Ivy. Following that evening, I did nothing else with the story for nearly two years.

TQWhat inspired you to write Court of Twilight? What appeals to you about writing Contemporary Fantasy?

Mareth:  The original idea for Court of Twilight came from reading two works of real-world ethnography back to back – Meeting the Other Crowd: The Fairy Stories of Hidden Ireland by Eddie Lenihan and Carolyn Eve Green, and Bury Me Standing: The Gypsies and their Journey, by Isabel Fonseca. Both books dealt with the idea of outsiders – groups of Others who are literally or figuratively invisible to the predominant culture around them. It got me thinking about how the some of the elements traditionally ascribed to fairies – they’re invisible, they’re often malevolent, and unwary human visitors can sometimes get trapped in their world – might play out as cultural, rather than magical, differences.

Also, Court of Twilight is a contemporary fantasy only by accident. As I’d originally conceived the story, it was set in the year prior to the potato famine. Then, on impulse, I decided to write the first draft during National Novel Writing Month. It quickly because apparent that I would never be able to do the amount of research necessary to set the story in a historic period, and also finish the draft. So, the story got bumped into the modern day.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for Court of Twilight?

Mareth:  As mentioned above, time for research was in very short supply. I did very little research specific to the story, (other than spending a ton of time on Google Maps looking up various Dublin neighborhoods, average bartenders’ salaries, local haunted houses, and believable public transit options). Most of what else shows up in the story came from things rattling around in my head. It helps that I’ve lived in both Scotland and Ireland (the North, though, not the Republic), so I was able to draw a lot on those experiences.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for Court of Twilight.

Mareth:  The cover was done by Lovely Creatures Studio, and they did an amazing job. The cover doesn’t depict an event from the book, but more the idea of an observer looking at something – a stained glass image of two figures – and the idea of a meeting of something historic with something modern. And the fact that the figures are translucent also works very well with the images in the text.

TQIn Court of Twilight who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Mareth:  The trows were all pretty much a ton of fun to write, because they all can be a bit oddball, and all of the characters have their own angles and motivations. Ivy has good reasons to distrust all of them at one point or another. Hunzu especially was fun to write – he was a bit of a rascal in the early drafts, but as I got deeper into working on the book, the heart of the character is that he’s basically a nice guy who’s continually in over his head. Demi was probably the hardest to write – because she has to be compelling enough to justify Ivy’s friendship with her – while still being true to the fact that she’s hiding huge secrets at the start of the book.

TQWhy have you chosen to include or not chosen to include social issues in Court of Twilight?

Mareth:  I think of Court as more of an adventure story than as any sort of issues book – that being said, I also don’t think writers are serving their readers well by ignoring such issues in other sorts of fiction. (Anyone who’s not convinced of this should spend some time with @heidiheilig’s Twitter feed.) One thing I deliberately put into the narrative were female authority figures – Ivy’s bosses are both women, and the authority figures in the trow world are female as well.

Otherwise, all I can say is that there is more to the trows’ world – and the story of how the trows’ world intersects with our own – in future books that definitely enters into societal issues territory.

TQWhich question about Court of Twilight do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

Mareth:  Ok, here goes - Why is the story all about a girl trying to save her flatmate, as opposed to a best friend, or a girlfriend, or a close relative?

There are lots of stories about a protagonist going on a quest to save their child, or parent, or romantic partner – and a ton about protagonists who are on mission to save the whole world. But in real life, I think we very often have more opportunities to save or damn complete strangers or casual acquaintances than we do close relations. It changes the stakes in an interesting way – Ivy has to really consider how much she’s willing to risk herself for the sake of her friend, (as opposed to a situation where she’s so close to the person at risk that her throwing herself into danger is sort of assumed). How far she’s willing to go down Demi’s rabbit hole changes over the course of the book as Ivy calculates and re-calculates the stakes – as well as how closely she herself is involved.

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Court of Twilight.

Mareth:  There was someone here, mingling with the shadows and the stone, and Ivy’s very life depended on not seeing him, because that’s how you save yourself from the monsters. You stay under the covers. You shut your eyes and never, ever look.

I have been free at least, and happy at times, though the two are not nearly as synonymous as many would believe.

TQWhat's next?

Mareth:  I am currently turning the zero draft of Court’s sequel – currently titled Changeling - into a first draft that is actually coherent enough to send out to my lovely beta readers. Right now, it’s mayhem.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Mareth:  Thank you for having me! It’s been a pleasure.

Court of Twilight
Parvus Press LLC, October 17, 2017
Trade Paperback and eBook, 342 pages

Interview with Mareth Griffith, author of Court of Twilight
Explore the hidden world of ancient magic within modern Dublin.

Six months ago, Ivy stumbled into the deal of a lifetime – great rent in a posh Dublin neighborhood and a flatmate, Demi, who was only a little weird. It didn’t matter that their flat is packed with exotic plants or that her flatmate does all her shopping on-line but refuses to meet the delivery man at the door?

Now, though, Demi’s gone missing, there are strange men hiding in the flower boxes, and a lot of strangers have suddenly taken interest in the whereabouts of her peculiar flatmate. When the police won’t help, Ivy knows she’s going to have to solve this mystery on her own.

Ivy dives headfirst into a secret Dublin, hidden in plain sight, and discovers that the longer she stays in, the more she risks losing the world she always knew. Can she save Demi without losing herself?

About Mareth

Interview with Mareth Griffith, author of Court of Twilight
Mareth Griffith bounces between summers along the Alaskan coast and winters in various warmer locations.  She lives in Seward, Alaska, and continually tells people that the winters there aren’t as bad as people think.

When she’s not writing, she works as a naturalist and wilderness guide, leading adventurous souls on epic quests to seek out glaciers, bears, and whales in the wilds of coastal Alaska.   She’s also lived and worked in Scotland, New Zealand, and Northern Ireland – where her nearest neighbors included two thousand puffins and the ghost of a spectral black horse.

Originally from West Virginia, Mareth attended  Smith College in Massachusetts, and the University of Glasgow in Scotland, studying music and theatre.   Prior to moving to Alaska, she worked as an audio technician for several east coast theater companies, eventually discovering that while she loved working in theatre, she didn’t love living in cities.

Mareth plays classical violin well and rhythm guitar badly, and her writing has previously been featured in the Redoubt Reporter, Alaska Magazine, and Pen the Kenai, an essay exhibit documenting life on Alaska’s Kenai coast.

Twitter @MagpieMareth

2017 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars - October Debuts

2017 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars - October Debuts

Each month you will be able to vote for your favorite cover from that month's debut novels. At the end of the year the 12 monthly winners will be pitted against each other to choose the 2017 Debut Novel Cover of the Year. Please note that a debut novel cover is eligible in the month in which the novel is published in the US. Cover artist/illustrator/designer information is provided when we have it.

I'm using PollCode for this vote. After you the check the circle next to your favorite, click "Vote" to record your vote. If you'd like to see the real-time results click "View". This will take you to the PollCode site where you may see the results. If you want to come back to The Qwillery click "Back" and you will return to this page. Voting will end sometime on October 31, 2017.

Vote for your favorite October 2017 Debut Cover! free polls

2017 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars - October Debuts

2017 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars - October Debuts
Jacket illustration - Martin Deschambault
Jacket design - Greg Stadnyk

2017 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars - October Debuts
Cover design - Adam Auerbach
Cover art - photograph of cloaked figure &copy: Malgorzata Maj/
Arcangel Images; photograph of raven courtesy of 
Shutterstock Images

2017 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars - October Debuts
Cover illustration - Steve Stone
Cover design - Lex Maudlin

2017 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars - October Debuts

2017 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars - October Debuts

2017 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars - October Debuts

2017 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars - October Debuts
Cover illustrations - Crystal Ben, Arcangel
Cover design - Lisa Marie Pompilio

2017 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars - October Debuts
Cover art - Jaime Jones
Cover design - Jaime Stafford-Hill

2017 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars - October Debuts
Cover art and design - John Coulthart

2017 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars - October Debuts

Interview with Catherine Burns, author of The Visitors

Please welcome Catherine Burns to The Qwillery as part of the of the 2017 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Visitors was published on September 26th by Gallery Books/Scout Press.

Interview with Catherine Burns, author of The Visitors

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

Catherine:  I got laid off from my university teaching job so I had a lot of time on my hands.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Catherine:  I had a rough idea of the structure of The Visitors before I started writing but it certainly changed a lot by the end. I think if you stick to a too rigid outline you risk limiting yourself. Having said that I might try plotting a bit more the next time. I suppose that means I’m a hybrid?

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Catherine:  Self-discipline is difficult when working from home. Keeping off the internet and Netflix long enough to get something done.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Catherine:  I haven’t had any formal training but I thought that Stephen King book on writing was pretty good. Also just the stuff I read, Shirley Jackson, Chekhov short stories, an author called Barbara Pym (not sure if she’s very well known in the US).

TQDescribe The Visitors in 140 characters or less.

Catherine:  Marion lives in a creepy mansion. Brother John spends all his time in the cellar. She hears screams from below, should she tell the police?

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

Catherine:  Marion has some self-esteem issues. Her nickname at school was Manatee.

TQWhat inspired you to write The Visitors?

Catherine:  A few real life cases where people had protected loved ones who committed horrible crimes. I was trying to understand why someone would do something like that and I wanted the reader to ask themselves what they would do if the person they loved most in the world did something terrible.

TQIs the "crumbling mansion" and seaside resort where Marion and John Zetland live based on a real building/place?

Catherine:  The crumbling mansion isn’t real but the house I grew up in had a cellar and I was always a bit spooked by it. The town of Northport is fictional but it’s based on a number of real life northern British seaside towns, particularly Southport(!) and Blackpool. I always felt these places were a little on the gothic side with their creaky fairground attractions and kiosks selling smutty postcards alongside candy for children. I suppose Coney Island in the US has a similar vibe.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Visitors?

Catherine:  I don’t want to give away any spoilers but there is some internet ‘Catfishing’ going on in the book. I actually created fake social media profiles to see if the plotline was realistic. I got quite a lot of positive responses!

TQPlease tell us about the cover for The Visitors?

Catherine:  Just want to say I think the US cover is delightful, you can’t tell from pictures but the paper is textured so you can feel the ridges in the wood and even the back of the wallpaper feels different from the front! Amazing! I suppose on the most literal sense it evokes decaying grandeur of a rather stuffy, middle-class variety. I didn’t have anything to do with the cover however, and I don’t know if my interpretations are what the designer intended, but it reminds me of ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ and there is certainly a lot of female repression in the book. I also get a slight Georgia O’Keefe vibe but maybe that’s just my grubby mind.

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

Catherine:  I find Mrs Morrison the housekeeper comical so I think she was the most fun and therefore easiest to write. Marion was the hardest of course, because a lot of her choices are rather difficult to empathise with but if I had made her too unlikeable the reader would have just given up on her and the book.

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

Catherine:  I touched somewhat obliquely on the issue of immigration but I don’t want to say too much as this would give important plot points away!

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

Catherine:  Are Marion and John’s parent to blame? I honestly don’t know, maybe if you say yes to that question you could equally blame their parents, i.e. Marion and John’s grandparents, where does the evil originate?

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


‘Like a white bird, the scream flew up from the depths of the cellar, then became trapped inside Marion’s head.’

‘You are the kind of evil that comes from nothing, from neglect and loneliness. You are like mold that grows in damp dark places, black dirt gathered in corners, a fatal infection that begins with a speck of dirt in an unwashed wound.’

TQWhat's next?

Catherine:  Just finished another manuscript but so far I’ve only shown it to close friends. About to start a third. I really enjoy writing in the gothic/thriller genre, might veer towards more conventional horror next!

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Catherine:  Thank you for your consideration.

The Visitors
Gallery Books/Scout Press, September 26, 2017
Hardcover and eBook, 304 pages

Interview with Catherine Burns, author of The Visitors
“Once you start Catherine Burns's dark, disturbing, and enthralling debut novel, it's hard to stop. The Visitors is bizarrely unsettling, yet compulsively readable.” —Iain Reid, internationally bestselling author of I’m Thinking of Ending Things

With the smart suspense of Emma Donoghue’s Room and the atmospheric claustrophobia of Grey Gardens, Catherine Burns’s debut novel explores the complex truths we are able to keep hidden from ourselves and the twisted realities that can lurk beneath even the most serene of surfaces.

Marion Zetland lives with her domineering older brother John in a crumbling mansion on the edge of a northern seaside resort. A timid spinster in her fifties who still sleeps with teddy bears, Marion does her best to live by John’s rules, even if it means turning a blind eye to the noises she hears coming from behind the cellar door...and turning a blind eye to the women’s laundry in the hamper that isn’t hers. For years, she’s buried the signs of John’s devastating secret into the deep recesses of her mind—until the day John is crippled by a heart attack, and Marion becomes the only one whose shoulders are fit to bear his secret. Forced to go down to the cellar and face what her brother has kept hidden, Marion discovers more about herself than she ever thought possible. As the truth is slowly unraveled, we finally begin to understand: maybe John isn’t the only one with a dark side....

About Catherine

Interview with Catherine Burns, author of The Visitors
Mark Frith Photography
Born in Manchester, Catherine Burns is a graduate of Trinity College, University of Cambridge. She worked as a bond trader in London before studying at the Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography and teaching film theory at the University of Salford. The Visitors is her debut novel.

Twitter @c_burnzi  ~  Facebook

Interview with Rivers Solomon, author of An Unkindness of Ghosts

Please welcome Rivers Solomon to The Qwillery as part of the of the 2017 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. An Unkindness of Ghosts was published on October 3rd by Akashic Books.

Interview with Rivers Solomon, author of An Unkindness of Ghosts

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

Rivers:  I’ve been writing stories since at least Kindergarten, I think, one of my earlier efforts winning some silly prize for first graders and put on display at a local mall. That type of encouragement made me keep at it, and I definitely learned to think of myself as a very writerly, literary sort of person. We all get tracked into things, don’t we? At varying points I left and came back, but in college I had a professor who was really amazing and made me believe I could actually make a go at doing it more professionally.

I wish that I could remember all the fanciful tales I concocted in my early elementary years, but they are lost to time, I’m afraid. I do remember a story from middle school I wrote about a kid who wakes up and it turns out that all along the Earth has been flat. Everybody’s talking about it at school and he feels left out, having not watched the news that morning. I distinctly recall he overhears a girl in the hallway say, “If even the Earth is flat, there’s no hope for my chest.”

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Rivers:  I am a bit of both, so a hybrid—but I suppose everyone’s a hybrid to some extent because it’s impossible to write purely using either method.

I’d say if forced to choose I’d go with plotter. I do not usually let the words take me where they will beyond a few scenes or maybe a few chapters. I like to write purposefully and with meaning. Characters tends develop in a pantsy-fashion. Subplots, too. But I start most projects I write with a sense of the arc.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Rivers:  I deal with chronic illness, so finding the energy and will to keep at it is definitely difficult for me. Also, I’m quite a meticulous person, in the worst sense of the word, so I will spend hours on single phrases when writing a story. I’m not exaggerating at all. I can’t just let go of the language and get the story out, not matter how hard I try! All that is to say I’m a pretty slow writer unless I happen to catch a manic burst.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Rivers:  Is it cheating to answer, “the world”? I bet it is. Hmm, let’s narrow it down. I’m definitely heavily influenced by Black Diasporic peoples’ culture, language, food, and religion. Jewish thought and practice. Battlestar Galactica (2004). Star Trek, specifically The Original Series. All sorts of history, from all times and all places. I really love Ursula LeGuin and Zora Neale Hurston and Alice Walker. I think about The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison a lot. A whole lot. Protest movements, now and today. The Russian Revolution, the Black Panthers, the IRA. The Matrix! The aesthetic eye in that trilogy is just next level. Isn’t Zion so beautiful? I like to keep an open mind and let in as much as the world as I can (as much as feels safe to me). I hope people read my work and see the wide world seeping into it.

TQTell us something about An Unkindness of Ghosts that is not found in the book description.

Rivers:  There’s a small but present romance in the book that is deeply meaningful to me. There are lots of descriptions of food. There are comic books! There is humor, believe it or not, despite the heaviness of it all.

TQWhat inspired you to write An Unkindness of Ghosts? What appeals to you about writing Science Fiction?

Rivers:  When I started it, it was definitely at a time when a lot of really awful things were getting a fair bit of media attention. Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown (and countless other names). I was thinking a lot about queerness and reproductive justice. I was thinking a lot about my ancestors because that’s just something I do sometimes. I’d recently read a poem by Kiki Petrosino called “Ancestors” that still speaks to me and haunts me occasionally. Maps were on my mind. The violence of borders. All of it kind of meshed together, I guess, and the seed of an idea was born. The story has changed so much since I first started it, but it has always been about a young woman who rebels in some way, either for her own safety or that of others.

As far as sci-fi, well I’ve always been quite fond of it. Mostly just because it’s inherently a bit wild and surreal! I’d typically rather read a story that had something strange in it, something different that I’m not likely to encounter in my own real life. I love make-believe. I’m one of those people who eats a bowl of porridge and imagines that they’re on the Nebuchadnezzar eating that protein goop from the Matrix. Head in the clouds, as they say.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for An Unkindness of Ghosts?

Rivers:  I had various points where I spent a lot of time trying to figure out the exact theoretical science of everything, but then realized I didn’t care that much and I remembered my favorite kind of sci-fi tended to be more magical sci-fi. I read a bit about fusion reactors, and a friend of mine who studied physics helped me think about designs.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for An Unkindness of Ghosts?

Rivers:  The cover is the protagonist Aster’s likeness against a background of stars. I don’t know the artist, and now I feel terribly bad about the fact! That’s something I’m going to have to look up, and I’m certain I should know. We (me and the editor and design people at Akashic Books) had a fair bit of back and forth before we landed on the final design, and I think it conveys something central about the book: a woman on the edge, a woman torn, a woman at odds with her life and surroundings.

TQIn An Unkindness of Ghosts who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Rivers:  Giselle was the easiest to write because I think she has very few inhibitions. It was always easy to figure out what she might do because she’s the sort that generally does the first thing to come to mind. Aster and Theo, the other two main characters, are much more controlled, I think. They don’t always necessarily behave in consistent fashions because life is a puzzle, and they’re trying to figure out what’s the best move forward.

The hardest to write was a character called Aint Melusine, because I think older Black women are often written in really narrow and limiting ways. There are a few ‘types’ out there. Mammies, basically, or really matronly, kind women who love to cook and sing, and there often isn’t much more to them than that. I was hyper aware of making her feel full and complete and also very complicated. I’m not sure if I 100% achieved it but it was definitely something I worked hard to at least make a go at.

TQWhy have you chosen to include or not chosen to include social issues in An Unkindness of Ghosts?

Rivers:  I think social issues are just life, really, so including them is not really different than talking about the weather or the time of day or the year. There are certain populations who feel social issues more because they are more personally affected by them. Perhaps they themselves are the ‘social issues’ depending on point of view. But that seems like a cop out; we’re all wrapped up in it one way or another. For example, the unequal distribution of wealth and power is a social issue, but like, either you’re a person with a lot of wealth or you’re a person with not a lot of wealth, and whatever side of the coin you’re on, it’s a social issue and you play a part in it.

TQWhich question about An Unkindness of Ghosts do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

Rivers:  I don’t necessarily have one question I wish people would ask, but of course I have a lot of random thoughts about the book that people will probably never think to ask about! Here’s one:

What is your favorite non-canon romantic pairing?

Theo and Giselle. They are such complete and utter opposites but I think they both have a very mystical and apocalyptic way of viewing the world that would lead them to shared interests and goals.

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from An Unkindness of Ghosts.


There was an excitement coming from Giselle. She was standing on the edge of a new world and so ready to jump. How Lucifer felt upon leaving Heaven. He didn’t fall. He dove.

TQWhat's next?

Rivers:  The world is wide open at the moment, and I’m on so many paths I really can’t say exactly where I will end up!

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

An Unkindness of Ghosts
Akashic Books, October 3, 2017
Trade Paperback and eBook, 340 pages

Interview with Rivers Solomon, author of An Unkindness of Ghosts
Aster has little to offer folks in the way of rebuttal when they call her ogre and freak. She’s used to the names; she only wishes there was more truth to them. If she were truly a monster, she’d be powerful enough to tear down the walls around her until nothing remains of her world.

Aster lives in the lowdeck slums of the HSS Matilda, a space vessel organized much like the antebellum South. For generations, Matilda has ferried the last of humanity to a mythical Promised Land. On its way, the ship’s leaders have imposed harsh moral restrictions and deep indignities on dark-skinned sharecroppers like Aster. Embroiled in a grudge with a brutal overseer, Aster learns there may be a way to improve her lot—if she’s willing to sow the seeds of civil war.

About Rivers

Interview with Rivers Solomon, author of An Unkindness of Ghosts
RIVERS SOLOMON graduated from Stanford University with a degree in comparative studies in race and ethnicity and holds an MFA in fiction writing from the Michener Center for Writers. Though originally from the United States, they currently live in Cambridge, England, with their family. An Unkindness of Ghosts is their debut novel.

Website  ~  Twitter @cyborgyndroid  ~  Facebook

2017 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars - September Winner

The winner of the September 2017 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars is An Excess Male by Maggie Shen King from Harper Voyager with 25% of the votes. The cover design is by Kapo Ng.

An Excess Male
Harper Voyager, September 12, 2017
Trade Paperback and eBook, 416 pages

2017 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars - September Winner
From debut author Maggie Shen King, An Excess Male is the chilling dystopian tale of politics, inequality, marriage, love, and rebellion, set in a near-future China, that further explores the themes of the classics The Handmaid's Tale and When She Woke.

Under the One Child Policy, everyone plotted to have a son.

Now 40 million of them can't find wives.

China’s One Child Policy and its cultural preference for male heirs have created a society overrun by 40 million unmarriageable men. By the year 2030, more than twenty-five percent of men in their late thirties will not have a family of their own. An Excess Male is one such leftover man’s quest for love and family under a State that seeks to glorify its past mistakes and impose order through authoritarian measures, reinvigorated Communist ideals, and social engineering.

Wei-guo holds fast to the belief that as long as he continues to improve himself, his small business, and in turn, his country, his chance at love will come. He finally saves up the dowry required to enter matchmaking talks at the lowest rung as a third husband—the maximum allowed by law. Only a single family—one harboring an illegal spouse—shows interest, yet with May-ling and her two husbands, Wei-guo feels seen, heard, and connected to like never before. But everyone and everything—walls, streetlights, garbage cans—are listening, and men, excess or not, are dispensable to the State. Wei-guo must reach a new understanding of patriotism and test the limits of his love and his resolve in order to save himself and this family he has come to hold dear.

In Maggie Shen King’s startling and beautiful debut, An Excess Male looks to explore the intersection of marriage, family, gender, and state in an all-too-plausible future.

The Results

2017 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars - September Winner

The September 2017 Debuts

2017 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars - September Winner

Interview with Jeannette Ng, author of Under the Pendulum Sun

Please welcome Jeannette Ng to The Qwillery as part of the of the 2017 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Under the Pendulum Sun was published on October 3rd by Angry Robot.

Interview with Jeannette Ng, author of Under the Pendulum Sun

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

Jeannette:  I've been writing for as long as I remember writing and before that I was telling stories. First year of primary school, I would drag other children into the PE supplies closet and make them listen to me.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Jeannette:  Hybrid?

I'm probably a discovery writer (a pantser) at heart, but that way lies plots cul-de-sacs and unfinished books. And madness. Which is to say I need plotting and structure and direction to hold me together. I've never finished a novel that I didn't know the ending to, but the route towards it can change considerably as it gets written.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Jeannette:  My own anxieties can be very loud at times. Facing my writing can mean I need to face down my own fears and they can get very, very loud. It drowns out the voice inside me that is trying to tell a story and then I'm trying to make it all go quiet with distractions. It's all an incredibly unhelpful and typical cycle.

Erm, a more author-ly answer is time skips and information management. I find minutae interesting, so knowing how much to show and how much to summarise is something I find awkward. SHOW DON'T TELL has been drummed into my mind from my very early days and it's very counterintuitive then to me that I must now just skip all ten days of "boring" travel.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

JeannetteUnder the Pendulum Sun's most direct literary influences is almost certainly the Brontës, especially Charlotte's Jane Eyre. I borrow heavily from their structures and motifs. The rest of the gothic canon have made their mark, from Ann Radcliffe and Regina Maria Roche to V C Andrews.

In terms of writing half-real magic realist alt-histories, I'm heavily influenced by Jorge Luis Borges. I was so enamoured of him that I had his poems plastered all over my boarding school bedroom. He wrote reviews of nonexistent books and passed off original work as "translations". I simply adore that sort of literary forgery and that is a huge part of Under the Pendulum Sun.

TQDescribe Under the Pendulum Sun in 140 characters or less.

Jeannette:  "Gothic novel about Victorian missionaries going to Fairyland. Things go poorly for them."

TQTell us something about Under the Pendulum Sun that is not found in the book description.

Jeannette:  All the chapters start with fragments of literary forgery, which I really enjoyed writing. They are quotations from texts the characters within the book are reading. Partly to cut down on quotations within the text itself. A lot of incidental world building happens there, as well as foreshadowing of things to come. It's likely an affectation that will follow me into future projects.

TQWhat inspired you to write Under the Pendulum Sun? What appeals to you about writing Fantasy?

Jeannette:  I found a Victorian missionary text in the university library one day and it all just went from there.

Magic is kinda just cool, but I love how that inherent coolness of magic (and dragons, etc) can be used to hook a reader into being interested in things they would otherwise overlook. I can use that interest to shine a light on things I find interesting, like biblical apocrycha, textile guild politics or medieval bookmaking methods. I'm uncomfortable with direct allegories but magic can also be used to amplify and intensify.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for Under the Pendulum Sun?

Jeannette:  I already had a grounding in the Victorians from my degree, but I read a lot of Victorian texts (all out of copyright) on google books and assorted other online libraries of scanned books. I visited various museums up and down the country, but that's also just a normal weekend. I remember the goblin market idea came to me when in a room done up as a Victorian child's room. I also went to Birdforth, the village where Laon and Cathy Helstone grew up and paid a visit to its little Norman church.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for Under the Pendulum Sun.

Jeannette:  John Coulthart did the cover and he's just amazing. He and I both wrote about the cover over at Fantasy Faction during the reveal and he offers a lot of cool insight into his design choices.

The cover depicts Mab, the Pale Queen of the Fae, as this terrifying collage of moths and other insects. It is she who terrorises the siblings who we see imprisoned in the elaborate gothic arches. The castle Gethsemane in which most of the book takes place can be seen ominously in the background.

TQIn Under the Pendulum Sun who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Jeannette:  Mab was probably the most fun to write, since she's such a marvelously malevolent presence for so much of the book. I am perhaps too fond of describing her and every line of hers drips with double meaning.

Laon was awkward in various ways, since gothic heroes aren't always very likeable people and he's very much cut from that same tortured cloth. I am very fond of him as a character and he was himself the viewpoint protagonist in an earlier draft but that lacked bite. It drew the reader into his depressive narcissism, but of course now we see him through the eyes of his sister and he's not at all forthcoming at first about his reasons. There's this delicate balance of mystery and explaining that I'm still not sure I've gotten quite right.

TQWhy have you chosen to include or not chosen to include social issues in Under the Pendulum Sun?

Jeannette:  I've included social issues in the sense that I consider them an inescapable part of the fabric of the world and the lives of the characters. There's quite a raw conversation in which one character confronts another about how they seem oblivious to their difference in privilege, for example. And it is inescapable that a book dealing with Victorian missionaries would touch on ideas of British imperialism and colonialism, after all. But I wouldn't call Under the Pendulum Sun an "issue" book. It all informs the action rather than is the action.

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Under the Pendulum Sun.

Jeannette:  For maximum non-spoilery, here is a description of the titular Pendulum Sun:

If you would imagine a bright lantern hanging at the end of a long cord. Then imagine that it swings as a pendulum over a surface, bringing each part in turn into its light.
That surface is Arcadia and that lantern is their sun. Thus at the edges of the Faelands, the sun reaches the pinnacle of its upswing before falling back the way it came. The equilibrium position of the pendulum sun is near the centre of the Faelands, directly above the city of Pivot. There, it is almost never night, as the sun is always close enough to impart at least a hazy twilight of illumination.
I really like this exchange between Cathy and fae she meets:
"Pay him no heed." Kasdaye pulled my hand into hers. "Have you not wanted to speak to me all your life?"
"H-have I?"
"You're human. And humanity loves us." She was stroking my hand as though it were a lapdog. "So desperate are you to speak to us that you see us everywhere. You look across across your borders, your walls and instead of your neighbours, you see us. As your ships sail further and countries and continents discover each another, you see not each other. You see us. You want to see us."

TQWhat's next?

Jeannette:  The obvious next thing of mine out next is a short story titled "How the Wishing Tree Gained its Carapace of Plastic" in Not So Stories, which is out next year. It's the first thing of mine published that draws directly on Chinese folklore so I've very excited about that seeing light of day.

I'm working on a number of other novels, but I'm afraid they're all a bit Watch This Space. I'm at that skittish stage where I fear jinxing it all by talking about it.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Jeannette:  Thank you for having me. :)

Under the Pendulum Sun
Angry Robot Books, October 3, 2017
Trade Paperback and eBook, 416 pages

Interview with Jeannette Ng, author of Under the Pendulum Sun
Victorian missionaries travel into the heart of the newly discovered lands of the Fae, in a stunningly different fantasy that mixes Crimson Peak with Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.

Catherine Helstone’s brother, Laon, has disappeared in Arcadia, legendary land of the magical fae. Desperate for news of him, she makes the perilous journey, but once there, she finds herself alone and isolated in the sinister house of Gethsemane. At last there comes news: her beloved brother is riding to be reunited with her soon – but the Queen of the Fae and her insane court are hard on his heels.

File Under: Fantasy [ In Arcadia | Seek and Hide | The Queen of Moths | Lands of the Damned ]

About Jeannette

Interview with Jeannette Ng, author of Under the Pendulum Sun
Jeannette Ng is originally from Hong Kong but now lives in Durham, UK. Her MA in Medieval and Renaissance Studies fed into an interest in medieval and missionary theology, which in turn spawned her love for writing gothic fantasy with a theological twist. She runs live roleplay games and is active within the costuming community, running a popular blog.

Website  ~  Facebook 

Twitter @jeannette_ng

Interview with R.E. Stearns, author of Barbary StationInterview with Michael Shou-Yung Shum, author of Queen of SpadesInterview with Adam Burch, author of Song of EdmonInterview with Melissa Caruso, author of The Tethered MageInterview with Mareth Griffith, author of Court of Twilight2017 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars - October DebutsInterview with Catherine Burns, author of The VisitorsInterview with Rivers Solomon, author of An Unkindness of Ghosts2017 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars - September WinnerInterview with Jeannette Ng, author of Under the Pendulum Sun

Report "The Qwillery"

Are you sure you want to report this post for ?