The Qwillery | category: 2017 Debut Author Challenge


The Qwillery

A blog about books and other things speculative

Interview with Craig Cliff, Author of The Mannequin Makers

Please welcome Craig Cliff to The Qwillery as part of the of the 2017 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Mannequin Makers is published on December 12th by Milkweed Editions.

Interview with Craig Cliff, Author of The Mannequin Makers

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

Craig:  Thanks for having me.

I’ve always written. Being alone and making things up — being the boss of the page — was a kind of powertrip. Somewhere between the ages of 16 and 21 I got serious about writing for an audience, though it took at least another five years for maturity caught up to ambition.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Craig:  A total hybrid. I’ve tried both. I have the abandoned manuscripts to prove it.

Nowadays I won’t start writing until I have some sort of schematic that shows how all the elements fit together (for The Mannequin Makers this was a PowerPoint slide with lots of colored boxes and arrows). Something with the shape of the novel, some key events, but still a lot of questions to answer. And once I start, I’m free to go in other directions.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Craig:  With novels, it is sustaining everything -- my energy, the narrative voice, the reader’s interest – over what is usually two or three years of work.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Craig:  I never take off my novelist’s hat, so everything I consume - books, movies, video games, the aggravations of social media – winds up shaping my own work. Even the worst book has some redeeming feature, be it a lesson in what NOT to do, a new way out of an old bind, or a turn of phrase that unlocks something I’d felt but not yet been able to say.

TQDescribe The Mannequin Makers in 140 characters or less.

Craig:  A father raises his twins to perform as the perfect mannequins and trump his rival, a former figurehead carver and castaway.

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

Craig:  Eugen Sandow, the strongman who appears in early on in the novel and whose influence is felt through rest of the story, actually did tour New Zealand in 1902-03, I just made him perform an extra show. He was a fascinating dude. The first body-builder, in many respects. You can watch him flex in one of Thomas Edison’s first films on YouTube.

TQWhat inspired you to write The Mannequin Makers?

Craig:  I had a bunch of ideas – a father raising his children to be living mannequins, a shipwreck in the Southern Ocean, something centred on Eugen Sandow - that I didn’t know would or could fit together, but they had three things in common. They needed to happen in the past. They seemed so far beyond my own experience and what I’d written previously (a.k.a. A CHALLENGE). And they felt like the sorts of scenarios or characters I’d encountered in the kinds of books I devoured as a kid: Dickens, Verne, Dumas. The more I looked into department stores and clipper ships and physical culture, the more connections I found and the harder it became to not take up the challenge.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Mannequin Makers?

Craig:  I read. A lot. Books on all the stuff I just mentioned (and more), but also a lot of newspapers from the time period, which were thankfully all digitised and searchable online by the time I started. I travelled around the parts of the South Island here in New Zealand, where the novel opens and closes, but I didn’t go to other major settings – Scotland, Sydney, the sub-Antarctic islands - while writing the book. I made do with photos, maps, documentaries, first-hand accounts and my own imagination.
The highlight was being taken behind the scenes at our national museum and getting to touch items from the old castaway depot on Antipodes Island, like the “looter’s suit” that I later dressed one of my characters in.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for The Mannequin Makers.

Craig:  Covers are weird. This is the fourth cover for this book. The New Zealand and Australian editions are like a game of spot the difference and there’s a Romanian translation. The US one goes in a very different direction. I like how, once you read about ‘human mannequins’ on the back cover, those tools on the front seem more sinister. That’s kind of how the novel works too: things often appear sinister on second glance.

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

Craig:  The easiest: Avis, who narrates the second part of the novel. For some reason her voice for me clicked early. Perhaps it was all the reading I’d been doing set in that time period. Perhaps it was the diary entry form and/or her extreme ignorance thanks to how she has been raised. After a few days of channelling this sixteen year old female from a hundred years ago, I started to worry it was coming too easily and I was, in fact, writing rubbish. And some of that first rush of words did need to be pared back. But it was still much less work than the other narrators.
The hardest was Eugen, Avis’ brother. He narrates the final section and is looking back on events that took place more than half a century before. He’s changed a lot since then (for starters: he’s learnt to read and write) but he hasn’t changed in other ways as well. It took a long time before I felt he was really talking when I saw his words on my screen.

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

Craig:  Any novel worth its salt has something to say about the time in which it is written. So even though the setting is historical, The Mannequin Makers talks about the place of art and artistry within a capitalist society, the dynamics of power and the power of empathy – issues and ideas that are still pressing today.

You can also read it as a manual in how not to raise your kids.

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

Craig:  Q: You liveblogged the day you attempted to write at least 6,376 words on the novel’s first draft. How much of those words made it into the final book? Would you ever do it again?

A: Quite a lot survived, actually. Maybe 75%? It’s not like I wrote a large but terrible scene that had to be cut the next day. Would I spend 16 hours straight while writing a first draft again? No way. It took me a week to recover. Better to write 1,000 good words every day until the end!

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

Craig:  Since I mentioned my struggles to get Eugen’s voice right, how about the first few sentences from his section, to show what he ended up sounding like?

‘Every winter I’m surprised when the wattle blooms. This year even more so for the battering we took in May and June. But somehow the buds clung to their branches as the easterlies clobbered the coast and our waves, shunted on by the king tide, gouged the beach from Collaroy baths to North Narrabeen.’

TQWhat's next?

Craig:  I’m working on a novel about fatherhood, Hollywood and a levitating Franciscan friar. It’s set in 2017 and 2019, but dips back into the seventeenth century, when San Giuseppe da Copertino was doing his thing.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

The Mannequin Makers
Milkweed Editions, December 12, 2017
Trade Paperback and eBook, 336 pages

Interview with Craig Cliff, Author of The Mannequin Makers
Playfully literate and strikingly original, an unforgettable debut novel about art, imitation, and obsession.

Excitement is rare in the small town of Marumaru, New Zealand. So when a young Maori man arrives on the morning train one day in 1903—announcing the imminent visit of a famous strongman—the entire town turns out to greet him, save one. Colton Kemp, a department store window-dresser, is at home, watching his beloved wife die in premature childbirth. Tormented by grief, he hatches a plan to make his name and thwart his rival, the silent and gifted Carpenter: over the next sixteen years he will raise his newborn twins in secrecy and isolation, to become human mannequins in the world’s most lifelike window display.

From this moment of calamity emerges a work of masterful storytelling, at once wildly entertaining and formally ambitious. The novel leaps fearlessly from the epistolary to the castaway narrative to the picaresque, as Kemp’s plot goes awry and as he, his children, and the Carpenter converge in the New Zealand hinterland.

The Mannequin Makers is an adventure-filled and thoroughly delightful yarn, introducing one of international literature’s most promising young talents to American audiences.

About Craig

Interview with Craig Cliff, Author of The Mannequin Makers
Craig Cliff is the author of The Mannequin Makers, a novel, and A Man Melting, a collection of short stories, which won the 2011 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book. Both were previously published in New Zealand. In 2012 he was a judge for the inaugural Commonwealth Story Prize, and he is the recipient of a Robert Burns Fellowship at the University of Otago. He writes a column for the Dominion Post about his double life as a writer and public servant in Wellington, New Zealand.

Website  ~  Twitter @Craig_Cliff  ~  Blog

2017 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars - November Winner

The winner of the November 2017 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars is Paul Takes the Form of A Mortal Girl by Andrea Lawlor from Rescue Press with 47% of the votes.

Paul Takes the Form of A Mortal Girl
Rescue Press, November 1, 2017
Trade Paperback, 240 pages

2017 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars - November Winner
It’s 1993 and Paul Polydoris tends bar at the only gay club in a university town thrumming with politics and partying. He studies queer theory, has a dyke best friend, makes zines, and is a flâneur with a rich dating life. But Paul’s also got a secret: he’s a shapeshifter. Oscillating wildly from Riot Grrrl to leather cub, Women’s Studies major to trade, Paul transforms his body at will in a series of adventures that take him from Iowa City to Boystown to Provincetown and finally to San Francisco—a journey through the deep queer archives of struggle and pleasure.

Andrea Lawlor’s debut novel offers a speculative history of early ’90s identity politics during the heyday of ACT UP and Queer Nation. Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl is a riotous, razor-sharp bildungsroman whose hero/ine wends his way through a world gutted by loss, pulsing with music, and opening into an array of intimacy and connections.

The Results

2017 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars - November Winner

The November 2017 Debuts

2017 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars - November Winner

2017 Debut Author Challenge - December Debuts

2017 Debut Author Challenge - December Debuts

There are 4 debut novels for December.

Please note that we use the publisher's publication date in the United States, not copyright dates or non-US publication dates.

The December debut authors and their novels are listed in alphabetical order by author (not book title or publication date). Take a good look at the covers. Voting for your favorite December cover for the 2017 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars will take place starting on December 15, 2017.

If you are participating as a reader in the Challenge, please let us know in the comments what you are thinking of reading or email us at "DAC . TheQwillery @ gmail . com" (remove the spaces and quotation marks). Please note that we list all debuts for the month (of which we are aware), but not all of these authors will be 2017 Debut Author Challenge featured authors. However, any of these novels may be read by Challenge readers to meet the goal for December 2017 The list is correct as of the day posted.

Craig Cliff

The Mannequin Makers
Milkweed Editions, December 12, 2017
Trade Paperback and eBook, 336 pages
     Literary Fiction, Historical, Magical Realism

2017 Debut Author Challenge - December Debuts
Playfully literate and strikingly original, an unforgettable debut novel about art, imitation, and obsession.

Excitement is rare in the small town of Marumaru, New Zealand. So when a young Maori man arrives on the morning train one day in 1903—announcing the imminent visit of a famous strongman—the entire town turns out to greet him, save one. Colton Kemp, a department store window-dresser, is at home, watching his beloved wife die in premature childbirth. Tormented by grief, he hatches a plan to make his name and thwart his rival, the silent and gifted Carpenter: over the next sixteen years he will raise his newborn twins in secrecy and isolation, to become human mannequins in the world’s most lifelike window display.

From this moment of calamity emerges a work of masterful storytelling, at once wildly entertaining and formally ambitious. The novel leaps fearlessly from the epistolary to the castaway narrative to the picaresque, as Kemp’s plot goes awry and as he, his children, and the Carpenter converge in the New Zealand hinterland.

The Mannequin Makers is an adventure-filled and thoroughly delightful yarn, introducing one of international literature’s most promising young talents to American audiences.

Richard Jeffries

Lyrical Underground, December 26, 2017
Trade Paperback and eBook, 238 pages
     Horror / Thriller

2017 Debut Author Challenge - December Debuts
Desert Swarm

After his superior officers are killed in action, Corporal Josiah Key assumes command of the 3rd Battalion, Marine Raiders. In the tiny village of Shabhut, Yemen, while trying to put the blast on ISIS forces, an even deadlier enemy emerges: ancient, unreasoning creatures who tear into both U.S. troops and terrorists without mercy, leaving brutally dismembered corpses in their wake.

They are known as the Idmonarchne Brasieri, giant prehistoric spiders roused from millennia-long slumber by power-mad terrorists. These aptly-named ‘Arachnosaurs’ are hungry. They’re angry. And they have declared war against all of humanity . . . whose days might just be numbered unless Key and his unit can stop them.


Pamela Kopfler

Better Dead
A B&B Spirits Mystery 1
Kensington, December 26, 2017
Mass Market Paperback and eBook,
    Paranormal Cozy Mystery

2017 Debut Author Challenge - December Debuts
As the owner of a charming Louisiana bed and breakfast, Holly Davis believes in South-ern hospitality—but she draws the line at welcoming the ghost of her cheating husband . . .

Burl Davis checked out of this life a little earlier than expected—before Holly could serve him with divorce papers over his extramarital flings. Unfortunately, it was not before he nearly bank-rupted her beloved B&B, Holly Grove, a converted plantation that has been in her family for gen-erations. Holly would never wish anyone dead, but three months later she's feeling a lot more relief than grief.

Until Burl's ghost appears as an unwelcome guest. Before his spirit can move on, her not-so-dearly departed needs Holly’s human help to bust up the drug smuggling ring he was involved with. She has reservations, to say the least, but agrees to assist him if he’ll make a show of haunt-ing the B&B to draw in visitors. But when Holly’s former love, Jake McCann, mysteriously resur-faces in town and checks in, she has to wonder if her B&B is big enough for the ghost of her hus-band and the very real physical presence of her old flame . . .

Steven Savile

Glass Town
St. Martin's Press, December 5, 2017
Hardcover and eBook, 352 pages
     Contemporary Fantasy

2017 Debut Author Challenge - December Debuts
Steven Savile is an international sensation, selling over half a million copies of his novels worldwide and writing for cult favorite television shows including Doctor Who, Torchwood, and Stargate. Now, he is finally making his US debut with Glass Town, a brilliantly composed novel revolving around the magic and mystery lurking in London.

There's always been magic in our worldWe just needed to know where to look for it

In 1924, two brothers both loved Eleanor Raines, a promising young actress from the East End of London. She disappeared during the filming of Alfred Hitchcock’s debut, Number 13, which itself is now lost. It was the crime of the age, capturing the imagination of the city: the beautiful actress never seen again, and the gangster who disappeared the same day.

Generations have passed. Everyone involved is long dead. But even now their dark, twisted secret threatens to tear the city apart.

Joshua Raines is about to enter a world of macabre beauty, of glittering celluloid and the silver screen, of illusion and deception, of impossibly old gangsters and the fiendish creatures they command, and most frighteningly of all, of genuine magic.

He is about to enter Glass Town.

The generations-old obsession with Eleanor Raines’s unsolved case is about to become his obsession, handed down father-to-son through his bloodline like some unwanted inheritance. But first he needs to bury his grandfather and absorb the implications of the confession in his hand, a letter from one of the brothers, Isaiah, claiming to have seen the missing actress. The woman in the red dress hadn’t aged a day, no matter that it was 1994 and she’d been gone seventy years.

Long buried secrets cannot stay secrets forever. Hidden places cannot stay hidden forever.

The magic that destroyed one of the most brutal families in London’s dark history is finally failing, and Joshua Raines is about to discover that everything he dared dream of, everything he has ever feared, is waiting for him in Glass Town.

Interview with Ash Fitzsimmons, author of Stranger Magics

Please welcome Ash Fitzsimmons to The Qwillery as part of the of the 2017 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Stranger Magics is published on November 21st by Harper Voyager Impulse.

Please join The Qwillery in wishing Ash a very Happy Publication Day!

Interview with Ash Fitzsimmons, author of Stranger Magics

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

Ash:  Thank you for having me! I’ve always loved reading, and writing gradually became an extension of that. I wrote my first novel at nineteen, and I was hooked.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Ash:  When I first tried my hand at long-form fiction, I was a pure pantser—I had ideas and general thoughts about scenes, but I felt my way along. With time, I’ve become a plotter. I may not map out every moment in the story before I begin, but I like to have more than a notion of where I’m headed and how I’m getting there. If nothing else, plotting helps me memorialize ideas for scenes I may not write for months, and it’s always nice to go back to your notes and have one of those, “Oh yeah, right,” moments when you think you’re stuck.

Of course, there’s always room for improvisation in writing, and characters tend to surprise you. Once you get to know your cast, some of those carefully plotted chapters begin to unravel. I’ve found that while you can try to force a plot upon characters, it seldom ends well.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Ash:  Finding enough time! I’m the sort of person who needs to stay at it daily—I get antsy when I’m away for too long, and the story starts to become stagnant in my mind. But responsibilities don’t disappear just because I’d like to spend some quality time with my computer, which can lead to a lot of odd-hours work and a touch of guilt every time I turn on the television.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Ash:  I’ve always had a fondness for the fantastic. Fairy tales, mythology, folklore, urban legends, science fiction, horror, and fantasy have long been staples of my bookshelves.

TQDescribe Stranger Magics in 140 characters or less.

Ash:  A lovelorn half-fae bookseller, his amoral brother, a smartass wizard, and an ersatz knight race to save magic and the world. We may be doomed.

TQTell us something about Stranger Magics that is not found in the book description.

AshWizard is an ungendered term in the story, and my wizard protagonist is a talented young woman who’s peeved that she’s been unjustly prevented from using much of her power. But that may be about to change…

TQWhat inspired you to write Stranger Magics? What appeals to you about writing Urban Fantasy? What do you think is the continuing appeal of stories about the fae?

Ash:  There are so many current interpretations of the fae, ranging from benevolent (or at least benign) to malicious, making them fairly malleable for story purposes. But even when they look like us, they remain something other, which I think is a large part of their appeal.

As for Stranger Magics, it began as a bit of rumination: take an ancient being with extraordinary power, mostly human sensibilities, and a strong aversion to iron, plop him down in the modern world, and what would he do with himself? The rest of the story and its setting gradually came forth.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for Stranger Magics?

Ash:  I revisited the folk and fairy tales I knew, looked into the mythology surrounding the older interpretations of fae creatures, dusted off my Shakespeare, and used all of that as a jumping-off point. On a more nuts-and-bolts note, once into the story, I spent considerable time on Google Maps, trying to plot routes (sometimes from nonexistent places!) and keep a plausible timeline. Juggling multiple time zones can be tricky.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for Stranger Magics?

Ash:  The cover design is by Alicia Tatone, and I love how it turned out. An old book is featured heavily in the story, and…nope, no spoilers!

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

Ash:  Toula, the wizard, was probably the easiest character for me to write. She seemed to appear fully formed—blue-tipped hair, attitude, and all. Robin, a faerie, was less forthcoming, but since he’s at best an annoyance to every other character in the story, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that he was sometimes difficult to pin down.

TQWhich question about Stranger Magics do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

Ash:  “This is your first novel, right?”

Published novel? Absolutely. But as I mentioned, I wrote my first novel back in college. It was a 270,000-word doozy, a great learning experience for me but unpublishable at the time. That realization came as a disappointment back then, but in retrospect, I’m glad that novel wasn’t “The One.” After all, writing is like any other skill: it takes work and plenty of practice, and your first attempt will probably not be your best product. By my count, and depending on whether I choose to remember an unfortunate cycle of short stories, Stranger Magics is my thirteenth novel-length work.

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Stranger Magics.

Ash:  Sure thing. Robin to Colin, in a moment of brotherly…well, tolerance:

He stood, took a long last draw, then stubbed the cigarillo out and threw it toward the street. “You’re a high lord of Faerie,” he said, clasping my shoulder. “Try to act like it. Right now—and I’m quite serious about this—you’re embarrassing me.”

TQWhat's next?

Ash:  While nothing is set in stone yet, I’d love to continue the story begun in Stranger Magics. We’ll see!

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Ash:  Thank you!

Stranger Magics
Harper Voyager Impulse, November 21, 2017
eBook, 400 pages

Interview with Ash Fitzsimmons, author of Stranger Magics
No one holds a grudge quite like a faerie . . .

All Colin Leffee wants is to be left alone: to run his used bookstore in peace, and to quietly drink himself to sleep every night in an attempt to drown out the memories of eight-hundred-plus years of existence.

Unfortunately, when a sullen teenage changeling is flung out of Faerie and onto his doorstep, the long-suffering, wayward son of Titania knows his dreams of solitude are dust. Colin—or Lord Coileán, as he is known to the Faerie court—must track down Meggy, the love of his life, and figure out how her child ended up in Titania’s clutches to begin with.

But with family, it’s never simple. He finds Meggy, only to see her yanked into Faerie—and the doors between the realms slammed and locked behind her. Now, it’s not just her life& at stake . . . but the fate of magic itself.

Always the loner, Colin reluctantly joins forces with an intensely stubborn wizard, a young priest-in-training who fancies himself a knight, and his half brother Robin (the last most definitely not by choice) on a quest to reopen the doors and restore the balance between the realms. And with exiled queen Mab plotting in the shadows to take Titania’s throne, and the wizards of the governing Arcanum hiding their own agenda, Colin can’t be sure whom to trust—or whether he’ll live long enough to see the mission through.

About Ash

Interview with Ash Fitzsimmons, author of Stranger Magics
Photograph courtesy of Art Meripol
When not writing fiction, ASH FITZSIMMONS is an appellate attorney and an unrepentant car singer. Visit her at


Interview with Tracy Townsend, author of The Nine

Please welcome Tracy Townsend to The Qwillery as part of the of the 2017 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Nine is published on November 14th by Pyr.

Please join The Qwillery in wishing Tracy a very Happy Publication Day!

Interview with Tracy Townsend, author of The Nine

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

Tracy:  Thanks for having me! I started writing when I was very young -- second or third grade -- and my earliest projects were all comics, mostly featuring talking animals in Sunday morning funnies-type situations. I read broadly, everything from Beverly Cleary to Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels. By the time I was in middle school, I’d graduated into creating what folks today would call fan fic, though I don’t know that I knew the term or if it was really widely in use in the early 90s. My first major project was a James Bond fan fic novella written entirely in longhand in a spiral notebook that was supposed to have been for history notes. I wrote because I admired certain storytellers and I wanted to understand how they created these remarkable things I admired so much. I’d gone to writing workshops and been in writing clubs, but all but the best of those experiences felt like the blind leading the blind. The only way to figure out how the magic was done was to crawl up inside the stories and reverse engineer them myself, in my own way. I kept in the habit throughout high school, writing episodic series on demand for friends with really specific tastes, and writing short stories featuring characters my friends and I played in tabletop RPGs. I loved writing to my friends’ prompts best of all; it was this perfect gift for them I could create, something we shared together. It wasn’t until I went to college that I realized I really wanted to write professionally. Prior to meeting some really formative peers and instructors there, it had always just been something I was good at, but felt like a bit of an impostor actually doing.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Tracy:  Oh, I’m definitely a hybrid -- just one trouser leg on at any given time. I tend to start with a very vivid concept or character, and I start building up scenes and situations to explore it. I keep myself moving by jumping from each clearly visualized moment to the next. After I’ve built a good head of steam doing that, I step back to review what I’ve created and figure out what pulls it all together. What are the events I’m focused on, and how are plot beats coming into being? Do I have things in the right order? What’s the throughline? It’s during that pause, answering those questions, that I plot out the gaps in my narrative, and only then do I resume writing. The fact that I love writing in close third from multiple characters’ points of view means this kind of hop-around drafting process works when I’m getting a project off the ground. The downside is that knitting all the pieces together can be intensely surgical -- and sometimes leads to dead ends, scenes that end up on the proverbial cutting room floor. I admire writers with fast, efficient plotting and drafting processes, but I’ve never been able to create a project that interests me if I have to imagine the whole narrative from a cold start.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Tracy:  I work full time as a teacher at a public boarding school for gifted students. I know a lot of other writers who are also teachers and parents, too, of course, but the particular kind of school where I teach involves a level of hands-on stewardship of the students -- involvement in their clubs, their social events, their lives in the early and late hours of the work day -- that’s pretty atypical. Everyone struggles to achieve work-life balance. But in a lot of senses, my work is my life, and I tend to wear myself down serving both masters. I can’t stand disappointing people, so if something’s going to get short shrift when time and energy are at a premium, it will almost always be me.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Tracy:  I grew up reading comics (X-Men, Elfquest, Wolverine, Bone) and playing tabletop board games, so my whole youth revolved around variations on the “mismatched people bound by circumstance save the world” theme. I love that trope and there’s always some piece of it in anything I write. I love it because it’s much less about the “save the world” stuff and really more about a given story’s take on “found family.” I grew up far away from my nearest relatives, aside from my parents and brother, and so the “family” I turned to most often was the family of friends I collected, through school and writing and general geekdom. The way people who love each other because they chose each other bond, and how those bonds push and pull at them just as fiercely as blood-bonds, fascinates me because it’s so much a part of my lived experience. My husband teases me all the time about plot just being my excuse to get people in a room being emotional at each other. Really, he’s not wrong.

TQDescribe The Nine in 140 characters or less.

Tracy:  2 ret. mercs & a teen thief are nobody's 1st choice heroes, but when God's lab book is stolen, its 2nd best or seconds left 2 save humanity

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

Tracy:  I wrote The Nine to be a fantasy work that mashes up a lot of my favorite things -- political machinations, conspiracies, heists, found family, “mandatory unretirement,” steam- and clockpunk stylings, redemption arcs, interspecies conflict, gray morality. That’s far more than back cover copy alone could address, sure. But the thing I’m proudest of was Publishers Weekly’s review of The Nine’s “nearly flawless writing.” I about fell out of my chair in shock -- and relief that the effort had been recognized! I wanted to give my readers a feeling of prose-level care and craft that no back cover copy can effectively promise. I wanted to make a beautiful monster. It’s up to everyone else to decide if I succeeded.

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

Tracy:  The idea for The Nine actually comes from Talmudic legend: the lamed wufniks, which Jorge Luis Borges writes about briefly in his Book of Imaginary Beings. Reading Borges piqued my interest and got me reading the Talmud and Kabbalah for details that eventually became important to the idea of the fate of mankind resting on the shoulders of a kind of “sample” population.

It’s only through a genre like fantasy that I could take my next thought -- that this seemed like a very strange cosmological variation on a scientific experiment -- and turn that into the premise of a novel. I love the slipperiness of fantasy, how it bends everyday logic and supplants it with its own sets of rules of conditions. It can be heroic, cautionary, escapist, political, pessimistic, or hopeful. I knew The Nine needed to be fantasy because I needed to bend and break a lot of rules and fuse together a lot of different visual and narrative styles to pull it off. But really, much more than it being the right tool for this particular story, it was the one I wanted most to explore and push into the shape I desired. They say you should write the book you wish was already out there for you to read. The Nine is the book I needed and wanted but never quite found.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Nine?

Tracy:  Oh, God, so much research. I researched autopsies and human anatomy. I researched Gothic architecture. I researched early photographic technologies, and deadly toxins, and period hats and footwear, guns and ammo, rappelling gear, and particle physics. And all of that was before my first round of revisions.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for The Nine.

Tracy:  Adam Doyle (whose amazing portfolio of work you can find here) was my cover artist, and I couldn’t be happier. I hope he does the art for the rest of the series. He’s done covers for Chuck Wendig and Maggie Stiefvater (which was great for my six degrees of publishing separation ego, let me tell you) and illustrations for Fantasy Flight Games. That last credit was hugely exciting for my friends and me, because we’ve played many of the games he’s contributed to. Adam starts with sketches and ultimately creates paintings which are later rendered into the cover images. That’s what gives The Nine’s cover that murky, swirling depth. If you look closely, there are a lot of smaller images buried in the background of the city behind the pictured characters -- gears and pipes and skulls, great atmospheric notes. Adam read the book in manuscript form and asked me for some additional information about the named character from it so he could refine his vision of individual figures. I’ve never asked him if he had a specific moment from the book in mind for the cover, but honestly, that’s because I feel I already know the answer, down to chapter and page. This “Avengers, assemble!” moment featuring Rowena, the Alchemist, and Anselm really helps focus the sprawling narrative around the characters whose actions will do the most to shape its outcome.

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

Tracy:  Often, my easiest character to write is Anselm. He’s easy because his way of seeing other people is so entirely alien to me. He’s a cynical, manipulative, self-assured egoist, smart and acid-tongued -- the sort of person you want on your side because it’s too dangerous having him against you. Writing characters less like me is easier than the ones more like me, because I think of it as deep character acting. (I worked in theater quite a bit years ago, and though I’m an indifferent actor, I’m a very good line coach, and in a lot of ways, that’s what writing a close POV really is -- line coaching yourself as author.) When the character itself chafes me, I’m more conscious of the need to stay in character, and that keeps me focused.

Haadiyaa Gammon, on the other hand, is very hard for me to write most days. I understand her completely, and even relate to the pressures she feels. That makes me work harder to ensure I’m examining her choices thoughtfully. She’s done things she regrets, but did them because she didn’t trust anyone else to do the right thing in her place. Gammon isn’t afraid of the sacrifices it takes to serve the pragmatic good or of being the bad guy for the right cause. I’ve been there, in my own way.

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

Tracy:  I don’t even think twice about “including social issues” in my writing because if I’m doing my job right, they’re already there. Part of the reason genre fiction is so powerful is that it defamiliarizes the conditions of our world, or extrapolates them through thought experiment, or supplants them with foreign elements, all with the hope of giving us insight into human nature. Authors and readers stare down a funhouse mirror of reality through so-called “escapist” fiction. Genre has always done this, to varying degrees. It’s just begun to do it more overtly in recent years, which is what makes it seem to some readers as if “social issues” are suddenly everywhere. They always were there. Now, authors are simply doing more to highlight them in their narratives.

As for this book, the world of The Nine is full of the problems caused by plutocracy, imperialism, xenophobia, and exceptionalist ideas of power and influence. Sometimes, these issues are present the way air in a room is. Other times, they’re spoken of directly. Since the crux of the plot is about mankind’s survival -- whether it can prove itself worthy of its place in existence -- I have to hold humanity accountable for what it’s done. That’s where the anxiety about our fate really lies. Are we worth it? Do we deserve this world? Is it too late to make good on the ills we’ve done, as individuals or as a people?

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

Tracy:  You know, nobody asks about character names, and I wish they would. There’s a specific story behind almost every one. I agonize over names. They do a lot to form a character, and often to Easter egg in details about who or what they really are. Probably the best name story of all is Rare’s.

Rare is an important secondary character in The Nine, and part of the web of happenstance and conspiracy that pulls the three main characters (Rowena, Anselm, and the Alchemist) together. I was listening to an excellent BBC radio drama production of Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris at the time I was first drafting The Nine. There was a character whose name I kept hearing as “Rare.” (Important to remember here that the actors all had quite perfect English accents, and so the rhotic pronunciation was strongly in evidence throughout the recording.) I thought it was simply marvelous that this character -- a love interest central to the main character’s emotional trauma -- had such a lovely, unusual name. I also knew the character I was writing at the time was going to be at the center of a lot of bad emotional history for the main characters in The Nine. It was perfect, so like a good little magpie, I stole the name.

Much later, long after the first draft was complete, I was in a used bookshop and saw a copy of Solaris on the shelf. I grabbed it and started leafing through, only to discover that the character in question’s name was actually Rhea. The actors’ rhotic “r” following the “a” had totally thrown me. But by then, I was too attached to Rare being Rare to possibly rename her.

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

Tracy:  It’s up to readers to find where these moments come from. This first one is for the sheer pleasure of banter: “Turpitude is my problem, not degeneracy. A law-abiding life was out of the question from the start.”

This second comes from a moment a little further on: “He could feel his convictions yawning like an unknotted purse, dropping in bits and pieces from his mental vault.”

TQWhat's next?

Tracy:  It’s time for The Nine’s sequel! It has a working title and hopefully it doesn’t change along the way, but I’ll be keeping it secret for at least awhile longer. You can expect to hear more about the series and what’s in store for its characters soon. For now, suffice it to say the drama surrounding the missing book, the Ecclesiastical Commission, and the aigamuxa and lanyani species is far from resolved. Pursuing its loose ends will take the characters outside of Corma, the city setting for the first book, and into the rest of the world the so-called Grand Unity shaped.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Tracy:  Thank you! I’d love to hear from your readers. Talk to me via email at tracy at tracytownsend dot net or on Twitter (@TheStorymatic).

The Nine
Thieves of Fate 1
Pyr, November 14, 2017
Trade Paperback and eBook, 400 pages

Interview with Tracy Townsend, author of The Nine
A book that some would kill for…

Black market courier Rowena Downshire is doing everything she can to stay off the streets and earn enough to pay her mother’s way to freedom. But an urgent and unexpected delivery leads her face to face with a creature out of nightmares.

The Alchemist knows things few men have lived to tell about, but when a frightened and empty-handed courier shows up on his doorstep he knows better than to turn her away. What he discovers leads him to ask for help from the last man he wants to see—the former mercenary, Anselm Meteron.

Reverend Phillip Chalmers awakes in a cell, bloodied and bruised, facing a creature twice his size. Translating a stolen book that writes itself may be his only hope for survival; however, he soon learns the text may have been written by the Creator himself, tracking the nine human subjects of his Grand Experiment. In the wrong hands, it could mean the end of humanity.

This unlikely team must try to keep the book from those who would misuse it. But how can they be sure who the enemy is when they can barely trust each other? And what will happen to them when it reveals a secret no human was meant to know?

About Tracy

Interview with Tracy Townsend, author of The Nine
Photo by Jennifer Bronson
Debut author Tracy Townsend holds a master’s degree in writing and rhetoric from DePaul University and a bachelor’s degree in creative writing from DePauw University, a source of regular consternation when proofreading her credentials. She is chair of the English Department at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, an elite public boarding school, where she teaches creative writing and science fiction and fantasy literature. She has been a martial arts instructor, a stage combat and accent coach, and a short-order cook for houses full of tired gamers. Now she lives in Bolingbrook, Illinois with two bumptious hounds, two remarkable children, and one very patient husband. Her short story “Late Arrivals” was published by Luna Station Quarterly in March 2016.

Website  ~  Twitter @TheStorymatic  ~  Facebook

2017 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars - October Winner

The winner of the September 2017 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars is The Astonishing Thing by Sandi Ward from Kensington with 31% of the votes.

The Astonishing Thing
Kensington, October 31, 2017
Trade Paperback and eBook, 304 pages

2017 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars - October Winner
In her inventive, sometimes bittersweet, ultimately uplifting debut, Sandi Ward draws readers into one extraordinary cat’s quest to make sense of her world, illuminating the limits and mysterious depths of love . . .

Pet owners know that a cat’s loyalty is not easily earned. Boo, a resourceful young feline with a keen eye and inquiring mind, has nonetheless grown intensely devoted to her human companion, Carrie. Several days ago, Carrie—or Mother, as Boo calls her—suddenly went away, leaving her family, including Boo, in disarray. Carrie’s husband, Tommy, is distant and distracted even as he does his best to care for Boo’s human siblings, especially baby Finn.

Boo worries about who will fill her food dish, and provide a warm lap to nestle into. More pressing still, she’s trying to uncover the complicated truth about why Carrie left. Though frequently mystified by human behavior, Boo is sure that Carrie once cared passionately for Tommy and adores her children, even the non-feline ones. But she also sees it may not be enough to make things right. Perhaps only a cat—a wise, observant, very determined cat—can do that . . .

Wonderfully tender and insightful, The Astonishing Thing explores the intricacies of marriage and family through an unforgettable perspective at the center of it all.

The Results

2017 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars - October Winner

 The October 2017 Debuts

2017 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars - October Winner

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 Craig Cliff, Author of The Mannequin Makers2017 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars - November Winner2017 Debut Author Challenge - December DebutsInterview with Ash Fitzsimmons, author of Stranger MagicsInterview with Tracy Townsend, author of The Nine2017 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars - October WinnerInterview 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 Mage

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