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A blog about books and other things speculative

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Interview with Peng Shepherd, author of The Book of M


Please welcome Peng Sheperd to The Qwillery, as part of the 2018 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Book of M is published on June 5th by William Morrow.



Interview with Peng Shepherd, author of The Book of M




TQWelcome to The Qwillery. What is the first piece you remember writing?

Peng:  It was a picture book about a spider! A Very Friendly Spider was the title. I was just old enough to read, and I drew the accompanying illustrations as well, of course. My mother, wanting to encourage my interest in books, got it laminated and bound with a cheap plastic spiral spine, and gave it back to me as a surprise. Being only four or five, I gleefully assumed that my book had been published. If only it were that easy!



TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Peng:  I’m a hybrid. I almost always start by pantsing it and make a huge mess because I’m too excited by the newness of the idea to plan anything. If I’m still obsessed with the story after 50 pages of exploration, then I come up with an ending, which is the make or break moment. If I can get the ending, then I make a brief outline and everything (mostly) falls into place from there.



TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Peng:  Revision! It’s such a different (but very necessary) skill from first drafting.



TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Peng:  Ursula K Le Guin has always been and will probably always be my biggest source of inspiration. Her books were life-changing for me, and were a huge part of the reason that I began, and kept, writing myself.

I also have been greatly influenced by the speculative fiction of Margaret Atwood, China Miéville, NK Jemisin, Lev Grossman, and Jeff Vandermeer. I love reading their work because they write things so imaginative and unique that it seems like it could never work, but they do it so courageously and brilliantly that each time I turn the page, I can feel the boundaries of what I had thought possible in writing expand.



TQDescribe The Book of M in 140 characters or less.

Peng:  Disappearing shadows, magical elephants, sinister cults, a dangerous journey, a mysterious city.



TQTell us something about The Book of M that is not found in the book description.

Peng:  Ory and Max are the main characters, but the novel is actually told from 4 points of view—there are two other characters not mentioned on the back of the book who play very significant roles in the story and whose fates are deeply tied to those of Ory and Max.



TQWhat inspired you to write The Book of M? What appeals to you about writing about a near future catastrophic world?

Peng:  I love post-apocalyptic stories in general. I’m a big fan of The Stand, Station Eleven, The Passage, The Walking Dead, and video games like the Fallout series, The Last of Us, Shadow of the Colossus, Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Horizon Zero Dawn, etc. I’m fascinated by the idea of a world wiped clean, but even more than that, about what that new reality would do to the survivors—if living in it would force you to become more true to yourself, or less. I think The Book of M asks that question a lot of its characters… maybe in even more direct ways than some of its bookshelf-mates, because people are fighting to literally not forget who they are and who they love.



TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Book of M?

Peng:  Most of my research was centered around Zero Shadow Day (which is a real-life phenomenon that occurs every year!), as well as several ancient myths in the Rigveda, as they’re both subjects that feature prominently in the mystery surrounding the vanishing shadows. And I studied a lot of highway maps. A lot.



TQPlease tell us about the cover for The Book of M?

Peng:  The amazingly talented Ploy Siripant at William Morrow designed and created the gorgeous cover. It does depict something from the novel—I can’t say much more without spoiling it, but a big portion of the story follows some of the characters as they set out on a very perilous trip from one place to another.



TQIn The Book of M who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Peng:  The easiest and hardest character to write turned out to be the same one. I’ll refer to him as “the amnesiac.” He was there from the start, but went through many incarnations—a disgraced psychiatrist, then a con man, then a mathematician, then a mayor... it was like pulling teeth! Something just felt off about him every time, but I didn’t know what. I even finished the near-final revision of the novel with him still not set. It wasn’t until the very last few weeks before the book went out on submission that I suddenly realized who he really should be and how to fix him. I wrote all of his chapters again from scratch in a matter of days, and he took on a life of his own that I never could have imagined.



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

Peng:  It’s not exactly a question I wish someone would ask, but the thing I had to cut from the story that I miss most was a group of talking crows that followed some of the characters around and periodically interrupted their conversations to give advice. It didn’t move the plot forward in any way and the book was already so large, I just couldn’t justify keeping it. But I loved those cheeky little crows!



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

Peng

“Did you know that the word that means a group of elephants together is memory?” he asked. “A memory of elephants.”

And

“There’s a difference between when the mind forgets and the heart does. The heart has a harder time letting go. But what happens when you refuse to let go of a delicate thing as it’s being pulled away from you? It stretches. Then it tears.”



TQWhat's next?

Peng:  I’m in my “make a huge mess” pantser phase of a second novel. It’s still very early days so I’m hesitant to reveal too much, but let’s just say that it’s another mystery, but set in our present day world. There’s no apocalypse this time—all the cities are fully inhabited and everyone’s got a shadow—but there’s still plenty of intrigue, danger, enigmatic figures from shady organizations, and a little bit of impossible.



TQ:   Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Peng:  Thank you so much for having me!





The Book of M
William Morrow, June 5, 2018
Hardcover and eBook, 496 pages

Interview with Peng Shepherd, author of The Book of M
"Eerie, dark, and compelling, [The Book of M] will not disappoint lovers of The Passage (2010) and Station Eleven (2014)." --Booklist

WHAT WOULD YOU GIVE UP TO REMEMBER?

Set in a dangerous near future world, The Book of M tells the captivating story of a group of ordinary people caught in an extraordinary catastrophe who risk everything to save the ones they love. It is a sweeping debut that illuminates the power that memories have not only on the heart, but on the world itself.

One afternoon at an outdoor market in India, a man’s shadow disappears—an occurrence science cannot explain. He is only the first. The phenomenon spreads like a plague, and while those afflicted gain a strange new power, it comes at a horrible price: the loss of all their memories.

Ory and his wife Max have escaped the Forgetting so far by hiding in an abandoned hotel deep in the woods. Their new life feels almost normal, until one day Max’s shadow disappears too.

Knowing that the more she forgets, the more dangerous she will become to Ory, Max runs away. But Ory refuses to give up the time they have left together. Desperate to find Max before her memory disappears completely, he follows her trail across a perilous, unrecognizable world, braving the threat of roaming bandits, the call to a new war being waged on the ruins of the capital, and the rise of a sinister cult that worships the shadowless.

As they journey, each searches for answers: for Ory, about love, about survival, about hope; and for Max, about a new force growing in the south that may hold the cure.

Like The Passage and Station Eleven, this haunting, thought-provoking, and beautiful novel explores fundamental questions of memory, connection, and what it means to be human in a world turned upside down.





About Peng

Interview with Peng Shepherd, author of The Book of M
Photo by Rachel Crittenden
Peng Shepherd was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, where she rode horses and trained in classical ballet. She earned her MFA in creative writing from New York University, and has lived in Beijing; London; Los Angeles; Washington, D.C.; Philadelphia; and New York City. The Book of M is her first novel.










Website  ~  Twitter @pengshepherd  ~  Facebook


Interview with Tyler Whitesides, author of The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn


Please welcome Tyler Whitesides to The Qwillery as part of the 2018 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn was published on May 15th by Orbit.



Interview with Tyler Whitesides, author of The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn




TQWelcome to The Qwillery. What is the first piece you remember writing?

Tyler:  I recently found a story I wrote when I was about seven years old. It was about a monster who went looking for dinner, but he couldn't find any so he went home only to find out that his monster mother had made dinner for him.



TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Tyler:  I would consider myself a hybrid, but leaning quite heavily toward being a plotter. I've found that if I don't plot enough, the story will ramble on with no end in sight. I'd say I plot about 70% and leave about 30% up to discovery as I write. Often, that unplanned 30% takes me by surprise and ends up being some of my favorite parts.



TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Tyler:  For me, I'd say the most challenging thing is dealing with expectations. Not just readers' expectations, but my own. Every time I sit down to write I feel a tremendous pressure to make this paragraph better than the last one I wrote. Make this chapter better than the one before, the next book better than the first one. I've got so many ideas swimming around in my head, I want to make sure I execute them the very best that I can. With that comes a lot of self-imposed pressure that can be crippling if left unchecked.



TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Tyler:  Books! I've loved fantasy since I was little and the things I read definitely influence my writing. As a young reader, I loved the Redwall series by Brian Jacques, The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley, and The Dark Is Rising sequence by Susan Cooper. As a teenager, I devoured the Shannara series by Terry Brooks. Lately, I've been loving the works of Brandon Sanderson.

In addition to reading, I spent a lot of my childhood outdoors, hiking and exploring the mountains of northern Utah with my friends and family. The grandeur of nature and the mountains always inspired me - when a fog settled in and covered the peaks it was easy to imagine a company of travelers and their wizard guide coming down the slopes.



TQYou are the author of 2 best-selling children's series - Janitors and The Wishmakers. How different for you (or not) is writing for adults?

Tyler:  That's a great question. There are definitely similarities. The more I learn about writing, the more I realize that everything is about characters. Whether writing a children's book or an adult fantasy, the focus should be on crafting interesting characters whose actions are well motivated. In writing The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn, I tried to keep what I loved about writing for children - fast pacing, humor, and plenty of dialogue. But this book also allowed me to do things I'd never done in writing - explore heavier themes, develop more complex magic systems, and take a little more time inside the characters' thoughts. I loved both experiences, and hope to continue writing in both genres.



TQDescribe The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn in 140 characters or less.

Tyler:  Ardor Benn is a master of intricate plans, but he may have bitten off more than he can chew. Hired by a priest to steal the king's crown, Ardor assembles his team and begins an infiltration into high society. But he soon discovers that there is more at stake than getting paid.



TQTell us something about The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn that is not found in the book description.

Tyler:  The magic system is derived from harvesting a biproduct from the dragons and processing it down into powder. This "Grit" can then be ignited to create detonation clouds with varying effects. There are fifteen types, ranging from Grit that creates clouds of Light, or Heat, or even clouds of weightlessness.



TQWhat inspired you to write The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn? What appeals to you about writing Fantasy?

Tyler:  There's something appealing about tackling a long story. I love reading them because they last. I like to live in the world and think about the characters and their situations. There is so much imagination in fantasy, allowing the reader to extrapolate what they want to learn from the story, whether that was really the author's intention or not.

I've always wanted to write an epic fantasy. The idea for The Thousands Deaths of Ardor Benn started with the magic system, an idea I had been kicking around in my brain for more than fifteen years. I was between projects for my children's series, and decided I would begin my first fantasy epic. I thought I'd pick away at it whenever I had some down time, and eventually finish in a few years. To my surprise, the characters really took hold of me and I was able to write the entire first draft in about six months.



TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn?

Tyler:  I spent some time researching geography, elevation, climate, and vegetation. The book takes place on a series of large islands that are rather unique, with a high cliff shoreline (think fjords, or the cliffs of Dover all the way around each island). I also did some research into flintlock guns, although the firearms in the story (while similar to flintlock) are powered by in-world magic. High society in the world centers around symphony concerts. I have a BA in music, so it was fun to remember some of the composition and musical form/analysis terminology.

At the end of the day, I was writing a fantasy book, so I obviously deviated from some of the facts in order to make all the pieces work within the world I was creating. After all, I was worldbuilding, not going for historical accuracy.



TQPlease tell us about the cover for The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn.

Tyler:  Tommy Arnold did a great job with the artwork for the cover (and Lauren Panepinto on design). The character depicted is indeed Ardor Benn, the cunning master of heists, crouched atop the skull of a dragon. Although you can't see it in the artwork, the kingdom's throne is actually mounted atop that skull. I love the way Ardor is poised, ready to spring into action with an expression on his face that seems to say, "I got this."



TQIn The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Tyler:  Writing the chapters from Ardor Benn's point of view was really fun and flowed quite naturally for me. I was able to put a lot of humor into the character, and Ardor is constantly engaging in witty banter. He likes to pretend that nothing bothers him, when in fact he tends to care deeply about what he's doing. Too deeply, sometimes. Ardor moves the story along at a swift pace.

The most difficult character to write was Isle Halavend. He's the priest who hires Ardor to steal the crown. His chapters explore religion, truth, and history of the world, so I had to be very careful to stay consistent and check my own facts. Halavend harbors his true motives, but his chapters unveil a lot of earth-shattering epiphanies for everyone. Needless to say, it was a challenge to keep it all straight and get it right.



TQWhich question about The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

Tyler:  Which type of Grit is your favorite, and what does it do? Visitant Grit is by far the most powerful type. It is controlled by the Wayfarist religion, and will only work for those that are worthy to detonate it. The effect is a cloud in which a holy paladin can appear, powerful enough to decimate life with his very presence.



TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn.

Tyler:

"This was madness and genius, mixed and detonated on the spot."
OR:
"It's our new hideout."
"The Bakery on Humont Street?" she read.
"A dangerous place, to be sure," added Ard. "Enough secret meetings there and none of us will be squeezing through a culvert grate."



TQWhat's next?

TylerThe Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn is the first book in the Kingdom of Grit trilogy. The second book should be coming out in 2019. In the meantime, I have another children's book coming out this fall, which is the sequel to the Wishmakers. I love writing and I feel so fortunate to be doing this. Thanks to everyone willing to take a chance and pick up one of my books. I hope you enjoy!



TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Tyler:  Thank you for having me!





The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn
Kingdom of Grit 1
Orbit, May 15, 2018
Trade Paperback and eBook, 784 pages
(Adult Debut)

Interview with Tyler Whitesides, author of The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn
The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn is the first in an action-packed epic fantasy series featuring master con artist Ardor Benn.

Ardor Benn is no ordinary thief. Rakish, ambitious, and master of wildly complex heists, he styles himself a Ruse Artist Extraordinaire.

When a priest hires him for the most daring ruse yet, Ardor knows he’ll need more than quick wit and sleight of hand. Assembling a dream team of forgers, disguisers, schemers, and thieves, he sets out to steal from the most powerful king the realm has ever known.

But it soon becomes clear there’s more at stake than fame and glory – Ard and his team might just be the last hope for human civilization.





About Tyler

Interview with Tyler Whitesides, author of The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn
Photo by Jamie Younker
Tyler is the author of bestselling children’s series, Janitors, and The Wishmakers. The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn is his adult debut. When he’s not writing, Tyler enjoys playing percussion, hiking, fly fishing, cooking, and theater. He lives in the mountains of northern Utah with his wife and son.











Website  ~  Twitter @twhitesides


Interview with R.F. Kuang, author of The Poppy War


Please welcome R.F. Kuang to The Qwillery as part of the 2018 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Poppy War was published on May 1st by Harper Voyager.



Interview with R.F. Kuang, author of The Poppy War




TQWelcome to The Qwillery. What is the first piece you remember writing?

R.F.:  I wrote a novel in fifth grade called Liberty or Death about the American Revolution. It was about a freedom fighter named Patrick Dawson whose best friend die sin the Boston Massacre, and it is really, really bad. There’s a scene where he takes this girl Hannah on a date, winks at her, and says something like “I don’t drink on dates.” The whole point of alcohol is drinking on dates.



TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

R.F.:  I used to be a pantser, realized that that does not work for trilogies or for long complicated military campaigns, and now I’m a hybrid. I only let myself writes scenes that I’m really feelin’, like emotionally, on a given day. So I always write the emotional “peaks” first–the cool scenes where things blow up and people die–and then try to make everything else fit around them. I write horrifically messy firsts drafts and it’s always a challenge making them internally coherent. But if I did it the other way, my prose would be lifeless.



TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

R.F.:  Balancing writing with schoolwork. I’m in the middle of finishing my senior thesis. There are not enough hours in the day. And it’s only going to get worse because I’m about to head off to grad school, so RIP my soul. Pray for me.



TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

R.F.:  Music! I write scenes by putting on songs and directing little music videos in my head. If I don’t know the right vibe for a scene I’ll play around with different songs until I start seeing the right images.



TQDescribe The Poppy War in 140 characters or less.

R.F.:  everything was good until the fire nation attacked. wait. we are the fire nation. where is drug man? Rin no. Rin YES!



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

R.F.:  The second half of the book gets really dark. Uncomfortable dark. You can find content warnings on my Goodreads review and just about every other SFF review site. Here they are just in case!
      -      Self-harm
      -      Genocide
      -      Graphic violence
      -      Rape/sexual assault
      -      Emotional and physical abuse
      -      Drug use
Please read with discretion.



TQWhat inspired you to write The Poppy War? What appeals to you about writing Historical Fantasy?

R.F.:  The book is inspired by 20th century Chinese history, specifically the Second Sino-Japanese War and the Rape of Nanjing. This isn’t historical fantasy, it’s secondary world fantasy with historical roots.



TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Poppy War?

R.F.:  I researched it like I would an academic paper. I read a bunch of secondary source material on both the twentieth century and the Song Dynasty to form a framework for the plot. Then to make the world feel fully realized, I consulted primary source material, like military manuals. I got really excited about one text in particular: the Huolongjing, translated as the Fire Drake Manual, which is this amazing 14th century military treatise on all the different possible uses of gunpowder. Granted, that’s a few hundred years after the period that The Poppy War is purportedly set in, but this is fantasy. I’ll blur the lines if it means I get to give my characters fire lances.



TQPlease tell us about the cover for The Poppy War.

R.F.:  I’m so excited about the cover! The artist is a Taiwanese illustrator named who goes by JungShan, and she’s extraordinarily talented. I love her ink brush style so much. Here’s the link to her Deviantart! https://jungshan.deviantart.com/



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

R.F.:  Jiang was the easiest because he’s so much fun, and because I know things about him that you don’t so it’s always a game of how much I want to reveal. Altan was the hardest, because he’s modeled on an ex-boyfriend, so I kept wanting to punch him in the face. Fuck Altan.



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

R.F.:

Question: Which two characters do you ship hardest?
Answer: Jiang and Jun. No question.



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

R.F.:  I’ll give you two related quotes:

“You can’t kill me,” Altan hissed. “You love me.”
“I don’t love you,” Rin said. “And I can kill anything.”



TQWhat's next?

R.F.:  Next up is Untitled Book Two. And then Untitled Book Three! And then unnamed projects that haven’t sold because I haven’t written them! It’s all very mysterious.



TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

R.F.:  Thank you for having me!





The Poppy War
Harper Voyager, May 1, 2018
Hardcover and eBook, 544 pages

Interview with R.F. Kuang, author of The Poppy War
A "Best of May" Science Fiction and Fantasy pick by Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Audible, The Verge, SyFy Wire, and Kirkus

“I have no doubt this will end up being the best fantasy debut of the year [...] I have absolutely no doubt that [Kuang’s] name will be up there with the likes of Robin Hobb and N.K. Jemisin.” -- Booknest

A brilliantly imaginative talent makes her exciting debut with this epic historical military fantasy, inspired by the bloody history of China’s twentieth century and filled with treachery and magic, in the tradition of Ken Liu’s Grace of Kings and N.K. Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy.

When Rin aced the Keju—the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies—it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard—the most elite military school in Nikan—was even more surprising.

But surprises aren’t always good.

Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Targeted from the outset by rival classmates for her color, poverty, and gender, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power—an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive—and that mastering control over those powers could mean more than just surviving school.

For while the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still lurks across a narrow sea. The militarily advanced Federation occupied Nikan for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most of the people are complacent to go about their lives, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away . .
.
Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. But as she finds out more about the god that has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her humanity . . . and that it may already be too late.





About the Author

Interview with R.F. Kuang, author of The Poppy War
R.F. Kuang studies modern Chinese history. She has a BA from Georgetown University and is currently a graduate student in the United Kingdom on a Marshall Scholarship. The Poppy War is her debut novel.








Website  ~  Twitter @kuangrf  ~  Instagram

Interview with Julia Fine, author of What Should Be Wild


Please welcome Julia Fine to The Qwillery as part of the 2018 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. What Should Be Wild is published on May 8th by Harper.



Interview with Julia Fine, author of What Should Be Wild




TQWelcome to The Qwillery. What is the first piece you remember writing?

Julia:  I’m so happy to be here! I’ve been writing since I can remember, but my first published piece was a poem in Stone Soup Magazine when I was nine. It was about the moon—I think I used the phrase “queen of the night.” Stone Soup is still around publishing kids’ writing and illustrations and is definitely worth checking out. It was huge for me as a kid to know that people were interested in what I had to say.



TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Julia:  A hybrid, though more of a pantser if I was forced to choose. In general I write from the gut. I’m definitely not good with outlines—I can make them, but have a lot of trouble finding the passion to write once I’m forced inside them. That said, it helps me to write the key scenes quickly to provide a sort of structure, and then jump around filling things in from there.



TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Julia:  For a novel it’s definitely the commitment. A lot of research and time and emotional investment goes into producing a full length book, and so it’s tough to know when an idea is “the one” and that investment is worth it. I also have a one year-old, so lately it’s hard to find that perfect combination of a good night’s sleep and a large chunk of uninterrupted time…



TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Julia:  Maybe this is too obvious, but my reading. I’m so inspired by so many books and writers—for What Should Be Wild it was Angela Carter and Shirley Jackson and Philip Pullman and Karen Russell and Doris Lessing and so many more. I’m also hugely influenced by music—for this book I listened to a lot of Hozier, Tori Amos, Damien Rice, and PJ Harvey. Pan’s Labyrinth was influential, and Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods (the original version).



TQDescribe What Should be Wild in 140 characters or less.

Julia:  Female desire is powerful!



TQTell us something about What Should be Wild that is not found in the book description.

Julia:  There are nods to classic fairy tales all throughout the book. If you’re looking for them, you can catch references to Snow White, Little Red Ridinghood, The Snow Queen, etc.



TQWhat inspired you to write What Should be Wild? Do you consider the story a fairy tale or something else?

Julia:  I was first inspired by a legal case in Texas several years ago—a woman was declared brain-dead at about three months pregnant and her husband was fighting the hospital to get her taken off of life support. I started thinking about what life would be like for that child if medical circumstances were different and the fetus could realistically come to term. At the time I was reading Marina Warner’s From the Beast to the Blonde, a book about the feminist history of fairytales. The two worlds collided to form What Should Be Wild.

I do consider the story a fairy tale, in that it’s about figuring out the boundaries between personal desires and social responsibility. I think that juxtaposition is at the heart of all fairy tales, especially the ones with female protagonists. That said, I didn’t consciously set out to write a fairy tale, and I’m happy with whatever shelf the book is put on!



TQWhat sort of research did you do for What Should be Wild?

Julia:  What Should Be Wild is basically a big mash-up of all of my research interests. As I mentioned earlier, From the Beast to the Blonde was incredibly helpful in giving me a history of female storytelling. I did historical research for each of the vignettes about the Blakely women. I read a wonderful book called The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben that helped me ground some of the magic of the forest in scientific research. I read The White Goddess by Robert Graves and The Golden Bough by James Fraser to get a sense for the folklore Peter studies and the history of Maisie’s village. I read a lot of William Blake and Dylan Thomas for philosophy and mood.



TQPlease tell us about the cover for What Should be Wild.

Julia:  It’s up to the reader to decide if these are living flowers in the process of dying, or dead flowers coming back to life…either way they’re very feisty. I love this cover because it gives you that Gothic forest vibe without being too explicit. I also love how every time you look at it you notice something different, whether it’s the moth at the top, or the rainbow reflections.



TQIn What Should be Wild who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Julia:  Lucy Blakely was fully formed with very clear desires and personality quirks from the second she showed up on the page. Rafe took me several iterations—he’s the hardest for Maisie to fully understand, so I think some of my narrator’s struggles bled through!



TQWhy have you chosen to include or not chosen to include social issues in What Should be Wild?

Julia:  For me, speculative fiction is all about tackling social issues. I was looking for a way to talk about the pressures and restrictions placed on women, and the fear and fetishization of female desire. Maisie and her family don’t speak for all women, of course, but I hope I’ve captured something universal about the way those of us who identify as female move through the world.



TQWhich question about What Should be Wild do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

Julia:  So far no one has asked me about place names, so I guess I’ll use this as an opportunity to discuss them! Urizon is totally stolen from William Blake’s mythopoeia. He has a character named Urizen who represents order and authority. The Blakelys are also a nod to his work. Couers Crossing, Maisie’s village, comes from the French for heart—it was initially Coeds Crossing, from the Welsh for trees, but that came off as too collegial.



TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from What Should be Wild.

Julia:  “Tell a child a tale is not true, give her reason to believe. No handsome prince awaits you. No godmother hides in the hawthorn. Those stirrings you hear in the forest are foxes and birds, nothing more. Tell her that after death comes heaven, harpists, bare-bottomed babes with sprouted wings. Show her where her mother has been eaten by the earth, where her ancestors lie buried. Tell her that souls float up around her, as she watches rigor mortis of her own pathetic making cover the body of a loved one with its frost. Nothing begs question of permanence, of sin, like the power to kill and revive. Nothing promises revival like a fairy tale.”



TQWhat's next?

Julia:  I’m in the very early stages of working on a post-partum poltergeist story. Because I’m a pantser I’m not yet sure where it’s going to go!



TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Julia:  Thanks so much for having me!





What Should Be Wild
Harper, May 8, 2018
Hardcover and eBook, 368 pages

Interview with Julia Fine, author of What Should Be Wild
“Delightful and darkly magical. Julia Fine has written a beautiful modern myth, a coming-of-age story for a girl with a worrisome power over life and death. I loved it.”  —Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveler’s Wife and Her Fearful Symmetry

In this darkly funny, striking debut, a highly unusual young woman must venture into the woods at the edge of her home to remove a curse that has plagued the women in her family for millennia—an utterly original novel with all the mesmerizing power of The Tiger’s Wife, The Snow Child, and Swamplandia!

Cursed. Maisie Cothay has never known the feel of human flesh: born with the power to kill or resurrect at her slightest touch, she has spent her childhood sequestered in her family’s manor at the edge of a mysterious forest. Maisie’s father, an anthropologist who sees her as more experiment than daughter, has warned Maisie not to venture into the wood. Locals talk of men disappearing within, emerging with addled minds and strange stories. What he does not tell Maisie is that for over a millennium her female ancestors have also vanished into the wood, never to emerge—for she is descended from a long line of cursed women.

But one day Maisie’s father disappears, and Maisie must venture beyond the walls of her carefully constructed life to find him. Away from her home and the wood for the very first time, she encounters a strange world filled with wonder and deception. Yet the farther she strays, the more the wood calls her home. For only there can Maisie finally reckon with her power and come to understand the wildest parts of herself.





About Julia

Interview with Julia Fine, author of What Should Be Wild
Photo by Nastasia Mora
Julia Fine teaches writing at DePaul University and is a recent graduate of Columbia College Chicago’s MFA program. She lives in Chicago with her husband and their son.












Website  ~  Twitter @finejuli  ~  Facebook



2018 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars - April Winner


The winner of the April 2018 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars is From Unseen Fire by Cass Morris from DAW with 42% of the votes. Cover is by Tran Nguyen.


From Unseen Fire
Aven Cycle 1
DAW, April 17, 2018
Hardcover and eBook, 400 pages

2018 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars - April Winner
From Unseen Fire is the first novel in the Aven Cycle, a historical fantasy set in an alternate Rome, by debut author Cass Morris

The Dictator is dead; long live the Republic.

But whose Republic will it be? Senators, generals, and elemental mages vie for the power to shape the future of the city of Aven. Latona of the Vitelliae, a mage of Spirit and Fire, has suppressed her phenomenal talents for fear they would draw unwanted attention from unscrupulous men. Now that the Dictator who threatened her family is gone, she may have an opportunity to seize a greater destiny as a protector of the people—if only she can find the courage to try.

Her siblings—a widow who conceals a canny political mind in the guise of a frivolous socialite, a young prophetess learning to navigate a treacherous world, and a military tribune leading a dangerous expedition in the province of Iberia—will be her allies as she builds a place for herself in this new world, against the objections of their father, her husband, and the strictures of Aventan society.

Latona’s path intersects with that of Sempronius Tarren, an ambitious senator harboring a dangerous secret. Sacred law dictates that no mage may hold high office, but Sempronius, a Shadow mage who has kept his abilities a life-long secret, intends to do just that. As rebellion brews in the provinces, Sempronius must outwit the ruthless leader of the opposing Senate faction to claim the political and military power he needs to secure a glorious future for Aven and his own place in history.

As politics draw them together and romance blossoms between them, Latona and Sempronius will use wit, charm, and magic to shape Aven’s fate. But when their foes resort to brutal violence and foul sorcery, will their efforts be enough to save the Republic they love?





The Results
2018 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars - April Winner





The April 2018 Debuts
2018 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars - April Winner

Interview with Cass Morris, author of From Unseen Fire


Please welcome Cass Morris to The Qwillery as part of the 2018 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. From Unseen Fire is published on April 16th by DAW.



Interview with Cass Morris, author of From Unseen Fire




TQWelcome to The Qwillery. What is the first piece you remember writing?

Cass:  Hello, and thanks for having me! The very first thing I remember writing was a story about a girl named Janine and her dog. I can’t remember if I was in kindergarten or first grade, but I do remember that the teacher kept insisting I had misspelled the name “Janie”. I hadn’t; I had picked up the name Janine from the Babysitter’s Club novels. I distinctly recall dragging a book out of my backpack to show her it was a real name.



TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Cass:  By instinct, largely a pantser on early drafts. I tend to dive into a manuscript with a strong idea of the place and at least a few of the characters, let them all collide into each other, and see what happens from there. From Unseen Fire is the first of a three-book deal, though, which has meant I’ve had to learn to be a bit more of a plotter so far as the overall narrative is concerned.



TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Cass:  Defeating the urge to include too many world-building details. I was a kid who read the encyclopedia for fun, so I have to be careful not to let the world detract from the story.



TQWhat influences your writing? You worked for the education department at the American Shakespeare Center. Has being around Shakespeare's works since 2010 influenced your writing?

Cass:  I sure hope so! I fell in love with Shakespeare when I was eleven, acted in his plays through high school and college, got a graduate degree in Shakespeare studies, and then decided to work for him for another seven years. I think what I learned most from him in all that time was a sense of rhetorical stylings. I love the study of rhetoric so much. One of the things it gave Shakespeare, and that I try to emulate, is a sense of voice -- how different people talk differently, resort to different syntactical patterns, fall into different cadences. I also get a lot of influence from the other media I consume -- historical novels, fantasy novels, and musical theatre, in particular.



TQDescribe From Unseen Fire in 140 characters or less.

Cass:  In an alternate version of ancient Rome, a trio of patrician sisters and an ambitious senator use wit, charm, and magic to realize their dreams for the city they love.



TQTell us something about From Unseen Fire that is not found in the book description.

Cass:  The elemental magic of Aven, my alt-Rome, isn’t the only kind you’ll encounter. The Iberians waging war on the provincial borders have their own brand, tied to their own gods, drawing power from the stars, rivers, and blood.



TQWhat inspired you to write From Unseen Fire? What appeals to you about writing alt-Roman historical fantasy?

Cass:  Directly, a painting by Lawrence Alma-Tadema called “The Baths of Caracalla”. I’d been thinking I wanted to play with something outside of the medieval European mold, and I’d been toying with the idea of using a Roman-based model, when that painting happened across my eyes. The Vitelliae -- my heroine Latona and her sisters -- sprang into my head in that moment.

The alt-Roman setting gives me so much to mess about with. You get a fantasy world with sanitation and health care, for one thing! The pantheon of gods dovetailed with the magical system I was building in so many beneficial ways. And Rome was such a magnificently diverse, complex place, with social and political issues that are in many ways so familiar to the modern age. It’s a wonderfully fertile playground.



TQWhat sort of research did you do for From Unseen Fire?

Cass:  A lot of it was reviving past studies. I started taking Latin in the seventh grade and kept it up through high school, and I took so many courses on the ancient world in college that I was only a few credits short of an accidental Classics minor. So I had a lot to remind myself of, and a lot that needed more exploration, particularly when it came to the social history. I read a lot of books, listened to a lot of podcasts, watched a lot of documentaries. I’ve got a list of sources on my website, actually (https://cassmorriswrites.com/aven-cycle/the-world-of-aven/resources-and-history), for anyone who’s interested in delving in themselves.

The most fun research, though, was a trip I took in 2016 to do some on-the-ground investigations in Rome itself. I spent three days tramping all around the ancient city, figuring out what was visible from various points on the hills, how long it would take to walk from the Esquiline to the Palatine, all sorts of little details. It also gave me a great sense of the city as a bustling, multicultural metropolis.



TQPlease tell us about the cover for From Unseen Fire.

Cass:  The gorgeous artwork on the cover was done by Tran Nguyen (you can find her on Instagram). My editor, Betsy Wolheim, found a piece of hers based on Roman frescoes and we both loved the style. The woman on the cover is the main female protagonist, Latona, a mage of Fire and Spirit. Tran nailed her look so perfectly. I love that she’s looking the reader right in the eyes, bold and proud, but there’s a vulnerability in her, too. The background is based on a Roman lararium -- a sort of household shrine. The crackled effect was something we’d both loved in Tran’s earlier work, and here it carries a sort of hidden meaning. One of the other magical elements is Fracture, and while it isn’t inherently a dark or evil power, one of the antagonists turns it to warped purposes. I love that the shattered-fresco effect nods towards that as well as communicating a sense of Roman antiquity.



TQIn From Unseen Fire who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Cass:  My knee-jerk reaction was to say Latona, because she’s the character I poured the most of myself into, but I think that actually required too much emotional crafting to call it “easy”. Aula, her older sister, is the one who leaps effortlessly to the page. Her voice comes into my head with resonant clarity, and her relationship with Latona has never given me a moment’s trouble.

The hardest character was probably her brother, Gaius, who’s leading a small legionary expedition in Iberia. He’s early in his career, eager to succeed, and in way over his head. Military matters are so far from my experience, and they’re entirely what he’s thinking about, so that’s a harder mode to get myself into. I leaned a lot on my research for that. Fortunately the ancient Romans wrote down a lot about their warfare!



TQWhy have you chosen to include or not chosen to include social issues in From Unseen Fire?

Cass:  Because socio-political issues are personal issues. I wouldn’t know how to remove them from the story or the characters. I wanted to write Aven as Rome was, a diverse, multicultural, sprawling, wonderful mess of a city. There was no way to write that without engaging in politics. The male protag, Sempronius, has a vision of using that diversity to make Aven the center of a sprawling federation of interconnected nations; his opponents are men who fear change and prefer isolationism. Latona is a woman hemmed in by the patriarchy, recovering from trauma and breaking free of chains forged by what we would call gaslighting. The Iberians worry they’re facing a choice between colonization and conquest. Social issues compose the very beings of these characters. Nothing in From Unseen Fire was meant as a direct analog for current issues or modern political figures, but humanity has wrestled with a lot of the same questions for thousands of years. I think that’s always worth engaging with.



TQWhich question about From Unseen Fire do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

Cass:  What scene do I most regret having to cut? There was a whole 20k section taking place at chariot races that I just loved but ended up not fitting -- but I’m hoping to rework it into Book 2!



TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from From Unseen Fire.

Cass:

Shadow and Water both moved in him, a blend that lent itself to a strange intuition, an ability to hear words unsaid and see things not yet done.

--

‘All my life,’ she thought, ‘someone has been telling me what I must not do. Mother, father, husband, priestesses . . . How did it take me till now to realize how heartily sick of it I am?’



TQWhat's next?

Cass:  Books two and three of the Aven Cycle! Latona’s story isn’t over yet, so I’m working on getting those manuscripts into fighting shape. I’m also in the early stages of drafting a space opera with a heroine inspired by the French swordswoman/opera singer Julie d’Aubigny. I’m not far into it yet, but that one’s going to be a total romp, and I’m quite looking forward to it.



TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Cass:  Thanks for having me! I can’t wait to share From Unseen Fire and the world of Aven with more people.





From Unseen Fire
Aven Cycle 1
DAW, April 17, 2018
Hardcover and eBook, 400 pages

Interview with Cass Morris, author of From Unseen Fire
From Unseen Fire is the first novel in the Aven Cycle, a historical fantasy set in an alternate Rome, by debut author Cass Morris

The Dictator is dead; long live the Republic.

But whose Republic will it be? Senators, generals, and elemental mages vie for the power to shape the future of the city of Aven. Latona of the Vitelliae, a mage of Spirit and Fire, has suppressed her phenomenal talents for fear they would draw unwanted attention from unscrupulous men. Now that the Dictator who threatened her family is gone, she may have an opportunity to seize a greater destiny as a protector of the people—if only she can find the courage to try.

Her siblings—a widow who conceals a canny political mind in the guise of a frivolous socialite, a young prophetess learning to navigate a treacherous world, and a military tribune leading a dangerous expedition in the province of Iberia—will be her allies as she builds a place for herself in this new world, against the objections of their father, her husband, and the strictures of Aventan society.

Latona’s path intersects with that of Sempronius Tarren, an ambitious senator harboring a dangerous secret. Sacred law dictates that no mage may hold high office, but Sempronius, a Shadow mage who has kept his abilities a life-long secret, intends to do just that. As rebellion brews in the provinces, Sempronius must outwit the ruthless leader of the opposing Senate faction to claim the political and military power he needs to secure a glorious future for Aven and his own place in history.

As politics draw them together and romance blossoms between them, Latona and Sempronius will use wit, charm, and magic to shape Aven’s fate. But when their foes resort to brutal violence and foul sorcery, will their efforts be enough to save the Republic they love?





About Cass

Interview with Cass Morris, author of From Unseen Fire
Cass Morris lives and works in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia with the companionship of two royal felines, Princess and Ptolemy. She completed her Master of Letters at Mary Baldwin University in 2010, and she earned her undergraduate degree, a BA in English with a minor in history, from the College of William and Mary in 2007. She reads voraciously, wears corsets voluntarily, and will beat you at MarioKart. She can be found on Twitter at @CassRMorris.


Website  ~  Twitter @CassRMorris

2018 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars - March Winner


The winner of the March 2018 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars is Anna Undreaming by Thomas Welsh from Oak Hollow Press with 46% of the votes.


Anna Undreaming
Metiks Fade Trilogy 1
Owl Hollow Press, March 20, 2018
Trade Paperback and eBook, 368 pages

2018 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars - March Winner
Anna is a student surviving the city, and she lives by a simple credo, “Never play their game; their game is always rigged.” For every man she has ever known, it’s a saying that has served her well.

Especially when Anna becomes lost to the dark heart of the city. She finds herself hunted by Dreamers—artists, both good and evil, who construct new worlds—within a complex community that threatens to undermine reality itself. When Anna learns that she’s an Undreamer with powers she cannot yet comprehend, she must travel through their strange and treacherous creations to discover that there’s as much beauty in life as there is darkness. As her existence spirals into wonder and danger, Anna must look deep within herself and face the horrors of her own past, to save her old world as well as her new one.

Anna Undreaming is the first book in the The Metiks Fade trilogy.




The Results

2018 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars - March Winner




The March Debuts

2018 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars - March Winner

Interview with Leo Carew, author of The Wolf


Please welcome Leo Carew to The Qwillery as part of the 2018 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Wolf was published on April 3rd by Orbit Books.



Interview with Leo Carew, author of The Wolf




TQWelcome to The Qwillery. What is the first piece you remember writing?

Leo:  Thank you for having me!

I first remember writing a piece of school creative writing homework when I was about 10. It was about an alien escaping from a lab which ends up being captured by an heroic policeman. My teacher was very pleased, and ended up reading it out to the class. As someone who’d not done very well at school up until that point, it was a big moment for me, and pretty much the day I decided I wanted to be a writer.



TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Leo:  I’m a big plotter. I know exactly what the end of my story is going to be, and have a very clear idea of where I’m going when I sit down to write every day. But very often when I get where I planned to, I realise that there was a better route there, or another twist, or an idea I hadn’t thought of, and go back and change it. I’m not sure I’d ever have been able to write before word-processors. Apart from the fact I’m dyspraxic (so nobody could read it) my whole style is based on quick progress, and then painstaking revision!



TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Leo:  Trying to muster the energy for it. I get very emotionally involved in my writing. When I can’t do that (most days, realistically) it doesn’t feel good. That’s been a big part of the transition from writing as an amateur, to writing for a contract. As an amateur, I only needed to do it when I was really compelled to. Doing it on demand requires producing the words even when you don’t want to, and I always have a suspicion that they’re less good.



TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing? How does having a degree in Biological Anthropology influence your writing?

Leo:  My main literary influences are historical fiction, like Bernard Cornwell and Hillary Mantel. I love their ability to submerge you in an alternate world you can feel and smell, and very much wanted that for The Wolf. Philip Pullman is also a literary touchstone – I love his work, especially his characters.

Biological Anthropology was another huge inspiration. The book features several different kinds of human, and I leant quite heavily on analogous species like the Neanderthals in trying to imagine how they might have behaved differently from us. For example, it’s been thought for ages (incorrectly, in my view) that Neanderthals had an inferior ability to understand symbols. I gave that to the Anakim because it had some interesting consequences. It would mean that they’d be unlikely to develop writing, and their art would be very different (if not non-existent). And the consequences of that might make for quite a unique society.



TQDescribe The Wolf in 140 characters or less.

Leo:  Several species of human have survived the Ice Age, and coexist in an uneasy peace, shattered by an ambitious upstart.



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

Leo:  The protagonist, Roper, is inspired by the explorer Ernest Shackleton. His right-hand man, Gray, is inspired by another explorer named Bill Wilson.



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

Leo:  I really loved my studies in biological anthropology, and the thought of all these alien cultures which once coexisted. I very much wanted to explore what that might have been like, and there were a lot of themes I wanted to look at too. What it means to be human, the importance of identity, self-transcendence, leadership, responsibility and what pressure does to people and groups.

In general, I think about things in quite broad terms, and am most interested in the consequences for a society, rather than an individual. Change to a society creates all kinds of ripples and unforeseen consequences, and epic fantasy lets me play with those big themes.



TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Wolf?

Leo:  My biggest piece of research was probably related to names. I hate making up names, and also think it can make a story pretty impenetrable if you fill it with completely made-up words. I also wasn’t writing a full fantasy – I think of it more as an alternate history. Lots of the names therefore come from real places or cultures in our world, but an earlier or slightly different version of them, because the survival of the Anakim has modified the way history played out. Some kingdoms which were lost ended up surviving, or fracturing or unifying differently to the timeline we inhabit.

Otherwise, I was already quite well versed on the broad points of human species and the Ice Age from my degree. I’ve also been working on this series for so long, that I’ve picked up bits and pieces of history (largely from a lot of wonderfully-researched historical fiction) and integrated them along the way.



TQPlease tell us about the cover for The Wolf.

Leo:  Isn’t it wonderful? It’s the work of Patrick Insole and Lee Gibbons. It’s a splendidly striking image, and depicts the Silver Wolf’s Head, which is the banner of our protagonist, Roper. I particularly like it because the Anakim have a very abstract attitude to art, and I think it captures some of that.



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

Leo:  The easiest character to write is a sprinter named Pryce. He lives entirely in the moment and couldn’t care less about the opinions of others. His behavior is quite close to how my worst instincts tempt me to act, so he came very naturally!

The hardest is probably a queen called Aramilla. She is very subtle and manipulative, and I have to put a lot of thought into her lines to avoid making them too obvious and caricatured. Genuinely manipulative people can be very skillful and that’s a hard thing to replicate.



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

LeoWhy does the map of Albion look so different to modern Britain? Well thank you for asking… The entire book starts from the premise that the climate stayed a bit cooler after the last Ice Age. This meant sea-levels didn’t rise to the same extent, and created favourable conditions for multiple species of human to survive the Ice Age, and also a lot of fun Ice Age megafauna. The different outline of Albion is because the lower sea levels reveal more of the coastline, and the likes of Doggerland (Yawland in the book) are still exposed. I did so much research for this, I just had to tell somebody!



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

Leo:  I like this one, which is a description of how it felt for one of the main characters to visit the land of the Anakim, beyond the river Abus:

‘I cannot rest from that place. It is haunting me. Since I came back, I have felt like I am in a dream. It is as though I am living in a faint reflection of the world beyond the Abus. Everything is so soft, so easy. So flat. Up there, I felt awake for the first time in my life. Every tree; every hill and stream and word and footstep seemed more significant. I have to go back.’



TQWhat's next?

Leo:  I’ve just finished the first draft of the sequel to The Wolf. I’m going to Greenland to get some fairly serious distance from the manuscript, which I hope we’ll have ready for this time next year.



TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Leo:  My pleasure, thanks so much for having me!





The Wolf
Under the Northern Sky 1
Orbit, April 3, 2018
Trade Paperback and eBook,400 pages

Interview with Leo Carew, author of The Wolf
Violence and death come to the land under the Northern Sky when two fierce races break their age-old fragile peace and start an all-out war in this thrilling and savagely visceral epic fantasy.

Ready or not, Roper has been thrust into a position of leadership that he's woefully ill prepared for. Now, a massive army approaches from the south, old allies turn against him, and new rivals seek to undermine his rule. Facing attack from within and without, Roper must forge reckless alliances, no matter the cost, to save his kingdom.

Bellamus is a brash but capable southern general, a commoner with the rare honor of having the discreet support of the Queen. Rising quickly from the minor ranks he was born into, Bellamus leads the march on the North. Victory means glory, power, and the favor of the king, but defeat promises much worse than disgrace.

A tale of war, rivalry, and honor, The Wolf creates a world that is both familiar and uncanny - one where the fiercest enemies are always closer than they seem.

Under the Northern Sky
The Wolf





About Leo

Leo Carew is a 26-year-old Cambridge graduate of Biological Anthropology, currently studying medicine. Apart from writing, his real passion is exploration, which led him to spend a year living in a tent in the High Arctic, where he trained and worked as an Arctic guide. The Wolf is his first novel.


Website  ~  Twitter @leocarew1

Review: The Wolves of Winter by Tyrell Johnson


The Wolves of Winter
Author:  Tyrell Johnson
Publisher:  Scribner, January 2, 2018
Format:  Hardcover and eBook, 320 pages
List Price:  US$26.00; 9781501155697 (eBook)
ISBN:  9781501155673 (print); US$9.99 (eBook)

Review: The Wolves of Winter by Tyrell Johnson
A captivating tale of humanity pushed beyond its breaking point, of family and bonds of love forged when everything is lost, and of a heroic young woman who crosses a frozen landscape to find her destiny. This debut novel is written in a post-apocalyptic tradition that spans The Hunger Games and Station Eleven but blazes its own distinctive path.

Forget the old days. Forget summer. Forget warmth. Forget anything that doesn’t help you survive in the endless white wilderness beyond the edges of a fallen world.

Lynn McBride has learned much since society collapsed in the face of nuclear war and the relentless spread of disease. As the memories of her old life continue to haunt, she’s forced to forge ahead in the snow-drifted Canadian Yukon, learning how to hunt and trap and slaughter.

Shadows of the world before have found her tiny community—most prominently in the enigmatic figure of Jax, who brings with him dark secrets of the past and sets in motion a chain of events that will call Lynn to a role she never imagined.

Simultaneously a heartbreakingly sympathetic portrait of a young woman searching for the answer to who she is meant to be and a frightening vision of a merciless new world in which desperation rules, The Wolves of Winter is enveloping, propulsive, and poignant.



Melanie's Thoughts

One could be mistaken thinking that The Wolves of Winter was just another post apocalyptic tale of a small band of survivors trying to eek out a life in a cruel, bleak landscape.  In Johson's war and disease devastated world lives Lynn, a young woman trying to find her place in the small community her family has created in the snow covered landscape of northern Canada. Very few people survived the bombs that rained around the world or the deadly virus that spread in its wake. Lynn along with her mother, brother, uncle and a friend escape to the frozen wilds of Canada in an attempt to outrun the spread of the flu that has killed all of their loved ones. Lynn's 'life before' when her father was still alive, when she went to school, had friends and watched TV have all started to fade away to memory. Her new life revolves around hunting, trapping and snow. When an injured stranger wanders into their camp Lynn knows that everything is about to change. A stranger with secrets that are about to put Lynn and everyone she cares about in danger.

I was halfway through this book when it dawned on me that I was reading a debut novel. I was very pleasantly surprised by the sophistication of the characterization, the world building and elements of the plot. While the overall plot - post world war land, barely anyone survives but a plucky young heroine, mysterious tall dark and handsome and his dog, isn't new and it could have ended up being very bland and stereotypical. Luckily it didn't. Johnson really paints a rich picture of the frozen tundra in which Lynn, and what remains of her family, live. From the whiteness of the landscape to the crunchy hard bite of the snow - all set the scene for what is about to happen to the story's young protagonist. In fact, I thought that the environment (mostly the snow) could be considered a secondary character because of its impact on Lynn and those around her.

The story unfolds both in real-time and through Lynn's memories of her life before everything went to hell. Memories of her father, who is dead from the flu that killed so many others, are replayed through every chapter and give context to current events and provide the narrative for events in the past. Fans of this genre may not be surprised by most of the big reveals but it isn't the surprises or plot that draws you into this story...it is Lynn. This is a character driven story and Lynn is an authentic character who acts like what you would expect any young woman to act. She is neither brave nor a coward, she lives in the present but it is the past that steers her future.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Wolves of Winter. I can't say that it was perfect but I found it difficult to put down and difficult not to like the somewhat abrasive, imperfect Lynn. I can hardly wait to find out what other stories Johnson has to tell.

Interview with Julia Whicker, author of Wonderblood


Please welcome Julia Whicker to The Qwillery as part of the 2018 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Wonderblood is published on April 3rd by St. Martin's Press.

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



Interview with Julia Whicker, author of Wonderblood




TQWelcome to The Qwillery. What is the first fiction piece you remember writing?

Julia:  I wrote my first short story when I was eleven. My father gave me his old laptop that weighed 10 pounds (it must have been one of the first laptops ever), and I wrote a story about a crystal dome and a beautiful girl. I don't really remember the plot except that it had to do with Atlantis, singing fountains and magical stones. So, pretty much something I'd still write.



TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Julia:  Definitely a plotter. One of my editors for Wonderblood said he'd never seen such detailed chapter summaries.



TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Julia:  Sitting down to actually write. I love reading, researching, thinking about writing, and plotting my stories, and I even love writing when I'm actually doing it, but settling into that moment when the words are flowing is difficult for me. I always think I need to read something else or let my story gestate just a bit longer before putting it on the page, but taking the plunge is usually worth it.



TQHow does writing poetry affect (or not) your prose writing?

Julia:  I've always been drawn to challenging prose in my reading life, and have felt that my natural talents (if I have any) run toward the crafting of specific sentences (over, say, characterization or plot, even though I try so hard).



TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Julia:  I'm not actually a regular reader of fantasy fiction -- I read a lot of nonfiction books about strange occurrences and anomalous happenings (such as the collected works of Charles Fort), and I feel these greatly influence my interest in the surreal. I've also been influenced by great writers of historical fiction, like Barry Unsworth, John Banville, and especially Jane Smiley's The Greenlanders, which in my opinion is an overlooked masterpiece. Her ability to capture the daily concerns and lives of people who lived six hundred years ago, rendering their worldview as understandably foreign yet simultaneously relatable to the modern reader, is a true wonder, and inspired a lot of my thinking about how the characters in Wonderblood might exist in their future world.



TQDescribe Wonderblood in 140 characters or less.

Julia:  When a girl is captured by a self-styled prophet & warlord, she is thrust into his violent plan. A post-apocalyptic fantasy about religious war & perverse faith.



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

Julia:  In my mind, Wonderblood was always a book about faith more than anything else. What it means to lack faith, to have it, to have it and lose it or to lose it and regain it. All those iterations are endlessly fascinating to me, so much that what the characters actually believe in (or don't believe in) is less interesting to me than what it feels like to explore the nooks and crannies of faith itself. That's why I have some characters who believe in science, some in magic, some who don't know what to believe and some who discover they should have believed in themselves from the very beginning.



TQWhat inspired you to write Wonderblood? What appeals to you about writing Science Fiction and in particular a dystopian novel?

Julia:  I think I write fantasy/sci-fi because it's the best vehicle for synthesizing my interests. I love the weird, the strange, the wondrous, and creating a world that doesn't exist is the best way (for me) to explore those ideas. I chose to write a dystopian novel because I've always loved a good apocalyptic disaster, and I had the thought that I should write a book with a double apocalypse. That's why Wonderblood takes place after the world has been destroyed (by the Disease), and before it might be destroyed again (by the lights in the sky). If I write more in the series, which I hope to, readers will get to see the second apocalypse!



TQWhat sort of research did you do for Wonderblood?

Julia:  Quite a lot. I began by researching prion diseases which contaminate the earth for many many years, I read a lot about Kepler the Renaissance astronomer (and astrologer!) as an inspiration for John the Astronomer, I read about Thelema, a system of magic developed by Aleister Crowley in the early 20th century, about the L.A. magician and rocket scientist Jack Parsons, who supposedly summoned an elemental to become his wife, I read about Tycho Brahe's (another Renaissance astronomer) star-gazing castle, John Dee and his assistant Edward Kelley (more Elizabethan scientist/magicians) and much more. Wonderblood represents a period of time I spent researching the conjunction of science and magic in late 1500s/early 1600s Europe.



TQPlease tell us about the cover for Wonderblood.

Julia:  I love the cover! It depicts Aurora, the girl, with her head full of the cosmos, which is beautiful to me because I wanted the cover to convey a sense of utter wonder about the heavens. The religion of the characters is centered on the possibility of salvation descending from space, and I think the cover demonstrates this, as well as asking us to consider the magnitude of our potential aloneness.



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

Julia:  The easiest character to write was John, because he is the most like me. He struggles constantly with his own self-worth, and feels a burning desire to feel faith of some kind but cannot muster it. The hardest character was certainly Mr. Capulatio -- I needed him to be seductive, compelling, obviously monstrous without being a monster, per se, because I did not want to make him a villain in the sense that he is only bad. I wanted readers to eventually come to feel that he has been deluded and misled by his religion, but also that this should not "let him off the hook," so to speak, for his terrible deeds. He is a complicated character!



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

Julia:  I chose to include the very difficult subjects of implied rape and the abduction of a minor because, as a feminist, I feel that these issues have certainly not been adequately tackled in our current circumstances. Historically (and -- realistically -- in a future dystopian society, as well as in many societies in our world today) young girls are the most marginalized of people, often completely powerless to control their destinies. This is inextricably bound up with others' designs on their sexuality. In Wonderblood, Aurora begins as a helpless captive of her insane brother, is abducted by another powerful man and comes to understand her own power beyond her sexuality: her power as a human being to potentially save other human beings from death. I deeply wanted to write her as a savior, and not because of any "purity" or "impurity" (arbitrarily assigned by those with sexual designs on her) but because of her implicit kindness, empathy, and wisdom.



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

Julia:  Why does the future in Wonderblood (it's set 1000 years in the future) look more like the Renaissance?

After thinking long and hard about what a depopulated, destabilized future U.S. might look like, I kept returning to several key themes: religion, violence, and environmental contamination. I am not a scientist, but I've always been interested in medicine and disease, so after killing off most of the country via disease and rendering much of the land unsuitable for habitation, I wondered what would be left. Fear, mostly! How do we tackle fear in this country? Often through religion, for better or worse. I've long been intrigued by the pre-modern melding of science and magic, a blend that actually makes a lot of sense in a predominantly religious society. If our world ended and the survivors developed a new religion around the world-ending (which they probably would, in my mind) I felt that there would be necessarily tension between religion and science -- this formed the central thesis of Wonderblood.



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

Julia:

"At last they made their camp outside the Cape compound's walls. Mr. Capulatio's carnival was already the mightiest in the land and functioned with a frightening efficiency. His men could raise it entirely in under nine hours. His own giant tent was so large it contained his wagon wholly; he and [Aurora] used the wagon as their bedchamber. Outside, men laid planks for walkways, the merchants and charm-makers pitched their booths, and just as soon as they finished tying down the last tent pegs Mr. Capulatio's new, great flag was hoisted over the encampment. This was a flag of conquering, he mused to her as he watched it unfurl. His chest rose and fell as they stood together in the tent's doorway. They looked out upon the carnival, and farther away they could see the metal spires of the castle beginning to whirl the morning light back to them and all around the land was low and flat, and the air heavy, and beyond that began the pink-blue crescent the sea." -Aurora's impression of Mr. Capulatio's camp at Cape Canaveral.

"There came over him the undeniable impression that all reason was leaking from the world, that he was a faucet, that through his miscalculations all things would slowly but surely upend themselves. What could these lights be, if not the shuttles? It seemed fitting that after decades of failure, John, who had his whole life long desired truth and order, should now be reliant upon a con-man who may well have real visions. Why shouldn't the truth, when it finally came to John Sousa, be revealed by a liar?" -John the Astronomer



TQWhat's next?

Julia:  I hope to write two more books set in the world of Wonderblood, ultimately taking readers to the Mystagogue in Kansas. In addition, I'm currently writing a fantasy novel set in colonial America, just after the Revolutionary War, which deals with evil rocks, Washington DC, virulent rabies and cities of blood.



TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Julia:  Thank you so much for having me! What fun it was to answer these questions!





Wonderblood
St. Martin's Press, April 3, 2018
Hardcover and eBook, 304 pages

Interview with Julia Whicker, author of Wonderblood
Set 500 years in the future, a mad cow-like disease called “Bent Head” has killed off most of the U.S. population. Those remaining turn to magic and sacrifice to cleanse the Earth.

Wonderblood is Julia Whicker's fascinating literary debut, set in a barren United States, an apocalyptic wasteland where warring factions compete for control of the land in strange and dangerous carnivals. A mad cow-like disease called "Bent Head" has killed off millions. Those who remain worship the ruins of NASA's space shuttles, and Cape Canaveral is their Mecca. Medicine and science have been rejected in favor of magic, prophecy, and blood sacrifice.

When traveling marauders led by the bloodthirsty Mr. Capulatio invade her camp, a young girl named Aurora is taken captive as his bride and forced to join his band on their journey to Cape Canaveral. As war nears, she must decide if she is willing to become her captor's queen. But then other queens emerge, some grotesque and others aggrieved, and not all are pleased with the girl's ascent. Politics and survival are at the centre of this ravishing novel.





About Julia

Interview with Julia Whicker, author of Wonderblood
Photo by John Eicher
Julia Whicker received her MFA at the Iowa Writers Workshop in 2006, where she won both the prestigious Capote Fellowship and the Teaching-Writing Fellowship. She’s had her poetry published in the Iowa Review, Word Riot, and The Millions, among others, and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. A version of the first chapter of Wonderblood was published in the literary journal, Unstuck.







Website  ~ Tumblr


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