The Qwillery | category: 2019 Debut Author Challenge | (page 5 of 6)


The Qwillery

A blog about books and other things speculative

Interview with Mike Chen, author of Here and Now and Then

Please welcome Mike Chen to The Qwillery as part of the 2019 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Here and Now and Then was published on January 29, 2019 by Mira.

Interview with Mike Chen, author of Here and Now and Then

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

Mike:  I drew a lot of my own fan-fic comic strips when i was a kid -- I used to draw a lot and considered going into graphic design in college. When I was about 9 or 10, the one thing I remember using sheets of paper on was a crossover fan-fic between DOS adventure game Space Quest (with intrepid janitor hero Roger Wilco) and the groundbreaking animated series Robotech (specifically, the Sentinels era). I still love both properties dearly, by the way. I even wrote a big piece for Tor about rebooting Robotech without the nasty legal entanglements of the Macross license.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Mike:  Probably a hybrid. I do really like the Save the Cat beat sheet and I feel like that really rescued my early issues with structure. At the same time, writing in the moment sparks ideas that previously weren't there. So I keep a loose 3-act structure and then I try to write it out. I feel like it takes about 30k words for me to really get the character voices, and after that, things may get tweaked around so I can better understand their decisions.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Mike:  Time is my biggest challenge. I have a day job and a young daughter and other hobbies (which are basically ignored now), and I still enjoy writing for geek media. That all creates a heck of a challenge. At the same time, it's forced me to become a more efficient writer and I've better understood my strengths and weaknesses regarding process.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Mike:  I think the most influential piece of advice I ever got was from my creative writing teacher at UC Davis, Wendy Sheanin. She's now an executive with Simon & Schuster. At the end of the quarter, she asked if I wanted to change majors from mechanical engineering. When I said I wasn't, she told me to “keep writing.” That was obviously a major moment for me, but it's the best advice for any situation. Anytime I hit a problem I can't figure out, I put in a placeholder so I can keep writing; the issue usually resolves itself later organically.

TQ Describe Here and Now and Then using only 5 words.

Mike:  Time travel with big feels.

TQTell us something about Here and Now and Then that is not found in the book description.

Mike:  The book description mentions our present day and 2142 but there's also another time period in the book. When is it? You'll just have to read to find out!

TQWhat inspired you to write Here and Now and Then? What appeals to you about writing Science Fiction?

Mike:  Sci-fi has been with me my whole life, as evidenced by my childhood fan fics. There's just something about it that gets in my blood (that's an obscure Robotech reference for the sharp-eyed long-time geeks out there). So I always think about it, but at the same time, the stories that draw me in most tend to be character stories within those settings. One of my favorite hours of sci-fi is Lower Decks from Star Trek: The Next Generation, which follows four ensigns in their everyday lives among the Enterprise crew. I love thinking about the reality among the fantastic, that's where I want to tell stories.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for Here and Now and Then?

Mike:  When planning my future world, I researched historical trends for names and food. I propagated this out to fill out my future world. I also looked at other SFF works and noted what they did to ground their worldbuilding efforts -- little things like methods of communication, impacts of climate change, etc.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for Here and Now and Then.

Mike:  The design team was Gigi Lau and Emmanuel Polanco. I couldn't have asked for more inspired work, it's striking and unique and beautiful.

TQIn Here and Now and Then who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Mike:  The hardest had to be Miranda, specifically because she's a teenage girl and I am not. My daughter is only four so she doesn't deal with the angst issues of a teen. Making sure that voice worked was a big challenge, and I had friends who write YA and/or have teenage children read early versions to make sure the voice felt authentic.

The easiest probably was Penny. I'd modeled her after actress Jenna Coleman, and I could translate her speaking affect and emotions from what I see on screen to prose probably the smoothest. I felt the same way about Idris Elba as Kin, except since he's the protagonist/POV, capturing his internal processing was more complicated.

TQDoes Here and Now and Then touch on any social issues?

Mike:  Not explicitly. However, I put specific intention in my future worldbuilding about portraying the world that I want to see for my daughter and future generations. Part of this is practical extrapolation of how much things can get socially normalized over generations, and part of this is wishful thinking.

TQWhich question about Here and Now and Then do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

Mike:  What are your favorite Easter Eggs in the story?

There are a lot of Doctor Who Easter Eggs throughout the book -- the names of minor characters, locations, and protocol numbers are riffed off Doctor Who historical tidbits. But I think my favorite Easter Eggs are from the missing TCB agents in Chapter 9. Those names are based on characters/locations from Kat Howard’s books Roses & Rot and An Unkindness Of Magicians. In addition to being an amazing and award-winning writer, Kat helped me with a major revision of this manuscript (note: she’s available for hire and totally worth it) and has been one of the best authors-turned-pals in my support system. She sent me a note about how this moment made her day when she was reading the final manuscript for blurbing, and it was the least I could do to tip my hat her way. She’s simply the best in all ways.

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Here and Now and Then.


“Hope. Of course. What else would a penny be to him?”

This is from the prologue and I think it sums up the entire theme of the book. The story is about holding onto hope while circumstances push and pull into extremes, and in the end, your hope comes down to the core of relationships. The penny is symbolic of that for Kin, both in the past and the future.

TQWhat's next?

Mike:  My second book, a character-driven post-apocalyptic story titled A BEGINNING AT THE END, is due from Mira Books in January 2020. Six years after a global pandemic, it turns out that the End of the World was more like a big pause. Coming out of quarantine, 2 billion unsure survivors split between big cities, hippie communes, and wasteland gangs. When the father of a presumed-dead pop star announces a global search for his daughter, four lives collide: Krista, a cynical wedding planner; Moira, the ex-pop star in hiding; Rob, a widowed single father; and Sunny, his seven-year-old daughter. As their lives begin to intertwine, reports of a new outbreak send the fragile society into a panic. And when the government enacts new rules in response to the threat, long-buried secrets surface, causing Sunny to run away seeking the truth behind her mother's death. Now, Krista, Rob, and Moira must finally confront the demons of their past in order to hit the road and reunite with Sunny -- before a coastal lockdown puts the world on pause again.

I’ll be talking much more about A BEGINNING AT THE END in coming months. But first things first, we have time travelers to deal with!

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery!

Here and Now and Then
MIRA, January 29, 2019
Hardcover and eBook, 336 pages

Interview with Mike Chen, author of Here and Now and Then
To save his daughter, he’ll go anywhere—and any-when…

Kin Stewart is an everyday family man: working in IT, trying to keep the spark in his marriage, struggling to connect with his teenage daughter, Miranda. But his current life is a far cry from his previous career…as a time-traveling secret agent from 2142.

Stranded in suburban San Francisco since the 1990s after a botched mission, Kin has kept his past hidden from everyone around him, despite the increasing blackouts and memory loss affecting his time-traveler’s brain. Until one afternoon, his “rescue” team arrives—eighteen years too late.

Their mission: return Kin to 2142, where he’s only been gone weeks, not years, and where another family is waiting for him. A family he can’t remember.

Torn between two lives, Kin is desperate for a way to stay connected to both. But when his best efforts threaten to destroy the agency and even history itself, his daughter’s very existence is at risk. It’ll take one final trip across time to save Miranda—even if it means breaking all the rules of time travel in the process.

A uniquely emotional genre-bending debut, Here and Now and Then captures the perfect balance of heart, playfulness, and imagination, offering an intimate glimpse into the crevices of a father’s heart and its capacity to stretch across both space and time to protect the people that mean the most.

About Mike

Interview with Mike Chen, author of Here and Now and Then
Mike Chen is a lifelong writer, from crafting fan fiction as a child to somehow getting paid for words as an adult. He has contributed to major geek websites (The Mary Sue, The Portalist, Tor) and covered the NHL for mainstream media outlets. A member of SFWA and Codex Writers, Mike lives in the Bay Area, where he can be found playing video games and watching Doctor Who with his wife, daughter, and rescue animals. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @mikechenwriter


Interview with Helen Marshall, author of The Migration

Please welcome Helen Marshall to The Qwillery as part of the 2019 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Migration was published on March 5, 2019 by Random House Canada.

Interview with Helen Marshall, author of The Migration

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

Helen:  Oooh, good question. One of my earliest finished short stories was a sort of weird fiction piece about a young woman and her love who go looking for the lost city of Atlantic off the Isle of Scilly. My favourite bit is the melodramatic final line: "Their love was deep, but the ocean was deeper."

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Helen:  A natural pantser! I took some improv classes when I was in university and I've found that even though I wasn't good at acting, a lot of the theory has been very helpful for my writing. The book Impro by Keith Johnstone is brilliant and helped me enormously with figuring out how to write short stories. I've had less success pantsing my novels though, and so I tend to be something of a hybrid there. I often come up with the structure of the novel and some of the major plot elements in advance.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Helen:  Not knowing what's going to happen next. Because I'm a pantser, the details of the plot are as much a mystery to me as they are to the reader. But unlike the reader I don't have the luxury of knowing that there will be some sort of resolution at the end. In the words of Tim Gunn, I have to figure out how to "make it work."

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Helen:  I read quite eclectically, wandering from science fiction and horror to non-fiction, science writing, poetry and memoir. What attracts me most to a piece of writing is a compelling voice. Well, a compelling voice and zany ideas. I love the feeling of reading something and encountering something genuinely surprising. Some of my favourite writers are Rob Shearman, Kelly Link, Georgina Bruce, Nick Harkaway and Nina Allan because all of them manage to do that.

TQDescribe The Migration using only 5 words.

Helen:  Sisterly love. Birds, birds, birds.

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

Helen:  Ha! That's difficult to do without spoilers. As a teaser I'll just say that it involves the image of bodies "stacked like a macabre lasagne"...

TQWhat inspired you to write The Migration?

Helen:  To me, The Migration explores death as a transition, rather than as an end. In some ways, it began as a reworking of the motif of the zombie which I felt had been overdone in recent novels. But for me there was something intrinsically fascinating about the idea of the zombie: the loved one who returns as something changed. Although The Migration is set against the backdrop of global changes, it takes intensely personal and focused look at the way families deal with the trauma of losing a loved one, how they come to terms with their own mortality, and how they find a way to keep living in the face of tragedy.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Migration?

Helen:  I did a fair bit of research in different areas to construct the central conceit of The Migration. I found Awakenings by Oliver Sacks to be particularly helpful in terms of thinking about a widespread condition with clusters of symptoms. I supplemented this with conversations with my mother, a pathologist (who kindly arranged a visit to the morgue), and fellow writer M. Huw Evans who helped me convert ideas into story. But the elements of the transformation were inspired by insect metamorphosis, which turned out to be an utterly fascinating line of research.

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

Helen:  The easiest character to write was Sophie's younger sister, Kira. She was one of the main starting points for the novel and her voice seemed the most natural. Sophie's mother was probably the most difficult character to write because her world was so claustrophobic and difficult to grapple with. It was only when I wrote the first draft of the epilogue of the novel that I felt as if I had come to a more sympathetic view of her.

TQDoes The Migration touch on any social issues?

Helen:  In his article, “Apocalypse: What Disasters Reveal”, Dominican writer Junot Diaz turns to the devastating earthquake which struck Haiti in 2010 in order to look at what a disaster might tell us about the world we live in. He reminds us of the Greek etymology of the word apocalypsis, meaning “to uncover or reveal.” The only value that catastrophes of this magnitude offer is that as things fall apart “they give us a chance to see the aspects of our world that we as a society seek to run from, that we hide behind veils of denials”. Importantly, he suggests that disasters provide insights into the underlying conditions which enabled the disaster in the first place so that we can change. The Migration is interested in the revelatory process of this sort of breakdown.

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

Helen:  I was asked a fantastic question in a Reddit interview I gave, which was: what piece of research did you find most interesting but never use?

I read about an experiment in which a scientist ironically named Wigglesworth was searching for the process by which nymphs--the juvenile form of an insect-- entered metamorphosis. Wigglesworth beheaded two groups of nymphs at different stages of development, then used paraffin wax to join the two insect bodies together, neck to neck, so the blood could flow freely from one to the other. What he discovered was that the two insect bodies behaved as if they had been integrated into one, with different parts of the conjoined body being brought into alignment. I referenced the research obliquely in the middle of the book but I initially wanted to include a horrific dream sequence in which Sophie imagined children as the subjects of these experiments.

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


"On the bedside table is an old storybook we used to read together. A fragment of Kira’s favourite story floats into my mind. It described a time when the world was underwater—no land to be found anywhere, just endless ocean and endless sky. And birds—hundreds of them, thousands of them, filling up the empty space with their song. Birds like smoke, birds like weather. Among them was a lark. When her mother died, there was nowhere to bury her body. No earth, only water. And so the lark lived in grief, idly circling. Her path was a knot of sorrow. On the third day she buried her mother in the back of her head."

TQWhat's next?

Helen:  I'm currently at work on two novels, neither of which follow on from The Migration. One is a bonkers tale of godlike talking tigers, stage magicians and truth and lies in politics. The other is about sentient sludge on Mars.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

The Migration
Random House Canada, March 5, 2019
Trade Paperback and eBook, 304 pages

Interview with Helen Marshall, author of The Migration
“A dark fable that somehow feels both timeless and urgently topical. The Migration is heart-wringing and powerful, but over and above that, it’s just vivid and immersive and enthralling throughout.” –M.R. Carey, author of The Girl with All the Gifts

When I was younger I didn’t know a thing about death. I thought it meant stillness, a body gone limp. A marionette with its strings cut. Death was like a long vacation–a going away. Not this.

Storms and flooding are worsening around the world, and a mysterious immune disorder has begun to afflict the young. Sophie Perella is about to begin her senior year of high school in Toronto when her little sister, Kira, is diagnosed. Their parents’ marriage falters under the strain, and Sophie’s mother takes the girls to Oxford, England, to live with their Aunt Irene. An Oxford University professor and historical epidemiologist obsessed with relics of the Black Death, Irene works with a Centre that specializes in treating people with the illness. She is a friend to Sophie, and offers a window into a strange and ancient history of human plague and recovery. Sophie just wants to understand what’s happening now; but as mortality rates climb, and reports emerge of bodily tremors in the deceased, it becomes clear there is nothing normal about this condition–and that the dead aren’t staying dead. When Kira succumbs, Sophie faces an unimaginable choice: let go of the sister she knows, or take action to embrace something terrifying and new.
     Tender and chilling, unsettling and hopeful, The Migration is a story of a young woman’s dawning awareness of mortality and the power of the human heart to thrive in cataclysmic circumstances.

About Helen

Interview with Helen Marshall, author of The Migration
Photo: © Vince Haig
HELEN MARSHALL is the World Fantasy Award-winning author of two short story collections and two poetry chapbooks. Her stories and poetry have appeared in magazines and anthologies including Abyss & ApexLady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet and She obtained a PhD from the Centre for Medieval Studies at the University of Toronto, and then spent two years completing a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Oxford investigating literature written during the time of the Black Death. Helen has worked as a managing editor for ChiZine Publications, and was recently hired as a permanent Lecturer in Creative Writing and Publishing at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge. She grew up in Sarnia, Ontario, and now resides in Cambridge. The Migration is her first novel.

Website  ~  Twitter @manuscriptgal

Interview with Jenn Lyons, author of The Ruin of Kings

Please welcome Jenn Lyons to The Qwillery as part of the 2019 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Ruin of Kings was published on February 5, 2019 by Tor Books.

Interview with Jenn Lyons, author of The Ruin of Kings

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

Jenn:  I wrote a short story in elementary school about an Egyptian high priestess. And I remember being annoyed because I didn’t think the story was good but my English teacher had given me an A anyway because she liked the drawing I’d handed in with it. I didn’t think that was fair.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Jenn:  A hybrid, although I lean towards plotter. I start with an outline of milestone to aim for and usually have adjusted by the time I’ve finished. The journey may not travel on quite the roads I predicted, but I end up at the right place eventually.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Jenn:  Protecting my time. As a writer, there's always people (often well-intentioned) who think that I have a tremendous amount of free time, that writing is a few hours of intense focus following by oh, just doing nothing the rest of the time. So surely I must have that time for whatever it is they want. And that's not true at all, at least it isn't for me. Typically their 'free time' is exactly when I do my best work, so if I don't studiously protect that, I end up not accomplishing much.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Jenn:  I was reminded recently what an impact years of table top role-playing has had when someone commented on how I was able to juggle so many story threads. It seems very natural to me, and I think in large part that’s because I’m used to dealing with giant campaigns stretching back years. But my writing has been influenced by so many factors. It's difficult to single out just one thing.

TQDescribe The Ruin of Kings using only 5 words.

Jenn:  secrets, power, brothers, dragons, destiny

TQTell us something about The Ruin of Kings that is not found in the book description.

Jenn:  It's completely diegetic, meaning the book itself 'exists' in the world the book describes. This makes the reader something of a voyeur, reading a work that wasn't intended for them. When I was a child, I remember my mother coming home with this very old photo-album of black-and-white photos of, I kid you not, the Boxer Rebellion, along with notes that the original owner, a missionary, had taken before they’d been forced to flee for their lives from China. It’s always stayed with me, that sense of subterfuge, of glimpsing someone else’s secrets.

TQWhat inspired you to write The Ruin of Kings? What appeals to you about writing Fantasy?

Jenn:  ROK is large enough for a multitude of inspirations, but one of the subjects of table-top RPGs I've always been fascinated with is how trivial death becomes. In most games, if a character dies, the rest of the adventurers just go and ask for that character to be brought back to life. Easy. Except…what happens to a society where that kind of solution to death exists? Where an afterlife and reincarnation aren't guessed at or matters of blind faith, but known provable absolutes? My attraction to fantasy, of course, is deeply ingrained, and I suppose harkens all the way back to the fairy tales of my childhood.

It's a somewhat difficult question though, because I can't imagine not writing fantasy, or not having fantasy in my life. My reasons may have changed since I was a child using such stories to escape from the reality of my situation, but I still love the opportunity to examine scenarios impossible in a more 'realistic' setting.

Also, dragons. I really love dragons.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Ruin of Kings?

Jenn:  Oh, so much. Linguistics, geology, meteorology, metallurgy, mythologies of all sorts, historical costuming…sometimes it seems like I’ve been a dragon myself, hoarding stray scraps of information I could use for world building. I also studied fencing and learned to play the harp, although I've very much lapsed in both areas in the years since.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for The Ruin of Kings.

Jenn:  It depicts a dragon, and yes, the dragon exists in the story, and no, I won’t tell you which dragon it is. (That would be a spoiler.) The cover was created by Lars Grant-West, who is amazing. He does extraordinary 2D work, but he created this dragon in 3D and I couldn’t be happier.

TQIn The Ruin of Kings who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Jenn:  I would say the easiest character to write was Kihrin. I know him so well by this point it’s a bit like breathing. And conversely, Darzin and Gadrith were the hardest. Gadrith because he's so coldly logical I sometimes have remind myself that this is a man who’s completely amoral, and thus has no interest in stopping at the usual societal limits. And Darzin because...well, because Darzin is cruel and delights in causing pain. It's not easy to put myself in that headspace.

TQDoes The Ruin of Kings touch on any social issues?

Jenn:  As the story progressed, a discussion on consent snuck in as well. I hadn’t planned on it, but the idea planted itself pretty firmly into the foundational bedrock of the story and refused to leave. A great deal of fantasy presents questions about agency and free will but doesn't always do a good job of answering those questions. We don't think about what it really means to have an inescapable heroic destiny. After all, a great many fantasy tropes are a complete denial of the idea of free will, or imply that morality and worthiness are tied to genetics. So, this spends some time looking at that, and probably will continue to do so as the series progresses.

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

Jenn:  What did you learn about yourself while creating this book?

I have tells. Most authors do. There are certain themes that may show up again and again in an author’s work, and for me, I apparently have a deep and abiding faith in the ability of loved ones to lie to each other. Also, that nobody’s parents are going to be who they think. Probably explains why I always liked King Arthur so much as a kid.

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


“When they brought me up to the auction block, I looked out over the crowd and thought: I would kill you all if I had a knife.
And if I wasn’t naked, I amended.”

“I don’t want to be your hero. Those stories never end well. The peasant boy done good slays the monster, wins the princess, and only then finds out he’s married to a stuck-up spoiled brat who thinks she’s better than him. Or he gets so wrapped up in his own majesty that he raises taxes to put up gold statues of himself while his people starve. The chosen ones—like Emperor Kandor—end up rotting and dead on the Manol Jungle floor, stuck full of vané arrows. No thanks.”

TQWhat's next?

Jenn:  Next is the sequel, The Name of All Things, which will be available on October 29th (pre-orders are live now!) And of course finishing the rest of the series.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

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

The Ruin of Kings
A Chorus of Dragons 1
Tor Books, February 5, 2019
Hardcover and eBook, 560 pages

Interview with Jenn Lyons, author of The Ruin of Kings
"Everything epic fantasy should be: rich, cruel, gorgeous, brilliant, enthralling and deeply, deeply satisfying. I loved it."—Lev Grossman, author of The Magicians

When destiny calls, there's no fighting back.

Kihrin grew up in the slums of Quur, a thief and a minstrel's son raised on tales of long-lost princes and magnificent quests. When he is claimed against his will as the missing son of a treasonous prince, Kihrin finds himself at the mercy of his new family's ruthless power plays and political ambitions.

Practically a prisoner, Kihrin discovers that being a long-lost prince is nothing like what the storybooks promised. The storybooks have lied about a lot of other things, too: dragons, demons, gods, prophecies, and how the hero always wins.

Then again, maybe he isn't the hero after all. For Kihrin is not destined to save the world.

He's destined to destroy it.

Jenn Lyons begins the Chorus of Dragons series with The Ruin of Kings, an epic fantasy novel about a man who discovers his fate is tied to the future of an empire.

"It's impossible not to be impressed with the ambition of it all . . . a larger-than-life adventure story about thieves, wizards, assassins and kings to dwell in for a good long while."—The New York Times


The Name of All Things
A Chorus of Dragons 2
Tor Books, October 29, 2019
Hardcover and eBook, 579 pages

Interview with Jenn Lyons, author of The Ruin of Kings
"Everything epic fantasy should be: rich, cruel, gorgeous, brilliant, enthralling and deeply, deeply satisfying. I loved it."—Lev Grossman on The Ruin of Kings

You can have everything you want if you sacrifice everything you believe.

Kihrin D'Mon is a wanted man.

Since he destroyed the Stone of Shackles and set demons free across Quur, he has been on the run from the wrath of an entire empire. His attempt to escape brings him into the path of Janel Theranon, a mysterious Joratese woman who claims to know Kihrin.

Janel's plea for help pits Kihrin against all manner of dangers: a secret rebellion, a dragon capable of destroying an entire city, and Kihrin's old enemy, the wizard Relos Var.

Janel believes that Relos Var possesses one of the most powerful artifacts in the world—the Cornerstone called the Name of All Things. And if Janel is right, then there may be nothing in the world that can stop Relos Var from getting what he wants.

And what he wants is Kihrin D'Mon.

Jenn Lyons continues the Chorus of Dragons series with The Name of All Things, the epic sequel to The Ruin of Kings

About Jenn

Interview with Jenn Lyons, author of The Ruin of Kings
Matthew & Nicole Nicholson,
Dim Horizon Studio
Jenn Lyons lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband, three cats and a nearly infinite number of opinions on anything from Sumerian mythology to the correct way to make a martini. She is a video game producer by day (although currently taking a break from that to concentrate on writing epic fantasy). A long-time devotee of storytelling, she traces her geek roots back to playing first edition Dungeons & Dragons in grade school and reading her way from A to Z in the school’s library.

Her debut epic fantasy novel, The Ruin of Kings, from Tor Books, found its way into the wild on February 5, 2019. The second book, The Name of All Things, drops October 29, 2019.

Website  ~  Twitter @jennlyonsauthor  ~  Facebook

Interview with Caitlin Starling, author of The Luminous Dead

Please welcome Caitlin Starling to The Qwillery as part of the 2019 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Luminous Dead is published on April 2, 2019 by Harper Voyager.

Please join all of us at The Qwillery in wishing Caitlin a Happy Publication Day!

Interview with Caitlin Starling, author of The Luminous Dead

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

Caitlin:  When I was eight years old, I wrote a several chapter (read: ten pages in very large font) Sailor Moon fanfic. I actually got to reread a copy a few years back, and my grammar was spot on!

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Caitlin:  Hybrid, all the way. I tend to outline in very broad strokes, either before I start or sometime after the first chapter or two, once I have a sense of where things are going. I add to the outline as I go, usually just a few scenes ahead of where I’m writing, because I’ve found that I’m far more creative when I’m drafting than I am when I’m thinking about drafting. I set marks that I have to hit (X character needs to feel Y way by the time Z plot moment happens), and fill in the details organically.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Caitlin:  It’s incredibly humbling. Drafting is like trying to balance twenty spinning plates while also juggling chainsaws. There’s so much to keep track of, and so much I don’t know yet but that will inevitably shape the story. Not only that, but each project I work on requires that I learn more, try new things, get better at what I do. I can never write a project perfectly, let alone on the first draft, and I will always have things I wish I had done differently.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Caitlin:  I used to write a lot of fanfiction, where it’s not unusual to focus in with laser-like intensity on one or two characters, and to explore relationships from multiple angles as the focus of the story (without following the genre conventions of a romance novel).

TQDescribe The Luminous Dead using only 5 words.

Caitlin:  Angry, traumatized lesbians in caves.

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

Caitlin:  It is, in many ways, a love story. A dark love story that may not be for everybody, and a nontraditional one, but it’s there.

TQWhat inspired you to write The Luminous Dead? What appeals to you about writing Science Fiction?

CaitlinThe Luminous Dead was inspired by an initial image - a woman, alone in a cave, listening to a woman she doesn’t trust. I’d been playing a lot of Zombies, Run, which I expect contributed. I’ve always been fascinated by the relationship in video games between the player character and tutorial/handler/guide characters (Cortana in Halo, GLaDOS in Portal, Sam in the aforementioned Zombies, Run), and I’ve also always been drawn to small casts.

I write science fiction (really, all flavors of specfic) because it allows me to isolate certain elements of relationship dynamics and heighten them in interesting ways. You can’t have the relationship between Gyre and Em the way it is in The Luminous Dead without some significant tech advances. I also find it very freeing to not have to stick to reality. I can choose to diverge at any time if I think it will make the story stronger.

All that said, while The Luminous Dead is science fiction, the scenario and technology isn’t that difficult to believe, and it should also appeal to fans of general survival fiction ala 127 Hours or I Am Still Alive.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Luminous Dead?

Caitlin:  My biggest resource for designing the cave and the physical challenges Gyre faces is the book Beyond the Deep by Bill Stone, Barbara am Ende, and Monte Paulsen. Beyond the Deep covers in great detail Bill and Barbara’s expedition into Sistema Huautla, a very real, very deep, very terrifying cave. It covers gear, technique, landscape, and the psychological impacts of taking on an expedition of that scale.

Beyond cave research, I also paid attention to ongoing conversations on resource colonialism and exploitation, read up on gold rush town dynamics, and researched feeding tubes and colostomies. I also read In The Dust Of This Planet, which (among many other amazing points) has some fascinating theories about setting-as-monster in horror.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for The Luminous Dead.

Caitlin:  The cover for The Luminous Dead features art by Alejandro Colucci and art direction and design by Owen Corrigan. That hand probably belongs to our main character, Gyre… but perhaps not. ;) I absolutely adore it for its sense of space and isolation, as well as the lush, rough textures of the stone and the surrounding cave walls.

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

Caitlin:  I don’t have many choices here! But of the two characters in the book, Gyre was probably the easier, if only because I was able to spend so much time in her head. We never see Em’s inner workings, which means I had to do a lot of invisible work to make sure that what we do see is cohesive, even if Gyre can’t make sense of it immediately.

TQDoes The Luminous Dead touch on any social issues?

Caitlin:  It does touch (in a limited way) on some of the ways colonialism, forced settlement, and industrial resource extraction can damage community cohesion, as well as how poverty and lack of an extended family can shape decision-making.

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


The movie question- Who would you cast as Gyre? Em?

Going to have to go with Tessa Thompson as Gyre and Janelle Monáe as Em. A girl can dream!

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


          “Anything interesting happen while I was out?”

          “I made you a roast dinner,” Em deadpanned.

TQWhat's next?

Caitlin:  Nothing I can talk about in any detail, but I’m playing around with gothic horror on a few projects. More lies, more creepy locations, more isolation. Right up my alley, in other words!

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

The Luminous Dead
Harper Voyager, April 2, 2019
Trade Paperback and eBook, 432 pages

Interview with Caitlin Starling, author of The Luminous Dead
"This claustrophobic, horror-leaning tour de force is highly recommended for fans of Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation and Andy Weir’s The Martian." -- Publishers Weekly (starred review)
A thrilling, atmospheric debut with the intensive drive of The Martian and Gravity and the creeping dread of Annihilation, in which a caver on a foreign planet finds herself on a terrifying psychological and emotional journey for survival.

When Gyre Price lied her way into this expedition, she thought she’d be mapping mineral deposits, and that her biggest problems would be cave collapses and gear malfunctions. She also thought that the fat paycheck—enough to get her off-planet and on the trail of her mother—meant she’d get a skilled surface team, monitoring her suit and environment, keeping her safe. Keeping her sane.

Instead, she got Em.

Em sees nothing wrong with controlling Gyre’s body with drugs or withholding critical information to “ensure the smooth operation” of her expedition. Em knows all about Gyre’s falsified credentials, and has no qualms using them as a leash—and a lash. And Em has secrets, too . . .

As Gyre descends, little inconsistencies—missing supplies, unexpected changes in the route, and, worst of all, shifts in Em’s motivations—drive her out of her depths. Lost and disoriented, Gyre finds her sense of control giving way to paranoia and anger. On her own in this mysterious, deadly place, surrounded by darkness and the unknown, Gyre must overcome more than just the dangerous terrain and the Tunneler which calls underground its home if she wants to make it out alive—she must confront the ghosts in her own head.

But how come she can’t shake the feeling she’s being followed?

About Caitlin

Interview with Caitlin Starling, author of The Luminous Dead
© Beth Olson Creative 2017
Caitlin Starling is a writer of horror-tinged speculative fiction of all flavors. Her first novel, The Luminous Dead, comes out from HarperVoyager on April 2, 2019. It tells the story of a caver on a foreign planet who finds herself trapped, with only her wits and the unreliable voice on her radio to help her back to the surface. Caitlin also works in narrative design for interactive theater and games, and is always on the lookout for new ways to inflict insomnia. Find more of her work at and follow her at @see_starling on Twitter.

Interview with Namwali Serpell, author of The Old Drift

Please welcome Namwali Serpell to The Qwillery as part of the 2019 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Old Drift was published on March 26, 2019 by Hogarth.

Interview with Namwali Serpell, author of The Old Drift

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

Namwali:  In fifth grade, I started writing a children's book about the invention of the alphabet. "Ay!" "It's a bee!" "See?"

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Namwali:  Hybrid. I know the plot of land but not what will spring from the soil as I garden.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Namwali:  Suppressing my impulse toward beauty, particularly similes.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Namwali:  Bugs, the Zambian space program, hair, the cosmopolis, syncretism, etymology, microbiology, eyes, fairy tales, sci-fi, chitenge.

TQDescribe The Old Drift using only 5 words.

Namwali:  The (My) Great Zambian Novel.

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

Namwali:  Sex and menstruation happen at an almost realistic frequency.

TQWhat inspired you to write The Old Drift?

Namwali:  I wanted to figure out the specific nature of my country--what philosophers would call its "quiddity."

TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Old Drift?

Namwali:  All sorts: History (how was the Kariba Dam built?); microbiology (what's the likeliest HIV vaccine?); engineering (why aren't microdrones smaller yet?); pop culture (when did He-Man figurines first get exported to Zambia?); tech (can human skin conduct enough electricity to run a smartphone?).

TQPlease tell us about the cover for The Old Drift. Who created the cover?

Namwali:  Kai and Sunny. The keywords I gave them were: MOSQUITOS, DRIFT, WATERFALL.

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

Namwali:  The easiest was Joseph--nerdy, self-pitying. The hardest was Lee--beautiful, callous.

TQDoes The Old Drift touch on any social issues?

Namwali:  Yes, it ends with an attempt at a Marxist revolution! Race, class, gender, sexuality--all the goodies.

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

Namwali:  Is this an allusion to Björk? YES.

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

Namwali:  "Every family is a war but some are more civil than others."

TQWhat's next?

Namwali:  A nonfiction book about why I love-hate American Psycho and two novels, one about vengeance, one about mourning.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Namwali:  Thanks!

The Old Drift
Hogarth, March 26, 2019
Hardcover and eBook, 576 pages

Interview with Namwali Serpell, author of The Old Drift
An electrifying debut from the winner of the 2015 Caine Prize for African writing, The Old Drift is the Great Zambian Novel you didn’t know you were waiting for

On the banks of the Zambezi River, a few miles from the majestic Victoria Falls, there was once a colonial settlement called The Old Drift. Here begins the epic story of a small African nation, told by a mysterious swarm-like chorus that calls itself man’s greatest nemesis. The tale? A playful panorama of history, fairytale, romance and science fiction. The moral? To err is human.

In 1904, in a smoky room at the hotel across the river, an Old Drifter named Percy M. Clark, foggy with fever, makes a mistake that entangles the fates of an Italian hotelier and an African busboy. This sets off a cycle of unwitting retribution between three Zambian families (black, white, brown) as they collide and converge over the course of the century, into the present and beyond. As the generations pass, their lives – their triumphs, errors, losses and hopes – form a symphony about what it means to be human.

From a woman covered with hair and another plagued with endless tears, to forbidden love affairs and fiery political ones, to homegrown technological marvels like Afronauts, microdrones and viral vaccines – this gripping, unforgettable novel sweeps over the years and the globe, subverting expectations along the way. Exploding with color and energy, The Old Drift is a testament to our yearning to create and cross borders, and a meditation on the slow, grand passage of time.

About Namwali

Interview with Namwali Serpell, author of The Old Drift
Photo © Peg Skorpinski
NAMWALI SERPELL is a Zambian writer who teaches at the University of California, Berkeley. She received a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award for women writers in 2011 and was selected for the Africa 39, a 2014 Hay Festival project to identify the best African writers under 40. She won the 2015 Caine Prize for African Writing. The Old Drift is her first novel.

Website Twitter @namwalien

Interview with Dan Stout, author of Titanshade

Please welcome Dan Stout to The Qwillery as part of the 2019 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Titanshade was published on March 12, 2019 by DAW.

Interview with Dan Stout, author of Titanshade

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

Dan:  The very first thing I remember writing was an epic fantasy called Castle Doom. I think I was eight years old. It’s filled with sentences like, “And then he slew a peasant.”
Let’s just say I don’t think it’ll ever be published.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Dan:  I’d describe myself as a hybrid. My short stories are often pantsed, although I sometimes plot out longer pieces. Novel length work definitely involves plotting, but I prefer to use story structure as a diagnostic tool rather than a road map. I really do love the editing stage, and that’s partially because it’s when I get to break out the structural toys.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing? How does being a journalist affect (or not) your fiction writing?

Dan:  The most difficult thing for me is the gap between starting and completing the first draft. I only get through that Initial first draft by lying to myself about how fast I can get it done and a stubborn refusal to give up.

I think my non-fiction work is a real help when it comes time to edit. It’s not that I’m less emotionally attached to my prose than other writers, but writing for a day job means that I don’t have the luxury of overthinking a problem. I jump in and start cutting and rewriting, because I know that if I don’t get it done, I’m not getting paid.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Dan:  Absolutely everything! I’m a big believer in the idea that all art and media is in dialogue with everything that came before. The great, gritty crime dramas of the 70s are certainly an influence, but so are the more recent fantasy mashups—everything from Fonda Lee’s JADE CITY to Marshall Ryan Maresca’s beautifully realized Maradaine novels.

TQDescribe Titanshade using only 5 words.

Dan:  Men in Black meets Chinatown.

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

Dan:  I think it has a lot of heart. The risk in writing a noir detective fantasy novel is that it could easily come across as especially bleak and nihilistic. If I did my job right, Carter’s worldview is that of a disappointed idealist, rather than a cynic who sees corruption as the natural state of the world.

TQWhat inspired you to write Titanshade? What appeals to you about writing Urban Fantasy?

Dan:  I wrote the first chapter as part of an online flash fiction challenge. I had 90 minutes to come up with a story based on a prompt, and while I didn’t get a full story written out, I did at least get the rough outline for the book. That site was called Liberty Hall and although it’s sadly no longer around, at one point all kinds of great ideas were born there.

As far as the appeal of Urban Fantasy, the ability to use fantasy and science fictional imagery and tropes is a huge draw for me. I love finding ways to examine the many weird ways we interact with one another, and speculative fiction gives me a huge treasure trove of tools to highlight and distill all these human interactions. Plus, magic is awesome!

TQWhat sort of research did you do for Titanshade?

Dan:  The advantage of doing a secondary fantasy world is that I can make my own rules and history. But that also carries the burden of making sure that everything hangs together on its own internal logic. I spent a lot of time tracking down original sources for descriptions of 70s era police procedures and arctic living. Again, I had the ability to pick and choose somewhat, because police training and technology varies wildly from one part of the world to another, so the Titanshade PD uses policies I’ve lifted from police forces. But with each element that gets described, that system becomes that much more set in stone.

And of course there’s a ton of research that doesn’t appear in the books. Things like how are building foundations and sewer lines dug when the life of the city could be threatened if a warming geo-vent is damaged? I’ve talked through things like that with architects and engineers, but unless it directly impacts the story, it’s never going to get more than a passing reference.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for Titanshade.

Dan:  Collaborating on the cover was one of the real joys of seeing this book come to life! DAW is amazingly open to author input on the cover. They work with a ton of fantastic artists, but I thought Chris McGrath had the perfect eye for the gritty realism and elements of wonder that were needed to pull off this illustration.

The cover is a bit stylized, in that it doesn’t depict a specific scene, but man, does it ever capture the feel of the book! I thought Chris really hit it out of the park. It was so much fun collaborating on the cover, and we compared notes frequently to make sure we staying true to the book while also giving him room to flex his wings artistically.

Once Chris’s work was done, Katie Andersen and the team at DAW did a fantastic job of designing the jacket. The distressed cover, the title font, the slight tilt to the world… all of that came together in the final package. I love seeing art that hews close to the source material while still bringing the artist’s touch to the page, and I think we all worked together as a team to pull it off.

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

Dan:  For me, writing a 1st-person POV is all about finding the rhythm. Once I get into that voice, that character is pretty easy to write, as it just flows outward. So Carter was the easiest person to write.

The hardest would have to be one of the secondary characters, because their voice needs to come through as unique, and their actions reasonable, even when seen only through the filter of Carter’s observations. I have to stop and ask myself if their actions are honest more often. So I’ll say Ajax, since he shares so much time “on stage” with Carter.

TQDoes Titanshade touch on any social issues?

Dan:  Yeah, absolutely! The city of Titanshade is an oil boomtown whose wells are running dry. In addition, the world’s first industrial revolution was spurred by magic, until the source of manna was hunted to extinction. So the question of resource management and income inequality is an ever-present backdrop to the story.

I’m also very interested in how working class people are portrayed in fantasy and sci-fi. Sometimes it seems like speculative fiction has two categories of income: the ultra-rich and those with absolutely nothing. That ignores the huge swath of the population who are getting by, but with no safety net. To me, that’s the really interesting area to explore. The orphan living in squalor has nothing to lose by going off on a quest to save the world, but a single parent working two jobs to pay the rent just doesn’t have the time!

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

Dan:  Sure! I wish more people would ask how to get it from their library. I think that a lot of people are interested in a range of books, but aren’t able to purchase a copy at full retail price. But most libraries have a way for patrons to request a book, either for order or through inter-library loan. And that goes for almost any format—print, ebook, and audio.
Libraries are a way for readers to discover books and authors at no cost, while still supporting those authors and publishers. I was a library rat growing up, and I’m always happy to help people find out more about their local library system, and how to request a copy of their favorite book (mine or someone else’s!).

TQ:   Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Titanshade.

Dan:  One of my favorites is “Know the city and you’ll know the victims. Know the victims and you’ll know the killer.”

It’s not uncommon to see the victims in crime mysteries portrayed almost as props, while the hero and villain are fully fleshed out characters. I do my best to bring a sense of humanity to the victims of the crimes as well, to make them sympathetic, even if they weren’t likable people in life.

TQWhat's next?

Dan:  I am hard at work on the next book in the Carter Archives, trying to make it as multi-layered and mysterious as possible, while still keeping the sense of fun and adventure that fuels the first book. I can’t wait for it to be out in the world a year from now.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Dan:  Thank you! It’s so much fun to be here and talk about this crazy noir fantasy book!

The Carter Archives 1
DAW, March 12, 2019
Hardcover and eBook, 416 pages

Interview with Dan Stout, author of Titanshade
This noir fantasy thriller from a debut author introduces the gritty town of Titanshade, where danger lurks around every corner.

Carter’s a homicide cop in Titanshade, an oil boomtown where 8-tracks are state of the art, disco rules the radio, and all the best sorcerers wear designer labels. It’s also a metropolis teetering on the edge of disaster. As its oil reserves run dry, the city’s future hangs on a possible investment from the reclusive amphibians known as Squibs.

But now negotiations have been derailed by the horrific murder of a Squib diplomat. The pressure’s never been higher to make a quick arrest, even as Carter’s investigation leads him into conflict with the city’s elite. Undermined by corrupt coworkers and falsified evidence, and with a suspect list that includes power-hungry politicians, oil magnates, and mad scientists, Carter must find the killer before the investigation turns into a witch-hunt and those closest to him pay the ultimate price on the filthy streets of Titanshade.

About Dan

Interview with Dan Stout, author of Titanshade
Dan Stout lives in Columbus, Ohio, where he writes about fever dreams and half-glimpsed shapes in the shadows. His prize-winning fiction draws on travels throughout Europe, Asia, and the Pacific Rim as well as an employment history spanning everything from subpoena server to assistant well driller. Dan's stories have appeared in publications such as The Saturday Evening Post, Nature, and Intergalactic Medicine Show. His debut novel Titanshade is a noir fantasy thriller available from DAW Books. To say hello, visit him at

Twitter @DanStout  ~  Facebook

Interview with K. A. Doore, author of The Perfect Assassin

Please welcome K. A. Doore to The Qwillery as part of the 2019 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Perfect Assassin was published on March 19, 2019 by Tor Books.

Interview with K. A. Doore, author of The Perfect Assassin

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

K. A.:  A story about a girl who climbs rainbow mountain and becomes a ballerina – with illustrations and everything. I’m sure it made a lot of sense to me at the time in 2nd grade.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

K. A.:  I’m a pantser, through and through, to the point where I can’t even write a synopsis until I’ve at least written a draft zero.

I did try plotting, once. And that story is still just an outline somewhere, which only proves I should never do that again. Know your process, folks.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

K. A.:  That first draft. It used to be the easiest thing, and the most fun, but now that the gap between my final drafts and my first drafts has widened so much, it’s hard to look past the hot, steaming mess that is Draft Zero and just get it down. But alas, as much as I’ve tried, you can’t edit a blank page.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

K. A.:  I love Annie Dillard’s lyrical writing style and I love Seanan McGuire’s fast-paced and tight plots, so please blame both for my continuous attempts at writing both lyrical and fast-paced. Whether or not I ever actually achieve that goal is up to the reader, but I’m going to keep trying!

TQDescribe The Perfect Assassin using only 5 words.

K. A.:  Oh, I can do one better and describe the whole trilogy with five words:
Queer! Assassins! Saving! The! Day!

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

K. A.:  It’s gay!

No really, I’ve tried to be very clear that I’m a queer author writing books with queer characters in the hopes that readers looking for that will find it. It’s not always obvious in the descriptions – which I absolutely 100% get – so I’ve been looking for other ways to make it obvious. Which has mostly involved a lot of shouting and waving my arms.

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

K. A.:  My editor.

Okay I guess I should explain that one, huh? Fun fact: even though TPA is my debut, it’s not the first book I wrote in the trilogy. I’d originally written a standalone and when Tor expressed interest in acquiring it, they also expressed interest in turning it into a trilogy. I couldn’t see a way to write two sequels from that starting point, but my editor suggested I write a prequel instead and specifically about Amastan.

That was all the inspiration I needed. Amastan pretty much told me his story himself and here we are.

As for what appeals to me about writing fantasy, it’s the freedom to make and explore a whole world. You can do anything, be anyone, explore any concept – it’s limitless and vast and breathtaking. I’ve tried writing other genres, but fantasy always creeps back in. A little bit of magic, I think, is necessary to keep things interesting.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Perfect Assassin?

K. A.:  I spent a solid chunk of months living in the university library. Thank the patron saints for inter-library loans. I also lived in the Sonoran Desert for six years which, while not quite the same sort of desert as Ghadid is set in, still helped me understand and write the extreme heat and weather.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for The Perfect Assassin.

K. A.:  It’s very striking – literally, hah. Larry Rostant is the cover artist, and he did both the photography as well as the design. He’s kind of amazing.

As you can probably guess, it shows the main character Amastan. But what most people tend to miss is that, while the red is pretty, yes, it’s actually plot-related. There are spirits in the story called jaan, which, left unattended, quickly become deadly. Most of the time they’re invisible and you wouldn’t even know they were there until it’s too late. But when they’re particularly new and strong, they look like a smear of red.

Which means technically there are two characters on the cover.

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

K. A.:  The easy: Tamella aka the Serpent of Ghadid aka Amastan’s teacher. I had a pretty good idea of her as a badass woman who did amazing stuff in her own time, but has since been forced to keep a low profile. It was just so easy to channel her frustration, but also her acceptance of her new role.

The hardest was Yufit. I had to write several scenes from his point of view just so I knew what was going through his head. It’s always been hard for me to write the love interest, because the main character is so infatuated that they can forget the other person has a life of their own. So balancing that self-centeredness, but also making certain Yufit still has his own character moments, was a hard line to walk.

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

K. A.:

Q: Which character in TPA could you beat in a fair fight?

A: Literally none of them. Barag is the closest, but he’d probably offer me tea and then his wife would shank me. Which would be her version of a fair fight, so.

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

K. A.:  Let’s go with weather-related, because weather plays a big part in the story:

“Dusk fell like dust, coating the world in a darkness that accumulated in one continuous, ever-thickening, layer. The clouds hadn’t broken yet, but they were denser now, billowing and dark. They hunched on the horizon like a brooding crow, flashes of light briefly illuminating their depths.”

TQWhat's next?

K. A.:  The second book – The Impossible Contract – which follows Thana on her own adventures, will be out next November, and I just turned in edits on the third book – The Unconquered City – which will be out summer of 2020. After that, I’ve got a few projects bubbling on the back burner, so we’ll just have to see!

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

K. A.:  Thank you for having me!

The Perfect Assassin
Chronicles of Ghadid 1
Tor Books, March 19, 2019
Trade Paperback and eBook, 352 pages

Interview with K. A. Doore, author of The Perfect Assassin
A novice assassin is on the hunt for someone killing their own in K. A. Doore's The Perfect Assassin, a breakout high fantasy beginning the Chronicles of Ghadid series.

Divine justice is written in blood.

Or so Amastan has been taught. As a new assassin in the Basbowen family, he’s already having second thoughts about taking a life. A scarcity of contracts ends up being just what he needs.

Until, unexpectedly, Amastan finds the body of a very important drum chief. Until, impossibly, Basbowen’s finest start showing up dead, with their murderous jaan running wild in the dusty streets of Ghadid. Until, inevitably, Amastan is ordered to solve these murders, before the family gets blamed.

Every life has its price, but when the tables are turned, Amastan must find this perfect assassin or be their next target.

The Perfect Assassin is a thrilling fantastical mystery that had me racing through the pages.” —S. A. Chakraborty, author of The City of Brass

“Full of rooftop fights, frightening magic, and nonstop excitement and mystery, I absolutely loved it from start to finish!” — Sarah Beth Durst


The Impossible Contract
Chronicles of Ghadid 2
Tor Books, November 12, 2019
Trade Paperback and eBook, 352 pages

Interview with K. A. Doore, author of The Perfect Assassin
Second in K. A. Doore's high fantasy adventure series the Chronicles of Ghadid, a determined assassin travels to the heart of the Empire in pursuit of a powerful mark, for fans of Robin Hobb, Sarah J. Maas, and S. A. Chakraborty

Thana has a huge reputation to live up to as daughter of the Serpent, who rules over Ghadid’s secret clan of assassins. Opportunity to prove herself arrives when Thana accepts her first contract on Heru, a dangerous foreign diplomat with the ability to bind a person’s soul under his control.

She may be in over her head, especially when Heru is targeted by a rival sorcerer who sends hordes of the undead to attack them both. When Heru flees, Thana has no choice than to pursue him across the sands to the Empire that intends to capture Ghadid inside its iron grip.

A stranger in a strange city, Thana’s only ally is Mo, a healer who may be too noble for her own good. Meanwhile, otherworldly and political dangers lurk around every corner, and even more sinister plans are uncovered which could lead to worldwide devastation. Can Thana rise to the challenge—even if it means facing off against an ancient evil?

About K. A.

Interview with K. A. Doore, author of The Perfect Assassin
K.A. Doore grew up in Florida, but has since lived in lush Washington, arid Arizona, and cherry-infused Michigan. While recovering from climate whiplash, she’s raised chickens, learned entirely too much about property assessment, photographed cacti, and now develops online trainings.

Website  ~  Twitter @KA_Doore

Interview with Seth Fried, author of The Municipalists

Please welcome Seth Fried to The Qwillery as part of the 2019 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Municipalists was published on March 19, 2019 by Penguin Books.

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

Seth:  When I was ten I decided I was going to write an epic novel about the Civil War. I’d been working on it for about three days when my mom, who was supportive of the project, asked me if I’d finished it yet. I remember being very offended by the question. Of course my sprawling Civil War novel wasn’t finished yet. Though, to be fair, I ended up abandoning the project later that same week.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Seth:  Up until recently I’ve been very much a pantser. Though coming out of this project I’ve started to incorporate some elements into my process that probably make me more of a hybrid. For a project that’s as plot-driven as this I think it can be helpful to write a scenario before a chapter. That’s where you basically write a summary of what will happen within the chapter. I feel like that’s a nice compromise between outlining and winging it. Enough is left out of the summary that there are still lots of opportunities for discovery in the draft. But the summary also acts as a compass, keeping me from the sort of organic digressions and missteps that I would eventually have to cut anyway.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing? Were the challenges different while writing a novel than while writing a short story?

Seth:  My short answer is just that it’s all pretty tough. But I’ve always loved this quote from Thomas Mann, “A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” It makes me feel okay about the fact that pretty much every aspect of writing can be perennially intimidating. A lot of aspiring writers assume that feeling is because they’re doing something wrong, but really I think it’s a pretty natural result of the fact that the work is important to you and that you’re expecting a lot out of yourself.

The specific challenges involved in moving from short stories to a novel were unique in that my short stories were what would probably be called experimental, whereas this novel is (though weird in content) pretty traditional in terms of storytelling. It was difficult not being able to rely on the idiosyncratic skill set I’d developed as a short story writer, but also a lot of fun to give myself permission to explore character, scene, plot, and all that fun stuff.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Seth:  Something that’s had a big impact on me is the notion of lightness in literature that’s explored by Italo Calvino in his book Six Memos for the Next Millennium. Calvino furthers the notion that, although many associate lightness with frivolity, there is also such a thing as a lightness of substance. That’s something that’s evident in his stories and novels. They’re all light and playful, but incredibly substantial. That idea has really informed my values as a writer. I want the strength of my books to derive from a thoughtful lightness. In this book I’ve framed my very serious thoughts, hopes, and concerns about modern cities into a brisk adventure that I hope will be as fun as it is meaningful.

TQDescribe The Municipalists using only 5 words.

Seth:  PG Wodehouse meets Jane Jacobs.

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

Seth:  It has an awesome book trailer:

The Municipalists | Book trailer from Julia Mehoke on Vimeo.

TQWhat inspired you to write The Municipalists?

Seth:  I lived in Ohio for most of my life, then moved to NYC in my late twenties. Writing a book about cities was a way for me to process that culture shock and explore my curiosity about the new world in which I found myself.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Municipalists?

Seth:  I got to read lots of great books about urban planning and infrastructure. Some of my favorites were The Death and Life of Great American Cities by the aforementioned Jane Jacobs. I also really enjoyed digging into the writing of Edward Glaeser, Richard Florida, and Kate Ascher.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for The Municipalists.

Seth:  The cover was illustrated by an artist named Matthew Taylor ( It was designed by Elizabeth Yaffe. They’re both geniuses and I love this cover. It depicts our two heroes, Henry and his AI partner OWEN, walking down the streets of the great city of Metropolis, where the majority of the novel takes place.

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

Seth:  Henry and OWEN were easy to write. The tension between them and their burgeoning friendship felt very real to me and was fun to watch unfold. I think the hardest to write was probably Sarah Laury, since she and I are different from one another in a lot of respects. When you find yourself in a situation like that, I think it’s important to seek out some commonality between you and the character and build out from there. Later, when you’re revising, you should listen closely to your privileged readers and/or sensitivity readers to make sure you’re doing that character justice.

TQDoes The Municipalists touch on any social issues?

Seth:  It does! It deals with what’s great about cities, but also things like gentrification, inequality, and class conflict.

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

Seth:  Great question! No one has asked if the book contains a series of subtle clues leading to an actual hidden treasure in southern France that was once guarded by the Knights Templar. The book, in fact, does not contain a series of subtle clues leading to an actual hidden treasure in southern France that was once guarded by the Knights Templar, but it would still be nice to be asked.

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


OWEN unsheathed the katana and raised it over his head before letting out a blood-curdling howl. He kept the sword overhead for a moment, observing Biggs for any sign that his resolve had weakened. When Biggs only looked confused, OWEN frowned and put the sword away again.

TQWhat's next?

Seth:  I’m currently finishing up a collection of short stories and am in the middle of working on the next novel. If you’d like to check out what my stories are like, some of them can be found here:

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Seth:  Thank you!

The Municipalists
Penguin Book, March 19, 2019
Trade Paperback and eBook, 272 pages

A novel about an unlikely pair of lonely outsiders–one human, one AI–on an adventure to save the great American city of Metropolis written by “one of the most exciting new voices in fiction” (Charles Yu)

*Named Library’s Journal‘s “Debut of the Month” and one of NYLON‘s “50 Books You’ll Want to Read in 2019″*

In Metropolis, the gleaming city of tomorrow, the dream of the great American city has been achieved. But all that is about to change, unless a neurotic, rule-following bureaucrat and an irreverent, freewheeling artificial intelligence can save the city from a mysterious terrorist plot that threatens its very existence.

Henry Thompson has dedicated his life to improving America’s infrastructure as a proud employee of the United States Municipal Survey. So when the agency comes under attack, he dutifully accepts his unexpected mission to visit Metropolis looking for answers. But his plans to investigate quietly, quickly, and carefully are interrupted by his new partner: a day-drinking know-it-all named OWEN, who also turns out to be the projected embodiment of the agency’s supercomputer. Soon, Henry and OWEN are fighting to save not only their own lives and those of the city’s millions of inhabitants, but also the soul of Metropolis. The Municipalists is a thrilling, funny, and touching adventure story, a tour-de-force of imagination that trenchantly explores our relationships to the cities around us and the technologies guiding us into the future.

About Seth

Photo by Julia Mehoke
Seth Fried is a fiction and humor writer. He is the author of the novel The Municipalists (Penguin Books) and the short story collection The Great Frustration (Soft Skull Press). He is a recurring contributor to The New Yorker’s “Shouts and Murmurs” and NPR’s “Selected Shorts.” His stories have appeared in Tin House, One Story, McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, The Kenyon Review, Vice, and many others.

Website  ~  Twitter @Seth_Fried

Interview with K Chess, author of Famous Men Who Never Lived

Please welcome K Chess to The Qwillery as part of the 2019 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Famous Men Who Never Lived was published on March 5, 2019 by Tin House Books.

Interview with K Chess, author of Famous Men Who Never Lived

TQ:  Welcome to The Qwillery. What is the first fiction piece that you remember writing?

K:  It was definitely Buffy: the Vampire Slayer fanfiction about a violent home invasion.

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

K:  When I write short stories, I’m a pantser. I taught myself how to plot in order to complete this novel, my first! Intuition still plays a really important role in my writing, but now I know that I need structure to keep moving forward.

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

K:  How lonesome it is. Sometimes when the words are flowing and I know they’re good, I get excited and want to stop writing to tell everyone! And on other days, when I’m not creating anything worthwhile, I feel bored and disappointed with myself.

TQ:  What has influenced / influences your writing?

KFamous Men Who Never Lived was inspired by the Heinlein paperbacks at my grandma’s house, by Svetlana Alexievich’s phenomenally moving and interesting book, Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster, and by the way it feels to live in a big, anonymous city.

TQ:  Describe Famous Men Who Never Lived using only 5 words.

K:  Extradimensional refugee rails against fate.

TQ:  Tell us something about Famous Men Who Never Lived that is not found in the book description.

K:  It’s got a book-within-a-book! Famous Men Who Never Lived follows a woman named Hel who is part of a group of Universally Displaced Persons from an alternate version of New York who is trying to recover the last copy of a sci-fi book from her home called The Pyronauts (all that is in the official description). But I wove sections from that fictional book into Hel’s story. It was fun to figure out how to do that, how to make the inner and outer layers speak to each other.

TQ:  What appeals to you about writing Science Fiction?

K:  Science fiction allows us to see problems from our own reality in a different way. Sometimes it’s easier to access imagination and empathy through a fantastical premise.

TQ:  What sort of research did you do for Famous Men Who Never Lived?

K:  Because the alternate universe I invented for this book split off from ours at the beginning of the 20th century, I had to research whether certain things (the Manhattan Bridge, lite beer, the word “gay”) existed in 1909 or not. I also researched crime! I learned about how to follow someone without being noticed, how to break a window without hurting yourself, and what happens to you in NYC after you get arrested.

TQ:  Please tell us about the cover for Famous Men Who Never Lived.

K:  The designer, Jakob Vala, used an experimental photo of a New York scene by Stephanie Jung. Jung says her work is about “time and cauducity.” Vala paired that with a bold white retro/futuristic typeface. I love how atmospheric it is. And there’s an Easter egg -- if you have the book, explore the jacket carefully!

TQ:  In Famous Men Who Never Lived who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

K:  I had a hard time writing about Vikram, who denies his pain or expresses it quietly. Writing about Hel, who reacts through flamboyant bad behavior was easier.

TQ:  Does Famous Men Who Never Lived touch on any social issues?

K:  Yes -- it’s about immigration bias and how we treat strangers. Its characters are torn between conflicting pressures to preserve their home culture or give it up to assimilate. These are very real issues for people in 2019.

TQ:  Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Famous Men Who Never Lived.


“Once the Gate achieved full power, I couldn’t see them anymore. I only had eyes for the gap, the blue hole. I couldn’t see them when I stepped into it, into pearlescent haze like an oil slick suspended in the air, when I stepped from one snowy day and into another. But I knew they were in the crowd, watching the ninety-nine of us leave them behind.”

TQ:  What's next?

KFamous Men Who Never Lived is a standalone, so I’m working on a completely unrelated novel now. I’m going to stop googling myself so much and get back into a weekday writing-at-5AM routine!

TQ:  Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

K:  Thank you! It’s been real.

Famous Men Who Never Lived
Tin House Book, March 5, 2019
Hardcover and eBook, 324 pages

Interview with K Chess, author of Famous Men Who Never Lived
For readers of Station Eleven and Exit WestFamous Men Who Never Lived explores the effects of displacement on our identities, the communities that come together through circumstance, and the power of art to save us.

Wherever Hel looks, New York City is both reassuringly familiar and terribly wrong. As one of the thousands who fled the outbreak of nuclear war in an alternate United States―an alternate timeline―she finds herself living as a refugee in our own not-so-parallel New York. The slang and technology are foreign to her, the politics and art unrecognizable. While others, like her partner Vikram, attempt to assimilate, Hel refuses to reclaim her former career or create a new life. Instead, she obsessively rereads Vikram’s copy of The Pyronauts―a science fiction masterwork in her world that now only exists as a single flimsy paperback―and becomes determined to create a museum dedicated to preserving the remaining artifacts and memories of her vanished culture.

But the refugees are unwelcome and Hel’s efforts are met with either indifference or hostility. And when the only copy of The Pyronauts goes missing, Hel must decide how far she is willing to go to recover it and finally face her own anger, guilt, and grief over what she has truly lost.

About K Chess

Interview with K Chess, author of Famous Men Who Never Lived
© Bradlee Swinton Westie
K Chess was a W.K. Rose Fellow and her short stories have been honored by the Nelson Algren Award and the Pushcart Prize. She earned an MFA from Southern Illinois University and currently teaches at GrubStreet. She lives with her wife in Boston, MA.


Twitter @kchessok

Interview with Jessie Mihalik, author of Polaris Rising

Please welcome Jessie Mihalik to The Qwillery as part of the 2019 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Polaris Rising was published on February 5, 2019 by Harper Voyager.

Interview with Jessie Mihalik, author of Polaris Rising

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

Jessie:  Thank you so much for having me! My brain is so bad at keeping track of firsts. I remember writing (and illustrating!) those little books in elementary school where the teacher would help the students bind them into hardback books. I have no idea what I wrote about, but I bet my mom still has it in a box somewhere!

I’ve always written stories, but the first thing I really remember being of any great length was the fanfiction I wrote in college. It’s still out there, but I’m not giving anyone any clues as to where or what because it was me as a baby writer, learning how plot and story and character all worked together while playing in someone else’s world.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Jessie:  I’m a pantser who desperately wishes I was a plotter. I’m becoming more of a hybrid because deadlines mean I have to know where I’m going rather than wandering lost through the plot woods for months, but outlining is still my nemesis.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Jessie:  Speed. I write very, very slowly. One thousand to fifteen hundred words is a good writing day for me. And I know you’re supposed to stay in your own lane, but when I see other authors cranking out three to five times that in a single day, it’s difficult not to feel like I’m doing it wrong. Still, I’ve made peace with my speed, mostly, and plodding along does eventually get me to the end. So, for all of you slow writers out there—I see you. Keep at it!

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Jessie:  Like many (most? all?) writers, I’m influenced by the books I’ve read before. Some of my favorite authors like Ilona Andrews, Patricia Briggs, and Ann Aguirre write kick-ass women. They inspired me to try my hand at writing my own heroine. And I’ve definitely been inspired by the huge number of romances I’ve read. I wanted that strong, building relationship for my main characters.

TQDescribe Polaris Rising using only 5 words.

Jessie:  Badass space princess adventure romance.

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

Jessie:  Ada doesn’t care much for her father, but she has an incredibly strong bond to her siblings. Her sisters helped her escape and stay ahead of her father’s security team and she would move mountains for them.

TQWhat inspired you to write Polaris Rising? What appeals to you about writing Science Fiction?

Jessie:  I had the opening scene of what would become Polaris Rising knocking around in my head for weeks while I was working on another project. Without knowing that, a friend suggested I try my hand at science fiction because she knew I am a huge geek and that my current project was going nowhere. It was serendipity, but it took me a few additional weeks of banging my head against the other project to recognize it.

I love writing science fiction and while the genre covers a huge spectrum, for me SF has always been about space and the distant future. I get to write about spaceships and different planets and all the fancy technology I wish we had today. And because I also write romance, I get to ground all of that cool stuff in a slowly building relationship.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for Polaris Rising?

Jessie:  I did so much research and so little of it really appears in the book. I researched theoretical FTL drives, star naming schemes, distances between galaxies, and all of the reasons FTL drives break physics, relativity, and causality. Then I decided that I was going to write a space opera, not a hard science fiction book, and I would be intentionally a little hand-wavy about the technology because the details were bogging down the story. There is a nod to one of the theoretical FTL solutions in the book, though, but no spoilers.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for Polaris Rising.

Jessie:  I love the cover! It was designed by Lex Maudlin and illustrated by Tony Mauro. It doesn’t depict a specific scene, but more of the feel of the novel. Ada knows her way around planets, spaceships, and blasters, and I think the cover perfectly conveys that.

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

Jessie:  Ada was the easiest character for me to write because she drove the story. She’s smart and competent, but asks for help when she needs it. She was such a fun character to write. Richard Rockhurst was the hardest to write because he is the villain in Polaris Rising, but he’s the hero in his own mind. He thinks he’s totally in the right, but we only see him from Ada’s perspective, so it was a delicate balance.

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

Jessie:  Here are two of my favorite little snippets:

There are moments in your life when you absolutely know what you should do and then you absolutely choose to do something else entirely.

This was one of those moments.


Loch’s nose ghosted along my chin and down my neck. I stood stock-still as his breath heated my collarbone.

“You’re afraid, but you don’t let the fear rule you,” Loch rumbled against my skin. My belly did a little flip that had nothing to do with fear.

“You manipulate those around you to suit your will, but you risked being left behind to save a bunch of mercs and soldiers intent on capturing you. You’re a puzzle, Ada von Hasenberg.”

“If you’re done with the intimidation routine,” I said calmly while I trembled internally, “I’d like to get some sleep.”

TQWhat's next?

Jessie:  The next book in the series, Aurora Blazing, arrives this October, with the third book following next year. I’ll be at the Tucson Book Festival in the beginning of March, so come see me if you’re nearby!

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Jessie:  Thank you again for having me!

Polaris Rising
The Consortium Rebellion 1
Harper Voyager, February 5, 2019
Trade Paperback and eBook, 448 pages

Interview with Jessie Mihalik, author of Polaris Rising
Polaris Rising is space opera at its best, intense and addictive, a story of honor, courage, betrayal, and love. Jessie Mihalik is  an author to watch.”--Ilona Andrews, #1 New York Times bestselling author

A space princess on the run and a notorious outlaw soldier become unlikely allies in this imaginative, sexy space opera adventure—the first in an exciting science fiction trilogy.

In the far distant future, the universe is officially ruled by the Royal Consortium, but the High Councillors, the heads of the three High Houses, wield the true power. As the fifth of six children, Ada von Hasenberg has no authority; her only value to her High House is as a pawn in a political marriage. When her father arranges for her to wed a noble from House Rockhurst, a man she neither wants nor loves, Ada seizes control of her own destiny. The spirited princess flees before the betrothal ceremony and disappears among the stars.

Ada eluded her father’s forces for two years, but now her luck has run out. To ensure she cannot escape again, the fiery princess is thrown into a prison cell with Marcus Loch. Known as the Devil of Fornax Zero, Loch is rumored to have killed his entire chain of command during the Fornax Rebellion, and the Consortium wants his head.

When the ship returning them to Earth is attacked by a battle cruiser from rival House Rockhurst, Ada realizes that if her jilted fiancé captures her, she’ll become a political prisoner and a liability to her House. Her only hope is to strike a deal with the dangerous fugitive: a fortune if he helps her escape.

But when you make a deal with an irresistibly attractive Devil, you may lose more than you bargained for . . .

About Jessie

Interview with Jessie Mihalik, author of Polaris Rising
Photo 2018 by Dustin Mihalik
Jessie Mihalik has a degree in computer science and a love of all things geeky. A software engineer by trade, Jessie now writes full time from her home in Texas. When she’s not writing, she can be found playing co-op video games with her husband, trying out new board games, or reading books pulled from her overflowing bookshelves. Polaris Rising is her debut novel.

Website  ~ Twitter @jessiemihalik  ~  Facebook

Interview with Mike Chen, author of Here and Now and ThenInterview with Helen Marshall, author of The MigrationInterview with Jenn Lyons, author of The Ruin of KingsInterview with Caitlin Starling, author of The Luminous DeadInterview with Namwali Serpell, author of The Old DriftInterview with Dan Stout, author of TitanshadeInterview with K. A. Doore, author of The Perfect AssassinInterview with Seth Fried, author of The MunicipalistsInterview with K Chess, author of Famous Men Who Never LivedInterview with Jessie Mihalik, author of Polaris Rising

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