The Qwillery | category: Angry Robot Books


The Qwillery

A blog about books and other things speculative

Interview with Ada Hoffmann, author of The Outside

Please welcome Ada Hoffmann to The Qwillery as part of the 2019 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Outside was published on June 11, 2019 by Angry Robot Books.

Interview with Ada Hoffmann, author of The Outside

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

AH:  Ooh, this takes a bit of thinking. I've been making up stories since I was very tiny, and some pieces are borderline - I sort of remember them, but secondhand, from family stories or from having rediscovered drafts of them later.

The first story I'm sure I remember writing, in first grade, was called "Too Many Onions." It was a Robert Munsch-esque tale in which a family bought so many onions at the grocery store that their whole house was filled with onions from top to bottom. This is going to sound weird, but the reason I remember it is because it was the first time I used quotation marks. I hadn't seen the point of them before, even when I wrote dialogue, but there was something about the character throwing her hands up and declaring "We have too many onions!" that inescapably demanded them.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

AH:  More to the plotter side, but not completely. I always make outlines because I can't get started without a plan; for novel-length work, I also need to start with some worldbuilding and character notes. But I also know that, once I see the story actually breathing on the page, I'll get some new ideas about where it should go and how it should get there. Sometimes I keep the outline vague to allow for this flexibility. Sometimes I make a more detailed one but diverge from it at will. Sometimes I get to a part where I realize I've been too vague, and then I need to work on a more detailed scene-by-scene plan for a few chapters before I can draft again.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

AH:  Dealing with the anxiety. Am I doing it right? Did I do the previous thing right? I apparently did one thing right, but will I ever do anything right again? Aaaaaaaa.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

AH:  I want to say that literally everything influences me! Brains are sponges that store everything in the form of overlapping patterns which merge and connect. Sometimes things influence me and I don't even realize it until later. Other writers with amazing writing skills influence me; my life history and strong personal feelings about influence me; my relationships influence me; my political and spiritual beliefs influence me; other media I read and consume influence me. For starters.

TQDescribe The Outside using only 5 words.

AH:  Cyborg angels versus cosmic horrors.

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

AH:  There are several factions in this book and one of the things I love is that readers legitimately differ as to who they sympathize with. Are you Team Cyborg Angel because their ruthless competence and their team dynamics appeal to you? Are you Team Cosmic Horror Mad Scientist because heck yeah let's rebel? Are you Team Yasira because her "grumpy sincerity" (as the Publisher's Weekly starred review put it) convinces you that human beings even in their darkest times are worth saving? I've seen all of these and more! (One reviewer was Team Sispirinithas The Giant Spider.) I genuinely love seeing different readers come away with different reactions like this; it means I wrote everyone's motivations in a way that felt real, even though there are some that I definitely see as villains.

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

AHThe Outside's origin is actually quite silly - I had a crush on Akavi, who started life as a Lawful Evil D&D villain played by one of my friends. I wanted to write a book about him, but I didn't want it to be a D&D book, so I ended up filing off the serial numbers so hard he ended up in space.

Science Fiction and Fantasy (I don't make a hard mental distinction between the two genres) are my comfort zone. They're what I grew up reading and never stopped. I read other genres now and then, but what I love most is the ability to make up whatever I want about the world and what's possible there. If I tried to write a book that took place entirely within our actual consensus reality, I would feel very limited.

Science Fiction has an aesthetic that distinguishes it from traditional fantasy - SPACE! Computers! Really big guns! - and I feel drawn to that more than to the "harder" aspects, where it's supposed to be a serious attempt at extrapolating things from science. I love space opera, space wizards, and weird shit happening on spaceships, yum!

TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Outside?

AH:  There is quite a lot in The Outside about mysticism, and although I was already somewhat familiar with that topic, I spent a long time trawling the Wikipedia about forms of mysticism from different world traditions. Dr. Talirr's heresies in The Outside aren't meant to parallel any specific tradition, but I did find words and concepts that helped me clarify my thinking about her. For the darker, more psychological aspects of the book, I found Judith Herman's Trauma and Recovery helpful.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for The Outside.

AH:  When it was time to start talking about cover art, the Angry Robot editors asked me if I had a Pinterest board for the book, so I whipped one up. I had never made a Pinterest board before and it was fun! I collected a lot of images showing the aesthetics of The Outside's different factions - clean and delicate modernism for the angels, rough and lived-in 20th-century aerospace technology for the humans, and some very surreal landscapes and architecture for a part of a planet that's affected by an especially nasty heretical effect.

For Dr. Talirr's aesthetic, I wanted pictures that were as messy and rough as the other human technology, but even more complicated and a touch surreal. I discovered there's a whole genre called "industrial photography", and I collected the weirdest industrial photography I could find. One of the pictures was a plasma generator from Japan with an odd, fluid, swirling design. That picture really clicked with my editor and with the cover artist, Lee Gibbons. Gibbons used that picture as a reference for a depiction of a scene near the middle of the book, where Yasira is spacewalking on the outside of a heretical ship. He kept the wonderful, dynamic composition of the original photo but made it even more surreal, with the parts of the ship vaguely resembling tentacles, plus a depiction of space and of a suitably tiny, space-suited Yasira.

I love this cover and the Internet seems to love it, too! I couldn't be happier with the design.

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

AH:  I think the easiest character might have been Elu Ariehmu, Akavi's assistant. There's something about Elu that feels very straightforward and easy for me to empathize with, even though his life choices aren't always necessarily the best.

The hardest was definitely Yasira. Protagonists have to be so deeply and fully realized, and they have to hit so many different notes correctly. I find it really tricky to write protagonists who are active, in the way that neurotypical Western readers expect, without making them deeply unlikable. Villians, yes, I can do those; heroes, for some reason, are hard. For a long time I couldn't get a handle on Yasira. She felt flat, no matter what I tried, even once I made her autism explicit.

It was a sensitivity read from Elizabeth Bartmess, who is an absolute genius about characters, that finally helped me figure Yasira out. Elizabeth helped me figure out that Yasira wasn't just autistic, she was mildly depressed and had been that way for a while. When I delved into the question of why and how to bring that out, that's when Yasira really started to breathe - but it also meant facing up to some of my own low-grade burnout and depression, and was some of the most emotionally difficult character work I've ever done.

TQDoes The Outside touch on any social issues?

AH:  Yes, The Outside touches on several social issues. The AI Gods are a vague allegory to real-world religion, and some of the ways in which organized religion can maintain oppression while claiming to help people. Issues of neurodiversity and disability are also at the forefront in this book, since both Yasira and other characters are autistic. In particular there is some brief discussion of abusive childhood therapy, which one of the characters has experienced.

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

AH:  "Oh," said Dr Talirr, turning to leave, "and there's a protocol for monsters under the bed. If you see something with, say, eight to ten pairs of claws, ignore it. Those ones are harmless. If you see something without any claws or limbs at all, you might want to come get me. Good night."

Also, any piece of dialogue that Enga ever has.

TQWhat's next?

AH:  I'm hoping Angry Robot will greenlight a sequel for THE OUTSIDE, though nothing's fully worked out yet. In the meantime, I'm also working on a draft of a contemporary fantasy novel involving dragon paleontology.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

AH:  My pleasure! Thanks for having me.

The Outside
Angry Robot Books, June 11, 2019
Trade Paperback and eBook, 400 pages

Interview with Ada Hoffmann, author of The Outside
Humanity’s super-intelligent AI Gods brutally punish breaches in reality, as one young scientist discovers, in this intense and brilliant space opera.

Autistic scientist Yasira Shien has developed a radical new energy drive that could change the future of humanity. But when she activates it, reality warps, destroying the space station and everyone aboard. The AI Gods who rule the galaxy declare her work heretical, and Yasira is abducted by their agents. Instead of simply executing her, they offer mercy – if she’ll help them hunt down a bigger target: her own mysterious, vanished mentor. With her homeworld’s fate in the balance, Yasira must choose who to trust: the gods and their ruthless post-human angels, or the rebel scientist whose unorthodox mathematics could turn her world inside out.

File Under: Science Fiction [ False Gods | Angel Inside | Autistic in Space | Here be Monsters ]

About Ada

Interview with Ada Hoffmann, author of The Outside
ADA HOFFMANN is a Canadian graduate student trying to teach computers to write poetry. Her acclaimed speculative short stories and poems have appeared in Strange Horizons, Asimov’s, Uncanny, and two year’s best anthologies. Ada was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome at 13, and is passionate about autistic self-advocacy. She is a former semi-professional soprano, a tabletop gamer and an active LARPer, she lives in southern Ontario with a very polite black cat.

Website  ~  Twitter @xasymptote

Melanie's Month in Review - April 2019

Melanie's Month in Review - April 2019

Hello again. Sorry, I haven't been around for a while. I have had a lot of bad news since February so haven't been reading that much. I am very lucky that I write for the very nice and lovely Qwill who has been very understanding with my lack of blogging. I am back now with which is a semi bumper crop of books to tell you about. So without much further ado this is what I have read (or listened to).

Melanie's Month in Review - April 2019
I was super excited when I found T.J. Berry's Five Unicorn Flush on NetGalley. I loved book 1 - Space Unicorn Blues and couldn't believe that it was a debut as it was such a great concept, well written with great characters.  You can read my review here. I liked it so much it made my top 5 of 2018. This second instalment starts not long after the events of book 1 when all of the supernaturals (the Bala) were teleported away to a new planet far, far away from the cruelty of humanity. The story starts on board the Stagecoach Mary with Jenny Perata at the helm of the ship desperately searching for her wife, a dryad who has gone missing with the rest of the Bala. While Jenny creeps through space on an aging spaceship and no unicorn horn to fuel it Gary, my favourite space unicorn, is on his new home planet. Not everyone is that happy with Gary or his father from taking them away from all the 'creature' comforts they have gotten used to...even if those comforts led to the torture and death of many of their kin. Two more characters from book 1 are also searching for the new Bala home planet - Biao who is hiding his magical lineage from the humans and the very human, Will Penny. Forces are drawing the humans to Gary and his kind in the back drop of a civil war between the Bala.

Sometimes the second book of a series can be a bit of a let down or not as exciting as the first. Not in the case of the The Reason series. The scenes with Jenny Perata on and off the Stage Coach Mary were really amusing and Jenny is a great, broken heroine. Gary wants to do the best for his kin but can't seem to live up to anyone's expectations, including his own. He is torn between wanting to save his kind and saving humans and this creates the tension that supports the story.

I thoroughly enjoyed Five Unicorn Flush despite another massive cliff hanger ending. Berry has the ability to write a gritty but humorous story that keeps you guessing what is going to happen next.

Melanie's Month in Review - April 2019
Another great find on NetGalley was Middlegame by Seanan McGuire. A game is afoot and the game pieces are two young children - Roger and Dodger. Dodger is a mathematical genius while her twin brother is extremely gifted with words/vocabulary. They live on opposite sides of the country and communicate telepathically. The game master is Reed. He created the twins as a means of releasing magic into the world and to elevate him to godhood. This is a game of life or death and the twins have decided not to play by the rules.

I have to admit that for the first 5-6 chapters I had no clue what was going on. It took me a while to get into the story and before the references to a child's book started every new chapter. The story really didn't take off until Roger and Dodger were adults and met for the first time and this doesn't happen until mid-way through the book. It wasn't the easiest book to read but it was well written and the plotline quite innovative. It looks like a one off so not a big investment in time if you already enjoy other books by this author. I suggest giving it a go with an open mind.

Melanie's Month in Review - April 2019
The next two books I am going to tell you about share similarities. These are that they are written by the same author and I listened to them rather than read them. So what are they you ask?  Circe and The Songs of Achilles by Madeline Miller. The first one I came across was Circe so I will tell you about this one first. This novel is a bit of a winner - award winner. It was the Goodreads Choice winner and won the Orange prize. It was also cited as a 'must read' by a couple of English newspaper book reviewers. I think it was well deserved praise. Circe the book is the story of Circe the mythological daughter of Helios, god of the sun. Circe is mainly shunned by the gods and doesn't live up to the divinity of either of her parents. She ends up seeking companionship in mortals and discovers the forbidden magic -witchcraft. After a particularly vengeful spell she is exiled by Zeus to the remote island of Aiaia where she lives a fairly secluded life except for encounters with both gods and mortals alike. Over the centuries she harnesses her witchraft and becomes renowned for her own powers. With that power also comes hardship and it's not long before she has to decide if she wants to align to the gods who shun her or the mortals who she has grown to love.

Melanie's Month in Review - April 2019
I really enjoyed this book and really glad I listened to the audiobook version. I thought Peridita Weeks did a fantastic job of bringing Circe and all the gods to life. I wasn't as familiar with Circe as I am with some of the other Greek myths but the story is a real virtual page turner. I don't think you need to have any knowledge or love of Greek mythology to enjoy this story so whether you want to read the physical version, the e-Book or the audiobook version I highly recommend that you do.

One could be fooled into thinking that The Songs of Achilles is about Achilles. It is indirectly, but  more about it's narrator  - Achilles' friend and lover, Patroclus. The story starts when Patroclus is a very young boy who has been exciled and goes to live with Achilles. It tracks Achilles life through Patroclus' eyes and growing love up to and including the siege of Troy.

The Songs of Achilles is a true love story and beautifully told. I didn't love the narrator as much as I have others but story itself brings the characters to life. I really felt that I was in ancient Greece smelling the olive oil and feeling the sun on my skin. This is a truly evocative story and I especially enjoyed the bittersweet ending. Two fantastic books by a fantastic author that are must reads.

Melanie's Month in Review - April 2019
That is all I have to tell you about for this month apart from one book that was a DNF - Fluffy's Revolution by Ted Myers. I thought this might be a bit of a feel good, talking cat kind of fun book. The only problem is that this book is written for a 8-12 year old reader so not quite my age group. I couldn't even pretend I could read it and found it far too juvenile and banal. If you have a cat loving youngster in your life then I would recommend it for a very young reader.

That's it for me for me. I hope April showers bring May great reads! Happy Reading!

Five Unicorn Flush
The Reason 2
Angry Robot Books, May 28, 2019
Trade Paperback and eBook, 400 pages

Melanie's Month in Review - April 2019
Only one woman with a magical parasite can unite the galaxy, in the mind-blowing SF sequel to Space Unicorn Blues

Reasonspace is in shambles after the disappearance of all magical creatures. Without faster-than-light travel, supply and communication routes have dried up, leaving humankind stranded and starving. Cowboy Jim and his complement of Reason soldiers search for the relocated Bala using the only surviving FTL drive. On their new utopian planet, the Bala are on the brink of civil war between those who want peace under old-fashioned unicorn rule and those who seek revenge on their human oppressors. Only Captain Jenny and her new brain parasite can stop the Reason plan to enslave the Bala again.

File Under: Science Fiction [ Elves on the Brain | Lust for Magic | Best Served Hot | FTL Hell ]

Middlegame, May 7, 2019
Hardcover and eBook, 528 pages

Melanie's Month in Review - April 2019
New York Times bestselling and Alex, Nebula, and Hugo-Award-winning author Seanan McGuire introduces readers to a world of amoral alchemy, shadowy organizations, and impossible cities in the standalone fantasy, Middlegame.

Meet Roger. Skilled with words, languages come easily to him. He instinctively understands how the world works through the power of story.

Meet Dodger, his twin. Numbers are her world, her obsession, her everything. All she understands, she does so through the power of math.

Roger and Dodger aren’t exactly human, though they don’t realise it. They aren’t exactly gods, either. Not entirely. Not yet.

Meet Reed, skilled in the alchemical arts like his progenitor before him. Reed created Dodger and her brother. He’s not their father. Not quite. But he has a plan: to raise the twins to the highest power, to ascend with them and claim their authority as his own.

Godhood is attainable. Pray it isn’t attained.

The Song of Achilles
Ecco, August 28, 2012
Trade Paperback, August 12, 2012
  eBook, March 6, 2012

Melanie's Month in Review - April 2019
“At once a scholar’s homage to The Iliad and startlingly original work of art by an incredibly talented new novelist….A book I could not put down.”
—Ann Patchett

“Mary Renault lives again!” declares Emma Donoghue, author of Room, referring to The Song of Achilles, Madeline Miller’s thrilling, profoundly moving, and utterly unique retelling of the legend of Achilles and the Trojan War. A tale of gods, kings, immortal fame, and the human heart, The Song of Achilles is a dazzling literary feat that brilliantly reimagines Homer’s enduring masterwork, The Iliad. An action-packed adventure, an epic love story, a marvelously conceived and executed page-turner, Miller’s monumental debut novel has already earned resounding acclaim from some of contemporary fiction’s brightest lights—and fans of Mary Renault, Bernard Cornwell, Steven Pressfield, and Colleen McCullough’s Masters of Rome series will delight in this unforgettable journey back to ancient Greece in the Age of Heroes.

Little, Brown and Company, April 10, 2018
Hardcover and eBook, 400 pages

Melanie's Month in Review - April 2019
“A bold and subversive retelling of the goddess’s story,” this #1 New York Times bestseller is “both epic and intimate in its scope, recasting the most infamous female figure from the Odyssey as a hero in her own right” (Alexandra Alter, The New York Times).

In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child–not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power–the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.

Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.

But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

With unforgettably vivid characters, mesmerizing language and page-turning suspense, Circe is a triumph of storytelling, an intoxicating epic of family rivalry, palace intrigue, love and loss, as well as a celebration of indomitable female strength in a man’s world.

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER–NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY NPR, The Washington Post, People, Time, Amazon, Entertainment Weekly, Bustle, Newsweek, the A.V. Club, Christian Science Monitor and Refinery 29, Buzzfeed, Paste, Audible, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Thrillist, NYPL, Self Real Simple, Goodreads, Boston Globe, Electric Literature, BookPage, the Guardian, Book Riot, Seattle Times, and Business Insider

Fluffy's Revolution
Black Rose Writing, March 28 2019
Trade Paperback and eBook, 145 pages

Melanie's Month in Review - April 2019
“Brisk sci-fi futurism with a feline star and a positive outlook.” –KIRKUS REVIEWS

The fate of the world rests on the haunches of one small cat.

It’s 2135. Fluffy is a super-intelligent GAB (Genetically Altered Brain) cat. Like many dogs, cats, mice, and the occasional pig, her brain is the product of genetic tinkering by humans that started more than a century ago. With their powers of telekinesis, the animals can manipulate physical objects without being able to grasp them. They can speak to each other telepathically without audible voices. Now, people have begun to fear them and to systematically capture and exterminate them. Fluffy leaves the safety of her home to look for her lost brother and joins a band of animal revolutionaries. After a series of brushes with death, Fluffy and her friends find a secret university for GAB animals. There, they work with enlightened humans to save Earth from certain destruction.

Interview with Lauren C. Teffeau, author of Implanted

Please welcome Lauren C. Teffeau to The Qwillery as part of the 2018 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Implanted was published on August 7th by Angry Robot.

Interview with Lauren C. Teffeau, author of Implanted

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

LCT:  A horrible fantasy novel in my early teens. It was full of wish fulfillment and the worldbuilding was illogical at best, nonexistent at worst. I’m happy to say I’ve improved dramatically since then.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

LCT:  I’m a plotter, though how strict I am depends on the project. I want to ensure even when I have the entire story worked out in my head that there is some space for the unexpected, for the story elements to breathe, and in some instances surprise me.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

LCT:  In the past year, I’d say it’s been the difficulty in tuning out the noise of the larger world. I have lots of projects I’d like to work on or revisit, but it’s been harder than usual for me to quiet my mind to focus for long periods.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

LCT:  I took a screenwriting class in college. I was a bit of a film buff and wanted to see how things worked on the other side of the camera, so to speak. The emphasis on structure, dialogue, and action have been extremely formative and have provided the backbone to just about everything I’ve done since.

TQDescribe Implanted using only 5 words.

LCT:  Cyberpunk, adventure, gadgetry, couriers, and communication

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

LCT:  There’s a romantic subplot that I’m rather proud of.

TQWhat inspired you to write Implanted? What appeals to you about writing Cyberpunk?

LCT:  I’ve always enjoyed cyberpunk as a genre, but while those stories made me think, they didn’t necessarily make me feel welcome. I wanted to write something that wasn’t as emotionally sterile as other entries in the cyberpunk genre but still present an interesting examination of technology and where it’s taking us.

TQWhat is Cyberpunk and in your opinion what elements are essential to a Cyberpunk story?

LCT:  Cool tech, some sort of mystery (often originating in the corporate or government sectors of society), and some implicit or explicit commentary on technology and humanity’s relationship to it.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for Implanted?

LCT:  Lots in bits and pieces over the years. I researched art nouveau and sustainability practices to get a better handle on the architecture of my domed city. I took a look at cybersecurity practices. I also included a lot of worldbuilding assumptions that can be mapped back to my social science background in information science, data curation, and mass communication as a graduate student and later on as a university researcher. I also never turn down the opportunity to consume the latest espionage thriller, no matter what the medium.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for Implanted.

LCT:  The cover was created in consultation with Angry Robot’s Marc Gascoigne and the rest of the graphics team at Argh! Nottingham. I think cyberpunk as a genre is particularly hard to represent well on covers given the abstract nature of the concepts. In the case of Implanted, we wanted something captivating and landed on the human eye (that hopefully readers can’t stop looking at) and hint at some of the gadgetry you’ll find in the book thanks to the eye’s digital overlay. Combined with a bold and compelling title font, I hope it not only signals the cyberpunk genre to readers but that it's an exciting read as well.

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

LCT:  My main character Emery was easily the hardest. She valiantly fought me over the course of successive drafts. Sometimes I had trouble uncovering her motivations or pinning down her voice, but I eventually brought her to heel. I am the author after all. One of the easiest and (most enjoyable) character to write was Emery’s handler Tahir. He seems like he’s bit stuck-up and by-the-book but underneath his prickly exterior, he's a big softy.

TQDoes Implanted touch on any social issues?

LCT:  Besides technology and sustainability, I also delve quite a bit into inequality. Not simply in terms of who has money and who doesn’t, but what that money can buy—in particular neural implants and access to the network they're connected to that dictate just about everything in the domed city.

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

LCT:  Why blood as a data transmission vehicle? Well, for starters, recent research shows that tons of information can be encoded in DNA (frex: So it seemed like using blood could be a practical solution in a world where information networks can’t be trusted. It was also a way to inject something fundamentally human into a high-tech future.

TQGive us your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Implanted.


Rik simply lets the silence build, the connection between us alive with feeling. Synching can be surprisingly intimate, depending on how a user customizes their implant settings. The length of delay between thought and message. Whether or not nonverbals should be broadcasted. The priority of the interaction over other tasks and contacts. We’ve become so attuned to one another over the years, now our connection practically vibrates with what’s left unsaid. My doubts, his certainty, yes, but also a desire for more – a strange sort of friction as we run up against the limitations of our current configuration, like a snail that’s outgrown its shell.

TQWhat's next?

LCT:  I’m hard at work on a few sekrit projects, which may or may not include a sequel to Implanted. My website is the best way to stay up-to-date with what’s going on with me.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

LCT:  It was my pleasure!

Angry Robot, August 7, 2018
Trade Paperback and eBook, 400 pages

Interview with Lauren C. Teffeau, author of Implanted
The data stored in her blood can save a city on the brink… or destroy it, in this gripping cyberpunk thriller

When college student Emery Driscoll is blackmailed into being a courier for a clandestine organisation, she’s cut off from the neural implant community which binds the domed city of New Worth together. Her new masters exploit her rare condition which allows her to carry encoded data in her blood, and train her to transport secrets throughout the troubled city. New Worth is on the brink of Emergence – freedom from the dome – but not everyone wants to leave. Then a data drop goes bad, and Emery is caught between factions: those who want her blood, and those who just want her dead.

File Under: Science Fiction [ Under the Dome | Blood Courier | Disconnected | Bright Future ]

About Lauren

Interview with Lauren C. Teffeau, author of Implanted
Photo courtesy of Kim Jew
Photography Studios
Lauren C. Teffeau lives and dreams in the southwestern United States. When she was younger, she poked around in the back of wardrobes, tried to walk through mirrors, and always kept an eye out for secret passages, fairy rings, and messages from aliens. Now, she writes to cope with her ordinary existence. Implanted is her first novel.

Website  ~  Twitter @teffeau

Melanie's Week in Review - July 15, 2018

Melanie's Week in Review - July 15, 2018

I cannot believe we are halfway through July already. It doesn't seem very long ago that it was January. The weather doesn't feel like January though. This is by far the hottest summer I have ever experienced in England and I have been here for 24 years. Day after day have been scorchio. It's like being back in Canada. The downside (besides the super douper hot tube trains) is that the hot weather impacts how much I read. I like to sit outside and enjoy the sunshine but I can't always see my Kindle in the bright sun. That's why I missed last week but fear not, I am back now to tell you what I did manage to read.

Melanie's Week in Review - July 15, 2018
A hundred years after humanity fled its dying planet to look for a new home in the stars they didn't expect to come across all the species from myth and legend. Fairies, elves and even unicorns live deep in space and rather than try to live together the humans declared war and spent the next decades murdering and enslaving the very creatures that saved them from the brink of death. Gary Cobalt, half human and half unicorn has just been released after spending 10 years in prison for murdering a young woman. He's back and he is on a mission. He wants his family's stone ship back. But standing in his way is Captain Jenny Perata, the very human that kept him captive and brutalized him for a decade. Seems pretty simple - get ship and fly away but nothing is ever that straightforward for Gary. Rather than escaping with his ship he ends up helping Jenny with one last delivery and it could very well be the last thing that Gary ever does. Will the magic run out for this story's half unicorn hero? Don't let me stop you finding out.

Space Unicorn Blues by TJ Berry definitely wasn't what I was expecting it to be. I am not sure what I was expecting from a story about a half human half unicorn named Gary that lives in space. I think I was anticipating that it would be funny when in fact, it was anything but. The backdrop to Gary's story was very dark and the circumstances in which he ends up in prison are brutal. Parallels can be drawn between the enslavement and subjugation of the magical and mythical creatures by the humans and real life events. It wasn't completely dark and moody as there were some scenes to lighten the overall mood.

Berry told the story from different perspectives and chapters flowed from one POV to another - mainly Gary's and Jenny's. This worked well to set context and to explain the background of the various characters as well as past events. I wanted to dislike Jenny for how she treated Gary but like Gary I was oddly drawn to her. This demonstrated Berry's ability to create interesting and compelling characters. It was however Gary that stole the show...or in this case the story. I was really rooting for him as he seemed to lurch from one disaster to another. There was a lot of action in this story and it was very tense in certain parts, especially in the final chapters. I wasn't completely sure whether certain characters would survive. The end has a super, shocker big reveal. I was really surprised and I can hardly wait to find out what happens next. This is a great book for both science fiction and fantasy fans. A must read.

Melanie's Week in Review - July 15, 2018
I always feel bad when I am lucky enough to be offered a book from the publisher but don't like it enough to finish it. This is the case, unfortunately with Peril in the Old Country by Sam Hooker. I really wanted to enjoy this story as it sounded silly and fun and I usually always enjoy that type of book. I first started reading this book back in April and then realised it wasn't going to be published until June so I stopped and re-started a few weeks ago. I got approximately 40% of the way through and gave up.

My issue with this story was pace. When I started to struggle to keep reading I read a few reviews and other reviewers commented that it was a slow burn and took a while to get into. Hooker drags out setting up the main characters, mainly Sloot Peril. There were some truly funny lines and characters but the events to setup the main plot were just too drawn out. Quite simply, I got bored. I think this could have been a very funny short story or novella but as a full length book it just didn't work for me.

That is it for me this week. I hope that wherever you are and whatever you are doing that the sun is shining on the pages of a great read. Until next week Happy Reading.

Space Unicorn Blues
The Reason 1
Angery Robot, July 3, 2018
Trade Paperback and eBook, 384 pages

Melanie's Week in Review - July 15, 2018
A misfit crew race across the galaxy to prevent the genocide of magical creatures, in this unique science fiction debut.

Humanity joining the intergalactic community has been a disaster for Bala, the magical creatures of the galaxy: they’ve been exploited, enslaved and ground down for parts. Now the Century Summit is approaching, when humans will be judged by godlike aliens.

When Jenny Perata, disabled Maori shuttle captain, is contracted to take a shipment to the summit, she must enlist half-unicorn Gary Cobalt, whose horn powers faster-than-light travel. But he’s just been released from prison, for murdering the wife of Jenny’s co-pilot, Cowboy Jim… When the Reason regime suddenly enact laws making Bala property, Jenny’s ship becomes the last hope for magic.

File Under: Science Fiction [ Rocks in Space | Stand Up to Reason | The Human Experiment | Last Unicorn ]

Peril in the Old Country
Terribly Serious Darkness 1
Black Spot Books, June 5, 2018
Trade Paperback and eBook, 302 pages

Melanie's Week in Review - July 15, 2018
What terror lurks in the shadows of the Old Country?

Well, there are the goblins, of course. Then there are the bloodthirsty cannibals from nearby Carpathia, secret societies plotting in whispers, and murder victims found drained of their blood, to name a few. That's to say nothing of the multitude of government ministries, any one of which might haul one off for "questioning" in the middle of the night.

The Old Country is saturated with doom, and Sloot is scarcely able to keep from drowning in it. Each passing moment is certain to be his last, though never did fate seem so grim as the day he was asked to correct the worst report ever written.

Will the events put in motion by this ghastly financial statement end in Sloot's grisly death? Almost definitely. Is that the worst thing that could happen? Almost definitely not.

Interview with TJ Berry, author of Space Unicorn Blues

Please welcome TJ Berry to The Qwillery as part of  the 2018 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Space Unicorn Blues was published on July 3rd by Angry Robot.

Interview with TJ Berry, author of Space Unicorn Blues

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

TJ:  The first thing I ever wrote was a Famous Five fan fiction story when I was ten years old. I was living in Hong Kong, and British boarding school books and the Famous Five were all the rage among the primary school crowd. Five Go Off in a Caravan was life-changing for me. I couldn’t imagine that four children and their dog were allowed to go off on their own and camp near the circus for the summer, solving actual crimes. My mother wouldn’t even allow me to walk to the corner store on my own.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

TJ:  I’m a hybrid writer. I always start with a question instead of an outline. In Space Unicorn Blues it was, “Is humanity worth saving?” Outlines are excellent for honing a story, but for what I call the zero draft, I aim to be expansive. I give myself permission to write anything related to the story. This includes scenes out of order, tangents about minor characters, and even alternate endings. The goal at this stage is to shut off my inner editor and allow for every possibility on the page.

Before the next draft, I outline the story into a cohesive shape, making notes about what needs to be added and deleted. I also write a synopsis to ensure the story makes sense from start to finish. As rewrite, I mold the text to fit the new outline and this is usually where I find the heart of the story. I make a few more passes to add description, exposition, and pull out themes, then send it off to an editor who tears it all apart and the process starts from the beginning.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

TJ:  I have an aversion to exposition and description, just ask my editor. My early drafts look like screenplays—with chapters full of only dialogue and stage directions. I have to spend a lot of time ensuring that the backstory that’s in my head ends up on the page and the locations I create are actually laid out for the reader.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

TJ:  Even though I primarily write science fiction, most of my writing influences come from the horror world. I grew up on Stephen King novels. When I was twelve, I found Cujo in the trash after my mother had thrown it away in disgust. It was mesmerizing. I put aside my Babysitter’s Club books and plowed through King’s entire back catalog instead.

I add visceral horror in the early stages of everything I write—there’s a lot of daily life that’s downright horrific. I edit most of the more disturbing pieces out of my science fiction work; though in this book you’ll find remnants in some scenes involving Gary and his horn.

TQDescribe Space Unicorn Blues using only 5 words.

TJ:  Bizarre, complex, conflicted, science fantasy.

TQTell us something about Space Unicorn Blues that is not found in the book description.

TJ:  If you were ever curious about the purpose of the bug-eyed alien “greys” that purportedly visit Earth, Space Unicorn Blues has an answer for you. One thing that always terrifies me about the idea of alien visitations is not that they’re malicious, but that they’re apathetic. It’s much easier to fight an aggressive alien threat than it is to try to prove your entire species should be worthy of consideration as thinking beings.

TQWhat inspired you to write Space Unicorn Blues? What appeals to you about writing Science Fiction?

TJ:  I wrote Space Unicorn Blues out of spite. My lovely husband was trying to console me after yet another rejection on a bizarre short story and he suggested that I write more “normal” stories. Instead of following his advice, I turned around and resolved to write the most outlandish story I could dream of. The joke was on both of us when I sold the book.

Science fiction is invaluable as a way for humans to extrapolate future paths of current actions from within the safety of fiction. Our speculative storytelling can be a warning of dire things to come or a beacon of hope during dark times. Also, I like space.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for Space Unicorn Blues?

TJ:  Not only did I do a tremendous amount of research on my own, I also hired several experts and sensitivity readers to help ensure my characters were as accurate as possible. For example, Captain Jenny Perata has used a wheelchair for the last decade. It was important to have a disabled person read the book to ensure that Jenny’s experience using a chair in space was handled with accuracy and respect.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for Space Unicorn Blues?

TJ:  The cover was a collaboration between Angry Robot’s publisher, Marc Gascoigne and artist Lee Gibbons. I absolutely love how it conveys the seriousness of space and technology while also suggesting the unpredictable outlandishness of the magical creatures who are also in the story. There’s even an asteroid to suggest Gary’s faster-than-light starship, the Jaggery.

TQIn Space Unicorn Blues who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

TJ:  I’m always able to slip into Jenny Perata’s voice quite easily. She’s strong, smart, and swears like a sailor. She’s tremendous fun to write. Gary Cobalt is a character that I dearly love, but he is also very difficult to write. He’s so lawful good—without much moral ambiguity—that it takes a bit more work to keep his point of view from getting too strident. In fact, I originally had most of the book in his voice and during rewrites I took those chapters and gave them to Jenny. Sorry, Gary!

Cowboy Jim’s head is a terrible place, which is why he gets only one chapter in this book. I’m currently working on the sequel, which has a lot of Jim’s point of view and he’s a downright despicable person.

TQDoes Space Unicorn Blues touch on any social issues?

TJSpace Unicorn Blues takes on a couple of big social issues. First, it asks what responsibility colonizers have toward the people they have colonized, displaced, and exploited. Second, the book asks if humans are capable of sharing the universe with other creatures at all. I don’t think we come to a tidy resolution on either of those questions, but it definitely grapples with them throughout the story.

TQWhich question about Space Unicorn Blues do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

TJ:  I wish someone would ask where the Sisters of the Supersymmetrical Axion live. The answer is that they have a fortified abbey on an island in the middle of an ocean planet. It’s steeped in magic and weirdness and I hope to be able to bring readers there someday.

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Space Unicorn Blues.

TJ:  "Harboring silent resentments was like stabbing yourself and hoping the other person died."

“Humans were never more persistent than when they were in the wrong."

TQWhat's next?

TJ:  I’m working on a sequel to Space Unicorn Blues which is, for the moment, totally secret. I can say that we’re going to pick up with Jenny, Gary, Ricky, and Jim where we left off in the first book. There are a lot of questions which need to be resolved, daring escapes to be had, and it wouldn’t be space opera without few explosions in orbit.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

TJ:  Thank you for having me!

Space Unicorn Blues
The Reason 1
Angry Robot, July 3, 2018
Trade Paperback and eBook, 384 pages

Interview with TJ Berry, author of Space Unicorn Blues
A misfit crew race across the galaxy to prevent the genocide of magical creatures, in this unique science fiction debut.

Humanity joining the intergalactic community has been a disaster for Bala, the magical creatures of the galaxy: they’ve been exploited, enslaved and ground down for parts. Now the Century Summit is approaching, when humans will be judged by godlike aliens.

When Jenny Perata, disabled Maori shuttle captain, is contracted to take a shipment to the summit, she must enlist half-unicorn Gary Cobalt, whose horn powers faster-than-light travel. But he’s just been released from prison, for murdering the wife of Jenny’s co-pilot, Cowboy Jim… When the Reason regime suddenly enact laws making Bala property, Jenny’s ship becomes the last hope for magic.

File Under: Science Fiction [ Rocks in Space | Stand Up to Reason | The Human Experiment | Last Unicorn ]

About TJ

Interview with TJ Berry, author of Space Unicorn Blues
Photo by Landon Harris
TJ BERRY grew up between Repulse Bay, Hong Kong and the New Jersey shore. She has been a political blogger, bakery owner, and spent a disastrous two weeks working in a razor blade factory. TJ co-hosts the Warp Drives Podcast with her husband, in which they explore science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Her short fiction has appeared in Pseudopod and PodCastle.

Website  ~ Twitter @tjaneberry

Interview with Amber Royer, author of Free Chocolate

Please welcome Amber Royer to The Qwillery, as part of the 2018 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Free Chocolate was published on June 5th by Angry Robot.

Interview with Amber Royer, author of Free Chocolate

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

Amber:  Thanks for having me!

I’ve always been interested in writing and storytelling. You can probably thank my mom for that, because she made sure I was enrolled in the local library’s summer reading club from before I even started school. And my brother, who’s five years older, was into role playing games, so from pretty early on, if I wanted to get to hang out with him and his friends, imagination and storytelling ability were key.

I don’t remember it clearly, but apparently I wrote a story in first grade that my teacher, Mrs. Russel, thought was good enough that she told my mom to encourage me. I remember more in the fourth grade, when we did story assignments and my teacher pointed out that writers were real people, and it was something anyone could aspire to. (Author visits are important too, you guys – you never know who you’ll inspire to write!)

Ironically, the first thing I wrote where I can remember much about the plot was after I had had a fight with my brother, and I imagined a city where you were only allowed to have sisters (never having had a sister, eight-ish year old me had no idea that that wouldn’t have solved anything).

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Amber:  I like to think of myself as a recovered pantser turned mega-plotter. You should see the Wiki file I have built for the Chocoverse. I have entries for every alien planet I’m planning to mention for the entire series, and for every named character I’ve introduced. I have a lexicon for the language Brill speaks, and one for the Zantites. I have mocked-up charts for the relative locations of these planets in space, and maps of the ones I’m planning for Bo to visit.

I really believe that the more planning you do at the beginning, the less re-writing you’ll have to do overall. I’ve tried editing some of the manuscripts from when I was a complete discovery writer, and I find myself looking at strings of cool scenes that are each fine on their own, but don’t necessarily add up to a plot. And some of these manuscripts were things I’d re-envisioned two or three times. Understanding the mechanics behind what you’re building, structurally speaking, lets you engineer the story for maximum emotional impact.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Amber:  Finding the right place to begin a story has always been hardest for me. I usually start too far in and find myself referring to the most important events in the book as backstory. And then I wind up going back and writing the beginning, which is a blessing in a way, because by then I really know who my characters are, but sometimes I’ll overshoot the natural start point and wind up having to trash the “first” two or three chapters.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Amber:  Obviously, there are a ton of books that have influenced me, but can we talk for a minute about old movies? I’m talking black and white classics, where they couldn’t do much in the way of special effects, so it all came down to the acting and the dialogue. Some friends and I were talking about this recently, and I came to the conclusion that some of the stuff I stumbled on as a teenager/twenty-something with access to the classic movie channels helped shape (and perhaps warp) my sense of humor.

The Road Movies – I was re-watching one of these adventure stories with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby recently, and it struck me how similar the tone is to what I’ve been doing with Free Chocolate. One minute, Bing and Bob are arguing over something completely ridiculous (and it usually comes down to a joke about Bob’s nose or Bing’s ears) and the next, they’re in the middle of a fight for their lives. There’s tons of meta references (like the opening song to Road to Morocco, when they’re betting they’ll run into actress Dorothy Lamour -- because they always do, or when something they usually do to get out of a fight doesn’t work, and one of the guys guesses that the bad guy has seen the previous films) and over-the-top plot twists, but they commit to the formula, and so it works. Man. Come to think of it, can we just start calling Free Chocolate a Galactic Road Movie in Book Form?

The Thin Man – One trope I LOVE is socially mis-matched heroes and heroines who banter and face danger and acknowledge how being different from each other can cause conflict, but underneath it all really love and protect each other. You’ll see it pop up in a lot of my work, Free Chocolate included. To me, the original model for this is Nick and Nora Charles, the crime-fighting duo in The Thin Man movies. She’s a socialite and he’s a now-retired private detective. Nora married Nick because his work as a private detective made him exciting. He’s suddenly got money, but is now out of his element and bored without his previous justice-seeking purpose. So when the opportunity to solve a case together arises, we get to see the mechanics of their relationship and the “rightness” of them being together as a couple. While the specifics in the relationships in Free Chocolate are completely different, I hope you can see hints of this type/trope.

Arsenic and Old Lace – This was offbeat and quirky in its time period, but it has endured as a classic, and I think part of the reason for that is, even though it’s a comedy, it didn’t skimp on the development of the character relationships and backstory. A lot of the time, comedy equates to throw-away jokes and inconsistent worldbuilding, but when you enter the Brewster home, you really feel like Mortimer is coming home to a place he his highly ambivalent about. This is a comedy of a normal person surrounded by eccentrics, and it is because of how well he knows the eccentrics that allows us to get just a glimpse of the pain inside them before returning to the humorous tone. There’s some grim dark stuff here. Think about the scene where Mortimer’s brother remarks that their aunt Martha – who is standing right there – that she always wears high collars, “to hide the scar where Grandfather's acid burned you.” That could have been drawn out in a flashback with agonizing detail, or we could have been shown the scars, but Martha just subtly touches the collar, acknowledging her backstory, and we move on. There are a couple of grim things that happen in Free Chocolate as well, but I hope I’ve developed it well enough that you can just glimpse the edges of the darkness and bounce back to the comic tone.

TQDescribe Free Chocolate in 140 characters or less.

Amber:  Telenovela drama meets space opera stakes in an action-packed novel where the galaxy’s hungry for the one thing Earth won’t share: chocolate.

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

Amber:  When developing the alien races, I gave Brill’s people color changing eyes, but I didn’t want it to be just random or cosmetic. If I was going to include something like that because I was playing with a trope, it needed to be relevant to the plot, so when you see Brill with lavender eyes on the cover, it’s not just to match Bo’s dress. The chromashift reveals Brill’s emotions, so when they’re that color, it means he’s really happy. Or, if they’ve shifted through a certain shade of pink to get to the lavender, that he’s just told a huge lie. So when I first got to see the cover art, I took one look at him and thought, yep, liar!

This is why sunglasses are illegal on his planet. And why he’s one of my favorite characters I’ve ever written.

TQWhat inspired you to write Free Chocolate? What appeals to you about writing Space Opera?

Amber:  There are so many things that went into bringing this idea together, but one sparking point was an article I read years and years ago about the history of coffee. A summary of that article can be found in Free Chocolate – only I slide from true history (how the guy who smuggled coffee plants back to Europe nearly got thrown overboard when everyone found out he’d been sharing his limited water rations with a couple of specks of greenery) – into a huge what if (aliens landed and bought coffee plants on the internet, and now the best coffee is grown on the other side of the galaxy.)

Several people have asked why I didn’t write it as historical fiction, based on that true story. There are several reasons. First, while I’m playing with history and human nature, I don’t want to wind up judging history or specific historic people. I wasn’t there. I don’t know the complexities. I’m a history fan, not a historian. Second, that one account is just a jumping off point for the story I want to tell. Honestly, Free Chocolate is just the jumping off point for what I want to do with the Chocoverse. What’s happening on the space opera scale of it is complex and hidden (this is intended to be telenovela in book form, so expect dramatic confessions and secrets brought to light) and Bo’s assumptions about her world and her place in it will be tested at every turn. I needed it to be space opera to give me a big enough canvas to work with. Book two, Pure Chocolate, has already been completed, and I’ve just been discussing the cover art for that one with Angry Robot. I’m just hoping enough people like the universe I’ve created that I get to tell you guys the whole story!

In general, space opera has always appealed to me because I like stories with strong characters and actively arcing character relationships. I also like the fact that you can focus on the story over the science. As long as you establish something right from the beginning, people are a lot friendlier when you do handwavium (giving a weak reason why something works in your ‘verse when physics or biology would find it improbable in the real world) than they are with “hard” science fiction. There’s also a huge tradition to reference and build on.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for Free Chocolate?

Amber:  Before I wrote Free Chocolate, I did a chocolate-related cookbook to sell at events we were doing for the local herb society. The cookbook is currently out of print (though we are toying with the idea of expanding and re-releasing it) but a lot of the research I did for that cross-applied. The idea for the cookbook was sparked when we were in the Dominican Republic and got to tour a Cacao Plantation and came home with gorgeous photos of cacao pods and trees, and I built on that to explore how chocolate was used in both sweet and savory recipes from around the world.

I did more research specifically for Free Chocolate on chocolate production equipment, and I found out the hard way that most craft chocolate makers consider their process a carefully guarded secret and do not take kindly to requests for tours. So we made a couple of attempts at doing bean-to-bar chocolate in our kitchen, and went to the Dallas Chocolate Festival (not that we wouldn’t have gone again anyway), where the people selling small-scale processing equipment were more than happy to answer our choco-questions.

Shout out to the Dallas Chocolate Festival, and chocolate festivals in general: They are a great resource for learning about all aspects of chocolate, from the botany to the industry. And the vendors all bring samples -- and are happy to tell you what makes their particular chocolate special.

What you can tell from all of this: I’m obviously a very visual hands-on learner, and sometimes I pick up ideas that take years to percolate into something usable. When I can’t actually be there to experience what something feels/smells/tastes like or fire up a burner to try re-creating something at home, I turn to video first.

Parts of Free Chocolate are set in Brazil, near Rio, and while I’ve been in the rainforest, I’ve never been in THAT rainforest, so I watched a lot of YouTube video on what it sounds like there, and which animals you’re actually likely to run into.

I also did a lot of internet searches and library research. There were tons of little things I wasn’t sure about. How does sand act in an earthquake? Are there natural sources for salt in the rainforest? What happens to the human body if it is rapidly depressurized in space? Why don’t artificial lungs currently exist? The list goes on . . .

At the same time, this is science fiction, with aliens from a variety of planets. So there’s quite a bit of tech, botany, language and such that I flat out made up.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for Free Chocolate.

Amber:  The artist is Mingchen Shen. He is amazing! Angry Robot came up with the concept for the cover as a splash poster, like you would see for a new telenovela series coming out. So while it’s not a specific scene, it does give the flavor of the ‘verse. You have Bo and Brill, both looking thoughtful, and one of the Zantites looming over them. I love it! Brill looks just young enough and arrogant enough, and Bo looks perfectly paparazzi-princess glam.

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

Amber:  I’d have to say the easiest – and most fun -- was Chestla. She’s the RA at Bo’s cooking school – and an alpha predator on her home planet. Chestla’s the eternal optimist in Bo’s life, fierce and protective, and her outlook hasn’t been darkened by the tragic elements in her backstory. Her role in this first book was fairly straightforward, so she didn’t have a lot of complex moral decisions to struggle through. It was easy to figure out what she would do in any given situation, and her dialogue was a blast to write.

Frank was the hardest, and if I told you why . . . spoilers, darling, spoilers.

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

Amber:  Do you ever include “Easter Eggs” for your friends?

TOTALLY! I love that element of surprise and joy that comes when someone spots something in your work that is just for them. For instance, there’s a reptilian newscaster in Free Chocolate. He’s a minor character, and his name doesn’t really matter, so I named him after my nephew’s leopard gecko, Blizzard. It’s a minor thing, but it becomes a fun running gag. Throughout the series, you’ll catch glimpses of Blizzard and Feddoink in the Morning – because it’s always morning somewhere.

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

Amber:  When Brill (Bo’s boyfriend who happens to be from Krom, the planet that took samples of Earth’s resources at First Contact) first meets Frank (Mamá’s boyfriend, who apparently knew Bo’s deceased father), Frank implies that Krom as a species are untrustworthy. This is Brill, turning the tables while letting the reader in on a bit of worldbuilding, as he explains how the chromashift in his eyes works. Because Krom are nothing if not respectful, he’s using the term human rather than Earthling.
Those patterns are as important to Krom non-verbal communication as body language – and just as telling. Brill’s eyes right now are bright blue, tinged toward violet, showing he’s happy and a little amused as he says, “That’s a good question, Mr. Sawyer. Not many humans are that observant.” He leans forward and drops his voice, as though he’s sharing a particularly juicy secret. “We can lie, but it takes practice. The part of our brains that shunts chemicals to the iris is buried deep in the subconscious. You concentrate on an old memory until you believe that the memory – the lie – is more important than the present. Much the same way humans lie, I believe.”

TQYou are marooned on a distant planet, which types of chocolate would you want to have with you and why?

Amber:  That depends entirely on what you mean by marooned.

If you’re saying that my hypothetical spaceship’s been boarded by the more compassionate form of space pirate (you know – the ones who don’t just space everyone on board when they take a ship) and left somewhere without refrigeration, I’d want Mexican-style drinking chocolate (Abulita’s or Tazo) and Peanut M&Ms.

Chocolate in candy-bar form doesn’t do well with heat or moisture. Serious Eats says, “Chocolate keeps best between 65 and 70°F, away from direct sunlight, and protected from moisture.” This is because once chocolate melts, it loses its temper (that quality that allows it to snap when you break it) and becomes kind of bleh. This is one reason that, before electric refrigeration became common, most chocolate was produced in Europe, where the colder temperatures allowed for chocolate to be processed in ways that just didn’t make sense in the regions where the beans are grown. Before THAT, “eating” chocolate didn’t exist, because chocolate that’s been ground has a bit of grit to it.

Mexican-style chocolate disks (also known as stone-ground chocolate disks or tablets) are super-sturdy, don’t melt easily, are usually spiced with cinnamon -- and it doesn’t matter a whit if the ambient temperature gets a bit high, because they are meant to be dissolved into hot liquid and drunk. Which could go a long way towards making questionable water on an alien planet – which would need to be boiled anyway – more palatable.

M&Ms solve the melt problem differently. They just let it happen, and count on the candy coating to maintain the shape once the chocolate hardens again. In fact, they were designed as a non-meltable field ration during WWI. They also have a tradition in space, according to the Smithsonian Magazine:
“The most common form of chocolate flown today and throughout the 35-year history of the space shuttle program is M&Ms—or as NASA refers to them, “candy-coated chocolates”. Even now, M&Ms are part of the standard menu for astronauts serving stints aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Small volumes of the colorful candies are prepared in clear, nondescript packaging for each mission. . . . In many ways, M&Ms are the perfect space snack. They are bite-sized and, unlike other candies and foods, aren’t likely to crumble. “M&Ms are singular pieces that you can eat very easily, and you can eat multiples of them at one time. And because you’re not likely to bite one in half, you won’t make a mess,” Levasseur says.”
I’d choose the peanut ones if I was marooned without expectation of rescue, because that would offer a safe source of protein in a potentially hostile environment.

BUT if by marooned you mean that I’ve somehow fallen in with irresponsible friends who have ditched me without cash on a random planet, I’d want Ferrero Rocher. LOTS of Ferrero Rocher. The gold wrapping looks luxe, and in a number of real-world cultures both inside and outside the company’s native Europe, these candies have a reputation as a symbol of hospitality. It feels like that might translate, if I needed to show good intentions when say, begging for a ride, or explaining to the local authorities how I wound up on said planet in the first place. They’re also lightweight, individually wrapped and can be bought in their own crush-proof plastic cases. And if worst comes to worst, and I had to survive on them until I could figure out a better plan, the hazelnuts in the mix would at least be SOME protein.

I know none of the products I’ve described are the single-source craft chocolate bars you were probably expecting for an answer. I’ll tell you a secret. While I can chocolate-snob with the best of them (My husband and I attended a chocolate tasting recently where the presenters accidentally mixed up two of the samples, and we were like “there’s no way this is Amano, because this doesn’t match their flavor style” – and it wasn’t) and I LOVE a good single-source bar, I like certain grocery-store candy bars too (especially if they involve peanuts, hazelnuts or peanut butter.)

TQWhat's next?

AmberPure Chocolate will be coming May of next year. I had a ton of fun writing it, because it was a chance to crash all my favorite characters from Free Chocolate together in different ways, and move their arcs forward while giving them a chance to save the entire galaxy. You’ll get to visit several of the secondary characters’ home planets. If you like the first one, I think you’ll love Bo’s second adventure.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Amber:  Thank you for having me. I really enjoyed such thoughtful questions.


Free Chocolate
Chocoverse 1
Angry Robot, June 5, 2018
Trade Paperback and eBook, 448 pages

Interview with Amber Royer, author of Free Chocolate
In the far future, chocolate is Earth’s sole unique product – and it’s one that everyone else in the galaxy would kill to get their hands, paws, and tentacles on

Latina culinary arts student, Bo Benitez, becomes a fugitive when she’s caught stealing a cacao pod from the heavily-defended plantations that keep chocolate, Earth’s sole valuable export, safe from a hungry galaxy. Forces arraying against her including her alien boyfriend and a reptilian cop. But when she escapes onto an unmarked starship things go from bad to worse: it belongs to the race famed throughout the galaxy for eating stowaways. Surrounded by dangerous yet hunky aliens, Bo starts to uncover clues that the threat to Earth may be bigger than she first thought.

File Under: Science Fiction [ Heiress Apparent | Sticky Fingers | Pod People | The Milky Way ]

About Amber

Interview with Amber Royer, author of Free Chocolate
Amber Royer teaches enrichment and continuing education creative writing classes for teens and adults. She spent five years as a youth librarian, where she organized teen writers’ groups and teen writing contests. In addition to two cookbooks co-authored with her husband, Amber has published a number of articles on gardening, crafting and cooking for print and on-line publications.

Website  ~  Facebook  ~  Twitter @amber_royer

Interview with Cameron Johnston, author of The Traitor God

Please welcome Cameron Johnston to The Qwillery, as part of the 2018 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Traitor God was published on June 5th by Angry Robot.

Interview with Cameron Johnston, author of The Traitor God

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

Cameron:  I have vague recollections of writing Transformers fan-fiction as kid back in the 80s. I suspect Grimlock was the hero of the piece. How can you not love a T-Rex transformer?? Oh, wait, I've seen a film called Age of Extinction...never mind.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Cameron:  A pantser! I find if I try and write detailed plot outlines that it kills the joy of writing for me and the characters rebel. Instead I only have a bare scaffold of beginning, end, and a few important points that I want to hit along the journey.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Cameron:  Making the time to do it all. When you have books, TV/films, RPGs to play, swords to practice with, and a lovely wife to spend time with, it can be so easy to put writing off to another day. As for the writing itself, sometimes a plot is supposed to head to Y, but the character you have developed goes "Nope!" and wants to go to Z instead. It can be tricky to resolve those issues.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Cameron:  Too many media influences to list them all really. Old films like Night of the Demon and Quatermass and The Pit, pulp fantasy stories like Conan and Elric, the cosmic horror of HP Lovecraft, and comics like 2000AD and Hellblazer. I'm also heavily influenced by history, archaeology and mythology, with a great love of castles and other ancient sites.

TQDescribe The Traitor God in 140 characters or less.

Cameron:  I will go with two comparisons to see if I can get the flavour of the novel across:
-Hellblazer’s John Constantine meets swords & sorcery in a tale of revenge and Lovecraftian horror.
-Malazan meets grimdark urban fantasy.

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

Cameron:  It's not all relentlessly grim and dark. There is hope, bad jokes and black humour, and also decent people trying to do the right thing in horrendous situations.

TQWhat inspired you to write The Traitor God? What appeals to you about writing grimdark?

Cameron:  I used to strictly write 3rd person limited point of view, and as an experiment I tried 1st person PoV in a film-noir styled swords and sorcery short story - and it sucked me into this unexpectedly dark and dangerous world and demanded expanding into a whole novel. As for writing grimdark, it allows me to explore what characters do when everything has gone to hell - how do they keep going in the face of death and devastation? And how do they survive without becoming monsters themselves?

TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Traitor God?

Cameron:  Entirely too much research, 98% of which never made it into the book. Medieval sewage, tanning practices, ancient farming, magic tricks and mentalism, alchemy and ancient medicine...

TQPlease tell us about the cover for The Traitor God.

Cameron:  The cover art is all thanks to the amazing Jan Weßbecher. It depicts Edrin Walker crossing a bridge to the poorest area of the city, the Docklands, and in the background you can see the palaces of the Old Town on its high rock, where the magi and nobility live. In the background, and to scale, is a titanic black metal statue...yes, definitely a statue...

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

Cameron:  Charra was the easiest. She is a mother and a businesswoman out to do some good in the world. She has a very strict sense of right and wrong: she is right and others are wrong, and she has the knives and people to back it up. The hardest character to write was Walker himself - he is conflicted and broken and being pulled in so many directions. He walks a tightrope between magician and monster. The magic urges him to do one thing, his selfishness another, and his humanity that resists it is dwindling...

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

Cameron:  Walker was a gutter rat in Docklands before his magical Gift was discovered and he was plucked from poverty to become an initiate with the Arcanum that rules the city. With that, he straddles the lines between the rich and powerful and the destitute and desperate he still self-identifies with. It would be impossible not to delve into that social divide in some way.

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


Q: Did you purposely set out to create a high-magic setting?

A: Definitely! Things like A Song of Ice and Fire with its vague, looming magical threat and hints of magic was something that I wanted to get away from. I wanted it more like old pulp fantasy worlds of Conan and Elric. Big magic, dark gods and demons, magical weapons and horrific monsters.

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

Cameron:  The first is also the cover tagline, but I will expand upon that:
"This town was already doomed and I wasn’t going down with it. Heroism could get a man killed."

Another that I like:
"A daemon glitters in the moonlight, crystalline, many-eyed, scuttling towards him down the alley like a spider made of knives, its limbs all straight lines and jagged cutting edges."

TQIf you could build one structure from The Traitor God in LEGOs, which one would it be and why?

Cameron:  Oh dear. You have happened upon a hobby of mine. How can I possibly only build one thing out of LEGO? At a push I would go for a cityscape scene, with giant brick monsters fighting.

TQWhat's next?

Cameron:  A second novel in the series, The God of Broken Things, is coming next June, so watch this space.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Cameron:  Thank you for having me. It has been a pleasure.

The Traitor God
Angry Robot, June 5, 2018
Trade Paperback and eBook, 432 pages

Interview with Cameron Johnston, author of The Traitor God
A city threatened by unimaginable horrors must trust their most hated outcast, or lose everything, in this crushing epic fantasy debut.

After ten years on the run, dodging daemons and debt, reviled magician Edrin Walker returns home to avenge the brutal murder of his friend. Lynas had uncovered a terrible secret, something that threatened to devour the entire city. He tried to warn the Arcanum, the sorcerers who rule the city. He failed.

Lynas was skinned alive and Walker felt every cut. Now nothing will stop him from finding the murderer. Magi, mortals, daemons, and even the gods – Walker will burn them all if he has to.

After all, it wouldn’t be the first time he’s killed a god…

File Under: Fantasy [ Look Who’s Back | Blood Sorcery | Tyrants & Titans | Mind Mates ]

About Cameron

Interview with Cameron Johnston, author of The Traitor God
Cameron Johnston lives in Glasgow, Scotland, with his wife and an extremely fluffy cat. He is a swordsman, a gamer, an enthusiast of archaeology, history and mythology, a builder of LEGO, and owns far too many books to fit on his shelves. He loves exploring ancient sites and camping out under the stars by a roaring fire.

Website  ~  Twitter @CamJohnston

Covers Revealed - Upcoming Works by DAC Authors

Here are some of the upcoming works by formerly featured DAC Authors. The year in parentheses is the year the author was featured in the DAC.

Sebastien de Castell (2014)

Spellslinger 1
Orbit, July 17, 2018
Trade Paperback and eBook, 432 pages

Covers Revealed - Upcoming Works by DAC Authors
A would-be mage with no magic of his own has to defeat powerful enemies with only cunning and deception in the first book of an exciting adventure fantasy series from Sebastien de Castell.

Kellen is moments away from facing his first duel and proving his worth as a spellcaster. There’s just one problem: his magic is fading.

Facing exile unless he can pass the mage trials, Kellen is willing to risk everything – even his own life – in search of a way to restore his magic. But when the enigmatic Ferius Parfax arrives in town, she challenges him to take a different path.

One of the elusive Argosi, Ferius is a traveller who lives by her wits and the cards she carries. Daring, unpredictable, and wielding magic Kellen has never seen before, she may be his only hope.

The first novel in a compelling six-book series, bursting with tricks, humor, and a whole new way to look at magic.

Spellsplinger 2
Orbit, August 21, 2018
Trade Paperback and eBook, 384 pages

Covers Revealed - Upcoming Works by DAC Authors
A failed mage turned outlaw must use guile and a handful of spells to challenge a dangerous rival in the second book of an exciting adventure fantasy series from Sebastien de Castell.

With a death sentence hanging over his head, Kellen is forced to abandon his clan and his home. Living as an outlaw, he relies on his wits and allies, the mysterious wanderer Ferius and thieving squirrel cat Reiches, to survive the unforgiving borderlands.

Then he meets Seneira, a young woman cursed with a deadly plague by a ruthless mage. Similarly afflicted Kellen is compelled to help, and it’s not long before he’s entangled in a conspiracy of magic, blackmail and murder. Loyalties are tested as Kellen races to find the mage responsible before he can claim any more victims

The second novel in a compelling six-book series, bursting with tricks, humor, and a whole new way to look at magic.

Spellslinger 3
Orbit, September 18, 2018
Trade Paperback and eBook, 448 pages

Covers Revealed - Upcoming Works by DAC Authors
A failed mage learns that just because he’s not the chosen one it doesn’t mean he can’t be a hero in the third book of a new adventure fantasy series from Sebastien de Castell.

Spellslinger 4
Orbit, October 23, 2018
Trade Paperback and eBook, 400 pages

Covers Revealed - Upcoming Works by DAC Authors
A failed mage learns that just because he’s not the chosen one it doesn’t mean he can’t be a hero in the fourth book of a new adventure fantasy series from Sebastien de Castell.

Sean Grigsby (2018)

Daughters of Forgotten Light
Angry Robot Books, September 4, 2018
Trade Paperback and eBook, 400 pages

Covers Revealed - Upcoming Works by DAC Authors
A floating prison is home to Earth’s unwanted people, where they are forgotten… but not yet dead, in this wild science fiction adventure.

Deep space penal colony Oubliette, population: scum. Lena “Horror” Horowitz leads the Daughters of Forgotten Light, one of three vicious gangs fighting for survival on Oubliette. Their fragile truce is shaken when a new shipment arrives from Earth carrying a fresh batch of prisoners and supplies to squabble over. But the delivery includes two new surprises: a drone, and a baby. Earth Senator Linda Dolfuse wants evidence of the bloodthirsty gangs to justify the government finally eradicating the wasters dumped on Oubliette. There’s only one problem: the baby in the drone’s video may be hers.

File Under: Science Fiction [ Banged Up |Out of Mind |Girls Gone Bad | Moppet in Space ]

Tristan Palmgren (2018)

Angry Robot Books, November 6, 2018
Trade Paperback and eBook

Covers Revealed - Upcoming Works by DAC Authors
Operatives from an advanced alien culture struggle to survive in medieval Italy, in the SF sequel to the astonishing Quietus.

The transdimensional empire, the Unity, has dissolved. Its rulers and agents have been exiled, stranded across a thousand planes of existence. Empires don’t die gladly. The living planarship Ways and Means has ended the Black Death ravaging medieval Europe, but it has bigger plans for Earth. Someone is trying to kill former Unity agent Osia. Spy-turned-anthropologist Meloku becomes a target, too, when she catches the planarship hiding the extent of its meddling. While they fight to survive, Fiametta – Italian soldier, mercenary, and heretical preacher – raises an army and a religious revolt, aiming to split her world in half.

File Under: Science Fiction [ Last Throes | The Saviour | Let It Burn | Crisis of Faith ]

Melanie's Week in Review - February 25, 2018

Melanie's Week in Review - February 25, 2018

Fear not gentle reader, I am back with my Week in Review :)  I thought I would give you a short break from my WIR and share two of my SPFBO 2017 reviews. I hope you enjoyed them. Keep your eye on the blog for reviews from my fellow Qwillery reviewers on what they thought of the books they read for the competition.

I had a little pooch at NetGalley this week and was surprised by two books I had read last year but hadn't yet reviewed.  Lately books have been available months before their publish date and then I get all excited about reading them. This time I had convinced myself that I had actually posted a review here but after some checking it transpired I hadn't left you a review so check out what I read.

Melanie's Week in Review - February 25, 2018
First up is The Queen of All Crows by Rod Duncan which is the first instalment of The Map of Unknown Things, published by Angry Robot on January 2nd. This series is set in the same world as Duncan's The Fall of the Gas-lit Empire series with Elizabeth Barnabus back in her role of spy but this time with the dreaded Patent Office. When airships start to disappear, along with someone close to Elizabeth, she decides to take action and goes undercover, again as a man. As the science officer on a whaler far out to sea Elizabeth is desperate to find out what has happened and more importantly, who is responsible. Elizabeth finds herself in the middle of a mystery and in more danger than anything the Patent Office could do to her. It will take every ounce of her ingenuity and bravery to discover what has happened and survive long enough to report back.

I loved Duncan's The Fall of the Gas-lit Empire series and thought that Elizabeth was a complex, gutsy heroine. Normally, I am a bit nervous when an author creates a new series for one their characters as it usually means they don't want to let go and new books usually aren't as good. I prefer a shorter, excellent series than a long mediocre, drawn out one. However, Duncan doesn't disappoint and this is an excellent start to what I feel is going to be a compelling series. At the beginning of the story I had pretty much guessed what was going to happen, but midway through every thing changed and I couldn't really guess what was going to become of Elizabeth. This is a difficult book to review because I don't want to give anything away. I want you to discover what happens to Elizabeth on your own because it is such a tasty tale. I have read too many reviews that spell everything out and basically rewrite the book so I don't want to do that here. What I can say is that Duncan fleshes out Elizabeth even more and the new landscape in which this story is set is rich and bleak in equal measure. If I had to sum up this story I would describe it as a story of the power of friendship. Cruel, beautiful, warm, and chillingly lonely. It's all these things and a great mystery as well. If you haven't read the original series don't miss out and then join Elizabeth in The Queen of All Crows.

Melanie's Week in Review - February 25, 2018
The second book I would like to tell you about is The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden. This is the second in her Winternight Trilogy and follows not long after the events of book 1 - The Bear and the Nightingale. Vasya is on the run. She has been cast out of her village following the death of her father and she faces either being married off  - to become a girl in a tower - or joining a convent. Neither option appeals to her so when the opportunity presents itself she disguises herself as a boy and joins the Grand Prince of Moscow's retinue. When a mysterious and possibly magical force threatens the kingdom Vasya risks everything, including her freedom, to save the Prince, her family and her kingdom.

I can't believe that it is less than a year from the time that Arden released her debut The Bear and the Nightingale (check out my review here). Book 2 does not disappoint. In fact Arden has built upon the strengths of these characters and takes this from a mere fairy tale into some more like folklore. While this is fiction Arden has created characters who are credible, who make you believe they were actually alive, centuries ago. I have to admit I did spend a lot of the story thinking to myself  'poor Vasya' as things seem to go from bad to worse for our teenage heroine. She is forced to grow up quickly but at the same time stays innocent from how cruel the world can really be.

Again, this is another book that I could recount half the plot for you in this review but why would I ruin the journey that you need to take? Join Vasya on her journey of self discovery. Well done Arden, another great book. I can hardly wait for the final in this trilogy, The Winter of the Witch.

That is it for me this week. Apologies for not getting these reviews to you sooner. Better late than never! Until next time Happy Reading.

The Queen of All Crows
The Map of Unknown Things 1
Angry Robot Books, January 2, 2018
Trade Paperback and eBook, 352 pages

Melanie's Week in Review - February 25, 2018
Only one woman can stop the world from descending into endless war, in the thrilling new series in the world of the Gas-Lit Empire
The year is 2012 but it might as well be the Victorian age. The nations of the world are overseen by the International Patent Office, and its ruthless stranglehold on technology.

When airships start disappearing in the middle of the Atlantic, the Patent Office is desperate to discover what has happened. Forbidden to operate beyond the territorial waters of member nations, they send spies to investigate in secret.

One of those spies is Elizabeth Barnabus. She must overcome her dislike of the machinations of her employers, disguise herself as a man, and take to the sea in search of the floating nation of pirates who threaten the world order.

File Under: Fantasy [ A Lost Airship | On the Sargasso | Stowaway Bay | The Crow Queen ]

The Girl in the Tower
Winternight Trilogy 2
Del Rey, December 5, 2017
Hardcover and eBook, 384 pages

Melanie's Week in Review - February 25, 2018
A remarkable young woman blazes her own trail, from the backwoods of Russia to the court of Moscow, in the exhilarating sequel to Katherine Arden’s bestselling debut novel, The Bear and the Nightingale.

Katherine Arden’s enchanting first novel introduced readers to an irresistible heroine. Vasilisa has grown up at the edge of a Russian wilderness, where snowdrifts reach the eaves of her family’s wooden house and there is truth in the fairy tales told around the fire. Vasilisa’s gift for seeing what others do not won her the attention of Morozko—Frost, the winter demon from the stories—and together they saved her people from destruction. But Frost’s aid comes at a cost, and her people have condemned her as a witch.

Now Vasilisa faces an impossible choice. Driven from her home by frightened villagers, the only options left for her are marriage or the convent. She cannot bring herself to accept either fate and instead chooses adventure, dressing herself as a boy and setting off astride her magnificent stallion Solovey.

But after Vasilisa prevails in a skirmish with bandits, everything changes. The Grand Prince of Moscow anoints her a hero for her exploits, and she is reunited with her beloved sister and brother, who are now part of the Grand Prince’s inner circle. She dares not reveal to the court that she is a girl, for if her deception were discovered it would have terrible consequences for herself and her family. Before she can untangle herself from Moscow’s intrigues—and as Frost provides counsel that may or may not be trustworthy—she will also confront an even graver threat lying in wait for all of Moscow itself.

Guest Blog by Peter McLean, author of the Burned Man Novels, and Giveaway

Please welcome Peter McLean to The Qwillery. Damnation, the 3rd Burned Man Novel, was published on May 2nd by Angry Robot. You should read this series!

Guest Blog by Peter McLean, author of the Burned Man Novels, and Giveaway

Urban Fantasy: The YA Gateway Drug?

It has apparently been asserted on Twitter (I know, what hasn’t?) that urban fantasy makes for an easy crossover between Young Adult and Adult fantasy fiction, that it’s a “gateway drug” for teens to discover adult fantasy such as A Song Of Ice And Fire or The First Law.

Someone brought this to my attention, saying she thought it was hilarious that books like Ben Aaronovitch’s or mine should be read by young adults and citing the swearing and the violence contained in them as reasons why not. You don’t get violence and swearing in “kids’ books”, right? That’s an interesting point and I can see where she’s coming from, but consider this:

Category Young Adult fiction is marketed at 13-18 year olds, with Middle Grade being the younger market of 8-12 year olds. I’m sure there’s a degree of fudge factor in there depending which publisher’s marketing department you speak to, but that’s roughly how it works. Now, I certainly wouldn’t want an 8 year old reading my books, or even most 13 year olds, but 15+ is a different matter. When I was that age I was reading Stephen King and James Herbert and even Herbert Kastle when nobody was looking (yes, those are pure violence and filth, I admit it) and so was nearly every other lad in my year at school.

Teenagers do things we might like to pretend they don’t, but that doesn’t change the fact of it. Modern YA fiction doesn’t shy away from these things, either. The last YA novel I read was Sarah Pinborough’s brilliant 13 Minutes, and if you read that book you’ll see what I mean. Teenagers do swear and they do take drugs and have sex, and sometimes they kill people too, both in the book and in real life. You can debate whether or not they should until the cows come home, but that doesn’t change the fact that they do. Yes some 16 year-olds are still emotionally and developmentally “kids”, but some (in the UK at least) are already in the army at that age and they really aren’t.

So no, I don’t think swearing and violence makes a book unsuitable for (later) teens. The difference between YA and adult fiction isn’t the swearing and violence, it’s the underlying themes of the story and the life experiences of the characters. Protagonists in YA are usually the same age or a year or two older at most than the target market for the book, so are generally teenagers in the 15-19 year old range. There is a lot more to modern YA fiction than the tried and tested “coming of age story”, and to suggest otherwise does a great disservice to the genre, but not withstanding that YA stories are by definition about things that affect, or are relatable to their target audience. There’s some really great YA fiction about drug dependency, about teenage pregnancy, about self-harm and eating disorders, but as far as I know there is no YA fiction about going through a bitter divorce or trying to find a way to afford to put your kids through college.

Those are adult experiences, not teenage ones, and the themes they would explore (having wasted the best years of your life, social failure, financial stress, wanting your children to have a better life than you had) are broadly adult themes rather than teen ones. That, I think, is the underlying thread that makes my books and Ben’s firmly adult novels. My main character Don Drake is a seedy forty-something magician, not a hip young vampire slayer. His personal demons are long-term addiction, his deeply-buried memories of domestic abuse from a decade when it just wasn’t talked about, and a desperate need not to turn into the man that his father was at his age. Those are adult themes and while I’d be happy to let a 15 year-old read Drake or any of the rest of my books I’m not sure how much of it they would or even could relate to on a personal level.

So no, I don’t think adult urban fantasy is intrinsically unsuitable for teens but neither do I think it is necessarily their obvious first step into adult fantasy in general. These days, that gateway drug is television. Game of Thrones has been a phenomenal success worldwide, and I suspect that a good number of teens have been watching the show despite HBO putting an 18+ rating on it. For those who haven’t, there’s MTV’s Sword of Shannara, or “Beverly Hills 9021Elf” as I’ve heard some wag describe it, and of course the Lord of the Rings movies. Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time is coming to television soon too, apparently.

If I ever write a YA novel, and one day I just might, it’ll be the themes that are the most different from my existing writing. I’ll probably swear a bit less, too, but only a bit.

They’ve heard it all on the Internet already anyway.

A Burned Man Novel 3
Angry Robot, May 2, 2017
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 352 pages

Guest Blog by Peter McLean, author of the Burned Man Novels, and Giveaway
Don Drake is living rough in a sink estate on the outskirts of Edinburgh, doing cheap spells for even cheaper customers while fending off the local lowlifes. Six months ago, Don fled from London to Glasgow to track down his old girlfriend Debbie the alchemist.

With the Burned Man gradually driving him mad, Don meets with an ancient and mysterious tramp-slash-magician, with disastrous consequences. Now his old accomplices must step in to save Don from himself, before he damns himself for good this time.

File Under: Urban Fantasy [ Fallen So Far | Smacked Up | Devil Don’t Care | Hell or Heaven ]


A Burned Man Novel 1
Angry Robot Books, January 5, 2015
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 320 pages

Guest Blog by Peter McLean, author of the Burned Man Novels, and Giveaway
Hitman Don Drake owes a gambling debt to a demon. Forced to carry out one more assassination to clear his debt, Don unwittingly kills an innocent child and brings the Furies of Greek myth down upon himself.

Rescued by an almost-fallen angel called Trixie, Don and his magical accomplice the Burned Man, an imprisoned archdemon, are forced to deal with Lucifer himself whilst battling a powerful evil magician.

Now Don must foil Lucifer’s plan to complete Trixie’s fall and save her soul whilst preventing the Burned Man from breaking free from captivity and wreaking havoc on the entire world.

File Under: Urban Fantasy [ One Last Hit / Both Ends Burning / Going Underground / London’s Finest ]

See Qwill's Review here.

A Burned Man Novel 2
Angry Robot, November 1, 2016
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 336 pages

Guest Blog by Peter McLean, author of the Burned Man Novels, and Giveaway
In the tunnels deep under London, the Earth Elementals are dying.

Hunted by something they know only as the Rotman, the Elementals have no one trustworthy they can turn to. Enter Don Drake, drunken diabolist and semi-reformed hitman, and an almost-fallen angel called Trixie.

When Don learns that Rotman is actually the archdemon Bianakith, he knows this is going to be a tough job. The fiend is the foretold spirit of disease and decay whose aura corrupts everything it comes near, and even the most ancient foundations of London will crumble eventually. Now Don, Trixie and his ever-annoying patron the Burned Man have to hatch a plan to keep Bianakith from wiping out the Elementals and bringing down the city. But the Burned Man has other plans and those may have dire consequences for everyone.

The past never stays buried, and old sins must be atoned for. Judgement is coming, and its name is Dominion.

File Under: Urban Fantasy [ The Devil You Knew / Deeped & Down / Great Irresponsibility / London’s Burning ]

See Qwill's Review here.

About Peter

Guest Blog by Peter McLean, author of the Burned Man Novels, and Giveaway
Peter McLean was born near London in 1972, the son of a bank manager and an English teacher. He went to school in the shadow of Norwich Cathedral where he spent most of his time making up stories.

By the time he left school this was probably the thing he was best at, alongside the Taoist kung fu he had begun studying since the age of 13. He grew up in the Norwich alternative scene, alternating dingy nightclubs with studying martial arts and practical magic.

He has since grown up a bit, if not a lot, and spent 25 years working in corporate IT. He is married to Diane and is still making up stories.

You can find Peter online at his website, on Twitter @petemc666 and on Facebook.

The Giveaway

What:  Three sets (three winners - 1 set each) of the Burned Man Novels Drake, Dominion and Damnation by Peter McLean from the publisher. INTERNATIONAL

  • Send an email to theqwillery . contests @ [remove the spaces]
  • In the subject line, enter “Burned Man“ with or without the quote marks.
  • In the body of the email, please provide your name and full mailing address. The winning address is used only to mail the novel(s) and is provided to the publisher and/or The Qwillery only for that purpose. All other address information will be deleted by The Qwillery once the giveaway ends.
Who:  The giveaway is open to all humans on the planet earth with a mailing address.

When:  The giveaway ends at 11:59 PM US Eastern Time on June 4, 2017. Void where prohibited by law. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 years old or older to enter.

*Giveaway rules and duration are subject to change without any notice.*

Interview with Ada Hoffmann, author of The OutsideMelanie's Month in Review - April 2019Interview with Lauren C. Teffeau, author of ImplantedMelanie's Week in Review - July 15, 2018Interview with TJ Berry, author of Space Unicorn BluesInterview with Amber Royer, author of Free ChocolateInterview with Cameron Johnston, author of The Traitor GodCovers Revealed - Upcoming Works by DAC AuthorsMelanie's Week in Review - February 25, 2018Guest Blog by Peter McLean, author of the Burned Man Novels, and Giveaway

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