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The Qwillery

A blog about books and other things speculative

Nicki Rapp: The Road to Psychonauts 2

Nicki Rapp: The Road to Psychonauts 2
A Look Inside the Mind, of the Voice, of Lili Zanotto

Written by: Mitchell Walter Maknis

Image courtesy of Nikki Rapp

At the tail-end of gaming’s sixth console generation, Tim Schafer pushed the envelope of conventional game design by injecting players into a bizarre world filled with psychedelic puzzles, zany acrobatics, and bacon. The resulting cult phenomenon Psychonauts (2005) has since become a timeless classic. After almost two decades and a VR spinoff (Rhombus of Ruin (2017)) later, the long-awaited sequel Psychonauts 2 (2021) has remained a fixture within the minds of gamers. So, the question remains; what has kept this IP relevant within the psyche of the gaming community sixteen years later?

Perhaps, it’s iconic verbatims such as “Oh my god! Let’s make out!” that quickly harken fans back to that hypnotic moment shared between gifted psychics Lili Zanotto (Nicki Rapp) and Razputin (Richard Horvitz). These performances are nostalgic, for both the fans and the actors who created them. “I love [Lili’s] intelligence and sassiness; she doesn’t take any shit, she’s just awesome” affectionately confessed Nicki Rapp. “I have met so many fans who connected with [the game]. I love the message that Double Fine so tenderly, yet brilliantly produced about mental health, helping people feel less alone.” Rapp, who portrayed Lili in the original game, lights up any room or convention hall she enters. In truth, she just needs to take her vocal pitch a little bit higher, and gamers would be awestruck to realize they are talking to the real-life Lili Zanotto. Nicki Rapp takes fans for a walk through her cognitive landscape to hear her thoughts about her career in a changing industry, and her journey to Psychonauts 2.

Rapp's foray into the arts began in in the sixth grade when she was signed up for choir class by her mother. Her interests began to peak in Junior High when she became involved with the school’s theater program. “I was shy about my experience at first, but I really enjoyed singing” cited the actor on the wire from her L.A. home. “[Later,] I realized I loved acting; it helped bring me out of myself and it was something I was good at.” Rapp was indeed a bona fide theater nerd, performing in show after show, in musicals and stage plays alike. “Acting wasn’t anything I thought I was going to choose as a career. But it felt cool to escape from myself and be someone else for a while, so I just kept going.”

Subsequently, by a friend’s suggestion she did keep going, and after a lengthy road trip, Rapp successfully matriculated into the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. “When I got in, I was shocked” she exclaimed “It was the first time I was able focus on something I loved completely.” Nearing the end of her second year, Rapp was pulled aside by the director of the school and was told that because of the way her voice sounded, she was not going to get any work as an actor after she graduated. “I didn’t understand.” She confessed “They cast me in all these crazy roles. I even got to play my dream part of Anne Frank (“The Diary of Anne Frank”) and I pulled that one off even when the professors teased me saying I was too old to play her.”

Rapp had devoted her life to acting since she was twelve, and at that point a career in voice-work never crossed her mind. “Many voice actors start out knowing that that’s what they want to do. I didn’t” She stated, “I just never thought I was as good as anyone else.” She was directionless. “People always made fun of the sound of my voice.” She admits “I honestly thought [my voice] was going to be the thing that would hold me back from everything.” However, everything changed when she was introduced to a voice-over school near San Francisco by her father. “My dad told me the woman who ran the place had a voice just like mine, he wanted to help me get in.”

After graduating from drama school at age 23, she shifted gears to voice-acting and that’s when things started to click. “It was beautiful.” She reminisced “I was just in there by myself, and the solitude gave me the ability to create without restrictions. When I’m inside the recording booth I don’t have to think about stage blocking or editing my body language. That’s why I love voice acting, it’s like acting for introverts.” Although Rapp admits there were some dream roles she would have loved to have had the chance to play on stage, she is happiest now when she is creating characters.

“I booked the part [of Lili Zanotto] in early 2000 and after I was done recording, it took five years for the game to come out.” Incidentally, “that’s how [the development] of Psychonauts 2 has gone.” The role of Lili Zanotto garnered a loyal fanbase that opened the door to other creative opportunities. “I have a lot of gratitude for [casting director] Khris Brown. She’s the one who auditioned me for Psychonauts and Broken Age (2014). It’s because of her I’ve had some of the greatest parts of my life.” Beckoning the question, what was it like for Rapp developing the character of Lili Zonatto in such a unique world? “When I was cast, I was so fresh and new to voice-acting” declared Rapp “I remember being in awe of [Lili’s] dialogue and, there is a depth to be discovered beyond the vivid colors and snappy dialogue in the story of Psychonauts.”

MWM: Could you elaborate your exact mind-frame when started recording for the character?

NR: When recording my role, I had to keep a fine line between her sarcasm and sweetness. Lili is a very intelligent girl, [with] a lotta powers. She isn't mean, but she definitely keeps it real, especially when it involves Raz. She may be wise beyond her years, but she is still a little girl in a crazy reality. It was a roller coaster of "what's next?" in the best way. I love the imagination involved in this game and how much it opens my mind as well.

MWM: After your time on Psychonauts, what do you consider to be your next breakthrough role?

NR: It would have to be Morgan LeFlay from [Telltale/LucasArts] Tales of Monkey Island (2009). She was a new addition to the series and when I auditioned for her, I didn’t have a picture of the character to work with, I only had a description of what they wanted.

MWM: What was the description?

NR: A cross between Rosario Dawson and Cameron Diaz. Honestly though, I did not know how to approach that in a voice-over context. So, what I took from the script was that Morgan LeFlay was definitely a badass, but she also had a crush on [series lead] Guybrush Threepwood and fangirled over him. I leaned towards that aspect more than anything else. After I was cast [the game’s writer and director] Mark Darin told me, ‘We had a totally different idea for this character, but you brought something different that we all loved.’

MWM: Considering you worked with the company again in Sam and Max: The Devil’s Playhouse (2010) after Tales of Monkey Island. It’s safe to say you left an impression on the staff at Telltale Games.

NR: I suppose you can say that. In those days when I was recording for Telltale Games, I used to go record at a dear friend’s studio in the San Francisco Bay area. Unfortunately, he has since passed away. He was my cheerleader and would recommend me for roles. I loved recording at his studio especially since it was an environment working with people I trust. [That studio] was where I first worked with Sean Vanaman and Jake Rodkin (Now of Campo Santo Productions). Those two are Psychonauts fans and after our time working together on Tales of Monkey Island, they wanted me for a game they’d written called The Walking Dead (2012).

MWM: Enter Lilly Caul, she may share a name with your Psychonauts roots. That’s as far as the similarities go. She’s a polar opposite in terms of personality; a drastic change from what your fans would expect.

NR: I’m really proud of that role. Nobody thinks it’s me. It’s crazy to think that I almost didn’t do the audition.

MWM: Is there a reason why?

NR: Yes. That day I was just pissed off and mad at the world. But after I read the script, Lilly matched how I was feeling, and her voice just came out. I am so grateful that I was cast as Lilly. [I thought], I’ll always be cast as kids. Even while I was auditioning for TWD, I was also reading for Clementine, and I came close to being cast in [Melissa Hutcherson’s] role. Finding that voice and that character helped me realize what else I could do. That’s why I like doing video games, you really get to play that character.

MWM: Throughout your twenty-plus years in the voice-acting profession you’ve worked on gaming titles such as Brooktown High (2007), Obscure: The Aftermath (2007), XCOM Enemy Unknown (2012) as well as a few animated programs like Cartoon Network’s Long Live The Royals (2015). Now, looking back at your career what do you consider your longest character journey?

NR: The Sims. [In 2002] I auditioned for The Sims 2 inside this little studio. I had to improvise (Simlish) sounds and match it to this kid’s animation on this tiny TV. One of my favorite exercises from drama school was when I had to perform scenes in complete gibberish. I guess I’m good at making words up on the spot because I was cast two months later. It was good for my brain to speak Simlish and think on the spot. When they were auditioning for The Sims 3, I ended up being the only actor they kept on staff. I was even asked to direct the last three expansion packs [of that particular installment].

MWM: What was it like being on the other side of the booth, in the director’s chair for The Sims 3?

NR: It was a good creative lesson but directing wasn’t anything I had aspired to do. When they asked me to do it, I was like ‘wait really?’ It did make sense having me direct, since I worked on the series for so long and I knew how exhausting it could get improvising Simlish for six-hours. I just love the days when I get to be in the booth so when I was directing, I just kept thinking about how much I wanted to be in the booth with them.

MWM: Out of all the characters you have created. Which ones are you most proud of?

NR: “Definitely my Lilly’s. Lili from Psychonauts is my favorite as far as just being uplifting and happy. But then on the other hand when you go to my other Lilly on the TWD, she’s special because playing her I had to do some of the most challenging acting I’ve ever done.”

MWM: Could you elaborate?

NR: First off, I was shocked when I booked the part. Second, playing Lilly really stressed me out, it was the most challenging acting I’ve ever done. It was difficult to put myself in those grim situations I had no life experience for. I didn’t know how else to approach the emotional depth of the subject matter, so I had to throw myself into it completely. After I finished recording Episode 2 everybody in the studio thought I was losing my mind.

MWM: You’ve mentioned Lili Zanotto and Lilly Caul but there was also a third completely different Lily you played in Firewatch (2016).

NR: Yes! She was completely different. That Lily was a drunk, skinny dipping brat! That was really fun because Sean and Jake sent me an email that basically said, ‘we are doing this game [and] we want you to be in it.’ So, I was like alright. I recorded my role in my souped-up closet studio and the rest is history. That game is just a beautiful thing.

MWM: Was the Lili namesake throughout these multiple properties a coincidence?

NR: Partially, I mean Psychonauts was first, then in TWD Sean and Jake joked saying ‘we have to cast you as Lilly Caul because you played Lili in Psychonauts.’ But when the two of them asked me to be in Firewatch they named her Lily on purpose. They said’ it was so that the people in the know would know.’ The greatest compliments I get is when people say to me ‘wait you played these characters? You don’t even sound like them!’ Ya that’s because I’m a voice actor. (stated with humor) I’ve learned that every character I play, I bring a part of myself into them and that’s what makes a personality really special.

MWM: That’s quite the accomplishment.

NR: Right? The thing that I find interesting about a lot of the characters that I’ve played is that in their own way they are all badasses, and I like that. I love that I get to play these characters who don’t take shit, who are tough and tell you like it is. I’m not sure how much of a badass I am.

MWM: After everything we’ve discussed. The risks you’ve taken and the roles you’ve personified in your life. It’s safe to say there is a badass in you.

NR: You’re right! There is a badass in me. Especially when I think of the things I have done in my life. The truth is this business is hard. In this industry you have to find your place, but you also have to keep going further than what you think you can do. I’ll tell you what, when I auditioned for XCOM Enemy Unknown (2012) I was living in San Francisco. For that game it was a situation where if I booked the part, I would have to pay my own fare to LA to record. After that session, I literally ruined my voice for three days because it was a lot of screaming. There are some days I really do miss San Francisco. I was working a lot more there in the Bay Area than I have been since I moved to L.A. I just wish that all these characters I played like Morgan LeFlay had a longer life than they did. Even with The Sims. I was a part of that franchise for twelve years, so it was a bummer when they didn’t bring any actors back for The Sims 4. For the longest time I didn’t think any of these characters would come back.

MWM: Well as a fan of these characters I personally was thrilled to see them make their triumphant comebacks. Lilly Caul blew the gaming community away when she returned for TWD’s final season and now Lili Zanotto is back for Psychonauts 2. What was it like playing these characters again after all this time?

NR: When I read the script for [TWD], I was scared to see how fans were going to react to Lilly. I mean, she changed. She became a villain. Don’t get me wrong, it was fun to play someone so unapologetically bad. But I started to panic a little about how it’d be received. Then, when I heard that Psychonauts was back I was so happy. [Lili Zanotto’s] story revolves around her mission to try and rescue her father. She has a different tone now and it felt good to revisit and explore her in that mind-frame. It was also great because for the first time in over a year I got to record in a real studio with a real engineer!

MWM: I believe I speak for our readers when I say how thrilled we are to hear your voice return through Lili Zanotto once again. But before we wrap up this interview, do you have any final thoughts you want to share to the PSI-Cadets who’ve been anticipating Psychonauts 2 for as long as you?

NR: I just have a lot of gratitude for all of this. The fans I meet at conventions have kept these characters and these games alive all these years. I attended the E3 2019 Psychonauts 2 demo showcase. No one knew I was in there sitting with the audience while they watched the demo. I was in the thick of it. I got to hear people enjoying the demo and laugh at my dialogue. It was so special; the joy people bring me makes me feel that I am doing what I’m supposed to be doing.

Nicki Rapp: The Road to Psychonauts 2
Photo courtesy of Nikki Rapp

Rapp has proven herself to be artist who defies stereotypes. No matter what life may throw at her, she continues to follow her life’s path, creating inimitable characters and performances along the way. Follow Nicki Rapp on Twitter @itsuhrapp and IG @nickirapp and don’t forget to pick up a copy of Psychonauts 2 in its physical or digital editions.

Interview with Justin Woolley

Please welcome Justin Woolley to The Qwillery. Shakedowners was published on June 14, 2021 by Lonely Robot Books.

TQWelcome to The Qwillery. Are you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Justin:  Ah, the single question capable of causing a room of authors to descend into hours of argument. It's most likely my engineering background but I am absolutely a plotter. I plan out my novels in detail before I start writing them. I know a lot of authors feel like doing this removes some creativity or discovery in the process of writing the first draft but I find that having a scaffold in place gives you room to be more creative. It removes the cognitive load of having to think about plot and gives you freedom to apply your full creativity in the scene you're currently working on.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Justin:  Authors always have strengths and weaknesses when it comes to the actual craft of writing but outside of always trying to improve at the craft itself my biggest challenge when it comes to writing is time. I, like most writers, still have a job outside of my writing and a family and other commitments so scraping out more than an hour or two of dedicated writing time is hard. The upside to this is I've become very good at writing just about anywhere on just about anything that can make a mark on paper.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Justin:  My writing has many influences but if I had to reduce it down to a few major influences they would be: my background as an aerospace engineer which comes in particularly handy when writing science fiction and being exposed to fantasy and science fiction from a very young age. My biggest author influence would probably be Terry Pratchett. I absolutely devoured the Discworld series as a teenager and it changed my view of what fantasy and all genre fiction could be.

TQDescribe Shakedowners using only 5 words.

Justin:  Star Trek crewed by misfits.

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

Justin:  It's not explicitly stated in the book description but I hope it comes across in the book itself - Shakedowners was the most fun I've ever had writing a book!

TQWhat inspired you to write Shakedowners?

Justin:  In a lot of ways Shakedowners was inspired by my early exposure to two things, Star Trek and British comedy. Both thanks to my father. When I was six or seven my Dad started collecting every episode of Star Trek: The Original Series on VHS tapes through a subscription service and this was soon followed by Star Trek: The Next Generation. I watched both these shows from beginning to end more than once growing up and Star Trek became my first science-fiction love. On top of this Dad had another love he shared with me, Monty Python and that very British brand of absurdist comedy. Eventually I discovered Red Dwarf and Douglas Adams and saw that you could combine these two things into something spectacular. Shakedowners is basically my homage to these influences.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for Shakedowners?

JustinShakedowners is certainly not hard science-fiction but one thing I pride myself on is using both my aerospace engineering background and research into the latest science to at least make much of the science plausible. Rather than just hand-waving problems like faster than light travel and space flight away I took the time to design technologies that, while fictional, actually address real issues with the physics of space-travel and communication across vast interstellar distances. This meant research into cutting-edge science like quantum entanglement and possible solutions to relativistic effects of space travel. I also ground the technology in ways that are realistic according to our current best understanding of physics, no laser-swords here.

TQWhat is Captain Iridius B. Franklin's favorite alien bar and favorite alien cocktail?

Justin:  Iridius's favourite bar is a little place on Procyon C called 'Arsonic Atmospheric' and he's partial to a Grantakian Razor Vodka on hallucinogenic ice.

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

Justin:  I think the easiest character in Shakedowners to write was Ensign Benjamin Rangi who is the helmsmen. He's the most outwardly comedic of the characters and his actions and dialogue just seemed to flow so easily. On the flip side the most difficult to write was the major antagonist of the story an alien synthetic lifeform that calls itself the Aegix. The Aegix was difficult to write because it is an artificially intelligent hive-mind. This meant trying to write a character that was comprised of a swarm of smaller life-forms and so had no real sense of singular identity and is also highly intelligent - vastly more so than a human. This meant trying to give the enemy a motivation that the reader understands but still doesn't seem to fully grasp - just like the characters in the story.

TQDoes Shakedowners touch on any social issues?

JustinShakedowners is by-and-large written to be an entertaining piece of science-fiction comedy but it's my view that all fiction touches on social issues whether the author does so willingly or not. In Shakedowners there is a subtle undercurrent throughout the piece that I've definitively included on purpose. It's certainly not front and centre in the narrative but I have included some discussion for the discerning reader about whether the seeming utopia of the Galactic Federation is quite as perfect as it seems. There are also indications that despite advancements in many ways humanity still has a habit of leaving a trail of destruction in its wake.

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

Justin:  Excuse me Justin, would you like to sign this movie option contract for Shakedowners with a blue pen or a black pen?

I'll take the blue one please.

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

Justin:  That is such a hard question! I'm going to cheat and say the opening of the actual story after the captain's log.

"No one in the universe would consider the FSC Diesel Coast an attractive ship. It was a hauler, a starship built purely for function, with as much thought put into aesthetics as a sledgehammer puts into the meaning of life."

I like this line because it is introducing the ship but it is also subtly telling you about the crew inside too.

TQWhat's next?

Justin:  Right now I'm working hard on the sequel to Shakedowners. I'm hoping to have it completed quite quickly so that readers don't have to wait too long for the continuing adventures of Captain Iridius Franklin and his crew!

Lonely Robot Books, June 14, 2021
Trade Paperback and Kindle eBook, 298 pages
To boldly go where no losers have gone before...

Some starship captains explore strange new worlds, seeking out new life and new civilisations. Some lead missions of discovery through wormholes to the other side of the galaxy. Then there's Captain Iridius B. Franklin, someone who spent too long seeking out strange new bars and new alien cocktails.

After graduating bottom of his class at Space Command Academy Iridius Franklin hasn't had the glamorous career he envisioned, instead he hauls cargo ships full of mining waste, alien land whale dung, and artificially intelligent toy dogs across the stars.

Iridius does have talent though - he is exceptionally good at breaking starships. So, when not hauling freight, he is captain of a shakedown crew, a skeleton crew used to test newly constructed ships for faults before the real crew takes over.

While on a routine shakedown mission aboard the FSC Gallaway, soon to be pride of the Federation Fleet, Earth is attacked by an unknown alien life-form. With the galaxy in chaos, Captain Iridius B. Franklin finds himself, unqualified, understaffed and completely unprepared, in command of the most advanced starship in the galaxy.

Now, he just needs to not break it.
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Interview with Justin Woolley
Holly Kate photography
About Justin

Justin Woolley has been writing stories since he could first scrawl with a crayon. When he was six years old he wrote his first book, a 300 word pirate epic in unreadable handwriting called 'The Ghost Ship'. He promptly declared that he was now an author and didn't need to go to school. Despite being informed that this was, in fact, not the case, he continued to make things up and write them down.

Today Justin is the author of the Australian set dystopian trilogy The Territory Series consisting of the novels A Town Called Dust, A City Called Smoke and the recently released finale A World of Ash. He also writes the web serial Listening to the Other Side, a fictional blog about talking to the dead.

Justin lives in Melbourne, Australia with his wife and two sons. In his other life he's been an engineer, a teacher and at one stage even a magician. His handwriting has not improved.

Website  ~  Twitter @Woollz

Interview with Kathleen O'Neal Gear

Please welcome Kathleen O'Neal Gear to The Qwillery. The Ice Lion, the 1st novel in The Rewilding Reports, was published on June 15, 2021 by DAW.

TQWelcome to The Qwillery. You have written more than 48 books. How has your writing process changed over the years and what is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Kathleen:  Writing styles definitely change throughout an author’s career. When I first started writing, I was in love with adjectives. It’s important, I think, to find the best single word to describe something. Adjectives get old really fast.

The most challenging thing I face is unconscious repetition. When I’m reading a draft manuscript, I notice that I apparently like beating my readers over the head with facts. Authors have to trust their readers: “They already know this. For goodness sake, don’t bore them.”

TQAre you a plotter, a pantzer or a hybrid?

Kathleen:  A pantzer. I love writing by the seat of my pants, living the story with the characters. Toward the end of the book, however, I make a list of the things that must happen, and the order they must happen, to bring the characters together. I guess that’s a rough outline, so maybe I’m actually a hybrid.

TQDescribe The Ice Lion using only 5 words.

Kathleen:  Teenagers. Abandoned. Glaciers. Giant lions.

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

Kathleen:  I’m an archaeologist. The book is a synthesis of past human behaviors projected into the future. We are an inventive species. We can--and will--use our knowledge to affect the climate. THE ICE LION asks a question: If we make a mistake, how can we possibly fix it?

The archaic humans and re-created Ice Age animals in the story were the ancient Jemen’s answer.

TQWhat inspired you to write The Ice Lion?

Kathleen:  Geo-engineering. There are a number of proposals for cooling the planet earth. They worry me.

TQThe Ice Lion is described as cli-fi. What is cli-fi and in your opinion why are we seeing more and more cli-fi novels/stories?

Kathleen:  Climate fiction (cli-fi) is an examination of human responses to climate change. Climate change is nothing new. Humans have been struggling to survive episodes of warming and cooling for millions of years, but we now have the technology to do something about it. That’s the scary part. Cli-fi is becoming more and more popular because we’re all worried. How much do you trust human judgment?

TQThe book description states that the Sealion People are Denisovans. Why did you choose Denisovans as the archaic humans for The Ice Lion? Are they the only archaic humans in the novel?

Kathleen:  There are three archaic species in the novel: Denisovans, Neandertals, and Homo erectus. I chose them for the same reason the ancient Jemen in the story did: These species survived in an Ice Age world, the Pleistocene, for hundreds of thousands of years before modern humans evolved. Despite the odds, one of them may just make it.

TQThe Ice Lion is the first novel in The Rewilding Reports. At this time how many novels do you have planned for the series?

Kathleen:  I finished Book 2, THE ICE GHOST, several months ago, and am working on Book 3, THE ICE ORPHAN. I don’t know how many books there will be—enough to finish the story!

TQWhat's next?

Kathleen:  For now, I’m delighted to be concentrating on the Rewilding Chronicles. There are always other stories flitting around in the back of my mind, but none have a stranglehold on my imagination. Yet. Maybe the story about the insane archaeologist abandoned on a distant world. Her excavation is very interesting…

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Kathleen:  It’s always a pleasure! Thank you.

The Ice Lion
The Rewilding Reports 1
Daw, June 15, 2021
Hardcover and ebook, 304 pages
This cli-fi novel from a notable archaeologist and anthropologist explores a frozen future where archaic species struggle to survive an apocalyptic Ice Age

One thousand years in the future, the zyme, a thick blanket of luminous green slime, covers the oceans. Glaciers three-miles-high rise over the continents. The old stories say that when the Jemen, godlike beings from the past, realized their efforts to halt global warming had gone terribly wrong, they made a desperate gamble to save life on earth and recreated species that had survived the worst of the earth’s Ice Ages.

Sixteen-summers-old Lynx and his best friend Quiller are members of the Sealion People—archaic humans known as Denisovans. They live in a world growing colder, a world filled with monstrous predators that hunt them for food. When they flee to a new land, they meet a strange old man who impossibly seems to be the last of the Jemen. He tells Lynx the only way he can save his world is by sacrificing himself to the last true god, a quantum computer named Quancee.
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About Kathleen

Kathleen O’Neal Gear is a New York Times-bestselling author and nationally award-winning archaeologist who has been honored by the U.S. Department of the Interior and the United States Congress. She is the author or co-author of 50 books and over 200 non-fiction articles. Her books have been translated into 29 languages. She lives in northern Wyoming with W. Michael Gear and a wily Shetland Sheep dog named Jake.

Website  ~  Twitter @GearBooks

Interview with Christian Cantrell

Please welcome Christian Cantrell to The Qwillery. Scorpion, his most recent novel, was published on May 25, 2021 by Random House.

TQWelcome to The Qwillery. What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Christian:  Thank you! I'd probably give you different answers depending on the day. If I'm rewriting the same exchange for the seventh time in order to refine the rhythm and cadence, I'd say getting dialog exactly right. If I'm trying to find the perfect way to describe a novel, technologically exotic device, I might complain that the English language has too few adjectives.

But overall, I'd say one of the biggest things I struggle with is doing something completely new without taking it too far. I want every book and story I write to be unique — plots, characters, and settings the world has never seen — but the format also has to meet certain expectations of a near-future thriller. Part of the challenge (and the fun) is striking a balance between the two.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Christian:  I'm a pantser who wishes he was a plotter which I suppose makes me a hybrid. I'll usually do quite a bit of outlining and write several pages of treatments only to abandon most of it. For me, writing is a process of discovery. Sometimes I think I know exactly where a chapter is going only to see a much more interesting opportunity mid-flight. Sometimes I think I know who a character is only to watch her do something entirely unexpected. There are downstream repercussions when characters go off script and plots go awry, but I'd much rather watch them develop organically than be overly prescriptive. For me, a lot of the fun of writing is the ride it takes me on, and I believe the delight of discovery conveys to the reader.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing? How does being a software engineer influence (or not) your writing?

Christian:  My two lifelong passions have always been storytelling and technology. While it may not seem like they have much in common, in my mind, they complement one another perfectly.

A good (high-tech) product should always be part of a larger narrative. You don't just buy a new phone; you incorporate a device into your life that helps you stay more tightly connected to the people and issues you care most about. You don't just download a piece of software to edit a video; you invest in learning a new workflow so that your voice can reach more people and you can amplify your impact on the world. You don't buy an EV to save money on gas; you do it as an investment in a better future.

Just as stories unlock the potential of products, for me, technology unlocks the types of stories I like to tell. I don't write near-future thrillers and science fiction simply to indulge in futurism. I create science and technology that don't exist in order to put characters in situations in which they can be challenged in new ways and consequently learn things about themselves that wouldn't have been possible otherwise.

TQDescribe Scorpion using only 5 words.

Christian:  Destiny, transformation, and reluctant heroism.

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

ChristianScorpion is an expansion of a short story I wrote called The Epoch Index. It bounced around Hollywood for a few years before really resonating in 2018. The story was optioned by FOX (now Disney) which is what led to the expansion into a full-length novel.

The Epoch Index ended with the biggest cliffhanger I've ever written. I can't count how many times I was asked by readers "what happens next?" I was so attached to the characters in The Epoch Index that I occasionally reread it and contemplated that exact question myself. Having the opportunity to expand it into a full-length novel was like scratching an itch I'd had for years.

TQWhat inspired you to write Scorpion?

Christian:  I live in the suburbs of Washington D.C. which I've always thought of as a fascinating area. Early in my software career, Northern Virginia was on track to become the Silicon Valley of the east coast until the terrorist attacks in 2001. After one of the biggest intelligence failures in U.S. history, the area ended up being transformed not by venture capital investment, but by massive defense spending. One day we were the headquarters for AOL; the next, Blackwater.

Meanwhile, I was working (remotely) for a company in Silicon Valley, constantly flying out to San Francisco and even relocating for a few years before family brought me back. I feel like these two competing dynamics played a more significant role in Scorpion than anything else I've ever written.

Scorpion is the product of the imagination of a writer and technologist living among spooks.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for Scorpion?

Christian:  Research is one of the things I love most about writing an ambitious novel. I spent a lot of time reading about the Large Hadron Collider (and watching documentaries) and learning about gravitational-wave telescopes. And I spent quite a lot of time imagining new types of weapons which will likely be possible in the near future as well as gaming out very clever assassination plots. (Incognito Mode FTW.)

In addition to writing, I also lead a team of prototypers who explore the future of creativity at Adobe which means I regularly work with technologies like AR and VR, machine learning, and even blockchain. All three are well represented in Scorpion.

But I don't want to overstate the role of technology in the novel. It's kind of astounding how little of my research actually made it directly into the book. Scorpion is not, by any means, "hard science fiction." It is a fast-paced, near-future, character-driven thriller that is powered by science and technology as opposed to getting bogged down by it.

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

Christian:  I'm going to say that all of the characters in Scorpion were hard to write.

For me, writing a good character is a process of finding something inside me to use as a seed, but then letting that seed grow into a completely unique individual. There are no characters in Scorpion that are in any way autobiographical, but there is something of me inside of each one.

Fortunately, I've led the type of life that I think germinates a wide variety of seeds. In addition to having studied literature and creative writing in college, I'm also a software engineer, manager of a large international team, husband, and a father of two amazing daughters. I studied theater in Ireland and taught English to engineers in Japan. My father was a builder, so I started earning money in elementary school as a laborer on construction sites, then worked as a carpenter throughout college and for a while after graduating. I supported myself working in bookstores, teaching, and counseling kids removed from their homes by Child Protective Services in a shelter outside of Baltimore. The list goes on. And throughout it all, I've had all kinds of struggles and made all kinds of mistakes — all of which has gone into cultivating a diverse, flawed, lovable, and unpredictable cast.

In other words, I feel like I've spent a lifetime writing these characters.

TQDoes Scorpion touch on any social issues?

Christian:  Yes and no.

We are an extremely socially conscious household, and I spend a lot of my reading time and mental energy on social issues, but I seldom address those issues head-on in my fiction. (Honestly, I often question whether or not that's the right philosophy, and I reserve the right to change course at any moment.) That said, creating a believable future and relatable characters means you don't get to entirely opt out of cultural realities. I'm very careful not to overstep my bounds when writing about characters whose struggles I don't have personal experience with, but I'm also not content with pretending like my characters and stories are somehow miraculously immune to issues of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual identity. In other words, I don't know how to write characters who feel as real to me as anyone I've ever met without at least doing everything in my power to understand some of their struggles.

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


Q: What was the first sentence you wrote the first day you sat down to write Scorpion, and is it still in the book?

A: I'm glad you asked! When I first started writing The Epoch Index (the short-form predecessor to Scorpion) I knew I wanted to write about two things:
  1. A suburban "nine-to-five spy" who thinks she's signing up for an office job, but who ends up way outside of her comfort zone.
  2. A man so rich that he can somehow afford to be homeless — that instead of having mansions all over the world, the world itself is somehow his home.
So I sat down and wrote the following sentence:

         Ranveer is the richest homeless man in the world.

From there, the framework for the story emerged over the course of many months (and drafts), and finally, the full novel expansion emerged over the course of years. But it all started with that one sentence. And yes, it's still in the book. It's no longer the first sentence, but it's somewhere in chapter 5 which is called, appropriately enough, "Homelessness."

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


From Chapter 5: Homelessness
Ranveer is the richest homeless man in the world. He is homeless because the tools of his trade are nicely portable, and his work encourages him to be mobile. He is rich because he gets paid enormous sums to solve the kinds of problems that manifest themselves as people.

From Chapter 7: Tools of the Trade
How does that saying go? If your only tool is a .50 caliber, Israeli-made Desert Eagle, suddenly everything looks like it needs a very big hole?

From Chapter 12: Legwork
Quinn knows that there isn’t nearly as much randomness in the universe as most of us perceive. Randomness is usually more the result of our inability to see patterns than the actual absence of them. And finding patterns is what Quinn does.

From Chapter 13: Night Shift
At the end of the day, when you think about it, the safety of each and every one of us really comes down to nothing more than the simple goodwill of others. The truth is that most of us survive day-to-day not because of any real ability to keep ourselves and our families safe, but simply because there is nobody in the immediate vicinity who wishes otherwise.

TQWhat's next?

Christian:  I have three projects (including Scorpion) in development based on short stories — one television and two feature films — that may require varying degrees of involvement. I have another story (the name of which occasionally changes) that, similar to The Epoch Index, I'm expanding and will be submitted for publishing as soon as it's ready. The rights to my first three novels (Containment, Equinox, and Kingmaker) have recently been reverted back to me, so I'm working with my agent on new releases. And if there's demand, I'd love to write a sequel to Scorpion. Without giving anything away, although the story is neatly wrapped up, the ending also suggests a possible new beginning.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Christian:  Thanks for giving me both the time and the space.

Random House, May 25, 2021
Hardcover and eBook, 336 pages
“An exceptional, fast-paced thriller featuring a tech-empowered assassin whose pattern and objective you’ve never seen before, chased by a heroine with tenacious grit.”—David Brin, author of The Postman and Existence

Quinn Mitchell is a nine-to-five spy—an intelligence analyst for the CIA during the day, and a suburban wife and mother on evenings and weekends. After her young daughter is killed in a tragic accident, sending her life into a tailspin, Quinn hopes to find a new start in her latest assignment: investigating a series of bizarre international assassinations whose victims have been found with numeric codes tattooed, burned, or carved into their flesh. As Quinn follows the killer’s trail across the globe, always one body behind, she begins uncovering disturbing connections between the murders—and herself.

Every lead she tracks down in pursuit of the assassin brings Quinn one step closer to the Epoch Index, a mysterious encrypted message discovered in the archives of the Large Hadron Collider. Its origins are unknown and decrypting it is beyond even the CIA. Yet nothing else can possibly link together a slew of unsolvable murders, an enigmatic and sophisticated serial killer who always seems to be three steps ahead, a quirky young physics prodigy whose knowledge extends well beyond her years, and, underlying everything, the inescapable tragedy of Quinn’s own past. Discovering the meaning of the Epoch Index leads Quinn to a shocking twist that shatters everything she thought she knew about the past, the future, and the delicate balance of right and wrong that she must now fight to preserve.
Amazon : Barnes and Noble : Bookshop : Books-A-Million : IndieBound : Powell's
Google Play : iBooks : Kobo

About Christian

Christian Cantrell is a software engineer living outside of Washington, D.C. He is the author of the novels Containment, Kingmaker, and Equinox, as well as several short works of speculative fiction, three of which have been optioned for film or TV.

Website  ~  Twitter @cantrell  ~  Blog

Interview with Marina Lostetter

Please welcome Marina Lostetter back to The Qwillery. The Helm of Mindnight, the first novel in the The Five Penalties series, was published on April 13, 2021 by Tor Books.

TQ:  Welcome back to The Qwillery! When we first chatted in 2017 you answered the questions regarding the most challenging thing for you about writing as follows:

"The upside to plotting for me is the focus it brings to drafting a story--the words flow well once I know where I'm going and what I'm trying to say. The downside is my tendency to try to bend the characters to fit the plot. I often write myself into corners because I want events to happen a certain way, but it doesn’t make sense for the characters to make the choices I want them to. " [Interview here.]

What has changed as far as writing challenges for you?

Marina:  Everything above still holds true. There is one new challenge I've encountered now that I'm five novels into my career, and that's coming to terms with the fact that each novel writing experience is completely different. I'll start out thinking, I can write this really quickly--draft it efficiently--because I've written a novel before, I know exactly how this will go, but then, inevitably, each book has its own nuances that make drafting completely different process than before. Either I'm trying to tackle a structure that's different, or I'm writing a character that just won't "behave," or thematically things just won't fit together easily. Each creative project is unique unto itself.

TQ:  What do you wish that you knew about book publishing when your first novel was published that you know now?

Marina:  Book releases are exhausting! There's a lot involved in a writing career besides butt-in-chair writing time. The more writing you do, the more "authoring" you do as well.

TQ:  Your prior novels have been Science Fiction. The Helm of Midnight is your first fantasy novel. What appeals to you about writing fantasy?

Marina:  I love the freedom of magic. The ability to create in-depth histories and versions of "physics" that have very little to do with reality. I can make monsters, I can make gods, I can built impossible cities.

TQ:  Describe The Helm of Midnight using only 5 words.

Marina:  I'm going to steal five words from some of the wonderful authors who blurbed the book: Bloody, ambitious, mind-ripping, beautiful, and vicious.

TQ:  Tell us something about The Helm of Midnight that is not in the book description.

Marina:  The valley of Arkensyre, in which the story takes place, is sealed off from the outside world. It's protected by the gods from the wastelands, where all manner of monsters roam. Only one kind of monster can make it past the god-barrier, and that's varger--hulking creatures that look half-bear, half-dog, which are covered in boils and only have a taste for human flesh. They can't be killed, just reduced to a fog and bottled away in enchanted glass.

But they might not all be as monstrous as they seem.

TQ:  Does The Helm of Midnight, the first novel in The Five Penalties series, share anything thematically with your Noumenon SF series?

Marina:  I tend to write about characters trying to do their best and be better people, even when their "best" is sincerely awful. Also, in the Noumenon series, the characters start out thinking physics is behaving one way, when really it's behaving very differently. Similarly, the magic system in The Helm of Midnight appears to function a certain way, but there are layers to its functionality that have yet to be discovered.

TQ:  Please tell us about the cover for The Helm of Midnight.

Marina:  Sam Weber is the cover artists. On the front we see a Regulator (essentially a lawperson in charge of overseeing enchantments) in a very specific version of their uniform. White is reserved for a special occasion. I play a lot with color meaning in The Helm of Midnight.

TQ:  In The Helm of Midnight who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Marina:  Melanie came the most naturally to me, but that might be because I've "known" her the longest. She featured in the original short story The Helm of Midnight is based on, which I wrote a decade ago now. Individually, Krona and her sister, De-Lia, weren't that difficult to write, but I'd say their relationship was one of the toughest to get right. They have a very push-and-pull kind of sisterhood. Sometimes they're rivals, sometimes they're codependent, but there's a lot of love and respect between them, even when their relationship is rocky.

TQ:  Does The Helm of Midnight touch on any social issues?

Marina:  Part of The Helm of Midnight deals with being a cog in a bad system, and how society can push us to do things we might not otherwise do. Thematically it asks things like, what are our individual roles in upholding broken systems? In what ways can we use bad systems to try to do good things regardless? At what point are we truly bad people, and the system doesn't matter? Does intent matter? Do the ends ever justify truly terrible means?

There's also a lot of focus on bodily autonomy.

TQ:  Which question about The Helm of Midnight do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

Marina:  I wish more people would ask about the deities, because the Valley's creation myth and the gods' roles aren't just set dressing or back story. They're extremely integral to the plot of the first novel, as well as the over-arching plot of the trilogy. Essentially, the Valley has five gods, which correspond to the five kinds of magic: Time, Nature, Knowledge, Emotion, and the Unknown. But there's also a sixth deity, the Thalo. The Thalo created the world and the monsters, but not the humans. It sees humans as unfit, poorly formed abominations. Its sinister influence is a constant drive in The Five Penalties series.

TQ:  What's next?

Marina:  I have another book coming out this year! ACTIVATION DEGRADATION is releasing on September 28, 2021. It's a thriller-esque sci fi novel set in Jovian space, featuring soft robots, queer space pirates, action-adventure, and unreliable narration.

TQ:  Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Marina:  Thank you so much for having me!

The Helm of Midnight
The Five Penalties 1
Tor Books, April 13, 2021
Hardcover and eBook, 464 pages
Hannibal meets Mistborn in Marina Lostetter’s THE HELM OF MIDNIGHT, the dark and stunning first novel in a new trilogy that combines the intricate worldbuilding and rigorous magic system of the best of epic fantasy with a dark and chilling thriller.

In a daring and deadly heist, thieves have made away with an artifact of terrible power—the death mask of Louis Charbon. Made by a master craftsman, it is imbued with the spirit of a monster from history, a serial murderer who terrorized the city.

Now Charbon is loose once more, killing from beyond the grave. But these murders are different from before, not simply random but the work of a deliberate mind probing for answers to a sinister question.

It is up to Krona Hirvath and her fellow Regulators to enter the mind of madness to stop this insatiable killer while facing the terrible truths left in his wake.
Amazon : Barnes and Noble : Bookshop : Books-A-Million : IndieBound
Google Play : iBooks : Kobo

About Marina

Marina J. Lostetter (she/her) is the author of Noumenon and Noumenon: Infinity. This is her first foray into fantasy. Originally from Oregon, she now resides in Arkansas with her husband, Alex. When not writing or drawing she can often be found reading spec-fic, or playing it (she enjoys a good zombie-themed board game now and again). And she does it all while globetrotting. Visit her online at or follow her on Twitter @MarinaLostetter.

Interview with Kevin Hearne

Please welcome Kevin Hearne to The Qwillery. Ink & Sigil, a novel From the World of the Iron Druid Chronciles, was published by Del Rey on August 25, 2020.

Interview with Kevin Hearne

TQWelcome back to The Qwillery! We last chatted in 2011. Since then you have completed The Iron Druid Chronicles, started new series, and now have returned the world of The Iron Druid Chronicles. How has your writing process changed since Hounded (The Iron Druid Chronicles 1) was published? 

Kevin:  Hounded was completely pantsed, as they say, with no outline whatsoever. I stopped to research as needed as I figured things out. Now I write outlines and then skip around the book nonlinearly to make sure I'm productive every day and don't get stuck on an early chapter when a really fun chapter is waiting to be written. It allows me to draft much quicker than writing from beginning to end with no idea of how it will turn out. 

TQ:  Why have you returned to the World of the Iron Druid Chronicles with Ink & Sigil? 

Kevin:  I love the world, basically, where all religions, all pantheons are real, the gods and monsters just out of our sight, and we have our modern accoutrements to distract us from what's really going on. 

TQ:  How does this new series fit in with The Iron Druid Chronicles? 

Kevin:  Al MacBharrais is a sigil agent, and they write and enforce magical contracts that have to do with the rights of gods and monsters to visit our world. The Iron Druid would occasionally do this work—kick demons back to hell or what have you—but there was a lot more work to be done than what a single Druid could handle, so Brighid made sigil agents to pick up the slack. 

TQ:  Describe Ink & Sigil using only 5 words. 

Kevin:  Whisky, magic, and wizard vans! 

TQ:  Tell us something about Ink & Sigil that is not found in the book description. 

Kevin:  Its very serious subject regards human trafficking, though it is primarily viewed through the lens of Fae trafficking. 

TQ:  Does Ink & Sigil touch on any social issues? 

Kevin:  It does. It tackles the widespread issue of human trafficking, and research for that was pretty harrowing. 

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


"A toast! Tae inks and sigils and straight razors, tae good bosses and wizards on lizards, tae outsmarting evil when ye can and kicking its arse when ye cannae do that, and tae distillers of fine spirits everywhere. Sláinte!"

TQ:  Thank you for joining us again at The Qwillery!

Ink & Sigil
From the World of the Iron Druid Chronicles
Del Rey, August 25, 2020
Hardcover and eBook, 336 pages

Interview with Kevin Hearne
New York Times bestselling author Kevin Hearne returns to the world of his beloved Iron Druid Chronicles in a spin-off series about an eccentric master of rare magic solving an uncanny mystery in Scotland. 

“Ink & Sigil is escape reading, and I loved every word.”—Charlaine Harris, New York Times bestselling author of A Longer Fall 

Al MacBharrais is both blessed and cursed. He is blessed with an extraordinary white moustache, an appreciation for craft cocktails—and a most unique magical talent. He can cast spells with magically enchanted ink and he uses his gifts to protect our world from rogue minions of various pantheons, especially the Fae. 

But he is also cursed. Anyone who hears his voice will begin to feel an inexplicable hatred for Al, so he can only communicate through the written word or speech apps. And his apprentices keep dying in peculiar freak accidents. As his personal life crumbles around him, he devotes his life to his work, all the while trying to crack the secret of his curse. 

But when his latest apprentice, Gordie, turns up dead in his Glasgow flat, Al discovers evidence that Gordie was living a secret life of crime. Now Al is forced to play detective—while avoiding actual detectives who are wondering why death seems to always follow Al. Investigating his apprentice’s death will take him through Scotland’s magical underworld, and he’ll need the help of a mischievous hobgoblin if he’s to survive.

About Kevin

Interview with Kevin Hearne

Kevin Hearne
hugs trees, pets doggies, and rocks out to heavy metal. He also thinks tacos are a pretty nifty idea. He is the author of The Seven Kennings series and the New York Times bestselling series The Iron Druid Chronicles, and co-author of The Tales of Pell with Delilah S. Dawson.

Twitter @Kevin Hearne

Photo © Kimberly Hearne

Interview with Signe Pike, author of The Lost Queen Trilogy

Please welcome Signe Pike to The Qwillery. The Lost Kingdom, the 2nd novel in The Lost Queen Trilogy, was published on September 15th by Atria Books.
TQWelcome back to The Qwillery. Your new novel, The Forgotten Kingdom (The Lost Queen 2), was published on September 15th. Has your writing process changed (or not) from when you wrote The Lost Queen (2018) to The Forgotten Kingdom?
Signe:  Thanks for having me back! With this second book I’ve had the chance to experiment with some new writing elements that I found very exciting – writing from multiple perspectives being one. The Forgotten Kingdom also taught me new lessons about trusting my instincts, and listening to my inner voice that brought some magical results. 
TQ:  In our last interview you stated that the most challenging thing about writing for you is "Drowning out the voice of my inner critic and keeping my mind focused on the task at hand." Have your challenges changed? 
Signe:  The challenge with this book was trusting, and time. I had to give enough slack on the rope and hope the story would take me where I wanted to end up. And it did! With this book, I felt much more confident about writing fiction, and I knew and loved my characters so well, the inner critic isn’t quite as loud. 
TQ:  What do you wish that you knew about book publishing when The Lost Queen came out that you know now? 
Signe:  Honestly, there’s nothing in my perception of publishing that has changed. It’s a beautiful, resilient creature, book sales are up 12% this year across the industry, even as we’ve experienced such tremendous difficulty as a country. People need stories now more than ever, myself included. They are sacrosanct. 
TQ:  Tell us something about The Forgotten Kingdom that is not in the book description. 
Signe:  This book might make you cry. If it doesn’t, you might not be human. 
TQ:  Which character in the The Lost Queen series (so far) surprised you the most? Do you have a favorite character (we won't tell the others)?
Signe:  I love all my protagonists, but in The Forgotten Kingdom, I developed a particular fondness for some of the new characters who showed up. Muirenn, Talorcan, and especially Diarmid. I love his ornery sense of humor.
TQ:  Please give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery lines from The Forgotten Kingdom. 
Signe:  “I do not know whether I fear him or am calling him as I stand upon the boulder, high above the iron salt waters, looking out over the winter hills. I stand upon the boulder and wait for Rhydderch and his men. I wait. I watch. And I remember.” I’d been stuck trying to figure out how to begin The Forgotten Kingdom, waiting for Lailoken to come close. When he finally strode onto the page, this was what I heard. I built the book around these words. 
TQ:  Is there anything that you can share about the TV series? 
Signe:  Nothing in TV or film is ever certain, but there is such an incredible team behind these books, and so far, things are still in the works. 
TQ:  What's next? 
Signe:  I’m looking forward to settling back into my office and diving into the research again as I start thinking about the third book in the trilogy. The research is what gets me excited. I find something that it seems no one else has discovered or written about, and it makes my pulse skip a beat. When I come across something and think, “How does no one know about this?” That usually means it’s an element that will surface in the book. I love piecing historical clues back together. That feels like my purpose. 
TQ:  Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery. 
Signe:  I hope I’ll “see you” again for book three! In the meantime, I’ll be working away…. 
The Forgotten Kingdom
The Lost Queen 2
Atria Books, September 15, 2020
Hardcover and eBook, 496 pages
From the author of The Lost Queen, hailed as “Outlander meets Camelot” (Kirsty Logan, author of Things We Say in the Dark) and “The Mists of Avalon for a new generation” (Linnea Hartsuyker, author of The Golden Wolf), a new novel in which a forgotten queen of sixth century Scotland claims her throne as her family is torn apart and war looms.

AD 573. Imprisoned in her chamber, Languoreth awaits news in torment. Her husband and son have ridden off to wage war against her brother, Lailoken. She doesn’t yet know that her young daughter, Angharad, who was training with Lailoken to become a Wisdom Keeper, has been lost in the chaos. As one of the bloodiest battles of early medieval Scottish history scatters its survivors to the wind, Lailoken and his men must flee to exile in the mountains of the Lowlands, while nine-year-old Angharad must summon all Lailoken has taught her and follow her own destiny through the mysterious, mystical land of the Picts.

In the aftermath of the battle, old political alliances unravel, opening the way for the ambitious adherents of the new religion: Christianity. Lailoken is half-mad with battle sickness, and Languoreth must hide her allegiance to the Old Way to survive her marriage to the next Christian king of Strathclyde. Worst yet, the new King of the Angles is bent on expanding his kingdom at any cost. Now the exiled Lailoken, with the help of a young warrior named Artur, may be the only man who can bring the Christians and the pagans together to defeat the encroaching Angles. But to do so, he must claim the role that will forever transform him. He must become the man known to history as “Myrddin.”

Bitter rivalries are ignited, lost loves are found, new loves are born, and old enemies come face-to-face with their reckoning in this compellingly fresh look at one of the most enduring legends of all time.
The Lost Queen
The Lost Queen 1
Atria Books, June 4, 2019
Trade Paperback, 560 pages
Hardcover and eBook, September 4, 2018

Interview with Signe Pike, author of The Lost Queen Trilogy
Outlander meets Camelot” (Kirsty Logan, author of The Gracekeepers) in the first book of an exciting historical trilogy that reveals the untold story of Languoreth—a powerful and, until now, tragically forgotten queen of sixth-century Scotland—twin sister of the man who inspired the legendary character of Merlin.

Intelligent, passionate, rebellious, and brave, Languoreth is the unforgettable heroine of The Lost Queen, a tale of conflicted loves and survival set against the cinematic backdrop of ancient Scotland, a magical land of myths and superstition inspired by the beauty of the natural world. One of the most powerful early medieval queens in British history, Languoreth ruled at a time of enormous disruption and bloodshed, when the burgeoning forces of Christianity threatened to obliterate the ancient pagan beliefs and change her way of life forever.

Together with her twin brother Lailoken, a warrior and druid known to history as Merlin, Languoreth is catapulted into a world of danger and violence. When a war brings the hero Emrys Pendragon, to their door, Languoreth collides with the handsome warrior Maelgwn. Their passionate connection is forged by enchantment, but Languoreth is promised in marriage to Rhydderch, son of the High King who is sympathetic to the followers of Christianity. As Rhydderch's wife, Languoreth must assume her duty to fight for the preservation of the Old Way, her kingdom, and all she holds dear.

“Moving, thrilling, and ultimately spellbinding” (BookPage), The Lost Queen brings this remarkable woman to life—rescuing her from obscurity, and reaffirming her place at the center of the most enduring legends of all time. “Moving, thrilling, and ultimately spellbinding, The Lost Queen is perfect for readers of historical fiction like The Clan of the Cave Bear and Wolf Hall, and for lovers of fantasy like Outlander and The Mists of Avalon” (BookPage).
About Signe
Photograph by Tiffany Mizzell
Signe Pike is the author of The Lost Queen, The Forgotten Kingdom, and the travel memoir Faery Tale, and has researched and written about Celtic history and folklore for more than a decade. Visit her at
Twitter @SignePike
Photograph by Tiffany Mizzell

Interview with Jon Richter

Please welcome Jon Richter to The Qwillery. Auxiliary: London 2039, Jon's most recent novel, was published in May by TCK Publishing.


Interview with Jon Richter

The QwilleryWelcome to The Qwillery. Are you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Jon Richter: I’ve actually never heard of a ‘hybrid’ before, but I love the idea of such a disturbing experiment, stitching the two approaches together to create some sort of horrifying Frankenstein’s Writer! I am probably closer to a ‘pantser’ these days –my first couple of books were meticulously planned before I started writing, only to find the stories veering wildly off track as soon as I got going! So now I’m happier to go with the flow, scribble down an outline and just dive in to see what emerges…

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing? 

JR:  Sadly I don’t make enough money from writing to rely it on it for my full-time income, so I have to juggle it alongside a busy day job. I was foolish enough to become a qualified accountant in my younger days, so although I’m very lucky to be able to earn good money, it does mean that my working hours can be very long and challenging… and it can sometimes be difficult to switch my brain out of numbers mode and into words!

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing? 

JR:  I love dark fiction of all kinds, and in many forms of media: books, movies, TV shows and video games are all fantastic sources of inspiration. I love stories that are original, unpredictable and leave a lingering chill… recent favourites include the book House Of Leaves by Mark Danielewski (never have I felt so keenly that a book was reading me as much as I was reading it…) and the video game Pathologic 2, which told a haunting tale of a plague outbreak in a fantasy setting. When I spent the first two days saving up fictional currency to buy a gun from a dodgy bloke at the docks, only to find two days later that the town’s economy had collapsed and I was having to trade the gun for a loaf of bread just to avoid starving to death, I knew I was experiencing a masterpiece!

TQDescribe Auxiliary: London 2039 using only 5 words. 
JR:  Where our technology might lead…

TQTell us something about Auxiliary: London 2039 that is not found in the book description
JR:  This is a great question! Hmmm… okay, the first thing that’s popped into my head is a bit about the game’s omnipresent AI ‘overseer’, TIM (The Imagination Machine). A little like an extremely beefed-up version of Alexa, TIM runs everything: he flies the planes, he reads your children bedtime stories, he makes your coffee, and he’s your constant companion, available to speak to you whenever you like. I wanted to make this character very different from the more typical ‘evil AI’ trope that proliferates science fiction, but also not necessarily motivated by good either. TIM is a tool, nothing more: a neural network that learns from vast quantities of data to simulate consciousness to better serve its human creators. 
When researching other fictional AIs, I stumbled across ‘AM’, the Allied Mastercomputer, who appears in Harlan Ellison’s short story I Have No Mouth But I Must Scream (what a title). The short story is certainly worth a read, but is most notable for being the alleged inspiration for Skynet in the Terminator movies – indeed, Ellison settled out of court following the first film’s release, and was given a sum of money as well as an acknowledgement in the credits. 
AM is not the sort of AI I wanted to create, but is a fascinating character nonetheless: it despises humanity with a passion, so much so that it wipes out all humans except for five hand-picked victims who it intends to torture for all eternity. The video game version of the story features an incredible, hate-fuelled rant, which I recently learned was actually voiced by none other than Harlan himself!

Check it out here if you want to hear what our AIs might grow to think of us…

TQWhat inspired you to write Auxiliary: London 2039? 
JR:  I am fascinated by modern technological trends and developments, and the book was really an attempt to project forward into the near future, when things like driverless cars, smarter AIs, cybernetics, augmented reality and rudimentary robots will become much more commonplace.
I have always loved classic murder mysteries and noir detective stories, and when an image popped into my head one day – of a crime scene with a dead body mashed into a wall, a severed cybernetic arm protruding out from its crushed face into the room, while detectives took photographs and pondered what had happened – I couldn’t resist making my first foray into the world of cyberpunk!

TQWhat sort of research did you do for Auxiliary: London 2039?

JR:  As mentioned above, I’m really interested in modern technology, and so researching the book was a labour of love! It gave me a great excuse to read about all manner of emerging innovations, such as the Brain Computer Interfaces being developed by the likes of Neuralink which really could transform our society (imagine being able to talk just by ‘thinking’ to each other?) 
One of the most interesting subjects I stumbled upon was the field of synthetic meat. I don’t just mean meat substitutes made from mushroom or soya or whatever – I mean actual, vat-grown protein grown from stem cells that is indistinguishable from the real thing. It looks and tastes like chicken because it is chicken – just chicken that’s been cultivated in a laboratory. This technology already exists, and if its developers can reduce the cost then there’s a very real chance this could completely replace traditionally farmed meat in the coming years… and could also mean that we find ourselves able to grow and eat the meat of more exotic animals, because there would no longer be any need to kill them. 
And why stop at panda steaks and polar bear fillets? Soon we might find exclusive restaurants selling meat from our favourite celebrities… Beyonce Burgers, anyone?

TQPlease tell us about the cover for Auxiliary: London 2039. 
JR:  To my shame I actually don’t know the name of the artist, but I certainly think TCK Publishing did a fantastic job with the book’s cover. It depicts the afore-mentioned mechanical arm, and the central mystery that drives the book’s plot – and also leaves the reader with no doubt about the type of book they are about to enjoy! Metal prosthetics like this are such an iconic cyberpunk image that it felt like an absolutely perfect piece of cover art.

TQIn Auxiliary: London 2039 who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
JR:  The main character, Carl Dremmler, is a bitter and selfish man, but also honourable and good-natured at his heart. In some ways, he is similar to me – struggling at times to exist in modern society, always feeling a little behind the curve, riddled with irrational neuroses and prejudices he is unaware of, trying but not always succeeding to do the right thing – so to write him I really just had to crank up the dial on some of my own flaws. 
Conversely, writing TIM was a challenge, as I had to make a huge effort to think in a very different way. TIM is ruthlessly logical, but his actions and the way he communicates are born from a very different type of intellect: an intellect forged not from nurture, but from billions of terabytes of uploaded data. I am particularly proud of the poem that TIM writes during the story, which I hope captures the AI’s motivations and mindset.

TQDoes Auxiliary: London 2039 touch on any social issues? 
JR:  I wanted to consider the impact of emerging technology on society in a realistic way. For example, just because new building methods exist doesn’t mean that all existing housing stock will be demolished and replaced with some sort of dystopian metropolis: people are likely to be living in the same existing housing for many decades to come. 
However, I do think there will be some fundamental changes, particularly a trend towards greater social isolation (especially following the COVID outbreak). We are already seeing this manifesting in the form of services like UberEats (why go out for food when you can have it brought to your door?), Amazon (why go to the shop when you can order everything you need online?) and the staggering rate of improvement in the levels of immersion offered by video gaming (why interact with friends in person when it’s more interesting to do so via Minecraft, or Fortnite?) 
If you couple this with the inevitable decimation of the workforce (automation will, without doubt, reduce the number of jobs available, and the government will need to find new economic systems to cope with a population where the majority, not the minority, are unemployed, rendered obsolete by technology such as driverless cars and sophisticated AIs) then our society will face a very real challenge in providing stimulation and motivation for a population that spends most of its time sitting around indoors.

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Auxiliary: London 2039.
JR:  Well I’ve already shared the book’s central mystery, so here’s the scene where Dremmler first learns about the crime he’s about to be dispatched to investigate: 
‘He nearly decapitates his girlfriend, then calls to hand himself in? And then, what, cuts his own arm off? He sounds like a piece of work.
Maggie drew a long pull on the eCig, the swirling vapour almost hiding her face from view. ‘That’s the fun part. He’s saying he didn’t do it. He’s saying it was the arm.’

And then a little snippet of conversation between Dremmler and TIM, where the former is trying to understand the AI’s approach to morality: 
‘But how do you decide what’s right and what’s wrong?’
‘I don’t. My decisions are based solely on probabilities, statistics, and frequencies. The world has already decided what’s right and wrong; I merely observe, and imitate.’

TQWhat's next? 
JR:  Before sitting down to this interview I was working on the first round of edits for a ‘sidequel’ to Auxiliary, exploring how TIM might react to a pandemic similar to the one that’s turned our lives upside down in 2020. It’s a very different sort of novel to its predecessor, and in typical ‘pantser’ style has gone completely off the rails, but I’m hoping to bring it to you all very soon!

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

JR:  It has been my absolute pleasure. Thank you for listening to my sinister ramblings!

Auxiliary: London 2039
TCK Publishing, May 3, 2020
Trade Paperback and Kindle eBook, 223 pages
Interview with Jon Richter
The silicon revolution left Dremmler behind but a good detective is never obsolete.

London is quiet in 2039—thanks to the machines. People stay indoors, communicating through high-tech glasses and gorging on simulated reality while 3D printers and scuttling robots cater to their every whim. Mammoth corporations wage war for dominance in a world where human augmentation blurs the line between flesh and steel. 

And at the center of it all lurks The Imagination Machine: the hyper-advanced, omnipresent AI that drives our cars, flies our planes, cooks our food, and plans our lives. Servile, patient, tireless … TIM has everything humanity requires. Everything except a soul.

Through this silicon jungle prowls Carl Dremmler, police detective—one of the few professions better suited to meat than machine. His latest case: a grisly murder seemingly perpetrated by the victim’s boyfriend. Dremmler’s boss wants a quick end to the case, but the tech-wary detective can’t help but believe the accused’s bizarre story: that his robotic arm committed the heinous crime, not him. An advanced prosthetic, controlled by a chip in his skull.

A chip controlled by TIM.

Dremmler smells blood: the seeds of a conspiracy that could burn London to ash unless he exposes the truth. His investigation pits him against desperate criminals, scheming businesswomen, deadly automatons—and the nightmares of his own past. And when Dremmler finds himself questioning even TIM’s inscrutable motives, he’s forced to stare into the blank soul of the machine.

Auxiliary is gripping, unpredictable, and bleakly atmospheric—ideal for fans of cyberpunk classics like the Blade Runner movies, Richard K. Morgan’s Altered Carbon, William Gibson’s Neuromancer, and the Netflix original series Black Mirror

About Jon
Interview with Jon Richter

Jon Richter writes dark fiction, including his three gripping crime thrillers, Deadly Burial, Never Rest and Rabbit Hole, his recent cyberpunk noir thriller Auxiliary: London 2039, as well as two collections of short horror fiction, volumes one and two of Jon Richter's Disturbing Works
Jon lives in London and is a self-confessed nerd who loves books, films and video games – basically any way to tell a great story. He writes whenever he can, and hopes to bring you more macabre tales in the very near future. He also co-hosts the Dark Natter podcast, a fortnightly dissection of the greatest works of dark fiction, available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcast fix. 
If you want to chat to him about any of this, you can find him on Twitter @RichterWrites or Instagram @jonrichterwrites. His website haunts the internet at, and you can find his books available on Amazon here:

Interview with Michael R. Underwood

Please welcome Michael R. Underwood to The Qwillery! Annihilation Aria, the first novel in his new Space Opera series, is published on July 21, 2020 by Parvus Press.

Please join all of us at The Qwillery in wishing Michael a Happy Book Birthday!

Interview with Michael R. Underwood

TQWelcome back to The Qwillery. Your new novel Annihilation Aria is published on July 21st. Over the years, what has become less challenging for you as a writer? More challenging?

MRU:  It’s gotten a bit easier for me to ride the ups and downs of publishing, but easier is not easy. It’s still an industry where getting better as a writer is no guarantee that your books will do better commercially. And that’s very discouraging. Writing books themselves have gotten easier and harder. Easier as I learn how to be more flexible in my process, responding to each book with the approach that works for it. Harder because I keep raising the bar for myself and in rising to the challenges posed to me by editors like my editor on Annihilation Aria, Kaelyn Considine. Aria is my best attempt (so far) to write a fun adventure story while adding more emotional depth and interesting worldbuilding.

TQDescribe Annihilation Aria using only 5 words.

MRU:  Space archaeology gets very complicated.

TQPlease tell us something about Annihilation Aria that is not found in the book description.

MRU:  Something I’ve already gotten positive feedback about with regards to the book is people saying they really like seeing a book with a happily-married couple in it. Max and Lahra start the novel already well into their relationship, but it’s one that is still loving and affectionate, even if they have their problems like any other couple. Being happily married myself, I wanted to help contribute to the body of works that feature established couples rather than only ever showing the meet-cute and the whirlwind romance.

TQWhich character in the Annihilation Aria was the most fun to write?

MRU:  The more time I spent developing her people’s culture, the more fun Lahra became to write. She became a way for me to play with the idea of the Warrior People, with Lahra as one of the few remaining members of her people’s warrior caste. I loved developing the worldbuilding for how she relates to the song magic of her people and her inherited quest to find and restore the lost heir.

TQAnnihilation Aria is a space opera? What makes a story a "space opera"?

MRU:  Generally, I agree with the reading of space opera as the science fiction analogue to epic fantasy. Space opera as a term riffs on horse opera, an old name for westerns. In modern science fiction, space opera has broadened to cover a wide range of science fiction, from series like The Expanse to Star Wars to Dune and many projects in between. Some space opera overlaps with military SF, some overlaps more with space fantasy (Annihilation Aria among them).

For this book, I leaned into a literal definition of space opera by having Lahra’s people use song magic, with Lahra’s battle songs featuring prominently in the actions sequences of the novel. Which made it fun and let me give the series (only one book commissioned so far) the cheeky title of “The Space Operas.” And if I get to write more books, I can give them equally fun titles like Chaos Canto or the like.

TQYour novels often (but not always) subtly pay homage to various genres and/or geekdoms. I particularly enjoy this in a novel. Will we be treated to this in Annihilation Aria?

MRUAnnihilation Aria was inspired by Guardians of the Galaxy, Star Wars, and some other space opera series. Reviewers have talked about Aria playing with 1908s space opera tropes but with updated sensibilities, and that’s definitely the approach I took in writing it. Most of my work so far has been focused on fun, adventure storytelling but done with as much inclusivity as I can manage.

TQDoes Annihilation Aria touch on any social issues?

MRU:  When I started writing Aria in 2015, its political edge was not as sharp as the final result. Then November 2016 happened. I decided to lean into that anger at the rise of US authoritarianism instead of shying away from it. The evil empire in this book is not at all the same as Trumpism in the USA, but the book definitely became more anti-authoritarian and revolutionary. Empires and the struggle against them are fairly common in space opera, but I tried to be a bit more pointed about the details of how authoritarianism and fascism creates systems of social control by limiting free speech, limiting movement, etc. All while still crafting a novel more about adventure and heroism than oppression and tragedy.

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

Made up question: Why a greatsword for Lahra’s sword of station?

MRU:  Great question! Greatswords were used as a weapon of choice by some bodyguards in renaissance Europe. A greatsword is heavier and harder to control than a longsword, but its size and strength makes it great for clearing and controlling space. I’ve studied a bit of greatsword technique from the Iberian Peninsula as well as other Iberian swordplay, and I jumped at the opportunity to showcase greatswords in this project. Plus, epic fantasy and space opera already make space for Giant Ridiculous Swords, so most of what I had to do was bring my own martial arts knowledge to it and figure out how magical/martial arts movie-ish I wanted swordplay to be in this one.

TQ Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Annihilation Aria.

Lahra Kevain sang “Sahvo’s Embrace” to her armor in the sun-soaked cargo hold. The embrace was an aria of resilience and rebirth from the epic of Zhore, sung originally by a love-struck guardian to the princess who was her charge.

The song awakened the suit, allowing her armor to repair itself using the sun’s energy. The coral-steel resonated with her voice, stitching itself back together, scalloped ridges and joints sealing and smoothing over. One by one, traces of her and Max’s last misadventure faded, and the suit returned to its optimal form.

TQWhat's next?

MRU:  I’m not the fastest writer, so I’ve been working on ways to stay connected with writers and colleagues. The past couple of years, I’ve had a lot of fun writing essays on the craft of writing and the business of publishing at my Patreon ( I’ve covered topics from how the pandemic may impact publishing to how sub-rights work as well as building a quick one-shot for D&D and getting from concept to page one in a new writing project. Plus it has pictures of my very cute dog Oreo.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

MRU:  Thanks so much for having me back! Debuting back in 2012 feels simultaneously like just the other day and a lifetime ago, and I really appreciate the support and chance to get to grow along with the Qwillery audience.

Annihilation Aria
The Space Operas 1
Parvus Press, July 21, 2020
Trade Paperback and eBook, 400 pages

Interview with Michael R. Underwood
Max is cheery xeno-archeologist from Earth, stranded and trying to find a way home. Lahra is a stern warrior of a nearly extinct race searching for her people’s heir. Wheel is the couple’s cybernetic pilot running from her past and toward an unknown future.

On Wheel’s ship, the Kettle, the trio traverses the galaxy, dodging Imperial patrols and searching ancient ruins for anything they can sell. The crew of the Kettle are deeply in debt to their home base’s most powerful gangster, and she wants her money back.  

So when a dangerous, but promising job comes their way, Max, Lahra, and Wheel have little choice but to take it. However, the crew of the Kettle gets more than they bargained for when they find themselves in possession of a powerful artifact, one that puts them in the crosshairs of the Vsenk, the galaxy’s ruthless and oppressive imperial overlords. 

Max, Lahra, and Wheel are pulled into a web of galactic subterfuge, ancient alien weaponry, a secret resistance force, lost civilizations, and giant space turtles.  The Vsenk will stop at nothing to recover what the crew of the Kettle has found and Max’s brains, Lahra’s muscle, and Wheel’s skills may be all that stands between entire planets and annihilation.  

Can they evade space fascists, kick-start a rebellion, and save the galaxy all while they each try to find their own way home?

About Michael

Interview with Michael R. Underwood
Michael R. Underwood is the author of over twelve books, including Annihilation Aria, Born to the Blade (an epic fantasy serial), the Ree Reyes Geekomancy series and Genrenauts, a series of novellas, which was a finalist for the r/Fantasy “Stabby” Award.

Mike grew up devouring stories in all forms, from comics to video games, tabletop RPGs, movies, and books. He holds a B.A. in Creative Mythology and in East Asian Studies from Indiana University and a M.A. in Folklore Studies from the University of Oregon.

In years past, he danced Argentine Tango and was a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism and studying historical martial arts. Mike has been a hobby game store clerk, a student archivist, a webmaster, a web design teacher, a bear-builder, a bookseller, an independent publishers’ representative, and more.

Mike lives in Baltimore with his wife, their dog Oreo, and an ever-growing library. He also loves geeking out with video & role-playing games, studying historical martial arts, and making pizzas from scratch. He is also a co-host on the actual play show Speculate! and a guest host on The Skiffy and Fanty Show.

Website  ~  Twitter @MikeRUnderwood  ~  Facebook

Interview with Raymond E. Feist

Please welcome Raymond E. Feist to The Qwillery. Queen of Storms (The Firemane Saga 2) is published today by Harper Voyager.

Interview with Raymond E. Feist

The QwilleryWelcome to The Qwillery. You have written over 30 novels. Has your writing process changed over the years?

Raymond E. Feist:  Parts of the process remain unchanged. The thinking the stuff up part, mostly is the same. Getting it down on paper has become a bit more expedient, what I think of as "writers muscle memory." I know when not to look for that perfect word, when to just put something down and come back later to rewrite. Another part is to expect less, that is to be willing to not have every chapter, page, word be priceless. "Murder your darlings" is often attributed to William Faulkner, but he got from Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, but all good writers eventually come to understand what that means, and I sort of got it in my first book, but by book four I knew exactly what that meant. It references another often misquoted meme, "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good."

TQQueen of Storms is the 2nd novel in your Firemane Saga after King of Ashes. How many novels do you have planned for The Firemane Saga?

RF:  It should be a three act play, more or less. My characters have a habit of lying to me from time to time, so the Serpentwar ended up four, and the Demonwar was only two. I do think the next one Master of Furies, will be the last of this series.

TQDescribe Queen of Storms using only 5 words.

RF:  Things Get Nasty Really Fast.

TQ Please tell us something about Queen of Storms that is not found in the publisher's book description. 

RF:  Like a lot of my previous books, there's a "things are not what they seem" element here, and I hope the readers find the surprises the sort that make sense rather than make them want to throw the book across the room, because some of those unexpected changes are terrible for the characters. So, surprises are not found in the description.

TQWho is your favorite character to write in The Firemane Saga so far?

RF:  I don't really have favorites, and never have. Some are a bit more fun to write about, so right now it's Hava and Bodai. Hava because I like strong women characters who aren't basically "a guy in drag," and Bodai because he's a teacher by nature, so I can pedantic in places and the reader blames him and not me.

TQWhich question about The Firemane Saga do you wish someone would ask? Please ask it and answer it!

RF:  I can't really think of anything. I've been doing this for almost 40 years now, and have been asked every sort of question from the dumb "what's the book about" by someone who's never read a word of mine to things so insightful my reaction was, "I wish I had thought of that." I think the reason your question is a bit odd for me is that I feel the work speaks for itself. I've observed younger writers try to explain their work, and always think, "Are you going to stand in the bookstore and explain to every reader what you meant?" The book speaks for itself or you are doing it wrong. I look at these interviews as either being to build interest in the coming work, or as retrospectives for me to explain the damnfool choices I made in previous works. I also spend more time avoiding spoilers than thinking about "why didn't they ask me this other thing."

TQDo The Firemane Saga and the Riftwar Cycle share anything thematically?

RF:  In some basic ways, sure. If I was to analyze my own work, which I only do in the editorial sense, not in any scholarly, critical theory fashion, it's that every human being is born into a world that makes no sense, and each of us seeks to bring some order out of chaos. In my writing, how that happens is a function of what sort of person the character is. What I love about that is I can have characters do things that are alien to how I look at everything, and I delight if I think I've pulled off a convincing journey for the reader. I've been taken to task upon occasion by someone who objected to something a character did, so for that reader it was a real thing. Having a character commit murder does not mean I'm personally in favor of murder, is an obvious example. So, overall, the common element in this series and the Riftware is that struggle for awareness and making sense out of an apparently chaotic universe. The tone should be similar as the same guy is writing both.

TQHow did it feel to start a new series after so many years with the Riftwar Cycle and are you completely finished with Riftwar?

RF:  I forgot how much time went into world building and constructing believable societies, cultures, and their relationships. The word that comes to mind is "humbling." What I thought I was "dash off" became a year's hard work, bordering on drudgery at times.

Nothing's ever finished. I could change my mind and do another series in Midkemia should I decide. There are always new stories. No one every asked Hemingway if he ran out of stories set on Earth, or Shakespeare why all his plays were set in Europe. So, I might go back to Midkemia someday. I might do another series on Garn, or I might go crazy and try to set up a whole third universe.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

RF:  You are very welcome.

Queen of Storms
The Firemane Saga 2
Harper Voyager, July 14, 2020
Hardcover and eBook, 448 pages

Interview with Raymond E. Feist
Dark and powerful forces threaten the world of Garn once more in this second novel in legendary New York Times bestselling author Raymond E. Feist’s epic fantasy series, the Firemane Saga.

Hatushaly and his young wife Hava have arrived in the prosperous trading town of Beran’s Hill to restore and reopen the fire-damaged Inn of the Three Stars. They are also preparing for the popular midsummer festival, where their friends Declan and Gwen will be wed.

But Hatu and Hava are not the ordinary loving couple they appear to be. They are assassins from the mysterious island of Coaltachin, home to the powerful and lethal Nocusara, the fearsome “Hidden Warriors.” Posing as innkeepers, they are awaiting instructions from their masters in the Kingdom of Night.

Hatu conceals an even more dangerous secret. He is the last remaining member of the legendary Firemanes, the ruling family of Ithrace. Known as the Kingdom of Flames, Ithrace was one of the five greatest realms of Tembria, ruled by Hatu’s father, Stervern Langene, until he and his people were betrayed. His heir, Hatu—then a baby—was hidden among the Nocusara, who raised him to become a deadly spy.

Hatu works hard to hide his true identity from all who would seek to use or to destroy him, as fate has other plans for the noble warrior. Unexpected calamity forces him to make choices he could not have dreamed awaited him.

A series of horrific events shatters the peace of Beran’s Hill, bringing death and devastation and unleashing monstrous forces. Once more, the Greater Realms of Tembria are threatened—and nothing will ever be the same again.


King of Ashes
The Firemane Saga 1
Harper Voyager, January 29, 2019
Mass Market Paperback, 512 pages
Hardcover and eBook, May 8, 2018

Interview with Raymond E. Feist
The first volume in legendary master and New York Times bestselling author Raymond E. Feist’s epic heroic fantasy series, The Firemane Saga—an electrifying tale of two young men whose choices will determine a world’s destiny.

For centuries, the five greatest kingdoms of North and South Tembria, twin continents on the world of Garn, have coexisted in peace. But the balance of power is destroyed when four of the kingdoms violate an ancient covenant and betray the fifth: Ithrace, the Kingdom of Flames, ruled by Steveren Langene, known as "the Firemane" for his brilliant red hair. As war engulfs the world, Ithrace is destroyed and the Greater Realms of Tembria are thrust into a dangerous struggle for supremacy.

As a Free Lord, Baron Daylon Dumarch owes allegiance to no king. When an abandoned infant is found hidden in Daylon’s pavilion, he realizes that the child must be the missing heir of the slain Steveren. The boy is valuable—and vulnerable. A cunning and patient man, Daylon decides to keep the baby’s existence secret, and sends him to be raised on the Island of Coaltachin, home of the so-called Kingdom of Night, where the powerful and lethal Nocusara, the "Hidden Warriors," legendary assassins and spies, are trained.

Years later, another orphan of mysterious provenance, a young man named Declan, earns his Masters rank as a weapons smith. Blessed with intelligence and skill, he unlocks the secret to forging King’s Steel, the apex of a weapon maker’s trade known by very few. Yet this precious knowledge is also deadly, and Declan is forced to leave his home to safeguard his life. Landing in Lord Daylon’s provinces, he hopes to start anew.

Soon, the two young men—an unknowing rightful heir to a throne and a brilliantly talented young swordsmith—will discover that their fates, and that of Garn, are entwined. The legendary, long-ago War of Betrayal has never truly ended . . . and they must discover the secret of who truly threatens their world.

About the Author

Interview with Raymond E. Feist
© HarperCollins Publishers
Raymond E. Feist is the author of more than thirty previous books, including the internationally bestselling “Riftwar Cycle” of novels set in his signature world of Midkemia, as well as a standalone novel, Faerie Tale. The Firemane Saga is his first all-new epic fantasy series. He lives in San Diego, California.

Website  ~  Facebook  ~  Twitter @refeist

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