The Qwillery | category: John Appel


The Qwillery

A blog about books and other things speculative

Interview with John Appel, author of Assassin's Orbit

Please welcome John Appel to The Qwillery as part of the 2021 Debut Author ChallengeInterviews. Assassin's Orbitwas published on July 20, 2021 by Solaris.

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

John:  Thinking back, I was about nine or ten when I started writing a story based on a book about kid spelunkers that I really enjoyed. But that story, like many others for years, never got finished. It took me quite a long time to find my writing discipline.

The first fiction I actually wrote all the way through to the end was a series of short pieces based on my World of Warcraft character, sometime in about 2006 or 2007. I was in my early 40s at the time, so you can see I had quite a long period of starting but not finishing.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

John:  The plotter vs. pantser concept is, to me, a false binary. In my experience, there’s really a number of factors which different people plan ahead of time vs. discover, and you’d need a radar plot to see where any given writer falls. In my case, though, I usually have a strong sense of the overall plot arc, and I tend to be a solid world builder before I start drafting. I also know a good bit about the characters, but not as much as other writers I know. In all of these cases, though, I frequently discover things while I’m writing, and this may lead to changes in plot events, some aspect of the world, or in an extreme case, a whole new POV character.

In ASSASSIN’S ORBIT, for example, Noo came into being because another character needed a mentor, and the character I’d intended to fill that role was otherwise occupied at that moment in the story. She started as a secondary character but her personality was so strong that she displaced the original POV character and took her spot in the roster. This didn’t change the overall arc of the book, just the perspective through which the reader sees it.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

John:  Sherwood Smith introduced me to the concept of “visual writers”, i.e. people who see the story playing out in their heads like a movie. I’m one of those, and one challenge I face is unpacking the visuals and sensations the characters are experiencing and getting that onto the page. I’ve found myself leaning hard on CL Polk’s “54321” technique, where you jot down five things the characters see, four they hear, three they feel, two they smell, and one they might taste in a scene. This gives me the sensory detail I need to help connect the reader to the action – when I remember to do it!

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

John:  So, so many writers! I grew up reading adventure thrillers by Alastair McClean (THE GUNS OF NAVARONE, WHERE EAGLES DARE, etc.) and I think my love for action-filled stories comes from there. Lois McMaster Bujold is a big source of inspiration for characters, and how to come up with challenges that are more than simple life and death. Current influences include Martha Wells’ Murderbot stories, Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London/Peter Grant series, and most importantly, the members of my local writing/critique group, the Maryland Space Opera Collective (MD SPOC).

TQDescribe Assassin's Orbit using only 5 words.

John:  Old women space competence porn.

TQTell us something about Assassin's Orbit that is not found in the book description.

John:  This is kind of hinted at, but one important aspect is that while the protagonists are key players in the action, they don’t solve the problems they’re faced with by themselves. In the real world, problems get solved by people working together, and portraying that is a theme that keeps showing up in my work.

TQWhat inspired you to write Assassin's Orbit? What appeals to you about writing Science Fiction?

John:  I started ASSASSIN’S ORBIT in late 2016, though it got put aside for a while to work on a different project which didn’t pan out. There was no single point of inspiration for it, but I definitely drew from certain aspects of then-current events and where I thought they might go. Hard to say much more about that without giving away spoilers.

I’ve been a science fiction fan nearly my entire life, beginning with the Danny Dunn series of children’s books back in elementary school and going on from there. I think it’s the speculative element that appeals to me: “What if the world changed in these ways? What would that look like? How would people behave differently, or the same? What would a more just society look like?” But since I’m also hooked on the escapist aspect, I tend to approach it through the lens of action and adventure.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for Assassin's Orbit?

John:  I’ve done a lot of reading over the years about space stations and mostly-realistic space combat. I also read a lot of work by West African writers, since many of the characters have origins from that part of Earth, both fiction and non-fiction, along with research into both Ife and Islam.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for Assassin's Orbit.

John:  The cover does loosely depict one of the space battles that occurs in the book, or part of it anyway.

TQIn Assassin's Orbit who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

John:  Of the three main protagonists, Noo’s voice was the loudest in my head, which hopefully comes through in the reading! As I mentioned earlier, she actually displaced another character to become a principal POV.

Toiwa began as someone easy to write but became more challenging as the book progressed. I know a lot of very competent professional women from my past career in corporate life, and it was easy to borrow aspects of those people and fold them into her character. Her journey, though was the one that most surprised me while writing; she has to face a number of tough choices, and making sure the way she acts when faced with those aligned with the moral code I’d built for her required some work.

TQDoes Assassin's Orbit touch on any social issues?

John:  It does, but not necessarily by conscious intent. I think any writer with a degree of empathy couldn’t help but be affected by the deliberate cruelty and kleptocratic government of the Trump administration, and there’s a certain faction in the book that I didn’t realize matched that crowd and their followers until one of my beta readers pointed it out to me. (And let’s be clear, they’re some of the bad guys.)

Buried within is also something I mentioned up above: that it’s not people acting alone who make change, but rather people acting together. I don’t think it’s ever explicitly called out in the book, but it’s a message I definitely want people to get.

TQWhich question about Assassin's Orbit do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!


Q. “How many people has Noo slept with, anyway?”
A. She’d have to check her djinn, she’s lost count.

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Assassin's Orbit.

John:  “Noo shot him anyway, just to be sure.”

TQWhat's next?

John:  We’ll see! My agent and I are pitching a sequel to Rebellion, and if ASSASSIN’S ORBIT does well I hope to be writing that. I have another project that I’ve been working on in the meantime which we hope to be pitching later this year.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

John:  Thank you for having me!

Assassin's Orbit
Solaris, July 20, 2021
Trade Paperback and eBook, 448 pages
Murder makes unlikely allies.

On the eve of the planet Ileri’s historic vote to join the Commonwealth, the assassination of a government minister threatens to shatter everything. Private investigator Noo Okereke and spy Meiko Ogawa join forces with police chief Toiwa to investigate – and discover clues that point disturbingly toward a threat humanity thought they had escaped.
Amazon : Barnes and Noble : Bookshop : Books-A-Million : IndieBound : Powell's
Google Play : iBooks : Kobo

About John

John Appel volunteered to jump out of planes before he’d ever been in a plane; his friends and family say this sums up his approach to life pretty well. He writes science fiction and fantasy and the occasional tabletop RPG adventure. A lifelong Marylander, he lives in the Baltimore suburbs with his wife and children. He masquerades as a technology risk manager to pay the bills after two decades as an information security pro. When not writing, rolling dice, or keeping the bad guys at bay, he enjoys rum and swords, but not both at the same time. John is a graduate of the Viable Paradise writing workshop.

Website  ~  Twitter @oldscout

July 2021 Debuts

There are 6 debuts for July 2021.

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

The July debut authors and their novels are listed in alphabetical order by author (not book title or publication date). Take a good look at the covers. Voting for your favorite July cover for the 2021 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars will take place starting in the latter half of July.

John Appel

Assassin's Orbit
Solaris, July 20, 2021
Trade Paperback and eBook, 448 pages
Murder makes unlikely allies.

On the eve of the planet Ileri’s historic vote to join the Commonwealth, the assassination of a government minister threatens to shatter everything. Private investigator Noo Okereke and spy Meiko Ogawa join forces with police chief Toiwa to investigate – and discover clues that point disturbingly toward a threat humanity thought they had escaped.
Amazon : Barnes and Noble : Bookshop : Books-A-Million : IndieBound : Powell's
Google Play : iBooks : Kobo

Lena Nguyen

We Have Always Been Here
DAW, July 6, 2021
Hardcover and eBook, 368 pages
This psychological sci-fi thriller from a debut author follows one doctor who must discover the source of her crew’s madness… or risk succumbing to it herself.

Misanthropic psychologist Dr. Grace Park is placed on the Deucalion, a survey ship headed to an icy planet in an unexplored galaxy. Her purpose is to observe the thirteen human crew members aboard the ship—all specialists in their own fields—as they assess the colonization potential of the planet, Eos. But frictions develop as Park befriends the androids of the ship, preferring their company over the baffling complexity of humans, while the rest of the crew treats them with suspicion and even outright hostility.

Shortly after landing, the crew finds themselves trapped on the ship by a radiation storm, with no means of communication or escape until it passes—and that’s when things begin to fall apart. Park’s patients are falling prey to waking nightmares of helpless, tongueless insanity. The androids are behaving strangely. There are no windows aboard the ship. Paranoia is closing in, and soon Park is forced to confront the fact that nothing—neither her crew, nor their mission, nor the mysterious Eos itself—is as it seems.
Amazon : Barnes and Noble : Bookshop : Books-A-Million : IndieBound : Powell's
Google Play : iBooks : Kobo

J. P. Oakes

City of Iron and Dust
Titan Books, July 6, 2021
Trade Paperback and eBook, 400 pages
“A fantastic book, full of wit and sharp humor, City of Iron and Dust careens through a modernized faerie at a breakneck pace, full of verve and unforgettable characters. Oakes spins a smart, electric, and sometimes snarky tale, showing that the beating heart of modern fantasy is alive and well.” – John Hornor Jacobs, author of A Lush and Seething Hell and The Incorruptibles

The Iron City is a prison, a maze, an industrial blight. It is the result of a war that saw the goblins grind the fae beneath their collective boot heels. And tonight, it is also a city that churns with life. Tonight, a young fae is trying to make his fortune one drug deal at a time; a goblin princess is searching for a path between her own dreams and others’ expectations; her bodyguard is deciding who to kill first; an artist is hunting for his own voice; an old soldier is starting a new revolution; a young rebel is finding fresh ways to fight; and an old goblin is dreaming of reclaiming her power over them all. Tonight, all their stories are twisting together, wrapped up around a single bag of Dust—the only drug that can still fuel fae magic—and its fate and theirs will change the Iron City forever.
Amazon : Barnes and Noble : Bookshop : Books-A-Million : IndieBound : Powell's
Google Play : Kobo

Shelley Parker-Chan

She Who Became the Sun
Tor Books, July 20, 2021
Hardcover and eBook, 416 pages
Mulan meets The Song of Achilles in Shelley Parker-Chan's She Who Became the Sun, a bold, queer, and lyrical reimagining of the rise of the founding emperor of the Ming Dynasty from an amazing new voice in literary fantasy.

To possess the Mandate of Heaven, the female monk Zhu will do anything

“I refuse to be nothing…”

In a famine-stricken village on a dusty yellow plain, two children are given two fates. A boy, greatness. A girl, nothingness…

In 1345, China lies under harsh Mongol rule. For the starving peasants of the Central Plains, greatness is something found only in stories. When the Zhu family’s eighth-born son, Zhu Chongba, is given a fate of greatness, everyone is mystified as to how it will come to pass. The fate of nothingness received by the family’s clever and capable second daughter, on the other hand, is only as expected.

When a bandit attack orphans the two children, though, it is Zhu Chongba who succumbs to despair and dies. Desperate to escape her own fated death, the girl uses her brother's identity to enter a monastery as a young male novice. There, propelled by her burning desire to survive, Zhu learns she is capable of doing whatever it takes, no matter how callous, to stay hidden from her fate.

After her sanctuary is destroyed for supporting the rebellion against Mongol rule, Zhu takes the chance to claim another future altogether: her brother's abandoned greatness.
Amazon : Barnes and Noble : Bookshop : Books-A-Million : IndieBound : Powell's
Google Play : iBooks : Kobo

Lucinda Roy

The Freedom Race
The Dreambird Chronicles 1
Tor Books, July 13, 2021
Hardcover and eBook, 416 pages
The Freedom Race, Lucinda Roy’s explosive first foray into speculative fiction, is a poignant blend of subjugation, resistance, and hope.

In the aftermath of a cataclysmic civil war known as the Sequel, ideological divisions among the states have hardened. In the Homestead Territories, an alliance of plantation-inspired holdings, Black labor is imported from the Cradle, and Biracial “Muleseeds” are bred.

Raised in captivity on Planting 437, kitchen-seed Jellybean “Ji-ji” Lottermule knows there is only one way to escape. She must enter the annual Freedom Race as a runner.

Ji-ji and her friends must exhume a survival story rooted in the collective memory of a kidnapped people and conjure the voices of the dead to light their way home.
Amazon : Barnes and Noble : Bookshop : Books-A-Million : IndieBound : Powell's
Google Play : iBooks : Kobo

Scott Ruesterholz

Robert Wilson and the Invasion from Within
Permuted Press, July 27, 2021
Trade Paperback and eBook, 336 pages
As the world confronts an invasion from an alien empire—which has embedded spies in global institutions—the decisions of one man may determine humanity’s fate.

Alien conqueror, Anton Frozos, sends Robert Wilson, a top graduate of a spy-training program, to Earth to gain influence and prime the planet for its eventual conquest. Robert uses his advanced knowledge and technology to amass significant power and fortune in the business world. However, Robert has concealed aspects of his past from Frozos, which may complicate his loyalty.

When Frozos’s forces arrive several years later, Robert must decide whether to support the man who has lifted him from a life of enslavement or defect and ally with Earth. This choice forces Robert to insert himself into the political process, opposing American President Nick Neverian, as the planet decides whether to forcefully resist invasion or accept Frozos’s demands. Robert’s own past with President Neverian, a one-time ally and now foe, further complicates his decision-making. As the crisis builds, will nations be brought to the brink of war? Will governments be toppled while the world reckons with Frozos’s army amassing in the sky?
Amazon : Barnes and Noble : Bookshop : Books-A-Million : IndieBound : Powell's
Google Play : iBooks : Kobo
Interview with John Appel, author of Assassin's OrbitJuly 2021 Debuts

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