The Qwillery | category: Orbit | (page 3 of 8)


The Qwillery

A blog about books and other things speculative

Interview with Leo Carew, author of The Wolf

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

Interview with Leo Carew, author of The Wolf

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

Leo:  Thank you for having me!

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

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

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

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

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

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

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

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

TQDescribe The Wolf in 140 characters or less.

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

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

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

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

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

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

TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Wolf?

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

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

TQPlease tell us about the cover for The Wolf.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TQWhat's next?

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

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Under the Northern Sky
The Wolf

About Leo

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

Website  ~  Twitter @leocarew1

Interview with Rowenna Miller, author of Torn

Please welcome Rowenna Miller to The Qwillery as part of the 2018 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Torn was published on March 20th by Orbit.

Interview with Rowenna Miller, author of Torn

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

Rowenna:  I was probably about four or five and couldn’t actually write on my own yet, so I dictated a story to my mom and then illustrated it. I think it was about ponies. I’m sorry, Mom.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Rowenna:  Somewhere in between. I know where the story is heading, the basic plot points, and, probably most importantly for me, the major conflicts, themes, and character developments. I usually write a couple of guiding documents for myself—a short summary (like a book jacket blurb) that distills the main arc of the novel (who wants what, what’s in their way, what complicates their plans) and a longer synopsis that hits the major plot points and how the characters intersect and develop. If I can write both of those, I know I have a dynamic and productive enough idea that there’s a book there, but I’m pretty open to surprises.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Rowenna:  Right now, just carving out enough time! I have two small children and, just in case anyone hasn’t told you, kids keep you kinda busy, especially when one is a baby. I don’t say “finding time,” because if you wait to find it, you never will, but scheduling enough time while still staying flexible and able to drop everything for a writing sprint if I do happen to discover a free half hour is a challenge. At the same time, writing is my happy place, so it’s worth it.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Rowenna:  As a kid, I read a ton—the Prydain Chronicles, Tamora Pierce, The Chronicles of Narnia—but I also explored a lot. I was lucky to grow up in the country with trees and hills and permissive parents who didn’t limit my exploration of our little slice of forest…or the neighbors’. I also was (and remain) fascinated by history, and love digging into the history of more ordinary people—women’s history, the lives of marginalized people, military history (not the generals or the campaigns but the average soldier). Between being encouraged to explore and then exploring history with the eye of a bibliophile—there are stories everywhere, and that is probably the strongest guide in my writing.

TQDescribe Torn in 140 characters or less.

Rowenna:  As revolution threatens her city, a magic-wielding seamstress must choose between family and ambition.

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

Rowenna:  Sophie has a lot to lose, as revolution threatens her business just as it’s begun to take off. As the story opens, she develops a professional relationship that grows into friendship with a very influential noble, who (along with giving her business some nice commissions) invites her to take part in her exclusive salon. The concept of a gathering place to discuss ideas was based on the historical practice from the Enlightenment. It’s like book club on steroids meets those late night talks in your college dorm’s common room, and the most interesting part (to me) is that the development of salons in eighteenth century France was heavily influenced by women, who hosted and guided conversation at these gatherings.

TQYou've created an innovative magic system. Please tell us about it.

Rowenna:  The magical system in Torn is not widely practiced in the culture it occupies, and what’s more, isn’t widely respected, partially because, in the nation Sophie lives, it’s a practice imported by immigrants. In it, practitioners can imbue physical items with charms for good fortune (or, as Sophie is adamant about avoiding, curses for bad luck). However, it’s not terribly powerful magic as practiced by most casters, and it’s considered by the majority of the people to be a superstition. (It’s very loosely inspired by ancient Roman curse tablets.)

TQWhat inspired you to write Torn? What appeals to you about writing Fantasy?

Rowenna:  I am a historical costumer and living history nerd, and was researching late eighteenth century jackets called “caraco.” It’s a really interesting time, sartorially speaking, and we have many fashion plates and extant garments that survive to study and learn from. As I was digging into a set of fashion plates, I realized that they were produced in the years leading up to and during the French Revolution—and found myself wondering, if a seamstress could influence the outcome of major world events, how would she? I think that’s what appeals to me about writing fantasy—that “what if?” question, and the ability to think about the “real world” through a different lens.

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

Rowenna:  Sophie and Kristos (sister and brother), especially the two of them together, were probably the easiest to write. Creating their characters and their interpersonal conflict happened in tandem and developed very organically. Quite a few central character traits emerged and were refined by writing their arguments! Oddly, one of the hardest things for me with this project was managing the “background characters”—the other charmcasters Sophie knows, her shop assistants, the nobles she meets. Secondary and tertiary characters are important, and it was important to me that they feel like real people, which is difficult to do when they only appear for short sections of text!

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

Rowenna:  The major conflict in the novel is a proletariat revolt, so social issues were a given! The system that Kristos and his peers are fighting against is clearly unjust, placing economic and legal power solely in the hands of the nobility. However, it was important to me to write a story with more nuance than the good guys fighting the evil empire. The nobles aren’t entirely blind to their privileged place in the system, but many honestly believe that they are using their wealth and power to benefit everyone. Even Sophie benefits from this system in many ways. The concept of “good” people still benefiting from and contributing to an unjust system felt very relevant to me right now. It’s uncomfortable, but I wanted to write something a little uncomfortable.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for Torn.

Rowenna:  I was totally surprised and blown away by the cover! The artists at Orbit created a gorgeous and evocative image—a silhouette in sewing needles that suggests mounting danger. Love it.

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

Rowenna:  Though “historical accuracy” in sewing arts is central to the book, are there inaccuracies?

YES! There are several small liberties taken, particularly that styles of gowns overlap one anther here in ways they didn’t historically, at least not fashionably so. The biggest deliberate inaccuracy for me was that I didn’t want this world to have a whaling industry. Whalebone (baleen) was widely used to build corsets in the eighteenth century (and whale oil and ambergris were major commodities, too), but hey, it’s my world, I got to create it, and whaling just makes me sad, so nope. So any place whalebone might be used, I imagined a lightweight metal (not accurate) substitute. This barely shows up in the text—a court gown is described as having metal in the foundation garments—but it was important to me.

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


“There was a feeling, too, that welled within me when the process was working just right. A kind of deep-seated happiness, simple but complete, like the feeling that came with seeing a baby laugh or smelling fresh-baked apple pie or hearing soft rainfall on the roof. And though I was tired—and hungry—after working on a charm for a few hours, I was calmly content.”

“A single crow worries no one, but a flock can strip a field. Revolution must take wing under an entire flock, not one or two voices alone.”

TQWhat's next?

Rowenna:  I’m hard at work on Torn’s sequel! More political intrigue, charmed silk, and difficult decisions on the way!

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Rowenna:  Thanks so much for having me!

The Unraveled Kingdom 1
Orbit, March 20, 2018
Trade Paperback and eBook, 480 pages

Interview with Rowenna Miller, author of Torn
TORN is the first book in an enchanting debut fantasy series featuring a seamstress who stitches magic into clothing, and the mounting political uprising that forces her to choose between her family and her ambitions, for fans of The Queen of the Tearling.

In a time of revolution, everyone must take a side.

Sophie, a dressmaker and charm caster, has lifted her family out of poverty with a hard-won reputation for beautiful ball gowns and discreetly embroidered spells. A commission from the royal family could secure her future — and thrust her into a dangerous new world.

Revolution is brewing. As Sophie’s brother, Kristos, rises to prominence in the growing anti-monarchist movement, it is only a matter of time before their fortunes collide.

When the unrest erupts into violence, she and Kristos are drawn into a deadly magical plot. Sophie is torn — between her family and her future.

About Rowenna

Interview with Rowenna Miller, author of Torn
Photo by Heidi Hauck
Rowenna Miller grew up in a log cabin in Indiana and still lives in the Midwest with her husband and daughter, where she teaches English composition, trespasses while hiking, and spends too much time researching and recreating historical textiles.

Website  ~  Twitter @RowennaM

Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks Being Adpated for TV by Amazon Studios

Amazon Studios to Adapt Consider Phlebas, First Novel of the Culture Series, for Television

Dennis Kelly set to write the series, Plan B to produce

The Culture, a fictional interstellar utopian society
from author Iain M. Banks is being adapted for television for the first
time, to come to life exclusively on Prime Video

SEATTLE--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Feb. 21, 2018-- (NASDAQ: AMZN)--Amazon Studios today announced it has acquired the global television rights to the Culture's first novel Consider Phlebas. The famed space opera by Scottish writer Iain M. Banks features Banks' fictional interstellar utopian society, the Culture. The series will be adapted by Dennis Kelly (Utopia, Matilda) with Plan B Entertainment (World War Z, 12 Years a Slave, The Big Short, Moonlight, Feud) slated to produce and the Estate of Iain Banks attached as Executive Producer.

Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks Being Adpated for TV by Amazon Studios
Iain M. Banks (Photo: Business Wire)
A kinetic, action-packed adventure on a huge canvas, Consider Phlebas draws upon the extraordinary world and mythology Banks created in the Culture, in which a highly advanced and progressive society ends up at war with the Idirans, a deeply religious, warlike race intent on dominating the entire galaxy.

The story centers on Horza, a rogue agent tasked by the Idirans with the impossible mission of recovering a missing Culture 'Mind,' an artificial intelligence many thousands of times smarter than any human--something that could hold the key to wiping out the Culture altogether. What unfolds, with Banks' trademark irreverent humor, ultimately asks the poignant question of how we can use technology to preserve our humanity, not surrender it.

"The story of the Culture is so rich and captivating that for years Hollywood has been trying to bring this utopian society to life on the screen," said Sharon Tal Yguado, Head of Scripted Series at Amazon Studios. "We are honored that we have been chosen, along with Dennis Kelly and Plan B Entertainment, to make Consider Phlebas into a television series we think will be loved by fans for years to come."

"Iain Banks has long been a hero of mine, and his innate warmth, humor and humanism shines through these novels," said Dennis Kelly. "Far from being the dystopian nightmares that we are used to, Banks creates a kind of flawed paradise, a society truly worth fighting for--rather than a warning from the future, his books are a beckoning."

"We revere the work of Iain Banks and continue to be moved by his inimitable spirit and his commitment to imagining a better future even in the darkest of times," said Plan B. "Consider Phlebas, simultaneously explores the deepest questions concerning humanity and our future. We are so grateful to the Estate of Iain Banks for the opportunity to bring his work to life, and to Amazon for the scope of their ambition to building Iain's prescient world."

Prime Originals are available for Prime members to stream and enjoy using the Prime Video app for TVs, connected devices including Amazon Fire TV, and mobile devices, or online with other Prime Originals online at, at no additional cost to their membership. Eligible customers who are not already Prime members can sign up for a free trial at For a list of all Prime Video compatible devices, visit Content is available through the Prime Video app and in more than 200 countries and territories.

Customers who are not already Prime members can sign up for a free trial at For a list of all Amazon Video compatible devices, visit

About Prime Video

Prime Video is a premium on-demand entertainment service that offers customers the greatest choice in what to watch, and how to watch it. Prime Video is the only service that provides all of the following:
  • Prime Video: Thousands of movies and TV shows, including popular licensed and self-published content plus critically-acclaimed and award-winning Prime Originals like The Grand Tour, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Sneaky Pete, Amazon Original Movies such as Academy Award-winning Manchester by the Sea and The Salesman, and Academy Award-nominated The Big Sick and kids series, Tumble Leaf, available for unlimited streaming as part of an Amazon Prime membership. Prime Video is also now available to customers in more than 200 countries and territories around the globe at
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In addition to Prime Video, the Prime membership includes unlimited fast free shipping options across all categories available on Amazon, more than two million songs and thousands of playlists and stations with Prime Music, secure photo storage with Prime Photos, unlimited reading with Prime Reading, unlimited access to a digital audiobook catalogue with Audible Channels for Prime, a rotating selection of free digital games and in-game loot with Twitch Prime, early access to select Lightning Deals, exclusive access and discounts to select items, and more. To sign-up for Prime or to find out more visit:

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Consider Phlebas
A Culture Novel 1
Orbit, March 26, 2008
   Trade Paperback, 544 pages
Orbit, December 1, 2009
   eBook, 544 pages

Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks Being Adpated for TV by Amazon Studios
"Dazzlingly original." -- Daily Mail
"Gripping, touching and funny." -- TLS

The war raged across the galaxy. Billions had died, billions more were doomed. Moons, planets, the very stars themselves, faced destruction, cold-blooded, brutal, and worse, random. The Idirans fought for their Faith; the Culture for its moral right to exist. Principles were at stake. There could be no surrender.

Within the cosmic conflict, an individual crusade. Deep within a fabled labyrinth on a barren world, a Planet of the Dead proscribed to mortals, lay a fugitive Mind. Both the Culture and the Idirans sought it. It was the fate of Horza, the Changer, and his motley crew of unpredictable mercenaries, human and machine, actually to find it, and with it their own destruction.

Interview with Melissa Caruso, author of The Tethered Mage

Please welcome Melissa Caruso to The Qwillery as part of the of the 2017 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Tethered Mage is published on October 24th by Orbit.

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

TQWelcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

Melissa:  I’ve been writing for my entire life. Before I could actually write words, I dictated stories for my dad to type, or drew them in pictures. When I was a little kid and had insomnia, one of my parents suggested telling myself a story in my head to fall asleep, which was the worst advice ever because then I would lie awake in bed composing a serial epic fantasy novel in my brain instead of sleeping. The stories have always been there.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Melissa:  Definitely a plotter. I have long, detailed outlines and pages of notes for each major draft of a novel. But I don’t bind myself strictly to the outline—if inspiration strikes or the story or characters seem to want to go in another direction, I roll with it and then update the remaining outline to adjust.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Melissa:  Transitions! Getting into and out of a scene that doesn’t have a natural dramatic start or finish built in is the worst. I’ll know I have to write a scene where one character tells another a shocking revelation, for instance, but where are they having this conversation? What were they doing before the conversation got to that point? And once I’ve delivered the revelation, how do I end the scene on a sufficiently riveting note that will make the readers keep turning pages, rather than just tailing off lamely? I spend more time trying to figure this stuff out than I do writing the actual scene, sometimes.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Melissa:  Everything I read, every place I visit, every person I meet. It all goes in a big funnel at the top of a wacky Dr. Seuss machine in my brain and gets spat out the other end as stories. That said, whenever I read something by an author where some aspect of their craft really blows me away—say, the way Neil Gaiman immerses you in a world and makes it feel like a familiar story someone has been telling you since you were a tiny child, or how J. K. Rowling builds plot clues into the very first Harry Potter books for major twists that don’t happen until the last one, or the rhythms of Roger Zelazny’s dialogue, or how Hiromu Arakawa can deliver a huge emotional punch in a scene through the subtlest little details—I try to figure out how they did it and learn a small piece of their magic.

TQDescribe The Tethered Mage in 140 characters or less.

Melissa:  When bookish aristocrat Amalia binds thief Zaira’s fire magic, the reluctant partners must thwart a deadly intrigue before it incites a war.

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

Melissa:  Amalia’s mother, La Contessa, is one of my favorite characters, and her presence looms over Amalia throughout the whole book. She’s a powerful political force in the Serene Empire, and in Amalia’s life—but she cares deeply about her daughter, even when she’s at her most manipulative and domineering. Their relationship is complicated, and an important thread throughout the story.

TQWhat inspired you to write The Tethered Mage? What appeals to you about writing Fantasy?

Melissa:  I got the idea for The Tethered Mage on a long car ride with my husband, when we were talking about how the presence of mages in history would have affected the structure of society. The idea for the Falcon/Falconer system popped into my head— a non-mage linked to a mage, with the ability to bind or loose the mage’s power—and I immediately wanted to write characters negotiating that difficult relationship.

As for what appeals to me about writing fantasy, I’d love to say something deep and profound, but honestly? Because it’s awesome. Magic, dragons, swordfights, fancy clothes—what’s not to love? I also love the freedom to make up an entire world that will support and enhance the story I want to tell.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Tethered Mage?

Melissa:  I’ve traveled to Venice twice, and I always wanted to set a book there (though The Tethered Mage is set in an original world, the setting is heavily influenced by Venice). I looked up all sorts of details from the late 17th century period I wanted to evoke—boats, military ranks and units, courtship customs, firearms, dance and music, fashion, you name it—but it all kept coming back to Googling delicious Italian food, somehow. I got so hungry researching this book.

TQPlease tell us about cover for The Tethered Mage.

Melissa:  I LOVE MY COVER SO MUCH!!!! The design is by Lisa Marie Pompillo, and the art is by Crystal Ben & Arcangel. The bird silhouette is a symbol of the Falcons (the mage military unit into which Zaira is conscripted), and you can see shadowy details inside it evoking characters, scenes, and settings from the book. I love that the initial impression of the raptor silhouette is so striking, but the closer you look, the more you see inside it. It’s SO PRETTY!

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

Melissa:  The easiest might have been Istrella, who is a side character (teen mad scientist artificer, basically)—I love her, and she’s really fun. The hardest was probably La Contessa, because everything she said had to be brilliant. I kept going back and making her dialogue sharper and smarter.

TQWhy have you chosen to include or not chosen to include social issues in The Tethered Mage?

Melissa:  I think all speculative fiction at least touches on some social issues, since it’s part of worldbuilding to determine what social issues your imaginary society faces. Sometimes it’s more central to the plot or theme of the book than others, of course. In THE TETHERED MAGE, the biggest social issues impacting the characters and plot are how mages fit into society (and the empire’s current policy of mandatory conscription), class differences between the main characters, and political conflicts over how independent the empire’s client states should be. As for issues I chose NOT to include, the world of THE TETHERED MAGE has gender and racial equality and same-sex marriage, because I wanted my characters who are female, gay, and/or PoC to be able to just be their awesome selves in this fantasy world without weighing them down with real-world prejudices to struggle against. I think we need books that show that struggle, but we also need fantasy that shows, say, girls with swords kissing each other without anyone trying to be like “STOP THAT, IT’S TOO AWESOME TO BE ALLOWED!"

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

Melissa:  My favorite questions are ones that pull out fun little details in the answers, so maybe the question I wish someone would ask is “Tell me a random cool piece of Tethered Mage trivia!” Of course, then I have to pick one. Hmm… Here’s one: the general aesthetic of wirework artifice (one of the types of magic in the world of THE TETHERED MAGE) is loosely based on the work of my friend Kendra Tornheim’s jewelry studio, Silver Owl Creations. She does some gorgeous stuff with wire and beads, and is also a computer programmer, and I was thinking of her when I designed this type of magic where the twists in the wire and the position of the beads act a bit like a magical circuit board, forming a logical spatial language that dictates the terms of the spell.

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

Melissa:  Amalia frequently calls to mind her Machiavellian mother’s advice, so I’ll give you a couple of those:

“Power wields a light touch, because a light touch suffices.”

“Tell them nothing, and they will fill the meaninglessness of your words with exactly what they want to hear."

TQWhat's next?

Melissa:  Right now I’m working on editing the second book in the Swords & Fire series, THE DEFIANT HEIR. It continues Amalia and Zaira’s story, and introduces some new characters and settings I really can’t wait for readers to meet!

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Melissa:  Thank you! My pleasure.

The Tethered Mage
Swords and Fire 1
Orbit, October 24, 2017
Trade Paperback and eBook, 480 pages

In the Raverran Empire, magic is scarce and those born with power are strictly controlled — taken as children and conscripted into the Falcon Army.

Zaira has lived her life on the streets to avoid this fate, hiding her mage-mark and thieving to survive. But hers is a rare and dangerous magic, one that threatens the entire empire.

Lady Amalia Cornaro was never meant to be a Falconer. Heiress and scholar, she was born into a treacherous world of political machinations.

But fate has bound the heir and the mage. And as war looms on the horizon, a single spark could turn their city into a pyre.

The Tethered Mage is the first novel in a spellbinding new fantasy series.


The Defiant Heir
Swords and Fire 2
Orbit, April 28, 2018
Trade Paperback and eBook, 480 pages

Across the border, the Witch Lords of Vaskandar are preparing for war. But before an invasion can begin, they must call a rare gathering of all seventeen lords to decide a course of action.

Lady Amalia Cornaro knows that this Conclave might be her only chance to smother the growing flames of war, and she is ready to make any sacrifice if it means saving Raverra from destruction.

Amalia and Zaira must go behind enemy lines, using every ounce of wit and cunning they have, to sway Vaskandar from war. Or else it will all come down to swords and fire.

“Charming, intelligent, fast-moving, beautifully atmospheric. I couldn’t put it down.” – Genevieve Cogman, author of The Invisible Library

“The best kind of fantasy.” – Rosalyn Eves, author of Blood Rose Rebellion

The Defiant Heir is the second novel in a spellbinding new fantasy series.

About Melissa

Photo by Erin Re Anderson
Melissa Caruso graduated with honors in Creative Writing from Brown University and holds an MFA in Fiction from University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Website  ~  Facebook  ~  Twitter @melisscaru

Interview with Anna Smith Spark, author of The Court of Broken Knives

Please welcome Anna Smith Spark to The Qwillery as part of the of the 2017 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Court of Broken Knives is published on August 15th by Orbit.

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

Interview with Anna Smith Spark, author of The Court of Broken Knives

TQWelcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

Anna:  Hello, and thank you for inviting me here.

I’ve always written, I’ve got strange scribbled things from when I was a child, totally illegible. I used to play on my own as a child telling myself stories, creating whole worlds in my head. My father and many of his friends write, I grew up with poets, academics, novelists, playwrights. It just seemed entirely instinctive to write

I stopped writing for a long time as an adult for complex personal reasons (depression is a bad thing and blocks creativity. Medication is a good thing and helps creativity. The myth of the tormented artist is a myth. I’m just going to drop that in here because … ). I finally started writing properly again a few years ago. Broken Knives was the result.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Anna:  I’m something of a mix. I have a very clear idea of how the whole Empires of Dust trilogy will end, but unravelling how exactly I get there is something that slowly happens as the story progresses. Actually, it’s rather like writing history – I have a strong sense of the bones of the story arc, what has to happen, but the detail and the emphasis is evolving as I go along. Often it’s only when I written something that key themes emerge, and I have to go back and make changes as I understand what’s happening and why. Like the way you have to go back and reconsider things that happen in your own life. This sudden realisation: that’s what that means! That’s what that was about! That’s why it was! In some ways, I’m writing a very simple story, in the way myths and legends are often simple. I don’t write complex plots, I’m rather in awe of those writers who do, who can hold an intensely complex plot in their head. I’m trying to tell a simple story in a beautiful way.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Anna:  I get very up and down about my writing. I can write for days obsessively, pouring it out, so breathless with excitement. Then I despair and want to abandon everything as terrible and a waste of my life. Writing is a painful, emotional thing. Most writers probably shouldn’t be writers, if that makes any sense. One bad review and we’re emotionally broken.

And sometimes I want to scream at the computer, because the words are in there but I can’t get them out.

And I tend to snack while I write.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Anna:  Influences…. Where to start? The Court of Broken Knives is hugely influenced by Norse and Dark Age British mythology and folk lore, and by Classical Greek literature. I suppose in some ways it’s a mythical book as much as a fantasy novel. Or a historical novel in a world where the old gods are real, like Mary Stewart’s Merlin trilogy or Mary Renault’s Alexander trilogy. I love historical fiction and academic history books; I draw a lot from historical biography and social history. I don’t really see a difference between fantasy and historical literature – they’re both creating alien worlds, presenting characters so very like but also so utterly distanced from our own lives.

Also travel writing, the way travel writing builds a world for you in your mind through landscape, daily experience, the local history of a place. I grew up walking the British countryside listening to my father talking about folk lore, history, literature. Then I’d go home and read Tolkien, Norse mythology, the Mabinogion, see the stories set in the landscapes I’d been walking in. That sense of the world as numinous. That’s what I’m trying to evoke.

As a child, I remember telling myself stories based on the great myth cycles, the Eddas or the Tale of Troy – kind of like very pretentious fan fic, I suppose. And, lo, I’m still writing stories based on them. That’s what fantasy is, really, maybe. Illiad/Beowulf/Gilgamesh fan fic.

In terms of my literary style, the authors I’m probably most influenced by are Mary Renault, M. John Harrison and James Ellroy. Renault just gets absolutely inside these astonishing people, Alexander, Plato, Dionysus of Syracuse, and makes them both real people (they were real people, they were petty and weak and sometimes unlucky and did really nasty bowel movements, same as we all are) and astonishing, titanic figures of myth (which they also were, somehow. I mean, how could Alexander have been a real person? Really?). Harrison’s style is astonishing, his Viriconium is a sublimely beautiful book. The way Ellroy writes violence is astonishing. In White Jazz he’s writing beyond language, just words as pure utter physical experience of pain. I binge read his books in my teens and they had a vast influence on me and the way I write.

TQDescribe The Court of Broken Knives in 140 characters or less.

Anna:  I’m going to cheat and base this on a line in a review I got on goodreads, because I love that review:

Violent, grim but bright with glaring desert sun and wide clear northern skies. Bleak, cynical, filled with beauty and love. Contains poetry.

The joke description is: Joe Abercrombie meets Leonard Cohen in a particularly filthy public toilet.

TQTell us something about The Court of Broken Knives that is not found in the book description.

Anna:  Warning: contains poetry. And romance. And shopping. And there’s this 500 word description of some rain. Two 500 words descriptions of some rain. Repeated references to bird shit.

TQWhat inspired you to write The Court of Broken Knives? What appeals to you about writing Grimdark fantasy?

Anna:  I have no clear idea what inspired me to start writing again. I didn’t write for a long time, and then one day I just started writing. A scene of some men in the desert, soldiers, the sun reflecting on their swords. Then violence. That became the beginnings of the book. Tobias emerged very clearly, right back that first day, he was there with me completely real from the start. Orhan also. Marith and Thalia have been with me in one form or another my whole life, they’re essentially the heroes of the stories I used to tell myself as a child. So the characters were there, but it took a long time for me to really understand what I was writing about, what the key themes and ideas were.

Why grimdark fantasy? Because it’s the closest to myth, to the strange old tales of the Iliad, the Eddas, Anglo-Saxon poetry. Those stories are savage, bloody, very brutal, often immoral, ultimately tragic - but shot through with utter, astonishing beauty and joy in life.

TQIn your opinion, what are the essential ingredients for Grimdark?

Anna:  Cynicism. Not nihilism – indeed, I suspect many of us grimdark types are deeply romantic at heart. But an awareness that there’s no easy good or bad, just life in all its myriad forms. That’s not to say that there’s no evil in the world, because the more I see of life, especially now I have a child, the more terrible and cruel the world seems to be. But that cruelty and evil are not simple things. Some people think that grimdark is ‘goodies and baddies with hyped-up violence’. I don’t see it in those terms at all. That’s so pointless, just gore for the sake of it. Grimdark to me is the self-awareness that we all have the potential to be monsters. That our choices can destroy others’ lives. That we are not good people and the world is not a good place. Or that one can be a good person and still inflict great harm. And to go on living with that.

Grimdark does also need a huge dose of entirely gratuitous violence, though. I do like a spot of entirely gratuitous violence in my books.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for The Court of Broken Knives.

Anna:  The US cover shows the figure of a man, back to the viewer, looking off into the white distance, a sword in his hand. He looks somehow lonely. He is surrounded by clear white light, or white mist covering his vision to blind him, or snow, or smoke. His name is Marith. He’s the love of my life.

The tag line is ‘Blood never lies’. What this means I leave to the reader to find out.

TQIn The Court of Broken Knives who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Anna:  Weirdly, the easiest character to write is Tobias, who’s a grizzled, aging sellsword bloke (clichéd? Moi?). Beneath the ex-fetish model female exterior, I would seem to be a grizzled, aging sellsword bloke. His voice just pours out of me. A friend who was in the Special Forces says I capture that soldierly voice perfectly, which is kind of weird seeing as I’m a liberal arts graduate who worries about doing the washing up in case it chips her nails.

The hardest character to write is probably Thalia. She is me, essentially. She’s been with me my whole life in one form or another, she’s the heroine I told myself stories about as a child, the D&D character I played for years. So she gets emotionally complicated.

TQWhy have you chosen to include or not chosen to include social issues in The Court of Broken Knives?

Anna:  All books are profoundly political. All say things about society and human life. And fantasy is ultimately about structures of power. Thus fantasy is profoundly political. It cannot but be political.

Yes, I do have a Masters in Cultural Studies. How’d you possibly work that out?

Broken Knives is explicit in its social critique. I’m a cynic, and that cynicism does I think come across. That wonderful line from Leonard Cohen, ‘Everybody knows the war is over/Everybody knows the good guys lost’ but yet we go on as if it’s not lost, as if we can still win. I rather believe that and I’m certainly writing that. Fighting the good fight even though it’s hopeless. Showing how unjust the world is.

Ultimately, I’m exploring the nature of power and of violence. Why do we fight? Why do we kill? Why are we prepared to die for something?

TQWhich question about The Court of Broken Knives do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!


Question: Did you really mean to change tense three times in the same sentence?
Answer: Yes.

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from The Court of Broken Knives.

  -   So much life. So much life in this dead place. The air smelt of life. The stream sang of life. The sky was luminous with life, colourless, liquid.

  -   Killing and killing and such perfect joy.

  -   Who can tell what it’s about, or when it was written? Just men who died.

TQWhat's next?

AnnaThe Tower of Living and Dying, book two of Empires of Dust, is currently with my editors. To blow my own trumpet very loudly, I’m extremely proud of it.

I’m writing book three at the moment. It’s a painful thing to write: it’s the end of a story I’ve invested so much of my life in. I’m really struggling with it, because when it’s done … it’s done.

I’m also involved in a very exciting new Kickstarter project, Landfall. It’s a fantasy serial, a series of written episodes that will work rather like a television show. It’s dark fantasy with a 16th/17th century New England flavour to it. An epic fantasy version of Jamestown, maybe??? I’m one of the writers, alongside Michael R. Fletcher and Jesse Bullington/Alex Marshall. It’s launching this summer, I’m very excited about it. Mike and I are good friends, I love his books; I’m a big fan of Jesse’s/Alex’s writing as well. I think our writing styles will work beautifully together. BUT IT’S A KICKSTARTER, GUYS. YOU WANT ME TO EAT NEXT YEAR, YOU NEED TO FUND IT. Ahem, I mean: if anyone’s interested, the kickstarter info will be going out soon.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Anna:  Thank you for having me.

The Court of Broken Knives
Empires of Dust 1
Orbit, August 15, 2017
Trade Paperback, 512 pages
     eBook, June 27, 2017

Interview with Anna Smith Spark, author of The Court of Broken Knives
In this dark and gripping debut fantasy that Miles Cameron called "gritty and glorious!" the exiled son of the king must fight to reclaim his throne no matter the cost.

It is the richest empire the world has ever known, and it is also doomed. Governed by an imposturous Emperor, decadence has blinded its inhabitants to their vulnerability. The Yellow Empire is on the verge of invasion--and only one man can see it.

Haunted by prophetic dreams, Orhan has hired a company of soldiers to cross the desert to reach the capital city. Once they enter the Palace, they have one mission: kill the Emperor, then all those who remain. Only from the ashes can a new empire be built.

The company is a group of good, ordinary soldiers, for whom this is a mission like any other. But the strange boy Marith who walks among them is no ordinary soldier. Young, ambitious, and impossibly charming, something dark hides in Marith's past--and in his blood.

Dark and brilliant, dive into this new fantasy series for readers looking for epic battle scenes, gritty heroes, and blood-soaked revenge.

About Anna

Interview with Anna Smith Spark, author of The Court of Broken Knives
Anna Smith Spark lives in London, UK. She loves grimdark and epic fantasy and historical military fiction. Anna has a BA in Classics, an MA in history and a PhD in English Literature. She has previously been published in the Fortean Times and the poetry website

Website  ~  Facebook  ~  Twitter @queenofgrimdark

Interview with RJ Barker, author of Age of Assassins

Please welcome RJ Barker to The Qwillery as part of the of the 2017 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Age of Assassins was published on August 1st by Orbit.

Interview with RJ Barker, author of Age of Assassins

TQWelcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

RJ:  Hello Qwillery! Lovely to meet you. I don't think I can answer that very well, it feels like I've always been writing. My earliest definite writing memory is from primary school when I was about ten and I wrote a poem that my teacher sent off to a book. No idea if it got in or not but I do remember the title of the poem and the first line. It was called 'The House' and the first line was 'Within these dark forsaken walls.' That makes me sound like I should have been an Adam's family child, considering how I ended up maybe it was foreshadowing.[1]

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

RJ:  I make everything up on the spot, almost completely. I usually know the end and a couple of things I'd quite like to happen but outside of that I'm as surprised by half the stuff that happens as someone reading it for the first time will be[2]. It's a tremendously fun way of doing it, for me, anyway.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

RJ:  This is a really hard question for me to answer because I simply really enjoy writing[3]. Sometimes I struggle to just sit down and do it because I am distracted by other things, or I am being plan lazy, but the actual doing it is never what I would describe as hard because it's fun. Copy editing is less creative though, that's maybe more challenging, but it's still, overall, something I like doing. It's a process that makes me think about all the decisions I've made and, hopefully, makes what I'm doing into a better book. Which is good for everyone.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

RJ:  Everything. The temptation is to reel off books and authors but I think I'm influenced by far more than that (we all are, I imagine) so I shall steer clear of it. Where I am from, northern England, definitely comes through in the landscapes and some of the voices. And I played in bands[4] for a long time so music is huge influence, it definitely informs the mood of the book and everything I write. And the world around me, it seeps in and makes its way out in words.

TQDescribe Age of Assassins in 140 characters or less.

RJ:  A fantasy murder mystery with magic, swordfights and intrigue. And antlers. The antlers are the most important bit.

TQTell us something about Age of Assassins that is not found in the book description.

RJ:  Oh, Mounts! I have a thing about antlers (dunno if you noticed) and in the book they ride about on huge antlered fighting creatures called mounts. Girton and Merela's (his master) mount is called Xus and although he's not in it a huge amount and he can't speak he's absolutely one of my favourite characters.

TQWhat inspired you to write Age of Assassins? What appeals to you about writing fantasy?

RJ:  The answer to both of these is the same, sort of. I'm not really the sort of person who has an allegiance to any one genre I'm just not very good at doing one thing. There are so many different things out there and I am endlessly curious. I want to try and sample as much as possible so I wouldn't ever describe myself as an “X” reader or writer, I just like books. But when the idea for Age of Assassins came to me it had to be fantasy because, in the great tradition of such things[5], a fantasy element was central to the plot. So it wasn't really a decision, it was a necessity of the story I wanted to tell. I very rarely make decisions if I'm honest, I just do what seems like a good idea at the time.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for Age of Assassins.

RJ:  I really like the cover, now. It's by Tom Sanderson, at and he's done a good job of catching the air of mystery and melancholy that pervades the book. It was quite difficult for me to separate out my taste in art, which is very left of field, from the cover of a book which is an illustration with a job to do – to sell the book. But Orbit know their stuff and have nailed it as far as the reception of readers goes[6]. Though you won't learn anything about the book from the cover, apart from a kind of feeling of mystery. And that there is a castle in the book.

TQIn Age of Assassins who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

RJ:  This is really quite boring but it was all really easy. I wrote it in six weeks, it was literally like being hit by a bolt. I had an idea, dropped everything else I was thinking about to do it and wrote it. It's not changed a huge amount from the first version. It was a bit like being possessed, I just knew what I had to do and it all fitted together. In a way it felt like cheating. It's all seen from Girton's point of view and because that felt so clear to me I didn't really have any problems, I'm trying to think of something to talk about that was difficult so I seem a bit more interesting but I'm not getting anywhere.


Something that was hard was that there are no horses in this world, they use the aforementioned mounts but 'horse' is so ingrained into me that I kept writing it, again and again and again. And the same in book two, Blood of Assassins. I wouldn't be surprised if some horses had crept through and made it into the book y'know. Horses, they're sneaky like that. Tiptoeing past the editing process on their hooves. Bloody horses, sticking their velvety noses in where they're not wanted. *shakes fist*.

TQWhy have you chosen to include or not chosen to include social issues in Age of Assassins?

RJ:  The act of making the lead character disabled makes it hard to avoid social issues, and you could read the use of magic in the book as an environmental allegory – if that's what you want to do. I think some reflection of our world makes a book more interesting as well, as long as it doesn't interrupt the flow of the book and become preaching. Social issues that are allegorical to our world exist in Age of Assassins but you could easily read the book without noticing – if that's your thing. Books are like onions, layer upon layer and what a reader gets out of it depends on how deeply they want to read. It's an exciting adventure, but there's more there if you want it.

TQWhich question about Age of Assassins do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

RJ:  What was the first idea you had for Age of Assassins?

RJ: Thanks, RJ, I've always wanted someone to ask me that. It was the name of the world it takes place in: The Tired Lands. There was something so very evocative about those three words. They popped into my head and it was as if I could see the landscape lain out before me. I was amazed it didn't already exist if I'm honest, it felt like somewhere that already existed and it was a really loaded name, it brings a lot with it. And after The Tired Lands the rest followed, the allegory of the disabled hero (echoes of the Fisher King there), this gradually decaying land and his story within it.

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

RJ:  I am going to neatly sidestep this question. There are genuinely funny moments in AoA and thrilling actiony moments too but it's all dependant on you knowing Girton and the characters around him. I always feel that nipping a short quote out of a book is a bit like saying you have a beautiful coat and when someone asks to see it showing them two small bits of the yarn it's made from. It might be very nice string and everything, but it won't help you see the jacket. Gosh, that makes me sound incredibly po-faced and serious doesn't it?[7] Read the book, it's best for everyone, then you can choose your own quotes and I won't feel like I'm crowing.

TQWhat's next?

RJ:  Well, book two is edited and book three is written, so next up I have copy edits for book 2 and making book 3 good. Then something new, hopefully. I'd quite like to do something involving sailing ships and big cannons but I really am quite fickle so this may change.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

RJ:  Thank you for having me, Qwillery.

1 - There are a lot of black clothes in our house. A lot.
2 - Hopefully.
3 - What is that noise? It's the hubris alarms, Sir.
4 - Badly.
5 - How do you know something is a fantasy book? If you take out the fantasy element it falls apart. I can't remember whose rule this is and it was originally for SF but it is a good one that works most of the time.
6 - Also, a mystery, for who is that hooded figure on the cover?
7 - I am making a serious face.

Age of Assassins
The Wounded Kingdom 1
Orbit, August 1, 2017
Paperback and eBook, 432 pages

Interview with RJ Barker, author of Age of Assassins

Girton Club-foot has no family, a crippled leg, and is apprenticed to the best assassin in the land.

He's learning the art of taking lives, but his latest mission tasks him with a far more difficult challenge: to save a life. Someone is trying to kill the heir to the throne, and it is up to Girton to uncover the traitor and prevent the prince's murder.

Age of Assassins is the first in an epic new trilogy set in a world ravaged by magic, featuring a cast of assassins, knights, ambitious noblemen, and fools.

About RJ Barker

RJ Barker is a softly-spoken Yorkshireman with flowing locks. He lives in the frozen north with his wife and son, and divides his time between writing and looking after his son.

Website  ~  Twitter @dedbutdrmng  ~  Facebook

Orbit 10th Anniversary eBook Sale

Through next Monday, July 31st, Orbit is celebrating it’s 10th anniversary with $2.99 e-book deals on 10 of its most popular titles. Happy Anniversary, Orbit!

Orbit 10th Anniversary eBook Sale
by Kim Stanley Robinson
Orbit, May 22, 2012
eBook, 576 pages

Winner of the Nebula Award for Best SF Novel of the Year

The year is 2312. Scientific and technological advances have opened gateways to an extraordinary future. Earth is no longer humanity's only home; new habitats have been created throughout the solar system on moons, planets, and in between. But in this year, 2312, a sequence of events will force humanity to confront its past, its present, and its future.

The first event takes place on Mercury, on the city of Terminator, itself a miracle of engineering on an unprecedented scale. It is an unexpected death, but one that might have been foreseen. For Swan Er Hong, it is an event that will change her life. Swan was once a woman who designed worlds. Now she will be led into a plot to destroy them.

Orbit 10th Anniversary eBook Sale
Ancillary Justice
Imperial Radch 1
by Ann Leckie
Orbit, October 1, 2013
eBook, 432 pages

The only novel ever to win the Hugo, Nebula, and Arthur C. Clarke Awards and the first book in Ann Leckie's New York Times bestselling trilogy.

On a remote, icy planet, the soldier known as Breq is drawing closer to completing her quest.

Once, she was the Justice of Toren - a colossal starship with an artificial intelligence linking thousands of soldiers in the service of the Radch, the empire that conquered the galaxy.

Now, an act of treachery has ripped it all away, leaving her with one fragile human body, unanswered questions, and a burning desire for vengeance.

Orbit 10th Anniversary eBook Sale
Blood of Elves
Witcher 1
by Andrzej Sapkowski
Orbit, May 1, 2009
eBook, 416 pages

The New York Times bestselling series that inspired the international hit video game: The Witcher.

For over a century, humans, dwarves, gnomes, and elves have lived together in relative peace. But times have changed, the uneasy peace is over, and now the races are fighting once again. The only good elf, it seems, is a dead elf.

Geralt of Rivia, the cunning assassin known as The Witcher, has been waiting for the birth of a prophesied child. This child has the power to change the world - for good, or for evil.

As the threat of war hangs over the land and the child is hunted for her extraordinary powers, it will become Geralt's responsibility to protect them all - and the Witcher never accepts defeat.

Blood of Elves is the first full-length Witcher novel, and the perfect follow up if you've read The Last Wish collection.

Orbit 10th Anniversary eBook Sale
Newsflesh 1
by Mira Grant
Orbit, May 1, 2010
eBook, 608 pages

The year was 2014. We had cured cancer. We had beat the common cold. But in doing so we created something new, something terrible that no one could stop. The infection spread, virus blocks taking over bodies and minds with one, unstoppable command: FEED.

Now, twenty years after the Rising, Georgia and Shaun Mason are on the trail of the biggest story of their lives-the dark conspiracy behind the infected. The truth will out, even if it kills them.

FEED is the electrifying and critically acclaimed novel of a world a half-step from our own---a novel of geeks, zombies, politics and social media.

Orbit 10th Anniversary eBook Sale
The Fifth Season
Broken Earth 1
by N. K. Jemisin
Orbit, August 4, 2015
eBook, 512

"Intricate and extraordinary." - New York Times on The Fifth Season (A New York Times Notable Book of 2015)


This is the way the world ends...for the last time.

A season of endings has begun.

It starts with the great red rift across the heart of the world's sole continent, spewing ash that blots out the sun.

It starts with death, with a murdered son and a missing daughter.

It starts with betrayal, and long dormant wounds rising up to fester.

This is the Stillness, a land long familiar with catastrophe, where the power of the earth is wielded as a weapon. And where there is no mercy.

Orbit 10th Anniversary eBook Sale
The Girl With All the Gifts
by M. R. Carey
Orbit, June 10, 2014
eBook, 416 pages

Melanie is a very special girl. Dr Caldwell calls her "our little genius."

Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don't like her. She jokes that she won't bite, but they don't laugh.

The Girl With All the Gifts is a groundbreaking thriller, emotionally charged and gripping from beginning to end.

Orbit 10th Anniversary eBook Sale
Leviathan Wakes
Expanse 1
by James S. A. Corey
Orbit, June 15, 2011
eBook, 592 pages

The first book in the landmark Expanse series, now a major television series from Syfy!

Leviathan Wakes is James S. A. Corey's first novel in the epic, New York Times bestselling series the Expanse, a modern masterwork of science fiction where humanity has colonized the solar system.

Two hundred years after migrating into space, mankind is in turmoil. When a reluctant ship's captain and washed-up detective find themselves involved in the case of a missing girl, what they discover brings our solar system to the brink of civil war, and exposes the greatest conspiracy in human history.

Orbit 10th Anniversary eBook Sale
Red Country
by Joe Abercrombie
Orbit, November 13, 2012
eBook, 480 pages

A New York Times bestseller!

They burned her home.
They stole her brother and sister.
But vengeance is following.

Shy South hoped to bury her bloody past and ride away smiling, but she'll have to sharpen up some bad old ways to get her family back, and she's not a woman to flinch from what needs doing. She sets off in pursuit with only a pair of oxen and her cowardly old step father Lamb for company. But it turns out Lamb's buried a bloody past of his own. And out in the lawless Far Country the past never stays buried.

Their journey will take them across the barren plains to a frontier town gripped by gold fever, through feud, duel and massacre, high into the unmapped mountains to a reckoning with the Ghosts. Even worse, it will force them into an alliance with Nicomo Cosca, infamous soldier of fortune, and his feckless lawyer Temple, two men no one should ever have to trust . . .

RED COUNTRY takes place in the same world as the First Law trilogy, Best Served Cold, and The Heroes. This novel also represents the return of Logen Ninefingers, one of Abercrombie's most beloved characters.

Orbit 10th Anniversary eBook Sale
Parasol Protectorate 1
by Gail Carriger
Orbit, October 1, 2009
eBook, 416 pages

Alexia Tarabotti is laboring under a great many social tribulations. First, she has no soul. Second, she's a spinster whose father is both Italian and dead. Third, she was rudely attacked by a vampire, breaking all standards of social etiquette.

Where to go from there? From bad to worse apparently, for Alexia accidentally kills the vampire -- and then the appalling Lord Maccon (loud, messy, gorgeous, and werewolf) is sent by Queen Victoria to investigate.

With unexpected vampires appearing and expected vampires disappearing, everyone seems to believe Alexia responsible. Can she figure out what is actually happening to London's high society? Will her soulless ability to negate supernatural powers prove useful or just plain embarrassing? Finally, who is the real enemy, and do they have treacle tart?

SOULLESS is the first book of the Parasol Protectorate series: a comedy of manners set in Victorian London, full of werewolves, vampires, dirigibles, and tea-drinking.

Orbit 10th Anniversary eBook Sale
The Way of Shadows
Night Angel Trilogy 1
by Brent Weeks
Orbit, October 1, 2008
eBook, 688

From New York Times bestselling author Brent Weeks...

For Durzo Blint, assassination is an art-and he is the city's most accomplished artist.

For Azoth, survival is precarious. Something you never take for granted. As a guild rat, he's grown up in the slums, and learned to judge people quickly - and to take risks. Risks like apprenticing himself to Durzo Blint.

But to be accepted, Azoth must turn his back on his old life and embrace a new identity and name. As Kylar Stern, he must learn to navigate the assassins' world of dangerous politics and strange magics - and cultivate a flair for death.

Interview with Vivian Shaw, author of Strange Practice

Please welcome Vivian Shaw to The Qwillery as part of the of the 2017 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Strange Practice was published on July 25th by Orbit.

Interview with Vivian Shaw, author of Strange Practice

TQWelcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

Vivian:  Thank you! I've been writing since I was very small; I think I started my first trilogy around age 11 or 12. Those weren't novel-length, probably around 20,000 words, but for a kid that's not too shabby. Mostly I wrote books because I loved reading them, and I had my own stories I wanted to tell.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Vivian:  Not gonna lie, I had to look this one up. I think I prefer George R.R. Martin's are you an architect or a gardener taxonomy of writers, but of the three options you present I'm definitely a hybrid. I have the plot of any given arc or scene outlined -- i.e. this character has to do this thing or get to this place -- and the specific means by which I get that done often just comes to me as I go along. I find it helpful to talk over a scene with someone else, because complaining out loud about how it's not working or I can't come up with an idea almost always kickstarts my brain into figuring out the answer.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

VivianDoing it when I don't want to, or I'm tired, or I can't come up with good words but I'm on deadline and I have to produce.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Vivian:  The authors who have been most influential on me are Mervyn Peake, Robin McKinley, Stephen King, Terry Pratchett, and Neil Gaiman; but I find inspiration everywhere, from architecture to urban exploration blogs to medical case studies. I'm interested in so many things.

TQDescribe Strange Practice in 140 characters or less.

Vivian:  Greta Helsing, doctor to London’s monstrous and undead, fights to defend her community alongside characters out of classic vampire lit.

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

Vivian:  There's not only ghouls, but demons, a witch, lots of detail about the geography of the London sewer system, and frank discussion of the nature of Heaven and Hell. Also, I'd like to state for the record that I wrote the first version of this novel as a National Novel Writing Month entry back in 2004, so my concept of vampires in Volvos just barely predates Stephenie Meyer's in Twilight.

TQWhat inspired you to write Strange Practice?

Vivian:  Two main threads gave rise to the original concept: the wonderfully spooky world of London's subterranean network of tunnels and shelters and conduits (and the amazing 1940s-vintage electrical technology that was at least up until recently still being used down there) and a challenge I gave myself to see how many characters from classic gothic/horror literature I could put together into a story. The original version included Dracula and Carmilla as well, but they ended up being reserved for future books in the series.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for Strange Practice?

Vivian:  Lots of it. I mean lots. Nothing infuriates me more than an author who has either not bothered to do the research or has done the bare minimum to get themselves some useful-sounding buzzwords and concepts but failed to investigate what they actually mean. I spent a lot of time on Google Street View working out what my characters would have seen while moving through particular spaces, and I tracked down some actual plans for one of the deep-level shelters connected to a Tube station. Incidentally, while there is no deep-level shelter at the St. Paul's station, one was planned for that location -- but excavations were halted when concerns for the stability of the cathedral's foundation arose. Also the details of the science of mirabilics, my universe's version of magic, took a long time to work out and I wish I could have included more of that in the book.

TQWhat do you think are the reasons for the ongoing popularity of the Van Helsing / Helsing family?

Vivian:  Vampire hunters have always been exciting. The original Van Helsing wasn't even slightly sexy, but he was an expert and he could advise Stoker's characters through their extraordinary experience; it's not surprising that later readers of the novel should have wondered about the possibilities of expanding the character and examining his backstory, wondering what kind of exciting adventures he could have had prior to the events of Dracula. Also, the name is cool.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for Strange Practice.

Vivian:  The cover artist is Will Staehle, the designer behind Unusual Co. ( For Strange Practice Staehle has taken elements of immediately-recognizable modern London -- the landmark London Eye, the Shard, the Tower, Westminster Palace, even the Thames Flood Barrier -- and combined them with an old-fashioned Victorian engraving design that to me brings to mind the work of Edward Gorey, one of my favorite artists. The combination of modern and elegantly old-fashioned elements echoes the book's juxtaposition of characters from classic horror lit with the modern day.

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

Vivian:  Greta is dead easy, because she is an ordinary human: she has no powers at all other than skill and training and intelligence. I used to want to be a doctor myself, I read medical textbooks for fun, I'm fascinated with the history of medicine and therefore it's a lot of fun writing characters who work in the medical field. August Cranswell is also a human, but he's a bit more difficult because I don't have the knowledge background in museum studies that I do in medicine. Probably the Gladius Sancti monks were the most difficult, because I have the least in common with them, and it was challenging to get inside their heads.

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

Vivian:  There are so many! One of the questions I'd love to answer is are arc rectifiers real? They absolutely are, and they're fantastically weird and gorgeous. The actual electromagnetic principles on which they work are elegantly simple, even for someone like me who has no official science background at all, and it is oddly satisfying to be able to see the principles in action rather than simply knowing they exist. Up until fairly recently a few of them were still on display, and even still in use, but I don't know if any of them are currently active. Google "mercury arc rectifier" and look at the videos to see what I mean.

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


Ruthven wasn't much of a traditionalist. He didn't even own a coffin, let alone sleep in one; there simply wasn't room to roll over, even in the newer, wider models, and anyway the mattresses were a complete joke and played merry hell with one's back.

and maybe

"You are not human," she said at last, "but you are people. All of you. The ghouls, the mummies, the sanguivores, the weres, the banshees, the wights, the bogeys, everyone who comes to me for help, everyone who trusts me to provide it. You are all people, and you all deserve medical care, no matter what you do or have done, and you deserve to be able to seek and receive that care without putting yourselves in jeopardy. What I do is necessary, and while it isn't in the slightest bit easy, it is also the thing I want to do more than anything else in the world."


Sir Francis Varney was also damned, with the Devil and his angels and all the reprobate, and it was keeping him up at nights.

TQWhat's next?

Vivian:  The next book in the Greta Helsing series, Dreadful Company, will be coming out next year. It's set in Paris, and follows Greta's somewhat complicated adventures in and under the city. Also featured: M. R. James monsters; remedial psychopomps; vampires in leather pants; a werewolf, and potential disruptions in the fabric of reality. The third book, Grave Importance, is set in a mummy spa and resort outside of Marseille where Greta is spending a year as acting medical director. There's also a lot of other projects I'm planning for the future, including a popular-history book on the space program and a science fantasy epic co-written with my wife, the author Arkady Martine.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Vivian:  Thank you for having me!

Strange Practice
A Dr. Greta Helsing Novel 1
Orbit, July 25, 2017
Trade Paperback and eBook, 400 pages

Interview with Vivian Shaw, author of Strange Practice
Meet Greta Helsing, doctor to the undead.

Dr. Greta Helsing has inherited the family's highly specialized, and highly peculiar, medical practice. She treats the undead for a host of ills - vocal strain in banshees, arthritis in barrow-wights, and entropy in mummies.

It's a quiet, supernatural-adjacent life, until a sect of murderous monks emerges, killing human and undead Londoners alike. As terror takes hold of the city, Greta must use her unusual skills to stop the cult if she hopes to save her practice, and her life.

About Vivian

Interview with Vivian Shaw, author of Strange Practice
Photo by Emilia Blaser
Vivian Shaw was born in Kenya and spent her early childhood at home in England before relocating to the US at the age of seven. She has a BA in art history and an MFA in creative writing, and has worked in academic publishing and development while researching everything from the history of spaceflight to supernatural physiology. In her spare time, she writes fan fiction under the name of Coldhope.

Website  ~  Twitter @ceruleancynic  ~  Blog

Interview with Dale Lucas, author of The Fifth Ward: First Watch

Please welcome Dale Lucas to The Qwillery as part of the of the 2017 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Fifth Ward: First Watch was published on July 11th by Orbit.

Interview with Dale Lucas, author of The Fifth Ward: First Watch

TQWelcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

Dale:  Thanks for having me! It’s a pleasure.

I started writing pretty young (not seriously or well, of course, but that’s where it all began). I remember seeing an episode of The Andy Griffith Show when I was about five where Andy’s girlfriend, Helen, sold a book and got a check from a publisher. I remember thinking, at the time, “Wow! People really do that? They make up stories and someone else pays them for it?” We had an old manual typewriter on our back porch, so I immediately found some paper and started trying to type (not so easy with little fingers and no practice, but, hey, points for effort). From that point on, I wanted to tell stories. Even as the years passed and I came across other cool things I might want to be or learn to do (I flirted with archeology and special makeup effects for movies), something about telling stories for a living just stuck with me. By the time I was 12 or so, I was pretty sure that was it for me.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Dale:  Total plotter. I’ve tried the whole pantsing thing, and I always run myself into dead ends or just prattle on without an endgame, so I wind up angry and frustrated. I’ve found that planning is definitely more my thing, though even with mountains of planning, the narrative still changes and evolves as you work your way through it. The planning doesn’t solve all your problems, it just keeps you moving forward and lets you know where the finish line is.

I’m also pretty obsessive about my story development. I build my stories in Excel spreadsheets, basically as a combination of lists, timelines and scattered story notes that all gradually coalesce into the shape of a narrative. Sometimes, I’ll do the only version of pantsing that works for me, which is to give myself a short development time—say, a month or two. I’ll brainstorm mightily and work really hard to come up with an outline in that brief span, then I’ll jump into a first draft whether I feel ready or not. That’s worked out well when I’ve tried it. (That’s how I started First Watch, for instance.)

TQIn addition to being a novelist, you are a screenwriter. How does screenwriting affect (or not) your novel writing?

Dale:  Well, it definitely taught me to get used to rejection, indifference and fierce competition (because breaking into New York publishing is rough, but trying to break into Hollywood is brutal). The best things it taught me, though, were story structure, narrative economy and good plotting. Pretty much all of the plotting tricks I use for my prose came from the screenwriting books I read in college. Even if a writer wants nothing to do with writing for the screen, I’d heartily recommend reading stuff like Aristotle’s Poetics, Lew Hunter’s Screenwriting 434, David Trottier’s The Screenwriter’s Bible, Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey, Robert McKee’s Story and Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat. The things you’ll learn in those books about how to build a tight narrative, show character through action instead of just telling people about it, and getting a handle on how to understand what your work is, how to pitch it and sell it—that’s 100% applicable to writing novels and prose fiction. Even if your inclinations are of a more lyrical, literary bend, learning to undergird your seemingly-formless narrative with a strong spine is invaluable.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Dale:  For me, it was gaining enough confidence to feel like I’m really good at it, I think—good enough to get somewhere, anyway. I mean, from my teenage years, I had teachers telling me I was a good writer, and friends assuring me I was a good writer, but when you get into adulthood and you’re trying to take your work seriously, there can be some savage struggles between the part of you that’s hopeful and sure that you’re meant for nothing else, and the part of you that’s pretty sure you’re just one of those vaguely sad people who think they’re a great writer, but who just end up with a bunch of unsold manuscripts in their closet (or on their hard drive). Doing good work, making sure that work improves, and getting that work out in the world can be a real challenge when those voices inside you are always at war with one another. You’ve got to cultivate two different, antithetical personas in yourself—the loving advocate that keeps you working and optimistic and the brutal critic that always wants you to do more, and do it better. You need both to get anywhere, but you can’t ever let one overwhelm the other.

You’ve also got to be ready for the long haul. I’ve been writing seriously, for publication, for about 20 years now. I’ve had a few magazine sales, some almost-sales on previous novels, and some small press publications—but this is my first book from a major New York publisher. Ask yourself if you’re willing to work toward something with zero promise of success and only minimal encouragement, and take 20 years to finally feel validated. If you can live with that, you’ll be fine.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Dale:  Basically, all the stuff I grew up with. Star Wars, Steven Spielberg and John Carpenter movies, comic books, Ace Paperbacks, Dungeons & Dragons—everything. As I got older, I started branching out and turning into a research hound, but even as real world information started creeping in to give weight and heft to my written fantasies, the fantastic still remained as the foundation. So it’s probably the balance-point and dynamic tension between those two things—flights of fancy given truth and texture by historically-grounded reality—that inspires and informs a lot of what I do.

TQDescribe First Watch in 140 characters or less.

DaleLethal Weapon meets Lord of the Rings; or, a cop buddy movie in a Middle Earthy-type place.

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

Dale:  One of my favorite aspects of the book—of anything I write, for that matter, since I often try to instill a strong sense of place—is that Yenara, the city where the story takes place, is a character in and of itself. I’d like to think it’s a pretty cool setting, as grounded and mud-caked as the real world, as fantastic as anything in Tolkien, and as layered and haunted and ageless as history itself. So, hopefully, readers don’t just love the characters and get swept away in their story, they’ll also be enchanted (and sometimes a little overwhelmed) by Yenara itself, and want to spend more time there.

TQWhat inspired you to write First Watch? What appeals to you about writing fantasy?

DaleFirst Watch came to me in the simplest of ways. I’d just moved back to Florida after some unsuccessful years in L.A., my brain was full of cop buddy movies and blighted urban landscapes and crime lore because of some screenwriting projects I’d been working on and abandoned, and I was so emotionally and mentally exhausted from all that had passed and all that was coming that I think my brain wanted to just have some fun. One day I was sitting at work in my cubicle and it just hit me: two nightwatchmen in a city full of all those classic fantasy archetypes—humans, orcs, elves, dwarves, fighters, magicians, thieves, clerics. It was like picking through wreckage after a tornado and trying to figure out what could be salvaged. Two things I loved just kind of collided and I instantly started chasing the idea and developing it. I think I started writing it about two months after it came to me.

As for what appeals to me about fantasy, I think that’s threefold. First, I like the idea of telling stories wherein normal rules don’t apply. Second, I like the notion of building worlds from the ground up. And third, I like the challenge of building a world where seemingly impossible things happen, but grounding it enough to make people believe in those impossible things. Nothing feels better than creating a world and a bunch of characters whole-cloth, and then having someone read your work and get totally invested in what came out of your imagination.

TQDo you have a favorite classic fantasy creature?

Dale:  For most of my life, I’ve been partial to vampires, but I’m sort of over most of the vampire lit that’s out there now, so I’ll just say: monsters. I love monsters. Especially the classic monsters born of mythology and literature: the vampire, the ghost, the werewolf, the golem, the shady occultist, etc. Anything that traffics in that stuff makes me happy (so long as the monsters are treated with respect, and not softened or played for laughs—I hate funny, post-modern, self-aware monsters).

TQPlease tell us about the cover for First Watch.

Dale:  From the start, my editor at Orbit, Lindsey Hall, pitched me the notion of the badge being the symbolic icon of the series, and I was on board with that. I went into the process expecting my word and preferences about the cover to count for nothing—that’s what I’d heard from most just-starting-out authors, so that’s what I’d resigned myself to—but after seeing the first sketches, Lindsey took every one of the notes I gave, and pretty much every one of them was incorporated into the design. I was absolutely stunned that they took my input so seriously. That badge on the cover doesn’t actually resemble the badges that my watchwardens wear, as described in the book, but it’s a marvelous way to pitch the whole premise of the series—basically, a fantasy police procedural—to potential readers. And just look at it! It’s bloody gorgeous! 

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

Dale:  The easiest was Rem, my protagonist, because Rem and I are fairly alike in terms of personality and motivation--though he’s a lot more accomplished and light on his feet than I am. Rem’s a little green and inexperienced, but he’s game for anything, and can bluff his way through any situation. I’m far more reticent and prone to hold back if I’m not 100% sure of what I’m walking into.

The hardest character to write was probably the villain (who I won’t reveal!), because the villain doesn’t get as much page time, yet I still wanted that villain to seem to have real motivations, and a human dimension—not just to be a mustache-twirling Snidely Whiplash sort. No mean feat. 

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

Dale:  When telling a story, I try to do that, first and foremost: tell a story. To entertain, engage, excite, and delight. That’s the storyteller’s first job. Everything else must be subordinate to it.

That being said, from the start, I looked forward to questioning some of the things we’ve inherited from our fantasy forebears, in an effort to punch holes in them. The idea that an entire sentient race of beings (like orcs) can be inherently, irredeemably evil, for instance: I categorically reject that. I wanted to find a way to engage with that idea and undermine it, whenever and however possible. Or the idea that another sentient race of beings (such as elves), gifted with beauty, intelligence and nigh-immortality, could withstand the pitfalls of all those innate advantages: the vanity that comes with beauty, the smugness that comes with insight, the parochial attitude and tendency toward corruption that comes with being long-lived and unchallenged in one’s sphere of influence. Likewise, there’s the ongoing question of how all the races in this world manage to cohabitate: how do these four distinct, sentient species—alike enough to interact, but different enough to discriminate, and all totally convinced, by virtue of their myths and legends, that they are the chosen among all the sentient races of the world—manage to share the world without slaughtering each other? All of that gets played out through the worm’s eye view of two guys just trying to maintain peace and order in the course of their workaday jobs (which is a form of social commentary as well: I wanted everyday heroes who had to pay the rent and put food on the table, not world-saving, this-one’s-the-messiah-of-the-prophecy heroes who can drop everything and run off on a quest at a moment’s notice). Hopefully, story always leads, and always delivers, and whatever commentary I’ve sown in is low-key and relaxed: an invitation to a conversation, not a harangue or a homily. I’m definitely eager to find out how readers feel about it.

I see a lot of people on social media or on news sites bemoaning the prevalence of social issues or social justice warriors in what could broadly be termed ‘geek lit’ (which, for me, encompasses fantasy, sci fi and horror fiction, comic books, and movies in the same genres). Why can’t these writers just entertain us? they ask. I don’t want to be preached at! I want to escape reality, not be pummeled by it! I get that…and I don’t. Isn’t fiction supposed to be about expanding oneself? Learning things about yourself and others that you didn’t know? Seeing the world through the eyes of a character who seems totally alien, but who you end up understanding and empathizing with? The very act of reading a story, to me, suggests that we want to learn something new and grow a little—even if we think we just want brainless entertainment. And then, of course, there’s the fact that, even if an author thinks they’re just being entertaining, they’re probably putting their opinions and feelings about all sorts of issues—social, political, religious, whatever—on display without consciously intending to. Every story is about something whether the author intends it or not. So, just be aware of that, control the messaging, and make sure story always comes first. Social commentary is fine as long as it’s not high-handed or pedantic.

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

Dale:  There’s a scene wherein our main characters, Rem and Torval, are talking of the past, and the things they’ve done that have led them to Yenara. Rem says, “Everyone deserves a choice, don’t they?” to which Torval agrees. And that leads to Torval’s thoughts on the city itself.

“For good or ill, come salvation or perdition, Yenara always offers us a choice. That, I think, is the great gift she has given the world, and the main reason that men still fight to possess her and are possessed by her. Whatever your fate when your mother whelped you, when you come here, it is all erased. Yenara strips us of what we were, and demands that we become what we truly are.”

For me, that’s what the story’s all about, at its heart: finding your place in the world when the place you came from proves too small, or too limiting—a place where you can strip away all your pretensions and test your limits and be who you truly are.

TQWhat's next?

Dale:  Well, I’m neck-deep in a second Fifth Ward book at present, titled Friendly Fire, and I’ve got a third lined up following that. Beyond those, I have no clue what the future holds. We’ll have to see how the public takes to Rem and Torval before we’ll know if more adventures will follow—but I’m certainly ready to provide them. And I’ve got a few stories I’d like to tell in other worlds, other times and places. Only time will tell…

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Dale:  Thank you! I appreciate the opportunity to prattle a bit!

The Fifth Ward: First Watch
The Fifth Ward 1
Orbit, July 11, 2017
Trade Paperback and eBook, 416 pages

Interview with Dale Lucas, author of The Fifth Ward: First Watch
A watchman of the Yenara City guard has gone missing. The culprit could be any of the usual suspects: drug-dealing orcs, mind-controlling elves, uncooperative mages, or humans being typical humans.

It's up to two reluctant partners -- Rem, a hungover miscreant who joins the Watch to pay off his bail, and Torval, a maul-wielding dwarf who's highly unimpressed with the untrained and weaponless Rem -- to uncover the truth and catch the murderer loose in their fair city.

"A brilliant premise, wonderfully told. A city that breathes, and heroes you can't help but root for." -- Nicholas Eames, author of Kings of the Wyld

"A glorious tour through fantasy's seamier side. A wilder ride than Middle Earth, and you'll love every minute of it!" -- Jon Hollins, author of the Dragon Lords series

About Dale

Interview with Dale Lucas, author of The Fifth Ward: First Watch
Photo by JP Wright
Dale Lucas is a novelist, screenwriter, and film critic from St. Petersburg, Florida.

Website  ~  Facebook  ~  Twitter @DaleLucas114

Interview with David Mealing, author of Soul of the World

Please welcome David Mealing to The Qwillery as part of the of the 2017 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Soul of the World was published on June 27th by Orbit.

Interview with David Mealing, author of Soul of the World

TQWelcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

David:  Pleasure to be here!

I started writing seriously three years ago. The spark came during my first vacation in almost nine years, reading Brandon Sanderson’s WORDS OF RADIANCE cover-to-cover at a beachside villa on the big island of Hawaii. I finished the book, asked myself why I had never tried to write anything of my own, and nine months later I had a first draft of SOUL OF THE WORLD.

Before then I’d never written any creative fiction, but I’ve always been a storyteller. Pen & paper roleplaying games were my primary outlet, and they taught me all the basics of drama – how to keep an audience engaged, how to build lovable characters and create immersive, impactful scenes. I’m still learning the craft of writing, but I’ve been creating worlds and telling stories since my first game of D&D when I was five.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

David:  Pretty close to a pure pantser, which surprised the hell out me. As a DM in pen & paper games, I would spend hours building immaculate worlds, with dossiers on every NPC, long lists of political ties and trade routes, maps of every city, etc etc etc. I tried to do the same for novels and found it just didn’t work for me. I would sit down to follow my outline and immediately be hooked to follow something I found while writing the scene. Pantsing has cost me thousands of hours of rewriting to polish those ideas into a workable narrative, but I’ve found my best scenes come from a place I can’t access while outlining. I have to surprise myself first, then clean up the mess when I’m done.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

David:  Learning the craft. I’m constantly in awe of how much greatness there is in SFF as a genre. Writers like Pat Rothfuss, N.K. Jemisin and Guy Gavriel Kay stun me when I read their stuff. I want to osmose their greatness, steal it and siphon it into my writing. I’m quite relentless when it comes to dismantling my work and looking for areas to improve, and while I try to be proud of the things I feel I do well, I know there is still so very much to learn.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

David:  Everything! I’m a thief at heart. I shamelessly steal ideas, techniques, scenes, character concepts, story structures and more from every piece of media I consume. I watch MAD MAX and I want to write my version of Furiosa. I read James Clavell and I want to write daring pilots navigating ships to the far side of the world. Even music informs my writing – I’ve been listening to a ton of Bryan Ferry lately and I want to find words to capture the romance and softness in his songs. The hope is I combine enough different elements in what I steal to make it mine.

TQDescribe Soul of the World in 140 characters or less.

David:  French revolution alongside a magic-infused Iroquois Confederacy. Big, world-changing stakes. Layers to everything. Nothing as it seems.

TQTell us something about Soul of the World that is not found in the book description.

Hmmm… how about some writing trivia? The most-rewritten chapter of the book is one of the interludes, the one given to The Nameless, aka Axerian. I rewrote it nineteen times from scratch. My wife is the only person to have read all nineteen versions of the chapter, some of which included spoilers and reveals for plot events that won’t happen until the third book of the trilogy. Partly as a result of this, Axerian is my wife’s favorite character by far. I’ll leave it to the readers to puzzle out why as they finish the trilogy!

TQWhat inspired you to write Soul of the World? What appeals to you about writing Epic Fantasy?

David:  SOUL came about after my attempts to meticulously outline a fantasy western. As I mentioned above, that all went out the window as soon as I sat down to write the first scene. I was captivated by the idea of an artist sitting alone, sketching Louis XVI’s court at Versailles. I wrote that, and the rest flowed from there. 100% pure discovery writing.

Epic fantasy in general is just an amazing genre to be working in. As epic fantasy writers we get the space to create lavish worlds and magic systems, and we can explore just about any facet of history or culture that catches our attention, real or imaginary. I want to take my readers all over my world, I want the stakes to be big, I want powerful heroes making life-changing decisions and villains who are just as convinced their decisions are right, even if it sets them against the heroes. Epics have always been my favorite books to read; I can’t imagine writing anything else, at least for now.

TQYour bio states that you "...studied philosophy, politics and economics.." How did this help or hinder the creation of the world in your novel?

David:  PPE gave me a foundation for understanding how the world works, or at least understanding a bit better than I did as a teenage kid growing up in Southern California. I’ve learned as much and more in the years since college, but my academic studies taught me to pick apart traditions and power structures and try to find the motivations behind why people and nations act the way they do. It’s part of why SOUL is as layered as it is – there’s plot, and metaplot, and meta-meta-plot that will all be revealed as the trilogy progresses. I think PPE helped me see that humans and human-created tribes tend to layer motivations on top of each other, often rationalizing and obscuring from themselves the truths that are there for the finding, if you dig a bit deeper. I’m an analytical person by nature and PPE honed that aspect of my personality to a sharp edge. It stands to reason those aspects of me would find their way into my stories.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for Soul of the World?

David:  I love the cover! It’s not depicting any specific scene, more evoking the sense of a lone girl standing against a threat she barely understands. It’s meant to convey mystery, danger, military, and defiance – all core themes of the book. I think it succeeds beautifully, and give full credit to the wonderful team at Orbit for putting it together.

TQIn Soul of the World who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

David:  The easiest character was probably Foot-Captain Marquand. He’s a side character in Erris’ arc who steals just about every scene he’s in. Something about him just clicks in my brain – whenever he’s on ‘screen’ so to speak, the words flow and I find his actions and dialogue without trying. Almost every Marquand scene is untouched from the first draft – something I can say about virtually none of the other characters in the book.

The hardest is Zi. Every word he says is dripping with meaning. I have to be careful not to trip up and reveal too much to readers inclined to parse the text close enough to catch me!

TQWhich question about Soul of the World do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

David:  How about: ‘why set the book in an era with gunpowder instead of more traditional (for fantasy) medieval weaponry and tactics?’

And the answer: until about midway through the first draft, SOUL *was* set in an era of high medieval military and weapons tech! Erris originally wore mail and Jiri wore barding. In fact, my wife even commissioned some art depicting the three main POV characters as a birthday present for me while I was writing the novel, where Erris is dressed in this style. I’d initially made the decision to juxtapose 18th century French fashions & politics with a more traditional medieval military setting, and opted to scrap it in favor of Napoleonic-era weapons since just about every reader would naturally expect it in a French-revolution inspired story.

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Soul of the World.

David:  Ooh fun! Here’s one, from the end of Alouen’s interlude:
“You get to be a hero now, Alouen,” Jeanette said. “I’ll tell stories about you.”

He felt numb. He didn’t want to be a hero anymore.
I’ve always loved Marie d’Oreste’s story. She’s a side character from Erris’ arc who gets almost no direct screen time and has no POV chapters in the book. But if you follow along between the lines, you’ll see her lose her son (Alouen, from the quote above) to the King’s orders, her and her husband Philippe captured as prisoners of war, and watch her strive for goodness in spite of witnessing so many horrors and losing almost everything in her life. I’m fascinated by heroes and I try to find their stories everywhere I can, even in side characters like Marie.

TQWill there be an Ascension Cycle pen and paper RPG? Do you have any favorite RPGs?

David:  Oh my god. I had honestly never thought about it before you asked this, which is weird considering my background. Wow. Yes, please? Someone make this and I can die happy.

My favorite RPGs… AD&D 2nd edition was the start of everything for me, and I still love it, even with all the rough edges. I own just about every White Wolf core book, and especially adore Vampire, Mage, and Changeling. Palladium rulesets (Heroes Unlimited & TMNT) were huge favorites for me in junior high & high school. Iron Crown also had some great books. Shadowrun is amazing. I ran some great Mechwarrior campaigns alongside Battletech miniatures games. Even 4th edition D&D, for all the flak it gets, was a fantastic ruleset for me. I have a dozen Pathfinder books on my shelves that don’t see enough use for how wonderful a system it is...

TQWhat's next?

David:  I’m two weeks away from turning in book two of the Ascension Cycle to my editor. Then on to first drafts of book three!

Other than that, I finished a completely unrelated novel while we were shopping SOUL OF THE WORLD that I’d love to come back to. You might get to see that one in 2020. After that… who knows! I’m constantly writing, constantly looking to explore new ideas. I did 40,000 words of exploratory writing for a re-telling of some of Robert E. Howard’s CONAN stories last year, and another 20,000 of a French/Celtic dark fantasy inspired by William of Normandy and Le Morte d’Arthur. This time next year I’ll be close to wrapped on the Ascension Cycle and I’ll pick one of these – or maybe something completely different! – to move on next.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

David:  My pleasure! Thanks for having me.

Soul of the World
The Ascension Cycle 1
Orbit, June 27, 2017
Trade Paperback and eBook, 656 pages

Interview with David Mealing, author of Soul of the World
Three heroes must rise in a world on the brink of destruction in the first book of this epic fantasy trilogy that RT Book Reviews called "an impressive fantasy debut with... a unique magic system sure to capture a fantasy readers attention"!

It is a time of revolution. In the cities, food shortages stir citizens to riots against the crown. In the wilds, new magic threatens the dominance of the tribes. and on the battlefields, even the most brilliant commanders struggle in the shadow of total war. Three lines of magic must be mastered in order to usher in a new age, and three heroes must emerge.

Sarine is an artist on the streets of New Sarresant whose secret familiar helps her uncover bloodlust and madness where she expected only revolutionary fervor.

Arak'Jur wields the power of beasts to keep his people safe, but his strength cannot protect them from war amongst themselves.

Erris is a brilliant cavalry officer trying to defend New Sarresant from an enemy general armed with magic she barely understands.

Each must learn the secrets of their power in time to guide their people through ruin. But a greater evil may be trying to stop them.

Start reading this gripping, vibrant, and imaginative addition to the epic fantasy canon for readers of Brandon Sanderson, Brian McClellan, and Miles Cameron.

About David

Interview with David Mealing, author of Soul of the World
David Mealing grew up adoring all things fantasy. He studied philosophy, politics and economics at the University of Oxford, where he taught himself to write by building worlds and stories for pen & paper RPGs. He lives in Washington state with his wife and three daughters, and aspires to one day own a ranch in the middle of nowhere.

Website  ~  Facebook  ~  Twitter @ddmealing

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