The Qwillery | category: Solaris


The Qwillery

A blog about books and other things speculative

Interview with John Appel, author of Assassin's Orbit

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

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

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

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

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

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

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

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

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

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

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

TQDescribe Assassin's Orbit using only 5 words.

John:  Old women space competence porn.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TQDoes Assassin's Orbit touch on any social issues?

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

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

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


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

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

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

TQWhat's next?

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

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

John:  Thank you for having me!

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

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

About John

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

Website  ~  Twitter @oldscout

Interview with Sammy H.K. Smith, author of Anna

Please welcome Sammy H.K. Smith to The Qwillery as part of the 2021 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Anna was published on May 25, 2021 by Solaris.

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

Sammy:  Thank you so much for having me! *waves*

Oh wow, this is a great question and I remember my first fully formed story so well! I was about 9 years old and it was a story about a group of kids who found magical stones that transported them to a world where an evil witch was trying to capture and cook them. They had to smash the stones with a hammer from a wood fairy to stop the witch and of course they succeeded and everyone was safe (such an intense story! Oh the peril!). Unfortunately I don’t have a copy of it any more but I really remember sitting at the desk in Primary School writing it out and drawing accompanying pictures. Ahhhh, the nostalgia!

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Sammy:  I’m definitely a hybrid. I have a rough story idea and an idea where I would like it to go and try to write out the key scenes and work from there. I find it easier to plot than pantz as with the latter I get myself caught into too many plot holes and corners!

I plotted out ANNA quite tightly, and only added in extra bits and pieces during editing.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Sammy:  Time. I have 2 young boys (5 and 3), I work 50+ hours a week in the main job and also have a labour of love second job. Most days I get up at 6am and don’t get to sit down until 8pm and by then I’m knackered! I’d love a clone (or three!) to do my day to day work so I could sit and write…

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Sammy:  I draw influence from everywhere, whether I realise it or not! With my fantasy novels I have a fondness for tropes – I know, I know, but I like the comfy feeling and the way my brain switches off. I love a good ‘chosen one’ story when there’s a bit of a twist, or a little bit of romance.

With my dystopia, I go for social commentary and emotions. They’re definitely darker and more hard-hitting.

TQDescribe Anna using only 5 words.

Sammy:  Terror, Journey, PTSD, strength, peace


A tale of feminine strength

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

Sammy:  This is an excellent question. The description of the book is deliberately vague, but Anna is a story of one woman dealing with her PTSD following traumatic sexual abuse and finding the strength to rebuild her confidence and self.

We didn’t want to paint the entire story on the blurb, and instead felt that readers would better connect and understand if they travelled with Anna on her journey, seeing and feeling what she did.

TQWhat inspired you to write Anna?

Sammy:  I work in domestic and sexual abuse and come in contact with victims and survivors of rape, vicious assaults, coercive control and other heinous crimes on a daily basis. The majority of those I deal with are women (but I absolutely strongly stress that male victims occur and I feel their crimes as victims are hugely underreported, something I wish I could change).

These women have so much more strength than they ever realise, and yet nearly all of them try to blame themselves for the perpetrator’s actions by either suggesting they should have fought them off or not angered them in the first place. I wanted to write something to show readers that strength comes in many forms and that physically fighting isn’t the only response.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for Anna?

Sammy:  I really want to make it clear that I haven’t used any of my cases in this novel. All the events are fictitious, but I have taken that underlying mindset I mentioned above and weaved it into the novel, along with some of my own personal observations and experiences.

Anna is set in a near-future dystopia where world wars have ravaged the land. Fossil fuels are scarce and economies have crumbled. I researched the MAD doctrine, UV filter systems for eco homes that could survive without electricity, composting toilets, water tanks and similar. It was really interesting learning about the ‘shelf life’ of fuels if stored correctly, and reed bed sewage systems.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for Anna.

Sammy:  My cover was by the wonderful company ‘Head Design’.

I just love how it’s stark and striking. Just like the world she lives in and Anna’s actions. It isn’t the easiest novel to express in art but my editor Kate Coe absolutely nailed the themes and chose the best design from the excellent shortlist. It’s symbolic rather than a clear scene/theme from the novel, but I love the repeated bear trap design, too.

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

Sammy:  Oooh. I think Nikky was the easiest – a fun, bubbly character who is naïve to a lot of hardship. I viewed her as a younger teenage version of myself (though Nikky is older) and recalled how I was around 17/18.

The hardest was Simon – a gruff cruel misogynist with an ulterior motive for everything he does. He (and my main antagonist) is perhaps the furthest away from my own beliefs and mindset, and so I would write sections, leave them, come back a few days later and make sure I was happy with the motivations and dialogue.

TQDoes Anna touch on any social issues?

Sammy:  The main thread of the novel is about sexual violence and the reactions of a victim to a perpetrator’s control and abuse, but there’s also the theme of power.

The power a perp has over their victim, the power of brute force, the power of government and controlling bodies brainwashing the masses. Power corrupts.

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

Sammy:  Why does the pace change so obviously in the three parts of the novel?

I’ve had so many comments about this and want to explain: part one is intense and terrifying, and Anna’s experiences mirror this. It’s quick, sharp, shocking and gives us little time to breathe. This is how Anna feels. Constant state of alert and unable to sit back and pause.

Part two is slower, the plot has moved on and so has Anna. She’s adjusting to the changes and like a cautious animal she’s slow and wary, finding her place in the world but still hyper-sensitive to everything around her and all the minute details of this new place.

Part three brings us somewhere between the two, she has found balance and resolution.

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


“It’s not easy talking about stuff, but thank you for trying to make me feel welcome. One day I’ll be okay.”

“You’ll never be okay, Kate,” he murmured, “but you’ll learn to live with what happened and find some sort of peace.”


Adaptation, like creation and death, is one of nature’s imperatives, part of the perpetual cycle. The world has suffered, we’ve annihilated each other and yet we’ve adapted and moved on, and the land renews, it forgives.

TQWhat's next?

Sammy:  I’m currently writing another book in the same world as Anna and exploring the themes of grief and bereavement alongside the duties of a carer and homemaker in a broken world. There’s a strong theme of family in this novel but I’m also touching on human trafficking, drugs, murder, whodunit, and a little romance! It’s tentatively called ‘Emma’.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Sammy:  Thank you so much for this interview! It’s been so much fun ☺

Solaris, May 25, 2021
Hardcover and eBook, 300 pages
A chilling feminist novel set in a near-future dystopia, Anna explores the conflicts between selfhood and expectations, safety and control, and the sacrifices we make for the sake of protection.

Beaten. Branded. Defiant.

Anna is a possession. She is owned by the man named Will, shielded from the world of struggles by his care. He loves her, protects her, and then breaks her. Anna is obedient, dutiful, and compliant. Anna does not know her place in the world.

When she falls pregnant, Anna leaves her name behind, and finds the strength to run. But the past – and Will – catch up with her in an idyllic town with a dark secret, and this time, it’s not just Anna who is at risk.
Amazon : Barnes and Noble : Bookshop : Books-A-Million : IndieBound
Google Play : Kobo

About Sammy

Sammy H.K Smith lives and works in Oxfordshire UK as a police detective. When not working she spends time with her children, husband and pets, renovates her house, and inadvertently kills plants. A keen writer and lover of all things science fiction and fantasy, she’s often found balancing a book, a laptop, a child, and a cat whilst watching Netflix. Follow Sammy on Twitter @SammyHKSmith.


Interview with Wayne Santos, author of The Chimera Code

Please welcome Wayne Santos to The Qwillery as part of the 2020 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Chimera Code was published on November 10, 2020 by Solaris.

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

Wayne:  The first story I ever remember making myself is one I told myself. As a kid, I had narrated album of The Empire Strikes Back, but I also had the orchestral soundtrack, so I imitated the narrated record by playing back the soundtrack, to a tape recorder, and telling my own stories to the music.

The first time I ever tried writing actual fiction was probably in Junior High, though. That was a recollection trying to make a stain glass window for art class, getting high on the fumes and chasing out elementary school kids at the same time.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Wayne:  ¾ pantser, ½ hybrid, so pantsbrid? I usually have a few key events for the story in mind by the time I sit down to write it, but how the characters get to those points is entirely up to them. For the most part, it’s like just sitting back and popping a movie into my mental player, watching the events unfold and then making sure I write it all down.

I’m really bad at outlines, and every time I try, it ends up being a sort of disaster that the story itself ends up not following anyway when it gets written.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Wayne:  Two things, probably. The first is the constant struggle for lyrical language. I really, really love reading books with beautiful language, thoughtful word choices, and literary style. People that can put entire novels together that sound like poems blow me away. I have nothing but jealousy for them, but every time I try to write like that, it’s kind of a single flower blossom in the middle of a lot of explosions, since the stories usually devolve into high octane action scenes.

The other thing is intricate mysteries in plotting. People who put together good whodunits amaze me. The way you have to make sure all the pieces fit together in a plot, so that they all make sense in the end, but feel “fair” to the reader who goes back and sees the clues were there all the time if you’d just been clever enough to put it all together is also amazing. I don’t understand how people do that.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Wayne:  I’ve got a mix of literary and non-literary influences. On the literary side is, of course, William Gibson, Neal Stephenson and a lot of other writers in the cyberpunk genre. If you want to get less literary, but still in the written word zone, comics were also a huge influence, since I grew up reading stuff like Chris Claremont’s X-Men and Marv Wolfman’s New Teen Titans as a kid, graduating to the crazier, more ambitious stuff like Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, or just about anything crazy by Grant Morrison, like The Invisibles.

Then there’s a lot of stuff that’s not literary at all. When I wasn’t devouring Robert Heinlein, or Isaac Asimov as a kid, I was plugged into video games. To this day, stuff like Mass Effect or Horizon: Zero Dawn makes as much of an impression on me as the newest Gibson novel. Anime is another big influence, as I inhaled giant robot extravaganzas like Gundam, and of course, more cyberpunk, via Akira or Ghost in the Shell. Even table-top role-playing games made an impression on me as I’m sure eagle-eyed readers will see a Shadowrun influence in The Chimera Code.

TQDescribe The Chimera Code using only 5 words.

Wayne:  Mage, hacker, blow shit up.

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

Wayne:  The United States in its current incarnation no longer exists and fractured into smaller, regional nation-states. The Brazilian Real became the dominant form of global currency for trade and economy, computer operating systems have been replaced by true personal digital assistants, only instead of being tablets or disembodied voices, they can be fully interactive agents that you deal with via neurosimulation. Also, gold is now worthless, because alchemy can produce infinite amounts of it.

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

Wayne:  I’d always loved the idea behind the tabletop role-playing game Shadowrun of a world where magic and cyberpunk coexisted together. But Shadowrun took magic influences all over the magic map, including elves, dwarves, dragons and other creatures of myth.

I was always just fascinated by the idea that magic itself worked, and wondered how that would interact with combat cyborgs, or slot into a global economy that had no business model for it, but could certainly whip one up quick if there was a buck to be made. I kept not seeing that world, so I decided to write it myself. What do you get when you combine a hacker, a military-spec cyborg and a mid-to-close range combat mage with a certification in elemental thaumaturgy? No one would tell me, so The Chimera Code is the answer.

But general appeal of science fiction has, to me, always been about worlds I’ve never seen before. That’s what Dune is. Or Foundation. Or Neuromancer, or Bladerunner or Mass Effect. When you grow up as a visible minority in mid-western Canada, you get tried of the everyday world where you’re just getting picked on as a nerd, and not even a white one, and you wonder what it would be like in those future worlds where apparently that doesn’t happen. It’s hard not to see the appeal in that.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Chimera Code?

Wayne:  It wasn’t really a matter of research, so much as selective osmosis. I’ve made a habit of squirreling away cool but useless scientific facts and findings on all kinds of things, from materials research to the lifespan of black holes and what happens after they run out of juice. Some of that stuff worms its way into stories, while other things have to be actively researched, like the administrative structure of a university. Once I’d decided on my own version of a magic school, I realized I had to make it run the way an actual university would and I had no clue how management worked in those organizations.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for The Chimera Code.

Wayne:  The cover went through a few iterations, but final version that Rebellion settled on was done by one of their own, Gemma Sheldrake, an artist and graphic designer for 2000 AD, on the comic/publishing side of things. The original cover was one that depicted the characters, but the current version is more stand out with the bright yellow, which is very cyberpunk, since even the video game Cyberpunk 2077 uses that color, and the more graphic design approach lets it sit just about anywhere on a book shelf.

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

Wayne:  The easiest character was probably Zee. I’m not nonbinary, but Zee’s attitude, the distrust of authority, and the impulse to poke holes in systems and see what could be exploited or broken were all things that I found very easy to get into. Zee’s sarcasm and insecurities around others was also kind of giving myself a freebie in terms of writing.

The hardest character to write was probably the villain, Acevedo. I think villains in general always give me trouble, because I just don’t like those people, and don’t want to spend a lot of time with them. I’m kind of jealous of people that enjoy their villainy and like writing villains running around doing horrible things, because I always just want to get away from them.

TQDoes The Chimera Code touch on any social issues?

WayneThe Chimera Code doesn’t go all “a very special episode of The Chimera Code” and make the point of the story dealing with any specific issue, but a lot of them are scattered around is “flavor text” or accents to the ongoing story. The United States as a contiguous nation from the Pacific to the Atlantic no longer exists, and that didn’t occur for any happy reason.

Although probably the biggest thing is Zee as a nonbinary character. I wanted to show that the world had moved on, and some things had more of a place in the 22nd century, but that didn’t mean they were completely accepted or welcomed. Zee was a good conduit to showing some of that.

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

Wayne:  I want someone to ask me, “But what are video games like in this world?”


While there are a variety of different video game formats, the dominant playstyle in the world of The Chimera Code is first person games via neurosimulation. In other words, it’s still the first person shooter or role-playing game people are familiar with today, but rather than 4K graphics at 60 frames per second, the experience comes from direct stimulation of nerve impulses.

So there is no longer any complaints about realistic or unrealistic graphics, since everything is generated by your brain and is interpreted as more or less real. It’s a natural evolution of the virtual reality headsets we’re messing around with today, but nowdiv it’s expanded to every genre of gaming imaginable.

That’s not to say that every game is a first person experience, but neurosim games have made the technical requirements of “graphics” irrelevant, and the only arbiter of how good a game looks is art direction.

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

“Have fun.”

“Oh, I will.”

“Not the kind that explodes.”

“That’s the only kind.”

“Give me the sword back.”

TQWhat's next?

Wayne:  I’m diligently plugging away on my next work in progress, but in the meantime, you can probably expect some announcements soon about other things I’ve written that are going to be coming out very soon. That’s about as much as I can say right now, I think.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Wayne:  Thank you!

The Chimera Code
Solaris, November 10, 2020
Trade Paperback and eBook, 500 pages
Neuromancer for a non-binary age: an action-packed techno-thriller with a side of magical realism.

"Fun, fresh cyberpunk!" - Publisher's Weekly

Everything’s for hire – even magic.

If you need something done, they’re the best: a tough, resourceful mage, a lab-created genderless hacker and a cyborg with a big gun.

But when they’re hired by a virtual construct to destroy the other copies of himself, and the down payment is a new magical skill, Cloke knows this job is going to be a league harder than anything they’ve ever done. "A full-throttle, magical cyberpunk superhero thriller!" - Peter McLean
Amazon : Barnes and Noble : Bookshop : Books-A-Million : IndieBound
Google Play : iBooks : Kobo

About Wayne

Over the years, Wayne Santos has written copy for advertising agencies, scripts for television, and articles for magazines. He’s lived in Canada, Thailand and Singapore, traveling to many countries around South East Asia. His first love has always been science fiction and fantasy, and while he regularly engaged with it in novels, comics, anime and video games, it wasn’t until 1996, with his first short story in the Canadian speculative fiction magazine On Spec that he aimed towards becoming a novelist. He now lives in Canada, in Hamilton, ON with his wife. When he’s not writing, he is likely to be found reading, playing video games, watching anime, or trying to calm his cat down.

Website  ~>  Twitter @waynepsantos

Interview with Thilde Kold Holdt, author of Northern Wrath

Please welcome Thilde Kold Holdt to the Qwillery as part of the  2020 Debut Author Challenge Interview. Northern Wrath, the first novel in The Hanged God Trilogy, was published on October 27, 2020 by Solaris.

TQWelcome to The Qwillery. What is the first fiction piece you remember writing?TKH:  Thank you for having me. And what a potent first question.

The first one I remember was back when I was 12. Unable to wait for the sixth installment of Harry Potter, I stretched my fingers and wrote a fanfiction. It followed Cho Chang and there was a whole section from Draco Malfoy’s point of view where he got bitten by a werewolf and was in terrible pain but other than that I don’t remember much about it. I abandoned it after 9 chapters.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

TKH:  I used to say I was a plotter, pure and through. Then I wrote Northern Wrath and met Hilda. Now I’m a hybrid.

Generally, I like to plan, but I also remain flexible. With Northern Wrath, I plotted everything in detail, but then one of my main characters, Hilda, swung her axe right through my careful plans, so I had to adapt.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

TKH:  I love plotting and I adore the task of writing itself. I even love editing. But rewriting makes me shudder. It shouldn’t but it really does. I’ll do the work but I’ll grumble all the way through it.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

TKH:  Meeting people of different cultures influences a lot of my writing. I’m also continuously influenced and inspired by films. Particularly films made by Luc Besson, Christopher Nolan and studio Ghibli. They make me want to be a better writer and create new things.

TQDescribe Northern Wrath using only 5 words.

TKH:  The Hanged God abandoned us.

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

TKH:  In Northern Wrath you will find magical whispers in the wind, also a snow fox, a hawk and a white bear. There are fierce shield-maidens and mad berserkers, and, finally, giants and gods. These are the Vikings and Norse Gods as I imagine they really were. It’s a tale of the last true Vikings and our blind trust in our gods.

TQWhat inspired you to write Northern Wrath? What appeals to you about writing Fantasy?

TKH:  Growing up, I always loved fantasy. I was practically raised on the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings and although I read other genres too, I always gravitate back to Fantasy.

Northern Wrath came about because I was given the advice to write about my roots. I feel like I don’t have any roots, so that was the prompt of a lifetime. I was born in Scandinavia and used to jokingly introduce myself as a Viking, so that’s where I started.

TQWhy do you think that Norse myths and legends are so popular?

TKH:  This is a great question and something I often wonder about too. I don’t know for sure, and I’d love to hear what readers think about this, but for now, here is my current guess:

I think all mythology fascinates us, but I sense that there is a special passion for the Norse myths. That might have something to do with Tolkien’s use of the myths, but I think it also has something to do with the tone of them. In many ways, the Norse stories are gruesome, but they’re also meant to be laughed at.

For example, to the question: “Where do rivers come from?” the Norse myths give us the inventive answer: “When the first being in the nine worlds was murdered at the hands of the god Odin, blood spilled out over the nine worlds to form rivers and oceans.”

These are bloody tales from a warrior people who dreamed of dying in battle. In that way I think the Norse myths match well with our modern-day twisted sense of humour and obsession with self-sacrificing heroes.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for Northern Wrath?

TKH:  The extensive kind. It started innocently enough. I read the Poetic Edda and the Prosa Edda (the two original texts on Old Norse myths), then I reached for all the books I could get my hands on that had something to do with Vikings. Archeology book and history books but also some fiction.

After that I progressed to some slightly more challenging steps. I read the sagas. All of them. I visited a ton of museums. Then I took to studying half a dozen Viking Age law texts and taught myself the basics of Old Norse so I could decipher runestones.

By far the coolest thing I did was join the crew of the world’s largest reconstructed Viking warship.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for Northern Wrath.

TKH:  I’m happy you asked! The artist, Larry Rostant ( ), did a magnificent job on it. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I was included in this part of the process as a debut author.

The axe on the cover is one of the center-pieces of the novel. The image on the axe also has special significance that I won’t spoil. The fire and burnt shapes are important symbols throughout and then there are the artistic swirls that feel like the physical representation of the magic in the novel.

In conclusion: I think this cover is a both magical and accurate representation of the book.

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

TKH:  The easiest was probably Tyra. I wrote most of her chapters incredibly fast. Sometimes Hilda was just as easy to write, but she was most definitely also the most trouble.

About a third way through there was a very important scene. I had warned Hilda about what she should NOT do. Under ANY circumstance. Two pages in, and she had done it. From then on, she refused to listen to me and follow any of my plans.

Over the course of the trilogy, Hilda and I became great friends, but she made me rethink everything I thought I knew about writing. I had never imagined a character might take over and change the entire narrative.

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

TKH:  You were born in Denmark and speak fluent Danish, how has that influenced your writing of this book?

One of the most obvious ways in which my knowledge of Danish influenced me is that I had access to more sources. A lot of fiction stories about Vikings or Norsemen rely almost purely on English language sources. Many sagas and “totter” (short-story sagas) have never been translated into English. Thanks to my knowledge of Danish I was able to access and understand sources in different Scandinavian languages. That shifted my narrative.

Aside from that, I’ve also brought certain language quirks from Danish into my writing and included some neat cultural traits.

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

TKH:  “Death, pain, and fear.”

(It’s not a spoiler, I promise.)

Fun fact: my agent and I sign all of our emails to each other with that phrase.

TQWhat's next?

TKH:  Next year, the second book in the Hanged God Trilogy, Shackled Fates, comes out. Then in 2022 it’ll be the final tome, Slaughtered Gods.

Both books have been written so now they just need to be formally edited, approved and roll through the hands of our lovely publishing folk.

Outside of that, I’m writing another trilogy soon to be pitched, and working on other ideas too.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

TKH:  Thank you for having me. It has been an absolute pleasure!

Northern Wrath
The Hanged God Trilogy 1
Solaris, October 27, 2020
Trade Paperback and eBook, 700 pages
"Packs a punch worthy of the Thunderer himself. It rocks!" -- Joanne Harris, author of The Gospel of Loki

“Holdt wows in her Norse mythology–inspired debut…an electrifying adventure” -- Publishers Weekly, starred review

A dead man, walking between the worlds, foresees the end of the gods. A survivor searching for a weapon releases a demon from fiery Muspelheim. A village is slaughtered by Christians, and revenge must be taken.

The bonds between the gods and Midgard are weakening. It is up to Hilda, Ragnar, their tribesmen Einer and Finn, the chief's wife Siv and Tyra, her adopted daughter, to fight to save the old ways from dying out, and to save their gods in the process.

Following in the steps of Neil Gaiman & Joanne Harris, the author expertly weaves Norse myths and compelling characters into this fierce, magical epic fantasy.

"Ferocious, compelling, fiercely beautiful. Fantasy at its very best." -- Anna Smith Spark, author of the Empires of Dust series

“This is fantasy as it should be written: savage, liminal, full of wonder and magic.” -- Gavin G. Smith, author of The Bastard Legion series

“A promising start for a series that will gratify lovers of epic tales.” -- Aurealis

About Thilde Kold Holdt

Thilde Kold Holdt is a Viking, traveller and a polygot fluent in Danish, French, English and Korean. As a writer, she is an avid researcher. This is how she first came to row for hours upon hours on a Viking warship. She loved the experience so much that she has sailed with the Viking ship the Sea Stallion ever since. Another research trip brought her to all corners of South Korea where she also learnt the art of traditional Korean archery. Born in Denmark, Thilde has lived in many places and countries, taking a bit of each culture with her. This is why she regards herself as simply being from planet Earth, as she has yet to set foot on Mars…

Thilde is currently based in Southern France where she writes full-time.

Website  ~  Twitter @koldholdt

Interview with Alice James, author of Grave Secrets

Please welcome Alice James to The Qwillery as part of the 2020 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Grave Secrets was published on September 1, 2020 by Solaris.

Interview with Alice James, author of Grave Secrets

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

Alice:  When I was little, I was obsessed with dragons and elves – also boiled frankfurter sausages, but that’s another story. My mum was disappointed, I think because she was a mahoosive Science Fiction fan but also she hated frankfurters. Anyway, my sister and I wrote a very complicated saga set on a magical world with a canal that went all the way round. Our heroine got stranded alone on the lower deck of an abandoned boat – I have no idea how – and gradually found her way to the upper roof where of course there was an enchanted jungle garden filled with elves and Nice Things. Cue happily ever after the end yada yada. I don’t have a copy of it anywhere, sadly, but my sister and I still call it The Barge Story and argue about plot elements. Don’t listen to her, by the way. She’s wrong.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Alice:  Total 100% pantser – no question, no doubt. I start my books with a strong feeling of atmosphere and one or two key scenes that I like the idea of … and then I just span backwards to find out how they got set up in the first place and forwards to find out what happens as a consequence. I don’t have the organisational abilities to be a plotter. I am bad enough at planning breakfast. As a result breakfast is often just coffee and complaining – which is bad, but not as bad as no coffee. I talk to writers who have a spreadsheet at hand all the time, flow diagrams, coded folders... I am so disorganised the closest I get to a timeline is an incomplete list of character names so I can remember how to spell them. My books are very very character driven, and the plot just has to work around that.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Alice:  Keeping things short. My agent never asks for additions, just cuts. (He always takes 99% of the sex scenes out too – what’s with that?) I think it’s because as a wire journalist, which I was for nine years, you are always crimping down everything to fit the page, and so it’s nice to take a more freeform approach in creative writing. But there’s got to be a happy medium set between writing soliloquies and getting on with the story line. When we were editing Grave Secrets, my agent would say: “Where’s the plot gone this time, Alice? Did it roll under the sofa?” and I would sigh and get out my red pen.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Alice:  I love to travel, and do think that influences me. I will see a fascinating geographical location and start setting things up in it in my head… My Dad is a history buff, too, and he is always phoning me up to tell me a fascinating factoid about the ancient Persian army or how they first farmed vanilla in Madagascar. That often plants little seedlings in my brain. And I read way too many novels and comics and watch too many films as well – not to mention play too many computer games – so I am always immersing myself in new fantasy and science fiction.

TQDescribe Grave Secrets using only 5 words.

Alice:  “Whodunit with zombies and vampires” – that’s five, right?

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

Alice:  OK, I don’t know if I have told anyone this yet, but I gave my Dad a cameo role. He’s the coroner who is also a conveyancing solicitor! He gets a slightly larger part in the later books but I liked the idea of sliding something personal like that in for absolutely no reason whatsoever. Growing up in the countryside as a coroner’s daughter was eye opening. The police would ring all the time, and of course it was always about the deaths that were unclear – or all too clear in Bad Ways. I don’t view death as entertaining, quite the opposite, but I had to take a very pragmatic approach to it from an early age because it was all around me all the time.

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

Alice:  I love the genre. I first came across it at uni when a friend leant me the first in the Barbara Hambly James Asher books, Travelling with the Dead. I think the allure for a lot of people is that you take the real world and change just this one thing: you make a little bit of the darkness real. The macabre and the numinous creep out of your imagination and into reality. It makes the genres uncomfortably relatable.

For Grave Secrets, I was inadvertently inspired by a couple of books I was reading. One was a volume of short stories about zombies, and I didn’t like it because not one of the stories was actually about the zombies. It was just about people who encounter zombies. I thought it missed a trick and I decided to fill that gap.

The second books was a glorious genre mashup, the first of the Gaslight series of short stories that pitch Sherlock Holmes against the eldritch forces of darkness. That’s where I decided that cosy crime, romance, zombies, vampires, horror and a whodunit could all join forces with an LGBT+ friendly Aga saga under one cover.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for Grave Secrets?

Alice:  Mostly I just cheated and wrote about what I know – messing up relationships, growing up in Staffordshire, having a totally crap car, spending too much on clothes, taking a very random degree at Bristol University. I don’t think my heroine and I have a lot in common character-wise, but we have quite a lot of overlapping background due to me being lazy and not wanting to do a lot of research.

But when I stepped out of my comfort zone, I did do some research. For example, there is a scene with a nail gun – no spoilers, I promise – but I had never used a nail gun so I went out and bought one. It’s been remarkably useful to be honest! Money not wasted.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for Grave Secrets.

Alice:  I love that cover so much. We went through many, many versions because my editor Kate Coe and my agent Simon Kavanagh were most determined to find a visual that screamed Cosy Crime and Urban Fantasy in equal amounts. The artist is the amazing Sam Gretton, and Sam somehow found a way of keeping us all happy and ticking every box and not just leaving the building Elvis-style when we requested Yet Another Rework. Sam even redid everything a final time, when it was honestly already gorgeous, because I moaned that the car wasn’t actually the heroine Toni’s car. (She drives a clapped-out vintage Morris Traveller.)

There are loads of little touches that just warm my heart, too. I asked if Sam could add the little skull in the ‘I’ of my name, and it’s just the cutest thing ever. For styling, I appreciate how the subheading is the text on the gravestone instead of just underneath the title and the way Solaris tucked their spine logo into the gravestone....

There were a lot of ideas that we threw about and then threw out too. The process of creating a book cover is a lot more labyrinthine than I realised. But I am very fortunate in that Solaris is part of the Rebellion group, with its graphic novel empire, so they know an awful lot about artwork compared with many publishers.

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

Alice:  Toni’s brother has a boyfriend called Henry, and he was super easy to write because he is the only character – apart from the coroner – who is shamelessly based on a real person. He’s based on a cousin of mine, who is always chilled and reassuring even when the sky is falling, the hedge has caught fire and you have run out of wine.

The toughest was probably Grace, one of the vampires who is a bit part in this book but has more airplay later in the series, because I just don’t know anyone like her. She is hard. She is cool and collected. She shows little soft emotion on the surface but clearly has a lot that’s passionate hidden underneath. I worked on her because I wanted her to be convincing, but in fairness I don’t think she comes into her own until Book Two.

TQDoes Grave Secrets touch on any social issues?

Alice:  Not intentionally, but I do often find when I have finished any creative writing that many of my main characters are bisexual. It’s not something I plan for, and it tends to be pointed out to me by my proof readers.

Elsewhere, with Toni – who is the lead character in Grave Secrets – I wanted to avoid the “feisty female” trope, because I didn’t want her to be stereotyped in that way even though she certainly has some of those elements. She is passionate. She is flawed. She makes decisions in haste and regrets them. She is always broke. She wants to be driven by her head but her heart is always in the way. She is loyal. She gets scared. She can be self-confident or insecure. I think I have ended up with someone who is feminine but a feminist, who has to battle the sexism of modern day England, as well as vampires and other evils, but is ready to do so.

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

Alice:  “Please can we make a long-running HBO series of your novel?” No, seriously, I love it when people ask questions full stop because it means they have read the book and are interested in finding out more. I would like to be asked what I see making Grave Secrets different from other urban fantasies… and it’s my no-angst pledge. The one thing I went overboard with when I wrote this was to try to keep it 100% free of angst:

Think about the first Star Wars film. Death, suffering, betrayal, totalitarian regimes committing genocide on a whim – and yet it’s all done with such a light touch that you are lifted up not cast down. A lot of urban fantasies with female protagonists in feature rape, too, and a lot of sex where everything is so fraught that the characters don’t appear to be actually enjoying it. I was determined that if my characters got any shagging in, everyone would be having A Good Time. And Toni faces a lot of Bad Stuff but, while she gets scared or set back, she never gives in to despair. So there are some tough scenes in the book, and it’s not free of gore because at the end of the day it’s also horror, but there is no drag-me-down angst.

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

  • Here’s one I am like: “Please Oscar, try shutting up again. It was working really well.”
  • I think this one is also a Toni classic: “Round here, we’d say you got all the custard but not the mustard, if you get my drift, Mr Gambarini.”
  • And just to keep people going: “He didn’t look particularly cool with his trousers at half-mast and his todger wagging about, and I could tell he knew it.”

TQWhat's next?

Alice:  So, this is a series of ten, and I am on volume eight, so there is still some work to go on the Lavington Windsor Mysteries, I know! That said, I have put them down for now until after the launch of Grave Secrets because I find it confusing to work on two books from the same series at the same time.

In terms of my next projects, I just finished my first science fiction novel. I do love it and I can’t wait for people to read it. It’s got the whole shebang: tentacled aliens, spaceships on fire, interstellar war, abandoned planets and a locked room murder mystery set in space.

My current work is an old-fashioned swords and sorcery trilogy with deserts and dragons. It’s the first creative thing that I have written that is not a mystery, and that gives me a lot more flexibility in terms of where I take the narrative. That’s surprisingly unhelpful, though. In a mystery novel, you have to solve it shortly and you have to do so just before the end, so much of the story flow is predetermined. With this one, I have to make it up all myself which is harder! But it’s got some great characters and I am having to learn about sword fighting and ancient Egyptian mythology. Watch this space!

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Alice:  Thank you! Ask me again next year when volume two is out…


Grave Secrets
The Lavington Windsor Mysteries 1
Solaris, September 1, 2020
Trade Paperback and eBook, 300 pages

Interview with Alice James, author of Grave Secrets
Agatha Raisin meets Sookie Stackhouse, with croquet and zombies.

"Fun, fast debut... Fans of Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse will want to check out Toni." -- Publishers Weekly

Toni Windsor is trying to live a quiet life in the green and pleasant county of Staffordshire. She'd love to finally master the rules of croquet, acquire a decent boyfriend and make some commission as an estate agent.

All that might have to wait, though, because there are zombies rising from their graves, vampires sneaking out of their coffins and a murder to solve.

And it's all made rather more complicated by the fact that she's the one raising all the zombies. Oh, and she's dating one of the vampires too. Really, what's a girl meant to do?

"Raises the zombie genre from the grave."- Jack Hayes

"Dead funny."- Mark Beech

Readers are loving the newest necromancer in town. Read advance praise for Grave Secrets from NetGalley:

"Heads up to all fans of True Blood and Buffy, our new favourite heroine is here, she's a necromancer, and she's kind of a hot mess!"- NetGalley review

"A thrilling five-star read."- NetGalley review

"A fun filled, laugh out loud page turner."- NetGalley review

About Alice

Interview with Alice James, author of Grave Secrets
Alice works as a writer, specialising in finance and travel. She is currently International Editor for Dante Magazine, who don’t seem to mind that all her columns are about getting lost in a different international destination, and Content Writer for the French business school EDHEC. She was previously a journalist and TV presenter for Bloomberg before becoming press and PR director of a $1 billion US hedge fund for 18 months. That turned out to be the worst period in history for hedge funds, so she retired wounded and decided that perhaps writing fantasy was a safer career. She has also worked as a project manager, creating business supplements for The Sunday Times, which involved more spreadsheets than she would like to see again. Ever. Alice has a degree in Maths from Bristol University – and half of a diploma in silversmithing from UCE University because it turns out that making the ladies’ version of the One Ring is a lot harder than she thought. She likes cats and ramen noodles and lives in a converted chapel in Oxfordshire because when people tell you that you will grow out of being a Goth, what they actually mean is that they’d like their black leather coat back now. She has written nine and a half novels; recently an interfering friend suggested that she should trying finding a publisher.

Website  ~ Twitter

Interview with Corry L. Lee, author of Weave the Lightning

Please welcome Corry L. Lee to The Qwillery as part of the 2020 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Weave the Lightning was published on April 7, 2020 by Solaris.

Interview with Corry L. Lee, author of Weave the Lightning

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

Corry:  I was in 5th grade. My “novel,” written on loose leaf notebook paper, was about a group of aliens called rock-moose (moose-like sentients with a symbiotic relationship to the rock-like creatures living on their long, shaggy fur). The water on the surface of the world turned solid during the day. An expedition from Earth had portal-ed in and was having trouble. It was a hybrid first-contact / survival story.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Corry:  Hybrid. I work out the way-points of my plot before I start writing - the ending, big events, that sort of thing - but my efforts to do more substantial outlines tend not to be very productive.

I do always write up a full outline once I finish a draft, as it helps me see the book from a different perspective when I’m pondering a revision. And I’ve started writing revision outlines (of the thing I’m revising toward) to try and iron out some of the bugs before doing all that re-writing.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Corry:  Despite outlining only rough way-points for a draft, I like having a plan. My subconscious, on the other hand, is more like a squirrel, darting off after shiny ideas. Often those ideas are in fact better than the plan, but I still get pissed when stomping through uncharted idea-underbrush. “But whyyyyy?” I moan to all who will listen. Though I often later admit that, yes, the squirrel was chasing a diamond and not a shiny bottlecap.

I might need to make peace with the squirrel.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Corry:  N.K. Jemisin, Ann Leckie, Yoon Ha Lee, Brandon Sanderson, Brent Weeks, Ann Patchett, Tanya Huff.

Also, I was (okay, still am and always will be) a huge Babylon 5 fan.

TQDescribe Weave the Lightning using only 5 words.

Corry:  Russian-inspired. Storm magic. Travelling circus.

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

Corry:  It’s about hope, trust, and building a better world. I’m fundamentally an optimist, and it shows.

TQWhat inspired you to write Weave the Lightning? What appeals to you about writing Fantasy?

Corry:  I wanted to develop a big, crunchy magic system that tied deeply into characters’ emotional space. I love magic that feels rich and organic, as complex as the people wielding it. I also love when technology develops alongside magic, when the world is constantly evolving with power dynamics shifting.

TQWhich period in Russian history was your inspiration for Weave the Lightning?

Corry:  It’s a mash-up. Technology is 1910s era, but Bourshkanya is a secondary world with Russian-flavored culture, heavily influenced by storm magic. A fascist regime has held control for the last 20-odd years, becoming increasingly repressive. In its historical underpinnings, it’s a bit Soviet, a bit pre-WWII Germany.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for Weave the Lightning?

Corry:  I read and watched a lot of WWI, WWII, and Soviet-era books, films, and documentaries. Stand-outs are Lucie Aubrac’s memoir Outwitting the Gestapo and the Newberry nominated Breaking Stalin’s Nose. I chewed on discussions of fascism, like Robert O. Paxton’s The Anatomy of Fascism, and tried to understand how growing up under an oppressive regime affected a nation’s youth.

I also read and watched lots of circus-related material, which was much more fun!

TQPlease tell us about the cover for Weave the Lightning.

Corry:  I love the cover! It’s hard to see its full beauty in photos because the lightning bolt is spot-varnished, which means that if you tip the book back and forth, the lightning seems to flash!

The high wire walker stepping across the lightning is Celka Prochazka, a young female resistance fighter whose family are “The Amazing Prochazkas,” a travelling circus’s top-billed act of high wire walkers - modelled lightly off the real-life Flying Wallendas.

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

Corry:  Celka was the easiest. She’s bold and enthusiastic. She’s struggling to understand her magic and determined to fight the regime. She begins with a very clear sense of “right” and “wrong,” which ends up being challenged in interesting ways in the book.

Gerrit was much harder. He’s the son of the fascist state’s Supreme-General. He was trained at a top military mage academy, and so spent his life steeped in the regime’s “might makes right.” But he’s a good person at heart, if horribly entitled. Walking the line between making Gerrit the person his father wants him to be - who he’s spent his life striving to become - and a sympathetic character we can root for was an interesting challenge.

TQDoes Weave the Lightning touch on any social issues?

Corry:  Fantasy is often laden with sexism, even if the protagonists are female and the magic doesn’t discriminate along gender lines. I wanted to develop a society with deep-seated gender equality, because I believe in the power of fiction to light the way to a better world.

So despite being set in a fascist state with 1910s-era technology, women and men aren’t pigeon-holed into gender roles, non-binary pronouns are unremarkable, and love is love.

TQWhich question about Weave the Lightning do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

Corry:  Are there any hidden gems or call-outs?

The minor character named Lucie is named after Lucie Aubrac, an amazing woman in the WWII French resistance who stood up to some nasty Gestapo monsters in Lyon. She fought, she loved, and she did much of it while pregnant. She’s a real-life badass, so I wanted to salute her.

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Weave the Lightning.


“Most people thought time marched at an unwavering pace, each second as long as the next. Those people had never walked the wire.”


“Why are you staring at me like I have a bayonet sticking out of my chest?” he asked.

She huffed a surprised laugh. “You’re serious?”

He looked down at his chest. “Not about the bayonet.”

TQWhat's next?

Corry:  I’m currently revising Weave the Lightning’s sequel, The Storm’s Betrayal (due out in 2021). I love how it has given me a chance to open up the world and dig into different aspects of the magic system. Also, a new character (I don’t want to spoiler who, because they’re in the first book) gets a POV... and it’s delightful.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Corry:  Thank you for having me!

Weave the Lightning
Solaris, April 7, 2020
Trade Paperback and eBook, 400 pages

Interview with Corry L. Lee, author of Weave the Lightning
Russian-inspired epic of magical revolution & romance

Empire. Revolution. Magic.

Gerrit is the son of Bourshkanya’s Supreme-General. Despite his powerful storm-affinity and the State’s best training, he can’t control his magic. To escape the brutal consequences, he flees.

Celka is a travelling circus performer, hiding both her link to the underground and her storm-affinity from the prying eyes of the secret police. But Gerrit’s arrival threatens to expose everything: her magic, her family, and the people they protect.

The storms have returned, and everything will change.

About Corry

Interview with Corry L. Lee, author of Weave the Lightning
Corry L. Lee is a science fiction and fantasy author, Ph.D. physicist, award-winning science teacher, data geek, and mom. In Ph.D. research at Harvard, she shed light on the universe fractions of a second after the Big Bang. At a major tech company, she connected science to technology, improving the customer experience through online experimentation. She’s currently obsessed with cross-country skiing, yoga, and single origin coffee. A transplant to Seattle, Washington from sunny Colorado, she is learning to embrace rainy days. Learn more at

Twitter  @CorryLLee  ~  Facebook

Interview with Premee Mohamed, author of Beneath the Rising

Please welcome Premee Mohamed to The Qwillery as part of the 2020 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Beneath the Rising is published on March 3, 2020 by Solaris.

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

Interview with Premee Mohamed, author of Beneath the Rising

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

Premee:  I believe it was an illustrated picture book when I was seven or eight... it was about a cat who runs away from home and becomes a pirate (someone also steals his tail at some point if I recall correctly?). A coworker of my dad's gave me these alcohol-based drafting markers to colour it in with and I'm pretty sure I killed a whole bunch of brain cells.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Premee:  I used to be a pure pantser, but I think I would now say I'm a hybrid on my way to being a plotter, at least for novels. It's easy to put in about three signposts for a short story and then write whatever you want between them as long as those three things get hit, but I'm terrible for just having 'and then this happened, and then this happened' in a novel. I have so many novels from the last 20 years or so that just don't end! Now, I write landmarks in an outline document, and pants between them, which gives me the flexibility I like.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Premee:  So far, I'd say dealing with all the non-writing stuff... I had been writing for years but never wanted to get published, but I wish before I had decided that, I had researched taxes and receipts and organization and time management and contract language. There's a lot to learn on the fly and it all takes so much time away from the actual writing unless you keep on top of it!

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Premee:  I read a lot, so definitely whatever fiction I'm reading at the time. And I read a lot of nonfiction as well, there's so much interesting writing out there. I probably have 5000 bookmarks, saved articles, tagged posts, and so on with 'Interesting for book!' (Of course, this means a lot gets missed, but I do intend to catch up one day!) Not so much movies or TV, which I don't watch much of, and I am not very current with what's out right now. My job, which is in environmental policy, is a constant source of ideas and conflict. And music for sure; I have dozens of short stories and at least one novella so far based on favourite songs or albums. 'Beneath the Rising' was definitely influenced by the science degree I was taking at the time, too, and how frustrating but exciting I found it. I miss those days of realizing just how much we didn't know we didn't know.

TQDescribe Beneath the Rising using only 5 words.

Premee:  "OK, I definitely fixed it."

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

Premee:  The book description focuses on their friendship, which I think was my goal, but it doesn't talk much about everything trying to drive them apart as the events start to unravel: family responsibilities, ancient monsters, possessed thralls, international police, a worried assistant, bounty hunters, and a mysterious secret society. Even the weather, even the geography. Odds are way lower than they seem that everybody is going to make it out of this in one piece.

TQWhat inspired you to write Beneath the Rising?

Premee:  Definitely my experience in university, I think. Coming to grips with everything we wanted to know about science and the ways we were limited by funding, time, labour, intelligence, memory, luck, but also the limitations of measuring techniques and available reagents. I think at least at first both Johnny Chambers herself, and the book, were purely wish-fulfillment: What would you do if you had most limitations removed from the research you were doing? And after that: But what if those gates and those gatekeepers are there for a reason? How could you get around them, and why would you think it was justifiable for you and only you to do that? What might happen as a result of all that power and disregard for risk? Do you have the right to risk things that aren't yours (say: the fate of the entire world) just because you want to?

TQHow does being a scientist affect (or not) your fiction writing?

Premee:  Abstractly, I think it continues to affect everything I write about and how I write. Not just in the ability to research and synthesize huge amounts of data from a wide variety of sources, including many that I would not have known about before studying science, but the ability to make logical jumps from ideas or facts and connect things, I think those are tremendously useful. Keeping correlation and causation appropriately apart is essential in my job, but pushing them together in interesting ways is essential in speculative fiction. Deriving the unexpected from the known, and helping people connect ideas in a new light, is always the goal.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for Beneath the Rising?

Premee:  Well, I absolutely whiffed on the actual science; I read about three things related to clean-energy reactors and particle physics and made up the rest. (I hope no physicists read this novel. They will be very irritated with me.) But I spent a long time researching the places they were going. Encyclopedias, travel memoirs, the arts library at my university, National Geographics, and just asking around in the old days (the internet wasn't a lot of help in 2002). When I polished it up for querying in 2016, I also used a lot of blogs, city websites, Google Earth, and Twitter. It's so fantastic now to be able to be informed directly and without filters by the people who live there and take photos of their everyday life. I really hope I was able to use my research accurately and respectfully, while working with the limitation that it's in a universe in which Johnny Chambers and her science and her corporations have changed the whole world.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for Beneath the Rising.

Premee:  I love the cover! They asked me for input about it very early on in the process and I said I would love to see something graphic, and I didn't like the painterly style of covers which depicted the faces of the characters. Then that was the last I heard of it till it went live for pre-orders. The artist is James Paul Jones (@jamespauljones). I didn't realize, when I first looked at it, that there were silhouettes around the ring, and when I did I think I screamed out loud at my desk. It's so well-done. I've seen people comparing it to the language from the 'Arrival' movie, which I haven't seen. I think it looks more like the aftermath of a specific event in the book... readers will figure it out at about the same time I did, I think.

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

Premee:  This is such an interesting question! I think Nick was the easiest to write at the time. I constantly felt like him. I almost could have just transcribed my journals at the time: full of hope and expectations, having difficulty distinguishing between romantic and platonic love, feeling completely responsible for the safety and health of my younger sibling, severe anxiety, always wanting to do the right thing, loyal to a fault. Johnny was the hardest: not just that she was supposed to be more intelligent than me, but more intelligent than, supposedly, anyone; and that she had this awful, blatant disregard for other people's feelings and worries. It was fun to write someone so confident and have it often tip over into arrogance, but it was also tiring. I kept fretting that she was, somehow, secretly, me, just because she was the scientist character.

TQDoes Beneath the Rising touch on any social issues?

Premee:  I didn't think so at the time, seeing it as a basic adventure/fantasy story; but when I reviewed it in preparation for querying, I do think it touches on some fairly heavy stuff. Not merely classism, not merely the idea of assimilation after immigration (which Nick, like me, didn't think about much as a teenager), but also colonialism in general: what's the end result of empire? What do you get as a world, as a mindset, after centuries and centuries of people transporting, enslaving, mutilating, killing, suppressing, torturing, and erasing black and brown cultures and peoples for profit? Johnny doesn't think about it, clearly. But maybe she should.

TQWhich question about Beneath the Rising do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

Premee:  No one's asking whether anything from the novel appears in any of my short stories! The answer is, yes, and you'll see it right away when you start looking for it!

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

Premee:  "I cannot believe that you have all this money and you don't have a secret getaway blimp for when monsters are watching the house," I said. "What's even the point?"

TQWhat's next?

Premee:  I am working diligently on the sequel, which will be a very, very different book from the first one. After that I guess we'll see!

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Premee:  Thank you for having me here! :)

Beneath the Rising
Solaris, March 3, 2020
Trade Paperback and eBook, 416 pages

Interview with Premee Mohamed, author of Beneath the Rising
All the Birds in the Sky meets Lovecraft Country in this whimsical coming-of-age story about two kids in the middle of a war of eldritch horrors from outside spacetime…

Nick Prasad and Joanna “Johnny” Chambers have been friends since childhood. She’s rich, white, and a genius; he’s poor, brown, and secretly in love with her.

But when Johnny invents a clean reactor that could eliminate fossil fuels and change the world, she awakens the primal, evil Ancient ones set on subjugating humanity.

From the oldest library in the world to the ruins of Nineveh, hunted at every turn, they need to trust each other completely to survive…

About Premee

Interview with Premee Mohamed, author of Beneath the Rising
Premee Mohamed is a scientist and writer based out of Alberta, Canada. She has degrees in molecular genetics and environmental science, but hopes that readers of her fiction will not hold that against her. Her short speculative fiction has been published in a variety of venues, which can be found on her website.
Website ~ Twitter @premeesaurus

Covers Revealed - Upcoming Works by DAC Authors

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

Clarissa Goenawan (2018)

The Perfect World of Miwako Sumida
Soho Press, March 10, 2020
Hardcover and eBook, 288 pages

Covers Revealed - Upcoming Works by DAC Authors
From the critically acclaimed author of Rainbirds comes a novel of tragedy and dark histories set in Japan.

University sophomore Miwako Sumida has hanged herself, leaving those closest to her reeling. In the months before her suicide, she was hiding away in a remote mountainside village, but what, or whom, was she running from?

To Ryusei, a fellow student at Waseda; Chie, Miwako’s best friend; and Fumi, Ryusei’s older sister, Miwako was more than the blunt, no-nonsense person she projected to the world. Heartbroken, Ryusei begs Chie to take him to the village where Miwako spent her final days. While he is away, Fumi receives an unexpected guest at their shared apartment in Tokyo, distracting her from her fear that Miwako’s death may ruin what is left of her brother’s life.

Expanding on the beautifully crafted world of Rainbirds, Clarissa Goenawan gradually pierces through a young woman’s careful façade, unmasking her most painful secrets.

Ken Liu (2015)

The Hidden Girl and Other Stories
Gallery / Saga Press, February 25, 2020
Hardcover and eBook, 432 pages

Covers Revealed - Upcoming Works by DAC Authors
From award-winning author Ken Liu comes his much anticipated second volume of short stories.

Ken Liu is one of the most lauded short story writers of our time. This collection includes a selection of his science fiction and fantasy stories from the last five years—sixteen of his best—plus a new novelette.

In addition to these seventeen selections, The Hidden Girl and Other Stories also features an excerpt from book three in the Dandelion Dynasty series, The Veiled Throne.

Adrian J. Walker (2017)

The Human Son
Solaris, April 28, 2020
Trade Paperback and eBook, 380 pages

Covers Revealed - Upcoming Works by DAC Authors
Solaris Spring 2020 Lead Title from critically acclaimed author, Adrian J. Walker

A startling, emotional, beautiful (and at times funny) book – one that feels like the best sort of science fiction, a book that should be enjoyed widely, a book that speaks of what it is to be human, a parent, and a child.

It is 500 years in the future and Earth is no longer populated by humans.

The new guardians of Earth, the genetically engineered Erta, have reversed climate change. They are now faced with a dilemma; if they reintroduce the rebellious and violent Homo Sapiens, all of their work will be undone.

They decide to raise one final child; a sole human to help decide if humanity should again inherit the Earth.

But the quiet and clinical Ima finds that there is more to raising a human than she had expected; and there is more to humanity’s history than she has been told.

Melanie's Month in Review - May 2019

Melanie's Month in Review - May 2019

Bye bye May! I can't believe that May has come and gone. I hope that May brought you some blooming great books (get it...May flowers....blooming???...tee hee).  Well excuse my poor sense of humour. I have jetlag after a rather long journey back from the east coast of Canada. The holiday did provide me with the opportunity to read some good books though. So what did I read?

Melanie's Month in Review - May 2019
One of my sisters is an ardent fan of Patricia Briggs (she introduced me to the author) and had the most recent Mercy Thompson book - Storm Cursed. I had forgotten that this book had been released so I grabbed her Kindle and piled in. This book is set a mere few months after the events of book 10 when Mercy was kidnapped and held in Europe. Rather than referencing the events of the last book Storm Cursed carries on the plot arc from books 8 and 9. Just when Mercy has a little bit of stability in her life a deadly coven of witches threaten the peace talks between the humans, fae and werewolves. Mercy and the pack promised to protect the Tri Cities and they are determined regardless how many zombie goats they have to kill in the process.

I enjoyed Mercy's 11th adventure more than I thought I would. This instalment links more closely to the overall plot arc (or what I believe is the plot arc) then the previous instalment Silence Fallen (book 10). A number of my favourite characters are back including Zee, Uncle Mike and Larry the Goblin King. The book also emphasizes how Mercy is a bit of an outsider and if it wasn't for being Adam's mate she wouldn't have the support from all of the pack. I felt the book was a bit more like the early books with the dynamic between Mercy, Zee, Tad and the vampire Stefan. Zombie goats aside there are some rather violent sections in this book although much of the violence is recounted rather than experienced by one of the characters. Mercy does get beaten up but not as badly as in previous books. I know this isn't popular with some readers of my posts but I really wish Briggs would wrap up this series. I like Mercy but I think she needs to have her HEA.

Melanie's Month in Review - May 2019
I decided to switch it up and read some science fiction after a glut of fantasy and urban fantasy. I turned to the short story Walking to Aldebaran by Adrian Tchaikovsky. The story is told by astronaut Gary Rendell. Gary has gone on a mission across the stars to investigate an alien structure. Disaster strikes not long after landing and Gary is alone and lost inside the structure with something or somethings lurking around every corner.

I enjoyed this short story mainly for the witty way in which Tchaikovsky tells the story through Gary's POV. The story switches between the present and the past as Gary recounts how he has ended up in his unique predicament while he wanders through the endless dark tunnels trying to survive. The story is rather light hearted because of Gary's witty story telling until the very end when it gets rather much darker. If you are a science fiction fan and want something that doesn't take ages to read then give Walking to Aldebaran a go.

Melanie's Month in Review - May 2019
In case you missed it one of my other reads in May was the final instalment of Lindsay J. Pryor's Blackthorn series - Blood Broken. In honour of this being the final book of the series I wrote a full review which you can read here.

For all you Ilona Andrews fans you are going to be totally jealous that I got an advance copy of Sapphire Flames which is the soon to be released latest book in the Hidden Legacy series. I have to wait a bit before I am able to review it. It is out in August so look for my review sometime in July.

That's all I have for you for this month. I am going to be a bit more dedicated to the blog and get some full reviews posted so wish me luck. Until June happy reading!

Storm Cursed
Mercy Thompson 11
Ace, May 7, 2019
Hardcover and eBook, 368 pages

Melanie's Month in Review - May 2019
In this powerful entry in the #1 New York Times bestselling series, Mercy Thompson must face a deadly enemy to defend all she loves…

My name is Mercedes Athena Thompson Hauptman, and I am a car mechanic.
And a coyote shapeshifter.
And the mate of the Alpha of the Columbia Basin werewolf pack.

Even so, none of that would have gotten me into trouble if, a few months ago, I hadn’t stood upon a bridge and taken responsibility for the safety of the citizens who lived in our territory. It seemed like the thing to do at the time. It should have only involved hunting down killer goblins, zombie goats, and an occasional troll. Instead, our home was viewed as neutral ground, a place where humans would feel safe to come and treat with the fae.

The reality is that nothing and no one is safe.  As generals and politicians face off with the Gray Lords of the fae, a storm is coming and her name is Death.

But we are pack, and we have given our word.

We will die to keep it.

Walking to Aldebaran
Solaris, May 28, 2019
Hardcover and eBook, 140 pages

Melanie's Month in Review - May 2019
Chilling story of a lost astronaut on an alien artefact from Arthur C. Clarke award-winning Adrian Tchaikovsky

My name is Gary Rendell. I’m an astronaut. When they asked me as a kid what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said, “astronaut, please!” I dreamed astronaut, I worked astronaut, I studied astronaut.

I got lucky; when a probe sent out to explore the Oort Cloud found a strange alien rock and an international team of scientists was put together to go and look at it, I made the draw.

I got even luckier. When disaster hit and our team was split up, scattered through the endless cold tunnels, I somehow survived.

Now I’m lost, and alone, and scared, and there’s something horrible in here.

Lucky me.

Lucky, lucky, lucky.

Interview with Weston Ochse

Please welcome Weston Ochse to The Qwillery. Grunt Hero, the 3rd and final Task Force Ombra Novel, was published on April 25th by Solaris.

Interview with Weston Ochse

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

Weston:  Hi, Sally. I began writing when I turned 30. Scratch that. I actually began writing when I was 8, but that story was pulled from circulation by the school and I didn’t write for another 22 years.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Weston:  I’m a hybrid. I plot enough,t hen I pants it. I love it when a character surprises me. When they do, I know I have something special. I’m not sure that if I was a pure plotter if that would happen.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Weston:  Facebook.

TQDescribe Grunt Hero in 140 characters or less.

Weston:  Humanity fought the war and lost. Aliens now have the run of our Earth. When all hope is gone, all that’s left is to seek revenge.

TQGrunt Hero is the conclusion to your Task Force Ombra series. What are your feelings on wrapping up the series?

Weston:  I’d call this a trilogy, not a series. When I wrote the SEAL Team 666 books, I thought I was writing a trilogy, but it ended up being a series. What’s the difference? A trilogy is an enclosed literary environment where something special happens. A series is books that follow one after the other that don’t necessarily have a relation to the others except for characters and setting. Like the James Bond books. That was a series. I took what I learned about failing to write a trilogy with the SEAL Team 666 books and impressed them into the writing of the Grunt Trilogy. What are my feelings, you ask? I’m happy that I actually created a solid trilogy. I am sort of saddened to let Ben Mason go, though. He was a hell of a grunt.

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

Weston:  It has walruses.

TQWhat inspired you to write the Task Force Ombra series? What appeals to you about writing Military SF?

Weston:  I’ve spent 35 years in the military. They say write what you know. I’ve written thirty books and six out of the last seven books I wrote were military fiction. It’s appealing to my sensibilities right now to write military sf. I think there’s some really terrific writing out there, but not a lot by people who have been street level with a terrorist. There are feelings one has when they are in harm’s way that no amount of research can get you. In fact, I wrote Grunt Life while I was in Afghanistan and brought into it some of the feelings of mortality I was having then.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for Grunt Hero and the series?

Weston:  I did a lot of research so I could get the Gun Porn right. Then there was science. I had a science guy who kept me straight. I’d ask him if I could do something, then when he’d stop laughing, he’d tell me what I could really do. I wanted the science behind everything to be as real as possible.

TQIn the Task Force Ombra series who was the easiest character to write and why? Which character surprised you?

Weston:  Ben Mason was the easiest to write for me, because he was essentially me. I included many biographical elements into that character. Michelle became the hardest to write, mainly because of what I did to her.

TQWhat's next?

Weston:  I wrote and turned in Burning Sky for Solaris, which is a military horror novel set in Afghanistan. I’m working on the sequel to that, Dead Sky and I’m also working on a few other books. I had a big short story year this last year. I worked on the franchises of Hellboy, X-Files, Joe Ledger, Aliens and Predator. The Hellboy and Predator stories have yet to be published. This fall I’m working with DC Comics on a project. I’m super stoked about that.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Weston:  No. Thank you!

Grunt Hero
A Task Force Ombra Novel 3
Solaris, April 25, 2017
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 400 pages

Interview with Weston Ochse
It is a time for heroes, for killers, for Grunts.

In this thrilling conclusion to the breakout military SF series, we find Earth plagued with millions of miles of terraformed cities, black vines crushing concrete, revealing iron and steel. Those unable to escape the vines are empty vessels waiting to be filled, living storage for alien algorythmic thought. What else can happen? What more can be done? This has always been a time for for heroes, for Killers, for Grunts, but are they enough?

Benjamin Carter Mason will be asked to return to OMBRA to help them find these answers, and what he finds will send him over the edge. In the end, his efforts won't be about survival, they'll be about revenge, and his revenge will be served in a blaze.


Grunt Life
A Task Force Ombra Novel 1
Solaris, April 29, 2014
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 432 pages

Interview with Weston Ochse
This is a brand new Military SF series from Weston Ochse, an experienced military man and author.

Benjamin Carter Mason died last night. Maybe he threw himself off a bridge into Los Angeles Harbor, or maybe he burned to death in a house fire in San Pedro; it doesn’t really matter. Today, Mason’s starting a new life. He’s back in boot camp, training for the only war left that matters a damn.

For years, their spies have been coming to Earth, mapping our cities, learning our weaknesses, leaving tragedy in their wake. Our governments knew, but they did nothing—the prospect was too awful, the costs too high—and now, the horrifying and utterly alien Cray are invading, laying waste to our cities. The human race is a heartbeat away from extinction.

That is, unless Mason, and the other men and women of Task Force OMBRA, can do anything about it.

This is a time for heroes. For killers. For Grunts

Grunt Traitor
A Task Force Ombra Novel 2
Solaris, July 28, 2015
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 432 pages

Interview with Weston Ochse
The breakout military SF series continues!

Their spies were among us for years. They mapped our electrical infrastructure, learned our weaknesses, until finally they flipped the switch and threw us back into the Dark Ages.

Only OMBRA and its battalions around the world seem capable of defending Earth from the next wave of attack—terraforming. But at what price can we gain our freedom from these yet to be identified aliens? They're pushing the human race to the edge of extinction if we can't find a way to change things. But what will we have to change? What will we humans become to survive this threat. This is a time for heroes. For killers. For Grunts.

Benjamin Carter Mason will be asked this question over and over as he dives deep into the nasty heart of an alien transformed Los Angeles. And in the end, he might be the last person on Earth defending not just our lives, but our humanity. 

About Weston

Interview with Weston Ochse
Weston Ochse is a former intelligence officer and special operations soldier who has engaged enemy combatants, terrorists, border crossers, narco-bad guys, and human smuggling punks. His personal war stories include performing humanitarian operations over Bangladesh, being deployed to Afghanistan, and a near miss being cannibalized in Papua New Guinea. A writer of more than 26 books in multiple genres, his military supernatural series SEAL Team 666 has been optioned to be a movie starring Dwayne Johnson. His military sci fi series, which starts with Grunt Life, has been praised for its PTSD-positive depiction of soldiers at peace and at war.

Follow Wes on Twitter, and for more information visit the official Weston Ochse website.

Interview with John Appel, author of Assassin's OrbitInterview with Sammy H.K. Smith, author of AnnaInterview with Wayne Santos, author of The Chimera CodeInterview with Thilde Kold Holdt, author of Northern WrathInterview with Alice James, author of Grave SecretsInterview with Corry L. Lee, author of Weave the LightningInterview with Premee Mohamed, author of Beneath the RisingCovers Revealed - Upcoming Works by DAC AuthorsMelanie's Month in Review - May 2019Interview with Weston Ochse

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