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Spotlight and Excerpt - Ninth City Burning by J. Patrick Black


The Qwillery is thrilled to share an excerpt and more from J. Patrick Black's debut novel - Ninth City Burning!



Ninth City Burning
Ace, September 6, 2016
Hardcover and eBook, 496 pages

Spotlight and Excerpt - Ninth City Burning by J. Patrick Black
Centuries of war with aliens threaten the future of human civilization on earth in this gripping, epic science fiction debut...

We never saw them coming.

Entire cities disappeared in the blink of an eye, leaving nothing but dust and rubble. When an alien race came to make Earth theirs, they brought with them a weapon we had no way to fight, a universe-altering force known as thelemity. It seemed nothing could stop it—until we discovered we could wield the power too.

Five hundred years later, the Earth is locked in a grinding war of attrition. The talented few capable of bending thelemity to their will are trained in elite military academies, destined for the front lines. Those who refused to support the war have been exiled to the wilds of a ruined Earth.

But the enemy's tactics are changing, and Earth's defenders are about to discover this centuries-old war has only just begun. As a terrible new onslaught looms, heroes will rise from unlikely quarters, and fight back.




Excerpt

The Valentine War, Earth 500 Years Ago

It starts with the world how it used to be, with countries and billions of people living everywhere. Back then there was no such thing as thelemity, and people built houses and machines sort of like they have in settlements today, but all of that changed when the Valentines came.

The reason we call them the Valentines is that the day they first attacked, February 14 on the old Western Calendar, was called “Valentine’s Day”. We still don’t know what the Valentines call themselves, because we’ve never been able to talk to them. We don’t even know what they look like. People had all sorts of different names for them early in the war, but “Valentine” is the one that ended up being the most popular. It used to mean something totally different, but not many people remember that now.

We never saw them coming. All at once cities just started disappearing. A city would be there, everything totally normal, and then it would be gone, nothing but rubble and a cloud of dust. By the time we figured out we were under attack, half the cities in the world had already been destroyed. We tried to fight back, but the Valentines had thelemity, and our strongest weapons were next to useless. They probably would have killed every single person on the planet, except for one thing: It turned out we could use thelemity too.




Cast of Characters

JAX: A cadet at the Academy and the youngest fontanus in Ninth City. With the ability to harness thelemity, Jax must stand for all citizens during Valentine attacks and act as the only defense between the city and complete destruction.

NAOMI: The youngest sister in the Ochre family, and a member of the nomadic Walker tribe. Naomi longs to be a scout like her older sister, Rae, but her undiscovered gifts will take her down a different path, far away from the life she knows.

RAE: The beautiful, impulsive leader of the Ochre family and a scout for the Walker tribe. Rae’s penchant for bravery and lack of fear plunge her into a new world, where her strength will be tested in ways she never imagined.

TORRO: A factory worker in Settlement 225, which provides supplies and soldiers to the Legion’s war effort. Torro’s uncomplicated life is suddenly disrupted when he finds himself drafted as cannon fodder and shipped away to the horror of the front lines.

VINNEAS: Procurator of the Academy, responsible for every cadet at the school of Grammar and Rhetoric. Part of being Procurator is being prepared for command in combat, but an unwelcome promotion sends him to active duty sooner than he expects.

IMWAY: The top ranked warrior in the Equites Aspirant, the most elite fighting unit in the Academy. Highly skilled in combat, Imway’s power stems from a suit of armor called ‘equus’ and the ego that comes with it stands the chance of ruining any relationship he has.

KIZABEL: The most sought after Artifex—a creator of artifices—at the Academy. Her most recent project violates many rules, and Kizabel faces expulsion or incarceration if caught. But her project will revolutionize equus design, if she can only get it running.


Together, this unlikely group of allies will face a mysterious enemy and a war that has brought their world to the brink of destruction.




About the Author

Spotlight and Excerpt - Ninth City Burning by J. Patrick Black
Photo by Beowulf Sheehan
J. Patrick Black has worked as a bartender, a small-town lawyer, a homebuilder, and a costumed theme park character, all while living a secret double life as a fiction writer. While fiction is now his profession, he still finds occasion to ply his other trades as well. He lives in Boston, Massachusetts, where he likes to visit the ocean. NINTH CITY BURNING is his first novel. Find out more about J. Patrick Black online at www.jpatrickblack.com












Interview with Sarah Fine


Please welcome Sarah Fine to The Qwillery. Reliquary, the first novel in the Reliquary Series, was published on June 14th by 47North.



Interview with Sarah Fine




TQWelcome to The Qwillery. You've written over a dozen published novels. Has your writing process changed (or not) over the years? What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Sarah:  I'm more aware of story structure than I was when I started to write, so now, as I consider a story, I think about the inciting incident, the midpoint, the break into the third act, etc. I think it helps with pacing and focus. In terms of challenge, I'm learning to write messier first drafts. I used to edit extensively as I wrote, but nowadays I need to be a bit more efficient, which means more willingness to go forward with the plan to go back later instead of obsessively needing to fix everything as I go along.



TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Sarah:  I plot. I always need to know where I'm going. That said, I think it's necessary to be flexible. Often I find a better route that I couldn't have possibly seen at the beginning of the journey.



TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Sarah:  I find that I'm often moved to write or ponder a theme for a story after reading excellent nonfiction. For example, I'm writing a novel right now that's inspired in part by In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson.



TQDescribe Reliquary in 140 characters or less.

Sarah:  To save her fiancé Ben, Mattie journeys into an underworld of addictive magic & forms a tense partnership with Asa, Ben’s estranged brother.



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

Sarah:  This book is seriously fun, but it goes to unexpectedly dark places in terms of the romantic, sexual, and psychological aspects. Also, Asa is a strict raw vegan who carries magic floss in his pocket.



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

Sarah:  Reliquary is a story that I wrote at a time in my life where I was making some really tough decisions and in desperate need of true escape, and the story was definitely the playground I needed. In general, UF provides the opportunity to dwell in a real, contemporary world but to preserve a sense of magic and possibility that too often dies in adulthood. It's like grown-up fairytales, basically, which is why I love it.



TQDo Reliquary and the Servant of Fates series (Marked, Claimed, and Fated) share anything thematically?

Sarah:  I guess I could dig around and try to come up with something, but to me, the only thing they have in common are that they were extremely fun to write. The worlds are seedy and colorful and wild, full of possibilities and rabbit holes.



TQWhat sort of research did you do for Reliquary?

Sarah:  Probably the most research I did was for a certain scene that's set in Bangkok that might catch some readers by surprise, but to me made complete psychological and narrative sense. I did a lot of Internet research but also consulted with a specialist colleague of mine to get the details right. I don't want to say more than that for fear of spoiling it.



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

Sarah:  Asa is a challenge because I usually write "good guy" male protagonists who are tough but not jerks. Asa IS kind of a jerk at times, though with good reason, and I had to keep reminding myself of who he was and what he goes through on a daily basis to remain true to his character.

Gracie was the easiest. Probably because she is a dog.



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

Sarah:

Q: Everyone hates love triangles. Why is there one in this book????

A: I know it seems like there is a love triangle, but to my mind, that is just not the focus of the relationships in Reliquary. This series is about Mattie going through a process of becoming what she was always meant to be, and that means she has to decide whether she's willing to let go of the familiar and safe in favor of entering the big, dangerous world. That's not easy for her, and the relationships she has with Ben and Asa are emblematic of that struggle, but not always about the men themselves. And this isn't a romance novel, even though it has romantic elements. I won't promise that she ends up with either one of them!



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

Sarah:  "Hope, Mattie," Asa said. "You’re an addict. And I know a thing or two about addicts. You’re gonna chase that high all the way to the end.”



TQWhat's next?

Sarah:  Next comes Splinter, the sequel to Reliquary, which was possibly the most fun I've ever had writing a book.



TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.





Reliquary
Reliquary Series 1
47North, June 14, 2016
Trade Paperback and Kindle eBook, 288 pages

Interview with Sarah Fine
Mattie Carver’s engagement party should have marked the start of her own personal fairy tale. But when her fiancé, Ben, is violently abducted the next morning, her desperate quest to find him rips her away from small-town life and reveals a shattering truth: magic is real—and Ben is hooked. It’s not the stuff of storybooks. It’s wildly addictive, capable of producing everything from hellish anguish to sensual ecstasy almost beyond human endurance.

Determined to find out who took Ben and why, Mattie immerses herself in a shadowy underworld and comes face-to-face with the darkly alluring Asa Ward, a rogue magic dealer, infamous hustler…and her missing fiancé’s estranged brother. Asa has the power to sense magic, and he realizes Mattie is a reliquary, someone with the rare ability to carry magic within her own body, undetected. Asa agrees to help find Ben on one condition: Mattie must use her uncommon talent to assist his smuggling operations. Now, from magic-laced Vegas casinos to the netherworld clubs of Bangkok, Mattie is on a rescue mission. With Asa by her side, she’ll face not only the supernatural forces arrayed against her but the all-too-human temptation that she fears she can’t resist.



An excerpt from Reliquary


         The night before everything fell apart was the best of my life—the last purely happy, uncomplicated hours I would ever have. Looking back, I’m amazed by how lies can soothe the soul, quell every fear, blind you to reality in the most pleasant of ways. Not forever, of course. And only if you really want to buy into the illusion. But back then, I did. Even as the truth sharpened its knives and hunted me down, I refused to see it.
         I was too worried about whether I’d made enough deviled eggs.

“We really could have had this catered,” Mom said, stopping to rub my back as I balanced each egg half on the platter and then sprinkled them all with paprika.
           I blew a lock of curly hair off my forehead. Outside I could hear laughter and the faint caress of Lake Michigan against the shore. “How many people are out there?” I asked, ignoring her comment. “Should I do another dozen?” It’s my engagement party and I want to feed people, I had said. Just appetizers and beer. I’ll be done with plenty of time to spare.
           Ugh. My mother was right. Again.
           Her soft hands closed over my wrists. “We’ll have plenty. But Mattie, you need to be on the deck with Ben, not stuck in the kitchen. Your guests want to congratulate you—that’s the whole point of the party! Let me finish this up.” She held up my hands and glanced at my fingernails, short but coated with a bright-orange polish that set off my mustard-yellow dress and strawberry blond hair. “You’ll ruin these if you keep this up.” Smiling, she grabbed a dishrag and wiped a smear of mayonnaise off my ring finger, and the diamond that now lived there sparkled in the light. “Look—you’ve already done all the prep on the perperoncini wraps and the bruschetta. I’ve got this covered. Go.”
           I glanced out to where my fiancé (fiancé!) was standing, a bottle of beer in one hand, flashing that smile that could melt glaciers. His hair ruffled in the breeze off the lake, the sun glinting off golden strands. I bit my lip and stared. Seriously—how had I gotten so lucky? “You sure, Mom? I feel terrible leaving you with all this work.”
           She chuckled and shook her head. “Honey, that’s my job.”
           My mind skipped through memories of all the times she’d rescued me from my own ambitious schemes. Like when I’d taken on decorations for the senior prom (DIY string chandeliers are harder than they look, damn you, Internet!), or the time I’d decided that I totally had time to make three hundred cupcakes for my sorority’s homecoming party despite the fact that I had to cheer in the actual homecoming game. “I guess I’m the queen of biting off more than I can chew.” I sighed. “Sorry.”
           She pulled me into a hug, brushing my unruly hair off my face. “It’s just one of your many charming qualities.” She inclined her head toward Ben, and when I turned, he was watching the two of us, his honey-brown eyes full of affection and invitation. “And clearly Ben thinks so, too.”
           “Remind him of that after he takes a look at the supply closet at the clinic, okay?” I nodded as he beckoned me to come outside. “I might have tried to install a new shelving system while he was fishing with Dad yesterday.” Ben had told me that it was my practice, too, even though he was the vet and I was just the lab tech and assistant. I’d wanted to show him I could pull my weight. And I could…but unfortunately, the new shelving system could not.
           I explained the catastrophe that had once been Ben’s tidy closet. Mom just said, “We can get Dad over there to take a look at it tomorrow morning. He gets a kick out of fixing other people’s messes.” One of the reasons my dad was the most popular real estate agent in Sheboygan was that he actually seemed to enjoy patching holes and installing crown molding, and it certainly helped with sales.
           “You guys are the best parents. I don’t deserve you.”
           Mom handed me the egg platter. “Pay me back by making sure Grandpa’s having a decent time, okay?”
           “You got it.” I grinned. “I’m a ray of sunshine. I even dressed the part.” I kissed her cheek and scooted through the open sliding door to the deck, where I set the platter on a table already crowded with food.
           A warm hand closed over my arm. “Finally,” Ben said, his voice full of gentle teasing.
           I leaned my head back and let him kiss me, savoring the taste of taste of beer on his lips. “Mm. I think I read somewhere that anticipation is a fine aphrodisiac.”
           He laughed, and it accentuated the adorable dimple in his right cheek. “Is that what this is? I thought maybe you were avoiding me because of the supply closet.”
           “You weren’t scheduled to go in until tomorrow!”
           His arm slid around my waist, and he pulled me against his muscular body. “I had to go pick up some eyedrops for Barley.” His aging golden retriever was falling apart at the seams, but Ben was determined to give him a good life for as long as possible. “And it’s okay, really. It’ll be easy to fix.”
           I buried my face against his shoulder. “You are amazing.”
           He tipped my chin up. “And I’m marrying an amazing woman. Come on. Your friend Chelsea’s just gotten here, and I know you haven’t see her in a while. Also, a couple of your aunts and uncles have already asked me when you’ll appear. We need to greet your guests.”
           Your guests.
           I laced my fingers with Ben’s and looked out over my parents’ sprawling backyard, crowded with my extended family and everyone from my mother’s book club to my preschool gymnastics coach. Chelsea, my best friend from college, lifted her glass and grinned from her spot at the makeshift bar next to the pool.
           “They’re not all mine,” I said quietly. Feeling lame, I waved toward Franz, one of a handful of Ben’s patients (or, rather, the family members of Ben’s patients) I had invited to beef up his part of the guest list.
           Ben laughed as Franz waved back enthusiastically, looking a little lost and desperate as he stood among a group of my parents’ church friends. “I’m really flattered he decided to come,” Ben said. “He’s much more comfortable surrounded by books and wine.” A professor of anthropology at University of Wisconsin-Sheboygan, Franz had invited us over to his home a time or two, where I spent the evening playing with his dachshund, Lemmie, and Ben and Franz huddled in his library discussing lofty topics they claimed were too boring for me to sit through.
           “I’m glad he came, too.” I bit my lip. “But he’s not your family. We could have invited Asa, you know.”
           Ben’s grip turned to iron. “You can’t be serious.”
           “Come on, Ben. He’s your brother.”
           “Listen, even if we could find him, and even if he were sober enough to show up, trust me—you don’t want my brother here.” His jaw clenched over the tremble in his voice. “And I don’t, either. He’s a criminal. A lowlife. He’s—”
           “Ben, he’s the only family you’ve got left.” My heart ached for him. His mother had taken off when Ben was only a toddler, and he and Asa had been raised by their father, who had died a few years back. “Weddings bring people together!”
           “But with some people, that’s more of a curse than a blessing.”
           “You don’t think he’d be happy for you?”
           “Mattie, the last time we saw each other, he threatened to kill me.”
           “What?” My eyes went wide. “You never mentioned that before!”
           He bowed his head and shrugged. “It was a long time ago, and I don’t like to talk about it. But Asa’s just…he’s messed up. He’s got rage inside of him. And he’s always been jealous of me. Do you think it would help if he got a good long look at all of this?”
           I leaned my head on his shoulder. “I just wish you two could find your way back to each other. Family is important.”
           “I’m building a new family, Mattie. And there’s no one I’d rather do it with.” He shoved his left hand in his pocket, and I knew his fingers were running over his lucky agate. Just one of the odd, endearing habits that had made me fall deeper in love with him. I watched his face as he took a deep breath and closed his eyes. And when he opened them, he smiled down at me. His hand rose from his pocket to stroke my cheek. “You are so beautiful,” he murmured.
           I shivered with sudden pleasure. His touch was like a drug to me, and I was the happiest of addicts. As his fingertips trailed down my throat, my entire body tingled, and my hands balled in the fabric of his shirt, barely keeping me from sliding my palms up under it to feel his bare skin. “Do you think anyone would notice if we disappeared for a few minutes?”
           My old bedroom was a few steps away, and I was already envisioning myself on the bed. His grip on my hips would be bruising and delicious. My body was already slick and soft and hot. It felt like I was one deft touch away from having an orgasm, right there on the deck. Ben’s hand spread across my back, steadying me, and he glanced down at my flushed cheeks with an appreciative grin. “What were you saying about anticipation?”
           “Screw it. Or, wait, screw me. That would be even better.”
           “If someone doesn’t bring me a damn plate of food, I’m going to starve!” said a gravelly voice to my left.
           Ben released me instantly and clasped his hands behind his back, like a little boy caught stealing. My reaction wasn’t much better—I slapped my hands over my warm cheeks and turned toward the source of the complaint. “Grandpa! I-I was just coming to find you.”
           Grandpa looked up at me from his wheelchair. Dad had parked him in the corner of the deck so that he could look out over the lawn. His wide-brimmed straw hat shaded his watery, red-rimmed eyes, and his gnarled hands were clawed over the armrests. “Yes, that much was obvious.”
Great. Grandpa had probably heard every word of my scheme to sneak in a quickie with my boyfriend (fiancé!). I blushed from my forehead to my toes. Could I just control myself for once in my life? “What would you like, Grandpa? Summer roll? Deviled eggs?”
           “Surprise me.”
           Grabbing a plate and a napkin, I listened to Ben doing his best to make nice—and to Grandpa having none of it. I scooped up a few appetizers from each platter and turned just in time to see Ben reaching out to shake Grandpa’s hand. When my grandfather didn’t let go of the armrests, Ben saved face by giving Grandpa’s hand a friendly pat.
           Grandpa jerked away like he’d been burned, first glaring at the back of his liver-spotted hand and then up at Ben. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” he snapped.
           Ben blinked down at his fingers, the shock on his face similar to my own. “I’m…sorry?”
           “You should be,” Grandpa growled. “Don’t think I don’t know what you’re up to, boy.”
           “Try the eggs!” I said, rushing forward with the plate and nearly tripping in my strappy sandals. Stepping between my gaping fiancé and the tight-lipped old man who for some inexplicable reason had chosen the occasion of my engagement party to lose his mind, I put the plate in Grandpa’s lap because hey, snacks can fix nearly anything. (Despite everything that’s happened, I still believe that.)
           “Mattie, I think I’m going to…um…I’m going to go make sure Franz is having a good time,” Ben said.
           I threw him and apologetic look over my shoulder. “I’ll be there in a few.”
           Grandpa didn’t touch the food. His hands were shaking as I knelt next to him, my sunny skirt fanning around me. “Grandpa,” I said gently. “Are you okay?”
           “Don’t take that tone with me,” he said, though his voice had lost its edge. “My hospice nurse uses the same damn voice when I dare to express an opinion about anything other than whether I would or would not care for raisins in my oatmeal.” His tremulous fingers clutched at mine, and he sighed. “Never get old, Mattie.”
           “I won’t.” My chest squeezed with regret. Just a few weeks ago, the doctors had announced he only had months to live. He looked okay—apart from the rattling cough that kept him up nights and fatigue and pain meds that made him groggy during too many of his waking hours—but lung cancer was taking him down. After the doctors’ verdict, my parents had shipped him all the way to Wisconsin from his home in Arizona so they could take care of him until the end. They’d said it was the best thing for him, and to my surprise he hadn’t objected. But he didn’t seem happy about it—especially because everyone was tiptoeing around him like he was going to keel over any second. I tried to take a different approach. “Hey. In exchange for not using the you’re-a-crazy-old-man voice, I want to know what just happened with Ben.”
           He grunted. “It was nothing.”
           “Nothing? You refused to shake my fiancé’s hand! I mean, if you overheard us just now, that was as much my fault as—”
           “Mattie, how much do you know about him, really?”
           “We’ve been together for three years!”
           “That doesn’t mean you know his secrets.”
           I frowned. “How about you tell me what you’re getting at?”
           Grandpa rubbed at his chest as he looked over at the lawn, where Ben was mingling like a pro. “Ask him.
           Frustration began to creep in. Seriously, he had to pick this night to get all protective of my virtue? They’d spoken for two minutes. What could have gone that wrong that fast? “Grandpa, what did he say to you that has you this upset?”
           “Find out everything you can about him. You owe it to yourself.” He turned back to me, his chin trembling. “You and I haven’t spoken much since your grandma died.”
           I looked away, ashamed. “I’m sorry. I should have written more.” Or called. Or visited.
           “Come have lunch with me tomorrow?”
           “I have to work.”
           “Tuesday, then.”
           “Okay.” I’d have to arrange with Jan, our practice manager, to cover the waiting room during what was usually her lunch break, but that wasn’t anything a box of Girl Scout cookies couldn’t fix.
           “Mattie?” Ben called from the lawn. “The girl cousins are here.” His tone said, Help.
           My aunt Rena’s four teenage daughters were a handful. I stood up and smoothed my skirt. “I’d better get down there before they stick one of their iPhones in Dad’s speaker dock and turn this into a rave.”
           Grandpa squinted at me. “Are you speaking English?”
           “Never mind.” I rubbed his shoulder. “Enjoy those eggs.”
           I floated over to Ben, the incident already behind me. This was my engagement party, and I was marrying the love of my life. Nothing—and especially not my cranky old grandpa—was going to ruin it.

Re-printed with permission from 47North, copyright © 2016 by Sarah Fine





About Sarah

Sarah Fine is a clinical psychologist and the author of the Servants of Fate and Guards of the Shadowlands series. She was born on the West Coast, raised in the Midwest, and is now firmly entrenched on the East Coast.

Website  ~  Twitter @finesarah  ~  Facebook

A Toxic Trousseau by Juliet Blackwell - Excerpt


In this excerpt from Chapter One of A Toxic Trousseau by Juliet Blackwell, Lily Ivory's day does not start off too well!  A Toxic Trousseau, the 8th Witchcraft Mystery, will be published on July 5th by NAL Obsidian.



A Toxic Trousseau by Juliet Blackwell - Excerpt




Chapter One

Small business owners have their morning routines. Some people switch on the lights, brew a cup of coffee, and read the paper before engaging with the day. Some count out the money in the register and tidy up the merchandise. Some sweep and hose down the front walk.
       Each morning before opening my vintage clothing store, Aunt Cora’s Closet, I sprinkle salt water widdershins, smudge sage deosil, and light a white candle while chanting a spell of protection.
       Such spells can be powerful, and for a small business owner like me they serve an important purpose: to help customers maintain their composure in the face of fashion frustrations, keep evil intentions at bay, and discourage those with sticky fingers from rummaging through the feather boas, chiffon prom dresses, and silk evening gowns and then trying to shove said items into pockets or backpacks or under shirts.
       But protection spells aren’t much good against litigation.
       “Lily Ivory?” asked the petite, somber young woman who entered Aunt Cora’s Closet, a neon yellow motorcycle helmet under one arm. She had dark hair and eyes, and I imagined she would have been pretty had she smiled. But her expression was dour.
       “Yes?” I asked, looking up from a list of receipts.
       She held out a manila envelope. “You have been served.”
       “Served?”
       “You are hereby notified of a lawsuit against you, Aunt Cora’s Closet, and one errant pig, name unknown. By the by, not that it’s any of my business, but is it even legal to own livestock in the city?”
       I cast a glare in the direction of said pig, my witch’s familiar, Oscar. At least, I tried to, but he’d disappeared. Only moments earlier Oscar had been snoozing on his hand-embroidered purple silk pillow, resting up for a busy day of trying to poke his snout under the dressing room curtains while customers tried on vintage cocktail dresses, fringed leather jackets, and Jackie O pillbox hats. Now only the slight rustling of a rack of 1980s spangled prom dresses revealed his location.
       “My pig’s being served with legal papers?”
       “Not so much your pig, as you. Your property, your worry. At least, that’s how it works with dogs, so I assume . . .” The woman trailed off with an officious shrug as she headed for the front door with long strides, already pulling on her helmet. “But that isn’t any of my business; I just deliver the bad news. Have a nice day.”
       “Wait—”
       She didn’t pause. I followed her outside, where someone was revving the engine of a large black motorcycle. The woman jumped on the back and they zoomed off.
       “Duuude,” said Conrad, the homeless young man who slept in nearby Golden Gate Park and spent the better part of his days “guarding” the curb outside of my store. In San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, many young homeless people lived this way, panhandling and scrounging and generally referring to themselves as “gutter punks.” Over the past year, Conrad—or as he liked to call himself, “The Con”—had become a friend and the unofficial guardian of Aunt Cora’s Closet. “You get served?”
       “Apparently so,” I said, opening the envelope to find some scary-looking legal-sized documents filled with legalese, such as “party of the first part.”
       My heart sank as I put two and two together. My friend Bronwyn, who rents space in my store for her herbal stand, had filled me in on an incident that took place a couple of weeks ago while I was out scouting garage sales for resaleable treasure. It seems a woman came into the shop and started flicking through the merchandise, pronouncing it “unsuitable—too much of that dreadful ready-to-wear.” Bronwyn had explained to her that Aunt Cora’s Closet doesn’t deal in high-end vintage; our merchandise consists mostly of wearable clothes, with the occasional designer collectibles. The woman then turned to my employee Maya and started grilling her about the ins and outs of the store, making none-too-subtle inquiries about where we obtained our specialty stock.
       Oscar started getting in the customer’s way, making a pest of himself and keeping her away from the clothes. Bronwyn tried to call him off, but he kept at it, almost as though he was trying to herd her toward the exit. Finally the woman picked a parasol off a nearby shelf and started whacking Oscar, and there was a scuffle.
       The woman had screamed and flailed, lost her balance, and fell back into a rack of colorful swing dresses. Maya and Bronwyn hastily extricated her, made sure she was all right, and offered profuse apologies. The woman had seemed fine at the time, they both said, and she stomped out of the store in high dudgeon.
       But if I was reading the legal papers correctly, the woman—named Autumn Jennings—was now claiming she had been “head-butted” by an “unrestrained pig,” had been injured in the “attack,” and was demanding compensation.
       It was a mystery. Oscar had never herded—much less head-butted—anyone in Aunt Cora’s Closet before. He wasn’t the violent type. In fact, apart from a few occasions when he intervened to save my life, Oscar was more the “let’s eat grilled cheese and take a nap” type.
       He was also my witch’s familiar, albeit an unusual one. Oscar was a shape-shifter who assumed the form of a miniature Vietnamese potbellied pig when around cowans—regular, nonmagical humans. Around me, his natural form was sort of a cross between a goblin and a gargoyle. A gobgoyle, for lack of a better word. His was a lineage about which I didn’t want to think too hard.
       “Bad vibes, Dude,” Conrad said with a sage nod. “Been there. Dude, I hate being served.”
       “You’ve been served?” I asked. Conrad was in his early twenties and lived such a vagabond existence it was hard to imagine why anyone would bother to sue him. I could easily imagine his being picked up by police in a sweep of the local homeless population, but how would a process server even know where to find Conrad to serve him papers?
       He nodded. “Couple times. But at least yours arrived on a Ducati. That’s a nice bike.”
       “What did you—” My question was cut off by the approach of none other than Aidan Rhodes, witchy godfather to San Francisco’s magical community. His golden hair gleamed in the sun, a beautifully tailored sports jacket hugged his tall frame, and a leather satchel was tucked under one strong arm. As he strolled down Haight Street with his signature graceful glide, strangers stopped to stare. Aidan’s aura glittered so brilliantly that even nonsensitive people noticed, though they didn’t realize what they were reacting to.
       This is all I need.
       I girded my witchy loins.
       Things between Aidan and me were . . . complicated. Not long ago I’d stolen something from Aidan, and I still owed him. And when it comes to debts, we witches are a little like elephants, bookies, and the Internet: We never forget. Even worse, Aidan feared San Francisco was shaping up to be ground zero in some sort of big magical showdown, and he wanted me to stand with him for the forces of good. Or, at the very least, for the good of Aidan Rhodes. It was hard to say exactly what was going on—and exactly what role I was willing to play in it—since the threat was frustratingly nonspecific, and Aidan played his cards infuriatingly close to his chest.
       “Good morning,” Aidan said as he joined us. “Conrad, it’s been too long. How have you been?”
       Despite their vastly different circumstances and lifestyles, Aidan treated Conrad with the respect due a peer. His decency sort of ticked me off. My life would be simpler if I could dismiss Aidan as an arrogant, power-hungry witch beyond redemption. His kindness toward my friend was difficult to reconcile with that image.
       The two men exchanged pleasantries, chatting about the beauty of Golden Gate Park when bathed in morning dew and sunshine, and whether the Giants had a shot at the pennant this year. And then Aidan turned his astonishing, periwinkle blue gaze on me, sweeping me from head to foot.
       Suddenly self-conscious, I smoothed the full skirt of my sundress.
       “And Lily . . . Stunning as always. I do like that color on you. It’s as joyful as the first rays of dawn.”
       “Thank you,” I said, blushing and avoiding his eyes. The dress was an orangey gold cotton with a pink embroidered neckline and hem, circa 1962, and I had chosen it this morning precisely because it reminded me of a sunrise. “Aren’t you just the sweet talker.”
       “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar,” my mama used to tell me. Did this mean I was the fly and Aidan the fly catcher?
       “Is everything all right?” Aidan asked. “Am I sensing trouble? Beyond the norm, I mean.”
       “Dude, Lily just got served,” Conrad said.
       “Served? I fear we aren’t speaking of breakfast.”
       “A lawsuit,” I clarified.
       “Ah. What a shame. Whatever happened?”
       “Oscar head-butted a customer.”
       “That’s . . . unusual.” Aidan had given me Oscar and knew him well. “Was this person badly injured?”
       “I wasn’t there when it happened, but according to Bronwyn and Maya the customer seemed fine. But now she’s claiming she sustained ‘serious and debilitating neck and back injuries that hinder her in the completion of her work and significantly reduce her quality of life,’” I said, quoting from the document I still clutched tightly in my hand.
       “That sounds most distressing. Might I offer my services in finding a resolution?”
       “No. No, thank you.” The only thing worse than being slapped with a slip-and-fall lawsuit—the boogeyman of every small business owner—was being even more beholden to Aidan Rhodes than I already was. Besides . . . I wasn’t sure what he meant by “finding a resolution.” Aidan was one powerful witch. If he got involved, Autumn Jennings might very well wind up walking around looking like a frog.
       “You’re sure?” Aidan asked. “These personal injury lawsuits can get nasty—and expensive, even if you win. As much as I hate to say it, you may have some liability here. Is it even legal to have a pig in the city limits?”
       “Don’t worry about it; I’ve got it handled,” I said, not wishing to discuss the matter any further with him. “Was there some reason in particular you stopped by?”
       Aidan grinned, sending sparkling rays of light dancing in the morning breeze. He really was the most astounding man.
       “I was hoping we might have a moment to talk,” he said. “About business.”
       My stomach clenched. Time to face the music. I did owe him, after all. “Of course, come on in.”
       The door to Aunt Cora’s Closet tinkled as we went inside, and Bronwyn fluttered out from the back room, cradling Oscar to her ample chest. She was dressed in billows of purple gauze, and a garland of wildflowers crowned her frizzy brown hair. Bronwyn was a fifty-something Wiccan, and one of the first—and very best—friends I had made upon my arrival in the City by the Bay not so very long ago.
       “Hello, Aidan! So wonderful to see you again!” she gushed.
       “Bronwyn, you light up this shop like fireworks on the Fourth of July.”
       “Oh, you do go on.” She waved her hand but gave him a flirtatious smile. “But, Lily! Our little Oscaroo is very upset, poor thing! Maybe it has something to do with the woman with the motorcycle helmet who was just here—what was that about?”
       “She was serving Lily with legal papers,” said Aidan.
       “Legal papers?” Bronwyn asked as Oscar hid his snout under her arm. “For what?”
       “Remember when Oscar”—I cast about for the right word—“harassed a woman a couple of weeks ago?”
       Oscar snorted.
       “Of course, naughty little tiny piggy pig pig,” Bronwyn said in a crooning baby voice. “But I have to say, she really was bothering all of us. But . . . she’s suing you? Seriously?”
       I nodded. “I’m afraid so.”
       “Well, now, that’s just bad karma,” Bronwyn said with a frown.
       “You said she wasn’t hurt, though, right?”
       “She was fine!” Bronwyn insisted. “She fell into the rack of swing dresses. You know how poofy those dresses are—there’s enough crinolines in the skirts to cushion an NFL linebacker, and she’s, what, a hundred pounds soaking wet? I saw her just the other day, when I brought her some of my special caramel-cherry-spice maté tea and homemade corn-cherry scones, and she seemed fine. As a matter of fact, when I arrived she was up on a ladder, and she certainly didn’t seem to have any back or neck injuries. She was a little under the weather, but it was a cold or the flu.”
       “When was this?”
       “Day before yesterday, I think . . . I thought I should make the effort, since you weren’t even here when it happened. I just wanted to tell her I was sorry.”
       “How did you know where to find her?”
       “She left her business card. . . .” Bronwyn trailed off as she peeked behind her herbal counter. “I have it around here somewhere. Turns out, she’s a rival vintage clothing store owner, which explains why she was so interested. Her place is called Vintage Visions Glad Rags, over off Buchanan.”
       “Really. That is interesting. What’s it like?”
       “Very nice inventory, but if you ask me not nearly as warm and inviting as Aunt Cora’s Closet. She had some ball gowns that I’m sure were from the nineteenth century. But those are more museum pieces than anything someone would actually wear. The whole place was too snooty for my taste, by half. And expensive! Too rich for my blood.”
       “Did anything happen while you were there? Did she say anything in particular?”
       Bronwyn frowned in thought, then shook her head. “Nothing at all. She didn’t seem particularly bowled over by my gift basket, but she accepted it. But like I say, she told me she was a little under the weather, so maybe that accounts for her mood. She did have a very sweet dog, and I always say a pet lover is never irredeemable.”
       “Okay, thanks,” I said, blowing out a breath. “If you think of anything else, please let me know. Aidan and I are going to talk in the back for a moment.”
       “I’ll keep an eye on things,” Bronwyn said, lugging Oscar over to her herbal stand for a treat. Oscar was a miniature pig, but he was still a porker.
       In the back room Aidan and I sat down at my old jade green Formica-topped table. I bided my time and waited for Aidan to speak first. In witch circles, simply asking “What may I help you with?” can open up a dangerous can of worms.
       “I have to leave town for a little while,” he said.
       “Really?” Even though I knew perfectly well that he had lived elsewhere in the past, including when he’d worked with the father who had abandoned me, in my mind Aidan was so associated with San Francisco that it was hard to imagine him in any other locale. “How long do you think you’ll be gone?”
       “And here I was rather hoping you would beg me to stay,” he said in a quiet voice, his gaze holding mine.
       “Far be it from me to dictate to the likes of Aidan Rhodes.”
       He smiled. “In any case, I need a favor.”
       Uh-oh.
       “First,” he said, “I’ll need you to keep tabs on Selena.”
       Selena was a talented but troubled teenage witch who had come into my life recently. She reminded me of myself at her age: socially awkward and dangerously magical.
       I clenched my teeth. It wasn’t Aidan’s place to tell me to watch over Selena; she needed all of us with whom she had grown close. But it was true that Aidan and I had both been helping her to train her powers. In her case, as in mine, the biggest challenge was learning to keep control over her emotions and her magic in general. But even as he was asking me to partner with him, Aidan still fancied himself the head of the local magical community—me included. It was very annoying.
       “Of course,” I said. “I have been.”
       “Of course,” Aidan repeated. “And Oscar can come in handy with that as well.”
       I concentrated on reining in my irritation. It wouldn’t do to send something flying, which sometimes happened when I lost my temper. Proving that Selena and I weren’t that far apart in some areas of our development.
       “You’re not Oscar’s master anymore,” I pointed out.
       He nodded slowly. “So true. Alas, I will leave that in your more than capable hands, then. Also while I’m gone I need you to fill in for me and adjudicate a few issues. Nothing too strenuous.”
       “Beg pardon?”
       He handed me a heavy, well-worn leather satchel tied with a black ribbon. “You’re always so curious about what I do for the local witchcraft community. Now’s your chance to find out.”
       “I never said I wanted to find out. I’m really perfectly happy being in the dark.”
       Aidan smiled. “Why do I find that hard to believe? In any event, find out you shall.”
       I sighed. As curious as I was about Aidan’s world, I hesitated to be drawn into it. However, I was in his debt and the bill had come due. “Fine. I’m going to need more information, though. What all is involved in ‘adjudicating issues’?”
       He shrugged. “Little of this, little of that. Mostly it means keeping an eye on things, making sure nothing gets out of hand. Handling disputes, assisting with certifications . . . Valuable job skills that really beef up the résumé, you’ll see.”
       “Uh-huh,” I said, skeptical. At the moment I didn’t need a more impressive résumé. I needed a lawyer. “What kind of certifications?”
       “Fortune-tellers and necromancers must be licensed in the city and county of San Francisco. Surely your good friend Inspector Romero has mentioned this at some point.”
       “He has, but since I’m neither a fortune-teller nor a necromancer I didn’t pay much attention. So that’s what you do? Help people fill out forms down at City Hall? Surely—”
       “It’s all terribly glamorous, isn’t it? Resolving petty squabbles, unraveling paperwork snafus . . . The excitement never ends,” he said with another smile. “But it’s necessary work, and you’re more than qualified to handle it while I’m gone. You’ll find everything you need in there.”
       I opened the satchel and took a peek. Inside were what appeared to be hundreds of signed notes written on ancient parchment, a business card with the mayor’s cell phone number written on the back in pencil, and a jangly key ring. I pulled out the keys: One was an old-fashioned skeleton key, but the others were modern and, I assumed, unlocked his office at the recently rebuilt wax museum. “Aidan, what are . . . ?”
       I looked up, but Aidan was gone, his departure marked by a slight sway of the curtains. Letting out a loud sigh of exasperation, I grumbled, “I swear, that man moves like a vampire.”
       “Vampire?” Bronwyn poked her head through the curtains, Oscar still in her arms. “Are we worried about vampires now?”
       “No, no, of course not,” I assured her as I closed the satchel and stashed it under the workroom table. “Sorry—just talking to myself.”
       “Oh, thank the goddess!” said Bronwyn, and set Oscar down. Whenever Aidan was around, Oscar became excited to the point of agitation, and his little hooves clicked on the wooden planks of the floor as he hopped around. “Never a dull moment at Aunt Cora’s Closet.”

Excerpt used with permission.





A Toxic Trousseau
A Witchcraft Mystery 8
NAL Obsidian, July 5, 2016
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 352 pages

A Toxic Trousseau by Juliet Blackwell - Excerpt
The New York Times bestselling author of Spellcasting in Silk continues as witch and vintage boutique owner Lily Ivory cracks open a Pandora’s box when she investigates some alarming apparel…

Even the most skilled sorceress can’t ward off a lawsuit, and Lily is not at her enchanting best with her hands full as the temporary leader of San Francisco’s magical community. So after her potbellied pig Oscar head-butts rival clothier Autumn Jennings, Lily tries to make peace without a costly personal injury case.

But any hope of a quiet resolution is shattered when Autumn turns up dead. As one of the prime suspects, Lily searches for a way to clear her name and discovers a cursed trousseau among Autumn’s recently acquired inventory. Lily must deal with a mysterious dogwalker and spend the night in a haunted house as she delves into the trunk’s treacherous past. She’s got to figure out who wanted to harm Autumn fast, before the curse claims another victim…





About Juliet

A Toxic Trousseau by Juliet Blackwell - Excerpt
Joseph Schell Photograph
Juliet Blackwell is the New York Times bestselling author of The Paris Key. She the also writes the Witchcraft Mystery series and the Haunted Home Renovation series. As Hailey Lind, Blackwell wrote the Agatha-nominated Art Lover's Mystery series. A former anthropologist, social worker, and professional artist, Juliet is a California native who has spent time in Mexico, Spain, Cuba, Italy, the Philippines, and France.



Website  ~  Twitter @JulietBlackwell  ~  Facebook  ~  Pinterest

Excerpt: A Chance of Light by Claudine Kapel


Please welcome Claudine Kapel to The Qwillery with an excerpt from A Chance of Light, the 2nd Ryan Cole Adventure.



Excerpt: A Chance of Light by Claudine Kapel




      “We don’t have a lot of information,” Cole noted to his team. “But Colonel Beecham believes an alien spaceship either landed or crashed in the Mojave Desert last night. He wants any help we can provide in tracking down the craft and ensuring it poses no threat to national security.”
       Ashcroft began projecting images on the screen from the files Cole had received from Beecham.
      “We have reports from various sources claiming to have seen a light in the sky,” Cole observed. “As you can see, we have some video footage and photographs, but they’re not particularly conclusive.”
      Ashcroft clicked to the next image.
      “More compelling, however, is the radar information,” said Cole. “Based on this information, the military estimates the craft is about a hundred feet long.”
      “Given all their surveillance equipment, why can’t the Air Force find it?” asked Williams. “Based on the radar information, they must have some sense of where it was going to land.”
      “True,” said Cole. “But it was on radar for only about ten seconds. So the projected area where it likely landed or crashed is quite large. Still, Beecham is troubled that the Air Force can find no trace of the craft at all. We suspect it may have some sort of stealth shield that’s keeping it hidden.”
      “Hence, the high security risk,” said Dalton. “An advanced spacecraft with a stealth shield can represent quite a threat.”
      “And it’s not just the craft itself that represents a threat,” added Cole. “If that technology falls into the wrong hands, we’ll end up with a whole new problem.”
      “From that, I take it we may not be the only ones hunting for the ship?” asked Jackson.
      “I think we can safely bet Antoine Drake—not to mention every other major arms dealer—is hot on its trail.”
      “Terrific,” said Jackson. “So how are we supposed to find something that’s invisible?”
      “That’s why the U.S. military pays us the big consulting fees,” said Dalton. “If it were easy, they wouldn’t need us.”
      “We have one other complicating factor,” said Cole.
      “Beyond the fact that the spaceship is invisible?” sighed Jackson.
      “The light in the sky last night has drawn some media attention,” Cole noted, giving Dalton a meaningful look.
      “You know Amber would never interfere with our work,” said Dalton.
      “I know,” said Cole. “But she’s not the only one making inquiries. So Beecham would like to find this spaceship before it becomes front-page news.”
      “And we’re sure it’s not a weather balloon or something equally innocuous?” asked Jackson.
      Ashcroft frowned and clicked back to show the analysis of the radar information. “That would be one hell of a weather balloon.”
      “I know,” said Jackson. “But we live in hope.”
      “So what do you think?” asked Dalton, looking at Caitlin. “How likely is it we’re dealing with a craft with advanced weaponry?”
      “On a comparative basis, it appears to be a small craft,” replied Caitlin. “But it was engaged in space travel. So we can be certain it has advanced technology and weapons, at least by our standards.”
      “What would it be doing so close to Earth?” asked Cole.
      Caitlin shrugged. “That’s hard to say. It could be some sort of research and exploration vessel, mandated to chart the various star systems in the galaxy. It could also be a small military vessel. Beings from other worlds do patrol the various sectors of space.”
      “But what brought it here?” asked Dalton.
      “It could have been engaged by another ship and shot down,” said Caitlin. “Or maybe there were technical difficulties and it made an emergency landing.”
      “Those scenarios both suggest the ship landed or crashed here unintentionally,” said Cole. “And I think those are viable possibilities. I doubt beings from some advanced civilization would want to just drop out of the sky in a ship that far exceeds any technology we have on this planet. The repercussions would be significant.”
      “Unless the ship was here on some sort of reconnaissance mission,” noted Dalton. “These beings could be allied with Drake or some other human faction.”
      “In such a case, they still wouldn’t want to be observed,” said Cole. “So crashing here before witnesses was probably not part of the plan.”
      “You think the ship crashed versus just landed?” asked Jackson.
      “The speed and angle of descent suggests that was not a controlled landing,” said Cole.
      “If the ship was en route to connect with Drake, then its going down unexpectedly is a break for us,” said Dalton. “Regardless, Drake is probably searching for it as we speak.”
      “So we need to find it,” said Cole. “And by we, I mean Sigma. If Beecham finds the ship first, I’m worried he may go in shooting. We currently have no evidence the beings on the ship have any ill intentions toward the people of Earth. As Caitlin said, it could just be a research vessel. Not every being from another world seeks to ally itself with Drake.”
      Cole looked at his team. “So that’s what we have. Jackson, I need you and Ashcroft to see if you can triangulate where the ship may have gone down. Beecham promised to keep us in the loop of any additional analysis his team completes.”
      “We’re on it,” said Jackson.
      “Sarah, see if you can pick anything up on the ship itself or where it might be,” Cole added. “Any insights on landmarks or attributes of the local terrain could help Jackson and Ashcroft tighten the search parameters.”
      “Got it,” replied Sarah. “I’ll keep everyone posted on anything I come up with.”
      “I wonder who else besides Drake might be in pursuit of this spaceship,” said Dalton.
      “You’re thinking this might interest someone like Barclay?” asked Cole.
      Wilson Barclay’s business interests included gunrunning and the buying and selling of alien artifacts. Barclay had recently tried to kill Cole in retribution for Sigma’s interference in his business affairs. But they hadn’t seen him since.
      “In the past, Barclay has shown interest in alien technology that could be leveraged as a weapon,” noted Dalton. “At one time, he had a guardian stone in his possession.”
      “True,” acknowledged Cole. “But I still think alien technology is much more Drake’s arena than Barclay’s. Drake is the one who has the vision of global conquest.”
      “I hear you,” said Dalton. “And I think it’s a given Drake will be all over this. But as you said, we can’t overlook the possibility that a crashed spaceship with a potential cache of advanced weapons will attract the attention of others as well. Possibly even Barclay.”
      Jackson frowned. Even though there had been no recent signs of Barclay, the memory of what he had almost cost them was still fresh. He saw Caitlin grow tense at the mention of his name.
      “So, as always, we need to proceed with caution,” said Cole.
      “With a capital C,” said Dalton. He glanced at Cole wearily, knowing his friend would be the one most likely to encounter trouble first.

Excerpted from A Chance of Light © 2016 by Claudine Kapel. Excerpt used with permission.





A Chance of Light
A Ryan Cole Adventure 2
BookBaby, June 4, 2016
eBook, 325 pages

Excerpt: A Chance of Light by Claudine Kapel
Spaceships don’t just disappear...

When an alien spaceship vanishes after crashing in the Mojave Desert, Ryan Cole and his team are tasked with finding the craft and securing its cache of advanced technology.

The investigation proves perilous as others are also hunting for the ship, including arms dealer Antoine Drake and his alien allies.

When Cole agrees to help a woman from his past, it leads to a dangerous encounter with Drake and startling revelations about the alien presence on the planet. He finds himself in a race against time to uncover the location of the spaceship and the nature of its mission.

But discovering the secrets of beings from other worlds comes with a price. Because when humans and aliens collide, the truth can be deadly.




Previously

A Darker Rain
A Ryan Cole Adventure 1
BookBaby, November 17, 2013
eBook, 354 pages

Excerpt: A Chance of Light by Claudine Kapel
“It’s definitely not a good time to be going into the woods of Hawkley Ridge.”

When a red-eyed wildcat threatens ranchers in the Pacific Northwest, Ryan Cole recognizes the danger is far more menacing than the ranchers realize. Cole specializes in tackling unconventional security threats, particularly those with alien origins.

His investigation puts him in the crosshairs of Antoine Drake, an international arms dealer with a penchant for weapons from other worlds. Both men are also in pursuit of powerful alien artifacts known as guardian stones.

Cole and his team of investigators embark on a dangerous quest to recover the guardian stones before they can be assembled into the ultimate alien weapon. To succeed, Cole must also decipher the wildcat’s deadly secrets.

But in the woods of Hawkley Ridge, it’s easy for the hunter to become the prey.

A Darker Rain is the first book in the Ryan Cole adventure series.





About Claudine

Excerpt: A Chance of Light by Claudine Kapel

A Darker Rain is Claudine Kapel’s first novel. She lives in Toronto and enjoys books, music, and travel. When not working as a consultant, she can be found writing, reading, or contemplating what else may be out there.


Website  ~  Goodreads 


A Conversation with Screenwriter, Novelist, Time Traveler, and Uber-Geek Ernest Cline


The Qwillery is delighted to share A Conversation with Ernest Cline and an excerpt from Armada!



A Conversation with Screenwriter, Novelist, Time Traveler, and Uber-Geek Ernest Cline



A Conversation with Screenwriter, Novelist, Time Traveler,
and Uber-Geek Ernest Cline
Author of ARMADA: A Novel


Q) Let’s get right to the elephant in the room. The news is now out that your debut novel, Ready Player One, will be made into a film by Warner Brothers and legendary director Steven Spielberg (set to debut in theaters March of 2018)! What did you do when you got the news?

A) I pinched myself a few hundred times to make sure I wasn’t dreaming—then I re-watched all of his movies—including the Indiana Jones films, which helped inspire certain elements of RPO’s story, along with E.T. and Close Encounters, two Spielberg films that played a large role in inspiring Armada. His work has influenced me throughout my life and writing career, so it’s a dream come true to have the opportunity to collaborate with him on the film adaptation of a story that his work helped inspire.



Q) What do you think of the casting announcements that have been made already?

A) I think they’re fantastic! I’ve been a fan of Ben Mendelsohn’s acting since the ’80s, and his portrayal of John Daggett in The Dark Knight Rises is all the proof I need that he’s perfect for the role of Sorrento. Olivia Cooke is amazing on Bates Motel and in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. She’s going to make a great Art3mis! And after seeing Tye Sheridan in films like Mud and Joe, I think he’s one of the most talented young actors working today, and that he’ll do an incredible job playing Wade Watts.



Q) For decades, science-fiction writers have been predicting some of the most incredible futuristic concepts that have become reality, such as debit cards, video conferencing, ear buds, and even accurate details about men landing on the moon. In Ready Player One, the merging of virtual reality technology and social media that you write about is now a reality with the Oculus Rift virtual reality company being bought by Facebook . Are there any similar futuristic technologies in Armada that you think will become reality in the next few years?

A) Yes, but the future is happening so fast now it’s getting more and more difficult to stay ahead of it. Armada’s plotline involves two concepts—quantum data teleportation and 3-D drone printing—that were still science fiction when I started the book, and then became a proven reality before I finished it. I need to write faster.



Q) In the novel, Zack’s Armada pilot call sign is IronBeagle, an homage to the Snoopy vs. the Red Baron album. Did you have fun creating the other various call signs in the novel: RedJive, MaxJenius, Viper, Rostam, Whoadie, AtomicMom, Kushmaster5000?

A) Pilot call signs are always fun to create—like an avatar’s name in Ready Player One; it’s a nickname a person creates for themselves, so it invariably says something about their self-image and their character—like each of the call signs you listed above.



Q) Talk to us about Xavier’s Raid the Arcade mix playlist in the book. How did you choose the songs, which became an essential part of Zack’s Armada gaming ritual? Do you have any rituals of your own when it comes to playing videogames?

A) Many of those are songs from the mix tapes I used to make to listen to on my Walkman at the local arcade. Some of the songs are from movies that played a role inspiring Armada’s story, like the song “Iron Eagle” by King Kobra, from the film of the same name.



Q) In Armada, Zack and his father, Xavier Lightman, your novel’s two main heroes, are both big science-fiction fans. The book is filled with references to sci-fi films, such as The Last Starfighter, E.T., Aliens, the Star Wars franchise. Dare to share your all-time favorite sci-fi flick?

A) My all-time favorite sci-film would have to be Star Wars, aka Episode IV—A New Hope. The movie and its sequels created the entire mythology of my youth, and altered the course of my life and career.



Q) In Armada, Zack soon finds out that the EDA (Earth Defense Alliance), a top-secret global military coalition, is not just a fictional agency featured in the videogames he’s been playing. If the EDA were real (and we’re not saying they aren’t) and invited you to join their ranks, would you? Would Moon Base Alpha be your first station of choice, or would you prefer something closer to home?

A) Of course I would join up! If the EDA existed, I would have to pitch in and use my gamer skills to help save the world. But I would prefer to stay here in Austin and telecommute, so I could fight off the invasion from the comfort of my couch, without changing out of my pajamas.



Q) There is a romantic plotline woven throughout the novel, albeit one that is a bit nontraditional (boy meets girl as Earth is under attack from alien invaders, girl is a kick-ass gamer who helps save boy’s butt during attack, you get the gist). Did you feel it was essential to add this element, or did the relationship between Zack and Lex come about naturally as you were writing the novel?

A) It came about naturally as I was writing. I love stories with strong female characters, who kick just as much ass (if not more) than their male counterparts, so the stories I write usually tend to have a few of them. I also believe that every good adventure story also includes a little romance. And some rock and roll, too.



Q) If you could meet anyone from pop culture—actor, singer, game creator—dead or alive, who would it be and why?

A) Carl Sagan. Because he changed my life by opening my eyes to the nature of the world and the cosmos, and I’d love to be able to thank him in person.



Q) The first arcade game you ever played was Space Invaders. Is there a game that you’ve been playing recently that’s become a new obsession?

A) Finishing this book has been my only obsession for the past few years. But during my research, I did play a lot of space combat and flight simulation games, both old and new. The problem with playing videogames as “research” for a novel is that you never want to stop playing to go off and actually write it.



Q) Many people look back at the ’50s and ’60s as a watershed moment for science-fiction writing, but do you see the ’70s and ’80s as an even richer epoch for inspiration with the confluence of all the new videogames introduced and some of the best science-fiction TV and movies ever made (to my mind!)?

A) The ’70s and ’80s are a rich era for sci-fi inspiration (at least, for me) because that was the dawn of the computer, videogame, and Internet age—the one we still live in now. It was also a golden age for movies and television shows, which may be why every property from that time is being reimagined or rebooted right now.



Q) Armada is dedicated to your brother, Major Eric T. Cline. What is your relationship like and why did you choose to dedicate the book to him?

A) My brother and I are very close, and have been our whole lives. He’s always been a huge inspiration to me. He joined the Marine Corps as a lowly private, and over the past two decades he has worked his way up through the ranks to become a major while he traveled all over the world helping people and risking his life for his country and his comrades. Seeing all the sacrifices he and his family have had to make during his various deployments was part of the inspiration for Armada’s story and characters.



Q) There is a rumor you now own not one but two DeLoreans. How on Earth did that come about?

A) I bought a second DeLorean to give away as the grand prize in the Ready Player One Easter Egg Hunt. A few years later, the contest winner decided to sell the car to pay off some unexpected medical bills, so I decided to buy it back from him. Then I gave it to my brother, Eric, so now I’m back down to just one time machine, which is plenty.



Q) Is it true that George R. R. Martin once borrowed your DeLorean to help promote the opening of his new bar (complete with a Back to the Future screening)? There has to be one heck of a story here. Please explain!

A) George and I had met at a convention, where he had sat in my car. So when his theater decided to screen BTTF, he thought of me and asked to borrow my DeLorean. I said yes, of course!



Q) For your Ready Player One book tour you drove your time-traveling DeLorean across the country. Did you take it out again for Armada?

A) No, I think one Time Machine Book Tour is probably enough to last a lifetime. I discovered that it’s not really safe to drive a tricked-out DeLorean on the interstate highway system, because the people around you are often swerving/driving recklessly while they attempt to snap a photo of your car to post on Facebook. There are safer ways to travel.



Q) It’s been a few years since you were last out on a book tour. Were you surprised by the fan response at your events this time around? Did it feel very different from your initial experience with Ready Player One?

A) Yes, the huge turnout for each of my Armada signings really floored me. It’s incredibly flattering and humbling to see hundreds of people cram into a bookstore just to hear me speak, and then to see all of those same fans wait patiently in line—sometimes for an hour or more—to get their books signed. Taking the time to do that is one of the biggest compliments you can pay any artist. I’m incredibly grateful to have my work reach such a wide audience, and to have so many people respond to it with such enthusiasm.



Q) Are there any particular moments or fan interactions that stand out to you from the tour?

A) This was the first tour where I had fans show up at my signings sporting Ready Player One–themed tattoos. It really blew me away. When someone pulls up their sleeve and they have three keys or three gates tattooed on their arm, I’m always awed by that level of enthusiasm. And moved that something I created could mean that much to them.



Q) We have to ask: As a serious Star Wars nerd, what were your feelings about The Force Awakens? How about the choice to pass the baton to Rian Johnson for Episode VIII?

A) I enjoyed the hell out of that movie. I’d been waiting to see Han, Chewie, Luke, and Leia together again on the big screen since 1983, and living up to 30 years of geek anticipation is no small feat. I thought J. J. Abrams knocked it out of the park. And Rian Johnson is one of the smartest and most gifted writer-directors of my generation—the generation that grew up with Star Wars. He’s such an exciting choice. Kathleen Kennedy really knows what she’s doing.



Q) What’s your dream Star Wars spinoff movie? Any character or storyline you’re itching to see explored?

A) Yes! How about a whole movie covering the origin story of Saun Dann, the character portrayed by Art Carney in the Star Wars Holiday Special? He was a secret agent of the Rebel Alliance masquerading as a trader on the Wookiee homeworld of Kashyyyk after the Battle of Yavin. You know that dude must’ve seen action during the Clone Wars, too. I’d also pay good money to see a stand-alone Star Wars flick about Willrow Hood."





Armada
Broadway Books, April 12, 2016
Trade Paperback, 384 pages
Hardcover and eBook, July 14, 2016

A Conversation with Screenwriter, Novelist, Time Traveler, and Uber-Geek Ernest Cline
Zack Lightman has spent his life dreaming. Dreaming that the real world could be a little more like the countless science-fiction books, movies, and videogames he’s spent his life consuming. Dreaming that one day, some fantastic, world-altering event will shatter the monotony of his humdrum existence and whisk him off on some grand space-faring adventure.

But hey, there’s nothing wrong with a little escapism, right? After all, Zack tells himself, he knows the difference between fantasy and reality. He knows that here in the real world, aimless teenage gamers with anger issues don’t get chosen to save the universe.

And then he sees the flying saucer.

Even stranger, the alien ship he’s staring at is straight out of the videogame he plays every night, a hugely popular online flight simulator called Armada—in which gamers just happen to be protecting the earth from alien invaders.  

No, Zack hasn’t lost his mind. As impossible as it seems, what he’s seeing is all too real. And his skills—as well as those of millions of gamers across the world—are going to be needed to save the earth from what’s about to befall it.

It’s Zack’s chance, at last, to play the hero. But even through the terror and exhilaration, he can’t help thinking back to all those science-fiction stories he grew up with, and wondering: Doesn’t something about this scenario seem a little…familiar?

At once gleefully embracing and brilliantly subverting science-fiction conventions as only Ernest Cline could, Armada is a rollicking, surprising thriller, a classic coming of age adventure, and an alien invasion tale like nothing you’ve ever read before—one whose every page is infused with the pop-culture savvy that has helped make Ready Player One a phenomenon.



Excerpt

I didn’t remember unzipping my backpack, or taking out the tire iron, but I must have, because now I had the cold steel rod clenched in my hand, and I was raising it to strike.

All three of my opponents stood frozen for a moment, their eyes wide. The Lennys threw up their hands and started backing away. Knotcher’s eyes flicked over to them, and I saw him registering that his simian pals had bowed out of the fight. He started moving backward too.

I looked at the curb a few feet behind him, had a nasty thought, and followed through on it by lunging at Knotcher with the tire iron. He lurched backward and—just as I’d hoped—caught a heel on the concrete rise and landed flat on his back.

And then I was standing over him, looking down at the tire iron clutched in my hands.

Off to my left, someone screamed. My head snapped around and I saw that an audience had gathered— a handful of students on their way in to first period. Among them one girl, too young and deer-in-the-headlights to be anything but a freshman, slapped a hand over her mouth and flinched backward as I looked her way. As if she was terrified that I—Zack the school psycho—would choose her as my next target.

I glanced back at the Lennys, who were now standing among the students who had gathered to watch the fight. All of the onlookers seemed to be wearing the same expression of horrified anticipation, as if they believed they might be seconds away from witnessing their first homicide.

A wave of cold shame washed over me as the intensity of my rage faded away. I looked down at the tire iron clutched in my hands and let it clatter to the pavement. I heard a chorus of nervous laughter behind me, along with more than one relieved sigh.

I stepped away from Knotcher. He slowly got to his feet. We stared at each other for a moment, and he looked as if he was about to say something when his gaze shot upward, focused on something in the sky behind me.

When I turned around, I saw a strange-looking aircraft approaching from the east, moving at an incredible speed. The closer it got, the more familiar it looked. My brain still refused to accept what my eyes were seeing—until a few seconds later, when the craft braked to a dead stop and hovered directly over us, close enough for me to make out the Earth Defense Alliance crest stenciled on the side of its armored hull.

“No way,” I heard someone whisper. A second later, I realized it was me.

It was an ATS-31 Aerospace Troop Shuttle, one of the ships used by the Earth Defense Alliance in both Armada and Terra Firma. And it was about to land in front of my high school.

I definitely wasn’t hallucinating this time: Dozens of other people were staring up at the shuttle in amazement, too. And I could hear the rumble of the shuttle’s fusion engines and feel the heat from their exhaust buffeting my face. It was really up there.

As the shuttle began to descend, everyone in my vicinity scattered like roaches, heading for the safety of the school.

I just stood there like a statue, unable to look away. The ship was identical to the troop shuttles I’d piloted while playing Armada, right down to the EDA crest and identification bar code stamped on the underside of its hull.

The Earth Defense Alliance can’t be real, Zack, I assured myself. And neither can that shuttle you think you’re looking at right now. You are hallucinating again, only it’s much worse this time. This time, you’re having a full-on psychotic break.


Reprinted from Armada Copyright © 2015 by Dark All Day, Inc. Published by Broadway Books, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House LLC.





About the Author

A Conversation with Screenwriter, Novelist, Time Traveler, and Uber-Geek Ernest Cline
Photo © Dan Winters
ERNEST CLINE is a novelist, screenwriter, father, and full-time geek. His two novels, Armada and Ready Player One, were both New York Times and USA Today bestsellers, and Ready Player One is currently being adapted into a film by Warner Brothers and director Steven Spielberg. Ernest lives in Austin, Texas, with his family, a time-traveling DeLorean, and a large collection of classic videogames. You can find him online at www.ernestcline.com, on Twitter @erniecline, and on Facebook.









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