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The Qwillery

A blog about books and other things speculative

Guest Blog by Zachary Jernigan, author of No Return - February 9, 2013

Please welcome Zachary Jernigan to The Qwillery as part of the 2013 Debut Author Challenge. No Return, Zachary's debut, will be published on March 5, 2013.

Guest Blog by Zachary Jernigan, author of No Return - February 9, 2013

Write, Write, Write: The Pressure to be Productive
By Zachary Jernigan

Of all the writing advice I've heard since 2009—the year I consider myself to have entered the writing "community"—the most practical is simply WRITE. Write, as often as you can. Write, when you feel like doing it but also when you don't. Write every day.

Write, write, write write write.

The reasoning is sound. Professional athletes train nearly daily in order to keep their muscles hard, their reflexes sharp. Why should the building of writing muscles be any different? You only get good at something by practicing.

It all makes sense. It does, obviously. It's so clear it's almost stupid.

And yet I hate it. I think it can be counterproductive to tell someone to always write, and I'll tell you why.


1. Reading is just as important—probably more important—than writing.

Oh, how often I've read this question in an interview, "What do you read, Writer Person?" only for the author-in-question to respond, "Well, I write so much now that I don't have a lot of time to read."

Ugh. Are you serious? I can't possibly see how that won't have a deleterious effect on your writing. Reading, after all, is how you become discerning about literature; it is how you develop taste; it is, in short, how you learn to tell the difference between crap and genius.

In order to aspire to something, you must have a goal in sight. You must read. If you're running a race only against yourself, don't be surprised when reviewers start noticing your little solipsistic game. Don't be surprised when people start accusing you of becoming a fossil because you've failed to remain aware of what others are doing.


2. Periods of reflection are good for you.

Just as reading is necessary to keep your brain from becoming self-referential mush, periods of reflection are necessary to understand the course you're on. It's all fine and good to be productive, of course, but don't forget that quiet moments ground you to the reality of being a writer. Use such moments to question whether or not you're on the right track, if that plot point or character motivation makes any sense.


2. Writing uncritically, day-in, day-out, can cement bad habits.

I know a lot of writers at this point, and one thing I think I can spot is a lifetime writer—that person who's been writing since they were little. Almost always, they have quirks that reveal how much they've carried forward from youth. This isn't to say they're not good writers, but it is to say that they reveal weaknesses different from those people who started writing as adults.

It's a matter of being uncritical, of being so enthused by writing as a child that you don't question the method of writing. This can happen to adults, too, of course: Sometimes you get taken with what you're doing and forget to turn the critic on.

But the critic must be turned on if you're to become good at writing. Use those moments of reflection I mentioned above to criticize yourself—compassionately, yes, but also with as much objectivity as you can muster.

Above all, don't get caught in the self-deception that simply because you're writing, you're improving. Be an editor, now and then. Stop and look and really see what you've accomplished.


4. Understanding why one writes is important.

Too often, I think we view productivity as a virtue in and of itself, when in reality work for the sake of work is just that: work. There is more to which one should aspire, frankly—and that is truly transformative effort.

Writing every day, as much as you can, can keep you from understanding the very reason you're writing in the first place. Don't get so caught up in the act of writing that you forget what it is you wanted to accomplish. Don't be that person in the Lifetime movie who's so intent on achievement that they forget who they are.

Just like a good Lifetime movie, writing is about LOVE. It should be difficult and sometimes heartbreaking, but in the end it should ground you further to the underlying reality that what you do is awesome.


5. Always writing can blind one to one's emotional reaction.

Say you sell a book, as I did last year. You're thrilled. You're jumping around the house.

The first advice you receive (after the congratulations) is, "Don't rest on this achievement. Write the second book. Now."

You... Don't know what to do. You—and yes, I'm giving up the pretense that I'm referring to anybody but me in this example—are crazy excited and tired and, yes, lazy. Suffering through another book is the last thing you want to do right now. It'd be nice to rest on your laurels a bit, you think. So, you procrastinate. Or, as you put it, you wait for a compelling reason to write again. You like the pressure of a deadline, blah blah blah.

But... on a deeper level that can feel suspiciously like self-justification, you know how valuable it is not to ignore what you are experiencing. It's your first novel sale—a big deal, the culmination of a decades-long dream—and you want to experience the aftereffects of it. You don't want to be so consumed with achieving the next goal that you don't give the current achievement its proper due. You want to consciously come to terms with what you've done. You want to feel the gratitude that the moment deserves.

You want that moment of reflection, so that years later you'll be able to look back and know you felt it happening. You don't want all your memories to be of sitting at your desk, always chasing the next big thing.

Big things are happening now, for everybody. Give yourself room to appreciate them.


Please don't misconstrue me here, Qwilllery folks. I'm not advocating that you shouldn't write if that's what you're drawn to. By all means, write as much as possible.

Nonetheless, you should also question whether or not you should be writing to the detriment of other things. Question if a portion of your time could be better spent reading that challenging book, or taking a walk to resolve that plot issue.

More than anything, don't write for the sake of writing. Write with purpose and love. Know, as best you can, what story you want to tell and why.

Thanks for reading!

About No Return

No Return
Night Shade Books, March 5, 2013
Hardcover and eBook, 320 pages

Guest Blog by Zachary Jernigan, author of No Return - February 9, 2013
On Jeroun, there is no question as to whether God exists–only what his intentions are.

Under the looming judgment of Adrash and his ultimate weapon–a string of spinning spheres beside the moon known as The Needle–warring factions of white and black suits prove their opposition to the orbiting god with the great fighting tournament of Danoor, on the far side of Jeroun’s only inhabitable continent.

From the Thirteenth Order of Black Suits comes Vedas, a young master of martial arts, laden with guilt over the death of one of his students. Traveling with him are Churls, a warrior woman and mercenary haunted by the ghost of her daughter, and Berun, a constructed man made of modular spheres possessed by the foul spirit of his creator. Together they must brave their own demons, as well as thieves, mages, beasts, dearth, and hardship on the perilous road to Danoor, and the bloody sectarian battle that is sure to follow.

On the other side of the world, unbeknownst to the travelers, Ebn and Pol of the Royal Outbound Mages (astronauts using Alchemical magic to achieve space flight) have formed a plan to appease Adrash and bring peace to the planet. But Ebn and Pol each have their own clandestine agendas–which may call down the wrath of the very god they hope to woo.

Who may know the mind of God? And who in their right mind would seek to defy him? Gritty, erotic, and fast-paced, author Zachary Jernigan takes you on a sensuous ride through a world at the knife-edge of salvation and destruction, in this first installment of one of the year’s most exciting fantasy epics.

About Zachary

Guest Blog by Zachary Jernigan, author of No Return - February 9, 2013
Zachary Jernigan is a 32-year-old, quarter-Hungarian, bald male. He has lived in Northern Arizona, with occasional forays into the wetter and colder world, since 1990. His favorite activities include: listening to 70s-00s punk and post-punk music, cooking delicious and often unhealthy foods, riding human-powered vehicles, talking and/or arguing about religion, and watching sitcoms. During his rare periods of productivity, he writes science fiction and fantasy. NO RETURN, his first novel, comes out March 5th, 2013 from Night Shade Books. His short stories have appeared in a variety of places, including ASIMOV'S SCIENCE FICTION, CROSSED GENRES, and ESCAPE POD. Visit him at

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Guest Blog by Lori Sjoberg - A Day in the Life of David Anderson - February 7, 2013

Please welcome Lori Sjoberg to The Qwillery as part of the 2013 Debut Author Challenge Guest Blogs.  Grave Intentions was published on January 3, 2013. You may read an Interview with Lori here and my review of Grave Intentions here.

Guest Blog by Lori Sjoberg - A Day in the Life of David Anderson - February 7, 2013

A Day in the Life of David Anderson

Being a reaper is a tough job. The pay isn’t bad, but the hours are long and the benefits are pretty lousy. Just ask David Anderson, Grim Reaper and hero of Grave Intentions. As you can see, he’s a busy guy…

4:30 – There’s something inherently wrong with the alarm clock going off before the sun breaks over the horizon.

4:35 – Kick the armrest of the couch until my trainee, Adam, shows signs of life. Then I’m off to walk the mutt while the kid takes a shower.

4:55 – Stop at Dunkin’ Donuts for much needed coffee.

6:10 – First reap of the day alongside I-4 at the Orange Blossom Trail exit. Truck versus motorcycle. No helmet at a high rate of speed. Trust me when I say you don’t want to know the rest of the details.

7:00 – Breakfast. Well, breakfast for me. Adam doesn’t have much of an appetite at the moment.

8:00 – Drive Adam back to the apartment so he can catch some shut eye. Since we don’t have another termination scheduled until later in the afternoon, I’m off to hit the gym and run a few errands.

12:20 – Back home. Adam’s still passed out on the couch, so I take advantage of the quiet time to work on next week’s assignments. Looks like another busy week for everybody.

2:00 – Adam’s finally awake. And hungry. Good thing I went grocery shopping or he might have gnawed on the remote control.

2:45 – On the road again. This time we’re driving out to Daytona International Airport.

4:20 – Why people insist on not using safety equipment is beyond me. Especially when they’re working on large aircraft. It’s going to take a lot of Clorox to bleach those stains off the tarmac.

6:30 – The job at the airport made Adam green around the gills. Not that I blame the kid. One of these days, he’ll get used to the daily grind of death and dismemberment.

8:15 – After dinner, I leave Adam at the bar while I handle some issues with another reaper. Hopefully, the kid won’t be too buzzed when I get back.

10:00 – Shit, he’s wasted, which means he’s no use to me for the rest of the evening.

11:00 – Drive Adam to the apartment and pour him on the couch. The stupid mutt’s chewed the toilet paper off the roll again, so I’ll have to clean that up and take him for a walk before I leave for the final reap of the day.

11:10 – Time to head out. The brunette who lives across the hall left her blinds open again. I see her walk past her window as I start up my car. She’s pretty. Who am I kidding? She’s beautiful. Too bad I can’t afford those types of emotions. And yet I can’t turn my gaze away until she finally closes the blinds. Oh well. Better get to work…

About Grave Intentions

Grave Intentions
Grave Intentions 1
eKensington, January 3, 2013
eBook, 96,100 words

Guest Blog by Lori Sjoberg - A Day in the Life of David Anderson - February 7, 2013
He’s handsome, reliable, and punctual—the perfect gentleman when you want him to be. But this dream man is Death’s best agent—and now he’s got more than his soul to lose…

One act of mercy before dying was all it took to turn soldier David Anderson into a reaper—an immortal who guides souls-of-untimely-death into the afterlife. But the closer he gets to atoning for his mortal sin and finally escaping merciless Fate, the more he feels his own humanity slipping away for good. Until he encounters Sarah Griffith. This skeptical scientist can’t be influenced by his powers—even though she has an unsuspected talent for sensing the dead. And her honesty and irreverent sense of humor reignite his reason for living—and a passion he can’t afford to feel. Now Fate has summoned David to make a devastating last harvest. And he’ll break every hellishly-strict netherworld rule to save Sarah…and gamble on a choice even an immortal can’t win.

About Lori

Guest Blog by Lori Sjoberg - A Day in the Life of David Anderson - February 7, 2013
Growing up the youngest of three girls, Lori never had control of the remote. (Not that she’s bitter about that. Really. Okay, maybe a little, but it’s not like she’s scarred for life or anything.) That meant a steady diet of science fiction and fantasy. Star Trek, Star Wars, Twilight Zone, Outer Limits – you name it, she watched it. It fed her imagination, and that came in handy when the hormones kicked in and she needed a creative excuse for being out past curfew.
After graduating from the University of Central Florida, Lori spent over a decade working in the fun-filled worlds of retail management, financial planning, and insurance. The writing bug bit a few years later. After completing her first manuscript, she joined the Romance Writers of America and Central Florida Romance Writers. Now she exercises the analytical half of her brain at work, and the creative half writing paranormal romance. When she’s not doing either one of those, she’s usually spending time with her husband and children of the four-legged variety.

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Guest Blog by Francis Knight - Women in SFF and how they shaped my life - January 30, 2013

Please welcome Francis Knight to The Qwillery as part of the 2013 Debut Author Challenge Guest Blogs. Fade to Black (Rojan Dizon 1) will be published on February 26, 2013 by Orbit.

Guest Blog by Francis Knight - Women in SFF and how they shaped my life - January 30, 2013

Women in SFF and how they shaped my life

Oh my, women in SFF, that could be a can of worms – so I’m not going into that. No, I’m going to concentrate on the women in SFF who helped make me the person I am.

We’ll start right back at the beginning of my SFF love affair. Blake’s Seven (for those of you who aren’t British, this was a 70s space set drama, and very good it was too, despite the wobbly sets). Now, this was the 70’s but even so, we had Jenna – space smuggler and pilot extraordinaire. We had Dayna, weapons expert, and Callie, guerrilla fighter. All vital and important members of the Seven. Then we had…oh, the best part…we had Servelan, female ruler of the evil Federation, who gained that position by leading a military coup. Smart, sexy, and oh so evil.

Not only were these capable women being capable (and occasionally evil) the men seemed to like them that way too. *gasp!*

My first exposure to ‘You want it, you can do it, and you don’t have to turn into a man either.’

And then came the 80’s, with Ripley and Sarah Connor. Ripley lived in a world where men and women seemed fairly equal (at least aboard ship). She was one of the crew, capable, shrewd, and a survivor. Sarah Connor? Yes – okay, Kyle Reece was protecting her, helping her out with things she couldn’t know about. Yes, she was scared silly to start with (who wouldn’t be when told a machine that will not stop wants to murder you?) but she steps up to the plate and gets on with it – even more so in Terminator 2. Her grit and determination made John Connor the man he would be. At the same time I was reading about Eowyn who had the blood of kings in her veins and okay, she “settled” in the end but she showed a few people what a woman can do, that courage comes in many bodies.

My exposure to: ‘You may have to do things differently (you may not), but you can still beat the Bad Dude and Be Awesome.’

These are just a few of the characters that really helped shape the person I am – they showed me what was possible. Without them, I almost certainly wouldn’t be the person I am today, and that’s a good reason for strong female characters anywhere – not necessarily strong in arm, but strong in soul. Flawed or not, kick arse or not, emotional, or not. Strong, independent thinkers who are women.

Ladies, I salute you.

About Fade to Black

Fade to Black
Rojan Dizon 1
Orbit, February 26, 2013
Trade Paperback and eBook, 384 pages

Guest Blog by Francis Knight - Women in SFF and how they shaped my life - January 30, 2013

From the depths of a valley rises the city of Mahala

It's a city built upwards, not across - where streets are built upon streets, buildings upon buildings. A city that the Ministry rules from the sunlit summit, and where the forsaken lurk in the darkness of Under.

Rojan Dizon doesn't mind staying in the shadows, because he's got things to hide. Things like being a pain-mage, with the forbidden power to draw magic from pain. But he can't hide for ever.

Because when Rojan stumbles upon the secrets lurking in the depths of the Pit, the fate of Mahala will depend on him using his magic. And unlucky for Rojan - this is going to hurt.

The cover for Before the Fall (Rojan Dizon 2), which will be out in June:

Guest Blog by Francis Knight - Women in SFF and how they shaped my life - January 30, 2013

Last to Rise (Rojan Dizon 3), the final novel in the trilogy, will be published in November 2013.

About Francis

Guest Blog by Francis Knight - Women in SFF and how they shaped my life - January 30, 2013
Francis Knight was born and lives in Sussex, England. When not living in her own head, she enjoys SF&F geekery, WWE geekery, teaching her children Monty Python quotes, and boldly going and seeking out new civilizations.

Website : BlogTwitter @Knight_Francis

Guest Blog by Evie Manieri - Female Characters in Fantasy: Sword Length Isn't Everything - January 29, 2013

Please welcome Evie Manieri to The Qwillery as part of the 2013 Debut Author Challenge Guest Blogs. Blood's Pride will be published on February 19, 2013 in the US.

Guest Blog by Evie Manieri - Female Characters in Fantasy: Sword Length Isn't Everything - January 29, 2013

Female Characters in Fantasy: Sword Length Isn't Everything

“Strong female characters” is a term I see tossed around a lot in the world of genre fiction, and it’s a label I’ll happily slap on to BLOOD’S PRIDE - in fluorescent 80’s orange, preferably. But when I was actually writing the book, I just wanted to create a world that felt absolutely authentic, and for me that meant including women who were visible, relatable and – most of all - active participants in their own stories.

The gender split for the main characters in BLOOD’S PRIDE is nearly even, but female characters aren’t compelling when they’re stuck in tired, passive roles. It’s the “strong” part that’s the delicious gravy on my open-faced world-building sandwich.

I love warrior women, and BLOOD’S PRIDE certainly has its fair share of the sword-wielding variety. But “warrior” is not a character trait: it’s an occupation. Just because these women are fighters doesn’t mean they’re all cut from the same cloth, any more than the men they fight against or alongside. At the same time, a woman doesn’t need a sword to be a fighter. Sometimes the most effective weapons are a keen mind, a courageous heart and a good bit of stubborn determination.

You can put a sword in a character’s hand, give her skill and physical strength, make her passionate or intriguingly laconic… but a collection of traits doesn’t make a strong character. I like it best when characters are revealed through their relationships – and with such a varied cast at my disposal, I had the fun of delving into all kinds of relationships. Some are romantic, absolutely, but more than a few have nothing to do with men at all: sisters in constant conflict, damaged by the same tragedy but in very different ways; two married women, each critical of the other’s choices; a woman so twisted by the loss of her own mother that she can’t accept the love of someone eager to fill that role.

That brings me to two issues that females in fantasy seem to face all of the time, but which you won’t find in BLOOD’S PRIDE: constrictive gender roles, and sexual violence.

Every woman I know deals with gender bias in some form, but none of them frame their lives or goals in those terms. As a source of conflict, I find it dull and beside the point: I’m interested in exploring a person’s life, not whether or not she’s allowed to have it. This is the point where someone usually brings up the idea of “historical accuracy” and asserts that a pre-industrial society with gender equality is not realistic. Happily for me, I’m not writing historical fiction, but speculative fiction – and I'd like to speculate about a world where a woman can get up in the morning, get dressed, and get on with her day without having to “defy convention” every five seconds.

As for sexual violence, few things turn me off more than seeing victimization treated as a short-cut to character development. Sexual violence has its place in fiction alongside everything else, but it’s far too complex an issue to use as a device for moving a plot forward or motivating a character (particularly when the character being motivated is not the person victimized, but someone angry on her behalf.)

As a writer, I’m hoping to bring to my female characters the same degree of authenticity I would to any character. My attitudes are not shaped only by a mythologized version of medieval European societies, but by my experiences now, as a woman in the 21st century with a watchful eye on the trend of history. It’s a happy coincidence that on the day I sat down to write this post, the Pentagon lifted the ban on women in combat. As President Obama said, “valor knows no gender.” Well, amen to that.

About Blood's Pride

Blood's Pride
Shattered Kingdoms 1
Tor Books, February 19, 2013
Hardcover and eBook, 528 pages

Guest Blog by Evie Manieri - Female Characters in Fantasy: Sword Length Isn't Everything - January 29, 2013
Rising from their sea-torn ships like vengeful, pale phantoms, the Norlanders laid waste to the Shadar under cover of darkness. They forced the once-peaceful fisher folk into slavery and forged an alliance with their former trading partners, the desert-dwelling Nomas tribe, cutting off any hope of salvation.

Now, two decades after the invasion, a rebellion gathers strength in the dark corridors of the city. A small faction of Shadari have hired the Mongrel, an infamous mercenary, to aid their fledgling uprising—but with her own shadowy ties to the region, she is a frighteningly volatile ally. Has she really come to lead a revolution, or for a more sinister purpose all her own?

This thrilling new epic fantasy is set in a quasi-Medieval Mediterranean region, drawing together the warrior culture of Vikings, the wanderlust of desert nomads, and the oracles of ancient Greece. Evie Manieri's Blood's Pride is an intricate, lush fantasy novel full of taut action, gut-wrenching betrayal, and soaring romance.

About Evie

Guest Blog by Evie Manieri - Female Characters in Fantasy: Sword Length Isn't Everything - January 29, 2013
Evie Manieri has always been fascinated by intricacy. Her studies in medieval history and theater inform her writing, and when not weaving together the threads of her plots, she can be found creating airy lace shawls or singing Renaissance polyphony. The only thing she likes more than a thunderstorm is a really violent thunderstorm. Evie lives in New York City with her husband, her daughter, a drowsy dog and a badly spoiled parakeet.

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Guest Blog by Gillian Philip - That Sinking Feeling - January 23, 2013

Please welcome Gillian Philip to The Qwillery as part of the 2013 Debut Author Challenge Guest Blogs. Firebrand, Gillian's US Adult debut, will be published on February 19, 2013 by Tor Books.

Guest Blog by Gillian Philip - That Sinking Feeling - January 23, 2013

That Sinking Feeling

Everybody knows the bad ones stick. That’s not conventional wisdom, it’s inescapable. It doesn’t matter how many good reviews you get as a writer (or for all I know as an artist, a journalist or a PPI compensation salesman), it’s the lines of loathing you know off by heart.

I know writers who won’t read their Amazon reviews, not even the good ones (at least, they say they don’t), and I do wonder if I should join them. (I know I won’t. Reviews are like cigarettes; they can kick-start your morning; they can make you as content as a chilled-out cat; but you never know which one is going to kill you. It doesn’t stop you going back to them.)

Of course the twisty-gut feeling when you read a bad review isn’t nice, but it isn’t that part of it that’s got me thinking. Reviews are a Good Thing, even when they aren’t good, if you see what I mean. There are bad reviews that are well-deserved, and ones that are downright entertaining (I’m thinking of a recent film review of Les Mis which I thoroughly enjoyed for the sheer snarkiness, though I have no views on the film because I haven’t seen it yet). Of course books should be honestly reviewed, and potential readers should be warned off the bad ones as much as they’re encouraged to try the good ones. It isn’t that.

What’s got me thinking is the stickiness-factor - not because of the hurt to one’s delicate feelings about one’s precious book-baby, but because of the potential damage to its future siblings. The democratisation of reviewing is wonderful, giving exposure both to fresh opinions and to authors who might not get the newspaper space, but the flipside of it is that anything you write is going to offend somebody, somewhere. Subjective opinion, personal taste, all that.

And it isn’t nice making people unhappy, so you tend not to want to do it again. It’s a little like having an editor-after-the-event. Editing, too, is a Good Thing. Like a sharp review, it points out what you hadn’t noticed, highlights your weak spots, encourages you to do better and go further. You have to listen and learn, but here’s the thing: you also have to know when to stop and say no.

Somebody didn’t like my portrayal of women in Firebrand. That took me aback when I first read the review, because most people thought my women were strong and individual - except for one, who starts out weak and ineffectual. She’s a victim, and for a while my hero holds her in contempt, largely because he’s an arrogant son of a bitch who’s used to strong women. That contrast was too much for this particular reviewer.

Now, on an intellectual level, I disagree with the review although I respect the reviewer’s opinion (it wasn’t abusive or rude). On a visceral level, I’ve never stopped agonising about it. Should I have written my character that way? More importantly, would I ever write her that way again?

Before the self-flagellation gets out of hand, I want to defend the way I wrote my character. She’s a young sixteenth century girl who’s been raised in a strict religious environment. She’s not used to the concept of standing up for herself, but she does anyway, and as a result terrible things happen to her. And they happen because they would have, in real life. She wouldn’t have got away with her defiance, had she been a real girl in the real sixteenth century, and to write her otherwise would have felt like a betrayal. And had my hero been warm, understanding and mature about it, he wouldn’t have been himself. Any writer will tell you that describing their characters’ actions, dialogue and attitudes doesn’t mean you’re condoning them or suggesting them as a healthy way of life.

That’s the theory. But when a reader takes exception to the way your story and characters develop, it does bring you up short. It should. We should all take responsibility for what and who we write.

When I read the third book in the Hunger Games trilogy, I was shocked by the change in Katniss. She didn’t seem like the character I’d grown to know and love, and I didn’t like it. I’ve visited the Amazon reviews since, and I know I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. But she was for real. Suzanne Collins knows Katniss better than anyone, and she knew how she’d change after all that had happened to her. It wasn’t nice, I didn’t like it, but it felt true and I’m sure that even with a time machine and a second chance, Suzanne Collins would write her the same way.

And I just don’t know if I’d be that strong. I can’t write Firebrand again, but would I write another weak female character to go with the strong ones? I hope I would. There are women who are weak, and I don’t want to write a book full of role models. This girl changes, but I must have lost that reader before she did. I don’t like that. I hate that I lost my reader before any of my characters had a chance to change and grow, before the reader’s mind was made up. In my head I know the characters needed the time they took; in my heart I want to grab the reader and shout, ‘Stop! Wait! Give them a bit longer! Look at their world!’

And next time, I’m afraid I might hurry it. Next time, I might ensure that a female character is not-raped, when most likely she would be, because of a post I read recently bemoaning the use of rape as a plot device. Maybe there’s a writer out there now, tearing up their manuscript about a kid with cancer because there’s been a recent article regretting the preponderance of ‘sick-lit’.

And there should be those articles! There should be those opinions! Debate is good! Because this is where I should come to some kind of rousing and decisive conclusion, but as I don’t have one, I only have questions. It’s a problem with me, not reviewers (every time I say ‘you’ or ‘one’, I of course mean ‘I’). I would seriously love to know how much agonising other writers do. None? Lots? Would you change your story because of a review or a tweet or a searing blog post?

Can you, should you, crowd-source your characters? It’s a serious question. And now I’m off to torment myself on Amazon...

About Firebrand

Rebel Angels 1
Tor Books, February 19, 2013
Hardcover and eBook, 368 pages
US Adult Debut

Guest Blog by Gillian Philip - That Sinking Feeling - January 23, 2013
It is the last decade of the sixteenth century: a time of religious wars in the mortal world. But the Sithe are at peace, hidden behind the Veil that protects their world until their queen, Kate NicNiven, determines to destroy it.

Seth MacGregor is the half-feral son of a Sithe nobleman. When his father is assassinated and Seth is exiled with his brother Conal to the full-mortal world, they vow not only to survive, but to return to reclaim their fortress and save the Veil.

But even the Veil's power cannot protect the brothers when the brutal witch-hunts begin….

Brimming with intrigue and rebellion, Firebrand is the first book in the Rebel Angels series by Gillian Philip, the Carnegie Medal–nominated author of Crossing the Line and multi-award-nominated Bad Faith.

About Gillian

Guest Blog by Gillian Philip - That Sinking Feeling - January 23, 2013
Gillian Philip is a full time author and ghostwriter for young adults and children. She writes in whatever genre grabs her, including contemporary crime, historical and urban fantasy, horror, and dystopian science fiction. Her books include Crossing the Line, Bad Faith, The Opposite of Amber and the Rebel Angels series - Firebrand, Bloodstone, Wolfsbane and (published next year) Icefall. She has written Darke Academy as Gabriella Poole, the Survivors series as Erin Hunter, and two Beast Quest instalments as Adam Blade.

Gillian was born in Glasgow, lived in Barbados for twelve years and now lives in the north-east Highlands of Scotland with her husband, twins Jamie and Lucy, three dogs, two cats, a fluctuating population of chickens and many nervous fish.

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Guest Blog by Cassandra Rose Clarke. author of The Mad Scientist's Daughter and The Assassin's Curse - December 28, 2012

Please welcome Cassandra Rose Clarke to The Qwillery as part of the 2013 Debut Author Challenge Guest Blogs. The Mad Scientist's Daughter, Cassandra's adult debut, will be published January 29, 2013 in the US and Canada.

Guest Blog by Cassandra Rose Clarke. author of The Mad Scientist's Daughter and The Assassin's Curse - December 28, 2012

In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “The Measure of a Man,” Data is put on trial to determine whether or not he is property of Starfleet. Captain Picard argues that viewing Data as an object rather than a person will eventually lead to Starfleet mass-producing a race of slaves. Starfleet (being Starfleet) rules that Data is a person.

In the Alien movies, the opposite ruling holds sway. Weyland-Yutani manufactures robots that do exactly as they are programmed, and there doesn’t seem to be much (by which I mean any) moral discussion about whether or not androids are people. Everyone basically treats them as sophisticated computers.

You really can’t write robot stories without escaping Isaac Asimov’s three laws, to the point that a fictional robot being or not being “three laws safe” is as intrinsic to its robot-ness as being made of electronic parts. However, the more interesting robot question for me has always been the issue of why people create robots in the first place, and the implications of that creation, which is why I find those two robot backdrops — Alien and Star Trek — so interesting in the diametric approaches.

Now, the “created being” trope is a well-established one in Western literature, with both Pinocchio and Frankenstein (and a myriad of others!) making the English class circuits. In both cases, a man creates life and can not, in way or another, control it — because that created life wants the same freedom its creator has. The human race has a long history of dehumanizing those they wish to deny freedom (and insert any definition of “freedom” here), and I think the robot stories of science fiction are a way of coming to terms with that history (and present). In Star Trek, Starfleet rejects that way of thinking, hoping to move forward into a brighter future. Weyland-Yutani embraces it, and that’s why they’re an evil space corporation.

Because I tend to view robot stories as primarily about freedom, Asimov’s three laws have never appealed to me. After all, he took a complex moral question and solved it like an engineer. Weirdly, it was actually the movie Aliens that first got me thinking about the problems with the three laws. Bishop assures Ripley that he’s reliable and then quotes the first law at her, but he doesn’t call it the first law — he calls it a behavioral inhibitor. Which is an unsettling, even upsetting, way of phrasing it. It’s also accurate.

About The Mad Scientist's Daughter

The Mad Scientist's Daughter
A Tale of Love, Loss and Robots
Angry Robot, January 29, 2013 (US/Canada)
February 7, 2013 (UK)
Trade Paperback and eBook, 400 pages

Guest Blog by Cassandra Rose Clarke. author of The Mad Scientist's Daughter and The Assassin's Curse - December 28, 2012
“Cat, this is Finn. He’s going to be your tutor.”

He looks and acts human, though he has no desire to be. He was programmed to assist his owners, and performs his duties to perfection. A billion-dollar construct, his primary task now is to tutor Cat. As she grows into a beautiful young woman, Finn is her guardian, her constant companion… and more.

But when the government grants rights to the ever-increasing robot population, however, Finn struggles to find his place in the world.

Following her acclaimed Young Adult debut for our sister imprint Strange Chemistry, The Assassin’s Curse, the very talented Cassandra Rose Clarke moves on to more adult themes, in a heartbreaking story of love, loss … and robots.

File Under: Science Fiction [ Constant Companion | Finn X | Sentient Rights | Hot Tin Roof ]

Also by Cassandra

The Assassin's Curse
Strange Chemistry, October 2, 2012 (US/Canada)
October 4, 2012 (UK)
Trade Paperback and eBook, 320 pages

Guest Blog by Cassandra Rose Clarke. author of The Mad Scientist's Daughter and The Assassin's Curse - December 28, 2012
Ananna of the Tanarau abandons ship when her parents try to marry her off to an allying pirate clan. But that only prompts the scorned clan to send an assassin after her. And when Ananna faces him down one night, armed with magic she doesn’t really know how to use, she accidentally activates a curse binding them together.

To break the curse, Ananna and the assassin must complete three impossible tasks — all while grappling with evil wizards, floating islands, haughty manticores, runaway nobility, strange magic, and the growing romantic tension between them.

About Cassandra

Guest Blog by Cassandra Rose Clarke. author of The Mad Scientist's Daughter and The Assassin's Curse - December 28, 2012
Cassandra Rose Clarke is a speculative fiction writer living amongst the beige stucco and overgrown pecan trees of Houston, Texas. She graduated in 2006 from The University of St. Thomas with a bachelor’s degree in English, and in 2008 she completed her master’s degree in creative writing at The University of Texas at Austin. Both of these degrees have served her surprisingly well.

During the summer of 2010, she attended the Clarion West Writers Workshop in Seattle. She was also a recipient of the 2010 Susan C. Petrey Clarion Scholarship Fund.

Website : Twitter

Guest Blog by Sean Pidgeon - How to Write an Ancient Celtic Poem - December 12, 2012

Please welcome Sean Pidgeon to The Qwillery as part of the 2013 Debut Author Challenge Guest Blogs. Finding Camlann, Sean's debut, will be published on January 7, 2013.

Guest Blog by Sean Pidgeon - How to Write an Ancient Celtic Poem - December 12, 2012

How to Write an Ancient Celtic Poem

“Just grab a bottle of scotch, hide yourself away somewhere for a couple of days, and write the bloody thing.” This was the sage advice dispensed by a friend of mine as we were discussing the practical challenges of composing ancient Celtic verse. At the time, I had been working on my debut novel for well over a decade—it had already been through numerous cycles of rewriting and revision—and I was ready to try a different approach. At the heart of my new concept for the novel was to be a poem called The Song of Lailoken, an imagined literary discovery on which crucial aspects of the narrative would turn. These verses were to tell the story of certain battles fought in a distant time by a hero known as Arthur. If I could not get them right, the novel would begin to feel hollow and implausible.

So, how does one write a poem that is to be ascribed, fictionally speaking, to an ancient Celtic bard? I turned first to Aneirin and Taliesin, the famous poets of dark-age Britain whose work has miraculously survived in certain rare Welsh manuscripts. I tried to channel some essence of the old British mythology through my brain. In my mind’s eye, “I flew north to Plynlimon Hill, where Cai and Bedwyr sat on a cairn in the strongest wind the world had ever seen.” I read and reread the bleak lines of Aneirin’s Y Gododdin, a series of elegies to the men of the Brythonic kingdom of Gododdin who died fighting the Angles of Deira and Bernicia at a place called Catraeth in or around the year 600 AD.

Men went to Catraeth, keen their war-band.
Pale mead their portion, it was poison.
Three hundred under orders to fight.
And after celebration, silence.

I went back still further than this, to the Irish epic called the Táin Bó Cúailnge, which tells of a war waged against the people of Ulster by Queen Medb of Connacht, opposed only by the teenage hero Cú Chulainn. I imagined my own poem, like the Táin, as a work transmitted over many generations through the Celtic oral tradition, and wondered how much of the bard’s original language might have been preserved. I spent some time with Homer, whose work was first captured in just such a fashion. I worried excessively over questions of meter and alliteration and rhyme. At one point, I tried an interdisciplinary approach, formulating the poem as a kind of inverse problem such as one finds frequently in physics and engineering. If we knew what impression my lost poem had made on later readers, what might we infer about its original content?

At this point, it was time to return to the whisky bottle. I recall that it was Lagavulin, or perhaps Ardbeg: something appropriately peaty, anyway, redolent of windswept western shores and the slow, earthy accretions of the years.

About Finding Camlann

Finding Camlann: A Novel
W.W. Norton & Company, January 7, 2013
Hardcover and eBook, 352 pages

Guest Blog by Sean Pidgeon - How to Write an Ancient Celtic Poem - December 12, 2012
An ancient poem and a mysterious burial inspire an enthralling historical and literary quest.

Despite the wealth of scholarship that pretends to offer proof, archaeologist Donald Gladstone knows there is no solid evidence that a real King Arthur ever existed. Still, the great popular tales spun by medieval historian Geoffrey of Monmouth, and embroidered by Chrétien de Troyes, Sir Thomas Malory, and so many others, must have found their inspiration somewhere. A dramatic archaeological find at Stonehenge and the rediscovery of an old Welsh battle poem, buried among the manuscripts of the Bodleian Library, open up enticing—and misleading—new possibilities.

When the beguiling Julia Llewellyn, a linguist working on the Oxford English Dictionary, joins Donald on the trail of clues, their fervent enthusiasms, unusual gifts, and unfulfilled yearnings prove a combustible mix. Their impassioned search for truths buried deep in the past, amid the secret places and half-forgotten legends of the British countryside, must ultimately transform them—and all our understandings of the origins of Arthur.

An intellectual and emotional journey of myriad pleasures, Finding Camlann is at its heart a love story—not only of romantic love but also the love between parents and grown children; the intense feelings of professors and students; the love of language, place, and home; and the thrill of scholarly research and detective work. Throughout, Sean Pidgeon’s lyrical prose brings together history, myth, and dream, sweeping the reader into the mysteries of the past and the pure delight of storytelling.

About Sean

Guest Blog by Sean Pidgeon - How to Write an Ancient Celtic Poem - December 12, 2012
Sean Pidgeon is a reference publisher at John Wiley & Sons. Born and raised in the south of England, he now lives in New Jersey with his American wife and children. Finding Camlann is his first novel.

Website : TwitterFinding Camlann on Facebook

Guest Blog by M. C. Planck - Intergalactic Exploration - December 10, 2012

Please welcome M.C. Planck to The Qwillery with the very first 2013 Debut Author Challenge Guest Blog! The Kassa Gambit will be published on January 8, 2013 by Tor Books.

Guest Blog by M. C. Planck - Intergalactic Exploration - December 10, 2012

Intergalactic Exploration

Science fiction suffers from a constraint that Fantasy escapes: namely, the suffocating blanket of civilization.

Having your wizards and knights wander off the beaten track and discover a eons-old artifact lying around in a cave, or perhaps an entire civilization of weird monsters, elicits not so much as a twitch of an eyebrow. The scholars of a fantasy world spend their time studying dusty archives in ancient libraries, just as we imagined the monks of yore did. Exploring is only for the brave, the dispossessed, or the quest-infected.

But in science fiction, the scholars are replaced by scientists. How could that mysterious artifact not already have been the subject of some eager young PHD’s thesis? And how can whole societies escape the penetrating gaze of radar, thermal imaging, and modern marketing research?

The classic SF solution is deep space: the planets are separated by gulfs of void, and the intrepid explorers sail in uncharted seas, like Columbus. Except, those intrepid explorers always seem to be only a few days away from the nearest starbase (Star Trek Voyager excepted), so really, why are our heroes the first ones on the scene? Although Serenity is one of my favorite films, I have to put my suspension of disbelief in suspenders when Captain Mal flies from the Reaver’s secret home planet to the heart of the intergalactic internet in less time than he usually spends delivering cows.

And even the Age of Sail was less mysterious than we remember it; the average life expectancy of a pirate in the golden age was eight months. Despite the lack of radio, radar, or propellers, the English Royal Navy routinely learned about, hunted down, and executed rogue adventurers.

Writers sometimes respond to this by making the distances traveled so vast and difficult that no one else would make the journey. Unfortunately this usually begs the question of why the protagonists are making the journey. Who funded this unlikely exploration into deep space for no good reason, and why do we care about the antics of a lunatic? (Prometheus, I’m looking at you!)

Jack Vance took a middle road: he is justly famous for his bizarre planetary societies, and he sells their quirkiness with the same conviction he sells his character’s quirks. The effort of traveling between space is like going to Greece; not so difficult an ordinary person can’t do it, but trouble enough that when you get there, you can expect different customs and laws. He has, however, the Beyond, where his villains live: the edges of civilization where anything goes, like the old Wild West (which of course, actually was never that wild, and only lasted from the Gold Rush of 1846 to Transcontinental railroad 1869).

The writers of Stargate developed a brilliant alternative: by limiting travel to predefined gates, exploration was limited to whatever idea the writer wanted to talk about that week. This all went to pot once they had their own spaceships, so much so that the next iteration (Stargate: Universe) had the ship’s controls locked down.

Lacking Vance’s mastery, I went with the Stargate model. The world of THE KASSA GAMBIT is determined, in no small part, by capricious nature: the nodes that tie the planets together are arbitrary and irrational. Humanity lives on this web like an archipelago, with neighboring islands sharing cultural ties that gradually fade with every discrete step. The key that makes it work is the absence of instant communication; like the Fantasy kingdoms, news travels only at the pace of the fastest traveler. This leaves room for mystery even while it makes interstellar travel accessible to my ordinary heroes.

The Kassa Gambit

The Kassa Gambit
Tor Books, January 8, 2013
Hardcover and eBook, 288 pages

Guest Blog by M. C. Planck - Intergalactic Exploration - December 10, 2012
Centuries after the ecological collapse of Earth, humanity has spread among the stars. Under the governance of the League, our endless need for resources has driven us to colonize hundreds of planets, all of them devoid of other sentient life. Humanity is apparently alone in the universe.

Then comes the sudden, brutal decimation of Kassa, a small farming planet, by a mysterious attacker. The few survivors send out a desperate plea for aid, which is answered by two unlikely rescuers. Prudence Falling is the young captain of a tramp freighter. She and her ragtag crew have been on the run and living job to job for years, eking out a living by making cargo runs that aren’t always entirely legal. Lt. Kyle Daspar is a police officer from the wealthy planet of Altair Prime, working undercover as a double agent against the League. He’s been undercover so long he can't be trusted by anyone—even himself.

While flying rescue missions to extract survivors from the surface of devastated Kassa, they discover what could be the most important artifact in the history of man: an alien spaceship, crashed and abandoned during the attack.

But something tells them there is more to the story. Together, they discover the cruel truth about the destruction of Kassa, and that an imminent alien invasion is the least of humanity’s concerns.

About M.C. Planck

Guest Blog by M. C. Planck - Intergalactic Exploration - December 10, 2012
After a nearly-transient childhood, Micheal hitchhiked across the country and ran out of money in Arizona. So he stayed there for thirty years, raising dogs, getting a degree in Philosophy, and founding a scientific instrument company. Having read virtually everything by the old Masters of SF&F, he decided he was ready to write. A decade later, with a little help from the Critters online critique group, he was actually ready. He was relieved to find that writing novels is easier than writing software, as a single punctuation error won't cause your audience to explode and die. When he ran out of dogs, he moved to Australia to raise his daughter with her cousins. Now he is a father, author, and immigrant. Fitzgerald was wrong. There are second acts to some American lives, even if they start in other countries.

Website : Blog
Guest Blog by Zachary Jernigan, author of No Return - February 9, 2013Guest Blog by Lori Sjoberg - A Day in the Life of David Anderson - February 7, 2013Guest Blog by Francis Knight - Women in SFF and how they shaped my life - January 30, 2013Guest Blog by Evie Manieri - Female Characters in Fantasy: Sword Length Isn't Everything - January 29, 2013Guest Blog by Gillian Philip - That Sinking Feeling - January 23, 2013Guest Blog by Cassandra Rose Clarke. author of The Mad Scientist's Daughter and The Assassin's Curse - December 28, 2012Guest Blog by Sean Pidgeon - How to Write an Ancient Celtic Poem - December 12, 2012Guest Blog by M. C. Planck - Intergalactic Exploration - December 10, 2012

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