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The Qwillery

A blog about books and other things speculative

Guest Blog by Jacob Bacharach - The First Novel as your Comic-con Costume - May 15, 2014

Please welcome Jacob Bacharach to The Qwillery as part of the 2014 Debut Author Challenge Guest Blogs. The Bend of the World was published on April 14, 2014 by Liveright. You may read our interview with Jacob here.

Guest Blog by Jacob Bacharach - The First Novel as your Comic-con Costume - May 15, 2014

The First Novel as your Comic-con Costume

I’ve always thought of Tom Stoppard as one of the great scifi and fantasy authors—I mean, he’s a literary playwright, but his characters encounter more Temporal Distortions than the Starship Enterprise and more gods than a remake of Clash of the Titans. There’s this line in The Invention of Love, his witty and erudite and funny sorta-biographical play about the poet, A.E. Housman, when Housman and Oscar Wilde are awaiting their ferry to the underworld. They are talking about the way their lives, and the lives of others, are constructed in writing and in memory. (Wilde is also bitching about Bosie, his lover, that spoiled boy.) Anyway, “Biography,” says Wilde, “is the mesh through which our real life escapes.”

When you write a first novel, and especially when you write it in the first person, you get a lot of “So, are you Peter?” Peter is the name of the protagonist in my first novel, The Bend of the World. You learn not to be annoyed by it, although you want to correct the order of the question. Properly, “Is Peter you?” Uh, me? In the broad sense, yes, of course, but so is every other person in there; characters exist on the page alone; they think only those thoughts that their author writes down for them; feel only the feelings mentioned in print; do only what you (he? I?) say that they do. The party doesn’t continue after the party scene concludes. The last line of dialogue is the last word any of them speaks.

In the more particular sense—in the sense that the question is meant—the answer is no, although I’ve taken to telling people that my protagonist and I would probably know each other if he existed. We live in the same town, after all, and frequent some of the same bars. And it’s fair to say that I’ve dabbled in the weird and alien and psychoactive here and there in the legitimately magical town of Pittsburgh, PA, where my book is largely set. But I have never actually seen a flying saucer, discovered an ancient conspiracy, or been upbraided by a Sasquatch for my romantic and career choices. These things all occur in the book, and they load the question of its autobiographical content with a heavy freight of absurdity.

I recently read The Weirdness, a début novel by Jeremy Bushnell. It appears briefly to be set among the milieu of sad young literary men before it descends—I choose this verb as a compliment—into a battle between Lucifer, a gaggle of warlocks, and a pack of werewolves. At least one review strongly lamented the sad young literary men part: la-de-da, another dull autobiographical work by a dude who had some disappointments with the Brooklyn book scene. However—and it’s hard to say; you never really know about these things—Bushnell and I follow each other on Twitter, and he doesn’t seem like a lycanthrope or a warlock.

The Weirdness’s protagonist, Billy, is an aspirant writer. Bushnell lets the book remain ambiguous on the question of whether or not Billy is actually any good, a question that keeps popping up even as the, well, the weirdness cranks into gear. Billy is also—and this is a gutsy choice for a writer creating a protagonist—boring; he is ordinary (well, mostly, but no spoilers). He knows that he’s boring, but he consoles himself with Flaubert’s famous maxim: “Be regular and orderly in your life like a bourgeois, so that you may be violent and original in your work.”

One truth is that the writing life is boring; a writer is not a protagonist; we are forever riding in the backseat or sitting quietly on the bus, eavesdropping and stealing the lives of the more genuinely interesting people you know and meet—I say stealing, because we rarely ask for consent. Writing, in this regard, is violent, but writers are mostly cowards; we seem to prefer apology to permission. The idea that novels—first novels in particular—are thinly veiled autobiography, the details just barely obscured, is an inversion of the actual: that these works are less disguise than they are cosplay. I have never seen a UFO or talked to Bigfoot or travelled through time or been the actual life of a party, but my God, if ever I could . . .

The Bend of the World

The Bend of the World
Liveright (W.W. Norton), April 14, 2014
Hardcover and eBook, 320 pages

Guest Blog by Jacob Bacharach - The First Novel as your Comic-con Costume - May 15, 2014
"A comedy of bad manners, darting wisecracks, deadpan chagrin, and drug-hazed pratfalls" (James Wolcott), The Bend of the World is a madcap coming-of-age novel in which no one quite comes of age and everything you know is not a lie, it's just, well, tangential to the truth.

In the most audacious literary debut to come out of the Steel City since The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, we meet Peter Morrison, twenty-nine and comfortably adrift in a state of not-quite-adulthood, less concerned about the general direction of his life than with his suspicion that all his closest relationships are the products of inertia. He and his girlfriend float along in the same general direction, while his parents are acting funny, though his rich, hypochondriac grandmother is still good for admission to the better parties. He spends his days clocking into Global Solutions (a firm whose purpose remains unnervingly ambiguous) and his weekends listening to the half-imagined rants of his childhood best friend, Johnny. An addict and conspiracy theorist, Johnny believes Pittsburgh is a "nexus of intense magical convergence" and is playing host to a cabal of dubious politicians, evil corporate schemes, ancient occult rites, and otherwise inexplicable phenomena, such as the fact that people really do keep seeing UFOs hovering over the city.

Against this strange background, Peter meets Mark and Helen, a slightly older couple, new to town, whose wealth and glamour never fully conceal the suggestion of something sinister, and with whom he becomes quickly infatuated. Mark is a corporate lawyer in the process of negotiating a buyout of Global Solutions, and initiates Peter into the real, mundane (maybe) conspiracies of corporations and careers, while Helen—a beautiful and once prominent artist—is both the echo and the promise of the sort of woman Peter always imagined, or was always told he ought to find for himself.

As Peter climbs the corporate ladder, Johnny is pulled into the orbit of a mysterious local author, Winston Pringle, whose lunatic book of conspiracies seems to be coming true. As Johnny falls farther down the rabbit hole, the surreal begins to seep into the mundane, and the settled rhythm of Peter's routine is disrupted by a series of close encounters of third, fourth, and fifth kinds. By the time Peter sets out to save his friend from Pringle's evil machinations (and pharmacological interventions), his familiar life threatens to transform into that most terrifying possibility: a surprise.

In The Bend of the World Philip K. Dick meets Michael Chabon, and Jacob Bacharach creates an appropriately hilarious, bizarre, and keenly observed portrait of life on the edge of thirty in the adolescent years of twenty-first-century America.

About Jacob

Guest Blog by Jacob Bacharach - The First Novel as your Comic-con Costume - May 15, 2014
Jacob Bacharach is a writer and nonprofit administrator living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He has a BA in English and creative writing from Oberlin College and an MBA from the University of Pittsburgh. He is not, to the best of our knowledge, a shape-shifting reptiloid or a descendant of the Merovingian dynasty. In his spare time, he cooks, rides bikes, and occasionally plays the violin badly. He prefers "experiencer" to "abductee." This is his first novel.

Website  ~  Twitter @jakebackpack

Guest Blog by Claire R. McDougall - The Balls are in Your Court - April 14, 2014

Please welcome Claire R. McDougall to The Qwillery as part of the 2014 Debut Author Challenge Guest Blogs. Veil of Time, Claire's debut novel, was published on March 11, 2014 by Gallery Books. You may read our interview with Claire here.

Guest Blog by Claire R. McDougall - The Balls are in Your Court - April 14, 2014

The Balls are in Your Court

I was told a story recently which shows just how whimsical this publishing business is and why you shouldn't give up.

Here is Jenny's story: she wrote 8 novels that didn’t sell. In 2000 she got an agent. In the next 13 years, she had 3 agents and had her eighth novel come very close to being accepted by several major publishers, always to miss at the very end.

One day she wrote Nancy Pickard a fan note about Nancy's new book, Scent of Rain and Lightening. They got into an email exchange and when Nancy learned how close her novel had come several times, she offered to read it. (Something she normally never does.) And she liked it! So much so that she sent it to her editor at Ballantine (something else she has never done.)

Her editor liked it! And the novel is now out in hard cover. (Title is Cover of Snow). Ballantine accepted the manuscript 2 years ago and even though it was already highly polished, Jenny spent another year of polishing under the aegis of her editor.

Jenny’s story sounds a lot like mine, except in my case there was no magical fan note and no celebrated author to get me to that publisher. I went along to agent meetings at the local writer’s conference every summer for many years until finally one of my (8) manuscripts was picked up by a New York agent. And even then it took a couple of years until the manuscript sold, and even then it wasn’t even the manuscript he had picked up but one I wrote while waiting for the first one to sell!

The late John Denver who hailed from this area, was due once to meet his brother for a round of golf at a local course. When his brother arrived at the clubhouse, he was handed a couple of golf balls by the superintendent: "John said to give you these. He says, for this game you're going to need balls." Same goes for writing and publishing and any other stage for which there is a glut of performers standing in the wings.

The problem is, that glut of artists needs to get through a barrier manned by folk who often wouldn't know a good piece of art if it jumped up and did a belly dance. I know people all through the arts facing this. I always say there are two levels of art in any given age: there's real art and then there's fashion. Fashion always has its guardians, the ones who need to attach themselves to trends to give themselves some sense of identity. These are the guardians of buzz and not to be mistaken for wizards. Wizards are few and far between.

So, the lesson today is: Keep pushing ahead! Elbow those twits out of the way and get to the stage. Sing your song for all your worth. Turn deaf ears on the boos if they come, and on the applause if it comes instead. Both are empty responses. You should be listening to your heart. That's all. Here endeth the first lesson.

Veil of Time

Veil of Time
Gallery Books, March 11, 2014
Trade Paperback and eBook, 416 pages

Guest Blog by Claire R. McDougall - The Balls are in Your Court - April 14, 2014
A compelling tale of two Scotlands—one modern, one ancient—and the woman who parts the veil between them.

The medication that treats Maggie’s seizures leaves her in a haze, but it can’t dull her grief at losing her daughter to the same condition. With her marriage dissolved and her son away at school, Maggie retreats to a cottage below the ruins of Dunadd, once the royal seat of Scotland. But is it fantasy or reality when she awakens in a bustling village within the massive walls of eighth-century Dunadd? In a time and place so strange yet somehow familiar, Maggie is drawn to the striking, somber Fergus, brother of the king and father of Illa, who bears a keen resemblance to Maggie’s late daughter. With each dreamlike journey to the past, Maggie grows closer to Fergus and embraces the possibility of staying in this Dunadd. But with present-day demands calling her back, can Maggie leave behind the Scottish prince who dubs her mo chridhe, my heart? 

About Claire

Guest Blog by Claire R. McDougall - The Balls are in Your Court - April 14, 2014
Claire R McDougall was born and raised in Scotland. The daughter of a minister, she moved from parish to parish until her family settled in rural Argyll when she was twelve. After high school she moved to Germany to work as an au pair for a year, then studied at Edinburgh University pursuing a masters degree in philosophy (with a detour to Dartmouth College.) From Edinburgh she went on scholarship for four years to Christ Church, Oxford, where she attempted to shake the foundations by writing a thesis on Nietzsche and Christianity. No luck there, and, anyway, the writing life was calling. For a couple of years Claire wrote a column for a New Hampshire newspaper. A move to Aspen, Colorado, coincided with her first forays into the genre of poetry, and from there she explored the short story form, finally settling on writing novels. Claire's first novel to be published comes out March 2014.

Website  ~  Twitter @Kilmartin1978

Guest Blog by Elizabeth Blackwell - Reading Outside My Comfort Zone - March 20, 2014

Please welcome Elizabeth Blackwell to The Qwillery as part of the 2014 Debut Author Challenge Guest Blogs. While Beauty Slept was published on February 20, 2014 by Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam. 

Guest Blog by Elizabeth Blackwell - Reading Outside My Comfort Zone - March 20, 2014

Reading Outside My Comfort Zone
By Elizabeth Blackwell

Can we all agree that the old chestnut “Write what you know” is pretty useless advice? The lure of writing for many people—especially fantasy writers—is to write what you don’t know. To escape into an entirely different reality, even if that made-up world is inspired in part by real places, people, or situations.

When I’m asked to give advice about writing, my current favorite suggestion is “Write what you read.” As someone who spent part of the 1990s working on a bad Bridget Jones Diary rip-off, I can say from experience that jumping on the latest literary trend doesn’t automatically make your book more saleable. Thinking I’d be the next hot chick-lit author when I read hardly any chick-lit didn’t exactly work out.

When I began writing While Beauty Slept, I wasn’t thinking in terms of marketing. I just wrote the kind of book I liked to read, a book that was a mix of historical fiction and fantasy, a book that allowed me to wander (virtually) through a castle and eavesdrop on royal gossip and intrigue. In spirit, it was a mix of many books I’d read over many years, both fiction and non-fiction, from Pillars of the Earth to Game of Thrones to historian Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror.

But now that my book is out, and I’ve been chatting with bloggers and visiting bookstores, I’ve realized that writing what you read will only take you so far. If you want to progress and grow as a writer, you should also read what you don’t write. There are great writers working in every genre, and if you get too insulated, your work eventually will suffer.

Take, for example, Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series, contemporary, male-focused thrillers that are in many ways the polar opposite of While Beauty Slept. For me, Child’s books are the literary equivalent of candy: they go down quickly and easily, leaving me pleasantly, mildly buzzed. It is extremely unlikely that I will ever write an action thriller like Child, but I’ve learned a lot about plotting and suspense from him—tricks that might someday show up in my future work.

Another one of my favorite writers is Tana French, author of the mystery In the Woods and three other books set in modern Dublin. Again, I am pretty sure I will never write a series focused on foul-mouthed, cynical Irish detectives. But French’s ear for dialogue, the way she creates conversations that ring true? That’s something I would love to emulate.

Then there are the many writers who jump between genres and blur the lines between them. I’ve been incredibly inspired by writers such as Dan Simmons, who was able to combine futuristic sci-fi with classical Greece in Ilium, or Diana Gabaldon, who mixes fantasy, historical fiction, romance and action in her Outlander series. They—and many, many others—show that there are really no boundaries in literature, as long as your writing and characters ring true.

One side effect of having a book out is that you end up hearing about a lot of other new books coming out at the same time, and then you end up buying a bunch of them because they sound so good. I’ve got a pile of new books to read, almost none of them similar to While Beauty Slept. For a while, I will be reading the kinds of books I don’t write—and I can’t wait.

While Beauty Slept

While Beauty Slept
Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam, February 20, 2014
Hardcover and eBook, 432 pages

Guest Blog by Elizabeth Blackwell - Reading Outside My Comfort Zone - March 20, 2014

Historical fiction at its best — The Brothers Grimm meets The Thirteenth Tale

I am not the sort of person about whom stories are told.

And so begins Elise Dalriss’s story. When she hears her great-granddaughter recount a minstrel’s tale about a beautiful princess asleep in a tower, it pushes open a door to the past, a door Elise has long kept locked. For Elise was the companion to the real princess who slumbered—and she is the only one left who knows what actually happened so many years ago. Her story unveils a labyrinth where secrets connect to an inconceivable evil. As only Elise understands all too well, the truth is no fairy tale.

About Elizabeth

Guest Blog by Elizabeth Blackwell - Reading Outside My Comfort Zone - March 20, 2014
Photo by Jill Brazel Photography
As the daughter of a U.S. Foreign Service officer, Elizabeth grew up in Washington, D.C., interspersed with stretches in Africa, the Middle East and Italy. She graduated from Northwestern University with a double major in history and communications and later received a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. In her varied career, she has worked as a restaurant hostess, waitress, TV station receptionist, medical school secretary, magazine editor and freelance writer. Book author is by far her favorite of the bunch.

Elizabeth lives in the Chicago suburbs with her husband, three children and an ever-growing stack of must-read books. To find out what she's been reading lately, visit her page on Goodreads.

Website  ~  Facebook  ~  Twitter @eblackwellbooks

Guest Blog by Aidan Harte - North of Neverland - March 1, 2014

Please welcome Aidan Harte to The Qwillery as part of the 2014 Debut Author Challenge Guest Blogs. Irenicon (The Wave Trilogy 1) will be published on April 1, 2014 in North America.

Guest Blog by Aidan Harte - North of Neverland - March 1, 2014

North of Neverland

Page count that would make Tolstoy tremble? Hooded gentleman on the cover? Chronology? Cast list? It’s a Fantasy novel all right, but what am I forgetting? Oh yes: maps.

Fantasy and maps go together like elections and promises.

Funny thing though, M. John Harrison, a writer I much esteem, is rather down on them. He says mapping Middle Earth is folly, and decries the “great clomping foot of nerdism”. For him Fantasy should unhinge the reader from the everyday world, and maps are altogether too literal a thing for that. It’s like doing your tax returns on mushrooms: it’s possible, but the results are unlikely to be inspiring. And he’s not revelling in obscurity either: the baroque grandeur of Viriconium or The Centauri Device show the merit in that approach. “Where we’re going,” Harrison seems to say, “we don’t need maps!”

Then there’s the George R. R Martin’s line of attack. Striving for an earthy realism, old George will show you a knight sitting by a campfire. He’ll tell you what armour yon knight’s wearing and who forged it. He’ll tell you about the animal upon whose leg said knight is chewing and how he cooked it. Family motto. Medical history. It can’t be that bad a method either when the results are so readable. Hard to argue with a bazillion book sales either… Naturally, Martin and Harrison both say Tolkien’s in their corner. He’s the guvnor after all.

Before starting Irenicon, I was with Harrison. I had high-minded objections to maps, cast lists and all the traditional accoutrements. No longer. Directions mostly don’t matter, but sometimes – in war for example – they matter a great deal. Demographics is Destiny they say (they usually being white folk terrified of their gardeners) but Geography beats Demographics every time. Show me a nation’s map; I’ll show you its soul. It’s no accident that Napoleon’s party trick was reading maps. Maps help when you don’t want to interrupt proceedings to remind readers every other chapter that Castle Skullface is southwest of The Forest of Shivers. Maps help in Fantasy the way they help in life: they get you there quicker.

So once you’ve cravenly bowed to tradition, how do you go about it? Typically you’ll want your map to be something your characters might conceivably lay their gauntlets on. How far to you take that? Our familiar North-Up, South-Down orientation is a relatively recent convention – and unforgivably Eurocentric – but it’s darn useful. Then there’s the question of accuracy. We have the armies of 19th Century surveyors – not satellites – to thank for the precise maps we’re used to. Have you seen any medieval cartography? Columbus was lucky to get out of the harbour, let alone across the Atlantic. It didn’t help matters that mariners’ detailed knowledge of coasts was regarded less than received notions which held Jerusalem to be at world’s centre.

It’s a question of taste, rather like the inevitable language problems that arise from the historical settings of most Fantasy. Readers will wince if a medieval character says “OK” but beyond that, if it flows, if it’s consistent, it becomes invisible. Then it can serve the story. And story is ultimately is what the traditional accoutrements, like maps, help us get to.

So that’s my excuse. Tolkien drew them too. Jeez, get off my back…


The Wave Trilogy 1
Jo Fletcher Books, April 1, 2014
Hardcover and eBook, 496 pages
(US Debut)

Guest Blog by Aidan Harte - North of Neverland - March 1, 2014
The river Irenicon is a feat of ancient Concordian engineering. Blasted through the middle of Rasenna in 1347, using Wave technology, it divided the only city strong enough to defeat the Concordian Empire. But no one could have predicted the river would become sentient—and hostile. Sofia Scaligeri, the soon-to-be Contessa of Rasenna, has inherited a city tearing itself apart from the inside. And try as she might, she can see no way of stopping the culture of vendetta that has the city in its grasp. Until a Concordian engineer arrives to build a bridge over the Irenicon, clarifying everything: the feuding factions of Rasenna can either continue to fight each other or they can unite against their shared enemy. And they will surely need to stand together—for Concord is about to unleash the Wave again.

About Aidan

Guest Blog by Aidan Harte - North of Neverland - March 1, 2014
Photo by Damien Sass
Aidan Harte was born in Kilkenny, studied sculpture at the Florence Academy of Art and currently works as sculptor in Dublin, where he also lives. Before discovering sculpture, he worked in animation and TV; in 2006 he created and directed the TV show Skunk Fu, which has been shown on Cartoon Network, Kids WB and the BBC.


Guest Blog by James L. Cambias - Sexifying Monsters! - February 24, 2014

Please welcome James L. Cambias to The Qwillery as part of the 2014 Debut Author Challenge Guest Blogs and the A Darkling Sea Blog Tour. A Darkling Sea, James' debut novel, was published on January 28, 2014 by Tor Books. You may read James' DAC Interview here.

Guest Blog by James L. Cambias - Sexifying Monsters! - February 24, 2014

Sexifying Monsters!

by James L. Cambias

It's a curious observation that monsters in fantasy or horror tend to get sexier over time. Things which start out as unambiguous monsters turn into ambiguous monsters and then sexy monsters and then sexy non-monsters.

Consider one of the oldest folkloric monsters: the fairies. We tend to think of fairies as Disneyfied pixies scattering fairy-dust and living in acorns, or Tolkeinified forest Vulcans with great hair and swishy clothes, but it's worth remembering that "elf" and "fairy" and "dwarf" and "goblin" were originally synonyms. You called them the "Fair Folk" because you were scared that if you bad-mouthed them they'd come into your cottage at night and murder you.

But as the fear of the wilderness and the night declined, the fairies got nicer. Shakespeare turned them into tiny sprites living in acorns. One could call this "Disneyfication" except that it happened about three hundred years before Walt was born. By the time the Romantics got hold of them in the 19th Century, fairies were figures of wild freedom opposing buttoned-up Victorian morality. Modern fantasy has transformed them into sexy leather-jacketed immortal hipsters who can do magic, pretty much indistinguishable from that girl who lived with your college roommate for a while.

The sexification of fairies left an ecological niche open, and vampires moved into it. Vampires were once smelly, shambling walking corpses who fed on the living. Their breath smelled of decay and grave-dirt, they were covered with hair like an un-waxed pro wrestler, and they didn't talk or do anything but try to murder you. But then Dr. John Polidori decided to turn vampires into Lord Byron with fangs (which says a lot about his relationship with Byron, I think). Then Bram Stoker gave Count Dracula a way with the ladies which would make even Pablo Picasso jealous. Anne Rice took that and ran with it, and Stephanie Myers took it past eleven with her sparkling pretty Edward. Now vampires are sexy leather-jacketed immortal hipsters who can do magic, pretty much indistinguishable from that dude who used to go out with your college roommate for a while.

Dragons are another surprising example of sexification. They started off as big poisonous snakes, with no ambition beyond lying around on a treasure hoard and murdering people. They got legs, then wings, and their poison turned into fire. But they were still big monsters who ravaged villages and murdered people. Then Tolkein wrote The Hobbit, and gave half the best lines in the book to Smaug the dragon. After that, dragons in fiction never shut up. They got smarter, they got magic powers, and they started sexifying up. Authors like Patricia Briggs and Mercedes Lackey made them into shapeshifters, capable of appearing human. Now dragons seem to spend most of their free time in human form, as sexy leather-jacketed immortal hipsters who can do magic, pretty much indistinguishable from that guy whose college roommate you dated for a while.

Werewolves? Started out as forest psychopaths who took on animal form to murder people. Now they're sexy bare-chested immortal hipsters like that dude who wouldn't leave after your college roommate's party until you threatened to call the cops.

Demons? Started out as embodiments of pure evil, then Marlowe gave Mephistopheles all the good lines in Faust. Devils acquired wealth and taste, became shrewd bargainers, and finally now are sexy leather-jacketed immortal hipsters like your college roommate's friend who sold you what he claimed was weed but wasn't.

Frankenstein's Monster? Two words: Aaron Eckhart.

Even angels have gotten sexified. Angels started out as . . . not all that different from demons except not trying to murder you as much. Consider the things Ezekiel saw, all wheels and eyes and fire and wings. But then artists started making sexy angel statues (check out Bernini's Ecstasy of St. Theresa, some of the most NSFW church art ever) and modern fantasy writers wanted darker and edgier angels, and now they're yet another bunch of sexy leather-jacketed immortal hipsters, like that vegetarian chick your roommate used to live with who said buying milk was like slavery.

The only standard monster I can think of that hasn't sexificated is the zombie. In fact, it's notable that zombies have actually become less sexy over time. Originally zombies weren't smelly cannibal undead, they were more like brainwashed not-quite-dead-but-not-really-alive-either beings. The fear wasn't that the zombies would murder you, but that you might wind up a zombie yourself. And about five seconds after someone heard the story of brainwashed people bound to serve an evil sorcerer, we got a whole passel of black and white sexy zombie movies and pulp sexy zombie stories.

But as vampires abandoned the shambling undead cannibal niche, zombies moved in, losing their sexificativosity in the process. A brainwashed person in thrall to a depraved sorcerer has much more inherent sleaze appeal than a rotting corpse looking for brains. Still, I have no doubt that the sexification process will apply to zombies before long. Fast zombies are already a harbinger. Pretty soon we'll get fast talkative zombies, then sexy zombies, and before long they'll acquire leather jackets and magical powers. The zombie apocalypse will look like your college dormitory on Sunday morning.

What drives this process? Why the urge to sexificate monsters? Well, I think it's a fairly obvious pattern. When a monster is first invented, it's a monster — a threat to escape or overcome. But after you've written a few dozen stories about overcoming that kind of monster, the audience gets bored. "Use silver bullets!" they say. "Put a stake in him!" So what's an author to do? Well, turn the monster into a character. Give them good lines and a personality. From there the obvious next step is to make the monster character sympathetic. And if you're being friendly anyway . . . cue the Barry White music.

Plus there's the undeniable fact that power is sexy. Call it "Kissinger's Law." Monsters, in order to be credible menaces, have to be powerful. They're strong, they're dangerous, they're aloof and predatory. In short, monsters are walking pick-up artist handbooks. Add to that the bonus of social power that wealthy, aristocratic vampires, fairy nobles, or gold-hoarding dragons can boast, and it's no wonder they have groupies like rock stars. (Less aristocratic werewolves have to get by with nothing but animal attractiveness, and poor proletarian zombies can't get past the bouncer at the club.)

Sexified monsters are an interesting bellwether of social attitudes, with both good and worrisome implications. The good part is that it shows how completely accepting our society has become of "outsiders." Falling in love with an undead bloodsucker or fire-breathing dragon is just another lifestyle choice. Nobody (except the Evil Business Guy played by Ronny Cox) is depicted as irredeemable in modern fiction.

The worrisome part is how all this works as a model. One of the purposes of fiction is that it helps us learn to interact with others, and vicariously "try on" different social roles. Do sexy monsters encourage the notion that you have to be a monster to be sexy?

A Darkling Sea

A Darkling Sea
Tor Books, January 28, 2014
Hardcover and eBook, 352 pages

Guest Blog by James L. Cambias - Sexifying Monsters! - February 24, 2014
On the planet Ilmatar, under a roof of ice a kilometer thick, a team of deep-sea diving scientists investigates the blind alien race that lives below. The Terran explorers have made an uneasy truce with the Sholen, their first extraterrestrial contact: so long as they don’t disturb the Ilmataran habitat, they’re free to conduct their missions in peace.

But when Henri Kerlerec, media personality and reckless adventurer, ends up sliced open by curious Ilmatarans, tensions between Terran and Sholen erupt, leading to a diplomatic disaster that threatens to escalate to war.

Against the backdrop of deep-sea guerrilla conflict, a new age of human exploration begins as alien cultures collide. Both sides seek the aid of the newly enlightened Ilmatarans. But what this struggle means for the natives—and the future of human exploration—is anything but certain, in A Darkling Sea by James Cambias.


There is a terrific tie-in website for UNICA (The United Nations Interstellar Cooperation Agency):
  • A mission statement for Ilmatar Expedition III
  • Facts about Ilmatar
  • What we currently know about life on Ilmatar
  • A description of the Hitode Station
  • Crew bios where you can meet the personnel of the Ilmatar mission
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • The Ilmatar Expedition 111 Mission Blog
  • Information about The United Nations Interstellar Cooperation Agency
  • The personal website of the universally famous explorer and adventurer Henri Kerlerec, currently on mission with the Ilmatar Expedition

About James

Guest Blog by James L. Cambias - Sexifying Monsters! - February 24, 2014
James L. Cambias was raised in New Orleans, Louisiana, and no matter where he goes, that city will always be home. He attended the University of Chicago intending to become an astronomer, but became fascinated by the history of science and wound up getting his degree in History and Philosophy of Science in 1988. At Chicago he also met Diane Kelly, who later became his wife.

Jim worked for two publishing companies right out of college -- Pelican Publishing of Louisiana in New Orleans, and then Nelson-Hall Publishers in Chicago. But in 1990 he decided to try freelance writing full time.

For most of a decade Jim wrote for roleplaying game publishers, becoming a mainstay at game magazines like GDW's Challenge, Steve Jackson's Pyramid, and the Star Wars Adventure Journal. Because of his Star Wars pieces he has an entry in the online "Wookieepedia," which is extremely impressive to his young son.

His first game book was Arabian Nights, a sourcebook for the Rolemaster game system from Iron Crown Enterprises. Over the next two decades he wrote six game books and coauthored to ten others. His best-known game products are probably GURPS Mars, GURPS Castle Falkenstein, Star HERO, and GURPS Space Fourth Edition.

In 2006 he joined with Diane Kelly and Joseph Steig to start Zygote Games, a company publishing science and nature-based games, dedicated to the idea that educational games don't have to be lame. The Zygote game Parasites Unleashed was picked by Scientific American as one of their "Top Science Toys" in 2012.

He has also written nonfiction for a variety of magazines and newspapers, including aviation history pieces for Airpower and Balloon Life, articles on maps, wine, parenting advice, travel, restaurant reviews, and astronomy. He writes a weekly stargazing column for the Greenfield Recorder.

Mr. Cambias has been writing science fiction since his teens, but his first professional sale came in the year 2000, when his short story "A Diagram of Rapture" appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Since then he has published 19 short stories in F&SF, Shimmer, and several original anthologies. In 2001 he was nominated for the John W. Campbell Award for best new writer. A Darkling Sea is his first novel.

When he isn't writing, Jim Cambias cuts firewood, cooks, plays roleplaying games, and haunts coffee shops in western Massachusetts. He blogs at

Guest Blog by Snorri Kristjansson: You could have written about ninjas! Space giraffes! Sharks with lasers! Why ... Vikings? - February 21, 2014

Please welcome Snorri Kristjansson to The Qwillery as part of the 2014 Debut Author Challenge Guest Blogs. Swords of Good Men was published on January 7, 2014. You may read Snorri's DAC Interview here.

Guest Blog by Snorri Kristjansson: You could have written about ninjas! Space giraffes! Sharks with lasers! Why ... Vikings? - February 21, 2014

You could have written about ninjas! Space giraffes! Sharks with lasers! Why ... Vikings?

       Hello! My name is Snorri Kristjansson, and like ~7.8% of humanity I am a writer. It’s a strange and quite merciless condition that manifests in a constant need for narrative. I can’t help it – my long-suffering wife by now doesn’t even start listening to me until 7 minutes in, when she knows the introduction to whatever anecdote I’m spinning (or, to be fair, squeezing) out of my daily routine might be ending. In short (hah! As if), I have to tell stories. I’ve done this on stage, both as an actor and a comedian, but one fateful day in 2009 I figured that there was something rattling around in my head that needed to be told properly.

       And just like the rest of the writers, of which there is an absolutely terrifying amount, when it was time to choose what to write about I have the whole canvas of humanity – everything we are, everything we do, everything we’ve made up or dreamed up or torn down or thrown away – to play with. And as if that wasn’t enough, I could make things up of my own – I could create a world where monkeys rode dinosaurs and enslaved giant dung beetles who eventually rose up to defeat their oppressors when charismatic (but mysterious) monkey/dinosaur leader Tyrannochimp appeared to lead them in the fight against the master race, only to create a dystopia worse than the world they destroyed. I could totally do that.

       And faced with the enormity of all of this, what did I do?

       I decided to write about Vikings. That’s what I did. Smelly barbarians from the far North, looting and pillaging without even the decency to offer up a musical number to go with it.

       This decision, of course, had something to do with the fact that I am a little bit of a smelly Barbarian myself. My discrete one-man invasion of Great Britain from the cold and salty shores of Iceland has lasted for nearly a decade now. It is a great success – I have neither been decapitated nor converted yet (although I have acquired a taste for tea, which is alarming – mine’s an Earl Grey, no milk, squeeze of lemon). So that covers the Cultural Heritage bit, sort of.

       Another part of the decision was that Vikings are just cool. There is no way around it. As I mentioned in my guest blog for SFX Magazine, they had technology, crazy mythology, battling badasses and generally quite a lot of Awesome going on.

       They’re also under-represented in the bookshops. You could quite happily build your own house with books set in Ancient Rome. Take all the Viking books ever published into the living room of your (to be honest, slightly odd) Rome Book House and you might be able to build yourself a table. I owe it to my ancestors to add at least 3 more to the Viking pile.

       But ultimately?

       Something about the Vikings calls to me somewhere deep, somewhere that is less of a gentle, lumbering schoolteacher and more of a man who feels really comfortable holding a hand axe. The wisps of cloud at dawn over Nordic waters. The soft kiss of the oar breaking the surface as a longship glides silently upriver. The hard eyes and cold smiles of raiders waiting for the sweet smell of thatch on fire, the sounds of raw, throaty screaming and the feel of steel splitting skin and breaking bone.

       That’s what they say, isn’t it?

       Write what you know.

The Valhalla Saga

Swords of Good Men
The Valhalla Saga 1
Jo Fletcher Books, January 7, 2014
Hardcover and eBook, 304 pages
US Debut

Guest Blog by Snorri Kristjansson: You could have written about ninjas! Space giraffes! Sharks with lasers! Why ... Vikings? - February 21, 2014
Swords of Good Men, Snorri Kristjansson’s debut novel, incorporates the myths that fascinated him as a child with his passion for epic fantasy. Ulfar Thormodsson has spent two years travelling as envoy and bodyguard to his high-born cousin. They have one last stop – the walled port town of Stenvik – before they can finally go home.

Thormodsson meets the beautiful and tragic Lilja, who immediately captures his heart. Stenvik is also home to solitary blacksmith Audun Arngrimsson, whose past hides many dark secrets. Soon, the conflict brewing between two factions of dangerous and determined men of the town threatens to sweep all of them, natives and visitors alike, into the jaws of war.

The factions within Stenvik are about to come to blows, but a far bigger battle is approaching: a young King Olav is bringing the White Christ at point of sword and edge of blade. And on the horizon are the sails of another, more mysterious enemy. Thormodsson and his companions will soon learn that in this conflict between the Old Gods and the new, there are enemies everywhere—outside the walls of Stenvik as well as within.

About Snorri

Guest Blog by Snorri Kristjansson: You could have written about ninjas! Space giraffes! Sharks with lasers! Why ... Vikings? - February 21, 2014
Snorri Kristjansson is an Icelander, a writer and a teacher, with a background in acting, music and stand-up comedy. He lives in South London with his fiancé. SWORDS OF GOOD MEN is his first novel. Follow him on Twitter at @SnorriKristjans.

SWORDS OF GOOD MEN published in January 2014 by Jo Fletcher Books (an imprint of Quercus) and is the first book in his new series titled The Valhalla Saga. Three books are planned for the series.

Website  ~  Twitter @SnorriKristjans  ~  Facebook

Guest Blog by T. R. Williams, author of Journey into the Flame - February 17, 2014

Please welcome T. R. Williams to The Qwillery as part of the 2014 Debut Author Challenge Guest Blogs. Journey into the Flame (Rising World Trilogy 1) was published on January 7, 2014. You may read an interview with T.R. here.

Guest Blog by T. R. Williams, author of Journey into the Flame - February 17, 2014

2:00 am, when the big decisions are made

      When my wife and I decided to build our house, we had no idea how many decisions we’d have to make. We figured that our general contractor would take care of most everything and in a few short months we would be living happily ever after. Well, the happily-ever-after part came a year and a half later, only after what seemed like a million and one decisions. I had no idea that there’d be so many options when choosing a simple door. I also learned that the color white comes in 1,000 different shades – when did that happen? What is the difference between oxford white and white lace? I grew up thinking white was white and black was black.

      I found the same thing to be true when I wrote my first book, Journey Into the Flame – decisions, decisions, and more decisions. There were the big ones – what’s the story arc? who lives and who dies? who is going to do this or who is going to do that? Those were actually fairly straightforward and expected. The seemingly little ones were more tricky. The seemingly innocent decision of writing a fantasy set in the future, for instance? That created the added challenge of describing a world which hasn’t happened yet. And guess what? More decisions. Sure, people still drive cars and fly around in planes, but what type of fuel do they use? Do they still pump gas at Costco and get a discounted price because they have a membership card? Are there still security scanners at the airport? Do you have to still pay for your 2nd checked bag? What about medicine, how do people get treated for a migraine sixty years in the future? Is McDonald's still around? What about the famous McRib sandwich? And does a cup of coffee still cost a thousand dollars at Starbucks? Decisions, decisions, decisions. Oh, and then there are all the standard small choices. What color hair should this character have? what about their eyes? How tall is he? What type of clothes does she like to wear?

     Then, after getting all that figured out, comes the hardest challenge of them all: keeping track of everything. After I completed the draft of my first book, I think the main character Logan had three different hair styles. His backpack went from red to blue and then back to red, his eyes went from blue to green to brown. I know what you’re thinking – create a cheat sheet and write everything down. I did and I do. But when the words are flowing, searching through documents and notes to find particular details can be distracting. It’d be really cool if Microsoft Word came with an Auto-Correct-Fantasy-Novel-Fact-Checker. I’d definitely upgrade to that version.

     So what does all this have to do with 2:00am? Well that’s when most of my decisions, big and small, are made. Just about every night, around the same time at 2:00am, my eyes pop open with some element of the story-line bouncing around. I’d like to say I had just come out of a prophetic dream where the answer to some perplexing plot twist had been provided by ghost writers on the other side of the veil, but I can’t. My eyes pop open with the realization that a main character should be taller and that he should carry around a red backpack. Or a particular island in the South Pacific should not exist any longer because a large earthquake wiped it off the face of the earth.

     I’ve learned not to wait until I get to my desk later that morning to write that word, sentence, paragraph, page, or chapter; odds are that if I do, my logical mind will convince me that sinking an island is not such a good idea and it’ll be yet another plot point to have to keep track of.

     I know the witching hour is supposed to be filled with ghosts, goblins and spooks, but I have to say that when all is quiet and the world around is asleep, decisions seem easier to make. I wonder if building a house would have been better at 2:00am, I’m just not sure the neighbors would have liked that.

Journey into the Flame

Journey into the Flame
The Rising World Trilogy 1
Atria Books, January 7, 2014
Trade Paperback and eBook,  448 pages

Guest Blog by T. R. Williams, author of Journey into the Flame - February 17, 2014
In 2027, the Great Disruption shook the world. An unexplained solar storm struck the earth, shifting it four degrees south on its axis. Everything went dark. Humanity was on the verge of despair. Then a man named Camden Ford discovered a set of ancient books called the Chronicles of Satraya.

Thirty years later, the world is a different place. Thanks to the teachings of the Chronicles, hope has been restored, cities rebuilt, technology advanced. The books also have a different owner: Logan Cutler, who inherited them when Camden mysteriously disappeared. But when Logan auctions off the books to pay his debts, they fall into the wrong hands. The Reges Hominum, a clandestine group that once ruled history from the shadows, is launching a worldwide conspiracy to regain control.

Soon Logan realizes he’s made a terrible mistake. With the help of special agent Valerie Perrot and the wisdom of the Chronicles as his guide, he embarks on an epic quest to get the books back before it’s too late.

Abounding with questions about humanity’s secret past and its unknown future, Journey into the Flame will not only take you to the start of an incredible new world, it will also take you deep into the greater mysteries of the self.

About T. R. Williams

T. R. Williams divides his time between Seattle and Chicago. He is a scholar of ancient texts and loves to ponder the mysteries of life.

Guest Blog by Brian Staveley, author of The Emperor's Blades - February 10, 2014

Please welcome Brian Staveley to The Qwillery as part of the 2014 Debut Author Challenge Guest Blogs. The Emperor's Blades (Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne 1) was published on January 14, 2014 by Tor Books.

Guest Blog by Brian Staveley, author of The Emperor's Blades - February 10, 2014

Marital Fights and Elevator Pitches: Occasion Versus Subject

My favorite part about marital squabbles is the moment I try to explain them later to an impartial observer. “So, what was the fight about?” my buddy asks. I take a confident slug of my beer, certain of the legitimacy of my grievance, the lamentable errors of my lovely wife, and start in: “Well, first, she said that I should dry the glasses in the drying rack upside down…”

Usually it only takes a sentence or two for that initial confidence to wane. I’m relating the argument just as it happened, and yet, some of the gravitas seems to have slipped away.

“… and then I didn’t want paprika on the burgers…”

I blunder along, powered by stubbornness as the sense of true purpose starts to flag.

“…said the dog leash should be blue, not black…”

All the while my friend just watches, eyebrows raised. If he’s feeling charitable, when I finally putter out he’ll say, “That sucks,” in a tone of voice that makes it clear that a minor dispute over dish-drying, hamburgers, and dog collars does not, in fact, suck at all, at least not to anyone with the slightest bit of perspective about the real world.

The problem, of course, beyond my own occasional lack of perspective, is the question itself – What was the fight about? – and that terminal preposition in particular. We tend to respond to that imperfect word – about – with the specifics, the poorly dried wine glasses, rather than the emotional core of the matter. In a way, this makes sense. People who are capable of saying, “We were arguing about mutual respect, and the difficulties involved in any communication where the partners are unaware or unable to articulate the divergence in their priorities,” are not the same people who get into arguments about the drying of wine glasses.

Interestingly, you encounter essentially the same question when pitching a novel: So, what’s your book about? I’ve had the chance to respond to this about fifty thousand times in the past year, and I have the answer down: Three adult children of a murdered emperor – a monk, an imperial minister, and an elite soldier – struggle to untangle the conspiracy behind their father’s death while trying to stay alive long enough to complete their own training.

As in the case of the marital squabble, however, the answer is both perfectly accurate, and crap. It captures the central characters and conflict readily enough, but if I pause for a moment, I wonder whether characters and conflict really constitute the core of a book.

Before turning to fantasy, I spent a long time writing and reading poetry, a genre where it is common to distinguish between a poem’s occasion and its subject. Take John Keats’ great late ode, To Autumn. What’s it about? Autumn, dumbass.

But, of course, autumn is just the occasion of the poem; it’s about something different, or at least something more than the coming on of a new season. Helen Vendler (who is, in my estimation, the best living critic of poetry) has a whole long chapter of a book exploring this very question, and even she doesn’t seem to exhaust the answer.

Of course, there are drawbacks to discussing your own work in these terms. Chief among them, obviously, is that you look like an asshole. Just as important, however, is the interesting fact that, even as the author of a book, you might not know what it’s really about. That is to say, you understand the occasion, the characters and incidents that make up the plot, while the emotional, psychological, and thematic ligatures connecting those objective elements, animating them, remain a mystery.

I’m putting the final touches now on The Providence of Fire, the sequel to The Emperor’s Blades. It wasn’t until I’d written the entire book, then gone back to read through it, that I started to understand what was going on beneath all the battles and backstabbing, secrets and betrayals. I thought I’d written a book about the emotional ramifications of failure. In fact, the whole thing is about family, duty, and sacrifice.

Who knew? Certainly not me, not when I set out to write the thing. I understood what it was about, but not what it was about. Of course, I’ve now had the opportunity to go back and revise, to develop and shape the story with this realization in mind, and the book is the better for it.

The real trick now, is to apply this knowledge when I put the wine glasses in the drying rack the wrong way.

The Emperor's Blades

The Emperor's Blades
Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne 1
Tor Books, January 14, 2014
Hardcover and eBook, 480 pages

Guest Blog by Brian Staveley, author of The Emperor's Blades - February 10, 2014
In The Emperor's Blades by Brian Staveley, the emperor of Annur is dead, slain by enemies unknown. His daughter and two sons, scattered across the world, do what they must to stay alive and unmask the assassins. But each of them also has a life-path on which their father set them, destinies entangled with both ancient enemies and inscrutable gods.

Kaden, the heir to the Unhewn Throne, has spent eight years sequestered in a remote mountain monastery, learning the enigmatic discipline of monks devoted to the Blank God. Their rituals hold the key to an ancient power he must master before it's too late.

An ocean away, Valyn endures the brutal training of the Kettral, elite soldiers who fly into battle on gigantic black hawks. But before he can set out to save Kaden, Valyn must survive one horrific final test.

At the heart of the empire, Minister Adare, elevated to her station by one of the emperor's final acts, is determined to prove herself to her people. But Adare also believes she knows who murdered her father, and she will stop at nothing—and risk everything—to see that justice is meted out.

Chapters 1 - 7 are presently available as a free download from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and iTunes.

About Brian

Guest Blog by Brian Staveley, author of The Emperor's Blades - February 10, 2014
I live on a steep dirt road in mountains of southern Vermont, where I divide my time between fathering, writing, husbanding, splitting wood, skiing, and adventuring, not necessarily in that order. After teaching high school (literature, philosophy, history, religion) for a decade, I finally committed to writing epic fantasy. My first book, The Emperor’s Blades, is the start of a series (Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne), forthcoming from Tor in early 2014. has been good enough to release the first seven chapters as a teaser that can be found here: I’m on Twitter at @BrianStaveley, Facebook as bstaveley, and Google+ as Brian Staveley.

Website  ~  Twitter @BrianStaveley  ~  Facebook  ~  Google+
Guest Blog by Jacob Bacharach - The First Novel as your Comic-con Costume - May 15, 2014Guest Blog by Mary Behre, author of the Tidewater Novels, and Giveaway - May 9, 2014Guest Blog by Claire R. McDougall - The Balls are in Your Court - April 14, 2014Guest Blog by Elizabeth Blackwell - Reading Outside My Comfort Zone - March 20, 2014Guest Blog by Aidan Harte - North of Neverland - March 1, 2014Guest Blog by James L. Cambias - Sexifying Monsters! - February 24, 2014Guest Blog by Snorri Kristjansson: You could have written about ninjas! Space giraffes! Sharks with lasers! Why ... Vikings? - February 21, 2014Guest Blog by T. R. Williams, author of Journey into the Flame - February 17, 2014Guest Blog by Brian Staveley, author of The Emperor's Blades - February 10, 2014

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