The Qwillery | category: 2020 DAC Interview


The Qwillery

A blog about books and other things speculative

Interview with Essa Hansen, author of Nophek Gloss

Please welcome Essa Hansen to The Qwillery as part of the 2020 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Nophek Gloss is published on November 17, 2020 by Orbit.

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

Essa:  My mom recounts stories from before I can remember, but the first one I recall—maybe nine years old?—was a fantasy short story set around a large willow tree growing out of the middle of a pool of water, in a courtyard in the center of a castle. There was a young girl and a mystery and a magical pendant that had gotten lost—sounds quite standard!

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Essa:  I’m a hybrid. I plot more now than I did when I was starting out, due to a better understanding of structure and pacing. I start with the big set piece scenes then begin to build connective tissue and logic, until I have a decent outline. As I get ideas or visions or snippets of dialogue, I’ll insert these in my outlined chapters, but when I get to drafting, I move linearly and discovery-write the scenes themselves. The moment-by moment flow, details, and dialogue are all new to me as I’m writing the scene.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Essa:  My main challenge is translating my imaginative concepts and visuals into narrative, description, and emotion that a reader can easily absorb. I’m neurodivergent and a synesthete, so the way I perceive and process the world is atypical, and the way my ideas come out on the page is deeply sensory and a bit convoluted, so I need to actively sculpt my prose and ideas into better clarity while not losing the evocative and wondrous aspects that readers find refreshing and unique.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Essa:  I absorb inspiration from all over; not just art and media, but my personal experiences and time spent in nature, as well as less commonly utilized fields such as very theoretical cosmology and quantum physics, pseudoscience, occult science, philosophy, and metaphysics. When I’m developing something new—like an alien, creature, environment, or technology—I tend to merge bits of inspiration into my original concept or take a piece as a starting place and extrapolate it in a new direction. Often my inspiration is simply brainstorming “what haven’t I seen before in the genre?”

TQDescribe Nophek Gloss using only 5 words.

Essa:  Oh, I’m bad at these so I’m going to steal from Alastair Reynolds’s blurb of the book: “Intricate, vivid, and psychedelic cosmos.”

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

Essa:  The book description actually doesn’t describe the bubble multiverse! A collection of spherical universes of varying sizes (fist-sized to galactic scale), all on the same timeline and stuck together like a vast foam, with dividing membranes that can be passed through easily. Each universe has a unique deviation in the laws of physics, meaning that material, biology, and technology is transformed as it passes from one universe to another.

TQWhat inspired you to write Nophek Gloss? What appeals to you about writing science fiction?

EssaNophek Gloss is a revenge story with a heart of personal growth and the navigation of complex morality. The protagonist’s journey to find belonging and roots is drawn from my own experiences as a neurodiverse and mixed-race person. Meanwhile the setting is inspired by the obscure sciences I love, and the immersive writing comes directly from my own sensory peculiarities and creative work in film.

In far-flung or secondary world science fiction, I love that we’re allowed to get away entirely from the familiarity of Earth both as a location and as the basis of our ideas. We get to overturn the concept of “normal” by showing other possibilities. At the same time, the stories remain very human, exploring humanity and being through entirely new contexts. There’s incredible power in that.

TQYou are a sound designer for science fiction and fantasy films. Do you hear your novels when writing?

Essa:  I definitely add a lot of sound and five-senses immersion in my novels. Through a combination of hypersensitivity and synesthesia (in which usually separate senses are cross-wired), I feel sounds in my body and as a sort of extended landscape of texture and density in space, of which my nervous system is taking part. It’s…tricky to describe. While writing, even if I’m not “hearing” the story in my mind, my unique experience with the sensory world comes out in my writing style and unusual word choices. Also, working in film sound makes me hyper aware of story elements like environmental atmosphere, the material quality of things, and their motion through space, which definitely influences how I describe action and setting.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for Nophek Gloss?

Essa:  I drew on a lot of fields of study I had delved into for enjoyment in the past, such as Cymatics, fluid dynamics, string theory, vibratory physics, concepts of the basis of reality and consciousness, cognitive science, emergent structures, and artificial intelligence…to name a few. Of course, I also had to research basic space travel things like time dilation, FTL, types of stellar drives, and so on.

I often start with a visual or experiential idea first and then backpedal into the science to flesh out my concept. For instance, in Nophek Gloss there’s an alien species who I wanted to emote via chromatophores on their skin, like many cephalopods, so I turned from that concept to the actual science of how and why, and in what detail or words I could describe the effect without getting too technical.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for Nophek Gloss.

Essa:  The cover illustration is by Mike Heath and the design by Lauren Panepinto. It depicts Caiden’s unique starship, the Azura, which holds a lot of secrets and continues to evolve as the books go on.

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

Essa:  I always have one character who springs off the page fully-formed and feels effortless to write. For this book that was En, the crew’s negotiator, gambler, trader, charmer, muscle, and general rogue with a questionable past. En is genderfluid, dangerous but gregarious and will defend loved ones in a heartbeat, and full of snarky dialogue that sparked onto the page—which surprised me because I thought I was poor at dialogue but En’s always comes through so easily.

The hardest character to write was the story’s central antagonist, but those details are too spoilery to say!

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

Essa:  Q: What “cutting room floor” scene do you miss?

A: I had a moment in the story where Caiden experiences music for the first time in his life. I loved both the wondrous emotion of that moment and the challenge of clearly describing music without using any instrumental terminology.

TQ:  Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Nophek Gloss.

Essa:  Here’s a little excerpt:

Squeezing inside, he ran his fingers over a complex central engine bulk stretching the length of the room. He hadn’t seen such materials ever, even in the deepest sections of the aerators: some white and fleshy, glassy and scaled, coppery rings that bristled when his fingertips drew near. It looked like a hundred different animals stitched together on one set of bones.

“Maybe you’re alive. A huge creature wearing a hard shell.”

Ridiculous. Machines weren’t alive. But he smiled and swore that some of the materials he touched inside the machine were warm.

TQWhat's next?

Essa:  I’m working through revisions of the second book in The Graven trilogy, which releases in Fall 2021. In the meantime, I’ll be doing virtual discussions, panels, and interviews for the launch of Nophek Gloss in November—readers can catch up with me at those!

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Nophek Gloss
The Graven 1
Orbit, November 17, 2020
Trade Paperback and eBook, 448 pages
"A sucker punch to the senses...a killer story with real heart and soul."-Alastair Reynolds

When a young man's planet is destroyed, he sets out on a single-minded quest for revenge across the galaxy in Nophek Gloss, the first book in this epic space opera trilogy debut -- perfect for fans of Revenger and Children of Time.

Caiden's planet is destroyed. His family gone. And, his only hope for survival is a crew of misfit aliens and a mysterious ship that seems to have a soul and a universe of its own. Together they will show him that the universe is much bigger, much more advanced, and much more mysterious than Caiden had ever imagined. But the universe hides dangers as well, and soon Caiden has his own plans.

He vows to do anything it takes to get revenge on the slavers who murdered his people and took away his home. To destroy their regime, he must infiltrate and dismantle them from the inside, or die trying.
Amazon : Barnes and Noble : Bookshop : Books-A-Million : IndieBound
Google Play : iBooks : Kobo

About Essa

Essa Hansen grew up in the beautifully wild areas of California. She has ranched bison and sheep, trained horses, practiced Japanese swordsmanship, and is a licensed falconer. She attended the Vancouver Film School and works as a sound designer for Skywalker Sound where she’s worked on films such as Doctor Strange, Thor: Ragnorok, and Avengers: Endgame. Essa now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Website ~ Facebook ~ Twitter @EssaHansen

Interview with Wayne Santos, author of The Chimera Code

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

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

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

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

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

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

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

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

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

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

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

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

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

TQDescribe The Chimera Code using only 5 words.

Wayne:  Mage, hacker, blow shit up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TQPlease tell us about the cover for The Chimera Code.

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

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

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

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

TQDoes The Chimera Code touch on any social issues?

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

“Have fun.”

“Oh, I will.”

“Not the kind that explodes.”

“That’s the only kind.”

“Give me the sword back.”

TQWhat's next?

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

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Wayne:  Thank you!

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

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

Everything’s for hire – even magic.

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

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

About Wayne

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

Website  ~>  Twitter @waynepsantos

Interview with Ginger Smith, author of The Rush's Edge

Please welcome Ginger Smith to The Qwillery as part of the 2020 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Rush's Edge is published on November 10, 2020 by Angry Robot.

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

Ginger:  Hi!

Well, I was about ten when I read The Elfstones of Shanara by Terry Brooks, and I was crushed by the ending (I don't want to spoil it for anyone, but a character that I loved died in what I had felt was a really unfair way). I got so upset and angry that I decided right then and there to write my own novel. That way I could have it end how I wanted it to, and I wouldn't let anyone die at the end! It was a sprawling 300-page hot mess of a fantasy novel, complete with good and evil twin brothers, mages, dwarves and a beautiful princess. I worked on that novel for two or three years when I was between 10 and 13 years old, and I still have it today. It remains unpublished (lol).

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Ginger:  Oh I'm a pantser all the way, but an obsessive rewriter. I usually start with one scene or even several objectives in mind for the story and build from there, layering in all the details like a painter. Unfortunately, this approach requires a lot of editing passes and rewriting, but it works for me.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Ginger:  Editing is always a challenge. You really have to step back from your writing to see it clearly, and sometimes that can be very hard to do.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Ginger:  I love hero stories; the transformation of an unknown protagonist into a hero fascinates me. Soldiers returning from war and finding a place in society is another subject that's close to my heart. My father served during the Vietnam War, and the difficulties he went through after he returned home somewhat inspired The Rush's Edge.

TQDescribe The Rush's Edge using only 5 words.

Ginger:  Adrenaline, found family, hero's journey.

TQTell us something about The Rush's Edge that is not found in the book description.

Ginger:  This is hard because there's a lot that's not in the description, of course. I guess I could tell you a little about vats. Vat soldiers are created and genetically modified in a lab, then placed in artificial wombs full of growth accelerator for four years. When they are the size of a two year-old, the vats are implanted with an interface and educated virtually. At the size of a twelve year-old, they're "born" and begin a standard five years of training. Then when they are seventeen, they go through a year's basic combat training before they become fully active soldiers. They don't have a lot of real-world experience, and that's why they struggle with everyday life when released from service.

TQWhat inspired you to write The Rush's Edge? What appeals to you about writing Science Fiction?

Ginger:  My father had tons of space operas and hard sci-fi novels from the 60's-70's around the house, and he let me read whatever I wanted as a kid. We would watch Star Trek and Star Wars together, and those were some of my favorite times. This rich sci-fi/fantasy environment I grew up in shaped what I love to read, and the types of character-rich stories I want to tell.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Rush's Edge?

Ginger:  First, I researched the experiences of soldiers who had been in combat. In several TED talks and articles, Sebastian Junger, a war correspondent, discusses the difficulties soldiers face when they return to "normal" society after war. Junger makes the point that they miss the camaraderie of their fellow soldiers and some of that research was instrumental in developing the bond between Hal and Ty. I also had to do a lot of thinking about the military and governmental structure of the universe I wanted to create. Luckily, my husband is a military historian, so conversations with him were indispensable to crafting the world of the Edge and Spiral.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for The Rush's Edge.

Ginger:  Oh my goodness, I love my cover so much! I had an amazing artist named Kieryn Tyler who works with Angry Robot. I gave her some ideas here and there, and she came back with a few different designs. When I saw my cover, I knew it was the one. Hal and Vivi are the two characters depicted.

TQIn The Rush's Edge who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Ginger:  Tyce Bernon was probably the easiest for me to write. He's a lot like me: we're both thoughtful and introspective. He is very observant of others and able to see things from someone else's point of view, which helps him understand Hal. Also, he cares deeply for his little found family on the Loshad, and I feel the same for the friends that I call family.

Hal was the hardest to write at first. I had to do a lot of thinking about how he would react to certain situations; being artificially gestated and raised in a vat facility means his life experiences are very different than Ty and Vivi's. While he's a force on the battlefield, he is a bit baffled by the nats in his life, but he's trying to understand. The longer the novel went on, the easier he became to write.

TQWhich question about The Rush's Edge do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

Ginger:  I guess I would ask, "What do you hope people will get out of The Rush's Edge?" My initial answer would be that I hope everyone who reads this book has fun. I wanted to write a book that reminded me of seeing the original Star Wars trilogy for the first time… with the same adventure, danger, and tight bond between characters. I hope that the audience comes for the action but stays for the characters as they grow and change throughout the events of the story.

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from The Rush's Edge.


#1: [Hal] was beginning to think that maybe loyalty was very different than obedience. Obedience meant you did what they told you because they made you, but loyalty couldn't be demanded. It was given. Given to someone like Tyce.

#2: Vivi fought hard against panicked tears. Seeing Ty down was like watching a sun go out. It was horrifying, but she couldn’t tear her gaze away.

TQWhat's next?

Ginger:  I have a few short stories set in the Edge that I'd like to find a home for. Even though The Rush's Edge is a stand-alone book, I'm working on a sequel to it that will expand on the characters and add more layers to the universe of the Spiral.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Ginger:  You're welcome! Thanks so much for having me.

The Rush's Edge
Angry Robot, November 10, 2020
Trade Paperback and eBook, 328 pages
With the help of his commanding officer, a genetically engineered ex-soldier fights back against the government that created him and others like him to be expendable slaves…

Halvor Cullen, a genetically-engineered and technology implanted ex-soldier, doesn’t see himself as a hero. After getting out of the service, all he’s interested in is chasing the adrenaline rush his body was designed to crave. Hal knows he won’t live long anyway; vat soldiers like him are designed to die early or will be burnt out from relentlessly seeking the rush. His best friend and former CO, Tyce, is determined not to let that happen and distracts him by work salvaging crashed ships in the Edge.

Then Hal’s ship gets a new crewmember - a hacker-turned-tecker named Vivi. As they become friends, Hal wonders if he’s got a chance with a natural-born like her. Then on a job, the crew finds a sphere that downloads an alien presence into their ship…

Multiple clashes with the military force Hal and his crew to choose sides. The battle they fight will determine the fate of vats and natural-borns throughout the galaxy. Will they join the movement against the Coalition? What has invaded their ship’s computer? And can there be a real future for a vat with an expiration date?

File Under: Science Fiction [ Toy Soldier | On the Brink | Against the Odds | Stars are Crossed ]
Amazon : Barnes and Noble : Bookshop : Books-A-Million : IndieBound
 iBooks : Kobo

About Ginger

Ginger Smith has worked as a record store employee, freelance writer, bookstore assistant manager and high school teacher of English. In the past, she has played in many tabletop RPG groups and even run several of her own. She collects vintage toys, sci-fi novels and comic books, as well as mid-century furniture. She currently lives in the southern USA with her husband and two cats, spending her free time writing and watching classic film noir and sci-fi movies.

Website ~ Twitter @GSmithauthor

Interview with Thilde Kold Holdt, author of Northern Wrath

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

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

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

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

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

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

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

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

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

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

TQDescribe Northern Wrath using only 5 words.

TKH:  The Hanged God abandoned us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TQWhat sort of research did you do for Northern Wrath?

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

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

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

TQPlease tell us about the cover for Northern Wrath.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TKH:  “Death, pain, and fear.”

(It’s not a spoiler, I promise.)

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

TQWhat's next?

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

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

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

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Thilde Kold Holdt

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

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

Website  ~  Twitter @koldholdt

Interview with Andrea Stewart, author of The Bone Shard Daughter

Please welcome Andrea Stewart to The Qwillery as part of the 2020 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Bone Shard Daughter was published on September 8, 2020 by Orbit.

Interview with Andrea Stewart, author of The Bone Shard Daughter

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

Andrea:  The first fiction piece I remember writing was in response to a creative writing prompt in fifth grade. The prompt was to choose an item made of clay and to write about it coming to life. I wrote about the statue of a peregrine falcon coming to life and flying me away to a magical land where I got to meet other clay creatures that had come to life. My teacher loved it and encouraged me to continue writing, and that's how I started down this whole road! 
TQ:  Are you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid? 
Andrea:  I'm definitely a plotter. I like to have a road map of where I'm going, and it feels like I get there faster when I have one. I start with a pitch that outlines the main conflict, then I write a couple chapters to get a feel for the world and the voices, then I do a chapter-by-chapter outline. Once I have that nailed down to my satisfaction, I start drafting from beginning to end. That said, things often change a little while I write! 
TQ:  What is the most challenging thing for you about writing? 
Andrea:  my writing. I really want people to feel like they have that sense of place when they're reading. The news, history, my personal experiences—all are things that end up coloring my work. 
TQ:  Describe The Bone Shard Daughter using only 5 words. 
Andrea:  Revolution, identity, magic, islands, and keys. 
TQ:  Tell us something about The Bone Shard Daughter that is not found in the book description. 
Andrea:  I know this has surprised some people, so even though the description focuses on Lin's point of view, there are actually several point-of-view characters in the book. It follows Lin, Jovis, Ranami and Phalue, and Sand. Each character has their part to play in the overall story. 
TQ:  What inspired you to write The Bone Shard Daughter? What appeals to you about writing Epic Fantasy? 
Andrea:  The seed of inspiration started for me at the San Antonio WorldCon, when I went to lunch at the food court with my friends. My friend Marina Lostetter (who has since had a SF trilogy out and has a fantasy trilogy from Tor on the way) nearly choked on a piece of bone in her lunch. It started me thinking about using shards of bone as a source of magic. Of course, the idea evolved and grew a lot from there, and I added a lot of elements I enjoy seeing in books. It stewed in my brain for a while as I was working on other things. Once the ideas felt ready to me, I sat down and wrote the book! 

There's a lot that appeals to me about writing epic fantasy. I love the high stakes of it all—the clash of power and influence, the magic, the world-changing revelations. The scope allows for grand storytelling as well as allowing you to tie events to smaller, more intimate moments. And there's that sense of wonder that always seems to accompany epic fantasy. You can transport a reader to an utterly strange and new landscape, plus give them a sense of sweeping history, all from the comfort of their couch. 
TQ:  What sort of research did you do for The Bone Shard Daughter? 
Andrea:  I checked out a lot of books from the library and read a lot of Wikipedia articles. I don't take a lot of notes when I research. I'm generally not trying to capture a particular time period or a particular place, but reading about historical events and specific places does help me pick out threads and patterns of what I want to see in my world. I also like to read travel guides and sometimes to watch some travel videos. The little details are important to me, and just looking at the photos and the things in the background can sometimes provide me with inspiration on what things I should include when writing. 
TQ:  Please tell us about the cover for The Bone Shard Daughter.
Andrea:  The art was done by Sasha Vinogradova and the design by Lauren Panepinto. The cover is less a direct representation of a scene in the novel and more representative of the elements in the novel as a whole. I love it so much! It pulls together so many important elements—the city buildings, the waves, the ships, and the key. And if you look closely, you'll notice a little creature in the bow of the key... 
TQ:  In The Bone Shard Daughter who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why? 
Andrea:  I think in some ways Jovis was the easiest to write. He's got my silly sense of humor, and often feels exasperated with himself—something I deeply relate to. He's a fair bit grumpier than I am, but I also found it fun to write in that aspect of his personality. Sand was probably the most difficult to write. She starts, in some ways, much like a blank slate. Her circumstances are the most mysterious of all the characters, and she's figuring out what they mean as the story progresses. It's difficult to write a character like that in an engaging way, I think!
TQ:  Does The Bone Shard Daughter touch on any social issues?
Andrea:  I definitely tried to touch on some social issues. Ranami and Phalue's storyline is centered around their differences of privilege—they both love one another but are coming from two very different places in society. If they can't find a way to bridge that gap between them, their relationship falls apart and their whole island suffers for it. Lin is the daughter of the Emperor, trying to reclaim her place as heir. Although she focuses on this, she eventually has to decide if she wants to be the sort of leader her father has been or if she wants to take a different, less oppressive path. And Jovis is on a personal mission, one that ends up clashing with the greater purpose of the brewing revolution. He has to decide how much responsibility he has to others and to society, and whether that takes precedence over his personal needs. 
TQ:  Which question about The Bone Shard Daughter do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it! 
Andrea:  “Did you think The Bone Shard Daughter would be published when you were writing it?” 
I did not! When it went out on submission, I immediately started working on a new, completely different book so I wouldn't feel as bad if no one wanted to buy it. I'd had two prior books go out on submission to publishers that didn't sell, so the realistic part of me thought I'd just keep on to the next thing—I hadn't the best track record! I did feel like it was the best thing I'd written so far, but I always felt that way. I do try to improve with each book. 
TQ:  Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from The Bone Shard Daughter. 
Andrea:  I think my favorite is: "I was Lin. I was the Emperor's daughter. And I would show him that even broken daughters could wield power." It just marks a big turning point for her and ties back to the very beginning. 
TQ:  What's next?
Andrea:  Next up are the next two books in The Drowning Empire trilogy, probably a sci-fi with time bubbles I've been fiddling with, and more epic fantasy in strange new worlds! I've got so many ideas and so many places I want to show people! 
TQ:  Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery!
The Bone Shard Daughter
The Drowning Empire 1
Orbit, September 8, 2020
Hardcover and eBook, 448 pages

Interview with Andrea Stewart, author of The Bone Shard Daughter
Introducing a major new voice in epic fantasy: in an empire controlled by bone shard magic, Lin, the former heir to the emperor, will fight to reclaim her magic and her place on the throne.

The emperor’s reign has lasted for decades, his mastery of bone shard magic powering the animal-like constructs that maintain law and order. But now his rule is failing, and revolution is sweeping across the Empire’s many islands.

Lin is the emperor’s daughter and spends her days trapped in a palace of locked doors and dark secrets. When her father refuses to recognise her as heir to the throne, she vows to prove her worth by mastering the forbidden art of bone shard magic.

Yet such power carries a great cost, and when the revolution reaches the gates of the palace, Lin must decide how far she is willing to go to claim her birthright – and save her people.

About Andrea 

Interview with Andrea Stewart, author of The Bone Shard Daughter

Andrea Stewart is the daughter of immigrants, and was raised in a number of places across the United States. Her parents always emphasized science and education, so she spent her childhood immersed in Star Trek and odd-smelling library books. When her (admittedly ambitious) dreams of becoming a dragon slayer didn’t pan out, she instead turned to writing books. She now lives in sunny California, and in addition to writing, can be found herding cats, looking at birds, and falling down research rabbit holes. 

Website ~ Twitter @AndreaGStewart

Interview with Dan Hanks, author of Captain Moxley and the Embers of the Empire

Please welcome Dan Hanks to The Qwillery as part of the 2020 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Captain Moxley and the Embers of the Empire was published on September 8, 2020 by Angry Robot.

Interview with Dan Hanks, author of Captain Moxley and the Embers of the Empire

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

Dan:  The very first I can remember, at about age 9, was a straight rip off of the Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom mine cart chase, followed by some gruesome attack by the Hoth wampa from The Empire Strikes Back. I was deservedly called out for my copying and didn’t write another story (that I can remember) for years afterwards. However, I’m pretty proud I at least knew I should copy from the best.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Dan:  I’ve tried everything, but I’ve found my groove right in the middle. I like to plot out my structure so I know where the story rises and falls and where the beats roughly need to be. Yet in between these plot points I really prefer to fly by the seat of my pants and give the characters licence to roam. That way the writing process is still exciting, because I have no idea how they will get from A to B, but I know that at the end of the first draft it’s going to be structurally pretty sound. (Usually.)

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Dan:  Twitter. And I’m only half joking, because there are so many distractions and feeds to doomscroll that it’s incredibly difficult to start writing. Once I get those first few words down, it’s okay. But the first step continues to be the trickiest part of the process.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing? How does being a "vastly overqualified archaeologist" influence your writing?

Dan:  I always use the “vastly overqualified archaeologist” title as a bit of a joke, because even with two degrees in the subject I still wasn’t able to earn a long-term career in the field. Mainly because I should have spent my time in an actual field doing the work instead of reading about it.

However, I adored my time studying archaeology and the knowledge I soaked up gave me the confidence to tackle some of the aspects of the subject that lie at the heart of this book. Admittedly, I also spent far too much time studying the more fringe elements of archaeology – flood myths, catastrophes, lost centres of information – which directly influenced the story itself.

In terms of general influences, I’m still in a place where 80s movies are playing a big role. The sense of storytelling fun from that era is something I miss and am trying to channel into my writing.

TQDescribe Captain Moxley and the Embers of the Empire using only 5 words.

Dan:  Can I go for five unconnected words?

Archaeology Adventure Exhaustion Monsters Seaplane

TQTell us something about Captain Moxley and the Embers of the Empire that is not found in the book description.

Dan:  Great question! Wow, okay.

The book was originally called ‘Captain Moxley and the Ashes of the Gods’. The team at Angry Robot came up with the current and much better title, but both related to the idea that the end goal of this book – the Hall of Records - is connected to a much wider universe. It’s all about the remnants of empire. And this works on a couple of levels in the book, it’s not just about physical material culture left behind, but ideologies too.

TQWhat inspired you to write Captain Moxley and the Embers of the Empire?

Dan:  I love Indiana Jones. Grew up with the first three movies and couldn’t wait to see the fourth. I’ve since made my peace with it, but my initial viewing didn’t sit well and prompted me to rather egotistically think I could write my own – so I sat down and wrote a script of Indy 5.

This obviously wasn’t going to go anywhere. So I decided to revise it with new characters and a more twisted and fantastical story, before eventually adapting it into a book and having it evolve even more. And my inspiration behind this rewrite was to create a hero who was far more exhausted and cynical than any I’d seen before in this type of adventure. Someone who also saw the age-old archaeological treasure hunt in a different light. And that someone was Captain Samantha Moxley.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for Captain Moxley and the Embers of the Empire?

Dan:  This is a fantastical alternate history adventure… so my research was fairly light! I knew I could draw on the archaeological thinking already in my head for that core plotline, so my main concern was trying to convey the 1950s setting in an authentic light (while not distracting from the story). And that was a lot of fun, because it’s a really fascinating era.

I wanted Sam to be a former Spitfire pilot because my grandfather was one and I grew up wanting to be one myself. And although she isn’t drawn from any particular person, there are a wealth of stories of incredible women from the Second World War that I used to give her that stubborn spirit and refusal to bow down in the face of oppression. The brilliant author Tara Moss recently wrote a piece on seven of these women which you should totally take a few minutes to read:

TQPlease tell us about the cover for Captain Moxley and the Embers of the Empire.

Dan:  The cover is a dream. Literally, this has been my dream for as long as I’ve been writing. I love those old school film poster style illustrations and the artist here, Dan Strange, is an absolute master of them. I saw his work initially on a book by S.A. Sidor called Fury From the Tomb and fell in love with that so much (the book is also AMAZING). So when Angry Robot suggested Dan should be my cover artist I was so incredibly happy. And this cover is perfect. I couldn’t have wished for anything better.

Does it depict anything from the novel? Yes! In that old school style you’ve got the main cast, you’ve got a couple of hints about set pieces, you’ve got a hint of a badder baddie than the bad guy you can see, and there is an artefact too. Also some weird, undead hands at the sides, which I guess you might see too…

TQIn Captain Moxley and the Embers of the Empire who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Dan:  Sam was the most fun. Writing someone who reacts badly to corrupt and shady governments and is tired of everyone’s crap – as most of us are in 2020 – was a joy. Especially because she gets to fight back. Wish fulfilment? Maybe.

The hardest… I’m not sure. I had to take more time with one of the ‘bad guys’, a military man called Colonel Arif, because I wanted to give him a level of righteousness which we can understand. Yes, he’s bad. But also… he’s right. He’s justified in his hatred of western interference in Egypt and his distrust of the American Agents (and Sam). He also has an arguably noble intention of restoring his country’s position as a shining light on the international stage. So that took a few versions and some brilliant guidance from my editor Eleanor Teasdale to get right.

TQDoes Captain Moxley and the Embers of the Empire touch on any social issues?

Dan:  Absolutely. Storytelling versions of archaeology have always made it seem romantic. Travelling the world, picking up mystical artefacts, and taking them back to your country to show ‘the world’. Yet this idea is rooted in colonialism. Those aren’t our artefacts to take away from their cultural context or display in our countries for a select group of outsiders to ogle.

I was taught old school archaeology. I appreciate the importance of studying our past and I LOVE museums as places of learning and safeguarding material culture. But thanks to some powerful voices out there, I now understand how the execution of these concepts has been – and can still be – problematic. So this issue is explored in the book as a clash of thinking between our cynical hero and her archaeologist sister.

TQWhich question about Captain Moxley and the Embers of the Empire do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!


“This story reminded me of that old click and point adventure game Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. Was that intentional?”
“Why yes, thank you so much for noticing! I loved that game when I was a teenager and it played a huge part in influencing some of the story and the general feel of lots of this book.”

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Captain Moxley and the Embers of the Empire.

“Our gaze into history should always be humble and respectful and undertaken with a light touch.”

I love this quote from Sam’s older professor friend Teddy, not only because it’s pretty much how I feel, but also because it comes shortly before the destruction of a whole site of ancient artefacts and tons of fighting. Best laid plans and all that.

TQWhat's next?

Dan:  I’m heading towards the end of a middle-aged-parent-ghostbusters-at-Christmas story right now, as well as working on something else which is a huge, exciting project. So I’m busy writing other books and finally in a position where I can give them my full focus, after many years of writing around day jobs and freelance gigs.

As for future Captain Moxley adventures… I’d love to write more. Let’s see what happens. :)

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Dan:  Thanks so much for having me and for so many wonderful questions!

Captain Moxley and the Embers of the Empire
Angry Robot, September 8, 2020
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 394 pages

Interview with Dan Hanks, author of Captain Moxley and the Embers of the Empire
An ex-Spitfire pilot is dragged into a race against a shadowy government agency to unlock the secrets of the lost empire of Atlantis…

In the post-war peace of 1952, ex-Spitfire pilot Captain Samantha Moxley should be done fighting bad guys. Instead, she finds herself dragged into a clash with a mysterious US government agency known as The Nine, when they take an interest in the work of Jess, her archaeologist sister.

Pursued by The Nine, former Nazis, and a host of otherworldly monsters, Sam must fight to protect her sister and uncover two hidden keys which promise to unlock the greatest archaeological find in history: the fabled Hall of Records.

From the skies over New York, to the catacombs of Paris, and finally to the ruins of Ancient Egypt, her quest takes her into the ashes of the past in search of the dying embers of an empire….and a discovery that could transform the world, or bring it to a terrible end.

File Under: Fantasy  [ Top Women | Riff-RAF | Pyramid Scheme | Bash the Fash ]

About Dan

Interview with Dan Hanks, author of Captain Moxley and the Embers of the Empire
Dan is a writer, editor, and vastly overqualified archaeologist who has lived everywhere from London to Hertfordshire to Manchester to Sydney, which explains the panic in his eyes anytime someone asks “where are you from?”. Thankfully he is now settled in the rolling green hills of the Peak District with his human family and fluffy sidekicks Indy and Maverick, where he writes books, screenplays and comics.

Website  ~  Twitter @dan_hanks

Interview with Chris Panatier, author of the Phlebotomist

Please welcome Chris Panatier to The Qwillery as part of the 2020 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Phlebotomist was published on September 8, 2020 by Angry Robot.

Interview with Chris Panatier, author of the Phlebotomist

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

Chris:  Thanks for asking me onto your blog! As far as my first fiction piece, this would have been during grade school, when I was perhaps ten or eleven years old. I recall some slapped together knight and dragon fantasies based on some Dungeons & Dragons I’d played. I never wrote more than three or four pages as I discovered that writing is hard and I was lazy. As a kid I was definitely more attracted to the idea of writing rather than the actual doing of it.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Chris:  I am a total pantser when I sit down to write the words, but it would be inaccurate for me to say I do that to the exclusion of plotting. I do an immense amount of plotting before I begin the book, though I write down very little. I don’t like to feel hemmed in or committed to ideas and writing them down seems to do that. The premise, character, and plot ideas sit in my brain like a nebula and I just let them coagulate on their own. At some point, when the general direction becomes clear, I’ll sit down to write. Things are never fully fleshed out before I start, as the process tends to do this for me.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Chris:  Valid self-doubt. Writers like to talk about imposter syndrome. Some of it is likely attributable to the particular neuroses that accompanies writing. I think it has something to do with the empathy and observational awareness we’re constantly employing in order to understand characters and people. Writers are already wired, I think, to be hypervigilant and overly self-critical. For me, this invariably crops up during the writing process when comparing my imagined story to what actually ends up on the page. They don’t always match no matter how hard I try.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Chris:  Having been a visual artist for so long before I got serious about writing, I knew I loved creating something from nothing. Turns out I enjoy building with words even more than I do with pencil, ink, or watercolor. And I want to push that creativity as far as I possibly can while still maintaining a coherent story. I am influenced and inspired by writers who do that. I think about Cameron Hurley, Philip K. Dick, Jeff Vandermeer, N.K. Jemisin, and Tamsyn Muir right off the bat.

TQ Describe The Phlebotomist using only 5 words.

Chris:  Oppression. Blood. Grandmother. Vengeance. Fun!

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

Chris:  There’s a murderous teenager in it.

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

Chris:  I was (and am) very angry about income inequality and the lengths to which the ruling class will go to keep the rest of the population under its boot. I decided that marrying a near future science fiction story with an apt fantasy trope was the best way to make my point. Science Fiction has always been such a great way to explore social and political issues. Sometimes when you remove events and conflicts from their present context and place them into another setting, they gain clarity. Also, readers’ alliances and prejudices are often challenged.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Phlebotomist?

Chris:  Oh, a lot. The society of The Phlebotomist is based upon a government-mandated blood draw called the Harvest and a cash-for-blood exchange called the Trade. There is varying demand for each of the blood types based on their compatibility with potential recipients—so each type fetches a different price. Society is thus segregated by blood type. Since I was creating an economy based on blood, I had to make sure it was scientifically accurate. I did plenty of internet research, bought a Phlebotomist’s Quick Reference Guide (laminated), and reached out to experts in the area. Some even talked to me! Amazing.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for The Phlebotomist.

Chris:  This cover brings me absolute joy. I wanted it to be hot pink from day one and this thing is more like surface-of-the-sun pink. It’s brilliant. Angry Robot keyed in on doing a vintage medical illustration theme, which I love. I ended up doing the illustration of the heart and lilies. The cover itself has five distinct nods to parts of the story.

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

Chris:  The excommunicated marine long-gun specialist turned blood hacker, ‘Lock’ came most naturally to me. She’s this older woman who is tired of your shit. I had a very specific old friend in mind when I wrote her. Maybe that’s why her distractable manner of speaking—a hybrid tech-slash-frontier gibberish—came so naturally to me. She’s also a bit unhinged. So I relate.

The hardest character to write was the protagonist, Willa. This is interesting because I know who she is. Her personality, brains, values, fears, and motives were all very clear to me from the start. It got hard when she was thrust into a string of increasingly bonkers situations that nobody in history has ever actually been subject to. Figuring out how a real person would react when dropped into one of these scenarios had me doing a lot of trial and error to make sure I got it right.

TQDoes The Phlebotomist touch on any social issues?

ChrisThe Phlebotomist is an allegory for a number of social issues. Segregation is front and center. Interestingly, this is an issue that many people (including a number of Justices on our Supreme Court) might believe is no longer relevant, but I think it’s more relevant than ever. The story also grapples with wealth inequality, urban food deserts, privacy, and consent.

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


Q: Did you ever entertain any other potential titles for the book?
A: I briefly considered calling it The Evens. If you read it, you’ll see why!

TQ Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from The Phlebotomist.


“Holy shit, Willa, you look like Beelzebub,” said Lock. “Rub a little of that inside Llydia so it looks like you brained yourself genuinely.”

TQWhat's next?

Chris:  I have a few short stories coming out soon. I’m always plugging away on those as it’s nice to start and finish something when novels take so long. As for novels, I took a flyer on this absolutely insane premise and I’m almost done with the first draft. It’s so nuts that I don’t know if I’ll ever even show it to anyone. Sort of The Matrix + Monsters, Inc., but with angels and they’re all drunk on turpentine. Maybe I’m drunk on turpentine.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Chris:  Thank you very much!

The Phlebotomist
Angry Robot, September 8, 2020
Trade Paperback and eBook, 344 pages

Interview with Chris Panatier, author of the Phlebotomist
In a near future where citizens are subject to the mandatory blood draw, government phlebotomist Willa Wallace witnesses an event that makes her question her whole world…

To recover from a cataclysmic war, the Harvest was instituted to pass blood to those affected by radiation. But this charitable act has led to a society segregated entirely by blood type. Government blood contractor, Patriot, rewards you generous gift based on the compatibility of your donation, meaning that whoever can give the most, gets the most in return.

While working as a reaper taking collections for the Harvest, Willa chances upon an idea to resurrect an obsolete technique that could rebalance the city. But in her quest to set things into motion, she uncovers a horrifying secret that cuts to the heart of everything.

File Under: Science Fiction [ Blood Will Out | This Might Hurt a Bit | Be positive | Bloody Nightmare ]

About Chris

Interview with Chris Panatier, author of the Phlebotomist
Chris Panatier lives in Dallas, Texas, with his wife, daughter, and a fluctuating herd of animals resembling dogs (one is almost certainly a goat). He writes short stories and novels, “plays” the drums, and draws album covers for metal bands. He plays himself on Twitter @chrisjpanatier.

Website  ~  Twitter

Facebook  ~  Tumblr


Interview with Alice James, author of Grave Secrets

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

Interview with Alice James, author of Grave Secrets

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

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

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

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

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

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

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

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

TQDescribe Grave Secrets using only 5 words.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TQWhat sort of research did you do for Grave Secrets?

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

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

TQPlease tell us about the cover for Grave Secrets.

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

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

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

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

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

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

TQDoes Grave Secrets touch on any social issues?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TQWhat's next?

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

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

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

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Dead funny."- Mark Beech

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

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

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

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

About Alice

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

Website  ~ Twitter

Interview with Carole Stivers, author of The Mother Code

Please welcome Carole Stivers to The Qwillery as part of the 2020 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Mother Code was published on August 25, 2020 by Berkley.

Interview with Carole Stivers, author of The Mother Code

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

Carole:  The first fiction piece I remember writing was one I penned in about the fourth grade, called “Carbuncle and I.” The story was based on Sherlock Holmes, but the detective and his assistant were cute and cartoonish. I can’t remember the plot, but a picture I drew of the characters is forever etched in my mind.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Carole:  I started out as a pantser, but that wasn’t very rewarding—so much work ended up on the cutting room floor! Now I’m a hybrid. I try to start a novel with a clear beginning and end in mind. Then I write my way through, adding beats on a separate sheet as I go along to guide the narrative. This allows things to take surprising turns, while still maintaining the focus of the original theme and desired ending.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Carole:  I do lots of research before even starting, which is more like work than fun. Then I slog through getting the first draft on paper. But after that comes the joy, when I get to flesh out the story and get more into the characters, their emotions and motivations. For me, the revision phase is best, knowing that I have something solid to work with and to mold.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Carole:  Whenever I start to lose momentum and hope for my work, I find solace in reading good authors. I love new authors who take chances with their writing, like Devi S. Laskar (The Atlas of Reds and Blues) and Rachel Howard (The Risk of Us). And of course I love the greats, like Margaret Atwood, whose prose sinks into the mind so effortlessly, and Isabel Allende, whose worlds are so beautifully built.

TQDescribe The Mother Code using only 5 words.

Carole:  A child discovers his mother.

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

Carole:  Kai is not alone in his quest to decide the fate of his Mother. There are other children, two little girls in particular, who are instrumental in his trajectory. And there are many other important female characters who drive the plot.

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

Carole:  I had the first spark of an idea for The Mother Code while traveling in the desert Southwest with my family in 2003. At the heart of the story, I wanted there to be a reliance by a child on his “Mother” robot in this setting, because, so far as he knew, there was no other life left on the planet. The rest of the story—the origins of the pandemic that set the stage, the origins of the Mothers and their children, the conflict that arose as the children and their Mothers matured and changed, and the few human adults who remained afterward to shepherd the children, all grew out of that original idea.

I was a scientist for many years, and I feel comfortable writing about scientists and laboratory settings. But writing science fiction also allows me to place characters in strange circumstances and watch them fight their way through. By forcing my characters to face the uncanny, I can leverage that “defamiliarization” to ask questions in a fresh way that is not confrontational to the reader and might inspire them to think or feel differently.

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

Carole:  I travelled to the sites where my story takes place: the San Francisco Presidio, Los Alamos, the desert Southwest, and the Hopi Reservation in Arizona. I took a tour of the Hopi Reservation, talked to current residents about their lives and livelihoods, and read books about Hopi history and tradition.

I researched robotics and AI to develop a picture of what my Mother robots would have to look like, how they would be programmed, and what materials would be used in their construction. For specifics, I consulted with a good friend who is a pilot, a computer systems manager, and a science fiction fan.

I also researched the genetic engineering of human fetuses, innovative bionic prostheses, and advances in man-machine brain interfaces. One difficult issue I faced was how to destroy most of human life on planet Earth, while leaving all else intact. My “IC-NAN” is based on current research in DNA therapeutics at Northwestern University.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for The Mother Code.

Carole:  The cover is meant to depict nurturing in the form of the cupped hands—a protection of something fragile from the hardships of the desert (portrayed in the desert palette colors). The “Mother Code” that directs the hands in their duties is depicted as symbols at the top of the image, which degrade into sand and dust at the bottom of the image to give a sense that the Code itself is fragile.

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

Carole:  For me, Kai was easiest to write. As a child, Kai is a seeker; he came to the story as a blank slate, learning as he went along. The hardest character for me to write was Rick Blevins, a military man—it was difficult for me to avoid stereotypes when writing him. But the most fun to write was Kendra Jenkins, a character who only occurred to me when I was well into the novel. A problem-solver with a can-do attitude, Kendra is most like me in her approach to life, and she has a quirky side to her that I enjoyed portraying.

TQDoes The Mother Code touch on any social issues?

Carole:  At the time I began work on The Mother Code, I was most concerned about the possible use of bioagents in warfare and what they might inadvertently do if they got out of control. I know that COVID-19 was not developed for warfare. But it has certainly given rise to greater concern about such agents—which I think is a good thing.

TQ:  Which question about The Mother Code do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!


Q: Do you really think that a machine like Rho-Z, Kai’s Mother, could be programmed to care for a child?

A: I think that a machine could definitely be designed that would serve the basic needs of a child. The trick would be the human element, which is key for a child to truly thrive. In The Mother Code, that human element develops in a surprising way. But I believe that such an outcome is indeed probable.

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

Carole:  My favorite quotes relate to Kai’s instinctive relationship with his Mother:

“But at night, when they were alone, that feeling was as strong as ever— the feeling that he couldn’t possibly know where he ended, and his Mother began.”

“And he responded, not in words but in song—the song of the Mother Code.”

TQWhat's next?

Carole:  I’m currently working on a tale that I call Invasion of the Body Snatchers meets The Story of Your Life. I only hope it matches up to either of those two classics—especially the second, which was written by the amazing Ted Chiang.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

The Mother Code
Berkley, August 25, 2020
Hardcover and eBook, 352 pages

Interview with Carole Stivers, author of The Mother Code
What it means to be human—and a mother—is put to the test in Carole Stivers’s debut novel set in a world that is more chilling and precarious than ever.

The year is 2049. When a deadly non-viral agent intended for biowarfare spreads out of control, scientists must scramble to ensure the survival of the human race. They turn to their last resort, a plan to place genetically engineered children inside the cocoons of large-scale robots—to be incubated, birthed, and raised by machines. But there is yet one hope of preserving the human order: an intelligence programmed into these machines that renders each unique in its own right—the Mother Code.

Kai is born in America’s desert Southwest, his only companion his robotic Mother, Rho-Z. Equipped with the knowledge and motivations of a human mother, Rho-Z raises Kai and teaches him how to survive. But as children like Kai come of age, their Mothers transform too—in ways that were never predicted. And when government survivors decide that the Mothers must be destroyed, Kai is faced with a choice. Will he break the bond he shares with Rho-Z? Or will he fight to save the only parent he has ever known?

Set in a future that could be our own, The Mother Code explores what truly makes us human—and the tenuous nature of the boundaries between us and the machines we create.

About Carole

Interview with Carole Stivers, author of The Mother Code
Photo: © Alan Stivers
Carole Stivers was born in East Cleveland, Ohio. She received her Ph.D. in Biochemistry at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She went on to post-doctoral work at Stanford University before launching a career in medical diagnostics. She now lives in California, where she’s combined her love of writing and her fascination with the possibilities of science to create her first novel, The Mother Code.

Website  ~  Facebook

Interview with Micaiah Johnson, author of The Space Between Worlds

Please welcome Micaiah Johnson to The Qwillery as part of the 2020 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Space Between Worlds was published on August 4, 2020 by Del Rey.

Interview with Micaiah Johnson, author of The Space Between Worlds

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

Micaiah:  Noooo, it’s so embarrassing! My grandma had an electric typewriter and I definitely wrote a story where my dogs were detectives who had to solve a chicken’s murder.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Micaiah:  I am a pantser in denial. I will forever be “about to start” outlining.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Micaiah:  You know that news article about the horse who pretends to be dead every time it has to give someone a ride? That’s me with editing. It’s an essential and unavoidable part of my job, and I *hate* it. It’s like listening to my own voice. It’s so painful.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Micaiah:  Everything. I see so much of what has surrounded me manifest in my work. It’s not just what I’ve read – though a childhood spent trapped in the car with my grandmother’s murder mystery audiobooks definitely accounts for my love of twists – it’s my desert upbringing mixed with every late-night bar conversation I’ve ever had mixed with that three-legged cat I petted one time. It’s so exciting to be on the third or fourth read-through and suddenly realize “holy crap, I’m describing my second grade teacher’s house” or something.

TQDescribe The Space Between Worlds using only 5 words.

Micaiah:  Girl dies tons, has adventure.

TQTell us something about The Space Between Worlds that is not found in the book description.

Micaiah:  The House! One of my favorite parts about this world is how the sex providers operate as a community resource, which is a spin on how essential these establishments actually were during the “wild” west period.

TQWhat inspired you to write The Space Between Worlds?

Micaiah:  Because of my failure at outlining, I often write toward images. For this book, the image I had was someone walking through the desert and coming upon their own face. I was captivated by it. The desert is such a lonely place. The plant life is low and sparse, so you can never delude yourself that there is anyone around you. You are alone, and you utterly know it. Imagine being in that setting and finally coming up on another human, and that human is you. Their face is your face. Are you still alone? Does this count? I kind of started from there and went off.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Space Between Worlds?

Micaiah:  Tons, and all entirely outside of my field. I owe so much to Brian Greene, Carlo Rovelli, and Michio Kaku for being the kind of very smart scientists whose writing is also accessible enough for a lit major to learn something from it.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for The Space Between Worlds.

Micaiah:  The breathtaking American cover for the book is actually an oil painting by artist Cassandre Bolan, and the moment I found out she was my artist I was stoked. I remember her website saying something along the lines of, “I create strong women in fantasy to inspire strong women in reality” and I was instantly like “gimmie gimmie I need it!” I knew featuring two queer women of color on the cover would be audacious, but I couldn’t have predicted it would be so beautiful.

TQIn The Space Between Worlds who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Micaiah:  Exlee was both! I loved writing Exlee, but I also know them and deeply wanted to get them right which paralyzed me. What (very) little nonbinary representation we get is often Eurocentric: straight-bodied white people in monochrome vests. And that is absolutely valid as a nonbinary expression, but it’s not the only valid expression, and pretending it is leaves out cultures where gender expression is more bombastic. Trying to tackle this character with that in mind was a ton of joy and a lot of pressure.

TQDoes The Space Between Worlds touch on any social issues?

Micaiah:  Certainly, I think anytime you are talking about walls – like the walled city in my book – you are actually talking about borders and immigration. Likewise, anytime you are dealing with a super-advanced tech city of the future, you are also talking about Western capitalism and at what cost that advancement has been bought. I would argue that Science Fiction as a genre, by virtue of daring to imagine alternate futures, is always operating in the territory of social issues…even if by omission.

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

Micaiah:  “Was Dell based on Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice?” so I can scream “YES! YES! THANK YOU FOR NOTICING! YES!”

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from The Space Between Worlds.


“What they don’t tell you about getting everything you’ve ever wanted is the cold-sweat panic when you think about losing it. For someone who’s never had anything to lose, it’s like drowning, all the time”

“Killing should take longer than a heartbeat. Murder should be unignorable, always.”

TQWhat's next?

Micaiah:  I’m so torn about next steps. Part of me wants to spend more time in this world and with these characters, part of me wants to take a dramatic turn and write horror or a cookbook (which is just saying “horror” again, since I truly can’t cook). I can’t be trusted. I’m easily bored and impossible to satisfy.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

The Space Between Worlds
Del Rey, August 4, 2020
Hardcover and eBook, 336 pages

Interview with Micaiah Johnson, author of The Space Between Worlds
An outsider who can travel between worlds discovers a secret that threatens the very fabric of the multiverse in this stunning debut, a powerful examination of identity, privilege, and belonging.

Gorgeous writingmind-bending world-buildingrazor-sharp social commentary, and a main character who demands your attention—and your allegiance.”—Rob Hart, author of The Warehouse

Multiverse travel is finally possible, but there’s just one catch: No one can visit a world where their counterpart is still alive. Enter Cara, whose parallel selves happen to be exceptionally good at dying—from disease, turf wars, or vendettas they couldn’t outrun. Cara’s life has been cut short on 372 worlds in total.

On this dystopian Earth, however, Cara has survived. Identified as an outlier and therefore a perfect candidate for multiverse travel, Cara is plucked from the dirt of the wastelands. Now what once made her marginalized has finally become an unexpected source of power. She has a nice apartment on the lower levels of the wealthy and walled-off Wiley City. She works—and shamelessly flirts—with her enticing yet aloof handler, Dell, as the two women collect off-world data for the Eldridge Institute. She even occasionally leaves the city to visit her family in the wastes, though she struggles to feel at home in either place. So long as she can keep her head down and avoid trouble, Cara is on a sure path to citizenship and security.

But trouble finds Cara when one of her eight remaining doppelgängers dies under mysterious circumstances, plunging her into a new world with an old secret. What she discovers will connect her past and her future in ways she could have never imagined—and reveal her own role in a plot that endangers not just her world, but the entire multiverse.

“Clever characterssurprise twistsplenty of action, and a plot that highlights social and racial inequities in astute prose.”—Library Journal (starred review)

About Micaiah

Interview with Micaiah Johnson, author of The Space Between Worlds
Photo: © Rory Vetack
Micaiah Johnson was raised in California’s Mojave Desert surrounded by trees named Joshua and women who told stories. She received her bachelor of arts in creative writing from the University of California, Riverside, and her master of fine arts in fiction from Rutgers University–Camden. She now studies American literature at Vanderbilt University, where she focuses on critical race theory and automatons.

Twitter @micaiah_johnson

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