The Qwillery | category: 2021 Debut Author Challenge


The Qwillery

A blog about books and other things speculative

July 2021 Debuts

There are 6 debuts for July 2021.

Please note that we use the publisher's publication date in the United States, not copyright dates or non-US publication dates.

The July debut authors and their novels are listed in alphabetical order by author (not book title or publication date). Take a good look at the covers. Voting for your favorite July cover for the 2021 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars will take place starting in the latter half of July.

John Appel

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

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

Lena Nguyen

We Have Always Been Here
DAW, July 6, 2021
Hardcover and eBook, 368 pages
This psychological sci-fi thriller from a debut author follows one doctor who must discover the source of her crew’s madness… or risk succumbing to it herself.

Misanthropic psychologist Dr. Grace Park is placed on the Deucalion, a survey ship headed to an icy planet in an unexplored galaxy. Her purpose is to observe the thirteen human crew members aboard the ship—all specialists in their own fields—as they assess the colonization potential of the planet, Eos. But frictions develop as Park befriends the androids of the ship, preferring their company over the baffling complexity of humans, while the rest of the crew treats them with suspicion and even outright hostility.

Shortly after landing, the crew finds themselves trapped on the ship by a radiation storm, with no means of communication or escape until it passes—and that’s when things begin to fall apart. Park’s patients are falling prey to waking nightmares of helpless, tongueless insanity. The androids are behaving strangely. There are no windows aboard the ship. Paranoia is closing in, and soon Park is forced to confront the fact that nothing—neither her crew, nor their mission, nor the mysterious Eos itself—is as it seems.
Amazon : Barnes and Noble : Bookshop : Books-A-Million : IndieBound : Powell's
Google Play : iBooks : Kobo

J. P. Oakes

City of Iron and Dust
Titan Books, July 6, 2021
Trade Paperback and eBook, 400 pages
“A fantastic book, full of wit and sharp humor, City of Iron and Dust careens through a modernized faerie at a breakneck pace, full of verve and unforgettable characters. Oakes spins a smart, electric, and sometimes snarky tale, showing that the beating heart of modern fantasy is alive and well.” – John Hornor Jacobs, author of A Lush and Seething Hell and The Incorruptibles

The Iron City is a prison, a maze, an industrial blight. It is the result of a war that saw the goblins grind the fae beneath their collective boot heels. And tonight, it is also a city that churns with life. Tonight, a young fae is trying to make his fortune one drug deal at a time; a goblin princess is searching for a path between her own dreams and others’ expectations; her bodyguard is deciding who to kill first; an artist is hunting for his own voice; an old soldier is starting a new revolution; a young rebel is finding fresh ways to fight; and an old goblin is dreaming of reclaiming her power over them all. Tonight, all their stories are twisting together, wrapped up around a single bag of Dust—the only drug that can still fuel fae magic—and its fate and theirs will change the Iron City forever.
Amazon : Barnes and Noble : Bookshop : Books-A-Million : IndieBound : Powell's
Google Play : Kobo

Shelley Parker-Chan

She Who Became the Sun
Tor Books, July 20, 2021
Hardcover and eBook, 416 pages
Mulan meets The Song of Achilles in Shelley Parker-Chan's She Who Became the Sun, a bold, queer, and lyrical reimagining of the rise of the founding emperor of the Ming Dynasty from an amazing new voice in literary fantasy.

To possess the Mandate of Heaven, the female monk Zhu will do anything

“I refuse to be nothing…”

In a famine-stricken village on a dusty yellow plain, two children are given two fates. A boy, greatness. A girl, nothingness…

In 1345, China lies under harsh Mongol rule. For the starving peasants of the Central Plains, greatness is something found only in stories. When the Zhu family’s eighth-born son, Zhu Chongba, is given a fate of greatness, everyone is mystified as to how it will come to pass. The fate of nothingness received by the family’s clever and capable second daughter, on the other hand, is only as expected.

When a bandit attack orphans the two children, though, it is Zhu Chongba who succumbs to despair and dies. Desperate to escape her own fated death, the girl uses her brother's identity to enter a monastery as a young male novice. There, propelled by her burning desire to survive, Zhu learns she is capable of doing whatever it takes, no matter how callous, to stay hidden from her fate.

After her sanctuary is destroyed for supporting the rebellion against Mongol rule, Zhu takes the chance to claim another future altogether: her brother's abandoned greatness.
Amazon : Barnes and Noble : Bookshop : Books-A-Million : IndieBound : Powell's
Google Play : iBooks : Kobo

Lucinda Roy

The Freedom Race
The Dreambird Chronicles 1
Tor Books, July 13, 2021
Hardcover and eBook, 416 pages
The Freedom Race, Lucinda Roy’s explosive first foray into speculative fiction, is a poignant blend of subjugation, resistance, and hope.

In the aftermath of a cataclysmic civil war known as the Sequel, ideological divisions among the states have hardened. In the Homestead Territories, an alliance of plantation-inspired holdings, Black labor is imported from the Cradle, and Biracial “Muleseeds” are bred.

Raised in captivity on Planting 437, kitchen-seed Jellybean “Ji-ji” Lottermule knows there is only one way to escape. She must enter the annual Freedom Race as a runner.

Ji-ji and her friends must exhume a survival story rooted in the collective memory of a kidnapped people and conjure the voices of the dead to light their way home.
Amazon : Barnes and Noble : Bookshop : Books-A-Million : IndieBound : Powell's
Google Play : iBooks : Kobo

Scott Ruesterholz

Robert Wilson and the Invasion from Within
Permuted Press, July 27, 2021
Trade Paperback and eBook, 336 pages
As the world confronts an invasion from an alien empire—which has embedded spies in global institutions—the decisions of one man may determine humanity’s fate.

Alien conqueror, Anton Frozos, sends Robert Wilson, a top graduate of a spy-training program, to Earth to gain influence and prime the planet for its eventual conquest. Robert uses his advanced knowledge and technology to amass significant power and fortune in the business world. However, Robert has concealed aspects of his past from Frozos, which may complicate his loyalty.

When Frozos’s forces arrive several years later, Robert must decide whether to support the man who has lifted him from a life of enslavement or defect and ally with Earth. This choice forces Robert to insert himself into the political process, opposing American President Nick Neverian, as the planet decides whether to forcefully resist invasion or accept Frozos’s demands. Robert’s own past with President Neverian, a one-time ally and now foe, further complicates his decision-making. As the crisis builds, will nations be brought to the brink of war? Will governments be toppled while the world reckons with Frozos’s army amassing in the sky?
Amazon : Barnes and Noble : Bookshop : Books-A-Million : IndieBound : Powell's
Google Play : iBooks : Kobo

Interview with Marissa Levien, author of The World Gives Way

Please welcome Marissa Levien to The Qwillery as part of the 2021 Debut Author ChallengeInterviews. The World Gives Waywas published on June 15, 2021 by Redhook.

Please join The Qwillery in wishing Marissa a Happy Book Birthday!

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

Marissa:  I wrote this truly bonkers story for a kindergarten assignment… we would dictate the story to our teacher, and they would write it out for us. For most kids, it was just a couple sentences, something like “The cat ran into the tree to chase a squirrel. Then a bird flew away.” Mine was this long run-on paragraph about an alien in a cloud spaceship coming down to earth to bury the severed limbs of his ancestors. It drew some weird looks from the teachers, but six-year-old me was very happy with the finished product.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Marissa:  I’d say I’m a hybrid. I love outlines, but I also strongly believe that you should let your characters change and grow as you’re writing them, which means sometimes they’re going to change the story on you. When that happens, you just kind of have to go with it.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Marissa:  When writing a story, I always get bogged down in the middle. I always have a sense of how a book is going to begin, and how I want it to end, but the middle is where I get stuck. Sometimes it’s because I’m trying to force a plot through that’s not quite the right fit anymore, or because I’m avoiding the necessary conflict or change for my characters. But somewhere, about 150 pages in, I usually have to take a step back and shake off my preconceived notions of the story in order to keep going.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Marissa:  Everything influences my writing. I’m a very big fan of reading all genres, and even outside of literature, just taking in as much of the world as possible; paintings, dance, history, travel, politics, scientific theorems, you name it.

For this book, I read a lot of Calvino, a lot of Beckett, Douglas Adams, Karen Thompson Walker, and Emily St. John Mandel. Lots of existentialism and lots of humanity. One of my main characters is also an art appreciator, so I got to pull from some of my favorite artists, like Alma Thomas and Roman Opalka.

TQDescribe The World Gives Way using only 5 words.

Marissa:  A warm, humane, aesthetic, apocalypse.

TQTell us something about The World Gives Way that is not found in the book description.

Marissa:  Most of the descriptions talk a lot about the class structure in the book, the fact that my main character is an indentured servant. I don’t think many of them directly state that the book is an apocalypse story.

TQWhat inspired you to write The World Gives Way?

Marissa:  I’ve had apocalypses on the brain for a few years now (I’m sure the 2016 election had something to do with it), and I kept thinking about what it would be like to know that the end of the world is coming, and to just sit with that knowledge. There are plenty of thrillers and action movies about characters fighting to avert the end of the world, but I was interested in writing a character who was fighting to come to terms with the end of everything, and fighting to live their best life with the time left.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for The World Gives Way?

Marissa:  I did a lot of research on what I consider to be the world’s most beautiful places: Tokyo, Mexico City, Istanbul, Petra, Tunisian deserts, Mediterranean coasts, the Himalayas. I was creating a world that had to be a little bit of everything all compacted into one, so I wanted to blend as much of the world together as possible. That meant also finding ways to blend cultures with food, religion, architecture, technology, etc. I did a lot of research and then tried to pepper it into the world of the story as subtly as possible.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for The World Gives Way.

Marissa:  Lisa Marie Pompilio designed the book cover, and it’s beautiful. There’s a lot of teal and warm peachy-orange colors; we’ve been joking that the color palette accidentally matches the decorating in our house. It’s been very convenient for Instagram.

The cover shows a woman in profile, against a moon and backdrop of stars. The woman is meant to be Myrra, my main character. I don’t know specifically if this was the intent, but her posture to me suggests someone who has been beaten down a bit, but is also resolute and strong. It fits the character very well.

TQIn The World Gives Way who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Marissa:  Tobias was the easiest character to write, I think because he’s fastidious. I like writing characters who are buttoned up, who want everything just so; I think I’m a little like that, which might be why they’re easy to write.

Myrra was the hardest (and most rewarding) character to write-- she’s faced with pretty terrible circumstances throughout The World Gives Way, and I had to constantly reassess and delve more deeply into what was driving her, what pushed her to keep going.

TQDoes The World Gives Way touch on any social issues?

Marissa:  I ended up having quite a bit to say about class structure in The World Gives Way, which is funny to me because I don’t think I intended to write a book that was so focused on that. But the circumstances of the story, the nature of the social structure aboard a generation ship where people must buy their passage-- it very much demanded that class, wealth, and power all be evaluated, and I got more and more passionate about it the more I wrote. Now it’s one of the first things people note when they’re describing the book, this element of class dystopia. I didn’t know how many opinions I had about class and the wealth gap until I started writing them down, but it turns out I’m pretty angry about it.

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

Marissa:  I’m sometimes surprised that people don’t ask more about the thread of motherhood in The World Gives Way. This was another thing that came into the book by accident, but became very meaningful as I kept writing. Early in the book, Myrra is given charge of a baby, Charlotte, and as she deals with all the other conflicts thrown her way, navigating an apocalypse, running from the government, etc, she is also learning how to be a mother. Myrra’s own mother disappeared, and the push-pull of her caring for Charlotte and coming to terms with her own fraught upbringing becomes a huge driving force in the story. I’m at a time in my life where I’m on the precipice of having a family of my own, and I spend a decent amount of time wondering what kind of mother I’ll be, if I’m capable of such a monumental thing. I think that definitely found its way into the book.

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from The World Gives Way.


“The world is a relative concept”

“Who knows what keeps us from letting death in. Even now, when death waits at the threshold for the whole world.”

TQWhat's next?

Marissa:  I’ve been working on a haunted house book, which has been an absolute blast to write. It means I get to read a bunch of ghost stories and gothic romances, all in the name of research. I’ve set it on the Oregon Coast, an area where I grew up, which makes a nice change after all the worldbuilding I did in The World Gives Way. Earlier this year I took a trip out to Oregon to reacquaint myself with the landscape. I’m honestly surprised more people don’t set horror stories in the Pacific Northwest. It’s fantastically moody, with all the clouds and rain and dense impenetrable forests. I know Stephen King loves Maine, and the English have their wild moors, but the Pacific Northwest has always felt wonderfully haunted to me. I’m finishing up my first draft now. I’ll be eager to share it soon.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

The World Gives Way
Redhook, June 15, 2021
Hardcover and eBook, 416 pages
“Marissa Levien's debut novel is a thrilling adventure, and in a moment when we're all looking for escape pods, this is a great one.”—Emma Straub, New York Times bestselling author


In a near-future world on the brink of collapse, a young woman born into servitude must seize her own freedom in this glittering debut with a brilliant twist.

In fifty years, Myrra will be free.

Until then, she's a contract worker. Ever since she was five, her life and labor have belonged to the highest bidder on her contract—butchers, laundries, and now the powerful, secretive Carlyles.

But when one night finds the Carlyles dead, Myrra is suddenly free a lot sooner than she anticipated—and at a cost she never could have imagined. Burdened with the Carlyles' orphaned daughter and the terrible secret they died to escape, she runs. With time running out, Myrra must come face to face with the truth about her world—and embrace what's left before it's too late.

A sweeping novel with a darkly glimmering heart, The World Gives Way is an unforgettable portrait of a world in freefall, and the fierce drive to live even at the end of it all.
Amazon : Barnes and Noble : Bookshop : Books-A-Million : IndieBound
Google Play : iBooks : Kobo

Interview with Marissa Levien, author of The World Gives Way
© Robert Mannis

About Marissa

Marissa Levien is a writer and artist who hails from Washington State and now lives in New York with a kindly journalist and their two cats. The World Gives Way is her first novel.

Website  ~  Twitter @marissalevien

Interview with David Bowles, author of The Blue-Spangled Blue

Please welcome David Bowles to The Qwillery as part of the 2021 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Blue-Spangled Blue, David's adult SF Debut, was published on March 11, 2021 by Castle Bridge Media

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

David:  I still have it in the “baby book” my mother kept until I was seven—a bit of “microfiction” I wrote in first grade about a boy standing on the beach with an ice cream cone in his hand. A wave decides to snatch it from him.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

David:  A plotter for sure. Characters begin to make their own decisions and change some of the particulars, but I can’t write if I don’t have the basic story outlined.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

David:  Focusing on one particular book at a time. I have tons of ideas and dream projects.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

David:  The storytelling practices of my Mexican American family, especially the sorts of folktales I heard as a child, as they intersect with my own identity and passions.

TQDescribe The Blue-Spangled Blue using only 5 words.

David:  Action-packed religiopolitical BIPOC futurist romance

TQTell us something about The Blue-Spangled Blue that is not found in the book description.

David:  Many of the characters are queer, either in sexuality or in gender. In fact, the planet Jitsu waits until children are 10 before considering affirming a gender for them, and those who don’t feel either female or male are considered “omedeyo” or “twin-selved” (a term like our present “non-binary” or “two-spirit”).

TQWhat inspired you to write The Blue-Spangled Blue?

David:  After getting married, I lived with my wife’s family in Mexico for a while. The particular dynamics of her evangelical Mexican family, her sister’s neurodiversity, and her drive to give everyone in her community a better life got me to thinking about what such a struggle might look like on an interstellar scale. Over time, those reflections have led me to speculate about what it will take for humanity to pull away from its present struggle for power and wealth, moving down a different collective path.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Blue-Spangled Blue?

David:  Over two decades, I have crafted two very important elements of the novel: the “religion” known as The Path (or Neo Gnosticism) and the language Baryogo (I’m also a linguist, full disclosure). That required considerable study, as did developing the cultures of the Aknawajin (an ethnic group that arises in the asteroid belt, a blend of Indigenous Mesoamerican, African, and East/Southeast Asian peoples) and of the Simerianes (a branch of Latinx people that emerges in the Cimmeria region of Mars).

TQPlease tell us about the cover for The Blue-Spangled Blue.

David:  The cover art was created by Estudio Tlalli, an activist non-profit dedicated to protecting land and community created by my two daughters (a tattoo artist and illustrator, respectively). It pictures the two contrasting couples in the book: Tenshi Koroma (foreground) and Brando D’Angelo (silhouette) – Konrau Beserra and Jeini Andrade (midground).

TQIn The Blue-Spangled Blue who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

David:  The easiest was Brando D’Angelo, because his personality is essentially a fictional extension of my 25-year-old past self. The hardest was (and continues to be) Samanei Koroma, Tenshi’s sister, because she is a powerful neurodiverse antagonist, and I have to constantly check whether I’m falling into stereotypes about people with dissociative identity disorder and schizophrenia.

TQDoes The Blue-Spangled Blue touch on any social issues?

David:  Yes, very much so. It depicts humanity as having moved past white hegemony (the global majority—BIPOC people—are the ones who have colonized space), but still shackled by corporate capitalism and a will toward power. Religious fundamentalism, queer identity, and future spirituality are all explored as the series speculates as to how we might escape what seems an inevitable, tragic end as a species.

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

David:  Does it have bad-ass action scenes and space battles? Absolutely! What would a space opera be without them?

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from The Blue-Spangled Blue.


Tenshi to Brando: “Don’t imagine we need you or any other offworlder to be our savior. We can save ourselves just fine. You’ve come to teach, but you also need to learn. Instead of you being the hero and changing this world, maybe it will end up changing you.”

The Ramatini to Brando: “You don’t have a soul. You have a self. But you didn’t create that self. It has accrued together over time, coalescing out of bits from the world around, expectations imposed on you, teachings you’ve received, experiences you’ve had. The second Oracle taught us to shatter those selves and build bricolage souls from the pieces.”

TQWhat's next?

David:  Books 2 and 3 of THE PATH drop in July and November of this year. My Indigenous magic / steampunk graphic novel series Clockwork Curandera launches in October with The Witch Owl Parliament. In the midst of all that, Penguin Random House will be publishing my debut children’s book this summer, My Two Border Towns.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery!

The Blue-Spangled Blue
The Path 1
Castle Bridge Media, March x, 2021
Trade Paperback and Kindle eBook, 690 pages
Jitsu. Once the center of human expansion into distant space, this world was isolated for the better part of a century, a theocratic government rising to fill the void left by its former corporate owners. Now, as Jitsu begins to open itself to the rest of humanity, Brando D’Angelo di Makomo accepts a teaching position on the arid planet. He finds himself drawn to controversial architect Tenshi Koroma and her religious reform movement. As he learns more about Tenshi's faith—The Path—Brando decides to accept its tenets, to shatter his identity and rebuild himself so that he can be worthy of a soul.

But the dogmatic struggles on Jitsu are a mask for the machinations of a diabolical mind, and the professor’s life will be forever altered by the cruelty of Tenshi’s enemies.

In the aftermath, Brando will find a deadly new Way along The Path.

And his steps will echo throughout history.


The Deepest Green
The Path 2
Castle Bridge Media, July 13, 2021
Kindle eBook
Twins Teri and Miwa Miranda are happy and popular high school students on the independent world of Terego. Their family is beloved by the community: their sweet half-brother Jakobo, caring stepmother Rhea, and doting father Nando, a model citizen in all aspects of his life.

But every bit of that life is a lie.

In reality, Nando Miranda is Brando D'Angelo, a wanted fugitive, raising the clones of his murdered wife and daughter, hoping he won't be discovered.

Now the armed forces of the Consortium have finally tracked him down. In an instant his carefully constructed identity is exploded, and the true nature of his daughters is revealed.

The devastated teens have little time to assimilate the news. Retreating from their community in shock, they find themselves abducted, drawn into a cataclysmic crisis that will shake the foundations of human society.

For humans are not the only species on Terego. In the deep green shadows of its impenetrable forests, fierce creatures are rallying for war.

And an ancient intelligence is awakening from its slumber.

Photo by Paul Chouy, UTRGV

About David

David Bowles is a Mexican American author and translator from south Texas. Among his many award-winning titles are Feathered Serpent, Dark Heart of Sky: Myths of Mexico; The Smoking Mirror, and They Call Me Güero. His work has been published in multiple anthologies, plus venues such as The New York Times, Strange Horizons, Apex Magazine, The Dark, Latin American Literature Today, School Library Journal, Rattle, Translation Review, and the Journal of Children’s Literature. Additionally, David has worked on several TV/film projects, including Victor and Valentino (Cartoon Network), the Moctezuma & Cortés miniseries (Amazon/Amblin) and Monsters and Mysteries in America (Discovery). Learn more at and follow him on Twitter @DavidOBowles

Interview with T.L. Huchu, author of The Library of the Dead

Please welcome T.L. Huchu to The Qwillery as part of the 2021 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Library of the Dead was published on June 1, 2021 by Tor Books.

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

T.L.:  I recall attempting to write a novel during my GCSE holidays (I would have been about 16 at the time). It was called “The Enigma of Alfred”, and was about an alcoholic recluse who secretly ruled the world. Needless to say, I lacked the stamina and the skill to pull it off.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

T.L.:  Definitely a hybrid. I like drafting notes and planning. But when the writing actually starts, a lot of stuff goes out the window. It’s as Mike Tyson said, “Everyone’s got a plan till they get punched in the mouth.” So, when the characters start doing their own thing, the plan’s got to be updated and/or discarded.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

T.L.:  Writing is a joy, a beautiful thing, a playful activity. The art itself is pure. I suspect most challenges are to do with things outside the writing itself; by this I mean, most writer’s hang-ups are to do with publication, reviews, sales, etc, not the actual writing itself. If one is not mindful, those external things can end up adversely affecting one’s writing.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

T.L.:  Books, naturally. I’m a reader first and foremost. TV and pop culture.

TQDescribe The Library of the Dead using only 5 words.

T.L.:  Ghouls, Grimoires, Ghostalkers, Guts & Glory.

TQTell us something about The Library of the Dead that is not found in the book description.

T.L.:  The book is an exploration of Scottish history, in particular, the ideas of the Scottish Enlightenment.

TQWhat inspired you to write The Library of the Dead? What appeals to you about writing contemporary fantasy?

T.L.:  Fantasy brings out the inner child in all of us. That sense of wonder about a universe we don’t quite understand. It turns that shadow in the corner of your eye, the one you can’t quite see, into that most primitive form of art, the story.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Library of the Dead?

T.L.:  Most of my research was on history and science, in particular Scotland’s immense contributions to the modern world in this regard. TQ: If I pulled out my modern map of Edinburgh would I be able to follow Ropa through the city? How have you changed Edinburgh for The Library of the Dead?

All the locations described in the book exist, though some have been altered. You have Edinburgh as a third world city. The Edinburgh you find in the text exists as different layers of history superimposed upon one another, so you find the past in the future.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for The Library of the Dead.

T.L.:  The cover was designed by Leo Nickolls who has an incredible, sort of illustrative style, and he has an amazing track record for doing stunning covers. For my book, you have the towering figure of the Scottish philosopher David Hume on either side and a rendering of the magical library in the book. Nickolls did a great job; it’s a work of art in its own right.

TQ: In The Library of the Dead who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

T.L.:  There is no such thing as easy or hard when it comes to creating your characters. Even the most minor ones with walk-on parts deserve care and attention.

TQDoes The Library of the Dead touch on any social issues?

T.L.:  It contains themes of class and exploitation, but I hope it doesn’t come across as didactic and that the novel never loses a sense of fun. I read to escape, to get away from it all, and you can have that with “The Library of the Dead”, but, if you want to go deeper, then it, hopefully, has something to say about the world we live in, too.

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from The Library of the Dead.

T.L.:  “Eat my vag.”

TQWhat's next?

T.L.:  I’ve just turned in the second book in the series ,“Our Lady of Mysterious Ailments”, and, hopefully, that should be out next spring.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

T.L.:  Thanks for having me. This was a LOT of fun!!!

The Library of the Dead
Edinburgh Nights 1
Tor Books, June 1, 2021
Hardcover and eBook, 336 pages
"An absolute delight . . . kept me totally hooked." – Genevieve Cogman, bestselling author of The Invisible Library

Sixth Sense meets Stranger Things in T. L. Huchu's The Library of the Dead, a sharp contemporary fantasy following a precocious and cynical teen as she explores the shadowy magical underside of modern Edinburgh.


Ropa dropped out of school to become a ghostalker – and they sure do love to talk. Now she speaks to Edinburgh’s dead, carrying messages to those they left behind. A girl’s gotta earn a living, and it seems harmless enough. Until, that is, the dead whisper that someone’s bewitching children – leaving them husks, empty of joy and strength. It’s on Ropa’s patch, so she feels honor-bound to investigate. But what she learns will rock her world.

Ropa will dice with death as she calls on Zimbabwean magic and Scottish pragmatism to hunt down clues. And although underground Edinburgh hides a wealth of dark secrets, she also discovers an occult library, a magical mentor and some unexpected allies.

Yet as shadows lengthen, will the hunter become the hunted?

"A fast-moving and entertaining tale, beautifully written." – Ben Aaronovitch, bestselling author of Rivers of London
Amazon : Barnes and Noble : Bookshop : Books-A-Million : IndieBound
Google Play : iBooks : Kobo

About T.L. Huchu

T. L. Huchu (he/him) has been published previously (as Tendai Huchu) in the adult market, but The Library of the Dead is his genre fiction debut. His previous books (The Hairdresser of Harare and The Maestro, The Magistrate and the Mathematician) have been translated into multiple languages and his short fiction has won awards. Tendai grew in up Zimbabwe but has lived in Edinburgh for most of his adult life.

Twitter @TendaiHuchu

Interview with Ava Reid, author of The Wolf and the Woodsman

Please welcome Ava Reid to The Qwillery as part of the 2021 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Wolf and the Woodsman is published on June 8, 2021 by Harper Voyager.

Please join The Qwillery in wishing Ava a Happy Book Birthday!

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

Ava:  Definitely fanfiction for the Warriors series by Erin Hunter. Honestly a very auspicious start for my fantasy career—grimdark middle grade about feral cats.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Ava:  A pantser, absolutely. None of my books have ever been outlined. I find that when I outline I inevitably get bored with the project. I’m definitely a thematic writer, so everything kind of coalesces around a concept, and the details shake out as I write.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Ava:  Revising. I’m a big picture person and anything that involves getting into the nitty gritty is difficult for me. I’m lucky to have critique partners who treat me very gently when I abandon plot threads halfway through or mix up characters mid-scene!

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Ava:  My academic studies, for one. I majored in political science and worked a lot on topics of religion, ethnic nationalism, and state-building—all of which underpin the fantasy genre but are rarely given a lot of actual page time. I’m also very much into the genre-blending speculative work of writers like Kelly Link, Carmen Maria Machado, and Karen Russell. Anything eerie, strange, and a bit mordant.

TQDescribe The Wolf and the Woodsman using only 5 words.

Ava:  Eating things you shouldn’t eat.

TQTell us something about The Wolf and the Woodsman that is not found in the book description.

Ava:  It has no actual wolves, but it does have a bear.

TQWhat inspired you to write The Wolf and the Woodsman? What appeals to you about writing fantasy?

Ava:  There was one precise moment that I remember which served as the impetus for this book. I was reading about Hungary for a paper I was writing for one of my classes, and I ended up down a Wikipedia rabbit hole about Hungarian history. I stumbled upon a sort of casual, throwaway sentence about how Saint Stephen, the first Christian king of Hungary, had his nephew and heir apparent’s eyes stabbed out for being a pagan.

The image of that, the symbolic resonance and the brutality, was so visceral that I couldn’t stop thinking about it. What sort of zealous devotion would prompt such an act of barbarity? Doing more research, I came to understand that sort of cruelty was necessary to the construction of the state of Hungary as we now know it. I’m hardly the first person to conclude that state-building requires violence; Charles Tilly would agree with me on that one—but it was something I rarely saw directly addressed in fantasy.

The Wolf and the Woodsman drew together a lot of disparate threads of history, politics, and culture, but reading that factoid about Saint Stephen that was the moment when I knew: okay, this is a book I need to write.

TQ:  What sort of research did you do for The Wolf and the Woodsman?

Ava:  Lots and lots of historical research about medieval Hungary and about early Christianity. I read about Finno-Ugric languages and Magyar tribes. I read Hungarian ballads and folktales. I read about Jewish magic and mysticism and about Jewish history in Hungary. I also read political monographs about state-building, religion, ethnonationalism, and identity, particularly the works of Charles Tilly, Benedict Anderson, and Edward Said.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for The Wolf and the Woodsman.

Ava:  The cover was actually meticulously hand-painted by Russell Cobb, who did a stunning job rendering so many unique details. There are at least three “Easter eggs” from the book hidden inside the design of the cloak—for people who have read it already, try to find them!

When I initially received the design for the cover, the background was green, not blue. I asked my team if they’d be willing to make it blue instead, as blue is a significant color in Judaism. My grandmother is already telling people that she’s responsible for this change, since many, many months ago I asked her what kind of Jewish elements she’d like to see reflected in the cover!

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

Ava:  The easiest was Gáspár. Even though he’s tormented and has dual loyalties, the core of his character is introspection and compassion. Nándor was much more difficult. Writing villains who are real people and not just avatars for the author’s own opinions is hard. I decided to lean into the glamour and allure that he and his beliefs represent. The concept of a homogeneous, unbroken nation is something that can be very appealing if you don’t think too hard about what it takes to create a country like that.

TQDoes The Wolf and the Woodsman touch on any social issues?

Ava:  It is nearly impossible to write a fantasy book that includes Jews without being political in some way. The fantasy genre relies on the concept of a homogeneous nation state and antisemitism is pretty much one of the foundational blocks of the genre, going back to Tolkien and even further, to medieval myths of blood libel. If you peel back enough layers, most European-set fantasy books are, in some way, tacitly antisemitic.

If you want Jewish people to even exist in your fantasy world, it requires problematizing the notion of a homogeneous nation-state. I wanted to write about a character who doesn’t have the sort of unbending, unconscious patriotism and loyalty to her nation that is usually a given in fantasy books. I wanted to write a character who was typically excluded from narratives, who had to fight for her own inclusion and identity. I was of course inspired by my own cultural heritage, and I think these themes are incredibly resonant in today’s political climate.

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

Ava:  I wish someone would ask if any of the characters are inspired by real people! In truth, most of them are amalgams of various real historical figures, including Saint Stephen himself, but also Andrew I of Hungary (otherwise known as Andrew the White), Béla I of Hungary, and Vazul of House Árpád. (They’re all fascinating people with bloody histories that I highly recommend reading about!)

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from The Wolf and the Woodsman.

Ava:  My favorite non-spoilery quote is “Do not concern yourself with the bear.”

TQWhat's next?

Ava:  My next book is another standalone, a horror-fantasy retelling of Grimm’s The Juniper Tree set in Victorian-era Ukraine. A good portion of my family emigrated from Odessa in the early 20th century, so it was fun to research that time period and also repurpose some apocryphal family stories! It has the last three witches in an industrializing city, a gruesome curse, and varenyky with suspicious filling. Look out for it in summer 2022.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery!

The Wolf and the Woodsman
Harper Voyager, June 8, 2021
Hardcover and eBook, 432 pages
In the vein of Naomi Novik’s New York Times bestseller Spinning Silver and Katherine Arden’s national bestseller The Bear and the Nightingale, this unforgettable debut— inspired by Hungarian history and Jewish mythology—follows a young pagan woman with hidden powers and a one-eyed captain of the Woodsmen as they form an unlikely alliance to thwart a tyrant.

In her forest-veiled pagan village, Évike is the only woman without power, making her an outcast clearly abandoned by the gods. The villagers blame her corrupted bloodline—her father was a Yehuli man, one of the much-loathed servants of the fanatical king. When soldiers arrive from the Holy Order of Woodsmen to claim a pagan girl for the king’s blood sacrifice, Évike is betrayed by her fellow villagers and surrendered.

But when monsters attack the Woodsmen and their captive en route, slaughtering everyone but Évike and the cold, one-eyed captain, they have no choice but to rely on each other. Except he’s no ordinary Woodsman—he’s the disgraced prince, Gáspár Bárány, whose father needs pagan magic to consolidate his power. Gáspár fears that his cruelly zealous brother plans to seize the throne and instigate a violent reign that would damn the pagans and the Yehuli alike. As the son of a reviled foreign queen, Gáspár understands what it’s like to be an outcast, and he and Évike make a tenuous pact to stop his brother.

As their mission takes them from the bitter northern tundra to the smog-choked capital, their mutual loathing slowly turns to affection, bound by a shared history of alienation and oppression. However, trust can easily turn to betrayal, and as Évike reconnects with her estranged father and discovers her own hidden magic, she and Gáspár need to decide whose side they’re on, and what they’re willing to give up for a nation that never cared for them at all.
Amazon : Barnes and Noble : Bookshop : Books-A-Million : IndieBound
Google Play : iBooks : Kobo

About Ava

Ava Reid was born in Manhattan and raised right across the Hudson River in Hoboken, New Jersey, but currently lives in Palo Alto. She has a degree in political science from Barnard College, focusing on religion and ethnonationalism. She has worked for a refugee resettlement organization, for a U.S. senator, and, most recently, for an AI robotics startup. The Wolf and the Woodsman is her first novel.

Website  ~  Twitter @asimonereid

Interview with Nicole Jarvis, author of The Lights of Prague

Please welcome Nicole Jarvis to The Qwillery as part of the 2021 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Lights of Prague was published on May 25, 2021 by Titan Books.

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

Nicole:  I’m happy to be here! I remember writing a short story for fun when I was in elementary school. I was traveling with my childhood crush along the Nile to search for a monstrous giant crocodile. (My crush did not survive to the end of the story. Sometimes we have to make sacrifices for narrative tension!)

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Nicole:  Plotter!

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Nicole:  Even though I carefully plot each draft, I never know if something works until the whole book is written out. I rely heavily on editing once I have everything on paper, but it makes for a lot of deleted and rewritten material!

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Nicole:  I’m influenced by everything around me, but travel often sparks the tone and plot of my work. I hope my books can give people the sense of exploring the world.

TQDescribe The Lights of Prague using only 5 words.

Nicole:  Flames. Lace. Fangs. Cobblestones. Secrets.

TQTell us something about The Lights of Prague that is not found in the book description.

Nicole:  Though the book description focuses on Domek Myska, the monster-hunting lamplighter, half the book is from the point of view of Lady Ora Fischerová, a beautiful widow who is far older than she looks.

TQWhat inspired you to write The Lights of Prague?

Nicole:  I was struck one night with the image of a lamplighter on a misty street jumping into danger—and getting sucked into a much bigger conspiracy—and the rest of the book demanded to be written from there!

TQThe novel is set in gaslight-era Prague. In your opinion what elements are required for a novel to be a Gaslamp fantasy?

Nicole:  Despite literally starring a lamplighter, I didn’t envision The Lights of Prague as a “Gaslamp Fantasy” when I wrote it! I was drawn to the idea of a character who brought not just light but safety to the dark streets, and the era of gaslamps was the perfect fit.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Lights of Prague?

Nicole:  Before I even started writing the first draft, I read several books about the setting to get an idea of the day-to-day life in 1868 Prague. Once I had the frame in place, I went into more detailed research dives on Wikipedia and JSTOR. Later, I visited Prague to envision the book on the ground!

TQPlease tell us about the cover for The Lights of Prague.

Nicole:  Julia Lloyd designed the cover and absolutely blew me away. In addition to being gorgeous and evocative, the cover shows two key landmarks that are central to the book’s plot.

TQIn The Lights of Prague who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Nicole:  Ora was the easiest character to write. I found it natural to balance her light, clever voice and her private grief. The hardest was Kája, the will-o’-the-wisp. I ended up rewriting nearly all of his dialogue over the course of my edits to really nail his personality and plotline.

TQDoes The Lights of Prague touch on any social issues?

Nicole:  There are several social issues touched on in the book, but I was especially determined to include LGBTQ representation. As a bisexual woman, it was very important for me to write about queer characters. We have always existed, even when history has tried to erase us.

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


Question: Which character from The Lights of Prague would you get along with most in real life?

Answer: I would love to have a fancy dinner and joke around with Cord, Domek’s best friend! A charming nobleman with interesting hobbies, he’d know how to have a fun conversation.

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from The Lights of Prague.

Nicole:  I’m still very partial to the opening line! I wanted to bring people right into the atmosphere of Prague at night—

“Dark water reflected the line of gas lamps along the path, the rippling lights echoing the stars stretching overhead.”

TQWhat's next?

Nicole:  I can’t say much, but I will say that my next project is set in Florence—and involved a lot of research into some fascinating historical figures!

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Nicole:  Thank you for having me!

The Lights of Prague
Titan Books, May 25, 2021
Trade Paperback and eBook, 416 pages
In the quiet streets of Prague all manner of mysterious creatures lurk in the shadows. Unbeknownst to its citizens, their only hope against the tide of predators are the dauntless lamplighters – secret elite of monster hunters whose light staves off the darkness each night. Domek Myska leads a life teeming with fraught encounters with the worst kind of evil: pijavice, bloodthirsty and soulless vampiric creatures. Despite this, Domek finds solace in his moments spent in the company of his friend, the clever and beautiful Lady Ora Fischerová - a widow with secrets of her own.

When Domek finds himself stalked by the spirit of the White Lady - a ghost who haunts the baroque halls of Prague castle – he stumbles across the sentient essence of a will-o’-the-wisp captured in a mysterious container. Now, as its bearer, Domek wields its power, but the wisp, known for leading travellers to their deaths, will not be so easily controlled.

After discovering a conspiracy amongst the pijavice that could see them unleash terror on the daylight world, Domek finds himself in a race against those who aim to twist alchemical science for their own dangerous gain.
Amazon : Barnes and Noble : Bookshop : Books-A-Million : IndieBound
Google Play : iBooks : Kobo

Photo by John Adrian
About Nicole

Nicole Jarvis has been writing stories as long as she can remember. After graduating with degrees in English and Italian from Emory University, Nicole moved to New York City and currently works in marketing at Bloomsbury Publishing, and lives in Manhattan with two cats named after children’s book characters. She loves listening to musicals, learning strange histories and thinking about the inner lives of superheroes. The Lights of Prague is her first novel.

Website  ~  Twitter @nicolejarvis

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

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

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

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

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

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

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

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

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

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

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

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

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

TQDescribe Anna using only 5 words.

Sammy:  Terror, Journey, PTSD, strength, peace


A tale of feminine strength

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

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

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

TQWhat inspired you to write Anna?

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

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

TQWhat sort of research did you do for Anna?

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

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

TQPlease tell us about the cover for Anna.

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

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

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

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

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

TQDoes Anna touch on any social issues?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

TQWhat's next?

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

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

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

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

Beaten. Branded. Defiant.

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

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

About Sammy

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


Interview with Sarina Dahlan, author of Reset

Please welcome Sarina Dahlan to The Qwillery as part of the 2021 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Reset is published on May 25, 2021 by Blackstone Publishing.

Please join The Qwillery in wishing Sarina a Happy Book Birthday!

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

Sarina:  Thank you! I’m happy to be here. The first fiction piece I wrote was a story set in the Indonesian immigrant neighborhood of Kampong Java in Bangkok, Thailand—a place where I spent the first twelve years of my life. I don’t remember exactly what it was about. I feel I’ve been writing a variation of this story forever. Kampong Java is a special, magical place and I don’t know if I can ever do it justice. I used it as a setting for a few stories in Shadow Play, a short story collection that I self-published, but I don’t think I’m done. One of these days…

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Sarina:  I’m a pantser for the first few chapters of the book. Then, once I have the story, I plot chapter by chapter in Excel, complete with timeline. The best analogy I can think of is to compare it to my trip to the Emerald Cave in Thailand. First, I swim in partial darkness through a tunnel. Then the tunnel opens up to a hidden lagoon of emerald water and a beach. There, I get to see the place, explore the topography, and examine everything inside it. The plot does change over time depending on new developments and characters that tend to show up unannounced and in the most surprising ways possible.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Sarina:  Oh god, finishing a story. It takes an incredible amount of tenacity and willpower to stay with the story and dig deeper until you hit the bottom. Life was designed to distract writers from writing. It’s a conspiracy.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Sarina:  Other books. Other authors. Mythologies. Philosophy. Masterclass. Writing conferences (which I adore and miss.)

TQDescribe Reset using only 5 words.

Sarina:  I had answered “dystopian love in a utopian society” in another interview, but I thought of another—“Lost lovers in post-apocalyptic utopia.” And yes, I’m counting post-apocalyptic as one word.

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

Sarina:  The two main character, Aris and Metis, are part-Asian. RESET is set in a world where race is a thing of the past because people are conceived by randomly mixing the DNA of the survivors of the Last War. Since race was a social construct of the Old World—used to differentiate and divide—it was eliminated as a threat to peace. So, I purposely did not mention race. Instead I used physical descriptions, and subtle ones.

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

Sarina:  I’ve always gravitated toward “what if” scenarios, so speculative fiction is where I naturally fit as a writer. Fiction is the art of hiding truth in lies—of talking about things people would probably unfollow or unfriend you for in real life by wrapping it in a story far enough from reality to be palatable. Science Fiction is a great platform for that. Through it, we can travel the paths that humanity can potentially take if we are not careful. One such path is what RESET explores.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for Reset?

Sarina:  I actually enjoy the research part of writing, sometimes so much so that I have to stop myself. I did a lot of reading on the brain, neuroscience, how we process memories, dementia, and Alzheimer’s. I don’t retain everything since it’s been four years. But what I learned, I put in the book.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for Reset.

Sarina:  The cover was designed by Kurt Jones at Blackstone Publishing. Blue origami cranes feature prominently in the book as a way for the Dreamers to pass on secret information, and the Four Cities is a metropolis in the middle of the desert. Combining the two seems as natural as breathing to me. I also love the hopefulness that the crane represents. It’s the best cover I could have hoped for.

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

Sarina:  The easiest character to write was probably Benja. He was quite incessant—his personality just leapt off the page. He has this fierce honesty and a confidence that I’m a bit envious of. The hardest character for me was Metis. I had to rewrite him a few times. He’s naturally quiet, but has this pensive complexity and a weighty seriousness. He was a bit intimidating to approach at first, but incredibly romantic once he lets you in. I’m not even sure if he had let me in fully.

TQDoes Reset touch on any social issues?

Sarina:  I created the Four Cities as a utopia that answers some of our current and prevalent social issues: racism, extreme capitalism, homelessness, warfare, climate crisis. I used the lyrics of “Imagine” as a template for that peaceful world, and Buddhist philosophy as a way to achieve it. Buddhism teaches that detachment is the path to nirvana. If memories are the seeds of all forms of attachment, erasing memories is then a logical shortcut to peace. In this world, racism is removed by randomly mixing survivors’ DNA. Capitalism by assigning jobs and equal “pay” via an entertainment points system. Homelessness by assigning housing. Climate crisis by controlling resource consumption. Warfare by deleting ownership, thus the desire to accumulate and create dynasties. Essentially eliminating human shortcomings by removing them from our hands. But every utopia is someone’s dystopia. And this world is a dystopia for those who wish to remember whom they loved and lost. Ultimately Reset is a love story that happens to be set in this utopian/dystopian world.

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


Q: How did you come up with the names of Aris and Metis, and for the Four Cities?

A: The Planner who created the Four Cities was a lover of Greek philosophy and mythology. I named Aris after Aristotle, the philosopher to whom the concept of “unscribed tablet” is attributed to. Metis is also a Greek name originally of a Titan goddess of wisdom—but I pronounce it differently. I like that the names of Aris and Metis are gender exchanged. The Four Cities was named after four of Jupiter’s moons. I picked them based on the way they look.

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

Sarina:  I’m going to chance this and choose two quotes from non-main characters in Reset.

“You haven’t experienced agony until you stare into the eyes of someone you love and see no trace of recognition. I’ve witnessed what it can do to a person.” – the Crone

“With the mind a blank slate, everyone has the freedom to author their own soul. Tabula Rasa. It is the future. It is what will save humanity.” – the Planner

TQWhat's next?

Sarina:  I’ve been furiously writing a prequel to Reset, meant to be read after. It centers on the story of the two creators of the Four Cities right before the vote to enact Tabula Rasa. If Reset is a story about a marriage coming together, this story is about a marriage coming apart under the weight of the world.

TQ:  Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Sarina:  It’s been great. Thank you so much for having me.

Blackstone Publishing, May 25, 2021
Hardcover and eBook, 340 pages
Can you love someone you don't remember?

After the Last War destroyed most of the world, survivors form a new society in four self-sustaining cities in the Mojave Desert. In the utopia of the Four Cities, inspired by the lyrics of "Imagine" and Buddhist philosophy, everything is carefully planned and controlled: the seasons, the weather-and the residents. To prevent mankind from destroying each other again, its citizens undergo a memory wipe every four years in a process called tabula rasa, a blank slate, to remove learned prejudices. With each new cycle, they begin again with new names, jobs, homes, and lives. No memories. No attachments. No wars.

Aris, a scientist who shuns love, embraces tabula rasa and the excitement of unknown futures. Walling herself off from emotional attachments, she only sees relationships as pointless and avoids deep connections. But she is haunted by a recurring dream that becomes more frequent and vivid as time passes. After meeting Benja, a handsome free-spirited writer who believes his dreams of a past lover are memories, her world is turned upside down. Obsessed with finding the Dreamers, a secret organization thought to have a way to recover memories, Benja draws her down a dangerous path toward the past. When Metis, the leader of the Dreamers, appears in Aris's life, everything she believes falls to pieces. With little time left before the next tabula rasa, they begin a bittersweet romance, navigating love in a world where names, lives, and moments are systematically destroyed.

Thought-provoking and emotionally resonant, Reset will make you consider the haunting reality of love and loss, and the indelible marks they leave behind.
Amazon : Barnes and Noble : Bookshop : Books-A-Million : IndieBound
Google Play : Kobo

Photo by David Dann
About Sarina

Sarina Dahlan was born into an Indonesian family in Thailand, and immigrated to the United States at the age of twelve. While children in the west grow up on fairy tales, she learned parables through ghost stories, mythologies, and Japanese manga.

A graduate of the University of California, San Diego, with degrees in psychology and visual arts, she has blended both disciplines in careers as an advertising producer, a corporate marketing strategist, and an award-winning writer. She lives in California with her family and is currently raising her three children on a healthy diet of history, Thai curry, and scientific thinking.

Reset is her first novel.

Website  ~  Twitter @SarinaDahlan

2021 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars - May 2021 Debuts

Each month you will be able to vote for your favorite cover from that month's debut novels. At the beginning of 2022 the 12 monthly winners will be pitted against each other to choose the 2021 Debut Novel Cover of the Year. Please note that a debut novel cover is eligible in the month in which the novel is published in the US. Cover artist/illustrator/designer information is provided when we have it.

I'm using PollCode for this vote. After you the check the circle next to your favorite, click "Vote" to record your vote. If you'd like to see the real-time results click "View". This will take you to the PollCode site where you may see the results. If you want to come back to The Qwillery click "Back" and you will return to this page. Voting will end sometime on  June 10, 2021, unless the vote is extended. If the vote is extended the ending date will be updated.

Vote for your favorite May 2021 Debut Cover! free polls

Cover by Head Design

Cover illustrations: © Shutterstock
Cover design by Jo Mylar © Hodder & Stoughton

Cover art by Stephan Martiniere

Interview with J. S. Dewes, author of The Last Watch

Please welcome J. S. Dewes to The Qwillery as part of the 2021 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Last Watch was published on April 20, 2021 by Tor Books.

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

J. S.:  Thank you so much for having me!

I have a problematically terrible memory, and can’t even begin to recall what my first piece of fiction might have been! My first vague memory of writing fiction was probably from third grade or so, when my teacher told us to forget about spelling and grammar and just get our ideas on the page. I think that comment somewhat horrified my mother, haha, but in retrospect it was actually great advice! You can’t revise a blank page, after all. :)

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

J. S.:  I definitely started out a full-on pantser, and I discovery wrote all of The Last Watch. However, since then I’ve written two more books and learned a lot more about myself as a writer in the process. Though I wouldn’t say I’ve settled fully, I’m currently pretty much a hybrid. I’ve frankensteined a flexible plot structure from a few different sources that works well for the kind of stories I like to tell, and I’ve used it to help my panster brain craft those pesky outlines editors and agents sometimes want to see.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

J. S.:  Though every phase has its different challenges, I find organizing revisions probably the most difficult. Though I’ve devised a system that works pretty well for me, setting up a revision plan within that system is hugely time consuming, and I definitely wish my brain was able to just contain and process it all at once, and I wouldn’t have to structure it all within a ridiculously detailed organization scheme. Alas.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing? How does script writing affect (or not) your novel writing?

J. S.:  I draw from a wide variety of influences—video games, films and television, concept art (Pinterest & Art Station), and more. Music is a big one—all my story ideas thus far have come from song lyrics, and music is a part of my process during every phase of writing. I love creating playlists for different books, scenes, moods, and characters, and it’s a big part of my creative immersion process. (Which is greatly helpful when you can only squeeze in an hour or two of writing a day!)

And yes, I definitely think script writing had an impact on my novel writing. Though I didn’t fully realize it at the time, looking back I think that experience informed my instincts while pantsing my first couple novels; I didn’t have to undertake any structural edits at any point for The Last Watch, and I think that was in large part due to my understanding of plot and pacing from having written screenplays. There are definitely other relevant skills that transfer, especially things like showing versus telling, characterization, and dialogue.

TQDescribe The Last Watch using only 5 words.

J. S.:  Criminal soldiers fight danger physics!

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

J. S.:  Despite the high concept conveyed in the blurb, the story is actually very tightly focused on the characters and their relationships. Also, there are 144 instances of the F word.

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

J. S.:  The original concept for The Last Watch was inspired by a song lyric! There’s a song I’ve loved for years called “Highwayman” (written by Jimmy Webb, performed by The Highwaymen), with a line: “I’ll fly a starship across the universe divide.” That got me thinking about what might lie outside the confines of the universe, or what might happen if the universe stopped expanding and you tried to find the edge.

Science fiction is great for so many reasons—outer space, aliens, and fun technology not least among them. But when it gets down to it, I love science fiction because it gives you a really unique way to reframe modern issues, allowing you to explore and attack those questions through a different but familiar lens. There’s also just a very specific mix of wonder and fear only science fiction can evoke, and that’s always intrigued me.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Last Watch?

J. S.:  Quite a lot of research went into The Last Watch! Some of the minor categories were things like military protocol, ordnance, political science, computer & electronic engineering, and I did a fair amount of digging into fusion reactors (specifically ITER.)
      The biggest research category by far was physics, in pretty much every flavor. Physical cosmology was a big one (shape of the universe, components, structure, etc.), as well as gravitational physics, relativity, quantum mechanics, and some specifics regarding zero-g and weightlessness. And math, so much math. I truly dread math, but it’s a necessary evil in the world of physic
     I definitely *over* researched, considering what made it into the actual text. I tried to make my science as “believable” and realistic as possible, while allowing for variation when it best served the story to expand outside of those margins. I didn’t want to alienate readers by going on long technical rants, and wanted the experience to stay focused on the characters and plot, with science and technology as a background. As a result, I think this falls somewhat firmly in the center of hard and soft sci-fi, but we’ll see what the readers think about that. :)

TQPlease tell us about the cover for The Last Watch.

J. S.:  I absolutely love how the cover turned out! As soon as my editor suggested the concept, I readily agreed, and couldn’t wait to see it come to fruition. Asking for a depiction of utter annihilation from space and time at the edge of the universe is a pretty big ask, but designer Peter Lutjen...well...annihilated it. Between the contrasting colors, gradient of stars, and surreal depiction of unraveling matter, it perfectly evokes the scope and existential chaos of the setting.

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

J. S.:  I’m lucky in that pretty much all my characters went very easy on me, and I love writing all of them! But if I had to pick one as the easiest, I’d go with Cavalon Mercer, the sarcastic disowned prince who’s one of the two point of view characters. It’s like there’s a switch in my brain I can just flip at will to turn on his voice, and he just flows right out of me and onto the page. Writing from his perspective is so easy, and a total blast!
      The most difficult was probably Griffith Bach. Though he’s not a POV character, he’s definitely in the category of “primary” and I’d (accidentally) wildly underdeveloped him in the early drafts. During revisions my editor encouraged me to flesh him out, and I quickly realized I’d created kind of a cardboard cut-out of a person.
      Most of the time when I’m writing characters, their histories and personalities and secrets come through to me pretty naturally, but that wasn’t so much the case with Griffith. I really had to dig into his backstory and mindset and come up with a lot of “off screen” content in order flesh him out for the final draft. The result was absolutely incredible however, and the way he ties into the plot and other characters now is light-years better than before, so I’m super glad I went to the effort!

TQDoes The Last Watch touch on any social issues?

J. S.:  Yes, definitely! Though the setting of The Last Watch is fairly contained, there are a lot of subplots and hints in the worldbuilding surrounding the social issues prevalent in their society—topics like segregation, discrimination, human rights, as well as moral questions in regards to things like cloning and eugenics. Without getting into spoilers, I can say that the second book in the series delves more deeply into some broader social and political issues, some of which, coincidentally, more directly reflect our own society than I would like. :)

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

J. S.: “Do you want fan art for The Last Watch?”
         Why yes, yes I do!

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from The Last Watch.

J. S.:  “You do not seem appropriately shocked.”

          “Physics doesn’t really give a shit about your existential disposition, Rake!”

TQWhat's next?

J. S.:  Next up for me is the release of The Exiled Fleet on August 17—the second book in The Divide series and sequel The Last Watch! I’ll also be continuing my “virtual tour” for The Last Watch with some panels and chats with other authors, all of which I’m very much looking forward to!

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

J. S.:  Thank you so much for having me!

The Last Watch
The Divide 1
Tor Books, April 20, 2021
Trade Paperback and eBook, 480 pages
The Expanse meets Game of Thrones in J. S. Dewes's fast-paced, sci-fi adventure The Last Watch, where a handful of soldiers stand between humanity and annihilation.

Most Anticipated Book for April 2021:
Nerd Daily
Geek Tyrant
SFF 180

Amazon Best of the Month April 2021

The Divide.

It’s the edge of the universe.

Now it’s collapsing—and taking everyone and everything with it.

The only ones who can stop it are the Sentinels—the recruits, exiles, and court-martialed dregs of the military.

At the Divide, Adequin Rake commands the Argus. She has no resources, no comms—nothing, except for the soldiers that no one wanted. Her ace in the hole could be Cavalon Mercer--genius, asshole, and exiled prince who nuked his grandfather's genetic facility for “reasons.”

She knows they’re humanity's last chance.
Amazon : Barnes and Noble : Bookshop : Books-A-Million : IndieBound
Google Play : iBooks : Kobo


The Exiled Fleet
The Divide 2
Tor Books, August 17, 2021
Trade Paperback and eBook, 432 pages
J. S. Dewes continues her fast paced, science fiction action adventure with The Exiled Fleet, where The Expanse meets The Black Company—the survivors of The Last Watch refuse to die.

The Sentinels narrowly escaped the collapsing edge of the Divide.

They have mustered a few other surviving Sentinels, but with no engines they have no way to leave the edge of the universe before they starve.

Adequin Rake has gathered a team to find the materials they'll need to get everyone out.

To do that they're going to need new allies and evade a ruthless enemy. Some of them will not survive.
Amazon : Barnes and Noble : Bookshop : Books-A-Million : IndieBound
Google Play : iBooks : Kobo

About J. S. Dewes
Photo by Dave Dewes

After graduating from Columbia College Chicago with a degree in film production, J. S. Dewes went on to serve as cinematographer for independent films, write, produce, and shoot a zombie musical, slay internet dragons, and act as lighting designer for presidents and presidential-hopefuls so many times it became mundane. Having grown weary of such pedestrian exploits, she decided to begin forging worlds in the form of novels, returning to her roots in science fiction and the written word.

She currently resides in Madison, Wisconsin with her husband, who’s proven to be a mixed blessing, but he makes her laugh, so she’s decided to stick it out. They have two dogs (full blessings) and a cat of unpredictable demeanor. The Last Watch is her debut novel.

Website  ~  Facebook  ~  Twitter @jsdewes

July 2021 DebutsInterview with Marissa Levien, author of The World Gives WayInterview with David Bowles, author of The Blue-Spangled BlueInterview with T.L. Huchu, author of The Library of the DeadInterview with Ava Reid, author of The Wolf and the WoodsmanInterview with Nicole Jarvis, author of The Lights of PragueInterview with Sammy H.K. Smith, author of AnnaInterview with Sarina Dahlan, author of Reset2021 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars - May 2021 DebutsInterview with J. S. Dewes, author of The Last Watch

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