The Qwillery | category: Angry Robot Books


The Qwillery

A blog about books and other things speculative

Interview with Wendy Trimboli and Alicia Zaloga, authors of The Resurrectionist of Caliga

Please welcome Wendy Trimboli and Alicia Zaloga to The Qwillery as part of the 2019 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Resurrectionist of Caligo was published on September 10, 2019 by Angry Robot.

Interview with Wendy Trimboli and Alicia Zaloga, authors of The Resurrectionist of Caliga

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

Wendy:  At some point in second grade, I made the leap from “plagiarizing” Misty of Chincoteague to creating an original popup book about a dinosaur with a time machine who befriends a petite dino-fairy…and I can’t say my stylistic tendencies have significantly changed much since then.

Alicia:  Everything I wrote before a certain age is a foggy blank, so all that remains is my high fantasy novel that I started in high school. There was amnesia! There were dark family secrets! And characters introduced only to be killed a few chapters later! It goes without saying it was epic in length.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Wendy:  I am an incorrigible pantser and chaos fairy. Left to my own devices, once I find a character voice that intrigues me, I will chase them around and make them increasingly miserable because their tears bring me great joy.

Alicia:  I’m a pantser who aspires to be a plotter until I actually sit down and start typing and suddenly nothing goes the way I planned in my head.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing together?

Wendy:  Figuring out the lines of demarcation—what’s mine, what’s yours, and in what circumstances may we cross that line? With one exception, all the characters fall into either a “Wendy” or “Alicia” bucket—this determined who had the final say on that character’s voice, motivation etc. While we (usually) drafted our respective POV character’s chapters, we also heavily edited in one another’s sections to ensure the cross-over character voices and overall tone stayed consistent throughout.

Alicia:  Giving up full creative control. It’s something that’s very easy to take for granted, but it’s definitely the most challenging aspect of working together. We have different likes and dislikes, different writing habits, and different ways of attacking the work. So when we set about discovering characters and setting, we constantly need to open ourselves to what the other person wants to bring to the table regardless of whether or not it’s an aspect we naturally would have included on our own.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Wendy:  I have a soft spot for dark, offbeat, obscure lit, especially if it challenges me emotionally, and I do my best to learn from eclectic reading. Writing is how I’ve dealt with past trauma in my life, and so I tend to reach for the biggest, scariest, emotions I can, then inundate my characters with everything I can throw at them. They do the work for me. I find myself writing a lot about death—it’s cathartic.

Alicia:  My influences tend to be mercurial, and they’re never limited to one medium. For instance, this week, I’m absolutely in love with Isak Danielson’s song Power, TwoSetViolin YouTube videos, re-watching episodes of Justified, and reading about the history of safecracking. And all of that is getting baked into what I’m writing at the moment, whether through mood, inspiration, or as research.

TQDescribe The Resurrectionist of Caligo using only 5 words.

Wendy:  magic is fake, hail science! (don’t mind me, I’m just trolling my co-author. #TeamScience)

Alicia:  (I see how it is… #RealMagic) mysterious happenings and unrequited angst

TQTell us something about The Resurrectionist of Caligo that is not found in the book description.

Wendy:  Books are frequently discussed according to their central romantic relationships, but what about other key relationships? One of my personal favorites is Roger’s friendship with a ferocious graveyard-haunting wild child.

TQWhat inspired you to write The Resurrectionist of Caligo?

Wendy:  It all started as a “for fun” writing exercise. Alicia emailed me a letter that began “Dear Snotsniffer” (uh…it’s still in the final draft) and that set the tone for our character’s snarky exchanges around which the entire book is built on. She let me pick the setting (gothic Victorian cemeteries!) and is still regretting that decision.

Alicia:  On a very basic level, I just wanted to try a fun letter exchange writing exercise and somehow managed to convince Wendy to participate as the other half. I actually didn’t go into the project with very many expectations of what it would be.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Resurrectionist of Caligo?

Wendy:  I am fascinated by morbid history, and this book provided ample excuses for procrastination—err, research. I read 200-year-old (digital) copies of The Lancet medical journal to learn bloodletting techniques, collected necropolis photographs, perused poems written to commemorate hangings. In an emergency, I could probably extricate a corpse from a coffin using an old Scottish method…

Alicia:  I wanted the magic to have its root in aquatic life, so I spent a good deal of time exploring different sea creatures—from jellyfish to squids to the mighty pistol shrimp—and their various underwater traits. I also read up on how to address royalty in letters and greetings and how pet names were created within royal families. And then there was the concertina… Despite very few scenes making it through the editing process with the princess actually playing the instrument, I myself watched endless videos and listened to several performances in an attempt to get a feel for how one would play the instrument. I even contemplated buying my own concertina at one point, but fortunately reason prevailed, as I’m sure I’d be even worse at learning the thing than Sibylla is in the book.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for The Resurrectionist of Caligo.

Wendy:  Our amazing cover artist John Coulthart ( couldn’t have designed a more fitting cover. It features our leads, Sibylla and Roger, who are aptly facing away from each other (they’ve had a falling out from the start). Sibylla has a hand raised, and her ink-magic flows in ribbons around the border. Meanwhile, “Man of Science” Roger holds a skull and stares down his biggest fear. My favorite detail is the central anatomical heart, which I think sums up their strained relationship perfectly.

Alicia:  And if you want to know more, check out this post where the artist specifically discusses the challenge of creating our particular cover:

TQIn The Resurrectionist of Caligo who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Wendy:  Ada the ferocious waif was pretty easy—I subverted the sweet Cosette type and channeled Maddie Ziegler from the Sia music videos. Roger was more challenging in his complexity. Male protagonists in SFF often exude power, logic, and/or sexual appeal. Roger gets the short end of the stick in every department except the soft heart he shields behind a defensive, snarky voice. Since he’s more flawed cinnamon bun than action hero, I couldn’t let him bust heads to solve his problems (and he has many).

Alicia:  For me, the easiest was Harrod, Roger’s naval captain older brother. He’s a straightforward individual and has very defined ways of behaving with the other characters in the book. I didn’t really feel like any character was hard to write so much as almost every character had a challenging rewrite moment/scene. Rewrites tend to require the extras: extra explanations, extra understanding, extra delivery of head canon, which makes them trickier.

TQDoes The Resurrectionist of Caligo touch on any social issues?

Wendy:  Class differences play a big role in the book. Near the bottom of the social hierarchy, Roger has pride but virtually no power, so he rages ineffectually against the system while trying (and failing) to live his life outside it.

Alicia:  There’s a lot of exploration of position and how that position can vary in different contexts. Sibylla, as a princess, has a great deal of power over the vast majority of society in the book, however, within her own family, she has very little freedom or ability to exercise her own will.

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

Alicia:  What’s up with Sibylla’s parents? So glad you asked… It was very important to me when writing Sibylla that she not be the orphaned princess who tragically lost her parents or the horribly mistreated princess suffering under the weight of her nefarious, overbearing parent(s) who wants to take over the world. In many ways, Sibylla’s parents are lovingly absentee, and Sibylla absolutely adores them. Her mother in particular is pragmatic and warm. She genuinely wants her daughter to find happiness but also understands the confines of her royal position. Her advice in the book is easily one of my favorite aspects of a character.

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from The Resurrectionist of Caligo.


“‘Those class differences you harp upon ain’t real!’ Roger shouted. ‘No human is better than another. I’ve cut up enough of ‘em, and we all look more or less the same on the inside. We all rot when we’re dead. A smart man may have a small brain or the other way ‘round. Royals claim their faerie magic, but it’s all smoke and mirrors.’”


“Whether she liked it or not, Roger had turned into one of the most ostentatious writers she’d ever had the displeasure to come across, as in love with his own words as he was with his transgressions.”

TQWhat's next?

Wendy:  Right now I’m working on an odd little story about a put-upon astronaut being stalked by an otherworldly cat, and hopefully I can stick the landing. It’s hard for me to talk about works in progress because they often turn into completely different things by the time—or if—they make it out into the world.

Alicia:  All the things, no seriously… all the things. I keep bouncing around between several projects I equally love. Who will win in the end? Only time will decide.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

The Resurrectionist of Caligo
Angry Robot, September 10, 2019
Trade Paperback and eBook, 360 pages

Interview with Wendy Trimboli and Alicia Zaloga, authors of The Resurrectionist of Caliga
With a murderer on the loose, it’s up to an enlightened bodysnatcher and a rebellious princess to save the city, in this wonderfully inventive Victorian-tinged fantasy noir.

“Man of Science” Roger Weathersby scrapes out a risky living digging up corpses for medical schools. When he’s framed for the murder of one of his cadavers, he’s forced to trust in the superstitions he’s always rejected: his former friend, princess Sibylla, offers to commute Roger’s execution in a blood magic ritual which will bind him to her forever. With little choice, he finds himself indentured to Sibylla and propelled into an investigation. There’s a murderer loose in the city of Caligo, and the duo must navigate science and sorcery, palace intrigue and dank boneyards to catch the butcher before the killings tear their whole country apart.

File Under: Fantasy [ Straybound | Royal Magic | A Good Hanging | Secret Sister ]

About the Authors

Interview with Wendy Trimboli and Alicia Zaloga, authors of The Resurrectionist of Caliga
Wendy Trimboli grew up in England, Germany and the United States, and learned to speak two languages well enough that most people can understand her. Determined to ignore her preference for liberal arts, she attended the US Air Force Academy then worked as an intelligence officer, which was less exciting than it sounds. These days she has a creative writing MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and lives in Colorado with her family, border collie, and far too many books.

Twitter @Bookish_Wendy

Interview with Wendy Trimboli and Alicia Zaloga, authors of The Resurrectionist of Caliga
Alicia Zaloga grew up in Virginia Beach not liking the beach, and now moves every few years, sometimes to places near beaches. She has a writing degree from Columbia College Chicago, and when she’s not dealing with life’s chores, she collects hobbies: plucking the E string on the bass, producing an alarming number of artistic doodles, and French beading floral bouquets.

Twitter @alicia_zaloga

Interview with Tyler Hayes, author of The Imaginary Corpse

Please welcome Tyler Hayes to The Qwillery as part of the 2019 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Imaginary Corpse is published on September 10, 2019 by Angry Robot.

Interview with Tyler Hayes, author of The Imaginary Corpse

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

Tyler:  When I was ten years old, I wrote a two-page piece of Anne of Green Gables fan fiction about Anne visiting my fifth grade classroom. I think it was a writing prompt, but I don’t remember for sure; I do remember the piece implied I had a crush on Anne and I wound up writing in permanent marker on the paper that I refused to read it aloud in class.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Tyler:  Plotter with pantser tendencies. I world-build and outline meticulously but I find myself skidding and drifting all over the place once I get down to the actual prose. I find I don’t really know a character or a scene until I sit down to write it, and sometimes I discover I’ve thrown a monkey wrench into my own plan.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Tyler:  The doubt. Art is very personal and very subjective, and I have an anxiety disorder for added neurochemical fun. I have some days where doing the work is a struggle just because my own brain is telling me that I’m not good enough, that there’s something wrong with the work I’m not seeing. For reasons I’m sure will always be a mystery, it seems to happen most frequently during revisions.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Tyler:  The fiction I read, of course, but also the fiction I watch and the fiction I play. I’m an avid video gamer (mostly Steam with an odd dash of old X-Box and SNES games) and player of tabletop RPGs, and both of those have leaked into my work. My experiences in therapy for anxiety and PTSD and my ongoing time as a part of social justice circles have also left their marks.

If I were to analyze my literary DNA, I’d point to Mike Carey, Raymond Chandler, Neil Gaiman, Tim Powers, and Noelle Stevenson for prose and comics; from TV, Steven Universe; from film, Wes Anderson, Pixar, and Guillermo del Toro; and from video games, Chrono Trigger, EarthBound, Sam and Max Hit the Road, and Silent Hill. I’d give a lot of credit to the narrative beats used in a Dungeons & Dragons campaign and the melancholy world-building of the tabletop RPG Changeling: the Dreaming, too.

TQDescribe The Imaginary Corpse using only 5 words.

Tyler:  Trauma, murder, comfort, healing, imagination. Or “Imaginary stuffed dinosaur fights crime.”

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

Tyler:  For all that it does carry a lot of noir sensibilities, The Imaginary Corpse absolutely rejects the cynicism of noir in favor of hope and empathy. That was a deliberate choice on my part.

TQWhat inspired you to write The Imaginary Corpse?

TylerThe Imaginary Corpse is a stone soup put together out of childhood memories of a game of Let’s Pretend, my experiences working on my own mental health and helping friends deal with theirs, my love of noir style, my desire to tell a story about imagination, and my desire to tell a story about trauma.

TQWhy a triceratops?

Tyler:  Tippy is based on my own childhood stuffed animal, Tippy, who is a plush yellow triceratops. I figured, what better imaginary character to put in the driver’s seat of the narrative than one who had kind of been loved Real already?

TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Imaginary Corpse?

Tyler:  A lot of my research came in the form of reading fiction, especially the work of Raymond Chandler, whom I’d always love but hadn’t come back to in a few years. I wanted to make sure I was doing an homage to his wit without just copying his voice or compromising my own. I also did a lot of informal research into trauma, anxiety, healing from abuse, and similar topics.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for The Imaginary Corpse.

Tyler:  The artist is Francesca Corsini. It depicts a character from the novel in the form of Tippy, but otherwise it is very much an abstract representation of what’s inside -- that particular scene doesn’t occur anywhere. But Corsini’s drawing of him really tells you a lot about who he is: you see he’s a detective in the way he dresses, and his missing eye both clues you in that he’s a stuffed animal and hints at the damage done to him and the other Ideas living in the Stillreal. The clenched fist gives you a sense of human connection, a rooting in the real world, but it’s also off to the side, not the primary focus, just like the Realworld in the narrative. The skewed view of the buildings in the background gets you ready for the dreamlike and weird qualities of the book’s voice, and the colors reference both Fritz Lang’s movie posters and Frank Miller’s Sin City artwork, which help give you some genre and tonal hints.

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

Tyler:  Tippy is the easiest character to write of any character I have ever written. The way he thinks and talks just flows out of me like it was always there. It isn’t even because he sounds exactly like me -- he’s someone separate, but he’s close to my heart.

The hardest character to write was Big Business. I can picture his personality and demeanor just fine, but his way of speaking in business buzzwords was very hard for me, as someone who has only minimal experience with that kind of environment. He required a lot of research and revision.

TQDoes The Imaginary Corpse touch on any social issues?

TylerThe Imaginary Corpse is, on one level, about mental health, so it very much touches on the ways in which people get traumatized and abuse, and the ways in which we can help and hinder each other in our separate journeys to get better. It’s also in a lot of ways a response to today’s political climate, though early drafts started before the absolute horror show that was 2016. I needed to write a world where being kind was the answer, so I could try to remember it’s the answer here.

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


Q: If The Imaginary Corpse weren’t a book, what form of entertainment would it be?

A: An adventure game in the vein of The Longest Journey or Thimbleweed Park. The bizarre logic, the disparate settings, the mystery thread, it all feels like it’d play naturally as a series of puzzles with some solid graphics work and voice-acting. Plus a video game would be a great place to capture all the different aesthetics of all the various Ideas.

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from The Imaginary Corpse.


“Big Business flashes his real smile – the big, terrifying one. It fills the entire bottom of his face, his cheeks folding up into a flying V to accommodate all those professionally polished teeth. I’ve seen that smile on one other being in my entire memory. It was a T-rex.”

“The entrance is a single black door with a bouncer in front of it, a pile of muscles shoved into a coat. She looks at me with eyes just begging for a good fight, quickly decides I’m not going to give it to her, and goes back to glowering at the world like it owes her money. I keep my quip to myself, and head inside.”

TQWhat's next?

Tyler:  Next up, I’m working on a possible sequel for The Imaginary Corpse. I’m also working on a contemporary fantasy we’ve been pitching as Lucha Underground meets Winter Tide, and I have a love letter to Dungeons & Dragons on deck for whenever I get the time for it.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Tyler:  Thank you so much for having me!

The Imaginary Corpse
Angry Robot, September 10, 2019
Trade Paperback and eBook, 400 pages

Interview with Tyler Hayes, author of The Imaginary Corpse
A dinosaur detective in the land of unwanted ideas battles trauma, anxiety, and the first serial killer of imaginary friends.

Most ideas fade away when we’re done with them. Some we love enough to become Real. But what about the ones we love, and walk away from?

Tippy the triceratops was once a little girl’s imaginary friend, a dinosaur detective who could help her make sense of the world. But when her father died, Tippy fell into the Stillreal, the underbelly of the Imagination, where discarded ideas go when they’re too Real to disappear. Now, he passes time doing detective work for other unwanted ideas – until Tippy runs into the Man in the Coat, a nightmare monster who can do the impossible: kill an idea permanently. Now Tippy must overcome his own trauma and solve the case, before there’s nothing left but imaginary corpses.

File Under: Fantasy [ Fuzzy Fiends | Death to Imagination | Hardboiled but Sweet | Not Barney ]

About Tyler

Interview with Tyler Hayes, author of The Imaginary Corpse
Tyler Hayes is a science fiction and fantasy writer from Northern California. He writes stories he hopes will show people that not only are we not alone in this terrifying world, but we might just make things better. His fiction has appeared online and in print in anthologies from Alliteration InkGraveside Tales, and AetherwatchThe Imaginary Corpse is Tyler’s debut novel.

Website  ~  Facebook  ~  Twitter @the_real_tyler

Interview with Keren Landsman, author of The Heart of the Circle

Please welcome Keren Landsman to The Qwillery as part of the 2019 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Heart of the Circle was published on August 13, 2019 by Angry Robot.

Interview with Keren Landsman, author of The Heart of the Circle

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

Keren:  I've been writing since I learned how, but I think my first try at writing something that I meant to publish was a trilogy about a 16 years old girl (guess how old I was then...?) whose brain was transplanted into a robot's body, and was sent back in time to fight criminals. It was awesome, and I had planned to do a trilogy, but sadly quit after 20 pages... I still love that story since it was the first time I tried writing "for real".

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Keren:  I think everyone is a hybrid of sorts. I'm mostly a discovery writer, and I almost always start writing with just a sense of the main character and the world it lives in. It causes me to get stuck a lot of times, and I throw away tons of pixels, but it's the price you pay when you don't plan.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Keren:  The writing itself! I love it when it's easy, but usually finding the correct phrase or the perfect word can take hours and even days. Putting the words, one after the other, is agonising for me. I hate editing too. The story is done, the pain is over, but then I have to dig into it again and correct everything I missed. I prefer the planning (which I rarely do) and the talking about how awesome the story is going to be (before I actually write it).

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Keren:  The world. My family. Great books and short stories that I had the immense pleasure to read. Terrible books and short stories that taught me how not to write. Talking with writers. Talking with non writers. Working as a physician in a free STD clinic. Working as an epidemiologist in the ministry of health. Talking online with vaccine-hesitant parents. Reading the news. Talking to people with different life experience than mine. But mostly, editing. I was extremely lucky to work with great editors throughout the years who helped me to shape my writing and taught me how to better utilise my tools.

TQDescribe The Heart of the Circle using only 5 words.


Out. For. A. Circle.
(An edited Buffy quote)

TQTell us something about The Heart of the Circle that is not found in the book description.

Keren:  It originally started as a short story. I aimed for a 15000 word story about am equal rights movement and magic. But the characters were so much fun, and I just couldn't stop wondering what will happen next, that I just continued writing.

TQWhat inspired you to write The Heart of the Circle? What appeals to you about writing Contemporary / Urban Fantasy?

Keren:  I love urban fantasy and have done ever since I first read Narnia. The idea that magic can exist so close to me, and that I just need the find the right key to unlock it, is astounding. The reason The Heart of the Circle is set in Tel Aviv is because I wanted magic near me. I wanted my world, my everyday life in a book, and I wanted a sweet, funny, light story to be set in that location. Well, I got 50% of my plan. That's better than most writing plans I have!

TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Heart of the Circle?

Keren:  Aside from the obvious - talking with psychologists to better understand empathy and psychopathy in real world, police officers to make sure the police work sections would be reliable, a few historians to find how to place alternative history in a real Israel, digging for hours in Reddit/drugs to better describe some of Reed's experiences, and loads of motorcycle forums and articles for the shortest description in the world regarding the bike mentioned ("Green"). My favorite two researches were talking for hours with my dad, who is a firearms specialist, to describe the gun that is used in one scene.

TQ:   Please tell us about the cover for The Heart of the Circle?

Keren:  There are two covers - the Israeli one was designed by Imri Zertal and it shows a circle of women. It is a very calm cover which emphasizes the community sense of the book. The English cover was designed by Francesca Corsini, and it shows a graffiti-like resistance poster, which is inspired by the underground feeling in it. I love how two people saw two completely different interpretations to the same book. It's amazing.

TQIn The Heart of the Circle who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Keren:  The easiest were Reed's parents. Since they are very similar to my own, I just used my love for my parents and mixed it with all the little fights, the pettiness and the resentment that arises in many child-parent relationships. The hardest to write was Oleander. In the original draft he was a minor character, a woman, and was mainly for comic relief. Only in later rewrites did he switch sex, gender, earned a bigger role, and started influencing major parts of the plot. It was hard writing him since he is one of the characters farthest away from my and my experiences.

TQDoes The Heart of the Circle touch on any social issues?

Keren:  Yes and no. There are a few social issues that are dealt with in the book. I tried to touch on human rights, LGBTQ rights, marginalized population, and the importance of different support systems. However, I don't define those as "issues" necessarily. I believe they should be a part of everyday life. I think people should treat everyone with respect and support, without discrimination.

TQWhich question about The Heart of the Circle do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

Keren:  I would love to be asked how essential the fantastic element is to the story.
I think it is. I couldn't have told the same story the way I wanted it without Reed's empathy, Daphne's visions etc. Even though a lot of things are similar between our world and theirs, which sometimes might cause the illusion that the fantastic element is not needed, I couldn't have made the story work without magic. And fire bolts.

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


“How did I feel when I found out Reed was an empath? I felt like a six-year old who made his baby brother want to disappear.”

TQWhat's next?

Keren:  I'm currently working on a few short stories with long-overdue deadlines. After I'm done with those, my eldest reminded me that I promised him and his sister to write a book with them as heroes in a post apocalyptic world, and now I MUST write that. After that... we'll see.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Keren:  Thank you for having me :)

The Heart of the Circle
Angry Robot, August 13, 2019
Trade Paperback and eBook, 400 pages

Interview with Keren Landsman, author of The Heart of the Circle
Sorcerers fight for the right to exist and fall in love, in this extraordinary alternate world fantasy thriller by award-winning Israeli author Keren Landsman.

Throughout human history there have always been sorcerers, once idolised and now exploited for their powers. In Israel, the Sons of Simeon, a group of religious extremists, persecute sorcerers while the government turns a blind eye. After a march for equal rights ends in brutal murder, empath, moodifier and reluctant waiter Reed becomes the next target. While his sorcerous and normie friends seek out his future killers, Reed complicates everything by falling hopelessly in love. As the battle for survival grows ever more personal, can Reed protect himself and his friends as the Sons of Simeon close in around them?

File Under: Fantasy [ Love Squared | Stuck in the Margins | Emotional Injection | Fight the Power ]

About Keren

Interview with Keren Landsman, author of The Heart of the Circle
KEREN LANDSMAN is a mother, a writer, a medical doctor who specializes in Epidemiology and Public health, and a blogger. She is one of the founders of Mida’at, an NGO dedicated to promoting public health in Israel. She works in the Levinski clinic in Tel Aviv. She has won the Geffen Award three times, most recently for the short story collection Broken Skies.

Website  ~  Twitter @smallweed

Interview with Ada Hoffmann, author of The Outside

Please welcome Ada Hoffmann to The Qwillery as part of the 2019 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Outside was published on June 11, 2019 by Angry Robot Books.

Interview with Ada Hoffmann, author of The Outside

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

AH:  Ooh, this takes a bit of thinking. I've been making up stories since I was very tiny, and some pieces are borderline - I sort of remember them, but secondhand, from family stories or from having rediscovered drafts of them later.

The first story I'm sure I remember writing, in first grade, was called "Too Many Onions." It was a Robert Munsch-esque tale in which a family bought so many onions at the grocery store that their whole house was filled with onions from top to bottom. This is going to sound weird, but the reason I remember it is because it was the first time I used quotation marks. I hadn't seen the point of them before, even when I wrote dialogue, but there was something about the character throwing her hands up and declaring "We have too many onions!" that inescapably demanded them.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

AH:  More to the plotter side, but not completely. I always make outlines because I can't get started without a plan; for novel-length work, I also need to start with some worldbuilding and character notes. But I also know that, once I see the story actually breathing on the page, I'll get some new ideas about where it should go and how it should get there. Sometimes I keep the outline vague to allow for this flexibility. Sometimes I make a more detailed one but diverge from it at will. Sometimes I get to a part where I realize I've been too vague, and then I need to work on a more detailed scene-by-scene plan for a few chapters before I can draft again.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

AH:  Dealing with the anxiety. Am I doing it right? Did I do the previous thing right? I apparently did one thing right, but will I ever do anything right again? Aaaaaaaa.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

AH:  I want to say that literally everything influences me! Brains are sponges that store everything in the form of overlapping patterns which merge and connect. Sometimes things influence me and I don't even realize it until later. Other writers with amazing writing skills influence me; my life history and strong personal feelings about influence me; my relationships influence me; my political and spiritual beliefs influence me; other media I read and consume influence me. For starters.

TQDescribe The Outside using only 5 words.

AH:  Cyborg angels versus cosmic horrors.

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

AH:  There are several factions in this book and one of the things I love is that readers legitimately differ as to who they sympathize with. Are you Team Cyborg Angel because their ruthless competence and their team dynamics appeal to you? Are you Team Cosmic Horror Mad Scientist because heck yeah let's rebel? Are you Team Yasira because her "grumpy sincerity" (as the Publisher's Weekly starred review put it) convinces you that human beings even in their darkest times are worth saving? I've seen all of these and more! (One reviewer was Team Sispirinithas The Giant Spider.) I genuinely love seeing different readers come away with different reactions like this; it means I wrote everyone's motivations in a way that felt real, even though there are some that I definitely see as villains.

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

AHThe Outside's origin is actually quite silly - I had a crush on Akavi, who started life as a Lawful Evil D&D villain played by one of my friends. I wanted to write a book about him, but I didn't want it to be a D&D book, so I ended up filing off the serial numbers so hard he ended up in space.

Science Fiction and Fantasy (I don't make a hard mental distinction between the two genres) are my comfort zone. They're what I grew up reading and never stopped. I read other genres now and then, but what I love most is the ability to make up whatever I want about the world and what's possible there. If I tried to write a book that took place entirely within our actual consensus reality, I would feel very limited.

Science Fiction has an aesthetic that distinguishes it from traditional fantasy - SPACE! Computers! Really big guns! - and I feel drawn to that more than to the "harder" aspects, where it's supposed to be a serious attempt at extrapolating things from science. I love space opera, space wizards, and weird shit happening on spaceships, yum!

TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Outside?

AH:  There is quite a lot in The Outside about mysticism, and although I was already somewhat familiar with that topic, I spent a long time trawling the Wikipedia about forms of mysticism from different world traditions. Dr. Talirr's heresies in The Outside aren't meant to parallel any specific tradition, but I did find words and concepts that helped me clarify my thinking about her. For the darker, more psychological aspects of the book, I found Judith Herman's Trauma and Recovery helpful.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for The Outside.

AH:  When it was time to start talking about cover art, the Angry Robot editors asked me if I had a Pinterest board for the book, so I whipped one up. I had never made a Pinterest board before and it was fun! I collected a lot of images showing the aesthetics of The Outside's different factions - clean and delicate modernism for the angels, rough and lived-in 20th-century aerospace technology for the humans, and some very surreal landscapes and architecture for a part of a planet that's affected by an especially nasty heretical effect.

For Dr. Talirr's aesthetic, I wanted pictures that were as messy and rough as the other human technology, but even more complicated and a touch surreal. I discovered there's a whole genre called "industrial photography", and I collected the weirdest industrial photography I could find. One of the pictures was a plasma generator from Japan with an odd, fluid, swirling design. That picture really clicked with my editor and with the cover artist, Lee Gibbons. Gibbons used that picture as a reference for a depiction of a scene near the middle of the book, where Yasira is spacewalking on the outside of a heretical ship. He kept the wonderful, dynamic composition of the original photo but made it even more surreal, with the parts of the ship vaguely resembling tentacles, plus a depiction of space and of a suitably tiny, space-suited Yasira.

I love this cover and the Internet seems to love it, too! I couldn't be happier with the design.

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

AH:  I think the easiest character might have been Elu Ariehmu, Akavi's assistant. There's something about Elu that feels very straightforward and easy for me to empathize with, even though his life choices aren't always necessarily the best.

The hardest was definitely Yasira. Protagonists have to be so deeply and fully realized, and they have to hit so many different notes correctly. I find it really tricky to write protagonists who are active, in the way that neurotypical Western readers expect, without making them deeply unlikable. Villians, yes, I can do those; heroes, for some reason, are hard. For a long time I couldn't get a handle on Yasira. She felt flat, no matter what I tried, even once I made her autism explicit.

It was a sensitivity read from Elizabeth Bartmess, who is an absolute genius about characters, that finally helped me figure Yasira out. Elizabeth helped me figure out that Yasira wasn't just autistic, she was mildly depressed and had been that way for a while. When I delved into the question of why and how to bring that out, that's when Yasira really started to breathe - but it also meant facing up to some of my own low-grade burnout and depression, and was some of the most emotionally difficult character work I've ever done.

TQDoes The Outside touch on any social issues?

AH:  Yes, The Outside touches on several social issues. The AI Gods are a vague allegory to real-world religion, and some of the ways in which organized religion can maintain oppression while claiming to help people. Issues of neurodiversity and disability are also at the forefront in this book, since both Yasira and other characters are autistic. In particular there is some brief discussion of abusive childhood therapy, which one of the characters has experienced.

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

AH:  "Oh," said Dr Talirr, turning to leave, "and there's a protocol for monsters under the bed. If you see something with, say, eight to ten pairs of claws, ignore it. Those ones are harmless. If you see something without any claws or limbs at all, you might want to come get me. Good night."

Also, any piece of dialogue that Enga ever has.

TQWhat's next?

AH:  I'm hoping Angry Robot will greenlight a sequel for THE OUTSIDE, though nothing's fully worked out yet. In the meantime, I'm also working on a draft of a contemporary fantasy novel involving dragon paleontology.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

AH:  My pleasure! Thanks for having me.

The Outside
Angry Robot Books, June 11, 2019
Trade Paperback and eBook, 400 pages

Interview with Ada Hoffmann, author of The Outside
Humanity’s super-intelligent AI Gods brutally punish breaches in reality, as one young scientist discovers, in this intense and brilliant space opera.

Autistic scientist Yasira Shien has developed a radical new energy drive that could change the future of humanity. But when she activates it, reality warps, destroying the space station and everyone aboard. The AI Gods who rule the galaxy declare her work heretical, and Yasira is abducted by their agents. Instead of simply executing her, they offer mercy – if she’ll help them hunt down a bigger target: her own mysterious, vanished mentor. With her homeworld’s fate in the balance, Yasira must choose who to trust: the gods and their ruthless post-human angels, or the rebel scientist whose unorthodox mathematics could turn her world inside out.

File Under: Science Fiction [ False Gods | Angel Inside | Autistic in Space | Here be Monsters ]

About Ada

Interview with Ada Hoffmann, author of The Outside
ADA HOFFMANN is a Canadian graduate student trying to teach computers to write poetry. Her acclaimed speculative short stories and poems have appeared in Strange Horizons, Asimov’s, Uncanny, and two year’s best anthologies. Ada was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome at 13, and is passionate about autistic self-advocacy. She is a former semi-professional soprano, a tabletop gamer and an active LARPer, she lives in southern Ontario with a very polite black cat.

Website  ~  Twitter @xasymptote

Melanie's Month in Review - April 2019

Melanie's Month in Review - April 2019

Hello again. Sorry, I haven't been around for a while. I have had a lot of bad news since February so haven't been reading that much. I am very lucky that I write for the very nice and lovely Qwill who has been very understanding with my lack of blogging. I am back now with which is a semi bumper crop of books to tell you about. So without much further ado this is what I have read (or listened to).

Melanie's Month in Review - April 2019
I was super excited when I found T.J. Berry's Five Unicorn Flush on NetGalley. I loved book 1 - Space Unicorn Blues and couldn't believe that it was a debut as it was such a great concept, well written with great characters.  You can read my review here. I liked it so much it made my top 5 of 2018. This second instalment starts not long after the events of book 1 when all of the supernaturals (the Bala) were teleported away to a new planet far, far away from the cruelty of humanity. The story starts on board the Stagecoach Mary with Jenny Perata at the helm of the ship desperately searching for her wife, a dryad who has gone missing with the rest of the Bala. While Jenny creeps through space on an aging spaceship and no unicorn horn to fuel it Gary, my favourite space unicorn, is on his new home planet. Not everyone is that happy with Gary or his father from taking them away from all the 'creature' comforts they have gotten used to...even if those comforts led to the torture and death of many of their kin. Two more characters from book 1 are also searching for the new Bala home planet - Biao who is hiding his magical lineage from the humans and the very human, Will Penny. Forces are drawing the humans to Gary and his kind in the back drop of a civil war between the Bala.

Sometimes the second book of a series can be a bit of a let down or not as exciting as the first. Not in the case of the The Reason series. The scenes with Jenny Perata on and off the Stage Coach Mary were really amusing and Jenny is a great, broken heroine. Gary wants to do the best for his kin but can't seem to live up to anyone's expectations, including his own. He is torn between wanting to save his kind and saving humans and this creates the tension that supports the story.

I thoroughly enjoyed Five Unicorn Flush despite another massive cliff hanger ending. Berry has the ability to write a gritty but humorous story that keeps you guessing what is going to happen next.

Melanie's Month in Review - April 2019
Another great find on NetGalley was Middlegame by Seanan McGuire. A game is afoot and the game pieces are two young children - Roger and Dodger. Dodger is a mathematical genius while her twin brother is extremely gifted with words/vocabulary. They live on opposite sides of the country and communicate telepathically. The game master is Reed. He created the twins as a means of releasing magic into the world and to elevate him to godhood. This is a game of life or death and the twins have decided not to play by the rules.

I have to admit that for the first 5-6 chapters I had no clue what was going on. It took me a while to get into the story and before the references to a child's book started every new chapter. The story really didn't take off until Roger and Dodger were adults and met for the first time and this doesn't happen until mid-way through the book. It wasn't the easiest book to read but it was well written and the plotline quite innovative. It looks like a one off so not a big investment in time if you already enjoy other books by this author. I suggest giving it a go with an open mind.

Melanie's Month in Review - April 2019
The next two books I am going to tell you about share similarities. These are that they are written by the same author and I listened to them rather than read them. So what are they you ask?  Circe and The Songs of Achilles by Madeline Miller. The first one I came across was Circe so I will tell you about this one first. This novel is a bit of a winner - award winner. It was the Goodreads Choice winner and won the Orange prize. It was also cited as a 'must read' by a couple of English newspaper book reviewers. I think it was well deserved praise. Circe the book is the story of Circe the mythological daughter of Helios, god of the sun. Circe is mainly shunned by the gods and doesn't live up to the divinity of either of her parents. She ends up seeking companionship in mortals and discovers the forbidden magic -witchcraft. After a particularly vengeful spell she is exiled by Zeus to the remote island of Aiaia where she lives a fairly secluded life except for encounters with both gods and mortals alike. Over the centuries she harnesses her witchraft and becomes renowned for her own powers. With that power also comes hardship and it's not long before she has to decide if she wants to align to the gods who shun her or the mortals who she has grown to love.

Melanie's Month in Review - April 2019
I really enjoyed this book and really glad I listened to the audiobook version. I thought Peridita Weeks did a fantastic job of bringing Circe and all the gods to life. I wasn't as familiar with Circe as I am with some of the other Greek myths but the story is a real virtual page turner. I don't think you need to have any knowledge or love of Greek mythology to enjoy this story so whether you want to read the physical version, the e-Book or the audiobook version I highly recommend that you do.

One could be fooled into thinking that The Songs of Achilles is about Achilles. It is indirectly, but  more about it's narrator  - Achilles' friend and lover, Patroclus. The story starts when Patroclus is a very young boy who has been exciled and goes to live with Achilles. It tracks Achilles life through Patroclus' eyes and growing love up to and including the siege of Troy.

The Songs of Achilles is a true love story and beautifully told. I didn't love the narrator as much as I have others but story itself brings the characters to life. I really felt that I was in ancient Greece smelling the olive oil and feeling the sun on my skin. This is a truly evocative story and I especially enjoyed the bittersweet ending. Two fantastic books by a fantastic author that are must reads.

Melanie's Month in Review - April 2019
That is all I have to tell you about for this month apart from one book that was a DNF - Fluffy's Revolution by Ted Myers. I thought this might be a bit of a feel good, talking cat kind of fun book. The only problem is that this book is written for a 8-12 year old reader so not quite my age group. I couldn't even pretend I could read it and found it far too juvenile and banal. If you have a cat loving youngster in your life then I would recommend it for a very young reader.

That's it for me for me. I hope April showers bring May great reads! Happy Reading!

Five Unicorn Flush
The Reason 2
Angry Robot Books, May 28, 2019
Trade Paperback and eBook, 400 pages

Melanie's Month in Review - April 2019
Only one woman with a magical parasite can unite the galaxy, in the mind-blowing SF sequel to Space Unicorn Blues

Reasonspace is in shambles after the disappearance of all magical creatures. Without faster-than-light travel, supply and communication routes have dried up, leaving humankind stranded and starving. Cowboy Jim and his complement of Reason soldiers search for the relocated Bala using the only surviving FTL drive. On their new utopian planet, the Bala are on the brink of civil war between those who want peace under old-fashioned unicorn rule and those who seek revenge on their human oppressors. Only Captain Jenny and her new brain parasite can stop the Reason plan to enslave the Bala again.

File Under: Science Fiction [ Elves on the Brain | Lust for Magic | Best Served Hot | FTL Hell ]

Middlegame, May 7, 2019
Hardcover and eBook, 528 pages

Melanie's Month in Review - April 2019
New York Times bestselling and Alex, Nebula, and Hugo-Award-winning author Seanan McGuire introduces readers to a world of amoral alchemy, shadowy organizations, and impossible cities in the standalone fantasy, Middlegame.

Meet Roger. Skilled with words, languages come easily to him. He instinctively understands how the world works through the power of story.

Meet Dodger, his twin. Numbers are her world, her obsession, her everything. All she understands, she does so through the power of math.

Roger and Dodger aren’t exactly human, though they don’t realise it. They aren’t exactly gods, either. Not entirely. Not yet.

Meet Reed, skilled in the alchemical arts like his progenitor before him. Reed created Dodger and her brother. He’s not their father. Not quite. But he has a plan: to raise the twins to the highest power, to ascend with them and claim their authority as his own.

Godhood is attainable. Pray it isn’t attained.

The Song of Achilles
Ecco, August 28, 2012
Trade Paperback, August 12, 2012
  eBook, March 6, 2012

Melanie's Month in Review - April 2019
“At once a scholar’s homage to The Iliad and startlingly original work of art by an incredibly talented new novelist….A book I could not put down.”
—Ann Patchett

“Mary Renault lives again!” declares Emma Donoghue, author of Room, referring to The Song of Achilles, Madeline Miller’s thrilling, profoundly moving, and utterly unique retelling of the legend of Achilles and the Trojan War. A tale of gods, kings, immortal fame, and the human heart, The Song of Achilles is a dazzling literary feat that brilliantly reimagines Homer’s enduring masterwork, The Iliad. An action-packed adventure, an epic love story, a marvelously conceived and executed page-turner, Miller’s monumental debut novel has already earned resounding acclaim from some of contemporary fiction’s brightest lights—and fans of Mary Renault, Bernard Cornwell, Steven Pressfield, and Colleen McCullough’s Masters of Rome series will delight in this unforgettable journey back to ancient Greece in the Age of Heroes.

Little, Brown and Company, April 10, 2018
Hardcover and eBook, 400 pages

Melanie's Month in Review - April 2019
“A bold and subversive retelling of the goddess’s story,” this #1 New York Times bestseller is “both epic and intimate in its scope, recasting the most infamous female figure from the Odyssey as a hero in her own right” (Alexandra Alter, The New York Times).

In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child–not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power–the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.

Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.

But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

With unforgettably vivid characters, mesmerizing language and page-turning suspense, Circe is a triumph of storytelling, an intoxicating epic of family rivalry, palace intrigue, love and loss, as well as a celebration of indomitable female strength in a man’s world.

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER–NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY NPR, The Washington Post, People, Time, Amazon, Entertainment Weekly, Bustle, Newsweek, the A.V. Club, Christian Science Monitor and Refinery 29, Buzzfeed, Paste, Audible, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Thrillist, NYPL, Self Real Simple, Goodreads, Boston Globe, Electric Literature, BookPage, the Guardian, Book Riot, Seattle Times, and Business Insider

Fluffy's Revolution
Black Rose Writing, March 28 2019
Trade Paperback and eBook, 145 pages

Melanie's Month in Review - April 2019
“Brisk sci-fi futurism with a feline star and a positive outlook.” –KIRKUS REVIEWS

The fate of the world rests on the haunches of one small cat.

It’s 2135. Fluffy is a super-intelligent GAB (Genetically Altered Brain) cat. Like many dogs, cats, mice, and the occasional pig, her brain is the product of genetic tinkering by humans that started more than a century ago. With their powers of telekinesis, the animals can manipulate physical objects without being able to grasp them. They can speak to each other telepathically without audible voices. Now, people have begun to fear them and to systematically capture and exterminate them. Fluffy leaves the safety of her home to look for her lost brother and joins a band of animal revolutionaries. After a series of brushes with death, Fluffy and her friends find a secret university for GAB animals. There, they work with enlightened humans to save Earth from certain destruction.

Interview with Lauren C. Teffeau, author of Implanted

Please welcome Lauren C. Teffeau to The Qwillery as part of the 2018 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Implanted was published on August 7th by Angry Robot.

Interview with Lauren C. Teffeau, author of Implanted

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

LCT:  A horrible fantasy novel in my early teens. It was full of wish fulfillment and the worldbuilding was illogical at best, nonexistent at worst. I’m happy to say I’ve improved dramatically since then.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

LCT:  I’m a plotter, though how strict I am depends on the project. I want to ensure even when I have the entire story worked out in my head that there is some space for the unexpected, for the story elements to breathe, and in some instances surprise me.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

LCT:  In the past year, I’d say it’s been the difficulty in tuning out the noise of the larger world. I have lots of projects I’d like to work on or revisit, but it’s been harder than usual for me to quiet my mind to focus for long periods.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

LCT:  I took a screenwriting class in college. I was a bit of a film buff and wanted to see how things worked on the other side of the camera, so to speak. The emphasis on structure, dialogue, and action have been extremely formative and have provided the backbone to just about everything I’ve done since.

TQDescribe Implanted using only 5 words.

LCT:  Cyberpunk, adventure, gadgetry, couriers, and communication

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

LCT:  There’s a romantic subplot that I’m rather proud of.

TQWhat inspired you to write Implanted? What appeals to you about writing Cyberpunk?

LCT:  I’ve always enjoyed cyberpunk as a genre, but while those stories made me think, they didn’t necessarily make me feel welcome. I wanted to write something that wasn’t as emotionally sterile as other entries in the cyberpunk genre but still present an interesting examination of technology and where it’s taking us.

TQWhat is Cyberpunk and in your opinion what elements are essential to a Cyberpunk story?

LCT:  Cool tech, some sort of mystery (often originating in the corporate or government sectors of society), and some implicit or explicit commentary on technology and humanity’s relationship to it.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for Implanted?

LCT:  Lots in bits and pieces over the years. I researched art nouveau and sustainability practices to get a better handle on the architecture of my domed city. I took a look at cybersecurity practices. I also included a lot of worldbuilding assumptions that can be mapped back to my social science background in information science, data curation, and mass communication as a graduate student and later on as a university researcher. I also never turn down the opportunity to consume the latest espionage thriller, no matter what the medium.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for Implanted.

LCT:  The cover was created in consultation with Angry Robot’s Marc Gascoigne and the rest of the graphics team at Argh! Nottingham. I think cyberpunk as a genre is particularly hard to represent well on covers given the abstract nature of the concepts. In the case of Implanted, we wanted something captivating and landed on the human eye (that hopefully readers can’t stop looking at) and hint at some of the gadgetry you’ll find in the book thanks to the eye’s digital overlay. Combined with a bold and compelling title font, I hope it not only signals the cyberpunk genre to readers but that it's an exciting read as well.

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

LCT:  My main character Emery was easily the hardest. She valiantly fought me over the course of successive drafts. Sometimes I had trouble uncovering her motivations or pinning down her voice, but I eventually brought her to heel. I am the author after all. One of the easiest and (most enjoyable) character to write was Emery’s handler Tahir. He seems like he’s bit stuck-up and by-the-book but underneath his prickly exterior, he's a big softy.

TQDoes Implanted touch on any social issues?

LCT:  Besides technology and sustainability, I also delve quite a bit into inequality. Not simply in terms of who has money and who doesn’t, but what that money can buy—in particular neural implants and access to the network they're connected to that dictate just about everything in the domed city.

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

LCT:  Why blood as a data transmission vehicle? Well, for starters, recent research shows that tons of information can be encoded in DNA (frex: So it seemed like using blood could be a practical solution in a world where information networks can’t be trusted. It was also a way to inject something fundamentally human into a high-tech future.

TQGive us your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Implanted.


Rik simply lets the silence build, the connection between us alive with feeling. Synching can be surprisingly intimate, depending on how a user customizes their implant settings. The length of delay between thought and message. Whether or not nonverbals should be broadcasted. The priority of the interaction over other tasks and contacts. We’ve become so attuned to one another over the years, now our connection practically vibrates with what’s left unsaid. My doubts, his certainty, yes, but also a desire for more – a strange sort of friction as we run up against the limitations of our current configuration, like a snail that’s outgrown its shell.

TQWhat's next?

LCT:  I’m hard at work on a few sekrit projects, which may or may not include a sequel to Implanted. My website is the best way to stay up-to-date with what’s going on with me.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

LCT:  It was my pleasure!

Angry Robot, August 7, 2018
Trade Paperback and eBook, 400 pages

Interview with Lauren C. Teffeau, author of Implanted
The data stored in her blood can save a city on the brink… or destroy it, in this gripping cyberpunk thriller

When college student Emery Driscoll is blackmailed into being a courier for a clandestine organisation, she’s cut off from the neural implant community which binds the domed city of New Worth together. Her new masters exploit her rare condition which allows her to carry encoded data in her blood, and train her to transport secrets throughout the troubled city. New Worth is on the brink of Emergence – freedom from the dome – but not everyone wants to leave. Then a data drop goes bad, and Emery is caught between factions: those who want her blood, and those who just want her dead.

File Under: Science Fiction [ Under the Dome | Blood Courier | Disconnected | Bright Future ]

About Lauren

Interview with Lauren C. Teffeau, author of Implanted
Photo courtesy of Kim Jew
Photography Studios
Lauren C. Teffeau lives and dreams in the southwestern United States. When she was younger, she poked around in the back of wardrobes, tried to walk through mirrors, and always kept an eye out for secret passages, fairy rings, and messages from aliens. Now, she writes to cope with her ordinary existence. Implanted is her first novel.

Website  ~  Twitter @teffeau

Melanie's Week in Review - July 15, 2018

Melanie's Week in Review - July 15, 2018

I cannot believe we are halfway through July already. It doesn't seem very long ago that it was January. The weather doesn't feel like January though. This is by far the hottest summer I have ever experienced in England and I have been here for 24 years. Day after day have been scorchio. It's like being back in Canada. The downside (besides the super douper hot tube trains) is that the hot weather impacts how much I read. I like to sit outside and enjoy the sunshine but I can't always see my Kindle in the bright sun. That's why I missed last week but fear not, I am back now to tell you what I did manage to read.

Melanie's Week in Review - July 15, 2018
A hundred years after humanity fled its dying planet to look for a new home in the stars they didn't expect to come across all the species from myth and legend. Fairies, elves and even unicorns live deep in space and rather than try to live together the humans declared war and spent the next decades murdering and enslaving the very creatures that saved them from the brink of death. Gary Cobalt, half human and half unicorn has just been released after spending 10 years in prison for murdering a young woman. He's back and he is on a mission. He wants his family's stone ship back. But standing in his way is Captain Jenny Perata, the very human that kept him captive and brutalized him for a decade. Seems pretty simple - get ship and fly away but nothing is ever that straightforward for Gary. Rather than escaping with his ship he ends up helping Jenny with one last delivery and it could very well be the last thing that Gary ever does. Will the magic run out for this story's half unicorn hero? Don't let me stop you finding out.

Space Unicorn Blues by TJ Berry definitely wasn't what I was expecting it to be. I am not sure what I was expecting from a story about a half human half unicorn named Gary that lives in space. I think I was anticipating that it would be funny when in fact, it was anything but. The backdrop to Gary's story was very dark and the circumstances in which he ends up in prison are brutal. Parallels can be drawn between the enslavement and subjugation of the magical and mythical creatures by the humans and real life events. It wasn't completely dark and moody as there were some scenes to lighten the overall mood.

Berry told the story from different perspectives and chapters flowed from one POV to another - mainly Gary's and Jenny's. This worked well to set context and to explain the background of the various characters as well as past events. I wanted to dislike Jenny for how she treated Gary but like Gary I was oddly drawn to her. This demonstrated Berry's ability to create interesting and compelling characters. It was however Gary that stole the show...or in this case the story. I was really rooting for him as he seemed to lurch from one disaster to another. There was a lot of action in this story and it was very tense in certain parts, especially in the final chapters. I wasn't completely sure whether certain characters would survive. The end has a super, shocker big reveal. I was really surprised and I can hardly wait to find out what happens next. This is a great book for both science fiction and fantasy fans. A must read.

Melanie's Week in Review - July 15, 2018
I always feel bad when I am lucky enough to be offered a book from the publisher but don't like it enough to finish it. This is the case, unfortunately with Peril in the Old Country by Sam Hooker. I really wanted to enjoy this story as it sounded silly and fun and I usually always enjoy that type of book. I first started reading this book back in April and then realised it wasn't going to be published until June so I stopped and re-started a few weeks ago. I got approximately 40% of the way through and gave up.

My issue with this story was pace. When I started to struggle to keep reading I read a few reviews and other reviewers commented that it was a slow burn and took a while to get into. Hooker drags out setting up the main characters, mainly Sloot Peril. There were some truly funny lines and characters but the events to setup the main plot were just too drawn out. Quite simply, I got bored. I think this could have been a very funny short story or novella but as a full length book it just didn't work for me.

That is it for me this week. I hope that wherever you are and whatever you are doing that the sun is shining on the pages of a great read. Until next week Happy Reading.

Space Unicorn Blues
The Reason 1
Angery Robot, July 3, 2018
Trade Paperback and eBook, 384 pages

Melanie's Week in Review - July 15, 2018
A misfit crew race across the galaxy to prevent the genocide of magical creatures, in this unique science fiction debut.

Humanity joining the intergalactic community has been a disaster for Bala, the magical creatures of the galaxy: they’ve been exploited, enslaved and ground down for parts. Now the Century Summit is approaching, when humans will be judged by godlike aliens.

When Jenny Perata, disabled Maori shuttle captain, is contracted to take a shipment to the summit, she must enlist half-unicorn Gary Cobalt, whose horn powers faster-than-light travel. But he’s just been released from prison, for murdering the wife of Jenny’s co-pilot, Cowboy Jim… When the Reason regime suddenly enact laws making Bala property, Jenny’s ship becomes the last hope for magic.

File Under: Science Fiction [ Rocks in Space | Stand Up to Reason | The Human Experiment | Last Unicorn ]

Peril in the Old Country
Terribly Serious Darkness 1
Black Spot Books, June 5, 2018
Trade Paperback and eBook, 302 pages

Melanie's Week in Review - July 15, 2018
What terror lurks in the shadows of the Old Country?

Well, there are the goblins, of course. Then there are the bloodthirsty cannibals from nearby Carpathia, secret societies plotting in whispers, and murder victims found drained of their blood, to name a few. That's to say nothing of the multitude of government ministries, any one of which might haul one off for "questioning" in the middle of the night.

The Old Country is saturated with doom, and Sloot is scarcely able to keep from drowning in it. Each passing moment is certain to be his last, though never did fate seem so grim as the day he was asked to correct the worst report ever written.

Will the events put in motion by this ghastly financial statement end in Sloot's grisly death? Almost definitely. Is that the worst thing that could happen? Almost definitely not.

Interview with TJ Berry, author of Space Unicorn Blues

Please welcome TJ Berry to The Qwillery as part of  the 2018 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Space Unicorn Blues was published on July 3rd by Angry Robot.

Interview with TJ Berry, author of Space Unicorn Blues

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

TJ:  The first thing I ever wrote was a Famous Five fan fiction story when I was ten years old. I was living in Hong Kong, and British boarding school books and the Famous Five were all the rage among the primary school crowd. Five Go Off in a Caravan was life-changing for me. I couldn’t imagine that four children and their dog were allowed to go off on their own and camp near the circus for the summer, solving actual crimes. My mother wouldn’t even allow me to walk to the corner store on my own.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

TJ:  I’m a hybrid writer. I always start with a question instead of an outline. In Space Unicorn Blues it was, “Is humanity worth saving?” Outlines are excellent for honing a story, but for what I call the zero draft, I aim to be expansive. I give myself permission to write anything related to the story. This includes scenes out of order, tangents about minor characters, and even alternate endings. The goal at this stage is to shut off my inner editor and allow for every possibility on the page.

Before the next draft, I outline the story into a cohesive shape, making notes about what needs to be added and deleted. I also write a synopsis to ensure the story makes sense from start to finish. As rewrite, I mold the text to fit the new outline and this is usually where I find the heart of the story. I make a few more passes to add description, exposition, and pull out themes, then send it off to an editor who tears it all apart and the process starts from the beginning.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

TJ:  I have an aversion to exposition and description, just ask my editor. My early drafts look like screenplays—with chapters full of only dialogue and stage directions. I have to spend a lot of time ensuring that the backstory that’s in my head ends up on the page and the locations I create are actually laid out for the reader.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

TJ:  Even though I primarily write science fiction, most of my writing influences come from the horror world. I grew up on Stephen King novels. When I was twelve, I found Cujo in the trash after my mother had thrown it away in disgust. It was mesmerizing. I put aside my Babysitter’s Club books and plowed through King’s entire back catalog instead.

I add visceral horror in the early stages of everything I write—there’s a lot of daily life that’s downright horrific. I edit most of the more disturbing pieces out of my science fiction work; though in this book you’ll find remnants in some scenes involving Gary and his horn.

TQDescribe Space Unicorn Blues using only 5 words.

TJ:  Bizarre, complex, conflicted, science fantasy.

TQTell us something about Space Unicorn Blues that is not found in the book description.

TJ:  If you were ever curious about the purpose of the bug-eyed alien “greys” that purportedly visit Earth, Space Unicorn Blues has an answer for you. One thing that always terrifies me about the idea of alien visitations is not that they’re malicious, but that they’re apathetic. It’s much easier to fight an aggressive alien threat than it is to try to prove your entire species should be worthy of consideration as thinking beings.

TQWhat inspired you to write Space Unicorn Blues? What appeals to you about writing Science Fiction?

TJ:  I wrote Space Unicorn Blues out of spite. My lovely husband was trying to console me after yet another rejection on a bizarre short story and he suggested that I write more “normal” stories. Instead of following his advice, I turned around and resolved to write the most outlandish story I could dream of. The joke was on both of us when I sold the book.

Science fiction is invaluable as a way for humans to extrapolate future paths of current actions from within the safety of fiction. Our speculative storytelling can be a warning of dire things to come or a beacon of hope during dark times. Also, I like space.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for Space Unicorn Blues?

TJ:  Not only did I do a tremendous amount of research on my own, I also hired several experts and sensitivity readers to help ensure my characters were as accurate as possible. For example, Captain Jenny Perata has used a wheelchair for the last decade. It was important to have a disabled person read the book to ensure that Jenny’s experience using a chair in space was handled with accuracy and respect.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for Space Unicorn Blues?

TJ:  The cover was a collaboration between Angry Robot’s publisher, Marc Gascoigne and artist Lee Gibbons. I absolutely love how it conveys the seriousness of space and technology while also suggesting the unpredictable outlandishness of the magical creatures who are also in the story. There’s even an asteroid to suggest Gary’s faster-than-light starship, the Jaggery.

TQIn Space Unicorn Blues who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

TJ:  I’m always able to slip into Jenny Perata’s voice quite easily. She’s strong, smart, and swears like a sailor. She’s tremendous fun to write. Gary Cobalt is a character that I dearly love, but he is also very difficult to write. He’s so lawful good—without much moral ambiguity—that it takes a bit more work to keep his point of view from getting too strident. In fact, I originally had most of the book in his voice and during rewrites I took those chapters and gave them to Jenny. Sorry, Gary!

Cowboy Jim’s head is a terrible place, which is why he gets only one chapter in this book. I’m currently working on the sequel, which has a lot of Jim’s point of view and he’s a downright despicable person.

TQDoes Space Unicorn Blues touch on any social issues?

TJSpace Unicorn Blues takes on a couple of big social issues. First, it asks what responsibility colonizers have toward the people they have colonized, displaced, and exploited. Second, the book asks if humans are capable of sharing the universe with other creatures at all. I don’t think we come to a tidy resolution on either of those questions, but it definitely grapples with them throughout the story.

TQWhich question about Space Unicorn Blues do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

TJ:  I wish someone would ask where the Sisters of the Supersymmetrical Axion live. The answer is that they have a fortified abbey on an island in the middle of an ocean planet. It’s steeped in magic and weirdness and I hope to be able to bring readers there someday.

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Space Unicorn Blues.

TJ:  "Harboring silent resentments was like stabbing yourself and hoping the other person died."

“Humans were never more persistent than when they were in the wrong."

TQWhat's next?

TJ:  I’m working on a sequel to Space Unicorn Blues which is, for the moment, totally secret. I can say that we’re going to pick up with Jenny, Gary, Ricky, and Jim where we left off in the first book. There are a lot of questions which need to be resolved, daring escapes to be had, and it wouldn’t be space opera without few explosions in orbit.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

TJ:  Thank you for having me!

Space Unicorn Blues
The Reason 1
Angry Robot, July 3, 2018
Trade Paperback and eBook, 384 pages

Interview with TJ Berry, author of Space Unicorn Blues
A misfit crew race across the galaxy to prevent the genocide of magical creatures, in this unique science fiction debut.

Humanity joining the intergalactic community has been a disaster for Bala, the magical creatures of the galaxy: they’ve been exploited, enslaved and ground down for parts. Now the Century Summit is approaching, when humans will be judged by godlike aliens.

When Jenny Perata, disabled Maori shuttle captain, is contracted to take a shipment to the summit, she must enlist half-unicorn Gary Cobalt, whose horn powers faster-than-light travel. But he’s just been released from prison, for murdering the wife of Jenny’s co-pilot, Cowboy Jim… When the Reason regime suddenly enact laws making Bala property, Jenny’s ship becomes the last hope for magic.

File Under: Science Fiction [ Rocks in Space | Stand Up to Reason | The Human Experiment | Last Unicorn ]

About TJ

Interview with TJ Berry, author of Space Unicorn Blues
Photo by Landon Harris
TJ BERRY grew up between Repulse Bay, Hong Kong and the New Jersey shore. She has been a political blogger, bakery owner, and spent a disastrous two weeks working in a razor blade factory. TJ co-hosts the Warp Drives Podcast with her husband, in which they explore science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Her short fiction has appeared in Pseudopod and PodCastle.

Website  ~ Twitter @tjaneberry

Interview with Amber Royer, author of Free Chocolate

Please welcome Amber Royer to The Qwillery, as part of the 2018 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Free Chocolate was published on June 5th by Angry Robot.

Interview with Amber Royer, author of Free Chocolate

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

Amber:  Thanks for having me!

I’ve always been interested in writing and storytelling. You can probably thank my mom for that, because she made sure I was enrolled in the local library’s summer reading club from before I even started school. And my brother, who’s five years older, was into role playing games, so from pretty early on, if I wanted to get to hang out with him and his friends, imagination and storytelling ability were key.

I don’t remember it clearly, but apparently I wrote a story in first grade that my teacher, Mrs. Russel, thought was good enough that she told my mom to encourage me. I remember more in the fourth grade, when we did story assignments and my teacher pointed out that writers were real people, and it was something anyone could aspire to. (Author visits are important too, you guys – you never know who you’ll inspire to write!)

Ironically, the first thing I wrote where I can remember much about the plot was after I had had a fight with my brother, and I imagined a city where you were only allowed to have sisters (never having had a sister, eight-ish year old me had no idea that that wouldn’t have solved anything).

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Amber:  I like to think of myself as a recovered pantser turned mega-plotter. You should see the Wiki file I have built for the Chocoverse. I have entries for every alien planet I’m planning to mention for the entire series, and for every named character I’ve introduced. I have a lexicon for the language Brill speaks, and one for the Zantites. I have mocked-up charts for the relative locations of these planets in space, and maps of the ones I’m planning for Bo to visit.

I really believe that the more planning you do at the beginning, the less re-writing you’ll have to do overall. I’ve tried editing some of the manuscripts from when I was a complete discovery writer, and I find myself looking at strings of cool scenes that are each fine on their own, but don’t necessarily add up to a plot. And some of these manuscripts were things I’d re-envisioned two or three times. Understanding the mechanics behind what you’re building, structurally speaking, lets you engineer the story for maximum emotional impact.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Amber:  Finding the right place to begin a story has always been hardest for me. I usually start too far in and find myself referring to the most important events in the book as backstory. And then I wind up going back and writing the beginning, which is a blessing in a way, because by then I really know who my characters are, but sometimes I’ll overshoot the natural start point and wind up having to trash the “first” two or three chapters.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Amber:  Obviously, there are a ton of books that have influenced me, but can we talk for a minute about old movies? I’m talking black and white classics, where they couldn’t do much in the way of special effects, so it all came down to the acting and the dialogue. Some friends and I were talking about this recently, and I came to the conclusion that some of the stuff I stumbled on as a teenager/twenty-something with access to the classic movie channels helped shape (and perhaps warp) my sense of humor.

The Road Movies – I was re-watching one of these adventure stories with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby recently, and it struck me how similar the tone is to what I’ve been doing with Free Chocolate. One minute, Bing and Bob are arguing over something completely ridiculous (and it usually comes down to a joke about Bob’s nose or Bing’s ears) and the next, they’re in the middle of a fight for their lives. There’s tons of meta references (like the opening song to Road to Morocco, when they’re betting they’ll run into actress Dorothy Lamour -- because they always do, or when something they usually do to get out of a fight doesn’t work, and one of the guys guesses that the bad guy has seen the previous films) and over-the-top plot twists, but they commit to the formula, and so it works. Man. Come to think of it, can we just start calling Free Chocolate a Galactic Road Movie in Book Form?

The Thin Man – One trope I LOVE is socially mis-matched heroes and heroines who banter and face danger and acknowledge how being different from each other can cause conflict, but underneath it all really love and protect each other. You’ll see it pop up in a lot of my work, Free Chocolate included. To me, the original model for this is Nick and Nora Charles, the crime-fighting duo in The Thin Man movies. She’s a socialite and he’s a now-retired private detective. Nora married Nick because his work as a private detective made him exciting. He’s suddenly got money, but is now out of his element and bored without his previous justice-seeking purpose. So when the opportunity to solve a case together arises, we get to see the mechanics of their relationship and the “rightness” of them being together as a couple. While the specifics in the relationships in Free Chocolate are completely different, I hope you can see hints of this type/trope.

Arsenic and Old Lace – This was offbeat and quirky in its time period, but it has endured as a classic, and I think part of the reason for that is, even though it’s a comedy, it didn’t skimp on the development of the character relationships and backstory. A lot of the time, comedy equates to throw-away jokes and inconsistent worldbuilding, but when you enter the Brewster home, you really feel like Mortimer is coming home to a place he his highly ambivalent about. This is a comedy of a normal person surrounded by eccentrics, and it is because of how well he knows the eccentrics that allows us to get just a glimpse of the pain inside them before returning to the humorous tone. There’s some grim dark stuff here. Think about the scene where Mortimer’s brother remarks that their aunt Martha – who is standing right there – that she always wears high collars, “to hide the scar where Grandfather's acid burned you.” That could have been drawn out in a flashback with agonizing detail, or we could have been shown the scars, but Martha just subtly touches the collar, acknowledging her backstory, and we move on. There are a couple of grim things that happen in Free Chocolate as well, but I hope I’ve developed it well enough that you can just glimpse the edges of the darkness and bounce back to the comic tone.

TQDescribe Free Chocolate in 140 characters or less.

Amber:  Telenovela drama meets space opera stakes in an action-packed novel where the galaxy’s hungry for the one thing Earth won’t share: chocolate.

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

Amber:  When developing the alien races, I gave Brill’s people color changing eyes, but I didn’t want it to be just random or cosmetic. If I was going to include something like that because I was playing with a trope, it needed to be relevant to the plot, so when you see Brill with lavender eyes on the cover, it’s not just to match Bo’s dress. The chromashift reveals Brill’s emotions, so when they’re that color, it means he’s really happy. Or, if they’ve shifted through a certain shade of pink to get to the lavender, that he’s just told a huge lie. So when I first got to see the cover art, I took one look at him and thought, yep, liar!

This is why sunglasses are illegal on his planet. And why he’s one of my favorite characters I’ve ever written.

TQWhat inspired you to write Free Chocolate? What appeals to you about writing Space Opera?

Amber:  There are so many things that went into bringing this idea together, but one sparking point was an article I read years and years ago about the history of coffee. A summary of that article can be found in Free Chocolate – only I slide from true history (how the guy who smuggled coffee plants back to Europe nearly got thrown overboard when everyone found out he’d been sharing his limited water rations with a couple of specks of greenery) – into a huge what if (aliens landed and bought coffee plants on the internet, and now the best coffee is grown on the other side of the galaxy.)

Several people have asked why I didn’t write it as historical fiction, based on that true story. There are several reasons. First, while I’m playing with history and human nature, I don’t want to wind up judging history or specific historic people. I wasn’t there. I don’t know the complexities. I’m a history fan, not a historian. Second, that one account is just a jumping off point for the story I want to tell. Honestly, Free Chocolate is just the jumping off point for what I want to do with the Chocoverse. What’s happening on the space opera scale of it is complex and hidden (this is intended to be telenovela in book form, so expect dramatic confessions and secrets brought to light) and Bo’s assumptions about her world and her place in it will be tested at every turn. I needed it to be space opera to give me a big enough canvas to work with. Book two, Pure Chocolate, has already been completed, and I’ve just been discussing the cover art for that one with Angry Robot. I’m just hoping enough people like the universe I’ve created that I get to tell you guys the whole story!

In general, space opera has always appealed to me because I like stories with strong characters and actively arcing character relationships. I also like the fact that you can focus on the story over the science. As long as you establish something right from the beginning, people are a lot friendlier when you do handwavium (giving a weak reason why something works in your ‘verse when physics or biology would find it improbable in the real world) than they are with “hard” science fiction. There’s also a huge tradition to reference and build on.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for Free Chocolate?

Amber:  Before I wrote Free Chocolate, I did a chocolate-related cookbook to sell at events we were doing for the local herb society. The cookbook is currently out of print (though we are toying with the idea of expanding and re-releasing it) but a lot of the research I did for that cross-applied. The idea for the cookbook was sparked when we were in the Dominican Republic and got to tour a Cacao Plantation and came home with gorgeous photos of cacao pods and trees, and I built on that to explore how chocolate was used in both sweet and savory recipes from around the world.

I did more research specifically for Free Chocolate on chocolate production equipment, and I found out the hard way that most craft chocolate makers consider their process a carefully guarded secret and do not take kindly to requests for tours. So we made a couple of attempts at doing bean-to-bar chocolate in our kitchen, and went to the Dallas Chocolate Festival (not that we wouldn’t have gone again anyway), where the people selling small-scale processing equipment were more than happy to answer our choco-questions.

Shout out to the Dallas Chocolate Festival, and chocolate festivals in general: They are a great resource for learning about all aspects of chocolate, from the botany to the industry. And the vendors all bring samples -- and are happy to tell you what makes their particular chocolate special.

What you can tell from all of this: I’m obviously a very visual hands-on learner, and sometimes I pick up ideas that take years to percolate into something usable. When I can’t actually be there to experience what something feels/smells/tastes like or fire up a burner to try re-creating something at home, I turn to video first.

Parts of Free Chocolate are set in Brazil, near Rio, and while I’ve been in the rainforest, I’ve never been in THAT rainforest, so I watched a lot of YouTube video on what it sounds like there, and which animals you’re actually likely to run into.

I also did a lot of internet searches and library research. There were tons of little things I wasn’t sure about. How does sand act in an earthquake? Are there natural sources for salt in the rainforest? What happens to the human body if it is rapidly depressurized in space? Why don’t artificial lungs currently exist? The list goes on . . .

At the same time, this is science fiction, with aliens from a variety of planets. So there’s quite a bit of tech, botany, language and such that I flat out made up.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for Free Chocolate.

Amber:  The artist is Mingchen Shen. He is amazing! Angry Robot came up with the concept for the cover as a splash poster, like you would see for a new telenovela series coming out. So while it’s not a specific scene, it does give the flavor of the ‘verse. You have Bo and Brill, both looking thoughtful, and one of the Zantites looming over them. I love it! Brill looks just young enough and arrogant enough, and Bo looks perfectly paparazzi-princess glam.

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

Amber:  I’d have to say the easiest – and most fun -- was Chestla. She’s the RA at Bo’s cooking school – and an alpha predator on her home planet. Chestla’s the eternal optimist in Bo’s life, fierce and protective, and her outlook hasn’t been darkened by the tragic elements in her backstory. Her role in this first book was fairly straightforward, so she didn’t have a lot of complex moral decisions to struggle through. It was easy to figure out what she would do in any given situation, and her dialogue was a blast to write.

Frank was the hardest, and if I told you why . . . spoilers, darling, spoilers.

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

Amber:  Do you ever include “Easter Eggs” for your friends?

TOTALLY! I love that element of surprise and joy that comes when someone spots something in your work that is just for them. For instance, there’s a reptilian newscaster in Free Chocolate. He’s a minor character, and his name doesn’t really matter, so I named him after my nephew’s leopard gecko, Blizzard. It’s a minor thing, but it becomes a fun running gag. Throughout the series, you’ll catch glimpses of Blizzard and Feddoink in the Morning – because it’s always morning somewhere.

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

Amber:  When Brill (Bo’s boyfriend who happens to be from Krom, the planet that took samples of Earth’s resources at First Contact) first meets Frank (Mamá’s boyfriend, who apparently knew Bo’s deceased father), Frank implies that Krom as a species are untrustworthy. This is Brill, turning the tables while letting the reader in on a bit of worldbuilding, as he explains how the chromashift in his eyes works. Because Krom are nothing if not respectful, he’s using the term human rather than Earthling.
Those patterns are as important to Krom non-verbal communication as body language – and just as telling. Brill’s eyes right now are bright blue, tinged toward violet, showing he’s happy and a little amused as he says, “That’s a good question, Mr. Sawyer. Not many humans are that observant.” He leans forward and drops his voice, as though he’s sharing a particularly juicy secret. “We can lie, but it takes practice. The part of our brains that shunts chemicals to the iris is buried deep in the subconscious. You concentrate on an old memory until you believe that the memory – the lie – is more important than the present. Much the same way humans lie, I believe.”

TQYou are marooned on a distant planet, which types of chocolate would you want to have with you and why?

Amber:  That depends entirely on what you mean by marooned.

If you’re saying that my hypothetical spaceship’s been boarded by the more compassionate form of space pirate (you know – the ones who don’t just space everyone on board when they take a ship) and left somewhere without refrigeration, I’d want Mexican-style drinking chocolate (Abulita’s or Tazo) and Peanut M&Ms.

Chocolate in candy-bar form doesn’t do well with heat or moisture. Serious Eats says, “Chocolate keeps best between 65 and 70°F, away from direct sunlight, and protected from moisture.” This is because once chocolate melts, it loses its temper (that quality that allows it to snap when you break it) and becomes kind of bleh. This is one reason that, before electric refrigeration became common, most chocolate was produced in Europe, where the colder temperatures allowed for chocolate to be processed in ways that just didn’t make sense in the regions where the beans are grown. Before THAT, “eating” chocolate didn’t exist, because chocolate that’s been ground has a bit of grit to it.

Mexican-style chocolate disks (also known as stone-ground chocolate disks or tablets) are super-sturdy, don’t melt easily, are usually spiced with cinnamon -- and it doesn’t matter a whit if the ambient temperature gets a bit high, because they are meant to be dissolved into hot liquid and drunk. Which could go a long way towards making questionable water on an alien planet – which would need to be boiled anyway – more palatable.

M&Ms solve the melt problem differently. They just let it happen, and count on the candy coating to maintain the shape once the chocolate hardens again. In fact, they were designed as a non-meltable field ration during WWI. They also have a tradition in space, according to the Smithsonian Magazine:
“The most common form of chocolate flown today and throughout the 35-year history of the space shuttle program is M&Ms—or as NASA refers to them, “candy-coated chocolates”. Even now, M&Ms are part of the standard menu for astronauts serving stints aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Small volumes of the colorful candies are prepared in clear, nondescript packaging for each mission. . . . In many ways, M&Ms are the perfect space snack. They are bite-sized and, unlike other candies and foods, aren’t likely to crumble. “M&Ms are singular pieces that you can eat very easily, and you can eat multiples of them at one time. And because you’re not likely to bite one in half, you won’t make a mess,” Levasseur says.”
I’d choose the peanut ones if I was marooned without expectation of rescue, because that would offer a safe source of protein in a potentially hostile environment.

BUT if by marooned you mean that I’ve somehow fallen in with irresponsible friends who have ditched me without cash on a random planet, I’d want Ferrero Rocher. LOTS of Ferrero Rocher. The gold wrapping looks luxe, and in a number of real-world cultures both inside and outside the company’s native Europe, these candies have a reputation as a symbol of hospitality. It feels like that might translate, if I needed to show good intentions when say, begging for a ride, or explaining to the local authorities how I wound up on said planet in the first place. They’re also lightweight, individually wrapped and can be bought in their own crush-proof plastic cases. And if worst comes to worst, and I had to survive on them until I could figure out a better plan, the hazelnuts in the mix would at least be SOME protein.

I know none of the products I’ve described are the single-source craft chocolate bars you were probably expecting for an answer. I’ll tell you a secret. While I can chocolate-snob with the best of them (My husband and I attended a chocolate tasting recently where the presenters accidentally mixed up two of the samples, and we were like “there’s no way this is Amano, because this doesn’t match their flavor style” – and it wasn’t) and I LOVE a good single-source bar, I like certain grocery-store candy bars too (especially if they involve peanuts, hazelnuts or peanut butter.)

TQWhat's next?

AmberPure Chocolate will be coming May of next year. I had a ton of fun writing it, because it was a chance to crash all my favorite characters from Free Chocolate together in different ways, and move their arcs forward while giving them a chance to save the entire galaxy. You’ll get to visit several of the secondary characters’ home planets. If you like the first one, I think you’ll love Bo’s second adventure.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Amber:  Thank you for having me. I really enjoyed such thoughtful questions.


Free Chocolate
Chocoverse 1
Angry Robot, June 5, 2018
Trade Paperback and eBook, 448 pages

Interview with Amber Royer, author of Free Chocolate
In the far future, chocolate is Earth’s sole unique product – and it’s one that everyone else in the galaxy would kill to get their hands, paws, and tentacles on

Latina culinary arts student, Bo Benitez, becomes a fugitive when she’s caught stealing a cacao pod from the heavily-defended plantations that keep chocolate, Earth’s sole valuable export, safe from a hungry galaxy. Forces arraying against her including her alien boyfriend and a reptilian cop. But when she escapes onto an unmarked starship things go from bad to worse: it belongs to the race famed throughout the galaxy for eating stowaways. Surrounded by dangerous yet hunky aliens, Bo starts to uncover clues that the threat to Earth may be bigger than she first thought.

File Under: Science Fiction [ Heiress Apparent | Sticky Fingers | Pod People | The Milky Way ]

About Amber

Interview with Amber Royer, author of Free Chocolate
Amber Royer teaches enrichment and continuing education creative writing classes for teens and adults. She spent five years as a youth librarian, where she organized teen writers’ groups and teen writing contests. In addition to two cookbooks co-authored with her husband, Amber has published a number of articles on gardening, crafting and cooking for print and on-line publications.

Website  ~  Facebook  ~  Twitter @amber_royer

Interview with Cameron Johnston, author of The Traitor God

Please welcome Cameron Johnston to The Qwillery, as part of the 2018 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Traitor God was published on June 5th by Angry Robot.

Interview with Cameron Johnston, author of The Traitor God

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

Cameron:  I have vague recollections of writing Transformers fan-fiction as kid back in the 80s. I suspect Grimlock was the hero of the piece. How can you not love a T-Rex transformer?? Oh, wait, I've seen a film called Age of Extinction...never mind.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Cameron:  A pantser! I find if I try and write detailed plot outlines that it kills the joy of writing for me and the characters rebel. Instead I only have a bare scaffold of beginning, end, and a few important points that I want to hit along the journey.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Cameron:  Making the time to do it all. When you have books, TV/films, RPGs to play, swords to practice with, and a lovely wife to spend time with, it can be so easy to put writing off to another day. As for the writing itself, sometimes a plot is supposed to head to Y, but the character you have developed goes "Nope!" and wants to go to Z instead. It can be tricky to resolve those issues.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Cameron:  Too many media influences to list them all really. Old films like Night of the Demon and Quatermass and The Pit, pulp fantasy stories like Conan and Elric, the cosmic horror of HP Lovecraft, and comics like 2000AD and Hellblazer. I'm also heavily influenced by history, archaeology and mythology, with a great love of castles and other ancient sites.

TQDescribe The Traitor God in 140 characters or less.

Cameron:  I will go with two comparisons to see if I can get the flavour of the novel across:
-Hellblazer’s John Constantine meets swords & sorcery in a tale of revenge and Lovecraftian horror.
-Malazan meets grimdark urban fantasy.

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

Cameron:  It's not all relentlessly grim and dark. There is hope, bad jokes and black humour, and also decent people trying to do the right thing in horrendous situations.

TQWhat inspired you to write The Traitor God? What appeals to you about writing grimdark?

Cameron:  I used to strictly write 3rd person limited point of view, and as an experiment I tried 1st person PoV in a film-noir styled swords and sorcery short story - and it sucked me into this unexpectedly dark and dangerous world and demanded expanding into a whole novel. As for writing grimdark, it allows me to explore what characters do when everything has gone to hell - how do they keep going in the face of death and devastation? And how do they survive without becoming monsters themselves?

TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Traitor God?

Cameron:  Entirely too much research, 98% of which never made it into the book. Medieval sewage, tanning practices, ancient farming, magic tricks and mentalism, alchemy and ancient medicine...

TQPlease tell us about the cover for The Traitor God.

Cameron:  The cover art is all thanks to the amazing Jan Weßbecher. It depicts Edrin Walker crossing a bridge to the poorest area of the city, the Docklands, and in the background you can see the palaces of the Old Town on its high rock, where the magi and nobility live. In the background, and to scale, is a titanic black metal statue...yes, definitely a statue...

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

Cameron:  Charra was the easiest. She is a mother and a businesswoman out to do some good in the world. She has a very strict sense of right and wrong: she is right and others are wrong, and she has the knives and people to back it up. The hardest character to write was Walker himself - he is conflicted and broken and being pulled in so many directions. He walks a tightrope between magician and monster. The magic urges him to do one thing, his selfishness another, and his humanity that resists it is dwindling...

TQWhy have you chosen to include or not chosen to include social issues in The Traitor God?

Cameron:  Walker was a gutter rat in Docklands before his magical Gift was discovered and he was plucked from poverty to become an initiate with the Arcanum that rules the city. With that, he straddles the lines between the rich and powerful and the destitute and desperate he still self-identifies with. It would be impossible not to delve into that social divide in some way.

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


Q: Did you purposely set out to create a high-magic setting?

A: Definitely! Things like A Song of Ice and Fire with its vague, looming magical threat and hints of magic was something that I wanted to get away from. I wanted it more like old pulp fantasy worlds of Conan and Elric. Big magic, dark gods and demons, magical weapons and horrific monsters.

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from The Traitor God.

Cameron:  The first is also the cover tagline, but I will expand upon that:
"This town was already doomed and I wasn’t going down with it. Heroism could get a man killed."

Another that I like:
"A daemon glitters in the moonlight, crystalline, many-eyed, scuttling towards him down the alley like a spider made of knives, its limbs all straight lines and jagged cutting edges."

TQIf you could build one structure from The Traitor God in LEGOs, which one would it be and why?

Cameron:  Oh dear. You have happened upon a hobby of mine. How can I possibly only build one thing out of LEGO? At a push I would go for a cityscape scene, with giant brick monsters fighting.

TQWhat's next?

Cameron:  A second novel in the series, The God of Broken Things, is coming next June, so watch this space.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Cameron:  Thank you for having me. It has been a pleasure.

The Traitor God
Angry Robot, June 5, 2018
Trade Paperback and eBook, 432 pages

Interview with Cameron Johnston, author of The Traitor God
A city threatened by unimaginable horrors must trust their most hated outcast, or lose everything, in this crushing epic fantasy debut.

After ten years on the run, dodging daemons and debt, reviled magician Edrin Walker returns home to avenge the brutal murder of his friend. Lynas had uncovered a terrible secret, something that threatened to devour the entire city. He tried to warn the Arcanum, the sorcerers who rule the city. He failed.

Lynas was skinned alive and Walker felt every cut. Now nothing will stop him from finding the murderer. Magi, mortals, daemons, and even the gods – Walker will burn them all if he has to.

After all, it wouldn’t be the first time he’s killed a god…

File Under: Fantasy [ Look Who’s Back | Blood Sorcery | Tyrants & Titans | Mind Mates ]

About Cameron

Interview with Cameron Johnston, author of The Traitor God
Cameron Johnston lives in Glasgow, Scotland, with his wife and an extremely fluffy cat. He is a swordsman, a gamer, an enthusiast of archaeology, history and mythology, a builder of LEGO, and owns far too many books to fit on his shelves. He loves exploring ancient sites and camping out under the stars by a roaring fire.

Website  ~  Twitter @CamJohnston

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