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The Qwillery

A blog about books and other things speculative

What's the Appeal of Dark Fantasy? by Melanie R. Meadors

Please welcome the fabulous Melanie R. Meadors to The Qwillery writing about the Appeal of Dark Fantasy.

Melanie is co-editor of Knaves: A Blackguards Anthology, which is presently being funded via Kickstarter here:

About Knaves: A Blackguards Anthology:
Outland Entertainment is proud to bring you Knaves: A Blackguards Anthology. Featuring fourteen brand new tales of scheming anti-heroes and dark protagonists from the wrong side of the palace gates, Knaves brings together some of the finest fantasy authors in the industry in a book that will make readers wonder, “What is the ‘right side,’ anyway?” Authors include Mercedes Lackey, Anna Smith Spark, Cullen Bunn, Maurice Broaddus, Anton Strout, Walidah Imarisha, Cat Rambo, Lian Hearn, and more! Edited by Melanie R. Meadors and Alana Joli Abbott
What's the Appeal of Dark Fantasy? by Melanie R. Meadors

What’s the Appeal of Dark Fantasy?

People read books for all kinds of reasons. Escape, enlightenment, laughter, inspiration, entertainment. But why would someone read a dark book about nasty people, dark times? Don’t we have enough of that in real life? Here are some reasons I learned when co-editing the book Knaves: A Blackguards Anthology, currently on Kickstarter.
  1. Live life on the dark side. Escapism can take many forms. Let’s face it. We’ve all, whether we want to admit it or not, have had fantasies about committing some sort of violence at least once in our lives. And that doesn’t mean we’re bad people. I mean, there are bad people out there who are doing atrocious things. Just watch the news. How can we NOT want revenge on people like that? But because we are not bad people, we don’t do those things in real life. Sometimes it can be satisfying to read about a Robin Hood type character who takes matters into their own hands, someone who can make a difference when the law’s hands are tied. Sometimes it can be satisfying to escape into a world where you can be that person who doesn’t care, who does what they want. Which takes me to number two… 
  2. “I do what I want!” Sometimes we just wish we could do whatever we wanted. And it doesn’t necessarily make us bad people. Not all protagonists of dark fiction are BAD people. They just don’t always go with societal norms. They don’t always behave in a way that makes them play well with others. One of the interesting aspects of dark fiction is that we can read through a story where this character wreaks havoc and causes chaos…and that was exactly what that story world needed. Sometimes, in a good way, to help people who needed help but who were being oppressed, and sometimes in a bad way, just to throw a wrench in things and show a weakness on the side of “good.” But in the end, it helps the world to see things that were broken so they can be fixed. It has to hurt to heal, sometimes.
  3. That gray area between good and bad. When we fight to save our children. When we hit someone to stop them from bullying someone else. When we fight to save ourselves. When we go to war to save an oppressed people. Is it wrong to blow up a building full of drug lords who prey on downtrodden people? Is it wrong to kill a man who has taken advantage of children, yet whom the law can’t seem to hold accountable? What IS good, anyway? It’s subjective. What’s good for one isn’t good for another. Dark fantasy explores a lot of this. Sometimes the protagonist is vindicated at the end, and is shown to be a “good” guy with maybe some questionable methodology. But other times, the protagonist is not, and is punished. Dark fantasy introduces us to the idea that sometimes the paths we are told to be the “good” ones are not necessarily the “right” ones or the only ones. These books make us think.
  4.  Sometimes, painful decisions have to be made. The heroes of dark fantasy aren’t always evil people. They sometimes aren’t even remotely bad. They are good people whose hands are forced to do things that go against their moral compass. Their stories are about the struggle they go through to make these decisions. Sometimes their stories are about the repercussions they face after making the decision. The stories of people who dared to stand up to oppressing forces: The results are good for the majority of people, but the action was not “socially acceptable,” so those people are shunned. Anyone who is a parent is familiar with the battle of, “This will make my child happy in the moment, but it’s bad for her in the long run,” or “My kid hates going to the doctor, but this has to happen for her to be healthy.” Sometimes, someone has to be the one to rip the bandaid off. To push society off the dock so it can learn to swim. And often, that person isn’t appreciated.
  5.  Villains are the heroes of their own stories. And reading their stories helps give us a new perspective on things. This doesn’t mean, by the way, that we have to agree with these people. Far from it. But the thing is, these vile people honestly believe they are doing the right thing. They think they are helping society, sometimes—and sometimes…they aren’t wrong. See the above, about pulling the bandaid off. Some methods, however, are less palatable than others. Say we have a character who wants to end war, and he decides religion is the cause of most wars. Well, why not just wipe out everyone from one side? Voila! Peace! Only…yeah. You just killed a whole lot of innocent people just because they were on the “wrong” side. Thanos in Infinity War was correct in his assessment that huge populations were running through resources and causing lots of suffering. Was he right in the solution he came up with? Without getting too spoilery, lets face it. He could have done a lot of other things with that infinity gauntlet. Would they have worked? Who knows? But his solution isn’t a fail-proof one, either. Looking at things from another perspective helps us think, however, and come to conclusions we might not have otherwise. It can strengthen our own convictions to see what goes through the minds of people who are on the other side.
  6.  Hope. That’s right. Reading about bad things can give us hope for our own world. A lot of dark fantasy portrays the best of even bad people coming out in a time of darkness. If those people can change, can make a sacrifice for the greater good, can’t we all? If people who are, to that point, self-serving, money-grubbing, only after number one, can suddenly turn around at the end and save the world through a decision of sacrifice, can’t we all? Can’t we all find the hero inside of us? And for the stories where there is no happy ending….well, at least WE don’t live there!
I’m having a lot of fun putting Knaves together and reading all the stories. We have stories from awesome folks like Linda Robertson, whose story really moved me because it was about a subject near to my heart, Toiya Kristen Finley, Clay Sanger, Anna Smith Spark, Cat Rambo, Maurice Broaddus, Mercedes Lackey, and more! I really hope you check it out.

About Melanie

What's the Appeal of Dark Fantasy? by Melanie R. Meadors
Melanie R. Meadors is the author of fantasy stories where heroes don't always carry swords and knights in shining armor often lose to nerds who study their weaknesses. Her fiction has most recently appeared in the anthologies Champions of Aetaltis and Kaiju Rising II: Reign of Monsters. Melanie is the co-director of the Gen Con Writer's Symposium and the publisher at Outland Entertainment. She's the co-editor of the anthology MECH: Age of Steel and Knaves: A Blackguards Anthology, and editor of Hath No Fury and Tales of Excellent Cats: A Monarchies of Mau Anthology. She is a blogger and general b*tch monkey at The Once and Future Podcast.

Guest Blog by R.S. Belcher - The Night at the Edge of the Road: Where the Nightwise and Brotherhood of the Wheel Series Intersect

Please welcome R.S. Belcher to The Qwillery. The Night Dahlia, the 2nd novel in the Nightwise series, will be published on April 3rrd by Tor Books.

Guest Blog by R.S. Belcher -  The Night at the Edge of the Road: Where the Nightwise and Brotherhood of the Wheel Series Intersect

The Night at the Edge of the Road: Where the Nightwise and Brotherhood of the Wheel Series Intersect

R.S. Belcher

When you write multiple series there are always questions popping up about which of them connect and which don't. Authors like Brandon Sanderson and Stephen King have had a lot of fun interconnecting their worlds and their fans love the little cross-over Easter eggs that they drop in their stories. I grew up on Michael Moorcock's Eternal Champion series which had many crossovers between very different series within the overall cycle as well.

So, when it comes to answering the question of cross-over in my books, here's the straight dope. My Weird Western Golgotha series currently stands alone in its own universe while the Nightwise series (which includes my novel, The Night Dahlia, which is being released in April from Tor Books) and the Brotherhood of the Wheel series are set in the same world, but are very different series. I had a person at a convention this past weekend ask about a character in the Golgotha books and ask if they were members of the Brethren from the Brotherhood series. I had to explain that while that was a great idea, it was two different worlds. My main reason for splitting Golgotha from the other books is the cosmology in the series just developed differently, even though the theme of belief being crucial to the creation and survival of gods is present in all three of my series.

My main protagonists in the Nightwise and Brotherhood series— Laytham Ballard and Jimmie Aussapile— met in the pages of Nightwise back in 2015. Jimmie was a character I had bouncing around in my skull for a long time, he even made an appearance in a World of Darkness RPG I was the storyteller for back in the late 90s. My agent, Lucienne Diver encouraged me to explore Jimmie's world more and from that came the Brotherhood of the Wheel. In Brotherhood I've gone out of my way to mention Laytham Ballard a few time and other denizens of the occult underworld known as “the Life” he rubs elbows with, Like the Anti-matter Buddha, and Jingles the psychic exorcist who happens to be a cat. In The Night Dahlia, I also reciprocated with a few Brotherhood references for the reader to catch related to “the Road,” the as-of-yet not fully explained supernatural aspect of the American highway system that attracts demented personalities and monstrous creatures from other places.

Laytham Ballard's world is noir, filled with criminals, capers, and alternate lifestyles. I've always equated “the lifestyle” of BDSM with magic and secret societies. They have a lot in common. Ballard's world is definitely NC-17.

Jimmie's world, however, is a pretty different place in some very fundamental ways. Brotherhood is “southern fried Urban Fantasy.” I wanted Jimmie to be a very, very different person than Laytham, and I wanted his world, while full of horrific, nightmarish personalities and entities, to carry a ray of hope with it, to show that you don't always have to lose your soul to fight evil in the world.

If I am fortunate enough to continue to have the opportunity to write both series, I have a story arc that I'm planning that would begin in a Nightwise novel but reference a past event in Brotherhood and would bring the two worlds crashing into one another for one hell of an adventure. I also have kicked around the notion of writing books based on characters in the shared universe, including a certain demonic entertainer with a heart of gold and a chap named Synn who works for an agency known as the Horror Show. It's a big old abandoned playground with overgrown weeds and rusty dangerous equipment. I'd love to keep playing in it.

Thank you to all the friendly, devoted readers who have wandered into my worlds and who help grow them, keep them going, and keep them weird. I love you folks and I am very grateful for your support. I also wanted to thank Sally for her kind invitation to come on her site once again and chat. You're the best, Ms. Qwill, thank you.

The Night Dahlia
Nightwise 2
Tor Books, April 3, 2018
Trade Paperback and eBook, 400 pages

Guest Blog by R.S. Belcher -  The Night at the Edge of the Road: Where the Nightwise and Brotherhood of the Wheel Series Intersect
Laytham Ballard once protected humanity as part of the Nightwise, a secret order of modern-day mages dedicated to holding hellish supernatural forces at bay, but that was before a string of sadistic ritual murders shook everything he believed in—and sent him down a much darker path. One that has already cost him most of his soul, as well as everything he once held dear.

Now a powerful faerie mob boss has hired Ballard to find his lost-lost daughter, who went missing several years ago. The long-cold trail leads him across the globe, from the luxurious playgrounds of the rich and famous to the seedy occult underbelly of Los Angeles, where creatures of myth and legend mingle with street gangs and sex clubs, and where Ballard finds his own guilty past waiting for him around every shadowy corner. To find Caern Ankou, he will have to confront old enemies, former friends and allies, and a grisly cold case that has haunted him for years.

But is Caern still alive? And, perhaps more importantly, does she even want to be found?


Nightwise 1
Tor Books, January 16, 2018 (New Cover & Additional Content)
Trade Paperback, 320 pages
Trade Paperback, September 20, 2016
Hardcover and eBook, August 18, 2015

Guest Blog by R.S. Belcher -  The Night at the Edge of the Road: Where the Nightwise and Brotherhood of the Wheel Series Intersect
R.S. Belcher, the acclaimed author of The Six-Gun Tarot and The Shotgun Arcana launches a gritty new urban fantasy series set in today's seedy occult underworld in Nightwise.

In the more shadowy corners of the world, frequented by angels and demons and everything in-between, Laytham Ballard is a legend. It's said he raised the dead at the age of ten, stole the Philosopher's Stone in Vegas back in 1999, and survived the bloodsucking kiss of the Mosquito Queen. Wise in the hidden ways of the night, he's also a cynical bastard who stopped thinking of himself as the good guy a long time ago.

Now a promise to a dying friend has Ballard on the trail of an escaped Serbian war criminal with friends in both high and low places-and a sinister history of blood sacrifices. Ballard is hell-bent on making Dusan Slorzack pay for his numerous atrocities, but Slorzack seems to have literally dropped off the face of the Earth, beyond the reach of his enemies, the Illuminati, and maybe even the Devil himself. To find Slorzack, Ballard must follow a winding, treacherous path that stretches from Wall Street and Washington, D.C. to backwoods hollows and truckstops, while risking what's left of his very soul . . . .

Brotherhood of the Wheel

The Brotherhood of the Wheel
Brotherhood of the Wheel 1
Tor Books, March 21, 2017
Trade Paperback, 416 pages
Hardcover and eBook, March 1, 2016

Guest Blog by R.S. Belcher -  The Night at the Edge of the Road: Where the Nightwise and Brotherhood of the Wheel Series Intersect
R.S. Belcher, the acclaimed author of The Six-Gun Tarot and The Shotgun Arcana launches a gritty new urban fantasy series about the mysterious society of truckers known only as, The Brotherhood of The Wheel.

In 1119 A.D., a group of nine crusaders became known as the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon--a militant monastic order charged with protecting pilgrims and caravans traveling on the roads to and from the Holy Land. In time, the Knights Templar would grow in power and, ultimately, be laid low. But a small offshoot of the Templars endure and have returned to the order's original mission: to defend the roads of the world and guard those who travel on them.

Theirs is a secret line of knights: truckers, bikers, taxi hacks, state troopers, bus drivers, RV gypsies--any of the folks who live and work on the asphalt arteries of America. They call themselves the Brotherhood of the Wheel.

Jimmy Aussapile is one such knight. He's driving a big rig down South when a promise to a ghostly hitchhiker sets him on a quest to find out the terrible truth behind a string of children gone missing all across the country. The road leads him to Lovina Hewitt, a skeptical Louisiana State Police investigator working the same case and, eventually, to a forgotten town that's not on any map--and to the secret behind the eerie Black-Eyed Kids said to prowl the highways.

Guest Blog by S.L. Lahna, author of The Bulletproof Spy #1: The Silver Bullet Affair

Please welcome S.L. Lahna to The Qwillery! The Silver Bullet Affair, The Bulletproof Spy #1, was published on March 15th.

Guest Blog by S.L. Lahna, author of The Bulletproof Spy #1: The Silver Bullet Affair

Queer Culture in Russia: a Brief History

Alright, I’m going to kindly ask my American readers here to take everything you think you know about Russia’s stance on the LGBT community and throw it into a trash can. What you see today is not how it has always been, and not even close to how it began.

Before the Soviets and Stalin and the Bolshevik Revolution, we have the Tsars. The Tsarist period of queer history is its foundation, and while so much is wrong with the Tsarist rule for commoners, being gay during this time period is pretty damn good. At this point in history, there are no laws against homosexuality. It is seen within the culture to be rude and overbearing for a man to constantly want to have sex with his wife. She has better things to do. The notion of women having a sex drive then is ludicrous. But you can’t have sex with another woman, that’s cheating and the Russian Orthodox Church will have a very unpleasant punishment for you should it come out.

What do you do? You go to the local bathhouse and sleep with male prostitutes. Which is completely legal.

The only known sodomy laws were part of the church, and they were so mild in consequence that it was barely a slap on the wrist. There were no public trials or shaming whatsoever involved in the few who came forward.

Peter the Great doesn’t attempt to draft sodomy laws until after his great tour of Europe. When he returns in 1698, his conclusion is that while a law of some sort should be put into place, naming the thing may cause it to spread. To put it simply: Peter the Great is in such denial about the already thriving homosexual subculture in Russia that he believes he writes a law saying sodomy is prohibited, people will realize that sodomy is a thing they can do and then go do it. And so, the first true law prohibiting sodomy is drawn up and reads that “unnatural shamelessness” is prohibited.

This law remains in place for over 186 years. The 1835 criminal code prohibits consensual sodomy on punishment of exile to Siberia. Aggravated sodomy, which was defined as any case of sodomy or under force or the abuse of a position of power, was prohibited on punishment of exile with hard labor.

This lasts less than a hundred years; sodomy becomes decriminalized after the Bolshevik Revolution during the first Bolshevik criminal code in 1922.

So, what does all of this add up to?

It means that homosexuality in Russia has a solid foundation of being both religiously and morally acceptable. You can see this during the dialogue of when homosexuality becomes decriminalized; the mutual agreement by lawmakers is that homosexuality is a private matter and what citizens decide to do in a consensual manner in their own bedrooms is no one’s business but their own.

Journals from 1925 to 1927 estimated that over 5,000 queer men were living in Moscow during that time, with even larger numbers in St. Petersburg, which was regarded as the true center for queer subculture.

However, LGBT subculture was not only limited to cities. Diary accounts detail men from farming villages entering cities and immediately assimilating themselves into the queer culture present there; they know the signals, meeting places, and exactly what to say without having to ask a soul, which astonished Russian doctors and psychologists who were trying to understand where queer culture came from. Was it the cities? Was it the Tsars? What? Later it was even theorized that the Soviets created homosexuality. However, these research leaders were equally outweighed by those who believed that homosexuals posed no threat to society or issue to anyone; this is why the laws regarding homosexuality go back and forth depending on the ruler at the time period.

The answer to the question no medical practitioner or politician could solve was simple, but it wasn’t the one anyone wanted to acknowledge: LGBT culture existed in Russia from the start. And that means that when we go to write characters in Russia at any time period, we have to take in account that the shame we may encounter as Americans is not the same as in Russia; it is far less.

And that’s why its important to never go into a writing project with your own Americanized views on other cultures. Because unless you’re specifically educated on it via college level courses, you can almost certainly get it wrong.

To learn more about the growth and development of queer culture in Russia, you can check out the wonderfully put together and thoroughly researched Homosexual Desire in Revolutionary Russia by Dan Healey. And if you’d like to see this history come to life through a quick ass queer Russian spy, check out the Silver Bullet Affair book one in the Bulletproof Spy series.

The Silver Bullet Affair
The Bulletproof Spy #1
March 15, 2018, eBook
Cover art: Dante Saunders

Guest Blog by S.L. Lahna, author of The Bulletproof Spy #1: The Silver Bullet Affair
The year is 1965, and Alan Gable is the best spy America doesn’t know they have. Operating off books and outside the law, Alan has been tasked to do the impossible—get inside a laboratory in Moscow, get the Russian’s lead nuclear scientist, and get out, all without the KGB ever knowing he was there. No human could do it.

But Alan isn’t human.

Yulian’s life is perfect. A top counter-intelligence agent for the KGB, favored by the head of Section 1. His best friend is happily awaiting his first child. His indiscretions have remained discreet.

Until Dr. Tamm and his entire lab goes missing, and Yulian’s life starts to unravel.

The only way to survive long enough to get the bottom of the mystery is for Alan and Yulian to work together. If they can survive each other that is.

A madcap mashup of Hellboy and The Man From Uncle, The Silver Bullet Affair is a winning combination of espionage and the supernatural, an action-packed novella from start to finish lead by LGBT characters. Fans of the genre who’ve grown weary of the same old James Bond song and dance will find a new series to love with the Bulletproof Spy.

About the Author

Guest Blog by S.L. Lahna, author of The Bulletproof Spy #1: The Silver Bullet Affair
S. L. Lahna goes by they pronouns and knows way too much about Weird Things and Cold War history. Will tell you all of the reasons why James Bond is Wrong. They are hard at work on various novels for teens and adults. Some are about asexual magicians and their demonic mentors, some are about mentally-ill monster hunters, some are about pansexual teenage boys trying to survive a horror movie. Their day job is tearing apart books for money as a freelance editor at Word Vagabond. The Bulletproof Spy series is their debut novella.

Twitter @Vagabond_Sue  ~  Facebook

Melanie R. Meadors: Ogres—And Stories!—Have Layers

Please welcome Melanie R. Meadors to The Qwillery!

Melanie R. Meadors: Ogres—And Stories!—Have Layers

Ogres—And Stories!—Have Layers

When Nick Sharps and Alana Joli Abbott invited me to write a story for their new anthology, Kaiju Rising: Age of Monsters II, I was pretty ecstatic. I love a good monster story, and I have several ideas I’d like to some day write about. I pretty much immediately accepted, and off I went, on an adventure with some unlikely heroes to kill some monsters.

Only…it wasn’t that simple.

My story is one that kept surprising me with every draft. What started out as a simple action monster story grew to have a depth I didn’t expect. Yes, it was action-adventure, but as I got to know my characters, and spent more time with them even within the seven thousand word confines of their story, all these little connections started happening. Little motivations for their actions. Or vice versa—they would do something, and then I would say, “Oh, they are doing that because___,” and I’d discover something new about that character.

For example, I had my character, a half-orc, in draft one, traveling to a town where she took a job hunting a monster. OK, that was fine. And it would have been perfectly fine. In fantasy stories, that happens all the time. But then as I wrote, I said, “OK, maybe she has this job because it’s personal. Maybe this monster messed with her home city.” “All right,” another side of me said, “But how can we make it WORSE? How can the stakes be raised?” In the next draft, the stakes got higher. Then, as I learned more about the character as she interacted with other characters, I said, “Oh, here is a new way to make her experiences shape her situation even more…” and “What if her own MOTHER [redacted for spoilers]??”

After doing this with the main character, the secondary character started coming into more focus as well. If the main character’s mother did this thing, then this other character would do ___. Wait…What if that character actually was the hero of the story? As one thing developed, another thing would, like a chain reaction. And one of the hardest things for me to do while writing is to not fight this process. I often feel the need to rush. I have some author friends who seem to write four books a year. Could I do that? Sure. Should I do that? Well, I don’t know, but I do know that when I let a story grow as it needs to, that story turns out to be so much better and deeper than it would have otherwise.

Part of a writer’s job is to make the reader’s experience seamless and effortless. Readers aren’t supposed to see the machine behind the works, they aren’t meant to see all the blood, sweat, and tears that go into a story. They are supposed to just get swept up into the story, live life through their characters’ eyes, and have adventures, fall in love, or do whatever it is the story’s purpose is—mostly, they should be entertained. Sometimes, as a writer who is also a reader, it’s easy to forget that stories have layers. With each draft, something new comes out, some new aspect of a character, or of the backstory, of the world. This is why, at least for me, when I’m in the middle of my first draft, with every story, I think to myself, “My glob, I have forgotten how to write!” No, I haven’t forgotten how to write exactly. I’ve just forgotten that the way I write, I have to start with a core, and work out, fleshing out the details as I go. Draft one is often terrible, but then draft two gets better. Draft three is where things start getting really interesting, and then when I hit draft four, I’ve got the story as it should be, usually, and will just need some proofreading. It takes time for things to process. But sometimes, the best stories are the hardest to write.

Melanie R. Meadors: Ogres—And Stories!—Have Layers
A few years ago, Kaiju Rising: Age of Monsters smashed onto the book scene, collecting stories from some of the best writers of monsters in the business. Now, the age of monsters continues on with the follow up anthology, Kaiju Rising II, featuring stories from authors like Seanan McGuire, Jeremy Robinson, Marie Brennan, Dan Wells, ML Brennan, Jonathan Green, Lee Murray, Cullen Bunn, and more! If you love movies like Pacific Rim, Godzilla, and Kong, you won't want to miss it. Support this anthology from Outland Publications on Kickstarter now, keywords Kaiju Rising.

About Melanie R. Meadors

Melanie R. Meadors: Ogres—And Stories!—Have Layers
Melanie R. Meadors is the author of fantasy stories where heroes don't always carry swords and knights in shining armor often lose to nerds who study their weaknesses. She’s been known to befriend wandering garden gnomes, do battle with metal-eating squirrels, and has been called a superhero on more than one occasion. Her fiction has appeared in Circle Magazine, Prick of the Spindle, and in the anthology Champions of Aetaltis. She studied astronomy and physics at Northern Arizona University and has published some non-fiction in the field of astronomy and library sciences. She's the co-editor of the anthology MECH: Age of Steel and editor of Hath No Fury, and she is a blogger and general b*tch monkey at The Once and Future Podcast.

Guest Blog by Anton Strout - Writers, Embrace your Suckitude!

Please welcome Anton Strout to The Qwillery!

Guest Blog by Anton Strout - Writers, Embrace your Suckitude!

Writers, Embrace your Suckitude!
By Anton Strout

As Frank Herbert wrote in the Litany Against Fear in DUNE, “Fear is the mind killer,” which was clearly meant to be the inner monologue of writers everywhere.

At each stage of a writer’s career, our destructive troglodyte brains love to try and stump us, to keep us from writing. It’s a process that never goes away, really, at whatever level of your career you might be at from first timer to New York Times bestseller.

The details might differ for you as you read this, but this is sort of a fear ladder that authors go through, starting with the smallest:

I want to write.
I wonder if I can write a whole short story?
Okay, great did that. Now can I write something longer, can I do a whole novel?
Whoa, did that… hmm… wonder if can I do it again?
Yep. Okay. Keen. Can I get one of my novels published?
OMG, a publisher wants it… and now they want more of the same, multiple books in a series. Am I even capable of writing a sequel, keeping a series going?

Right about…. HERE is where I am right now as America’s Favorite Lower Midlist Urban Fantasy Author™, climbing the fear ladder rung by rung. I proved I could get down four books in my first series, the Simon Canderous paranormal detective novels. Then I proved to myself I could launch a second series successfully with the three book Spellmason Chronicles.

But that still leaves me hanging somewhere in the middle of that fear ladder as a writer.

Those higher up than me look down with whimsical nostalgia at how easy those fears were to manage when they were on my rung of the ladder, and those below me look up as they shake their fists, shouting, “Shut up, Strout! You don’t know how good you’ve got it!”

Always remember that fear is a relative thing for a writer, again dependent on which run of the ladder they are desperately clinging to. And of course there are the future fears and woes I worry about, should I ever move up the ladder to, say, making the bestseller lists:

Once I’m on, can I make the list again?
What if readers don’t like the next book?
What if I run out of ideas for the series that is working?

But the super fear lurking behind every stage—word by word, book by book—is: How do I get the words down time and time again, especially in the face of all those fears? And worse, what if I write a book that is terrible? Many wannabe writers I know get stuck at the perfectionist fear stage and barely get a paragraph down, let alone a whole book. So how do I sit down and not give in to the fear of producing a crappy book? I have a simple calming mantra: It’s okay to suck.

In fact, I heartily encourage it. Why?

Because when you first finish your book it is absolutely going to suck. It should. It is, literally, the first draft. That name alone implies there will be many more to follow. The trick to writing isn’t to vomit forth pure gold. It’s to get it down so you have something there to fix.

I can see the holes in a plot or what’s missing in a character once I have that initial draft down and a better feel for where the tale is going. Those are things I can add in later, things I can refine as I stitch the Frankenstein’s Monster of my book together until the reader can no longer see the stitches.

Fear does not keep me from attempting to get my book down. I embrace the suck. I encourage the suck. And then? It’s my job as a writer to beat the suck out of it. Through writing, rewriting, beta readers, editors, copyeditors… once I realized I do not have to get perfection down on the page the first time out—that only many passes will make it whole—I realized there was nothing to fear.

But circling back to DUNE for a moment, sit down at your computer, take a deep breath and incant with me the Litany Against Fear used by the Bene Gesserit to clear your mind and calm yourselves before launching yourself at the page:

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

Happy writing!

Are you a writer or do you know a writer who would enjoy the gift of…well, Anton Strout, for the holidays? Anton is auctioning off a read and critique session where authors can have him read a piece of their work and hear what this “Simon Cowell of Writing Critique” has to say! There is only a day left to the auction, however, so don’t miss it!

The Spellmason Chronicles 1
Ace, September 25, 2012
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 304 pages

Guest Blog by Anton Strout - Writers, Embrace your Suckitude!

Alexandra Belarus is a struggling artist living in New York City, even though her family is rich in real estate, including a towering Gothic Gramercy Park building built by her great-great-grandfather. But the truth of her bloodline is revealed when she is attacked on the street and saved by an inhumanly powerful winged figure. A figure who knows the Belarus name…

Lexi’s great-great-grandfather was a Spellmason—an artisan who could work magic on stone. But in his day, dark forces conspired against him and his, so he left a spell of protection on his family. Now that Lexi is in danger, the spell has awoken her ancestor’s most trusted and fearsome creation: a gargoyle named Stanis.

Lexi and Stanis are equally surprised to find themselves bound to each other. But as they learn to work together, they realize that only united can they save the city they both love…

The Spellmason Chronicles 2
Ace, September 24, 2013
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 304 pages

Guest Blog by Anton Strout - Writers, Embrace your Suckitude!

Alexandra Belarus was an artist stuck working in her New York family’s business…until she discovered her true legacy—a deep and ancient magic. Lexi became the last practicing Spellmason, with the power to breathe life into stone. And as her powers awoke, so did her family’s most faithful protector: a gargoyle named Stanis. But when a centuries-old evil threatened her family and her city, Stanis sacrificed himself to save everything Lexi held dear.

With Stanis gone, Lexi’s efforts to master Spellmasonry—even with the help of her dedicated friends—are faltering. Hidden forces both watch her and threaten her, and she finds herself suddenly under the mysterious wing of a secret religious society determined to keep magic hidden from the world.

But the question of Stanis’s fate haunts her—and as the storm around her grows, so does the fear that she won’t be able to save him in her turn.

The Spellmason Chronicles 3
Ace, September 30, 2014
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 320 pages

Guest Blog by Anton Strout - Writers, Embrace your Suckitude!

When Alexandra Belarus discovered her family’s secret ability to breathe life into stone, she uncovered an entire world of magic hidden within New York City—a world she has accidentally thrown into chaos. A spell gone awry has set thousands of gargoyles loose upon Manhattan, and it’s up to Lexi and her faithful protector, Stanis, to put things right.

But the stress of saving the city is casting a pall over Lexi and Stanis’s relationship, driving them to work separately to solve the problem. As Stanis struggles to unite the gargoyle population, Lexi forges unlikely alliances with witches, alchemists and New York’s Finest to quell an unsettling uprising led by an ancient and deadly foe long thought vanquished.

To save her city, Lexi must wield more power than ever before with the added hope of recovering a mysterious artifact that could change her world—and bring her closer to Stanis than she ever thought possible…

About Anton

Guest Blog by Anton Strout - Writers, Embrace your Suckitude!
Fantasy and science fiction author Anton Strout has given readers equal shares of chills and laughter since the first book of his Simon Canderous paranormal detective series, Dead To Me, came out from Penguin/Ace Books in 2008. He continues his tales of mayhem in Manhattan with his second series, the Spellmason Chronicles, as he treats readers to the story of a girl and her gargoyle, and explores themes of friendship, loyalty, and love with his trademark snarky twist.

The Once & Future Podcast ( is his latest project, where he endeavors as Curator of Content to bring authors to listener's ear holes one damned episode at a time..
In his scant spare time, his is a writer, a sometimes actor, sometimes musician, occasional RPGer, and the worlds most casual and controller smashing video gamer. He currently works in the exciting world of publishing and yes, it is as glamorous as it sounds.

Website  ~  Facebook  ~  Twitter @antonstrout  ~ The Once & Future Podcast

When Writing Takes You Home by Gail Z. Martin

Please welcome Gail Z. Martin to The Qwillery as part of the Days of the Dead Blog Tour!

When Writing Takes You Home by Gail Z. Martin

When Writing Takes You Home

By Gail Z. Martin

What happens when your muse takes you back to places you’ve lived, or grown up in, as the setting for stories?

I write epic fantasy, urban fantasy and steampunk. The epic fantasy is set in imagined medieval worlds, similar in technology and overall physical appearance to our own, but different in history, gods, magic, and supernatural creatures. My first urban fantasy series, Deadly Curiosities, is set in modern-day Charleston, SC. I love Charleston, but I’ve never lived there.

When Writing Takes You Home by Gail Z. Martin
The first series that took me home was Iron & Blood, which is co-written with my husband and writing partner, Larry N. Martin. Iron & Blood is set in an alternate history 1898 Pittsburgh, with plenty of airships and clockworks and explosions. We lived in Pittsburgh for ten years, and it’s an awesome city, but it’s also the logical epicenter of American steampunk, with all the steam-driven factories at that time. The Storm and Fury Adventures, which are ‘extra episodes’ in the Iron & Blood world, also take place in and around Pittsburgh.

When Writing Takes You Home by Gail Z. Martin
One of those Storm and Fury stories, Rogue, heads north and the action takes place in Butler, Meadville and Cambridge Springs, PA. I’m from Meadville, so it was fun setting the story there (including a battle with werewolves in the cemetery where my parents are buried). I learned a lot about local history, and gained a new appreciation of my hometown’s somewhat forgotten Victorian architecture and importance. (That section of PA was more important back in 1898 than it’s been since WWII.)

When Writing Takes You Home by Gail Z. Martin
Our new Spells, Salt, and Steel comedic horror series (also co-written with Larry), is set in Northwestern PA, that corner of Pennsylvania up by Lake Erie. Mark Wojcik, our monster hunter/mechanic is based just outside of Conneaut Lake, and in the first novella, he hunts a Japanese fish-eating monster in Linesville, the ghost of a Nazi sniper at an abandoned TNT plant in Geneva, a Mafia warlock in Meadville, and a weresquonk near Kane. (First line of the novella: “When all else fails, the ass end of a carp makes a damn fine weapon.”)

I’ve got a dark urban fantasy series also planned for modern-day Pittsburgh and environs, as well as a horror novel set in central Pennsylvania, near where I went to grad school at Penn State. A couple other new series will have incidents that take the characters into the wilds of PA (and if you’ve driven across I-80, there’s a lot of PA that is definitely wild).

It’s fun incorporating familiar landmarks in my stories, and weaving in some tidbits of overlooked history. Writing books in a setting is also a great excuse for road trips to that area, or extending visits to the family to incorporate scouting locations. While I grew up there, I’ve been gone a long time, and it’s nice to go and see something that is half-remembered from long ago, to make sure I get the details right.

Of course many of the locations that we use in the steampunk stories aren’t there anymore, or aren’t in their original condition. In that case, internet archives and historical associations become a fascinating resource (and time-sink). I’m often amazed at what I find, since just because you grew up in a place doesn’t mean you know everything about it. For example, I had forgotten Meadville’s role in the Underground Railroad, or that John Brown (of Harper’s Ferry fame) lived near there for many years. That got rolled into Rogue, albeit in an alternate history kind of way!

It’s also fun to have the chance to introduce readers to one of my favorite areas of the country and bring them in on the places, foods, expressions, history and landscape that means so much to me. If you’re from that area or familiar with it, I hope you’ll sense the authenticity. And if you’re new to the area, my hope is that the setting becomes an intrinsic part of the story, because I try to write the location as a character, a tale that couldn’t happen the same way anyplace else.

My Days of the Dead blog tour runs through October 31 with brand new excerpts from upcoming books and recent short stories, interviews, guest blog posts, giveaways and more! Plus, I’ll be including extra excerpt links for my stories and for books by author friends of mine. You’ve got to visit the participating sites to get the goodies, just like Trick or Treat! Get all the details about my Days of the Dead blog tour here:

Let me give a shout-out for #HoldOnToTheLight 2017, back for more with new authors and fantastic new posts! 130+ Sci-Fi/Fantasy authors blogging about their personal struggles with depression, PTSD, anxiety, suicide and self-harm, candid posts by some of your favorite authors on how mental health issues have impacted their lives and books. Read the stories, share the stories, change a life. Find out more at

Book Swag is the new Trick-or-Treat! All of my guest blog posts have links to free excerpts—grab them all!

Rafflecopter giveaway—enter for a chance to win a copy of Spells, Salt and Steel!

An excerpt from Rogue, from our Storm and Fury Adventures:

An excerpt from my friend JD Blackwell’s The Tragic Tale of Abby Campbell here:

Iron & Blood
A Jake Desmet Adventure 1
Solaris, July 7, 2015
Trade Paperback and eBook, 432 pages

When Writing Takes You Home by Gail Z. Martin
Adventure in New Pittsburgh...

New Pittsburgh, 1898 – a crucible of invention and intrigue. Born from the ashes of devastating fire, flood and earthquake, the city is ruled by the shadow government of The Oligarchy. In the swarming streets, people of a hundred nations drudge to feed the engines of progress, while in the abandoned tunnels beneath the city, supernatural creatures hide from the light, emerging only to feed.

Jake Desmet and Rick Brand travel the world to secure treasures and unusual items for the collections of wealthy patrons, accompanied by Jake’s cousin, Veronique LeClerque. But when their latest commission leads to Jake’s father’s murder, the three friends are drawn into a conspiracy where dark magic, industrial sabotage and the monsters that prey on the night will ultimately threaten not just New Pittsburgh, but the whole world.

A Storm and Fury Adventure
DreamSpinner Communications, March 30, 2016
eBook, 107 pages

When Writing Takes You Home by Gail Z. Martin
A Steampunk novella set in the world of Iron & Blood: A Jake Desmet Adventure. Werewolves and a dark witch are leaving a wake of chaos, and Department of Supernatural Investigation agents Mitch Storm, Jacob Drangosavich, and Anna Corbett are sent to investigate. When the trail leads to a dangerous lost artifact, Mitch, Jacob and Anna know that the witch and his werewolf minions have a much bigger plan in mind, one which endangers New Pittsburgh and the world.

Spells, Salt, & Steel
A New Templars Novells
Falstaff Books, October 3, 2017
eBook, 116 pages

When Writing Takes You Home by Gail Z. Martin
When all else fails, the ass end of a carp makes a damn fine weapon.

No, that didn't come from the lips of Bubba the Monster Hunter, but it sure could have! That sentence right there kinda encapsulates the life of Mark Wojcik, Monster Hunter. A blue-collar mechanic from the wilds of PA, Mark likes his beer cold, his poker games private, and his monsters…well, he doesn’t like them at all. So when he finds himself dueling a Japanese mythical monster in the Linesville Spillway in the wee hours of the night, he has to use every available weapon to survive and vanquish the ningen.

Even if it means beating the damn thing to death with a carp.

If interloping Japanese fish-monsters weren’t bad enough, there’s a Nazi ghost terrorizing the community. Somebody needs to gank the ghostie, and Mark is the man for the job.

He hopes.

They are the first line of defense against the things that go bump in the night.
They are the keepers of a centuries-old legacy of The Church defending the world against the forces of darkness.
They are a bunch of highly armed rednecks, internet video celebrities, soccer moms, and assorted broken nutjobs.
They are the new Templars, and things are about to get weird.

The New Templars novella series is a new series of short novels, similar to BookShots. Spells, Salt, & Steel is the first in the series by popular steampunk, epic, and urban fantasy duo Gail Z. Martin and Larry N. Martin.

A Haven Harbor Halloween
Jeanne P Adams/Golden Gryphon Press, September 26, 2017
eBook, 538 pages

When Writing Takes You Home by Gail Z. Martin
Welcome to Haven Harbor, Massachusetts where the real witches live! Founded witches who escaped the Salem Trials, Haven Harbor's modern facade still shields modern day witches. Sometimes Halloween ends up being scarier than Trick or Treat! Join us for a Haven Harbor Halloween! Four Stories of the Spookiest Season in Haven Harbor!

NYTimes Bestselling author Tawny Weber’s West Coast Karma Café meets East Coast’s Haven Harbor in Decadent Desires…
Bedtime bliss is on the menu when a guy used to fighting dragons has to awaken a beauty to the magic of sensual delights before the Halloween Ball. But can she accept the repercussions of magic and her duty to family? Or would it be easier to return to the sweet bliss of sleepy obliviousness where life is simple, love is a myth and magic is reserved for fairy tales?

USA Today Bestselling author Barbara Devlin returns to Haven Harbor with A Taste of Magick…
A starry-eyed girl, a cocky football jock, and peer pressure converge on one fateful night, leaving behind two broken hearts. Three years later, Russell Lee McBride returns to Haven Harbor, intent on righting the wrongs of his youth and winning pretty Cindy Parker. Can the two young sweethearts overcome the pain of the past to find true love?

Award winning author Gail Z. Martin presents Keepsakes, a fabulous new story in her Deadly Curiosities series…
When a surge in thefts of heirlooms with magical properties accompanies a sudden outbreak of violent attacks, Cassidy, Teag and Sorren race a dodgy stranger to discover the truth and tracethe missing keepsakes to a killer.

Jeanne Adams’ Haven Harbor series continues with After Midnight…
Too many tricks, not enough treats! Someone’s tracking Keira Danby and her deadly secrets have come to roost in Haven Harbor at Halloween. They’ve tampered with her car, tried to steal her briefcase and nearly ruined her business relationships in Haven Harbor. Now, sexy Jim Stansfield tells her she’s got water magic, and it’s dangerous. She doesn’t dare ask what else could go wrong…

About Gail

When Writing Takes You Home by Gail Z. Martin
Gail Z. Martin writes epic fantasy, urban fantasy and steampunk for Solaris Books and Orbit Books. Vengeance: A Darkhurst novel, is the second in a new epic fantasy series for Solaris (coming April, 2018). Her Deadly Curiosities urban fantasy series set in Charleston, SC has a new novel, Vendetta, and a new collection, Trifles and Folly. Spells, Salt, and Steel is the first in another new urban fantasy series set in upstate Pennsylvania.

Other work includes the Chronicles Of The Necromancer series, the Fallen Kings Cycle, the Ascendant Kingdoms series, the Deadly Curiosities urban fantasy series, and Iron & Blood (co-authored with Larry N. Martin)

Find her at, on Twitter @GailZMartin, on, at blog and on Goodreads

Guest Blog by Robert J. Duperre - My Basics for Playing God

Please welcome Robert J. Duperre to The Qwillery. Soultaker, the first novel in the Knights Eternal series, was published by Ragnarok Publications in July.

Guest Blog by Robert J. Duperre - My Basics for Playing God


People are always telling me, “Wow, Rob, you’re so awesome at world building! How do you do it?” Of course, “people” actually means “two individuals,” and no one’s ever asked me how I do it, but hey, I thought it would make an interesting blog post, so here we are.

The truth is, I think I am pretty good at world building. I mean, if a well-known author seeks your help to expand upon and define the universe of their books, it must be true, right? Of course it is. So with that being said, here’s my own personal five-step process to playing god, a.k.a. inventing a believable and intriguing fictional universe.

Know the Location, Dammit!

Whether my story takes place on Earth in the current day or on some completely fabricated other world, understanding the lay of the land is important. Be it a post-apocalyptic wasteland, an epic fantasy kingdom, or a city as normal as Richmond, Virginia, knowing where everything is and how the landscape looks can help to heighten realism within the framework of the story.

I base even my fictional worlds on real-life counterparts. As an example, for an island territory in an upcoming book, I used the street layout for Los Angeles and went from there. When my setting is a real place that I’ve never been to and am unable to schedule an adult field trip, I put in tons of research, download maps and pictures and street views, read up on the history of the area, and visit message boards to get a sense of the surroundings and the commonalities I might see there—such as fashions, popular types of food, ethnic breakdown, stuff like that.

This attention to detail, and drawing maps of everything (even diagramming interiors), is one of the more tedious aspects of story prep that I put myself through, but I have to. From just a spatial relations standpoint, I can become inconsistent, and get myself lost, without it. Have you ever read a book where you can’t tell how far it is from one point to the next, or when, during a fight scene, you completely lose track of where a character is standing in relation to the action happening around them? That sort of thing drives me nuts, and when I was younger, I fell into that trap all the time.

Not anymore. Is mapping out everything like that a bit of overkill? Maybe. But, by and large, the advantage to both my mental wellbeing and my eventual product means that none of my time has been wasted.

A Rose is a Rose a Dandelion.

Names can be tricky. Modern humans have gotten more and more creative as the years have gone by when naming their children, but there’s still a sort of collective similarity, even with the newer names, that can tell you almost immediately either where a person is from or what religion they practice. Someone named Jokubas is probably from the Balkans, a girl named Ji Yeon is most definitely from South Korea, while a bloke who goes by Jaxon is quintessentially American.

Most of my fantasy includes various ethnicities and distinct locales, so creating diversity in names is important. Again, I often take examples from the real world, altering them just slightly, if at all. Do I have a society of devoutly religious people? I’ll use variants on Latin names. How about a warlord troupe? Then, maybe take some Irish or German and twist them around a bit. Or maybe, if I’m being daring, I’ll create a culture that has its own naming customs, such as one in which all names are symmetrical, such as Sabaz or Iallai, for example. Given the sheer number of names out there, there is almost no limit to what I can do.

I have a somewhat different convention for naming locations, and in that case, my personal mantra is the simpler, the better. If I have a town at the mouth of a port, maybe I’ll probably call it Portsmouth. A village founded by a guy named Adrian Lem? Lemsburg will work. I’d never dub something like that Indigotown. Well, not unless I want ridicule. But then again, I’m a glutton, so you never knew.

The key is to be consistent, no matter what it is I’m naming. The one thing I don’t want to do is have a bunch of people named Ahaesarus, Azariah, Judarius, and Mordecai, and then throw a Davey into the mix. There’s no better recipe for jolting readers out of a story than that.

Central Conflict, anyone?

We all know that you need conflict to help drive a narrative forward. Conflict between characters is obviously important, but I’ve always felt that, when creating a setting to plop those characters into, it’s just as vital to define the conflicts going on around them, if only to create a sense of realism. Every society has warts, after all.

Is there a religious struggle happening? A racial divide? Is one huge corporation bogarting all the salt in the region? Is political corruption the norm? Are the poor being forced to mine for diamonds? Or maybe a water shortage where the rich control what few resources there are left?

These are just a few of the scenarios I mull over when playing god. There are so many different narrative directions I can push my characters toward, and when I create a world rife with discord, I can use that conflict to help give the characters further definition. There has never been a person who grew up in a war zone, after all, for whom war hasn’t affected their outlook.

Plus, the world would be boring otherwise. Hazardous to my health too, because just the thought of putting my heroes and villains in a cardboard, ill-defined world makes me ill.

Rules Are Important

Nothing throws me out of a story quicker than inconsistent physics. Continuity matters.

If I’m crafting a world where supernatural abilities exist, I write out exactly what feats are possible, how those feats are performed, and the “science” behind why they work, while still allowing for ambiguity. If I were creating a simple magic system for a high fantasy universe, for example, then maybe I’d make it known that the magic is made possible by ancient runes carved deep into the mantle of the land. That way, it’s not necessary to reveal whether these magical abilities stem from gathering energy from different dimensions or are funneled from some hidden reservoir of power hidden in the planet’s core. I mean, I can go there and explain those aspects away if I want (and I often do), but once the delivery system is revealed, it isn’t truly necessary to explain further.

In the case of inventing a more realistic world, I find it important to stick with known conventions, even if I have miraculous events occur. There can be power in describing the fantastic in accepted terms, and I often find it adds a layer of believability to the tale. But the readers’ faith in what I’ve created can be easily squashed if I don’t stay consistent, which is why I need to research. Say I were to create a series of books that explored a scientifically plausible explanation for vampirism, and I succeed. How much of a mistake would it then be for me, the writer, to later on in the story have a very unrealistic portrayal of, say, nuclear power? While it’s true that some readers might gloss right over what I’ve done, some attuned bookworm will surely find my mistake and probably let me know.

Which, trust me, is something I very much want to avoid.

The Mundane Matters.

What do you do every day? Do you eat breakfast in the morning? Kiss your significant other goodbye when you go to work? Pray around the dinner table or before bed? Kneel facing Mecca? How much do you enjoy your job? Do you relax with a cold beer or a hot cup of tea when the day comes to a close?

Fictional characters, just like us, are defined by their routines, while the routines themselves are defined by the world in which they live. That’s why, to me, the most important aspect of any universe I’m writing in are those tiny, unremarkable moments that fill up my characters’ lives.

I always make sure to explore their political or religious beliefs (whether real-world or fictional), what kind of employment they have, their relative standing in the socioeconomic system I’ve set up, how they deal with law enforcement, relationships they have with their neighbors, what they do for fun, how they connect with their friends, how their upbringing affected their identity, and on and on and on. This all happens before I even type the first word of an outline, because if I don’t, then what will come out on paper might very well end up being a hollow shell, a bag-o’-bones, instead of a fully-formed, fleshed-out character. After all, if I, the writer, can’t connect with these people as, well, people, then how could I ever expect my audience to?

Which is important, because the audience is what matters most of all.

The Knights Eternal 1
Ragnarok Publications, July 25, 2017
Trade Paperback and eBook, 342 pages

Guest Blog by Robert J. Duperre - My Basics for Playing God
It's been a thousand years since the Rising.

Earth is a wasteland, and a holy order of knights is all that stands between what remains of civilization and the brigands and demons trying to bring it all down. When the oldest of these knights, Abe, isn't trying to keep his brothers in line, he's tirelessly attempting to decode the riddles that have guided the Knights Eternal for the past two centuries.

The visions Abe's been having aren't helping matters.

The latest riddle sends the Knights Eternal after a prophet and his band of Outriders. Or is it sending them to seek the Prophet's aid? It's a question Abe needs answered. With his sanity fleeing, more demons than ever rising from the Pit, and rumors circulating of an army of risen dead, failure for the knights might end the world this time once and for all.

Where else will reincarnated musicians become gun-slinging knights to patrol a post-apocalyptic wasteland? Only in Soultaker. This book by Robert J. Duperre takes a pound of Game of Thrones, a few cups of The Wild Bunch, a dash of Doom, and a sprinkle of Doctor Who, and mixes them all into a fun, horrific ride.

About Robert

Guest Blog by Robert J. Duperre - My Basics for Playing God
Robert J. Duperre is a really great guy. Actually, he's not. Though he is the author of eight novels that offer a mix of horror, science fiction, and fantasy, and co-wrote The Breaking World with David Dalglish an epic fantasy adventure series published by 47North. Robert lives in rural Connecticut with his wife, the artist Jessica Torrant.

Website  ~  Facebook

Newsletter  ~  Twitter @ robertduperre

Guest Blog by Jacey Bedford

Please welcome Jacey Bedford to The Qwillery. Nimbus, the 3rd Psi-Tech Novel, was published on October 3rd by DAW.

Guest Blog by Jacey Bedford
That's it, I've done my best, Nimbus is not only finished, but it's published. I have a copy in my hot little hands. Too late now to change a thing. It’s the third and final book in my Psi-Tech trilogy. Though I’ve got five books out, now, this is my first complete trilogy – weighing in at half a million words over the course of three books: Empire of Dust, Crossways and Nimbus.

If writing a book is like running a ten kilometre race, then writing a trilogy is the equivalent of running a marathon. As you cross the finish line there’s exhaustion and triumph in equal measure. Your muscles may ache for a day or two, but the achievement stays forever.

The Psi-Tech trilogy is a star-spanning space opera featuring megacorporations, brain-implanted psi-techs, foldspace and jump gates. Its broad theme is trust and betrayal with complex relationships and twisty plots. Friends become enemies and help comes from unexpected quarters. The most important skill for survival is knowing where to place your trust.

Cara’s been let down (badly) and is on the run. Is there anywhere in the galaxy that’s safe for a telepath who knows too much? Ben has faced trouble before, but he’s always been able to trust his best friend. It’s unthinkable that they should end up on different sides in a life-or-death struggle. And yet, all the human conflict pales into insignificance beside a new threat. There’s something stirring in the depths of foldspace. The Nimbus is coming and it’s as mad as hell!

Guest Blog by Jacey Bedford

Much as I'd like to take all credit for the psi-tech books, publishing is a team effort. Sure, I wrote the words and made up the story, but my editor, Sheila Gilbert, worked with me to make it better. It’s published by DAW, and there’s a strong team of people whose job it is to add a layer of professionalism. Besides my editor, there’s a managing editor who deals with admin and scheduling, a copy editor, a proof-reader, cover artist (Stephan Martiniere in this case), graphic designers, typesetters, printers, and when it’s all done, a publicist. That's a huge team effort, but even before DAW agreed to publish I already owed a lot to members of various critique groups.

Writer Paul Cornell says that it's a writer's job to seek out the harshest criticism they can find and learn from it. Some of that learning process comes from reviews after the event, but a wise writer seeks out critique while the work is still in progress. But don't just ask your mum (unless your mum is a writer, too), and beware those writers' groups that exist to pat you on the back just for getting some words down on paper, rather than pushing you to stretch yourself to make your pedestrian prose sing!
There might also be those who will pull your writing to pieces just for the sake of it. Some groups can be destructive rather than constructive because belittling your work makes them feel better about their own. You don’t need those groups. Walk away.

I'm a firm believer in peer-to-peer critique groups, however. Finding the right group is important. I write science fiction and fantasy, so a general writers’ group isn’t likely to meet my needs. I need a group that’s genre-specific and working at the right level. Critiquing with other published science fiction and fantasy writers, is an amazing experience. People new to critiquing can learn by example (from a good group) that constructive and honest critique, both giving and receiving, is invaluable.

I’ve been lucky enough to find my group.

Back in the late 90s I met (online) Liz Holliday who was then the secretary of Milford (, a week-long event of peer-to-peer, face-to-face critiquing. In order to attend Milford you have to be published, but that need only be one short story to a recognised market. In 1998 I sold my first short story to a print anthology, and therefore qualified for Milford. I was terrified, but I went anyway. In those days it was held in Devon. Later it moved to York, and currently resides in scenic North Wales at Trigonos, a lovely residential centre with its own lake and a magnificent view of the mountains.

We were a group of ten in 1998. Writing is a solitary business, so to find nine other like-minded individuals willing and eager to chew over plot-bunnies, story arcs, characters, and potential markets gave everyone a real boost, an infusion of enthusiasm and renewed writing energy. My fellow writers included multiply published American author Patricia Wrede, Ben Jeapes, Cherith Baldry, Alastair Reynolds, and Liz Williams, before the latter two got their first book deals.

Did my fellow writers like my submitted piece? Not especially, I suspect, though not liking something doesn’t mean to say that you deliver critique that says it’s bad. ‘This is not my type of book,’ is not the same as, ‘This book sucks.’ And you can still critique plot, characterisation, pacing and style even if it’s not what you’d choose to read for fun. I’ve lost track of the number of times someone will begin with, ‘I am not your target audience,’ but will still give a useful and considered critique.

These days Milford regularly runs with a full-house of fifteen writers. Their constructive critique, and their advice, have always helped me to make changes for the better. I don’t do everything that everyone suggests, of course. It’s still my book. With fourteen other writers weighing in with opinions, you have to learn to critique the critiques. No two people approach a piece in the same way. Thinking of some of our regulars, one writer always approaches it from the standpoint of, ‘What do these characters want?’ One picks apart grammar. One is a history specialist, one a medical doctor, and another a classicist, each brilliant at picking up on relevant facts. One is brilliant on plot, and yet another will analyse my characters’ ethics, often drawing my attention to something I simply hadn’t considered (but should have done). If fourteen people say the pacing is too slow, they might have a point. If seven say it’s too long and the other seven say it’s too short, you have to make up your own mind. Or maybe it’s just about right. It’s up to you to listen and take what’s useful and leave the rest.

Whatever the outcome, it’s your story that’s up for critique, not you.

Those writers at my first Milford in 1998 certainly didn't make me feel like a clueless newbie, even though I was. I learned so much that I went back the following year, and again the year after. In fact, in nineteen years I've only missed three Milfords, and those due to prior commitments that I couldn't shirk. I hung around for so long that, for my sins, I’m now the secretary.

Lots of good things have happened to me because of Milford. I can honestly say that if it wasn't for Milford I would not have five books already published by DAW and I would not be sitting here clutching Nimbus and grinning like an idiot.

A Psi-Tech Novel 3
DAW, October 3, 2017
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 544 pages

Guest Blog by Jacey Bedford
To combat manipulative megacorporations with telepathic technology, two heroes must rebel, overthrowing the enemy’s oppressive influence in the third book in this exciting sci-fi adventure

In a galaxy where the super-powers are the megacorporations, and ambitious executives play fast and loose with ethics in order to secure resources, where can good people turn for help? The megacorps control the jump gates and trade routes. They use psi-techs, implant-enhanced operatives with psionic abilities, who are bound by unbreakable contracts.

Psi-tech Cara Carlinni once had her mind turned inside out by Alphacorp, but she escaped, found her place with the Free Company, and now it’s payback time.

Ben Benjamin leads the Free Company, based on the rogue space station, Crossways. The megacorps have struck at Crossways once—and failed—so what are they planning now? Crossways can’t stand alone, and neither can the independent colonies, though maybe together they all have a chance.

But something alien is stirring in the depths of foldspace. Something bigger than the squabbles between megacorporations and independents. Foldspace visions are supposed to be a figment of the imagination.

At least, that’s what they teach in flight school. Ben Benjamin knows it’s not true. Meeting a void dragon was bad enough, but now there’s the Nimbus to contend with. Are the two connected? Why do some ships transit the Folds safely and others disappear without a trace?

Until now, humans have had a free hand in the Galaxy, settling colony after colony, but that might change because the Nimbus is coming.


Empire of Dust
A Psi-Tech Novel 1
DAW, November 4, 2014
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 544 pages

Guest Blog by Jacey Bedford
To combat manipulative megacorporations with telepathic technology, two heroes must rebel, overthrowing the enemy’s oppressive influence in the first book in this exciting sci-fi adventure

Mega corporations, more powerful than any one planetary government, use their agents to race each other for resources across the galaxy. The agents, or psi-techs, are implanted with telepath technology. The psi-techs are bound to the mega-corps — that is, if they want to retain their sanity.

Cara Carlinni is an impossible thing – a runaway psi-tech. She knows Alphacorp can find its implant-augmented telepaths, anywhere, anytime, mind-to-mind. So even though it’s driving her half-crazy, she’s powered down and has been surviving on tranqs and willpower. So far, so good. It’s been almost a year, and her mind is still her own.

She’s on the run from Ari van Blaiden, a powerful executive, after discovering massive corruption in Alphacorp. Cara barely escapes his forces, yet again, on a backwater planet, and gets out just in time due to the help of straight-laced Ben Benjamin, a psi-tech Navigator for Alphacorp’s biggest company rival.

Cara and Ben struggle to survive a star-spanning manhunt, black-ops raids, and fleets of resource-hungry raiders. Betrayal follows betrayal, and friends become enemies. Suddenly the most important skill is knowing whom to trust.

A Psi-Tech Novel 2
DAW, August 4, 2015
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 544 pages

Guest Blog by Jacey Bedford
To combat manipulative megacorporations with telepathic technology, two heroes must rebel, overthrowing the enemy’s oppressive influence in the second book in this exciting sci-fi adventure

Ben Benjamin, psi-tech Navigator, and Cara Carlinni, Telepath, can never go home again. To the Trust and Alphacorp alike, they are wanted criminals. Murder, terrorism, armed insurrection, hijacking, grand theft, and kidnapping are just the top of a long list of charges they’ll face if they’re caught.

So they better not get caught.

These are the people who defied the megacorporations and saved a colony by selling the platinum mining rights and relocating ten thousand colonists somewhere safe, and they’re not saying where that is.

They take refuge on crimelord-run Crossways Station with the remnants of their team of renegade psi-techs and the Solar Wind, their state-of-the-art jump-drive ship. They’ve made a promise to find a missing space ark with thirty thousand settlers aboard. But to do that, Ben and Cara have to confront old enemies.

Alphacorp and the Trust: separately they are dangerous, united they are unstoppable. They want to silence Ben and Cara more than they want to upstage each other. If they have to get rid of Crossways in order to do it, they can live with that. In fact, this might be the excuse they’ve been looking for….

About Jacey

Guest Blog by Jacey Bedford
Jacey Bedford is a British writer, published by DAW in the USA. She writes both science fiction and fantasy and her novels are published by DAW in the USA. Her short stories have been published on both sides of the Atlantic in anthologies and magazines, and some have been translated into an odd assortment of languages including Estonian, Galician and Polish.

Her latest book is NIMBUS, published on 3rd October 2017. It’s the third in her Psi-Tech trilogy in which a bunch of renegade Psi-Techs (humans implanted with telepath technology) come up against the might of the Megacorporations, while in the depths of foldspace, there’s something new and terrifying. With NIMBUS the trilogy is complete.

Jacey's a great advocate of critique groups and is the secretary of the Milford SF Writers' Conference, an intensive peer-to-peer week of critique and discussion held every September in North Wales. (

She lives in an old stone house on the edge of Yorkshire's Pennine Hills with her songwriter husband and a long-haired, black German Shepherd (a dog not an actual shepherd from Germany). She's been a librarian, a postmistress, a rag-doll maker and a folk singer with the vocal harmony trio, Artisan. Her claim to fame is that she once sang live on BBC Radio 4 accompanied by the Doctor (Who?) playing spoons.

You can keep up with Jacey in several different ways:

Guest Blog by Stephanie Burgis - Finding the Fun in Snowspelled

Please welcome Stephanie Burgis to The Qwillery. Snowspelled, the 1st novel in the Harwood Spellbook series, was published on September 4, 2017.

Guest Blog by Stephanie Burgis - Finding the Fun in Snowspelled

Finding the Fun in Snowspelled – Stephanie Burgis

I started out my adult life as a serious academic, studying 18th-century opera and politics. So it only makes sense that in my first two darkly romantic historical fantasy novels (Masks and Shadows and Congress of Secrets), I had one overriding priority for my worldbuilding: all of the magic had to fit discreetly into the real-world history of the time period (something I cared passionately about).

Not only did I write a version of alchemy in those books that matched real 18th-century theories of the world, but I hoped to persuade my readers – at least during the hours that they spent absorbed in those stories - that hey, maybe history really could have happened that way after all, because none of the secret magic in my books actually contradicted the real-world history we know.

I loved that creative challenge. I loved coming up with carefully-researched and deeply romantic novels that also included thoughtful Historical Notes at the end. I loved that many of my readers were inspired to go read more about the time period of each of those two novels afterward!

But then 2016 happened, and I – like so much of the world – got really, really stressed.

Suddenly, I wasn’t interested in writing dark stories in any genre. I didn’t care about intellectual challenges.

What I cared about – and desperately needed - was escape.

If I was going to get through what felt (and still feels) like a very dark time in the world, what I needed was a comforting writing-project that felt like pure, frothy fun in every possible way.

So I started writing Snowspelled, a fantasy romance novella (or short novel – I’ve never been sure which one to call it!) set in a blatantly non-real version of history – a version I could escape into any time I needed it.

In my version of “Angland,” the Romans never did manage to quash Boudicca’s famous rebellion. Instead, aided by her (fictional) next husband (a magician), she expelled the Roman Empire forever...and from then on, it was officially accepted throughout the nation that ladies (being more naturally pragmatic) would handle the practical matter of politics, while men (being “the more emotional sex”) would deal with tempestuous magic.

(Can you imagine just how satisfying that viewpoint felt to write just after the November 2016 U.S. elections?)

At the point when Snowspelled begins, in early 19th-century Angland, the nation is ruled by a collection of powerful women known as The Boudiccate, while men study magic at The Great Library of Trinivantium. The fundamentally multi-ethnic nation shares its countryside with powerful elves, trolls, fairies, and more, all held together by fragile, often complicated alliances.

But rules, of course, are only made to be broken. And my heroine – the first woman magician in Angland - has more than enough confidence to go her own way in ALL things, whether or not the Boudiccate (or her infuriatingly appealing ex-fiancé) agree...

...So when she’s trapped in the most awkward houseparty of her life, snowbound in the midst of Angland’s elven dales, of course Trouble-with-a-capital-T ensues immediately.

And oh, it felt so delicious to write!

Snowspelled gave me exactly the escape I needed, at just the moment when I most needed it. My biggest hope is that it’ll be a fun and comforting escape-book for you guys, too.

The Harwood Spellbook 1
Five Fathoms Press, September 4, 2017
Trade Paperback and eBook, 166 pages

Guest Blog by Stephanie Burgis - Finding the Fun in Snowspelled
In nineteenth-century Angland, magic is reserved for gentlemen while ladies attend to the more practical business of politics. But Cassandra Harwood has never followed the rules...

Four months ago, Cassandra Harwood was the first woman magician in Angland, and she was betrothed to the brilliant, intense love of her life.

Now Cassandra is trapped in a snowbound house party deep in the elven dales, surrounded by bickering gentleman magicians, manipulative lady politicians, her own interfering family members, and, worst of all, her infuriatingly stubborn ex-fiancé, who refuses to understand that she’s given him up for his own good.

But the greatest danger of all lies outside the manor in the falling snow, where a powerful and malevolent elf-lord lurks...and Cassandra lost all of her own magic four months ago.

To save herself, Cassandra will have to discover exactly what inner powers she still possesses – and risk everything to win a new kind of happiness.

A witty and sparkling romantic fantasy novella that opens a brand-new series for adults from the author of Kat, Incorrigible, Masks and Shadows and Congress of Secrets.

About Stephanie

Guest Blog by Stephanie Burgis - Finding the Fun in Snowspelled
Stephanie Burgis grew up in Michigan but now lives in Wales, surrounded by castles and coffee shops. RT Book Reviews called her most recent romantic fantasy novel for adults, Congress of Secrets, "a perfect combination of romance, historical fiction and fantasy," and her most recent novel for children, The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart, was an Amazon Best Book of the Month. To find out more and read the first two chapters of Snowspelled, visit her website:

Facebook  ~  Twitter @stephanieburgis

The Answer is Always Giant Robots by Jeff Somers

Please welcome Jeff Somers to The Qwillery!

The Answer is Always Giant Robots by Jeff Somers

The Answer is Always Giant Robots
by Jeff Somers

Like most people, as a youth I ignored the advice to go into a field that might be of practical use and lucrative earning potential, preferring to play video games and write novels. This means I’m more or less entirely dependent on the folks who can actually do math for just about everything I need in life, leaving me free to be one of the least useful things on the planet: A futurist.

All sci-fi writers are in some sense futurists, of course; we’re paid (sort of) to imagine what the next five minutes, five years, or five centuries will be like. Which means that when I was approached by Ragnarok Publications to contribute a story to their Mech: Age of Steel anthology it was the perfect partnership, because Mech: Age of Steel is all about giant robots, and according to my research when it comes to questions about what the future will be like, the answer is always giant robots.

Problem-Solving with Giant Robots

Question: Is there anything that can’t be solved with giant robots? Answer: No. There is nothing that cannot be solved by the generous application of giant robots. Let’s examine some of the problems facing humanity now and in the future.

Death. This, in my opinion, isn’t getting nearly enough attention. As shocking as it is to discover that, say, Britney Spears is going to die someday, it is almost twice as alarming to discover that I might die someday. Luckily, the solution is pretty simple (at least according to all the comic books and cheap paperbacks I read as a kid): Pop our brains into giant robots, preferably robots with missiles mounted on the shoulders and jet engines in the feet. Or butt. I’m flexible on the placement of the jet engines.

War. Needless to say, if everyone was either given, assigned, or placed inside a giant robot that could fly and had missiles on its shoulders, war would quickly be a thing of the past, if only because so many people would be dead from vendettas, grudges, and drunken brawls within months of the robot bodies being handed out.

Dancing. I think all reasonable people can agree that watching other people dance is an affliction to the soul. This applies equally to your inebriated relatives at a wedding and the endless procession of “crews” on televised variety shows; every pop and lock just erodes our will to live. Luckily, however, dancing in enormous armored robot bodies is almost impossible. In an alternative future where not everyone gets a giant robot body, the rest of us can apply our shoulder missiles to eradicating dance crews everywhere.

Disease. Having your brain housed in a huge robot body means you eliminate the main vector for disease: Your disgusting biological body (and man, it is disgusting). If science can simply upload your brain to the robot, even better! Though the possibility then exists of a computer virus getting into your source code and assimilating you into a hive mind, but at least we will never have to deal with a runny nose ever again.

Parking. Every year the average adult spends about two years looking fruitlessly for parking spots in major urban areas. If we’re all just flying around as robots, we won’t need cars any more, or parking spots. Although there will be an increased risk of drunkenly crashing into buildings, plus all the associated destruction when we collide with each other in the air and riots break out, destroying entire downtowns in mecha-brawls. Well worth it, if you ask me, a man who once aged ten years seeking a parking spot after 6PM in Hoboken, New Jersey.

I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point: Very soon all of our problems will be solved via the liberal application of giant robots. Which makes Mech: Age of Steel a useful primer on what life will be like when this glorious future comes. Buy one copy for your crapulent current physical existence so you can read it in the bathroom, and buy a digital copy for easy uploading when you wake up to discover you’ve been upgraded overnight.

Mech: Age of Steel
Tim Marquitz and Melanie R. Meadors, Editors
Ragnarok Publications, June 20, 2017
Trade Paperback and eBook, 658 pages

The Answer is Always Giant Robots by Jeff Somers
MECH: Age of Steel is a collection of 24 mecha-inspired short stories in the spirit of Pacific Rim, Macross, Transformers, Robotech, Gundam, Evangelion, and more.

The MECH: Age of Steel anthology features a vast array of tales showcasing giant human-piloted, robot war machines wreaking havoc in blasted cities, or on dystopian landscapes, or around space stations and asteroids against a cosmic backdrop, and more!

MECH is anchored by authors such as:
  • Kevin J. Anderson
  • Scott Sigler
  • Ramez Naam
  • Jason M. Hough
  • Jeremy Robinson
  • Jody Lynn Nye
  • Peter Clines
  • Martha Wells
  • Graham McNeill
  • Jennifer Brozek
  • James Swallow and more!
This anthology also features illustrations for every story and is the perfect companion to its sister title, Kaiju Rising: Age of Monsters. So strap in. Activate your interface array. And let's rock!

About Jeff

Jeff Somers ( was first sighted in Jersey City, New Jersey after the destruction of a classified government installation in the early 1970s; the area in question is still too radioactive to go near. When asked about this, he will only say that he regrets nothing. He is the author of Lifers, the Avery Cates series from Orbit Books (, Chum from Tyrus Books, and the Ustari Cycle from Pocket/Gallery, including We Are Not Good People (

Jeff’s published over thirty short stories as well; his story “Sift, Almost Invisible, Through” appeared in the anthology Crimes by Moonlight, published by Berkley Hardcover and edited by Charlaine Harris and his story “Ringing the Changes” was selected for Best American Mystery Stories 2006. He survives on the nickels and quarters he regularly finds behind his ears, his guitar playing is a plague upon his household, and his lovely wife The Duchess is convinced he would wither and die if left to his own devices, but this is only half true.

Today, he makes beer money by writing amazing things for various people. Favorite whiskey: Glenmorangie 10 Year. Yes, it is acceptable to pay me in it.

Facebook  ~  Twitter @jeffreysomers  ~  Google+

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