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The Qwillery

A blog about books and other things speculative

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

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

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

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

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

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

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

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

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

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

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

TQDescribe The Wolf and the Woodsman using only 5 words.

Ava:  Eating things you shouldn’t eat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TQWhat's next?

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

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery!

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

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

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

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

About Ava

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

Website  ~  Twitter @asimonereid

Covers Revealed - Upcoming Novels by DAC Authors

Here are some of the upcoming October 2020 works by formerly featured Debut Author Challenge (DAC) Authors! The year in parentheses is the year the author was featured in the DAC.

Lucy Banks (2017)

The Case of the Twisted Truths
Dr. Ribero's Agency of the Supernatural 4
Amberjack Publishing, October 6, 2020
Trade Paperback and eBook, 352 pages

Covers Revealed - Upcoming Novels by DAC Authors
Kester and Ribero’s team of inept supernatural investigators are back again. But this time, the stakes have been raised. Hrschni, a powerful daemon, together with the rest of the Thelemites, are hellbent on bringing spirits back to the world of the any cost. Kester needs to gain control of his unique abilities, while coming to terms with the fact that his mother had more secrets than he realized. He must also decide where his allegiances really lie. As the twisted truths keep coming out, he finds it increasingly hard to know who to trust.

Ausma Zehanat Khan (2017)

The Bladebone
Korasan Archives 4
Harper Voyager, October 6, 2020
Trade Paperback and eBook, 512 pages
A powerful band of women warriors must face off against an oppressive enemy in one final showdown that will determine their survival and the fate of their world in this concluding volume in Ausma Zehanat Khan's powerful fantasy series—an epic of magic, bravery, adventure, and the fight for freedom that lies "somewhere between N. K. Jemisin and George R. R. Martin" (Saladin Ahmed).

Armed with the powerful sorcery of the Bloodprint and supported by the Talisman, the oppressive One-Eyed Preacher is on the verge of conquering Ashfall, the Black Khan’s capital in the west. Yet not all is lost for Arian, Sinnia and the Council of Hira. If these brave female warriors can uncover the secrets of an ancient magic weapon known as the Bladebone, they can defeat the Preacher and crush his cruel regime.

Neither Arian and Sinnia, nor their allies, the Mages of Khorasan, know the Bladebone’s whereabouts, and not all may survive the search to uncover it. Pursued by a nefarious enemy aligned with the Preacher, they become separated, each following a different path. Then, in their darkest hour, unexpected help appears. But is the Khanum of Black Aura a friend or foe? Arian may discover the answer too late.

When the secret of the Bladebone is finally revealed, the knowledge comes at a devastating price for Arian. As the capital falls, only Hira, home of the Companions, stands in the way of the Preacher’s victory. While the Companions rise to defend their Citadel from enemies outside and within, Arian must face off in a cataclysmic battle with the Preacher that pits the powers of the Bloodprint against the Sana Codex.

For those who survive, Khorasan will never be the same.

Yoon Ha Lee (2018)

Phoenix Extravagant
Solaris Books, October 20, 2020
Hardcover and eBook, 416 pages

Covers Revealed - Upcoming Novels by DAC Authors
The new blockbuster original fantasy work from Nebula, Hugo and Clarke award nominated author Yoon Ha Lee!  
“An arresting tale of loyalty, identity, and the power of art... Lee’s masterful storytelling is sure to wow.” - Publishers Weekly, starred review 

Gyen Jebi isn’t a fighter or a subversive. They just want to paint. 

One day they’re jobless and desperate; the next, Jebi finds themself recruited by the Ministry of Armor to paint the mystical sigils that animate the occupying government’s automaton soldiers. 

But when Jebi discovers the depths of the Razanei government’s horrifying crimes—and the awful source of the magical pigments they use—they find they can no longer stay out of politics. 

What they can do is steal Arazi, the ministry’s mighty dragon automaton, and find a way to fight… 

"Phoenix Extravagant is a book containing ruminations on imperialism, the function and sanctity of art, acculturation, and the morality of love. It also contains a bloody big and unexpectedly adorable mechanical dragon." - Jonathan L. Howard, author of the Johannes Cabal books 

"The emphasis on art and painting gives the writing a poetic quality, added to by the elements of magic and mythology, which shows the depth of Lee’s research with a deft hand." -- The Nerd Daily 

"An elegant, eloquent novel, tense and full of incident." -- Locus

Interview with Raymond E. Feist

Please welcome Raymond E. Feist to The Qwillery. Queen of Storms (The Firemane Saga 2) is published today by Harper Voyager.

Interview with Raymond E. Feist

The QwilleryWelcome to The Qwillery. You have written over 30 novels. Has your writing process changed over the years?

Raymond E. Feist:  Parts of the process remain unchanged. The thinking the stuff up part, mostly is the same. Getting it down on paper has become a bit more expedient, what I think of as "writers muscle memory." I know when not to look for that perfect word, when to just put something down and come back later to rewrite. Another part is to expect less, that is to be willing to not have every chapter, page, word be priceless. "Murder your darlings" is often attributed to William Faulkner, but he got from Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, but all good writers eventually come to understand what that means, and I sort of got it in my first book, but by book four I knew exactly what that meant. It references another often misquoted meme, "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good."

TQQueen of Storms is the 2nd novel in your Firemane Saga after King of Ashes. How many novels do you have planned for The Firemane Saga?

RF:  It should be a three act play, more or less. My characters have a habit of lying to me from time to time, so the Serpentwar ended up four, and the Demonwar was only two. I do think the next one Master of Furies, will be the last of this series.

TQDescribe Queen of Storms using only 5 words.

RF:  Things Get Nasty Really Fast.

TQ Please tell us something about Queen of Storms that is not found in the publisher's book description. 

RF:  Like a lot of my previous books, there's a "things are not what they seem" element here, and I hope the readers find the surprises the sort that make sense rather than make them want to throw the book across the room, because some of those unexpected changes are terrible for the characters. So, surprises are not found in the description.

TQWho is your favorite character to write in The Firemane Saga so far?

RF:  I don't really have favorites, and never have. Some are a bit more fun to write about, so right now it's Hava and Bodai. Hava because I like strong women characters who aren't basically "a guy in drag," and Bodai because he's a teacher by nature, so I can pedantic in places and the reader blames him and not me.

TQWhich question about The Firemane Saga do you wish someone would ask? Please ask it and answer it!

RF:  I can't really think of anything. I've been doing this for almost 40 years now, and have been asked every sort of question from the dumb "what's the book about" by someone who's never read a word of mine to things so insightful my reaction was, "I wish I had thought of that." I think the reason your question is a bit odd for me is that I feel the work speaks for itself. I've observed younger writers try to explain their work, and always think, "Are you going to stand in the bookstore and explain to every reader what you meant?" The book speaks for itself or you are doing it wrong. I look at these interviews as either being to build interest in the coming work, or as retrospectives for me to explain the damnfool choices I made in previous works. I also spend more time avoiding spoilers than thinking about "why didn't they ask me this other thing."

TQDo The Firemane Saga and the Riftwar Cycle share anything thematically?

RF:  In some basic ways, sure. If I was to analyze my own work, which I only do in the editorial sense, not in any scholarly, critical theory fashion, it's that every human being is born into a world that makes no sense, and each of us seeks to bring some order out of chaos. In my writing, how that happens is a function of what sort of person the character is. What I love about that is I can have characters do things that are alien to how I look at everything, and I delight if I think I've pulled off a convincing journey for the reader. I've been taken to task upon occasion by someone who objected to something a character did, so for that reader it was a real thing. Having a character commit murder does not mean I'm personally in favor of murder, is an obvious example. So, overall, the common element in this series and the Riftware is that struggle for awareness and making sense out of an apparently chaotic universe. The tone should be similar as the same guy is writing both.

TQHow did it feel to start a new series after so many years with the Riftwar Cycle and are you completely finished with Riftwar?

RF:  I forgot how much time went into world building and constructing believable societies, cultures, and their relationships. The word that comes to mind is "humbling." What I thought I was "dash off" became a year's hard work, bordering on drudgery at times.

Nothing's ever finished. I could change my mind and do another series in Midkemia should I decide. There are always new stories. No one every asked Hemingway if he ran out of stories set on Earth, or Shakespeare why all his plays were set in Europe. So, I might go back to Midkemia someday. I might do another series on Garn, or I might go crazy and try to set up a whole third universe.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

RF:  You are very welcome.

Queen of Storms
The Firemane Saga 2
Harper Voyager, July 14, 2020
Hardcover and eBook, 448 pages

Interview with Raymond E. Feist
Dark and powerful forces threaten the world of Garn once more in this second novel in legendary New York Times bestselling author Raymond E. Feist’s epic fantasy series, the Firemane Saga.

Hatushaly and his young wife Hava have arrived in the prosperous trading town of Beran’s Hill to restore and reopen the fire-damaged Inn of the Three Stars. They are also preparing for the popular midsummer festival, where their friends Declan and Gwen will be wed.

But Hatu and Hava are not the ordinary loving couple they appear to be. They are assassins from the mysterious island of Coaltachin, home to the powerful and lethal Nocusara, the fearsome “Hidden Warriors.” Posing as innkeepers, they are awaiting instructions from their masters in the Kingdom of Night.

Hatu conceals an even more dangerous secret. He is the last remaining member of the legendary Firemanes, the ruling family of Ithrace. Known as the Kingdom of Flames, Ithrace was one of the five greatest realms of Tembria, ruled by Hatu’s father, Stervern Langene, until he and his people were betrayed. His heir, Hatu—then a baby—was hidden among the Nocusara, who raised him to become a deadly spy.

Hatu works hard to hide his true identity from all who would seek to use or to destroy him, as fate has other plans for the noble warrior. Unexpected calamity forces him to make choices he could not have dreamed awaited him.

A series of horrific events shatters the peace of Beran’s Hill, bringing death and devastation and unleashing monstrous forces. Once more, the Greater Realms of Tembria are threatened—and nothing will ever be the same again.


King of Ashes
The Firemane Saga 1
Harper Voyager, January 29, 2019
Mass Market Paperback, 512 pages
Hardcover and eBook, May 8, 2018

Interview with Raymond E. Feist
The first volume in legendary master and New York Times bestselling author Raymond E. Feist’s epic heroic fantasy series, The Firemane Saga—an electrifying tale of two young men whose choices will determine a world’s destiny.

For centuries, the five greatest kingdoms of North and South Tembria, twin continents on the world of Garn, have coexisted in peace. But the balance of power is destroyed when four of the kingdoms violate an ancient covenant and betray the fifth: Ithrace, the Kingdom of Flames, ruled by Steveren Langene, known as "the Firemane" for his brilliant red hair. As war engulfs the world, Ithrace is destroyed and the Greater Realms of Tembria are thrust into a dangerous struggle for supremacy.

As a Free Lord, Baron Daylon Dumarch owes allegiance to no king. When an abandoned infant is found hidden in Daylon’s pavilion, he realizes that the child must be the missing heir of the slain Steveren. The boy is valuable—and vulnerable. A cunning and patient man, Daylon decides to keep the baby’s existence secret, and sends him to be raised on the Island of Coaltachin, home of the so-called Kingdom of Night, where the powerful and lethal Nocusara, the "Hidden Warriors," legendary assassins and spies, are trained.

Years later, another orphan of mysterious provenance, a young man named Declan, earns his Masters rank as a weapons smith. Blessed with intelligence and skill, he unlocks the secret to forging King’s Steel, the apex of a weapon maker’s trade known by very few. Yet this precious knowledge is also deadly, and Declan is forced to leave his home to safeguard his life. Landing in Lord Daylon’s provinces, he hopes to start anew.

Soon, the two young men—an unknowing rightful heir to a throne and a brilliantly talented young swordsmith—will discover that their fates, and that of Garn, are entwined. The legendary, long-ago War of Betrayal has never truly ended . . . and they must discover the secret of who truly threatens their world.

About the Author

Interview with Raymond E. Feist
© HarperCollins Publishers
Raymond E. Feist is the author of more than thirty previous books, including the internationally bestselling “Riftwar Cycle” of novels set in his signature world of Midkemia, as well as a standalone novel, Faerie Tale. The Firemane Saga is his first all-new epic fantasy series. He lives in San Diego, California.

Website  ~  Facebook  ~  Twitter @refeist

Interview with Doug Engstrom, author of Corporate Gunslinger

Please welcome Doug Engstrom to The Qwillery as part of the 2020 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Corporate Gunslinger is published on today, June 15th, by Harper Voyager.

Please join all of us at The Qwillery in wishing Doug a Happy Book Birthday! And if you love the cover of Corporate Gunslinger vote for it in the Cover Wars here.

Interview with Doug Engstrom, author of Corporate Gunslinger

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

Doug:  When I was in about the fourth or fifth grade, I wrote a series of science fiction stories with my friends, in which we were all crew members on an “Intergalactic Cruiser.” Fortunately, I don’t remember much else about it.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Doug:  I think it’s a continuum rather than either/or, but I’m pretty far toward the plotter end of the spectrum. I start with a detailed scene-by-scene outline. However, I treat it like a project plan rather than a blueprint, which is to say that I will make changes — sometimes very large ones — as I write, and I use the outline to help me accommodate and integrate those changes. For example, if I move a scene that contains information used in later scenes, I can use the outline to see if I’m still giving this information at the right time, or if I need to find a different place to introduce it.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Doug:  Staying focused for long periods of time without an immediate, externally-enforceable deadline.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

DougCorporate Gunslinger was heavily influenced by David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5,000 Years, which basically upended the way I look at society and economics; also Mistakes Were Made (but Not by Me) by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson, which got me to think about the stories we tell ourselves to justify our actions; and Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, which gave me a lot of insight into cognitive errors. Farah Mendlesohn’s book, The Pleasant Profession of Robert A. Heinlein, did a lot to make me conscious of how heavily I’m influenced by Heinlein, even though I’m mostly reacting against his politics.

TQDescribe Corporate Gunslinger using only 5 words.

Doug:  An actress becomes a gunfighter.

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

Doug:  Though it’s a very grim story, it has touches of humor—there are some hijinks in the midst of all the death and mayhem.

TQWhat inspired you to write Corporate Gunslinger?

Doug:  The book started out as one of a series of vignettes that purported to be an oral history of work in the mid-21st century, people talking about their jobs in the way they talked to Studs Terkel in Working. Except because it’s the mid-21st century, the jobs they’re describing are professions like “AI Wrangler” and “Theology Mixer.” Many of the vignettes directly or indirectly satirize trends in society, and “Corporate Gunfighter” was definitely one of those. The vignette format ultimately didn’t work out, but I liked the idea and the character, so I turned it into a longer format piece. Much longer, as it turned out.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for Corporate Gunslinger?

Doug:  I did a lot of research on dueling codes and read accounts of duels, as well as a lot of reading on gunshot wounds and how firearms and bullets behave in different circumstances. Because I was writing women as main characters, I also spent a lot of time listening to women on panels at SF conventions and on social media as they talked about their expectations for female characters in the stories they read, and particularly the things that men tend to get wrong.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for Corporate Gunslinger.

Doug:  Yeon Kim created an amazing cover. The bright orange background attracts attention, the gun lets you know “gunslinger” isn’t metaphorical, and the stylized female image wielding it lets you know the protagonist isn’t who you might expect. Though the elements are relatively simple, they have terrific impact.

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

Doug:  Kira, the main character, was the hardest to write. As both the main character and the only point of view character, she has to carry the book, so she required a lot more depth and complexity, and it took me a number of tries to get her right. There was also the continuing challenge of her making morally repugnant choices, but remaining likable enough and understandable enough that readers sympathize with her predicament and care about what happens to her.

Diana, Kira's trainer, was the easiest. She came together without a lot of effort, in part because I set her up as Kira’s polar opposite in terms of temperament. That gave me Diana's basic orientation, and once I figured out the backstory that produced that temperament, I didn’t have to think very hard about any given situation before I knew how she’d behave.

TQDoes Corporate Gunslinger touch on any social issues?

Doug:  The book is, among other things, a political satire, so social issues are everywhere. There’s the effect of debt on individuals, our tendency to allow horrific outcomes to occur if they’re the result of a person’s “choice,” and selling grossly inequitable situations with the language of fairness and opportunity — to say nothing of our collective willingness to accept routine violence and prioritize the interest of corporations over the needs of people.

The biggest thing, though, is the question of how and why people participate in oppressive systems, and Kira’s story is a "case in point” I want people to think about.

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


“Don’t think the pretty girl won’t kill you.” — Kira, speaking to an opponent before a duel.

“It’s not what you know that keeps alive, baby girl. It’s what you can remember at the right time.” — Diana to Kira, after a brutally difficult training session.

TQWhat's next?

Doug:  I’m working on several proposals. One is a thriller set in the same world as Corporate Gunslinger, about a tech support worker who finds someone is trying to get control of her companion AI, and is willing to kill her to do it. Another is an atompunk alternate history set in a version of the 1990’s that looks a lot like what we expected in 1970, except for the radical left-wing Christians taking over the asteroid belt. And finally, a fantasy about a seed company intern and an outcast fae getting caught up in a corrupt plot involving human executives and fae royalty.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Corporate Gunslinger
Harper Voyager, June 16, 2020
Trade Paperback and eBook, 320 pages

Interview with Doug Engstrom, author of Corporate Gunslinger
Doug Engstrom imagines a future all too terrifying—and all too possible—in this eerie, dystopic speculative fiction debut about corporate greed, debt slavery, and gun violence that is as intense and dark as Stephen King’s The Long Walk.

Like many Americans in the middle of the 21st century, aspiring actress Kira Clark is in debt. She financed her drama education with loans secured by a “lifetime services contract.” If she defaults, her creditors will control every aspect of her life. Behind on her payments and facing foreclosure, Kira reluctantly accepts a large signing bonus to become a corporate gunfighter for TKC Insurance. After a year of training, she will take her place on the dueling fields that have become the final, lethal stop in the American legal system.

Putting her MFA in acting to work, Kira takes on the persona of a cold, intimidating gunslinger known as “Death’s Angel.” But just as she becomes the most feared gunfighter in TKC’s stable, she’s severely wounded during a duel on live video, shattering her aura of invincibility. A series of devastating setbacks follow, forcing Kira to face the truth about her life and what she’s become.

When the opportunity to fight another professional for a huge purse arises, Kira sees it as a chance to buy a new life . . . or die trying.

Structured around a chilling duel, Corporate Gunslinger is a modern satire that forces us to confront the growing inequalities in our society and our penchant for guns and bloodshed, as well as offering a visceral look at where we may be heading—far sooner than we know.

About Doug

Interview with Doug Engstrom, author of Corporate Gunslinger
Doug Engstrom has been a farmer's son, a US Air Force officer, a technical writer, a computer support specialist, and a business analyst, as well as being a writer of speculative fiction. He lives near Des Moines, Iowa with his wife, Catherine Engstrom.

Website  ~  Twitter @engstrom_doug  ~  Facebook

Interview with Jay Allan

Please welcome Jay Allan to The Qwillery. The Emperor's Fist was published on August 20, 2019 by Harper Voyager.

Interview with Jay Allan

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

Jay:  I could probably come up with vague recollections of various things that never amounted to anything, but the first book I finished was Marines, which started my career.

TQYou've written well over 2 dozen novels. How has your writing process changed over the years?

Jay:  I’d say two things have changed. First, I’m a lot more comfortable, and the words flow more easily than they used to. Second, I’ve tried to pay attention to comments and reviews. You write something, but of course, you’re trying to make it resonate with the reader. If there is too much repetition, for example, or not enough, reader comments are the best way to see that.

TQIf you could not write Military SF what else would you write?

Jay:  I’d probably be writing cyber-thrillers and the like. I was a big Tom Clancy fan, and I also like books that are right on the line between thriller and SF. Think the Andromeda Strain and the like.

TQDescribe your latest Far Stars novel, The Emperor's Fist, using only 5 words.

Jay:  Emperor’s coming, and he’s pissed!

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

Jay:  For those who’ve read the earlier books in the series, Blackhawk is somewhat of a tortured character. In The Emperor’s Fist, we see more about his past, and we see him dealing with his greatest struggle resulting from that.

TQDo you need to read the Far Stars novels in order?

Jay:  I don’t think so. If you read The Emperor’s Fist and like it, the previous trilogy is sort of a prequel to you, but I think the new book works well as a standalone, too.

TQWhat's next?

Jay:  Well, I like to think I’m not done with Blackhawk and the other from the Far Stars, but I don’t know when I’ll get back to them. I’m continuing to work on my Blood on the Stars series, with book 14 coming out in September. Next year, I’ve got two new things coming, one that is really special that I still can’t share yet, and the other is a series about an alien invasion of Earth and the resistance to it. I’ve been planning that for a while, and I’m excited to finally get it started.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

The Emperor's Fist
A Blackhawk Novel
Far Stars 4
Harper Voyager, August 20, 2019
Trade Paperback and eBook, 336 pages

Interview with Jay Allan
In this thrilling new installment in the Far Stars saga, a reluctant hero with a bloody past must reunite with an old love to battle an evil emperor willing to destroy all their worlds if he cannot control them.

When the Far Stars came under imperial attack, Astra Lucerne—the daughter and successor of the Far Stars’ greatest conqueror—Marshal Augustin Lucerne—rallied her father’s confederation forces to defend their worlds. They were joined in the fight by former imperial general Arkarin Blackhawk, a warrior whose skills and brutality made him infamous, and who has, for two decades, sought the redemption he knows is unreachable.

Now, with the imperial foothold in the sector eliminated, the Far Stars is free and almost united. While Astra’s forces continue to depose local tyrants and warlords, Ark and his crew have slipped back into the shadows. Though his heart belongs to Astra, Ark cannot get too close. His imperial conditioning remains under control, but it is still volatile, and the temptation of power threatens to unleash the dark compulsions that made him the most merciless of the emperor’s servants. He cannot risk allowing Astra to see the darkness inside him.

But while the battle has been won, the war may not be over. A petty smuggler makes a discovery that can enable the emperor to strike back and crush the resistance—unless Ark and Astra join forces again to stop him.

Interview with Jay Allan
Far Stars 1
Interview with Jay Allan
Far Stars 2
Interview with Jay Allan
Far Stars 3

About Jay

Interview with Jay Allan
Jay Allan is a former investor and the author of the Crimson Worlds series and the Far Stars Confederation series. When not writing, he enjoys traveling, running, hiking, and reading. He loves hearing from readers and always answers emails. He currently lives in New York City.

Website  ~  Twitter @jayallanwrites

Interview with W.M. Akers, author of Westside

Please welcome W. M. Akers to The Qwillery as part of the 2019 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Westside was published on May 7, 2019 by Harper Voyager.

Interview with W.M. Akers, author of Westside

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

W. M.:  I wrote a twelve page “novel” when I was in sixth grade called, “The Story of Bowman,” which was a riff on the story of the boy who cried wolf. Basically, it was about the watchman for a village who keeps telling everyone that there are monsters in the forest. No one believes him, and then they all get eaten by monsters.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

W. M.:  Plot, plot, plot! I have two young children, which means that the time I have to write is very restricted. If I didn’t outline everything meticulously, I would never get anything done.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing? How does being a playwright affect (or not) your novel writing?

W. M.:  The hardest thing for me, aside from finding the time to get real work done, is maintaining interest in a project over the long period that it takes to finish something. No matter how much I wish I could get it done faster, writing a book takes months or years, and there are always going to be days when I’m just not feeling it. Those are the days that it really feels like work. Being a playwright helps with this problem, actually, because I find that shifting media makes it easier to keep interested in my various projects. Work on a play for a little while, and suddenly the novel seems fresh again.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

W. M.:  I take massive influence from the great prose stylists of the mid-Twentieth Century, with MFK Fisher being my particular favorite. Her sentences are as clear as spring water, and serve as a continual inspiration.

TQDescribe Westside using only 5 words.

W. M.:  Weird as hell 1921 mystery.

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

W. M.:  It has baseball in it! I’m a big baseball nerd—I even made a tabletop baseball game—and I couldn’t write a historical mystery without sneaking in as much baseball as my editor would allow.

TQWhat inspired you to write Westside? What appeals to you about writing Historical Fantasy?

W. M.:  I’ve lived in New York since 2006, and from the first day I lived in the city, I found myself wondering what it was like before I got there. New York history is an exquisitely deep vein, and the more I learned about it, the more I found myself yearning for a version of the city that had existed long before I was born. Westside is my way of interrogating that nostalgic impulse. Why do we think old New York is so fascinating, and what ugliness existed there that we prefer not to think about?

TQWhat sort of research did you do for Westside?

W. M.:  Old New Yorker essays were a great resource—I love you, Joseph Mitchell—and I leaned heavily on the frantic underworld histories of Herbert Asbury. But the New York Times archives were the most useful thing, as they provide a primary source window into how the period felt to the people who lived there. I had so much fun digging around the Times archives that I eventually turned that process into a newsletter all about weird stuff in the 1920s Times.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for Westside.

W. M.:  The jacket was designed by Owen Corrigan, and it is gorgeous. Westside’s hero, Gilda Carr, is a detective of tiny mysteries, and the image shows the missing white glove that kickstarts her adventure. Inside it is a map showing the fence that divides my imaginary Manhattan, and some of the most important locations in the novel: Washington Square, the docks, and all the darkest alleys of the West Village.

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

W. M.:  I had a hell of a lot of fun writing Gilda Carr. Her voice came naturally to me, and whenever I sat down to work on the book after a long time away, I heard her speaking to me, impatient to start telling her story again.

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

W. M.:  What fictional location from the book would you most like to visit? The bazaar—the massive discount food market housed inside the ruins of old Penn Station, which was inspired by my beloved Park Slope Food Coop.

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

W. M.:  “Across the river, New Jersey twinkled stupidly.”

TQWhat's next?

W. M.:  I’m working on a new play, a new Deadball game, a new RPG and, most importantly, the sequel to Westside! Details to come later this year…

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

W. M.:  Thank you for having me. It was an absolute pleasure.

Harper Voyager, May 7, 2019
Hardcover and eBook, 304 pages

Interview with W.M. Akers, author of Westside
"Bracing, quite possibly hallucination-inducing, and unlike anything you’ve ever experienced before…The illegitimate love child of Algernon Blackwood and Raymond Chandler.” -- Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

The Alienist meets The City & The City in this brilliant debut that mixes fantasy and mystery. Gilda Carr’s ‘tiny mysteries’ pack a giant punch." --David Morrell, New York Times bestselling author of Murder As a Fine Art

New York is dying, and the one woman who can save it has smaller things on her mind.

A young detective who specializes in “tiny mysteries” finds herself at the center of a massive conspiracy in this beguiling historical fantasy set on Manhattan’s Westside—a peculiar and dangerous neighborhood home to strange magic and stranger residents—that blends the vivid atmosphere of Caleb Carr with the imaginative power of Neil Gaiman.

It’s 1921, and a thirteen-mile fence running the length of Broadway splits the island of Manhattan, separating the prosperous Eastside from the Westside—an overgrown wasteland whose hostility to modern technology gives it the flavor of old New York. Thousands have disappeared here, and the respectable have fled, leaving behind the killers, thieves, poets, painters, drunks, and those too poor or desperate to leave.

It is a hellish landscape, and Gilda Carr proudly calls it home.

Slightly built, but with a will of iron, Gilda follows in the footsteps of her late father, a police detective turned private eye. Unlike that larger-than-life man, Gilda solves tiny mysteries: the impossible puzzles that keep us awake at night; the small riddles that destroy us; the questions that spoil marriages, ruin friendships, and curdle joy. Those tiny cases distract her from her grief, and the one impossible question she knows she can’t answer: “How did my father die?”

Yet on Gilda’s Westside, tiny mysteries end in blood—even the case of a missing white leather glove. Mrs. Copeland, a well-to-do Eastside housewife, hires Gilda to find it before her irascible merchant husband learns it is gone. When Gilda witnesses Mr. Copeland’s murder at a Westside pier, she finds herself sinking into a mire of bootlegging, smuggling, corruption—and an evil too dark to face.

All she wants is to find one dainty ladies’ glove. She doesn’t want to know why this merchant was on the wrong side of town—or why he was murdered in cold blood. But as she begins to see the connection between his murder, her father’s death, and the darkness plaguing the Westside, she faces the hard truth: she must save her city or die with it.

Introducing a truly remarkable female detective, Westside is a mystery steeped in the supernatural and shot through with gunfights, rotgut whiskey, and sizzling Dixieland jazz. Full of dazzling color, delightful twists, and truly thrilling action, it announces the arrival of a wonderful new talent.

About W. M. Akers

Interview with W.M. Akers, author of Westside
W. M. Akers is an award-winning playwright, Narratively editor, and the creator of the bestselling game Deadball: Baseball With Dice. Westside is his debut novel. He lives in Brooklyn, New York. Learn more about his work at

Twitter @ouijum  ~  Facebook

Interview with Caitlin Starling, author of The Luminous Dead

Please welcome Caitlin Starling to The Qwillery as part of the 2019 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Luminous Dead is published on April 2, 2019 by Harper Voyager.

Please join all of us at The Qwillery in wishing Caitlin a Happy Publication Day!

Interview with Caitlin Starling, author of The Luminous Dead

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

Caitlin:  When I was eight years old, I wrote a several chapter (read: ten pages in very large font) Sailor Moon fanfic. I actually got to reread a copy a few years back, and my grammar was spot on!

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Caitlin:  Hybrid, all the way. I tend to outline in very broad strokes, either before I start or sometime after the first chapter or two, once I have a sense of where things are going. I add to the outline as I go, usually just a few scenes ahead of where I’m writing, because I’ve found that I’m far more creative when I’m drafting than I am when I’m thinking about drafting. I set marks that I have to hit (X character needs to feel Y way by the time Z plot moment happens), and fill in the details organically.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Caitlin:  It’s incredibly humbling. Drafting is like trying to balance twenty spinning plates while also juggling chainsaws. There’s so much to keep track of, and so much I don’t know yet but that will inevitably shape the story. Not only that, but each project I work on requires that I learn more, try new things, get better at what I do. I can never write a project perfectly, let alone on the first draft, and I will always have things I wish I had done differently.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Caitlin:  I used to write a lot of fanfiction, where it’s not unusual to focus in with laser-like intensity on one or two characters, and to explore relationships from multiple angles as the focus of the story (without following the genre conventions of a romance novel).

TQDescribe The Luminous Dead using only 5 words.

Caitlin:  Angry, traumatized lesbians in caves.

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

Caitlin:  It is, in many ways, a love story. A dark love story that may not be for everybody, and a nontraditional one, but it’s there.

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

CaitlinThe Luminous Dead was inspired by an initial image - a woman, alone in a cave, listening to a woman she doesn’t trust. I’d been playing a lot of Zombies, Run, which I expect contributed. I’ve always been fascinated by the relationship in video games between the player character and tutorial/handler/guide characters (Cortana in Halo, GLaDOS in Portal, Sam in the aforementioned Zombies, Run), and I’ve also always been drawn to small casts.

I write science fiction (really, all flavors of specfic) because it allows me to isolate certain elements of relationship dynamics and heighten them in interesting ways. You can’t have the relationship between Gyre and Em the way it is in The Luminous Dead without some significant tech advances. I also find it very freeing to not have to stick to reality. I can choose to diverge at any time if I think it will make the story stronger.

All that said, while The Luminous Dead is science fiction, the scenario and technology isn’t that difficult to believe, and it should also appeal to fans of general survival fiction ala 127 Hours or I Am Still Alive.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Luminous Dead?

Caitlin:  My biggest resource for designing the cave and the physical challenges Gyre faces is the book Beyond the Deep by Bill Stone, Barbara am Ende, and Monte Paulsen. Beyond the Deep covers in great detail Bill and Barbara’s expedition into Sistema Huautla, a very real, very deep, very terrifying cave. It covers gear, technique, landscape, and the psychological impacts of taking on an expedition of that scale.

Beyond cave research, I also paid attention to ongoing conversations on resource colonialism and exploitation, read up on gold rush town dynamics, and researched feeding tubes and colostomies. I also read In The Dust Of This Planet, which (among many other amazing points) has some fascinating theories about setting-as-monster in horror.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for The Luminous Dead.

Caitlin:  The cover for The Luminous Dead features art by Alejandro Colucci and art direction and design by Owen Corrigan. That hand probably belongs to our main character, Gyre… but perhaps not. ;) I absolutely adore it for its sense of space and isolation, as well as the lush, rough textures of the stone and the surrounding cave walls.

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

Caitlin:  I don’t have many choices here! But of the two characters in the book, Gyre was probably the easier, if only because I was able to spend so much time in her head. We never see Em’s inner workings, which means I had to do a lot of invisible work to make sure that what we do see is cohesive, even if Gyre can’t make sense of it immediately.

TQDoes The Luminous Dead touch on any social issues?

Caitlin:  It does touch (in a limited way) on some of the ways colonialism, forced settlement, and industrial resource extraction can damage community cohesion, as well as how poverty and lack of an extended family can shape decision-making.

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


The movie question- Who would you cast as Gyre? Em?

Going to have to go with Tessa Thompson as Gyre and Janelle Monáe as Em. A girl can dream!

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


          “Anything interesting happen while I was out?”

          “I made you a roast dinner,” Em deadpanned.

TQWhat's next?

Caitlin:  Nothing I can talk about in any detail, but I’m playing around with gothic horror on a few projects. More lies, more creepy locations, more isolation. Right up my alley, in other words!

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

The Luminous Dead
Harper Voyager, April 2, 2019
Trade Paperback and eBook, 432 pages

Interview with Caitlin Starling, author of The Luminous Dead
"This claustrophobic, horror-leaning tour de force is highly recommended for fans of Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation and Andy Weir’s The Martian." -- Publishers Weekly (starred review)
A thrilling, atmospheric debut with the intensive drive of The Martian and Gravity and the creeping dread of Annihilation, in which a caver on a foreign planet finds herself on a terrifying psychological and emotional journey for survival.

When Gyre Price lied her way into this expedition, she thought she’d be mapping mineral deposits, and that her biggest problems would be cave collapses and gear malfunctions. She also thought that the fat paycheck—enough to get her off-planet and on the trail of her mother—meant she’d get a skilled surface team, monitoring her suit and environment, keeping her safe. Keeping her sane.

Instead, she got Em.

Em sees nothing wrong with controlling Gyre’s body with drugs or withholding critical information to “ensure the smooth operation” of her expedition. Em knows all about Gyre’s falsified credentials, and has no qualms using them as a leash—and a lash. And Em has secrets, too . . .

As Gyre descends, little inconsistencies—missing supplies, unexpected changes in the route, and, worst of all, shifts in Em’s motivations—drive her out of her depths. Lost and disoriented, Gyre finds her sense of control giving way to paranoia and anger. On her own in this mysterious, deadly place, surrounded by darkness and the unknown, Gyre must overcome more than just the dangerous terrain and the Tunneler which calls underground its home if she wants to make it out alive—she must confront the ghosts in her own head.

But how come she can’t shake the feeling she’s being followed?

About Caitlin

Interview with Caitlin Starling, author of The Luminous Dead
© Beth Olson Creative 2017
Caitlin Starling is a writer of horror-tinged speculative fiction of all flavors. Her first novel, The Luminous Dead, comes out from HarperVoyager on April 2, 2019. It tells the story of a caver on a foreign planet who finds herself trapped, with only her wits and the unreliable voice on her radio to help her back to the surface. Caitlin also works in narrative design for interactive theater and games, and is always on the lookout for new ways to inflict insomnia. Find more of her work at and follow her at @see_starling on Twitter.

Interview with Jessie Mihalik, author of Polaris Rising

Please welcome Jessie Mihalik to The Qwillery as part of the 2019 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Polaris Rising was published on February 5, 2019 by Harper Voyager.

Interview with Jessie Mihalik, author of Polaris Rising

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

Jessie:  Thank you so much for having me! My brain is so bad at keeping track of firsts. I remember writing (and illustrating!) those little books in elementary school where the teacher would help the students bind them into hardback books. I have no idea what I wrote about, but I bet my mom still has it in a box somewhere!

I’ve always written stories, but the first thing I really remember being of any great length was the fanfiction I wrote in college. It’s still out there, but I’m not giving anyone any clues as to where or what because it was me as a baby writer, learning how plot and story and character all worked together while playing in someone else’s world.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Jessie:  I’m a pantser who desperately wishes I was a plotter. I’m becoming more of a hybrid because deadlines mean I have to know where I’m going rather than wandering lost through the plot woods for months, but outlining is still my nemesis.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Jessie:  Speed. I write very, very slowly. One thousand to fifteen hundred words is a good writing day for me. And I know you’re supposed to stay in your own lane, but when I see other authors cranking out three to five times that in a single day, it’s difficult not to feel like I’m doing it wrong. Still, I’ve made peace with my speed, mostly, and plodding along does eventually get me to the end. So, for all of you slow writers out there—I see you. Keep at it!

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Jessie:  Like many (most? all?) writers, I’m influenced by the books I’ve read before. Some of my favorite authors like Ilona Andrews, Patricia Briggs, and Ann Aguirre write kick-ass women. They inspired me to try my hand at writing my own heroine. And I’ve definitely been inspired by the huge number of romances I’ve read. I wanted that strong, building relationship for my main characters.

TQDescribe Polaris Rising using only 5 words.

Jessie:  Badass space princess adventure romance.

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

Jessie:  Ada doesn’t care much for her father, but she has an incredibly strong bond to her siblings. Her sisters helped her escape and stay ahead of her father’s security team and she would move mountains for them.

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

Jessie:  I had the opening scene of what would become Polaris Rising knocking around in my head for weeks while I was working on another project. Without knowing that, a friend suggested I try my hand at science fiction because she knew I am a huge geek and that my current project was going nowhere. It was serendipity, but it took me a few additional weeks of banging my head against the other project to recognize it.

I love writing science fiction and while the genre covers a huge spectrum, for me SF has always been about space and the distant future. I get to write about spaceships and different planets and all the fancy technology I wish we had today. And because I also write romance, I get to ground all of that cool stuff in a slowly building relationship.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for Polaris Rising?

Jessie:  I did so much research and so little of it really appears in the book. I researched theoretical FTL drives, star naming schemes, distances between galaxies, and all of the reasons FTL drives break physics, relativity, and causality. Then I decided that I was going to write a space opera, not a hard science fiction book, and I would be intentionally a little hand-wavy about the technology because the details were bogging down the story. There is a nod to one of the theoretical FTL solutions in the book, though, but no spoilers.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for Polaris Rising.

Jessie:  I love the cover! It was designed by Lex Maudlin and illustrated by Tony Mauro. It doesn’t depict a specific scene, but more of the feel of the novel. Ada knows her way around planets, spaceships, and blasters, and I think the cover perfectly conveys that.

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

Jessie:  Ada was the easiest character for me to write because she drove the story. She’s smart and competent, but asks for help when she needs it. She was such a fun character to write. Richard Rockhurst was the hardest to write because he is the villain in Polaris Rising, but he’s the hero in his own mind. He thinks he’s totally in the right, but we only see him from Ada’s perspective, so it was a delicate balance.

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

Jessie:  Here are two of my favorite little snippets:

There are moments in your life when you absolutely know what you should do and then you absolutely choose to do something else entirely.

This was one of those moments.


Loch’s nose ghosted along my chin and down my neck. I stood stock-still as his breath heated my collarbone.

“You’re afraid, but you don’t let the fear rule you,” Loch rumbled against my skin. My belly did a little flip that had nothing to do with fear.

“You manipulate those around you to suit your will, but you risked being left behind to save a bunch of mercs and soldiers intent on capturing you. You’re a puzzle, Ada von Hasenberg.”

“If you’re done with the intimidation routine,” I said calmly while I trembled internally, “I’d like to get some sleep.”

TQWhat's next?

Jessie:  The next book in the series, Aurora Blazing, arrives this October, with the third book following next year. I’ll be at the Tucson Book Festival in the beginning of March, so come see me if you’re nearby!

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Jessie:  Thank you again for having me!

Polaris Rising
The Consortium Rebellion 1
Harper Voyager, February 5, 2019
Trade Paperback and eBook, 448 pages

Interview with Jessie Mihalik, author of Polaris Rising
Polaris Rising is space opera at its best, intense and addictive, a story of honor, courage, betrayal, and love. Jessie Mihalik is  an author to watch.”--Ilona Andrews, #1 New York Times bestselling author

A space princess on the run and a notorious outlaw soldier become unlikely allies in this imaginative, sexy space opera adventure—the first in an exciting science fiction trilogy.

In the far distant future, the universe is officially ruled by the Royal Consortium, but the High Councillors, the heads of the three High Houses, wield the true power. As the fifth of six children, Ada von Hasenberg has no authority; her only value to her High House is as a pawn in a political marriage. When her father arranges for her to wed a noble from House Rockhurst, a man she neither wants nor loves, Ada seizes control of her own destiny. The spirited princess flees before the betrothal ceremony and disappears among the stars.

Ada eluded her father’s forces for two years, but now her luck has run out. To ensure she cannot escape again, the fiery princess is thrown into a prison cell with Marcus Loch. Known as the Devil of Fornax Zero, Loch is rumored to have killed his entire chain of command during the Fornax Rebellion, and the Consortium wants his head.

When the ship returning them to Earth is attacked by a battle cruiser from rival House Rockhurst, Ada realizes that if her jilted fiancé captures her, she’ll become a political prisoner and a liability to her House. Her only hope is to strike a deal with the dangerous fugitive: a fortune if he helps her escape.

But when you make a deal with an irresistibly attractive Devil, you may lose more than you bargained for . . .

About Jessie

Interview with Jessie Mihalik, author of Polaris Rising
Photo 2018 by Dustin Mihalik
Jessie Mihalik has a degree in computer science and a love of all things geeky. A software engineer by trade, Jessie now writes full time from her home in Texas. When she’s not writing, she can be found playing co-op video games with her husband, trying out new board games, or reading books pulled from her overflowing bookshelves. Polaris Rising is her debut novel.

Website  ~ Twitter @jessiemihalik  ~  Facebook

Interview with Eyal Kless, author of The Lost Puzzler

Please welcome Eyal Kless to The Qwillery as part of the 2019 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Lost Puzzler was published on January 8, 2019 by Harper Voyager.

Interview with Eyal Kless, author of The Lost Puzzler

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

Eyal:  I was eight or nine years old. I read an Israeli children book called Hasamba. It was about a group of heroic young boys and girls who helped saving our young country from the machinations of its cruel enemies. It was barely diluted propaganda novels (and in its way, very naïve) but I became so excited reading about those kids, I immediately began writing more adventures for them. I believe it is called “fan literature” today.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Eyal:  I am definitely a plotter wannabe, but truth to be told, I am a classic pantser. I learned to trust my instinct and write scenes and introductory chapters before I even know what the plot would be. When things begin to get clear I let the plot take me places. I took almost four years out of writing The Lost Puzzler because I was lacking a satisfactory ending. It came to me one day, out of nowhere, as I was walking down the street and I began jumping up and down with excitement…

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Eyal:  Writing scenery and interior design. I pretty much hate it. maybe it is the vocabulary that I lack (I am not a native speaker), the fact I usually rush through those descriptions when I read books myself or a philosophical view that the readers should only have an outline of the picture and draw the picture themselves (probably options 1+2 are correct).

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing? How does music influence your writing?

Eyal:  That’s a big one. Almost everything and anything could influence on my writing. Film noire, an argument on the bus, a joke I overheard, I always think if I could use this material, mold it to my needs and add it to the novel.

As to music. The long answer could take me a thousand words and more. in short: I see a novel like a piece of music. Each story line and each of the characters is a “voice” in this symphony or opera. A lone voice might be beautiful by itself but dull. When adding more voices together, they create a harmony, and just like in music, their relationship, even if distinctly apart, is the essence of what we hear and read. The moments of discord should have a resolution and the timing of both discord and resolution is crucial to the overall pacing. I also feel that rhythm is important to me when writing words which are spoken by the characters and many times I click my fingers as I read aloud the dialogues.

TQDescribe The Lost Puzzler using only 5 words.

Eyal:  Dystopia. Technology. SuperTracks, Mutants. Mystery

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

Eyal:  I only found out about this when I was writing the sequel, Puzzler’s War, so even I was not aware that this was a “thing” in the Tarakan Chronicles: There is an undercurrent theme in The Lost Puzzler which is about love. Not romantic love between characters but love of a parent to his/her child. Usually we think about parental love as a good and pure thing, but it also might have a darker side. Ask any parent (or yourselves) what would they do for the safety of their child and the answer would most likely be “everything and anything”. This is a natural reaction of a loving parent, but it can also have bad consequences, as in the case of The Lost Puzzler.

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

Eyal:  The inspiration came from my mobile phone. It was old and “stupid” flip phone but I looked at it and realized that if I was stuck on a lonely island with my family and a flip phone, I could teach my kids to use the phone, and they could teach theirs too, but we would not be able to produce or even fix the phone ourselves. This made me think about our society and how much of the technology which surrounds us is now too sophisticated to create and maintain alone.

Science fiction is a true challenge to the imagination but also to logic. What would life be 200 years from now? What would be the challenges we, as a society, will still face? What would seem like “magic” to a 21st century person (think Star Trek’s teleportation device)? The challenge is to create empathy with characters and story lines based on foundations which are alien to the reader. For example: He might be part human part cyborg pilot of a sentient spaceship but he still farts in public like a juvenile college boy. That description created a reaction, positive or negative, and made the alien character relatable in 21st century terms.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Lost Puzzler?

Eyal:  Not really research in the classic sense of the word. I read a little about cloning and theories regarding mind copying. The rest I just invented.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for The Lost Puzzler.

Eyal:  I am so lucky to have two covers for The Lost Puzzler which portrays different elements of the novel. The US cover shows the desolation which is left after what is called “the Catastrophe”. Only the small silhouette of the City of Towers hints something was left after the devastation. When you look at it you might feel alone and lost in a lifeless environment. The UK cover depicts the mystery and fantastic elements of the The Lost Puzzler: A hooded figure dressed in dark clothes returns from a long voyage and is facing the swampy entrance of the City of Towers. The dissonance between the unkept vegetation and the modern looking, alien towers creates sublime tension. Something had happened and something is about to happen.

Before you ask: I love both covers and can never make up my mind which one I would have chosen if I had to pick only one.

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

Eyal:  I love all my characters but Galinak is just ‘the guy’ for me. He is tough and simple in his ways, funny and just the right side of the line differentiating between the ‘good guys’ and the bullies. In short, I guess is the kind of a super hero I would have liked to be under these circumstances.

The hardest to write was Rafik. I had to describe the world from the point of view of growing boy just reaching adolescent, whose entire life comes crushing down on him in one of the worst ways possible. I had to describe carefully how this character sees and reacts to technology which he is unfamiliar with, which would be different than an adult. Many of the editorial notes I received began with “Rafik would not…”

TQDoes The Lost Puzzler touch on any social issues?

Eyal:  Absolutely. You cannot ignore what had happened to the world and how the survivors had reacted to the new world around them. Why is it that the more we progress as a race the worst our planet is? And on a more personal dilemma: If you had the only one bottle of water, would you share it with others, give it to your family, drink from it yourself? What if you were the person who was standing next to the man with the bottle of water. Would you haggle, beg, steal, kill? These types of questions are the core of The Lost Puzzler.

TQWhich question about The Lost Puzzler do you wish someone would ask?

Eyal:  “When would they make a movie out of The Lost Puzzler 😊”

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


Galinak: “we could dance for a bit but I’ll only stop if you ask nicely”

Vincha: “I can cut your throat, or I can take out an eye”

And my personal favorite: “Perhaps the Catastrophe was meant to clean the slate and start humanity over, but we managed to screw up even our own destruction.”

TQWhat's next?

Eyal:  I am working on Puzzler’s War right now. It took me more than 20 years to finish The Lost Puzzler but the people in Harper Voyager told me they needed the sequel a little faster than that…

Hiding somewhere in my files is a novel even older than The Lost Puzzler. It is a story in a fantasy setting which deals with music and magic. It has been long forgotten but now I can hear it calling me back…

I am also toying with a fantasy adventure novel about a goblin private eye called Grooch, who ends up adventuring with a ninja Weresheep, a substance abuser imp, a feminist succubus and a pacifist fallen Paladin…

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Eyal:  It has been an absolute pleasure!

The Lost Puzzler
The Tarakan Chronicles 1
Harper Voyager, January 8, 2019
Trade Paperback and eBook, 528 pages

Interview with Eyal Kless, author of The Lost Puzzler
A brilliantly written, page-turning, post-dystopian debut from Eyal Kless, about a society hoping to salvage the technology of a lost generation, a mysterious missing boy who can open doors no one else can, and a scribe who must piece together the past to determine humanity’s future.

More than a hundred years have passed since the Catastrophe brought humanity to the brink of extinction. Those who survived are changed. The Wildeners have reverted to the old ways—but with new Gods—while others place their faith in the technology that once powered their lost civilization.

In the mysterious City of Towers, the center of the destroyed Tarakan empire, a lowly scribe of the Guild of Historians is charged with a dangerous assignment. He must venture into the wilds beyond the glass and steel towers to discover the fate of a child who mysteriously disappeared more than a decade before. Born of a rare breed of marked people, the child, Rafik—known as “The Key”—was one of a special few with the power to restore this lost civilization to glory once again.

In a world riven by fear and violence, where tattooed mutants, manic truckers, warring guilds and greedy mercenaries battle for survival, this one boy may have singlehandedly destroyed humanity’s only chance for salvation—unless the scribe can figure out what happened to him.

About Eyal

Interview with Eyal Kless, author of The Lost Puzzler
Eyal Kless is a classical violinist who enjoys an international career both as a performer and a teacher. Born in Israel, Eyal has travelled the world extensively, living several years in Dublin, London, Manchester, and Vienna, before returning to Tel Aviv. His first novel, Rocca's Violin, was published in Hebrew in 2008 by Korim Publishers. Eyal currently teaches violin in the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music at Tel Aviv University, and performs with the Israel Haydn String Quartet, which he founded.

Website  ~  Blog  ~  Facebook  ~  Twitter @eyalkless

Review: Slender Man by Anonymous

Slender Man
Author:  Anonymous
Publisher:  Harper Voyager, October 23, 2018
Format:  Trade Paperback and eBook, 336 pages
List Price:  US$15.99 (print); US$10.99 (eBook)
ISBN:  9780062641175 (print); 9780062641199 (eBook)

Review: Slender Man by Anonymous
One man’s search for the truth about one of the most intriguing urban legends ever—the modern bogeyman, Slender Man—leads him down a dark, dangerous path in this creepy supernatural fantasy that will make you question where the line between dark myth and terrifying reality begins.

Lauren Bailey has disappeared. As friends at her exclusive school speculate on what happened and the police search for answers, Matt Barker dreams of trees and a black sky . . . and something drawing closer.

Through fragments of journals, news stories, and online conversations, a figure begins to emerge—a tall, slender figure—and all divisions between fiction and delusion, between nightmare and reality, begin to fall.

Chilling, eerie, and addictively readable, Slender Man is a unique spine-tingling story and a brilliant and frightening look at one of the most fascinating—and diabolical—mythical figures in modern times.

Qwill's Thoughts

I've known about Creepypasta for a number of years because one of my teenagers told me about them. Here's a link to Creepypasta in Wikipedia: There's also a Creepypasta Wikia for those of you wanting to know more: The very simplistic definition is that they are scary modern urban myths and legends.

You may also have heard of the Creepypasta Slender Man in particular due to the trial of 2 girls who attempted to kill one of their friends because of Slender Man. You can find a lot about that case online and I will leave to you to look if you'd like. Which brings me to the book by Anonymous - Slender Man.

Through the use of diaries, text messages, WhatsApp transcripts, Reddit, records of police interviews and more, the author brings to life the story of Matt Barker. Matt is a Senior at a prestigious New York City private school. His parents are well off and they live in a condo with a view of Central Park. He's been having nightmares. His parents send him to a psychologist who suggests that he keep a journal which forms a large part of the novel.

Matt is not one of the popular kids at his high school. He does have some good friends though. He's known Lauren Bailey since they were little and while they are still close friends they keep it very quiet at their cliquey school. Lauren likes horror and Creepypasta and Matt is the only one she shares that with. One night Lauren disappears and Matt may be the only person who can figure out what has happened to her.

Slender Man is truly chilling. You feel the claustrophobia of events crashing down on Matt - is he awake or is this one of his nightmares? Does he really know what happened to Lauren? What is happening to him? What must he do and is he being manipulated? His sense of panic and building dread is palpable.

The author does a superb job of integrating different narrative forms to create a compelling and frightening story of a young man facing a horrifying legend. Read Slender Man with the lights on!
Interview with Ava Reid, author of The Wolf and the WoodsmanCovers Revealed - Upcoming Novels by DAC AuthorsInterview with Raymond E. FeistInterview with Doug Engstrom, author of Corporate GunslingerInterview with Jay AllanInterview with W.M. Akers, author of WestsideInterview with Caitlin Starling, author of The Luminous DeadInterview with Jessie Mihalik, author of Polaris RisingInterview with Eyal Kless, author of The Lost PuzzlerReview: Slender Man by Anonymous

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