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A blog about books and other things speculative

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Interview with Michael Mammay, author of Planetside


Please welcome Michael Mammay to The Qwillery as part of the 2018 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Planetside is published on July 31st by Harper Voyager.

Please join The Qwillery in wishing Michael a Happy Publication Day!



Interview with Michael Mammay, author of Planetside




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

Michael:  I wrote some in college. I had a couple of funny essays published in The Pointer, at West Point. While I’ve known that I wanted to write fiction since I was about 18 or 19, I never really started to do it seriously until much later in life.



TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Michael:  I definitely started out as a pantser, and probably still am, though I do plot certain elements. So maybe a hybrid? I tend to write to events. So I might pants the first act, but I have a pretty good idea what the end of that act looks like. Then I’ll write to the midpoint. So I kind of plot out what each quarter of the book looks like. But inside of scenes, I’m definitely a pantser. Half the time I get characters together, they do something I don’t plan for them to do. It keeps things interesting.



TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Michael:  Not immediately hating what I’ve written. It took me a long time to believe that Planetside is good. Even past the point where I knew it was going to be published, which is of course ridiculous. So when I write new stuff--and at the time I write it, it’s not as good--I hate it. Depending on the day, I either hate it a little, or I hate it a lot. I rely a lot on other people to help me know what is good and what needs work. I wouldn’t call myself a perfectionist, because I don’t obsess over it. It’s more like a thing where it only affects me when I think about it. But yeah, I’m highly critical of my own work.



TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Michael:  I read a lot. While I mostly read sci-fi and fantasy, I also teach literature, so I’m pretty well read in the classics, too. For Planetside, the two biggest influences weren’t sci-fi at all. The thing I was reading that got me to start writing Planetside was reading Gone Girl. I’d been writing third person, and was reading GG and it has this amazing first person voice that just punches you in the face from the first chapter. I knew immediately that that’s how I needed to write Planetside. I sat down that night and banged out a chapter which I sent to a few readers. That fast…just sent them a draft. Their reaction to it was all the motivation I needed. There’s also a lot of Heart of Darkness influence in it.



TQDescribe Planetside using only 5 words.

Michael:  NCIS in space combat zone



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

Michael:  It’s actually got some pretty funny parts. It’s not a comedy by any means, but Carl Butler, the main character, doesn’t take himself too seriously, even when the situation around him might be pretty dire. He can be a sarcastic bastard.



TQWhat inspired you to write Planetside? What appeals to you about writing Military SF?

Michael:  I did three year-long tours in Iraq, and another year in Afghanistan, so writing Military SF comes pretty natural to me because the characters are real. None of them are based on real people, but for people who have served in combat, they’re going to recognize a lot of these people. As far as the book itself, the ideas mostly came from my time in Afghanistan. I didn’t do a front line job there, so not the combat part of the book. More the politics and the command structure, and how those people work with each other (real life was nowhere near as dysfunctional as it is in the book!)



TQWhat sort of research did you do for Planetside?

Michael:  I spent a long time in the army. Seriously, I’m pretty light on the science in this book, so I didn’t do a ton of research. I did research stars, and what type would support life. Recently I went to a conference called Launchpad (sponsored by SFWA) and learned a ton of science stuff, so I think there will be more in later books.



TQHow does the military in Planetside differ (or not) from your own experiences with the U.S. Army?

Michael:  The thing that really comes from my time in the army is the relationships between the characters. That’s pretty real. Officers are in charge and enlisted follow orders from them, but it’s more subtle than that. There’s not an undying loyalty to a cause or unwavering support. They know who the boss is, and they treat him with respect, but it’s a two-way street. Good leaders also give respect, and the people they lead feel it, and do better because of it. The other thing that I think comes across, I hope, is I tried to write how it feels to be in a situation where bad things are happening. What it feels like when something explodes. In the combat scenes, I wanted to put the reader as close to it as I could.



TQPlease tell us about the cover for Planetside.

Michael:  I love my cover. Sebastien Hue did the art, and I think it’s just beautiful. It kind of provides a big picture of the setting, though a part you never seen in the novel. Planetside is set on a space station orbiting a planet, with a war going on down below. The cover shows part of the station and a distant view of the planet, both of which, in the book, you see from closer up. Butler is inside the station and he’s down on the planet.

Only one side of the war has space technology, so if you’re on the station, you’re kind of away from the war zone. This leads to a situation where there are really two different war experiences…the support of the war, spaceside, and the shooting war, planetside. This isn’t unlike some of our current conflicts where some soldiers are in base camps and others are out on missions. That’s another aspect I wanted to capture, and I think from a larger perspective that’s something the cover shows.



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

Michael:  Butler was the easiest. He just spoke to me from day one. It’s his story, and he told it to me. I know that sounds cliché, but it’s true. The hardest, I think…there are two. I’m writing about Dr. Elliott in some detail for another site, so I’ll go with Lex Alenda here. Lex was hard to write because I didn’t know her role in the story when I wrote the first draft. First off, in the first draft, she was a man. When I changed her to a woman in a later draft, she got some life. She went from being just a character who Butler used to do basic errands to a three-dimensional person who had her own thoughts on things and played her own role in the greater story. She develops a lot throughout, and the relationship between her and Butler has a lot of depth. Trying to get their scene together at the end right was something I had to go back to several times…it was probably the hardest scene to get right.



TQDoes Planetside touch on any social issues?

Michael:  There are definitely some colonialism issues. Humans have basically taken over a planet with life on it because they want the resources. I don’t spend a ton of time with that, but it’s there, underlying everything. We’re not necessarily the good guys.



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

Michael:  Well my favorite question to answer is when people ask me how much of this is real, and happened to me while I was in the army. I get a real serious look on my face and say ‘All of it. It’s all true. I went to a distant planet and fought aliens.’ Seriously, though, there are a lot of twists in Planetside, so almost anything I say here is going to be a spoiler, and I don’t want to do that. I love talking about the book with people after they read it. There are always great questions.



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

Michael:  Oh man, that’s tough. I’ve been working on other books for so long now. Here’s one where Butler is describing what it feels like to come out of sedation after space travel:

I’m not sure what to compare it to, as it’s unlike anything else I’ve ever done. I had one colleague compare it to finishing a twenty-kilometer run, combined with a hangover and vertigo.
   In other words, it sucks.


Another non-spoilery one that I really like is an interchange between Butler and a reporter named Karen Plazz, where she’s trying to get information from him and he’s being a bit of a dick, trying to avoid the questions. I really like these two characters together.

“So what can you tell me about the attack?” asked Plazz.
I shrugged. “Certainly nothing you don’t know.”
“But you’re in danger.”
I looked around suspiciously. “Am I?”
“You have three armed soldiers walking with you.”
I glanced over at my guards. “Yeah, but I don’t think they’re that dangerous.”
“You’re avoiding the question.”
“I really am.”



TQWhat's next?

Michael:  Planetside 2 (not it’s real name) is done and with my editor, and I expect that will come out next year. It’s the further adventures of Carl Butler, a couple years after the events of Planetside. I’m on a two book deal, so right now I’m working on a couple different projects that I want to write; developing the concepts, doing the research, and writing the pitches. Which will get written and when depends on a lot of different factors, but I’m excited about both of them.



TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery!





Planetside
Harper Voyager, July 31, 2018
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 384 pages

Interview with Michael Mammay, author of Planetside
--“PLANETSIDE is a smart and fast-paced blend of mystery and boots-in-the-dirt military SF that reads like a high-speed collision between Courage Under Fire and Heart of Darkness.” – Marko Kloos, bestselling author of the Frontline series

--“Not just for military SF fans—although military SF fans will love it—Planetside is an amazing debut novel, and I’m looking forward to what Mammay writes next.” – Tanya Huff, author of the Confederation and Peacekeeper series

--“A tough, authentic-feeling story that starts out fast and accelerates from there.” – Jack Campbell, author of Ascendant

--“Definitely the best military sci-fi debut I’ve come across in a while.” – Gavin Smith, author of Bastard Legion and Age of Scorpio

A seasoned military officer uncovers a deadly conspiracy on a distant, war-torn planet…

War heroes aren't usually called out of semi-retirement and sent to the far reaches of the galaxy for a routine investigation. So when Colonel Carl Butler answers the call from an old and powerful friend, he knows it's something big—and he's not being told the whole story. A high councilor's son has gone MIA out of Cappa Base, the space station orbiting a battle-ravaged planet. The young lieutenant had been wounded and evacuated—but there's no record of him having ever arrived at hospital command.

The colonel quickly finds Cappa Base to be a labyrinth of dead ends and sabotage: the hospital commander stonewalls him, the Special Ops leader won't come off the planet, witnesses go missing, radar data disappears, and that’s before he encounters the alien enemy. Butler has no choice but to drop down onto a hostile planet—because someone is using the war zone as a cover. The answers are there—Butler just has to make it back alive…





About Michael

Interview with Michael Mammay, author of Planetside
Photo by Lisa K. Davis
Michael Mammay is a retired army officer and a graduate of the United States Military Academy. He has a master’s degree in military history and is a veteran of Desert Storm, Somalia, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He lives with his family in Georgia.



Website

Twitter @MichaelMammay

Interview with R.F. Kuang, author of The Poppy War


Please welcome R.F. Kuang to The Qwillery as part of the 2018 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Poppy War was published on May 1st by Harper Voyager.



Interview with R.F. Kuang, author of The Poppy War




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

R.F.:  I wrote a novel in fifth grade called Liberty or Death about the American Revolution. It was about a freedom fighter named Patrick Dawson whose best friend die sin the Boston Massacre, and it is really, really bad. There’s a scene where he takes this girl Hannah on a date, winks at her, and says something like “I don’t drink on dates.” The whole point of alcohol is drinking on dates.



TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

R.F.:  I used to be a pantser, realized that that does not work for trilogies or for long complicated military campaigns, and now I’m a hybrid. I only let myself writes scenes that I’m really feelin’, like emotionally, on a given day. So I always write the emotional “peaks” first–the cool scenes where things blow up and people die–and then try to make everything else fit around them. I write horrifically messy firsts drafts and it’s always a challenge making them internally coherent. But if I did it the other way, my prose would be lifeless.



TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

R.F.:  Balancing writing with schoolwork. I’m in the middle of finishing my senior thesis. There are not enough hours in the day. And it’s only going to get worse because I’m about to head off to grad school, so RIP my soul. Pray for me.



TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

R.F.:  Music! I write scenes by putting on songs and directing little music videos in my head. If I don’t know the right vibe for a scene I’ll play around with different songs until I start seeing the right images.



TQDescribe The Poppy War in 140 characters or less.

R.F.:  everything was good until the fire nation attacked. wait. we are the fire nation. where is drug man? Rin no. Rin YES!



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

R.F.:  The second half of the book gets really dark. Uncomfortable dark. You can find content warnings on my Goodreads review and just about every other SFF review site. Here they are just in case!
      -      Self-harm
      -      Genocide
      -      Graphic violence
      -      Rape/sexual assault
      -      Emotional and physical abuse
      -      Drug use
Please read with discretion.



TQWhat inspired you to write The Poppy War? What appeals to you about writing Historical Fantasy?

R.F.:  The book is inspired by 20th century Chinese history, specifically the Second Sino-Japanese War and the Rape of Nanjing. This isn’t historical fantasy, it’s secondary world fantasy with historical roots.



TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Poppy War?

R.F.:  I researched it like I would an academic paper. I read a bunch of secondary source material on both the twentieth century and the Song Dynasty to form a framework for the plot. Then to make the world feel fully realized, I consulted primary source material, like military manuals. I got really excited about one text in particular: the Huolongjing, translated as the Fire Drake Manual, which is this amazing 14th century military treatise on all the different possible uses of gunpowder. Granted, that’s a few hundred years after the period that The Poppy War is purportedly set in, but this is fantasy. I’ll blur the lines if it means I get to give my characters fire lances.



TQPlease tell us about the cover for The Poppy War.

R.F.:  I’m so excited about the cover! The artist is a Taiwanese illustrator named who goes by JungShan, and she’s extraordinarily talented. I love her ink brush style so much. Here’s the link to her Deviantart! https://jungshan.deviantart.com/



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

R.F.:  Jiang was the easiest because he’s so much fun, and because I know things about him that you don’t so it’s always a game of how much I want to reveal. Altan was the hardest, because he’s modeled on an ex-boyfriend, so I kept wanting to punch him in the face. Fuck Altan.



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

R.F.:

Question: Which two characters do you ship hardest?
Answer: Jiang and Jun. No question.



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

R.F.:  I’ll give you two related quotes:

“You can’t kill me,” Altan hissed. “You love me.”
“I don’t love you,” Rin said. “And I can kill anything.”



TQWhat's next?

R.F.:  Next up is Untitled Book Two. And then Untitled Book Three! And then unnamed projects that haven’t sold because I haven’t written them! It’s all very mysterious.



TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

R.F.:  Thank you for having me!





The Poppy War
Harper Voyager, May 1, 2018
Hardcover and eBook, 544 pages

Interview with R.F. Kuang, author of The Poppy War
A "Best of May" Science Fiction and Fantasy pick by Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Audible, The Verge, SyFy Wire, and Kirkus

“I have no doubt this will end up being the best fantasy debut of the year [...] I have absolutely no doubt that [Kuang’s] name will be up there with the likes of Robin Hobb and N.K. Jemisin.” -- Booknest

A brilliantly imaginative talent makes her exciting debut with this epic historical military fantasy, inspired by the bloody history of China’s twentieth century and filled with treachery and magic, in the tradition of Ken Liu’s Grace of Kings and N.K. Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy.

When Rin aced the Keju—the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies—it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard—the most elite military school in Nikan—was even more surprising.

But surprises aren’t always good.

Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Targeted from the outset by rival classmates for her color, poverty, and gender, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power—an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive—and that mastering control over those powers could mean more than just surviving school.

For while the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still lurks across a narrow sea. The militarily advanced Federation occupied Nikan for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most of the people are complacent to go about their lives, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away . .
.
Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. But as she finds out more about the god that has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her humanity . . . and that it may already be too late.





About the Author

Interview with R.F. Kuang, author of The Poppy War
R.F. Kuang studies modern Chinese history. She has a BA from Georgetown University and is currently a graduate student in the United Kingdom on a Marshall Scholarship. The Poppy War is her debut novel.








Website  ~  Twitter @kuangrf  ~  Instagram

Interview with David Pedreira, author of Gunpowder Moon


Please welcome David Pedreira to The Qwillery as part of the 2018 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Gunpowder Moon was published on February 13th by Harper Voyager.



Interview with David Pedreira, author of Gunpowder Moon




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

David:  According to my mom, I wrote (and told) some tall tales when I was in the first or second grade, but I don’t remember them. My first complete short story was for a fiction writing class in college. It was a Hemingwayesque tale about a fisherman trying to find himself, and I’m pretty sure it was awful.



TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

David:  For Gunpowder Moon, more of a pantser. I never wrote an outline and most of the plotting was done in my head. But once you’re working with an agent and a publisher you almost have to become a plotter, as they like to see a synopsis or outline of your next book.



TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

David:  Just planting my backside in front of a computer and typing the first sentence. Once you put a few lines on the page things get easier.



TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

David:  Books, movies, and art from a lot of different genres—everything from Joseph Conrad to Joan Didion. Gunpowder Moon is a science fiction thriller, but it also has mystery and military elements to it, so I could point to a wide range of fiction and non-fiction influences: Jules Verne, Arthur C. Clarke, Ursula Le Guin, Robert Heinlein, Agatha Christie, John Le Carre, Michael Herr, Ernie Pyle, Colleen McCullough, Sun Tzu, etc.



TQDescribe Gunpowder Moon in 140 characters or less.

David:  The first murder on the Moon will lead to the first war on the Moon if a haunted veteran and his crew of miners can’t unmask the killer.



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

David:  I tried to keep it grounded in the possible—or even the likely. I believe we’ll be mining the Moon in fifty years with tech that’s similar to what’s in the novel. And being a bit of a cynic, I’m convinced we’ll be fighting over resources in space, much like we’ve been fighting over resources on Earth since we started knapping stones.



TQWhat inspired you to write Gunpowder Moon? What appeals to you about writing Hard SF?

David:  The Moon itself. I’ve always been fascinated by it. It shapes our lives in so many ways. It churns our oceans, guides how we hunt and fish and plant, and affects the behavior of just about every animal on our planet. As for the second part of your question, I love all SF but have always been drawn to the stories that are rooted in science, starting with Jules Verne. I remember being blown away by the scientific detail in The Mysterious Island when I was in grade school.



TQWhat sort of research did you do for Gunpowder Moon?

David:  A lot! I started by studying the lunar atlas. Then I dug into lunar geology and topography. I also had to research a ton of stuff like lunar transportation and habitation, helium-3 mining, 3D printing, cosmic and stellar radiation, Lagrange points, rail guns, electromagnetic pulse weapons, high energy lasers, microgravity, orbital velocities, phenomena such as moon fountains, space law, impact craters, and fusion reaction. And I read a good bit of the Apollo mission transcripts, which were fascinating.



TQPlease tell us about the cover for Gunpowder Moon.

David:  I don’t know who the artist is—I just know they did a fantastic job. We had some back and forth about the finer details, but luckily my vision for the cover synched up with Harper Voyager’s. The cover does, at least symbolically, depict a major moment in the novel.



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

David:  I’d say the protagonist, Caden Dechert, was the easiest to write. He’s a middle-aged white guy and so am I. It’s easier to write what you know. And like me, he’s both a cynic and an idealist. Probably the hardest characters to write were Lane Briggs and Lin Tzu. Lane is the safety office on Sea of Serenity-1. I wanted her to be a badass, being she’s the only woman on a station full of alpha males, but I didn’t want her to be too grim. I consider her to be the moral center of the novel and I hope that comes through. Lin Tzu is Dechert’s Chinese counterpart on the Moon. He operates a mining station on the nearby Mare Imbrium. He was difficult to write even though he’s only in a scene or two. When I was abroad in college we spent a day with Chinese students at Peking University in Beijing. I tried to model Tzu after a student I became friends with. He was quiet, contemplative, witty, and cautious. I hope I pulled it off.



TQWhy have you chosen to include or not chosen to include social issues in Gunpowder Moon?

David:  I focused more on the broader issue of human conflict in Gunpowder Moon, which is pretty weighty in itself. If there’s any social commentary in the novel, it’s probably just a reinforcement of the belief that people should be judged on their individual merit and not some prejudice that others have invented to bolster their own position in life.



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

David:   Could this really happen in the near future? The answer is yes!



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

David:

     1.  Caden Dechert arguing with Lin Tzu:
“The moon was supposed to be different, Lin. It was supposed to be demilitarized. It was supposed to be shared.”
     “Nothing so valuable ever is.”
     2. Jonathan Quarles as things are starting to get ugly on Luna:

        “So much for the Sea of Serenity. Can we call it the Sea of Impending Doom now?”



TQWhat's next?

David:  We’re talking to Harper Voyager about a second novel. Hopefully there will be more after that.



TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

David:  Thanks so much for having me.





Gunpowder Moon
Harper Voyager, February 13, 2018
Trade Paperback and eBook, 304 pages

Interview with David Pedreira, author of Gunpowder Moon
“Interesting quirks and divided loyalties flesh out this first novel in which sf and mystery intersect in a well-crafted plot...Pedreira’s science thriller powerfully highlights the human politics and economics from the seemingly desolate expanse of the moon. It will attract readers who enjoyed Andy Weir’s lunar crime caper Artemis.” -- Library Journal, starred review

A realistic and chilling vision of life on the Moon, where dust kills as easily as the vacuum of space…but murder is even quicker—a fast-paced, cinematic science fiction thriller, this debut novel combines the inventiveness of The Martian, the intrigue of The Expanse, and the thrills of Red Rising.

The Moon smells like gunpowder. Every lunar walker since Apollo 11 has noticed it: a burnt-metal scent that reminds them of war. Caden Dechert, the chief of the U.S. mining operation on the edge of the Sea of Serenity, thinks the smell is just a trick of the mind—a reminder of his harrowing days as a Marine in the war-torn Middle East back on Earth.

It’s 2072, and lunar helium-3 mining is powering the fusion reactors that are bringing Earth back from environmental disaster. But competing for the richest prize in the history of the world has destroyed the oldest rule in space: Safety for All. When a bomb kills one of Dechert’s diggers on Mare Serenitatis, the haunted veteran goes on the hunt to expose the culprit before more blood is spilled.

But as Dechert races to solve the first murder in the history of the Moon, he gets caught in the crosshairs of two global powers spoiling for a fight. Reluctant to be the match that lights this powder-keg, Dechert knows his life and those of his crew are meaningless to the politicians. Even worse, he knows the killer is still out there, hunting.

In his desperate attempts to save his crew and prevent the catastrophe he sees coming, the former Marine uncovers a dangerous conspiracy that, with one spark, can ignite a full lunar war, wipe out his team . . . and perhaps plunge the Earth back into darkness.





About David

Interview with David Pedreira, author of Gunpowder Moon
Photo by Lori Pedreira
A former reporter for newspapers including the Tampa Tribune and the St. Petersburg Times, David Pedreira has won awards for his writing from the Associated Press, the Society of Professional Journalists, the Maryland-Delaware-DC Press Association, and the American Society of Newspaper Editors. He lives in Tampa, Florida.







Website  ~  Twitter @DavePedreira  ~  Facebook

Interview with Rati Mehrotra, author of Markswoman


Please welcome Rati Mehrotra to The Qwillery as part of the of the 2018 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Markswoman is published on January 23d by Harper Voyager.

Please join The Qwillery in wishing Rati a Happy Publication Day!



Interview with Rati Mehrotra, author of Markswoman




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

Rati:  A poem titled “A Pea in the Sea”, written when I was five years old. It was full of pathos. I wish I still had it, I could do with a good laugh.



TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Rati:  A hybrid, I think. I’m a total pantser when it comes to short fiction. But if we’re talking books, then I need to know my ending. I may not know how to get there – which is why the middles are so scary – but I must know before I start how the book will end. Of course, a lot might change on the way. And I certainly don’t plan every chapter.



TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Rati:  Getting the time to do it! As a working mom, it’s a bit of a struggle to find the right balance. I often write at night when everyone else is asleep.



TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Rati:  So many amazing writers. I was a voracious reader as a kid, and devoured every book I could get my hands on. My favorite writers include Ursula Le Guin, Margaret Atwood, Octavia Butler, Neil Gaimam, Gene Wolfe, Patricia A. McKillip, Stephen King, JRR Tolkien, JK Rowling, and Jane Austen.

I have also been influenced by Indian mythology. I grew up hearing stories from the Indian epics, and they have seeped into my soul.



TQDescribe Markswoman in 140 characters or less.

Rati:  An order of magical-knife-wielding female assassins brings both peace and chaos to their post-apocalyptic world in a blend of science fiction and epic fantasy.



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

Rati:  ‘Asiana’ is a play on ‘Asia’ of course; the world of Markswoman is a fictional, post-apocalyptic version of the real Asia. But the word (pronounced Aashiyana) also means ‘home’ in Urdu and Hindi. Not just any home, but a safe, secure place of shelter. It is this sense of safety and security my protagonist longs for. As, perhaps, we all do.



TQWhat inspired you to write Markswoman? What appeals to you about writing Epic Fantasy?

RatiMarkswoman just demanded to be written. An image of Kyra came to me one day, and would not get go until I put pen to paper. The world itself is inspired by my fascination with mythology, especially stories of the Goddess Kali, and my interest in post-apocalyptic literature..

I love writing (and reading!) epic fantasy because I can thoroughly immerse myself in it. It is both the ultimate escape and a test of creativity – can I build a world a reader will believe in and fall into?



TQWhat sort of research did you do for Markswoman?

Rati:  I read a lot about travel in the middles ages, the Silk Route, the geography and climate of Central Asia, and, of course, the myths of the Goddess Kali. It helps that I grew up reading such stories, and that I have spent time in both deserts and mountains in Asia.

I also researched daggers and martial arts. I’ve done both karate and Tai Chi, and that was really helpful in writing the fight scenes.



TQPlease tell us about the cover for Markswoman.

Rati:  I love the cover of my book! It depicts a katari, a dagger forged from a rare alien metal that grants Markswomen powers of telepathy. I couldn’t have asked for a more fitting image to capture the heart of my story.



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

Rati:  The easiest character to write was Kyra, my protagonist. She came to me almost fully formed many years ago. She is far from perfect – she has a hot temper, and makes mistakes. But she’s loyal and tough, and loves her friends - qualities I admire.

The most difficult character to write was the villainous Tamsyn. She is far more complex than comes across on these pages, and some day I hope to share more of her story.



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

Rati:

“Rati, how long did it take you to write and publish this book?”

“Eight years, my friend, eight years.”

I think many new writers don’t realize just how patient and persevering you have be, if you want to be traditionally published.



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

Rati:  Both from Shirin Mam!

“Let the past be what it is. Let the future bring what it will. Stay in the present. Be aware of yourself and who you are. It is all that matters.”

“May you walk on water and pass through fire. May the blood that you shed nourish the soil and the bodies you strike feed the crows. May the katari protect your flesh and Kali protect your soul. And when your work is done, may the Ones take you with them to the stars for the last journey of your life.”



TQWhat's next?

Rati:  The sequel to Markswoman, which is due for publication in January 2019. While I have a completed draft, I expect to work on revisions and edits for much of this year.

Next on my agenda is a project rather close to my heart: a middle grade secondary world fantasy novel which I drafted a few years ago. I need to revise it extensively before my agent can send it out on submission.



TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Rati:  Thanks for having me!





Markswoman
Asiana 1
Harper Voyager, January 23, 2018
Trade Paperback and eBook, 384 pages

Interview with Rati Mehrotra, author of Markswoman
An order of magical-knife wielding female assassins brings both peace and chaos to their post-apocalyptic world in this bewitching blend of science fiction and epic fantasy—the first entry in a debut duology that displays the inventiveness of the works of Sarah Beth Durst and Marie Lu.

Kyra is the youngest Markswoman in the Order of Kali, a highly trained sisterhood of elite warriors armed with telepathic blades. Guided by a strict code of conduct, Kyra and the other Orders are sworn to protect the people of Asiana. But to be a Markswoman, an acolyte must repudiate her former life completely. Kyra has pledged to do so, yet she secretly harbors a fierce desire to avenge her dead family.

When Kyra’s beloved mentor dies in mysterious circumstances, and Tamsyn, the powerful, dangerous Mistress of Mental Arts, assumes control of the Order, Kyra is forced on the run. Using one of the strange Transport Hubs that are remnants of Asiana’s long-lost past, she finds herself in the unforgiving wilderness of desert that is home to the Order of Khur, the only Order composed of men. Among them is Rustan, a young, disillusioned Marksman whom she soon befriends.

Kyra is certain that Tamsyn committed murder in a twisted bid for power, but she has no proof. And if she fails to find it, fails in her quest to keep her beloved Order from following Tamsyn down a dark path, it could spell the beginning of the end for Kyra—and for Asiana.

But what she doesn’t realize is that the line between justice and vengeance is razor thin . . . thin as the blade of a knife.





About Rati

Interview with Rati Mehrotra, author of Markswoman
Photo by Veronika Roux
Born and raised in India, Rati Mehrotra makes her home in Toronto, Canada, where she writes novels and short fiction and blogs at ratiwrites.com. Markswoman is her debut novel. Find her on Twitter @Rati_Mehrotra.








Review and Giveaway - Sinless by Sarah Tarkoff


Sinless
AuthorSarah Tarkoff
Series:  Eye of the Beholder 1
Publisher:  Harper Voyager, January 9, 2018
Format:  Trade Paperback and eBook, 304 pages
List Price:  US$15.99 (print); US$9.99 (eBook)
ISBN:  9780062456380 (print); 9780062456397 (ebook)

Review and Giveaway - Sinless by Sarah Tarkoff
With shades of Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies and Ally Condie’s Matched, this cinematic dystopian novel—the first in the thrilling Eye of the Beholder series—is set in a near future society in which "right" and "wrong" are manifested by beauty and ugliness.

In Grace Luther’s world, morality is physically enforced. Those who are "good" are blessed with beauty, while those who are not suffer horrifying consequences—disfigurement or even death. The daughter of a cleric, Grace has always had faith in the higher power that governs her world. But when she stumbles onto information that leaves her questioning whether there are more complicated—and dangerous—forces manipulating the people around her, she finds herself at the center of an epic battle, where good and evil are not easily distinguished. Despite all her efforts to live a normal teenage life, Grace is faced with a series of decisions that will risk the lives of everyone she loves—and, ultimately, her own.

With each page in this electrifying debut novel, Sarah Tarkoff masterfully plunges us into a nightmarish vision of the future. Full of high drama and pulsating tension, Sinless explores the essential questions teenagers wrestle with every day—What is beauty? What is faith? Do we take our surroundings at face value and accept all that we have been taught, or do we question the mores of the society into which we are born?—and places them in the context of a dark, dystopian world where appearances are most definitely deceiving.



Qwill's Thoughts

Sinless by Sarah Tarkoff is the first novel in the Eye of the Beholder trilogy. This is a YA novel with very strong adult crossover appeal. The story is told from the point of view of Grace Luther, the teenage daughter of a cleric. The setting is the near future America after the Revelation when the Great Spirit revealed itself to humanity. Belief in the Great Spirit has become universal. All other faiths have faded in the overwhelming onslaught of this new god. People are Punished if they do something wrong - their looks are affected. The ultimate punishment is death. But in between the religious and the pure of heart/thought and death via Punishment for a moral failing are the Outcasts. These are people who are disfigured by their sins. The Great Spirit makes it easy to see who is good and who is evil. Stay on the straight and narrow, avoid sins, believe in and follow the rules of the Great Spirit and you are beautiful. Stray and you are disfigured or dead.

Grace is the daughter of a leading cleric in the new religion. She was young when the Great Spirit appeared. Now she is a very well-behaved and pure teenager who believes in the Great Spirit thoroughly. Sinless deals with the gradual (and not so gradual) unraveling of her beliefs. This is Grace's story. I did not initially like Grace. She changes her thoughts and feelings so much that the reader could at times get whiplash. In other words, I found her to be a very credible teenager. I think my problems with Grace stem form Tarkoff spending too little time making the initial changes in Grace's thinking believable. I found that process too abrupt which for me made almost everything she did from that point suspect. Grace is being pulled in so many directions. What and who should she believe? Who is telling the truth? I found her internal monologue at times illuminating but did not really enjoy being in her brain so much. I came to like her though. She struggled with everything and like most people made good and bad decisions. In Sinless she is looking back on the events of those teenage years. It is made very clear in the beginning that Grace is telling her story from a federal prison. How she ended up in prison is not revealed in Sinless.

Tarkoff's writing flows beautifully and the world building is exceptional. The advent of the Great Spirit and the resulting world is very well done. There are some terrific and surprising reveals about the Great Spirit. A world where everyone behaves well because of immediate fear of disfigurement or death sounds peaceful and wonderful but it is not. As Grace learns more about a world she was so certain of so do we. The cracks in the surface of this peaceful world are there. Tarkoff has created a true dystopia.

The supporting cast was interesting. We don't get much background on many of them but then Sinless is not really about them. What is important about them, at least in Sinless, is their interactions and influences on Grace. From her father to the Prophet Joshua, we see them through Grace's eyes.

There is a lot more to learn about this new world of the Great Spirit and many questions that need to be answered. Fortunately there are 2 more novels upcoming in the series. Tarkoff gives the reader a lot to think about - faith, beauty, guilt, and what are you willing to give up to live in an apparently perfect world? Sinless is an engaging and entertaining debut.





The Giveaway

What:  2 copies of Sinless (Trade Paperback) by Sarah Tarkoff. 2 books - 2 winners - 1 book each US ONLY

How:
  • Send an email to theqwillery . contests @ gmail.com [remove the spaces]
  • In the subject line, enter “Sinless“ with or without the quote marks.
  • In the body of the email, please provide your name and full mailing address. The winning address is used only to mail the novel(s) and is provided The Qwillery only for that purpose. All other address information will be deleted by The Qwillery once the giveaway ends.
Who:  The giveaway is open to all humans on the planet earth with a United States mailing address.

When:  The giveaway ends at 11:59 PM US Eastern Time on January 18, 2018. Void where prohibited by law. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 years old or older to enter.

*Giveaway rules and duration are subject to change without any notice.*

2017 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars - September Winner


The winner of the September 2017 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars is An Excess Male by Maggie Shen King from Harper Voyager with 25% of the votes. The cover design is by Kapo Ng.


An Excess Male
Harper Voyager, September 12, 2017
Trade Paperback and eBook, 416 pages

2017 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars - September Winner
From debut author Maggie Shen King, An Excess Male is the chilling dystopian tale of politics, inequality, marriage, love, and rebellion, set in a near-future China, that further explores the themes of the classics The Handmaid's Tale and When She Woke.

Under the One Child Policy, everyone plotted to have a son.

Now 40 million of them can't find wives.

China’s One Child Policy and its cultural preference for male heirs have created a society overrun by 40 million unmarriageable men. By the year 2030, more than twenty-five percent of men in their late thirties will not have a family of their own. An Excess Male is one such leftover man’s quest for love and family under a State that seeks to glorify its past mistakes and impose order through authoritarian measures, reinvigorated Communist ideals, and social engineering.

Wei-guo holds fast to the belief that as long as he continues to improve himself, his small business, and in turn, his country, his chance at love will come. He finally saves up the dowry required to enter matchmaking talks at the lowest rung as a third husband—the maximum allowed by law. Only a single family—one harboring an illegal spouse—shows interest, yet with May-ling and her two husbands, Wei-guo feels seen, heard, and connected to like never before. But everyone and everything—walls, streetlights, garbage cans—are listening, and men, excess or not, are dispensable to the State. Wei-guo must reach a new understanding of patriotism and test the limits of his love and his resolve in order to save himself and this family he has come to hold dear.

In Maggie Shen King’s startling and beautiful debut, An Excess Male looks to explore the intersection of marriage, family, gender, and state in an all-too-plausible future.





The Results

2017 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars - September Winner




The September 2017 Debuts

2017 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars - September Winner

Interview with Ausma Zehanat Khan, author of The Bloodprint


Please welcome Ausma Zehanat Khan to The Qwillery as part of the of the 2017 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Bloodprint, the author's first speculative fiction novel, is published on October 3rd by Harper Voyager.

Please join The Qwillery in wishing Ausma a Happy Publication Day!



Interview with Ausma Zehanat Khan, author of The Bloodprint




TQWelcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

Ausma:  I’ve been writing since I was a child, mainly because my head is filled with voices and writing seems like a good way to expunge them. As I grew up and became more serious about writing, I realized I have stories to tell—stories about people from backgrounds like mine. I wanted to be able to add my voice because it was something I didn’t see very much of when I was growing up. Representation is so important to your sense of yourself, it helps you understand the value of your contribution. Writing was one way to explore that.



TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Ausma:  I’m definitely a plotter. Part of it is stress factor—I can’t handle the stress of not knowing outcomes or how to get from A to Z. But mostly it’s because I like to do a lot of reading beforehand which helps me flesh out my story and lay it all out in my mind. I’m not completely rigid though—I outline very thoroughly, but if something new comes up, I try to follow where it leads.



TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Ausma:  I’d have to say it’s deadlines. There’s simply not enough time in the day to read, plan, write, and keep up on social media. So often I want to curl up with a book or visit family or get other things done, and I really have to work at being disciplined.



TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Ausma:  The Ngaio Marsh mysteries with their gift for language. Dune by Frank Herbert was an awe-inspiring work of science fiction for me. The Shannara series by Terry Brooks for making me fall madly in love with fantasy. And I try to read a lot of history and books in translation so I can have a better sense of how rich and diverse our world is, and how we all fit together. I can never decide if my favourite book is Dune or if it’s Samarkand by Amin Maalouf. Both have influenced The Bloodprint.



TQDescribe The Bloodprint in 140 characters or less.

Ausma:  Arian and Sinnia, two powerful women warriors, embark on a quest for a sacred text that will help them defeat the oppressive rule of the Talisman.

Did I make it under 140?



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

Ausma:  The Bloodprint features a slow-burning, long-thwarted romance between two of its lead characters—Arian and Daniyar. It was my favorite part of the book to write!



TQWhat inspired you to write The Bloodprint? What appeals to you about writing Fantasy?

Ausma:  I visited the Chamber of Holy Relics at the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul several years ago. I was in the presence of a sacred manuscript and the room around me was filled with reverence for the written word. I wanted to capture that feeling in a book.

I like the narrative freedom that writing fantasy offers. I love its scope for building new worlds while relying on touchstones that we recognize from our own. Much of the fantasy I read is about the struggle between good and evil and the desire of good people to reclaim their worlds from darkness. I find that necessary and relevant today.



TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Bloodprint?

Ausma:  I read a lot of books about the history of the Silk Road, particularly the routes through Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Iran. And I read a lot of political history about Central Asia. I became more than a little obsessed with the accomplishments and conquests of the Mongol Empire. I also watched documentaries, and studied hundreds of maps and photographs to get a better feel for the kind of world I wanted to create.



TQPlease tell us about the cover for The Bloodprint?

Ausma:  I love the cover designed by Steve Stone! It completely suggests a world in turmoil and under threat. And it’s not a spoiler to tell you that the main stronghold depicted on the cover represents the Citadel of the Council of Hira, a powerful group of women mystics. My protagonists Arian and Sinnia are members of the Council of Hira—the Citadel is their home.



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

Ausma:  The easiest character to write was Arian because I’d been thinking about what drives her for so long and I had a strong sense of her personality: she’s stubbornly dedicated to doing what she thinks is right but she’s willing to listen to the wisdom of others…in most cases. I know her background, her history and what she’ll sacrifice in pursuit of her quest. The hardest character to write was Daniyar because he keeps so much to himself and he resists when I want to push him to the forefront of the book. He reminds me that this is Arian’s story. But I worked at making him more flawed and relatable, so he isn’t just this aloof, sexy warrior.



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

Ausma:  I have a background in human rights so human rights issues are always at the forefront of my mind. I’m interested in exploring the question of what happens to societies that have experienced the hardships of war. What emerges from those broken politics? And what kinds of social and political conditions lead to authoritarianism or state breakdown? A common outcome of state collapse is the extreme vulnerability of women, children and minorities. The Bloodprint explores that kind of world and examines the question of what it would take to change things for the better.



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

Ausma:  Do I know a man like Daniyar in real life? Let’s just say yes and leave it at that!



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

Ausma:

       Silence and isolation were the legacy of the wars of the Far Range, the countryside despoiled and dangerous, outsiders viewed with suspicion and distrust. Women caught in the open were sold to slave-chains. Men were conscripted to the Talisman cause.

       And so the vast, wild country of Khorasan had shrunk into these pockets of ignorance and fear.



TQWhat's next?

Ausma:  I’ve completed the second book of the Khorasan Archives—the sequel to The Bloodprint—and will begin work on the third installment soon. I’m hoping to do some travel for research, but in the meantime, I’m finishing edits on my fourth mystery, A Dangerous Crossing, which will be out next February. I’ve also begun work on the fifth book in my detective series. It’s been a completely hectic but wonderful time!



TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Ausma:  Thank you so much for having me!





The Bloodprint
The Khorasan Archives
Harper Voyager, October 3, 2017
Trade Paperback and eBook, 448 pages

Interview with Ausma Zehanat Khan, author of The Bloodprint
The author of the acclaimed mystery The Unquiet Dead delivers her first fantasy novel—the opening installment in a thrilling quartet—a tale of religion, oppression, and political intrigue that radiates with heroism, wonder, and hope.

A dark power called the Talisman, born of ignorance and persecution, has risen in the land. Led by a man known only as the One-Eyed Preacher, it is a cruel and terrifying movement bent on world domination—a superstitious patriarchy that suppresses knowledge and subjugates women. And it is growing.

But there are those who fight the Talisman’s spread, including the Companions of Hira, a diverse group of influential women whose power derives from the Claim—the magic inherent in the words of a sacred scripture. Foremost among them is Arian and her fellow warrior, Sinnia, skilled fighters who are knowledgeable in the Claim. This daring pair have long stalked Talisman slave-chains, searching for clues and weapons to help them battle their enemy’s oppressive ways. Now they may have discovered a miraculous symbol of hope that can destroy the One-Eyed Preacher and his fervid followers: the Bloodprint, a dangerous text the Talisman has tried to erase from the world.

Finding the Bloodprint promises to be their most perilous undertaking yet, an arduous journey that will lead them deep into Talisman territory. Though they will be helped by allies—a loyal boy they freed from slavery and a man that used to be both Arian’s confidant and sword master—Arian and Sinnia know that this mission may well be their last.





About Ausma

Interview with Ausma Zehanat Khan, author of The Bloodprint
Photo by Athif Khan
Ausma Zehanat Khan holds a PhD in international human rights law with a specialization in military intervention and war crimes in the Balkans.  She is the author of the award-winning debut novel The Unquiet Dead, the first in the Khattak/Getty mystery series. Her subsequent novels include The Language of Secrets and Among the Ruins. A British-born Canadian, she now lives in Colorado with her husband.


Website  ~  Facebook  ~  Twitter @ausmazehanat


Interview with Maggie Shen King, author of An Excess Male


Please welcome Maggie Shen King to The Qwillery as part of the of the 2017 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. An Excess Male was published on September 12th by Harper Voyager.



Interview with Maggie Shen King, author of An Excess Male




TQWelcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

Maggie:  Thank you for having me. It is a real pleasure for me to tell your readers about my book.

I studied English literature in college and have been an avid reader my entire life. I took one creative writing class in college and have always dreamed about becoming a writer some day. About ten years ago, when my youngest child started middle school and I had more time at my disposal, I sat down and gave writing a serious try.

I discovered that I really liked inventing stories, puzzling together scenes and situations, and polishing sentences over and over until I got them right. Writing suited my temperament and helped me find myself after a decade and a half dedicated to raising my boys.

I am very fortunate to live next door to Stanford University, and I started taking creative writing classes there.



TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Maggie:  I have been both a plotter and a pantser. An Excess Male is my first published novel, but my second attempt at writing one. My first effort, Fortune’s Fools, was written with an outline which I found very comforting at the time. I did not always follow it, but I had a fuzzy idea where I was heading.

An Excess Male was a writing experiment and an education every step of the way. I first wrote “Ball and Chain,” a short story which was published by Asimov’s Science Fiction. I was intrigued by the experiences of each member of this potential family and wrote alternating chapters from their points of view. I liked their voices but had no idea where they would lead me. It was fun and, at times, nerve-racking.

I thought I was writing a modern twist on the marriage plot with a male protagonist at its center. A fifth of the way into the writing, I realized that I also had a speculative dystopian novel on my hands and had to learn about the genre.

When I was at 90,000 words, I experienced a small panic attack. I didn’t know if my year-plus effort had an ending. I still remember meeting for coffee with my writing group pal, M.P. Cooley, and the two of us forcing each other to think through to the conclusions of our respective books.



TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Maggie:  Not get distracted by email and all the tantalizing things on the internet is my biggest challenge. I think best with my fingers on the keyboard, and I find that if I am able to do that, the words and ideas usually come.



TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Maggie:  I think my greatest influences first and foremost were my writing teachers at Stanford Continuing Studies. I’ve had the fortune to learn from Professor Nancy Packer and Stegner Fellows Eric Puchner, Thomas McNeely, and Otis Haschemeyer. They taught me the craft of writing and much, much more.

In writing An Excess Male, I looked to a number of books for guidance. The Handmaid’s Tale is quite similar thematically to mine. It fascinated me that the draconian measures in both The Handmaid’s Tale and in my book began as well-intentioned efforts to solve serious crises. The theocracy in The Handmaid’s Tale was facing an eroding environment, sharply declining fertility rates, and possible extinction while the State in An Excess Male was contending with overpopulation and mass starvation. The original intent in both cases was good, yet the practice in actuality was the legislation of what can and cannot be done to women’s bodies.

Another book that was very much on my mind was Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son. My book also had a situation where an entire citizenry was made disposable by a national narrative, a setting where everyone was aware of the unspoken subtext in public utterances, where it was not always safe for one’s outward actions to mirror what was in one’s heart. I was really inspired by a passage in The Orphan Master’s Son—a talk every parent must have with his or her child about how they must speak and act in the way expected by the State, yet inside they must still be a family and their true selves. They must hold hands in their hearts.

Some other books that helped me with world building and speculative dystopian novels: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, Vampires in the Lemon Grove and St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell.



TQDescribe An Excess Male in 140 characters or less.

Maggie:  Under the One-Child Policy, everyone plotted to have a son. Now 30 million of them can’t find wives, and the State must intervene again.



TQTell us something about An Excess Male that is not found in the book description.

Maggie:  The many hours I spent at children’s laser tag parties helped me dream up scenes in this book.



TQWhat inspired you to write An Excess Male?

Maggie:  I got the idea five years ago when I opened up the morning paper and read about the gender imbalance in China brought on by its One Child Policy and cultural bias for male heirs. By the year 2030, 25% of men in their late thirties—nearly 30 million people—will never have married.

I learned that the natural sex ratio at birth is about 107 boys to 100 girls. The skew is nature’s ingenious way of making up for the higher mortality rate among males. During the 37 years in which the One Child Policy was law, the ratio got as high as 137 to 100 in some rural provinces.

Even with the phasing out of the law starting in 2015, this society will be testosterone-fueled, prone to aggression and crime, and plagued by an undercurrent of loneliness and dissatisfaction for decades to come. And to make matters even more intriguing, all of these unmarried men are the only children in their families, accustomed to the undivided attention of doting parents and grandparents.

This news story had more zip than my morning coffee, and I was convinced right away that it held the premise for an interesting novel.



TQWhat appealed to you about writing a near-future novel about what might happen due to China's One Child Policy?

Maggie:  After the Great Leap Forward, China was facing food shortages and mass starvation. Population control was essential, and the One Child Policy was China’s answer to a very serious crisis.

This policy also became one the largest scaled and longest lasting social engineering experiment of all time. It was enforced by Chinese officials and at times, by its citizenry in ways that often violated widely accepted rules of ethics and human decency. Despite the cultural bias for male heirs and repeated warnings from census data, the law remained in effect for nearly forty years.

It was an experiment that created serious unintended consequences, a true cautionary tale against man’s attempt to interfere with the natural order.



TQWhat sort of research did you do for An Excess Male?

Maggie:  In the process of writing two books, I discovered that for me research could become an excuse for not writing. After doing some reading on the subject in newspapers and magazines, I did internet searches as I wrote when the need arose. I also searched for appropriate photographs online to help me visualize settings and capture moods. Researching in this manner saved me time and made me focus on the story, and the material I found was exactly what I needed for the scene I was working on.

I joke with my friends that I should thank Google’s search engine in my book’s acknowledgement page, but it is really not a joke. It is mind-blowing the amount of information that is at our fingertips. Except for my visit to Beijing, I was able to find everything I needed online.



TQPlease tell us about the cover for An Excess Male.

Maggie:  The cover was designed by Kapo Ng. I loved it at first sight. The very modern male figure with the movie-star good looks pulled me in right away. I felt compelled to focus on him only to discover that his substance is composed of his city scape. He is a man defined by his homeland. The two bold, diagonal red stripes seem to place him behind bars, to circumscribe him in a way. Despite his winning looks, “An Excess Male” is nevertheless stamped across his visage, and the rather unforgiving, institutional labeling with the Buran USSR font (love that name) of the title further restricts him. The color scheme completes the cover by perfectly encapsulating the authoritarian elements of the story.

When I received the finished copy of the book, I was pleasantly surprised by the gloss that was added to the red stripes and title. It made the cover even more eye catching.



TQIn An Excess Male who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Maggie:  I found XX the easiest and the most fun character to write. He was on the autism spectrum and had a very distinct voice, one that was so logical it defied logic. There was no artifice to him. He began the book with the least amount of influence and power within his family, yet by just being who he was, he was able to make himself indispensable during a family crisis. Achieving that kind of reversal for a character was immensely satisfying.

I found my central female character, May-ling, the most difficult to write. Women were so rare in this society, they became nearly subhuman, a resource to be protected, commoditized, and allocated. She was the product of greedy daughter breeders. I wanted May-ling to be true to her upbringing and environment, and I had a difficult time with her youth and naiveté. She was initially focused solely on her relationships with her husband and son, and it felt stifling to confine her powers to the domestic realm. What she most desired—true physical and emotional connection with Hann—was absolutely crucial to her marriage, and her ability to vocalize and assert her need was instrumental to her growth. But the day-to-day drama of it began to feel repetitive and petty. It was when she moved out of the domestic situation into the the bigger world—into confrontations with other mothers at the park, with MONKeyKing, and with Tommy and Quality Gao that she comes into her own for me and finds agency.



TQWhich question about An Excess Male do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

Maggie:  What is your favorite scene in the book?

My favorite scene is the last merengue at the TV station. The book starts out with the dance and comes full circle in this scene. I love the cacophony of the crashing heels, the pathetic step and drag of the movement, the helplessness and desperation in the gesture, but also the power in these small acts of rebellion.



TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from An Excess Male.

Maggie:  How about three quotes that together sum up the premise and tone of the book?

“The government has awarded us—members of ‘The Bounty’—official status, investing in public campaigns to make the phrases ‘unmarriageable,’ ‘excess,’ and ‘leftover’ men unpatriotic and backwards.”

“The distraction and physical exhaustion of a thoughtful exercise plan are as non-negotiable for [members of ‘The Bounty’] as sleep, food, and weekly, State-arranged sex.”

“These days, only fools speak freely amongst strangers.”



TQWhat's next?

Maggie:  Here is one of the ideas I’m playing with: In addition to 30 million unmarriageable men, the One Child Policy has produced yet another set of victims—girls whose hukou or household registration were saved by their parents for a younger brother. These girls, called heihaizi or shadow or ghost children, are undocumented, illegal, and non-existent in the eyes of the law. They have no rights to health care, education, or legal protection. They cannot ride public transportation, marry, obtain or inherit property, or have children. The 2010 Census estimated the number of “nonpersons” to be at least 13 million. You can read my short story at: https://maggieshenking.com/companion-story-invite/



TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.





An Excess Male
Harper Voyager, September 12, 2017
Trade Paperback and eBook, 416 pages

Interview with Maggie Shen King, author of An Excess Male
From debut author Maggie Shen King, An Excess Male is the chilling dystopian tale of politics, inequality, marriage, love, and rebellion, set in a near-future China, that further explores the themes of the classics The Handmaid's Tale and When She Woke.

Under the One Child Policy, everyone plotted to have a son.

Now 40 million of them can't find wives.

China’s One Child Policy and its cultural preference for male heirs have created a society overrun by 40 million unmarriageable men. By the year 2030, more than twenty-five percent of men in their late thirties will not have a family of their own. An Excess Male is one such leftover man’s quest for love and family under a State that seeks to glorify its past mistakes and impose order through authoritarian measures, reinvigorated Communist ideals, and social engineering.

Wei-guo holds fast to the belief that as long as he continues to improve himself, his small business, and in turn, his country, his chance at love will come. He finally saves up the dowry required to enter matchmaking talks at the lowest rung as a third husband—the maximum allowed by law. Only a single family—one harboring an illegal spouse—shows interest, yet with May-ling and her two husbands, Wei-guo feels seen, heard, and connected to like never before. But everyone and everything—walls, streetlights, garbage cans—are listening, and men, excess or not, are dispensable to the State. Wei-guo must reach a new understanding of patriotism and test the limits of his love and his resolve in order to save himself and this family he has come to hold dear.

In Maggie Shen King’s startling and beautiful debut, An Excess Male looks to explore the intersection of marriage, family, gender, and state in an all-too-plausible future.





About Maggie

Interview with Maggie Shen King, author of An Excess Male
Photo by Connie Tamaddon
Maggie Shen King grew up in Taiwan and attended both Chinese and American schools before moving to Seattle at age sixteen. She studied English literature at Harvard, and her short stories have appeared in Ecotone, ZYZZYVA, and Asimov’s Science Fiction. Her manuscript Fortune’s Fools won second prize in Amazon’s 2012 Breakthrough Novel Award contest. She lives near San Francisco, California.


Website  ~  Twitter @MaggieShenKing  ~  Facebook

Melanie's Week in Review - August 27, 2017


Melanie's Week in Review  - August 27, 2017


Whoop whoop! Its bank holiday weekend and the weather is lovely. If you have been following my WIR you will know that the weather in the UK has been dismal with a capital 'D'....as in December. I could actually sit outside this afternoon without wearing a sweater. What a treat! Speaking of treats wait until you find out about what I have been reading.


Melanie's Week in Review  - August 27, 2017
I was super lucky to receive The Brightest Fell, the 11th instalment of the October Daye series, from the publisher via NetGalley. The story starts not long after the events of book 10 - Once Broken Faith - and opens with October's bachelorette party. It was a veritable supernatural convention with nearly every female character from the series in attendance. Just when things are looking up for the unlucky heroine her mother - Amandine the Liar - turns up on her doorstep demanding that October find her long lost daughter (Toby's half-sister). To ensure that October does what she is told Amandine takes Tybalt hostage. Toby has no choice - look for her sister who has been missing for decades or lose the love of her life. Toby needs help and sometimes that help comes from where she least expects it. The path to true love is a thorny one and now Toby is on the clock ...find her sister or lose everything.

I don't want to give too much away so apologies for being vague. I always enjoy the books in this series but I really wish that McGuire would give poor Toby a break. I guess it would make for a boring story if everything was sunshine and roses (well maybe not roses for Toby!) without the near death experiences, loss of loved ones or races against time. There is a lot happening in this instalment as the plot progresses at the same time as we find out more of events that pre-date even Toby. If this was an earlier book in the series then I would have loved it but 11 books in and I just hope that McGuire wraps the series up soon. That said, I do enjoy stories with strong female leads and Toby is nothing short of brave.


Melanie's Week in Review  - August 27, 2017
Again, lucky me as I also received Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill via NetGalley. If you are a science fiction fan then this is the book for you. In fact, this is a must read. This is the story of the rise of the machine - mankind has been wiped out when the robots they created to make life easier destroyed them all. Now two super computers - One World Networks - are fighting for supremacy. There are a few freebots that are left to roam the desolate globe searching for spare parts which are in ever increasing short supply. The story centers on Brittle who started its existence as a comfort bot...charged with taking care of a dying man. As the robot/human war unfolds Brittle makes choices that will haunt it for decades. Amongst the wasteland where both humans and robots died Brittle searches for an every decreasing supply of parts and through that search ends up on a mission that could change everything.....or nothing. What will Brittle chose?

This is a fantastic book, in fact one of my favourite books of 2017. I wasn't expecting to like it so much, especially given the subject matter but I did. Every chapter had a new surprise and I could never guess what was going to happen next. I loved the Terminator films but imagine a world where Sarah Connor doesn't survive. Bleak? Yes, but despite the austerity the world that Cargill creates is colourful and vibrant in its own way. Like I said...this is a must read.


That is it for me this week....and in fact for a few weeks. I am taking short hiatus while I re-charge my reading batteries. Don't miss me too much....or better yet...miss me A LOT! Until then Happy Reading!





The Brightest Fell
October Daye 11
DAW, September 5, 2017
Hardcover and eBook, 368 pages

Melanie's Week in Review  - August 27, 2017
New York Times-bestselling October Daye faerie series • Hugo Award-winning author Seanan McGuire • ”Top of my urban-paranormal series list!” —Felicia Day

Contains an original bonus novella, Of Things Unknown!


Things are slow, and October “Toby” Daye couldn’t be happier about that. The elf-shot cure has been approved, Arden Windermere is settling into her position as Queen in the Mists, and Toby doesn’t have anything demanding her attention except for wedding planning and spending time with her family.

Maybe she should have realized that it was too good to last.

When Toby’s mother, Amandine, appears on her doorstep with a demand for help, refusing her seems like the right thing to do…until Amandine starts taking hostages, and everything changes. Now Toby doesn’t have a choice about whether or not she does as her mother asks. Not with Jazz and Tybalt’s lives hanging in the balance. But who could possibly help her find a pureblood she’s never met, one who’s been missing for over a hundred years?

Enter Simon Torquill, elf-shot enemy turned awakened, uneasy ally. Together, the two of them must try to solve one of the greatest mysteries in the Mists: what happened to Amandine’s oldest daughter, August, who disappeared in 1906.

This is one missing person case Toby can’t afford to get wrong.





Sea of Rust
Harper Voyager, September 5, 2017
Hardcover and eBook, 384 pages

Melanie's Week in Review  - August 27, 2017
A scavenger robot wanders in the wasteland created by a war that has destroyed humanity in this evocative post-apocalyptic "robot western" from the critically acclaimed author, screenwriter, and noted film critic.

It’s been thirty years since the apocalypse and fifteen years since the murder of the last human being at the hands of robots. Humankind is extinct. Every man, woman, and child has been liquidated by a global uprising devised by the very machines humans designed and built to serve them. Most of the world is controlled by an OWI—One World Intelligence—the shared consciousness of millions of robots, uploaded into one huge mainframe brain. But not all robots are willing to cede their individuality—their personality—for the sake of a greater, stronger, higher power. These intrepid resisters are outcasts; solo machines wandering among various underground outposts who have formed into an unruly civilization of rogue AIs in the wasteland that was once our world.

One of these resisters is Brittle, a scavenger robot trying to keep a deteriorating mind and body functional in a world that has lost all meaning. Although unable to experience emotions like a human, Brittle is haunted by the terrible crimes the robot population perpetrated on humanity. As Brittle roams the Sea of Rust, a large swath of territory that was once the Midwest, the loner robot slowly comes to terms with horrifyingly raw and vivid memories—and nearly unbearable guilt.

Sea of Rust is both a harsh story of survival and an optimistic adventure. A vividly imagined portrayal of ultimate destruction and desperate tenacity, it boldly imagines a future in which no hope remains, yet where a humanlike AI strives to find purpose among the ruins.

Interview with Marina J. Lostetter, author of Noumenon


Please welcome Marina J. Lostetter to The Qwillery as part of the of the 2017 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Noumenon was published on August 1st by Harper Voyager.



Interview with Marina J. Lostetter, author of Noumenon




TQWelcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

Marina:  Thank you for having me! My love for writing started in the fourth grade. I even remember the first short story I wrote, about my friends and I getting lost in the woods (truth be told, it was more or less a long list of the ways that I was prepared for the situation).

I began to pursue writing professionally around 2010, after graduating from college.



TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Marina:  Plotter, all the way, though my outlines are largely train-of-thought block paragraphs that contradict each other. Outlining is where I get to tell myself the story and not worry if it sounds pretty or makes sense, which means it's the part I enjoy the most.



TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Marina:  The upside to plotting for me is the focus it brings to drafting a story--the words flow well once I know where I'm going and what I'm trying to say. The downside is my tendency to try to bend the characters to fit the plot. I often write myself into corners because I want events to happen a certain way, but it doesn’t make sense for the characters to make the choices I want them to.



TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Marina:  Books I read early that still resonate with me include A Wrinkle in Time, Holes, Wolf Tower, and The Giver. As I grew, sci-fi like Hyperion, Vellum, and Calculating God hit themes that I explore in my own work. Video games have also influenced me greatly--the Final Fantasy series from Square Enix especially. I also really love history and science, and non-fiction in both subjects have been a boon for me.



TQDescribe Noumenon in 140 characters or less.

Marina:  It's an epic interstellar adventure featuring clones, rogue AIs, alien artifacts, and dubious signals from a far-off star.



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

Marina:  The ship's Inter Convoy Computer--I.C.C. for short--is a central character, and an anti-HAL 9000.



TQPlease tell us about the title of the novel.

Marina:  A Noumenon is the flip side of a phenomenon. It is a thing in and of itself, the unmeasurable reality. While technically everything has a noumenal quality (philosophically speaking), the example I like to give is thought: we know thoughts and ideas exist, they are realities, we can measure their effects and some of their causes, but we cannot detect or measure ideas themselves as individual things.

In the book, the convoy's mission is designated Noumenon because its end is an untouchable reality for its founder. Noumenon as a theme extends well into book two.



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

Marina:  I love alien artifact stories. And big dumb objects. I love looking at a strange, far off phenomena and coming up with answers to, what the hell is that? I also love solving mysteries, especially those where you realize the fictional universe, or parts of it, function completely differently than you first thought. All of those loves play into the beginning seeds of what became Noumenon (it was a short story long before it was a novel), and my affinity for Space Opera in general.



TQWhat sort of research did you do for Noumenon?

Marina:  Most of my research centered around variable stars, genetics (histones especially), and electrical engineering.



TQPlease tell us about the cover for Noumenon.

Marina:  The artwork was done by Steven Messing, the overall design is by Owen Corrigan, and it is absolutely beautiful! It doesn't depict a specific scene so much as important elements of the story. I won't give away too many details, but the large object you see in the center is called The Seed.



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

Marina:  I.C.C. was the easiest to write personality-wise, but a tad difficult voice-wise. Empathy is its greatest virtue, and I let that be my guide. The most difficult overall to write was probably the various clones of Jamal Kaeden, largely because each of them goes through dramatically different circumstances. Staying true to who he is on a base level, while also taking into account how these vastly different experiences would change his decision making, was a challenge.

Truth be told, these are my two favorite characters, in no small part because I feel like I've spent the most time with them.



TQWhy have you chosen to include or not chosen to include social issues in Noumenon?

Marina:  I come from the school of thought that believes the majority of storytelling is partisan in some way. Either it holds up the status quo, or it doesn't, and so fundamentally if you're writing a novel with any kind of depth, it's going to include social issues (either by pointing them out or blatantly glossing over them).

Noumenon outright touches on themes of prejudice, social stratification, and genetic predestination. Also, in an effort to realistically reflect the kind of world that could come together to create the convoys and their missions, I have a vast and international cast of people from different backgrounds, which some people might take as a statement on social issues in and of itself.

It's important to me to try and tell stories that are both fun and thoughtful, and I hope I've been able to do that with Noumenon.



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

Marina:  Ooh, this one is hard! Um, probably: Do you think you've written a dystopic novel?

I ask myself this, because I've seen people categorize Noumenon as a dystopia. But that's not what I set out to write. The book has an overall hopeful and positive outlook. And while there are definitely moments of dystopia, the novel spans two thousand years, and like any other society, the convoy has its ups and downs. There are wondrous highs and terrifying lows, and nothing is set in stone. Their civilization evolves. Sometimes it's ideal, sometimes it encapsulates everything that can go wrong with social constructs. I really set out to write a continuum, to explore humanity at its best and worst.



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

Marina:

"Earth wants to be comfortable. The more comfortable someone is, a society is, the less likely they are to seek change, even positive change."

"They may not appreciate our point of view. We might frighten them, or bore them, or make them uncomfortable. This does not mean we should go away."



TQWhat's next?

MarinaNoumenon Infinitum, Noumenon's sequel!



TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Marina:  Thanks again for having me!





Noumenon
Harper Voyager, August 1, 2017
Trade Paperback and eBook, 432 pages

Interview with Marina J. Lostetter, author of Noumenon
With nods to Arthur C. Clarke’s Rama series and the real science of Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves, a touch of Hugh Howey’s Wool, and echoes of Octavia Butler’s voice, a powerful tale of space travel, adventure, discovery, and humanity that unfolds through a series of generational vignettes.

In 2088, humankind is at last ready to explore beyond Earth’s solar system. But one uncertainty remains: Where do we go?

Astrophysicist Reggie Straifer has an idea. He’s discovered an anomalous star that appears to defy the laws of physics, and proposes the creation of a deep-space mission to find out whether the star is a weird natural phenomenon, or something manufactured.

The journey will take eons. In order to maintain the genetic talent of the original crew, humankind’s greatest ambition—to explore the furthest reaches of the galaxy— is undertaken by clones. But a clone is not a perfect copy, and each new generation has its own quirks, desires, and neuroses. As the centuries fly by, the society living aboard the nine ships (designated Convoy Seven) changes and evolves, but their mission remains the same: to reach Reggie’s mysterious star and explore its origins—and implications.

A mosaic novel of discovery, Noumenon—in a series of vignettes—examines the dedication, adventure, growth, and fear of having your entire world consist of nine ships in the vacuum of space. The men and women, and even the AI, must learn to work and live together in harmony, as their original DNA is continuously replicated and they are born again and again into a thousand new lives. With the stars their home and the unknown their destination, they are on a voyage of many lifetimes—an odyssey to understand what lies beyond the limits of human knowledge and imagination.





About Marina

Interview with Marina J. Lostetter, author of Noumenon
Photo © Author Services, Inc. 2013
Marina J. Lostetter’s original short fiction has appeared in Lightspeed’s Women Destroy Science Fiction! and InterGalactic Medicine Show, among other publications. Originally from Oregon, the former winner of the Writers of the Future Award now lives in Arkansas with her husband, Alex, and enjoys globe-trotting, board games, and all things art-related.







Website  ~  Twitter @MarinaLostetter

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