The Qwillery | category: SPFBO 2019


The Qwillery

A blog about books and other things speculative

SPFBO 5 Interview: Stephanie Burgis

Please welcome Stephanie Burgis to The Qwillery as part of the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off 5 Interviews.

Follow the SPFBO 5 finals at

SPFBO 5 Interview: Stephanie Burgis

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

Stephanie:  When I was six years old, I wrote an epic story about a young dolphin and her family. You will be shocked to hear that - although my mom saved it! - it has STILL never been published. ;)

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Stephanie:  Pantser all the way.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Stephanie:  First drafts are fun - editing is WORK. (Essential work! But it's definitely the harder and less enjoyable part.)

TQDescribe Snowspelled, the Harwood Spellbook 1, using only 5 words.

Stephanie:  Frothy fun feminist fantasy romance.

TQWhat inspired you to write Snowspelled?

Stephanie:  I love Regency rom-coms and fantasy adventures, so Snowspelled - set in an alternate version of early 19th-century England in which a Boudiccate of powerful, hard-headed women governs the country while the "more emotional, irrational" gentlemen are expected to see to the magic - is a perfect mash-up of just about everything I find most fun.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for Snowspelled.

Stephanie:  I commissioned the cover art from Leesha Hannigan, a Scottish artist I love. The front cover represents a scene from early in the book, and I loved all the tiny details she inserted in service of the worldbuilding (as she'd read the book and really got it). Also, I would kill to wear that coat! :)

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

Stephanie:  The heroine herself, Cassandra Harwood, came very easily to me once I had her voice set in my head. She's brilliant and loyal and an absolute bulldozer of a person who always wants to do what's best for everyone she loves...but can have a very hard time understanding what those people actually want for themselves. Still, I couldn't get her personal/family dynamic just right until I figured out the character of her sister-in-law (and best friend), Amy Harwood, who is Cassandra's absolute opposite in personal presentation (a perfect, charming politician who reads people like books) but matches her 100% in loyalty to the family. Once I understood Amy's character, in fact, I fell so hard in love with her that I ended up writing a prequel story about Amy's own earlier romance with Cassandra's sweet, geeky brother, Jonathan.

TQDoes Snowspelled touch on any social issues?

Stephanie:  It's certainly unabashedly feminist.

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


To attend a week-long house party filled with bickering gentleman magicians, ruthlessly cutthroat lady politicians, and worst of all, my own infuriating ex-fiancé? Scarcely two months after I had scandalized all of our most intimate friends by jilting him?

Utter madness. And anyone would have seen that immediately…except for my incurably romantic sister-in-law.

TQWhat's next?

Stephanie:  The direct sequel to Snowspelled, Thornbound, came out just a few months ago, and there's also a prequel novella (with a different heroine), Spellswept. The next book in the series is Moontangled out this February and starring an f/f couple (two women who've been side-characters in Snowspelled and Thornbound). And as I also publish MG fantasy adventures about dragons and fierce girls (this most recent series, which started with The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart, is being trad-published by Bloomsbury books), I have an MG book which came out in November 2019 called The Princess who Flew with Dragons. It's full of grumpy princesses, scholarly dragons, and radical goblin girls, and it was so much fun to write!

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Stephanie:  Thank you so much for having me!

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

SPFBO 5 Interview: Stephanie Burgis
In nineteenth-century Angland, magic is reserved for gentlemen while ladies attend to the more practical business of politics. But Cassandra Harwood has never followed the rules...

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

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

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

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

A Prequel to the Harwood Spellbook
Five Fathoms Press, October 30, 2018
Trade Paperback and eBook

SPFBO 5 Interview: Stephanie Burgis
In the world of the Harwood Spellbook, 19th-century Angland is ruled by a powerful group of women known as the Boudiccate - but in order to become a member of that elite group, any ambitious young politician must satisfy tradition by taking a gentleman mage for her husband.

Amy Standish is a born politician...but Jonathan Harwood is her greatest temptation. On the night of the Harwoods' Spring Solstice Ball, in an underwater ballroom full of sparkling fey lights and danger, Amy will have to fight the greatest political battle of her life to win a family and a future that she could never have imagined.

It will take an entirely unexpected kind of magic to keep everything from crashing down around her.

Warning: this novella contains forbidden romance, dangerous magic, and political intrigue in an underwater ballroom. What could possibly go wrong?

Published first in the anthology The Underwater Ballroom Society on April 30th, 2018.

The Harwood Spellbook 2
Five Fathoms Press, February 25, 2019
Trade Paperback and eBook

SPFBO 5 Interview: Stephanie Burgis
Cassandra Harwood scandalized her nation when she became the first woman magician in Angland. Now, she's ready to teach a whole new generation of bright young women at her radical new school, the Thornfell College of Magic…

Until a sinister fey altar is discovered in the school library, the ruling Boudiccate sends a delegation to shut down Thornfell, and Cassandra’s own husband is torn away from her.

As malevolent vines slither in from the forest and ruthless politicians scheme against her, Cassandra must fight the greatest battle of her life to save her love, her school, and the future of the young women of Angland.

A Harwood Spellbook Novella
Five Fathoms Press, February 3, 2020
Trade Paperback and eBook

SPFBO 5 Interview: Stephanie Burgis
Take one ambitious politician and one determined magician with wildly different aims for their next meeting.

Add a secret betrothal, a family scandal, and a heaping of dangerous fey magic in an enchanted wood…and watch the sparks fly!

For just one moonlit, memorable night, Thornfell College of Magic has flung open its doors, inviting guests from around the nation to an outdoor ball intended to introduce the first-ever class of women magicians to society…but one magician and one invited guest have far more pressing goals of their own for the night.

Quietly brilliant Juliana Banks is determined to win back the affections of her secret fiancée, rising politician Caroline Fennell, who has become inexplicably distant. If Juliana needs to use magic to get her stubborn fiancée to pay her attention…well, then, as the top student in her class, she is more than ready to take on that challenge!

Unbeknownst to Juliana, though, Caroline plans to nobly sacrifice their betrothal for Juliana’s own sake – and no one has ever accused iron-willed Caroline Fennell of being easy to deter from any goal.

Their path to mutual happiness may seem tangled beyond repair…but when they enter the fey-ruled woods that border Thornfell College, these two determined women will find all of their plans upended in a night of unexpected and magical possibilities.

About Stephanie

SPFBO 5 Interview: Stephanie Burgis
Photo by Richard Burgis
Stephanie Burgis grew up in East Lansing, Michigan, but now lives in Wales with her husband and two sons, surrounded by mountains, castles and coffee shops. She attended the Clarion West science fiction & fantasy writing workshop in 2001, just a year after completing her time as a Fulbright scholar at the University of Vienna, studying music history, in 1999-2000. After spending three more years as a PhD student studying opera history at the University of Leeds in the U.K. (focusing on opera and politics in 18th-century Vienna and Eszterháza, and doing the research that would later result in her first novel for adults, Masks and Shadows), she went to work for a British opera company and stayed there until the onset of a serious chronic illness, M.E./CFS, forced her to give up work outside the home and focus purely on her writing (and, later, on her parenting, too).

Since then, she has published nearly forty short stories for adults and teens in various magazines and anthologies. Her most recent MG fantasy novel is The Girl with the Dragon Heart (Bloomsbury 2018); the first book in that series, The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart, won the Cybils Award for Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction 2017. Her most recent publication for adults is the romantic fantasy novella Thornbound: Volume II of The Harwood Spellbook. The f/sf anthology that Stephanie co-edited with Tiffany Trent, The Underwater Ballroom Society, has been longlisted for the 2019 Locus Award for Best Original Anthology.

Her trilogy of MG Regency fantasy novels was published in the US as the Kat, Incorrigible trilogy and in the UK as The Unladylike Adventures of Kat Stephenson. The first book in the trilogy won the Waverton Good Read Award for Best Début Children’s Novel by a British writer, and the full trilogy was re-released in the US as A Most Improper Boxed Set. Her first two historical fantasy novels for adults, Masks and Shadows and Congress of Secrets, were both published by Pyr Books in 2016, and Masks and Shadows was included on Locus Magazine’s Recommended Reading List for 2016.

Website  ~  Facebook  ~  Twitter @stephanieburgis

SPFBO 5 - The Qwillery's Finalist

SPFBO 5 - The Qwillery's Finalist

First, thank you to all of the authors in our slush pile this year. We read some wonderful books. A big shout out to our 4 Semi-Finalists who have now been cut:

Oblivion by Andy Blinston;

Knight and Shadow by Flint Maxwell;

The Blackbird and the Ghost by Hûw Steer;


Lykaia by Sharon Van Orman.

Read their novels!

SPFBO 5 - The Qwillery's Finalist SPFBO 5 - The Qwillery's Finalist
SPFBO 5 - The Qwillery's Finalist SPFBO 5 - The Qwillery's Finalist
Clicking on a novel's cover will take you to its Amazon page.

Second, after not too much debate The Qwillery has chosen its Finalist for SPFBO 5.

Congratulations to Virginia McClain with Blade's Edge!

We were impressed with the worldbuilding, setting, and the very strong characters. We are re-posting the Semi-Finalist review because Phil said it best. We give the novel a collective 9.

Blade's Edge
Chronicles of Gensokai 1
Artemis Dingo Productions, January 23, 2015
eBook, 314 pages
 Also available in Hardcover and Trade Paperback

SPFBO 5 - The Qwillery's Finalist
Mishi and Taka live each day of their lives with the shadow of death lurking behind them. The struggle to hide the elemental powers that mark the two girls as Kisōshi separates them from the other orphans, yet forges a deep bond between them.

When Mishi is dragged from the orphanage at the age of eight, the girls are unsure if or when they will find each other again. While their powers grow with each season-cycle, the girls must come to terms with their true selves--Mishi as a warrior, Taka as a healer--as they forge separate paths which lead to the same horrifying discovery...

The Rōjū council’s dark secret is one that it has spent centuries killing to keep, and Mishi and Taka know too much. The two young women have overcome desperate odds in a society where their very existence is a crime, but now that they know the Rōjū’s secret they find themselves fighting for much more than their own survival.

Phil Parker's Review:

The success of this story comes from its originality and vivid portrayal of life for two orphan girls in medieval Japan – at least a fantastical version of that country. I quickly became fascinated with not just the plight of Taka and Mishi, but by the culture in which they lived. The world created by Virginia McClain is so utterly realistic. Beautiful. Violent. Unfair.

The author lived in Japan for some years and her love for the country and understanding of its distinctive culture is apparent in every aspect of the story. It’s so easy to assume that the challenges the girls face are no different to those of a few hundred years ago. The only difference is that in this story, magic exists. It’s what makes it such an original story. Magic operates in harmony with the natural world, derived from fire, water, air, and the earth.

And this is where the inherent tension is derived. Females are not allowed to possess magic. Discovery of their ‘kiso’ at birth leads to their death. Taka and Mishi survive only by the help of people desperate to eliminate this barbaric practice. The story follows the girls’ journey (both physical and allegorical) as they develop their distinctive kiso while growing up into women capable of fighting in this underground movement.

We quickly sympathise with the girls’ plights, we cheer those who support them and despise those who use violence to maintain the repressive and immoral Roju regime. World building is highly detailed. It takes time to familiarise yourself with so many terms for roles, clothes, weapons, rituals and the like but this is one of the features that makes the story so unique. Ms McClain sets her story on the imaginary island of Gensokai. This medieval land is vividly drawn, using language which is rich and vibrant, immersing you in its landscape, ecology, cultures and society.

And yes, there is even a dragon.

I really enjoyed this book. Read it within a few days. It’s not filled with battles and swordplay, there are no wizards and even the dragon is restricted in its involvement. It is a story of great subtlety. The two protagonists are not the inevitable ‘kick-ass’ type that pervade fantasy stories either. Their disciplined development is painful, harsh and mirrors the process of acquiring finesse in any martial art. It’s just that the finesse includes magical expertise too. These are real women, with flaws and doubts, but with the determination to fight inequality. In this respect this is a story which resonates with our own world and that makes this book an even stronger, more commercially viable, product as a result.

SPFBO 5 Semi-Finalist Review - The Blackbird and the Ghost by Hûw Steer

The Qwillery is pleased to announce our fifth and last Semi-Finalist: The Blackbird and the Ghost by Hûw Steer.

This also means that the following books have been eliminated:

Someday I'll Be Redeemed (The Chronicles of Lorrek 1) by Kelly Blanchard;

Fractions of Existence by J Lenni Dorner;

A Shard of Sea and Bone (Death of the Multiverse 1) by L.J. Engelmeier;

A Wizard's Dark Dominion (The Gods and Kinds Chronicles 1) by Lee H. Haywood;


Husk by D. P. Prior.

The Blackbird and the Ghost
Boiling Seas 1
June 2019
Trade Paperback and Kindle eBook, 308 pages

SPFBO 5 Semi-Finalist Review - The Blackbird and the Ghost by Hûw Steer
The Boiling Seas are the mariner’s bane – and the adventurer’s delight. The waters may be hot enough to warp wood and boil a hapless swimmer, but their scalding expanse is full of wonders. Strange islands lurk in the steamy mists, and stranger ruins hold ancient secrets, remnants of forgotten empires waiting for the bold… or lying in wait for the unwary.

On the Corpus Isles, gateway to the Boiling Seas, Tal Wenlock, the Blackbird, seeks a fortune of his own. The treasure he pursues could change the world – but he just wants to change a single life, and it’s not his own. To reach it, he’ll descend into the bowels of the earth and take ship on burning waters, brave dark streets and steal forbidden knowledge. He’ll lie, cheat, steal and fight – but he won’t get far alone. The ghosts of Tal’s past dog his every step – and one in particular keeps his knives sharp.

The Blackbird will need help to reach his goal… and he’ll need all his luck to get back home alive.

Qwill's Thoughts

The Blackbird and the Ghost relates the story of Tal Wenlock, a slightly magical tomb raider and amateur historian. Tal is not perfect but is bright, mostly good-natured, and sort of has a heart of gold. He knows he's flawed. He acknowledges he's a thief and more, but he has a very good reason for the personal quest he is now on.

Steer slowly unwinds the reason that Tal is looking for a particular treasure never giving away too much until the ultimate reveal. The worldbuilding is exceptional. Steer's descriptive powers are top notch. The reader gets a true sense of place whether on a sailing ship crossing the Boiling Seas, in a local bar in the town of Port Malice, or underground in a long buried palace. The descriptions never overwhelm the story which is driven by Tal and his search.

In addition to the inventive worldbuilding, Steer develops his main character well. You really get to know Tal Wenlock and start to get to know a character introduced later in the story who I hope we see more of. (No spoilers here.)

As a rule I don't like prologues but the prologue in The Blackbird and the Ghost did not bother me much to my amazement. It is a nice starting point to the story, invests the reader in Tal, is not too long, and does not give the ending away. Well done.

Steer ties up the main story with no cliff-hangers and with intimations of adventures to follow. The Blackbird and the Ghost is an exciting and well-paced novel with wonderful worldbuilding, a terrific main character, and a deeply engaging plot. You'll find that this is one of those books that is hard to put down.

SPFBO 5 Semi-Finalist Review - Our 4th Semi-Finalist

SPFBO 5 Semi-Finalist Review - Our 4th Semi-Finalist

It is my first year as an SPFBO judge, and I am so excited and honored to participate on Team Qwillery. I was tasked to read six books at least 30% or at least 50 pages. From there, I am to choose which book should continue on to the semi-finals. Choosing was a difficult task because the books are so different in style, age range, and subject content. I have including some brief content review and some information on the various books.

The following 5 books have been eliminated:

SPFBO 5 Semi-Finalist Review - Our 4th Semi-Finalist
by A.J. Ponder
Genre: Coming of Age Fantasy, YA, Fairy Tale Fantasy
Series/Standalone: Series - The Sylvalla Chronicles

This was a fun and quirky story. Set in the style of Terry Pratchett, the humor was great. It turns fantasy cliches on their head. Princess Sylvanna dreams of the life of high adventure and quests. It is pretty dull being a princess. We meet a cast of oddball characters and shenanigans. The writing is well done, although I got lost a few times in the multiple POV. It is a solid read, and I enjoyed it.

SPFBO 5 Semi-Finalist Review - Our 4th Semi-Finalist
The Dark Yule
by R.M. Callahan
Genre: Paranormal Suspense, UF
Series/Standalone: Series - Pumpkin Spice Tales

The Dark Yule is about a cat, specifically a Main Coon cat named Pumpkin Spice. Cats are not what they seem. They can see monsters, ghouls, and all the horrible creatures of the night that humans can not see. I loved this premise. I like to think that cats are actually like this and they battle the nefarious and evil. They basically just put up with us humans. It kind of fits if you have ever owned a cat. The characterization was fantastic. Pumpkin Spice is so cool, so proud and full of sass. Her adventure is dark and reminded me a bit of a Neil Gaiman book with Lovecraftian overtones.

SPFBO 5 Semi-Finalist Review - Our 4th Semi-Finalist
Love, Lies, and Hocus Pocus: Beginnings
by Lydia Sherrer
Genre: Humorous Fantasy, New Adult, YA, Supernatural Mystery
Series/Standalone: Series - The Lily Singer Adventures

This story is the adventures of Lily Singer, intrepid wizard not a witch.

Character-wise, Lily is stuffy and unsure of herself outside of magic. The first book is an adventure between Lily and Sebastian involving an old house, and ghosts. Sebastion is a witch, not a wizard, and in that, there is a bit of classicism as to what kind of magic is proper magic. This story was fluffy and fun, although the book as a whole was confusing. I was unsure how the various parts fit together as a single entity. It was more like short stories with a common set of characters and theme.

SPFBO 5 Semi-Finalist Review - Our 4th Semi-Finalist
Tooth Goblins
by Ash Teroid
Genre: Children's Sword & Sorcery
Series/Standalone: Standalone

Tooth Goblins is an original middle-grade fantasy story. It takes the legend of tooth Faires and turns it on its ear involving fairies, goblins, teenage boys, and a quest. The story was a lot of fun but lost me in some of the writing, and it dragged a bit.

SPFBO 5 Semi-Finalist Review - Our 4th Semi-Finalist
Alban's Choice
by Monica Zwikstra
Genre: Action & Adventure
Series/Standalone: Standalone

This story started strong, Zwikstra employed well-done worldbuilding and characterization. Alban and Rahan are strong characters put into a life-changing predicament. But as the story progressed, I became lost in the minor plot points. There was just too much to follow.

My Semi-Finalist Selection

Oblivion by Andy Blinston!

Rakkan Conquest 1
Falbury Publishing, November 1, 2018
Kindle eBook and Trade Paperback, 410 pages
Genre: Dark Fantasy, Greek & Roman Myth & Legend

SPFBO 5 Semi-Finalist Review - Our 4th Semi-Finalist
Darius wakes surrounded by blood. Most of his mind has been stolen, and the dark figure that took it wants the rest.

Caught in a raging war between the human empire and fiery rakkan invaders, he soon learns his fearsome powers have made him an enemy to both.

Unable to tell friend from foe, he must fight to escape a fate worse than death. His only helper is a mysterious female warrior who promises to restore him to former glory. But can she be trusted?

Is he ready to discover the horrifying truth of who he was, and why he's wanted?

If you like fantasy full of mystery and action, you’ll love this book.

Elizabeth's Review

Oblivion had me at the get-go. The opening scene is harrowing, and it sets the stage for the main protagonist's motivations throughout the story. Darius, the main character, is complicated. His memory has mostly disappeared. He does not know who he is or what he is capable of. The only thing he has is a traumatic memory of him as a child. Even though the "mind-wipe" can be tropey in most books, I found Blinston's use of the "mind-wipe" plot device interesting. Especially within the context of his created world. What would a great warrior do if he could not remember himself? This is especially true when set against other morally grey characters. Blinston kept the suspense and confusion as to what is right and correct for much of the novel.

One of the best parts of Oblivion is the supporting character of Lex. Often in dark fantasy, female characters can be written flatly. They can be the seductress or the crone. Or, they could be haughty and overly-harsh. I find this especially true in the Wheel of Time stories. Jordan had a difficult time writing female characters that didn't always pull their braids or fluff their skirts when angry. It gets old. Blinston did a good job with Lex. She is tough, as one would need to be tough existing in the Oblivion world, but she has broken parts of her that make her a more realistic character. It allows the audience the opportunity to understand her actions and her emotional plight. It gives her three dimensions when often women are written in two. I am looking forward to reading the next books in the series to see how her character develops. Her story was left on quite the cliffhanger, and if it plays out, can drastically change the path that she takes.

Darius, as the main protagonist, was solid. He isn't perfect. He makes some stupid decisions and behaves in childish ways occasionally through the story. I think the childish reactions to some situations were a good conscious choice on the author's part. Again, a character that is too much of one thing can ring flat. Darius has parts of him that are emotionally broken, much like Lex. This allows the reader to understand and empathize with his plight. Empathy makes this story work.

The villain of the story, Archimedes, is scary. Not, horror movie scary. But so dark and morally gray that his intentions, which are entirely logical and fine to him, shock and appall other characters in the story and by extension the reader. It is often that the scariest characters in books are ones that are entirely sure of their actions, even if those actions are horrendous. They don't think of themselves as the villain. They think themselves as the hero and act accordingly. Archimedes is like that. Although the reader does not understand the entirety of his actions until later in the book, the effects and consequences of disobedience to him are stark; he is too powerful not to obey.

The only slight detractor to this story was pacing. The story lulled in a few spots where Blinston was building backstory. This slowed down the pace significantly for me. The story picks up immediately, usually in the form of an action sequence, and moves the plot forward. But those lulls slowed the pacing down.

In conclusion, I enjoyed this story immensely. It is a great dark fantasy read up there with other notable works in the genre. Blinston left the story wide open for the next book, which is exciting. I want to know what is going to happen with the characters and look forward to reading the next one.

SPFBO 5 Interview: Clayton Snyder, author of River of Thieves

Please welcome Clayton Snyder to The Qwillery as part of the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off 5 Interviews. Clayton has submitted River of Thieves to SPFBO 5.

Follow the fate of all the entrants at

SPFBO 5 Interview: Clayton Snyder, author of River of Thieves

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

Clayton:  Never had a title. It was an awful piece about an angel who fell from heaven to hunt demons, but ended up captured by a man in the city, kept chained to a doghouse, and fed a steady diet of heroin.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Clayton:  Pantser. Outlines tend to burst into flame around me.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Clayton:  The middle. It gets all squishy.

TQDescribe River of Thieves using only 5 words.

Clayton:  Idiots on a questionable mission.

TQWhat inspired you to write River of Thieves?

Clayton:  That's a whole can of worms, but in short, I wanted to poke a little fun at the world, fantasy tropes, and certain ideas.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for River of Thieves.

Clayton:  The cover was done by Shayne Leighton.

TQIn River of Thieves who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Clayton:  Nenn. The book is from her point of view. Hardest was probably Cord. It's difficult to maintain that level of insanity without having him look incompetent.

TQDoes River of Thieves touch on any social issues?

Clayton:  A whole bushel of 'em.

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


"We were the worst kind of people. For the best reasons. We understood that, even if no one else did."

"As corpses go, Cord proved a constant thorn in my side."

TQWhat's next?

Clayton:  Currently working on the sequel, pieces for three anthologies, and have a novel due for release in October 2020.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Clayton:  Thank you for giving your time!

River of Thieves
Thieves' Lyric 1
April 2019
Kindle eBook and Trade Paperback, 324 pages

SPFBO 5 Interview: Clayton Snyder, author of River of Thieves
We were the worst kind of people. For the best reasons.

After a robbery gone horribly wrong, cursed thief Cord broadens his horizons and plans to execute the heist of a lifetime. With fellow thief and knife connoisseur Nenn in tow, the two build their ragtag crew to target the heart of the kingdom - Midian, the seat of tyrant King Anaxos Mane. As treachery, horrifying creatures of nightmare, and opposition bar their path at every turn, the gang must depend on skill - intellectual, martial, and magical - to deliver them an endless summer and keep them free from the clutches of evil despotism. If they don't sh*t the bed first.

About Clayton

SPFBO 5 Interview: Clayton Snyder, author of River of Thieves
Born in Michigan and moved to North Dakota, he's a full-time dabbler and part-time author, pursuing his dream of writing. He's been published in several small magazines, and maintains a blog, Nod.

In his free time, he yells at clouds and accidentally gets nominated for awards.

Website  ~  Facebook  ~  Twitter @claytonsnyder2

SPFBO 5 Interview: T.A. Frost, author of Up To The Throne

Please welcome T.A. Frost to The Qwillery as part of the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off 5 Interviews. Toby has submitted Up To The Throne to SPFBO 5.

Follow the fate of all the entrants at

SPFBO 5 Interview: T.A. Frost, author of Up To The Throne

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

T.A.:  Thank you! The first fiction I remember writing was a story about a time traveller, when I was 12. I wrote it in a small blue notebook from school. It was somewhere between H.G. Wells and Dr. Who, and featured illustrations by the author. It will never, ever see the light of day.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

T.A.:  A hybrid, I think. I know that I find plotting tricky, so I try to compensate by making a lot of notes. Know your weaknesses and all that!

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

T.A.:  Probably editing. As I've written more, I've become more confident in putting down a rough first draft and refining it in the editing stage. However, that does mean that the editing takes more work. Also, reading reviews can be nerve-racking, but perhaps waiting for them is even worse!

TQDescribe Up To The Throne using only 5 words.

T.A.:  Renaissance Revenge Becomes Unexpectedly Complicated!

TQWhat inspired you to write Up To The Throne?

T.A.:  A mixture of history, noir crime and real-world annoyance! The one thing that tipped me over the edge was seeing a bit of old artwork in a D&D manual and thinking "I'd like to write about someone like that". The end result is very different to the inspiration, but that picture gave me the little push that I needed.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for Up To The Throne.

T.A.:  It was made by Claire Peacey of Autumnsky, and I think it's absolutely beautiful. It shows Giulia, the lead character, walking towards an illegal boxing match at the docks. I think it does a great job of reflecting the mood of the novel.

TQIn Up To The Throne who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

T.A.:  The lead character, Giulia, was perhaps the easiest. She's nothing like me, but she has this clear, driven attitude, like a P.I. in a crime story, that's easy to write. A noblewoman, Tabitha Corvani, was the hardest. She's untrustworthy, insincere and yet weirdly admirable, and that was difficult to convey.

TQDoes Up To The Throne touch on any social issues?

T.A.:  Yes, perhaps inevitably. A lot of the characters are eccentrics, outcasts or people looked down upon as second-class. There's a subplot about the political expediency of persecution, and religious trouble is always brewing. That said, I didn't set out to preach a message: those issues arose naturally in the story and had to be treated with the gravity that they deserved.

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Up To The Throne.


“You owe someone for something?”

“Yes.” Giulia stood up. “I owe them for a lot. But they’re the ones who’re going to pay.”

TQWhat's next?

T.A.:  There will be a stand-alone sequel, named Blood Under Water, out in July 2019, and I hope to do a third book next year. Also, I'm working on a much longer epic fantasy quartet, and a series of light SF novels about a domestic robot reprogrammed as a spy.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

T.A.:  Thank you for interviewing me!

Up To The Throne
Dark Renaissance 1
December 2018
Kindle eBook and Trade Paperback, 531 pages

SPFBO 5 Interview: T.A. Frost, author of Up To The Throne
Revenge is never simple...

Giulia Degarno returns to the city-state of Pagalia with one intention: to kill the man who scarred her and left her for dead. But Publius Severra is no longer a mere criminal, and has risen to become a powerful politician - and perhaps the only man who can save Pagalia from anarchy. Now, as Severra stands poised to seize the throne. Giulia must choose between taking her revenge, and saving her home.

Up To The Throne is a dark fantasy novel set in a magically-enhanced Renaissance: a dangerous world of assassins, alchemists and flying machines. It is a world where artists and scholars cross paths with feuding nobles and clockwork monsters - and death is never far away.

About T.A. Frost

SPFBO 5 Interview: T.A. Frost, author of Up To The Throne
Toby Frost is the author of a wide range of Science Fiction and Fantasy.

The six Space Captain Smith novels, published by Myrmidon Books, are comedic space opera set in a barely-functional British Space Empire threatened by giant ants and enraged lemming-people. Expect daring adventure, space battles, excessive tea consumption and small talking horses. Think "Blackadder meets Flashman in space" and you've got the idea.

Toby's most recent novel is Up To The Throne, a dark story of intrigue and revenge set in a magically-enhanced Renaissance. It's the first book in a trilogy: the second and third stories will be out in 2019.

Straken, published by Black Library, is a military science fiction novel set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. Full of grim adventure and black humour, it and tells of Colonel Straken of the Imperial Guard. Colonel Straken's adventures continue in a number of short stories anthologised by Games Workshop.

Toby's website is at:
The Space Captain Smith site is:
More information on Up To The Throne can be found at:

SPFBO 5 Interview: Ashley Capes, author of The Fairy Wren

Please welcome Ashley Capes to The Qwillery as part of the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off 5 Interviews. Ashley has submitted The Fairy Wren to SPFBO 5.

Follow the fate of all the entrants at

SPFBO 5 Interview: Ashley Capes, author of The Fairy Wren

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

Ashley:  Thanks! It was a picture book quite reminiscent of "The Goonies" - I also illustrated it myself of course, sometime during primary school, so it was no masterpiece!

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Ashley:  Very much a hybrid - I often jot down certain important plot points first but then I like to let the story evolve as I'm writing it. Personally, if I'd written a lot of detail out first, I probably wouldn't enjoy the writing process as much, I reckon.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Ashley:  Perhaps fitting in all the things I want to have in any given story - I tend to include a heap of things and then have to pare it back, which can be a shame for me. Kinda related is when I imagine a story is going to have a certain tone/mood but as I write it things change and it's not how I first imagined it (though that's usually for the better in the end!)

TQDescribe your novel using only 5 words.

Ashley:  Small town supernatural :D

TQWhat inspired you to write your novel?

Ashley:  Probably a mixture of Haruki Murakami's 'The Wind Up Bird Chronicle' and my fascination with small towns and their secrets and maybe a desire to write something I'd still like many years later (so far so good on that last front).

TQPlease tell us about the cover for your novel.

Ashley:  This was done by the amazing Rebekah at Vivid Covers and I was so, so very happy with it - the cover depicts the Superb Fairywren, which plays a pivotal role in the magic of my story.

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

Ashley:  Paul, the MC was the easiest because I was going for that regular guy... with a little more snark than perhaps sense, and so that was fun. I found Alessandra (the Italian runaway) perhaps hardest because she has the language barrier but I really enjoyed researching her dialogue too.

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

Ashley:  This was tough as it's been a while since I've read over 'The Fairy Wren' but there's this short, kinda silly exchange on the phone that I still like, with Paul calling his barrister:

"I need some help, Lloyd. Dennis Maddocks is going to sue me for assaulting him.”

“Ah.” His tone became concerned. “And did you assault him?”

“With vigour, Lloyd.”

And I still like this short description too:

"When Jon finally stopped, it was by a sluggish stream that was more a murmur than any particular colour."

TQWhat's next?

Ashley:  I'm working on an Urban Fantasy and also the third in my steampunk/dystopia - trying to wrestle myself from one project to another actually :D It's hard to choose because I think to finish things (so the steampunk should be 'winning') but working on an Urban Fantasy is really fun for me as it's quite different from what I've been writing the last few years, which is Epic Fantasy. It's about one of Death's nephews and the trouble he gets into :)

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Ashley:  Thanks for the chance to talk about my stories!

The Fairy Wren
Close-Up Books, October 2014
Hardcover, Paperback and eBook, 238 pages

SPFBO 5 Interview: Ashley Capes, author of The Fairy Wren
From the moment a fairy wren drops his lost wedding ring at his feet, Paul realises there's more magic to the world than he thought...

When Paul Fischer receives a strange phone call asking for help, from a woman who might be his estranged wife Rachel, he's drawn into a mysterious search that threatens not only his struggling bookstore, but long-buried dreams too.

Unfortunately, the only help comes from a shady best friend, an Italian runaway and a strange blue fairy wren that seems to be trying to tell him something - yet the further he follows the clues it leaves the less sense the world seems to make. Is he on the verge of a magical, beautiful discovery or at the point of total disaster?

About Ashley

SPFBO 5 Interview: Ashley Capes, author of The Fairy Wren
Ashley is a poet, novelist and teacher living in Australia.

He teaches English, Media and Music Production, has played in a metal band, worked in an art gallery and slaved away at music retail. Aside from reading and writing, Ashley loves volleyball and Studio Ghibli – and Magnum PI, easily one of the greatest television shows ever made.

See poetry and fiction at

Twitter @Ash_Capes  ~  Goodreads

SPFBO 5 Interview: K.S. Marsden, author of The Shadow Rises

Please welcome K.S. Marsden to The Qwillery as part of the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off 5 Interviews. K.S. has submitted The Shadow Rises to SPFBO 5.

Follow the fate of all the entrants at

SPFBO 5 Interview: K.S. Marsden, author of The Shadow Rises

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

K.S.:  I've always been writing, and always been fascinated by witches, if you can believe the picture book I made as a kid!

My first published piece was this year's entry into SPFBO - The Shadow Rises (Witch-Hunter #1).

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

K.S.:  I definitely lean towards being a pantser. I like to plot a few key details, and then let the story come to life. I think it helps create more surprising twists; but on the downside - my characters don't always behave how I want them to.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

K.S.:  Finding time to write.

I have a full-time job, working for a horse feed company; a part-time job teaching people to ride; and then writing on top of it.

I've gotten into the pattern of writing during my dinner break, which gives me an hour a day when I'm reasonably focussed.

TQDescribe your novel using only 5 words.

K.S.:  Wicked witches and questionable heroes.

TQWhat inspired you to write The Shadow Rises?

K.S.:  Because of a long-running joke that all the women in our family are witches, I've always been fascinated with them. I loved all sorts of witch trivia and real history.

My novel started with the villain - the most powerful witch alive, magic without limits.

From there, I worked out who would stop them, and a whole alternate history of the Malleus Maleficarum Council fell into place.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for The Shadow Rises.

K.S.:  Oh, I love my cover. Beth from Sylermedia did the whole trilogy, a few years ago.

The first draft was a little more mainstream, with a woman and magical symbols on the cover; but I wanted something where you can't tell if it's the hero or villain, you can't tell if it's male or female. It could be anyone.

This has been carried on with the rest of the trilogy; and it's only the prequels where you have a clear-ish view of character's faces.

TQInThe Shadow Rises who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

K.S.:  That's a hard question. The easiest would be either Hunter's best friend and colleague, James Bennett; or his mother, Mrs Astley. Both of these have very strong personalities and almost write themselves. They both provide a lot of humour.

The hardest would probably be new colleague/love interest Sophie. She's the opposite, she's a cold-hearted bitch and it was often hard to keep her true to character, it was always very tempting to make her softer.

TQDoes The Shadow Rises touch on any social issues?

K.S.:  Not to be cliche, but there's a lot of pride and prejudice.

At the beginning of the book, everything is very clear-cut: witches are evil; witch-hunters are heroes.

As it progresses, things become murky. Yes, a lot of witches are evil, but the whole race is judged and persecuted on the actions of these extreme individuals.

The witch-hunters aren't always angels. Even the best in their ranks are blinded by generations of being told what is right.

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

“Finally she spoke with a forced scepticism, “So… if those girls are witches, and I was the sacrifice - what does that make you?”

“A witch-hunter.”

She raised a brow, “A witch-hunter named ‘Hunter’? How very original.”

Hunter sighed, “You’re a very pleasant , friendly character, aren’t you?”

TQWhat's next?

K.S.:  I have the newest prequel coming out on 1st July - Sophie: Witch-Hunter tells the story behind everyone's favourite cold-hearted bitch.

Later 2019, I will (hopefully) be releasing the third book in the Northern Witch series (where witches are good).

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

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

The Shadow Rises
Witch-Hunter 1
January 2013
eBook and Trade Paperback, 225 pages

SPFBO 5 Interview: K.S. Marsden, author of The Shadow Rises
When a new witch threat rises, only Hunter Astley can stop them…
In the face of dark magic and evil witches, a secret witch-hunting society works tirelessly to keep them at bay. The Malleus Maleficarum Council have strict rules and practises for eradicating magic.

Due to their work, witches have been almost forgotten, relegated to myth; but the rumours are starting to emerge of a new power that will throw the world into chaos.

As the only 7th generation witch-hunter, Hunter Astley is the best the MMC has to offer. With the help of his colleagues, it’s a race to track down this new threat and stop them… in any way he can.

Part one of the Witch-Hunter trilogy.
Free download from most ebook retailers.

About K.S.

SPFBO 5 Interview: K.S. Marsden, author of The Shadow Rises
Kelly S. Marsden grew up in Yorkshire, and there were two constants in her life - books and horses.

Graduating with an equine degree from Aberystwyth University, she has spent most of her life since trying to experience everything the horse world has to offer. She is currently settled into a Nutritionist role for a horse feed company in Doncaster, South Yorkshire.

She writes Fantasy stories part-time. Her first book, The Shadow Rises (Witch-Hunter #1), was published in January 2013, and she now has several successful series under her belt.

Visit her blog for book reviews and inanity:
The Northern Witch's Book Blog

Website  ~  Goodreads  ~  Twitter @ksmarsden  ~  Facebook

SPFBO 5 Interview: Marc Vun Kannon, author of Ghostkiller

Please welcome Marc Vun Kannon to The Qwillery as part of the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off 5 Interviews. Marc has submitted Ghostkiller to SPFBO 5.

Follow the fate of all the entrants at

SPFBO 5 Interview: Marc Vun Kannon, author of Ghostkiller

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

Marc:  The first thing I ever wrote was also the first I ever published, a novel called Unbinding the Stone. I had a couple of dreams one night, and when I described them to my wife, she said, "That sounds like it would make a good book." I had never taken a writing class, so I invented my own style of writing based on my experiences reading other books. I ended up writing it twice. The computer it was on crashed and I had no backups. I have no idea what the first version was like but I'm pretty sure it was awful.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Marc:  Very much a pantser. While I do occasionally have some ideas for where I want the story to go, the plot will develop in such a way that the meaning of the scene will be turned around or flipped over by the time I get there. I have something of a reflex, to never do what's been done before, so if I tried to outline, that would be something I'd seen before so I'd have to deviate from it anyway. None of my books look or sound alike.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Marc:  About writing itself, pacing and maneuvering large groups of people when they all contribute something to the story. For publishing in general, it's marketing the book. It may be strange to hear about a former philosophy major (not that one ever stops being a philosophy major) and a fantasy novelist but I don't handle abstractions very well. I need someone in front of me and a book in my hand to do it.

TQDescribe Ghostkiller using only 5 words.

Marc:  Urban supernatural apocalyptic horror mystery

TQWhat inspired you to write Ghostkiller?

Marc:  Lots of small things. A TV show called Phineas and Ferb had a running gag, where some adult would ask "Aren't you boys a bit young to..." I combined this with a book I was reading at the time, and got "Aren't you a bit young to be raising the dead?" I combined this with an idea I had about a sorcerer who dies while raising a demon, trapping the demon on this side. (This idea did not survive in this form so it's in no way a spoiler.) I thought I was writing a book about a man who kills ghosts for a living, until I got to chapter 2, and I realized that that was the normal part.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for Ghostkiller.

Marc:  I created the cover. It's a sword sticking through a coffin, which is how Ghostkillers do their work. That scene is in chapter one.

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

Marc:  Some of the smaller roles in the story are created with certain actors playing the role (what they call dreamcasting). Detective Kidd was created with Samuel L. Jackson in mind, while Oliver Cromwell was cast with Brian Cox, two excellent actors with distinctive voices. The hardest is the demon itself. It's a composite formed from three separate entities, none of whom are self-aware, and the demon itself isn't self-aware for most of the book. I was forced to write the intentionality of a creature with no intentions.

TQDoes Ghostkiller touch on any social issues?

Marc:  I wasn't trying to.

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


"Please don't say 'better luck next time.'"

"You use 'Que Sera Sera' as the ringtone for a medium?"

"Not the dinosaurs, Mr. Kidd, the sorcerers."

TQWhat's next?

Marc:  Currently I'm working on the fourth book in the series that began with Unbinding the Stone. I'm making it up as it goes along and there always seems to be more. The next thing I have coming out will be a story called 'Sleeping Dragon' in an anthology called Dangerous Damsels and Fatal Femmes. There's a magazine called Black Infinity which I have a series of short stories in, and I will have some of those coming out before the novel is done, but I haven't written them yet, so I don't know what they are.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Marc:  Thank you for having me.

March 4, 2017
Kindle eBook, 259 pages
   Also available in Trade Paperback

SPFBO 5 Interview: Marc Vun Kannon, author of Ghostkiller
John Smith rescues the dead, saving them from an eternity as powerless shades. He kills ghosts, adding their life force to his own meager supply, and sends the naked souls on to where they should have gone in the first place. He is the first of his kind, the oldest, the best, but that comes with a price. He has no other family, no other friends. He’s done a lot but forgotten more, and life has a way of reminding him he hasn’t seen it all.

Like today. A friend murdered, his ghost is haunting John and weakening rapidly. To save the ghost John needs the body, which is prowling around the city somewhere, mindlessly killing every living thing it touches, and even more toxic to Ghostkillers. A virus waiting to spread.

Fortunately John has human allies to capture the body, risking their lives so he doesn’t have to risk his soul. He has enough to deal with, when a medium discovers the presence of an evil spirit at the crime scene, and he follows that lead into disaster, as the spirit and the body are in the same place. But his allies have tracked the body, and they corner the body, just in time to…

…Watch it become possessed by the evil spirit, with powers of pain to go with the body’s deadly touch?

…Hear it grind out the word ‘kill’ while staring at John Smith?

…Know to the bottom of their souls that John will be only the first to be damned?

Definitely not one of his better days.

About Marc

SPFBO 5 Interview: Marc Vun Kannon, author of Ghostkiller
Marc Vun Kannon was born in Bethpage, Long Island. After surviving his teen age years, he entered Hofstra University. Five years later, he exited with a BA in philosophy and a wife. He still has both, but the wife is more useful. Since then he almost accumulated a PhD in philosophy and has acquired a second BA in Computer Science. After dabbling in fulfilling pursuits such as stock boy and gas station attendant, he found his spiritual home as a software support engineer, for CAMP Systems International. He feels that his real job is being a father to his three children, husband to his wife, and author to his books. He, and they, now reside in Wading River, Long Island, New York.

Facebook  ~  Twitter

SPFBO 5 Semi-Finalist Review - Lykaia by Sharon Van Orman

The Qwillery is pleased to announce our third Semi-Finalist: Lykaia by Sharon Van Orman.

This also means that the following books have been eliminated:

Heart of Dragons (Chronicles of Pelenor 1) by Meg Cowley;

The Pact by Adam Craig;

Bloodlight by Edward Nile;

Litany of Wrath by Levi Pfeiffer;


A Time of Turmoil (In the Eye of the Dragon 1) by N. M. Zoltack.

Sophia Katsaros 1
Lir Press, March 7, 2015
Kindle eBook and Trade Paperback, 292 pages

SPFBO 5 Semi-Finalist Review - Lykaia by Sharon Van Orman
"We are the terrors that hunt the night.And we have never been human"

In Greek mythology there’s a story of King Lykaonas of Arcadia and his fifty sons who were cursed by the father of the gods, Zeus, to become wolves. The very first Lycanthropes. Forensic pathologist, Sophia Katsaros, receives a cryptic phone call from Greece telling her that her brothers are missing and leaves to search for them. With the help of Illyanna, her brother’s girlfriend, Sophia examines the evidence but cannot accept a bizarre possibility: Has one or both of her brothers been transformed during the Lykaia, the ceremony where Man is said to become Wolf? Who is Marcus, a dark stranger that both repels and excites her? And what is the real story behind the 5000 year old curse of King Lykaonas?

Jenn's Review:

Lykaia is the first installment of the Sophia Katsaros fantasy series by Sharon Van Orman, and is the story of Dr. Sophia Katsaros, or Dr Kat as she is often called, and her search for her two missing brothers, Dimitri and Ciro. This search takes her from her job as a forensic scientist in America all the way to the homeland of her ancestors, Greece. Along the way Sophia discovers things about the world and about her family that she never could have imagined possible, things that challenge her belief in reality and go against everything she knows as a scientist.

The main plot of the story is Sophia’s search for her two missing brothers, but she quickly discovers that this might not be an ordinary missing persons case, that her brothers may have in fact have been taken or even killed by something that she can’t fathom, something that makes no sense to her as a serious and methodical doctor. Her brothers may be involved with werewolves. Sophia delves into local werewolf lore scientifically as she tries to disprove what her senses are telling her is true. She meets various characters that either helps or hinder her in her search for the truth. Most notably Illyanna, a girl her brother Ciro seems to have been involved with, and Meleanus, a strikingly handsome and extremely mysterious local resident.

The story alternates between present time and the distant past, showing the reader glimpses of how werewolves may have come to be and what this might have to do with the brothers disappearance. This is done in a way that is cohesive and organic. The characters are easy to relate too and exchange thoughtful and realistic dialogue. The pace of the story moves well, building to an epic cliff hanger at the end. Normally I am not a huge fan of book cliff hangers unless very well done, but in this instance it was wonderfully done, and definitely leaves the reading wanting to rush to read the second book in the series.

Lykaia is a fun and fast paced fantasy that any fan of werewolf stories can enjoy. I for one have already gotten the sequel, Erato, and am very happy that I did. The story continues exactly where Lykaia left off and instantly captures the reader’s interest, and is a wonderful novel in itself.
SPFBO 5 Interview: Stephanie BurgisSPFBO 5 - The Qwillery's FinalistSPFBO 5 Semi-Finalist Review - The Blackbird and the Ghost by Hûw Steer SPFBO 5 Semi-Finalist Review - Our 4th Semi-FinalistSPFBO 5 Interview: Clayton Snyder, author of River of ThievesSPFBO 5 Interview: T.A. Frost, author of Up To The ThroneSPFBO 5 Interview: Ashley Capes, author of The Fairy WrenSPFBO 5 Interview: K.S. Marsden, author of The Shadow RisesSPFBO 5 Interview: Marc Vun Kannon, author of GhostkillerSPFBO 5 Semi-Finalist Review - Lykaia by Sharon Van Orman

Report "The Qwillery"

Are you sure you want to report this post for ?