Guest Post: Nancy K. Wallace

Nancy Wallace was my first writer friend. When I first got word from Harper Voyager that I’d been selected from their open call and offered a contract, I posted a comment on a thread on the HV website. I was told not to do that again, politely, and I did. Not everyone had been notified you see and they wanted to make a big, official announcement. As you might imagine, this single comment created a lot of buzz. More than 4500 people had been waiting for 18 months to hear, though the number was surely much smaller by then. Status updates didn’t come as often as any of us would’ve liked and my comment was something new. After that, I had to keep my head down. I answered questions as best I could without revealing anything more. Then I got a message from Nancy. She was also accepted and was told not to say anything yet. That was more than two years ago, and I’m proud to call Nancy a friend. Her first book, Among Wolves, is spectacular and I highly recommend checking it out. The sequel, Grim Tidings, is now available and I’m sure it will be just as good. To mark the release of the book, Nancy is here to talk villains, why we need them, and how hard they can be to write sometimes.


Why Must There Be Villains?

Anyone who knows me well knows that I avoid confrontation, violence, and just unpleasantness in general. Maybe it’s simply my nature or maybe it comes from having worked with children for almost 30 years but that fact is that sword wielding heroes pretty much turn me off. I am more hobbit-like in nature. I like a good cup of tea, a cozy fire, and a good story sans the gruesome details. I believe the Greeks had it right in confining violence off stage where it was hidden safe from sight.

And then, I found myself writing Grim Tidings, Book#2 in the Wolves of Llisé series. I’d left my readers with a cliff hanger at the end of Among Wolves; one that couldn’t be conveniently explained by divine intervention. I knew in my heart that my villain, René Forneaux, had to be really horrible if Book #2 was going to work. The first line of Book #2 gives a good idea that this book will be very different: “At dawn we discovered the first body.”

I found myself squeamishly dabbling at a difficult subject for me – the inherent evil of some people. I have always preferred to believe that everyone is essentially good, if somewhat misguided, and that most people can be swayed by finding common ground. But the farther I went into my story, the darker it became. It was very difficult for me to watch this happen, considering that I wasn’t able to read anything other than the first book of the Hunger Games because I was so traumatized by the violence!!

I had the most difficulty subjecting my original cast of characters to untold horrors, so I created some new ones. Oddly enough, I found the poor traumatized characters rising from the ashes like the Phoenix. I even added a character that I don’t believe I was capable of creating two years ago.

When my manuscript was returned to me with structural edits, there was, thank heavens, not much to change except that my editor felt my villains weren’t quite as villainous as they need to be – even after all my work!! So I tweaked. I made some things more graphic, or as graphic as I could bear to make them and I made René Forneaux a man who people wanted to kill. It made a difference and I learned an important lesson, too: without darkness, light is not so startling in its beauty.

Writing is a study of contrasts, of struggle, failure, and blessed resurrections. It pulls us out of our comfort zone and forces us to see the world as it really is, with all its sorrow, evil, and hurt. But as writers we can also offer beauty to mollify pain, and extend hope to assuage sorrow. That is the benefit of fantasy: in a place that doesn’t even exist, we can imagine ourselves as we might be at our very best!


Grim Tidings - Hi Res

Book two in the sumptuous Wolves of Llisé trilogy.
As the son of Llis’s ruler, Devin Roch knows its laws only too well. It’s a land where keeping historical records is forbidden. To do so would mean imprisonment or death.
Only bards may share the histories of their provinces, but Devin’s quest to learn from them ended in tragedy. His best friend Gaspard has been kidnapped, Master Bards are being murdered and whole communities are disappearing. Clearly someone doesn’t want Devin to know the true history of Llis.
With his guard Marcus and a wolf pack for protection, Devin sets out to discover the truth. But as terrible secrets come to light, Devin realizes that some knowledge can be deadly.

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Nancy K. Wallace loves chocolate, Christmas, and puppets! She collects fairytales and folklore and houses them in dozens of bookcases (alphabetically according to country). Her pets include four lovely cats, and an Arab mare named Ariel.  She lives with her husband in a 140 year old farmhouse named Chevonwyck. Fortunately, she has a family who is tolerant of her obsessions and excellent at proofreading! Nancy is the author of 19 children’s books plus The Wolves of Llisé series for new adults. She has reviewed YA literature for VOYA magazine for 20 years.
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Growing as a Writer, and a Person

In just a couple of weeks, July 12th to be exact, The Returned, will be released to the world. Surely you’re all aware of the date and are counting down with bated breath. This will mark my fourth published book in just under two years. I’m going to say that again because it’s still a little hard for me to believe. Fourth book. Published by a major publisher. Fourth book in two freaking years!

Ahhhhhh!!!
hobbes

Okay, sorry, where was I?

Despite the relatively short period of time, it feels like I’ve come quite a long way. The Returned is the first book whose outline survived until the very end. I admit, as a lifelong Panster—writes by the seat of my pants—I was worried the book would be too formulaic. It wasn’t. Wraith grows a lot as a person and a character, as do Caitlin and Edward, both in their relationship and as individuals. As release day approaches, I think about something I’ve heard other authors say; that it took them three or four books to feel as if they’d found their voice. It’s heartening to know I’m on a similar track.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of my other books, but I think The Returned is my best work to date, as it should be. That growth and improvement is something I strive for as a writer: to always be improving in my craft. I’ve recently started rewriting a book—the first novel I finished—and it’s remarkable to see how far I’ve come as a writer since finishing that book. It’s also more than a little embarrassing to think I sent that manuscript to agents, but we’re not going to talk about that.

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Yes, I’ve improved as a writer, but for me, being a better writer is inextricably tied to being a better person. Unfortunately, growth and improvement is never a singular, instantaneous event. It happens over a long period of time, sometimes so slow that, like the proverbial frog in the pot of slowly warming water, it goes entirely unnoticed until you have some context. When it happens, it can be embarrassing (see above, and we’re still not talking about it) but mostly it’s wonderful to see, clearly and starkly, just how much progress has been made. In this post I talked about how much I learned about the tropes and stereotypes I’d blindly fallen into and how I work to rise above them. I say work not achieved, because I still have a long way to go. This fact was brought into harsh relief as I was editing The Returned.

The hardest part about change, of any kind, is accepting and acknowledging things about yourself that need to be improved or, shudder, “fixed.” It’s a fact: sometimes we meet an asshole, and sometimes, we are the asshole. Very few people enjoy being the asshole, particularly when it’s not intentional. I certainly don’t, especially when it adds to the already massive pile of shit that marginalized groups have to deal with. I’ve worked hard to, for lack of a better term, check my privilege.

I’m a straight white male who grew up in the 80’s. Like a lot of kids, in elementary school I had a fairly diverse group of friends, but as I grew up and social structure became more central to life—junior high and high school—my group of friends became more homogenized. In short, the vast majority of my friends looked like me and had similar experiences in the world. I imagine it was the same for a lot of people. For me, my distorted view of the world was compounded by a father who, to put it mildly, was a less than a stellar role model in terms of minorities and women. But that excuse only works for the young. Those who are, for lack of a better term, trapped in their environment and unable to change their circumstances. As an adult, I’m responsible for my behavior. Yes, we’re all, everyone one of us, shaped by our pasts, and we carry those biases, preconceived notions, and judgements forward into adulthood. BUT—and this is a “but” of mythic proportions—while I might have a reason for why I have those blind spots, it’s not an excuse to do nothing about them. Some people may see wanting to improve yourself as apologizing for who you are. I don’t, and I’m not.

The problem, however, is that blind spots are by their definition not visible. As the old saying goes, “you don’t know what you don’t know.” Often, we only find learn about them when someone else points them out. It’s easy to see that as a personal attack. In some ways, it is, and justifiably so. After all, I’m being the asshole. I know it’s not the responsibility of the person calling me out to do so gently or kindly. Is anyone regularly patient and understanding with assholes? I’m not. So, it’s my responsibility to recognize that I’m at fault, and address said blind spot like a grown up. I’m not saying I always agree, though I do always try to see things from their point of view. I’m not even saying it’s enjoyable, it can be shameful and embarrassing. No, it’s not always easy, but then I’ve never felt the fear of creepy men following me while catcalling, of being been pulled over because of the color of my skin, of being  threatened because of who I love, or the anger of being seen as less because stairs aren’t a pathway but a barrier.

It’s good to keep some perspective.

After The Forgotten, I thought I’d come a long way in terms of checking my privilege and making sure my characters all had agency (influence on the story). Turns out, I still have a long way to go, and a hell of a lot of blind spots. My editor for The Returned was a woman and several years my junior. Much to her credit, she never failed to call me out when I needed it and I have the utmost respect for her because of that. I won’t lie, I was shamed by how many small things she pointed out. Not because of anything she did, but because I felt I should know better. I’m both amazed at how subtle changes can make a huge difference in terms of granting, or taking away agency, and humbled that I didn’t see before, something that is so obvious now. Want an example? I originally wrote a line of dialogue where one male character asks another male character where he is taking his wife on their honeymoon. My editor (whom I’m not naming only because I didn’t ask her permission first) said I should change it so the first character is asking the second where he and his wife are going on their honeymoon. That small change moved the wife from being someone who was being taken somewhere (no agency) to someone who was going somewhere (agency).

Yes, that change is small, and incredibly subtle, but it makes a massive difference. The small things are, by their nature, the hardest to see. As someone who hasn’t had people try to take my agency away from me, I don’t always recognize when I’m doing it to someone else.

Imagine what it would be like meeting someone who mispronounces your name, and continues to do so every single time they see you. It would get annoying but you’d probably write that person off as a jerk. Now, imagine that it’s the majority of people you meet who do that. And more than that, when you correct them, they roll their eyes and tell you to get over it, or worse, threaten violence. That is just the barest taste, of the faintest whisper, of what some have to deal with every single day.

I’m sure there are some who will say I’m being ridiculous and that this is political correctness run wild. While I will agree there are some cases where PC has gotten out of hand, I think for the most part it comes down to respect, and treating people how you want to be treated. You know, like we all learned in kindergarten: be nice and polite to others, and when you’ve done something wrong, including hurting someone’s feelings, say you’re sorry. Some lessons never stop being valid. Though sometimes it can take forty years, and writing four books to really appreciate them.

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D. Lieber Interview

I’ve talked before about how much of a struggle it can be to find an audience and get word out about your book. It’s even harder if you’re an indie author. I crossed paths with D. this year and spoke to her after a panel I was on. She impressed me enough that I decided to invite her here for an interview to ply her with ridiculous questions and maybe even talk about her upcoming book, Conjuring Zephyr, which comes out June 23rd.

First, welcome to the pub, D. What are you drinking?

Irish breakfast tea with two lumps of sugar and a little milk

Going easy, huh? Fair enough. Next question is an easy one. What is your biggest fear? As in utterly, entirely debilitating fear. The kind of thing that would send you into a whimpering fetal ball, and if someone knew about, would provide an excellent source for blackmail. Or, I suppose you could say what your protagonist’s biggest fear is instead.

Kai’s greatest fear is that others will discover she isn’t as confident as she pretends to be. Mentally, she is sure she can fulfill her quest while not giving her true identity away. But even when a person is absolutely sure, societal consensus affects everyone. The entire world as she knows it says what she’s trying to do is impossible. Going against that, anyone would have doubts. Of course, on the hiding her sex front, she’s completely in over her head. She walks in thinking she is totally prepared, and she is so wrong. In life, I find situations of forced spontaneity, where you have been thrown into the unknown and nothing is what you thought it would, have the most possibilities of unexpected happiness. But, if Kai is going to accomplish her quest, she must be bold and confident to convince herself and others. If someone else was to discover that it’s all bravado, would she have the strength to believe in herself?

That’s rhetorical, right? Cause I’m the one asking the questions here. Your book is set in an underground society. Are you intentionally aiming for the Morlock fans of fantasy, or is that just a happy coincidence?

To be honest, I had to look up what a Morlock was. The setting came to me very early on in the writing process, but it was only as a means to an end. The concept of rebuilding after an apocalypse was perfect, because it gave me a chance to explore how a small group of modern humans might reorder society if given the chance. The fact that these humans were led by scientists provided a magnifying glass into scientific culture, particularly examining why I think science is stuck. Though if I had to choose a book that made me love the underground setting, I would say Journey to the Center of the Earth.

Normally I’d criticize your lack of knowledge about H.G. Wells, but you pulled out the Jules Verne card, so it’s all good. You’ve said there is some “adult content” in your book. Are you at all concerned that addressing topics like choosing a good life insurance plan, applying for a mortgage, and managing your 401k will turn off some younger readers?

This question made me laugh aloud. Yes, there is adult content. There are tons of adult readers who read young adult books, because they have fun storylines and don’t take a lot of effort to enjoy. You work all day, and you just want to read for enjoyment, but that War and Peace on your shelf is pretty intimidating. My writing style is at a young adult reading level, and I think younger readers would really enjoy my story. That’s why I always give a disclaimer. Readers are good at self-censorship. If someone feels uncomfortable, he or she will just put down the book. While that may be the case, I don’t want anyone to feel unprepared. The primary drive of the story is the fantasy aspect, but there’s also a love story, a real love story not the censored, practically platonic love stories of young adult fiction. The adult content is important, and not just so readers feel the relationship is real. We live in a society where sex is either something we whisper about, like it’s shameful, or something that’s used to entice consumers out of their money. Why is that? Every person living is the product of a sexual act, so why do we treat it like it’s not a part of everyday life? I’m as affected as anyone else, so I wanted to challenge myself and my readers to see sex for what it is: normal and natural.

For the record, I was the product of immaculate conception, but let’s move on. Okay, here’s a serious question, probably the only one. Cowboy Bebop, best anime series ever, right?

I haven’t watched that one, because I don’t like the animation style. But, I’ve heard good things. I love anime. It’s common for me to spend an entire weekend sitting on the floor in front of my television, trying to get through a whole series on Crunchyroll or Hulu. It’s interesting to me how some people sneer at reverse harem stories (a female protagonist and many male characters), but they don’t even blink at harem stories (a male protagonist and many female characters). I wonder what that says about us as a society. One of my beta readers told me he thought Conjuring Zephyr was a story about every woman’s fantasy. I laughed at how little he knows about women. I would say it’s only human to want others to find you attractive. However, do women (or men) really want all their friends to declare love to them? I don’t think so. Quite honestly, I think it would be horrifying. These are people you care about. Why would you want them all to love you in that way? How bad would you feel to reject someone you care about, but don’t want to be with? On the other hand, there are situations in Conjuring Zephyr where Kai is sexually responsive to people she may or may not be in love with. Again, that happens in real life too. Man, real life is messy. Conjuring Zephyr has just enough messiness to be believable, but none of those dangling loose ends that life so often leaves us. In any case, I love reverse harem stories. I think my favorite reverse harem anime is probably Ouran High School Host Club.  I love how clueless Haruhi is. She’s so smart and so oblivious at the same time. If you have ever seen a reverse harem anime, you will recognize a lot of the character archetypes in Conjuring Zephyr.

Let’s pretend I’m familiar with those particular anime series and move on. Your main character in the book disguises herself as a boy to enter a prestigious all-male magical university. Was this a way to subtly (or perhaps not so subtly) speak to gender roles in modern society?

I don’t think I was subtle at all. However, I don’t force social commentary down my readers’ throats. It’s there, but it’s under a healthy dose of storyline and character development. Terrenus is a society where men and women are not even close to equal. While I feel modern society can be like that, I also feel we have come a long way. Terrenus is extreme, but there are still people who have strict gender-role lines today. Women are still dealing with having to prove that they are equal in intelligence to men, and men are struggling to live in a world where they aren’t afforded the luxury of openly feeling human emotions. Our society is a wreck. I would love to think we’re all trying to do our part to make it better for future generations, but I know that isn’t the case. Still, for those who care, it’s important to talk about these issues. Writers have always been key players in societal change. Even sweetened with entertainment, we all have to do our part to make people think, question, and learn. In Conjuring Zephyr, Kai is fighting strict gender-role guidelines. While the rules have been that way for a long time, Terrenus is in a time of flux, which is why some characters are more accepting of Kai’s presence. But really, it’s the male characters who are pushing the limits. Each male character is unique, proving that there isn’t just one way to be a man. Our society puts a lot of pressure on men to be strong and brave. They are told to look and act a certain way, just like women are. My male characters show how courage and strength come in many shapes and sizes, and I hope modern men will feel more comfortable loving themselves. I also hope they see that reaching down to pull women up to an equal level is in everyone’s best interest.

That was a well worded response, so I have no witty retort. Next question, heads or tails?

I always choose tails.

Sorry it was heads, mostly because it was a two-headed coin. However I’ll remember your answer should a coin toss ever come up again. What are your thoughts on tofu and its role in the slow degradation of civilization?

I love your questions. They keep me on my toes. Tofu is one of those foods I want to like, but I just can’t force myself. I’m gagging just thinking about it. Yeah, yeah, it’s supposedly good for you and has been around for centuries. I would love to visit Japan one day. I almost applied for a job in Tokyo a few months ago. I hear it’s lovely, and the people are really nice. But I would starve to death. As for its role in the slow degradation of civilization, it’s definitely got an evil agenda. Everyone should prepare for the worst. Beware of anyone who says he or she likes tofu. They’re already under its influence.

I’m glad to see there are others out there who recognize the existential threat tofu poses to us all! Gelatinous cubes of fermented evil. On a lighter now, what kind of research did you do for this book? For example, did you take a trip to the Artic to see what it would be like to experience an ice age?

Most of my research for this book was in physics. With any sci-fi/fantasy story, you have to establish laws of physics. While you can pretty much make up whatever you want, you do have to be consistent. There were devices I wanted to have, but I had to figure out how they worked. Of course, I also had to think about what kinds of things an underground society would need, and how I would provide those necessities. I was nearly bashing my head against the wall trying to get the light generator to work. With some help from my husband and younger brother, who are both total physics nerds, I managed to satisfy even their pedantic standards.

Sounds like the Arctic trip might’ve been easier, but who am I to judge? What three books (aside from mine of course because that’s just a given) would you take with you if you had to live underground? And yes, you can also bring a book light.

Is there a handbook for how to survive underground? Because, that’s the first on my list. My favorite book is The Count of Monte Cristo, so that has to come with. My third choice is probably Pride and Prejudice, because I never get tired of reading it.

A pragmatist, I can respect that. I suggest The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, because, you know, Morlocks live underground and might provide some insight. Is this book a standalone or part of a series? I did say there was probably only one serious question.

As of right now, it’s a standalone. But, the end leaves a lot of room should I decide to revisit Terrenus.

Leaving room for a sequel, I didn’t realize you worked in Hollywood. What else are you working on?

I have two books in the editing phase right now. The Exiled Otherkin is pretty close to completion. It’s about a half-fae who is exiled from Faerie to the steampunk human realm. The protagonist, Ember, takes a dangerous job on an airship, and tries to maintain her apathy as a helpless and naive human follows her around. Faeries, pirates, and traveling players meet in this steampunk fantasy adventure as Ember tries to cope with feelings long forgotten and a past that pursues her while balancing new friends and lovers. Unlike Conjuring Zephyr, this world has complete equality of the sexes. Intended Bondmates is the other novel in editing, but it was just sent to my beta readers for first-time review. It’s about a society where fae and werewolves have signed a treaty to protect fae from vampires and werewolves from humans. Essentially, the fae magic werewolf territory into Faerie, so werewolves don’t have to worry about humans. In exchange, every werewolf pup is assigned one fae child to protect until the faeling grows into his or her full magic, since fae are vampires’ favorite snacks. Runa, a werewolf, is forced to return to the bondmate she had abandoned in light of tragic circumstances. The book revolves around her trying to keep him alive while rebuilding their relationship.

I’m very glad to see you spelled “faerie” correctly, 712 bonus points for that. Those sound intriguing, be sure to stop back by when they’re available.

D. writes stories she wants to read. Her love of the worlds of fiction led her to earn a Bachelor’s in English from Wright State University.
When she isn’t reading or writing, she’s probably hiking, crafting, watching anime, Korean television or old movies. She may also be getting her geek on while planning her next steampunk cosplay with friends.
She lives in Wisconsin with her husband (John), retired guide dog (Samwise) and cat (Yin).

You can preorder Conjuring Zephyr direct from the publisher here. On June 23rd the paperback and ebook will be available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Added bonus, if you preorder it now you can use the promo code PREORDER2016 to receive a 10% discount.

You can find D. at her website on Facebook, or Goodreads. Thanks for stopping by, D. and for keeping a sense of humor.

Conjuring Zephyr front cover Promo1 highres

Retreating underground to escape a devastating ice age, humans build a new society. When magic is discovered and harnessed for survival, the citizens of Terrenus establish theories and principles of how to use it.
Kai Stephenson is determined to prove magical principles aren’t set in stone. Having lost her younger brother in a tragic accident, she will ensure such accidents never harm anyone else. She enrolls at the most elite university to gain the knowledge she needs to achieve her goal. Overconfident that living as a boy at an all-boys university will only be a minor inconvenience, Kai is convinced her classmates will never discover that she’s a woman. After all, women aren’t capable of higher forms of magic, and her boyish figure certainly doesn’t hurt her disguise.
Hiding her true identity becomes a problem when her new friends start to awaken her repressed sexuality

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Beth Cato Interview

Beth Cato is a fellow Harper Voyager Impulse author, maker of deliciously evil treats, and a Nebula award nominee for her novella, “Wings of Sorrow and Bone”. Her latest story in her Clockwork Dagger world, Final Flight, came out April 26th. If you’re looking for exceptional story telling (Nebula nomination!!!) or you enjoy steampunk, you can’t go wrong. Beth was nice enough to stop by the pub and answer some questions.


Welcome, Beth. First question is easy. What are you drinking?

Right now, I am partaking of my afternoon brain-boost of Grape Crystal Light with Caffeine. In terms of harder stuff, I love a sweet apple cider, vodka mix, or even some scotch.

I suppose scotch is an acceptable substitute if you can’t find any decent Irish whiskey, but moving on. Your novella, Wings of Sorrow and Bone , was nominated for the Nebula. Have you come down from the high yet of that nomination?

Not really, no. It feels even more unreal after having read the other novella nominees. They are extraordinarily good. I’m the geek hanging out with the cool kids.

We’re all rooting for you, and just hope you don’t forget about your friends when you’re famous and we start crowding onto your finely tailored coattails. Speaking of fashion, your Clockwork Dagger series is set in the Steampunk genre, do you have a special love of Victorian era history, or is it the steampunk genre in and of itself? It’s the hats and goggles, isn’t it?

I do like a fine hat, no argument there! I love steampunk because of how it straddles lines of history, technology, and magic, but the ultimate love—the one behind everything—is for historical fiction. I was a hardcore Laura Ingalls Wilder fanatic as a kid, and loved reading about the Civil War and the pioneer west. Both of my steampunk series (Clockwork Dagger and my new one, starting with Breath of Earth) are inspired by or set in the Edwardian period. I guess I like writing my steampunk mixed with some dieselpunk.

Sure, I can totally see how Little House on the Prairie can lead someone to a love for Steampunk… Anyhoo, your “Bready or Not” series on your blog is a compendium of delicious sweets and treats. Tell the truth, your cakes, cookies, and such are all part of a nefarious plan to take over the world, right?

You figured me out, Bishop. That’s actually a kinder motivation than I am usually afforded. My husband takes most of the goodies to his work, where his peers have accused me of trying to murder them with diabetes.

Your victory will be sweet indeed, and if you need a character witness I can be bought for a regular supply of cookies. Delving into your books, the protagonist of the Clockwork Dagger books is Octavia, a healer. Most fans of RPGs and other games usually see the healer as a support character. What made you want to put one front and center? Did you have any pitfalls along the way you had to deal with?

I wanted to make a healer my protagonist for that very reason. I always favored the healers/white wizards/priestesses when I played RPGs. I always wanted to see that character class as a main character in novels, and it just doesn’t happen. Healers are seen as weak–a convenience to keep the burly heroes alive–but best kept out of the action. That’s because there are some understandable pitfalls in writing that kind of character, especially if they tend toward nonviolence as Octavia does. How do they stay alive when people are trying to kill them? How do they fight back? How do they cope with the emotional aftermath? I had to strike the right balance, granting Octavia strength, savviness, and agency, even as she ardently believes in the sanctity of life.

That was a great answer, and I have no witty retort, so I’ll change topics. White chocolate: delicious treat or confectionary abomination?

Delicious treat for sure! It’s fabulous paired in cookies with macadamia nuts, and it’s a miracle shortcut in creating super-easy microwave fudge. It lends such smoothness when it’s melted down and mixed into dough. White chocolate deserves a lot more respect.

Mad respect for the white chocolate. Do you have any rituals when it comes to writing (music, quiet, wearing lucky socks, eating churros) or do you just sit and let the magic happen?

I don’t hold many rituals when it comes to my writing (beyond the standard blood sacrifices). I really need to be in my office, at my desk, with peace and quiet. My cat is usually snoring in her Amazon box nearby. I’m not one of those people who can tote around a laptop and write in coffee shops or wherever. That would be a nightmare scenario for me!

Do you prefer goats or chickens? Never mind, another time. How much planning do you do for a new book? Do you take endless notes and outline, or do you wing it and let the story unfold as you write it? Or something in between?

I’m a hardcore plotter. I create extensive outlines, and spend months and years researching. That’s been especially true with my new series, which takes place in an alternate history of 1906. My accumulated typed notes on Theodore Roosevelt alone are 8 pages, single-spaced, and I’ve read a few more books I should cull notes from.

On the topic of Teddy Roosevelt, what’s your favorite mythical creature?

Any sort of magical horse. Unicorn, pegasus, variations thereof.

Ah the majestic beauty of the fabled cornisus. So, Final Flight will be the third short format addition in this series. Do you find them easier to write than novels, or do the stories you’re telling just seem to fit in that range?

Final Flight is a long short story—about 8000 words. My two other Clockwork Dagger ebooks are The Deepest Poison, also a long short story, and my Nebula-nominated novella, Wings of Sorrow and Bone, which comes in at about 27,000-words. Wings is the only novella I have written and it was definitely an unnatural length for me to write. I’m used to doing either short stories or full-length novels!
That said, Final Flight was an excruciating story to write. I had a hard time getting into Captain Hue’s head and the story just didn’t click. Critique readers helped me immensely.

You just like saying “Nebula-nominated novella” don’t you? Can’t blame you, the alliteration alone makes it fun! What are you reading right now?

I just finished up another research book: Honor in the Dust: Theodore Roosevelt, War in the Philippines, and the Rise and Fall of America’s Imperial Dream by Gregg Jones. A fascinating read about an ignored and shameful part of American history.

It’s always nice when you enjoy your research materials. You live in Phoenix Arizona. During the month of August, what precautions do you take to keep from bursting into flames when you step outside?

Avoid going outside, or summon Mole People to burrow deep within the earth to grant me access to places.

Oh, Mole People Uber is the best, isn’t it! They always bring those little bottles of water and are so friendly! For the fans of the Clockwork Dagger series, will there be any more stories in it?

Final Flight is the last one planned for now, but I’m totally game to write more stories and books in the world!

Anything else on the horizon we should know about and go preorder right this very minute so we don’t miss out when it’s released?

Yes! Breath of Earth! It’s out on August 23rd. Geomancy and mythological creatures in 1906 California. It’s dark, intense, and I hope, somewhat educational about what really happened in history.

I look forward to checking it out. Thanks so much for stopping by and good luck in your plans of world conquest through diabetes induced homicide. Beth Cato is the author of the Clockwork Dagger series from Harper Voyager, which includes her Nebula-nominated novella WINGS OF SORROW AND BONE. Her newest novel is BREATH OF EARTH. She’s a Hanford, California native transplanted to the Arizona desert, where she lives with her husband, son, and requisite cat. Follow her at BethCato.com and on Twitter at @BethCato.

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Nebula Nomination and Facing the Green-Eyed Monster

Recently, The Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) announced the nominees for the 2015 Nebula award here. For those who don’t know, the Nebula and Hugo awards are usually considered the most prestigious awards for writers of science fiction and fantasy. The Hugo is like the People’s Choice award, in that it’s nominated and voted on by anyone who purchases a membership to WorldCon. The Nebula awards are more like the Academy Awards (Oscars). It’s nominated, voted on, and presented by SFWA, an organization of professionals in the science fiction and fantasy world. The list of Nebula nominees this year is collection of incredible writing by a very diverse group of writers. It includes men, women, people of color, and LGBT authors. Check out the list, you’re sure to find some truly great reads there.I am not among the list of nominees, I had four pieces eligible which I talk about here. Do note however that the Hugo nomination process is open until 3/31. It goes without saying that I’m disappointed, but I’m not terribly surprised. Don’t get me wrong, I think my work was solid and I’m well and truly proud of what I produced last year. But considering the caliber of writers who get nominations, not to mention that I’m new to the writing world and still largely unknown, I knew the odds. That being said, I’m proud to say that a fellow Impulse author (and maker of evilly delicious treats), Beth Cato, was nominated for her novella, Wings of Sorrow and Bone. I’m ridiculously happy for Beth and she absolutely deserves the nomination and, I believe, the award.This does however put me in a position I imagine a lot of people have been. I’m both happy for those who were nominated (yeah, Beth!) and also very jealous. Many people will say to get over it, that jealousy or envy is a terrible emotion and that you mustn’t let it consume you. While I agree with the latter part, I disagree about it being a terrible or negative emotion. I’m not sure there are purely negative or positive emotions. It’s really about what you do with them that defines not only them, but you. I could let my envy drive me to write a long and furious rant about how I was robbed, or snubbed for one reason or another, and deserve the nomination much more than so-and-so. But I don’t want to be that person. Really, does anyone? Okay, the internet is packed with people who clearly don’t mind, but I don’t want to be one of those people either.So what to do? For me, it’s simple. I’m going to use that emotion to become a better writer. One who writes better books, and try again next year, and the year after that, and the year after that if need be. If I want to win a Nebula or Hugo, then like getting published, all I can do is keep producing the best writing I can. Until then, I just need to remember that there are a lot of amazing writers who have never been nominated for a Nebula. So, I’m in good company. In the end, it isn’t what you feel about something that defines you, it’s how you react to it. You bet I’m jealous of the nominees, but I’m also happy for them because I know they are undoubtedly as excited about it as I would be if it were me. So I’ll cheer them all on, because if/when my time comes, I hope those who weren’t nominated will do that same for me.The lesson though isn’t just for me, or other writers. Everyone can relate to this. It might not be an award. Maybe someone else got a promotion you were hoping for. Or you didn’t get the job you really wanted. Or any one of a thousand other things where you didn’t get what you hoped for. You can envy those who did make it, but don’t let that green-eyed monster devour you. Put a saddle on that scaly beast and take it for a ride, cheering and applauding for those who did get a win. Be the person you hope others will be when it’s your turn.

Impostor Syndrome

John Scalzi wrote a really great piece about Impostor Syndrome and I think it’s something everyone should read if you ever questioned if you were a “real” anything. For myself, and other authors I know, this is a something we struggle with at times. For me, I think it’s in part due to how I landed my publishing deal (which I wrote about here), and also with my modest sales. He makes some important points in this, and gives a simple test. Do you write? If yes, then you’re a real writer.That’s helpful, but it might not always be enough. The way I deal with it is to look at what I’ve accomplished.
  1. I have three books (soon to be four) published with one of the biggest publishers in the world.
  2. I’m on my second contract with said publisher.
  3. I’ve been invited to conventions as a professional.
  4. I’m a member of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, which requires certain qualifications.

I’m also  have a group of fellow authors that I can talk with. We all keep each other sane (or less insane). But I’m also lucky in that I have a group of very good of friends (a whole family of them in fact) that couldn’t me more supportive. They’re always there to celebrate every success and regularly remind me how proud they are of me, and to be proud myself of what I’ve accomplished.

A Holiday Moment

This has been a pretty amazing year for me. This year I released two books, The Forgotten and Three Promises. I attended C2E2 (Chicago). I’ve done signings, and met lots of really cool people, including some authors I really admire: John Scalzi, Jim Butcher, and Patrick Rothfuss to name a few you might recognize. There are others you might not know, but it was just as cool meeting them: Kelley Grant, Alex Gordon, Lexie Dunne, and Harry Heckel. Though to be fair, I met those last two last year, but I did see them again this year. I was accepted into the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, and saw my group of Harper Voyager Impulse friends grow. Add to that, I’ve been invited to Emerald City Comic Con, RavenCon, and most recently to MidAmericaCon II (WorldCon). One of the most fulfilling things I did was participate in the WorldBuilders charity auction and fundraiser, which raised a staggering $1,275,170 (yes, MILLION) to help fight world hunger and poverty. My part was a small one, but the great thing about groups like that is that it only happens by countless small part players coming together. I hope to participate again, and if you helped along the way, thank you. You can read Pat’s thoughts on it here.

So yes, this has been a remarkable year. Much of it wouldn’t be possible without the readers who bought my books, and continue to buy them. So to you, all of you, I also say thank you. Every author, every artist, every person in fact, finds success in life because of one person. There just tend to be a lot of those one persons (yes, I know I that isn’t grammatically correct. Artistic license). I hope all of you also had a year filled with more smiles and laughs than tears. I hope this holiday season—no matter what you celebrate, or even if you celebrate nothing at all—is filled with joy and light, friends, family, love and hope. Thank you all. Every time one of you has bought one of my books, you’ve given me an amazing gift, you’re helping me live a dream. In fact, every book you buy does that for someone, somewhere. On behalf of us all, thank you, a thousand times thank you. Here’s to you, to us all, and to a brighter year ahead.

Cheers!

Eggnog

And to keep a tradition going, here’s a little music for you to enjoy.

New Author Adventures Interview: Nicole Peeler

I was lucky enough to join Nicole on a panel at the New York Comic Con in 2014 and we got to chatting a bit during out signing. When not a super cool writer, she’s and associate professor at Seaton Hall where she directs their MFA in Writing Popular Fiction. Her Jane True series follows Jane True (spoiler alert) as she deals with life as a selkie. Her most recent book, Jinn and Juice, is the first book in a series about a cursed jinni living in Pittsburgh. Dr. Peeler’s bio expressly states that she also lives in Pittsburgh, but is neither cursed, nor a jinni.

Welcome to the pub, Dr. Peeler. What are you drinking?

A Blood and Sand, sir. One of my favorites.

I have to say, that’s remarkably fitting.
Now, your bio says you live in Pittsburgh but are neither a jinni or cursed. Me thinks thou doth protest too much. Jinn and Juice is actually a cleverly disguised autobiography, isn’t it? It’s okay, I promise not to try and get any wishes out of you.

Ha! You’ve caught me. It’s all true. Although now I will have to kill you…

If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.
You graduated Magna Cum Laude from Boston U, and got your Ph.D. from the University of Edinburgh, right? Did you set out to make everyone of your students feel instantly inferior upon meeting you, or did that just happen as a happy coincidence? As a follow up, do you assign your own books as required reading, and are you open to bribes to assign other author’s books?

I don’t need my credentials to make students feel inferior as I have mastered the art of the Academic Stink Face. And I do not assign my own books, although I do have my students read one of my short stories. As for bribes, expensive whisky may get you somewhere. No promises though.

We’ll talk after this interview.
For the main character in your award winning Jane True series, you made her a selkie, a creature of Celtic myth that is a seal in the water and a human on the land. What inspired you to make this choice, a pretty wide divergence from the norm?

I knew I wanted to write a non-kickass heroine who could show how “normal” women are sill pretty kickass, even without ninja chopping enemies in the face. A selkie was perfect, obviously. Plus the myths are always super sad so she came with a built in backstory, which is always handy.

Convenient and profound all in one. Nicely done, Doctor.
Do you have any requirements for your writing process: silence, music, a foppish hat with a large feather, a team of contortionists performing an intricate tumbling routine, penguins serving you blue M&M’s, etc?

Nope. I’m a professional, son. I just git ‘er done.

And right now there is an author weeping into a bowl of blue M&M’s at being called unprofessional. *slides bowl of blue M&M’s away*
One would assume that being a professor, that you’re very structured in your writing. Is that the case? Do you outline meticulously, or are you a seat of your pants kind of writer?

I’m very structured, although I’ve learned to be less so as I’ve gotten more experienced. It’s funny, all the pantster friends I started out with have become more structured, and all us plotters have become less rigid. I think we all have to find our own personal sweet spot between productivity and creativity, especially if we’re writing popular fiction.

Excellent Buddha-esque answer.
You’ve been published now for about six years, is that right? What bits of wisdom would you share with new writers like myself?

Don’t take yourself too seriously; we’re all just storytellers. Social media is a quagmire and doesn’t make you a bestseller, unless you’re willing to continually stuff its insatiable maw with your own flesh. Instead of worrying about stuff you can’t control, keep writing. Listen to feedback; other people are your audience. That sort of thing.

I think that might be the best description of social media I’ve ever read. That really needs to be on a mug or something.
Does it annoy you to constantly be asked for advice?

Only when it’s really someone asking me to tell them “the secret” and they don’t want to hear that a lot of work is the secret.

Yeah…but we both know what the secret really is.
What would you say are the best parts of being a published author? Were any of those things the best part when you first were published, or has it changed over time? What would you say has been the single best moment thus far?

I still get a kick out of seeing my book on shelves, although the first time is really magical. And the biggest thrill has been becoming friends with people I really admire and have fangrrrled over. That’s rad.

I’m glad to know the excitement of seeing your book on a shelf doesn’t get old.
Your book, at least the Jane True books, have some incredibly steamy moments. Does your mother read your books?

Yes, AND she is super pervy about Anyan, especially. It’s horrible.

I’m so very sorry. Thanksgiving must be a delight for you.
Current favorite manly eyecandy?

Tom Hardy for sure. Mad Max was everything I’ve ever wanted in life.

Really? I liked him better as Handsome Bob in RocknRolla.
You’re an award winning author, seemingly respectable (I promise not to mention the burlesque knife routine); do you still geek out when meeting other authors, or have you reached a point where you see them all as colleagues?

OMG I still totally geek out, but within reason. I never want to lose my ability to get excited, you know? On the other hand, you do have to pull your shit together so you can actually talk to the person without humping their leg.

Whew, I’m glad I’m not the only one who ever—You were be facetious, weren’t you? Damn.
What is the best comment you’ve gotten from a fan (in person or electronic)?

“THESE BOOKS ARE JUST PORN.”

That still cracks me up, not least because if this person thinks my books are porn, I can’t imagine her reaction if she ever saw actual porn.

Please allow me to apologize on behalf on my grandmother for that.
You posted a blog piece debunking common myths about published writers (viewable here and worth a read). In it you talk about how much you enjoy teaching and that you wouldn’t want to give it up even if you did make crazy good money from your writing. How do you strike the balance between writing, day job, and a life in general?

I work really hard when I’m working, but I also prioritize taking care of myself and nurturing my relationships. If that means I can’t write four books a year, I’m fine with that. I’ve also gotten better at saying “no,” to myself as well as to others. I also have really great people in my life who forcibly remove my own head from my ass, if need be.

It takes a good friend to help in undoing a cranial-rectal-inversion.
You seem to be a big fan of Write or Die, what mode do you work on? It’s kamikaze, isn’t it?

Dude, Write or Die is the absolute BEST. I write all my books in it and can’t recommend it highly enough. And yes, obviously Kamikaze mode.

I’ll hold on to that answer in case you ever need to plead insanity at a trial.
What are your plans with the series? Anything in the works that might interest readers?

Right now I’m working on Something Completely Different. And world domination, naturally.

Well naturally and good luck to you on that, and thanks for stopping by, Grand Lord Peeler.

Nicole’s the author of truly excellent books including: Tempest Rising, Tracking the Tempest, Tempest’s Legacy, Eye of the Tempest, Tempest’s Fury, Tempest Reborn, Jinn and Juice, as well as short stories and novellas. You can find her online at her urban fantasy emporium.

 

Happy Birthday to The Stolen!

It was one year ago that my first book, The Stolen, was published. It was a momentous event for me, marking my entrance into the world of being a published author. At times it’s hard to believe it’s been a year already, and at others, it’s hard to believe it’s only been a year. It’s been a remarkable ride, with some remarkable moments. Winning the cover of the year on The Qwillery was exceedingly cool. Getting a slot on John Scalzi’s blog (Big Idea) is still very cool to think about. The Forgotten got a spot too, so I suppose I’m becoming an old hand at it, and I’m safe in saying Scalzi and I are total BFFs now (I’m kidding, John, don’t release the hounds!).

I’ve covered a lot of my journey in my “Adventures in Being a New Author” posts, so I won’t rehash that here. I’ll simply say this:
Thank you, fans and readers, for buying the book. Thank you for reading it, for reviewing it, and possibly even for telling others about it. I hope this is the first of many years as a writer, and I hope you enjoy the other books yet to come.
Now, have some cake (Scalzi, you can have pie, of course) and if you haven’t yet, buy a copy of The Stolen! In fact, celebrate and buy two or three copies! And if you’ve bought one already, buy another! You deserve it!

New Author Adventures Interview: Tim Lees

Tim Lees is a British native, recently moved to the US. He’s the author of two books: The God Hunter, and Devil In The Wires. Like me, he was plucked out of obscurity and hurled into a new kind of obscurity when Harper Voyager selected him from its open submission window.

Hi, Tim. Welcome. What are you drinking? Understand as a Brit, your choice of pint will heavily weigh my lasting opinion of you. No pressure.
Ginger lychee mojito, please. Thanks very much.

 I had no idea you were a bond villain.
Right then, moving on. In your books, the storyline revolves around the idea of harvesting the latent psychic energy left behind in ancient worship sites (and eventually the Gods themselves) and using to it create real power; electricity. However, your main character also deals with the daily grind of being a corporate underling; paperwork, inept supervisors, etc. Are you really just a socialist/communist/anarchist/botanist looking to convert others to your ideas in attempt to form an underground army with the plans to bring down the capitalist structure?
Yes. But I hide it well.

Do you? Or is it a clever ruse, and you’re writing this book in hopes of distracting others from your real goal of forming exactly the company in your stories that will one day rule the world with an iron-fisted control on the energy market?
You mean we don’t already?

Do you have an IPO planned?
Okay, now that the easy question is out of the way, here’s a really tough one, and don’t try dodging it. Manchester United, Arsenal, or Chelsea?
Absolutely.

Well played, sir. Well played.
Next question: science fiction has a long tradition of making social commentary; condemning wars, warning about the certainty of invading aliens who will destroy us if we don’t win the war against them, warning about the certainty of robots/AIs who rise up to destroy us if we don’t win the war against them, to life in a giant submarine would be awesome. Is there any deeper message to your books?
I don’t think you can have a book without some kind of deeper message, since its content is bound to reflect the author’s views and experience, whether he knows it or not. There are some deeper messages there – I could even suggest an allegorical reading for the last one, but I won’t, because it would sound really bad – but I don’t believe in preaching. I’d rather entertain people, and maybe make them think a bit. Let them come to their own conclusions.

I think I agree with you entirely. The entertaining makes the message easy to get across. What are your plans for the series? How many books are you thinking about?
 I have one more in my head at the moment, still a bit underdeveloped, but it’s coming along. I’m told HarperVoyager are keen to extend the series and, lo and behold! I am suddenly inspired to do the same! Amazing, isn’t it?

Absolutely remarkable coincidence! Such luck! Now, as a new author, what would you rate as the top three experiences thus far? Assuming of course getting the publishing deal and seeing your book in the flesh are numbers one and two.
 I’m not really a new author. I’ve published a lot of short stories, two collections, and the novel Frankenstein’s Prescription (Tartarus Press). But this is my first experience with a major publisher. My previous work was with the independent press, and the thing I learned there is that your exposure is likely to be limited. Some good reviews, but, unless you’re very lucky (or have lots of friends) not much in the way of sales. With a major publisher, you get noticed more. That said, my first book with them, The God Hunter, was a little slow to take off. (It’s doing pretty well now.) They got behind it and, after first asking my permission (yes, really) put the e-book version on special offer, just to get the whole thing going. I’m impressed; I had imagined that, in the tough world of big boys’ publishing, anything that immediately failed to make money would be junked. Not so, at least in this case.
The editing process has also been very important. It’s had me tearing my hair out at times, but I think my writing since has been stronger for going through that mill – knowing what to leave out, what to make clearer, and so forth. I may be busy crafting sentences and scenes, but the editor sees the book as a whole, and if it starts to flag at any point, she (in this case) can spot it where I may not.
I should say, the editing was mainly a matter of cutting. It hurt, but I’m in favor of it – if you can say the same thing in half the space, you’ll probably say it better.
I am also now entirely bald.

Ah, so you’re experiencing things from both sides. And I’m very sorry about the baldness, but the wig is excellent. Very natural looking….How do you deal with/react to bad reviews? If you have none yet, let me know and I’ll provide you with some.
The “bad” reviews I’ve had tend, I think, to be from people who are expecting something different. The God Hunter has a lot of comedy in it and the publisher’s blurb mentioned Pratchett and Gaiman’s Good Omens. So I got a thumbs down from a Pratchett fan for, well, not being Terry Pratchett. (I would like to assure everyone that I am not now, nor have I ever been, Terry Pratchett.) Someone put up an Amazon review of Devil in the Wires complaining that it was too gruesome and they were now desperately trying to forget it. But they gave it five stars, so I’m not sure if that’s a bad review or not.

Well, in fairness, I’d give you a thumbs down for not being Terry Pratchett as well. You’re a nice guy, but you clearly aren’t Sir Terry. But enough about your shortcomings in being Terry Pratchett. Your book almost straddles the line between science fiction and fantasy, the harnessing the power of Gods, but in a scientific society where there is no magic. Was the genre bending intentional? Or did it come about as a consequence of the story as it evolved?
Are you trying to suggest I don’t know what I’m doing?

No, of course not……

Actually, there are all sorts of things in there: comedy, horror, adventure, etc. But my notion was that, having thrown in something utterly fanciful, it should then be explored in a logical, “realistic” fashion. Note I put “realistic” in quotation marks.

So you’d call your book more magical realism, then. I think that’s a fair assessment.
If you could, what one author would you meet, and would you hug them or punch them? Understanding of course that this document could well be used against you in the future to show premeditation and intent, should charges be filed.
There is the old line about being wary of meeting your heroes. But if you fancy a punch-up, I’m game.

So then it’s someone you’d punch and you’re refusing to give a name for your own legal sake. Prudent choice. Do you feel the need to correct Americans who call it soccer?
We call it soccer, too, you know. There are two kinds of football (real football, I mean): rugby, or “rugger”, invented at Rugby School for the brutalization of the English upper class, and Association Football, or “soccer”. I’m not sure why that was invented, though there are rumors it began with a bunch of Anglo-Saxons kicking a Viking’s head around. That would certainly make the World Cup more interesting, anyway.

What’s not to love about a sport designed to physically assault the upper class? I think I heard that about soccer as well. You know, it would make the World Cup more interesting, and might even get some more Americans watching. Lastly, because I’m a philosophical kind of guy, if you could go back to any point in your life and give your younger self any single piece of advice, at what age would you meet yourself and what would you say? Or would you just mess with him and tell him he’s the only hope to turn back an alien/robot invasion that has decimated the human race?
Now, you know I’m not allowed to talk about the alien invasion. That would be like discussing my superpowers or my secret identity, wouldn’t it? And please don’t call me “Clark” in public any more. You know it embarrasses me.

I’m very sorry, Bruce.


 

Thanks, Tim, it’s been fun. *give secret handshake* Good luck on your books and/or plans for corporate domination of the energy market.

Tim’s books are available in paperback or ebook pretty much everywhere. They really are excellent stories with an interesting story line. If you’re looking for a thriller with great dry humor, you’ll love these books. You can also find out more about Tim and send him adoring fan mail via his website https://timlees.wordpress.com/

“It’s a perfect circle, Chris. The god receives his audience, the grid receives the power—and we light up Chicago.”

After the perilous retrieval of a long-dormant god from Iraq, Chris Copeland—professional god hunter and company troubleshooter—is about ready to quit his job. But his employers at the Registry have other plans…plans to build a power facility on the shores of Lake Michigan. Adam Shailer, a rising star at the Registry, thinks he can cage the god, drain its energy, and power the city.
It’s Chris’s job to make sure nothing goes wrong. And at first, everything seems fine. Great, even. But when ecstatic devotees start leaving human sacrifices on the beach near the god-house, it quickly becomes clear that the god is not as contained as the Registry would have everyone believe. The devil’s in the wires, and there’s no turning back now.

Devil