Beth Cato Interview, The Sequel, This Time It’s Personal!

You probably remember Beth Cato. I interviewed her in April for the release of Final Flight. Well, she’s back with another new release. Breath of Earth comes out August 23rd, and while you’re picking up a paperback copy of The Returned, (which comes out the same day) you should totally get Beth’s book too. I did convince her to bring something extra to the pub for this interview though. She’s promised to share the recipe for one of her amazing treats which earned her the (well-deserved) title of High-Priestess of Churromancy by Kevin Hearne.


So, another book. Already. Really? Are you just trying to make the rest of us look bad? Or is this a clever attempt to shame Patrick Rothfuss and/or George Martin to get the next book in their series out?

Ha! Well, we’re not talking about books here that are sizable enough to bash intruders over the head–and I’m pretty sure GRMM and Rothfuss books would be excellent for that purpose. In my case, Final Flight was a longer-length short story. Breath of Earth is a full 400-page novel. It’s in trade paperback, so it’s not that effective for head-bashing purposes… unless you buy a full box. Which I totally endorse.

Don’t sell yourself short. Book bashing is all ability technique. I once disarmed a group four ninjas with nothing buy a battered paperback copy of Nine Stories, true story. Moving on, Breath of Earth is a departure from your Clockwork Dagger series, was it hard abandoning turning away from the characters you created and got readers caring about?

This is where the whole space-time continuum of the publishing industry makes things weird. I actually wrote Breath of Earth three years ago, during the limbo time when I had a verbal book deal for Clockwork Dagger but not an actual contract yet. I then had to wait until Clockwork Dagger and its sequel were written and done before my agent could submit Breath of Earth to my publisher for consideration. Are you still following me? It messes with my head, too, because I have been hopping back and forth between these steampunk worlds for several years now.

Ah, the dangers of time travel. Been there, done that, am I right? Tell us a little about this new book. And will it become a new series, full of characters we grow to love who will then be abandoned by their author in favor or something new and shiny?

Breath of Earth does indeed kick off a new series, and I hope to stay with these characters for a few years more (HINT: buy this book so I can finish the series). This world features some heavy duty alt history: America and Japan are allied and in the process of taking over China. Magical creatures exist. Airships and advanced technology are powered by captured energy from earthquakes. My heroine, Ingrid Carmichael, is a clandestine geomancer. Women aren’t supposed to be geomancers. This complicates her life, especially when someone is trying to assassinate geomancers in San Francisco–and the fault lines emit waaaay too much energy for one person to hold in check.

You heard her, buy this book! Do it! Right now! And certainly not because she’s bribed me. So this story is set in 1906 California, what drew you to that era?

I’m a native Californian. I have experienced my fair share of earthquakes. As a historical fiction buff from an early age, the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire always fascinated me. When I was trying to figure out a new series to write, I realized no one had used that era and place for steampunk. I decided to take on the challenge.

Fire, mass devastation, crushed hopes (and people), what isn’t fascinating about that? No, I’m not moving away for any special reason. This is a historical fantasy novel, so how much did you keep to historical reality and how much did you make your own?

Even when I consciously twisted history, I tried to make it as accurate as possible. Same with my use of mythological creatures–I wanted to keep it as authentic as possible, relying on native sources wherever I could. This has been downright daunting. I have included a bibliography in the back of the book and also have it on my website because I really want to encourage people to delve deeper into the real history, especially when it comes to the Chinese immigrant experience in America. The amount of erasure on that subject is shameful.

A book with homework, interesting marketing idea. Is the rumor I made up about you and John Hodgeman being caught in a closet playing seven minutes in heaven at the Nebula awards true?

I’d never play any game in a closet during that particular block of time. That dinner was expensive, man. I wasn’t going to miss out on a single crumb!

Sorry, I just got the timing of the closet rendezvous wrong. Sorry, my bad. In your last interview you mentioned this book had geomancy and mythology. Care to expound? I know that interview was ssssoooooo long ago it might be hard to remember way back then.

Sure! Geomancy is earth magic. In Breath of Earth, such energy is released through earthquakes. The rare folks who are born as geomancers act as mediators with the earth. They take in energy and can stop earthquakes–but that power also quickly overwhelms the human body with a fever. They can overheat and die in minutes. The only way to release that contained power is to be in contact with a crystal called kermanite; it siphons the power and holds it for later use as a battery.
I bring in mythological creatures from around the world, too. Even fairies. (Yes, THAT spelling.) Garden pixies are common, and things like unicorns or pookas might be seen in use by rich men about the city. There are also major creatures called Hidden Ones–demi-god level beings that are either well hidden or extinct.

Since we’re friends, I’ll ignore that grievous spelling error. Name four of your favorite fictional characters, and you don’t get to pick Laura Ingalls, your Little House on the Prairie love is well documented.

I couldn’t choose Laura anyway–she was real! Let’s see. Raistlin Majere from Dragonlance, Hermione Granger, Flavia de Luce from Alan Bradley’s delightful mystery series (11-year-old girl who loves poison and investigating murders!), and Paks from Elizabeth Moon’s Paksenarrion series.

An excellent list! Just what I’d expect from a fellow awesome author. Speaking of which, I personally don’t really struggle with remaining humble while being so awesome, what about you?

I feed cookies to people and desperately hope said people will like me, so I think it’s safe to say I have difficulty accepting any kind of self-awesomeness.

Cookies are always a sure fire way to make friends, and a trait I would assuredly assign to the awesome. I’ll give you some pointers in awesome acceptance. Moving on, I’d ask what you’re reading but you’re probably too busy baking, working on your next three novels, six novellas, two screenplays, and cookbook to have time to read. Okay, fine, what are you reading right now?

A nonfiction tome about the Hawaiian Revolution and an old holiday baking issue of Cook’s Illustrated. And for the record, I have never written a screenplay. Publishing industry rejections are bad enough, I don’t even want to mess with Hollywood!

You heard her, Hollywood, she has no interest at all in you buying the movie and/or TV rights to her stories. Tell us about the main characters of your new book.

Ingrid Carmichael is a young woman of color and a geomancer. She keeps her magical prowess secret with the help of her adoptive father and mentor, Warden Sakaguchi, and works as a secretary for the Earth Wardens. She’s not happy being constrained in such a role.
Then there’s Cy. He’s a southern gentlemen and a mechanical genius with a few secrets of his own. His business partner is Fenris, an acerbic and likewise brilliant mechanic. Fenris is going to gain a large fan club following, and Lexie Dunne has already been declared president of this club. Send her your membership dues, folks.

I don’t know how loudly I’d proclaim Lexie’s interest in your book. Her sister is really the gifted judge of literary excellence. You went viral not just once, but twice (I’m not counting that unfortunate event while researching a 12 monkeys fan fiction story). Tell us about it? Was it as satisfying as we’re all told?

It is pretty cool when a tweet goes crazy like that, though it’s also maddening if you have alerts and sound effects set. My “most viral” experience was one of my #TwitterFiction stories last year, which you can see here: https://twitter.com/BethCato/status/598567939533471745
Maybe you can wield your inherent awesomeness and make it go viral again!

I make no promises. I must wield my inherent awesomeness judiciously. But if it happens, I reserve the right to take full credit. Alright, time to cough up a recipe! Hand it over and no one gets hurt!

Let’s do a recipe that YOU have actually eaten, Bishop! Chewy Honey Maple Cookies! These things are like crack. The smell alone drives people crazy.

Chewy Maple Honey Cookies6_sm

Originally posted on Bready or Not: http://www.bethcato.com/bready-or-not-chewy-honey-maple-cookies/

Honey and maple team up to create sweet and chewy cookies that last for days… unless you eat them all right away.

  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons maple flavor
  • 1 cup bread flour (or all-purpose flour, but cookies will be less chewy)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • maple sugar or turbinado sugar for the tops, optional

In a large bowl, beat the butter until smooth. Add the sugar and honey and beat until creamy and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and then mix in the egg, vanilla extract, and maple flavor.

In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients: bread flour, all-purpose flour, cornstarch, baking soda, and salt. Sift together.

Slowly stir together the wet and dry ingredients until just combined. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and stash in the fridge for several hours or days.

When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350-degrees. Use greased stoneware, parchment paper, or silpat mats. If you want to add some sparkle to the cookies, place some maple sugar or turbinado sugar in a saucer and dip in the tops of the dough balls. The cookie dough, even straight from the fridge, has a soft Play Doh-like consistency, so it will spread some when it bakes; keep this in mind when you space the cookie dough balls.

Teaspoon-sized cookies need to bake 9 to 12 minutes; Tablespoon-sized take 11 to 13 minutes. Let set on cookie sheets for 10 to 15 minutes before moving to a rack to cool completely.

Cookies will keep in a sealed container for at least a week. They are excellent for travel or shipping.

OM NOM NOM!


I can indeed vouch for the cracky-deliciousness of these cookies. Make them, make lots of them and I promise all who partake will forever follow you blindly*. Thanks, Beth. As always, a delight to have you, especially when you bring cookies. Breath of Earth is available right now, everywhere.

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AmazonB&NBAMGoogleiTunesKoboIndiebound

*Not an actual promise.

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Excerpt of The Returned

Are you one of those people who hasn’t picked up The Returned yet? Well, here is a little something to entice you. I’ve posted up the prologue (yes, it has one) and the first three chapters. You can find the link to them on the book’s page (the link above) or click on them each here. Happy reading, and because I know you’ll want to rush out and buy a copy to find out what happens next, here are the links.

Prologue Chapter 1Chapter 2Chapter 3

THE RETURNED_Small

HarperCollinsAmazonBarnes & NobleGoogle PlayiTunesKobo

 

#SFWAPRO

Happy Book Birthday, The Returned!

The day has arrived! Commence the epic fanfare!BanjoSloth

As of today, the ebook for The Returned is now available wherever ebooks are sold. Sadly, if you’re a strictly paperback kind of person, you’ll have to wait until August 23rd. To you I say be patient, the book is worth it. If I do say so myself. This marks the fourth book in the American Faerie Tale series, and I believe is my best work to date. For those of you who might’ve seen it labeled as book #3, that’s because Three Promises is book 2.5, since it wasn’t quite a full novel length.

I’m still a little dumbfounded that this is my fourth book in less than two years. I’m very proud of this book, of course I wouldn’t have put it out there if I wasn’t. The characters really do feeling like they’re coming into their own, and I’m feeling more confident in my skills as a writer. Don’t get me wrong, it was a lot of hard work. There were some moments of panic when a potential issue was found by my editor, which were resolved, but this story seemed to write itself. This is the first book where Wraith spends significant amounts of time with Edward & Caitlin, and I think all three grow from it.

Now, just for the readers of this blog, here are some nifty tidbits you might find interesting:

  1. Once again, The Doubleclicks let me license some lyrics from one of their songs. That song actually had a significant impact on the scene it’s used in.
  2. The leader of the Legion of Solomon, One, got his name because of a winner from last year’s Worldbuilders charity auction.
  3. Nearly all of the characters in the book are named after people I know, including some other Harper authors.
  4. The title has multiple meanings: the returned-those coming to the morgue for the second time, Caitlin & Edward returning as main characters, Wraith’s returned memories (yep, she’s still remembering).

I hope you enjoy the book. I know I enjoyed writing it. Watch this space, and/or on Twitter as I’ve got guest pieces and interviews that’ll be popping up all over the internet. Additionally, to celebrate The Returned, and my two year anniversary as a writer, I’ll be giving away copies of The Stolen, The Forgotten, and Three Promises.

Now what are you waiting for? The book won’t read itself!
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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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Guest Post – Auston Habershaw

I’ve been lucky in the authors I’ve met and have come to call my friends. Auston Habershaw is one of those. His name makes him sound like a Bond villain, but I’ve been assured this has never been proved in a court of law. He first stopped by about a year ago to talk about guilty pleasures when his debut novel, The Oldest Trick, came out. Auston is an eloquent and gifted writer, be it novels, short stories, or blog posts. Which of course means I hate him as only the truly envious can. I’m kidding of course (mostly). His second book, No Good Deed, comes out today. If it’s anything like his first, or his blog posts, or short stories, or, well, it’ll be awesome. Yep, hate him.
Anyway, he’s back to talk about, rather fittingly, writing a second novel.


For many young writers trying to break into the traditional publishing world, the primary focus is getting that first book deal, and with good reason—that deal represents the foot in the door, the start of the journey, the admission to the secret club with the secret handshakes and snake pit and what not. There’s a lot you learn while writing your first book (often the hard way), and there are huge amounts of good resources to advise you on what to expect on your way to that magical “yes” moment. I, however, want to spend some time talking to you about what comes after that.

Say you’ve gotten that book deal, published that first novel, and now your contract has you writing a second one for the same publisher. Or maybe your agent is there telling you what would be the best next move. Or maybe you’re just on your own again. The fact is, while everybody loves talking about how to deal with your first book, not at many people seem interested in telling you what goes on with your second. You’ve already got keys to the clubhouse, right? Why worry? Well, sadly it isn’t as easy as all that. Here’s a list of five things I learned while writing my second novel.

 

#1: Writing Every Novel Is Different

This is probably the worst thing I can tell you, but also what I think is the most true. The experience of writing one novel is not likely to be the same as writing any other. All that weeping and crying and grim determination you mustered in mastering that first book? Yeah, it’s coming back. Yes, you do learn from each book you write, and yes, you hopefully will improve as a writer, but you are almost guaranteed to get somewhere in the midst of your next book, face contorted in anguish, and yell KHAAAANNNN at the sky.

Thing is, though, that this is normal. It’s okay. I daresay it means you’re even doing it right. Novels are complicated beasts and, what’s more, they should be unique. You can’t and shouldn’t write the same book a million times in a row, so you shouldn’t expect the same experience every single time you do it.

 

#2: Editors Are Not Forever

If you’re anything like me, you expected your relationship with your editor to be something like when Butch met Sundance. “You and me,” the editor would say, with a steely glint in her eye, “are gonna take on the world, buddy!” and then we’d jump on our individual jet skis and fight ninjas with our laser axes.

Yeah. It ain’t like that.

My experience with my editors (note the plural) has been very good, mind you—no real complaints—but you are probably only one of their many, many authors all of whom they are trying desperately to give their attention to equally and all of whom are smothering them in a staggering workload. They are also human beings who have other things going on in their lives and sometimes that means leaving their job, or switching jobs, or going back to school, or whatever. And then there will be another editor there to take their place—hopefully every bit as professional and talented as the last one—and you will continue on with them. This is the nature of the business and it happens. It isn’t the end of the world.

 

#3: You Mean I Need To Worry About Word Count?!

When you are trying to get a book deal, you might think a bit about word count, but most of us probably just shrug and say “the story is going to be as long as it needs to be” and keep writing. In an ideal world, I suppose, this would be true—books should be as long or as short as prudent (assuming they’re well edited and not wasting our time or leaving us hanging). Unfortunately, once you’re under contract for another book, this isn’t the case anymore. The publisher wants a book that is between 90K and 100K words and no more and no less. That’s a binding document, buddy—a document you signed—so you’ve gotta do it now. And writing a novel with a word-count target is very hard. It’s a bit like shooting a tennis ball from a cannon and getting it to land in a trash barrel five miles away—it’s going to take a few tries.

The first draft of my second novel was 124,000 words. My editor needed it as far under 100K as possible, preferably closer to 90K. That meant I needed to cut 25-35 THOUSAND words from my complete, polished novel to make it fit. I lost a few years off my life there, let me tell you, but I did it (and am a much better editor of my own work as a result).

 

#4: Series Fatigue Is a Thing

When you start writing your series (and who doesn’t write a series these days, right?), you think you’re going to be writing that series forever and ever and ever. “It’ll have 9 books!” you’ll crow. Oh, my, what a glorious decade of book writing that will be! Ahahahahaha hahaha…hah..ha…heh…

 Gulp.

 Okay, so maybe that will happen—maybe the series will hit it big and you will write it forever and forever be known as the “space laser monkey lady” or whatever. Almost certainly not, though. And what’s more, you very probably will get tired of those same characters and that same world and that same story. I know it sounds crazy, but it is a very, very distinct possibility. Consider this: for every hour you spend reading your favorite series, the other probably spends a hundred hours writing it. Now, in a trilogy, that adds up to about three hundred hours of writing. Do you have many books that you would love to read for three hundred hours? Yeah, probably not. Sooner or later you, as a writer, will struggle with some heavy I’m-sick-of-this-shit-itis. You can get past it, but I’m telling you it’s coming.

 

#5: Writing Is a Calling, Not a Whim

For all the hard truths I’ve mentioned so far, though, there is one thing that is very, very worthwhile that you learn in that second book: writing is something that fulfills you on a level all other work does not. Even when it’s hard and you’re not making your word count and your editor has disappeared into the Sudan on a commando mission and you hate your stupid protagonist’s stupid face, you realize something: you’ve done this before, you can do it again, and, in the end, you will love having done it. That second book, and the conquest thereof, is a true rite of passage—plenty of people write one book, but authors write many. You are about to confirm what you’ve always known is true in your heart—you are an author, and this second book proves it wasn’t a fluke.

Press on. We’re with you. If you need me, I’ll be waiting by the snake pit.


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Cursed with a magic ring that forbids skullduggery, Tyvian Reldamar’s life of crime is sadly behind him. Now reduced to fencing moldy relics and wheedling favors from petty nobility, he’s pretty sure his life can’t get any worse.

That is until he hears that his old nemesis, Myreon Alafarr, has been framed for a crime she didn’t commit and turned to stone in a penitentiary garden. Somebody is trying to get his attention, and that somebody is playing a very high-stakes game that will draw Tyvian and his friends back to the city of his birth and right under the noses of the Defenders he’s been dodging for so long. And that isn’t even the worst part. The worst part is that the person pulling all the strings is none other than the most powerful sorceress in the West: Lyrelle Reldamar.

Tyvian’s own mother.

No Good Deed is available at all the usual places or you can read an excerpt here.
Harper Collins
Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Google Play
iBooks
You can also find Auston on his blog, Twitter, Facebook, or writing to his cousin.

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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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Guest Post: Daniel Potter

I’ve said before that one of the really great things about being an author is meeting other authors. Recently I met Dan Potter (no relation to Harry, I assume) who’s book cover (Off Leash) instantly caught my eye. Then I read the blurb:

Thomas Khatt had his life planned out. Not that it was all going according to plan. Unemployed, mostly broke, and living part-time with a absentee girlfriend, he thought his luck was bound to change soon. But after witnessing a terrible accident, Thomas experiences a very different kind of change, waking up with a tail, tawny fur and a disturbing urge to lick every mote of dust off his four feet! As if that wasn’t enough, magi are tripping all over themselves to auction him off to some pimply-faced apprentice as a familiar.

Armed only with sharp teeth and a sharper tongue, Thomas faces off against a lightning throwing granny, a sexy union recruiter and linoleum flooring as he desperately tries to hold the threads of his old life together. To stay off the leash, he’ll have to take advantage of the chaos caused by the local Archmagus’ death and help the Inquisition solve his murder. A pyromaniac squirrel, religious werewolves, and cat-hating cops all add to the pandemonium as Thomas attempts to become the first Freelance Familiar.

After that we started talking and I found out he’s also a pretty cool guy. As such, I’ve invited him to talk about writing. More specifically to talk about the his two writing weasels. I think there is sage wisdom in his words.


Deciding The Proper Use of Your Two Weasels

My second book has been sent to the editor. After a celebratory bout of buying myself a videogame and playing it till too-late-o’clock, I am confronted with something I haven’t dealt with for awhile: a blank page.  I’m an indie and I know what I should be doing. I need to write the next book in the Freelance Familiar series. I’ve done a bit of research on Las Vegas, the setting of this book, and I already have a title for it: Snake Eyes.

I have plenty of elements and ideas that could be used in the story, but I don’t actually have a clear idea of the story yet.  I have yet to make those decisions.

So I am staring at my metaphorical weasel hut where Bullet Point and Pantser are sleeping and trying to decide which one to wake up.

Pantser is the easy-going one of the pair. If I wake him up we could start immediately. Setting off with my characters, we would walk in the general direction of the ending and merrily wander to our destination while all my characters cling to his ears and whisper directions. The trouble is that Pantser likes to drink and loves the take nips of bad-idea whiskey when I’m not looking. Once he’s soused its wrong-plot-turn city and we end up having to backtrack our way out of dead ends. Even if we stay on track, Pantser loves procrastinating decisions by spending time frolicking in fields of purple navel-gazings and hunting expository mice. In short, relying on Pantser is a recipe for the book taking a long time to write.

Bullet Point is much more on task than his brother, but won’t go anywhere without a map. So we will have to spend a week or two or maybe an entire month making decisions about how to get to the end.  Every character will be given their arcs and told to get in formation. After all that planning, we set off on a writing journey that should be a direct jaunt through the narrative landscape. Then slowly things start to go horribly wrong.  Bullet Point is blind and deaf once his path has been set, so he can’t hear the wailings of a character that decides she doesn’t want to follow the map. Or he’ll blunder straight into narrative obstacles that I missed from my authorial tower. Only after all the characters are screaming bloody murder and weeping over their broken character arcs will I hear them from my perch and call Bullet Point back.  Then we’ll spend another week making a new plan.

Off Leash, my first book was entirely Pantser’s work. It took me about two years to write the first draft, but the work was very intermittent.  Rewrites required nearly two complete drafts and I changed the last third of the book entirely after the beta readers told me the ending needed work. I chucked probably 90-100K words into the trash.  Not exactly an efficient writing exercise.

Marking Territory, which was Bullet Point’s debut, by contrast took me eight and a half months of nearly constant work to finish the first draft, with approximately 60K words being tossed out.  Shorter than Off Leash to be sure, but man was it a constant slog to grind through Bullet Point’s map. He’d constantly get stuck and we’d have to spend weeks trying to figure out where we got it wrong.  Finally, unable to move forward with outlines, I dragged in Pantser to finish the last 20k words and get us all to ending.

Now that I’ve given both weasels a bath and pruned the manuscript, I can say that Marking Territory came out pretty dang good. It’s got a squirrel-piloted mecha, black magic sword, a were-moof, shape changing witches, and it’s all Thomas’ fault.  The process of molding it, however, is a story similar to that of a six-week family vacation in a van that burns oil and leaks coolant.

Unlike cars, each Weasel should get better with use. Still, I’m left with the question of which one to poke with this here stick so we can dig into Thomas’ next adventure.

Off Leash is available on amazon now (only $.99 this week), Marking Territory will be soon.OFF LEASH_cover smallMarkingTerritory_cover
You can also check out Dan at his webpage, here, or follow him on Twitter, here

 

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