Factory Girl: Interview with Stephen Palmer

Stephen Palmer is the author of fifteen novels, dabbling in a variety of genres from science fiction to slipstream, including steampunk, alternate history, and fantasy. He tells tales of the past-that-might-have-been, and the future-that-might-yet-be. His gripping and thought-provoking prose is both wildly creative and chillingly conceivable.

In the Factory Girl trilogy, Stephen Palmer brings us a meticulously constructed clockpunk alt-Edwardian world, full of bustling automata and a myriad of other tiny details. The story of Kora and Roka, different personalities of the same young woman, the ‘girl with two souls’, sweeps us along from England to Africa and back again in an intricate plot that centers on themes of identity and society.

The Girl With Two Souls, The Girl With One Friend, and The Girl With No Soul will be released today and throughout December 2019 in brand-new editions from Infinity Plus Press.

Amazon UK

Amazon USA

Find out more on Stephen’s website.

TGW2S Juliana preview
The new cover for the re-released edition of The Girl With Two Souls

Hi Stephen, thanks for joining me on the blog. Congratulations on the release of the new editions of the Factory Girl trilogy! Could you tell me a little about the cover changes?

The trilogy got some good reviews, which I and Keith Brooke – my outstanding editor, and the man behind Infinity Plus Books – were pleased with. But afterwards I felt it could maybe do more. Last year I met Tom and Nimue Brown at the Asylum Steampunk weekend, and on the Saturday I got to see more of Tom’s artwork. Tom has a unique style of creating images, which I immediately fell for. Nimue hand colours the art for their graphic novels – they are a fantastically talented pair. With both of them being fans of the trilogy (Nimue reviewed it for her Druidlife blog), it occurred to me that the trilogy could benefit from being re-jacketed. I floated the idea to Keith, and he agreed. In due course the arrangement was made with Tom and Nimue. I saw them in Stroud a few months ago, and we had an enjoyable chat in a pub. Lovely couple.

After a while I sent Tom a few descriptions and other suggestions, and he came up with the images this year, all three of which we loved.  Then it was a matter of firing up Photoshop to create the cover designs.

Identity is a key theme in the Factory Girl trilogy, as indeed with many of your other works, such as the excellent Beautiful Intelligence. What is it about this theme that fascinates you?

That’s a good question, a wise question. I’m going to have to think a bit about it. [Thinks for a few days…] Well, perhaps it’s because the main direction of my thinking life is the relationship between human beings and the real world, a relationship which, in my own life, has been conveyed by understanding. Understanding, for me, is the most fundamental aspect of individual and social life. It’s what motivates the majority of my life anyway. I think Kora’s need to understand the circumstances of her life is based in part on my own drive for meaning.

Human beings have two main ways to create meaning, including the meaning of other people, which is identity. We can create it ourselves from what we are told, or we can find it out from first principles. I would characterise the former as narcissistic and the latter as realistic. The former says: this is what I believe regardless of the real world. The latter says: I’ll test the real world, see what it tells me, then make a decision based on that. Most people form their identity from a blend of the two. They’ll be born and brought up in a particular culture, which they’ll adopt as the norm. But a lot of people will move on from that. I think this is why women in general are a better representation of humanity than men. Men take so much on faith. Women tend to communicate more, and better, which allows them to see themselves from other perspectives; and that’s a key to personal growth, I think, including for identity.

In Beautiful Intelligence this aspect of social life is more generally presented. Leonora is going for the individual, faith-based option via her AI, while Manfred decides to see what the BIs will tell him. His first scene, the cutting of the bonds between the nine BIs, is his answer to his thought process. Leonora by contrast has no idea what Zeug will do because she has imposed her own ideas onto it.

A lot of my work is about this split in human meaning and its relationship with identity. Even in my debut, Memory Seed, the priestesses of the Goddess realise at the end of the novel that their lives have been lived regardless of what the world was telling them. The story ‘First Temple’ in my recent collection Tales From The Spired Inn tells the same story in civic life. We cannot be saved. We have to save ourselves.

Your main protagonist is actually two characters in one: Kora and her ‘other soul’, Roka. What inspired her creation? Did you find you had to do a lot of research into subjects such as dissociative identity disorder to pull off this ambitious character?

About a year before I put the trilogy together I had an idea for a book title – The Girl With Two Souls. I don’t know why this title popped into my mind, unless it somehow represented ideas which interest me, and which are the philosophical theme of the trilogy: do human beings or other creatures and creations have a soul or spirit? Anyway, I wrote it down for future reference, as it seemed a particularly intriguing title for a novel. The year after, that title and the whole thematic template for the trilogy merged and came out in a single two hour splurge. I knew Kora was the girl with two souls, I knew she had one black African parent and one white British parent, and I knew she would alternate between Kora and some other character. Now, the strange thing is, this alternation of identity has been recorded in reality; there are some individuals with DID who alternate regularly, day by day. I was so astonished to read this that I remembered it much later, when it became the central aspect of Kora’s mental condition.

I did do a little research, but not much – just enough to make the grounding plausible. There are aspects of Kora which are my own invention, while other aspects are psychologically grounded. Also, I wanted to emphasise that the Edwardian society surrounding Kora would look at her from a Christian perspective, i.e. that she did have two souls within. There was very little understanding of mental conditions in those days – a theme of my WW1 novel Tommy Catkins. Freud, for instance, had in 1910 only been published for a couple of decades. So Kora is psychologically grounded, but also a person of my imagination.

I think this might be a good point to mention an aspect of the trilogy which some readers found perplexing, and that is the “second novel” which intertwines with the main one. This is Amy’s Garden by Reverend Carolus Dodgson. I can tell you that right from that opening splurge of ideas I knew Amy’s Garden had to be a central element of the trilogy. It is of course an alternate version of Alice In Wonderland – I’ve always loved that book, like millions of others. So I re-wrote it, using Dodgson’s love of logic in my own particular way, asking and answering questions about consciousness and the human condition. Amy’s Garden is a book Kora cannot live without. As she declares much later, it is her heart. I did everything I could to encapsulate in the smallest possible amount of prose, and as vividly as possible, ten central aspects of consciousness and the human condition: that is what Amy’s Garden is, over twelve brief chapters. Kora, lacking a steady identity, grasps at a deep level that the book speaks to her, which is why she carries it in her pocket and is never parted from it. And in Amy’s Garden itself I played with a kind of conceptual echo, since Amy herself carries a book in her pocket…

By the way, in Alice In Wonderland, Alice’s sister is not named, though some believe she is called Lorna. I called her Amy, and had Alice herself appear briefly part of the way through Amy’s Garden, alongside her parents. Now, in real life back in 2013, I knew two sisters called Amy and Alice, which is where Amy’s name came from. They were students at the college where I worked! I never told them, of course…

In your blog post ‘The Unemployment Problem’ you talk about your automata. Did you go through different models for employment in your world before settling on that one, or was it clear from the start which direction you wanted to go in?

The second line in my notebook from that two hour splurge says: touchstone, steampunk. I knew right away that I wanted to write a steampunk or steampunk-influenced work. So automata were the direction to go in. I think I was also influenced by a television documentary I watched presented by Professor Simon Schaffer called ‘Mechanical Marvels: Clockwork Dreams.’ This was broadcast in autumn 2013, and I remember being fascinated by it, as at the time I knew nothing about how complex automata were in historical times. I’ve watched it a couple of times since, it really is an amazing documentary.

I particularly liked the idea of automata being the slaves underpinning the British Empire, as so much of the wealth and power of that real era came from exploitation: of the working class, of people in colonial nations like India, and, in previous centuries, of actual slaves, like those taken from West African countries. Linking these automata slaves with Kora’s father and his Factory seemed the perfect connection to me, and made for some great plot twists!

The Clockwork Garden is amazing! How did the idea for this come about? And additionally, what is your personal favorite Factory Girl location?

How strange that you should mention the Clockwork Garden in that way! It so happens I can remember exactly how it came about – no coincidence, maybe. I was at the day job, out for a lunchtime stroll – this would be autumn 2013 – and was walking back to the college through a place in my home town of Shrewsbury called the Quarry, which is basically an old sandstone quarry now converted into a beautiful green park adjacent to the River Severn. By this time I was putting together all the details for the novel, prior to writing the first volume December 2013 – January 2014. As I looked out at the trees and bushes I had a sudden mental image of them all made in metal. From that single thought came the whole idea of the Clockwork Garden. I remember being pretty excited about this idea – I wrote it down in my notebook as soon as I got back, then, later, made it more sophisticated to include clues about the Factory and other details. I love it when inspiration strikes in this way. As I’ve written on my blog and at SFF Chronicles, I think authors should always listen to their subconscious. It’s where a lot of the important work happens.

I think my favourite location is probably Dr Spellman’s house in Sheffield. It was very important to me because it was the first safe location for Kora after she was sprung out of Bedlam Mental Hospital. My version of Bedlam was inspired by an actual mental hospital, you see, and Dr Spellman’s house is topographically almost identical to a house I know. Because in those first two chapters you don’t know for sure that Dr Spellman is a good man, I intuitively hit upon the idea of using a house I have fond memories of. The reader of course wouldn’t be aware of any of this, but it was important to me; it affected the tone of my writing. I wanted to write from a position of knowing deep down that Kora was safe, not in peril as she was inside Bedlam. This all sounds a bit odd, I know, but when I created the template for the trilogy it all came out of my subconscious in one go, which told me that the whole thing was ready formed in there and just waiting for the right moment to emerge. So it felt right that Dr Spellman’s house should link to my own memories in some way, giving it extra depth and an aura of safety. From that house, Kora is able to explore. It gives her a solid foundation. There’s a scene at the beginning where Dr Spellman is waiting for Roka, and he is sitting half asleep at the top of a staircase; that’s directly out of my own visual memories of this house.

You also have a new novel on the way, set in the Factory Girl world. Could you tell us a bit about The Conscientious Objector?

After writing the third volume of the trilogy I had a year off, as I’d done a lot of work, felt exhausted, and needed a rest. But, as I rested, I realised Erasmus Darwin had a tale yet to tell, so in December 2015 I began The Conscientious Objector, which takes place in 1914 – 1915 and tells of Erasmus’ reaction to the outbreak of what even then was called the Great War (i.e. World War 1). Erasmus of course loathes physical combat, as evinced by his reaction to being given a pistol by his Uncle Frank when Frank’s house is under siege in The Girl With One Friend. I realised that in WW1 he would by inclination be a pacifist, and perhaps even a conscientious objector, though that would be a very dangerous position for him to take. Conchies, as they were known, could be shot by firing squad. Many were. (My subsequent WW1 novel Tommy Catkins went deeper into this soldiers’ dilemma.)

I wanted Erasmus to have a female companion, so the other main character is Claudia Cooper, a strange woman of very mysterious origin. As I thought about these two characters and their relationship I decided to use the notion of early childhood memory, focusing on that point when we have our first recallable memories – usually around the age of three or four – but for Claudia blurring them into something indistinguishable from fantasy. As a consequence, much of the novel is Claudia and Erasmus delving deep into her origin via a most extraordinary special mission given to them by the British generals on the Western Front. The novel ends with a revelation which, of course, I couldn’t possibly divulge here, but which presents both Claudia and Erasmus with a life-threatening situation the like of which neither has ever encountered.

This novel, like the trilogy, also has a second book intertwined with it, which I wrote shortly after completing Amy’s Garden. It is Amy’s Adventures In Narkissos, a much darker work, as is suggested by the scene in The Girl With Two Souls where Kora, via the Amy doll, asks a question about it, to her immediate shame. This second Reverend Carolus Dodgson book details more of Amy’s world, asking questions of its reader about the role of selfishness (or more accurately narcissism) in their lives.

Do you have plans for more work in this setting?

No. It’s done and dusted. I’m terribly restless creatively, and I have two other alternate history fantasy/steampunk works finished or in preparation. But I do feel great warmth towards the Factory Girl trilogy, and I feel very lucky that Keith published it. He’s been a tremendous support to me. Many thanks for asking these great questions Juliana, I had fun answering them!

And thank you, Stephen, for sharing your insights on your work!

Find Stephen’s work on Amazon (see links above); other buying options including Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Smashwords available on the Infinity Plus website.

Juliana_The_Quarry
The Quarry in Shrewsbury, inspiration for Palmer’s Clockwork Garden

Necromorphosis: Interview with C.T. Grey

Finnish-born author C.T. Grey is an engineer and self-confessed information junkie with a serious addiction to science fiction and fantasy. Besides his own novels, Grey has also published a number of articles and blog posts on technology, science, politics, and a wide variety of other topics, both fact and fiction.

In First Interview, book 1 of the Necromorphosis series, Grey introduces us to a bleak and horrifying post-zombie-outbreak London, where a mutated virus has escaped government control and now runs rampant among the population. The novel comes with a twist, though: zombies are not the only supernatural creatures roaming London. And now the Damned, which include vampires, are threatened with exposure as the entire structure of society begins to fall apart.

Juliana: Hi C.T., and welcome. First Interview is a zombie novel with a unique approach — one of its main point of view characters is a vampire! How did you come up with the idea of mixing traditional fantasy elements like vampires and magic with a classic zombie outbreak tale?

CTG: Thank you Juliana. It is a good question. At the beginning the trilogy was just a short story that I posted in its entirety in the SFF Chronicles under a title of “A New Beginning…” It was story where Herbert Jackson faced Jane and end up as her dinner, as the story ends in the classical Jane’s line: “I’d like some red, please.

When I started to listen to Jane as my muse I was imagining a very different kind of story as I was admiring Bear Grylls and I wanted to put him as a character, which comes to rescue Jane from some tower in London. It would have been really romantic and somewhat a classical adventure. However it never happened as Jane led to a very different kind of survival story. 

I never wanted to write a classical zombie story or follow Kirkman in the niche market, as the whole turmoil with the zombie uprise is a background detail in the book. It is not the main thing. Jane’s survival story is and I wanted to make her extraordinary as those types get highlighted born in the times of conflict. 

You can read from between the lines that the story Jane tells to Henrik isn’t a normal journey. But it is the sort of case that Henrik would be normally investigating, but the deeper he ventures into the story that Jane is weaving, he starts to realise that everything isn’t as it should be. 

I wanted that to be the fantasy element, not just supernatural as that would be boring. I honestly wanted to write in all the places she has visited, things she has seen but wasn’t mentioned in the books, like for example: dryads, centaurs, elves and dragons. What I think is interesting is that to Henrik all of those things are magic. He doesn’t believe in any of them, because he was born skeptic. But over the course of the trilogy, his views change somewhat dramatically.

Juliana: I know you are a fan of a wide variety of science fiction and fantasy TV shows, which you review for the SFFChronicles.com. Did your eclectic approach to entertainment influence your choice to draw from both sides of the speculative coin, so to speak?

CTG: No. It never was my aim, but I do admit I might have been influenced by them. Thing is whatever you read, watch, see will get mixed in your mind and eventually spilled out on the paper. 

I started my own reading experience with Ursula Le Guin’s Tales from Earthsea and moved on to cover a number of classical masters like Asimov, Tolkien, Heinlein, Philip K Dick and so on. I read a lot and I still do, but these days I have the internet, so I don’t read as many books as I used to, but over the years I’ve never been just one type of guy.

If there is a fantasy creature in my stories, the chances are there are a number of others lurking at the background, ready to pop in the stage. I could claim that it’s like the case of Tove Janson’s Moomins, once you know they are real, they never go away and in the Moomin valley there are a large number of things that not present in the ‘real world,’ but we still do believe in there.

Therefore I cannot omit fantasy from a story, if the main character is already a fantasy creature. What I can and what I have done in the trilogy, is that I’ve rooted them into the realm of realism as much as I can. It just happens to be that after the Great Panic all these creatures start to pop all over the map. 

So, in the case of the Necromorphosis trilogy, nothing you’ll see is traditional. I mix … sometimes quite strongly science fiction into fantasy because both genres can offer so much more than restricting yourself to write yourself into the corner. The biggest SF thing I have is the Portal technology, but it is also funny, because the portals are in scientific terms pure fantasy.

Juliana: I have a confession — I’m terrified of zombies! But First Interview, despite the sometimes-graphic descriptions of gore, somehow eased me in and kept me from running away. A lot of this is probably down to your protagonist Jane, and her matter-of-fact manner of telling the story. Was this a conscious decision on your part — to give the reader some breathing space, so the horror wouldn’t be too overwhelming — or did this just occur naturally?

CTG: (Laughs) You are not the only one. Jeff Richards, who has edited the whole trilogy, confessed to me very early on that he absolutely hates the zombie tales. To him, you and a number of other people, who have read the book, have confessed the same thing. First Interview isn’t about the zombies, or what they do, when the apocalypse becomes real, because that tale is Jane’s tale and I doubt she would ever bore Henrik with a simple zombie story.

When you later on read the next book – From Exopolis to Necropolis – you will notice that the same effect that plagues AMC’s The Walking Dead plagues that story as it keeps moving away from shuffling horrors to a short of story that is close to Inception. And that move was as much intentional as it could be. The dead will remain as threat and as a reminder about what happened when the Day of Great Panic dawned in Jane’s Earth and it became apparent that there was no return to the world of yesterday.   

So to get Jeff to edit he had to love the story so much that he made me put it into various competitions with the Big 5 for over two and half years. When it became apparent to me that they liked it and saw something in it, but couldn’t invest money into it, I made a decision to publish it on my own.

Juliana: What challenges did your two main characters, the vampire Jane and Intelligence Analyst Henrik, bring? Who was the hardest one to write? And the easiest?

CTG: Henrik was the hardest. The simple reason is, he’s an invisible narrator in First Interview but his role grows much bigger later on. Because he was so vague I had harder time engaging him than Jane. Usually she’s much easier and more interesting thing to write than Henrik. With her you always know that you’re not going to have a boring moment. Instead you’ll get a chance to explore things that otherwise wouldn’t be possible. You could claim that Jane is sort of Super Heroine and you wouldn’t be wrong as that is almost what she is. With her being an over six and half centuries old vampire, you get a chance to explore world from a point-of-view that is far older than what you could do with a traditional human perspective.

She has seen history and met people since last mini ice-age and it shows in her narrative. With Henrik the case is different, as he studies things in the current timeframe rather than wallowing in the past, like Jane does sometimes.  

There are only a few Jane focused chapters that I struggled to write. Some of them especially so because I got so emotional with her struggles to cope with the world she didn’t wanted to bring around. Jane would have happily stayed in the shadows and continued living in a normal world that we experience everyday.  

Juliana: First Interview is full of high-octane action scenes. Do you have a system for writing these scenes? Do you work them out beforehand, in your mind or on paper, or do you just jump straight in?

CTG: I don’t plan them as I let the muse and flow bring them out, but each one of those battles has been written multiple times. In some cases Jeff has made me to rewrite them again. So you get multiple layers that over time became the scenes you see in the books. In First Interview there is a scene, where Jane is being targeted by a sniper. I wrote it probably ten times even though it is relatively simple thing to write. It is also a reference point that Henrik uses multiple times, because in his mind, nobody could have survived it. Jane, on the other hand, isn’t a nobody and her ending in it wouldn’t have made a very good book. (laughs)

With the choreography of the fights I have over a decade long experience as a game-master and making high-octane adventures for the top-class players. Believe me, they schooled me well on what’s an interesting fight and how it should go down. Although with the gamers what you expect to get isn’t ever going to happen, because their sole aim is to destroy you as a game-master. (laughs again)

So, with the fights I never aim to destroy my characters but to put them through fast-and-dirty fights where sometimes unbelievable things happens just like it is in the case of the real life. Although I have a chance to show those scenes to military people and ask their opinion on them, I tend utilize my service experience and stuff that I’ve gathered continuing talking and analyzing current fights in the world, before I bring them on the paper.   

Believe me it would be easier to write them if I didn’t knew anything about the art of warfare or how the battles turn out. In fact I’m glad that you can reflect those experience in the fiction and anchor them into the reality as much as I can. It also helps that every week, sometimes every day I write reviews on the stuff you see in the small screen or in the big one.

Juliana: Since your first language is Finnish, what were the key difficulties you had to face when working in English? And do you have any tips for other non-native-English writers?

Finnish and English are very different. Whilst Finnish might be easier language to write prose, it’s not the main language in our world. I write both fluently and out of those two, English is way much harder, because it has so many rules. Some things don’t make sense to even English Masters as they have to accept that things are the way they are. On the other hand I can easily bend the Finnish words and use them in completely different meaning altogether as the language flexes more around the speaker and the writer than what you can do with English language alone. So, it is a question of how much you can cope, and how well you can learn those rules to be able write in second language. As English is one of the main languages I try not to play with it as much I can do with my mother tongue.  

JulianaTalk to me about your cover! What are your favorite things about it? How closely did you work with the artist, Jackie Felix? 

CTG: The cover… Oh man, I don’t know where to start. Well, firstly, I wanted to show Jane and keep Henrik altogether, as Jane is the Main Character in the First Interview. Jackie did a fantastic job in bringing her and Sergeant Red out as a couple, as you can see them standing in the Interview Room 2, looking mighty grumpy. Through the book they are an item as much as Jane and Jaq is, but Jackie didn’t wanted to draw nasty dead in the streets of war torn London, hence you see them in the Interview scene. 

I chose Jackie, because she draws the best females characters in the industry and she isn’t afraid of showing them curvy or full of life. She also has an ability to draw from the darkness and apply that to the canvas. Jackie also managed to capture the feeling that their world is close to us but in some terms it’s more technologically advanced than our own. You see the eye of the Source (an AI) in the background watching everyone. So even in that you can get layers of the that only make complete sense once you have the knowledge.  

JulianaOn February 10th you’ll be releasing Book 2 of your series, From Exopolis to Necropolis. Can you give us any spoiler-free hints of what awaits Jane, Henrik, Jaq and Co.? Also, First Interview very briefly introduces deeper fantasy elements, such as magic, the teaser of more supernatural creatures lurking undercover, and the mysterious Underworld. Will you expand upon these in the sequel?

CTG: Yes, I’ve expanded them a great deal, as the reader gets to dive into the story that was hugely inspired by Nolan’s Inception movie. You’ll get to learn how the Necromorphis advanced in the streets of London. What role the Portals, the Exopolis and the collective of special people that the Authorities placed in the Moon has been doing since the dust from the Great Panic has settled. You also learn much more about Henrik and what he’s going to do when, after six months, he meets Jane in the Exopolis and one of the first things she asks is for him to become Mayor. 

At the background, you can expect that the war between the Damned and the Authorities is continuing. And for your delight there aren’t that many scenes involving the dead as there are in the First Interview. Instead of them you get to learn more about the mysterious Underworld, and what role it plays in the grand scheme of things. 

JulianaThank you CT for stopping by and answering my questions. And I love the cover of the new book, with art by Adam Burn!

From Exopolis to Necropolis is available for preorder from Amazon, and First Interview will soon be available at a special promotional price during the sequel’s pre-launch week.

Amazon UK

Amazon USA

The Empyreus Proof: an interview with Bryan Wigmore

TEP cover

If you like your fantasy novels to be gorgeously lyrical and lavishly unique, look no further than the Fire Stealers Sequence by Bryan Wigmore. The first in the series, The Goddess Project, was released in 2017 to great reviews. Snowbooks has just released the sequel, The Empyreus Proof.

Bryan’s complex storytelling takes us on a journey through a fascinating world of magic masquerading as science, where civilizations are poised on the brink of war, and the characters race to find the truth behind the lies they have been living before it is too late. The Empyreus Proof begins shortly after the end of the first novel and introduces new depths to the Fire Stealers mythology, besides broadening the reach of the saga. Bryan joins me on the blog to talk about writing, inspiration, and pesky opinionated otters.

Juliana: Hi Bryan, and welcome! How does it feel to have two books out of the nest and into the wild?

Bryan: Thanks, Juliana. It certainly gives me a bit of a glow to go to visit my Goodreads or Amazon page and see more than one cover there, like a real writer! Coming up to publication, I was a bit nervous about ‘second-book syndrome’, but from early reactions I seem to have avoided that, which is a relief.

Juliana: Talk to me about your stunning cover art. Did you have any say in the process?

Bryan: Yes, I worked quite closely with Emma Barnes of Snowbooks on the cover. I was originally trying to come up with something that suggested a journey, and a city (both the 1900-style one of Bismark, and the other world of the Shining Ones), but that proved way too ambitious. Almost in desperation, I thought of a lion-head door knocker, which both features in the book and links symbolically to other elements (a lion is one of the two Empyreal animals, for example). And when Emma found the brilliant photo and worked the design around it, I was absolutely thrilled with it. I still am.

Juliana: Which of your characters gives you the most trouble? And why? And who is the easiest to write?

Bryan: Probably the two I have to think most about are Orc and Geist. Geist is older and more experienced and impressive than I am, so I have to consciously embiggen my psyche when I write him. And Orc is sometimes difficult because he can be a bit nebulous, especially in this second book when his identity crisis deepens. Easiest without a doubt is Tashi. I just seem to fall into his character, and his viewpoint voice changes without my having to think about it. Surprisingly for someone brought up to suppress emotion, he seems to speak everything with so much feeling.

Juliana: I think one of the biggest themes in your work is identity, with characters struggling to find out who they are (quite literally in some cases) and what is their place in the world. Why the fascination with this issue?

Bryan: It probably comes from two sources. One is that (it seems to me) I didn’t develop a strong sense of identity as a teenager, the classic time for doing so. It’s still not as fully formed as I imagine other people’s to be. I suppose ever since I’ve been wondering if that is a good or bad thing, and what it might feel like to have a well-developed sense of self, or even whether other people have as much of one as I think. Plus, for a long time I was fascinated by questions of large-scale identity: where we come from, what our existence means (if anything) and so on. That explains why many of my characters have both things going on, to some extent: the personal identity issues and the existentialist ones. I am amazed more of them don’t go insane.

Juliana: Although I loved the novel, I was sorry that in The Empyreus Proof we didn’t get the amazing diving scenes from The Goddess Project. Do you aim to get Orc back into the sea eventually?

Bryan: Cass certainly gets back in the sea in the third book, and discovers things there that she really would rather not know. I do aim to get Orc back in the water, too, but the water might be fresh rather than salt. I’m happy there was a break, though – I loved writing the diving scenes, but the dramatic possibilities of freediving aren’t infinite, and I felt I’d come close to overdoing it in the first book. (Though readers have told me otherwise!)

Juliana: Your character Otter, an animath and one of the ‘Fire Stealers’, is easily a fan favorite. (He even has his own Twitter account (@fire_stealer) and can usually be lured online with generous offers of salmon.) The Fire Stealers have clear shamanic ties, but where did the inspiration for Otter in particular come from? Or did he spring ready-formed from your world’s ‘psychosphere’?

Bryan: No, he sprang ready-formed from my own shamanic exercises, though ‘my’ Otter doesn’t speak. Actually his voice came about when I was instant-messaging a friend over ten years ago. I started chatting as Otter, and his irreverent voice came naturally. I carried it over into the books.

Juliana: Where do Orc, Cass, and Co. go from here? Are there any spoiler free details you can give us for the next book in the series?

Bryan: The next book, The Mandala Praxis, largely takes place in a land that hasn’t been visited in either of the first two books, and the crew get involved in the resolutions of a decades-long plan to change the world. All six Fire Stealers will make an appearance, as well as two other, much larger animaths that are more powerful, and more dangerous to their humans, than any before.

Juliana: Are you working on anything else right now?

Bryan: Yes, in tandem with The Mandala Praxis, I’m writing Earthwyrms (which is probably the series name), a young adult novel about a group of teenage environmental activists battling a cabal of black magic users trying to poison the land’s energy matrix.

Juliana: Wow! That sounds amazing! So, what are some of the things that inspire your novels? Movies, music, books, art, places… anything goes!

Bryan: It seems to be split between Japanese games and anime, for example Final Fantasy VII and Fullmetal Alchemist, and non-fiction books. Three of the latter that have influenced the Fire Stealers series have been Camille Paglia’s Sexual Personae, Karl Theweleit’s Male Fantasies, and Ken Wilber’s Up From Eden. But I don’t think my books are as highbrow as theirs!

Juliana: One for fun — if you could spend a week in any of the locations in your Fire Stealers novels, what would you choose? And who or what would you bring along for company?

Bryan: From the two books so far, I think it must be the island in The Goddess Project. Ancient sites to explore, underwater ruins to freedive in, forests of maritime pines to wander in — it sounds ideal! I’d take Otter, of course, a couple of friends, and a robot butler to keep the picnic tables loaded.

Juliana: That sounds like a good choice. Of course, any place with Otter in it is bound to be entertaining… Bryan, thanks for sharing your answers, and congratulations on the new book!

 

Add The Empyreus Proof to Goodreads and find buying options here.

Follow Bryan on Twitter @Bryan_Wigmore.

By the Sword: a writer’s guide

After I’d written my first couple of drafts of Heart Blade, the first book in my Blade Hunt Chronicles series, I thought it would be cool to maybe watch some sword action in person. Luckily for me, I found out there’s a school not far from home that teaches Historical European Martial Arts, with emphasis on longsword. I went for a one-off lesson, and was quickly smitten.

My instructor at Laurel City Historical Fencing, Christopher Valli, has been an awesome source of inspiration and research for Blade Hunt sword scenes, as well as being kind enough to revise all of those scenes when I got to the editing stage of Heart Blade and Night Blade (out in November – shameless promo moment!).

My mistakes in that early draft of Heart Blade got me thinking about all those sword fights in fiction, many of which are probably wildly incorrect and highly cringe-worthy to experts. I tossed a few questions to Chris, and here are his answers…

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Juliana: What is the most common #swordfail in fiction?

Chris: The biggest pet peeve of mine is the idea that European swords, particularly two-handed swords like the bastard sword or longsword, are heavy and unwieldy. As you’ve seen, Juliana, the average longsword is 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 pounds and well balanced. Many authors and movie fight choreographers think of European swords as big heavy blunt objects, not the graceful weapons they are.

Juliana: Name a favorite book or movie where the sword techniques are accurate…

Chris: Well I may be a little biased as I was consulted, but I love the fight scenes in Heart Blade. I loved reading about a character practicing longsword using Joachim Meyer’s cutting square exercise; its one of our standard warm-up exercises at Laurel City Historical Fencing, and one I practice on my own regularly.

My favorite movie fight scene has to be the dueling sequence in The Princess Bride. I credit that movie as being a big influence on me, from playing with sword-shaped sticks as a kid, to starting to study Chinese swords and weapons through my teen years, to getting into HEMA in college.

Juliana: Which real life sword master do you find inspirational?

Chris: My favorite period sword master is Paulus Kal. Master Kal was a member of the Gesellschaft Liechtenauer, a group of sword masters in the German tradition. During the 15th century, Kal served Duke Ludwig IX of Bavaria as a sword and wrestling master, and also led a contingent of cannoneers in defense on a siege of the castle. He later went on to serve Archduke Sigismund of Austria (who by the way had one of the finest examples of Gothic armor!).

Over his career as a sword master, Paulus Kal left behind several manuscripts on the Liechtenauer tradition. His manuscripts covered the use of the longsword in and out of armor, sword and buckler (a small shield), large dueling shields, fighting on horseback, a duel between a man and woman, wrestling, and dagger. Copies of his manuscripts are still around today and I regularly reference them for our HEMA class.

Juliana: Please share three hot tips for writers planning on including swords in their work.

Chris: 1 – Research. Decide what kind of time period you’re looking at writing about, and what types of weapons would be used, then reach out to martial arts schools, fencing groups, reenactment groups to learn more about how the real sword would have handled. Maybe even try it out yourself! Take a class, try cutting some water bottles or tatami!
2 – Visualize the fight, make friends or family stand in and really imagine how a scene would play out.
3 – Remember, katanas aren’t magical items that can cut through anything!

Juliana: If you could own any fictional sword, which would you choose?

Chris: Amoracchius, one of the Swords of the Cross from Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series. In the lore of the Dresden universe, three swords were forged from the nails from the Cross and have been used over the centuries to defend against the forces of darkness. Amoracchius is the sword wielded by Michael Carpenter and is designed liked a medieval two-hander. The fact it can slay demons and vampires just makes it cooler!

Laurel City Historical Fencing is located in Winsted, CT, USA. You can find more information about Chris and Historical European Martial Arts at www.laurelcitysword.com, and watch demonstration videos on the school’s YouTube channel.

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Interviews!

I was interviewed by the awesome Gwendolyn Kiste about Heart Blade and writing. Interviews are so much fun, and I had a blast answering this one.

Check it out

And if you’d like to see other interviews, you can click here for my press page.

Note: If you’re a blogger or reviewer and are interested in Heart Blade, I’d love to hear from you! Please get in touch through my contact page.

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Just for fun: Lego Alex, Ash, Del and Camille. 

Juliana on Keystroke Medium LIVE

 

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Yesterday I was a guest on Keystroke Medium‘s LIVE! interview show, with hosts Josh Hayes and Scott Moon. I had so much fun chatting with Josh and Scott about writing, Young Adult fiction, and longswords! Keystroke has lots of terrific author interviews, and it’s well worth checking out their YouTube channel.

If you’d like to have a look at my interview, here’s the link:

LIVE! with Juliana Spink Mills

Keystroke Medium has partnered up with cover artist Tom Edwards to raise money for Parkinsons.org.uk. If you’d like more information on this fundraiser, have a look at the Facebook page: Covers for a Cure.

Also, for all you military science fiction fans, Scott has a brand new book out today!

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