Saturday Sweethearts: page and screen darlings

I started watching Season 1 of MTV’s Teen Wolf this week because #curious, and because I’m twelve years old inside (I’m always telling people that and somehow they never believe me!). I may already be hooked on the show (okay, I’m hooked), and it’s mostly because of Dylan O’Brien’s work as ‘Stiles’ Stilinski.

His character is sweet and funny, and is responsible for some absolutely laugh out loud moments. Seriously. It’s been a while since I’ve actually laughed out loud at a show like that (and yes, I know it’s technically a drama or something, but STILES!).

Me being me, and a writer-type person, I’ve been trying to pick apart what I find so appealing about his character, and of course that made me think about other funny, sweet, and slightly quirky characters who brighten up the stories they live in. Here are some of my page-and-screen favorites.

Leo Valdez (Heroes of Olympus series, Rick Riordan)

I’m a huge fan of Riordan’s work (my kids know I get first dibs on all the new books) and he has a lot of fantastic characters. But Leo’s been one of my faves since he first waltzed onto the page in The Lost Hero. He’s intelligent, talented, and fiercely loyal. He’s also a wise-cracking prankster who uses humor as a shield and a weapon, and who broke my heart over and over for doggedly keeping going with a smile while feeling small and ignored inside. SERIES SPOILER: a quiet and heartfelt thank you to Rick for series ending reasons.

Luna Lovegood (Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling)

There’s no writing about sweet and quirky without mentioning Luna. She’s practically the poster child for it, and my top HP character too. Like Leo, she’s fiercely loyal to her friends. And also like Leo, she keeps on going with a smile even if inside she must be sad and lonely – because seriously, the amount of bullying and derision she comes up against in the series is gut-wrenching. But Luna remains true to Luna, and she refuses to bow to peer pressure and convention, remaining an adorable ray of sunshine. She IS her name: ethereal and moonstruck, blessed with a huge heart and lots of love to give.

Waldo Butters (The Dresden Files, Jim Butcher)

I love Butters. He makes me smile every single time he appears. He started out geekily sweet and earnest, equal parts terrified and fascinated by Harry Dresden and the supernatural world. He’s grown since then, maturing and becoming more powerful and at ease, but he’s still essentially Butters and he still makes me smile. Also, have you READ Skin Game? (Been there, bought the t-shirt. Literally. See photo below.) Go, Butters!

Verity Price (InCryptid series, Seanan McGuire)

Verity isn’t the sidekick or wacky best friend – the usual suspects for this sort of character description. She’s the Big Main Character. But she definitely falls under the banner of sweet, funny, and quirky. She cracks me up with her running commentary on everything from ballroom dancing to her sex life. (What?! I can like characters with sex lives. Just because I have Leo and Luna on my list doesn’t mean I’m ACTUALLY twelve.) She’s also a darling who would do anything to save her friends. And although she’s a kick-ass warrior with a weapons collection to rival that of many fictional assassins, she still manages to get herself into situations that are as hilarious as they are dangerous.

Francisco ‘Cisco’ Ramon (The Flash, CW)

Cisco cracks me up. It’s that sweet and slightly dorky grin of achievement every time he comes up with a new name for a villain. It’s that adorable never-give-up optimism of his. It’s his insistence at playing fashion designer for every hero on Flash and Arrow, and being so incredibly proud of his costumes. It’s…pretty much everything about one of my fave characters on a show FULL of fave characters. (I love them all. I want to hug them all and buy them puppies.) Cisco is such a nice guy, it actually breaks my heart a little whenever he has a sad or frowny moment. (And then I want to buy him MORE puppies.)

‘Stiles’ Stilinsky (Teen Wolf, MTV)

The new kid on my list. He’s supposed to be the sidekick, but in Season 1 at least, he steals the show. (“Why is it starting to feel like you’re Batman and I’m Robin? I don’t wanna be Robin all the time!” S1E3) His one-liners are hilarious, and so is his brain-mouth-disconnect-blurt-everything-out style dialogue, but it goes beyond that. He’s extremely loyal, and always ready to drop everything to help out his best friend, or anyone else who asks for help, even if he doesn’t actually like them. He’s a genuinely nice guy. And yes, I’m insanely jealous of the scriptwriters for coming up with this character!

Beast Boy (Teen Titans, 2003 version, CN)

I miss this show. I miss this show A LOT. Sorry Teen Titans Go!, but no. Just No. Nice try, but you’ll never be that glorious 2003-2006 version. All the characters in Teen Titans were great, but Beast Boy was my darling. He was sweetness incarnate, with an extra side of goofy and adorable. Seriously, did anyone NOT like Beast Boy in this show? In fact, I’d settle for a new show that’s just Beast Boy going around being nice to people as he turns into different animals. Can that be a thing? Please?

 

These are just a few of my book and screen darlings. Feel free to add your own in the comments!

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Butters (Dresden Files) t-shirt from the Worldbuilders store

 

Writing Girls

The second round of revisions for Heart Blade is safely back in the hands of my editor, and now I’m at that it’s-getting-closer stage that’s half panic and half extreme excitement. Some of the hardest work during the editing stage went into my female characters, especially my main protagonist Adeline ‘Del’ Raven. Originally I wanted to write one of those snarky, feisty girls that other authors do so well. But it turns out I don’t really do snark (seriously, I’m rubbish at it!), and halfway through my first ever draft Del changed into someone sweeter, fiercer, and more determined than I ever imagined she would be. During the revision process, I had to make sure Del was that person I knew she should be, rather than the one I had originally imagined.

Last month I wrote a blog piece on Writing Boys, with some of my favorite YA men in the fictional world. Since then, I’ve had my Heart Blade girls on my mind – Del, Rose, Camille, and Diana. So I thought it was about time for a follow-up with a few of my favorite young women in speculative fiction…

*Note: not all the books mentioned below are YA, but all the characters are in the young adult range of teens to early twenties and share that ‘coming of age’ vibe. Feel free to add your own faves in the comments!*

 

Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins) – When I first read this series, my immediate reaction was, ‘Where the hell was Katniss when I was growing up?’ Seriously. The books I read in the 80’s had no one like her, and I desperately wish I could time travel and hand twelve-year-old me this book. A talented archer and hunter, Katniss has a ferocity to her that’s both chilling and mesmerizing.

Nessa Doherty (The Call, Peadar Ó Guilín) – Nessa is smart, focused, and a quick thinker. She’s determined to survive in this post-fairy-apocalypse version of Ireland, despite the physical limitations of her polio-induced disability and the disdain of many of her classmates at the training academy she attends. The Call is a brand new release, and already Nessa has made it to my list of all-time favorite female characters.

Beth Bradley (The City’s Son, Tom Pollock) – Graffiti artist Beth is as dark and edgy as the urban fantasy trilogy she dwells in. In the Skyscraper Throne series, she meets London’s gritty magical underbelly head on with a smile and a challenge, and never, ever shies away from a fight. Bonus points for goddess powers!

Delilah Bard (A Darker Shade of Magic, V.E. Schwab) – Oh, Lila… Another one who never backs away from danger, preferring instead to court it without shame. Thief, adventurer, pirate, magician… There is nothing that impulsive Lila won’t try her hand at if she gets the urge. No matter how perilous, or who gets swept up in her path.

Annabeth Chase (The Lightning Thief, Rick Riordan) – Although only twelve in the beginning of the saga, Annabeth totally counts as she is now seventeen and preparing to head off to college. And how could I not include the daughter of Athena? One of the main characters in Rick’s Greek gods books (she even has a cameo in his new Norse gods series), Annabeth is cool logic under fire, and a master tactician who prefers to think her way out of trouble. But when the going gets tough, she’s not afraid to engage, getting up close and personal with her preferred weapon: a knife.

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Writing Boys

For the last month and a half I’ve been working on edits for my young adult novel, Heart Blade. A good part of the process included digging deeper into my characters. I spent a lot of time on my main male protagonist, seventeen-year-old Ash. James Asher Deacon is a complicated bundle of anger, fear, sorrow, sweetness, and sense of duty, and I hope that when Heart Blade comes out next year my readers will like him as much as I do.

I handed in the first big round of revisions to my editor yesterday, and since then I’ve been thinking about some of the fictional boys I’ve enjoyed reading about and what makes them appealing as characters. By ‘boys’, I mean that interval between late teens and early twenties; the ‘growing-up’ years, the defining years, the years when life is so full of urgent questions and – well – urgent everything. You find them all over YA, and a good bit of regular ‘adult’ SF/F too. They fuel fan art, and fanfics, and heated debates. They can be lovely, and frustrating, and stubborn, and inspiring. Here are a few of my favorites.

*Note: not all the books mentioned below are YA, but all the characters are in the YA range and share that ‘coming of age’ vibe. Feel free to add your own faves in the comments!*

 

Han Alister (The Demon King, Cinda Williams Chima) – Heartless streetlord, loyal friend, waif, leader, lover, healer, mage. The blond and blue-eyed hero of the Seven Realms series wears many different faces for many different people, and Chima does a spectacular job of showing him to us through different lenses as she builds on all these facets. Han is a compelling character who is not afraid to fight and suffer for what he believes in, and who will go to extraordinary lengths to defeat the villains and save the girl.

Darrow of Lykos (Red Rising, Pierce Brown) – What’s not to like about Darrow? Fiercely determined to do the right thing, free his people, and avenge the love of his life, the Helldiver of Lykos can be hard-hearted and unforgiving when necessary. But the talented military leader in Brown’s trilogy never loses the ability to love those who surround and follow him, and this faith in his friends is ultimately what saves him, time after time.

August Flynn (This Savage Song, Victoria Schwab) – August is sweetness personified. A beautifully gentle soul – who just happens to also be a monster who needs to kill in order to survive – he’s one of the prettiest characters I’ve seen in a long time. He’s brave, loving, and utterly committed to doing the right thing, even if everyone else is against it. He’s a bright candle flame in the dark world that Schwab has created in her new series, Monsters of Verity.

The Raven Boys (The Raven Boys, Maggie Stiefvater) – I’m totally cheating here, but how am I supposed to choose just one? In the first book of the Raven Cycle series we’re introduced to the loyal and eccentric leader, Gansey; to Adam, handsome and broken; shy and mysterious Noah; and prickly Ronan, whose tough exterior hides a caring heart. The four ‘Raven Boys’ from Aglionby Academy come as a package deal, complementing each other and weaving their personal stories into one rich tapestry.

Jorg Ancrath (Prince of Thorns, Mark Lawrence) – Jorg is definitely the bad boy of this bunch. Cruel, ruthless, very often unfeeling, and damaged beyond belief, Jorg is also brilliant, determined, and an inspired leader to his equally damaged men. The dazzlingly dark hero of the Broken Empire trilogy may be one of those love-him-or-hate-him characters, but there’s no doubt he makes for an extremely exciting read.

Martris Drayke (The Summoner, Gail Z. Martin) – I’m only halfway through the first book in Martin’s Chronicles of the Necromancer series, and already Tris has made it onto my faves list. Tall, slender, and handsome, Tris is also sweet and loyal, always trying to protect his friends and loved ones from harm. When tragedy strikes, Tris is forced brutally into a coming-of-age journey that brings out his still-nascent summoning magic. But even with everything he loves ripped away from him, he still retains an essential niceness that’s very endearing.

Have Book, Will Read #10

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May showers bring spring flowers, right? Connecticut has finally begun to sprout its seasonal green and, being the reluctant gardener that I am, nothing better than to put off the weeding with a good book or three. Here are some of my latest…

Recent Reads: Heart thumping, nerve jumping.

This month I finally got around to reading Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older, which has been on my list since it came out last summer. It was every bit as good as the reviews promised. Teenage artist Sierra Santiago discovers the secret world of shadowshapers and a family legacy she had no idea about. Her planned summer of friends, parties, and art becomes instead a race to end a plot against the shadowshapers before she and her friends get caught in the crossfire.

Shadowshaper is alive with art, music, and magic, and Daniel’s prose sweeps us right into the beat of the warm city nights, plunging us into the heart of Sierra’s world. And oh, that cover!

I really enjoyed Pierce Brown’s page-turner Red Rising. So I was pretty excited to get my hands on the sequel, Golden Son. The second book in the trilogy really kicked things up a notch by widening the plot to take in the broader Gold politics between the planets, Luna and Earth. Things get even bloodier in this one, and the death toll rises steadily.

However, with a cliffhanger ending (nooooo!), I was really glad that the last in the series was already out. Morning Star continues the wider plot of book two and brings it home to a nail biter of a climax. I did find, though, that picking this up straight after Golden Son meant I had to take a break halfway through, as the violence and deaths were getting to me. Pierce’s novels are excellent reading, but the pace is relentless and it got a little overwhelming. I definitely suggest mixing it up with lighter (aka less bloody) reading material!

Another book I finished this month was The Haunting of Lake Manor Hotel, a horror anthology by my own publisher Woodbridge Press. (Wow, it feels weird and cool to write that!) Now, I don’t usually read horror, but it was hard not to be enticed by Anna Dickinson’s delicious opening story, The Boy by the Lake, or the tagline: ‘13 Rooms. 13 Guests. 13 Stories.’

This shared world anthology is a great read, even for wimpy wussy types like me. It never got too heavy, so if (like me) you’re a novice horror reader, this is definitely one to try. The stories were nicely varied with something for everyone, from the creepily eerie, to the beautifully haunting, to the downright weird and wonderful. Eyeballs, anyone?

Now Reading: Imagined pasts and futures.

I’m halfway through another anthology, Kristell Ink’s Fight Like a Girl, which I’ve already mentioned a couple of times on the blog. A great variety of stories so far, and some really interesting takes on the subject. Definitely one worth checking out.

Because I like to mix up short stories with novels, I’ve just started Muezzinland by Stephen Palmer. I really enjoyed Stephen’s Beautiful Intelligence and the sequel novella No Grave for a Fox, and Muezzinland – although actually written long before these two – is a sequel in terms of the timeline of the author’s imagined future. I haven’t got very far yet, but it’s nice to be back in Stephen’s world.

To Read: Fate of worlds…

Up next on the to-read list is Sunset over Abendau, the sequel to Jo Zebedee’s excellent Abendau’s Heir. If you like your space opera a little on the dark side, this is definitely the series for you.

I just won a copy of A Thousand Pieces of You and the sequel Ten Thousand Skies Above You by Claudia Gray, courtesy of the author and The Pixel Project’s most recent campaign. The multi-dimensional travel plot sounds great, and I love the tag line: ‘A thousand lives. A thousand possibilities. One fate.’

Another book I picked up the other day is The Summoner by Gail Z. Martin, first in her Chronicles of the Necromancer series, which was highly recommended by a friend. The blurb sounds great, and I’m in the mood for a little traditional fantasy so this should do the job nicely.

With so many good things on my list, I think I shall continue to ignore the garden weeds. I’m calling it ‘organic reading’, and I can’t think of a better way to spend a May afternoon! Trowels down, and books up. And that’s the way I like it.

Book Cover Sunday: Fantasy Cover Art

I was browsing my to-read pile and ended up going for the new Kristell Ink anthology Fight Like a Girl, in part for the glorious cover. That got me thinking about cover art. Now, I’m not hugely influenced by book covers. I tend to go by synopsis and sample pages rather than looks. But I can’t deny that when a book sounds interesting AND has a gorgeous cover, it’s a huge bonus. I’ll pick up my favorites again and again, just to feast my eyes on the artwork and maybe reread a page or two.

I began pulling out books from my shelves that really appealed to me for one reason or another. Looking through the pile on my table, I realized that the covers seemed to fall into four distinct camps. Now, I’m no expert on cover art, or art at all for that matter. So feel free to disagree in the comments and add your own categories!

Category 1: The ‘teaser trailer’ cover.

This type of cover is big in children’s fiction, and indeed my first ever cover love was C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series, beautifully illustrated by Pauline Baynes (1970’s edition). The artwork gives us a sneak peek at the story, showing us a scene or a setting, and providing a taste of things to come.

Examples for this category include the John Rocco covers for Rick Riordan’s books. Rocco created all the US covers for Riordan’s middle grade and YA work, and in my opinion pulls off the ‘teaser trailer’ aspect very well, giving us enough of a hint at what will happen to get us interested.

Of course, these are covers aimed at younger readers. However, the Michael Whelan art for Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive does much the same for an older target audience. Look at the cover for The Way of Kings, below. Can’t you just picture the soaring music of the trailer as the camera pulls out to sweep the landscape? Don’t you just want to know more, immediately?

Sometimes a ‘teaser trailer’ cover doesn’t even need human figures. The Tim Byrne cover art for the Rojan Dizon series by Francis Knight is a particularly effective example. Once again, can’t you just imagine the camera swooping in towards the streets in this cover for Knight’s Fantasy Noir novel Last to Rise?

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Category 2: The ‘character hook’ cover.

This is probably one of the most prevalent cover types in fantasy. Hooded rogues, brooding kings, towering warriors. There’s a subtype for each and every subgenre. Some can be a little cliché, others find a way to make an impression. The difference between this category and the first? While the ‘teaser trailer’ cover tries to hook us with a promise of a story, the character cover centers it all on the main protagonist(s). It wants us to immediately bond with them, anchoring our curiosity on the figure the covers portray and encouraging us to discover their story.

The cover for Swords and Scoundrels by Julia Knight is pretty typical of the category, although we have two characters in this case, and not the more usual one. Illustrated by Gene Mollica and designed by Wendy Chan, what sets a cover of this sort above others is the beautiful artwork. The characters must be appealing enough that we say, “Why yes, I will enter your domain and hear your story, dear swashbuckling people on the cover!” It’s a simple set-up, but it works.

Teresa Edgerton’s Mask and Dagger duology does something a little different. In both Goblin Moon and Hobgoblin Night, Sarah J. Swainger’s cover art opts for a dark outline, reminiscent of the silhouette portraits popular in the mid-to-late 18th century, a particularly fitting nod to Edgerton’s Victorian-inspired world. The effect is clean, crisp, but still remains within the domain of ‘character hook’ covers.

A modern take on the theme was used effectively in the US covers for Myke Cole’s new military fantasy trilogy. Illustrated by Larry Rostant and designed by Diana Kolsky, the covers for Gemini Cell and Javelin Rain pulse with energy. The enigmatic character portrayal and the vibrancy of the artwork draw us in and promises a thrilling ride.

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Category 3: The ‘one Ring to bind them’ cover.

In yet another version of the ‘teaser trailer’ cover, this category takes an inanimate object and uses it as a story hook. A mysterious symbol might promise a tale of magic. A sword, the allure of violent and heroic deeds. You get the idea. Personally, I think the ‘one Ring’ covers can be particularly effective for a series, adding a new element for each book. This form of cover art treads the line between teaser hook and my last category, the ‘graphic glory’ cover.

The Larry Rostant/David Stevenson covers for George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire are a good example. Simple, clean, and to the point, they each prominently feature one item relating to events in the book, using background color as an important tool to give each book a separate identity within the common thread. The gloriously red art for A Feast for Crows, for instance, is repeated on the spine, a clever ploy for on-shelf prettiness.

The covers for the Seven Realms series by Cinda Williams Chima go a step further. The original four books, as well as the newly released Flamecaster, first in a new series set many years later, join together ‘significant object’ with ‘teaser trailer’ backgrounds. Sneaky! And also very effective. Now that you’ve seen it, aren’t you just dying to know more about the mysterious amulet thing on the cover? And how does it fit in with the city behind? Art by Sasha Vinogradova and design by Erin Fitzsimmons.

The original UK cover for Joe Abercrombie’s Best Served Cold takes the ‘one Ring’ concept and runs with it, far, and fast, and wide. We have a map! And a sword! There are coins, and blood splatters! It took a whole team to create, according to Joe’s blog. It’s pretty amazing, to tell the truth, and I really wish it were the cover of the version on my Kindle. It’s not, unfortunately, so I had to resort to online drooling. But really, there are so many different objects on this cover that it’s a whole micro-story in itself. A sort of connect-the-dots intro to the story inside.

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Category 4: The ‘graphic glory’ cover.

This category of book cover is deliciously graphic, with a lean, clean beauty of a concept. It’s less about hooking the reader with the promise of a story, and more about wowing them with stunning artwork that pretty much stands alone without the novel inside. If I were to frame and display any of the books in my personal library, it would probably be the ones with this sort of cover.

I originally bought A Darker Shade of Magic, by V.E. Schwab, in e-version. But I eventually went out and bought a physical copy, too. I wanted it on my shelf; I needed it on my shelf. Although this cover does refer to the novel, the appeal isn’t in the story hook but in the sheer prettiness of Will Staehle’s artwork.

Tom Pollock’s Skyscraper Throne trilogy is another personal favorite, both in terms of covers and content. The UK cover art by Ghost is discreet, minimalist, and lovely. Even if I had no idea what was inside The City’s Son and its sequels, I’d probably peek just because I like the cover so much.

To finish where I started, Kristell Ink’s Fight Like a Girl anthology fits neatly into the ‘graphic glory’ category. The paper doll sweetness of Sarah Anne Langton’s cover art is too cute for words, and fits the book concept admirably: after all, in an anthology each author mounts their own unique character, and has their own distinct take on the theme. And you can dive deeper, taking the idea of paper dolls and examining the roles society hands out to women. Charming and clever!

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In the name of ‘blogging’, I’ve just spent a fun couple of hours on a rainy afternoon looking through my physical and virtual shelves. How about taking a look at the books you own? Which are the cover styles that appeal to you? And why?

(See also Book Cover Sunday: SFF Book Spine)

Abendau’s Journey: Interview with Jo Zebedee

Northern Irish science fiction and fantasy author Jo Zebedee is not only an incredible writer, but a highly motivated one too, juggling numerous projects with a busy home and work life. Jo has had several short stories accepted by magazines and anthologies (some of them upcoming throughout this year), and her 2015 self-published post-alien invasion thriller, Inish Carraig, has been doing very well indeed and is garnering some fantastic reviews. Her dark fantasy novel, Waters and the Wild, is due out in 2017 with Inspired Quill.

But the reason that I’ve asked Jo to join me here is to celebrate the launch of the second volume in her space opera The Inheritance Trilogy, Sunset Over Abendau. Abendau’s universe is a special place for Jo; it’s one she’s been dreaming about since her teenage years. The first book in the series, Abendaus Heir, was published in 2015 by Tickety Boo Press. The story of a rebellion led against an evil Empress by her own son, Kare, Abendau dives deep into questions that speculative fiction doesn’t usually bother to ask: what is it really like to be the Chosen One? What are the pressures and consequences of taking on this burden?

Abendaus Heir, despite being a fast-paced space adventure, was often dark, which was one of the things I enjoyed about it. Jo wasn’t afraid to ask those tough questions, or take a good, hard look at the things we’d often rather sweep under the mat. Torture, both mental and physical. Post-traumatic stress. And how far a person can really go before they begin to snap. Sunset Over Abendau takes us a step further, to a place ten years on in the story and the inevitable fallout from the first novel. For a deeper breakdown of what to expect, check out Jo’s own post on the subject.

Jo often blogs candidly about the writing process and the ups and downs of the publishing world (find her posts on jozebwrites.blogspot.com). So I’m going to take this opportunity to peek a little closer into nitty-gritty of getting a new book out.

Juliana: Jo, congratulations on the launch of Sunset Over Abendau! How does it feel to see yet another piece of Kare’s journey set in place?

Jo: It feels really good. To get to the next stage of all my characters’ lives was fun. Also, my third book release (I have a standalone as well) is quite a big one, I feel – when people talk about writers getting established, they often say the third book is a good sign of that being the case. Certainly I feel more confident about the processes at this stage.

Juliana: Accepting an offer for a trilogy means committing to working with the same publishing house for a long stretch of time. How did you first feel when taking this leap? How about now, with Book 2 out and Book 3 approaching fast? 

Jo: I felt confident taking the leap in many ways, and less so in others. I knew my editor would be Teresa Edgerton who I’d worked with on a developmental basis before and had a lot of trust in. So, that fear – of not being able to work with the editor for three books – was allayed.

But my publisher, Tickety Boo Press, were very new and going with any new publisher is a risk. My contract was drawn up when I was agented, however, so I was happy the clauses were in place to protect me. So far, so good – I’m happy with my covers, I get good communication and my editing has been excellent.

I think that’s important for any writer, by the way, that they do have confidence in their contract – it protects both them and the publisher and makes for a better working relationship. 

Juliana: You had a full year between the launch of the first and second in the trilogy. However the third, Abendau’s Legacy, will be out later this year. How has it been coping with the tighter editing window? 

Jo: Well, I did manage to plonk a self published book between the two Abendau’s, so the two books a year model is established. But book three needs a little more work (it is finished but the polish depended on the edit of Sunset as the two are closely linked) so that will keep me busy over the summer.

Also – I’m promoting the books now. I have a lot of writing commitments on that I didn’t have last year. But I’m still working as writing doesn’t pay a wage. Which means producing new stuff is slower, and there may be more of a gap between books in the future. If I settled into the 9 months to a year model, I’d be quite happy and I think that’s doable.

Juliana: Following on from the last question, from your experience with Tickety Boo Press what sort of editorial support should a new author expect from their publisher? 

Jo: Editorial support is really important and something I think should be discussed at the contracting stage – expectations, who it will be with and, if possible, the vision for the book. At the very least, a story-editor and copy-editor should look at the script. A proofreader would be an additional tier, but many publishers now run proofing into the copy edit.

I think the relationship is important – I have to trust my editor. If not, the book could be worsened for it (not a problem I’ve had with Abendau but I had more difficulties with Inish Carraig and some of the direction I was advised to take it – although not by its final editor.) But I also need to have enough confidence to stand over things I believe strongly in and feel I can negotiate on them (I usually lose, though.)

Juliana: How many versions of the trilogy have you written, both before and after editorial input? 

Jo: Ha! I’m renowned for this on some forums… For Abendau’s Heir I did something like 18 re-writes, mostly substantive. I once lopped 70,000 words off the start – losing most of the Ealyn point of view in the process – to reshape it.

I have improved! Sunset will have had about five writes and Legacy the same. That’s usually first draft – writing group feed back – second draft – beta feedback – third draft – editorial – fourth draft – high-end edit – fifth draft, the polish.

On the plus side I do have the makings of a nice prequel already written…. 🙂

Juliana: Could you lead us through the basic steps to publication, from acceptance of submission to holding the finished book in your hand? 

Jo: Normally the cover is in place before the edits, so that’s the first stage. I then like to have a last check over the manuscript before forwarding for editorial.

I get a first edit back, consisting of two documents: the manuscript with notes and, more importantly, a document with overview comments in it. That’s my first read through, and it usually starts my cogs whirring. Then I address the full mss.

I work from the beginning to end. I’m a quick editor and rewriter, and it usually takes me 4-6 weeks, depending on the amount to do. If I have any scenes I’m desperately struggling with, I’ll run those past my writing group.

Once finished, I send it back to my editor with the changes highlighted. I hear back a couple of weeks later and that feedback normally looks at chapters or scenes that are specifically needing work. I amend those and send back and forth until my editor is happy and I’m begging not to have to look at that scene again, and then it gets forwarded for the copy edit from Sam Primeau.

The mss comes back from copy editing with changes marked, and usually a few comments seeking clarification, all of which I review before accepting the mss. And then it’s over to my publisher for formatting and release, and out of my hands.

Of course, in here there are things like Advanced Review Copies being sent out, and cover quotes sourced. There’s more to it than it looks!

Juliana: I know a lot of writers worry about their book covers, and whether they’ll love or hate them. Did you have any sort of control over your own cover art?

Jo: I don’t have control per se – which is good as I’m not a cover designer! – but I do get input. Normally I get to put in an idea of what I’d like – with the Abendau covers that has been around the central colours recently – and get to see an early mock up. Gary from Tickety Boo does the covers and I think there is a distinct style for the trilogy with a nice space opera feel. They’ll look good on the shelf together!

Juliana: A little bird (okay, Facebook and Twitter) told me that Abendaus Heir is in process of being recorded as an audio book. Have you had any involvement in this process? What’s it like to hear your words out loud? 

Jo: I haven’t been involved, which is fine, but I have heard the opening section. I’m really looking forward to hearing the finished product – Ravenwood audio are doing a great job.

It’s odd listening to it, but enjoyable. I’m well aware my names can be hard to pronounce so am easy going about that sort of thing, and am happy to enjoy the outcome rather that critique it.

Juliana: You’ve tried different paths, traditional and self-publishing, and are doing very well on both. With more and more writers opting for the apparent ‘ease’ of self-publishing, what can traditional publishing still offer the author? 

Jo: I think this concept that self publishing is easy is misleading. To do it well is a ton of work (and I try not to put anything out under my name that is shoddy) and you’re doing that work on your own. For a book or two I think I could manage but, as more come out and I’m trying to manage promotion and offer periods etc etc, I think it would eat into my writing time too much.

For instance, today a reader contacted me to let me know the paragraph indents are missing in my self-published book. Yet they’re there in the uploaded version and on my kindle app, plus in the sample. So it’s not a formatting issue. Which means asking Amazon and all that rigmarole, and there’s an hour chasing all that when I could have been writing.

So what does Trad offer me? (And I’m continuing to make that choice) – time to write. Writing is where the income will come from. If I don’t have time to produce more, things become unviable. Plus, it’s the bit I love and want to do more of. So, for me, the lower margin/royalty is a trade-off to have the time I need to go onwards and to write the stories that are eating at me to get out.

Having said that, I’ve enjoyed the self publishing and would definitely do it again with the right product.

Juliana: Any words of advice for new authors starting out on the submission path, or perhaps contemplating their first publishing deal?

Jo: None of the journey – the rejections, the knocks – are personal. Try to be thick skinned, if you can. And enjoy it – we worry so much about every sales and reviews and acceptances and whatever it is you seek we don’t leave enough time to savour everything. 

Juliana: Jo, thank you very much for sharing Abendau’s journey to publication. I’m looking forward to reading the new book and, of course, the conclusion Abendau’s Legacy later on this year. 

You can find Abendau’s Heir and Sunset Over Abendau at the Tickety Boo Press shop and on Amazon, both US and UK. For those in Northern Ireland, the books will both be available at Easons and Blackwell’s

Have Book, Will Read #9

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Oh, hey! It’s April already. April means my birthday, which means books. Because a girl can always do with more books, right? And with so many recent releases I’ve been keeping busy. Here are some of my latest faves…

Recent Reads: On the road… Quests, journeys, escapes, and revenge.

I absolutely loved The Art of Forgetting: Rider by Joanne Hall. In fact, I liked it so much I went straight into the sequel and concluding novel, The Art of Forgetting: Nomad. I’m a sucker for a good coming-of-age fantasy tale, and this one takes interesting detours as it follows a boy’s journey to become a cavalry officer.

Hall’s prose is crisp yet flowing, and she does a masterful job of treading the line between overly sparse and heavily ornate description that so many epic fantasies have trouble with. Rhodri’s tale begins with the familiar setting of the military schoolground, but never quite settles into the expected, keeping us constantly on our toes. And when Rhodri eventually turns his back on everything he has worked for, Hall gives readers a refreshing shift in her main character’s viewpoint that sheds new light on the story.

Javelin Rain by Myke Cole was one I’ve been waiting for, ever since Gemini Cell arrived in 2015 and I devoured it in one day. And the sequel certainly didn’t disappoint. Those of you who read my blog will know I’m a big fan of Cole’s high-octane military fantasy novels. He writes incredibly fast-paced stories with great action sequences, but he also serves us well-thought-out characters with a lot of heart.

Javelin Rain begins exactly where Gemini Cell left off, with Jim Schweitzer on the run with his wife and small son. But escape is hard when you’re an undead former Navy SEAL being chased by a hoard of super zombies with a penchant for blood and carnage. And to make things worse, the man behind those zombies may have motives of his own for the actions he carries out in the name of his country. Sounds intense? It is, but at the same time Cole isn’t afraid to take a pause and give his readers touching and very human moments.

I bought Road Brothers by Mark Lawrence a while back, but it got buried under a pile of other to-reads and somehow I never got around to it. Making up for lost time, I ended up gobbling down the whole thing in two days. This one is a treat for fans of Lawrence’s Broken Empire trilogy: a compilation of short stories on Jorg of Ancrath and his band of outlaws.

I loved Prince of Thorns and the subsequent Broken Empire books, so I really enjoyed this opportunity to get a better look at some of Jorg’s crew. The stories bring us a mixture of exploits and backstory, and as a bonus feature they all end with a short commentary by the author on the character and why he chose that particular approach for that story. Written with Lawrence’s trademark poetic flair, the collection plays with different narrative styles so it never feels stale, and you never quite know what to expect as the author skips from one character to another. Well worth reading, but familiarity with the Broken Empire world is helpful, so if you haven’t tried Lawrence’s work I’d recommend starting with Prince of Thorns.

Now Reading: Shivers and shenanigans.

I’m halfway into a brand new anthology by the also brand new Woodbridge Press, The Haunting of Lake Manor Hotel. Now, horror isn’t a genre I’d usually read, but since I’m familiar with quite a few of the authors I was willing to lock away my usual fear of things that go bump in the night and try it out. So far, so good: I’ve already been blown away by the opening stories and I haven’t had to resort to a nightlight yet. Yet being the imperative word here.

To Read: Fight or flight…

Another recent launch on the anthology scene is Fight Like a Girl (Kristell Ink). Edited by Roz Clarke and Joanne Hall, this collection of short stories about female strength sounds amazing. With a great line-up of authors writing everything from space opera to urban fantasy, and a tagline on Amazon that says, “These are not pinup girls fighting in heels; these warriors mean business,” this has to be my kind of book. Oh, and it has an awesome cover, too.

I’m a huge Brandon Sanderson fan, and you can never have too much Wax and Wayne, so up next on my to-read list is Bands of Mourning, the latest in the Mistborn saga. I always enjoy Sanderson’s carefully constructed magic systems, and the swooping, soaring Wax and Wayne stories unite this with a certain element of lightness and fun that are a pleasure to read.

So that’s my roundup for April. I hope you’ve found some great reads of your own; with so many great releases this year alone, the tough decision is where to start!

Neverlanding, One Tale at a Time

I’ve loved Peter Pan since I reread it as an adult and realized what an incredibly versatile tale it is. It’s one story for children, another for teens, and a completely different one for adults. That this apparently simple narrative is actually so nuanced and layered is, quite frankly, amazing.

J.M. Barrie’s classic, published first as a play and eventually as a novel in 1911, has inspired countless other works, from the literary to the cinematographic (and probably everything else between). How can we not be touched by a book that offers us swashbuckling adventure, mermaids, fairytale magic, and a neat sideline on growing up?

It’s no surprise that I love a movie retelling of Peter Pan. Whether a straight-forward interpretation such as Disney’s 1953 classic, or one that twists the theme like Spielberg’s 1991 Hook, starring Robin Williams as a grown-up Peter returning to Neverland, there’s always more magic to be found in the never-ending pixie dust well of Barrie’s words.

I even love the spin-offs, such as Disney’s Tinkerbell movies. Or the ones that only borrow obliquely from the source material, like the fabulous 1987 vampire flick directed by Joel Schumacher, The Lost Boys, where a vampire boss searches for a mother for his tribe of undead ‘children’. And yes, I know, spoilers, but if you haven’t watched this movie by now WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?

Two of my current favorites, however, stay close to the original story while adding their own particular brand of magic. The first is the gorgeous 2003 version directed by P.J. Hogan. In Hogan’s Peter Pan, Wendy Darling (played beautifully by a young Rachel Hurd-Wood) is a feisty girl who would rather play pirate than do that terrible thing called ‘growing up’. When she’s whisked off to Neverland by Jeremy Sumpter’s Peter, she’s tempted by precisely both these things: a pirate’s life of adventure alongside Captain Hook or the beauty of her first kiss, even if it means taking a step in the dreaded direction of womanhood.

The second is the recent Pan (2015), directed by Joe Wright and starring Levi Miller as perhaps the most charming Peter I’ve ever come across. This one’s a prequel to the original, and yet it fits seamlessly with the tale we all know and gives Peter Pan new dimensions and a great backstory. It’s a truly enchanting take on the book and well worth watching, even if just for the images of a flying pirate ship evading the anti-aircraft guns during the London Blitz of World War II. And Hugh Jackman’s Blackbeard leading his men in a rendering of Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit was a real laugh out loud moment.

Why does Peter Pan endure so well? Maybe it’s the pirates, or the fairies. Maybe it’s the lure of never, ever growing up. Whatever the reason, the story, in all its different forms and versions, still touches us over a hundred years later. So choose your favorite, set your armchair coordinates for “second star to the right and straight on ’til morning”, and forget the world, just for an instant.

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The famous Peter Pan statue in Kensington Gardens, London.

Have Book, Will Read #8

There’s a steady March drizzle outside, but in here I have tea, books, and leftover Easter chocolate. Seriously, what more could a word-lover want? Here’s what I’ve been up to…

Recent Reads: Battles and books.

First up was Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs. My daughter’s been on at me for a while to read this, and after the gorgeous trailers came out for the movie adaptation directed by Tim Burton I thought it was about time I dipped into it’s rather mysterious waters.

The tale of a troubled boy who discovers his own powers along with a whole hidden world of wonder and threat, Miss Peregrine’s was everything my daughter had promised and more. It’s a slow-burning story, which eases you into its often cold and murky waters inch by inch while at the same time pulling you so deeply into its world that by the time things begin to happen you’re right in there with the main character, Jacob, ensnared and enthralled as he is.

My next read was Robert Jackson Bennett’s City of Blades. I adored the first book in the series, City of Stairs, and thought there was no way he could top the charismatic Shara as a main character. But then he brought back a side character from the first book, General Turyin Mulaghesh, and I was smitten all over again.

Bennett is a master at producing original and unexpected protagonists. Mulaghesh is a stocky, aging, foul-mouthed, one-armed former war hero with a very dark past and a sense of right and wrong that goes above and beyond the call of duty. She is also deliciously stubborn, so when she is sent by the now Prime Minister Shara Thivani to investigate the strange substance uncovered in ruined and embattled Voortyashtan she resolves to get to the bottom of things no matter what it costs her.

After all the strange and divine powers of the last two reads, it was time for a little science fiction with Pierce Brown’s Red Rising. I’d heard this mentioned a few times but it had pretty much slipped under my radar until one of my town librarians suggested I’d enjoy it (hooray for librarians!).

Set on Mars, Red Rising tells a tale of oppression and the thirst for change, as lowborn miner Darrow infiltrates the elite Golds in the name of revolution. This one will definitely appeal to Hunger Games fans, and it’s not for the faint of heart as the battle scenes of the trials Darrow must go through to truly become one of the elite are pretty horrific. It’s incredibly fast-paced and I tore through the entire thing in one day, breathless and with nothing left of my poor, chewed-up nails.

Last on my list was Django Wexler’s The Forbidden Library, first in his middle grade series by the same name. It’s the story of Alice, who goes to live with her Uncle Geryon after her father dies in a shipwreck. An uncle she’s never heard about, who lives in a house full of mysteries. But the biggest mystery of all is the forbidden library. Until Alice creeps in at night and discovers magical powers she never imagined she had.

Alice shows us a world where books are a source of power – and also of grave danger. The creatures she finds inside them are no sweet fairytale things; they’re often nasty, vicious, and happy to kill. But Alice is both clever and fiercely determined to succeed. After all, if magic is real, perhaps her father is not really dead, after all?

Now Reading: Following the horse trail.

Loaded up on my Kindle and ready to go is The Art of Forgetting: Rider by Joanne Hall. All I’ve done so far is glance at the first page, so I’ll have to fill you in on this one next time round. A coming-of-age fantasy tale following a boy’s journey to become a cavalryman, it may be just what I need after all the strange directions my reading has taken me in lately.

To Read:

I have the first two books in Orson Scott Card’s Mithermages series on request at my library, so I’ll dive into those when they arrive. The Lost Gate and The Gate Thief tell the story of Danny North as he discovers his gate magic and the perils that follow.

I also have three novels on pre-order, all of them out at the same time at the end of March. I love the excitement of waiting for a new book to arrive! Myke Cole’s military fantasy Javelin Rain is the sequel to his excellent Gemini Cell. Sunset over Abendau is the sequel to Jo Zebedee’s dark space opera Abendau’s Heir. And The Adventures of Sir Edric, by Thaddeus White, is a fantasy comedy, with history’s most un-PC knight ever, the drunken, womanizing Sir Edric.

Words to read, worlds to explore. And my tea’s getting cold. Happy reading!

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The (Un)Familiar

I’ve just returned from a family trip to England. We had a wonderful time, with a castle, and wizardry, and a giant Ferris wheel, and a gorgeous baby nephew. And daffodils: lots and lots of daffodils.

It was a strange voyage of discovery and rediscovery. I spent the first eight years of my life in England, and have visited countless times, but it had been almost thirteen years since my last visit. Things change, and your vision of the world changes, so things appeared at the same time familiar and unfamiliar. And my children were visiting their mother’s birth country for the first time, so I was also experiencing everything through their eyes.

And then, when we returned, there was that same feeling of known-yet-unknown that I always get when arriving after a while away. When, just for an instant, you see your home through a stranger’s eyes and marvel at how different it all looks, before the ordinary crashes down and takes over again.

But that small moment in which the ordinary becomes the extraordinary, when what should be familiar looks utterly alien for a heartbeat or two, that’s the sense of wonder that my favorite fantasy writers manage to capture. Worlds that are enticingly new, but feel oddly like home. Stories that mesmerize and draw us in, not just for their freshness, but because, deep down, they are also hauntingly mundane.

Wonder, and yet also recognition. Children’s fiction does this very well. Narnia is a new universe for a child reader, but it also reminds us enough of home that it makes sense. It has lampposts and fishing rods among the swords and talking lions. It feels real, open-the-wardrobe-and-check-for-yourself real. The Percy Jackson imaginary world of Greek demigods is laced through our modern-day life, anchoring it, making it feel possible. In Alice in Wonderland, familiar day-to-day objects like rabbits and watches and cups of tea give Lewis Carroll’s surreal tale enough normality to allow us to navigate its pages.

Adult fantasy fiction often achieves this same sense of the known-yet-unknown through more subtle ploys. Often it’s the characters themselves, with very recognizable feelings, goals, and morals, which anchor the story and give it just enough reality that we can take the leap into a new world while knowing, deep down, that we retain some level of comfort. As readers, we crave the new, but if we can’t find something to relate to, the new can quickly become overwhelmingly alien.

Next time you’re immersed in a book, take a moment to identify the strands that harness you to the tale. What makes the story appeal to you? And then sit back, close your eyes, and remember some of your favorite trips. Why was that place so special? Can you find any common threads between stories and real-life journeys?

Give it a try. Because in every unfamiliar moment, there’s a tiny drop of the familiar. And even the most brazen adventurer among us needs a thin tether to that which we already know. What’s yours?

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Mock up of Diagon Alley at the Harry Potter Studio Tour in London. J.K. Rowling does a beautiful job of intertwining the familiar and the unfamiliar.