It’s 2019! Well, it’s actually been 2019 for a while now, but I haven’t done a book round-up since 2018 so does that mean I get to celebrate New Year’s all over again? No? Ah, well, it was worth a try. *discreetly shoves champagne glass and party streamers under the table*
I actually followed my New Year’s resolution and made a good dent in my to-read list. Okay, who are we kidding, that thing is huge! But I have upped my reading game this year, and it feels good to be back! Here are a few of my favorites from the last couple of months.
Recent Reads: A world tour of mythology.
I’d heard good things about City of Brass, so when I spotted it in my local library, I immediately picked it up. S.A. Chakraborty’s lush fantasy tale starts in the streets of 18th century Cairo and travels to Daevabad, the legendary city of brass, home to the djinn. Beautifully written, and with plenty of twists and turns to keep readers on their feet, I swept through this in a day and a half, absolutely enchanted.
Another 2018 release that plays with different world mythologies is Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse. Set after a future climate apocalypse has ravaged the USA and the Navajo people have created the magically protected land of Dinétah, the story follows monster hunter Maggie Hoskie on the trail of dark witchcraft and ancient legends reborn. Roanhorse’s prose is swift and fierce, and Maggie is a wonderful character — at the same time flawed and fragile, yet strong as stone.
This next one is a relative oldie compared to the other books in this post, but I’d been wanting to read The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater for a while. I love Stiefvater’s writing style in the Raven Cycle series, and this one has a similar atmospheric allure. However, instead of dusty Virginia roads and rolling hills, we have bracing winds and sea-salt spray, tough island grass and even tougher island people. It plays loosely with the Celtic myth of the water horse, using it to tell a tale of resilience and determination. Very nice.
The Cruel Prince by Holly Black may well end up being one of my favorite books of the year. This dark fairytale has underlying themes of abuse and isn’t afraid to get its hands dirty. The story of a mortal girl, brought up in the land of Faerie among the members of the Royal Court and caught up in the violence and political intrigue that accompanies the fight for the throne, it’s a breathtaking read and I absolutely raced through the pages.
Now Reading: The end of the Shattered Realms.
I’ve only just started Deathcaster by Cinda Williams Chima, last book in the Shattered Realms quartet, but I’m already mourning the end of this series. I was thrilled when, back in 2016, Chima gave readers the chance to dive back into her Seven Realms world with a new quartet of novels, set a generation after The Crimson Crown concluded. It’s been wonderful meeting a whole new cast of characters while enjoying the setting she so beautifully delivered in the previous series.
To Read: It’s all about those sequels…
I have two sequels on my reading list, and I’d like to get to them soon while the previous books are fresh in my mind. Both are the second-in-series of books mentioned above: The Wicked King by Holly Black, and Kingdom of Copper by S.A. Chakraborty. I’m looking forward to jumping back into Black and Chakraborty’s worlds!
How has your reading been so far this year? Any good sci fi or fantasy suggestions? Let me know in the comments!
Back in 2018, a few of us who post regularly on the SFFChronicles.com forum decided to get together and produce a science fiction anthology. After much debate, the concept for DISTAFF emerged: a collection of stories by women. That’s the only connecting thread — the stories themselves are all vastly different, and all the richer for that.
DISTAFF will be released in August 2019, during Worldcon in Dublin and Titancon/Eurocon in Belfast. I’m absolutely thrilled to be a part of this project, and now that we’ve had a lovely cover reveal hosted by SFFWorld.com, I can finally share our beautiful art by Shellie Horst, one of the participating authors. Besides Shellie and myself, the list includes Jo Zebedee, Kerry Buchanan, Jane O’Reilly, Rosie Oliver, Damaris Browne, E. J. Tett, and Susan Boulton.
Here’s the blurb:
A staff used in spinning. Of women and women’s work. An anthology of women’s stories woven through time and space.
In 2018 a crack team of women sci-fi writers, all members of the sffchronicles community forum, came together to write an anthology. Distaff is the result. Join us as we share stories of people, of science and exploration, and enjoy the words we weave.
Another year, another edition of Boskone, ‘New England’s longest running science fiction convention’. I’ll always have a soft spot for Boskone, which represents a lot of firsts for me: first SF/F con I ever went to (back in 2015, two years after moving to the USA) and first time on panels (2017) are two of them. This year I added another couple of firsts: my first time moderating a panel and my first time doing a reading.
Here are some of my Boskone 56 highlights!
Trying my hand at moderating. I…actually had a great time doing this. The other participants of the Agency and Free Will in Speculative Fiction panel — Gillian Daniels, Rebecca Roanhorse, Greer Gilman, and M.C. DeMarco — did a fantastic job with a pretty tricky theme, so a huge thanks to them all for playing along with my not-so-easy questions.
The Broad Universe group reading. Broad Universe has been organizing their Rapid Fire Readings for years now, and as a new member of the group I was delighted to give this a go. We each got an allotted six minutes to give the audience (and each other) a taste of our work, and I really enjoyed the mixture of styles and genres.
Talking fights in the Now, That’s a Great Action Scene panel. Unfortunately our moderator Errick Nunnally only made it for the end of the panel, but Bracken MacLeod stepped in and kept S.L. Huang, Vincent O’Neil and myself busy with plenty of fun discussion points. And I got to take my HEMA longsword to show offprove a point (ha! point…) about the need for proper research.
Debating trilogies and series in the Middle Book Syndrome panel. Fran Wilde did an awesome job moderating this (plus, we had matching nail polish!), and Kenneth Rogers Jr., Sarah Beth Durst, Sharon Lee and myself had a great time trading tips and tricks for keeping those trilogies flowing.
Readings! Besides the Broad Universe reading, I also caught the Unlikely Imaginarium group reading, with Elaine Isaac/E.C. Ambrose, Clarence Young/Zig Zag Claybourne, Kenneth Schneyer, C.S.E Cooney, Carlos Hernandez and Cerece Rennie Murphy. And later that same day, a reading by S.L. Huang, whose Zero Sum Game sounds awesome and has already been added to my to-read list.
I always try to fit in a few panels, and Laundering Your Fairy Tales with Jane Yolen, Theodora Goss, Victoria Sandbrook, Karen Heuler and Melanie Meadors was a great pick, delving into the often-dark history of popular fairy tales. Of Gods, Devils, And Tricksters was another good one, with an in-depth look at trickster figures in mythology. This one was moderated by Max Gladstone, with Rebecca Roanhoarse, Shannon Chakraborty, Jane Yolen and Dana Cameron. And I ended up going to The Great Agent Hunt, with S.L. Huang, Joshua Bilmes, Christopher Golden, Lauren Roy and Barry Goldblatt. Lots of good advice, and plenty of cautionary tales…
People. All the people. New friends, old friends… Conversations everywhere: at the bar, in the hallways, at the tail end of panel sessions. This is what really makes Boskone such a great event — getting to hang out with other readers, writers, and fans for two days straight. You are all awesome and I loved spending time with you! I hope to see you next year!
I only stayed two days this time, instead of the full weekend, to save a little on hotel money. I was sad to leave early, but it’s for a good cause: in August I’ll be at Worldcon in Dublin and then Titancon in Belfast! I’m really excited to be trying something new, but you can bet that in 2020 I’ll be back at Boskone, my ‘home con’ and forever favorite.
Book news! Well, anthology news, actually. Tomorrow my short story King Swan comes out in a brand new collection — Gorgon: Stories of Emergence (Pantheon Magazine).
From the official blurb: “Be changed. GORGON: STORIES OF EMERGENCE contains 42 transformative stories spanning all genres from both emerging and new voices alike, with all new stories by Gwendolyn Kiste, Richard Thomas, Annie Neugebauer, Eden Royce, Beth Cato, D.A. Xiaolin Spires and more, and featuring 10 illustrations by Carrion House.”
I’ve had a peek at some of the stories and they’re awesome! You can buy Gorgon on Amazon in ebook and paperback, starting tomorrow…
It’s been two years today since HEART BLADE was published! Happy bookversary to the Blade Hunt Chronicles!
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.
Juliana: Talk 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.
Juliana: On 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.
Juliana: Thank 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.
I don’t do dark. I don’t do scary, or heart-wrenching. My writing is fun and happy, and full of sunshine. Until it really, really isn’t.
The first thing I ever wrote was a light-hearted middle grade novel about a group of friends in small-town Brazil trying to stop a rampaging gang of ghosts. There was a bike chase, and meetings at the local ice cream parlor. Not a sliver of a shadow in sight, right? But now, looking back, I see there was an underlying theme of the price of magic, and of good magic gone very wrong.
Another middle grade novel had themes of PTSD and abandonment. My first foray into YA was about genetic experimentation on teenagers and forced seclusion from society. Are we beginning to sense a thread of darkness in all of this? But I still had this illusion that I was writing upbeat happy stories, probably because the dark bits were interspersed with enough action to mask them, at least to my own eyes.
(Although the torture scene in my first published book—which got a special mention from Fantasy-Faction—should have clued me in…)
I got into short stories. These tended to be a lot darker right off the bat. Probably because I felt these were somewhat separated from my usual stuff, and gave me more room to play. Published stories include an alien willing to kill to remain on Earth, a trio of cut-throat teen mercenaries on a desperate mission, and murder by flesh-eating fungus. Nice and cheerful!
But there’s a beauty to the shadows, to the gray tones and the storm clouds. We can only appreciate the light when the story has contrast. And for that, it often needs to go down dark paths.
At the moment, I’m working on something brand new. It’s my darkest novel yet, with some pretty tough subthemes. At first, I wondered who the heck the person commandeering my brain was, to be coming up with this stuff. Then I took a good hard look at my earlier writing, and realized the shadows have been there all along, from the very beginning.
In a way, this came as a relief. It’s good to know my work has actually had some consistency from the start. Until I began this latest project, I was worried that there was a huge disconnect between my short pieces and my longer stories. This new thing of mine not only seems to pull all the different sides of me together, but it also made me take a good hard look at my past work, too. And maybe embrace the dark.
Hard to believe the year is almost over! I could swear it was October just the other day… Anyway, it’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, and I thought I’d start with a quick reading round-up. 2018 has been a slow year for me, book-wise. There are SO MANY novels sitting on my bookshelf or in my e-reader waiting for some love, and I’ve barely made a dent in the pile. Hopefully 2019 will find me more inspired!
2018 was the first year I ever kept a book log, which proved to be an interesting experiment, and one I think I’ll continue next year. So, what did I actually read? I finished 35 novels in 2018. They were pretty evenly spread out in terms of age category: 11 were Middle Grade, 11 were YA, and 13 were adult fiction. As for genre, Fantasy (and sub-genres) was the big winner, with 25 titles against 3 science fiction novels, 1 horror tale, and 6 that fell into other categories (thrillers, a mystery, and a contemporary YA). 15 of those books were written by men, and the other 20 by women.
My resolution for 2019? Step up my reading game and catch up on that TBR pile!
Recent Reads: Earth shakers, world breakers.
I followed up my earlier read of Akata Witchwith the sequel, Akata Warrior. I absolutely love Nnedi Okorafor’s vivid worldbuilding and crisp storytelling syle, and the second book definitely lived up to the first. The novel continues Sunny’s saga as she keeps up her training in Leopard Society, takes her magical abilities further, and finds an even bigger battle to fight with her friends.
I recently picked up an ARC for an October release that had been gathering dust on my shelf since spring. Monstrous Devices by Damien Love is a nicely paced middle grade novel with a dark side and a hint of teeth. It has a vaguely clockpunk feel to it, and mixes toy robots, ancient golems, blood magic, and a breathless chase across half of Europe. Good stuff.
Moving away from kid lit, First Interview by CT Grey is what happens when you mix a zombie apocalypse, a vampire warrior, a high-tech portal to a secret off-planet colony, and whispers of a supernatural underworld. To be honest, when I read the blurb, I was skeptical. But Grey pulls it off with style, and this fast-paced genre mash-up was an entertaining read. Book 2 comes out in 2019, so stay tuned for an interview with the author on my blog.
Now Reading: Space capers galore!
I’m in the middle of The Scalpel, by James Worrad, and thoroughly enjoying it. There is plenty of action-packed intrigue to keep things moving, and a great cast of colorful characters.
To Read: The fantastic and the familiar.
I have a copy of Kelly Robson’s Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peachon my Kindle just begging for attention. I’ve liked everything I’ve read of Robson’s so far, and this one promises to be just as good.
Juliet E. McKenna is an author I’ve had on my to-read list for a while, and now I have two signed books of hers I got in the last Pixel Project fundraiser: The Green Man’s Heir, and Shadow Histories of the River Kingdom. Looking forward to these!
I haven’t read anything by children’s author Patricia MacLachlan, and I have at least two writer friends who claim she’s been a major influence in their lives. So I was delighted to be given a copy of My Father’s Words during a Holiday Book Swap held by my local SCBWI group. I think this will be one for my Christmas break…
Wishing you all a wonderful book-filled end of year!
Adapted from a guest blog I originally wrote for fantasy romance author Suzanne Jackson.
Anyone who’s been hanging around the Twittersphere lately will have seen writers sharing their ‘rules for writing’. Now, I’m not that big on ‘rules’ (what works for one person might backfire splendidly for another!), but here are a few things I figured out early on and which keep me going. Hopefully, they’ll help you too!
Three things I’ve learned about writing:
1. Take Your Time. As the saying goes, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. When I started writing ‘for real’, one of the first things I did was read a lot of bios and websites of authors I admired. To my surprise, there were very few true ‘overnight success’ stories. One author took ten years to be published, another five. Another more than that combined. Some writers didn’t become household names until their third, or fifth, or seventh book.
Beginner-writer-me found this hugely reassuring. If other people could do it, so could I. If I had to put in the time to learn the craft and get it right, then so be it. I wouldn’t be the first, or the last, to take a deep breath and tell myself, “As long as it takes.” I knew this was something I loved, and that I was prepared to be in it for the long haul. I just had to jump in, and keep going.
2. Make Mistakes. Also known as: you have nothing to prove. When I was younger, I’d always planned on becoming a writer ‘someday’. Perhaps when I ‘grew up’. But somehow, I never got around to it. Probably because I had this weird notion that writers sat down at their perfect writing desks and dashed out the Next Big Classic all in one go. Yes, I really was that naive! I knew nothing about messy first drafts, or that it takes rewrites, revisions, and a whole lot of elbow grease to produce something halfway decent. So of course, with that sort of self-inflicted pressure, inevitably I was terrified of starting and failing.
When I figured out that the writing business was a long-distance event (see number 1), this led to the realization that nothing had to be perfect right away. I could allow myself time to work things out, to back my story into corners and fall into plot holes. I could get it wrong, and dust myself off, and rewrite, and get it wrong again, as many times as necessary. The only thing I couldn’t do, was let the fear of failure hold me back from trying.
3. Have Fun! Along with realization number 2, came the awareness that I didn’t actually want to write the Next Big Classic. I wasn’t fussed about literary immortality, or having my books on required reading lists. I couldn’t care less whether my prose was gorgeously poetic. Instead, I wanted to enjoy my writing. I wanted to fill my pages with fight scenes, and daring escapes, and fireballs. Maybe a breathless first kiss or two. I was an 80’s teen, and all those hours spent watching the likes of Star Wars, Die Hard, Back to the Future, and The Goonies had to impact my writer’s soul somehow. Once I figured out the sort of things I enjoyed writing, the stories took off and the words just flowed. I was having fun, and I never ever wanted to stop.
Of course, these discoveries may have worked for me, but may not work for you. Find the small bits of wisdom that inspire you, personally, and use them to keep going on the dark days. We all have those days – beginner writer or seasoned pro – and sometimes you just need to remind yourself of why and how you got started in the first place. And then get up, dust yourself off, and jump back in with all your heart.
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!
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