Winter 2017 Updates

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NIGHT BLADE  has been out a month already! It’s amazing (to me) that I’m closing out 2017 with two published novels. HEART BLADE, Blade Hunt Chronicles #1, kicked off the year in February, and has garnered some great reviews.

 

 

 

It’s been a terrific year, which included some fun blog and web interviews, positive feedback from readers all over the world, and my first ever Con as a panelist (Boskone 54) — I’ll be back in Boston as a panelist in February for Boskone 55!

Upcoming for the beginning of 2018 is a short story in The Last City anthology by DUST Publishing, my first time playing in a shared world sandbox. I’m also busy outlining the third book in the Blade Hunt Chronicles series, STAR BLADE, which I’ll be diving into as soon as I finish the first draft of my current work in progress, a young adult SF crime story.

Some of the recent blog interviews and guest posts for NIGHT BLADE include:

Jamie Marchant: Juliana Spink Mills Hunts With A Blade

Kim Briggs: Interview With Juliana Spink Mills

Katie Carroll: What’s Your Real Story?

Latinxs in Kid Lit: Down The Rabbit Hole – A Brazilian-Brit In The USA

Suzanne Jackson: With All Your Heart

I’m looking forward to a busy 2018, with Blade Hunt Chronicles #3 and #4 to write, as well as a number of short story projects to find time for. And my to-read list keeps growing, so hopefully I’ll clock in some good reading hours, too! I hope all of you have lots of great reading and writing projects lined up for the upcoming year.

Last of all, I wanted to share a few Instagram edits my daughter made for some of the Blade Hunt characters (Raze, Ben, Del and Ash). Aren’t they adorable?

 

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Horse Power: a writer’s guide

It’s hard to avoid mentioning horses (or ponies, pack mules, etc.) if you write certain genres. These four-legged beauties are everywhere, leading the charge in a martial battle scene, galloping across the page in those sweeping epic fantasies, or slowing to a gentle walk to allow the romantic pair to gaze longingly into each other’s eyes.

So far, I’ve managed to get away with not writing about horses by setting my novels in the present day or the future. The truth is, I know very little about them, and I’m sure I would make endless mistakes if I had to include horses in my work. But other writers have no choice. If you write – for example – certain types of fantasy, or historical fiction, then you can’t really escape using horses for transportation, at the very least.

How, then, can you make sure you get your equine characters right? I asked fantasy author Kerry Buchanan, one of the owners of Fir Tree Farm Stables in Northern Ireland, to shed some light on the subject…

 

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Photo credit: Fir Tree Farm Stables

Juliana: What horse-related mistake makes you cringe the most in fiction?

Kerry: I think the worst, and commonest, is when the writer has horses galloping all day, or even for days on end. Horses are not capable of keeping up a fast pace for a long time, and even trained endurance horses do the majority of the miles at walk/trot with only some cantering. They’re grazing animals, and need to eat frequently to keep healthy, as well as drinking too.

There are a few stories and films featuring a child and a wild or half-wild horse who inexplicably bond, with the horse allowing the child to ride it bareback, communicating (it seems) by some special telepathy. The Black Stallion film springs to mind, and maybe National Velvet. The reality is that the child would probably get nowhere near the horse in the first place, and if it was rash enough to climb aboard, would probably end up as a trampled patch of strawberry jam in the dirt.

I find it’s often the fine details that irritate me. Someone tries to be clever and Googles the parts of a horse’s tack/harness but doesn’t quite get it right. Perhaps a character hauls on the bridle (instead of the reins) to get the horse to turn or stop when they’re riding it. The same goes for descriptions of horses (green eyes? Seriously?). Sometimes I think the author’s only contact with equines has been through My Little Pony….

Juliana: Name a favorite book or movie that features horses accurately.

Kerry: It’s hard to fault Black Beauty. The story is romanticised, but the details were accurate for the era, and the characters of the horses are just beautiful. I still can’t read it without crying when the cart goes by with Ginger’s body in it. I particularly like the early section where Beauty first gets a bit in his mouth, and the way it feels, but how he is reassured by his trust in the man who trained him. Later in the book, another horse, Captain, describes how it felt to be a horse in battle in the Crimean War. The noise and confusion, plus the absolute trust in his rider, and the panic when he loses his rider, seem well-observed and, as with everything Anna Sewell wrote, beautifully done. It was a landmark book from the first day it was published, and continues to be one of the most respected fiction books featuring horses.

For a more modern example, the Green Rider books by Kristen Britain are really well written from the point of view of equine accuracy. Condor, the principal equine character, has quite a personality, and the books are well worth reading. When Karigan, the inexperienced new Green Rider of the title, tries to push her horse too hard, she has to learn that the poor animal needs recovery time, and the journey can end up being slower than it would have been had she paced him correctly from the beginning. I think a few directors of Westerns could learn something from this!

Juliana: You write a lot of mythology-inspired fiction. Are there any horse myths you particularly like?

Kerry: I love the story of Pegasus and have written a short story featuring the flying horse which will be coming out in an anthology in the near future. His birth was dramatic enough (son of Poseidon, sprung from the body of Medusa when she was killed by Perseus), but his exploits with Bellerophon kept me enthralled as a child, and still do now. Bellerophon captured Pegasus using a golden bridle (a gift from the goddess Athena), and then went on to ride the wonderful creature to victory over the dreaded monster, the Chimaera, which was terrorising the kingdom. Bellerophon and Pegasus had many adventures together, but in the end the heroic Greek over-faced himself by trying to ride Pegasus up to the top of Mount Olympus, home of the gods. Zeus unseated him and he fell, but Pegasus made it all the way and became a constellation of stars in the night sky.

Another horse myth I enjoy is the story of Bucephalus, the war horse of Alexander the Great. Famously, the young Alexander won the horse in a wager with his father. Alexander realised that the horse was terrified of its own shadow, so he simply turned Bucephalus around to face into the sun and successfully climbed aboard, but not before he’d done a deal with his Dad, Philip of Macedonia, to let him keep the horse if he could manage to ride it without being thrown off.

A version of this story is beautifully told in the book, I Am the Great Horse, by Katherine Roberts.

Juliana: Please share some tips for writers planning on including horses in their work.

Kerry: It’s much the same as any other type of research for fiction-writing, really. Don’t just rely on Google or similar to get your facts, as the interweb is not always the most reliable source. Even if you find a trustworthy article, it can be all about the interpretation.

I’d say to write the story any way you like, but then ask someone who really knows about horses and riding to read it for you, to help you clean up any gaffes. If the horse(s) are a key part of the story, it’s probably worth consulting with a knowledgeable horsey person during the writing phase, too. If you want to get it completely right, spend some time around horses, and maybe learn to ride one. You’ll soon get a feel for them, and you never know: maybe you’ll get addicted!

I’m always happy to help, and will read sections for people if asked. I can also lend out a really cute small pony for equine inspiration. She’s no trouble at all and will settle down happily in your home, watching TV with you. No? Okay. Maybe another time….

Juliana: If you could ride any fictional horse, which would you choose?

Kerry: It really has to be Shadowfax, the grey stallion ridden by Gandalf in both book and film of the Lord of the Rings. Even though I’m not usually a great fan of grey horses (you should try getting grass stains out of a grey coat), I’d definitely make an exception for Shadowfax. Of course, we’d have to get rid of Gandalf somewhere along the way, as the two of them seem to be bonded pretty tightly, but I’m sure that once Shadowfax met me, he’d quickly change allegiance.

Failing that, who could resist riding a flying horse? If Athena would only gift me with a magical golden bridle, I’m sure I could do the rest!

Check out Kerry’s website and Facebook page for updates on her writing, and follow her on Twitter @Cavetraveller.

Fir Tree Farm Stables is located in Ballynahinch, County Down, Northern Ireland. You can find more information at www.firtreefarmstables.co.uk. 

Have Book, Will Read #16

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With a brand new book of my own out, over the past few weeks my blog has been full of all sorts of Night Blade related things. But I’ve also done a fair bit of reading of other people’s work, too, so here are a few of my recent favorites…

Recent Reads: Mages, Monsters, and Magic.

The latest of Benedict Jacka’s Alex Verus novels, Bound, has been sitting on my shelf for a while now. To be honest, the previous novel, Burned, ended in such a dark place that I was a little wary of the direction Jacka appeared to be heading in. I needn’t have worried.

Beginning as expected with Alex back in the clutches of his old master, Richard Drakh, Bound surprised me by quickly veering away from the path I’d pictured, and landing my favorite diviner deep into mage politics. With Jacka’s usual masterful mix of action and intrigue, this eighth novel in the series will not disappoint Alex Verus fans.

Legend Has It is the fifth book in Elliott James’ Pax Arcana, another favorite of mine when it comes to urban fantasy. I’m always surprised by how seldom this series seems to come up in discussions about the genre; it’s very, very good, and the characters are fantastic. Bonus points for a variety of strong female protagonists, as well as a snarky yet respectful main character (yes, it can be done!).

In this latest installment of the mess that is John Charming’s life, the werewolf and former Knight Templar and his team must track down whoever is using a powerful magical book to make monsters from a role playing game come to life in New York City before the entire world is compromised. Good stuff.

I finally got my hands on the second book in Victoria Schwab’s Monsters of Verity, Our Dark Duet. Schwab isn’t afraid to go dark indeed in her YA duology, and readers who are looking for something sweet with a happy ending should look elsewhere. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed both this and the and the first book, This Savage Song. The worldbuilding is unique, the plot gripping, and the main characters a pleasure to follow in their journey.

In this second and last book, August Flynn has taken his brother’s place, leading his father’s task force against the darkness that threatens the city of Verity. And Kate Harker has embraced the ruthlessness she’d tried so hard to find in the first book in order to kill monsters elsewhere. Drawn back to Verity while chasing the ultimate demon, Kate joins forces with August as they both seek redemption in the hunt. A great conclusion to the story.

I’m a big fan of Rick Riordan’s work, and I’d been looking forward to The Ship of the Dead, the last book in his Gods of Asgard trilogy. Magnus Chase is a great main character, and it’s refreshing to have a hero whose main skills are not fighting, but healing and just being a nice guy. Add in a Muslim Valkyrie with an enchanted hijab, a gender-fluid child of Loki, a fashion-loving dwarf, and a deaf elf for a wonderfully diverse series that is also laugh-out-loud hilarious thanks to the general craziness that is Norse mythology.

In The Ship of the Dead, Magnus and his team make that final desperate push to stop Loki from launching a boatful of undead warriors and kick-starting Ragnarok, leading to the end of the world. A fun read, and the perfect end to the saga! Oh, and bonus Percy Jackson cameo…

Now Reading: A little light magic…

I’m halfway through The Blood Mirror, by Brent Weeks, the fourth book in his Lightbringer series. It had been a while since I read the third book, so a big thanks to the author for including a series and book-by-book synopsis in the beginning of this one! I’m enjoying it so far, although the segments told from Kip’s point of view are definitely my favorites.

To Read: Knights and rogues.

I have two books set aside to read next. The first is Chuck Wendig’s Star Wars: Aftermath, which I’ve been curious about, even though I haven’t actually read anything in the Star Wars universe before. (I also put out a request for A New Dawn at my local library, because I love Kanan in Star Wars Rebels, and this is a prequel story for the TV show.)

I read Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows over summer and absolutely loved it. So now I have the second book in the duology, Crooked Kingdom, lined up and waiting. I’ve heard great things about it, and am looking forward to checking it out for myself.

I hope you all have a good book or two set aside for the upcoming holidays… Happy reading!

Taboo Or Not To Taboo

A guest post by Jo Zebedee, author of Abendau’s Heir, Sunset Over Abendau, Abendau’s Legacy, Inish Carraig, and the brand new dark fantasy release, Waters and the Wild.

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When I started my first book – which eventually became Abendau’s Heir – I had nothing more in mind than writing something that had been floating around my head for a number of decades. What I intended was to confront the concept of the ‘chosen’ one and challenge it. Which meant the poor main character had to go through an ordeal. That ordeal turned out to be a lengthy torture regime, including a rape.

Now, in genre novels rape is the great taboo. It is often used for weak plot reasons. It brings about accusations of gratuitousness quicker than practically any other trope. And, to add to the fun, torture isn’t that far behind it… And all in a debut novel….

I’ve often asked myself if I would have the guts to write something just as hard hitting as Abendau again. If I’d have known then what I know now (that many people would find the book too dark, that it might define me as the dark little bunny in the writing group), would I do it again?

On the face of it, Waters and the Wild, my latest book, is a million miles from Abendau. There is no torture. There is no rape. The darkness within it is subtler and less confrontational to the reader. But there are still themes within it which will challenge a reader and which were not the easiest to write about.

Firstly, the book has a main character dealing with the day-to-day reality of coping with a mental illness. Whether she is mentally ill or whether fairies really do speak to her is largely irrelevant – because, whichever it is, it causes compulsions in her, bring anxiety and fear, causes her confusion and disassociation. That Amy has had these thoughts, or has heard these voices, since she was a child, is redolent of our modern era – where teenage mental health problems are growing and our services (where I am, at least) are stretched and support is often patchy.

But the thing that Waters and the Wild does (which has been picked up in even the earliest reviews) is question what that does to a wider family. The repercussions of mental health difficulties – not just Amy’s – reverberate through the book. No one is unscathed by it – because we are not islands and when someone we love struggles, we can’t just close ourselves off from it.

Up to this point, I’m on safe ground, I feel. I researched. I got feedback from people who were more knowledgeable than me and acted on it. I researched some more. I drew on whatever personal knowledge I have, or have been privileged enough for people to share. As with Abendau, I’m confident the themes that have arisen have been dealt with carefully, with thoughtfulness and honesty.

That’s before the book is released, however. Once it goes out as a published book, I no longer own that book.

With Abendau, I hoped I’d be recognised for writing a thoughtful trilogy about a character’s journey. Mostly, though, I’m known as the lady who writes great torture. Those 3000 or so words in a sea of 250,000 are what define the trilogy. With Inish Carraig, my Belfast-based alien invasion novel, I’ve had to come to terms with people reacting to a reflected Belfast in the book. It’s not why I wrote it, but that’s okay. It’s what resonates with so many readers.

What, then, for Waters and the Wild? I hope the dark mythology will stand out but, looking at early feedback, the character interactions in all their quirked and strained ways, are coming to the fore. The mental illness themes, too, are resonating. We’ll see where they all settle down and what the book’s identity becomes.

What I do know is that, for me, it’s only by writing challenging themes that a multi faceted book emerges. Which I suppose answers my question. Would I tackle hard themes again, knowing they might cause discomfort, and put some readers off?

Yes. Yes I would. Because I should be honest to the story, the characters and their theme. And I hope readers will find that I have been.

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You can buy Waters and the Wild here.

Add Waters and the Wild on Goodreads.

Follow Jo on Twitter @jozebwrites, and check out her wonderful blog posts on writing and publishing at her website, www.jozebedee.com

Have Book, Will Read #14

After a ridiculously long hiatus, I’m back with more mini reviews. Have Book, Will Read has been on hold for way too long, and I figured it was time to dust it off and let it out of the dark, dismal e-basement its been hiding in. I’ve read a lot of great fiction since my last book update, and here are a few of the highlights.

Recent Reads: A little bit of this, a little bit of that… A little bit of everything, really.

First off, something I don’t read a lot of nowadays, though I’ve definitely read my share in the past: romance. Suzanne Jackson’s The Beguiler is a fantasy story, set in a world and time reminiscent of our Regency period. Told in Jackson’s clean and elegant prose, this is the tale of Rebecca Vasteer, a young witch living in a society that has outlawed witchcraft. On the run from both the town marshals and the feared Rangers, Rebecca is saved by a Witch Trader with reasons of his own to stay out of the Rangers’ way.

This isn’t a light and summery love story. Jackson’s world is rich and dark, filled with tales of witch magic and the brutal Ranger skills that aim to contain that power. The story is deliciously unpredictable – every time you think you have the plot figured out, it twists away once again, keeping you guessing every step of the way.

I finally got around to reading the last book in Jo Zebedee’s terrific Inheritance Trilogy. The third and last volume, Abendau’s Legacy, does a great job of tying up Kare Varnon’s epic story in a wonderfully realistic manner that’s neither too neat nor too pretty. This is the final confrontation in a war that has lasted since before Kare’s birth, and what a ride it is!

As always, one of Zebedee’s strong points is that she does a great job of showing us the consequences of her characters’ actions, crafting tales with just enough of a dark underbelly to please both ‘grimdark’ fans and those who like a lighter touch to their space opera.

I’d read the first two volumes of Claudia Gray’s YA Firebird series last year, and been blown away by this exciting tale of multiverse hopping and true love. The concluding book, A Million Worlds With You, hits the ground running after the cliffhanger she left us with in Ten Thousand Skies Above You.

Marguerite Caine and her allies across the multiverse have to stop the Triad Corporation before thousands of worlds are doomed to annihilation. But Marguerite is faced with additional challenges: an evil doppelganger from an alternate dimension, intent on her destruction; and the battle to keep her beloved Paul from completely falling apart after his soul was splintered and put together again.

An interesting – and challenging – read was Nik Abnett’s Savant. The first few pages are hard going: Abnett throws us straight into the deep end in her world, and its highly specific language and terms. But once I settled into her tale, I found I was fascinated by this story of love and devotion at a time where everything is highly compartmentalized, institutionalized, and methodical.

Savant is set in a future version of Earth where a living mind mesh cloaks the planet, defending it from alien invasion. When one of the ‘Actives’ that maintains the shield is compromised, global government races to stabilize the system. This is not an easy story, but it’s definitely one well-worth reading. You can read my SFF World interview with the author here.

For fantasy lovers in search of something a little more traditional, Exile by Martin Owton is a good bet. This first book in the Nandor Tales introduces young master swordsman Aron of Darien, an exile without a homeland, and with an oath of revenge to fulfill. Aron gets sidetracked into a quest to rescue the heir of Nandor, and soon finds himself in the thick of another land’s problems.

Duels, daring rescues, subterfuge, magic, and the (lovely but distracting) temptation of love. In Exile, Owton delivers a nicely polished tale, with all the classic elements that fans of epic fantasy will enjoy. The second volume, Nandor, is already out, and I look forward to continuing the story.

I need to mention a non-SFF ARC I read recently. Out in June 2017, Carrie Firestone’s The Unlikelies is a contemporary YA with a lovely, feel-good, summer vibe to it. This is the story of a group of high school kids who become friends at a Rotary Club ‘Home Grown Heroes’ lunch, and decide to put their summer vacation to good use with a series of ninja-style anonymous good deeds.

Firestone’s novel deals skillfully with some pretty dark themes (bullying, heroin addiction), balancing them out with friendship, romance, and some incredibly funny moments. Her snappy dialogue shines throughout, as do her diverse and lovely characters.

Now Reading: Guts and Glory.

I’m currently in the middle of Snake Eyes, by Hillary Monahan. Part of the Gods and Monsters series by Abaddon Books, this is the story of Tanis, a lamia who gets tangled in a war between her own kind and the vengeful Gorgons. I was a little reluctant about this one at first, as I know of Monahan’s reputation as a horror writer, and I don’t really do horror. But – dark, bloody, and foul-mouthed as it is – this is more of an urban fantasy, and I’m finding it hard to put down. The pacing is relentless, and Monahan’s descriptions and dialogue have me straight out laughing aloud at times.

Over the last couple of months, I’ve also been dipping in and out of Journeys, a fantasy anthology by Woodbridge Press that has one of my own stories in it. With a stellar line-up of authors, this is a great read for fantasy fans – and not just because I’m in it. There’s a bit of everything, to please all tastes, and it’s been interesting seeing what directions my fellow authors have chosen to take.

To Read: There’s magic afoot…

I currently have a ridiculously long to-read list – and that’s just considering what’s already loaded on my Kindle, or sitting in paperback or hardback on my bookshelf. So here are just a couple that I can’t wait to start.

I’m a huge fan of Benedict Jacka’s Alex Verus novels, and the last one left Alex in a really dark place. I’m part excited for and part dreading the new volume, Bound, because Jacka is a master at making his characters suffer. If you love urban fantasy, and haven’t tried Jacka, please do!

Another urban fantasy novel I recently picked up is the latest in Seanan McGuire’s InCryptid series, Magic For Nothing. So far, McGuire has introduced us to Verity and her brother Alex. Now it’s time to meet the youngest Price sibling, Antimony. Ever since Book 3 in the series, when we switched from Verity’s story to Alex, I’ve been hoping for a closer look at the infamous ‘baby’ of the bunch, so I was delighted when I found out who the protagonist of Book 6 was going to be.

A quick shout out to Rick Riordan, whose latest novel, The Dark Prophecy (Trials of Apollo, Book 2), recently landed in the bookstores. I’m a absolute fan of Riordan’s work, and my kids know that their mother always gets first dibs on any new novel. I’m sorry, did you say ‘It’s a kids book’? I couldn’t hear you over the sound of my unapologetic fangirling.

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I’ll get there, eventually!

Villains We Hate To Love (Part 2)

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“I am Loki, of Asgard and I am burdened with glorious purpose…You WILL kneel before me!”

Yeah, yeah. I know they’re the ‘bad guys’. I KNOW, all right? Sheesh, stop shouting. It’s just…why did they have to be so darn awesome? The fact is, some villains are too cool for school, and although we know we’re supposed to hate them, we end up loving them instead. I’m not talking about ‘grey’ villains, ones who have redeemable qualities, who deserve understanding even if ultimately they still do All The Wrong Things. I’m talking about characters who are clearly bad to the core, but who we can’t help adoring anyway.

An example is Scar from Disney’s The Lion King. It’s hard to find a villain as delicious as Scar, voiced by the amazing Jeremy Irons. His particular brand of suave yet petty nastiness blew everyone away when the movie first came out. Scar telling Simba that his surprise is “To die for”? *shivers*

I haven’t seen the Lion King musical. But if we were casting Scar nowadays, he would have to be played by Tom Hiddleston. And speaking of Tom: Loki, in Marvel’s The Avengers. We’re supposed to dislike him – rather intensely, I imagine – but come on, that’s hardly fair! The character’s quiet yet supreme arrogance is played so beautifully by Hiddleston that Loki quickly emerged as one of the highlights of the star-studded movie.

Another character I can’t help rather liking is Bellatrix Lestrange from Harry Potter. In part, perhaps, because on-screen she’s played by the inimitable Helena Bonham Carter. But book Bellatrix is also fabulous. She definitely fits in the ‘hate to love’ camp. I think, with Bellatrix, the attraction is her completely unapologetic devotion to evil. She’s not just old Voldy’s right hand lady, she truly enjoys being horrible. With crazed giggling pleasure.

I think it’s easier to find ‘bad guys’ that we love on TV and in movies, than in books. In visual media, a dashing portrayal by a charismatic actor can be enough to make us fall for a villain, however heinous their crimes. (Hannibal Lecter, I’m looking at you.) In books, once an author starts adding charm and depth to an evil character, that character risks ending up in the ‘grey morality’ zone, where we know they’re bad but we understand their motivations and sympathize with them. Which is not really what I’m looking for here: I’m going for characters we KNOW are evil, but can’t help falling for anyway.

Take CW’s Supernatural, for instance. Over the show’s 12 seasons, the audience has embraced outright evil characters such as demon Crowley, played by Mark Sheppard, and Lucifer himself, played primarily by Mark Pellegrino. Both characters are fan favorites, and Sheppard and Pellegrino are for sure the reason behind this. In Arrow, also a CW show, recurring character Malcolm Merlyn is a slippery, self-centered jerk. But actor John Barrowman consistently woos the audience, over and over.

Sometimes I wonder what it’s like for an author or show creator when a villain suddenly takes off as a fan favorite. I imagine it goes something like this:

Fans on Twitter, Tumblr, etc: WE LOVE THIS CHARACTER.

Creators: No, they’re actually the villain, you’re not supposed to like them.

Fans: LOVE.

Creators: I don’t think you understand, see, they’re bad?

Fans: *Fan art everywhere. Make a million gifs. Write thousands of words of fan fiction.*

Creators: But…

Fans: Looooovvvveeeeeee………………..

 

 

 

 

Villains We Love To Hate (Part 1)

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A few great villains from my bookshelf

What makes The Ultimate Villain™? Now, I’m not necessarily talking about the Big Bad in a story; for instance, we all know the Emperor is the puppet master behind everything in Star Wars. (Gaaasp, spoiler alert!) But the Ultimate Villain in the original trilogy isn’t the Emperor, it’s Vader, with the all-black ensemble and the heavy masked breathing. He’s the one on all the t-shirts, the one who sells the action figures and LEGO kits. True, he had his moment of redemption at the end of Return of the Jedi, but for the majority of screen time in the trilogy, he was fabulously and unapologetically evil.

Darth Vader got me thinking about some of my favorite screen and page villains, and what makes them so fun to hate. In Vader’s case, I think his utter calm and coldness, allied with the distancing his black outfit, gloved hands, and mask produce, makes him a frightening on-screen presence from the moment he appears in New Hope showing off his Force choke.

The Narnia series was my childhood passion, and you don’t get any nastier than the witches that C.S. Lewis came up with. The scene in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe where the White Witch throws Edmund into her dungeon was one I always found chilling: Edmund trusted her (okay, he was also partially bewitched. And an idiot), and she treats him worse than dirt until he’s eventually rescued. The Green Lady in the Silver Chair was also a great villain, with her poisonous sweetness and terrible hidden schemes.

Like Star Wars, the Harry Potter series is another where side villains are often more compelling than the Big Bad, Lord Voldemort himself. Take Dolores Umbridge, for instance. (No, really, please take her, she terrifies me!) She’s tremendously effective as a villain, I think perhaps because most of us have come across that particular brand of petty nastiness at some point in our lives. A schoolteacher, a supervisor at work, an authority figure. Not someone with the power of life or death over us, just someone who can make our lives acutely miserable if they choose. The Harry Potter books have many ‘evil’ characters who we can’t help but understand, at least a little (there’s no way NOT to feel sorry for Draco Malfoy by the end of the series!), but Umbridge certainly isn’t one of those. And oh, boy, do we love to hate her.

Children’s and teen books do this sort of irredeemably nasty character very well (look at Miss Trunchbull from Roald Dahl’s Matilda, or President Snow from The Hunger Games), but even in adult fiction, you can’t have a decent fantasy or sci fi novel without a great villain. Or villains, plural. Sauron may have been the Big Bad in The Lord of the Rings, but I always particularly loathed Saruman for his backstabbing, tree-slaying, self-centered behavior. The sequence where the ents take down his fortress will always have me cheering wildly, no matter how many times I read it.

I know the trend nowadays is to have villains that readers/viewers can understand, with tragic backstories and deeper motivations that place them in a sort of moral grey zone, rather than the old-fashioned black-or-white of older stories. And I’m all for that, don’t get me wrong. It makes for a hugely compelling story. But sometimes it’s just so fun to be handed a character we’re unabashedly allowed to love to hate. So authors, producers, creators: grey zone your villains as much as you like, but please, please, please toss us an Umbridge every now and then? Go on. You know you want to.

Spring 2017 Updates

Connecticut finally has its Spring on. Tiny baby leaves have tiptoed over the treetops like a green mist, and forsythia is blazing in glorious yellow splendor. The sun is shining. I have daffodils in the garden, and Easter chocolate is on sale everywhere you look.

 

So, what’s new in my world?

I’ve finished Book 2 in the Blade Hunt Chronicles, Night Blade. Now the manuscript is off being looked at by eyes other than my own. Until I get all the revision notes back, I can’t do anything else on that front. I’ve already outlined a lot of what will happen in Book 3, Star Blade, and I’m really excited about it, but I’m holding off getting a start on writing that one until I know if I have any substantial changes to make in Night Blade that might affect my Book 3 plot.

What’s in Book 2? No spoilers, but I can tell you there’s a heist, and Rose may have bitten off more than she can handle. Del gets to wear a ballgown. And you all get to meet my lovely new character, Ben Kelley. He’s a witch and, well, you’ll just have to wait and see.

I’m trying to get my head back into a stalled sci fantasy YA while I wait for Night Blade revision notes, but it can be hard switching worlds and projects, and to be honest it’s been slow going. I’m looking forward to this weekend, where I and some 700 or so New England kid lit authors and illustrators will gather at the NESCBWI Spring Conference for workshops, panels, and lots of great conversation about books and writing. I always go home revved up and inspired after these events, so this should be just the kick I need to get back into my rhythm again. Follow the #NESCBWI17 hashtag on twitter this weekend for lots of kid lit pearls of wisdom tweeted by event participants.

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New bookmarks, ready for NESCBWI 17

The Pixel Project’s Read for Pixels fundraiser is almost over. The donation page will be open until April 29th, though the main event has ended. I contributed three Heart Blade paperbacks with character art postcards to this, which were bundled together with 1st Edition hardcovers from bestselling YA Fantasy authors Kimberly Derting (The Taking) and Alyson Noel (Unrivalled). I was very happy to hear from the organization that all three bundles were snapped up.

You can find my mini interview on the Pixel Project blog.

What else… Heart Blade had a sale! (Yay!) The sale is over… (Boo!). But you can still find the Kindle version at a very reasonable U$ 3.99 on Amazon. *waves cheerleader pompoms* For those interested in a paperback, I’m planning a giveaway on Goodreads in May, so keep an eye out here and on GR itself.

And last (but not least), today I received a lovely letter from blogger Marguerite Gibson with two beautiful handmade book plates that I’ve promised to sign and send back. It’s always wonderful to hear from readers, whether on social media, or in reviews, or by snail mail, like Marguerite from Australia. Gives me warm and fuzzy writer feels!

Happy Spring to all. May your words be plentiful, your flowers beautiful, your mornings sunny and bright…and may your leftover Easter chocolate last many, MANY days.

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Read For Pixels 2017 – International Women’s Day Edition

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The Pixel Project’s ‘Read For Pixels’ (International Women’s Day Edition) is still going strong. The non-profit has reached its initial target of U$5,000 in donations, and they are hoping to hit their stretch goal of U$10,000.

The Pixel Project gathers funds and raises awareness to help end violence against women around the world. Their twice-yearly Read For Pixels campaign has online hangouts with top authors, as well as books and other prizes that you can claim as ‘perks’ with your donation.

My novel Heart Blade is in one of the donation bundles, along with 1st Edition hardcovers from bestselling YA Fantasy authors Kimberly Derting (The Taking) and Alyson Noel (Unrivalled). Last time I checked, there was only one of these bundles left! There are many other donation perks, though, like books by Kendare Blake and Karen Rose.

Check out the campaign page here.

Also, keep an eye out for the Gaming For Pixels Spring Slam 2017, a 48-hour gaming marathon fundraiser to take place on April 7th-9th. More information here.

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Boskone 54

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Last weekend I made what has become my yearly pilgrimage to Boskone. For those who have never heard of it (and if you live in New England, you’ve definitely been missing out!), Boskone is a great science fiction and fantasy convention that leans heavily toward SF/F writers and readers. The con always has a fabulous line-up of guest speakers, and the panels are varied and interesting. The overall vibe is relaxed and friendly.

This year, I didn’t manage to go to any of the kaffeeklatsches*, one of my absolute favorite things to do at Boskone. I also went to fewer panels than I usually attend, for one simple reason: this time, I was one of the panelists myself.

So, what was the view like from the other side?

Terrifying, on the first day! By the second day, however, I’d got the hang of it. I relaxed, and really enjoyed the discussion. It helps that I had fantastic co-panelists and moderators, of course. Thanks to Boskone for inviting me! I had a great time. (Check out a list of the panels I was on here.)

Some of my Boskone 54 highlights include the panel on Skullduggery and Dastardly Deeds, hilariously moderated by Scott Lynch, and the panel on Guest of Honor Brandon Sanderson’s career. It’s always encouraging to hear great writers like Sanderson talk about the beginning of their careers…

Every year I try to catch a reading, and this time I went to a great one by Lynch – a short story that will appear in the Book of Swords anthology, out in October.

However, one of the best things to do at Boskone can’t be found on the official schedule. And that’s – quite simply – conversation. I love getting a chance to chat to SF/F fans, writers, and other industry folks. It ends up being one of the high points of the con, every single time.

So here I am, two days after returning home, sitting in the middle of a pile of notes, papers, and bookmarks from this year’s Boskone, and all I can think of is: Boskone 55? Bring it on.

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Worldbuilding in Urban Fantasy

L to R: (not shown: Margaret Ronald), Robert B. Finegold M.D., myself, Adam Stemple, Leigh Perry (Moderator) – photo courtesy of Robert.

*For those who have never been to one, a kaffeeklatsch is an informal round table with someone like an author. I’ve been to several memorable ones, like the one with Myke Cole at my very first Boskone, or the one with Ginjer Buchanan that ended up being a friendly tête-à-tête after a blizzard chased most of the con goers away.