Writer Resolutions

It’s that time again, when I take a step back and look at what I’ve accomplished in the past twelve months, and think about what I want to get done in the brand new, sparkle-shiny upcoming year. Cliché as resolutions may be, I think having a certain time of year — be it the New Year, your birthday, or another personally significant date — where you force yourself to stop and take stock can be a good idea. Just as long as you focus on the positives: this isn’t about what you’ve failed to do and plan to do better, but about what you’ve succeeded at, and plan to add to.

I’ve invited a group of talented authors, who write a variety of speculative genres from science fiction to romantic SF/F, to share some of their Writer Resolutions for 2018. I hope you find your own inspiration for the upcoming months. Enjoy!

 

 

bailey

Nick Bailey has been making up stories since his school days, when he met lifelong friend and co-author of Liberator Darren Bullock. Besides series-opener Liberator, Nick’s science fiction work includes Primordial, a sci-fi-horror novelette set in the Liberator Universe and the short story The Last Command in the anthology Explorations – First Contact. He likes cats, dogs, long walks on the beach, and blowing up spaceships

Favorite 2017 Writer Moment: My favourite writer moment of the year was probably going on Keystroke Medium with Scott Moon, Josh Hayes and Ralph Kern. Those guys are a lot of fun to talk with and it was a real pleasure for Darren and I to be guests on the show.

Top 2018 Writer Resolution: To write more. A lot more. I’m planning on building a dedicated writing space in my attic so that I can shut myself away properly, I’ve also been able to re-arrange my day job working schedule which will (should!) give me a lot more time to write in the daytime, freeing up some time in the evenings for me to pretend I have an actual life.

We are also starting up a small press publishing business – Dust Publishing, so I really do need a more organised way of fitting it all in, as well as a decent space to work.

One book from your 2018 to-read list: Night School by Lee Child, I’m a big fan of the Jack Reacher series, but haven’t managed to read that one yet (I think there is now another after Night School too, so have some catching up to do.

You can find Nick online at www.nickbailey.space and on Twitter @nickbailey317. Buy Nick’s work here.

 

suejack

Books have always been a large part of Suzanne Jackson’s life. One of her fondest childhood memories is sitting on a wicker stool, reading aloud from the play “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, whilst her Grandmother sat beside her on a black rocking chair. Suzanne is the author of The Beguiler, a dark fantasy romance tale of love and forbidden magic.

Favorite 2017 Writer Moment: I was sure my answer to this question would have been the launch of my book The Beguiler and seeing it going out into the big wide world, but I think reading to an audience was also a very special moment. It felt like a dream come true.

Top 2018 Writer Resolution: I enjoy writing, so my resolution is to write and get my next book finished. It sounds a simple resolution, but 2017 has been a difficult year, and a lot of self-doubt has crept in. I have been asked about the next book from readers who have enjoyed the first, which is wonderful.

One book from your 2018 to-read list: If I must choose one, then it has to be Bryan Wigmore’s next book. I really enjoyed The Goddess Project and cannot wait to read the next book in the series.

Find Suzanne online at suzannejackson.co.uk and buy her book here.

 

kernFor as long as Ralph Kern can remember, he’s always enjoyed science fiction, especially the grand masters of the genre, Arthur C Clarke, Stephen Baxter, Alistair Reynolds and many more. After studying for a degree in Aerospace Technology and obtaining his pilot’s license, Ralph turned to a career in law enforcement. Eventually his love of science fiction and the desire to think about what he considers ‘the big issues’ led him to try his hand at writing. Ralph is the author of the Sleeping Gods duology, and the Locus series, which includes Unfathomed and Expedition.

Favorite 2017 Writer Moment: It’s been a busy year for me on the writing front. Gaining a three-book on-spec publishing contract from the biggest audiobook publisher on the scene was a wonderful feeling of validation. The release of Expedition to excellent reviews was another moment.

But when we boil it down, the single thing I was most proud of was the work I did with Keystroke Medium and Tom Edwards on our Covers for a Cure charity event where we raised $4200 for Parkinson’s Research UK. Not only was it for a great cause, but it was an event where we showed the world the sheer firepower the global Indie community can muster when working together.

I really do think that event will be remembered as one of the turning points in the Indie author Renaissance.

Top 2018 Writer Resolution: I have the next book in the Locus series out around March time. Already, the Beta readers are saying it is my best work yet and I can’t wait to release it into the wild.

Perhaps more excitingly is an extremely ambitious project I’m coordinating. I’m getting to work with the best authors in the SF genre and I’m a little star struck and humbled by the names who are moving to associate themselves with it. I can’t say too much about the project just yet, but if it goes even half right, it will be a seismic event in SF Indie publishing. More news soon!

One book from your 2018 to-read list: If I had to pick one? Tricky. Very Tricky. A good buddy of mine, Nathan Hystad, is finally releasing his books. I’ve had the honour of beta reading them and it makes me envious how damn good of an author he is. Robert M Campbell, another friend, is releasing the next part of his awesome Trajectory series. They are some of the best SF out there and on par with the greats of the genre. I am determined he should get the recognition he deserves. Scott Moon has a really exciting serial he has worked on with the legendary Craig Martelle. He is both a great story teller and, just as important in the industry, it will be facinating to see how a serial performs in the current market. Again, that may be a game changer. Finally, Josh Hayes is working with Richard Fox on a series. The first one is out, and I’m loving it. He’s a great author, with fantastic technical skill and a hell of a lot of subject matter knowledge. Four more are going to follow over the next year.

So one? No, I couldn’t pick one just one.

Find Ralph on Facebook or visit the website he hosts in collaboration with a number of leading SF authors. www.scifiexplorations.com Buy Ralph’s books here.

 

emFantasy, horror, and sci fi author E.J. Tett also writes speculative romance under the name Emma Jane. She has been writing stories since primary school, some of which still survive in notebooks in her dad’s attic, and wanted to be an author as soon as she realised it was a possible career choice and ‘Pony’ or ‘Ninja’ weren’t viable options. Her latest novel is the brand new Space Mac, a sci fi space heist story with a strong side of romance.

Favorite 2017 Writer Moment: My favourite writer moment of 2017 was having not one, but two, novels accepted by NineStar Press for publication. Particularly my first sci-fi, Space Mac, which I actually wrote for the 2016 NaNoWriMo. NineStar are a brilliant LGBTQA+ publisher so I was ecstatic that they’d want to publish something I’d written.

Top 2018 Writer Resolution: I failed at the NaNo this year, only managing to hit 30k, so I’d really like to try to finish the novel I started for that. I also have a couple other things I’d like to write for NineStar as they have some pretty interesting submission calls going on at the moment. Also, I’d really love to be able to get my urban fantasy ‘Locke & Co’ polished enough that I can start sending it out to agents.

One book from your 2018 to-read list: Obviously Night Blade by Juliana Spink Mills. I finished the first novel in the series, Heart Blade, very recently so I need to get to Night Blade while the first is still fresh in my memory. I know you said one, but I’d also like to check out Haunted Hearts by Amelia Faulkner – ghosts and romance sound right up my street.

Find Em online at ejtett.weebly.com and on Twitter @emizzy. Buy her books here and as Emma Jane here.

 

brianEpic fantasy author Brian G. Turner spent over 20 years researching mediaeval living history before publishing Gathering, the first book in the Chronicles of Empire series. He also visited historic sites, re-enactments, and learned many of the skills his characters use — not least horse-riding, archery, and sword-fighting — to provide for a more realistic character experience. He currently lives in the Highlands of Scotland with his family.

Favorite 2017 Writer Moment: My favorite writing moment was finishing a first draft of 160k words in less than 8 weeks. Bragging rights = failed, because it has required another 10 months of rewriting and editing!

Top 2018 Writer Resolution: I have no resolution, though, other than to keep pushing to write. I have a lot of stories to tell, but writing always takes so much longer than expected.

One book from your 2018 to-read list: Possibly the biggest book for 2018 will be a re-read of Lord of the Rings. I don’t really have any fond memories from the first time, not least because school friends told me everything about the story before I’d even picked up the book. However, I’m going to keep in mind everything I’ve learned so far about the technicalities of fiction writing, and see Tolkien can teach me something new.

You can find Brian online at the SFFChronicles.com, at his dedicated author forum, and on Twitter @Brian_G_Turner. Buy Gathering here.

 

thadThaddeus White has always loved reading and writing. He’s an avid reader of fantasy and classical history, and also enjoys watching, betting and tipping on Formula 1 (with mixed results). Thaddeus writes epic fantasy and fantasy-comedy, as well as occasionally dabbling in other genres like horror or sci fi. His latest book is Sir Edric’s Kingdom, a comedy that is more fun than a ferret in custard.

Favorite 2017 Writer Moment: Probably the Wandering Phoenix and Roaming Tiger serial (start of it, just done the first three episodes which serve as an origin story of how the title characters get together, and will add more once I’ve finished my current WIP). It’s an entirely different style to what I’ve done before, high octane adventure inspired by Chinese classics like Outlaws of the Marsh.

Top 2018 Writer Resolution: To start (and hopefully finish) the first ‘chapter’ in a comedic webcomic I’ve begun to put together. Should be 40-50 episodes in total, so a combination of drawing and dialogue which is quite a challenge. Hoping to get the first episode out either this month or next (if so, the resolution will just be for the finishing bit).

One book from your 2018 to-read list: Oathbringer, the third entry in the Stormlight Archives. It came out last month and, although I’ve been waiting for it for a while, I’m currently reading something else so it’s probably next on the to-buy list.

Find Thaddeus online at thaddeuswhite.weebly.com, and blogging at thaddeusthesixth.blogspot.co.uk. He can also be found on Twitter @MorrisF1. Buy his books here.

 

joJo Zebedee writes science fiction and fantasy in a little corner of Northern Ireland. She has a healthy interest in lots of things like reading, and writing, and gardening. She has an unhealthy interest in sexy space pilots, aliens and all things Space Opera. She is the author of sci fi novels Inish Carraig and the Inheritance Trilogy, and the dark fantasy Waters and the Wild.

Favorite 2017 Writer Moment: Publication of a new book is always something a little special, and Waters and the Wild (July, Inspired Quill) was a very personal title, drawing on themes that meant a lot to me and written in a place I wanted to take care to capture well.

But I’ll also mention going down to Dublin with a group of women from Women Aloud NI – a group who focus on raising the women’s writing scene profile in NI. We went down on the translink train, reading all the way, and then joined women writers at the Irish Writers Centre for a day of reading and panels before heading back to Belfast. It was huge fun!

Top 2018 Writer Resolution: To finish Inish Carraig‘s sequel. Inish Carraig is my cult hit about an alien invasion of Belfast, written as only someone familiar with the NI voices could. I get asked a lot for a sequel but I’ve dragged my heels, perhaps fearful of not capturing the magic again.

But I’m now nearly 10,000 words in and the voices are coming back. I’m working in a different way – with a small team of beta readers looking at a chunk each month. That means I’m planning (a little) more and taking more care to hone things.

I’d hope to have it out in 2019.

One book from your 2018 to-read list: Just one! That’s not possible.

Let’s see…. The Invasion by Peadar Ó Guilín is high up there. The Empyreus Proof by Bryan Wigmore – I’m dying to see what happens next. Thaddeus White’s new Sir Edric book. I’ve beta read it and loved it, as always, and will enjoy seeing the finished article. And, finally, a debut – I’m looking forward to reading Dan Jones’ Man’O’War due from Snowbooks.

You can find Jo online at www.jozebedee.com and on Twitter @jozebwrites. Buy Jo’s books here.

Five First Kisses

2016-02-10 09.37.33

Fiction, even the bloodiest and grimmest of bearded Viking fantasy, is a fertile place for romance. You can find love among the laser blasts, or heartbreak in the shadow of a castle siege. It might be vast and all-encompassing, or tiny and discreet – sometimes barely a hint – but it’s usually around someplace. Stories are about characters, and characters must necessarily relate to each other. Some of these relationships might include friendship, or hate, or camaraderie…or love.

Not all of my examples are from YA novels, but most are. This is because young adult fiction, in particular, is full of first kisses, which makes sense. After all, YA is all about teens discovering themselves and their place in the world around them, making difficult choices, and often saving the day along with all of that. Finding love (however ephemeral), and all of the heady emotions that follow, is often a key part of this experience.

Lila and Kell (A Gathering of Shadows, V.E. Schwab):

Schwab’s lovely characters share a bare brushing of lips in the first book, but their true first kiss takes place almost at the end of the second book in the trilogy. By now they’ve fought together, fought each other, escaped death and caused it to others, and this kiss is every bit as dramatic as their lives have been. You can just feel the pent-up passion and frustration jump from the page, and it’s everything that Lila and Kell (finally) deserve. They’re at a ball, at night, fresh off an argument – nothing unusual for these two – and Kell storms off onto an outside balcony. Lila follows to talk about the fight they just had, and emotions finally boil over:

            ‘They crashed into each other as if propelled by gravity, and he didn’t know which of them was the object and which the earth, only that they were colliding. This kiss was Lila pressed into a single gesture. Her brazen pride and her stubborn resolve, her recklessness and her daring and her hunger for freedom. It was all those things, and it took Kell’s breath away. Knocked the air from his lungs. Her mouth pressed hard against his, and her fingers wove through his hair as his sank down her spine, tangling in the intricate folds of her dress.’

The scene goes on, kisses that turn to biting, bodies pressed up against the wall. And ends like this:

            ‘He kissed her until the cold night fell away and his whole body sang with heat. He kissed her until the fire burned up the panic and the anger and the weight in his chest, until he could breathe again, and until they were both breathless.’

There. I think we’re all a little out of breath now, right?

Ronan and Adam (The Raven King, Maggie Stiefvater):

After the longest build-up ever (seriously, it took almost an entire series for Adam to really see Ronan), fans of the Raven Cycle finally got their reward in book 4. I love this kiss scene for various reasons: the first is that, by the second book, Ronan Lynch was already my favorite character. Prickly as a hedgehog, but so vulnerable underneath, he absolutely deserved his happily-ever-after. I also love the way Stiefvater handled the scene. It’s quiet, understated, with no huge fanfare, but so beautifully intense. Adam is sitting on the edge of Ronan’s bed in broad daylight, holding a model car and thinking, when Ronan walks into the room. He sits beside Adam, and holds out a hand for the car. A moment later, he leans over and kisses him. What makes it such a great scene is what comes next:

            ‘Ronan let out a breath, put the model down on the bed beside him, and kissed Adam.

Once, when Adam had still lived in the trailer park, he had been pushing the lawn mower around the scraggly side yard when he realized that it was raining a mile away. He could smell it, the earthy scent of rain on dirt, but also the electric, restless smell of ozone. And he could see it: a hazy gray sheet of water blocking his view of the mountains. He could track the line of rain traveling across the vast dry field toward him. It was heavy and dark, and he knew he would get drenched if he stayed outside. It was coming from so far away that he had plenty of time to put the mower away and get under cover. Instead, though, he just stood there and watched it approach. Even at the last minute, as he heard the rain pounding the grass flat, he just stood there. He closed his eyes and let the storm soak him.

That was this kiss.’

Ahh. Beautiful.

Harry and Ginny (The Half-Blood Prince, J.K. Rowling):

The Harry Potter books aren’t really known for their romance, but there are lots of great moments in there, nonetheless. And one of my favorites is Harry and Ginny’s first kiss. It’s so very much them. Harry’s character, for all that he’s the hero of the series, has an odd, quiet sort of passivity to him, possibly from years of trying to make himself invisible at the Dursleys. And Ginny is everything but passive. She’s one of my favorite Weasleys – the only girl and the baby of the bunch, who can give as good as she gets, and even out-hex her twin prankster brothers. So it makes sense that their first kiss would be all about Ginny riding the emotional high of a Quiddich win, and throwing herself into Harry’s arms – something he’d probably never get around to initiating himself. Ginny takes charge, and it’s every bit as awesome as she is:

            ‘Harry looked around; there was Ginny running towards him; she had a hard, blazing look on her face as she threw her arms around him. And without thinking, without planning it, without worrying about the fact that fifty people were watching, Harry kissed her.’

Pen and Espel (The Glass Republic, Tom Pollock):

Tom Pollock’s Skyscraper Throne trilogy isn’t as well known as the other series I’ve mentioned here, and it really deserves to be. Check out my review here. The books are full of great characters and rich worldbuilding, and one of my favorite characters is Pen, a Pakistani teen from London brought up in a traditional household. In the first book Pen is sexually abused by a teacher, and later becomes terribly injured in a supernatural battle.

In this second book, she stumbles through to a mirror world where her face full of patchwork scars is considered the height of beauty instead of something freakish. When Pen finds herself attracted to another girl, it’s a shy, tentative thing – perfectly written considering where she’s coming from, and the issues she carries around. Their first kiss is equally tentative, and I love it for the way it reflects not just Pen’s uncertainty, but the uncertainty of most teenagers (and probably many adults) facing a first kiss with someone they like.

            ‘Pen put her hand over Espel’s temple and wound her fingers into her hair. She hesitated for a fraction of a second and kissed her.

Espel inhaled sharply. There was a terrifying, paralyzed moment, when Pen was certain that Espel was going to push herself away, and then that breath came out again and the steeplejill’s lips gave way under hers. They held the kiss for long moments, Pen’s heart loud in her ears, and then Espel stepped into her.’

You can just feel Pen’s relief when Espel reciprocates. Nicely done, and with very relatable feelings, too.

There are so many great kisses in fiction. These are just a few of those romantic moments that – however brief – can help warm a plotline and add character depth to a story. I promised five, so here’s the last; this one’s a little tongue-in-cheek (sorry! Sorry. Bad kissing pun…) but I just had to include it.

Buttercup and Westley (The Princess Bride, William Goldman):

I’m always surprised by how many people love the movie but have never read Goldman’s masterpiece. This book is so much fun, and worth picking up if you’ve never given it a chance. And here it is, the (alleged) best kiss in history (according to the author):

            ‘He reached out with his right hand.

Buttercup found it very hard to breathe.

“Good-by.”

She managed to raise her right hand to his.

They shook.

“Good-by,” he said again.

She made a little nod.

He took a third step, not turning.

She watched him.

He turned.

And the words ripped out of her: “Without one kiss?”

They fell into each other’s arms.

There have been five great kisses since 1642bc, when Saul and Delilah Korn’s inadvertent discovery swept across Western civilization. (Before then couples hooked thumbs.) And the precise rating of kisses is a terribly difficult thing, often leading to great controversy, because although everyone agrees with the formula of affection times purity times intensity times duration, no one has ever been completely satisfied with how much weight each element should receive. But on any system, there are five that everyone agrees deserve full marks.

Well, this one left them all behind.’

Rising Starr: Interview with Kim Briggs

starr-lost

Wintry ski slope kisses (Avalanche, February 2017), a sizzling dark romance (And Then He, October 2015), and an exciting YA trilogy that concludes later this year; the writer life has been busy for YA and NA author Kim Briggs. Kim joins me on the blog to chat about her latest YA release, Starr Lost, Book 2 in the Starr Fall Series. The series centers on Starr Bishop, and the secret organization that has decided the teen would make the ideal assassin. Starr Fall (Book 1) was released in November 2016 with Inkspell Publishing. Starr Lost is a brand new January release. And look for Starr Gone, Book 3, in June 2017.

Juliana: Hi Kim, and congratulations on Starr Lost. In the first book, Starr Fall, we meet Starr and the Organization trying to recruit her, and see her go into hiding with help from moody and sexy Christian Evergood. Where does the second book take us?

Kim: Starr Lost brings the action into the series.

On the run from the Organization, Starr and Christian find safety on the Qualla Boundary with their friends, Ben and Coda, but Starr needs answers. She owes her dear dead friends, Sami and Jody, that much. She forms a team of her own to fight the general and his recruits.

Di, a mutual friend and anti-everything is a no-brainer, plus her Taser will come in handy. Frank, Starr’s BFF, will put his life on the line for her. Ben and Coda, not to be outdone by Starr’s friends, also swear their allegiance. Christian’s the only hold out. He knows what the Organization is capable of. He has the beaten body to prove it, but when Starr wants something, she gets it.

Now that the team’s together, everything should be perfect. Trouble is Starr loves Christian but so does Di. And Frank, well, he’s never been very good at hiding his love for Starr. Will his four-year long crush on her threaten the safety of the team?

Life becomes tense on the Qualla Boundary, sparks fly, and the Organization is about to smash in their door.

Juliana: Where did the inspiration for the series come from?

Kim: The inspiration for Starr Fall came in the form of a dream. I’m always chased by bad guys while I sleep—I blame an overactive imagination combined with consuming one too many action and adventure movies. One night I woke up in a cold sweat. A secret organization wanted me as an assassin. Me? No one wants to read about me, but Starr Bishop? That’s a character readers can get behind. I added Christian, because who doesn’t need some kissing and a dreamy hero in their life?

Juliana: A full trilogy in under a year! Could you talk us through the logistics of such a tight release schedule? How did you handle the writing and editing process?

Kim: I am insane and I don’t sleep. Actually, I wrote the story of Starr Fall in all its vomit draft worthiness about six or seven years ago. I broke it up into three books, that’s actually grown to four now, and rewrote and revised Starr Fall several times before I finally got it right. While I had Starr Fall out on submission, I started working on Starr Lost, so I had a very rough draft to work with last year after Starr Fall went under contract. As for Starr Gone, I had the skeleton of the story and busted it out under my inner deadline that wanted it out as close to the other books as possible. (Read COMPLETELY INSANE.) I am a sucker for series, so I want all the books ASAP. When you’re the one writing the series, that proves challenging, but I don’t like to be kept waiting and I don’t want my readers to wait either. So, who needs sleep when there are such things as soy chai lattes and chocolate?

Juliana: Continuing on from the last question, did you start out with the trilogy fully planned out? How much of an outliner are you? Or did you have a loose idea that grew in the writing?

Kim: I am a visual person, and many people will hate me for admitting this but the story arc for Starr Fall came to me fully formed. I’ve read so many series, and most of those series are fantasy, so the arcs of each book and the arc of the story came to me fairly easy. I just connected the dots (which sounds much easier than it is.) For my next series, I outlined and researched, and did all those things you’re supposed to do when writing a series, but often times, my characters take over and dictate where they want to go and what they want to do. They’re strong-minded pain-in-the-asses most of the time, but I’m okay with that.

Juliana: Besides Young Adult, you also write New Adult. Your NA novel And Then He goes down much darker paths. From your blurb: ‘Following a night of innocent flirting with a handsome stranger, Tiffani finds herself in the midst of a nightmare she can’t escape.’ Did you find it hard to transition between YA and NA? What were the main challenges in switching between target age groups?

Kim: Young Adult Fiction is my passion, my true love. Through Starr Fall’s storyline (and others in the works) I can create stories that readers devour. Young Adult fiction consumes me, but once in a while everyone needs a crush and New Adult fiction writing like And Then He and Avalanche feeds that need.

The biggest challenge I faced switching back and forth between young adult and new adult writing was whether I should keep my writer name or add a new pen name, but honestly, I already have my writer identity and my real life identity, and I don’t have time to create another identity. My time is also limited. I prefer to create new stories rather than creating new social media platforms.

Juliana: What’s next after the Starr Fall series? What are you working on at present?

Kim: I’m taking a break from Starr and her friends for a month or so (excluding edits for Starr Gone). I’ve been working on a young adult urban fantasy combining Celtic Mythology with werewolves. The Antigoddess by Kendare Blake meets Avril Lavigne, before she got pretty. (She was always pretty, but during her middle finger to the masses years.)

Juliana: Just for fun: if you were to be recruited by a secret organization, which of your skills or ‘super powers’ would they be after? (Mine would probably be my amazing ability to walk into furniture…because who wouldn’t want that on the team?)

Kim: Ha, I know, those sofas and chair jump right out at you. My superpower would probably be my stubbornness. I like to say that Starr wouldn’t shut up and made me keep coming back to her story until she got published, but my Ink Sister Alison Green Myers told everyone at Starr Fall’s book launch that I’m the one who’s stubborn and no one disagreed with her, so I guess my superpower is Stubbornness. I’ll take my cape in teal.

Juliana, thanks so much for having me!! I’m so glad we met at the NY SCBWI conference all those years ago. Has it been three years already? Wow! I also can’t wait for Heart Blade to come out so I can share the writer love with you!!

e3308-kim2bb-2brequests2b252852529

Find Kim at www.kimbriggswrite.comINK Sisters, and on Twitter as @KimBriggsWriteStarr Lost is available on AmazonKoboItunes, and B&N

Have Book, Will Read #13

2016-10-27-13-42-43

It’s the end of October and the Fall TV season is in full swing. But no matter how many episodes are piling up on the DVR, I’ll always find time for books in between Agents of SHIELD and Star Wars Rebels. And, hey! Today the first snowflakes fell in my corner of the world. Which means an extra excuse for snuggles and stories.

Recent Reads: Witches, fairies, goddesses…and the cool gleam of blaster fire in the dead of the night.

Liberator is the debut novel by co-author powerhouse duo Nick Bailey and Darren Bullock. This exciting and fast-paced tale is set in a future where humans and evolved-humans are spread across a galaxy dominated by big corporations with private armies.

A rescue story about a disbanded paramilitary team who get back together to save one of their own, Liberator is an adrenaline-fuelled ride of the ‘shoot first and ask questions later’ variety.

I’ve seen rave reviews for Susan Dennard’s Truthwitch all over the place, so when I spotted it at my local library at the front desk of the teen section, I grabbed it immediately.

The is the story of Safiya and Iseult, a Truthwitch and Threadwitch who, despite their wish to be left alone to just live their lives, get dragged into an impending war between neighboring empires for control of the region. This nicely-crafted YA fantasy has everything I could wish for: magic, adventure, intrigue, treachery, and a breathless and dashing escape.

Although historical romance isn’t something I normally gravitate towards, I couldn’t help being drawn in by the premise of Jodi McIsaac’s Bury the Living, with its blend of Celtic mythology, time travel, and adventure.

When former IRA member turned peace worker Nora O’Reilly starts having dreams of a mysterious stranger asking for help, it leads her to Brigid of Kildare, who sends Nora back eighty years to the height of Ireland’s civil war. The romance aspect is subdued enough that this novel should appeal to anyone who likes a dash of fantasy in their historical fiction.

I’d been looking forward to the release of Peadar Ó Guilín’s The Call, and devoured it in one afternoon as soon as it landed on my doorstep. It certainly lived up to all my expectations! This dark fantasy tells the story of Nessa, a teen living in a post-fairy-apocalyptic nightmare where the Sidhe wage war on the children of Ireland.

In Peadar’s dark world, Irish teens can be ‘Called’ at any moment and taken to the Grey Land to play games of torment and torture. Few survive, and those who do return alive are often changed in horrific ways. The Call treads a delicate line between fantasy and horror, without ever becoming too heavy despite the tension and terror. It’s an amazing book, and will definitely go down as one of my top reads in 2016. I liked it so much I badgered the author for an interview, which you can read over on SFF World.

Now Reading: Sequels, sequels, everywhere.

I’m almost done with Fran Wilde’s Cloudbound, the sequel to her awesome Updraft. I loved the first book, with its incredible above-the-clouds civilization and people soaring between living bone towers on artificial wings of silk. In the second book, Fran switches from Kirit’s point-of-view to Nat’s, giving the story a different slant and focus as it dives beneath the cloud layer that forms the boundaries of the first book.

One of this week’s new releases is Abendau’s Legacy, by Jo Zebedee. I shouldn’t even be touching this one, as I have a physical and virtual to-read pile that’s getting ridiculous. But I couldn’t help peeking inside, and the third and concluding title in the Inheritance Trilogy looks as though it will be as good as, or better, than volumes one and two. And that says a lot! You can see my review of the first book here.

To Read: Time to get my epic on.

I’ve been in the mood for some good old-fashioned epic fantasy for a while, so it’s a good thing I have two books all lined up and ready. The first one’s been sitting on my kindle, waiting for the right frame of mind. It’s Exile by Martin Owton, book 1 of the Nandor Tales. With book 2 on the horizon, I think it’s about time I finally dove into this beauty. The other book on is a relatively new release: The High King’s Vengeance, sequel to Steven Poore’s lovely The Heir to the North, which was one of my surprise faves last year.

I just looked out of my window and the snow is still falling steadily. But with so many great titles to look forward to, I say, “Bring it on.” I have blankets, I have tea, I have a warm dog at my feet. What else can a book lover want from life?

 

Spotlight on Writing YA with Carrie Firestone and Cindy Rodriguez

Young adult fiction has grown immensely in popularity over the past few decades, with media adaptations that include blockbuster movies and popular TV shows. But what exactly is this phenomenon called YA? Often referred to as ‘coming-of-age’ novels, YA books span a vast range of fiction genres and tend to focus on storylines pertinent to the age group of their teenage main characters.

The Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) of the American Library Association (ALA) defines a young adult as someone between the ages of 12 and 18. However, YA readers range from preteens to adults of all ages. Frequently fast-paced and urgent in tone, YA fiction brings the rollercoaster of teen emotions to bookshelves everywhere.

I’ve invited two talented authors to give us some insight on young adult fiction and help dig a little deeper into this fluid genre-crossing publishing segment with its age-bending appeal.

Cindy Rodriguez is the author of When Reason Breaks (Bloomsbury, 2015), a hauntingly beautiful contemporary YA that deals with the thorny topics of teen depression and suicide, guided by the poetry of Emily Dickinson. A Crystal Kite finalist, Cindy is an active blogger at Latinxs in Kid Lit, which aims to explore the world of books for children and teens by and about Latinxs. She is also a member of We Need Diverse Books.

Carrie Firestone is the author of The Loose Ends List (Little, Brown, out on June 7th 2016), a tale of endings and beginnings. Following Maddie and her family as they travel the world on a cruise ship and come to terms with her grandmother’s terminal illness, this contemporary YA novel is a story of snow globe scenes of love, life and death, and is full of both laugh-out-loud and weep-your-eyes-out moments.

Juliana: Welcome Carrie and Cindy. Tell me, why choose to write YA? What do you find intriguing about writing for teen readers?

Cindy: I write YA because it’s such an important time of transition marked with joy, pain, and discovery. As a teacher, I’m able to watch my students struggle with and enjoy these transformative years. As a writer, I like to explore and represent their experiences with authenticity and respect.

Carrie: I think I write YA because I have a nineteen year old trapped inside me. I write books that I would have enjoyed when I was a teen.

Juliana: Having a young protagonist is not a prerogative of YA. Fantasy as a genre, for instance, is full of teen characters in books written for adults. So what, in your opinion, makes a book ‘YA’? What are those special ingredients?

Carrie: It seems that certain themes run through contemporary YA books. Many young adults are trying to figure out who they are, who they want to hang out with, who they want to fall in love with, and what their purpose is on this planet. Those are universal questions that can be approached in so many ways in YA fiction.

Cindy: I agree with Carrie. Also, I think the answer lies in your question. Other books with young protagonists are written for adults. Young adult fiction is written for teens. Even though it’s read a lot by adults, younger readers are our target audience, so as writers we have to be sure to make them act, look, and sound like teens.

Juliana: I’ve heard YA referred to as ‘first kiss fiction’. What’s the role of romance in YA and why does it seem to be so prevalent?

Carrie: That question made me laugh because I’ve just poured over my own diaries and romance was pretty prevalent on those pages! It’s developmentally appropriate for teens to explore sex and sexuality and whatever that means for them. My books include first kisses (and MORE) because I see YA fiction as a safe place to learn about sex and sexuality.  

Cindy: Right. A lot of firsts happen in the teen years since it’s such a time of exploration and discovery, so it should be represented in YA fiction. And romance has lots of levels, so some YA has tamer experiences dealing with crushes and first kisses, while others go all the way…see what I did there…but seriously, readers have a variety of experiences, which are represented in YA. Readers have choices depending on where they are in their own development.  

Juliana: Why do you think YA fiction appeals to such a broad range of ages?

Carrie: We were all teens once. We all remember those intense emotional peaks and valleys. Sometimes, as adults, we become cynical or tired or bored. It’s fun to relive the teen years, or to live vicariously through characters who are very different than we were.

Cindy: Yes, sometimes YA lets us remember because we see our young selves in the characters. Other times, we see different experiences which lets us learn and empathize. I also think a trademark of most YA is a sense of hope. No matter how dark or difficult the protagonist’s experiences are, most YA includes elements of hope and optimism as the characters grow and change. This isn’t always true in adult books, which can be a downer if that’s all you read.

Juliana: What do you begin with when starting a new novel – a mood, a setting, a character? What inspires you, and how do you maintain that inspiration while writing?

Carrie: I begin with a random flash that snowballs into a story. The Loose Ends List began with a vivid image of a person sitting in a wheelchair on the deck of a ship. I’m inspired by the energy of people and places I’ve encountered over the years. That energy spills out onto the page in weird manifestations. If I’m stuck, I go out and walk around and try to take in the energy around me. I know I’m saying “energy” a lot, but it’s how I process creative ideas.

Cindy: I also “see” flashes of scenes in my head. When Reason Breaks started with an image of the teacher running through the woods. I knew someone was out there and that the teacher was racing to help her. That’s all I knew at the time, but that was the beginning of my process. I’m inspired by people and places, too. I soak up images, phrases, moments wherever I am and eventually use them in my writing. I have limited time to write, so I’m usually focused and inspired when I get the time. I’m motivated by the clock during school vacations!

Juliana: What are some of the common errors you tend to notice in YA novels, the biggest pitfalls to avoid in writing stories for teens?

Cindy: I’ll go back to what I said earlier: teens should sound, look, and act like teens. Many writers who write for younger readers for the first time can fall into sounding like an adult delivering “messages.” I did this, too, at first. When I mentally shifted from writing as an adult to writing for young people, my writing changed. 

Carrie: I’m very careful not to be critical of other people’s novels. What might seem like a pitfall to me, is very powerful to somebody else. I try to stay true to the story in my head and respect the stories of other authors.

Juliana: A last one, just for fun. If you could be any YA character for a day, who would you choose, and why?

Carrie: Hmmmm. I just read Summer of Sloane by Erin Schneider. I would be Sloane because OMG her love interest is very adorable. (I told you I was nineteen).

Cindy: I loved Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee and would be either Sammy or Andy for a day. Both are smart, bold girls of color fighting for survival and falling in love on the Oregon Trail.

Juliana: Thank you very much Cindy and Carrie for joining me. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to decide which YA character I’d like to be for a day! 

Check out Cindy Rodriguez’s website – www.cindylrodriguez.com – for further information on her work, as well as blog posts, interviews, and news. You can find Cindy on Twitter @RodriguezCindyL and Facebook.

For more on Carrie Firestone, visit www.carriefirestoneauthor.com and check out her blog for sweet haikus of ‘snow globe moments’. Carrie tweets as @CLLFirestone and you can find her on Facebook. 

The Loose Ends List by Carrie Firestone will be out soon, on June 7th 2016!

Spotlight is a monthly blog feature. Check out April’s Spotlight on SFF Forums with Brian Turner and Damaris Browne. Next up in June: Spotlight on Urban Fantasy.

Love, Longswords, and Lightsabers

2016-02-10 09.37.33

With Valentine’s Day approaching, and a serious need to distract myself from all the chocolate treats on sale, I started thinking about romance in science fiction and fantasy. I’m not talking paranormal romance, oh no, that would be too easy. I’m thinking about all the love stories that hide under action-packed tales, weaving their way delicately through the adrenaline surges and the blaster fire, the sword-work and the combat spells.

Take a good look at your favorite novels and chances are there’s a love story in there, somewhere.

Why is love a recurring theme in fiction, even if it’s quietly hidden away under an adventurer’s cloak? For one, it helps ground your characters. Along with pain, fear, and other easily recognizable and relatable feelings, love helps us understand a character and gives that character extra dimension and realism. Even if they’re a magic space knight. An underlying ribbon of romance also provides a secondary plotline that can run alongside the main plot, adding both tension and depth.

Is romance necessary in a novel? Of course not. But sprinkling those action scenes with a little of that loving feeling can be a whole lot of fun. I’ve chosen five fast-paced books with great love stories in them for anyone looking for a Valentine’s Day read. The chocolate treats are optional.

 

Gemini Cell, Myke Cole

A fast-paced military fantasy novel with a killer love story to fuel it on, Myke Cole’s tale about a dead Navy SEAL who turns into an undead zombie warrior may not be an obvious pick for a romantic Valentine’s Day read. And yet the central core of the story is the death-defying love that Jim Schweitzer has for his wife and child. Full review here.

 

The Demon King, Cinda Williams Chima

YA is full of wonderful love stories, and The Demon King and the subsequent books in the Seven Realms quartet are a perfect example. Cinda Williams Chima serves up everything you could possibly want in an epic fantasy series: high magic, low magic, warcraft, sieges, court intrigue, international politics… And of course, a fabulous romance too.

 

Time Salvager, Wesley Chu

This one is a time travelling science fiction tale set in a bleak future. Sounds romantic, right? Not really? Wait until you meet James Griffin-Mars, a depressed chronman bent on self-destruction, who falls for a woman from the past and forfeits everything to be with her. Although Wesley Chu’s novel is packed with intrigue and exciting action sequences, at its heart it’s a love story.

 

Fade to Black, Francis Knight

How about adding a little fantasy noir to the mix? Francis Knight’s Rojan Dizon is a jaded, disillusioned P.I. with pain mage powers. But as he’s unwillingly dragged into a battle for civil freedom that he has no real wish to join, he finds love. Messy, unrequited, ill-fated love, but love, nevertheless. And this love is what keeps him going throughout this and the next two books in the trilogy, pushing him to make ever-harder choices and sacrifices.

 

The City Stained Red, Sam Sykes

Okay, you might say, now you’ve gone too far. Where, you might ask, in this veritable bloodbath of a novel, is the romance? But Sam Sykes does like a bit of loving, and he certainly doesn’t shy away from the sex scenes. Lenk and Kataria’s on-off flirtation is the one constant thing in this novel; whatever mayhem happens to be going on, we know that somewhere around the corner we’ll get another dose of the awkward love and even more awkward lovemaking that is part of the wonderful train wreck of their relationship.

 

Bonus title: The Princess Bride, William Goldman

Yes, I know you’ve probably watched the movie at least a couple of times, and can most likely quote from it with your eyes closed… But HAVE YOU READ THE NOVEL? Because, if not, get thee to a bookstore or library and please, please, please read this immediately. This is the ultimate swashbuckling, sword-toting, cliffhanging, magic-wielding love story: a quest for romance and the best kiss in all time. And it’s incredibly funny, too.

 

All that’s left to say is, enjoy!

*please consume chocolate products in moderation. or not. hey, it’s your call.*

Spotlight on Speculative Romance with Emma Jane and Jo Marryat

Somewhere in the spectrum between Romance and full-blown Paranormal Romance of the my-boyfriend-is-allergic-to-garlic-and-sunshine variety is a niche for those who like their protagonists human, but enjoy a few speculative side elements. And authors Emma Jane and Jo Marryat do this very nicely indeed. I’ve invited them to tell us a little about mixing that dash of fantasy in with the love.

Emma Jane is the author of Shuttered (Dreamspinner Press) and co-author of Otherworld (Torquere), along with Liz Powell. No stranger to speculative fiction, Emma also writes YA and adult fantasy under the name E.J. Tett. In Shuttered, photographer Daniel has a unique telepathic bond with his dog, Sasha: they can understand and speak to each other. When he meets and falls for con-man and medium Rowan, Daniel and Sasha get dragged into a hunt for a dead body to save Rowan from the thugs he swindled.

First in a brand-new series, Jo Marryat’s debut novel Indigo Heartfire (Tickety Boo Press) tells the story of widower Robert. Determined to make a fresh start five years after his wife died, Robert is shocked when a ‘guardian angel’ in the guise of a tiny fairy appears, but she’s there to help him, whether he believes in her or not. Jo is the penname of author James Scott-Marryat, who has been working in the speculative market for years, both as a writer and as a freelance editor, tidying up other people’s work for publication.

Juliana: Both Shuttered and Indigo Heartfire are romances with contemporary settings. Did you plan to include the fantasy aspects from the start, or did they just creep in?

Jo: The fantasy aspects were central to the story – the contrast between the magical fantastic and the everyday contemporary striving to achieve a balance where both were acceptable.

Emma: I’m trying to think of something I’ve written that doesn’t have any fantasy aspects. The only one I can think of is a short story called “Mr Stone.” That was published in a print magazine called Oblique Quarterly Magazine back in 2010, but has since been turned into an audio story.

Fantasy elements tend to creep into everything I write. Even the contemporary romance I’m working on at the moment has a tiny, tiny speculative element. You have more freedom when writing fantasy, it’s more of an escape.

Juliana: Do you find it hard to resist the temptation of letting the speculative elements take over the plot? How do you keep the contemporary story on track, without being completely derailed by the fantasy?

Jo: The speculative elements are definitely more fun to write, but I set the book firmly in the real world first, before introducing the fantasy element. Annabelle – “like Tinkerbelle, only better” – doesn’t appear until chapter five, and even then we’re not convinced she does exist for quite some time. So that allowed me to keep the contemporary story on track, and ‘bleed’ the fantasy in slowly.

Emma: With the story I’m working on at the moment, no. The speculative element is so small there’s no chance for it to grow or get out of hand — letting it would ruin the story. With Shuttered, I could’ve gone more fantastical — I could’ve had the main character understand all animals, and I could’ve had my medium seeing and hearing spirits all over the place, so I did have to be careful to keep it as realistic as possible. The story still appeals to non-fantasy readers.

You have to think about what you want from the story. With romances, the relationships are the focus. You have to keep these relationships at the front and let any fantasy elements complement and not over-power.

Juliana: In Shuttered, we have a telepathic dog. In Indigo Heartfire, a grown man finds a tiny fairy godmother. Those are pretty unique story ingredients. I know Emma is a dog owner; was your Beau the key inspiration for Sasha? And Jo, where did the fairy idea come from?

Jo: I was doing a writing course with Raindance a couple of decades ago, and as a writing exercise we were challenged to write a modern fairy tale, so it grew from there.

Emma: There are definitely bits of Beau in Sasha. He’s completely neurotic though! Sasha’s much more sensible.

Juliana: Both of you also dabble in more traditional speculative fiction. What are the specific challenges in writing romance? What drew you into the genre?

Jo: Making it believable, realistic even. Too much ‘hearts/flowers/stars’ and your writing becomes a parody. All the fiction I’ve written have love stories within them, even the darker material I’m currently producing – I like that, no matter what happens to a character, love will always give you hope, give you personal fulfillment, even if it turns out tragically. I’m a hopeless romantic at heart, I guess…

Emma: I love how tragic romance is! Emotion is all so heightened and there’s a lot of overwrought drama going on, which I love. Character-based stories are my favourite and there’s nothing more character-based than romance.

I think it was probably the relationship between the characters Ste and Brendan in the UK soap opera Hollyoaks that got me wanting to write gay romance. My Otherworld co-author, Liz, was a big fan of those two too, so that’s what got us started.

The big challenge for me is not letting the characters jump into bed straight away. I failed miserably in both Shuttered and Otherworld! But they don’t get a smooth ride (pardon the pun), you can’t let things be too easy. In romance the big question is usually ‘will they/won’t they?’

Juliana: Could you share some tips for those who want to write romance with speculative elements? Where to start, what pitfalls to avoid…

Jo: When you have an idea, write it down, and then every idea that follows – carry a notepad with you at all times. Not all the ideas will make it into your book, but allow your imagination to run wild at this point – your inner brainstorming, if you like – and all those ideas will stimulate your creative mind as you reflect on them. Most importantly get the romance right. It doesn’t matter if it’s between vampires, fairies, aliens, orcs, humans, whatever, but you have to show the feelings/attraction/desire/love as realistically as possible, even when you’re choosing to have fantasy characters. Don’t cheat the reader by taking short cuts because it’s easier not to show the elements that drew the characters together. Write your first draft and put it all in, then go back and edit, edit, edit.

Emma: Read all sorts! Even non-fiction. I love real-life stories of unexplained incidents; they really get my imagination going.

Where to start? For romance you’d need to read some romance and see how it’s done. Romance readers are very particular in things they like and don’t like! Get involved in a fandom — the “Stendan” one (that’s Ste and Brendan, Hollyoaks) was very vocal in both its support and anger of the some of the couple’s storylines.

Cheating partners never goes down well, avoid that one!

Juliana: What are your main sources of inspiration for new stories?

Jo: Reading, day-dreaming (and I keep a dream journal by the bed for when I wake), and watching people when I’m out shopping.

Emma: Real-life events. TV shows. I think I’m inspired more by what I see than what I read, though I used to take pretty much all my inspiration from Brian Jacques’ Redwall books when I was younger.

Juliana: Could you share some of your favorite authors?

Jo: Patrick Rothfuss, Marian Keyes, James Clavell, Stan Barstow, Jim Butcher, Anthony Ryan, Mark Lawrence. I think that list gets darker the more it progresses…

Emma: Neil Gaiman, Garth Nix and Oscar Wilde for the fantasy side of things. Alexis Hall and Harper Fox for the romances.

Juliana: A big thank you to both Jo and Emma for taking part and sharing some of the writing process with me, proving that writing speculative romance is definitely not for the faint of heart.

You can find out more about Emma’s work on her website (http://ejtett.weebly.com) and blog (http://emmy-j.blogspot.co.uk); look for an upcoming series of video posts on the blog. Recent work includes the romance short stories The Queen’s Guard (published in Torquere Press’s Men in Uniform anthology) and Compulsion (published in Dreamspinner Press’s Hot off the Press anthology), as well as the speculative short story Why I Hate The Seaside (Kraxon Magazine, May 2015).

Emerald Heartfire, the next in Jo’s series featuring Annabelle the fairy, should be out later this year (Tickety Boo Press, publication date pending). Recent work includes the short story Dog Valley, published in the Malevolence, Tales From Beyond the Veil anthology (Tickety Boo Press), writing as Jeff Richards. Jo blogs as James Scott-Marryat at www.jscottmarryat.com and you can find info on editing services at http://www.jsmedit.com.

Shuttered                 indigo

Spotlight is a monthly blog feature. Check out May’s Spotlight on Short Story Writing with Nathan Hystad. Next up in July: Spotlight on Writing Local Flavor.