Boskone 54 Schedule

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From February 17-19 I’ll be at Boskone, in Boston, MA, for New England’s longest running science fiction and fantasy convention. This will be my third year at Boskone, but my first as a panel participant. Boskone is a friendly con with great panel themes – I’ve been to panels on everything from writing fight scenes to pirates in fiction!

Check out the Boskone website for 2017 speakers and a list of panels, readings, kaffeeklatsches, and other activities. There’s still time to register.

My own schedule:

When Villains Defy Expectation in Young Adult Literature

Friday 16:00 – 17:00, Harbor II (Westin)

In YA fiction, the bad guys used to be easy to spot. However, in a world with many shades of gray, villains just aren’t as easy to identify. The handlebar mustaches — gone; the dark trench coats — left on their hangers; the goon squads — seem like bunches of ordinary guys. What does the revamped “villain” archetype mean for our young heroes? How does it affect the story and the other characters? How might this more nuanced sense of good/bad play out as young adult fiction continues to evolve?

Tui Sutherland (M), Ken Altabef, Christine Taylor-Butler, Juliana Spink Mills, Michael Stearns

 

The Year in Young Adult and Children’s Fiction

Friday 17:00 – 18:00, Harbor II (Westin)

Last year was another great one for young adult and children’s fiction. While the explosion of new authors in these genres may be stabilizing, the number of well-written, top-shelf stories continues to soar! Join our panelists for a lively discussion about what you absolutely must read from 2016 — and what we’re looking forward to as 2017 continues.

Maryelizabeth Yturralde (M), Christine Taylor-Butler, Emma Caywood, Juliana Spink Mills, Bruce Coville

 

Indie Pub Your Backlist

Saturday 10:00 – 11:00, Marina 2 (Westin)

Do you have old stories that were published ages ago, now lingering in drawers, gathering dust — not getting read? Independent publishers can be a great resource for letting your stories see the light of day again, and drumming up interest from new readers. We’ll discuss ideas on revitalizing your backlist and finding indie publishers for your unpublished early gems.

Joshua Bilmes (M), Walter Jon Williams, Richard Shealy, Juliana Spink Mills, Craig Shaw Gardner

 

Worldbuilding in Urban Fantasy

Saturday 17:00 – 18:00, Marina 2 (Westin)

An inconsistent or poorly described worldscape can furnish a confusing story, or challenge a reader’s ability to suspend disbelief, even when you’re dealing with a world that is “just like ours.” Is creating an urban fantasy world as simple as adding magic to a place like Chicago or New York City? Or is there more to it? Hear from writers who have created fully realized urban fantasy worlds that their readers can almost see, touch, and smell.

Leigh Perry (M), Margaret Ronald, Adam Stemple, Juliana Spink Mills, Robert B. Finegold M.D.

Aliens – The Truth Is Coming

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I have a short story out this week in a brand new anthology by Tickety Boo Press, UK. Aliens – The Truth Is Coming has a great line up of authors, with a wide variety of takes on the theme.

From the publisher:

Many of us look up into the wondrous night sky and know that we are looking at a galaxy full of life. It doesn’t matter that we haven’t discovered definitive proof of it yet – we know it’s out there and, perhaps, looking back at us, wondering the same thing in return.

The stories in this anthology explore myriad ideas of what ‘extra-terrestrial’ could mean. Not only to humanity, but to individuals. 

You will read stories of invasion, stories of loss and discovery, stories of trickery and subjugation, and so much more.
This anthology throws the doors wide open, and all you need do is step through… 

And here are the authors:

Foreword and Acknowledgements by Andrew Angel

Stories:

In Plain Sight by Juliana Spink Mills

Geometry by Alex Davis

Gods of the Ice Planet by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Island Visit by Nathan Hystad

Even the Klin Are Only Human by Bryn Fortey

A New Dawn by Liz Gruder

Rent by Steven Poore

Salvage by MJ Kobernus

The Devil’s Rock by William Anderson

The Man Who Wasn’t Dead by Terry Grimwood

We Three Remain by Stewart Hotston

Welcome to Cosmic Journey by Michael Chandos

The Zoo of Dark Creatures by Leslie J Anderson

Here by Tim James

 

You can find the anthology on Amazon UK and Amazon US.

Have Book, Will Read #13

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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?

 

Have Book, Will Read #12

August is at an end, bringing a promise of cooler days and autumn colors. I got through a surprising amount of books this month, considering I was working almost full-time on edits for my own novel. But escaping into someone else’s words at night can be a blessing when you need to get away from your own work for a while! Here are a few of my top picks…

Recent Reads: War – magical, civil, and interplanetary. And a dash of wandwork for good measure.

I caught up with the latest in the Pax Arcana series by Elliott James, In Shining Armor. In his fourth novel, tensions between the knights and their werewolf allies rise to boiling point when the Grandmaster’s granddaughter is kidnapped, and John Charming must find out who’s behind the whole mess before an all-out war breaks out.

I love Elliott’s characters; they always feel fresh and yet – at the same time – familiar, and starting a new Pax Arcana novel is a guarantee of a good time. If you’re an urban fantasy fan, I thoroughly recommend this series.

I’d been anxiously awaiting the release of This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab, first in her brand new Monsters of Verity series. I liked the premise: a city overrun by monsters, and the story certainly didn’t disappoint. Her new world is bleak, but not horribly so, and her two protagonists are a delight.

This Savage Song tells the story of Kate, a human who wants to become as monstrous as her mobster father, and August, a monster who tries his hardest to be human and keep the darkness at bay. Set in civil-war-torn Verity, the tale has shades of Romeo and Juliet, but with Victoria’s unique spin.

Jo Zebedee’s Sunset Over Abendau had been sitting on my Kindle for a while, waiting for the right mood to strike. Jo’s work is always of the devour-in-one-sitting variety, and this one certainly lived up to her previous exciting reads.

This is the second installment of the Inheritance Trilogy, which follows the story of Kare Varnon and the battle to overthrow his mother, the tyrannical Empress. Sunset picks up ten years after the events in the first book, Abendau’s Heir and, different from the first, the entire story takes place over a brief, heart-thumping few days. A nice sequel, and I look forward to the last book, out later this year.

Of course, Summer 2016 wouldn’t have been complete without the latest Harry Potter installment, The Cursed Child. I know that the play by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany has been the subject of numerous heated internet debates, and that everyone is probably sick of hearing about it by now. But I found it an enjoyable read, and would love to see it brought to life by the actors. Scorpius Malfoy was a personal favorite among her new characters, and it was nice to get a glimpse of Slytherin as something other than Big, Bad, and Villainous.

Now Reading: To boldly go…down space wormholes and the paths of the dead.

I’m reading The Summoner, the first in Gail Z. Martin’s Chronicles of the Necromancer series. I’m really enjoying it so far, mainly because I like the main character, Tris, so much. The magic is really cool so far, and it’s refreshing to see a necromancer as the hero.

I’ve also started dipping into a brand new anthology from Woodbridge Press, Explorations: Through the Wormhole. This is a shared world collection, with all authors writing around a theme and setting. I’ve only read the first story so far, by Ralph Kern, and it sets the bar pretty high for the others, but I’m sure they’ll all live up to this great start.

To Read: Fae…In…Space! (okay, not really, but c’mon, Muppets references are always gold, right? Also, now I really want to read about space fairies.)

I have three books at the top of my to-read list. First is The Call, by Peadar Ó Guilín. This horror/fantasy YA intrigued me when I first heard about it a few months ago, and it just launched in the USA (UK launch is tomorrow). It has a sort of ‘Hunger Games in fairyland’ premise, and I can’t wait to dig in.

I also have a couple of military SF titles all lined up and waiting on my Kindle. First Comes Duty is book 2 in P.J. Strebor’s Hope Island Chronicles series – I’m looking forward to more of Nathan Telford’s saga. The other novel I have in my reading queue is Liberator, a brand new offering by Nick Bailey and Darren Bullock.

So, I think I have enough to keep me busy for most of September! How about you, read any good books lately?

 

 

Have Book, Will Read #11

July already, and where the flip-flops has the year gone to? In June, I took a long break from reading and instead binge-watched Supergirl and Vikings between heated discussions of end-of-season Game of Thrones episodes. This means that lately I’ve been reading ALL THE BOOKS to make up for it. Here are a few…

Recent Reads: Love, life, death…and toilets.

Somehow I missed that Benedict Jacka’s latest Alex Verus novel came out in April. I’m a big fan of this series, so I quickly remedied this by rushing out to buy Burned and reading it in one afternoon.

In Burned, Jacka sets Mage Verus upon a dark path when a race to save himself and his friends from an execution order leaves Alex with no good choices to make, only ‘less worse’ ones. This was an exciting yet also heart-wrenching read, and it’s going to be a long year before the next book, Bound, is released in April 2017. If you like urban fantasy and haven’t tried the Alex Verus series, do yourself a favor and pick up the first book, Fated.

I spent a highly enjoyable evening reading Waters of Versailles by Kelly Robson, which takes us to an alt-world 1738 France where a former soldier tries to reach fame and fortune through the wonders of indoor plumbing with the help of a little water magic.

This delicious Nebula-nominated novella is short enough to slip in between your other summer reads and, seriously, toilet stories don’t get any more sweet or charming than this blend of historical fiction and magical realism.

The first two books in Claudia Gray’s Firebird trilogy had been sitting on my shelf for a while, and last week I finally picked them up. Them, plural, because I enjoyed the first, A Thousand Pieces of You, so much that I jumped straight into the second, Ten Thousand Skies Above You.

Pitched as ‘Orphan Black meets Cloud Atlas’, Gray’s dimensional travel tales have it all: intrigue, love, betrayal, heartache and adventure follow Marguerite as she dives into alternate realities and alternate versions of herself on a journey of revenge that becomes a mission to save her world and all others in the multiverse.

I’d heard good things about Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle series, so this week I picked up the first book, The Raven Boys. It definitely lived up to the hype. The characters are gorgeous, the plot intriguing, and Stiefvater’s writing style an absolute delight.

Psychic’s daughter Blue has been warned that if she ever kisses her true love he will die. But despite her best intentions to stay away from guys, she can’t help being drawn to four of the ‘raven boys’ of a nearby private school, and before long she becomes involved in their quest to uncover a local ley line and the grave of an ancient king.

The last on my list is special… The Loose Ends List by Carrie Firestone is a contemporary novel, not a genre my sff-obsessed brain usually dips into. But this book and I go back a couple of years. When I first met Carrie she was at the agent query stage. Along with the rest of our writing group I’ve followed the submissions, the rewrites, the line edits, the excitement of the cover reveal. So I was thrilled to read the final polished version, released on June 6th.

And it was just as lovely as I remembered. A really fun read, though heartbreaking at times, and one that made me laugh and cry all over again as though I was reading it for the very first time. This is the story of seventeen-year-old Maddie, who accompanies her family on a death-with-dignity cruise at the request of her dying grandmother. Maddie’s family is a loud and wonderful splash of color, and Maddie gets a chance to make new memories, forge new friendships, and fall in love.

Now Reading: Deserts, deserts, everywhere.

I’d had China Miéville’s Railsea on my to-read list for some time, so when I won a flash fiction competition on the sffchronicles.com I claimed this book as my reward (thank you Brian Turner!). I’m not far in, and as with the other two Miéville novels I’d previously read, it’s taking me a while to immerse myself in his world. But that’s just fine. Some novels are for gulping down in one glorious race for the end, others are for dipping into slowly, and enjoying each page as a work of art.

I’ve also started reading Sunset over Abendau, the sequel to Abendau’s Heir in Jo Zebedee’s Inheritance trilogy. This somewhat dark space opera series will definitely appeal to those who prefer their happily-ever-after’s to have a large dose of fallout on the side. Jo writes excellent characters, and I’m enjoying being back in Abendau’s world.

To Read: The end of things.

I picked up a couple of library books this week, which by necessity have jumped to the top of my to-read list. Can’t keep all those other readers waiting! The first is one I’ve been meaning to get to for ages: Half a War, the last book in Joe Abercrombie’s Shattered Sea trilogy.

The other is also, coincidentally, the last in a trilogy: Brian Stavely’s The Last Mortal Bond, conclusion to his Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne. I’ve enjoyed both of these trilogies so far, and it will be nice to see how they end.

So that’s it for July. Happy summer reading to those in the northern hemisphere. May your beach towels be sand-free, your pool chairs perfectly angled, and your picnic spots quiet and shady. To those down south, may your winter be mild and your blankets soft and cozy. Read on.

 

Book Cover Sunday: SFF Book Spines

*WARNING! PICTURE-HEAVY BLOG POST!*

(A follow-up to Book Cover Sunday: Fantasy Cover Art. SEE ALSO: BOOK COVER SUNDAY: BACK COVER BLURBS)

This week I got an urge to browse my local Barnes and Noble, and what better than use a blog post as an excuse?

As I wandered up and down the science fiction and fantasy aisle, it struck me that we – writers and readers – tend to focus a lot on the cover itself. However, since bookstore space is limited, only a few lucky books get displayed cover out. Most have to jostle for space with other tempting titles.

So what are the strategies for book spine design? Here are a few thoughts on the subject; please take with a huge grain of salt since I am not an cover artist, graphic designer, or marketing professional. And please feel free to add your own comments, too!

First of all, here’s a general view of one of the store’s shelving sections.

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Disregarding size differences in mass market, trade paperback, and hardback, I still found that my eye was immediately drawn to the solid blocks of color in this edition of Pierce Brown’s sci fi trilogy:

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Now, these may not be the prettiest book spines around, but wow are they ever effective. However, they give us nothing else to go on, once they’ve drawn the eye. If you hadn’t heard of Pierce Brown, maybe you’d pick one up. Or maybe your eye would then slide to the books next to them. Having a purely graphic spine with no artwork (besides the cryptic symbol in the middle) is always a gamble.

Also eye-catching are the fonts used for the titles on these Miles Cameron novels. But different from the Pierce Brown books, these spines give us a clue as to the content. We have swords, and knights. We know what sort of story to expect.

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If the author has a larger body of work, with plenty of titles displayed on the same shelf, their book spines can be a little more discreet. After all, what counts here are sheer numbers. From the same section (see first image), here are Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden novels:

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Don’t they look nice all together? It’s eye-catching simply by means of bulk. Would one of these on its own work as effectively? I doubt it. This strategy is definitely one for prolific authors. Here are a couple of other examples, from Seanan McGuire and Charlaine Harris (oh, the pretty colors!).

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Okay, so maybe Charlaine’s aren’t that subtle. But they follow the same style: you’re supposed to collect the set. Now, don’t you want to see them all together on your shelf? I know I do!

Robin Hobb’s books are even more discreet. Here, the author’s name is the key attraction. But when you’re a well-loved writer like Hobb, with a tremendously loyal following, you can do precisely that. Your name is the key sales pitch, after all.

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Here are a couple of books by Joe Abercrombie that have gone for the ‘author name as banner’ approach:

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Now, these happen to have gorgeous covers, but the spine is minimalist almost to a fault. Your eye is drawn to the stark white author name. These really are all about Joe. Compare them to the two titles by Abercrombie in the next photo. Here, despite the enormous lettering, our attention is caught by the images behind. To be honest, I’m not sure why the font needs to be so big here, since all I want to do is look at the picture.

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I like the second ones a lot more than the first; I love the use of images on book spines. It’s a great intro to an author you may not be familiar with and I think that, particularly in cases where you might purchase only a couple of the author’s books (as opposed to a ‘collectible series’ like the Dresden Files), it works very well indeed. Take a look at these Steven Erikson titles, compared to the ones next to them. Aren’t they catchy? However interesting that font on the Jennifer Estep novels, the pictures on Erikson’s novels really jump out at you.

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Here are a few more Erikson titles. Yummy, right?

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This edition of Brent Weeks’ Night Angel trilogy goes for a cleaner, more minimalist use of images, using a graphic style and an emphasis on title over author name that is often seen in YA books:

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Compare Brent’s novels to some popular YA fantasy titles, and you’ll see what I mean. Here are Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles, and the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas.

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As I mentioned before, the author’s name is extremely discreet, with book title being the main draw along with the image. Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle takes this to an extreme:

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Of course, in Paolini’s case, he’s got the color going for him in terms of eye-popping catchiness. But hey, why stick to plain red, blue, and green when you can go all the way and adopt Gail Carriger’s style for Prudence? Yes, I’ll take some hot pink with my tea and crumpets. That’ll do nicely.

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When I set out for my little bookstore jaunt, I was sure I would find plenty of common threads; widespread strategies applied across the shelves. The truth is, book spines seem to come in an even more bewildering array than book covers. Every publisher wants their books to be the ones that jump out at you, and each one seems to have a different idea about how to do that. After all, a book spine is the author’s  business card, the first impression upon a prospective reader. And I’m sure that if I were to browse other genres outside SF/F I’d find new strategies, new conventions.

I know one thing for sure; I’m going to be paying a lot more attention to spine design from now on. And now excuse me, I’m off to play with my bookshelves. I have some spines to reorganize.

What’s in a Name?

“The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter, It isn’t just one of your holiday games.” The line is the first in the opening poem of T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. It’s a line that comes to mind every time I read a thread or a post or a tweet on character naming.

Names matter, and writers are more than aware of that. Names have a power of their own. They have personality. For instance, in The Lord of the Rings we have Sam. Sam the nice guy, the reliable one. Sam the dependable. I’ve seen plenty of Sams in plenty of books and they’ve mostly been good guys. It’s a good-guy name.

Writers spend an awful lot of time naming characters. In fantasy or science fiction, it’s even more complicated. Are your characters seafaring warriors? Are they farm folk from rich vales and rolling hills? Do you have orcs, or fae, or an entire planet of purple humanoid space pirates? It all has to be taken into account. Also, now I really want to write a story about purple space pirates.

And so writers turn to baby naming apps, databases on Celtic lore, wiki lists of Egyptian gods. We attempt to make sense of our story worlds – be they the fifth planet in a galaxy far away, or real-world Los Angeles – and we try to find names that fit both the setting and the complex characters we’re designing in our heads.

Some writers use generic placehold names and substitute them later, once they have more of a feel for the story. I can’t do that. I need that perfect name to fit a budding character, and then I build the character upon the name. Name and personality, they go hand in hand.

Sometimes I need to change a name while I’m writing. Perhaps two characters look too similar on the page, and it’s getting confusing. The minute I do, though, the story shifts. Maybe only a tiny bit, but enough. A mellow character grows barbs, an edgy character softens. It’s tricky, renaming an imaginary creation.

Other times, it’s the character that changes halfway through the story. This one is more common, I admit. After all, in a first draft, I’m still getting to know my people. As I progress, they grow stronger, more sure of themselves. And, once in a while, they outgrow a name. I just spent two entire days agonizing over a necessary name change. I think I’ve found an alternative I like, but I spent so long with the other name that now I need time to roll this one across my tongue and make it truly my character’s.

I’ve always loved names, and writing gives me an outlet to play around with them. I keep notes on cool names I spot, so I can use them later on. I hoard them on my phone among the book recommendations and to-do lists. Naming characters is fun, and hard, and exciting, and a little heartbreaking at times. But it’s an essential part of the process.

We all know Shakespeare’s famous quote from Romeo and Juliet. However, when you’re writing a story, one name is definitely not as sweet as another. The right name can make a character flourish, and lead us in exactly the direction we want. The right name is just right.

And now excuse me, I’m off to figure out some names for my purple space pirates.

Have Book, Will Read #10

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

Recent Reads: Heart thumping, nerve jumping.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now Reading: Imagined pasts and futures.

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

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

To Read: Fate of worlds…

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

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

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

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

Spotlight on SFF Forums with Brian Turner and Damaris Browne

 

Online communities serve an important role for fans of genre fiction. It’s not always easy to find like-minded souls in our daily lives, willing to spend hours debating the best and worst of science fiction novel cover art, or the latest Game of Thrones theories. Forums and other discussion groups on platforms like Facebook bridge the gap, bringing together readers and writers from all over the world.

There are many discussion spaces all over the internet, and often people try several before finding one they feel more at home in. I got lucky on my first try: I found the UK-based SFF Chronicles while looking for book recommendations, and once I realized the forum had an active and friendly writer’s corner I was smitten.

With over 30,000 registered members, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Chronicles, known affectionately by its members as the Chrons, has been going strong for fifteen years. The brainchild of fantasy writer Brian Turner, it has everything from book to gaming discussions, with a busy TV and movie section, too. The writing boards are extremely popular, offering space for questions on plot structure, grammar doubts, and even critiques. And the monthly 75-word and quarterly 300-word writing challenges are a lot of fun, and a good learning process too!

I’ve invited Brian to share a little of what it takes to set up and run a forum the size of the Chrons. Also on the witness stand is long-time member, site moderator, and science fiction and fantasy writer Damaris Browne. Check out her website, www.damarisbrowne.com, for more on her work, book reviews, and her thoughts on writing. 

Juliana: Welcome Brian and Damaris. Now, I know Damaris is a long-time member of the forum, and Brian of course has been there since its inception. Could you tell us a bit about the journey from start to current format and size? 

Damaris:  I’d better leave this one to Brian, as the Chrons was up and running long before I joined in 2008. I’m interested in hearing what the full story is, though, since I know there are members whose dates of joining are a year or two before Brian’s – something which confused me a good deal before I became a mod and picked up bits and pieces of the site’s history. 

Brian: Originally I had a website for my writing, with a forum to support it. I was convinced I’d be published soon — only to realise I’d simply completed a first draft, and would need years to learn how to write to commercial standard. As it already covered other SFF books, TV series, and films, it made sense to detach the forums and develop them as a general SFF community. I then did everything I could to grow it — marketing strategies, technical tricks, mentions in the BBC and other media, a stall at Worldcon, etc.

Now it’s the largest dedicated SFF forum out there. Better still, it’s retained the same sense of friendship and community it began with.

FWIW, I posted a longer history here: https://www.sffchronicles.com/threads/549309/ 

Juliana: Forums, by nature, are always in flux, with established members fading away and new members joining. Have you felt the Chrons has changed in ‘personality’ over the years? 

Brian: Forums are a social media platform, so they are only ever as good as the members that make them up. Luckily, the people who are into SFF tend to be wonderful chilled people. Even better is that we have a moderating team to ensure everything remains civil, and that flame wars, trolling, and spamming are quickly dealt with. That allows for a safe environment for the community to grow.

Damaris: It’s always a shame when established members stop visiting for one reason or another, but it’s inevitable when real life intervenes, and a fresh infusion of new blood is important, bringing with it new ideas and energy. I don’t know about a change in personality, but my perception is there has been a change in emphasis since I joined. There was an Aspiring Writers section then, but it seemed to take second place to the discussion of books. Now I’d say the places have been reversed and the writing side is a greater driver of the site. There was also a chat room when I first joined, which vanished some time ago, and I think that was missed by some of the older members. 

Juliana: There are several other SFF sites where forums exist side-by-side with a homepage that showcases articles and reviews. A while back, Brian opted to focus solely on the forum aspect. Why this decision? What are the positives and negatives of this choice? 

Damaris: Again one which I’d best leave to Brian. I have to confess that I rarely visited the homepage, so I’ve not been affected by the change, save that as a winner of the 300 Word Writing Challenges it was a great ego-boost to see my name and a link to my story there. So that’s one disadvantage of its loss as far as I’m concerned! 

Brian: I had grand dreams of setting up a SFF magazine on the front end, supported by the forums. But the big problem is that no good front end software will integrate with any good forum software. The result is that you end up with two websites running in parallel, and little interaction between the two. Which kind of defeats the purpose of having both features, if most people only use one or the other.

To me, the community aspect was always the most important – so I focused on that. Anything that would have ordinarily been posted to a front is now posted to the forums. IMO that makes for a stronger community overall.

Juliana: The SFF Chronicles, like most forums, depends heavily on volunteer moderators. What does a moderator actually do? And how much work does it take to keep a forum friendly and ‘clean’? 

Brian: In their simplest form, moderators are simply long-term members who have been entrusted with an extra set of tools to help protect the community environment. But moderators are also site ambassadors, and service relations. Ultimately, their role is essential – and usually thankless – when it comes to making sure the community runs properly and safely.

Damaris: Most work is general housekeeping, such as opening and closing regular monthly threads like “What are you reading?” and moving threads which have appeared in the wrong sub-forum by mistake (new members asking for recommendations often wrongly post in Book Search, for instance).

The Challenges have their own little section in the Staff Room where we deal with matters arising. As there are strict word limits, we’re called on to decide whether entries have gone over the limit and therefore have to be removed, whether proposed combination word forms are one or two words, whether choices of theme and genre are appropriate for the 75 Worders and, most difficult of all, what images we should use for the 300 Worders. All those decisions are arrived at by consensus. But a job which is solely mine, and by far the best one, is contacting the winner of the 300 Challenge and confirming the prize (Brian generously provides a book worth £10 GBP from an online shop) then helping get his/her choice of book organised and sent out – as it was to you, Juliana!

Then we have the more onerous – not to say upsetting – duties, effectively policing the site. We don’t get as many spammers as we used to (*touch wood*), but they are a nuisance and their posts have to be removed and the spammers banned. Something that has grown over the years since I’ve been a mod is the number of people joining for the purposes of using us as a free billboard for their self-published novel or their kickstarter campaign. We’re always delighted to hear about members’ projects, but newbies aren’t allowed to self-promote. So those posts are also removed, though the members themselves are rarely banned nowadays, but rather are encouraged to join in and become true members of the community, which is guaranteed to bring more interest in their work anyway, so it’s win-win.

And very occasionally we have to intervene when members argue or become abusive. We don’t allow trolling or flame wars on the site, and we stamp down hard on anything approaching such unpleasantness. Incidentally, as you noted in your introduction, one of the things which makes Chrons so popular is that the boards are always friendly, civil and tolerant of difference. That is wholly down to Brian and the example he sets and encourages us to maintain. 

Juliana: The writing challenges are a popular pastime for many members. And Damaris is our resident statistician, keeping track of entries and votes over the years. How did the idea of the challenges emerge? How have they evolved over time? 

Brian: The Writing Challenges is an area I support, but almost never have anything to do with. It’s a great example of the community asking for, and then organising, what has become a major activity. 

Damaris: Ah-ha!  I can answer this one easily, since I was, by chance, one of the original movers of the Challenges. Back in early 2010 one of our members put up a piece in Critiques to commemorate his 1,000th  post. (The start of another Chrons tradition!)  I came along not long after and followed suit, but as I had nothing in my draft WiPs suitable, I quickly wrote a silly piece of 250 words. In the discussions which followed, I half-jokingly suggested we should have a “story in 50 words” thread, so we could practice brevity as the soul of good story-telling. Teresa Edgerton, another long-standing member (and brilliant author), confirmed she’d been part of a writing group that had an exercise to modernise a fairy tale in 75 words, and she was the only one able to complete it. She suggested we try the same exercise in our Workshop section of Aspiring Writers, changing theme or genre monthly. I was very taken with the idea, as were several others, so the Challenges started a few days later, on 5 April 2010.

We thought we might get a handful of people taking part, and like other exercises, it might last a few months before fizzling out. We’ve now just completed our sixth year of the 75 Worder, and in that time we’ve had a total of 448 entrants writing 3,571 stories!

The 75 Worder has stayed much as it started, though the original open genres or plain Science Fiction or Fantasy are rare now, and the genres (which are chosen by the previous month’s winner) can be rather esoteric, not to say wilful – Tudorpunk and In the Style of Rudyard Kipling being notorious. But in 2011 we started the 300 Worders, which have an image, often a photograph, as an inspiration for speculative fiction, and in 2014 a not-quite official 100 Worder was begun, where the entries are posted anonymously and part of the fun is to try and guess which member wrote which story. 

Juliana: Which are your favorite corners of the Chrons? 

Damaris: Aspiring Writers, by a long way, and that’s where I spend most of my time. But I have a soft spot for Book Search, which is where members can put up pleas for help in trying to find the title and author for SFF novels they read many years ago and which are now tantalising memories. I was like a dog with two tails when I was able to pinpoint a book for one person a few years back – my one and only acknowledged success. 

Brian: I love it every time someone starts a discussion, especially about a book or an author. It’s also great when a TV show or film franchise develops enough of a following to receive its own board.

Additionally, I enjoy seeing the various writing projects, and successes, our writers are involved with. 

Juliana: I happen to know that besides being talented writers you are both avid readers. What’s on your to-read pile at the moment?

Brian: I’ve got quite a reading list (https://www.sffchronicles.com/xfa-blog-entry/2700/) already for this year, but I’ve had a few books already added to that. A heady mix of fantasy, science fiction, thrillers, historical fiction, plus general non-fiction research material.

Damaris: My TBR pile overflows from two large baskets, and there isn’t enough room to list everything they contain! I’m a catholic reader (with a particular weakness for medieval murder mysteries), so I’ve books of all kinds waiting, but just looking at a few of the SFFs: Raymond E Feist, King of Foxes; Guy Gavriel Kay, A Song for Arbonne; Harry Harrison, The Stainless Steel Rat Returns; Sabaa Tahir, An Ember in the Ashes. And just this weekend I picked up Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War, Jack Campbell’s JAG in Space, and Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus. In the non-SFF sphere, the one I’m going to start next is Mary Renault’s The Mask of Apollo as I’ve recently finished The Last of the Wine which was marvelous, and after that Tracy Chevalier’s The Virgin Blue – I was very impressed with her The Lady and the Unicorn, though perhaps less so by Girl with a Pearl Earring. And lastly, as early research for a possible novel I’ve got A Social History of Tea by Jane Pettigrew and Bruce Richardson which is just begging to be opened.

Juliana: Thank you Brian and Damaris for sharing an insider’s view of the SFF Chronicles. It’s always fascinating to peek behind the curtains! Hmm, that gives me an idea for a new thread topic… 😉

 

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Spotlight is a monthly blog feature. Check out March’s Spotlight on Writing Horror with Gwendolyne Kiste and Scarlett R. Algee. Next up in May: Spotlight on Writing YA.

 

 

Abendau’s Journey: Interview with Jo Zebedee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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