October Updates

 

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Dog bed under table for strategic canine foot-rubs

Hello October, you lovely thing. Plenty of the good and the busy going on over here in my autumn-colored neck of the woods.

My Heart Blade edits are pretty much done! I have the wonderful experts at Laurel City Sword looking over my fight scenes at the moment, but apart from that…the manuscript is ready to place in the copyeditor’s capable hands. Although in the past I’ve worked with plenty of fabulous (and patient) beta readers and critique partners, this was my first time working with a professional editor. It’s been a really interesting and positive experience, and I’m sure there’s a whole other blog post right there waiting to happen.

I have a cover! Well, almost. There are all sorts of things that still need to be done to it before it’s ready to share, like adding a title. But my publisher has let me peek and Merilliza Chan‘s artwork is lovely, with a dreamy vintage feel to it. Here’s a teaser:

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Rose petals! So pretty! Shh, secret…

So what happens next? I have a sequel to write. That means I need to do some serious outlining first, and also a post-edits update of all my story and character arcs for the next three Blade Hunt Chronicles books. No spoilers for book 2 before book 1 is even out, but I may or may not have a heist tale in the works. I’ve been dying to try my hand at fictional armed robbery, and Night Blade is the perfect place for it.

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Caution: fictional armed robbery may or may not include swords

I’m looking forward to a busy October, and that’s just the way I like it. Happy words to all you writers and readers out there!

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?

 

 

Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch

I’ve had Ben Aaronovitch on my to-read list for a while. Somehow he kept getting pushed down the list, until the other day I spotted Rivers of London (Midnight Riot in the USA) at my local library and thought, ‘why not?’

I was hooked by the end of the first page.

I’d heard plenty of good things about Ben’s Rivers of London series, also called the Peter Grant books after the main character. I’d heard that they were well written. Fast-paced. Exciting. I certainly agree with all of those, but somehow I missed out on how funny they are. I wasn’t expecting funny. He had me constantly grinning as I zapped my way through his first, second, and third book in quick nail-biting succession.

In his first book, Rivers of London (Midnight Riot), we meet PC Peter Grant, a lowly constable in the London Metropolitan Police Service. Peter… Well let’s just say he isn’t headed for great things. In the words of his friend and co-worker PC May, he’s just too easily ‘distractible’. But distractible turns out to be a good quality when it leads to an interview with a murder witness…who just happens to be a ghost.

From here on, Peter’s life grows steadily weirder and more interesting, in equal proportions. Pretty soon he finds himself working for a secret branch of the police force under the supervision of England’s last official wizard, Inspector Nightingale. The plot jumps and leaps and twists between river gods and vengeful spirits bent on mayhem and murder in this absolutely delightful book.

I had to have more. Soon I was diving into Aaronovitch’s second book, Moon Over Soho. This one delves into the world of jazz with an investigation into the mysterious death of a number of musicians. Ben’s third book, Whispers Under Ground, takes us into the tunnels and sewers underneath London’s streets when a murder victim is found at the end of Baker Street tube station.

I finished the third in a bit of a fangirl daze, thinking why haven’t I read this before!!! Luckily for me, there are more published books in this great series, just waiting for me to pick them up.

If you like your supernatural police novels to have a decidedly cheeky approach to apprehending a number of not-your-usual sorts of suspects, then Ben’s work is definitely for you.

 

 

 

Spotlight on Urban Fantasy with Pippa DaCosta

A wizard, a goblin, and a fairy walk into a bar… No, not a tavern or a dusty wayside inn. A bar. One of the ones with pool tables, and dartboards, and some TV show on mute behind the bartender. The traffic roars by outside, and somewhere a cell phone rings. Welcome to the wonderful world of Urban Fantasy.

Urban fantasy is a sub-genre of fantasy that uses supernatural elements within a real-world setting, usually contemporary. Novels are often set in cities, although small-town environments work just as well; however, the ‘urban’ in question refers more to the urban nature of society than the story’s setting.

Personally, I love urban fantasy. I love the fast-paced plots, usually with a thriller or mystery at their heart. I love those wizard P.I.s, the problem-solving werewolves, and the vampire love interests. The idea that the woman next to me at the grocery store might be a fae warrior in disguise? I’ll take it. I’d even argue that urban fantasy is a form of portal fantasy, a gateway to a world of supernatural magic hidden in plain sight among the coffee shops, subway trains, and dismal stretches of suburban highway.

My lovely guest Pippa DaCosta is the author of the Veil and City of Fae urban fantasy series, besides the Girl from Above science fiction series. Adding an extra dose of adrenaline to her already exciting list, the first books in two brand new series will be out soon: look for Chaos Rises (Chaos Rises #1) on June 29th and Hidden Blade (Soul Eater #1) in July. Pippa is a busy hybrid author, expertly balancing the demands of traditional and indie publishing as she navigates her way through her different series and worlds.

Juliana: Pippa, thanks for taking time out of your hectic writing schedule to chat a bit about urban fantasy. What was the spark that led you to working in this particular genre?  

Hi Juliana. I’ve always loved urban fantasy. For as long as I can remember I’ve been fascinated by the interplay between magic and reality, and how those two forces mix and clash, usually producing spectacular results. Urban fantasy is an opportunity to believe our nine-to-five days might be transformed from the doldrums, to something or somewhere fantastic. Where the normal might in fact be paranormal. I was writing urban fantasy more than twenty years ago, before I knew it was a thing; scribbling on reams of paper, my Sony Walkman headphones on (showing my age!). I am an avid reader of UF too. I can’t get enough of it.  

Juliana: You’re a prolific writer with several distinct storylines on the go at the same time. Where do you start when planning a new series? And how do you keep your worlds separate from each other? 

I’ll answer the easy one first. Keeping my worlds separate. I use playlists. As soon as I start writing a new book in a new world, I create a playlist that builds as the book and series progresses. Every book and every series has its own playlist associated with it. This allows me to switch from writing in one world to another, and ground myself in each by listening to the playlists. I guess it tricks my brain into thinking I’m back in those worlds. My fantasy playlists sound very different to my scifi playlists, for example. If I’m writing traditional fantasy, I’ll listen to Thomas Bergersen or Two Steps From Hell, utilising those traditionally epic soundtracks. My scifi soundtrack has a lot of dance, with a typically scifi synthetic theme.

Planning a new series is a lot more difficult to answer, because it varies. I’m part planner, part pantser. I start when a new series grabs a hold of me from out of nowhere and grips me so hard I don’t have a choice but to start writing. For those first few chapters, I have no idea what I’m doing. I get the ideas out, and clean up the mayhem later (editing!). Once I have a feel for what’s really going on (usually by the time I type The End), I can then start to think about what comes next. How many books, what story arc do I have, how are these characters going to grow and change. All those answers fill out my series outline. The in-between bits might change, but usually the planned ending stays the same. So, it starts with one idea, and grows from there. There’s a quote from me floating around the internet that says, “Ideas take root at the oddest moments. Some grow into novels. The weaker ones with and die.”  

Juliana: In your opinion, apart from the obvious differences in setting, what are the key points in plot and pacing that set urban fantasy apart from traditional fantasy stories? 

There are debates raging throughout many a writers forum regarding what constitutes urban fantasy. Some argue it’s setting, some argue it must be told in first person point of view, or it must set in a city (not a village?!). There are no rules, but there are expectations. Urban fantasy readers expect action, adventure, usually some snark, maybe a love interest (note I say love interest not romance – romance (defined here by a Happy Ever After) treads on the close cousin of urban fantasy, paranormal romance). For me, urban fantasy simply means magical elements in a contemporary setting. For example, the Supernatural TV show is urban fantasy. You could argue Harry Potter is urban fantasy (although much of it takes place in Hogwarts, which would make it fantasy). Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series is technically a fantasy, because it’s set in an alternate world, but to me and you, it’s urban fantasy. Anything with a first person narrator (usually), and magic (definitely), set in contemporary times (for the most part) is urban fantasy.   

Juliana: Love and sex often have a role in urban fantasy novels. How far can an author go before the line blurs and the story crosses over into the paranormal romance genre?

Love and sex? You can go all the way, BUT paranormal romance has expectations such as a Happy Ever After (HEA) or a Happy For Now (HFN). Urban fantasy doesn’t care about happy. It laughs in the face of happy for most of a series and may, or may not, have a ‘happy ending’. Also, paranormal romance books are usually centred around a couple, with the romance being a large part of the central plot. The next book might switch point of views to a different couple, but still be in the same series. It’s rare to find an urban fantasy that switches point of views for different books in a series. Most urban fantasy books don’t revolve around a romantic plot – they may have a love interest, but that’s not technically romance. But, authors and readers alike will always argue over these two genres and what they should/shouldn’t have. I love both, by the way. I adored Christine Feehan’s Dark series, and of course the Dark Hunter books, but these days I look for a little less happy in my ever after (Cue evil author laugh). 

Juliana: One thing that fascinates me in urban fantasy is the space for the multiple re-working of mythologies and folktales. Just as I think there can’t possibly be any new angles on the same creatures, someone shows up and surprises me with a different take on the subject. Your demons and half-demons in the Veil series are certainly unique. Do you have any tips on how to avoid falling into tired old tropes when writing urban fantasy? 

Actually, I sorta like tropes, they’re familiar. I know when I pick up an urban fantasy book, that I’m going to get a dash of tropes in there. And that’s okay. But the same tropes over and over get old real fast. There are so many great books out there, with so many fabulous ideas. To be honest, it’s all been done before. There are no new ideas. But as an author, the key is to put your own spin on a trope. So you have a vampire, he’s ancient, he sucks on veins—meh. Make him or her different in some way, make him unique. Or a wolf shifter? Don’t just stick to the same-old same-old in the story, rub some funk on it, make it different, make it yours. I believe the key to knowing what you can do with tropes is reading widely in the genre, so you can see what’s been done a thousand times already, and how you can make your shifter-vampire different.  

Juliana: One last question, just for fun. If you could be a supernatural being from any of your books for a day, which form would you choose and why? 

That’s actually a really difficult question to answer. I’m not sure I’d like to be a demon, my demons are pretty horrible most of the time. I could be a half demon for a day, that might be cool. Let’s face it, having wings would be amazing. Who cares if they’re leathery? WINGS! Yup, I’d totally be a half demon.  

Juliana: Thank you for stopping by and sharing some insights into the world of urban fantasy. And yes, I’ll take a pair of wings too, leather and all. Sign me up! 

Don’t miss Pippa DaCosta’s new book Chaos Rises (Chaos Rises #1), out soon on June 29th.

Check out http://www.pippadacosta.com for further information on Pippa’s work, as well as book news and giveaways. You can also find Pippa on Facebook, Goodreads, and Twitter, as @PippaDaCosta.

 

My monthly Spotlight series is taking a break. But I’m joining the team over at SFFWorld.com, so pretty soon you’ll be able to catch my interviews over there instead.