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Hey, all! Today we have a guest blog from E.C. Ambrose, author of the "Dark Apostle" series from DAW Books. She's here to talk about the joys of medieval surgery! Oh, and to point your attention to the fourth book in her series, Elisha Mancer. To give her a warm welcome and then check out her newest book! (My review of the first book in the series, Elisha Barber, is here.

Elisha Mancer cover

The course of writing about medieval surgery has been fascinating, though I would not recommend it to the faint of heart or weak of stomach. My series, The Dark Apostle, continues this month with volume 4, Elisha Mancer. While it includes all the adventure, magic and intrigue that readers look for in a fantasy series, The Dark Apostle developed from research into surgery during the Middle Ages, and continues to focus on medical practice—including Elisha's arrival at medical school in the fifth and final volume. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I started writing this series while looking for a bit of information about medieval wound care for a scene in a different book entirely—but I immediately fell down the Research Rabbit-hole. Instead of googling an article or two, I ended up with a shelf full of books about the history of medicine, ranging from the delightful Devils, Drugs and Doctors by Howard W. Haggard, MD, to a translation of 14th century surgeon Guy De Chauliac's Chirurgia Magna.

I usually start with secondary sources: academic references and historical surveys, then drill down through their footnotes and bibliographies to find ever more specialized sources and primary sources as well. The odyssey of my research on these books became an epic all by itself. I consulted doctors and medical students for a clearer view on the implications of leg amputation, and corresponded with a medical maggot breeder (yes, they're still being used today). I had the chance to visit the Mary Rose museum in Porstmouth, UK, to see the barber-surgeon's chest recovered from that 16th century shipwreck, and hired a guide in London to view sites like the Old Operating Theater Museum and the original location of the Barber-Surgeon's Hall.

I even started collecting medieval-style surgical tools. Some of these are from a reproduction set made for medieval recreators, including large and small bone saws, hooks for drawing back the flesh from a wound, and wrought-iron scalpels. And cautering irons, of course. I augmented this set with items found at my local flea market, like a parting blade made for severing limbs, a mallet and chisel for removal of fingers or toes, and a small hand drill. Trepanation, anyone? No one? Yeah, nobody at my signings ever volunteers either.

Medieval Surgical Tools

One recreationist I spoke to described how to use a slab of beef, a length of PVC pipe and a large amount of ketchup to simulate an amputation. They don't let me use that one in bookstores. . .

Part of the challenge of the series has been to carry this obsession, er, focus through multiple volumes, always adding to Elisha's knowledge, and the reader's, while delivering all the action and intrigue a fantasy reader enjoys. Book one, Elisha Barber, finds the protagonist working in Coppice Alley—the street of prostitutes—and confronting his sister-in-law's difficult pregnancy. He must pull arrows, deal with the nation's first gunshot victims, care for amputees and create poultices, all the while navigating the politics of both battle and medicine during the Middle Ages.

Want to know more? For sample chapters, historical research and some nifty extras, like a scroll-over image describing the medical tools on the cover of Elisha Barber, visit Dark Apostle Website

E. C. Ambrose blogs about the intersections between fantasy and history at E.C. Ambrose Blog

E.C. Ambrose Twitter

E.C. Ambrose Facebook

Buy Links for volume one, Elisha Barber:

Indiebound: Elisha Barber

Barnes & Noble: Elisha Barber

Amazon: Elisha Barber
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We have a guest post today from Gail Z. Martin, one of the contributing authors to the upcoming anthology Clockwork Universe: Steampunk vs Aliens from the new small press Zombies Need Brains. She's here to discuss genre hopping, why authors should work in multiple genres to help their craft. So without further ado, I give you Gail Z. Martin:





Genre Hopping

by Gail Z. Martin

I've been writing epic fantasy all my life, and had seven epic fantasy novels published, with more in the pipeline. I write big, fat fantasy books with plenty of sword and sorcery, with sweeping plotlines (that's the epic part) that consume kingdoms and dynasties.

I also write urban fantasy, both in short stories and with a new novel coming out in 2014. Magic, modern times, supernatural creatures and a first-person narrative.

So why, when Joshua asked me to be part of a Steampunk anthology, did I jump up and down and squeal like a little girl? (Ok, I exaggerate on the squeal but I think I did hop a bit.)

As a writer, I've found that while a certain amount of familiarity with a topic breeds proficiency, staying only with that topic starts to make fresh ideas flow more slowly. I was a little concerned initially when I started to write a monthly ebook short story, whether or not I would get "tired" of writing so much, on top of my book commitments. The answer turned out to be, I had a bigger flow of new ideas because I was doing new things.

Writing something in a different genre makes you look at the world a different way. Writing in a different style, like moving from third-person narrative to first-person, stretches different creative muscles. It's like switching exercise routines or weight machines at the gym. All of a sudden, you realize that you've got a whole new goal to strive for. It makes it fun and puts a little mystery back in the process.

Besides, I've loved Steampunk since before it had a name. As a kid, I watched Wild Wild West, full of James Bond gadgets during the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant. I loved Jules Verne and any movie based on his books. The idea of gears and gadgets instead of rockets and ray guns made sense to me. So when Joshua asked if I'd be interested, the answer was a fan-girl squee.

What Joshua didn't know was that I'd already begun working on a concept for a Steampunk novel. That project is still in development, but the short story for Steampunk vs. Aliens will be a little sneak peek. And it's fun working on the short story because it helps me develop some of the ideas better that might find their way into the novel. Creativity works on a winding, circuitous route. I'm having fun.

See you in the Clockwork Universe!

Come check out all the free excerpts, book giveaways and other goodies that are part of my Days of the Dead blog tour! Trick-or-Treat you way through more than 30 partner sites where you'll find brand new interviews, freebies and more--details at www.AscendantKingdoms.com.

Ice Forged will be a Kindle Daily Deal with a special one-day price of just $1.99 only on October 31! Get it here.

Reign of Ash, book two in the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga launches in April, 2014 from Orbit Books. My new urban fantasy, Deadly Curiosities, comes out in July, 2014 from Solaris Books. I bring out two series of ebook short stories with a new story every month for just .99 on Kindle, Kobo and Nook—check out the Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures or the Deadly Curiosities Adventures.





About the author: Gail Z. Martin is the author of Ice Forged in The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga and the upcoming Reign of Ash (Orbit Books, 2014), plus The Chronicles of The Necromancer series (The Summoner, The Blood King, Dark Haven & Dark Lady’s Chosen) from Solaris Books and The Fallen Kings Cycle (The Sworn and The Dread) from Orbit Books. In 2014, Gail launches a new urban fantasy novel, Deadly Curiosities, from Solaris Books. She is also the author of two series of ebook short stories: The Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures and the Deadly Curiosities Adventures. Find her at www.ChroniclesOfTheNecromancer.com, on Twitter @GailZMartin, on Facebook.com/WinterKingdoms, at DisquietingVisions.com blog and GhostInTheMachinePodcast.com.
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Today we have a guest post from April Steenburgh, a friend who not only pimped our books at the local bookstore when she worked there, but also submitted a story to The Modern Fae's Guide to Surviving Humanity and was accepted. Since then, she'd been totally corrupted by Patricia Bray and I and has since run her own Kickstarter and put together an anthology or her own called Fight Like a Girl. You can find the anthology at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble in ebook format--a collection of twenty stories from unpublished (until now) authors. Check it out!

Here are some thoughts from April about what it meant to submit, get accepted, and work with Patricia and I on the Modern Fae project. And if you're interested in supporting the next anthology project, swing on by the Kickstarter for CLOCKWORK UNIVERSE and make a pledge!

April:

Josh and Tricia asked me what it was like, what it meant for my writing career, to have been a debut author in their anthology A Modern Fae’s Guide to Surviving Humanity. I had been on the receiving end of rejection letters before, but they were all from editors I did not know, apart from by reputation. Submitting to folks I knew was a whole different monster.

There was also something terribly intimidating about submitting to an anthology stocked with authors I had read and enjoyed. Especially knowing there were only a few spots open for us unpublished hopefuls.

But, it was a theme that I was pretty damn confident writing something for, and was honestly excited about. I laugh as I explain to folks that I treated it like a graduate school paper--waiting until the last minute to finish it up and hand it in. But that is honestly what happened--the theme of the anthology was the paper topic in my head and I always have written best under pressure . . .

I sent it off to Tricia, wished I hadn’t (there were so many little things I could have changed! It wasn’t ready. It wasn’t good enough. Oh, the things that go through your head as soon as you hit send . . .) and went back to dealing with the kerfluffle of life that was 2011.

I desperately wanted that acceptance email, but I wasn’t expecting it. That does not mean I didn’t engage in a silly sort of dance when I received it. It was my first acceptance letter in a vast sea of (very polite and helpful) rejection letters.

That little bit of encouragement, a suggestion that I was good enough, when I put my brain to it--that was what I needed. Once I got over being stunned I made it in, and more or less got over the fact I was surrounded by authors I used to sell or run signings for while managing my bookstore, I realized this was something I could do.

I couldn’t tell you if it was easier or harder, submitting a story to people I knew, but it did make the acceptance letter something magnificent. I knew they would not hesitate to reject my story if it did not fit the project or if it still needed work--they are excellent editors like that. Having folks I knew and respected think my writing was good enough for their book was all the confidence boost I needed.

Fast forward a bit, and I am still writing, and have even launched my own anthology. I had, and continue to have, excellent mentors in the field after all. Josh and Tricia turn out magnificent anthologies--I definitely take a bit of pride for having my first publication nestled in one of their projects. For a new author, they were spectacular at walking me through the whole process, edits to publication. And it is a process.

I wanted other folks to have that chance, an editor willing to walk them through the process of being in an anthology from submission to publication, which ended up with me running my own Kickstarter for an anthology earlier this year, a book that was made up of all unpublished authors. I blame that project soundly on Josh and Tricia--they made quite the impression on me when I was just starting out.



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Today, I have a guest post from fellow author (and apparently my long-lost twin) Jon Sprunk. We met each other at this past Balticon and immediately realized that we think alike. In fact, his first trilogy has as a main character an assassin! And the assassin has a sympathetic back story! After talking to him at the con, I realized we'd written rather similar books. I haven't had a chance to read his first book yet, but it's been bought and is sitting on my TBR pile right now. I invited Jon to guest post here at my blog, since I figured those of you who liked my Throne of Amenkor series might also be interested in checking out Jon's books. So, here's Jon talking about how his main character came to be.





In the words of Jon Sprunk:

Thank you, Joshua, for giving me this chance to connect with your friends and readers. My name is Jon Sprunk and I’m the author of Shadow’s Son, Shadow’s Lure, and Shadow’s Master (Pyr Books). This fantasy trilogy focuses on the life and times of a lonewolf assassin named Caim who has a knack for controlling shadows.

Today, I’d like to talk about building a fictional character, specifically a protagonist (or hero) who kills people for a living. When I started out brainstorming ideas for my Shadow saga, I didn’t initially peg the main character as an assassin. I knew I wanted someone who operated outside the mainstream of society, but my first choice was a cat-burglar type of rogue. But as I fleshed out the plot of the first book, I realized that I wanted the main character to be more dangerous, sort of like Clint Eastwood’s hard-bitten gunman personality in those old Sergei Leone westerns.

Yet that decision created a conundrum. Assassins aren’t, by and large, very popular people. (Being a professional murderer doesn’t garner you many friends. Go figure.) So how could I use an assassin as a main character throughout the course of three books without having the readers hate his guts? Well, I cheated. A little.

Like any good character, Caim has a backstory that illustrates how he became the man he is in the books. In this case, I used childhood tragedy to explain a fragile personality that cloaks itself behind external toughness. Not exactly unique, but I think it works. More importantly, it builds a bridge of understanding between Caim and the reader, a reason to root for him even when he isn’t the nicest guy you’d ever meet.

And the “cheat” is that Caim has a code of conduct. It’s not exactly King Arthur’s brand of chivalry. Actually, it’s closer to the personal code of Robert E. Howard’s Conan character. Caim doesn’t kill women or children, and he only takes jobs that target despicable persons. So he operates more like Batman the Dark Knight, except he’s not a billionaire with tons of nifty gadgets and a jet-powered car.

I like all kinds of characters, the great and the small, but I have a special place in my demented little heart for assassins and the ilk. Thank you for reading.

Best,
Jon Sprunk





Bio:

Jon Sprunk lives in central Pennsylvania with his wife and son. His first fantasy novel, Shadow’s Son (Pyr Books) was published in 2010, followed by the sequels, Shadow’s Lure and Shadow’s Master. He is also a mentor at the Seton Hill University Writing Program. For more on his life and works, visit www.jonsprunk.com.



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Myke Cole is another author represented by my agent Joshua Bilmes. I met him first a couple of cons ago, just before his debut novel Shadow Ops: Control Point hit the shelves. I invited him to guest post and he agreed! So, first, an author bio and the cover of Shadow Ops: Control Point, followed by him talking a little about mixing SF with Fantasy and the genres and subgenres out there. So welcome Myke Cole and feel free to ask questions in the comments!

Author Bio: As a secu­rity con­tractor, gov­ern­ment civilian and mil­i­tary officer, Myke Cole’s career has run the gamut from Coun­tert­er­rorism to Cyber War­fare to Fed­eral Law Enforce­ment. He’s done three tours in Iraq and was recalled to serve during the Deep­water Horizon oil spill. All that con­flict can wear a guy out. Thank good­ness for fan­tasy novels, comic books, late night games of Dun­geons and Dragons and lots of angst fueled writing.

Book Description: Army Officer. Fugi­tive. Sorcerer.

Across the country and in every nation, people are waking up with mag­ical tal­ents. Untrained and pan­icked, they summon storms, raise the dead, and set every­thing they touch ablaze.

Army officer Oscar Britton sees the worst of it. A lieu­tenant attached to the military’s Supernat­ural Oper­a­tions Corps, his mis­sion is to bring order to a world gone mad. Then he abruptly man­i­fests a rare and pro­hib­ited mag­ical power, trans­forming him overnight from government agent to public enemy number one.

The SOC knows how to handle this kind of sit­u­a­tion: hunt him down-–and take him out. Driven into an under­ground shadow world, Britton is about to learn that magic has changed all the rules he’s ever known, and that his life isn’t the only thing he’s fighting for.





You Put Science-Fiction in my Fantasy!

Myke Cole

I’ve done at least two posts in my career trying to sketch out the boundaries of what constitutes “Military Science Fiction” or “Military Fantasy.” I hem and haw and sweat and curse, and in the end am always forced to come to the conclusion that the real thing those sub-genres are useful for (and, frankly, the real thing that all sub-genres are useful for) is to help sales reps pitch books to buyers, help bookselling websites develop recommendation algorithms, and help bookstore staff know where to shelve the damn things.

But surely the bigger categories of SCIENCE FICTION and FANTASY are important, right? I mean, they’re GENRES. There’s nothing SUB about them. If anything, they’re SUPER genres, rescuing defenseless speculative fiction manuscripts from the clutches of wicked (and snooty) literary villains.

And they have hard parameters. Both science fiction and fantasy are types of speculative fiction. The difference is in what they speculate about. Science fiction speculates about technology (the possible: think spaceships, robots, lasers, cold-fusion). Fantasy speculates about magic (the impossible: think dragons, vampires, magic spells). That’s clear, right?

Well, it was, I guess.

Enter “Urban Fantasy,” a sub-genre that most folks take to mean literary porn written about vampires and werewolves (a la Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight books). The covers themselves have become a trope: A fetching woman suggestively posed, always with a gun or a sword in one hand, magic crackling in the other, always with a tramp stamp rising just above the belt-line.

But calling urban fantasy “Vampire Porn” (and I’m guilty of this myself) is to do it an enormous disservice. Much of the sub-genre is excellent, with an audience response that bears that out (Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse novels; Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files). And much of it contains absolutely no vampires at all, sparkly, or otherwise. This is because, at its heart, urban fantasy is trying to do something incredibly simple: Take the magic we know from classic fantasy tales from the likes of J.R.R. Tolkien, Terry Brooks or Fred Saberhagen, (which we’re used to seeing in a medieval setting) and layer it over the complications and idiosyncrasies of the modern world. How does a private detective pursue an evil wizard? What’s it like to fall in love with a vampire?

These are interesting questions, the kind of cool what-ifs that genre fans have a hunger for.

I know I do. That’s why I wrote the SHADOW OPS series. The what-if there is: How would the modern military deal with magic? It was fun to explore, and it still is (I’m writing the 3rd installment in the series as we speak). I hope readers agree.

But people like labels. A lot of folks see a guy with a gun on the cover and jump right to calling it military science fiction. Seeing how the whole premise of the series is a unit of military sorcerers, that’s false on its face.

Fine, military fantasy then. But that’s not quite right either, is it?

Because SHADOW OPS takes place in the future. Technology has evolved too, partly to keep pace with the arcane developments blossoming around it. Helicopters have silent running modes that muffle their rotors. Infantry body armor is kitted out with rubber insulation and grounding wires to protect against lightning bolts.

And when you consider the fact that science fiction is social as well, you realize that the entire modern social order has changed to keep pace with what magic has wrought in the world. Science fiction doesn’t always have to deal with massive leaps to huge spaceships or teleportation. A couple of the more recent, notable works in the genre are based on the effects of genetic engineering and global warming. It can be subtle.

I like to think that SHADOW OPS does the same thing as well. Who knows? That’s for you to decide. Urban fantasy uses magic, to be sure, but because it takes place in a progressing modern world, the evolution of technology begins to push the genre towards the middle of the Venn diagram. China Mieveille’s Embassytown is an alien first contact story utterly pregnant with magic. Heck, anybody seen Star Wars lately? (The 3 most recent films don’t count) Those are just a couple of examples.

I can’t tell you with certitude that SHADOW OPS is science fiction or fantasy, but I will say this: When Ace sent me the cover image for the book, I insisted on seeing the spine. I think that all authors should do this. The spine is the part of the book that most folks will see when they’re browsing shelves at stores (the few that remain), and you should know what it looks like. But I also wanted to see how Ace categorized it for store placement (and to entice readers). Would they market it as a fantasy novel? A military thriller?

To my great delight, the spine read: ACE: FANTASY/SCIENCE FICTION.

That made me smile.

Because, honestly? I’m not sure we need the distinction anymore.
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Today, I have an interview with L. Jagi Lamplighter, author of the Prospero's Daughter trilogy from Tor. Her newest book is Prospero Regained, the third volume in the trilogy. I'll let L. Jagi Lamplighter explain about her books in the interview, so read that and then check out her books!





Interview

First off, why don't you introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about the new book!

Greetings, I am L. Jagi Lamplighter, author and wife of an author (sf/fantasy author John C. Wright. Ours is a very writerly house . . . meaning, in translation, that it is rather messy and not quite anchored in the world of order and chores, which I am sure must be a trial to my children’s friends when they visit--not to mention my children. There is a soccer-ball herding rabbit, though. That makes up for a lot.)

My newest book is Prospero Regained, the final volume of the Prospero’s Daughter trilogy. The series is a sequel to Shakespeare’s Tempest, set in the modern day, with magic, mystery, and humor. In the first volume, Prospero Lost, Miranda discovers her father, the Dread Magician Prospero, is missing. She and her company detective, Mab--an airy spirit in human form, set out to find him. In the second volume, Prospero In Hell, she gathers all her half-brothers and sister, born in the five hundred years since the end of The Tempest, and they go to Hell to rescue their father.

In the third and final volume, Prospero Regained, Miranda and her family must cross Hell to rescue her father, who is due to be executed by demons on Twelfth Night. (Hmm . . . you know, I never noticed the additional Shakespeare reference there. I picked Twelfth Night because I’ve always thought it was rather cool.) Along the way, they must face their worst fears, sacrifice some of their dearest possessions, and learn to act together like a family again. It is a book about forgiveness and redemption and really wanting a piece of cheese. There is also a hot elf.


When did the writing bug bite? Was there someone or something that got you started down that road?

So far as I can recall, I always made up stories. I started my first novel at the age of twelve. I never got very far, a chapter or two. It was a story about a wizard school on a fantasy world. Unlike both Earthsea and Harry Potter, the main characters were the teachers, not the students. (I was strongly influenced by Anne McCaffrey’s Pern at that age.)

However, back then I did not want to be a writer, which I thought a rather shaky proposition. I wanted to be either an animal trainer or a marine scientist. It was not until I was well into college that the idea of actually becoming a writer hit me. It finally occurred to me that if I did not become a writer, my daydreams--all the stories I constantly made up--would just be a crutch, something that kept me from my real life. But if I became a writer, then all that time I spent making up stories became raw material, a tool of my trade.

I loved writing, but I was not good at nearly every aspect of it. But I sat myself down and went to work, learning each separate aspect of the trade one painstaking moment at a time. It took me about twenty-five years to get published . . . which shows that perseverance actually does pay off. Who would have thought it?


Why this genre? What is it about it that excites you and fires your imagination enough to sit down a write?

I have a long essay on this subject that has been well received wherever it has been posted. It’s called "All About The Wonder or Why I Write Fantasy." You can see it here: http://www.ljagilamplighter.com/about/why-i-write-fantasy/.

The gist of the matter is: the wonder of it. If mystery is the genre of curiosity, romance is the genre of passion, and horror is the genre of fear, then fantasy is the genre of wonder.

So what is wonder? It is that moment when we realize that there is something greater than ourselves. Something more wonderful, more fantastic, more astonishing that what we had expected. That moment when the sky opens, and we see that the universe is infinitely bigger than we had thought.

I love that!

As a fantasy author, I not only can explore wonder, I can share it with others. (I was really pleased when my first novel came out with the quote: “You hold in your hand a book of wonders” on the back cover. I was also amused, as the quote was from my husband.)


What kind of writer are you--organic, an outliner, or some combination of both?

First, may I take a moment to thank you for saying “organic” rather than “pantser” which is a term I particularly dislike. I try not to get worked up about terms for things . . . but I cannot help note that this particular term was invented by an outliner.

I do believe there are writers who write “by the seat of their pants,” but I do not feel that describes what I do at all. And I have spoken to other organic writers who describe something very similar to what I experience.

That being said . . . I love outlining. I admire outliners terribly. But I cannot write from an outline. Since the reason I write fantasy is for the wonder, I find my writing is fresher if I am inventing the story anew as I write it. If I plan too far ahead, my imagination just stops. It’s like the muses go on strike. They leave the megaphone that they use to send me ideas and go out for coffee. (They probably go hang out with the mermaids who run Starbucks.)

Many other fine authors feel this way. Terry Practhett put it really beautifully. He described writing as a mist-filled valley. You can see the peaks and the treetops, but you cannot discover the fascinating characters and places within the mist until you head down there. (In defense of outlining, I know a lovely outliner who says she makes these wonderful, mist-filled journeys during the outlining process.)

There’s a delightful story about Roger Zelazny on the subject that I once her Jack Chalker tell at a convention. He said that Zelazny came to him once and announced, with delight, that he had gotten a contract for a mystery series. Chalker exclaimed, “Roger, you can’t write a mystery. Writing mysteries requires an outline!” To which Zelazny replied, “If I knew what was going to happen ahead of time, why would I want to write the book?” Chalker shook his head, amused, and concluded. “Roger had to give the money back.”

So, you might be wondering, if it doesn’t feel like writing by the seat of my pants what does it feel like? It feels like taking dictation. As if the Muse has a plan for the book and if I deviate from the plan, the story will dry up and go away. My job is to sit down and listen. (When I remember, I pray first and then listen. ;-) Then, to write what comes to me while being as true to what I hear as possible.

I know no other way of explaining it.


What's the "big, cool idea" behind this book? What makes it different and unique?

Prospero Regained has a number of big ideas. It deals with the nature of free will. It deals with the question of whether a soul can escape damnation once it has been consigned to Hell. It deals with sacrifice and forgiveness.

But it is also a book of magic and wonder. When writing the series, I tried to stick to the maxim: never do by ordinary means anything that could be done by magic. When I was a kid, my big complaint about fantasy stories was that they just did not have enough magic in them. This book does not suffer from that phenomena.

Most of all, however, it is a book about family . . . about the pains and troubles of family but also the joys and rewards. It is about being there for those you love, even when you really think that your efforts won’t be appreciated.

It’s about love and never giving up.


What's the best part of the writing/publishing process for you? What's the worst?

Ah. Finally, an easy question. The worst part, for me, is the writing . . . getting the words and ideas down for the first time. The best part is revising and editing. I love reworking the raw ideas to make them come alive. Everything else is in between.

************************************************

L. Jagi Lamplighter’s most recent release, Prospero Regained, is the stunning conclusion of the critically acclaimed Prospero’s Daughter series.

She is also one of the editors of the Bad Ass Fairies Anthology series. When not writing, she reverts to her secret identity as an at-home mother in Centreville, Virginia, where she lives with her husband, author John C. Wright, and their four children, Orville, Ping-Ping, Roland Wilbur, and Justinian Oberon.

Website: http://www.ljagilamplighter.com/
Blog: http://arhyalon.livejournal.com
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I have a guest today! Please welcome Marie Brennan, a fellow writer who's here today to talk about writing historical fantasy--when to keep your historical novel accurate, when to use real events and people, and perhaps when you should just make it up out of whole cloth. I've never written anything set in the real world, so this was very interesting to read . . . and something for me to file away in case I ever do decide to set a novel in our world. So sit back and enjoy, and then check out Marie Brennan's books!





Marie Brennan speaks: When I set out to write the first book in this series, Midnight Never Come, I didn't think much about the different kinds of historical fiction. I'm not talking about the usual genre boundaries like "fantasy" or "mystery" or "romance;" I'm talking about the way the fiction interacts with historical fact.

You can think of it as a spectrum. On one end, there's historical non-fiction, that sets out to tell you exactly what happened: in a narrative fashion, maybe, giving you the story of those events, but essentially trying to stick to the facts as known. On the other end, there's a story that uses the period only as setting, never as plot: made-up individuals who just happen to be living in the past.

In between, there's a broad range of options. Fictional characters interacting with real events? Real people interacting with fictional events? Over the course of writing the Onyx Court series, I've done both, and lots of other things besides. Speaking from experience, I have to say:

Man, stay away from the real stuff.

I'm almost serious. If you'd asked me last year, when I was tearing my hair out over the timing of the Fenian bombings in nineteenth-century London and the refusal of a certain lunar eclipse to happen further in advance of the opening of the Inner Circle portion of the Underground Railway, I would have said it with absolute sincerity. (And a lot more profanity.) The further real people or real events come into the story, the more writing turns into an obstacle course: jump over this, dodge around that, climb up one person's biography until you're close enough to grab onto the edge of another person's actions. If you've committed to historical accuracy -- as I did -- then all these things become strictures on your freedom of creativity.

Strictures like the rules of formal poetry. Meter and rhyme, a certain number of lines in a certain pattern . . . but sometimes, having to work within those constraints makes you be more creative. You want a relationship between one of your fictional characters and a historical man; it turns out that man was already married. That can shut down your plot idea -- or add a new layer to it, as you decide what would make the relationship happen anyway, and how it affects that man's home life. And sometimes history hands you details that operate as springboards instead of snares, launching you into perfect bits of plot you might never have made up on your own.

But it's true that the closer you get to fact, the less room you have to move, especially when you take the approach I did with this series. The Onyx Court books are secret history, not alternate; events play out as they did in reality, but sometimes have hidden causes or twists. I had to look for the cracks in what we know, the places where I could slip my own story in. The second and fourth books in this series, In Ashes Lie and the most recent, With Fate Conspire, interact more closely with specific historical people and events. The first and third, Midnight Never Come and A Star Shall Fall, are more distant, taking place in historical periods, but using specifics more as context than content.

If you have to pick between the two, go for the latter option. Unless, like me, you're the sort of masochist who enjoys these things -- in which case, good luck! The pleasure of watching it pay off is almost worth the pain. :-)





Author Bio: Marie Brennan is a former academic with a background in archaeology, anthropology, and folklore, which she now puts to rather cockeyed use in writing fantasy. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.
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OK, one of my vows over the summer was to try to do more guest blogs from SF&F authors when their new books come out, since blogs are one of the only ways to find books in this ever changing publishing world. I know I can't find all the stuff I want by going to the bookstore anymore, since there's no guarantee that it will be on the shelf. And since bookstores seem to be fading. And I can't find anything I don't already know is coming out at the online sites. The art of browsing the shelf and finding that unknown author or great book you've never heard of is becoming harder and harder to practice.

So, guest blogs to the rescue! Today, we have Caitlin Kittredge, here to tell us about the inspiration behind her latest book Devil's Business. Check it out!





Caitlin Kittredge speaks:

I get this question--I think all professional authors do--a whole lot: where do you get your inspiration? I don't hate the question, but I do hate that I can't answer it. Inspiration comes from everywhere. Authors owe it to themselves to be open to all sources. It's an impossible question, but since I've been talking up my new book, Devil's Business, nonstop for the past month, I thought I'd take a break and figure out what did, well, inspire me.

I've always been a true crime aficionado--I read The Stranger Beside Me when I was 11 or 12, and as much as I'm fascinated with (and write about) mythological monsters, the human ones fascinate me even more.

One big element of Devil's Business was the mythology of serial killers. Specifically, American serial killers, the kind that worm their way into our cultural lexicon. Americans may not know all the details of Teddy Roosevelt's presidency, but you can bet they know all about Ted Bundy. Jeffrey Dahmer can invoke shudders quicker than any horror movie slasher. John Wayne Gacy single-handedly ruined clowns for all future generations (with a little help from Stephen King.) One of the best stories in the Sandman comics is about serial killers. They're a bigger cultural boogeyman than any supernatural monster.

Of course, that didn't stop me from throwing in a dash of the paranormal, because that's what I write. I needed a backdrop of true weirdness for the story, and naturally, Los Angeles was the place. Where better to showcase a standoff between an errant mage and a group of demon spree killers? Charles Manson, the Night Stalker and the Hillside Strangler all called the place home. LA is an inspired location, soaked in the glitter of the film industry and the dark magic of glamor gone wrong.

So those were two of the major elements, but only two out of dozens--I also drew on the cult of Santa Muerte, old Hollywood and its fading film stars (very Sunset Boulevard), real-life occult artifacts and the strange, strange subculture that thrives on collecting them, and some good old-fashioned noir punch-ups and double crosses.

I'll never complain about getting asked about my inspiration, but I hope at least in the case of Devil's Business, you can see where it came from.





Author Bio: Caitlin Kittredge writes speculative fiction for both the adult and YA market. Her Black London series is a regional bestseller and her Iron Codex novels for young adults have been described as "the next Hunger Games." Caitlin lives in Massachusetts, where she plots, schemes, and tries to keep her cats from knocking things off her bookshelves. You can follow her on twitter via @caitkitt.
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Today we welcome Alma Alexander ([livejournal.com profile] anghara) to the blog! She has a new book getting ready to hit the shelves, Midnight at Spanish Gardens, and she'd like to talk about some of the ideas behind the novel, mostly dealing with "crossroads," all of those paths we could have taken when we made those hard decisions (or even the light ones) in our lives. So please welcome, Alma! And use the links at the end of the post to find out more about her and her books.





Alma:

There have been many attempts to boil down the craft of writing, the act of telling a story to an audience, to a nice sound bite which hopefully encapsulates the whole messy thing into a sentence or two and lets curious “outsiders” into the secrets of the creative world. It’s what lies behind all those “there are only [27 or 18 or 7 or 3 or 1] basic plot(s)” kind of statements. And yes, it is perfectly possible to boil down even the most exciting book into a plot bunny of a few pithy words – and the information you are presented with would be completely correct, and completely useless, completely bloodless. Because the story lies in the telling, in the end. Not in what PRECISELY is told.

I’m not going to wade into the argument of how many plots there are in the universe, but let’s face it, when you cut away all the flesh and flense down to the bare bones there really are only a few basic skeletons on which you can build. What I am going to do, here, today, is focus on one aspect of telling a tale, one single strand of plot, if you like. And that would be that every tale told involves, at its core, a journey.

READ MORE! )
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My monthly guest blog at APEX is now up at the APEX website. I talk about the different styles of editing that you might experience and a little about how to approach and handle them. Stop on by and check it out!



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I'd like to welcome Daryl Gregory to my blog today, where he's talking about his latest book hitting the bookshelves this week! And it appears to be about zombies. Since I've been on a zombie kick lately (see my last two reviews), I should probably check this out. Here's what Daryl has to say about the book. Thanks for stopping by, Daryl, and I hope everyone here gives you a warm welcome!





A History of Zombie Violence

Raising Stony Mayhall is a story about a zombie boy who’s afraid of zombies. The hero, the eponymous Stony, grows up thinking he’s the last living dead boy in the world. Everything he’s heard about the undead scares him, and he’s worried that he’ll turn out to be one of those mindless brain eaters.

Eventually he finds out that he’s not alone, and the zombies he meets aren’t soulless killing machines, either. But the rest of the world is still trying to hunt them down, and so the living dead (or LDs as they call themselves) stay in hiding, waiting for the day they can go public--or for the day that one of them triggers the zombie apocalypse, which the LDs have started to call “The Big Bite.”

Stony’s a voracious reader, and one of the questions at the heart of the novel is why is it that people love zombie stories so much? More specifically, why do I love them so much? I’ve watched Romero’s Night of the Living Dead a dozen times, and seen most of the other zombie moves made since then. I spent a solid week playing Left 4 Dead 2, blowing holes in hoards of virtual zombies.

I think there’s a joy in guiltless violence. We play games and read stories stocked with implacable aliens, soulless serial killers, and black-hearted monsters--lots and lots of monsters. People love swinging a broadsword through wave after wave of orcs. It’s whack-a-mole with demons.

In the real world, it’s a lot easier to kill other human beings if we can convince ourselves that the victims aren’t human. They’re “targets”, “terrorists”, “assets”, “insurgents”--anything but people. And if the violence can be conducted in a far away country with little television coverage, then we don’t have to think about the victims at all.

This is the attractive illusion of complete moral clarity. One of the undead characters in my book is sure that the humans are looking forward to The Big Bite, because then the rules of society will be set aside. The fantasy of one man with a shot gun against a tide of evil is just too alluring. Screw paying taxes and returning that library book--it’s time to put holes in some ghouls.

But while some of the characters in Raising Stony Mayhall refuse to partake in the violence, the author has no such moral high ground. The book has more violence than my other two books combined. Characters are shot, stabbed, even set on fire. Millions more die off stage. I am guilty not only of literary assault and battery, but fictional genocide.

I will offer one thing in my defense (your honor). In the book I tried to show that each act of violence has a real effect on the characters and the world. Nothing can be shrugged off.

Still, there’s an awful lot of death in this book, and at every point I wondered if I was going over the line. I don’t know if other writers are worried by the damage they do to the imaginary citizens of their stories, or if readers are bothered. Please comment below and we can talk about it. As for me, I still feel a bit guilty.

Bio

Daryl Gregory lives in State College, PA, where he writes programming code in the morning, fiction in the afternoon, and comics at night. His first novel, Pandemonium, won the Crawford award for best first fantasy and was a finalist for the World Fantasy award. His second novel, The Devil’s Alphabet, was named one of the best books of 2009 by Publishers Weekly. His first collection of short fiction, Unpossible and Other Stories, will be published by Fairwood Press in October, 2011. He writes the comics Dracula: The Company of Monsters (with Kurt Busiek), and Planet of the Apes for BOOM! Studios.

Some places to order, in alphabetical order:
Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Borders
Flights of Fantasy Books (great indie bookstore)
Powell's Books
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I was on vacation this weekend in Provincetown and had a blast! I also had a consultation with my editor about the cover art for Leaves of Flame. She called to find out what kind of images and whatnot would be good for the cover. Normally the author doesn't have much say in the cover art at all--and I'll be interested to see whether what we discussed has any influence on the actual cover that gets produced--but I gave her my suggestions. The main image in the second book is of trees, in particular a tree called the Autumn Tree (hence the title), so most of the discussion revolved around that and how to use the tree in various ways for dramatic effect. There's also a bit about a knife, but that isn't as important in this book (it's more setup for something in book 3). I threw in a couple of other images/ideas, including a push to havel the "gaezel" of the dwarren on the front cover. There are a TON more scenes of the dwarren in this book.

In any case, it was an interesting discussion and now I can't wait to see what the art department comes up with. Hopefully something in line with the Well of Sorrows cover.

While I was away, the Penguin blog "The Author's Desk" posted a couple more blogs from me, the first a repeat of one that I've already pointed you guys to called Premature Plot Ejaculation, but also another about how I accidentally ended up in the SF&F field in the first place. What author drew me into the genre and kept me reading. For some people it's a particular book. For me, it was an author. Stop on by and check them out, and leave a comment letting everyone else know what author got YOU caught up in the SF&F field!

And just a reminder, the next Benjamin Tate novel, Leaves of Flame (January 2012), is now available for preorder on Amazon.com. Still not on Barnes & Noble yet.

And the next anthology from Patricia Bray and I, The Modern Fae's Guide to Surviving Humanity, is also available for preorder! (And doing rather well considering it doesn't come out until March 2012.)



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So, the third of my series of blog posts on Penguin is now up. This is a repeat of a post I've done elsewhere about fantasy maps and why I don't have one in my book, but if you didn't catch it earlier, hop on over and read it now. And don't forget to check out the two earlier posts about Well of Sorrows.



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And here are two more blog posts! The one I was expecting, the other popped up unexpectedly. (I'd sent in the post, but didn't know when it would be put up.)

First up is a little post about pacing called "A Little Stroke and Tickle" *ahem* now up at Diana Pharoah Francis' blog. It's all about how to keep people on the edge of their seats and it borrows from a fellow writer who I met at Norwescon when we were on a panel (not surprisingly) about pacing. Liz Argall had the best metaphor for the whole process, and I completely stole it (with permission).

The other post is the next Penguin post at "The Author's Desk". This time, I talk about the ideas that combined to form the heart of WELL OF SORROWS, in other words, it's genesis. Three more posts to come on Penguin over the next three days, so keep watch!



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First off, thanks to those who came out to see me and Barbara Ashford at the two signings this past weekend. If you missed us, both the Barnes & Noble in Vestal, NY, and Flights of Fantasy near Albany, NY, now have signed copies of our books. Stop in by and grab a copy!

I have two blog posts to point everyone toward today. The first popped up yesterday on The Night Bazaar. I talk about ebooks and why I won't buy an ereader until absolutely necessary, and yet admit that ebooks are hear to stay.

The second is the first of five blogs being posted this week at the Penguin Author's Desk. I talk about big fat fantasies and why I like them . . . and also why I write them. Look for a post on me or my books and writing every day this week. I'll also post a link and reminder here once the post goes up.

And watch for a review of Barbara Ashford's new book Spellcast as well. I finish that up last night.



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I've got a guest blog up at Magical Words today on the dual hats of writer versus editor, how I went back and forth, etc. Really, I think it came down to putting on the creative hat for writing, and putting on the mathematical/bitch hat for editing. But you can check out what I have to say here and decide for yourself. And feel free to leave a comment if you've got one!



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First, the new books for May 2011 have been posted up at the [livejournal.com profile] dawbooks community here on LJ, including this little book called Well of Sorrows, now available in paperback! In case you've heard of it. *grin*





Also, a new guest blog has appeared over at [livejournal.com profile] anghara's blog. This one's about fantasy and exploration, and why I thought "settling a new continent" was perfect for a fantasy setting. Check it out! Oh, and if you leave a comment, you could win a copy of the book!

And also, you could win a copy of another new book this month: Spellcast by Barbara Ashford. She and I are doing a joint "review contest." To enter to win HER book, you need to post a review of Well of Sorrows on either your blog, website, at amazon.com, or at barnesandnoble.com. Then send me an email at jpalmatier@sff.net (or leave a comment here) with a link to the review or saying that it's up at Amazon or Barnes & Noble. The winner will be chosen at random from all of the entires received.

Now, to win a copy of MY book, you have to post a review of Spellcast on your blog, website, at amazon.com, or at barnesandnoble.com. Then send an email to Barbara at contact_me@barbara-ashford.com with the link.

The deadline for this review contest is May 31, 2011. Winners will be chosen at the beginning of June. So get out there, get one of the books, review it, and you could win the other book! Or just buy both books. That works to. *grin*



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My monthly blog at APEX is up today. This month I'm talking about the fact that I can't go to the bookstore and simply browse for new books and authors like I used to . . . and the fact that it's put a crimp in my book buying style. I like to support new authors, but since I can't find them on the shelf as easily anymore, I know I'm missing out on a bunch of them out there, since the only way I hear about them anymore is word of mouth. So I pose the question: How do you find new books? You can answer here or over at the APEX blog.
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I met Juliet E. McKenna at Boskone a few years back and we instantly bonded. It could be because practically no one showed up for our kaffeeklatsches (this happens a lot) and so we joined forces to hit the caffeine, or it could be that we both love the same kinds of stories. I’d already read Juliet’s five-book series at that point and was desperately waiting for the next four-book series. Juliet had never heard of me. *grin* But that didn’t stop us chatting for not only the extent of the kaffeeklatsch, but hours afterwards as well, about books, cover art, etc. This bond is one of the main reasons that I invited Juliet to the Ur-Bar project, aside from the fact that I think she’s a great writer.

In any case, I’ve invited her to guest blog today, to help promote her most recent book, Banners in the Wind, the final volume in her newest series. The first two books are Irons in the Fire and Blood in the Water. If you haven’t read them yet, go check them out! In the meantime, here’s what she has to say about war in real life and in fantasy novels.





War? What is it good for?

Absolutely nothing, according to those song lyrics. Yet so much of fantasy fiction is built around warfare. Arguably the defining text of our genre, The Lord of the Rings is, according to one of Bilbo Baggins’ proposed titles “What we did in the War of the Ring.” Ask any fantasy fan to list seminal titles and I bet they’ll include David Gemmell’s Legend and George RR Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice, both epic tales inextricably bound to warfare. There are countless other examples.

Ask someone who doesn’t read fantasy fiction what the genre’s all about and the chances are they will cite battles and bloodshed, often with disapproval. When real blood is being spilled in Afghanistan and Iraq, before that in Kosovo and Bosnia, warfare in fantasy fiction trivialises such bravery and loss. Well, that response definitely proves you’re talking to someone who doesn’t read contemporary fantasy fiction.

Though if they did once read The Lord of the Rings at school, you can remind them of Denethor’s grief at Boromir’s death, of Faramir’s desperate heroism, of Frodo and Sam’s journey through the Dead Marshes, the despoliation of Isengard and the scouring of the Shire. After serving on the Western Front in the Great War, Tolkien was very well aware of the costs of warfare, on personal and wider levels.

But such mistaken impressions of the genre don’t negate that crucial question. How does a fantasy writer use warfare as a backdrop or a central theme without trivialising the destruction of innocent lives, the tears in mothers’ eyes? There’s a reason why that song War has been re-released and re-recorded ever since Edwin Starr took it to the top of the pop charts in 1970. Every decade’s news in print and on the screen has shown us conflict’s legacy of young men and women’s shattered dreams and broken bodies, among both service veterans and the non-combatants they are supposedly fighting to help.

On the other hand, we must acknowledge the “just” war. The evils of Nazism could only be defeated through force of arms. It’s all very well to cite the injustice of the Treaty of Versailles and the failures of the Weimar Republic but the fact remains that once Hitler launched a war of aggression, armed conflict was not merely inevitable but essential. Even now, when dramatic interpretations have moved so far from the stiff upper lips of 40s and 50s war movies, black and white in every sense, to the complex nuances and merciless full-colour visuals of ‘Band of Brothers’.

Setting out to write a trilogy dealing explicitly with a civil war, I had a lot of thinking to do. In Irons in the Fire, I had to show why these characters concluded they could only fight fire with fire. How thoroughly their rulers were betraying the feudal compact by casually using battle as an extension of diplomacy for the sake of empty, selfish ambitions. In Blood in the Water, I needed to show the personal cost of set-piece battles, mental and physical, as well as the impact of such upheavals on the non-combatant populace. I wanted to show how wars are fought by far more people than sword-wielding heroes on horseback. How guilty complicity can reach far beyond those actually shedding blood. How such travail can reveal an individual’s essential character and their flaws, for good and ill.

In Banners in the Wind, I had to address the consequences of warfare. Even the most solidly justified war leaves a painful legacy lasting generations. The Second World War’s impact on Eastern Europe is still bound up with today’s politics while Rommel and Montgomery’s mines are still blowing up innocents in the North African desert. Even a short, apparently clear-cut war like the UK’s retaking of the Falkland Islands in 1982 won’t necessarily settle a question. Argentina still claims sovereignty of Las Malvinas.

So in Banners in the Wind, I’ve considered how much remains to be won or lost after the battles are over. How different priorities can shatter previous unity of purpose. How anarchy gives opportunity to humanity’s basest instincts. How a peace settlement will hold or fail depending on who is truly dedicated to it. How the personal toll can leave people once committed to a cause wondering if this price is truly worth paying. How individual responsibility means playing an active part in a society.

Most important of all, I wanted to do all this while telling an exciting, entertaining story. This seems central to this disapproval of fantasy warfare. War is not entertainment, the critics growl. Sorry, but conflict is the essence of drama. Just because that’s a cliché doesn’t make it any less true. Warfare has been a means for writers of fiction to explore the human condition ever since The Iliad. That’s important. While I’m happy to read heavyweight academic tomes on various wars as well as searing firsthand accounts of soldiering, not everyone is. Where is it written they must?

Non-fiction books are not always the best way to explore those broader questions about war, its necessity and its obscenity and to consider what these questions mean in time of peace. Specific incidents or individuals can hideously complicate matters, making it all too easy to lose sight of the wood for the trees. Reading about an imaginary world, about individuals facing perils so wholly different to our own, can actually facilitate a far better understanding of contemporary life and current events.

Tales of fictional wars can focus on the essentials, the bad and the good. While contemporary fantasy writers have a responsibility not to gloss over the ugliness of warfare, the conventions of our genre also allow us to celebrate heroism and valour. Let’s not forget the very best of humanity can be found amid such regrettable evils. We can reflect the medal ceremonies as well as the flag draped coffins without devaluing either. And as becomes apparent in Banners in the Wind, true heroism might not be at all what you expect.

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Joshua Palmatier

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