Archive for the ‘My Favorite Bit’ Category

My Favorite Bit: SL Huang talks about ZERO SUM GAME

My Favorite BitSL Huang is joining us today with her novel Zero Sum Game. Here’s the publisher’s description.

Deadly. Mercenary. Superhuman. Not your ordinary math geek.

Cas Russell is good at math. Scary good.

The vector calculus blazing through her head lets her smash through armed men twice her size and dodge every bullet in a gunfight. She can take any job for the right price and shoot anyone who gets in her way.

As far as she knows, she’s the only person around with a superpower . . . but then Cas discovers someone with a power even more dangerous than her own. Someone who can reach directly into people’s minds and twist their brains into Moebius strips. Someone intent on becoming the world’s puppet master.

Someone who’s already warped Cas’s thoughts once before, with her none the wiser.

Cas should run. Going up against a psychic with a god complex isn’t exactly a rational move, and saving the world from a power-hungry telepath isn’t her responsibility. But she isn’t about to let anyone get away with violating her brain — and besides, she’s got a small arsenal and some deadly mathematics on her side. There’s only one problem . . .

She doesn’t know which of her thoughts are her own anymore.

What’s SL’s favorite bit?Zero-Sum-Game_COVER


“Don’t look now, but we’re being followed.”
Arthur flicked his eyes to the side mirror. “I don’t see anything. How can you tell?”
“Game theory,” I said. “The white sedan isn’t driving selfishly.”

When choosing something for this piece, I kept coming back to the above bit. Why? Because it never fails to make me giggle.

Game theory. GAME THEORY! My main character is using game theory in a car chase!

*falls down laughing*

*wipes eyes*

This clip — not just the content of the dialogue, but my love for it — encapsulates everything about this book. I didn’t write about a character whose superpower is math to be clever (okay, maybe to be a LITTLE clever!), I wrote about a superpowered mathematician because I love math. And I love PLAYING with math. Sometimes I think these books are really all about me going on an extended self-indulgent tear of writing an action movie filled with math jokes.

Because, oh yeah, I’m also reveling in my love of action through the whole book. I’ve been reliably informed ZERO SUM GAME is a thriller — I didn’t try to write a thriller, but I guess when you pack something with gun fights and car chases and explosions, it ends up being one, and I REALLY LIKE gun fights and car chases and explosions. So when people ask the dreaded “what’s your book about?” question, I usually say, quite cheerfully, “Math and guns!”

People who know me usually sigh at that point and say, “Of course that would be the book you would write.” (My friends know me a touch too well.)

There’s a more serious reason I like this bit, however, and that’s what comes right after:

“It’s okay. I can lose them.” I juked the steering wheel to the side and slammed on the gas, shooting through the next intersection just as the light changed. Arthur yelled. In the rearview mirror, an SUV crashed spectacularly into the passenger side of the white sedan, and brakes screeched as three other cars skidded on the wet streets, spinning to a stop and completely blocking the intersection behind us.

“What the hell!” cried Arthur.

“We’d better switch cars,” I said.

“You could’ve gotten us killed!”

“Please. That was child’s play.”

“You might’ve gotten other people killed!”

“At those velocities it would have been their faults for buying death traps.” It was true, though I hadn’t thought it through in so many words beforehand. I decided against telling Arthur that.

In the background of the math-guns-explosions-thriller part of ZERO SUM GAME, there were other ideas I wanted to explore. Questions of morality. The characterization of good guys and bad guys, of what’s heroic and what’s not.

I like the bit above because it’s a snapshot of Cas’s skills — but also of her arrogance and her moral bankruptcy. She’s something of an antihero…if she’s even a hero at all. You can say a lot of things about Cas: she’s intelligent, stubborn, street smart, loyal, occasionally funny — but one thing you can’t call her is nice, and I LOVE that about her. I love jerkass protagonists in general, but I note that I’m particularly proud of her unapologetic rough edges because I chose to make her a woman, and how often do we get antihero asshole protagonists who aren’t male? Not very often.

And Cas’s amorality is something she struggles with, as a background theme to the action. Once she teams up with Arthur, the other person in the above excerpts, she’s working with someone who has a conscience, and his morals force her to question her immediate answer of violence as always being the most expedient solution. Arthur’s the one the reader probably sympathizes with more, in fact, as he tries to reconcile his own moral code with having someone as violent as Cas as an ally.

So if I had to choose one tiny section to represent the entire book, it would be the above lines. We’ve got math and we’ve got action, but we’ve also got a perfect example of Cas’s tendency to jump first and reflect later, to cause a five-car pileup with no questions asked, and to consider other human lives rather less than she should. And we see Arthur, who ALWAYS thinks about these things beforehand — and who’s starting to make Cas do it, too, maybe just a little bit.


(The quotes in this post have been trimmed slightly so as not to be confusing out of context.)




SL Huang majored in mathematics at MIT. The program did not include training to become a superpowered assassin-type.Sadly.

My Favorite Bit: Elizabeth Bear talks about STELES OF THE SKY

My Favorite BitElizabeth Bear is joining us today with her novel Steles of the Sky. Here’s the publisher’s description.

Elizabeth Bear concludes her award-winning epic fantasy Eternal Sky trilogy in Steles of the Sky.

Re Temur, legitimate heir to his grandfather’s Khaganate, has finally raised his banner and declared himself at war with his usurping uncle. With his companions—the Wizard Samarkar, the Cho-tse Hrahima, and the silent monk Brother Hsiung—he must make his way to Dragon Lake to gather in his army of followers. But Temur’s enemies are not idle; the leader of the Nameless Assassins, who has shattered the peace of the Steppe, has struck at Temur’s uncle already. To the south, in the Rasan empire, plague rages. To the east, the great city of Asmaracanda has burned, and the Uthman Caliph is deposed. All the world seems to be on fire, and who knows if even the beloved son of the Eternal Sky can save it?

What’s Elizabeth’s favorite bit?



My favorite bits of Steles of the Sky, it turns out, are all about books.

The funny thing is, I didn’t even realize it until I sat down to think about this essay. But this is a book that’s full of other books.

There is the slave-poetess Ümmühan, for whom books are a religion. Quite literally, as it happens. The scene where, as a reward for great service–for great treachery–she is permitted to hold and read an ancient, precious story is very dear to me. It reminds me of a time that an archivist friend let me hold a book older than Shakespeare, and the sense of awe and connection I felt.

There are the poison grimoires of Erem, ancient and treacherous and full of monstrous knowledge, necromancy, and horror. These are books that blind the eye that reads them, rot the finger that turns their pages, deafen the ear that hears their language spoken aloud. These are books that grant unimaginable power to those that dare their terrors. This conceit–this metaphor–speaks to me as one of the thematic hearts of the novel.

There are the books that a Dowager Empress loves, full of stories of heroes and tricksters that inspire her–and inspire her to ask awkward questions, as well.

There is Brother Hsiung’s fan-book, made of slats bound with cord, upon which he scribes his confession and his plea.

There are bound books and board books and scrolls. Each contradictory. Each full of something somebody cared enough about to write down.

There are the books the Wizard Samarkar misses–the books of a life left behind. And there are the other books she seeks again, though she much brave the dark passages of the earth and their antediluvian and inhuman librarian to find them.

There are books of stone and books of paper. Books of reed and books of glass. There’s a whole lot of books in this world.

And I love each one. Including the one that contains them all–along with wizardry, sorcery, engineering, loyalty, treachery, science, love, hate, enlightenment, sacrifice, selfishness, vengeance, compassion, and a healthy dose of megafauna.

I think it must be bigger on the inside.

Well, books are a kind of magic, after all. You might even say, a spell.





Elizabeth Bear was born on the same day as Frodo and Bilbo Baggins, but in a different year.When coupled with a childhood tendency to read the dictionary for fun, this led her inevitably to penury, intransigence, and the writing of speculative fiction. She is the Hugo, Sturgeon, Locus, and Campbell Award winning author of 25 novels and over a hundred short stories. Her dog lives in Massachusetts; her partner, writer Scott Lynch, lives in Wisconsin. She spends a lot of time on planes.

My Favorite Bit: Michael R. Underwood talks about ATTACK THE GEEK

My Favorite Bit iconMichael R. Underwood is joining us today with his novella Attack the Geek.  For full disclosure, I narrated the audiobook and loved the heck out of it. Ree is smart, snarky and 100% geek. This is a fast-paced adventure, that’s witty and fun.

Here’s the publisher’s description.

A side quest novella in the bestselling Geekomancy urban fantasy series–when D&D style adventures go from the tabletop to real life, look out!

Ree Reyes, urban fantasy heroine of Geekomancy, is working her regular barista/drink-slinger shift at Grognard’s when it all goes wrong. Everything.

As with Geekomancy (pop culture magic!) and its sequel Celebromancy (celebrity magic!), Attack of the Geek is perfect for anyone who wants to visit a world “where all the books and shows and movies and games [that you] love are a source of power, not only in psychological terms, but in practical, villain-pounding ones” (Marie Brennan, award-winning author of A Natural History of Dragons).

What’s Michael’s favorite bit?

Attack the Geek Full


After finishing Celebromancy, I wanted to change things up. I pitched a stand-alone novella in the Ree Reyes-verse, going off of the idea that we could do a ‘side-quest’ kind of story that would tide readers over until the next full book while I tried on a different world (The Younger Gods, coming at the end of 2014).

Since Attack the Geek was intended to be only 30-40K words (just under half the size of the other books in the series), and since I didn’t have to design as big a story, I wanted to push myself in other areas. I wanted to deliver an action-packed story that would be emotionally engaging through character relationships and to make some statements about fandom and community.

But the thing that ended up being my favorite was the fun of getting the band back together. Attack the Geek is still told from Ree’s POV, but it’s very much an ensemble piece. In addition to Ree and her constant companion-slash-occasional-love-interest , Drake Winters, Attack the Geek features Grognard (Ree’s boss), and Eastwood, her one-time mentor, as well as several regulars at Grognard’s bar (some we’ve met, like “Lieutenant” Wickham or Uncle Joe, as well as some new faces).

I went with an ensemble story because I wanted to focus on the role that Grognard and his bar played in the magical community of Pearson. And if you’re going to talk about community, you should probably actually have a community to talk about. Therefore, Attack the Geek isn’t just two or three heroes going off and having adventures, it’s really about a community of people coming together (imperfectly, and with plenty of disagreements) to fight off an external threat.

Once I decided to go with a larger cast, I thought about my favorite ensemble-driven shows and books – TV shows like Babylon 5, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Leverage, films like Marvel’s Avengers, and books like The Lies of Locke Lamora and The Dragonlance Chronicles, and tried to pull out the lessons learned from those works – characters should have their own abilities and personalities, and those should inform their priorities. I worked to make sure that each of the characters had at least slightly (and sometimes severely) different priorities and allegiances, so that even when they agreed on the big picture (let’s not get dead), that they’d constantly be in conflict about the best way to respond. A well-oiled unit or gaming party where everyone gets along perfectly is awesome to be a part of as a player, but probably isn’t as hilarious to see from the outside as a reader.

Once I’d set up the members of the ensemble to contrast and conflict with one another, the story started moving like it was on rocket fuel. The action structure I’d chosen was enhanced and driven by the character relationships. Each scene that relaxed the tension of the physical fights could ramp up the tension of the interpersonal conflicts, so that each thread of the story built on the other while varying the story so it wasn’t just all fighting or all people yelling at one another.

It’s hard to manage an ensemble cast (you have to keep talking about all of the characters in order to really make it sing, and that’s hard to justify when writing in a tight third-person POV like I do with the Ree Reyes series, but the rewards are really impressive. Writing the ensemble was My Favorite Bit of Attack the Geek, and I hope you’ll enjoy the results.






Audio (narrated by Mary Robinette Kowal):


Michael R. Underwood is the author of Geekomancy, Celebromancy, Attack the Geek, as well as the forthcoming Shield and Crocus and The Younger Gods. By day, he’s the North American Sales & Marketing Manager for Angry Robot Books. Mike grew up devouring stories in all forms, from comics to video games, tabletop RPGs, movies, and books. Always books.

Mike lives in Baltimore with his fiance, an ever-growing library, and a super-team of dinosaur figurines & stuffed animals. In his rapidly-vanishing free time, he studies historical martial arts and makes pizzas from scratch.

My Favorite Bit: Emily Jiang talks about SUMMONING THE PHOENIX

My Favorite Bit iconEmily Jiang is joining us today with her picture book Summoning the Phoenix. Here’s the publisher’s description.

Every musician knows that learning to play an instrument has its challenges and its rewards. There’s the embarrassing first day of rehearsal, but also the joy of making friends in the orchestra. There’s dealing with slippery concert dress, or simply getting swept up in the music. The twelve children in this book are just like any other musicians practicing their instruments and preparing for a concert. But what sets these music lovers apart is that they all play traditional Chinese musical instruments in a Chinese orchestra. Including both flights of fancy and practical considerations, lively poems capture each child’s musical experience with a different Chinese instrument, while sidebars provide more information about each one. Vivid illustrations depicting each fascinating instrument bring you along on this musical journey. And then you are invited to the grand finale!

What’s Emily’s favorite bit?

Summoning the Phoenix COVER large


One of the great joys of being a picture book author is seeing the artwork inspired by my words.  I’m so grateful that the amazing April Chu agreed to illustrate my first picture book Summoning the Phoenix: Poems & Prose about Chinese Musical Instruments.  April is an artist and professional architect, and I admire her whimsical aesthetic, her attention to detail, and her ability to realistically illustrate pretty much anything, including the mythical phoenix.

With April’s permission, I’d like to share her gorgeous artwork that inspired the title of my book Summoning the Phoenix.  But first, let me share the companion poem “Magical Melody” in its original format.

This poem is a simple list poem, which is great for children. I specifically chose to format the poem with careful indentations and line breaks to evoke the shape of a bird’s wing on the page.  When I wrote “Magical Melody,” I kept in mind the Chinese myth about a man who could play a xiao, a long bamboo flute, so beautifully that he could control clouds and summon phoenixes.  Yet at the same time, I was aware I was writing a poem spoken by a contemporary American child.

While writing this poem, this is what I envisioned.  A little girl, maybe about five of six years old, is sitting on her bed, alone in her room.  She’s playing the xiao, and one by one, a different bird flies through her open window to land right in front of her bed.  The phoenix is the last to arrive, and it’s perched on the open window sill, its fiery wings tucked under as it listens to the magical melody.

As a picture book author, I knew not to explain this image in my head to the illustrator because I wanted the illustrator to bring her own personality and imagination to the book.  Explanations to the illustrator might work for comic book scripts, but not for  picture book manuscripts.  When I saw April’s artwork, I was absolutely blown away.


What April drew was a thousand times more amazing than my original vision because:

Instead of a little girl, it’s an older boy

up in the sky (instead of a bedroom)

standing in a basket under a hot air balloon (instead of a sitting on bed)

surrounded by all the birds in flight (instead of sitting on the floor).

I remember staring at amazement at this boldly serene boy playing the xiao in a hot air balloon decorated with a Chinese dragon.  The Wizard of Oz has nothing on this kid.  Soon after I received the artwork for my book, I showed this illustration to a professional ornithologist and he accurately identified each and every bird, even the phoenix.

One of my favorite bits of this favorite image is how April brought in the dragon on the right to balance the phoenix on the left.  In traditional Chinese culture, the dragon is a symbol of good luck, not a dastardly monster who kidnaps maidens and kills knights.  In China, the dragon and the phoenix are often depicted together, a fact I learned when I was thirteen and touring the Forbidden Palace in Beijing.  I remember wondering at so the dragons and phoenixes carved next to the stone steps. The tour guide explained that the dragon is a symbol for the Chinese emperor and the phoenix is a symbol for the Chinese empress.  So by pairing these two mystical creatures the the illustration above, April evokes that ancient Chinese tradition.

But her clever incorporation of Asian culture doesn’t stop there.  If you look at the clouds in the artwork, you might notice that most of them are a pale blue that blends into the sky background.  The exception are the clouds underneath the phoenix.  Those clouds are drawn in an Asian style and colored a brighter yellow-orange, as if they are the smoke that results from the fire of the phoenix.  Note that these Asian-inspired clouds also appear in the balloon right next to the dragon’s head.

I could go in more detail about April’s artistic brilliance, how she reserved the large splashes of color for the mystical Chinese animals and designed the artwork to draw the eye from the phoenix to the kid to the dragon, how she cleverly overlapped the birds so that their focus is the empty space in the middle, how the empty space represents the true artist’s soul via negative capability ala Keats, but how really that concept has existed in Chinese culture thousands of years before.  Ultimately, I’m thrilled that the artwork is stunningly gorgeous and true to the poem.

As an author, my only concern was how was my poem going to fit in that amazing artwork?  My editor and book designer discovered a way to fit my words in that small central circle, underneath the owl.  While my poem no longer looks like a bird’s wing, it still preserves the spirit of my poem.  But don’t let me be the only judge.  What do you think?





Emily Jiang is the author of Summoning the Phoenix: Poems & Prose about Chinese Musical Instruments, illustrated by April Chu and published by Shen’s Books, an imprint of Lee & Low Books.  Emily holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Saint Mary’s College of California and a BA in English from Rice University.  She is also a graduate of the Clarion Writers’ Workshop, the Chautauqua Writers’ Conference, the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference, and the VONA/Voices of Our Nation Workshop.  Her fiction has won several awards, including Top Prose Prize in The Binnacle’s Ultra Short Competition the Sue Alexander Award for Most Promising New Manuscript from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.  Her writing has been published in Apex Magazine, Stone Telling, Strange Horizons, Goblin Fruit, Interfictions, and The Moment of Change anthology of feminist speculative poetry.  She wrestles with words everyday.  Sometimes she wins.  Other times, it’s a draw.

My Favorite Bit: Danielle Paige talks about DOROTHY MUST DIE

My Favorite Bit iconDanielle Paige is joining us today with her novel Dorothy Must Die. Here’s the publisher’s description.

I didn’t ask for any of this. I didn’t ask to be some kind of hero.
But when your whole life gets swept up by a tornado—taking you with it—you have no choice but to go along, you know?
Sure, I’ve read the books. I’ve seen the movies. I know the song about the rainbow and the happy little blue birds. But I never expected Oz to look like this. To be a place where Good Witches can’t be trusted, Wicked Witches may just be the good guys, and winged monkeys can be executed for acts of rebellion. There’s still the yellow brick road, though—but even that’s crumbling.
What happened?
Dorothy. They say she found a way to come back to Oz. They say she seized power and the power went to her head. And now no one is safe.
My name is Amy Gumm—and I’m the other girl from Kansas.
I’ve been recruited by the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked.
I’ve been trained to fight.
And I have a mission:
Remove the Tin Woodman’s heart.
Steal the Scarecrow’s brain.
Take the Lion’s courage.
Then and only then—Dorothy must die!

What’s Danielle’s favorite bit?



Dorothy Must Die is the story of Amy Gumm, an outcast in her hometown of Mission, Kansas who wants more than anything to beanywhere but there. She gets her wish, where her trailer is picked up by a tornado and she is dropped in Oz.  But Oz is nothing like the one in the books or the movie, it’s darker and twist-ier. Gone is the Technicolor, instead there is crumbly faded, Yellow Brick Road! And Dorothy is no longer Kansas sweet. She’s kind of super-evil and ruling Oz with an Iron fist and those magical shoes of hers.

Her friends have changed, too, but they are still just as loyal to her.  The very things that they once travelled a Yellow Road to get are now the things that corrupt them. The Scarecrowuses his brain to conduct inhumane experiments on the winged monkeys, the Tin Woodmanis a trained killer whose “heart” justifies his every action, and the Lion’s “courage” has jumped the shark –he’s terrorizing Oz, hyped up on the fear of others like a drug.

Upon arriving, Amy is immediately inducted into The Revolutionary?Order of the Wicked, a group of not-so-wicked witches that are?determined to rid their land of Dorothy.

There are a lot of bits that I love in my book, Dorothy Must Die. But my favorite bit is when Amy meets Indigo, a Goth munchkin on the crumbly Yellow Brick road.  She has tattoos that move and tell the story of Oz. Indigo’s sassy and foul mouthed and a heck of a lot of fun.

Indigo’s tattoed body tells the story of Oz.  But since she’s not going to strip down for Amy, she uses her words. When Amy asks what happened to Oz, Indigo gets to say, “Dorothy happened.”

There are other moments that define character and build the world, that expire themes and challenge who Amy is and who she will become.  But I picked this one because itis the moment that Oz becomes real for Amy. And it’s the moment that Oz became real for me.

When I first story any project, the beginning is about plotting and world building and characters sketching. And the first few days of writing mean getting down the bones, but there’s always that moment where the work comes to life.

ReimagingOz was a little daunting for me. The Wizard of Oz series of books were some of the first I loved. And the movie cast a spell that literally made me stop whatever I was doing and watch it every time it came on.

So as a fan, The Yellow Brick Road was a bit of sacred ground for me.  And as a writer, I had written more realistic fare (daytime television, a TV pilot.)  So taking on magic and witches was new for me, too. But when I could see indigo in all her tattooed glory the world clicked into place for me. I wanted to know what she was going to do next; I wanted to hear what she had to say. And what happens to her and Amy in the first few chapters sets up what Amy will face throughout the series.

From her presence to the winking witch on her skin, Indigo is Amy’s first guide into my Oz. Dorothy is evil, the world of Ozis upside down. Welcome to Oz.


DorothyMust Die,

@daniellempaige, twitter

Facebook, Author Page

Facebook, Dorothy Must Die Page,


Danielle Paige is a graduate of Columbia University. Before turning to young adult literature, she worked in the television industry where she received a Writers Guild of America award and was nominated for several Daytime Emmys. She currently lives in New York City.

My Favorite Bit: Mindy Klasky talks about PERFECT PITCH

My Favorite BitMindy Klasky is joining us today with her novel Perfect Pitch. Here’s the publisher’s description.

A hot, contemporary short novel by best-selling author Mindy Klasky.

Reigning beauty queen Samantha Winger is launching her pet project, a music program for kids. All she has to do is follow the pageant’s rules—no smoking, drinking, or “cavorting” in public.

That’s fine, until D.J. Thomas—God’s gift to baseball—throws her a wild pitch. He slams her in an interview, and the video goes viral. Sam’s no shrinking violet. She parlays D.J.’s apology into a national T.V. appearance—and a very unexpected, very public kiss.

Soon, paparazzi catch the couple in a steamy make-out session, and Sam’s music program is on the block. The blazing hot relationship is threatened even more when D.J.’s son begs to trade in Little League for music class.

Can Sam and D.J. sizzle past the sour notes and find their perfect pitch?

What’s Mindy’s favorite bit?



My favorite bit of Perfect Pitch, my hot, contemporary romance novel, is the locker room.

Okay, not the room itself, which is smelly, crowded, and hot (and not in a tingly way). My favorite bit is actually the guys who workin the locker room, the baseball players who hang out, talking frankly about the women they love, the game they play, and the day-to-day hell of a grueling season that lasts nine long months (if they’re lucky enough to make it to the playoffs.)

Believe me:  I’m the last person in the world anyone thought would be writing with fondness about locker rooms.

Growing up, I dreaded them.  I hated everything: the cold cinderblock walls, the dented lockers, the smelly showers…  Most of all, I hated the despair that swamped me every time I walked into a school gym and had to confront the immutable fact that I was an absolute failure at sports.

I was the last person chosen for every team in every phys ed class in every school I attended. I regularly scored in the bottom quintile of all students nationwide in the dread Presidential Physical Fitness Award. I loathedeverything about gym class from the horrible polyester uniformsto the cruel taunts from bullies.  The locker room was a daily reminder that I was a total and complete incompetent. (I actually psyched myself into crippling stomach aches, attacks that were ultimately treated with placebo pills—medication approved by my parents but kept secret from me for years.)

So what the hell am I doing writing the Diamond Brides Series, about the baseball players on the (imaginary) Raleigh Rockets and the women who love them?

Ultimately, I fell in love with a man who eats, drinks, and breathes baseball.  (I’ll spare you the long, rambling story about my conversion to being a fan of this one sport, among all the other sports out there.)

As I learned about baseball, I realized that the men on the major-league roster are the 750 most skilled men in the entire world at what they do.  As a group, they’re young, dedicated, determined, physically fit, (and wealthy!)

And by those terms, they started to sound like awfully intriguing heroes for romance novels.

Prior to writing the Diamond Brides Series, I wrote eighteen other novels, from traditional fantasy to humorous paranormal to middle grade fantasy.  About 90% of those books were written from a female point of view.  With the Diamond Brides, I’ve been “forced” to write half of each novel from the hero’s perspective.

And I love playing with that voice.  My heroes have a completely different worldview from my own. Their athletic prowess is as magical as any spell I ever created for a fantasy novel. They’re as alien to me as creatures in my science fiction stories.

My baseball players are confident in their physical bodies.  They view their athletic achievement as a reasonable, expected result from a predictable, improvable process.  These men befriend each other, they goad each other, they joke around in language a lot cruder than I usually use around the house.

And all of that happens in the locker room.

Through my Raleigh Rockets baseball players, I’ve exorcised some of the ghosts of my non-athletic past.  And for that reason, my players’ locker room has become my favorite bit of Perfect Pitch and all the Diamond Brides Series.



Mindy Klasky learned to read when her parents shoved a book in her hands and told her she could travel anywhere in the world through stories. She never forgot that advice.

Mindy’s travels took her through multiple careers – from litigator to librarian to full-time writer. Mindy’s travels have also taken her through various literary genres for readers of all ages – from traditional fantasy to paranormal chick-lit to category romance, from middle-grade to young adult to adult.

In her spare time, Mindy knits, quilts, and tries to tame her endless to-be-read shelf. Her husband and cats do their best to fill the left-over minutes.

My Favorite Bit: Adam Christopher talks about THE BURNING DARK

My Favorite BitAdam Christopher is joining us today with his novel The Burning Dark. Here’s the publisher’s description.

Back in the day, Captain Abraham Idaho Cleveland had led the Fleet into battle against an implacable machine intelligence capable of devouring entire worlds. But after saving a planet, and getting a bum robot knee in the process, he finds himself relegated to one of the most remote backwaters in Fleetspace to oversee the decommissioning of a semi-deserted space station well past its use-by date.

But all is not well aboard the U-Star Coast City. The station’s reclusive Commandant is nowhere to be seen, leaving Cleveland to deal with a hostile crew on his own. Persistent malfunctions plague the station’s systems while interference from a toxic purple star makes even ordinary communications problematic. Alien shadows and whispers seem to haunt the lonely corridors and airlocks, fraying the nerves of everyone aboard.

Isolated and friendless, Cleveland reaches out to the universe via an old-fashioned subspace radio, only to tune into a strange, enigmatic signal: a woman’s voice that seems to echo across a thousand light-years of space. But is the transmission just a random bit of static from the past—or a warning of an undying menace beyond mortal comprehension?

What’s Adam’s favorite bit?



The Burning Dark is my first foray into space opera. As a science fiction fan, I grew up with a love of spaceships, and planets, and aliens, so it’s perhaps surprising that it took so long for me to actually write something in that direction.

Space opera requires world building—a lot of world building, because the genre itself is defined at least in part by its scale. Space opera should be as epic as its name suggests.

I’ll be the first to admit: I’ve cheated a little with The Burning Dark—this book is space opera, but not as you know it. Okay, humanity has expanded into space, forging a vast federation of colonies that has now united into a single political-industrial-military complex simply called the Fleet, in order to wage war against an implacable, relentless machine gestalt intelligence, the origins and motivations of which are obscure at best. That’s about as big as you can get. The Burning Dark is set against this background of interstellar conflict. The scope of the world is huge. There are many stories to be told in the universe of this novel.

But in The Burning Dark, that epic scale is collapsed down to a single space station. The station is large, but the situation is tense, claustrophobic—and very, very scary. This book might be a space opera, but it’s also a ghost story. The action is close, the cast of character initially large, before events whittle the station’s population down and down…

We do see glimpses of the larger world throughout, however. The station is staffed by a bunch of marines suffering from a severe case of cabin fever. One in particular, Charlie Carter, is having a tough time coping—he has a secret history, memories he would rather forget keeping him up during the stations night-cycle. He’s seen a side to the Fleet that many suspect, but few have experience of. Because before being assigned to the backend of nowhere to help with the demolition of the decommissioned station, Carter was in the Fleet Black Ops.

And Black Ops missions are very, very black.

My favorite bit of the book is Charlie’s interlude—one of several flashbacks that occur during the course of the novel. Charlie’s is of his last Black Ops mission, with the rather euphemistic title of The Situation On Warworld 16 Has Been Resolved.

“Resolved”. Yeah, right. Maybe it has, as far as the Fleet is concerned, but for Carter, that mission had a very personal price, his own actions the root of his smouldering hatred, not just of the Fleet, but of himself.

Carter’s story is sad, a tragedy, an example of how the Fleet uses people and can twist facts to suit its own purpose. Of course, the Fleet is fighting a war, a difficult one. There’s a more than fair chance they might lose. Desperate times require desperate measures. But for Charlie Carter, maybe there is a price that is just too high to pay.

I think Carter might be my favourite character in the book, and his backstory is one, I suspect, I may write about again in future instalments of the Spider Wars series.



Adam Christopher is a novelist, the author of Empire State, Seven Wonders, The Age Atomic, and Hang Wire. In 2010, as an editor, Christopher won a Sir Julius Vogel award, New Zealand’s highest science fiction honour. His debut novel, Empire State, was SciFiNow’s Book of the Year and a Financial Times Book of the Year for 2012. In 2013, he was nominated for the Sir Julius Vogel award for Best New Talent, with Empire State shortlisted for Best Novel. Born in New Zealand, he has lived in Great Britain since 2006.

My Favorite Bit: Anna Kashina talks about BLADES OF THE OLD EMPIRE

My Favorite Bit iconAnna Kashina is joining us today with her novel Blades of the Old Empire. Here’s the publisher’s description.

Kara is a mercenary – a Diamond warrior, the best of the best, part of the Majat Guild. When her tenure to Prince Kythar comes to an end, he wishes to retain her services, but bust accompany her back to her Guild to negotiate her continued protection.

When they arrive they discover that the prince’s sworn enemy, the Kaddim, have already paid the Guild to engage her services – to capture and hand over the prince (who she has grown very fond of).

A warrior brought up to respect both duty and honor, what happens when her sworn duty proves dishonorable?

What’s Anna’s favorite bit?



My favorite bit in the Blades of the Old Empire closely relates to the reasons I like fantasy in the first place. I enjoy secondary worlds, creating kingdoms that never existed but are firmly rooted in reality. But what I enjoy even more is the sense that anything is possible. In the world where magic is a commonplace thing there is really no limit to the kind of trouble you can make your characters face. Watching them deal with it, and overcome it (in most cases) is my ultimate reward in writing, especially when I can achieve a state where the story can be driven largely by my characters, with only minimal help from me.

This state dominated the process of writing Blades of the Old Empire.

Imagine Kara, a superpowerful warrior woman, raised and trained in the notorious Majat Guild. Kara’s weapon skill is so superior that if she was allowed to do whatever she wanted she could definitely upset some serious balance. So, her power comes with a price: absolute obedience. The Majat warriors must always follow the code. And their code dictates that they must hire out their mercenary services to the highest bidder, no judgment involved.

It all goes well until one day Kara receives an assignment to capture and kill a good man. This man is the heir to the throne and the bearer of a rare magic gift that could help the kingdom defeat a powerful enemy. It is also the man she had grown to love, even if she is not permitted to act on her feelings because of her warrior code. All these things make it unthinkable to follow her orders. Yet, she knows that if she disobeys, her own Guild would order her execution–and even with her skill she would not be able to avert it.

I layered this conflict over a traditional fantasy story, where a prince with a magic gift becomes the kingdom’s hope in dealing with evil, and his ability to master his gift in time becomes the key to survival. The story actually starts off in the prince’s point of view, and then drives to the conflict and its aftermath.

This book was very enjoyable to write. The characters came alive for me, and they surprised me many times throughout the book. I was even more amazed by the facets of their personalities that emerged in the process. Watching each of them deal with the magically enhanced worst of my fantasy world was definitely my favorite bit.



Anna Kashina grew up in Russia and moved to the United States in 1994 after receiving her Ph.D. in cell biology from the Russian Academy of Sciences. She works as a biomedical researcher and combines career in science with her passion for writing. Anna’s interests in ballroom dancing, world mythologies and folklore feed her high-level interest in martial arts of the Majat warriors.

My Favorite Bit: Rhiannon Held talks about REFLECTED

My Favorite Bit iconRhiannon Held is joining us today with her novel Reflected. Here’s the publisher’s description.

Rhiannon Held continues the secret lives of the werewolf packs that live and hunt alongside human society in Reflected, the third book of the series that began with her debut novel, Silver. Silver and her mate Andrew Dare are pack leaders of the entire North American werewolf population, and that makes the more traditional packs in Europe very nervous indeed. It’s getting hard to hide from human surveillance.
What’s Rhiannon’s favorite bit?
Reflected cover

The play’s the thing,

Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.

Hamlet, Act II, scene ii

My favorite bit of my newest novel, Reflected, is much like Shakespeare’s play within a play. In my case, it’s a story within a story, or perhaps a therapeutic metaphor within a therapeutic metaphor. Of course, therapeutic metaphors are meant, by their very design, to go unnoticed, which is why I find it so enjoyable to have this chance to expose what I’m doing with mine in Reflected.

So what am I talking about? What’s a therapeutic metaphor? It’s when, rather than giving advice, you tell someone a story and let them find their own meaning within it. My favorite example is a conversation I had with a friend in college. She wasn’t sure if she was in love with her boyfriend, and had been getting conflicting advice from family members about how to tell. I honestly had no clue if she was in love, so I told her the story of my father and his first wife. How they were high-school sweethearts, and how my father said later that the feeling of having someone care about you for the first time was so amazing that it was easy to mistake it for love. Had I instead put my thoughts into the form of advice, I probably would have said something like “It’s too soon to tell.”

Years later, when that boyfriend was long gone, my friend referenced “that time you told me I wasn’t in love.” The meaning she’d needed to find in my story was that she wasn’t in love, that’s that she remembered me saying, though I’d never said that. I wouldn’t even have said that had I been giving her straight advice.

That’s the beauty of therapeutic metaphor, also the scary part of it. The beauty is that sometimes you can, as if by magic, connect people to things they already knew unconsciously, but couldn’t admit. The scary part is you can’t control what people get out of it. Perhaps they read in a meaning that’s the opposite of what you would have wanted to tell them directly. It’s the risk you must take. Writers out there will instantly recognize that feeling. Readers invest your writing with all kinds of meaning you never intended, and that’s beautiful, and scary.

In Reflected, my character Silver uses werewolf myths as therapeutic metaphors. After being injected with silver nitrate, Silver can’t shift, and often sees the world strangely, so she’s drawn to her culture’s stories. When her mate and co-alpha, Andrew Dare, is called away, Silver is left not only to take care of the pack but to try to control Andrew’s rebellious teen daughter, Felicia. Felicia, perhaps needless to say, gets into plenty of trouble and hurts Silver quite badly along the way, leaving their quasi-stepparent/child relationship even more fragile by the end of the novel.

In that context, Felicia would never accept advice from Silver in a million years (or perhaps at least ten, to give her time to grow up a little). So Silver tells Felicia a story. Not a story about a disobedient teen and her stepmother, no, that would put up Felicia’s guard. She retells a myth about a beta who got one of his pack members killed by human hunters, and how he eventually learns to accept forgiveness from his pack. And Silver lets Felicia find whatever meaning she needs in the story.

And that’s my favorite bit because I got the opportunity to have my characters illustrate one of the beautiful and scary things about writing the whole novel for me: my readers might possibly find meanings they need for their own lives in my characters’ stories. Like Shakespeare using a play within his play to illustrate the power the whole play can have on the audience, perhaps Silver’s story for Felicia can show what the whole novel can do for the reader.

On the other hand, readers might not find any particular meaning in the novel. They might close the book, think “fun story,” and go back to their daily lives. But the novel is there, ready and waiting, if they want to find meaning in it. And maybe one day, the reader will have a friend who needs to hear a story about not being in love, and the reader will remember Silver, and the power of a metaphor.


Book page, with buy links:
Twitter: @RhiannonHeld


Rhiannon Held is the author of the urban fantasy Silver series from
Tor. She lives in Seattle, where she works as an archaeologist for an
environmental compliance firm. Working in both archaeology and writing,
she’s “lucky” enough to have two sexy careers that don’t make her
much money.

My Favorite Bit: Adam Christopher talks about HANG WIRE

My Favorite Bit iconAdam Christopher is joining us today with his novel Hang Wire. Here’s the publisher’s description.

Ted is worried. He’s been sleepwalking, and his somnambulant travels appear to coincide with murders by the notorious Hang Wire Killer.

Meanwhile, the circus has come to town, but the Celtic dancers are taking their pagan act a little too seriously, the manager of the OldeWorlde Funfair has started talking to his vintage machines, and the new acrobat’s frequent absences are causing tension among the performers.

Out in the city there are other new arrivals – immortals searching for an ancient power – a primal evil which, if unopposed, could destroy the world.

What’s Adam’s favorite bit?



Look, I’ll be the first to admit it: there is a heck of a lot going on in Hang Wire. If it’s not exploding fortune cookies and a masked acrobat chasing a serial killer, it’s a Hawaiian God of Death and a mythological warrior-king from ancient Korea searching for the lost power of a murdered Chinese trickster god. There’s a sentient – and quite malevolent – circus fairground, not to mention something unspeakably old and shapeless slumbering underneath San Francisco.

Picking a favorite thing from all of that is actually pretty difficult, but the more I think about it, the more it comes back to one particular character: Joel Duvall.

Joel is a wanderer. When we first meet him, he’s deep in the middle of Indian Territory in April 1889. Part of the great Oklahoma Land Rush, Joel has nothing left to lose as he marches on foot across the open country, ready to stake his claim.

Move forward to the present, and Joel is the oddball operator of a circus fairground. One eye is white, his clothes are old and dusty and he wears a ridiculous stovepipe hat. People don’t like him, and for good reason. He doesn’t mix with the company, and at night he talks to the fairground rides.

And the fairground rides talk back.

Joel was right there at the beginning, when I first made notes on what would become Hang Wire. He was the villain – or rather, the personification of the evil that had arrived in San Francisco. Because while Joel is a nasty son-of-a-something-or-other, he’s also a pawn. He’s being used by something far worse, an evil that is almost beyond human understanding; an evil that needs a puppet to carry out the tasks that it can’t.

The more I wrote, the better I came to understand Joel and his situation – he was looking for salvation, not servitude. And while the evil thing he found has kept him ageless from the late Nineteenth Century to the early Twenty-First, all he really wants is to find a way out.

Joel’s journey from Indian Territory to modern-day San Francisco became a new part of the novel, one I never planned to write, but really added something to the story. His journey, told as a series of interludes, is almost entirely separate from the main book, but those sections were a lot of fun to write. There’s murder, and mayhem, and an alien power pushing him to carry on – a power channeled through a coin in his pocket, as Joel discovers when he finds something hiding in a cave:

Joel gritted his teeth and slid his fingers into the pocket where the fob watch should have been, had he not hocked it somewhere back in Tennessee the previous week, getting just enough money to reach Indian Territory by high noon. The watch was nothing and was worth virtually the same, but it had been just enough. The coin was worth a lot, Joel knew that, even if it wasn’t gold like his daddy told him (but it was, it was). But the coin was his father and his father marched with him, to the west, to the future.

Joel took the coin between two fingers and pulled it out. It was cold, although not burning cold like it had been moments before. Joel held it up and turned each side in the sun, the embossed bird on each catching the sunlight and shining, shining like the eagle itself was alive.

And then Joel heard the voice again.

Alas, poor Joel. If only things had gone differently…



Adam Christopher is a novelist, the author of Empire State, Seven Wonders, The Age Atomic, Hang Wire, and the forthcoming The Burning Dark. In 2010, as an editor, Christopher won a Sir Julius Vogel award, New Zealand’s highest science fiction honour. His debut novel, Empire State, was SciFiNow’s Book of the Year and a Financial Times Book of the Year for 2012. In 2013, he was nominated for the Sir Julius Vogel award for Best New Talent, with Empire State shortlisted for Best Novel. Born in New Zealand, he has lived in Great Britain since 2006.

My Favorite Bit: Myke Cole talks about BREACH ZONE

My Favorite Bit iconMyke Cole is joining us today with his novel Breach Zone. Here’s the publisher’s description.

The Great Reawakening did not come quietly. Across the country and in every nation, people began “coming up Latent,” developing terrifying powers—summoning storms, raising the dead, and setting everything they touch ablaze. Those who Manifest must choose: become a sheepdog who protects the flock or a wolf who devours it…

In the wake of a bloody battle at Forward Operating Base Frontier and a scandalous presidential impeachment, Lieutenant Colonel Jan Thorsson, call sign “Harlequin,” becomes a national hero and a pariah to the military that is the only family he’s ever known.

In the fight for Latent equality, Oscar Britton is positioned to lead a rebellion in exile, but a powerful rival beats him to the punch: Scylla, a walking weapon who will stop at nothing to end the human-sanctioned apartheid against her kind.

When Scylla’s inhuman forces invade New York City, the Supernatural Operations Corps are the only soldiers equipped to prevent a massacre. In order to redeem himself with the military, Harlequin will be forced to face off with this havoc-wreaking woman from his past, warped by her power into something evil…

What’s Myke’s favorite bit?



When I first got my book deal and moved to New York City, I was eager to launch my life as a writer. I spend the majority of my time in the intensely conservative institutions of law enforcement and the military, and I was looking forward to forging deeper into a social circle that was progressive and diverse.

When a friend hit town and asked me to meet her at the Romance Writers of America (RWA) conference in Times Square, I threw on my Chuck Taylors (hey, I live in Brooklyn), and jumped on the subway over there. I rode the escalator up, wondering what the crowd would look like. I’ve pretty much lived my whole live in SF/F conventions, but this was my first time ever going to a gathering of romance writers and fans.

I crested the escalator and my jaw dropped open. There were thousands of people on the con floor.

And not a single male.

Not one.

When my friend and I took our seats, I asked her why this was. “There have to be some men writing in this genre,” I said. “Not many,” she answered, “and the ones that are writing category romance do so under female pseudonyms.”

So much for diversity. I hit the ceiling. It was wrong when fantasy writers like C.S. Freidman, Andre Norton and Robin Hobb had to choose deliberately ambigious pseudonyms because women weren’t supposed to write fantasy, and it was wrong that men should do the same for romance. I resolved then and there to change it. I was going to be the first male category romance writer to publish a work in the genre under his own name.

I went on this same tear with a friend of mine who had been an editor for Harlequin, one of the major romance imprints. “That’s all well and good,” she said, “but you can’t just waltz into a genre you know nothing about and expect to be successful. You need to learn your trade. You have a lot of reading to do.”

Good advice. I took it. I read and read and read and still do read romance. I was amazed at how central character was to the genre, how these seemingly plotless stories were pulled along by agendas clashing, how transporting it was to see protagonists fleshed out until they felt like real people.

I was in awe of the skill involved. I felt sure I could never equal it.

Which brings me to my favorite bit of BREACH ZONE, my 3rd novel.

BREACH ZONE is a war story, as are all the books of the SHADOW OPS series. They center on the US military, and feature a lot of action, hardware and explosions, spinning rotors and rounds downrange.

But in BREACH ZONE, I began to explore the backstory of two of the main antagonists from the first novel in the series. Their storylines merged and intertwined until I sat back, reading this bit:

“I’m sorry, Grace,” Harlequin said, his voice breaking. “I’m so sorry.”

She covered the rest of the distance on her knees, rose unsteadily do her feet. Her voice went smooth, her eyes little- girl wide. “I thought maybe you loved me.”

Harlequin wasn’t fooled, but it didn’t stop the tears from coming as he answered her lie with truth. “I thought maybe I did, too.”

And that blew me away. Because I realized that all that reading in the romance genre had percolated into my brain, flowed unconsciously into my story.

BREACH ZONE is a war story, absolutely.

But it is also a love story.

And it is so soso much better for it.



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.

My Favorite Bit: Laura Lam talks about SHADOWPLAY

My Favorite Bit iconLaura Lam is joining us today with her novel Shadowplay. Here’s the publisher’s description.

The circus lies behind Micah Grey in dust and ashes.

He and the white clown, Drystan, take refuge with the once-great magician, Jasper Maske. When Maske agrees to teach them his trade, his embittered rival challenges them to a duel which could decide all of their fates. People also hunt both Micah and the person he was before the circus–the runaway daughter of a noble family. And Micah discovers there is magic and power in the world, far beyond the card tricks and illusions he’s perfecting…

A tale of phantom wings, a clockwork hand, and the delicate unfurling of new love, Shadowplay continues Micah Grey’s extraordinary journey.

What’s Laura’s favorite bit?



The Micah Grey series is a great excuse to put in many of my pet interests. Pantomime, the first in the series, is set in the circus, and in particular looks at how the people of the circus viewed themselves as different from the rest of society. “We’re playing a trick on the world,” one of the characters told Micah not long after he joined, and then later: “the circus collects outsiders like a flame tempts moths.”

In the sequel, Shadowplay, I focus instead on stage illusion and spiritualism. They’re still separated from society in some ways, but it’s a far smaller cast of characters and there’s not the same sense of an alternate culture. In our world, spiritualism came to prominence in the late Victorian era and had another resurgence after WWI. In my secondary world, there are echoes of the Victorian era, and a similar fascination with death and the departed. The main characters of Shadowplay both use stage magic and illusion and séances to delight the audience, but they are aware that they serve different purposes. With illusion, the audience knows it’s a ruse, but with séances, there may be cynics, believers, or people who desperately want to believe that they can come back in contact with those they miss. Micah and his friends thus act as symbolic reverse psychopomps – guiding the dead back to the living. It was one of the most fascinating angles to explore in this book.

My favourite bit of Shadowplay was a chapter that I didn’t plan. It was one of those rare instances where the words flowed and I had no idea what would happen next, but I loved where it was going. The scene is when the characters practice a séance and receive a vision from the ancient past that contains hints to their future, and here’s the very beginning of it:

“We welcome you to our sacred circle, Jasper Maske,” Cyan intoned. Her face was covered with black gauze, a bride of darkness. She wore a dark Elladan dress, wasp-waisted in a corset. Only her hands were bare, decorated in swirling designs of silver paint, her nails black as night.

“Tonight we call the spirits to peek their heads up from the currents of the River Styx, to whisper the words they wish they could have told us in life. I have known a heartache that few others have possessed. Through this grief, I may pull back the veil and pass along the messages of the dead, Jasper Maske. Close your eyes and imagine who has passed that you wish to speak with. For we have all known, loved, and lost.”

Maske concentrated. Drystan opened his eyes. I squeezed his hand and he squeezed back.

“Someone comes to me through the mists of the otherworld…” Cyan shuddered, her head falling forward on her chest. I felt a humming deep within my chest.

Whispers in Alder echoed in the room. “She hears us, too. She hears us, too. She hears us, too.”

Cyan’s head rose, and my spine turned to ice. Though I could not see her face through the veil, I knew that it was not Cyan.


Pantomime page (including ordering links)
Shadowplay page (including ordering links)
Twitter: @LR_Lam


Laura Lam was raised near San Francisco, California, by two former Haight-Ashbury hippies. Both of them encouraged her to finger-paint to her heart’s desire, colour outside of the lines, and consider the library a second home. This led to an overabundance of daydreams.

She relocated to Scotland to be with her husband, whom she met on the internet when he insulted her taste in books. She almost blocked him but is glad she didn’t. At times she misses the sunshine.

Pantomime was released February 2013 through Strange Chemistry, the YA imprint of Angry Robot Books. The sequel, Shadowplay, will follow in January 2014.

My Favorite Bit: Sandra Tayler talks about THE STRENGTH OF WILD HORSES

My Favorite Bit icon

Sandra Tayler is joining us today with her picture book project The Strength of Wild Horses, now on Kickstarter.

What’s Sandra’s favorite bit?

SWH cover


I didn’t intend to write a second picture book. I thought my daughter only needed one story. That was foolish because we all need hundreds of stories at various stages of our lives. The stories help us explain ourselves and show us how to go forward from where we are. It is why I wrote Hold on to Your Horses, and why my daughter immediately started asking the question to which Strength of Wild Horses is the answer. At six she didn’t have the ability to give nuance to her questions, but what she was asking was this: “What are wild idea horses good for? How can being head-strong and full of creative energy lead to anything but being endlessly in trouble?” I held her in my lap and gave her all the best answers I could think of, but I could tell she didn’t believe me. Not really. She could see how she got into trouble, she couldn’t see what I was trying to describe. She needed another story.

So I took Amy, a character who was already beloved, and I sent her on a new adventure. Or at least I wanted to, but sequels are tricky things. I thought I could use the same formula that worked so brilliantly in the first book. Lots of picture book series do that, because young children like the comfort of knowing that the main character will be embarrassed on page eight and will figure out the solution on page twenty-nine. So, I wrote the story using the first as a guide. It was flat and lifeless, because Amy had already had an adventure where Mommy was there for her to help with a pivotal realization. I had to set the story aside because I didn’t know how to write it yet.

Then came a fall afternoon when I’d wandered into my back garden to survey all the work that I needed to do to prepare for the coming cold. I wasn’t thinking about stories or Amy, or so I thought. Yet that was the moment when something inside my head shifted, and instead of not knowing how to proceed, I knew exactly where to go. What Amy needed was a moment like that one I had. A moment when her internal viewpoint shifted and problems became opportunities. So for Strength of Wild Horses I set up some glorious problems that Amy created for herself. Then Angela Call, the same artist who illustrated the first book so beautifully, created vibrant pictures that made Amy’s unintentional havoc clear for everyone to see. In the midst of the havoc there is a moment when even Amy becomes aghast at what she has done.

Low Point

Consequences seem unavoidable and Amy can’t just keep going onward. In that low place Amy is finally quiet enough to observe that she is not the only one with struggles.  The other characters in the book become clear to her in a way she did not see before. Then there is a moment of need, and in that moment, Amy changes.

Triumph Begins

All of her ideas become solutions instead of problems, even though they are exactly the same ideas that they were before. We get to see how elements of the glorious havoc are pulled into. That is my favorite bit of the story. Amy transforms problems into solutions and thanks to Angela it is done in a way that a six year old can see and comprehend. The only thing that could be more favorite than that, would be if somehow Strength of Wild Horses can be part of a change inside the mind of a child who reads it.

Amy Dances


The Strength of Wild Horses Kickstarter project page:

Sandra’s Blog:

Sandra’s previous My Favorite Bit post:

Sandra Tayler is a writer of children’s books, speculative fiction, and blog entries. She has sold stories to anthology markets and in 2009 her blog,, won an AML award for online writing. Sandra spends much of her time as the publication and distribution half of the Schlock Mercenary comic business. Sandra’s publication work and her writing are frequently pre-empted by the needs of her four kids, who alternate between being incredibly helpful and incredibly distracting. Some day in the future Sandra hopes to experience this free time that she has heard so much about.

My Favorite Bit: Jodi McIsaac talks about INTO THE FIRE

My Favorite Bit iconJodi McIsaac is joining us today with her novel, Into the Fire. Here’s the publisher’s description.

Cedar McLeod would like nothing more than to return to Tír na nÓg, help rebuild the mythical kingdom, and start a new life for herself and her daughter, Eden. But peace isn’t what Cedar finds after being reunited with her little girl.

Nuala—who kidnapped and terrorized Eden in her previous bid for power—has returned and is making a persuasive claim for the vacant throne. The devastation such a ruler would bring upon both the kingdom and the human world is unthinkable. With no one else to stake a convincing counter-claim, Cedar steps forward…but first she must prove her worth beyond a doubt.

Her opportunity comes when she is charged with finding an ancient treasure, the Stone of Destiny, and returning it to its rightful home. It is a quest that will lead her to question her beliefs, and push her loyalties to their limits. If she succeeds, Cedar could grant her new world and her new family a chance to flourish again. If not…destruction may be the only path ahead.

Into the Fire, the second book in the Thin Veil series, is a captivating blend of Celtic myth, mystery, and adventure that delves deeper into the ancient world first explored inThrough the Door.

What’s Jodi’s favorite bit?



love research, especially when I stumble upon something so incredibly fascinating that it makes me stop whatever I’m doing just to follow that rabbit trail. While I was researching Through the Door, the first book in my Thin Veil series, I discovered a fascinating historical tidbit that just wouldn’t leave me alone. I couldn’t use it in the first book (believe me, I tried!) but then the time came to write Into the Fire, and it was the perfect fit. So perfect, in fact, that I built the entire plot around it.

What I had discovered was the Stone of Destiny, also known as the Lia Fáil (pronounced LEE-ah FOIL) or the Stone of Scone. The wonderful thing about the Lia Fáil is that its origins are purely mythological, shrouded in mystery and magic … and yet the same stone has played a prominent role in history and can be seen today in the crown room of Edinburgh Castle. Irish lore is well-known for the blurring of history and myth, but no story is so deliciously rich in both fact and legend than that of the Stone of Destiny.

There are several stories about the Stone of Destiny, but the one that captivated me goes like this:

A long, loooong time ago (before time, actually), the Tuatha Dé Danann (ancient Irish deities) arrived in Ireland on a cloud from their home, the Four Cities. They brought with them four magical treasures, one from each city. There was a spear that never missed, a cauldron that was always filled with food, a sword that could never be defeated, and the Lia Fáil, a large stone which was said to have the power to rejuvenate the king, and would roar its pleasure whenever the rightful king stepped on it.

During their time in Ireland (before being defeated by the ancestors of the Celts and relegated to Tír na nÓg, the Otherworld), the Tuatha Dé Danann used the Lia Fáil as their coronation stone. It then passed into the hands of the High Kings of Ireland, and was used for centuries as their coronation stone. It was set on the Hill of Tara, the ancient seat of the Irish kings (there is a large stone there today which is called the Lia Fáil, but most historians agree it is most certainly not the fabled Stone of Destiny).

Now we pass from myth into history—albeit ancient history. Several scholars posit that around 500 AD, the High King of Ireland, Murtach Mac Erc, loaned the stone to his brother Fergus, who was being crowned King of Alba (which we now know as Scotland). Shortly after the stone’s arrival in Scotland, Fergus and his inner circle drowned in a freak storm. And so the Lia Fáil was never returned to Ireland; instead, it remained at Scone Abbey, where it now became the Scottish coronation stone, and was known as the Stone of Scone. Here it remained until 1296, when it was taken by Edward I of England and installed under the coronation chair at Westminster Abbey. If you’ve seen the movie The King’s Speech, you’ll notice it under the throne in the background. And there it remained, from 1296 until Christmas Day in 1950, when a group of young Scottish nationalists broke into Westminster Abbey, stole the stone, and managed to get it across the border to Scotland. They then left it at Arbroath Abbey, presumably for safekeeping … but the church promptly handed the stone back over to England. However, in a symbolic gesture in 1996, Queen Elizabeth II returned the stone to Scotland, where it was placed alongside the crown jewels in Edinburgh Castle. When Prince Charles is crowned king (if he happens to outlive his mother), the stone will be returned to Westminster Abbey for the coronation ceremony.

Am I the only one who finds this fascinating? The stone that the gods were once crowned has been passed down through millennia of human kings and is still used to crown kings (and queens) today.

Of course, who’s to say that the current Stone of Destiny on display in Edinburgh Castle is the real stone? There have been countless opportunities to make a replica—and this is the mystery that confronts our heroine Cedar in Into the Fire. She must find the real Lia Fáil and use it to prove her rightful claim to the throne of Tír na nÓg, and save both her world and ours at the same time. Of course, she’s not the only one who is looking for it…




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Jodi McIsaac grew up in New Brunswick, Canada. After stints as a short track speed skater, a speechwriter, and fundraising and marketing executive in the nonprofit sector, she started a boutique copywriting agency and began writing novels in the wee hours of the morning. She currently lives with her husband and two feisty daughters in Calgary.

My Favorite Bit: Sean Williams talks about TWINMAKER


My Favorite Bit icon

Sean Williams is joining us today with his novel, Twinmaker. Here’s the publisher’s description.

M. T. Anderson meets Cory Doctorow in this teen debut from #1 New York Times bestseller Sean Williams, who also coauthors the Troubletwisters series with Garth Nix.

When a coded note promises improvement—the chance to change your body any way you want, making it stronger, taller, more beautiful—Clair thinks it’s too good to be true, but her best friend, Libby, falls into a deadly trap.

With the help of the school freak and a mysterious stranger, Clair races against the clock and around the world to save Libby, even as every step draws her deeper into a deadly world of cover-ups and conspiracies.

Action and danger fuel this near-future tale of technology, identity, and the lengths one girl will go to save her best friend.

What’s Sean’s favorite bit?



My favourite thing about Twinmaker is buried down deep in the works. I know it’s there, but it’s not something I want readers to be conscious of, except when I do. It’s almost embarrassing to admit to, like an unsavoury habit one should keep entirely private, for everyone’s benefit, not just one’s own. It’s something all too easy to rail against in other writer, if it’s ineptly done, which is one reason to keep quiet about it. I’m talking about quoting and referencing the work of others.

All writers do it, to greater or lesser degrees. It’s not even the first time I’ve done it. My Astropolis series contains a character who speaks entirely in the lyrics of electropop Eighties pioneer Gary Numan. Elsewhere I’ve remixed Charles Darwin’s masterwork On the Origin of Species, chapter by chapter, as a series of short poems charting the evolution of the haiku form. My early books employ epigraphs like punctuation. This time, though, I had a reason.

Twinmaker is set in a world transformed by matter transmitters, which I call d-mat. D-mat revolutionised transport, as promised, and also saved the world by getting rid of excess carbon dioxide, feeding the billions, overturning the capitalist economic system as we understand it, etc. But it’s not all fun and games. Any technology capable of taking a person apart and putting them back together is inevitably going to be exploited. Society responds by enacting laws, creating regulatory bodies, and enabling enforcers. People being people, someone will always find a way around all that.

The plot engine is called Improvement. It’s a meme that tells you that if you write down a series of code words along with a description of how you’d like to be changed–bigger, prettier, smarter, stronger, whatever–and that if you carry that note through d-mat a few times, something or someone in the system will notice your wish and gradually make you the way you want to be. Would you be tempted? I would be, even as an adult. As an insecure teenage I would’ve jumped at the possibility. There’s nothing to lose, right?

Of course there is a lot to lose. You won’t be surprised to know that Twinmaker takes up the body-horror baton and runs with it, not into full-on The Fly territory (this being a YA novel, after all) but definitely tapping into the same vein. Because this is an old old old vein, one of the oldest in SF (first tapped in 1877) with plenty of blood still flowing through it. Mutation never gets tired.

So on the surface there’s action and drama. Underneath is where I got to play.

Having just spent four years researching the trope of the matter transmitter for my PhD, I’ve really been digging deep into the literature in search of twists I hadn’t seen before, riffs on old ideas, new riffs on riffs that seemed new twenty years earlier, and so on. One that popped up every now and again was employing garbled speech to flag the possibility of being physically garbled in transmission. John Brunner does it in several works, misspelling names and truncating words when his devices are activated (see “You Take the High Road” and Web of Everywhere). The aliens in James Patrick Kelly’s “Think Like a Dinosaur” speak in a weird mistranslation of English. Lan Wright’s “Transmat” features dialogue like “I’m leaving no turn unst—I mean, no stone unturned”. And so on and so forth.

I decided to do something similar in my own book, putting this old idea through a metaphorical matter transmitter and twisting it into a subtly new shape, using quotes and misquotes to get the message across instead of names or whatever. I have a character who lives in a future version of the Cloud, with access to every available piece of literature, so it seemed a logical place to start.

Scholars of Keats will probably know the originals I’m misquoting, as will those of George W. Russell and Dostoevsky. There are many more (listed here) and there are more to come as the series progresses. Some are well-known; some are playfully obscure (Theodore Sturgeon gets a mention). Where I’ve had particular fun is with characters misquoting themselves or the people around them, sometimes to no effect at all, sometimes leading to misunderstandings that could easily have been avoided if people had eidetic memories–which is as unreasonable as expecting any technology to be one hundred percent perfect one hundred percent of the time. You could say that communication via speech thus became a metaphorical echo for transport via d-mat and . . .

. . . and if that all sounds very, very dry to you, that’s okay with me. I agree with you. I only do this kind of thing if it doesn’t get in the way of the story. Writing starts as an indulgent act and becomes a vocation that must be nurtured with great earnestness, but always, somewhere in the process, there must remain an indulgence or else the soul dies. As Elizabeth Taylor said (or did she?): “The problem with people who have no vices is that you can be pretty sure they’re going to have some annoying virtues.” This was my favorite bit of writing Twinmaker, the bit that belongs entirely to me.





#1 New York Times bestselling Sean Williams lives with his family in Adelaide, South Australia, just up the road from a chocolate factory. He’s written some books–thirty-nine at last count–including the Philip K. Dick-nominated Saturn Returns, several Star Wars novels and the Troubletwister series with Garth Nix. Twinmaker is the first in a new YA SF series that takes his love affair with the matter transmitter to a whole new level. You can find a trio of related short stories over at Lightspeed