• Debut Author Interview Project: Gabriela Houston

    And today we have Gabriela Houston and her debut The Second Bell stopping in. This one not only sounds brilliant, but I’ve also reviewed it on Grimdark Magazine (read my review here). I loved this book so much, and I hope this will make you want to check it out too. Add it on Goodreads here, and order a copy via Bookshop here (affiliate link).

    Please tell us about your book

    The Second Bell is a Slavic-mythology-inspired fantasy novel, about a striga and her mother.

    In a remote community, sometimes a child is born with two hearts. Such a child is considered a monster and is cast out. My story follows a mother who chose to leave with her baby and a 19-year-old striga woman, as they navigate the strict social rules governing the striga village they live in and struggle against the taboos threatening to tear them apart.

    How did you celebrate its release?

    Under lockdown a celebration is a relative term. I had two different takeouts with my family during the day and then joined a zoom launch for my book which was lovely.

    Why and when did you start writing in earnest?

    I have always been quite earnest about my artistic pursuits, but it wasn’t until after my first child was born that I made the conscious decision to set up writing as a priority in my life. It works differently for different people, but for me that time in my life gave me the razor sharp focus on what I needed to make space in my life for.

    How many books did you write before your debut and what did you learn from them?

    Before The Second Bell I wrote one unpublishable moloch of a fantasy epic. I think it took me too long to complete it, and that resulted in a very uneven, underedited mess. It had some good bones and got a bit of initial interest from agents, but in the end I’m glad it didn’t find a home.

    It was a huge learning curve. I made ALL the mistakes. And that’s great. I try not to make the same ones twice.

    How has your relationship to writing changed after finding out that your debut would be published?

    I wouldn’t say it changed so much as all my plans and ambitions suddenly became more likely to be realised, which is a wonderful thing. It definitely gives you the push to work more, as you want to give yourself the best chance to succeed.

    What do you wish you had known before publishing your first book?

    No regrets. Except for the one phrase I should have edited out, which I found in the published book. That will haunt me for all eternity.

    What challenges do you face as a published author?

    I guess my experience so far has been so good, I need to be prepared that not everything will go as smoothly from now on necessarily! As a writer there’s a lot you have no control over, sadly, and I like the control.

    Do you feel the industry has been welcoming to you?

    Extremely! I have met some incredible people – bloggers, instagrammers, podcasters, other writers! All of whom are passionate about books and are rooting for the debut authors to succeed which is fantastic.

    How has the pandemic affected you creatively?

    I wrote a book and a half during the first lockdown (UK), which was great. Since then it’s been up and down to be honest, but with all the pre-launch work I was doing, there wasn’t much time to wallow really (and I did want to wallow, for sure!)

    Do you think that current events have changed the reception of your debut?

    It’s really hard to tell. There are themes tackled in the book that correspond to some of the wider issues at the moment, but whether or not they would have been seen in the same way under more normal circumstances is really hard to tell, especially as I don’t have much to compare it to.

    How do you approach reviews, what was your first negative review like?

    I have defied my agent’s directive to never ever go on Goodreads about a month before the book came out. I guess when you’re dealing with the publishers, your agent, and bloggers/magazine reviewers so much, you get lulled into a false sense of security, where you think “We all like books, right? Book people are my kind of people, the never-be-mean sort of people, who, if they dislike the book, will phrase their reservations in a kind, compassionate manner.”

    Needless to say, I will never again go on Goodreads.

    On a serious note though, even knowing that you can’t please everyone, there is no way you can prepare for people being unkind or dismissive about the work you’ve poured so much love into. But you grow thicker skin. Eventually.

    What are you planning next?

    I have a couple projects ready to query, and a couple of ideas more, but nothing’s set in stone for the moment.

    Do you have a set writing routine?

    I try to write every day (or pre-launch do writing work every day). I have a writing buddy who I meet on zoom and we both do our work with each other’s faces hovering in the corner of the screen. It helps to keep you motivated, and having someone to talk through the thorny plot bits with is incredibly helpful.

    What is your preferred writing soundtrack?

    I don’t always have one. It has to be something I know well though, or else I start focusing on the lyrics too much.

    Coffee, tea or other writing fuel?

    Both and either. I’m not picky, but I like sipping on something hot while writing.

    What was your favourite moment on the journey to publication?

    Strangers reaching out on social media to tell me they loved the book and that it meant something to them. It never fails to move me.

    What books (or other media) have you loved recently?

    Stacey Halls’ The Foundling, Tracy Deonn’s Legendborn, and right now I’m reading the wonderful The Witch’s Heart by Genevieve Gornichec at the moment.

  • Victories Greater Than Death – Charlie Jane Anders

    What can I say, Charlie Jane Anders is a badass. I fell in love with her writing when I picked up All The Birds In The Sky in a bookstore years ago, and have been a fan ever since. Besides being an awesome author, she co-runs the brilliant Our Opinions Are Correct podcast all about speculative fiction (I highly recommend you check it out if you haven’t yet). And now she’s written her first YA novel. Victories Greater Than Death is a fun queer found-family romp through space!

    Massive thanks to Titan and Netgalley for an eARC of this brilliant novel. All opinions are my own.

    RELEASE DATE: 13/04/2021

    STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶

    Yes, I know, this is the US cover but I just love it so much more than the UK version. THOSE EYES!

    SUMMARY: Tina never worries about being ‘ordinary’–she doesn’t have to, since she’s known practically forever that she’s not just Tina Mains, average teenager and beloved daughter. She’s also the keeper of an interplanetary rescue beacon, and one day soon, it’s going to activate, and then her dreams of saving all the worlds and adventuring among the stars will finally be possible. Tina’s legacy, after all, is intergalactic–she is the hidden clone of a famed alien hero, left on Earth disguised as a human to give the universe another chance to defeat a terrible evil.

    But when the beacon activates, it turns out that Tina’s destiny isn’t quite what she expected. Things are far more dangerous than she ever assumed–and everyone in the galaxy is expecting her to actually be the brilliant tactician and legendary savior Captain Thaoh Argentian, but Tina….is just Tina. And the Royal Fleet is losing the war, badly–the starship that found her is on the run and they barely manage to escape Earth with the planet still intact.

    Luckily, Tina is surrounded by a crew she can trust, and her best friend Rachel, and she is still determined to save all the worlds. But first she’ll have to save herself. (from Titan Books)

    OPINIONS: This was such an incredibly fun book to read. Take Charlie Jane Anders’ smart science fiction for adults, cross it with the ridiculousness of Doctor Who and add a good pinch of queer found family. I loved the cast of human teen misfits being drafted aboard a space ship to try and save the galaxy, led by Tina, a legendary general reborn. It’s hard to pick favourites – Tina, slowly getting memory back from her past life and turning into a huge purple alien, Rachael, the ‘ordinary friend’ who has to deal with anxiety on top of being in space, or Elza, Brazilian badass with bonding issues, among others. I just want to hug them all and reassure them.

    This book is full of diversity, both on surface level, but also deeper down. Rachael’s issues with anxiety are described with nuance and resonated a lot with me. Most characters introduce themselves with their pronouns immediately, and many choose to use neopronouns. Victories Greater Than Death has queerness in its bones, and I love it. I also really appreciated how, in her acknowledgements, Charlie Jane mentions multiple sensitivity readers for different aspects of the book. It shows the care and effort that she put into this.

    All of this is packaged in a big-scale space adventure, both thrilling and fun. And yes, the teens are more skilled and powerful than they have any right to be, but it doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of the story. The enemy operates with a weapon that changes the perception of its victims in the eyes of their friends and allies, and if that’s not scary I don’t know what is. It’s brilliant escapism, think Firefly-style shenanigans but with a misfit gang of teens. Read it.

    Join Tina and her friends by adding Victories Greater Than Death to your Goodreads here, and order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).

  • Blog Tour: Birds of Paradise – Oliver K. Langmead

    Today, I’m excited to welcome you to my stop on the Titan Books tour for Birds of Paradise by Oliver K. Langmead. This is one of the wackiest books I’ve read in a long time, but it’s weird in all the best ways. It imagines a scenario where Adam (yes, that one from the Bible) is still alive and so are the first animals – though able to take human shape, and there are pieces of paradise still to be found on Earth… Think a cross between Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and Jasper Fforde’s work. It’s out there, but it’s addictive.

    Many thanks to Lydia Gittins and Titan Books for including me on the tour and sending me a copy for review. All opinions are my own.

    RELEASE DATE: 08/04/2021

    STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶

    SUMMARY: Many millennia after the fall of Eden, Adam, the first man in creation, still walks the Earth – exhausted by the endless death and destruction, he is a shadow of his former hope and glory. And he is not the only one. The Garden was deconstructed, its pieces scattered across the world and its inhabitants condemned to live out immortal lives, hiding in plain sight from generations of mankind.

    But now pieces of the Garden are turning up on the Earth. After centuries of loneliness, Adam, haunted by the golden time at the beginning of Creation, is determined to save the pieces of his long lost home. With the help of Eden’s undying exiles, he must stop Eden becoming the plaything of mankind.

    Adam journeys across America and the British Isles with Magpie, Owl, and other animals, gathering the scattered pieces of Paradise. As the country floods once more, Adam must risk it all to rescue his friends and his home – because rebuilding the Garden might be the key to rebuilding his life. (from Titan)

    OPINIONS: This is such an addictive story. I could not put it down and read it in a single sitting. It’s weird and wacky and wonderful. I loved how it plays with theology, taking elements of the Bible and reworking them into something completely unique – Adam and some of the first animals tracking down pieces of Paradise on Earth to re-build their home. It is smart and fun, combining elements from fantasy, science fiction, heist-story and thriller (yes, I’d argue this is a book that counts for hard mode in the r/fantasy bingo!).

    Adam, the first man, alive for a very, very long time, is a fantastic leading character. He is world-weary and tired, but keen to return to his roots and simply garden. He is not power hungry, and in his modesty almost super-human. It would have been easy for Langmead to take him and make him into a caricature, but the version that is published could not be further from that. He is utterly human, flawed and humble. I was a bit sad that Eve didn’t play a role in the story, though that is something that is solved well in the end. And Crow! She was probably my favourite of all the animals. Badass, matter of fact and charming.

    All in all, while Birds of Paradise isn’t a perfect story, it is a compelling and well-written one, and one I highly recommend you take a look at it. Add Birds of Paradise to your Goodreads here, and order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).

  • Debut Author Interview Project: R.W.W. Greene

    Another wonderful Angry Robot debut author! Please welcome R.W.W. Greene and his debut, The Light Years. Add it to Goodreads here, and order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).

    Please tell us about your book:

    My debut is called The Light Years and it came out Feb. 2020 just as everyone was gearing up to shut down.  The book is about a lot of things, but I think Kirkus said it best with, “On the surface, you get an engrossing space opera, but if you look deeper you will find explorations of poverty, arranged marriage, and the toll that difficult moral choices take on families.”

    How did you celebrate its release?

    I was fortunate to have a few live events … including one with cake … before the lock downs started.  A couple of nights after the publication date, we did an event at Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord, NH. I played guitar, did a little reading, answered some questions, ate cake, and drank (really) cheap wine.

    Why and when did you start writing in earnest?

    I was a print journalist for about a dozen years after college, but I didn’t get serious about fiction until 2010 or so. I’d segued to teaching high-school English, and the work I was doing with my creative-writing students lit a fire under me.

    What was your publishing journey like?

    I started getting short stories published around 2012 and began nibbling at the ‘find an agent’ thing. I’d written a book as my MFA thesis and sent that out a dozen or so times before shelving it. In 2017, I sent a different book to Angry Robot as part of their Open Door unagented submission process. About a year later I got an email back, and two years after that they published The Light Years.

    How many books did you write before your debut and what did you learn from them?

    Three or four full manuscripts and a few partials. The first was my MFA thesis, and I wrote it thirty pages at a time with a critique of each installment. I likely would not do things that way again. I prefer to crank out a full draft – beginning, middle, and end – and then go back to it rather than move from stepping stone to stepping stone. Probably the most important thing I learned was that writing a book was possible and then repeatable. I recently hit 30K with my current manuscript, and it struck me that once-upon-a-time I would have found that number mighty intimidating.

    How has your relationship to writing changed after finding out that your debut would be published?

    I’ve been putting my writing in front of people for a long time — as a “poet” in high school, a journalist, and now as a guy with a book — and the doubts and worries have never gone away. It’s a mix of “Hey, I wrote a book!” and “Please read my humble offering” and “Don’t hurt me!” Writing is a tool that I use fairly well, but there’s still a hard knot of fear in putting it out there.

    What do you wish you had known before publishing your first book?

    I did a lot of work to educate myself in advance, including going to conferences and joining (and later running) my statewide writers’ organization, The New Hampshire Writers’ Project. I got into the writing community pretty deep, and I believe I was as prepared as I could have been.

    What challenges do you face as a published author?

    The biggest challenge is staying published and trying to build a career out of it. I wrote The Light Years by getting up at 4:30 in the morning for months and banging on a typewriter before going to work. Then revisions. And edits. And queries and submissions.  And you can’t just write one book. An agent is going to ask you “what else ya got?” and you’re going to want a drawer full of work to turn to. It’s almost too hard write successfully solely as a hobby.

    Do you feel the industry has been welcoming to you?

    I think so. It was difficult to break into, but now that I’m here, the industry seems curious about the stories I have to tell.

    How has the pandemic affected you creatively?

    I had a really hard time getting anything going for the first several months. The combination of pandemic and Trump created way too much static for me to think through.  I wrote a book in there somewhere, but it getting it out wasn’t easy.

    Do you think that current events have changed the reception of your debut?

    I don’t believe it changed how it was received, but it might have affected whether or not it was. True, I had a couple of reviews say the book was “too woke,” and that was kind of a Trumpy-political reaction, but the sheer amount of information flying around last spring made it hard to see anything that wasn’t COVID or US election related. And then it go to the point where I couldn’t leave the house to flog it, and I became just another “look at me” on the Internet.

    How do you approach reviews, what was your first negative review like?

    I tend to think reviews are for the readers rather than for the writers, and thus don’t spend a lot of time perusing them. By the time someone reviews something of mine, it’s already out, and there’s no way to bring it back for another round of revisions.  That said, it’s wonderful to get a good review, and sometimes there is truth in a bad review. I’m not perfect, and there is always more to learn about telling a story. The first review that got under my skin was a dude who played the “too woke” card.

    What are you planning next?

    I’ve another novel, Twenty-Five to Life, coming out through Angry Robot in August 2021, and I’m currently working on book two of a planned trilogy. 

    Do you have a set writing routine?

    I prefer writing in the morning, but now that I’ve left teaching, morning starts at eight or nine rather than 4:30 [am] . I have a daily 1,000-word goal. Sometimes that takes two hours, sometimes three, sometimes four, but I rarely shut down Scrivener without hitting my mark.

    What is your preferred writing soundtrack?

    I like jazz or hiphop or punk or classical turned down low so I can feel it rather than hear it. I want the rhythm not the words.

    Coffee, tea or other writing fuel?

    Black coffee by the quart, tea and water by the pint.

    What was your favourite moment on the journey to publication?

    I’m a U.S. writer, and Angry Robot is a UK publisher. My favorite part was the immediate expansion of my active awareness. All of a sudden, I had friends and colleagues in the UK, and my world got bigger and more interesting.

    What books (or other media) have you loved recently?

    Too many. So many. I love that Netflix allows me to see sci-fi from all over the world. “3%” from Brazil, “Ad Vitam” from France, “Space Sweepers” from Korea … it’s really exciting. I’ve also been getting into plot-heavy video games like “Detroit: Becoming Human” and “The Last of Us.” I just read The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones, the First Law Trilogy by Joe Abercrombie,  Afro Puffs are the Antennae of the Universe by Zig Zag Claybourne, and The Wayward Children books by Seanan McGuire.

  • Ariadne – Jennifer Saint

    So. I’m a huge nerd. And one of the things I’m super nerdy about is mythology. I’m a sucker for any story that has survived the centuries, and I have adored Ariadne for being a badass to defy her father for years. I’ve also loved Madeline Miller’s retellings of Greek myths, and actually used an anthology of classical mythology inspired stories I conceived of for a project in my MA. You bet I was all over Ariadne by Jennifer Saint as soon as I heard about it. And, damn, if you like Circe, you need this one too.

    Massive thanks to Wildfire and Netgalley for the eARC (though I’m very sad that the physical ARC never arrived… Oh well, excuses to get a finished copy). All opinions are my own.

    RELEASE DATE: 29/04/2021

    STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶

    The stunning cover is by Micaela Alcaino who is probably my favourite designer in the UK right now.

    SUMMARY: As Princesses of Crete and daughters of the fearsome King Minos, Ariadne and her sister Phaedra grow up hearing the hoofbeats and bellows of the Minotaur echo from the Labyrinth beneath the palace. The Minotaur – Minos’s greatest shame and Ariadne’s brother – demands blood every year.

    When Theseus, Prince of Athens, arrives in Crete as a sacrifice to the beast, Ariadne falls in love with him. But helping Theseus kill the monster means betraying her family and country, and Ariadne knows only too well that in a world ruled by mercurial gods – drawing their attention can cost you everything.

    In a world where women are nothing more than the pawns of powerful men, will Ariadne’s decision to betray Crete for Theseus ensure her happy ending? Or will she find herself sacrificed for her lover’s ambition? (from Wildfire Books)

    OPINIONS: I have been terrible at reading recently. I keep getting distracted and struggle to focus and switch books every 50 pages or so. But Ariadne was exactly what I needed and only sleep got me to put it down. It is brilliant, and perfect for all of you who adored Circe. This is similarly themed around a woman whose life was driven by gods and heroes and tries to reassert control about her own destiny. The titular Ariadne is a wonderful character, going from sheltered and naive princess to figuring out who she is after being abandoned by Theseus (sorry if that’s a spoiler, but that much was given from the source material), to finding herself in a sort of confined social space again and breaking free again.

    The original story of Ariadne is a starting off point for this reinterpretation, not its full basis. Ariadne goes far beyond the known myth and makes it into a story driven by its heroine. Apart from Ariadne, it also focuses on Phaedra, her lesser-known sister, and I found her storyline very relatable too. They are both complex characters, far from perfect but trying to make the best of their situations. Ariadne is full of heartbreaking moments, but also beautifully written episodes of unbridled joy.

    I loved this book, even though I thought it started to drag a little bit in the second half. I was all set to award it five stars, but in the last third or so I noticed myself wandering more and more, and felt that it could have closed off tighter (it might also be that I was more distracted, so could also be just me!). But for the most part, I found Ariadne incredibly compelling and really enjoyed the voice of the titular character. She is far from a chosen one, and doesn’t have any special abilities, but she is a survivor. And that might be the most important quality a heroine in Greek mythology can have.

    I highly encourage you to pick up Ariadne. You can add it on Goodreads here, and order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).

  • A Desolation Called Peace – Arkady Martine

    A Memory Called Empire was probably one of the most innovative science fiction novels of recent memory. And now, the follow-up and conclusion to the duology, A Desolation Called Peace was just released. So you can bet I was excited to dive back into the world of the Teixcalaanitzlim! It was an interesting experience reading book two in text after audiobooking the first one – so many things are spelled very differently to how I expected them to be!

    Massive thanks to Black Crow PR and UK Tor for sending me a review copy! All opinions are my own

    RELEASE DATE: 04/03/2021

    STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶

    SUMMARY: An alien armada lurks on the edges of Teixcalaanli space. No one can communicate with it, no one can destroy it, and Fleet Captain Nine Hibiscus is running out of options.

    In a desperate attempt at diplomacy with the mysterious invaders, the fleet captain has sent for a diplomatic envoy. Now Mahit Dzmare and Three Seagrass—still reeling from the recent upheaval in the Empire—face the impossible task of trying to communicate with a hostile entity.

    Their failure will guarantee millions of deaths in an endless war. Their success might prevent Teixcalaan’s destruction—and allow the empire to continue its rapacious expansion.

    Or it might create something far stranger . . . (from Tor)

    OPINIONS: On one hand, I absolutely loved returning to Arkady Martine’s rich and detailed world. While A Memory Called Empire focused on the inside workings and small-scale politicking, A Desolation Called Peace opened up to the wider world around Teixcalaan, war and diplomacy. But, I felt that in the grander scale of things, individual relationships and characters got a bit lost. I got so excited when Three Seagrass rejoined the story, but sadly the relationship between her and Mahit Dzmare was not explored as much as I would have liked. In that respect, I found the sequel a bit unsatisfying, as their relationship and banter was one of my favourite aspects of the first book.

    What I really liked is that A Desolation Called Peace explored the Imago line further. Mahit and Yskandr – you bet I was taken aback reading their names spelled out very differently than I imagined from the audio – slowly meld together more, and become a sort of new person incorporating aspects of both their personalities. This exploration of what makes one oneself was very interesting to me.

    While I felt like A Desolation of Peace didn’t quite live up to the expectations A Memory Called Empire set, that is likely down to personal preference. I’m not a huge fan of grand scale science fiction and war in space in general, and much preferred the more personal intriguing of the first book. This second book is very different in feeling to the first, and I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. It is still an excellent book, and I think many people will love it, even if it didn’t hit the spot for me personally.

    If you, too, would like to dive back into Teixcalaan, add A Desolation Called Peace to your Goodreads here, and order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).

  • Debut Author Interview Project: Chris Panatier

    Welcome to Libri Draconis, Chris Panatier! His book, The Phlebotomist was published by Angry Robot in September 2020, and has one of the most memorable covers I’ve ever seen – AR have been killing it in the design department. Add it to your Goodreads here and order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link). And the more I talk to AR authors, they seem like a fabulous publisher, so listen up, aspiring authors!

    Please tell us about your book:

    Thanks for having me! Since it took me so long to get the short synopsis down for The Phlebotomist, that is what I’ll put here, because anything else would miss something:

    To support herself and her grandson Isaiah, Willa works for the blood contractor Patriot. Instituted to support the war effort, the mandatory draw (The Harvest) has led to a society segregated by blood type. Hoping to put an end to it all, Willa draws on her decades-old phlebotomy training to resurrect an obsolete collection technique, but instead uncovers an awful truth.

    Patriot will do anything to protect its secret. On the run and with nowhere else to turn, Willa seeks an alliance with Lock, a notorious blood-hacker who cheats the Harvest to support the children orphaned by it. But they soon find themselves in the grasp of a new type of evil.

    How did you celebrate its release?

    Probably just like every other debut in 2020, in front of my computer! Angry Robot did a great job of introducing the book during the pandemic and I did a host of blog posts and podcast interviews to go along with the release. So, while I’m sure everyone would have preferred to be able to do bookstore events and convention panels, I felt that my book received a nice reception.

    Why and when did you start writing in earnest?

    January 2015. I had just seen the movie Interstellar and read The Science of Interstellar by Dr. Kip Thorne. I was so blown away by the world of astrophysics that I’d been introduced to that I felt compelled to write about it.

    What was your publishing journey like?

    Well, after seeing/reading about all that awesome science, I immediately dashed off an epically mediocre “middle grade” epic fantasy/sf thing, convinced it would break the world. When eighty agents didn’t agree, I was disappointed, but moved on to the next project. Writing had its hooks in me. So, I began writing other novels and also really dove into short fiction in 2018. Short fiction, at least for me, has been key in honing my skills.

    After 150+ agent rejections over two novels, Angry Robot said yes. It’s certainly no lie that you have to put out the absolute best work you can, and then find one person who connects with it.

    How many books did you write before your debut and what did you learn from them?

    That’s a hard question to answer because there were (and probably are for most writers) a lot of partials. So, I had one full novel written and then four or five partials into which substantial time had been invested. The Phlebotomist was my second finished novel.

    At this stage in my career, all of those words were about learning. My writing, aka ‘the prose’, got better by leaps and bounds—this is, I think, the first thing to improve with practice. After that, came understanding story structure and character development. The chief Big Thing I learned was that all problems in writing are solved with time and practice. I’m still learning a lot.

    How has your relationship to writing changed after finding out that your debut would be published?

    It became a whole lot scarier. That’s not as bad as it sounds, but all of a sudden, you learn your work is going to be out there and judged. It’s a dream come true—and anyone who gets a book deal should celebrate that—but I’m so tightly wound, my celebration was short lived. I worked even harder after I knew The Phlebotomist would be published. Revised and edited until my eyes fell out. More hours, reading more, interacting more with other writers. Since then, I’ve chilled some. I have more perspective, but I’m still largely driven by fear.

    What do you wish you had known before publishing your first book?

    Angry Robot really takes care of its authors in terms of preparing them and helping to drive publicity for their books. I didn’t feel all on my own. That said, most of the things you learn along the way is really stuff you can only learn by going through it. Experience is the real teacher, I guess.

    What challenges do you face as a published author?

    There is pressure, of course, to improve on the last thing, to avoid a sophomore slump, I guess. My next book is nothing like The Phlebotomist, so I know that it won’t appeal to everyone who liked the first book. Every author feels that pressure, I’m sure, so I’m not unique in that respect. All the same, I have bouts of doubt, imposter syndrome, and all the rest. Hopefully it is successful enough to continue building an audience.

    Do you feel the industry has been welcoming to you?

    Absolutely. The community is very supportive. I have a tight group of fellow writers that I call my friends who I’ve never met in real life!

    How has the pandemic affected you creatively?

    There was a lot going on over the last year that affected everyone, I’m sure. The pandemic was like, just another layer in the crap cake we were all being fed. I had a tough time focusing for a few months, but with no end in sight, I just decided to get cracking. I’ve written basically two full first-drafts since last June. In that respect, it’s become a productive time.

    Do you think that current events have changed the reception of your debut?

    My book wasn’t shy about addressing current events in an allegorical—and sometimes on-the-nose—sense. I did see a number of reviews noting that the social commentary of The Phlebotomist was apt for our time. It addressed government control, consent, media manipulation, etc.

    How do you approach reviews, what was your first negative review like?

    I have never received a negative review. 😉

    Authors wiser than me warn against reading reviews or caring what they say. That’s great and all except that I am physically unable to restrain myself. I’m a complete junky, I admit it. My first negative review ruined my morning. Having someone point at your baby and say, “that baby is hideous” is tough to stomach. Nowadays, though, negative reviews impact me far less. You get used to it. Writing will teach you real fast that you can’t please everyone.

    What are you planning next?

    I’ll keep writing novels and short fiction. My next novel, Stringers is a humorous sci-fi adventure with all the requisite probing you’d expect from an alien abduction story. It comes out from Angry Robot in April of 2022.

    Do you have a set writing routine?

    I do! I get up at 5:00 a.m., brew coffee, and try to write until at least 7:30 a.m. If the day allows, I’ll write again later on. Getting up early is an awful, terrible, thing and no one should ever do it, but it does keep me from tweaking all day wondering when I’m going to write, because I’ve already done it. Most of my life is spent trying to manage my Type A-ness.

    What is your preferred writing soundtrack?

    Total silence, ambient coffee shop, or instrumental music (Russian Circles, Loscil, Red Sparrows, Tides of Nebula, or Ludovico Einaudi)

    Coffee, tea or other writing fuel?

    Coffee. Occasional mint tea.

    What was your favourite moment on the journey to publication?

    Finding an offer from Angry Robot to publish The Phlebotomist in my junk mail. No lie.

    What books (or other media) have you loved recently?

    Books: Hill House by Shirley Jackson, Shrouded Loyalties by Reese Hogan, Gate Crashers by Patrick Tomlinson, one of several Murderbots by Martha Wells, The Expanse by James SA Corey, We Are Legion (We Are Bob) by Dennis E. Taylor, etc.

    Podcasts: Ty & That Guy (Expanse Podcast), Writing Excuses, My Dad Wrote a Porno, The Writer Files, Smartless, Our Opinions are Correct, National Geographic Overheard.

  • Blog tour: Empire of Wild – Cherie Dimaline

    Today, I’m thrilled to kick off the blog tour for Empire of Wild by Cherie Dimaline, out today from Weidenfeld & Nicholson. While this has been out in Canada for a bit, today is its UK release. This is based on traditional Métis legends, something that I have no prior knowledge about but that made this extremely appealing to me. I have read far too few books by indigenous writers, and this is an excellent one to start with if you feel similarly.

    Many thanks to Will O’Mullane and W&N for sending me a review copy. All opinions are my own.

    RELEASE DATE: 01/04/2021

    STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶

    SUMMARY: Broken-hearted Joan has been searching for her husband, Victor, for almost a year – ever since he went missing on the night they had their first serious argument. One hung-over morning in a Walmart parking lot in a little town near Georgian Bay, she is drawn to a revival tent where the local Métis have been flocking to hear a charismatic preacher. By the time she staggers into the tent the service is over, but as she is about to leave, she hears an unmistakable voice.

    She turns, and there is Victor. Only he insists he is not Victor, but the Reverend Eugene Wolff, on a mission to bring his people to Jesus.

    With only two allies – her Johnny-Cash-loving, 12-year-old nephew Zeus, and Ajean, a foul-mouthed euchre shark with deep knowledge of the old Métis ways – Joan sets out to remind the Reverend Wolff of who he really is. If he really is Victor, his life and the life of everyone she loves, depends upon her success. (from W&N)

    OPINIONS: This is equal parts a mystery, psychological thriller to an extent as a speculative fiction novel. I loved Jean’s character, a smart, take-no-bullshit lady in her thirties, trying to figure out what happened to her husband, who disappeared almost a year ago. Through glimpses into the past, we see how she evolved from a directionless young woman into one who is sure of herself and what she believes in. And, oh, how satisfying it was to read a book that was so explicitly rooted in Métis culture. It is something I knew very very little about aside from stereotypes, and I learned so much (yes, I am the nerd who learns about the world from novels). It’s not a book that deals with identity in the traditional sense, but one that is steeped in its culture.

    I think it is very fitting for our times that one of the antagonists of the story is one of the few explicitly white-coded people. A business man, using Christianity for his personal aims. Feel like you’ve seen that before? Welcome to the history of the world. But Cherie Dimaline manages to implement it in a manner that’s not preachy (pun intended), but rather challenges the reader to explore their notions about the world.

    This is not a perfect book, and there are things I wish had been done differently – for example, I wasn’t that happy about the ending, but it is a very good book, and an important one, packaging contemporary issues in a personal story.

    Add Empire of Wild to your Goodreads here, and order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).

  • The Drowned City – K.J. Maitland

    Can you tell I’ve been on a bit of a historical kick lately? I read a few of Karen Maitland’s previous books based in medieval England – her Company of Liars remains one of the best medieval-set books I’ve ever read, based on the Canterbury Tales. Her newest novel, The Drowned City is set in Jacobean England, in the aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot. The first under the new penname K.J. Maitland, this introduces Daniel Pursglove as the hero of this series. As expected, I really enjoyed The Drowned City. Massive thanks to Headline and Caitlin Raynor for sending me a copy for review – all opinions are my own.

    RELEASE DATE: 01/04/2021

    STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶

    SUMMARY: 1606. A year to the day that men were executed for conspiring to blow up Parliament, a towering wave devastates the Bristol Channel. Some proclaim God’s vengeance. Others seek to take advantage.

    In London, Daniel Pursglove lies in prison waiting to die. But Charles FitzAlan, close adviser to King James I, has a job in mind that will free a man of Daniel’s skill from the horrors of Newgate. If he succeeds.

    For Bristol is a hotbed of Catholic spies, and where better for the lone conspirator who evaded arrest, one Spero Pettingar, to gather allies than in the chaos of a drowned city? Daniel journeys there to investigate FitzAlan’s lead, but soon finds himself at the heart of a dark Jesuit conspiracy – and in pursuit of a killer. (from Headline Review)

    OPINIONS: I love me a book that starts in a hopeless situation, it reminds me of one of my favourite D&D campaigns that I got to play. When the story sets out, Daniel Pursglove thinks he’s about to be executed. But instead he is sent on a mission. Bristol has just been overrun by a tsunami-like flood (which actually happened!) and there are suspicions of Catholics. When Daniel gets to Bristol, he comes across a series of murders where the victims were branded as Jesuits. And damn, not many books manage to have the resolution of the mystery come out of left field like The Drowning City did. I had NO IDEA what was going on until the reveal, and I loved it.

    At its heart, The Drowning City is a character book. That is one of Maitland’s great strengths. While some of her earlier books struggled a bit with slow pacing, at least as far as I remember them, but that is not an issue with this one. It is consistently keeping up tension and manages to toe the line between character work and pacing. Daniel is a wonderful lead character, and Rachael, the love interest and tavern maid is just as compelling a character. She is sassy, smart and driven, and doesn’t let Daniel live down his behaviour. I really enjoyed seeing their relationship develop alongside the main plot.

    So give Daniel and Rachael a shot, and add The Drowning City to your Goodreads here, or order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).

  • Debut Author Interview Project: Ginger Smith

    Angry Robot have an awesome publicist, which means that over the next few weeks I’ll be posting interviews with quite a few of their debut authors! I am very excited to have so many wonderful interviews to post. Today, you’ll hear from Ginger Smith about her debut The Rush’s Edge (Goodreads/Bookshop [affiliate link]). I don’t know about you, but I really want to read The Rush’s Edge now!

    Please tell us about your book:

    Lab-grown, genetically-engineered “vat” soldier Hal and his crew scour the Edge of the galaxy salvaging crashed ships. Hal knows vats like him die early chasing the adrenaline rush they’re programmed to crave, but his former commanding officer and best friend Tyce keeps him on the right path. After he meets natural-born tecker Vivi, he begins to wonder if there’s a future for the two of them, but first, they must figure out what was downloaded into their ship by a strange alien artifact and why the government will do anything to keep them silent about it. In short, The Rush’s Edge is the story of a programmed solider who, with the help of his found family, discovers what it means to be human. 

    How did you celebrate its release?

    Due to COVID, I wasn’t able to do very much celebrating, except with my husband at home. But I did buy a beautiful pair of moonstone earrings I’d been eyeing and wore them at my launch event. [The Rush’s Edge was released in November 2020.]

    Why and when did you start writing in earnest?

    I was about ten when I read The Elfstones of Shanara by Terry Brooks, and I was crushed by the ending (I don’t want to spoil it, but a character that I loved died in what I felt was a really unfair way). I got so upset and angry that I decided right then and there to write my own novel and that way I could have it end how I wanted it to, and there wouldn’t be any deaths at the end! It was a sprawling 328-page hot mess of a fantasy novel, complete with a good and evil brother, mages, dwarves, gnomes and a beautiful princess. I threw in everything AND the kitchen sink. I toiled tirelessly on that monster for two or three years, and I still have it today. It remains unpublished (lol).

    What was your publishing journey like?

    It was a crazy thrill ride, interspersed with tons of waiting. I wrote The Rush’s Edge in about three months, then spent another month editing.  When I thought I was ready, I began querying agents, changing my query for each one, as well as revising those initial 25 pages. I had gotten to agent number six or seven when I saw that Angry Robot and an e-publisher had an open submission period at about the same time, so I figured I had nothing to lose. I submitted to both as well as a few more agents.

    All summer I dreamed of my book finding a home at Angry Robot.  It seemed like such a long shot. Finally, the e-publisher called to talk contracts, then Angry Robot called to talk 24 hours after that. I thought I was going to die when I was offered the contract with AR. They were such a unique publisher that I wanted my book to find a home there. They even gave me time to get an agent. I signed with Amanda Rutter, and she was a huge help in navigating the contract and publication process!  

    Angry Robot was just a dream to work with. Editing was a team effort and I even had input on the cover, which I did not expect. All in all, except for COVID and its restrictions, the entire process exceeded my hopes.

    How many books did you write before your debut and what did you learn from them?

    Well, not counting the one at ten years old (lol), probably three. Two of them were fanfic novels. I think I learned so much about pacing a story, writing action scenes and building strong characterization from those experiences.

    How has your relationship to writing changed after finding out that your debut would be published?

    This is a great question! I think I understand my writing process better and I trust it more now in a lot of ways. As I wrote the debut novel with the intention of getting it published, I really paid attention to the processes I used so that I could replicate them later. Success also makes everything a little more complicated because you want to live up to or surpass your first book. 

    What do you wish you had known before publishing your first book?

    I wish I’d known how much waiting was actually involved. I definitely learned the lessons of patience by writing the book, then waiting a whole year for publication. I also wish I’d listened to those people that told me not to read reviews.

    What challenges do you face as a published author?

    First, is getting the word about my book out there. Secondly, trying to switch worlds to write something new is very, very hard. I miss Hal, Vivi and Ty. After spending two years of my creative life with them, it’s very hard to put them aside to work on something else.

    Do you feel the industry has been welcoming to you?

    Yes, all the way around. Angry Robot’s a great publisher to work with, and I have a great group of author friends I met on Twitter. Also, Amanda Rutter, my agent, has been supportive from day one.

    How has the pandemic affected you creatively?

    It’s been harder to focus on writing, but working from home did give me more time to complete the edits on The Rush’s Edge.

    Do you think that current events have changed the reception of your debut?

    COVID really had a dampening effect upon being able to do in person events. I think this is the major reason 2020 has been hard on all debut authors.

    How do you approach reviews, what was your first negative review like?

    That’s a tough question. I’ve had two reviews say two completely different things that couldn’t possibly both be true, and that taught me that reviews are subjective/entirely for readers. I want everyone to love my book as much as I do, but unfortunately, some will not. That’s how this game is played. I don’t think anyone likes getting that first negative review, but you can’t let those things rent space in your brain, as my husband likes to say.

    What are you planning next?

    I’d love to publish more stories in The Rush’s Edge universe, but right now, I’m starting on a horror novel set in a dystopian future.  I also may put up a few stories on my website (ginger-smith-author.com) set in the world of The Rush’s Edge so keep your eyes open for those!

    Do you have a set writing routine?

    I write every evening from 7 to 10, without fail.

    What is your preferred writing soundtrack?

    I have different soundtracks for different moods in a story.  For The Rush’s Edge, I listened to the Spider-man: Into the Spiderverse soundtrack, The Heavy, The Police, Styx, Queen, Pink Floyd and Rush.

    Coffee, tea or other writing fuel?

    Coffee, but I’ll take anything caffeinated.

    What was your favourite moment on the journey to publication?

    When I got a favorable Publisher’s Weekly review, I felt like I’d made it.  I printed it out, framed it and hung it on my wall along with the cover artwork from my book.  Holding The Rush’s Edge in my hands was another amazing highlight that I’ll never forget.

    What books (or other media) have you loved recently?

    Wandavision was simply amazing and just what I needed after The Mandalorian.

    I’ve also read a few great books over the last year: The Phlebotomist by Chris Panatier, Captain Moxley and the Embers of the Empire by Dan Hanks and The Light Years by R.W.W. Greene.