Sunday 23 December 2007

Author Interview - Joel Shepherd



In the books you've written, who is you favourite character and why?

>Very hard to pick a favorite, but since we're talking about the Cassandra Kresnov series here, I'll say Sandy (Cassandra) herself. She's possibly the least biased and most open minded person you'd be likely to meet on most matters -- a natural pragmatist who is simultaneously intrigued by non-pragmatic things precisely because they're unnecessary. She looks at everything as though it were new and fascinating, which as a writer forces me to do so too.

What character is most like you?

>I think they all have elements of me, but none of them are truly like me. If writers were that interesting, we wouldn't have to invent other people to populate our novels.

If you could, would you change places with any of your characters?

>Hell no. My characters live dangerous lives.

If you could live in your fantasy/sf world, would you? Would you live in somebody else's?

>I think Tanusha would be a cool place to live sure. I actually think one of the coolest fantasy universes to live would be the Star Wars universe... which is not to say I like every tale in every medium set in that universe. But living in a place with countless inhabited worlds, where you can actually travel between them all, wouldn't get boring very quickly

What was the hardest scene for you to write?

>The ones that don't work are the hardest to write. Sad scenes (killing a major character) are usually quite easy, because emotion usually flows well onto the page for me. When a scene doesn't work, when it's boring, when it doesn't do what I want it to do, I usually have to figure out why, and where it's gone wrong, and if I truly need it anyway -- that's hard.

What is your university degree in?

>International Relations. My primary interest is human civilisation, all my books are about it in one way or another.

Do you think it is easier to write fantasy or science fiction?

>I find them about the same. Fantasy tends to be more lyrical, which is fun as a writer, because you can just let the words play with each other through the sentences. My SF tends to be a little more brutal and direct.

What is something you didn't know about the publishing industry before you had your fist book published?

>How long everything takes!

Do you have any advice for hopeful authors?


Any tips against writers block?

>It's different for every author. But with me, if I'm stuck, or there's no inspiration flowing, it's usually because I've taken a wrong turn. So I retrace what I've written, find the last bit in the story where I was very confident I knew where I was going, and progress from there. Often I just cut what I've written from that point, and start again. If you find yourself in a hole, quit digging.

Sunday 16 December 2007

Arthurian Reading List

As with the other reading lists posted on this site, the list is by no means complete (especially where the secondary sources are concerned). But if you're interested in King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table you'll find quite a few interesting reads herein.

Primary Sources:

Morte D’Arthur - Sir Thomas Malory
Lais - Marie de France
Parzival - Wolfram Von Eschenbach
Sir Gawain & the Green Knight - Anonymous
Death of King Arthur - Anonymous
Arthurian Romances - Chretien de Troyes
Arthurian Chronicles - Wace & Layamon
History of the Kings of Britain - Geoffrey of Monmouth

Secondary Sources:
Myths and Legends of the British Isles - Richard Barber
Companion to Arthurian & Celtic Myths & Legends - Mike Dixon-Kennedy
Mammoth Book of King Arthur - Mike Ashley
King Arthur - Norma Lorre Goodrich
King Arthur; the Truth Behind the Legend - Rodney Castleden

"Modern" Literary Works:
Jennifer Roberson, Ed. - Out of Avalon
Mary Stewart - Crystal Cave, Hollow Hills, Last Enchantment, The Wicked Day
Irene Radford - Guardian of the Balance, Guardian of the Trust, Guardian of the Vision, Guardian of the Promise, Guardian of Freedom
J. Robert King - Mad Merlin, Lancelot Du Lathe
T.H. White - The Once & Future King, The Book of Merlin
Guy Gavriel Kay - Summer Tree, Wandering Fire, Darkest Road
Marion Zimmer Bradley - Mists of Avalon, Priestess of Avalon, Lady of Avalon
Diana L. Paxson - Ancestors of Avalon, Ravens of Avalon
Alice Borchardt - Dragon Queen, Raven Warrior
Robert Carter - Giants’ Dance, White Mantle
Jack White - Skystone, Singing Sword, Eagles’ Brood, Saxon Shore, Sorcerer: Fort at Rivers Bend, Sorcerer: Metamorphosis, Clothar the Frank, Uther, Eagle
Bernard Cornwell - Winter King, Enemy of God, Excalibur
Rosalind Miles - Guenivere, Queen of the Summer Country; Knight of the Sacred Lake; Child of the Holy Grail
Judith Tarr - Kingdom of the Grail
Stephen Lawhead - Taliesin, Merlin, Arthur, Pendragon, Grail, Return of King Arthur
A.A. Attanasio - Dragon & the Unicorn
Mark Twain - Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court
Douglas Clegg - Mordred, Bastard Son

Sunday 9 December 2007

Author Interview - Joshua Palmatier

The Skewed Throne
The Cracked Throne
The Vacant Throne (coming in January)


> Pitch your latest novel OR the first novel of your series.

A millennium ago, the city of Amenkor was caught in the White Fire, a mysterious force that swept across the land spreading madness, drought, famine, and disease. Now the White Fire has blasted through Amenkor again, and as the city begins an inexorable downward spiral, it is up to Varis—-a gutterscum thug from the slums of the city—-to stop it. Trained as an assassin, and with hidden magical talents of her own, she must break free of the diseased slums and ascend to the city proper to face the true power in Amenkor: The Skewed Throne.

Only the throne is waiting. And it’s insane.

> What are your favourite three books (not by you, either in the field or out of it)?

Elfstones of Shannara by Terry Brooks
Song for Arbonne by Guy Gavriel Kay
Stone of Farewell by Tad Williams

> In the books you've written, who is you favourite character and why?

Um, well, it would have to be Varis. She's the main character of the three novels I've written, so I've spent the most time with her, gotten to know her rather well, perhaps too well. I like the fact that she's learning and growing throughout the series; I like her practicality; and I like the fact that she likes to get things DONE, now.

> What character is most like you?

This is a hard one, because there's a little bit of me in practically all of the characters. But out of all of them, I'd have to say Varis again. Not because I grew up in the slums, alone and starving, and then became trained as an assassin, but because in the process of writing Varis, I constantly asked myself what it would take for me to be pushed to the point where would kill someone. What would it take for ME to step beyond that invisible line? Once I figured that out, I'd use that to push Varis, further and further and further.
So in that sense, I see much more of myself in Varis than I do in any of the
other characters in the novels.

> If you could, would you change places with any of your characters?

Oh, hell, no! No matter how much we romanticize "medieval" times, it was a rather nasty, dirty, horrible place to live, and the mortality rate was extremely high. None of my characters really have what I would call a great life. I think one of the best aspects of my novels is that they ARE realistic. The world itself has a dirty, gritty realism to it, and the people in the novel react to that. That's not to say that there isn't any good moments in the novel either, but I think we currently live in rather sheltered times in comparison. And novels are all about strife and peril and overcoming what seem to be impossible odds. My life is eventful enough without adding additional strife and mayhem. *grin*

> If you could live in your fantasy/sf world, would you? Would you live in somebody else's?

I'd love to live on the Frigean Coast . . . provided it wasn't being attacked, starved, or in some other way made to suffer. I think almost any writer would say they secretly wish to build themselves a palace or castle on a hill and live there. Some of us have actually made enough money to do this to some extent. I've almost always lived on the coast, so naturally my fantasy world is currently centered around coastal regions.

If I had to choose someone else's world to live in . . . I'd live in Anne McCaffrey's Pern. A pet dragon would be nice.

> What was the first novel (published or unpublished) that you wrote and how long did it take to write it?

The first novel I wrote, not currently published, was called "Sorrow". It's set in the same world as the Throne books, but with a completely different cast of characters, on a completely different coast. I wrote the first draft over the course of high school and the first few years of college. It's hard to tell exactly how long it took. When I hit grad school, I started revising it. I ended up revising it four or five times over the next few years. So in the end, it probably took me 5 years to get the current draft down. I've become much quicker at the writing and revising game since then of course.

> What was the hardest scene for you to write?

Probably the hardest scene for me to write would be in the second novel, "The Cracked Throne." I can't really talk about it much without giving away a significant portion of the plot of the book, but the scenes that are hard for me to write almost always involve some type of strong emotional reaction. The most interesting parts of novels to me aren't the battles or the magic or plot elements, but how the characters react emotionally to all of those elements and how those elements make the characters change and grow. How does the battle effect the beliefs of the main characters? How do they handle the death and loss of friends and family? How do they handle betrayal? These reactions are what interest me as a writer, and also what give me the most problems writing. Because they're hard to capture, and even harder to create and make believable.

> What is the strangest question you have ever been asked by a fan? OR Share an interesting fan story.

*snort* Ok, the strangest question I've ever been asked by a fan was at my first official signing, the day the first book was released. I was at Flights of Fantasy, a bookstore in Albany, New York, and the reading/signing was going really well. I opened up the floor to questions from the audience and after a few standard types of questions that I'd expected, the owner of the bookstore, Maria Perry, asked me, "Why doesn't Varis have a pet? She needs a cat or something to keep her company."

I was caught totally off guard and honestly didn't know what to say. My mind was completely blank. But after a moment of silence, I guess I started channeling Varis or something because I said, "Because . . . she'd eat it?"

The room burst into laughter of course, but I was being serious! Part of Varis's life is the fact that she's living in the slums, and realistically, in the slums you're fighting to survive. Any kind of animal--cat, dog, rat, pigeon, whatever--would be viewed as a food source. This didn't exactly make Maria happy (she's a cat lover). She's asked me at every signing I've given at the bookstore since then, but so far Varis hasn't had the luxury of having a

> What was the most fun book signing, convention, etc. you've attended and why?

Ah, the absolute best book signing, convention, and event (all rolled into one) was the Zombies Need Brains party that a group of fellow authors threw at the World Fantasy Convention in Saratoga Springs, New York. It was a total blast! I think it was fun because there was no pressure from me or the other authors to be anything other than ourselves. We weren't reading from our books, it wasn't a "staged" event in any way, nothing. We simply invited anyone at the con to come and enjoy some free drinks and food, and if they wanted to buy books and get them signed there were some available. It was an extremely relaxed (and loud and hot and . . .) event, and completely exhausting for us hosts. But well worth it. Because it was totally casual, I could chat with fans and prospective fans and be completely at ease, laughing and joking and whatnot. It's the most fun I've had at any writing-related event I've ever been to.

> If you still have one, what's your day job?

Oh, I most definitely still have a day job. Only the most successful writers have the luxury of not working at another job, unless they're being supported by a spouse or significant other. I support my writing habit by teaching mathematics at the College at Oneonta, part of the State Universities of New York system. I teach during the fall and spring semesters, and do most of my writing during the summer months and the break between the semesters.

> What is your university degree in?

I have a Bachelor's of Science, a Master of Arts, and a Ph.D. in mathematics. I wrote fantasy during all of those degrees in order to keep myself sane. When the strict logic and structure of the math became too frustrating, I'd take a break from it all and escape to the fantasy worlds I'd created. And when the writing came grinding to a halt for whatever reason, I'd go back to the math. It balanced itself out rather well.

> Do you think it is easier to write fantasy or science fiction?

I think it's easier to write fantasy, although neither one is particularly easy to write. Fantasy requires that you craft a world so well that it becomes totally believable to the reader, no matter what magical elements that world may contain. Convincing someone--even someone who's willing to suspend their disbelief--that something magical is real, and that it will work in that particular world, is extremely difficult. You're doing essentially the same thing in science fiction, except that instead of establishing a whole new world, you have to use the known rules of this world to create something completely believable for our possible future. In both, you're working hard to convince the reader that everything is REAL.

> When and where do you write?

I write whenever and wherever I can typically. I have a desk where I do most of my writing, with nothing much on it except my laptop, a notebook for notes, and a stack of CDs. I always write to music (although none of the music has lyrics; I can't write with someone singing actual words in the background). I usually turn the computer on, put in the earbuds, pop in a CD, and open up the file and write. This usually happens during the day, when most everyone else is at work, including my partner. However, I've also gotten up early to write before work (rarely), and stayed up late at night (more likely), when on a particular deadline. I've basically written enough that I don't need a particular schedule or a particular place in order for the words to flow.

> What's the best/worst thing about writing?

The best thing about writing is the complete submersion of myself into the world and the characters that live in that world. I want to make the world as real and believable as I can for the reader, and in order to do that I basically have to LIVE there, even though that isn't really possible. Once I put those earbuds in and turn on the music, I sink into the world and it just comes alive to me. The only thing that feels better is when I've finished the novel. I usually emerge from the story with a sense of euphoria that's impossible to describe.

The worst thing about writing is the middle of the book. That's usually when all of the serious doubt about whether the story is going to work, whether it's going to be good, etc, kicks in. It's often called the "muddle" by writers, because it seriously feels like you're muddling through, that the book sucks, that it's going nowhere, and so forth. It's depressing. Even when you know that you felt the same way during the LAST book, you convince yourself that this time it's different, that this time it's going to be a disaster, that you can't salvage anything from the crap that you're writing, etc. It's the exact opposite of the euphoria of finishing the book and knowing that it's good.

> What is something you didn't know about the publishing industry before you had your first book published?

I didn't know that in the publishing industry the author is the last to know. Seriously. The author (and the editor and publisher as well) pretty much are in the dark about how the book is being received. Sure there are reviews here and there, and you always hope for critical acclaim, but for the most part you don't hear from the majority of the people reading the books. It's like a silent void that you throw your book into and wait intently for an echo . . . and you get nothing. It's rare that the author hears from fans, so you don't know if they like it or hate it, or what. And you don't know how well it's selling. Not even a year after it's been out. You know if it's selling HUGE amounts, but if you're not on the bestseller list . . . then you just don't know. So I didn't realize to what extent the author is in the dark about the whole process once the book has left the publisher's warehouse.

> Do you have any advice for hopeful authors?

I'll give hopeful authors out there the same advice that I got as a "hopeful author" from Kate Elliott: persistance and patience. Those are the two key elements for anyone trying to get published. You have to be patient, because nothing in the publishing industry happens fast, even when you've already been published multiple times. Things are slow, responses are slow. And when you do get a response, it's generally a rejection, which is where the persistence comes into play. More than likely, you'll get lots and lots of rejections before you get an editor to say yes and buy your book. It's depressing when those rejections come in, but you just have to persist and send that novel out again, to the next person on the list. Eventually, someone will say yes. If not to the current book, then to the one you write next. I wrote four complete novels before I got someone to say yes.

> Any tips against writers block?

My only suggestion against writer's block is to write. It sounds stupid, but I think the key is that you have to realize that every writer, no matter how accomplished, no matter how many books they've written, writes crap on occasion. So you have to allow yourself to write crap. When writer's block hits, you have to force yourself to sit down at the computer or paper or typewriter and just write. And don't worry that it all might be horrible, horrible garbage, just plow through it. What I've found in the past with my own writing is that often when I go back and reread all that crap I've allowed (or forced) myself to write, there are usually a few really good ideas hidden inside of it. And those ideas are what you're searching for, and what will get you through that block.

> How many rejection letters did you get for your first novel or story?

Ugh, I can't even count them all. I used to have an entire folder of them. A rather thick folder. But during a move I decided I didn't need to keep them anymore and so trashed them. But I can safely say that it was over 50 rejections, for various short stories, but mostly for the novels. Remember I went through three other novels before someone finally said yes to the fourth. Getting rejections from both editors and agents for each of those books . . . the rejections pile up. So if you've already got a nice stack of rejections in your own little folder, don't fret. Almost every writer out there could plaster their entire house with their rejections.

Saturday 1 December 2007

Sci-Fi Fan Letter Issue 16

December 2007

Sniper Elite: Spear of Destiny
By: Jaspre Bark

Berlin, 1945. Germany has all but lost the war. However, they have managed to build the A-bomb before any other superpower. Lacking the resources to launch it, SS General Helmstadt has decided to sell the plans and the weapon to the Russians. Only Karl Fairburne, a very gifted sniper working for the American secret service, can stop the renegade Nazi from handing over the secrets to the Russians and prevent them from winning the Cold War before it has even started.

Filled with espionage, and a great deal of action, this book is a definite page turner that will keep you reading from the beginning straight through to the end. This is not your typical “what if the Nazis won” alternate history book but instead it is more like “what if the Soviets beat the Americans to getting the bomb?”

- DG-88

I Am Legend
By: Richard Matheson

"How long can one man survive in a world of vampires?"

Richard Matheson drops us down in a world where the only living human left, Robert Neville, is forced to defend himself against mobs of vampires and his own despair. Neville struggles to find a way to survive, and perhaps cure the plague that has destroyed mankind. Outside his door, other humans, infected but not turned, search for a way to recreate society in a new mold. The two cannot exist together. This simple tale of survival and desperation is fraught with tension. It asks us what humanity is; and forces us to look at how we define society and our place within it. Better than your usual vamp-lit, I Am Legend is both a great tale of horror and a perfect morality tale.


Fitzpatrick's War
Theodore Judson

Judson presents us with the memoirs of a 25th century Knight, Robert Bruce. He lived and wrote during a crucial period in the history of the Yukon Confederacy, the sole superpower in a world that, since the Storm Times, has had to live without electronics of any kind. To aid our understanding and guard us from Bruce's perceived spite and error, Doctor Van Buren, a prominent 26th century scholar has edited and footnoted this edition thus giving us the official history to contrast with the soldier's version.

A long but fascinating read with a unique use of double narrative.

-Leeman (Yonge and Eglinton)

The Traveler
By: John Twelve Hawks

Unlike other futuristic depictions of life in a world where freedoms are curtailed (1984, We), The Traveler does not take place 50+ years in the future. It takes place now.

The technology described is currently available, the security measures that track humanity have been implemented. The book which can alternately be classified as a suspense (for the secret societies involved), a fantasy (for the shamanistic power of the Travelers), or science fiction (for the genetically engineered animals and the quantum computer) seems to morph into a horror story of what the world is becoming.

The author’s willingness to kill off characters keeps you on edge through all the action sequences. These scenes alternate with quieter segments where philosophical questions about power, privacy and personal choices are asked, if not answered.

It’s well worth the read.

-Jessica Strider

Check out the website for themed reading lists and, starting this month, author interviews.

Coming in January: Hardcover:
Ruby Dice - Catherine Asaro
Tracing the Shadow - Sarah Ash
Pebble in the Sky - Isaac Asimov
Ring of Fire - Eric Flint
Thundered - Felix Gilman
Finger Pointing Solward - Donald Kingsbury
Inside Straight - George Martin, Ed.
Dragon Magic - Andre Norton
Vacant Throne - Joshua Palmatier
Dragons of Babel - Michael Swanwick

Trade Paperback:
Gods & Pawns - Kage Baker
Breath & Bone - Carol Berg
Earthbound & Other Stories - Eric Flint, Ed.
Shadow Bridge - Gregory Frost
Black Magic Woman - Justin Gustainis
Dark Wars: The Tale of Meiji Dracula - Hideyuki Kikuchi
Firebird - Mercedes Lackey
Resolution - John Meaney
Keepers of the Flame - Robin Owens
Roman Dusk - Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

Mass Market:
War Hammer: Ravenor Rogue - Dan Abnett
Brass Man - Neal Asher
Dust - Elizabeth Bear
Flesh & Spirit - Carol Berg
Deliverer - C.J. Cherryh
Weavers of War - David Coe
Lord of the Silent Kingdom - Glen Cook
Star Trek: A Burning House - Keith R.A. DeCandido
Borderkind - Christopher Golden
Fellowship Fantastic - Martin Greenberg, Ed.
The Future We Wish We Had - Martin Greenberg, Ed.
Wolf is Night - Tara Harper
Rebel Fay - Barb & J.C. Hendee
Wolf’s Blood - Jane Lindskold
Khai of Khem - Brian Lumley
Command Decision - Elizabeth Moon
Oath of Fealty - Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
Moonsinger - Andre Norton
Return to Quag Keep - Andre Norton
East of the Sun, West of the Moon - John Ringo
Idlewild - Nick Sagan
Kitty & the Silver Bullet - Carrie Vaughn
Off Armageddon Reef - David Weber
Canyon of Bones - Richard Wheeler
War Hammer: Masters of Magic - Chris Wraight
Dragon & Soldier - Timothy Zahn