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Disco Space Opera Playlist!

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devil's gun by cat rambo

Cat Rambo’s Disco Space Opera series kicked off with 2021’s You Sexy Thing, a novel we’d pitch as Farscape meets The Great British Bake Off. It’s got grizzled old soldiers and other vagrants who have grown tired of the campaigns and tumult of central space opera life, and have elected to open a restaurant at the edge of the known universe where they can eke out a more fulfilling existence. This distance from chaos is, of course, an illusion—albeit a comforting one. There’s no accounting for the propensity of sentient spaceships and sadistic pirate kings to just show up!

Anywho, that was the first book, and now we’re talking Devil’s Gun, the continuation of their adventure. We’re also talking the far future, and disco jams. Cat Rambo has shared with us their grand Disco Space Opera playlist.

Check it out!


video soruce


by Cat Rambo

“You Sexy Thing” by Hot Chocolate

Why did I decide to name the ship what I did? I’m not sure, but early on in the writing the password exchange between Arpat Takraven and Niko appeared, and it led to the ship’s name. Like a lot of the songs on this list, it’s a big earworm and I’ve always loved it. Written by Errol Brown and Tony Wilson, this song was released in 1975 and became the group’s most popular single, and was the only song to achieve Top Ten status in the United Kingdom in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s.

“Devil’s Gun” by C.J. and Company

In naming the second book, I wanted something that conveyed the nature of the dangerous artifact the crew is seeking in the book. When I listened to the song, it was the perfect mood. The song, written by Barry Green, Ron Roker, and Gerry Shury, was the first song played at Broadway’s Studio 54.

“Rumor Has It” by Donna Summer

In the third book, which has been handed over to the publisher, the power of gossip and rumor becomes important as several aspects of Niko’s past come to confront her. You can’t invoke disco without invoking Donna Summer, in my opinion, and this was my choice to represent her. The song was written by Summer with co-writers Pete Bellotte and Giorgbio Moroder and released in 1978.

I have more adventures of Niko and her crew planned out – seven volumes worth, in fact. The main thread is a particular romantic plotline and by book ten, I’m hoping readers will be on the edge of their seats waiting to find out how it’s resolved. Without saying much more than that and not presenting any spoilers, I hope, here’s the names of the other seven books.

“We Are Family” by Sister Sledge

Dabry’s family history is revealed as the crew is forced to rescue his daughter – against her will. This song has always been one of my favorites, and for a book dealing with family issues, this seemed like a perfect pick. The song came out in 1979 and was written by Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers.

“Heart of Glass” by Blondie

What happens when You Sexy Thing turns its attention to the most mystifying emotion of all: love? Another favorite song, this matches what I want to explore in this particular volume. Written by Deborah Harry and Chris Stein, the song appeared on the band’s third album in 1978 and was released as a single the following year.

“Shadow Dancing” by Andy Gibb

Skidoo must return to her home planet. But will both she and her planet survive the visit? I felt this song reflected the complicated personal dynamics of her homecoming. Written by Andy, Barry, Maurice, and Robin Gibb, the song appeared in 1978 and was that year’s Billboard Magazine top single.

“Take Me Home” by Cher

Petalia may have found a way to revive the almost-extinct Florian bloodline – but is Niko willing to pay the price that’s asked of them all? This song, written by Michele Aller and Bob Esty, appeared in 1979.

“You Can’t Lose What You Never Had” by Fantasy

Rebbe strikes off on his own, but You Sexy Thing and its crew must find him before he destroys a world. This song appeared in 1981 and was written by Tony Valor.

“Ain’t No Stopping Us Now” by McFadden and Whitehead

The crew thinks they’ve finally caught a break, until finally the mystery of Atlanta’s past resurfaces and is on a direct collision course with her current role. The song was written by McFadden and Whitehead along with Jerry Cohen and appeared in 1979.

“Never Can Say Goodbye” by Gloria Gaynor

All good things come to an end, but I hope to end the series in a way that will keep the crew in people’s hearts. When the crew finds out what Arpat Takraven truly wants of them, they’ve got a very hard choice to make. Written by Clifton Davs, the song appeared in 1979.


Cat Rambo (they/them) is an American fantasy and science fiction writer whose work has appeared in, among others, Asimov’s, Weird Tales, Chiaroscuro, Talebones, and Strange Horizons. A graduate of the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars, where they studied with John Barth and Steve Dixon, they also attended the Clarion West Writers’ Workshop. They are currently the managing editor of Fantasy Magazine. They published a collection of stories, Eyes Like Sky And Coal And Moonlight, and their collaboration with Jeff VanderMeer, The Surgeon’s Tale and Other Stories, appeared in 2007. They live and write in Washington State, and “Cat Rambo” is their real name. 


Order Devil’s Gun Here!

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Programmable Reality and Our Mediated Future

Exadelic by Jon EvansJon Evans thinks a lot about the future and has oodles of experience writing exciting novels full of action and suspense. In his new techno-thriller, Exadelic, Evans blends these two facets into a thoroughly exhilarating portrait of a future where artificial intelligence discovers occult magic and reality is revealed as something frighteningly malleable. Today, Jon is here to talk us through aspects of his ideation for Exadelic.

Check it out!


In 2021 I finished my novel Exadelic, then set it aside to cool for a few months, as is my way. Upon rereading it, I did not think: ‘Aha, fame and fortune, mine at last!‘ Instead I thought: My God, what have I done?’ It’s an unusual book. Reviewers and early readers call it “really weird” and ”mind-bending” and “absolutely wild” — and those are the raves. But here’s the thing. While the book has not changed … it’s suddenly a lot less weird than it was two years ago.

Exadelic begins in the present day, with a massive AI breakthrough with potentially drastic consequences. Back then, the notion that something vaguely similar might actually happen in our semi-foreseeable future was a laughable idea relegated to Twitter’s wackier fringes. Today the discourse is very different. I give you four recent headlines:

The Financial TimesThe EconomistThe New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal, respectively. Not exactly a list of publications known for starry-eyed science-fiction extrapolation, and/or wild-eyed prophecies of doom! …But here we are.

Exadelic supposes our knee-jerk fears of AI doom are quickly superseded — because the breakthrough AI, when trained on ancient texts of occult magic, discovers that fundamental substrate of our universe is actually an interlocking swarm of cellular automata, more like software than hardware. (A notion not original to me; Stephen Wolfram has long suggested our universe is fundamentally “a vast array of interacting computational elements.”) As such, apparent violations of the laws of physics, sometimes a.k.a. ‘magic,’ are merely side effects of bugs in that substrate. But if the universe is more like software than hardware, it may have some sort of programmer … which, we soon learn, apparently looks with extreme prejudice on any discovery of its secrets.

Is the notion that our entire universe is ultimately made of software, which is full of bugs, which can be hacked and wielded as magic—and therefore a universe in which reality itself is programmable—kinda bonkers? Well, yes. But does a bonkers universe-as-software story work surprisingly well as a metaphor for our uncertain-but-guaranteed-super-weird future in which our perceived realities will be constantly mediated by multiple tiers of software? Reader, I believe it does.

My original elevator pitch for Exadelic was “Imagine Olaf Stapledon wrote a hell-for-leather action thriller.” (Most of my previous books were thrillers.) That’s a deep cut; few people now read Stapledon, who wrote not so much ‘novels’ as ‘philosophical histories of humanity and the universe.’ But SF has always been the home for big ideas, and such ideas—maybe even especially when crazy—can light up our collective space of possibilities in unexpected ways. My hope is that Exadelic may in some small way add to our ongoing conversation about big crazy ideas.

Jon Evans is an author, journalist, travel writer, and software engineer. His journalism has appeared in The Guardian, Wired, Quartz, The Globe & Mail, The Walrus, and (weekly, for a decade) TechCrunch. He has traveled to more than 100 countries and reported from Iraq, Haiti, Colombia, and the Congo. He the CTO of HappyFunCorp, was the initial technical architect of Bookshop.org, and is the founding director of the GitHub Archive Program, preserving the world’s open-source software in a permafrost vault beneath an Arctic mountain for 1,000 years. Exadelic is his first novel in over a decade.

Order Exadelic Here:

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Map-i-matical Considerations from R.R. Virdi

Is it really a Big Epic Fantasy Book if there’s no map to be seen? R.R. Virdi, author of The First Binding—Now available in paperback!—says NO WAY! Check out his thoughts on maps in fantasy books, PLUS an exclusive first look at the map you’ll find inside of The First Binding, right here.


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By R.R. Virdi

Fantasy reader, or writer, you’ve probably formed an opinion on maps in novels at one point or another. You expect them as normal, especially if you’re a reader from the 90’s. You’ve opened up the Wheel of Time books and have the image of Two Rivers burned into your mind. Maybe you’ve memorized all of Randland. Maybe you’re a collector who has a book full of folding maps of Westeros and all the other lands in A Song of Fire and Ice.

I know I do.

You can’t have an epic traveling fantasy (especially a Silk Road inspired one) without a map that lives up to all of that. The lands, the fantastical, and of course, the epic part. We lovers of fantasy want to see mountain ranges and vasty plains inhabited by strange and wonderful things. We want the sense of wonder that comes with seeing rolling seas in storms and maybe monsters in their depths. I always have, and growing up as a child of two worlds (South Asian heritage, and American birth), I’ve been fascinated by travel and the layout of the world.

Of worlds. Real or otherwise.

So of course I leapt at the chance to have my own map represented and brought to life by the amazing Priscilla Spencer (who’s done work for the talented line up: Seanan Mcguire, Jim Butcher, and more). It’s a childhood dream, and more than that, this is a traveling fantasy series. One full of secrets, including some hidden in places you might not think to look. Or, maybe you would.

Like a map.

Priscilla and I got to talking over the crudely shaped map I’d first made to roughly place the lands I needed where they would be. We dove into the geography, cultures, and trade routes I’d established for my Golden Road, and then slowly, it all began to come to life. Her attention to detail and understanding just how many layers and secrets exist in this series and world shone through in the development.

People who’ve already read the ARCs might find pleasant little secrets hidden within this map, if they have the eye and patience to give it that look. But some of the things I can share?

Priscilla dove into the history of existing maps/records from travelers along the Silk Road of old. Design styles, and storytelling techniques used in maps (and yes, maps are stories of a sort as well. The stories of where we’ve been, would like to go, and what we imagine a place to be).  They all bled into the final creation. Every detail in this map speaks to something – nothing is fruitless or wasteful design.

This is a map that shows the roads all manner of people travel, and along those roads, heroes, monsters, and the ones between. Stories, legends, lies, and truths. And sometimes they are all one and the same.

Her creation lives up to all the depth this world and story offers, and all the size and scope of the plot, and Ari’s travels, as well as his legends.

Or lies.

She gave the Mutri Empire the nod to India I wanted, and made it the heart of my world, as well as the map. There are images and nods to things all hidden throughout the first book, and all the ones to come. Something that will make this map rewarding to look at as you continue to read and hopefully, if you so choose, decide to reference this throughout your travels along the Golden Road.

Remember.

A map isn’t just a map. It’s a key, a guide, and a story.

And all of those are secrets, show the way to secrets, and in fact, open secrets.

R.R. Virdi is a two-time Dragon Award finalist and a Nebula Award finalist. He is the author of two urban fantasy series, The Grave Report, and The Books of Winter. He was born and raised in Northern Virginia and is a first generation Indian-American with all the baggage that comes with. Should the writing gig not work out, he aims to follow his backup plan and become a dancing shark for a Katy Perry music video. 

Order The First Binding in Paperback Here:

The First Binding by R. R. Virdi

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Immerse Yourself in an Electric Space-Fantasy with The Genesis of Misery Playlist!

The Genesis of Misery by Neon YangAre you ready to dive into the electrifying space-fantasy that’s now available in paperback, The Genesis of Misery? Author Neon Yang is ready to help you find the vibe with their exhilarating playlist, featuring bops from Arcade Fire, Billie Eilish, and more!


It’s an old, familiar story: a young person hears the voice of an angel saying they have been chosen as a warrior to lead their people to victory in a holy war.

But Misery Nomaki (she/they) knows they are a fraud.

Raised on a remote moon colony, they don’t believe in any kind of god. Their angel is a delusion, brought on by hereditary space exposure. Yet their survival banks on mastering the holy mech they are supposedly destined for, and convincing the Emperor of the Faithful that they are the real deal.

The deeper they get into their charade, however, the more they start to doubt their convictions. What if this, all of it, is real?

A reimagining of Joan of Arc’s story given a space opera, giant robot twist, the Nullvoid Chronicles is a story about the nature of truth, the power of belief, and the interplay of both in the stories we tell ourselves.

video player

Buy The Genesis of Misery in Paperback Here:

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Big Magic and The Argument I had with my Main Character by Carol Dunbar

A Winter's RimeA harrowing and emotional novel set in rural Wisconsin—A Winter’s Rime explores the impact of generational trauma, and one woman’s journey to find peace and healing from the violence of her past.

Mallory Moe is a twenty-five-year-old veteran Army mechanic, living with her girlfriend, Andrea, and working overnights at a gas station store while figuring out what’s next. Andrea’s off-grid cabin provides a perfect sanctuary for Mallory, a synesthete with a hypersensitivity to sound that can trigger flashbacks from her childhood.

The getaway that’s largely abandoned during the off season starts out idyllic, until Andrea’s once-loving behavior turns controlling and abusive, and Mallory once again finds herself not wanting to go home. After a particularly disturbing altercation, Mallory escapes into the subzero night and stumbles into Shay, a teenage girl, injured and asking for help. But it isn’t long before she realizes that Shay isn’t the only one who needs saving.

A story about sisterhood and second chances, A Winter’s Rime looks to nature to find what it can teach us about bearing hardship and expanding our capacity to forgive—not just others, but ourselves.

Carol Dunbar is the author of the critically acclaimed novels, The Net Beneath Us—winner of the Wisconsin Writers: Edna Ferber Fiction Book Award, and A Winter’s Rime. Read below to see the inspiration behind her upcoming book, finding the voice of her main character, and how she discovered the best way to tell her story!


By Carol Dunbar:

The idea for my second novel dropped into my head whole and perfect like an egg; at its center glowed the yolk of my personal experience with trauma and what I was still trying to understand.

Most of that first draft I wrote by hand in journals: the process felt intimate, confessional, and propulsive. My main character Mallory came through very strong for me. She was ready to tell her story; as a writer, I felt ready to receive it. It was a magical partnership.

Then, we got into an argument about the right way to tell her story.

In her book about the creative process, Big Magic, author Elizabeth Gilbert writes about how ideas swirl around us begging for attention until we agree to take them on and make them manifest. I totally truck with that. I was 30,000 words into an entirely different novel when this story took hold. I knew I had to write it, and I knew I had to write it now.

The plot centers around Mallory Moe, an army veteran returning home after serving overseas, who is going through a quarter-life crisis. She can’t sleep, she’s in a bad relationship, and she hasn’t talked to anyone in her family in four years. To avoid being home she goes on long walks after working overnight shifts at a gas station store. One night, she runs into Shay, a teenage girl who is injured and asking for help. Shay is in even worse shape than Mallory, and in trying to help her, Mallory is finally motivated to confront the violence of her past.

For guidance on how to tell this story, I looked to Elizabeth Strout’s My Name is Lucy Barton. I thought her fiction-as-memoir style would work well for Mallory’s story of healing, and I studied the opening chapters of Lucy Barton, breaking them down beat by beat. I typed out the entire first draft of A Winter’s Rime in first person, using Mallory’s voice. I printed out that draft and put it away for six weeks.

When I went back and read, it didn’t work.

First person was the wrong voice for the story because it was Mallory who was undergoing the transformation. She didn’t yet have the self-awareness for those moments of self-discovery. I needed third person for its distance and ability to navigate and weave the past and present narratives.

My next draft I wrote in third person, and everyone in my writing group was like, “Woah, what did you do? This is so much better.” It worked, but I kept getting these strong nudges from Mallory. Sometimes when writing I would slip into first person, and this was very confusing to me. I thought I had the voice wrong, so I hit the pause button and started experimenting again.

I tested out second-person, using the epistolary style that Ocean Vuong so artfully employed in On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. It has this propulsive quality to it—he’s absolutely driven to understand what happened to him and his mother; Mallory is absolutely trying to understand what happened to her. For several weeks I played around with writing the book as a letter from Mallory to Shay, but that also resulted in another failure.

I went to a three-day workshop taught by Diane Wilson, author of The Seed Keeper. I told her about my struggle with how to tell this story, and she suggested I try using a rotating first-person voice. I had used a rotating third-person voice in my first novel, The Net Beneath Us, and I loved being able to view the same event through the eyes of multiple characters. The next morning, I eagerly dove into the exercise that Wilson had taught us.

Using the full name of another main character in my novel, I closed my eyes and said the words, “Noah Quakenbush, tell me your story.” Then I listened, ready to write. And it was really funny because he would not talk to me. I heard nothing but birds chirping from outside. Everybody clammed up, none of my characters would talk, and I got the sense that they were afraid to talk. This was Mallory’s story, and they knew it.

Okay, fine, I thought. I can get on board with that, but as the writer, I needed to find a voice structure that worked for the book.

In No Country for Old Men, Cormac McCarthy used both first and third-person voices. I studied that, then did an entirely new treatment of the novel, using the third-person voice for the main driving action of the story, with italicized first-person passages where the healed Mallory got to talk, sharing her insights. When my agent read it, she didn’t like those italicized passages. None of my readers did—they got in the way of the plot’s momentum, and messy Mallory was way more interesting.

It felt to me like I was in a wrestling match with my main character and I didn’t know how to make both of us happy.

At an author event with Elizabeth Strout, I asked her how she knew that first-person was the right voice for her Lucy Barton novels. She told me, “Voice is the golden thread that I follow when writing. I trust it implicitly.” Those words gave me the balls to press on and trust my crazy process.

What I found was the monologue. Instead of recounting what happened to Mallory as a backstory scene, I used first-person monologues in present-action scenes, where Mallory is finally able to tell her story for the first time. She can only do this once she meets Shay, and that makes their scenes so much more powerful. It was very moving to me, to hear a survivor talk after years of not being able to talk.

Finally, Mallory and I were in agreement.

I’m really glad I trusted my instincts and kept searching for the right way to tell this story. I do believe there is something to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, that as writers we are “neither slave to inspiration nor its masters, but something far more interesting—its partner.”


Click below to pre-order A Winter’s Rimeavailable 9.12.23!

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Is a Bat a Dragon? We Asked James Rollins

The Cradle of Ice by James RollinsBy now, Tor is at the forefront of research into what exactly constitutes “dragon.” We’ve entertained many queries throughout the years, determining if the umbrella of dragon extends to hippos, snakes, and Godzilla. Now, we turn to the expertise of James Rollins to advise on the dragonic status of bats. If you’ve read The Starless Crown and its sequel The Cradle of Ice, you probably know the answer.

Check it out!


by James Rollins      

My love for the natural world and all its myriad creatures was one of my main drives for pursuing a career in veterinary medicine. Even today as a full-time writer, I’ve not fully stepped away from that profession. As I’ve stated many times during book talks—yes, I can still neuter a cat in under thirty seconds.

Still, my greatest fascination about Nature is how it adheres to a dictate stated so succinctly in Jurassic Park:  Life will find a way.  I’ve always been captivated by the manner in which animals and plants discover innovative survival strategies to fill different environmental niches and how that fight has resulted in all the marvels (and horrors) found in the natural world.

While growing up, I found a new way of exploring this subject matter:  in science fiction and fantasy novels set on different worlds. I found myself especially drawn to material that explored life’s resilience across fantastic worlds. Whether it was the sandworms of Herbert’s Dune, the engineered landscape of Niven’s Ringworld, the many species of Card’s Ender’s Game, or a universe of other writers tackling how life finds a way.

Even when it came to those novels that featured dragons, I found myself most interested in the biology and the circumstance of their origins. How did the telepathy and bonding in Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books come about? What steps were taken to harness the physicality of dragons to become warriors in Novik’s Temeraire series? In Martin’s books, could dragon eggs truly be encysted for ages and require fire to bring them back to life? If so, how and why?

When it came to crafting my own fantastic world in the Moonfall Saga, I took a similar scientific eye to its construction. The series takes place on a tidally locked planet, a world that circles its sun with one side forever facing the sun, the other locked in eternal darkness. The only truly livable clime is the band between those extremes of ice and fire. Across such a harsh and unforgiving landscape, I wanted to build a biosphere of flora and fauna that made evolutionary sense. How would species survive the extreme cold and lack of sunlight? Could life find a way in the sunblasted hemisphere?

And what about dragons?

In the novel, one of the apex predators is a species of massive bat, with a wingspan of ten meters or more. We first see them in Book One (The Starless Crown). They inhabit the vast swamplands of Mýr—found in that more temperate climate of the world. They are nocturnal, haunting a drowned forest and roosting in a volcanic mountain. I wanted those bats to make biological sense, to have them fit that environmental niche in a natural way. Being arboreal, they would likely have evolved prehensile tails. As nocturnal creatures, they would need bell-shaped ears and still use ultrasonics to navigate. And without giving away any of the surprises in the books, there is a significant aspect to their biology that will allow them to bond to certain people.

In the books, I also wanted to add a level of verisimilitude to the bestiary by adding naturalistic sketches, drawings that you might find in a turn-of-the-century research journal.

Here is the Mýr bat:

sketch of a winged giant bats

Keep in mind, life will find a way, so this species is not limited to those swamplands. A subspecies evolved in the dark, frozen half of the world. It adapted to fit that harsh niche, becoming smaller and stockier, with shaggy fur, and nasal flaps that could seal to conserve body heat. Likewise, in this treeless landscape, that prehensile tail would no longer be needed. They make an appearance in the second book in the series, The Cradle of Ice.

Here is their sketch:

sketch of a winged giant batt

But what about the title of this blog post: Is a bat a dragon?

In the third volume in the series (A Dragon of Black Glass), which will be coming out in 2024, this species has also adapted to the sunblasted half of the world. To survive, they would need to burrow to survive, growing larger claws for digging, and bodies that would be hairless and elongated, with fanned tails for aerial maneuvering when out of their burrows. They would become known as “sanddragons.”

Here is a sneak peek at their preliminary incarnation (with the final version still to come):

preliminary sketch  massive crawling bat

I must note that all of these drawings were beautifully executed by graphic artist, Danea Fidler—as were all the other creature sketches featured in the books. I look forward to sharing the final versions of these “dragons” in 2024 when A Dragon of Black Glass hits bookshelves.

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5 Dragons Daniel M. Ford’s Adept Wizard Could Beat in a Fight

The Warden by Daniel M. FordDragonslayers have been around almost as long as dragons, but what makes a dragonslayer? Truthfully, a dragonslayer can be anyone. Your nephew, that street performer, your mail carrier… But what about a young necromancer, fresh out of school and with a chip on her shoulder? Yes. 

For more on that, we bring you Daniel M. Ford to discuss the dragonslaying capabilities of Aelis de Lenti, the main character of his fantasy novel The Warden.


Aelis de Lenti, the main character of my book The Warden, is, well, a warden, which is to say a wizard with a specific mandate to protect an area or group of people, as a kind of marshal/investigator/magistrate. And as my readers will know, her magic is not generally of the explosive, openly powerful, full-of-offensive-potential kind. So if Aelis was to go hunting dragons, she’d have to be very careful, select her targets well, prepare, and look for weaknesses other people might not see. Thankfully for her, Aelis is, while not a world class planner, really good at making it up as she goes along, and she has a couple friends—Tun, the half-orc woodsman, and Maurenia, the half-elven adventuress—that can generally be convinced to help her out.

Fáfnir

Reaching way back into the origins of European dragons here, I think it’s reasonable to say that Aelis could come up with the idea of digging a hole and waiting for the wyrm to slither over it so she can stab it in the belly. There’s also the fact that eating the heart of this particular dragon is said to bring knowledge, which combines two things Aelis can’t get enough of; fancy cuisine and knowing things other people don’t.

The Sleeping Dragon from The Sleeping Dragon by Joel Rosenberg

Right away, the Sleeping part is a giveaway for exactly how Aelis will approach this fight.

Quietly.

But there’s more to it. In Rosneberg’s Guardians of the Flame series[1], dragons have a pretty well known and debilitating weakness. There is an herb known as dragonbane—a little on the nose—that is commonly found and widely known to interfere with a dragon’s magical metabolism. This generally keeps dragons of this world from messing with humans too openly. Once Aelis gets her hands on some of this herb, a few hours in a decently stocked alchemical lab—even the not very well stocked lab in her tower would probably do—and she can definitely refine it into something extra lethal. Then it’s just a matter of getting close enough, quietly enough, with some crossbow bolts or arrows to get the job done.

Or, more likely, convincing Tun and/or Maurenia to get close enough to get the job done. After all, an Abjurer’s job in a fight isn’t necessarily to deliver the killing blow so much as it is to cover those who are better prepared or equipped to do so. At least, that’s what she’d tell her friends while she talked them into it. Can her wards stand up to dragon breath? Of course they can! Probably. But we won’t even need to find out, right?

Verimthrax Pejorative, from Dragonslayer

A classic fantasy film dragon that proves very dangerous to even an experienced wizard, as seen in the film, Vermithrax Pejorative is tough to take via a conventional approach to dragon-slaying.

Aelis de Lenti is anything but conventional.

In the film, Ulrich the wizard is able to discern that Vermithrax is affected by a disease that bothers all dragons as they age, a scale-rot that causes constant pain. Aelis could certainly diagnose this, and after coaxing the dragon to get close by staking out the goat[2]to provide a free meal, and then offering to treat her scale-rot. Once she does start treating that disease, her Necromantic abilities will teach her all about draconic anatomy and weaknesses, giving her something she can surely exploit. Maybe Vermithrax dies quietly in her sleep, maybe her firebreath is suddenly disabled, maybe the next time she flies she finds that the muscles of her wings have mysteriously atrophied and she crashes into a hill. There is no equivalent of the Hippocratic Oath in Aelis’s world.

A Dracolich, any Dracolich

Sure, sure, Dracoliches like Daurgothoth the Creeping Doom are a menace to fantasy worlds. When you marry the magical power and resistances of a lich with the thousands of years of experience, intelligence, and magical abilities of a dragon, you get something fearsome.

And not one of them has ever dealt with something like a Lyceum trained Necrobane. Aelis is at her best and most powerful when fighting the undead. Once she’s got some practical experience against living dragons and is able to put that together with her Necromantic power, she can surely find a way to take down a dracolich.

Rand al’Thor, The Dragon Reborn[3]

Yes, I hear you. Rand is catastrophically powerful. If he’s got any of his angreal or sa’angreal around, like Callandor, he can probably destroy the world, or close enough as makes no difference. Aelis can’t match him with magic. She probably can’t match him blade to blade, either, as Rand is a confirmed blademaster and she is competent. Her friends wold surely know better than to even try. So why do I think Aelis could take him?

Quite simply, (at least in the early books) Rand is terrified of women, especially one that acts even a little bit interested in him. And later books Rand flat out refuses to fight a woman. Is this cheating? Fine! Aelis isn’t above cheating to achieve a goal! She can easily take Rand al’Thor[4]based on these two data points alone.

So, there you have it; the Top 5 Dragons Aelis de Lenti can take in a fight. It requires a little unorthodox thinking, because Aelis doesn’t flash the kind of power you might expect from a fantasy wizard. But she excels at getting the most out of what she does have; her wards, her Necromancy, her friends, and her willingness to cheat[5].

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[1]    A portal fantasy where a group of college students get transported to the world they play a fantasy RPG in and decide to Do the Industrial Revolution in order to end slavery. It shows its age in spots (it began in 1983) but it’s worth a read.

[2]    If you’ve read The Warden you know exactly which goat I mean

[3]    I do not suggest that Aelis could handle the armies surrounding Rand, the Far Dareis Mai who guard him, or Elayne, Aviendha, and Min. Just Rand.

[4]    Provided we ignore all the stuff about his world-shattering power and the massive armies, incredible resources, and similarly powerful people who’d be invested in his victory.

[5]    Please understand that I have great respect, even love, for all the dragons mentioned here.

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How to Worship Your Dragon: Julia Vee & Ken Bebelle Advise

Ebony Gate by Julia Vee & Ken BebelleJulia Vee & Ken Bebelle wrote a book that’s like female John Wick with dragon magic and it’s called Ebony Gate and guess what! It’s out TODAY. We actually have Julia & Ken with us as special guests for Dragon Week, so check out their scholarly article on rituals of dragon worship, and then check out their high octane urban fantasy full of magic and assassins!

Check it out!


A Brief Description of Rituals to Worship Chinese Dragons by Julia Vee & Ken Bebelle

 Make Your Annual Pilgrimage to a Local Dragon King and Dragon Mother Temple For Blessings

Dragon King and Dragon Mother temples dot the Asian countryside. If you are in the northern reaches of China, get yourself to the Heilongdawang Temple (literally “Black Dragon Great King”) located in Longwanggou (“Dragon King Valley”) in Shaanxi province where you can njoy six days of festivities.

Modern Chinese scholars note that folkloric traditions and religions are having a revival.1 And why not? Festivities for the Great Black Dragon King include opera, dancers, circus performers, games, fireworks, and of course, gambling. This particular dragon king is more highly regarded than other local dragon kings because of his imperially conferred official title–the Marquis of Efficacious Response (Lingyinghou, 灵应侯).2

The Heilongdawang festival draws hundreds of thousands of pilgrims, all ready to donate generously to the temple coffers, burn incense, and otherwise eat copious quantities at the food stalls.

Or you can participate in a rain-summoning ceremony. In the drought-prone north, one ritual to summon rain included “casting tiger bones into a pool of water in order to scare dragons into flight, thereby creating rainclouds.”3

If you are in southern China, on the eighth day of the fifth month on the lunar calendar, you can join in with over a hundred thousand pilgrims to visit the Dragon Mother Temple in Guangdong. This temple sits along the Xijiang River and leans against Wulong (Five Dragons) Mountain. The area is known as the Pearl River Delta, and Dragon Mother devotees are spread widely across the West river and into Hong Kong and Macau. The Lung Mo temple on Pengchau island (Hong Kong) is situated on the beach.

The origins of the Dragon Mother reach back longer than the established official story, which goes something like this:

There was a young woman named Wen from Wuzhou. One day while washing clothes in the West River, she found a giant stone. From the stone sprung five lizards, who grew into dragons. She raised them tenderly and when her village had drought, the dragons brought rain. When the river threatened to flood, the dragons were there to divert the floodwaters. When she was quite elderly, the Emperor summoned her to the capital. Her dragon sons prevented the arduous journey (which was by river of course). When she passed away in 211 B.C. her dragon sons were devastated and transformed into five human scholars who held her funeral rites and buried her in Jiangwan.

Later, she was elevated in status to a deity, rising to the heavens as an immortal.

Pilgrims consider this eighth day of the fifth lunar month the Dragon Mother’s birthday and observe time-honored rituals. First, they wash their hands in the Dragon Spring to clean off the worldly dirt. The pilgrims then burn incense and present gifts at the temple. They bow, then kneel on the floor, and pray to the goddess. After this devotion, they light off firecrackers to respectfully invite the Dragon Mother to receive their gifts and fulfill their wishes.4

As one scholar notes, “It is not a coincidence that the pilgrimage to the Dragon Mother Temple falls on the eighth day of the fifth lunar month, as the fifth lunar month was the time when the danger of seasonal flooding of the West River (which is commonly known as “xiliao 西 潦,” literally “west flood”) was the most imminent. The West River therefore was both a lifeline and a constant threat to the local people, who felt a real need to appease the river as well as to express their gratitude to the river goddess on this annual festive occasion.”5

The Dragon Mother and other water goddess (“Shuimu”) traditions go back millennia and it’s not hard to see why. The specter of drought, famine, or flooding was constant. Seafaring populations too, had multiple goddesses they sought blessings from for their safe voyage (Dragon Mother, Sea Goddess Mazu, and the shuimu (“Water Goddess”).

In 1861, John Henry Gray observed a ceremony to the Dragon Mother:

“…On a small temporary altar, which had been erected for the occasion, stood three cups containing Chinese wine. Taking in his hands a live fowl, which he continued to hold until he killed it as a sacrifice, the master proceeded in the first place to perform the Kowtow. He then took the cups from the table, one at a time, and, raising each above his head, poured its contents on the deck as a libation. He next cut the throat of the fowl with a sharp knife, taking care to sprinkle that portion of the deck on which he was standing with the blood of the sacrifice. At this stage of the ceremony several pieces of silver paper were presented to him by one of the crew. These were sprinkled with the blood, and then fastened to the door-posts and lintels of the cabin.”6

It wasn’t just sailors and locals to the West river who observed such pilgrimages and prayer rituals. When there was a drought, even government officials were tasked with conducting prayers to the Dragon King.

 Failure to Worship the Dragon King, or Worse, Destruction of a Dragon King Temple, Can Lead to Heaven-Sent Disaster!

During the Great Flood of 1931 in Wuhan, one official lamented that the people blamed the flood on the destruction of a Dragon King Temple.7 The Dragon King Temple in Hankou had been demolished in 1930 to make way for a new road, so the timing of the flood was uncanny.

This flood affected 53 million people. The officials of Wuhan had to repent. Several prominent officials of Wuhan participated in rituals designed to placate the Dragon King, including the mayor. They kowtowed to the Dragon King altar, beseeching the deity to spare Wuhan from the flood.

Citizens of the region also blamed officials for outlawing the singing of “spirit operas” traditionally performed to assuage flood dragons.8

To those who worshiped the Dragon King, destroying his temple that sat atop the dyke was clearly a bad idea.

Maybe a River Near You Has a Dragon Deity.

Even if a Dragon King or Dragon Mother temple isn’t available, you can still make a pilgrimage to the rivers. At least forty rivers in China are named for dragons including these rivers in Shanghai: Shanghai: Longquangang He 龍泉港河 (Dragon Spring Port River), Bailonggang He 白龍港河 (White Dragon Port River).9

Just be sure to be properly deferential, and perhaps offer a song to the river dragon.

Julia Vee & Ken Bebelle

We would like to thank Dr. Yasmin Koppen of University Leipzig for her friendship, and generously sharing her expertise and scholarship in East Asian dragons.

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  1. Chau, Adam Yuet “Mysterious Response: Doing Popular Religion in Contemporary China” (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006) 88.
  2. Fan Lizhu and Chen Na “Resurgence of Indigenous Religion in China” (2013) 11.
  3. Courtney, Chris “The Dragon King and the 1931 Wuhan Flood: Religious Rumors and Environmental Disasters in Republican China” (University of Cambridge, Twentieth-Century China 40.2, May 2015) p. 88.
  4. Tan, Weiyun “Dragon mother temple keeps legend alive for 2 millennia” Shine, Nov. 12, 2021 https://www.shine.cn/feature/art-culture/2111128066/
  5. Poon, Shuk-Wah. "Thriving Under an Anti-Superstition Regime: The Dragon Mother Cult in Yuecheng, Guangdong, During the 1930s." Journal of Chinese Religions 43, no. 1 (2015): 34-58. muse.jhu.edu/article/708611.
  6. Poon, pg 41.
  7. Courtney at p. 83.
  8. Courtney at p. 100.
  9. Zhao, Qiguang Chinese Mythology in the Context of Hydraulic Society Asian Folklore Studies Vol. 48, No. 2 (1989), pp. 231-246.
  10. cindyxiong. “Ancient Bronze Dragons Carving in the Ancient Dragon King Temple along Yangtze River,China. Foreign Text Means King. Stock Photo.” Adobe Stock, stock.adobe.com/images/ancient-bronze-dragons-carving-in-the-ancient-dragon-king-temple-along-yangtze-river-china-foreign-text-means-king/100861913?prev_url=detail. Accessed 6 July 2023.

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Inspiration and Mrs. Plansky’s Revenge by Spencer Quinn!

Mrs. Plansky's RevengeMrs. Plansky’s Revenge is bestselling author Spencer Quinn’s first novel in a new series since the meteoric launch of Chet and Bernie–introducing the irresistible and unforgettable Mrs. Plansky, in a story perfect for book clubs and commercial fiction readers.

Mrs. Loretta Plansky, a recent widow in her seventies, is settling into retirement in Florida while dealing with her 98-year-old father and fielding requests for money from her beloved children and grandchildren. Thankfully, her new hip hasn’t changed her killer tennis game one bit.

One night Mrs. Plansky is startled awake by a phone call from a voice claiming to be her grandson Will, who desperately needs ten thousand dollars to get out of a jam. Of course, Loretta obliges—after all, what are grandmothers for, even grandmothers who still haven’t gotten a simple “thank you” for a gift sent weeks ago. Not that she’s counting.

By morning, Mrs. Plansky has lost everything. Law enforcement announces that Loretta’s life savings have vanished, and that it’s hopeless to find the scammers behind the heist. First humiliated, then furious, Loretta Plansky refuses to be just another victim.

In a courageous bid for justice, Mrs. Plansky follows her only clue on a whirlwind adventure to a small village in Romania to get her money and her dignity back—and perhaps find a new lease on life, too.

Read below to see where Spencer Quinn drew his inspiration from when writing Mrs. Plansky’s Revenge!


Inspiration and Mrs. Plansky’s Revenge

Uh-oh. Inspiration is the topic. I’m a little afraid to even go there, in case the gods of inspiration are disturbed by my presence and vote to blacklist me. But unlike with any of the other novels I’ve written, the idea for Mrs. Plansky’s Revenge (my 45th), came directly from a real life event, so maybe the gods will give me a pass.

Five or six years ago, my dad got a phone call. At the time he was in his early nineties. He died two weeks short of his 97th birthday and was in excellent mental shape and very good physical shape until the end. I want to emphasize that mental part. He was a very smart guy: quick, sharp, clear-headed. Back to the call.

Caller: Hey, Grandpa!

My dad: Jake?

Caller: Yeah, Grandpa, it’s me, Jake.

Cut To: My dad’s wife, noticing he’s putting on his jacket.

Wife: Ed? Where are you going?

My dad: To the bank. Jake’s in trouble and he needs some money.

At that point it was decided to call Jake (living in another city), and he had not called my dad and wasn’t in any trouble. “Jake” never got a penny. But I was amazed that someone like my dad could have been fooled.

And then I got back to writing the Chet and Bernie novel I was working on and thought no more about the two Jakes. Then one day on a bike ride the idea for Mrs. Plansky’s Revenge—indeed the whole set-up, including the Romanian part—came to me in one fell swoop. Shall I summarize that now, or go on and on about bike riding, which I do all year round even though I live on Cape Cod where winter temps can dip into the 20’s or even lower, and how I actually prefer the cold days because no one else is on the bike path, so it’s like I’m in one of those dystopian Last Of Us stories, except it’s a utopia? No, that would be boring, so instead the set-up of Mrs. P.

Mrs. Plansky is a seventy-one year old retiree. She and her husband Norm sold a successful small business they built from nothing and moved to Florida for their sunset years, but Norm soon died. Mrs. P has a 98-year-old father in a fancy assisted living she pays for, plus a grown daughter and son with big dreams but not enough money to realize them. Mrs. P is the kind who helps out. She also has two grandchildren, one of whom is Will, out in Colorado. Late one night Mrs. P gets a call from him—a Jake type call—and, following his precise instructions, she sends $9726.18. She can afford it. Her grandson is in trouble. Case closed.

But it wasn’t Will. And because Mrs. P uses the same password for everything, the scammers have cleaned out not just her checking account but her retirement accounts as well, everything. The FBI tells her the scammers are probably in Romania, but identifying them would be almost impossible and the chances of getting her money back are nil. Mrs. P is humiliated. How stupid she’s been! And even worse: she’s let Norm down. She goes to Romania to recover her self-respect, the trust of a dead husband, her money.

So: that all dropped into my mind on the bike path but at first I didn’t connect it to my dad! Then I started wondering why I’d chosen the name Plansky. Bingo! Tony Plansky was a legendary track coach at Williams College, where the Navy had sent my dad in WW2 as part of their program to get officers (my dad commanded a sub chaser hunting Nazi U-boats in the Atlantic). My dad had run cross country at Williams and he had some funny stories about Tony Plansky. And when I went to Williams in the 1960’s he was still there! Therefore Mrs. Plansky’s name was the bridge to where my story had come from, even if I was too blockheaded to put it together myself. Just one more reason to love what my grandmother always called “the writing game.”

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Above: Tony Plansky

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Above: Ed Abrahams


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Chasing the Nine Sons of the Dragon

Ebony Gate by Julia Vee & Ken BebelleEbony Gate is a high-octane urban fantasy full of assassins and dragon magic, and set in San Francisco’s Chinatown. To prepare themselves for this thrilling series-starter, authors Julia Vee & Ken Bebelle had to hit the books before they wrote one. Now they’re here to talk us through some of their dragonic research!

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by Julia Vee & Ken Bebelle

We went looking for a creature of fire, but what we found was a water god.

When we started writing Ebony Gate we knew we wanted to weave in dragons, but as children of diaspora we also wanted to incorporate the mythology of Asia, and the fantastic worlds that we learned of through our parents. In Chinese literature, Lóng is the closest analog to the Western dragon. Although it is visually similar to the Western dragon, Lóng occupies a different space in Asian myth and took our world-building in new directions.

Researching Chinese dragons presented a few challenges:

  • The sources were in Chinese and we couldn’t read them;
  • The sources were translated but super expensive university press books;
  • The sources were at a university library but it was lockdown; and
  • The sources were in the public domain and suffered from orientalism.

So we had to filter quite a bit and what struck us were all the differences between Western and Eastern dragons.

The dragons we grew up with (Dungeons and Dragons, et al) were predominantly fire-breathers, although tabletop gaming brought us ice, poison, and acid breathers as well. Lóng are almost exclusively water and weather gods, with the power to control both. Good and bad weather was often attributed to the moods of dragons.

The research we were able to access was filled with water imagery.

“Like the deities of other countries, the Chinese dragon-god (and the Japanese dragon) may appear in different shapes—as a youth or aged man, as a lovely girl or an old hag, as a rat, a snake, a fish, a tree, a weapon, or an implement. But no matter what its shape may be, the dragon is intimately connected with water. It is a “rain lord” and therefore the thunder-god who causes rain to fall.” 

In Western fiction, the dragon is either a terrifying antagonist (Smaug, Maleficent) or a beast companion (Dragonriders of Pern, How to Train Your Dragon). There is no such occurrence in Chinese culture, though. Chinese Dragons are gods and don’t casually interact with mortals. Instead of villains raining fire and swooping in to steal cattle, Chinese dragons were the symbol of the emperor. 

In ancient China, the power attributed to the dragon reads as both awesome and lyrical.

“The dragon dwells in pools, it rises to the clouds, it thunders and brings rain, it floods rivers, it is in the ocean, and controls the tides and causes the waters to ebb and flow as do its magic pearls … and it is a symbol of the emperor.” 

The Chinese Dragon is typically serpentine, with a long body, four small legs, and sometimes wings. The dragon’s face usually has long whiskers. Chinese dragons are also very specifically referenced by name. The Great Dragon Father has nine offspring who are referenced by name, even before the Ming dynasty. They are fantastical hybrids and they can be seen all over Chinese architecture today.

For Ebony Gate, we loved the imagery of Yázì, which is a wolf/dragon hybrid. Yázì is depicted on a fan that leads our protagonist, Emiko, to a mysterious auction for a lost artifact. Cháofēng is a dragon/phoenix hybrid that is used on rooflines as a protective talisman and adorns the cornices of Emiko’s house as part of her magical security system.

We took all these differences between Western and Eastern dragons and used them as a framework for the worldbuilding of Ebony Gate. One similarity that we found and kept was their trait of hoarding treasure. Instead of distant deities or passive statues, our versions of the Nine Sons of the Dragon were actual gods living amongst their followers. They hoarded people, in addition to treasure, and imbued them all with their various magic. These people call themselves Lóng Jiārén and are living descendants of the dragons they served. 

Lóng served as the genesis for our world and the magic of its people. All the rules that Lóng Jiārén live by, and their conduct flows from being in service of Lóng. But it’s the nature of man to twist things, dragon magic or not. After populating our world with dangerous people with the power of dragons, we knew our hero had to break the mold. 

Emiko is diaspora, like us, but magical diaspora. Born without dragon powers, she doesn’t fit in either the world of the Lóng Jiārén, or with regular people. She only has her swords and tenacity to survive amongst her deadly peers. And in our world of dragons and monsters, it’s not the dragon who you should be afraid of—it’s Emiko. 

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