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Listen to the South of the Buttonwood Tree playlist!

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Heather Webber, USA Today bestselling author of Midnight at the Blackbird Café and the upcoming South of the Buttonwood Treetakes a lot of inspiration from music while she’s writing.

To celebrate the upcoming release of  South of the Buttonwood Tree, Heather is back with another curated Spotify playlist for your listening enjoyment! Grab yourself a cup of tea and get ready to be transported to the charming, small-town Buttonwood, Alabama.

If you need more bookish inspired playlists to pass the time, revisit our playlist based on Midnight at the Blackbird Café here!

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From Non-Fiction to Fiction: Advice from Kill Zone author Doug Beason

By Doug Beason

Placeholder of  -79As a physicist, I’ve written far more non-fiction than novels and short stories. They’ve ranged from over 70 scientific and technical articles published in cutting-edge physics journals such as Physical Review Letters and Physics of Fluids to opinion pieces in the Wall Street Journal. I started writing fiction when I was finishing my Ph.D. as a way to relax and have a creative outlet.

My background as a scientist and military officer led me to science fiction, military fiction, and science-based thrillers. It was a natural fit based on my experience forecasting futuristic scenarios and technologies, as well as my work at national laboratories, military organizations, and as White House staff.

I found I enjoyed working with a collaborator, and when Kevin J. Anderson and I first started writing, we tackled some pretty far-out, but scientifically realistic science fiction. Eventually we gravitated to thrillers, and we continued to make the novels as realistic as possible without wallowing in technical details.

I’ve found most scientists and virtually all physicists are creative, as advances in the field require looking at problems from a new perspective, and coming up with different ways to solve them. That’s how breakthroughs are accomplished; in fact, when I taught physics at the USAF Academy, I told my students as long as I could follow their logic in solving a problem, I didn’t care if they used a “textbook procedure” or not!

But the problem with that approach is that…details matter. And in fiction, too many details can bog down the story.

As a scientist, I have a tendency to delve into technical detail and describe too much, like the old westerns that spent more time talking about the horse rather than focusing on the plot. There’s a saying that if you ask a physicist what time it is, she’ll give a lecture on how to build an atomic clock. So for me, coming up with a plot, building interesting characters, making plausible scenarios and nailing down motivation is easy; I just have to watch myself when writing that I don’t spend too much time looking at the trees when I’m passing through the forest.

Although I was a physics-mathematics double major when I attended the USAF Academy, in addition to mandatory science and engineering courses, every graduate had to take 2 to 4 semesters each of Behavioral Science, English, Economics, Foreign Language, History, Law, Philosophy, Political Science, Military Studies and Officership/Leadership. So appreciating the liberal arts was not a foreign concept to me, and though I hadn’t been classically trained in writing fiction, the leap from writing about new concepts in physics to penning stories and novels was, and is, not as great as it seems.

Writing Kill Zone with Kevin J. Anderson allowed us to add his immense experience of creating alien worlds, fantastic characters and epic high fantasy to a realistic, civilization-threatening scenario. And as a result, Kill Zone’s fast-paced plot is not only full of unexpected twists and turns, but is truly based on one of the largest safety and security problems the world may be facing. 

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From Sci-Fi and Fantasy to Thrillers: Kevin J. Anderson on Writing Kill Zone

By Kevin J. Anderson

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When you get right down to it, every story is a thriller—otherwise who would want to read it? Yes, genre labels and expectations are different. Readers who pick up a fantasy novel don’t want the same thing as readers of mysteries or westerns, but if there’s nothing exciting, or at least interesting, in the story, who would want to read it? 

Though I’m primarily known for my science fiction and fantasy novels, my reading and writing has always ranged widely. Two months ago Tor Books released my epic fantasy novel Spine of the Dragon, a sprawling story with dozens of point-of-view characters, two continents at war, lots of worldbuilding, history, and complex magic systems. It might seem strange that so soon afterward, Doug Beason and I would release a modern-day mainstream high-tech thriller, Kill Zone.

But to me, a story is a story, and Doug and I had a thrilling idea that demanded to be written. The core concept behind Kill Zone is extremely topical—you don’t see many sleeping dragons or ancient magic wielders in today’s headlines!

Doug and I have known each other for over thirty years. Our first short story together, “If I Fell, Would I Fall?” was published in 1988 in Amazing Stories. We have the same sensibility of plot and characters, in outlining and pacing. 

In writing a high-tech thriller, I use all the same skills I developed in my other novels, but Doug brings a wealth of experience and expertise that lets us give Kill Zone the cutting-edge veracity that high-tech thriller readers want. With his background as a PhD Physicist, a retired colonel form the US Air Force, and his Washington, DC experience as a former member of the President’s Science Office and Chief Scientist of Air Force Space Command, as well as Associate Director at Los Alamos National Laboratory, Doug has an unparalleled background for writing a book like this, set amidst the politics and technical challenges of a nuclear waste storage complex.

I could never have written this book myself, but the fast-paced writing, the intricate plotting, and the complex characters are still my forte. The worldbuilding inside a nuclear storage complex or a nuclear power plant is just as rigorous as developing a fantasy world or a galactic empire.

Doug and I have written nine novels together, ranging from the futuristic hard science fiction of Lifeline or the Nebula-nominated Assemblers of Infinity, to the World War II time-travel thriller The Trinity Paradox, to the ecological disaster of Ill Wind, and the modern high-tech thrillers of Ignition and the Craig Kreident mysteries.

We hope they’re all thrilling in their own way. In Kill Zone we brought together the best of our skills to create a fast-paced and thought-provoking adventure. We hope you enjoy it.

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Behind the Scenes: The Making of the Heart of Barkness Cover!

We all love the final result, but how did we get such a good shot of Chet & Bernie? Well, it took a little book cover magic, a talented photographer, and one very good boy!

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The first thing we needed was a Chet and a Bernie!

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Thankfully we found some great models to bring Chet and Bernie to life.

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The next step was to find the right location! Would we go with an empty street, or maybe Bernie’s favorite watering hole?

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Our amazing doggo model had one flaw though! Unlike Chet, he didn’t have one white ear. We tried to help…

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And Simon was a very good boy. But the white didn’t stick on his lovely black fur!

So we used the magic of photo editing to turn Simon into Chet!

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And it all turned out great, with Chet the star of the cover. Get a closer look at Heart of Barkness at your favorite bookstore!

 

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What Your Favorite Robin Hood Says About You

Placeholder of  -38We’ve all seen some version of the Robin Hood tale because we’re not all living under a rock in Sherwood Forest. But picking a fave? Much more fraught.

Our current fave is Nathan Makaryk’s Nottingham, a gritty retelling of Robin Hood that gives voice to those that history left behind–and challenges the traditional narrative of who’s really a hero and a villain. It’s chaos, it’s complex politics, and it’s shades of moral gray.

Nathan Makaryk stopped by our blog to help answer an important question: What does your favorite Robin Hood say about you?


By Nathan Makaryk

DOUGLAS FAIRBANKS

You prefer the classics! Dashing and noble, your Robin Hood sets the stage for good versus evil (though he doesn’t exactly do a lot of talking). This 1922 movie pits Robin Hood as the earl of Huntingdon against the dastardly Prince John.

It’s the story that everybody knows, but the real world is not nearly as black-and-white—no pun intended (okay, pun was slightly intended).

ERROL FLYNN

It’s hard to beat the swashbuckling acrobatics of Errol Flynn in THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD: you love a fun adventure story regardless of whether or not it’s historically accurate. Considered by many as the gold standard of Robin Hoods, against all others must (fail to) measure up.

By today’s standards, Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood is practically a caricature, and for good reason. The story of Robin Hood has evolved with time to turn him into the brave bombastic showman of legends, but perhaps those stories had more humble beginnings.

SEAN CONNERY

The often overlooked ROBIN AND MARIAN (1976) brings us a more mature look at Robin Hood in his older years, and is fairly unique in showing a self-absorbed, less-than-Lionhearted King Richard. This Robin Hood struggles with the moral line between following his King and doing what he thinks is right. Seems like moral ambiguity might be your thing.

KEVIN COSTNER

This prince of thieves brought Robin Hood back to the forefront of pop culture, with or without an English accent. You like having fun and you don’t feel the need to sweat the details.

Daring feats and sweeping romance—not to mention the most charismatically wicked Sheriff of Nottingham of all time (the incomparable Alan Rickman)—Costner gives us a Robin Hood that everyone can root for, so long as you can ignore little things like catapulting yourself over a castle wall … and something about a witch?

CARY ELWES

There’s no point in hiding it—you’re in it for the comedy. MEN IN TIGHTS flips the Robin Hood legend upside down and shakes out all the silly bits to point and laugh at, while still respecting the dashing adventurous spirit of good versus evil.

RUSSELL CROWE

Love it or hate it, Ridley Scott’s ROBIN HOOD (2010) brought a gritty reboot to Robin Hood, and pulled him away from a dashing swashbuckler and into a more serious, weathered soldier. You like a seasoned, realistic look at the world, and the difficult political realities of medieval England.

TARON EGERTON

You like … hmmm … you like … did you mean to pick this one? We were asking for your favorite Robin Hood. Maybe you sneezed while trying to think of another movie? It’s ok, you can keep scrolling if you need to.

The 2018 Robin Hood proved that Robin Hood doesn’t have to be even remotely historically accurate, or set in anything resembling Nottingham, and can have impossibly evil characters, while still succeeding in  … um … being filmed. Huh. Listen, if this is honestly your favorite Robin Hood, we understand how you feel about realism. The other Robin Hoods don’t feature even a single exploding grenade arrow or arrow-loading-machine-gun. So … I mean, you do you.

BRIAN BEDFORD (WHO? OH, THE FOX!)

There’s no denying it—he’s secretly everbody’s favorite Robin Hood. No cartoon character has any right to be as charming and (dare-we-say) attractive as Disney’s fox. But believe it or not, many Robin Hoods (and their Sheriffs) are even more two-dimensional than this one. Fleshing out the real people behind the caricatures of Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham is one of the main goals of Nathan Makaryk’s NOTTINGHAM (available 8/6/19 by Tor/Forge Books), a historical epic that takes the classic story and looks at it from realistic points of view on both sides of the conflict.

JEAN-LUC PICARD

That’s right, Starfleet Captains can be merry too. When Q sends the crew of the Enterprise into the Robin Hood legend in the “QPid” episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, we get a new look at the folklore hero from an outsider’s eyes. One of the surprise takeaways from Picard’s time with the pointy hat is a “Maid Marian” who is not the damsel in distress of lore and doesn’t exactly need saving.

You’re unique and maybe a little contrarian.

The Robin of NOTTINGMAM

I had to throw in a plug for my own book, coming next month!

In Notthingham,  the light-hearted stories of Robin Hood are reconfigured into a far more realistic tale that explains how simple people with honest disagreements turned into the iconic figures of “Robin Hood” and “The Sheriff of Nottingham.”

Featuring a Robin that is less than altruistic, and a Sheriff who is anything but villainous, you’ll recognize many of the major plot points, but along the way the Robin Hood folklore is deconstructed and smashed to pieces—giving new definition to the best parts, and mercilessly ridiculing the parts that deserve it.

If this is your favorite you might be able to time travel, since it’s coming out next month.

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Welcome Back to the Chet and Bernie Series!

Welcome Back to the Chet and Bernie Series!

It’s been a long wait, but Chet and Bernie are back! Spencer Quinn talked with us about taking a break, ending on a cliffhanger, and coming back.


By Spencer Quinn

Not long after Scents and Sensibility, the most recent Chet and Bernie novel, came out —actually that very day!—I began getting emails written in all caps, like this: “YOU HAVE BERNIE DYING? THAT’S CRUEL. WE ALL WANT CHET & BERNIE TO GO ON FOREVER.”

Uh-oh. I’d had no intention of ending the series or offing Bernie. I’d had an idea for a different kind of book I wanted to write—the book that became The Right Side —and I can’t write two books at once. So, I thought, how about leaving Chet and Bernie in a cliffhanger situation for now, just a bit of a tease?

Oh, boy. In the intervening time lots of new readers seem to have found the series, so the emails—and messages on social media—just keep coming. Therefore, I’m very, very happy to say that the new C&B, Heart of Barkness, arrives July 2. There’s no need, by the way, to have read any of the earlier books first. Chet’s the narrator, and that kind of rigid sequentiality is just not him.

The Chet and Bernie stories—for those of you new to them—are not cozies. There’s darkness, and the pain of life is felt not just by Bernie but by Chet, too. But—and I think this is part of the appeal of the series, if I may say so—Chet quickly springs back to his reset position, and that position in one of a lover of life. Is that why I often hear from readers who say Chet and Bernie have helped them through hard times? That’s been a huge and humbling surprise to me.

Heart of Barkness is all about loving life. It’s also about the ruthless, the dangerous, the scorned, country music, and … and mathematics:

“What’s so interesting?” Bernie said. Then came something that had never happened before, kind of a shock. He set his glass on the desk, walked over, and … could it really be? Bernie got down on all fours and … whoa, stop right there! From out of nowhere I suddenly understood four, having never gone past two in my whole life. One, two, four! I’d cracked the code at last!”

To readers past and present: Thank you so much for your past support of Chet and Bernie, and I hope you enjoy Heart of Barkness. I can’t wait (a very Chet-like state of mind).

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Listen to the Midnight at the Blackbird Café Playlist

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The initial inspiration for Midnight at the Blackbird Café came to Heather Webber the Beatles’ song “Blackbird.” The first time she heard it, she played it over and over again, unable to stop thinking about the words and the story behind them.

That spark eventually led to Midnight at the Blackbird Café, but it took a while to get there.

So how did she keep the momentum going after the first surge of excitement wore off, and the day-to-day task of writing set in? With more music, of course! And you can get into the momentum too with this Spotify playlist curated by Heather herself.

We recommend listening with a steaming mug of tea, a delicious slice of pie, and of course, a copy of Midnight at the Blackbird Café open in front of you.

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