interview - Tor/Forge Blog

Q&A with Christopher Paolini and To Sleep in a Sea of Stars Cover Artist Lindy Martin!

We are still absolutely OBSESSED with the cover of To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini, so to celebrate the release of the paperback on October 19, we’re resharing an exclusive interview between Christopher and cover designer Lindy Martin! Check out their Q&A here, and a big thanks to Inside Faceout for providing this piece (original article here).

Answers by author, Christopher Paolini, curtesy of Inside Faceout

Image Place holder  of - 76MARTIN: Did you consider what your cover would/should look like at any point during the writing process? If so, what did you have in mind and how does the final cover compare or contrast with your vision?

I usually don’t think too much about the cover while I’m writing the book. If an image or idea pops into my head, great, but I don’t make any specific effort in that direction.

Once the manuscript goes off to my publisher (Tor, in this case), then yes, I do spend a lot of time thinking about the cover. To Sleep in a Sea of Stars was particularly tricky because the design needed to strike a new tone. I’d been fortunate enough to get iconic covers for my fantasy novels. But this was the first book I’d written outside the world of Eragon—and my first adult novel—so striking the right balance with the text and art wasn’t easy. And it didn’t help that the title is so long!

The final cover is different than I originally imagined, but it does a wonderful job of complementing the title while also capturing the essence of the story. What makes it even more impressive is that Lindy did all this without actually reading the book! Well done!

MARTIN: How did your shift in genre affect the vision and expectations you had for this cover?

As a genre, science fiction often deals with space, the future, and technology. Not all the time, but as a rule, those themes are fairly common, and they stand in contrast with what one often finds in fantasy. Because of that, I knew that the cover of To Sleep in a Sea of Stars needed to be slick, modern, and—as so many sci-fi covers are—blue! (I seem to have a thing for blue covers.)

MARTIN: What stood out to you with this particular cover design? Was it “love at first sight,” or were you more slowly drawn to it after looking at and considering lots of options? How does it represent the story and how do you hope it will connect with readers?

My publisher and I looked at a number of different designs. At one point we were even considering a somewhat fantasy(ish) illustration. However, once we saw the current design, we knew we had a winner.

Design work is often iterative. Sometimes you’re lucky enough to get it right the first time, but usually it’s a process of honing your initial instincts until you find something that really works.

The cover of To Sleep in a Sea of Stars represents several key moments in the story, and most especially, a scene right at the end. It’s also evocative of the title itself. It does an excellent job communicating these points to readers.

MARTIN: From your perspective, what role does the cover play in the book writing and packaging process?

It plays an enormous role! We all say to never judge a book by its cover, but of course, we do exactly that. A good cover can be the difference between someone reading your novel or not. It’s the first line of advertising, as well as the first visual statement people see about the book.

I’m enormously pleased with this cover. From the moment it was revealed, people have loved it. Ever day I see comments on social media about how beautiful and powerful it is. And I agree. Twice in my career now—first with the Inheritance Cycle and now with To Sleep in a Sea of Stars—I’ve been fortunate to have amazing covers for my books. As an author, I couldn’t ask for anything more!

MARTIN: Do you have any suggestions for how designers and writers can work together better toward producing beautifully packaged books? 

In an ideal world, designers would have the time to read a book before creating a cover for it, and authors would have some graphic design experience so they could communicate effectively with their designers.

Since the world we live in is less than ideal, I suggest authors be as clear as possible on what they hope to achieve with their books. And for designers to pay close attention to the emotion that authors are hoping to convey. As long as a cover evokes the mood of the book, it’s successful.

Answers by cover designer, Lindy Martin, curtesy of Inside Faceout

Place holder  of - 30PAOLINI: How did you become a book designer? Did you go to school to learn these skills, learn on the job with a publisher, or apprentice with someone? Are you self taught?

I have always had a deep love for stories, whether it was reading or writing my own. I knew I would love to work in publishing and to be a part of bringing stories to life in the form of key visuals, color, and typography.

I became a book designer at Faceout Studio almost four years ago after I graduated with my Bachelor of Science in Graphic Design and Photography from John Brown University. The program helped lay the foundation for the technical skills as well as creative problem solving. However, a lot of the hands on learning happened on the job as I gleaned more and more from each project, as well as from the designers around me.

PAOLINI: How do you approach designing a book cover? What do you need from the client?

Each project that I work on comes with a unique set of challenges, since every story, author, and audience looks different. The first step is to gain as much understanding of the plot, characters, and tone as possible. This might mean reading the manuscript, hiring a reader, or talking with the art director about key information.

From there, I dive into the creative process and it becomes a game of juggling type, color, artwork, and concept until it comes together to create something dynamic and eye-catching.

Sometimes this process of creative alchemy takes a matter of hours, but more often takes a lot longer. From there, it goes to the client for review and then goes through a series of revisions until every detail is just right.

The client provides meaningful and necessary art direction and insight. Understanding their perspective and what they are looking for helps me as the designer to get on the right track and create something that captures their vision.

PAOLINI: Can you share with us your experience of designing the cover for To Sleep in a Sea of Stars?

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars was a particularly fun project to be a part of. I loved reading the Inheritance Cycle, so I was very excited when I had the chance to design some cover options for Christopher’s new book. While I didn’t have the manuscript to read, I had the helpful guidance and art direction from Peter Lutjen, the art director at Tor, to help me narrow down the key story elements and tone necessary for the cover.

The selected cover was my favorite out of the options I created. I liked the bold, stark imagery and the juxtaposition between the geometric fractal patterns and the organic glowing stars. It felt like a snapshot of a person being transformed. I also knew the blue color palette would lend itself to look beautiful in a metallic print treatment.

The silhouette of the figure was modified from an underwater image which had the same qualities of a figure suspended in space.

Long titles can often be a challenge to work with, but in this case it worked well for framing the imagery and creating a focal point for the silhouette to sit in. A clean, modern typeface seemed to be the best solution to be in line with the sci-fi genre.

PAOLINI: What are some favorite covers you’ve worked on? And what makes so interesting?

Some recent ones would be Where the Lost Wander by Amy Harmon and American Awakening by John Kingston. These were opportunities to do something a little out of the box for the genre.

I appreciated that these projects allow the freedom to push the boundaries with the type taking on a role of representing the book’s concept.

PAOLINI: Do you have a favorite color or style that you find yourself returning to?

Not really! That’s the beauty of the job, every genre and story requires something different, something that pushes you out of your comfort zone. I particularly enjoy projects that require some sort of personal touch, whether that is a custom illustration, hand lettering, or original photography. As an artist, I enjoy being able to bring originality wherever I can.

Pre-order To Sleep in a Sea of Stars in Paperback Here

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VIDEO: In conversation with Ryan Van Loan, author of The Sin in the Steel

We can’t wait for The Justice in Revenge by Ryan Van Loan to hit shelves on 7/13, so we’re doing a throwback to pre-COVID times when Ryan visited the Tor Books office and answered alllllll our burning questions about The Sin in the Steel. Check it out here!


Transcript of Video:

In conversation with Ryan Van Loan, author of The Sin in the Steel

What is your favorite location in the book?

RVL: You know, I think my favorite location is the port, it’s this pirate’s shanty town and in the book they talk about the fact that it’s named because of the glint of gold in the sun. But at the same time, one of the other characters brings up the fact that blood glints the same way, and I think that’s a pretty good representation of it. It’s a place where there’s always a good time lurking around every corner, but some of those good times might involve a blade or two so you really have got to keep your eyes sharp.

Who would you rather have your back in a fight, Buc or Eld?

RVL: I love Buc, but she has a really strong sense of self-preservation, and she’s pretty small, so I think I’m going to go with Eld. He’s not going to run away, and he’s a pretty beefy dude, bigger than me, so he’s going to be a good bullet catcher for me, I think.

If The Sin in the Steel was a game, what type of game would it be?

RVL: You know, I love those sprawling single RPG player games, like Skyrim or The Witcher 3 or the Assassin’s Creed ones, they even have a pirates one in there that’s a lot of fun to play, so I think The Sin in the Steel would definite be some sprawling, single player RPG where the real hook is what’s over the next horizon, and sometimes what’s over the next horizon might be a pirate ship, or a hoard of undead, or 30-50 feral hogs, you never know.

Where do you draw inspiration from in the world you created here?

RVL: Yeah, that’s a good question. You know, I started with a character and so I knew that I wanted to tell a story about a young woman who was breaking chains in her world, but I didn’t know what those chains were right away. And then I realized that I really wanted to play with the concept of empire and trading companies and capitalism, and so then I started thinking about different settings and age of sale, and mercantilism really came into play. So then I started thinking about where are these melting pots of culture, because I always think that’s really interesting, different cultures meeting together. So I think Venice and the Mediterranean, the Umayyad Empire in Córdoba, Spain back in the day, the South China Sea, the Caribbean, all these different places. I’ve been fortunate to visit a few of them, and so that really gave me this idea of this island empire and this Mediterranean, quasi-Caribbean feel that I don’t think I’ve seen a lot of in fantasy lately, and that’s what got me really excited and where I drew my inspiration from.

What is your favorite city that you’ve visited?

RVL: I think my favorite city is Paris; I love Paris. The first time I went, I wasn’t expecting to love it as much as I did, and then I just fell in love with France, so I’ve become a bit of a Francophile. But I think the most beautiful place I’ve been is Thailand. We got to spend time with this elephant rescue park. It was me, my wife, and the guide and just these two elephants in the middle of the jungle, it was magical and the people were so nice. Thailand, France, Mexico is another one, Puerto Rico, those are some of my favorite places for sure.

Did you always know you wanted to write a pirate story?

RVL: So I always loved pirates, as a little kid I would make my mom draw on me with magic marker, skulls and crossbones and anchors, and wear bandanas and climb trees, yell ‘ahoy.’ I think I read Treasure Island at an impressionable age, so that’s where that bit came from, and maybe I regret that a little bit. I know my mom regrets drawing on me now, because then I went and got a bunch of tattoos. But I don’t know if I set out to write a pirate story, I set out to write a story that had ships in it and sailing and canons and swords, so that kind of brought pirates into it.

What is the strangest thing you had to research for The Sin in the Steel?

RVL: So I got to do some cool things, there are some gear-powered ships in the world that go faster than what wind and sail allow, and so I had to figure out the physics of that and the engineering. There’s magic involved so you can kind of ‘wink wink’ a little bit. But I think strange wise, figuring out if a slingshot is powerful enough to sever a brainstem is one, and then probably the effects of urine on hemp rope, that’s probably the strangest.


Order The Sin in the Steel here!

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Order The Justice in Revenge here!

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VIDEO: Rapid-fire Questions with Ryan Van Loan, author of The Sin in the Steel

We are OBSESSED with Ryan Van Loan’s debut The Sin in the Steel. Who wouldn’t love a fantasy world filled with dead gods, a pirate queen, and SHAPESHIFTERS! Before COVID-19 had us all working from home, we sat down with Ryan for some super important, very professional rapid-fire questions to get to know him a little better. Check out his responses here!

Excited for the book? Order The Sin in the Steel here!

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Transcript of Video:

Rapid-fire Questions with Ryan Van Loan, author of The Sin in the Steel 

Question: Pirates or Mages?

RVL: Uh, mages.

Question: Magic or science?

RVL: Science is magic!

Question: Cannons or swords?

RVL: Cannons is probably the smarter answer, but I love swords and how it feels in your hand so I’m going to go with the sword.

Question: Buc or Eld?

RVL: Ahhh, both.

Question: Blood or Gold?

RVL: I’m going to go with gold.

Question: Sin or steel?

RVL: Sin sounds a lot more fun.

Question: Waffles or pancakes?

RVL: I don’t think waffles are a real thing so I’m going to go with pancakes.

Question: Cats or dogs?

RVL: I’m a huge dog person. If you follow me on social media, you’ll see, I think I post my pittie and my boxer about 1 million times throughout the course of the month, so sorry to the cat people but I really love dogs.

Question: Sidekicks or heroes?

RVL: I think it depends on who the sidekick or hero is, but it’s hard to beat a good hero. I’m thinking Storm, Wolverine, Captain America, so I think I’m going to have to go with heroes.

Question: Which is a better reward, money or rare books?

RVL: I think money so I can hire someone to translate the rare books that I won’t be able to read.

Question: Would you rather face 30-50 wild hogs, or a horde of undead?

RVL: Oooo, uh, the undead are pretty scary but the idea of 30-50 wild animals that are 400 pounds chasing after me, I think I could stand a chance against the undead a little bit better.

Question: What’s the best pirate ship?

RVL: Oh, so that’s easy! The best pirate ship is in the Princess Bride, Dread Pirate Roberts’ the Revenge.



What Was It Like to Work on To Hold Up the Sky by Cixin Liu? Ask the Translators!

Place holder  of - 14Cixin Liu is the New York Times bestselling author of The Three-Body Problem, and we are so, so excited to see what he has in store for us with his latest work, To Hold Up the Sky. To celebrate this new release, we decided to interview some of the people who made it possible for us to read this book in English—the translators. From their greatest challenges to their favorite stories in the novel, check out what Carmen Yiling Yan, John Chu and Adam Lanphier had to say here!

What makes the stories in To Hold Up the Sky stand out to you as a translator?

Carmen Yiling Yan: What strikes me the most is the scope of imagination in these stories, the sense of astronomical scale. There’s truly a sense of wonder that I haven’t experienced in much other science fiction lately.

Adam Lanphier: I only translated The Village Teacher, so I’ll talk about that story. Among Liu Cixin’s Chinese readership, The Village Teacher tends to elicit superlatives, both positive (e.g. it’s his “most touching” story, “most humane,” “most real”) and negative (e.g. “softest,” “most sentimental,” “goofiest aliens”). I agree.

Trying to carry this story’s deft, earnest genre-play into English was a balancing act. For the story’s moral message to land, the village needs to be poignant, not lurid; the children need to be sympathetic, not schmaltzy; the teacher needs to be a hero, not a caricature. The aliens didn’t need much—goofy is goofy.

This is a special story to me, as it is to many of Liu Cixin’s fans. I worked hard to do it justice. I hope I succeeded.

What are the biggest challenges in translating science fiction?

Carmen Yiling Yan: One tricky aspect is getting the technical terminology right, especially on a topic that I’m not familiar with. For Full Spectrum Barrage Jamming, I was looking up army manuals and physics articles.

Adam Lanphier: I’ll tell you what isn’t the biggest challenge: the science. I am frequently surprised by how straightforward it is to translate detailed, technical passages, even speculative ones. The language of science is precise and objective, almost by definition; it’s simple to research (compared to history, say) and its terminology tends to strike a similar tone across languages. I imagine most languages have more ways to say “I love you” than “cold fusion.”

John Chu: One of the trickiest things about translating any story is that you’re really translating between cultures. As a translator, you are trying to have the same effect on the reader in the target language that the original author had on the reader in the source language. Two obvious areas that make things difficult are humor and profanity. As a translator, you have to find something that your reader will find just as funny or just as profane. Invariably, it’s not a ‘literal’ translation of what the original author wrote. What we find funny or profane is extremely culture-based.

In that light, I don’t know that the challenges in translating science fiction are all that different from translating a non-speculative story. There may be more elements to balance against each other. Science fiction has its share of technical language and made-up words, for example. Ultimately, it’s still about making the target language reader feel that same “sense of wonder”, for example, that the source language reader feels.

What are some marks of a story that’s been translated well?

Adam Lanphier: A well translated Chinese story, if it’s a story worth translating, will maintain a clear sense of space, direction, and location. In my experience, this is the ‘omelet test’ for translators of Chinese into English, as spatial language in Chinese, though precise, is unintuitive for English speakers and tricky to maintain convincingly in translation. What’s more, it often assume a reader’s familiarity with features of traditional Chinese architecture (e.g. a character might tell another to “go inside” when they’re already indoors, an abstract reference to the series of increasingly private courtyards that were once prevalent in Chinese buildings; one might render this as “go down the hall”) and society (e.g. an “outsider” may mean a stranger, a non-relation, a foreigner, or a layperson, depending on context. “Gentile” sometimes comes eerily close).

If I can’t whether we’re indoors or outdoors, or where a character’s other arm is, or where the magazine on the chair went, that’s a red flag.

Unless a Chinese story touches on biology or butchery, a good English translation will use the word “heart” no more than once every other page.

These are details. Like all translators, I’m a craftsperson, and like most, I’m a freelancer. I shouldn’t presume to offer a more thorough answer to your excellent, difficult question, whose meat I’ll leave Nabokov and Borges to fight over.

John Chu: I honestly don’t think you can tell whether a story has been translated well without doing an A/B comparison with the original text. For reasons not worth explaining, I’ve actually done this with _The Three Body Problem_ and _Death’s End_. (I’ve read _The Dark Forest_ in Chinese but not in English.) So I feel confident in saying that Ken Liu did a superb job with them. Lots of people think they want ‘literal’ translations and they really don’t. _The Three Body Problem_, particularly, is steeped in Chinese history and your typical American reader is not going to have as thorough a grounding in Chinese history as your typical Chinese reader. Ken does an excellent job making sure that someone who doesn’t have a Chinese history background reading in English has at least a similar understanding as a Chinese reader reading the original. There are any number of things in those books that don’t really translate directly, for example, puns. Ken always comes up with substitutes that fit seamlessly.

The things he did that make those translations work so well aren’t noticeable unless you compare back to the original. When you read the translation, what you’re reading is the combined effort of both the original author and the translator. And, honestly, when it comes to things like word choice and phrasing, it can be hard to figure out who did what. (Obviously, original author is solely responsible for stuff like plot.)

That said, the translator is always trying to give you the experience that someone reading in the original language gets. Whether the translator has done that is up to the reader.

What’s the top reason why English-speakers should read more translated fiction?

Carmen Yiling Yan: First and foremost, because there’s so much good stuff out there! Some of the best epic fantasies and historicals I’ve read have been in Chinese. And there’s entire trends and genres with no direct equivalence–I have a soft spot for escape room novels. People who don’t read translations are missing out.

John Chu: I think the wider the net you cast, the more likely you are to find interesting, excellent work. There’s amazing work being published every day and not all of it was originally written in English.

Order To Hold Up the Sky Here:

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Q&A with Spencer Quinn, Author of Of Mutts and Men

Author Spencer Quinn answered some of our most burning questions in a rapid fire Q&A! Read his answers below, and get ready for the release of Of Mutts and Men on July 7th!

Place holder  of - 63What’s your preferred method for writing? Do you handwrite or type?

My preferred method hasn’t been invented yet. It would involve prose traveling directly from the mind to the blank page. Until then, I type. My handwriting cannot be read by human eyes.

What’s your favorite cure for writer’s block?

I step back and think of the engine that drives the story. Unfortunately, some novels don’t have engines, but in the case of Chet and Bernie, the engine is the love between the two main characters. When I remember that, some narrative route always suggests itself.

What song/album/musical artist inspires you?

Music is very important to me. I often listen while I write. Right now I seem to be enjoying the old Marty Robbins song “Begging to You,” both in Marty’s version and also Cyndi Lauper’s cover.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

My mother, who taught me almost everything I know about writing by the time I was eleven or so, said, “Push every situation as far as you can.”

Favorite way to unwind outdoors?

It used to be skiing and playing tennis. Now it’s bike riding and playing tennis. I’ve ridden at least ten miles just about every day since the lockdown, often on Cape Cod’s beautiful Shining Sea Bike Path. (I still ski in my dreams.)

Favorite way to unwind indoors?

Sleeping at night! Isn’t that how we’re supposed to unwind? Knitting up the raveled sleeve of care, and all that? I’ve always been a great sleeper (not a napper).

Best dog name you’ve ever heard?

Chet! A surprising number of readers seem to have named dogs after him.

Pre-order your copy of Of Mutts and Men:

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Interview with K. Arsenault Rivera, Author of The Tiger’s Daughter

Image Place holder  of - 39Welcome back to Fantasy Firsts. Today we’re featuring an interview with K. Arsenault Rivera on language barriers, outsider heroes, and why epic fantasy loves prophecies so much. Her first novel, The Tiger’s Daughter, is the story of a pair of exceptional women who are destined to face the evil forces rising out of myth. Read the first chapter here!

The frame narrative of The Tiger’s Daughter involves an epistolary unfurling leading to the main conflict. Does the format of handwritten letters hold any particular significance to you?

There’s just something so Romantic about long letters! I read a lot of Victorian lit in the year or two before I wrote The Tiger’s Daughter, and I think the most obvious bleed through is in the epistolary structure. Letter-writing in those novels was always something swoon-worthy and grand, and I wanted to capture that feeling between Shefali and Shizuka—especially given how shy Shefali normally is. The letter allows us to really see into her head, and to see Shizuka through her eyes.

How does the native language barrier and learned exchange between Shefali and Shizuka reflect their characterization? What made you decide to go that route, from a plot-based angle? Did it pose a particular challenge concerning plot structure or did it act as a guide?

Shefali’s inability to read Hokkaran reflects how she feels about Hokkaro as a whole: she understands what they’re saying but not how or why they’re saying it. That she spends so much time within the Empire proper is only for Shizuka’s sake; it’s not a place that will ever fully accept her. In a way, Shefali’s known that since she figured out she’d never be able to read Hokkaran.

Shizuka, on the other hand, has great talent with calligraphy from a very young age. She learns the simple Qorin letters easily enough but never bothers to learn the language itself. Of course, learning to speak the language would mean floundering in front of native speakers and opening herself up to mockery—so it’s not something that interests her. I don’t think that’s a conscious thought she has, but it’s there all the same. Actually trying at things is as foreign to her as the Qorin—but if she bothered, she might find a warmer welcome than she thinks.

Another important point is that most people in the Empire at least understand Hokkaran even if they can’t speak it, whereas Hokkarans only bother learning their own language. Sort of like how English is the presumed language of the Western world, but English speakers get uppity when wandering into a neighborhood that doesn’t cater to them.

Though O Shizuka and Shefali (and their mothers) are incredibly close, both are outsiders within their respective communities–communities that also happen to be at odds with each other. How does that dichotomy resonate with you?

I think that when you’re writing a hero, most of the time they’re an outcast in one way or another. Heroes are (usually, but not always) exceptional people, after all.

For me the interesting contrast is between the girls and their mothers in this regard: Burqila and O-Shizuru both made the conscious decision to break with their communities. Burqila murdered her own brothers to seize power and strike back at the Hokkarans; O-Shizuru decided to put her prized bloodline to use as a pleasure house guard. Both women eventually settle into mundane lives, and both women want the same for their girls.

But the girls didn’t get to make those choices. O-Shizuka is born into a life of politics and caution when  she really wants to do is duel people all day and spoon Shefali all night. Shefali’s got to rule the Qorin some day, and she doesn’t seem to care about that as much as she probably should. By breaking with tradition, Burqila and O-Shizuru provided their daughters with much more stable, safe lives, and yet neither daughter wants to take advantage.

What was the process of creating these incredibly complex and strong relationships while integrating the cultural and societal conflict the characters go through as individuals?

The characters of The Tiger’s Daughter came before the setting. I always knew that Shizuka would be a headstrong firebrand, and I always knew that Shefali was her much quieter counterpart. While pantsing my way through the first draft of the novel I kept the characters at the forefront and let them react to the world around them. Shefali can’t quite make sense of Hokkaran society—and so she cannot read the language. Shizuru lived a violent life, and so she wants the opposite for her daughter, no matter what Shizuka actually wants for herself. Burqila married Oshiro Yuichi as part of a peace treaty—so of course she doesn’t care much for her Hokkaran raised son.

There seems to be a great emphasis on destiny, a predetermination of belonging to a certain path or person. I’m curious about your feelings on the permanence or self-fulfilling nature of prophecies.

Every fantasy fan loves a good prophecy, and I’m no exception to this. They’re a lot like magic tricks, I think, in that you know what’s coming but still get that tingly sense of awe when the inevitable occurs. Like a good magic trick, though, it’s all in the delivery and the execution.

Let’s talk weapons. O Shizuka’s, the duelist, weapon of choice is a sword. Shefali’s a bow and arrow. In what ways do these weapons reflect each characters personalities?

Shizuka is as brash and overconfident as she is actually talented. Her decision to use a sword in a world where, for safety’s sake, most people use polearms or bows and arrows, reflects that. She doesn’t mind getting in close because she doesn’t really believe she’ll be hurt. And of course there’s the family history aspect of it. Shizuka is, again, a product of old Hokkaro—and she’s using a weapon from a time that isn’t quite relevant anymore. Who wants to duel when there’s demons coming through the northern border?

That ties into Shefali’s bow and arrow well. She made it herself, as her mother and family made their bows themselves. To the Qorin a bow and arrow are more than a weapon—they’re important tools on the harsh steppes, and more important now that food is getting harder to come by. Shefali uses a bow because she has always used a bow—and because she knows it’d be foolish to attack a demon head on. (Not that her good sense stops her whenever Shizuka needs rescuing).

What are your writing rituals/how do you set out to write?  Any procrastination tips?

Full-screen is your friend! It’s so much easier to tab over to Discord or Chrome when you can see them blinking on your taskbar. I mean, even full-screened, you can always hit alt-tab—but I find that out of sight is out of mind when it comes to distractions.

Curated playlists also help a lot (my best friend Rena is  kind of a playlist god). Certain songs just make me want to write now when I hear them, even if they’re not on the playlist itself.

Persistence and discipline are the most important things. You don’t have to write every day if that doesn’t suit your needs, but I think you should have a plan for when you’re going to write at least.

Shefali’s culture prides themselves on their connections with nature and particularly their alliances with their steeds. If you could pick an animal to go into battle with, would you choose horses or eagles?

I’d choose an eagle. No one wants to ride a horse through NYC traffic, and eagles are just much cooler as mounts, even if heights terrify me a little. We’ve all got to overcome our fears somehow, right? Knowing my history with my tabletop mounts, though, I’d completely forget I even owned an eagle within a week.

Order Your Copy

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Follow K. Arsenault Rivera on Twitter and on her website.


Interview with Jenni L. Walsh, author of Becoming Bonnie

Placeholder of  -19Becoming Bonnie is the story of Bonnelyn Parker, a young woman who has her whole life ahead of her – until she meets the young Clyde Barrow. We asked Jenni L. Walsh some questions about her upcoming book about half of the famous criminal duo.

Will you tell us a little about Becoming Bonnie and what inspired you to write it?

Becoming Bonnie is the story of how Bonnie becomes the Bonnie of Bonnie and Clyde. The novel begins with her as Bonnelyn, a fictional name I dreamed up to depict her as a wholesome, church-going gal. By the novel’s end, she’s Bonnie, half of the infamous Bonnie and Clyde duo.

That transformation is the crux of the story, taking a young girl who was promised the American dream but who was instead given the Great Depression. The circumstances, hurdles, and obstacles she faces all lead to the pinnacle moment where she falls for a convicted felon—and turns to crime herself.

Interestingly enough, this story isn’t the one I first sought to tell. Driven by my desire to write the story of an iconic figure, I first began writing my own version of Bonnie and Clyde’s 1930s crime spree. I quickly put on the brakes, realizing I first needed readers to understand who Bonnie really was. What made her tick? What was her background? Why was she so loyal to Clyde Barrow? So I put what I’d written aside, hoping to one day use it in a sequel, and started over, going back five years to tell Bonnie Parker’s origin story, which also allowed me to drop Bonnie into a 1920s speakeasy in the middle of a foxtrot. Now that was a good time.

What did you enjoy most about writing it, and what was most challenging?

Both these questions can be answered with the same answer: Not much about Bonnie Parker’s background is known.

Sure, we know some things about Bonnie’s upbringing and her passions in life, along with how she met Clyde Barrow, but ultimately, I had a lot of leeway to tell the story I wanted to tell. I took what realities I could find, though one person’s account often contradicted with another’s first-hand anecdote, and I used those ‘truths’ as guideposts. Then I took the reader from point A to point B with whatever my imagination dreamed up. This was a lot of fun, but being Bonnie Parker is an actual person, I also had fears of misrepresenting her—and that I’d get called out for it. Even though Becoming Bonnie is fictional, I want those familiar with her real-life story to feel satisfied with my spin on it.

What’s the most interesting thing you learned while researching Becoming Bonnie?

Along with Bonnie’s background, I also dove into Clyde’s. While his violent and criminal actions are inexcusable, it was fascinating to see how he got to a place where crime was his answer, and maybe, just maybe, how his story would’ve gone differently if life wouldn’t zigged instead of zagged. I don’t want to go into too much detail, as my book touches upon these elements, but as a boy Clyde got a sickness that took some of his hearing. In his teens, he tried to apply to the Navy, however he received a medical rejection. But what if he hadn’t? What if Clyde joined the Navy? Would it have been the structure he needed? Would it have been a way for him to get what he wanted out of life? And ultimately, would he ever have met Bonnie Parker? You’ll see in Becoming Bonnie, that Bonnie has a very large role in Clyde becoming who he is, as well.

What’s your favorite word?

So, there’s one word I had to use when I set my book in the 1920s. Heebie-jeebies.

That word, or maybe its a phrase, has stuck with me for nearly twenty-two years, ever since witnessing this adorable back and forth on Boy Meets World:

Topanga: Why are you looking at me like that?
Cory: I will always look at you like this.
Topanga: Well, stop.
Cory: Why?
Topanga: Because you’re giving me the heebie-jeebies.
Cory: Good.

What’s the first book you remember loving?

One of the first books I bought for my kids because of a vague remembrance was Are You My Mother? My own mom said she used to read it nonstop to me when I was a youngster.

What’s your favorite method of procrastination?

Besides the obvious answer of social media, I procrastinate so much by rereading what I’ve already written, instead of writing brand new words and continuing my story. I’m sure there are worse forms of procrastination out there, but it eats up huge chunks of time, when I already have such small windows of time to write, thanks to my very demanding but very cute one-year-old and three-year-old.

What’s next for you?

I’m currently busy writing the sequel to Becoming Bonnie called Being Bonnie. I’m excited to get the chance to write the story I first set out to tell, and to continue Bonnie and Clyde’s story into the 1930s. The contrast of the settings from one book to the other has been a fun challenge to tackle, along with how I’m going to bring Bonnie’s story to an end.

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Follow Jenni L. Walsh on Twitter, on Facebook, and on her website.


Thoraiya Dyer Talks about Worldbuilding, Giant Rainforests, & Crossroads of Canopy

Crossroads of Canopy by Thoraiya DyerWelcome back to Fantasy Firsts. Today we are sharing an interview with Aurealis and Ditmar Award-winning author Thoraiya Dyer about her debut novel Crossroads of Canopy. This highly-anticipated novel is set in a mythical rainforest controlled by living gods and will become available on January 31st. You can sneak a peek of it here!

Crossroads of Canopy is set in a giant, rainforest world, and you drew upon a lot of scientific research to imagine this realm. What was some cool facts about this environment you were excited to include in the book? Or, was there something you really wanted to mention but couldn’t find the right spot for?

I was excited to include monsoonal weather patterns, aka the “big wet” in northern Australia.

In the temperate south of the continent, we have cold, rainy winters and hot, dry summers. However, in the tropical top end you get something like 75% of the annual rainfall dumped all at once in the summer (although they wouldn’t necessarily call it summer; the locals observe something closer to a six-season cycle.) Between October and February, Darwin gets an average of 1267mm rain. Which is a pretty cool fact!

On a trip to Nepal, I remember using elephants to get across a river because the monsoon had just finished and jeeps were useless.

Yeah. Monsoons. Exciting!

What else. Gap-axe wood really is too hard to cut into without ruining your axe. Fish really can climb up waterfalls. Sandpaper fig leaves, while not to my knowledge recorded as being used for depilation, are pretty good for smoothing spears. Sun bears don’t hibernate in the real world, but their appetite for honey and co-evolution with the tualang tree has produced in the latter a glassy, slippery trunk which prevents bears from climbing the trees and keeps the hosted giant honey bees, Apis dorsata, happy and safe.

As for things that didn’t fit, when I first tried to convince my agent, Evan, that a rainforest setting would be a good idea for a fantasy novel, I’d just seen a brilliant exhibition at the Australian Museum on the Aztecs. The words “jaguars and sloth gods” may have flown excitedly from the keyboard.

I found a place in Canopy for jaguars and their souped-up versions, the chimera. Possibly sloths got a mention once or twice, but the sloth god itself got canned.

Sorry, sloth god.

Greek mythology has a subtle influence in this worldbuilding along, including Canopy possessing its own pantheon of gods and goddess. How did you decide on these thirteen deities and their specific ruling “specialties”?

In the Greek stories of Odysseus and Atalanta, which inspired many of my characters and their arcs, you find prominent mention of the following immortals: Artemis (wild animals), Aphrodite (love), Zeus (thunder, ruled the other gods), Rhea (mother of gods), Hermes (emissary, travel, trade), Helios (sun), Thetis (sea) and Poseidon (also the sea).

Because I wanted things to be cyclical with reincarnation, not linear with mother and father gods, Rhea was left out, and Zeus became a tamer, lightning-only type of god. Canopians didn’t travel much outside the forest, so Hermes got cut. Canopians consider the sea to be practically mythical, so Poseidon didn’t survive, either. That left wild animals, the sun, and a freshwater goddess of the monsoon.

Love was an interesting one. If you look at the religion of the Indus Valley civilization, which preceded Hinduism in Nepal, you find a mother goddess, a father god, deified animals and plants, indications of water worship, and giant stone genitalia.

No mention of love.

I combined love with the sun and kept it, because I was doing the compromise thing. If you look at the geographical half-way point between Nepal and Greece, you find Ishtar, the Babylonian goddess of fertility, love and war.

If you visit the Temple of Eshmun near Sidon, Lebanon, you find hundreds of marble statues of babies. Eshmun was a Phoenician god of healing. His origin story goes like this: He was born an eighth son in Beirut. As he grew into a young man, Ishtar/Astarte romantically pursued him, to the point where he fatally castrated himself with an axe. She then resurrected him and turned him into a god.

He was the patron deity of Sidon from about 500BC. If your child was sick, you’d have a stone replica carved and sent to the Temple in the hope that Eshmun would heal them. No matter where they are in space or time, no matter what they believe, people want to keep their children safe.

In Canopy, the god Odel, Protector of Children, holds a special place in my heart.

Many characters seem to leap from great heights in a death-defying way! How much climbing research (or hands-on experiences!) went into this book?

Here’s where I confess that I suck at rock-climbing. Once, I abseiled with my uncle into this amazing cave system in Canada. We dropped down seventy metres into pitch blackness. Waited for pumps to evacuate water from “the birth canal” before squeezing through it. Endured waterfalls in the face and having to balance in foot-width, ice-cold watercourses to avoid touching and ruining the crystal-covered walls. All that was fine…but climbing back up? Ahahahaha! Talk to my stepson. He’s good at that stuff. I’m an armchair Ninja Warrior.

My stepdaughter advised me to google the extreme climber known as the Monkey Man. So I’m confident in humankind’s ability to do the things I described. Just not me personally. Although I have stripped off a bit of bark and inadvertently grabbed a spider before. So there’s that.

The idea of one having a great destiny is what motivated Unar to start her adventure. Do you, too, believe we all have some sort of fate awaiting us?

I’m a scientist. I believe in statistical likelihoods. Which, I admit, can sometimes seem like destiny.

Crossroads of Canopy is your novel debut, but readers mostly know your award-winning short fiction. What are the challenges between writing short versus writing longform?

I think many years of writing short fantasy fiction made me not only succinct, but enamoured of the mysteriousness of my succinctness. One real challenge for me was to flesh things out in this manuscript. How did Unar and Aoun meet one another? In a short story that’s not my problem! What are they wearing? They have insects and bark, you work it out! Except, no, here it’s my job to make sure you smell the patchwork of pressed leaves, see Aoun sitting by the closed Gate of the Garden, and feel the silk as you stroll through the market.

If you could be a goddess from any mythology, who would you choose and why?

Artemis, for sure. I like deer and dogs and I wish I was better at archery.

Buy Crossroads of Canopy here:

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Don’t forget to follow Thoraiya Dyer on Twitter (@ThoraiyaDyer) or visit her website.


Interview with W. Bruce Cameron, Author of A Dog’s Purpose

A Dog's Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron

As any lover of dogs will tell you, there’s nothing quite like the friendships between human beings and their canine companions. A Dog’s Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron gives us humans a chance at a dog’s eye view of the world, and next month it’s coming to the big screen! We sat down with the author to talk about adaptations and, of course, dogs – on and off set.

How has the movie, A Dog’s Purpose, changed your life?

I have always been so interested in reading that I forget that most people don’t dispose all of their income at the bookstore. When one of my novels is published I’m surprised it isn’t mentioned on the floor of Congress or put into the minutes at the UN.  What seems hugely important to me doesn’t really register with most folks.  So for a long time I’ve had to tell people what I’ve written and what it’s about.  Now, though, when I say I’ve written A Dog’s Purpose, they’ve all heard of it.  That has given me the illusion that I am more popular.

What was it like to interact with the canine stars on set?

Okay, you caught me. I was supposed to be talking to the actors, the producer, the director, and instead I spent all my time playing with the dogs.  I bonded with the Corgi to the point I think he and I both thought he would be flying home with me, and rolling around with the dogs on set was the most fun I’ve had in some time.  I don’t think the dog trainers were too happy with me, though.  I was a bit of a distraction.

What, creatively, is the difference between writing a novel and adapting a screenplay?

Adaption is like sitting down and deciding which of your fingers to cut off. It’s all about what to throw out, because if you try to take all of A Dog’s Purpose and cram it into a movie, you’re going to have a five-hour movie.  There is so much story that has to go, so much character detail.  It’s like tossing ballast out of a hot air balloon—for it to fly, you have to dump stuff.  I think the movie is magnificent, but it is not the whole picture.  For that, you have to read the novel.  I think understanding, for example, what is going on in Todd’s head, or why the dog’s first starts thinking about purpose, or why Buddy returns to the dog park, will really enrich the movie-going experience.

Will there will be a sequel to the A Dog’s Purpose movie?

If enough people go to the movie when it comes out, everything is in place to begin work on the sequel almost immediately. So, fingers crossed.

You have your own dog at home, Tucker. How did he come into your life?

Tucker was abandoned as a newborn with his siblings in a box outside of a city shelter, an act of heartlessness that is the inspiration for my novel The Dogs of Christmas. (Spoiler alert:  it’s really happy).  My daughter runs an animal rescue in Denver ( and picked up the puppies and gave them to a mother dog who had just weaned her pups the day before.  The mother dog nursed the little abandoned puppies until they were old enough to be adopted, and by that time, my daughter knew Tucker was the dog for us.  She had a real talent for that: matching people with pets.  She brought Tucker to us and he’s been in charge of the house ever since.

What else do you have in the works?

I have a set of books for younger readers that are based on the A Dog’s Purpose Ellie’s Story details the life of Ellie, the search-and-rescue dog.  Bailey’s Story tells the life of Bailey, the childhood pet.  Both of those are just out.  And in the fall of 2017 we’ll see the publication of Molly’s Story, the cancer-sniffing dog.  On the adult front, A Dog’s Way Home will be out in May.  It tells the story of a dog banished by breed-specific legislation who, taken far away from her family, decides to find her way back—through hundreds of miles of wilderness.  And in June, A Dad’s Purpose, which is a humorous look at what it is like to be a father in today’s world.

I’ve read A Dog’s Purpose—what should I read next?

I would highly recommend the next novel in the series: A Dog’s Journey continues the story of the dog in A Dog’s Purpose, pretty much picking up right where the first book left off.  A Dog’s Journey actually has a high reader-rating than A Dog’s Purpose, but I’ll leave it up to the individual to decide which one is better.

Buy A Dog’s Purpose here:

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Follow W. Bruce Cameron on Twitter (@adogspurpose) and Facebook, or visit his website.



Q&A with W. Bruce Cameron, the Author of The Dog Master

The Dog Master by W. Bruce CameronAuthor W. Bruce Cameron discusses The Dog Master, the story of one tribe’s struggle for survival and one extraordinary man’s bond with a wolf—a friendship that changed mankind forever.

How did the idea for The Dog Master originate? What was your inspiration? Was there a particular event, circumstance, or something else that spurred you to write it?

I read that all dogs share common DNA with the first domesticated wolves, which means that the dog lying at my feet while I write this is, deep inside his double helix, a wolf. That’s why, in the wild, wolves chew shoes and bark at the UPS man.

My dog seems to have been bred to take naps. He regards my bed as his and grudgingly allows me to sleep there at night. To get to his particular breed mix from wolves must have involved a lot of odd Darwinian processes, and I began thinking about that. How, in other words, did we get here?

I started tracking stories about when humans and wolves began living together, and was startled to learn that the fossil record suggests we adopted canine companions right when things were looking the bleakest for mankind. Ice was crushing everything in its path as the glaciers ground their way south, so that we were forced out of the trees and onto the plains where we could be hunted by animals of speed and tooth and claw. Neanderthals, who were stronger and faster and perhaps, judging by their brain pans, smarter, were competing for the same scare resources. Yet somehow, despite all these challenges, we survived, prevailed.

It seemed obvious to me that it was because of the dogs. I wanted to tell the story of how that all came to pass.

Can you tell us a little about The Dog Master?

Think of how unlikely it was that humans and wolves would come to trust each other. After all, even today wolves avoid us. Back then, before we developed the technology to eliminate the aggressive ones, we were probably just another food source to them—soft, slow, and weak, armed with sticks instead of gunpowder.

And we were starving. Why would we share fresh meat with an animal when we were having problems feeding our children?

So something extraordinary, unique in our history, must have occurred to bring these two competing species together. The Dog Master imagines what that was, how this all came about.

The Dog Master is a work of fiction based on an indisputable fact: dogs are our modern-day companions, their fates inextricably bound to ours. How do you envision this intimate relationship developing?

Evolution is the water torture of processes, a drip-by-drip force of nature that moves so slowly no one can see it while it’s happening right in front of them. So no one could have had the time, nor the patience, to steadily work with a pack of wolves to induce them to trust us enough to join us at the camp fire. It was, instead, a single wolf, and a single human, coming together under extraordinary circumstances.

There are a lot of complex-but-relatable characters in The Dog Master. Do you have a favorite? Is there a character you ended up not liking at all?

Ah, well, I don’t think I’ve ever created such a deliciously wicked villain as Albi. And, like most truly evil people, her motives are clear and out in the open, which makes it that much more difficult to stop her.

I won’t say here which character I like the least, except to say that the reason I despise him is because he is, at heart, a coward.

What was your favorite part of writing The Dog Master? Least favorite?

My favorite part of the writing is that all the drama, mystery, and suspense was already built into the landscape. We were being hunted, we were having trouble finding food, the landscape was changing, other tribes were menacing—and yet we were determined to survive. Our social fabric was complex enough to allow us to live together in clans and communities, and the things that are important today—finding a mate, having and protecting children—were even more important then, because it was how we were surviving when the odds were so against us.

Least favorite? There was so much more to write about! The book had to end, of course, but there are so many amazing things to come for the characters in The Dog Master.

Are there any new updates about the upcoming A Dog’s Purpose movie, which is being directed by Lasse Hallström for DreamWorks?

We start shooting in August 2015. I’ve been told I will have a major role in the movie if they decide not to hire actors.

What’s next for you?

Looks like I’ll be on the set for A Dog’s Purpose a week or so after the release of The Dog Master. And we’ve got another independent movie that we hope will be out in 2016. After that, I’ve got another novel in the series that started with The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man that is written and will be out in 2016. More immediately, I’m going to make a burrito and then take Tucker for a walk.

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