SHADOWBLADE book trailer!

And… here it is!

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Interview with Amber Royer, author of PURE CHOCOLATE

I am so excited to welcome my today’s guest, Amber Royer, whose PURE CHOCOLATE has just been released by Angry Robot Books. Yes, it’s PURE CHOCOLATE, everyone!

In a galaxy where chocolate is literally addictive, one celebrity chef is fighting back, in the delicious sequel to Free Chocolate

To save everyone she loves, Bo Bonitez is touring Zant, home of the murderous, shark-toothed aliens who so recently tried to eat her. In the midst of her stint as Galactic paparazzi princess, she discovers that Earth has been exporting tainted chocolate to the galaxy, and getting aliens hooked on cocoa. Bo must choose whether to go public, or just smile for the cameras and make it home alive. She’s already struggling with her withdrawal from the Invincible Heart, and her love life has a life of its own, but when insidious mind worms intervene, things start to get complicated!

And, without any further ado, here is Amber:

Amber Royer writes fun science fiction involving chocolate, aliens, lovesick AIs, time travel, VR, and more. She’s the author of the CHOCOVERSE comic space opera series (FREE CHOCOLATE available now, Book 2, PURE CHOCOLATE, coming March 2019 from Angry Robot Books). She and her husband have also co-authored two cookbooks (one of which is all about chocolate), and she has a column through Dave’s Garden where she writes about cooking and gardening. She teaches creative writing in North Texas for both UT Arlington Continuing Education and Writing Workshops Dallas.   If you are very nice to her, she might make you cupcakes.

There is an opinion out there that writing action tends to detract from character development. Do you ever feel this way — and how do you manage to balance them so well?

Awww…I appreciate the compliment.

That certainly can happen, especially if a book has a lot of action scenes.  There are two keys to avoiding that particular problem.

One, make the action scenes have a purpose in the character’s arc and/or the reader’s understanding of that character.  And that means that each one has to play out differently.  Look at the way the scenes are done in the Princess Bride.  We learn an awful lot about Wesley psychologically in the chain of action scenes that take place at the top of the cliff.  He admires skill and sees something of value in Inigo and spares his life – and we also see him evenly matched, even “bragging” by fighting left-handed.  Then we see him outmatched by Fezzik, and appreciative of the mercy he’s been shown by the giant’s desire to make the confrontation fair – and we see Wesley’s creativity in the fight.  And then we see him against Vizzini, and realize that Wesley isn’t going to shy away from letting Vizzini drink the poison.  We know so much more about Wesley than if we’d just seen that callous side of him in the last confrontation, and we’re attached enough to his sympathetic side that we hardly notice that he’s left a corpse on the ground.

The second comes down to making each action scene mean something to the character.  In my own work, particularly at the beginning of Free Chocolate, Bo is naive. The idea of someone invading her space and holding a gun on her is shocking – and yet, she feels some level of sympathy when she finds out WHY her would-be kidnapper is there.  That not only tells the reader a good deal about Bo, but tells us how she feels about a conflict that provides context to her other actions in the plot.

How do you approach creating new alien species and planets?

A lot of times, I’m playing with tropes, or with things I’ve seen done poorly.  For instance, sometimes characters are given special traits in a way that seems merely decorative.  So when I gave Krom color changing eyes, I didn’t want it to just be a cool factor.  I made it a part of their body language (can you imagine what courtship would be like on a world where someone can look into your eyes and literally see you’re head over heels in love with them – and you may not even know it yourself yet?) and culture (sunglasses are illegal on Krom, because they mean you have something to hide).  And I also wanted it to be a drawback, to balance some of the other “superman” traits I gave them, so the color change makes it difficult for a Krom to lie.  I also designed the species with the role I had for the individual characters from that species throughout the series in mind.  It’s funny in the first book when I have Brill survive being frozen inside a giant chocolate sculpture.  But when you look at the biological traits he has to have for that to happen – antifreeze in his blood and book-lungs that hold oxygen and prevent collapse – you can see more serious, high-action possibilities that I’m planning for.

I don’t usually think about the planet until after I’ve figured out the alien characters.  They mostly come from the implications of what I’ve designed into the alien psychologically, culturally and biologically.  For instance, I established in Free Chocolate that Chestla has a high need for salt, otherwise her blood pressure will drop.  So when Bo finally gets to her planet in Pure Chocolate, the first thing they offer her is a cup of herbed salt water.  Water in general is rationed, and the food is so salty it makes Bo miserable.  Part of Chestla’s backstory is that she was once in love, but he died on a hunt, protecting someone’s life, so when Bo goes to the region where that happened, I had to create a landscape where a dangerous hunt could take place – and design food animals that lived up to the hype I’d built about how dangerous they are.  But at the same time Chestla’s hugely gifted in chemistry, so I needed her to be from a city with elegance and culture.  It makes for a complex society.

Once I have all that, then I like to find and print out a topographical map that could be a reasonable representation of that planet or region and draw landmarks on it with markers.

What is your favorite type of character you simply can’t resist putting into your novels?

I’m a sucker for redeemable, flawed male leads.  I like to see characters grow into better people, and the guys I write all seem to start out with a “bad boy” edge to them that gets filed down by the story, even in my unpublished manuscripts.

I also love complicated protector characters, like Chestla.  She’s a fan-favorite for a reason.  That combination of vulnerable and kick-butt keeps coming up in my work, in the shape of otherwise dissimilar characters.

What are the five most important elements of creating a realistic world?

The planet should have regions with varying climates.  And individuals shouldn’t just come from that planet – but from a specific area on that planet, that has history in conflict and in concert with other areas.

The economy has to make sense.  On Zant (where most land masses are islands) the resources that are plentiful and those that are scarce are different than on Evevron, where ecological disasters have made the region Bo visit’s prey to massive dust storms.  Rationing and trading in water only makes sense on one of those planets.

The people should have differing viewpoints on their own history.  You can’t paint someone as representative of an entire world without it feeling like a world of clones.

The language should have a specific “music” to it.  Real languages each have a certain set of sounds and way of putting those sounds together that allow you to tell which language someone is speaking, as long as you have had some exposure to it, even if you don’t have enough vocabulary to make out what they are saying.  Zantite sounds a little like gargling rocks.  Krom has a lot of flowing tones.  You wouldn’t confuse one for the other.

Things that are alien should be truly alien – or at least put together in a unique way.  If it’s a 1 to 1 correlation to any Earth region/culture, not only are you going to run the risk of stereotyping, vilifying or glorifying that culture, but you’re going to leave the reader wondering why you wrote it as a science fiction story at all.  Dig deep and come up with the wildest things you can imagine – but remember that characters, even when they are aliens, must have something “human” in terms of understandable goals and motivations for us to connect to them as people.

What is your favorite part — and your biggest challenge — in writing a sequel, rather than a standalone book?

My favorite part is the way you can both redefine and deepen the meaning of things you introduced earlier on.  (Such as the Krom ideals dealing with commodities and violence.)  And you can smash the characters into situations that change the character dynamics.  When I wrote Pure Chocolate, I never imagined what kind of relationship Brill and Chestla might have with each other.  But they are both highly protective of Bo.  So in the second book, they have to work together to keep Bo safe, and that makes them friends.

The biggest challenge is having to re-introduce information in a way that becomes memorable without taking up too much space in the book.  You can’t re-play entire scenes.  So you have the character narrate the information – and tell us how she feels about it, to give it context.

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Guest interview: Patrice Sarath, the author of FOG SEASON

Patrice Sarath is an author and editor living in Austin, Texas. Her novels include the fantasy books The Sisters Mederos and Fog Season (Books I and II of the Tales of Port Saint Frey), the series Books of the Gordath (Gordath Wood, Red Gold Bridge, and The Crow God’s Girl) and the romance The Unexpected Miss Bennet.

Patrice is the author of numerous short stories that have appeared in magazines and anthologies, including Weird Tales, Black Gate, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Realms of Fantasy, and many others. Her short story “A Prayer for Captain La Hire” was included in Year’s Best Fantasy of 2003 compiled by David Hartwell and Katherine Cramer. Her story “Pigs and Feaches,” originally published in Apex Digest, was reprinted in 2013 in Best Tales of the Apocalypse by Permuted Press.

Fog Season, has been released this week by Angry Robot Books, UK

After the shocking events of last summer, the high society of Port Saint Frey has plenty to gossip about. Who was the Gentleman Bandit? Why hasn’t he been captured? And what really happened that night when the Guildmaster disappeared? When the Guild hires Abel Fresnel, a detective with special powers of his own, to find the answers, Tesara and Yvienne Mederos have to avoid his probing questions and keep mum about their role in the events of that dark night. Everything’s more or less under control until a dead man turns up in the dumbwaiter…

____________________________

Today I’ve asked Patrice to stop by and answer some questins about her writing. And here is what I’ve learned:

 

Q: What do you like most about worldbuilding? What are your biggest challenges?

A: I think every fantasy and science fiction writer gets in the game for the worldbuilding. I mean, it’s the most fun, right? My goal with worldbuilding is to make the created world feel as lived in as our own. I focus on character interaction with their world in the same way we interact with ours. I don’t write paragraphs of long detail but instead provide my worldbuilding in small, concrete illustrations of how the world feels, smells, looks, and impacts the character.

In the Tales of Port Saint Frey (The Sisters Mederos and Fog Season), the world is a secondary fantasy world that is an analogue to a late Regency/early Victorian timeframe. Therefore the science and technology are roughly the same as that time period. Even though automobiles and trains don’t appear in the world, they are about 30 to 40 years in the future. If I get to keep writing stories in this world, this level of technology will appear.

There are other little tidbits of information about the world that I keep to myself. I know what the wider world is like, but the characters are focused on their lives and their problems in their own port city, hence the title, The Tales of Port Saint Frey. With each successive novel, however, this wider world will impinge upon the characters.

This is what I love about worldbuilding, to create this lived-in, three-dimensional setting, that gives the reader a sense that the world carries on when they close the book. It’s also the hardest to get right. When writing fantasy we have to describe something the character takes for granted to a reader who has never encountered it before. It’s a puzzle, and I love when I nail it, because when you can make a reader feel as if they’ve been somewhere before, no matter how fantastic — or conversely, make them want to go there — you’ve provided an excellent reader experience. And that’s what it’s all about.

 

Q: Do you write your novels by outlines and in sequence of events? Or, do you jump around?

A: I am so not an outliner. I have a writing friend who creates these elaborate, multipage outlines before she writes a single word of the story, and I Just. Can’t. Do it. That said, I actually do outline. I outline as I go. When I finish a writing session, I jot out what has to happen next, and even fill that out as I go along, and build the novel out. I don’t always adhere to that outline, but it gives me guidelines of where roughly the story has to go. The characters don’t always listen to the outline, so I trust what they have to say, and I’m flexible.

I used to not outline at all, and as a result I would end up cutting anywhere from 20,000 words to 40,000 words when the novel took a turn that didn’t work. I haven’t done that in a while, which is a good thing.

I do write out of sequence often, and that can be quite fun. If I am writing toward an impactful scene, one that will drive a reversal in the book or change the course of my characters’ lives, I’ll go ahead and write that scene and then write toward it. It’s a great feeling to meet up with it — it’s like there’s a palpable click as the two parts of the manuscript meet.

 

Q: What are the benefits and challenges of incorporating romance subplots into your fantasy?

I love romance so much, and there are romantic elements in every book that I write. Connection is important, emotional journeys are important, and love gives meaning to everyone’s lives. Love stories inside fantasy stories are a perfect fit, because we are writing these larger-than-life characters in larger-than-life settings, with magic and mayhem and adventure–of course there should be romantic intrigue. Now, having said all that I prefer that my characters not get hitched to the first person they kiss, especially if they are young, like the sisters in The Sisters Mederos, so I don’t take my romance all the way to a romance HEA. I let them have plenty of kissing though, even unsuitable boys. But that’s just me.

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BLADES OF THE OLD EMPIRE audiobook

…It’s in production! And, it’s going to be gorgeous — I just know it!

With my foreign language background, I tend to find an odd dissonance between the words as they sound in my head and their look on the page. I carefully avoid reading my text out loud before it is completely finished, because these off-accent sounds tend to kill the mood for me. There are also all the layers of seeing my words on the computer screen and on a printed page.

And then there are the names. I’ve seen readers and reviewers comment on them, and sometimes wonder about their pronounciation.

You can’t imagine my excitement when earlier this month I received an audiobook contract for BLADES OF THE OLD EMPIRE, the first book in my Majat Code series. Or, the excitement of discussing the pronounciation key and writing down the way the character names sound in my head. Getting the narrator’s input and great suggestions on conveying the accents and flavors of speech in my book, from the northerners living around the Majat Fortress, to the commoners’ speech in the Lakelands, and the soft lilt of the visitors from the deserts of Shayil Yara… I am so excited to hear it all for the first time, and to witness my created world acquire new dimensions through the narrator’s voice.

And yes — hint, hint — this is only the beginning… Stay tuned for more!

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SHADOWBLADE cover and updates!

Yes, it is really happening: my new novel, SHADOWBLADE, upcoming from Angry Robot in May 2019, has a gorgeous new cover by the amazing Alejandro Colucci, who just has the knack of bringing my characters to life:

The book, along with an exclusive excerpt, has been featured in a wonderful USA Today post late last year, and is mentioned by Kirkus as part of the stellar 2019 lineup. It is going out for reviews very soon, and it is of course available for preorder from all major retailers.

Stay tuned for more news…

 

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My schedule at Philcon 2018: November 16-18, Crowne Plaza Hotel, Cherry Hill, NJ

I will be attending Philcon 2018, where I am appearing on a number of panels and doing a reading from my upcoming novel, SHADOWBLADE (Saturday at 2 pm).

Right after that I will be at the autograph table (Saturday from 3 to 4). Please stop by for some freebies and a friendly conversation!

Here is my full schedule:

Friday, November 16:

FANTASY WITHOUT FANTASY?: 8:00 PM in Plaza III (Three) (1 hour) (3060)

[Panelists: Jim Stratton (mod), Ken Altabef, Sally Wiener Grotta, Carl Paolino, Marshall Ryan Maresca, Anna Kashina]

How much actual supernaturalism or other fantastic elements (dragons, magic, elves, etc.) does a fantasy story require? There are examples of books marketed as fantasy, set in imaginary places, that contain no fantastic elements- How do they function within the genre

Saturday, November 17: 

 FOUNDATIONS OF WORLDBUILDING: PLANETARY SYSTEMS & SPACE: 11:00 AM in Plaza III (Three) (1 hour) (3066)

[Panelists: Jazz Hiestand (mod), Anna Kashina, Nicholas MacDonald-Martell, Dr. Valerie J. Mikles, John Monahan]

What effect would having two moons do to the oceans of your world? How do the orbital paths of your planets affect the transit times between them? What factors should you take into account when constructing *your* ideal star system

THE DEPICTIONS OF TECHNOLOGY IN STAR WARS AND STAR TREK: 12:00 PM in Crystal Ballroom Two (1 hour)  (3108)

[Panelists: Jeff Warner (mod), John Ashmead, Inge Heyer, Jay Wile, Anna Kashina, Glenn Hauman]

How do these universes differ in the ways they depict their tech? How did the history of each world affect the invention and uses of medical devices, weaponry, methods of transportation, and robotic beings

READING: SHADOWBLADE: Sat 2:00 PM in Executive Suite 623 (1 hour)  (3335)

[Panelists: Brandon Budda (mod), Anna Kashina]

Autograph Table Sat 3:00 PM(1 hour) (3350)

[Panelists: Inge Heyer (mod), Anna Kashina]

WRITING INTIMATE RELATIONSHIPS IN THE ERA OF THEY: Sat 6:00 PM in Plaza II (Two) (1 hour)  (3077)

[Panelists: Robert C. Roman (mod), Dr. Valerie J. Mikles, Anna Kashina, Alana Phelan, Kevin Patterson, Linda J. Lee]

Our notions about romance, sex, and marriage are evolving to keep pace with a world that continues to gain a more nuanced understanding of gender identity, the spectrum of human sexuality, and what a family is. Does your writing reflect an inclusive future, or one where the standards of 1950’s America have remained the norm

Sunday, November 18:

THE FUTURE OF SYNTHETIC BIOLOGY AND PUBLIC BIOHACKING: Sun, 11am (1 hour)
Synthetic biology aims to create organisms that maintain and propagate themselves while producing a desired outcome, whether that is flowers that glow in the dark, cells that produce rare drugs, or architectural organisms that serve as living homes. From do-it-yourself biologists to biohackers to the International Genetically Engineered Machine, people are already bringing synthetic biology to life. We  will discuss technologies that are available now, illustrative examples, and possible dangers of synthetic life.

THE MYTH OF THE MAD SCIENTIST: Sun 1:00 PM in Plaza II (Two) (1 hour) (3078)

[Panelists: Jim Stratton (mod), John Ashmead, Aaron Feldman, Anna Kashina, Alan P. Smale]

Despite a long history in fiction of solo geniuses making the ultimate breakthroughs in their basement labs, collaboration is necessary for scientific advancement. So why do we glorify the loner scientist trope? Can we make collaborative science feel equally heroic? How do we portray science being done realistically while still meeting the needs of the story

 

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Publication announcement: SHADOWBLADE!!!

Today I am so thrilled to share the big news: my newest novel, SHADOWBLADE, will be published by Angry Robot Books in May 2019! This book features a lot of my favorite themes, including elite blademasters, a kick-ass heroine, imperial politics — and of course, romance!

To commemorate this announcement, Fantasy Faction has published this wonderful post, with more details, as well as my very own toast to fantasy romance:

http://fantasy-faction.com/2018/a-toast-to-fantasy-romance-guest-blog-by-anna-kashina

It is so exciting to be at liberty to talk about it now — and of course, I can’t wait for more exciting news to come!

Stay tuned…

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