Not a Triumphant Return to Blogging

pexels-photo-66107Hey, everybody. Long time no see!

I’m not dead! This is not my triumphant return to blogging. But here’s what I’ve been up to lately:

  • I recorded a podcast with Geekish Cast. We talked about fiction, storytelling, trashy Eighties movies, and… yeah, more talk about trashy Eighties movies.
  • I wrote a thing about worldbuilding for the Chapter Book Challenge.
  • I’ve been blogging over at The Scriptors, about creative voids, outlining, and other things.
  • I got a writing job working for Blinq. I’m also a loyal Blinq customer. Really. I’m wearing the Fitbit I bought there as I type this on the Chromebook I bought there, and I’m happy with both. They’re good people.
  • I finished the draft of Etheric, the sequel to Orison, and sent it out to beta readers.
  • On his site A Cook and a Geek, my buddy Brian Vo started posting tasty recipes around the theme of Etheric.  You should read them, then make them and tell me how you liked them.

Anyway, so there’s that. I’m sure there’s probably something else, but I’ve forgotten.

Good catching up! Hope to see you around!

A Fistful of Lunars: Interview With Tristan Tarwater

tumblr_inline_n9marq0CrL1sc3iz7Today I interview Tristan Tarwater. Tarwater, along with illustrator Adrian Ricker, is the creative mind behind the Valley of Ten Crescents series and the upcoming Shamsee: A Fistful of Lunars, a graphic novel about unlucky rogues, conniving gangsters, and an underworld full of big plans, bigger risks and bloody consequences. The graphic novel’s Kickstarter recently hit its initial goal, and Tristan was kind enough to answer some questions about the project. So here we go!

 First off, please tell us a little about Shamsee: a Fistful of Lunars.

Shamsee: A Fistful of Lunars is a graphic novel about a bit player getting into a lot of trouble. Shamsee shows up in two of my novels, Thieves at Heart and Self-Made Scoundrel and his role in those books is as kind of a cautionary tale. Kind of, if you can’t be a good example, you’ll just have to be a dire warning? The other characters knows he’s small time and not super trustworthy but he can be useful on occasion so people don’t get on him too hard. In this graphic novel he takes center stage, making bad decisions and connecting with other players in the criminal underworld and there’s an implication that these small actions lead to bigger events. It’s the story of a wild card trying to live their life in a much bigger world.

Where did you get the idea for this project?

Well, I’ve always wanted to do a comic, truth be told. I got the idea kind of from my Spouse, who swears The Valley of Ten Crescents is about Shamsee, which it isn’t, though he will come back, ha! I wanted to do something a bit more light hearted and I thought Shamsee would be a great character for a comic and of course, he’d wind up owing someone money. It kind of spiraled out from there.

What do you think sets Fistful of Lunars apart?

On the story side, it’s the tale of a normal person trying to go about their business while stuff falls apart around them. A lot of fiction is centered around the major players, the people in charge, trying to change the world or the system and meanwhile, there are a lot of people in the background, trying to get to work, buying things for dinner, needing to unwind with friends and trying to find time, paying their bills.

There’s a very natural kind of feedback, where the actions of both groups of people actually do affect others, but its not always recognized. Shamsee is a normal person, albeit with no profession to speak of, and like a lot of people strapped for cash, he’s thinking about today only. A lot of people are looking towards the horizon and the long game and he’s flailing along at the edge of their sight, ruining their view of the sunset but he doesn’t realize it. Shamsee’s main concern is, aaah, I need to get this money! Small time players in a world where big things happen is a theme of Ten Crescents, really. A Fistful of Lunars is a lot funnier than the books though. He’s not even an anti-hero, he’s that guy you know who just can’t get his life together in spades that you keep around for a laugh.

On the more technical side, Fistful of Lunars is a graphic novel tied to a set of novels, written by the author, which isn’t super common. In addition, everything is released under Creative Commons, which basically means feel free to remix and reuse, as long as you attribute and don’t sell it. Because, why not?

tumblr_n9ngyvi4D51tw32kho1_500Up until now, you’ve been (as far as I know) a novel writer. Why Shamsee, and why a graphic novel?

As I’ve said, I’ve always wanted to do a comic and I think Shamsee lends itself a bit more to the visual humor you can get with a graphic novel. Not being able to draw is probably the main reason I held off so long. I had a few ideas for other comics but Shamsee’s just very funny and the dialogue came very naturally, for him and the other characters. Thieves at Heart and Self Made Scoundrel are about thieves who know what they’re doing and use their skills to do all sorts of things and Shamsee is just the dregs, as Derk would put it. But even the dregs have to get stuff done. Shamsee’s a hoot. I wouldn’t trust him with a bag of air but he’s fun to write. I wrote almost entire first draft of the script in one sitting while living in California and when I met Adrian and saw his portfolio I thought, this is the guy, he’s so good at world building visually and his figures are excellent. I asked him and luckily for me, he said yes.

How did you and Adrian Ricker begin working together?

Ha, so this is kind of a funny story. Back in the day, my spouse and I used to do property management and Adrian and his partner, Michelle Nguyen, who is also a super talented illustrator, lived in one of the apartments. My spouse was more aware of them than I was, because I’d just had our kid and worked part time and didn’t interact with the residents as much as he did. Anyway, fastforward a bunch of years later, we were at Stumptown Comics Festival after moving back to Portland in 2013 and we ran into Adrian. We wound up talking and buying some of his art (he has a rad illustration of Daenerys from GoT that I had to get) and I had the script already and was like, maybe I’ll ask Adrian if he wants to do this? Maybe he’d dig it? And luckily he said yes.

The Fistful of Lunars Kickstarter funded very fast! What’s it been like to get that kind of support?

I have gifs that would be appropriate to answer this, ha! But the short version: very exciting and also nerve wracking! Always, with any kind of project, that’s basically my feeling. It’s exciting to know at this point, 66 people think Shamsee is a good idea, want to read this, want to be IN this, since we offered being drawn into a comic as our reward, shared it because they thought it sounded cool. Knowing Adrian and I had that much reach was kind of affirming too. It’s kind of a weird, industry thing to say but it’s true, I’ve been working on stuff in Ten Crescents since 2009, I’ve got a group of fans who love Ten Crescents and I love them for reading, for imagining with me, and for their support. It means a lot, and those people are always the first backers, and they’re lovely. If they didn’t care, I wouldn’t make stuff for them, I’d have to move on from something I love and that’d be super sad.

It’s also nerve wracking because I mean, it’s a Kickstarter! And it’s not over, there’s still a lot to do just to keep it on people’s minds and get it seen and all the while worrying something will get messed up, waiting for the proof to arrive, hoping to make the stretch goals. So there’s a security in funding so quickly but the clock’s still ticking, I have to make sure those numbers keep going up! I owe it to myself and everyone who has already backed and supported us!

Did you face any challenges due to the success of the Kickstarter?

I know after we funded SO quickly, we were kind of staring at each other, thinking, did we mess up somewhere, should we have set the goal higher? We’ve crunched the numbers more than a few times, so I think we’re okay. Our big challenge will be getting all the rewards out before GeekGirlCon but that shouldn’t be an issue. We’re pretty sure we timed it all right.

tumblr_n9mc6qx2Rd1tw32kho1_500How does writing a graphic novel differ from writing a text novel?

For me, writing a graphic novel is different because I generally start a comic just writing all the dialog. It’s dialog driven, I write what I think everyone would say, then I go back, fill in who is talking to who, what’s in the scene, what the scene is, the shots. As it gets the art put in, I pare down the dialog because with the visual medium, a lot more can be unsaid so the final wordcount of the draft versus the finished comic is different. When I write a novel, I think about what’s going to be said but I have to paint the scene and the situation myself.

Also, obviously, since I can’t draw for crap, I’m writing for Adrian. Working with someone is super interesting. You have to worry about someone else getting sick of the project, hahaha!

Would you say it’s easier or more difficult?

I’d say easier, at least on my end; just in terms of scope of work, my job is to break out GoogleDocs and go, he said, she said, they said, make sure this person is wearing a scarf, etc. For Adrian though, it’s a lot of work. The volume of work is just greater, illustrating, coloring and lettering a comic. It takes hours, each page, regardless of ten words being said or a hundred. So even though it took me a few days to get the first draft of the script done, edited and all that, it’s taken a year to get it all on paper. Drawing takes a LOT of time and it’s 105 pages.

What is your process with the artist Adrian Ricker like?

I get the script ready and it’s usually in Drive so I can just shoot him the link. He looks it over and does thumbnails so we can get the flow and the composition of the comic down. Then he inks it, which is just the lines, just to make sure it all still works out, the way the story is acted out, what is shown and what isn’t. After those all are squared away, he colors it and letters it and I look it over for inconsistencies, typos, more superfluous language. It’s a lot of back and forth. This is my first comic and there’s probably a better way to do it but that’s how we did this one!

At the beginning of the project I give him the script but I also give him character write ups with images to go over what everyone looks like, what they’re wearing, why. If the character is influenced by an actor/character in media, I’ll send a video of them so he can get feel for their mannerisms. I also send photos of buildings, religious iconography, landscapes, anything that might come up, or something that sets the mood. I feel kind of bad, dumping a pile of images in his lap, but it helps in the end. Communication is a big deal when you’re collaborating with someone, to say the least.

What’s next after Fistful of Lunars? Are you and Adrian planning any projects for the future?

Oh jeez, so much more. I’ve planned Shamsee to be a series of five graphic novels. Adrian said he’s down, luckily. I haven’t scared him off yet! That makes me happy. The next comic should be done in about a year as well. It’s tentatively titled, ‘Lone Idiot and Cub,’ to give you an idea as to what may be happening.

Do you plan to write any more novels in the Valley of Ten Crescents world?

Yep! I’ve got the extremely rough first draft of the manuscript for the next book sitting in my file manager, waiting for me to get to it. I’ve got so many projects I want to do, books, short stories, graphic novels, webcomics, rpg stuff. I feel really lucky that I get to work on so many things with so many great people. Seriously. I am in the company of so many exceedingly talented people. It blows me away.

Surly Questions: Matthew Graybosch

Author of the “gonzo metalhead science fantasy epic” series STARBREAKER, Matthew Graybosch is an author with a day job in a dream. In this week’s Surly Questions, he talks with us about his upcoming projects, digital sharecropping, and the tragic loss of his grenade launcher. His novel Without Bloodshed is out on Amazon now. Thanks for the interview, Matthew!

authorWhen did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I can’t say I ever wanted to be a writer. What happened instead is more complicated, but not necessarily more interesting. I’ll try not to be too emo about my teenage existential crisis.

I was in college studying computer science because I had no clue about what I wanted to do with my life. I had pretty much given up on music, because I realized I’d never do for the viola what Eddie Van Halen did for the guitar. Religious life wasn’t for me, and my nearsightedness and problems with authority precluded a military career. Since I wasn’t trained for a skilled trade, and unwilling to spend my life bagging groceries, I stayed in school.

I was too poor and socially awkward to go out and get laid like all the cool kids were supposedly doing. I didn’t even have a car; I rode a bike to work and took the train to college, which gave me time to OD on genre fiction. After reading a particularly egregious fantasy novel, I decided that even a schmuck like me could do better.

So I set out to prove it. It seemed only natural that a bookworm should try his hand at writing, and it wasn’t like I had anything better to do with my life. Eighteen years later, I’ve got a science fantasy novel called Without Bloodshed on the shelves, a sequel called The Blackened Phoenix in progress, and a serial called Silent Clarion set to start next week. And if you’ve already decided this is too long, just wait. It just gets worse from here.

What, for you, is the most difficult part of being a writer?

Every time I finish writing a scene, I’m stuck with the suspicion that I’ve just dumped a few kilobytes of fresh, steaming crap onto my computer. I can’t be objective about my own work. I assume it’s utter shit, because I want to surpass Moorcock and Zelazny and Heinlein and Dumas and all the other novelists whose work I respect.

As pathetic as this sounds, I need external validation. I need someone else to read what I’ve written and tell me that I haven’t wasted my time despite any imperfections present in the work. Otherwise, I’m liable to waste years rewriting the same material over and over again. I didn’t finish a satisfactory draft of Starbreaker until 2009 because of my perfectionism.

without-bloodshed-final-coverYou describe Starbreaker as being heavily inspired by metal music. What music in particular informs the story, and how?

To start with, I stole the title from a Judas Priest song off the Sin After Sin album. Then there’s the series’ primary antagonist, Imaginos. His initial inspiration was a concept album of the same name by the Blue Oyster Cult. Like his BOC namesake, my Imaginos is an actor in history. He manipulates humanity for his own ends, however, rather than those of Les Invisibles. I also borrowed somewhat from a few of Iced Earth’s songs about their mascot, Set Abominae.

Nor is Imaginos the only character inspired by metal songs. Morgan Stormrider was inspired in part by Judas Priest’s “The Sentinel” (from Defenders of the Faith) and Iron Maiden’s “Flash of the Blade” (from Powerslave), as well as “Breaking the Silence” from Queensryche’s Operation: Mindcrime and “Psychotron” by Megadeth.

Naomi Bradleigh, believe it or not, was inspired by a Deep Purple song called “Knocking At Your Back Door.” Sweet Lucy was a dancer / but none of us would chance her / because she was a samurai.

What makes your book special to you?

I met my wife through Starbreaker. I’m not kidding. The gonzo metalhead science fantasy epic I started writing because I couldn’t get laid in college was how I met my wife.

We met on a Yahoo! forum for aspiring fantasy writers, and I suggested swapping stories. We ended up talking about more than stories, fell in love, and got married in 2004 after a four year long-distance relationship. We’ll have been married ten years as of Halloween 2014.

I laugh at people who complain about “long distance” relationships crossing state lines, because Catherine lived in bloody Australia while I lived on the East Coast of the United States.

What does your typical writing day look like?

I usually don’t get to write until my lunch break. I’ll either duck down to the cafeteria on the first floor of the building where I work and write for an hour, or drive down to a nearby pizzeria where I’m something of a regular. On a good day I’ll belt out at least 500 words.

After work, if I’m not too tired or my brain isn’t too fried from my day job’s demands, I’ll write some more after work and finish the scene I’m currently working on. Either that, or I might write a blog post. If I manage between 1500 and 3000 words a day, it’s been a good day.

silent-clarion-coverYour blog is titled A Day Job and a Dream. Can you tell us a little about both?

I’m a self-taught programmer. I think I’m good at it despite not being one of the obsessive types who would ignore the attentions of a goddess to belt out a few more lines of code. For me, software development isn’t a vocation from God. It’s a skilled trade, and a way to earn a living.

As for the dream, I think you’re already familiar with it. I want Starbreaker to be bigger than the Devil. I want a movie, a Broadway rock opera, manga adaptations, action figures, breakfast cereals, T-shirts, and flamethrowers. Though I think my wife will veto the flamethrower. She took away my grenade launcher soon after we got married, which makes the morning commute far less pleasant.

However, the blog is named after a series of New York Lottery advertisements. They all used the same slogan: “All you need is a dollar and a dream.” No doubt a poor grasp of probability is also useful, but the odds of my getting rich writing sci-fi aren’t that great either.

You recently “re-branded” your blog to tilt it in a more positive direction. Can you tell us more about what inspired that decision?

I was a nice kid until my first day of kindergarten, when I learned about bullying the hard way, and figured out that being nice didn’t pay. I became a heartless, cynical, irreligious asshole as a defense. But while being a vicious bastard is a reasonably successful defense mechanism against other assholes, I take it too far and tend to alienate people. I want to stop doing that. It isn’t good for business, and it might not be good for me personally, either.

I’m not going to say I want friends, because how can you want what you never really had? Nor will I admit to being lonely. However, I don’t want to lose book sales because I pushed people away.

When do you know a book is done?

I know a book is done when not only am I thoroughly sick of it, but so is my wife. Trust me, Ragnarok could come and go, and I could still find aspects of Without Bloodshed that could use improvement.

Maybe I have too many viewpoint characters. Maybe there’s still some wooden dialogue. Maybe I didn’t explain something as well as I could. Maybe I over-explained something else, and left too little to the reader’s imagination. It’s always something, but if I don’t draw a line and say, “Fuck it. I’m done.”, I’ll never move on to the next book.

You seem to have something of a conflicted relationship with social media and marketing yourself. How do you deal with that?

I think social media has made digital sharecroppers of its users. We create terabytes of content annually, but do not retain ownership of our work or profit from it. I deal with it by maintaining my own website and syndicating to corporate-owned social networks like Google+.

Nor am I particularly keen on marketing myself. I’m not particularly good at it. Nor is improvement a straightforward process due to cacophony of conflicting advice aimed at novelists seeing a wider audience. No doubt winning over readers is a process akin to making friends, but I was never much for making friends, either.

Despite my distaste for both social media and marketing myself, I cannot simply let my work speak for itself. Though I would rather it were otherwise, that way lies obscurity.

What’s the best writing advice you ever received?

“Don’t quit your day job.” It’s also the worst writing advice I’ve ever received, but more on that in a minute.

Having a day job allowed me to focus on writing for myself, without any concern whatsoever for marketability. Readers want boy wizards because Harry Potter and the Magical McGuffin is hot? Don’t care. Readers want soulful teenage vampires because Twilight sells like hotcakes? Not my problem, Jack.

I don’t have to chase trends to pay the bills. Instead, I can focus on my craft. With Starbreaker, I can take a shot at starting a new trend.

The downside is that I don’t get to have a “writing day” without cutting into my weekends. Instead, I have to steal what time I can for writing while also spending at least eight hours a day making somebody else richer in exchange for wages. I work at least two full-time jobs. Three, if you count being a halfway-decent husband.

If I had kids instead of cats, I’d be utterly screwed.

Tell us about your next projects.

virgil-at-workI’m juggling two right now. One’s a sequel to Without Bloodshed entitled The Blackened Phoenix. The other is the first of a new series called Before Starbreaker, and is called Silent Clarion.

The Blackened Phoenix is the more complex of the two, and will continue the multithreaded narrative begun in Without Bloodshed. Morgan Stormrider and his friends think they grasp the extent of Imaginos’ crimes and the Phoenix Society’s corruption, and need only seek evidence of the truth. But the truth is far stranger than they believed, and the evidence not so easily found.

Silent Clarion is a prequel to Starbreaker starring a twenty-year-old Naomi Bradleigh. She’s a year into her service as an Adversary, and her first anniversary with her lover John has come to a disastrous end. It’s a good time for a vacation, but she can’t leave well enough alone after learning of unexplained disappearances in a town called Clarion.

Anything else you’d like us to know about you?

I’m actually a big black cat named Virgil. I just hide behind the identity of one of my human slaves, and dictate to him because he has opposable thumbs. In fact, we cats have been using you humans for over five thousand years. Thanks for all the fish, by the way.

Surly Questions: Emmie Mears

Today I’m happy to bring you an interview with Emmie Mears, former fellow Missoulian, outspoken feminist, overall badass, and an author I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of in the future. Emmie just released her first book, and was kind enough to answer some questions about her process, her writing trials, and what it’s like to suddenly become a Big Five author. And when you’re done reading, you can pick up a copy for a song. See what I did there? Thanks, Emmie!

gYokKB26 When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I always just sort of was. I wrote constantly as a kid. Journaled every day, started novels all the time — it never really occurred to me though that that was a career I could have until university though. We were really poor, and for whatever reason, I never made the connection that my favorite authors spun my favorite worlds for a living.

What, for you, is the hardest part about being a writer?

Right now it’s juggling a day job and deadlines. I work long hours and when I come home I’m physically and mentally exhausted to the point where I just want to eat gelato out of the pint and watch Buffy or Supernatural over from the beginning (again). I’m at a stage where I’m trying to find a schedule that works for me in the midst of a lot of upheaval and life change, and I’ve had varying degrees of success with that. It’s kind of a work in progress.


THE MASKED SONGBIRD, at its core, is a story about how strength is not something you’re born with: it’s something you build. I wanted to write a deeply flawed hero who really wasn’t a hero at the beginning, but show that qualities she always possessed (compassion and determination) can be molded into true heroism.

What books or media inspired THE MASKED SONGBIRD?

We pitched it as Bridget Jones meets Spider-Man, and that about covers that. Gwen’s a mess, like Bridget. She’s also picked on, like Peter Parker. Ultimately I wanted her to find her value in herself.

What does your typical writing day look like?

I don’t think I have one at this point. When I’m in the throes of writerly big bang, I’ll wake up, putter around the internet for a while, usually write a few thousand words, and then fizzle back into an internet slug.

How do you juggle the challenges of daily life and writing?

Right now…I don’t. I’m trying really hard to get used to a new home, a new life situation, deadlines, a day job, a commute that grew by about 300%, and myriad other things. As chaotic as it’s been, it’s really the start of something positive, I think.

When do you know a book is done?

That’s a tough one. I almost feel like they’re never done. Even with THE MASKED SONGBIRD hitting shelves, I still feel like it’s not done. It’s an odd feeling, but maybe that’s just the nature of a creative profession: our styles evolve, our voice can change, and publishing often moves so slowly that when something comes out, you wrote it two years ago and are a different writer come pub day.

Eventually, though, if you want anyone to ever see them, you DO have to be able to let go.

What has been the most rewarding thing about connecting with other writers through social media?

Oh, man. I met one of my best friends through WordPress, Kristin McFarland. Three years ago I was just starting out my little author blog and we became friends, but it wasn’t until that winter when my cousin very suddenly and tragically passed away that we became close. She emailed me because she’d experienced a similar loss and understood. Since then we’ve talked almost every day, and she flew out here last October for Capclave. I think it’s safe to say that I wouldn’t be the writer I am without the wonderful, zany, exciting, driven people I’ve been able to connect with on social media. Including you, O Esteemed Host of Mine. 🙂

It seems like you unexpectedly went from just another querying writer to Big Five author. Want to tell us a little bit about that journey?

Yeah, that was weird. LOL. When I finished THE MASKED SONGBIRD, I knew it was going to be a hard sell. Superheroes are tough. Urban fantasy right now is tough. The timeline was tough. It was just sort of stacked against me and my little book. I got so fortunate. My fabulous agent, Jessica Negrón from Talcott-Notch, was an assistant at the time I sent her boss my book. She plucked it out of the slushpile and LOVED it…a few weeks later, I had an R&R from Gina and was getting personalized rejections across the board from agents who loved it, but didn’t think they could sell it.

When Jes got promoted to agent in January of 2013, she begged Gina to be allowed to take me on, and Gina gave her blessing. I became Jes’s first client. We got a lot of requests from editors for the book, but the timeline and content made it tough. It made it to acquisitions two or three times at Big Five publishers, but ultimately garnered passes because the content and timeline were seen as a little too risky. That’s where we got super fortunate again — Mary-Theresa Hussey at Harlequin had the book and was getting ready to help launch Harlequin’s new e-imprint, Harlequin E. Their goal was to be able to publish books that didn’t quite fit into their other imprints, and it ended up being exactly what we needed. They’ve been fantastic, working with us on the timeline and busting butts to get THE MASKED SONGBIRD in reader hands before the referendum against which it’s set. I’ve been really blown away.

Then this spring, the announcement hit that Harper Collins had bought Harlequin, and I got a message from Jes one morning saying I was now a Harper Collins author. It was literally the first thing I saw when I grabbed my phone that morning, which probably didn’t help my ability to comprehend it. Ha. So that happened.

That might be more than “a little bit.” But it’s kind of a long story in general. 🙂

What’s the best piece of writing advice you ever received?

It’s actually not even writing related, but it’s a Dolly Parton quote I adore: “Find out who you are and do it on purpose.” It just fits so much about writing. You can’t be the next Jo Rowling. You can’t be the next Stephen King or John Scalzi or Diana Gabaldon. You can just be you, and it takes time and self-engagement to find out who you the writer really is.

Who inspires you?

Many, many people. The writers I’m surrounded with on social media who keep at it day in and day out. People like Eve Ensler who take the pain of the world into themselves and still manage to give out kindness, empathy, and compassion instead of letting it hollow them out into poison and toxicity. People like Maya Angelou whose long lives were not long enough. People like Josh Groban for creating beautiful, moving art and at the same time enjoying absurdity and earthy humor. People like Misha Collins for finding the zany and joyful in the world and using it to offset sadness and poverty. Lots of people.

The Masked Songbird_FC (2)What’s next for you after THE MASKED SONGBIRD?

A nap.

No, seriously. I need one. I’ll be working on the sequel to THE MASKED SONGBIRD this summer and then come my August deadline, probably hibernating for a few days.

Thanks so much for having me, Dan!


Mildly hapless Edinburgh accountant Gwenllian Maule is surviving. She’s got a boyfriend, a rescued pet bird and a flatmate to share rent. Gwen’s biggest challenges: stretching her last twenty quid until payday and not antagonizing her terrifying boss.

Then Gwen mistakenly drinks a mysterious beverage that gives her heightened senses, accelerated healing powers and astonishing strength. All of which come in handy the night she rescues her activist neighbour from a beat-down by political thugs.

Now Gwen must figure out what else the serum has done to her body, who else is interested and how her boss is involved. Finally–and most mysteriously–she must uncover how this whole debacle is connected to the looming referendum on Scottish independence.

Gwen’s hunt for answers will test her superpowers and endanger her family, her friends–even her country.


Emmie Mears was born in Austin, Texas, where the Lone Star state promptly spat her out at the tender age of three months. After a childhood spent mostly in Alaska, Oregon, and Montana, she became a proper vagabond and spent most of her time at university devising ways to leave the country.

Except for an ill-fated space opera she attempted at age nine, most of Emmie’s childhood was spent reading books instead of writing them. Growing up she yearned to see girls in books doing awesome things, and struggled to find stories in her beloved fantasy genre that showed female heroes saving people and hunting things. Mid-way through high school, she decided the best way to see those stories was to write them herself. She now scribbles her way through the fantasy genre, most loving to pen stories about flawed characters and gritty situations lightened with the occasional quirky humor.

Emmie now lives in her eighth US state, still yearning for a return to Scotland. She inhabits a cozy domicile outside DC with two felines who think they’re lions and tigers.

You can order THE MASKED SONGBIRD here! Released in a box set, you get four great paranormal and urban fantasy books for less than $4!

Follow Emmie on Twitter and join her on Facebook!

Orison Release and Lessons From First Novels

Square-OrisonHi! In case you haven’t heard, Orison’s release date is today! It’s available on Amazon and BN, as well as directly from the Nine Muse Press store, in ebook format. (Paperback coming soon!)

As you may have noticed, I haven’t been blogging much at Surly Muse lately. I was working hard on making Orison the best book I could make it, and that took all the time and energy I had to do so. Flash fiction, blogging, and even supporting other authors as much as I wished to all went by the wayside. But it’s over now, and in the breath between this book and the next, I’d like to tell you a few of the things I learned along the way.

Between June and now, I’ve felt much less prescriptive about writing advice, so take them as my experience, nothing more. Here are the lessons I learned from my first book:

You must sacrifice. For over a month, I did almost nothing but edit. I managed to keep up with my day job, but only barely. Friendships, social gatherings, games and TV all had to go. I needed every ounce of focus and drive to get this book out the door. The book ate my life. I looked back on the lackadaisical months and years I spent procrastinating and stalling on previous books and realized just how wrong I’d been doing it. This is a lot of work. That first draft you’re so proud of? Only the beginning. It’s like Frodo and company getting to that little house at Buckland and having a beer. You’ve still got Mordor to go, and the road is long and hard. So get moving.

Revisions can take all your energy. On the up side, I have never enjoyed such black and dreamless sleep as when I was in the throes of edits. I would shuffle to bed at the end of each day and collapse, my brain utterly exhausted. It made me grouchy and terse. Few noticed, because I’m always grouchy and terse, but that’s beside the point. People ask “hey, how are the edits coming along?” and I would grown and slam the phone handset back into the cradle, or would have if I still had a landline, or if people called me on the phone.

Planning and detail are key. Finishing Orison made me less of a pantser than ever before. Why? Because every detail needs to be consistent, every plot needs to come together, every foible and behavior of every character must add up. If they don’t, readers will notice, and the more planning you do ahead of time, the more intimately you know your characters and your plot, the less work you’ll have to do on the back end. No disrespect to anyone who can just improvise their way through a novel. But I’ll never write that way again.

You need people. Beta readers, reviewers, artists, and friends — you’ll need them. Remember that Lord of the Rings analogy I was making earlier? Yeah. Frodo wouldn’t have gotten far without Sam. You’ll need support, and advice, and caution, and praise, and someone to hold your hair while you throw up. Okay, maybe not so much that last one.

When you think you’re done, you’re not done. I sent the “final” draft of Orison to my publisher with the thought that it was really close to done! Nope. It was still so very far from done, and I didn’t even realize just how not-done it was until the third round of revisions. After a full rewrite. Revisions will bring to light new and exciting flaws you’d never noticed before! Thrill as you realize your plot has a huge hole! Marvel at the way your characters change without said change being evident to the readers! Dread fixing it! Know you can’t avoid it! Throw away passages you loved because they no longer work! No time for tears, it’s revisions!

“The best you can make it” and “the best it can be” are two different things. This was a tough one. More than once, I hit a dark patch in my revisions where I considered rewriting the entire book from scratch. (I also considered setting my computer on fire, but I’m fairly certain I wasn’t serious about that). There were still a few problems. The themes weren’t quite as resonant as I wanted. The supporting characters could use more development. The scope could be a bit bigger. More, and better, and this change and that change, and soon I was looking another rewrite in the eye, and I couldn’t face it. I realized it’s terrifyingly easy to just tweak and edit a book forever because you want it to be perfect, and it never will be.

When you hate your book, it’s finished. Before it was over, I all but loathed poor little Orison. I wanted it, and all the characters in it, to die. Mostly because I was tired. Tired of trying to perfect every moment and nuance, tired of trying to bring every emotion and note to the page. When I finally finished my revisions, I had a really solid book… but boy, was I ever sick of looking at it. That’s how I knew it was done. I still loved it, of course, but in the way you love a child who has been playing a game called How Loud Can I Scream for two months solid.

Marketing can bruise. Promoting your book can be rough. Getting attention is difficult. You worry about irritating people. And guess what, you’ll almost certainly irritate somebody. And if your release has taken a long time (like this one has) even the well-meaning jokes can start feeling a bit face-slappy. You just have to get through it. Thick skin, and all that. But remember to retreat and take some time out when you need to.

There is only the next work. People kept asking what I had planned for the big release day. The truth? I just want to work on the next book. Turns out sitting back and reflecting on my accomplishment (singular) isn’t really my style. I couldn’t make Orison perfect, but I think I did make it damn good, and now I’m excited to make the next book even better. I hope you’ll come with me on that journey. After all, Frodo wouldn’t have gotten far without Sam.

Speaking of which, I couldn’t have gotten here without the help of Anna Loy, Gina Swensen, Angela Goff, Ruth Long, Eric Martell, Tracy McCusker, Khairul Hisham, Lisa Tomecek-Bias, Aaron Engler, Matt Kessen, Christina Ramey, Paul Ramey, and many more. Thank you all.

(P.S. my book bears little resemblance to Lord of the Rings. Just wanted to be clear about that.)

Surly Questions: J. Birch

J. BirchHey there! Haven’t seen you in awhile! Where have I been? Nevermind! This is not about me! It’s time for another round of Surly Questions, this time with J. Birch, author of Gasher Creek

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I was eleven. I had watched the Garfield special “Babes and Bullets” and wondered if I could write my own PI mystery. It was about ten pages long. After that, I was hooked.

Tell us about Gasher Creek.

Here’s the back cover blurb:

Jack Devlin awakes with a shotgun pointed at his face. Sally, a whore, lay dead beside him. Jack remembers nothing of the previous night; could he really have killed her? And if so, why?

He has questions, but some folks in the town of Gasher Creek don’t want them answered. And after a lynch mob storms the jail, he manages to escape into the vast and empty prairie. Now he has no food, no water, and no horse.

And he’s not alone.

Back in Gasher Creek, Sheriff Tom Tracker is certain Devlin is the murderer. But without a confession, he’ll need evidence. What he finds is unlike anything he’s ever seen before. If Devlin is guilty, he isn’t the simple odd jobs man everyone thinks he is. Instead, he’s something much more calculating and dangerous.

What books or media inspired Gasher Creek?

Gasher Creek was, oddly enough, inspired by the movie “Brokeback Mountain”. At the time, everyone was caught up in labeling it the “gay cowboy movie”, but I saw it as a movie about loneliness and how loneliness can destroy lives. So I decided to write a western about loneliness. As it evolved, it became a book about guilt, and that guilt produced a mystery plotline. GC was also inspired by my love for early Elmore Leonard westerns. Although he’s primarily known today as a crime writer, he wrote some amazing westerns. Ross McDonald and Dashiell Hammett mysteries were also an inspiration. Readers will also spot hints of Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven” and David Milch’s “Deadwood” TV series.

Art by Tracy McCusker.
Art by Tracy McCusker.

What does your typical writing day look like?

My typical writing day is two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening. I try to stick to this routine every day, even on holidays.

When do you know a book is done?

When I’m burnt out and I can’t write another word and I wish the horrible thing would just go away, then I do one more draft. And then it’s done.

What has been the most rewarding thing about connecting with  other writers through social media?

The opportunity to meet them! None of my friends are novel writers, nor are any of my family members. So, before Twitter, it was like writing in a vacuum. Now, thanks to Twitter, I can communicate with other people who are also crazy.
Social media has also given me a chance to cheer on other writers. Writing is a lonely profession, and often times we are our own cheerleaders (if we cheer at all, and most of us don’t). So Twitter has given me the opportunity to be a voice in the wilderness for other writers. And I enjoy doing it. It’s shocking how little encouragement we give each other. But it makes a huge difference.\

What’s the best piece of writing advice you ever received?

“What’s simple is truth.”
This is a quote by Brenda Ueland from her 1938 book “If You Want to Write”. The entire book is a gold mine of great advice, but that one line has always stuck with me. If you tell the truth of what you “see” in any given scene, then you won’t fall into the endless “purple prose” that clogs up so much amateur (and sometimes professional) fiction. Write what you see, and the reader will understand. Write lines like “He looked at her as if his heart were on fire with sapphire wings of passion” and it will only confuse them. And do you really see sapphire wings of passion? Really? Or are you just trying to sound “literary”. Don’t. Write honestly, and you’ll do two things: you’ll avoid cliché, and you won’t give your readers a bunch of sickly sweet drivel. Don’t lie to them, and don’t lie to yourself.

Tell us about your next book.

It’s a two part science fiction series, and that’s all I’ll say about it. For now.

Who inspires you?

For me it’s more of a what than a who. Music and movies have had a huge impact on my writing. Music taught me rhythm, and because of rhythm, I can edit. I tend to cut out what doesn’t fit into the groove of a scene. I’m not sure if this musical approach is common among writers, but it’s what works for me.

Movies taught me the power of “showing” rather than “telling”. So much character motivation can be shown through body language and dialogue, so that’s what I’ve always relied upon. Big blocks of internal narrative have always bored me to tears.

As for writers who’ve inspired me: Elmore Leonard and Roddy Doyle taught me how to write dialogue. JK Rowling and Terry Pratchett taught me about the importance of movement in a scene. Richard Matheson and Michael Crichton showed me that you can make a movie that just happens to be in the form of a book.

Are there any other exciting projects in your future?

I’m hoping to be finished the two-part sci-fi series by May. After that, it’s going to be a smaller romantic comedy, and then a trilogy that will either drive me to the asylum or place me in a permanent spot outside the local liquor store. But I’m excited to work on it.

What are your top five “desert island” books?

1. The Collected Poems of Al Purdy
2. Shoeless Joe – W.P. Kinsella
3. Somewhere in Time – Richard Matheson
4. The Commitments – Roddy Doyle
5. A book on how to get rescued from a desert island
twitter: @jbirchwriter

Surly Questions: Rachel Desilets

Surly Questions is back again with YA author Rachel Desilets. Her recently released novelette, Hipstopia, is available now! Thanks for taking the time, Rachel!

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When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I wrote my first short story in 4th grade.  I didn’t understand how dialogue worked, so I ended up with a giant block of text and quotes everywhere.  My mother saw it and (as the English teacher in the family) corrected everything I was doing wrong.  I’ve written a lot of beginnings, never to visit the story again.

In 2011, I decided it was now or never and wrote a novel in a week. During NaNoWriMo, I finished novel number two.  They were both terrible, but the fact is: I finished.  That’s when I knew I could actually do it.  That’s when I started taking myself more seriously as a writer.

Tell us about your debut YA novelette, Hipstopia.

Hipstopia originally started out as a joke through a twitter conversation.  But once I started to think about it, I couldn’t get the characters out of my head.

Hipstopia is the city that formed after the Hipster uprising.  Murphy led the revolution, kicking out everyone who believed in corporate personhood.  It’s told from Jay’s perspective – and he tries to be the perfect hipster, the right-hand man to Murphy.  It’s a coming-of-age story, where Jay makes plenty of realizations about himself, Murphy, and Hipstopia.

You write about Young Adult literature for the Examiner. What is it that drew you to YA, as compared to other genres?

Most young adult books, no matter what genre, tend to focus on relationships.  When I grew up, friendships and relationships taught me who I was.  I love that YA explores these bonds that change us, and I love how young adult forces main characters to find themselves – for better or worse.  This isn’t definitive of all young adult, but it is pertinent in most.

What does your typical writing day look like?

In between projects, my writing days are non-existent.  I have a really hard time getting focused after I self-publish.  When I am actively writing, I set aside time every single day.  I’m very goal oriented, so I usually go by word count, anywhere between 1,000 to 2,000.  Usually if I reach 500 words, the rest comes easy – getting into can be hard.  Sometimes it requires lots and lots of tea.

What has been the most rewarding thing about connecting with other writers through social media?

Actually finishing my first book!  Seriously, G+ and my husband saved my writing life.  Connecting with writers before NaNoWriMo was perfect, because all of us were charged to write more, write faster, and write every day.  It was such a treat to do something so solitary in a writing hangout, taking breaks to chat, before getting back into it.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you ever received?

To just do it.  My husband was a huge supporter of my writing – he saw me start and abandon projects.  He knew I had a huge problem with finishing what I started, partly because I was scared of failure.  He knew I needed to convince myself I could do it and remove my self-doubts.  I know now that perfection comes with editing, not with the first draft.  If you never finish the first draft, you’ll never finish the book.

18141626Tell us about your other project, The Unanswerable.

The Unanswerable is the first in a conquel series called The UnSeries.  Matthew is trapped in New York City during a mutated ebola outbreak with his wife and son.  They have to try to navigate the city, which has devolved into absolute chaos.  It’s dark with just a sliver of hope.

It’s currently being edited, with the release date to be determined (hopefully this year).

Who inspires you?

I’ve already explained how my husband has been instrumental to my writing life – so I’m going to say other authors.  I read a lot, which has improved my writing and keeps me motivated.  It forces me to come up with new, original ideas.

Are there any other exciting projects in your future?

I have the sequel to Hipstopia (currently untitled) that I have to write, edit, and publish by the end of next year, which is good since I needed a NaNoWriMo project!  I recently finished No Sugar Coating, a young adult magical realism novel, which will be released sometime in the beginning of next year.

What are your top five “desert island” books?

Oh boy… This is almost impossible to choose, but I’ll try.  The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton because it had such an impact on me when I first read it.  This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers because it has all the feelings and zombies.  The Fault in Our Stars by John Green because of the emotions portrayed. The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness because he writes a darn good story, even though I would hate not having the sequels with me.
Then, if I was allowed to bring the whole series, it would be a toss up between Birthmarked by Caragh O’Brien for an amazing dystopian/sci-fi series and The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken for intense emotions.  But I don’t think I could bring either of those if I can’t bring the sequels… So I might settle on The Child Thief by Brom for an awesome depiction of evil Peter Pan.
You can find Rachel on Goodreads or at her website,

Writing for Charity: Iron Writer 2013!


Hey there! In lieu of a regular blog post, I’m writing to let you know that on Saturday, July 13th, I’ll be participating in Iron Writer, an all-day marathon writing contest sponsored by Dreadful Cafe, with proceeds going to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.

For Iron Writer 2013, I will be knocking out the first draft of ROLLING BLACKOUTS, the official full-length follow-up to BURN (which some of you may have read — and if you have, thanks!)

If you’d like to pledge some money on my behalf, the donation button is on Iron Writer’s page. Please feel free to send donations of any amount. If you feel like pledging by the word, I am planning on writing at least 10,000 words, possibly more, so donate as your conscience (and pocketbook) allows!

I don’t want to handle the money personally, so if you want your donation to add to my total for prize purposes, please just put my name in the notes when you donate via Iron Writer’s page. The kids get the money either way, which is what really matters.

I will be on Twitter and Facebook on and off Saturday, taking time out to post my progress, so please feel free to follow or “like” me if you want. In the meantime, I’d love it if you could spread the word and share this post around, if you’re so inclined.

Thanks, and I hope you’ll consider pledging some money to St. Jude on my behalf!