Guest Post: Bubonicon 47 – Tea Time! by David Lee Summers

David Lee Summers with his daughter Verity at the their publishers table.
David Lee Summers with his daughter Verity at the their publishers table.

Folks, it is my great pleasure to have author and publisher David Lee Summers back on the blog. I was unable to attend New Mexico’s once-a-year scifi convention this year and asked (perhaps ‘begged’ is a better term) David to let me life vicariously through him. He was kind enough to offer up this guest post about Bubonicon 47.

Tea Time!

Who Can It Be Now: Characters With Flaws panel. From left to right: Ben Bova, David Lee Summers, S.M. Stirling (scratching his head at whatever Davids saying), Walter Jon Williams, and Caroline Spector.
Who Can It Be Now: Characters With Flaws panel. From left to right: Ben Bova, David Lee Summers, S.M. Stirling (scratching his head at whatever David’s saying), Walter Jon Williams, and Caroline Spector.

I enjoy attending science fiction conventions because they are a wonderful opportunity to connect with fellow readers and writers.  One of my longtime favorite conventions is Bubonicon in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  There are an amazing group of writers who live in or near Albuquerque and regularly attend Bubonicon including Walter Jon Williams, Jane Lindskold, S.M. Stirling, P.G. Nagle, and George R.R. Martin.  These writers, working with an outstanding convention committee, present a great set of panels and readings along with a diverse dealer’s room, art show, and gaming room.  What’s more, the convention has a great name, given when Egypt placed travel restrictions on New Mexico because Bubonic Plague had been reported in the mountains east of Albuquerque.  For most of the last two decades, Bubonicon has also been the convention closest to my home in Southern New Mexico.  That honor was only recently supplanted by Las Cruces Comic Con.

Red or Green panel.  From left to right: Dr. Catherine S. Plesko, Dr. Larry Crumpler, Christine MacKenzie, David Lee Summers, Loretta Hall, and Zachary Gallegos.
Red or Green panel. From left to right: Dr. Catherine S. Plesko, Dr. Larry Crumpler, Christine MacKenzie, David Lee Summers, Loretta Hall, and Zachary Gallegos.

The theme of Bubonicon 47 was “Women of Wonder” and featured an all-woman lineup of special guests.  The guests of honor were Tamora Pierce and Catherynne M. Valente.  The guest artist was Ruth Sanderson.  The toastmaster was Mary Robinette Kowal (in her own words, she’s a toastmaster because she’s nobody’s mistress!).  I was especially pleased to meet Ms. Kowal who, like me, had a story in the anthology of near-future stories 2020 Visions edited by Rick Novy.  Another special thing about that anthology is that it also features Bubonicon’s 2016 Guest of Honor, David Gerrold.  The convention schedule included such theme-related panels as “The Inescapable Romance Subplot: Passing the Bechdel Test?”, “Curse of the Strong Female: Pitfalls and Cliches”, and “Writing Different Genders: Your Point of View.”

Mary Robinette Kowal, right foreground. Photo credit James L. Moore and Jane Lindskold.
Mary Robinette Kowal, right foreground. Photo credit James L. Moore and Jane Lindskold.

Panels weren’t limited to the theme.  I participated in such panels as “Whither Ghost? Dancing With the Definitely Dead?” where we discussed ghost stories and stories with ghosts.  Of particular interest we talked about how ghost stories can take a science fiction twist when you imagine humans uploading their consciousness into a computer, becoming a “ghost in the machine.”  I also participated in a science panel called “Red or Green: NM as Mars Analog” in which we looked at how sites in New Mexico can be quite similar to sites on Mars, to the extent that they can be used to test Martian rovers or be used as test beds for humans traveling to Mars.  I moderated the panel, “It’s Alive: Scientists in Science Fiction” in which writers and scientists discussed how science and fiction have influenced each other.  Our conclusion was that although there is a societal perception of a “mad scientist” trope and a certain distrust of science in the media, science fiction writers generally respect scientists and the work they do.

David Lee Summers  Hillary Estell serving tea. Photo credit James L. Moore and Jane Lindskold.
David Lee Summers Hillary Estell serving tea. Photo credit James L. Moore and Jane Lindskold.

One of the highlights of Bubonicon for me is the Sunday Afternoon Author’s Tea.  The tea, which is unique as far as I know to Bubonicon, was conceived as a way for the authors to say thank you to the fans who attend the convention.  Seating is limited, simply due to limited space.  Because of that, there are sign-up sheets for the three sessions, but there is no charge.  Although there is no requirement to dress up for the tea, authors donate prizes and those who are judged to wear the best hat and glove combinations get to pick from the donated prizes.  Those fans who attend have the opportunity to sample four teas donated by the St. James Tea Room in Albuquerque.  This year’s choices included Lady Londonberry, a traditional black tea with a hint of strawberry flavoring, Black Pearl, a black tea scented with vanilla, Hesperides Golden Delight, a green tea scented with golden apples, and Daybreak in Martinique, a Rooibos scented with lemon myrtle and French lavender.  The authors also provide a range of sweet and savory snacks that range from smoked salmon and sausage balls to blueberry scones and lemon muffins.

SummersOwlDanceWhen not speaking on panels, giving a reading, or pouring tea for fans, I hung out at the table for my company, Hadrosaur Productions, in the dealer’s room.  This year, the dealer’s room was full of vendors selling books, comics, toys, and jewelry.  I found a snazzy steampunkish pocket watch to replace one I broke earlier this year along with several wonderful books.  The danger of hanging out in the dealer’s room is that my cash and I have a tendency to part company much too fast.  That said, I do like spending time there because it gives me a chance to interact with readers and writers, which of course, is the whole reason I’m there.

Places to Find David Lee Summers

Hadrosaur Productions

Tales of the Talisman

David Lee Summers: Wrong Turn on the Information Superhighway

David Lee Summers’ Web Journal

Goodreads

Amazon

Facebook

Twitter

You can also delve into David’s mine by reading his past interviews here on Dab of Darkness: 

David as an Author

David as a Publisher

SummersOwlDanceBook Blurb for Owl Dance:

Owl Dance is a Weird Western steampunk novel. The year is 1876. Sheriff Ramon Morales of Socorro, New Mexico, meets a beguiling woman named Fatemeh Karimi, who is looking to make a new start after escaping the oppression of her homeland. When an ancient life form called Legion comes to Earth, they are pulled into a series of events that will change the history of the world as we know it. In their journeys, Ramon and Fatemeh encounter mad inventors, dangerous outlaws and pirates. Their resources are Ramon’s fast draw and Fatemeh’s uncanny ability to communicate with owls. The question is, will that be enough to save them when airships from Czarist Russia invade the United States?

SummersLightningWolvesBook Blurb for Lightning Wolves:

It’s 1877 and Russians forces occupy the Pacific Northwest. They are advancing into California. New weapons have proven ineffective or dangerously unstable. The one man who can help has disappeared into Apache Country, hunting ghosts. A healer and a former sheriff lead a band into the heart of the invasion to determine what makes the Russian forces so unstoppable while a young inventor attempts to unleash the power of the lightning wolves.

HowellSummersKeplersDozenBook Blurb for A Kepler’s Dozen: 13 Stories About Distant Worlds That Really Exist

A Kepler’s Dozen presents thirteen action-packed, mysterious, and humorous stories all based on real planets discovered by the NASA Kepler mission. Edited by and contributing stories are David Lee Summers, editor of Tales of the Talisman Magazine, and Steve B. Howell, project scientist for the Kepler mission. Whether on a prison colony, in a fast escape from the authorities, or encircling a binary star, these exoplanet stories will amuse, frighten, and intrigue you while you share fantasy adventures among Kepler’s real-life planets.

SummersSpaceHorrorsBook Blurb for Space Horrors:

Space Horrors is the fourth anthology of the Full-Throttle Space Tales series. Edited by David Lee Summers, Space Horrors contains blood-chilling tales of vampires and ghouls in space, by established and rising-star authors. Terrifying tales contained in this volume: “Poetic Justice” by Alastair Mayer: Space hibernation does strange things to a man. “Listening” by Anna Paradox: It’s Halloween on the run to Mars. What could go wrong? “The Walking Man” by Glynn Barrass: A giant robot on Mars is in the hands of mutineers. “Natural Selection” by Simon Bleaken: The Zoological Institute warned Rebecca not to go study the bugs. “Oh Why Can’t I” by C.J. Henderson: The Earth Alliance Ship Roosevelt is pitted against a world swallowing creature. “Last Man Standing” by Danielle Ackley-McPhail: Mining can be hard work, depending on who – or what – is doing the mining. “Anemia” by David Lee Summers: Vampires prefer the eternal night of space, it seems. “Chosen One” by Dana Bell: A particularly unnerving game of cat and…something. “Sleepers” by Selina Rosen: Sometimes the nightmare you wake from is not as bad as the one you wake up to. “Divining Everest” by Patrick Thomas: When the vampires call for help, you know it’s bad. “Into the Abyss” by Dayton Ward: Ghosts haunting the depths of space. “Salvage” by David B. Riley: Insurance investigator Sarah Meadows is on a ghost ship and in trouble. “The Golem” by Judith Herman: A friend in need is a deadly reckoning. “In the Absence of Light” by Sarah A. Hoyt: Have you heard of the drifters? “A Touch of Frost” by Gene Mederos: Space is a hostile environment – except for zombies, of course. “Wake of the White Death” by Lee Clark Zumpe: Who will rescue the rescuers? “Plan 9 in Outer Space” by Ernest and Emily Hogan: Making bad space horror more horrible ain’t easy.

SummersDragon'sFallBook Blurb for Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order:

Three vampyrs. Three lives. Three intertwining stories.

Bearing the guilt of destroying the holiest of books, after becoming a vampyr, the Dragon, Lord Desmond searches the world for lost knowledge, but instead, discovers truth in love.

Born a slave in Ancient Greece, Alexandra craves freedom above all else, until a vampyr sets her free, but then, she must pay the highest price of all … her human soul.

An assassin who lives in the shadows, Roquelaure is cloaked even from himself, until he discovers the power of friendship and loyalty.

Three vampyrs, traveling the world by moonlight—one woman and two men who forge a bond made in love and blood. Together they form a band of mercenaries called the Scarlet Order, and recruit others who are like them. Their mission is to protect kings and emperors against marauders, invaders, and rogue vampyrs—and their ultimate nemesis, Vlad the Impaler.

Bubonicon 2014: Sunday

David Lee Summers at Bubonicon 2014
David Lee Summers at Bubonicon 2014

On Sunday, the panels and author readings didn’t get started until 10AM, but the Con Suite was open at 8AM. They had donuts, and not just any donuts, but donuts with bacon. Yep, you read that right. You could have a chocolate frosted donut that also had a strip of crispy bacon in it. (I think I heard one of the Con volunteers say the donuts came from Rebel Donut shop). I almost snagged one, but I feared that I wouldn’t like it and then who would I share it with? If my man was at the Con with me, I would just grab one for him, eat half of it, and then tell him how good the second half was. Instead, I stuck with the cheese, crackers, bagels, chips, bottled water, and a regular donut. The Con Suite also had a sizable spread of fruits, but there was a lot of chopped melon, and unfortunately, I am very allergic to melon.

I went to David Lee Summer‘s reading first thing. He read the first chapter from his latest book, Lightning Wolves, which is a steampunky desert Southwest alternative historical fiction that is quite fun and inventive. Then he read an interlude from his vampire novel, Dragon’s Fall. This book appeals to me because of the historical fiction aspect and his reading of the interlude only peaked my curiosity. And I asked my moonlight question. Growing up, I never really paid attention to vampires. But then vampires became a little more popular in the 1980s with The Lost Boys, and then with Interview with a Vampire. And that is when I started to wonder why most vampires weren’t reactive to moonlight, since it is simply reflected sunlight. Summers had a great answer for this in that it really depends on how the author has set up their vampires – is there a scientific basis for this existence (virus, blood defect, etc.) or are they magic based? From there, you can build logical reasons to how vampires do or don’t react to moonlight.

Steven Gould & Walter Jon Williams at Bubonicon 2014
Steven Gould & Walter Jon Williams at Bubonicon 2014

Then it was off to the Co-Guests of Honor Presentation. Steven Gould was the Toastmaster, with Walter Jon Williams helping out. They started off with some trivia questions concerning lizards mating in space aimed at the audience and then moved on to quizzing the co-guests of honor, Cherie Priest and John Hemry. Once the silliness was concluded, important matters were discussed, like the Chad Mitchell Trio song featuring Lizzie Borden. Yeah, that little girl from the nursery rhyme who gave her parents 40 whacks was indeed a real historical person. Priest’s soon-to-be-out book, Maplecroft, features Lizzie fighting Cthulu monsters. Damn! That’s some creepy nursery rhyme turned mysteriously cool yet still creepy all at the same time.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7wlO-J0v9ZY

John Hemry was asked to talk about retiring from his navy career to become a writer and stay-at-home father. He spoke openly of his three children, all who are somewhere on the autism spectrum and each requiring some amount of special care. I have to admit that this little bit of a reveal on his personal life is why I want to give his books a try. The military SF genre is filled with books written by military/ex-military men and, to me, much of it is interchangeable, lacking distinction from author to author. But since Hemry has been a househusband and a father to challenged children, I expect he has more insight into the human condition than most writers in the military SF genre. With my fingers crossed, I will be plunging into some of his books soon.

John Maddox Roberts on the Secret History/Alternate History panel, Bubonicon 2014
John Maddox Roberts on the Secret History/Alternate History panel, Bubonicon 2014

The first panel of the day for me was The Weird Weird West: SF with Six-Guns, moderated by John Maddox Roberts. He was joined by Craig Butler, Josh Gentry of SnackReads, David Lee Summers, and Walter Jon Williams. This was a fun, fun panel that was part history lesson and part romp through all the weird westerns out there, in print and on screen. Sitting down to enjoy this panel, I instantly thought of Westworld. The discussion started with a bit of history about the Wild West (and how short lived that actually was) to the paranormal side of the Wild West (think ghost stories and native folk lore) and then to the various cultures that have homaged the Wild West – Spaghetti westerns, Samurai 7, and more. For your traipsing through the Weird West, check these out: Joe Landsdale, Jane Lindskold, Emma Bull, Ambrose Bierce, Red Harvest, The Good, the Bad, and the Weird, The Haunted Mesa, and Science Fiction Trails magazine.

Cherie Priest & John Hemry (AKA Jack Campbell), Bubonicon 2014
Cherie Priest & John Hemry (AKA Jack Campbell), Bubonicon 2014

After taking a break to check out the Bubonicon auction, I ended up enjoying the panel Cthulu Lives! Lovecraft’s Old Ones in Today’s Fiction. Moderator Cherie Priest was joined by Yvonne Coats, John J. Miller, Harry Morris, and John Maddox Roberts. The panel spent a lot of time on their love for H. P. Lovecraft and his influence on today’s writers and the entertainment world in general. From the bookish world, check out Caitlin Carrigan, Fritz Leiber, Molly Tanzer, Livia Llewellyn. From the big screen and TV, check out True Detective, Cast a Deadly Spell, Pacific Rim. Then folks got a little serious and discussed the darker side to Lovecraft: his racism and sexism. Miller and Priest had the most to say, and seemed to have studied not only Lovecraft’s works but also his personal life. Morris also pitched in here and there with anecdotes. Priest pointed out that you don’t find hate without fear, and Lovecraft had a great hate of women. Miller pointed out that Lovecraft came from a highly dysfunctional home. It was a very interesting discussion and I think Lovecraft’s biography would be a worthy read. Then Priest told her story of her large framed Lovecraftian poster above her bed, and the squirrel falling down behind the wall late at night as Cherie sat up reading.

Claire Eddy & Connie Willis on the She's My Tardis panel, Bubonicon 2014
Claire Eddy & Connie Willis on the She’s My Tardis panel, Bubonicon 2014

By this point I was fading fast and thinking about that 2 hour drive home. But there was one last panel, She’s My TARDIS, Except She’s a Woman, moderated by John Hemry. He was joined by Connie Willis, M. T. Reiten, David Lee Summers, and Claire Eddy. This started off as a discussion of ships or even planets that became a personality within the story, such as Firefly‘s Serenity, the ship from Farscape, even the planet Arrakis from Frank Herbert’s Dune. Willis recommended the movie Dark Star. And then someone asked the question of why ships are usually referred to as female, which lead to a deeper discussion of animism and the female psyche. Needless to say, the men kept digging themselves into a hole and it was terribly fun to watch. Indeed, I spent much of this last hour of the con laughing out loud (with everyone else, so it was the good kind of laughing out loud).

And there you have it folks. I’ll try to do one more post about the autographing session, the auction, the costume contest, and the art room. I didn’t get to explore the gaming room nor the vendors this year. And there was a late night charity auction Friday night. Really, I should just replicate myself for this event so that I can enjoy everything. Next year’s Bubonicon will be later in August, instead of the first weekend, so I only have a whole year to wait.

Bubonicon 2014: Friday

Walter Jon Williams, T. Jackson King, and Laura Mixon
Walter Jon Williams, T. Jackson King, and Laura Mixon

It’s the start of my yearly holiday, Bubonicon, the scifi convention of Albuquerque, NM. I packed appropriately with books and a fun t-shirt for authors to sign at the big signing party on Saturday. I’m staying at the hotel where the convention is held, which makes it mighty convenient to pop in and out of panels and readings, zipping up to my room here and there for apples and sanity breaks.

This year, the 4pm panel kicked off the convention with local authors. It’s All SF: Sci-Fi & Southwestern Fiction, moderated by Walter Jon Williams, hosted a great discussion on how the desert southwest has been used as location in SFF. Williams was joined by fellow NM authors David Lee Summers, Jeffe Kennedy, T. Jackson King, and Laura Mixon (AKA M. J. Locke).

This panel ranged from the ecological and geographical diversity of the Southwest, to the cultural diversity of region. Of course, this went on to discuss frontier adventures in general and how what we learn from this region can be used to build frontier locations on fictional worlds. Two of the panelists have ties to the Roswell incident, which I found quite amusing. There was a nice discussion of the O.K. Corral and how modern movies make that the climax of the story, when in reality the O.K. Corral event was the beginning of Tombstone violence that went on for several months. Add in side notes about a Santa Fe version of the phantom of the opera and Japanese chili farmers, and you have a pretty amusing panel.

David Lee Summers, Jeffe Kennedy, & Walter Jon Williams
David Lee Summers, Jeffe Kennedy, & Walter Jon Williams

But then Walter Jon Williams had to bring up the (sadly) failed camel corp and the Ottoman trainer, Hadji Ali (AKA Hi Jolly), who was brought over with the camels to train US military personnel in camel riding. Apparently there is a monument to this man in Lake Havasu, AZ which is a pyramid with a camel at the pinnacle. Then Laura Mixon asked if anyone knew the song. No one volunteered, so she sang part of it for us, which was really quite awesome. Check out this LINK for the lyrics.

So, there we have scifi, history lesson, and musical entertainment all within the first panel of the Con.

Then I was off to tea, with two authors (David Lee Summers and Melinda Moore). We met at a nearby Starbucks, which is perfect for me as I love the scent of coffee but greatly prefer slurping down tea. We had a great chat, mostly about books, of course. And Melinda let me be a little book geek and have her sign my kindle.

ABQ Steampunk Society
ABQ Steampunk Society

Then back to Con in time for Steampunk 101: Queen Victoria Doesn’t Own It. This panel was hosted by ABQ Steampunk Society, and they were all dressed up. It was pretty cool to variety in their costumes (which I didn’t do a good job of photographing). Of course, plenty of steampunk literature was discussed – Scott Westerfeld, Cherie Priest, Jules Verne, K. W. Jeter, David Lee Summers, and plenty of others. Alternate history writers were pulled into the discussion (Harry Turtledove, Eric Flint). The aesthetics of steampunk were also discussed especially in relation to steampunk societies that have popped up around the world in places where there isn’t necessarily a body of literature int he native tongue to draw upon.

Bubonicon fun & swag
Bubonicon fun & swag

Then I was off to the dealer room to pick up a book I have been meaning to since the last Bubonicon – A Kepler’s Dozen. 99% of the time, I love living on the farm. But I do sometimes really miss being near a bookstore.

So, what do I have loaded on my kindle? Lightning Wolves by David Lee Summers. What audiobook do I have loaded on my laptop? The Coldest War by Ian Tregillis. I have so been looking forward to this event for months now and this kickoff doesn’t disappoint.

Shanghai Sparrow by Gaie Sebold

SeboldShanghaiSparrowWhy I Read It: It was the cover.

Where I Got It: ARC from Netgalley (thanks!)

Who I Recommend This To: Steampunk fans!

Publisher: Solaris (2014)

Length: 373 pages

Series: Book 1 Shanghai Sparrow

Author’s Page

Set in Victorian times, Eveline (Evie) Duchen and her family live in the country, a life of privilege, and also a life that rubs elbows with the Fae. But then tragedy strikes, and Evie, her sister Charlotte, and her mother must move to the city and live with her uncle. But then tragedy strikes again and Evie finds herself living on the streets, until she is taken in by the steampunk tinker Ma Pether.  From there, things get even more odd for Evie. A British agent (Mr. Holmforth), who is stationed in Shanghai, has an unhealthy interest in the little known (and quite under appreciated) science called Etherics. Believing that Evie has inherited some family talent for this esoteric field, he hunts her down. And that is when she finds herself forced into a school for girls, one that trains them to be spies for the British Empire.

The world of Evie was so easy to fall into. The steampunk and fairy elements weren’t all glitzy and distracting. No, they were subtle and a part of Evie’s every day life. And that allowed me to focus on Evie and her storyline, which was very engaging. She’s cheeky, but also tries very hard to take care of those she cares about. Her life of hard knocks has taught her the value of listening at doors, sneaking around, and being nimble of mind as well as foot. And all those skills are put to the test in her interactions with Mr. Holmforth.

The story actually starts with Mr. Holmforth in Shanghai. He’s trying to climb the ranks of the bureaucracy of the British Empire but something about his bloodlines holds him back. Or rather the prejudices of his fellow workers and, well, the whole British society hold him back. We learn he is scheming, trying to get his hands on a weapon in development that could launch his career, make him a shining star in the eyes of his coworkers.  And then he tracks down Evie and only tells her the barest of information while motivating her with promises of security balanced by threats to those she calls friend.

I loved the way the Fae in and out in this story. We learn a tiny smidgeon of their lives away from humans, but mostly we see how Evie interacts with a few choice Fae. They find humans a pleasant distraction, and interesting digression from their normal lives. Liu, who is more fox than linguistics teacher, shows more of an interest in Evie and her talent in Etherics. In fact, he is the one to give a most potent warning: Do not threaten the Fae, for if they take you seriously, they will annihilate all of humanity. Gulp! That can’t be good. So Evie has to try to navigate that while keeping Mr. Holmforth happy.   

If I have to put down a criticism it is that the story starts out with Mr. Holmforth in Shanghai, and then jumps in time and location to Evie in England. It took me a while to figure out that not only had a geographical leap been made, but also a chronological one. That was early on in the book and I got over it quickly and went on to happily enjoy the rest of the novel.

Steampunk, fairies, precocious young lady, secret spy school for young girls, and an esoteric science known as Etherics. Yeah, all that goodness wrapped up in an awesome book cover. go get yourself a copy!

What I Liked: Evie was so easy to connect with; little bits of steampunk placed into the crannies and corners of the narrative; Liu and his foxy tail; the side story of Charlotte; how Evie sorts it all out; spy school for young ladies; the cover.

What I Disliked: There was one leap in time and place early on in the narrative that threw me off. But I got over it. 🙂

What Others Think:

Tolerably Smart

Drunken Dragon Reviews

Koeur’s Book Reviews

Interview: Gail Z. Martin, Author of Deadly Curiosities

MartinDeadlyCuriositiesIt is my pleasure to have Gail Z. Martin on the blog today. I quite enjoyed her most recent release, Deadly Curiosities (check out my review). Toady we chat about cussing, convention panels, super sleuth kids’ books, and a whole lot more. Make sure you check out the bottom of the post for GIVEAWAY info!

Myths and beliefs that we would consider fiction or fantasy in modern literature once upon a time shaped history (think of all the hunts for unicorns & dragons). Do you see modern fantasy fiction affecting human cultures today and how?

Fantasy and science fiction hold up a mirror for us to try on different futures and pasts. Sci Fi often serves as a cautionary tale of where we might end up if we aren’t careful. Fantasy lets us play in the past or present that isn’t but should have been. And sometimes, when we experience something in fantasy, we start wondering why we can’t alter reality. That’s why sci fi and fantasy have always had a bit of a subversive edge, questioning the status quo and wondering what else might be possible. Sometimes it’s easier to approach a controversial topic from a fresh perspective outside of the real world. Star Trek did this all the time. I think that’s also something that happens with today’s dystopian fiction. Once you start people asking why something has to be the way it is, you’re opening the door to change.

MartinSummonerWhat fictional world would you like to visit for the holidays? Is there a fictional holiday event that you would like to take part in?

For the holidays? Hogwarts! I’d love to be part of that awesome Yule feast and the Yule Ball.

In my Chronicles of the Necromancer books, I talk about a mid-winter holiday called Winterstide on the Solstice, which I think would be a nice, quiet alternative to the Christmas chaos to try some year.

Reality in my fiction: how important is it? Lengthy travel, cussing, and bathroom breaks happen in real life. How do you address these mundane occurrences in your writings?

I don’t think you have to mention every time someone stops to use the bathroom, but throwing things like that in occasionally makes the world feel more real. (In one of my books, a character overhears an important bit of news taking a pee back behind the tavern.) It goes right along with throwing up, food poisoning, and lice.

Cussing depends very much on the individual character. Some will use “minced oaths” (the equivalent of ‘darn’ instead of ‘damn’), some will be vulgar, and everyone else will be in between. Cussing is actually an interesting way to explore what a society finds sacred and profane, what they consider vulgar and acceptable, and what behavior is tolerated of different social classes and in different social occasions. Try coming up with a suitably vulgar/blasphemous outburst for a religion that doesn’t exist! It’s harder than it looks to make it believable and not funny. Likewise, if you have a person from a rough background, they’re going to cuss. You don’t always have to repeat what they say, but not having someone like that swear is inauthentic.

My characters complain a lot about lengthy travel, especially when it rains and the taverns have bedbugs. Talking about the hardship of travel in a fantasy setting reminds readers that this was before you could hop on a plane and be across the country in a few hours.

For me, these kinds of details make a world feel more lived-in and real. It’s the difference between a movie set and actually being there. And it can make you very thankful for central heating and indoor plumbing!

MartinBloodKingConventions, book signings, blogging, etc.: what are some of your favorite aspects of self-promotion and what are some of the least favorite parts of self-promotion?

I love doing conventions as a pro, because it’s even more fun than it was when I wasn’t a pro. I get to talk to readers and be on panels and hash out cool topics like “Writing real magic” or “Are werewolves the new vampires?” with some of my favorite authors. Conventions are like family reunions, only with better relatives.

Blogging is fun, although sometimes I feel like I’ve said everything and it’s hard to come up with a new topic. I really enjoy conversations on Twitter and Facebook and Goodreads. Book signings are fun when the store has good traffic and there are lots of people. When you’re in a strip mall bookstore on a very rainy day, all you can do is make the best of it by getting to know the bookstore staff—which can be a lot of fun.

Probably the least favorite part is that you really don’t ever get to take a break from reminding people that you and your books are out there. It’s so easy for readers to go on to the next big thing and not remember that they were looking forward to the new book in your series—especially when they have to wait a year. So there really isn’t any time off from being out in the public.

MartinSwornWith the modern popularity to ebooks, a book is no longer limited to a specific genre shelf. It is now quite easy to label place an ebook in multiple genres (i.e. YA, Fantasy, Horror). How do you see this affecting readers? Have you been inadvertently lured outside your reading comfort zone?

On the plus side, readers may stumble upon books they wouldn’t have found wandering through a bookstore. On the minus side, it can be harder to discover books in a specific genre because they’re not helpfully shelved together, and the covers are smaller online and therefore not always as tempting.

I think readers find ways to cope, and overall they will find what they’re interested in, either by browsing, using the Amazon suggestions (which can be funny sometimes if you’re searched for some odd things), and tapping into word of mouth sites like Goodreads.

Ebook categories can also be humorously off-base. My epic fantasy The Blood King once accidentally got categorized on Amazon under “erotica”. I guess that’s the next category down from “epic” on the menu and someone picked the wrong one! I suspect there were a few very confused readers until we got it straightened out!

From your own writings, are there any characters you would like to cosplay?

I might be tempted to do something from the upcoming steampunk book….

MartinIceForgedAs a young reader, unspoiled by the realities of this world, what stories and authors drove you to delusions of grandeur, expecting to be swept up into a magical tale or a laser battle?

As a kid, I loved Nancy Drew, Meg [Duncan], Trixie Belden and the Hardy Boys, along with Alfred Hitchcock and The Three Investigators. I read a lot of ghost stories, including Macbeth and Hamlet. Of course there was Dracula, Frankenstein and anything about King Arthur, ranging from the Mary Stewart books to the more scholarly texts. Anything with ghosts, castles, and monsters was big on my list!

If you could sit down and have dinner with 5 dead authors, who would you invite to the table? What would they order?

Mary Shelley, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Agatha Christie, Jules Verne, and probably Billy Shakespeare.

MartinRaider'sCurseFinally, what upcoming events and works would you like to share with the readers?

So much going on! Reign of Ash, the latest in my Ascendant Kingdoms Saga epic fantasy came out in April and I’m still doing book signings for that. Deadly Curiosities, my new urban fantasy, comes out in late June, and I’ll be doing some signings in the UK in July/Aug. as well as in the U.S., so that’s exciting. I’m doing about 14 conventions this year, and several of those are first-time for me, so always fun. Plus I’m working on the 4th book in the Blaine McFadden/Ascendant Kingdoms series, and a new Steampunk book, Iron and Blood, for 2015. I’m also in 8 anthologies and I write a new short story every month for Kindle/Kobo/Nook in either the Deadly Curiosities Adventures series or the Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures series, plus a Deadly Curiosities Adventure novella for Wattpad.

Places to Find Gail Z. Martin

Please look for me www.ChroniclesOfTheNecromancer.com, on Twitter @GailZMartin, on Facebook.com/WinterKingdoms, at DisquietingVisions.com blog and GhostInTheMachinePodcast.com. I also have monthly conversations on Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/GailZMartin and I post free excerpts on Wattpad http://wattpad.com/GailZMartin.

Ongoing Giveaway and Upcoming Events

I snooped around on Gail’s various sites and she has a ton of stuff going on. Check out her GIVEAWAY of Deadly Curiosities on Goodreads (through June 24, 2014). She and several urban fantasy, steampunk, and paranormal authors have teamed up to do a Q&A and Giveaway party on Facebook on June 25, 2014. Also on June 25, she will be on Goodreads hosting a lanchapalooza for Deadly Curiosities with party favors and giveaways. And you can catch her on Reddit where she is also giving away ebook copies of Deadly Curiosities. I wish I had some cyber-confetti to toss around!

Maiden Voyage of the Rio Grande by Michael Coorlim

CoorlimMaidenVoyageOfRioGrandeWhy I Read It: Steampunk goodness with my favorite river in the title attracted me to this book.

Where I Got It: Review copy from the author (thanks!).

Who I Recommend This To: Need a little lunch break and want some steampunk adventure? This is a worthy one.

Narrator: Wayne Farrell

Publisher: Self-Published (2013)

Length: 55 minutes

Series: Book 2 Galvic Century (Goodreads) or Galvanic Century (Amazon)

James Wainwright, a man captivated by physics, finds himself at the center of a murder aboard the largest airship to date, the Rio Grande. An engineer has been murdered in a gruesome fashion, and James is blamed by captain and crew. Yet, James’s associate, Alton Bartleby, points out the unlikelihood of his guilt, convincing the captain to let them look into it further. From there, we get swept up in sabotage and the possibility of fiery death to crew and any city the airship careens into.

While this is technically Book 2, and I thought I had listened to Book 1 by listening to Sky Pirates Over London (which is actually Book 5), it stands alone just fine. So, don’t shy away from picking it up if you run across it. I really enjoyed the steampunk background, and on an airship. I found this book to be more tightly written than Sky Pirates Over London, perhaps because it all takes place in one location. Michael Coorlim filled this novelette with plenty of action, which I enjoyed seeing through James’s eyes – after all he uses physics to calculate the swiftest ways to incapacitate his foes, which appears pretty vicious to those who don’t know him.

The narrator, Wayne Farrell, gave a clear and crisp performance, including both English and American accents. He was a treat to listen too. Additionally, this audio production included epic music at the beginning and the ending.

What I Liked: Steampunk atmosphere; one on one combat; airships; great cover art; better fighting through physics.

What I Disliked: No female characters. Were there even any females mentioned?

Sky Pirates Over London by Michael Coorlim

CoorlimSkyPiratesOverLondonWhy I Read It: I received Book 2 (Maiden Voyage of the Rio Grande) in the Galvanic series for review and wanted to start with Book 1, which I thought was this one. Alas, this is Book 5, but I am not sorry I for having given it my time.

Where I Got It: Own it – from Audible.com.

Who I Recommend This To: Need a little lunch break and want some steampunk adventure? This is a fun one.

Narrator: Dawn Hyde

Publisher: Self-Published (2013)

Length: 1 hour 3 minutes

Series: Book 1 Chronicles of a Gentlewoman, Book 5 Galvic (or Galvanic) Century (Goodreads has it one way, Amazon the other)

In a steampunk London, Aldora Fiske sits having tea and discussing the recent airship shipping blockade with Alton Bartleby. It’s all very civilized, really, until a few teaspoons stick together, Alton shouts while throwing himself and Aldora through a glass window, and the sitting room explodes into kindling. Some sort of galvanic or voltaic (was someone distracted by a pouncing cat at that point?) weapon targeted either one or both of them and Aldora isn’t going to meekly tuck herself away. She decides a ‘vacation’ is in order to track down the maker of the weapon. With the help of drunken airship American pilot Jack Fowler, Aldora makes her attempt.

For such a short story, there is plenty of action and intrigue packed into this novelette. With a steampunk back ground, Michael Coorlim fills it with a practical and interesting lead lady (Aldora), some sword play, air ships, historical figures like Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla, and hand to hand combat. There is plenty of good listening packed into this lunch-hour read. If I have any complaints, it is that sometimes the scenes shifted a little abruptly and I needed a few sentences to figure out where I was. Aesthetically, I love the cover art, and, you make think this a little silly, but the name Aldora Fiske is simply fun to say.

Dawn Hyde, our narrator, gave a prim and practical voice to Aldora. Sometimes her American accent for Jack Fowler drifted from one regional accent to another, but that is my only criticism.

What I Liked: Steampunk London; lead female; one on one combat; airships; historical figures; great cover art.

What I Disliked: Sometimes scenes shifted a little abruptly.

Interview & Giveaway: Barbara Friend Ish, Editor-in-Chief Mercury Retrograde Press

MercuryRetrogradePressBadgePlease welcome one of my favorite publishers, and authors, Barbara Friend Ish, the editor-in-chief of Mercury Retrograde Press. Today she is visiting my lovely blog to talk mostly about Mercury Retrograde Press, what it means to be a small publisher, games & songs as story telling, and the upcoming read along of her first novel The Shadow of the Sun. Lady Ish is also offering up 1 print book and 2 ebooks to a total of thee lucky winners in the giveaway at the end of the interview. Winners will get to pick 1 book of their choice from the Mercury Retrograde Press catalog.

Now on to the interview!

Mercury Retrograde publishes fantasy, science fiction, and the unclassifiable. Tell me more about the unclassifiable? In the past few years, I have noticed more and more cross-genre books becoming popular, and even carving out a niche genre, like urban fantasy. What is the Press looking for in ‘unclassifiable’?

The book business is all about classification. It has to be. When you go into a bookstore, you want to be able to find the type of books you like. In a general-purpose bookstore, science fiction, fantasy, and horror in all their flavors tend to be shelved together—but in electronic venues such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble online, and in SF/F specialty independent bookstores, the classifications for this genre are more finely-grained. Fantasy is not only separated from SF and Horror, but has types within it such as epic, dark, and urban. These categories can shift, gradually or without warning, as when a few years ago (ten, maybe?) the book business suddenly decided to redefine “urban fantasy”. Now we know it as werewolves, vampires, witches, tough-chick protags who are invariably shown in not a whole lot of leather and tattoos on the covers. Before that, “urban fantasy” was Charles de Lint and his ilk. Imagine how confusing it must be to be Mr. de Lint.

But I digress, as usual. When we talk about ‘unclassifiable’ books at Mercury Retrograde, we’re talking about works that aren’t easily categorized. Personally, I love mash-ups, things that steal from two or more existing categories and re-invent them. Steampunk, when it began, was considered interstitial, unclassifiable. Then it exploded and became a subgenre—and a cultural movement—all its own. We’re open to border-crossing things like steampunk, but also to border-crossing work that is too unique to be readily categorized: frex, things that present as fantasy and turn out to be SF, things that smell like literary but are actually firmly genre in their totality, or whatever a writer’s particular combination of peanut butter and chocolate may be. Those sorts of books worry publishers and booksellers, because they’re challenging to sell. But I know the world is full of readers like me, who want to find the unique, fresh works and love them. Connecting those writers with those readers is an important part of Mercury Retrograde’s charter.

IshShadowOfSun

Sometimes we like to amuse ourselves by making up crazy cross-genre ideas, just for fun. We tell them to one another and build up these ridiculous concepts the way people tell bar stories: far-future memoir; police procedural with fairies; high-medieval conspiracy theory. The strange magic of these mash-ups is that we can spin them into publishing jokes—or discover they are actually the next great thing, and they’re coming across our desks. To create top-notch SFF literature, we have to hold ourselves open to all the possibilities—but be aware of the fine line between “outrageously awesome” and “ridiculously bad”. That line is defined by the individual, of course—which is part of why interstitial and unclassifiable works are so high-risk. Ultimately our acquisitions in this area are unpredictable and guided by our own tastes.

Your press has a strong artistic bent. Can you give us an overview of your nonconformist publishing ways, such as collaborative works with singers/song writers and game creators?

I suppose we are nonconformist. I think it is our goal of putting the art of story ahead of our preconceptions that leads us to make decisions that look weird. I’ve been a book person for as long as I can remember, but I fell in love with books because I am entirely committed to ideas and story. And as technology has changed in the course of our lifetimes, the ways in which stories can be told has changed. Some of those changes encompass the revival of story traditions far older than the novel.

Novel, of course, means new. This form we think is classic is actually an upstart, only a few hundred years old. Telling stories through songs is much older. Games, of course, are at least as old—although game as a formal storytelling medium is a relatively new development, as far as I know.

WisokerSecretsOfSands

As a publisher of stories presented in text, we’re very focused on the longer lengths: the novella, the novel, and the series. That’s an outgrowth of the fact that SFF, as has been said before, is the literature of ideas—and as far as I’m concerned, the bigger the idea, the better. It’s this very expansiveness of our tastes in story that have led us to expand in more interstitial directions, by making room for our storytellers to delve into other media as ways of continuing or broadening the stories they tell. Several of our authors use games played by characters in their stories as avenues towards developing characters and plot; in a couple of cases, notably Leona Wisoker’s Children of the Desert series and my own Way of the Gods series, the writers have expanded the scope of what they do to include collaboration with game designers. Leona has worked with Chris Adotta on the development of chabi, a game reminiscent of and completely different from chess that illustrates the attitudes and survival techniques of a desert culture. Leona uses gameplay as an avenue of plot and character development in her novels, notably Guardians of the Desert and Fires of the Desert, which is slated for publication in April. I’ve been very fortunate to work with James Kempf and Anthony Thomas of Cliché Studio on the games for my series: the dicing game suabh (Sweep, in English) from my The Shadow of the Sun, and the card game Fortunes from my forthcoming The Heart of Darkness. I’m having an especially great time with Fortunes, which could be most succinctly explained by comparing it to playing poker with the Tarot: the cards and symbols of this Tarot variant are not only a working deck and divination system but also clues to the deeper mysteries of the series as a whole, while the games that occur in the novel are integral to the plot. We’ve had even more fun expanding this concept into the real world: I’ve been working with my most beloved artistic collaborator, Rachael Murasaki Ish, on development of the deck, having the pleasure of watching her take my ideas and develop them into images I could never have conceived on my own, and doing further work with my colleagues at Cliché to develop an electronic version of the Fortunes game that is fun to play in its own right, as well as an interesting window into the story world. Naturally I’ve got other game territory I’m looking forward to farming in conjunction with later volumes of the series. But it’s really too early to speak about them.

WisokerGuardiansOfDesert

Game is just one of the storytelling avenues we’re exploring. Artist Ari Warner, who does all the maps for Mercury Retrograde books, and I have been developing the maps for The Heart of Darkness as another window on the story. He’s done amazing work with using the maps to express not only two different world-views (loyalist and kharr, the antagonists in the war going on in these books) but also ideas on cartography as cultural history, public versus objective truth, and the fleeting accuracy of truth in times of war. And Renaissance Man Jonah Knight, the paranormal folk musician who made his bones as a playwright and mainstream singer/songwriter before he fell through the veil into this weird zone we call speculative fiction, has me absolutely agog with his magical union of the ancient tradition of storytelling through music and tales of the weird. While his work in this vein is generally not to be missed, I’m especially excited about the project we’re embarking on together, in which he is telling tales from the worlds built by Mercury Retrograde authors in song. In some cases the works he’s developing are retellings of the stories in the books; in other cases he takes those worlds and spins his own tales in them.

I’m absolutely in love with taking stories that begin in text into other media, particularly media that allow the participants formerly known as the audience to become a part of the action. When you play chabi or Fortunes, you can play these games strictly for amusement, on their own merits—but, should you choose, they can also be ways of dipping your toes into the worlds from which they came, of seeing things through the eyes of people who live there. When you sing one of Jonah’s songs, or just listen to it, you are transported into the world he’s writing and singing about. Great stories have a characteristic we call immersion: they suck you in, make you live and breathe them rather than just watching. Media that allow you to not only immerse yourself but participate are, to me, the most exciting storytelling experiences of all.

Mercury Retrograde Press currently has a small catalog. One can see from the publications dates between books in series, that the Press doesn’t pressure their authors to complete rapid-fire works. Can you speak to how this fits into the overall philosophy of Mercury Retrograde Press?

NiecShorn

I’m not completely certain, but I think we coined the term Slow Publishing. Our philosophy of publishing is inspired by the Slow Movement, which includes Slow Food and Slow Media. At its heart, the Slow Movement is about acknowledging that not everything can or should be produced according to Industrial Revolution business practices: that some of the best things we can experience can’t be mass-produced or even, really, effectively scheduled.

In recent years, book publishers have adopted the mindset that they are in the entertainment business, as opposed to the business of making art. This has to do with the fact that most major publishers are owned by international media conglomerates that insist on forcing publishing into a business model that puts product and profit ahead of writers and works. Publishing wasn’t always this way; a hundred years ago, and for decades afterwards, publishers took the time to nurture artists and works until they were ready for market. Not all the books that came out of that system were better, but books published under such a system certainly had a better chance of achieving the sort of transcendence that makes stories stick in hearts and minds.

At Mercury Retrograde, we envision a return to that sort of sensibility. I’m determined to give all the artists involved in developing books, from the writers to the editors and designers, space in which to do their best work: to aim for art rather than making products. It’s a healthier practice: artists held to production schedules not only have to make compromises in their art but tend to wreck their physical and mental health over time—or collapse under the pressure and quit. Imagine how many great works of art have been lost to us because the way the business works has broken the artists who would have created them. I am determined that Mercury Retrograde will remain a safe haven against that sort of problem. And I believe it’s ultimately a service not only to the artists, but to the readers, because the works we can offer under these circumstances are capable of achieving a completely different level of quality. I’ve observed that discerning readers would rather wait a little longer for an author’s next book, and receive something wonderful in return, than have something less than wonderful delivered in a timely fashion. And thank goodness there are so many artists working today that readers need not go hungry while they wait for the good stuff.

How did you come to the generous decision to offer a free ebook version for every paperbook bought? What are your thoughts on Digital Rights Media and the move by some large ebook publishers to go without it?

MorrisThereWasCrookedMan

We began offering free eBooks with purchase of Trade versions in 2009. The idea came from a conversation I held with a reader around that time, who lit up my brain with the idea that what readers are buying is stories. Once I sat with that idea for a while, I began to think very differently not only about the issue of eBook pricing but about book pricing generally.

If readers are buying stories, experiences, then why should they have to pay twice for the same story just because they want to be able to take a book along electronically when they leave the house? That’s essentially the same thing as a music company insisting consumers buy a separate copy of an album for each digital device they own. We have to charge more for Trade paperbacks than we do for eBooks, because they are much more expensive to put into readers’ hands. We must print and ship each copy, whether direct or through our wholesale and retail partners. But once an eBook is complete, with the exception of distribution fees, we can sell an infinite number of copies of that eBook without incurring additional costs. And the costs of eBook production are covered by eBook sales. As far as I’m concerned, if a reader buys the Trade paperback, she’s already paid for the story. Putting the eBook into her hands, as long as it’s distributed from our site, costs us nothing more. It seems only fair.

I think the purchase of stories is going to become increasingly uncoupled from the methods in which they are delivered over the coming years—and we’re already seeing the beginnings of that trend. Some people love their paper books, but others want to read far more stories than they actually want to own in print. Print is becoming increasingly a collector’s medium: we are already seeing people buy print books because the collectible object has value to them rather than because they simply want to read the story. And when print books cost easily twice as much as eBooks on average, why should they not make a distinction between what they buy cheaply to consume and what they pay more to treasure?

I’ve never been a fan of DRM, or Digital Rights Management. While its original intent, protecting the artist’s work to ensure artists get paid, is a worthy goal, as executed it really just creates hassles for honest readers. I’m particularly concerned by Amazon’s handling of DRM, in which books can be—are!—removed from the devices of people who paid for them at Amazon’s whim. I’ve been delighted to see DRM-free eBooks becoming normal, mostly because I am very well aware that the people who will pirate eBooks were never going to have enough respect for writers to pay for the works in the first place. Now that the mechanisms for it are in place, we’re making our eBooks DRM-free wherever the distributors we work with allow us to do so. And of course they continue to be DRM-free when purchased from our site.

The Authors Page shows yourself and 4 other authors. What great things (new publications, reading events, etc.) do you authors have planned for 2013?

SteeleAnointed

That’s a more complicated question than it might at first appear. As recently as last fall, I was still attempting to assign dates to things in advance: as serious as I’ve been about not asking artists to exceed their capacities, we have still collectively and individually continued to fall into the mental habits of the publishing industry. If you’d asked this question a few months ago, I would have offered you a very exciting and date-driven schedule of publications and events, which we were convinced we could live up to without too much craziness. But last year brought home to me, in completely new ways, the importance of drawing a protective circle around all our artists—myself included—and adopting an almost contrarian attitude towards dates. Our policy, as of this year, is to assign release dates when projects are altogether complete, and not before. So it is easier to talk about what’s in the pipeline than precisely what will be released and when.

Our next release will be Fires of the Desert by Leona Wisoker, Book 4 of her wonderful Children of the Desert series, which began with her acclaimed debut Secrets of the Sands. That book is slated for release on April 2; we’ll be hosting the official launch at Ravencon, in Richmond, VA, the weekend of April 5-7.

Beyond that, we have the second edition of There Was a Crooked Man by Edward Morris, a revised and expanded version that kicks off a series of eight novellas. I predict that this book will come out in late spring or summer; the remaining volumes will roll out behind it, as soon as the dream team of Ed, editor Joe Pulver, and artist Nick Gucker complete them.

Also coming up in the near term, but more likely next year, are Cael’s Shadow by Larissa N. Niec, the sequel to her stunning Shorn, and my next novel, The Heart of Darkness, which is the sequel to my The Shadow of the Sun. In conjunction with The Heart of Darkness we’ll be rolling out the Fortunes deck and book and the commercial version of the Fortunes electronic game. The Heart of Darkness is going to be an interesting release, because we’re trying something new, or at least new to us: while the book won’t be released until next spring, we’ll be releasing the story in installments by subscription in advance of the print release—and readers who choose to subscribe to the whole serial will receive the Trade paperback (and, of course, the eBook) for free at release. Because, in our view, they will already have paid for the story. Details on this, as with all our news, releases, and free-or-nearly-free expansions of our story worlds, will be available in our newsletter, our blog, and from the respective series pages on our website.

SteeleFlutter

Meanwhile, Zachary Steele is working on an as-yet-untitled sequel to his hilarious Anointed and Flutter. I’ve read the early chapters, and it looks like his best book yet. Leona Wisoker is already working on the as-yet-untitled concluding volume of her Children of the Desert series. And I’m working with several authors who are not yet officially part of our roster, who have some very exciting projects in the works. I’m looking forward to sharing more about them when the time is right.

Our events schedule, on the other hand, is easier to quantify. I’ll be appearing at StellarCon in Charlotte, N.C. the weekend of March 1-3 and at MidSouthCon in Memphis, TN the weekend of March 22-24. Leona Wisoker and I will be appearing at Ravencon in Richmond, VA, along with a significant subset of the Mercury Retrograde crew, April 5-7. In May, I’ll be appearing at MobiCon in Mobile, AL, the weekend of the 17th-19th, and at ConCarolinas on the weekend of May 31-June 2. I’ll be appearing at ApolloCon in Houston, the weekend of June 21-23. Dates later in the year are still in the works.

Lastly, there is an upcoming read along for your book, The Shadow of the Sun. As an author and a publisher, what do you look forward to and also maybe have a little anxiety over concerning a group read along?

To say I’m excited about this would be an understatement! The author and the publisher in me are excited for different reasons. Like all authors, I tell stories because some kink in my wiring routes much of my drive to connect with other humans through the impulse to construct and share stories. Storytelling is a universal human trait, but for those of us who are optimized for that particular trait beyond all adaptive usefulness, sharing our fictional stories is at least as important as the sharing of true or subjectively-true stories that drives so much of human relationships. I am honored and delighted by the prospect of a group of discerning readers who have made their mark on the genre community by discovering and sharing great stories taking the time to read, discuss, and share mine. Additionally, the publisher in me is excited by this because I know that reader blogs and other social media shared by readers are the heart of book discovery for today’s readers. Word-of-mouth has always been the primary vector of book recommendation; the social internet has made that even more powerful, even while traditional methods of getting the word out about new books become increasingly irrelevant. The publisher in me is more pleased than I can say to see influential book bloggers giving eyeballs to Mercury Retrograde books. As both publisher and author, I am very excited by the prospect of meeting new readers who share my tastes in reading—because, like all writers, I am a reader first, and anyone who enjoys my work will naturally have a fair amount in common with me as a reader. So even while I’m connecting with people by telling my story, I’m also connecting with people through our shared love of the sort of SF/F that lights me up.

WisokerBellsOfKingdom

As to anxiety—it is always a somewhat anxious experience to have people whose opinions matter read one’s work. I so hope the read-along participants love my work, because in sharing our stories authors are sharing parts of our souls. It can feel intensely personal. And yet any professional knows that readers’ tastes are entirely involuntary, and what I think is world-changing may not move you at all. Or worse. But this is the risk all writers take when they send their stories out into the world: we send out little emissaries of ourselves, and hope they will meet new friends. In this, as in all avenues of human connection, the benefits far outweigh the risks—and whether the assembled readers enjoy my work or not, their discussion will teach me things I can take back to my study to improve future works.

It’s a huge gift to me as a writer, this read-along, and I’m very grateful to receive it. I’m looking forward to seeing it unfold.

Thank you very much for inviting me to talk with you and sharing our visit with your readers! Although it’s a bit outside the scope here, I also want to express my gratitude for the instrumental role you’re playing in the read-along. I so appreciate the opportunity to connect with fellow lovers of story and share my passions. It is, as always, so very stimulating to talk with you!

See! This is why I keep interviewing this woman. If you want more, check out an interview I did with Lady Ish on Darkcargo back in 2011. As always, I deeply appreciate Barbara taking the time to be a part of my blog. Just a note: The upcoming read along of The Shadow of the Sun will be April 2013 hosted here at Dab of Darkness. An announcement post with details will go up in March.

On to the giveaway!

There will be 3 winners. Mercury Retrograde Press is giving away 1 print book (USA only) and 2 ebooks (International).  You must enter the rafflecopter to have a chance at winning. The contest will run for 2 weeks and then winners will be randomly chosen, verified, and contacted. Yes, I verify that you play by the rules. Because I care. With that, have fun!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The Aylesford Skull by James P. Blaylock

Stout wouldn't hold still for a pic!
Stout wouldn’t hold still for a pic!

Why I Read It: 1800s mystery + steampunkishness = incredible read.

Where I Got It: Review copy from the publisher (thanks!)

Who I Recommend This To: If you are a fan of Sherlock Holmes, Jack the Ripper, or English murder mysteries, you’d enjoy this.

Publisher: Titan Books (2013)

Length: 427 pages

Series: Book 5 of Ignacio Narbondo series; Book 3 of Langdon St. Ives series

Looking at Wikipedia, it was a little difficult to tell where exactly this sits in the series scheme of things, but you have my best guess and the link, so you can go muddle through it yourself, if need be. Honestly, this book works fine as a stand alone even though one can tell that both the main protagonist (St. Ives) and antagonist (Narbondo) have pasts, both with each other and as separate entities. As an introduction to James P. Blaylock‘s body of work, it will have you hooked and looking for more. I truly enjoyed how the suspense built a little at a time in the beginning, and before long we were rolling at a high level of action, concerned for main characters, and itching to thwart Narbondo at every opportunity.

This book combines the history of Victorian England with Holmesian deduction skills and a few steampunk contraptions, such as an airship and special home made rounds for a .30 caliber rifle. Langdon St. Ives and his family recently moved out to the country (his wife’s aunt left them a nice place) to get away from the bustle and intrigue of city life. Indeed, we open with Alice busy fishing, only to find that someone poisons her catch while she is focused on hopefully catching a second pike. Ignacio Narbondo, a known criminal and master mind, is in the area, and St. Ives has no wish to get caught up in whatever scheme he may or may not be up to. Despite warnings from Narbondo’s mother, a neighbor of St. Ives and a spiritualist, St. Ives refuses to get involved until his son disappears.

This is when the real fun starts. St. Ives makes for London, calling in debts by informants and friends alike to track down his son. Also, St. Ives’ ward Finn secretly makes his way to London to redeem himself, as he blames himself for Narbondo abducting young Edward. Mother Laswell, Narbondo’s mum, also travels to London to seek her son out, not even leaving a note for her trusted man Bill Kraken, who figures out her destination anyway and runs after her. Alice is left on the farm with her young daughter and the servants to await the return of her husband and son.

Here Blaylock does a masterful job of revealing Narbondo’s past bit by bit, along with his current scheme so that the reader is left guessing the details to the end. We get the nitty gritty of foggy London, along with a paranormal aspect, as Narbondo is carrying around his half-brother’s skull, which he has turned into a spirit prison. From time to time, he shows this spirit off, causing speculation and fear. Mother Laswell is also something of a spiritualist and uses her talents and a friend’s aid in tracking Narbondo. Throw in an airship, some mechanical toys, and a few high-tech (for the time) weapons, and you also have that steampunk feel without it being overused.

The character development in this novel was well done, with each character having a past and potentially a future. I was engrossed in the St. Ives family from the beginning, but even the ‘bad guys’ were intriguing with some being totally loathsome and deserving death and others caught up in circumstances. The plot was revealed at a suspenseful pace, allowing the reader to put clues together and still keeping the reader guessing about details until the end. Subplots entangled together nicely towards the end. My one criticism is that the ending felt rushed compared to the rest of the novel. SPOILER ALERT Indeed, the ending of Narbondo was a little too simple, easy, and the use of the trapped spirit in this matter seemed a little cliched END SPOILER.

What I Liked: Complex characters left and right; Finn has such an interesting past, one that he prefers not to chat about; Bill Kraken and his simple straight-forward love of Mother Laswell; Alice gets involved in the last quarter of the book; there is a guest appearance of Arthur Doyle; the airship is put to good use; Narbondo isn’t a nebulous evil – no! the vivisection pretty well defines his level of evil; incredible food that had me jealous of the lucky, feasting characters; the cover.

What I Disliked: Capable Alice gets to sit home fretting for 3 quarters of the book; the ending was a little abrupt compared to the rest of the book.

Owl Dance by David Lee Summers

Why I Read It: A good chunk of this book takes place in the desert Southwest, like my life so far.

Where I Got It: Courtesy PDF ARC from the author (thanks!)

Who Do I Recommend This To: If you like your genres all mixed up with steampunk, cowboys, & attempted military take-overs, then this is for you.

Publisher: Flying Pen Press (2011)

Length: 270

Series: Book 1 (I hope, with reason – see author’s Web Journal)

In David Lee Summers seventh novel, Owl Dance, he explores the American Southwest in a crazy 1800s Wild West Steampunk adventure. This was the perfect brain candy for me and diving into the first chapter, I felt right at home. Ramon Morales, a Mexican-American sheriff, and Fatemeh Karimi, a Persian healer, are our two main heroes. Throughout their travels across NM, AZ, and CA, they come across a variety of delightfully unexpected characters – from the gun-slinging kid Billy to entrepreneurial scientist Maravilla, to the California Coast inventor-turned-pirate Cisneros, to General Sheridan.

Ramon and Fatemeh have to avoid several trips and falls of life, such as being burned at the stake, or killed by miners, or shot, or blown up, or captured by bounty hunters. But their greatest challenge doesn’t come from the Southwest. No, there is something much more ominous brewing in Mother Russia. A land dispute between resident Russian descendants in CA and a powerful rancher sparks off the drive for Russia to grab some land in the American West. But this time, they are aided by an unlikely source…..which I will leave for you to discover.

Clockwork wolves and owls, cutting edge submersibles, dirigibles, and one Persian lady who whistle-talks to owls. It’s a great ride. If you’re looking for a good read and satisfying adventure, jump into Owl Dance.

What I Liked: Multi-cultural book; alternate history is always fascinating; a touch of steampunk never goes amiss; owl- whistle talking.

What I Disliked: Pretty much just 1 main female character surrounded by lots of male main characters.

Note: This review was originally published on Darkcargo.com on 11/22/2011 and republished, and reformatted, here with permission of Lady Darkcargo.